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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.

Ghost Hunters 6.12: "America's First Zoo"

As someone who grew up just outside of Philadelphia, I completely understand the nostalgic factor that was referenced endlessly in this episode. It certainly brought back memories. Granted, certain areas look a bit different now, but it's not so different that it lost the resonance. One thing I don't remember is any mention of the zoo or related buildings being haunted. That's not necessarily meaningful; most of my visits to the zoo came early in life, so it's unlikely that I would remember such details. I was far more interested in the exhibits! I wonder if any readers did hear such stories before, or if this seems like an attempt by a struggling institution to get publicity and semi-notoriety. My biggest concern about the location, however, is the potential for audio contamination. Setting aside the usual concerns with wireless audio and what not in a fairly metropolitan area, where the likelihood of capturing stray signals is much higher than usual, it seems obvious that this would be a location rife with unusual animal noises. And while one might suspect that the sounds wouldn't travel into the areas being investigated, that's hard to say definitively without first-hand knowledge of the nighttime conditions. Even TAPS couldn't logically make such a blanket statement. I really don't have too much to say about this investigation. Most of the usual observations apply. I noted that KJ pointed out the relative lack of convenient power in some areas, but that doesn't explain why there was a dearth of useful handheld devices. A few dataloggers focused on the right parameters could yield useful information, even in the most mundane of investigations. For example, Brit and KJ reported cold spots in the Penrose building. But where was the independent verification that it happened? I've noted before that the format of the show and the formula now used with the investigations relies on the audience to take the investigators at their collective word, but there's just nothing to substantiate the claim. This is the second episode in a row with the sound of doors slamming and other similar noises. This does happen on investigations, but without some basis to identify the source, it's hard to determine whether or not it's paranormal. And as they say, when in doubt, throw it out. The only reasonable example, in my mind, was the sound captured in the Shelley building, where Jason and Grant were systematic in testing the various doors. Taken as presented, it seemed to exclude the nearby doors well enough. Might I suggest, at this juncture, retiring the silly practice of using "Shave and a Haircut" as some kind of test of intelligent paranormal interaction? I've never been all that happy with it, because it's all too easy to take any two noises that come right after that "test" as confirmation of communication. Much like the flashlight test, it is a simple sign of confirmation bias. (To be clear, I'm not entirely against asking for a sound or sign of presence. But it should be the beginning of a systematic process to establish a clear pattern of call and response, with enough variation and complexity to eliminate the vast majority of random sources. I have yet to see that happen in the field.) As far as the thermal camera incident goes, it's hard to take seriously. For one thing, those units can easily be knocked off balance (at least the ones I have seen). So in the absence of anything else to suggest something unusual about the incident, it should have been logically dismissed. However, I would also point out, as others undoubtedly will, that this happened off-camera and very close to Grant. Most investigators would want some kind of independent video that could eliminate any inadvertent action that might have caused the camera to roll and fall. The "evidence" is largely personal experiences and some very questionable audio. Many of the supposed captured voices and EVPs were not at all discernable, and sounded more like static or environmental noises that were misinterpreted. Certainly, none of them were clear and distinct. It's so subjective that Jason and Grant have to tell the client what is supposedly being said, which automatically invalidates the interpretation. EVPs shouldn't rely on coaching to be heard. (Which makes this claim in the official Syfy.com summary even more laughable: "The footage caught lots of audio that puts even the most seasoned scientist back on his heels." As a scientist and engineer, I can say with full confidence that the audio is not remotely that compelling!) I don't doubt that it was an awesome location to investigate, and it seems very clear that the client was eager to have the team find something compelling. But it's equally clear that the location was often creepy, and even the most seasoned investigators (to borrow an adjective) can fall prey to psychological effects. Whether or not that, and the nostalgia, factored into the final conclusions, I cannot say, but this wasn't nearly as airtight a case in the presented form as they made it sound.

Ghost Hunters 6.11: "Haunted Hotel"

"Ghost Hunters" returns after taking a break for a disastrous run of "Ghost Hunters Academy" and a frustrating run of "Ghost Hunters International". The GHA episodes were particularly bad in terms of how they reflected on TAPS and the flagship of the franchise. Many of the technical shortcomings of the team were laid bare on GHA, even more so than usual, and it made Jason, Steve, and Tango look hypocritical in many instances. The changes in the lineup on "Ghost Hunters International" only served to remind me (and many other fans and critics) of the questionable aspects of the franchise, particularly the attitude of Pilgrim Films towards the team members who don't enjoy a producer's credit. As always, part of the criticism of TAPS and the various members of the extended GH franchise family is the fact that they choose, year after year, to agree to the contract terms that they acknowledge are often disingenuous towards the cast, clients, and public. As a result, I wasn't looking forward to the return of "Ghost Hunters" all that much. I already mentioned, during the spring run of episodes, that I was experiencing a bit of franchise fatigue. Part of that was my involvement in the field, and how often I've found myself (and my colleagues) dealing with the problems and challenges created by the popularity of these shows. It's hard enough to live up to unrealistic expectations, but it's even more annoying when you also have to "deprogram" clients who have bought into the bad science and specious conclusions rife in the paranormal investigation genre. So I was a bit surprised when I got to the end of the episode and discovered that I was actually left with a fairly positive impression. Other than one glaring instance, I couldn't really complain. I was quite entertained. I thought the reactions and actions were all understandable under the circumstances. I will acknowledge, for the more skeptical readers out there, that the vast majority of the "evidence" was based on personal experiences, and therefore should have been dismissed. There were a couple of interesting audio examples that go a step beyond that, of course, but it was all very subjective. The caveat I want to put on that is the synchronicity between the reported activity and what the TAPS team experienced. The case may have fallen well short of physical or tangible evidence, but in terms of validating the client's stories, it worked. This was partly facilitated by the fact that the activity was more specific than the typical public/historical location. Efforts could be focused on investigating specific, detailed claims. And that list was relatively short, so the teams could spend more time in key locations, rather than waste time casting a wide net. Just from my own experience, I can attest to how that helps the logistical and tactical elements of an investigation of a large site. (One could argue that the apparent validation of the client's claims had more to do with good research and scripting. However, as I have said before, I believe that the majority of the team members are sincerely trying to investigate. Even Jason and Grant, despite some obvious attempts to play up mundane events as paranormal in origin, are still going through the motions. So for now, I will continue to grant the selective benefit of the doubt.) My favorite moment had to be when Kris was doing her little interview, and then the camera just lingers, and you see her starting to get more and more uncomfortable as Amy and a crew member start talking in the background. Nothing was seen on camera, of course, but those few seconds of silence were wonderfully unnerving. And it doesn't hurt that it was very similar to something that happened during one of my recent investigations, where something odd was happening right behind one of our female investigators. Her reaction was exactly the same! Part of my contentment with the episode is that the "evidence" combined in interesting ways. It's one thing to see shadows and chase after them, especially when there is no tangible proof that there was anything to see. It's another when each of the main areas where that activity was experienced also had apparent audible voices recorded when a team member was present. It makes sense of the conclusions eventually reached. As for the audio itself, I was less impressed. The apparent "Amy" recording was another instance of something buried in the noise, and I thought it was a stretch to assume it was "Amy" in the first place. I heard something a lot close to "Hailey", but definitely something with a heavy "h" sound at the beginning. In room 585, the noise that Amy heard and they caught on the recording sounded less like a whimper than some sort of animal noise. That could very well explain the sounds coming from the roof or attic space, too. As far as the rest of the technology goes, I don't have much of a problem with the laser grid, other than some concerns that if it's visible to the naked eye, it could affect night vision and cause lots of false positives. I really liked the datalogging setup they had on the laptop, though I wish they could have given a more thorough overview of what it is measuring. If anything impressive is ever going to be found on this show, it's more than likely going to be buried in that data, not caught on audio or video. Of course, there always seems to be something, and in this case, it's an old foe: the infamous flashlight test. I'm sorry, Grant: no, it does not work, and this episode clearly illustrates why. Much is made of how the flashlight came on and turned off on cue, but if one watches and pays attention, it's obvious that this is just confirmation bias. Amy asks for the flashlight to turn on repeatedly, and then later, requests again and again for it to be turned off. Since the light will naturally cycle on and off (as scientifically explained in many previous reviews), sooner or later it will appear to do so "on command". It's just another one of those "causation vs. correlation" items. The fact that the request seemingly comes in conjunction with the action of the flashlight is not in and of itself meaningful. Further experimentation is needed to prove out that the request is the cause of the effect with the flashlight. Since there are plenty of instances (just in this on-screen footage) of requests with no effect, it doesn't even meet the correlation test, let alone begin to prove causation! But even with that frustration (especially how they framed it to the client and perpetuated the error), I thought this was one of the best episodes of the show in quite some time. I was thoroughly entertained. Perhaps it was lowered expectations, but whatever the reason, it worked for me!

Ghost Hunters ''Haunted Hotel'' Advance Review

This Wednesday August 25th GHOST HUNTERS returns for it’s sixth season at 9 pm ET/PT on the Syfy channel. Here’s a little bit about the show for those not familiar with it: Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson are the founders of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS). They, along with their team (Kris Williams, Amy Bruni, Steve Gonsalves, and Dave Tango) investigate places around the country that are said to be haunted. They tape an overnight investigation where they try their best to debunk any claims of a haunting. Then, they analyze all the video and audio evidence they record and reveal the results at the end. Sometimes there is no evidence and they are able to debunk the claims for the property owners. To Read More Click Here . If You Missed This Episode Watch It Here Online Now

Ghost Hunters 6.10: "Norwich State"

At the very least, I have to give Pilgrim Films and TAPS credit for listening to the fans. This season has seen a vast increase in the number of single-investigation episodes and a return to more private resident cases. For all my criticisms of TAPS’ methods, Pilgrim Films, and the effect that the show continues to have on the paranormal research field, I do appreciate the fact that the show has managed to slip out of the malaise that set in during the fourth season. While there have been the usual accusations of fraud and a seemingly endless stream of personal attacks on the team members, this first leg of the sixth season has been remarkably free of major incident. Sure, the Alcatraz event was a complete mess, with the Syfy promotional blitz steamrolling the actual episode, but Syfy has never been known for their subtlety (or logic). I think the show still has plenty of opportunity for improvement, if they want to remain on the forefront of the wave of paranormal investigation shows. Many of the groups coming out of the woodwork are gunning for TAPS and “Ghost Hunters”, and with good reason. TAPS still has plenty of devoted fans and supporters, but a large percentage of the viewers and fellow investigators question their integrity. The bloom, as they say, is off the rose, and has been for a while. Shifting the format to provide more in-depth footage and greater variety of locations is fine. Changing up the team assignments here and there also helps. But the new groups often have more energy and more innovation. I’ve often noted that “Ghost Hunters International” has shown more willingness to try different equipment, and that they seem to have a better grasp of the science behind their equipment. (As compared to the “Ghost Lab” and “Ghost Adventures” teams, who make fundamentally wrong assumptions in nearly every episode. And don’t get me started on “Paranormal State”.) I’ve said it before, but this episode brought it back to mind, because I’m not sure the cookie-cutter editing did the location or the investigation justice. Granted, it was mostly personal experiences, so there was little for the audience to see, but it seemed like the presentation was all too familiar. Fans have complained about the idiotic music and the constant “do you see/hear that?” cuts before every commercial for years, so it’s becoming a mind-numbing refrain, but it’s an increasingly valid criticism. For example, in this episode, there was a point at which Jason and Grant heard voices in the tunnels of the powerhouse. If you listen closely, you can actually hear what sounds like voices in the background. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if they were actually there, or if they were added in post-production to “enhance” the footage for the audience. It’s impossible to know. Another growing annoyance that could easily be removed is the immediate recap of every little event that is on-screen. At this point, it’s often clear that as soon as possible, the cameraman takes a team member aside and asks them to recap for production purposes. But why in the world does the audience need a recap of something they just saw happen, especially when it was just footage of the team saying what they thought they saw or heard in real-time? It’s a complete waste of time and more than a little insulting to the audience. Sticking to a formula makes it hard for the audience to get a sense of the unique aspects of a location. Take “Ghost Adventures”: while the format is becoming just as predictable, there is a great deal of effort taken to adjust tactics and coverage to highlight the location. While the typical tour footage gave a sense of the scope of the Norwich State Hospital, the investigation footage itself wasn’t all that unusual. In fact, it looked an awful lot like the Essex County Hospital footage from last season, right down to the tunnels. I’m not expecting TAPS to change their overall tactics. An upgrade to the equipment, with less of an eye to entertainment value and a better basis in science, would always be a plus, but that’s a constant observation. The real changes need to come from Pilgrim Films, because that’s where the cookie-cutter approach is utilized in the editing room. Jason and Grant often throw their hands up in frustration, claiming they have no say over the production of the final episodes. That’s simply not true. If they are contractually unable to influence the design of the show, then that’s their fault for signing the contracts each and every year. Because they make an awfully big deal when they sign up for another season, so everyone knows the opportunity is there. What would be the worst-case scenario? That the show goes off the air? Pilgrim Films knows what they have in hand: a solid franchise that makes them a ton of money. Pilgrim Films is not going to toss out their most recognizable faces at this point. So why not sit down and hash out some basic ideas for format changes the next time they sit down at the negotiating table? We all know Jason is capable of playing hardball, so if anything, it’s hard to believe the changes haven’t already come. Of course, as I said, some changes have come, and that gives me some small hope that more are on the way. After all, sooner or later, the paranormal craze is going to slow down again, and the ratings are going to slip. If TAPS and Pilgrim want the show to keep going at that point, smart business practice means making small but noticeable changes to engage the audience. Before I get off my soapbox, one last thing. I received a comment not so long ago, in which a viewer expressed annoyance with the frequency at which the team hears and records “footsteps”. This viewer pointed to the fact that “footsteps” are captured in nearly every episode, which makes it harder and harder to believe they are legitimate. After all, the mantra has been, since Day 1, that most paranormal activity is sporadic at best. I’m see the point, even if I give TAPS the benefit of the doubt, based on my own investigative experiences. Early in the series, things like seeing moving shadows or recording EVPs were a source of great excitement. Thermal hits and disembodied voices were even more rare. Much like the constant K-II activity of previous seasons (it has been gloriously absent of late), there is a point at which the frequency of activity begins to outpace what seems reasonable, even (or especially) to those with experience in the field. I’ve often brought up “animal noises” as a common culprit in terms of apparent EVPs and disembodied voices. It’s not as common on “Ghost Hunters” as it is on other shows, but it does happen. The apparent sound of a whimpering animal in this case may have matched the context of that specific location and the reported activity, but the nature of the location itself makes it hard to say it was paranormal in origin. Couldn’t it have been an animal somewhere else on the grounds? I’m also on the fence regarding that noise recorded by Britt and K.J. There’s no doubt that the noise was real, and I also initially thought it sounded a lot like a chain-and-pulley system. But I can’t help but wonder if it could have been an animal in those large ducts. I know it’s a stretch, but without being there to test what it would have sounded like (or where the sound came from), it’s too hard to draw a definitive conclusion. (But kudos to the team for not reacting to that noise, because damn, that had to have been loud!) I also want to give credit to Kris and Amy. They were clearly spooked by what they heard around them, and they stood their ground. More importantly, they sat down in the middle of the apparent storm and tried to gather some evidence. And of course, there was the door. By now, everybody can predict the skeptical refrain of “it was fishing line!”, but as there is no proof to that effect, it’s just conjecture and opinion. I also suspect some will claim that Kris and Amy look right at the door when it happens, but it’s easy to forgot that they are in the dark. They were looking at where the sound was coming from, and neither of them tracked the motion, just the sound. All things being equal, their reactions matched the apparent experience. And so this latest run of “Ghost Hunters” comes to a close. Next up will be the second season of “Ghost Hunters Academy” in June. My expectations for that show couldn’t be lower, after the massive miscues and errors in judgment behind the first season. Enhancing the competitive elements of the show was a huge mistake, in my opinion. This will be followed in July by the return of “Ghost Hunters International”. My understanding is that Dustin Pari will not be part of the show during this period, which is disappointing. The combination of Barry and Dustin was always a good one, and gave the team a strong foundation. I’m concerned that the “winners” of the first season of “Ghost Hunters Academy” won’t have the background and rapport with the existing members. I suppose only time will tell.

Ghost Hunters 6.9: "Spirits of the Night"

This has been a great season for one-investigation episodes, as well as a return to the private residential cases that are so popular with the fans. I must admit to enjoying them as well. As I’ve said before, as good as some of the public and landmark cases might be as an investigator, it’s always great to help people try to regain some sense of control over their lives. Setting aside the usual debate over TAPS and their motivations, I must point out that they are exactly right about how some so-called mediums and psychics prey on the fears of a willing public. I’ve seen that with too many clients since becoming an active investigator, with “mediums” and thrill-seeking investigators charging hundreds of dollars and telling everyone they have demons bursting out of the woodwork. This brings up one potential criticism of TAPS and “Ghost Hunters” that I’ve mentioned before, and one that I think would be the most damning if the show was ever revealed, without question, to be staged. It’s one thing if, like “Ghost Adventures”, TAPS only went to public and landmark locations. After all, if it turns out that the “Ghost Adventures” team is faking their evidence, who cares? It’s mostly presented as entertainment. At most, one could criticize how the lack of technical understanding leads to presentation of ridiculous gimmicks as legitimate data collection. And frankly, many public and landmark clients want to bring in paranormal investigators because they can use it for promotional purposes. But what about private residential clients? They have no upside to staged activity. In fact, most of them would much rather have their experiences debunked or otherwise explained. At most, they would value validation of their experiences. Staging activity for the purposes of a television show would be a heinous breach of trust, and would hurt the field immeasurably. To be clear, I’m not accusing TAPS of anything in this case, or indeed in any other residential case. There have been instances where previous residential clients have stated their opinion, based on reading online criticisms, that the evidence found at their location may have been staged, but there’s no actual proof to this effect. It’s simply a consideration that should be noted. This particular episode introduces a new member to the team: K. J. McCormick. Another friend of Jason’s from back in the day, as the story goes. I’m not sure that he made much of an impression in this instance, but that may be a good thing. That makes it less about the investigator and more about the investigation. There were a lot of good opportunities for debunking in this episode. I agreed with the notion that the computer fan noise could be misinterpreted as whispers and voices. I’ve observed that myself in some locations. Also, I thought a lot of the noises from the walls could be attributed to pipes, particularly the whistling noise. I have to disagree with the interpretation of the “voice” that Amy heard. I know that the team (and the client) thought it might be a little girl’s laughter, but every time they replayed it, it sounded more and more like the natural sound of the squeaky door. Anyone with a squeaky door knows that the noise is different depending on the rate at which the door moves, so I think it’s an instance where a questionable piece of “evidence” could have been discarded. As far as the sounds heard by Jason and Grant, the “footsteps” were plainly audible, as was the apparent sound of the stroller rubbing against the wall. I thought the EVP of whispers was definitely valid, as it was well above the background noise, but I would disagree with the interpretation. It sounded like two voices to me: one making a statement or perhaps asking a question, and another saying “uh huh” in agreement or answer. Which, of course, leaves the stroller footage. This will likely be another source of controversy. I’ll get it out of the way now: of course this could have been done with fishing wire. And the fact that it was in one position, and then Jason and Grant changed it, plays right into the hands of those who believe Jason and Grant stage things and keep the rest of the team in the dark. I fully expect to see claims that this is exactly what happened sprout up in the usual haunts. (And…sure enough, took me all of two minutes to find some good ones.) But, as in many cases, just because something could have been staged, doesn’t mean that it was. There’s nothing in the footage to support the claim that it was staged, other than the assumption that such things don’t happen in the real world. As it turns out, they do. I’ve been involved in two investigations in the past four years where objects moved. In one case, that’s an understatement, as “propelled” would be a better term. That said, there are a few issues with the footage. For one thing, the stroller is not entirely in view, so one cannot rule out someone manually manipulating the stroller. In a sense, Jason and Grant try to cover off that explanation by stating that the building was empty and the cast and crew were outside. Unfortunately, there’s nothing shown to support that explanation. This would be one of those cases where having a timestamp on the stroller footage and on accompanying footage showing the personnel outside the building would go a long way.

Ghost Hunters 6.8: "Inn of the Dead"

Once again, we have a sixth season episode that covers one location for the full hour, and the show is all the better for it. Whether or not this is a concession to the fans or a desire on the part of the team to lessen the number of investigations per year is ultimately a moot point; this format has been successful for many of the other popular shows (“Ghost Adventures” in particular) and the producers seem to understand that some changes are good. Focusing on one location for an entire episode allows for more time to understand the location itself, more investigation footage, and therefore a better sense of context. Anything that helps the audience understand the perspective of the team is a good thing. I say that for both the fans (who want to get a more in-depth experience) and the skeptics (who should be salivating over the chance to scour over the methodology and assumptions). A couple of things before turning to the evidence. First, a few people mentioned that they saw some of the reported activity in the footage during the previous episode, and these were things that I specifically criticized as being “off-camera” or otherwise unseen. I haven’t had the chance to go back to the footage in question, but I accept the possibility that I missed something. On the other hand, I would point out that if it was subtle enough that I missed it, it may prove the point that it is questionable enough to exclude as evidence. Second, this episode reminded me of a conversation with a TAPS member back in the summer of 2006. Some might remember that this was during the transition between the second and third seasons. At that time, it was more or less acknowledged in interviews and articles that Pilgrim Films was pressuring TAPS to limit the television presence to certain team members. (Jason and Grant denied that it was ever anything more than an internal decision, but frankly, they’ve been caught towing the company line more than once.) At any rate, as part of the larger discussion about the changes to the casting, it was acknowledged by many TAPS members (and I’m not going to exclude anyone on this point) that there was pressure to use certain types of equipment and methods on the show. While it was a discussion about IR thermometer “guns” and so forth at the time, it does make one wonder if this explains the ongoing issues with certain practices on the show today. For example, longtime readers know that I have issues with the way they use and interpret the K-II Meter and FLIR technology on the show. I know some people swear by the results, but there are definite technical aspects that come into play and easily invalidate the data. Add to that the unfortunate observation that Jason and Grant tend to play up questionable evidence as paranormal on a regular basis, especially the K-II and FLIR “evidence”, and it paints a picture. What if this equipment is used less because of its value to paranormal investigation and more for its value as visual entertainment? Things like the K-II, the FLIR footage, the “flashlight” test in this episode…it all lends itself to the visual medium far better than the equipment that serves a more scientific purpose. Also, from a more cynical point of view, the high potential for false positives provides plenty of opportunity for “evidence” to present. All things being equal, if I wasn’t an investigator, I probably wouldn’t care. It’s entertainment. But as an investigator, I see the effect it has on the field as a whole, and it’s not good. How many investigators start out by grabbing whatever they see on “Ghost Hunters”, thinking that’s the right set of tools for the trade? How many investigators have K-II meters, IR thermometer “guns”, want to save up for the thermal camera, and unscrew their flashlights because they think it will give them solid evidence? I’ve said before that I have the pleasure of working with a lot of different groups in my area, so I can say, based on first-hand observation, that it’s a huge percentage. And that makes it very hard to overcome the perception that these are, in fact, scientific tools for paranormal investigation. Meanwhile, shows like “Ghost Lab” perpetuate these errors by portraying themselves as even more scientific than TAPS, and then displaying even more technical ignorance! It wasn’t just this episode (and the previous one, for that matter) that brought all of this to mind. Syfy has been promoting something they call a “Ghost Hunters Academy Kit” all over the place. It’s a case with a flashlight, K-II meter, and IR thermometer gun. I wrote a detailed review of the product, explaining the issues, and of course it never made it through moderation. Why would they post a review that pans the equipment as inappropriate for its suggested use? They stand to make a killing! It’s the exact same reason that Chris Fleming continues to sell equipment on his website that is scientifically proven to produce mostly false positives. (Sorry, Chris, but if you’re going to advertise that junk all over social networking sites, you invite direct criticism.) Doubtless some are wondering: what does this have to do with this particular episode? Well, the highlight of this episode is the incident with Kris and Amy involving a flashlight and footsteps. As presented in the episode, the flashlight appears to light up and respond to specific questions, and there are loud footsteps from the empty floor above that seem to coincide with the “communication”. I mentioned in the review for the previous episode why the “flashlight test” is inherently flawed. If you just barely unscrew a flashlight, there remains enough potential for electric charge to arc between the battery and the bulb. In other words, the flashlight will appear to turn itself on, the electrical charge that built up will discharge, and then it will turn itself back off. This will continue for quite some time. The rate of discharge will depend on the distance between battery and bulb, room temperature, and relative humidity. So in terms of the footage, it’s hard to say that the results with the flashlight are meaningful. Even if one was inclined to believe that such activity could have a paranormal origin, there is no data available to distinguish between the scientific principle and some unexpected phenomena. The timing of the supposed responses was well within the realm of subjective interpretation. When the scientific principle is sufficient to explain the observed data, there’s no basis for concluding something is paranormal in origin! (A cardinal TAPS rule, as I recall.) On the other hand, as I’ve said before, it’s hard for me to dismiss the footsteps, because I’ve encountered that sort of thing in recent investigations. I wouldn’t ever say that it was definitive evidence of paranormal activity, but it does happen and the usual explanations don’t always apply. So I’m inclined to believe that they really did hear the footsteps (they were audible, in any case). But the problem as I see it is the presentation of the two items as a whole. As shown, one would assume that it was the combination of the flashlight “activity” and the footsteps that made the experience meaningful from a paranormal perspective. But this is disingenuous when there is a clear scientific explanation for the flashlight results, and the footsteps simply happened at the same time. (And from one point of view, might have even been the actual response to the request for a sign of presence, as opposed to the flashlight!) Yet I can already anticipate a ton of investigators watching that footage, even investigators critical of the show and of TAPS, and drawing the conclusion that this is proof that the “flashlight test” is a valid paranormal investigative method. And it makes me wonder if the team knows that it’s not a valid method, and they use it because it serves the desires of the production company and the entertainment demands. To be fair, there are TAPS members who express frustration with certain equipment and methods. And given the fact that this is all edited footage, often taken out of context by the post-production crew for the sake of the entertainment value, none of us can say we have the whole story. I still believe that the majority of the TAPS and GHI members are sincerely trying to investigate within the parameters of filming the show. That said, can we ignore the effect this has on the field as a whole? After all, this is a field where even some of the best investigators can get caught up in discussions and theories of “ghost psychology”, when we still don’t even know what the source of the reported and documented activity is! Unintentionally long rant aside, that wasn’t the only “evidence” from the investigation. There were a number of personal experiences, and there was the EVP captured in the cupola, which was fairly clear and worth more investigation. But the point of the rant is more or less made during the reveal: the “evidence” that gets the most reaction from the client is the most questionable.

Ghost Hunters 6.7: "Ghosts in the Attic"

One of the enduring complaints about the current direction of “Ghost Hunters” has been the emphasis on businesses and public historical sites. It’s been quite some time since the show has focused on helping regular families. Part of that is the success of the show itself. A lot more high-profile sites are willing to let TAPS come in and investigate, and such locations are typically easier to schedule. There are also a lot more personal considerations that a family must consider when bringing their home and situation under the scrutiny of millions. There is also the question of how much a televised paranormal investigative group can really help a private residential client. I’m not casting aspersions on the goals of TAPS as an organization. Frankly, there are plenty of other people who are more than willing to question their every move. But it’s fair to say that the format of the show makes it difficult to address the very specific concerns that a residential client has. The more experience I gain in the field, the more I see the limitations and complications that come with the territory. I’ve expressed a lot of my frustrations with the lack of technical expertise in the field, especially when groups claim that they are using scientific methods and relying primarily on technical data. I know from experience that it’s a constant uphill battle to overcome decades, if not centuries, of instilled tradition and folklore. Too many investigators fall to ask why certain things are done, let alone what the resulting data actually tells us. But I think a lot of paranormal investigators, the ones invested in the field, genuinely want to help a client understand what is happening. It’s definitely a matter of mutual self-interest, but the thrill of potential discovery is often tempered by the recognition that a client is asking for help because they don’t understand what is happening. This is one thing I don’t think critics of the field take into account. This latest television and entertainment industry craze for all things paranormal is a cyclical beast, but there have always been people experiencing things they can’t explain. I’m not saying it’s paranormal in nature; just unexplained by the person in question. And those people will eventually turn to someone for help. If it seems like there is an endless supply of paranormal investigators right now, it’s because there has always been a demand. The popularity of the paranormal right now has simply prompted a lot more people to open up and seek assistance (or, in some cases, fame). But the underlying point is that the majority of residential clients are looking for someone to help them understand their personal crisis, and this usually means a more hands-on, long-term approach. It often means a smaller group, because of the size of the typical home and the targeted nature of the reported activity. And it often precludes drawing a conclusion based on a single visit. So I actually understand why “Ghost Hunters” would shy away from the residential cases for the show, even if they are very popular and give people a better impression of TAPS and their motives. It can’t be easy to deal with a small home and its subtle character when trailing around a dozen production guys. And while Jason and Grant always leave the door open for future contact, it’s a given that they won’t be the ones doing a follow-up, since they are constantly on the road. (Which in turn leaves them open to criticism for seemingly abandoning clients after making empty promises. These accusations are made regularly, though I have yet to see any evidential basis for them.) At the end of the day, what matters is whether or not the client is happy. In the residential case covered in this episode, they certainly seem to have appreciated TAPS’ time and effort. Hopefully they were able to come to terms with their situation, from whatever perspective worked best for them. Case #1: Grzelak House, MA Like I said, I hope the client was happy, because this one was very frustrating as a viewer. It’s become a standard thing: Jason and Grant see something like a shadow or light, they run after it, and never catch it on camera. It’s easily dismissed, and sometimes doesn’t even get mentioned in the edited version of the reveal. But this time, it really was hard to believe that all of this was happening and not one shred of evidence was captured. My main issue is with the shadow that was supposedly blocking out the light in the tiny window (the one that Grant tested by going outside and waving his arms.). Throughout the investigation, there were several shots that were focused right on that exact spot. Some of them were even from Jason and Grant’s exact perspective, when they said they saw the shadow moving in front of the light. Logically speaking, if there was actually something blocking the light, it should have shown up on camera. So it’s very hard to understand why they didn’t grab a camera or keep one right on that spot. Frankly, this is exactly the sort of thing that the critics will harp on for ages, and it definitely makes it look like Jason and Grant are playing up something that isn’t really there. And to make the point further, consider how the eye works and how the camera works, even under these low-light conditions. If something blocks a light, and both an eye and a camera lens is focused on that spot, the physics of the situation are exactly the same. Both mechanisms should detect a true occlusion. On the other hand, the eye in low-light can see shadows that aren’t there; this is scientific fact. Which introduces a measure of doubt, which in turn means it should have been tossed as potential evidence, by their own rules. (Oh, and the “It’s paranormal, so the usual rules don’t apply” defense doesn’t work when you’re claiming to use scientific methods and data. Either science applies, or it doesn’t! And if it doesn’t, why bother having any standard of evidence?) In contrast, Kris heard that hissing noise, and it was caught on the audio recording. So at least there is something to corroborate the experience. And there were the EVPs of a woman’s voice. Unfortunately, I think the voices were awfully faint and buried in the background noise. Also, it was clear to me that Jason and Grant had already drawn conclusions and we basically looking for confirmation, so assuming that result could have factored into some pattern recognition. All in all, based on what was in the episode itself, I would not have drawn the same conclusions. Except, of course, in the matter of the sleep paralysis. Case #2: NJ Bar and Grill, NJ I’m going to say it straight up: I hate the flashlight test. It was marginally better when they made it harder for incidental contact to be made in the circuit, but the fundamental nature of the test is flawed. If you just barely unscrew a flashlight, there remains enough potential for electric charge to arc between the battery and the bulb. In other words, the flashlight will appear to turn itself on, the electrical charge that built up will discharge, and then it will turn itself back off. This will continue for quite some time. The rate of discharge will depend on the distance between battery and bulb, room temperature, and relative humidity. Now, take that, and add a couple of investigators that are asking for some kind of sign repeatedly, and it’s going to look responsive. I did like the voice captured in the basement. It definitely didn’t sound like Kris at all. It’s hard to make a good argument that something like that is simply captured RF noise, so it’s a small thing, but definitely worth looking at more closely. Still, I’m not sure I would have counted that as an active location based on the one EVP.

Ghost Hunters 6.6: "Haunted Reform School"

Six episodes into the sixth season, I already notice a few small but interesting changes to the show format. It’s nothing that will serve to change the minds of the fervent critics, and it doesn’t mitigate the issues regarding some of the technical shortcomings and the production concerns. But I do think it makes for a better show as a whole. First, I’ve noticed a lot more episodes focused on one location, as opposed to cramming two cases into one hour. This is not just true of “Ghost Hunters”; it was evident during the GHI run as well. But “Ghost Hunters” was falling into a bit of a format rut. Every time they had two cases in one episode, the second case rarely had anything of note. Cynical viewers became even more cynical as a result. Second, I’ve noticed a lot more blending of the team members. Tonight was especially good in that regard. How long has it been since we’ve seen Jason or Grant investigate with other members of the team, other than instances when one of them was unable to be there? We’ve seen more of it this season in six episodes than we saw in the previous three seasons, I would wager! I’ve also noticed that the editors, while still pumping that idiotic music/sound effects mix to the hilt, are remembering to dial it back when there’s something for the audience to hear. If there’s one thing that I really like this season, it’s been more of the real-time footage of reactions to things being heard, and immediate follow-ups to hunt down a possible source. More can always be done, of course, and some would say that the team’s acting skills are just improving, but to me, it’s feeling more realistic. This was another great location, and I thought that Amy’s personal reaction to the investigation was particularly well portrayed. There was a nice message being sent about the best way to handle an investigation with personal ramifications. It could be a location that you’ve always wanted to investigate, or a case that involves someone in your family or something similar. Whatever those connections might be, a good investigator has to be able to stick to the protocols and avoid letting those emotional ties from influencing conclusions. I never had the sense that Amy was letting her guard down; that hasn’t always been the case with past team members. As far as the “evidence” goes, this case involved a lot of personal experiences, but they did get a few interesting things here and there. I thought a lot of the shadows and odd flashes of light could have been the result of all the reflective surfaces throughout the building. I’m sure they checked for that sort of thing, but even they were seeing things out of their peripheral vision, and that can be unreliable. I liked Steve’s debunking of the cold spots, though I was a little surprised at how excited they were by the FLIR footage. I honestly couldn’t figure out what was supposed to be so impressive about that footage. To me, it’s just a simple anomaly without a distinctive or suggestive shape. Maybe there was something I missed, but the anomaly was also the same temperature as its surroundings, which would lead me to conclude it was nothing paranormal. I’ve said before that I’ve noticed a huge upswing in the frequency of “footsteps” and related sounds. I firmly believe many of these instances are natural settling or related to temperature change over the course of the night. But recent experience has given me pause on dismissing such recordings and experiences out of hand. Besides, it was captured rather well on audio (and, for that matter, video). As far as the disembodied voice calling out “Grant” is concerned, I’m of two minds on the matter. During the investigation, it sounded very much like a bird or other animal, not a human voice. During the reveal, it was a lot more clear, though that could have been due to the process of making it easier to hear. Contextually, I can understand why Grant would assume it was a direct response to his request, but I just don’t think it adds up to that degree. The “slow down” EVP was certainly not an animal noise. Maybe I missed it, but it looked like it was captured on the production equipment. That would be an unusual circumstance. It would also rekindle some of the ongoing arguments about whether or not the production footage is available for review. Unfortunately for Jason and Grant, they’ve both claimed in the past that they don’t have access to that footage. Then again, I could be misinterpreting what was shown in the reveal. Whatever the case, another good location, another entertaining episode. After a questionable start, this season has been surprisingly good.

Ghost Hunters 6.5: "Touched by Evil"

I’m rather surprised at how much time TAPS has been spending in New Jersey recently. It seems like half the investigations they conduct for the show are within my stomping grounds. It’s very much a mixed bag. On the positive side, it’s great to see familiar locations on the show, because in many instances, I’ve either been to those sites beforehand, or I’ve always wanted to go there. It’s sometimes hard to get an accurate feel for how a location is represented by the footage on the show without that subjective experience. Also, there are certain benefits in terms of networking. While I’ve been to the occasional event or conference, whenever it is local and therefore reasonably affordable as compared to other events (sports, concerts, NYCC, etc.), I’ve also had the ability to interact with current and former members of TAPS, their families and friends, and so on. As something of an “independent contractor” with a strong relationship with several groups in the state, I benefit from their ability to network as well. I don’t just see what “Ghost Hunters” wants to show me, or what the critics want to convey. Add to that an ongoing online dialogue for the past five years, and I think my perspective benefits from a fairly broad context. (Opinions on that may vary, of course.) Unfortunately, as an active paranormal investigator, I also see the occasional downside. A number of locations that were featured on the show now charge a ridiculous amount of money to allow investigations, where it might have been a nominal charge (or free) in the past. These locations are also routinely booked to the gills, now that they are popular destinations for every group across the region. (And this only justifies the increased fees, since there’s always someone willing to pay.) A more subtle effect is that some locations will deny regional groups the chance to investigate because they are holding out for TAPS. And there have been clients who have canceled investigations when they realize that they won’t be greeting a camera crew and getting on television. This isn’t just the fault of “Ghost Hunters”, of course; the glut of new paranormal investigation shows has made this exponentially more common. In fact, nearly every client in the past several months has mentioned being contacted by existing or new shows looking for fresh sites to feature. In almost every instance, we managed to get the case because either the location wanted non-televised perspectives, or wanted to avoid the cameras altogether. To be fair, at the end of the day, I don’t begrudge TAPS for coming into New Jersey so often. On the while, the positives have outweighed the negatives, and the negatives can be managed with a little targeted effort and realistic expectation. A good case manager with the right attitude can make all the difference, especially when they know the right people! I’ve been to Cape May more times than I can count. I spent nearly every summer for more than twenty years at the southern end of the Jersey shore. Cape May has a deep tradition of reported paranormal activity, and I’ve been to a few of the hot spots in recent years. Unfortunately, I’ve never managed to get into the Southern Mansion, but I certainly didn’t need much of an introduction to it. I knew where they were going as soon as they flashed the first picture on the screen. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that a number of factors contributed to my decidedly subjective enjoyment of this episode. I’m well aware that most or all of the “evidence” could have been easily misinterpreted or fabricated. And I’m well aware that the client stressed how most of the reports were made during events with high attendance, making the investigative conditions very different than the experiential conditions. I still thought this was a great episode (even if the title is remarkably stupid). I’ll start with Jason and Grant. I still have my concerns about anything that happens with them. That said, a lot of what they mentioned they could hear was plainly audible: the movement, the footsteps, the talking, and so on. I mentioned in an earlier review that I was recently on a case where we captured footsteps at least as loud, which defied the usual explanations, so I’m wary of dismissing these recordings outright. That turned out to be the most exciting audio “evidence” of the night, but it was barely mentioned during the reveal. Given how prevalent the disembodied voices and EVPs have become of late, that was a little surprising. Instead, it seemed like the majority of the personal experiences were related to “shadow figures” or physical contact. Both Britt and Bruce claimed to see a shadow move in front of an existing light, and Bruce mentioned being touched twice (once on a previous visit, and then during the investigation). Of course, the real action seemed to happen in the ballroom with Britt and Amy. They made a point to say that all the mirrors could have an effect on perception, so was it legitimate? I would say, based on Amy’s expression, that she believed she saw something. The big reveal for the episode was the door that appeared to close by itself. I’m not sure what to make of that. It would be remarkably easy for someone to make it look like the door closed on itself, and it wouldn’t rely on anyone from TAPS being in on it. So is this really something paranormal in origin? I can’t say that it was, just on the merits of this footage. With just about every member of the team encountering some degree of apparent activity, I was pleasantly surprised when Jason and Steve were reserved with their final conclusion. I was sure they were going to fall over themselves to call the place “haunted”. Instead, they made a reasonable call, based on their experiences and assumptions. I really couldn’t ask for anything more. Except maybe a better title.