The Worst Ghosts of 2015

hampton court

It has been an entire year since I correctly predicted that Slenderman would be seen in the UK in my ‘Worst Ghosts of 2014’ round up. In that year I created a feature on this blog called The Weakly Ghost Bulletin which morphed into The Spooktator Podcast which examines ghost related headlines on a monthly basis. It’s been busy…

…so, without further ado here are the 5 Worst Ghosts of 2015!

#5 The Ohio Ghost that was literally crap

figure outside Ohio mall

In May, Examiner reported that a woman called Tonya Nester was taking photos of the closed down Randall Park Mall in Ohio and a friend noticed something odd in one of the photos that was quickly concluded to be a ghost.

‘What exactly is the angelic figure in the photo?’ asked Examiner reporter John Albrecht. Well, John, bird crap is what it is.

The photo was taken through a car window, dirt tracks left from rain visible, and the white smudge being called a ghost or angelic is bird poo.

#4 That Samurai Ghost that photobombed a little girl

Samurai-Ghost (2)

In April some people lost their composure over a photo that it is claimed shows a pair of ghostly legs behind a little girl who was on holiday with her family. Taken on a smart phone, the childs father claimed nobody was standing behind her at the time the photo was taken. This, it turns out, is not true.

japan policeDon Cake worked out that it was a guard standing a slight distance away from the child and emailed the Fortean Times (FT332, p. 76) to tell them that the beach in the photograph is a short distance from the Summer palace of the Emperor of Japan, which is well guarded by officers who wear the uniform (pictured), which resembles the legs of the so-called ghost. If you look carefully you can even see part of the light blue shirt beneath the childs left elbow.

 

#3 The grey lady of Hampton Court that was actually… not

hampton court

Many people claimed that this photo taken by 12-year-old Holly Hampsheir in February shows the ghost of Dame Sybil Penn (aka the gray lady of Hampton Court) and that the apparition is wearing period clothing which is interesting because it totally isn’t.

It is, in fact, a panoramic photo that went wrong and what we’re seeing are the distorted features of a fleshy (an alive human.) This is explained by Mick West in more detail here, where he also replicated the photo. West said ‘it’s just the result of taking a panoramic photo in low light on the iPhone. Panoramic photos are done by holding the camera up, and panning from left to right. The camera takes lots of photos and then stitches them together … but because it takes a while to take all the images, if something moves while you are taking the panorama, then it will get distorted.’

#2 That eight-foot-tall Ghost 

Although this photo technically dates back to pre-Christmas 2014 it wasn’t until 2015 that it came to the attention of the media which is why it has been included here. It was taken by teacher Debbie Monteforte and a family friend said “The family insists there was no one standing behind them and there was no place to hang a coat. Even if there was someone standing there, they would have to be 8ft tall to appear like that. It’s beyond spooky.”

However, in Weakly Ghost Bulletin #4 I explained how a quick look around on Google Image Search revealed another photograph taken in the same area of the pub that showed that perhaps a person standing in that position wouldn’t have been 8-foot-tall after all.

Kings Arms Ghost Comparison

#1  Slenderman. Obviously.

It feels right that we finish with the story I opened with. I am awarding the #1 spot on this list to two people: Lee Brickley and Christine Hamlett.

In January 2015 Brickley (who has previously made the #1 spot on this list) generated bizarre headlines by claiming that Slenderman had been seen by many people in the Cannock Chase area. He also made the observation that throughout history people have reported seeing tall creatures and spirits which led him to declare that Slenderman wasn’t created online.

What a genius.

He’s wrong, of course. The fictional creature called Slenderman is an internet creation that probably takes inspiration from real-like folklore. I wrote about this in more detail in a blog post called The Evolution of Ghosts and Monsters in which I point out that ‘many in the Cannock Chase area reported that they saw the so-called Slenderman entity while experiencing sleep paralysis, but if they lived in a different part of the world they might perhaps report that they saw a Grey- an alien considered synonymous with E.T. encounters -rather than a spirit or monster.’

It didn’t stop there though. Enter Christine Hamlett…

Hamlett, a self-proclaimed spirit medium, claimed to have caught Slenderman on camera.

Alleged photo of Slenderman
Alleged photo of Slenderman

This is quite amusing because Hamlett also claimed to have caught a Black Eyed Child on camera when Brickley made the headlines in October 2014 with claims that Black Eyed Kids were prowling in Cannock Chase (you can read more about that on my blog here)

not slenderman
Alleged photo of Black Eyed Child ghost…
More recently Hamlett made headlines with claims that she caught the ghost of one of the Pendle Witches on camera, but her claims were shown to be historically inaccurate. You can read my breakdown of the Pendle Witch claims here.

So there we have what I consider to be the 5 Worst Ghosts of 2015 – a whole range of bizarre claims that, encouragingly, were investigated and explained by rational researchers.

You can check out previous years Worst Ghosts showcases here, and throughout 2016 I will examine ghost related headlines on a monthly basis on The Spooktator podcast. Be sure to subscribe on Soundcloud or iTunes!

 

The Problem With Militant Debunkers

grenade

Militant Debunkers. They’re different from good skeptics because I say so and you can take my word on this because my opinions are right.

I’m kidding of course, but this is the reasoning I see again and again from people who support or believe in certain paranormal ideas and claims, and it’s ridiculous. It’s an easy way to dismiss entirely the criticisms of your idea or field while pretending not to. It suggests that you can decide which criticisms of bad ideas are valid and which aren’t, but when you’re the one promoting nonsense I’m afraid that’s just not true. You can ignore skeptical criticism, of course, but you can’t dismiss it as Bad Skepticismjust because it isn’t to your liking.

People use the word skeptic to describe others and themselves inaccurately or unfairly all too often  – if it isn’t climate change deniers trying to make their ignorance sound distinguished, or anti-vaccination quacks assuring you that their anti-science stance is justified, it is people like Michael Prescott asserting that Bad Skeptics are probably just sick in the head.

Prescott recently wrote a post on his blog full of accusations that border on Ad Hominem. Don’t worry though because he pointed out that he was talking about Skeptics and not skeptics because he has ‘observed Skeptics in many forums over many years. (Note the capital S, denoting militant debunkers, a nomenclature proposed by Roger Knights. I’m not talking about casual scoffers or people who are genuinely undecided.) My impression is that Skeptics, in general, are characterized by an extreme aversion to cognitive dissonance.’

Oh boy. Where to begin.

Firstly, calling people ‘Militant Debunkers’ is pretty fucking derogatory and a clear indication that someone has a chip on their shoulder.

Secondly, psycho-analysing people and accusing them of insincere motives when it isn’t your job to do so is just rude, man. Especially if you’re not a psychologist.

Thirdly, Militant skepticism? Who is Prescott trying to impress? Deepak Chopra?

A skeptic is someone who uses skepticism to examine claims being made to see if there is quality evidence or data to support them… nothing about scoffing, nothing about being undecided – though it’s totally cool to be honest about not being sure as that’s how we learn stuff. However, whether you are a believer or a non-believer is entirely independent of being a skeptic (though, of course, skepticism can lead to belief and non-belief as part of the process of rational inquiry.) People who routinely debunk ideas without examining them are probably not skeptics because skepticism requires an open mind. Simple. 

Militant skeptics routinely refuse to examine evidence means that anybody who refuses to examine evidence becomes a militant skeptic automatically and can be dismissed, which is super convenient for those who don’t want to have to deal with alternative arguments. Fingers in ears, la la la I can’t hear you, and all that.

‘But Hayley, if people refuse to examine evidence surely they’re closed minded?’ you might cry, but this assumes that all evidence is always worth examining and that just isn’t the case when there are other reasons to doubt the validity of the claim – ideas that have been long shown to be incorrect, dodgy methodologies, scams, claims made by people who have been previously shown to be unscientific in their research and so on. If someone tells you they’ve got evidence the world is flat you’re probably not going to examine their evidence. If Andrew Wakefield publishes a new study we can quite confidently assume that he’s probably up to shenanigans, and if Rupert Sheldrake says a dog is psychic you know he might be barking up the wrong tree…

I used to dismiss Bad Skeptics™ when they disagreed with my thoughts about the paranormal and back when I was a ghost hunter it was the fashion for ghost hunting teams to have a Good Skeptic™ on their team to demonstrate that they didn’t just dislike skeptics, just Bad Skeptics™. Laughable, really. Prescott isn’t the first person to lazily dismiss all skeptics by talking about the Bad Skeptics™ as though being sincere and he won’t be the last but I think it’s important that people who do this are called out for it. Now, it would be easy for me to start making all sorts of assumptions here about Prescott and his motives to round this blog post off but I’m not that uncouth and I have standards. Low standards, sure, but standards all the same.

How To Prove A Skeptic Wrong

wrong graphic

I am a skeptic and, believe it or not, underneath these scales that I wear as a skin I am a human being and human beings are typically silly creatures. We’ve got these things called confirmation biases and our brains confuse us into seeing meaning where there is none and as a result we make decisions and claims that are irrational or illogical. When we try to be rational about things as skeptics often do, we are working against our instincts and sometimes (believe it or not) people who identify as skeptics get things… wrong.

I am one of those skeptics who writes a blog. Often referred to as the “scum of the earth”, us bloggers tend to share our skeptical thoughts and opinions in written words on our carefully crafted spaces on the internet. See these colours on this page? I paid my money so that this writing is displayed in a way that I hope is pleasing to your eye and I try to make this website accessible to all people. I care about my blog space because I care about my readers and because I care about my readers I take seriously suggestions that I am incorrect about things, and if I accept the reasoning behind such a suggestion (or accusation because some people know nothing about tone) I will hold my scaly human hands up and say “oh shit, I was wrong”. Why? Well, because being a skeptic means having an open mind ‘but not so open that your brains fall out’ (Carl Sagan) and an open mind means that you will accept new information as it becomes available and change your opinion based upon the quality of that information.

So, really, when it comes down to it, it’s actually really very easy to prove a skeptic wrong because all you have to do is provide the evidence and, if they are really a skeptic (or a sceptic) they’ll accept it and change their minds and then you can all have a cup of tea and move on.

Of course, there are other ways in which you can try to prove a skeptic wrong that are less effective. As a skeptic blogger of quite some experience of this I have created an easy-to-follow guide below. You are welcome.

WAYS IN WHICH YOU WILL NOT PROVE ME WRONG

– being abusive
– writing sentences IN partial CAPITALISATION without realising you can use HTML coding in the comment section to make font bold (the code is <strong></strong> fyi)
– calling me names (often rude or sweary)
– pointing out my age
– pointing out my gender
– pointing out that I am British
– pretending you have lawyer and are going to sue me for defamation or slander or libel or some other law you know nothing about
– libelling me
– harassing me online
– threatening me
– threatening my friends
– threatening my relatives
– mocking my appearance
– phoning up my employers and trying to get me sacked
– mistaking me for someone who can be intimidated easily

WAYS IN WHICH YOU CAN PROVE ME WRONG

-Showing me evidence that I am wrong

A Psychic Died

fry

When Colin Fry died there was a huge rise in traffic to my blog because of a post I had written in the past criticising him for seeming to take advantage of the misfortune of a man who had fallen victim to a psychic mail scam. I got a number of messages telling me that what I had written was disrespectful as Fry had just died despite the fact that the piece is both informed and was written prior to his death or his cancer diagnosis. This led me to update the post to explain this and yet people continued to send their disapproval my way.

It’s sad that Colin Fry died aged 53 of terminal cancer. Cancer sucks, as does nicotine addiction and 53 is far too young to die but this doesn’t detract from the fact that Fry made dubious claims about having supernatural abilities and was once caught cheating at a seance – behaviour that justified skepticism of his claims. That stuff happened so why should we pretend it didn’t?

I wrote something similar when Fred Phelps popped his clogs in a post titled De mortuis nihil nisi bonumIf to respect the dead you have to ignore or censor whole parts of their existence then quite frankly you’re not being very respectful, are you? Fry, of course, was nothing like Phelps and I’m not suggesting he was… in fact Fry was gay and was critical of Sally Morgan’s husband when his homophobic behaviour was caught on camera.

‘I deplore all forms of prejudice, and of course I have personal reasons for particularly detesting any form of homophobia. Every one is welcome to attend my shows of any race, gender , religion or sexual orientation, even skeptics!’ – Colin Fry

I may be misguided but I always thought of Fry as the last of the old-school spiritualist mediums because he still worked with the Spiritualists National Union (SNU) and was even an SNU registered minister whereas the SNU tend to view other high-profile stage psychics in an unfavourable light. This, of course, doesn’t detract from the fact that there were claims made and behaviours observed that brought doubt to the validity of what Colin Fry was claiming.

To pretend that is not deserving of such criticism does the man a disservice and for fans to pretend that Colin Fry was better than or above criticisms levelled at him in life and death is purely a selfish move. He acknowledged and, to a point, welcomed the skepticism people held of his claims and I think he’d welcome it after his death too.

“Feel like a Mulder, Question like a Scully”

mulder and scully

I’ve written before about the moment on a case investigation when something happens and you’re not quite sure what is going on and it’s equal parts exciting and equal parts intriguing. I think that’s the closest you can get to feeling like Mulder and Scully on one of their more adventurous cases.

Sure, it might end up to be foxes in the garden outside of the property sounding a bit like a baby crying and not an actual ghostly baby crying in the next room (that happened) and you might not end up chasing something mysteriously and scary as the perfect duo from The X-Files often do, but it’s still cool. And in that moment it’s easy to see how simple it would be to convince yourself (and, in turn, convince others) that what you are hearing is paranormal and mysterious. To add that kick of spooky flavour to your reality.

But you mustn’t.

Twitter user @fowkc brought the above tweet from @realscientists to my attention this morning and lo! a new mantra has been born.

Feel like Mulder, but question like Scully.

I’m a non-believer but I still love a good mystery. And I love investigating these mysteries in a way that hopefully reveals what’s going on. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of using the facts (“it’s wasn’t a ghost, it was carbon monoxide”, “it wasn’t Nessie, it was driftwood”, “she isn’t psychic, she’s using cold reading techniques”) to punish those who dared to believe something paranormal, but that isn’t productive.

I love the Loch-Ness Monster legend, and that of it’s younger cousin Bownessie and I am an advocate of being open-minded yet rational in the research and study of weird experiences that people have. I try to champion skeptical inquiry in my research, and you should too! This is why I still investigate weird stuff despite not believing in the paranormal, it’s why I am a member of the recently re-established Fairy Investigation Society, and it’s why I will always have time for people who want to talk about the weird stuff they’ve experienced.

Because it’s important to Feel like Mulder, but question like Scully.

but don’t use a gun ‘cos that’s dangerous, and try not to chase scary things on your own and don’t go getting arrested or anything. Gawd.