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.