Ghost Hunters 6.13: "Uninvited Guests"

Every time "Ghost Hunters" hits the airwaves, there is the inevitable slew of rehashed accusations and protestations from the skeptical orthodoxy. Footage from Eastern State in the first season through the 2008 Live Halloween debacle is revisited with ever more strident anger and vitriol. (Accompanied, all too often, with thinly-veiled insults towards those who still enjoy the series or continue to believe that TAPS is sincere and genuine.)

This is toxic enough for anyone attempting to take a constructive approach to the show and TAPS' evolution in relation to it and the field. Recently, I pointed out that a particularly strident critic had come to a false conclusion based on some older footage. In essence, the conclusion that evidence had been fabricated was based on the premise that a certain type of device was used. (In this case, an mp3 player rather than a digital voice recorder.)

My observation was very simple: the device that was supposedly used did not look like the device in the footage, and furthermore, did not have the capability required to be the "smoking gun" that the critic demanded that it was. And when this information was provided, the response was essentially: "I don't care what you say, I'm not changing my mind."

This is why I refer to those of similar attitude as the "skeptical orthodoxy". They abandon all credible claims to critical thinking and rely on their own brand of confirmation bias and selective observation to validate their pre-determined opinions. It's no different than coming into a discussion on potential evidence of paranormal phenomena with the firm stance that any such notion is pure nonsense. If you can't be objective, then you are taking an absolutist, orthodox stance, and you bring nothing valuable to the discussion.

To me, if you're going to claim that Jason or Grant faked evidence, then you can't fudge the details of the argument. You have to rely on specific facts that can be independently verified. It's no different than the standard that I and others hold TAPS and other paranormal groups to on a daily basis. It's the same standard I hold my fellow investigators to when we discuss our data. It's what science is supposed to be about: not dismissing a conclusion based on the conclusion itself, but based on the strength or weakness of the supporting argument.

In this specific example, the right approach would be to find out exactly which make and model of digital voice recorder was used in the footage in question. Based on that, it would be easy enough to get the specifications and operating manual for the device, and then work out how the device functions. From there, it might even be possible to determine, based on the footage itself, what exactly was being done.

Of course, for nearly two years since the incident in question, that kind of objective breakdown and analysis has never been done. Instead, it's been an endless parade of assumption, suggestion, and accusation, largely driven by critics who all but sit in front of their TV screens, drooling in anticipation of editing together yet another YouTube video designed to eliminate all but their own desired context.

This is never more disturbing and, quite frankly, pathetic than the recent resurgence in personal attacks against current and former TAPS and GHI members. It's always been a practice of the skeptical orthodoxy to hang TAPS members on the minor inconsistencies in their statements regarding their personal lives. It's never a matter of simplifying answers to complicated (and often irrelevant) questions to keep an interview or online chat from stagnating; it's a conspiracy that demands outrage and public condemnation (if not legal recourse). Entire websites and forums appear dedicated to the perpetuation of this mindset, following the example of such mind-numbing parasitical celebrity-hounding programs as "The Insider" or "Access Hollywood".

I attempted to engage such critics once by pointing out that an apparent lie was, in fact, based on the assumption of a lie. There was no proof that a lie was actually told. I offered that the simplest way to prove that a lie had been told would be to contact an official to get a statement one way or the other. Then, the conclusion would be based on objective information, not assumption of guilt. I was, of course, accused of defending the TAPS member in question and trying to deflect the issue!

I won't deny that the shoddy treatment of former TAPS/GHI members by Pilgrim Films, Jason, and Grant has led to a lot of unnecessary and unfortunate public in-fighting, or that the volley of accusations of deceit towards one another serves to undermine the integrity of the organization as a whole. But I also see that much of that in-fighting is gleefully spurred and fostered by self-serving individuals who seek to promote themselves in the process, and their motivations are all too often overlooked or dismissed.

This is all very different from criticizing specific methods, such as this episode's use of the "flashlight test". The example in the first case was a clear example of confirmation bias, given that every single flicker of the flashlight was taken as significant. It's also very different from criticizing the misuse of technical instrumentation and over-reliance on personal interpretation. That is constructive criticism that is based on science and proven investigative technique. It can be corrected, or at the very least, fairly debated.

And that is the major difference. If, as with much of the evidence in this episode, there are scientific reasons to dismiss the evidence, there is the possibility for something to be changed and for the evidence to be stronger. Presuming there is progressive evolution, everybody wins. This is not the case when facts are dismissed in favor of pre-determined conclusions.

The skeptical orthodoxy should remember this simple maxim: the role of science is to investigate the unexplained, not to explain the uninvestigated.

Case #1: 1875 Inn, NH

Now that I've spent a lot of time and effort to decry destructive criticism, let me explain why I wasn't impressed by much of the "evidence" in this case!

I already noted how the flashlight activity was a clear case of confirmation bias. I've used that term a lot, but it definitely applies. Brit and KJ didn't even bother to attempt establishment of context; they simply interpreted everything as significant. I'm really tired of seeing them use this method, because I'm seeing it employed more and more by investigators who should know better.

As far as the "Daddy" AVP (Audible Voice Phenomena) goes, I think that was a stretch. They really had to push the client to hear what they wanted her to hear, and it could have easily been the natural noises in the room.

In terms of Kris and Amy's footage, I didn't hear anything in the audio to suggest there was a male voice calling "Help", but I did hear the "no" AVP. Not only that, but on the display, the waveform was above the background noise. That was probably the only interesting tidbit out of the case for me, even if my natural first assumption with any AVP is simple human contamination of the audio. After all, if was heard in real-time, it's the result of a sound wave, and that has to have a definitive source that can generate the necessary compression of the air to make that wave. That's very different from a genuine EVP.

Case #2: Shippen Manor, NJ

Jason and Grant claimed to have something run past them, and they said they heard footsteps in the footage. I couldn't quite make them out. But I definitely didn't hear the "uh-oh" EVP; it sounded more like incidental movement than anything else.

When it comes to the "blob of light", I was a bit skeptical. I noticed that they were using one of the now-ubiquitous laser grid pens in the room, and Brit reacted to a strange movement of light. Could it have been an artifact of the laser light hitting a bug or some other object? If Brit wasn't focusing on it, it would have been easy enough to just see a burst of irregularly shaped light as a result.

The supposed shadow in the doorway did bring up an interesting thought. My initial reaction was skeptical, because there was absolutely nothing seen in the camera footage. But then I realized that the camera was registering IR light, based on the reflection of the source light from the illuminator on the camera. From the camera's perspective, wouldn't the strong IR source wash out any shadows in the visible light spectrum?

Even with that in mind, I found it hard to justify any conclusion that there was definitive activity at this location. And since the client seemed eager to believe, I wonder if it really matters. I suppose we'll know if profitable ghost tours and ghost hunts appear on the schedule at the Shippen Manor.

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