Monday, 30 June 2014

Fashion Victims?

From the Daily Mirror 27/6/14 comes a story of the alleged haunting of a New Look store in Sidmouth, Devon.

"Terrified staff have called in a medium over fears their shop is haunted by a gran who hates skimpy outfits.
Seven workers at fashion store New Look heard mystery bangs, footsteps and whisperings."
The article continues:
"Spiritual medium Linda Helliker poured cleansing salt on the floor and tried to communicate with a prudish widow named Gladys.The strange happenings began when staff in Sidmouth, Devon, entered an unused storeroom.They discovered it used to be Gladys’ bedroom when the building was a hotel three decades ago."

The information that the building used to be a hotel is quite useful, the rest seems to be nothing but speculation. Did the staff "discover" that this room was Gladys' or was that simply ad-hoc invention on their part? I suspect that the staff may of named Gladys themselves. I've worked in allegedly haunted buildings myself and you tend to find the stories surrounding the "ghost" develop over time courtesy of the staff. This includes the parochial naming of the "ghost". If this information has come from elsewhere, we are never told its source, and of course, its still speculative. Even if there was a "Gladys" who lived at that location, why assume that this is the source of these occurrences? 

So we know that the building used to be a hotel, how is this useful to us? 

Well, quite often reports of anomalous noises, such as footsteps, originate not in the building in question, but from an adjoining building. This is especially relevant in terraced housing/buildings where staircases are often placed on opposite sides of the same wall. This can result in the sound of a person climbing the stairs in building A, sounding like a person climbing the stairs in building B. If there is no one who could be on the stairs at that time in building B, this can be misinterpreted as a ghost.

Indeed we are told that footsteps on the stairs are a reported phenomena here:

"“When we’ve been in the stockroom we’ve heard footsteps coming down the stairs." 
This may be particularly relevant in this case. Remember we are told that the store was previously a hotel, but a quick at the store front on Google street view strongly indicates that the neighbouring store (right of screen) was also originally part of the hotel. You can see this in the continuity of the architecture such as the roof height, window style/height and brick work. This isn't a continuity that runs through the buildings on the rest of the street.

Hazarding a guess I would say that the mystery footsteps are originating from the store next door, which was originally part of the hotel, and where the division may not be masonry that is not as heavy duty as between the neighbours on the other side. It may even be possible that the two stores share the hotel's original stairwell. Many of the other unaccounted for noises may be caused by the moving of stock, and as these are both clothing stores, clothing rails.

Another possible culprit for these unidentified noises could be the stores air-conditioning. Most shops have air conditioning systems, which can emanate all kinds of weird noises. Rapping and banging being quite common. Often these noises travel along the system. Like central heating systems in houses, I'd say air conditioning systems are responsible for a great deal of mis-attributed hauntings in shops and offices.

As for some of the other experiences, the explanation for this may well be down to suggestibility and the more nervous members of staff  almost being primed by these ghost stories, resulting in a perceived encounter of their own.

"“One girl heard a whispering in her ear and she got so scared she ran into a table. Another of my girls felt someone breathing on their neck...""
Under conditions of fear and stress our senses are heightened as a result of the release of adrenaline, commonly known as the flight or fight response. This can result in a mere breeze that would normally go unnoticed, feeling like breath, or even a light touch. Likewise normal background noises are heard and imagined to be much louder than they actually are, therefore misinterpreted as supernatural in origin.

The haunting seemed to cease after a local medium, whose son happens to work in the store, was called in. Again, this seems purely psychological. The staff expected the actions of this medium to work and they did, not surprising as many of the factors of the haunting may well of been due to the staff's state of mind anyway. This is similar to exorcism rituals having success and the victim's (yep, I said victim) "recovery" being due to the fact that they expect the ritual to work.

Sorry guys, I think your story is pure window dressing.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

He's Not a Ghost Witness... He's a Very Naughty Boy!

Anyone seen this story in the press yet?
"Mitch Glover, 14, was visiting the Neuville-St. Vaast German Cemetery in France on a class trip and snapped the photo with his iPhone. When he returned to his home in England, he saw the ghostly figure and later discovered the cemetery is near where Scottish soldiers from the 114th Seaforth Highlanders died in April 1917."
         - Lee Moran, York Daily News.

So let's look at that photo, and a close up:

So initially I suspected this was a case of pariedolia, the Guys at the great Facebook page, Casebook: Paranormal thought this too and gave a great explanation of what could of caused such an effect:

Sorry guys, great explanation, but we got it wrong!

I found this fantastic image comparison by April Abercrombie at 13th Chime Paranormal*:

It would seem that someone has photoshopped the original image, adding in an image of what appears to be a headless action man. 

An additional search by myself revealed that this image is available on a Spanish ios ghost app, Ghost Effects 1.6.

Sorry Mitch, you and your ghost are busted!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Another Day, Another Demon....




Why on Earth are more and more people resorting to this dark-age superstition to explain well understood natural phenomena? Its understandable that in a time before psychology, neuroscience and the germ theory of disease, our ancestors resorted to superstition to explain how those around them could change drastically or die overnight, how the afflictions could spread through communities. It's part of our evolutionary heritage to assign agency to seemingly random events, it took our development of the scientific method and critical thinking in general, to overcome this innate bias.

Anyway... here is the latest "possession" video. Purporting to show the results of experimenting with a ouija board by three young adults. You can read the full story here (sorry its the Daily Fail, it really was the best source in this case), or here's the jist of it:
"Three American friends have been taken to hospital after reportedly becoming 'possessed' by evil spirits while playing with a Ouija board. Alexandra Huerta, 22*, was playing the game with her brother Sergio, 23, and 18-year-old cousin Fernando Cuevas at a house in the village of San Juan Tlacotenco in south-west Mexico. But minutes into it, she apparently started 'growling' and thrashing around in a 'trance-like' state.Meanwhile, Sergio and Fernando also reportedly started showing signs of 'possession', including feelings of blindness, deafness and hallucinations.
Paramedics were called to the house and took the trio to hospital, according to Alexandra's parents. They restrained Alexandra to prevent her from hurting herself, before treating the three with painkillers, anti-stress medication and eye drops, which seemingly worked.
Victor Demesa, 46, the director of public safety in the nearby town of Tepoztlan, said: 'The medical rescue of these three young people was very complicated.
Taken to hospital: Minutes into the game, Alexandra started 'growling' and thrashing around in a 'trance-like' state, according to her parents. Above, she was restrained by paramedics to prevent her from hurting herself
'They had involuntary movements and it was difficult to transfer them to the nearest hospital because they were so erratic.
'It appeared as if they were in a trance-like state, apparently after playing with the Ouija board.
'They spoke of feeling numbness, double vision, blindness, deafness, hallucinations, muscle spasm and difficulty swallowing.'
He added that whether the trio were really possessed, or had simply convinced themselves that they were, was not for doctors to comment on."
*Correction: Later reports have Alexandra as sixteen not twenty two.

The video is apparently shot in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

As you can see we are only shown a small section of footage of one of these youngsters, Alexandra, displaying what I'd describe as typical "possession" behaviour. We see growling, snarling, clawing of hands and sinister laughing, all the behaviours we are culturally conditioned to expect from a possession. What we don't see are the other elements that we are informed are typical in possession cases, there is no superhuman strength, no impossible body contortions, no levitation. In short, nothing that wouldn't be explainable without resorting to the supernatural.

Like most of the individuals who are sharing story  around the internet, I also believe that the ouija board is directly responsible for Alexandra's condition. But its nothing to do with its purported ability to contact the dead, its a result of the fear and superstition that surrounds the ouija board. I would hazard a guess that Alexandra was in a state of high stress caused by the anxiety of performing the ouija board. This state would of been amplified when the plancette moved due to the ideomotor effect.

I believe this led to Alexandra suffering what is known as a brief psychotic episode with an obvious stressor. It may well be the case that witnessing their sister and cousin suffering this episode brought about similar episodes in the other two youngsters.

The symptoms of a brief psychotic are also consistent with  the symptoms reported by the three youngsters, and their treatment with anti-stress medication, which alleviated the problem, would seem to indicate a problem of this nature.
 Symptoms of a brief psychotic episode from WebMD:
"The most obvious symptoms of brief psychotic disorder include:
  • Hallucinations: Hallucinations are sensory perceptions of things that aren't actually present, such as hearing voices, seeing things that aren't there, or feeling sensations on your skin even though nothing is touching your body. (All three youngsters reported suffering from hallucinations- SB)
  • Delusions: These are false beliefs that the person refuses to give up, even in the face of contradictory facts." (in this case Alexandra's belief she was possessed leading her to "act out" in such a fasion.-SB)
So what causes a brief psychotic episode? One theory suggests that the disorder is caused by poor coping skills, as a defence against or escape from a particularly frightening or stressful situation. This could easily describe the situation these youngsters found themselves in.

The symptoms of a brief psychotic are also consistent with  the symptoms reported by the three youngsters, and their treatment with anti-stress medication, which alleviated the problem, would seem to indicate a occurrence of this type of disorder.

What is important to bear in mind here is that while I do not think that this is in any way "real" paranormal phenomena, that does not mean I believe it to be "fake" as such. I think the incident for Alexandra and her relatives was very real and probably quite traumatic. It just isn't what they, and many others, believe it to be.

Of course this is just speculation. I am not a doctor, nor am I a psychologist. my aim is simply to show that there are perfectly rational explanations for occurrences such as this that we should explore before resorting to dark-age superstition.  

I have the feeling there is more information to come on this story, I will update the post as I find it.

So it would seem that these three youngsters had rather stupidly consumed Brugmansia which is highly toxic. Effects of ingestion can include paralysis of smooth muscles, confusion, tachycardia, dry mouth, diarrhoea, migraine headaches, visual and auditory hallucinations, mydriasis, rapid onset cycloplegia, and death.

Here's an account of another user of 
"Soon after drinking the Tonga, the man fell into a dull brooding, he stared vacantly at the ground, his mouth was closed firmly, almost convulsively and his nostrils were flared. Cold sweat covered his forehead. He was deathly pale. The jugular veins on his throat were swollen as large as a finger and he was wheezing as his chest rose and sank slowly. His arms hung down stiffly by his body. Then his eyes misted over and filled with huge tears and his lips twitched convulsively for a brief moment. His carotids were visibly beating, his respiration increased and his extremities twitched and shuddered of their own accord. This condition would have lasted about a quarter of an hour, then all these actions increased in intensity. His eyes were now dry but had become bright red and rolled about wildly in their sockets and all his facial muscles were horribly distorted. A thick white foam leaked out between his half open lips. The pulses on his forehead and throat were beating too fast to be counted. His breathing was short, extraordinarily fast and did not seem to lift the chest, which was visibly fibrillating. A mass of sticky sweat covered his whole body which continued to be shaken by the most dreadful convulsions. His limbs were hideously contorted. He alternated between murmuring quietly and incomprehensibly and uttering loud, heart-rending shrieks, howling dully and moaning and groaning" Preissel, U.; Preissel, H. G. (2002).
Case closed I'd say. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Source of Denial.

Let me pose you a question:
If I had a product that I was offering, for free, every day on a social media, and you came along and said "That's an interesting product, do you mind if I take some of that free product and do some tests on it?" and my response was to say "No I don't think this product is for you!" and then kicked you from the group, what would your view be of that product?

You probably wouldn't trust it, right? You'd probably feel justified warning people to be wary accepting the product. You'd probably feel that testing was desperately needed. Right?


Readers of this blog who have come here from my Facebook page The Rational Paranormal or one of the many links I post on Facebook, are probably well aware of my plans to run a test of psychics who offer readings of "selfies" on various pages. If you've not come across this practice before (and you probably won't have unless you visit paranormal/psychic pages) here's how they tend to go:

This initial post is then normally followed by a series of individuals, claiming psychic abilities, giving readings about the sitter's personal circumstances, the personality or their deceased loved ones. I'm sure that you can see there is an immediate glaring issue here. Photos are linked to Facebook account, meaning that much of the information that is given COULD, potentially, be gleaned by a little to the sitter's Facebook profile, or searching the sitter's name on other social media. Also the provision of a photograph gives ample opportunity to do some cold-reading.

Now I decided to design a test which would minimise the opportunity for psychics to glean information from the sitter's Facebook. Would receive the sitter's "selfie", check it is non-searchable, assign it a random number from 1-100 using a random number generator, and then pass the corresponding "selfies" to the 10 numbers the psychic being tested selects.

The full protocol will be posted to this page in a few days hopefully, but what I am sure is abundantly clear is that I will need at least 100 viable "selfies"/sitters, and some psychics to test. On the sitters front this has been ticked over quite nicely. I've posted about this on a few Facebook pages and I've received a steady amount of volunteers since then. The psychics, unfortunately, have been less keen to participate.

Now, I am aware that I don't have much to offer as a reward here. Unlike Skeptic supreme, James Randi, I don't have a $1,000,000 reward on offer. What I am offering however is a small source of validation. The opportunity to at least demonstrate that there may be an iota of truth to the claim they are making. Surely that's worth something? And as they are offering these readings for free anyway, there's no loss. They would only be doing what they are doing anyway, just with no searchable information.

This message was posted to two of the largest groups on Facebook offering readings on photographs and selfies:

"Hi Guys, thanks for the add. Hope I'm OK plugging this here. I am looking at organising a test for psychics who offer readings via photographs on Facebook. 
 I Should be ready to post my testing protocol for social media psychics, who claim to be ale to give readings from photographs, to my blog ( within the next few days. I'll be looking for upwards of a hundred unique "selfies" never posted to social media before to be read. And of course I'll be needing psychics to take part in the test. Know any that claim this ability? Or anyone who is willing to submit a selfie and receive a reading (or ten)? Send them here!"
In both cases the poster was immediately blocked from said group.  And we are talking within minutes here. Its almost as if  the admins didn't want their users, who between them offer hundreds of readings per day, to see the test. Or was it because these admins themselves claim these abilities and don't want to have to explain to their members why they declined to take place.

Here's the message I received when I posted the above request to the Facebook page Spirit Source:

Now take a look a some of the readings offered on the page, I would say they fit exactly the criteria of my test! Is it relevant where "on their journey" a psychic is? If they are claiming an ability, and using it to do readings everyday then what difference does doing it within the parameters of the test make?

Photo to be read.                                                           Reading given



Who is that giving the last reading? Its Kerry Carter who told me the group wasn't the target audience for my test, at 11:19 pm on 13th June despite that fact that she had herself been performing the exact act required by the test a few hours previous!

So who was Kerry protecting her novice users or herself?

The worst thing about all this is that some of the stories related on these pages are absolutely heart breaking, grieving parents, siblings, children....there are some people genuinely suffering here and looking for help. The individuals on these sites that are more than prepared to use their vaunted "powers" to intervene in delicate and intimate situations, but aren't prepared to show that they actual exist in the first place are exactly the type that we should be steering people away from. Because I suspect that they are the ones who know or suspect that they are playing make-believe games with people's lives.

If you are interested in submitting a "selfie" for reading, or you consider yourself to genuinely psychic and aren't afraid to put that to the test contact me here:

I hope to have the full testing protocol posted here very soon.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Irish Teenage Demon Fighter and Ultimate Haunted Ireland: Cashing In On the Paranormal?

Irish Teenage Demon Fighter....

...Sounds like it really crappy idea for a Buffy the vampire slayer rip off doesn't it? Well I have to inform you that the Irish Teenage Demon Fighter is an  individual who actually exists. His real name is Rhys Byrne.  He is actually Irish. And I'm pretty sure he is nineteen, so technically a teenager (though he'll need a swift rebrand next year). Does he actually fight demons? That's the question. Another pertinent question would be, is Rhys actually helping people or is he exploiting vulnerable people for the sake of self promotion?

He has a card, must be professional. Right?
 Here is how Rhys describes himself and his mission on his website.
"Irish Teenage Demon Fighter is Ireland's youngest Demonologist recognized by the international Paranormal community."

Unfortunately it isn't exactly clear what recognition
from the international paranormal community entails, And why this actually matters. Recognition
isn't exactly endorsement is it? Also a community isn't bound by universal standards as a single organisation may be.

Its likely that there are as many individuals within the "international paranormal community" who think that the idea of demons and demonology are a dangerous and ignorant throw back to the dark ages as there are those who would be prepared to "recognise" Rhys in any fashion.

Apparently Rhys has some special gift which enables him to battle demons, his story of how he acquired these abilities is almost identical to that of most mediums and psychics:
"At an early age I realized that I was different to most kids.And could see and speak to dead people, and see them in the format that they died. This was scary as a child but something that I learned to work with."
Some would suggest that this occurrence of special powers during childhood reflects a need in a child to feel special or different from their peers. In an article from the Cork News Rhys continues, attributing the enhancement of his powers that allows him to fight demons to an undefined period in a coma!
 "When I came out of a coma at 15 it came in stronger than usual. I found the normal spiritual stuff of mediumship wasn't enough and I needed to do more, so I said I'd take on demonic. It kicked off from there. That's what I am good at." 
That's an awful casual mention of a coma there! It almost suggests that Rhys is making this up as he goes along, did the reporter not consider that the reason Rhys was in a coma was worth mentioning?

Another thing that Rhys fails to provide in the article is any evidence, and, perhaps very  tellingly, not even any anecdotes about occurrences during his battles with demons. He justifies this by stating that his client's confidentiality prevents him from sharing this information.
"I don't disclose information about who contacts me but cases I'm working on at the moment are mostly demonic possession. In some cases they are life threatening..." 
This amounts to absolutely nothing concrete to work with, we can't be sure that Rhys has even had any clients. I admire his convictions, but surely there are other ways of protecting his client's identities whilst still showing some evidence that he has actually had clients.

Rhys is similarly vague about the methods he uses to combat the "demonic". We are told in his Cork News article that he is a Buddhist  who doesn't use the Bible and a crucifix in his exorcisms. So what are his methods. All we are told is:
"...The teenager favours a "one-on-one" approach: "I get aggressive with it, and do what I have to do." he said..."
Erm... OK. Very macho but that doesn't actually tell us what Rhys' procedure for exorcism is. And this vagueness from Rhys is common across the board. In no interview I've read, at no point does Rhys divulge any further information about the above topics.  

A strangely standoffish interview with RTL2FM only served to cast more doubt on Rhys' tale of his youth. He claims to have been studying Buddhism for five years, and to have spent time studying with monks in India. As he is only nineteen, you can clearly see the problem with this story. When exactly did he squeeze all that meditation and training in?

Came out of a coma at fifteen, presumably left school at sixteen.... he's only nineteen now...

When asked this Rhys stumbles and stutters, seemingly knowing he has to be quite careful to adjust his story in order to not be caught out. Also this story about the gifts he received upon awakening from his coma are different. In this later interview he states he awoke with a greater understanding of Buddhism.

Could this be why Rhys is reluctant to reveal too much about his exploits, he knows that he can't think on his feet quickly enough not to be caught out?

One thing Rhys has no problem revealing is that he has an agent that all and any media consultation should go through. Represented by Mr Fintan Cullen of The Entertainment Factory, Rhys seems to be listed as an actor not a "speciality act" oddly enough. 

He also lists as his skills:


Hand to Hand Combat-Weapons specialist -
Military tactics,Manoeuvres,

Swimming,Diving,Go Karting,Sky Diving,Off Road Driving, Tactical Driving,

Travelling & living in various countries, Dogs, Reptiles,All Animals both domestic & wild,

Demonologist,Buddhism,Working with kids,disabled and able bodied,Soccer,Survival Skills, (sic)"
Wow! One has to wonder when Rhys had time to master all these skills. being only nineteen, and having spent a year in India studying with monks, and working as a demonologist involved with "life threatening cases". How does a nineteen year old fit all that in with military and combat training....and a little coma! Unless its all fabricated?

Sorry for the cynicism, but Rhys seems to me to be desperate for "fame" and is willing to take any avenue to achieve it.  He isn't alone. 

The problem is, that the route Rhys is using to achieve fame is exploiting potentially harmful and destructive superstitions. It may be feeding the delusions of some very damaged and ill people. Rhys may be a delusional and damaged person himself, but something tells me his desire for fame maybe his main problem. 


Slick Graphics!
It seems that Rhys isn't Fintan Cullen's only foray into the paranormal. Fintan himself is about to star in a TV show called "Ultimate Haunted Ireland"produced by SWV productions. From the images I came across it looks like yet another "wander around in the dark, jumping at nothing" paranormal TV show in the vein of Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters. 

Unfortunately, can't tell you when UHI will air, as it doesn't seem to have been picked up by any TV stations as of yet. A website for SWV productions displays nothing but a similar image to that above and a link for potential buyers, and may only exist for Copyright purposes.

There is a little more information on the Spooky News site and some images from the show on the Irish Paranormal News and news worldwide Facebook page: 
"Calls went out around Ireland for our top Paranormal Investigators and Mediums to come forward for an exciting new show called Ultimate Haunted Ireland.  The call was answered and the pilot has been filmed! ANN O’REGAN caught up with Writer and Producer Sandra Hickey of SWV Studios to find out a bit more…"
Unfortunately, I couldn't read further without sharing to Facebook, which quite frankly, I'm not going to do! When they say "calls went out around Ireland..." I can't help but wonder if actually means "calls went out from Fintan's Roladex.."

We are told exactly who these "top paranormal investigators and mediums" are on the aforementioned Facebook page: 

"Ultimate Haunted Ireland the new TV Show coming soon. Featuring Fintan Cullen, Shay Carry and Dorothy Shiels and many more Spiritual mediums and Paranormal investigators."
We get some lovely photos too!

Ooh look its Fintan (right) investigating ghosts an' stuff!

Who's that with Fintan there? Its Shay Carry, you will never guess this but Shay is also listed on Fintan's Entertainment Factory site as an actor! What a massive coincidence! 

Here's Shay. He doesn't claim any paranormal abilities as
Skills though. 

Hmm... I don't know about you but I am starting to get the impression that these projects are nothing more than a mercenary attempt to make money from the paranormal field. Fintan wouldn't be the first if this is the case and he certainly won't be the last.  The problem is that it ruthlessly exploits those with paranormal beliefs, and ridicules the work of groups trying to conduct ACTUAL research.

I've heard many a paranormal researcher complain that the problem with paranormal teams at the moment is every other one is attempting to get themselves on TV. That shallow pursuit of fame seems to be at work here. 

I wonder how long it will be until Rhys younger brother, also listed as an actor on the Entertainment factory's site is roped into all this as well?   

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Water Palaver! The Actress, The Doctor and The Pseudo-scientific Study!

Many of you will have come across recent reports of actress Gwyneth Paltrow's belief that negative emotions can affect the molecular structure of water. Now most people are aware that Paltrow is an almost never ending spring of nonsense beliefs and theories, most journalists know this too... and, in consideration of the public's fascination with Paltrow, they exploit it to sell papers. Few have actually examined the source of Paltrow's belief, the work of Dr Masaru Emoto, predominately his experiments with water crystals.    

Emoto, a doctor of alternative medicine, tested his hypothesis that                                                         negative emotions can effect the formation of ice crystals by placing 
phrases such as "thank you" and "you fool" written on paper and in various languages under samples of distilled water.
Emoto states in the appendix of the resulting paper*:

“It didn’t seem logical for water to ‘read’ the
writing, understand the meaning, and change
form accordingly. But I knew from the
experiments with music that strange
 things could happen.”

Hmm... So Emoto started the experiment already fairly convinced that the hypothesis would prove evident. Very little surprise then, that it actually did.
Below are images released by Emoto of the resulting water crystals from the "thank you" and "you fool" samples. 

So does this demonstrate that Emoto's hypothesis is at least worth consideration? I would suggest not, as there are several glaring faults with the protocol Emoto has used thus far. The first is evident from the captioning of the above samples. As you can see, one was labelled "Chinese" the other "Japanese", now why not a direct comparison of  the two phrases in the same language? The use of various languages allows Emoto to cherry-pick the samples which best exemplify his hypothesis. He is letting the hypothesis shape the evidence, not, as should be the case, the opposite. As Emoto has failed to release the full set of photographs taken, when we consider that Emoto has stated that each test was represented by AT LEAST 100 samples this represents a vast amount of missing a data! In fact if only one petri dish is shown for each test, we are missing AT LEAST 99% of the available data! We have no choice than to believe that the samples were not selected and paired at random. They were clearly selected to display Emoto's hypothesis.

Further errors become evident as we probe further into Emoto's protocol, there are a number of environmental factors which can effect the resulting shape of ice-crystals. While Emoto took steps to minimise these effects, for example freezing all samples at -25^0C, in a fixed volume and at constant pressure. All fine and good. But Emoto saw fit not to seal his Petri dishes in order to prevent contamination! This is a particular concern during the photography process, as samples would be particularly vulnerable to the effects of the photographer's breath upon them. Also we told little about the lengths of time taken to photograph the samples, we are told the process was carried out at -5^0C, but were all the samples exposed to this raised temperature for the same length of time?

But why would the researchers conducting this experiment not treat all samples the same? Wouldn't  they have to do this as surely they wouldn't know the "negative" samples from the "positive" ones? Unfortunately Emoto didn't find it necessary to impose this standard of blinding in his protocol, meaning all the researchers were aware of what sample they were handling at what time, and what the desired outcome would be for that sample!

One form of contamination that concerned Emoto greatly was the possibility of "negative thoughts" of the researchers effecting the samples, this masterful stroke of special pleading led him to select only researchers that already believed his hypothesis would prove correct. All of the above is damning condemnation that Emoto had no desire to reduce or remove experimenter bias at all. In fact, it seems as if he did everything in his power to ensure there was a maximum bias towards positive findings!

If this has you questioning Emoto's motivations and ethics then the knowledge that he predominantly uses these findings to sell products on his website will do little to quell this. Below is an image his "indigo water" and a brief vague description.

Found on Emoto's Hado site what follows is a quite staggering blurb of pseudo-scientific rubbish which eludes that Indigo water can help prevent "...headaches, asthma, colitis, diabetes, heartburn, peptic ulcer pain, high blood pressure, blood cholesterol and many other symptoms..." the blurb in general seems to aim to throw out as many scientific and pseudo scientific terms as possible in order to obfuscate what indigo water actually does and how it is produced.

Emoto seems to be frustrated at the lack of attempts to replicate his findings, implying that the scientific community doesn't take his findings seriously. And honestly with those control failures and a complete lack of objectivity who would!

Couple this to the fact that Emoto hasn't actually made most of this data available for consumption, and his findings haven't actually been published in a peer reviewed journal, just self published by Emoto himself, and one can hardly conclude that Emoto's hypothesis, experiment or findings are "scientific" at all.

Unless you are a Hollywood actress with no ability to determine science from pseudo-science. Its indicative of a culture that places far more importance in "celebrity" than can be healthy, that anyone takes Paltrow's opinions on science and health seriously at all. 

*Study cited Emoto, Masaru. “Healing with Water.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Volume 10, Number 1, 2004, pp. 19-21.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Moon Madness! A Modern Myth examined.

There are a lot of commonly held beliefs that few question, they are received wisdom which millions accept without question. One such belief is that the moon can effect human behaviour. Many doctors, nurses, health professionals and police, believe that the moon, and in particular the full moon, can influence a person's behaviour, mental health, likely hood to commit crime and many other factors.

Known as the "lunar lunacy effect" or the "Transylvania effect", belief that the moon can cause negative behaviours in some, especially those with mental illness, is certainly not new. Probably the first thing that we think of when considering the effect of the full moon is the werewolf, a man transformed by some mystical force possessed by the lunar cycle. As the name "lunacy" suggests the French were so convinced of the connection between mental health issues and the moon, they named erratic behaviour in honour of the moon "la lune" itself.

The effect of  the full moon is now no longer solely a factor in the supernatural and folklore, there are pseudo scientific explanations for its effects. Which are of course, as in error  as earlier more primitive myths, but these explanations are very convincing to some, Sussex police went as far as to put out extra patrols on full-moon nights in 2007.

In 1996 Ivan Kelly, James Rotton and Roger Culver assessed over 100 clinical studies regarding the lunar cycle and a wide catalogue of behaviours and afflictions* and found no reliable or statistically significant correlation between the two factors.

So why does the myth persist? Here are a couple of factors that may aid its propagation:

1. Representation in the media: The idea that the full moon can influence behaviour is a common theme in both fiction and actual news reports, in the latter the connection is based purely on anecdote, and it is surely worth noting that it would be more of a news story if no crime, etc... occurred at a full moon.
2. Communal reinforcement: The idea is repeated in police stations, infirmaries and emergency rooms around the world. The people whom's anecdotes support this story are often well-educated professionals, surely their anecdotes carry more weight than most people? Actually no. This is almost an argument from authority. The educated still make cognitive errors like the rest of us. Such as...
3. Confirmation bias and illusory correlation: Essentially remembering the hits and  forgetting the misses. Let's say an ER nurse has a particularly hectic night, multiple car accidents, a domestic abuse victim and a patient with a stab wound. "Must be a full-moon!" she mutters to a colleague as another victim of a violent crime is brought in. Later her colleague goes outside for a quick smoke, looks up... and sure enough it is! Both are quick to remember this when ever the effect of the moon to our behaviour is mentioned. They forget, however, the multiple times "Must be a full-moon!" has been said only for them to go outside and not notice the moon is not full. They remember and hits, and often don't even register the misses. This selective memory helps to confirm our preconceptions and we are all vulnerable to it.
4. Plausibility: The idea that the moon can have an effect on our bodies sounds probable to most people who are aware that the common belief is that Earth's surface is about 80% water, as are our bodies (actually this is only in infants, the percentage in adults is normally around 65%). Its an intuitive idea,  if the moon's gravity effects the tides surely it effects the water in our bodies. Right?

Its analysis of this proposed mechanism for how the moon effects behaviour (i.e.  Via its gravitational effects upon the water in our bodies) that shows there is nothing to this myth, unless another mechanism can be proposed.

There are several reasons why gravity isn't a likely cause of alterations in the water in a human body.

Firstly gravity is an incredibly weak force. This may seem silly to you, as the effects of gravity can clearly be seen all around us, but if you drop a book to the floor and then pick it up, you have just overcome the gravitational force of an entire planet! Consider another thought experiment, if you placed a glass of water on a table during an entire lunar cycle, would you expect the water to shift in position or any other quality, based on the phase of the moon? No, you probably wouldn't, and that is 100% water, not 65% like the human body. Its also unbound water, like the water in the oceans, not bound water as is found in the human body.
Essentially bound water in the body is divided into very thin layers on surfaces and bound to macromolecules. Unlikely to feel anything but a negligible effect from gravity. This water is also subject electro magnetic forces which at this scale are much stronger than gravity.

But aside from all this, the killer to this hypothesis, the moon isn't actually closer to the Earth during the full moon! Therefore, as gravity is inversely proportional to distance of separation between two objects, the gravitational force on anything on Earth isn't greater during a full moon than at any other particular phase during its cycle!

As the moon's orbit is elliptical rather than circular,  meaning there are periods when it is closer to the Earth and periods when it is further away, the perigee and apogee respectively. This cycle isn't synchronised meaning we can have full moons at both apogee and perigee. If gravity could effect the water within our body, it would be at these times, when the gravitational force is stronger.

If you'd like to read more about this CSI have just published this really in depth article:

*Effects examined by Kelly, et al (1996) and found to have no significant correlation with the lunar cycle: the homicide rate, traffic accidents, crisis calls to police or fire stations, domestic violence, births of babies, suicide, major disasters,casino payout rates, assassinations, kidnappings, violence in prisons, psychiatric admissions, agitated behaviour by nursing home residents, assaults, gunshot wounds, stabbings, emergency room admissions, alcoholism, sleep walking and epilepsy.