How To Prove A Skeptic Wrong

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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

FAO: Don Philips, the ghost hunter.

After my blog post yesterday about how some ghost hunters were behaving irrationally over the recent discovery of a buried cottage at Pendle Hill I thought it only right to let those I mentioned by name know I had done so. I think it’s good blogging etiquette to do so.

In response, Don Philip has posted on his Facebook wall that I am

“A young lady trying to make a name for herself”

I would like to point out that if there is anything I have made a name for myself through, it is being open minded in my approach to paranormal research. I am willing to point out when I am wrong, and I learn new things all the time and change my beliefs and opinions as new facts become available. My main aim with my paranormal research is, and always has been, to learn more about the reality behind these experiences. This is something I have continued to achieve year after year. I have just enrolled on two courses with the Open University, with whom I am working towards a BSc Psychology degree in the hope that I can learn even more about the way in which people think, believe and perceive.

I am simply curious, and this curiosity has led me to experience the strange world of paranormal research through the eyes of a naïve believer who grew and evolved into a fact seeking, lesson learning skeptical researcher. That’s why I am invited to speak at events all over the place. That could seem like an appeal to authority but it isn’t. Me speaking at events isn’t what makes me a good researcher – my constant research, fact checking and self questioning is what makes me a good researcher.

It’s also why I’m asked to contribute to research by others.

For example, I was once asked by Professor Chris French to review some footage that he’d been asked onto a UK television show to give a skeptical opinion on. He asked for my opinion because he isn’t a field based ex-ghost hunter. The footage was from an investigation conducted by a paranormal team called G.S.I – their founder, Don Philip.

The footage in question, as shown below, shows Don taking temperature readings in a room and asking a ghost to make the reading change. Over time it does. This is attributed to a spirit/ghost.

Watch from the 3 minute mark.

I was able to explain to Chris that the reason the temperature was changing is not because a ghost is present, but because Don was using the equipment incorrectly, or without knowing what the readings the thermometer takes mean. The model he uses is a laser thermometer that measures surface temperature. Don is waving it all around the room meaning that the device cannot measure on specific point as it is designed to do so.

I am able to offer such advice and spot such mistakes because I am open minded and I have learnt – and continue to learn, from those around me who conduct rational research into paranormal phenomena. It’s easy and lazy to apply a paranormal cause to something that looks a bit odd, especially when it only looks a bit odd because you simply haven’t bothered to work out how to use the device in question.

Dons accusation that I am trying to make a name by criticising him is wrong, it smacks of a diversion tactic because he doesn’t have an answer regarding the things I spoke of in the original blog post about illogical ghost chasing based on nothing but folklore stories. Prove me wrong though, Don. Defend your decisions and your methods… if you can.

Misleading the misled

Sometimes, when it comes to the world of ghosts and haunted houses and claims of paranormal phenomena, things are not as clear cut as they initially seem. Sometimes wrong and right aren’t options one can choose at ease and as a skeptic and a humanist I sometimes find myself resisting the urge to head-butt my desk and over and over at the moral dilemmas I find myself facing.

I know of a man who lives in a building that is said to be one of the most haunted places in the entire world. I’m not going to name him or his home for reasons that will become apparent, but in the ghost hunter culture that has evolved after shows like LivingTV’s ‘Most Haunted’ hit the airwaves, the building in which this man lives has become infamous and hundreds of people have flocked to it to try to find proof of the ghosts that are said to live there alongside the living. The truth is a bit more different because all of the ghost stories attached to the building are made up, or at least, wholly over exaggerated. As many will know, it is easy for folklore stories to get changed over time, and for what was wild speculation and fictional to suddenly become fact when it is passed on a few generations or so.

The man who lives in the haunted house knows that the ghosts aren’t there with him and has shared this fact with some skeptical ghost researchers who live locally to him who have bought him a beer or two when they’ve visited. The man who lives in the haunted house also knows that where there are ghosts there will be people willing to part with their money to sit in the haunted house, and so for that reason he charges teams of ghost hunters to sit in his building looking for the ghosts.

He knows there are no ghosts, but they don’t know that and they experience very strange things there, but this is because the man makes the things happen when they’re not looking. For example, one of the ghosts knocks at the front door and, when the door is opened in response, the ghost is nowhere to be seen. That is, a ghost in the form of a big knotted rope that is lowered out of an upper window that happens to sit right above the door in question… a window through which the owner of the building leans out to use the rope to knock the door before pulling it back up inside.

When I first heard of this occurring I was outraged that somebody who owned a property that was alleged to be haunted would act in this manner and would trick people into thinking they were experiencing paranormal phenomena. I felt I should share what I knew with everybody straight away due to my past experiences with people who faked paranormal activity to try to fool me in a similar manner.

Then I thought about it and decided not to.

You see, I realised that although the man in question was knowingly misleading the people who were visiting his home because they thought it was haunted, the people who were visiting his home were actually taking advantage of the man who lives in a building that is slowly falling down around him because, although it is a listed building, it doesn’t get any funding to help with its upkeep.

The man lives in a small part of the building and the rest of it is filled with a clutter of random, but interesting memorabilia, and various artefacts that hint at the place being haunted. The man is getting old and, the last I heard, had no proper heating and a leaky roof that he can’t fix due to a lack of funds and graded building restrictions.

He asks paranormal teams for anywhere between £50 to £200 to visit his house to hunt for the ghosts and that money goes towards being able to live in a house that isn’t really suitable for him to live in, but a house that is the only home he knows.

Would it be right for me to reveal his tricks and take away a source of money that is, quite literally, keeping the roof above his head? I don’t think it would.

If it wasn’t him misleading the misled, it would be somebody else – or perhaps even them misleading themselves. There are so many places around the globe that cash in on the fact that they’re supposed to be haunted that exposing one seems futile. Especially when the tricks that are being pulled on unsuspecting Most Haunted wannabe’s are helping a man to eat.

Sometimes haunted houses are homes and sometimes there’s more than greed behind ghost stories. It’s important to remember that.