Hayley is a Ghost

Ghosthunting 101

Here are some pretty basic tips on “ghost hunting” that most researchers out there seem to forget or ignore. You can have these for free.


1 – Using gadgets does not mean you are scientific in your approach. It means you use gadgets.

2 – Just because you cannot explain something that has happened does not mean it is paranormal, or has been caused by a ghost. That’s just a silly leap of logic to make.

3 – There is no proven definition of what a ghost is. There are just lots of theories that people quite like the sound of. A bit like televisions, only televisions exist.

4 – An eye-witness testimony means nothing by way of evidence no matter how convincing it may sound.

5 – introducing pseudoscientific theories (like e.v.p or trigger objects) or unsubstantiated claims (such as mediums and dowsing) into paranormal research creates MORE questions than answers because those things have been shown not to work. For any ‘information’ you get from such methods to mean anything you have to first prove that the method you used worked.

6 – “it worked for me” or “it happened to me” does not qualify as evidence that something is real or something works.

7 – using a thermal imager to check for cold spots shows a lack of understanding of what a thermal imager does.

8 – using a laser thermometer to check for cold spots shows a lack of understand of what a laser thermometer does.

9 – a slight peak in the EMF or temperature in a room or environment does not equal proof that a ghost is, or was present. It just means that the temperature rose or fell slightly, or that the EMF levels have fluctuated ever so slightly. Just like they do all of the time.

10 – orbs are not ghosts. Not even just some of them are, while others are foreign objects in front of the lens. Nope. There is no way you could possibly distinguish between a “paranormal orb” and a “natural orb” unless you were, like, superman/woman or something.

11 – A white feather does not mean you are being watched by angels or good spirits. It means there is a bird somewhere with one less feather.

12 – ouija boards are not evil and they do not allow you to communicate with the dead. It’s just involuntary muscular movement referred to as the ideomotor effect. Sorry.

13 – spiritualism and all associated practices have been debunked again and again and again and again and again and again and again…

14 – allowing your personal beliefs to influence your research is arrogant, especially when your findings mysteriously and just coincidentally back up what you believe and you still have the cheek to claim you are completely open minded.

15 – If investigators around you insist on using outdated methods (table tipping, glass divination etc.) introduce a control, like greaseproof paper. IT blows their argument right out of the water.


If you have any tips you think should be added to the ghost hunting 101 guide please let me know via a comment below.


11 Responses to "Ghosthunting 101"

A woman at work caught a white feather today and put it in her bag…later she offered me a polo from her bag…I declined.
I’m glad no dolphins were harmed in the making of this post.

This is great. I think I will share it with my woo friends. Just wondering though… what do you actually do when you’re investigating alleged haunted locations? I mean you tell us what you don’t do and I accept all your challenges to pseudoscience but what do you do??

a lot of the time I wont even go to the location. People who contact me becaause they believe they have a ghost, or weird stuff going on at their premesis will be asked to keep a diary or a log of occurences.
This will then be sent to me and I will look for patterns. If I can’t spot what might be occuring in the patterns in their diary (i.e. something happens every time Mary is at home on her own) then I will try to visit the location with some of the WPR team members and we will try to look for rational causes for what has occured using Occhams razor as a bit of a guide.

Sometimes we can’t explain what has happened, but for us to use that as proof that “ghosts done it!” would be really quite stupid because there is no proof for us to come to that conclusion. Like I mention above, it would be a pretty big leap of logic.

Unbias research and investigation into an apparent haunting is actually very boring. There is very rarely running and screaming, there are no times when you are surrounded by weird things happening.

It’s only when you start to introduce biases (a belief in ghosts, religion, a belief in the afterlife, a belief that so-and-so talks to the dead etc.) that things get a bit exciting, but it’s already too late because when you introduce those sorts of biases to a case you’ve already messed it up.

LOL! Brilliant. I am going to quibble on 3 (a bit), 4 (which I think is completely wrong – as we could know almost nothing by definition without eye witness testimony: every lab experiment is watched and written up by human observers, so eye witness testimony is involved after all!) – 5 (on the basis of articles I already sent you on peer reviewed research in to mediums by Robertson and Roy – until someone shows where they went wrong they stand), 6 (on the grounds I find it a reliable way to get to my lunch appointment – YAtes is still in the place it always was! ) – 13 (see 5 – and sop have Relativity, but it still works – debunkers can be kooks or just plain wrong, as the paredolioia or however you spell it theory of the Wen ghost shows ) and 14 because I don’t think anyone can stand independent of these things, ever, being human, outside of pure mathematics – but allowing them excessively sure! On 15 I have an issue – I need to check out the dolphin mortality rate and size fo the dolphin population!

Anyway keep up the good work, and will argue later, off to town now! 🙂

cj x

3 – What proven definition is there then that would make you quibble over this?

4 – relying purely on an eye-witness testimony makes for a weak argument in favour of whatever it is you are trying to prove. A scientist in a lab doesn’t just made a single observation and claim that something does or does not work. I think the way you’ve summed that up, CJ, is quite vague. I spoke to a friend of mine who is a scientist and she says
That firstly, a scientist records their data as soon as it is generated, and preferably using some intermediary such as a camera or a computer which takes the measurements (or many other things) secondly, a scientist is not (or should not) be content with a single observation. Every experiment she does, her boss needs her to repeat three times, and this data should also ideally be reproduced by someone else aside from her.
then, when you publish the paper you are obliged to publish the method. People can then try the experiment for themselves and also find fault with your method or findings etc.
So, someone seeing a ghost or something move or similar doesn’t equate to a scientist making an observation in a lab because in a lab environment there are loads of controls put in place to help rule out error.

5 – With regard to that study by Robertson & Roy you sent me it seems to me to suffer from the same problem that many such studies share, namely the way it turns ‘soft’ variables into ‘hard’ statistics (eg. someone accepts a mediums statement as applying to them or not – a hard statistic – but what if it is only partially true or depends on prior belief and so – ‘soft’ variables). One wrong assumption, and there are many that could be made, and the results are mathematically invalid. Also, there is no denying that a lot of people who label themselves as psychic or mediums or even just ‘sensitive’ are deluded and bring no real use to an investigation either.

6 – that’s a blanket judgement though. I hope you were being humorous in your reply to #6 :/

13 – erm… seriously? Spiritualism was founded on trickery by the Fox sisters! Houdini outed so many frauds in the early movement and so many have been outed since by the liked of Randi and others. I’m not suggesting every spiritualist medium is a fake because I can’t prove that, but there is undeniably more evidence that shows that people who believe they are spiritual mediums or psychics are lying or deluded than evidence that shows otherwise. As for the associated practices I talk, of course, about séances, Ouija boards, table tipping and the like that have been shown not to work in the manner spiritualists claim.

To claim that debunkers can be “kooks or just plain wrong” is verging on an ad hom argument. Sure, some debunkers may be wrong with their assumptions or may be “kooks” but that doesn’t work in favour if the claims they debunk. Not at all.

As for the Wem ghost, pareidolia was just a theory they had. The key to skepticism is accepting when you are wrong and re-evaluating the stance you take on something when new information is presented to you. That doesn’t make someone a kook.

14 – Well, personally as a skeptic I have an open mind and I’m willing to be proven wrong. I have witnessed things I can’t explain and I’ve explained things that other people have witnessed and can’t explain. Sure, one cannot leave all biases at the door – but using methods that are actually grounded in personal beliefs (such as the aforementioned Ouija board or table tipping) is introducing biases that are not needed and flaws the entire study.

I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on a lot of things here, CJ, simply because I do believe that you and I have different ways of assessing what stands are proof and how to handle apparent evidence.

Hi Hayley!

On 3. – defining a ghost – it was the “There is no proven definition of what a ghost is. ” bit I quibble over. Firstly, do unicorns exist? 🙂 I can draw one, you can, and we will have a rough idea of what a unicorn is in agreement. But neither of us believes in objective unicorns. So a concept can have a “reality” without existing in the world — but we can agree on the definition. So even if you are right, and unlike televisions ghosts do not exist (and I don’t know that at all, because people experience something we call “ghosts”) — then we could still produce a workable definition??? I agree it”s hard to define a “ghost” — but in fact if you read Tyrell’s 1948 classic Apparitions ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Apparitions-G-N-M-Tyrrell/dp/1425387322 ) you will see Tyrell felt that hallucinations of the type classified as ghosts actually have core characteristics that they share, and which could be used as a boundary definition. I disagree with Tyrell on a lot (Becky doesn’t) but I do think he produced something akin to a workable definition of a ghost based on his analysis of the 1894 Report on the Census of Hallucinations. I am not sure its perfect, but it’s a good start?

I laughed at the “A bit like televisions, only televisions exist.” – you are a good writer, but I don’t know ghosts don’t exist. That people experience “ghosts”, that I do know. 🙂

4. I happen to agree that lab based replicable results are MUCH stronger than eye witness testimony. I know only to well how imperfect human observation is, but I can’t go as far as “An eye-witness testimony means nothing by way of evidence no matter how convincing it may sound.” If we asked twenty England fans to tell us the world cup match final score for England – Algeria after the match (when sober: imagine they watched the game) we could have a high degree of confidence in the result. If I report that I have a white mug with black spots on my desk top, then I think we can safely assume I saw what I report.

Yes peoples observations are a product of VERY complicated mental processes, and yes they can be horrifically wrong, as endless psych experiments have demonstrated. But they also have 4 billion years of evolutionary adaptation to be useful to us and allow us to survive, which while it may not be the same as understanding objective truth, means that we observe and comprehend pretty well really. To reject all eye witness testimony as unreliable would place us in a bizarre philosophical position — one i parodied on my blog when it was thrown against me on the JREF to show historical truths were meaningless… (by a sceptical relativist I guess. I loathe relativism, being prehistorically un-post-modern.)

SCENE: the bridge of Sir David Beatty’s battlecruiser, 31st May, 1916. Somewhere off the dogger bank. The British Navy approaches the German Navy, in poor visibility…

Ensign – sir, look out reports Hipper’s battlegroup five miles off steaming NNW at 10 knots.

Beatty: Ermmm, well, probably not really there. Anecdotal. Anyone else see them?

Ensign. Only the lookout in the crows nest with the telescope sir. But visibility is poor…

Beatty: Human observation is notoriously fallible: Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes!


Ensign, sir, multiple reports from lookouts and crew of Scheer’s main battle fleet advancing on us now.

Beatty: Um, many trained observers?

Ensign: yes sir.

Beatty: But no replicable falsifiable physical evidence beyond imperfect human observations?

Ensign, er, no sir!


Ensign: Sir, the Imperial German Fleet is shelling us!

Beatty: Perhaps. We have suffered damage and an explosion, and I think I observed a gun shot and shell screech, but we must be careful in ascribing causality, could just be the blasted thing caught fire or the gunner lit a pipe? Correlation is not causality. And the damage reports are anecdotal. (Knocks burning embers off hat, and stares glassily ahead ignoring conflagration behind him).

Ensign: Sir, the ship is sinking and the Imperial Navy has surprised and destroyed the Grand Fleet. Oh, and Jellicoe is sending you signals — something about being “slightly miffed by this damned unpleasantness, bad show all round?”!

Beatty: Any non anecdotal evidence of this communication? Only science provides us with objective truth you know?

Ensign: sits down and smokes a cigar. Voiceover “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet”, as the waters close over the bridge to Air on a G String and the captains hat floats off…

Now I am sure you are NOT rejecting all human testimony as unreliable.

To return to your friend in the lab, one of the first things I learned when I started to dabble in science was this: instrumental reports and experimental data is only as reliable as the human observers reporting them. Have a look at the strange story of the anti-Relativity obsessives in Martin Gardner’s classic of Scepticism Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science ( http://www.amazon.com/Fads-Fallacies-Name-Science-Popular/dp/0486203948 ). They “proved” relativity was wrong time and again – but they were wrong. Or look at the shifting measurement sin the speed of light: as I say we get better observations, but they are only as good as our instruments and the observer using them. Experimental science still involves humans, if only in the interpretation of the results, and that interpretation is itself subject to human perceptions. Hence my incredibly sceptical stance about anything, but especially “cold hard facts”. 🙂 Best take a break, before this becomes REALLY REALLY tedious (if it has not already!) will reply to rest later!

CJ all of the points I wrote were with regards to “ghost hunting” and their effect on ghost hunting (eye witness testimony etc.) and you have given examples of everyday life that are probably true but, actually, have nothing to do with ghosts and researchers. The very nature of the paranormal is that everything that falls under that word is ‘currently unexplainable by the known rules of science’ and this includes ghosts. There are no facts when it comes to ghosts I’m afraid. There are many studies that explore different areas of what ghosts are, where they come from etc. but there are no absolute facts.
An eye-witness testimony doesn’t count for proof that a ghost exists no matter how convincing the eye-witness testimony may be. You can read more here about why eye-witnesses are unreliable.

I am not rejecting all eye witness testimony, however, it is arrogant for someone to expect me to just take their word that something happened. All I ask is for some form of proof but, alas, that is still to come.

On 5 you write “5 – With regard to that study by Robertson & Roy you sent me it seems to me to suffer from the same problem that many such studies share, namely the way it turns ‘soft’ variables into ‘hard’ statistics (eg. someone accepts a mediums statement as applying to them or not – a hard statistic – but what if it is only partially true or depends on prior belief and so – ‘soft’ variables). One wrong assumption, and there are many that could be made, and the results are mathematically invalid. ”

I cite this in full because it seems you show sceptical good sense exactly in line with my comments for 4. Here the interpretation imposed on the data by the researchers does not appear to be at fault, but the data could be somehow incorrectly handled. I have been showing these papers to mathematicians, statisticians and research scientists for a good few years now, and so far have found no issue with it– but parts of the weighting can be queried, but appear appropriate for the type of study. As far as I can make out they are however methodologically sound. If you can point me to the assumptions which might be logically or mathematically unsound, or find me someone who can I will be VERY impressed (and owe you a pizza). 🙂 The example you give of partial hits should not be an issue really, given the large control group of people who were asked to score the statements and did not know if they were the target or not, and the target themselves lack of knowledge of whether they were the target or not. It was a classic double blind experiment, that cries out for replication… but that does not mean I place hard faith in it. Experiments can be wrong… 🙂

brb cj x

Number Eleven is definitely my favorite, for both being demonstrably true and pithy as well.

Hi Hayley, yes I appreciate that, and yes I think you are completely correct to assume that in ghost cases “eyewitness testimony” is as in real life questionable. The issue is is there any reason why a ghost exre unreliable than say a rare butterfly spotting , a convenience store robbery testimony, or my recollection of the second Danish goal tonight??? I don’t think there is: nothing about the experience invalidates the evidential nature of the testimony.

Evidence is evidence is evidence – this was the reason I belaboured Dawkins – he said “there was no evidence for God”. There is plenty of it. There is also evidence for UFO’s — literally tons of it), evidence for the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle and the Secret of Atlantis. In fact almost any far out claim – the tooth fairy f’r instance – can have evidence amassed for it.

The existence of evidence does not prove or disprove anything: it’s just data we collect to form a considered judgement, to reach a conclusion. The vital bit is not all evidence is equal – a ghost in a jar would be worth a million “eyewitness statements” by nutty ghosthunters. So evidence exists — we simply need to ascribe a weight to it: and sure eyewitness testimony may rank low in terms of evidential weight.

What interests me though is why are ghost testimony any different to a testimony your dog ate your dinner, or an astronomers observation of a comet? I don’t think there is any difference really, so I regard such testimony as intrinsically interesting. 🙂

But then many years on the JREF and arious sceptic sites have made me incredibly bloody minded and difficult – I’m not picking on you, I think it’s a great piece, I’m just playfully exploring what I see as really important issues.

Another interesting thing on data/evidence, from my philosophy of science days is underdetermination. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underdetermination It’s a really useful and important concept.

Anywya off for a few days now, but probably should buy you pizza – is it not your birthday soon? Have agood one, and look forward to reading more when I get back. And as to the critics – sod them – you are doing well for yourself, and good for you. I’m on the new Rational Skepticism forum (the old Dawkins people – he closed his forum) podcast team, doing my sceptical bit. Bet that surprised you!

Take care
cj x

“What interests me though is why are ghost testimony any different to a testimony your dog ate your dinner, or an astronomers observation of a comet?”

There is proof that my dogs dinner exists, or that a comet exists that goes beyond it being seen by the human eye. For ghosts there is none. That’s why.

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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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