Only douchebags go ghost hunting at POW camps

colditz photo

A ghost events company called Compass Paranormal have come under fire from angry customers after a recent overseas ghost hunting event they held at Colditz was not as advertised and was, in general, apparently a bit crap. In response someone claiming to represent Compass Paranormal has made a comment suggesting they are taking legal action against those who have complained.

When I was shown this story I thought the person telling me about it was winding me up, but no, no they were not. These people really went on a ghost hunt at Colditz.

are you kidding me

I just… I can’t…

I will never be able to empathise with those who feel it is appropriate to go on a thrill-seeking ghost hunt in a WWII prisoner-of-war camp, just as I will never be able to understand why people visit Pendle Hill and scream at the alleged ghosts of women who were hanged for witchcraft, or why local ghost hunters once investigated the haunting of a local pub by the ex-landlady who had shot herself dead less than ten years previously.

I know that ghosts do not linger at these locations, and I know that the dead are not automatically deserving of respect simply because they’re dead, but there is a line and I think people who go ghost hunting in places at which great trauma took place are crossing it. Crossing it so much they can’t even see the line and wouldn’t know what the line looked like even if they could see it because they probably didn’t even stop to think about the line as they sauntered over it with their useless ghost hunting gadgets in hand.

It’s especially bad when there are people alive who remember people who may have died at that location or who may have been effected by the death or deaths as there are so many ethical problems here! Argh!

I genuinely don’t know who to think less of here: the people who organised a fucking ghost hunt in Colditz, or the people who booked onto a ghost hunt at Colditz and then complained that they didn’t get to visit more scary parts of the castle and surroundings. I mean, really. Really? 

Not cool, douche-canoes.

Douce Award

Abortion, AIDS, and Sarah de Nordwall on The Big Questions


This morning on BBC One’s The Big Questions (Episode 15 of Series 7) Sarah de Nordwall of Catholic Voices defended Joseph Ratzinger (the previous pope) and his argument that ‘the distribution of condoms aggravated the problem of HIV/AIDS, rather than helping to contain the virus’ [Source] by herself claiming that abstinence was better at stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and that “condoms don’t stop the spread of HIV.”

Technically having no sex is a better method of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS than having sex with contraception in place, but it simply doesn’t work because humans like having sex and being horny can cloud your judgement. Also, systematic reviews of research into the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education has shown it is ineffective at preventing unwanted pregnancy or the spread of STIs. [Source] Why let facts get in your way though, right Sarah?

At QEDcon earlier this month I had my eyes opened by the talk delivered by Elisabeth Pisani about HIV/AIDS and what does and doesn’t work in their prevention. Pisani is an epidemiologist who has spent over a decade working with the Ministries of Health of China, Indonesia, East Timor and the Philippines, and has also provided analysis and policy advice to UNAIDS, the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, US Centres for Disease Control and more.

Pisani has criticised the Catholic Church’s prohibition on condom use as a means to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. In a 2008 Guardian feature about the launch of her book ‘The Wisdom of Whores’, Pisani criticised money being spent on ineffective prevention programmes. ‘Even the 20 cents in every US dollar allowed to be spent on prevention is wasted … a third of the prevention budget has to be allocated to faith-based organisations, which refuse to distribute condoms and will promote only abstinence before marriage. The failure rate of “virginity pledge” programmes among young Americans in the US is about 75%; condoms’ failure rate is roughly 2%.’ [Source]

I recommend people also read this 2009 Guardian article by Pisani, buy her book The Wisdom of Whores, and watch her TED talk ‘Sex, Drugs and HIV – let’s get rational to learn more.

Further into the programme Nordwall also made the claim that abortion “kills millions” . This, again, is nonsense. I am starting to see a pattern emerging…

Without access to legal and safe reproductive services women will die. They will die as a result of unsafe “back street” abortions or as a result of pregnancy-related illnesses and conditions. In 2013 it was ruled that Savita Halappanavar died as a result of being denied an abortion that she requested. [Source] In 2012 we heard the story of a British woman, Katherine Furey, who attempted an abortion at home by drinking industrial vinegar that she had been told would induce a miscarriage. [Source]

These are not isolated incidents.

Women who are denied access to legal abortion often take things into their own hands and, in desperation, seek out illegal ‘back street’ or ‘do it yourself’ abortions. With these procedures come risks of permanent internal damage, uterine haemorrhaging, viral infections, septis, vaginitis, and death. DIY abortions are still an issue in this country despite abortion being legal, with A 2007 BBC investigation revealing that pills and herbal medicine designed to induce miscarriage are readily available on the black market. A Manchester doctor told the investigators that his team regularly came across patients with extensive bleeding after taking herbs sold to them to induce miscarriage. [Source]

Basic human rights are violated when the moral and religious beliefs of others are allowed to influence the health care that others receive – especially when that health care is delivered without the best interest of the woman in mind.

In Poland, a woman named Edyta was diagnosed with colon cancer that her doctors refused to treat because she was two months pregnant. Months after diagnosis Edyta miscarried the pregnancy, and then died.[Source] Another pregnant Polish woman was advised her pregnancy would worsen her already severe eye disease. She sought an abortion to stop this from happening but the abortion was denied. The woman was forced to carry and deliver her third child. This resulted in her becoming blind.[Source]

In Peru, a 13 year old girl repeatedly raped by a 34-year-old neighbour became pregnant and attempted suicide by jumping off the roof of a building. Despite doctors concluding that her spine needed to be realigned immediately to avoid lifetime paralysis, they refused to perform the operation because she was pregnant. By the time she eventually suffered a miscarriage, it was too late to perform the spinal procedure, and the girl remains in a wheelchair.[Source]

It is well documented that the restriction of reproductive health services – including access to legal abortion, can result in serious injury or death for the women not being allowed to make decisions about their own bodies. The restriction on these rights comes about because of misinformation presented as fact by people like Sarah de Nordwall.

People shouldn’t pretend to have the best interests of others at heart when really they’re just judging them based on their own dodgy moral standards and Catholic guilt.

A hat tip

skeptic lisa simpson

Over at the Huffington Post Rodney Schmaltz has written a great piece called ‘Battling Psychics and Ghosts: The Need for Scientific Skepticism‘ in which he discusses how society are constantly ‘bombarded with pseudo-science’ in various forms. He points out that ‘people who buy into these pseudo-scientific claims are neither gullible nor lacking in intelligence. Instead, they have often not been taught the skills to critically evaluate information.’ 

Scientific Skepticism is important, he explains. Schmaltz then writes how many organisations and people work to help people gain critical thinking skills so that they can avoid being suckered in by those who promote nonsense. He also includes a link to a resource that he created Scott Lilienfeld.

In the article Carl Sagan, James Randi, Penn & Teller, Phil Plait, Richard Wiseman, Michael Shermer and Tim Minchin all get a name check for their work… but there is no mention of any skeptics who are women, and I think that’s a shame. Especially as there are women who work hard and make a huge difference to the public perception of pseudo-science, but also the public perception of being a skeptic. It isn’t just the Schmaltz piece, time and time again articles about skepticism are dominated by male skeptics.

So, while I sit here at my desk quickly eating a sandwich during my late lunch break I thought I’d share some of the women involved in paranormal/anomalistic fields in one way or another who make a difference that I think deserve a hat tip. I may not always agree with the methods of the people below, but their work totally deserves the credit.

Dr Caroline Watt is a a founder member of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit, is a published author, has taught and researched parapsychology at the University of Edinburgh for 25 years. She has published over 50 peer-reviewed academic papers, served as president of the Parapsychological Association, and has presented her research at conferences both within the UK and abroad and often appears in broadcast and print media

Kylie Sturgess is an award-Winning blogger, an established writer and author, and the independent podcast host of ‘The Token Skeptic Podcast‘ which currently rocks in at over 180 episodes. She has lectured on teaching critical thinking, feminism, new media and anomalistic beliefs worldwide, is a Philosophy and Religious Education teacher by trade and has won awards for her engagement and outreach activities.

Dr Karen Stollznow is a paranormal researcher, writer, author and podcaster. She is a columnist for Skeptic magazine,  a Research Fellow for the James Randi Educational Foundation, Contributing Editor for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a member of their Executive Council.

Carrie Poppy co-hosts the ‘Oh No! Ross and Carrie’ podcast in which both hosts go undercover to investigate claims about spirituality, fringe science, religion, and the paranormal. She previously worked for the James Randi Educational Foundation and currently writes an investigative column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Deborah Hyde is the editor of The Skeptic magazinethe UK’s only regular magazine to take a critical-thinking and evidence-based approach to pseudo-science and the paranormal. She is a blogger, and regularly speaks about vampires, folklore, werewolves and more, and can often be found in broadcast and print media talking sense about paranormal topics such as the Enfield Poltergeist. 

Sharon Hill is founder and editor of Doubtful News, a past contributor to the Huffington Post blog, a columnist for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), and has contributed reports and articles to Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptical Briefs. She is a public speaker and Studied amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs) for her Masters thesis, which examined the “community of amateur paranormal investigators and how they used science.”

Dr Susan Blackmore received an MSc in environmental psychology in 1974 from the University of Surrey. In 1980, she earned a PhD in parapsychology from the same university and became skeptical following her studies of such subjects. Is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), is a consulting editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and was awarded the CSICOP Distinguished Skeptic Award  in 1991. Visit her website here.

This list has been pulled from the top of my head during a lunch break, but even so it is clear to see that women make a huge contribution to the outreach and promotion of a rational approach to paranormal topics.



Retiring Project Barnum

project barnum slide hayleyisaghost

I have retired Project Barnum, the no-frills resource that educated people about psychic trickery for a number of years. There are several reasons that led me to this decision and I wanted to discuss some of them here.

Project Barnum was first launched when the drama about whether Sally Morgan had used an earpiece in a Dublin show was going strong. A number of people helped create the website and offered support for the website to begin with, but after a while, when the Sally Morgan case was out of the headlines, the help and support pretty much disappeared. I ended up maintaining the website and answering emails from people who thought they were scammed myself. When I recently tried to find someone to spend an hour a week on the Psychic Trickery blog I had no luck.

I don’t know why this is.

Perhaps tackling psychic trickery in a non-confrontational manner isn’t cool enough? Perhaps the consumer-focus was what made it not hip? Perhaps because most of the conversations with the public happened privately people thought Project Barnum was boring? Maybe Psychic trickery isn’t considered a priority for some skeptics?

A priority for skeptics… that’s something that was suggested to me in a comment on a recent blog post, by the way. As though there is some way in which you can determine what is and isn’t a priority. Alt Med kills people, but so does psychic surgery. Alt Med robs people of their money, but so do Psychic Mail scams.

When it comes to nonsense harming people there are no priorities. There is just harm caused by nonsense.

I am frustrated that despite numerous demonstrations that the UKs top working psychics routinely fake their abilities, people still flock to their shows in their hundreds. I am frustrated that an over-worked and under-resourced Trading Standards only have a rubbish resource about Psychic Mail Scams, but don’t have any information available about Psychic Fraud that happens behind closed doors. 

I am frustrated that when people realise they have been tricked by people claiming to be psychic there is very little that can be done to help them. I am frustrated that even though I tried to help it wasn’t enough, and it never would have been enough even if I’d had the support and training that was needed.

I am frustrated that a lot of people who could help to make a difference only show an interest when psychic scams are ‘on topic’. I am frustrated that ‘For Entertainment Only’ disclaimers don’t make a jot of difference and that they are used as a Get Out of Jail Card, and that despite having ‘For Entertainment Only’ disclaimers on their posters psychic performers will then tell their audiences “we have to say that, but it’s all real.”

I am frustrated that when a group of volunteers helped Project Barnum phone up dozens of Theatres to ask ‘is the psychic you’re hosting real? Can I get a refund if they’re not?’ none of us got a consistent or straight answer.

I’ve retired Project Barnum today, but it won’t make any difference. 

David Cameron: the terrible Christian


One of the teachers at my Church of England Primary School used to tell us children that a good Christian treated others as they wished to be treated themselves. She would explain that even the smallest kind gesture would make others think well of you and of your testimony in Christ. We were taught that good Christians were selfless, kind, shared, volunteered and loved their neighbour regardless of their story. Our teacher would remind us that we should live as Jesus did himself, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you Jesus said, John 13:15”, she would say “I have given you an example, that as I have done, so should you do.”

With this in mind, then, it seems that I am a better Christian that David Cameron, and I’m as rabidly atheist as they come.

His recent proclamations of religious pride come very soon after after several clashes between the coalition and the church, including a letter this week from Anglican bishops and church leaders calling on political parties to tackle food poverty.

I  happen to think that the messages and lessons we were taught from the bible at primary school can be taken out of the context of religion entirely and taught as secular values. Yet British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that non-believers, such as me and my family, fail to see that faith can give people a ‘moral code’.

A moral code? David Cameron wishes to teach us about being moral people?

The same David Cameron whose government has forced austerity onto the poorest to pay back the debt of the rich, irresponsible and selfish? whose government forces families to queue at food banks (often run by the sort of Christians that Cameron claims to be like, but isn’t) just to survive? The same man whose government punishes the sick and disabled for being sick and disabled and declares them ‘fit for work’ when they’re not and allows them to die as a result?

Fuck your moral code, David Cameron. Morals do not come from religion, they come from good people regardless of what they believe and you, the proud Christian, are living proof of that.