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Para-Con 2010

by Mark Edward, Oct 09 2010

Dealing with the Woo

This last Saturday saw the “first annual” SoCal Paracon and the IIG took full advantage to show up and make our presence known to all those who may call themselves “paranormal investigators.” As we expected, it was a sparsely attended event, but that didn't stop us from putting out as many $50,000 Challenge Applications as we could and stating our case literally face to face with the wooyist bunch of people I have seen since my days working at a Spiritualist church. SoCal Paracon was a chance to stop talking and start walking and I'm proud to announce that IIG rose to the occasion. Although we still did a lot of talking, it was directly in the face of the people who need to hear what we have to say, and it made a huge difference. 

Any negativity was immediately disarmed as soon as we showed up at the loading dock with all our gear. A good humored guy in a “Para Whore” t-shirt kindly offered to help us load in and greeted us warmly. I think we all knew we would be having a much easier time of it when that moment passed. As we stressed to everyone who approached us – we want to believe – show us! We did our best to let everyone know that we just take a more scientific point of view than most of the people running around with flashlights and EMF meters and claiming to have absolute proof of the supernatural.

Jim Underdown Holding Down the Fort

Jim Underdown of CFI/IIG led the charge as we set-up and watched the room take shape. Being a veteran of such events, it was understandably hard for him to stomach the whole thing. To his credit he managed to make it through most of the day without flinching. It was hard for all of us to keep our composure, especially when the “lectures” began and it soon became apparent just how ridiculous most of the “ghost hunters” really were. Nice down home folks, just not entirely scientific in their approach.

The First Lecture (Yawn)

Soon people began to come to our table. Stories were told, anecdotes and even a few truly amazing people who had “gifts” they wanted to share with us spoke to all of us enthusiastically. We smiled, spoke about how we were all there for the same thing and collected photos and video clips for our files, all the while reminding everyone we had $5,000 on the table plus a $5,000 finders fee for anyone who leads us to a winner for our IIG Challenge. Meanwhile fellow IIGers Steve and Ross traversed the rooms incognito, interviewing and acting neutral. I can't wait to review their stuff.

As I had anticipated, my trusty pack of Zenner ESP cards attracted a lot of interest and proved to be a handy tool for “testing” the occasional person who strolled by to see what they were and what we were up to.

Susan Gerbic endlessly snapped away with her camera and further captured the spirit of the day by later dressing up as a ghost and floating through the crowd to the delight of everybody. Susan was fantastic and has written up her own excellent chronicle of this day's adventure including specific people and claims we encountered which is far more in depth than this blog, to which I will gladly direct the reader to for more details: http://montereycountyskeptics.blogspot.com/2010/10/socalparacon.html

Prior to this event, IIG had set down a few goals and after it was all over, we all wrote down what we thought worked and waht didn't. We all agreed that our main goals: 1) To offer an alternate viewpoint to the woo and provide plenty of cogent information, 2) To get out as many Challenge Applications (or web directions to) our $50,000 Challenge, and 3) To take this opportunity to bond with fellow IIG members, establish a core group of members who would be trained to deal with this kind of “in the field” situation in a diplomatic and friendly way and also set forward a quick packing list to encourage further field experiments in like territories. We should be able to move on an instant's notice. I thought we did exceptionally well with accomplished three goals. There were no brawls or nasty confrontations like we contemplated earlier on. If we had a problem with dealing with any “our side” or “your side”, it quickly became apparent that that was our problem, not theirs. Our only regret was that we didn't see many more people. It was expensive to buy a ticket: $35.00! In this economy, it was amazing that anybody would pay to hear and see any of what we were bombarded with. This shows that the media is having a huge impact with paranormal programming and people are not only interested in ghosts, hauntings and the supernatural, they are ready and willing to come out and investigate it. The IIG couldn't have been in a better hot bed of woo. Investigate? Well, …yes. We've got that covered.

As far as I'm concerned this event was a total win/win for everybody. I think it even convinced an initially ambivalent Jim Underdown that we have the ability to communicate our message tactfully and were positioned in a prime zone to both stimulate and invigorate people on both sides of the paranormal gap. There were people at Paracon who evidenced a complete lack of awareness for any other way of thinking other that media infused woo ghost crap. There were many instances when all of us saw “the light go on”  above many heads – possibly for the first time. They had never thought differently. Most of the people who had their lights turned on had just assumed up until meeting us that the TAPS people and Chip Coffey were as real as season four of “Deadliest Catch.”
Guess what? That's a large part of what we are up against.

For me, shaing my knowledge with these folks was like the magically transcendent  ”Ah ha” moment that happens when a magic student is finally given the secret to a trick they have puzzled over. After seeing how easy it is to do once the secret is known, they breathe out a mixture of relief and inspiration. To share this kind of communication is a rare experience and has to be felt to be completely understood. It's a feeling of helping. And no woo belief can touch that.

Forget about the phony medium (redundant?) Mark Nelson who did a weak but well received turn on stage as a “psychometrist,” there are real hard working people out there who just don't have a clue. The Mark Nelsons of the world will have their own undoing to look forward to. If we can, FORCE ONE or IIG will take them down eventually. Watch for a blog all about his methods of psychometry, which left the audience impressed, but this mentalist with much to desire as far as what I have seen done by other professional mentalists doing the same thing. I think that's part of the problem and why I get so pissed off watching today's crop of wonderworkers: they don't work half as hard as a professional psychic entertainer, because they don't have to! People seem so much more easily satisfied and  far more gullible than in the past. Maybe I'm wrong about this and it's just me, but are people just more stupid than before? By this I mean before Sylvia Browne, VanPraagh and all those other charlatans started appearing all over the media?

Chatting Up a Woo Preistess.

Curious wooers were intrigued that we had such an open and willing demeanor and freely and openly engaged them in serious conversation. I'm counting on more than a few I met to either reach out to their woo friends and go for that $5,000 “Finder's Fee” or step up to see if they can do it themselves.
Then there were the many undecided folks who took an interest in the IIG itself and its programs and outreach goals.  This was a also good thing for everybody and showed us that there is a huge audience out there in woo woo land who are not our enemies,  just people who lack alternatives and may be experiencing a range of complicated issues that seem like they must be paranormal.Hey, if Scully and Mulder saw it, it must be real.
Never fear: science and rational thinking is creeping by inches into these people's minds. This is evidenced by the whole “scientific” tone these seekers were trying to show off, even if it was for many vendors just exploitative hucksterism. There's a underpinning of real interest here if we dig deep enough. We were surprised when many of the participants we would likely have steered completely clear of in other situations confided in us by telling us they were sick and tired of all the crap too.
So what does that tell us?
It's up to those of us who can meet these people head on to do so. Waiting for them to come to us and present themselves for a challenge isn't good enough.  Education might reach a few if they are willing to listen, but to the masses that may not be willing to sit still long enough to accept an alternative; going out into the belly of the beast and doing something constructive by playing on an equal playing field is not only a public service – it's fun too.

A Tee-Shirt for That Special Someone...

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13 Responses to “Para-Con 2010”

  1. Sgerbic says:

    Not sure if it is clear but the IIG stands for Independent Investigative Group and our website is http://www.iigwest.org.

    And Mark is 100% right it was a blast to be out there and experiencing the stories first hand.

    I can’t wait to do this other places.

  2. Max says:

    This kind of outreach is certainly less dickish than the “FORCE ONE guerilla skeptic” stuff.

    • Sgerbic says:

      Force One is reserved for the con artists that prey on the gullible. People who KNOW what they are doing. Not people who are simply misinformed, misguided and really think they are helping others. There is a BIG difference between these two camps.

  3. tmac57 says:

    If enough of these misguided people continue to get out there and investigate these claims for themselves,maybe they will eventually realize that there is no “there” there.That’s how I lost my interest in woo when I was a teenager.I expect interest in this current crop “ghost hunters” to peak and fade fairly soon.One can hope,right?

    • TonyaK says:

      @tmac57

      “If enough of these misguided people continue to get out there and investigate these claims for themselves, maybe they will eventually realize that there is no ‘there’ there.”

      Unfortunately, many of these people do investigate. However, the manner in which a majority of them conduct their work is not based upon rational inquiry. Most of the time, it appears to be based upon attempting to confirm what they hope/believe to be true. It’s not surprising that they often do just that for themselves. Considering the vast coverage in the media of the typical pseudoscientific methodology employed by ghost hunters, it is not surprising that the hobby continues to grow.

      Even more importantly, there is often real harm being done by the misinformation provided by paranormalists to their clients. But that is another topic for another time.

      Nearly a year ago, I attempted to attend a paranormal conference in Gettysburg and signed up for a vendor’s table so that I could distribute educational materials and interact with conference attendees. Apparently, under pressure of one of the conference speakers/guests, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was no longer welcome due to their perception of “skepticism” and a complete and total misunderstanding of my motives. It is a shame that attendees of this event were not allowed to experience an alternative viewpoint.

      I applaud the IIG’s efforts here. Outreach in a manner that provides education and resources is something that needs to occur with greater frequency, in my opinion. I hope others take your lead!

      • Sgerbic says:

        Yes Tonya you are VERY correct about the harm done to the people asking for help. Years ago a woman called in the IIG to investigate green stuff she would find on the kitchen floor each morning, she was terrified that she was being visited by aliens in the night. Turns out it was the refrigerator leaking. What a relief for her! But these HeeHaws (though they all say they are being scientific) if they can’t figure out the problem leave them with the answers of demons or ghosts.

        Over and over we heard from the investigators how they were very careful to not frighten their clients, and to rule out mental problems and people with medication complications. And they all say how they use science and rule out most of the activity as not ghosts. But they still are leaving in the possibility of ghosts or demons. Yeah that makes sense.

      • Max says:

        They have to learn to ask the right questions. Otherwise, they start ghost investigations by asking if anyone died in the haunted place.

        But one can hope. George Noory expressed some skepticism on Coast to Coast AM the other day. A caller was describing shadow people, and Noory said he once noticed a fleeting shadow, and realized it’s from an airplane.

      • tmac57 says:

        Baby steps I guess.I sure wish all of those babies would hurry up and grow up though.It can be tiresome continually telling them to “Be careful! That stove is hot!” Only to be told,”I choose to believe that there are other ways of perceiving that temperature,other than your narrow way of knowing.”

      • I blame the parents that breast fed them into their early teens for not giving them to the opportunity to mature enough to accept reality.

  4. Wendy Hughes says:

    This project started as a field trip just to attend the Paracon, and by virtue of great enthusiasm on the part of Mark Edward, Susan Gerbic and a member of the IIG Steering Committee, it did turn into an opportunity to have our own table with a committee, brand new IIG banner, agreement on how to look in our IIG shirts and black pants, free back issues of Skeptical Inquirer magazines to hand out, our demeanor in the “belly of the beast,” we were almost over prepared.

    By the time the ParaCon weekend rolled around, almost the entire Steering Committee was on board, and I thought we were the best looking crew of all the organizations represented. I should mention that in advance, we had a Paracon email reflector, twitter account, and had coordinated ticket purchases, not to mention a friend of IIG who works in law enforcement who scoped out a proposed site for an after hours ghost hunt… but that’s another story :-P

    If the payoff is only that we’ve exposed people to Skeptical Inquirer magazine who never would have seen it before, that’s not too shabby; but in fact, there is at least one investigation that has come to IIG as a result of the contacts made at ParaCon — and the practice at preaching to others than the choir was extraordinary.

  5. Sgerbic says:

    Here is Mark on Para Quest Radio Network doing an interview about the IIG’s 50K challenge. This really shows the tone we took.

    http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/9964171

  6. Skeptic Hunter says:

    Take the 1 million dollar challenge to prove life doesn’t exist and that human intuition isn’t real. Lawyer Victor Zammit http://www.victorzammit.com/ and when you can’t as we know you won’t come forward for this, find a better hobby!