Skepkon Presentation: A Skeptics Guide to Ghost Hunting

skepkon still shot

Earlier this year I travelled to Frankfurt to deliver my talk ‘A Skeptics Guide To Ghost Hunting’ at Skepkon which took place at Goethe University Frankfurt (an amazing place). The talk was filmed and the is now available to view online.

There were some technical glitches as a cable that connected the laptop to the projector wasn’t working as it had previously been and I can only assume this was paranormal forces at work. At 23 minutes in you will actually see a ghost vandalise the stage.

As the video has been made public I’d like to take this chance to thank the lovely people at Skepkon for the invitation to speak – in particular Jochen who was kneeling on the floor physically holding the faulty cable in place throughout the whole of my talk.


The “stiched together picture” method I spoke of referred to panoramic photos but I could not recall the name at the moment of the talk.

In the talk I say that 99% of photos and videos can be explained as caused by the Orb Zone effect that I demonstrate but should have said ‘a large number of’ instead.

After this talk I spoke to someone about the cash register incident with the Birmingham Skeptics and it seems I had an embellished memory of what had happened. Nobody screamed and there was no money in the till. I totally remember it differently which is just weird!

I also state that “immigration is not the cause” of ghosts from other cultures being reported more regularly in the UK and meant this in the context of a joke about ghost immigration. People coming to live in the UK from other cultures bring with them traditional beliefs and folklore that certainly will contribute to the way in which people describe ghost experiences.

ThinkCon Interview


An interview that I did at ThinkCon on March 16th has just been published. I was interviewed by Andrew Holding about ghost hunting and the themes that featured in my talk and you can listen to the interview here.
A big thank you to Andrew and those who make ThinkCon happen – it was a great event with a whole variety of talks throughout the day at no charge for those in the audience. My talk focussed on the reality of modern ghost hunting – it’s a talk I will be delivering for London Skeptics in the Pub on May 13th.
Keep Calm & Haunt on.

Unenlightened spirit communication – ‘yes or no’ devices

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As part of the talk I deliver to Skeptics in the Pub groups I often touch upon how modern ghost hunters are often just upgraded seance participants of the past whose main aim is to talk to ghosts. The only thing that has changed is the medium they use to communicate with them through. In times gone by that medium would be a table (for table tipping perhaps), a seance circle, a Ouija board, a person who claimed to have the ability to communicate with spirit, or perhaps a glass that the spirit would push around a surface (this was sometimes replaced with a top hat or similar).

Although people still use such Spiritualist methods today, ghost hunting has become much more hi-tech in the last few decades with devices being used to both rule out naturally occurring causes for phenomena witnessed, and for pseudo-scientific reasons such as detecting fluctuations in Electro-Magnetic Fields alleged to be caused by a ghost manifesting. Yet, there’s another purpose these devices are used for that doesn’t set modern ghost researchers apart from the antique ghost hunters of the Victorian Seance Parlour.

When EMF meters don’t find anything interesting they are sometimes turned into what I like to call a yes or no device, as are any other devices that light up or makes a noise. The idea is quite simple – you place the device on a table or the floor and ask questions that can be answered with ‘yes or no’. You might ask ‘Did you die here? Make the EMF meter light up for yes’, or ‘is your name Elizabeth? Make the device beep to answer yes’. Devices such as the K2 meter (a type of EMF meter, pictured above right) that have a selection of coloured lights are often used to detect a ghosts strength with ghost researchers asking the spirit to ‘light the meter up as far as you can’. The more lights lit, it seems, the stronger the spirit.

I can remember taking part in a ‘vigil’ with some ghost researchers I’d never met before in a pub in Devizes, Wiltshire. After a number of hours of trying to experience something ghostly and failing the other people present got a torch (or flashlight) out of their bag and unscrewed the bottom of the torch, which you would normally do to put new batteries in. The bottom part remained loosely in place and they then placed the torch on a bed in one of the rooms and began to ask questions of the ghost, asking it to light up or turn off the bulb in the torch in response. The light did go on and off occasionally- sometimes seemingly in response to a question, sometimes in response to nothing at all, and sometimes when the alleged ghost was asked to turn the torch on or off,nothing happened. However those occasions when the torch seemed to respond to a question were noted as spirit communication and the times when the light turned on or off without command, or didn’t respond were overlooked completely.

Many ghost researchers who use these techniques fail to acknowledge the huge flaws in their thought processes. For example, ignoring the times the torch or the EMF meter don’t respond to a question but making a big deal out of the times the device does seem to respond is a form of  cherry picking – a form of Selection bias, as is Confirmation bias which sees humans favour information that supports their beliefs or hypothesis e.g. that ghosts exist.

Believing that a yes or no device is responding to their questions is a conclusion ghost hunters reach with no supporting evidence and based only on hearsay from other researchers and their own positive experiences. There is nothing that supports the idea that a ghost can and does effect these devices and there is nothing to support the idea that ghosts cause/have an energy that they can manipulate to interact with an EMF meter or the bulb in a torch. On the other hand we know that EMF meters detect naturally occurring (and naturally fluctuating) Electro-Magnetic Fields, and that if you loosen up the connection between the bulb in a torch and the batteries used to light it, the bulb will flicker because it does not have the constant power source it needs to stay lit. Ignoring these demonstrable causes for the effects experienced when something is turned into a yes or no device is irrational and desperate.

A member of the BSPRI team recently sent me a link to an experiment they did with this method of spirit communication, during which the torch appeared to light up and turn off as they commanded which demonstrates how easy it might be to believe there is meaning to the random behaviour of the device.

My trip to Camp Quest: Engaging with children

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When I was Ten nobody asked me what I thought about politics and the influence that it has upon personal identity and freedom. I like to think that if they had I would have provided them with answers or ideas that were as brilliant and as insightful as those I heard offered today in the ‘Philosophy for Children’ session I was allowed to sit in on at Camp Quest UK.

I was invited to give a talk at Camp Quest about the things that make us mistakenly think we’ve seen a ghost. I approached this subject by talking about the two things that often make eye witness testimony impossible to trust as a true account of what took place.

‘What we remember isn’t always what happened’ and ‘What we see isn’t always what was there’

I used various examples and ways of looking at these two problems and offered the audience examples of cases I’ve worked on in the past that show how the way in which we process that which we’ve experienced can leave us thinking we’ve experienced something completely different than what we actually experienced.

It was one of the more interesting talks I’ve delivered because this audience were really switched on and really open minded about what it was we were discussing. I didn’t have anyone interrupting the talk to suggest that ghosts were caused by Quantum Mechanics or to tell me they thought ghost research was absurd, and they were really open about the things they had experienced or things their families and friends had experienced that were considered as paranormal, and they weren’t afraid to ask me questions about it.

It was a really positive environment that encouraged questioning. When someone asked what might be considered a silly question there was no condescending laughter, just children beating me to it by answering the question for their fellow camper – sharing their thoughts and ideas. It was beautiful, really.

Professor Chris French had spoken at Camp the day before me and he had used songs played backwards to demonstrate audio illusions. I used a memory game to implant false words in the minds of the campers – and it is these hands on demonstrations that really stuck in the minds of the children in the audience. They even asked if I had any backwards songs I could play them as they’d enjoyed the effect it had had on their minds the day before.

When I had been asked to speak to the children at Camp Quest I was a bit apprehensive because I’ve never spoken to a younger audience before and wasn’t entirely sure what the best way of approaching my subject was. I figured that it was probably best to use interactive demonstrations – such as the memory game – to demonstrate my points rather than just speaking about psychological causes.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that some of the children already knew about things like the ideomotor response and how involuntary muscular movement could cause a glass to move when doing a Ouija board. I was also delighted when, during the Q&A session after my talk, the subject moved to monsters and the children started to recall news coverage of various monster sightings and the logical causes behind them. Suddenly I wasn’t the speaker in a Q&A anymore – I was a speaker in a group discussion about whether a plesiosaur was in Loch Ness, or whether the people on Lake Windermere were cashing in on the monster phenomena like those at Loch Ness (not my suggestion, this all came about completely unprompted by me or the camp leaders.)

It showed me that the uncritical media coverage of these subjects was reaching a younger audience, and that these kids in front of me were well equipped with the critical thinking skills needed to assess the claims such coverage makes because of things such as Camp Quest. Yet there are children out there that probably don’t have those skills. There are probably children out there who are like the younger me, getting terrified at the idea than panthers are prowling in the wild and that ghosts lurk in the shadows.

Camp Quest is a wonderful, beautiful thing and does something very important. I am really pleased that I got a chance to visit camp and to engage with such a wonderful group of children and young adults. I am thankful for being allowed to sit in on the ‘Philosophy for Children’ session and being able to see that the youth of today… they’re okay, if you just show them how to think for themselves.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the organisers and volunteers at Camp Quest. It was a great experience and I hope you carry on doing what you do for years to come. We need you. Also, thanks for the t-shirt – I love it!

Is There Anybody There?


In January I spoke for the Centre For Inquiry about ghosts, ghost hunting and ghost hunters. The CFI have since made the video of the talk available and I have embedded it below.

This was a brand new talk I hadn’t delivered before, there was also an issue with the sound and I was also suffering from a throat infection. Apart from that though I don’t think it is too bad at all. (Even if I may say so myself…)

The EVP recordings didn’t play well during the talk so I made them available on my website here. 

As a side note, I recently interviewed Dave Wood, the chairman of ASSAP, and CJ Romer, an investigator I have a lot of respect for, about the ethics of ghost hunting for the Righteous Indignation Podcast. You can listen online here. It ties in with the points I made within my talk quite nicely.

Once again, Thank you to the CFI and the BHA for inviting me to talk, and for being such friendly, gracious hosts.