This question and answer originally appeared in an issue of THE BENT SPOON, a free monthly paranormal magazine. It was founded by Nick Callis and Bobby Nelson; the latter of which is a Toledo resident.
Why is it ok for a skeptic to use the same equipment as an investigator, to prove that “ghost” are not real, but when an “investigator” uses the equipment, to try and prove that “ghost” are possible, they get made fun of and get bashed?
Good question, Michele. And I’ll try to answer it as completely as I can.
First of all, I can understand any frustration you’ve felt at being made fun of or bashed by someone who is identifying themselves as a skeptic. Positive outreach and communication is something the skeptical community needs to continue to work on. The good news is that it is a topic very much at the forefront of their agenda. For instance, former President of the James Randi Educational Foundation, and Bad Astronomy blogger, Phil Plait, has been very vocal about the need for skeptics to calm their level of discourse as often as possible (ie: The “Don’t Be A Dick” speech http://vimeo.com/13704095) Of course, believers can often be just as rude when discussing their beliefs, and it is my opinion that both sides need to listen and ask questions instead of name calling or otherwise putting others down.
Now, onto the rest of your question. A true skeptic should not be trying to prove that ghosts don’t exist. Skepticism, like science, should not be trying to work on certainties in these matters. Skeptics should not say “Ghosts DO NOT exist,” because that, just like “Ghosts DO exist” is a claim that requires evidence to back up. It can be nearly impossible at times to prove a negative. And the fact of the matter is that none of us have all the information required to make a statement on the existence of ghosts one way or another. I think skeptics are basically saying that the evidence put forth for the existence of ghosts is weak and unconvincing, while the believers are largely using personal experiences and unsatisfactory scientific methods to base their conclusions on.
This is where the equipment may come in to play. Skeptics use equipment like EMF meters and “Ghost Boxes,” for instance, to experiment with and show other, more natural explanations, that can be found instead of making the leap to “It’s a ghost!” For instance, we know that EM is a naturally occurring force in our environment, and that it also given off by everyday household appliances and wiring in the houses we visit. Moreover, an EM field is also given off by the very equipment we use! So, your EMF meter, video camera, etc. all give off an observable, measurable amount of electromagnetic energy. It is difficult then for one to use a piece of equipment like this to prove that EMF fluctuations could be paranormal in origin, when EMF fluctuations in a given location are an everyday, normal occurrence.
Furthermore, ghost hunters will often attribute feelings of being watched, having headaches, and other symptoms to high levels of EMF found in a home when, in fact, there has never been a reputable, peer-reviewed study that has confirmed this link. Indeed, no medical doctor I know is prescribing their patient to “turn down the EMF in your home” when they complains of a headache.
It is for these reasons that skeptics may use popular ghost hunting gadgets in order to show other explanations for perceived paranormal phenomena. I hope this helps to answer your question, Michele. Thank you for helping to continue this much needed conversation.