Ghost hunting results in death

By Phil Plait | September 10, 2009 12:00 pm

The skeptic ‘net is buzzing because it’s been reported that a young Toronto woman has died apparently investigating a reportedly haunted building.

I know some folks will want to use this to say that belief in the paranormal can kill you, and so on, but we have to resist that thought. For one thing, it’s pretty silly. Of all the paranormal beliefs that do harm in our society, a belief in ghosts is just about the least likely to do physical harm (though it can do great harm otherwise). Plus, the reports are sketchy; perhaps she was a skeptic and investigating the claims critically. Even if that’s not the case, it’s not hard to see something just like that happening, and the results would be the same. If it did, would you now claim that skepticism kills?

Irrational beliefs despite a lack of evidence bug me too, but they’re no reason to make false correlations. We have to be skeptical even of our own skepticism, and how we apply it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Piece of mind
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Comments (41)

  1. Whether she was ghost hunting or not, it’s pretty silly to go jumping between buildings… That was her biggest failure. Gravity, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the LAW!

    As USAF pilots are fond of saying, “An uncontrolled impact with the ground has a Pk of close to 1.0.”

  2. IVAN3MAN AT LARGE

    Phil, there’s a typo at the second paragraph, in the fourth line: otherwise, not “otherwsie”. 😉

  3. Zucchi

    She was only 29. I did things just as foolish (didn’t believe in ghosts, but took foolish chances). Damn shame.

  4. I guess they stayed in the kitchen when the kitchen got *too* hot.

  5. tacitus

    Sadly, if nothing else, her death will just add to the myth that the building is haunted.

  6. Mike

    If the media can blame video games for the occasional psychotic who goes on a car jacking spree, I feel it’s entirely appropriate to blame the show Ghost Hunters for this unfortunate accident. :-/

  7. Rule #1 when skulking about a building at 2 a.m. (whether believing in ghosts or approaching it from a skeptical viewpoint): Watch your step.

    Poor woman. I wonder what the location was like where she fell (ledges, railings, etc.).

  8. Quiet Desperation

    Isn’t that a suggestion from the ghost hunter’s manual?

    Rule 332: If you can’t find a ghost, make one of your own. Try to use the least liked member of the hunt team for this purpose.

  9. Apparently, being a good samaritan can result in the same type of death:

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/regional/good_samaritan_dies_trying_to_help_EhNpVpAni1SBkmJeGR2mFM

    (Guy sees car in trouble on other side of bridge. Guy stops to help. Guy climbs over barrier to get to the other side. Being dark out, guy doesn’t notice 17-foot-wide gap between eastbound and westbound lanes of bridge.)

  10. JHGRedekop

    @Todd W: She apparently died jumping from one part of 1 Spadina Crescent (an old Gothic Revival building in the University of Toronto) to another, three stories up, in the courtyard.

    Here’s 1 Spadina Crescent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Spadina_Crescent

    Belief in ghosts didn’t kill her, jumping around on the outside of a building 30 feet off the ground did.

  11. nichole

    So, you disapprove of this as well?

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/09/god_works_in_mysterious_ways.php

    Because it struck me as being needlessly caustic.

  12. HP

    Here’s the official press release from TorontoGhosts.org (no permalink, so this may go away soon), whose phone has apparently been ringing off the hook.

    Apparently, the building in question is not rumored to be haunted, nor was TorontoGhosts aware of any investigations (skeptical or otherwise) in the area. Sounds like TG is — dare I say it? — skeptical of the initial media reports.

  13. Rob G.

    Here’s a link to the CBC website where they state that the police have not been able to confirm that the pair were actually there hunting ghosts.

    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2009/09/10/toronto-woman-falls-death523.html

  14. Andy Beaton

    The police are saying it was a drunken misadventure, and don’t know where the ghost hunting angle came from:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/woman-falls-to-death-while-ghost-hunting-in-toronto-building/article1281791/

  15. John

    I don’t believe in ghosthunters.

  16. The Other Ian

    Well, if the building wasn’t actually thought to be haunted before, you just know that now there will be all sorts of people claiming to have encountered this young woman’s ghost.

  17. Who you not gonna call?

    J/P=?

  18. Tragic. We had a similar incident about twenty years ago – a kid was hanging a banner as a prank over the side of a building near a local college. He was on the roof, jumping over some ribbing on the rooftop, and didn’t notice that his last jump was over the edge into the courtyard that separated the two towers of the U-shaped four-story bulding.

    I wonder if in this case, as in that one, alcohol was involved.

  19. In a mishap that ignited a frenzy of speculation about ghost-hunting and the paranormal because it occurred at a 19th-century downtown university building rumoured to be haunted, a 29-year-old Toronto woman plunged four storeys to her death in a small courtyard early Thursday when a chicken-wire screen she was crawling across gave way.

    Pitched at a 45-degree angle, the chicken-wire screen connects the third and fourth floors of the building, constructed in 1875 as an annex to the Knox College Presbyterian divinity school.

    So it doesn’t seem like ghost hunting was involved. It appears instead that her death was the result of an overdose of ground, taken under the influence of alcohol and stupidity.

  20. RL

    Hmmm. Where’s that pointy stick? This articles headline seems to run counter to the content.

  21. Charles J. Slavis, Jr.

    If you die hunting ghosts, are you getting warmer or colder?

  22. Eric TF Bat

    It’s true, Phil! If simply being stupid were enough to kill people, who would be left to vote Republican?

    (I’m going to hell for that, I know. But it was worth it.)

  23. Large amount of alcohol + dumb idea + running around on the roofs of building = disaster. Belief in the paranormal wasn’t needed in this case, just better judgment that should have started before getting drunk on a first date.

  24. KC

    Some pretty funny comments here…but take it easy – have a little respect for the recently departed…

  25. #1 “Gravity, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the LAW”

    I beg to differ. Gravity is only a theory.

  26. Messier Tidy-Upper

    @1. Larian LeQuella Says:

    Whether she was ghost hunting or not, it’s pretty silly to go jumping between buildings… That was her biggest failure. Gravity, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the LAW!
    As USAF pilots are fond of saying, “An uncontrolled impact with the ground has a Pk of close to 1.0.”

    Er, sorry, but what does ‘Pk’ mean?

  27. Petrolonfire

    @ 24. KC Says:

    Some pretty funny comments here…but take it easy – have a little respect for the recently departed…

    What? Or they’ll come back to haunt you or something? 😉

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  28. Ken

    Messier #26:

    Pk = Probability of Kill.

  29. I so knew Phil would find this one! He really does seems to scour every corner of the web for this stuff.

  30. Bill McCollough

    Maybe, she stepped into an elevator shaft. That can be somewhat fatal.

  31. Big Fat Earl

    It’s true, Phil! If simply being stupid were enough to kill people, who would be left to vote for either political cult?

    Corrected for truth.

  32. ThatPirateGuy

    My condolences to her friends and family.

  33. Chicken wire bridge? I hardly think that could support a ghost much less a human.

  34. Buzz Parsec

    @31, Sorry, Earl, you’re wrong. The Democratic party is no more a cult than than atheism is a religion. It’s just a political party of the center-right by the standards of most of the world. The Republican party didn’t used to be a cult; it was just a far right political party. But it’s been taken over by a cult. If you’re a republican and not a cultist, please take your party back. I probably still won’t vote for you, but at least I’ll respect you.

  35. Damon

    Pfffft, this isn’t an argument for or against believing in the paranormal. It’s simply an argument against jumping from one building to another. What compelled the woman to do so is irrelevant; people have hobbies, they go exploring, they put their lives at risks. Always have, always will. Should we also shut the space program down because the pursuit of knowledge is too dangerous?

    No more using this as a skeptical mouthpiece.

  36. J

    People. A little respect for the dead please. Yes it was stupid and really pointless, but it happened.
    I just found out that I knew her. And my only concern now is for her friends that I know.

  37. this is a classic case of a misguided person meeting a tragic death and should serve as an example to others indulging in superstition and blind faith any thanks for bringing up this topic

  38. Rob

    Great post Phil! I know as a young man one of my favorite hobbies was going out and exploring abandoned buildings and such. Most of them being creepy old abandoned buildings, they were nearly all rumored to be haunted. The ghost stories never had anything to do with my travels, I just liked exploring. This lady could have well been doing the same. It is a tragedy that she was killed, but I can see easily how this could happen as I have nearly fallen through floors or had ceilings collapse on me whilst exploring before. @J — My condolences, it is always painful to lose someone suddenly, even if it is only an acquaintance.

  39. ron

    I just learned from my half-sister that my younger half-sister and her husband actually believe this nonsense, something I find very disturbing. I’m attributing her lack of critical thinking skills to “other half.” All I can say is that if ignorance is really bliss, then these people (ghost “hunters”) must be in ecstasy.

  40. Ben Edmond

    I can recall some unexplained things happening to me as a kid, but now I question if they were supernatural or created by youthful ignorance.

    Anyhow, here’s a rather provocative and hilarious article my friend wrote about Ghost Hunting:
    http://thingsthatshouldntstillexist.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/01-ghost-hunters/

  41. Dave

    #22 Eric – I would be left, but dems would be in trouble.

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