Regular readers may recall that I recently bought Chat It’s Fate magazine in which I found a fabricated ghost photograph. I am now going to admit that I also bought the September 2015 issue of Spirit and Destiny magazine. I don’t know why, but I did. Just accept it, okay?

There was one story in the news section that caught my eye in particular as it claimed that ‘one in five people in the UK say they’ve seen a ghost, according to a survey by Rightmove, which also found that nice per cent of us claim to have seen a UFO.’

I am always interested in studies of public attitudes towards the paranormal and paranormal belief and I’ve previously written about why some studies that claimed “more people believe in the paranormal” don’t necessarily show that result when you look at the data and compare it to other studies, so naturally I wanted to know more. Spirit and Destiny went on to report ‘Other revelations include Torquay in Devon being the hotspot of ghostly encounters, where more than 25 per cent say they’ve seek something spooky. For UFO sightings, Falkirk in Scotland is the place to be, with 20 per cent of its residents saying they’ve seen something inexplicable in the sky. But if you want a UFO and ghost double whammy, then head up north to Wigan. The town in Greater Manchester had the third highest number of UFO sightings (16.8 per cent) and the third highest number of ghost-spottings (24.6 per cent)’

Firstly, who wouldn’t want a UFO and ghost double whammy? In for a penny, and all that… but to be serious for a moment, the claims sound fantastic but they don’t tell us very much. How many people in Torquay were interviewed? It can’t have been the whole population so what is 25% actually a quarter of? If it’s 10,000 people then cool, but if it’s just 200 people then… not so impressive.

With this in mind I looked into this further and found that the survey was actually part of Rightmove’s Alternative Census in which they asked 300,000 of their members questions about a variety of subjects including dating habits, how many hours they sleep, whether they prefer cats or dogs, current work habits, if they are happy in their relationship, how many close friends they have, nude neighbour sightings (really), UFO and ghost sightings and more.

I really wanted to know more about the numbers involved in these claims and so I contacted Rightmove directly first over the phone and then on Twitter. They would not share the data with me when asked despite claiming elsewhere that the survey was completely anonymous.

I learned very quickly that Rightmove doesn’t care about my confusion which saddens me. I am but a mere ghost geek looking for ghost stats and I have been denied.

Naturally this prompted me to do some digging around online and I discovered this gem of a report on the Alternative Census by Property Industry Eye in which they quoted a landlord who was not too happy with how unprofessional these questions made Rightmove look. In response to this ‘a spokesperson from Rightmove told Eye: “It’s for some consumer PR we’re planning for the future. We decided to come up with loads of questions to see which ones give the most interesting results for stories.’ That is known as cherry picking data. Tut, tut.

The explanation Eye got is a little different that the introduction to the project given in the press release where Abiola Oni says ‘We created the Alternative Census as we wanted to find out more about the unusual goings on in local neighbourhoods, alongside the more typical things you might be interested in before moving there. Good transport links and high achieving schools are often the first things people think about, but in The Alternative Census we were able to get an entirely new perspective about the towns and cities people call home.’ Indeed, there is no mention of consumer PR here at all.

The fact is that talk of ghosts and UFOs is great for PR because you don’t have to substantiate your claims but this is just sloppy data handling. Had more people given interesting answers about naked neighbours we would probably see more reports on that… oh wait.  To make it even worse Rightmove haven’t even tried to deny that this s a big fat PR stunt. Sorry Torquay, but you’re probably not the most haunted place in the UK. Sorry Rightmove, but your Alternative Census is full of shit. 25% of people said so.