Has Amanda Byram been faking ghosts?

The Byram fake photo

I was sent a link to this news story featured in the Canterbury Times by the journalist who wrote it, asking for my opinion. The story is about a supposedly strange photo captured by TV presenter Amanda Byram. The photo is of Byram posing with two members of the public, and next to them is a translucent shadowy figure.

amanda byrams utterly shite fake ghost

The “ghost” is nothing more than a fake created using either an iPhone or Android app, or perhaps acetate in front of the lens with the ghost drawn on in marker (though my money would be on the Smartphone App). There are numerous different applications that allow you to add these kind of ghosts (and even UFOs) to your photos. You can see similar in a previous blog post of mine by clicking here. It could be a joke, or it could have been posted on Twitter in the hope of drumming up interest in an upcoming documentary called ‘Paranormal Whitstable’ that will be hosted by Byram.

The Red Sands Radio website reports that following their coverage of the CCTV footage that emerged from the Whitstable Nutrition Centre that allegedly shows a box of tea-bags “mysteriously” floating off of a shelf, they were called by TV Producer Stuart Andrews  about a new program being produced about occurrences in small towns in England called ‘Paranormal Whitstable’.

Whitstable. The town that keeps on giving…

…giving shit ghosts, that is.

Ghost of a Memphis Bank Robber & a portal at Kelvedon Hatch?

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There have been a couple of interesting stories in the media recently. A number of them came to my attention while I was at the European Skeptics Congress so I was unable to write about them at the time, despite wanting to. I thought I’d double up this post and explore two that caught my attention.

The Memphis Bank Robber Ghost

A number of people have contacted Memphis based paranormal investigator, Mike Einspanjer, to tell him that they’ve seen the ghost of bank robber, Marvin Amerson, in the area Amerson killed himself after realising that he wasn’t going to escape the pursuing police. You can read and watch the news report on this story by clicking here.

Mike Einspanjer told WREG.com that suicides often produce ghosts.

“This wasn’t a planned event, he did it in the spur of the moment and that’s a lot to deal with and it takes time. Amerson also left behind a wife and a son, So that’s a lot of pain and a lot of grief that he has to work through.”

I think that Einspanjer is being unethical by becoming involved in this case and I think there is nothing but baseless speculation going on here. You can read more on my blog about the ethics of ghost hunting by clicking here. People who live near the site of the alleged apparitions haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary, but although this is an unimpressive case I do think that it hints a more interesting social phenomena.

The way in which people see something insignificant at a significant location and link it with why that location is significant fascinates me.  It’s a bit like people who see Henry VIII’s ghost at many palaces, and ghost hunters whose findings always fit local ghost folklore.

The Kelvedon Hatch Ghost Photos

The Brentwood Gazette have reported that a Ghost Hunting events company, Spooksavers (heh), have made news with a bunch of photos they claim could show a spirit portal opening up during one of their events at the Secret Nuclear Bunker in Kelvedon Hatch. The photos in question (below) show people in the room surrounded by lots of wiggly and fuzzy lights – it is this that is claimed to be some sort of spirit portal or energy.

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So what are we looking at? What we know for certain is that the rooms in the bunker are full of various reflective surfaces (see picture A below), and we also know that it is possible that the photos may have been taken through a window (see picture B below). Both of these, coupled with a slow shutter speed and slight movement of the camera could cause the effects seen. Not only that, but if you study the blur in the first photo above, you can see ghostly forms of the shoes of the people in the photo, which suggests to me that a slow shutter speed has indeed caused this effect.  Both of the photos below were taken by Draco2008.

Picture A

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Numerous reflective surfaces

Picture B 

kelvedon window photo
Internal windows

It’s also worth pointing out that various cameras and similar devices were being used by numerous people present, as seen in the photo montage below. It’s impossible to rule out that a camera with its screen on, or perhaps a meter with an on-light illuminated in the hand of someone in the photo was moved around at the time of the photo being taken.

photos from the kelvedon event
Photos from the event

While speaking at ESC15 I mentioned how ghost hunters often have a low threshold for evidence, and judging from the photo montage above (taken from the Brentwood Gazette website) that shows numerous pseudo-scientific techniques being used to hunt for ghosts, I can only suggest that Spooksavers are guilty of having a low threshold for what they determine to be paranormal on their events.

Job done?

Fortean Times piece

Fortean Times piece

When I was first sent this clipping from an issue of the Fortean Times I was really annoyed that someone was sharing my research into the case without any credit being given. After all I spent my time, money and effort going to the pier and speaking to the people involved. Then I realised that it didn’t really matter because Paul Thomas might tell his mates about the case, might pass on the nuggets of information about the reality behind the case and might think rationally about other similar hauntings too… and it’s because of my time and effort that he is able to.

Job done, and yes I feel smug. I’m entitled to.

I often don’t get credit for my research, findings and writing. I think it’s unfair and it does annoy me – I’m not going to lie.

Producers and editors don’t think a young female can be presented as an ‘expert’ to the public on such topics – I’ve been told this directly by TV producers who still went on to use my research anyway – and it pisses me off. Yet, if it means that someone somewhere can get the correct information about a ghost photo, a haunting or the claims being made by ghost hunters, then I guess it’s a pain I’m going to have to deal with.

At least I’m not the arse withholding credit though.

On Hating Stupidity & Loving People

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On Saturday evening I attended the Gala Dinner at the 15th European Skeptics Congress, and between the courses various people took to the stage to deliver short speeches or magic tricks. One of these people was Marit Simonsen, a member of the International Advisory Board of the ESC. Marit somehow managed to eloquently capture the spirit of skepticism in words and it was very moving to listen to. One lady at my table was even moved to tears! I found Marit afterwards and insisted she published it.

I think you should go and read it. Perhaps it will be different to read than it was to listen to during the event, but I still think it’s wonderful.

There is a reference to many of the talks that had already been delivered (e.g. PR spin in Michael Marshall’s talk about whether your mum or girlfriend cook better, and Jeremy Clarksons penis… and a Social Sciences study mentioned in another talk that concluded that if you looked at the Eiffel Tower and tilted your head to the left it would look smaller).

Thank you, Marit!

Read the speech here, it’s lovely.

Communication Disaster: The damage Skeptics cause

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*update* Paolo Viscardi has pointed out that the Skeptics I write about could be classed as Pseudo-Skeptics because “a skeptic doesn’t dismiss an area of investigation because they think it’s woo”. This is a fair point I didn’t consider at the time of writing, so the term ‘skeptic’ is used throughout this post.

On Sunday I spoke at the 15th European Skeptics Congress about Ghost Hunting using skepticism (there’s a great summary here by Bruno Van de Casteele). I used examples of my research to demonstrate how you can investigate ghosts, monsters, UFOs and all sorts of paranormal topics while using scientific skepticism. I finished my talk by going over 7 ways in which I work to promote rational and critical thinking about paranormal subjects, and those points were:

  1. Build up a good relationship with local journalists
  2. Engage & work alongside those who believe.
  3. Make rational information easily available
  4. Never stop talking
  5. Stay one step ahead of the fakers
  6. Teach others (especially kids) the tricks of the trade
  7. And finally: have fun!

I want to focus on point 2 in this blog post. ‘Engage and work alongside those who believe’.

When I stopped believing in ghosts, psychics, UFOs etc. it was because I initially doubted certain things happening around me and then went online to try and answer the questions that this initial doubt inspired. It was thanks to people like Bob Dezon, who engaged respectfully with me about certain paranormal topics, that I was able to eventually turn my back on nonsense I used to believe in.

Ever since then I’ve thought it important to not think of those who believe in Paranormal ideas as ‘them‘ or as some group of other people who have no common ground with us non-believers, because that simply isn’t true. When I spoke in Stockholm I pointed out that just like everyone in the audience there that day, lots of people who believe in Paranormal ideas detest fake psychics, hoaxers, and scam artists and do what they can to stop such people harming others. Those who believe in Paranormal ideas also want to know the truth, but perhaps are off the track slightly with how they apply logic to what they’re dealing with. I used to do exactly that and know how easy it is, and as a skeptic I also know how frustrating it cam be to see people making the same old illogical arguments too. I get that… yet I see, with great regularity, those who identify as skeptics dismissing people simply for being involved in paranormal research or journalism, or for believing in Paranormal ideas.

Believers in Paranormal ideas aren’t necessarily stupid people and there is often a complex story behind their belief. It’s this story that we try to learn about on the Be Reasonable Podcast that I co-host with Michael Marshall (Marsh), and we’ve often finished our interview having learnt something completely new about someone else’s perspective on a topic. We may not agree that Pterosaurs still exist like Jonathan Whitcomb thinks, or that the Earth is flat like Michael Wilmore of the Flat Earth Society… but we get where they’re coming from. A bit… and that’s something.

In the majority of cases you are not going to convince someone who believes in a Paranormal idea that they might be wrong… and even if they do have that moment of enlightenment (as I did) there will be two new believers to take their place almost instantly. This isn’t a battle, though. It should never be a battle. It’s a whole bunch of stories unfolding second by second. Widespread belief in Paranormal ideas is very unlikely to go away, so what do we do? As skeptics, as non-believers… do we continue to roll our eyes and despair at their stupidity? Mark these people off as no-hopers, focusing instead on those who sit upon the fence? Is that good enough?

Personally, I don’t think it is. I may not be able to agree with you that ghosts exist, but I’d prefer to focus on our commonalities rather than our differences while still getting that message out there. I’d rather work with someone who believes in ghosts any day over a non-believer too lazy or stubborn to engage with others they don’t connect with.

The amount of tips I receive while working on cases that come from those who believe in Paranormal ideas is incredible, and that’s why it annoys me… no… angers me, when skeptics dismiss believers completely without looking beyond the label. The tone that many skeptics take while talking or writing to or about those who believe in Paranormal ideas leaves me scratching my head because they’re so dismissive of those they often claim to be trying to reach out to or engage with. Doubtful News, for example, is a site that does great work with Paranormal media stories, yet often seems to not realise that they’re putting peoples backs up with some of the commentary they offer on those news stories. It’s small things like this that make or break relationships between believers and non-believers.

In the next couple of weeks I am speaking at the Seriously Strange Conference in the city of Bath. It’s ‘The Paranormal Conference of the Year’ because anyone who is anyone in the UK paranormal research fields is likely to be present or represented in some way or another. It is being hosted by the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena – a paranormal educational charity who educate ghost hunters on how to conduct scientific, rigorous and ethical investigations into allegedly Anomalous Phenomena.

The reaction to this years conference from skeptics has been shameful; I’ve written about this previously. To recap though, I have seen skeptics mocking speakers for appearing ‘at a paranormal conference’ despite the conference not being purely Pseudo-Scientific in nature. People have been extremely quick to judge those involved because the conference is about Paranormal topics which is quite unfair because we, as skeptics, constantly tell those who promote Paranormal ideas to be more scientific, to be more rational yet when they are rational and scientific we dismiss them anyway because of the unfair connection we force upon them with those who are credulous.

As a speaker at the Seriously Strange conference I have also been mocked and dismissed as a “woo-woo”. I am not a woo-woo (a term I despise, by the way). This isn’t a one off reaction though, as just today I was dismissed in a discussion thread on the Skeptical Inquirer Facebook page as ‘a true believer’ for defending UFOlogists from the accusation that the field cannot be scientific.

true believer comment

The post was a link to a recent piece on the CSIcop website about UFOlogy entitled ‘UFO Research up in the air: Can it be scientific?’

The comments went like this:

Me: Of course it can be scientific, what a silly question…
D1: If UFOlogy was intellectually honest and applied the scientific method, would it not simply then become mainly meteorology on the weight of evidence gained?
Me: You can investigate UFO sightings and so on while using Scientific Skepticism. Plenty do. Or are you suggested everyone who investigates sightings must automatically be a psuedoscientific believer?
S: Only silly to you I guess, Hayley. It’s a legitimate question if you read the piece.
Me: I did read it, and I disagree with the final paragraph where you state: “For now, UFOlogy attempts to sound sciencey, but it is not nearly up to the standards to be called “science.”’ Nice of you to tar everyone with the same brush.
D2: Hayley’s a True Believer. Arnt’cha, sugar?

Sexist, patronising and dismissive nature of this response aside for a moment – I’m defending those who research a certain Paranormal idea therefore I must be a believer, and because I’m a believer I must therefore be incorrect, despite the fact that I was making perfectly decent points? Riiiiight…

Do you see the problem here? Do you see why skeptics are often thought of as the bad guys among believers? I do, yet so many non-believers and skeptics don’t see it. Perhaps it’s because I count believers as my friends and my colleagues, perhaps it’s because I am a part of their communities as much as I am skeptic communities… but sometimes I wonder just what some skeptics are actually trying to achieve, and whether they realise that they’re often completely missing the target?

Believers aren’t people to be spoken about or spoken to. Try talking with them. Strangely, they have thought and ideas. Like humans.