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Bomb Squad Scare Highlights Missteps of Modern Ghost Hunting

It’s pretty well established by now that modern ghost hunting requires a lot of high-tech gizmos and gadgets. I mean, how else are people going to take you seriously unless you’ve got a bunch of shiny toys which go “BEEPITY BEEP BOOP” and have blinking LEDs all over them? Many self-described “ghost hunters” make a lot more money selling these trinkets than they do actually conducting research, and there seems to be a pervasive idea within or perhaps surrounding the paranormal community that all it takes to become an investigator is a few thousand dollars’ worth of infrared cameras, electromagnetic sensors, and laser thermometers – never mind the fact that these aren’t really meant or able to conclusively detect the presence of spirits. Is it time for the ghost hunting community to abandon its obsession with its high-tech toys?

But then what will rubes spend their money on?

But then what will rubes spend their money on?

This next story seems to suggest so. The bomb squad in Windsor, Canada was recently called to investigate and defuse a suspected bomb after a local paranormal society left behind one of its ambiguous-looking gizmos. The Windsor Police Explosives Disposal Unit was called in when a suspicious device was spotted outside the Mackenzie Hall Cultural Center on Tuesday, March 13th. Police determined that the device was harmless (after destroying it), and wouldn’t respond to further press inquiries about the matter.

Looks haunted to me. Of course, we won't know until we bring our toys in to beep and boop all over the place.

Sure, looks pretty haunted to me. Of course, we won’t know until we bring our toys in to bleep and bloop all over the place.

However, a local ghost hunting group soon spoke up to take responsibility for the bomb scare. It turns out the Listowel Paranormal Society conducted a sweep of Mackenzie Hall that day, only to discover afterwards that one of their electromagnetic sensors was left behind. Jen Parker, assistant director for the society, described the sensor as a “tiny little box with an LED light and a wire,” which she says can be used to “to determine if there’s an entity or an energy in the room with us.” Sounds plausible enough – until you go to 8th grade science class and learn that the Earth is full of ambient electromagnetic radiation from both manmade and natural sources. Is the ghost hunting community harming its own reputation by relying on these devices?

So-called "ghost kits" date back to the 19th century. Cheesecloth "ectoplasm" sold separately.

So-called “ghost kits” date back to the 19th century. Cheesecloth “ectoplasm” sold separately.

Our own Micah Hanks explored the subject in a 2014 post, writing that the reliance on these misunderstood and sometimes inappropriate technologies defines the “very essence of pseudoscience” which plagues the field of paranormal research. I mean, I love Ghostbusters as much as any ’80s kid and used to dream of owning my own Proton Pack and Muon Trap, but then I grew up and learned the difference between science fiction and hard science. Now I dream of owning an aerial photography drone. Or someday electing a scientist to public office.

Still, the web today is full of sites like TheGhostHunterStore.com which sell things like modified Xbox cameras which are claimed to be able to detect the non-corporeal forms of spirits when in fact they merely are just unable to distinguish between the (ghostly) human form and random visual information which merely looks like the human form. Sure, these devices fool rubes all the time, but if the field wants to be taken seriously, it’s time for new methodologies without the reliance on showy technological gimmicks.