“Seeking spooks and Sasquatch” (Ghost and Bigfoot reality shows)


If someone struggles through two weeks of incompetence at work, that person will likely have a talk with the boss. If it goes on for another month, that talk is put in writing. Still another month means another meeting with the boss, who is probably the ex-boss by meeting’s end.

And a decade of incompetence and total failure means a million-dollar contract and being brought back for more. “Ghost Hunters” is in its 10th season on Syfy. Ten years so far, with nary one captured spirit. In fact, no ghost hunter in history has captured one. If ghosts exist, their hunters are the planet’s most inefficient workers.

Among the issues with shows like “Ghost Hunters” is that only one solution is considered. Noises can never be the house settling, a board creaking, or the wind blowing. Let’s say the search is on for the ghost of a man whose fiancee, named Leigh, met a premature death. A high-pitched noise that vaguely sounds like, “Icy” has to be the poltergeist announcing, “I miss Leigh.” It can never be a pipe whistling or, for that matter, the apparition declaring, “I kissed a tree.”

These shows attempt to have an air of validity by using electronic equipment and scientific-sounding terms, however poorly-defined. They employ electromagnetic field measurements, Geiger counters, geophones, and night vision devices. But no explanations are offered as to how this equipment would reveal the ghost’s existence. No criteria are given for what constitutes a capture, the alleged point of the show. The practitioners try to appear scientific, but they have no established standards, no stated goals, no checks and balances, no critical peer review, and no definition of proof.

Those who hire ghost hunters think there’s a spirit present, so they already have feelings of dread or fear when in the house. This causes a self-fulfilling confirmation in someone who has decided ahead of time the place is haunted. That fear itself becomes more evidence in the continuing cycle, and the feelings are themselves claimed as proof by the hunters. The hunts are almost always done at night, even though there’s no reason to suspect this would lead to more success. It’s done only to make for a more theatrical production and to heighten the feelings of fright and mystery.

“Ghost Adventures” airs on the Travel Channel, an irony since ghosts never seem to travel. They are always sought out in the home where they lived and died.

Considerably more mobile is Bigfoot, the animal kingdom’s most rapid and stealthy offering. They are so fast and cunning that a sustainable population of 10-foot bipedal apes has lived within 50 miles of Seattle for a century without being caught. Not once have they been successfully hunted, captured, or hit by a vehicle. They keep moving even after death, as no camper or hiker has happened upon their remains.

Undeterred, producers of the History Channel’s “MosterQuest” trudge ahead in pursuit of this giant walking carpet. My idea for a History Channel episode: A story about the days when the History Channel covered history.

Like their ghost-chasing brethren, Bigfoot hunters have spent more than a century in the precise places they expect to find their prey and have yet to bag one. The strongest evidence, of course, would be the capture of a live creature, verified by biologists to be an undiscovered species. Other examples of strong evidence would be a corpse, skeleton, or sizable patch of fur. None of these have materialized. There have been thousands of pieces of weak evidence, in the form of eyewitness claims, shaky videos, and widely varying footprints easily faked with plaster. But 5,000 pieces of unverifiable evidence does not equate to strong evidence any more than 5,000 cups of weak tea dumped in a giant vat would make for a strong drink.

Cryptozoologists point out that Western science only confirmed the existence of the somewhat Bigfoot-like gorilla in the 19th Century. Okapis were found later still, and the coelacanth was thought to be extinct for millions of years. These points are not entirely without merit and, of course, the search for undiscovered animals should be encouraged. But using your desired conclusion as the starting point, then seeking support for that position, isn’t how science is done.

Furthermore, if discovery is the incentive, there are options that will yield more fruit. Entomologists estimate there are 10,000 undiscovered species of ant. But to a cryptozoologist, ants are boring. Also, it requires years of tedious study, learning the characteristics of all known ants, before foraging for their newfound crawling cousins.

So cryptozoologists spend their time looking for Bigfoots (Or Bigfeet, maybe. They’ve never found even one, not sure what they would call two). They also search for an extinction-defying plesiosaur in Scotland or for Frosty’s antithesis on the world’s highest mountain. At a minimum, they hope to land something with a backbone, like Chupacabra.

Since neither the poltergeist nor crypto camps have had success, maybe they should pool their resources and start hunting for Bigfoot’s ghost.

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