I’m often asked to give recommendations of paranormal investigation teams. These requests are not from claimants experiencing paranormal activity, but instead from people who want to join a team. There are many teams to choose from that contain individuals with different personality types and backgrounds. It’s difficult to make that match between people, so I rarely give recommendations. On top of this, more often than not, a person will participate for a brief stint with a team, and then branch off to start their own group. This generally occurs due to personality conflicts or differences in preferred investigation methodologies.
So, the next most popular question I receive has to do with these ghost hunting methodologies. I happily give my opinion on those, but most people won’t take the advice. They want to do something “different” than other groups do.
The current issue of Skeptical Inquirer contains an article called, “Ghost Hunting Mistakes: Science and Pseudoscience in Ghost Investigations”, by Benjamin Radford. Radford is the managing editor of the publication. There are several things that he mentions that should be done differently. Many of those things aren’t done in the real world, by some investigators. Radford speaks mainly about investigators on television. In the real world, Radford would be pleased to know that some groups adhere to many of his suggestions already, including the avoidance one common “mistake” of “lights out”.
On this subject, I wrote a short article on Paranormal Utopia a couple weeks ago called,”Doing it in the dark: Is lights out really beneficial to ghost hunters?“. The answer to that question, if you don’t click through, is:”No, it’s not always beneficial”. There are only a couple of instances where I believe that lights out would be beneficial. It’s my personal choice to forgo lights out, and it is also my personal choice to participate with a team that doesn’t go lights out. This is troubling, however, because there shouldn’t be a choice to make. Investigation methodologies should be uniform across the board and should not make their number one rule to “go lights out”.
Most claims of activity are based on experiences that took place for the claimant while the lights were on, even at night. If a claim of activity took place at 2:00 pm, the team should be at the location and observing at 2:00 pm. The same circumstances cannot be re-created at 2:00 am. The way things look in the sunlight versus the moonlight just isn’t the same, no matter what.
A team should also not take a case where all of the activity occurs as the claimant is falling asleep or wakes them up from a sleep. For these types of cases, I would recommend that the claimant undergoes a sleep study.
Most investigations that take place at night are done for a couple of choice reasons. Ghost hunting is usually done free of charge to the client, so team members usually have the responsibility of day jobs to finance their personal time and equipment. Secondly, some investigators prefer the quiet atmosphere that the middle of the night investigations offer. Then, there are the groups who simply enjoy the thrill of the darkness. These are the types of investigations that are seen on TV. They do not re-create the atmosphere in which paranormal activity was experienced. The goal would be to re-create the atmosphere to re-create the witnessed anomaly. If the anomaly is witnessed, the next step would be to attempt to replicate it as many times as possible.
The team that I am affiliated with does not handle investigations “as seen on TV”. Instead, the group adheres to specific methodologies. Others follow the methodologies of Ghost Hunters. Because of this, they think that they are qualified to enter peoples’ homes and deem a location “haunted” or not. At this point, no one is qualified to draw those conclusions, not even teams like mine.
On the topic of “qualifications”, there are teams that have decades of experience in ghost hunting. These teams have established their own methodologies, have selected tools and equipment of choice to work with (or constantly add the newest gadgets to their tool kits), and also have some manner of training that they offer to new members. Methodologies, equipment and training are not uniform, but they should be.
Contrary to popular belief, conclusions of unexplained activity cannot be drawn from one overnight investigation. A good investigation will include returning to the location for several months. There should be effort by the team to find proof to explain the activity as normal, rather than paranormal. Unfortunately, most claimants won’t stand for that and demand immediate answers – specifically the answer they want. Many teams out there want to prove the case as “paranormal”, so the claimant and the investigators are both biased toward the cause of everything being paranormal in nature.
There are a couple things that Radford did not mention in his article. The first has to do with the evaluation of cases prior to accepting an investigation. My team requires mental and physical evaluations of our clients prior to the investigation. This is for obvious reasons. Despite this, some claimants will still not believe the explanation that the activity they experienced as simply normal. Those claimants always end up disappointed. They will call in teams until they receive the answer they want. This should be a red flag to teams. The screening process should include asking about other teams that have already investigated. There is an exception to this in my mind. I would advocate for more than one group separately investigating the same location in an identical manner. That would be intriguing, as long as the teams are willing to put aside competitiveness, investigate in an identical manner, and compare the resulting information.
One show that I haven’t seen on TV, would involve three different teams investigating the same location, separately, in the exact same manner. Wouldn’t it be great if all three teams experienced the exact same things? We won’t see that show, however, because the viewer would want to move on to something else when the first team finishes their investigation. Viewers have panned some shows for being “too much like Ghost Hunters“. However, I am not talking TV right now, I am talking “reality”.
Another thing that Radford didn’t mention was the use of “blind investigators”. By blind, I mean that a couple of investigators on the team should enter into the investigation blindly and know nothing about the specifics of the activity. Some people see what they expect to see, or they see what they want to see. This is either by expecting to see what the claimant reported, or letting what they already know about the history of the location badly warp their perspective.
Radford does mention investigators becoming too “wrapped up” in the history and specifics of a location, in a sole quest to”identify” the ghost. Radford says that by focusing on who the ghost is, creates distractions from finding the source of gathered visual and audio evidence. Radford’s observations do ring true. Researching this information is important, but the research should be completed independently from the investigation and should not drive it.
As someone who participates in investigations, I was not offended at all by Radford’s article. I agree with it. I recommend it to all paranormal investigators. Personally, it left me hoping that paranormal investigators might someday unite and operate uniformly: from screening clients and team members, to training and certifying members, to embracing common investigation methodologies.
The technologies, or tools, may or may not prove the existence of ghosts. From Ghost Hunters, I’m sure you’ve heard the team members say: “The presence of ghosts is thought to cause a spike in EMF readings”. The tools used, at this point, are simply a matter of preference of individual teams.
Radford states: “The problem is that there is no body of research showing that anything these devices measure has anything to do with ghosts. Until someone can reliably demonstrate that ghosts have certain measurable characteristics, devices that measure those characteristics are irrelevant.”
That, to me, is a chicken-egg statement, but I do see what he’s getting at. However, I do also know that scientists go through some level of trial and error. To do this, they sometimes use equipment meant for other uses, until they are able to replicate results enough to “prove” something. They replicate their experiments over and over again, exactly. That’s not happening in most paranormal investigations.
I didn’t cover all of Radford’s article, but paranormal investigators are welcome to chime in to state why they think that the mentioned “mistakes”, aren’t. There is no “right or wrong” answer here, just a few observations that, in my mind, show that there is a need for overhauling some of those popular methodologies.
Copyright © 2010 Cherlyn Gardner Strong
Read more of Cherlyn’s posts as a contributor for Paranormal Utopia, or at Cherlyn’s Paranormal Old Pueblo website