Many people use the terms, ghost hunters and paranormal researchers, interchangeably, but there’s a difference. Find out what makes them different, and how we can work together, after the jump.
This post was inspired by a reader, who sent the question in February 2019. Here’s my take on it. Feel free to disagree or agree in the comments.
Defining Ghost Hunter and Paranormal Researcher
Definitions matter. It gives us a starting point and common language, so we understand each other.
Here are my takes on each role:
Ghost hunters are people dedicated to finding unexplained phenomena that may prove the existence of an afterlife, temporal anomaly or other departure from what we consider normal environmental conditions.
Paranormal researchers are scientists or academics who use rigorous experimentation to find causes for anomalies in the natural world. Their goal is to make repeatable actions to understand and explain events over time.
Those may not be the most concise. Let me know how to fix them in the comments if you disagree with them. These definitions are the foundation for this article.
What Ghost Hunters Do
Ghost hunters usually have limited resources and time, so their processes and objectives are constrained. For most ghost hunters, it goes something like this:
- Find evidence quickly
- Analyze evidence for an audience
- Distribute to an audience
It’s a short list, eh? Ghost hunters operate on limited time and equipment. To maximize their data collection, they’ve got to find the haunted hotspots, setup gear, run as many tests as the can, put the gear away, then go back to analyze everything. A ghost hunter probably investigates for 2 hours-to-8 hours in a private residence. That’s not much time. Make it count.
Then, they have to go through all the audio and visual evidence at least 3 times to find something worth showing. Next, you have to edit it to the high-quality bits. Most of them will use Audacity to find EVPs. For visual evidence, they’ll use whatever photo or video editing software comes on their PC or Mac. Not everyone will have the same editing skill levels.
Finally, you present it to the public. In many cases, you put it snippets of audio and video on a website or YouTube. After that, the audience will have its say. It can be brutal feedback.
In a nutshell, ghost hunters find weird anomalies. Sometimes they happen over-and-over, or it’s a one-and-done event. Now, it could repeat, but ghost hunters don’t have the unlimited access to a suspected haunt. We also take most people at their word when they explain activity. We also accept too many assumptions and anecdotal information. For a paranormal researcher, they pick apart the assumptions and anecdotes before they even turn on their computers.
What Paranormal Researchers Do
Here are some areas where researchers in scientific or academic roles have better resources than ghost hunters:
- Access: Researchers can run experiments whenever they need to, whenever they need to
- Experimentation: They can also test away with all sorts of gadgets and gizmos a ghost hunter can only dream of
- Context relevance: They can place all the variables into a tightly controlled group to explain possible activity
- Debunking: Their equipment and knowledge lets them rapidly deduce natural causes
- Teaching: Researchers train other researchers and teach the public how to do these experiments and analyze data
- Verification: This process is tough for paranormal researchers and little of their studies survive peer review
- Publishing: Only the best evidence and research get presented and after years of data collection and analysis
Paranormal researchers are far more particular about evidence. If there’s a shred of doubt, they’ll throw it out. They have such sensitive gear and knowledge about energy and sound, they can quickly deduce if the data has a natural cause. They also try to use controlled settings like a lab.
They’re also not afraid to share with their colleagues for critical review. Really, if the evidence holds up after their peers try to disprove it, you probably have something. Also, a researcher will list all assumptions made for their studies. That’s not something many ghost hunters do.
That means paranormal researchers have to be precise about their experiment setup, how they collected data, the process to debunk it, and how they repeatedly captured the evidence. If a peer can’t replicate it, it’s garbage. There are many ghost hunting teams that hold evidence back, which doesn’t help the field at all.
Jake’s rambling: And I think that’s one reason why the scientific community doesn’t bother with ghosts: Phenomena rarely repeats the same way and on schedule. If it did, then the living would have proven all activity is natural, or we’d have proof ghosts exist. This just means ghost hunters have to keep at it until they finally get scientifically valid data.
After that process completes, then the researcher will publish a report with all the gory details from the investigation. Paranormal researchers don’t publish very often. It takes a long time to get enough evidence that’s statistically relevant. There’s a lot of probability, correlation, causation and multivariate analysis that goes into them.
For more about this kind of process, check out this article on the Philip Experiment at the University of Toronto.
Summary of Differences
I hope I’ve clearly presented the differences between ghost hunters and paranormal researchers. It really comes down to resources and time commitment.
For ghost hunters, we don’t have the gear, access and training that paranormal researchers do. There’s nothing wrong with that because, as a group, we have a scale much bigger than researchers. We can get into many different places across the country. Researchers would select a single place and focus on it. I would argue that ghost hunters are the exploratory arm of paranormal research: We find new locations and anomalies. This feeds the case log for researchers.
Researchers can then put it through their scientific lens and guide us to improve our methods. I wish they’d let us use their gear, but a $50,000 camera isn’t something you loan out so easily, eh?
Anyway, my real point to this article: We (ghost hunters and researchers) should work together to advance the field. If we finally decide that ghosts are real, or fiction, then we may have found some innovations along the way.
I know I’m a ghost hunter, and I’m perfectly comfortable with my janky EMF meters, wonky full-spectrum cameras, and a Mac that chugs through video editing. Don’t shy away from the fact we find weirdness.
It’s an adventure worth taking.
Jacob ‘Jake’ Rice has always loved ghosts and scary stories. When he’s not being a tech nerd for work, he’s the gadget guy on the team. He hunts ghosts, spirits and other paranormal entities in Seattle and the Puget Sound area.