Hayley is a Ghost

A guide to ghost science

Posted on: March 24, 2011

There are many people who claim to investigate ghosts using a scientific approach, but this is a claim that should not be taken at face value because a lot of people who make this claim are actually using pseudo-scientific methods without necessarily realising it. These are methods that can be misleading and can provide false positives.

Before I get into too much detail about how pseudo-science rules the majority of ghost research (and it does, believe me…) it’s probably worth pointing out that the very reason that people start to investigate paranormal claims can often influence the way in which they then decide to go about their investigations.

The choice to use techniques that seem scientific but actually aren’t can often be the result of three things:

1 – A need for confirmation bias.

I often talk about how the very reason a person chooses to become involved with paranormal research can affect the choices they make and the rationale they use during their research. If somebody becomes involved in paranormal research simply because they want to prove that their belief in ghosts is correct then they’re probably going to use methods of investigation that provide them with such confirmation.

People who are trying to prove something to themselves or others will be more likely to use spiritual techniques such as table tipping or glass divination. These methods are easily influenced through people’s expectations. The ideomotor response, for example, is the reason that these spiritual methods are so successful at yielding positive results. The people involved in the glass divination or similar, unintentionally move the glass to meet their expectations – this is an effect that has been proven in numerous studies.

However, expectations and a desire to find a ghost or paranormal cause for phenomena reported can also influence seemingly scientific measurements too, but more on that later.

2 – The copy-cat effect

Many people who become involved in paranormal research do so because they have been inspired by other people – whether it is a paranormal television show or other paranormal investigators that they have heard about or have seen locally, in books or online.

The main problem with this is that people will conduct very little independent investigation into how they should go about their research. They will simply copy the people who have influenced them, using the same methods and pieces of equipment they use. The copy-cat effect even reaches as far as the locations the team chooses to visit!

3 – A general misunderstanding of science.

Many paranormal researchers or research organisations claim that they use a scientific approach to their cases because they use an array of gadgets that can help to detect ghostly presences.

This claim is flawed in itself because claiming to use gadgets that detect ghosts on your investigations is introducing a bias to your investigation, i.e. that there is a ghost at the location to be detected.

The gadgets that many paranormal investigators use that they claim are scientific are devices that have been designed to take measurements for other fields of research or monitoring.

Ghost gadgets

There are a plethora of gadgets that are used by ghost hunters that they often claim detect ghosts. Too many to list in detail in this post, and I have written about them before for the WPR team website, however I will touch upon the most popular.

EMF meters, for example, measure Electro-magnetic fields but some ghost researchers claim that ghosts cause fluctuations in electro-magnetic fields when they manifest (despite these fluctuations occurring naturally anyway), thermometers measure the temperature but are sometimes used by ghost researchers to monitor ‘cold spots’ that are sometimes attributed to ghosts, Ion detectors measure positive and negative ions that are naturally occurring, despite this some hold the belief that a ghost manifesting itself can create positively charges ions, also Thermal Imaging cameras simply show the surface temperatures in an environment but ghost researchers use them to search for temperature anomalies that could be caused by a ghost…

The fact is that there isn’t a testable definition for what a ghost is, and because of this, there is no way that anyone could design a piece of technology that detects them (if they exist). The use of such gadgets is pseudo-scientific not only because such gadgets are not designed to detect ghosts, but also because the readings people take with them are open to interpretation and that interpretation can be (and often is) influenced by the expectations of the investigator, or the need for confirmation bias (i.e. that there is a ghost present, or that ghosts exist, depending on the individual).

A thermometer in a room may detect a temperature drop of 5oC, but all that the thermometer tells us is that the temperature has dropped, and not why or how. To some people, that reading would simply mean the temperature has changed in the room through natural causes, but to others it might indicate a paranormal cold spot. Of course, the thermometer hasn’t told them this, it’s simply their interpretation of the reading – influenced by their expectations, just like the glass used for glass divination.

Can you really use science in paranormal research?

When people hear that you can use science to investigate ghosts they often picture people in lab coats putting translucent beings into a test tube. There are scientists who are conducting good research into how the environment around us can cause people to experience odd things they might think are caused by ghosts, and also how our minds can fool us into thinking we’ve experienced something ghostly, but you don’t have to be a scientist to use science in paranormal research – simply by using the correct behaviour you can ensure that your research is scientifically sound. It is easy to use science on an investigation simply by applying the scientific method to the case you are dealing with.

The scientific method

The scientific method can be broken down into a number of basic steps as follows:

  1. Ask a Question
  2. Do background research
  3. Construct a hypothesis
  4. Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment
  5. Analyse your data and draw a Conclusion
  6. Communicate Your Results

The scientific method is something that sometimes repeats itself by asking a question (step one) of the results being communicated (step six). The hypothesis being tested can be in relation to a case of paranormal phenomena that has been reported to an investigator to help find cause and effect relationships in nature.

One thing that many paranormal researchers fail to do (and thus, cause themselves to be pseudo-scientific in their approach to their research) is consider all possible causes for the phenomena they are investigating, and simply presume that it is caused by a ghost.

If an investigator uses gadgets to detect ghosts, then they are aiming to detect a ghost and have decided that there IS a ghost in the location to detect. The same can be said of those investigators who use spiritual methods to ‘communicate’ with ghosts.

This will only lead to flawed conclusions being reached because they have already drawn a conclusion before constructing and testing a hypothesis and they will, often unintentionally, analyse any data they collect in a way that makes it fit with their already drawn conclusion. This is known as cherry picking your data and only using certain data that matches with your expectations is known as ‘the file drawer effect’.

The file drawer effect

When scientists conduct an experiment they note down all the positive and negative results so that a clear conclusion can be reached. It also helps when somebody tries to repeat or improve the experiment. This is a good behaviour that ghost researchers can use to ensure that they reach and present a clear conclusion to their research.

This often doesn’t happen because ghost researchers who use pseudo-scientific methods remember the positive hits (when a reading on a piece of equipment suggested to them a ghost was present) but forget the negative misses (when the same piece of equipment didn’t respond when they asked it to), meaning that they create false positives in their conclusion. This is known as the file drawer effect.

So, in summary, it is possible to research the paranormal using science – but it’s more about your behaviour and maintaining an open mind than the equipment you use…

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29 Responses to "A guide to ghost science"

You’ll love this then. A guy called Trevor Brown has started a business, Haunting Evidence, taking people on ghost hunts “using scientific and spiritual equipment with the support of highly skilled and experienced staff”.

According to Mike Hallowell’s article in tonights Shields Gazette, staff at Haunting Evidence are experienced in ‘disciplines’ such as Electronic Voice Phenomena recording and using electromagnetic field meters.

Perhaps Brown’s customers should be told beforehand that there’s no evidence that his scientific and spiritual equipment actually provide evidence of anything paranormal.

Not the first, unfortunately 😦

A great overview of the field, I’ll bookmark this for frequent reference in dealing with many True Believers I deal with.

Balderdash!!

How can you construct a hypothesis if you do not know what is happening?

You create a hypothesis about the case in question by looking at possible causes for what has been reported.
For example, at a recent location one reported oddity was that the door in a certain room opened on its own. During a building inspection we noted that the doors would often open slightly if another door in the building was closing so we created the hypothesis that the door was opening on its own due to air pressure. We then tested this and managed to recreate the effect by opening a certain door when the window in the room was open. Thus, we reached a conclusion.

Not balderdash at all 🙂

So you have an explanation for EVERY alleged paranormal occurrence, do you? Wow… Your really good. So then, after all “possible causes” have been explored, and a conclusion still cannot be drawn, what is it exactly we’re left with?

That has to be the most piss-poor example I’ve ever heard in my life. If you’re going to cut it and dry it without using a complete and utter “balderdash” example such as that, then please get in touch! Do you think we were dug up yesterday!?

I haven’t claimed I have an explanation for every alleged paranormal occurence at all. Which is something that cannot be said by a whole host of other paranormal investigators.
Calm down. Geesh.

May I first say that the above guide has alot of information which most novices would benefit from reading.

My name is Trevor Brown the one whom brianpagent does not know or has ever met but he is so quick to judge me and my business. I set up Haunting Evidence to provide members of the public a chance to spend a night in an alleged haunted location doing things they have witnessed on TV without having to pay a small fortune to do so. There is alot of fly by night companies who are just in it for the money and members of the public are seriously getting ripped off. It is an evening of entertainment and the customers draw their own conclusions from any alleged happenings. I do explain to customers how to use equipment and what it is used for. Having over 20 years research within the paranormal field I have witnessed probably only a handful of things which could be deemed paranormal. I am an open minded sceptic who has RESPECT for other peoples methodologies and beliefs. Haunting Evidence also provides access to locations that are too over priced for small serious research teams to conduct repeated controlled experiments and collate data. When the phrase highly skilled and experienced staff was used it refers to the methods and strict controls and protocols in place for the event to run like clockwork. Personaly I do not get involved with the spiritual aspects because of the ideomotor effect which I do explain to customers but there is always at least 2 or 3 who do not believe it to be true. Instead of getting into a heated debate I tell them to go home and google it and days after the event I usually get an email thanking me for helping them understand the same applies to the orb debate. I show customers good vantage points for them to use their cameras and get the result they want then I explain to them the reason they are there dust moisture etc. They argue convinced they have caught the first stages of a manifestation until they google it and once again I get emails saying thanks. I could go on and start explaining the research I have done into evp and the different frequencies and results but dont want to bore people.

In a nutshell good article on ghost science but perhaps mr pagents readers should know he does not do his research before letting his brain think a load of bull and his fingers type.

A number of comments:
First, I’ve penned a rebuttal to your article, Hayley, but it is way too large to post here. I’m currently working on a new website, and it will be posted there. As soon as it goes up, I’ll post a link here.
Secondly, Brian Paget has never met Trevor Brown – a true sceptic, if ever there was one – and Trevor Brown has never met Brian Paget. One wonders, therefore, how Brian can be capable of making any objective judgements on Trevor Brown’s abilities, experience or expertise. He has never seen either Trevor or his team as they go about their business. I wonder how Paget would feel if someone who had never met him and never seen him in his place of employment was to pass such pronouncements upon his skills as a senior analyst programmer.
With the carefully-crafted argumentation for which entrenched skeptics are legendary, he then states that,“Perhaps Brown’s customers should be told beforehand that there’s no evidence that his scientific and spiritual equipment actually provide evidence of anything paranormal”.
The only piece of equipment mentioned in my column was an EMF meter. No details were given about a) how Trevor uses this piece of equipment, or b) what significance he does or does not give to the results he collects. The other pieces of “scientific and spiritual equipment” were not even specified or described. Yet, despite an almost total absence of the information needed to form any objective judgement on the matter, Paget asserts with great confidence that,”there’s no evidence that his scientific and spiritual equipment actually provide evidence of anything paranormal”.
Paget doesn’t know what this equipment is, how it is used, what it does or how the results are interpreted. But he knows that there’s no evidence that it works. Amazing. If Mystic Meg ever retires and a replacement is sought after, he’ll definitely get my vote.

Your “not the first, unfortunately” response indicates to me that you seem to share Brian’s views, which makes me wonder whether you too possess hidden psychic talents. I think we should be told, as I would appreciate next week’s winning lottery numbers 🙂
 _______________________________

Mike, I look forward to the rebuttal of my article that states quite correctly how to apply science to paranormal research.
I don’t know Brian Paget or Trevor Brown and I don’t know about the events run by Trevor. My comment of ‘not the first, unfortunately’ was in regard to the multiple paranormal tourism companies that are set up who genuinely mislead their customers with the information they pass on.

I would love to know how EMF meters are used on the paranormal events run by Trevor in a way that doesn’t try to provide evidence of the paranormal. Is it with regard to the idea that certain EMF levels can cause people to “feel haunted”?

No, of course not, its used for baking pizzas…

Don’t get sarcastic with me, you’ll quickly learn you will not win in a sarcasm battle mate. 😉

Nice, I love that picture, going to have to steal that 🙂

On a point of logic, if something cannot be unexplained it makes no sense for anyone to cling to it as evidence of the paranormal. It’s a huge assumption that a lot of people make, usually out of misunderstanding.

Fair point, Cropcircle. You know, I end up in similar debates, that occasionally do heated, with fellow believers. In fact I find SOME of them just as overbearing as SOME of the sceptics. Good old-fashioned scepticism is healthy, and I practice it myself. But what mostly annoys me, is when certain sceptics brand me with the same stigma as the nutters. I follow protocol on investigations and happen to be very objective with evidence. However, a lot of the things I have experienced during my time as researcher, I simply cannot explain away using the laws of physics as my guide. It’s as simple as that.

I fully appreciate that there are people out there who are so eager to believe in the existence of the afterlife, that, they often fail to look at things from the correct angle.

We’re not all the same… Honest!

Aye, I bet you’re well-accustomed with the lower forms of wit… MATE! 😉

“Mike, I look forward to the rebuttal of my article that states quite correctly how to apply science to paranormal research”.

I think we might have to disagree on the latter part of this statement, I’m afraid, and for a good number of reasons which I’ve covered in my rebuttal.

“I don’t know Brian Paget or Trevor Brown and I don’t know about the events run by Trevor. My comment of ‘not the first, unfortunately’ was in regard to the multiple paranormal tourism companies that are set up who genuinely mislead their customers with the information they pass on”.

The problem is that it is hard to see how your comment wasn’t directed at Trevor. Brian Paget said, “You’ll love this then. A guy called Trevor Brown has started a business, Haunting Evidence, taking people on ghost hunts “using scientific and spiritual equipment with the support of highly skilled and experienced staff”.

To me, your response of, “Not the first, unfortunately”, clearly indicates that it is Trevor you are talking about, and indicating that he is, “not the first” person to do this. For the record, Haunting Evidence isn’t a “tourism” company of any kind, paranormal or otherwise.

“I would love to know how EMF meters are used on the paranormal events run by Trevor in a way that doesn’t try to provide evidence of the paranormal. Is it with regard to the idea that certain EMF levels can cause people to “feel haunted”?”

I think its for Trevor to speak to how he uses EMF meters, why he uses them and how he interprets the results. My point was not about the legitimacy of their use, but rather about the fact that an avowed skeptic could make such sweeping condemnations about their use by Trevor Brown without knowing a single thing about his motivation, methodology, etc. Personally, I always think its wise to have at least a few facts at one’s disposal before making a judgement on anything, but that’s just me.

As for EMF meters, I don’t use them personally. Not that I’ve got any inherent aversion to using them; its just that the way I carry out investigations doesn’t necessitate their use, and I’ve yet to be convinced that the readings they produce are of any intrinsic value; they may be – I just haven’t seen any evidence in that regard. Who knows, a good conversation with Trevor may convince me, as he knows far more about their use than I do, On this point, however, would you agree that using EMF meters to help determine whether the EM levels present could be precipitating a “haunted feeling” in witnesses would be a legitimate exercise? I also wondered what your thoughts were on this point: If one was to use digital thermometers to record and monitor the temperature at an allegedly haunted location, particularly when witnesses at the location claimed to be experiencing a “cold spot” or “drop in temperature”, would you agree that this would go a long way to determining whether the the temperature drop was “real” or merely a subjective experience in the mind of the witness? Just a thought.

You can read my thoughts on that elsewhere on my blog, specifically under the ‘ghost research’ tab. Or on the BARsoc website at http://www.barsoc.org

Hayley, you have a knack for hitting some sore spots and stirring up trouble. Love it! Don’t stop.

I spent a year studying paranormal research groups in the US in terms of how they use “science” to promote their activities. About half of all groups claim to employ science in some form, either a method or by equipment. However, I could not find one amateur group that had “scientific training” as their qualifications for membership. Being scientific takes instruction, supervision, practice and participation in the community.

Science is the best way we know for obtaining reliable knowledge about the world. (and I’m using science even in terms of historical science). The backbone of science is its ethos, a set of practices one is expected to adhere to. Someone not familiar with science would have little knowledge or interest in what these practices are. Examples are communalism, skepticism, universalism and disinterestedness. See here for explanations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mertonian_norms

The big problem with amateur paranormal groups is that they use science as a way to look serious and important. They think they are doing it right but are not even close to practicing the norms of science. That’s why they fail to make any progress and will never be accepted by the scientific community. There are solutions to this, I think, but it would make ghost hunting a lot less fun and entertaining.

Good Article Hayley. Anyone who thinks that she is out on her own, making claims about the lack of validity in the field just to make waves should check out the following link from CSI’s website…

http://www.csicop.org/si/show/ghost-hunting_mistakes_science_and_pseudoscience_in_ghost_investigations

Perhaps you should try looking into the Psychic and Science tour which is apparently causing eruptions on Facebook. Between Chris Conway and his CJ Events partner Jimmy Devlin and the outrageous behaviour of the tour management clearly slandering one of its ex employees publicly and you should the language.

Go get um tiger and worry about this one later.

Since the Sally Morgan fiasco its making everyone tetchy well all the fakes that is lololol

Oh I’ve already had an experience with Psychic and Science. They tried to get me into very serious trouble when I wrote a critical blog post about them, by emailing the director of the theatre I worked at and calling into question my ‘professional’ behaviour. My boss found it funny.

[…] Not only that, but it makes potentially makes you a closed minded and illogical researcher.  […]

This is a great guide!

I too am starting my own paranormal research and I’ve dealt with the influx of data by first creating a case management system.

Being a programmer, I wrote piece of software that allows me to log everything with as much detail and data points as is feasible while adding notes and comments on the spot. I think this is the best method to comb through as much information as possible in a timely manner and makes analysis more efficient.

That sounds like a really good method, I’d love to know more about it.

It’s not a new concept. Basically it’s built on the Entity-Attribute-Value model.

Each Case is basically pertaining to a unique location. Each location may have many cases opened on it depending on how many times it’s been investigated.

In each case there are Case Notes (and this is where the model comes to in). You can think of a Case Note as a comment like this on a blog post where I can quickly write a memo and attach an arbritary number of attributes to it. And these can be plain text attributes or photos, video, people involved, times of day etc…

So, you have something like this :
Case –
——– | Note
——– | Note
——– | ——– | Attribute (video)
——– | ——– | Attribute (scanned file)
——– | Note
——– | ——– | Attribute (person of interest)
——– | ——– | Attribute (scanned file)
——– | Note
——– | ——– | Attribute (GPS coordinates)
——– | Note
——– | ——– | Attribute (scanned file)

… And so on. This way, I’m not limited by the number of “fields” available and instead create as many arbritary fields (attributes) as necessary to enter data.

When I’m going back to search, I can now not only search information by Cases and Case Notes, but also their attributes, when they were created, who edited them last and so on.

I can also go back and quickly compare Case Notes from previous Cases on the same location to see what has changed. I.E. Flipping through photos/videos of present and past.

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Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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