The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘ghost hunters’

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…


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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.”

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The Skeptical Teacher to be Interviewed on Darkness Radio – LIVE!

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 14, 2012

I know I’m posting this a little late, but I wanted to let you all know that I’m going to be interviewed tonight (Monday, May 14th) live on Darkness Radio at 11:00pm CDT.  If you recall, I blogged some time ago – almost two years – about a very interesting discussion I had with paranormal investigator Dave Schrader at Convergence 2010 on the topic of “ghost hunting”.  Despite the fact that Dave’s a believer in ghosts and the paranormal and I’m a skeptic, we hit it off and he invited me to be on his show so that I could give my perspective as a skeptic… well, it took awhile, but tonight’s the night! 🙂

If you can catch the show, please click the Darkness Radio icon below to listen live.  Otherwise, try looking it up on the Darkness Radio archive afterwards.

Darkness Radio 

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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 »

Halloween Lesson, Part 2: The Haunted Physics Lab

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 4, 2010

If you recall, last week I posted the first of two skeptical lessons with a Halloween theme to them, and now I share with you the second one: the Haunted Physics Lab. I cannot take credit for this idea, as I borrowed it years ago from my colleagues in the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). What I did differently is to add a number of skeptically-oriented twists to it, such as why Ouija boards don’t work and why “ghost-hunters” are full of hooey when they claim EMF meters are detecting ghosts.

But don’t take my word for it, take it from an article by a local news outlet that interviewed me and some of my students about the Lab 🙂

Haunted Physics Lab Stirs Lake Forest Students’ Interests

Mix in the spirit of Halloween with some physics concepts and learning occurs.

By Jim Powers | Email the author

Jenna Schmidt considers herself to be a logical person.

So on Halloween, the Lake Forest High School senior walked into physics teacher Matt Lowry’s classroom dressed in a gorilla suit last Friday.

Compared to the rest of the advanced placement physics students in her class, she blended right into the backdrop. For the past six years at the end of October, Lowry has transformed his classroom into a Halloween-themed dedication to the world of physics.

Carrying her gorilla head in one hand, Schmidt took a look around the classroom and noted, “There is a lot going on. Usually it’s just one lab, but this is a lot to get through. It’s a lot of different types of physics topics.”

Lowry created 37 stations, each one devoted to a principal of physics from a Theremin which creates some of the eerily, high-pitched creepy sounds from horror movies to optical illusions to even disproving the aura of an Ouija board. …

I especially like how the article ended:

… Many students have seen an Ouija board before, but it’s hard to tell if it holds the same prominence it once did for slumber parties. Lowry’s station tests the opposing forces of magnetic fields using a magnet and a magnetic board underneath the Ouija board. Remove the Ouija board and the magnet and magnetic board continue to oppose one another.

“The demonstration is specifically set up to not only demonstrate a good physics concept about electro-dynamic induction, but it also shows the Ouija board does nothing,” Lowry said.

Crushing news for the spirit world.

Epic win 😀

Posted in education, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Skeptical Teacher to be Interviewed on Darkness Radio

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 25, 2010

**Update: It seems that, due to unforeseen circumstances, the interviewed may have to be postponed.  Stay tuned!


As a follow up to my earlier post regarding Dave Schrader’s talk on paranormal investigation at Convergence/Skepchicon in Minneapolis, I wanted to let everyone know that Dave will be interviewing me for Darkness Radio in the next few days.  I’m not exactly sure when the interview will be airing (probably within the next week or so), but if you watch this blog I’ll be letting you know.

The nature of the interview will basically be me & Dave talking in general about the paranormal, ghost-hunting, and the role that science & skepticism play (or, as is often the case, don’t play) in such investigations.  Here are some points that I plan to bring up in my discussion with Dave…

1. What is a “ghost”?  Has anyone ever come up with any kind of quantifiable definition for such an entity?

2. What is the proposed mechanism by which ghosts interact with the physical world around us?  How can they be measured?  Why would ghosts interact in this manner with the world?

3. How can we distinguish a potentially legitimate “ghost signal” from other phenomena?

4. Do any ghost hunters conduct double blind experiments?

5. Are the investigations by some believing ghost hunters replicable by skeptics?

6. Is there any way to “catch” a ghost, or its essence (ectoplasm, etc), for study?

7. Why is it that much of ghost hunting seems to be arguments from ignorance (i.e., ghost-of-the-gaps reasoning, I call it)?

I’ll also tell some stories from my own experiences ghost hunting, going all the way back to my high school years, as well as why I’ve come to the conclusions that I’ve never seen any evidence for a ghost or anything supernatural or paranormal during my life.

I anticipate that this will be a fun discussion, and I eagerly look forward to it.  If you have suggestions for topics to discuss and/or questions for me to ask Dave Schrader, please let me know.

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Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 3, 2010

On the second day of Convergence/Skepchicon, one event especially caught my eye – a talk titled “The Other Side: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review” given by Dave Schrader, the host of Paranormal Radio. Almost immediately I was skeptical, as I have analyzed the claims & methods of various ghost hunters before and found them to be quite dubious.  In addition, many of my skeptic colleagues cringed a bit when they heard his name and my mention of his talk.  Thus, in the spirit of learning more for myself I attended his talk and took many notes – in the end, I was both a bit impressed with Dave but also quite disappointed.  Read through my notes, which is a transcription of his talk, and please see my specific comments in italics. Also please make sure to read my closing question to Dave Schrader and his response…

The Other Side: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review

How to investigate the Paranormal, from setting up a team to reviewing evidence.  Presented by Dave Schrader, host of Paranormal Radio and author of The Other Side: A Teens Guide to Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal.

Dave is walking around handing out info TAPS, ghost hunting, and talking about a local [Minneapolis] show called Ghostbustin’ 911 (lolz).

How many people have ever gone on a ghost hunt before? [a few hands raise, including my own]

I’m going to show you a bizarre, demonic picture from a possible demonic haunting.  The lady of the house claimed she was smelling weird smells like rotting meat or poop along with strange cries.  While there I was taking photos and got a shot of a demonic, and here it is… [shows photo of a little kid in a costume – laughter]

Title: A Common Sense Look at Paranormal Investigating and Evidence Review…

Read the rest of this entry »

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“What the Hell was That?!” – Ghosts & Other Paranormal B.S.

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 12, 2010

I recently came across a neat website which really does a good job of dissecting the various “ghost-hunting” TV shows that have been popping up like crazy over the last couple of years.  Of course, I’ve written before about how ghost-hunters are essentially deluding themselves because they have no clue what they’re doing, but this website – What the Hell was That? – does a far better & more thorough job than I ever could.  That’s mostly because if I took the time to watch that much stupidly bad TV, I think I’d have to drive a spike through my skull to put myself out of my misery.

As an example, check out the latest entry on a show called “Ghost Adventures” – ooh, sounds spooky 🙂

Ghost Adventures, a Kindly Review

Travel Channel

Fridays at 9pm

Of all the fake ghost hunting shows, Ghost Adventures probably qualifies as the most annoying.

Hosted by the ever-preening Zak Bagans, a film school graduate with a penchant for horridly overwrought prose like “When darkness falls, we chase the darkness.” He must write the stuff himself because he delivers each painful line as though he is reading from scripture.


Zak is also one of the world’s worst actors, which is a shame since he does a lot of acting in each show. He approaches each case with an absurd tough guy act, constantly challenging ghosts: “Bring it on.” Zak loves to gesture, pro wrestling-style, putting his hands right into our faces when he is trying to make a worthless point. It all comes across as trying just a little bit too hard.

Zak often interviews people who have claim some experience on the site. His outrageously leading questions sometimes make even the interviewees squirm. Of course, like all the other shows, the events described as occurring on the sites vastly outstrip what the ghost hunters actually find. We hear of full body apparitions, glowing eyes, spectral faces, etc., etc. But never, never is anything like that ever actually found by Zak or his team. Sometimes the best he can manage is to feel cold spots, or spectral touches. These allow him to really stretch out his acting skills, to great comedic effect. He also often presents the standard lame EVP’s, dubious door slams, and unclear images.

Like many of the shows, recreated images and sounds are mixed in with the “real” stuff, making it impossible to determine what is being presented as “evidence”. We can see the heavy ham hands of the producers as they try to wring out the maximum oooga booga for their indiscriminate audience.

Ghost Adventures also uses tons of dubious gadgets (see my Bag of Tricks article for some examples). Since none of the little electronic boxes are documented or explained, I view all of them with great suspicion. As I documented, one of their gadgets was just a cheap flashlight.

Some questionable stuff from a recent show, set at an abandoned prison:

• Batteries were drained “instantly” from the wireless mics but NEVER from the cameras (then there would be nothing for the show!). There was some priceless overacting “What? What?…I just put new batteries in 5 minutes ago!”

• The crew claimed then claimed that the audio for the on-board camera mics went out, too. It’s hard to prove that they are lying but I would be willing to bet that they simply turned down the input for the drama. It is too convenient that the video never went out. The whole incident had all the earmarks of  prearranged corny dramatic stunt.

• A supposed mist was shown behind Zak that was obviously just a reflection in the low quality night vision image.

Ghost Adventures is an example of lowest common denominator TV, cheap, dumb and patently false. The silly host makes this one particularly loathsome.

Not A Grade: F

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 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

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