The RI Podcast back catalogue

Righteous Indignation

Episode 91 of the Righteous Indignation Podcast (the one with the interview with psychic Vicky Monroe) has been getting a lot of listening in the last few days thanks to a post by a listener on Reddit. The podcast stopped being produced a while back BUT the back catalogue (minus a few episodes that we hope to re-add soon) has always been on my website.

The show was created by Trystan Swale who now hosts Fortean Radio, and it was co-hosted by myself and Michael Marshall with whom I now co-host the Be Reasonable podcast. If you enjoyed Righteous Indignation Podcast I suspect you’ll also enjoy both shows.

Weird, Intolerant and creepy: on being reduced to a little girl

little girl blowing rasberry

I cannot remember a time that I have fluttered my eyelashes to get my own way, nor can I remember ever stamping my feet for similar reasons. Similarly, I have never thrown a tantrum or a paddy because someone didn’t like me or didn’t agree with me. I am also almost Thirty years old.

bratty little girl giving the fingerYet, despite all of this, I am often reduced to a caricature little girl who flutters her eyelashes to get people on side – or who throws tantrums, stomps her feet and wails because people don’t like me or because they’re not agreeing with me… and my detractors would try to convince you that it was my eye-lash fluttering and ‘cute’ face that get me any media attention too.

It’s a bit like being dismissed as an ‘uppity woman’, but instead being infantilised. It’s all sorts of patronising, sexist bullshit rolled into one, and it happens because I, as a non-believer, don’t hold back when voicing my skeptical thoughts and opinions. I am unapologetically brash and it rubs people up the wrong way. Especially within paranormal research communities that I am a part of or associated with.

I am not going to justify my tone and I will not be tone policed by men who think so little of me. I will also not justify what I do, how I do it and any media attention that comes as a result – especially when I don’t seek such attention, and a lot of my work is uncredited consultancy.

Ultimately, there is nothing I can say to stop people from reducing me to a bratty child, but I wanted people to know that this isn’t okay and it happens on a regular basis and I’m not going to just quietly accept it any more. If you disagree with me, if you don’t like me, if I unfriend you on Facebook and you don’t like it (referred to as “H-bombing” apparently) that is perfectly fine and I can live with that, but reducing me to a caricature bratty child or uppity woman isn’t fine. It’s weird, intolerant and creepy behaviour.

Paul Lee 1
‘stamping her feet…’
H-bombed
‘she’s a psycho…’
Dave Skinner and Paul Lee
‘stamps her foot…’
Paul Lee & Robert Moore
‘doe eyed…’

 

 

true believer
‘a true believer, arnt’cha sugar?’

 

simon rogers

Annoying the ghost hunters…

1110

The other day I cancelled my ASSAP membership and summarised my reasons for doing so in a blog post here. This has made some people unhappy and I’ve been called a few names and had other remarks made about me and my blog in an attempt, I think, to upset me. However, there were also several people who got in touch with their own similar concerns about the research organisation, and some messages from people who’d had bad experiences as members. I’m not going to go into detail of that here.

There was also one clear theme throughout any feedback I saw and it was that non-believers and believers couldn’t work together which, I think, is inaccurate. Outside of my involvement with any research organisations I collaborate and assist many other individuals with their research. These are individuals who are non-believers and believers alike. The collaborations only work if those involved don’t mind about the personal beliefs of their fellow researchers.

A good investigator, after all, can leave their personal biases at the door. A bad investigator can’t see past them.

Collaboration doesn’t have to be about the accommodation of beliefs that clash with your own, but too often I think people feel that this is required and that they’re being asked to give something up in order for people they don’t agree with (and often see as an enemy of sorts) to be able to have a valid role within their research. It’s possible to work with believers and non-believers alike without taking special steps because of what they do or do not believe.

I’ve personally had enough of anti-skeptic sentiment from those involved in paranormal research who will use anything they can to dismiss skeptics (including the use of a sex assault case between two individuals who happen to identify as skeptics to question the trustworthiness of one of those skeptics, which is really poor taste.)

Trystan was right when he said that independence should be valued and that organisations like ASSAP should be viewed as resources (though google is just as good), and being an independent researcher was sort of what I was alluding to in my previous post. 

If others can’t find it within themselves to coexist with people who view the world differently than they do, and pull them up on how they spell a word or how they’re being intolerant or angry by expressing their different opinion then it’s a shame. However, it is ultimately their loss because they are limiting the input they have from the world around them to just people who agree with them and that’s never fun in the long run.

Dear ASSAP, I quit

back soon

A while ago when writing about the change that is needed for paranormal research communities to become rational I said ‘this change will come from within the Phenomena Research communities and not from outside – it is ghost hunters who will improve research standards, not dismissive skeptics’. I’ve realised that I was being hopeful and naively so.

Although I still stand by the belief that it is ghost researchers that will make research more rational overall and that dismissive non-believers will not inspire that change, I believe that it is also possible that some parts of Paranormal Research communities will also not inspire that change – even when their aims are to do just that.

The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) describe themselves as ‘a scientifically-orientated educational and research charity and learned society dedicated to a better understanding of anomalous phenomena.’ I’ve been a paying member for a number of years after first discovering them while searching for rational explanations for the various weird things I had experienced or believed in the past. The things that ASSAP claim to stand for are things I support.

On top of the annual membership fee you can pay to attend optional training sessions or to enroll on their new foundation course that covers the science, ethics and practical side of paranormal investigation. I am enrolled on this course. Anyone can join ASSAP no matter their beliefs as long as they ‘subscribe to the use of scientific methods to investigate anomalous phenomena’.

Everything about ASSAP is admirable and commendable… until you look beneath the polished surface.

In recent months the behaviour of the organisation has been really disappointing. Lembit Opik – a media personality – has been presented in the media as though he is representative of the members of ASSAP when he is no such thing. PR for the organisation has also recently seen stories include incomplete data that has been misrepresented

ghost a-level

The sudden increase in the number of conferences being held – including a vampire symposium, an event looking at exorcism, and a ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ rip off that launches soon with a talk by Rupert Sheldrake gives the impression that ASSAP are trying to raise their public profile, but at a cost.

The organisation is treated as something to be laughed at by journalists, and inviting Rupert Sheldrake to launch the new monthly talk series is a controversial move that I can’t help think of as a publicity stunt more than anything, given the recent media attention that Sheldrake has inspired. This shift in the priorities of ASSAP is disappointing for many.

There are bigger problems with the organisation too, ones I was warned about all those years ago when I first signed up. Problems that I have been aware of all through my membership – issues that I put a positive spin on to try and convince myself that everything was okay. I was wrong.

It’s really appealing to pay the additional fees and take the training courses and become an Approved ASSAP Investigator (AAI), to be included on the National Register for Approved Investigators and to be an Affiliate Organisation and work on cases on behalf of ASSAP. For many people the training helps them become good investigators, but for others these are just credentials that can be used to avoid the ‘pseudo-science’ accusations often levelled at biased paranormal researchers. However, biased research is pseudo-scientific and potentially unethical whether you are an AAI or not, and for some the comfort that a belief in ghosts brings is more appealing than the want to be rational. Being a ghost hunter who seeks (and finds) evidence of ghosts is a hard habit to kick because the hits are easy to find and communicating with ghosts through whatever means necessary is a more fruitful way to spend your time than sitting around and testing various hypotheses. Knowing how to be rational doesn’t mean you will be, and that is in direct conflict with the aims of the organisation.

While ASSAP not taking a corporate stance is admirable in some ways, it does lend to the idea that the role of a scientific methodological approach in paranormal research is up for debate when it isn’t. A belief-led approach to researching strange phenomena is riddled with biases and flawed thinking, as is the use of pseud-scientific devices and such approaches are not on equal footing with a rational approach. Yet, a look at the affiliate organisations of ASSAP shows exactly those approches being used.

In the not-so-distant past I witnessed members of ASSAP questioning the role of skeptics such as myself within the organisation. After the incident in that link I was removed from the contact lists of many of the people who work for ASSAP. Would ASSAP achieve its aims better if it didn’t care so much about what believers thought? I think so, but rocking the boat is not appreciated it seems, but that’s just too bad.

When I recently voiced my concerns to a friend who is also a member, and told them that I was thinking of cancelling my membership they replied with ‘What happened in BUFORA when all the critical people left? It fell to bits’ suggesting that I should continue as a member for some greater good – a good that I do not believe is likely to be a reality any time soon. 

Tolerating nonsense does not further rationalism. It does not promote a rational approach to paranormal research, and with that in mind, I quit.

Can prayer cure illness?

screenshot mid-broadcast

If you happen to watch BBC1’s The Big Questions on a Sunday morning then you might have spotted me among the guests this morning. I was invited onto the show to debate the question ‘Can prayer cure illness?’ because of my involvement in the ASA complaint against Healing on the Streets in Bath.

I was joined in the ‘no’ camp by Kevin Friery of Hampshire Skeptics, and I owe him huge thanks for helping calm my nerves about my first live TV experience. I also think he deserves credit for the comment he made about praying for traffic lights to stay green!

In the studio pre-broadcast
In the studio pre-broadcast

Although all the evidence shows that prayer doesn’t cure illness some of the other guests would have you believe otherwise. You should watch the episode on BBC iPlayer if you can to see the bizarre nature of the arguments in favour of faith healing. The segment is also available to view online on Youtube by clicking here. I don’t think I can do them justice in this post. Needless to say, all of the arguments contained subjective personal anecdotes which don’t hold much weight at all. Studies into whether prayer can help cure or heal people have shown little to no effect, with the studies that have the most scientifically rigorous methodologies providing no positive results. The meta-analysis studies are the most interesting, with some suggesting that further research is pointless.

It’s most likely that any positive result is caused by a prayer related placebo effect. Humans are very susceptible to suggestion, after all. Even Wes Sutton, a healer himself, stated that prayer doesn’t offer a cure all of the time, and guess what else doesn’t work for everyone every time? The Placebo effect, and Placebos are not a valid replacement for medicines or treatments that have reliable results.

screenshot mid-broadcast

I was glad to hear that none of the people on the show that believe they can heal others through prayer or the laying on of hands would suggest people stop their conventional treatment for their illnesses, but the fact does remain that there are faith healers who do this and that people die because they prayed for healing rather than seeing a doctor. Parents end up in prison because their child died needlessly, and the sick are offered false hope in their most vulnerable and desperate moments. The Adrian Pengelley case is a good example of this, and you can find many stories of this happening on the ‘What’s The Harm?’ website.

The take away message here is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and personal testimony isn’t evidence enough.

photo: Kevin Friery / screencap: Alastair Coleman

p.s. at one point during the show another guest stated it was sad that people felt so callous about god, and he pointed towards me and Kevin. Callous doesn’t cover it.