By Ash Pryce
I have spent the past few days in the company of Hayley Stevens. You may know Hayley from Righteous Indignation, a podcast followed by thousands of avid listeners and renowned for it’s investigative approach to paranormal claims.
Edinburgh, as we’ve discussed at length in these pages, is referred to as “The most Haunted City in Europe”, so what better place for a sceptical ghost hunter to spend a few days? Returning to my old haunt Tantallon after continuing debate as to whether the “ghost” captured on film there 3 years ago was really better explained by pareidolia or by it being a tourist.
After her visit I caught up for a brief interview with Hayley about her experiences here and what the future has in store which you can find below:
1) You’ve just spent a few days in Edinburgh and visited three different allegedly haunted locations (Tantallon, Mary Kings Close and Grayfriers). Could you tell us a little bit about those visits and how you find the alleged hauntings relate to the reality you experienced?
Well, I was hoping to be punched by the McKenzie poltergeist, but alas it didn’t happen.
Honestly though, it was great to visit sites that I had heard so much about in the past. I didn’t think the locations were haunted, but the hype that surrounds them is fun and intriguing. Mary Kings close was incredible, I’d recommend anyone who can, does that tour.
I am glad I visited the three locations, not because they have ghost stories associated with them (though indeed they do) but actually, the history of the locations and the stories about their heritage are wonderful to experience and see in person.
2)You’re currently working on Project Barnum, for those not aware could you tell us how that came about and what it’s future holds?
The point of Project Barnum is to help make people aware of how people claiming to be psychics can trick them into thinking that’s true. It was something I’d been thinking of putting together for a while but when the scandal surrounding Sally Morgan made headlines recently, I realised that to launch it now while such things are in peoples minds would work well, to help such awareness.
I don’t know what the future holds for Project Barnum (I’m not psychic…), but I hope people will use the resources we make available to talk to people about the possibility that they’re being misled through the use of psychological tricks.
3) There has been a lot of public debate especially within the skeptical “community” about the attitude toward women and women’s involvement. Certainly within the past few years we’ve seen more and more women not only attending skeptical events but more importantly being actively involved in talks, investigations, conferences and movements. Could you give us your own thoughts on the inclusion of women in skepticism and how that is becoming a much more common occurrence- if indeed you agree with that statement?
Firstly, I hate the word ‘inclusion’ and the idea of including women into skepticism because women have been involved in science and skepticism for a long, long time without being told they can be included, or without being asked to be involved. If women aren’t attending events perhaps organisers should ask themselves what it is about their events that might make women not want to attend?
Actively seeking out women to include in a project or event can force someone into becoming a token that they don’t want to be. I’ve been contacted by media companies who tell me to my face they’re contacting me because I’m young and female – although it’s great that people are aware of equality and demographics, there can be a point where it becomes ‘positive discrimination’ which doesn’t always work.
4) Now as a ghost hunter from a skeptical perspective you’ve faced your share of criticism and open hostility from non skeptically orientated groups. How does that affect your own attitude and behaviour now when it comes to ghost hunting and ghost hunting groups? And has this had an impact on your decision to stop using the title “The Friendly Skeptic”?
My decision to stop using the title of The Rather Friendly Skeptic on my blog was simply because it didn’t have the right feel to it and it didn’t match the URL I was using which was confusing.
I have been at the receiving end of negative and anti-social behaviour from selected people who are closed minded believers, but I’ve also had the same from people who consider themselves to be skeptics and open minded too. Such behaviour isn’t exclusive to any one set of beliefs or opinions. Whenever you are challenging peoples ideas about the world around them there is always a chance they’re not going to be as open minded as they think they are, and they’ll react in a negative way.
I used to let this get to me and react by either mirroring their behaviour or getting upset and defensive, but I’ve stopped letting it get to me. I have one rule and it is this: accept constructive criticism, forget the rest. I think a lot of bloggers and speakers need to follow that rule. Arguing back gets you nowhere, and if people turn nasty because of the points your making, it’s because they don’t have a valid argument. Sucks to be them.
5) What do you think is the best way of engaging with the believing public? Should we maybe be going into schools in the way religious groups do and presenting the students with the tools needed at an earlier age to combat bad science and bullshit?
Getting people to question things for themselves is an essential step towards getting them to question their beliefs, and yes, doing this at an early age is a great idea. There’s a difference between confronting someone over their beliefs, and engaging them over their beliefs – something so many get wrong.
6) A lot of people think that skeptics are cold hearted and just don’t want to believe in things, I know when I stopped believing there was a great sadness because I realised I would never see my gran again and that this was the only existence I had. It was to some degree quite frighteneing at the start. How did this revelation impact you?
I felt similarly, there was a grandfather I would never see whom I’d believed I would – but it’s more comforting to live in the now than to live for the future.
7) You’re making quite a name for yourself, with travelling around Europe to guest at conferences, writing for national magazines in the form of The Skeptic, presented Righteous Indignation and generally being seen as one of the most important voices in the skeptical world when it comes to claims of the paranormal. How does that alter, if it does, your intended goals and choice of projects when it comes to the paranormal?
Well I don’t consider myself to be that important, but I’ll take your word for it. It’s always intrigued me how so many people want to hear what I have to say and I guess it’s because there aren’t many people who have had the same experiences as I have who are willing to talk so openly about it. I have no shame in admitting that I was wrong for the best part of my life, that I acted unethically in the pursuit of proof for my beliefs.
I’ve never had any intended goals when it comes to ‘the paranormal’, but as people want to hear my thoughts and ideas it has opened doors and inspired things that I think could be useful to others. Watch this space, I guess…
8) Finally, if you could sit down for a meal with any person living or dead and could ask them one question: Who would it be and why? What would the question be?
Well, I wouldn’t want to sit down and eat with someone who is dead because they’re generally rotting and mushy and not the best company to have. I would find it interesting to sit down with the author Terry Pratchett whose books I have read since a very early age. His imagination and wit is inspirational and his books are funny and can often be touching.
Though, of course, if it could be a fictional character it would be Sherlock Holmes.
Thank you to Hayley for taking the time to answer these questions. Finally, the video. Below you can see the investigation we conducted into the alleged haunting of Tantallon Castle. Despite there never having been any association with the castle and ghosts, since the 2008 Science of Ghosts event which discovered the picture, even the Wiki page for Tantallon mentions the haunting. So sit back, and enjoy.
You can read Hayley’s blog at www.hayleyisaghost.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @hayleystevens