Wednesday, 20 September 2017

5 Unexplainable "Ghost Sightings" Explained.

When websites and media outlets outside of paranormal specialist interest write an article about ghosts or the supernatural it's often presented as "unexplainable" or "undebunkable". As this recent article published on the website "oxygen" demonstrates though, this is most commonly a result of the author's own naivety, ignorance or failure/unwillingness to do even a modicum of research. The article in question, published on September 14th, titled "5 Documented 'Ghost' Sightings That Are Too Convincing Not To Believe" by Sowmya Krishnamurthy (1) begins:
"There are countless stories of human interactions with spirits and those that have "crossed over" beyond the grave. From Marilyn Monroe to Abraham Lincoln -- these documented encounters are hard to deny as paranormal activity."
So let's rise to that challenge and see we can do what Sowmya couldn't and find possible reasons to "deny" these five pieces of evidence provided is supernatural. Quotes describing the encounters or footage from Oxygen are in italics under the bold headings.

1. The Cleveland Museum "Claude Monet" ghost.
"In 2015, a special Claude Monet exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art was overshadowed when a mysterious figure who looks exactly like the late French Impressionist painter showed up in a photograph." 




If you're thinking "that just looks like a person who looks like Monet" then that's exactly what I was thinking too. We should we assume this is "a ghost". It looks pretty clear that the figure is there in the environment as the light is interacting with the figure. Is it a stretch to imagine a Monet enthusiast may style themselves after the man? They may well also take an interest in the setting up of a Monet exhibit. There is another possibility. Could this have intentionally been set up by the museum? What better way to start off an exhibit with loads of free attention from the local press? The story appeared first on WYKC.com, a Cleaveland TV station's website on October 8th, two days after the image was allegedly taken, in a short story with a link to the museum's website but no quotes from an employee (2). It was then picked up by Cleaveland.com (3) and published in the arts section with links to the specific exhibit's website and quotes from an e-mail sent to them from the museums' director of communication, Caroline Guscot:
"Caroline Guscott, the museum's communications director, said Friday that Jeffrey Strean, the director of architecture and design, took the picture of the mysterious visitor and posted it on his Facebook page.The photo shows the bearded, hat-wearing visitor looking down into the lower lobby outside the museum's special exhibition galleries, where preparations for the exhibit "Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse" were being completed on Tuesday.The visitor bears an odd resemblance to a banner-sized photo of the bearded, hat-wearing Monet, also visible in Strean's shot. Strean's image was not retouched, Guscott said. "What are the chances someone looks like that and happens to be at the museum the day we are finishing installation?" she wrote in an email.
The story was then picked up by various local news outlets and art related websites in turn-up up to Halloween (4) (5). Interestingly in these iterations of the story, the quotes remain the same as those given to Cleaveland.com by Guscot but this time are attributed to a lower ranking member of the communications team, Kelly Notaro.
""We thought it was such a coincidence that on the final day of installing Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, this man resembling Claude Monet was seen peering down into the lower lobby outside the special exhibition hall," Kelley Notaro, communications associate with the museum, told TODAY.com. "This snapshot taken by a staff member is not retouched or Photoshopped. And we have heard from others that they’ve seen the man, but there hasn’t been a confirmation in his identification! This is the first exhibition leading into our centennial year, so we are excited to start it off with something as cool as capturing a photo of this Monet look-a-like standing directly above an actual photo of the artist himself," said Notaro."
 You may be thinking now would a museum really resort to circulating a story like this just outside Halloween in order to get people in through the doors of an exhibit, after all, this isn't an English public house we're talking about? I thought the same thing, but the Cleaveland Museum has blogged about haunted paintings before and of the building itself being haunted by a former director (6) in a 2010 post encouraging families to visit for the Halloween weekend. Ultimately, I don't blame the museum for attempting to garner this type of gaudy publicity but I think it's a great shame that they feel they have to resort of this to get people to engage with art.

Is this unexplainable? Hardly. Moving on.

2. The Dinner Guest


Oxygen tells us this is the "photobombing ghost" of a transvestite who used to dine in the restaurant the image was taken in, I'm not making this up. They also attempt to divert possible objections by appealing that:
"It can't possibly be a reflecton because there are no windows or mirrors in the Begue Room."
This would be more convincing was that the most likely explanation of this ghostly image. As it happens, I don't think this is a reflection as such. I just think it's an example of an image created by the slow shutter speed setting of the camera used to take the image. Artist Emilie Lauwes uses this photographic artefact directly (below) to create ghostly images for an opera publicity shot (7).


The article offers this rationale to point to indicate this is indeed a phantom crossdresser "If you look closely, the image even appears to be of a figure in women's clothing and accessories." The author doesn't seem to consider who else wears women's clothes and accessories, living female patrons of the restaurant. Heck, living transvestite patrons even. It's obvious to me that a fellow diner has wandered into the shot as the couple take their selfie. Once again, this goes from unexplainable to easily explainable with a tiny bit of research.

3. Ghostly Cemetry. 
"This video is from a cemetary in Liverpool known for housing over 58,000 bodies, including one renowned sea captain. The captain was stabbed to death under mysterious circumstances. The shadowy figure caught on tape is seen swaying back and forth, which could very well be that captain, still tortured by his demise, or keeping watch over the cemetary grounds. Another theory is that the ghost could be the limping figure of William Huskisson MP. He has a mausoleum on the grounds after he was killed, when run over by a locomotive in 1830."
This one is from my neck of the woods. The footage below was allegedly taken in St James cemetery, Liverpool and first appeared in the Liverpool Echo in August this year (8). The footage is actually much older than that. It was originally published on the YouTube channel "The Way I see Liverpool" back in May 2015.



Now I've had a few ideas other theories about this footage that Oxygen seemed to have neglected. It could be an artefact of video compression as suggested by a commenter on the original Echo article. There certainly is a lot of pixelation during the video, most notably at the top of the screen. Another possible explanation is some form of steam, smoke or water vapour rising from the pavement in a vague face-like shape and the pareidolia doing the extra work.

I've got another theory though. I think this is a rather clumsy fake. The clue is those silver fleks near the bottom of the screen (below). What are these fleks?


Looks to me like rainfall. The thing is, these fleks don't move during the video. As the steam or smoke forms the rough face then dissipates, the raindrops make no downward motion. There isn't any other motion anywhere else within the frame either. In fact, the smoke doesn't itself drift or slowly form, it moves and changes shape instantaneously. There's no transitional changing. There's no motion in the raindrops, but if you watch the whole screen, the frame itself shifts about several times. I think what we have here is a video that is composed of several versions of the same still shot, almost like an animated flip book. Obviously, some of these stills are doctored with photoshop of a brushes application to give us our ghostly face.

4. Marilyn Monroe in the Roosevelt Hotel. 
"The Roosevelt Hotel is an iconic landmark in Hollywood and is known for its famous spirt inhabitants. One of its most famous guests, actress Marilyn Monroe, loved the hotel. She would stay for extended periods of time and died of an overdose while here. Since then, legend has it that the tortured actress never checked out."
Let's start with a glaring and blatant inaccuracy. Monroe did not die at the Roosevelt Hotel! She died at her home in Brentwood Los Angeles (9). This one isn't specifically about one particular sighting, photo or video, but the various reports of encounters with the ghost of Marilyn Monroe in the Roosevelt hotel. There are various anomalous images and experiences collected at the Roosevelt all of which have been attributed of Monroe's "ghost". I'd say there's a great deal of suggestion involved here. I suspect many visitors to the Roosevelt over the past were well aware of Monroe's association with the hotel and we have to consider the psychological effect of suggestion here, also the desire to have a paranormal encounter of some kind, especially with such an iconic figure. It means that unremarkable images such as this one featured in the article, are ascribed to Monroe.


The featured image was taken in 2005 by Frontline Paranormal investigator John Cain, who believes that Marilyn's image can be seen above both inside and outside the mirror (10). Sorry John, but I don't see anything but a blur, I certainly don't see Marilyn or a figure at all. This is an example of the kind of suggestibility and shoehorning that occurs at sites of famous hauntings.

To read more about explanations for the Monroe ghost encounters at the Roosevelt including the most famous example Joe Nickell's column for CFI covers it well (11).

5. Abraham Lincoln and the Mumler image. 
"Seven years after his assassination, an image of what appears to be the late President was spotted in a photo with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln. As USA Today shares, the photo was taken in 1872 by spirit photographer William H. Mumler. Critics at the time claimed that Mumler was a fraud, possibly using a technique like double exposure to create the image, and he was brought to trial. However, he was acquitted, and since then, paranormal fans are convinced the late President was communicating through the grave to his widow."
Remarkably and with no sense of self-awareness it seems, our Oxygen author here explains their own "unexplainable" image.


Mumler was indeed brought to trial and acquitted, but he was also ruined professionally, a fact our Oxygen author neglects to mention of course. During the trial, PT Barnum demonstrated the double exposure effect which Mumler had used to scam Mary Todd and countless others who had lost relatives in the American civil war by faking an image of himself also with Abe Lincon (12). This image couldn't be easier to explain. Mumler used a previously imprinted glass plate in his camera. Far from being "unexplained" it was explained over a century ago.

This really exposes the Oxygen article as what it is, lazy, uninspired, insipid click-bait. Not only are the images featured far from "unexplainable" one was explained before anyone reading this was even born.

Next time you find an article that claims to be "unexplainable" on the internet, explain it, even if you just publish the explanation on your own social media. Let's start getting accurate information out on the net in the same volume as the click-bait bullshit.

Sources

(1) http://www.oxygen.com/blogs/5-documented-ghost-sightings-that-are-too-convincing-to-not-believe

(2) http://www.wkyc.com/news/local/cleveland/could-it-be-monet/13720506

(3) http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.ssf/2015/10/did_monets_ghost_visit_the_cle.html

(4) https://news.artnet.com/art-world/claude-monets-ghost-haunting-cleveland-museum-art-345974

(5) https://www.today.com/money/claude-monets-ghost-haunting-cleveland-museum-art-see-photo-t51471

(6) http://www.clevelandart.org/blog/2010/10/29/mysteries-unveiled-museum-after-midnight

(7) http://emilielauwers.be/Portraits

(8) http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/ghost-caught-camera-st-james-13479249

(9) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12305_Fifth_Helena_Drive

(10) http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-814833

(11) https://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/another_ghost_in_the_mirror_marilyn_at_the_hollywood_roosevelt/

(12) http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150629-the-intriguing-history-of-ghost-photography

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Nun, the devil and the science "news" site. IFLS may "love" science but they seem to love clickbait a whole lot more.

Back in 2015 I wrote a blog post (1) examining a single day's output of the science news website "I Fucking Love Science" or IFLS, finding that the content was particularly poor as a representation of science in general, with the articles providing a focus on extremely flawed, commercially conducted surveys in particular. The reason I found this particularly worrying was due to the vast number of people that received their science news through IFLS, standing at almost 23 million on facebook alone at the time. It's now up to 25 million likes and almost as many people following the site, receiving regular updates in their newsfeeds. What concerns me is that if this was the only access these people had to science news then their view of science, in general, would be extremely malformed.

Since that post, I've regularly checked in on IFLS, and found the content hasn't generally improved. Sure, there is the odd interesting and legitimate article, many of which are copy and pasted from other sites, but the majority of the articles have been little more than pure click-bait.

Unfortunately, with a recent article, IFLS descends from the position of "questionable click-bait" to outright supernatural bunkum and the possible propagation of the very dangerous idea of demonic possession. The article in question entitled  "Letter Written By A "Possessed" Nun Decoded Using Software From The Deep Web" by Tom Hale, published on 11th September tells us of a letter composed by a 17th century "possessed" Sicilian nun named Sister Maria Crocifissa Della Concezione. The story was also covered by such esteemed science periodicals as the NY Post (3), The Daily Mail (4) and The Daily Star (5) among others. Is this the kind of bedfellows a science website should be keeping?

Also consider the source IFLS use as it's primary source here, an Italian radio station's website. (http://www.105.net/news/tutto-news/237723/lettera-del-diavolo-dopo-oltre-300-anni-un-algoritmo-la-decifra.html?refresh_ce)

Sure The Times also published a version of the story (6) but it's short and doesn't mention the concept of possession at all. To compare how the Times report downplays the supernatural element let's juxtapose it's introduction to the story to that of IFLS and one of the tabloid sources.

What the Times says:
"A letter written in code by a 17th century Italian nun, which she claimed was dictated to her by the Devil, has been deciphered by scientists using a code-cracking algorithm after centuries of failed attempts. The nun, Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione, is believed to have screamed and fainted while writing letters at the convent of Palma di Montechiaro that she said were Lucifer’s ploy to convince her to serve evil rather than God."
What IFLS says:
"Back in the 17th century, a Sicilian nun wrote a letter claiming she had been possessed by the devil. Over 340 years later, scientists have finally deciphered this rambling message using a decryption program they came across on the deep web.The letter was supposedly written by Sister Maria Crocifissa Della Concezione at the Monastery of Palma di Montechiaro in the early hours of August 11, 1676. The following morning, she awoke covered in ink and claimed she had been possessed by Satan, who forced her to write the message. At the time, claims like these were taken very seriously."

What the Mail says:
"A 17th century 'letter from the devil' written by a Sicilian nun who claimed to be possessed by Lucifer, has finally been translated thanks to the dark web.The coded letter was written by Maria Crocifissa della Concezione at the Palma di Montechiaro convent in 1676, and she claimed it had been scribed by Satan using her hands."
I realise that this is somewhat subjective, but the IFLS article's tone seems to much more closely resemble the tone of the tabloid reporting of the subject. At only the conclusion of the article does the author acknowledge the possibility of psychological disorders and he never mentions the known psychological effects and afflictions that have symptoms that were previously associated with spiritual possession, leading to often fatal misidentification. I expect that from the Mail, but this is shockingly poor form for a science website.

As for the actual translation of this diabolical letter, Tom tells us:
"They (Ludum Science Center in Catania) have already translated 15 lines of the letter. So far, their work has revealed that the letter speaks of the relationship between God, Satan, and humans. It reads: "God thinks he can free mortals. This system works for no one... Perhaps now, Styx is certain."..
What Tom fails to mention is that we need to consider that the link between religious fixation and various mental illnesses such as schizophrenia is extremely well established (7). It's especially prevalent with individuals with strong religious upbringings and surrounded by religious iconography. Like a nun maybe?

I have some reason to suspect that the actual translation of the letter may not be particularly robust, particularly from this section of the article:
"It (the letter) goes on to try and convince the nun to abandon her faith, arguing that God is merely the invention of man and that Jesus and the Holy Ghost are “dead weights”...."
The letter was alleged to have been written in 1671, the origins of the term "dead weight" dates back to 1651, its first recorded mention, but its definition of a person of limited usefulness or burden was not widely used at this time. The main usage was nautical.  Also, its first uses were in English literature (8). Are we to believe its common usage had reached Italian nunneries within twelve years of it being coined?

It's possible but not likely.






I have to wonder if the editors at IFLS realise this article may have pushed the term "science" just a little too far, at the time of writing the site has turned off commenting on the post. I suspect it may disappear altogether shortly. By that point the damage may well have already been done, the post has been shared 28 thousand times. I came across it on not on a science group or page but in a small paranormal group posted by an admin who frequently posts articles about "demonic possession" and warning signs that your house is haunted.

Telling indeed.

Sources

(1) http://skepticsboot.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/where-is-love-how-ifls-is-failing.html

(2) http://www.iflscience.com/technology/letter-written-by-a-nun-possessed-by-satan-decoded-using-deep-web-software/

(3) http://nypost.com/2017/09/11/dark-web-helps-decipher-361-year-old-letter-from-lucifer/

(4) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4864708/Devil-letter-written-posessed-nun-finally-translated.html

(5) http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/weird-news/643967/Devil-Christian-Bible-Proof-Letter-Possessed-Maria-Crocifissa-Italy-Decrypted-Decoded-God

(6) https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/nun-sister-maria-crocifissa-della-concezione-letters-from-lucifer-decoded-via-the-dar-web-d5jwx5mwk

(7)  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4031576/

(8) http://www.finedictionary.com/Dead-weight.html#etymology

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Skeptic, Cynic Or Debunker?

This is a response to a comment left on my last post regarding the evidence presented in the Dear David saga by a Google Plus user going under the name "Eric Doe". I love getting comments and feedback on the blog, even critical feedback like Eric's. I don't even mind if commenters want to hang on to their anonymity. What I dislike is when commenters prevent me from replying to their comment as Eric has done, but I am going to reply to Eric's comment in a full post as it raises a few interesting questions about the role of skeptics in addressing paranormal topics and the question of whether I am a skeptic or indeed a "debunker" as he accuses me of.

*Unfortunately immediately after this response was posted "Eric" deleted his comment. As I only shared the post on my personal wall and my page, I suspect it is someone who I could interact with quite freely on Facebook. Why they chose to comment anonymously escapes me, as does their reason for removing the post.














Here's the comment in its entirety and I'll address it one part at a time. Eric's original comment in bold.
I have certainly not been convinced by his claims, but there is a question that I need to ask you relating to the topic in general. You have 'debunked' every case and instance of supernatural events that you've addressed with a long line of reasoning, some of which contains lines of reasoning that are considered debatable.
Firstly, I've never set out to "debunk" anything. I've set to seek a rational explanation for the "evidence" I'm offered, I attempt to use critical thinking, scientific principles and the preexisting framework of scientific understanding to explain a claim more parsimoniously and often this process results in finding explanations that aren't supernatural in nature. I've never debunked anything that wasn't bunk-filled, to begin with.

If any of my reasoning seems "debatable" to anyone I'd suggest they debate it. If they want to do so with me, even better. Often what I offer in the blog is an alternative hypothesis. Am I always right? Nope. And I correct myself in those instances when I discover I'm wrong. We have, with the stories and data I address, the supernatural hypothesis already. It would be superfluous for me to offer a supernatural hypothesis myself as presumably we're already given at least the beginnings of this.What I seek to offer is a stripped down, naturalistic hypothesis. Of course, I try to use well-reasoned arguments to back up my hypothesis. Is this balanced? Only if I allow the reasoning of the person or group making the supernatural claim to be heard as well, which I believe I do. I make sure there are competing hypothesis on the table, my readers can then decide which seems more credible. Often there are other competing rational explanations out there, that's great and often I address and assess these too.
But that criticism isn't really what I'm concerned with. What I am concerned with is that debunkers tend to not be very objective.
It often takes a great deal of effort to "debunk" a claim. I'd hazard a guess that in "debunking" the various stories, articles, beliefs photos and videos I've addressed on this blog, I've scrutinised them a heck of a lot more thoroughly than the people who've just outright accepted them as supernatural in nature. I often spend hours with a piece of footage, assessing it. If this doesn't imply the fact that I treat the "evidence" fairly and even-handedly I don't know what does. Being objective doesn't mean turning a blind eye to something, accepting it immediately or viewing it through slightly splayed fingers. You think many believers are being objective when they assess things like the "Dear David" evidence before they assume it's supernatural?

Also, this gives me my first indication that when Eric says "debunker" he actually means "cynic" which I'll address when it comes up again shortly.
My question is this: What would it require for you to believe that a claimed supernatural event or occurrence is legitimate?
Something testable, repeatable and independently verifiable. A hypothesis that is falsifiable, an element that I believe current supernatural hypothesis sorely lack, and this represents a major stumbling block between the supernatural and the scientific. I'll tell you what I don't accept: anecdote. Personal experience.

To accept ghosts exist it requires almost all of physics to go back to the drawing board. If there is some energy of spirit, let's call it vitality, then there must also be some vital force. In turn, a new force requires new fields and new force carrying particles. This means that the standard model of physics is wrong. In order to accept this, physicists are going to require evidence that is at least as voluminous and well supported as the evidence for the current paradigm. They're going to require data that cannot be explained in any other way under our current understanding. If you think that orb photos, or EVPs or moving chairs captured on grainy video are going to suffice, you are deluding yourself.

Sorry if that makes you angry or upset. It's the truth.
It's been my experience that there is a vast difference between a skeptic and a debunker.
There really isn't. If you're a skeptic who is actively using critical thinking and the scientific method to assess claims, there will be occasions when you inadvertently "debunk" these claims.  What Eric is doing here is conflating a process and the end result of that process. A skeptic unavoidably becomes a "debunker" if he/she applies their method well to a claim that is demonstrably false.


 A true skeptic has a completely open mind, is humble, willing to admit that we have not reached the pinnacle of all knowledge, and is willing to fairly and objectively consider evidence with that openness of mind, being willing to accept that not everything has a physical explanation. 

Eric here handily provides us with his own definition of what a skeptic should be, some of it's right. Some wrong. Who says a skeptic has to be humble? And who says we have to accept not everything has a physical explanation. I'm not going to accept something lacks a physical explanation until I encounter something that can't be explained physically. I'm willing to accept the possibility. But again, I'm going to need a high standard of evidence.

As an interesting side note here: what exactly does Eric define as "non-physical"? By constantly describing spirits and ghosts as "energy" believers are specifically acknowledging that they are physical in nature. Energy is a physical property of matter. If ghosts exist, and they are definable as energy, then they are physical. This is also true if they can have a measurable effect on the natural world, there must be some method of interaction.

Guess what? That means they should also be measurable. Wonder why we haven't yet?

A debunker is one that has already made up their mind even before considering the evidence (i.e. dismisses the topic out of hand and approaches all new instances of said event to be false and delves into the instance seeking to find how to tear it apart.) It seems to me that you are not a trueskeptic but a debunker.
Eric also provides his own definition of what a debunker is. Now let me ask you: if I've dismissed paranormal instances and data I write about "out of hand" why the fuck do I often spend hours examining it? Surely if I fit Eric's definition of a "debunker" then I'd consider this a wasted effort? Eric instantly contradicts himself, one can't "dismiss the topic out of hand" whilst simultaneously "delving into instances" even if the aim is to "tear it apart".

This is what makes me think Eric conflates the concepts of a debunker and of a cynic.

 As for me not being a "true skeptic" (Eric's definition) and being a "debunker".

I'm both.

I hope that my comment and query is not taken as rudeness or unfair criticism as that is not my intention. I truly want to understand your perspective and to learn what you require in order to believe that there is something more than merely the physical? Thanks for your time.
As always I appreciate the feed back and I hope my position is clear. The ultimate answer to your question is "empirical evidence" even though I think the more interesting question raised here is what does it mean for something to be non-physical? If something can be described as energy, can interact with the physical world and apply force to physical objects then it is by necessity: physical.

Before I end the post:

I recently appeared on the Paranormal Concept show with hosts Kerry and Paul and fellow guest Kev Kerr of Pararationalise. The show was great fun and Kev is really informative. You can listen to the show here:

https://www.spreaker.com/user/parasearchuk/paranormal-concept-kev-kerr-rob-lee-skep

Whilst you're at it, check out Kev's site Pararationalise, which is a great resource:

https://www.pararationalise.org/

Please show them your support.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Addressing the Latest "Evidence" in the "Dear David" Saga.

"Is this where we are now?"

That's the question that popped into my head when I first read about the "Dear David" saga unfolding on social media. I saw the events simply as the fabrication of an artist, New Yorker Adam Ellis, seeking to garner himself some attention. The story developed in a series of tweets, beginning on Monday 7th August, using tropes familiar to any horror fan including the encounter with the mysterious figure who fills in the back story of the "haunting" a feature of almost every modern paint by numbers horror film.


I'm not going to delve too deeply into the details of the story if you want more information you can visit Adam's Storify page (1). Whilst many people expressed opinions that Adam may truly believe his story and that he actually believes he is being haunted, even offering him advice on sleep paralysis (2), I believed from the start that Adam was a purposeful hoaxer who was revelling in the media attention. I don't place much stock in the credibility of a man who refers to himself as "moby_dickhead" on social media.  The problem was I couldn't really prove that and any attempt I make to address the situation would only serve to garner Ellis more attention. Adam is also clearly stating this "100% real" (4):



That changed with a story in today's tabloid press (3) as I believe with his latest video "evidence" Adam has over stepped the line of plausible believability and strayed into the realm of outright fakery and as such has exposed himself. The version of the story in the Sun focuses on three video sequences offered by Ellis, all of which were tweeted on August 29th. Ellis alleges that the clips were taken during the night and were caught by a camera and he was alerted to them by activation of a motion detector app. If Adam has installed a motion detector app I have to wonder how he's programmed it not to react the movement of his cats?



Now let's examine the video clips.


So what sets the chair rocking?

Well, it could be our old friend fishing wire, but I'd say that it's much more likely that the rocking motion has been caused by pressure applied elsewhere on Adam's wooden floor or even the floor outside Adam's front door (left of the screen). Images from Adam's twitter feed show his well polished hard wooden floor. It would only take a slight pressure to cause enough buckling in the floor to cause a gentle rocking.


We also see from other images on Adam's twitter feed that his front door is right by a stairwell. Close enough that I suspect even someone climbing the stairs and passing the front door could set the rocking chair in gentle motion.


Other photos show that Adam has only just moved the rocking chair to the front door, which strikes me as not a normal location for the chair. It appears to me that the positioning of the chair will barely allow Adam to get his front door open so why place it there?


And the above photo brings us to the next video which shows a turtle shell falling from the wall above the bookcase in the image. Problem is the shell isn't in the above image either.



What causes the shell to fall? Could be practically anything based upon how Adam attached it to the wall. Frankly, it's likely not nailed to the wall as this would destroy the shell.

So that's two objects that have been at the centre of this "activity" that have been placed in the positions we see them in very recently. What about video three? Well, as you'll see it's this piece of footage that's the most damning. In fact, the Sun article omits this piece of footage despite the fact that it features an image of Adam tweeting about it.


So this alleges to show a chair disappearing, it's very clear what it actually shows though.



This footage doesn't show a chair disappearing, it shows a blatant edit. It isn't just the blue chair that moves, various items are disturbed in the second room and most damningly the lighting conditions completely change! This clearly shows not just an edit, but the fact that this light migrates from one side of the room to another means it is not artificial light, it's natural light meaning that this footage was shot during the two different times of day.




I'll give Adam this, he's got some balls to present this blatant error as another paranormal event when in fact what he's done is moved the chair, likely to reach the turtle shell to arrange it to fall! I think it shows us the timeline of events pretty clearly.

1. Adam films the chair rocking. The near side of the second room is lit, the far side in shadow. The chair is in place.

2. Adam ends this recording. After he shuts off the camera at some later point he moves that blue chair to stand on it to gimmick the turtle shell.

3. Adam starts recording again without putting the chair back in its original position. The turtle shell falls. Light is at the back wall of the second room. The chair has not been put back in its original position.

4. He puts the whole video edited together on twitter failing to notice his blatant mistakes. Here's the video as Adam originally put it up on his Twitter feed:

https://twitter.com/moby_dickhead/status/902342479965552640

5. When it's pointed out to him he bluffs the mysterious chair disappearance as further "evidence".


I think whoever wrote the Sun article noticed this too and purposefully edited that part out as it's a smoking gun that allows anyone to piece this mess together. Thus they presented the video as two separate pieces of footage.


Dear Adam,

I think I've got you....



Sources and Further Reading

(1) https://storify.com/moby_dickhead/dear-david

(2) https://theghostinmymachine.wordpress.com/2017/08/21/is-dear-david-real-an-examination-of-twitters-new-favorite-haunting/


(3)  https://www.thesun.co.uk/living/4352201/adam-ellis-ghost-updates-twitter-videos/

(4) https://www.buzzfeed.com/adamellis/my-apartment-is-being-haunted-by-the-ghost-of-a-dead-child?utm_term=.bkV8OnMeA#.tddXl6QpZ

Thursday, 24 August 2017

A Window On Fakery. More Fishy "Ghost" Footage.

Last month a video set in a hotel room purporting to show various objects moved by an alleged spirit went uber-viral (1). The cause of the haunting was, in my opinion, another case of deliberate fakery using fishing wire to manipulate objects remotely, something we've covered here frequently (2). The ever awesome Kenny Biddle even recreated the video to show just how these things can be faked (3). Whether inspired by that video or not this week brought yet more "fun with fishing wire."

Reported by various news outlets, I've looked at the Daily Mail's version of the story entitled "Is there anybody there? Ghost hunter films what he says is a spirit 'visitor' lifting the latch and opening a window" (4) which tells us:
"A spirit hunter claims to have proved his cottage is haunted by releasing inexplicable footage of the moment a 'ghost' opened his bedroom window. Andrew Ward was so convinced that his 400-year-old cottage in Cambridgeshire was haunted that he set up his camera to capture any paranormal activity.... Eerie footage shows the latch on the window lifting up sharply on its own, swinging around and dropping back down. Moments later the heavy-framed window opens on its own - despite no-one going anywhere near it."
So let's look at that footage and see what actually happens:



The first thing I noticed is that when the latch swings over it catches the blind cord and sets it swinging. The thing is the cord is already swinging when the footage begins. This implies that, perhaps, this isn't Ward's first run. He's attempted to catch the footage moments before this successful run. Now you may well argue that the cord could have been set in motion by a breeze coming in through the window. Could well be. but look at this footage Ward offers us from earlier in the day, notice the blind cord remains static even when Ward comes extremely close to it. The only time we see it set in motion is when the window latch catches it.


I suspect Ward manipulates the latch with fishing wire, the big question is do we see the wire at any point? Due to the poor lighting, I wasn't able to directly see the wire. I think it's just visible here but it's not a great image.


Note in all the other cases when we've spotted fishing wire it's been in well-lit conditions or when a camera light or torch has highlighted it. There are no such light sources here. What you should note is that I said I didn't DIRECTLY see the wire. If we can't see the wire itself perhaps we can catch glimpses of its presence indirectly.

I believe the image below shows the point on the latch where Ward attached the wire, there's distinctly something attached on the underside of the latch. Looks like sellotape to me. This lines up with the impression I got of the wire above. I think Ward has threaded the wire through one of the notches in the latch.


In fact, it looks distinctly like the tape Ward used to tape his camera to the wooden chair to film the activity!


There's another indication too. Watch the shadow on the wall as the latch lowers. Notice when the latch is at maximum elevation the shadow on the wall to its right is very straight.


Now watch what happens as the latch lowers.


A small bulge develops in the straight shadow and moves down the wall at the same rate the latch descends becoming more pronounced.



In my opinion, this is the shadow of the wire hence why it's so light an effect.

As for the window swinging open, it would be pretty straight forward to arrange someone to pull the window open from the ground outside again with wire. Notice that as the window swings open it reaches a point and then stops. I believe this is because the person pulling the window from outside had reached the maximum point they could exert force on the window frame, there's no more torque meaning they're likely they're directly below the frame. They have to move further back to put the frame in motion again.


The frame in question is described as "heavy" in various news reports surrounding the footage, but a significant chip in it implies it's a fairly light wooden frame and not particularly difficult to pull open.

Perhaps the most damning evidence of the hoax nature of this footage comes from Mr Ward himself. He tells us that various windows in the cottage are opened by his spirit, yet he decides to film just this one.
"'It could be a ghost 'stepping in' to my house. Every night it seems to be the windows. I always close them but some nights I wake up and they're wide open."
And it's on the first night he chooses to film that he captures his evidence. It's specifically the window he indicates in the beginning of the video that opens not one of the other windows he says open on a regular basis.



He tells the Mail that he just "got lucky" but this strikes me as more design than luck.

Of course, frustratingly, I can't conclusively say that this video is another wire hoax, but in examining the two hypothesis on offer with recourse to Occam's Razor we must conclude that the most parsimonous explanation, the one that requires the least unknown steps, is the most likely explanation.



Further Reading and Sources

(1)  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4748176/Man-records-alleged-ghost-encounter-Texas-hotel.html


(2)  http://skepticsboot.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/shut-that-door-brazilian-poltergeist.html


http://skepticsboot.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/the-daily-star-and-chilean-poltergeist.html

(3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJx4S8ciDto

(4) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4812024/Spirit-hunter-films-supernatural-visitor-opening-window.html

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Lowe Files In Focus: A New Lowe For The Paranormal.

One of the most undeniable effects of the boom in paranormal investigation television shows is the propagation of the idea that anyone can investigate the paranormal. Special skills in the field have diminished, as has the commitment to learning what the scientific method is about, and how an investigation should actually be conducted. Teams are formed on whims and the rush to find a cool name to print on a black polo neck/hoodie combo comes before dedication to learning and refining one's methods. The latest show passed through the A&E paranormal TV mill is highly likely to reinforce this homogenization of skill in the paranormal field.

Introducing A&E's "The Lowe Files." 



I'm sure very few of you need an introduction to Rob Lowe... I'll rephrase that.... I'm sure very few of you over 35 need an introduction to Rob Lowe. He's essentially a better looking, cleaner cut Robert Downey Jnr who never landed Iron Man. To say he wasn't on my radar would be an understatement. That was until this "news story" appeared in my social media feed.

It's apparent reading the various versions of the article that have appeared on a multitude of internet sites, that the story springing from an interview (1), was initially intended as a puff piece for Lowe's new paranormal investigation show/vanity project "The Lowe Files" that took on a life of its own. It did the trick very nicely. I had initially hoped the show was a clever parody. Perhaps even a Borat-style fly on the wall documentary, with the primary cast and crew aware of the joke and the members of the public Lowe encounters genuinely unaware of the nature of the show. I think it's got potential. Sadly, it wasn't to be it appears this show is playing it straight.... straightish

All of the following clips are featured for the purposes of review, comment and critique and as such improving public knowledge, uses which are covered by fair use.

The first episode takes the form of an investigation into a "haunted boys reformatory" in California, I suspect the show isn't going to stick to this format though preferring a "jack of all trades" approach that insults seasoned investigators who concentrate on one area of study for years. Not only will this show not dwell long enough in one location to conduct a proper investigation, it seems it won't linger on an area of research either. It's the paranormal TV equivalent of a child with ADHD. Lowe investigates with his two sons, Matthew and John Owen.

NB- I know many of you can't watch the videos embedded on the blog so I've consolidated them into one Youtube linked video in the sources section at the foot of the post.

video
The show begins in suitably frustrating style (above clip). We see one of the Lowe kids lying on a bed "calling out" to spirits. Overlaid is footage of a beach ball that begins to drift towards a piece of kit, looks like an EMF detector. Dramatic movement tells us something eerie has happened. The truth is what we are likely seeing here is an example of Brownian motion (2). The extremely light ball is disturbed by an air current, or equally likely the static around the plastic ball is interacting with the electromagnetic field around the device next to it. This is how you've chosen to introduce yourself and your show to the public, with a completely unremarkable event. I find it hard to believe even the most fervent believer will accept this as paranormal.

The opening credits roll, Lowe explains his interest in the paranormal over various faked images. It was telling to see one that I've debunked here on this site before, namely the "rake" photo allegedly taken from a trail cam (3). With this image, I feel the show just cited its one of its major sources, viral stories on the internet and social media. Be interesting to see how this element plays out during the series.


The show does get extra points for choice of theme song, the awesome majesty of "Don't Fear The Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult ensures I enjoy at least a minute of this dross. 

videoJohn Owen then raises a question that I've asked myself, what makes them any more qualified to investigate the paranormal than "any other idiot" his words not mine. What's funny is the line is quite clearly ADRed. It's been added to the audio track after the recording. This could be because it wasn't properly picked up in the car, or because the show's producers are acutely aware the show balances on an extremely flimsy premise. Lowe points out it's because they'll have a shaman called Jon with them. Erm... great, but that doesn't really answer the question, as presumably any of these other "idiots" could also take a shaman with them. Lowe gives us a load of new age pseudo-babble about "drawing out energy" and "crossing the void" to explain the Shaman's presence. "No one has ever brought a shaman before!" Lowe tells us hoping that we don't just link shamanism to any one of the other religious systems and beliefs that have been dragged along on the paranormal circus train over the past decades. Lowe explains he's doing the show because he loves paranormal television. Presumably, he loves money too.

They then stop for doughnuts. Then they stop for lunch.

After these extended breaks and what I assume is meant to be witty dialogue, we finally get to meet shaman Jon, otherwise known as Jon Rasmussen. Jon can be found spouting utter rubbish such as "This is a great tool to use on-the-go to align your body, mind, and soul with the most powerful vibrational frequency of Love." as he tries to sell you "the Lovetuner" a $58 flute that can be worn around the neck (4).


video
Unfortunately, as much as Jon seems to know about $58 bronze whistles, he knows nothing about conducting an investigation or the equipment used. "EMF meters" we are told "are the best way to detect ghosts" and if you get "any reading at all that's something." Seriously, this makes Nick Groff look like a seasoned professional. It would be laughable if it weren't so insulting. Of course, when Jon is handed the EMF detector later there is no indication the team has taken a baseline reading. Also, when he gets a reading of "17" later in the show, we have no idea what the significance o this unitless number is. There's no idea of what is normal for this area.

Lowe follows this with an explanation of the Ovilus ghost box, which he maintains allows ghosts, who speak in different frequencies to talk through it. Whether he knows that the Ovilus uses environmental readings to pull random words from its database, I don't know, but the cast does seem to allude to this later in the show. That doesn't stop them from using it as the body of the investigation part of the show. Every time it spits out a random word, Lowe assigns this word a great deal of significance and fills in the details ad hoc about what the word may mean.

video

In this clip, the Ovilus spits out the word "pie" clearly a completely random and meaningless word. Lowe asks his son where the kitchen is, he responds "down there" and points in a general direction. Lowe asserts the box said "pie" because they've reached the kitchen. Except they haven't reached the kitchen yet! It may well be somewhere in the general area, but they aren't there yet. That's the problem with the Ovilus, when the words have no apparent meaning, the user quickly supplies it meaning it can't ever be wrong.

The team take a tour of the location they are meant to be investigating, sharing lots of local stories and grim tales of drowned girls and shot children. This indulgence in local "colour" is clearly to provide an eerie atmosphere for the audience, but it's not helpful in conducting an actual investigation as it adds a layer of suggestibility to what is experienced at the location.

During an uneventful tour, the Lowes are shown an area on a wall adorned with a yellow/brown stain, which their guide assures them is a scorch mark that returns every time it is removed.


Whilst this looks like a burn, I'd suggest it caused by damp building up behind the wall. Possibly a rainwater leak pouring down and resting on brickwork or a lintel behind the wood panelling. If you look closely you can see areas where it seems like the moisture has seeped down past whatever this blockage is. Failing that, it may even be a burn, albeit caused by a hot water pipe behind the panelling. Either of these things would explain why the stain returns after it is cleared.

The Lowes then rendezvous with Shaman Jon outside the location, who spouts some metaphysical babble about thinning veils and then resorts to the ultimate cheap paranormal trope: the institute is haunted because it's built on a native American burial ground. I don't know nearly enough about Native American burial customs to suggest Jon is wrong when he states Native Americans typically used hills as burial sites, but I'd suggest that a list of categorised burial sites doesn't bear out the assertion. I'd also suggest that native Americans had a wide range of burial customs. Although hills, in general, could be considered sacred, that doesn't mean EVERY hill was sacred. Nor does it mean every sacred area was a burial ground. The "Indian burial ground" trope (5) is a deeply insulting one based upon the assumption that certain ethnic groups are somehow imbued with mystical powers.

When the main "investigation" is conducted, it's done so in the dark with night vision cameras, as one would expect from any ghost hunting television show at the moment. I think It would almost be heresy for a show to investigate in proper lighting conditions now.  As is also common at this point, everything that happens, from a flickering lift light upwards is described as significant in some way. The team are suitably jumpy as required by ghost television standards.

video

Rob and John Owen set a Triboelectric field detector down on the floor, to detect static fields, which Rob assures us is a sign of "paranormal activity" neglecting to mention that they are also a sign of operating electrical goods, even rubbing a piece of plastic on a shirt can produce a triboelectric field. The triboelectric effect is the general description of the static field that occurs when a positively charged surface rubs against a negatively charged surface. Most static electricity is triboelectric in nature He tells his son to turn the torch off to prevent interference, despite the fact there are multiple cameras running and the detectors have been placed in front of black electrical cables! We can also see a torch or camera light shining on the detector when it triggers.

The triboelectric field detector is a really cheap piece of kit which comes in all sorts of weird and not so wonderful shapes or sizes. Of course, we've no more reason to suspect this item would be any more useful for detecting a ghost than an EMF, and like an EMF detector, there's a multitude of possible sources for the detected field including the operators themselves!

video

Rob tells us that it will trigger is the "presence" of paranormal entities, but depending on the sensitivity, it will trigger when it's anywhere up to 15 feet from a static field. In the video clip above, a group selling one of these devices inadvertently demonstrates he can set it off with his hand, or the clothing on his arm, that's how sensitive can be.

My favourite part of all this is when the show's "skeptic" Lowe, John Owen pulls his turned on iPhone from his pocket and is stunned when the detector responds to his movement. "It doesn't like that...." he exclaims. No, they didn't, perhaps even the spirits are surprised you're so dense you're trying to take measurements of EMF and static fields with a switched on cell-phone in your pocket!

video

Our next occurrence of paranormal activity is an alleged temperature drop of 3 degrees on a thermometer placed directly under a window. Again we've no idea if this is abnormal or not as we have no idea what the base line is for this area. Of course, Rob tells us this has always been associated with ghostly activity. It's also always been associated with drafts as well!

video

We then see Rob and Jon's devices "going crazy" coinciding with them being brought in proximity to each other. Quite possibly as both detect EMF fields they are detecting each other and the intersection of their own fields. Of course, by this point, it's all a bit moot anyway as we know that at least Jon Owen (and potentially any of the others too) has a switched on cell-phone in his pocket!

After this, there's some more fun with the static detectors, and we're done.

Mercifully.

I've never been so grateful to see the credits roll on a TV show.









Conclusion

The Lowe Files isn't the worst paranormal TV show I've ever watched, but it may well be the least interesting and it's certainly the least professional. We must surely now be near the point of over-saturation of paranormal television. It's becoming abundantly clear that each new show is attempting to find a gimmick to stand out from a burgeoning crowd, and this show's gimmick: "here's a film star you know hunting ghosts/ Sasquatch /UFOs" may well be the weakest yet.

I couldn't get the image of Troy McClure out of my head whilst I was watching. I really expected Rob Lowe to utter "....you may remember me from...." at some point during the episode.

The message from the show is clear"Anyone can do this. No experience? No special skills? No background in science or investigation? That's fine. Just be passionate." This is a frustrating message to be receiving at a time when ghost hunting groups are rapidly increasing in number. It's clear that Lowe hasn't bothered to do the slightest bit of research into how his equipment works, and I don't even think the show's producers have the slightest clue either. Why else include footage of John Owen pulling a cell-phone from his pocket.

Lowe admitted as much about his amateur status in another puff piece for the show just before it aired. At a panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, Lowe stated: "We're paranormal idiots (6)" When asked to clarify how a certain piece of equipment worked he added, "'Don’t ask me how, don’t ask me the science, I don’t know."

In a genre filled with rank amateurs, the Lowe Files and A&E as a whole manages to invent a new level to sink to. There was a stage when at least paranormal TV stars attempted to cover their lack of credentials. Watching this David Roundtree must wonder why he bothered to lie through his teeth about his qualifications. A shrug and a smile are enough. The ethos on display seems to be almost a pride in lack of expertise. When that is something freely admitted in any area of research, whether it's a hobby or not, or conducted in the media, you know that this flooded genre of television must be quickly headed for collapse.

In my opinion, this collapse can't come a moment too soon.

Sources

(1)http://ew.com/tv/2017/06/27/rob-lowe-files-trailer-bigfoot/

(2)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownian_motion

(3) http://skepticsboot.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/sometimes-they-come-back-viral-hoaxes.html

(4) http://shamanjon.com/

(5) http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ovilus


(6) http://www.tvguide.com/news/rob-lowe-the-lowe-files/

Collated Video.