Atheist Nomads

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I was recently interviewed for the Atheist Nomads podcast and it was a fun discussion. At one point I disagreed with the hosts that paranormal fiction such as The X-Files and Ghostbusters could influence the way in which people believed in things. I have written about this very topic on this blog before here if anyone should be interested to find out what studies into this have shown.

You can listen to the interview below. Be sure to check out the Atheist Nomads podcast and their other episodes here.

The BBC “Guide To Ghost-Hunting” Is Anti-Science

ghostbusters

In the week that saw Ghostbusters 2016 launch on the bigscreen I’ve been contacted by many news outlets wanting to speak to me. As I have a proper job I haven’t been able to oblige but luckily for us all, BBC Three managed to get hold of ‘a range of the most experienced experts in the field’ to put together a guide called ‘How to be a real life ghost hunter’. I’d say that it was a useful piece of writing, only it isn’t. It’s terrible and made me laugh for all the wrong reasons.

According to them paranormal investigators are ‘focused primarily on collecting data and evidence of the paranormal’ which is utter nonsense. Ghost hunters use biased methodologies to do this, investigators actually investigate to discover the facts – two very different approaches. Only one of which is useful.

It all becomes clear when the article goes on the explain how they’ve been getting their advice from Tim Brown from the British ghost hunting team called PIGS. To begin with Brown sounds pretty rational and explains that ‘“99% of the time when we get called round to a house, it’s turns out to be something quite normal; a creaky home, changes in temperatures, etc.’ but then he lets himself down by presenting this photo as evidence.

pigs photo 1

Brown adds ‘“Sometimes you hear from people that they’ve got a funny smell, or they’ve heard voices, or they’ve seen someone walking around their house. So at that point we try and record some evidence or data of what’s happening in their home. So we can either explain it away as normal, or prove that it’s not normal, and make sure it gets fixed.’

All of this, and the rest of the article prove that people who call themselves paranormal investigators are not always investigators and do not have any idea of how to apply the scientific method to their work. They’re out to prove that ghosts are real and to capture evidence of ghosts when this simply isn’t possible. Anything that they capture will have a real-world explanation.

Brown says that his team work to capture data of the odd things that have been reported to them to see if they can then work them out or not but this is just a clever way of explaining why they look as though they’re just ghost hunters. They’re not really ghost hunters, they just look like ghost hunters because they’re gathering data. Data is a scientific word, don’t you know?

Here are some facts though – you do not need to experience the oddity for yourself to be able to explain it. Do you know how long it would take for some cases to get solved if everyone used this method? It also adds a huge bias to the research being undertaken because it means that the investigators a) think there is something to be experienced, and b) are more likely to interpret ordinary things as significant because they’re looking for something significant.

But hey… it makes you sound rational, right?

Data, Surveillance, Analysis, Peer Review  – these are all buzz words used by ghost hunters to assure others (and themselves, I would argue) that they’re legit.

When ghost hunters employ these approaches they often ignore the negative hits (when something doesn’t occur) and only focus on the positive hits (when something occurs) which means that their conclusions are based upon cherry picked data.

Further down the article John from Spirit Knights Paranormal Investigators explains how it’s important to respect who you’re speaking to. ‘It’s when people go in to antagonise them that it all goes wrong. People get scratched and thrown down stairs, all through handling it wrong’ he says, and the article states: Spirits were once people and we shouldn’t forget that.

It’s clear that Spirit Knights are a whole different kind of ghost hunting team because they don’t hide the fact that they employ spiritualist methods of spirit communication on their ghost hunts. It does mean that their advice isn’t useful, but then at least BBC Three got their science-to-nonsense balance sorted which is highly important to them, but unfortunately for them the science they portrayed is anything but scientific. Awkward…

There is something wholly strange about humans who act as though they’re white knights riding in to save the tormented souls of the dead. I would suggest it says a lot about the self-worth of those who act in this way.

I have seen Ghostbusters 2016 and I thought it was a fun film. We talk about it in Episode 12 of The Spooktator podcast. The thing that stood out to me the most though was the fact that in this alternative universe the Ghostbusters are all scientists who have respect for rational inquiry. In their world it becomes apparent that ghosts really do exist but in this world that isn’t the reality. So-called experts like Tim Brown chase their shadows and make themselves feel important by sounding science-y., they host paranormal tourism events while claiming to be impartial, and they use equipment that does nothing useful.

Ghost hunting teams often want to distance themselves from the Most Haunted-esque type of ghost hunting which seemed to boom in the early part of this century, but in truth they’re not completely divorced from those methodologies at all because they rely on them too much. If you totally disregard pseudo-science how are you going to show the world that you’re right even when you’re spectacularly wrong?

 

Week In Summary: #BlackLivesMatter, NASA, and Pokémon

black lives matter

Welcome to another curated list of interesting stuff that I’ve discovered online this week. It’s a bit longer than usual but a lot of stuff has happened that I think needs to feature, so without further ado…

Scenes of police violence unfolding in America were broadcast live to the world this week as a series of shootings of black men shocked the world. Many of us scrolled through our social media timelines and were met with the footage of Alton Sterling being murdered by a police officer. Later we watched Philando Castile die after being shot at point blank range by a police officer. Then came the videos of the attack on police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas which resulted in several officers being murdered and injured.

That this violence is a regular occurrence is one terrible thing, but that it now plays out to the world in real time is new, shocking and difficult to process.

I can remember the first time I heard that a man had been shot dead on the news – I was about three years old and I ran to tell my parents what had happened and I was surprised at how little my parents seemed to care. It was just an abstract thing then – something that happened to someone else somewhere that we never had to be confronted by – words spoken by a news anchor and nothing much more. Now it is all too real, in your face and there is no avoiding this brutality. Vice explores this in an excellent piece titled ‘The Week America Watched Death on Our Phones’.

Then came the news that the shooting in Dallas had been stopped by an armed police robot – news which prompts strange images in your mind before you grapple with the scary reality of the situation. Should police be this militarised? Gizmodo explores that very question and over on The Verge is a conversation about the ethics of the situation. Vice have a piece exploring the deadliest attacks on police officers in the last 100 years.

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It seems that in the aftermath of these unfathomable tragedies people desperately search for anything that can justify what has happened. However it’s important to remember that there are no absolutes – not all cops are racists, not all black men who have criminal records are thugs and so on. Boingboing reminds us that we should reflect on how we respond to breaking news. It’s good to sit back and think before reacting because facts are not always what they seem.

GQ Magazine report on a fantastic take down of the crappy and entitled #AllLivesMatter response to #BlackLivesMatter.

These seem like grave times for humanity. Especially when you add to the mix the fact that Trump is so popular, that people are being subjected to racist abuse on a daily basis following the EU referendum here in England – why are right wing movements across Europe becoming more popular? New Scientist breaks it all down here and it’s scarily fascinating. 

all that’s needed for greater understanding between groups is contact – Thomas Pettigrew

In the week that saw NASAs Juno spacecraft begin its orbital mission around Jupiter many people in my timelines were not sure what all the fuss is about. Popsci have a great overview of the project, as well as previous observations of the planet too. In other NASA related news, technology used in space may be coming to Earth in the form of an exosuit for the human hand that would enable people to weild tools for longer without sacrificing dexterity.

Elsewhere, Belgian researchers have developed an extremely sensitive gas sensor and the good news is that it’s super portable and may have several different used. Chemists at UC Irvine recently devised a new method to break down plastic into its constituent elements, including diesel. This could be big news for the future of recycling!

Could a DVD player be more conscious than a human? George Johnson explores the latest ideas and thoughts around consciousness for the New York Times. Over at New Scientist Jeffrey Guhin puts forward the argument that a national ruled by “rationalism” would be terrible, and I’m in agreement.

Grist reports on a The Global Food Security Act which will see over $1 billion a year spent providing support to small farmers in developing countries. This will vastly increase their quality of life and see rise in education standards for children living in poverty. Nice one!

Did you know that Dry Shampoo might be damaging your hair? These 11 hair experts suggest that this might be the case. Excuse me while I throw mine out. I guess if something seems too good to be true, that’s for a reason.

I wanted to share this beautiful animated short which explores how modern technology has been influenced by the shapes and dimensions found all around us in nature. Technically not from this week but still worth a share, I think.

As Pokémon Go launches around the globe people are leaving their computer desks and taking to the streets in the hunt for Pokémon. Laughing Squid have all you need to know about the App. I personally walked three miles in the search of nearby Pokémon yesterday without even realising the app was making me exercise more, but many are wondering how long it will be until someone gets in trouble for trespassing or gets killed by a car because they’re so engrossed in the App. It has been reported that a teenager using the App to find Pokémon discovered a dead body. Eesh.

China have completed work on the world’s biggest radio telescope which will be used to study pulsars and can help in the search for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilisations, and more. Perhaps we can expect more discoveries such as the one made by astronomers at the University of California-Santa Cruz who have found evidence of water clouds outside of our solar system for the first time.

Finally, a Happy Pride to all of my readers, friends and family who are taking part or watching Bristol Pride this weekend. #LoveIsLove

Apply For A Free Ticket To QEDcon 2016

On a panel about Ghost Hunting

Every year I raise money to fund tickets to QEDcon for those who cannot afford to buy them for one reason or another. This year I raised funds on Indiegogo and as I have reached the target I set I am now opening applications for those tickets. At the time of writing this on July 8th there is still time to donate money to fund more tickets if you are feeling generous.

How to apply for a ticket

Simply fill the form in below and you will be entered into a draw to receive one of the tickets. Scroll down to find out how the allocation takes place. Please note: your information will not be shared with anybody other than when your ticket is being purchased from the QEDcon organisers. If you are drawn in the allocation and do not respond to the initial email within four working days the ticket may be reallocated to another person.

How the tickets are allocated

Essentially, each person who applies for a ticket will be allocated a number in a spreadsheet (1, 2, 3 and so on) and the final figure will then be entered into a random number generator and the numbers will be generated until all tickets have been allocated. So, if 30 people apply then 1-30 will be entered into the generator and if 11 tickets are funded I will draw 11 numbers. If you have any questions please feel free to get in touch via the Contact page – emails are promptly answered.

A Few Of My Favourite Things…

favourite things

If you follow me on Social Media you’ll possibly already know that I recently left a full-time job and took up part-time work ahead of plans to start studying in October. This was a BIG DEAL for me because it means a reduced monthly income and acquiring a scary student debt over the next 2-3 years BUT it is ultimately a good move and I feel really, really positive about everything.

It also means that I have a lot more free time to concentrate on projects that have been neglected lately, such as this blog and The Ghost Geek video channel. As I have more time I’ve decided to launch a new regular feature on my blog called A few of my favourite things. I’m hoping to curate lists of no more than a dozen links to things that have intrigued, inspired or educated me in the previous week.

So, without further ado… here are some of my favourite things from this week:

In the week that San Francisco implemented a ban on polystyrene, as part of an ongoing campaign to reduce waste in the city, and researchers reported that the thinning ozone layer above Antarctica is starting to heal, Slate report that light pollution may be causing early Spring in cities.

Environmental scientists realized that the first signs of spring have been slowly creeping backward in recent years, more so in urban areas, and might come a full month early by 2100.Matt Miller, Slate

Forget everything you know about shapes, head over to Gizmodo and watch this mind-bending illusion in which circles are not circles. If you know how this is done please let me know in the comments section because it’s bugging me!

More fascinating brain stuff from Laughing Squid who explore what happens if you’re never taught anything, and Lifehacker report that if you’re trying to memorise something you should exercise a few hours after learning it. On Psychology Today, Brian Bartholomew reflects on an outbreak of seemingly infectious hiccups in Massachusetts in 2012.

Pop Sci explain how scientists are planting false experiences into people brains (because life isn’t weird enough), and over at New Scientist Jessica Hamzelou reports that researchers have discovered that synaesthesia exists within sign language too.  

It was my 29th birthday on 13th June. I found myself attending a vigil in the city centre of Bath in memory and in solidarity with those killed in the homophobic terrorist attack on a gay club in Orlando, America. Over at Vice, Mark Hay explains how 2016 is only half way through and already mass shooting in America have killed 200 people. What a waste. In other news it has been reported that between 64 – 116 civilians were killed by targeted airstrikes carried out by drones since Barack Obama took office in 2009. Not as large a number as I expected.

Takepart have a fascinating feature exploring what has and hasn’t changed in conservation in the year since Cecil the Lion was killed. They report that ‘legal trophy hunting only kills about 220 to 240 wild lions a year’ and that ten times more die because of poaching.

Prepare for shivers down your spine as you listen to these sounds recorded by NASAs spacecraft Juno as it entered Jupiter’s magnetic field on June 24.

and finally, have your mind blown over at Gizmodo and learn how Entropy explains how life can come from randomness. Beautiful, beautiful, scary randomness.