Ghost Hunters 6.2: "Fort Ticonderoga"

A lot of my response to the sixth season premiere was a reaction to the Syfy event that dominated it, and how it emphasized the entertainment aspects and the franchise over everything else. I felt it overshadowed the investigation and justified many of the long-standing criticisms of TAPS and “Ghost Hunters”. Thankfully, this episode took the series back into more familiar and less sensational ground.

I noticed the use of the “full spectrum” camcorder in this episode, which was a nice touch. I did, however, think it was odd that Jason seemed a bit skeptical of it. The technology has been in use on GHI for quite some time, and while there are questions surrounding it (as with the use of all this tech), it seems a lot more reliable than, say, the K-II meter, which Jason and Grant use on a regular basis. I’d love to know what Jason’s concerns are.

But this brings up the ongoing debate of “technical” vs. “scientific”. Like I’ve said before, just because someone uses technical instrumentation doesn’t mean that the basis for use is scientific. It goes well beyond the “television” version of paranormal investigation, where concessions are regularly made in terms of visual presentation. The vast majority of paranormal investigative groups seem to rely too much on their assumptions about the technology and devalue the science.

I have my opinions about why this is the case. Paranormal investigators come into the field with an intense desire to find results. When that desire overcomes the necessary detachment and objectivity of scientific endeavor, then it becomes all too easy to accept unsupportable “tradition” and gimmicks when they seem to deliver. Devices like “radio sweepers” and the Ovilus are perfect examples. Scientifically, there’s a solid reason why they can’t produce defendable results. Plenty of investigators still swear by them because they seem to deliver something tangible. (And some, like Chris Fleming, make a killing by selling these devices that they know don’t work as advertised.)

In the premiere, Steve and Tango were using a “Bumblebee tablet”. The idea seemed to be this: if one suspects that EVPs originate at a frequency below the threshold of typical human hearing, then the tablet would theoretically detect the waveform and alert an investigator to a potential EVP.

First, I’d like to address the logical fallacy of the theory itself. Based on how they are captured, EVPs cannot originate at a frequency below the range of human hearing. EVPs are regularly recorded on digital voice recorders. Setting aside common factors such as pattern recognition and noise contamination, these recorders often include filters that prevent noise at frequencies outside the typical audible range from being recorded. So if something is audible upon playback, it must have originated within the audible frequency range.

Never mind that if it can be heard upon playback, it has to be within the audible frequency range. I’ve seen the notes on the screen saying that the EVP is recorded very low in the frequency range, or sometimes just below the typical auditory frequency range, but it’s usually still audible. If it wasn’t, how would the investigator even know it was there to analyze it? Especially since they are often buried in the background noise floor in the waveform display? On simple logical principle, this “infrasound” theory doesn’t hold water. (Yes, I know that there are harmonics and “beat frequencies” to take into consideration, but even then, it doesn’t quite work.)

From a technical perspective, the Bumblebee tablet also doesn’t have the capability to detect frequencies below the audible frequency range. The Bumblebee is an RF spectrum analyzer made by Berkeley Varitronics in Metuchen, NJ. According to the information forwarded to me by one of my engineering colleagues, the frequency response of the Bumblebee doesn’t go below 50KHz, which is significantly above the audible frequency spectrum. While it will provide a survey of the most common frequencies encountered in the RF band in the location being investigated, at best this provides a basis for debunking audio anomalies as an RF artifact through correlation with the raw audio recording. (And it would also be potentially useful for debunking K-II meter spikes, since it’s known that common RF frequencies can product false positives.)

To sum it up: the Bumblebee tablet does not have the technical capability to detect a frequency in the “infrasound” range. Therefore, even if the “infrasound” theory were logical and correct, the instrument itself would be the wrong thing to use to gather supporting data. I would be interested to know why they suspected that such a device would be valuable in an investigation.

Beyond an attempt to educate and elevate the practices of the field, there is a reason for bringing this up in relation to this episode. Frankly, I thought the most impressive moment in the episode had nothing to do with technical data collection. It was simple human response to the unexpected.

Before I get to that, a few words on the rest of the “evidence”. I’ve mentioned before that the “evidence de jour” lately has been footsteps and disembodied voices. After years of seldom getting either, it seems to show up constantly now. Not just on “Ghost Hunters”, but nearly every other paranormal television show on the planet. I don’t discount either phenomenon, because I’ve encountered both in my own investigations, but those were isolated incidents.

Usually I find it easy to be skeptical of the footsteps. This time, I heard the rhythmic sound rather clearly. I know the team thought it could have been footsteps, but I thought it sounded like a drum or other intentional pattern. And since it was Britt and Amy that captured the sound, I’m less inclined to question the veracity of the recording itself. I’d definitely want to investigate further.

I was also intrigued by the light that Jason, Steve, and Tango reportedly saw at the same time from different locations. It was Tango’s remark that he saw a light, caught on camera, that caught my attention. Granted, as presented, there’s not much to it. No flash of light was caught on camera, and one could assume that the various reactions were pre-planned so that the necessary footage could be available. But there’s no proof or even evidence for either extreme interpretation. The only thing that seems evident is that they all reported seeing a flash of light at the same time.

I will note that Britt mentioned the geology in the region, which could have produced an energy discharge similar to ball lightning as per the piezoelectric effect. Some minerals are capable of storing energy and releasing it under applied mechanical stress or temperature change. This sort of discharge often looks like floating balls of light, and will even travel along railroad tracks for miles under the right conditions, producing the “ghost light” effect reported in some areas. This investigation took place in upstate New York in November 2009, so it’s quite possible that the team observed a natural energy discharge.

What I found most impressive was the sound captured by Steve and Tango. Now, I know this one will be controversial. It could have been a natural noise that sounds like a voice or response, and it could have been a surprisingly good acting job on Steve’s part. But in my opinion, Steve actually thought he heard someone disagree with his story about the gunpowder smell. I say this because when he looked up and asked for confirmation that he was wrong, I also heard the sound and thought that someone was trying to correct him!

Just like Steve, it took a moment for me to realize that he wasn’t looking in the direction of the production crew. I’m not even sure that the sound guy could have been standing where they were looking. But I was struck by how genuine Steve and Tango’s reaction appeared to be. Steve looked over as if expecting someone to be standing there, and it took just the right amount of time for him to recognize that no one should be there. I’m sure others will disagree with me on this interpretation, but paranormal or not, I honestly think Steve was reacting to something he heard. As I said, I heard the sound as well, and leapt to the same conclusion.

I even found myself agreeing with Jason’s summary of the investigation. While I’m not sure anything was paranormal in origin, I do agree that the logical next step would be further investigation over a long period of time. I know they say it often, and that it never seems to materialize on-screen (I suspect the locations are passed off to TAPS Family teams if at all), but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the most responsible approach to take. Anomalies from one investigation shouldn’t be considered evidence of anything.

I think it helped that Grant’s absence in this case forced the team to break out of the normal routine a bit more. The mixing of investigative teams seemed to help mitigate most of my usual criticisms. And this time, the bulk of the interesting “evidence” was captured by investigators other than Jason or Grant. It all boils down to a solid episode that left me entertained and thoughtful.


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