Ghost Hunters International 2.9

Australia has been pretty good to GHI. The first case, covered in the previous episode, had a great client and some intriguing recordings. Upon realizing that this would be an episode with only one case, I was immediately pleased. I enjoy the depth of coverage that the longer format allows.

I also noted that the semi-controversial static meter was not being used in the last few investigations. After some of my comments in previous reviews, some readers graciously provided some background information on the devices that were featured on the show (or devices of seemingly identical origin). The devices appear to come pre-built, based on a kit, from a company that claims to ensure that the meters are specifically sensitive to paranormal activity. If this sounds suspiciously like the bogus claims about the K-II Meter on Chris Fleming’s website some years ago (“calibrated for ghost hunting!”), that’s because it should.

In a nice bit of synchronicity, as some skeptics pointed out the difficulty in establishing clear controls around the use of a static meter and the questionable readings that can result, I received a comment from a member of GHI indicating that they had already come to the same conclusions back when the cases were being filmed. As a result, according to this source, the viewers would not see the static meter for much longer in the episodes being aired.

This brought to mind another criticism that I was independently countering in recent weeks. Having seen a “full spectrum camcorder” on “Ghost Adventures”, one viewer ripped into GHI for still using the now-surpassed “full spectrum” still camera. Setting aside the fact that photography and video surveillance cover two different aspects of an investigation, I was perturbed by the lack of perspective.

For one thing, Barry had mentioned in a previous episode of GHI, on screen, that he and his research colleagues were working on video version of the “full spectrum” camera. Add to that the fact that the individual who provided the “full spectrum” camcorder to “Ghost Adventures”, Andy Coppock, is directly involved with the behind-the-scenes tech development for TAPS and other groups, and it’s not hard to connect the dots. “Ghost Adventures” didn’t trump Barry or GHI; they benefitted from sharing within the community as a whole. (And, sure enough, GHI is clearly using a “full spectrum” video camera in this episode.)

Most sincere investigators try to share their theories and ideas with the rest of the field, because once ego is out of the equation, it’s recognized that this is a matter of enlightened mutual interest. The more groups that test a theory or equipment, the better the evaluation. My biggest problem is when someone puts a new device on the market with fraudulent claims of success, when the simplest of technical evaluations can show that the output from the device is contrived to appear meaningful. Hence my strident skepticism of flashy, market-driven gadgetry. Give me a quantitative data display and a semi-reasonable design of experiment, and it will trump a bunch of blinking lights any day.

All of this boils down to two key points in GHI’s favor. First, they are trying new ways of collecting data and making an evaluation of the pros and cons of those methods, and adjusting accordingly. Since we already know that Barry’s technical theories are rooted in a consistent personal philosophy regarding the paranormal, and that the team has aligned to work together along similar lines, this adds to the impression that GHI is making a sincere effort to advance the field. Agree or disagree with the conclusions and assumptions all you want (as I sometimes do); GHI is still adhering to the scientific method than any other group currently on the air.

Second, it has to be remembered that GHI’s episodes air a long time after they are filmed, so many of the things that seem “behind the times” are actually reasonable for the time at which the cases were filmed. These episodes were filmed several months ago, much earlier in 2009. For better or worse, we are used to shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures”, where the show is popular enough that the number of episodes every season requires a very quick turnaround. The benefit of social media is that we have a much better understanding of the overall timeline. GHI, by contrast, could see a lag time of more than a year, depending on when Syfy chooses to slide the episodes into the schedule.

As always, it comes down to perspective, and placing things in a well-considered context: both in terms of what we can reasonably conclude from what we see on screen, and what we cannot. Just as it’s fair to recognize that any “evidence” on the show is being shown in edited form, and therefore questionable, it’s important to be fair in criticism. In this case, I appreciate the fact that GHI identified the same concerns about equipment then that we had as viewers today.

All of which is a prelude to some of my comments on the “evidence” from this particular case!

If there’s one curious trend that I have noticed over the past year or so, across the many paranormal investigative shows on the air, it’s the increase in apparent disembodied voices. They used to be fairly rare; now they seem to happen all the time. My main concern is always a question of the nature of the source: if both recording devices and the human ear detect the sound, then it is a physical sound wave. That requires a vibration source to generate the sound wave.

And that would appear to point to a human or otherwise natural source for all disembodied voices, or at least, it would if I hadn’t encountered fairly convincing examples of disembodied voices myself. Even so, I can’t help but wonder if the increase in apparent captured disembodied voices is a function of increased activity or increased expectation.

Most of the “evidence” for this case involved disembodied voices and EVP, and the sheer number just adds to the skepticism. But here’s where the point about context complicates the matter. As Dustin said, it’s not just the number of unusual recordings, it’s the context. Many of the recordings fit the situation. And when that happens, I think it’s a mistake to leap to the immediate conclusion that it’s just a misinterpreted human voice (or, worse, fabricated).

I must admit that we can’t judge the exact conditions based on the footage shown in the episode. It’s entirely possible that a member of the Pilgrim crew was helping things along (they have been caught in the act on past occasions, after all). In the end, I can only say that if I captured those recordings, I’d be scheduling the follow-up the very next night.

Of course, the real prize for this episode was the “full spectrum” photograph. I immediately saw what they were referring to in the picture, and I have to admit that it’s very suggestive of a human figure. I also like the fact that they presented a reference photograph of the same exact location where nothing was captured. It doesn’t rule out pattern recognition, but it does solidify the basis for their conclusions.

This is where I think the benefit of experience comes into play. To be honest, how many people have experience with the output of a “full spectrum” camera? Not many, I would wager. I certainly don’t trust my knee-jerk interpretations of the photo as “expert analysis”! It’s the same reason I was skeptical of the interpretation of the “full spectrum” video on “Ghost Adventures”. That team used a new piece of equipment, with little or no testing or training ahead of time. How, then, can they be sure that the apparently anomalous footage was evidence of the paranormal, and not just a common artifact of the video output?

In contrast, I think it’s safe to say, just in terms of the footage we’ve seen in recent years, that the GHI team has reviewed and analyzed thousands of “full spectrum” photos. Because we know that they evaluate the equipment that they use, one can assume that they have enough trust and understanding of the “full spectrum” camera to give a consistent evaluation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they wouldn’t misinterpret something as an apparition, but it does mean that they probably have a good basis for their own conclusions. As such, I completely understand why they felt the location was haunted.


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