October 21, 2011

Time for TAPS?


I used to love watching the show Ghost Hunters on television. Now, however, I find the program sadly disappointing. 

It has nothing to do with my views on the existence (or rather, the non-existence) of ghosts and other paranormal activity -- I discuss that topic more in-depth with DJ Grothe of the James Randi Educational Foundation (J-REF) in my book, which can be found here

Look, you don't have to believe in the existence of zombies to enjoy The Walking Dead, for example. But what drew me into Ghost Hunters in the first place was primarily two things: 1) the interesting and engaging personalities of the investigators, and 2) the trust in the evidence that they would present.

As to the first part, I always enjoyed the banter between Steve and Tango as they explored dark passageways on a quest to debunk possible hauntings. Steve's fear of heights, spiders, flying, heck - his fear of everything, it seems, except ghosts - was always good for a laugh. 

It brought a fun spirit (so to speak) to the whole enterprise.

The series' high point, for me, cames when during a live Halloween special, guest-investigator and ECW wrestler, Elijah Burke, suddenly got freaked out and ran off screaming. It was hilarious, and whether or not you believe ghosts are real - his reaction certainly was authentic, and more importantly -- entertaining beyond belief.


Now, though, Steve and Tango's appearances have become few and far between. The new interchangeable batch of investigators is full of bland and unremarkable non-entities. And with none of them distracting me from the "gathering of evidence" I can see even more clearly the cracks that exist in that department.

When the show first started, the evidence consisted primarily of grainy video and EVPs - recorded audio that when played back seems to have captured spooky, otherworldly responses to questions that were not heard "live" by the investigators. 

While there's plenty of room for interpretation of these images and sounds, at least the audience at home can actually see and/or hear them. Sure, the conclusion that there is no other explanation for these things save for the supernatural is not one I'm on board with, but at least I can concede it remains a "possible" explanation, however unlikely. 

But over the years, new devices have been brought into the mix -- tools such as the K-II meter (seen below) which TAPS claims will measure variation in the EMF field in a room. They'll ask questions to a ghost they believe to be in a room and when the meter's lights move, they present it as proof that the ghost is responding to them.


Of course, that might hold some water if there was any scientific basis for believing that when a ghost talks (and we'll assume for the sake of argument that ghosts exist at all and that the meter itself does what they say it does) that by so doing, the EMF in a room is somehow affected. But there really is no reason to make any connection between the two things. 

It would be like me, sitting in my house, watching my cat raise his paw at random non-specific intervals and to conclude that it must be being caused by the inter-dimensional mice that are trying to manifest themselves into our universe. Correlation is not causation. It's all "woo."

Now add to that an annoyingly loud soundtrack that makes it impossible to ever hear the sounds that the investigators claim they are reacting to, along with the need (for dramatic reasons) to always investigate in pitch darkness, even when the claims by homeowners frequently state they've seen apparitions while eating lunch in full sunlight...

Oh, TAPS. I'm afraid... I'm afraid our time here is done. On to the next one...

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