Don Philips Still Playing The Science Game. Still Losing.

Don Philips

In the last few months, I have had a number of conversations with people who have found my previous blog posts about Don Philips. Philips, it seems, along with Steve Mera, has been causing a fair bit of concern states side with their claims and research ethics.

You may have watched my video on Dowsing after it seemed to be claimed that Philips could psychically influence dowsing rods being held by Mera.

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog post called ‘Don Philips plays the science game. Loses.‘ It looked at a newspaper report that claimed scientists had proven Philips was able to capture voices of the dead on tape. The report said that Steve Mera has been able to discount that the recordings are pareidolia. He is quoted as saying

In the article, he was quoted as saying that they had played Don’s recording to three people and they ‘picked out the same name. With pareidolia, they should all hear different words.”

In response to my criticisms of this Steve Mera wrote that he was ‘still going through all the paperwork, and lots more tests to carry out…’ and Don Philips similarly wrote ‘when the current project has ended experiments replicated, and data collated all information will be freely available.’

Yeah… still waiting on that.

Colour me surprised then when Doubtful News covered some more recent research by Mera and Philips under the name of The Scientific Establishment of Parapsychology [SEP] concerning an allegedly haunted house. Sharon Hill reports:

‘SEP report was horrible – full of unreadable graphs, following poor methodology, and bloated with pseudoscientific babble. Kenny [Biddle] had the report run through a software program commonly used to detect plagiarism and discovered that about 38% of the text was verbatim from other, unattributed sources. I wrote to the lead author, Steve Mera, with the plagiarism charge. He said that the report was not final, it was just a draft, and that Linder should not have released it. The report is dramatically stamped “cleared for release” and contains no indication that it is a draft or that the unattributed portions would be fixed or cited.’

It is my opinion that Philips and Mera use the “incomplete research” excuse time and time again to wiggle out of having to be held responsible for their bad science and questionable research ethics.

Hill concludes in the Doubtful News piece that ‘[Fact checking] and skeptical activism works to scale back inaccurate “facts”, unethical and unprofessional actions, and maybe even squash hoaxes or frauds. If we didn’t bust the fakers, we’d probably be overrun by them.’

There isn’t much I can add to that conclusion except to that that Don Philips and Steve Mera are still playing the science game and still losing.

We are the Monsters

all monsters are human

We all consider ourselves to be rational, ethical people, and we wouldn’t dream that we were potentially harming others with our behaviour. As a previous blog post showed, ghost hunters who do unethical things do not always realise that they’re being unethical.

How then do we ensure that we don’t make the same mistake? I pointed out in that blog post that it’s important to work to a code of ethics – either one that you’ve written up yourself, that an investigator/team you’re working with has written, or perhaps one a venue has in place.

It’s easy to think that irrational people are unethical investigators and that rational people are ethical investigators but this is false. Nobody fits those pigeon holes so perfectly.

A code of ethics covers your back, but it primarily works for the people you come into contact with. It protects them from you doing harm to them through your actions, it guarantees complete confidentiality and it enables them to stop the investigation at any time. No questions asked.

I don’t speak for other paranormal researchers but I am terrified that I am going to do the wrong thing when I deal with somebody who has asked for my help and so I’m glad that I have a safety net that limits the harm I can do.

I have today made public my code of ethics [PDF] in the hope that it will inspire others to actually use a code of ethics that exists outside of their head*. Skeptics (myself included) talk often about the harm they want to protect others from but if we’re not careful we can become the monsters that we’re trying to chase away.

*please contact me before replicating, redistributing, or using my code of ethics as your own.

 

The North Wales Incident: Lifting the lid on unethical ghost hunters

ethics

When you are a ghost hunter it isn’t always obvious when your behaviour is about to become unethical. You can become so caught up in the moment, truly believing that you’re finding evidence of ghosts that it’s the hunt for more evidence that’s at the front of your mind rather than a sense of what is right or wrong beyond the ghost hunt.

This is probably what happened recently in North Wales when a paranormal research team moved their ghost hunt from inside a pub and across the road into the local parish church graveyard. I imagine that the investigators didn’t think twice about standing among the graves and asking for spirits or ghosts to make themselves known. What could possibly go wrong?

Yet, a local resident who has family buried there was mortified and deeply upset when she heard what had happened from a friend who took part in the ghost hunting event.

I heard of this from a paranormal researcher that I know through mutual friends after the researcher was approached by the upset woman for advice. The researcher told me ‘she had spoken with her relatives and was afraid what occurred would become common knowledge in the vicinity. There are a few people she knew that would be deeply upset by what happened.’

I was asked to write about this as a warning to other paranormal researchers, and to point out that this isn’t the way to behave. Yet, although I agree that what happened wasn’t right, part of me wondered what had driven those people from the pub where they were invited to be, and across to the graveyard where there was no such invitation.

I contacted the team in question to tell them what had been reported to me and to ask why they had made the decision to do that. I wondered if perhaps I would receive abusive messages in response as I often do when being critical of ghost hunters, but instead I received a remorseful response.

‘We as a team would like to take the opportunity to send a sincere apology to all concerned’ they wrote, going on to explain their conduct. ‘We are deeply sorry though … and we do take this opportunity to apologise to all. We would have ideally liked to apologise directly but that is not to be the case. We shall bare the concerns raised in future and make it public that we will not visit this type of location again.’

There are lessons to be learned here for all.

Harm has occurred because of the behaviour of these paranormal researchers. In their email they explained that ‘every paranormal team at sometime or another have visited a church yard’ which is false (I’ve never visited a graveyard with any team I’ve been involved with) and is also potentially indicative of their decision making process.

As humans we attempt to live in accordance to what is and isn’t moral but our own senses of morality can be compromised by biases. This is why it’s important to have a previously-agreed-to Code of Ethics and Conduct that doesn’t get compromised because of what other teams do and what you’d like to do.

The code of ethics that I personally use as a researcher wouldn’t allow me to enter a graveyard to look for ghosts. Hell, it wouldn’t even allow me to involve paying members of the public in something I marketed as an investigation without the use of an entertainment disclaimer. It’s these things that set us apart as researchers – those who give a shit about others before themselves, and those that don’t.

Even so, the team involved in this incident seem to be genuinely sorry about what has happened and I think many critics of unethical ghost hunters can learn something important here too. These incidents are often not malicious in origin and are instead the product of ignorance. Attacking ghost hunters for being unethical does nothing to fight that ignorance and does nothing to lessen the unethical behaviour being criticised. A number of people would do well to think of that when they next take to Facebook for a very public rant about the latest team they’ve seen doing questionable things.

If anyone reading this would like to chat about creating a code of ethics for their team you can contact me here.

The Press Are Playing Ugly Games In Which The Vulnerable Are The Losers

the ghost

I’ve researched and investigated paranormal phenomena for a decade or so now and so the terrible treatment that the most vulnerable people who claim to be paranormal eye-witnesses receive comes as no surprise to me anymore. Yet I still feel an anger bubbling when I read atrocious pieces like the one written by The Daily Record. It isn’t enough to point out that ghosts aren’t real, sometimes we have to stand up and say “what’s happening here isn’t right”, and what’s happening here isn’t right.

In it we meet a couple who are apparently plagued by paranormal activity referred to as “a demon” which whips up terrible visions of dread and danger. The Record reports that ‘in a story reminiscent of the film Paranormal Activity, the Fry family say they have been molested by an evil poltergeist for months. Mum Tracey, 46, even says she is beaten up in the night by the phantom – leaving her covered with bruises in the morning. In desperation her husband Keiron, 32, forked out £100 to a specialist to “cleanse” the house and has brought a vicar in to bless their cursed abode.’

Demonic attack or something else?
Demonic attack or something else?

It’s all very Hollywood and it makes for an excellent story but only if you stop thinking of the people at the centre of the story as people. Any person who researches the paranormal in a rational manner knows that the majority of cases reported to them will be symptoms of underlying physical and mental health issues or complicated social or domestic problems. As such, every individual that a researcher comes into contact with has to be handled with great care to ensure that they are not exploited and do not come to emotional or physical harm. I’ve written extensively on this blog about the ethics of ghost research before, but to summarise – ghost researchers should not work with children, the recently bereaved and vulnerable adults. Who fits into the brackets as a vulnerable adult can be open to interpretation but it is often better to be safe than sorry in these situations.

I don’t like to focus discussions of ethics upon individuals but in this case I feel that more damage has already been done that I could ever inflict upon the family at the centre of the latest grotesque headlines.

...really?
…really?

Had this case been presented to me I would not have taken it on because I have huge doubts about the evidence being presented by the family.  The photo of the “ghost” (above) is clearly a pile of laundry and when a faked photo is presented in a case like this it suggests that there is a motivation, but what? Perhaps the family are keen to move house (a common phenomena)? Perhaps this is a cry for help? Perhaps this is fame seeking?

I don’t know and it isn’t my place to make these presumptions. Had the family approached me I would have suggested they speak to their GP about the issues occurring when they sleep and, if they were religious, their faith leader for guidance. I would be honest and tell them that I don’t believe in the paranormal but that I wasn’t able to take the case because it wouldn’t be ethical of me to do so, and I would have promised them full confidentiality because these stories, one leaked, will stay with you which is why I would also have advised them to not speak to the media at any cost.

The way in which the media treat people at the centre of these cases is reprehensible. There is a certain level of sensitivity with which paranormal researchers handle cases such as these, and the way the journalists have handled these potentially vulnerable people has the potential to make their situation even worse as all sorts of unethical and questionable people see their case as a chance to further their own ambitions and needs.

We already see that the family have handed money over to a “house cleanser” which is a completely bogus industry that offers, at best, a placebo solution because these hauntings are often a symptom of something much more serious the “ghost” often returns soon after the allegedly successful cleansing because the real causes have not been addressed.

Regardless of  the motivation at the centre of this case, no matter what the cause of the alleged haunting and regardless of what the ambitions of those involved, there is one certainty that applies to all cases of this nature – becoming a headline story does not offer resolutions to the haunted.

Humanist Ghost Busting: A Clarification

graves

A short while ago I wrote how I am a Humanist ghost buster and this confused a few people who seemed to think that I was mistaking humanism with humanitarianism. While I understand that suggestion I can assure you that I am not mistaken when I talk about my discovery of humanism shaping the way in which I conduct my paranormal research.

A Humanitarian approach is certainly a large part of being humanist but humanism is the reason for our humanitarian involvements. Being good for the sake of being good and not for post-death reward is what sets humanists apart from those who would undertake humanitarian work through other inspirations.

Instead of writing a long post about this I thought I’d share this video instead which I feel sums this up in a more concise manner.