Monday, 9 September 2013

Seriously strange? Strangely serious

Conference registration in action - and not a vampire in sight
I had the pleasure of spending the day at Bath University on Saturday, taking part in the Serious Strange conference. This was the annual get-together of ASSAP (the Assocation for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena). Not surprisingly I got the invitation to appear on a panel there as a result of writing Extra Sensory.

Now, if I'm honest, one or two scientists of my acquaintance have been a bit snarky about my attending this event, suggesting it would be a load of woo, and that it would be frequented by weirdos who probably dress up as ghouls or vampires or something. I'm pleased to reveal they were wrong on both counts.

I really would say there was no big difference between the attendees and those I'd come across at a science festival with two slight variants that there were probably more women and definitely fewer children - in fact no children - but this was a conference rather than a festival. Yes there were one or two strange people, but that's just a fact of life when you gather together 250 people with a strong interest in any subject - but that vast majority were rational, intelligence, interesting folk that just happen to take an interest in the paranormal.

As for the 'load of woo', certainly there were some topics covered that were on the edge science-wise (ghosts, UFOs and such, and particularly EVP), but some took a decidedly sceptical approach. It was interesting that in the panel I took part in (looking at whether or not parapsychology has achieved anything), there was much more interest in studying why humans believe in such strange phenomena, rather than investigating the phenomena themselves. So this was only worrying stuff if you count psychology, sociology and anthropology as woo. They may not be the hardest of sciences, but they are without doubt 'ologies' as Maureen Lipmann used to say on the BT ad. In fact the discussion proved to be both interesting and academic in tone.

So I'm glad I went, and send a loud raspberry to those who were prepared to dismiss the whole thing without even finding out what it really was about. It's a bit like the infamous quote from Richard Dawkins, when asked to consider the evidence for parapsychology. 'I'm not interested in evidence,' Dawkins is alleged to have said. Not being interested in evidence? Now that IS woo.

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