Category Archives: Editorial

The SPR & ASSAP: time to merge?


IntroductionASSAP FB logo

The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) was founded in 1981 as the result of dissatisfaction felt by a few members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR).  This is ancient history and it is not the present intention to rehearse the issues which created that rupture.  Suffice it to say that the two organisations have existed in parallel for over thirty years, attracting different, though frequently overlapping, memberships but generally standing aloof from one other.  Now that aloofness is dissolving, with each promoting the other’s activities on social media, and there is more interaction than has been the case in the past.  With this improvement in relations, the time has come to ask: why not merge to form a single body?spr_logolowres

The first response might be to wonder why they should merge when they have such strong individual identities and do well on their own.  The answer is that they have strengths which are complementary, rather than antagonistic, so that both sets of members would gain from unification.  Another question is that if some members were dissatisfied with the SPR in 1981, could the same happen in the future, leading to yet more friction and possibly a fresh split?  The answer to that is that the current SPR is a long way from its 1981 incarnation, and fully aware of how traumatic such a rupture is in the life of an organisation.

The following sections attempt to answer some more of the questions that will naturally occur in a discussion of the merits of bringing ASSAP and the SPR together.  It is to be hoped that these will generate debate, which may produce further questions.

What are be the benefits of a merger?

The obvious one is a bigger combined membership, with economies of scale and greater resources.  A larger size should increase its punch and authority, both within the field and among the wider public.

The SPR has dedicated premises and a paid full-time administrator which would improve the ad-hoc administration experienced by ASSAP members.  The volunteers who run the latter do a tremendous job, but a dedicated office function has to be more efficient.  ASSAP members would have access to the range of benefits already enjoyed by SPR members.  These include four numbers of both the magazine Paranormal Review and the peer-reviewed Journal (and occasional Proceedings); free access to London lectures, reduced rates to bi-annual study days and the annual conference; a permanent library, archives of international significance, and free access to an online library of publications back to 1882.  ASSAP officers could be brought into the SPR Council structure by means of co-optation.

In terms of research, ASSAP has an energetic and enthusiastic membership, and this injection of energy would be welcome in the SPR.  ASSAP’s spontaneous case network would reinforce the existing SPR Spontaneous Cases Committee and its emphasis on training would be useful in stimulating interest in investigation among SPR members.  A larger combined membership, and therefore increased income, would enable an expansion of the amount given to fund research activities.

Education, a core function for both the SPR and ASSAP, would be improved as well.  Integrating the libraries and archives would provide an enhanced resource (the new SPR premises, bigger than the previous rented accommodation, providing the required space for ASSAP’s books), and ASSAP’s records would find a permanent home.  A single set of periodicals, with a larger circulation than either achieves singly, would attract a wider range of writers.

There would also be benefits in geographical reach: the SPR is often seen as London-centric, whereas ASSAP is successful regionally.  With a combined membership around the country there would be motivation for regional activities, enabling members outside London to participate in their localities.  This is an opportunity to decentralise some of the SPR’s functions, with more grassroots involvement.

What about differences in scope?

The subject-matter of the two organisations is not identical, that of ASSAP covering a wider area than that of the SPR.  ASSAP members might legitimately complain that a merger is likely to squeeze out particular interests, such as ufology, earth mysteries and folklore.  This is not necessarily an impediment, even though such topics in general fall outside the scope of the SPR.   In these days of easy electronic communication it is straightforward for sub-groups to pursue their interests.  The new SPR website will make it possible for members to keep in contact with each other easily, so that even though say ufology is not a significant element of psychical research, those with such an interest can still interact, while enjoying the benefits of their SPR membership.

Membership fees

A stumbling block is that ASSAP’s fees have always been significantly less than the SPR’s.  The standard membership rates are noticeably different, with ASSAP’s being a quarter of that charged by the SPR.  This reflects the different set-ups of the organisations, ASSAP’s lower volunteer-based costs compared to the SPR’s permanent paid staff and building expenses.  ASSAP members would hopefully consider the broader range of benefits enough to justify an increase, but perhaps there could be a transitional arrangement, with incremental rises over several years for existing ASSAP members to bring the two sets into line.  The SPR membership rates are very reasonable, and ASSAP members would hopefully see that the increase was justified.  It is most unlikely that there could be any reduction in the SPR rates to bring them closer to ASSAP’s.

Events

On the other hand, ASSAP members would undoubtedly baulk at the costs of the SPR conference and study days (as do some SPR members).  With ASSAP’s expertise in mounting economically priced study days (notably the extremely popular ‘Seriously…’ series), there is no reason why these could not continue, augmented by the presence of SPR members who had never attended an ASSAP event before.  The status of some of these, such as conferences on vampires and witchcraft, would be problematic under the SPR banner but these could be run in collaboration with other organisations, such as the London Fortean Society; the SPR has participated in joint events with the Scientific and Medical Network so there is precedent for such an approach.

A concern which has to be acknowledged is that the desire to organise events might diminish, with those who had previously volunteered for ASSAP not wanting to make the effort on the grounds that conferences of all kinds should be arranged at the centre.  It is doubtful that the SPR office would be willing to shoulder the extra administrative load.

What about the name?

The name could be a sticking point for ASSAP members.  There is no easy way that the names SPR and ASSAP could be combined, and there would be overwhelming resistance within the SPR to altering an internationally-recognised name that has been in existence since 1882.  The most likely outcome is that the SPR would retain its name, but with ‘incorporating The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena’ on its literature – something that might not appeal to ASSAP members whose first loyalty is to that organisation.  This could be a major obstacle, but one that might be overcome if ASSAP members were convinced that the advantages outweighed the loss.

Mechanisms for reaching an agreement

This article has set out some of the pros and cons of a merger.  Bringing the two together would not be quick as there are a number of steps before that could happen.  In addition to a general debate among both sets of members there would have to be an initial discussion by the officers within the two organisations; a formal process of consultation with members; meetings between the two sets of officers to resolve any contentious issues; then there would have to be a vote, with a criterion for a yes vote agreed in advance.

Conclusion

This long after the event, most of those interested in our subject are not bothered about why ASSAP came into being.  What they want to see is a thriving organisation or organisations that can deliver the means necessary for them to pursue that interest.  Many join both with no sense of conflict, and a number of those who established ASSAP continued to take part in the SPR’s activities, clearly seeing no contradiction in belonging to both.  There is no doctrinal reason why the respective memberships should not combine and work together, and the practical difficulties could surely be overcome with goodwill on both sides.  In delivering their services the two organisations are capable of existing independently, but their combination would strengthen the voice for psychical research.  If that is our aim, then the case for coming together to our mutual benefit, and that of the field, is a strong one.

This article is being published jointly on the authors’ blogs, and publicised on social media, in the hope that it will generate a constructive exchange of views.  The authors are both members of the two organisations, but are not writing in any official capacity.  They welcome feedback of all types, which should be sent to tom.ruffles[at]yahoo.co.uk, in order to gauge levels of support for and opposition to the proposal.  This has to be a bottom-up process, with all opinions aired.

Tom Ruffles and C J Romer

10 October 2015

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Help with Becky’s PhD Research – Strange Survey


Long term readers of this blog will recall that I have mentioned a few times Becky Smith’s PhD research (based at Coventry Uni) in to anomalous experiences – ghosts, poltergeists, hallucinations, hauntings, call them what you will. Well she has started the main data collection phase now, and is trying to get as many accounts as possible from people who would answer positively to this main question

Have you ever (when fully awake and unaffected by illness, alcohol or drugs) had an experience of seeing something or someone, or of hearing a voice, when there was no ordinary cause for it that you could find?

If alternatively you would answer positively to

Have you ever witnessed unexplained movement of objects, or other disturbances in a house or building?

Then she would also like to hear from you! Even if you took part in a previous study, do go fill in the questionnaire, which can be found at www.strangesurvey.com

Also, if you can assist in publicizing the study, by passing on the details to friends who you know have had an experience of this type, or by sharing it with a random selection of acquaintances on Facebook or similar, please do. Don’t spam your mailing lists though, unless it’s directly on-topic!

Thanks for your assistance, and if you have any questions I’ll pass them on to Becky The important thing is to try and get as large a response as possible.

I’m sure many of you will recognise the question as a variant of that used in the 1894 SPR Census of Hallucinations, and DJ West’s classic studies. :)

cheers

cj x

 

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Buttoning up a Case That Never Was


Not very exciting I’m afraid, but definitely worth a quick comment. My little poltergeist case has now been resolved, the mystery not much of a mystery at all, but testimony to how dunder-headed I can be.  If you have been reading recently you might have seen my account —

I have been horrendously busy recently, and amusing myself with stuff like the 1st Cheltenham Paranormal Festival, so the blog has fallen rather quiet. There was one odd little incident, exactly the kind of thing one forgets. After my talk, during the ghost hunt, I walked in to the auditorium gents, and was struck on the shoulder by a button. My leather jacket has a strap on each shoulder with a button – since before Christmas the one on the left had been missing. As I walked in, it suddenly returned – and struck me lightly, before clattering to the floor. I was the only person in the gents, and there was no button I could find before in the jacket to replace it, as it annoyed me as the strap flapped free. Perhaps it had been caught up in my jacket for months – I guess it must have, or I had a very inconsequential and trivial poltergeist experience!

Here, for those of you with strong stomachs, is a photo of gruesome old me with the folks from Forest Paranormal Investigations —

CJ with Forest Paranormal Investigations

CJ with Forest Paranormal Investigations: I'm the middle one

OK, so I’m the fat one in the middle. (Giving up smoking just before Christmas really piles the pounds on 😦 ) Now the important thing is the strap on the left shoulder, here tucked in rather than flapping loose – that is where the mystery button was supposed to have come from.

No, the answer was far simpler than that – while I was looking for the missing button on my coat, I failed to notice the right hand sleeve had a button – had until it flew off as I went in to the gents. Becky noticed it was missing yesterday, and we at once realised we had solved this terribly minor mystery – but it just goes to show how once you have been talking ghosts, even the most minor thing can all too easily be attributed to a spooky cause, and even when you think you have plumbed the depths of a mystery, and checked every possibility, you can sometimes miss the bleeding obvious. Well I can anyway!

cj x

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Polter-Censored???


I have been horrendously busy recently, and amusing myself with stuff like the 1st Cheltenham Paranormal Festival, so the blog has fallen rather quiet. There was one odd little incident, exactly the kind of thing one forgets. After my talk, during the ghost hunt, I walked in to the auditorium gents, and was struck on the shoulder by a button. My leather jacket has a strap on each shoulder with a button – since before Christmas the one on the left had been missing. As I walked in, it suddenly returned – and struck me lightly, before clattering to the floor. I was the only person in the gents, and there was no button I could find before in the jacket to replace it, as it annoyed me as the strap flapped free. Perhaps it had been caught up in my jacket for months – I guess it must have, or I had a very inconsequential and trivial poltergeist experience!

Anyway, today I’m moved to post by something a little odd — it seems some sceptics may be actually getting as loony as some believers can be, or maybe it is just — I don’t know, I just don’t get censorship on scientific issues. I guess the people who do these things would deny it was science –call it pseudo science. So what am I on about?

Martyn McLaughlin in The Scotsman on Sunday published a piece on Dr Barrie Colvin’s research. I’ll quote a bit of it here, for ease of  reference —

Ghostly rapping can’t be faked, research shows

Published Date: 30 January 2011
By Martyn McLaughlin
THEY are unexplained phenomena that have baffled scientists and sent chills down the spines of unwitting bystanders.

But the eerie knocking sounds allegedly made by poltergeists could not be made any other way, according to new research.
A lecture taking place this week at the University of Glasgow will present evidence for a strange audio pattern common to paranormal incidents.

(Read more)

Now as it happens I disagree. I was a strong advocate of the research, but in experiments conducted last year with friends from Rational Skepticism forum I found no difference between the waveforms of poltergeist sound files provided by Dr Colvin, and those I made by banging on furniture, under certain conditions. There has been a long and technical discussion on this blog – I have been fascinated since the first, and still think the JSPR paper was very important, but I am frustrated I could not replicate the findings. I am now waiting for others to try, and see what they find.  If you have not been following the discussion, my original article on the JSPR paper is here, followed by our experiments and critique  here, and a further piece on the polt raps here.

As one would expect, there has been a fair exchange of views, lots of speculation and refinement of hypotheses, and ultimately I think we all agree that more experimentation and as Dr Colvin said in his original article more good recordings from cases are needed. I think we also need to agree on what constitutes a slow attack, that is a sustained rise to maximum amplitude.  Still, so far I seem to be one of the few “critics” of the research – ironically given my admiration for Dr Colvin et al, and my firm commitment to poltergeist research.

Anyway today I saw the Scotsman on Sunday piece, and tried to link it to my Facebook. I received a message from Facebook saying that link had been reported as spam, and was therefore blocked. I was incredulous. I have written to Facebook using the report, asking the article be un-flagged – but was puzzles me is why it was flagged as spam in the first place. I may disagree with the article, but that is just ridiculous – censorship.

I am going to be paranoid here, and say that I think it was reported as spam by a sceptic, probably someone who sees themselves as a scientist, and who has never even read Dr Colvin’s paper.  Why do I believe this, rather than blaming some dour Scottish religious type? Well firstly religious types tend to welcome evidence for “supernatural” manifestations, especially polts which are often demonic in their attributes and behaviour and the fear they instil, even if not demonic in essence – whatever demonic may mean, exactly. Secondly, bitter experience of people refusing to listen when I discuss rationally evidence for “paranormal” claims. However for me the clincher was when I was trying to edit the Society for Psychical Research‘s and other parapsychological organisations wikipedia articles, often vandalised in the past, and edit after edit was rejected. Many times that was fair – I had messed up the edit – but eventually I realised that even though my edits were on historical matters and referenced, they seemed to arouse considerable hostility and raw emotion in some people.

The worst example I ever saw of this was after a well known parapsychologist and biologist was physically attacked and wounded, when on a sceptic’s  forum (the JREF) I saw someone post a horrific  comment praising the action, and hoping – well you get the drift. When people get so angry they say things like that, something is wrong.  Now let’s be fair – the comments were edited away, the JREF mods quickly acted as I would expect of them (I have come to know many of them through the forum as good people, and it is VERY well run usually) – but honestly, the couple of nutjobs who displayed real hatred scared me a bit.

Now every forum has nutjobs, and as recent experiments in social psychology has shown, attitudes harden rather than being softened in a group forum which faces outsiders posting contrary opinions.  In fact in the case of the JREF, the people who posted the material I found offensive were NOT regular forum types; my experience of sceptic forums is that people become far mellower and nicer over the years, ditto pretty much any forum, as they get used to the forum environment, and communicating on the interweb.

So I suspect that this latest piece of vandalism was just an aggrieved nutcase with a lot of faith, who KNEW this was pseudo-science, who therefore hit a spam button to stop this pernicious threat to their cosy FAITH go unseen by the eyes of poor gullible dupes like all of us. Such people just annoy the hell out of me — because they are not sceptics, they are simply bigots. Still I could be wrong – maybe there was some other reason for The Scotsman on Sunday being blocked – but somehow I doubt it.

It’s a sad,  sad world when people on either side of the great paranormal debate can’t even listen to one anothers opinions and try to formulate a rational critique 😦

cj x

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Welcome to Polterwotsit!


OK, let’s start with the obvious question – what exactly is  a “polterwotsit”???

The answer is of course, “no one knows!”

Disappointed? Well, polterwotsits for the purposes of this blog are what other people call ghosts, spirits, poltergeists, hauntings, spooks, or even if you happen to be a fan of the parapsychological literature “Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis” – or RSPK for short. The problem with all those terms is they have too many associations, too many theories implied, and let’s face it they quite possibly tell us no more than the my term  “polterwotsit”.

And that is what makes them so interesting! In our world there are few mysteries where the intelligent layperson can make a contribution, and most cutting edge research seems to be done by post-doctoral specialists in white coats. We have just such experts in the form of parapsychologists, but this is one field where we can all make a difference, and our research may actually help solve one of the last great mysteries.

Who is the blog for?

It is aimed at the general public, but there will be no dumbing down here! Hopefully the content will be clearly written, simple and understandable but perhaps at times challenging.  It will be of particular interest if you

* have a true “ghost” or “poltergeist” experience to share, and want to talk to people with an interest in such things!

* You think you are being haunted and want advice or pointing in the right direction

* You have an interest in parapsychology with an interest in “spontaneous cases” (as opposed to experimental or laboratory work) – ghosts, hauntings, poltergeists in particular.

* You are actively involved in ghost research, ghost hunting, or paranormal investigation.

* You like to critically examine such things

or

* You just love a good ghost story!

Who Ya Gonna Call?

If you have a comment on any story just sign in and leave a comment. All comments are moderated to prevent amusing spam, so  hopefully you won’t see thousands of offers for a larger manhood or exciting real estate in some swampland.

If however you want to write a piece for us, or you have a case to report, or a ghost story to share, don’t just comment. Instead in the first instance email CJ and we will get right back to you.

We love comments and emails, so please don’t be shy.

How You Can Help!

Over the next few weeks we will be adding a lot of content to the blog: essays on theories of hauntings, poltergeists, reviews, web coverage, news items, etc, etc. We are always interested in hearing from you. If you see something on the web or local press about ghosts or hauntings,  drop CJ a line. ( If you can’t get that link to work the address is chrisjensenromer@hotmail.com ). Again, if you have a true ghost story you wish to share with the world, do write. I can’t promise we will publish everything, simply because we are very busy, and following up all the email we get as it is takes time, but we will write back!

So, Seriously, Why Polterwotsit?

A long time ago, CJ met a young lady who had a most odd experience. He talked to her about poltergeists, and she in her reply was not exactly sure of the spelling – geist or giest? – so she wrote “polterwotsits”. Today she is CJ’s girlfriend, and doing her Ph.D in parapsychology. Reminds me of the old joke – “I could not spell parapsychologist and now I iz one”! So “polterwotsit” became a running joke, and still makes me smile today.

Anyway welcome to polterwotsit, and hope to hear from you soon!

cj x

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