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Ghost Hunting Science vs Pseudoscience

by Steven Novella, Nov 08 2010

I was recently pointed to a conversation taking place in the Northern Iowan – a student newspaper of the University of Northern Iowa. The debate is about whether ghost-hunting is science or pseudoscience. The first salvo was apparently fired by Michael Dippold, who took the skeptical position. There is also a response by Peter Allen, defending the science of paranormal investigation. I hope these two students won't mind me jumping in and taking them to school a bit.

Michael does a decent job of spelling out the skeptical position, but I think he misses (or at least insufficiently emphasizes) a critical point, and not surprisingly Peter completely misses this vital point. If I had to point to one aspect of so-called ghost hunting that marks it as pseudoscience it is this – they don't carry out any actual hypothesis testing. Michael comes closest to this point with this statement:

Here is the problem with what they are doing: it's not science. There's not a single shred of evidence to suggest that ghosts exist, or that they can be identified by cold spots. Why are ghosts cold? Why do they never seem to show up in visible light, but infrared cameras always find them? Why can you never hear them speaking, but finding them in garbled audio (what they call electronic voice phenomenon or EVP) is absurdly common? The answer is that it's easier to find whatever you're looking for in distorted or unclear video and sound. This is a profession that thrives on false positives.

Continue reading…

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by Brian Dunning, Oct 14 2010

Rumor has it that Lady Gaga, the favorite musical artist of many of us here at SkepticBlog, travels with her own crew of ghost hunters to protect her from spirits that may be haunting the hotels she visits while on tour.

That's right sports fans, you heard it here first (unless you spend as much time as I do on all the Hollywood celebrity gossip web sites). Word is that Gaga is so worried about ghosts that she spent $60,000 on EMF meters to equip a small team of ghost hunters, evidently modeled after those whom we know and love so well from the telly. Whenever she stays at a hotel, her team first sweeps it with the EMF meters to be sure there are no spooks waiting for an autograph. Continue reading…

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The Ghost of La Purisima

by Brian Dunning, Nov 26 2009
The Ghost of La Purisima

The Ghost of La Purisima

I’ve been corresponding with a gentleman, Kevin, who visits allegedly haunted sites in southern California. As evidence of his paranormal experiences, he sent me this photograph, taken inside the La Purisima mission in Lompoc, CA.

Mision La Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima is one of the famous network of Spanish Franciscan missions stretching the length of California, established in the 18th century. Today it’s something of a living history museum. Unlike many of the California missions, La Purisima is no longer used for actual regular worship services.

Like so many “ghost” photographs, Kevin’s is of astonishingly poor quality. It’s not even close to being in focus, for one thing, and clearly should have been taken with a flash. I always marvel at such pictures, because in reality, it’s not even possible to buy a camera that automatically takes such bad quality. The world’s worst camera phone would have done a better job. You have to deliberately jack the settings, or blur it out in Photoshop. Continue reading…

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Hunting the Ghost Hunters

by Steven Novella, Jun 22 2009

I will be away this week, so I am dusting off some of my oldest skeptical writings and updating them. Below is a piece I wrote 12 years ago on ghost hunters, Ed and Lorraine Warren. The article is still relevant, and I enhanced it with some updated info. I also employed the wayback machine to provide links to old websites that are no longer active. I will be mostly out of touch, and only rarely monitoring the comments, so forgive me if I don’t respond quickly or at all.


Belief in the supernatural seems to be a nearly universal part of the human condition, but the details of specific paranormal belief systems depend on culture and location. In New England we have ghosts – or at least ghost hunters. So it is not surprising that in our younger days as activist skeptics, Perry DeAngelis, Evan Bernstein, my brother, Bob, and I (the investigative team of the New England Skeptical Society) cut our skeptical teeth investigating ghost hunters.

Taking on the New England ghost-busting industry led us inevitably to Ed and Lorraine Warren, the patriarch and matriarch of ghost hunting in New England. Ed and Lorraine hunted ghosts (Ed has since passed) – ghosts, apparitions, demons, possessed people, places and things. They did so for decades, and claim to have looked at nearly 4000 cases. They were made famous by books and movies, and as luck would have it lived only a couple towns over in Monroe Connecticut.

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The Ghost Hunt

by Ryan Johnson, Nov 11 2008

So to start off this week, I’d like to address a few questions received from our readers before I jump into the continuation of our story.

Many have asked where can I see this show? Well, at the moment, we don’t have the show in active production. We have finished a pilot episode and demo, and that is being used right now to pitch to agents and TV networks. We are working with some very esteemed individuals and companies that are representing the show for us. We are all making great progress.

As we begin to get solid deals put together, we’ll be sure to let you all know. Don’t worry, when the show is picked up, the entire Skeptical Community and hopefully many other people will know that it’s coming! For our international viewers, we’re not certain who will carry it, but rest assured, we’re working hard to give the show the largest audience possible. If we don’t air it outside of US, you can bet we’ll be working on online and home video options as well.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to share our exploits into producing the pilot with the Dream Team of skeptics: The Skeptologists!

  Continue reading…

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Skeptologists Pre-Production or “How to Make Three Months of Your Life Disappear”

by Ryan Johnson, Nov 04 2008

Ah, Pre-Production.  Think of it as cramming for the big test, or making weight for the fight, or preparing for cadacism.. Oh wait, strike last last bit.

Pre-Production is where all the wheels are set in motion for a production project. By the name of it, I’m guessing you figured out that much, so far on your own.  The team and I had been discussing the finer points of the show, and finding our talent and coming up with great ideas. It was time to set a date, and like a wedding, once you set that date, it’s kinda like chasing a burning fuse. Things start to move very quickly.

We chose to shoot the first week of April, and true to skeptic form, we decided to have everyone assemble in L.A. for the first time on April first.  Boy, I could have played a really rotten April Fool’s joke that night, But I thought better of it. 

We had Skeptologists arriving from all over in a symphony of plane and car schedules. But before all of that could happen, a lot of work by a lot of fine folks had to take place.  We had to figure out just what we were going to shoot, where it would happen and how to get it all done in the precious four days that we had with the cast. Four days.

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