I was still quite confused as were many others after the discussion of the Big Announcement at the ASSAP Seriously Strange conference: my previous post was my first take on it. I therefore sought out an interview tonight with the man behind the scheme, Dave woods, Chair of ASSAP…
CJ: Evening Dave. Firstly, can I thank you for an excellent and very enjoyable conference with 18 excellent speakers (and me). I thoroughly enjoyed all the presentations, the meal, and the opportunity to hear Stephen Volk talk about Ghostwatch! Of course I will be writing about the conference tomorrow, but what everyone wants to know is about the Big Announcement. It certainly came as a surprise, though I had come close in my speculation on this blog. Do you mind if I ask a few questions I’m sure many people have?
ASSAP Chair, Dave Wood: Absolutely. There is certainly a lot of discussion on the Internet already, so I would welcome that opportunity at this timely stage.
CJ : Thank you. Firstly for those who are not paying attention, can I ask you to briefly summarise the Big Announcement?
Dave: Yes. The big announcement took place at the 30th anniversary conference of ASSAP. And the announcement was that ASSAP has been recognised as a professional body for investigators of anomalous phenomena. This is just about the application of existing law regarding professional bodies. So far as I know there are no new policies, regulations or legislation in this area.
CJ: Following a number of high profile reality TV shows there has been an explosion of amateur ghosthunting groups in the UK, and this is really just an acknowledgement that these people need to be represented and be in a sense regulated? Or is that too strong a word, regulation?
Dave: I think representation is very important but, as you say, regulation is too strong a word. The vast majority of professional bodies in the UK are non-regulatory, as is the case with ASSAP. However people have been saying for many years that there is a case for a code of ethics and conduct that people can sign up to.
CJ: They are simply interested in protecting the public from the excesses of enthusiastic amateur ghostbusters?
Dave: I think it would be useful to have a code of ethics out there so that the public know the sort of service they are getting. It has the potential to provide peace of mind for clients. I think that’s desirable these days.
CJ: Anyone with an interest in the are has heard horror stories of unethical groups inadvertently terrifying families, exposing vulnerable individuals to risk and vandalizing and trespassing while pursuing “ghosthunting”, so I can see that point. So what is the heart of the proposal?
Dave: Well, ASSAP is now a professional body. But what that looks like remains to be seen. We asked several hundred members of ASSAP their views this weekend and those need to be looked at. But I would encourage anyone to get in touch with ideas if they have an interest in this development.
CJ: I only joined ASSAP again for the first time in over fifteen years last week. Can you tell my readers a little bit about ASSAP?
Dave: Certainly. ASSAP is an education and research charity founded in 1981. We exist to investigate and research on the whole range of anomalous phenomena. Much more can be found here – http://www.assap.ac.uk/newsite/htmlfiles/About.html
CJ : So are you all believers in the paranormal?
Dave: Anyone can become a member of ASSAP, and we come from a whole range of differing perspectives from belief to non-belief.
CJ: You mentioned the fact you want to hear from interested individuals in the paranormal investigation field about what form ASSAP’s new role should take? So every group and individual in the UK is welcome to bring ideas to the table?
Dave: Absolutely. The way professional bodies work is that only members of that body are bound by it. So you might think that we are only interested in the views of ASSAP members. However we believe any interested person could bring a lot to how this new project would work. We are keen to hear from anyone.
CJ: How long will the consultation period take? People will want time to reflect on this, and make suggestions?
Dave: We expect to talk to people for a number of weeks. And anyone can contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org – even if they are not a member, and not directly affected.
CJ: So, let me get this straight, ASSAP’s role will ONLY effect ASSAP members, not everyone else, except indirectly?
Dave: That’s right, as is the same with almost all professional bodies. There is an indirect positive impact on most investigators. But this is a voluntary scheme, as is the case with the vast majority of professional bodies
CJ: So groups won’t be effected, except in as far as ASSAP promises to perform ethical and sensitive investigation of issues within a professional body framework, whereas other groups may actually hold a seance in your fridge and bring forth Zuul? :) (Ghostbusters movie joke!)
Dave : Exactly! People can carry on doing exactly what they are doing now. Most professional bodies are purely voluntary, as is the case with ASSAP. In fact even our members will need to ‘opt in’ to the professional aspects of membership. Many of our members are not investigators, or prefer to investigate in their own way
CJ: So even ASSAP members can choose to opt out of the professional body. THis will be analogous to say the Federation of Master Buiders, or the professional registration that pharmacists, gas engineers, electricians, university lecturers, indeed almost every profession has?
Dave: In some professions you need to be part of a professional body, but in the vast, vast majority of cases it’s purely optional. Plenty of ASSAP members do not investigate. And as a charity we are legally open to anyone, there are people who will go their own way
CJ : So you are not about to become PSI-COP, and kick in ghosthunters doors at midnight to seize their EMF meters and smudging sticks? (CJ sounds disappointed!)
Dave: (Laughs) Good heavens no! This is a professional body for ASSAP members, and people can chose to join if they like. Otherwise carry on!
CJ : Bah! ;) OK, jokes aside, and oother groups are welcome to subscribe to the agreed principles and any Code of Conduct if they wish, and have input in to your Code of Conduct?
Dave: Of course. ASSAP members have a lot to give in this process, but ASSAP member do not know everything. We’re welcoming ideas from anyone who is interested, regardless of whether they end up participating in the future
CJ: So you think other groups may affiliate in the future to enjoy professional body status and the benefits of adherence to an agreed set of ethical principles and agreed protocols?
Dave: Groups can certainly voluntarily chose to look at joining in the process either now or later.
CJ: What about paranormal investigators who already have Professional Bodies? For example members of the SPR, the Parapsychological Association, and the Spiritualists National Union?
Dave: Certainly psychical researchers in the SPR and parapsychologists in the PA are already well represented and doing a good job. Their fieldwork is already part and parcel of their professional activities. There is no need to duplicate, here, and I see no impact on people who are already members of professional bodies
CJ: And why do you think there have already been strong negative reactions from a few individuals in the paranormal investigation community?
Dave: Well I think there is a lot of misinformation out there. It had been my hope that our official statement would have been put online this weekend but this will not be published until tomorrow. The result is that some people have got the wrong end of the stick. Some people are saying that we are a professional body that somehow ‘rules’ over other groups. This is simply not the case. There is no legislation or regulation for this. ASSAP is a professional body for its members. And independent investigators or groups are free to carry on as they wish, this will not impact upon them. We are no form of governing body for investigators at large. Some people have simply got the wrong end of the stick.
CJ: To be fair though, this misapprehension seemed very much the case at the Conference. I was certainly confused by it! So my blog may have caused undue panic?
Dave: We made the announcement at the end of the Saturday so people could sleep on it. Then we held a clarification Q&A session on the Sunday. I think most people got the right end of the stick. Your blog post was excellent, although perhaps someone misinterpreted it
CJ: So there will be no ramifications for the commercial ghosthunting companies out there, who sell “ghost nights” aimed at entertainment and fun to the public?
Dave: I think people who have a commercial interest are those who are perhaps most concerned about this, those who run ‘ghost nights’ or those who run other sorts of events. However a question remains about whether ‘ghost nights’ are considered to be anomalous phenomena investigation? I think there are differing views even between companies. However I can’t see anyone’s commercial interests being threatened
CJ: I’m hearing voluntary, consultation, input welcome, and no change for those not interested in participating. Given that, and that this is really about agreeing ethics and good practice for paranormal research, I think ther eis no cause for alarm for anyone?
Dave: I can’t see any cause for alarm. We’re talking about a voluntary participation for those who want to be involved and status quo otherwise. It’s going to be great for those who want to participate, but those who don’t have nothing to worry about that I can forsee
CJ: And on that note I must close, because I am so tired i must go sleep. It was a pleasure meeting yourself, Nicky, Ian, Larry, Clare, Wendy,Val, Hugh, and everyone else from ASSAP at the conference.