When tickets for this years Seriously Strange conference hosted by the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) went on sale I bought mine immediately. The conference takes place at the University of Bath in September and boasts a wide variety of speakers talking about numerous subjects that should whet the appetite of anybody with a passing interest in the paranormal and the research and study of anomalous phenomena. Yes, even non-believers or those who identify as skeptics.
Shortly after buying my ticket I was asked if I would speak on a panel about ‘The Future of Ghost Investigation’ which I happily accepted. I’ve been a member of ASSAP for years and as they’re an educational charity I’ll do what I can to support them (I even once did an unintentionally terrible talk at their Swindon Ghost Fest, for example). I believe the educational outreach work ASSAP does is a step in the right direction toward establishing decent standards of research into reports of paranormal phenomena, and a way to tackle the unethical and potentially dangerous methods used by a number of paranormal researchers. When I started doubting the methods I used when ghost hunting, ASSAP were the beacon of light that helped me work out what the right direction was. For that alone I’ll always do what I can to help.
Recently I found out that I will be on the panel with the Chairman of ASSAP Dave Wood, Steve Parsons, Becky Smith and John Fraser, and that other speakers include Professor Chris French (who it seems is not only doing his own lecture but also numerous panels), David Farrant who will be talking about the infamous Highgate Vampire, Richard Freeman will be talking about his work as the Zoological Director for the Centre for Fortean Zoology, Guy Lyon Playfair who will be talking about Twin Telepathy (and on a panel about Poltergeists along with Trystan Swale who I used to host Righteous Indignation with), as well as many other speakers covering topics such as UFOs, Parapsychology, Mass Hysteria, ESP and more.
There are some subjects, such as Twin Telepathy, that make me inwardly groan, but I’m still excited to be attending the conference because of the range of topics being spoken about by believers and non-believers, amateur researchers and academics alike. This is, I believe, one of the strong points of ASSAP (though some would say it’s a weak point). It is also the reason I would encourage believers AND non-believers alike to buy a ticket and attend, and is why I was saddened to see the whole thing dismissed as ‘woo’ recently when the event was shared on a Facebook page for a skeptic group.
I guess there’s a bit of a disconnect for some people who believe that Paranormal Conference are automatically irrational and not worthy of the presence of skeptics. For example, minutes after a link to the Conference website was posted on the Facebook group, a member commented on the post pointing out, almost sneeringly, that ‘they have a professional body – National Register of Professional Investigators…’, which is something ASSAP are soon to be launching as a way to encourage amateur paranormal researchers to work to an approved ethical code. Something I approve of, and something any rational thinker should approve of as a method to cut down on unethical behaviour among paranormal researchers. Unless you don’t bother to look beyond the headline and cast judgement because of the word ‘paranormal’, of course.
The same “skeptic” then cynically suggested that ASSAP were only using the University as a venue as an appeal to authority, and that there was a danger of ‘over-intellectualising woo‘, an accusation that is patronisingly dismissive and ill-informed. The same individual, when asked by myself and the Chairman of ASSAP where the ‘woo’ was, replied ‘Well if telepathy works you’ll understand…’ and followed this up with a straw-man that likened the consideration and discussion of anomalous experiences people report as akin to seriously considering the Earth is flat just because some people say it is, which was the final nail in the coffin for me.
Sure, the conference is hosting talks about telepathy, ESP, UFOs and Vampires, but even a cursory glance at what ASSAP and its members do and are would have informed this “skeptic” that the inclusion of these subjects is not necessarily an endorsement of the existence of these things.
People have weird experiences. I’m one of them, as anyone who has listened to one of my talks at a ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ event or at any of the Conferences I’ve spoken at will know. Healthy skepticism requires the consideration of new information and the consideration of the experiences of other people. Unhealthy skepticism involves a ‘ghosts aren’t real so your experience isn’t a ghost. Move on’ attitude, which is lazy and quite closed minded.
Although there is no evidence that supports the idea that there is or ever was a vampire in Highgate, it doesn’t mean that subject shouldn’t be discussed, especially if it plays an important part in our society, as subjects like ghosts, UFOs, telepathy and monsters do. To dismiss a conference and all of those involved as ‘woo’ simply for addressing these strange topics is ridiculous…
…and that’s why you should go to Seriously Strange, to see what Paranormal research actually looks like.
Also, there’s a paranormal disco. BOOM!