Week In Summary: Plastic bags, Harry Potter, and LSD

brain on LSD

Not sure how to introduce this story so here goes nothing… ROBOT SPIDERS FIX AN AIRSHIP IN FLIGHT? WHAT IS THE FUTURE IN THIS IS THE PRESENT?

Last year here in the UK we had to start paying 5p to buy a carrier bag in many shops. In the six months that have followed this approx. 640 million plastic bags have been used by major retailers. In the previous year they used 7.64 billion bags. If this doesn’t blow your mind…

As these encouraging figures were shared with us I also learned of the Seabin. New Scientist report ‘Fitted to pontoons, the submerged bins use a pump to suck rubbish from the sea surface (see video). Once full, the bins can be emptied and the plastic waste recycled.’ They’re safe for fish too and collect everything from plastic and paper to fuel and detergent. Amazing. Read and watch more over on the NS website.

Check out this interesting video from Vox which explores research into how psychedelics could help treat addiction, anxiety and depression:

Now, don’t freak out or anything but frozen Anthrax just defrosted and started killing animals and hospitalising people. There’s a relatively new field of scientific research called resurrection ecology which emerged after the  discovery that certain bacteria, plants and animals will sometimes thaw out after long periods of suspended animation. This is what’s happening in Syberia right now and it’s pretty scary. Gizmodo has the details

“As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back,” Russian scientists

Elsewhere, a US study found that when American students were asked about how important interfaith relations were everything seemed peachy on the surface… until you start to dig a bit deeper where you’ll find lots of disdain for atheists, Hindus, Muslims, and LDS/Mormons. Tsk…

A new Harry Potter book comes out at midnight tonight and Mashable have everything you need to know. I am so excited about this. I was a teenager who’d buy the books as soon as they were published and I can remember weeping my way through the last one so clearly.

Since then my literary tastes have taken on a much stronger sci-fi theme (I have a Hitchhikers Guide tattoo so maybe that’s already obvious?) and New Scientist has a cool list on six sci-fi novels we should all be reading. I would also like to recommend the Paradox Series by Rachel Bach and A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock.  

Lastly – Philae has gone to sleep, possibly for good. This makes me have sad feels. Goodnight, Philae and thanks.

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Atheist Nomads

listen

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?

 

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.

Mystery Hand Haunts Belfast Mill Workers

the mysterious hand close up

HuffPo have reported that during the creation of a historic gallery by Belfast Live it was noticed that a photo taken in 1900 of some Belfast mill workers shows a disembodied hand resting on the shoulder of one of the women.

photo of mill workers
The Mysterious Hand

Sure enough, if you look at the woman seated on the right of the first row of four she has a hand resting upon her shoulder that appears to have no owner. So, is this a ghostly manifestation? Thing from The Addams Family dropping in to say hi? Or does she literally have a disembodied hand sitting there?

the mysterious hand close up
Close up of the hand

As a paranormal researcher of some experience I can tell you that when it comes to photographs nothing is ever what it seems. Many people believe that photo manipulation was born when the modern computer was created but it pre-dates Photoshop by a long, long time. In fact, as soon as the science of photography was perfected for general use people began to manipulate the photographs they were taking.

Usually this was to correct over-exposures and similar issues by fitting two photographic plates together to create one image, other times this would be for comedic or artistic effect. Photograph manipulation was particularly popular among advertising agencies and also, more controversially, for political propaganda – the most noted case of this being Stalin having opponents erased from or added into photos.

stalin photos
Naughty, naughty Stalin…

People also faked ghostly apparitions in their photographs by creating purposeful double exposures which would result in ghostly figures appearing in the photograph alongside the medium or the customer (who was often hoping to contact a deceased loved one.) American spirit photographer William Mumler is by far the most famous employer of this method of trickery, having been caught out and tried in court for fraud.

Mumler photos
Examples of the work of William Mumler

The mysterious hand in the photo of the Belfast mill workers is most likely the result of photo manipulation. I suspect there were other people in the photo who were edited out, with the hand accidentally being left in place – or proving too difficult to erase cleanly. Today we would call this sort of mistake a “photoshop fail” and there are whole web galleries devoted to left behind limbs. Here are some examples:

catalogue photo error
How many hands does this man have?
miley cyrus photo error
Miley Cyrus appears to have a third hand

 

basketball player photo
Extra hands would be useful in basketball, I guess…