Archive for September 2011
I originally, rather cheekily, set up a post on my blog asking people to help me pay for my friend Bob to get to the QED conference in March 2012. I didn’t think I would raise enough for his ticket (with some money left over) within two hours – people are generous and it was very humbling to see.
That’s £89 raised in two hours… imagine how many people we could buy tickets for if we all donated a bit!
So… I had this radical plan, and it’s partly through Bobs suggestion of him ‘paying the kindness forwards’ – what if I kept the donations open to see how much I could raise overall and to see how many skeptics who can’t afford a ticket we can send to QED next March through donations from those able to afford a few pounds extra?
If 20 people donate just £4.50 we can get one person to QED.
Last year I only managed to get a QED ticket because people donated the money, so this is also me paying the kindness forwards.
I’ve just donated £30 but even if you can only spare £2 that would be equally as awesome!
Sally Morgan has mentioned on Twitter that the press coverage and reaction to the allegations that she cheated at one of her shows is akin to ‘a modern day witch hunt’.
I personally find this comparison to be distasteful and wonder how Sally can view herself as a victim of a ‘witch hunt’ when it she who brings it upon herself by refusing to provide evidence of her alleged abilities.
That is after all, all that those of us who are skeptical of her claims are asking; we want Sally to prove that she can do what she says she can do – and personal testimonies don’t count because those people can be potentially misled by trickery (whether Sally is aware she is using it or not.)
Being asked to prove that you can do what you claim you can do is in no way similar to being persecuted for being non-religious, poor, weird or for being considered as ‘cunning women’ or ‘witches’ by local people. People were hung for their non-crimes, and based on the word of eye-witnesses whose reliability wasn’t that credible.
Those of us who doubt Sally Morgan and her claims are not the bad people unless we persecute her for her beliefs and I truly hope that nobody is doing so. Having watched Sally Morgan on television though I know that she lumps those who doubt her abilities all together as cynics and bad people who she doesn’t have to respond to. That’s a bad assumption to make because as the person making huge claims she is the very person to has to answer to her critics. Turning a blind eye to valid criticism and questions helps her make a whole other point about herself…
So I’ve gone and done a thing, and that thing is Project Barnum. It was an idea I’ve had for a while now but haven’t really gotten around to putting into action for one reason or another.
Yet, when word really began to spread about Sally Morgan being accused by audience members at a recent show of being fed information I realised that now was probably a good time to get the project going and to see if it really could make a difference.
We are currently petitioning theatres in the UK to reconsider allowing psychics to hire their venues – I’ve had some very interesting emails in response to the petition.
It seems to have gone from an idea I had to this huge thing that is achieving quite a lot within a few days and I’ve been a bit overwhelmed at the support so far – thank you to all of those who’ve signed up, spread the word, made contributions to the site, send encouraging emails etc.
Please check the website out, it’s a resource for great information on psychic trickery and it is growing and growing each day. If you have anything to contribute then do let me know and we’d be happy to put it on the site if it is in keeping with our mission statement.
In other news, I have a few ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ talks coming up in October. I’ll be visiting Edinburgh for a few days while I deliver a talk (can’t wait to explore the infamous haunts!), I’ll also be revisiting Bristol Skeptics and I’ll also be heading to Westminster Skeptics on Halloween to give a talk as part of their annual Halloween celebrations. Hope to see some of you there, do say hello!
Also, on October 4th I’m looking forward to welcoming Deborah Hyde to Bath Skeptics in the Pub (for which I am host) with her talk ‘Unnatural Predators’. Should be a good one and, as always, I hope to see lots of you at The Westgate in the city centre.
I’m sometimes accused by other paranormal researchers of being an arm chair skeptic and of “being able to talk the talk, but not able to walk the walk”. So I thought I’d make this post to lend some clarity for those who are uncertain about what it is I actually do, and how I go about doing it when it comes to ghosts and other odd things.
Six years ago I would have visited a reputedly haunted building every other weekend to try and find proof of the ghosts there. The building didn’t even have to have anything happen there – if it looked spooky then that was good enough.
Today I don’t conduct as many on-site investigations for many reasons:
1 – There are certain situations I don’t want to put myself and others into for security reasons
2 – Not all reported phenomena is investigatable (often, eyewitness testimony cannot be replicated)
3 – It is very rare (in my experience anyway) for a case to come along where things are currently happening, rather than a case where things are reputed to happen and have been for a long time.
I guess I could be accused of being too picky when it comes to deciding whether to investigate a case or not; but even though some people seem to think I don’t, I do actually visit locations and conduct onsite research into things that have been witnessed. I don’t always publish the details of these visits for privacy purposes. I always fear that if I were to publish details of places we (the WPR team) have visited, that location would be bombarded with requests for visits by numerous other teams in the Wiltshire are whose practices are ethically questionable.
Not only that, but this year we’ve visited mainly businesses who have odd things happening, and they don’t always want that sort of information being made public. I will, however, work out a way in which to share our findings in the future just so I don’t get accused of being an arm chair skeptic who doesn’t ‘walk the walk’.
When dealing with a case, the Wiltshire Phenomena Research team will look at what has been witnessed and will then try to find the most likely cause. This is often done through replicating the situation the phenomena was witnessed in. We don’t try to prove a ghost did it, and we don’t try to convince people ghosts aren’t real – we just look for the logical causes.
I would invite anyone who has accused me and WPR of being arm chair skeptics or not ‘walking the walk’ to ask, rather than speculate. Anyone who considers themselves a good researcher should surely know that before reaching a conclusion one must have all the facts, afterall…
I have just discovered a video by Youtube user ‘SwissTopper’ from the blogging panel that I was part of at the Denkfest last week. The panel took place on the first day of the conference, and although it was 90 minutes in length this video is a selection of the ‘best bits’. Enjoy!
There is a lot to be said for people who will pay to visit the beautiful city of Zurich and spend most of their time sitting in a darkened hall geeking out on science – however one word would be sufficient to sum them up, and that word is diverse.
It took me a while to think of that word; a word that would do the last four days justice, as what I experienced at Denkfest in Zurich was beyond anything I’ve really experienced before. I could have said awesome, fun, interesting, friendly… but ‘diverse’ works.
Perhaps, before I continue I should start at the beginning so that you can understand.
I write words, inspired by the world around me. I write them on this blog and I also speak them on the podcast I co-host. When it comes to the promotion of critical thinking, science, education and skepticism I consider myself very low down on the impact scale.
Yet, somehow the organisers of the conference (who deserve a huge pat on the back) felt that the words I write and speak meant I was worthy of being on the science/skepticism blogging panel that opened Denkfest on Thursday evening. When I was asked to, I was a bit confused but Andreas Kyriacou convinced me they had invited me on purpose and so I went.
Then, on the days that followed the blogging panel I sat and listened to some of the most inspirational people I have ever had the pleasure to be in the same room with – let alone on the same speakers bill as.
I didn’t take notes during the talks as I saw many other people were doing so (I will link to any summaries of the conference I find here on my blog). However, the talks that stood out the most for me were those by Max Coltheart (whose discussion of delusions had my chin practically on the floor), Kathryn Schulz (whose talk about being wrong made me feel less stupid and more normal), Michael Schmidt-Salomon, Samantha Stein and Lawrence Krauss (who blew my mind, as well as everybody else’s, with his easy-to-follow-yet-not-dumbed-down talk on the universe.)
There were also other memorable talks, like the one on Chi (by Holm Gero Hummler) and Brain Gym (Barbro Walker) that were insightful and interesting. Not to mention the fact that Luigi Garlaschelli and his unveiling of his Turin Shroud was a great start to Saturday (especially when followed by Sanal Edamaruku whose work I’m sure we all know of – but if not, watch here).
Actually, I could just list all the speakers whose talks on various topics made the conference what it was. Sure, there were talks I couldn’t follow that well like Ueli Straumann’s talk about the LHC, and Melody Swartz’s talk about immunobioengineering – both of which made me a bit crossed eyed with all the technical terms. However, there is nothing wrong with a bit of heavy science, and I know there were those who understood those talks, and making such science accessible to the audience was important.
As a speaker I stayed in one of the two hotels reserved for speakers (there were over 40 of us…) and there was a tram ride to and from the hotel. The hotel was situated in the old city and right on one of the main streets that was always bustling with tourists and locals checking out the variety of shops, restaurants and bars which really brought to life the social aspect of the conference.
The Gala dinner also rocked, especially Science Slam (which is basically science communication in the form of a poetry slam, without poetry) that was hosted by Julia Offe; four researchers took to the stage to do a ten minute presentation each, to convince us that their research was the most interesting. Each table then had to rate them to see who scored highest.
Although two spoke German it was still enjoyable. Good food, good wine, good company and science. It was the best Saturday I’ve had in a long time.
I have returned from Zurich with friendships I didn’t have when I left for Zurich. The social aspect of the conference was really wonderful. It was great to see all of the speakers (from amateur bloggers all the way up to arse-kicking science communicators and scientists) rubbing shoulders with everyone and each other.
It’s not every day you can say “I was discussing astrology over breakfast with Eugenie Scott, Chris French and Rose Shapiro”, whilst also being as equally excited about the fact that you met two Romanian skeptics who host a podcast and do admirable work in their country for rational thinking and deserve applause for it.
The important lesson I took from Denkfest is this – we are human and it is okay to make mistakes. Eugenie Scott told us ‘being wrong does not mean you are unscientific’, telling people they’re delusional might make them hostile and (with my fellow panelists) we agreed that it’s important to make correct information available even if not everyone agrees with it. I realised from numerous talks that there are things that even the most intelligent people do not know – and that’s okay. Progress is always being made in the way we (the human race) learn about the world and universe around us.
I also realised that skepticism has never looked so diverse.
I was very proud to be a part of Denkfest and if there should be another then I will happily be purchasing a ticket. See you there!
p.s. thanks to all of those I met at Denkfest for being so lovely and nice. It was a pleasure to meet you, and I’m sorry if my German was terrible.
It feels weird, but I am writing this while sat in my hotel room in Zürich! It’s the first time I’ve been here and is in fact the first time I have ever flown alone.
I found the airport process easy, but now I have a terrible headache.
I also got lost between the central station and my hotel and by the time I checked in I had been pulling my suitcase over cobbles for so long that my arm had gone numb. Fun.
Tomorrow I am meeting friends for lunch after a stroll on my own around the city, in the afternoon I will be registering for Denkfest where, tomorrow evening, I’ll be on a panel about science/skeptic blogging – because of that I felt it was very apt to post a short update via the very medium of communication I have been asked to talk about.
I will try to post some summaries here over the next few days! Be sure to also follow me on twitter: @hayleystevens