The Bag of Tricks

Ghost hucksters use a variety techniques and technologies to produce their dubious results. You can't be a fake ghost hunter on TV unless you know how to thoroughly misuse these tools:

Night-Vision Video

For some reason, all of the ghost shows insist on turning off the lights during their "investigations". Perhaps the spirits prefer darkness or more likely the producers know that they need something to Night vision walking.JPGincrease the drama of what is basically a bunch of folks sitting in a room while nothing happens. The green-hued night-vision cameras make everything look a little creepy, especially the investigators. 

As we will see, what is mainly needed in the ghost selling business is uncertainty. It's the same principle as when a child sees the shape of a dragon in the clouds. Crisp, clear images won't work for ghost hunting, you need grainy, dark video so that the slightest shadow, reflection or speck of dust can be claimed as paranormal. 

And even though all of the ghost teams seem to have a huge number of cameras recording their activity, it is depressingly common for one of the team members to point out some paranormal event that is just out range of their lenses. Indeed, most of the time the cameras seem to be trained on the team members themselves as they sit around crudely demanding that the ghosts do this or do that as though they are speaking to trained monkeys instead of the dearly departed.

EVP

Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVP is really the workhorse of ghost hunters. All of the shows use this one tool to provide the bulk of what they present as paranormal evidence. In plain language, EVP is just an audio recording that seems to contain spoken words or other interesting sounds. The EVP sounds are often unheard at the time of the recording.

The trick is that the recordings always contain a lot of white noise: the natural presence of a room or building (often called "room tone" in the film business) as well as the inevitable sounds of the ghost hunting team tramping around. It is in this noise (which is often turned up very loud to reveal more "detail" and thus more noise) that the hucksters find the uncertainty they need to ply their trade.

ImagesAnother contributing factor is that the shows often use the lowest quality of digital recording equipment. In this day and age, there are very high quality portable recording devices. I own a little recorder called the Edirol R-09 that produces amazing quality audio. A quick look at some of the handheld recorders that the hucksters use indicates that the cheapest brands are employed, devices that undoubtedly produce a compressed and noise-filled signal. And I suspect that this is exactly what is desired.

Considering the uncontrolled nature of the investigations, the actual sounds could be anything: a voice from outside the building or from one of the other team members (infuriatingly, most of the teams split up and we are never quite sure where the other guys might be). On a recent Ghost Adventures show, the investigators made a big deal about a hissing sound they heard in a recording but the accompanying video clearly showed that the sound came from another crew member as he inhaled. Needless to say, this evidence went unnoticed by anyone on the crack team.

In most cases, the EVPs are quite unintelligible, just vague sounds with nothing distinctive, so the hucksters helpfully display text on the screen as the sound is played back over and over, a psychological technique, designed to make the audience believe that they are hearing what the producers want them to hear.

On a recent episode of Ghost Lab, the folly of this technique was hilariously revealed when the team found a snippet of audio that they all agreed said something like "I am John Wilkes Booth." The meaty hosts were high-fiving each other over their paranormal prowess. This was a slam dunk! They sent the audio to an "expert" who confirmed that he heard something in the snippet.  But when they breathlessly asked him to confirm the "Booth" statement, the expert admitted he couldn't really hear anything intelligible. I would bet that this kind of embarrassing mistake won't be made again on that show!

Electromagnetic Field Detector

It's hard to say what the hucksters are trying to sell us with EMF detectors. They walk around with the units and get excited whenever the readings change. The truth is that a building filled with electrical wires and devices is going to have EMFs (especially considering all the cheap, consumer-grade gear that the hucksters drag into the location). By moving around, the ghost hunters are actually insuring that the readings will change. To the hunter, this means something. To someone who is not tragically gullible, it means little.

Thermographic and Infrared Video

Again, we have a technology that has been hijacked by the hucksters to prove something. What they are trying to prove is pretty hazy. Thermographic cameras pick up the heat value of the objects they record. But it is tricky to get to the bottom of just what might have caused any heat in a given location. The ghost hunters try to pretend that their locations are scientifically controlled. But video available on YouTube clearly shows that crew members wander around all over the place (and, comically, sometimes directly into an ongoing investigation scene). There can also be other ways to contaminate a scene with heat: animals can be on the site, electrical devices can be warm from use, or perhaps the furnace is blowing on one area more than another. Regardless of the source, calling a heat signature "paranormal" has no scientific validity.

Crazy Made-Up Devices

LED_Work_Light_1 Hilariously, the show, Ghost Adventures, has introduced the world to some crazy investigatory devices, previously unknown to science. These devices are unlikely to ever be used by anyone except fake ghost hunters. Who knows where these gadgets really come from but they all depend upon the same uncertainty and randomness principles that are the huckster's stock in trade. In one episode, the host held a box which he said contained a word database that ghosts could manipulate so that words would appear on some silly looking sunglasses he wore. No further explanation is given but sure enough words came out of the device that were sold as paranormal. Another device used on Ghost Adventures is claimed to be something called a Dark Light. An absurd explanation is given about the light penetrating the veil between the living world and the afterlife and attracting ghosts like moths to a flame. After considerable investigation of my own, I can now confirm the mysterious Dark Light is a cheap $17 LED work light from Husky. Check out their own picture (it's the third photo in the slide show) at the Ghost Adventures site and compare it to the one at the right. It does appear that the Ghost Adventures team has placed a handmade label on the light that helpfully reads "Dark Light". Very mysterious!

Psychics and other Experts

When an investigation is running a bit dry on drama, count on the ghost teams to call in a psychic or paranormal expert. These individuals can be counted on to find cold spots or feel presences and to theatrically announce them. The psychic will often have an imaginary conversation with the spirits when they are too darn shy to show up for the cameras. This provides "evidence" when the hucksters can't manage to produce any acceptable stuff (even using their low standards of acceptance). And it is all very exciting!

Overreacting

When all else fails, you can always jump up in fright, make a high-pitched scream or just run like hell. Never mind that the video shows nothing at all. Somewhere there is someone at home who is eating it all up. Such is the refuge of fake TV ghost hunter.

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32 thoughts on “The Bag of Tricks

  1. wait!!!!! dad can we use our sound recorder to catch those ghosts!!!!!!!! hooray!!!!!! sometimes i think the people on the TV are just ridiculous…keep the posts coming!!!

  2. as for psychics, i believe they are full of crap. and the dark light was just aa work light with different leds in them, but the word database is called an ovilus and is a very respected piece of thecnology. But the EVP end of it, evps are believed to come out of electromagnetic pollution which comes out as white noise on a recorder so if you bought a high end recording device to try and catch evp’s you wasted your money because the expensive recorders filter out alot of that white noise and leaving the evps out as well. And for an emf detector, the show ghost hunters do sweeps with one to ensure that it was not something electrical near that area and sometimes the ghost shows go places with zero electricity and still get spikes, its happened to me too, but they really do need to cool it down whenever something happens it really contaminates their audio.

  3. “but the word database is called an ovilus and is a very respected piece of thecnology”
    No it isn’t.

  4. Having had a friend be an “expert” for Ventura’s show, I can tell you that some of these experts are normal people that are fed lines or even full scripted scenes by the show itself.

  5. My main problem with the “Ghost” shows is a lot of the places they have visited, I have looked up on the web, and most have basically turned out to be tourist attractions. They actually offer scheduled tours, or you can schedule a “sleepover”. Some sites even have an online game related to the place is haunted. One site I visited recently even had its own ghost team that LIVES on the property full time. I’m not saying I do or don’t believe in ghosts. Personally, I have never seen or felt one, but if I WAS going to do my own investigating, I certainly don’t want to go to a tourist attraction where, obviously, they could have it “rigged”. Nor do I wanna visit anywhere that the ghost team actually lives. A site with a game attatched…THAT takes the cake. Come on, you REALLY expect me to take your haunted place seriously? No, I wanna go to a place that nobody ever goes, aside from the occasional ghost hunter, and a place like that shouldn’t be that easily accessable. I would think most TRUE possibly haunted places wouldn’t want just anyone coming in and poking around. It should take some serious begging and pleading to be allowed to spend the night in such a place.

  6. strange cafe. here will say and write about strange objects, haunted house metaphysical statements,ufo,etc.
    with a constant flow of news from the world of unexplained the strange!!

  7. Ghost hunting may seem ridiculous but at least they’re trying to scientifically find out about our world. Its no stupider than watching the Kardasians!

  8. Ghost Hunting is entertainment in the form of cheaply produced TV. There is utterly nothing about it that provides any emperical scientific evidence of the existence of ghosts. Moreover, most of it is so inane and contrived only the most gullible “believer” would accept it. This bag of tricks article supports my long-held belief that electronic devices sold as ghost boxes, ghostometers or what ever other ludicrous label is applied are nothing more than manipulated trinkets. None of the claims made about the paranormal detection properties of these devices can withstand honest scientific scrutiny. Sadly, dedicated believers will continue to eagerly soak up the nonsense and ignore the science The producers will continue to make money, sell Tee shirts and worthless gadgets which is after all their goal.

  9. All I could read is the overuse of the word “huckster”. Totally made me ignore your article. You’re trying to hard.

  10. Hi Rahimah
    I think Lance was letting them off easy with ‘hucksters’.
    Had I written it I would have over-used ‘slimey fraudulent bastards’.

  11. I like your skepticism and I agree in part. I confess I do watch Ghost Adventures and Ghost Labs for entertainment purposes only. However, there are some serious investigators out there and there has been some evidence, especially collected from these sources or from people who were unaware of what they found, that are trustworthy. Maybe they are not exactly paranormal (some of it has been debunked), but they were not purposely made up. šŸ™‚

  12. Come on guy’s why you being so hard on ghost hunters?. I used to be in a ghost hunting group. I haven’t done it for a while now and have changed my views somewhat. I never saw any ghost’s and probably 99% of stuff that did happen was just probably natural noise, background noise that sort of stuff and maybe 1% unexplainable. The best thing about it was that i got to meet some great people and got to go to some really nice historic places and actually helped a few members of the public sleep a bit easier. We never charged anybody but actually paid owners of very old buildings to let us do a ghost hunt. Also most of the so called ghost hunting programs on T.V are ridiculous and if you truly believe what they are saying then i think that probably says more about your own gullibility or stupidity than that of the people on the show. Now i do have a problem with so called psychics who charge audiences to get in touch with loved one’s that have passed away. And the Scottish guy who can tell you what your baby is saying. These people are proper scumbags.
    Personally i think you shouldent believe anything paranormal like ghost’s or UFO’s unless you have actually lucidly experienced it yourself.
    The majority of people who go ghost hunting are just doing it as a hobby and to meet people. Do they believe every little strange thing to be paranormal ?. Probably yes. Does this make them bad people or “slimy fraudulent bastard’s”. Defiantly not.
    Just my opinion

  13. LOL Im glad he mentions the “yes im john wilks booth” episode. I saw that one and thought it sounded pretty good. Infact my guess is that it was so good it had to be faked by the “ghost hunters”

  14. I get what your saying and I am a skeptic as I have had nothing ever happen to me, however I do like watching the show as it is very entertaining. I suppose, yer it is a bit cheesy but its my gulity pleasure. But if you hate the show that much and believe its fake………then why watch it?

  15. Most of these Ghost Hunters are not scientific at all. But you have a point about it being no stupider than keeping up with the Kardashians.

  16. Interesting comments! I watch these ghost hunting shows and fined them quite amusing; as a person who has had paranormal experiences my whole life (do I hear you say another crazy here?)….I can tell you it’s all real, no not the TV shows, no idea about that but I have seen, heard, and felt ghosts, both family members and others not previously known to me, I know that it exists…the afterlife. I also know that there is God…no I don’t have anything to do with churches…they are run by men. You are mad you say; you are entitled to your opinion. AS am I, except mine is based upon years of experience. The bottom line….live life as a caring, fair, honest and ethical person and you will have no worries when you leave your body…and enjoy the realization that we do live on….when it finally happens to you. Enjoy the debate!

  17. there radios let off mas emf and could even make evp my CB radio was herd on phone 2-3 houses away and even on the answer mec digital and tape type but i was pushing a 4pill amp at about 380 watts to 400 at peek

  18. After watching Ghost Adventures, I confess to feeling sorry for any potential ghosts inhabiting one of their “lockdowns.” Imagine being some type of spirit, having to watch these clods stomping around! Yikes! If they DO vent their (totally understandable) annoyance, they’d only be helping the Adventurers – and if they DON’T respond, then they get ‘challenged’ all night. Hopefully they can go grab a cocktail in some other dimension till the crew leaves in the morning.

  19. Drama, drama, drama, That is all the TV shows on the paranormal are about. Here at Paranormal of Southern Indiana we us no fancy tools. No special cameras, not expenses play-toys. now boards no psychics. Most of the investigations we do, we find very little, if anything paranormal. The most of what we do find deals with is demon activity. Being a licensed and ordained minister, when we do run across this, a home cleansing is done followed by a home blessing. We will never be on tv and thats okay. We are glad to help the few that we do help.

  20. I hate the show. For everything previously stated. Wife watches it and I’m not allowed to speak to her about my opinion on anything that takes place during the show. That being said there was an episode on a location that I have been to and I guarantee that its not a tourist attraction. The multi building insane asylum in north jersey with the tunnels. Its off limits to the public and creepy as shit. They have security patrol to keep kids out. Just a note about the tourist attraction comment.

  21. I’m not totally skeptical about these things and I’ve had a couple of experiences I can’t explain but I bought a copy of season two of “My Ghost Story” and I cringed non stop at the junk we were expected to believe. People seeing faces in greasy smears on the window or mirror etc. This blog is a breath of fresh air! Thank you very much.

  22. I noticed last night that somebody else called Brian has posted comments here so for clarity I changed mine to Brian W. I’m still finding interesting stuff here to read and I hope you can keep it going.

  23. We used to have a program here in the UK starring Paul Mckenna where he was supposed to be debunking the paranormal by showing it can be done with hypnosis. Knowing a thing or two about hypnosis and its limits, (see http://news.psu.edu/story/141251/2005/10/03/research/probing-question-does-hypnosis-work ) I was very skeptical. The program overtly claimed not to use stooges but the only way this stuff could be done was to use stooges. You cannot use hypnosis for example to control somebody. I recently discovered that McKenna’s PhD was suspect ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-398025/Paul-McKenna-wins-court-battle-fraud-claims–price.html ) It seems that both sides are using tacky deceitful gimmicky methods to sell TV shows. I nearly fell for the fourth kind’s “real video footage” as well. I’ve said before that I am not entirely skeptical but I am so glad skeptics exist to challenge the junk.

  24. yes i agree ..i think the ghost adventures had a script stuff at 1st..but tgey have learned and they really try and they have giving us some good evidence..the brick that was through at them that was real.. there were several several investigators.. and people that study this stuff to see if it real or fake they found it real..the new cast went bk to the place with i believe Gary and Debbie…and right there in front of new cast…it said thank you but we done it..how do u explain that??..also i mysself have seen 3 ghost in my life..i lived in a haunted house..never believed… till I saw with my own eyes…all ghost hunters are not bad they do try… but it is entertaining right? even if you are not famous it is entertaining when you do it..ty but i do like ghost adventures and living dead parnormal .and beth paul real life paranormal..they are just husband and wife they are things but it is very entertaining and very true and honest with the game… and so is living dead paranormal…but there are some that are fake.

  25. I agree… tacky? Yep. Gimmicky? Sure as hell. But, as long as you remember it’s TV, and it’s NOT a documentary, and you’re supposed to be entertained… you might actually be šŸ™‚
    I’m a 99% skeptic, and Zak Bagans annoys the ever loving shit out of me (I knew guys like him in college. The type who’ll be in their 50’s and still have their frat pledge paddles proudly hung on their den wall and call everyone “bro”…eesh), BUT, when I need my occasional dose of mind numbing garbage TV I actually kind of like Ghost Adventures. It reminds me that there actually ARE people out there who believe everything on TV, and that I’m NOT one of them… and that feels really good šŸ˜›
    Great blog though… maintain your healthy skepticism of all things and you can never go wrong. Oh, and totally on-point with the “dark light” call-out =) I remember that episode, and now every time I see a Husky work light I’ll start laughing and saying “boogedy boogedy” to myself with no explanation, and my girlfriend will be reassured I’m completely mental šŸ˜€ Thank you for that.
    @Lisa B, you make a good point! If there really ARE any spirits/entities/whatever there, I bet the GAC (Ghost Adventure Crew…gag) annoys the CRAP out of the poor souls! Ghost cocktails… I like that idea šŸ™‚

  26. I would agree with your views on psychics and also mediums. I consider them to be quite simply con-artists.

  27. I’m in the UK too Brian W and vaguely remember this program. It may say quite a lot when people like this are no longer on television. Another one being Uri Gellar who I think has been completely debunked.

  28. When it comes to the paranormal a couple of Sherlock Holmes quotes come to mind:-
    “Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.”
    “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

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