Archive for September 2010
My trip into Longleat forest was the first time I had ever looked at research into tracking supposed “big cat” sightings in the UK. I know there have been lots of sightings in the past in the county of Wiltshire but I never really got past reading about them and speculating about other possible causes such as misidentification, confusion or outright lying.
I met Colin Stott, who is a member of ‘The Four Teans’ who are heavily involved with cryptozoology as a hobby earlier this year and I started to learn about different weird sightings in my local area. Then came the news that a cat sighting had bee made in the Longleat Forest area. Then it became two or three and I suggested that because it was so close to us we ought to go along and see what we could find, if Colin and anyone else from the four-teans were willing to help us do so.
As you know, this decision has led to a “he said, she said” online argument all because I have said that I am not 100% certain that a hair found in the forest by Colin, Perry and Nadia (& my younger brother) was a leopard hair as has been claimed.
This bitter experience with people involved in cryptozoology has taught me a lot about the people involved with cryptozoology that I suspect isn’t representative of all involved with that research field.
The crypto-people I have met have all had an obsessive need to discover proof that backs up their initial belief that there are big cats living in the wild in the UK.
From the car ride to Longleat forest with Perry & Nadia during which Perry told me that the government were probably covering up big cat discoveries, to the way that the four-teans have, since, found what they class as evidence of big cats every time they go tracking. (See here for a video in which they say they found a possible carcuss from a cat kill that displays no signs of being a cat kill.)
The reason that wanting to prove yourself right is a bad practice is because you are introducing your personal biases to the case you are involved with, and that is always a recipe for disaster. Your personal biases will always influence your findings.
For example, the “cat kill” in the video displays all the tell-tell signs of an animal that was eaten and dragged around by smaller predators such as foxes or dogs or similar. That’s certainly a more plausible explanation that instantly jumping to the conclusion that it was a cat…
I have also learnt that if you openly refer to yourself as a skeptic; as somebody who used skepticism when dealing with research or claims, you are the bad guy and it makes you evil.
There is an underlying mistrust and misunderstanding of what skepticism truly is amongst the researchers that I have come into contact with. There is also a mistrust of organisations such as the CFZ who accidentally gave credit to someone else for finding the hairs in a wooded area near to where the CFZ hold their conference.
Once that happened the bitching that came from the Four-Teans and other crypto-researchers and bloggers was shocking. I was told constantly by Colin that the CFZ were claiming credit again.
Yet, after having a long discussion with Jon Downes, the founder of the CFZ, it seems that things just hadn’t been communicated to him properly and he was sincerely sorry about the mistake that had been made. There was nothing sinister and evil about him at all! Funny that…
In fact, it’s my emails to and from Jon that have convinced me that the crypto-researchers that I have had contact with are not representative of the whole field. Then I remembered people like Paul Vella (best known for his bigfoot research) and Nick Redfern who I have met before, they too were rather decent people.
In fact, it’s very much like the ghost research field – there are bad eggs in all research fields and you just have to maneuver around them and look for like minded people who’ve got it right.
I found people who appear to have an agenda. Whether that involves jumping to wild conclusions that have no really strong evidence to support said conclusion, ignoring opposing evidence or admissions of fraudulence and maintaining that sightings or discoveries in the past were the real thing because it suits the way you view the world, or just bitching about anyone who dares to have an opposing belief and trying to throw their weight around as though they are going to achieve anything past the feeling of smugness it brings them.
I wish I hadn’t because it’s left me with a very bitter taste in my mouth and, although I don’t like to judge, a sour view of cryptozoology researchers. I hope that will be changed when I visit the Weird Weekend next year and I am pretty sure it will be.
I think I’ll stick to BARsoc (of which I am very proud) and I will stick to my scientific method of investigation and my skepticism and my ghost research because, truth be told, they’re much more interesting and less highly strung than blokes wearing camouflage who get excited by animal poo 😉
Update: Since posting this article in my defense on the 28th September I have gone on to write a more detailed and precise breakdown of exactly why I don’t accept the leopard hair in question as proof of a leopard being in Longleat Forest when so many others do.
I am highly amused that I am having to write this blog post. It was with great surprise that I clicked on a link that led to this blog post that basically screamed at me and WPR and BARsoc and anything that was to do with my involvement with a) skepticism and b) leopard hairs.
I thought it might be useful to make some things very clear about this. I also think it’s probably useful if I write this very, very clearly because certain people seem to be very, very confused.
1 – I have nothing to gain or lose if there are or are not big cats of any kind roaming the Wiltshire country side.
2 – I do not, and have never said that members of the group called ‘The Four Teans’ planted or faked the leopard hair that was discovered in Longleat Forest. If I were to say that, I would also be calling my own brother a fraud as he was with them when it was found.
3 – It was not solely WPR team members that were present in Longleat forest when the hair was discovered. Not that I feel this has any difference on the overall discussion here.
I originally wrote this blog post on the WPR blog (that has since evolved into the BARsoc site) but after it clearly did nothing at all to bring clarity to the situation I took it down. However I have now (today) put it back up in it’s full original form before I edited the details I got wrong but they are back in there now as I reverted it back to the very original version. So yeah, don’t bother saying “this is wrong, that is wrong” as though you’re being clever…
In the blog post by the tiger person they claim that, & I quote:
…laying the blame at a small 4 man crypto group known as the “Four-teans”, (nice pun and name).
Now, by saying ‘laying the blame’ tiger person is saying that something bad happened that somebody was to blame for. Go and read the original blog post, nobody was ‘blamed’ for anything, so…
Tiger person goes on to say:
The WPR are very much a sceptic based orgnisation.
This is of course very different from a sceptical organisation. The last thing sceptics want is evidence to prove them wrong.
Nice misunderstanding of skepticism there, buddy 😉 WPR used (and those members of WPR who continued on to BARosc still use) skepticism as a tool of investigation. It is essentially a way of questioning and processing information. Skepticism isn’t a belief as both believers and non-believers in something can be skeptical and can use skepticism.
If you are going to accuse me and my fellow researchers in WPR of being closed minded then say so, if you are going to accuse us of being dirty non-believers then say so. Get it right!
Tiger person goes on to say:
The fallout of all this is a lot of messy accusations aimed at the Four-tean group from the WPR,
The people involved in the Four-Teans group took what I said in THE ORIGINAL BLOG POST out of context. I made no accusations. This was even clarified to Colin from the Four-Teans in person, in text, message, on facebook and in email.
Turns out he doesn’t listen or they have a victim complex or something. They also go on to say:
Leading to a rebranding of the WPR to the BARsoc and a distancing of them from the finding of the hairs…
WRONG… well, sort of right.
See, things hadn’t been working out for WPR for a month or so prior to the leopard hair exploding (not literally), and the shit storm that erupted after the article in Fortean Times helped us (my co-founder and I) to finalise a decision we had been making for quite some time.
Please don’t let the leopard hair people think that they and their little paddy had anything to do with “bringing down” WPR.
Even insinuating the hairs were deliberated placed there by the Four-teans.
As mentioned before, we never made that accusation, the Four-Teans took our blog post out of context and were even TOLD that but chose to remain ignorant of our true meaning. Let me elaborate here… I said, and I quote:
I cannot rule out cross contamination. I am not suggesting for one minute that the hair was planted or swapped. However, because I have not observed the whole process, from the hair being collected to the hair being tested I cannot say with confidence that somewhere along the way the hair got mixed up by accident – or, indeed, as I was not at the testing, that a mistake was made (again, I am not commenting that it was, I just cannot rule it out).
I actually wrote ‘I am not suggesting for one minute that the hair was planted or swapped’ and somehow the Four-Teans took that to mean I meant exactly what I said what I said I wasn’t saying… confused? Yes, me too…
I’ve never been one to hold back when making accusations about people – the difference between me and the tiger person and the Four-Teans is that I always make sure my accusations are based on facts 😉 Take note Mr Highland Tiger because your accusations are anything BUT based on fact. Fact.
Tiger boy (or girl…) goes on to say:
the Four-teans have actually done nothing wrong here.
CORRECT! Except… throw their toys out of the pram if you happen to question them or disagree with their position on a case.
Tiger person goes on to comment about the change of name to ‘British Anomalistic Research Society’ which, frankly, has nothing to do with the leopard hair case and, after reviewing my earlier posting of this blog, I decided to not even reply to what they had to say about BARsoc as it was just childish goading on their part.
You can read the “defense” given by the Four Teans by scrolling down the blog post by the tiger. I was also sent this “defense” by email by Colin from the Four-Teans and it simply consists of more “boohoo” and accusations about things that WPR supposedly did and said.
It’s all rather pathetic and boring and tit-for-tat.
This blog post has been very tongue-in-cheek and probably a bit rude but I really do not care because the stink this leopard hair case has caused is unreal. Really.
My biggest issue with accepting that the hair discovered in Longleat Forest was a leopard hair was that I wasn’t there when it was discovered and I wasn’t there when it was tested. If somebody asked me “Hayley, are you 100% sure that everything happened as it is told it happened and no mistakes were made?” I could not and can not say “Yes I am 100% sure of that indeedy-doo” because I wasn’t there. I would be lying.
I know that Colin says I should trust his testimonial because he was a team member of WPR, but the fact is I don’t and didn’t – it’s nothing personal, but I never accept someones testimonial of what happened on a case as being 100% factual because WE’RE ALL FALLIBLE.
It’s as simple as that. I didn’t make myself very clear when I originally wrote about why I couldn’t say for sure that nothing went wrong, however, this was clarified numerous times since that original blog post went live and yet Colin and Perry and the others from the Four-Teans refuse to understand that. Talk about holding a grudge…
It makes me concerned at how they perceive evidence and proof if they don’t understand where I was coming from. Scary!
Instead of being adult about this and just letting it lie and accepting that people have different beliefs and opinions, the Four-Teans went behind my back and moaned at The Highland Tiger who, quite frankly, has been extremely (and oddly) confrontational in their blog post about how evil WPR and its founder (yours truly) is.
My advise would be to get both sides of a story before you reach a decision on something.
As for the Four-Teans… you continue doing what you do, how you do it, but please accept one thing – not everyone will agree with you on everything, and when they don’t agree with you it doesn’t make them evil. Stop making conspiracies. It’s tiring 😉
The not-so-friendly skeptic.
Firstly, I have neglected this blog a bit which is rather naughty, but I have been quite busy recently.
Last week I took the decision to disbanded Wiltshire Phenomena Research. Well, I say disbanded, what I really mean is that it has become a bigger project – British Anomalistic Research Society, or BARsoc. It was Bob Dezon who gave me the nudge in that direction, which I am thankful for.
There are a few reasons that I made this decision and I felt compelled to write a post here detailing them to stop people speculating or, more commonly, bullshitting behind my back 🙂
As a lot of people know, WPR got tangled up in a mess with a supposed leopard hair that was found in Longleat Forest when two members of our team went tracking there with three members of the Four-Teans group.
I had stated, as the founder of WPR, that WPR’s position on the hair was that the case was inconclusive due to a lack in the knowledge of the case that WPR team members had.
The final nail in the coffin of WPR’s involvement with this particular case came when an article was written in the Fortean Times magazine that named WPR, and named people as members of WPR without speaking to me first.
I wrote a clarification blog post detailing our official position on the case and things turned a big ugly with accusations being thrown at me in private email.
This was the case that made me realise that something needed to change because I had the overwhelming sense that WPR were just kicking up dust and not really getting anything worth while done.
Not only that, but previous to our involvement with the Longleat Forest case, both me and my mum volunteered our time to help run the Weird Investigation events as part of the events that surrounded the Weird paranormal and UFO conferences that are based in Wiltshire.
These were supposed to be rational paranormal investigation experiences for the general public, but it was very rare if we got more than eight people on an event.
It was very frustrating, not only because of the poor turn out, but because it also seemed that the rational approach we were supposed to be promoting was just a tag line. We would often find ourselves table tipping or holding seances.
The pressure was always on to perform and to entertain, and although educational investigations can be fun, they can’t in that sense. I now realise that the people on an education investigation need to be there because they want to learn, not because they’ve seen Most Haunted or Ghost Hunters and want to give it a go.
Now, the spiritual methods were my idea because I wanted to show people the rationale behind them. I had a “three section event” plan where we would look at spiritual methods, then gadget-driven methods and then a scientific method.
This never really happened though because, after all, they were paying customers and if they wanted to run off down a dark corridor like Most Haunted then it was their choice. They weren’t members of my investigation team that I could talk to if they acted inappropriately or irrationally. They were members of the public.
I would often get the chance to introduce controls to things like table tipping, or, one of our un-chosen team members favourite – glass divination.
Many a-time I would get the people doing glass divination to ask “it” to use the glass on the table to draw the shape I had written down. Or to stop moving when I counted from 1 – 10 and said the number of fingers I had held up behind my back.
This was because I wanted people to see that when I removed their knowledge of the correct answer, the answer was very rarely right. However, it never worked like that.
It couldn’t because the people who were attending the events alongside us didn’t care because those “sciene-y” ideas of mine didn’t fit their beliefs.
I mean, one of our “team” of investigators claimed to be skeptical and would then tell you in the next breath that they had once contacted Madeline McCann through a ouija board. Which is, in case you didn’t know, just sickening.
It was also quite easy to spot when certain regulars would be moving the glass. It was often fun to catch them out without them realising it. I once made the ouija board spell ‘fuck’ for example. Out of boredom more than anything.
The very last of these events I took part in ended with me sitting in one part of a haunted pub with three of the paying guests while the rest of the crew sat in the dining room eating their packed lunch.
I was volunteering my time and I genuinely wanted people to understand the facts behind ghost hunting tools etc. – so to discover them just sat there eating, when it was them who had wanted these events to go ahead was infuriating.
It was shortly after the Weird ’10 conference took place that I decided to leave the crew because of the way certain people in the crew were treating other members of the paranormal research community.
When I had voiced my concern I got rounded on and then decided to leave. After that the very people who were supposed to be friends and fellow investigators turned against me and remaining WPR members and started acting like twelve-year olds with silly comments on facebook walls and statuses.
Behaviour that has just been ignored by me because, you know, I’m not twelve. However, what this behaviour did make me realise was that I had been tolerant of way too much stupid for way too long.
This coupled with the whole Leopard hair situation made me realise a change was in order. After a long discussion with Bob we realised that BARsoc could work and would work if we really wanted it to.
I spoke to Sharon, the co-founder of WPR and it was agreed. BARsoc was born. After wasting two years of investigation and research by giving my time to the Weird conferences and Weird events and weird people, things are now back on track.
The British Anomalistic Research Society is already going from strength to strength and has some great, respectable people involved already.
No longer do I feel like I have to put up with people with ridiculous beliefs and ideas because they’re the only choice. I am now working alongside the cream of the crop to help build and maintain a great resource for rational information about the paranormal and paranormal research.
Not only that but we will be offering to investigate cases at locations if the need arises, and I know I can count on my team mates and colleagues to be professional and to understand where I am coming from with my rational approach and my respect for the scientific method.
What a refreshing change.
Last week I wrote an article for the Wiltshire Phenomena Research website about the latest ghost hunting fad, Green laser grids. You can read the article by clicking here.
For those not in the know, Wiltshire Phenomena Research is the investigation team I helped to form back in 2005.
As I’m sure many of my readers are aware, there is a trend amongst ghost research teams to collect and use as many different gadgets as possible while on the search for ghosts. The use of these gadgets is inspired largely by paranormal television shows, as well as misinformation from other researchers.
The latest of these pieces of equipment to be causing excitment in the ghost hunting world is a laser grid that fills a room with small green laser dots that, apparently, will help you spot shadow figures and ghost moving around the room.
Yes, I know, turning the lights on would be easier, cheaper and safer.
Ever since the article was posted we have had a lot of hits to it, mainly from people who are searching for the following.
“laser grid paranormal equipment”
“ghost hunt laser grid”
“laser grid ghosthunters”
“laser grid for ghost hunters”
If you read the article on the WPR site, you will know that the use of laser grids on ghost hunts was first suggested to the masses on Ghost Hunters – a US paranormal television program.
I feel confident enough to say that the majority of people searching the above terms who end up on the WPR site are probably looking to buy a laser grid for their research team.
Isn’t it a sad state of affairs when the majority of people in the research field are taking their tips from television programs that have shown time and time again that they have no interest in rational investigation into paranormal phenomenon?
You only have to read this free PDF, ‘Top 5 ghost hunting mistakes’ by Ben Radford to see how the show Ghost Hunters are anything but scientific.
I think it also shows just how many researchers have double standards when it comes to their methodology. So many people will deny that they are influenced by dodgy paranormal television shows, yet they copy everything the television shows promote.
It’s very doubtful that Jason and Grant from the show Ghost Hunters will read this, but if they do I have one thing to ask them. In the next episode you film, will you please wear foil hats?
I cannot tell you how much I would love to see copy cat ghost hunters wandering around a graveyard with a green laser grid pointer, an K2 meter, a night vision camcorder, a dictaphone and a foil hat.
It would make my day.
I was asked a while back to be a contributor to the brilliant Shethought site and I jumped at the chance. However due to recently getting a new job and being busy with that, the podcast and my research I didn’t have the chance to write anything for Shethought.
However all that changed with my contribution piece ‘the “ghost hunter” label’ which looks at the public perception of paranormal research and the damage ghost hunters do to proper scientific research into anomolous phenomena.
You can read my article here, and while you are doing so you should check the other articles out too because they cover a wide range of topics and it’s a really interesting site.
For those of you who have found my blog from my shethought article, hi! I hope you enjoy what you find here, if not > :’o(
Thought of the day
If the ghostbusters are not afraid of “no ghost” then why do they scream so much and run away from ghosts?
You people are crazy! I mean that in a nice way though.
Yesterday when I set up the donation page after Karl Mamer (the conspiracy skeptic) said he wanted to donate some funds towards buying me a ticket to the amazing QED conference I did so thinking I wouldn’t get much.
I though perhaps I’d receive a generous £40 or many £50 to help with the cost of my ticket from different people. Which would be awesome and in my head I had calculated how much I would have to put back each month to put towards the overall cost once the kind donations had been added.
I was really excited and genuinely grateful at the kindness of people I had only met online.
So imagine my surprise yesterday evening when I checked my email inbox to discover that I had received over £150 in donations from people.
Tickets cost £99 so I was able to buy a ticket which was awesome. This was late last night and shortly afterwards I went to bed and forgot to close down the donation page and link.
I woke up this morning to find even more money in my donation fund. Enough to cover the cost of my accommodation, which blew my mind.
I have now closed the donation page – after less than 24 hours, because I cannot believe how generous people were. I am so grateful to everybody who helped me. It means the only thing I have to worry about paying for is my travel cost and that’s going to be fine.
It also means I was able to add a few days onto my accommodation stay so I will now be able to visit some sites in the North that hold some significance to my heritage as well as meeting friends I have only ever spoken to online. I am so excited.
I genuinely cannot thank you enough. QED here I come!