Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits

Benjamin Radford

Rhombus Publishing Company (January 2018)

$19.95 USD (Paperback); 322 pages; 58 b&w photos and illustrations

ISBN 978-0-936455-16-7

The deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, Radford (Tracking the Chupacabra) offers up a critique of ghost investigation techniques in this thought-provoking volume. Rather than simply chronicling why many standard methods adopted by contemporary paranormal investigators to search for spirits have been unable to produce hard evidence of a spooky afterlife, the author meticulously diagrams what researchers might do to make their approaches to gathering evidence more likely to generate persuasive results. For example, he argues that employing rigorous scientific data collection techniques is the only way to truly determine whether or not ghosts exist:

Paranormal subjects must be investigated just like any other subject: through critical thinking, evidence analysis, logic and scientific methodologies…. Assuming that all methods of ghost investigation are equally good is simply wrong, and it causes many ghost hunters to waste untold time, effort, and money following worthless techniques that don’t get results.

The author divides Investigating Ghosts into three sections—the first set of chapters surveys the colorful history and motivations for ghost hunting, the second group presents a deeper dive into how to interpret the forms of evidence typically collected in the field (video, electronic voice phenomena, spirit writing, etc.), and the final section offers up a sampling of Radford’s own past investigation case studies for analysis. He is an entertaining and perceptive writer with a welcome, dry sense of humor.

Radford’s mission to encourage paranormal investigators to adopt scientific practices forms the core of the narrative in this new book, but at the same time the author also reassures us that the search for the existence of ghosts—however that effort is conducted—reflects a fundamental human drive to seek answers about the world’s perceived mysteries:

[H]umans are storytelling creatures and we make up stories to explain things we don’t understand. The ancient Greeks did this millennia ago, constructing stories explaining that the sun shot across the sky each day because it was carried by the handsome god Helios as he drove his chariot over the heavens. Many centuries later the Aztecs constructed elaborate cosmologies to explain the natural world around them, sacrificing human lives to appease their gods. These human psychological tendencies remain with us and help explain the beliefs and experiences of ghost hunters, who have created their own elaborate (if varying and contradictory) cosmologies about ghosts…. To those who believe, the evidence is obvious, clear, and all around them. And indeed they may be completely correct, but there is no more scientific evidence for their ghost cosmology that there was for Helios or Aztec gods. It’s a matter of belief, faith, and folklore—not science.

Let the quest continue!