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: