"And sometimes he's so nameless"

Psychic News closes down after 78 years — but why?

Posted in atheism, Paranormal, Religion, Social commentary desecrated by Chris Jensen Romer on July 27, 2010

Now let’s get this straight. I am NOT a Spiritualist, a Spiritist, a psychic, a medium, or anything similar. I’m an Anglican Christian, and one who happens to be passionately interested in psychical research. Still it came as a surprise today to learn from the JREF of this –

Psychic News final issue

Psychic News final issue: 1932 -2010

Now as it happens today is the busiest I have been in a very long time, and I really did not intend to blog about anything, but as the old gal disappears, I felt a few words were in order. Firstly, my best wishes to everyone who was involved in the publication — I know only too well how traditional print and broadcast media are struggling to compete with new media claiming an increasing share of advertising revenues. ITN is the poster child for this issue; as more satellite channels and web advertising take up, commercial television has taken a huge hit. ITN have bounced back, with advertising revenues up, but a lot of traditional print media has suffered what may be an irreversible downturn, and had to look to internet editions and subscriber services to pick up the slack.

Secondly, I am aware of the byzantine politics of the Spiritualist movement, and the complex theological, administrative and personality clashes which sometimes (always?) arise. In this the Spiritualist National Union is much like any other church, or much like any other organisation, be it poetry club or gardening society.

In those two factors, economic issues and doubtless some political manoeuvring we see the immediate reasons for the decline of Psychic News (a newspaper that as long term reader of this blog may recall once featured me on the front page!). It is a shame, but possibly to be expected. And yet…

CJ is confuzzled…

The reason for my confusion is simple. While the actual reasons for the ending of publication are pretty straight forward — see the Paranormal Review blog for a good explanation and commentary — I am deeply puzzled as to why the Psychic New should have fallen a victim to the challenge of new media etc.  While independent it was published by the SNU, and as such one might have expected it to be immensely popular among adherents of that organisation, which maintains a good number of churches, though possibly not enough to give the PN a future. Still, every time I go to Tesco to get my shopping I see this, and several similar publications…

Chat It's Fate!

Chat It's Fate! (c) IPC Media

There has been an explosion of ‘psychic’ publications. We have also this one…

Spirit & Destiny magazine

Spirit & Destiny - click for their website

and probably others I don’t know about. Back in the early years of this decade I noticed that Jane Millichip was changing LIVING TV from a channel that basically was Loaded magazine on screen, for the lads and laddettes, to something closer to the women’s interest magazines like Chat etc – a brilliant, visionary formula which paid off in spades. They brought Most Haunted to our screens, John Edwards,  Colin Fry, Tony Stockwell, and a host of others. Above all, Derek Acorah became a household name.

I doubt Spiritualists were wildly enthusiastic: the few members of the SNU I know seemed concerned that the glitz and excitement of celebrity mediumship was at odds with their own experiences of ‘Spirit’, and there were as always accusations of fraud. It’s an odd fact, but spiritualism does seem to attract critical thinkers, perhaps because it is such an empirically based religion — it professes to demonstrate the reality of its theological claims on platforms in spiritualist churches up and down the country every week after all, and almost every spiritualist i have ever spoken to has been convinced by the evidence they have seen of afterlife communication — yet remain sceptical of the claims of other mediums they have also witnessed.  As such, they can be  difficult audience to address for their Class A mediums (a designation something like ‘vicar’, not a dangerous drug!) and I doubt many Church of England vicars could handle the level of criticism and empirical demands of a Spiritualist congregation.  Quite the contrary to public perception in my opinion, spiritualists are not wild and wooly believers – they are often VERY sceptically minded folks, with a “i’ll believe when you show me proof” attitude.

As the 90′s ended and teenage Wiccan wannabes ceased to be fashionable and became more and more figures of ridicule, many who had been intoxicated by the promise of The Craft now wanted something more real, more empirical, and more directly answering to their needs – the need to see if their was a life after death, to deal with the terrible pain of bereavement, to deal with the inevitability of our personal deaths. These are real human concerns – you can find them on atheist forums, discussed and disected, just as much as in churches and in psychic groups.

Around 2003-2004 I think the UK underwent a major cultural transformation, as a TV-led taste for the psychic and for empircal rather than occult (in its literal sense of ‘hidden’) religions picked up. People did not just want comfort, vague promises of ‘pie in the sky when you die’ — they wanted proof. They wanted direct spiritual experiences – signs and wonders, something that the Charismatic Christian Churches had been providing since the late sixties, and especially in the late eighties and early nineties, and that Wicca had maybe provided for others. A religion that had in my youth been the staple of advertising jokes (I’m with the Woolwich/Toffee Crisp, etc, etc) and associated with elderly ladies and slightly dotty maiden aunts in the public mind suddenly became credible and relevant — and more than that, it provided something really appealing — the chance to experience the truth, not be told it second hand.

The years that Living TV and the psychic boom led to a population of facebook names like Bob Smith (medium) - an example I made up though there may be one – happens to coincide with the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the grim litany of names in the media of our fallen warriors. Historians always point out that the years of the the First World War marked a highpoint in Spiritualism (or so it is claimed) — yet after the grim death toll of the war it faded away again, and the Second World War does not seem to have seen a huge increase in numbers. I don’t know if there is a link, but there may be — please do comment with your thoughts on any of this, I’m no expert, I’m just thinking aloud!

And suddenly we have an explosion of popular interest in the paranormal and the psychic. Two other things arise from it — firstly, a plethora of Ghosthunting TV shows, following the path blazed by Most Haunted — and with them an explosion of paranormal research groups, up from maybe 30 in the late seventies to over 700 in the UK by 2006, if my memory of Dr Ciaran O Keefe’s research is correct – again a “hands on” empirical approach to finding out where spiritual truth stands. That ghosthunting group can be seen as a “New Religious Movements” is I think self evident – they are often technological approaches to ancient questions, a sort of hands-on theological investigation.  Enquiring minds that might have been involved in a church group, or in a occult prctice, or in a scientific pursuit were more and more going out and seeking personal experience – if in the sixties they dropped acid and sought Nirvana, in the seventies looked to the skies for UFo’s and talked to space-brothers, and in the eighties joined a charismatic church or in the nineties a Wiccan coven, in the 2000′s these same peopel became ghosthunters or psychic, or organised sceptics…

Hey, something to offend everyone? Yes, I regard the modern development of many organised sceptic groups as allied to these same cultural phenomena, albeit a critical response to them.  For established folks like CSI(COP), the JREF, or UK Skeptics it must be puzzling — now one can hardly throw a stick without hitting Sceptics in Little Snoring, or some other sceptical group.  While the mainstream media has not been as kind to sceptics as the psychics  – Derren Brown, James Randi and Penn & Teller made it by having other very real talents, ditto the immensely charismatic Dr Richard Wiseman, and Dr Susan Blackmore and Dr Chris French — there are now dozens it seems of sceptical podcasts (sceptics seem very New Media savvy) and while scepticism has been around as a movement since the 1950′s, i think the explosion of interest may well be a direct response to the ‘paranormalisation’ of our popular culture.

I’ll go a stage further, and even allege the New Atheists, and the public interest in Professor Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion and the TV shows he did on these subjects was a response to the same upswing of ‘empirical’ religion (undoubtedly strengthened immensely by 9/11 and the genuine fear of religious fanaticism and old fashioned xenophobia as alien religions and ethnicities become apparent on our streets.)

Ironically I think the thing the New Atheists and Dawkins champion, empiricism and science, have won the battle for the minds of the UK — and the strength of their victory, and the fear of faith based beliefs, can be seen in the upswing of empirically based ‘psychic’ and ‘ghosthunting’ faiths. The adherents of these “new religions”  have taken on-board the dangers of dogma and blind faith, and arcane theological formulations, and are part of the scientifically minded “show me the evidence” culture of doubt and “I’ll believe it when I see it”.   The Atheists are partly a response to some of the spiritual anarchy that has arisen as more and more weird claims are peddles as truth — I often offend by my statement that I prefer institutionalised religion to spiritual anarchy, but that is a discussion for another day — but the New Atheists are at least partially independent of all this – and share the same basic critique of taking things on faith many of the psychics, spiritualists and ghosthunters do as they reject the established faiths and go looking for themselves for the evidence.

The New Sceptics – they serve their role in the new religious landscape of the UK, providing (often badly, sometimes very well), a critique of the experiences that are taken as evidential by the ghosthunters and psychics, explaining them usually in terms of psychology, or less often having a stab at neurological explanations.  New Scepticism is a response to the psychics and ghosthunters to some extent, as Dawkins and the New Atheists are a response to the established Churches?

So why did Psychic News fail?

Well we know the obvious reasons, and looking at the glossy covers of the “rival” psychic magazines, we can why people might pick them up – glossy, polished, exciting, rather then poor old  Psychic News.  As I have hinted above, “people hate noobs”; while SNU churches are undoubtedly welcoming to new members, the criticism and rational analysis I might expect to find of the celebrity mediums in a spiritualist church may make them appear stuffy or conservative to the fans of the big name mediums who pack out theatres all over the country, rather than spiritualist churches.  We have seen this before – in Anglican resentment of John Wesley’s popular preaching in the 18th century, in the distaste for Charles Spurgeon’s evangelical meetings in the 19th century, in the at times snide response of the ‘traditional’ churches to the Charismatic churches in the 1980′s and 1990′s.  And sometimes, as history has shown, the conservatives are right — one remembers the collapse of the Nine o clock Service  rave-church back in the 90′s, and hell, plenty of big name psychics and mediums have been exposed — some like Colin Fry in the pages of Psychic News itself.

We see the same thing in ghosthunting circles – perhaps the SPR (www.spr.ac. uk ) could do more to reach the new ghosthunters, though it appears to me they are, in Atheism – many critiques of the New Atheists come from ‘old atheists’ rather than the religious — and even in scepticism, where politics and personality clashes are as apparent as in any human group. Enthusiastic ‘noobs’ (an internet culture term for a ‘newbie’)  are often a little brash, a little over the top, a little – well ‘enthusiastic’ (in the 19th century sense) – for the tastes of the ‘establishment’.

If I am thinking correctly though, it is not really the fault of those ‘establishments’ though, because a sceptically empirically minded bunch, be they psychic practioners, ghosthunters, sceptics, or whatever, out to tear done the nonsense they perceive in popular belief, and to find out the facts for themselves, put the emphasis not on membership of a church, a certain prestige group, or any organisation that impedes their independent thinking, but in their own experiences, their own thoughts, and their own findings. None like chiefs – they smack of dogma – and none like idols much either. The new spiritualism may be a grass-roots movement that nods at organised Spiritualism, but can’t be bothered to check if their beliefs and experiences tally with the principles of the SNU or orthodox spiritualist theology, or to get out of bed to attend a service or meeting — this is religion for the ‘me’ generation, and  they want a feel good Nescafe friendly morning read not an exposition of often technical spiritualist thinking and history: emotional, personal, experiential, not intellectual and institutionalised religion. The divide between the It’s Fate readers and the psychic news readers may be like the divide between the readers of Paranormal magazine and the ghosthunters and those who subscribe to the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research or the European Journal of Parapsychology – and that I think may be the key to why Psychic News has died, even as psychism as a belief system may be reaching its apogee in the uK??

Dunno, just some quick thoughts. I’d better go do some work, but I’d love to hear your comments…

cj x

The End of an Era: Richard Dawkins forum to close


I was going to write a brief piece tonight on my new board game “Earth: Our Home” I created for the the Richard Dawkins Science Writing Contest. I test played it with Luke, Kev and Tom tonight, and we had a wonderful time slaughtering each other species and fighting for control of this pale blue dot.  500 million years passed in two hours, and at the end it was incredibly close, but I won. :)

Unfortunately I popped over to RD.net to see what was going on, and found that an announcement had been made that the forum is to close. It will remain live for 30 days to allow us to retrieve anything we want to save: given I had written over 10,000 posts (7,000+ remain after an earlier purge)  and I guess many million words as I am not known for my brevity, that will prove immensely difficult. Given that the search has not worked for months, in order to protect other parts of the website and keep the bandwidth manageable, well it will be next to impossible. I have tried waybackmachine: no good. :(

Jerome's avatar

My RD.net avatar designed by Thwoth to mark my Science Writing victory...

I had a hilarious exchange on this blog once before with someone who had a rather bizarre view of the history of RD.net: the details don’t matter, but I will briefly now discuss the matter. A few years ago the great man Dawkins0 became aware that there were forum posts which were rather er, colourful (“What does sperm taste like? was the infamous example always cited) and suddenly over night a large part of the forum was just deleted.  The bit which went comprised the chatty silly areas -  I lost about 20% of my posts, as i tended ot post mainly in the Faith & Religion and General Science areas anyway. This led to a major row, with a  number of atheist who saw this as censorship buggering off to create their own communities: it was not really the imposition of community standards which did it, but the clunky way it was handled. We lost the original admins (OBC, Kevin Ronayne)  about that point, and by 2009 a new set of mods had taken over. It was still a great site though, though I miss the early days – but nostalgia ain’t what it used to be… :)

Tonight the proverbial has really hit the fan. Again the closure of the forum may NOT be all it seems: a new kind of heavily moderated discussion area will exist, and approved topic can be discussed. What it does mean is the death of the forum community, and like the end of the Living TV Most Haunted forum dozens of new forums will spring up, but I’lll lose touch with most of the friends I made in my years over there since December 2006.  We can’t even talk about iot now – I tried to log back in and found a message telling me “Sorry but this board is currently unavailable.”

It is such a blasted shame: to try and name them all would be impossible, but my thoughts really go out to all those who worked so hard to make it a success – firstly Sciwoman, so long a mod, then an admin, and a good friend. We shared a lot of laughs and a lot of misery, and she has been a good friend to me. Then there is the excellent CJ – no not me, CJ was an admin or possibly just a mod I think and was one of the best, and used to welcome every new poster. In the great purge he was demoted to ordinary member status for something that had nothing to do with his work as a mod: the backstairs politics of the forum was always machiavellian, but CJ happened ot have publicly discussed things which were considered verboten from his own personal life – ironically things this CJ discusses just as openly.  Who else? The Old Farts were all great, and much missed – they were a loose collective of posters who had a great time. JimC was always one of my faves, a wonderful Australian biologist with a sharp sense of humour.

My life will be poorer for not hearing from the splendid Aussie atheist Goldenmane: I’ll miss Hackenslash, Ilovelucy, Durro, MedGen, Mechtheist, MacDoc, FlyingScot, Natselrox, and me and Tim O’ Neil had a wonderful time together fighting Jesus Mythers and the terminally ill informed. Mercer is a thoroughly fine fellow: and my companions in faith Imperiatorium and of course my good mate Grahbudd, plus the really decent Jewish engineering student whose name I  just can;’t for the life of me recollect right now.

There are SO many others – Darren from Canada, whose profanity was always laced with awesome humour; Mazille, who brought me back to the forum with the science writing contest I have invested so much time on, Thwoth the brilliant artist and sharp wit, Hyrax a truly lovely guy and great mod, Campermom who was always great on science,  the simply awesome FedupwithFaith, and one of the sharpest minds of all Spaghettisawus who is a really top bloke.

So I’m sad: rather than carry on with the litany of names, which is so difficult as i’m missing dozens of really great people out (Topmum?- I just can’t recollect user names right now) I’ll make a few general comments… (but not forget Jerome Serpenti, Homo Economicus, Matalnifesto, Dave C, Pdavid…)   The sad thing about the death of an internet forum is in some sense all these people become part of your life, and they touch you. I really got to care about people I only ever knew as words on a screen. Sad? Maybe, but its a part of life in the 21st century – some of our friendships are with people we may never physcialy meet. (I was lucky enough to meet three members – sadly the accounts of our meetings were lsot in the first great purge.)

I enjoyed being Jerome (a contraction of Jensen Romer), the Anglican who always had something controversial to say. I enjoyed my arguments with the great and the good, my ill fated challenge to Richard Dawkins to a debate on the history of Science, my fun debates on the rationality of theism and on life after death.  Most of all though I enjoyed the people, the new ideas, the constant challenge to my beliefs, and the ability to ask others to question theirs.

Apparently the new website to replace the forum will only allow posts clearly in the areas of Reason and Science, and that is in itself interesting. I wonder what that means? Will Atheism cease to be a major plank of the new website? Will religious believers like me now be officially banned? In my more more egotistical twat moments I’d like to think my success at arguing for actual history over myths may have hastened the demise of the old forum, and this is a ridiculous attempt at censorship — but I VERY much doubt it: in fact it’s absurd.  What I doubt will ever happen on the new website is that someone will win the say writing contest with an essay ripping to shreds the nonsense about the conflict of religion and science, or we will have a sensible discussion about parapsychology, or the evidence for the historical Jesus, or any of the things I spent so much time  writing about on the forum.

That’s a damned shame. Reason and Science were furthered by those discussions I think: people came to examine their personal beliefs (I certainly did) and were exposed to opinions sharply divergent from there own. I learned a helluva lot, but above all I learned tolerance and respect for my opponents, even if I still disagreed with them after all the shouting. :)

So why has it happened?  No one actually knows. The mods have been dismissed, or rather given notice, and the website administrators made a unilateral decision to withdraw the forum for the new website. My utterly cynical guess is simple: it comes down to money. I have no idea how well offf the Richard Dawkins Foundation is, though it’s a registered charity so the accounts are public domain I think: but ultimately the forum must have eaten a hug amount of resources and bandwidth.  I have no idea if the Rational Response Squad is till going after their troubles in 2008 , but running an atheist forum is probbaly a license to lose money. People loved the forum, but did they buy from the shop, read the main pages and support the RDF? I don’t know, but I suspect most forum users went staright to the forum and ignored all that stuff.

And so I appreciate this may have well been a sound commercial decision: to support the RDF,  more traffic needs to be routed through the main site.  Looking at ALEXA the site had continued to grow slowly in popularity, and was ranked 14,799 in the world (top 2000 in New Zealand and South Africa, top 4,000 in the UK, top 9,000 in the USA) – a tremendous success.  Yet the search function had gone, and as always the forum often fell over through sheer weight of numbers. It desperately needed investment in servers and infrastructure: instead it has been decided to kill the forum, and create a new streamlined website.  I can see why — but it does not help those of us who invested so much in making the site what it is.

Ultimately the decision is one man’s: Richard Dawkins.  I never really got to know the bloke in all my time on the forum, as he posted less and less, and when he did it was often after something like this, when he gets the stick. The Great Purge was necessary to protect his reputation and that of the rDF when it was going for charitable status: some of the stuffon the site might have upset the Charity Commissioners, but I think they could differentiate between what the RDF stood for and the opinions voiced on an internet forum – but maybe not.  Still, if he is digging deep in to his own pockets to support the forum, and would rather spend his money on “God probably does not exist” adverts on the side on buses who are we to complain. Ultimately it’s Richard’s site – and Richard calls the shots.

Still, I think a lot of people are as usual not so much upset that it has happened but at the usual complete lack of communication that have left us with thirty days to save what we can and make our escape plans. And that si really not something i can forgive lightly. Oh well, so be it…

I returned to the forum to say my good byes and found I could not actually post any more.  What I found was a hilarious piece of craven cowardice and stupidity. A notice appended to the previous announcement, which reads –

Update: We had intended to leave the forum fully-funtioning (sic) for 30 days, but due to the inappropriate posts by some users and moderators, we have decided to leave the forum in a read-only state. You can still download and archive your posts and private messages, but the ability to enter new posts has been disabled. It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this. We know that change can be difficult and sometimes frightening, but we are all very excited about the direction of the website and the future.

I’m not, and I suspect over 85,000 other forum users will join me in calling on Richard Dawkins to sack those responsible for what has been a lousy piece of absolutely moronic administration, and boycotting the new website entirely. I don’t mean the decision to close the forum – I can understand if that is necessary – I mean the appalling, insensitive and now frankly ridiculous way it has been done. I wait with interest to see what Dawkins himself makes of all this. To be honest it is a particular kick in the teeth for everyone who has worked so hard on their entries for the Science Writing Contest — voting was due to start tomorrow.

If any one from the old forum reads this, please do comment, I want to stay in touch!

I’ll end with a public service announcement

Atheist forums you might want to try

http://www.rationalskepticism.org/

(a forum specifically set by poster Life up for ex-RD.net folks, where I also happen to be a mod)

http://rationalia.com/forum/

http://forum.herd-of-cats.com/

http://freethought-forum.com/

http://thinkingaloudforum.com/

http://www.thinkatheist.com/


and forums that are intelligent fun and atheists may enjoy, but which are NOT atheist forums

http://www.ukskeptics.com/forum.php

http://forums.randi.org/

have fun guys, and may your gods go with you…  ;)

UPDATE: Former mod Darkchilde’s blog offers inside perspective  on this extraordinary mess:  http://tenebra98.blogspot.com/2010/02/death-of-forum-death-of-rdnet-forum.html

UPDATE: Hackenslash rallys the refugees! – Good on you man… (YouTube link) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyLnxu19DM8&feature=player_embedded

UPDATE: Several mods deleted, along with all their posts.. Mazille, CJ (the other one), Valden, kiki and Darwinsbulldog — about a 30.000 posts gone in this most peculiar purge.

http://rationalia.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=75&t=8864

UPDATE: Former mod  Peter Harrison blogs on events at the forum -

http://realityismyreligion.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/locked-entry-will-open-soon/

Update: Richard Dawkins responds

http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=60&t=110356

As I have engaged in no such vitriolic attacks i will not be apologizing: they are ridiculously over the top, and i’d love to know where they were posted and take the idiots who said it to task.  I will apologise I personally villified Richard Dawkins in anyway. Yet I stand by EVERY WORD I wrote: this whol ematter was dealt with dreadfully, and the deletion of the mods posts was shameful.

J x  (who is an Anglican: prejudice declared!)

Richard Dawkins Forum launches monthly Science Writing Competition

Posted in atheism, Reviews and Past Events, Science by Chris Jensen Romer on December 29, 2009

While I don’t have as much free time as I would like these days, the forum at http://forum.richarddawkins.net/ 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!

cj x

A Day in the Life of a Paranormal Investigator

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 :

cj x

UK Sceptics Newsletter

Posted in Debunking myths, Fun forthcoming events, Paranormal by Chris Jensen Romer on July 29, 2009

Hey chaps and chapesses, I have been meaning to share this for a while. The excellent UK Sceptics, whose forum is linked if you look on this blog have released a pdf newsletter which deserves a wider readership. You can download it here –

http://ukskeptics.com/newsletters/2009-1.pdf

It really is sound stuff- like me thy are methodological sceptics, not a priori sceptics. Briefly a methodological scepotic employs sceptisim and questioning as a way of answerin qustions, of investigating an issue – but does not presuppose an outcome to the enquiry. An a priori sceptic knows that certain things are bunk, and sets out to prove this, and reinforce their existing views.  Anyway the level of scholarship and the excellent common sense bodes well for the UK — so do have a look, and even if you are a “believer” in some religion or phenomena – we all are after all believers in some things, only if the claim the sun will rise tomorrow! – don’t be put off by the word sceptic. Have a look!

There are also details on the forthcoming Muncaster Conference, mentioned previously on this blog and my Facebook.

cj x

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