Creator of gadgets for Ghost Adventures show says he does not believe in ghosts

Ghost hunters have been played by promoters of pricey ghost tech gadgets.

Out in Popular Mechanics is a detailed article on the dubious history of ghost hunting gadgets. Three skeptics and a seasoned paranormal scholar chime in on the pseudoscientific basis behind these instruments but, in a revealing twist, two well-known “gadgeteers” of Ghost Adventures refused to talk. And one had a blunt admission.

It was my pleasure to talk to the reporter and provide a contribution to the piece Proton Packs and Teddy Bears: The Pseudoscientific History of Ghost Hunting Gadgets:

As a scientist, Hill says she’s offended by the pseudoscience of ghost hunting. “They’re suggesting to people that environmental anomalies translate to paranormal activity,” she says. “You cannot make that jump. You’re dealing with something that involves an in-depth knowledge of the environment, electromagnetic waves, radiation, how temperature can vary because of various things around the house.”

One of ghost hunting’s most vocal skeptics is Kenny Biddle, who through his YouTube series “I am Kenny Biddle” debunks what he sees as paranormal fraud by disassembling paranormal gadgets. “It usually takes about a month or two with each device to figure out what’s going on,” Biddle said. “Some of them, I found, usually take chips from Christmas lights that have a set of patterns and they use that chip to light the LEDs.”

Ovilus 5 ITC device that "translates environmental energy into words".

Ovilus 5 ITC device that “translates environmental energy into words”.

Kenny and I started the Anomalies Research Society as an alternative to credulous ghost hunting. Kenny is a equipment technician and photographer. He regularly debunks ghost hunting gadgets including possibly the silliest but still widely used “digital dowsing” thingamabob, the Ovilus. This gizmo is described as an instrumental transcommunication (ITC) device that “converts environmental readings into words.”  That is, “energy changes” trigger words to be formed from the built-in dictionary. Though, the words aren’t randomly generated, the manufacturer says, the results do seem completely random. They actually make no explicit claim that the results are actual words from ghosts, but that is exactly how gullible paranormal investigators use it. There is zero basis for this claim to be true; it’s completely implausible and illogical as well. Bill Chappell created the Ovilus (in its various editions) and other devices popularized on the Travel Channel’s top ghost bros show, Ghost Adventures starring Zak Bagans. Jennings Brown, author of the Pop Mechanics piece, told me that Chappell declined to be interviewed for it even though he’s a top ghost tech guy behind Digital Dowsing “[leading] the way in product innovation for the paranormal market place. For over 10 years we have produced some of the most iconic devices used today..”

Produced and used but not tested or verified, not one. Bagans initially said yes to an interview but reneged soon after. Hmm… But Chappell revealed in an email to Brown: “I do not believe in Ghosts or Spirits.”

The inventor says he’s built hundreds of devices and performed countless experiments over the last decade trying to understand the phenomena of EVPs and instrumental transcommunication. “The unmistakable conclusion,” he wrote. “It is us, we are the ghosts.”

GhostSo there. Chappell tried, it didn’t work. Good on him for admitting it. Yet,the Ovilus 5 still sells for $335 in the online store. Ghost hunters continue to be played by promoters of these ghost tech gadgets. Regardless of the admission by Chappell that we create the ghosts, believers will continue to use the device because it’s dramatic and provides results, albeit worthless. Those blips, blinks and snippets of words are interpreted as something greater, a giant unwarranted wishful leap in conclusions. They enhance the belief in communication beyond death. It’s a dream, it’s not real. And Chappell just admitted it.

More:

Ghost Meters: I Can Name that Ghost in 5 Milligauss

Giving up the Ghosts: Formerly Known as “Ghost Hunters”

  16 comments for “Creator of gadgets for Ghost Adventures show says he does not believe in ghosts

  1. Bob Jase
    October 27, 2016 at 9:14 PM

    I prefer to use an old-fashioned sling psychrometer when hunting ghosts. It doesn’t need batteries and is fun to swing around. Of course it doesn’t find ghosts but neither does anything else.

  2. October 28, 2016 at 8:37 AM

    I only watched one or two episodes of these ghost hunter shows because they were just so incredibly bad, but I have been curious about the gadgets they come up with. I’ve been dabbling with electronics for 40 years in one way or another and I’m an amateur radio geek, so I’m fascinated with this stuff.

    From what I’ve seen of these gadgets, they fall into one of two categories. They are either outright frauds like the ‘bomb detector’ (or drug detector) that a con man was selling to government agencies like Iraq security forces, or people messing with things they don’t really understand what they’re doing or even what they’re trying to detect in the first place.

    Even if they do detect something, what they’re detecting is almost certainly environmental ‘noise’ from natural or man made EM fields like cell towers, WiFi, noise from power lines, etc.

    And more often than not, what these devices are ‘detecting’ is the internal noise generated by the device itself. All electronic components and circuits, to one extent or another, produce noise in the form of unwanted signals, EM fields, etc, simply during normal functioning. What a lot of these devices are ‘detecting’ isn’t any external signal, but reading the noise being produced by the device itself because of poor grounding, inadequate shielding, etc.

  3. October 28, 2016 at 9:13 AM

    I’d be interested in further info about how internal device “noise” can produce “sounds” that are interpreted as EVPs. It’s clear that external sounds are regularly misinterpreted but what about that from the recording devices. The anomalies are amplified and manipulated until someone comes up with a creative interpretation to fit the prior belief.

  4. BobM
    October 28, 2016 at 7:33 PM

    Just like bigfoot hunters. Every nighttime noise is a ‘squatch!’

  5. October 28, 2016 at 8:02 PM

    All electronic devices, circuits, especially semiconductors like computer chips, generate spurious signals of one sort or another by the simple interaction of electromagnetic energy moving through conductors, switches, etc. That’s all radio is, really, is a modulated wave of electromagnetic energy. In a way they can actually work as small transmitters, emitting unwanted radio frequency energy across wide swaths of the electromagnetic spectrum.

    Well designed devices compensate for this, reducing or eliminating the problem through clever circuit design, shielding, grounding, etc.

    But in a badly designed detector and amplifier circuit, stray EMF from the device’s own components not only disrupts the proper operation of the device, it can get into the detectors and amplifiers, and the device will interpret its own internal noise as an external signal. I have several radio receivers that do this, displaying what are generically known as ‘birdies’, regularly spaced signals that show up not from an outside source, but from the radio’s own internal circuits. Heck, even the close proximity of a human being can be enough to cause enough distortion to generate false signals in a poorly designed device.

    When it comes to EVP, well, all kinds of odd things can happen when you’re playing around with detectors, amplifiers, antennas, etc. Some of these devices could actually be picking up voices. Not from ghosts, of course, but from radio transmissions. There are documented cases of houses where the internal telephone wiring acted as an antenna and was picking up CB transmissions from people driving by in cars, or even from commercial broadcast stations. Before television was moved to the new frequencies hearing voices in the static was very common. Again from external transmitters. Back in the 80s a neighbor showed up with a reel to reel tape recorder. Whenever he made a recording and played it back, he was hearing ghostly voices. No ghosts involved, of course. His neighbor had just picked up a new cordless telephone and it was broadcasting harmonics all over the place, one of which was being picked up by the internal wiring of the tape recorder. Considering how saturated our environment is with various EM fields, radio transmissions, etc. it’s actually highly probable that some of these recording devices they use would pick up something.

  6. October 28, 2016 at 8:07 PM

    Wow. Is this reference-able somewhere? I’d like to explain this to ghost hunters, not that it would make a difference, they are convinced in their views.

  7. October 28, 2016 at 11:51 PM

    Wow, there are so many references out there it’s hard to come up with a definitive resource because most references are geared towards solving a specific problem with audio equipment that’s caused by stray radio signals. It’s an extremely common problem

    One problem is cell phones causing noise in professional audio systems at concerts.
    Here’s a short description of the problem geared more towards professional audio people: http://blog.rfvenue.com/how-to-prevent-cell-phones-from-interfering-with-audio-equipment/ Since some of the EVP reports are from recordings made at the scene, this might be helpful. It certainly illustrates how ubiquitous devices such as cell phones can cause odd noises on sound recordings.

    Here’s another describing problems from radio signals getting into wired telephone systems and suggested solutions from an equipment manufacturer: http://www.sncmfg.com/telecom/products/quiet-tel-snc-noise-mitigation-equipment/rid-radio-interference-damper.

    Some of the best people to talk with would be the technical people at the ARRL, the American Radio Relay League, a support group for amateur radio operators that’s been around for a hundred years now. They regularly deal with issues concerning interference from RF, the strange things stray signals can do and things like that. They are at : http://www.arrl.org/ their contact phone is 860-277-0200 or 888-277-5289. They have engineers and technicians on staff that deal with this kind of thing frequently.

    On the same topic quite by accident I stumbled across a fascinating piece about research into EVP by Michael Nees, assistant professor of psychology at Lafayette College in The Conversation magazine at: https://theconversation.com/hearing-ghost-voices-relies-on-pseudoscience-and-fallibility-of-human-perception-48160

    He and his colleagues did a research paper called Auditory Pareidolia: Effects of Contextual Priming on Perceptions of Purportedly Paranormal and Ambiguous Auditory Stimuli that appeared in 2014 in the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology that investigated how and why people seem to hear what they perceive to be human in what seems to be meaningless noise. The abstract for the paper is here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/acp.3068/abstract but it is paywalled and it will cost $5 to read the actual paper. But unless you are interested in the actual data, most of the general information describing the research is in the piece in The Conversation.

  8. Chuck
    October 29, 2016 at 6:22 PM

    In not taking a side, because I’m not familiar with the equipment, the question I have is… if he’s not truly an expert in making a gadget that can detect ghosts, what makes him an expert that they don’t exist? SpaceTime didn’t exist till we were blessed with Einstein?

  9. October 29, 2016 at 8:50 PM

    That’s quite illogical.

  10. One Eyed Jack
    October 30, 2016 at 5:44 PM

    How does one become an expert on building devices to detect something that has never been detected?

    In science there is an enormous body of knowledge used to construct theories that can be tested. Einstein did not just pull the idea of space-time out of thin air. He came to it by creating mathematical models. The math brought him to theories like relativity. This lead to testable predictions such as time dilation, gravitational lensing, and gravitational waves (to name a few). Einstein was also proven wrong about things like his cosmological constant and a static universe.

    There is nothing in the world of ghost hunting that even comes close to this. There are no theories based on prior, proven knowledge. Consequently, there are no instruments to detect phenomena because there is no theory to construct the instrument around. It’s all fantasy built on other levels of fantasy. Finally, there is no application of scientific rigor. These instruments always fail when placed under actual scientific rigor. Ghost hunters like to pretend, but maybe 1 in 1000 actually apply scientific rigor to their investigations. When they do, it’s no surprise that they find nothing.

    So, exactly what qualifies someone as an expert on creating instruments to measure imagination?

  11. October 31, 2016 at 12:21 AM

    Could not agree more mr. Jack! I have a rock that has the power to repel unicorns. Nobody saw one with me in all my life. Prove me it doesn’t work, anywhere in the world…. Waste of time. What is it with ghosts, yeti, grays; those researchers may have a rock…
    Inventing a website to promote a “phenomenon”, can also qualify. Because you being hit by hundreds of internauts will not make you an expert either. Wink wink, poe Scott Warning.

  12. randall krippner
    November 3, 2016 at 8:26 AM

    One Eyed Jack — I’d like to have that question answered too, how do you build a device to detect something that hasn’t been detected before? How do you test it? How do you calibrate it?

    The answer, of course, is that you can’t. What these things do, if they work at all, is detect normal phenomena; sound, vibration, electromagnetic fields (EMF) etc. And since we live in an environment that is swamped with both natural and man made vibrations and EMFs, what they are actually detecting could be anything. It comes down to how do they tell the difference between, oh, the brief EMF spike generated by the operator’s cell phone updating its GPS coordinates and Uncle George’s spirit manifesting itself in the kitchen?

  13. November 3, 2016 at 8:34 AM

    CJ Romer was on the podcast Remotely Interesting a week back and said that the first ghost techies, post-GhostBusters – knew that blinkie-light things would be impressive so they found stuff, like EMF meters in use by carpenters and electricians, that looked like what the GBers used and detected something. I’m still not clear where the concept of ghosts as “energy” originated but I’m sure it’s old. I’ve researched some of this but not enough to make a conclusion. What I do know is that ghost tech has been around since tech has been around. The telegraph, radio (“wireless”) and camera were all thought to be capable of providing evidence of the “beyond” because people generally didn’t understand how they worked. Things don’t change much.

    I recently received a correspondence who said that Loyd Auerbach was the first to use scientific technology to seek out paranormal evidence. I don’t think that is true, though. It’s possibly a messy origin.

  14. Grumpy
    November 4, 2016 at 9:40 PM

    Even in modern garb a dedicated gizmo for ghost hunting seems a tad old school, as nearly everybody already owns hand-held “scientific equipment”: my cheap Chinese tablet sports WiFI, Bluetooth, FM radio, two cameras, a microphone, a clock and a random number generator (at least). Which should provide enough inputs to “detect” the most awesome spirits around.
    Small wonder then that the Google store has scores of apps for ghost hunting (and casting spells, measuring love, beating the market, astrology and whatnot…).

  15. November 6, 2016 at 8:06 AM

    ghost tech has indeed been around for as long as technology itself. I recall things back in the late 19th century, starting around the Victorian era, where they were using photography to generate “spirit photographs”, trying to collect and analyze “ectoplasm” being produced by mediums or ghost manifestations, electrical apparatus of various types, etc. Everyone remembers the infamous fairy photos, but those two kids weren’t the only ones fooling around with cameras. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of people, some innocently, some fraudulently, cranking out ghost or spirit photos.

    the ghost as energy really seems to become a popular, widely held idea around the middle of the 20th century. It was certainly talked about long before that, but it was on the 1950s I think when it started to really take hold. From about the 1950s through the 1970s there was, if I remember correctly, a lot of pseudo scientific claptrap being published in the popular press, along with a lot of pure fiction that tried using science as part of the plot of various ghost stories.

    There was a lot of new-agey kinds of books being published about spirit and the mind and trying to link them all together with quantum physics.

    One thing that always amazes me is human nature, though. We ran a very informal and entirely ridiculous but fun experiment back in the early 1970s exploring it, using Tarot cards. Basically we were trying to discover why people believe strange things. I wrote about it over on my blog grouchyfarmer.com. If you’re bored some time go over there and search for tarot cards and it should pop up. It was something we did on our own because, well, we were bored, we were young, we had nothing better to do, we all had slightly warped senses of humor. But it was an interesting experience in human nature, especially in how people seem to have almost this desperate need to believe.

  16. AndrewZ
    November 9, 2016 at 9:24 PM

    In order to build a ghost detector it would be necessary to have a particular theory of the nature of ghosts and what physical effects would occur if one was present. A person who has such a theory could build a device that responds to the specific phenomena the theory predicts. But it would still be necessary to eliminate all possible sources of Earthly interference. For example, if your preferred ghost theory predicted that the presence of a ghost would produce a certain drop in temperature it would be necessary to devise ways of testing that (a) the expected temperature change actually occurred, and (b) that all known natural causes for such a temperature change were accounted for.

    In order to show that the theory explained the nature of ghosts (as objective or subjective phenomena) it would be necessary to produce very robust evidence that the expected results were always observed whenever a credible ghost sighting was reported. In this case, “credible” means controlling for fraud, mental illness, panic, suggestion and human error, which is an exceptionally difficult standard to meet.

    But to even start formulating theories about what ghosts might be (if they exist at all) it would be necessary to build up a large collection of data about alleged sightings. It is only by gathering data about a phenomenon that one can draw any conclusions about which interpretations are possible and which are not.

    So a serious ghost hunter (if they exist at all) should start by trying to gather as much evidence as possible from any potentially haunted site. They should record evidence from every part of the electromagnetic spectrum, plus sound recordings and the subjective impressions of the observers. Every instrument should be carefully calibrated and the investigators should know the exact capabilities of every piece of equipment that they use. That means purchasing high-quality equipment designed for scientists and engineers which comes with documentation describing exactly what it responds to. All the data should be linked to the exact position and orientation of the observer (position of the person carrying the equipment and direction the equipment is pointed in) and to a consistent timeline. If a microphone carried by Smith records a voice and a thermometer carried by Jones records a drop in temperature there should be no doubt about the exact order of events or where each person was standing at the moment it occurred.

    The output from every piece of equipment should be recorded for later analysis. Since it is theoretically possible that some people could be more sensitive to the presence of ghosts than others the position of each person in the group and the route that they should take through the test area should be chosen at random and not revealed to them until they actually need to know it. Observations should be repeated across multiple visits, with the roles of each person changed each time. If possible, a variety of different personnel should be used on each visit and new team members should not have any prior contact with previous team members that might result in them being “primed” with stories about what to expect.

    Observations should also be taken at nearby locations that are not considered to be haunted to provide a control and to help identify local sources of interference, e.g. a local radio transmitter or transmissions from vehicles on a nearby road. If possible this should be done by a different group of people to the one that is observing the allegedly haunted site, but with identical equipment and procedures. The goal should be to systematically test every possible variable.

    It’s safe to assume that TV ghost shows don’t ever work to that standard. They are out to entertain and/or exploit their audience. Even if the presenters are sincere (which is doubtful) they aren’t there to do science.

    But have any ghost hunters ever worked to this kind of standard? If not, we can say that serious ghost hunters don’t exist and that the question of ghosts has never been properly investigated.

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