Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Conspiracy Skeptic Unplugged Episode 10

A twofer 

This week Karl Mamer of the Conspiracy Skeptic Podcast (recognized by Skeptical Inquirer magazine) interviewed Hayley Stevens of the Righteous Indignation podcast.  I have never listened to Stevens podcast which she co-hosts with Michael Marshall and Trystan Swale, but it sounds interesting as the show interviews a large number of pro-paranormal folks.  Mamer's interview was really two interviews for the price of one.  The first part of the interview Stevens discusses her ghost hunting experiences, and her experience as a speaker at Weird '09, or Weirdo 9, or Weirdo Nein!, (it was a bit unclear) a pro-paranormal conference at which Stevens gave a talk.  As someone who never gets out into the trenches to investigates activities (I admit I probably should) it was interesting to hear how she is accepted by the equipment laden and medium chaperoned believers, as well as skeptics who sometimes question why one would want to waste their efforts on a fools errand.  I can find no fault with someone investigating the alleged paranormal event with a scientific and rational viewpoint.  Joe Nickel cannot do it all by himself, and a necessary activity in order to be credible when discussing why such things as hauntings are not the manifestation of the paranormal.

The most interesting discussion in the entire show for me was Stevens discussing her lecture at the Weird  '09 conference.  Stevens relates that during her talk to an audience of largely paranormal proponents, she had an audience member dowsing (I believe with rods) to look for a hidden key.  Presumably she was doing this to show dowsing is hooey.  In this case, the dowser found the freaking key.  She said she was mortified, and did not know what to say.  (If I were in her shoes, I have not a clue what I would do or say either.)  Now, I do not consider this strong evidence that dowsing works.  It could have been chance.  The theater may not have been that large.  The key not well hidden.  What were the security precautions when hiding the key?  How long did it take the dowser?  Did he have many false positives, etc. etc.  To be honest, I am surprised this incident did not make more of a splash in the skeptic/ believer world, since a dowsing experiment (poorly controlled or not) set up by a skeptic resulted in an episode that dowsing worked.  It is great anecdotal fodder for the pro-paranormal.  As far as I know, it has not made a big splash.

It started me thinking that if at TAM 7 Connie Sonne had passed her initial dowsing test in front of the audience, it could have terrible ramifications.  Yes, it was only the first gate keeper test before the actual $1,000,000 test.  However if she failed the final test it could have been spun that the skeptics were welching.  Sonne did it in front of an audience, but now she does not get the loot. It would have looked bad.  Luckily, the JREF did not have a Stevens situation.  (Yes, I know with Stevens it was a side event during her greater speech, while the million dollar challenge is the million dollar challenge.)  I do not mean to come across as critical of Stevens.  Rather, this is a reflection of reasons why when I try to refute folks' ideas of the paranormal I am always petrified that I will make it worse.)  I am just glad this hiccup did not get greater press.

This is an ex-Princess

The second part of the interview was a discussion of the alleged conspiracy that killed Diana, Princess of Wales likely by the British Royal Family.  Stevens and Mamer were both very well versed in the alleged conspiracy which seems to be fed by Mohamed Al-Fayed father of the son of Dodi Al-Fayed, who died in the crash with Diana.  Dodi and Diane had been dating a short time before the tragic evening of August 30/1.  On this evening Diane and Dodi had apparently planned to dine at one of Dodi's father's hotels, but they were found and hounded by the paparazzi.  The couple zipped off in their Mercedes driven by an intoxicated driver while chased by the paparazzi.  During the high speed chase the driver of the Mercedes lost control of the car and ran into a support pillar.   None of the passengers were wearing safety belts and three of the four passengers including Dodi and the Princess died of their wounds.  Pretty simple- drive a car quickly into a wall without any passenger restraints, physics dictates it will not end well for the passengers.

Naturally, theories abound that the Royal Family through the use of MI5 or MI6 or perhaps even SPECTRE had Diana killed because she was going to marry Dodi.  This could not be allowed as the step father to the heir to the thrown could not be a muslim.  Or Diana was pregnant with Dodi's love child, and the half brother to the future King of Canada and Australia would be muslim, and this could not be allowed to occur.  Stevens and Mamer go through why these ideas are baseless.  The autopsy revealed that the Princess of Wales had not caught preggars by Dodi or anyone else.  They had only been dating a short time and any ring that Dodi might have been planning to lay on Diana was likely not an engagement ring.  They discuss how the cover up for any such conspiracy to stay secret would have to be so large as to be nearly impossible to keep silent.  It is familiar territory and similar to the JFK assassination conspiracy, the moon hoax, 9/11 truthers, FDR knew about Pearl Harbor, but Mamer keeps it highly entertaining and far from repetitive.

As always Mamer kept the interview moving along at a nice clip, keeping it light hearted while not overly goofy, and showed that he was well versed in the topic himself.  As always I would highly recommend to the reader to download and listen to this episode.  I listened to it while raking leaves and chopping down a tree, and it is nearly certain to be an educational and entertaining hour for you as well during dog walk, commute, or time in front of your computer.


  1. The dowsing win might have come from "leakage". A staffer was charged with hiding the key.

    But, man, could you imagine a 22 year old version of yourself going "yeah, I'll speak at a conference of people who believe in UFOs and try to teach them about tricks of the mind". Hayley has a pair, for sure, and I think she's only going to get more kick ass in future.

  2. Oh more on the dowsing thing. Hayley mentioned to me on facebook

    "we're currently planning a full retest of the dowsing with proper controls in place."

    Stay tuned.

  3. Yeah me again. Hayley's blog on her talk and the test:

    On the podcast I brought up Nick Pope and smelling of sulfur because I though Hayley had a great point in her blog post:

    "...Nick Pope, Steve Dewey,Nick Redfern, Joe McGonagle, Malcolm Robinson to name a few and I learnt something very important. All the people present had different views, opinions and beliefs with regards to UFO’s, paranormal phenomena and the topics being discussed and yet everyone was able to act professionally and be friendly throughout the whole event, proving that no matter how different everyone thinks, we CAN all get on if we try."

    And her announcement about the future test:

  4. Puff-

    Thanks for the updates. Perhaps in a few years Stevens and Goldstein (see my latest post) will run TAM. I am glad that a more thorough test will be made of dowsing. At the mere age of 22 for Stevens to have accomplished what she has is truly commendable.

    While there are a few people for which I have little time to be civil regarding( McCarthy, Comfort and Cameron, and Sylvia Brown) I do feel that the vast majority of the time skeptics are wise to give not only proponents of the paranormal and pseudo-science, but the differing factions within the rationalist movement, respect and civility. For the most part snide personal attacks and high handed superiority do little to convince those on the fence and on the other side to change their views. There are plenty of nice folks with a less rational world view, while there are plenty of jerks on the rationalist side.

    Thanks for reading

  5. Nigel, feel free to give Hayley and RI a listen!!


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