Hayley is a Ghost

When ignorance makes you look like a twat

Posted on: May 13, 2011

I have often written about the awkward position I find myself in as a skeptical paranormal researcher who sits in between two groups of people with hugely opposing ways of thinking. Group one being skeptical people who require evidence before accepting something as possible, and group two being paranormal researchers who generally don’t.

My skepticism is often mistaken for non-belief or cynicism – which are both two completely unique things. Both a believer and a non-believer in something can be skeptical or cynical but people often can’t understand that my skeptical position isn’t a direct attack on their choice to believe a particular thing, and instantly form the conclusion that because I am a skeptic I in some way oppose them and everything they think and believe when that may not be true at all.

A rather unexpected accusation levelled in my direction on Facebook by Malcolm Robinson, a paranormal investigator and author who I’ve met on several occasions at paranormal conferences we were both part of, made me realise that such a view-point is stronger that I thought it was, and I am very disappointed by this.

Malcolm today posted a ‘note’ on Facebook about an email he received that suggested Asparagus could be a cure for cancer, the body of the text contained numerous testimonies about how Asparagus had helped people suffering from cancer and he claimed to post it ‘for debate’.

I cannot comment any more on the post as Malcolm has removed me from his Facebook friends, which is always a good way of encouraging debate…

I am somebody who requires proof past personal testimony before I accept something is viable. This is because testimonies can be misremembered, added to, made up or quote mined. When it comes to medicine I am hugely in favour of evidence based medication that has been through clinical trials and testing.

I pointed out to Malcolm that claiming to cure cancer without proper evidence is actually illegal, which it is under The Cancer Act 1939. I know this because I regularly make complaints to Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority about misleading claims being made by alt-med practitioners. In the last week I have made TWO complaints about alt-med practitioners who claimed to be able to cure cancer which is awful.
I also mentioned that if Asparagus did cure cancer, doctors and professionals would be prescribing it to people suffering from cancer already. The response shocked me – I’ve included a screen cap below with it outlined in red.

The claim

The fact that I choose not to accept something at face value does not mean I have a closed mind or will not accept new information as and when it is presented. However, new information and claims needs to be able to stand up to scrutiny, and personal testimony alone does not provide enough evidence for reasons already pointed out above.

For me to choose not to believe a claim someone else has read in an email about something that might help those with cancer, doesn’t mean I would not recommend the treatment IF it was found to work after testing and trials, and to claim so is disgusting. This is life and death we are talking about here, not some pantomime setting where believers like Malcolm boo skeptics who say ghosts don’t exist (I’ve witnessed that by the way, the skeptic was Richard Wiseman, who wasn’t even present) and where it’s okay to say ‘If people choose to believe in ghosts then there’s no harm‘, because to claim something might cure cancer when there isn’t substantial evidence to prove so IS harmful. If it does work then yes, that’s cool, but if it doesn’t then people have been provided with false hope and could have concentrated their time and effort on something that provided results.

It’s not a risk that is worth taking at all. It provides people with false hope and can kill them. It’s that simple.

I’ve lost very close relatives to cancer and even years later the pain of their loss is still raw and to think that there are people who would have offered my relatives false hope angers me more than people probably think possible, especially as I know it does happen. That is why I am so vocal about evidence based medicine and tackling misleading claims – and to treat my skeptical mindset as close-minded and as a blanket dismissal is ignorant of what skepticism is.

Malcolm wasn’t claiming this WAS a cure, but he was suggesting it could be possible without providing further evidence. Wether he posted it for debate or not, it was misleading information and to delete me from his facebook friends meant that I couldn’t continue the debate he claimed he was so desperately seeking.

Shameful.

Oh, and just for you Malcolm are the damning links that will put your ‘debate’ to rest. Proof that Asparagus probably doesn’t cure cancer. I’m shocked that a researcher such as Malcolm didn’t even bother to check Snopes or UrbanLegends. Again, shameful…

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11 Responses to "When ignorance makes you look like a twat"

It’s sad that the skeptical mindset is so hard to understand for some people. I think this post should be set reading for all of the people who whinge about skeptics being ‘close-minded’ — you’ve laid out the case against that perfectly.

Hayley, it’s simple to me, you are morally and factually correct. I agree with Jon, this blog post should be required reading. Keep up the good work. C

Ooh, I actually have cancer (a glioma) and I’m also married to someone who has not been ‘schooled’ in the doctrine of logic, reason, and the randomised control trial. I think I can get a bit of a feel for both sides here.
I don’t think anyone could argue with you, Hayley, that your logic and rationale are watertight. However, to another person (perhaps like our friend Malcolm) ideas about asparaguses are seen as ‘thinking outside the box’.
I have learnt that with my wife I need to try to be gracious and encourage the said person to examine the evidence. And for people who tell me I should be on Geron therapy, I just politely say “thanks for your concern, I’m thinking about it”

Just a question – how come the law about cancer came in before the first RCT was conducted? Interesting…

Always Verify the facts. The internet is full of false claims.

As a skeptical person who happens to be doing a cancer research PhD, I find this kind of thing particularly offensive.
Being immersed in the field, obviously I have a little more insight than most as to how it all works. Cancer is a scary, horrible thing that affects most people at some point in their lives and that includes myself and probably all of my colleagues.
When people so pathetically immersed in conspiracy theories and fear of medical authority turn to me and tell me that drug companies and the kind of organisation I work for (a charity) actively suppress known cures, it’s HUGELY offensive and upsetting and it makes me incredibly angry.

Do these people not realise what they are accusing us of? Do they think we’re so obsessed with the pathetic amount of money in academic research as to deliberately keep the field going by stopping miracle cures? The disconnect is unfathomable.

I’ve written about this before and I’ll do so again no doubt.
Just today I got tagged in an American friend’s wall conversation, someone posted a link to an article saying one group had cured cancer with a non-patentable chemical so of course no drug companies would run with it. I went through and pointed out all the absolute tripe they’d written – a child on wikipedia could probably have done the same.

It’s very depressing indeed.

This is a very insightful reply, Marianne, thank you. For what it’s worth – for every one person who sees conspiracy in what you and your colleagues do there are dozens who are grateful 🙂

To be honest, I don’t like trumpeted appreciation either. When you work on something so tiny, such a small piece of a pretty much infinite puzzle and you’re *not* developing a drug or working on something cutting-edge… it can seem like a massive waste of time, and you see people doing ‘more important’ things every day.

It’s not appreciation I’m after at all, I’d just like those bastards who think we’d rather have a job (or in particular, this job – it’s not like we can’t go and do something else is it) than see an end to cancer, or indeed disease in general, to STFU.

I feel for you. It is very frustrating to be accused of being cynical, close-minded or a smart arse when in fact you are showing remarkable patience and restraint in politely putting the necessary points across to the ignorant.

I’m ashamed to say I am usually too cowardly to engage in such arguments publicly. I sometimes wish I had the guts to stand up for science and evidence based medicine more often with friends, family and other acquaintances.

If this had been me, I’d probably have either pretended I hadn’t noticed it (then quietly complained to Facebook/ASA/TS (was it actually advertising anything – a diet or farm shop?) or I would’ve skirted around the issue – for example pondering where one might find evidence to support this notion and then for balance, mentioning that I do rather like asparagus and that it happens to be in season at the moment (coincidence or advertising..?)

And I wouldn’t have used the word ‘twat’ – even though from what I’ve seen, it suits him well.

I believe in suspending my belief until there is enough compelling evidence to prove that it’s worth believing in. Giving false hope to someone is cruel in the eventual let down for that person. As far as this Malcolm is concerned, perhaps he deleted you because he wasn’t up to the rigors of debating the issue with you. Then again life isn’t much fun without ruffling feathers …

“…people often can’t understand that my skeptical position isn’t a direct attack on their choice to believe a particular thing, and instantly form the conclusion that because I am a skeptic I in some way oppose them and everything they think and believe when that may not be true at all.”

Exactly. It seems some people have too much invested (time, money, effort, whatever) into an idea to remain open to the possibility that they could be wrong. It follows that they think their skeptic challengers must be wrong and if we aren’t persuaded by anecdotes and testimonies, we must be closed-minded – the irony! – or have some sinister agenda.

It’s pathetic that this guy should’ve blocked you for disagreeing with him.

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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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