Hayley is a Ghost

The ghostly token

Posted on: February 17, 2011

Here’s a thing that really annoys me.

At skeptical orientated events, ghost research is seen as quirky, funny, possibly outdated, a waste of time.

At paranormal events skepticism is seen as the enemy, closed minded, untrustworthy, odd.

I slot in between those two somewhere and it’s starting to grate. I have just read this blog post* by Andy Russell regarding the QED conference in which he says:

Of the 12 1 hour sessions in the main hall, 2 were about ghosts (maybe 2.25 if you count the bits in Bruce Hood’s talk). I guess ghosts are quite fun and there are some serious issues related to them (e.g. exploitation of vulnerable people) but it felt like a bit too much. Surely there are other issues we should be thinking about?

2 out of 12 panels is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Skepticism in ghost belief and ghost research is as relevant as any of ‘type’ of skepticism out there, not to mention the fact that skepticism in general DOES think about other issues way more than ghosts. Alt med for example, gets HUGE coverage, as does creationism, anti-vaccination, the list is endless…

I find opinions like “ghost don’t exist. move on” quite tedious. Five years ago I was a believer in all sorts of ghost related “woo”, an afterlife, stone tape theory, demons, evil entities, exorcism… However, I managed to see sense and become a much more rational investigator. To be told that the lessons I learnt aren’t worth the time and effort, that I should move on, is a slap in the face. I have seen the misinformation that is spread between believers in ghosts, I have heard the lies you get told to make you buy a certain gadget or protective amulet, I’ve seen the nonsense through the eyes of a believer and I know for certain that there is a huge need for people countering such nonsense.

The sort of attitude I encounter from people who refer to themselves as skeptics is the reason that skeptics are met with a frosty reception at paranormal conferences they are asked to speak at. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, delivered skeptical talks to a theatre full of believers and been cornered by the spiritualists…

Dismissing ghost research is rather lazy, in my opinion, because it shows a complete lack of understanding of how skepticism can (and does) play a role in paranormal research.

I am confident enough to say that skepticism (and related events) are not ghostly enough. I actually commented at QED that it was nice to see belief in ghosts getting more coverage. You only have to look at levels of belief in ghosts to see how relevant ghosts are.

You only have to think about how beliefs in something as harmless as a ghost can lead to beliefs in things that are harmful – like families being told that the EMF in their home can cause cancer (ghost hunters love their EMF meters, and misinterpret the readings), how epilepsy is actually a demonic possession, how poltergeist are the devil, how your house is cursed, or haunted by a ghost that will rape you in your sleep, how paranormal researchers can ‘clear’ the spirits away but you’ve got to pay them first…

When it comes to a belief in ghosts there is a very thin line between harmless and harmful.

I “get” that some skeptics may not be interested in ghosts, but please don’t dismiss the work that rational ghost researchers do because, well, to be honest, it’s a horrible thing to do.

Paranormal research should be relevent to people of a skeptical mindset, and if you are a skeptic who thinks otherwise, or doesn’t understand why, I urge you to do a little bit of digging before making closed-minded remarks, undermining a lot of research that is done by a lot of people.

However, do feel free to go and tell Joe Nickell, James Randi or Ben Radford that skeptical analysis of ghosts is a waste of time. I’m sure they’ll have something to say about that.

*not all points raised in my blog post are in relation to Andy’s blog post

11 Responses to "The ghostly token"

I didn’t go, but isn’t the point of a conference that multiple events go on at the same time and you pick and choose what you’re interested in?

I’m very much in the camp of skeptics who just aren’t that interested in ghosts.

It seems so vanishingly unlikely that there’s anything real there, and it’s just not something that grabs me.

BUT, the only reason I can take an approach like that is because of the people who actually are interested, and go out there and find things out.

It’s because of the investigators that comparatively lazy buggers like myself can maintain a disbelief in the paranormal, even in the face of sincere reports of seemingly ghostly happenings. I’m somewhat aware of the kinds of natural phenomena which can make people think of ghosts – and which serve as likely explanations to any new ghost story I hear – precisely because people have looked into these supposedly spooky happenings and uncovered some real mysteries.

The fact that they don’t really interest me is an observation about me, not about the field of study.

And aside from that, it doesn’t take a great deal of humanity to feel sympathetic toward people who think something strange is going on in their home and are frightened and confused. I share your frustration with some people’s dismissive lack of compassion for the genuine victims here who don’t know what to think, and who can really be reassured by researchers who know their stuff.

I hope this makes sense. I’m tiredly regurgitating some thoughts from a blogpost I wrote not long ago, which was prompted by a Joe Nickell interview.

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Gosh, would hate to see the day when the big business of paranormal got a get out of skeptic-jail free card. Psychics, mediums, clairvoyants, angel healers, ghosts, demons, haunted dwellings, ghost investigators – it’s a huge business based on, well, nothing that we can tell, so far 🙂
I have a friend who sees a medium so she can talk to her dead dad. A grieving, vulnerable person is being exploited here; a psychic or medium is grossly unqualified to be dishing out what could be construed as a psychological treatment. It’s just wrong. How many $$$ does John Edwards shovel in from people who truly believe in what he does?
So, like writerJames, I am very thankful to the people who spend their time and efforts keeping on top of the paranormal biz where I also tend to concentrate my efforts on other things.
Thank you Hayley, and all the other researchers and educators in the field.


I’m very much in the camp of skeptics who are interested in ghosts.

I’m in favor a “classic” skepticism, thus I do think that not enough time in skeptical convention is spend on so-called “paranormal phenomena”.

And that’s why I really enjoy “The Ghost Field Guide” podcast.

In short, I agree with Hayley Stevens on that one.


As the others note, there are plenty of topics to cover in the pursuit of a reality based worldview that if one subject doesn’t interest you there are bound to be others that do. I’ve always had a mild interest in the ghost arena, which I find far more interesting than UFOs for example, and I view it as a field in which with little or no equipment or research lab you can participate in investigations and seek to provide explanations of unusual events. This has the practical benefit of demonstrating to people that not only is it often possible to find mundane answers to these events but also that when such an answer isn’t easily reached that the honest skeptic can say “I don’t know”.

This blog and your podcast are some of the few top notch skeptical resources for people interested in ghosts.

For me I find that Alt Med especially takes much of the Skeptic Cake. As I’m not from a Science background, I find the science talks and elements interesting but far prefer those dealing mroe with the supernatural as that is how I first came to skepticism.

I think some people do underestimate just how big the ghost trade is- especially here in Edinburgh- and many, most, do make quite extreme claims in return for large amounts of money and can eb harmful.

I know someone who tried to kill themselves ebcause they thought their mum was in the afterlife and they wanted to see them again- it is when things like that happen that you realise just how dangerous belief in ghost, psychics and the afterlife can be.

Sure fighitng against homeopathy is important, trying to keep creationism out of the science class is of major import- however I think that inverstigation and criticism of supernatural claims is also important. There aren’t enough people doing it and those that are – such as Richard Wiseman and Chris French- I have seen criticised at times by skeptics and “main stream” academia whereas from my personal POV what they are doing is far, far more interesting than those people dealing with vaccine science and alt med.

People can , and do, criticise me because I want to have more supernatural- and also religious- themed events but to be honest I’m getting a little bored of “And this is why homeopathy doesn’t work”!

I support the ten23 campaign, but I do think a lot of skeptical folk who became more aware of their skepticism and others like them through the campaign do seem a bit caught up on homeopathy.

I think there’s astrong risk in skepticism of getting too focused on one issue and thus missing things that should be challenged. We need lots of people, each with their own focus, if we’re going to cover them all.

I agree that the paranormal is important to investigate, buwould like to ask: What do you think the most important reason is? There’s a lot of good reasons, from protecting people from the psuedoscientific ghost hunters who might step in otherwise tocorrecting the record, but this isn’t my skeptical focus nd I’m sure I’m missing mny of the benefits, so I’d like to hear your views.

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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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