Ghost hunter Patrick Burns has a new book coming out—by a well-known children’s textbook publisher—that supposedly teaches teens about ghosts and the paranormal. Skeptical Inquirer readers may remember Patrick Burns from my write-up and analysis of his television show Haunting Evidenc e. I wrote: The series follows three investigators as they revisit real-life cold case murders, hoping to succeed where police have failed. Carla Baron (touted as a “psychic profiler”) is joined by New Age bookstore owner (and “highly-esteemed medium”) John J. Oliver and Patrick Burns, founder of Ghost Hounds paranormal investigation network.
As I noted in a follow-up, the team had not solved a single case in all their investigations:
In any other profession, a success rate of zero means you have utterly failed; you can’t do whatever it is you claim to do, and you should admit it, pack it up, and go home. Yet despite their fully-documented complete lack of success, the series was renewed for a third season (it was eventually cancelled). I was hoping at the end of season one to see a follow-up episode in which the team would profile their many successes, congratulate themselves for helping families and solving crimes, and gloat about having shown up the skeptics. For some reason that show was never scheduled.
On its Web site, CourtTV recently polled its viewers, asking, "Two seasons of Haunting Evidence are now complete. Do you feel the show has contributed to help solve the featured cases?" Incredibly, two-thirds of the respondents (62 percent) voted "Yes; the team has certainly disclosed much new information," while 37 percent voted "No, we still don’t know most of the killers." It’s clear that many audience members have a shaky grasp of logic, assuming that if the Haunting Evidence team gives information—any information, correct, incorrect, previously known, or unverifiable—to police, that counts as some sort of success. To police, the victims’ family, and skeptic, the results speak for themselves: Either the information provided by the psychics helped solve the cases, or it didn’t. Carla Baron and the other high-profile investigators had a chance to prove their powers and solve crimes on camera and in public. In every single case, they failed.
Despite the teams’ well-documented failures, Burns has shifted gears and written a new book supposedly teaching teenagers how to hunt for ghosts called ’ THE OTHER SIDE: Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal for Teens’. Not only that, but the book is being issued by a well-known educational textbook publisher! According to Burns,
Many have asked me "Patrick… when are you going to write a book?" Well, Its official – I’ve finally penned my first book, co-written with “Ghost Huntress” author Marley Gibson and Darkness Radio host Dave Schrader. Our book “THE OTHER SIDE: Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal for Teens” is being published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Growing up, you probably remember that every other text book you had in school was published by Houghton Mifflin, so I don’t have to tell you that this book deal is HUGE for us.As the title implies, this book is a how-to manual aimed at the next generation of ghost hunters.
Burns understands that not everyone thinks that teens should be hunting for ghosts—- not because the field is rife with pseudoscience instead of science, wild speculation instead of solid evidence, and magical thinking instead of critical thinking. No, it seems he’s okay with all that. Instead, Burns compares ghost hunting to illicity teen activities such as underage drinking, drug use, and premarital sex:
I know we’re probably going to catch a firestorm of hell from those in our field that think teens have no business ghost hunting and should not be doing it. To that I respond – adults also warn teens that they shouldn’t be smoking, drinking, doing drugs or having premarital sex either, yet that doesn’t seem to stop them, does it? To assume that teens wont ghost hunt – especially with the number of shows and movies on the paranormal geared at their age demographic – is a rediculous notion. So isn’t it better to get them started responsibly since they are going to do it anyways? And lets face it – most of us in this field were probably doing something related to the paranormal in our youth. Even if we weren’t yet full-fledged ghost hunters, we were probably at one point or another playing with a Ouija board, exploring old abandoned houses, or even playing “light as a feather, stiff as a board” at sleep overs. Rather than wag a hypocritical finger at teens of today and tell them “NO!” we felt it was high time that someone pen a book aimed at their age group that tells them how to get started on the right foot. We’ve gone out of our way to tell teens how to ghost hunt in a responsible manner. In short, we’ve written a book that tells teens the right way (in our opinion) to get started in this field.
Let’s review these sentences again:
We’ve gone out of our way to tell teens how to ghost hunt in a responsible manner… we’ve written a book that tells teens the right way (in our opinion) to get started in this field…. this book – the first of its kind – is going to be a great way to get them started in a rational, responsible manner.
I assume that means there will be extensive discussions for the teens about Occam’s Razor, the burden of proof, logical errors, critical thinking, skeptical and scientific princples, right? Um, not so much, according to Burns:
For example, we explain why trespassing is not only bad from a legal perspective, but gives all ghost hunters a bad name when someone gets caught. We recommend that teens find an adult to mentor their group. We explain that abandoned houses are VERY bad do to possible structural weaknesses, and we recommend that their group do some form of “protection” ritual before an investigation to prevent possible attachments of undesirable energies.
“THE OTHER SIDE: Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal for Teens” will soon be available for pre-orders on Amazon, and other on-line sellers. It is slated to hit the shelves of bookstores everywhere September 7’th – just in time for Halloween!
Burns’s fans certainly seem enthusiastic about it. One wrote, "I sure hope the book also goes into deep detail of the dangers of the paranormal for a yong teen, not so much about getting hurt at a location, but the protection of there [sic] young energy. The understanding of exactly what do you do when a ghost attaches them self to the teen, or the hormonal levels of teens still have polterigist manifestation. Maturity is a must in ghost hunting, Kudos on the book I wish you all great success with it." Another, presumably with a straight face, wrote, "Mucho kudos to you all for jump starting the next generation of paranormal investigators off on the right foot. No one can lay issue with your protocols for paranormal investigations."
Skeptics can and have laid issue with ghost hunting protocols for years, pointing out logical errors, poor evidence, and a lack of critical thinking. The ghost hunting community has more or less ignored the scientific and skeptical issues, and now a major childrens’ textbook publisher is helping mislead a new generation of kids. Perhaps some skept
ics and scientists should contact Houghton Mifflin and ask them if their book on ghosts and the paranormal for children and teens has any science in it, or if it will be published as fiction.