Here’s The Deal With Paranormal Tourism


Earlier this year I visited Woodchester Mansion for a midnight tour of the building and two things happened: I had a strange experience, and I realised I had pro-paranormal tourism leanings. This was a revelation that shocked a number of people and I promised that I would write about it in more details, so here I am.

Ghost Heritage: the good and the… not so good

When you visit somewhere like Woodchester Mansion the money from your pocket goes towards the upkeep of the building which, like many historical sites across the country, is owned and cared for by charitable trusts and/or people who volunteer their time.

Places like Woodchester Mansion need to raise a certain amount of cash to keep the building open and in a good condition. Old buildings have a habit of breaking and bits fall off – Woodchester mansion, for example, have got to raise something like £2million to fix some pillars that are holding part of the chapel roof up. With this in mind I think that paying to go on a ghost event at such a location is a positive thing because it’s a way in which the heritage of the building can be protected. I see it as no different than booking to go on a ghost walk or a ghost tour – many of which I’ve been on and enjoyed.

My experiences at places with Woodchester Mansion, Preston Manor and Longleat House are those of volunteers or staff members presenting an overview of the alleged ghost heritage of the location in a way that doesn’t misrepresent anything. It’s essentially tourism with the lights off.

If you’re a ghost hunting group it’s your choice what you spend your cash on, but personally I am 100% behind anyone who books to visit a heritage site because I know that their money is going to a good cause and good use.

As long as the person running the event doesn’t promote nonsense “ghost hunting” techniques and spread misinformation then I do not see this as a problematic situation. In fact, I applaud locations like Preston Manor in Brighton who consulted with me a few years ago about how to make their ghost events ethical experiences for everybody.

On the flip side of this there is another sort of paranormal tourism where the money goes from your pocket and into someone else’s pocket and, in my opinion, this is where things start to get a bit murky. Take 30 East Drive as an example here – they charge a huge amount of money to essentially visit a house that had activity in the 70s and the profit goes… where, exactly? Well, I know from experience that it goes directly into someone’s bank account but after that there is no trail.

When The Good Becomes… Not So Good

There are, of course, those heritage venues that conduct ghost events in completely the wrong manner. Many will hire the venue out to third party events companies who conduct themselves in an unethical manner and promote both non-scientific methods as well as claims that are utterly nonsense and potentially harmful.

When there is a profit to be made you should always question to what extent you are being sold something.

Spreading bad and false information is bad enough, but doing so when you don’t really believe in it yourself is manipulative and inexcusable. People who believe in paranormal ideas are often seen as a means of profit by these companies and it is within the best interest of the companies to create positive experiences – in their case, paranormal occurrences.

Back in 2005 I was the lead investigator of a ghost hunting group and even though the members of the group hadn’t paid to visit the location I felt a certain pressure for them to be impressed. I now suspect this probably had an effect on the way in which I personally perceived things that happened during our time at a location.

Swap those team members for paying members of the public and that pressure increases. I’m not suggesting that every paranormal events company fakes activity to meet the expectations of their customers (though I know some of them do), but these events cannot be considered actual investigations because there is a certain level of bias involved in the way in which things are processed.

Odd things that have a rational explanation are more likely to be chalked up as paranormal in nature on these events to keep people happy. If you are paying to attend a ghost event overnight you are not paying to attend a ghost investigation with proper controls and methodologies in place.

Ghost Tourism vs. Ghost Investigation

Attending an event run by such a company is not at all like being involved in a paranormal investigation – yet more often than not ghost hunting events are marketed as just that.

In 2009 I ran a ghost hunting event at a Victorian theatre with the intention of showing the customers the good and bad investigative methodologies you can use when investigating paranormal claims. I wanted them to experience an actual paranormal investigation but it just didn’t work because it wasn’t exciting. Why? A paranormal investigation is more than just a couple of hours spent at the location – it starts with careful consideration and drawing up a list of your initial thoughts. Maybe pulling a few books off of your shelf and looking for that chapter you think will be helpful, it’s talking to your peers who have experienced similar cases for advice – all before you’ve even stepped through the door. To try to sell such an experience to the public is impossible.

Which is why it’s absurd that many people who conduct these ghost events claim to be paranormal investigators.

Paranormal Tourism clearly has its good, bad and ugly aspects but while there is scope for harm there is also the opportunity to support the trusts who look after the heritage sites of our country. If you’re thinking of going on a ghost hunt I suggest working our where your money ends up and if it isn’t going towards the upkeep of a heritage site why not consider an alternative ghost related event that does help?

A Humanist Ghost Buster


I stopped believing in ghosts in 2007 and for the first few months I decided that the best use of my time was to explain to others how the things they thought were true were wrong. It bordered on me being almost offended that people could believe such silly things until I realised that I had believed in those things too and it had been really easy.

For a while now I have equally admired and loathed the fields of paranormal research for the complex systems that they are and for the way in which they have changed rapidly as the world around us has changes while, at the same time, not changing very much at all in some aspects. In doing so I have realised that over the years my approach to my paranormal research has become humanistic in nature which isn’t all that surprising considering I identify as a humanist, but of all the places that these values would manifest themselves ghost research seems the less obvious place. That is… until you start looking a bit closer at ghost research and the variety of people who come with it.

Paranormal researcher, CJ Romer, once described his main method of research as a Cup of Tea method where the well-being of the person or people that a case of potentially anomalous phenomena centres around comes before the research into the phenomena itself. “As an academic one of the first things you are taught is that you don’t do research with the recently bereaved and unfortunately one of the groups you’re most likely to be approached by is someone who has suffered a recently bereavement … Do you look at the phenomena, do you offer anything more than a cup of tea and sympathy– my preferred approach -and break off contact as quickly and gently as you could?”

Important questions. Ensuring your research is ethical should be a priority – this is something I interviewed CJ Romer about previously on this blog. Once you start considering the ethics of your research into anomalous phenomena and once you start focussing on the people more than chasing the ghosts I think you acknowledge the complexity of being human and belief and your approach becomes humanist in nature.

In the skeptic movement the “Don’t Be A Dick” talk by Phil Plait at The Amazing Meeting in 2010 (video above) felt like a pivotal moment at which those who didn’t care about how they engaged with believers and those that did care often found themselves in debates about their approach to skeptic activism or outreach. I have written extensively on this blog about how I care about how I communicate with people regarding what they believe in and why. Belief is often a complex thing and to attack someone simply because they believe in something you think is irrational isn’t productive or rational. Time and time again we see psychics being exposed as tricksters only for their fans to group around them because of the cognitive dissonance they’re experiencing.

Over at Scientia Salon Massimo Pigliucci, in a piece titled Reflections on the skeptic and atheist movements wrote that he’d ‘rather have a productive conversation with an intelligent Christian than a frustrating one with an obtuse atheist’ and it’s a sentiment I know all too well. I cannot tolerate those who dismiss paranormal claims and eye-witnesses a priori because they are convinced they know what is right and think that is rational when it is anything but. The whole piece by Pigliucci is an interesting evaluation of the freethinking movements that so many people become a part of and then find themselves uncomfortable with and I would recommend that you consider reading it in full.

Similarly, over on his blog Ashley Pryce has written a post called Dealing with those that believe and talks about how, as a public speaker, he encounters people in his audiences at skeptical events who aren’t necessarily skeptics. This post by Pryce was finally written by him after many failed attempts after a discussion we had on a Facebook post finally prompted him to finish it. In this social media exchange I had shared how ‘I sometimes find it difficult to do my talks because there are people in the audience who desperately need to believe and it makes me feel so guilty.’ Unsurprisingly I’m not the only one who deals with this issue and feels this guilt.

Some would say to simply dismiss the claims to psychics, tell them all psychics are frauds and ghosts aren’t real so grow up. I do not think that is the right approach, in fact I think it is so much the wrong approach I would consider those that make it to be more damaging to rational discourse than those who insist that ghosts are real. – Ashley Pryce

When speaking for Skeptics in the Pub groups you deliver your presentation which is then followed by a break. The audience are invited to then return for a Q&A session and it is normally here that I encounter those who want or need to believe in an afterlife and I have become quite talented at answering questions in a way that wouldn’t be considered unethical by CJ Romer’s Cup of Tea standards because I acknowledge that some people need to believe in ghosts and an afterlife in order to grieve and find closure. To stand in front of them as an “expert” and blow their hopes out of the water would be easy but it is not at all appealing.

A few years ago a lady approached me after a talk to tell me that she had lost a baby and she sometimes thought that she saw a child out of the corner of her eye when at home. “What do you think it could be?” she asked me. As soon as she had approached I’d known that something of this nature was coming because it happens regularly with all sorts of people who want my honest opinion but probably don’t. You can sometimes see the battle. To this lady I replied “there could be a perfectly ordinary explanation but it would be unfair of me to speculate about what you’re seeing as I’ve not been present. But if you think it is the ghost of your baby and that thought brings you comfort then there’s nothing wrong with that.”

She cried and I think she was a little shocked that I hadn’t tried to explain it away. She hadn’t asked the question during the Question and Answer session because she was scared the skeptics in the audience would have laughed at her.

If my time as a ghost research has taught me anything it is that some people will believe what they need to believe regardless of your rational ideas and some people just need you to acknowledge that they’ve had a strange experience. I think that this approach that echoes humanist values is the most productive approach and it is certainly the more rewarding for all involved.

Please Help Me Make My Video Series

photo for indiegogo

I have today launched an Indiegogo campaign in an attempt to fund a video series that I plan to produce to reach a wider audience in a way that isn’t restricted by written word.

Can you really find water with dowsing rods? How easy is it to make a ghost hoax go viral? What happens if you lock a skeptic in a haunted house? Why do Ouija boards seem to work? Can you really trick the human brain into seeing ghosts?

I have a long list of fun, informative videos that I want to produce but I need your help. If you can make a donation that will help me fund this project I would be extremely thankful and you’ll get some really cool rewards!

Check out my Indiegogo campaign now and please consider making a donation and spreading the word.


The Anti-Science Bias Of Ghost Hunters

anti-science bias

I wrote previously about a research team at Clarkson University headed up by Professor Shane Rogers that seek to establish whether there is a link between air quality and strange experiences people often associate with a haunting or with ghosts. Rogers said “experiences reported in many hauntings are similar to mental or neurological symptoms reported by individuals exposed to toxic moulds. Psychoactive effects of some fungi are well-known, whereas the effects of others such as indoor moulds are less researched.”

I have seen a frankly bizarre and at times bitter reaction from large swathes of ghost hunting communities to this news such as:

“Oh yeah? How do they explain EVP then?”

“Mould doesn’t explain all of MY experiences!”

“These guys are stupid. They just need to see to believe!”

It is completely bizarre for anyone- regardless of what they believe -to react with hostility towards people who are conducting scientific research in order to learn more about why people have strange experiences. Learning more about the world around us and establishing facts about our experiences as human beings who are greatly influenced by the environments we live and exist in is a good thing.

If you react with hostility to the news of this ongoing research then it says quite a lot about you as an individual. It says that you’re closed minded and that you do not want people providing alternative and rational explanations for the things that you are convinced are paranormal in origin.

I pointed out a few issues with the research myself in my original blog post, like the fact that people have been quick to use the ongoing research to dismiss a whole range of paranormal experiences a priori when actually if a link is established this will only indicate a new cause for a small number of experiences.  This doesn’t mean the research isn’t a good thing and I look forward to the conclusion when it is presented.

Those people who asked “how does this explain EVP and EMF fluctuations?” should know that it doesn’t. However we do already have explanations for those things that show, unequivocally that they are not paranormal in origin and yet such people ignore those too so I’m sure there’s no chance they’ll pay attention to this research once it is concluded too because they are simply psuedo-scienctific ghost hunters who are willing to believe anything other than the factual truth.

Establishing the cause for paranormal phenomena is what paranormal research is at its very core, and anyone involved in ghost research that doesn’t like that approach ought to pack up their EMF meters, Ghost-box and Dowsing rods and go home.

Further Reading

The Rational Causes Of Electronic Voice Phenomena
A Rational Look At The Ghost-Box
Why Personal Experiences Aren’t Evidence Of Ghosts


Ghost Event Company In Being-Insensitive Shocker!

simply paranormal logo

Simply Paranormal UK, who charge the public to attend ghost-hunting themed events at allegedly haunted places across the country (“act like what them people on the TV do for a night and pay us for the privilege”) have caused offense after referring to a now-closed mental health treatment centre as a “lunatic asylum” in their publicity of an upcoming event in Leicester.

The Leicester Mercury reported that ‘in a posting on Facebook, Simply Paranormal UK used the term when announcing an event in May this year. The posting said: “We are pleased to announce another Mental Asylum. The Towers Lunatic Asylum in Leicester – Ghost hunting never got even more exciting.”  The Towers began its life in 1869 as the “Leicester Borough Lunatic Asylum” but its name has changed over the years.’

Ghost hunting… never got… even more exciting…

Terrible sentence structure aside, the name change was prompted, I’m sure, when it became obvious that describing those with mental illness as “lunatics” wasn’t actually very helpful or nice. But why on earth would a paranormal tourism company give a crap about what is helpful, decent or right? Ghost Tourism event companies never cease to scrape the barrel when it comes to decency! I’ve previously written about a similar company called Compass Paranormal who ran an event in what used to be a Prisoner of War camp… and let’s not even get started on the company saying “…another mental asylum” as though these places are collectors items. Ugh.

It’s not just Most Haunted though. You can watch any of the range “reality” ghost hunting shows out there and the chances are that you will see the hosts put on a show of bravado and “confront” ghosts and “antagonise” ghosts because their priorities lie with having a scary, fun time and not with being decent people. Of course the companies who make a fast profit by imitating these television shows are going to behave in the same way.

They don’t care about the legacy of the people whose ghosts they claim to be chasing, they just want to ramp up the fear factor to sell tickets and you don’t do that by saying “hey everyone, we’re investigating a premesis in which people received treatment for a variety of mental illnesses that will probably have little or no impact on our event.” The fear factor comes from referring to such a place using outdated language like “lunatic asylum” which loosely suggests that mentally ill dead people are scarier than regular ghosts and there aren’t enough adjectives in my dictionary to describe how fucked up that is.

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