Ghost Hunters International 2.18: "Demons of Nicaragua"

When it was first announced that the "winners" of "Ghost Hunters Academy" would be working with the GHI team for further training, I was wary of the consequences. As I said many times then and recently, the strength of the GHI team has been their relative consistency. After a rough start, the team had settled into a solid core with a clear and understandable approach and rationale. It was never a question of integrity with GHI; it was simply occasional disagreement with their conclusions and assumptions (as is common with many groups and investigators in the field).

The structure of GHI makes change inevitable. The filming requires an exhausting whirlwind tour of various international sites in one long and grueling production schedule, the team members get paid with nominal compensation, and this places a great deal of pressure on those with family and similar personal obligations. The filming is not year-round, yet taking this much time to film a show internationally makes keeping a steady day job difficult at best. There's a damn good reason why GHI team members are staples of the convention/conference circuit.

But even when there are new team members, it can work if there is strong leadership and a dedication to the field over personal gain. GHI has never been afraid to tell it as they see it, and Robb has ensured that the principles of the core team (now he and Barry) are preserved. Even when Pilgrim Films has brought in investigators to fill slots that were open on the team, Robb has made it work.

I mention all of this because it appears that the consistency of the team is breaking down. Dustin left for personal reasons (to be with his family and start his Christian ministry). Ashley's eventual departure was mentioned months ago, shortly after her engagement. Joe Chin comes and goes as the apparent pitch hitter for the "Ghost Hunters" franchise. And now there is the apparent loss of Brandy Green.

I'll be honest. I never had a problem with Brandy, but she reminded me of Joe Chin to a certain extent. She is the kind of investigator that gets the job done, but ultimately doesn't bring anything unique to the table that makes it on-screen. This is a necessary part of the equation, however, and a staple of the field. Some are leaders, some are self-obsessed fame-chasers, and the rest are just trying to do their best as they know how.

But it all comes down to team leadership, as any investigator can tell you. The lack of a command presence can undermine an investigation before it even begins. And one of the most important roles of a team leader is the selection of personnel. The leader has to have the ability to either pick who will be on his or her team, or have the option of removing someone who doesn't fit the organization.

We've all seen the effect when this is not the case, even if we don't realize it. After the second season of "Ghost Hunters", Pilgrim Films all but told Jason and Grant that they wanted certain members off the show and others in the spotlight. As producers, they at least had some say in the final casting, but recent years have also suggested that they relented on other questionable requests from Pilgrim Films and Syfy as well. So it's perhaps not too surprising that there was compromise.

The point is that Robb is not a producer on GHI, and he does not have the choice of who comes onto his team. So far, Paul and Scott seem to be working out fine; they both come from solid enough backgrounds with compatible approaches and goals. But all things being equal, Pilgrim Films has and does bring in new investigators, and Robb has to make it work. (Though I vaguely recall that Paul was a colleague of Barry's, or at least someone he knew.)

Susan Slaughter may be a capable investigator, but let's be honest about her reason for being on the show. She was a "winner" of a contest. A contest that largely consists of candidates looking to cash in on the "fame" of being on a popular cable franchise. That's not a smear against the candidates; that is an accurate description of the thrust of the promotion surrounding the hunt for future candidates for "Ghost Hunters Academy". It's very clear: "Wanna be a ghost hunter on TV? Win GHA and be a part of GHI!"

I'm not going to pretend that everyone on GHI now or previously was in it for the right reasons. But this has been a growing epidemic in the field since the paranormal investigation genre exploded in recent years. Otherwise rational and capable investigators are scrambling to get a piece of the action, and the integrity of the field suffers as a whole. And let's face it: there are enough issues within the field in terms of confirmation bias and poor technical understanding. This additional layer doesn't help!

One thing is clear: Pilgrim Films has decided to use GHI as the prize for future iterations of GHA. And since we know that the candidates on GHA are being taught junk science (and even blatantly incorrect science), these impending GHI members are coming in with assumptions and training that is incompatible with the current GHI approach.

In effect, Pilgrim Films is turning GHI into a clone of TAPS. How long will it be before Robb is no longer the leader, and the amount of "evidence" goes from what is normal in the field to something closer to the oft-debated TAPS level? My own paranoia leads me to suspect that this is the inevitable consequence of GHI's indirect role in demonstrating, by comparison, how questionable TAPS' "evidence" and methods really are.

It all comes down to the bottom line: this is exactly what I was afraid of when Karl and Susan were told that they were joining GHI for "winning" on "Ghost Hunters Academy". The dismantling of GHI may be happening slowly, but it is certainly happening.

Case #1: Coyotepe Fortress, Nicaragua

All the bangs and various sounds in this location were interesting enough, but given the nature of the site, I'm not sure how much of that can truly be pinned down on the paranormal. This is one of those situations where the reported activity and the assumption of "demonic" activity plays against team composure. Barry, in particular, has always shown a tendency to let his beliefs about such things affect his investigative style and conclusions. (This is fairly apparent from his books, so it's not an unfair assessment of edited footage.)

The EVP was, in my opinion, questionable. As with many of the EVPs that have been captured of late, it is buried deep in the background noise, which makes it hard to argue as something paranormal in nature. Random noise will produce familiar sounds, and context only counts if it eliminates that factor.

Of course, the real draw of this case was the apparent figure caught in the "laser grid". Now, to be fair, I know almost nothing about the grid apparatus itself. I can only assume it works like any other such device. As such, this particular image is pretty damn weird. Note that the apparent figure is causing distortion of the lasers on one side of its "body", but not at all on the other. The distortion is what draws the eye, in fact.

Now, I'm not saying this is paranormal. I'm simply not familiar enough with this sort of equipment to identify reasons why there would be that sort of effect within the grid. It may be something fairly obvious to those who are more familiar with such things. I haven't played around with lasers in more than 15 years. So all I can say on this one is that there is something obvious taking place, but I just don't know what it is.

Case #2: Leon Museum, Nicaragua

This one was similar to the first case, in terms of the unusual sounds and the questionable EVP, but there was one investigative technique that really got under my skin.

I've mentioned before that the problem with excessive background noise is that more and more of it produces sounds that, especially in terms of the English language, can result in recognizable words and even phrases. Replacing city noise with the apparent steady hum of a blaring house fan doesn't eliminate that problem; it simply changes the nature of it.

More to the point, sit in an otherwise empty room, turn on a nice loud metal propeller-style fan, and just listen to the white noise that is generated. Or, for that matter, listen to any mechanical fan in any HVAC or similar system for a long enough period of time. Eventually, nearly everyone will admit that they start hearing what sounds like whispering of conversation within the noise. It's one of the most common examples typically given to novice investigators for aural pattern recognition.

This is why I've never liked the idea of recording EVP sessions with intentional addition of white noise or similar factors, such as running water. It's just a more natural expression of the same principle behind the fallacy of the "ghost box" nonsense. Introduce sources of the same fundamental sounds that comprise human language, and sooner or later, you'll hear what you want to hear.


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