Ghost Hunters Academy

Season 1 Episode 12

Finals At The Stanley Hotel

Aired Wednesday 10:00 PM Jul 07, 2010 on Syfy

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

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  • Ridiculous lack of basic scientific knowledge

    And so Round 2 comes to a close, with results that were effectively apparent by the end of the previous episode. Of course, that was only a minor annoyance; there were other aspects that were far more egregious.

    I've said it before, but I think it's astonishing that TAPS has been so willing to use some of their most contested "evidence" as examples of the kind of activity the candidates might expect. While pointing to "evidence" from the 2008 Halloween Live Event debacle at Fort Delaware was bad enough (especially when TAPS themselves tried to explain it away by saying it could have been security on a boat trying to scare away interlopers), in this case, they trot out "evidence" from the Stanley Hotel which has always been a sticking point.

    On the one hand, I see the defense: these were big moments in big locations. Questionable or not, these are the kinds of experiences that inspired the candidates. But as with so much associated with "Ghost Hunters Academy", it's more about what it says about TAPS than the meaning within the show. And in Round 2 of this competition, they have effectively said that much of the "evidence" that even they expressed doubts about is now considered, by them, legitimate.

    It's just another misstep, another unintended consequence of this ridiculous spinoff. It sits beside the massive technical shortcomings that have been on display, both on the part of the candidates and the TAPS members themselves. I've already gone into great detail regarding the lack of understanding regarding the model of EMF Meter and thermometer in use by the candidates, as well as the fallacies regarding the team's use of the FLIR technology.

    I lost much of my lingering respect for Eric when he prompted potential entities to raise the reading on his EMF meter a tenth of a point. That's well within the margin of error of the device itself! Never mind the typical fluctuations of the man-made electrical grid. To claim otherwise is ludicrous. (And it bears noting that not one investigator has come forward to explain why this equipment, or such readings, could be accepted as evidence of anomalous activity.)

    Sadly, this was hardly the worst element of the investigation. Far too much time was spent on the mind-numbingly deceptive "flashlight test". I've explained the scientific principle behind what is happening during this "test" in reviews for "Ghost Hunters". In essence, when the flashlight is unscrewed just enough so that the contact and battery aren't touching, there is still a potential that will allow the charge to jump the gap. This will actually come and go in a cyclic fashion, dependent on the distance between the contact and the battery.

    While it certainly looks significant as edited, because the flashlight appears to turn on and off on command, that's not what is happening. Contextually, it's obvious that the candidates were tossing out requests for the light to come on or turn off repeatedly, and they only found it significant when the timing of the request and the apparent action coincided. In fact, it's typical that investigators using this technique will claim, should the flashlight come on or turn off too early, that the alleged entity anticipated the request!

    It's all an illusion of statistics and expectation. The apparent significance of the flashlight's behavior is a function of the investigator's desire for there to be significance. As if to prove the fact that there is no scientific basis for calling this scenario anomalous, the typical response is always "but it seemed to be responding". No refutation of the science or counter-argument, just a conclusion based on subjective belief and desire that there be meaning to the meaningless.

    I would be willing to accept the notion that this could, theoretically, be a subtle clue of an entity's presence, but only if there was an experimental design that could eliminate the likelihood that the flashlight's behavior is due to basic electrical physics. Make it definitive that the flashlight could not possibly be turning on other than by paranormal means. Take the battery out completely! Otherwise, either TAPS and others are fooling themselves out of a desperate desire to find something anomalous, or they are intentionally using an oddity of physics to fool the audience.

    Human beings like patterns. We prefer order over chaos. The entire realm of science began with a desire to understand the order of the universe. It's all about taking the most reliable data and finding the patterns within the numbers, stripping away the subjective desire to find patterns and assume cause. The scientific method is the best way to collect, evaluate, and draw conclusions from objective data.

    Well-intentioned investigators ascribe meaning to the "flashlight test" using the same troubled logic that is applied to the most questionable of EVPs. In fact, the EVP caught by the candidates is a perfect example. They hear what seems like something odd in the background noise, they want it to mean something, so they try to hear something significant. Because the English language is such that there is a good chance, well above 50%, that random phonemes will form recognizable words, it doesn't take much for that all-too-familiar pattern recognition to occur.

    This is not idle musing; this is why I was infuriated when Jason, Steve, and Tango claimed that Adam shouldn't have assumed that the random noise buried in the background of one recording should have been flagged. Worse, Jason said, point blank, that it could have been highly significant! Yet it was barely even audible in the recording, and it was clearly buried in the background noise.

    Any experienced investigator knows that the typical audio recording is full of ambient noise, whether it be direct echoes from fellow team members, equipment noise, ambient sounds from outdoors, and so on. It's par for the course. Listening to hours and hours of such audio doesn't dull your awareness of anomalies; it sharpens that awareness by allowing the listener to filter out the noise.

    This is why many investigators, especially novices, tend to find more potential EVPs at the beginning of a long audio recording as opposed to far into the session; they identify more false positives based on a lack of contextual information. Also, this is why it is all but meaningless to listen to clips of EVPs that only focus on the anomaly. If you don't know what the background noise sounds like, before and after the apparent event, how can you verify the significance of it?

    For those reasons, any credible investigator worth his reputation would have eliminated that little "tone" as noise before ever handing it over to others for further evaluation. To say otherwise is ludicrous. Either TAPS was just pulling that out so they could generate a little drama over Adam's clear advantage by the end of the competition, knowing that it was negligible, or they have completely lost it.

    I thought that Adam did a reasonable job of trying to explain all of this to Jason, Steve, and Tango, but he also seemed to realize that winning meant accepting what he was being told to consider meaningful. And that, in my opinion, is the final nail in the GHA coffin. Because instead of doing what was right, and challenging the ridiculousness of the criticism and the techniques being pushed on them by TAPS, Adam did what was easy in the interests of winning.

    But that has been my biggest criticism of this entire competition. Many of these candidates were already running teams of their own, or highly-ranked members of the TAPS Family. They were already in a position to demonstrate leadership, think outside the box, and explore better and more reliable methods and techniques. Instead, they wanted to grab at the brass ring and seek fame by joining a group that has consistently been technically challenged and seems, in the case of the "missing evidence" here on GHA, to be reinforcing poor data review practices. TAPS didn't want someone willing to challenge the status quo; they wanted someone willing to bend to it.

    In the end, "Ghost Hunters Academy" boils down to the victory of style over substance, and the ongoing emphasis of celebrity status over true innovation and achievement. It's everything that Pilgrim Films clearly needs to continue making their profits, and it's driving the glut of similar shows in the market. And it's fueling the trend, within the field, of groups vying to get their own show so they can capitalize on the popularity, rather than actually focus on investigating properly.

    Is this really what TAPS intended when they started out with "Ghost Hunters"?