Small town attention/thrill seekers form a ghost hunting team, meet a theater professor with a flair for the dramatic and have a sleepover in a university theater. Will you find out about their hijinx and adventure in the next Goosebumps novel? Oh no, gather ’round children — this story is coming to you straight from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review, and WPXI.

From the Are You Kidding Me files (via several alert readers), may I direct your attention to the following links:

Velma says WTF?

Velma says WTF?

Not a note of skepticism, or a hint of anything other than credulity in the whole bunch. Is it laziness? Is it all some lame publicity stunt for a spooky production in the works by SRU? Is it just standard hopping on the trendy ghost hunting train to get viewers and readers to stay tuned after these words from our sponsor [insert commercial for The Ghost Whisperer here]? I don’t know because Craig Smith and Anya Sostek didn’t ask these questions.

A quick google search turned up the ghosthunter’s Paranormal Investigative Team’s website, Baelfire Paranormal Investigation.(According to the second Google result  it is hosted on Angelfire. You remember Angelfire, right? Like Geocities only more Angely. But also with Fire, so totally cool.) It has animations and is very stylish and professional. And I am completely convinced, as someone with several years of past work experience in a color photo lab, by their photographic evidence of paranormal energy spikes that could in no way be examples of light leak, a common cause of red and pink streaks across photos due to hairline cracks in camera bodies, or poor film handling, that this crew knows what they are doing. I can totally see why this exciting developing story is being followed so closely by our local news outlets!

I have started and deleted many drafts of a letter to the editors several times over the past week but I cannot muster anything that is more polite and respectful than I typically am. I am not the best person for this one, so I will stick to making fun of it here, and hopefully inspiring folks with more judicious balance of respect and smacktalk to write the letters, and maybe after Mr. Lewis’s two-week deliberation over whether or not the theater is “officially haunted” the local news will try the story again with a bit more professionalism, and I won’t have to.

If you are interested in a more rational approach to all-things-spooky, have a look at this excellent 2006 Skeptical Inquirer article, Ghost Hunters, written by Joe Nickell. (Thank you, Lauren!)

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11 Responses to Boo!

  1. Pingback: How about an Awesome Friday? | Steel City Skeptics

  2. BillK says:

    I must take exception to Lewis’ characterization of my life as pathetic. I am completely comfortable with my naturalistic worldview, thank you very much, one that does not require the idiotic belief in things that go bump in the night. When exposed to heretofore unexplained phenomena, a scientific approach is to seek a rational explanation for the phenomena – not throw our hands up and just say that some ridiculous sky fairy or apparition is responsible. Not only is that is not scientific, but it is intellectually lazy. Believing in things that go bump in the night is not science. (You know the old saying about lipstick and pigs.) True science involves creating a testable hypothesis and then collecting as much data as possible to either support or disprove that hypothesis. Anything less than that is not science and if represented as science is disingenuous, at best. And even an uneducated dummy like me knows the difference.

    As for the charge of trying to ruin people, once again, I think Lewis is being less than honest. Exposing charlatans is a valuable public service, whether it be financial experts destroying the world’s economy or paranormal investigators preying on peoples’ gullibility and lack of critical thinking skills. It’s just too bad that our local newspaper and its reporters didn’t use some good journalism to do the job right the first time.

    BTW – Note to the Post-Gazette: If you want a real paranormal investigator, contact Joe Nickell at CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal), or James Randi – people who do actually use scientific method.

  3. mikhailovich says:

    Mr Lewis,

    In a way, I think we are just holding our separate beliefs. We’re expressing ours on this blog, and you’re expressing yours with a bit of positive media attention. No one is being forced to believe anything (which is impossible, practically speaking), and I don’t think either of us have met the minimum amount of force required to be rightly described as “pushing” beliefs on others; we’re just expressing them.

    Nevertheless, the discussion (i.e., calling you out on your baseless claims, in this case) is important for the simple reason that we care about truth. For the person concerned with truth (no matter what the implications of truth might be), it is incredibly important to differentiate between true and false explanations for a given phenomenon, or of the nature of reality itself. It seems to me that the search for truth must begin with the desire to distinguish truth from its counterfeit. Only by so doing can we rightly be said to love or pursue truth. Developing this heuristic and fine-tuning it rigorously to distinguish as accurately and reliably as possible between fact and fantasy should be the goal of everyone who wants to know what is and admit to be false that which is not.

    If we are willing to say that truth can be defined by preference, a strong desire, or anything that speaks to us personally in a way that we feel is superior to other beliefs, then we have given up the only meaningful aspect of the definition and have retreated into the worst form of postmodern relativism: the realm where a surgeon or historian has no more place in society than a maniac. Much of the time, truth will probably be uncomfortable. It’s that result you don’t want to get, or that conclusion you don’t want to come to, that the search for truth itself has demanded of you.

    I’m not sure what makes people compartmentalize certain pet beliefs and keep them exempt from the same threshold of evidence required of all their other beliefs; perhaps it is just a result of the unexamined life. But if your standard of evidence is so low that you will believe in ghosts based on some photographs of orbs, random electromagnetic data, and some funny feelings, I’m not sure why you’re not a member of nearly every cult in the nation. We should start with the idea that every claim and idea has to hold up to scrutiny. Things have to be shown to exist before we accept them as real.

    If we reject that standard and assume that lunacy is just as valid as honest results, we’re rejecting one of the most precious aspects of our humanity: reason. And that’s why we post on this blog.

  4. John Lewis says:

    I really hope you enjoy your pathetic life of trying to ruin people. Believe what you want and I will believe what I want. But I am not gonna push MY personal beliefs one you. I am not gonna be a childish, self-absorbed person is does not have the drive in life to find the truth about something by doing research. Just because you do not believe in something, does not give you the right to bash others about their beliefs. This makes you no better than a Bible-thumping Christian.

  5. Pingback: It’s official: Post-Gazette has lost it | Steel City Skeptics

  6. Mrsepp says:

    Sir, while I find great entertainment in your above postings, I fail to see any credability on your behalf. My husband is a photographer, and like Eliza, could tell you a hundred different reasons why you end up with shoddy prints at the end of your “research.”

    I personally do not believe in ghosts, souls, paranormal phenomenon or mystical overlords. Your statement about having faith in something is somewhat correct, in that what propels human kind forward in life is the belief that the advancement of science will lead to something greater. What you perform is a form of pseudoscience, and I am shocked that the above “news” reports would give it such a boost in credability.

  7. Eliza says:

    I am mostly sorry to hear that you weren’t able to pick up on my sarcasm the first time you read the post. I mean it was about as obvious as dust specks in photographs reflecting light and creating “orb” effects. You might want to work on your “picking up on things” ability since that’s what you claim to do, right?

    As someone who processed film for several years, part of my job was to explain to people what was wrong with their cameras or their film that caused their orders to be filled with crappy shots like yours, that we didn’t charge them for. Our lab would take the time to explain these problems to our customers, and even give them demonstrations to help them avoid them in the future. Sure, it would’ve been easier and funnier to say, “and in this frame you’ve captured a ghost!” and charged them for those prints. But I am honest.

    I believe in plenty of things, Mr. Lewis. I believe in good photography. I believe ghosts can be great fiction and entertainment. I believe that it is asinine to report unscientific nonsense as fact on news programs. I believe that your evidence would not stand up to peer review. And by peers I really mean experts, not your actual peers. Because I also believe that your peers are mentally unstable too.

    Honestly I am sorry for making fun of you now that I know you are actually a bit ill and not just a charlatan out for some cred so you can start charging people for your BS services.

    Please link away. I’ll be happy to take your traffic. Especially if they’re news reporters who are interested in doing a better job than what’s been passing for journalism around here lately.

    I certainly won’t be deleting this post. It’s now my favorite! Thanks for that!

  8. John Lewis says:

    I am sorry to hear that. It is sad that the world is finally accepting the fact that there IS something inside us that carries on after this shell of a body dies. It is even sadder that you would spend your life doing nothing but using pathetic sarcasm to try to push your personal views on the rest of the world.

    Why don’t you do the true research and look the the actual science of what we are doing.

    And as for the red “Vortex” in the photos you seen, Those pictures were taken with a Minolta SRT-101 35mm camera that is in MINT condition. There is no cracks in the casing anywhere, and the film was changed in complete darkness other than a small pen light pointed straight up to give me enough light to start the film. There was no film mishandling in anyway. If there was the WHOLE ROLL would have been messed up not just two pictures.

    I understand that you do not believe in anything, and I find that very sad. I feel sorry for you. Having belief and faith in SOMETHING is what drives us humans forward in life. It gives us a purpose. It is very sad that your belief is to suppress everyone else from having their beliefs by pushing your own onto them, and the rest of the world. You are no different than any other religion or Dictator that tries to control the public by forcing them to follow their beliefs.

    I will be linking up to this page to show the world how ignorant you really are. And it will be a copy and paste do that if you try to delete the blog entry, it will still be there for the world to see.

    Again I feel sorry for you.

  9. Eliza says:

    Mr. Lewis, I sincerely hope that you are being as sarcastic as I was in my post.

  10. John Lewis says:

    I would like to thank Eliza for the great article and the back up on our evidence.

    As for the previous comment, we base our findings on about 13-14 hrs of collecting evidence. We then take 2-3 weeks to carefully scrutinize every piece of evidence we gathered. If we have something that we can not agree on as evidence, we do not claim it is.

    After we gather up what we feel is evidence of paranormal activity, we then take it to the client and have them see if they can see or hear what we do. If so, then it is included as evidence of their haunting.

    This is NOT something that is done by “Hunches” or “Mystic Feelings”. We do everything by scientific methods.

    Again thanks Eliza for the great review. It is nice to know that we even have a skeptic backing up our evidence.

  11. Geis says:

    Last year at PARSEC, the pgh sci-fi organization, we had Brent Monahan, author of “An American Haunting” at one of our meetings. He brought some electronic meters and plenty of dramatic stories. A few years ago, we had another paranormal investigator showing us photos of orbs and other spectral phenomenon. I wasn’t impressed by either. There was little skepticism. Sure, Brent talked about being skeptical and had stories of uncovering more mundane causes but, if he didn’t have that, he totally bought it. Most especially when he experienced something himself.

    There was also a distinct lack of the scientific process. Ghost hunting seldom seems to stay on site and gather data. There’s an outing somewhere and a lot of excitement for a short period of time but it doesn’t take very long for a place to be declared “haunted” and the case is closed. What is needed is for someone to set up equipment and gather data for weeks or months.

    The (former) bigfoot researcher we had seemed to present the same sort of lack of technique in their outings. Short field trips.

    We’ve tried to get some MUFON people to speak at our meeting but they ended up canceling.

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