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Those "Ghosthunters" PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Reader Tristan Noel asks:

I was curious, of course – as I'm sure you get a lot of this – about the skeptic's view of the show Ghosthunters. Are they, like Criss Angel, one of us, knowingly using camera tricks and such? Are they just misinterpreting real life random data (emf tone frequency waves, etc.)? Or are they simply sensationalists on TV who push the "Normal Guy" image (Roto-Rooter plumbers) to gain compatriotism with the average viewer, and use equipment tricks to make people think they see ghosts?

Well, we’ve referred often to the show on SWIFT, and you could have done a search to find references, but my opinion is that these naifs just aren’t capable of using the over-tuned and over-sensitive equipment they so cherish. Anything becomes significant, and they can’t differentiate between normal radio transmissions, cell phone signals, nearby remote control pulses, and the hundreds of EM signals they can detect. They go in armed with thermometers and get apoplectic if a chilly breeze occurs – usually in a drafty, deserted, dwelling. A sound not immediately identified will elicit sighs of wonder from them, and almost any sensory input takes on eerie qualities, by default. If they were to examine non-“haunted” locations, they’d get the same plethora of input but they reject that as non-applicable.

Tristan continues:

My wife is a huge fan of the show, and it is the only source of our truly frustrating "arguments," when she tries to convince me that they've found true evidence of the paranormal. Often, I can explain it quickly with logic. A recent occurrence involved a "shirt tug," caught on camera. Of course, she was floored. Me, I watched the scene very carefully about four times. The pull point was very narrow, less than a centimeter across, maybe even less – a puffy jacket. Also, the actor feigned being pulled backwards, but the tug was straight down. Wire trick, perhaps? Shifting a weight in his jacket?

I dunno. I wasn’t there, nor were you...

It's not the first time the show has been a bit off. One supposed "psychic" reading had a floating heat signature going from the read-ee to the psychic. A trained eye can tell that all it is, is the heat equipment recalibrating its range automatically.

Your expertise on “heat equipment” parameters far exceeds  mine.

Mayhaps, James, if you're bored, or looking for a pot to stir, this would be a good straight shot? I know Penn and Teller already touched on it briefly, but not very directly. Mayhaps if you aim straight for this one, we could have another Uri Geller closed off? Perhaps it would put an end to the endless new ghosthunter groups "from home." I have two roommates who are in one such group, and tend to take it far beyond the levels of a responsible hobby.

Well, Tristan, I’m never bored. I don’t have the time for that luxury. However, these “ghostbusters” avoid being tested, or even defining what they do, perhaps because that might lead to the discovery that they don’t have anything to sell, while there are eager buyers pounding on their doors...

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written by Moogan, November 26, 2008
I never could understand how people who believe in the supernatural claim there is a "spirit world" and then go on to "prove" its existence using very real technology to pick up very real signals from the very real world. How could something that supposedly has no substance nor is a part of this world be detected? It is painfully obvious the signals being registered on these devices are produced by real and wordly, if you will, phenomena. The only thing that doesn't register with these people is rational thought.
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written by joshjewell29, November 26, 2008
@Dr BOB:
I find the first half of your post informative although I must admit I am in no position to disagree with it. It is very interesting that a 1 degree difference is enough to produce that chill effect.

However the other half of your post has me very confused. Are you serious about seeing ghosts? How can you be sure that it is just our time distorting so we can see into the quantum multiverse? What does that even mean? My limited understanding of the multiverse theory sees it as a way to explain some quantum effects. I was not aware of any evidence that it produced ghosts, or any other physical manifestation.

I also see no connection of your explanation of time slowing down in an accident. How does adrenaline causing you to think a bit faster have anything to do with time travel. As far as I know about Relativity, time differences become noticeable when you reach a speed a bit faster then a car accident. I think you need to be traveling closer to the speed of light.

"question everything, accept nothing, but your own experience"
I am not quite sure what you mean by experience but isn't part of being a skeptic not trusting your own experience, and instead gathering and using evidence anybody is free to use?
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written by StarTrekLivz, November 26, 2008
I've heard several people say that when one of the ghosthunter shows began, the one with "TAPS" - the Atlanta Paranormal Society - the guys started out as fairly skeptical; as they began to "affirm" spooky things, their ratings and show budget went up, and they started buying that fancy electronic equipment which probably doesn't prove anything and they don't seem to know how to operate. The sad truth may be that they are probably mercenaries, in the Sylvia Browne and Jonathon Edwards tradition of flim-flam.
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written by GODOFPIE, November 26, 2008
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...re=related
Hi Tristan-Have your wife watch this video on youtube. This guy does an excellent job of debunking the jacket pull. The show you are talking about, Ghost Hunters, The Atlantic Paranormal Society, is the reason that I found Randi.org. I was starting to believe in that stuff, too. I am very thankful for JREF and the people here. This website is a wonderful tool for debunking woo. The guys on TAPS just feign skepticism. They approach the subject of ghosts and the afterlife as believers. They have already made up their minds that ghosts exist and then set out to collect evidence that proves their point. Their feigned skepticism is what initially had me hooked.
http://skepticalanalysis.com/
This is a website created by one of JREF's finest to debunk TAPS. I have even started a skeptics group in my neck of the woods. I have contacted our local paranormal society but they have not returned my emails. They too, firmly believe in ghosts and apparently don't want anyone conducting proper tests that might conflict with their evidence. Good luck to you!
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If you think TAPS is bad....
written by tctheunbeliever, November 26, 2008
I don't catch too many of the ghost shows, but if you're looking for entertainment rather than feigned skepticism, I'd recommend Ghost Adventures. Seeing a pack of tough-guy ghostbusters attempting to goad the spirits into doing tricks by using teenage-level insults makes me scratch me head in wonder (and disgust). If I had lived, died, then haunted a house for a century, I think I'd be able to see through the "Are you chicken?" strategy.

But so far, I can't seem to see or hear the amazing things they do.
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Whole web site devoted to this
written by stephenenelson, November 27, 2008
I'm one of the folks on a web site that does critical analysis of Ghost Hunters, as well as Ghost Adventures and other paranormal shows. We're called Skeptical Viewer, and we're here:

http://www.skepticalviewer.com

We also do a podcast, which you can find there.

For exhaustive analysis of the Halloween 2008 episode specifically, there's a long and informative thread here:

http://www.skepticalviewer.com/2008/11/01/gh-halloween-live-2008/

(Hope all the links don't trigger something unpleasant.)
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written by Joe D., November 27, 2008
Some videos people made:

Ghost Hunters Live:
(With people messing up all over the place)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohfocjCX2sc

I'm trying to the find the other one. But there's an episode that shows really how much they messed up and how they fake a good bunch of their episodes.

There's this one episode where someone is up in the attic in a chair, waiting for a ghost or whatever. He doesnt want to be up there anymore and he picks up the chair, and leaves the room.

Later, we go back to a "live feed of the room" that he just left. And we see a scene with a chair bouncing around due to a "ghost."

OH, BUT WAIT! He picked UP the chair and took it with him! How is there a chair in the room?

The ghost must've brought it back upstairs with him.
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written by BillyJoe, November 28, 2008
The Doctor tells us to question everything except our own experience. Okay, but that means we must question his experience whilst holding steadfastly to our own, and he must question our experience whilst holding steadfastly to his own.

Hmmm...I'm sure glad he cleared that up.
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written by Diverted Chrome, November 29, 2008
Particularly bogus is ghosthunters' assumption that a digital recording device can somehow detect soundwaves uncapturable by the eardrum. These devices capture the human range of frequencies and a hair outside the spectrum, yet they always playback sounds in the human range as proof. How could a device designed to sample soundwaves detect a sound not created by soundwaves and then replay the sound as soundwaves?
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written by BillyJoe, November 29, 2008
Diverted Chrome,

There is clearly something not right about your comment, but perhaps I should leave it to someone with expertise in these things to point it out.
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written by Wareyin, November 29, 2008
BillyJoe, I admit to a lack of expertise in ghost hunting and in recording equipment, but I don't see what is wrong with Diverted Chrome's question.
Are you thinking dB sensitivity?
I'm honestly curious, because on cursory thought Diverted Chrome makes a good point. How can this device pick up something outside the range of human hearing, and then play it back (supposedly without modifying it) in normal human hearing range? If we couldn't hear it live, what about the "sound" was changed to allow us to hear it off the recording?
Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in ghosts. I'm just curious how the people who DO believe in this silly stuff would try to explain that.
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written by stephenenelson, November 29, 2008
Not really a ghost believer here, but let me take a crack at it. There are multiple hypotheses, mutually contradictory.

One hypothesis is that the "voice" is actually telekinetic-- that the spirit actually alters the flow of electrons in the microphone of a digital voice recorder. If that's the case, then one should always put down two recorders, and the voice should only appear on one. Supplying white noise is supposed to help, because it gives them something to modulate.

Another hypothesis moves the action further upstream. A ghost is somehow able to decode the compression scheme and write the appropriate bits into the digital voice recorder's memory. I'm a fairly technical guy, and I couldn't do that while alive. If all EVPs were from former audio engineers, I might believe it.

Another idea is that digital voice recorders somehow automatically translate these sounds to human audio range. I've had that one explained to me patiently, and my mind is too limited to grasp the concept, since it seems to me to be simply not true.

There are, of course, plenty of mundane explanations for EVPs. Hoaxes. People muttering to themselves without realizing it. Radio interference. Auditory pareidolia. I think one underreported explanation is the fact that DIGITAL VOICE RECORDERS ARE NOT TAPE RECORDERS. They're specifically designed to capture and store the human voice. They use lossy voice compression. If they're given something that isn't a voice-- like a car engine going by on the freeway outside-- they'll do their best to make it sound like a voice.

But, in the words of Dennis Miller, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.
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written by BillyJoe, November 29, 2008
Wareyin,

Perhaps I don't understand what he is saying.
Let me have a go at teasing it out:

Particularly bogus is ghosthunters' assumption that a digital recording device can somehow detect soundwaves uncapturable by the eardrum.

Does he mean frequencies outside human hearing range, or does he mean too soft to be captured by the human ear? I assumed the second initially.

These devices capture the human range of frequencies and a hair outside the spectrum,

Here he is saying that the devices basically record in the range of the human ear - and a hair outside that range, which to me doesn't sound like much. This made me interpret his first sentence to mean sounds too soft to be captured by the human ear.

yet they always playback sounds in the human range as proof.

So this bit is strange because now he seems to be saying that they record in the hair outside the human range. Perhaps he is saying that the ghost voices are always in that range. Is that what Ghostbusters claim?

How could a device designed to sample soundwaves detect a sound not created by soundwaves and then replay the sound as soundwaves?

A very puzzling sentence for me to interpret. I cannot make sense of it. Hence my appeal for help. What does he mean/imply/suggest by "sound not created by soundwaves" and "replay the sound as soundwaves"?
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written by Arts Myth, December 02, 2008
BillyJoe:

Perhaps an example from a different...ahem...medium? Look into the emitter of a remote control (IR variety) and press a few buttons. Nothing. Now point it at a video camera and press a few buttons. Assuming it wasn't the remote for the camera and just turned it off, there will be flashes of light visible this time. The camera's CCD/CMOS "sees" a hair outside human vision, and it translates as something we can see (technically, it isn't showing infrared as much as it's showing a "wash-out" from a bright point light source of indeterminate colour), which could be called an image in the visible spectrum not created in the visible spectrum.

Something like a limpet microphone/speaker could be an audio parallel. A tiny electromagnet with a suction cup which could be placed on the back of a telephone handset. Placed near the earpiece, it unobtrusively records the conversation, not by picking up the audio but the electromagnetic signals from the earpiece's speaker. If it's strong enough, it could also be placed near the mouthpiece and used to manipulate the mouthpiece's microphone, so a voice/sound is heard over the phone (by both parties) without the initial generation of soundwaves.

Additionally, perhaps Diverted Chrome meant to include volume as well as frequency, since they're usually shown playing these things back so loud that the background hiss sounds like the aether has sprung a serious leak.
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written by Diverted Chrome, December 05, 2008
I'll help clarify.

stephen nelson's (and wareyin, and Arts Myth addition) description is exactly what I was getting at.

"Does he mean frequencies outside human hearing range, or does he mean too soft to be captured by the human ear? I assumed the second initially."
Neither. In the episode I watched, the playback was clearly within the 20hz-20khz spectrum; they played it back and heard it on location for the cameras (which also picked it up).

"Here he is saying that the devices basically record in the range of the human ear - and a hair outside that range, which to me doesn't sound like much. "
The extended ceiling for digital isn't much mathematically and isn't usable in practice (because why would you design the capture of a frequency that even dogs can't hear?). It's slightly higher to allow for the digital structure, and compression. Most of can not hear a 20khz signal at speaking volume anyway (human range is often given as 20-20khz but 20hz you feel more than hear). I mentioned it to point out that a ghost hunter can't claim the "golden ear fallacy" (we are able to detect something you can't hear because your ears simply aren't good enough). If it's there, and in the audible range, then you would have heard it the first time. If it's inaudible, then it won't be heard on playback either. If it's above or below the capabilities of the device, then the sound won't even be sampled. Of course, at home we're hearing it through additive constriction of the camera microphone and the television speaker, which means the program's editor made sure the sound was between 100hz and about 12khz so that the viewer could be influenced - well within the range of all able-hearing people.

"So this bit is strange because now he seems to be saying that they record in the hair outside the human range."
As you quoted, I said "in the human range", though it was muddled cuz I get snarky when dealing with this crud all over my expensive cable subscription and having to spend so much time explaining to the kids why it's a hoax. (Though I realize the latter's a good thing).

"A very puzzling sentence for me to interpret. I cannot make sense of it. Hence my appeal for help."
In the show I watched, the device was designed to sample sound occurring in the range of human hearing, yet they were claiming that they did not hear it when it occurred (hearing it only on digital playback, which played the sounds back in the audible spectrum), as a claim for a supernatural entity. A viewer who understands how sounds get digitally sampled will find that laughable. I think they're banking on the fact that most viewers see the conversion of sound to binary digits as mystical in itself. The device is not going to create a series of digits unless there's a soundwave to sample in the first place, as stephen points out.
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Ghosts do exist,but what are they?
written by Jason7463, December 11, 2008
I have seen ghosts,but only when i was young,and never again have i encountered them(full apparitions no less)twice,once by myself and another time with family,i would like this explained.
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No, Virginia, There are no Ghosts.
written by Tristan Noel, December 18, 2008
Heat sensing equipment senses in a range. If the field of scanning changes, the range changes to the currently existing points of high and low, thus, what was purple can suddenly turn red, yellow, as far as it needs to.

As for Jason, there're a myriad of possible explanations. Children are heavily succeptible to dreamstates being remembered in much the same way early memories are. I for one have solid memory of some of my dreams as a child in the same vivid nature as some of my real memories, that is to say, not very clear. Memories get corrupted over time, as the brain is in no way a perfect recording device, and the brain uses patterns to fill in the gaps created by time, poor recording, etc. Likewise, the brain also uses memories to clear up things you see every day. For instance, if you see a light pole, you will likely not take in every detail right away, or even any at all. Your brain will match what you see with what you have seen, which is why sometimes, you swear you saw, say, a nissan driving up behind you, look back, and see it was actually a mazda, or something equally similar, but not the same at all.

It is the interesting point of efficiency of the human brain, its speed in matching objects to a datacloud in the memory centers, thus, writing less to memory on a constant basis, conserving space and energy, but in turn, creating imperfect memories.

I would ask, did you discuss this with your family at the time? Did they see exactly what you saw? This is touched on in criminal investigation, not letting witnesses talk to each other, as witness accounts invariably end up corrupted as those hole-filled memories mingle, recreate, retool, and eventually completely botch the initial sight.
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Quoting Diverted Chrome, and answering...
written by Tristan Noel, December 18, 2008
"written by Diverted Chrome, November 29, 2008

Particularly bogus is ghosthunters' assumption that a digital recording device can somehow detect soundwaves uncapturable by the eardrum. These devices capture the human range of frequencies and a hair outside the spectrum, yet they always playback sounds in the human range as proof. How could a device designed to sample soundwaves detect a sound not created by soundwaves and then replay the sound as soundwaves?"

Worse yet, the common digital recorder actually records Less than what the human ear hears. Digital recorders are designed to filter extraneous data instantly, i.e. white noise, sudden loud sounds, sudden lulls in speech and volume, etc.

Even worse still, most digital recorders record in MP3, WMA, or some similar compressed format. This is a hazard, as any time you compress audio, you lose some level of quality as you transfer medium, and inevitably end up trimming hertz-tone frequencies that are logged as being outside of the human range anyway. The more of these upper and lower wavelengths you cut, the more the sound ends up sounding like it comes out of a tunnel(see Any episode of GH to hear this.) To see the results of this method in reverse, anyone using an X-Fi Creative Labs Soundcard can turn on Crystallization, a function that raises hightones, and lowers low tones, giving a simulated boost in sound quality(and a good one, at that.)

So, to your question, I ask another question, in return. Just how exactly can a digital recorder, that is still recording analog sound, just onto a digital medium, "hear" something that a human cannot, when a human can hear more than a digital recorder can any day?
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written by thetruth, June 16, 2010
The most obvious problem with the EVP is when they are doing their EVP session they are using a digital audio recorder. Well they are also using digital audio recording at the same time, with the video cameras they are using. Why doesn't the video cameras audio pick up the same EVP?
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