Paranormal Investigation in New Zealand Part Two

4 07 2008

In part two of this three part series of posts Christiaan critically reviews some of the investigations that the paranormal investigation groups have undertaken.

GhostbustersFrom a rational perspective, the starting point for any inquiry is the setting of an open ended aim that is neutral and it does not suggest a particular conclusion or finding. As shown in the previous post, it is apparent that many members of each of these investigative groups have some form of paranormal belief. Do they have the objectivity to be able to put these beliefs to one side while conducting their investigations?

‘Spooks Paranormal Investigations’, Strange Occurrences‘, ‘NZ Paranoromal‘ and ‘Ghost Hunters‘ conduct participant-observer investigations where they travel to the site of alleged haunting and then spend one or more nights there with their instruments.

Ghost Hunters:

All the groups except Ghost Hunters state on their websites that their investigations are confidential and they have not published their findings, Ghost Hunters are kind enough to put write ups of their inquiries on their website. They are somewhat brief and provide limited information on their practices, but they do provide an insight into the way that they form their conclusions based on the evidence they have collected.

Like the other groups, Ghost Hunters like to employ high tech equipment in their investigations and in January 2007 they conducted an investigation at Fairfield House in Nelson. During the night they picked up on their night vision camera what they described as inexplicable black objects, and a knocking sound picked up on audio recording. However, they are somewhat reserved in this write up and do not conclude that this phenomena is sufficient evidence of the paranormal.

They were not quite so reserved in their conclusion after their investigation at Wakapuaka Cemetery, Nelson where they said that there was probable paranormal activity on the basis of an orb photo and a temperature anomaly around one of the graves. Orbs are well established artefact’s of photography and there is no scientifically supported evidence or theories of orbs being spirits. Furthermore, while temperature changes have been traditionally associated with ghosts there has been no demonstrated empirical data to show a causal link between temperature and spirits. The conclusion of ‘probable paranormal activity’ is somewhat of an overstatement based upon this limited evidence.

Spooks Paranormal Investigations:

As previously mentioned, Spooks state their investigations are confidential, but they are eager for media exposure and as a result their investigations have featured on New Zealand shows such as 20/20, Campbell Live, and Pacific Beat Street. One must be careful about the fairness of an evaluation given the editing process during the production of such segments , but as you will see it is a worthwhile process analysing these investigations.

The feature on Pacific Beat Street is an investigation conducted by Spooks of an undisclosed location. The group, led by Adam Lancaster, looks impressive with their matching clothes and tools of the trade, which include EMF meters, infrared cameras, and temperature gauges.

Once the group set up their cameras a noise quickly attracts the attention of Spooks and six of them (including the reporter and cameraman) rush to the basement of the building with their temperature gauges and EMF meters. There is some quick editing that bring together some technical sounding and excitedly stated quotes such as “reading 6.9 [degrees]” – “that’s a huge drop” and then the reporter slips into the role of the investigator and based on a temperature reading from an infrared temperature gauge he gravely determines that something is happening in the corner.

The following segment provides an interesting insight into the ‘scientific’ manner that the group use. An excited investigators says ‘Woah did you feel that’ presumably she has felt something (like a breeze?) go past her. At that time a camera battery goes dead and one of the Spooks immediately concludes that these events mean that “there is something here”.

For the first time in the piece some investigative journalism creeps in and the presenter suggests that the battery may have just died and the response he received was a mish mash of woo:

“Its always getting energy, that’s why sometimes you feel cold because its draining your body energy, and whenever you know, you feel a presence that is the feeling you get it is very cold.”

So that clarifies things…because we know that spirits exist, we know that they suck up our ‘energy’ (and as a classic sign of pseudoscience they have a misunderstanding of energy, but that is the subject of another post), and that sucking up of energy is what makes you feel cold.

We are then subjected to an investigator waving around an EMF meter that resembles an out of control Gieger counter with its loud bleeps and flashing red light saying that there is definitely something walking around them. He obviously did not read the section in the EMF meter instruction booklet that says that unless he keeps still while taking the reading he will get a false readout.

After all that excitement they return to the base where the Spooks team is briefed about something strange that had been picked up on a monitor while they had been running around scaring each other. An infrared camera had picked up a shimmer on the monitor to which one member of the group comments that it is going down the stairs and around the corner.

On the face of it, it does appear to be ghostly, but an indication of what it may have been is seen when the shimmer disappears. An insect, possibly a moth, can be seen flying across the monitor. It would appear that the shimmer was caused by the insect flying very close to the lens of the camera. Some butterflies and beetles can see in near infrared and could be attracted to the light, or it could be an insect that has been disturbed by the torch lights in the building. Another possibility is that it could have been one of the Spooks unwittingly waving a torch around near the camera. As previously pointed out they were split up into pairs, in all of the excitement of running around did they know where the other members of the group were?

Discussion:

When looking at the practises of these groups there are some important considerations. Firstly the impact of the investigators on the setting needs to be considered. These examples demonstrate that while these investigators attempt to remain objective, there is a sense of confirmation bias that taints their work. Adam Lancaster of Spooks has said that he has been scared on every investigation he has been on, this frame of mind combined with being put into a position where they may be subject to events they cannot immediately explain it may have an effect on their objectivity that is required for such an investigation.

There is no mention anywhere of any attempts to take baseline measurements. For example, if the ghostly phenomenon occurred at night, then one would hope that temperature and EMF readings would be taken during the day for comparative purposes to establish the existence of any hot or cold spots.

There is no evidence of any systematic recording or note keeping either between investigations or between the members of the groups. Obviously if the manner in which an investigation is recorded has no set format or is constantly subject to change it will make it difficult to compare evidence obtained from different investigations.

The impact of the investigators beliefs and values is an important consideration. Haunted houses are very much infused into our cultural beliefs. We are raised on scary stories about ghosts, they feature prominently in works of fiction on the television, the movies, and books. Like many other mythical creatures a group of common characteristics have developed that is based upon anecdotal experiences combined with the cultural memes.

It is these characteristics that inform the paranormal investigations conducted by these types of groups. In recent years there has been a massive self reinforcing of the mythical characteristics of ghosts through the increasing popularity of paranormal investigation, which can largely be attributed to the US show ‘Ghost Hunters’ which has seen a surge in popularity of groups devoted to paranormal investigation. To summarise these characteristics they include:

  • Ghosts are comprised of energy.
  • They influence electromagnetic fields.
  • Ghosts affect the temperature of a room.
  • Ghosts attempt to communicate by talking.

There is not a shred of scientific support for these beliefs, yet somehow paranormal investigators have identified instruments that they believe will assist them to identify these characteristics. These instruments will be examined in the final post in this series.

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5 responses

10 07 2008
Bruce (wombatwal)

I wonder how many people take these people seriously.
I am sure there are a lot more that believe in Psychics, but take not much notice of the Paranormal Investigators.
Well, you don’t hear of these investigators much at all. Probably no money in it.

3 02 2009
James Gilberd

Just a comment on Bruce’s comment above:
Actually, there has been a terrific lot of media interest in what we have been invovled in investigating lately; see http://www.strange-occurrences.com under ‘news’. We have had lead articles in magazine supplements in The Dominion Post and The Herald in the last few months. Our associates Phoen-X PRI have received extensive coverage in Hawkes bay Today and also The Herald. We have both had several approaches from TV networks, but have been relucant. TV1 breakfast recently became fascinated by ‘orb’ photos’ , and a news team is lined up to cover an forthcoming investigation.

Also, NZ Paranormal is producing their second series of video documentaries, after much interest in their first series. Production will be upscaled this time, I understand. I would say that amounts to a great deal of interest.

World-wide, nobody charges for paranormal investigation services. I can’t be bothered going into why – there’s plenty of discussion out there about that – but it is just not the done thing.

Cheers,
James Gilberd
Strange Occurrences, Wellington, NZ

3 02 2009
James Gilberd

Strange Occurrences has so far not published its investigation reports on site. This is mainly because we are working on a long-term investigation of a single reputedly haunted site, but we do not yet have sufficient data to make publication worthwhile. We’re working on it.

As it is, we all know that even in very haunted locations, sightings and occurrences can be years apart. So, the practise of spending an afternoon and a night in a place is, time-wise, unlikely to produce a paranormal event. It would be brave to conclude after a single visit that a location is haunted, or not haunted.

It’s a little bit like a good fishing spot; it’s not absolutely guaranteed to produce a good catch on any given visit. I can speak here for Strange Occurrences and Phoen-X PRI, in that we endeavour to make at least one follow up investigation per site, and several of these have already been arranged. Time will tell if there are more.

When we have figured out a few more things about investigating sites, developed our procedures and so forth, we will publish results. At this stage, we’re not ready to; but I agree that we should. It’s still early days.

Thank you for taking the time to produce this critical blog. It is necessary for we in the field of paranormal investigation to question and constantly reevaluate what we’re doing and why. Your outside, objective and logcal viewpoint is valuable.

Cheers,
James Gilberd
Strange Occurrences, Wellington NZ

25 02 2009
Christiaan

Hi James,

Thanks for your feedback, it is seems to be somewhat rare to encounter a ghost hunter who appreciates the potential problems with their approach. It can be difficult not to sound like a party pooper, as I am sure many people around the world have a lot of fun ‘hunting’ for ghosts (otherwise it probably would not be as popular as it is).

However, it need not be pseudo-scientific, and as outlined in my post my principal concerns are more around the use of systematic approach that involves replication, proper interview techniques, seeking corroboration, and avoiding the temptation to default immediately to a paranormal conclusion when an event is unexplained.

Thanks,

Christiaan.

13 06 2014
David

Hi, regarding the investigation depicted on the You Tube segment I am the fella holding the EMF reader (who supposedly hadn’t read the manual). As you will indeed see I do move around in a small circle to make certain that the readings being picked up were not contained in one area but rather were what seemed to be an energy in motion. I moved only when I notice the EMF reader continued to respond which told me the energy was moving away from us.

You will also see me checking overhead power cables too, for those who know a thing or too about investigations this has to be done so as to eliminate any possibility that the EMF readings might in fact be coming from electricity running through cables TV’s microwaves etc.

Finally the image captured on CCTV does not show an insect of any type so don’t know why that was mentioned. If you actually take close notice you will in fact see that it is simply dust particles being stirred up which then pass across the face of the camera as whatever moved after us kicked up and moved these particles.

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