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Shades of Grey

Organised Skepticism can be a double edged sword, a powerful tool if used correctly, but use it arbitrarily, or without understanding, and it can give you a nasty cut with the backswing. Such belief-based own goals were, for a long time, the preserve of the credulous believers and pseudo-scientific charlatans, people exploiting the easily led and deluded, yet the current rise of ultra-hardcore Skepticism at the fringes of what we do, with it’s seemingly arbitrary blanket judgements about how every believer in the unproven and unfounded is automatically either suffering from some form of undiagnosed mental aberration or knowingly exploiting the uneducated in an effort to turn a fast buck denies a fundamental rule of our collective experience of reality – the fact that our world is rarely black and white, but actually very many shades of grey.

As anyone who has stopped by my blog and read my fortnightly Woo Watch knows, I like to point the finger and laugh just as much as the next Skeptic, take a humorous snipe at those who make a career from believing the impossible or those who should in general know better, and for that very reason I never thought I’d become an advocate for a conscience within the Skeptical movement. But even I draw the line at the sort of black and white thinking that I have witnessed in numerous places recently, especially online, and the horrible thought that Skepticism itself might be falling into the same dogmatic patterns that we accuse others of. I didn’t come here to stand in the light of reason to watch my new island of truth sink into the same closed-minded belief based nonsense that I abhorred back when I was forced to attend a Church of England primary school in my distant youth, and I won’t watch it start down that slippery slope without voicing my concern.

For example, what do you think of when I say Psychic? Can there even be such a thing? Not according to our current understanding the world, no. I know that, you know that, and we all have a good laugh when we see one trying, and inevitably failing, Randi’s million dollar challenge. But not everyone is a Derek Accorah or Sylvia Browne. Some of these people actually believe in what they are doing, and they hold nothing but the desire to help others with what they erroneously perceive as their oh-so-special gifts. They are most likely not suffering from a mental illness, despite the frankly asinine statements I have heard recently, and while it could be argued that they are deluded, the most likely explanation is that they are uneducated and unable to understand exactly what is going on inside their own heads. They are seeking meaning in a world without a definite personal narrative, and just like the less hardcore Conspiracy believers, teen Witches and disinterested but loyal Religious adherents they make the best of the shreds of data that they have, never wondering if it is the right answer because they lack the vocabulary to even ask the question in the first place.

The bottom line is, we are the good guys in all this, helping to steer those who would know no better towards those very answers, as defined by the scientific method and critical thinking, and away from making the sorts of uninformed errors that result in them selling grandma to pay for just one more reading with Mystic Bob or donating the last of their wages to the slick preacher on cable TV. We should champion critical thinking, true, but that’s where the criticality should stop. While some of those out there in Woo Woo land are guilty of knowingly deceiving others, just as many are sadly convinced of their ability to defy the laws of our consensus reality, and through education, not humiliation, will we reach them. We are Skeptics, not cynics, and what use is our movement, our desire for change, if all we do is become that what we despise and see the world through the same black and white perceptual blinkers that leads inevitably to fundamentalism, in the process playing right into the hands of those who would accuse us all of adhering to a religion based upon science while seemingly pretending otherwise?

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A Bitter End

What do you get when you cross growing American religious fundamentalism and a burning desire for the End of Days with the get rich quick schemes of a group of Church elders blindly following the prophesies of a single, charismatic man into a state of sour confusion when nothing actually happens? How does the average follower in the street deal with their ongoing existence when the longed for end, as anyone with half a rational brain would expect, comes to nothing and leaves those supposed true believers waiting for answers a day wiser and in certain cases a whole lot poorer after selling up and donating their wallets wholesale to the church?

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Analysis: Feeley case

By Bob Dezon & Hayley Stevens

On October the 12th 2010, Michael and Sarah Feeley, and a friend called Geoff decided to take a trip to Sutton Park. For those that may not know, Sutton Park is a forest near Birmingham. The reason for this excursion is presently unknown, however whilst they were there, they took several images using mobile phone cameras. The cameras used were the LG KC910 Renoir and the Nokia X6-00. There seemed to be some confusion over what they managed to capture that night, so they decided it would be best to ask the advice of Professor Chris French. Chris French is the Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit’s Department of Psychology in Goldsmiths College London.

We are not quite sure why they would contact a Psychologist to look at their images, but we are glad they did. Chris French has an incredibly demanding and time consuming schedule, so Chris thought it might be best, if BARsoc had a look at these images instead. We are better equipped to handle these type of requests, and he may end up with enough free time to finish his tea (and by tea, we mean Grolsch).

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The Q.E.D conference

In recent years, much skeptical output tends to focus on alternative medicine and other associated areas. Yet for a significant number of people, the most common experience of the pseudoscientific can be found not in the pseudomedical, but in the paranormal. Whether it be through TV shows like Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters International, or through the use of ouija boards and the proliferation of urban legends, polls tend to place belief in ghosts at around the 1 in 7 level in the general population (unsurprisingly, this figures differs greatly when compared to the skeptical or scientific population).

With so many people attesting to have experienced the paranormal, can we simply discount their tales…

or is there something to learn even where explanations come with a more natural than supernatural flavouring?

Of course, would be the BARsoc answer to the question that ends the statement above, but if you’re an avid follower of this site and the work of our researchers then you probably already know that.

The statement is taken from the blog on the website of the QED conference that is taking place at the Piccadilly hotel in Manchester on the 5th & 6th of February, and we’re pleased to be able to say that at least four BARsoc researchers are going to be present (it may go up if more can be talked into buying a ticket, of course.)As exciting as the prospect of different BARsoc researchers from all areas of Britain meeting at a great event such as QED is, it gets better because the statment above is describing the ‘Ghost Investigations Today’ panel that is part of the conference with not one but TWO members of the British Anomalistic Research Society taking part.

The panel will be Professor Chris French from the Amonalistic Psychology Research Unit that is based at Goldsmiths, BARsoc co-founder Hayley Stevens, Keen Folklorist, ghost researcher, BARsoc member and crop-circle know-it-all Trystan Swale and well known Parapsychologist Dr Ciaran O’Keefe who is best known for his involvement with Most Haunted.

You can read more about the panel here. We are very excited about this at BARsoc HQ. Not only because the event sounds so brilliant – with speakers such as Prof. Bruce Hood, Kat Akingbade, Chris Atkins, Jon Ronson, Eugiene Scott and more in the line up, but because often Paranormal Research, Ghosts, Hauntings, Anomalous Phenomena and the down right spooky stuff that is reported every single day is often (but not always) over looked at skeptical conferences and events.

QED has a panel dedicated to ‘Ghost Investigations Today’ on the Saturday just before lunch, and because of this, we think QED is pretty awesome.

If you’re attending the event be sure to look for BARsoc members in the audiences and the crowds, and come along to the panel on the Saturday with any questions you might have. We certainly hope to meet some BARsoc followers at the event.

If you haven’t already, you can buy your tickets by clicking here.

Oh, and yes, we know the acronym for the panel is G.I.T – that wasn’t lost on us. Pesky QED kids…