Case Study in Flawed TV Ghost Investigation: ‘Kindred Spirits’
May 1, 2017
There is no one "right" way to investigate paranormal and ghost claims, except through the use of critical thinking and scientific methods. The techniques I present in my seminars and book Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries have proven themselves useful and effective in solving mysteries. They are drawn from many sources including professional investigations (such as procedures used by police detectives, FBI agents, and investigative journalists), scientific methodologies, formal and informal logic, psychology, personal experience, and other investigators-along with a dose of common sense.
Often it's useful to provide examples of flawed investigations, and in that light I offer an analysis of a recent episode of the ghost hunting show Kindred Spirits titled "Breaking and Entering" (airdate November 18, 2016). In it former Ghost Hunters cast members Amy Bruni and Adam Berry investigate a supposedly haunted home owned by a woman named Meghan.
Berry announces, to a room in which he assumes a ghost is present, "We don't mean any harm to you and our main goal is to find out if someone is trying to communicate with Meghan." Berry either misspoke or is lying, because it's clear that he and Bruni are already convinced that someone is trying to communicate with the homeowner; in fact that is the (unproven) assumption the ghost hunters are operating on. As Bruni states when also addressing the ghost, "We're looking for someone specifically who may have lived here at one point, maybe you lived here with your family. Maybe you don't realize that this house belongs to Meghan now."
Berry's slip of the tongue accidentally reveals which vital step both he and Bruni failed to do in this case (and throughout the whole series): First determine or prove that a ghost is in fact present in the home. Only after that fact is established can or should they proceed to trying to identify who that ghost may have been. This is one of the most common mistakes in ghost hunting: Trying to establish the identity of a ghost (through a psychic medium, historical research, etc.) before establishing that the ghost exists at all.
Berry and Bruni ask a series of questions, hoping to elicit either some sort of immediate reaction (a chair falling over, a noise, etc.) or an EVP (ghost voice, upon replaying the recorded conversation). They ask, "How many of you are here? How many years have you been in this house? Are you male or female? Do you have children?" and so on. They then ask the speculated specter to throw an object to get their attention. Still nothing happens, so they then ask the ghost to "get our attention some other way. Come on, where are you?" which once again results in absolutely nothing happening. Berry then comments to Bruni that "It's [the ghost] not ready for those games," and Bruni concurs: "No, it's not."
Berry and Bruni repeatedly sought some sort of indication that a spirit was present, asking it various questions and to make its presence known, and both agreed that nothing happened. The illogical conclusion they drew was that the ghost wasn't feeling cooperative--not that there was no ghost.
Note that if something happens seemingly in response to their efforts (i.e., some sound is heard, or a picture falls off a wall), then that's taken as evidence of the ghost. Similarly, if absolutely nothing happens, that is not taken as evidence that they were wrong about a ghost being present, but merely that the ghost chose not to make its presence known. This is of course not how science works: if you conduct an experiment (which is what Bruni and Berry's test was, albeit a poorly controlled one), then you can't just interpret any or all contradictory results as proving your point. In science it's what's called an unfalsifiable theory or claim (it can't be proven or disproven), so it's useless. An experiment in which any result--or no result at all--confirms (and thus offers "evidence" for) your assumptions is no experiment at all.
This sort of pseudoscience and fundamentally flawed methodology might be expected from an amateur group of weekend ghost hunters, but this show aired in 2016 when the two stars have, they claimed, a combined thirty years of ghost hunting experience. In any other career, a third of a century experience would result in demonstrably better results, but not in ghost hunting, where thirty minutes of ghost hunting experience can yield exactly the same results as thirty years.