Hayley is a Ghost

Posts Tagged ‘skeptic

In a recent post titled ‘2011’ I wrote out a list of insults I had received last year. One of them was ‘poster child for skepticism’ and people have seemed confused as to why I would consider that an insult. I was actually wrong – I got called ‘the poster girl for skepticism’.

The reason it is an insult is because a) it was intended as an insult and b) it was insulting

To be called a girl equates me with being young and childish. I’m often told that I am young, childish, immature, ‘playing with bigger kids’, ‘running with older skeptics’, ‘throw tantrums’ and similar. Putting to one side my issues with my mental health that often cause me to seem like I’m having a tantrum, and how insensitive peoples comments can be – the world is, it seems, always very keen to remind me that I am indeed young, and that because of this people wont take me seriously.

Even when I am right. Which I often am.

I do make mistakes because I’m human, and that’s what we do – whether we’re Twenty-four, Fifty-four, or Eighty-four. However my mistakes are nearly always pinned down to my age, or because I’m a skeptic. I can handle anti-skeptic bias, but the age thing is annoying because there is nothing I can do about my age.

I was called ‘the poster girl for skepticism’ in the discussion thread to a post I wrote where other people agreed with the things I had written in the article, and one person hadn’t. He called me ‘the poster girl’ because he wanted to undermine the support I was getting for the things I had written.

There could be no other reason people were supporting me, other than because they were building me up as their poster girl for ‘the cause’. It couldn’t be because I was right, or they agreed with what I had written in that instance. No. It was because there had to be another motive – in the mans opinion it was because I was young and didn’t know things and was impressionable and because of this, bigger skeptics were using me as a poster girl for their cause.

That is why it is an insult. To be counted out because of your age – to have it presumed of you that your opinions and thoughts are only valid because others are greedy and want to use you to further their cause, is insulting.


Back in February I was on a panel with Professor Chris French and Trystan Swale at the QED conference in Manchester. The panel was called ‘Ghost Investigations Today’ and that was exactly what we were talking about.

The QED team have made the talk available via Youtube and it can be watched below. I cannot watch myself talk so I have no idea what it’s like. I was great fun though and I just want to say thanks again to Mike, Marsh, Janis, Andy, Rick and the rest of the team for the chance to take part. I can’t wait until QED in March.

Photo credit: Gammy

It was meant as a light hearted nod towards US blogger PZ Myers and wasn’t meant to alienate anybody, but when The Skeptic Mag temporarily removed Susan Blackmore from their banner and replaced her with PZ Myers, it left me feeling quite uncomfortable and sad.

I do have a problem with the way in which women are under represented throughout skepticism – I created SheTalks to try and help remedy the problem (and according to the feedback the register is working despite still being in its early days). To see a reputable publication like The Skeptic Mag take the only woman on their banner down – even just for a moment, as a nod to comments made on twitter earlier that day, seems so dismissive and needless. I’m not sure what led to them doing so, or why PZ Myers highlighted earlier in the day via Twitter that he wasn’t there.

People will say I am blogging over nothing or that I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill, but I’m not. Intentional and unintentional exclusion of women in skepticism is something that so many people work tirelessly to eradicate. Although The Skeptic Magazine didn’t replace Blackmore like this with a dismissive or sexist intention, this demonstrates how one thoughtless action can undermine so much, and have a negative and demoralising effect on those who see it.

Having an all male banner up on the website of one of the biggest skeptical publications going isn’t something that’s great to see. Not now, not ever – not even for 5 minutes.

I was asked by the twitter account of The Skeptic which skeptic should have been removed instead, and I replied ‘none’. I was then asked which 8 people should be on a banner if it was made from scratch. My honest answer? Nobody.

Skepticism isn’t people centred. Well – that’s a lie because it clearly is, but I don’t think it should be.

The caricatures are awesome, and the people chosen all stand for something important. Yet, skepticism is about ideas, facts, information and outreach. Not celebrity. Just a thought.

Today a Ghost Laser Grid pen arrived in the post and I have to admit it’s a pretty awesome little laser pen and quite fun to play with, however, as I’ve blogged before, this is really useless as a paranormal research gadget. Rather than turning the lights off and putting a ghost laser grid pen on in the room so that you might see some ghosts, just keep the lights on. It makes much more sense.

To see the video results click here.

So I conquered a castle. As you do. It felt like I did, or at least that a lot of energy was put into getting to the castle which I see as equal to conquering it – even though I wasn’t invading as such.

It was a 3 mile walk, okay? It took 1 hour and 15 minutes to get there and it was “enjoyable” (or so I’m told. I didn’t find that part enjoyable, but rather, painful due to a sore leg and heavy handbag.) I had been told by Ashley Pryce that there was a bus to the castle that we could jump on from the train station in North Berwick, but there wasn’t. Hmmph.

I was with Ash, Keir Liddle from Edinburgh Skeptics, and Adam Cuerdan whom I have often spoken to online, and although it was painful to walk the whole 3 miles along pavements, roads and grassy banks, it was pretty stunning to look out over the coast the whole way (except that bit where Keir took us on a detour around some tennis courts for some reason…). I also nearly wet myself at one point when Ash decided to leap into oncoming traffic to save his bottle of coca cola. That’s another story though.

Cake box

Thank you, Adam!

We soon arrived at the castle and all was forgiven as we sat down for a cake break (you all have those, right?). Adam had provided the most delicious cakes and we used them to replenish our energy and moods before descending on the castle to see if we could recreate the famous Tantallon Castle Ghost photo.

the original photo showing a figure looking down at the photographer from a higher up doorway

For those who don’t know, the Tantallon ghost photo was taken by a visitor to the castle who caught something in one of the upper exposed doorways that he hadn’t remembered seeing at the time. Unsure of what it was he asked for other opinions and this soon snowballed into a ghost story.

Tantallon castle is stunning, with stunning views of the sea and surrounding coast. As we arrived at the castle there were strong winds and a hint of rain and a sky that was growing moodier by the second – it was the perfect weather for visiting a castle to investigate a ghost.

The picture certainly captured the imagination of many and Professor Richard Wiseman has written a great piece here about his exploration into the ghost. Richard was able to recreate the photo by kneeling next to the safety rail/grating up there, but many say that this wasn’t a perfect recreation as he was kneeling when the original ‘thing’ wasn’t.

One hypothesis is that it’s a person who was walking past the doorway at the time the photo was taken, and another is that it’s exposed brickwork causing an illusion as the sunlight shines onto it from another light source – perhaps from behind or to the side.

A photo of the stone work present on the back wall of the landing area. Shows rough and smooth stones of different sizes with different textures that some claim caused an illusion in the original ghost photo.

A photo showing the view down from the landing area in which an apparent ghost was photographed. It shows the lower level of the castle from where the original photo was taken, with the metal safety grill in view.

Having explored the area in which the ‘ghost’ was photographed I can see the possibility that it could be the light hitting the stone work. There are two doorways that lead into that little landing area, and the staircase carries on up to the next level, and half way up these stairs is a window.

I couldn’t work out which stones could cause the illusion though, but I know that’s the problem with such illusions – it’s hard to work out what is causing them sometimes.

Anyway, we decided to explore the other hypothesis too and Adam climbed up to the level the ‘ghost’ was photographed on, as the rest of us stayed on the ground floor. As Adam was wearing a dark coat and hat he soon faded into the shadows and it was easy to see how someone could be mistaken for something odd had you not known they were there. The picture below shows Adam, it is blurred as it is a still from the video further down – and although not in the exact position the ‘ghost’ was in, in the original photo, I think there is a likeness.

A still from footage shot by the group at Tantallon castle. A grainy image, but it does show Adam on the landing above, looking similar to the alleged ghost.

Ash Pryce filmed the recreation and you can watch it below. I am recording audio on my Iphone throughout, in case you wondered why I’m holding on to it so much – I’m not showing it off, honest!

When Professor Wiseman conducted his recreation he knelt on the floor and people claimed that it wasn’t a true recreation of the ‘apparition’ which suggested it being a person was maybe not as likely. However, with the recreation we conducted while at the castle I think that it is likely that it was a person walking past that area. Had Wiseman stood further back on the landing it would have created the same effect.

I am not convinced that the original photo contains anything paranormal – and it appears that those from the castle and nearby are of a similar opinion – interestingly, talking to those who have studied the photo previously to my visit there, the person who took the original photo didn’t think it was a ghost either.

The pareidolia hypothesis is still valid, in my opinion, and cannot be ruled out unless the landing area is observed in various weather conditions throughout the day to see the sort of light being cast against those stones. However, after seeing Adam up on the landing I do think it is more likely that a tourist was passing through the landing area and out through the door to the left of the window, that leads to an outside area of the castle.

If you get to visit Tantallon castle then you should do so. It’s certainly a beautiful place with stunning views. I miss it already.

Thank you to the Edinburgh Skeptics for making the visit possible.

A photo taken by Hayley on her walk to Tantallon from the road. It shows the almost red castle in the distance, sitting in front of it is a large golden field of crops with a moody sky above.

photo of Amber Ja LeeI was contacted late last week by a Manchester Journalist who wanted a skeptical opinion on a prediction that a local psychic had made. He had found me through ‘Project Barnum’ and I was happy to take a look at what had been predicted.

The psychic, Amber Ja Lee, predicts there will be an earthquake in Manchester. Today an article has been published in which I am quoted as ‘the skeptic’.

According to ‘Mancunian Matters’:

n one of her latest visions, Amber saw The Trafford Centre, Manchester’s largest shopping complex, hit by underground tremors.

“I won’t go to The Trafford Centre because it doesn’t seem right to me,” she said.

“I went in once and I was looking around and could see cracks appearing.”

The piece quotes me as saying:

Hayley Stevens, a sceptic, established the ‘Project Barnum’ campaign to warn people against taking predications like Amber’s too seriously. Miss Stevens said: “I would suggest that if such a thing were to happen, then the fact that Amber dreamt about something similar was a coincidence and nothing more.”

Which is very true, but as my full statement wasn’t used (due to them having to trim it to make it fit) my quote is a bit out of context. I thought it would be worth posting the full statement I wrote for them to provide the context it was written in.

A little bit of digging online into earthquake statistics in the UK showed that Ambers prediction would be even less impressive if an earthquake actually struck the area. Here is my full comment:
Lets examine Ambers prediction – if it comes true it would seem impressive at first; however, most earthquakes occur on the western side of the British mainland, and earthquakes have been felt in the city in the last decade so it wouldn’t be that strange if there was seismic activity in the city. I would suggest that if such a thing were to happen, then the fact that Amber dreamt about something similar was a coincidence and nothing more. 

Psychics often claim to be able to predict things that seen to be spookily accurate in hindsight when in fact the only reason the prediction came true is because of probability and chance. It can seem uncanny not only to us but also to the alleged psychic too, which is why they continue to believe they have an ability when this might not be the case. These are the sorts of things we examine at Project Barnum – that and trickery used intentionally and unintentionally by Psychics and Mediums. We also offer advice to people who think they may have been misled or scammed.

it’s important to remember that nobody claiming to have a supernatural ability has proven so under controlled conditions to date. To find out more visit  www.projectbarnum.co.uk 
I hope that can provide context to my comment about Amber’s dream being coincidence.  I’m not dismissing her claimed abilities in this instance (though I see no evidence other than testimony which isn’t strong enough proof), I’m just demonstrating how statistically it wouldn’t be weird for there to be an earthquake in Manchester. Not an impressive prediction.

Is Sally Morgan a fraud? I don’t know. Neither do you.

There seems to be an almost smug undercurrent on Twitter and Facebook at the moment, with people continually pointing out that none of us can prove that Sally Morgan is a fraud and until we can we shouldn’t suggest so.

Although it is true that calling her a fraud or charlatan is wrong (as we can’t prove that) it doesn’t really actually DO anything to keep telling people they can’t call her that. Over and over.

Yes, it is wrong to call her a fraud unless evidence emerges that shows otherwise, after all, all we currently know is that she was accused by audience members of cheating and being fed information by a crew member and passing it off a psychic message.

Does she do that? I don’t know. Nobody apart from those involved in the Psychic Sally Morgan crew does.

That isn’t the most important thing we, as a skeptical community- no, as consumers and part of society, could be worrying about.

What we should be focusing on is the fact that this is just one more psychic scandal in a long list of psychic scandals. We should be doing something pro-active to highlight this issue (I say we, but I already am, so….)

Yes, it is important to not make accusations that are baseless, but seriously, an echo chamber effect is forming on social media where skeptics are being skeptics of other skeptics. All the while, Sally Morgan is still on tour, is taking legal action regarding the accusations, and hundreds of people are still attending her shows while turning a blind eye to the accusations.

THIS is where skeptics who give a damn should be focusing. Doesn’t this blind faith in Morgans abilities despite the public doubt show that there is something wrong that needs to be addressed? Someone like Sally can make claims for which she provides no evidence – accusations are made in public by audience members that she is cheating – and rather that knocking peoples confidence in her abilities, they carry on going to her shows and instead of talking to people while this is still news we’re bickering online?!


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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