The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘extrasensory perception’

The Dark Side of Ghost-Hunting

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 30, 2013

I’ve posted many times before about so-called ghost hunters and ghost hunting, and much of the time it has been in either good fun (by spoofing them) or a bit more serious in challenging them to be more rigorous in their methodology.  However, in this post I want to point out the danger(s) involved in ghost hunting; as is so often illustrated on the What’s The Harm? website, when people buy into pseudoscientific and non-critical thinking, it can have profoundly negative effects.

Case in point: recently some moronic ghost hunters in New Orleans decided that in order to get the spirits supposedly inhabiting an old mansion from the 1850s to “come out and play” that they needed to set fire to the place.  The result: it completely burned to the ground…

Ghost Hunters Burn Down Historic Mansion

… The mansion, built in the 1850s, had survived through many incarnations, operating as a boarding house, a hotel and even an illegal gambling house. Though the mansion had been shuttered in recent years, its owner, the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation, had plans to renovate the building. …

… The fire at LeBeau broke out at about 2 a.m. local time Friday, Nov. 21, and the building was almost completely destroyed by the time firefighters arrived. The ghost hunters had been trying to produce a reaction from the spirits they assumed resided there, by doing what TV ghost hunters call “provocation,” essentially making loud noises, yelling taunts at the ghosts and banging on walls. Frustrated that their efforts failed to yield any spirits, the group decided to light a fire. Whether this was intended to smoke the spirits out or simply burn the place down, the resulting flames soon reduced the mansion to ashes and four brick chimneys.

While many ghost hunters engage in harmless (and fruitless) fun, as this case shows, there can be a dark, dangerous side to the pursuit. In the wake of popular ghost-hunting TV shows, police across the country have seen a surge in people being arrested, injured and even killed while looking for ghosts.

In 2006, a woman was critically wounded looking for ghosts in a private house near a cemetery; she and a friend were trespassing, and the house owner mistook them for vandals and shot them. In 2010, a North Carolina man died while ghost hunting with a group of friends, hoping to see the ghost of a train that crashed years earlier. The ghost train did not appear — but a real train came around a bend and killed one man who couldn’t get out of the way in time. … [emphasis added]

Note the backwards thinking here: the ghost hunters in question were so hell-bent on “proving” the existence of the ghosts supposedly haunting this mansion that, when all else failed, they actually burnt the damn place down!  It is revealing that the thought that perhaps there were no ghosts/spirits in the place at all seems to have never occurred to them, so strong was their confirmation bias in favor of all evidence pointing towards the existence of the ghosts/spirits…


Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Classic Skeptical Scene from “Ghostbusters”

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 31, 2013

One of the things I like to do on Halloween, besides handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, is watch scary and spooky themed movies.  I recently re-watched one of the great ones from the 1980s: Ghostbusters.  Did you ever notice that the character of Peter Venkman is actually kind of a skeptic?  This fact is outlined in the following hilarious scene from the opening of the movie, where Venkman essentially calls out his colleagues for engaging in an argument from ignorance in his typical deadpan way as they search for a ghost

**Dialogue from 0:19 – 0:38**

Ray Stantz: “Look!”

Egon Spengler: “This is hot, Ray.”

Ray: “Symmetrical book stacking, just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947.”

Peter Venkman: “You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.”

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Halloween: The Perfect Opportunity to Promote Skepticism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 27, 2011

My favorite time of the year is almost upon us: Halloween! 😀

I love Halloween not just because of the candy, the costumes, and the decorations (when else can you be a complete freak and it be socially acceptable?) but also because of the wonderful potential for promoting skepticism and critical thinking about various paranormal claims.  Let’s face it: at this time of the year, ghosts, witchcraft, psychics, and various other kinds of woo are on everyone’s minds, so why not take advantage of that fact and use it to inject the skeptical viewpoint on things?  I have found this to be a very effective teaching technique over the years, so that’s why I pass it along to you.

So in the spirit of the season (pardon the pun), allow me to share with you some links to various Halloween-ish skeptical resources that you can use, including a few of my earlier blog posts on the subject…

A Skeptic’s Halloween

Snopes: Halloween Legends

South Park Spoofs “Ghost Hunters”

Halloween Lesson, Part 1: Randi’s “Secrets of the Psychics”

A Historical Halloween & Skepticism Lesson: The 1938 “War of the Worlds” Broadcast by Orson Welles

Halloween Lesson, Part 2: The Haunted Physics Lab

Happy Halloween!!!

Posted in aliens & UFOs, education, ghosts & paranormal, humor, magic tricks, physics denial/woo, psychics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific at it Again: This Time They’re Selling an “ESP Lamp”

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 20, 2011

You may recall that I made a blog post in 2009 – titled Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific Sells “Ghost Detectors” & Other Woo – wherein I strongly criticized the science teaching outlet called Edmund Scientific for caving in to the “ghost hunter” fad. They started to sell all manner of goofy things: ghost detectors (which are actually just electromagnetic field meters) and even DVDs on remote viewing. And all of this from a science teaching catalog – you might as well turn to the biology section and see creationist materials for sale!

[**Addendum (6/28/11): to get a good look at why I view such claims about EMF meters “detecting ghosts” so skeptically, take a look at this post – Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review – which outlines that so-called ghost hunters, when pressed, basically admit they aren’t doing any serious science.  But they want to look like it]

Well, not to be outdone in their tumble down the rabbit hole, Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific now has for sale an “ESP Lamp”.  I kid you not – they claim this thing can actually read your thoughts… as in extra-sensory perception… as in psychic woo-woo… and it only costs about $200!  But don’t take my word for it.  Read their own description of the product:

Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific’s “ESP Lamp and Money Burner” 🙂

Lead your own experiments in the mind’s possible influence on machines, PSI testing, and more with this colorful LED lamp. Four different color LEDs are lighted dependent upon a random number generated from a miniature Geiger counter included on the back. You may even figure out how to use it to tell the future. And, when you need a break from the lab, it makes a very interesting lamp too.

I’ll agree that it makes an interesting lamp, but that’s about the only thing in the description that’s factual.  Everything else is pretty much pseudoscientific gobble-dee-gook because many decades of research has clearly shown that no such phenomenon as ESP exists.  And that part about “telling the future”?  I suggest just saving your money and buying a Magic 8-Ball, because it would cost a LOT less and give you just as accurate results! 😉

But, sadly, that won’t appear to stop Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific from catering to the lowest common denominator in their quest for a quick buck off the gullible.  Unfortunately for them, they don’t seem to have done the math on the other side of things: how do they think science teachers across the country are going to react when they see this sort of garbage for sale in their catalog?  I know that I’ve spoken to a large number of science teachers who are quite upset about this (and justifiably so) and who are boycotting Edmund.  I’m among them, and I encourage all of my skeptical colleagues (especially those teachers among us) to do likewise: until Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific pulls products like this “ESP Lamp” and their “ghost meter” from their shelves – or at least until they advertise them in an honest and scientifically-accurate fashion – we should refuse to give them any business.

Posted in education, ghosts & paranormal, physics denial/woo, psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Must-See Video: The G Hunters

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 27, 2009

I just wanted to share in this quick post with everyone a video I saw this last summer at The Amazing Meeting 7 in Las Vegas.  During the convention, our pals at the Skeptics Guide to the Universe shared their first effort at skeptical movie-making, a spoof of “ghost-hunting” shows which have become so popular these days.  For a more detailed analysis of why ghost-hunting is a load of woo-woo, click here. I hope you enjoy the show! 😀

The G Hunters: Episode 1, Part 1

The G Hunters: Episode 1, Part 2

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

South Park Spoofs “Ghost Hunters”

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 27, 2009

In the spirit of Halloween and skepticism, I shall be posting some things related to both in the days to come.  The first is a hilarious spoof of various “ghost hunter” shows by those wacky guys at South Park.

south park ghost hunter spoof

Despite the crudeness & vulgarity of their criticism, the South Park guys aren’t that far off the mark in pointing out the logical fallacy (basically, arguing from ignorance – a LOT of ignorance) committed by these lame-o doofuses who stumble around in the dark, scaring themselves for the cameras.  For a more detailed critique of “ghost hunters” and their pseudoscience, see my earlier blog post on the subject.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific Sells “Ghost Detectors” & Other Woo

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 14, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I became aware of something that, as both a skeptic & science teacher, shocked me: Edmund Scientific, one of the oldest & most respected outlets for selling science equipment for educational use, has gone over to the dark side.  They are actively marketing & selling paranormal woo…


What are these products that Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific is now selling on their website?  They are…

EMF Ghost Meter – This is nothing more than a standard EMF (electromagnetic field) detector, which usually detects EMFs that are low frequency, such as radio & microwaves.  I have no beef with Edmund selling EMF detectors (I even have one in my classroom), but what galls me is the manner in which they are marketing this device.  They are actually calling it a ghost detector – and by doing so they are giving credence to the pseudoscientific flummery of the paranormal woo-meisters!  As they say on their website:

Detect Paranormal Presences

The preferred unit of paranormal investigators, this Ghost Meter can be used by laymen with professional results. The unit responds instantaneously to EMF fluctuations and spikes in energy with a detecting range of 50 to 1,000 Hz. The VLF range is 1,000 to 20,000 Hz. An easy-to-read LED display and silent on/off push switch make for seamless, simple operation.

Such devices are often used by so-called ghost hunters as they bumble around in the dark, freaking themselves out at every cool draft of wind & creaky sound they hear.  In reality, there is absolutely no reason to think that EMF meters are detecting any kind of “ghostly entities”, as a simple application of Occam’s Razor often shows that what the meters are actually detecting is the low-frequency EM-waves given off by nearby lighting fixtures, electrical lines, or even the other equipment carried by the ghost hunters themselves!

But if you thought that was bad, it gets worse.  Here are some other gems that Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific is now selling…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in education, ghosts & paranormal, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: