Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Microwave Massacre! Is The Humble Microwave A Kitchen Killer?

Let's look at a common misconception about an item you'll find in almost every kitchen in the Western world, the humble microwave. Much of the fear surrounding microwaves emanates from the general public's wariness surrounding various forms of radiation. Whilst it's clear that "radiation" can be dangerous, it's vital to bear in mind that "radiation" is an extremely broad term even when we restrict it to radiation found in the electromagnetic spectrum, ignoring alpha and beta particles. This encompasses everything from radio waves to gamma rays right through visible light.

Alternative health quack Joseph Mercola will tell you that microwaves cook your food by irradiating it, which is about as accurate as saying a light bulb allows you to see your couch by irradiating it. He'll also tell you that any food in a microwave "absorbs the radiation" which then passes into your body, again about as accurate as saying you should expect your couch to glow for a little while after you turn the light off! That said, Mercola also says that your microwave could be leaking up to "400 Milli gauss" of radiation, despite the fact Milli gauss are a measure of magnetic field strength. Couple that with the fact that magnetic fields obey an inverse square law meaning the field strength falls off pretty quickly at a distance.

The website "Truth About Cancer" offers this stern warning about microwave ovens:

Let's focus on the cancer claims and the claims concerning the electromagnetic fields involved in microwave cooking. These fears seem to originate from the fact that microwaves use "radiation" to cook and obviously some forms of radiation are carcinogenic. Idiots such as "Dr" Josh Axe talks a lot in this video about the dangers of radiation, without seeming to have any knowledge that radiation includes all forms of visible light. He helpfully informs us that our bodies are like "buckets which fill up with toxins". Utter bullshit, even if EMF could be considered a toxin, which it can't. (If "Dr" Josh is a legitimate doctor I'm a fucking leprechaun.)

The types of EMF radiation that cause cancer are ionising radiation. What this means is radiation that has the requisite energy to liberate outer electrons from a chemical element. Ionising radiation causes cellular damage by stripping elements in the DNA of valence (outer shell) electrons. If you've done some chemistry you'll remember that it's valence electrons that determine chemical reactions.

To understand why microwave energy isn't ionising first let's look at the electromagnetic spectrum.  

The energy of EMF radiation is related to wavelength and frequency by the following relationships.

c=the speed of light, h= Planck's constant, f= frequency, λ= wavelength, E= energy.

So you should see clearly that the longer the wavelength the shorter the frequency and the lower the energy. So you should also see that microwaves carry considerable less energy than X-rays or gamma rays as their wavelength is much lower. In fact, microwaves have less energy than even visible light.

Next, as we are specifically concerned with radiation's effect on DNA let's look at the ionisation energies of the most common elements in the human body namely carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen which are roughly 11.3 eV, 14.5eV, 13.6 eV and 13.6 eV respectively, and calculate whether a photon of microwave radiation has the requisite energy to ionise any of these elements. Before we do that there is something that is important to recall here. If an element has an ionisation energy of 10.0 eV then only a photon of 10.0 eV and above will ionise it. Two 5.0 eV photons incident upon the atom will not work, nor will five 2.0 eV photons. 

So let's do that calculation:

Clearly, microwaves don't have enough energy to ionise any of the elements commonly found in DNA by some magnitude.

So if they don't irradiate your food, how do microwaves work then? 

Inside your microwave is a magnetron which when activated generates microwaves which flood the food chamber. The result is a magnetic field. Water molecules are dielectric, because of the bond angle between the two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms that make up a water molecule, it has a positive end and a negative end. 

This means the water molecules in your food align along a magnetic field. If that field is rapidly oscillating then the water molecules rapidly oscillate too. This kinetic energy heats your food. This is why dried foods aren't affected in microwaves.

OK, so if microwaves are so safe, why are they so heavily regulated? 

Just because microwaves aren't dangerous in the way scare mongers like Mercola implies doesn't mean they can't cause some harm. The dielectric heating effect could also have some pretty nasty effects on certain watery or fatty parts of your body, especially your eyes. This is why the inside of a microwave is a Faraday cage which regulations insist is far stronger than it needs to be and why you can't open the door without triggering the stop mechanism on the magnetron. There's also the danger of steam being released from sealed packages. These dangers are minor, and pretty comparable to the risk of burning one's hand on a hot stove. In fact, I'd say oven injuries are FAR more common than the harm caused by microwaves.

But what about nutrients?

Many nutrients in food break down as a result of heating regardless of the techniques used, but the shorter cooking times of the microwave result in a reduce breakdown of nutrients. Couple that with the fact that many nutrients are water soluble meaning that the ability to cook without immersion in boiling water is extremely advantageous.  A  study at Cornell University showed that folic acid in spinach was reduced roughly 77% during stove cooking, whilst being virtually unaffected by microwave cookery.

Go and give your microwave a hug and say sorry. He won't bite you, or irradiate your genitals. Just stay away from the kettle... that bastard is evil. Seriously, look at it. 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Confronting Quantum Woo: Understanding Entanglement.

Last time we confronted some quantum woo, we tackled perhaps the most fundamentally misunderstood facet of quantum physics, and it's most exploited. The double slit experiment. In this post, we'll take away the most important point of that post and apply it to another element of the discipline that is almost as misunderstood and as misused- entanglement. Another facet of quantum physics that displays the discipline's deeply non-intuitive nature. As such it is prime fodder for woo-merchants to distort in order to appropriate an air of credibility and legitimacy for nonsense ideas and hypothesises. Just as the misrepresentation of the double slit experiment is used to support ideas of like after death, entanglement is commonly used to support ideas of new-age healing techniques such as distance healing and energy healing and "psychic" abilities and ESP.

As a starting point, let's see what the new age opinion is of entanglement, then we will assess those ideas using the formalism of quantum physics, in the process, we will get an idea of how physicists represent a system of entangled particles and importantly, why entanglement doesn't support ideas of "energy healing" and the like.

Some "woo" definitions of entanglement.

Underground Health Reporter States:
"...all types of particles can become linked and instantaneously influence one another regardless of distance.  When two particles are entangled, they stay that way, and no matter how far apart those two particles get, information passes between them instantaneously.Quantum entanglement explains those times when you were just thinking of your dear sister and your phone rings.  Not only are you not surprised, but you even know what she is calling about.  This happens most often with those you are closest to, because the more QI that’s entangled, the deeper and wider the effect.  In other words, when you think of that person with any emotional charge, the “message” reaches him or her instantaneously."
Pinnacle Healing, who offer "quantum healing workshops" for £180-£229 a pop go further:
"What this means – is simply speaking, that All Are One and that Everything Is Connected because everything has originated from the same source – the Divine – and therefore is bound by commonality, by the truth that we have all been created by the Divine." 
The Paranormal Analyst states:
Is it possible quantum entanglement connect all humans or living beings through sub-atomic particles? Maybe certain people have become attuned to interpreting these signals and have psychic powers.

All those statements highlight the most common misconceptions about entanglement.

1. Entanglement is permanent.

2. All things are entangled. (Many quotes regarding quantum physics with regards to psychic family members such as twins seem to imply that the particles in close family members will be as closely related. Utter nonsense of course. Birth is not a quantum event, nor is sharing a womb!)

3. Entanglement allows for the passage of meaningful information between entangled particles. Information that pertains to more than simply the relevant attributes which are entangled.

The truth is entanglement is extremely delicate. Any measurement causes the collapse of the entangled state and by any measurement, we reapply one of our main takeaways from our examination of the double-slit experiment, measurement is defined in quantum physics as an interaction between two quantum systems or a quantum system and a macroscopic system that causes an irreversible change in those systems.  The example I gave last time was of atomic decay in an isolated region of space- daughter particles are entangled due to the conservation of angular momentum. A measurement occurs when either of these particles collides with a dust particle or other object. Whilst it's conceivable that particles at opposite ends of the universe remain entangled -their mutual journeys must remain uneventful. Any collision or interaction destroys the entanglement. As for the second statement, obviously most particles in your body are not isolated and in accordance with the principles I've laid out above, they aren't going to be entangled. If that isn't detrimental enough, consider that not all particles are entangled only particles which are created in the same process or have some form of entanglement forced upon them (pairs or groups of photons, for example, can have entanglement induced upon them). The third statement requires us to go deeper into the formalism of entanglement.

So we've seen two examples of what new agers mean when say entangled, what do physicists mean?

Entangled States 
A wavefunction or state vector representing the state of two particles is said to represent an entangled state if it cannot be expressed as a product of terms each specifying the state of a single particle. (Quantum Mechanics and its intereptation, Bolton, Macintosh, 2007.)

As I've mentioned before in quantum mechanics the states of particles are described using a wavefunction, often referred to as a DeBroglie wave, a mathematical representation of the various qualities of the system. The wavefunction represents all it is possible to "know" about the state that a particle is in. Entangled particles are simply particles for which it is impossible to describe in isolation. To explore this more fully let's use a quality of particles known as spin. The specifics of spin don't particularly matter here but it's useful to state that spin isn't as many new agers present it, actual movement or rotation of a particle. In fact, it's more useful to describe spin as a magnetic quality. Electrons are particles of 1/2 spin. This means their spin has two possible values, +1/2 which we call spin up, and -1/2 which we predictably call spin down.

We can represent the spin states of a particle using a funky feature of a system known as Dirac notation as a "ket". So, ignoring for simplicity's sake the spatial state of a particle, for a single spin-up electron (which we will denote particle A) sat in isolation in space the wavefunction looks like this:
Pretty simple right? So let's also say we have another electron somewhere in space which is spin down. We'll label it particle B and thus denote its wavefunction:
So far so good. But what if we want to describe a quantum system comprised of these two particles. The system's wavefunction would be: 

Using the rule that particle A always comes first we can simplify this as:
It's clear to see this system isn't entangled. It can be described as a product of the state of particle A multiplied by the state of particle B. Explicitly:

It might be apparent to you that the reason this system isn't entangled because we know the spin states of particle A and B. What if we didn't, but we do know that the particles were created in the same process. We also know that if particle A is spin up, particle B must be spin down. If particle A is spin down, particle B must be spin up. This is a consequence of the Pauli exclusion principle which forbids particles like electrons having the same quantum numbers. Clearly, our wavefunction for the system must represent the two possible states of the system.

What would that look like?
Clearly, this is somewhat more complicated, but using the rules established thus far it should become apparent that the term underlined in red represents the state if particle A is measured spin up. The term underlined in blue represents the state if particle A is measured spin down. This wavefunction can't be described as a product of particle A and particle B wavefunctions, it's not separable. Thus this is truly an entangled state. 

You have also no doubt noticed our entangled wavefunction has picked up an extra complication. Namely C1 and C2. These are the probability amplitudes of the two outcomes. We square these to find the probability of a particular outcome. Their addition ensures the wavefunction is normalised. They are also the key to understanding the collapse of the wavefunction and how the measurement of a particular state destroys entanglement.

The wavefunction above has only two possible outcomes. When the spin of either measurement is made the total wavefunction must collapse to either the red state (A: up, B: down) or the blue state (A: down, B: up), thus the probability of returning one of these states is certain.

We therefore require:

As there's no reason to suspect that either the red state or the blue state is more likely than the other. So we can see:

Giving our full wavefunction:

This wavefunction applies as long is there is uncertainty which state the measurement will yield.

So we can see that if a measurement is taken on particle A and it is found to be spin up:

And our wavefunction becomes:

Which we can see reduces to our original non-collapsed state! Entaglement is destroyed.

So it's clear to see from this mathematically why the measurement of a quantum system causes it wavefuntion to collapse "onto" a particular state. To hold the woo postulates of entanglement to be true we have to believe that all particles were created in the same event. Also, we have to accept that the particles have interacted with not just any other forms of matter but even magnetic fields. What are the chances of a loose electron in your body existing there for a prolonged period without interacting with anything else? And then it's partner existing in your energy healer or psychic twin free from interactions too?

What's important to note here is that you may be tempted here to suppose that the system was in a particular state before measurement and that said interaction simply revealed what state the system was in. This is fundamentally incorrect. Observables (measurable quantities) in quantum physics have no values before measurement, there are no "hidden variables". They have a number of possible values but that is the most we can possibly say. Entanglement has another important consequence, measurement of a particular observable on one particle causes its partner to adopt a value for said quality immediately, no matter how great the separation between the two. These two factors deeply troubled Einstein, arguably the greatest mind of his time, and the inadvertent father of quantum physics. Einstein felt that this non-locality was in direct violation of special relativity.

This leads to the two most famous quotes about quantum physics:

"God does not play dice with the universe."
And Einstein's dismissal of entanglement as "spukhafte Fernwirkung" or "spooky action at a distance." We can thank Einstein for introducing the word "spooky" to the lexicon of physics, we can also thank him for the quote which I guarantee will appear in almost every article you ever read that connects quantum physics and any aspect of the paranormal.  In fact, the second of these two quotes is so ubiquitous that it deserves special attention in a separate post.

And for good reason that's where we head next.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Ghost Hunting Just Got Extreme(ly Stupid)!

Social media is buzzing with news of a new paranormal investigation show. Now that might not seem that exciting to you, after all, television doesn't exactly have a shortage of such programmes.

But this one is going to be....


Dread Central tells us:
"Enter Stephen Erkintalo, a paranormal investigator with an extreme edge....“Haunted Tours” is looking to go where other paranormal investigators have shied away from. To attract whatever lies on the other side, Erkintalo is going beyond just politely asking for a response. He is going the metaphorical bullhorn route by lying on train tracks, harboring a Ouija board covered with his own blood on his chest with a train oncoming.  Hopefully the spirits speak up before the conductor has a very bad and messy evening."

Clearly, Erkintalo lay down on train tracks with a Ouija board on his chest, that a train was coming is entirely doubtful. But regardless, this is clearly a very stupid act and deeply irresponsible to show on television. Especially when many "ghost hunting groups" and individuals clearly emmulate the investigative methods they see used by ghost hunters on television. And this isn't a one-off. In a Youtube video plugging the show, Erkintalo solicits requests on his facebook page for other dangerous and stupid acts to perform whilst investigating.

The show's website gives us this synopsis:
"Stephen Erkintalo is the most extreme investigator in the world and proves it with each episode of Haunted Tours. He breaks all the traditional rules of investigating by provoking the dark that resides within, pushing the limits far past what's already been done. Experimenting with the Ouija Board, contacting the dead through mirrors, and hanging upside down on a cross is only the beginning. Legitimately pushing the limits beyond what this field has done for the past 30 years. Investigators nowadays, they walk around with cameras asking questions and will repeat those questions until they get an answer or somewhat of an answer. They follow what they see on television while assuming everything else is breaking the unseen and unspoken "rules" which indicates, they're scared! What lies beyond this realm? Well, one thing is certain, watching a flashlight flicker, a manipulated EVP (electronic voice phenomena), or feeling cold air will never allow us to understand their realm. The Jalbert Brothers are bringing it to you in a new documentary style television show that puts you right in the action. Join us, join the Haunted Tours Crew as we speak to those who have already taken their last breath."

The general ethos of the show seems to be, that by performing dangerous, life threatening "stunts" (or appearing to at least) Erkintalo gets "closer to the dead", which is frankly moronic and obviously exists as an idea without a shred of evidence to support it. Like almost every other idea expressed by paranormal investigative television then. The danger is if other groups pick this up as a legitimate "investigative" method. There's already a stratum of ghost hunting as a hobby that is thrill seeking pure and simple.These thrill seekers don't just damage the reputation of legitimate paranormal investigators, they often damage the locations they investigate. Residents in Gettysburg recently raised the funds to protect Sachs Bridge, a historic local landmark, from irresponsible ghost hunters. This isn't an isolated incident, more cases can be found here and here.

Unfortunately, sometimes a heftier price is paid by thrill-seeking ghost hunters themselves. In August 2010 a 29-year-old ghost hunter was killed in Statesville, North Carolina. Christopher Kaiser was part of a group of twelve amateur ghost hunters investigating the site of an accident 119 years previous when he was hit by a train. Another investigator was severely injured after falling 30 feet from the tracks whilst avoiding the train that killed Kaiser. Given that fact, Erkintalo's escapades on train tracks aren't just deeply irresponsible, they're also deeply disrespectful to Kasier and his family. 

In addition to this, the methods Erkintalo and his team seek to employ aren't investigative in any way. He seems to come from the Nick Groff school of investigation. i.e- lying down in a location and talking to himself constitutes investigating in some way. What we are seeing is the law of diminishing returns here. Erkintalo sees the lax investigative methods of Groff and his peers and seeks to emulate them, in the process dumbing them down, something I may not have believed possible had I not seen it with my own eyes. In turn, Groff took the methods of Ghost Adventures and watered them down. 

What we have here is nesting dolls of diminishing intelligence and credibility.

I'd love to tell you more about Stephen Erkintalo and his investigative methods, but unfortunately, the internet doesn't seem to have heard of him or his "Superior Paranormal Investigations" team before filming of the show began in March. The only references I can find of Erkintalo as an investigator are his own proclamations of how innovative and groundbreaking he is. Maybe I can't find any references because as he claims below, he's "blacklisted" or could that be whitewashed?

The Superior Paranormal FB page has virtually no significant content on it barring a few videos shot on a mobile phone. Under the macho bullshit and posturing there's nothing to this guy. Well perhaps the willingness to do anything to get himself noticed.

There's one redeeming factor to all this. I suspect that "Haunted Tours" may never actually see the light of day.

On Dread Central the producers of the show Jalbert Brothers Studio claim the show will air in October on "Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime". It's a claim repeated on the official website for the show too. This is an extremely dubious, whilst it could be true, these streaming services are bitter rivals and I'm not aware of any programmes or films that appear on two of them, never mind all three. I somehow doubt the Jalbert Brothers have the sway to negotiate out of exclusivity deals that some of the biggest entertainment brands in the world agree to. Someone correct me if I'm wrong. As with their investigator, the production company "Jalbert Brothers Studio" are fairly obscure. Their main work thus far seems to comprise of videos produced for Youtube and Vimeo and student films. Their biography boasts of working on the feature film Apple of My Eye starring Burt Reynolds and Amy Smart which was distributed by Sony Pictures this year. 

One has to hope this show won't see the light of day, and if it does, it enjoys the relatively obscurity of those involved other projects to date. The last thing the paranormal scene needs is a show that encourages ghost hunters to act less responsibly than they already do.


After this post was published it was quickly discovered and read by Stephen Erkintalo. He responded with petty insults and anger as I expected, but despite this, I gave him the opportunity to comment on the potential harm that may befall ghost hunters seeking to emulate his activities. I also asked him to comment on the death of Christopher Kasier in 2010 after being hit by a train whilst ghost hunting.

This was his response:

Which I think speaks for itself.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Exorcism and Exploitation: Ghost Adventures Season 14 Episode 6 "Exorcism In Erie."

The most common complaint or criticism I receive with regards to anything I write about paranormal television has the implication that I shouldn't really focus too much attention on these shows. I shouldn't take them seriously. I have to offer a refinement of that statement:
 "I shouldn't HAVE to take these shows seriously!" 
Unfortunately, as the recent furore regarding Most Haunted, a show most skeptics considered a spent force to say the very least, exemplifies there are many people who do watch these programmes and DO take them very seriously indeed. These people are being misled, and as I've pointed out before, the role of skeptics shouldn't be to sniff at these people regarding their credulity. Until this changes, I will take paranormal television as seriously as any news media that aims to misinform and mislead. The second most common complaint I receive with regards to these posts? Even if there are lots of people that take these shows at their word, and consider them legitimate forms of investigation into the paranormal, what harm can they possibly do?

When it comes to legitimising archaic and outmoded ideas of demons and possession I think the propagation of superstition and fear can be very harmful indeed. Belief in demons undoes much of the hard work of mental health practitioners and GPs in removing the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental health disorders. In rare cases the belief in possession by evil spirits can lead to death in cruel and barbaric exorcism rituals. Such incidents may not be common in the west, but they're common enough to be a concern. Even one death as a result of something totally preventable, that only occurred because of pure ignorance is way too many.

As I'm pondering these ideas and preparing to write a blog post regarding my position on paranormal investigation shows, I hear of the latest episode of US show Ghost Adventures via an e-mail alert. Rather than dropping in via the usual channel of my "ghost hunters" alert, the IMDB write up of this episode drops in via both my "demon" and "exorcism" alerts. The episode description states:
"On tonight’s Ghost Adventures, Zak Bagans and his team enlist the help of Bishop Bryan Oullette to perform an exorcism on a man with a demonic oppression. The episode sees the team head to Erie, Colorado, where Chris Stone obtained the demonic attachment after trying to conjure an entity several years ago...."
Now, I have no idea how much of a departure this is for Ghost Adventures. For the record, as of this post I've watched one episode of Ghost Adventures for a Twitter live feed. The "event" wasn't particularly rewarding, I found the show irritating to an extreme level. Zak Bagans, who I spent the entire feed calling "Grant" for some unknown reason, struck me as a colourless, boring, condescending jock and I was frankly bewildered that the show has fared as well as it has with someone so bland at the helm. I found the rest of the show as lame and unentertaining as most ghost hunting shows. What I can be sure of about this episode is that it is an extremely unpleasant and exploitative 42 minutes of TV which warrants a closer look. I won't be using the framework I used in the Paranormal Lockdown review, as that's explicitly designed for "ghost hunting" and that's not strictly what we see in this episode, although there's plenty of overlap.

Zak and the team arrive at the home of Jeff and Darlene (above), a couple from Erie, Colarado. Clearly, there's no intention of taking an actual investigative approach here as Zak immediately declares that the family is subject to a demonic haunting. The utter lack of any ambiguity shocks me. Not only is Zak not prepared to offer any possibility that the house isn't haunted, it isn't even questioned what the nature of this haunting is. In the introduction to the show Zak claims he and his team have worked years to build credibility, yet he sacrifices any credibility as an investigator within seconds of the episode!

Zak tells us a clue to the source of the activity is the fact that the house is built on a fault line, near an old mining facility. Quite what this has to do with demons escapes me. There may well have been an old structure where the house now stands too. Hmmm.... I must be missing something here, but somehow these are "clues".

Zak asks Jeff and Darlene if there's "things going on in the house?" Isn't that what this "investigation" team is there to ascertain? The answer is of course unequivalently "yes". Talk immediately turns to the couple's son, Chris, and his struggle with mental illness. We are told he has struggled with depression and anger issues. Sickeningly these conditions are immediately linked to "demonic" activity.

We meet Chris in the basement of his parents' home. He looks nervous and uncomfortable. He is also drawn and gaunt. His mother tells us he frequently sees "spirits" and he relays to us that his "haunting" began when he perform animal sacrifices in an abandoned local home he labels "the witches house". I'm pretty sure almost every childhood includes an excursion to a local abandoned house, that has some local legend or paranormal tale attached to it. I'm also pretty sure most don't include animal sacrifice though, whether Chris' story doesn't or not is up for debate. he tells us it did, but then also tells us he never performed "rituals" in the house. Surely animal sacrifice counts as a "ritual" of sorts? He then tells us he was trying to "conjure something". It's clear Chris can't exactly keep his story straight for one reason or another. Chris also states he saw "the devil" at this abandoned property. Unsurprisingly, his image of Satan is that of a cloven-hoofed creature.

Zak relays back to Chris' parents that he read "satanic passages" in the witches house. Quite what these passages are is unclear. Was it Anton LeVay's Satanic Bible? Many people have read that book, myself included, and never experienced anything remotely paranormal. This is when Zak reveals another "clue": Chris took a horse-shoe from the house. Again, so what. Oh, the horse was involved is "satanic rituals" any proof of this? Any proof that would make a damn difference to it anyway.

Zak's use of Satanism as a method to drive this narrative distinctly reminds me of the USA's "satanic panic" of the 80s and 90s a craze which resulted in many innocent parents and carers having their lives, careers and relationships with their children irreparably damaged. His presentation of "satanism" most definitely resembles the stereotypical picture of child and animal sacrificing devil-worshippers gathering in secret to summon some terrible, Christian bothering denizen of hell. To be clear, there's zero evidence this satanic network has ever existed, and the picture presented is a million miles away from the modern satanist many of whom not only don't believe in a literal devil, but also aren't theistic at all.

Zak tells the family that their experiences stem from Chris burying the cursed horseshoe in the back garden. I can't help but feel sorry for Chris, and concerned for his welfare here. Clearly, the GA team are pandering to his delusion as are his parents to some extent. If Chris believes what he is saying and I've no reason to suspect he doesn't, he needs healthcare, not this bullshit.

As Zak piles misery on the family exploiting their already heightened state of fear and feelings of oppression, he is stuck by a "cold energy". Yeah, we call that a fucking breeze mate. There's is no "cold energy". Cold only describes a lack of heat. Is Zak always this monumentally stupid? How does anyone take this man seriously? This only makes his statement about "credibility" in the show's opening credits more laughable.

I get a distinct impression that Chris'
mother is genuinely concerned for her son. I believe that her appearance on the show is genuinely motivated by a desire to help her son. This makes me hate the producers of the show, exploiting mental illness is bad enough, to exploit a parent's concern for his or her child in this way is utterly beyond contempt. As is the idea that there will be parents watching this show who rather than guiding their children to proper mental health practitioners, will instead resort to the measures that follow in this show.

In fact, we can see the spread of this superstition and ignorance within the show itself when Chris' sister describes her eight-year-old son's sightings of a "zombie ghost" is the house. It's not unusual for eight-year-olds to fantasise about ghosts, we certainly shouldn't take this as evidence of anything paranormal. What parents in these situations often fail to realise is how much children actually pick up from their parents and extended family. It isn't unusual for a child exposed to a lot of talk of ghosts and the like to have their own experiences. The potential harm is when these fears and fantasies are left unchecked and continue into adulthood.

We're then treated to the investigation section of the episode. This contains little more than Zak obtaining a thermal image of two glowing red bedposts. There's no possible heat source that could cause this he tells us. How about hands? Body heat? That could warm the bedposts enough for them to appear warmer than the surrounding frame.

"They look like glowing devil horns." Zak witlessly points out.

It's day two of the "investigation" and Zak drives to collect Bishop Bryan Ouellette in order to perform an exorcism on Chris. They meet in a cemetery of course. Why not? Ouellette, a PhD in what we're never told, is a member of the totally orthodox section of the Catholic church The religious Order of Exorcists of The Sacred Order of Saint Michael the Archangel. A sect that meets every few weeks to discuss their superstitious drivel on SKYPE. The irony is staggering.

Zak tells Ouellette that given what he has witnessed Chris has a serious demonic infestation. Wait. What exactly has Zak witnessed?

A breeze and warm bedposts. And there's the crux of this episode of Ghost Adventures, there's nothing to suggest that Chris isn't anything more than a troubled young man. 

The highlight of the show is Chris having the GA team minus Zak dig up his backyard in search of the cursed horseshoe. They find it sat in the garage.

This look says it all really.

The explanation Zak gives us.... wait for it.... this is gold.... a series of freak weather events unburied the horseshoe and deposited it in the garage... uh yeah... no. I've a better explanation: Chris is not well, he can't keep his story straight. Or he purposefully isn't telling the truth. He's leading the crew on a wild goose chase because he's enjoying the attention. Maybe he's been using stories of the devil and disappearing horseshoes and witches' houses and rituals that weren't rituals that were rituals to get attention for a long time.

Possibly because he's deeply troubled.

The Bishop unsurprisingly decides after five minutes of meeting Chris, an exorcism is absolutely necessary. Zak sensitively, acting in the pure interests of this family that he must bring Darlene in the room to witness this unnecessary and archaic intervention. She rocks backwards and forwards as the ritual is conducted.

 Pure exploitation.

Unfortunately, the exorcism isn't the end of the team's involvement with Chris. They place him in isolation and monitor environmental conditions around him. We are told the barometric pressure "bottoms out" around him, obviously, we are given no actual readings and there's no evidence that the team has actually taken a baseline for barometric pressure so we've no idea if this is normal or not. They then proceed to further investigate the family home. This strikes me as exceptionally cruel. I don't agree that performing an exorcism is a valid method of alleviating conditions mistaken for "possession" but there is an argument that the ritualistic nature of the process can help via suggestion. That's ripped away from this family, the GA crew's desire for more footage sees to this.

During the course of the episode, it's important to note that at no point does anyone mention seeking psychological help for Chris. There's no mention of any form of medical intervention. The help of a medical or mental health professional is never sought. This sends a dangerous and inflammatory message to viewers. "Is your child showing signs of mental illness? Consult a priest or a bullshit bishop. Call a paranormal investigation team. Or a jock who doesn't know what heat is." That's why it's important that skeptics take these shows seriously. It should be our role to minimise the potential harm that these shows pose. Just because something claims to be "for entertainment purposes" doesn't mean it can't be cruel and unusual too. It doesn't mean it can't cause harm. It doesn't mean we should ignore it.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Meet Max: Just Because He's Fooled Disclose TV It Doesn't Mean He's A Genius

*Please Note: in the following post I am not in any way criticising Max Loughan. He seems like a fine young man with some out there ideas. He's bright, creative and very imaginative. The focus of my ire is Disclose TV not Max, who I wish nothing but success, I hope he pursues his interest in physics hopefully, away from Disclose TV*

Meet Max Loughan, he's a bright, imaginative and extremely well-spoken 13-year-old boy, who just so happens to be something of an obsession for science denying, conspiracy-mongering website Disclose TV. In their latest article written by Lucas Magnuson about Max, Disclose declare that the teenager has discovered that CERN has destroyed the universe.
"Laughlin has a theory that CERN could have destroyed the universe and we actually live in a parallel universe that was the closest to it. Laughlin thinks that the Mandela Effect is the result of this and he has gone on to explain his theory in a video that is mind blowing when considering it comes from a kid...."
A bold claim indeed. Disclose extract this claim from Max's latest video which you can watch below.

In the video, Max uses many legitimate scientific terms, but does so in a way that makes absolutely no sense. He also throws in a dash of phrases such as "God=E=mc^2" and "the higher infinities" and "electrons move from animator to animator to animator." which ultimately sound good, but mean nothing. Unfortunately, there's a stratum of casual physics enthusiasts that find phrases like this delivered with enthusiasm and crucially, total confidence very convincing.  But bunkum delivered with charisma is still bunkum. And boy is this bunkum.

The article begins.
"The universe is so complex that if one stopped to take a look at what is actually happening people would give in to the marvelous beauty of it..."
I think Lucas needs to relay this to the whole of the scientific community, especially cosmologists. Just because Lucas swapped a bunsen burner for a bong at 14 doesn't mean the rest of us followed suit. He continues:
"There is proof of free energy, unified field of consciousness, superhuman ability, and alternate reality and more..."
Erm... no, no, no and no, but continue:
"so much is mind boggling that no one would think that a kid would have any understanding of it all. However, one 13-year-old, Max Laughlin understands it all and can explain it in intricate detail to those who perhaps aren’t as clever. "

No Lucas, Max can elaborate on physics in such a way that absolute dunderheaded morons like you think they're having actual science told to them! But, I agree that you're less intelligent than him. That said, I've a head of lettuce that's been in the fridge way too long that I suspect may be more intelligent than Lucas.

Max speculates in his video that the Mandela Effect is a result of CERN scientists destroying the universe. Clumsy of them. Briefly, the Mandela effect is the idea that the reason we remember some things differently is because we somehow find ourselves in an alternative universe to the one we grew up in. Consequently, there are minor differences, such as in our original universe Nelson Mandela passed away in person whereas in this new universe he was freed by Bono. This is where the theory gets its name. Another example of the idea is that the popular kid's book series "The Berenstain Bears" was actually called "The Berenstein Bears" in our original universe. (note: you've no idea how hard it was for me to get that the right way around!)

The article goes on:
"The theories of Laughlin are amazing as are the explanations that he provides, at one point writing on a napkin as a way of explanation, in the video explaining to people much older than himself about infinite in confined space and alternate parallel universes."

There are a couple of problems with Max's theory.

Firstly, it's not a theory. Theories in science are well supported by research and evidence, a hypothesis only graduates to a theory after years, decades even of painstaking work. Theories must fit existing frames works of science and encompass and include known physical laws. Theories in physics must be formulated with a mathematical formalism. Sorry Max, this ain't a theory, it's wild speculation. That's not to say it's wrong though. The next problem does say that though.

I've discussed the nonsensical idea that the Large Hadron Collider could "destroy the universe" before, so I'm not going to get too caught up in it now. Suffice to say the maximum energy created by a particle collision in the LHC as of yet is 13 TeV, energies of collisions between high energy cosmic rays and particles in the uppers atmosphere can reach up to 10^8 TeV! Admittedly these higher energy collisions are fairly rare: one every century or so, but collisions many factors higher than that found at the LHC occur millions of times every second in every square kilometre of the upper atmosphere. Max, doesn't seem to understand this about the LHC, he also doesn't seem to understand that hundreds of experiments run at the LHC. When his father says "So this happened when CERN did their experiment?" Max agrees. It's fine of course that Max is a bit in the dark about the LHC, he's thirteen for Christ's sake. It's the fact that whoever publishes Max's videos are hailing him as a genius that bothers me for reasons I'll explain at the foot of the post.

As for that amazing drawing that lays out his theory, shockingly and spontaneously drawn on a napkin.... here it is. It looks like something a child would doodle on a napkin. Nothing more.

The various posts about Max on Disclose refer to him as a theoretical physicist, he isn't. He's a bright kid, he isn't a qualified physicist. They claim he has invented the free energy machine, a concept absolutely forbidden by the laws of thermodynamics and the conservation of energy. He hasn't. The authors at Disclose are setting Max up as a fraud. More worrying the boy's father in his videos claims he is a genius who ordinary people can't understand. I'm sorry, but many of us can at least understand that the reason Max isn't understood is he's spouting half-baked ideas and wrapping them in misused terminology. What happens when people start to realise this about Max?

The internet is an ugly place sometimes and Disclose, Lucas and Max's father are making him front and centre of a potential backlash when people realise this kid isn't what THEY are claiming he is. They are setting this kid up for a massive fall, in their own hubris and in Disclose's case support of a warped ideology designed at railing against "mainstream science".

He'll bare the brunt of this not them. 

In my brief research for this post, I came across a video of some absolute nut claiming Max is a fraud. His reasoning for this is that only he can correctly identify information from alternate timelines. They are parading Max in front of people like this who will react with anger and jealousy. They are exposing him to skeptics and scientists who will expose and mock his "theories". Not all these skeptics, though correct in their criticism, will see the puppeteers behind the curtain. They'll direct their ire AT MAX. And the older he gets the less he will be treated with charity.

There's another consequence of all this. What happens when Max becomes enamoured with a certain level of attention and adulation? I was never hailed a genius at 13, but I image it's a heady brew. And damn addictive to boot. Max will begin to seek that kind of adulation all the time. He'll avoid the naysayers who hurt his ego and shed light on his veil of bullshit. He'll cultivate a band of loyal followers who hang off his every word because they're too thick to see through it. His claims and lies will become greater, and as voices rise against him, he'll learn to blame others when they expose his lies.

This is what you'll get. Another David Roundtree. Pontificating to a dwindling band of followers. Destined for obscurity.

I'm a father. I know what it's like to be proud of your son. To want the world to see how amazing he is. I know Max's dad is proud of him too, and so he should be. He's amazing. Please if you somehow end up reading this tiny blog, end this nonsense, have him pursue his interest and passion for science in the right way. Calling him a theoretical physicist may result in him actually never achieving that title. If he grows up to believe he's earned it already, why would he work for it?
Don't encourage him to skip steps on the way up. The gaps will catch up.

Keep Max amazing.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Most Haunted Series 19 Episode 2: The Stunning Evidence Exposed.

I'm sure many of you are more than familiar with the format of Most Haunted if not the show itself. It would not be totally unfair to suggest the show is the trend setter in current ghost hunting TV, but it's also not unfair to point out the genre has left it behind. Really run the show behind the far more polished Ghost Adventures, and it does not fair well in comparison. Ghost Adventures strong stylistic elements and editing trickery are for the most point absent from Most Haunted, not something that particularly bothers me as I find such things style over (a complete lack of substance). One other thing that is abundantly clear about Most haunted in its current iteration is it doesn't take itself or its subject matter particularly seriously. This was starkly illustrated by a calling out session in the last series in which co-originator Karl Beatie asked the spirits of an Edwardian building if they wanted a crumpet. One can also point to the introduction of a rather disinterested dog, Watson, as a semi-regular team member (although I'm told they aren't the first ghost hunting show to do this). Watching Watson amble wander disinterested, bored aloof and ultimately detached around Abbey House Museum, I couldn't help but feel he had become a muse somewhat for me and the audience in general.

So why after such apathy would I even consider reviewing episode 2 of said series? Well, there's been something of a tabloid furore about the latest episode of Really's Most Haunted. Papers such as The Mirror, The Sun, The Mail and the Evening Telegraph have been reporting that this episode contains the most impressive evidence the team has ever collected. The reports all appeared today (21/04/17) the day of transmission. The Evening Telegraph tells us:
Fielding said: “To date this has to be the most ground-breaking footage we have ever recorded... But rather than giving us the answer we were looking for, it just gave us more questions...Was it the presence of the spirit of a long dead soul, a doppelganger, Stone Tape Replay or something else we are never supposed to understand?”Karl Beattie filmed the footage and said: “We’ve never seen anything like this before and we really don’t have an explanation for what we saw but the replay of the filming, clearly shows the vision in detail.“It’s a weird, weird place.”
Now, it doesn't take the most cynical of us to conclude this is a purposeful piece of propaganda aimed at propping up ratings for the second episode of the series. The stories may even be paid pieces provided by Really, though given the UK tabloids strong desire for paranormal fluff this isn't a sure thing. Obviously, this is a promo piece but as the MH crew are claiming something extraordinary, I decided to take a look.

Before looking at the episode in general which I'll do in my next post, let's look at the footage which has garnered so much attention from the tabloids and see if we can get to the bottom of it.

The Remarkable Evidence?

Above is the footage that the MH team are touting as the most impressive thing they've ever caught (video shared for the purpose of criticism and review obviously)  Bad Psychic's author Jon Donnis has an opinion on what the image is. In his review of the episode, Jon concludes this is team member Glen, who is wandering the location on his own.

I actually don't think this is correct.

From the image on the left, it's clear to see the figure is somewhat translucent, especially the upper half where you can see through the stairs in front of it somewhat. I think it's a figure, but they aren't there in "real time". A clue to this is Stuart Torvil and Karl Beatie's terrible "surprised" acting. They don't seem at shaken, by seeing "something", nor do they describe what they've seen. This makes me feel it's not really there. Obviously, if this were a case of mistaken identity the person would be present.

In my opinion, this is a video overlay.

First, the empty corridor is filmed. It's then filmed again but this time with a person walking up the stairwell. Likely the corridor is better lit when the second lot of footage is taken. The two pieces of footage are then overlaid, resulting in a third piece of footage with the translucent ghostly figure walking up the stairs. If the second piece of footage is lighter the image will have a ghostly glow.

In the below video Viper paranormal explain how this is achieved.

Now, what the MH crew would need to achieve this is a stationary shot. It's vital that first and second shot line up. This is why the figure climbs the stairs in step and it's head vanishes at the archway. That's my biggest clue as to this being the source of this apparition.

Watch the first video again, note that Karl and Stuart put the camera down and are very careful to ensure that is stable, they actually spend some time adjusting the camera precisely. Why do they do this? In the rest of the episode, they just point and film. The cameras remain handheld. Why do they need a stable shot at this point? This seems especially silly as Karl immediately picks up the camera again as soon as the "apparition" has passed. They do it because they need a stable stationary shot for the overlay to work. Also notice, either Karl or Stu point at the lens, showing the other where the staircase appears to line up with the lens. As they are doing it, they say "the sound came from here." That doesn't make much sense. Unless their trying to inform the other where the "apparition" will appear.

I asked the man himself why he put the camera down and spent a moment fixing it.

Sorry MH, but this "most impressive" evidence is abject, and quite amateur fakery.

I've decided to trot out the framework I started to develop in my recent review of Nick Groff's Paranormal Lockdown to review this episode of Really TV's Most Haunted in full next time. In that post I'll also let you know what Karl had to say with regard to the camera.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Paranormal Attention Seeker Mark Vernon Reveals True Motivation On Daytime TV.

Paranormal attention seeker, Mark Vernon's (left) latest appearance in the tabloid media has left him covered in less than glory. This week Vernon appeared in the dock on ITV's daytime television show Judge Rinder, a show with a format similar to the highly successful US show Judge Judy. I wouldn't normally comment on such shows and matters, but in the show Rinder, an ex-barrister, absolutely nails the issue I had with Vernon and his approach to investigating the homes of private individuals. The show clearly calls into question the ethics of some paranormal investigators and Vernon in general.

Watch the clip here. The footage is shared for the purpose of criticism and review.


Vernon and brother Darrell were brought on the show by Tracy Proctor in relation to an "investigation" Mark conducted in her home. Vernon sold images and the story to news sources across the world, making by his own admission "thousands of pounds" from the tale. One particular iteration of the story particularly offended Tracy as it described her as a grandmother and implied that the "spirit activity" in her home having had an impact on her sex life causing her embarrassment. In fact, Vernon was so proud of this story he even attempted to direct my attention to it!

Bear in mind, he posted this comment on a post when I had accused him of being an attention seeker whose interest in the paranormal stemmed predominantly from selling stories to the tabloid press. Vernon didn't deny that accusation. Nor did he deny that his approach to investigating in private residences was disrespectful and unprofessional. He just wanted me to write about the story. Obviously, that's the reason I didn't. I don't take requests.

The most pertinent part of Vernon's encounter with Judge Rinder was for me his admission that he investigates homes in order to generate stories to sell to the press. Vernon attempts to tell Rinder that he travels the country "helping people" but Rinder is having none of it.

Rinder: "How do make your money from this?"
Vernon: "I sell the footage I get to the newspapers."
Rinder: "In other words, you have a vested interest in there being ghosts.... newspapers and other outlets online will buy this. How much will they pay?"
Vernon: "In UK, £500."
Rinder: "But if they're on the right site, you can make considerably more. Correct?"
Vernon: "Yeah, this one has."

Now, I wouldn't put it past Vernon and Proctor to have arranged this appearance on Rinder were it not for Proctor's instance that she never gave permission for the pictures to appear in the news. She says she only gave in permission to feature the images on his website and Youtube. Proctor denies she gave permission for the images to appear in the newspaper. Something that doesn't exactly ring true as in addition to talking to journalists, she posed for several photographs copyrighted my Mercury Press that appeared with the story!

Proctor's issue with Vernon seems to stem from the fact that she was unaware of just how far the story would spread, and possibly just how much money Vernon seemed likely to recoup from the attention. I would guess that if Vernon had have offered her a cash incentive it would have been mentioned in his defence.

Whilst the show is lightweight, and Rinder pokes fun at the frankly embarrassing "evidence" Vernon presents, there's a worrying undertone: Vernon lied to Proctor. He gave her no idea of his true intentions. He concealed his desire to profit in claims to wanting to help her. He exploited her. Proctor doesn't strike me as particularly vulnerable but plenty of others are.

Unfortunately, Vernon is not alone in exploiting the tabloids desire for paranormal clickbait. The tabloid press in the UK has discovered paranormal investigators and ghost hunters are a cheap source of "ghost" evidence. I've counted several separate stories in the tabloid press over the month or so, that feature ghost hunting groups passing laughable evidence to the papers for financial reward. More than I've seen since I started this blog.

We've had haunted RAF bases provide by Paranormal tourist group UK ghost hunts: Dad captures spooky footage of 'RAF pilot ghost' haunting abandoned corridor in deserted air force base which gives details of video footage of the alleged ghost of a RAF airman captured at Manby Hall, in Lincolnshire, by UK Ghost Hunts member Steve Wesson, earlier this year.

Here's the footage:

You're probably thinking "I don't see any reason this can't be a person walking down the hall." Steve protests this cannot be the case. He tells the Mirror:
"It is a former RAF base then it was an old people's home and now it is closed and only security have access to the building. However there are many ghost stories about the hall.... It was definitely not one of us four and there was definitely no one else in the building."
Hmmm.... "one of us four"? We only have Steve's word for it that there were only three members of the team and a security guard present. A quick look at the photos taken at investigations on the team's facebook group shows there are normally more teammates in attendance if indeed this isn't one of the team's public investigations, at which there could be any number of people present. Even if we could conclusively show that this wasn't another team member, various shots in the Manby Hall episode show copious amounts of graffiti inside the Hall. Clearly, it hasn't always been particularly secure. Can we be certain no one has wandered in after the team?

It seems pretty clear that whoever walks down the corridor, flashes a torch as they're doing so. You can even hear an audible "cl-CLICK" as they do so!

In addition to this, we've had least three teams file reports and "evidence" from 30 East Drive, including scouse medium Lillyanne and crew. The Black Monk has been busy.

Silent Voices Paranormal told the Star (31/03/17) that they had caught the image (below) of a mummy stalking the halls of Torquay Museum in DevonThe Egyptians had tobacco, right?

There were many more, equally vapid, examples to chose from.

It seems inevitable that at least a few of these teams will realise that these stories are easy money and that there is an unending requirement for them. Couple this with a complete lack of standards of evidence and we have a situation fit to breed hundreds of paranormal "cash for crap" brokers, just like Vernon. Meaning we also face the prospect of thousands of vulnerable, frightened believers being exploited like Proctor.

Judge Rinder will have his work cut out for him, as will we.