Every week I try to discuss something of importance in the paranormal field, as I’m continually changing topics on the fly on Spaced Out Radio.  This field of research offers some of the most exciting and insane points of view equally that continually makes things exciting with what we do.  It’s a battle of love and wits constantly, because in the paranormal, you just never know what you’re going to get.  This week, I wanted to talk about ghost hunting, because I do believe it’s something that is close to a lot of our hearts.  I know I’m usually on the alien or cryptid watch, but this time, I think it’s necessary to discuss a topic that we had on the show last week with “Paranormal Lawyer”, Michael W. Hall.  One of the questions I had asked Michael from a law perspective was, “Is it time the paranormal field had a code of conduct in order to conduct proper investigations?  His answer was “Yes!”.  So this has been stewing in my head since that conversation, because I truly believe there are three types of people in the paranormal field.  First, there are those who truly want to figure out the mysteries to what is going on with ghosts, and potentially prove life after death.  Second, I believe there are the ghost hunters out there who want nothing to do with the reality of the hunt, but go for the excitement, and the most they are interested in proving is whether or not a location is haunted, whether it’s a cemetery, someone’s home or even a park.  Third is the debunker group, which takes the attitude that there is a logical explanation for everything that goes on, and everything has a five-senses type answer.  I don’t think I’m too far off from categorizing everyone who investigates ghosts into those three categories.
But daily, on social media, most notably Facebook, I read numerous posts from people who are asking questions about the paranormal field.  Questions like should you provoke?  Should you charge money?  What do you do with your evidence?  Should mediums be allowed on investigations?  The questions are numerous and the debate is furious at times. Yet, at the same time we still see people, teams and groups yearning for what they call ‘Paranormal Unity’.  Paranormal unity can be defined simply as showing respect and camaraderie for the field and fellow researchers.  Now it’s a genuine and caring thought, however in my opinion it’s very difficult to implement because of the fact that there is no official code of conduct or governing body to follow and set the rules for this.  Therefore the amount of ego and disregard for fellow investigators and potential investigation sites is high and rampant in this field.  It’s sad really.  But it’s also a dark reality, no pun intended, of where the paranormal stands on a daily basis.  And even though many people would love to see a change, to most it’s almost impossible to even fathom because there are too many groups with too many definitions of what the paranormal should be.
Before we look into this, we need to define what a code of conduct is.  A code of conduct is a set of rules outlining the social norms, rules and responsibilities of, or proper practices for, an individual, party or organization. Related concepts include ethical, honor, moral codes and daily laws.  In the paranormal, many people including myself say this field is almost anarchic in the way investigations are conducted.  We have heard the horror stories of people going into investigations drunk or high.  We’ve heard stories, like recently in Washington State, where a team went into a known haunted hotel and tore the place up, showing all lack of morals and respect for where they were invited to investigate.  There is a closed institution here in British Columbia that no longer allows investigations due to the careless results left behind by a television crew.  Is this what we need?  These stories unfortunately are rampant among the field, which in essence paints us all with the same brush.  It’s the same theory as saying all Muslims are terrorists.  This is simply not true.  However the actions of a few result in the vilification of the entire community, which is what’s happening in the paranormal.
Where has the problem come from?  Most will say it’s television.  The popularity of the ghost hunting culture could be a direct result of what we see on cable television networks.  Starting with A&E’s Paranormal State back in the early 2000’s, we saw ghost hunters from all over be popularized almost instantaneously into celebrity.  To this day, shows like Zak Bagan’s Ghost Adventures rival some of the top shows on television for viewership including NFL Football.  People have created careers in this field, that really didn’t exist before the advent of paranormal television.  It’s turned into a multi-million dollar business even though 95-percent of the people in this field do it for free.  However, people with interest in the paranormal started coming out of the wood work claiming they were going to be the next big hit on television.  For a while there it seemed like everyone was working on a television pilot for a new ghost hunting show.  Paranormal television also brought in a boatload of new investigators into the field.  Most of whom had never been on a paranormal investigation before, but had an interest or an experience they now wanted to investigate.  Since there’s no schooling or true education for this, the rise in television program popularity became the pseudo-education for wannabe investigators.  I mean looking at the screen, who couldn’t do it?  It looks so easy, right?  Find a location.  Throw in some easy questions, along with the television norm of provoking a spirit/entity to come out and give a reaction, and boom, you know how to investigate.  However, there is so much more to it than just the investigation, but really that’s not what this article is about.  We could write an entire ‘War and Peace’ novel on the do’s and don’ts of investigation technique.
The question remains though, is it time to create a unilateral code of conduct as well as a governing body to police and patrol the paranormal frenzy that is currently running amok?  There are telling questions about this because it would infringe on people’s rights and choices in the field.  It would eliminate some of the freedoms that people have on how they personally want to conduct an investigation.  And yes, part of any governing protocol would be a set of rules and guidelines on how to investigate.  Brandie Wells from The 555; Paranormal Productions states, ” A formal organization would first need to be formed with a board. Then the Code set forth into formality. DO I BELIEVE IT SHOULD BE DONE? YES. However, as soon as there are rules and guidelines, there will be resistance.”  Yes indeed she is correct.  Brandie follows up by saying it’s a noble idea, but doesn’t believe the field would be interested in accepting any governing body or association. “Look at how the world is shifting. More and more are pulling away from religion because it is “binding” and people want freedom in their belief system. If something like this is created, it would be similar… people would be attracted to the “formality” to prove their power and figure out “where they fit in” and then it would wane into resistance and then it would crumble. It the energy of groupthink. The waxing and waning of social structure… I love the idea, but I basically think it is not realistic.”  This idea does have its flaws that is for sure, and considering people already feel politically over-governed and taxed, adding a body of people to oversee the paranormal is going to be fought with all sorts of criticism.  Does that mean one isn’t needed though?
Groups like Forest Moon Paranormal (FMP) out of Washington State have come up with their own set of rules for members to follow.  For Eric Cooper’s team, it’s simple, you follow the guidelines of the team or your out.  There is no wavering or sliding scale to their code of conduct.  Cooper is one of the louder voices on the west coast about setting a code of conduct in this field.  After researching and investigating for 20-years, this former U.S. Army medic is getting disgruntled with what he feels is a lack of common sense and courtesy, and something needs to be done. “Since when did the paranormal become a damn weekend warrior “hobby” of ass-clowns disrespecting both spirits and clients, of which some clients never get help because of the disrespectful way they were treated by those in the paranormal? I can think of 2 clients off the top of my head that never contacted FMP because of the way another team treated them.  So yes, fringe groups piss me off. We handle five cases a day of which at least 1-2 of those cases were due to a mess an unprofessional team made worse.”
Long time online talk show host, Richard Giordano from the Paranormal Code is a vocal proponent of a code of conduct for a field that keeps growing in stature. “The code of ethics. Don’t lie, share evidence and be respectful to those who are doing honest research. We all don’t have the answers to everything paranormal, obviously. The only way to get the evidence is to listen to the witnesses story with an open mind. If they have evidence then we need to be honest to the witness and tell them what we see. No matter how hard it is to tell someone they didn’t capture a ghost or ufo we must tell them the truth.”  Giordano states people who haven’t done a lot of research should get someone who can analyze it honestly. “The code of ethics is broken too many times because one person will say he’s got great evidence and shows it to someone who’s an expert on video and audio analysis but doesn’t want to hurt the witnesses feelings and says it looks real when in fact it isn’t.”  “We need to maintain a high degree of honesty even if it’s hurting our friend’s feelings. There’s no money to be made in the paranormal unless you write a book or make a docu-movie. Some people just like the attention so they do not follow the code of ethics and they become popular anyway because they believe in their evidence and people are gullible and eat it up.”
So how would this work?  It would have to start with a governing body.  This is the hardest part because you’re starting from the ground floor and building upward.  A number of teams would have to gather to register and form a coalition to vote in a governing body.  With more than 35-thousand paranormal teams in North America, this would be more than difficult.  This doesn’t mean this project wouldn’t be possible.  The attending teams would have to commit to building solidarity in the paranormal.  Once that was complete, they would then have to build and vote in a governing body to oversee the construction of a code of conduct and ethics, which would have to even include people from outside sources, like scientists, who help set the guidelines for what should be included for quality investigative evidence. Once a governing body successfully comes to fruition then the focus would turn its attention to developing a high standard of research for teams to follow.  Similarly, TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Society, has been successful in doing this, however in their rules, they do not oversee how teams investigate.  A constitution would then have to be written and legalized for all teams to follow.  Everything would have be gone over with a fine toothed comb.  From technology and investigative techniques to the use of psychic/mediums.  What about scientific research?  Many in this field, including this writer, have been highly critical of the way paranormal teams throw around the word ‘science’ as if it were giving them credibility in their investigations.  Are there different rules for investigating public areas compared to private residences and places of business?  What about ghost tours?  Would they be involved in this?  Technically, they should be.  Every aspect of paranormal ghost investigations should be covered under the banner.  Now this is something that would take time to establish, literally years, and most of that would be just writing the constitution of it all.  It’s a winning concept in the minds of people in this field, and maybe it’s good news that for now the way people treat paranormal investigation isn’t changing.  Even though it’s a part of society, the good news is time is on any governing body’s side.  Now of course, we also need to realise that not everyone is going to be solidly committed to the decisions that are made.  But the key is to build a base, much like MUFON has done with the field of UFOlogy.  To say its impossible is not correct.  It’s a matter of the right caring people coming together under one roof to help establish what is needed.
Right now, one the large differences and obstacles to overcome is in investigation techniques, where is a major grievance in the paranormal community.  There are those who feel it’s a just means to provoke or upset a spirit for results.  Others feel it’s their job to send every spirit to the ‘light’, even if that spirit doesn’t want to go.  There are those who care for the spirit and the client together, and look to reach a happy medium between the two.  And there are others who don’t care what the results are as long as they get something cool on tape or film by any means necessary to prove or disprove a place is haunted.  Sadly there are also those out there who refuse to allow a spirit to be sent to the light because it could cost tourism dollars, and for some companies, the dead pay the bills.  It’s kind of a sad reality if you look at the paranormal field in those terms. But until that time actually comes when a governing body and a code of conduct are in place, and who knows if it ever will, ghost hunters/investigators need to remember a few things.  Common courtesy and respect for your clients, the spirits, your team and the field in general is needed.  Example, if you’re in someone’s home, or a haunted place of business, you should try to at least act professional.  Do as you would want done in your house.  Right now, since there is no governing body, each team is reliant on creating their own rules and guidelines.  Teams really need to focus on what their goals and outcomes are.  What are they trying to solve, if anything?  Would you believe it if I told you there are teams out there who go into a person’s residence, kick the occupant(s) of the home out for the night, get their evidence, then never return to tell the home occupant what was found?  This is happening right now, as you read this.  Currently, I’m sure we can all agree that there are way too many teams who are conducting investigations that really have no control over what they’re doing, especially when invited into a private home or business.  Too many times have people in the paranormal listened to the horror stories from clients that the activity has gotten worse since teams have been there.  This is not great for the field’s credibility.  Now, some onus does have to be given to the client who maybe hasn’t done their proper research in looking at a team’s reputation.  But psychic/medium Elizabeth Anglin makes a good point, stating for credibility’s sake, “If you think you are dealing with a ghost give it the same respect you would any embodied person, both emotional and physical – and perhaps some professional goal setting – looking for understanding, looking for a win-win situation versus an “us-them” situation. Kindness. Compassion, Respect. Caring.”
The real truth of the matter is the paranormal investigation field is way too fractured and immature to come together and create a governing body or code of conduct because of ego, personality and beliefs whether they’re religious or not. And unfortunately it’s all needed to create a sort of unity to help bring any sort of credibility and continuity to this field of research.  It’s still popular and that will continue, but this field is in a sad state of flux because there are too many people running in too many different directions.  As much as a governing body is needed desparately, this type of anarchy will continue until those who are fed up come together in a central location and make it happen.  The focal point people need to understand is there is a common denominator that this entire field wants to be taken seriously in the mainstream, whether it’s by the media or by people in general.  The people in this field are yearning for respectability because they want this field to be taken seriously even as a pseudo-science.  However, the mainstream is never going to take this field seriously if it keeps shooting itself in its own foot, because of its own actions in making ourselves laughable by outsiders looking in.  And we haven’t even begun to start the conversation about mainstream science or the political side of the ledger where not many on either side of those groups take the paranormal field very seriously.
It’s also noted that many in this field have been trying for years to make something like this happen, without any sort of success.  It seems like a lost cause.  The sad idea is this; usually it takes one incident for the legal system to force a field to either shut down or come up with a governing body.  Somehow, it just may lead to that.  Let’s hope it doesn’t because nothing would be worse than having the paranormal head to court to defend itself because of a lawsuit.  And the more aggressive and incoherant teams become, the more likely this is going to happen.  The potential for something like this happening is growing daily, and nobody is doing a thing about it because there are no rules and even less etiquette for the research and the people involved.  What will it take?  Death of a client because of what a paranormal team has conjured due to its lack of knowledge, experience or caring?  Could very well be.  This is what happens when there are no rules.  And I fear we are getting closer to the worst case scenario, rather than working towards commonality.
Dave Scott can be heard on Spaced Out Radio at www.spacedoutradio.com every Monday through Friday starting at 9pm Pacific, 12am Eastern.  Follow Dave on Twitter @SpacedOutRadio and on Instagram @DaveScottSOR.