Let’s Get People To QEDcon. Again.

qedcon.org

Another QEDcon approaches and tickets have gone on sale so I guess it’s that time again. Let’s rally together and buy conference tickets for those who can’t afford them! We’ve done it for *counts on fingers* lots of times now. Yeah…lots of times! (I have genuinely forgotten how many times I’ve done this. I think it is three?)

I know it seems cheeky to ask for donations just as tickets go on sale, but don’t feel pressured to give if you cannot afford to.

“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, HAYLEY?”

Since 2011 I have begged people to give me their money so that I can get people on a low income to the fantabulous QEDcon which is held annually in Manchester.

WHY?

Why not? The folks who create and organise QEDcon work hard to keep their ticket prices below £100 which is incredible. That’s for the two days of interesting talks AND the comedy and entertainment on the Saturday evening. Yet, even though they keep the price as low as possible some people cannot afford the ticket AND accommodation AND food… so I think it’s a really nice way to help people attend.

In a nutshell? I don’t think your income should stop you from accessing educational talks, socialising with people who are a lot like you, and meeting your heroes. In fact, the first time I did a ‘Get People To QEDcon’ fundraiser it was so that my friend Bob could meet his hero who was flying from the USA to speak in Manchester. Not being able to afford a ticket should not be a barrier to stop that from happening.

DOES THIS ACTUALLY WORK?

Hell yes it works. Through the generosity of other people I ended up buying fifteen people tickets to QEDcon 2014 and just shy of that the year before.

OKAY, SO HOW CAN I HELP?

Donate some cash! Every bit will help. Click the button below to go to my Paypal account and make a donation. I will close donations on October 20th and then open applications for the tickets to those who want to go to QEDcon but cannot afford it.




HOW CAN I APPLY FOR A TICKET?

Click here to find out more.

Should You Try Ghost Hunting Methods Before You Dismiss Them?

you stop that

It is explained to me time and time again that I don’t think something is true simply because I haven’t tried it or because I lack experience in that certain subject. If I just tried these things, people explain, then I’d have a completely different opinion about it. Whether the it in question is Electronic Voice Phenomena, Psychic abilities, the latest ghost hunting gadget or any such thing that I have written sceptically about at some point, people are quick to point out in the comments ‘Hey, why don’t you just, like, try it!’

The truth is that I’ve been actively involved in ghost research since 2005 and was a keen observer of ghost research long before that. I have done the vigils in the dark, I have sat in seances, tried glass divination, table tipping, dowsing, scrying, automatic writing and more. I have attempted to record Electronic Voice Phenomena, tried my hand at Instrumental Trans-Communication, set up Trigger Object experiments, called out, attempted ghost photography and all manner of other methods of capturing evidence of ghosts… and at one time in my life I believed that all of those things could be true.

Then I stopped believing. I realised that those methods did not make sense and that the conclusions reached using those methods were flawed and, more often than not, giant leaps of logic.

Despite all of the experiences I’ve outlined above- the very experiences that people in the comment section of my blog insist will change my mind -I still do not believe that those things provide evidence of ghosts or the survival of the soul. I do not believe that they are good research methods because the evidence does not support that claim.

Here’s the real kicker though… even if I hadn’t tried all of those things it would still be okay for me to not accept that those methods prove ghosts are real because the evidence that supports such claims relies on flawed reasoning, leaps of logic and misrepresentation of actual science and research. You don’t have to try ghost hunting first hand to examine the claims and find them wanting, and to suggest that your personal experience is somehow more reliable than the reasoned processing of such claims against known facts is kind of arrogant.

Having research experience is all well and good but it doesn’t make you an expert and it doesn’t put you and your claims above being questioned or doubted and, to be completely honest, if your expertise is pseudo-scientific ghost hunting techniques then I don’t really think you have the grounds to demand that people try out your methodology before dismissing it. Awkward…

On Dealing With Fear Of Ghosts In Children

washing machine ghost

As someone who tries to maintain a reasoned approach to paranormal research I often get asked by people how they should deal with children who are afraid of ghosts and monsters. Last Halloween I did a free talk in my local library for children called “How To Be A Ghost Buster” and I taught them how to spot fake ghost photos and more. The Question & Answer section was dominated by questions like ‘Why does my bedroom window rattle?”, “I hear footsteps outside my door when everyone is asleep, what is it?”, “Mummy says ghosts aren’t real but my bedroom goes very cold and I feel scared” and more. There was real fear in these questions and I genuinely struggled to reassure those children, realising that there is not one good answer on how to deal with this.

I used to be like those children. I used to hear footsteps outside of my bedroom door and I didn’t feel safe sleeping in my own bed because I was convinced there were ghosts in the house. One night a fox made a howling noise in our garden and I ran downstairs screaming that a wolf was coming through the window. Everything was out to get me, including Mothman, which is why I didn’t look out of windows after sunset for fear of seeing red eyes looking back at me.

All of this stopped when the Fairy Queen wrote a letter:

‘Dear ghosts, monsters & bad guys,

I command you all to leave Hayley alone in her bedroom, when she sleeps, and during the whole night. If you come into this room there will be consequences.

Yours Sincerely,

The Fairy Queen’

My mum was desperate at that point but it did work. I can remember pinning the letter to the edge of a shelf in my bedroom filled with the sense that everything was okay now. Just as the Fairy Queen supplied my mum with Magic Cream to heal our cuts and grazes (which I later discovered was actually antiseptic cream) she had now provided us with protection from all of the things I feared.

monster sprayPart of me feels as though we shouldn’t lie to children about these things for fear of reinforcing the idea that monsters and ghosts are real. When I see people sharing photos of “Monster Spray” I worry that such techniques reinforce the idea that there are monsters to deter, but then I figure that although I did grow up believing in ghosts it wasn’t because the Fairy Queen letter convinced me they were real, I had already made that decision before the creation of the letter. The letter simply stopped me from being afraid of the dark and what I thought lurked in it, and I think that small lie is justified.

It is okay to be scared, and as young children we often find it difficult to differentiate between reality and fiction and the fictional can be frightening! Sometimes the best approach to a child’s fear in ghosts and monsters can be to reduce the fear to something to be laughed at. For example, in Kazuno Kahara’s childrens book ‘The Haunted House’, the main character is a little girl who, upon arriving at her new house, discovered that it is haunted! However, she is actually a witch and deals with this by putting the ghosts in the washing machine and turning them into curtains and bedding. It is such a cute book and it turns scary ghosts into loveable characters.

washing machine ghost

So too does the book ‘The Ghost Hunter’ by Ivan Jones in which the ghosts are good guys who are hunted down and stored in jars by a human, turning something scary into nice characters to be empathised with. This was turned into a TV series by the BBC when I was younger and I was a huge fan. Joe Nickell’s ‘The Magic Detectives’ provides a different approach and engages children in thinking critically about mysteries and helps children to learn the skills to think critically about other things they encounter too.

To summarise, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to helping children who are frightened of ghosts and monsters. Sometimes you’ll be able to engage children on how to rationally solve what is really happening (could it be the boiler? Maybe it’s old floorboards!), other times you might have to be willing to tell a little white lie to get children to sleep soundly in their own beds, and who knows, maybe you too will have to forge a letter from The Fairy Queen…

The Loch Ness Monster In Windermere? It’s More Complicated Than That…

Many people don’t know that Windermere has a lake monster “mystery” all of its own. I’ve been investigating Bownessie for years and even took CSIcop investigator Joe Nickell there for a few days in 2012 to get his thoughts on the situation surrounding the alleged beast of Bowness, Windermere. You can read about the investigation and also about my thoughts on the mystery as whole and you can even listen to me on the awesome Monster Talk podcast discussing Bownessie too, but in summary it’s fair to say that it is unlikely that there is anything weird swimming in the waters of Windermere.

There are already some pretty big species of fish in those waters that belong there and it is thought that it is these that are being seen and mistaken for a monster by people who have read about Bownessie in the press. Some of the eyewitness experiences are compelling and, having spoken to numerous people involved in the mystery, I have no reason to believe that everything witnessed was made up. I’m just not convinced that those experiences were caused by some unknown creature… and it might surprise some to know what not everyone who has had a strange encounter in those waters is completely bought by the idea that it was a monster they saw or felt… just “something” that they couldn’t necessarily explain.

As is often the case with these sorts of subjects, it is often the media that put the paranormal spin on things and the reports of eyewitnesses are taken out of context for sensational headlines.

…and then you get something like this

Is this the Loch Ness Monster 150 miles from home?

No. It isn’t. It is a fake photo, but I didn’t need to tell anyone that.

I don’t know the reasons behind this photo. Perhaps it is just a laugh, perhaps it is part of a publicity drive? Perhaps it is just attention seeking from people who know that anything Scotland related will currently get coverage because of the independence referendum gripping the United Kingdom right now?

I’m not going to research the background of this photo because it’s a waste of my time, but my few initial observations are this:

– no wake in the water other than that caused naturally by the breeze (as seen in the foreground of the photo)
– the “reflection” is not disturbed or rippled like the water it is reflected in
– this “creature” is in shallow water at the side of the lake, throwing its huge body out of proportion
– The ecology of Windermere is observed very closely by the Centre of Ecology & Hydrology. They’d know if this was in that water.

Sexism: A Symptom Of Skepticism?

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I am a skeptic because I evaluate claims using skepticism and rational inquiry but I do not identify with the skeptic movement for reasons I have stated previously on my blog. Today an article on Buzzfeed by Mark Oppenheimer asked the question ‘Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement?

As Betteridge’s law of headlines dictates, the answer to the headline is ‘no’, of course. But it doesn’t mean that the misogynistic aren’t trying to make the atheist, free-thought or skeptic movements  unwelcome spaces for women. They are. It’s a real thing that is happening. I’ve experienced some pretty nasty behaviour from men and women who have reduced me to either a crazy radical feminist or a child throwing a tantrum if I should criticise or question them but what I have experienced is nothing compared to the experiences of other women who exist within or around these movements.

I’ve seen many people outside of the skeptic movement using these particular issues as weapons with which to bash skepticism and skeptics as though people who doubt your claims of paranormal abilities or occurrences are somehow misogynistic by default and therefore not to be trusted. It doesn’t. Sexism is not a symptom of skepticism. It is a human problem, (there’s that law of headlines again, damn it!)

feminismIt’s genuinely great if people from outside of these particular movements want to show support and solidarity with women and men who receive misogynistic abuse, but to use their abuse and their attempts to hold their abusers accountable, seek solutions to the problems that exist, and work to make their communities and movements more welcoming and diverse spaces as a way in which to throw skeptics that  you happen to dislike under the bus is not supportive. Especially when these issues are not the property of these movements alone.

Let us not pretend that paranormal communities don’t have their own issues when it comes to gender representation and that although women are more likely to hold paranormal beliefs in things like astrology, ghosts, new age medicine and psychics it is men who dominate paranormal media and paranormal related public events and speaking engagements. I have never attended or spoken at a paranormal/alternative event that has a harassment policy in place that made it clear how inappropriate behaviour would be dealt with but have attended plenty of skeptic and science conferences and events that do exactly that.

Does this matter? To an extent yes, but this isn’t an exercise in excusing what happens in the skeptic, atheist and free-thought communities by claiming that the paranormal communities are worse. There is no way to measure that and I don’t think it would be particularly useful. This is simply me asking that if you’re going to speak out against the harassment problems in the skeptic, atheist and free-thought communities let it be because you actually care, that you don’t think women deserve to be gaslighted when they speak out about assault and harassment, that you think men who harass women regularly should be held accountable by their peers without having their actions excused time and time again, and not because it’s an easy way to score points. That’s not cool.  It’s cheap.

Don’t be cheap.

Solidarity graphic