Thermal-image “Ghosts”

January 6, 2011

During the weekend of January 7-9, 2011, amateur "ghost hunters" were invited to "investigate" so called paranormal activity in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, at the Crescent Hotel and Spa (built in 1886). According to an announcement (from, the property has become a sensation since the stars of SyFy's Ghost Hunters , Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, using a thermal imaging camera at the Crescent, photographed a shadowy "apparition" in front of a locker door.

At first the ghost hunters believed the image was merely a thermal reflection of Grant—that is, the result of his body heat reflecting off the locker door. However, when the duo were supposedly unable to recreate the effect, they gushed about having obtained "the holy grail of ghost hunting." But not so fast.

A technical analysis posted online makes a convincing case that the image was indeed "a thermal reflection of Grant." The figure's "hat," which Jason imagines he sees, is apparently only an effect of Grant's shock of hair. The analyst concluded that the duo's two recreation attempts involved-among other problems—Grant putting his hand into the shot each time, which altered the temperature scale. (See .) Thus, the ghost hunters' effort to reproduce the effect was apparently as inept as their creation of it in the first place.

There is, of course, no scientific proof that ghosts exist, despite the pseudoscientific efforts of ghost hunting amateurs (Grant and Jason actually work as Roto-Rooter plumbers). Their glitch-prone equipment was not manufactured for, nor is it effective for, ghost detection-neither their electromagnetic field meters nor portable Geiger counters nor thermal imaging cameras. (See my "Scientific Investigation vs. Ghost Hunters," Skeptical Briefs , September 2010, 7-9.).

In fact, last year a TV crew and I filmed a series of ghost-hunting techniques, showing how "unexplained" phenomena are often caused—not necessarily intentionally—by ghost hunters themselves. Shown here is a thermal photo of a wall where—just before—a crew member had stood.