Monday, 29 January 2018

Giving up the Ghost: Why I've debunked my last tabloid ghost article

Let's address the elephant in the room. The last post I wrote on the blog I came to certain conclusions regarding an alleged ghost image which was published in the Daily Record and then spread on to the Mail and other tabloid outlets. My conclusion was wrong. The image couldn't be accounted for in the way I suggested. The reason for my failure was two-fold. Firstly there was a pure quirk of coincidence that I thought was too convenient to call a coincidence. That I can't help. Secondly, I didn't research my explanation carefully enough. I found a reasonable explanation and then went looking for evidence to support that explanation, ignoring data that didn't support it. You know, that thing I accuse ghost hunters and creationists of doing all the time. I got caught NOT practising what I preach, and whilst I appreciate that everyone makes mistakes. This whole episode is pointing to something I've suspected for a long time.

I'm done debunking ghost "evidence" presented by the tabloids.  

I was lucky enough in this case, that someone who still has a modicum of respect for me was the one who caught me out and worked overtime to privately show me that I was wrong. If it weren't Kenny Biddle that caught me out, it could have been another skeptic, perhaps one I've burnt bridges with (there are plenty of those believe me, even if I have no idea what I did to piss these people off) or someone with a new blog or vlog who doesn't care about stepping on toes and exposing his peers. Someone not as decent as Kenny, someone... well, like me. I've got to add at this point, I've no hard feelings towards Kenny. I actually appreciate that he took the time to privatively explain my mistake to me before going public with his own explanation, which I will link in the article in question as soon as Kenny publishes it.

I've always made the point that there is only one thing worse than no skepticism, and that is bad skepticism. Bad skepticism gives an 'in' for pseudoscientists and woo-merchants, they use mistakes made by skeptics as a weapon against other skeptics. There are lots of other skeptics out there doing great work in this area (see sources for some of the best), I don't want to be impeding their work by offering, lazy, rushed and inaccurate 'debunkings'.

When you produce a post or an article you attach your credibility to it. The same is true essentially everytime you communicate anything to anyone. The internet holds that information forever, and if you've made a grave error that is immortalised too. You continue to do this because it's an endless cycle of risk/reward. You can justify your mistakes by saying "I got this one wrong, my credibility got hurt, but the next one I may nail and I'll be back". Essentially, you're only as good as your last debunking. The problem is I feel the risk-reward ratio is completely unbalanced when commenting on ghost stories/evidence published by the tabloids. The reason for this is, the tabloids aren't ever going to change their approach to publishing ghost articles that people click-on. As such, they don't have any credibility at stake. As long as they keep earning revenue the papers will publish them. At this stage, it doesn't even matter what the content of the story is, the UK tabloids will publish it regardless.

An example of this, on the 20th January 2018, the Mirror published a story entitled "Moment 'poltergeist' spooks ghost hunters by letting them know it is in the room"(2). What spooky evidence was provided? A video showing a K2 meter placed on an uneven carpet falling over (below: image taken from the 'chilling' video). This is the kind of story I'd have once devoted 800 words and an evening to.

The tabloids just don't care what they publish anymore. Not one shit. All they care about is whether people visit the site. Heck, they don't even care if the majority visit just to tell them how fucking stupid the story is, I'm devoting my time to debunking this stuff, often linking to the original post and thus sending extra traffic their way. I used to think that what I do is part of the solution, now I see it's just part of the problem.

As for the risk. As result of writing for this blog and the negative and positive feedback I've received other the years, I've found myself in the position where I can actually be a science communicator. I never thought this would ever develop into an endeavour that I could possibly use to help support my family. A piece I wrote on dowsing helped pay for my daughter's school shoes. That might not seem like a lot, and financially it isn't, but it's a lot symbolically. For the first time, something I wrote made my little girl's life incrementally better.

The only thing about this is, the one piece of advice I've received from every science writer/blogger/journalist whose writing I've read on the subject is that in order to be an effective science communicator your audeince has to trust you implicitly. Mistakes like this 'monk-y buisness' from last week may well whittle that trust. Google will hold that error against my name for the foreseeable future. I can't afford to make too many mistakes, that means I can't afford to write articles debunking things that crucially don't matter, won't make a difference and potentially helps the organisations that spread the misinformation in the first place.

I've been thinking this way for some time. Since way before I dropped the Skeptic's Boot moniker. The rough guide to debunking ghosts videos was an attempt to put a lid on this sort of post. I kept doing the low-hanging fruit, the tabloid ghost junk because it's the stuff I write that connects with the most people. I like my audience and I want to keep them, but I'm not sure this kind of post is my ballpark anymore. I may lose my audience by saying "I'm done with tabloid debunkings" but I'll lose them anyway if what I write is sloppy and wrong.

I spoke to a fairly well-known skeptic last year about a particular element of the paranormal that he'd become heavily associated with. He had got to the stage were he approached the subject with utter disdain, he hated writing about it and had lost all reason to talk about it beyond "It's what people want". I found this a pretty sad situation and resolved never to get stuck in that rut.

Of course, the Null Hypothesis blog will continue, and I'll continue to write about pseudoscience and the poor application of the scientific method, meaning the odd ghost hunter will pop up from time to time. I may well even review the odd Ghost Hunting show or book.

But as for debunking tabloid dross...

Always leave 'em wanting more, not wishing you'd go away. 

Great skeptical resources that focus on tabloid and viral ghost stories, follow these and you won't be missing anything, they were always better than me anyway.

The Spooktator podcast/ Hayley Stevens

Hayley Stevens, Ash Pryce, Paul Gannon, Charlie Revelle-Smith and others look at a month's worth of ghost tales from various sources and discuss them. The great thing about this podcast is you can to hear a variety of viewpoints and the team has a great rapport. 

Follow them on



and like them on Facebook.

Read Hayley's blog here.

Doubtful News/15 Credibility Street

Sharon Hill's Doubtful News covers plenty of dodgy tabloid junk from both sides of the Atlantic. As well as ghosts and UFOs, the site is particularly good for those with an interest in cryptozoology. 



Facebook page

Mick West

Mick mostly focuses on debunking conspiracy theories but also dips his toes in other elements of pseudoscience. He operates the website Metabunk which is a brilliant go-to source for debunkings.



Kenny Biddle.

Kenny assesses the latest viral and tabliod ghost stories and 'evidence' with a strong emphasis on the scientific method. This work features attempts to replicate phenomena to assess if they can be achieved through natural means.




A new one, but a good one. As well as producing his own articles and posts, Kev Kerr has brought together an assorted collection of other people's work in his Debunking lounge. In a field that is filled with people dedicated to promoting their own work, it's refreshing to see someone promote other people as they realise that information trumps ego.


Debunking Lounge.




Thursday, 25 January 2018

A Hole In His Story.The Unexplainable 'Ghostly Monk' of Eynsford Castle Explained.

Ok, it’s never easy to do this, but I have to admit that I’m wrong about the recent Castle ghost. After a lengthy talk with Kenny Biddle, he finally managed to explain where I’d gone wrong.

So apologies to everyone who has shared and liked the post that follows. All I can say about my mistake is that the nature of science is that you correct your position when you’re faced with new evidence.

Also, got to mention that Bear fella and a commenter called Chris on the blog, who also pointed out my error.

As for what the image actually is, I suspect Kenny will pick up the cudgel on that, so I’ll leave the reveal to him.

Apologies again.

- Rob.

The Daily Record reports today on a spooky apparition appearing on an image taken at Eynsford Castle, Kent. The image, taken by Jon Wickes alleges to show the spectral figure of a hooded monk(1). The Record tells us that Jon enlisted the help of paranormal investigator Alan Tigwell, who assured him there is 'no explanation' for the image. The story is almost certain to hit the Star and the Mirror in the next 24-48 hours. Let's take a look at it and see if we can find an explanation first.

Here's Jon's Image.

 And a closer look.

The investigator, Tigwell tells the Record he visited the castle twice to search the area for potential answers before declaring it 'unexplainable'.
"I went to the site twice last Thursday – in the morning when it first opened and later on. The purpose of my visit was to ascertain whether there was anything within those walls to explain the picture. I've been investigating the paranormal for over 20 years. The difficulty with looking at things retrospectively is that it's impossible to say exactly what something is.All I can say is that there wasn't anything in the castle itself that could explain that picture."
Hmmm... "within those walls..." these words may come back to haunt Tigwell.

I can't get to Kent at short notice, so I decided to use the wonders of Google to attempt to solve this mystery. I used street view to get as close the castle grounds as possible. The first few images gave me a pretty clear idea of what our 'phantom' actually is. 

The various walls of the Norman castle are punctuated with doorways and openings. Some of which may appear dark in poor lighting conditions due to the fact that they have walls immediately behind them. After forming this idea it was a case of finding the area in question and checking it for such openings. Luckily the area photographed was quite distinctive having the bridge, steps, wall and river in the same shot and there is a wealth of shots of the Castle on the internet.

Sure enough, I managed to find the exact area. The only remaining issue was that as the image was taken in an open field, there was a multitude of angles that other photographers could take pictures of the wall in question from. After a tiny bit of searching, I found an image that fit the bill, taken in July 2017.

A side by side comparison shows it is the same area taken from a slightly different angle. And if we zoom in somewhat, we can distinctly see the top of the opening which the Record is claiming is a ghostly monk.

The last thing to do is check this is actually a feature on the wall. To do this we can use the fact that the image was taken at a slightly different angle but at roughly the same distance from the wall to bust this ghost. All we have to do is choose a reference point on the wall we think the opening is based on. We then measure how much this reference point (1) shifts from our test image (A) to the image featured in the Record (B). If the 'ghost' is simply a feature of the wall we should expect it to also shift by a comparable amount. You may want to click on this image to enlarge it.

Indeed we find our reference point (1) moved by roughly -40mm and our 'ghost' shifted by roughly -37mm. I put that 3mm drift down to the relativity low level of accuracy we've used to measure the shift and the slight difference in distance between the point where A and B were taken.

I think this one is well and truly debunked. On to the Mirror and Star to republish it regardless, like the peerless journals they are. As for Tigwell, I don't want to be rude, but perhaps focus more on the earning second half of the title "Paranormal Investigator" and a little less on justifying the first.



Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Art of Misdirection: Supporting your ideology the easy way.

The last few days have been fairly interesting in regards to some of the feedback I've received to my Jordan Peterson article 'The Politicization of Science: Jordan Peterson's lesson from lobsters' (1). Mainly because a particular strategy of argumentation has arisen in response to the points I made in the post which I think it's valuable to highlight. Not every exchange I had with regards to the post ran this way, and many of the people who had negative things to say stuck to the science and we were able to have a positive dialogue even if we didn't come to an agreement at the end of it. Then there were other people who were much less interested in the science I presented. In fact, they seemed adamant to avoid discussing the science at all. 

Firstly before critiquing anybody else, let me offer some self-criticism. The Peterson post was the third addition in the loose series of posts I call the politicization of science. It's the second one which has dealt with a right-wing example of the skewing of science to support an ideological point. The first being 'The Politicization Of Science: How the study "Male Microchimerism in the Human Female Brain" became the news story "Women Absorb And Retain DNA From Every Man They Have Sex With"'(2). I also offered a criticism of a left-wing organisation skewing or misrepresenting science in 'The Politicization Of Science: A Response To "US trade deal after Brexit could see milk and baby formula with cancer-causing toxins flood UK market"'.  In addition to those posts,  I began a third edition previous to the Jordan Peterson article that would have focused on the Young Turks horrendously mangling a science story. It was never completed simply because I just did have the time to really do it justice. That would have also been critical of a left-wing source.

The difference between those previous posts and the Peterson one is that in the latter I let my impartiality slip somewhat at the start of the post. I commented on one of Peterson's other arguments that isn't really relevant to the issue I wanted to deal with and in doing so, I let my partisanship show, albeit briefly. That isn't the point of the politicization of science posts, the point of which is to show that it doesn't matter what side of the political aisle we approach science from, properly applied science and skeptism is not partisan. I hold my hands up, it's a lesson for the future. I do believe that after briefly assessing some of Peterson's other arguments when I move onto his specific claims I focus on these alone, and without a political bias.That brings me to the criticism I've received which has tended to fall into some very narrow topics.

The Nit Pick squared.

Some commenters, including a fairly well known 'science' podcaster, have pointed out that I have no grounds to criticise Peterson's use of the word 'divulge' instead of 'diverge'. Mostly because at one point in the article I spell 'serotonin' as 'seratonin'. 

There are a few points to make about this. Firstly I don't think that a grammatical error is the same as getting a piece of terminology wrong. I don't think it's a fundamental mistake. Science relies heavily on precise terminology. If you're presenting a scientific idea it creates a terrible impression if your terminology is wrong. Secondly, I hardly "rail" on Jordan for this. I mention it once then move on to his claims. Let's look at how "hard" I mocked Jordan:
"Jordan says humans "divulged from lobsters". We should assume that Jordan means "diverge" rather than "divulge" an embarrassing slip and one that gives the distinct impression Petersen doesn't have a clue what he is talking about. Putting this lack of knowledge of terminology aside, the claim Peterson is making is simply not true"


In a 1065 word article, I devote a WHOPPING 53 words discussing his slip. That's just 5% of the article. I'd hardly say the crux of my argument against Jordan's claims rests on this element as Dan seems to imply. I'll return to Dan in second.

Anyway, Jordan explains here why I should pick him up on his words.

Thanks Jordan!

You really need to read /watch /listen to his books /website /podcasts before commenting

Another claim was that I shouldn't take Jordan's claims on the show at face value, perhaps he gets the things he gets wrong here, right in his other materials. 

Maybe Jordan does get this stuff right in his books, but I find it unlikely. Why? Because he gets things so fundamentally wrong. Two of the elements he discusses, the role of serotonin and the effect of antidepressants, are completely opposite to what he claims. In a similar vein, he's hardly going to correct on these errors given time to continue and elaborate. As an analogy, trains that derail don't tend to hop back onto the tracks if they're allowed to run for a while.

As for running to his books to correct these errors, do skeptics and science lovers do this when Ray Comfort makes a glaring error? When Comfort called the banana "the atheist's nightmare" how many of us immediately logged onto our Kindles just to give him the benefit of the doubt?

None of us. We were too busy making 'banana man' memes. 

Why should we give Peterson any more charity than Comfort?

 Because he's a Professor?

An argument from authority. 

A commenter on a thread created by Youtuber Noel Plum, commented on the likelihood of a professor making a mistake regarding terminology or evolution. 

I don't know if he misspoke or he is fundamentally wrong about evolution, but I can't rule out the possibility of the latter as Jordan may well be a professor, but he is NOT a professor of biology. Peterson is a psychology professor which in no way makes him an expert in evolutionary biology or anatomy or neurology. I've no reason to suspect he's anymore knowledgeable about biology than anyone else. This is simply an argument from authority. But wait, I'm not a biology professor either, or a neurologist. How can we be sure I'm correct?

That's why I cite my sources so you can check I'm right and correct me if I'm not.

'Cause Feminism!

And here's the crux of the matter, and the theme that ran through almost all the criticism my post received. People see Jordan as a warrior against 'third wave feminism' and they really don't care about the fact that he is completely wrong in the science he is using to support his ideology. To many of the people who defended Jordan, it didn't matter he got almost everything he said wrong. All that mattered was the intent. Now, this is not something exclusive to this discussion by any means, but the reason this is so troubling here is these discussions are occurring in science groups. These arguments are made by people who describe themselves as "science enthusiasts" and skeptics. And they want to talk about anything but science.

Need convincing of this?

Let's not get to the point.

Clearly, if you've read my post you know the main drive of it is the science presented by Peterson. It's ironic then, that most of the people I interacted with on this subject wanted absolutely nothing to do with the science described by Jordan. I attempted several times to steer the conversation to science. These are the kind of responses I received. Remember Dan? Here's his response when I requested a discussion on the science in question on the science page he moderates.

That hurts my feels! Why do some of these folks not want to talk about the science involved here with me? This lovely chap (below), Miles, thinks it's because I'm not a very nice person. Put mildly. Oh and I've given him an extremely complex 17-word answer to one of his questions!

Now, anybody would think that Miles and Dan are desperate here not to actually address the points I've raised both are focusing on trivial matters. It doesn't really matter if Peterson was reading off notes, and it's not that important his slip of words.

But that's all his supporters seem to want to talk about. Here's a list of the things I requested that Peterson supporters completely ignored.
  • Any evidence that humans diverged from lobsters 350 mya.
  • Any evidence that serotonin has a similar affect in arthropods as in humans.
  • That hierarchy existed in proto-roundworms, the lobster/human earliest common ancestor.
  • That similarity in animal hierarchy in such diverse classifications as mammal and arthropod are anything more than convergent evolution.
  • That antidepressants effect lobsters in similar ways to humans.
  • That lobster hierarchy, which is totally based upon fighting, is in anyway comparable to human society.

This is pure misdirection. These "fans of science" don't want to be forced to admit there's no science behind this anti-feminist ideology. That they support it not because it's well-founded, but because they like it. Yet they want these ideas to be founded in science because they've seen science devastate religious and supernatural arguments for years. Science was an ally to them and they want to keep it that way. This means they have to point to irrelevant things such as whether Peterson has notes, or whether he intentionally said "divulge" instead of "diverge" when these things don't really matter. What matters is whether Peterson is wrong in the science he presents or not. The only way to avoid admitting that he is, is to avoid talking about it.

They want science to work for them again. And when it won't they stuff their fingers in their ears and cover their eyes.

Peterson is frequently accused of being "the stupid man's smart person" and I sadly suspect this is all too true.




Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Politicization of science: Jordan Peterson's lesson from lobsters

By now I'm sure many of you are aware of Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Peterson has become a darling of the Youtube alt-right crowd as a result of his refusal to refer to individuals by their prefered gender pronouns, especially new gender-neutral pronouns such as 'Ze' (1). Peterson recently made headlines across the globe when a rather spiky interview with channel four news host Cathy Newman, resulted in her being inundated with threatening and misogynistic messages, which is what happens when you dare to disagree with an alt-right idol in a public space, especially if you have the sheer audacity of being female as you're doing this. What caught my attention during this exchange was Peterson's attempt to suggest that human hierarchies are a result of evolution. In particular, Peterson points to the lobster as an example, and in doing so demonstrates the kind of knowledge of evolution we'd normally associate with a creationist. 

I've avoided Peterson's arguments against new pronouns thus far, mainly because of how silly it all seems. Language changes frequently and the addition of new words to help define and categories new ideas are not restricted to expressions of gender. Peterson insists he is not 'transphobic' as he is frequently accused of being, but this defence somewhat falls apart when we investigate his argument and find he has no issue with other new terms being introduced to the lexicon. Peterson is fine with words such as 'dongle', 'emojii' and 'meme' all introduced to the Merriam Webster dictionary and other dictionaries in the last ten years (2). He only objects to the addition of words directly related to gender. Jordan argues that these new words somehow impinge on his right to free speech, which implies he alone has the right to decide how people should be identified. Like most alt-righters who argue for 'free-speech', it's only Jordan's own right to speak he's concerned with.

But in the aforementioned interview, Peterson attempted to suggest that human hierarchies aren't socially created, but are effects of human evolution. His evidence for this is the fact that lobsters also have hierarchies. Let's watch the section of the interview in which he makes this claim. If you want to watch the whole interview the link is in the sources (3). Pay special attention to the fact Jordan is clearly reading from pre-prepared notes (4).

Let's look at the easiest points to debunk first. Human lineage diverged from arthropods long before lobsters evolved, so lobster hierarchy clearly developed independant t o any human socitital structures.

Jordan says humans "divulged from lobsters". We should assume that Jordan means "diverge" rather than "divulge" an embarrassing slip and one that gives the distinct impression Petersen doesn't have a clue what he is talking about. Putting this lack of knowledge of terminology aside, the claim Peterson is making is simply not true. Humans did not diverge from lobsters. Jordan throws in the term "common ancestor" and that element is correct lobsters and humans do share a common ancestor. Peterson tells us that this divergence occurred 350 million years ago, but he is way out here. The ancestors of lobsters did indeed appear roughly 360 million years ago (5), but lobsters are invertebrates, specifically,  arthropods much like arachnids and insects, whilst humans are vertebrates. These are completely separate groups on the phylogenic tree, and diverged at least 500 million years ago (5). As the main difference between two groups of animals is a completely different skeletal structure, it seems sensible to suggest that they diverged before the development of any type of skeletal structure at all. Probably something similar to a roundworm with a centralised nervous system. So human societal structures and lobster hierarchies are completely unrelated as even conservative estimations show the vertebrate branch of the phylogenic tree diverged hundreds of millions of years before the emergence of the proto-lobster.

So what about the other similarities that Peterson highlights? Do they exist at all?

Seratonin is indeed found in the brains of both humans and lobsters. In fact, it is found in the systems of most animals and it is generally linked to aggression. As all species share a common ancestor this shouldn't be surprising to us. Clearly, serotonin was a part of our's and lobster's common ancestor. But what Peterson doesn't mention, perhaps because he is unaware, serotonin has a completely different effect in arthropods and vertebrates. In vertebrates lowered levels of serotonin lead to increased aggression. Studies using crustaceans, such as crayfish, have shown that increased serotonin can reverse societal positions (6) as these roles are determined by aggressive confrontation. The lobsters with higher serotonin levels engaged in more aggressive confrontations and were less likely to withdraw, thus they improved their societal standing. With invertebrates, the opposite is true (7). In fact, there are conditions in which the failure of a particular gland to produce serotonin in humans causes unprovoked violent outbursts (8).

As for Peterson's other statement that "antidepressants work on lobsters" again in the same study as the one linked above Prozac was introduced to lobsters, and a significant effect was found. As in humans, in lobsters, Prozac blocks serotonin uptake into nerve terminals (8). Predictably, as the abundance of serotonin in arthropods has opposite effects to its abundance in the systems of vertebrates, Prozac also has converse effects. So antidepressants do work on lobsters, albeit in a completely different way!

rough day at the office?

Human hierarchical structures are nothing like those of lobsters. Comparing the two is actually quite laughable. Lobsters are clearly extremely basic animals with a simple brain, much more influenced by body chemistry. Hierarchy is determined by body size and aggression. Clearly, we don't determine our leaders based on the results of UFC matches. Sometimes I get the impression that men like Peterson believe that this is the case, or at least wish it were, that the more aggressive candidate should assume a leadership role. It's a male power fantasy where they will be valued for their masculinity, aggression and physical strength. This is why it is young men in particular that find this nonsense appealing. They desire a world in which advantages are conveyed to them based on their nature and morphology alone. Clearly, our society has moved beyond this, the existence of art, music, science and literature all make Jordan's comparisons to lobsters utterly facile.

There's an epilogue to this story fair readers. Click here to read it.










Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Caspers: Celebrating the worst of the paranormal in 2017!

It's time for awards season to gradually roll around again, and as others prepare to celebrate the best and brightest in their respective fields let us turn our attention to the slightly less prestigious.

It's time to hand out the Caspers for the worst in paranormal chicanery and hijinks. What can we say about 2017 other than what a fantastic year for the paranormal, especially for the rich and famous.  
No year before has ever seen quite so many skeletons rupture from long since sealed and forgotten closets to claim their vengeance. Hollywood stars and politicians have been scared stiff all year! 

And talking of Hollywood, let's make the world of showbiz the first stop in our tour of paranormal dross. Our first Casper goes to the worst paranormal TV show of 2017!

Worst Paranormal TV show of 2017!

Without a doubt, this is the most hotly contested category of the year. Nick Groff certainly made his presence known in the category, both Paranormal Lockdown and Ghosts of Shepherdstown were strong contenders. Ghosts of Shepherdstown particularly elicited ire from the paranormal community after accusations of fakery were levelled against it. The irony of this should not escape anybody.

Have a lie-down Nick: You're a double runner-up

Also, this year featured a return to prominence of the long-in-the-tooth Most Haunted with a clearly overlaid video propelling Karl and Yvette back from obscurity to the tabloids (and back again). Special amusement comes from this one simply due to the fact that the quote that accompanied MH's return to fame from host Yvette Fielding "'In the 17 years we've been doing Most Haunted we've always wanted to capture a ghost on camera," strongly implies that all the other times they have claimed to capture ghosts on film were well.... bullshit.

Runners-up. Most haunted. There's always next year guys.... and the year after.... and after.... and after.....
Another special mention should go to 'Lowe and Son's Amateur Hour' or as it was eventually named 'The Lowe Files'. Despite garnering lots of attention it's hard to be too critical of this one as it was clear that Lowe and lads clearly didn't have a clue what they were doing and a lot of folks found this quite endearing.

Runners-up: Lowe and Sons Amateur Hour. Don't pout guys, you're runners up!

So with so much hot competition on the television why not hand the award to a show so ham-fisted, amateurish and crappy that it didn't even make it to TV.

Winner of 2017's Worst Paranormal TV show: Haunted Tours with Stephen Erikantano!

Don't do it, Stephen! You won!

Who better to collect this anti-prize than the makers of the Haunted Tours show, who promised their show
 "is unlike any other you’ve seen..." and lived up to the claim by ensuring none of us saw it! The makers, the Jalbert Brothers, also proudly claimed that the show would debut on "Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime" in Late October 2017.

Winners of the 2017 Worst Paranormal TV show Haunted Tours. 

A bold claim indeed. Especially considering the show didn't appear on any of the above-mentioned services! I messaged the production team behind Haunted Tours to inquire when we should expect it to make its triumphant debut. Brian Jalbert, one of the show's producers, replied in a totally non-aggressive, non-confrontational way.

Since then, the team have worked hard on turning a negative into a positive, claiming that the lack of a network TV deal actually makes Haunted Tours a superior product.

Yeah. Right. It's a sad state of affairs when a group of committed and deeply irresponsible group of morally bankrupt individuals can't get a break in paranormal TV!

Better luck in 2018 guys and congratulations on this well-deserved award.

Worst Paranormal Team or Group 2017

Winners: Paranormal Den

Winners: Paranormal Den. A terrible bloodsucking creature with some sort of vampire thing.

Unlike the first category, there isn't any real competition here and the reasons for highlighting this group is no laughing matter. I wrote about Paranormal Den back in October of 2017 as a result of their decision to hold an ITC session contacting the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Clearly, the members of Paranormal Den were following the example of Steve Huff who regularly 'contacts' the spirits of dead celebrities shortly after their deaths. But I suspect even Huff, not a man who displays much respect in the pursuit of attention, would have shied away from this one. After I wrote the post criticising Paranormal Den appeared in the comments section to inform me that the group is not in the field "for the money". Well, I'm pretty sure I can demonstrate they are.

On November 5th Paranormal Den, claimed they had added an antique urn to their collection of haunted objects.

On the same day, it appeared on Ebay sold by 'Hexintentions' at a requested price of $300.

 After this, Paranormal Den began posting ITC sessions with the urn. Unsurprisingly, they were allegedly getting 'amazing results' from the object.

After this Paranormal Den reposted the Urn to Ebay, this time selling at a very reasonable $100. Remarkable, since they purchased it a few days previous for $300 apparently.

They even tell us the object is 'antiquity' worth $300-£600.

The only problem is, they uploaded the urn under the seller name 'hexintentions' again! Meaning they expect us to believe that they bought it from themselves!
Forgive my cynicism, but it appears to me that Paranormal Den attempted to sell this urn, then when they couldn't they produced some EVP sessions with it to drive interest and capitalise on the burgeoning 'haunted object' trade, and reposted it at a markdown price. Well, a markdown price if you believe it's an antique. I spoke to several people who suggested that it isn't even worth $40. The fact that there is relatively well preserved felt on the base implies it is not particularly old.

This isn't the first example of the team using this selling technique. They attempted to sell a 'Haunted doll' named Lucy for $200, at the beginning of November after using it as the central object in a series of EVP recordings.

For this reason, Paranormal Den has 'urned' their second Casper. Get it....'Urned'?

The 2017 Steve Huff award for Internet's Top Enterprising Shills (SHITES). 

Winners: Paranormal Den. 

As you can see guys, that trophy has an antiquity value of one million dollars and a spirit attachment. No selling it on Ebay!

As for 'the Huff', it would be wrong to involve him without handing him some form of award too. Therefore to Steve Huff I present...

The 2017 David Roundtree "You should've stayed gone" award for the most unwelcome return to the paranormal field. 

Winner: Steve Huff. 

Uh... Hi Steve. Go away again please.
The year of 2017 is one that will live in infamy in the minds of Huff fans, as it has been one of tragedy and triumph. In August, Huff announced that he was leaving the paranormal forever. Many cynics speculated on the reason for this; had trading standards finally become aware of Steve's activities as a broken radio salesman... I mean inventor of the "HuffBox (TM)". Was it to do with his other "interests" on the internet (rhymes with 'grape horn bites')?

No! None of the above! Silence cynics. Huff was attacked by demons!

Fortunately, sanity prevailed. Huff realised that it was rather difficult to sell his broken radios... I mean 'WonderBox XXLs' (TM. All rights reserved)... in self-imposed exile. So he bravely returned.... with a new Tee-Shirt for sale (15% Cotton)!

Thanks Steve. You're a true hero. 

Ain't no demon gonna keep Huff from selling shit!
And now for our next award. This goes to the organisation that produced the weakest, the most low-hanging fruit of the year. Got a blur in your picture? This is the company that is going to buy that shit call it a ghost and turn it into sweet, sweet profit.

The 2017 Low-Hanging Fruit award for the most witless, easily debunked Paranormal Dross. 

Winner: The Star.

 All the British tabloids have turned bullshit into an artform, and more importantly revenue. At a time when journalists across the Atlantic are under constant attack by what has become the establishment, the Star, the Mail, the Sun and the Mirror took the title 'fake-news' and wore it as a badge of honour. 

But none more so than the Star.

I can't think of another newspaper that would take an alleged 'ghost story' with associated video footage and purposely attach different, unrelated and very fake footage in order to 'sex up' the article. That's exactly what the Star did on February 28th. In the article "Chilling video of family home so HAUNTED it was evacuated by police" author Peter Truman attached video footage filmed by Facebook user Ashy Murphy in Ireland 2015 and claimed it had been filmed in Chile in 2017. The fact that the soundtrack had been scrubbed and replaced with stock 'spooky' music, implies this wasn't an error but intentional.  It's one thing printing rubbish because you're too lazy and overworked to do a modicum of research, but to intentionally create that rubbish gives the distinct impression that you've never cared if what you print is true or not. It implies you just care whether it will get hits or not.

This leads to an interesting dilemma for sceptics looking to debunk these stories when they are presented in the tabloid press. Is debunking these articles just part of the problem? Sure, we can use 'non-follow' programs, but ultimately we're still raising awareness of them.

Which brings me to the final award.

The 2017 Shameful Attention Seeker award for the most desperate attempt to get in and stay in the public eye.

The winner is... Nope. 

I know you're watching, you know you're watching. No more 'leg ups' from me.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Happy New Year everyone!

Let's do it all again in January 2019.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Unmasking the Indonesian 'female vampire-ghost'.

The first rule of click-bait. Try to appeal to as many people as possible to maximise the the number of hits and therefore revenue heading your way. When it comes to paranormal click-bait this means throwing in a few mixed terms to maximise your appearances in search engines. A common example of this would be 'ghost/demon' or even the less logical 'ghost/alien' or 'alien/demon' combinations. What's another good combination; how about ghost/vampire/possession? That will really capture the imagination of paranormal enthusiasts. Thus the British tabloids were likely jumping for joy when the following 'chilling' image, allegedly showing a 'vampire-ghost' possessing the body of a female bar-patron, dropped into their laps yesterday.

The image was taken by Indonesian police during a vice-raid on a karaoke bar in East Java on Friday. It quickly went viral as images alleging to show supernatural beings are want to do. It was also quickly checked out by 'paranormal expert' Ahmad Hasyim at the request of Indonesian media outlet Detik (1). Hasyim, an expert after-all, told Detik that he believed the image was a Jinn taking the form of a 'female vampire ghost' known as a Kuntilanak (also known as a Pontianak) in Indonesian folklore (2) obscuring the face of the young lady. The image was circulated by the Asian wire news service where it was picked up by British tabloids the Star (3) and the Mirror (4).

Paranormal expert, Ahmad Hasyim. Not an expert on ladies fashion apparently. 

Whilst both tabloids make it clear in their articles that Indonesian police have denied that this was any kind of supernatural being, and also urged people to stop showing the image out of concern that it may cause public panic, what they don't mention is that the police have also categorically debunked the image by releasing other images that were also taken that night.

The images clearly reveal that it wasn't a 'spirit' concealing the suspect's face, but a rather fetching floral scarf. The glowing eyes were likely a result of the flash used to take the image. Hard to figure whether the journos at the Mirror and the Star conveniently ignored this information or simply didn't do the slightest bit of research. Again, just another example of lazy, click-bait journalism.

Not much has changed in the time I've been away.

Speaking of which, if you're wondering what I've been up to whilst things have been quite over here you can catch up with my articles for Scisco media on my author's page here. Writing for Scisco has thus far been a fantastic opportunity to introduce skeptical ideas to a news website. Never in my wildest imagination did I ever believe that an up and coming news website would publish my articles on things like the physics of ghosts and dowsing. Just by popping over and regularly reading my articles and sharing them on social media you lend me a huge amount of support.

As for the year ahead on the Null Hypothesis blog, I'm currently working on outlining an  EVP  protocol which highlights how I think some current EVP practitioners are going off the rails, I'm also developing a frame-work to help readers assess science news they encounter and how to identify good science sources. This is all in addition to continuing to debunk paranormal and pseudo-science stories such as the one above.

I hope you all have a happy 2018 and enjoy what is to come.