Someone has sent me a link to the video that you can watch below and I smell a rat. It seems too good to be true, and when it seems too good to be true that’s usually a good indication that it is…
For those unable to watch the video, a camera is filming a section of the bar at Ye Olde Man & Sythe Pub in Bolton. There’s some flashing light from behind the camera that scatters throughout the room (initially I thought it was from passing traffic, but I think it might be from an independent light source of some kind) and suddenly what appears to be a cloaked or hooded figure flickers into view before quickly fading away. There are stills below.
Some people are getting a bit freaked out by the nature of this video, but I don’t think it is anything remarkable. I think the effect we are seeing could be caused using a Pepper’s Ghost illusion or a similar set up. Who knows for certain? It has familiar features of such though and I sincerely got that impression after watching the video a number of times. Especially when I noticed that before the figure appears it looks as though the flashing light is reflected in something in that area of the room suggesting there might be something there for it to be reflected off of…
What is a Pepper’s Ghost illusion? The BBC Learning Zone website has a great explanation, view it by clicking here, but in a nut shell it is a simple-yet-effective illusion created by using a piece of glass to create a semi-transparent reflection of someone out of view by illuminating them. It makes them seem as though they’re stood somewhere when they’re not and because the light is reflecting on the glass you can see through them.
I had a quick dig around online and found that the account that uploaded the video to Youtube belongs to Richard Greenwood, the current manager of the pub who took over in 2012 after it closed down briefly. In a 2012 article about the reopening, The Bolton News quoted Greenwood as saying he wanted to capitalise on the history of the pub which dates back to 1251 and is thought to be one of the four oldest public houses in the country.
The paper reported that ‘Mr Greenwood, aged 37, has worked as a consultant for bars and hotels all over the world and said he wants to make the pub better than it was before. Mr Greenwood said he wanted to capitalise on the pub’s history and is talking to council chiefs about how to promote it as a tourist attraction.’
It has a reputation with ghost hunters but Greenwood denies that this video is the product of trickery. I’m still suspicious though… See, Richard Greenwood is also Managing Director for Consult Greenwood Ltd, a consultancy firm supplying creative routes to market for new products and technologies. With this in mind I am drawn to question whether this ghost video is a ‘creative route’ for marketing the history of Ye Olde Man and Scythe to help it become more of a tourist attraction. I could be completely wrong though, and would love to hear the thoughts of others in the comments below.
In it they concluded that ‘hate incidents on the basis of prejudice against peoples’ religion or belief are relatively rare, affecting a small minority of the students’ surveyed. However, our findings show that these hate incidents are not exceptional occurrences, indicating that colleges, universities and students’ unions need to take action.’
‘Almost one fifth of hate incidents were thought to have an element of religious prejudice, making up 7 per cent of all bias and non-bias incidents reported in our survey. Respondents identifying as Jewish (30 per cent; 21), Muslim (16.6 per cent; 54) or Sikh (12.7 per cent; 8) reported considerably higher rates of incidents motivated by prejudice against their religion than students from other religious or belief groups.’
They made the ten following recommendations for FE & HE institutions to help develop a cross-sector strategy to tackle hate and prejudice experienced by students across the UK. They also suggested the recommendations could be used by other agencies, law enforcement practitioners and Student Unions.
1. Demonstrate a firm commitment to equality and diversity 2. Develop preventative and educational activity on prejudice and hate 3. Stop or mitigate against hate incidents 4. Establish multi-agency, joined-up approaches to tackling hate 5. Strengthen existing support services 6. Establish strong support networks (for victims and faith socities) 7. Encourage reporting of, and maintain systematic records on, hate incidents 8. Provide flexible options to report hate incidents 9. Promote greater confidence in reporting mechanisms 10. Provide clear guidance on the law
The gov.uk website defines a hate crime as ‘crimes committed against someone because of their disability, gender-identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation’ [protected characteristics], including threatening behaviour, assault, robbery, damage to property, inciting others to commit hate crimes and harassment.
Discrimination based on these protected characteristics can include treating someone less favourably than others because of their gender, race, sexuality, disability, religion and so on. It can also be indirect too, such as putting rules or arrangements in place that apply to everyone, but that put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage. Discrimination also comes in the form of unwanted behaviour (harrassment) linked to these protected characteristics that violates someone’s dignity or creates an offensive or hostile environment for them.
In 2012 the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASHS) at University College London got caught up in a censorship row with the university’s student union (SU) for using a Jesus and Mo cartoon on a Facebook page advertising a weekly social event they were holding. Why? The SU had received a “number of complaints” that both the depiction of Muhammad and the fact that the image shows him with a drink that looks like beer were offensive. The issue was resolved a short time later with the SU agreeing that they can not ask the society to take down the image because, you know… censorship isn’t okay.
In 2013 Sabbatical Officers of the London School of Economics (LSE) intimidated students and members of the LSE Student Atheist and Humanist (ASH) society at a Fresher’s Fair because they wore t-shirts with comics from Jesus and Mo on them, which allegedly depict the religious figures of the prophet Muhammad and Jesus of Nazareth, and other students had made complaints.
(You should check out Jesus and Mo, by the way. The cartoons are wondering and make bold statements in such a admirably gentle way. These cartoons have a way of summarising in four panel what some of us can’t summarise at all.)
More recently, the South Bank Atheist Society (SBAS) fell foul of the same sort of censorship when members of the SU at London’s South Bank University (SBU) removed posters featuring the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Initially SABS were told the issue centred around the visibility of Adam’s genitals being offensive, but when society members offered to blur out the genitals, they were told the problem with the poster actually concerned religious offence. The issue was resolved recently and it became clear that the censorship was carried out by over-zealous and untrained staff.
It seems that perhaps HE and FE institutions, their agencies, and their Student Unions need further training about what does and does not constitute a hate crime so that they no longer treat people as though they are committing such offences when they are not. Either that or they’re being extremely over-zealous in stopping anything that has the potential to escalate into such from happening…. but at what cost?
Atheist and Secular student organisations have the same responsibility as other student organisations to ensure that they do not discriminate against other students based on protected characteristics, but holding and expressing different view points and opinions does not automatically become a form of discrimination. Free thought and free expression should not be censored simply because others are not willing to hear something they do not agree with, or something that challenges their own viewpoint.
SBAS president Cloe Ansari is quoted at politics.co.uk saying “I never expected to face such blatant censorship and fragile sensibilities at university, I thought this would be an institution where I could challenge beliefs and in turn be challenged. All I have seen is religious sensibilities trumping all other rights with no space for argument, challenge or reasoned debate. It is not what I expected when I came to university.”
This sums up this worryingly growing problem in a nutshell. Religious sensibilities are being made a priority ahead of the right of every student to freely express themselves. Being offended doesn’t whisk up the right for the material that challenges you and your view to be removed at your demand, and yet Student Unions appear to be acting as though this is the case and it is bitterly disappointing.
During the research for the 2012 NUS report those who identified as non-religious or atheist reported that they adapt their behaviour to avoid discrimination, were worried about being victims of religious discrimination, and had experienced discrimination on the grounds of their religious beliefs just as those with a religious affiliation did.
It is right that educational institutions and organisations are aware of the possibility that the expression of differences of opinion and viewpoints focusing on religious beliefs could turn into discriminatory behaviour and hate crimes, but it is vital that the experiences of the non-religious are also included when developing codes-of-conduct, protocols and guidelines on what is and isn’t tolerable behaviour, and how to deal with discrimination and hate crimes when they occur. This doesn’t seem to be happening, and by not considering the experiences of non-religious students agencies and unions and demonstrating both direct and indirect intolerance of atheist and secular students and this needs to change. This is not acceptable and it never will be.
On this day in 1809 Charles Darwin was born. Darwin, best known for his contributions to evolutionary theory, established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, and in a joint publication with Alfred Russel Wallace introduced his scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection. [source]
I personally gained a better understanding of evolutionary theory through the books of Professor Richard Dawkins, such as ‘The Ancestors Tale’, ‘The River Out of Eden’ and ‘The Blind Watchmaker’. I would recommend such books to anyone who is undecided on the subject, or who wants to grasp the subject and explore it as fully as possible. It can be confusing, especially with alternative ideas being presented as valid science. Creationism, for example.
Creationism refers to the religious belief in a supernatural deity or force that has intervened directly in the physical world. At the Church of England Primary School I attended we were taught that it might be possible that natural biological processes don’t account for the complexity of life on our planet and that these had been created by a higher being.
Looking back at the education I received from my school as a young child I am horrified at how strong a religious agenda there was throughout the curriculum, often with a blatant disregard for science and facts. The teaching of creationism as somehow equal to evolutionary theory is a direct attack against decent science education. No child should be denied access to factual information. “Teaching the Controversy” should not be up for debate in the context of the science classroom, and yet it is creeping further and further through the door with a sugar coating of ‘just asking questions’ or ‘exploring alternatives’.
Recently, Professor Alice Roberts called for more debate about the teaching of creationism in schools, stating that “creationism has the potential to ruin a scientific education”. Roberts pointed out that although state schools, including free schools, were not allowed to teach creationism as a science, there were some private schools which did. She said “presenting a religious creation story as a scientifically valid alternative is nonsense.” I fully agree.
In it Roberts and Copson state that ‘it is clearly not the case that this organisation offers good quality learning outside the classroom; indeed, the Zoo’s approach runs contrary to Government policy on the teaching of creationism … The Department for Education has made it repeatedly clear that young earth creationism and related theories are incompatible with the established scientific consensus, and therefore should not be taught as such. And yet throughout its materials this Zoo promotes a creationist theory known as ‘recolonisation’, which rejects both evolution and more common young earth creationism in favour of a third explanation … It is therefore difficult to see how a school visiting such a Zoo is compatible with the Government’s policy on creationism’
This is indeed alarming, and with this in mind I decided that I had to check this zoo out for myself. With a week off from work and nothing much to do I thought I’d celebrate Darwin’s birthday by checking out Noah’s Ark. I had no idea what I was in for.
With the current battering the country is getting from ferocious storms I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to visit the zoo which is based in and around a working farm in South Wraxall, in North Somerset. It’s quite open to the elements. I battled almost-horizontal rain and boarded a bus at Temple Meads train station and asked for a combo ticket – a £15 ticket that gets you a return trip between the station and the zoo and entry to the zoo as well. The driver looked at me as I stood dripping rainwater all over his bus and said, dryly, ‘you do realise it isn’t an actual ark, right?’ and then laughed.
The roads changed from inner city to country lanes, puddles of water were sent splashing over other cars in giant waves by the bus, and at one point we had to stop because the strong winds had blown the engine cover open. I sat, alone on the bus, wondering why I had left my nice warm house. We got to the zoo, the bus pulled away leaving me standing on the side of the road, and as it grew smaller and smaller in the distance I realised I was quite alone, with just two horses huddled in a field as the wind howled around us.
The zoo was quite empty for the duration of my visit, with just myself and a group of Primary School children wandering around. Most of the animals were huddled inside in the warm away from the unrelenting rain and wind. There was one ape swinging around on the tyre swings but it too was sent scurrying inside when a piece of the plastic corrugated roofing of a nearby cage for parakeets was sent smashing into the wall of the reptile house, just feet from where I was standing. I headed inside after that, scurrying from building to building as fast as I could to avoid other potential debris.
I’m not entirely sure why the animals had access to the outside areas with the weather as bad as it is, and when I entered a lot of the enclosed spaces I found it quite sad to find animals in small spaces that smelt quite bad. The monkey room, for example, had four ceiling-to-floor cages in it and there was a strong smell of urine.
Primates – or more accurately titled ‘brachiates/arm swingers’
The Latin name ‘Primates means ‘one of the first / excellent / noble’. This was chosen for Darwinian reasons’, assuming these mammals are related to man because of some physical similarities. However, there is no evidence that non-human primates are more intelligent than parrots, dogs, horses, dolphins, or are related to man. A more descriptive name would be the Latin name Brachiates which means ‘to move by swinging with the arms, from one hold to another’
Outside and just around the corner from the Apes and Monkeys are four pens holding pigs who, when I visited, were all huddled in corners aware from the cold. I couldn’t see any access to an indoors area for them and that made me really sad. A sign outside their pens stated, among other things
The many breeds of domestic pigs carry a health risk in some countries as they are scavengers and do not ‘filter out’ the contamination they eat in the way ruminants (cows, sheep, deer) do. This is probably the reason that pig meat was forbidden to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Some other religions also forbid it
To sound a warning / to call each other or sing to each other / to mark their territory / to encourage the leader (quiet honking in flying geese) / To frighten their prey (Owls and Hawks screech) / Because they are happy! / to praise their maker
DESIGN: These features [a/n: tone, pitch, chords, mimicking calls etc.] go far beyond what it biologically an advantage, and point clearly to a musically minded creator.
I next wandered to the area of the zoo with the more exotic animals such as lions, tigers, Rhino, Zebra and Giraffe. It saddened me to see a tiger pacing in an enclosure smaller than the one that houses three zebra, and a lion doing much the same. Their enclosures were smaller than the garden behind the house I grew up in.
Oddly, on the wall outside of their enclosures, where there are large windows through which you can watch them when they are inside, there was a poster titled ‘prayer of dedication of the tiger territory‘, and one that threatens to throw visitors to the big cats should they knock on the windows. You’d think Christians wouldn’t throw such a threat around lightly… but there we go.
I visited the Giraffe house and then made my way past the Rhino house on my way out of the zoo to catch the next bus home. As I passed by the hedge maze I found a sign with a bible quote on it: ‘Then Jesus said ‘come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’.
Throughout the park there is an unsettling theme of religious scripture and teachings but I’m not sure that the children who were some way ahead of me on their class trip adsorbed much of it at all. At one point, as our paths crossed as they left the tigers just as I was arriving there, they could all be heard going ‘rooarrrr, roaaaarrr’. It would, of course, completely depend on the context of the trip and how it was used once back at school… and this is what worries me. It worries me because of one particular room at the zoo.
Inside there is a huge model of the Ark with animals entering in pairs, with some already in the boat. The walls around the room are covered with creationist literature and there is a voice guide that you can listen to at the press of a button – but it wasn’t working when I tried. On board the ark you can see T-Rex next to the Giraffes, and Triceratops next to the Elephants. There are floor plans available that show where everything would have been – like pigs next to the bears just across from the bedrooms and bathrooms, and there are Question and Answer cards on the table around the Ark with statements like:
Q: ‘What food did god allow after flood; that was no included for Adam and Eve?’ A: ‘Eating meat was allowed after the flood. Before this most people would have been veggies.’
Q: ‘How long were they all on the Ark?’ A: ‘Noah broke out after a year and 10 days’
Q: ‘Why were so few people saved?’ A: ‘There was lots of spare room on the Ark. More people could have been saved if they were willing’
I really love visiting animal sanctuaries, auariums, wildlife centres, safari parks and zoos, but I came away from Noah’s Ark Farm Zoo feeling quite unsettled. I was disappointed with how uninterested most of the animals seemed to be with their surroundings – Zebra huddled in a lean-to, monkeys all clinging to the cages of their enclosures, the roof of the bird enclosure almost smashing into me, the roof of the farm sheds flapping around and allowing the rain inside, tigers and lions pacing… as a zoo it was underwhelming. As an educational facility it was alarming.
On my way home I stopped via the gift shop and bought some pens, a book called ‘Evolution: Fact or Fiction?’ and picked up a free flyer produced by the zoo titled ’20 differences between Ape and Man’. The selection of books on sale was outstanding and in no way biased. I giggled at my purchases on the train ride home, but then the seriousness of this hit me. The fact that this facility has a clear religiously motivated agenda in direct opposition to evolutionary theory teachings and is still receiving awards despite this makes me wonder what is in the future for science education in our school.
Let us hope that we do not have a fight in our future like the battle faced by the National Centre for Science Education who have been opposing efforts by creationists to weaken or block the teaching of evolution in the US for more than two decades. However, if we tolerate the nonsense presented at the Noah Ark Farm Zoo being a part of the education offered to school children then that could be a reality we have to face. If we are complacent and allow non-science to be offered up on the same plate as science we are doing future generations a disservice.
As 2012 became 2013 I wrote a blog post listing 4 lessons I had learnt that year. The lessons were ‘Become a better investigator’, ‘Talk and listen to young people’, ‘Never be too certain’ and ‘Be hungry for change’. Throughout 2013 I wrote a lot of criticisms of the modern skeptical movement. In fact, when looking back through my blog I was quite surprised at the extent to which I had blogged my thoughts. Here’s a quick recap:
If you go back further you find more and more blog posts from me questioning the movement that until recently I felt a part of. It’s what sceptics do – having an open mind and casting the scepticism inwards as well as outwards, and there really is some funky stuff going on within parts of the skeptical movement that warrants scrutiny. Yet, in recent months it has become clearer and clearer that it isn’t scepticism that is the problem, but indeed a small group of very vocal skeptics.
I have been really thinking about skepticism since blogging on the subject again last week and I have decided to blog once more in the hope that this will be my final summary of why I feel disconnected from the skeptical movement, and what skepticism means to me. Organising skeptics is often referred to as ‘herding cats’, yet we – as a wider collective of people – are represented in the media by such a small group of individuals. How messed up is that?
For many people, being a part of the skeptical movement is being a skeptic and being a skeptic is being part of the skeptical movement. When I say that I don’t identify as part of the skeptic movement it’s often presumed that I’m saying I’ve turned my back on skepticism but this isn’t the case.
Scientific scepticism is the practice of questioning whether claims are supported by empirical research and have reproducibility – it is this that I use as part of a wider methodological approach to my cases, and also an approach I take to things that I encounter on a regular basis. That is why I call myself a sceptic. To me it’s best to keep scepticism simple and well defined.
What does my scepticism look like? When I see claims made in public that are not supported by evidence I submit complaints to Trading Standards, OFCOM or the ASA if it is appropriate to do. I have gone undercover to unearth dubious health claims being marketed at the desperate, and to uncover hoaxes perpetrated to make a quick buck from the unsuspecting and undeserving who believe in fringe ideas.
Very recently I went undercover at a herbal medicine centre and told them about the very complex (and real) problems I am having with my ear. I told them all about my past surgery and my current symptoms which are indicative that I may have another tumor in my ear. The treatment required may involve surgery but the herbal medicine practitioner told me that acupuncture would treat my immune system and it was my immune system that was causing the problem in my ear. This is dangerous.
I’ve submitted hundreds of complaints to Trading Standards and the ASA since 2008 and have madeinternational news through doing so (something I had no intention of doing). I also speak to a range of audiences about using scientific scepticism as a paranormal researcher – young children, older children, believers and non-believers alike. I act as a media adviser (for free) to outlets that range from the BBC and ITV right down to regional newspapers on weird stories they are covering or have been approached with. By doing these things I get to engage with people about paranormal phenomena and the best ways to seek the answers.
I have arrived at my current sceptical position because I was inspired by grassroots scepticism within the United Kingdom. It’s a scene that isn’t overly defined, where individuals come together to work or to share information and expertise, where there are no rules and there is very little point scoring. What works for one doesn’t always work for another but that’s okay because it’s organic, there are no expectations, but it often gets the job done.
Last year I spent almost a week in Stockholm listening to skeptics from all over Europe speaking about the work that their skeptic organisations do. Good, decent outreach work that tries to inspire the minds of the next generations, work in the media that counters misinformation, and lots of undercover work and research to make sure claims being made about products (especially medicinal products) are evidence based. Activism. It’s decent sceptical activism that makes a difference. It’s hating stupidity and loving people.It’s seeing wrong and caring enough to make it right.
Yet there is a small pocket within the wider movement/community inhabited by those who create a information feedback loop, who don’t actively research the claims they dismiss, who defend famed members of their movement despite their terrible wrong-doings (the cognitive dissonance is almost cult like). Ego is often the motivating factor, back-patting and a bigger platform is the reward, and differences of opinion are settled through point scoring and petty attacks. It’s a movement within a movement where agendas are hidden by smokescreens and mirrors, and where the rational aren’t very rational at all.
“They tend to block honest inquiry, in my opinion. Most of them are not agnostic toward claims of the paranormal; they are out to knock them. […] When an experiment of the paranormal meets their requirements, then they move the goal posts. Then, if the experiment is reputable, they say it’s a mere anomaly. – Marcello Truzzi
These people do not represent skepticism like they might claim to, but they do seem to have the bigger voice. They might have represented skepticism at one point, but in my experience, more and more rational people are becoming wary of such individuals and their increasingly irrational behaviour.
When I write criticisms of skepticism it isn’t that I’m saying skepticism is bad or unhealthy or that skeptics are bad people. I am rooting for the grassroots efforts. I’m saying ‘let us not tolerate bullshit from those who claim to be anti-bullshit’. Let’s not be consumed by a movement that drags us around and around, but let’s stand on our own two feet and question everything.
Let us be better investigators, let us engage with younger generations, let us not be too certain, and let us be hungry for change.
My website got a new look! I’ve often referred to myself as a ghost geek, so I thought I’d incorporate that into the blog somehow.
What do I mean when I write ‘ghost geek’? I’m not for one moment suggesting I know loads and loads about ghosts (I would have used ‘ghost nerd’ for that, after all). I use the label ‘ghost geek’ in reference to my love of ghosts within modern culture.
As a kid I’d spend hours reading ghost folklore books in the ‘history’ section of Trowbridge library during the weekly family trip there every Saturday morning. As I grew so did my grasp of the strange landscape around me in the weird county of Wiltshire that I grew up in and continue to live in today. It’s hills lined with white horses, stone circles, long barrows, man made hills and crop circles every summer. The stories of strange lights in the skies of Warminster, the fairies of Avebury, demon dogs with red eyes and more whetted my appetite and set me on the path to becoming a paranormal researcher long before I knew what paranormal research was.
Growing up watching Jonathan Creek, X-Files and Scooby Doo, reading Susan Hill, M R James and thinking I lived in a haunted house. Being enchanted by stories of Harry Price, the S.P.R, Endfield, Gef the Mongoose, Borley and then discovering the modern ghost hunting scene. That’s why I call myself a Ghost Geek.
In other news, I was interviewed for the Church of David Mabus show for Fortean Radio. You can listen here.
Also: The science/skepticism conference, Kritisk Masse has just revealed details for their 2014 conference and I can announce that I will be delivering my ‘A Skeptics Guide to Ghost Hunting’ presentation. It’s being held in Oslo, and I’ve already been told they have a ‘haunted fortress’ for me to explore!
To finish off, here are some interesting pieces I’ve read recently: