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The Worst Ghosts of 2011

It’s that time of the year again where we cast an eye back over 2011 and depress ourselves by re-reading web and newspaper coverage of potential-but-not-quite ghost stories. We did the same last year. It’s been tricky, but we’ve managed to cut the worst stories out there down to just five and they are outlined below. Enjoy!

The Worst Ghosts of 2011

The G.S.I Team

#5 – The Braunstone ghost

The Braunstone ghost haunted a family home, causing the family to live in fear as it allegedly started fires and punched family members. This spook and it’s antics made the newspapers, and even saw the investigators involved, G.S.I Paranormal, interviewed live on national television, so you’re probably thinking that is must have been a quality story, but you’re wrong. This ‘ghost’ and the ‘evidence’ that came with it was mediocre nonsense that we’ve seen numerous times before.

This case needed proper investigation – not only because of the nature of the reported phenomena, but also because of the potentially vulnerable people involved. What this case got instead were ghost hunters who are carbon copies of paranormal investigators from television shows. With an array of gadgets that don’t actually do anything useful and a lead investigator who claims ghosts talk directly to him, their investigation provided nothing we haven’t seen before, and nothing substantial.

The evidence they provided on ‘This Morning’ – a national television show aired in the UK, consisted of videos of orbs that the investigators refused to believe could be dust or insects. There was also an alleged ‘spirit vortex’ caught on camera by the this team too which, in all honestly, appears to be a piece of wire (like a mobile phone charger wire, perhaps) hanging in front of the camera. Nothing impressive or groundbreaking.

Orb video one

Orb Video two

The Spirit Vortex/Portal video

Then there was the most amazing evidence ever. Footage of a ghost changing the temperature on command… or, a ghost hunter unaware of how a laser thermometer works. As you will see in the video below, Don Philip believes that a spirit is changing the temperature as he asks it to, when in all reality, it is his misuse of the thermometer that causes such an effect.

Watch from the 03:00 mark

The saddest thing about this ghost isn’t the eye-witness reports from the family in residence, or the rubbish ‘evidence’ provided by the ghost hunters, but in fact the closed-minded and outdated way in which they investigated the case. They let down the people who live in the house greatly, and that’s why their temperature changing spook made it into our ‘worst ghosts of 2011’ list.

More from Don Philip further & GSI down the list…

#4 – The Coventry poltergeist

A Coventry council house played host to a ghost that allegedly pushed two pet dogs down the stairs – one of which sadly died through its injuries. This ghost story first broke on The Sun website where it was explained that the single mother and two children witnessed an array of odd occurrences ranging from chairs flying across rooms to doors being wedged shut from the other side, trapping the family.

Although unlikely to be paranormal in nature, the things witnessed by the family were interesting and worthy of research. Yet, their story was let down with the accompaniment of a rather dodgy video documenting questionable poltergeist activity.

See our recreation (enacted by Hayley with the help of Sharon) below:

The initial experiences may have been genuine, but the poltergeist video certainly isn’t.

It’s okay though, because The Sun got Derek Acorah in to sort things out… 

#3 – The Thorpe Park Monk

The investigation took place in November 2010, but the ghost alleged to haunt Thorpe Park didn’t make headlines until February 2011. According to South West London Paranormal Group who were called in by ‘Thorpe Park bosses’, oddities witnessed by workmen building a new ride at the theme park were caused by the spirit of a headless monk, buried in the ground that the ride was being built upon. The team report of the investigation shows a clearly biased approach to their investigations, with several members claiming to be sensetive to ghosts/spirits. Not only that but their conclusions were questionable, with team founder Jim Arnold saying:

‘We carry out these kinds of investigations quite regularly, with medium to weak results being reported on a weekly basis. ‘Thorpe Park, however, was more striking as results were picked up immediately, with orbs, ghostly images in photography and ouija reaction results being strongest around the site where they were proposing to build Storm Surge.

‘The results were so strong, we felt the only explanation could be that an ancient burial ground or settlement was being disturbed, prompting the extra paranormal activity.’

Not only was the methodology used psuedo-scientific and dodgy, but so was the evidence provided. Our favourite is below.

It’s more likely that the evidence collected by SWLPG was the product of suggestion and confirmation bias, and Thorpe Park saw the chance to grab headlines off of the back of this. Readers may remember that they did something similar around the time they opened the Saw Rollercoaster. Spooky,

A still from the Walton Horse video

#2 – The Walton ghost horse

I first discovered the Walton ghost horse one day when visiting Professor Chris French’s Facebook profile to leave a message. There was a video posted on there by Don Philip, the lead investigator for G.S.I Paranormal UK.

Of the video and recording, Don says:

 its enclosed 4 walls no windows, in the middle of nowhere with no passing traffic, people or neibours[sic],that store room was a stable in the 1800s and its approx 2.45 am in the morning. The video camera caught it, the video camera then shows the digital recorder playing the evp and finally the evp from the recorder played at the end, now that would take some debunking or a hell of an alternative explanation considering the sound is obviously in the room with us and so clear and loud.

It is clear from the video that the people present believe it to be a horse, referred to as ‘Bubbles’ by one of the women present. Apparently this is because they found a grave marker close by for a horse called ‘Bubbles’. That’s a claim that requires evidence, but all we have is this odd noise that Don and his friends are claiming IS evidence. The problem here is that there are so many possible alternative causes for such strange noises (often referred to as ‘Electronic Voice Phenomena’) that before anyone can say ‘this is supernatural’ they have to be able to cross off every possible natural cause.

The G.S.I team cannot do this, and as they’re the ones who are making the claims about this recording, the burden of proof sits squarely with them. Also, Strangely, when I asked them to elaborate what they were claiming the noise was in our conversation on Facebook they all seemed to be very evasive and vague about it. Despite the fact that they identify it as a horse in the actual video (as you have hopefully just seen or heard above).

Professor French had posted in response to the video on his Facebook wall that he was busy but would be interested to hear my opinion on the video, so I had a good listen numerous times and came to the following conclusion:

To me it sounds like nothing more than something being dragged along a rough surface, such as a floor or worktop – the sound being interpreted as a horse braying or snorting is the sound of friction between the object and the surface.

I believe the link you are making with the sound being a horse is because you’ve accidentally primed yourself with the reputed haunting of the building – you call the horse by it’s name suggesting there is rumour the place is haunted, or associated with a dead horse called Bubbles. If you were to take away that association and listen to the sound I do not believe it would be linked to a horse by anyone present.

Electronic Voice Phenomena isn’t a sturdy method of paranormal investigation due to the lack of data involved, and the influencing factors at play beyond the control of the person conducting the EVP session.

I also played the recording to a friend of mine who keeps horses without telling her what the noise was thought to be. She didn’t recognise the noise, and when I suggested it was a horse she didn’t agree. The same happened when Chris French played it to his daughter who also rides horses. Take away the priming information – that it is a horse, or that a horse is buried there – and people don’t make the link.

In fact, this is something that happened time and time again. I downloaded the noise, you see, and played it at several ‘skeptics in the pub’ events that I spoke at. I played it at Edinburgh, Bristol and Westminster and nobody was able to identify the noise as a horse. That’s hundreds of people who listened to the recording who, without being prompted that it might be a horse, were unable to identify it as such.

Verdit: Not a horse ghost. Neigh.

Paul Drake, the man who hunted the ghost dog

1 – the ghost of ‘Nigger’

A team of paranormal investigators, Paranormal Lincs,  claimed in November that they had made contact with the “spirit” of the dog owned by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the heroic pilot who led the Dambusters raids during the Second World War.

Wing Commander Gibson led the Dambusters raid in 1943 from his base at RAF Scampton, near Lincoln, just hours after his black labrador, called ‘Nigger’*, was run over and killed.

The first sighting of the ghost dog was reported in 1952, so what, you might ask, prompted a paranormal group to undertake such an investigation?

It was the photo below.

It was taken in the 80’s and shows shows a Labrador among a school group at a memorial to the Dambusters, close to where Gibson’s dog was buried. The photographer is said to have claimed the dog appeared from nowhere just as the photo was being taken, refusing to be shooed away and, as soon as the photo was taken, the dog disappeared, never to be seen again.

Of course, there is no proof that this happened – we only have the word of one person to go on, but that’s never stopped ghost hunters before. Not to mention the fact that those from the ‘Paranormal Lincs’ team didn’t even speak to the photographer directly. This is just a recycled story with no verification.

The paranormal team conducted their investigation and are convinced they not only detected the ghost dog, but also that they spoke to Guy Gibson himself.

The Daily Mail reported: 


After staking out the base at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, now the home of the Red Arrows, ghost hunters are convinced it is haunted by a ghostly Labrador. The lead investigator, Paul Drake, said:

‘There is definitely paranormal activity there. One of our investigators felt a cold spot and when we measured it, it was eighteen inches, which is about the height of a dog. The curator of the museum has told us that he has felt for years that he has had a presence following him and he definitely feels that it is that of a dog.’

One investigator who stayed overnight at the base last month even claimed she heard a dog growling when she entered Gibson’s former office.

‘I definitely heard the growl of a dog’, said Michelle Clements, 45. ‘Three of us heard it and we all agreed it was a dog. It was a really low growl. It wasn’t a happy yap at all. It sounded sounded like he was warning us to stay away.’

After scouring the base with infra-red lights, proximity sensors and video cameras, the team say they picked up activity which suggests the pilot was trying to speak to them.

‘I do believe we spoke with Guy Gibson,’ Miss Clements, a school dinner lady from Leicester, said. ‘We asked him if he was with his girlfriend Margaret and he said yes. We also played some old music from the 40s and there was a response to that as well.’


It isn’t specified what activity they picked up, but a quick look at this BBC article shows that the team used K2 meters to talk to the ‘spirits’ which is quite ignorant.

A quick look on the teams website forum sheds light on the sort of evidence we are dealing with.

‘…we got loads of orbs and one that looks like a face and an arm. The Atmosphere felt strange as if their was people in there watching us.’

‘…the K2 meters were going crazy. I played some vera lynn to get things started. it looked like he was singing along to the song which was sweet of him :).. he also just wanted us women in their we found out as he didnt like the men.’

‘…about 9pm we got all the equipment set up in both guy Gibson office and the hanger ( museum ). we had alot of orbs in the hanger.’

‘…we went into the next room to his, his agented ( personal secretary). ha ha i dont think he was impressed by us because the k2’s were going mad as we werent standing to attention.’

‘It was wierd that i took pics showing an orb above the reporters head as well as other strange things considering we were not doing a full investigation.’

Convincing….

To summarise once again, this investigation took place because of a ghost story associated with a photo that is decades old. The investigators used ghost hunting gadgets that don’t do as claimed, and accepted things such as orbs and cold spots as evidence that a ghost was present. They presumed these ‘ghosts’ they were communicating with, or detecting with their gadgets were that of Guy Gibson and his dog simply because of the ghost story they were chasing.

Worst. Ghost. Ever.

There you have it. The worst ghosts of 2011. If you think we missed a story why not post it in the comments below? You can also follow us Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

*we used the name of the dog in context and mean no offense.

Glass Divination Challenge

Glass divination is a technique used by many paranormal research teams at supposedly haunted locations. The aim is to communicate with the spirits of the deceased, who push the glass around a surface (usually a table top) in response to questions. People sit in a circle and focus their ‘energy’ on the glass to help the spirit move it.

Think ‘ouija board without the board’ and you have glass divination.

Successful glass divination is a product of two things; either somebody around the table is intentionally moving the glass, or the people around the table are unconsciously moving the glass. The first is called cheating, the second the ideomotor response.

Scientific tests by American psychologist William James, French chemist Michel Chevreul, English scientist Michael Faraday (Zusne and Jones 1989: 111), and American psychologist Ray Hyman have demonstrated that many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious “energies,” are actually due to ideomotor action.

Furthermore, these tests demonstrate that “honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations” (Hyman 1999).

They also show suggestions that guide behavior can be given by subtle cues (Hyman 1977).

The above mentioned ‘suggestions that guide behaviour’ include folklore tales attached to a building, or the stories told to the investigator about what has happened or been witnessed at the location, by the owner of the location owner/staff/residents. If you are aware of the fact that a woman who was murdered is said to haunt a corridor in the building looking for her unmarked grave, it’s likely that that knowledge will influence the way in which the glass moves.

There is a simple yet effective way to test whether the glass is being moved by the people resting one finger upon it. You need to be able to visually see the movement, and I have found that the best way to do this is by covering the glass with putty. Any intentional or unintentional movement of the glass by those touching it will show in the soft putty.

Here’s a demonstration:

Why not try using putty as a control, and letting us know the results?

The Paracorder

Originally written for the Righteous Indignation Podcast

This is going to be a tricky interview to follow for readers as it was conducted in two parts. I was originally meant to conduct this interview via Skype but due to power outages at the other end of the line and technical difficulties on my part delaying things, this wasn’t possible. Due to clashing schedules we instead decided to pass the Q&A back and forth via email. Due to the amount of questions I had, I split them into two.

The first set were sent across, the answers received, and then the second set off in response to the answers received in the first set.  Unfortunately the second set of questions remains unanswered.  Firstly I should explain what the interview was about and why I asked Al for an interview.

I was linked to the website of the Paracorder667 by a fellow BARsoc member a while ago when they pointed out that the claims were quite interesting and grand.  The gadget is just one of many sold by the US company Moditronic that they claim can help you to detect ghosts. In fact, one of the first things you read when you visit the Paracorder667 website is:

ENERGIZES AND DETECTS GHOSTS ! EASY TO USE ! PACKED WITH TECHNOLOGY !”

 Energises ghosts? How do they know how to do that? What with? How does it work? I needed to know. The rest of the site from which the $89/£56 gadget is sold is also filled with some rather impressive and bold claims, none more so than those on the ‘scientific evidence’ page. Read the rest of this entry

Researching psychic claims

‘Psychic’ or ‘medium’ is a term used to describe someone who claims to have a special ability or to use a ‘sixth sense’ to receive information which cannot easily be gleaned through normal human senses. A person may claim to do this with the assistance of spirit (as in mediumship) or they may claim to have special powers of perception either gifted to them or that they have honed.

Those who do not wish to describe themselves as psychic sometimes use other, less grandiose terms such as ‘sensitive’ to describe an increased ability to receive information using means alternative to our known senses.

It is reasonable when presented with such claims to seek to prove whether the claimant can do that which they profess to be able to do. A scientific approach to psychic claims may include formal or informal research aimed at proving such claims.

Once clear about the claim being made the researcher needs to design a research methodology which they think can capture the claimed skill and convert it into data. The data can then be analysed to determine whether the claimant can, in fact, achieve a hit rate above chance when set the task of performing their claimed psychic ability.

Researchers usually work with the claimant to agree the parameters of the study and will agree, before the study takes place, the threshold for concluding that the claim is upheld. This means agreeing how the research will be conducted and how the results will be analysed as well as where the line can be drawn to determine that the claimant has succeeded in proving their claim. In sceptical circles the burden of proof is said to fall upon the claimant since they are claiming to be able to do something extraordinary.

In general, the evidence presented for psychic phenomena has not been sufficiently verified to reach the threshold for scientific acceptance. Alternative explanations such as chance, coincidence, cold reading, suggestion and many other non-paranormal techniques have been put forward and demonstrated.

When embarking on a piece of research to attempt to prove psychic ability it is important to develop a research question or hypothesis. This is a statement of what it is you are asking or attempting to prove. Research tools are available for use and can add credibility to your research and assist in the process of answering your question. Michael Thalbourne’s Sheep-Goat scale lends itself very readily to the study of ESP, for example. He has produced a questionnaire which enables us to determine an individual’s level of belief. His theory says that believers in the paranormal (‘Sheep’) perform better than non-believers or ‘Goats’ because ‘Goats’ actively avoid hits in order to prove their theory of non-belief and have been evidenced to score below average in ESP tests. We need to approach research with an open mind but also with a theory to test. Essentially when conducting research we not only want to discover whether a phenomena exists but we also want to discover how it occurs and to be able to discuss some possible explanations.

Parapsychology is the name used to describe the scientific study of anomalous phenomena and typically includes the study of ESP, psychokinesis, mediumship and other claims of Psychic ability. Parapsychologists are sceptics in the true sense of the word. In other words they are not necessarily non-believers but they do apply rationalism and logic to their research. Parapsychology also challenges the assumption that subjective experience is ‘truth’. There can be no clear distinction between objective and subjective experience. What happens to me is not necessarily ‘truth’ as in a true reflection of what happens outside of myself as experienced by others. In fact the notion of truth itself can be challenged. In other words, parapsychology acknowledges that everything we experience is filtered through our own subjectivity and cannot be treated as fact.

It is easy and fun to conduct informal research into all the areas covered in this article. For example, Extra Sensory Perception (ESP), the act of telepathic transfer of images is traditionally practiced using Zenner cards but any image or object which can retained out of sight of the person trying to determine what it is can be used.

The most highly regarded research into psychic phenomena is that which uses a double-blind methodology. This method which is commonly used in drug trials, attempts to remove bias and influence which can flaw the study. The ‘double’ part of this term means that both the experimenters and the participants have no knowledge of the target and they do not even know who belongs to the control group and the experimental group until after the research has been completed and analysed.

Double-blind research is an excellent way to conduct research into psychic phenomena because the claim that unconscious bias and subtle unintended cues can explain positive results is a real and credible explanation. If the experimenters do not know what the target is then they cannot influence the participants. In a single-blind experiment the participants are blind but the experimenters are not. There remains a high risk that subjects are influenced by experimenter bias when using this methodology.

In simple terms, when designing a study, for example, to evidence ESP, if the experimenters know what the target object is then an explanation for any positive results will be that the experimenter communicated the target to the participants either consciously or unconsciously. Double-blind is therefore considered to be a much stronger method and the possible explanations for any results are narrowed.

Lastly, the bigger the sample size or number of people taking part in your experiment, the more generalisable your results will be. If you have a strong methodology your research can continue on more than one occasion so long as the method remains the same and this provides an opportunity to obtain more data.

If you would like to learn more about designing your own research I recommend a visit to any of the websites below for more information on the scientific study of psychic claims.

Links
http://parapsych.org/index.html

http://www.assap.org

http://www.jref.org

http://www.gold.ac.uk/apru/

http://www.koestler-parapsychology.psy.ed.ac.uk/

http://www.aiprinc.org/

http://paranormal.lovetoknow.com/ESP_Experiments

http://www.skeptic.org.uk/