In the last few months, I have had a number of conversations with people who have found my previous blog posts about Don Philips. Philips, it seems, along with Steve Mera, has been causing a fair bit of concern states side with their claims and research ethics.
You may have watched my video on Dowsing after it seemed to be claimed that Philips could psychically influence dowsing rods being held by Mera.
Back in 2014, I wrote a blog post called ‘Don Philips plays the science game. Loses.‘ It looked at a newspaper report that claimed scientists had proven Philips was able to capture voices of the dead on tape. The report said that Steve Mera has been able to discount that the recordings are pareidolia. He is quoted as saying
In the article, he was quoted as saying that they had played Don’s recording to three people and they ‘picked out the same name. With pareidolia, they should all hear different words.”
In response to my criticisms of this Steve Mera wrote that he was ‘still going through all the paperwork, and lots more tests to carry out…’ and Don Philips similarly wrote ‘when the current project has ended experiments replicated, and data collated all information will be freely available.’
Yeah… still waiting on that.
Colour me surprised then when Doubtful News covered some more recent research by Mera and Philips under the name of The Scientific Establishment of Parapsychology [SEP] concerning an allegedly haunted house. Sharon Hill reports:
‘SEP report was horrible – full of unreadable graphs, following poor methodology, and bloated with pseudoscientific babble. Kenny [Biddle] had the report run through a software program commonly used to detect plagiarism and discovered that about 38% of the text was verbatim from other, unattributed sources. I wrote to the lead author, Steve Mera, with the plagiarism charge. He said that the report was not final, it was just a draft, and that Linder should not have released it. The report is dramatically stamped “cleared for release” and contains no indication that it is a draft or that the unattributed portions would be fixed or cited.’
It is my opinion that Philips and Mera use the “incomplete research” excuse time and time again to wiggle out of having to be held responsible for their bad science and questionable research ethics.
Hill concludes in the Doubtful News piece that ‘[Fact checking] and skeptical activism works to scale back inaccurate “facts”, unethical and unprofessional actions, and maybe even squash hoaxes or frauds. If we didn’t bust the fakers, we’d probably be overrun by them.’
There isn’t much I can add to that conclusion except to that that Don Philips and Steve Mera are still playing the science game and still losing.
In the past, I have questioned whether I belong to the skeptic movement or skeptic community. To be honest, I’ve never really been sure what they actually are, but after spending four days in Manchester at the 6th QEDcon I am certain that I am part of the skeptic movement and a member of the community, too.
There seemed to be a theme in the discussions on and off stage throughout the weekend: the governments of the world are making decisions that see irrationality thrive, and education and taking an evidence-based approach to life is dismissed as elitist. This answered a question that many talks and discussions touched upon: are we wasting our time with skeptic outreach and activism?
Well, there are many examples of why we are not and they were highlighted throughout the weekend, but a number of talks in particular really hit a nerve for me and I’m going to focus on those in this examination.
Sunday at QEDcon closed with Meirion Jones (pictured) who took us through the timeline of the investigation into the ADE651 – a bomb detector that it was revealed didn’t detect bombs. It was essentially a dowsing device built to look as though it had functions that it simply didn’t have.
Jones had two of these devices with him – one priced at $10,000 and the other at $40,000. We audience members got to each hold one of these as they were passed back through the room and, frankly, the ADE651 that I held wasn’t that much more sophisticated than my £3 dowsing rods.
Holding the device filled me with a sense of horror. Hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of people died as these devices were used to secure checkpoints into and out of conflict zones. Bombs were allowed through as a result and people died so that others could profit from the purchase contracts.
That’s why we bother with skepticism. Not because we personally stop hoax bomb detectors, but because unchallenged nonsense kills people. The idea that asking for evidence is elitist kills people. It is dangerous and deadly and it rips people off. It gives people false hope and it lies.
There were two talks in particular that were rather moving – those delivered by Petra Boynton and Paul Zenon. I think this is because in this past year I’ve left behind a career in arts marketing so that I can study for a degree which will allow me to (hopefully) then train to become a grief counsellor. You see, over a decade of paranormal research has taught me two important lessons (among others):
humans are strange creatures
grief can make you vulnerable to harm
I’ve made the switch to part-time work and living at home for the foreseeable future to make this happen and I’ve had doubts that I’ve done the right thing. Massive doubts.
Then Dr Petra Boynton took to the stage at QEDcon and introduced us to the complexities of the world of advice columns and the role they continue to play. She told us that more people turn to advice columns because of an 18-month wait for counselling on the NHS and because they have nowhere else to go, and what this can mean for those in need.
Paul Zenon spoke to us about psychics and the techniques often employed by stage performers. I know this information already (I’ve even played stooge for a skeptic educational psychic show) but I feel it’s important to remind ourselves that this knowledge is still ignored by the hoards of people who pay upwards of £25 to see touring artists claiming to have paranormal abilities. There was no mistaking the passion with which Paul spoke as he shared his observations from countless performances by such people which brought home the relevance of skeptic outreach in this area.
The opening presentation by Alan Melikdjanian on behalf of Captain Disillusion was spectacular and gave many tips on how to produce good quality outreach media. He also explained how our first impressions of how a video was created can be wrong and that gut instinct isn’t always correct. A little later in the weekend Cara Santa Maria gave an absolutely kick-ass talk on her experiences working as a science communicator through various forms of media and the successes and challenges she has faced doing so.
I came away from QEDcon with all of this (and more) in my head feeling re-energised, motivated, and inspired. On the train home, I filled a notebook with ideas and thoughts and I hope to put these into practice in the future. If you’re particularly interested in activism related to psychic fraud and you have a couple of hours spare over the next few monthsplease get in touch.
Prior to QEDcon 2016, there were some suggesting the event was an exercise in back-patting. Although there is an element of celebration of successes and achievements during the weekend QEDcon is a vital event in the skeptic community. It’s educational, self-reflective, fun, and important. The team from the Greater Manchester and Merseyside Skeptics should be very proud.
I’m thankful to meet with like-minded people from across the globe each year and cannot put into words what it means to have the opportunity to participate in panels with people I’ve long admired such as Prof. Chris French, Joe Nickell, Deborah Hyde, Prof. Caroline Watt, Prof. Richard Wiseman, and Prof. Sue Blackmore to name just a few. I know that I have developed personally as a direct result of attending these yearly conferences and that’s invaluable.
I haven’t even touched upon half of what happened and neither shall I, but I’ll end with a warning:
Skeptics from across the world were in Manchester this weekend organising, communicating, networking and encouraging one another. If you profit from selling snake oil or nonsense to people you can be sure they’re coming for you.
In a couple of weeks, I will be appearing on a panel at QEDcon in Manchester. I will be part of the Team Spirit panel which is chaired by Deborah Hyde and also features Susan Blackmore and Caroline Watt. As explained over on the website, ‘Our panel will entertain and educate with their tales of their investigations, and in the spirit of rationalism we may learn from the practical realities of parapsychology.’ Tickets to QEDcon are almost all gone!
Following this, you can catch me delivering A Skeptic’s Guide to Ghost Hunting for the London Fortean Society on October 27th. I’m currently in the midst of updating my talk so even if you’ve heard me speak before there should be something different. I’ve been told that half the tickets are gone already and it’s going to be a busy night so pre-booking is advised. Ticketing details can be found on the London Fortean Society website here.
A video uploaded to Youtube in 2013 has been gaining some traction on social media in the last few weeks. It’s footage of two ghost hunters allegedly capturing a ghost on video on a battlefield in Gettysburg.
Here is a screen-cap of the moment the ghost appears in case it isn’t clear.
In episode 14 of The Spooktator we asked Kenny Biddle to join us as a guest host and just prior to recording I asked Kenny if we could discuss this video in the show because I was interested on his take on it. You can listen to episode 14 by clicking here.
Kenny has gone one step further than just providing his opinion on this footage – he’s actually deconstructed the whole thing in this really insightful video! Check it out and give Kenny a follow over on the I Am Kenny Biddle blog.
I originally considered this to be something done in After Effects or similar industry-standard software but Kenny shows you don’t need anything that fancy to produce these sorts of effects.
p.s. Kenny mentions Captain Disillusion. You can find hisYoutube channel here AND you can catch Captain Disillusion at QEDcon next month. #exciting
To be in with a chance of winning a signedcopy of A Natural History of Ghosts by Roger Clarke all you have to do is subscribe to this blog by filling in the form below.
Described as ‘insightful and illuminating’, A Natural History of Ghosts is a firm favourite in the Stevens household. In it Clarke traces the scientific and social aspects of ghostly sightings and brings to life classic cases from Hinton Ampner and Borley to the Angels of Mons. But he does more than just tell ghost stories… he explores why and how these stories came to be, and what they mean to us today. This book is a delightful read whether you believe in ghosts or not.
The winner will also receive a Ghost Geek pin badge and something from my ghost collection too (which is a collection of ghost-related merch, toys and items and not actual ghosts.)
The best news is that I won’t bombard you with spam once you’ve signed up. You’ll just get an update when something new is added to the site. It’s a win-win situation!
COMPETITION NOW CLOSED