So, You’ve Been Called A Racist…

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Yesterday after news that more people in the United Kingdom voted to Leave the European Union than had voted to Remain, I found myself in the bizarre position of trying to explain to a small group of people that just because they were Leave voters and they were not racist didn’t mean that racism wasn’t an issue.

It was almost like a scene from a film in which the director is trying to make a point about white privilege. “It’s about something more than immigration” one white woman moaned, “and I’m not racist. How dare they say I’m racist?”

I wanted to tell her that it was incredible that she was making this about her when friends of mine (plural) have taken to social media to share incidents of racial abuse they have been subjected to just in the few hours since the EU Referendum result was announced. Social media has been awash with people hurling racial abuse at strangers and it is worrying that this result, and the concerning language used by Nigel Farage and others on the Far Right in this country have normalised this sort of discriminatory behaviour.

In an interview with Alternet, Noam Chomsky attributed the popularity of Donald Trump to the creation of fear, commenting that “People feel isolated, helpless, victim of powerful forces that they do not understand and cannot influence.”

It is predominantly people in the working classes of Britain who have felt the results of the changing economy – especially the harsh welfare cuts and funding cuts to services brought into place by the Conservative government. For some though the blame doesn’t lay directly with these right-wing politicians but, instead, with people coming to take what is ours.

The Telegraph reported that one of the predictors of whether an area of England voted Leave was how few immigrants actually live there, proving surely that this is about isolated people lashing out at abstract fears about the person coming to get them and what they have?

When I look at Nigel Farage and his ilk I see a less-blunt version of Donald Trump who blames all of the ills on this country on foreigners and invisible powers such as the so-called “unelected EU”. They’re coming to take your job, they’re coming to kill you, they bring disease and crime… and although all of these distasteful accusations are untrue it’s easy to see why people who believe them might have cause to be afraid and might look for a leader to rally behind.

The language of hatred and fear can have dangerous outcomes and I am fearful of what may come in the next few years. I find it terrifying that Britain First (whom I consider a hate group) have been conducting military training for its members and speak of war and violence as a means to achieve their aims. They’ve been associated with the assassination of Jo Cox (which they’ve denied) and have also threatened the mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, cabinet member Sajid Javid and others with “direct action” because they’re Muslim.

I worry about the divisive language used by mainstream politicians (David Cameron calling refugees a swarm, for example) that gives this extremism a green light.

Discriminatory abuse and violence is going to get worse and I no longer recognise the country I grew up in because of it. There has always been racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism… but I’ve never felt as though they had true power over us.

That has changed. It has been legitimised by men is suits such as Nigel Farage and we’re all going to suffer for it. He plays the politics of hatred and it is him- not immigrants -that is making Great Britain a worse place.

Who Do Gettysburg Ghost Gals Think They’re Kidding?

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“Every team back in the 90s was male-dominated. You didn’t find any teams that were female-run” claims Brigid Goode, a member of the Gettysburg Ghost Gals in an interview with Irish Central.

In the article it is claimed she has ‘been doing paranormal investigations for decades and founded the Gettysburg Ghost Gals in 2012.’ In an MTV article Goode also claimed that “during investigations we get better results than the men do.”

Hmm.

Ugly gender stereotyping aside, we always knew there’d be people who’d ride of the coattails of the new Ghostbusters movie this year and it appears that the Gettysberg Ghost Gals (GGG) are those people. Members of this US based team have cropped up on various media outlets basking in the limelight of the movie by claiming to be the first all-female ghost-hunting team in the US. This, is seems, somehow makes them relatable to the new Ghostbusters who also happen to be women.

The Ghostbusters were a team of (mostly) parapsychologists who had their funding withdrawn by their university and struck it out on their own but the Ghostbusters are nothing like real-life Parapsychologists. I’d even go as far as to say that they’re bad and unethical researchers. Look no further that the Zener card experiment near the beginning of the film for evidence of this!

In her book  ‘Parapsychology: a beginners guide‘, Dr Caroline Watt writes that ‘Parapsychologists do not run around in boiler suits, hunting down marauding ghosts with proton packs. Instead, like other scientists, parapsychologists often carry out well-controlled studies and publish their findings in both mainstream and specialist academic journals.’

Running around chasing ghosts with weird equipment? Sounds familiar!

Further into the MTV article mentioned above Goode tells aspiring ghost hunters to ‘“Know your equipment, and know what you’re talking about. If they use modern equipment, pieces of ghost hunting equipment that we actually use, it would add legitimacy.’

This is not true because there is no equipment that has been proven to detect ghosts. Nobody has ever established the qualities of ghosts so how on earth would you go about detecting them?

A browse of the GGG website reveals nothing much about the methodologies they use, but there is a page dedicated to the paranormal equipment companies that sponsor them, and their event management company, and all of their public appearances… it’s all rather unimpressive.

I was prompted to write this post after noticing that someone called Chris Goode (who I presume is related to Brigid) recently tweeted that the Gettysburg team should have been included in a list of influential American ghost hunters produced by Planet Weird.

Awkward…

It seems to me that this attention-seeking ghost hunting team aren’t very good at researching ghosts which leaves them only one claim to fame – that they’re Americas first all-female ghost hunting team. There’s no way of establishing this as an accurate claim (and I’m pretty sure it could be disputed) but who really cares?

There are so many women who made waves and shaped paranormal research (and many who continue to do so today) despite their gender so if your only claim to fame is your gender then you’re not really that special.

On Sally Morgan Warning Her Fans About Scammers

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British psychic Sally Morgan recently caused a bit of a stir online when she posted a video to her official Facebook page warning fans about people on social media pretending to be her and trying to make money from her fans by scamming them.

Many people on my social media timelines have mocked this because they believe that Sally Morgan is also scamming money from her fans in one way or another, but that’s a debate for another day. In fact, I’ve blogged about Sally Morgan and her claims previously on this blog here if you’re curious.

What many people are missing here is that Sally Morgan is doing the right thing by warning her fans because by doing so she is helping them to know who they are handing their money over to and what services they are purchasing and this is good news. Why? Because it means that they have a huge range of consumer protection legislation and consumer protection services behind them to help them if they decide they’ve been tricked out of their money by Sally Morgan.

Being clear about who you are paying, what you are paying for and why makes you a clever consumer who has options if you’re not happy with what you’ve paid for.

If someone is tricked into handing their bank details over to someone who is pretending to be Sally Morgan it’s quite unlikely that they’re going to be able to trace that person very easily. A police investigation might be successful in returning their money to them eventually but it might not. It’s also a highly traumatic experience.

This is why I think we should applaud psychics (and other odd claim makers) when they warn their customers to be careful consumers and to think twice about who they’re handing their money over to. The alternative is that Sally Morgan knows that people are pretending to be her and scamming money from people and she does nothing about it and nothing to highlight it and that’s just not cool. There would quite rightly be an uproar.

Look – people claiming to be psychics are not going away regardless of how many petitions you launch or how many banners you hold up outside of their shows. People will always believe in psychics and psychics will always be around.

The best thing that people who doubt psychics can do is to ensure that those who believe in psychics know how to spot trickery when it happens and what to do when they spot it because people who believe in psychics do not deserve to be conned out of their money.

There are whole swathes of people within the skeptic community whom I refer to as “anti-psychics”. These are not the people out there raising awareness of how to spot psychic trickery (and sometimes being abused for doing so), but instead those who want to see psychics punished and shamed for what they claim. Or even harmed – the aggression I have seen aimed at people who claim to be psychic has been alarming at times.

These “anti-psychics” think that people who believe in psychics must be thick and that because they’re thick they deserve to have their money stolen through dishonest practices. ‘You reap what you sow’ they’ll say. ‘Should have listened to us’ they’ll warn, but ultimately they do nothing to solve the issues that those who want to visit psychics face.

People believe in psychics for a whole range of reasons, many of which are complex and personal and it’s their choice what they spend their money on. If we want to help we can help raise awareness of how to be a smart consumer and how to spot psychic fraud if you see it. On this occasion Sally Morgan helped us achieve that aim because people pretending to be famous psychics are psychic con artists themselves. Nice one, Sally. 👍

Bigfoot Skepticism: This Is Not A Defense

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John Horgan has offered up a written version of a talk he delivered at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) over at Scientific American. The post is titled Dear ‘Skeptics,’ Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More” and in it he makes various arguments about things that skeptics should be spending their time focussing on instead of “soft targets”.

Daniel Loxton and Steven Novella have both written great responses to Horgan that are worth reading. (PZ Myers, on the other hand, hasn’t.)

I’ve defended the role of skeptics in paranormal research fields time and time again on this blog and I refuse to do so today. Sometimes people seem so focussed on trying to justify skepticism with the levels of harm that a chosen topic can cause but here’s a fact – you don’t need to justify skepticism.

Bad ideas deserve to be challenged with good ideas, bad information with good information, bad knowledge with good knowledge. There’s your justification right there.

Skepticism is a way in which you process information and claims that you encounter and I cannot think of a single person I know in this vast community of self-identified skeptics who doesn’t have the ability to rationally approach a whole range of claims – from health to astronomy, politics to religion and beyond. Some of us are even selfish and focus on subjects that apply to our personal lives, like cults, LGBT rights, superstitions about witchcraft, exorcisms, sexism, bogus medical treatments that we’ve encountered, and more…

I happen to be knowledgeable about the paranormal but my skepticism is something I use in all aspects of my life. If your skepticism is self-limiting to the point that you can only focus on one subject at a time then that’s your problem.

I view Horgan’s comments as extremely dismissive of the work that many skeptics have achieved in a whole range of areas of society. From bringing to the public eye the dodgy behaviour of rich psychics, to having a hand in defunding homeopathy on the National Health Service in the UK (where funding is currently in a bit of a crisis situation), to protecting cancer patients from harmful treatments that might not help them… if these are considered soft targets then I have no choice but to politely disagree.

Ultimately though, us skeptics thought to be hitting only the soft targets are often actually doing way more than those who sit around and tell us we’re doing it wrong. And do you know who doesn’t reflect inwardly about whether they’re focussing their efforts in the right way? Peddlers of misinformation, that’s who.  By the way, the latest claim is that Bigfoot is a ghost.

 

On thinking outside of the box: Beware the “real or app?” trap

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In June 2012 a ghost photo taken by a Cheltenham resident in their home started to go viral. It contained the ghost of a baby that had died in the house years before and the owner of the phone it was taken on was sure it was paranormal evidence. It wasn’t. It had been created on a smartphone app designed to create fake ghost photos by inserting ghostly characters into existing photographs.

The phone owner in question hadn’t known this and the fake photo had been created by someone else to prank them and they hadn’t realised the truth before going to the media. I wrote about this particular case when I became involved in it.

Smartphone apps have made it easier than ever before to fake ghost photos (not that is has ever been particularly difficult) that look realistic to an untrained eye – but know what you’re looking for and it’s easy to spot a smartphone app for what it is. There are a whole range of ghosts and oddities that can be added to a photo by an ever-growing range of ghost photo apps. Visit any paranormal blog and you’ll probably find people talking about these apps and attributing photos to them.

Today I saw someone ask their Twitter followers if a photo was ‘real or an app?‘ as though these are the only two possible explanations. The photo in question looked as though it could actually be someone walking into a photograph being taken on a slow exposure setting which can often turn people translucent.

People must be careful to not just dismiss photographs as ghost app creations a priori, but worryingly I’ve seen an increasing number of people doing exactly this. For example, a recent news story from the UK featured some sort of face being photographed in the window of an old hospital and people started speculating on social media that it was just created using an app – but the truth was that it was a Halloween mask placed in the window to spook people passing by. 

One must rule out all possible explanations until it isn’t possible to continue to do so. To just speculate about what could have caused a photo without any evidence on which to base your suggestion is find so long as you don’t pretend that you’re doing something altogether different.

This isn’t me saying that people shouldn’t question things or voice their thoughts and opinions about ghost photos and other forms of evidence – I often do just that on this blog and on The Spooktator podcast but these are different forms of analysis than actual investigation.

I conduct many on-site investigations too where possible, and these have always provided better results than sitting at my computer pondering and googling. There are forms of investigation where site visits are not required – footage replications for example, and audio analysis. But all too often people claiming to be skeptical investigators fall short of the actual investigating. They continually reach conclusions without stepping away from their computers, speaking to the people involved, or moving past the suspicion that every piece of evidence of ghosts is the result of ill intent on the part of the person who has shared it, and this approach bores me beyond comprehension.