On shunning the non-believers

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Yesterday I got told off for being rude on a Facebook thread because I used sarcasm in response to somebody dismissing people because they spell skeptic with a K instead of a C. The person, who seems to harbour a deep hatred of the letter K, actually has bigger issues with people being all rational about ghosts and whatnot. They’ll deny it because they sometimes attend their local Skeptics in the Pub events (Really). They is all down with that doubt shit, innit?

This seems to be the point we’re not supposed to talk about though, and this is an attitude I’ve often encountered with certain “old school” ghost hunters who do not like fresh faces rocking their boat.

These youngsters coming around with their doubtful minds and throwing their messy skeptical thoughts over the tidy paranormal conclusions that people have laid out comfortably around them for so long.  These youngsters acting as though they own the place – who do they think they are putting a K in their skepticism instead of a C like the old days? The sKeptics pushing their beliefs onto other people – we have to be mindful of them doing that, but it’s okay if we do the same because we’re not sKeptics. Who the effng hell to do they effing think they are? Shun the non-believer! SHUNNNN! 

It is seriously tiring when individuals think it is perfectly okay to dismiss a whole group of people based on the way they spell a word, and it’s funny too. I can’t imagine being so closed-minded that my only defense is to reject en-masse anyone who I think it speaking a little too loudly against the things I believe in, in any way I can, (e.g. the way they spell a word).

Yesterday, when my sarcasm got me labelled as rude, the statement I objected to was made by another member of an organisation that I (now reluctantly) belong to called the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena. The individual who objects to the letter K explained that some members were concerned that the Association was moving in too much of a skeptical direction and that, while it’s okay to have sceptics as members, people ought to be mindful of skeptics throwing their weight around in training sessions and other events.

I countered this by pointing out that skepticism isn’t a bad thing, but was told rather bluntly that ‘Being a skeptic is bad, yes, Hayley. However, being a sceptic is good.’ To this I responded with a sarcastic ‘Congratulations, you’ve missed the point completely. *Applauds*’ which is rude, apparently.

I find the accusation that skeptics are making members of ASSAP feel uncomfortable at events because of their non-belief and “agenda” hilarious considering the fact that when I attended the ASSAP conference at the beginning of September I was made to feel extremely unwelcome by a large number of people simply because I regularly express opinions they don’t like.  I almost didn”t return on the Sunday, but did out of duty because I was speaking on a panel. A number of people that I know and respect made the weekend a good weekend, but don’t think the sneers and pointed staring went unnoticed. I didn’t blog about it though because I wanted to support ASSAP and help encourage people to attend the training, but now I’m not so sure…

‘Whether ASSAP is moving too far is a very important thing to be concerned about. I know of members who’ve left the organisation for this very reason. I’m not saying that things have necessarily moved too far yet in my opinion – but if they did, I can assure you ASSAP would lose more members …’ – The K hater

…and you know what? Yes, I was rude with my sarcasm, but it’s ruder to dismiss people for spelling skepticism with a K instead of a C while pretending you’re being open-minded and concerned for the organisation member numbers when, really, you just don’t like people who don’t agree with you.

There. I said the thing we’re not supposed to talk about.

Ghosts, science, non-science and nonsense

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I am a skeptic ghost hunter who uses Scientific Skepticism to research ghosts.

It’s quite simple to understand, but some people don’t understand it at all. Like the TV producer who recently asked me to be a part of their documentary about the Bownessie Lake Monster and asked me to film a chase scene on a boat on Windermere for them.

Yes, a chase scene. It isn’t happening, for those who are wondering… I have no desire to look stupid on television, and a chase scene doesn’t fit with my extensive research into the monster case at all.

Another example would be the ghost hunter who got defensive on Twitter today regarding a tweet I made ages ago that said their team were using pseudo-scientific methodology. According to this person, because we were both ghost hunters we should automatically support one another and I shouldn’t criticise them. However, there are problems with their methodology and I’m allowed to comment on such a thing if I want to.

A more proactive thing to do, of course, would be to tell them how they’re going about things incorrectly. Yet, is that my responsibility? I am willing to help people with their research when I can but the responsibility of having a good research methodology ultimately lays with the investigator themselves, and it isn’t difficult to find the information you need if you take the time to question everything you have made assumptions about.

I have previously written about researching ghosts using a scientific method and you can read about it here. I also set up a website called Talk About Strange which provides basic explanations of the facts behind some of the popular ghost hunting methods that are passed off as science, but actually aren’t.

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of copying what other ghost hunters do, and believing that what the media tell you is the right way of doing scientific paranormal research is right when it isn’t.

So when you next see a skeptic starring in a lake monster chase scene on a boat, be sure question that too…

On Occam’s Razor and “Rational Investigation”

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During the ‘Future of Ghost Investigations’ panel I sat on in early September we were asked ‘what equipment do you find is useful in apparition studies?’ Another panelist, John Fraser of the Society for Psychical Research, took a different approach to answering this question and suggested “rational and logical thought” was the only tool needed.

It’s a good answer in principle, but Fraser wrapped up “rational and logical thought” as Occam’s Razor saying

‘I think the only equipment that is absolutely essential is Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor is a Modus Operandi – the simplest & most accepted solution is the best one … the only thing a ghost hunter truly needs is rational and logical thought which is best summed up by Occam’s Razor’

Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate” or “plurality should not be posited without necessity.” Many people – including Fraser – define this to mean that the simplest solution is the best possible solution, and with this in mind I am inclined to politely disagree with Fraser that his interpretation of Occam’s Razor is an essential tool for paranormal researchers.

Firstly this is because I do not think that ‘rational and logical’ investigation is best summed up by Occam’s Razor. If anything, Occam’s Razor is a lego brick in the lego wall of rational investigation. It doesn’t make a good wall on its own.

Secondly, I believe that Fraser’s interpretation is confused.

What Occam’s Razor means is often open to interpretation, but I always focus on the ‘”do not multiply entities unnecessarily” aspect as I feel it is this that fits best with a rational approach to investigating weird stuff.

If a picture falls off of a wall Person 1 can say “The ghosts moved it“. Person 2 can explain the gravitational theory; Person 3 can also explain gravitational theory but add that gravity has ‘a ghostly presence’Person 1 has offered the simplest solution, but it doesn’t actually explain anything. Person 3 explains all the facts but unnecessarily adds an additional entity that adds nothing. Hence, it can be cut by Occam’s razor to yield the explanation offered by Person 2.

Occam’s razor is another way of stating parsimony. Or as Einstein is supposed to have said “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”. It makes good sense when applied carefully, but it is entirely possible to use Occam’s Razor as a justification for irrationally dismissing things a priori by people on both sides of an argument. Occam’s Razor has been used to dismiss ghosts while also being used to justify their existence! It’s important to keep this in mind.

So, while I think I get where Fraser was coming from when he says that Occam’s Razor is an essential tool for researchers to use, I think he confused what it actually means and how it applies to rational investigation. Have it to hand, but don’t walk around waving the razor wildly in front of you, because you might just cut off your nose…

Video: The Future of Ghost Investigations Panel

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Over the Weekend of September 6th I sat on a panel at the Seriously Strange Conference hosted by the Association of the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena. The panel was about the Future of Ghost Investigations. You can watch the panel below.

How to be a Ghost Buster!

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This Halloween I am going to be delivering a free workshop at Bradford on Avon library for children aged 10+ called:

HOW TO BE A GHOST BUSTER!

A HANDS ON INTRODUCTION TO SCIENTIFIC PARANORMAL INVESTIGATION!

how to be a ghost busterWe will explore:

– How to spot fake ghosts
– Why people see things that aren’t there
– How to investigate ghosts using science
– How good our memories really are, and more…

There will also be a chance to have a ghost portrait photo taken for free* and get hands-on as we try to solve a ghost mystery!

I really hope you’ll consider coming (or, at least, spread the word about this), you can even bring your mum, dad or carer! It’s going to be great fun for Halloween and there’s so much to learn!

How to be a Ghost Buster
Bradford on Avon Library
Thursday October 31st, 4pm – 5pm
Free tickets – book via the library (details on the website)

*free photo portrait to be printed at home

Download a poster and spread the word! (PDF)