Scientist or Thrill Seeker with Toys?

"We use scientific tools and methods and are proving the existence of ghosts."

Ah, the cry of the wild ghost-hunter... Who am I to argue? Maybe they are... but more often than not, upon further study, one has to question exactly what some of the people that say this are up to. Are they scientists? Are they really going to find the 'Holy Grail' of the study and get valid proof?


Perhaps not...

If they do present data, it's likely to be held up to major scrutiny and if the controls and proper methods were not in place, (and no, not methods from a 'ghost' site as the source... "We had a good and positive attitude and asked the ghost to give us this data!" is not really a 'proper' control,) it's likely to be discarded by most rather rapidly. Would it kill the average 'ghost-hunter' to go to the local library and pick up two books... one on gathering a particular type of data (photographic, video, atmospheric readings... and those books not from a 'ghostly' source, but a mainstream scientific source) and one on using scientific controls and methods? Presenting data, at that point, would get attention from many sources and not just buddies on a message board.

I guess what this rant is about is how ghost-hunters run out, grab scientific data collection tools, and start taking readings and measurements willy-nilly. They wave around an EMF detector claiming spikes and dips and saying "Aha! We've found an active place!", then whip out a laser or infrared thermometer, take a single (or, if your lucky, two) readings and say "Aha! The temperature changed! We have a ghost!" and then, of course, whip out tape recorders and cameras and WHEEE!

Next time you see a group or person like this... ask these questions...

"What evidence do you have that there is any electro-magnetic changes or differences when a ghost is present?"

"Have you taken a series of mean or standard readings before proclaiming a variations or are you guessing?"

...and if you're really feeling brainy...

"Are you familiar with Dr. Michael Persinger's work and it's repetition by Project Hessdalen (Erland Strands work within Østfold University College in Norway) on the effects of raised electro-magnetic ambient energy and temporal lobe hallucinations? How do you know finding your EMF spike and raised reading is not an indication that the people that say they've seen something weird weren't hallucinating due to this effect?"

...then there's...

"When you took your reading with the thermometer, did you check for outside sources for a drop (or whatever) in temperature?"

"Did you take several readings and this is a genuine change or is it just a static temperature variance in this particular area (some places, without aid of a ghost, are just colder than others... these places can even be in the same room... think insulation...)?"

"Did you take a minimum of five temperature readings from the same location at different times and then note and document them to confirm this?"

"Did you look into the issues revolving this piece of equipment as far as distance accuracy?"

A "proper" scientist would be doing all of the above... and would be aware of all (or at least, most possibilities) mentioned above. If you say you're using science, are you really?

Now, before it becomes an issue, my definition of "scientist" is not a woman/fellow in a lab coat who spent her/his entire lengthy academic career in university and has many wonderful letters after their name. A "scientist" can be anyone who uses proper scientific methodology and controls when carrying out their work. Although, when I'm asked, I usually say, at best, "I'm an amateur scientist.", I still do my best to use controls when collecting data and know about the tools and devices I'm using.

In a lot of cases, there seems to be the feeling to if a person simply owns some tools, this makes them "proper", "professional", or, as stated, "scientific."

I put it to you like this... If I own an airplane, does this make me a pilot? If I own a scalpel, does this make me a surgeon?

Answer: No, but with proper training...

Well, if I own an electro-magnetic field detector, a sensitive (I've talked to too many atmospheric scientists to recommend infrared or laser) thermometer, a night-vision cam-corder, a 35mm camera and/or digital camera... am I a ghost investigator/researcher... even a "ghost-hunter" really?

Answer: No, but with a proper understanding...

To be frank, (or Matthew,) the BEST tools for a proper ghost investigation are...

  • Pen/Pencil and Paper
  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Common Sense
  • Knowledge
  • Facts... and critical thinking
...and the above list is NOT based on my own opinion. The above list is on many non-GHRS sites.

What seems to be passing for some would-be "ghost-hunters" as the only tools needed are...

  • Camera
  • Tape recorder
  • EMF detector
  • Thermometer
  • Other toys... (misc.)
  • Faith... based on few if any facts.
...with common sense and knowledge not even making the list. These folks are pretty easy to spot as every place they visit, regardless, is truly "haunted" and has tonnes of stuff happening... according to their own notes.

Long and the short of it is, simply owning certain equipment is not an indication of intelligence or knowledge. I can give a chimpanzee an EMF detector and camera and this does not make my simeon friend a proper investigator.

Not too long ago, a "sceptic" (sceptdebunker) was arguing with me that there was no such thing as a "paranormal event." I asked for his evidence... his evidence, more or less, he said was the many years he spent in university, his multiple 'scientific' magazine subscriptions, his "thousands" of text books. I called him out... most "legitimate" scientists I know (these are the guys that wear lab coats and have many letters after their names) do except that there are things "unknown" (...yet) and think that the study of the perceived paranormal is an important one. He countered with "Well, all my books/magazine/etc. tell me differently!" yet he could not cite a single case for me... whereas I did cite cases to him... not only of "unknown phenomena" being reported by what I knew he'd have to agree were good witnesses, but of proper studies that indeed did shed light on something at one point considered "unknown."

You'll be happy to hear that according to this "great physicist" (the guy has a BSC from University of Victoria) that there is nothing "unknown" or "paranormal" in existence and he has all kinds of stuff (despite citing none of them to me) to prove his point. He did, however, tell me there were great scienitific studies being done by CSICOP... all I can say to this is "Yeah, right... bastions of good science." I told him to seek a refund from his university as he really got shafted in his "education."

There's the inverse... a "sceptic" (sceptdebunker) saying he's well educated... especially in science and is capable of passing judgement on the paranormal.

His best "theory" on what witnesses of the paranormal were experiencing was based on a single study he found... done by a pharmaceutical company... saying that most of the North American population was wandering around with undiagnosed mental illness... which, I had to point out to him was not saying we were mad and hallucinating, but we were all clinically depressed... and this study, as I remind the gentle reader, was from a pharmaceutical company... "More Xanax please!"

I then tried to introduce him to more popular "sceptical" studies that I was following and led off with my favourite one, Dr. Persinger. He shot the gent down without looking at his work... he called Dr. Persinger a "loony Psychologists" so I asked if he had the same opinion of Susan Blackmore and James Allcock and you know what, HE DID! I had to laugh...

#1: With Dr. Persinger, he's chewing on a fellow who is apparently proving that some cases of ghosts and the paranormal are hallucination using repeated and proper scientific experiment... that are in physics, not in "psychology."

#2: With Dr. Blackmore, he's picked a nit with a woman who feels that everyone who's experienced the paranormal is in a kind of self-importance/self-induced hallucination... Blackmore is the sceptdebunker's sceptdebunker. She feels that none of it's real and it's all in our minds.

#3: Professor James Allcock is in the same vein as Blackmore and has done much media in Canada to say that all experiencers of the paranormal are imagining it.

This was all on a "sceptical" message board... I get the feeling that he got more than a few e-mails from his sceptdebunker buddies saying, "Dude! Where's your brain?"

This is a case of a sceptdebunker not knowing his OWN study!

Now, I do hope you're all giggling over this fellow, but he's just the mirror image of many folks who say they're doing proper investigation with "scientific tools" who, to be honest, have cool toys that make interesting noises or look neat...

If you're going to do work, argue a point, try to collect data... know your tools and understand your study. The folks who run about claiming all is haunted with their beeping and booping toys are no better than the sceptic that just pooped on many of his "respected" brethren... proving he may have OWNED some magazines and books... but hadn't read and understood them.

I will be the first person (honestly!) to say that it's impossible to know everything and to be perfect... but if one is billing themselves as someone to be listened to or deserves attention on a topic, shouldn't they truly understand it from preferably more than one source?

Just my two-cents...

STRONG Recommendation... See also ParaResearcher's article on Scientific Methodology And Paranormal Investigation