Reality Check – Ghost Hunting

Google trends - ghosts
Did ghost hunting TV shows peak in 2004?

I wrote this in 2010. Since then, aside from spikes around Halloween, interest in the field has continued to decline.

Here’s what I said in 2010:

It’s time for a reality check in the ghost hunting field.  I’m about to talk about the dark side of ghost hunting — and almost any fad — when the trend declines.

This isn’t pretty, and I don’t like to bring it up, but someone has to warn new ghost enthusiasts about these (now old) problems.

Some people are scrambling to renew or create a foothold as celebrities.  They want their own TV shows, media coverage, and — if all else fails — at least a few paycheques.

The fad is over.  Ghost hunting — as a trend — peaked years ago.

Since then, producers of TV shows and movies keep trying to find new (and sometimes ridiculous) ways to revive interest.

Frankly, I’m not sure the 2004 popularity of shows like Ghost Hunters will ever return.

As the fan base shrinks, some “ghost hunters” are claiming credentials they don’t have. They fit the Scams and Con Artists profile.

Convicted criminals, including child molesters, are posing as ghost experts. I’m not comfortable being alone with them in a dark room.  I certainly wouldn’t bring my children to events where they’d participate in after-dark investigations.

Another high-profile personality has been quoted, saying it’s routine (or even essential) to lie to people if you want to succeed in the paranormal field. He’s a fun guy, but — if that story is true — I’m not sure how he sleeps at night.

Many “old timers” (including me) have stepped back from public ghost hunting events. We’re not willing to share the stage with people whose reputations could damage us by association.

However, by being less visible, we’ve put our careers in jeopardy.  To be taken seriously by many people, a list of TV and event appearances seems mandatory.

It’s kind of “darned if you do, darned if you don’t”  situation. (Yes, I really do talk like that.)

My solution is to be more aggressive about my research, write more books, and share more free information online.

However, I’m one of the lucky ones.  I really am a researcher.  My brain seems to be wired for connect-the-dots logic, so I find new ways to find and investigate haunted sites.

Others aren’t so fortunate. They have fewer options.

Here are the trends.

As shown in the graph above, Google searches for the word “ghosts” have steadily declined since 2004.

In the next screenshot, you’ll see that Google searches for “ghost hunting” also peaked in 2004, with minor rallies since then.

Trends for ghost hunting - 2004 to 2007


In the next screenshot, Google searches for “ghost hunters ” — generally related to the TV series — peaked in 2007.  Most of the spikes occur predictably around Halloween.


Searches related to the word “paranormal” have always had limited popularity.  The spike around Halloween 2009 was largely due to the movie, Paranormal Activity.

The trend is fading. Ghost hunting may be close to the conclusion of Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations bell graph.  (If your goals include fame and fortune, catch trends at the Early Adopter and Early Majority phases.)

Here’s the time-honored way of building a solid reputation as a ghost hunter:

  1. Study the field or serve an apprenticeship.  This involves years, not weeks or months.
  2. If you can, conduct unique, in-depth research that reveals new and useful information that contributes to our understanding of paranormal phenomena.
  3. If innovative research isn’t easy for you, find someone who is good at it, and be part of his or her research team.
  4. Then, share your discoveries with others.

Real credibility is built on accomplishments in paranormal R&D. Your reputation is based on how many people you actually help.

Those are the areas to focus on, for long-term respect in paranormal research.  The field may be shrinking, but the people who’ve never cared if ghost hunting is trendy… they’re the people I value most among my friends and colleagues.


2016 addition: The decline in ghost hunting as an “OMG fad” is exactly why I’m (very slowly) becoming more active in the field again.

The con artists and fame-seekers are moving on to other fields and fads. For serious paranormal researchers like me, that’s a huge relief.

I’ve been involved in ghost hunting for decades. I expect to be here for the long haul.

So, for a few years, I decided to sit out the “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” and wait for the field to become interesting again.

If you check related Google search numbers, you’ll see that interest in ghost hunting seemed to fall off a cliff, starting in late 2014. (The graphs were rather spectacular.)

For now, the ghost hunting fad is nearly over.

(I say “for now” because popular interests tend to go in cycles. See Slate’s article about 15-, 20-, and 40-year cycles. Also see The 90s, 2015, and the 20-Year Cycle, and — for those who want to take this further — the Sekhmet Hypothesis of 11-year solar cycles.)

As of 2016, we’re getting back to fascinating (and fun) research again. So… yes, I’m here and enjoying it again.

5 thoughts on “Reality Check – Ghost Hunting”

  1. I absolutely agree! I’ve been in this field going on 14 years now and honestly will be glad when the fad dies. I really started getting disgusted with the whole thing a few years ago and wasn’t happy just investigating and leaving the homeowners to deal with it. I started a team that, in addition to providing homeowners and businesses a professional investigation, we also remove the entities if requested. It’s much more satisfying.

    1. I agree, Renee. It’s as if I’d called a roofer about a water stain on my ceiling, and — after checking the attic and the roof — he said to me, “Yep, that’s a leaky roof, alright. Good luck with it.” And then left.

      Of course, ghost investigations aren’t quite that simple. In addition, since we’re working with something fairly intangible and difficult to prove, there’s considerable debate over what can (and can’t) be done. Add the ethics of displacing an entity, perhaps someone in another time (but the same location), and it becomes a tangled topic.

      Nevertheless, I’m unhappy with teams that stir things up — particularly provoking and taunting ghosts — and then just pack up and leave the homeowner with something that may be worse than before the investigation.

  2. For many years I’ve been involved in researching the Paranormal. My interest has been in the R&D aspect of it, as well as how electronics may (and I say may with all cognizance and the full meaning of that word) be able to aid in serious research. I have been a silent and back-seat type driver of my enthusiasm, focusing more on why it isn’t given more credence than it deserves, than actually attempting to research old and tired archetypes of research that (IMHO) procure dodgy results at best. Maintaining perspective, to me, is key, and I think that for most people absolutes are all they will espouse…either absolute belief or absolute disbelief without maintaining a healthy balance that one or the other can be true. Hence the popularity of shows like the aforementioned…UNTIL, some of their more shoddy practices come to light as mere parlor tricks, smoke and mirrors…it’s at THIS point that people begin to question the efficacy of ANY research upon the subject, which is disheartening.

    I have many ideas to promote genuine R&D with respect to paranormal, but there are some huge obstacles to overcome to name a few without being overly exhaustive:

    1) There is no real “standard” for investigations (no control establishments)…let’s face it, there are ANSI standards for example, there should be PRAD (Paranormal Research and Development) standards.
    2) The field itself is investigated far too broadly without micromanaging the (and I cannot emphasize strongly enough to importance of) varying and multiple disciplines necessary for RULING OUT anything that does not fall within the paranormal spectrum….Chemical Processes, Metallurgy, Atmospheric conditions, Meteorological conditions, Electrical processes, Psychological processes, Biological processes (think Visual anomaly)…the list is far too extensive to go further.
    3) There should be NO free investigations; the old adage “nothing good is ever free” stands true. Anytime someone gets something for free, they have this inherent belief that they are receiving nothing of value because they parted with nothing of value to obtain results. This mindset alone leaves the door wide open for fraudsters and youtube heros, as well as having the adverse effect of leaving the populace in general thinking no real worthwhile research can possibly be attained by a group who can’t fund themselves.
    4) Licensing. A group that sets a standard should also license researchers. Licensed in knowing how to maintain those standards across ALL investigations.

    This is just a fraction of the ideas and thoughts in my head on why I have always remained a backseat driver on my interest in the field, though I have never lost the interest and instead employ these ideas solely within my personal life to the extent that I can. Feel free and reach out to me if you want to discuss more.

    1. Jon,

      Thanks for your comments. Some are points I raised about 15 years ago, but never found practical ways to apply them.

      One point particularly confuses me. You said “There should be NO free investigations…” but I’m not sure what you mean.

      Are we (the investigators) supposed to pay to investigate potentially haunted homes and businesses? Or, are the owners/tenants supposed to pay us?

      I can argue on either side of that, but — in general — I feel that researchers learn from each investigation, and site owners/tenants sometimes find answers. That’s particularly true when investigators take the time to rule out all likely explanations.

      (I’m not sure how anyone can eliminate the Peltier effect or inconsistent infrasound. But, we can certainly identify physical issues such as uneven floors, wiring issues that lead to elevated EMF, and so on.)

      So, I see benefits on both sides of the equation.

      The only possible parallel I can think of: Regularly, medical studies offer to pay test subjects to try certain medications and treatments.

      I’m not sure that applies to what we researchers do, but I suppose it might support the idea that we should pay to help individuals and families who think their homes are haunted. After all, what we’re doing is still experimental.

      However, the number of homes I’ve investigated — only to discover that the answer was very normal and obvious — has made me wary of free, private investigations. I’ll go through a checklist with the homeowner, by email or over the phone. The homeowner assures me that everything has been thoroughly checked. They’ll swear that a handyman or contractor has double-checked every explanation. In some cases, the handyman will be there when we arrive, because he wants to know what’s going on, as well.

      And then, after my team and I drive two hours to the home, it takes us less than 20 minutes to find that the “haunted stairway” has uneven stairs. Or, “the window that keeps closing itself” has broken hardware. Or, the “creepy basement with the ghost in the corner” has frayed or exposed knob-and-tube wiring the length of the main room, with EMF levels high enough to cause nausea, anxiety, and even hallucinations.

      If the handyman was there, he’s sometimes sheepish. More often, particularly if the home is really old, he’s kind of amazed that we know how to diagnose home issues that were new to him. To him, the 1/4 inch variation in stair heights seemed no big deal. To paranormal researchers, that’s enough to make some people feel disoriented on the stairs, and interpret those sensations as something ghostly.

      It’s not. Just a badly built house, or one that’s settled unevenly. Droughts and downpours can exacerbate the settling, and those conditions are more common in recent years.

      Expecting me to pay for that inconvenience and frustration of that investigation… it’s not reasonable.

      Conversely, some homeowners insist that what’s going on is normal. They call in one repairman after another. Nothing solves the problem.

      By the time they accept the idea that the problem is paranormal, they’re extremely stressed. It’s not unusual to discover that the homeowners have lost their jobs and have declining health. In most cases, both are the product of sleepless nights and raw nerves.

      Denial didn’t work, and they couldn’t find logical answers to what was happening in their homes. They felt that all of it was their fault, and they kept their problems to themselves for as long as they could.

      So, expecting them to pay us seems unrealistic, if that’s what you were suggesting. As I said, I’m not sure.

      Those are two extremes, but – after several decades in this field – I believe they demonstrate the economic dilemmas of fee-based investigations.

      I’m also not sure how the free investigations issue relates to whether or not we can fund our research.

      My book income supports my research. I’m one of the lucky ones. Many paranormal researchers don’t have the time or inclination to write books and articles.

      Sometimes, I accept speaking engagements, and that income can be helpful. More often, I accept speaking gigs because I’ll have more research opportunities at new and different locations.

      The licensing issue is something others have attempted, but usually using questionable standards. At least one online “organization” has been taking money – but providing little value – since the late 1990s.

      I have no idea how anyone could measure how much (or little) I know about paranormal investigation techniques, results, and conclusions. Frankly, being a licensed contractor – knowing home repairs and the problems inherent when repairs aren’t made — might be relevant in some contexts.

      But when it’s something apparently paranormal, I don’t know how to quantify the skills we use to investigate the site. Too much of this is theoretical, to make a by-the-numbers test practical. How could I explain why some cases may be manganese silicate, but others might be Grandma checking on her loved ones?

      I’d love to see this field standardized. Unfortunately, I think we’re a long way from that.


      1. Hi Fiona thank you for your response.

        Just to be clear, I was not at all suggesting that an organization providing a service to a tenant / homeowner should have to pay for that privilege, in fact quite the opposite. It’s been my experience that innate human nature can’t really be changed – if someone gets something for free it’s either too good to be true or has little to no value associated with it. Think of it this way, if tomorrow I were to say to you “Here ya go Fiona, take my 735i BMW, it’s all yours”…what is your first reaction going to be? “What’s the catch”, “What do I have to do for it?”, “This must be some sort of scam”…and that is precisely what any person would do thus it registers in their minds that if they have to pay for a service then it must have value.

        Also, something I forgot to mention in my long-winded reply that absolutely grates on my nerves (and in a lot of instances illicits a sense of ridiculousness) is in using the word ‘Ghost’ with respect to any true research on paranormal studies. When I hear / see ghost in almost anything I literally grit my teeth knowing the entertainment value of ‘Ghosts’ gets lumped in with serious research. Honestly though, we as a culture are to blame for that one, we’ve ‘cartoonized’ the term to the point that nothing serious can be gleaned from the words use apart from the entertainment aspect.

        Given the above brings me to the real meat though of my response to you in the first place. Using your two scenarios, the tenant(s) / homeowner(s) with the ‘broken’ house versus the tenant(s) / homeowner(s) that maybe have a legitimate paranormal anomaly at their premise. Let’s further imagine two teams that could be investigating or researching the occurences at either premise.

        Team # 1: Unkempt, disheveled, evincing a lack of proper education or aptitude, and FAR too willing to assume that an occurence is, in fact, paranormal. They show up at either premise with all the bells and whistles of the traditional ‘Ghost Hunter’, easily spooked and laden with multiple OMG’s. While they may make an effort to show a semblance of professionalism (albeit where I’m not quite certain yet) with their high-tech gadgetry, their ‘organization’ is named Joey’s Ghost Hunters – they are anything but professional.

        Team # 2: Clean, uniform (not wearing a uniform but uniformly dressed), with the full weight of credentials that not only qualify them and license them to be there but also the authority of an organization that standardizes what they can and cannot do while investigating which is often very reassuring to a tenant / homeowner. They have a fairly decent working knowledge of the English language beyond OMG, and they can understand the nuances of the multi-discipline necessary to give the tenant(s) / homeowner(s) a sense of comfort. This team is the antithesis of immediately believing that an occurence is paranormal and will in fact, go out of their way to attempt to disprove a paranormal connection. This team thrives on pragmatism if not skepticism.

        I’m sure we’ve both seen our share of Team # 1’s in our lifetime. In my eyes, Team # 1 are Ghost Hunters, Team # 2 are paranormal researchers.

        With respect to a Standardization Agency, they do need to believe or disbelieve in paranormal at all. They simply develop the guidelines of what CAN / SHOULD and what CANNOT / SHOULDN’T take place during the course of an entire investigation, they don’t need to qualify your expertise on the paranormal. Think Underwriter’s Laboratories type of agency – they didn’t / don’t necessarily understand the physics of electrical properties they simply take it as fact from other scientists and engineers and write guidelines based upon those given facts. Hence, when you plug in an appliance with a UL tag or sticker on it, you have a pretty good idea that the guidelines for creating said appliance were followed and likely won’t burn your house to the ground.

        But, it’s why in my first reply to you I mentioned that there are some huge obstacles that would need to be overcome so, I agree with you we may be a long way from that.

        Before I end this post, I just want to point one thing out where you asked “How could I explain why some cases may be manganese silicate, but others might be Grandma checking on her loved ones?”. This is where Standardization actually shines. You don’t need to explain to an agency why some cases may be manganese silicate versus grandma checking in on her loved ones, the standardization dictates that:

        1 – Chemical processes are eliminated or confirmed
        2 – Geological processes are eliminated or confirmed
        3 – Human intervention is eliminated or confirmed

        The specifics of what it takes to draw the conclusions are unimportant (at least to the Standardization Agency), the fact that there is a guideline TO arrive at that conclusion is what’s important.

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