My Take On T.A.P.S. Bill Knell

(I wrote this article some time ago, but feel it's content can benefit paranormal researchers today)

It came as no surprise to me that the Ďplumbers by dayí have yet again caused my email inbox to overflow. Not that I have any interest in or connection to their ghost research activities or show on the Sci-Fi Channel. However, I noticed that several of my articles denouncing the kind of hit and run ghost research tactics they use have had over thirty thousand reads. That confirms my view that I am not the only person that sees them as the worst example possible of paranormal investigators.

In an effort to be fair and civil, I have avoided specific criticism of Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson of the Sci-Fi Channelís Ghost Hunters series. Instead, I have lumped my criticism of their methods with what I see as a new generation of flawed ghost hunting procedures, practices and styles. These methods are used by a number of paranormal reality show Personalities trying to give a scare, land a laugh and get paid for it all. The problems arise when people see these programs as more than just entertainment.

I have never spoken or had any contact with the Ghost Hunters from T.A.P.S., so I encourage people to make their own judgments regarding the participants, organization and series. For me, Ghost Hunters is nothing more than a real life cartoon in the tradition of Cat Dog or just a poor paranormal imitation of the old Abbot and Costello Show. The fact that it airs on the Sci-Fi Channel takes some of the sting out of my indignation for their activities because I assume that most viewers are not watching to learn proper ghost research methods.

I understand the need to interject humor into the presentation of paranormal research. No one wants to watch a program where people just walk around tense and frightened all the time. But there is a time and place for it. The time isnít during an active investigation and the place is never on site. Even the fact that Ghost Hunters is far more entertainment than it is investigation doesnít give the T.A.P.S. people license to represent themselves as paranormal researchers. Their search for spirits more closely resembles someone looking for a lost cat, than investigators trying to solve a spiritual mystery.

The latest emails that I have received about the Ghost Hunters have to do with two specific concerns and are fair criticisms of some incorrect equipment and inappropriate behavior. I cannot fully address these matters because I do not watch the show. But as the old saying goes, you donít have to lift the lid off a garbage can to know what it smells like inside.

I have only seen three episodes of Ghost Hunters from several different seasons. Every once in a while I have my wife tie me down to a chair in front of the television, tape my eyelids open and make me watch Ghost Hunters so I can offer a fair criticism of the show. She also makes me say, ďYes, MistressĒ when Iím tied down, but thatís another story. What I see doing those times really makes me experience a lot of negative emotions (Iím being polite). As I have made clear before, Ghost Research done wrong not only sets a bad example, but itís also dangerous, unfair and can easily produce results that are anything but desirable or accurate.

Regarding the first set of email criticisms, I feel comfortable commenting on these because they apply to many in the ghost research and investigation field. At the risk of seeming like someone still living in the dark analog ages, I tend to agree with those that have emailed me concerned with the use of so much digital equipment by the Ghost Hunters. Anyone involved in Ghost Research for any length of time knows that digital is easier and offers much in the way of post filming examination, but rarely reliable for this purpose. Digital video cameras do not offer the same results that formats like VHS, VHS-C, SuperVHS and 8mm do. Thatís why I still keep some of those older format camcorders around for paranormal witness interviews and on site research.

All video and audio formats have their issues. The tape Ďhissí of a reel to reel or portable cassette recorder has often been the source of various claims of EVP activity. Worn tape heads can produce some very odd noises that really do sound much like distant voices. Iíve often wondered if the effect was caused by a kind of scratching of magnetic tape similar to the cutting of an old long-playing recordable record which might produce the unintended taping of sounds in the immediate area of the recorder.

Reel to Reel and Cassette Recorders may also sometimes produce false EVPs due to electronic interference. This was first addressed by a number of articles that appeared in various newsletters and a few major paranormal publications during the 1970s. Researchers noticed that when recorders were used in close proximity to telephones, televisions, ac powered radio tuners or stereo systems, various non-anomalous sounds would end up recorded on the tapes. These sounds were not spirits.

Everything from snippets of ship-to-shore, commercial broadcast and citizens band radio transmissions to tapping noises caused by various electronic processes still taking place while televisions, radios and tuners where turned off or in standby mode (still connected to AC power sources) have been recorded and often misidentified as paranormal phenomena. The use of professional video or film recording equipment can also add to the problem.

A video technician working for the late 1970s era program, Thatís Incredible, sent me a letter in 1982 after reading an article I wrote about the Steven Spielberg film, Poltergeist. While involved in filming an episode about the famous haunted Toys R Us in Sunnyvale, California, he became fascinated with the idea of recording images and sounds of ghosts. Armed with a used ĺĒ video format recorder, a stand alone video camera, a 5Ē reel to reel and standard portable cassette recorder, he made several attempts.

The locations he chose were (as memory serves) a couple of hotels and restaurants on the west coast that were supposed to be haunted. If anything came out, he had the connections to sell the footage and recoup any expenses. Unfortunately, all he ended up with was some bizarre static, an occasional drop-out and a few weird sounds that turned out to have been caused by the use of lightly-shielded wires and normal electromagnetic activity. Seeing this, he offered some excellent pointers which included practical distances between each camera or piece of equipment and measuring of electromagnetic activity at various intervals before, during and after recording.

The magnetic activity near his portable reel to reel and cassette recorders surged and ebbed as the professional video recorders and camera were turned on, off and set into the record and play modes. He went into various technical explanations for these variances that I do not recall; however, it gave me an idea.

After reading the video technicianís letter, I began to theorize that all living things have a measurable frequency. I came to believe in the possibility that the physical bodies of living people limited the available detection or recording of such a frequency. After death, that frequency would replace the physical body and become the means for communication with the living or transmission of the soul to heaven, other spiritual planes or whatever happened to fit your belief system.

My Frequency Theory would account for many things that go on between ghosts, living people and electronic equipment. For example, if physical bodies interfere with these frequencies, that might explain why ghost and poltergeist activity tends to occur more when the living are absent. The frequency idea might also account for the ability of some people to receive messages from the dead or psychic impressions, while others cannot. Perhaps there are some frequencies that are commonly shared and would allow some living persons to link to ethereal sources the way we go online with a computer.

Apart from electronic anomalies both identified and unidentified, the Frequency Theory might explain why it is so difficult for ghosts of people that died prior to the modern electronic age to appear or communicate with the living. Compare some tapping on a wall a century ago with the full blown appearance and direct communication seen between the living and dead in the case of the ghosts of Flight 401. Those poor souls died in the midst of a sea of electronics. Did some basic understanding of or link to that equipment allow them to better communicate with the living?

The Frequency Theory would also account for why the U.S. Government would have so much interest in things like HAARP and the use of frequencies like ELF as both a means of communication and a possible weapon. If it all comes down to knowing what frequency or type of frequency a particular person, object, thing or phenomenon exists at, than causing a change in weather, the instant obliteration of a human body or even the destruction of a spirit would no longer be just the stuff of science fiction. Neither would the instantaneous movement of large objects or the manipulation of space-time.

Digital equipment produces frequencies that may interfere with the frequencies of spirits (if there are frequencies at all). But even if you do not accept the Frequency Theory, there are problems with digital equipment caused by their own frequencies that have nothing to do with the theory. These include anomalies caused by the digital recording and playback process and variances within that process that simply cannot be measured on a moment to moment basis. When it comes to digital equipment, the price to be paid for better quality audio and video may be too high when it comes to ghost research.

Analog video offers some real advantages over digital or even mechanical still photography. While many of the Ďorbsí seen on still photography can easily be explained in terms of photographic method, developing and equipment, orbs and other oddities that appear on analog video are harder nuts for skeptics to crack.

The key to successfully using analog video is simply observing some common sense rules. Use quality connectors, properly shielded cables, fresh video tape instead of one thatís been used and erased, and measure magnetic fields before, during and after the placement and use of equipment. Although videophiles will say that magnetic particles on slightly used video tapes are more stable and compact offering better recording quality, they can also produce false shadows and images from prior use.

When on site during an investigation it is wise avoid an over-dependence on electronic equipment. Avoid the presence of laptops, cell phones, ipods and the always popular personal communication devices (walkie talkies) using FM or CB bands. Instead of laptops or handhelds, keep a written log book of temps, magnetic fields and other essential data.

After many years of recording investigation scenes involving paranormal phenomenon, I remain a fan of the analog process. Cumbersome, annoying and often power hungry, those machines still offer many advantages over digital and have (to date) produced better overall results. To be fair, I doubt the Ďplumbers by dayí have much choice when it comes to equipment choices or set up since they seem to be constantly surrounded by a film crew and tech advisors that seem oblivious to proper paranormal investigative methodology.

The second group of criticisms regarding the Ghost Hunters are more worrisome. Their recent jaunt to Ireland left many native Irish and Irish Americans angry over their complete disrespect for the nationís cultural heritage of belief in various supernatural beings including ghosts and fairies. Apart from their usual slash and dash method of ghost hunting which, in itself, is insulting and degrading, itís not hard to imagine the sheer disgust felt by the Irish as they were forced to endure completely unacceptable comments and behavior by T.A.P.S. personnel.

Disrespecting places of spiritual and supernatural significance in America is bad enough, but the Irish are wise enough to know that those kinds of behaviors have consequences in the here and hereafter. They have a right to be concerned about the way the T.A.P.S. people acted in the presence of possibly ancient spirits.

If the Ghost Hunters want to play dress up, let them pretend to be cooks and go on Hellís Kitchen or get washed up on some Survivor island. Their claims of being paranormal investigators are really insulting to those of us that respect the living and see spiritual activity as something more than just impulses, cold spots or things to be Ďhunted.Ē

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