Ghost Hunters Spooked at Dragon*Con

September 24, 2009

This year—from September 4–7—I was a guest of the 23 rd Dragon*Con—the largest Science-Fiction, Comics, and Gaming convention in America. Held annually in Atlanta, it is so large that it dominates four hotels: the Hilton, Hyatt, Marriot, and Sheraton.

I was one of 500 guests, whose roster included such celebrities as Bruce Boxleitner (e.g., Scarecrow and Mrs. King ), Lou Ferrigno ( The Incredible Hulk ), Richard Kiel (the steel-toothed giant in two James Bond movies), and Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner ( Star Trek ). Among the fields of interest were the pro-paranormal X-Track and (ta-DAH) the Skeptics.

The X-Track included the likes of Dr. Frank Gordon, who held forth on “Tapping Your Psychic Potential”; a certain Father Bryan Small, who led a discussion on religion and spirituality “and how the paranormal impacts those beliefs”; tarot reader Kiki Gaia (not an official guest); and others, notably the Ghost Hunters ’ Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, self-described bestselling authors, whose book Ghost Hunting is actually ghost-written.

My involvement on the Skeptics side will give an idea of what we were about. I appeared on a panel titled “Who Are the Skeptics?” (that included, among others, Margaret Downey, Eugenie Scott, and Daniel Loxton); gave a presentation, “My life as a Skeptical Investigator”; served on another panel, “The Astronomer, the Alien Hunter, and a UFO Skeptic” (respectively, Phil Plait of JREF, Seth Shostak of SETI, and me of Skeptical Inquirer ); and gave another presentation (with Benjamin Radford) on “The Truth About Ghosts and Ghost Hunting.”

Not everyone could handle the truth. Following my comments on ghost-hunter types, who determine the authenticity of hauntings through the use of gadgets (EMF meters, infrared cameras, tape recorders, Geiger counters, etc., even dowsing rods)—namely, that they were engaging in pseudoscience—the Q & A session became lively. A couple of attending ghost hunters took exception to my conclusions and responded emotionally, angrily calling me a know-it-all. I replied that their acting as if they knew more than science demonstrated it was they who were truly arrogant.

I am certainly not opposed to the investigation of ghosts or spirits; indeed, I have done just that for forty years. However, the gadgetry approach does not find ghosts. (See my “Ghost Hunters,” Skeptical Inquirer Sept./Oct. 2006 .) It is a fool’s errand—albeit one represented in countless television “reality” shows and crocumentaries, as well as books—representing an epidemic of ignorance and superstition.


#1 Steve Diehl (Guest) on Thursday September 24, 2009 at 10:16am

Well, Joe, no surprise…
But, we’ve got to go one step further. We’ve got to name these knuckleheads and call them out.
Is there a disclaimer of any sort before the ghost hunting shows on SyFy network? If there is, it must be so brief that nobody notices. I’ll contact SyFy and ask them to provide a more obtrusive statement of truth before airing these shows. Will anyone join me?

#2 Myles L. (Guest) on Saturday September 26, 2009 at 8:51am

Great comeback to the Ghost Hunters!  I have a goal of becoming a production assistant on that show and writing an article about my experience banging pots and pans together.

#3 Heidi Anderson (Guest) on Monday September 28, 2009 at 6:23pm

I was present for the Joe Nickell/Ben Radford presentation, and they both did an excellent job of maintaining professionalism with the hostile and rude crowd.

More of us (myself included) could learn from these two on how to interact with believers.

#4 Tom Barefield (Guest) on Saturday October 10, 2009 at 7:12am

It’s really disheartening to see the kind of garbage that gets aired on the SyLLy channel these days.  Even worse is to wander through the forum at their website and realize that the viewers really do believe this junk!

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