Wednesday 3 June 2020

Steve McRae Served Restraining Order: My Thoughts.

Over the past year, YouTuber Steve McRae, familiar to many atheists, agnostics and skeptics as the co-host of the popular Non-Sequitur Show, has engaged in a program of intense harassment against a female journalist. This culminated yesterday when McRae was served with a restraining order under the Violence Against Women act for his harassment of this woman. In this post, which is very much an opinion piece, I hope to explain to you why this case matters, and why the platforms that McRae used to engage in this vendetta need to seriously question their approach to dealing with cases of sustained harassment.

*Amendment: following a recent conversation on social media, I felt it only right to explain the role the VAWA played in McRae receiving his restraining order. The VAWA ensures that restraining orders are actionable in all 50 states of the US by applying the terms of full faith and credit. This specifically applies to McRae’s case as he does not live in the victim’s state. 

I’ve watched this situation develop with concern for 10 months. At the end of last year, McRae had made around 50 hours of YouTube ‘content’ about this journalist across two YouTube channels, one of which has 14 thousand plus subscribers.

One of the most concerning elements of McRae's activities, for me, was the fact that he seemed unable, or unwilling, to state what outcome he hoped to achieve by the intense focus on this journalist. He felt she had wronged him by making certain unfavourable comments about him on Twitter, but she had already apologised and he had rejected said apology.

During one stream, he passed the comment that he would 'never stop.' Think about that as I relay what happened next.

At the beginning of December 2019,  I was in Bern, covering the launch of the CHEOPS telescope. During the 72 hour period that I was away, McRae made 12 hours of videos about this woman. The breaking point for many of his fans came later that month when he shared a video of this woman’s child and asked followers to comment on his medical status.
After this, perhaps taking the advice of friends or seeing how some long term fans reacted to exposing a sick child this way, he ceased making content about her. He continued to make passing references, but that was it. He continued, however, to run a closed FB group above her ‘misdemeanours’ as he saw them.

Until last month.
In May, McRae once again started talking about the journalist in question. His focus on her again became ‘obsessive’ in the opinion of many, including myself. He spoke about her on his own YouTube channels, other people’s channels, on Instagram, Twitter, and on podcasts. He even created a Reddit thread devoted to her. This was after he was removed from another negative thread because his behaviour was too extreme for even these critics of this journalist.

In one of these appearances, McRae sat laughing as disgraced ex-president of American Atheists David Silverman made the following statement to the journalist in question whilst leering at the screen. "I want to harass her. Penis. Penis. PENIS."

What an intellectual, right?

If this wasn’t disgusting enough, and for many of you I’m certain it is, on the closed FB group, an associate of McRae’s with the screen name ‘Tina I’ll Cut You’ posted an image of this journalist’s home and surrounding area. The address was listed on the image. The image was accompanied with a chilling message: “She thinks she’s safe.”

Further to this, McRae’s Reddit thread became littered with postings of this journalist’s address. Mention was also made of her husband's place of work. Yet, McRae did nothing to remove them or the users posting them. This all came to a head last week when the journalist stated she intended to take legal action, criminal action.

As mentioned above; yesterday — June 02/06/20 — McRae was served with a restraining order awarded under the Violence Against Women act. This means that further harassment could be deemed a felony offence. The protection order covers activities in all 50 states.

An hour after receiving these papers, McRae was on the closed FB group talking about the situation, and STILL referring to this journalist, just not by name.
Why am I telling you this; why does this matter?

Firstly and most obviously, this is a clear case of a woman being harassed to a shocking degree. I can only guess about how unsafe this woman and her family felt knowing that her address had become freely available on the internet, known to people who had made comments about her feeling of safety — an implicit if not explicit threat, in my opinion.
Secondly, this is a situation that deeply affects me as a journalist. We have all seen the treatment of journalists during the deepening crisis in the US. Media representatives have become victims of vicious rhetoric from the President of the United States, and populist politicians across the globe. Journalists have been attacked on the streets of London during pro-Brexit marches, on the streets of the US whilst covering a growing civil uprising.

Journalists, I wager, have never been under such pressure and the harassment and stymieing of journalists is a serious and credible threat to our personal liberty and our ability to access correct and accurate information.

Yes, this woman is an entertainment journalist and Vlogger, but that doesn't make her any less deserving of the protections offered to others in the profession. 

That’s not to say that journalist should be above criticism, that is far from the case. There are many legitimate systems in place to bring action against a journalist who has acted irresponsibly. Intense harassment, implicit threats, doxxing, discussion of their personal and private lives are not, and never will be, these avenues.

I seriously hope that this restraining order represents the end of this situation for this journalist and her family. But, I have deeper concerns.

In particular, I don't believe that this journalist should have had to go to a judge to determine that these actions had to be halted. I would like to know why YouTube did not step in and stop this harassment earlier? I want to know why Patreon continues to allow this man to collect money from his followers, money that has been used to harass a woman and her family?

At the end of last year, YouTube introduced measures specifically intended to deal with exactly this kind of harassment. Yet they did nothing to stop McRae using his channel with 14k subscribers to harass a journalist.

Around the same time, Patreon removed the account of the YouTuber Onision for the doxxing — revealing the personal information — of a fan. Yet, McRae has now been linked to the doxxing of several people. Yet, nothing has happened.

Is the fact that this man is now under a restraining order and faces criminal action if he violates it, which he arguably already has, enough for these two platforms to take some responsibility, accept their part in facilitating this harassment and remove his ability to do this again?

I genuinely hope so, not just for this journalist, but for McRae himself, who seems determined to let a slight against him ten or so months ago lead him on a vendetta that has been detrimental to his own life. 

Thursday 3 October 2019

Steve McRae and Rape apologetics

Twelve-minute introduction

The first thing that I think I should be clear about is 
that I don't believe merely platforming a rapist makes a person a rape apologist, nor does it constitute in itself rape apology.

That is not my argument.

Secondly, despite the fact that I believe that the things Steve Mcrae said in the fallout around his stream with Earl David Worden on July 6th can be interpreted as 'rape apologetics' I do not believe that this makes him a rape apologist for a few reasons.

In a 2013 article (1), author Sarah Beaulieu urges that we shouldn't be too hasty to call a person a rape apologist. She argues that the title gets under her skin because m
ost people don’t apologize on behalf of rapists and most people don’t think that rape is actually okay. 

S.E Smith writes in 2019 (2) that rape apology narratives are far more common in culture than rape apologists are themselves. These narratives are often created by people and organisations that most certainly do not intend to push rape apology as legitimate discourse.

I do not think that Steve McRae thinks rape is OK. In fact, I've heard several statements from him that show he definitely doesn't think that. That said, I do believe that the things that Steve said in the aftermath of the aforementioned stream fall into the category of rape apology. 

Rationalwiki says: "Rape apology is an umbrella term for any arguments suggesting that rape is infrequent, misreported, over-reported, not that big a deal, or excusable in some circumstances."

Debra Russell argues in a 2017 article that rape apologetics is anything that seeks to rationalise rape or to make light of it, she also includes efforts to suggest rape is misinterpreted--adding, another common trait of rape apologetics is the suggestion that the sex in question was actually consensual (4).

The Good Lad Institute in the UK (11) is an organisation that helps young men understand gender issues and narratives. Daniel the managing director gave me key points that are common in such narratives to help define rape apologetics. 

  • The idea that 'false accusations are rife'
  • Victim blaming--including accusations that the victim lied.
  • miscommunication and misunderstanding being the cause of rape
  •  The idea that the rapist is 'Not a bad person' or that they are just misguided

Several of  Steve McRae's comments suggest that the rape that Earl David Worden committed was misreported or 'not that big a deal' or worst, not rape at all. This is rape apologetics.

On 7th July on Twitter, McRae suggests that a lack of Romeo and Juliet laws have 'fucked many good people' (a). In another thread, McRae gives the ages of Worden and his victim as 21 & 17 respectively. Both comments support the idea that Worden's is a statutory rape case-- which it explicitly is not (b). They were both 24 at the time of the assault.

As this comes in direct response to people discussing Worden's conviction, it is not uncharitable to assume he is implying this all relates to Worden's case.

As 'Romeo and Juliet' laws apply to consensual sex--Steve raising them in regards to Worden's conviction suggests the act was consensual. This is a clear misrepresentation of Worden's crime. Also, as 17 is above the age of consent in Texas anyway, R&J laws could never have applied to this case even were those ages correct.

 In a September 6th conversation with Reds, Steve explicitly states that he believes that the victim consented to sex (x) in direct contradiction to her statement and bizarre in light of the fact that the victim did not point to Worden. He was made known to police after they appealed for information and six-week manhunt was conducted.

Steve says in a 26th August twitter conversation that 'Worden has always maintained his innocence' and later in the same conversation that he 'believes his (meaning Worden's) rendition of the story' (e). 

By stating that he believes Worden's story, Steve is also saying that he does not believe the testimony of the victim that convicted this violent rapist, as both accounts cannot be simultaneously true. Nor does he accept the evidence that convicted the man. 

One of the most common and insidious forms of rape apologetics is the implication or statement that a victim in a successful rape conviction is not telling the truth, either by deception or in error. This enforces the narrative that false allegations of rape are more widespread than they actually are.

To see how this is damaging, in a 2019 paper (5a) discussing the change in rape narratives over time author Tanya Serisier points out that despite high profile rape cases and the #MeToo movement encouraging victims of sexual assault to come forward, the full stigma has not lifted. Practices of doubting and judging a women's testimony have not ceased, she argues, adding that victims that do speak out are seen as "tainted".

This is why statements such as Steve's are harmful, regardless of intent.

Another element of that earlier definition was the downplaying and making light. At several points in the discussion of the crime Worden committed, Mcrae refers to the topic as 'drama' (c). This intrinsically makes light of the information being brought forward--implying that it is somehow petty and beneath discussion.

Alledging that this information is only the concern of trolls on a 'witch hunt'-- again on 6th July (c)--simply compounds this. 

In addition to this Mcrae attempts to stymie the entire discussion (g). By deleting links to Worden's history, thus actively protecting the reputation of a convicted rapist--defending him. 

In a 2018 paper entitled 'Denying rape culture: A response to Luke Gittos' (5) J Stiebert makes the case that a selective view of the evidence is a major issue in the perpetuation of rape culture--one of the main issues with rape apologetics. 

Steve does that every time he states that he 'knows the inside details' (g) or previously unreleased facts or has the records about the case whilst ignoring the court documents, the evidence that convicted Worden and witness' testimony yet again.

Returning to the August twitter conversation, Steve also says that the legal system 'makes mistakes' (f) and convicts innocent people--implying again that Worden is innocent.

With regards to the idea that false rape complaints are a problem, a 2009 study by Jo Lovitt and Liz Kelly (5b) looks at rape or sexual assault claims that are suspected or found to be false. They found that in the UK, Europe and the US false claims range between 4-6% of all cases-- falling in line with the rate of false claims for other crimes.

Yet, we seem to hear more statements about the credibility of rape victims than the victims of any other crime. 

Steve also implies that in his 1986 court case, Worden is perhaps being framed or mistreated as a result of his police auditing activities--long before police auditing was a thing (f). Worden couldn't have been a police auditor in 85 or 86. 

This again meets the criteria for rape apology by suggesting the system is somehow skewered against an accused rapist.

As a 2018 New Statesman article points out, bias against alleged rapists is unlikely to be a problem as such cases are notoriously difficult to see to completion. (6)

Downplaying Worden's crime once again, Steve points out that he didn't serve any jail time for the crime (d & e). This blatantly untrue.

Worden served 30 days and later 90 days in Harris County and received 10 years probation. He later violated the probation by carrying a firearm. This resulted in him serving five years in prison. According to US criminal law when a person breaks probation it is initial crime that they serve time for (7)

I also want to point out that during Worden's trial his representative asked the court to suppress information that Worden was a suspect in multiple sexual assault cases previous to his conviction--one such case collapsed purely as a result as a negative line-up identification (8).

A wealth of investigations in the past 35 years have exposed the severe flaws with the 'line-up' as a form of perpetrator identification (9). This case would have been unlikely to collapse before it reached court was it conducted today.

Worden also is currently awaiting trial for the alleged historical sexual assault of his children (10).

How does a man go through life racking up sexual assault accusations--especially from his own children? Is it all a conspiracy? Where is the evidence that exonerates him? Why did he never use it to appeal, instead of remaining on the sex offenders register for life?

In the September 6th hangout, Steve urges scepticism (y) but is he being sceptical about Worden's story? He is ignoring a preponderance of the evidence because he believes Worden is an "honourable person" (y).

If I've swayed your mind what does that say about Steve. Do we cancel him?

No, we should deal with the situation with humility. We should accept that Steve is not the first person to be convinced by a practised liar. Worden has had decades to rehearse his story and perfect his narrative and Steve is only human.

All my sources, including screencaps, are in the video description.

Talking points.

Why was Worden not a suitable guest to speak about first amendment auditing--Preventing abuses of power is the aim of first amendment auditing. Worden abused the power of the police when he posed as a police officer, cuffed and raped a woman.

False equivocation--comparing what Steve said to those fight to have rape convictions overturned. Motivation/ Intent/ Application
Another aspect used to defend Steve that has been adopted is comparing is the case to legal challenges towards rape convictions. Surely, if what Steve did was rape apology, the people who have had rape convictions overturned are guilty of the same.

This is a false equivalence. People that had rape convictions overturned went through legal channels to have cases reopened and re-examined. Worden has not done this. He accepted his conviction. Whilst maintaining his innocence he remains a convicted rapist. Also, these people considered the evidence in the cases, often taking into account new evidence that has come to light. 

Motivation--They don't just accept the story and use that as the basis of their argument--they take into account--new evidence, bad legal advice (such as the Brian Blake case when he was advised to plead guilty to minimise his sentence from 40 years in prison, if found guilty), reasons for a mistrial.

Intent--they intend to have convictions overturned and names cleared. They aren't just squabbling on the internet. Worden has made no attempt to clear his name.

Application--arguing on the internet is not equatable to forming a legal argument and instructing lawyers to build a case.

Reds' definition of 'rape apologetics'-- Reds' definition of rape apologist is as follows: "A person who defends acts of rape... Who claims that rape is not a serious crime or people who do not believe that consent is required." What is the source for this definition? 
Also, as Reds believes that rape apologist and rape apologies are synonymous, as demonstrated in this Sept 25th tweet, we can hold him to this definition (h).

If Reds were to agree with my definition, would he also agree that what Steve said qualifies as rape apologetics? If so, why doesn't he accept my definition? 

The Non-Sequitur show--Steve claims his reference to a 17 & 21-year-old was a separate case--why bring it up as a response to Worden's conviction?  Talk about a non-seq!

You'll have to ask Steve/Worden-- As Reds has been issuing challenges on the internet on Steve's behalf and claiming to represent his side of the story, it isn't unfair to ask him these questions. 

Also, would Reds say it is fair that if only Steve can answer questions about additional evidence and this isn't available to us, should we not disregard it? This leaves us with no recourse than to rely on the court's evidence. The evidence that convicted Worden.

Texas definition of rape--
not the same as the rest of the US. 'Rape' only applies to those of non-legal age. Anything else is sexual assault. What Worden did meets the definition of rape almost everywhere else. 

Making light of a situation-- More than just joking about something: "
to joke about something or treat it as not being very serious, especially when it is important." Longmans dictionary (12)






(5a) A New Age of Believing Women? Judging Rape Narratives Online





(b) No Steve, Romeo and Juliet laws still wouldn't save Worden

(c) Drama, Trolls and Witch hunts

(d) Protesting Innocence and no jail time for rape

(e) Steve believes Worden--thus must believe that the victim is lying.

(f) The system is corrupt and the time-travelling police auditor hunters strike! 

(g) Shutting down the discussion is defending Worden 

(h) Reds believes that rape apologist = rape apologies

Saturday 3 November 2018

Revisiting VHS at VideOdyssey

This Halloween I had the opportunity to visit VideOdyssey in Toxteth, Liverpool. Founded by Andy Johnson, the store has been dubbed "the UK's last video store". 

I was particularly curious about Andy's thoughts on VHS as a format and the decline of physical media.  Is there still a demand for VHS or does the shop simply exist as a nostalgic throwback?   One of the more interesting elements of my visit that persuaded me that VHS should be preserved was the number of films and television shows in the store that aren’t available in other formats.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Examining Bishop James Long's 'Honorary' Paranormal Degrees

Bishop James Long, a frequent guest on ghost hunting television shows, first came to my attention way back in 2015. What struck me about Long, a self-professed 'demonologist', was his seeming preoccupation with money. It seems that Long has a new way of acquiring his followers' money... 'Honorary' ParanormaDegrees that aren't worth the paper they're printed on (1). 

In an interview I reference in that article (2), Long refers to his experiences on Ghost Adventures as simply advertising that he couldn't afford to pay for. Even more shockingly, he complains about his annoyance when clients call on his services and cannot, or refuse to, pay for them.

Now it seems that Long has a new money-spinning scheme and it involves another complaint that I frequently have about the paranormal community, the obsession with meaningless titles and specialisations.

Long, who himself claims to be a 'demonologist' is selling what he describes as 'honorary' academic qualifications through an organisation he calls Paranormal Clergy Institute. As you may imagine, the qualifications that Long is offering seem far from credible and imply that he really doesn't have the faintest idea what he is doing.

What exactly is 'honorary' about Bishop Long's 'Honorary' Paranormal  Diplomas?

The first question that we have to ask ourselves about Long is "does he even know what an honorary degree or diploma is?"

An honorary degree is generally offered to a person of note by a school or educational organisation. It's normally given in recognition of some altruism of good deed or contributions to a specific field.

What is common amongst honorary degrees no matter from where they are offered is that they are not awarded on the basis of academic achievement. Also, honorary degrees, diplomas and doctorates are not generally exchanged for money, and on the rare instances they have been, the institutes involved generally end up having to ward off scandal.

That incredibly short description of honorary degrees gives us several points of contention upon which to question Long.

Firstly, and in my humble opinion, most importantly, Long is not awarding his 'honorary' diplomas for free.

The 'ultimate package' an honorary doctorate will set Long's followers back a cool $195.

As an aside, I love the idea of a prospective-doctor walking into their University on the day of term and asking for "the ultimate package".
Rather bizarrely, Long's other site claims that he offers these qualifications "for free" but following the link provided leads to the same price list. 

Long's site also documents the academic targets that students will have to meet in order to gain their qualification. 

All this runs contrary to numerous statements on the site in which Long claims that the qualifications are "not academic" but "honorary". Despite this, Long also claims on the site that prospective students take the courses to "improve their skill base".

But that clearly isn't the purpose of Honorary degrees, which exist to bestow a title and recognition on the recipient without them having to study.

Clearly Long can't keep his story straight here.

He wants to shill these courses but at the same time is painfully aware that oth he and his laughable organisation have absolutely zero credibility what-so-ever.  

What's the bigger issue here?

As always, the paranormal community's obsession with titles and the credibility they confer is deeply misplaced. Made up titles shouldn't confer credibility and won't as soon as the owner steps outside their very narrow circle.

In fact, employers strongly warn against mentioning degrees that have been purchased in ths manner on CVs and job applications (5). 

People like Long prey on the desire to take a short-cut to expertise. If one can't become an expert in a disipline that actually exists, why not just make one up... Or better yet, pay Long $200 and he'll do it for you, no refunds!

Way back in the annals of time when I still went under the name Skeptic's Boot, I was involved in a bitter dispute with one Jayne Harris a paranormal "expert" who was offering the UK's first "accredited" paranormal diploma (4).

Now I don't think that Harris was anywhere near as mean-spirited or cynical as Long... I also suspect she is a lot smarter. But the underlying problem with what both Harris and Long are offering is the same.

They are encouraging their followers to sell themselves short.

The most common third-party comment in the discussion thread between myself and Harris was that I was an elitist. "Not ever one can afford a degree" I was told.

The thing is that if people want to learn, there is help available. Sure going for a degree will incur debt. Way too much debt. But it will improve the quality of life of its recipient. It will improve their earning potential and, who knows, might even help with their paranormal investigating hobby.

And degrees aren't the be-all-end-all. There are plenty of other courses and opportunities available for adult learners. That $200 dollars could be much better spent and than shoved into the pockets of James Long.

The people that offer these paranormal courses are not educators. They are running a cynical operation designed to replace the money of believers with a false sense of expertise and credibility. It's a worrying cycle of expliotation.


Saturday 25 August 2018

'Help! My House is Haunted': Contradictions, deception and misdirection.

Time to dip my toe in the stagnant swamp that is paranormal television again. This time I'm taking a look at Really's new ghost hunting show 'Help! My House is Haunted'. The show is scheduled to run for twelve episodes from mid-July in a fairly prominent Friday night slot sandwiched between 'Ghost Chasers' and 'Most Haunted'. The show is hosted by Chris Fleming from the US, Barri Ghai from the UK and Sandy Lakdar from France.

Whilst the show came to my attention as a result of several articles published in the Star featuring host Barri Ghai (1), it captured my interest for two particular reasons. Firstly, in the show's cold opening, it claims that science has now advanced to such a point that it can be used to "sort fact from fiction" with regards to the existence of ghosts. Secondly, the show's title implies it's aim is to come to the aid of members of the public who believe their home is haunted.

This means that despite it is For entertainment purposes' screen cap at the start of each episode, it is making two claims that I think should be taken seriously. Firstly, the show is claiming scientific accuracy and more importantly, it is claiming that it can improve the lives of the people's houses investigated.

I already have a severe issue with the second claim and the show's ability to demonstrate this. One of Ghai's articles for the Star implied that "every home in the UK 'could be' haunted". If the show's producers are aware that the idea that a home could be haunted could cause distress, as the very title of the show implies, it seems irresponsible to lead many to believe their homes are haunted simply in a bid to drum up interest in the show.

Whilst a very British show, American readers may be interested too, as it credits a certain Zak Bagans as an executive producer. Whether he had any input in the show or this is simply a vanity credit, I'll let you be the judge.

Why Episode 3: De Grey St, Hull? 

I chose episode 3 (listed as episode 4 on IMBD for some reason), which features an investigation at a residential home in Hull to focus on in the review. This may seem like a random choice, it isn't the first episode, it isn't the latest episode, but of the four episodes available on Really's on-demand service, it is the only one to actually involve a residence.

The other episodes thus far concern public buildings, hotels, stately homes and public houses. Certainly, these places can be homes, but they don't really fit the show's mission statement as given on the station's website (2):
"Ghostly bumps in the night make for good cinema, but if it's happening in your own house and scaring the life out of mum, dad and the kids, then it's suddenly not so entertaining. Help! My House Is Haunted's team of new, fresh of paranormal investigators are taking the art of ghost-hunting into the 21st century."
As this is the claim, it seems odd that 4/5 of the investigations thus far have not been houses. As my primary concern is the way the team conduct themselves around the public, it isn't appropriate to get bogged down with their investigations of public venues.

Unfortunately, even this episode can't be totally cleared of the idea of ultimately being money-motivated. In fact, it could be more directly tied to paranormal tourism than any of the other shows combined. 39 De Gray street is a well-known destination for ghost hunting events companies, with groups charging up to £55 (~$70) per person for entry to the site.

Clearly, what this demonstrates initially is that the show isn't what it presents itself to be. I suspect the mission statement is an attempt to distinguish the show from other ghost hunting shows. The fact that they fail to maintain this dividing line is very telling. They aren't investigating private residences. They aren't helping people who believe their homes are haunted. The title is completely misleading. This show is about the 'paranormal pound' nothing else.

The proprietors involved in the show don't want help. They want publicity.

Perhaps a more fitting title for the show would have been 'Kerching! My business is Haunted (and on the telly)'.

In addition to this, the claim of taking "ghost-hunting into the 21st Century" has to be contrasted with the image of one of the hosts burning feathers to ward off evil spirits. That's all it really takes to dismiss any notion of this programme offering modern take on these subjects.

As with all paranormal investigative TV, science is simply window dressing. In the end, it's the old favourites that the crew rely on because that is the kind of method audiences react to. It's the kind of method that allows these shows to say something conclusive about ghosts.

In fact, immediately after this image is shown in the cold-opening, Ghai tells us about the team using the "latest high-tech equipment" in their investigations. I have to wonder if the production team are mocking their audience in doing this? I can't see how this isn't a deliberate attempt to show just how contradictory the show's mission is in comparison to its content.

Meet the team... 

The show introduces us to our three hosts and a clear lack of consistency is further hammered home. Chris Flemming is introduced as the team's physic. Sandy Lakdar as a "truth seeker" who cites "her body as her first detector". All of which sounds like a so-called 'sensitive' to me. Wasn't this the show that is going to investigate ghosts in such a way that is only possible now because of advances in science?

Whatever you think of psychics and sensitives, they've been around for centuries. Neither 'skill' classes as any kind of advancement. Only Barri Ghai presents himself as an expert in technology.

We'll see how this pans out during the episode. 

The idea of Lakdar as an investigator using the scientific method is a laughable one in consideration of the name of the team she heads up with her husband 'The Believers' (3), which tells you everything you need to know about the level of objectivity they bring to their work. They have even titled the documentary of their investigative methods 'The Art of Believing' (4). Which implies to me that they present beginning an investigation with a pre-existing belief as a benefit. 

It's hard to discuss Chris Flemming without referring to the many strings to his bow. On his website (5), he markets himself as a physic, a paranormal investigator, a media expert (disconcertingly vague that one) and even an inspirational speaker. What caught my attention was his storefront 'Ghost Outlet' (6) - from which he sells the usual array of electrical equipment at marked up prices. You could also pick up some personalised Chris Flemming merch... want a signed photo of Chris in a grey waistcoat for $20? 

Of course, you don't, why would you?

On to the episode itself...

Hull hath no fury...

After a strangely lacklustre intro sequence, we are introduced to the property on Grey street in Hull, which we are told has been the site of a spate of poltergeist activity. This includes events such as a carving knife being balanced on some plates. An event we are told cannot be explained in any other way than some form of paranormal intervention.

How about someone preparing a late-night snack and forgetting about the knife? 

The team arrives at the home and Chris Flemming enters to investigate, commenting "it looks like a slum". Fuck you mate. We can't all make $20 a pop for photos of us in shitty waistcoats. Chris also remarks that he has been told nothing about the property in advance.

This ranks as one of those claims you often get on paranormal television that are just so unverifiable that it's completely pointless to make. No one is going to be convinced by the claim, the only people who would accept it are the people who would have accepted Chris' psychic proclamations without protest anyway.

It's also a claim that he will disprove himself in short measure.

Those psychic skills of Chris' determine that the house is uninhabited. I'm assuming that he was also blindfolded outside the house as the boarded-up windows kind of give the game away in that regard. He also uses his amazing talents to count "panes of mirrors" in a particular room. Whilst investigating a room filled with dolls he remarks how "creepy" they are and that "they might be possessed". Or the owner could have just stuck a load of old tat up on the walls to creep out the ghost hunters who are fool enough to pay him to investigate his house.

In the meantime, Ghai and Lakdar head off to the local history centre to collect information about the story. Again there's a contradiction here. One-third of the team seems to understand that the benefit of prior information before entering the house colours the experience that will be had in the said house. The other 2/3s of the team are rushing off to find as much information as possible and thus ensure their experience is completely coloured by prior knowledge. 

Ghai and Lakdar aren't the only people who have headed to the Hull History Centre to research 39 De Gray Street, the home in question. Local historian, Mike Covell also conducted his own research on the property (7) (8).

Let's compare and contrast the two sources shall we?

The alternate histories of 39 DeGray Street

The show claims that the property has had multiple occupants, with very few staying for prolonged periods of time. Covell's research seemed to confirm this. But there are lots of reasons why people may not stay in a property for a prolonged period of time that has nothing to do with ghostly occurrences. The high-turnover in occupancy allowed Covell to reach out to several previous residents, none of whom reported ghostly or paranormal happenings.

The show's team quickly abandon actual research quite and go to the house's owner Andy for the property's history. That's the difference between Covell's research and their's. The show settles for word of mouth and rumour rather than actual information as Covell did.

Andy tells Lakdar a tale about seeing a ghostly young girl at the foot of his bed. At this point, with the help of a sharp edit, a quite extraordinary bait and switch occurs. After this story is relaid Lakdar tells us in voice-over that Andy informs her that the home was a former foster-home. We don't know where this information comes from, when the show's focus returns to the conversation between Andy and Lakdar, she is asking how he feels to be surrounded by a multitude of infant ghosts.

Covell thoroughly researched the claim that 39 DeGray street had, at one time, been a foster home or orphanage, as is commonly claimed. Checking the property history of Hull, local and national newspapers and even documentation regarding fundraisers and subscriptions, Covell found no evidence that 39 DeGray street had ever been an orphanage or foster home.

What's remarkable is our psychic Chris picks up on the spirits of distressed children. Almost as if his psychic powers are tuned in to the false narrative created around the house rather than its actual history... But remember, he didn't know anything about the property before going in...

Ghai meets a local author Mark Riley who claims that a number of children have been murdered in the property by 'evil spirits'. Again, Mike Covall scoured a multitude of local and national papers to find any mention of murders taking place at 39 De Gray Street. And again he found no such evidence.

As the show juxtaposes these information gathering sections with Chris' journey around the house we are repeatedly told that he can't possibly be aware of the information being recounted to both Ghei and Lakdar. This claim is undermined by two conceits. Firstly it requires the audience to believe that the trip to the library and both interviews were conducted simultaneously to Chris' tour of the house.

How long exactly was he in there? Because accounting for travelling time, the length of the actual interviews and the time it takes to set up and dismantle recording equipment, not to mention the collection of exterior shots... well... it's highly unlikely that all these things happened on the same afternoon or day even.

Secondly, all the information that is relaid is commonly available on the internet. The sites which advertise jaunts to 39 De Gray street boast of its macabre history. That's what inspired Covall to write his articles dismissing this word of mouth history that has built up around the house. Flemming could just be drawing on the same information that is commonly available that brought the production company to the location in the first place.

The whole time I'm watching the information gathering process the adage "methinks the lady dost protest too much" is echoing through my mind. The show is to at pains to claim the Flemming knows nothing about the 'history' surrounding this property. Unfortunately, Flemming is his own undoing in this respect. At one point, whilst in the room occupied by the dolls, he turns to the camera and reminds the audience that the owner of the house rents it out for ghost-tours.

I thought you didn't know anything about the house before going in? You just debunked yourself mate. Well done.

Let's move on to the investigation itself and the team's various scientific claims.

Lights out, it's Investigation time.

In this element of the show, we are really exposed to just how similar it is to every other ghost hunting programme currently broadcast on UK and US television.

We get a pseudo-scientific explanation of why the house may be a conduit for spirits. Hull is surrounded by water and water draws energy towards it. All meaningless nonsense, of course, but Ghai delivers it to the audience with the confidence of a sci-fi hero suggesting that the solution to a sticky problem is "reversing the polarity of the neutron flow".

When the investigation begins Lakdar is pains to point that the lights are switched out, as they always are before beginning an investigation. Yes, because why would the ability to actually see be useful in an investigation?

I can't see how operating in these lighting conditions would harm an investigation

Comments are frequently made during the investigation that hint at two of the hosts Ghei and Lakdar not acknowledging that owner Andy rents it out for ghost tours. Ghei remarks that the house makes him feel uneasy. It's designed to that. It's like suggesting that the owner of a ghost train should clean up a few of the faux cobwebs. Lakdar laughably states she can see why he can't get any occupants to live there.

Yes, because he is making a killing from rubes paying to ghost hunt in there! Why would he waste money fixing the place up for tenants when he is exploiting its ramshackle state for money nicely already?

We see little in regards to 'evidence' during the investigation. The vague impression of hands on a mirror lead the team to conclude that this mirror is a 'portal' of some sort. Flemming boldly states that as a result of this there is a chance that the team may not even survive the night!


Sandy insists that she is left alone in the house for some reason. During her solo-investigation, which consists of her sitting upstairs on the landing carpet, she claims to have heard footsteps. Ghai concludes she has encountered a male 'malevolent' spirit. I'm left wondering how tense and dramatic the scene would have been if the lights had been allowed to be left on. In a well-lit environment, I doubt that many viewers would have concluded that anything of significance had happened at all.

After her vigil, Sandy appears to break down in tears prompting Ghei to remove her from the residence. As she turns to the camera, there isn't so much as a smudge to her heavily applied eye-makeup.

There isn't much to say about Flemming's contribution. He holds his hand out and says multiple spirit children have hold of it. Again, remove the eerie soundtrack, turn on the lights and tell me this isn't just a crank in a room spouting bullshit. Would anyone be convinced be either Lakdar or Flemming without the production elements of the show?

One interesting thing that happens during the investigation is Sandy asks 'the spirits' to move a ball placed on a table in one of the upstairs rooms. The ball doesn't move, but a cable on one of the lighting rigs waves slightly. What is interesting about this is the door to the room is closed. The wire leads out through it.

In every other instance of the team investigating a room, they leave the doors open. Before the wire moves, Sandy turns away from it to look towards the wire. If she is expecting the ball to move why isn't she watching it? Why is she watching a completely different area of the room? Why is she facing away from the cameraman who is recording the events unfolding in the room?

She says that she turned towards the wire because its movement makes a noise, but she's already looking that way before the movement begins!

The team reinvestigate the room with their high-tech equipment derived from X-Box Kinect technology. Part of the anomaly is a 'dancing figure' on top of a wardrobe.

The stick figure image of the X Box Kinect is created by the system detecting and identifying vaguely 'human-like' shapes. The system is far from perfect, thus often confuses chairs and other objects as humans. Kenny Biddle gives a great explanation of how the system works and can become confused here (9). So what could be causing the system to be confused here?

Could it be this strange light-setup?

It could certainly look like a vague head and shoulders.

As if to confirm my theory, Ghai points the Kinect detector into the small wardrobe where it displays multiple 'entities'. In reality, it is simply confused by the multiple hangers in the enclosed space.


Let's wrap things up at this point. I'm aware that I've now written 3000 words about a very silly paranormal investigation show, that was cheaply made to capture a few ratings on a Friday evening. But 'Help! My House is Haunted' surprised me with just how contradictory and deceptive it is.

I don't expect paranormal television to be honest. I doubt many people do. But this show can't even be honest about its title. It isn't about helping everyday people. It isn't about homes or residences. It isn't a show that heavily focuses on science. It isn't a show that has only just become available through technological advances.

There's simply nothing different about this show than thousands of others, but whereas they acknowledge that they are what they are, 'Help! My House is Haunted' is hiding a quite mundane show under a title that someone clearly devised before the show even went into production.

It's a patchwork of the usual deceptive practices offered in ghost hunting TV and a host of bizarre contradictions. It is almost as if different elements of the cast and crew had a completely different idea of the show that they were making.

In the end, this makes it a deeply cynical offering that insults the intelligence of fans of paranormal television hoping they won't notice how poorly stitched together it is. 










Wednesday 15 August 2018

A word of advice to paranormal investigators.

Once again I find myself looking into the behaviours and claims of a paranormal investigator and find a web of false claims of scientific credibility. Delving further I find the actions of a person so egotistical that they believe they are able to offer a client mental health advice and see no issue in telling a person with such a condition they are being attacked by a demon. 

If you're a paranormal investigator who thinks that adding the word 'science' or 'scientist' to their own title or investigation group...


More importantly, if you believe you have the expertise to deal with a person with mental health issues...


Just stop. 

You may think it makes you sound cool and authoritative to claim to be a scientist, it may for a while. But it won't take long for some fucking arsehole, like me, to come along and start asking you awkward questions. It will happen. And if you block and ban me, someone else will come along. Finally, one of the big guys' will spot you. Someone with an audience. And your reputation will be shot.

Either that or your lies ill spiral out of control. You'll start off claiming to have vague 'science qualifications' and then you'll start to create a narrative. You'll get more specific and you'll create a lie that you can't handle anymore. Let's face it if you threw 'science' into your title, you're a fantasy-prone person. And people like this get carried away.

Either thing happens and you will lose all the credibility you ever stole, yes stole. Not just that, but what you did will hang around your neck like an albatross. People will discover you, then they'll quickly discover your past and drop you like an apple with a maggot in it.

Don't believe me?

Ask paranormal fuck-boy, David M Roundtree. In 2010 Roundtree was writing books about 'paranormal technology'. In 2014 he was a bit-part player in a TV show, Ghost Stalkers. Sure, it wasn't a runaway hit, but he was respected and did the rounds on talk-shows and podcasts. Could have even found himself on a new TV show. There's plenty of them around.

Now when you Google 'David Roundtree paranormal' the first hit you get is a blog post from No Blue Falcons exposing the lies he told about his military history (1), the second hit, a blog post from me exposing the lies he told about his scientific qualifications (2).

The trend continues down the first page of results. More Blue Falcons posts, more of my posts, a petition to stop him from appearing on paranormal programming in the future (3). There are only three 'pro-Roundtree' links on that first page, his Twitter account, his blog site and his Amazon book page (4, why not go and leave a review guys?).

He's a pariah of his own making. He started a lie and couldn't stop lying.

Of course, I could be wrong.

A chap on Facebook, PC Knickles, certainly thinks I am.

Meet PC Knickles. Not a scientist. Not a mental health professional.

PC, you will be unsurprised to learn, describes himself as a 'scientist' on social media. A paranormal scientist no less. He does this in a post in which he solicits followers for 'cases' for him to handle.

PC also operates a paranormal investigation group called 'Paranormal Science Investigations'. All of which strongly implies that PC has some form of scientific qualification. So I and several others including Alex Matsuto of the Association of Paranormal Studies asked.

Now, I'm sure that the drive of the post thus far has given you a good indication of the answer I received. But PC was remarkably evasive with his response. First, he directed me to his group page. When I put to him that there is no mention of his qualifications there, he directed me to his personal page. I found there is no mention of any qualifications there either. 


Remember, PC directly sent me here. I can only assume that he didn't believe I'd investigate further. When I put it to PC that none of his pages have any reference to science qualifications, he had quite an extraordinary response. PC told me that he believes he is fine to call himself a scientist as the 'Google definition' of scientists is "a person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences.". That is actually the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary (5).

I don't disagree with the definition particularly, the question is regarding where "expert knowledge" actually comes from. It also ignores what other people believe when you tell them that you are 'a scientist'. I don't believe that it is unreasonable for those people to expect you to have some academic qualifications.

PC has another justification for his claim, however, he believes that because he has been recognised for several 'key paranormal discoveries' he is entitled to make that claim. I'm not aware of PC's discoveries. In fact, I'd never heard of him today. I'd go further than that and say that I'm not aware of any 'paranormal discoveries' being made by anyone!

PC believes that this image entitles him to call himself a scientist? He claims it shows the 'pink energy' of a soul escaping a body at the point of death. I think it's someone's finger over part of a camera lens.

Capturing a finger over a camera lens does not make one a scientist. (PC Knickles) 

Whatever the case. That image in no way entitles PC to refer to himself as a scientist. He hasn't done the years of study that entitles one to claim the credibility that comes with that title. The fact that he thinks he does imply to me he is extremely egotistical.

It also implies to me that he is misleading his 'clients'.  Perhaps dangerously so.

And let's face it. If PC really thought that these things entitled him to claim that he is a scientist, he wouldn't have sent me on a wild goose chase looking for his qualifications. He'd have just fucking said it straight away. 
Worse still, I found some indication that PC isn't being exactly honest about the qualifications he does hold. His Facebook profile indicates that he studied 'Business Economics' and 'Law' at Havard. His Linkedin profile states that he studied 'Business' and 'music' and was only at Havard for a year.

Unfortunately, my concerns with PC and his dealings with clients don't end there. In the process of conducting this discussion with PC, I came across one of his 'clients' and found that he is engaged in extremely concerning practices.

The client, appeared on the thread to remonstrate with PC regarding the use of the footage he had shared. In addition to that, they claim that PC was not the lead investigator on the case as he indicated he was.

I'm not going to touch on the dispute with regards to who owns the footage PC used, what I will comment on is the disgusting way that PC talks to his client, plus the fact that he makes it very clear that he will only 'help' potential clients if they can pay his travelling expenses.

This may sound a bit unprofessional, but during the conversation, it becomes apparent that the client, in this case, has mental health issues and a severe disability. If PC was even remotely ethical he would have never taken his case. His client should be receiving professional help. Help PC isn't qualified to dispense.

Of course, that isn't going to stop PC from offering medical advice as seen below.

As well as suggesting that a qualified medical practitioner should listen to a paranormal investigator, he asks if his client is receiving 'Benadryl' for her mental health condition. Benadryl is an antihistamine. It is used for the treatment of allergies and hayfever.

The man does not have fucking clue. He doesn't have the qualifications he is strongly implying he does and he is taking cases that involve people with mental health issues. People he is not qualified to help.

There's definitely a pattern here.

PC. I hope you read this. I hope that other paranormal investigators read it. Claiming to have expertise that you know you do not have is bad enough. Getting involved with people who you know need care and attention from professionals is abhorrent.

You are going to hurt people if you go down this path. And ultimately, you're going to hurt yourselves.