In ‘Ghost Hunting – A Survivors Guide’ author John Fraser demonstrates his knowledge of ghost hunting history, presenting a great overview of the past 2000 years of ghost hunting and how it has shaped into the modern landscape of multi-disciplinary paranormal research. He asks early on ‘Does the inclusion of more people and more ghost hunters mean there is more chance of finding evidence for a ghost, or are investigations too disparate and run on individualistic lines to be anything other than just an interesting experience for those who participate in them?’
It’s an interesting question, but one the book does little to explore. There is also a lot of irrational conjecture in the 184 pages of this book. For example, the first alarm bell rang when Harry Price was described as ‘a damned good, ground-breaking investigator, who may or may not have been tempted at times to fake phenomena.’
I’m sure many will instantly think of a certain photo of a certain “floating” brick at Borley Rectory, for example…
As I read Ghost Hunting – A Survivors Guide I gained the impression that Fraser knows his stuff when it comes to the history of paranormal research, but that he is doomed to repeat it and all of it’s mistakes by offering up defence after defence of unscientific methods of paranormal research. He writes of personally using Ouija Boards, for example, and also of using Table Tipping, referring to it as ‘ a powerful, if somewhat unfashionable tool of investigation’. It isn’t. You can read my thoughts on those methods here if you’re interested.
…and although Fraser seems to share my own reservations about EMF meters, he still thinks the right sort of EMF meter should be used by ghost researchers despite the problems with this equipment he outlines in his book. He also defends the use of other pieces of pseudo-scientific equipment too.
Of using thermometers to monitor alleged cold spots he says ‘there is no theory, to the best of my knowledge, to explain why temperature should drop when a paranormal phenomenon occurs. What there is though is a general hypothesis among ghost hunters that if the production of supernatural phenomena in some way uses energy from the atmosphere, this could potentially lead to a drop in temperature.’ This is not good justification for having this in your tool kit, it also assumes paranormal phenomena is occurring.
Fraser also suggests that tape recorders, despite the many shortcomings that he personally lists, are a vital piece of equipment, stating ‘While it may well be that EVP [Electronic Voice Phenomena] can be explained naturally, this has not yet been done conclusively. It is still therefore worth checking out time to time to see if there are any direct messages picked up by your recording devices.’
This is, I think, a form of cognitive dissonance – Fraser acknowledges the irrationality of numerous ghost research methods, but seems to ignore those problems in his conclusion that these methods should still be used.
In another part of the book about Residual Haunting Theory, Fraser writes about the research of Jacques Benveniste that incorrectly suggests that water has a memory of what it has come into contact with. Some think ghosts are recorded in both the materials of building- stone tape theory – and also in water (it is often said that underground water can cause hauntings.) Fraser writes ‘While not fully accepted by all scientists, the research of Benveniste has never been disproved.’
There is no mention that no double blind control was used by Benveniste during his research.
When the paper was published in the journal Nature in 1988 one of the conditions for publication was that editor John Maddox and skeptic activist James Randi supervised a repeat of the experiment. They observed Benveniste’s team repeating the procedure which seemed to be working and showing a definite difference between the plain water and the homoeopathic water. However, the assessment of the two types of water involved a subjective evaluation by a researcher – and the researchers knew which was the plain water and which the homoeopathic. When the protocol was tightened the results were not repeated.
I am disappointed that these details were omitted by Fraser in his book. I am disappointed that paranormal researchers, like Fraser, who have a lot if influence offer irrational ideas a legitimacy they do not deserve with their non-committal attitude. I recommend that those who read this book do so with a pinch of salt. It offers an interesting insight into contemporary paranormal research, but I wouldn’t take the authors word as fact, if I were you.