I was talking about Ghost Hunters the other day with a friend who actually believes the show is scientific proof ghosts exist. This startling revelation combined with the growing popularity of the television show Ghost Hunters is indeed scary (pun intended). An examination is in order.
Encyclopedia Britannia defines a ghost as:
“…soul or spectre of a dead person, usually believed to inhabit the netherworld and to be capable of returning in some form to the world of the living. According to descriptions or depictions provided by believers, a ghost may appear as a living being or as a nebulous likeness of the deceased and, occasionally, in other forms. Belief in ghosts is based on the ancient notion that a human spirit is separable from the body and may maintain its existence after the body’s death”
There are many reasons why people believe in ghosts. In 1993 Harvey J. Irwin outlined this great model explaining why people believe in the paranormal. This link shows the larger version. For a detailed analysis here is the full research article.
This is all very interesting but what we are concerned with is the Ghost Hunters’ claim that they are scientifically researching ghosts when they are, in fact, not. So, my first stop was CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific of Claims Of the Paranormal) an affiliate of the Center For Inquiry. They have already done a fair bit of research on ghosts and as Joe Nickell summarized:
“Belief that spirits of the dead exist and can appear to the living is both ancient and widespread, yet the actual study of ghostly phenomena has largely been lacking. So-called “investigation” has ranged from mere collecting of ghost tales to the use of “psychic” impressions to a pseudoscientific reliance on technology applied in a questionable fashion. Real science has largely been ignored.”
In 2010 Ben Radford described the mistakes made by Ghost Hunters and other like them.
- Assuming that no specialized knowledge or expertise is needed to effectively investigate ghosts.
In the case of Ghost Hunters it’s two plumbers who haven’t had any formal education or training in the sciences.
- Failing to consider alternative
explanations for anomalous or
We are working on a list of common ‘ghost’ experiences and their alternate explanations, it’s a long one.
- Considering subjective feelings and emotions as evidence of ghostly encounters.
Feelings aren’t evidence of anything other than a person is capable of feeling.
- Using improper and unscientific investigation methods. Such as:
- Investigating with the lights off
- Sampling Errors
- Unproven Tools and equipment
- Ineffectively using recording devices
- Focusing on the history of a haunted location instead of the specific phenomena reported at it.
A good portion of the history reported is urban legend.
- Conducting a stakeout or “lockdown.”
So far these have a 100% failure rate.
Shows like Ghost Hunters also assume ghosts can exist. To this date there is no evidence that any form of soul or consciousness leaves the body after death let alone hang around scaring people. The existence of a soul is long and heavily examined subject that can’t be properly examined in a blog post but so far the question ‘Does a soul exist and can it leave the body after death?’ is unanswered. Shows like Ghosts Hunters assume the answer to this question is yes so their ‘research’ ends up not being much different than searching for unicorns and leprechauns.
This past Halloween I set aside my skepticism and went with my wife to a haunted farm and had a few scares and overall a great time. Everyone loves a good ghost story and a scary movie can be a lot of fun with the lights off. Ghost Hunters is just the same: it is great entertainment but nothing more. Ghost Hunters claims of doing scientific research just aren’t true.