Tony Youens, the founder of A.S.K.E joins Hayley to discuss fake ghosts.
The Sun newspaper reported today that self-proclaimed psychic, Derek Acorah, had said that missing child Madeline McCann was dead. The newspaper quoted Acorah as saying:
I know her parents are convinced Maddie is alive and I’m really sorry – but the little one has been over in the spirit world for some time. I don’t think she’ll be there long before she reincarnates.
When children pass over who haven’t had full lives I believe they choose the time to come back in the same form again — as another little girl.
Derek was quick to point out that he had been misquoted by the newspaper and had never said the things written in the article. He told the Liverpool Echo:
“This chap came on the phone to do an interview for a feature about the tour I’m doing in Ireland. He asked a lot of questions about my belief in reincarnation – he has put things together by association. “I have been stitched up by a paper run by Rupert Murdoch.”
Mr Acorah claimed he told The Sun’s reporter he “hoped and believed” that Madeleine, who vanished while on holiday with her family in Portugal in May 2007, “could still be alive”.
He added: “I have to be a very sensitive person in my job. The last thing I would do is force my opinions on people. And Kate McCann is from our neck of the woods – I wouldn’t say these things.”
It wouldn’t be the first time that a newspaper have put words into the mouth of the person they’re interviewing. I’ve certainly experienced such practice on a number of occasions when it comes to news stories about ghosts and paranormal research.
I think that anybody claiming to know psychically whether or not any missing person is alive is being distasteful and insensitive in doing so. Whether they believe that they are psychic or not, they must realise that the majority of people wouldn’t agree with such ideas (that have no evidential basis to them) being shared on such a public platform.
Not only do they have no evidence to back up their claims, they’re potentially wasting police time and also providing false hope to the relatives and friends of that person.
So I was quite surprised when Derek Acorah claimed on Twitter “I totally refute the article that had appeared in a newspaper today. I am not so sad that I have to cash in on somebody else’s misery!”
A psychic such as Derek Acorah cashes in on other peoples misery every time he takes to the stage and claims he can talk to peoples dead relatives without providing one piece of evidence for those who doubt him. Time and time again psychics such as Derek Acorah are caught out or shown to be not gaining their results through the paranormal means they claim. Derek himself was caught faking a possesion by a South African jailer called Kreed Kafer who had never existed and whose name was actually an anagram of ‘Derek Faker’.
When such cheap tricks are used by people like Derek Acorah, Sally Morgan, Colin Fry, Peter Popoff and more, and they take to the stage and continue to claim they’re talking to the deceased through paranormal abilities they should understand that what they’re doing is gaining them a profit directly from the grief of those sitting in their audiences crying. The fact that Derek Acorah didn’t see the parallel when he tweeted this morning was stunning.
I’ve raised this argument before with psychics that I used to work with while conducting paranormal investigations, and was often told that the same could be said of grief councillors – however those who council the bereaved are trained and qualified to do what they do. There are standards of practice they must meet, and nothing alike what a psychic does on stage.
People have been outraged at Acorah for what he has said – me included at first, yet the more I thought about this situation, the more I realised that there are bigger issues being demonstrated here that we are missing.
As I watched the buzz around this story grow I realised why it is that people very rarely turn their backs on the psychics they trust in.
This morning as Derek Acorah was trending on Twitter, being spoken about on ‘This Morning’, on the radio and in various other newspapers his Facebook Fan page was buzzing with support from those who believe he genuinely has psychic ability. I rarely log in to the Project Barnum Twitter account, but I did out of curiosity and had numerous conversations with Tweeters about why people are so “stupid” to think someone like Acorah is really psychic.
I watched that sentiment unfold on the ‘Derek Acorah’ hashtag, I watched a man on the television blame Acorah fans for continuing to fund the man which allows him to maintain a platform from which to speak, and I watched as his fans flocked around him on Facebook, and it was clear to see that the readings that Derek Acorah provides to people in his audiences comfort them. I know that comfort – I used to be a ghost hunter who found ghosts wherever I wanted to. I also know that whenever people are on the television or radio talking about how your belief is nonsense you don’t listen to them, you go running to the websites and forums where like-minded people will tell you that you are right and the doubters are wrong.
I’ve said before, and I’ll say again that people don’t have to want to make a change – it’s not fair to hold people to your own standards and I wont ever do that.
However you shouldn’t be surprised if people don’t agree with you if all you are willing to do is tell them they’re stupid for believing in ‘x’ and it’s their fault that other people fall for ‘x’.
If you want to make people see psychic tricksters for what they are you can’t wait for the psychics to trip up and out themselves as tricksters because it doesn’t always happen. We can’t walk around insisting that psychics like Acorah aren’t genuine and are fraudsters because we know they’ll try to sue us and it just pushes the vulnerable closer to the psychics, so I figure that the best thing to do is to promote the tricks the psychics use at every opportunity we get, and to make it near impossible for the psychics to use those tricks without getting caught.
I hope that Derek Acorah will demand a retraction from The Sun newspaper if they genuinely misquoted him, and I hope he didn’t say those things about a missing child to a national newspaper. I don’t know if Derek Acorah is psychic or not, but all things considered I personally think it’s rather unlikely. I hope that as a result of Acorah’s bad press today, any other psychic thinking of forcing upon the general public their opinion regarding a missing person, will think twice before doing so.
I genuinely hope that people who are suckered in by the cheap tricks that Acorah and his ilk display will one day find it within themselves to think twice about what it is they believe. I know it’s possible because I changed my mind, and since launching Project Barnum I have had emails from people who have read the information on the Project Barnum website, gone to a psychic show, and realised exactly what is happening up on stage in front of them.
*edit* My initial concerns over Sally Morgan not being given the chance to ‘design’ the test she was being asked to undertake have been addressed by Professor Chris French who has pointed out that although media coverage of the challenge didn’t lay emphasis on it, the test is adaptable with her input.
I apologise for being incorrect at the time of blogging. I still do no believe that such a challenge and the publicity that surrounds it is the best way to enable educational outreach, but I am glad that Chris could answer my other concerns. Sally Morgan is currently getting a lot of attention, and I cannot help but feel it is the wrong sort of attention – the sort of attention that is giving people the wrong message about skepticism. The Merseyside Skeptics, Simon Singh, Chris French and the JREF have all issued Sally Morgan with a challenge that will take place on October 31st, Halloween, in Liverpool which is where Sally will be for one of her shows.
The challenge was issued to Sally at a time when there have been mentions of legal action being taken by people acting on behalf of her – when she is the least likely to respond to any criticism, and soldier on with her claims and shows.
In all reality it is at a time like this, when doubt has been cast on her abilities and honesty (something I hold no facts on, just personal opinion) that people wanting to promote critical thinking should be engaging with those attending the psychic stage shows. A look around online will show that some Sally Morgan fans are starting to doubt her abilities – there has been discussion on various Sally Morgan facebook groups that her shows have lots of empty seats, and people who are attending the shows are suddenly aware of the lack of hits Sally is making, with some fans describing her performances as poor or disappointing.
It is these people that skeptics can reach by engaging with them, which is what I created Project Barnum for – to help people not only find the information they’re looking for (about cold reading etc.) but also to provide resources for people to use to engage with others.
Unfortunately, Project Barnum isn’t headline grabbing stuff because it takes time and effort and isn’t overly showy. It’s just information waiting to be passed on – but let’s not forget it is information that makes the differences.
A publicity stunt in which a challenge is issued only reaches those who already have their minds made up one way or another – those who do not believe Sally Morgan is psychic will be in support of the challenge and use it as an “I told you so” tool, much like all of the other psychic challenges that have been issued in the past, especially where the psychics have failed. Those who believe in psychic ability will see it as another way “closed minded skeptics” are attacking psychics.
Sally will not be attending the challenge – we know that already – so it serves no real useful purpose other than to demonstrate, once again, that a psychic such as Morgan isn’t willing to talk to skeptics. We know that already, as she has often stated that she doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone who doubts her.
Not only this, but why would Sally Morgan take part in a challenge devised by people who haven’t spoken to her about her abilities and have only built up a picture of what she claims to be able to do from her website and television shows?
I know from experience that there is a lot more to the story when it comes to people who think they are psychic. It isn’t just a case of being able to talk to the dead, or being able to locate missing people, or being able to get messages from objects by holding them. Without actually talking to somebody about their claimed abilities, you can’t claim to know how to go about testing their abilities.
Patricia Putt, for example, was tested by the JREF (and failed) but detailed to Righteous Indignation in an interview how she had agreed to the test conditions in advance with those who were testing her. I think that by creating a test or challenge before even speaking to Morgan was the biggest mistake those involved in the Halloween challenge could have made, because it gave Morgan the perfect reason to not agree to the test.
Does Sally Morgan claim to be able to predict the names of seven out of ten deceased people by looking at their photos? I know she does some photo readings during her shows, but as someone who has watched her televisions shows as they’ve aired I don’t even know how many photos she reads from in one go. Do you?
Do not get me wrong – it is good and important to direct as much attention to potential psychic cheats as is possible, but at the same time we have to remember that it isn’t just the potential cheats who are gaining attention, it is also those generating that critical attention – and if not done correctly, then we all look like idiots and reinforce the stereotypes that surround skeptics.
I have a full list of numerous big name psychics, where they’ll be touring and when. I would implore any skeptical groups or organisations to get in touch because by talking to just a few people attending a psychic show about how they can work out for themselves if they’re being misled or not, you can make a difference.
I personally don’t care if Sally Morgan does or does not agree to be tested, what I care about is the person paying to go to a show without knowing how to spot a cheat. I honestly believe this is where the biggest difference can be made.
By arming people with information we’re not forcing our beliefs or opinions on others, but simply enabling them to think for themselves and if that’s the least we can do, then that’s marvelous.
Sometimes, when it comes to the world of ghosts and haunted houses and claims of paranormal phenomena, things are not as clear cut as they initially seem. Sometimes wrong and right aren’t options one can choose at ease and as a skeptic and a humanist, I sometimes find myself resisting the urge to head-butt my desk and over and over at the moral dilemmas I find myself facing.
I know of a man who lives in a building that is said to be one of the most haunted places in the entire world. I’m not going to name him or his home for reasons that will become apparent, but in the ghost hunter culture that has evolved after shows like LivingTV’s ‘Most Haunted’ hit the airwaves, the building in which this man lives has become infamous and hundreds of people have flocked to it to try to find proof of the ghosts that are said to live there alongside the living. The truth is a bit more different because all of the ghost stories attached to the building are made up, or at least, wholly over exaggerated. As many will know, it is easy for folklore stories to get changed over time, and for what was wild speculation and fictional to suddenly become fact when it is passed on a few generations or so.
The man who lives in the haunted house knows that the ghosts aren’t there with him and has shared this fact with some skeptical ghost researchers who live locally to him who have bought him a beer or two when they’ve visited. The man who lives in the haunted house also knows that where there are ghosts there will be people willing to part with their money to sit in the haunted house, and so for that reason he charges teams of ghost hunters to sit in his building looking for the ghosts.
He knows there are no ghosts, but they don’t know that and they experience very strange things there, but this is because the man makes the things happen when they’re not looking. For example, one of the ghosts knocks at the front door and, when the door is opened in response, the ghost is nowhere to be seen. That is, a ghost in the form of a big knotted rope that is lowered out of an upper window that happens to sit right above the door in question… a window through which the owner of the building leans out to use the rope to knock the door before pulling it back up inside.
When I first heard of this occurring I was outraged that somebody who owned a property that was alleged to be haunted would act in this manner and would trick people into thinking they were experiencing paranormal phenomena. I felt I should share what I knew with everybody straight away due to my past experiences with people who faked paranormal activity to try to fool me in a similar manner.
Then I thought about it and decided not to.
You see, I realised that although the man in question was knowingly misleading the people who were visiting his home because they thought it was haunted, the people who were visiting his home were actually taking advantage of the man who lives in a building that is slowly falling down around him because, although it is a listed building, it doesn’t get any funding to help with its upkeep.
The man lives in a small part of the building and the rest of it is filled with a clutter of random, but interesting memorabilia, and various artefacts that hint at the place being haunted. The man is getting old and, the last I heard, had no proper heating and a leaky roof that he can’t fix due to a lack of funds and graded building restrictions.
He asks paranormal teams for anywhere between £50 to £200 to visit his house to hunt for the ghosts and that money goes towards being able to live in a house that isn’t really suitable for him to live in, but a house that is the only home he knows.
Would it be right for me to reveal his tricks and take away a source of money that is, quite literally, keeping the roof above his head? I don’t think it would.
If it wasn’t him misleading the misled, it would be somebody else – or perhaps even them misleading themselves. There are so many places around the globe that cash in on the fact that they’re supposed to be haunted that exposing one seems futile. Especially when the tricks that are being pulled on unsuspecting Most Haunted wannabe’s are helping a man to eat.
Sometimes haunted houses are homes and sometimes there’s more than greed behind ghost stories. It’s important to remember that.