Take Action: Don’t Criminalise Sex-Selective Abortion

trojan horse graphic

I don’t know whether or not I would have an abortion and I don’t know if I would have an abortion based upon predicted gender. I’ve never been in that position and I’ve never had to make that choice. Perhaps I wouldn’t care either way what gender my child was? Either way, I’m not egotistical enough to think that other people should live their lives just as I live mine and that’s why I’m pro-choice.

Fiona Bruce MP & chairwoman All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group has proposed an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill which aims to make abortion on the grounds of gender a specific criminal offence, a move that has been dubbed a ‘trojan horse attack’ by Abortion Rights who have today called upon their supporters to urge their MPs to vote against the amendment.

‘It might appear to be pro-women but its purpose is to reduce reproductive rights. This amendment is nothing more than an anti-abortion campaign tactic. Designed to impinge upon a much-fought-for choice.’ Abortion Rights

trojan horse graphic

An open letter from a group of medical professionals and academics was recently published in the Telegraph outlining the significant legal concerns of this move. Concerns included that it is likely to undermine professional integrity, lead to ethnic profiling and alter the UK’s legal definition of pregnancy.

The letter also rightly points out that MPs should seriously consider if they want to take that step, particularly when there already exists legislation that already makes it illegal to coerce a woman into having an abortion. This is, after all, the issue that seems to be at the centre of Bruce’s campaign to push for the amendment, that she is acting in the best interest of women being preyed upon by the bad abortion people. It’s awfully deceptive.

To add your voice to the fight to stop this amendment visit the Abortion Rights website today. You just need to enter your postcode, a few details and you can then send a pre-written letter to your MP asking them to vote against the pro-life amendment. Alternatively find your MP and their contact details by looking on They Work For You and write to them about your concerns. The vote for the Report Stage of this bill and amendment is Monday 9 February 2015.

 

GhostArk: Same Old Pseudo-Science In A Different Box?

GhostArk

The GhostArk claims to be the world’s first ‘all in one’ piece of ghost hunting equipment. It’s a proud boast but it amounts to very little because all of the functions that it offers the user are mostly pseudo-scientific and don’t do very much at all. It’s the same old ghost hunting nonsense dressed up in a new box. As Engadget state ‘ghost detection is based on junk science’ and it’s not even clear if the product will make it to market at all. The website for the soon-to-be-released device lists the functions and gives a brief description of each.

The GhostArk offers:

Ghostbox Trial Frequency Sweet AM/FM/SW, Real-time Recording, Adjustable Speeds

What is it? A Ghostbox is a device that basically sweeps radio frequencies and skips through them in quick succession. This means that you hear a jumble of sound as the device picks up on transmissions on these frequencies and it is claimed by some that the spirits of the deceased can use this to communicate with people.

What’s really happening? You hear a mixture of sounds from radio transmissions and your brain- which is expecting to hear meaningful messages from spirits -finds meaning in the random noises. Is it so surprising that you’ll hear words while switching through radio transmissions? No, it is not. Us humans are susceptible to seeing meaning in randomness and these illusions are the result of a psychological phenomena known as Pareidolia. 

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse.

EVP Recorder2 high Sensitivity Microphones, Live listening and Visual Waveform monitoring

What is it? EVP is short for Electronic Voice Phenomena. EVP are audio recordings produced by ghost hunters who use audio recording devices to capture the voices of the spirits of the deceased. Typically a ghost hunter will press record on a device and then start asking questions. They’ll leave some time between questions in the hope that any spirits present will speak back to them. For some reason it is believed that although humans cannot hear these responses the recording device can.

What’s really happening? There is no evidence that EVP recordings are the voices of the dead. This is a conclusion that is speculative and ignores a whole host of alternative causes, many of which I list here on my site. These recordings rely largely on the pareidolia effect to provide meaning to them.

EVP + SoundEVP recorder with white-noise frequency or custom audio-loop added in real-time

What is it? It’s the same as EVP recording just with ambient sound playing at the time of recording. Many believe that- as with the Ghostbox -spirits need some sort of sound to manipulate to help them record messages or answers. This is speculatory in nature and there is no supportive evidence.

What’s really happening? To be honest? Nothing much.

EMF MeterElectroMagnetic field measurement with Multi-Colored Led Lights and value on display

What is it? Ghost hunters often believe that fluctuations in the Electro Magnetic field can be indicative of the presence or manifestation of a ghost. They use EMF meters to monitor the EMF in a location and to detect any fluctuations which they then might attribute to a ghost. It is also thought that high levels of EM fields can cause some people to feel strange sensations but it is far more complex than that.

What’s really happening? EMF meters do what it is claimed however EM fields fluctuate all of the time and it has nothing to do with the paranormal. To get a really good idea of the normal “behaviour” of EM fields in a location you would need to study it constantly for months and months before being able to decide what is and isn’t normal. Even then it would be illogical to claim that any peak in the EM field was caused by ghosts. To make these claims in one night as many ghost hunters do is ludicrous and ignorant.

Temperature – Ambient temperature reading, +/- 5 degree Hot & Cold spot detection with LED indicators

What is it? Many ghost hunters believe that ghosts manipulate the temperature in a location when they are trying to manifest or communicate. They will take a base reading of a room and then compare subsequent readings to this base temperature. Any drop in temperature might be linked with a ghost.

What’s really happening? The temperature might drop or rise because that’s what temperatures do.

Nightvision High-brightness display, Neon Blue Light retroillumination for safe vision in the dark

This basically means that the device has a back light. If you needed further proof that this device is trying to pass itself off as a highly scientific device then surely this is it? Describing the fact that the display is lit up as ‘Neon Blue Light retroillumination for safe vision in the dark’? Oh, please…

The only useful function that this device will bring to the table is that it produces reports of all of the above recording functions. That could be useful for monitoring the temperature and EM fields of a location but not for much else – and you can already purchase data loggers that do this with a smaller price tag without the added EVP and Ghostbox nonsense. The rest is just a pretentious repackaging of things that are already on offer elsewhere. This doesn’t revolutionise ghost hunters, it patronises them.

The saddest thing is that ghost hunters will buy this device and will use it to prove that locations are haunted and they will buy the next ghost hunting gimmick that comes along and use it to prove that locations are haunted, and the next one, and the next…

Weakly Ghost Bulletin #4

WEAKLY GHOST BULLETIN HEADER

It’s time for the last Weakly Ghost Bulletin (WGB) of January 2015 and, all in all, January has been a pretty average month when it comes to silly ghost stories making the press. Last week’s WGB was a bit weirder than average because Lee Brickley went on one of his attention seeking sprees and claimed that a Slenderman-like spirit or spirits were haunting people. I covered that in WGB #3, as well as in an open letter Brickley himself. It wasn’t long before people went to the media with what they claimed was evidence of Slenderman… but before I get too caught up in the subject let’s get on with…

THE WEAKLY GHOST BULLETIN

IS THIS SLENDERMAN CAUGHT ON CAMERA FOR THE FIRST TIME? | The Mirror

No.

Not only did the Mirror get it wrong by claiming that it could be, they also used the wrong photo sent into them by self-proclaimed spirit Medium, Christine Hamlett. Hamlett seems to attract all manner of weird things because when Brickley caused a similar stir in the press last October by claiming that Black Eyed Kids were on the prowl in Cannock Chase, Hamlett caught one of those on camera too, and initially it was that photo The Mirror ran by accident instead of Hamlett’s alleged photo of Slenderman. Spot the difference:

not slenderman
Alleged photo of Black Eyed Child ghost…
Alleged photo of Slenderman
Alleged photo of Slenderman

I wrote about this when it first hit the headlines and you can read my thoughts here… but suffice to say, this is hardly impressive, is it? NEXT!

GHOST PICTURED IN PUB AS 8FT TALL WOMAN PHOTOBOMBS FAMILY SNAP | The Mirror

Various media outlets have reported that ‘teacher Debbie Monteforte took the photo of her husband Alex and their son Raphael at Christmas.’ and they quote a family friend who says:

“Debbie took the pic and thought nothing of it. But when they looked at it on a computer it was plain to see the haunted face of a woman wearing a long dark coat behind them. “The family insists there was no one standing behind them and there was no place to hang a coat. Even if there was someone standing there, they would have to be 8ft tall to appear like that. It’s beyond spooky.”

Firstly, we cannot go on the word of the people in the photo that there was nobody standing behind them because the photo was taken over a month ago, they were not observing their surroundings with this odd photo in mind and our memories are really good at telling us what we want to hear. Secondly, there is no way that the woman in the photo is 8ft tall. The man and child at the forefront of the photo are sitting down which throws a sort-of false perspective on the height of the figure standing to the right of the photo in the background. If the woman was standing directly behind the man and child then she would look shorter.

Not only that but after a quick Google Image search for the pub in question I found a photo of a group of friends sitting in the same area of the pub taken from a different angle and it reveals a number of things:

Kings Arms Ghost Comparison

The position of the framed photos behind the man and child in relation to the position of the fireplace makes it easy to see that the woman behind them would have been approximately as tall as the top of the middle photo frame at most (shorter if she wasn’t standing directly against the wall, which she wasn’t, as we can see a candlestick behind her.) BUSTED!

RUDE GHOST PUSHES WOMAN OVER | Metro

CCTV footage shows a woman taken a sudden and hard tumble in a reception area and the woman in question, Cecilia Carrasco, claims that she felt hands on her body, forcing her to the floor.

There is nothing conclusive about this whatsoever because you cannot see her feet. To me it looks as though she may have stumbled, perhaps she fainted, or maybe she went over on her ankle? All of these suggestions make more sense that the idea that a ghost specifically chose to push her over for no apparent reason. It’s quite cringeworthy that this has gained so much attention.

I’m a Real Life Female Ghost Buster & I Say “BRING IT ON!”

thumb ghostbusters

Throughout the history of paranormal research women have often been the leading figures despite being under-represented at every step of the way. Eleanor Sidgwick was a leading figure in the Society for Psychical Research – easily the most established organisation dedicated to paranormal research in the country, if not the globe. Sidgwick was the president of the Society from 1908 to 1909. She had a huge hand in the work that went into the Census of Hallucinations, described by the SPR as ‘a survey on a very considerable scale which set out to establish the probability of reports of crisis apparitions being due to chance coincidence; the report on this work, prepared largely by Eleanor Sidgwick, ruled out this possibility.’

Whether you agree with the researchor not isn’t the point here. The point is that the contribution of women is not ignorable. Other female SPR presidents have included Edith Balfour Lyttelton and Deborah Delonoy who, by the way, was also the president of the Parapsychological Association.

Today Susan Blackmore is easily one of the most recognisable people to have been involved in parapsychology, having gained her degree in the subject from Surrey in 1980, and you’ll be hard pressed to talk about parapsychology without Doctor Caroline Watt coming up in conversation. Watt currently heads up the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at Edinburgh University.

Women, you see, are pretty fucking visible throughout paranormal research and I haven’t even properly scratched the surface. Ann Winsper, Jenny Randles, Mary Rose Barrington… there are many women who haven’t been mentioned but if you look for them you will find ’em. We need more women to get involved in the field though, and we need to make those are involved in the field more visible because they often go without the credit they deserve – Becky Smith is just one example. Smith conducted a sort-of 21st Century version of the Census of Hauntings and has a Ph.D on ghosts and yet gets hardly any attention. I hope this will change because at paranormal research-related conferences male speakers routinely dominate and they don’t always deserve to (I’m looking at you, Malcolm Robinson.)

I’m not an academic and probably never will be. I am a ghost geek though and although I don’t believe in ghosts I actively investigate and research alleged paranormal activity using rational inquiry and scientific scepticism. I literally bust ghosts in my spare time, looking for rational causes for weird things people experience and detecting hoaxes. I’m not the best and I’ve still got loads to learn but I do my bit.

I am a ghost buster. A female ghostbuster.

My love for ghosts and all things weird comes from my personal experiences as well as being a lifelong fan of The X-Files, Scooby Doo, Jonathan Creek and Ghostbusters. Dana Scully and Velma Dinkley are heroes of rational inquiry – asking questions where others may not have thought to, showing that women (even fictional) are as vital in their field as their male colleagues. Alongside Jonathan Creek, Maddie Magellan and later Carla Borrego or Joey Ross showed that although it was Creek who was a bit of a genius when it came to solving mysteries women were just as able to get stuck in and contribute just as much to the investigations. Joey Ross was an respected investigator in her own right.

Ghostbusters was always the odd one out because there were no girls other than the receptionist and the victim.

Scully gif

At school we would play Ghostbusters in the playground and I would be the receptionist, Janine. I would stand in the playground and shout “Ghostbusters! We got one!” and the boys would come to the rescue.

That’s why I think it is so bizarre that a number of people are angry at the recent news that a Ghostbusters film with an all-female cast has been announced. I’ve seen a small number of people say “I grew up with male ghostbusters and I find it difficult to accept an all female cast” Yeah? I grew up with an all-male Ghostbusters too and I don’t find it difficult to accept an all-female cast so I wonder what the difference must be? I loved the boys just as much as you did, but an all-female cast does not detract from what has come before and it really isn’t as bizarre a concept as some might think because, as I’ve shown, women have contributed just as much to the academic study of paranormal phenomena as men.

I speak at paranormal conferences now and then – and I turn down more than I speak at due to scheduling issues but I am routinely the only woman on the speakers list, or one of two or three who are outnumbered by men. Do men fear that they’re going to lose something if the fictional representation of their field suddenly skews the gender ratio to be in favour of the under-represented gender for once?

Does a character that has typically been male lose so much when recast as a woman? No, they don’t, so get over it. Judge the film on its merits and don’t judge it based on the gender of the characters otherwise you’re just proving what an awful person you really are.

The field of paranormal research as it stands today has been shaped by men and women and women – fictional and real – will continue to have an input because busting makes us feel good.

Thank you to C J Romer for help.

A British Slenderman? I Don’t Think So… (updated)

not slenderman
Update: The Mirror who were first to report on Christine Hamlet’s photo of Slenderman used the wrong photograph. The photo used (that I then used here) was not the photo she claimed showed Slenderman, but was in fact a photo that she thought showed a Black Eyed Kid also said to haunt Cannock’s Chase. That photo can be seen here.
Mark Bellis commented that the photo ‘looks like a scan of a print that someone has drawn something on, possibly with the same marker as the circle. Photos and negatives have a Dmax – maximum density or darkness – as you can see, the ‘slenderman’ is darker than any other area in the photo, even deep shadows – that’s not possible for any real object that had been in the original frame of the photo’
 
slenderman
This is a photo of Slenderman in Britain, or so we’re told. As predicted last year by yours truly, Lee Brickley has claimed that a Slenderman or a Slenderman-like creature is bothering residents in the Cannock’s Chase area. You couldn’t make this up. The media attention that Brickley has gained with his speculative claims led self proclaimed medium Christine Hamlet to believe that she caught photographic evidence of the Slenderman in a photograph taken in the area last year.

Christine told the Mirror “It kind of looks like the top half of Slender Man like his shoulders and head, with the bottom half covered by bushes. (a/n: if you squint, maybe), “I couldn’t believe it, it could well be him. It would make sense after all these other sightings.”

Well that’s me convinced- No wait, I’m lying. I am totally lying. I’m not convinced. There is absolutely no context to this photo that could help us even start to understand what we’re looking at. To claim it is proof that an internet meme is now haunting people in Britain is a whole other level of ridiculous though, but more on that later.

Earlier today I wrote an open letter to Lee Brickley in which I asked him to undertake a proper investigation before running to the press with sensational claims. In response I got called “obsessed”, “jealous” and “insignificant”.

‘I didn’t take the time to read past the first paragraph of your letter because your opinions matter little to me. I do, however, find it fascinating that you are so obsessed with everything I do. With the greatest respect; you continue what you’re doing, and I’ll do the same. I do not need advice from someone like you, and no matter how many times you try to offer it, I will continue to ignore your efforts.

I will research in the manner I see fit, and if the media choose to pick up on my work, so be it.

Enjoy the bitterness and jealousy you feel towards me, I do.’ – Lee Brickley in response to my open letter

He likely thinks this way because last year he pulled a similar stunt and went to the papers with sensationalist claims about Black Eyed Kids being seen in the Cannock’s Chase area when, in reality, there was just one eyewitness. That didn’t stop his claims from making several front page features though (yes, it’s that same guy) and as I was the first person to call him out on his ridiculous claims and lack of evidence I was unwillingly cast as the bad guy. She who is obsessed.

People have reported tall, dark, often malevolent creatures through the centuries in all sorts of contexts- from fairies and demons to boogeymen and ghosts -that, if  squinted at, could be likened to Slenderman. It wouldn’t be farfetched to imagine that these historic legends and stories played a small part in the inspiration of Slenderman who was created as an Internet Meme. Even so, a likeness in source material doesn’t lend an authenticity to the claims that Slenderman is in Britain. Such an idea surely comes from the mind of someone who is unable to distinguish real life from horror fiction?

Leaps of logic of this nature are cheap and they serve no real purpose. If people are seeing strange, tall, shadowy figures in their homes then they aren’t the first people to see such things and they are not seeing the Slenderman. There are numerous reasons that the eyewitnesses could be experiencing these things, this could be a social phenomenon, it could be a psychological phenomenon… or it could be entirely made up. We won’t know for sure though because although the Cannock’s Chase area has more than its fair share of ghosts, monsters, aliens and other paranormal oddities the one thing it seems to lack is a decent paranormal researcher.