The BBC “Guide To Ghost-Hunting” Is Anti-Science

In the week that saw Ghostbusters 2016 launch on the bigscreen I’ve been contacted by many news outlets wanting to speak to me. As I have a proper job I haven’t been able to oblige but luckily for us all, BBC Three managed to get hold of ‘a range of the most experienced experts in the field’ to put together a guide called ‘How to be a real life ghost hunter’. I’d say that it was a useful piece of writing, only it isn’t. It’s terrible and made me laugh for all the wrong reasons. Continue reading

Selina Scott’s Haunted Kitchen: What The Skeptic Thinks

Selina Scott interviewed me for the One to One show on BBC Radio 4 about ghosts and ever since it was broadcast earlier this week many people have asked me what I think scared the dogs in her kitchen and I’ve decided to tell you what I think. For those who’ve no idea what I’m talking about, Selina Scott believes that her house may be haunted (in particular her kitchen) and interviewed three people on the subject of ghosts for Radio 4. Continue reading

Being The Token Skeptic: My Experience On BBC Radio West Midlands

I got a phone call this morning from BBC Radio West Midlands asking if I would go on their show to discuss the sense of presence research that has recently made the headlines again. I agreed because there were a few interesting points I was hoping to make about the research. Firstly, the researchers are not suggesting that their findings can explain all ghost experiences as the media are falsely claiming, and secondly the research does suggest that we can’t trust our initial impressions of weird experiences we have because we are open to influences that we’re not always aware of.

Instead, the limited time I spent on the phone with the studio was spent defending my skeptical position and having to explain how a recently bereaved man wasn’t hearing messages from his dead wife and how another guest on the air hadn’t seen ghosts when she was a child and how you can’t rely on eye-witness testimony as fact. Something the presenter kept insisting was okay to do.

It’s totally unethical to deal with the recently bereaved and it was unfair of BBC Radio West Midlands to ask me to debunk that persons experiences of messages from his deceased wife. The time I could have spent giving some perspective to the research was instead spent pointing out the huge logical flaws in the testimony of the other guest who couldn’t decide if she was a Christian who doesn’t believe in ghosts or whether she had seen ghosts.

It was a complete waste of my time, but why am I surprised? What was I expecting.

It feels as though the media purposefully misrepresent scientific research to arouse hatred and suspicion from the general public. In this case the media are telling people “these scientists say that your ghost experiences can be explained by what they’ve done in this lab” and the response to this is “they can’t explain to me the profound experiences I have had!” and that’s right, they can’t… but they’re not claiming to have done this.

By misreporting the actual research the media are setting the scientists and scientific researchers like me on the back foot, a position from which we can’t engage people about the actual research and what it means in the context of paranormal experiences without having to talk about the individual claims of each person who has come forward with the story of a weird experience they’ve had.

It makes me feel like I’m a conspiracy theorist when I say this, but it feels as though this is intentional on the part of the media and I think it’s irresponsible. To encourage people to share their testimony is fine because people do have weird experiences, but to do so in the context of promoting a distrust of science and while making it nearly impossible for those with the knowledge of this research and what it means to actually talk about this is completely unfair and it insults the intelligence of both the listeners and those who are sharing their experiences.

This research is real and it’s extremely interesting but the media are misrepresenting it to make for better radio. I wish I had pointed this out on air and I vow that every time I encounter this behaviour going forwards I will call it out. I hope that others will do so too. If you misrepresent scientific research as an easy way to meet audience quotas invite this token skeptic onto your show at your own risk.

Lembit Öpik Said What About ESP?!

One of the subjects on the latest episode (S8 E8) of The Big Questions was ‘Are we right to dismiss astrology?’ The discussion was prompted after an interview with Conservative MP David Tredinnick (who sits on the Commons Health Committee) was published in the Astrological Journal quoting him as saying “I do foresee that one day astrology will have a role to play in healthcare.” He also claimed that opposition to astrology is based on superstition, ignorance and prejudice. Continue reading