Paranormal Investigation in New Zealand Part One

1 07 2008

This is the first of a three part series of blogs where Christiaan examines Paranormal Investigation groups in New Zealand. In the first of these three articles he introduces four such groups and outlines their overall approach to the paranormal.

Ghostbusters

When there’s something strange in your neighbourhood who are you going to call? Well aside from the police or your mum, there have been a number of new groups who have formed in New Zealand in recent years that are committed to the investigation of unusual activities that may occur in and around your home or business. One group, Spooks Paranormal Investigations, conveniently lists on their websites some of the signs of a haunted house such as cupboards and doors opening and closing, weird noises, unusual animal behaviour, and temperature variations just to name a few.

Perusing the websites of four such New Zealand ghost hunting groups (Nelson’s ‘Ghost Hunters‘, Christchurch’s ‘Spooks Paranormal Investigations’, Wellington’s ‘Strange Occurrences‘ and ‘NZ Paranoromal‘) there are common themes. Principally they claim to use a rational approach to their investigations and they try to gather as much evidence as they can through the use of various scientific instruments. Sounds like a recipe for the solid use of the scientific method? Let’s take a closer look!

I should point out now that it is not my intention to discuss whether or not spirits or ghosts actually exist, that is a lengthy discussion unto itself. As you will see these investigative groups work under an assumption that spirits exist. Yet before using the techniques these groups employ to investigate ghostly phenomena you actually need evidence that these ghosts exist to start with. Like any extraordinary claim, ghosts (or spirits or apparitions or whatever you want to call them) they will require extraordinary evidence to prove that they exist. I must admit that currently I remain skeptical of the paranormal.

So before examining the groups investigations lets take a look at what the different groups say about their beliefs in the paranormal.

Ghost Hunters says that most hauntings are hoaxes, which implies that they believe that a small number are not, and they are seeking proof of the paranormal through the use of their instruments. It follows then that if you are going to be using instruments to detect ghosts, then you will need to be able to demonstrate the qualities of a spirit and how an instrument is going to detect or interact with them. The use of instruments by these groups will be something that I will look at in more detail in part three of this series of posts.

Both Spooks and Strange Occurrences are a coy in implying whether they believe in the paranormal on their home page, but elsewhere Spooks claims to have encountered most of the signs of a haunting that they provide on their site. One of the members, Mandy, claims to have minor psychic abilities and uses dowsing as an instrument to assist with their scientific investigations of the paranormal. Dowsing has been shown to be unreliable due to the ideomotor effect and the tendency for people who dowse to employ post hoc reasoning. During a 20/20 feature on Spooks, when asked if he believed in ghosts the lead investigator Adam Lancaster said that scientifically he believed in ghosts and then sheepishly retracted the comment and said that he did not. Like Ghost Hunters, Strange Occurrences say that they can detect the paranormal through the use of special equipment, and this appears to be a tacit admission that they too believe in some form of the paranormal.

NZ Paranormal say that they are more than capable of debunking claims of the paranormal, and they have claimed to have occasionally determined that a place is actually haunted.

So to summarise the four groups, they all believe that most cases can be explained through non-paranormal means, but they appear to all have some type of belief in the paranormal. They also all claim to be able to use a rational approach to their investigations that will identify the real hauntings from other non-paranormal occurrences.

Do these groups have the objectivity to put their beliefs to one side when embarking on investigations. Stay tuned for the next post where I examine some of the groups investigations.

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10 responses

2 07 2008
Damian

Good article and I like where you are going with this blog.

I would love to see The Skeptologists air in NZ when it is released if only to add a single skeptical voice to the sheer volume of pseudoscience and magical thinking we are being exposed to on TV lately. I wouldn’t be surprised if they cover the topic of ghost hunting somewhere along the line too.

2 07 2008
Christiaan

Thanks for the positive feedback Damian. I am also looking forward to the Skeptologists, and hopefully it will be picked up by one of the networks here and shown at a reasonable hour. I understand that the pilot looks at wheatgrass.

5 07 2008
Clinton Lawson

With regards to your obviously uneducated and grossly misinformed comments on groups like the Ghosthunters etc.Only SOME of these groups work under the assumption that spirits exist.If you were as well informed as you like to think you are,you would realise that there is a difference between a paranormal event and a haunting.Just because a location has a paranormal event,it does not mean that same location is haunted.
I would strongly recommend an unbiased investigation of certain groups and equipment,(which it quite obvious that you are incapable of) before you voice your opinions and start drawing your own conclussions.
While I agree,that yes,there are those out there that are “cowboys”,there are a small minority that take this very seriuosly and only want to help to the best of their ability.So,while it cant proven 100% that an area is “haunted”,the opposite should also hold true.It cant be proven that the same area isnt.
So,yes,there is an argument to be had and a healthy debate is always good thing as it gets both parties thinking,just “spouting off” out of sheer,1 sided ignorance,is just a waste of everybodies time.
Also,one of the reasons that some groups are very vague with there findings is this-When you investigate a haunting (for want of a better word),anywhere,especially in a motel,hotel or anyplace where people make a livng,you must be very careful what you publish.If Joe Bloggs is having a paranormal event in his hotel,he may want it proven and then dealt with,he may not want it to get around that he has ghost’s/spirits etc.Because even if it had been dealt,the stigma would be like mud and we both know mud sticks.That would effect his business and quite possibly his livelyhood.
There are also legal ramifications to be considered,if the above were to happen,he would most likely be looking for compensation from someone,and since a lot of investigating is done by volunteer groups,it could force someone to go bankrupt-a rather harsh penalty for trying to help someone wouldnt you say?

5 07 2008
Christiaan

Thank you for your comments Clinton, we appreciate feedback from all perspectives. You are correct in pointing out that the level of belief differs from group to group and at the end of the day what they actually believe should not factor into the results, but as pointed out the participant-observer approach that is employed by paranormal investigators is a methodology that is open to criticism.

You have recommended an investigation of certain groups and equipment, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this further, especially as to which groups you had in mind and what equipment you would want tested.

Your discussion of proof was somewhat puzzling. Scientifically, nothing can be proven 100% you can only identify evidence that does or does not support a theory. You are right in saying you cannot prove that ghosts do not exist in the same way that Carl Sagan said that you cannot prove that there is a fire breathing invisible dragon living in his garage.

I will go out on a limb and assume that you are associated with a ghost hunting group, and so I would be interested to hear your responses to the points I have made so far in these posts namely:

1. Whether it is possible that confirmation bias may influence the results of some of the groups.
2. What type of baseline measurements are taken.
3. Whether there is standardization in the note taking and/or recording between investigators and between investigations.
4. What are the standardized thresholds of determining that a house is actually haunted or suffering from a paranormal incident
5. Which scientific experiments have demonstrated the existence of ghosts or the paranormal.
6. If ghosts or paranormal incidents have proven to exist, what scientific experiments have been conducted to identify the qualities they have and how that relates to the instruments (such as EMF gauges and infrared thermometers) employed to detect them.

Publication of research is central to the scientific method as it enables the research to the thoroughly reviewed and critiqued by their peers. It also enables the research to be replicated and the methodology can be re-evaluated and tightened in light of the criticisms so that further more detailed studies can take place. In my view the likelihood of a paranormal group determining that a location is haunted is very unlikely to result in the proprietors’ bankruptcy. When compared with the basic principles of scientific investigation the standard of research presented so far has not been very high.

You are quite right that I have expressed an opinion in my posts, and its an opinion that I endeavour to base upon a rational and scientific approach. I would encourage you to be skeptical of my opinion and have a look at some of the research and discussions that fall outside of the ghost hunting community.

If you are interested in further reading from a skeptical position then a good starting point is the SAPS Website

Once again thank for taking the time to write and express your position on these matters.

7 07 2008
Brad Scott

Hi Christiaan,
Brad Scott here, I am the founder of NZ Paranormal, I read your article and found it quite a good read, when you involved in Paranormal Research and Investigation also being in the public eye you will always come across good and bad comments on what we do.
I am all for free speech and to have an opinion, but education and responsibility also play a large part in this. If I personally believe in the paranormal than that is my right to do so, If I feel that a place is haunted or not is my right to do so, this is my right to free speech and thinking, the same as you feel regarding groups like mine.
I have been involved in this field for nearly 17 years am I an expert on the Paranormal, far from it, every investigation I do just leaves me with more questions than answers, but isn’t that human nature, to find out why!
In my website I do claim that 90% of what I investigate I can debunk, do you know why, do you know my level of education, do you understand Brad Scott and what I stand for, I don’t think so, or what over 17 years I have seen and experienced. heres some idea for you
I have been involved in building and construction for most of my working life, building private homes to Industrial buildings, do I know about Slab-on-grade, Monolithic slabs, Floating slabs, Pre-cast Concrete for building foundations, craw spaces for wall height space failures resulting in building shifting that could go on for decades making all sorts of interesting noises. Also the impact and airborne sound transmissions characteristics of party walls and floor, the level of noise-generated in neighboring homes, the level of background sound in the occupant’s own home and the sensitivity of the occupants and don’t forget the electrical distribution system that brings power over wires and through switches and transformers that can cause lights to go on and off turn on power to your radio etc and seems to be starting by it’s self, this stuff I know well. you can see where I’m going with this.
And you honestly think that paranormal investigation is all about the gizmo’s and gadgets a lot of it is just plain common sense, why does that door open on it’s own ( well It could be humidity causing the lock to shift from its docking station and the slight slant of the hinges and the counter weight of the door not sitting flush…blah,blah,blah ) I know this stuff, I am educated on it. But why do I claim that 10% of being haunted, because after I debunk every possible thing I can think off, and I have footage or recorder evidence and I have had some personal experience, and I can’t find any other way to describe it, that’s when in my own opinion I will come to that conclusion.
I do this because if I can help somebody be able to live and work in there home without fear, than I have done my job. If we cannot explain what been happing, then I will do what ever is in my power to help the people involved, wether it’s getting in a specialist from there parish or give them contacts to other people whom might be able to help if that’s what they want. By the way I don’t charge a cent for what I do, and for the last 16 years, 9 months it has all come out of my own pocket, and yes I do now have a couple of sponsors, who help out.
In closing just because you can put pen to paper as I am doing myself does not make you an me an expert in what we chose to do. It was Louisa May Alcott who once said – Do the things you know, and you shall learn the truth you need to know. but I’m sure as a columnist you know who she is without looking her up on the internet, I didn’t.

Regards
Brad Scott
Founder of NZ Paranormal.

9 07 2008
Christiaan

Hi Brad,
Thanks for posting your position as it enables both sides of the debate to be presented. You are obviously well qualified in determining the sources of many false hits within building structures and your knowledge of videography appears to have contributed to your skepticism of orbs.

You raise a couple of interesting issues, one of them is about the use of gizmos and common sense in determining whether a place is haunted. Without going into the use of the instruments in to much depth, I would be interested to know what scientific research has demonstrated the connection between EMF detectors, temperature gauges, and spirits/paranormal. You appear to have in interest in EVP and have you looked at some of the perception and psychological explanations that have been raised that explain EVP’s such as auditory pareidolia? (If you are interested have a read of page 14 of this PDF for further information).

You also say that you rely on common sense, which in light of your belief in ghosts, it would make sense that when you have eliminated all the other possibilities then your common sense would say that there are ghosts. The way that you exercise your common sense is always going to be based upon your values and beliefs.

I would be interested to know what standardised thresholds you use in order to come to a conclusion that one of the 10% of places you identify as haunted is actually haunted.

I appreciate your good intentions and believe that you are very honest in your representations and your beliefs. I would have thought that you would appreciate a critical review of your methodologies as it would assist with creating a more robust process for your investigations. I have no problems with the investigation of the paranormal, it would be fantastic if scientific evidence of the consciousness surviving death was found, but due to the incredible nature of such a claim it does require rigorous, repeatable and credible evidence. Generally speaking, from what I have seen the investigative methodologies and theories employed by many paranormal groups is not particularly good.

From my skeptical standpoint, paranormal investigations can be carried out and you may be interested to read an example of such an investigation carried out by Ben Radford here.

9 07 2008
Andrew Crook

I’m Andrew Crook, Founder of PARACOAST Paranormal.
I just wanted to add a few things to the debate if I my…
First, There are no experts in this field. The field as a whole, is an unkown area of life. The equipment used, and ideas around paranormal investigation are theroretical in nature. The whole field is made up of many different therories. Where people sit on this spectrum of theroy is as varied as the ways of trying to investiagate the paranormal.
I started off as a beliver in ghosts way back when I was a young lad. After starting to go out to find answers to the belief I had, my belief changed to a more balanced view. A good thing in my books.
Second. Skeptical people in this feild are a touch point to keep researchers and paranormal groups grounded. There is so much that can be eliminated via enviromental and man made influence that I also say around 90% or so can be ruled out. it’s the 10% or so that is picked up on video or audio, that footage that makes us scratch our heads, is the thing that keeps us going.
Third, We are here to help people who think they have a paranormal event. There will always be debate about the hows and whys of this field, the true focus must always be the people who have asked for help to their problem.
There are groups and individuals in the field that have a negative effect on the field as a whole. Over time these groups and people will be culled off leaving the true researchers and investigators to carry on.
On a personal note it is better to be skeptical than cynical. A skeptic want proof and evidence. A cynic just does not believe at all. Skeptical, well grounded investigation is a benefit to the field. Of that there is no question. Cynicism is to the detriment of all involved in the paranormal. Cynics included.
I’d much rather explore and see with open eyes, than be told my thoughts are wrong and mean nothing at all.

11 07 2008
Christiaan

Hi Andrew. You make mention of the various theories employed to describe the relationship between equipment used and the assumptions/concepts that underpin the investigative process. I know that it will sound like splitting hairs, but you need to be wary of confusing the every day use of the word theory and its scientific meaning. At this stage what you are referring to are better described as hypothesises, as I have yet to see a model put forward in relation to paranormal investigation that is testable and provides a means to predict future observations. Perhaps you can assist me by suggesting which publications I can read that outline the experimental basis and subsequent theoretical framework for the existence of the paranormal and their detection.

It is good that you do see some benefits to a skeptical eye being cast over paranormal investigation, but it could benefit from a wider critical analysis of its underlying assumptions and methodologies. Without a doubt there are people who believe that their homes or workplaces are subject to paranormal occurrences. But the investigation of them needs to be multi-pronged and thorough to determine the cause. Any such detection method needs to have a solid scientific underpinning before it can be employed, otherwise the results will be questionable and open to criticism.

I am assuming that you are accusing me of being a cynic in light of your comments, and perhaps in my discussion of the Spooks video I come across as cynical and sarcastic, but even you must admit that when viewing the Spooks ‘investigation’ I discuss, it is difficult to remain totally serious as there are some flaws in their approach.

You are quite right in that a skeptic searches for evidence, but it is the quality of that evidence that is important. The concept of spirits are an extraordinary claim and therefore the evidence required to support their existence and subsequent detection has a high threshold. From a scientific approach the bar has not been reached – unless of course you can direct me to some rigorous scientific research that addresses some of the issues I have identified.

Clearly if spirits can be detected through physical means then they will fall within the scope of scientific inquiry, and if presented with the evidence that (a) they exist and (b) they can be detected using instruments, then of course I would accept that evidence.

31 01 2009
James Gilberd

Hi Christiaan

Just found your blog post, and I find myself mostly in agreement with your arguments. Your assessment of the position of Strange Occurrences is accurate, for the time it was made.

Actually, now that we are more experienced with invesigating reputedly haunted sites, I have updated the website to reflect our more neutral/sceptical position. We have learned more about the use of equipment and investigation procedures, which we are constantly working to improve.

We have now acknowledged, on our ‘tactics’ page, that paranormal research must be considered a pseudosccience, since it is impossible to actually test a theory. We can only make and test hypotheses. This does not, however, necessarily mean that it is a worthless pursuit.

Our team includes two professional photographers, one with a background in industrial chemistry. We have also recently acquired two new team members, both professional scientists, one a Ph.D.

So the makeup of our team is a little different to others. As we develop, our position and thinking will evolve and become, I hope, more sophisticated.

Having said that, we are all in this game because we have each experienced the uncanny during our lives, outside of the field of paranormal investigation. (Along with maybe half the people on the planet.) So, while we constantly question our methodology and so forth, we do feel that stuff goes on out there than cannot be explained by current science. We understand that there is a sort of duality that we equivocate over. The natural world is a complex place that cannot easily be appreciated, or even understood in part, from a fixed viewpoint, so sometimes we have to step out of ourselves. Paranormal investigation allows us that freedom of approach.

It is relatively easy to declare a position when you are not actually involved in a thing. One can be objective, weigh the evidence for and against from a neutral standing. However, once you’re out in the field actually doing a thing, and dealing with people who have been upset or terrified by an unknown experience, your position can shift.

Cheers from Wellington
James Gilberd
Strange-Occurrences.com

22 07 2015
Brooke Carr

Clinton is a con man. He came to do an investigation at our home. He witnessed an incredible amount of activity as we knew he would. He said people wait a life time to get what we have and most investigators don’t get much at all.

He promised he would send us the discs he made but kept making excuses. Eventually he sent us blank discs saying he lost all the footage but we have heard he has been showing footage to other people.

We have since had another investigation where we had over ten thousand images. Just be careful of Mr Lawson

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