Every now and then, I come across a story about paranormal research that gives me some hope that a few people out there are still taking things seriously and are conducting themselves in a scientific manner. These days, most people equate “fancy gadgets” with “scientific,” and that’s just not the case. Just because spirit boxes have all sorts of buttons and gizmos and cost a lot of money does not mean they contribute anything to the field of research. But this group at Clarkson University is looking into a link between mold and paranormal activity, and the possibility that it’s all in our mind.
Undoubtedly, you will think the Clarkson University (or real) ghostbusters are on the right track. Instead of following in the footsteps of their reality show counterparts, these scientists are investigating potential links between house hauntings and indoor air quality. Since toxic mold can trigger psychosis, they believe the real reason that one pesky poltergeist will not leave you and your ancient house alone has to do with air quality and your own sensitivity to indoor pollution.
“Hauntings are very widely reported phenomena that are not well-researched,” Dr. Shane Rogers, an associate professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, stated in a press release.
Naturally, this lack of research waves in the air like a big red flag to Rogers. So, like any true scientist presented with insufficient data, he and his undergraduate students decided to go to the source and collect more facts and figures, so that eventually they might analyze their way to the truth. Specifically, Rogers and his students can be found running around the North Country of New York, measuring air quality in houses and other buildings reported to be haunted. (Notably, the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg is one such location.)
The Clarkson group expects their data collection phase will last through the summer. Then, after gathering enough necessary samples and measurements, the team hopes to compare haunted houses to similar places with no reported ghosts and in this way identify any unique factors that might be contributing to the spookiness of the former locations. In particular, they will look for commonalities in the mold microbiome, while analyzing various toxic molds that could be causing psychological effects in humans.
What is the mold microbiome? It is the sum total genetic material contained within the bacteria comprising mold. Essentially, the mold microbiome constitutes a symbiotic (if horrifying to think about) community of writhing microorganisms.
Rogers is a longtime fan of ghost stories, he says, so his endgame with this project is not to debunk the legends. Instead, he hopes to provide new insight into why certain places might be perceived to be haunted. After all, hauntings are most often reported in older houses and rarely make their appearances in new freshly painted buildings. Since older structures often have poor air quality, this suggests an indoor pollution problem.
“Some people have reported depression, anxiety, and other effects from exposure to biological pollutants in indoor air,” Rogers said, adding that he and his students hope to link hauntings to “specific pollutants found in indoor air.” In the end, he’s betting he can provide real answers to ghostly phenomena while helping people in the process.
I’m not sure I’m 100% sold on the mold idea, as I think that if it was causing people to see ghosts, it would probably occur much more often. But I do agree with the general principle of environmental factors leading people to believe a place is haunted. It could even be something as simple as the power of suggestion. Walking into a very old building naturally causes one to reflect back on all of the history there, all of the things that may have happened there. By its very nature, it inspires the notion of “ghosts of the past.” The problem with this study is that it will be hard to prove anything beyong a correlation. Though to be fair, that would still be interesting.