Thoughts on Most Haunted Live Halloween 2015

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During the Most Haunted Live broadcast on Halloween night 2015 Karl Beattie was allegedly dragged up some stairs by an unseen entity which strangled him. This was caught on camera and some people have noticed that there seems to be a rope around his waist. In response to the accusations of trickery that this rope indicates both Karl Beattie and his wife Yvette Fielding say that the rope is actually just a camera cable.

Skeptics doubt it, fans and believers think it’s true…

…but who actually gives a shit?

Seriously. Who gives a flying fuck? Running around declaring Most Haunted to be fake… well done, clever clogs! Of course it’s not to be trusted… it’s television!

I watched the entire show last night while trying to play along with a drinking game and it was shoddy, over-dramatic, hilarious, entertaining… but it was nowhere near as entertaining as watching people react to the show on Facebook and Twitter. Some people were annoyed that “true ghost hunters” were being shown in a bad light. Other people were annoyed that such nonsense should be allowed to be broadcast…

…and yes, the Satanic chants were a bit over the fucking top and ethically questionable – but just as questionable as the ethics of any of your bog standard ghost hunting groups across the country. Sure, there was no scientific credibility to any of the claims being made on the show but, again, the same can be said of 99% of the people who call themselves paranormal researchers. Yet the mistake people are making when they moan about Most Haunted is to treat the show as comparable with real-life paranormal research.

Most Haunted is a television show that courts controversy – it wants to be loved and hated in equal parts and it succeeds – it always has. It plays up to expectations, it ticks boxes, it gets the viewing figures. It does its job.

Amateur paranormal researchers on the other hand want to be respected as researchers when they’re not deserving of respect, and what they do on their ghost hunts is hugely unethical, completely unscientific… and they don’t even have the excuse of being producers of an entertainment TV show to hide behind! If you’re a ghost hunter who feels that Most Haunted is to blame for making paranormal researchers look back I suggest you have a hard look in the mirror because you’re doing a good enough job of that yourselves. Get a fucking grip.

I’ll be talking about this and more on the first ever episode of The Spooktator vodcast/podcast coming to you live from Youtube on Wednesday. I’ll be joined by Paul Gannon, Alistair Coleman and Mike Gage – details can be found here.

That San Antonio Railway Tracks Video…

san antonio ghost tracks

Quite often old ghost-related photos, testimonies or videos do the rounds on social media sites, gaining attention and traction despite being long debunked and explained away. Oddly the rational explanations don’t follow around so quickly or at all. For all the good the internet does one of the downsides is the way in which it allows myth to persist (much like other forms of exchanging information that pre-date it.)

A video I’ve seen being shared around a lot in the last week or so is the video from about three years ago of a group of people in two cars driving onto the “haunted” railway tracks in San Antonio, Texas which I’ve shared above. This is just one of hundreds of videos of people doing this but this one is proving popular on Facebook right now. In this particular one two groups of people cover their cars with white powder and drive onto the tracks. The legend is that in the 1930s or 1940s a school bus was driving its way down the road and toward the intersection when it stalled on the tracks. A train smashed into the bus, killing twenty six children and the bus driver. However, the accident never actually happened in San Antonio but in Salt Lake City in Utah instead, but that doesn’t stop people from parking on the tracks and turning their engine off to see if the car will be pushed off of the tracks by the spirits of the people from the bus. The legend says that you won’t see them but you will see their hand prints on the car.

In the video they do find hand prints on their cards upon inspection… but they were likely to have been there before. When the powder was applied it probably just formed on top of the grease and dirt from hands previously placed on the car. Forensic investigators use similar tactics to find finger and hand prints in crime scenes but that doesn’t seem to occur to these folk. In fact, there’s even a child with the group and if you watch as they apply the powder to the second car that crosses the tracks you can see one of the men in the group patting their hand across the top of the car. He’s doing this to spread the powder, but I bet it left prints even if he didn’t think it did. Here’s a tip: If you’re putting powder on something to detect hand prints, don’t put your hand in the powder.

pat the car

As you can imagine people routinely drive onto the tracks and turn their engines off to see if the legend will come true for them which it sometimes does… but there’s a reason for that and we know what it is thanks to rational inquiry. The show Is It Real? found that there’s actually a two-foot incline in the road leading up to the tracks, you can see it being investigated in the video below along with the other elements of the legend:

Despite this people still drive onto the tracks, turn their engines off and wait, convincing themselves it is forces other than those of nature responsible for their cars moving. Kinda stupid really. If your default reaction to these sorts of legends isn’t skepticism then this is surely proof that you’re opening yourself up to all sorts of misinformation.

I Spoke To The Woman Who Filmed A Haunted Puppet Moving In Her Basement

jayne harris puppet

Jayne Harris believes that she has caught on camera the moment an allegedly haunted puppet moves on its own. The previous owner of the puppet claimed the spirit attached to it tried to harm him which is why Harris has been observing the puppet for the last three months in her usually-disused basement with a camcorder. After observing the footage in the news reports I read about this there were several questions that came to my mind. Could it be fraud via the use of wires or magnets? Could it just be falling over as things often do? Why was it only making headlines now, months after being filmed?

Rather than speculate about the motives of those involved I decided to try and contact Harris directly with my questions. Harris kindly agreed to me sharing our conversation here.

Me: As you probably know most people think that has been staged and I wondered if you might answer a few questions about it?

Jayne: Of course. I’m aware that no evidence will ever be enough to convince some people, however in sharing my footage I’m not trying to convince anyone. Believers believe, skeptics don’t. I know how long I had the goosebumps on the morning on 13th July when I reviewed the footage! Of course I’d be happy to talk about it.

Me: I am a paranormal researcher but don’t believe in the paranormal. I consider myself to have an open mind but always try to rule out possible causes for things like this. I think the most obvious cause here is fraud which I know you’ve denied. Was there anybody else that had access to the puppet? Oh gosh, that sounded wrong. What I meant was how certain can you be that nobody else tampered with it?

Jayne: I’ll explain something. I have been studying the field of Spirit Attachment for 17 years. In that time I’ve captured orbs (which I discount as I personally do not believe them to be connected to anything paranormal), shadows… the usual. However, at no point have I found anything (other than the 2 occasions in 2004 when I witnessed an apparition) to completely wipe doubt from my mind. Although not for want of trying. This footage was taken using a standard (pretty old!) Sony camcorder set to night vision. We leave the camera running as part of our investigations for up to 3 hours each night while we have a specific object under study. We use controlled conditions as suggested by ASSAP of which I’m a member. Our study area is on the basement as that is the only place in our home where we can keep conditions controlled.

I frequently set up trigger object experiments too with the use of motion detection. Even I wasn’t present at the time of the recording. We set up at 11.30pm and the tape runs using long play until roughly 3am. The Daily Mail unfortunately cropped the footage to exclude the time long and date. It was taken at 2.05am. As you can imagine reviewing up to 3 hours of night vision footage is quite a task. Usually I’m listening out for sounds, or watching for shadows/something around the object. What I did not expect was to see the object itself moving. Although I have always believed in some way that spirits not only exist but can manipulate physical objects.

Me: So do you believe this is a ghost moving the puppet?

Jayne: I believe in both residual and intelligent hauntings. I believe energy can be absorbed by objects as it can by buildings. The case of the puppet I believe is not residual. After seeing the footage and speaking at length with its previous owner I believe there is a spirit around it/associated to it/haunting it (choice of words varies from person to person!) I believe ghosts are residual energy being replayed. Unaware of the living. I believe spirits are something different and in this case unless someone can prove to me categorically that I’m wrong, I believe we have a spirit making themselves known.

Me: What do you think about the suggestion that perhaps it just moved due to gravity – like, it wasn’t quite balanced right and just toppled over on itself? I just wonder how much context plays a part here. If you see what I mean.

Jayne: As for gravity, personally I discount it. Gravity could make something fall but it couldn’t lift, pause and then slowly lower before dropping. I watched that footage over 30 times on the day I first saw it and tried every possible explanation. I even examined the cabinet incase a mouse had got in! I have tried to recreate it since bit can’t. We’ve created vibrations in the rooms above by walking heavily, moving furniture etc. Believe me I don’t share my evidence lightly. I have to be sure. I know I leave myself open to criticism but who doesn’t. My view is that those with an interest in and some knowledge of the paranormal will feel it worth seeing.

Me: I’m just watching it now, was the cross originally on the puppet?

Jayne: Yes its the wooden operating cross that controls the puppet. It connects the strings to the puppet via metal loops

Me: is there a copy of the video that hasn’t been edited by the press?

Jayne: I originally uploaded it to youtube (which is how the journalist found it) that shows the footage. As part of our research we have various psychic mediums study any objects we investigate (although of course the opinion of psychics can be open to interpretation). It all helps us build a picture. In this line of work a good 90% of objects we study are found to have no notable activity or signs of anything paranormal.

A/N: Here is the original video

Me: I’ve just watched the video again and I notice that just before the cross falls there’s a “tink” noise, do you recognise that noise? Like. literally before the cross falls into the glass?

Jayne: There is yes. We think it may be the other side of the operating cross touching the back of the cabinet before the fall. Or possibly one of the puppets porcelain feet/hands.

Me: have you been able to recreate the noise?

Jayne: We got a similar sound on a couple of occasions more so when the back of the cross caught the back of the cabinet

Me: Do you have that on tape? The recreations?

Jayne: We don’t film our attempts to recreate activity or replicate environments no. It’s part of what we do day to day.

Me: what the control conditions are that you use?

Jayne: by controlled, I mean that we look to minimise external interference when conducting experiments, and if we gather any data i.e. the video footage, we try to recreate the exact same environment for future experiments to see if we get the same responses or results. In all in the name of accurate data collection (notoriously difficult in the paranormal field!) We use the basement as it in unused for any other purpose, so no one goes there unless they are checking for results. We measure the temperature of the area at the beginning of each session, set up camera in the exact same position (using makers on the floor, shelves etc) and do as much as we can to ensure everything remains untouched.

Me: Oh, you said it was controls suggested by ASSAP?

Jayne: Controlled conditions also means not relying on witness testimonies too heavily as these are obviously open to interpretation and not measurable.

Me: do you not think the videos are open to interpretation too?

Jayne: Oh of course, as is anything, but it’s far closer to evidence than me simply telling you I saw the puppet move don’t you think.

Me: Sure, but I think it still requires a reliance on your word that this is what we’re seeing in the video. I think a lot of people will wonder why the lights weren’t on, why you didn’t also film from other angles, or why you didn’t film the replications.

Jayne: yes of course, as do most things. Unless someone experiences something for themselves, they will never believe

Me: Even experiencing things for yourself is open to interpretation and biases though? And you didn’t experience this for yourself…?

Jayne: Exactly, no one will ever have cast iron guaranteed proof of the afterlife, thats a fact. At the end of the day I’m not looking to convince anyone, I know what I captured and in sharing it with others I am sharing what I consider to be my best capture to date. People can take it however they see fit. I respect and appreciate the thoughts and opinions of any who approaches it in a mature way.

Jayne: I think when you are approached by the media, you have to accept that there will be those out there who think you’ve agree to an article because you have an ulterior motive. I suppose that happens a lot. [A/N: yes, it does]. I’m not looking convince anyone as I say, but I know there are genuine paranormal enthusiasts out there who will be as excited as I am by this.

Edit (14.08.2015): I have summarised my thoughts on this in a reply to a comment left below. Click here to go directly to my response.

Selina Scott’s Haunted Kitchen: What The Skeptic Thinks

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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.

The first interview was with Canon Paul Green who conducts house blessings for those who believe their homes are haunted, the second was with Yasmin Ishaq who spoke about the Islamic belief in the Jinn and then came skeptical me to speak about how one rationally investigates weird stuff and how ghosts don’t exist.

If I was presented with Selina’s case as an investigator I would look at what had been reported and try to form as rational an explanation as I could by ruling out causes for the activity until I could no longer do so. I would visit the kitchen in which her dogs freaked out and the bedroom in which guests report hearing whispering and see if an obvious answer jumped out at me and, if it didn’t, I would then start investigating what could have caused those things to happen. The main problem though is that I have not been present when the activity happens and so I only have the word of Selina and her guests to go on, and word of mouth testimony is quite unreliable.

Not only that but the two odd occurrences may be completely unrelated. Correlation does not imply causation – just because two things happen one after the other does not mean they are linked or that one caused the other.

My initial impressions from the case are as follows:

Perhaps there was a mouse or rat in the kitchen with the dogs?
Perhaps the dogs fought with one another because they were in unfamiliar surroundings and on edge?
Perhaps the wind scared the dogs who were already in new surroundings without their owner?
Perhaps there is some sort of infrasound in the kitchen that the dogs can hear (they hear more than humans) that upset them?

Perhaps the whispering heard by the guests is outside noises they’re not familiar with (what with being guests)?
Perhaps they are imagining it after being told the house is haunted?
Perhaps it is wildlife around the house?
Perhaps it is water pipes or heating pipes?
Maybe it is a sleep related disorder?

You can already see how easy it is to speculate about occurrences of this nature and although I may not have found the answer in my thoughts above it is surely clear to see that there are many alternative and mundane causes for what has been witnessed to consider before we even start to think of the paranormal… and yet that’s the conclusion that Scott went with which does strike me as quite an irrational leap of logic to make. One that many people make when they too witness weird things.

It was interesting to hear that the trio of interviews by Scott on the subject of ghosts was featured on BBC Radio 4 Feedback (about 4 minutes in) with listeners phoning in to share their concerns that such irrational conjecture was allowed to go unchallenged by a clearly biased presenter. Fair criticism, but I think it’s important to also remember though that the One to One show isn’t a show that exists for scientific reporting but, in fact, is more of a documentary-type show in which the presenter explores a subject that they feel involved in. I can only hope that I was able to provide the voice of reason that seemed to be lacking in the first two shows.

Selina Scott’s Haunted Kitchen: Tune Into BBC Radio 4 Tomorrow

Brain Cogs

If you’re a regular listener of BBC Radio 4 you may have caught the last two one-to-one segments with Selina Scott interviewing people about ghosts. Scott believes her kitchen is haunted and has been exploring the topic for the one-to-one slot. She first interviewed Canon Paul Greenwell from Ripon Cathedral who carries out ‘home blessings’ for people who think they have encountered a ghost or spirit. Secondly she interviewed Yasmin Ishaq a spiritual healer who doesn’t believe in ghosts but in Jinn, supernatural creatures from Islamic tradition…

and tomorrow, for the final segment of her three part series, the interview that Scott did with yours truly will be broadcast. Unlike the previous two people I don’t believe in ghosts full stop and point out to Selina that sometimes to get to the bottom of mysteries you have to detach yourself from the personal.

I got the impression that Selina was surprised when she found out that I was a non-believer and I think she perhaps thought I was a ghost-buster in a similar fashion to the two previous guests. I didn’t know that the show was inspired by her belief that her kitchen was haunted and was rather put on the spot when trying to come up for rational explanations.

Tune in to BBC Radio 4 tomorrow (Tuesday July 21st) at 9:30am to hear the show. You can listen online here.