Hayley is a Ghost

Archive for December 2010

It would seem my blog post about being disillusioned with skepticism had been discussed in great length on the Stop The AVN facebook page and I wanted to point a few things out that people don’t seem to be understanding.

It was also mentioned by the AVN on twitter. (oddly enough)

It seems (seems) Meryl Dorey understands the points I was making more than a handful of skeptics do, even though she knows I think the AVN is wrong and dangerous.

I want to answer a comment left on the SAVN facebook page:

Meryl bitches about people not being polite to her whilst she happily spreads lies and misinformation about vaccines. If people pay attention to her, they could put their own lives, or the lives of their children, at risk. Here’s an offer: you stop telling lies about vaccines, and I stop calling you a liar.

Calling someone a liar is different than mocking someone, and I do believe that what the AVN does is dangerous and based on nonsense. I think I may have even said nasty things in the past about the AVN on a podcast but I regret that because I personally feel that the moment you call someone a bitch or a crackpot you’ve lost the strength of your argument.

When I became more skeptical and stopped using pseudoscientific ideas on paranormal investigations, the people that I worked with who still wanted to use those ideas and still had misinformed beliefs called me all sorts of names, they threatened me with violence and even phoned the place I worked and told lies to my boss to try and get me into trouble.

They had no argument, they had no valid point to make and I personally will never stoop that low.

I wanted to address another comment too, this one:

Hayley is great. This we can agree on. I think, however, that the lure of “Don’t Be A Dick” has rubbed off in the wrong way, Hayley’s involvement and closeness with the paranormal “community” has caused some wear and tear, and Hayley has made an unclear blog post in the wake of it.

I knew when I wrote my blog someone would bring up the ‘don’t be a dick’ thing. My blog has sod all to do with that – I am able to think for myself, thank you very much.

As for my blog post being unclear – I don’t agree – it’s only unclear to those who are looking for further meaning to it. The biggest mistake anyone can do is read my blog and see it as an attack on them personally because rather than absorbing what I’m saying they just go on the defence and show how I am wrong and they are right.

I quite clearly pointed out in the original blog post I’m not preaching about what I think others should do and that the blog post wasn’t navel gazing, and wasn’t me passing judgement on others.

There is no convincing a true believer. No chance whatsoever. Meryl will not change her tune. Even if she received a divine revelation from the deity of her choice.

She will not change. She is a lost cause. Being nice to her is wasted goodness, and as Nietzsche once said (and I paraphrase) “There is not sufficient love and goodness in the world to permit us to give some of it away to promulgators of imaginary nonsense”

I haven’t suggested we be nice to people, I just said we shouldn’t mock them or call them names and then pass it off as skepticism. Cos it aint. Just make your points and move on, you don’t have to have tea with people you disagree with, but you also don’t need to get personal and mean. I don’t see any point to that.

I also do not agree that ‘true believers’ are a lost cause. You’re looking at an ex-true believer in ghosts, an afterlife, reincarnation and all sorts of nonsense.

Phil Plait actually started a thing on twitter yesterday where skeptics were encouranged to use the hashtag #skeptictale to tell others how they became skeptical – there were lots of ex-true believers there.

All we can do with Meryl is marginalise her and make it clear to onlookers that she’s not sane.

This we’re doing, and it’s working. The media don’t go to her for balance. The media look on and shake their heads.

It’s working.

Which is great. I agree that the AVN is dangerous and needs to be treated as such – but I would also point out that the onlookers that you want to convince are also onlookers who will see both sides of an argument, possibly without any knowledge of the situation.

If someone is giving rational information on something the AVN has said they’ll see that, if someone is slagging off Meryl Dorey (or Sylvia Browne, or any so-called WOO you can think of, for that matter) they’ll see that too.

I don’t want to be judged by that, but I am. Often, and as I said in my original blog post – that’s crap.

I can see Hayley’s point for a subset of the paranormal crowd, but it just doesn’t work with people entrenched in madness and pushing it on others.

Wrong. In so many ways. I’m not just a ‘paranormal skeptic’ (and I know this isn’t what is being claimed), and when I wrote the blog post I wasn’t talking just about the subset of the paranormal crowd. I was talking about all the topics and people I deal with (hello! I cohost the Righteous Indignation Podcast. I’ve interviewed JIM HUMBLE, I’ve interviewed people from all backgrounds and ‘subsets’! Give me some credit!)

p.s. I didn’t want the blog post to become about the AVN, it applies to everything I do and think and deal with and I want to clarify once more that this blog post isn’t me telling others how I think they should act and behave, I’m past caring. This isn’t navel gazing, it’s just my thoughts written on my blog.

However, if not calling people names takes something away from skepticism for you, what did you really have in the first place?

I’ll leave the comments open this time, then you can ask me things directly rather that speculating.

I have been a vegetarian for fourty-six weeks and counting and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I love being a vegetarian, not only because it’s an informed choice I made for several reasons but because this year has probably been the only time I’ve really actually put any thought into what I am eating.

This Christmas was my first vegetarian Christmas dinner – I had the same as everyone else, except their turkey was replaced with a delicious country vegetable pie on my plate. Yum.

I thought my biggest critic was going to be my nineteen year old brother Charlie because it’s his job to ridicule everything I do. However my family have been really supportive and have even been interested in my vegetarian food, they even cut down on the amount of bacon they have because they know bacon is my one weakness. They rock.

However I was reading this blog post over on The Thinkers Podium blog and it had me laughing in sympathy. The pork salt story reminded me of the one time my mum accidentally braised some pork in the gravy that she then poured over my dinner aswell as everyone elses. It wasn’t until I noticed little lumps of meat in my mouth that the true horror of what had happened unfolded – but it was an accident, I’ve never had anyone put animal product in my food “accidentally” on purpose to make their point – at least, I hope I haven’t…

However I have noticed a very similar behaviour from meat eaters who discover that I’m a vegetarian. It seems that a lot of the time when I tell somebody that I’m vegetarian they try to defend why they eat meat by trying to make the reasons I chose to become vegetarian seem pointless.

As mentioned in this blog post I wrote when I had only been a vegetarian for two weeks, one of the leading factors in that decision was the amount of meat that the Sainsbury’s store I worked in would throw away. What a waste of a life of an animal that, in all likelyhood, didn’t have a great life anyway.

I often get told that just one person removing themselves from the demand market for meat wont make any difference – but at least I know that I’m not the reason that animal has suffered and died.

I don’t actually mind if someone chooses to eat meat and doesn’t care about animal suffering – we’re all entitled to live how we choose, but it’s amazing how often people will try and make me realise how I am wrong to be a vegetarian for the reasons that made me decide to be.

I’ve been told that for my reasoning I should eat meat that comes from local farms because it’s not the same as meat that is produced for supermarket, but why would I do that? An animal would still be dying.

I’ve been told that I should eat meat that comes from an animal that has died of natural causes – and you know what, I might, if I could be 100% certain that the animal was kept in good conditions during its life and that it really did die of natural causes.

I’ve been told that I am ‘murdering’ plants just as much as I would be ‘murdering’ animals if I ate meat (to which I’m quick to point out plants don’t actually have a nervous system…)

I’ve been told that I am going against evolution – but if that is the case I think it’s awesome. I’ve never been one to do something just so that I comply with ‘the norm’

All in all, I don’t actually care if someone eats meat and thinks that vegetarians are stupid, but the knee jerk reaction from those meat eaters who have to defend their decision by trying to rubbish mine makes me wonder if there is an underlying guilt because, actually, they see my point?

Sometimes people ask me how I can manage to juggle so many different projects at once and congratulate me on being able to do so, yet recently I’ve began to have serious doubts about if it is really worth the time and effort.

I really do identify myself as a skeptic, but sometimes I get a bit embarassed to do so – this is something I’ve blogged about before, and the feeling still stands. I’ve been pulled into many debates and discussions I haven’t really wanted to be involved in simply because of the word ‘skeptic’ and the negative picture it paints up.

I often dread speaking at paranormal conferences because I’m usually either the only skeptic, or one of a few – and usually the only female and the only speaker under twenty-five. Before I even get on stage people have their minds made up about me. It’s pretty crap.

I don’t think there is ever a time that I would feel comfortable with misleading people just so that I can make my point later on down the line.

I can’t do the whole ‘I am right and you are wrong, thus I’m better than you’ thing – I feel like it sometimes, but I try to be a good person and I link to rational information relating to the topic in hand, or I try to calmly explain myself.

I cannot and will never mock other people because of something they believe – it’s disgusting, and I get that some people like to do that and don’t care about how they appear to other people, but I’ll never be that sort of a person, skeptic or not.

Also, I judge those skeptics who do that, I think they’re awful. I was once ‘the woo’ and ‘the stupid one’ and it’s not nice and it doesn’t make anyone look clever or big. Just smug and arrogant, really. It doesn’t achieve anything, but then again, I doubt that a lot of skeptics actually want to achieve anything, which is sad.

This isn’t a blog post where I’m telling people how I think they should act because, as far as I’m concerned, everyone is old enough to figure that sort of thing out for themselves. I’m just writing this because it’s been bugging me for a few days now, I want to get it off my chest, and this is my blog and I can do what I want.

This isn’t more skeptical navel gazing either, for instance, after I write this I will be editing down the next episode of ‘The Ghost Field Guide’ podcast that many so-called “woo” people have been listening to. I’m trying to make a difference by not being patronising and simply answering questions, and it’s working. I’ll probably also go on to plan some more articles for BARsoc in the hope that we can counter misinformation portrayed by the media, because that’s quite useful – or at least, more useful that mocking people.

I don’t feel like I stand united with a lot of people I thought I did before, I’ve become disillusioned with what the so-called ‘skeptical community’ seem to think skepticism is about. I find navel gazing, arse-kissing, ‘celebrity’ idolising and ego building a bit hard to stomach when there’s actual stuff that could be being done to tackle misinformation.

I am a skeptic, I use skepticism as a method of investigation and processing information – but when people talk about the so-called skeptical community, it has suddenly started to feel fake and unimportant.

I’ve decided that in 2011 I’m going to be focussing more on the things that I think are important. No, I’m not going to be quitting Righteous Indignation before anyone asks, I just think I’m going to fade quietly into the background because that seems to be where all the decent skeptics are, working their arses off to make a difference.

I have closed comments for this post, because I can.

Numerous people have pointed out that I’m rather quick to point out how you shouldn’t conduct paranormal research but I don’t outline how you should (or more specifically, how I personally) conduct paranormal research.

Recently I began to produce ‘The Ghost Field Guide’ podcast that will be a short series of podcasts that look at various areas of paranormal research and the flaws or mistakes people make without necessarily doing so. The topics that will be covered by me and my guest hosts are mistakes that I personally made when I first began conducting paranormal research, I thought it would be useful to look at the general gaps of knowledge I had, what I found difficult to understand and what I could necessarily find information on easily and focus on these things in a bid to help others.

However, to summarise my methods of investigation and research in a nutshell is what people want me to do, and that is what I shall try to do here in this article.

To answer the question in the title of this post, how do you hunt for a ghost? – You don’t. You can’t. Not without flawing your research from the start.

It’s quite difficult to explain what it is I actually do when confronted with a possible case of ghost phenomenon because no two cases are alike. One case could be in a pub where six members of staff work on a rota and experience weird things in the kitchens, another case could be in a family home where a single mother and three children reside and are terrified by odd noises and the sensation of being watched or the feeling they’re not alone.

These two cases throw up different sets of problems and different opportunities for research and study. For example, to go straight into the home where the children reside could be unethical – it might be easier to give each family member a diary in which they can note down anything strange that concerns them. A problem shared and all that.

If you can identify patterns that emerge from what they are writing down, that can really help you to identify what could have caused the odd experience.

With children, it’s very likely that one reporting of something strange can lead to numerous reports of numerous strange things that didn’t necessarily happen. Children often play up to what is expected of them and it’s important to be able to see past this and to not include testimonies that aren’t as sound as they could be in the overall case.

When I have a case reported to me I don’t like to instantly assume the best action is to visit the location – not everyone wants that, and sometimes doing so can issue a false authority that because a paranormal researcher has visited a location, the location has something paranormal there. It is a link people make in their heads and it’s something I’ve learnt through mistakes.

When telling some people that you don’t think anything paranormal is the cause you could be greeted with odd looks and the question “why did you come here then?”

It’s not a logical link to make, but then if you don’t know anything about ghost phenomena and you have a horrible feeling a ghost is in your house you’re probably not going to act logically all the time – fear is consuming. It can be very easy to presume that a paranormal researcher is an expert in what they are doing – this means any claim made is accepted as fact.

Generally the best thing to do with a reported case of phenomenon is to try and understand what is normal about the place it happened .

How can you tell what isn’t normal is you don’t know what is normal? You can’t.

A lot of ghost hunters visit a location one or two times and that will be all they need before they reach their conclusion – but in my mind that doesn’t make any sense. I have to be used to a building before I can even start to consider questioning what may have caused the reported phenomenon/phenomena.

There are various locations that I have been investigating for years and it’s very much an on-going process.

Normally, simply by spending time at a location it’s quite easy to pinpoint causes for the odd things that have been experienced – especially if you haven’t gone there looking for a ghost like a lot of people do.

I hope this can give you some insight into what I do if, and when, I have a case of phenomenon reported to me, it’s not as exciting as running around in the dark with some gadgets that beep and “detect ghosts”, it’s not as thrilling as table tipping or a seance, but it’s certainly more realistic.

I often find when I challenge a claim someone has made, or try to point out the error in what they are saying there will be one of three possible replies from them and/or their followers.

1) They will listen to what I have to say and consider it.


3) They will refuse to talk to me but will talk about me and mention how when I grow older I will see the error of my rebellious ways, bless me and then laugh at my youthful ignorance.

Here’s the thing that gets me about number 3 (which, by the way, is the most common response I get from other paranormal researchers or paranormal believers who stumble across things I have written – especially “researchers” who have a lot to gain from keeping their ‘believer’ followers happy), in the five and a bit years I have been researching paranormal phenomena, ghost reports, supposed hauntings and everything else that comes along with such things,  it is most likely that I have spent more time researching the very things they choose to believe in than they have.

My age has absolutely nothing to do with what I happen to believe, in fact, I have belief systems that make more sense and are formed with a more mature outlook on life than those of the people who gave birth to the people who gave birth to the people who gave birth to me.

I am Twenty-Three years old, to liken me pointing out the flaws in what you are saying to a strop being thrown by a teenager is not only insulting, logically wobbly and a weak argument, it’s also quite inaccurate because I’m not a teenager. Even if I were a teenager it wouldn’t matter – see, I know teenagers that have more common sense in their little fingers than some adults have in their entire bodies (Yes, Rhys, I’m talking about you…)

So here is the deal, I work with facts. Cold, hard facts and I always have an open mind. Everything that I choose to believe in is based on the best understanding of the evidence that supports my belief and I am always willing to change my beliefs and opinions when more correct information comes my way.

If I question or doubt something you have said, a claim you have made, or something you choose to believe in don’t give me any of that ‘you’re young, you’ll understand one day’ bullshit because it’s weak. In fact, I’d rather you just came out and called me a bitch because calling me a bitch is less patronising and more direct.

Never assume that being older than me automatically makes you correct on a subject. Ever.

If I (or anybody, for that matter) questions a claim or statement you make, be sure to have something to back up said claim, be sure to have points that work in favour of that claim because us skeptics, no matter what our age, just want to see evidence. That isn’t too much to ask for, it doesn’t deserve patronising replies, it just deserves the evidence being asked for.

In summary, ask yourself this: If you have ever been challenged over something you say or a belief you hold and you have belittled the person making the challenge, does that make your argument for your case stronger, or does it actually mean you didn’t have an argument in the first place and simply had to resort to childlike insults? Weak…

…and five or six people were stood in front of me, holding hands and going “ommmmmmm ommmmmmm ommmmmm”.

I was talking for the Merseyside Skeptics Society and I had started with a demo to make people understand the things I had experienced in the past that had turned me to skepticism – this time I had chosen to use the chanting séance demo and, to my surprise, people had actually volunteered to be ridiculed to help me make a point.

It was pretty awesome.

It was the fourth talk I have done for a ‘skeptics in the pub’ group and I am happy to tell you that it was the best group I have ever spoken for.

If you run a ‘skeptics in the pub’ group, or if you are thinking of setting one up I think you should go to Liverpool and attend one their talks or social events because what they do is almost magical and unlike any ‘skeptics in the pub’  I have attended or spoken at before.

The organisers had to deal with a huge mess up with the room they normally use, (it was double booked), and it was out of their control, but as I stood at the edge of the room I was going to have to talk in instead and watched them set everything up it was clear to see they were in control of the situation (or at least made it seem that way).

The talk itself was a joy to deliver because the audience were so friendly and chatty and they actually smiled. SMILED. There is nothing worse that looking out into a sea of blank faces.

Not only that but the people there were willing to get involved when I handed pieces of ghost equipment around – normally people seem a bit reluctant to touch the ouija board, but there were the Mersey skeptics, communicating with someone called ‘Treb3’ through the ouija board. It was fab.

They even laughed at my jokes and stuff.

The thing that also stood out for me was the time after the talk had finished. It was brilliant! Normally after a talk for a skeptics group everyone heads off to do their own thing and I’m on my way home by 10pm, but that wasn’t the case this time.

There was lots of good, fun chatter, someone brought out a very faulty wallet, I learnt about AJ’s obsession, I got to see Joe Nickell’s wooden nickel business card WHICH WAS AWESOME! There was also terrible humor (as expected), and lots of people coming up and saying hi. Basically, the evening felt as though my talk was a small part of a bigger social event and that is exactly what I think ‘skeptics in the pub’ events should be like. People felt at home there, that much was clear, and because of that I felt at home too.

There was no awkward ‘I’m the speaker’ feeling that is often obvious at such events. It was great (even learning about AJ’s obsession despite the fact that it got more and more disturbing…)

Basically, I can’t wait until the QED conference because the people who are behind the Merseyside Skeptics Society are also behind QED (as are the Manchester skeptics too) and, if last night was anything to go by, QED is going to be amazing.

Thank you to everyone who came along to my talk last night. Thank you for laughing and for joining in and for asking honest questions – I only hope I gave you the answers that you needed.

Thank you to the person wearing the ghost busters T-shirt. I saw it, I just didn’t get a chance to say so.

Thank you Marsh, Mike, AJ and Colin for making a talk so much fun.

Next year my talk is going to be going nearly bloody everywhere – check out the ‘talks and stuff’ page on this blog for information on where and when I’ll be talking. It could be a pub near you!

Today I became a walking, talking Christmas Tree with the aim to raise some cash for ‘Help For Heroes’ and it was a great day. One of my colleagues said that “it took guts” to wear the costume in public, I pointed out that it did indeed, but nowhere near the amount of guts it took to put your life on the line day in and day out, simply click on the thumbnail to see a larger version.

This is your proof, now go and donate!




Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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