Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Paranormal Teams Must Stop Using Physical Injury As Evidence Of "Ghost Attack"

In my last post, I discussed one of the effects of a boom in paranormal investigation teams being formed which are either heavily or solely inspired television ghost hunting. So it only seems fitting that I tackle another aspect of that same phenomena in this subsequent post. This time it's an element that is more worrying than poor investigation techniques or a fundamental misunderstanding of how equipment operates. I find the explosion of paranormal investigators using physical marks and scratches as evidence most concerning. The phenomena seems to have grown in response to its popularisation on shows like Ghost Adventures, now there are few paranormal teams whose social media page doesn't include images of team-mates bodies adorned with scrapes and scratches. (Please note, barring the example below and the one at the foot of the post, I've used very few examples of these scratches and welts presented by paranormal teams throughout what follows. This was a conscious choice, as whilst many of these images would strengthen my case and I do normally like to present examples, I don't want to garner further attention for the practice, which I find pretty abhorrent.)

Here's an example from Greg Newkirk of Week In Weird. Gregg claims that scratches occurred during an investigation at Ohio State Penitentiary. 

In the "raw footage" offered by Newkirk, he expresses feeling pushed, the camera cuts and when footage resumes we find three finger marks dragged down Newkirk's back. Clearly, Newkirk doesn't understand what raw footage is, the edit here distinctly prevents this from being considered "raw". It's just footage. Nor is it footage of an "entity attack" as Newkirk describes it on Week in Weird. As is common in paranormal TV the marks on Newkirk's back are unveiled "live" on hard camera. This is done to give the impression that the marks must have occurred recently and thus isn't faked off camera. It's an element that's negated here by that edit. This element of immediacy is also neglected in the volume of images produced by Paranormal Investigation teams. The reason that paranormal TV shows present this as "evidence" is it's presented as happening right on camera. This doesn't transfer to static images. I'd describe what these Tv shows do as something or a crude conjuring trick. It's not difficult to explain where or when the scratches occur, immediately before filming or possibly as some sleight of hand on camera which goes unnoticed. These images aren't even a crude conjuring trick. It's akin to the magician revealing the card in the inside pocket of his jacket and expecting applause when he tells you he assures you it was in the deck and it is the card you would have chosen if he'd given you the opportunity to do so!

Newkirk and the paranormal teams also neglect another element of paranormal investigation shows: they fake evidence all the time and this is the easiest thing to fake. Blemishes and easy enough to produce, especially in areas of sensitive skin such as necks and backs, coincidentally where these things always seem to occur. 

So why should we consider these scratches and blemishes as anything remotely non-naturalistic? Newkirk (and I use his arguments as an example of wider held justifications) is again on hand to explain why skin abrasions such as the one he received are distinguishable from ones received from more naturalistic in origin, i.e:- one's own fingers/fingernails and the finger/fingernails of a co-investigator:
"When someone is scratched by a stray nail, a girly-fight, or their own hand, there’s often the tell-tale remainder of white, ashy skin flakes and traces of blood, but in the case of “supernatural scratches”, the wounds seem to fit a different set of criteria. They’re free of blood, lack the powdery remainder of skin cells scraped off by fingernails, and appear as something much like burns or welts."
Skin flakes and blood traces? Aren't such things extremely small? It would take a detailed examination to ascertain that such things were absent from supposedly paranormally induced marks. Also just because red marks appear doesn't mean the skin has been broken. Pressure applied to the skin can cause blood vessels to burst under the skin. It's like Newkirk doesn't know what a bruise is. Even when bruising doesn't occur pressure applied to the skin can cause blood to rush to that area to deliver clotting factors.

Greg continues:
"...Even more interesting is that the scratches disappear shortly thereafter, usually within hours of their appearance. These kinds of criteria aren’t simply limited to scratches either, but manifest as many other physical marks allegedly inflicted by supernatural forces..." 
Again, one would expect any red mark on the skin to fade, in the latter case which  I outlined above without any visible signs of any physical trauma. So why do these red marks appear so red? I think back to your childhood. Ever been hit by a football in the cold? Hurts a lot much than in the warm. It also leaves a more intense red mark. This because in cold environments the blood in your body is withdrawn from extremities to maintain body temperature. This includes the skin in a process called peripheral vasoconstriction. Thus when some pressure is applied to the skin and blood rushes to the area to deliver clotting agents that area appears much redder than surrounding areas. Couple this with strong lights sources against dark environments which can blanch the appearance of the skin anyway, making the red welts appear far more pronounced. Where do ghost hunters do their work predominantly? In the cold and the dark.

You may well be thinking now "why should marks made by ghosts applying force appear any different from force applied by the fingers?" Is it surprising the body reacts in a similar way, which is opposed the differences Greg lays out above. There's a very crucial argument from physics similar to the one I made here. The force would have to be applied by some form of matter, which should be detectable in other ways. It should have mass. Most ghost hunters would insist this isn't the case. Or they'd attempt to invoke energy mass equivalence, as they don't understand what "energy" is, or the deeper implications of E=mc^2, most tend to view energy and mass as some currency which can be exchanged in an easy non-violent fashion. Cue Greg's energy argument, and an instant display that he doesn't really understand at least one form of energy.
"Upon closer inspection, marks left by “ghosts” don’t conform to wounds left by physical force. They more often appear to have been left by energy, like stray electricity moving through the air, leaving behind burns and welts in its wake,,,"
Stray electricity doesn't just wander through the air until it strikes a hapless ghost hunter. Electricity moves between areas of differing potential. Stray electricity describes a system where some form of isolation has failed and a potential gradient has been created. More pertinently when "energy" causes a mark on flesh it isn't shaped like fingers. Newkirk and others who use similar arguments to justify want us to focus on the details so we miss the obvious. These marks and welts are almost always in the form of finger marks, they almost always reflect the normal spread and positioning of fingers. Often one can even differentiate the typically stronger fingers from the darker welts and find they conform to the positioning on the hand.


When I first wrote about this topic it was in response to evidence of the paranormal offered by an Irish paranormal investigation team. I took particular exception to an image of a female team member with welts on the side of her neck which appeared self-inflicted. The team member in question became very upset that I had implied that she had self-harmed. But I'm sorry, that's the most obvious conclusion that the evidence points to. That or that someone else did that to her. Or she has a rare undiagnosed dermatological condition. Paranormal teams who offer these images as evidence cannot point to anything that suggests a non-natural explanation, all they tend to offer is anecdote around the circumstances under which the marks occurred, and anecdote doesn't constitute a high enough level of evidence to overlook our everyday experience of how these marks occur, not to mention the wealth of evidence from physics and biology. By sharing these images these teams and individuals encourage others to self-inflict wounds upon themselves in the name of "evidence". They are encouraging people to hurt themselves. Even if they believe these marks are genuine, that's deeply irresponsible.

I'll leave you with some images that deeply coloured my opinion of this topic. It's a "paranormal investigator" from a team I won't name. He's sat in a chair nursing the wounds of a supposed "ghost attack" and what looks like an alcoholic beverage and he appears drunk. The marks don't appear to have been made by fingers but by a sharp object. Next to his chair is a small child who lives in the house the is under investigation. This child likely believes that something unseen in this house physically harmed this man.

This subject speaks deeply to the ethical responsibility of paranormal investigation, and many teams come up lacking to a shocking degree, and responsible teams must consider speaking up in comdemnation.

Monday, 16 January 2017

A Trifecta Of Turgid Tabloid Toss! Ghost Actresses! Thermal Cameras! Elves!

I guess the British tabloid press is tired of Brexit and Trump news and has decided to "treat" its eager readers with a glut of genuine, "unquestionable paranormal phenomena" today (15/01/17). Let's take a look at three bar-lowering examples.

Our first story comes from the Sun (and various other tabloids) courtesy of ghost hunter Caroline Mezoian of EVP paranormal. The image (below) taken in Bidford City Theatre, Maine, purportedly shows the ghost of actress Eva Gray who died at the location in 1904.

The image was taken with an infra-red camera, and immediately presents two questions: "Is that it?" and "Was Eva Gray only a foot or so tall?". as the body of the alleged phantom stretches only a few steps in height. The team's facebook page features many other images taken with Infra-red cameras showing similar blurs which are taken to be human-like forms or phantoms. The example to the right was allegedly taken on the same night.

The Sun declares breathlessly and without hint of ambiguity "Infared images taken at the theatre last month show a ghostly white figure in an evening dress standing on the stairs appearing to walk out of the building." I guess that settles it then!
Whilst many commenters have accused the team of faking the image, I'm feeling slightly more charitable. I think the images they are getting here are a result of one of two things, either a failure to properly maintain their IR camera, or a failure to understand how the technology actually works. In the first case, it's possible that the images could be caused by smudges on the camera lens, a fingerprint for example or a smudge on the lens. Far more likely is a common failure to understand how the IR technology works.

 It is intuitive to view images taken in the IR spectrum in the same way we view images in the visual spectrum. All we are talking about after all is a downward shift in the electromagnetic spectrum, but the whole reason IR cameras are popular in the paranormal field is because they will show things that aren't visible to the naked eye. Before we jump to the conclusion of something paranormal we have to eliminate more mundane things which can't be seen with the human eye. As IR cameras are presenting a picture made up by heat gradients, it's quite plausible that all we are seeing is an area that is slightly warmer than the surrounding environment. In a 2010 article for the Skeptical Inquirer, Ben Radford explains how misattribution due to a basic misunderstanding of this technology arises.
"Heat is of course far less transient than light; if we turn off a light switch in a closed room, the area goes dark almost instantly. But if we turn off a source of heat--including body heat--in an area or room, the heat may remain long after the source has been removed.... At an investigation I carried out last year for the TV show MysteryQuest, one of the ghost hunters used a forward looking infrared (FLIR) camera to detect a foot-long vertical warm spot on a pillar. No one in the room could explain what caused it; one person suggested it was a sign that a ghost had been watching us. In fact I had seen one of the ghost hunters leaning against the pillar a few minutes earlier, and the warm spot matched exactly the height and shape of the man's upper arm." Radford. 2010.
 I think that's the explanation here frankly. As Caroline herself states in the article “’I didn’t really believe it at first, but when you look at the images how can you deny that’s not something?” I agree, but as often happens with paranormal investigation teams who closely emulate the methods seen on ghost hunting television shows, "something" can't be extrapolated to "something paranormal" without a much higher standard of evidence than these images present.

Which leads us into our second paranormal story, which shares some similarities and, I believe, can be explained in a similar way.

The Daily Mirror (15/01/17) reports on more images presented by a ghost hunting team, this time it's East Drive Paranormal. The team are presumably named in connection paranormal tourism location 30 East Drive in Pontefract, made infamous by various ghost hunting tv shows, most notably Most Haunted. You would be forgiven for suspecting that the named the team have selected indicates their inspiration in investigating the paranormal comes from such programming.

The Mirror tells us:
"The team were summoned to the Italian restaurant after scared staff reported seeing a glass flying off the bar. Jason (a psychic apparently) immediately sensed the spirit of a disgruntled man in his 50s, who had been disturbed by recent decorating work... " 
The only evidence we're given of paranormal activity prior to the team's visit, barring anecdote of course, is a glass falling across the bar and shocking a member of staff and patron chatting at the other end of the bar. Of course, we see no surrounding events to suggest why this should be unusual in any way. Things stacked improperly or in a precarious equilibrium can easily be disturbed, and the glass skitters across the bar simply because it initially bounces a little.

So what about the teams actually footage? Go and watch the video if you like, but I'm going to provide a couple of screen caps that show East Drive Paranormal really don't have a clue about the equipment they're using and conducting an investigation in general.

Image 1: So here we see vaguely human shapes formed on the infrared camera. Could it be a ghost, or is there a more obvious explanation.

Image 2: Our camera operator whips around presumably to see if he can capture the image of whatever the thermal camera is picking up. In doing so he reveals that the area being recorded isn't isolated in any way shape or form! In all likelyhood, the thermal images are a result of the body heat of the other occupants of the room. As Ben out lies above, the body heat remains after the team members move on.

 Image 3 and 4: As if to compound this massive cock up, we are shown an image of at least two people walking through the exact area where the thermal images were! In fact, there are so many people walking about I have to question if the restaurant is even closed! It's busier than in the footage we see whilst it's open for business.

I'd say "It doesn't get much more inept than this." but someone at the Daily Star would likely consider that something of a challenge. In fact, given this story they published today (15/01/17), they already have. In the story, reporter Jesse Bell tells us of a heated Reddit debate in which users debate whether the image on the right below represents an elf or a dwarf....

Jesse tells us
"One user said: “I’m picturing the black part as being the back of the head, kind of sloped upwards and maybe wearing a little hat.... Honestly the only thing I can see it as is a little elf.”.. Another wrote: “I’ve heard about dwarfs a bit growing up."...“They are on the paranormal spectrum and judging by the size and stature that's what I might take this to be.”..."
I suppose this should be funny, but it's not really. It's just awful and sad. I know not dealing with this critically makes me a bad skeptic or a cynic, but.... I'll ship to my final point.

So what have we learned from today's tabloid paranormal output? Some paranormal teams are inept, as are some journalists, and the Daily Star really doesn't give a flying fuck what they publish.

Hardly news.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Lies and Dolls? Macabre Interest In Haunted Dolls Can Easily be Converted Into Cash.

Haunted dolls. I just don't get the current fascination. I understand dolls are creepy but the morbid fascination they hold escapes me really. Of course, if we've learned anything about macabre interests there are two benefits to be reaped: a modicum of fame and cold hard cash.

Whilst browsing through my facebook news feed I came across a familiar face, Jayne Harris of HD Paranormal, who you may remember from my spat with her over her "paranormal diploma", which I felt was exploitative and a blatant attempt rake in money for little in return. Jane was making a recommendation for a website called "Dolls with Souls" which Jayne claims she has been using to source haunted dolls for many years.

Of course, I visited the site, and I've found it to be one of the most potentially worrying paranormal selling sites I've come across. Whilst electrical equipment missold as ghost hunting equipment is still likely to fulfil it's primary function, albeit one that doesn't in any way justify the huge mark up the printing a clip art image of a ghost on it brings. If it doesn't fulfil that function it can be returned. The consumer is protected in the event that an item doesn't meet its description. How can the same be said for a haunted doll? I can't see a trade watchdog carrying out Randi-style tests to determine if an object has a "spiritual attachment" and even if they did, there's too much room for special pleading. Does "Well, spirits/psychic abilities/magic doesn't just perform on demand you know!" sound familiar? And that's assuming that the purchaser doesn't persuade them self that the doll is "possessed" by attributing events surround it to some paranormal cause. Dolls With Souls is hardly the first outlet to sell "haunted" paraphernalia. There's quite a cottage industry on E-bay and the like and stories in the press like Jayne Harris brush with fame and the recent poltergeist/doll video only feeds the fad.

One of the most troublesome things about the Dolls With Souls' site is many of the legitimate concerns I have with it are addressed in vague very non-specific ways on the site. Almost as if the creator was prepared for potential objections and wove get out clauses into the fabric of the site. Here are some examples of the concerns I had with the site.

Who is Jayne Baker?

Generally, if we're buying something from someone, especially if we're laying out a large amount of money. £120 for a haunted doll? I'd like to know who I'm dealing with. In addition to lacking a buisiness address, or the slighest indication of where the operations are based, Jayne Baker's site doesn't feature a single image of the lady herself. We are also very expressly told on the about page:
Jayne Harris tells us in her recommendation that she and many other paranormal investigators have been using Jayne Baker as a supplier of haunted items for many years, and Baker's website reiterates this claim:
"When I began collecting in 1972 I was part of an exclusive group of just 8 people, known as the Elite Order of Roses... our work was conducted very discreetly.  Over the past 10 years I have built a wide professional client base including some of the worlds top paranormal investigators, celebrities and TV personalities who have relied on me to keep their identities confidential."
Ok, so she's discreet. But not a single hit appears on Google for "Jayne Baker Haunted Doll". Ten years and zero internet footprint? The tag-line of the site, "the paranormal's best kept secret" seems to make a positive about the fact that there's no information about Baker available anywhere else.

In fact, not even Jayne Harris has mentioned Baker before. Harris has conducted many interviews in the tabloid press in the UK and for various internet sites and normally cites her source for the dolls she possesses as clients she has assisted. In fact in this interview with Broadly from September 2015, Jayne appears to warn against purchasing haunted dolls from sites such as E-Bay:
"We get called out all the time to people's homes to help them with objects. For every item we take, we reimburse people.... I'm against eBay sellers because there comes a level of responsibility in what you're doing. You're effectively passing something onto someone to have in their homes that could bring about paranormal activity. That's why we use the word 'adoption'..."
Strange that Harris doesn't mention that there are reputable sellers, such as baker, even if she doesn't mention her by name.

So potential buyers have almost no idea who they making a purchase from. The e-mail address attached to the associated E-Bay account is also unhelpfully anonymous.
Well... Maybe, there is a small clue as to the identity of Jayne Baker.

The elephant in the room, is Jayne Baker actually a pseudonym of Jayne Harris?

Now, what follows is pure conjecture. We can't ignore the fact that Harris could well be operating as Baker, she herself highlights two of the coincidences surrounding the two identities. Firstly the rather unusual spelling of the first name Jayne. Harris seems aware this may draw suspicion and clumsily highlights it in her endorsement by stating "great name". This smacks somewhat of hiding in plain sight. Speaking of sites (sorry) it wouldn't escape the most casual observer that both Harris' HD Paranormal and Baker's Dolls With Souls sites were built with Wix and are incredibly similar design and colour scheme. Now Harris does acknowledge this as well in her recommendation but did Baker have no input? Or do the ladies in question just have very similar taste? That might also explain that fact the decor in the background of images posted on both sites are almost identical.

The images on the left are taken from HD paranormal, specifically a blog post published on February 8th 2016, the image on the right and the one below it is taken from Dolls With Souls.

Look at the paintwork and also the grain of the cabinet the "haunted objects" are placed on. The photographs on both sites are very similarly shot too. Conclusive? In absolutely no way, shape or form. As Harris is Jayne's married name it would be interesting to know if her maiden name was Baker though.

Of course, the biggest question in this pseudonym argument would be, why would Jayne assume a pseudonym to sell these dolls? She has previously "adopted dolls" to clients for a requested donation, something it seems she doesn't offer on the HD Paranormal site anymore for some reason, and as you'll see from the image below she has no moral objection to selling absolute tat under the banner "paranormal" on her HD Paranormal site. Psychic drawing anyone? A snap at  £20. Or a drawing of your spirit guide perhaps? Who can refuse at a reasonable £30. Quite why there's an extra £10 of value to the latter escapes me. I guess spirit guides are harder to encourage to sit still.

Let's table the question of identity and highlight one of the sites most blatant and shameful claims.

 A Man Walks Into A Major High Street Electrical Outlet.... and inquires about a television. The sales assistant highlights his employers guarantee and the man plops down his £120 (it's a small TV ok) and there's a sale. After a few days, the customer realises his TV isn't working and calls the store. The sales assistant assures our hero the TV does work. "You just have to have faith!" he states before hanging up the phone.

Ridiculous right? 

That's exactly the kind of sales process that Dolls With Souls is conducting. Here's the guarantee offered on the site.
"My dolls are guaranteed to be paranormally active, and are limited in number. Once gone, they're gone."
Wow! A guarantee of paranormal activity is quite bold. One has to wonder why Jayne is selling these items at all. If she can guarantee paranormal activity then why not take Randi's Million Dollar challenge instead?

Surely such a guarantee should offer peace of mind to anyone making a purchase that if they are dissatisfied their money will be returned? Well, first if the burden of proof rests on the consumer to proof an item doesn't match its description or isn't fit for purpose, the people who purchase these dolls and assorted bric-a-brac have no chance. Nor will they have an intervening company like E-Bay or Amazon to uphold any claims. That leaves their only hope in the hands of the owner of the site to offer a refund. The site offers a clear indication of the get out clause, and it's a theme we've touched on already:

Despite the guarantees on offer,  the owner of this site is very clear that if your item does nothing, it just sits on a shelf looking creepy as dolls are want to do, then the fault is yours. When you handed over your cash you should have handed over your inability to think critically too.

Monday, 9 January 2017

"Post Truth" Wasn't Born In 2016, It Hit Puberty.

Normally at this point of the year, I'd be putting together some of the most humorous, interesting and embarrassing paranormal images and photographs from the last twelve months and loosely presenting it in the form of my annual awards blog "The Caspers".  It's been the highlight of the blog for me from the past two years and it tends to be the thing that attracts the most readers and positive feedback, so it may seem a bit odd that I won't be doing that this year. There's certainly been no shortage of face palmingly bad ghost images in 2016, Hayley Stevens has collected some of them here as she also does each year.

When people ask me, infrequently though it may be, what I write about on this blog and the select other places I post, I rarely mention the words paranormal, ghosts or pseudoscience. What I write about are misapprehensions, misunderstandings and the misrepresentation of the truth in various mediums. That's what concerns me about paranormal reporting in the tabloid press. That's what concerns about with the circulation of "ghost" images on social media. It's what concerned me about the creeping infiltration of creationism and the rebirth of presuppositional apologetics a few years ago. It's what concerns me with the spread of alt-right ideas and their counter balance the ideology of the progressive left. I haven't changed the things I write about, I've just moved the lens to focus on different things from time to time. If my main concern is the misrepresentation of the truth I can't in good conscience end 2016 and enter 2017 laughing about ghost images, fun though it may be.

Many major media outlets have declared 2016 as the birth of the post-truth era, the Oxford dictionary made "post-truth" their word of the year, even though it's existed as a concept for at least a decade.



  • Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief
 I would suggest that the journalists who have made "post-truth" the narrative of the past twelve months haven't been paying too much attention to the tabloid press, especially the sillier, more clickbaity output churned out by the Mail, Sun and Mirror. I doubt they've been looking too hard at paranormal groups on Facebook and other social media sites. They may well be aware of "science" sites like IFLS, which regularly publish stories that are vastly exaggerated or patent misrepresentations of actual research at best, and present findings from nonsensical online surveys as actual research at worst, but they certainly aren't fact checking the output shared by millions on social media. As serious journalists and commentators ignore and dismiss the legions of cranks who believe nonsense like ghosts, UFOs, conspiracy theories, without evidence because it conforms to their own beliefs, they fail to grasp that the underlying cognitive failings displayed by these people plague all of us. Much like a well-educated, intelligent respectable professional who repeatedly visits mediums and psychics to indulge their fascination with the afterlife or in search of comfort, we will all ignore evidence and facts to follow what we want and often need to believe. Many of us will believe a lie, even if we know it's a lie if it conforms to our beliefs, and further, many of us simply won't do the most modest amount of research to confirm what we are saying or sharing is accurate. None of us, atheists, skeptics and critical thinkers are totally free of this tendency. For exampIe. had a discussion with the founder of a moderately successful atheist group on facebook in September regarding his belief that the result of the UK referendum on membership of the EU should be upheld and actioned immediately. I pointed out to him that the referendum was an advisory, non-binding referendum, all UK referendums are because they aren't actually part of our democratic process. He stated that the only people who knew that had read some arcane document regarding referendums, the general public couldn't be expected to know that fact.

I found the information on Wikipedia.

I often find myself often repeating the idea that my children are playing up because of the amount of sugar or colouring they've consumed. I know there's no study that confirms this relationship, I just believe it. It gives me comfort when my four-year-old has crayoned every wall in the house, to believe that better dietary choices could've prevented this atrocity. It's harder to admit, even to myself, that I should have been supervising her better or that my beautiful angel can be a bit of a brat sometimes. 

Over 40 million people with an avid interest in science were tricked in October into believing they were watching a live feed from the International Space Station broadcast across social media. Sites like Unilad told them it was live and they, for the most part just accepted it. Even when the actual origin of the footage was revealed, many became angry not with the sites that deceived them, but the naysayers who weren't blindly going along with the narrative. I myself was accused of being a "flat Earther" several times whilst trying to explain the footage wasn't live. The sites that prepatrated the hoax for profit escaped with very little criticism.

The general public didn't become "tired of experts" in 2016 as one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign and haunted toby jug Michael Gove, famously stated in an interview earlier this year, the general public never wanted to listen to experts.

Don't believe me? Know any smokers?

The fact is that we all have the opportunity to avail ourselves of information instantaneously and we just chose not to do it. When a public school buffoon stands in front of a bright red bus suggests that £350 million pounds a week is being sent to Brussels, why not check? When a bigot with clear mental health issues tells you that his opponent supports a completely open door policy on immigration, or that doctors rip healthy babies from their mother's wombs days before birth, why wouldn't you check if that's true? If you're a rational, reasonable person there's only one reason not too. You want to believe them. You want them to be telling the truth. Researching these ideas is taking a pin to the balloon of credibility these liars have inflated in their mind. It's too fragile to question. We all see exactly the same when we post a skeptical response to faked ghost image on any internet forum. Most people will simply ignore it, those less confident in their beliefs will request it, and you are blocked or removed.

2016 wasn't the birth of "post-truth" it's the year that the training wheels came off. Post-truth moved from the realms of the cranks on the internet and flooded the mainstream and politics in 2016, those of us who practice skepticism should have known this was bubbling under the surface waiting to erupt. Some of us did. The psychological factors and failings we've seen all these years in the audiences that lap paranormal TV shows, those that buy and recommend alternative medicines and talk about the risks of vaccines and GMOs have influenced the course of western history in a major way. Indeed, as of January 20th, the most powerful man in the Western world will be a global warming denialist who has publically stated he believes that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese and that vaccines cause autism. Much like the setback Trump represents to campaigners for racial, gender and sexual equality, scientists and skeptics face an equally difficult fight to ensure that the progress made over the last few years isn't lost.
The following words taken from Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted world have never seemed more prescient.

So what do we do? We work harder. Offer clarity where and when we can. We don't let anyone tell us that debunking something is a waste of time, only idiots believe it. We talk about critical thinking, show how we find good reliable information, show the difference between bad sources and good sources.

I'll leave this post with a personal story, something I rarely do. In September 2015 my son's primary school asked parents to make suggestions of how their children's education could be improved, what elements could be added that were not present in the curriculum. I suggested critical thinking, teaching the children to examine claims and in the light of given evidence, assess them. Teach the children not what to think, but how to think. When I asked my son's teacher how the idea was received she told me, quite bluntly, that the headmistress didn't really see the point in the exercise. The school decided to introduce meditation sessions instead. Maybe I'll pursue the idea again when suggestions are solicited, maybe by September 2017 the "point" will be patently obvious.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Trisaksri Ghost Repellent Is Indeed Utterly Repellent.

I can always rely on Week in Weird, the paranormal "news" site to dredge up some horrible element of the paranormal from the past to haunt me. Last time it was their "Paranormal TV Shows That Were Cancelled Too Soon" article that brought back terrible memories of the utterly repugnant exploitation-fest that is "Chip Coffey's Psychic Kids". Today they dredge something equally repellant (get used to this pun), and even Greg Newkirk takes a skeptical tone towards this one. 

Behold The Trisaksri Ghost Repellent (2nd Edition)! Wait. It's not... not very impressive.... maybe my build up was a bit too grandiose. I'll try again... 'av a look at this tat....

Okay.... that's erm... rustic? Let's take a look round the back of this bad boy.

Let's not judge a book by it's cover and discover what the inventors of The Trisaksri Ghost Repellent, Supa Boondee Workshop, have to say about the device. Bear in mind before we do, English is not their first language. Also, I'm going to be ignoring a major elephant in the room here: In searching for the alleged mechanism for how the TGR box repels ghosts it hasn't escaped me that as ghosts haven't ever actually been shown to exist, there's nothing but speculation about the qualities they possess. Despite lots of talk from paranormal groups about electromagnetic fields, we can't view this as anything but idle speculation. In that respect selling anything that proposes to detect/capture/measure or quantify in any way ghosts is akin to selling strawberry jelly with the recommendation "9 out 10 Elves prefer strawberry". It's meaningless. What I'm looking for isn't an actual mechanism or theory but a consistent one. When we have that, then we can actually do some skeptical analysis.

From their sales site Supa Boondee Workshop say:
"You or someone may have experience with ghost or devil after bought new second hand house from the former owner. Some houses may have bad spirit inside which will interfere your daily life unhappy and frighten your children. Finally many of you leave away the house and find a new home. We have a solution for you, "Trisaksri Ghost Repeller". Just place this device in side your house and switch ON. All ghost and devil will leave away your home and won't come back again. Now who run away, You or ghost ? Save money in finding a new home."

So it'll repel the devil as well? That's handy. But how does it work? Ignoring the obvious answer "It fucking doesn't", the sales site of the 2016 version doesn't actually give many details how the manufacturers propose a wooden box with LED lights "repels ghosts" all we are told on the site is:

"Video capture the ghost then convert to radio signal and sent to WAVE KILLER."
Now, the Week In Weird article states:
"when you’re ready to clear your home of negative entities, you simply flip the switch on the Ghost Repellent box, which activates a low-level electromagnetic field, condenser microphone, and infrared camera that work in unison to detect paranormal activity. Super Boondee calls this the “phenomenon receptor”. When the machine detects an anomaly, it automatically fires off a “Wave Killer” radio blast that they claim is enough to force the nasty phantom to abandon its chosen haunt. Much like those sonic-rodent repellents, the box will simply continue to drive off ghosts no matter how many times they attempt to return."
I'm actually sure where Newkirk got this information. Possibly from the manufacturers themselves, but let's face it, if he'd just made it up himself it's probably as credible as anything Supa Boondee workshop offer. In fact, I'd say he's managed to make the device sound incrementally more legitimate, The reason for Greg's creativity is likely that Supa Boondee's statement seems to imply they posit that ghosts and spirits can be captured and held as video information. Their description clearly states the entities are sent to the "wave killer" not that the "wave killer" is fired at them. This proposition is one that even the most credulous paranormal enthusiast is unlikely to accept.

I was able to find slightly more information pertaining to an earlier version of the Ghost Repellant manufactured in 2009. At that point, the Supa Boondee site featured an FAQ page, which has likely vanished now as due to a swath of ridicule the company has likely decided the less information it offers the better.

Here's what that FAQ said:

Q: What about my house has a good spirit of our ancestor protect my family, would this machine kill their spirit ?

A: The machine can distinguist the phenomenon signal input, good spirit and bad spirit has its characteristic, the device will ignor or skip the good spirit.

Q: What happen if we unplug the machine at later time, how can we sure the ghost won't come back again with more angry ?

A: The machine is smart than ghost, fear and not return. You did not battle with ghost, the machine fight with ghost for you.

Q: How can i know my house has ghost ?

A: We can not tell you, you are the only person face this experience yourself. For e.g. having bad dream or nightmare every day, some abnormal noise in the night, fear in the night, etc.

So we're left with literally nothing. We're told what the box does but not how it does it, or how it even could do the things it states!

Let's take a look inside and see if the Trisakri Ghost Repellent's inner workings reveal anything.

Erm... that just looks like useless circuitry ripped out of something else to me. But I have to admit that pretty much describes the inside of every device I've ever seen. Luckily, I know a guy who isn't completely terrified of wires and circuits. And sent the above image to the ever awesome Kenny Biddle along with this schematic of the 2009 version published in the Week in Weird article:

Here's what Kenny concluded:

"At first glance....this looks like junk from an old PC tower. WTF is a "Phenomenon Detector"? Ha! That made-up component is probably worth $800 itself (actual retail value...10 cents)... It's just parts from a computer...and some other random electronic parts (looks like from radios) screwed to the walls of the box. It's worthless."
As Kenny points out the things that really highlight this as a complete scam are the meaningless components, what particularly struck me was the pseudoscientific glory of the "wave killer engine". Sounds like something a bad comic book villian from a 1970's Captain America comic would say. In fact...

With such vague descriptions and psuedoscientific bluster, it's clear that no amount of useless circuitry can differentiate the TGR box from magic. Checking further into the 2009 version of the TGR box reveals more outright inanity. Here's the company's statement made shortly after the device was revealed:

Announcement !

Since the 5th March 2009 we launch this product, we have received a lot of complaint where you can read the comments on various forum on the internet. Most people against this product which made us unhappy, so we will wait about 2 more weeks if the feedback is remain negative we may decide to terminate Ghost repellent out of our product ranges. Herewith, we apologise for the uncomfortable sensitive caused to you at this time.

Thank you,
(Boondee Laboratory)
11th March 2009

Hmmm sounds a like"If you lot don't stop pointing out what terrible scam artists we are.... we won't sell this scammy shit anymore!" Good. Of course, they backtracked on this when they went back to the well and released the device in 2016. Apart from some minor cosmetic changes, the major difference between the 2009 and 2016 models is the price. You may think "Well the box was negatively received and it is a MASSIVE fucking con. One can't be surprised if they lower the price." Except they haven't raised the price. Considerably. The 2009 model was selling for $259, whilst the "improved" 2016 model retails for $1500. I think I know the reason for this huge price hike. I think Boondee may have sold a very small number of these boxes in 2009, and they've decided that if they just sell one or two this time around before yanking the product again, the high price point make this worthwhile.

Now,  you may well be forgiven, given all I've told you, to suspect that this whole Trisakri Ghost Repellant is a hoax. How gullible do these people think believers in ghosts and spirits are? Well, Boondee also sells a wide range of dodgy devices. Here's their "free electricity" device, which I initially thought was a "free energy" exploiting piece of tat. The truth is actually a bit more worrying. 

The device, also housed in a plain wooden box, attaches directly to your electricity meter meaning not only is it dangerous, it's actually illegal! That's if actually works. The description offered is equally as vague as that offered for the TGR box:

"Generally any electrical appliances when apply with home electricity it will run your watt hour meter. But Boondee resonant device does not run your watt hour meter. This is a reason why it is called Free Electricity, you use electricity but the watt hour meter is not spinning. Thus you don't pay electric bill !!"
So no, I don't think this is a wind-up.... that's Boondee's other "free electricity" device, the GR 777. I shit you not. Just look at it's windy wooden majesty.

It's clear Boondee are an equal opportunity exploiter. Whilst their GTR box targets those with legitimate fear of ghosts and spirits, their free electricity devices target the poor and desperate. Without a doubt the Trisaksri Ghost Repellant is repellant, but the only thing it will ever rid you of is your cash. I doubt your daft enough to buy one, but I suspect someone somewhere won't be. 

What Are My Dark Hidden Motivations?

I'm going to make this quick. A frequent line of argumentation I receive in response to the criticisms of the people and organisations I comment on is to attack the motives behind my commentary. The reason people do this is very simple. They can't actually coherently argue against the points I raise, so they target the reason for raising them.

There are some common reoccurring themes, jealousy and money being the most common two. I've lost count of the amount of people who've called this blog click bait and accusing me of generating money through ad revenue. Here's the latest idiot to do this, a commenter called Daemenus on my recent post about the Youtuber Bearing. After a laughable string of logically inconsistent attempts to defend Bearing's use of an image he didn't own or alter in any way shape or form, or failed to correctly credit once (I incorrectly said he had credited Total Drama Island, upon rewatching the discussion in which I thought this occurred the statement is actually made to him and he squirms awkwardly in response. I apologise for misleading my readers into believing Bearing showed the slightest shred of decency. He didn't.), Daemenus made this utterly laughable comment:

"I realize that may be hard for you since you are only blindly attacking for profit, it's only natural for you to use Psychological Projection to tell yourself we are as blind and selfishly motivated as you are."
Hmmm... there's and easy way to debunk this one guys. It won't require screen caps or trawling through libraries of ghost app images or the slightest bit of research. Take a look at this page. What don't you see? There are no advertisements, there's no merchandise, no pop-ups, no amazon links, no sponsored content. You'll see that at the bottom of my page there are no links to click bait that contradicts everything I've written above, as you'll find on the Pharyngula blog of staunch feminist PZ Myers. There you can happily nod and cluck as he points out perceived misogyny and then go and generate him some cold hard cash by following a link to "cheerleader had no idea why they were cheering".
Unlike PZ I don't hold my principles until the foot of the page or when there's fucking money on the table. Also, there's no link to a Patreon page or a Go-Fund-Me, I don't have one, I've no intention of having one. I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with bloggers and vloggers who seek funding from their audience, some of them make excellent content and deserve support, but I don't like to be beholding to anyone. Plus, I'd have to be.... you know... good and stuff. I suppose the biggest irony of this questioning of my motivation is it always comes in defence of people who are making money from their audience. Bearing, for example, has ads on all of his content, he also has a Patreon and makes a handsome $626 a video.... oh and a merchandising store selling tee-shirts with a stolen image, which Daemenus laughingly insists is "parody" some-how. Previous to this, I received similar criticism from supporters of Jayne Harris and HD paranormal, who is charging hundreds of pounds for online courses in demon identification or some other nonsense.

I've never made a penny from the blog and I never will.

So why do I do it? What really motivates me? It's quite simple. To paraphrase One-Punch Man: "I'm just a guy who's a skeptic for fun..."

Hey... I should put that on a tee-shirt. No one will notice, right?

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Free Speech Under Threat? Copyright and Cartoon Bears.

Even those unfamiliar with feminism opposing, social justice warrior baiting cartoon bears may have come across the hashtag #freebearing over the past 24 hours and may be forgiven for being led to believe by the surrounding hyperbole laden tweets that there has been some great violation of the principles of free speech committed to this Austrailian Youtube content provider, instigated by malicious opponents to what he has to say.

Many of Bearing's fellow Youtube content providers produced videos in support of Bearing reflecting that idea, with Sargon of Akkad, in particular claiming that Bearing's termination was "politically motivated" and that the SJWs were likely responsible. A claim he ridiclously had to back track on in a caption added later. Unsuprisingly, a toothless and somewhat laughable change.org petition was soon established too. As an aside isn't it a bit ironic that those supporting an alt-right content producer took what has previously been dismissed by the right as the most wishy washy liberal avenue of action available? The tweets and youtube comments early on seemed to follow a general trend:
"They're trying to silence us! Our ideas are too dangerous! They can't disprove what we're saying so they're trying to shut us up..."
It's a cry most commonly heard amongst proponents of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience and alternative medicine:Of course, such claims are never backed with evidence, and can often be demonstrably shown to be false. Governments suppress 9-11 truthers often by supposedly assassinating those with the most damning truth, natural cancer cure are held back by crooked "big pharma" they tell us. Medical journals refuse to publish the works of maverick doctors such as Andrew Wakefield.... A less general example would be Rupert Sheldrake's "banned" TEDx talk from a few years ago, which disappeared from the group's site soon after it was published. Sheldrake and his supporters claimed this was an attempt by the science mainstream to silence him. TED, according to some, had succumbed to the pressure of noted scientists and tried to hide Sheldrake's presentation. The truth is, unsurprisingly, quite different. TED had received a number of complaints from the scientific community, who were not trying to "silence" Sheldrake but were pointing out that much of his talk was patent nonsense. In particular, claims Sheldrake made about the constancy of the speed of light drew ire. In response to this criticism and subsequent review of Sheldrake's talk, TED moved the talk to a more suitable location of their website and fully acknowledged the video, criticism and the reasons for their action. They even published several of Sheldrake's responses to the incident.  If this were an attempt to silence Sheldrake, it was a woefully orchestrated one. Of course such logic didn't sate the outrage of Sheldrake supporters.

So is this suspicion and paranoia limited simply to the tin foil hat brigade or could Bearing's supporters be guilty of it too? Leninist firing squads anyone?

As any truly rational thinker knows, any cognitive bias that exists in proponents of such ideas lurks somewhere in all of us, the key is to recognise and overcome this flawed reasoning. Unfortunately, this recognition has been sadly lacking in the alt-right, anti-SJW youtube and twitter communities today as they rallied around the body of downed comrade Bearing.

A bit of background, many Youtube producers, especially those that produce controversial content are rather upset about the introduction of a self moderation program on the video sharing site, Youtube Heroes, which will allow regular users to flag offensive videos and even have them removed in extreme cases. I actually think this is a terrible idea, and open to individuals using their status to gain the upper hand in personal vendettas. Evidence of this can be seen in the way the Digital Millenium Copyright Act has been misused to take down videos channels deemed offensive or disagreeable to some. The misuse of the DMCA reporting system isn't without punishment, those that file false DMCAs face hefty fines or even prison time is extreme cases. Clearly, such measures having dissuaded everyone from filing malicious DMCAs and misuse of the Youtube Hero system will hold no such repercussions. I don't however, believe as some content producers clearly do, that this represents the ultimate threat to free speech. Nor do I even believe it represents the death knell of the same on Youtube. It may well make monetising videos with controversial content more difficult, which may not be such a bad thing. Many Youtube content producers clearly produce controversial and inflammatory videos because they know this will increase views and therefore swell their coffers. Also, your free speech isn't violated if you're free to take your ideas elsewhere and Youtube doesn't owe it's content providers a platform, It can choose what it does and doesn't want on its site.

Many have assumed that the termination of Bearing's youtube account is the first shot fired by the SJW infiltrated Youtube Heroes program. Here's EDL endorsed Youtube antagonist, Sargon of Akkad again to warn that the war has begun!

Fellow anti-SJW blogger, Undoomed was equally apocalyptic in tone beginning his video "Well it's started..." He goes on to ask "What is it about free speech that scares these people so much... we will not let this stand". Actually, the odds that this supension had anything to do with SJWs aren't great. Bearing's account was actually reported by the preexisting DMCA system and it wasn't so-called SJWs or feminists that dealt him this blow, actually Bearing isn't quite the victim many many assumed. In fact I'd say he's his own worst enemy. To unravel the mystery of who did in Bearing let's take a look at the most frequent image that appears in his video series, his cartoon avatar which features in every single video on his primary channel.

You may be not be surprised to learn this isn't an image produced by Bearing himself, although it seems like he's additionally animated it in some of his work. The character actually originated in a 2007 Canadian animated series called Total Drama Island which ran for 28 episodes and last aired in late 2008. The three DMCAs filed against Bearing have all come from Fresh TV and Elliot Entertainment the creators of Total Drama Island, whom Bearing, whilst he has acknowledged as the source of his image, never approached for permission to use. As you'll see from the image taken from series (left), there's no difference barring some very small superficial changes.

Now, it may seem like Fresh TV are being somewhat petty, after all this is a bit part character in an animated series that hasn't produced an original episode for eight years, but Bearing isn't just using this on his Youtube channel, he's also producing merchandise prominently featuring the TDI bear.

Not bad for an image that isn't yours. If I were Bearing I wouldn't be sweating the DMCA too much right now based on this. A few of Bearing's supporters have highlighted the DCMA's fair use clause, but personally, I fail to see it applying here. Bearing hasn't made significant changes to the character, it's not used as parody, criticism or review of the source material.So whilst this may be lumped into several Youtubers ongoing campaign against the misuse of DMCAs against content which clearly fulfils those criteria, it really shouldn't. This may anger Bearing supporters, and I don't support the gloating at his termination that is occurring in certain quarters, but I can't believe he's been this staggeringly thick. Whilst I take no satisfaction in a man losing his livelihood, Bearing has gotten away with using a copyrighted image since August 2015 and used it to generate revenue, did he think that could carry on for an indefinite length of time?

Clearly, the lesson to be learned here is we should all be slower to jump to conclusions about threats to our liberty before the evidence is collected.... and don't appropriate other people's cartoon bears for financial gain. I should start #freecartoonbears maybe? Or #don'tjumptoconclusions?