Ghost Hunters Academy 1.9: "Dissension in the Ranks"

I'm not sure whether or not this show is meant to be instructive to the audience or merely entertaining, but I'm certainly taking a lot from it. And I don't mean that in a particularly good way. If anything, it's adding some perspective to many of the valid criticisms leveled at TAPS in recent years, particularly on the technical side.

I've already outlined, at length, the issues with the EMF meters that were provided to the candidates. (This information can be found in the review for Season 1, Episode 7: "The New Class".) I also mentioned that the Raytek-style IR thermometers being used have inherent limitations that don't seem to be well understood by TAPS.

It was bad enough when the candidates were using the EMF meters as if the data output was particularly meaningful. That it happens to an even greater degree in this episode is maddening. But using the Raytek-style thermometers at the same time really took the cake. At least half of what the candidates did in this episode was utterly useless.

But it's hard for me to place the full measure of blame on the candidates. After all, this is where the field has gone in the past decade or so. Investigators routinely use the cheapest instruments they can find, and few of them have the technical training or education to recognize the difference between a $20 EMF meter and, say, a $500 one. It all looks the same.

I see it myself on a regular basis, since I offer my technical services to many regional groups as a means of collecting more data than a single group can typically offer. I honestly feel that the majority of investigators have the best of intentions, even if most of them are seeking validation of their own beliefs. That's all well and good, and frankly, there should be a solid reason, personal or otherwise, for people to invest the time, money, and energy to the field.

Yet there is a stubborn side to the field that is hard to overcome. Investigators are still beating on the same doors that were considered innovative in the 1970s. They understand that reported "cold spots" suggest that measuring temperature might be a good idea, but they don't see the difference between instruments designed to measure surface temperatures vs. air temperature. They hear that EMF could be important to the entire puzzle, but they don't see that using instruments that generally measure man-made AC frequencies can produce false positives.

Perhaps due to the rebuttals and diatribes of many hard-line skeptics, who tend to replace healthy agnosticism with strident orthodoxy, there is a distrust of any technical-based criticisms of current practices in the field. I notice myself that there is a casual and almost holier-than-thou dismissal when shortcomings of instrumentation are brought up in the course of an investigation. In some cases, as long as an investigator believes that the data is meaningful, even if it's just out of an intense desire to find anything that validates their experiences, they will justify it.

I've noted instances in the past where TAPS members have fallen into this pattern. We see examples of it in this episode as well. And just in terms of "Ghost Hunters", it perpetuates the wrong kind of habits and assumptions in the field, because people emulate what they see on the screen. Even so, it's all happening on a manageable level.

What irks me about "Ghost Hunters Academy", especially in this episode, is that we see several examples of absolute technical ignorance. The younger candidates cannot be blamed, especially if they don't have the right kind of technical education to counter the stubborn traditions of the field. But some of these investigators have been around for years, and they don't even think twice about using the wrong equipment for the job.

(I will amend an earlier criticism. I said at one point that the investigators were using the Raytek-style thermometers without ambient air temperature probes. In this episode, one can see the thermocouple wires attached to the bottom of the "gun". Of course, the investigators are still pointing the "gun" and reading the surface temperatures, so the presence of the thermocouple now actually makes it worse. To get the air temperature at a certain point, the investigator would have to get the tip of the thermocouple wire into that precise spot and keep it there long enough for the temperature reading to be meaningful based on the unit's data collection rate. At no time was this done.)

Here's the catch. Steve, Tango, and Jason all allude to the fact that the candidates were specifically taught by Steve and Tango on the use of the equipment. And that means that the incorrect use and interpretation of the data from the thermometers and EMF meters were based on TAPS' own training regiment.

This is not the fault of editing, or simply a matter of TAPS using flashy equipment because that's what the network or Pilgrim Films tells them to use. They say, point blank, that they trained the candidates on the use of the equipment. And those practices are, based on the design and intent of the instrumentation itself, fundamentally wrong, in terms of knowing what data is being collected, how it should be collected, and how it should be interpreted.

And it's not as though TAPS can fall back on claims of simple lack of knowledge. I could give a random group with little or no exposure to the right kind of information more of a pass. But well-intentioned professionals, who use these instruments in industrial and research applications on a routine basis, have been providing TAPS with helpful information since the day the first episode aired. At this point, TAPS has no excuse for teaching people the wrong information.

So it was maddening to hear them quibble over Michelle's apparent lack of use of the thermometer during a particular event, because that had nothing to do with why she wasn't being a good candidate. It just reinforced their own admission of technical ignorance! Viewers astutely noted that Michelle rode on Eric's coattails during the previous investigation, and predicted that Michelle would be lost when in charge without someone to mimic. And that's exactly what happened.

I'm happy to see that Rosalyn isn't getting preferential treatment as a highly-ranked leader of a TAPS Family organization, but an interesting side effect is beginning to emerge. The more Rosalyn trips over the fundamentals and whines about losing the upper hand in the competition, the more it reflects badly on the TAPS Family as a whole. Is this typical of the "leadership" seen in TAPS Family organizations? These questions have started to come up, even if the producers (and TAPS) have kept her connection to TAPS off the show. One might ask how closely TAPS monitors their Family members to ensure that the organizations are maintaining the reputed standards.

This is why it's so maddening that the series itself presents TAPS as superior to every other group out there. If they were simply using this as a screening process for completely inexperienced candidates, then it would just be some criticism over what they teach their own. By taking on candidates with experience, they are implicitly suggesting that their methods are better. Some have suggested that this interpretation is based in some sort of jealousy, but it's nothing of the sort; this arrogance is built right into the series' DNA. After all, either TAPS is intentionally teaching the candidates bad science, or they think they know better than the professionals who have attempted to correct the usage of the equipment as portrayed. Neither possibility is particularly flattering.)

And it was also infuriating to see them harp on Brett's minor lapse of judgment over the IR extender when there is this much larger issue of what Steve and Tango are teaching the candidates! Brett was never going to win this competition, but that wasn't a good reason for him to be dismissed. (And I still absolutely despise the whole "tell us openly which of your fellow candidates should be cut" routine. It's abominable, and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves for agreeing to do things that way.)

I do think Eric has the potential to shine as a leader, but I can see how things are going already. Eric has patience issues, and I'm sure that will come back to haunt him, even if he's right. After all, it's not just TAPS judging him; the other candidates have an open voice to influence the outcome. (Which, logically, is why this is not a simple "job interview". It's a game wrapped in the trappings of a candidate selection process.)

Vera is starting to get on my nerves. I felt she was lucky during the previous investigation, because she found "evidence" to back up her personal experience. But she continues to give me the impression of someone who desperately wants to have experiences, and therefore interprets every little thing as paranormal. The EVP in this episode was so questionable that I find it hard to believe that Jason, Steve, and Tango were even remotely impressed. It couldn't have been more buried in the background noise.

This episode had me disgusted almost from the very beginning, and reinforced everything that has disappointed me about "Ghost Hunters Academy". Worse, it confirmed many of the criticisms leveled against TAPS regarding their lack of technical expertise. I sincerely doubt this is what Jason and the others were hoping would be the result when they agreed to participate in this nonsense.


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