Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Skeptic Stigma

For some reason, skeptics are often met with scorn within the paranormal community, even from those who claim they are "science-based".   I remember attending a public ghost hunt a few years ago and the lead investigator announced if there were any skeptics in attendence to "keep their mouths shut" and "not ruin the fun" for everyone else.  Ironically, this person boasted that her team was made up of "serious investigators", using "science" as part of their research.  If this were true, one would think she would welcome an objective opinion because in actual science, this called peer review.  Then several weeks ago, I was on a radio show discussing my views about paranormal investigating.  I mentioned that I call myself a "skeptical believer", meaning while I believe in the possibility of the paranormal, I recognize beliefs aren't facts and approach research as a skeptic. In my opinion, it is more responsible because it decreases the risk of misleading others. One of the emails that came into the show asked me why ghost hunting teams offer their "services" for free, but skeptics seem to always "have an agenda" to sell books and make money.  As I explained on the show, there are flaws with this assumption.

First off, not all ghost hunting and paranormal investigating teams offer their self-proclaimed services free of charge. There are some teams out there who charge even though there is no accredited degree or certification for ghost hunting, nor is there any formal governing body that regulates the field.  Some people tag on labels such as "forensic" or "professional" or "ordained" - as if that magically gives them any more authority than anyone else in the paranormal community -  and use these titles as a justification to charge their clients.  Also, there are those who charge for public ghost hunts.  To be clear, I have no objection if the money goes to the venue, especially if it is a historical site, but some teams pocket the money for their "services".  Besides entertainment, what exactly, are these services?  Many of them also present "evidence" that would never pass muster in any valid scientific research.

Secondly, there are mountains of books for sale written by believers about "true" ghost stories.  There are also many "how-to" books or "case studies" written by ghost hunters from a non-skeptical approach.  Many assert opinions or personal beliefs as facts without any actual evidence to back them up. In my experience visiting various book stores over the past few decades,  as well as attending a few paranormal conventions, these types of books greatly outnumber those written of a skeptical nature.  And according to bookstore owners I've talked to, they tend to sell better.

Third, turn on the TV:  if you have basic cable, you will see several channels featuring paranormal "reality" shows: Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, My Ghost Story, A Haunting, The Haunted, Long Island Medium, Haunted Highway, The Dead Files, and the list goes on.  These all approach the paranormal from, and cater to, a believer's perspective.  In addition, many of these shows mislead viewers by presenting false positives as "proof" of ghosts, manufacturing claims or manipulating historical facts.  How many shows can you list that approach the topic from a truly skeptical approach? I don't mean those that debunk one or two things and then go on to present false positives and misinformation in the very same episode.

Then there are the para-celebs.  Generally, these tend to be people who are famous in the paranormal community because they've been profiled on TV, not for any useful contribution to valid research. Many of them go on and use their relative fame to write and sell books.  Some of them attend paranormal conventions and sell their books for a grossly inflated amount and then charge to sign them.  In many cases that I've seen first hand, some paracelebs also charge their adoring fans - who already paid a pretty penny to get into the convention - another fee just for the privilege of snapping a picture with them.  So far, I haven't seen any skeptics doing that.

Many times when I explain to fellow paranormal enthusiasts that I conduct research from a skeptical approach, I often get a somewhat lukewarm to frigid response.  Most of these people mistakenly confuse the term "skeptic" with the term "cynic".  They fail to realize that skeptics, unlike cynics, don't automatically dismiss claims and evidence.  They either dismiss - or support - them based on scientific methodology, including peer review and independently replicated results, etc.  Even after dismissing a claim, they remain open to the possibility if new evidence supports it.  Another reason is that some of these people are resistant to any information that may challenge their beliefs or "evidence".  To me, this suggests they're more invested in preserving their egos than finding valid answers or acting in the best interest of their clients.  And unfortunately, when I present alternative natural explanations, a lot of people draw the false conclusion that I assume they are stupid, crazy or lying about their experience.  That is untrue.  Think of optical illusions:  we see things that in reality, aren't there.  In certain situations, while trying to process data, our brains create misperceptions.  Does that mean we're unintelligent, insane or dishonest?  Of course not.  But perhaps for some, it's easier to "shoot the messenger" than to accept facts.

Do you see the black dots in the grid?  No, you don't.  It's a common optical illusion.  (Wikipedia)

One anonymous reader of my blog accused me of throwing rocks at investigators when I should instead be throwing them at the main-stream scientists who don't take paranormal claims seriously.  Believe it or not, I used to feel exactly the same way.   Furthermore, I've been guilty of many of the issues I now criticize!  But then, I started to actively participate in paranormal investigations, as well as research facts about common misperceptions and misidentifications.  I learned from people with professional expertise in fields such as photography, audio engineering and psychology.  I have personally observed that many investigators call themselves science-based, but fail to apply any science to their investigating. Since many paranormal investigators present false positives as evidence, fail to use any valid controls or protocols during investigations, and ignore environmental, physiological, and psychological factors that can explain claims, it's no wonder that mainstream science has little interest.

Many paranormal investigators post their evidence, saying they welcome comments.  Unfortunately, some of these people really only want to hear "good catch" and aren't receptive to informed opinions that can disprove it. They become overly defensive and delete such comments and call skeptics names like bullies, trolls, jealous, etc.  To be fair, there are some skeptics who are unable to participate in civil debate, resorting to name calling and personal attacks. A few of them also conveniently hide behind fake names or the anonymity of a web page while trashing teams. But ultimately, the burden is on those who claim that they caught evidence, to prove it.

When presented with links or articles with information that could explain many paranormal claims, some paranormal investigators grouse about why skeptics bother to investigate (or write about) the paranormal if we constantly dismiss claims.  Well for me, it's very simple: no one can authentically declare something paranormal without considering, identifying and ruling out every other possibility first.  Just wanting or believing something to be true doesn't make it so.  I often hear paranormal investigators state that they want to "help" clients or "prove" the paranormal is real.  Presenting false positives, misinformation, and personal beliefs as "evidence" does not help anyone, nor does it prove ghosts exist.  I started out as a true believer, accepting paranormal claims at face value.  I am now, as someone I respect described, a skeptic with latent beliefs.  This shift has occurred mostly by continuing to research information and applying what I learn.  But I'm finding myself being pushed further toward skepticism by the hypocrisy of those who say they want the truth, yet decry those who present it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Those Odious Orbs

I submitted "Those Odious Orbs"to The Bent Spoon Magazine and they were very kind to use it.  Check out the entire issue here:

Recently my friend Wes Forsythe invited me on his show "Paranormal Filler" to discuss the never-ending battle with those who believe in "spirit orbs".  He posed the question, "How the hell did we end up losing the orb debate?"

At first, I wasn't so sure we (meaning those of us who don't accept that orbs are paranormal since there is no supporting evidence) have lost the debate.  After all, many more paranormal teams are now dismissing orbs in photos or videos, recognizing them as airborne particles.  People are actively calling out teams who post them as "evidence".  Some paranormal sites won't allow orbs photos at all.  For example, enforces a strict no-orb policy.  And thanks to experiments conducted by credible researchers,* there is plenty of available evidence showing what actually causes orbs in photos and video.  But the fact that we're still having the debate, despite all the information listed above, indicates we haven't exactly won, either.

So, why?  There are many people who want to believe in ghosts so badly that they will cling to any "evidence" that will support their beliefs - even after it has been soundly disproved.  There also those who are emotionally invested in catching "evidence" because it somehow feeds their egos or agendas.  They create justifications of how "their" orb is the real deal.   How many times have we heard the following: "But there was no dust when I took the picture."   "But I recorded an EVP in the same spot we caught the orb."  "But I felt a cold spot, when I took a picture, there was an orb."  "But this orb is real because it is more opaque than dust orbs".   Of course, all of these have also rational explanations, which people either don't bother to learn about or choose to ignore. Then there is my personal pet peeve:  "99% might be dust but there's the 1% that are paranormal."  Who came up these numbers and where is the data to support them?  There is absolutely nothing to substantiate this claim!  Yet, it has been repeated so often that some people accept it as fact.

There are also claims that some orbs have been seen with the naked eye.  There is no evidence that these are paranormal either.  There are known phenomena to consider first, including ball lightning, electric discharge, piezoelectricity, bioluminescent matter, as well as visual misperceptions due from physiological and environmental factors.  Before we call something supernatural, we should try to better understand the natural world first.

One of the biggest criticisms of paranormal investigating is that most people in the field fail to educate themselves about their equipment or scientific methodology before they go traipsing around with cameras, recorders and EMF meters.  Many spend much more time coming up with nifty team names and logos and collecting "likes" on Facebook than they do learning the simple basics of how their cameras work.  Even some "seasoned" investigators who boast they have been in the field for a decade or two are still presenting common false positives such as lens flare and long exposures as evidence. In today's world, where information on basic photography is widely and easily accessibly, there is no acceptable excuse for this.

Business-minded people recognize these issues and exploit them for profit.  That is why we still have paranormal themed TV shows portraying orbs as evidence.  Some try to be clever by changing the terminology from "orb" to "light anomaly", but it's just the same camera affect caused by the same conditions.  Unfortunately, bogus evidence attracts more viewers than does rational explanations.  And viewership equals advertising revenue for the network, so I doubt they have any burning ambition to set the record straight.

In addition, many historic cities have least one ghost tour.  Again, the owners of these tours are in it for profit, so they promote false positives as "proof" to attract naive tourists.  They also know these customers will share their "ghost photos" that they captured on these tours with friends and family.  It's great free advertising.  And other businesses are cashing in on orb photos: for a fee, you too can "investigate" and "catch evidence" at so-called haunted hotels, restaurants, and abandoned hospitals. These owners are invested in continuing the promotion of spirit orbs.  Not a lot of people are as willing to fork out the money if all they know that they are only photographing dust.

To be honest, I like to keep an open mind.  After all, I used to be a believer myself before I took the time to do a little research.  Maybe there are spirit orbs floating about.  But until somebody comes up with technology that can provide objective data to differentiate them from the orbs caused by all the other known factors, I will remain skeptical.

So moving forward, how do we "win" the debate?  My answer:  inform and educate.  If you have a voice, a webiste, or blog, then you have the power to counteract the misinformation being pushed onto the public by TV shows. Make paranormal investigators and business owners accountable for any "evidence" they promote.  If you spot someone presenting orb photos, contact them directly and provide relevant resources for them to learn from.  If they persist after that, then either call them out publicly or notify someone who will.**  The notion that orbs are ghosts didn't pervade populate culture overnight.  It was repeated as "fact" for a while before it took hold.  With a little time and a lot of persistence, the truth will prevail.

*Kenneth Biddle:  Orbs Or Dust:  A Practical Guide To False Positives
Craig Telesha:  Strange Frequencies
Midnite Walkers Paranormal Society:
Association for Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena:

** Worst Paranormal:
VIPER Paranormal:
Debunk Paranormal:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Just the Facts, Ma'am

A few weeks ago, a popular ghost hunting show featured a location in my area.  It is a historical place with its share of ghostly claims which, according to a former town historian, have been documented in the NY state archives.  Because I haven't watched the show for the last season or so, I really had no interest in it, but local friends wanted me to check it out.  So I watched the first several minutes and turned it off.   Why?  Because right off the bat, they got the historical facts wrong.  You know: well documented information that anyone can look up.  This is one of my biggest pet peeves in many claims of the paranormal and the ghost hunters who investigate them. If you can't perform basic research to get historical facts straight, it damages the credibility of the rest of your investigative skills.  It puts doubt on how competent you are with other relevant aspects, such as knowledge of environmental factors or proficiency in the equipment used.

There are many teams who claim they are science-based and are searching for the "truth".  If that is true, they will approach their investigations from a skeptical point of view, starting with testing the validity of the claims.  If clients tell you a story associated with a particular location, then the first step is to find any information to back it up.  For example, there was a case where we were told there had been a murder "many years ago" on a property we were investigating.  Because I know local folklore often becomes distorted over time, I called the county historian for verification.  Lo and behold, there really had been a murder there.

But many times, there is either no evidence of a certain claim, or there is information found that actually disproves it.  One popular haunted location loves to lead their eager paying ghost hunters to a particular room and tell them that electric shock therapy was conducted on insane patients in there. Problem 1:  that is the only building still standing and it never housed the insane, nor were any mentally ill housed on the entire property by the time it was built.  It was a nursing home.   Problem 2: at the time when the mentally ill were housed at the location (in another building that is long gone) there was no electricity.  Kinda hard to conduct electric shock therapy without it.  Problem 3:  all the equipment bought and used at the facility is documented in country records.  There is no equipment associated with such treatments.

Finding whether or not there is any basis in truth to a claim actually takes a little bit more time and effort than the "Show Up and Wait for Something to Happen Method" we commonly see in the paranormal community.  Sometimes you won't receive a reply from historians and so you have to dig elsewhere.  If it still isn't possible, then you have to throw the claim out.  I know, it's disappointing that you can't base an investigation just on a creepy story.  But it is irresponsible to feed into something that may be nothing more than a fabrication.

Some may argue that just because the historical facts aren't accurate doesn't mean a location isn't haunted.  I agree.  But the problem is that many times, people associate personal experiences (whether truly paranormal or not) with the history or earlier paranormal claims.  We know from psychological studies that expectation and suggestion impact how we perceive things.  For example, if there is a story of a Confederate soldier and someone sees a shadow out of the corner of their eye, they are already primed to "see" a Confederate soldier.  If there is a claim of a screaming lady, and someone hears a high-pitched cry in the middle of the night, they will hear a woman's scream instead of a fox.

The ghost hunting teams aren't entirely to blame.  Many times, the owners or managers of these locations use their hauntings as a source of income.  To lure paying customers to investigate they either embellish existing claims or manufacture new ones.  In some cases, they "borrow" claims from other locations.  If one abandoned hospital has an infamous ghostly nurse profiled on TV, then claims of ghost nurses suddenly crop up in other places as well.   In the location featured on the ghost hunting show I mentioned at the beginning, they seem to only allow teams who have been on TV to investigate - but not local teams who pay the taxes that keep the place open.  To me, this suggests they are not at all interested in easing the minds of frightened employees or finding the "truth", they are looking for money.

Unfortunately, to some people in the paranormal community and the general public, the popular ghost hunting TV shows are the "golden standard" of paranormal investigating.  But f they can't even get the history of the place they are investigating straight, how credible is any of their so-called evidence they present? And how credible are the teams who blindly emulate them?  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bigfoot or Big Foolery?

Recently a writer friend (and staunch skeptic) was mildly traumatized by the stupidity of a certain TV show about bigfoot hunting.  So he asked me if I planned to write anything about cryptozoology, specifically Bigfoot. I told him I hadn't planned on it, because I don't have any field experience in it (other than going to a bigfoot museum once).  But then he argued that much of what I discuss in my book and blog applies to cryptozoology as well.  After I thought about it, I decided he's right.  In full disclosure, I confess I believe more on the side of its existence, but I admit that is probably due to growing up in Northern California and hearing the stories from hunters and Native Americans.

There are a lot of parallels between ghost hunting and bigfoot hunting.   These include the high probability of misperception and misidentification, the lack of proper analysis of "evidence", people with no formal credentials calling themselves "experts", cognitive bias, fraud and overall poor investigative techniques.

Like ghost hunting, a lot of people talk in absolutes about Bigfoot, meaning they assert things as facts that have little or no evidence to back them up.  For example, some enthusiasts claim that Bigfoot is either a descendant of, or close relative of the extinct Gigantopithecus.  The late anthropologist Grover Krantz made this speculation.  The problem is, there is no evidence that one ever made it to this continent.  Another issue is, as far as I know, nobody has proven that Gigantopithecus was bipedal, walking upright.  The supposition came from the size of jaw fragments and speculation how the skull would fit on the neck.  But many researchers assert there is more evidence it was a quadruped, based on its massive size.

Another example is that we're often told that Bigfoot is a nocturnal creature.  This is likely due to more alleged encounters occuring at night.  But for me, this simply increases the probability of misidentification.  The human eye is not designed well for night vision.  We don't see colors as well in the dark and our peripheral vision, which detects motion but does not register details well, often misinterprets what is seen out of the corner of the eye.  The brain fills in missing data, and add suggestibility and fear, and the result becomes a bigfoot.  Finally, we are also told these creatures communicate by knocking wood.  Maybe they do, but there are also other possible (and more likely) sources of these sounds.

There are similar credibility issues with the claims from eyewitnesses who see a bigfoot and those who see ghosts.  The same environmental or physiological factors that can impede one's perception in an allegedly haunted location can affect someone out in the middle of the woods.  I already mentioned poor visibility at night.  There are studies which suggest infrasound can impact our physiology and induce seemingly paranormal experiences, including unexplainable anxiety and visual disturbances. There are natural causes of infrasound like running water in rivers and waterfalls.  Thunderstorms can produce infrasound, as can tectonic activity.

There are reports of campers who wake up in the middle of the night to find a bigfoot lurking in their camp.  Besides misidentification, another common phenomenon to consider is hypnagogic hallucinations, which occur in a semi-dream state upon falling asleep or waking up.  Fatigue, stress, change in sleeping habit/patterns are known factors that can cause one to experience this disorder, and are not uncommon on a camping/hiking trip.  The experience seems very real - subjects report seeing, feeling, hearing, and smelling things in this state that are not real.  Why would the brain pick a bigfoot and not a ghost?  The surrounding environment (woods) likely plays on the subconscious and plants the suggestion, even if the camper doesn't consciously believe in the creature.

Eyewitness testimony is highly flawed, especially when fear is involved.   It is simply not reliable.  When doing research for a story, another writer friend learned that the NYPD uses regular decoys for their line-ups and 20% of the time, a decoy is mistakenly IDed by a victim.  As mentioned before, when we don't have sufficient data, our brains take over and "fill in" details for us.  Our perception is skewed.   So when we are startled by something happening quickly out of the corner of our eye, what seems like a 7 foot tall creature in reality could be much smaller and more mundane.  Not long ago, I watched a psychological study profiled on a TV show about the Loch Ness Monster.  A group of people on one shore were told about the study.  A log was launched and the group was asked to sketch what they saw.  They all drew a straight log.  Then the researchers interviewed people on the other side of the shore - who were not informed of the experiment - to sketch what they saw.  Miraculously, the straight log suddenly grew an angular neck and head in some of these drawings.  It's not because the people were being dishonest, but because their expectations filled in the details.   (See, not all the TV shows are bad, haha.)

The evidence suggesting the existence of the creature remains elusive and controversial, at best. Every picture and video of the creature seems to be blurry and therefore inconclusive.  Without visual confirmation, any audio evidence is useless. But the cryptozoologists do have a couple of advantages over ghost hunters.  First, they have a more tangible idea of what it is they are looking for:  presumably, a bipedal primate.  (For today, I am not entertaining any notion it's a supernatural being.)  Second, they can examine physical evidence like hair, prints, and scat allegedly left by the animal.  But evidence is another area where we encounter credibility issues.

One of the main criticisms about ghost hunters is that many do not understand how to properly use their equipment, analyze so called "evidence",  recognize what factors in the environment can affect the the witnesses (and equipment), or fail to put controls and procedures in place to reduce false positives.  The same can be said of many bigfoot hunters.  Many bigfoot hunters I have talked to have no formal training or experience in biology, anthropology or other relevant sciences, which would be usefull on a bigfoot hunt. Personally, I took biology in college and even have a credential that says I can teach it.  But that does not make me a biologist nor qualified to lend any "expertise" if I came across any supposed evidence.  It would be an insult to those who major in these sciences, have completed field experience, and earned their degree.

Many boast their experience as hunters make them qualified as any field biologists.  However, many promising bigfoot prints found by hunters were later identified by pesky science people to be either bear prints or even bobcat prints, where as the animal walked, the posterior paw stepped into the print left by the anterior paw, making a elongated footprint shape.  Weather can quickly distort the size and shape of a print left by an animal, so that an inexperienced observer could easily misidentify it.  Most bigfoot hunters are not qualified to distinguish between static print left by a hoaxer, or a dynamic print left by a living animal.  Many hair or scat samples have been rendered useless for DNA testing by mishandling and contamination by inexperienced enthusiasts. Many are simply not familiar with the habits and sounds of other animals inhabiting the woods.  When one is looking for a bigfoot, any unfamiliar sound can be attributed to one.  Furthermore, it is impossible to place controls for audio in the woods.  Without  credible corresponding video, we have no way of knowing whether you recorded a bigfoot whistling or an aggravated thrush.   Again, without credible corresponding video, if rocks are being thrown at you or your camp, we have no idea they are being tossed by Bigfoot or a human screwing with you.

Which brings us to fraud.  Let's face it:  it is far easier to fake and film a bigfoot sighting than to actually find a bigfoot.  The internet and YouTube is full of bogus bigfoot footage.  There have been frauds saying they have killed or captured the creatures.  Yet, in this day of everyone and their grandma carrying cell phones with built-in cameras, somehow nobody ever gets it on video.  I personally support the "No Kill" approach to Bigfoot.  First, capture will satisfy science.  Second, because sightings are likely due to misidentification or hoaxes, a human is likely to get killed before a bigfoot.  Some places even have made the bigfoot a protected species.  I am all for this for the same reason: to prevent somebody getting shot by an overzealous bigfoot hunter.   Just last week, a man trying to pull off a bigfoot hoax got himself killed when a car hit him.  

It doesn't help when some of the TV shows on Bigfoot portray shoddy investigative techniques.  Announcing to a community that you will be in the immediate area to film a bigfoot hunt really sets one up for problems, including hoaxers or just curious looky-loos.  Running around in the dark after every odd sound is ridiculous.  While eye-witness accounts are obviously a starting point, relying on them as evidence without looking for any other explanation is not valid research.  Just like ghost hunting shows, false positives are also presented as evidence, because that's what keeps viewers tuned in.

At the beginning, I admitted that I lean more toward the possibility of Bigfoot's existence.  Part of this is my own preference.   I want to believe the accounts I heard.   I also wonder about some of the sightings reported in broad daylight by forest rangers, experienced life-long hunters and Native Americans.  Are they all misidentification?  Before the bigfoot craze in the 1960's, there were reports from pioneers and Native Americans of such creatures dating back hundreds of years, not just in the Pacific Northwest, but on the East Coast and Canada.   Is there some truth to these stories?  Since everyone else gets to make assumptions, I'd like to throw in a couple.  What if we are dealing with something closer to us than apes?  Recently, researchers found evidence supporting Neanderthals were capable of language.  Perhaps these creatures are capable of communication, and possess the intelligence to stay the hell away from us. Maybe they even bury their dead.  What if the reports of some tribes are true and these creatures are cannibals?  After all, there are still tribes today that practice cannibalism. If they have their late Uncle Bob over for a barbeque, this may also explain why bodies are not found.

When it comes to paranormal research, I believe it is our purpose as paranormal investigators to find valid answers - paranormal or not -  for claims.  We need to ask, "What can cause this experience?" and then strive to find every rational explanation first.  Otherwise, we might as well save time and money and just sit around a big campfire and tell each other ghost stories.   We will never find the answers we seek if we cling to false evidence and jump to conclusions to suit an agenda to prove ghosts exist.  The same holds true for Bigfoot hunting.  As much as I hope Bigfoot is wandering about in dense forests, I value the truth - and obtaining it through valid research - even more.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Remodeling The Corner

A few of you might notice that some of my older articles are missing from this blog.  They are not gone, the material can now be found in my book, Creepy Corners: Searching for Truth in Paranormal Claims. 

But Carolyn... I thought this site was for educating and informing others about paranormal investigating, not to sell a book!

It still is and will remain as such.  I will continue to post relevant information and resources.  However, I have an obligation to my publisher as well, so some of the articles might be reposted in condensed form.  As always, I will respond to questions sent to me and answer the best to my ability or refer to them to people who can.

So now you're an "expert" just because you got a book published?

No.  As I have made clear on this blog, on podcasts, in my book, in person, to my cat, I do not consider myself an "expert" in the paranormal community.   There are people who bring expertise from other fields and apply it to paranormal research (professional photographers, electrical engineers, psychologists, etc.)  and I respect them and their educated opinions.  Have I done research?  Yes.  Have I learned by actively investigating?  Yes.  Have I learned relevant information from experts in other fields?  Yes.  But - I am still learning.  We all are.

I heard you will be participating in Paranormal Conventions.  Isn't that a bit hypocritical since you criticize para-celebrities?  

Attending conventions does not mean I endorse the TV shows.  First, my goal has always been to inform others and share resources to help counteract misinformation in the paranormal community.  That really can't be accomplished if only like-minded people read my material.  These events provide an opportunity to reach those who may be enamored by para TV, but are also willing to learn more about valid investigating. Second, I am obligated to promote my book and I intend to have fun meeting  people in the process.  So there.

Are you going to let this go to your head?

Yes, yes I am.  Just kidding!  I have been invited on web radio shows before this book came out, and I think it's fair to say during those discussions I focused on paranormal investigating and not me.  I even walked away from a contract which would have provided a significant audience and marketing to promote my book when it was published.  I recognize this venture is not going to make me rich or famous, but was that never my goal anyway.  Like many others, I am simply tired of all the misleading information being spewed out in the paranormal community and am trying to make a positive impact.

As always, I sincerely appreciate everyone who takes time to read my blog.  Thanks again for your support!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Protocols and Procedures

Recently, I was participating in a chat room where we were discussing protocols on investigations and I said I would post the protocols and procedures I wrote for my former group.  Please note:  I am not declaring that this is the ONLY way, or even the BEST way to investigate.  But I hope you will find what might useful for you and disregard what isn't.  

 We are not “ghost hunters”.  We are paranormal investigators/researchers.  We investigate paranormal claims, and strive to find valid explanations for our clients.  We use logic and common sense to find natural causes first.   If there is an anomaly, and we have ruled out natural explanations, only then can we consider it paranormal.
We set ourselves apart from other groups by:
- Being more restrictive on what we consider evidence
- Valuing the historical integrity of locations
- Researching common natural causes of misperception and misidentification
- Practicing strict protocols to prevent false positives
- Researching all equipment and techniques we use in order to prevent false positives
- Recognizing this field is all theory and speculation at this point.   We avoid making statements we     cannot substantiate with facts.
- Emphasizing  education to counteract misinformation perpetuated by popular TV shows and other groups

First Things First:
Never investigate alone.  This is for two main reasons:  safety and verification of an experience.
Use flashlights.    For safety and to avoid misperception and misidentification.  Also, to avoid losing/misusing equipment.
       Wear appropriate attire.  Always wear team shirts on an investigation.  Wear soft-soled shoes with good tread.    Avoid wearing noisy materials.   Be aware you may be sitting on floors or other dirty surfaces, so wear comfy jeans or khakis.
Make others aware of any “red flags”.  Mundane things like broken floor boards, as well as with clients:  stash of meds, occult items, weapons, etc.
Bring a snack & water.    Low blood sugar and dehydration can causes headaches, dizziness, nausea and other conditions that can be misinterpreted as paranormal.   Also, it helps prevent tummy rumbles during EVP sessions.

Use common sense and don’t jump to conclusions.  Always look for a rational explanation first.   If something happens that frightens you, notify a lead investigator and sit out, if you have to.  NEVER react in front of a client! We are there to alleviate their fear, not contribute to it.
Maintain confidentiality.  Don’t disclose names of clients or locations unless given written permission.  If in doubt, keep your mouth shut.  Again, our top priority is our clients.
NEVER use drugs or alcohol before or during an investigation.   Limit caffeine intake (ie. 5 cups or more), as studies show it can cause both auditory and even visual hallucinations.
Keep your religious/spiritual beliefs to yourself.  We all have our own various personal beliefs, but as a group, we put logic first to best serve the client.
Be aware of your surroundings.  Take note of weather conditions like wind and rain, outside noises, traffic, ambient noises, etc.   Recognize common causes of false paranormal experiences:  hypnogagnic hallucinations, high EMFs (environmental and man-made), infrasound, matrixing, changes in temperature and or humidity, static electricity, convection currents, formant noise, etc.
Know your equipment!!! Experiment and become familiar with it outside of investigations.   Know common photo artifacts such as light streaks from slower shutter speeds, airborne particles reflecting in flash or IR illumination (AKA orbs), etc.  Video artifacts:  “shadowing” in autofocus, and pixilation, IR reflection, etc.   Audio artifacts:  the sound of the device’s motor, ambient noise, digital artifacts, etc.   Bring extra batteries.
Communication:  If you are going to change locations, use the radios to inform the other team/s.  This way we can avoid false positives.
Again, turn off your cell phone during the investigation.  OFF means OFF, not silent or vibrate.    Cell phones can affect EMF detectors, digital recorders, and the radios.
Watch your language around clients.  ‘Nuf said.

Investigation Procedure:
Any officer can be a case manager.  If a potential client is interested in an investigation, have them fill out our case request on our website so we all are aware of the claims/history etc.  Notify an officer to schedule a date and do the initial interview with the client.   Unless it is an emergency, give at least a couple weeks notice so we can do preliminary research.  Lead investigators will determine how many members will be necessary based on size or nature of the location.
Walk through:  During the walk through, one or two members (at least one being a lead investigator) will arrive at least an hour or so before the investigation.  At this time, control shots will be taken, initial EMF sweeps will be done and notes taken.   That way the lead investigator will have a good idea where to focus the investigation and set up equipment by the time the rest of the team arrives.
Lead investigators will determine teams and designate areas of interest.   They will conduct onsite client interviews.    Generally, get to the area, 1. assess and take notes of the environment, i.e.: outside: holes in the soffits or siding, loose metal, wells etc.   inside:  uneven floors, unlevel doors, leaky windows, plugged registers etc. 2. take comparative photos, and set up video and EMF detectors, 3.  then do controlled silence and then 4.  conduct the EVP session.     EVP sessions should be around 30 -45 minutes.  This makes it easier for review as well as cuts down on fatigue (and shifting around, etc.).
Avoid sharing your impressions of the areas with other teams until the end of the investigation (or if asked by lead investigators).   This prevents influencing each other and cognitive bias.   Obviously, if there is something of concern or a MAJOR event, notify a lead investigator right away.
At the conclusion of the investigation, avoid sharing your impressions with the client.  Until all the audio and video is reviewed, we cannot have a proper opinion of the case and we don’t want to mislead the clients one way or another.
After the investigation, we will have a “powwow session” off location to compare notes.  Yes, it might be late and you might be tired, but this is an essential part of the investigation so we can properly review all the data.
When reviewing audio/video and you find something anomalous, inform lead investigators so we can cross-reference other video/audio and identify or rule out false positives.  
Two investigators (one being a lead investigator) will return to the location to give the report to the client.  

Investigation Protocols:
They don’t detect ghosts.  They detect fluctuations in the EMF field, and high EMFs which may cause paranormal-like experiences. Be aware of what can cause “spikes”: wires, pipes, running water, decaying metal, motors cycling before they turn on or off, other equipment etc.   Always do an initial sweep to establish the baseline and to look for causes.    Make notes of EMF spike,  but remember a spike alone is not evidence of anything paranormal.

Protocols are essential in avoiding false positives and misidentification.    Failure to practice these protocols result in a waste of time and having to throw out potential evidence.
State location, time and who is present.
Before starting an EVP session, do at least 5 minutes of controlled silence.  This gives you an idea of ambient sounds of the location.
Do not hold the recorder during the session.  Place it a couple of feet away from you.
Sit and stay as still as possible throughout the session.   Do not get up and walk around or use other equipment unless it is absolutely called for.
Avoid whispering.  This is highly annoying on review.  Just talk at a normal conversational level.
Tag e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g!   You would be amazed at what can sound like a human voice.   Tag if you shift, burp, tummy noises, if you drop something, yawn, cough, etc.  A lot of these details are forgotten hours or days after the fact and can be misidentified upon review.
If you hear something anomalous during a session, make note of the time so you can cross-reference it later.
Do not engage in any negative provoking.   Ghosts, if they exist, do not carry ID badges, so you don’t know if you are cussing out a murderer or someone’s Nana.  Also, IF negative entities exist, this might be dangerous.
Do not invite anything to touch you or anyone else.  First, you will set yourself up to be hypersensitive to any sensation, which could lead to misidentification.   And again, IF negative entities exist, this might be dangerous.
Avoid the “make a sound for us” request.    This leads to suggestibility and misidentification.  Remember:  coincidence is NOT evidence.

Use a tripod.  This will help avoid blurs, double exposures, light streaks and other common artifacts, especially since we often investigate in low light conditions.  Also, comparative shots will be from the same angle/position.
Control shots:  these are taken during the walk through or initial sweep of a location, preferable in good light conditions.  These are for reference.
Comparative shots: when taking pictures during the investigation, take at least 3-5 consecutive shots from the same angle.   If an anomaly shows up in one but not the others, it might be something of interest.  But one shot alone doesn’t give us enough information and can’t be considered evidence.
Be considerate:  when others are taking photos, freeze.  Don’t keep walking or waving a flashlight or other lit equipment around, it can cause false positives.
Remove camera straps to avoid “vortices” showing up in photos.
If it is cold, hold your breath when taking pictures, otherwise you will capture breath mist which can be mistaken as something paranormal.   Breath can show up 30 or so seconds later, even if you can’t see it, the camera can.
When outdoors, if you have long hair, tie it back to avoid it getting in the shot and being misidentified.

Practice same basic protocols as photography.
The primary use for video is documentation and cross reference.   We can rule out false positives on both photos and audio by referring to the video.     Like audio, tag.  For example, if someone is using a flashlight or there are car lights, be sure to make a notation.    

Always clear new gear with lead investigators before using on an investigation.  A lot of gadgets seen on TV are useless or too subjective and may not be appropriate.
You must get permission from lead investigators to bring a guest on an investigation.  For liability purposes, anyone under 18 – family or not – must have written permission from their parent or legal guardian first.
You are entitled to your own personal opinions on the paranormal.  However, if you are speaking as a representative of [the group], we expect you to present views that are consistent with our philosophy.    
You MUST get permission from a lead investigator before posting any photos, videos or audio from an investigation online.   This is mainly to protect the privacy of our clients.  
No drama.  Period.  If you are having a bad day, leave it at the door.   If you have issues with another member, (i.e., more than a trivial personality clash or difference of opinion) notify a lead investigator.  
Keep the ego in check.  We tear apart every piece of evidence before we will consider presenting it.   This is in the client’s best interest as well as furthering valid research.   This is about finding answers, not a contest to “catch” and post evidence.
We continually update our research, so we are constantly reassessing theories, causes of experiences, and gear.    

Friday, August 10, 2012

Communication Breakdowns

Recently, I left a group project (not related to anything paranormal).  There were about 30 of us participating and for the past few months, there has been a lot of frustration over the lack of effective communication from the leader.   Many of us found if we asked him a direct question we would never seem to get a direct answer.  All the participants are competent adults, many with college educations, so it's not like we're a bunch of drooling idiots.  (Well, maybe me, but that's usually only before my first cup of coffee.)

So naturally, there was a lot of grumbling and complaining among us.  A few participants resigned.  A list of questions circulated among us to try to get answers.   In an effort to get this resolved, I sent a mass email to everyone, asking the leader to directly answer the questions in a "reply all" so that we could all have these issues clarified and move forward.  I never received a reply from him nor was I even acknowledged.  Instead, the very next email from him was addressed to the group and referred to people "in this email list" who were "trying to derail the project".  Oh, and no answers to the list of questions.   W.T.F.?!!!
Photo by MHarrsch

Since I have no respect for the use of bullying tactics discouraging further questions, I also resigned from the project.  This prompted a sh*tstorm of defensiveness and deflection from the leader - with no shred of his taking any responsibility for the communication issues dogging the project from the beginning.

What the heck does this have to do with paranormal investigating?  Well, this same situation is too often played out in the paranormal community.  When investigators are asked direct questions regarding their "evidence" or methodology, more often than not, it initiates defensiveness, hostility, attacks, etc.  If investigators are so confident in what they present, this should not be the case.   They should be more than willing to share the details of what controls and procedures were used and what other data they have to support their evidence.  If they truly are posting for peer review (which involves quite a bit more than "cool" and "good catch") then they should be open to feedback from others, some who just might have a little more relevant experience than them in photography, audio engineering, electrical engineering, etc.

We also see a lot deflection techniques in the community. Instead of addressing and trying to resolve the issue at hand, some defensive investigators list their "accomplishments" to somehow try to convince others they have more authority.  "I've been doing this for 20 years" or "Our team was featured on XYZ TV show" or "We have 1000 fans on Facebook."  Like that somehow is going to make posting orbs or downright faking things okay?  I don't think so.

Another deflective technique is name calling.  Instead of being willing to take an honest look at their "evidence", some investigators will call those who challenge it "bullies" or "trolls" or "jealous" (that one always makes me laugh because I picture an angry little toddler stomping their feet) or even worse.  Not exactly a means of productive discussion.

"You just jeawous we got weal proof of ghosts!"

I often hear people from the paranormal community claim they are "seeking answers" or "trying to find proof" of the paranormal.  Clinging to misinformation and false evidence is counterproductive in achieving these goals.   This is also why the cry for "unity" in the field rings hollow.  Too many people don't want true unity: they only want a pat on the back and validation of their "evidence".   They are closed off to any alternative explanations or useful discussion which may serve to educate them.  This merely fosters further division in the community and brings us no closer to any answers or "proof". 

Any real progress in research can never be achieved without open and honest communication.   It should be a top priority within the community to address and help prevent miscommunication.  If we want to be taken seriously, we need to act like responsible adults and recognize our own mistakes and reassess our methodology in order to earn authentic credibility.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Haunted Collector at Octagon Hall

Haunted Collector - Octagon Hall.  Para TV strikes out again!

Lately a photo of an apparition captured on the series Haunted Collector has been circulating around the paranormal community.  It is being billed as "evidence", but is it?

From Worst Paranormal's website:  "What you do not see is the whole picture being passed around and apply actual logic to assessing and analyzing the photograph. The full photo is below along with the cropped image being passed around."

For the rest of the article and an analysis of the WHOLE photo, please read the article here:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Now Available!

My book, Creepy Corners: Searching for Truth in Paranormal Claims is now available!

Once again, my thanks to Mike St. Clair, Jon Wood, Matt Schenk, and Kenny Biddle for providing endorsements for my blog to include in the book.  And thanks to my friend Jim Roldan for creating the image for the front cover.

Barnes and Noble:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

And... More App Attrocities

Recently, skeptical investigator guru Kenny Biddle saw a photo billed as the "holy grail" of evidence.  It depicted a ghostly image of a woman sitting among miscellaneous items in what looks like a storage area.  But this ghost lady looked really familiar.  And for good reason:  it was an image taken from a well known photograph, "The Madonna of Bachelor's Grove Cemetery" (see right.) Personally, I like the picture so much that I used it for the cover of my Halloween Mix CD a while back.  The photo has since been made available as a ghost app for smart phones.

Just another team trying to fool others, right?  Well, this case gets a little more complicated.

On this team's Facebook page, they boast about being featured on a upcoming episode of American Haunting (formerly A Haunting) on the Discovery Channel.  The location of the investigation to be  profiled is the same as where they claimed the ghostly image was caught.

Kenny contacted the team directly, who went into defensive mode.  He posted the photo on Facebook, and when I saw it, I contacted two paranormal anti-fraud groups.  Soon, it went viral among the paranormal community and the team got hammered with criticism.

Long story short (let's just say there was a lot of name calling), the team backpaddled and said the photo was taken by their client.  They claimed they had it analyzed by a professional photographer who didn't see any sign of trickery.  (Somebody needs their "professional photographer" card revoked). They also said they did not recognize the image.  

Let's stop here for a moment.  If you do not take a picture yourself, you should never, ever post it as "evidence".   Just because a friend, relative, client, or stranger off the street says it's the real deal doesn't make it so. And, even if they are 100% sincere, you have no idea what the conditions were at the time the photo was taken or what - if any - controls were used. And mostly likely, there is no accompanying comparison shots or video for a more complete or proper analysis.

As I, and many other paranormal researchers in the field have been saying, ghost apps are widely available and easy to use.  If you are a paranormal investigator, you really should be aware of this by now.  It's not exactly a big secret.

Source:  It's Not Haunted
Now the blame has also shifted to the client who owns the supposed haunted location.  When they were first asked if they knew the team was putting the blame on them, they initially defended the team and all the "evidence" caught at their business.  Like the team, they also criticized the people who called the picture into question.  And they are also claiming they didn't fake the photo.

So there are three issues with this case:  1) A paranormal team either faked evidence or at the least, didn't do their homework before posting it as such  2) A client/business owner either faked a picture or at the least, defended the team after being notified of the faked evidence and 3)  the driving force behind it all:  the desire by both the team and the client to be on national TV.

Sadly, very few paranormal shows profile teams that utilize true scientific methodology and critical thinking.   They are more interested in the sensational aspects of paranormal investigating.  That's what attracts viewers, boots ratings, and brings in advertising $$$.

Owning a "haunted location" is now a big business thanks to paranormal TV.   If you get your restaurant, hotel, or even abandoned building profiled on one of these shows, you can charge people a hefty fee to "investigate".  The teams benefit as well:  because of the exposure, they will attract more cases - whether they are competent or not.  Many viewers unfortunately seem to think if a team is profiled on TV, they are somehow "better" than others.  This is not necessarily true.

To be fair, I know owners who sincerely believe they have had paranormal experiences at their location.  And they are in business to make money.  If they can get an edge on the competition by attracting additional clientele, I can't blame them.  But that is one thing.  It is a completely different matter if they deliberately alter photos, manipulate the history of the location, or fabricate claims out of thin air.  All of these things are done with the intent to mislead people and then profit from it.

After this team's bogus photo went viral, I was one who lamented that it is an example of why paranormal research isn't taken seriously.  It isn't just the fact that a photo was blatantly faked, (faking a photo is bad enough, but using a famous image to do so is ridiculous).  No, this situation shows how the all-too-common mix of greed, ego and entertainment shoves valid research into the mud.

To read more about this case:

An excellent article about ghost phone apps:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Evocative EVP

By now, many of us in the paranormal field have been exposed to natural explanations of orbs caught in photos and videos.   Some of us have even repeated various experiments to replicate all kinds of orbs in order to validate these explanations.   So naturally, informed investigators set out to educate others to dispel the unsubstantiated claim that orbs are evidence of the paranormal.    This is a good thing.

However, while more investigators are being hyper vigilant over orbs and other photo/video artifacts, other common forms of "evidence" are not receiving the same level of scrutiny.  Perhaps this due to the level of subjectivity.   It is relatively easy to recreate orb photos and therefore offer objective data for people to study.   But other "evidence" is much more subjective, and harder to convince blind believers otherwise.  An example, and my focus here today, is EVP.

EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) is often touted by paranormal groups to be evidence of the afterlife.   While that may be, the problem is that like photo and video, the potential for misidentification due to poor protocols, poor controls, poor equipment, misuse of equipment as well as pareidolia, is quite high - perhaps even higher.

It is disappointing to see investigators who passionately criticize orb photos become overly defensive over their own evidence, including EVPs.    They preach to others how to properly use cameras, but then they fail to take a good look at their own audio equipment and recording procedures.

Part of the problem is people don't want to learn about anything that might challenge the validity of their beloved EVP collection.  Not long ago, I had a conversation with an investigator who was a cast member of popular paranormal TV show for a while.  We discussed EVPs and how he claimed to capture more using cheaper recorders.  He even anticipated my arguments against cheaper recorders because he'd heard them before.  Yet, he stuck fast to his belief, despite substantiated facts to the contrary.  While he's a nice guy, what he is doing does not fall under my definition of investigating or research.  It is simple wish fulfillment.

There are two primary flaws using cheaper digital recorders to capture "authentic" EVPs.  First, they do not provide sufficient shielding from radio frequencies.  I've talked with professional audio engineers and radio techs who confirmed that recorders can and do pick up radio frequencies.  I also recently read about an interesting experiment conducted by Modern Age Paranormal which supports their hypothesis that EVPs are ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) radio waves.  The second issue is that cheaper digital recorders compress and distort what you record, resulting in missing data.  Therefore, upon playback, you do not get a complete or true representation of the sound.    Keeping this in mind, here's a visual example to consider:

On the left is the infamous "Face On Mars" taken in the Cydonia Region on Mars in 1976 by Voyager.  On the right is an image from 2001 of the same formation, at a much higher resolution.   As we can see, with lower resolution, crucial information is missing, causing a misinterpretation of the what the formation actually looks like.  Add a little matrixing to the the mix and you get this guy:

Even if one can rule out the issues I've mentioned, there is the problem of how the brain misinterprets sounds.  There have been reliable scientific studies showing that people hear things that are not there.   One study, discussed in Mary Roach's book Spook,  illustrates this and is relevant to EVP review.   Subjects were asked to transcribed a poorly recorded lecture.  Many were able to hear words and even complete phrases.  However, in reality, the recording was nothing but white noise.  As I've discussed before, ambient sounds can easily be misinterpreted as voice, especially when they are within certain frequencies and rhythms causing the brain to automatically switch to speech mode.  Personally, I've participated in many audio reviews where people swore they heard a meaningful response when all I heard was something akin to "Glarmpht".  So even if something sounds like a voice or a phrase, it doesn't mean that it is.  And even if it is, you still have are left with the task of proving that it belongs to a ghost.

Then there is another controversial possibility:  psi activity.  Some parapsychologists hypothesize that living, breathing humans can somehow imprint our thoughts on electronics via psychic means.  Before some readers roll their eyes and dismiss this outright, if you think about it, it's just as plausible (if not more so) than the idea that we are recording ghosts.  There are even more assumptions to consider with the latter:  if ghosts even exist,  if ghosts can hear us, if ghosts can understand us, if ghosts are willing to communicate, and if ghosts' "voices" can be recorded.  

Since the burden is on us to provide extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims, ALL evidence must be met with the same high level of scrutiny, even when it is harder to explain than orbs.  Going back to my title, "The Evocative EVP", evocation is defined as the act of calling or summoning a spirit, demon, god or other supernatural agent.   In a way, some investigators are indeed summoning false spirits by misidentifying EVP.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Learning on a Bell Curve

This is a picture of a reflection in a bell.  It was taken in a Firefighter's hall on a photography expedition.   When the photographer (left) later reviewed the photo, he was surprised to see what appears to be a figure sitting next to him.   There was only one other person in the building at the time, and she (who bears no resemblance to the figure) was nowhere near the photographer when this picture was taken.  What do you see?  I saw a guy wearing sunglasses, sitting next to the right of the photographer.   I admit, this gave me a good case of the heebies.

I know the photographer, and he is one of the few people in world who I will believe when he says, "There wasn't anybody next to me."

Why?  Because the photographer is Jonathan Wood, founder of River Cities Paranormal Society and co-owner of the MyPara Paranormal Social Network.  He actively practices and promotes logic-based investigating.   I know he will search for every possible rational explanation for any anomaly in a picture.

This photo was no different.  Jonathan shared the photo with other serious paranormal investigators and asked for their opinions.  But before long, he debunked it himself.  The "figure" is actually his thumb and the "sunglasses" is part of the camera.    Textbook pareidolia.  Case closed.

But it is an excellent example of a couple points I have made before.  First, it demonstrates the importance of not declaring something as "evidence" of the paranormal just because initially, it may appear to have no explanation.  It also shows that by using common sense, technical experience, and asking for informed opinions, an anomaly that might be mistaken as a paranormal can be soundly explained.

The second point it supports is that just because an explanation isn't readily available, it does not necessarily mean a person is lying about the circumstances of a picture.   If Jonathan didn't debunk it, and stuck to his claim there was no one else around him at the time, I know of some people in the field who would likely accuse him of either faking this, being untruthful, or being oblivious to his surroundings.  He would be criticized for not presenting control shots or comparison shots, even though this was not taken on an investigation.

Would it have been cool if he had really captured a ghost?  Sure.  But it's also interesting to see how easily we can be fooled if we don't take the time and effort to look for the truth.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

App Atrocities

It's a lovely day today, but I'm in a foul mood.  Why?  Because instead of frolicking in the sunshine among the birds and butterflies, I'm inside at my computer, compelled to address some blatant fraud.

A few people who I respect in the field have been attacked for calling out a supposed ghost photo.   The "paranormal investigator" who presented it as real evidence hosts a radio show and even charges for classes in ghost hunting "certification".  (Toilet paper has the same validity as these certificates.)   When some detected the b.s., they did some research (you know, like REAL paranormal investigators are supposed to do!) and found that the ghostly WWII soldier in the picture is an authentic phone app.   So instead of showing an ounce of remorse or regret, the guy who presented it is instead attacking the credibility of those who called him out.

My paranormal friends list is much shorter today because it included some who supported this person either by liking the fraudulent picture or supporting his radio show.  It's one thing when people cling to orb photos out of ignorance or inexperience, but ghost apps are deliberate fraud.  They are created with the intent to fool others.  To be fair, it's not the ghost apps themselves that are the problem.  I can see how fun it can be to create such pictures for entertainment.  But when so-called "investigators" use them to intentionally deceive others (including clients) into thinking they caught something truly paranormal, that is overt, malicious fraud.  As I've said before, I don't have any respect for those who present, excuse, or "authenticate" such "evidence".

If you claim to be a paranormal investigator, please do some actual investigating before declaring ghost pictures as paranormal.  Be aware that there are a lot of these apps out there and they are constantly being updated to include new "ghosts".   Also be aware that sometimes honest clients have been fooled by friends or family using these apps in pranks.  It's up to us, as investigators, to check the validity of such (actually, ANY) pictures when they are presented to us.

Does the ghost in the photo below look familiar?   If so, it's not because he is haunting several locations from his life, it's because he's a phone app.  So if you see a picture with this "ghost" in it, you know it's a fake and any the team or investigator who posts it a "evidence"is not reliable.

Thank you to Debunk Paranormal for sharing this picture with me.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hard Evidence

The Easter Bunny exists. I have hard evidence. I saw him in my neighbor's yard and I took this picture. That's right, this picture is proof the Easter Bunny exists. You're welcome.

You might be thinking, "But wait, Carolyn. That looks like a regular white rabbit". Well, I am here to tell you I saw him materialize out of thin air before my eyes, and he actually said, "Happy Easter" in a squeaky little voice before he left a beautifully dyed Easter Egg for me and vanished.

You're convinced now, right? Of course not. When claiming "evidence", one picture does NOT tell the whole story. That is why it is so important to take good control shots of the entire area, as well as comparison shots: taking a series of consecutive shots from the same angle and position. Video is extremely helpful to rule out other causes of an anomalous picture (as well as audio).

If you present a picture that looks like exactly like thousands of other dust orbs, or thousand of other breath mists, or thousands of lens flares, you don't have anything to convince me you caught anything paranormal. A single picture of a mysterious mist or eerie light doesn't tell me it that materialized right before your eyes. It doesn't tell me a phantom voice accompanied it. It doesn't tell me your teammates saw it too. (Even if these things did occur, there are many natural explanations to consider anyway, but that's another topic).

The burden is on us, as paranormal investigators, to present extraordinary evidence. It requires more effort and patience. You may indeed catch something paranormal in a single picture. But without any other objective data to back it up for others to analyze, it cannot be considered hard evidence.

I have to go now - the Easter Bunny is chewing up one of my rhododendrons.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Paranormal Unity and the Real World

During the past couple of weeks I've been sent messages on Facebook requesting me to support Paranormal Unity. I've also been sent messages to NOT support Paranormal Unity. I ignored both because, quite frankly, I don't feel the need to stress over a non-issue.

Paranormal Unity sounds like a nice idea. So does World Peace, but it ain't gonna happen. As I've said before, there are too many conflicting viewpoints, agendas and egos in the field for it to become a reality. Proponents for Paranormal Unity say we in the paranormal community all have the same goal. No, we don't. Some want to prove ghosts, meaning spirits of deceased people, exist. However, others want to prove they don't exist, and that paranormal experiences can be explained with science. And then there are those, like me, who fall somewhere in the middle. We believe in the possibility of ghosts, but we understand that we need find all other explanations first.

Opponents say that the concept of Paranormal Unity is being used impede honest criticism of paranormal teams' methods or evidence. To some extent, this may be true. Just saying "good catch" to make everyone happy won't get us any closer to valid answers in this field. Furthermore, it is a disservice to clients. We can't make any progress in the field if we cling to false positives presented as evidence. If it hurts someone's feelings when they are told their pictures of dust are not ghosts, then they need to consider these questions: are you really searching for "proof" or just a pat on the back? Are you really in it to help clients or just to look important in a fringe field?

I do agree with proponents there is a need to be more civil and respectful in dialogue. Berating, insulting and attacking people over dubious photos or EVPs is not "educating" them. It is the quickest way to make people defensive and reject any useful information you could impart. If people are truly in this field for valid research, they will be open to informed opinions presented in a civil, respectful way. I have personally learned that it is more effective to initially contact the person via email or private message, rather than post a comment about their evidence on their site or Facebook wall. That way, they save some face. After all, if my goal is to educate them, I don't need to do it in a public forum to prove what a smarty-pants I am. If they automatically reject my opinion or get defensive, then I know what kind of person I'm dealing with: someone who is more concerned with saying they're a paranormal investigator than actually being a paranormal investigator. Most of the time, at least in my experience, people have been receptive and open to dialogue when I have approached them in this manner.

Now, deliberate frauds are a whole other category. In my opinion, they are fair game. Since they choose to prey on the fearful and grieving for their own gain, then they deserve the consequences.

So instead supporting the flawed notion of Paranormal Unity, I simply encourage more civility in the field. That doesn't mean we all agree with each other, or give kudos for crap "evidence", or tolerate bogus equipment or practices, or that we keep our opinions and criticisms to ourselves. It means we strive to communicate like intelligent adults and exchange useful information to better the paranormal field.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Zen and the Art of Paranormal Investigating

During the past couple of years, I've known a few good investigators who walked away from the paranormal field entirely. Why? Did they encounter a frightening entity? Did "something" follow them home from an investigation? Were they pushed or slapped by an invisible force? Nope. They simply got burnt out and sick of all the drama and negativity weighing down the field.

Some people seem to forget that at this point, this field is based only on theory and speculation. Since there are no accredited degrees in ghost hunting, no one really has any more "authority" than anyone else. And while there has been data collected that support some opinions (i.e. what really causes orbs in photos and video), there is still quite a bit left open to exploration and research. Just as some become too emotionally attached to their evidence or beliefs, others become attached to their opinions, agendas and inflated egos. Obviously, this creates conflict when any of these are challenged.

Unfortunately, paranormal investigating offers a venue to some who need to feel superior to others. On one hand, you have those claiming to be more "spiritual" or "attuned" who can sense and see things that the rest of us do not. We are supposed to believe their claims without one shred of objective evidence. They are convinced that the most garbled piece of audio or the blurriest picture of dust are concrete proof of ghosts. If you argue with them, you are labeled closed minded, trapped inside the proverbial box. Some even go as far as wishing skeptics to encounter demons - just to prove them wrong! (Which brings their spirituality into question, but nevermind).

On the other side of that, you have those who are convinced all paranormal evidence gathered by other teams fall under two categories: misinterpretation and fraud. Some prowl the internet, actively seeking out groups who post questionable pictures or audio, and under the guise of "education" attack these teams publicly and call them idiots, liars, frauds, etc. But then, many of these same people who dish out the most criticism of others, are unable to take criticism when it is aimed at them. Many are asked to present their professional credentials that give their criticism some authority, but fail to do so. Many hide behind the safety of monikers or fake names while they drag other's real names through mud. I've seen some of the most vocal critics of others go ballistic if their own evidence receives valid criticism. Hypocrisy at its finest!

Then you have teams who have major jealousy issues and act like rabid chimps, flinging verbal poop at other teams. Yes, there are teams who might get more cases than ours. Yes, there are locations I'd like to investigate but can't because another team has "marked" it as their territory. Yes, there are other investigators who dislike me because of my opinions. So I have two choices: a) obsess over it and be upset over something I can't change or b) shrug it off and move on. I choose to move on. There are plenty of other opportunities and experiences waiting for me. I'll never get to them if I wallow in a mire of frustration.

There are also conflicts within teams. Sometimes personalities or opinions clash and people take it personally. That is why I suggest teams create a mission statement. Our team also has a contract for our members which details what protocols, equipment and techniques and criteria we use. If an individual can't adhere to them, then their membership may be revoked. This is not because we think our way is THE right way or that we're better than anyone else, but to function well as a group and serve our clients better, we all need to support a common agenda.

Some investigators find they cannot work well with clients and residential cases. For some it is the responsibility that they're not comfortable with, and with others, it's the constant battle of competing against the misinformation many clients insist on clinging to after they've put in time and effort to provide reasonable answers for them. While it's okay if these investigators want to leave the field, they do have the option to change their focus to other venues or avenues of research.

During one semester when I was music major at a conservatory on the west coast, I studied under a guest professor from the prestigious Paris Conservatory. I was anxious because I was expecting an intimating task master who would demand nothing less than perfection. Instead I met Harry: a warm, unassuming but brilliant teacher who could breeze through the most challenging concertos like they were nothing. While he did assign demanding repertoire and studies which helped me excel as a musician , he also instilled an invaluable life lesson. He warned me that I was becoming too hypercritical and overly concerned with technique that I was missing the big picture. He explained it is a common mistake that "real" musicians think they have to live, breathe and eat music every second of the day, and he advised me to find hobbies and friends that had nothing to do with music. To step back, and get some perspective. Why? To regain the most important component of music: ENJOYMENT. Since then, when I go to concerts, instead of picking out the french horns lagging or flutes off-pitch, I hear the piece as a whole - as it was intended. And I enjoy it.

So my advice to those who are feeling the burn-out: take a step back. Gain some perspective. Remember what brought you to the field in the first place, what fueled your curiosity, what answers you're seeking. If you are unhappy with the group you're in, either recommend changes to teammates or find another group. Online forums and networking can offer some positives: information about equipment, analysis, techniques, etc. from others. Unfortunately, this is often overshadowed and even devoured by the drama created from conflicting egos. Does that mean to avoid paranormal networking? Not necessarily. But, if you want to avoid unnecessary stress, just don't actively participate. As one humorous saying goes: "How do you start an argument on the internet? 1. State an opinion. 2. Wait five minutes." So read through the forums and get what you can from them. Nothing says you have to partake in any discussion. But if you do, understand that you automatically become a target. (Just like junior high all over again!) Ignore all the petty pissing matches, name calling, chest thumping, jealousy issues, etc. and find the nuggets of information you can use and research for yourself. If a forum, site or page is full of negativity, it's okay to leave and find one that is more constructive.

Also, find some balance in your life. Let's face it: paranormal research can be a tad morbid. If you become too entrenched (or obsessed) with it you will miss one of the biggest lessons ghost stories have to teach us: don't take LIVING for granted! Enjoy what life has to offer while you can. One friend comes to mind. He has a positive outlook on life and spends his free time with his family enjoying the great outdoors, going to rock concerts, enjoying cultural festivals, and visiting historic locations. He actively creates balance in his life to counteract his his job - in the funeral industry. Proper perspective will help achieve balance. Balance will help achieve proper perspective. Now, step away from the computer and hug a puppy.