1/7/2011 I finally noticed that every episode of GH is just like every other episode of GH. I captured the essence of the show in what I hope is one of my funnier blogs - you can read it here.
2/12/2009 TAPS was caught faking their own stuff in this video taken from the 2008 live special.
7/7/2009 We are pattern-seeking animals. Want proof of that? In different countries ghosts take on different forms. The Japanese ghosts that people "see" look much different than American apparitions. Read this blog for more info.

One of the more popular shows on the Sci Fi channel is Ghost Hunters. I have to admit, this show has been a guilty pleasure of mine since it debuted a few years ago. I've always been a skeptic but it wasn't until recently that I really gave the show a lot of critical thought. Up to this point I had watched it while on the stairmaster so it was mostly just fodder for my tivo.

I suppose my recent thirst for getting to the bottom of the supernatural, conspiracy theories and general stupidity made me think about this show a little bit more than I had previously. As you probably know, there are lots of shows like this one out there but this one sets itself apart by claiming that its goal is to scientifically prove that ghosts do exist. The two stars of the show formed the group TAPS because they had experiences in their lives that made them want to prove that grandma, grandpa and fido didn't just blend into the dirt when they passed. The strategy is brilliant - they will debunk some things on the show in the effort to fool the audience that they are in fact skeptics and this somehow gives them credibility with some people.

Before I continue, I think that the show can be debunked without even talking about the show itself. For ghosts to exist, there has to be an afterlife. If you believe in evolution (translation: you have a brain in your head) you know that at one point we started off as single-celled creatures, later crawled out of the ocean, progressed to ape status and then later became the unthinking creatures that we are today. At what point in all of this did the aferlife start? Does every single cell have a soul? Or maybe when we discovered fire something in the universe magically kicked in and the afterlife was bourn.

Many other sites have gone over the "evidence" that is presented on the show on debunked much of it. For me, this isn't quite necessary. When proving that something isn't on the up-and-up you usually don't have to go much further than what has been given to you. The facts themselves do not lie:

(Penn and Teller do a fantastic episode on this - watch parts of it here. Another great column full of links that debunk this show is here. NewsWeek had a great article on why people believe in fantasy here)

  • Since there is absolutely, positively no proof that the afterlife exists, any instruments that go towards proving that there is are purely subjective. Lets face it: the only way that you could prove that the afterlife exists would have to be an entity showing up in a controlled environment and making real communication. As I said in this blog, if ghosts can make the tv go haywire and the lights go on and off, why wouldn't it show up on live tv or in a place where there was a lot of people? Of all of the billions of people that have come and gone, wouldn't some of them wanted to communicate somehow? Are we to believe that they only show up in creepy houses but just off camera?
  • Along those same lines, who says that gibberish on an audio tape is communication from the dead? I'd love to have them put said equipment in a controlled environment to see what shows up on the audio. Every experiment needs a control.
  • Electromagnetic fields are EVERYWHERE in today's world. Why is it surprising that the meters go up and down? Also, where is the proof that this has anything to do with supernatural activity?
  • The K2 Meter. This one REALLY gets to me as it is no more than a high-tech ouija board. The hosts ask it questions and the ghost makes it light up to answer yes or no. This "tool" was introduced last year and the hosts were initially very skeptical of the unit but have used it more and more in recent episodes. In the last one I saw (the Mill in Pawtucket) they used it extensively and were amazed that they were "talking" to an 8 year old boy. It even told them how many people were in the room. This is where the proof is really in the pudding. You're supposedly talking to a ghost and the whole point of the show is to scientfically prove that ghosts do exist. Why stop with a few yes/no questions? Why not treat it like a ouija board and find out its name? Maybe ask it what is on the other side? Wouldn't that make for good viewing? If they were really out to get to the bottom of this they would pitch a tent there and stay there for about a week.
  • Isn't it amazing that ghosts only show themselves in places that are old and dark and already creepy? I've lived in old houses and they do in fact make lots of weird noises.
  • The group has often been accussed of memory implantation techniques. This means that you see the reaction before the event (as flimsy as they are) so that the audience has an expectation for what they are about to see (see this link for more on that).
  • Something from the show that always makes me shake my head. When a child is involved they repeat the same speech about them being parents and that kids need to be protected and blah blah blah. So they (supposedly) rush to the scene of the haunting for the safety of the kids? They don't have an iota of proof that the afterlife exists yet they can determine of the "haunting" is malicous or not? That's like writing a book about the social structures of the bigfoot population (or worse, reading one of Dr Phil's books).
  • Even if you take all of the above with a truckload of salt, why should we believe that these guys aren't making all of this stuff up? How about releasing a single tape? Or maybe taking a skeptic along on your next adventure (sorry, wrestlers do not count). For guys that are supposedly trying to use science to prove their belief they act nothing like scientists. If you watch the Penn and Teller clip below you'll see a real scientist (a world-renowned physicist, no less) laugh out loud when asked about the methods that ghost hunters use to investigate the supernatural (at 13:00 of the first segment).

At the end of the day, people just want to believe. I get that. That's why people will ignore the obvious and continue to pretend that what they are being shown is real evidence. I can't explain how the tv works - that doesn't mean I think that it is supernatural. It could be voodoo!

Comments 12

 jesus christ    Thursday, December 5, 2013 10:38:41 AM


 Erebus Priest    Thursday, July 12, 2012 6:17:56 AM

Interesting read, much gooder. ,I find the show Ghost Hunters to be absolutely BS and full of boredom. And if you're interested, just watch their other show, "Ghost Hunters Academy" if you wish to know how they pull off their fraudulent evidence.,,Much gooder, in your response to P Morgan you said:,"Think about it - if the afterlife did exist and could communicate with us, wouldn't they do it in a place where there would be no doubt to anyone? ",,I agree. Harry Houdini's wife tired in vain to contact Harry for about 10 years, and if he were even there, Harry would have answered her.,,Have a good day,Erebus ,

 Mark   Monday, September 7, 2009 10:41:59 AM

Why do they always have to turn all the lights out?

 muchgooder   Tuesday, April 7, 2009 2:07:37 PM

I wrote another blog on skepticism today. There is a video linked on Randi's site that shows exactly why prejudices and "working theories" are actually examples of closed-mindedness. The fact that you're starting off with a bias/presumption will mean that your approach is skewed, now matter how hard you think that you're being skeptical. But hey, I'm still curious about your efforts :-).

Here is a link to my blog and the short but sweet video.

 muchgooder   Wednesday, April 1, 2009 9:07:08 AM

Very well stated Brian, that makes a lot of sense. The sunspot example is an interesting one because it demonstrates the danger of putting the cart before the horse by assuming an answer. Sure, there is a lot in folklore about ghosty apparitions. There is also a lot about other things that today we know never happened :-). I just don't see any evidence for a "life force" or anything like that. When did this life force start? We started out as single cells and then morphed into the animals that we are today. At some point we would have had to have suddently developed a life force that would make us unique among anything else on this planet. This assumes that you toss religion out of the equation, of course.

I look forward to following your site.

 Brian   Sunday, March 29, 2009 12:45:09 AM

I think we're definitely on the same page here, even if we do disagree on many details. I tend to walk a fairly unique line between "believers" and "skeptics" as I have experienced a lot of things that most would call "paranormal" and yet, looking at them from a scientific viewpoint, some I have been able to explain, while others I have not.

In my studies both in person and from reading the results of others, "Psi" is a bit like a weak force, hard to detect, not always obvious, but measurable under the right conditions. I admit I have not read the details of Randi's challenge. From what you and others have said about it, it doesn't sound like it will ever be paid out. You said, "He wants someone to simply sit down on one side of the wall and be able to "see" the pattern on the other side of the wall." Well, what if the reality is that I could predict that most people could do this, but only 0.02% more often than chance would dictate? Showing it, yet alone proving it would take a lot longer than 10 minutes. Perhaps the problem lies in how we define "psychic abilities" or perhaps we require different kinds of proof.

Making the huge jump to the phenomena we call ghosts is even harder as we know even less. Folklore says they are manifestations of discarnate entities, but science has not established the existence of such. What we DO have is something going on which is sometimes observable. I'd liken it to solar eclipses previous to Copernicus. We can see them sometimes. We know something is up. We might be able to predict them occasionally, but other than that, we know next to nothing. By observing empirically, perhaps experimenting with possible influences, I'm hoping to be able to make some sense of it all. There seems, for instance, a correlation between ghostly events and EMF. This seems pretty strongly correlated, and since "ghost hunters" and more serious researchers have begun using EMF meters, the correlation is even stronger. We now see (as even TV shows have picked up on) that the EMF fields in supposedly haunted happenings do not seem to correspond to known sources such as electrical wires and appliances. On the other side, we also know that strong, explainable EMF fields can give people the willies in much the same manner as supposed ghosts. What does it prove? Nothing. But it does give us one more tool to use in our observations, kind of like noticing the moon in the sky before a solar eclipse.

As a scientist, try replacing the word, "theory" in listening to ghost investigators with "working hypothesis" and it doesn't sound as far fetched. But the big thing is that there is something going on which we know almost nothing about. There is a lot of interest among the general population, and if no real scientist is willing to check it out, then someone will... and you end up with the armchair scientists, kooks, and everyone else working on it. Because of this, there's a lot of bad science going on and a lot of misinformation being passed as fact.

 muchgooder   Friday, March 27, 2009 1:26:23 PM

Thanks again Brian, it has been a pleasure to read your posts. Once again, I think it is great that people continue to ask questions even if others (such as myself) are rather skeptical. When we stop asking questions we get ourselves into troule. I also think that your site and posts are a good reminder that it is very easy to brush something off without giving it due thought.

I do disagree with some of your suppositions. All of this talk of parapsychology as a science reminds of quite a bit of conspiracy theories. Despite a mountain of evidence against them, people point out the irregularities and unknown as evidence toward the conspiracy. I've read some of the studies on remote viewing and telepathy. It seems that at best there is an irregularity in some of the studies (and some skeptics question the methods used in these studies. In many other studies the telepathic abilities were no better than chance. The remote viewing study came under a ton of criticism for their methods. I think the fact that the military dropped the program says a lot about how useful they thought it was.

I think Radin's answer to the Randi question was quite suspect. As you know, Randi invites anyone to come into a lab to prove some kind of psychic ability. Radin's answer is that it would take thousands of hours to show statistical proof. But that isn't what Randi is asking at all. He wants someone to simply sit down on one side of the wall and be able to "see" the pattern on the other side of the wall. That should take a grand total of 10 minutes. I'm not aware of anyone in the history of the world that can do that.

I do understand what you're saying about statistics and I will make room for the possibility that maybe there is some kind of mild telepathic abilities that can bring the results of these tests above chance. I'm sure that we don't know all that there is to know. Where I think responsible people such as yourself get off track is when you go from pointing out statistical oddities to encouraging investigation of the paranormal by armchair "scientists". I think you're kind of putting the cart before the horse by assuming statistical oddities are proof that something more is out there. I think by even recognizing a group like Ghost Hunters that you are putting the cart in a slingshot and shooting it over to the next town. That would be like writing a book on the family structure and psychological makeup of Bigfoot.

 Brian   Friday, March 27, 2009 8:06:46 AM

Yes, I do straddle the line between those who call themselves skeptics and those usually called believers. The way I look at it when scientifically minded people disagree, it is usually because they are forming their conclusions from different data sets.

Dr. Dean Radin did a great presentation at Google on the Taboo of Psi, in which he addressed the reasons most scientists won't touch the paranormal with a ten food cattle prod. In it, he does address the case for the existence of some sort of anomalous cognition, showing how it can happen, when it occurs, and the probability against chance when the studies are taken as a whole. From the data he shows, there seems to be a pretty solid probability for these phenomena to be real. Near the end, one audience member asks him about Randi's million dollar prize and he gives a good answer (1:00:42 in the video) as to why it hasn't been claimed by legitimate parapsychologists: With Randi's requirements of proof, you'd have to run a single, intensive series of trials using a single subject for 4-8 years in order to gather enough data to make a statistically significant case. Doing so under the proper laboratory conditions would cost more than one million dollars. Taken as a whole, or even discounting the high and low results, the meta-analysis of legitimate experiments does show a small, but statistically significant deviation from chance in parapsychological studies. The effect size is very small, but the probability against chance is staggering.

As I often tell people, the proof is out there, but what it is proof of is not as exciting as you might think. Can an average person, for instance, predict the future? The hard answer is yes... but the full answer is that it happens only a tiny bit more often than chance would dictate. With such a small effect, it takes hundreds of individual trials just to see a significant effect, but it is definitely there.

I think the most telling analysis of the available data comes form Dr. Jessica Utts, Professor of Statistics at the University of California at Irvine. While she was still at UC Davis, she published a paper in which she takes a very unambiguous stance on the topic. "Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be due to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. Effects of similar magnitude to those found in government-sponsored research at SRI and SAIC have been replicated at a number of laboratories across the world. Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws or fraud."

As for ghosts, we have stories from ancient China and Greece dating back long before TV. While expectation can be attributed to some sightings, it does not explain all of them. When you remove all the explainable experiences, you are still left with something for which we currently have no explanation. This is the liminal area I believe needs further study.

Is there something going on? Yes. Do we know what it is? Absolutely not. That's what needs more study.


 muchgooder   Thursday, March 26, 2009 11:17:56 AM

Thank you for your thoughtful post, Brian. I did check out your site and I applaud you for encouraging open discussion on this topic.

It seems like you straddle the line between wanting to understand why people see what they see an actually giving credibility to their claims. Also, at some points you encourage empiricle proof in order to claim paranormal events but in other places you chide debunkers for finding fault in studies. Plain and simple, at no point in our history has anyone been able to demonstrate psychic abilities. The only way to demonstrate this ability is to walk in to a controlled situation and just do it. As I'm sure you're aware, James Randi has a million dollar prize for anyone that can do it. I think that $1 million would go a long way toward promoting parasychology as a science.

Even if we look at this from a psychological standpoint, I think we know why people see ghosts. Ghosts are on the tv and in the movies. It is no different than people seeing Jesus or UFO's. The Jesus that people see is the modern image of him, not what he would have looked like in real life. Same thing with UFO's - it wasn't until the flying saucer was first depicted in science fiction in the 40's did people start seeing it in the sky. Before that they saw whatever the science of the times allowed for (usually wooden crafts that had fire on them).

 Brian   Thursday, March 26, 2009 4:01:29 AM

Like many "Ghost Hunters", you're making presumptions which have gaps in logic.

"Since there is absolutely, positively no proof that the afterlife exists, any instruments that go towards proving that there is are purely subjective."

While this statement is true, it implies that every researcher is working on proof of the afterlife. Personally, I've been at this over 20 years and I don't think that's ever been the (or even a) goal of my research. For me, I look at it this way: "Ghosts" have been reported in every culture as far back as we have records. After all this time how much do we know about this anomaly? Next to nothing. Spirits of the dead? We're REALLY far from any real science being able to point to that as a possibility. BUT.... The phenomena has been shown to exist. MY goal is to figure out what people are experiencing. By using whatever is available - measurement, observation, deduction, etc. I (and others, too, I hope) intend to discover the measurable properties of what people call "ghosts". From there, perhaps some day, we might be able to find the origin, etc.

And to make things harder, ghosts are *anomalies*. Until we can find a way to reliable make them manifest, on cue, we're stuck trying to make field observations and hoping for the best. Think of all the stories of the mountain gorilla and how much science knew about it before one was able to be studied in a lab.

Field observation over time and many many researchers... and, yes, ghost hunters... has shown that these anomalous phenomena do seem to exhibit certain qualities. There seems to be a correlation between the phenomena and ambient air temperature drops, certain kinds of EM radiation, and subjective but consistent human factors as well.

Not every investigator of anomalous phenomena (aka paranormal) is off the deep end. There IS some good hard science emerging... but you probably won't find it on prime time TV or flashy internet sites. Check out the work of people like Dean Radin, JJ Lumsden, Harold Puthoff, Adrian Ryan, and others.


 muchgooder   Tuesday, February 3, 2009 8:33:01 AM

Thanks so much for stopping in!

I've got several thoughts on your post. First, I think wrestling and the Ghost Hunters show have a ton in common. Second, and I say this with all due respect, I think that people want to experience something that they often see something that isn't there. Think about it - if the afterlife did exist and could communicate with us, wouldn't they do it in a place where there would be no doubt to anyone? And exactly what would you consider good evidence? I haven't seen a single thing on that show or anywhere else that I would consider to be credible. Inaudible sounds on a tape machine don't impress me nor do the shadows that always seem to be just off camera. On top of that, you now have a group that was pretty much caught faking evidence on the 2008 live show (look up "fraud-o-rama" on youtube - that guy did a great job laying it all out).

 PMorgan   Monday, February 2, 2009 10:43:06 PM

I've had two paranormal experiences in my life, so I believe in this stuff. These "ghosthunting" shows' main objective is to capture ratings first and spirits second. That annoying post-production ambient noise and sfx bed that's pumped in proves that. It would be boring hearing room noise for 20 minutes. Last week they brought in some guy from SciFi channel's wrestling show ECW in some slimy cross promotion ploy. What ECW has to do with SciFi escapes me. They have captured some impressive evidence, but showing those moments would make the show 30 seconds long. I've stopped watching the show because of the afore mentioned reasons, but the main reason is the head guy, Jason Hawes. His personality is not pleasant and I can't stand it any more. I do appreciate their philosophy of trying to debunk and not always trying to hype the situation. Paranormal State is a much more authentic show in this genre, but the religious bent gets a bit much.

Disbelief muchgooder.com

Debunking the Ghost Hunters

posted on 10/1/08 11:38 AM

Debunking the Ghost Hunters

posted on 10/1/08 11:38 AM

Debunking the Ghost Hunters

posted on 10/1/08 11:38 AM

Debunking the Ghost Hunters

posted on 10/1/08 11:38 AM

Debunking the Ghost Hunters

posted on 10/1/08 11:38 AM
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