Hayley is a Ghost

Posts Tagged ‘Skepticism

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.


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.

Blogging Panel - credit: Martin Steiger http://bit.ly/pr5IB6

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.

Skeptics in the bar! credit: Samantha Stein

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!

Check out:
Camp Quest UK
The Skeptic (UK) 
The Denkfest website
The Sixth World Skeptics Congress in Berlin (I am SO going!)
Science Slam 

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.

I guess one thing that isn’t always at the front of my mind when I write things is the fact that the person who might read what I have written doesn’t know me and doesn’t know my intentions. I’ve come to realise that I probably come across as some sort of a know-it-all in some of the things I say, and as though I’m trying to get one over on other researchers who don’t share the same opinions as I do.

Though that may be the case on the odd occasion it isn’t the case in everything I do, say or write. I’m not a saint and I’m not trying to claim that I’m a selfless blogger, but I do try to work for what is right. When I’m writing about the illogical thoughts or actions of other researchers it isn’t because I want to show off the fact that I am somehow better than they are, but because the illogical arguments put forwards by some need addressing. Not only that, but there are lots of people in the paranormal research field who pass themselves off as knowledgable, experts or ‘old hands’ at what they do when really they’re thought processes are illogical and full of fallacies. Sometimes these people make money from those who hold genuine beliefs and I think it is only right that said so-called experts are shown for the illogical people they really are.

That isn’t me being a hero, it’s me being a person who was once fooled by such people; it’s me being the person who used to think illogically pointing out how easy it is to do so, and writing what I write in the hope that I might be able to help others to see the holes in their logic too.

We are all free to make our own choices and decisions, but we just need to be well informed, and I use my blog as a way to help people find the information that will prove useful to them – by using my experiences.

It really isn’t me trying to show off, and it saddens me that some might think of me like that.

Oh, in other news, this week I piloted a canal boat and got a tattoo. This is me showing off.

I wrote a blog post similar to this a few weeks ago and it was really popular with visitors so I thought I’d write another. I was inspired to write the first by the Birmingham Skeptics who write a similar post every week. You should check the rest of their site out too – all rather interesting.

Firstly, the Skepchicks have announced a call to action regarding Anti-vax ads that are going to be aired on the screens in Times Square, this dangerous misinformation is going to be seen by thousands of people. Please check the article out and sign the petition to make this not happen. It’s one of the most important things you’ll do today.

I recommend you also check out ‘Science, Reason and Critical thinking’, the blog of Crispian Jago who was recently long listed by for the Orwell Prize! He recently wrote a blog post called ‘Blogger Farm: A Fairytale’ that was written in a similar fashion to Animal Farm by Orwell. That alone made it superb to read, but it also explores bloggers & mainstream media and certainly made some good points.

Kylie Sturgess (Happy birthday, Kylie!) recently conducted an interview with Tim Minchin for CSIcop about using music and comedy to spread “the skeptical word”. With the ‘STORM’ movie recently being launched, it is certainly worth a read.

Something else by Kylie for CSIcop is this interview with Paul Willis, who overdosed on homeopathy in Antarctica as part of the Ten23 overdose in February. I remember being sat in Manchester while Marsh was on stage running through the overdoses that had already happened and the turnouts and the successes (makes me feel proud to have been part of it all over again just writing about it!) Paul was represented on the presentation by the picture of a penguin, but he has spoken to Kylie upon his return to Australia.

Speaking of homeopathy & the Merseyside Skeptics Society, you should also check out this article about the success they encountered recently regarding the funding of homeopathy on the NHS in the Wirral region.

I know, through speaking to Marsh regularly, just how much work the MSS have put into their campaign, the sacrifices that members made and the way their personal lives were occasionally put on hold as the beast they unleashed by the name of Ten23, grew and grew and grew.

Ten23 has been criticised by a wide range of people – not just homeopaths – as a fruitless campaign that wouldn’t achieve anything. So it’s great to see the critics proven wrong (as I knew they would be…)

Speaking about Marsh… (I didn’t realise how heavily the MSS featured in my chosen links for this week, typical!) Marsh recently did a presentation at ‘ThinkCon!’ that was organised and run by Dr Andrew Holding of the Cambridge Skeptics.

Other speakers included Rhys Morgan (whom I discovered would totally make an awesome ghost hunter when I spoke at Cardiff SitP recently…), Professor David Colquhoun & others…

The talks from the speakers mentioned above have been made available online and can be found here. You should check them out if you get the chance.

Next up on my list of recommended articles is this interview by Vue with Daniel Loxton about his upcoming talk titled ‘The Reasonableness of Weird Things’ for LogiCon 2011. Basically, I am extremely jealous of all the people who are attending LogiCon.

The best quote from the Vue article is this:

“Nobody owns critical thinking. Scholarship, critical thinking, investigation, everybody has a right to those things, but we aren’t born knowing them. We have to be taught.”

It’s the point I often raise in the talks I deliver to SitP groups, and it’s the reason I talk at paranormal conferences that are likely to have people in the audience that disagree with me. It’s easy to mock people for having “stupid beliefs”, but that isn’t going to help them see the error of their ways.

As an ex-believer, I say that with certainty. If you’re going to LogiCon, make sure you listen to this talk!

This article over on The 21st Floor talks about a study done by the Yerkes National Primate Research Center by Campbell and de Waal (2011) that has found a link between social groups and empathy in chimpanzees as demonstrated by involuntary yawning responses. I could link to the study directly, but I’ve linked to The 21st floor article because a) it’s where I first read about it and b) I want to bring The 21st Floor website to the attention of my blog readers as it’s a great site and worth checking out regularly.

Oh, also, yawning Chimpanzees! Squee!

Last, but not least, and leading on from the yawning chimps (squee…) is a story from my local newspaper, ‘The Wiltshire Times’ about Annie the elephant who was recently saved from cruel treatment with a circus company (she was the last circus elephant in the UK, she’s 57 years old and didn’t deserve the treatment she suffered at the hands of her grooms).

She was rescued and now lives at Longleat Safari park which is 30 minutes from my front door.It’s a great story and reinforces my love for Longleat Safari Park which I have been visiting since the age of three. If you get the chance you should visit Longleat. I certainly will be as soon as I possible can to see their newest resident.

I think I’ve covered all the articles and features that I found interesting this week. I’m sure there are more, I hope to write a similar blog post next week so feel free to send me articles that have interested you and be sure to enter my Haiku contest to be in with the chance of winning a glow-in-the-dark Placebo band.

I’d like to round up this blog post by personally thanking the person I blogged about last week who couldn’t take the criticism levelled their way and decided instead to write to my boss to “tell” on me. I didn’t get in trouble because my blog clearly states the side bar that what I write does not represent the people I work for or work with. However, it did prove to me that actions do speak louder than words. Your actions, that is.

Have a good weekend 🙂

I am extremely excited to be able to tell you, the readers of my blog, that in September I will be travelling to Zurich, Switzerland to take part in a panel about Skeptical Blogging as part of the four-day science and skepticism event known as ‘Denkfest‘ (which roughly translates to ‘Thought fesival’ or ‘thinking hard’ and takes place from September 8th – 11th).

The panel will be Ali Arbia who blogs as zoonpolitikon on Scienceblogs, Christina Rad who blogs on Youtube as ZOMGitsCriss, Florian Freistetter who blogs as astrodicticum-simplex on Sciencblogs, Julia Offe who blogs as mutterwitz on Scienceblogs, Lars Fischer who edits and blogs at scilogs.de and me.

We will be discussing how bloggers can reach an audience, how to deal with user feedback, whether blogging (through whatever channel) actually shapes opinions and much more. The panel takes place on the Thursday in the lead up to the main event that will see 30+ speakers from 3 continents provide talks on a whole variety of subjects. Some speakers names that will be familiar to readers of my blog include Professor Chris French, Rose Shapiro and Edzard Ernst.

When I was originally asked to speak at Denkfest I was majorly excited but also a bit confused as to why I’d been asked to speak about blogging alongside people who had such influencial blogs. I realised though that when I started blogging just over a year ago I would get 15 hits to my blog a day if I was lucky. Now I get hundreds a day, even thousands if I’ve written something a bit interesting. I get emails from people all around the world who read what I write and want to tell me they enjoy my blog or that I’ve inspired them…

I’ve been ‘Freshly Pressed’ by WordPress three times in the space of six months and there are hundreds of people who have subscribed to my blog for some reason or another. It’s all a little bit crazy how this thing has taken off – especially as I just blog about my thoughts, ideas and opinions and I write about everyday things and not something I’m qualified to talk about (i.e. ghost huntin’)

I hope that this is all something I can reflect through my contribution to the panel, the fact that anyone (and lets face it, I am just another person on the street) can create a sucessful blog and can share their thoughts in a way that inspires and challenges people. I’m also looking forward to hearing what the others have to say, and whether they’ve ever had somebody email their boss in an attempt to get them in trouble for something they’ve blogged about (this happened this week… it’s quite childish).

If you are thinking of going along to Denkfest, or you’ve been tempted by the line up on the website, I’m quite excited to say I can offer you the chance to get a 10 francs discount on the festival pass, simply use the promo code: T7L4HF4 – or if you’re a student use:  T278A7s

What jolly good fun this shall be. I’ve never been to Switzerland before, I hear they have nice chocolate…

I was asked a while back to be a contributor to the brilliant Shethought site and I jumped at the chance. However due to recently getting a new job and being busy with that, the podcast and my research I didn’t have the chance to write anything for Shethought.

However all that changed with my contribution piece ‘the “ghost hunter” label’ which looks at the public perception of paranormal research and the damage ghost hunters do to proper scientific research into anomolous phenomena.

You can read my article here, and while you are doing so you should check the other articles out too because they cover a wide range of topics and it’s a really interesting site.

For those of you who have found my blog from my shethought article, hi! I hope you enjoy what you find here, if not > :’o(

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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