I have to confess Derren Brown has gone up in my estimation. Just based on his shows, I thought this stage magician/mentalist was rather a pain, but his recent series investigating various paranormal claims have shown him to be an effective sceptic and (apparently) quite a nice guy.
Two interesting points came out of his recent piece on ghost hunting. One was a shocking statistic. Apparently nearly 50% of the population believes in ghosts. That doesn't surprise me, it's about what I would have guessed. But was does it that it seems this has quadrupled since the 1950s. Now that is worrying.
The other was when Brown was dealing with an American ghost hunter (or demonologist as he classed himself). I was fascinated by the way Buffy style fiction seems to have taken over people's lives. It's fiction folks! We had a house with demon possession, where the owner was certainly seeing things. But it was also a house with a picture of a demon on the mailbox and the word HATE as a decoration on the sideboard. Might the owner be a teensy bit inclined a certain way?
The ghost hunter, who definitely believed in what he had seen, had two big physical proofs (leaving aside a video of someone having a fit). One was photographs. The one he thought was best 'showed' a human face in the mist in a graveyard. But as Brown later pointed out, you could make out all sorts of shapes from the mist. And given how we are programmed to recognize faces, it's hardly surprising you could see one. (In fact Brown could see another face, and I saw a third.) They were just random shapes.
The other biggy was EVP, Electronic Voice Phenomena. These are produced by asking questions to a voice recorder then leaving a space. When the recording is played back there are strange noises in the spaces. Only these noises sounded like static or wind noise. The ghost hunter interpreted them to be what he wanted to hear - but to the unbiassed ear (including Brown's) there was no information there.
What wasn't pointed out, but I thought was telling, is that there wasn't one recorder present there were two. There was also the recorder used by the TV crew. And strangely that one (which unlike the ghost hunter's handheld hadn't got automatic volume control, so didn't boost the silences) didn't pick up anything. Hmm.
When I first heard about EVPs I was really interested. They sounded like a genuine physical proof of some sort of phenomenon. As Brown claims, though I'm a sceptic, I genuinely would like there to be something to ghosts and such - I've been fascinated by ghost hunting since reading about Borley Rectory in my teens. But if the sort of random noise produced on the show is the best you get, I'm afraid they aren't worth the bits they're recorded on.