Bill Nye on Ghosts

bill nye

The folks over at recently shared a video in which Bill Nye answers a question from a woman and her son about ghosts.

‘We have a question on your perspective on ghosts, and what you think happens to your life energy after you die. Is it just pushing daisies?”

It presented a great opportunity for Nye to respond to a question that many people have asked through the centuries.

The answers provided by Nye are less than inspiring though. His first mistake is to treat ghosts and psychics as one subject when this simply isn’t the case. A parapsychologist will study psychic claims but typically not ghosts and haunted houses. A paranormal researcher (like me) will research ghosts and haunted houses but not psychics.

Nye mentions that he is a member of several skeptic societies who have “looked and looked for haunted houses, ghosts in cemeteries or psychics who believe they’re in touch with people who are dead and there’s no credible evidence.”

What I think he means is that skeptical investigators routinely examine the evidence presented by people who claim it provides evidence of such things, and find it to be less than compelling and certainly not up to standard. No skeptical society that I am aware of has ever launched investigations to actively find evidence which would be a venture into the pseudo-scientific.

In the video Nye also talks about Harry Houdini and the code that Houdini promised to deliver after he died should ghosts be real. He seems to be quite confused though as he states:

“You may know that Houdini, the famous magician, said “if anybody can come back from the dead it’s me, man. I’m coming. And he never got in touch with anyone, no-one ever heard from him. yet a secret word between he and his mother that he said, you know, I’ll give you the secret word when he comes back. You know what the secret word is? NOBODY KNOWS! It was secret! He never came back!”

The code word was actually shared between Houdini and his wife, Bess. The word was also published in the authorised Houdini biography written by Harold Kellock titled Houdini, His Life Story.

Those who listen only to Nye’s version will not know the truth and perhaps will miss out on the insight that the Houdini story provides into the human relationship with ghosts.

For a while Bess believed Houdini had communicated from beyond the grave but it is likely that this was her way of coping with her grief following his death. This has been written about in detail by Massimo Polidoro for Skeptical Inquirer and you can read about it here.

This is something we see happening even today. Ghosts are a coping mechanism for many people and research has shown that some people benefit from the belief that a deceased love one is visiting them in ghost form. This is why I found myself growing annoyed with Nye when, at the end of the video, he tells the woman who asked the question that she can outwit her friends who believe in ghosts.

“Your friends who believe in ghosts – you can outwit them. You’re ahead of them because you’ll not waste energy look around looking for ghosts.”

Oh, hun. No. Not believing in ghosts doesn’t make you a superior person. Just watch skeptics talk about politics and you’ll see that non-belief =/= intelligence.

People who believe in ghosts aren’t stupid. They’re often people searching for closure or trying to figure out what they’ve experienced. I should know because I am the result of that line of reasoning. People asking these questions are not wasting their time in doing so.

Although Nye is technically right that research has provided no evidence for the survival of the human “soul”, this isn’t the whole sum of ghosts or even paranormal research.

Some people who believe in ghosts do not believe ghosts to be the human soul. Some people do not believe that haunted houses are haunted by ghosts, some people believe in ghosts but not haunted houses.

Paranormal research is a complex and weird field of study regardless of which direction you approach it from. Even those who’ve been researching this area for decades learn new things all of the time, which is why the research is ongoing. The confidence with which Nye dismissed these ideas suggests that he’s an expert, but his incorrect statements prove otherwise.

It’s behaviour like this that make me think I was right when I recently wrote of how Science Snobs Make Us All Stupid. And you can take my word for it because I’m a member of several skeptical societies – and even on the board for one.

I would have loved for Nye to say “evidence suggests ghosts aren’t real but…”, because we have so much to learn and teach about human perception from the experiences that people report. Explaining the Ideomotor response or Pareidolia effect can blow minds. As skeptics we could do well to remember that just because we have knowledge, not everybody does and it’s this can be used to engage people. Not ill-informed dismissals.

Knowledge is only powerful if you share it.

Weekly Summary: Rationalia, Netflix and Superheroes


In 2002 a bird bent a piece of wiring to use as a tool and people lost their minds, but NewScientist report that this may not have been a one-off, unique case of complex problem solving as the behaviour has been observed elsewhere too.

It seems that the best way to deal with the stress life throws at you is to literally say “f*ck it”

fuck it
The kind of inspirational quote I can support

Neil DeGrasse Tyson has presented further argument on the his case for Rationalia but Kelsey Atherton shows why his arguments are flawed over on PopSci. It’s almost as though Tyson has forgotten that humans are, well… human.

NASA have just shared 1,000 new photos of Mars. SpaceX are about to start testing the engines that will take them to Mars, and Deep Space Industries claim they’ll launch the first private space mission in 2020.

Elsewhere a Swedish church plans to drone-drop a tonne of bibles into ISIS occupied territory. They insist it isn’t aggressive, demonstrating possibly the worlds biggest case of a lack of self awareness. Utter, utter fail.

It turns out that Netflix and similar services are literally changing the way we watch shows, and Cillian Murphy contemplates where the eff all of these superhero movies keep coming from. Can we have some original sci-fi up in here please?

Lastly, if you have a spare hour and are a bit of a nerd (hi) check out this neat collection of interesting maps of Europe.

Feature image credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

Science Snobs Make Us All Stupid


There has been a lot of discussion lately of Neil deGrasse Tyson and his ideas that the solution to all the problems of society could lie in the formation of a land ruled only by evidence based policy and law. Rationalia, he calls it.

A world ruled by evidence based policy sounds good on the surface but Popsci has a great breakdown of Tyson’s arguments and explains why it’s actually a bad idea. They do this using evidence, ironically. Awkward…

It isn’t the first time Tyson has come under criticism for the ideas he shares on social media. Earlier this year he tweeted ‘If there were ever a species for whom sex hurt, it surely went extinct years ago.’

Yeah, no. That’s not true.

It reminds me of James Randi and his ill-informed comments about climate change, but at least Randi had the decency to admit that he had made incorrect comments. (But let’s not get started on social darwinism…)

Most shockingly (for me at least) are the ill-informed, anti-philosophical stances held by people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and Lawrence Krauss.  Something which Massimo Pigliucci has addressed time and time again.

How can Tyson speak of a nation governed by science being better for people when he fails to recognise that humans are complex creatures that can’t be programmed like robots?

Morality is concerned with what we ought, or ought not, to do. The empirical sciences, on the other hand, appear capable, in isolation, only of establishing what is the case. – Stephen Law, Scientisim, the limits of science, and religion

Know your audience. But more importantly know yourself and the limits of your knowledge. It’s awkward to see people who should champion curiosity about the universe lack it so much.

I’m no scientist or science advocate but if I were, I’d hold myself to as high a standard as possible knowing that the difference between a fact and an opinion is crucial when informing the public on a matter.

I don’t believe in ghosts, psychics, god or a number of other supernatural things (that isn’t to say I don’t have irrational beliefs) but I have come to respect the complexity of belief. Through engaging with those who hold those beliefs I’ve come to see that it isn’t just an idea one holds to be true; belief can be a way of life, a foundation upon which you base decisions about what is good and evil, right or wrong.

You can disagree with the ideas with which someone forms their moral codes but it doesn’t mean that them doing so doesn’t count.

The clinical nature of Scientism makes my skin crawl. Partly because many who adopt such a line of thinking fail to think for themselves. Yet mainly because people who take such a position insist that others should learn how to think critically while failing to practice what they preach.

When you apply critical thinking skills to an idea you should also apply that same skepticism to what you’re doing and thinking. That doesn’t seem to happen very much.

So is it any wonder that people don’t want to engage in scientific discourse when the people who should be leading the way in this engagement and so patronising and boring? If all you do is voice your disgust at the stupidity of other humans you shouldn’t be surprised if they reject you.

Science should be exciting! It’s a way to solve mysteries and learn things! But it often seems that the very people who should be making people care about science just spend their time dispelling misconceptions that people just don’t have.

Inaccuracies in sci-fi films don’t matter, Neil! Get over it!

We are guilty of this, I think. To a point at least. Many who dismiss people who believe in ghosts tend to simplify what it is the people they dismiss believe in. However, a lot of people who believe in ghosts don’t think they’re dead people returned. Do you know how many people who believe in PSI abilities are more interested in consciousness and the brain? They don’t just believe in Uri sodding Geller.

If you’re not careful, if you don’t turn skepticism inwards as much- no, more -than you cast it outwards into the world you run the huge risk of isolating your cause or argument. Science snobs might feel clever but they’re just making us all stupid.

Weekly Summary: Meteors, Mushrooms and Mars.


Ever feel as though you’re coasting through life because you’re lucky and not because you’re deserving or talented? Oh boy, is this video from The School of Life for you:

The latest installment of the VICE does America series sees the team stop off at the Creation Evidence Museum in Texas which is dedicated to the idea that the Bible is a scientific document. If you’ve a spare 25 minutes check it out. Or maybe read about the time I visited a Creationist Zoo!

What are you doing with your brain once you’ve died? Perhaps you could donate it to science? Learn about the Bristol brain bank here and how donated brains from 30 years ago are still helping with research projects.

Take Part reports that the UK could soon have more charging stations that petrol stations which is pretty impressive if you think about it.

According to the U.K. government–funded website Go Ultra Low, 115 electric cars were registered every day in the first quarter of 2016. At that pace, electricity could become the dominant form of propulsion for all new cars sold in the U.K. by 2027. –  Taylor Hill, Takepart

Elsewhere, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have announced that the next Mars rover will be equipped with microphone cameras that’ll record descent, landing, and surface operations. This will help them identify possible issues with the hardware but it may also provide us with the chance to hear Mars! 

NASA have also reminded us that the Persid Meteor Shower is coming. Make a note in your diaries folks, and get those eyes on the skies.

Architecural Digest reports that the Mojave Desert is about to play host to martian habitat prototypes after a Kickstarter project wanting to explore survival on the red planet met its target. Wait – sorry, let me rephrase that. The Mojave Desert is about to play host to 3D PRINTED MARTIAN HABITAT PROTOTYPES…

Did you know that creating one pair of leather shoes might result in 33 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions? Good job there’s an environmentally friendly process of creating leather – using mushrooms. Whut? yes. Grist report that your next leather handbag could be grown, not raised.

ITV has shared this heartwarming video of a man and his father singing together and if this doesn’t make you feel happy and touched then you’re not human, frankly. <3

Mac McDermott raises funds for the Alzheimer’s Society by entertaining everyone with these videos of the pair singing their favourite songs and sharing them on Twitter and Facebook.

Finally, I will leave you with what I believe to be a truly wonderful tribute to Disney films from over the years. It’s… a big of magic.

What’s your favourite Disney film, readers? For me it has to be Lilo & Stitch, Hercules or Tangled. Why not let me know in the comments section, on Twitter or on Facebook? have a good week!



Week In Summary: Plastic bags, Harry Potter, and LSD

brain on LSD

Not sure how to introduce this story so here goes nothing… ROBOT SPIDERS FIX AN AIRSHIP IN FLIGHT? WHAT IS THE FUTURE IN THIS IS THE PRESENT?

Last year here in the UK we had to start paying 5p to buy a carrier bag in many shops. In the six months that have followed this approx. 640 million plastic bags have been used by major retailers. In the previous year they used 7.64 billion bags. If this doesn’t blow your mind…

As these encouraging figures were shared with us I also learned of the Seabin. New Scientist report ‘Fitted to pontoons, the submerged bins use a pump to suck rubbish from the sea surface (see video). Once full, the bins can be emptied and the plastic waste recycled.’ They’re safe for fish too and collect everything from plastic and paper to fuel and detergent. Amazing. Read and watch more over on the NS website.

Check out this interesting video from Vox which explores research into how psychedelics could help treat addiction, anxiety and depression:

Now, don’t freak out or anything but frozen Anthrax just defrosted and started killing animals and hospitalising people. There’s a relatively new field of scientific research called resurrection ecology which emerged after the  discovery that certain bacteria, plants and animals will sometimes thaw out after long periods of suspended animation. This is what’s happening in Syberia right now and it’s pretty scary. Gizmodo has the details

“As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back,” Russian scientists

Elsewhere, a US study found that when American students were asked about how important interfaith relations were everything seemed peachy on the surface… until you start to dig a bit deeper where you’ll find lots of disdain for atheists, Hindus, Muslims, and LDS/Mormons. Tsk…

A new Harry Potter book comes out at midnight tonight and Mashable have everything you need to know. I am so excited about this. I was a teenager who’d buy the books as soon as they were published and I can remember weeping my way through the last one so clearly.

Since then my literary tastes have taken on a much stronger sci-fi theme (I have a Hitchhikers Guide tattoo so maybe that’s already obvious?) and New Scientist has a cool list on six sci-fi novels we should all be reading. I would also like to recommend the Paradox Series by Rachel Bach and A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock.  

Lastly – Philae has gone to sleep, possibly for good. This makes me have sad feels. Goodnight, Philae and thanks.

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