Formed in 1985, the Southwest Ghost Hunters Association—with an active chapter in Albuquerque, New Mexico—is dedicated to the scientific research of phenomena commonly referred to as ghosts. Their goal is to gather and collect data that will lead to a better understanding of ghosts and hauntings. The organization consists of both believers and skeptics. The following interview is with Cody Polston, the Southwest Ghost Hunters Association’s founder and president.
How was the Southwest Ghost Hunters Association formed? Give me a little history about the organization.
Cody Polston: “In 1985, I became the founder and president of a paranormal research and investigational team known as the Southwest Ghost Hunters Association (SGHA). Its mission statement, in keeping with [my own philosophy], is to investigate all possible explanations of areas that are associated with reported paranormal activities. Such investigations are achieved by utilizing the scientific method of research and being open-minded to the outcomes that may result, regardless of one’s personal belief structure.
“A key founding member of SGHA was nuclear physicist Carlton Spencer, with whom I became acquainted during my military career. Collaboration and continued association with the respected physicist expanded further upon my previous education and experience in natural training programs associated with the functions of explosive ordnance disposal and work with nuclear weaponry that he was responsible for during his career in the United States Air Force. Theories of electromagnetism, frequencies, and the like were brought to the foreground and realized for their importance in the forming and reforming of the organization’s basic operating hypotheses. The first ten years of SGHA’s existence laid a solid foundation for how it continues to function and grow to date.
“Toward the end of the 1990s, SGHA had begun to receive local attention for its pursuits, as well as for its different approach and mindset. Local media took an increasing interest in the group and its founder, including a six-part series on local public access television, in which the investigational practices of the group were highlighted. Raised public awareness of the organization resulted in another key member being welcomed into the SGHA fold—Bob Carter.
“An astrophysics major, Carter brought additional scientific knowledge to the mix, as well as a fresh perspective. The working relationship between Carter and me proved to be a successful and beneficial one, as the group continued to flourish and advance in new directions. Carter has served the SGHA as its Vice President for many years and as a co-director with me since the group incorporated in early 2007.
“In 2002, I determined that there needed to be a clearer delineation within the SGHA for its skeptics and researchers. Thus, SHIELD and SAGE were born. SHIELD originally functioned as a line of defense for investigators during the course of private-home investigations, a practice SGHA no longer routinely practices for safety and ethical reasons. This department now works in tandem with the regular investigators to lend a critical eye to gathered information to thoroughly examine it prior to release of investigational reports and future return investigations. SAGE is the arm of SGHA that serves to further its scientific research, both in emerging theories and technologies, as well as overseeing the use of basic scientific standards. SGHA also expanded its membership into several states. Active Charters are currently located in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona.
“A sampling of research projects conducted in the past or under current consideration by SGHA and SAGE are as follows:
- the effects of A/C EMF and its possible role in paranormal activities;
- geomagnetic fluctuations at active locations;
- electrical sensitivity and its possible relationship to the perception of paranormal experiences;
- electrostatic field effects at purported haunted locations;
- the effect of ionic charges on the environment and paranormal activities;
- digital spectral analysis of photographic evidence and anomalies;
- collection and analysis of electronic voice phenomenon;
- XUV photographic and video evidence capture;
- unmanned mechanical fleet for continuous and unbiased data collection; and
- the creation of a mobile investigation command center.
“In addition to the current membership rolls, which include professionals in medicine, technology, computer science, education, and environmental science, SGHA also maintains close working relationships with scientists, researchers, and educators in the fields of microbiology, optics, physics, and psychology. I have also recruited and maintained members with previous education or currently pursuing education in areas of interest such as IT, medicine, and theology. This lends increased knowledge to the group in the increasingly important analysis and collection of audio data.
“Also in 2005, Carter and I created Ecto Radio, a weekly live show and podcast, which informs and entertains its listeners on paranormal topics. With thousands of weekly subscribers, via i-Tunes and Ecto Radio’s podcast page, it is one of the premier paranormal internet radio shows on the Web today.”
How does someone who is interested in being a ghost hunter join the association? What training, if any, do they receive?
Cody Polston: “The first step in becoming a member is to go a new member Web page. It asks the important questions to aid you in deciding if SGHA is right for you. If you still want to join, follow the directions given on that page.
“After following the first step, our Operations Officer will contact you and let you know when our next interview session will be held. These introductory meetings are held quarterly, so you may have a while to wait, depending on your timing. During this waiting period, feel free to join in on the discussions on the forum and become acquainted with the information on our Website. Just before the information session, our Operations Officer will give you a short questionnaire to fill out. Complete this carefully, as it will be looked at by all of SGHA officers to determine what type of membership can qualify for.
“After the information session, you will be interviewed by the Operations Officer and at least one other SGHA officer. During our monthly officer’s meeting, the Operations Officer will discuss your application of membership with the other officers, along with his impressions and recommendations. The other interviewing officer will do the same.
“The officers will then review your membership questionnaire and make a decision on whether you will be admitted to trainee status. Although this is no way guarantees your acceptance into SGHA, it will serve to help us come to a rational and informed decision on whether you can fit our needs and we can fit yours. However, if approved, you will be assigned to a team for training for a six-month probationary period. When this period is over, a majority vote by the officers will decide which type of membership you will be granted or not. Typically, it will be either active or contributing membership. Our training program is one of the most arduous out there. Trainees will be taught how to conduct investigations using the scientific method as well as our operating methodology and techniques.”
What’s the best investigation you’ve experienced in New Mexico? What’s been the worst?
Cody Polston: “I believe that the best investigation we had in New Mexico was a series of inquiries into several ghost stories in Old Town Albuquerque. The team was definitively able to debunk the stories of Sarge, the Confederate ghost, and Scarlett, a woman who was supposedly a prostitute at the old Manual Springer house. The team showed excellent critical thinking skills and were able to explain and replicate all of the elements of each story. The worst was an investigation at Quarai mission ruins. We had to do the investigation during the mission’s hours of operation, and there was just too much going on around us to collect anything tangible. It also made it impossible to establish any form of scientific control.”
Have you ever experienced a full-body apparition? If so, tell me about it. If not, what’s the most interesting supernatural event you have ever seen?
Cody Polston: “I have not experienced a full-body apparition since I formed SGHA. However, the most interesting thing I have experienced was the slamming of cell doors in cell block 3 in the New Mexico State Pen, when we were there with 94Rock in 2002.”
What do you think of the Ghost Hunters reality-television series on the SyFy Channel?
Cody Polston: “It is important to remember that reality television isn’t really reality and that the ‘ghost’ shows are done for entertainment purposes only. They are a good example of how the hobby of ghost hunting works and how not to do an actual paranormal investigation. TV shows like Ghost Hunters have only had a negative effect on serious paranormal researchers by advocating pseudo-scientific methods and dividing the paranormal community. Now we have more ghost-hunting teams than ever, most of which are engaged in their own drama or trying to prove their team is best than actually going out and trying to collect evidence of the paranormal. The impact on the field has been quite bizarre.
“In 2010, I published a book titled Hunting the Ghost Hunters: An Introspective Guide into Ghost Research. The purpose of the book was to demonstrate what this out of control hobby of ghost hunting has become and why it is always doomed to fail. The fact that I could write an ENTIRE book and not just an article really tells how messed up paranormal research is these days, and most of it can be attributed to the television shows.”
How do you feel about using psychics in your investigations?
Cody Polston: “SGHA’s by-laws prevent us from using psychics unless they are brought in by a third party. There are several reasons for this. You may have heard the phrase, ‘you cannot prove the paranormal with the paranormal,’ but it goes way beyond that. Elements of the scientific method are designed to prevent bias from interfering with the collection and interpretation of data and evidence. Bias is a giant killer of science. Million-dollar research projects can be toppled by it, as well as paranormal investigations. By using a psychic, you are showing that your data are biased and your skeptics will use that against you.
“The second problem is the accuracy of the psychic. Scientific measures require a degree of error of 5% or less. However, the best psychics out there only claim be about 80% accurate (and that is the highest degree I have ever heard one claim). That leaves you with a 20% chance of error, if you’re using one of the best out there. The degree of error is just too great to rely on them if you’re using a scientific method.
“Finally, here in New Mexico, it isn’t a good idea. Psychics (communicating with the dead) are still considered an occult practice, and in a state with a high Catholic population, it will close doors.”
Have you ever experienced fear during an investigation? Provide any details of the experience.
Cody Polston: “Personally, I have never felt fear in an investigation.”