Archive for July 2011
My site now has a new layout, I’ve redesigned it in the hope that my website is now more accessible for people with visual disabilities. I checked my previous site layout with Wave web accessibility evaluation tool and found that certain bits of it weren’t accessible and I did my best to correct these. It’s still very much an ongoing thing, and if you come across anything that you think needs changing to help you experience and read my website then let me know.
It wasn’t until I started chatting to Chris Hofstader on Twitter, and read his guest blogpost on Skepchick that it struck me how many of us are ignorant about how our websites are user-unfriendly. Check it out and I hope the changes I’m making do make a difference 🙂
From Iphone applications and devices that are supposed to be able to help you work out if a ghost is causing a reported oddity, books on how to hunt ghosts and personalised team clothing, to guaranteed time at the top haunted hot spots across the country.
Ghost hunters tend not to worry about having to pay for the kit they use, or the personalised clothing they all wear because these are things they choose to have. However ghost hunters often kick up a fuss when it comes to being charged to enter certain famously haunted places across the country.
These tend to be buildings that have featured on paranormal television shows, or are listed in ghost folklore books or on websites dedicated to ghost lore. They often have infamous ghosts such as ‘the blue boy’, or ‘the grey lady’, or ‘the brown monk’ or ‘the judge’ and so on… often the ghosts are named; ‘Nanny rabbit’, ‘clogs’, ‘Burke & Hare’, ‘Mr. Boots’. These are the things that whet the appetite of the ghost hunter and ultimately makes them part with their cash.
The ghost hunter who happily pays to visit such locations is essentially a tourist who happens to like having the lights turned off. Yet there are ghost hunters who believe they have some sort of privilege that means they shouldn’t have to pay, or pay as much, to access these locations ; many complaining that they’re being “out costed” from being able to fairly access places to investigate.
Ultimately though, ghost hunting in such places is done so as a hobby as the associated ghost stories are often decades old with no new experiences from independent eyewitnesses to study (i.e. not ghost hunters having experiences on ghost hunts, but location staff/owners). There are only a handful of groups that study anomalous phenomena for educational or scientific reasons in the UK and those tend to be charities or linked to universities and similar – if they need access to locations that are famous for ghost lore then it’s usually for academic reasons and a mutual agreement between researcher and venue is met.
Having to pay to visit a location to carry out a hobby is not an outrageous demand, and to accuse supposedly haunted places of charging ‘too much’ and ‘out-costing’ people is unfair.
Many ghost hunting groups (but not all) have public liability insurance to cover them while they visit locations that they do not own, but insurance isn’t always the only thing on a location owners mind when it comes to letting in a group of people who aren’t professionals at what they do and, ultimately, are tourists.
I’ve personally researched in venues for years at a time and happily handed over cash because of the extra electricity we’re going to be using while there. Most ghost lore is linked to ancient buildings owned by charitable trusts that look after our wonderful and important heritage sites that need constant funding to keep them maintained.
Should such venues not ask for money when people want to visit them? Should ghost hunters be allowed to visit for free or next to nothing when it is the very heritage of a site that has attracted them in the first place?
I’m not sure what the justification for such a demand is, and for those who are skeptical that ghost groups make such demands a quick search on google or facebook will reveal that I’m not lying.
Many ghost hunters blame commercial groups who make a profit from ghost hunting enthusiasts for the rise in the fee that locations charge, often citing profiteering ghost groups as bad people who need to be tackled.
It is often said that by groups making a profit from charging members of the public to go on ghost hunts with them at these locations, it makes the locations aware of how much people are willing to pay – thus “out-costing” the regular ghost hunter.
I don’t agree that this is something that profiteering groups should be tackled for though. I would suggest that we should be looking at the claims such profiteering groups make to the general public about what service it is they provide (e.g. a serious paranormal investigation when it isn’t? Proper scientific research when it’s not? Just for entertainment?) And we should tackle misleading claims and bad behavior if the need arises.
Making location owners aware of the amounts they can charge people isn’t a terrible thing and in some cases is actually good (charities, for example).
It bugs me when ghost hunting groups complain about having to constantly pay loads of money to visit apparently haunted locations because it shows that they’re not really very serious about researching anomalous phenomena. In the six years that I have been studying ghosts and the places they’re said to hang out, I’ve only ever visited a handful of places that requested money and the money paid helped towards the running of the site.
Most places that I visit don’t charge because they’ve never had the need to ask paranormal investigators to visit. The experiences have mostly been recent and current and not founded in ghost lore books and websites.
One problem that arises from venues being able to charge people to access them is the rise in the number of venues claiming to be haunted when they’re not, just so that they can make money from Yvette Fielding wannabe’s. This is a serious problem, and one I’ve encountered first hand when investigating what appears to be a genuine report, only for investigators to catch people faking activity.
However, if such fakery is occurring, then asking the right questions and looking for the right signs should help investigators rule out ‘genuine’ reports from those that are fraudulent. If you simply hang on to every word of a story and let that be what drives your curiosity – to experience the ghost the story centres around – then you’re an easy target for such frauds.
If you are open minded in your approach and consider all possibilities (and not just that there’s a ghost there that could be contacted) then you’re less likely to be caught out.
It is possible to conduct paranormal research without being charged phenomenal amounts of money to do so, but if you’re simply in it for the thrill of the hunt and the folklore stories that excite you then you’re a tourist and paying is inevitable. That isn’t a product of the profiteering paranormal companies – it’s a product of your approach to ghost phenomena.
Photo credit: Tristan Barratt
Anyone who has been to one of my skeptics in the pub talks will know about the horrible things that happened to me when I stopped being a believer in ghosts and related “woo” ideas in 2007. You’ll know about the woman who phoned up the company I worked for and tried to get me sacked simply because I no longer agreed that ghosts existed, and had fallen out with her because of this.
You’ll know about the Wiltshire ghost hunter who phoned up a location that I had arranged to visit for a paranormal investigation and cancelled our investigation – and tried to do the same with another location by sending them text messages warning them not to let us in.
You’ll know about the threats, the abuse, the phone calls, having to call the police & the online harassment.
All because of things that happened a long time ago, and because I don’t think like them and – quite frankly – don’t like them any more. Things happen, people change, life goes on… or at least it should.
These last few years as things have progressed and I’ve taken on new opportunities presented to me I’ve always had a cloud hanging over me that has always bittered the experience.
“What will they think? They’ll think I’m being egotistical and vain and they’ll use something from my past to try and catch me out”
It hasn’t exactly been pleasant. This year I’ve had empty legal threats from people trying to shut me up when I write critically about them and what they do, hateful messages have been sent my way by people who don’t even know me but know one of the people I used to be friends with, I’ve had gossip spread about me online and this week the icing on the cake came in the form of a string of anonymous prank calls to my home phone.
So I thought I would just write this blog post to explain to those few bitter people who don’t like me and yet seem to hang around my websites so much that this ends now.
You don’t agree with me, I don’t agree with you, it actually isn’t the end of the world. Grow up, move on and stop it.
I will no longer allow your spiteful opinions of me to cloud decisions I make in the future, and I will no longer care what you happen to think of me because your opinions aren’t important to me.
You can threaten me, you can phone my house and hang up, you can make up rumours or call me names online where I can’t see it, you can write to my boss and try to get me sacked, but it wont make me go away because when all you can do is throw muck it proves to me that you have no argument against what I do and what I say, only against who I am – and I wont be changing who I am for anyone.
By all means criticise me, but have the guts to do so directly and not behind my back, by all means challenge what I say and prove me wrong… however some of the behaviour I’ve had to deal with is pathetic.
If you don’t like me, I don’t actually care. This ends now.
I had originally deleted this blog post because I was annoyed at the amount of people I was having to debate with.
“After Morrissey made the headlines yet again after saying outrageous things about humans and their treatment of animals, I gone and done a bad thing by suggesting on facebook that all living creatures are equal.
I said that Morrissey was an insensitive bastard and made a really distasteful comment… but actually did have a point, but it was a point that didn’t need to be made at that time.
I then had to spent nearly an hour justifying my belief that all living creatures are equal and that humans, just like other creatures on this planet, are insignificant. I’ve posted about why I don’t eat animal corpses before here and here.
People often seemed outraged at my view that humans are animals, just like animals, and thus aren’t any more important than a field mouse or a rhino or a cow. I’ve posted a video inteview by Richard Dawkins with Peter Singer before (see below), and my vegetarianism is similar to Singers.
Yet despite this, the same people seem to question my take on life and my choice to not eat meat time and time again. I’m starting to think some of them are simply not at all interested in why I believe what I believe, and are 100% sure they’re right. That is closed minded.”
Tom, over at SkepticCanary wrote a blog post after our debate on facebook outlining why he thought that humans were more important than other animals, when I don’t think that.
I thought that the egregiousness of this comparison, and the concept that humans are more important than other animals was self evident. Apparently not.
It must have been a shock to know that people have other opinions than the ones you hold… anyway, Tom then provided a long and short explanation as to why humans are superior. The short version was “we went to the fucking moon”. The long version was basically about how humans have imagination, cognition, and potential and other animals tend not to.
My main issue with Toms argument is that if we take ‘cognition’ and cut it down to its very core definition:
perception, learning, remembering, judging, and problem-solving
Animals do that too. Sure, not as intelligently as humans… but animals and insects remember, problem solve, judge and have perception of their surroundings. The argument that humans are more superior to other animals is speciesism, which has often been described as akin to attitudes towards racism or slavery when it wasn’t largely frowned upon.
Those who owned slaves, or were socially racist felt morally uneasy, but it was the done thing, so they justified it because of that.
I wonder where one draws the line at deciding how important an animal is compared to humans? Squid, chicken, dogs… they’re intelligent creatures and all get eaten by humans, so how does intelligence play into this? It doesn’t.
I left the following comment on Toms blog and I’m sure I will be told that I’m being illogical again, or that my thoughts have shocked Tom because he can’t believe people would actually think what I think. I felt compelled to write this blog post out again though because I’m not stupid and I think that I do because it makes sense morally and ethically to me.
If you choose to eat meat then it’s your decision, but I choose not to, and that was my decision. If you don’t agree with that then just accept that we see the world in different ways.
So let me get this right. Humans are more important because of their sentience?
Would you therefore happily kill and eat someone who is brain dead?
Many of your suggested distinguishing features of humanity – intelligence; imagination etc. are not present in marginal cases such as young or mentally disabled humans, it appears that the only distinction is a prejudice based on species alone… that’s known as speciesism.
All animals have inherent rights & we cannot assign them a lesser value because of a “lack of rationality, imagination, dreams” etc. while, in the same breath, assigning a higher value to infants & the mentally impaired solely on the grounds of being members of a specific species.
After writing my initial blog post about the complaint group on Facebook, I got into a discussion on the group wall about what the creator of the group felt was being misinterpreted by the BBC that warranted a complaint. Here is the dialogue:
Hayley: Could you explain what you mean about them not having a concept of what mediumship is? What is mediumship and how did they misrepresent it? I’m genuinely confused. Thanks.
Sam: Mediumship is not fortune telling. Mediumship is communicating with the dead. Personally I don’t believe that mediums are able to see the future. I was referring to the terminology that the BBC used.
Hayley: what terminology did the BBC use?
Sam: On the programme, mediums were referred to as fortune tellers, which is not true. They also attempted to bring horoscopes into the mix, which has nothing to do with mediums. The BBC obviously didn’t research this.
Hayley: If there will always be people who claim to be mediums while also doing tarot cards and psychic readings and healing and such, doesn’t that mean that something needs to be done to regulate who uses the term ‘medium’ when they sell services? How have the BBC abused the definition of the word, if there are people who claim to be mediums doing the very same thing?
Sam: The word medium describes a go-between, a channel between worlds. Nothing more, nothing less. If someone can display mediumship through testing, like for example the practical SNU testing, then they are a medium.
Hayley: I am questioning, though, the ‘misrepresentation’ you claim the BBC made, when in fact, every day, people who claim to be mediums also make that misrepresentation…
Sam: The world is full of misrepresentation, which is why I am endeavouring to educate people, regardless of their belief, what mediums do.
Hayley: but you’re blaming the BBC for that? When the misinterpretation actually has its roots in the medium and psychic industries? Why? Why wouldn’t sorting out who claims to be a medium or psychic take priority? Is it even something that can be sorted out?
I genuinely do not believe that it is the BBC’s fault for using the ‘fortune teller’ definition of mediumship when, actually, mediums represent it in such a manner in the first place.
As I mentioned in the last article, the SNU self-regulate the mediumship industry, with people choosing to be regulated by the SNU – it isn’t independent regulation, and the definition of mediumship from the SNU is the one they’ve chosen to use, but it isn’t set in stone and it isn’t compulsory for all mediums to use that definition.
Instead of blaming the BBC for using the “wrong definition”, I think that the mediumship industry should take a hard look at itself as it’s exactly where the problem of misrepresentation comes from.
I wasn’t on the BBC yesterday in the end because the debate about mediums & psychics charging money was shortened because of recent tragic events that the program wanted to cover. Fair enough, and besides, I got to have my lay-in so it wasn’t that bad.
I didn’t get to watch the show live as I was editing the next episode of ‘Righteous Indignation’ but from what I’ve heard it was a good debate with the awesome Wendy Grossman making extremely valid points from a skeptical angle.
This morning on Facebook a friend posted a link to a group on there entitled ‘Complain to the BBC about their unfair treatment of mediums’. I’m sure you can guess what the point of the group is from the title, but the main page of the group says:
Today’s Sunday Morning Live show on BBC1 had a debate in which they suggested that mediums should be banned from charging for their services. They used 4 cynics, 1 skeptic and only 2 mediums in this debate. There were no mediums in the studio during the whole debate, they were only consulted via a video link. I think this was a very biased debate and the BBC should apologise since Spiritualism is a recognised religion in Britain.
You can view the programme here for the next few days:
Moreover, the BBC seemed to have no concept of what mediumship is.
PLEASE, PLEASE COMPLAIN to the BBC, thank you.
The BBC have no concept of what mediumship is? I was confused by that because it often seems to me that those claiming to be mediums or psychics have no concept of what it is! For example, when interviewing Steven Upton from the Spiritualists National Union he said that there is no such thing as a ‘psychic-medium’ and that psychics and mediums are two different things. A mediums service, he told us, is to ‘provide evidence of survival’. Yet, loads of mediums do other things besides that while using that label – healing, insight readings, tarot cards etc.
There’s no official definition because there’s no compulsory regulation of mediumship… so perhaps what the creators of this group meant was ‘the BBC don’t use our personal interpretation of what mediumship is’, which would make more sense.
I may be different from other sceptics, but I do have some respect for Spiritualists – hey, I used to bloody be one in everything but name, and I have respect for the way in which the SNU regulate their members as best they can. Though, I am of the opinion that a lot more needs to be done to regulate those trading as mediums or psychics to prevent people from being conned out of their money by frauds who use psychology tricks and misdirection to make people believe they have abilities. Knowingly and unknowlingy.
However, I was genuinely surprised to see that people were complaining en masse to the BBC about the “unfairness” in the debate because there were “4 cynics, 1 skeptic and 2 mediums” which wasn’t, apparently, balanced and respectful of their beliefs.
I think there is something wrong when people demand respect and balance for their belief systems when, actually, they’ve been given a platform from which to defend their beliefs in the show they’re complaining about. There were two mediums in the show, not to mention the fact that others could Skype in with their opinions had they wanted to. They were being represented, how much more is needed exactly? Is this a numbers game? Could one or two more mediums have made a difference? I don’t think so…
There were three guests in the studio who were non-believers, and one via Webcam. Sure, that’s a ratio of four vs. two, but the question being discussed was whether mediums should be banned from charging money for what they do.
I don’t believe that all four non-believers were of the opinion that they should be banned. So how is it unfair?
Some serious points were raised by Wendy Grossman, points that anybody would agree with whether they were a medium or not. Had I been on the show I too was going to argue that charging should not be banned, but that regulation and education of the public was a must – to help weed out charlatans, and ensure that those mediums who do operate with a fee do so fairly while trying ‘to provide evidence of survival’. Would a “genuine medium or psychic” disagree?
The whole point of ‘Sunday Morning Live’ is to encourage debate surrounding a thought or question sent in to the studio – that’s exactly what it did.
If mediums and psychics watched the show in the hope that they would be given a platform from which to promote their industry and religion without their claims being challenged, then they need to learn what ‘debate’ actually is and how it works.
Also, I think it’s worth pointing out that nobody has to respect what anybody else believes in. To clarify that point – I respect and defend your right to believe what you want, but it doesn’t mean I will respect what you choose to believe in. To demand that people respect what you choose to believe is unrealistic and stubborn, and when people don’t respect your beliefs don’t throw your toys out of the pram – that’s life, deal with it. We all have to.
Yesterday I went exploring in a local historic landmark to see if I could recreate some ‘orb’ photos that had been sent to me by a member of the public for analysis. Rather than just dismiss them as ‘orbs’ I thought I better approach would be to try and recreate the effect, and as the location they’d taken the photos in was a few minutes from my house, it wasn’t a huge task.
You can read about the case on the WPR website by clicking here.
I also made a VLOG yesterday about the Iovilus – which is an Iphone app that apparently translates EMF fluctuations into words. People actually use this on ghost hunts as a genuinely plausible method of ghost detection – I’ve embedded the video below.