Archive for October 2010
Over the next few months I am giving my final two talks of 2010 and I’m really excited about both.
The first event is in two days time at The Swindon Ghost Fest. I will be talking on Tuesday 26th at 7:30pm at the Swindon Central library.
The event is completely free of charge and you can just turn up on the evening, I will be talking about my exploration of Wiltshire’s paranormal folklore – from hellhounds with no heads to the ghost that haunts a bus stop…
It’s certainly going to be interesting, especially as I’ve never done this talk before. Eek!
Event number 2 is taking place on December 16th with the Merseyside Skeptics Society for their ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ event. I will be delivering my ‘I’m a ghost hunter; get me out of here!” talk, with added footage and content.
The talk looks at the paranormal research field and the stuff most people don’t see like the paranormal politics, the dreaded paranormal curse, fake ghosts and the people who talk to them and THE GHOST BOX!
I’m really looking forward to these events and I hope to see some of my blog readers there!
I have loads of interesting events coming up in 2011, from skeptic conferences and ‘skeptics in the pub’ to various paranormal conferences.
Many of the talks I will be giving in 2011 will be brand new and I really cannot wait. I will add more detail on here as the events approach. It’s also worth mentioning that if you should want me to deliver a talk for your event I will certainly consider it whether you are a skeptical audience, or one that is more likely to be “pro-paranormal”.
It’s nearly Halloween and my inner child has already demanded sweets in the shapes of eye balls and ghost shaped cakes. I love this time of year, not because I’m a paranormal researcher and think it’s significant (because it’s not, outside of folklore and religious beliefs) but because I am a very big horror fan. True horror, mind – I’m talking Edward Hyde and Frankenstein rather than the latest ‘Saw’ movie or ‘Hostel’ gore fest (there is a fine line between gore and proper horror.)
Anyway, once again I’m rambling.
1) There is going to be a lot of “paranormal television” on, some of which will claim that ghosts are more active over halloween.
2) Lots of people will be heading to their local haunted hot spots, or even “the most haunted graveyard/village/town/field/tree” they can find to either look for ghosts and get scared or to get drunk. Or both.
3) Paranormal investigation teams across the country will be conducting “paranormal investigations” on the night of October 31st for no other reason that “it’s Halloween”.
4) Charity investigations will be held by numerous groups and investigators. I’ve already seen at least four people I know advertising such events.
There’s no harm with that is there? I mean, Halloween is just about having fun, right? Besides, if you can raise some cash for a chairty then it’s even better I guess.
Supporting a charity (or numerous charities as I do) is great. Holding events to raise funds to your chosen charity is a really noble thing to do. I don’t want anybody to think that I am saying that charities are evil because I’m not.
However, I have spotted a trend over the last couple of years or so where a rising number of paranormal groups and teams are hosting charity ghost investigation events at Halloween (as well as throughout the rest of the year too).
Members of the public pay a ticket fee or donation to attend a paranormal investigation alongside the group of investigators and then all money raised goes to the chosen charity. Getting money to a worthy cause is always a good thing. However, these events can often lack common sense and common decency in the way that pseudo-scientific theories and methods are promoted by the investigators and because the event is for charity the promotion of nonsense is often overlooked.
There is never an excuse for the promotion of nonsense.
Quite often these events consist of the group of attendees paying their fee and being allowed to handle pieces of equipment that are supposed to detect ghosts – EMF meters, dictaphones for recording EVP. They might also conduct things like ouija board sessions, dowsing rods, glass “divination”, seances and similar. These are bad techniques for a paranormal researcher to use, the ideas that surround these methods and theories are unscientific, biased, and in the worst case scenario, rooted in superstition.
What needs to be considered is that the people attending these events are members of the public and may not know any better. If the paranormal team hosting the event use incorrect methods of investigation and promote incorrect theories as factual then they are spreading pseudoscience and this is fundamentally wrong no matter the circumstances.
When members of the public attend paranormal events alongside members of a paranormal team then the investigator is often seen as an expert, or at least as somebody who knows what they are talking about. With that comes great responsibility and it is so bad that these researchers are abusing that authority and shirking that responsibility.
Shame on them.
I’m feeling rather frustrated and annoyed and it’s all because of an advert I just saw on LivingTV.
It was for a program called ‘Paranormal Investigation: Live’ in which, the trailer says, two paranormal research teams – “one using spiritual methods & one science” will investigate one of England’s most haunted locations to see “what proof they can uncover” on “the most haunted night of the year”.
The above is what I could decipher from a commercial that contained many dramatic shots of the teams in question, scary looking horror story figures and lighting effects.
By the way, paranormal investigation and research has nothing to do with dramatic lighting, dark clothing and spooky looking figures. That’s just bullshit television production (but sadly you would get that impression looking at a cross sample of British paranormal research teams, their websites and investigation photos…) anyway, I digress.
There are several points I want to make about this upcoming show. Lets call them part psychic prediction, part me moaning and pointing out the obvious that many have probably missed.
1) Flawed methods
One of the teams will be using “spiritual methods” and the other “science”. I would imagine the spiritual methods will include séances, automatic writing, table tipping, dowsing, Ouija board, glass divination and the like.
The “science” may actually be them basing their time at the location around a scientific model of investigation. This is television though, so I doubt it. They’ll probably have some gadgets that they will claim show certain things that can be linked to ghosts being present. They’ll debunk a few things, “that was probably the wind”, “that was an illusion”, but they’ll still present it as using science, and by doing so will paint themselves as being experts and authoritative and knowledgeable. This means that when something happens that they cannot explain it’s more likely that viewers will more readily accept that the occurrence is paranormal “because they’re scientific and they’ve tried everything to explain it.”
Both of these methods of investigation will be wrong.
2) The cost of “balance”
If the “science” team do use a proper methodology then that will be great, but by introducing the “spiritualist methods team” into the equation the television show is presenting them as having equal footing and relevance.
I am very much against television shows that use woo ideas to balance out a situation or story to please the audience. Putting a scientist up against a homeopath for the case of balance is ridiculous, putting a dangerous anti-vaccination proponent against a doctor is awful, and so is putting (widely debunked and nonsensical) spiritualist methods on an equal footing with scientific methods of research as though both deserve the same respect and consideration.
3) Most haunted night. Give me a break.
Seriously, there is nothing spiritually significant about Halloween. Ghosts don’t get stronger on Halloween night, there is nothing to suggest this apart from folklore, superstition and religious mutterings. Nothing. So shut up about it already!
3) Most haunted location, my arse!
There are probably some strange and spooky stories attached to the location in question, but that doesn’t automatically mean it is haunted.
Too many people make the assumption that because something unexplained has happened it means that it is paranormal and thus they are haunted. There are so many leaps of logic in these assumptions that it hurts my head.
I hate to come across as being cynical, but these sorts of paranormal television shows always claim that the location they are visiting is one of the most haunted in the country, and there is no way that many locations can be classed as one of the most haunted in the country.
It would mean a phenomenal amount of locations have a hell of a lot of anomalous phenomena taking place. If they do, they’re certainly not reporting them all for proper examination, so their claims to be “the most haunted” is based purely on anecdotes and hearsay.
There is hardly ever any consideration into rational explanations that may have caused the odd occurrences at the locations in question.
No, instead, a handful of odd occurrences that haven’t been properly explored and have been labeled as ghosts (which isn’t really an explanation, if you think about it…) have captured the imagination of many.
The stories will have spread, people will have had their own similar experiences because they were influenced by what they have heard.
If you go looking for a ghost, it’s very likely you are going to encounter one, but it’s more likely it’s simply a product of your own mind and your expectations.
This is how a ghost story grows, this is how a building becomes “one of the country’s most haunted”, this is folklore in action.
4) Searching for proof and introducing biases.
The thing that bothers me the most about the trailer I saw was the claim that the two teams will be aiming to see “what proof they can uncover”.
This is the worst thing a paranormal researcher can do. Entering a location with the aim of proving there is a ghost or something as equally paranormal is a bad research method no matter if you use “spiritualist methods” or “science”.
Everything one does when searching for proof of the ghost/s will be biased because you’ve already reached a conclusion and will (often unknowingly) squish your findings so that they fit with that conclusion.
I predict that the two teams will both experience things that they cannot explain, they will try to rationalise them, but because they’ve already reached the conclusion that the place has ghosts there, they will come to the conclusion that the occurrences were paranormal in nature.
This in itself is a leap of logic because the idea that just because you cannot explain something makes it paranormal assumes that you know everything there is to know everything.
All in all, I very much doubt I will be watching this show because if I develop the need to watch a program with people pretending to investigate a supposed paranormally active location while getting scared I will pop on ‘Ghostwatch’ by Steven Volk. It’s more entertaining, there are bits that still scare me and it has the balls to admit that it’s not real.
It’s a shame the producers who keep churning out pathetic paranormal “reality” shows that are like a cheap re-enactment of ‘Ghostwatch’ wont do the same.
Before I close this blog post, I should point out that it is worth reading more about ‘Paranormal Investigation: Live’ over at badghosts.co.uk in this great article.
Bloody paranormal reality television shows…
So, another round of women updating their statuses on facebook to be cryptic has begun and I find it rather annoying. The message being sent around says:
It’s crazy to think it was a whole year ago since we fooled the boys with the colour of bra you were wearing as your facebook status.
The purpose was to promote Breast Cancer Awareness month throughout October. It so successful, it made it to the news and (once again) we had men wondering for days what was going on!
This year’s game is about your handbag / purse and where we put it the moment we get home, for example “I like it on the couch”, “I like it on the kitchen counter”, “I like it on the dresser”
Just put your answer as your status and cut and paste this message to all your FB female friends to their inbox. The bra game made it to the news. Let’s see how powerful we women really are!!! REMEMBER – DO NOT PUT YOUR ANSWER AS A REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE- PUT IT IN YOUR STATUS!!! Pass this to all the women you know and help fight breast cancer xxx
Here is the issue I have with this whole thing, it says in the message “The purpose was to promote Breast Cancer Awareness month throughout October.”
This is bullshit. I have a copy of the original message that got sent out and it stated this:
We are playing a game…… silly, but fun! Right the colour of your bra as your status, just the colour, nothing else!! Copy this and pass it on to all girls/Females …… NO MEN!! This will be fun to see how it spreads, and we are leaving the men wondering why all females just have a colour as their status!! Let’s have fun!!
It said NOTHING about the status updates with the colour of your bra being about breast cancer. In my mind that whole idea was tagged onto the end of the whole thing to provide some meaning when the story started getting some attention.
That’s great, I mean, we need to raise as much awareness about cancer as we can, but the original status update meme was originally sod all to do with breast cancer.
Not to mention that you don’t need to wear a bra to get breast cancer as men get it too. A bra and a handbag have nothing to do with breast cancer, so it’s a little bit sexist really.
In the past I have run the Cancer Research ‘Race for Life’ to raise money for them and the last time I did so it became very apparent that there was something deeply wrong with the public perception of breast cancer as something that is girly. The dressing up in pink and feather boas and fairy wings is all very nice and brings a sense of belonging and the messages written on peoples backs are very touching – but a male friend of mine wanted to run and he wasn’t allowed.
Men get breast cancer, women get breast cancer, men get other cancers, women get other cancers. There is nothing feminine about cancer, there is nothing girly about it – cancer is an aggressive disease and it kills people in the most brutal unforgiving and often humiliating of ways.
The picture above is of my brother Charlie (on the right) and his friends Daryll, Matt and Sammy who took part in a fundraising day at the College they attend and that I work for. I think it’s safe to say there was a strong girly theme encouraged by the staff who organised it, and for no good reason.
Though the guys in the photo above raised really good amounts of money for really deserving cancer, it just comes across as too much of an assumed theme for breast cancer.
Breast cancer = pink, boobs, ribbons and girly stuff like feather boas?
I think it’s time that we all got a little bit realisitic about raising awareness for cancer. Sure, I understand that fundraising should be fun and silly and that is fine, but nearly everything I see regarding breast cancer awareness has a pink ribbon on it, or includes wearing pink or a picture of a bra or something to do with a bra or a handbag or cleavge and that, to me, downgrades the seriousness of a disease that isn’t selective about the gender of the person it effects.
Firstly, I have recently written an article for the wonderful Shethought website about ouija boards and the controvery that surrounds them. It’s something I’ve written about before but the article on the Shethought site is revised and has more added detail. It can be found by clicking here.
Secondly, I was recently involved in an exclusive interview with Jim Humble who is the man behind the Miracle Mineral Solution that is sold to people as a cure-for-all. Apparently it can cure everything from common solds, bird flu, burns and broken bones to HIV, AIDS, Maleria and cancer.
The interview was distributed online and on Itunes as an additional episode to the usual episode this week, that featured an interview with Fifteen-year-old Rhys Morgan who has recently highlighted the issue surrounding MMS through his personal encounter on a support forum for people with Chrons disease.
More of this interview has yet to be aired, and it is what I would say is the scariest part of it yet. It was an odd interview because I felt rather uncomfortable throughout. I’m not sure if it’s because of the seriousness of what is going on here – I mean, the FDA have said MMS is dangerous, or the fact that Jim Humble seemed to genuinely believe he is helping people.
Marsh wrote an excellent piece about this on the Merseyside Skeptics Society website.
Earlier this week the ghostbox that I bought online arrived in the post. Many of my friends and fellow researchers thought I had gone mad by buying this thing but the fact of the matter is that these things have always interested me.
A ghost box is basically a pocket radio (or at least, that’s what it says on the back of mine) and it scans radio signals and feeds back a mix up of different radio programmes and broadcasts.
According to the leaflet that came with my ghostbox, spirits/ghosts use this noise and manipulate it to answer the questions they get asked.
It’s classed as a more direct method of spirit communication compared to something like Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) for which you use a recording device that you listen back to after the time of recording before picking out any answers or phrases from the spirits present at the time. The ghostbox, as you will hear, allows you to hear the supposed answers directly.
Below are three recordings named A, B & C. Each was taken on the ghost box.
A = the first recording, in which I was not present during the recording, thus meaning no questions were asked. B & C are recordings in which I was present and asked a generic set of questions for any ghosts present.
Before you begin this quick experiment get a pen and paper or open up notepad or similar on your computer.
Listen to recording A (with no questions asked) and note down any phrases or words that stand out to you.
I warn you, these recordings have some white noise and static and can be very noisy in parts. Oh, and did I mention, my voice is awful this week?
Did you hear anything? Did you note it down? Now listen to recording B (with questions being asked) and write down any responses you hear to the five questions I ask (one question is repeated twice)
Did you hear any answers in that one? Please make sure you noted them down and then listen to recording C (with questions asked again)
Did you hear any answers in that recording at all? Note them down and continue the experiment by reading beneath the picture below.
Do the phrases or words match?
If not then they should because recording C is a cut down section of Recording A with questions recorded over the top of it in an editing programme.
If you heard answers to the questions I asked in recording C then they are not answers at all as there were no questions. This shows how easy it is to hear what you expect to hear in a mashup of random noise. It is auditory pareidolia.
That is what the ghostbox produces, a mix up of random noises that people put meaning into. If you ask “is there anybody here?” you would expect to hear “Yes” or “No” or something similar.
This is all the ghostbox produces, rather much like Electronic Voice Phenomena but with added help towards creating auditory illusions with the help of the clicking noise and the clippings of the broadcasts and transmitions.
I honestly cannot see how anybody could count this as a method of spirit communication without being seriously ignorant of the facts.
I don’t know if this can class as a real experiment as I don’t think it had enough controls in place, however, I do hope it allows you to see how easy it is to create answers out of nothing and it also allows my skeptical friends to hear exactly what a ghostbox sounds like (it’s even better live :p)
This blog post is a plea to anybody who reads it. I am in desperate need of cute looking ghost graphics and cartoons for an upcoming project in the new year and if anyone has any or knows of any cute ghost pictures could you please let me know?
The only drawback is that they need to be on a white background. Thanks!
p.s. It’s nearly Halloween!
p.p.s The picture above (that made me giggle, a lot) was found here.