Hayley is a Ghost

Archive for March 2011

Introduction

My interest in the Bownessie Lake Monster case began when the news broke that kayaker, Tom Pickles, has allegedly taken a photograph of the monster. It was the latest in a whole series of sightings and investigations into the monster.

I wrote an article for the British Anomalistic Research Society website exploring the story behind the photo and concluded that it was probably a tire in the water.

After my research into the photograph I became interested in the sightings previous to the Tom Pickles sighting, as well as the investigations conducted in Windermere by the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) as well as the ones conducted by self-proclaimed psychic, Dean Maynard.

A brief time line of the Bowness sightings

Sighting one

When: 23rd July 2006 (between midday and 1pm)
Who:
Steve & Elaine Burnip from Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire.
Where:
Standing at Watbarrow point, near Wrap Castle (North end of West Shore)
What:
Saw 3 humps breaking the water, travelling in a straight line. One hump was described as a head. Burnip comments that it wasn’t a wave or boat wake, that it looked like a giant eel and was twenty-foot long. He also said it was faster than a rowing boat, but not as fast as a motor boat.

According to Jon Downes from the CFZ, Steve managed to get a photo of what they saw, it is poor quality but shows ‘grey humps’ in the water. Steve Burnip is very reluctant to hand this photo to the press.

“He showed us the original of the photograph he had taken, still on his digital camera, and zoomed in. What had been merely discolouration in the water on the version that had been rather badly reproduced by the Westmorland Gazette, were actually what appeared to be quite sizeable humps. We hope that as time goes by we shall be able to persuade Steve to let us have a copy for our own use.”  – Jon Downes

You can watch a video here of Steve Burnip explaining his encounter to local press.

Sighting two

When: July 2006
Who:
Mr & Mrs Gaskell
Where:
Cruising near Ambleside at the North end of the lake
What:
Saw a large animal jumping in the wake of their vessel which looked like a seal or dolphin without the fin, leaving a large wake and ripples.”

Around this time the local press had contacted the CFZ after reading about their ‘giant catfish’ research from 2002. They asked the CFZ is they could shed any light on the supposed monster. An appeal was put out in the local newspaper/s for witnesses to come forward and in the following month six more did so, including one from the 1950’s and 1980’s.

Sighting three

When: February 2007
Who:
Linden Adams
Where:
Windermere area
What: Local photographer, Adams, was walking in the area with his wife when he spotted an oddity in the water of the lake. He said it appeared to be 50 foot long, when compared to boats nearby. Adams took a photo of the object that was then published in numerous papers. Read more here.

Sighting four

When: July 2007
Who:
Crew of a boat (unidentified)
Where:
North end of the lake
What:
A yatch was moored at the North end of the lake when something banged into the side of the boat, causing it to rock. This was described as a ‘Jaws Style attack’ in the local press. Read about it here.

2008 – no sightings or reports on record that can be found.

Sighting Five

When: July 24th 2009
Who:
Thomas Noblett (managing director of The Langdale Chase Hotel)
Where:
Lake Windermere
What:
Noblett was swimming close to Wray Castle at 7am on the Wednesday morning when the 3 foot swell hit. He and swimming trainer Andrew Tighe – paddling in a boat beside him – were the only people on the lake. Read about it here.

Sighting Six

When: February 11th 2011 at 10:35am
Who:
Tom Pickles & Sarah Harrington
Where:
Windermere
What:
Tom Pickles, 24, and fellow kayaker Sarah Harrington, 23, paddled 300m out onto Windermere lake near Belle Isle when they spotted a mysterious creature the size of three cars gliding across the lake. A photo was taken on Tom Pickles’ mobile phone and then published in numerous newspapers. The story was reported here. I wrote an article examining the photo here.

Sighting Seven

When: February 16th 2011    
Who:
Brian and June Arton from Hovingham, North Yorkshire
Where: Beech Hill Hotel off Newby Bridge Road 
What:
Brian said: “We’d just checked into our hotel room at around 4pm when I opened the veranda doors and saw something about 300 yards away in the middle of the lake. I joked to my wife: ‘There’s the Loch Ness monster’ as it had humps but I thought it had to be a pontoon or a very strange shaped buoy.” Read about it here.

The Expeditions

Expedition one

When: October 11th 2006
Who: The CFZ dispatch a research team made up of: Jonathan Downes, Richard Freeman, Mark North, Lisa Dowley, Corinna James, with guests Jon Ronson, Laura (a producer from Radio 4), and Dominic, a cameraman from The Guardian.
Where:
Windermere
What: “
The main point of this three-day expedition was to meet the eyewitnesses, suss out the lie of the land, and – as far as the diving was concerned – carry out something of a dress rehearsal.” You can read a full summary here.

Expedition two:

The CFZ returned to the area in July 2007, but this time were over the western hills in Coniston, searching for giant eels following on from their original trip in 2006.

Expedition three

When: 19th & 20th 2009
Who:
Dean Maynard
Where: Windermere details of the expedition)
What:
Dean Maynard conducted an expedition to the lake. Dean was joined by ‘Bownessie’ witnesses Thomas Noblett, Linden Adams and Andrew Tighe. You can read a brief outline of the expedition – with all the associated press – here.

Expedition four

When: September 1th & 12th 2010
Who:
Dean Maynard
Where:
Windermere
What:
second expedition with no results other than media coverage. Read more here.

My research into the Windermere lake monster

It seemed to me that Dean Maynard is of the opinion that the sightings were caused by a paranormal creature. The little detail on his website suggested that he and his crew were aiming to find proof that a monster existed in the lake and because of this their research was biased from the start – especially as numerous key eye-witnesses were involved in the research.

I emailed Dean via his PA, Debra Moyce, to ask for a copy of the reports from his expeditions at the lake to see if I could get a general understanding of what claims were investigated and how, but in an email from Debra I was told:

“I have spoken to Dean about your request and have to inform you that due to discussions being held with a third-party we are unable to give you this information at the moment as it may be used during the publishing of a book later on in the year.”

I emailed back to explain that I didn’t necessarily need all the details, just information about the claims researched and the methods used, but I am still to see a reply.

It’s a shame when researchers do not share their findings with others, and because of the lack of details about his research that is outweighed by the amount of press coverage he received, I cannot help but feel that Maynard’s research was a publicity stunt. Especially as when he announced his expedition in 2009 there had been no reported sightings for over a year.

The most intriguing result of the Maynard expedition was some footage filmed by John McKeown of Lakes TV who had been filming shots of the lake for a documentary he was creating about Dean’s investigation of the monster.

It shows something breaking the water in a V shape that John claimed was 20 meters long.

Jonathan Downes from the CFZ was more willing to talk to me about the time he spent at Windermere as part of a research team. Downes had this to say:

“Our theory is that they are giant eels which occur once or twice in a generation, but are nowhere near as big as people say. When eels reach sexual maturity they swim down to the sea, migrate to the Sargasso Sea, mate, spawn and die. We believe that occasionally an eel is born sterile so it doesn’t have the biological imperative to migrate, it stays in freshwater and carries on eating and gets enormous (by eel standards). European eels are not supposed to get bigger than 4 ft but there is (or was) a 5 foot plus one in Blackpool Tower Aquarium (of all places).

I think that once or twice in a generation in a large body of water like Windermere or Loch Ness, a specimen of 8-12 feett could be living. We have found eyewitnesses but the rest is exaggeration or potentially fraud.

If there is anything there it HAS to be a fish and basically that means eel, pike, or possibly Sturgeon. In my long and chequered career I have found that there is usually a sensible explanation for everything, not always, but very much usually.”

I found Jon’s ideas to be interesting, and the idea that what is being seen is something naturally occurring in the lake being misidentified sounded plausible to me, but I wasn’t 100% sure about the giant eel claim. I understand that an eel of 5 foot in length was in Blackpool Aquarium, but the monster sighted on the lake is said to be between 20 – 50 feet in length.

Also, eye-witness testimony alone doesn’t make conclusive evidence for the existence of eels that are 8 – 12 foot in length.

I realised that the people I really needed to speak to were the people who had experience with the ecosystem of Windermere. If a giant eel or fish was being misidentified as a monster I realised that the people who studied the fish population of the lake would be the people most likely to know about it.

I managed to make contact with Dr Ian J Winfield who was happy to answer the questions I had about the ecology of Lake Windermere. Dr Winfield has been studying the ecology and management of freshwater fish in Windermere since 1990 for The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in their Lancaster facility. Although such work is conducted throughout the UK and overseas, a large component of it involves the continuation of long-term netting and trapping studies of Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus), perch (Perca fluviatilis) and pike (Esox lucius) in Windermere, which began during the 1940s.

This work is augmented by the use of state-of-the-art hydro-acoustics to investigate fish abundance, distribution and size structure, together with aspects of their biotic and abiotic environments, (also worth noting is the fact that the Fresh Water Biology Association has also been studying Windermere since the 1930’s).

Most of the sightings of the ‘Bownessie’ monster have been described as being between 20 and 50 feet in length. In all the time that the ecology of the lake has been monitored and managed nothing even close to that size has been documented. Indeed, there is no species native to the UK of that size in Windermere.

Also worth noting is the fact that unlike Loch Ness, there is no canal connecting Windermere with the sea so this discounts the possibility of a large sea creature accidentally finding its way into the lake as was a possible cause for some Loch Ness Monster sightings. Windermere is drained from its southernmost point by the River Leven, but the River has a waterfall along its length which means it would be impossible for a seal or a whale or similar to pass along the waterfall, down the river and into the lake.

Had a seal, a whale or similar been illegally introduced to Windermere and survived, there would have been more than just the handful of sightings that have been documented. Not to mention the impact such a creature would have on the ecology of the lake – something that researchers would certainly have seen and would have documented.

The fish community of Windermere, which comprises 16 species including the nationally important Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus), is undoubtedly the best studied Lake fish community in the UK.

Winfield & Durie (2004) reviewed the history of fish species introductions in Windermere and nearby lakes, a total of 12 native (brown trout (Salmo trutta), European minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus), perch, pike) and non-native (common bream, crucian carp, dace, grayling (Thymallus thymallus), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), roach, rudd and tench (Tinca tinca)) fish species are known to have been brought for the purpose of live-baiting. [1]

As mentioned before, one theory for the cause of the monster is that people are mis-identifying a giant eel.

Although there are Eels in Windermere, they tend to be three or four feet in length and none are as large as 20 foot long. Also worth noting is that Eels do not stick their heads out of the water when they are swimming, which is something that many eye-witnesses have reported the “monster” to be doing when they see it. (Quite often eye-witnesses have reported the monster has ‘humps’, one of which is a head).

Grass snakes, on the other hand, have often been seen by ecologists on the lake swimming very fast through the water, in a straight line, with their head held up out of the water. However, a grass snake will grow no larger than a few feet in length.

Although there is a link between sterility and growth in eels, it tends to be growth in girth rather than in length. Also noteworthy is the fact that several of the ‘Bownessie’ sightings were made during winter months when Eels (like many species of fish in Windermere) tend to become more inactive and hibernate. Therefore the sightings in winter months were not likely to have been eels.

Dr Winfield has suggested that if a creature of quite some size is being seen and misidentified as some sort of monster it could simply be a large pike. Another possibility is that somebody has illegally introduced a catfish into Windermere as this is something Anglers have been noted to do in other lakes. They can grow up to 1 ½ meters in length (the biggest ever captured was 9 feet in length), but these specimen take some time to grow that large. Worth noting though is the fact that catfish have never been documented in Windermere and Dr Winfield doesn’t believe this is a very possible cause for the sightings reported (despite the media misquoting him to suggest that he did).

I also asked Dr Winfield about the video shot by John McKeown that apparently shows something breaking the water, and whether there was anything in the lake that could cause such a disturbance to the water surface. He informed me that although he didn’t believe it to be caused by a species of fish, it could have been a rock in the water (they sometimes become exposed as wakes go over them etc.) or may have even been something under the water that had become caught in a boat wake.

I too felt that McKeown and Maynard had connected the footage with the monster with nothing to support such a connection and it was clear I wasn’t the only one who felt that despite the video being interesting, it doesn’t really weigh up as evidence of a monster existing.

With all of this in mind, I took another look at the information about the individual sightings I had collated and looked at the features of the monster that eye-witnesses had noted.

If we are to believe that all of the eye-witnesses saw the same monster, then we have to believe that the creature they saw has the following features:

  1. It is 20 – 50 feet in length
  2. It has a head like a Labrador dog
  3. It can jump in and out of the water
  4. It looks like a dolphin or seal without fins
  5. It looks like a giant eel

No species of fish or animal in Lake Windermere has all of these features – especially not a head like a Labrador dog. When Dr Winfield was first shown the photo taken by Linden Adams, the detail about the size of the creature and the labrador-like head were not mentioned.

After reading over various accounts of the sightings of this monster and the different opinions of researchers, I am drawn to the theory that the monsters that the eye-witnesses have reported may actually be simple mis-identifications of other fish in the lake. It’s not difficult to see something you can’t identify and misjudge it to be paranormal in nature – especially if the suggestion of such a creature existing is already there.

In this video produced by the CFZ about their expedition you can hear Steve Burnip, the first eye-witness in 2006, stating that it was very difficult to judge the distance between where he was standing and where the creature was in the water.

This is, I believe, probably the reason that many people believe they have seen some sort of monster in the lake when in fact they could have been looking at a large fish or a regular sized eel.

There is no way that Burnip could be 100% certain that the creature he saw was twenty-foot in length if he couldn’t tell how far away from him the thing was.

Linden Adams claims he was 1000 feet above ground level (on the side of a mountain), when he spotted and photographed the creature swimming through the lake and causing a wake. It would have been really difficult for him to make an accurate guess at the size of it, even by comparing it to boats in the distance. It could have been a number of things leaving a wake behind.

Tom Pickles and Sarah Harrington were in a kayak in the water when they allegedly saw the monster swim past them. It is very difficult to judge the size of something in the water ahead of you, when you are positioned low down in the water yourself – I personally live next to the Kennet & Avon Canal and have been in Kayaks and know what sort of perception you have of the water in front of you.

Also, if you look at the photo taken by Tom Pickles you can see, in the un-cropped version at least, how small the so-called monster actually is when you put the islands in the background in perspective (as I did in this previous article).

The case of Thomas Noblett, the managing director of a local hotel was one that intrigued me due to the fact that he seemed so ready to jump to the idea that his encounter was the result of a monster in the lake when there was nothing in particular that suggested such a thing. It was a huge leap of logic.

He was hit by a three-foot wave that appeared to come out of nowhere on the lake and then continued to travel on across to the bank. While speaking to Dr Winfield about the lake I happened to mention Noblett’s experience to him and he laughed and told me that it was nothing abnormal for a wave to come out of nowhere to disrupt a seemingly still lake. Quite often, wakes will stay around for long periods of time and will bounce back from the bank. This is probably what hit Thomas Noblett.

I cannot help but believe that the sightings of the Bowness lake monster may have been inspired by the suggestion in the media coverage of the case. It’s easy to slap a paranormal tag on something you experience when such an idea is playing at the back of your mind. For example, Mr & Mrs Arton who believe they saw Bownessie from their hotel room thought it was a Pontoon at first, until they read the local newspaper the next day and saw a mention of the lake monster.

I also feel that many people have jumped on the monster as a publicity tool, and not necessarily for the area because Lake Windermere doesn’t need any help attracting tourists to the area.

The Windermere Lake monster case is, in reality, quite unremarkable as far as evidence is concerned, though I am sure that for many people the sightings and stories are evidence enough in themselves. This is how folklore is made, and I believe that there will be many more sightings of the monster, and possibly more photos that show nothing to suggest a monster is in the water that will prove that exact thing to many who see them.

I will be watching this case intently for future reports, and who knows, I might even buy a copy of Maynards book if it gets published, just so I can finally read his expedition reports.

1 – Winfield, I.J., Fletcher, J.M. and James, J.B.  (2011). Invasive fish species in the largest lakes of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England: the collective UK experience.  Hydrobiologia 660, 93-103. doi:10.1007/s10750-010-0397-2.

Thanks to Jon Downes for his time and to Dr Ian Winfield for his help in my research and constant questions.

Copyright Hayley Stevens for BARsoc

I think that a lot of people in the paranormal research field don’t like me because of the way I research things, and that’s fine by me. It isn’t something I’m not aware of and yet I haven’t changed the way I work or operate, that alone should be very telling. I will probably also be told that I am imagining things are about me. Perhaps I am, but then, people moaning about “psuedo-skeptics” and armchair skeptics is something I get sent all the time, so I figure I fall into that category in some peoples minds.

I get the general impression that people think I’m some sort of fake skeptic, pretending to be a skeptical researcher so that I can draw attention to myself. I’m not, but I don’t have to justify myself to anyone as nobody holds an authority in paranormal research. I also don’t seek attention, however, if someone asks me to talk for them I will. I don’t see why I shouldn’t, it’s not as though I’m claiming to be an expert – I simply talk about my experiences as a paranormal researcher and I claim no authority.

A few people have commented on my article for BARsoc that shows me recreating a poltergeist video related to a recent news story, that it shouldn’t be dismissed simply because I can recreate the activity simply by using some thread. They’re right, and I haven’t claimed it should. Nor have I claimed that the notion that it was faked is a conclusion – it’s a theory.

I have contacted the reporter involved in the story to see if I can gain more information as I don’t have another way to contact the family in question personally.I also worry when people are offered exorcisms or “spirit clearings” by ex-TV mediums as I think such things can be quite damaging to peoples perception of potentially naturally occuring phenomena. I have also tried to establish contact because the case fascinated me and because I know full well that nothing should be concluded without knowing all the facts. It’s a shame that other people don’t do the same before complaining that “arm chair skeptics” not doing that very thing. Go figure.

In the BARsoc article I wrote:

“we set about seeing if we could recreate the activity the video that apparently convinced a housing association to move a family into a new home. Turns out we could. Quite easily. It was also slightly fun…”

There. That’s my claim, that we could recreate the activity seen in the video provided. I went on to conclude:

“in summary, we find it rather confusing that the family would have such a dodgy video attached to their story if they had really, sincerely, honestly had the experiences they claim to. It smacks of being a case of people trying to move house and using the poltergeist idea to make it happen.”

Nothing there about it certainly being faked, I said it “smacks of” people wanting to move house and using a poltergeist to make it happen. I wouldn’t conclude that was certain though, unless I had information that supported it.

Until I get that information all I can do is theorise what might have caused the activity witnessed and reported, and put my theories to the test. One being that the video was faked (which I do believe it could have been). As I use skepticism to assess information, I am always willing to change my opinion or ideas to fit around new evidence that emerges.

If this makes me an armchair skeptic then so be it, however I think those throwing those accusations around should probably realise they know sod all about the research that I do. I write publically about a small portion of what goes on in private.

I had this sent to me today from Richie Ross, the ‘executive producer’ of “psychic & Science”, a ‘theatre show’ that I wrote about here, thought I’d share for the “lulz”.

Hello Hayley,

Thank you for your article on our forthcoming touring production of “Psychic & Science”. It’s a shame you didn’t have the courtesy to come to us in the first instance with your thoughts and comments so we could have had the chance of responding.

I would have, if I were a journalist. However, they’ve found my blog now and can resond. Fun.

I myself have worked in the theatre industry for over 10 years now, and have produced and directed many international shows, touring all over the world – some research on your part would have shown you our pedigree and reputation is well respected within the industry – unfortunately we havent had the opportunity to work with amateur productions as you seem to, but I’m sure it brings you as much joy.

It’s always nice to hear from other people who work in the theatre industry, and Richie’s work must have been high pedigree if he’s toured internationally which is genuinely great.

I wonder what it was that made him decide to stop producing such high quality productions?

As for amateur productions, they do bring me joy because it’s nice to see people taking genuine joy in bringing a production to life. One week I could be dealing with an international star, the next week children from the local community performing a panto. Variety is the spice of life.

Interesting to see you’ve reported us to the Advertising Standards Authority, I welcome their contact. I have also likewise reported you today as the term “Rather Friendly Skeptic” seems inappropriate and misleading taking into account the content of your blog site.

*sob sob sob*

I’m pleased to say we will be performing in Salisbury as part of our UK tour – I would love to welcome you to the show so you can at least get a perspective on it, before the drival you wrote without seeing it, or clearly understanding the concept.

I wouldn’t attend even if I were paid, there’s probably an amateur performance on that will be of a higher calibre. Also, I wrote about the impression of the show that  I got from their website – if that cannot communicate the proper concept it’s a bit of a fail. lulz.

However, I am glad Richie got in touch and reminded me about my blog post as I had forgotten to write to the ASA.

There are many people who claim to investigate ghosts using a scientific approach, but this is a claim that should not be taken at face value because a lot of people who make this claim are actually using pseudo-scientific methods without necessarily realising it. These are methods that can be misleading and can provide false positives.

Before I get into too much detail about how pseudo-science rules the majority of ghost research (and it does, believe me…) it’s probably worth pointing out that the very reason that people start to investigate paranormal claims can often influence the way in which they then decide to go about their investigations.

The choice to use techniques that seem scientific but actually aren’t can often be the result of three things:

1 – A need for confirmation bias.

I often talk about how the very reason a person chooses to become involved with paranormal research can affect the choices they make and the rationale they use during their research. If somebody becomes involved in paranormal research simply because they want to prove that their belief in ghosts is correct then they’re probably going to use methods of investigation that provide them with such confirmation.

People who are trying to prove something to themselves or others will be more likely to use spiritual techniques such as table tipping or glass divination. These methods are easily influenced through people’s expectations. The ideomotor response, for example, is the reason that these spiritual methods are so successful at yielding positive results. The people involved in the glass divination or similar, unintentionally move the glass to meet their expectations – this is an effect that has been proven in numerous studies.

However, expectations and a desire to find a ghost or paranormal cause for phenomena reported can also influence seemingly scientific measurements too, but more on that later.

2 – The copy-cat effect

Many people who become involved in paranormal research do so because they have been inspired by other people – whether it is a paranormal television show or other paranormal investigators that they have heard about or have seen locally, in books or online.

The main problem with this is that people will conduct very little independent investigation into how they should go about their research. They will simply copy the people who have influenced them, using the same methods and pieces of equipment they use. The copy-cat effect even reaches as far as the locations the team chooses to visit!

3 – A general misunderstanding of science.

Many paranormal researchers or research organisations claim that they use a scientific approach to their cases because they use an array of gadgets that can help to detect ghostly presences.

This claim is flawed in itself because claiming to use gadgets that detect ghosts on your investigations is introducing a bias to your investigation, i.e. that there is a ghost at the location to be detected.

The gadgets that many paranormal investigators use that they claim are scientific are devices that have been designed to take measurements for other fields of research or monitoring.

Ghost gadgets

There are a plethora of gadgets that are used by ghost hunters that they often claim detect ghosts. Too many to list in detail in this post, and I have written about them before for the WPR team website, however I will touch upon the most popular.

EMF meters, for example, measure Electro-magnetic fields but some ghost researchers claim that ghosts cause fluctuations in electro-magnetic fields when they manifest (despite these fluctuations occurring naturally anyway), thermometers measure the temperature but are sometimes used by ghost researchers to monitor ‘cold spots’ that are sometimes attributed to ghosts, Ion detectors measure positive and negative ions that are naturally occurring, despite this some hold the belief that a ghost manifesting itself can create positively charges ions, also Thermal Imaging cameras simply show the surface temperatures in an environment but ghost researchers use them to search for temperature anomalies that could be caused by a ghost…

The fact is that there isn’t a testable definition for what a ghost is, and because of this, there is no way that anyone could design a piece of technology that detects them (if they exist). The use of such gadgets is pseudo-scientific not only because such gadgets are not designed to detect ghosts, but also because the readings people take with them are open to interpretation and that interpretation can be (and often is) influenced by the expectations of the investigator, or the need for confirmation bias (i.e. that there is a ghost present, or that ghosts exist, depending on the individual).

A thermometer in a room may detect a temperature drop of 5oC, but all that the thermometer tells us is that the temperature has dropped, and not why or how. To some people, that reading would simply mean the temperature has changed in the room through natural causes, but to others it might indicate a paranormal cold spot. Of course, the thermometer hasn’t told them this, it’s simply their interpretation of the reading – influenced by their expectations, just like the glass used for glass divination.

Can you really use science in paranormal research?

When people hear that you can use science to investigate ghosts they often picture people in lab coats putting translucent beings into a test tube. There are scientists who are conducting good research into how the environment around us can cause people to experience odd things they might think are caused by ghosts, and also how our minds can fool us into thinking we’ve experienced something ghostly, but you don’t have to be a scientist to use science in paranormal research – simply by using the correct behaviour you can ensure that your research is scientifically sound. It is easy to use science on an investigation simply by applying the scientific method to the case you are dealing with.

The scientific method

The scientific method can be broken down into a number of basic steps as follows:

  1. Ask a Question
  2. Do background research
  3. Construct a hypothesis
  4. Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment
  5. Analyse your data and draw a Conclusion
  6. Communicate Your Results

The scientific method is something that sometimes repeats itself by asking a question (step one) of the results being communicated (step six). The hypothesis being tested can be in relation to a case of paranormal phenomena that has been reported to an investigator to help find cause and effect relationships in nature.

One thing that many paranormal researchers fail to do (and thus, cause themselves to be pseudo-scientific in their approach to their research) is consider all possible causes for the phenomena they are investigating, and simply presume that it is caused by a ghost.

If an investigator uses gadgets to detect ghosts, then they are aiming to detect a ghost and have decided that there IS a ghost in the location to detect. The same can be said of those investigators who use spiritual methods to ‘communicate’ with ghosts.

This will only lead to flawed conclusions being reached because they have already drawn a conclusion before constructing and testing a hypothesis and they will, often unintentionally, analyse any data they collect in a way that makes it fit with their already drawn conclusion. This is known as cherry picking your data and only using certain data that matches with your expectations is known as ‘the file drawer effect’.

The file drawer effect

When scientists conduct an experiment they note down all the positive and negative results so that a clear conclusion can be reached. It also helps when somebody tries to repeat or improve the experiment. This is a good behaviour that ghost researchers can use to ensure that they reach and present a clear conclusion to their research.

This often doesn’t happen because ghost researchers who use pseudo-scientific methods remember the positive hits (when a reading on a piece of equipment suggested to them a ghost was present) but forget the negative misses (when the same piece of equipment didn’t respond when they asked it to), meaning that they create false positives in their conclusion. This is known as the file drawer effect.

So, in summary, it is possible to research the paranormal using science – but it’s more about your behaviour and maintaining an open mind than the equipment you use…

Update: TheCharmQuark has brought this article on BadScience about the Q-link to my attention that confirms my inital thoughts.

On March 1st, online advertising fell into the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority. Before they could only investigate paid for advertising in the form of pop ups or banners on websites but now they can cover marketing messages on websites, marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under the advertiser’s control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and marketing communications on all UK websites, regardless of sector, type of businesses or size of organisation.

This is pretty good news because before this change many people who were making dubious claims and selling products or services that were potentially misleading or illegal could advertise online without being challenged, now that isn’t the case.

I recently interviewed Alan Henness of The Nightingale Collaboration about this change. The collaboration are using the new remit of the ASA to start tackling the claims that alternative medicine practitioners make online where they were exempt from regulation before the remit change. You should head to their website and see if you can help because you might be surprised at the change one person can make.

I, on the other hand used the change on March 1st to complain about a product I had seen on sale on a paranormal equipment website called ‘Toms Gadgets’ for the last two years (possibly longer) that I knew had nonsense claims attached to it which now fell into the remit of the ASA.

The product is called ‘The Q-link classic Pendant’ and the site states:

“This is the classic Q-Link which its makers claim counteracts the effects EMFs have on our bodies.

Every day, our biofields are negatively impacted by flickering computer monitors, irate bosses, cell phones, emotional stress, tabloid television, and traffic jams. We are literally bombarded with frequencies that wear us down. That’s why it is essential to recharge.

Q-Link products tune up your biofield through a resonant effect that harmonizes your energy and helps you to navigate smoothly through a stressful world. Think of them like tuning forks that remind your biofield of its optimal functioning state. Worldly stress causes the biofield to become more chaotic and incoherent. The Q-Link reverses this process, ensuring efficiency, harmony, and balance.”

The underlined text was what I complained about as I felt they were claims that could not be backed up or proven – I mean, what the heck is a biofield and how does one charge it?

The product as seen on the site

I submitted a compalint to the ASA stating:

On the site I have linked to the advert for the product states:

“Q-Link products tune up your biofield through a resonant effect that harmonizes your energy and helps you to navigate smoothly through a stressful world. Think of them like tuning forks that remind your biofield of its optimal functioning state. Worldly stress causes the biofield to become more chaotic and incoherent. The Q-Link reverses this process, ensuring efficiency, harmony, and balance. ”

I do not believe this to be a factual claim, They do not demonstrate how it “reminds your biofield of its optimal functioning state” or even if that is possible. They do not even explain what a “biofield” is and I think this is a made up term.

It also suggests that the environment we are all exposed to can have a harmful effect and I feel that people may be fooled into thinking they’re in danger with this claim:

“Every day, our biofields are negatively impacted by flickering computer monitors, irate bosses, cell phones, emotional stress, tabloid television, and traffic jams. We are literally bombarded with frequencies that wear us down. That’s why it is essential to recharge.”

I think they are preying on peoples fear that things such as electricity pylons and mobile phone masts etc. can harm people through ‘Electromagnetic hypersensetivity’ when this has been shown not to be the case.”

I have today received a reply from the ASA that states that they are dealing with my complaint under their formal investigations procedure, which is GREAT news!

I have a feeling that Tomsgadgets will reply that they don’t have to prove the product works because they buy it from a supplier and, on their site state:

“This is the classic Q-Link which its makers claim counteracts the effects EMFs have on our bodies.”

Which is why today, knowing that the ASA agree that the claims on the Tomsgadgets website about the Q-link pendant require evidence to support them, I have submitted a complaint to the ASA about each claim being made on the website of ‘Q-link pendants’ who supply the range of products that the one sold on ‘Toms Gadgets’ is part of. On their site they claim:

“The Q-Link may, among other benefits, increase physical stamina, reduce stress, increase ability to focus and reduce the effect of jet lag. Crucially, it may help the body protect itself from the environmental stresses of EMF.”

and

“The technology contained in the QLink is called Sympathetic Resonance Technology. SRT is engineered from a scientific field called ’subtle energy’. We are discovering how subtle energy refinement can make quantum electromagnetic, chemical and biological phenomena more functional. Since 1991, Clarus has been developing and testing this technology.

To examine whether the responses we see in the QLink are simply placebo responses, double-blind, controlled, and in vitro studies have been and are being conducted at some of the finest institutes in the world, including Stanford University, USA, Imperial College, London and the institute of Cancer at the University of Vienna”

and,

“The study of brain changes in 24 normal adults, conducted by Dr Rodney Croft, at the Brain & Behaviour Research Institute at the University of Wollongong, Australia, in collaboration with the Dept of Cognitive Neuroscience and Behaviour at Imperial College Medical School, London and the department of Psychology at Coventry University, England, indicated that wearing the Q-Link reduced the effects of active mobile phones on human brain cells.”

It sounds impressive, however, a little digging into the study conducted shows that it was only a pilot study and that the conclusion isn’t a concrete one (as no peer review has taken place, as far as I can find).

I also had a problem with the following quote taken from the study literature as, to me, it reads as though they are claiming the technology in q-link products works but can’t be proven to as science isn’t advanced enough yet, which looks like goalposts being shifted to me…

“It is argued by the developer that this EMF acts as a carrier wave for subatomic ‘information’, and that this information assists in strengthening an organism’s resilience to stressors. However, there are a number of elements to the above theory that are not verifiable (some because critical details have not been made available by the developer, and others because science does not have the requisite tools at present).

I will keep visitors to my blog updated with the response I recieve from both the ‘Tomsgadgets complaint’ and the ‘Q-link complaint’ as I hear from the ASA. I’m willing to see evidence provided that proves these products really do what the manufactuers and providers claim they do, but I’m not holding my breath.

To a descendant by Lorna Wood

I shall not be an importunate, nagging ghost,
Sighing for unsaid prayers: or a family spectre
Advertising that someone is due to join me…
Nor one who has to be exorcised by the Rector.

I shall not be the commercial type of ghost,
Pointing to boxes of gold under the floor
And I certainly don’t intend to jangle chains
Or carry my head… (such a gruesome type of chore!)

I shall not cause draughts, be noisy, spoil your ‘let’, ―
In fact, to be brief, I shan’t materialise.
But I shall be pleased if anyone ever sees me
In your face or your walk or the glance of your laughing eyes.

It’s Friday! It’s the end of the week and I’ve been trying to decide who to suggest for #followfriday on Twitter and I’ve found it really difficult to choose, so instead I’ve made a twitter list of people I think are great to follow and you can find it by clicking here. It’s a work in progress so do check back now and then…

This post is instead about podcast episodes and blog posts I recommend people listen to or read that I found interesting or educational. I find making a post like this much easier than tweeting about each of the following.

Podcasts

As the editor of the Righteous Indignation Podcast I don’t often listen to other podcasts because I unintentionally start comparing episodes to the ones I edit which leads to me thinking I’m doing a crap job.

However, this week I’ve been playing catch-up with my podcasts and I recommend the following podcast episodes:

1 – Monster Talk: Is The Skookum Fair Dinkum?

Monster Talk is awesome. It won ‘podcast of the year’ in the Righteous Indignation 2010 round up show after I nominated it and anybody who doesn’t already listen, should. Or else.

The latest episode was really enjoyable and looked at the case surrounding the skookum cast. A cast taken of a body print discovered in soft mud at the side of a track during an expedition in Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington state in September 2000.

Many claim the cast was made by a sasquatch and that the indents are the forearm, hip, thigh, heel and ankle of the creature, but it’s widely agreed that it was actually caused by a resting elk. The episode dives deeply into the case and gives a great insight into the story surrounding the cast. It’s a great listen, especially for those who may not be familiar with the case, and also for those who are a bit sketchy on the details (as I was, the discovery was made in 2000 afterall – when I was still in school!)

2 – Skeptically Speaking #102 – Fluoride & Water tech

This was a subject I have seen much debate on in the past but have never really been able to form an opinion on because of my lack of knowledge. I love Skeptically Speaking because of the calm approach to the subject being discussed that Desiree Schell takes. Each show is really informative and because of that I like to think I’m a little bit more clued up on the subject than I was before.

3 – The Conspiracy Skeptic – The Georgia Guidestones

Karl Mamer talks to Blake Smith (a.k.a Dr Atlantis) about his visit to The Georgia Guidestones, a subject I will admit I knew nothing about.

According to the Conspiracy Skeptic website the Georgia Guidestones have been standing in a weird plot of land since the early 1980s. They’ve increasingly become an irritant to New World Order conspiracy nuts.

The Conspiracy Skeptic always makes for good listening, so check it out.

4 – The Token Skeptic Podcast – On Miracle cures & changes to the ASA in the UK (interview with Rhys Morgan)

I am shamefully behind on my Token Skeptic episodes, but this one was very interesting. The episode touches upon the changes to the ASA (something I interviewed Alan Henness from the Nightingale Collaboration about for episode 85 of the Righteous Indignation Podcast)

5 – Righteous Indignation Podcast – an open discussion with Rose Shapiro at Bath Skeptics in the Pub.

Also worth a mention is the fact that the latest episode of Righteous Indignation is a bit different. It’s a recording of the last Bath Skeptics in the Pub event that saw me host an open discussion with Rose Shapiro, the author of ‘Suckers – How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools Of Us All’.

We managed to record the entire session and it is now online via the Righteous Indignation Podcast. Click here to listen.

There was a man in the audience by the name of Oliver Dowding who treats cattle with homeopathy who brought a debate element to the evening and it’s quite interesting to listen to. It does appear though that Oliver doesn’t stop at treating cattle with homeopathy though, he also sells wheatgrass juice to people as a health supplement and, until recently, had a claim on his site that these juices could help cure cancer. Naughty…

Blog posts

1 – This wonderful piece by Sharon Hill (aka Idoubtit) called ‘Dowsing: An unethical geoligic delusion’ is well worth a read. As is the whole blog, really.

2 – Behold! The discovery of the giant boner frog!

3 – Wilson Da Silva breaks down the irrational reporting surrounding the ‘Nuclear catastrophy’ in Japan in an article titled ‘Media Meltdown‘. (H/t to Kylie Sturgess for this link)

4 – This article by Karen Stollznow entitled ‘Paranormal Paramours’ for CSICOP is a truly fascinating look at ghost folklore (even if it does have Zak Bagans in it).

Bowness lake monster, allegedy

5 – Please also check out my BARsoc article about my investigation into the Bownessie photograph taken by Tom Pickles (shown above in cropped form) in early February that many claim shows the lake monster that is supposed to be in lake Windermere.

6 – Finally, something a bit fun to finish with – a flowchart to help you work out if you are having a rational discussion (H/t to Wendy Cousins)

Have a good weekend!


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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