On Thursday I’m Talking Ghosts At Skeptics In the Pub, Cheltenham Science Festival Fringe. Controversy May Ensue :D
A quick update seems in order. It’s Tuesday 12th June and The Times Cheltenham Science Festival is under way. I’m still wondering why the brochure appears to feature a perspex butt plug though? Or is it just Global Melting, like Global Warming but hotter? Anyway so far I have seen no events, simply because I have not yet got up and gone out except for a quick trip to acquire breakfast. Secondly, I have a talk to write!
No, the Festival organisers have not gone mad. Every year however Cheltenham Skeptics In The Pub run a wonderful Fringe programme – last year I saw the Festival of the spoken Nerd and Dr Harry Witchell on the Science of Dating. This year the programme looks just as exciting, and while it gets little attention the Fringe Events are excellent and well worth attending if you are in town for the Science Festival. I was thinking of going through the whole run down, from Dark Matters to Science Show Offs on Saturday, but the website does that better than I can. Also these events are all FREE, with a donations bucket being passed around if you want to give (Being Skeptics it’s a bucket not a collection plate – there may be some subtle symbolism I’m missing?)
So I am trying to write my talk on The Science of Ghosts for Thursday night…
Now most of my friends so far seem to respond with “there isn’t any!”. Given I have spent twenty five years studying it, I think there is — but as a recent row on the Rational Skepticism forum suggests, a lot of people think that when I say “ghosts” I mean “Dead Guys” ( & Dead Gals too). This is unfortunate, because it is all a lot more complicated than that. I could say I take a phenomenological approach, rather than making an ontological claim, but I think people would just look at me funny, and I don’t mean phenomenological in the sense of Philosophy they might also think I’m nuts. So just to be clear, I’m looking at how we study two things: the ghost experience, and the causes thereof. (“Tough on Ghosts, Tough on the Causes of Ghosts”? If you want to be really bored you can read my ASSAP conference talk here: this one will be faster, funnier cover very different ground and have more “science” whatever that means!
Anyhow this year my talk will be mercifully free of asides on the philosophy of science, epistemology and other big words too. In fact it will be a) light hearted, b) loud, c) visual (I’m using a lot of video or whatever you call the digital equivalent) clips and also very hands on. Yes I’m running some little experiments and audience participation events, because well, why ever not? So be prepared for Circle Dancing, Knocking On Wood, learning the Power of Expectation and Suggestion, and I’m even doing a little jokey tribute to Bem’s precognition research, which sounds deadly dull, but isn’t at all, at least in my version I hope.
So is there any Science of Ghosts? Yes, way, way too much to even just list the areas covered in the time I have, unless I over run by a week. I think the best way to go is to keep the first half light hearted and fast moving. I have been through loads of topics I could cover, and have thought about presenting on a little of everything, but in the end I have chosen just two topics for the first bit that I can present well upon and have never given a talk on before, one of which is very suited to hands on experimentation.
One thing that seems to confuse a lot of people is why I am talking at Skeptics In The Pub. Paranormal Believers often seem to regard Skeptics, or as us non-Americans usually call ‘em, Sceptics, as the enemy. (Why do we use the American spelling? Is it to prove we know Greek or something?) Skeptics/Sceptics think people like me who spend our time on parapsychology are all woos, unless they have heard of us (Chris French and Richard Wiseman are exempt from this it seems. Stuart J Ritchie probably still gets called a woo, as he is not yet a household name?). I’m desperately hoping that Professor Brian Cox might show to run a picket line and to tell people I’m an utter nobber, but sadly feel that highly unlikely.:D
Anyway why am I talking at a Skeptic’s meeting? Well I have always regarded myself as a sceptic. Yes I’m a methodological sceptic, and sometimes I come to conclusions that sit uncomfortably with other sceptics, but I do believe firmly that doubt and “rational sceptisicm” are the only way forward and are central to the scientific method, or rather most scientific methods, as I don’t think there is only one. It often amuses me that I am far less certain of many things than self-proclaimed forum sceptics who are absolutely rock solid in their beliefs where I have little more than an ever expanding list questions, a lot of data, and a few tentative, provisional conclusions. I encounter this time and time again on the JREF and other forums: people whose faith is stronger than mine.
Anyway, enough rambling. I have a talk to write. I’ll let others decide if I am a Fake Sceptic or not. Whatever you think about ghosts and parapsychology, the questions it raises for Science, how we do Science, how we communicate Science and what constitutes real Science are vital, or so I am inclined to think. I hope some of you will come a long and heckle, whether sceptic or believer!
Here are the talk details
Thursday, June 14 2012 at 7:30PM
40 Clarence St
What’s the talk about?
Ghosts don’t exist, all skeptics know this, right?. Yet even a skeptic can experience a “ghost”, and when one does all kind of awkward questions arise. That was what happened to CJ, and the story of how he became involved in parapsychology, spent twenty five years investigating hauntings and became embroiled in working in paranormal television for a decade before ending up with far more questions than when he started may amuse and hopefully cause you to question your own deep seated beliefs on the subject. Learn the inside view behind shows like Most Haunted, and why despite everything for CJ at least the serious research must continue.
So can Science really address the ghost experience? For 120 years scientists have wrestled with the question of what is really going on when people think they see ghosts, and in this talk CJ promises to present a whistle stop tour of the science that has been published in the field, good, bad and bogus. Can science finally exorcise our ancient fears of the unquiet dead, and explain the night hag? Are buildings haunted, or is it people? And what should you do if you actually see a spook? If that seems unlikely, come along, and find out how you could
The event is FREE, but we will be shaking the Skeptic-Bucket to cover costs
I like James Randi, a lot. He has had a rough year, and I wish him well – and I have long supported the JREF, despite endless objections to some of Randi’s videos. Long time readers of this blog will recall my annoyance, near apoplexy, at woo in the Nazareth Never Existed one, and his sceptical piece on man-made global warming (strongly suggesting he did not believe in it) shocked me, but hell I guess it’s good to question. If a difference of opinion with another sceptic OR parapsychologist stopped me talking to them, and far more importantly, listening and learning from them, I’d be both ignorant and friendless.
The JREF staff I have spoken to over the years have been unfailingly polite and helpful, despite my tendency towards accepting some “paranormal” beliefs, and my strong commitment to investigating these issues scientifically. I’m particularly a fan of the JREF forum, where I have made many friends, and can promise that though there are some acerbic and rather strident critics there, there are also some excellent sceptics, critics and thinkers. I learn a lot there. I have respect for DJ Grothe and Phil Plait, who have both been JREF Presidents, and usually enjoy my reading there.
However, often the JREF videos can be wrong, or misleading. Today I finally saw this years Pigasus awards, ofter spotting a mention on the SPR Facebook page, and went and watched it. The Pigasus Awards are basically Ig Nobel Prizes for the worst in some paranormal, psychic or parapsychological related field, a mock honour that highlights the worst out there. And I tend to actually be pretty pleased with some of the choices, and irritated by others. There is a good wikipedia page on the Pigasus Awards
Anyway this years Awards make for fun viewing, so here they are
Video (c) JREF 2012.
Now, the bit I have a problem with this year is the awarding of the Pigasus for Science to Daryl Bem for his work on habituative presentiment, that infamous study I wrote about a few weeks back – if you have no idea what I am on about best read that first. Given I don’t actually believe in psi, and find it hard to see how it can work — though clearly there would be vast adaptive advantage in precognition if such a thing could exist, so yes in evolutionary terms it would make sense — why am I so irritated?
Listen to the speech again.
“The winner of the Pigasus Award for Science is Daryl Bem, for his shoddy research which has been discredited on many accounts, by prominent critics, such as Drs. Richard Wiseman, Steven Novella, and Chris French.”
I had not actually read Steven Novella’s piece before today, but I do in my previous piece refer to the research he cites — Wagenmakers et al (2011) — and link to it and Bem’s response. I am curious as to why Novella was mentioned rather than Wagenmakers here, and even more striking omission is that while two of the researchers who performed the recent failed replication of Bem’s experiment are mentioned, Stuart J Ritchie the other author does not get a mention at all. I have seen lots of theoretical criticisms of Bem’s work – here is an interesting thread on the JREF Forum, and here is Bare Normality’s recent blog post. However to me the most important critique remains that of those who have like Galak & Nelson and Ritchie, French & Wiseman actually replicated the experiments. As I commented in my last piece on spin in science and the Bem affair, there have of course also been successful replications.
Now the use of the word shoddy to describe Bem’s work is to me highly unfair, given that Wagenmakers critique, if correct, is that the methods used by almost all social scientists and lots of “hard” scientists too for dealing with probability are flawed, and these are inherent issues in our statistical methodologies. I’m not going to get involved in a discussion of Frequentist versus Bayesian analysis, because I’m not qualified to do so — but if Wagenmaker’s et als critique as put forward by Novella is correct then it is a common and widespread issue effecting a centuries research across the sciences, not something specific to Bem. How is that shoddy? I don’t know if it is correct – Bem has responded, and I encourage interested parties to go back and read the papers and discussion, which are linked in my last piece. The use of the word “shoddy” however really needs some justification.
Let’s move on. Randi continues –
“such examination, shows very strange methods used by Bem, which ends up unproven, though the popular media of course have chosen to embrace it.”
I have seen some suggestions of methodological flaws, which I linked above, but the paper was published in a major peer reviewed journal and has generally been positively commented upon by many of those who have like myself been through the paper looking for such flaws to explain the bizarre results. As anyone who has read my last piece knows, I am dismayed by the media spin: but plenty of popular science magazines have also reported on the affair, and the failed replications.
The biggest problem is if strange methods were used by Bem, the same software, and the same methods have been used in the failed replications. So why did they fail? A failed replication speaks far more to me than all the theoretical objections folks have raised, and is no real scandal. People do research, get funny results, others try to replicate and if replication fails we then start to try and work out what the hell is going on. Now in this case Dr Richard Wiseman is maintaining a “file drawer” registry of replications, and will publish a meta-analysis later in the year or next, which will finally clarify what exactly the experiments say. I have plenty of time for French, Ritchie and Wiseman — but this assassination of character by implication and slur just annoys me.
The truth is Bem performed perfectly good science, and while the media hype that followed was a bit odd, over the top and regrettable, he will be vindicated or be proven wrong by perfectly good, and normal, scientific methods. The Pigasus Award seems to be an attempt to place Bem’s research firmly in the pseudoscience camp; I think that is manifestly unfair. I can’t see Ritchie, Wiseman and French condoning this, and have drawn it their attention: all it does is widen the gap between parapsychologists and their intelligent critics, and it’s simply misleading. It does also make those who bothered like the above British team to replicate and seriously take on Bem on the issue look like fools.
And here is the thing: Randi appears to think that Bem’s work is worthy as a Pigasus because it can’t be right. He has made an a priori assumption it will not be vindicated (as have I to some extent, I just don’t claim to know that until the evidence is in, it’s simply a personal prejudice…) but by the award of the Piagsus he goes much further, belittling Bem for taking the subject seriously enough to research it.
Randi seems to think he knows what science contains, and psi is clearly absurd. He ridicules those who use science to investigate these issues – if they happen to disagree with his prejudice, while praising those like Wiseman and French (and the not-to-be-mentioned Ritchie) who use exactly the same methodologies, yet find results he personally finds acceptable. This is not uncommon in an ideological struggle like the parapsychologicalist-believers versus sceptic struggle has been since the days of William James at least, but it is ultimately far more damaging and dangerous to real scientific inquiry than Bem’s research. Science asks questions, tests them, and falsifies hypotheses — and is conducted not by sneering and cheap shots, but by hard work and real research.
As usual the Daily Grail beat me to the story, and did it better, but anyway, enough. As usual, it is science that is the victim here, and the war of spin continues…
UPDATE: Just saw that Stuart J Ritchie one of the authors of the failure to replicate experiment wrote on Twitter “Should put it on record that I think James Randi giving Bem the Pigasus award is unfair, unhelpful and disappointing.”
I agree totally.
You can say what you like about Professor Brian Cox, the guy has style. The discussion of the Infinite Monkey Cage episode on spooks et al. led to his Twitter postings that apparently caused outrage, and the amusing little spat that followed while distracting us from the more pressing issues of lift etiquette (if you are not a reader of PZ Myers, Skepchick blogs or Dawkins that might pass you by, but never mind) has continued on and off on Twitter, and Cox has now tagged it, you guessed it, #ghostnobbergate.
I have hugely enjoyed the discussion. Let’s face it, no one is actually interested in my opinions on the matter; well 15 people have commented on my blog, but almost everyone has been someone I know from the transpersonal or parapsychological community, or an old friend. I can’t really see why, what am I doing wrong? Roy Stenman’s blog Paranormal Review has attracted outraged Cox fans — and Hayley Steven’s get her blog post on this retweeted by Professor Cox? And what do I get? Ignored. I made specific critiques of what was said on the radio show, but no one has addressed them.
Perhaps it’s my fault for not taking it seriously enough. So here, to prevent this being another long and tedious blog post, here are five things that #ghostnobbergate showed me…
#1 People find it OK to comment on things they know nothing about.
And I agree, sort of. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. You don’t have to be an expert or have a huge knowledge of the research literature to hold an opinion, or we would all be agnostic on EVERY issue. Richard Wiseman and Bruce Hood certainly bring a lot of knowledge to bear on the issue of paranormal belief, and make an educated case against based on their reading of the evidence. Ince has perhaps wisely remained quiet, but he always struck me as deeply intelligent, and anyway I have discovered from Twitter he has excellent taste in music so I have nothing bad to say of him. Andy Nyman is doubtless brilliant, but I believe misinformed on some issues. And the hordes of slathering bloggers saying “it’s all crap”?
Well they are entitled to their opinions. However they denigrate mine, which is there is some deeply weird stuff here that really needs a lot more research before we can dismiss it. I have spent rather a long time, and read rather a lot of books and journals on the issue, and I have spent some twenty odd years pursuing original research. There are fundamental questions about the apparitional experience I can not answer, but that is I suspect because I am framing the question incorrectly. But I find the dismissive “it’s all crap” rather funny, because the people concerned are so often making an argument from ignorance. Hayley Stevens has looked at the evidence, and done a lot of investigations, and has come to a very different conclusion to me — that’s a fair and reasoned position in my eyes. But many of the twitter commentators would not know Gurney, Sidgwick & Myers if it bit them on the kneecaps, Rosenheim from the Evil Dead, think RSPK is something you due to a party invites and assume Houran and Lange is a Swedish sofa manufacturer.
So sure, everyone is entitled to an opinion. One based in ignorance of the subject matter is however not worth much, it’s just in the literal sense prejudice – pre-judging an issue.
#2 Many “skeptics” are not remotely sceptical and many “rationalists” are not rational.
In fact emotive responses have dominated a lot of the stuff I have seen. Prof Cox offered a rational critique when he apparently said ghosts violate the Laws of Thermodynamics – and if your theory does that, it’s dead. I’m not sure which Law was referred to as I have not seen Cox’s original comment. I seen to recall the Third Law is a statistical law? Anyhow, yep, that would be a rational argument. But it requires us to say what a ghost is, and he has not defined that for us yet? I’ll return to these problems further down.
Now I find few sceptics on this matter wh0 actually seem to doubt things, and question stuff. If they did they might actually bother to become informed about what has been written on the issue – say by reading the Apparitional Experience Primer and the Poltergeist Experience Primer. Of course campermon and the sceptics of RationalSkepticism forum have looked at the evidence closely, and I enjoy debating them, as with some of the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation forum) members, but most of the Twitter stuff appears fairly ignorant with a few notable exceptions, like the chap or chapess who invoked Feyrabend and the limits of Popperian falsification!) Instead they have bought in to a dominant paradigm, and not even looked at the research on the issue.
To make a snap judgment on an issue like this, where we do not know what Cox means when he employs that notoriously slippery word “ghost”, seems profoundly irrational, and many people make a classic thinking error – an appeal to authority. That only works if the authority knows what they are talking about, and there is a consensus, or overwhelming agreement. If I said I rejected the Standard Model, people would think I was bat shit crazy, and if I said I rejected it because Sylvia Browne or Deepak Chopra disagreed I hope you would refer me for psychiatric evaluation. These people are not physicists, and hell I would not actually take their opinions on my area seriously either. But a lot of purported rationalists and sceptics are praising Cox despite his apparent lack of knowledge of the subject.
#3 I don’t know what a “ghost” is, or what it means
I study apparitional experiences and poltergeist cases — what parapsychologists call spontaneous cases. But as Andrew Oakley pointed out, the word ghost is horribly open to interpretation. In fact everyone in the field faces this problem. So what I study is experiences that people refer to as “ghosts” — and that can mean all kinds of things. I use a definition based on phenomenology: regardless of whether it was swamp gas reflecting off wires and the Planet Venus, or the shade of Great Aunt Nora, I call it a ghost if that’s was the percipient, the witness, calls it. and yes most “ghost” experiences have a truly straightforward set of explanations that cover them — hallucination, misperception, edge of sleep experiences, illness, wishful thinking, fraud (though that was pretty rare in my experience) and so forth.
I don’t know what Professor Cox means by “ghosts”. Without a definition their is no way I can meaningfully comment on his assertion belief in ghosts is silly. He has not defined his terms. I have before written extensively on the reasons one might doubt that all “ghosts” fall in to these categories – I describe my reasons here. But unless we know what he means by a “ghost” I can’t see any reason to be bothered by Cox’s opinion.
#4 Thermodynamics excludes ghosts
As I said, I don’t know where Prof. Cox said this. If he did, I’m baffled but I would actually like to see a brief explanation of his reasoning. The closest I can think of to this claim is Milton A Rothman’s version of it, which was that Thermodynamics excludes ESP, extrasensory perception. You can read about that in A Physicist’s Guide to Scepticism (Rothman, 1988). The reason Rothman makes the claim is simple; early parapsychological research in to ESP appeared to show that ESP was independent of distance and possibly time, so a card guessing experiment across the Atlantic would be as successful as one that took place from my room to my neighbours. This argument seemed fatal to ideas like Sinclair’s mental radio, and in fact if a physical process is involved is in fact going to violate Thermodynamics; so Rothman argued. But parapsychologists no longer are sure things work like this, and that ESP is actually entirely independent, and many of the assumptions that older psi researchers held have been questioned, so Rothman’s critique is arguably irrelevant. If you doubt me on this, take a look at two excellent essays; Paul Stevens ‘Are our assumptions more anomalous than the phenomena?’ and Jezz Fox’s ‘Will we ever know if ESP exists?’ both in ANOMALOUS EXPERIENCES: ESSAYS FROM PARAPSYCHOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES, edited by Matthew D. Smith. MacFarlane & co Inc. Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina and London, 2010. But ghosts? I have no idea what Cox bases his claim that ghosts are excluded by Thermodynamics upon. Until I see his definition of ghosts I’m not going to be much wiser, either.
#5 People Ignore Me!
Perhaps wisely, pretty much everyone refuses to be drawn in to a discussion of this. Which is to my mind a bloody shame. Because actually, I think I might have something interesting to say. The same people who denigrate ghost believers seem to be unaware of the interesting body of ghost research, even fascinating papers by Richard Wiseman like this and this. I spent much of the nineties chasing environmental variables for hauntings, much as Braithwaite and others still do; Braithwaite produces interesting stuff like this . I did a decade on this kind of thing before like Becky I moved on to phenomenological studies of the experiences, in the tradition of Hufford and DJ West. Yet the majority of the scathing Twitter commentators are never even going to take the subject seriously enough to actually read any of the science, and I think would be shocked (and dismissive) if they knew there was a large peer reviewed literature. I suspect “cognitive dissonance”, though I’m actually a critic of Festinger too, so maybe I really suspect good old plain ignorance. But hey, at least I’m enjoying myself!
Following the bizarre collapse of the Richard Dawkins forum, I posted this on the excellent Rationalia and Thinking Aloud Forums. It will be my last blog entry on atheist forum politics I am after all not actually an atheist!
OK, I think I’m giving up on the whole atheist forum thing. I’ll tell you why, then move on to other topics tomorrow…
Firstly, I am still shocked, saddened and miserable about the demise of the wonderful RichardDawkins.net/forum. The problem is I have seen it ALL before, and not so long ago. If I thought this was Josh Timonen’s fault, or Dawkins, I could just laugh and move on, and help fight. The thing is I can’t any more. It’s something fundamental and deeper.
Years ago I knew a wonderful cryptographer, medium, and cynic, who I will call James. James joined a psychic research group I belonged to, and noted that every group tends to do the same thing: the leadership cock it up, it fragments, and two new groups appear. A few years later the pattern occurs again. James was an atheist spiritualist (there are a LOT of them, and one often sees their stuff cited by other atheist who are unaware of their rather strange ideas to modern atheists minds) and in a thoughtful moment he confided in me that exactly the same was true of every atheist group he had belonged to. I guess it’s true of gardening clubs, poetry societies, fan clubs and stamp collectors as well. As he noted, there must be something wrong with human nature. (In fact one sees it less in religious groups – because they can appeal to external authorities and impose their will by divine mandate, which makes them even nastier when it all goes tits up). Of course many groups do survive and prosper, but one thing ghostthunting groups (not parapsychological organisations) and atheist forums have in common is this incredible failure rate.
Now in fact Old Soul posted on my blog entry, and reminded me of something. We have seen this all before, just two years ago. Here is the Encylopedia Dramatica version of events back then on IIDB –
The interwebs are serious business.
Many of the IIDB exiles fled to RD.net, and discussed what was happening there: and in fact the response was largely one of disinterest, mild sadness, and modding to stop the fight spilling over on to our forum. In fact it is much like the very ambivalent if not positively unsympathetic responses one sees from the JREF today –
(There are of course many deeply sympathetic JREF members, including tsig and Darat, and RD.net exiles should seriously consider registering there>)
Let’s face it, its the internet. No one will die of this. Still we can learn a lot from it, maybe…
Now Internet Infidels and Secular Web had a history going back to 1995, and were absolutely huge. I think it is fair to say that IIDB was in its day the largest Atheist site on the web – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Infidels- and it’s collapse left a vacuum that RD.net quickly filled, along with the Rational Response Squad. The RRS had its own problems in 2008/2009 including a highly publicised (physical, literal) punch up and a falling out with Richard Dawkins over allegations of his having an affair (even if true, who gives a f*ck, and it wasn’t anyway…) However the IIDB melt down,mass deletions, sacking of mods and general shittiness gave birth ot a number of forums, including Rants n Raves, a splendidly irreverent place which is sort of 4chan meets Atheism —
All of this may seem by the by, but in fact you probably really need to look at this whole mess on IIDB, that we all chose to ignore.There are threads on RD.net – maybe someone with access to the database can find them? However the same things happened – admins sacked, mods dimsissed, members expelled, complete meltdown.
Hey there must be people here who lived through all this, and know first hand what happened? Old Soul wrote on my blog –
In 2007, the Internet Infidels Inc, a nonprofit educational group, shut down their extremely popular “IIDB” Internet Infidels Discussion Board, driving away thousands of people, many of whom had donated money to the group for both its regular operations and the upkeep of the forums. When the II, Inc. began banning and silencing its forum users, it lost very little real revenue, as the major donors who supported the organization did not care one bit about the teeming masses on the message board. The II, Inc. did not lose any real income or its reputation amongst the atheist elite. It sold the IIDB to a woman from New Zealand, who changed the forum name and continued to silence all dissidents. The II, Inc. did not suffer any loss or long-term damage after divesting itself of its forum. No problem there, either.
Yep, that was my understanding.He also has a very long term perspective –
Decades ago, Madalyn Murray O’Hair shut down every chapter of American Atheists, alienating thousands of people, but doing no long-term harm to herself or the group. No problem there.
I suspect the young and British influenced RD’ers may not all know about the tragic and bizarre story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair —
Some of the links like the Time article are REALLY good reads. Anyone spot similarities with how AA was run and the current situation? OK, we don’t have claims of fraud and dodgy accounting, or blatant theft. Yet we have exactly the same pattern of self-proclaimed atheist leaders fleecing members, f*cking over the organisation and so called rationalist acting like compete arseholes.
Even after the great October Purge, when many of us left, I eventually drifted back to RD.net. TAF and Rationalia split: I can’t help but being reminded of the South Park episode Go God, Go! where the United Atheist Alliance (UAA) fight the United Atheist League (UAL) and the Allied Atheist Allegiance (AAA) –sure it was a shit episode by South Park standards, but there was more than a grain of truth in it.
Old Soul really hit the nail on the head though when he wrote
This is just business as usual for atheist organizations, why are you all so surprised? This is how it is done. Richard Dawkins will not lose any face. He will not suffer a publicity backlash. As far as his staff is concerned, you are all ungrateful for complaining about not being able to use the forums any more. Guess what? They do not care. They will make new websites, write new books, and speak at new conventions. Where thousands of you dare not tread, thousands more unsuspecting atheists will fill the seats you won’t occupy, and buy the books you won’t read, and visit the websites you won’t support. No problems.
It gets bleaker
There are millions and millions of atheists worldwide and no major atheist group has ever lost any money by not accommodating all of them. For every hundred of you who leave in disgust, two hundred more will take your place. For every post that is deleted… the same. The outcry of atheists who are offended by being silenced is not a problem in the grand scheme of organized atheist groups.
These groups operate in a realm that none of you occupy. It is a world in which *you* do not exist, and none of them (on the national or international level) are focused on “atheist community” or “the needs of nonbelievers.” They are money-making operations supporting authors, lecturers, philosophers, and publicity hounds, all in the name of atheism, and all for naught.
If you are operating a large atheist organization, shutting the internet out of your atheist group will not hurt you in the long run. This is demonstrably true, and the RDF staff certainly knows it. Now you all know it too. Visit this page again in 2 years, when Dawkins’ books are selling like hotcakes, his lectures are standing-room-only, and his new website discussion area is busy and bustling with passionate atheist activity. All of this complaining is not going to change anything.
There will be no problem for the RDF. Atheist herd migration will not disrupt the activities of any major atheist group, certainly not the biggest moneymaker of them all.[
He is indeed a wise old soul.
This has seemed I am sure to many of you yet another betrayal, but really, I am deadly serious. If we can’t get it together, are we (and I guess it’s not really we is it, I’m a Christian, but I count myself as one of you lot in that I remain a loyal member of the Richarddawkins.net internet community) any better than the religious groups etc? Sorry, it seems that the loss of the forum is irrlevant to most atheists, and will remain so, based on the examples of history. We will be a footnote ina wiki article, and spawn threads on a few secular websites, but no one is listening, and the RDF will laugh all the way to the bank. If you think people really care, look again at the JREF thread, or look at the Skeptics Guide to the Universe one –
Think about how much you heard, or cared, about the demise of IIDB – now sucessfully running as a series of small forums from what I can see, with new names, and a new identity.
People don’t just not care, THEY DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT. It’s just like us at RichardDawkins.net when IIDB went down – some one lese politics, proof the rationalist dream crashed when it meets the reality of messsed up humans. Good people will carry on and have a laugh, but the majority of the atheist population will just say “shut up and stop whining”. Bleak I know, but do a Google search and you will find its true…
In fact even the blogosphere only returns Darkchilde, myself and Peter Harrison’s blogs. This is not going to hurt the RDF, or makke any difference; We lost, people got treated like shit, and no one will care outside of TAF and Rationalia.
I have had enough. I’ll find better things to do with my time
While I don’t have as much free time as I would like these days, the forum at
remains one of my favourite places to hang out on the net, along with the JREF forum and UK Skeptics. My beliefs are of course very different to the majority of posters in these places, which makes it all the more fun.
Anyway got a message this morning, it seems that the RD forum has a new monthly science writing competition, which seems very apt, and a move which I applaud heartily. The rewards for winning are intangible – but I am sure the competition will be fierce. If I had any science writing skills I might try, and to be honest if any month the topic is on an area I am familiar with I might try anyway.
To quote Mazille from the forum
The Monthly RDF Science Writing Award
We have a lot of professional scientists and very well-versed laymen on the forum and so we decided to make use of those formidable intellectual resources. We challenge you to write an article about a specific topic – which will be revealed later on – and enter it into a competition for “The Monthly RDF Science Writing Award”!
Every month we will give you the opportunity to take part in this competition. The goal is to write the best article covering a scientific topic of your choice – although with certain restraints. For each round of the competition we will set a general topic (e.g. “Our Solar System”, or “The Subatomic World”), from which you can choose any field of interest to write about. After we have announced the general topic of a new round, competitors will have three weeks time to write their articles and enter them in the competition and after those three weeks users will have another week to vote for the best scientific article.
Hopefully some of the readers of my blog will be interested enough to register at RD.net if the have not already, and enter. Full details of the competition can be found here.
This is the aspect of Dawkins I really like – his science writing, not the dubious atheistic arguments. Anyway a great idea, and I hope it succeeds well!
I just wrote this on the UK Skeptic’s forum, in response to this article by Chris Sherwood here on the same subject. I think mine is closer to the truth And before you panic, it’s not autobiographical – these days!
A Day in the Life of a Paranormal Investigator
A Paranormal Investigator is someone who can’t get a real job or any PhD funding. They wake up in the morning to a stack of unpaid bills, and then sweet talk the lovely bailiffs at the door. After a discussion with said gentlemen they pay some cash and mentally cross out their food budget for the next two weeks. They also note the recording they need to finish their lecture review for deadline today has still not arrived. Huzzah!
A paranormal investigator picks up the clothes they wore last night off the floor, hurls a book on Attachment Theory at the cat and wonder if SPR journals burn nicely once the gas has been shut off. They then dedicate four hours to grounded analysis of carefully collected accounts of spontaneous cases – or reading peoples ghost anecdotes to you and me. They code, construct categories by hand because they can’t afford QSR software, and after a hard mornings work with black coffee cos they have no milk they decide they have not made any advances over what Sidgwick and co had in 1894.
So they pop on the JREF for a morning of playful abuse, and after lunch (noodles, with noodle sauce, 12p a bag from oriental supermarket) they wonder why MAcDonalds, Wilkinsons and WH Smiths rejected them. So they spend couple of hours filling in application forms so they can be anything but a paranormal investigator.
The afternoon is busy, busy, busy! Reading the EJP in the bath as the nice shiny paper is not effected by splashes, they realise they are still after all these years useless at the level of stats required to check the articles validity. They wish they could afford a netbook so they could consult SPSS in the bath, but they would only drop it.
After a refreshing bath they set out to track down someone who reported a spontaneous case to them to verify certain questions arising from their account. The email will be ignored, they nearly always are. Wishing they had chosen a better paid career, like say leaflet distributor, professional philosopher or non-affiliated theologian who sells 5 books a year, they start work on a piece on the development of fairy lore in the early modern period, because they have nothing better to do. Then it hits them – they have no food for tea!
But huzzah! they have a call – and the phone is currently connected because their girlfriend paid the bill. And for once it’s not a debt collector! Nope, they are invited to give a talk to a local group. They start drafting it, becoming more and more depressed as they realise no one is actually interested in theoretical work or the parapsychological literature, so it end up as “adventures in ghosthunting”, a comic tale of sitting around in the dark in rooms filled with other hopefuls, while absolutely nothing happens. The difference in being a pro is you don’t have to pay for the privilege.
Suddenly they decide to reach for their handy EMF meter. They can’t hear the washing machine from the basement but long experience shows this device can pick it up – have they washed their pants, as girlfriend coming tomorrow? They dream of the day they can afford a second pair.
Afternoon brings email: another studentship rejection, disturbed family members wondering how you became so unemployable, and a coffee break dedicated to the lesbian mediumship of Eva C – less exciting than it sounds – from an old PSPR. They decide to kill Cousins, Braithwaite, Luke etc for being so much better looking and better funded than them; but then reject the notion, and return to the Spud-U-Like application.
Wasting an hour on wondering why no one seems to be participating Alex Tsaris’ Jaytee the Psychic Dog replication the earnest paranormal investigator returns to their grounded analysis, struggling with methodological issues.
Evening: a bitter ex-wife accusing you of leaving her in poverty, hungry cats yowling for food, and your mother sadly asking how work went? You set out to meet a veteran investigator of mediumship who will buy you lunch,and an enjoyable hour of salacious gossip about the misdeeds of contemporary physical mediums later, well fed, you feel the strength to once again face writing up a study you performed eight months ago. Finally even you are bored with it, so you start work on looking at the geological maps of Gloucestershire, and a water table plan of Cheltenham from Severn Trent, trying to work out if GW Lambert really was on to something.
You get another call – there is a vigil in a haunted house, a local tourist spot, can you attend only £30? Muttering to yourself a Noel Coward lyric
“The Stately Homes of England,
Though rather in the lurch,
Provide a lot of chances
For psychical research-“
You politely enquire who experienced what and when? It seems a tourist thought they saw something in 1982 in the East Wing, and a the under gardener swears he saw the dead master in 1963. On and a cleaner heard a voice call her name last Wednesday but six.
So you suggest that rather than taking 50 people to sit in the dark all night, festooned with electronic gizmos, while a lovely lady reconts the sad tale of the spirit girl who starved to death on Christmas Eve, it might be worth actually just interviewing and recording what the witnesses said, and having a look at that? The person trying to sell you the ghost night hangs up.
You sigh and stare out the window, and regret ever becoming a paranormal investigator. And then you wake up the next day and post this on UK Skeptics.
I think this is a bit closer to the truth actually :