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.








Ghost hunter claims every house in the UK 'could be' haunted: Lots of ghosts. Not much evidence.

As a long-time follower of paranormal investigators and their interactions with sceptics, there are some phrases and expressions that stick in my mind and can be wheeled out to describe a variety of stories and events. For example, when reading the claims of a ghost hunter printed in a British paper, I think back to Joe Nickell's description of Ed Warren on a classic episode of the Sally Jesse Raphael Show in the 1990's.
"Warren never entered a house that he didn't think was haunted"

ghost hunter and tabloid claim every house in the uk is haunted

Those words echoed through my head as I read a story published in the UK's Daily Star newspaper on the 10th August entitled 'It’s possible EVERY British household is haunted’ Terrifying warning by expert' (1). If you've any doubt what the motivation behind the report is then the strapline 'A GHOST hunter has claimed every British household could be haunted by evil spirits.' should give you some indication.

The ghost hunter (or 'GHOST hunter' according to the Star) in question, Barri Ghai, has been the focus of a vast amount of articles in the Star over the past week. Almost every day he has appeared discussing some very 'clickbaity' aspect of the paranormal.

This has included discussing Elvis' ghost on 6th August and the 'irrefutable proof' that a ghost touched former glamour model, Katie Price's arm on 4th August. All of this attention from the Star is linked to Ghai's upcoming ghost-hunting show set to air on UK digital channel Really, the same channel that airs ailing ghost investigation farce 'Most Haunted.' 

The article in itself is stunningly lightweight, Ghai offers no real insight, a theme that runs through all of his articles for the Star. His main point seems to be that Britain's homes should be particularly vulnerable to hauntings because of their 'history'. "It's not just the home," Ghai says "it's the land around us." A particularly nonsensical claim considering that all areas have a history, what Ghai seems to mean is a history that he is aware of. Does he think that land in other countries didn't have people and animals dying on them throughout history?

He has a strangely 'Anglo-centric' view of history if he hasn't considered this.

It's pretty obvious that the series of articles featuring Ghai is paid promotion to support to the show 'Help! My House is Haunted." making them cheap and cynical. Neither the production company behind the show, Really or the Star care if these articles are lightweight junk. Not even if it's lightweight junk that misleads or causes fear and anxiety.

I view the article in conjunction with the recent story that went viral by ghost hunter Gary Parsons, claiming that the heatwaves experienced in the UK are responsible for a rise in ghost sightings (2). Neither article has the slightest bit of evidence behind them and both seem to offer an excuse for the tabloid press to print further ghostly nonsense.

But there is a worrying trend here. In an attempt by these ghost hunters to make themselves relevant they are exposing potential sensitive and scared audience to the idea that ghosts exist, but they are everywhere.

There isn't a lick of evidence to support these claims, of course. We're being told that Ghai, Parsons and others cited in the articles are 'experts' but were are the telltale signs of expertise? Here's a striking example that the addition of an implied expertise done simply to lend credence to nonsense. It's an argument from authority.
"Technical paranormal expert, Robert Bryant, said: "With temperatures soaring its having an unexplained increase in paranormal activities."
Ok. So he's a 'technical expert'. Surely that means we can expect him to talk about some technology, maybe attempt to offer an explanation as to why high temperatures may be leading to an increase in ghost sightings from a physical standpoint?

Well no. After briefly mentioning the 'Huff WonderBox' (yes, this 'technical expert' couldn't identify a broken radio when he purchased it for hundreds of dollars), Bryant offers this gem:
"On a recent house investigation, my body was taken over by a dead priest and refused to leave until it was ordered to leave by my colleague Amanda Oriana."
Yeah. Dead priests can be stubborn, sounds like you got lucky if this one left your body after just being told to do so.

Not very technical though is it?

I'll be honest when I saw the headlines of this series of articles I was excited. I haven't talked about the supernatural or debunked any paranormal claims for some time. I wanted to, for the summer at least, dip my toes back in. Maybe do a few old 'Skeptic's Boot' style articles. But what I instead found was a commentary on a major reason I haven't been touching this stuff of late.

There's really nothing here to debunk.

I really feel like we've come full-circle with the claims of ghost hunters and the attitude the tabloid press has towards them. There's no need for 'evidence'to build the claims around anymore. Journalists are simply looking for a paranormal-themed story to write that centres around a possible 'news hook'.

People are reading articles about the heatwave the UK experienced in June and July, so journos go out and find an 'expert' willing to sell them bullshit centred around that. Readers are always interested in celebrity stories, let's centre a ghost story around that.

Nickell's comment about Ed warren that I featured at the head of this post has come to horrific fruition. There is now a huge swathe of ghost hunters who are unable to walk into a home that they don't think is haunted. In Ghai's case, he's quite happy to tell you that your house is haunted without ever stepping foot in the same street! And there are tabloid media more than willing to serve that up to their customers.

The problem that this presents to sceptics is this, there's that old adage "What can be claimed without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence" but this is a double-edged sword. Sure, on one hand, it means we can increasingly dismiss the claims of ghost hunters without a second thought. But it also means that we are deprived of the opportunity to change the minds of believers and fence-sitters.

That's concerning. Especially as many sceptics and debunkers of paranormal claims were once believers. They had their mind swayed, in many cases, by coming across the work of a previous generation of sceptics, by convincing well-laid out auguments.

How do we build an argument on nothing substantive? Other than pointing out how unsubstantive it is?




Monday, 23 July 2018

Buried in bullshit. Once again, pseudo science obscures and exploits real research.

File this one under,  take caution any time you read the phrase 'scientists confirm' on social media. You can significantly increase that caution every time the article making the claim is shared by a 'woo-favourable' page or group.

The article in question that we will be looking at today is 'Scientists Confirmed That People Are Capable Of Absorbing Energy From Others' published by website 'Wonderneed' (1). In examining the claims made in the article we'll delve into the usual misrepresentations of science pushed by pseudo-scientists, especially misuse of the term 'energy' and reference to 'quantum physics' without context or true understanding. We'll also find that there is genuine research at the heart of the story that has been blatantly misrepresented.

As usually happens with any debunking I perform, I'm going head off the inevitable criticism I always receive, why is it important to correct this article?

Firstly, it is misrepresenting someone's hard work, maybe even their lives work. It has the potential to damage their reputation, it could cost them work. Whilst you may not have heard of the website 'Wonderneed' (I certainly hadn't before reading this article) this piece has been shared over 19,000 times.

Before we get into the "science" discussed in the article, it's useful to look at some of the other issues with the post. Firstly, the title may sound familiar to you despite the fact that it has only just been published. Don't worry, you're not having a deja vu event.

A version of the article was originally published on the website 'Disclose TV' back in 2016 (2). 'Wondershare' even used the same low-quality image that Disclose TV used, just flipping it. They also slight changes to the title. The thing with these changes is that any editor worth their salt would look at that headline and suggest it was a bit cumbersome. The likely correction would revert it to its original version.

The article also appeared in a similar form on the website 'Soultype' in February of this year with the same images, under the title 'Science Shows That We Absorb Each Other’s Energies'. All the articles contain similar errors and the same fundamental manipulation, so when I state "this article" you can consider that to mean any of the three variations mentioned.

Worth mentioning too, I know that human beings can absorb heat from a nice hug, but let's restrict the discussion to energy that can be used by the metabolism. Hugs later.

Unpicking the research from the rubbish

Like most articles of this nature which claim to be based on actual research, when that research actually exists and is credible, what you find is that a significant bait &switch has been performed. There is actual research at the heart of this claim, but it in no way supports what the article claims.

The research, conducted by Professor Dr Olaf Kruse proved extremely difficult to find as none of the articles cites it directly and the link in the Disclose TV article leads, not to nature as it claims, but to Natural News. Not two sources I'd advise getting confused.

Eventually, I was able to find the original work (3), which confirmed that at least the article in focus had elements of that study more or less correct. But that doesn't mean they aren't going to take it to some wild, wacky and wholly unintended places before they're through with it. The lack of a correct citation and a link to the research or even mention of the publishing journal almost gives the impression that the writers of these articles don't want you to read it. Almost.

Essentially, the research suggests that the photosynthesising green-algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is able to secrete an enzyme which is able to break down the cellulose contained in cellular walls of surrounding plant-life in order to use it as a source of food. It does this only in the absence of the necessary conditions to photosynthesise.

This was the first time this kind of ability was observed in plant-life. It has previously been believed to be restricted to Fungi and some other organisms.

Armed with this legitimate science, the article sets sail to wooville.

Heading to pastures unintended

The article begins:

"A biological research team at Bielefeld University has made a groundbreaking discovery showing that plants can draw an alternative source of energy from other plants. This finding could also have a major impact on the future of bioenergy eventually providing the evidence to show that people draw energy from others in much the same way."

"In much the same way..." indeed. What? By soaking surrounding people with an enzyme that breaks down their outer-layers? I think that we wouldn't need this finding to provide evidence of those around us doing this. In would, in my humble opinion, be quite noticeable. And disgusting.

The article brings in Dr Olivia Bader-Lee to discuss the team's findings. It's good practice for a science article to bring in an expert in a field who wasn't involved in the study being reported, but Bader-Lee isn't an expert in this field. She is described in the article as a "psychologist and energy healer" neither of which qualifies her as an expert in biology.

"Flowers need water and light to grow and people are no different. Our physical bodies are like sponges, soaking up the environment. “This is exactly why there are certain people who feel uncomfortable in specific group settings where there is a mix of energy and emotions,” said psychologist and energy healer Dr. Olivia Bader-Lee."

There's a certain amount of permeability to our skin, which means we absorb some moisture and our skin absorbs sunlight to produce vitamin D, but even in its most charitable interpretation, that is not what Bader-Lee means by that statement. At no point is what Bader-Lee suggests comparable to what the cited research shows.

We don't secrete enzymes on our neighbours to digest them, our emotions (or skin for that matter) are not constructed from cellulose. We don't photosynthesise as we have a very effective digestive method.

What the article also does is conflates 'food' and 'energy'. Although food is used to create chemical energy, the two aren't totally synonymous. Nor can the chemical energy used for survival be compared to the vague idea of 'energy' floated by Bader-Lee.

“When energy studies become more advanced in the coming years, we will eventually see this translated to human beings as well,” stated Bader-Lee. “The human organism is very much like a plant, it draws needed energy to feed emotional states and this can essentially energize cells or cause increases in cortisol and catabolize cells depending on the emotional trigger.”

Plants don't have 'emotional states' and this isn't an 'energy study'. It's a study of a biological mechanism, unknown in plants until now.

"Bader-Lee suggests that the field of bioenergy is now ever evolving and that studies on the plant and animal world will soon translate and demonstrate what energy metaphysicians have known all along — that humans can heal each other simply through energy transfer just as plants do. “Human can absorb and heal through other humans, animals, and any part of nature. That’s why being around nature is often uplifting and energizing for so many people,” she concluded."

How does this study relate to any kind of mutual 'healing'? This is a case of plants eating each other. Hardly a healing experience for the organism being consumed!


Essentially, what the article contains is simply a massive bait and switch. We're fed a legitimate piece of research and then it's quickly replaced with some utter rubbish about energy. I feel sorry on behalf of the researchers involved as a Google search of their names now brings up a cacophony of noise that drowns out their hard work and dedication.

It's annoying too on the basis of the people who are tricked into believing that the utter bullshit of Bader-Lee has some scientific credibility. Bader-Lee is leaching on the hard work of others to fuel her own ideas. The algae have an excuse for leaching off others, what is hers?


(1) 'Scientists Confirmed That People Are Capable Of Absorbing Energy From Others' (19/07/18)

(2) 'Science confirms that people absorb energy from others' (17/10/16)

(3) 'Cellulose degradation and assimilation by the unicellular phototrophic eukaryote Chlamydomonas reinhardtii' (Bilfernez-Klassin, O, Klassin, V, Kruse, O, 2012, Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms2210, accessed 23/07/18)

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Let's do the time-warp... (AGAIN?). Examining the 'Vegas Interstate Time Anomaly'

The past few days have seen a number of news reports regarding a 'time-warp' allegedly discovered by paranormal investigator Joshua P Warren on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Are we really looking at the 'Vegas Interstate Time Anomaly' or could there be a more rational explanation? 

I'm a bit late to the party on this one so I know by the time I publish this a few skeptics will have commented on it and Joshua has already responded to his critics in his podcast. Maybe I can add something else to the discourse. Maybe not...

I'm going to split my examination of this story into three parts. First, the story as it was published. Then we'll look at the equipment that Warren used which is central to his claim. Finally, we'll examine Joshua's ideas about science and what I believe are the fundamental mistakes he made in handling the situation.

The story

Joshua's claims were first reported by Las Vegas Fox affiliate, Fox5 KVVU-TV(1). The text version of the story begins:
"LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -A paranormal researcher said he's the first person to ever discover a time warp, and that he found it on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Joshua Warren has been measuring the rate of time all over Southern Nevada, and he said, last week he found that time had slowed down. 
He said he measured multiple places between Las Vegas and Area 51, but the only place he got a reading was in the desert just north of the city between I-15 and Route 93."
“The weird thing, the real holy grail here, was what we picked up with this brand-new piece of technology,” Warren said."
"The technology he’s referring to was the DT Meter, which stands for differential time rate meter. It was recently invented by a Silicon Valley engineer, Ron Heath. It's connected to a 100-foot cable with a sensor on the end that sends back a signal."

Above is the piece of equipment that Joshua is referring to, the DT or Differential Time meter which retails for $219 on Bay, it proudly proclaims that it will help owners detect UFOs in their vicinity (the promotional material cheekily suggests that for optimal results customers should buy two and place them at right-angles). The meter sends a signal from one end of the system to the other and then back. It measures the time it takes for the signal to complete its journey and then compares the expected time it takes for the signal to complete its journey to the actual time. If there is a difference between the expected time and the received time the monitor displays it.
“That signal is always supposed to travel at the same rate of time at any particular place. The only way that could change is if a black hole approached earth or something like that, which is never supposed to happen,” Warren said. “At this spot, on June 18 of 2018, I actually measured for the first and only time, time itself slowing down for 20 microseconds.”
The claim that the equipment would only display a variation in signal speed as the result of a black hole approaching Earth is something that is taken directly from the website which sells the DT meter. But Joshua doesn't go into the factors which can also cause a discrepancy.
"Warren said that should not happen, according to the laws of physics."
This claim interests me particularly as it simply isn't true. In fact, Warren himself refers to events in spacetime that can affect time. The reason an approaching black hole would affect time is a result of a phenomenon known as time dilation. It's an established facet of general relativity that proximity to gravitational sources can cause time to 'run slow'. This means that time would slower at the bottom of a tall tower rather than the top. As the cable is only 100 meters long and it seems Joshua placed it horizontally this wouldn't be a factor in this case though.

What is most interesting here though is Joshua is, in my opinion, focusing on the wrong aspect of his experiment. The device he is using doesn't actually measure time, it measures how long it takes for an electromagnetic signal to travel from one end of the system to the other. It's really measuring speed of the signal and cross-referencing it against the distance travelled. That could be splitting hairs a little I know, but bear with me.

 In the case of this device, the signal is travelling through a cable. It's pretty safe to assume that the speed of the signal doesn't change too much, probably remaining about 2c/3, but that doesn't necessarily mean that if we see a variation between expected travel time and measured travel time of the signal, spacetime itself has changed.

A quick recollection of the speed/distance/time triangle you were probably taught in your first year of high school science probably gives you an indication of the answer to this conundrum. What if it wasn't the speed of the signal that altered, but the distance the signal had to travel?

I think the abnormal reading that Joshua received in the desert that day was a result of the thermal expansion of the cable that is carrying the signal. The signal is confined to the cable. If the cable expands the signal obviously has to travel further. A warping of spacetime really isn't needed. The hot Nevada desert will do just fine.

The heat wouldn't just expand in one direction but in three, meaning that any change would be cubed. That's how even a small change in temperature could lead to a large error in the reading.

Experimental error and Noise

You'll notice from the display that the device doesn't sit at a reading of 0.000000000. There is, as should be expected, a little bit of 'noise' an expected amount of interference that causes the clock not to be perfectly synchronised. Noise is defined as anything that alters the sensitivity of a piece of measuring equipment. 

The creator of the DT meter, Ron Heath, states that the average noise should be +/- 4 or 5 milliseconds (2). Displayed on the meter screen as 0.000005 s/s. Joshua recorded an abnormal reading of 20 milliseconds, way above the noise under normal conditions. That would appear on the meter as 0.00002 s/s.

The catch comes when we consider what the sources of the noise are considered to be by the DT meter's creator. He states on the device's promotional website and in its instruction manual (3)

"A 1:1 time rate where the two rates of time are the same will read 0.00000XXX where the XXX is noise and temperature drift that defines the limits of the meter sensitivity."

Interesting he'd mention temperature as a cause of noise. When we consider that Joshua is using the device in the desert, where it's presumably extremely hot, shouldn't we expect the thermal contribution to the noise to be much greater?
Heath seems to aware of this potential fault in the system. His website advises that the system is used away from direct sunlight and extreme heat. He also advises that the cable element should be buried. As was pointed out to me by Nick Stone, it would also seem from this recommendation that, aside from the effect of temperature and direct sunlight, the system isn't designed to be carried around harsh terrain.

It probably hasn't escaped your attention that this entire claim can be debunked by reading the instruction manual of the device that was used to collect the data. 
Another thing that we have to consider is that the difference in time that is displayed is an average of the differences measured over a period of five seconds. This is significant because if the system fails to send a signal or fails to register a received signal then this would presumably cause an extremely large difference in the average travel times. The anomaly Joshua recorded could simply be a result of a system failure. Perhaps a momentary drop in power, or exposure to an unusually strong magnetic field. 

How science works

Of course, these kinds of faults are present with all forms of scientific equipment, so how do scientists account for this kind of anomaly?

The answer is they take lots of measurements. Then they see if other people can get the same measurements. Then they try to control for other factors which could have caused the measurements. These are things that Joshua has failed to do. He's registered one anomalous result and based his belief in a time-warp on the basis of this. As we've mentioned on this blog several times, this is what investigator Kenny Biddle calls 'Anomaly hunting'. I'm not sure that the term has ever fit better than in this case. In fact, Joshua even tells us he was in the desert to "hunt for anomalies" it would seem he found one and immediately called the local news! 

Sharon Hill of Doubtful News left the above comment on the Fox5 news report that alludes to this point. It was one of many comments on the story that highlights the idea to Joshua that his results shouldn't be singular and should be reproducible by others. Joshua could've responded to this criticism by releasing his results and showing his methodology. He didn't.

He responded by producing a 17-minute podcast (4) telling others how to 'handle criticism'. On the show, he suggests his critics don't understand science and refers to the anomalous measurements that led to the discovery of the gulf stream. The problem is, those measurements were reproduced. If reproduction had failed the idea would have never been developed.

Warren needs to realise that if he wants his findings to be considered 'science' he has to follow the strictures of that discipline and that means you show your findings and you submit to peer review. If you're found to have made a mistake, you accept it and move on. Most importantly, you don't present your work based on one result.

In his podcast, Joshua also makes reference to a fellow investigator who he seems to hold in some esteem. He talks about his person being 'driven from the field' by negativity and haters. I think I know who he is talking about. This is a man who was forced to leave the field because he couldn't handle peer-review. When the mistakes he had made were exposed he doubled down on them and retreated to an echo-chamber. He attacked his critics and extremely personal and unfair ways.

Joshua. Don't be the same. Accept your mistakes or work to prove they weren't mistakes. That's the only way you'll grow. And it's the only way you'll ever be considered to be 'doing science'.

I reached out to Joshua P Warren for more complete data rom his investigations. When I receive it I will post an update.