If you’re a regular listener of BBC Radio 4 you may have caught the last two one-to-one segments with Selina Scott interviewing people about ghosts. Scott believes her kitchen is haunted and has been exploring the topic for the one-to-one slot. She first interviewed Canon Paul Greenwell from Ripon Cathedral who carries out ‘home blessings’ for people who think they have encountered a ghost or spirit. Secondly she interviewed Yasmin Ishaq a spiritual healer who doesn’t believe in ghosts but in Jinn, supernatural creatures from Islamic tradition…
and tomorrow, for the final segment of her three part series, the interview that Scott did with yours truly will be broadcast. Unlike the previous two people I don’t believe in ghosts full stop and point out to Selina that sometimes to get to the bottom of mysteries you have to detach yourself from the personal.
I got the impression that Selina was surprised when she found out that I was a non-believer and I think she perhaps thought I was a ghost-buster in a similar fashion to the two previous guests. I didn’t know that the show was inspired by her belief that her kitchen was haunted and was rather put on the spot when trying to come up for rational explanations.
A post has recently been made over on the Bad Thinking blog that criticises “paranormalists” for generally not “liking science”. Although I have previously written about ‘the anti-science bias of ghost hunters‘ my criticisms were specific. There were several things said in the Bad Thinking piece that I want to address as I feel the accusations being made were actually quite unfair.
The blog post opens with the statement that ‘promoters of the paranormal, the supernatural, quack medicine and every other off-the-wall claim all seem to dislike science’ which is quite a generalisation. I’m not sure who qualifies as a “promoter of the paranormal” – mainly as the post goes on to lump together people who make paranormal claims with those who believe in paranormal ideas.
I agree that people who make paranormal claims with no evidence to support them are acting in a non-scientific manner, but that’s different than just believing in something strange. It’s important to establish that people who believe in the paranormal may believe in claims that have no data or evidence to back them up, but for them there are justifications for what they believe and to believe in ghosts or aliens or fairies does not automatically make you someone who dislikes science. After all, there are people who do scientific research in all sorts of fields who believe in strange ideas. Belief is a complex thing and to label people who believe in paranormal ideas as anti-science is inaccurate and, actually, pretty patronising. To then label “paranormalists” as dogmatic is just insulting.
Is it really that hard to see why skeptics are seen as bad guys when this is the kind of language used to describe people they disagree with?
The post goes on to say ‘on the whole, parapsychology has no theory that can be tested or exploited, and that is why science rejects it’ and I would like to kindly point out that parapsychology is only rejected by those who dismiss it a priori. Sure, parapsychology often seems like a fringe science and it has many cranks who churn out biased research but please feel free to tell people like Professor Richard Wiseman or Professor Chris French who both work with parapsychologists that they should actually be rejecting it. I would be delighted to see the conversation that happens.
In fact, I don’t even need to imagine it because the relationship between psychology, anomalistic psychology and parapsychology has been discussed at several conferences I’ve attended in the last few years.
The post over on the Bad Thinking blog states ‘Science is not dogmatic; science changes in response to new discoveries’ but this isn’t accurate of every individual scientist, yet it would be illogical to state that science is wrong based on the actions of a few. However many non-believers think it’s okay to say the same of research that examines the paranormal simply because they don’t hold a paranormal belief.
Get out of here…
There are legitimate routes of research that involve potentially paranormal or anomalistic phenomena, claims or experiences. At the root of these claims is an answer and why shouldn’t we be exploring what it could be? Especially if that could further our understanding of the human experience. All that matters is that the science is good, open to replication and that personal biases are not able to influence it… as they did the judgemental post that inspired this one.
Sally Morgan regularly dismisses the criticisms and questions from people who doubt her claims to have psychic ability. She ignores the requests to allow her abilities to be tested in controlled conditions, her staff members harass people outside of her shows who are handing out information to the general public, and she tells the media that her critics send her regular death threats in what I can only perceive as an attempt to attach that stigma on any skeptic who dares to openly question her…
…and then she has the gall to tell her followers that doubt is perfectly okay?
Boy, the irony is strong with this one.
I condemn anybody who sends another person death threats because they make claims with no evidence to support them BUT I always felt it was unfair of Morgan to lump all of her critics in with those who act in that manner when the majority of skeptics and non-believers do not act in that manner. It was almost as though she was doing so to rid herself of the need to respond to those criticisms… which is why I’m glad that Sally Morgan is finally seeing it from our perspective.
I’ve researched and investigated paranormal phenomena for a decade or so now and so the terrible treatment that the most vulnerable people who claim to be paranormal eye-witnesses receive comes as no surprise to me anymore. Yet I still feel an anger bubbling when I read atrocious pieces like the one written by The Daily Record. It isn’t enough to point out that ghosts aren’t real, sometimes we have to stand up and say “what’s happening here isn’t right”, and what’s happening here isn’t right.
In it we meet a couple who are apparently plagued by paranormal activity referred to as “a demon” which whips up terrible visions of dread and danger. The Record reports that ‘in a story reminiscent of the film Paranormal Activity, the Fry family say they have been molested by an evil poltergeist for months. Mum Tracey, 46, even says she is beaten up in the night by the phantom – leaving her covered with bruises in the morning. In desperation her husband Keiron, 32, forked out £100 to a specialist to “cleanse” the house and has brought a vicar in to bless their cursed abode.’
It’s all very Hollywood and it makes for an excellent story but only if you stop thinking of the people at the centre of the story as people. Any person who researches the paranormal in a rational manner knows that the majority of cases reported to them will be symptoms of underlying physical and mental health issues or complicated social or domestic problems. As such, every individual that a researcher comes into contact with has to be handled with great care to ensure that they are not exploited and do not come to emotional or physical harm. I’ve written extensively on this blog about the ethics of ghost research before, but to summarise – ghost researchers should not work with children, the recently bereaved and vulnerable adults. Who fits into the brackets as a vulnerable adult can be open to interpretation but it is often better to be safe than sorry in these situations.
I don’t like to focus discussions of ethics upon individuals but in this case I feel that more damage has already been done that I could ever inflict upon the family at the centre of the latest grotesque headlines.
Had this case been presented to me I would not have taken it on because I have huge doubts about the evidence being presented by the family. The photo of the “ghost” (above) is clearly a pile of laundry and when a faked photo is presented in a case like this it suggests that there is a motivation, but what? Perhaps the family are keen to move house (a common phenomena)? Perhaps this is a cry for help? Perhaps this is fame seeking?
I don’t know and it isn’t my place to make these presumptions. Had the family approached me I would have suggested they speak to their GP about the issues occurring when they sleep and, if they were religious, their faith leader for guidance. I would be honest and tell them that I don’t believe in the paranormal but that I wasn’t able to take the case because it wouldn’t be ethical of me to do so, and I would have promised them full confidentiality because these stories, one leaked, will stay with you which is why I would also have advised them to not speak to the media at any cost.
The way in which the media treat people at the centre of these cases is reprehensible. There is a certain level of sensitivity with which paranormal researchers handle cases such as these, and the way the journalists have handled these potentially vulnerable people has the potential to make their situation even worse as all sorts of unethical and questionable people see their case as a chance to further their own ambitions and needs.
We already see that the family have handed money over to a “house cleanser” which is a completely bogus industry that offers, at best, a placebo solution because these hauntings are often a symptom of something much more serious the “ghost” often returns soon after the allegedly successful cleansing because the real causes have not been addressed.
Regardless of the motivation at the centre of this case, no matter what the cause of the alleged haunting and regardless of what the ambitions of those involved, there is one certainty that applies to all cases of this nature – becoming a headline story does not offer resolutions to the haunted.
Today is the day on which the Indiegogo campaign I launched months ago to help fund the production of a video series comes to an end. I originally intended to raise £600 but through the generosity of contributors I managed to raise £800 (or £900 if you include in-real-life donations) which will completely fund:
– The camera I will use to record the videos
– An external microphone
– A PC on which I can conduct research and edit footage
– Some of the props required for the videos
When I set a stretch target of £800 I didn’t think I would reach it but felt that any additional funding over the original target of £600 would help towards purchasing a PC that I could use for the series (as my current laptop isn’t up to the job) and so I cannot express how grateful I am to those who donated and to those who helped to spread the word. Without your support this would not be a reality.
SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
I’m half way through writing the outlines for the video series and as soon as the funds hit my bank account I will be buying the equipment and getting straight into the video production. Those of you who donated to get perks should receive your Ghost Geek badge in the next few weeks (left over badges are for sale at £1.50 + £1 p&p in the blog sidebar for those interested!)
Those who are entitled to a place on the How To Bust Ghosts online workshop will hear from me in the next month about this once I have confirmed who may be presenting it with me. I will also contact those who get to dedicate a video in the next month too, so get your thinking caps on about who you’d like to donate a video to (a loved one, an organisation, the memory of a person, a space robot, your dog…)
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE BLOG?
Video production for the launch of the channel is going to take up a lot of my time and as regular visitors to my blog will already have noticed, the Weakly Ghost Bulletin has been missing for a couple of weeks. I am going to have to put this regular feature on hold as I work towards the launch of The Ghost Geek Video Series but it will be back once my workload returns to normal. Sorry WGB fans!
DID YOU SAY “THE GHOST GEEK VIDEO SERIES”?
Yes. That’s what I’ve decided to name the video series. It just seems rather apt. Subscribe to The Ghost Geek Youtube channel here and get instant updates once the videos are made public (plus my first 500 subscriptions will allow me to get a custom URL so help make that happen, yay!)
A HUGE THANK YOU once again to all of those fabulous people who supported my fundraising efforts. I’m really excited to be working on this and I only hope that the end product is something you’re proud of.
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