All of these shows -- and the paranormal investigation teams with whom I have spoken -- emphasize "evidence" over "personal experience." Even those purported "sensitives" (ie, "medium-lites") who appear on these shows, such as Susan Slaughter of Ghost Hunters International, downplay their subjective experiences in favor of "scientifically" gathered evidence recorded on digital voice recorders, video, cameras, and other instruments.
Thus far, none of these shows have been seriously tainted by scandal or allegations of fakery, and this is critical because the world of paranormal investigation is STILL laboring under the shadow of fraud and fakery relating to mediums and psychics that dates back to the Victorian era.
The latest such scandal just broke in the UK: Sally Morgan, self-proclaimed "Britain's best-loved psychic." On Monday, September 12, a caller to Ireland's RTE Radio 1 show Liveline claimed to have attended a live "performance" (telling word, no?) by Morgan the night before at the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin and had been sitting at the rear of the theater.
After an extremely impressive first half of the show, the caller, "Sue," noticed a soft male voice coming from the open window of a small room behind her ("like a projection booth") and "everything that the man was saying, the psychic was saying it 10 seconds later." As more audience members around Sue became aware of the voice, an usher closed the window.
Sue's assumption was that the man in the booth had gathered information by talking to audience members prior to the show and was feeding that information to Morgan onstage via an earpiece. Subsequent callers to the radio show supported Sue's claims. The theater and Morgan denied the allegations, naturally.
This is very similar to exposes of faith healer Peter Popoff, spoon bender Uri Geller, and many others by James Randi, "The Amazing Randi," whose widely reported offer of $1m for proof of psychic ability still stands unclaimed.
And this is why paranormal investigation shows and teams surround themselves with electronic equipment, speak in the evidenciary language of science, and downplay any particular sensitivity to spirits that their members may have - anything to avoid the taint.
An interesting wrinkle to the standard paranormal investigation approach is headed to your TV screens this Friday night at 10 on Travel Channel. The Dead Files, an investigation show pairing former Manhattan homicide detective Steve Di Schiavi with "psychic communicator" (don't call her "medium") Amy Allan.
Based on the first episode, Allan may make great strides in rehabilitating the reputations of at least some mediums, as the information she gathers from within an allegedly haunted New York farmhouse is truly astonishing.
Look for an interview with Di Schiavi and Allan in these pages this week.