ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And now it wouldn't be Halloween without a high-tech ghost story.
NPR's Beenish Ahmed went along as investigators explored a supposedly haunted house. She made it back alive to report on the technology that ghost hunters use.
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BEENISH AHMED: The historic Edgewood Plantation is tucked away in a wooded area an hour south of Richmond, Virginia. With uneven floorboards and creaky doors, the house is prime real estate for a haunting. It's owner hired a private firm, Richmond Investigators of the Paranormal, to scan her property for ghosts. Chris Williams is the team's tech manager. He lists off a few essential gadgets.
CHRIS WILLIAMS: What I have is usually your basic EMF detector. I got a temperature gun to read temperature changes.
AHMED: EMF meters measure electromagnetic fields sent off by faulty wires and radio waves. But investigators insist the meter can also detect spirits. Temperature guns measure the air for the cold spots ghost stories say mark haunted sites. Williams also recommends carrying night vision cameras, surveillance devices, motion detectors, and a couple of walkie-talkies. There's one item in his toolkit that isn't so techie.
WILLIAMS: I always prefer everybody to have one bottle of either holy water or holy ointment. I've never had to use it and hope I never will.
AHMED: The team doesn't encounter anything threatening, but it believes it found one ghost in the plantation's old slave quarters. Only, it's a cat's ghost, which sort of complicates things.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Can you purr for us? Are you afraid of dogs?
AHMED: The EMF meter reaches a peak when the team asks the ghost about dogs. For them, this evidence paired with some curious pictures from around the house proves it is haunted.
Loyd Auerbach is skeptical of this reliance on technology. He's a professor at a one-of-a-kind parapsychology program at Atlantic University in Virginia Beach. He thinks someone with psychic abilities is better suited to ghost-hunting than someone with a lot of gadgets. However, Auerbach says, technology can provide some clues. He relates this to tracking an invisible boat on a lake.
LOYD AUERBACH: We're really using technology to detect the wake of the boat. From that, we can infer that some things are going on in the environment, provided we know there's a boat there to begin with.
AHMED: This gets at the crux of the matter. Many think ghosts are about as real as, well, invisible boats on lakes.
Dr. JOE NICKELL: Belief in ghosts is just that. It's a belief. In fact, it's a superstition.
AHMED: Joe Nickell is a senior fellow at the Center for Inquiry, an independent research organization. His job is to make scientific sense of what he sees at paranormal investigations. He's found natural phenomena to explain all the evidence ghost-hunters have shown him on their various devices. Nickell says the high EMF readings investigators thought were sent off by the supposed ghost cat are especially suspect.
NICKELL: They are surprised that they're getting results in an old house when, in fact, there are all sorts of non-ghost sources such as faulty wiring, nearby microwave towers, sunspot activity, and so on. Even the electronic equipment, the walkie-talkies and TV cameras and all the other electronic gadgetry that they're carrying with them has electromagnetic fields.
AHMED: But not everyone needs scientific proof. A Gallup poll from a few years ago found that one-third of Americans believe in ghosts.
Beenish Ahmed, NPR News, Washington.
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