In the review for the previous episode, I talked about the importance of strong and thorough documentation when making the argument that data presents proof of paranormal activity. That topic seemed to raise a number of objections. In particular, some felt that holding TAPS to that standard was evidence of bitter jealousy.
I could point out, using direct quotes from the latest book by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, that I am only doing what TAPS claims to desire: applying the standards of the scientific world to paranormal investigation. And there's an irony in that criticism, because most of the clients of paranormal investigators, including TAPS, are calling people into their homes and other locations specifically to document the anecdotal reported claims (or, alternatively, document the alternative explanations)! As such, standards of documentation are at the heart of the field.
But that assumes that such a defense would even fall on receptive ears. The irony is that this is not unlike the situation that Jason and Grant find themselves in, week after week. They are constantly challenged to prove they are not staging the events and "evidence" on the show, and their motivations are consistently questioned. There will always be people who, encountering something they strongly disagree with on a subjective level, will ascribe negative connotations to it. It's par for the course, and irrespective of the facts at hand. (Also, it's impossible to prove a negative, so attempting to do so is a fool's errand.)
Before talking about the case itself, I thought it would be interesting to share a story that I found to be particularly relevant to the discussion of "Ghost Hunters" as a whole. A fellow investigator in another regional group was recently involved in putting together a pitch for a new paranormal investigation show. This investigator was very excited about the prospect, at least until the promotional video was released. It made everyone involved look silly and unprofessional. When this investigator confronted the producer with concerns about the portrayal of the team, especially in light of how the producer promised that the show would not take such liberties, the investigator in question was unceremoniously cut from the show.
What is the moral of this story? The investigator felt that the integrity of the team was being discarded for the purposes of entertainment value, and when push came to shove, the production desires won out. The production company held the cards, and determined that pushing for a particular "spin" was the way to sell the show to a network. Business trumped the investigator's desire to present an honest and respectful portrayal of paranormal investigation.
For me, this account underscored the concerns that many people have about "Ghost Hunters", and what contractual obligations, unwritten demands, and other concessions might have come into play over time. I've seen these question raised by loyal TAPS supporters, so it's not simply a skeptic's point of debate.
It also lends credence to the one point made by detractors that has nothing to do with TAPS, their methodology, or the veracity of their evidence. Pilgrim Films has been caught red-handed in disrespecting clients and doctoring footage. That being the case, why would Jason and Grant not only continue to sign contracts with them, but also continue to serve as executive producers? This is on top of the continuing comments from former TAPS members lambasting Pilgrim Films for their practices.
With so many issues surrounding the potential demands from a network or production company, this is a solid argument for why the team at the heart of a show should adhere to a standard that supports their claim to integrity. Editing will always serve to undermine strength of documentation, but the more the practices are followed, the more likely the right kind of "evidence" will make it to screen. Other groups, like GHI, have proven that it's possible to avoid a lot of the unnecessary controversy.
Of course, one doesn't have to take my word for it. The principle was illustrated beautifully in this episode. I couldn't have asked for a better example. In this case, a door opened and closed twice, seemingly on its own, and the action was caught on three distinct cameras: a static DVR camera, a portable camcorder, and a production camera. All three shots taken together make it clear that Jason, Grant, and the cameraman were all nowhere near the door when the footage was captured.
Setting aside explanations for a moment, what does this mean? It means that there's no need to take anyone's word for it. Everyone can agreed that the door was stationary, then closed partially, opened wide, and slammed shut. The camera angles showed the exact locations of everyone in the room, and also showed enough of the doorway to exclude someone opening and closing the door from the other side. This is all independently verifiable from the documented footage, so those facts are not in debate.
Now, I'm not saying the documentation was perfect, or that they made a solid case that the event was paranormal in nature. They didn't have cameras on the door from the other room, and they never pulled out instruments to take readings around or near the door. And I'm sure that plenty of skeptics will contribute their theories to explain the movement of the door (and maybe some of them will even avoid charges of fakery this time). But this is still a great example of how more documentation of an event helps to strengthen an argument, and how more documentation would have strengthened it even more.
The various experiences near the sealed-off room, particularly right by the glass window, also work in their favor. If nothing else, it's fairly obvious that there was no one on the other side of the glass. Still, it all comes down to the personal experiences and the interpretation of the knocks and noises. It certainly seems to have made an impression on the team, since they brought it all up with the client in the end.
Compare the documented opening/closing of the door to Grant's claim that he saw a figure in a white shirt walk past the window of that same room. There is no footage of a figure in the window. There's no way to verify the claim independently. It's essentially anecdotal, and while the client eventually linked it to past reports, there's no verification of those reports, either. So we have a clear difference between a documented event and an undocumented event.