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.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Lowdown on Paranormal Lockdown. Season 1 Episode 5 "Hinsdale House" Reviewed

Paranormal Lockdown is the new darling of paranormal investigative TV, or so I'm told by people who actually know about this stuff. As it begins airing on UK television on 16/03/2017 I think some young, intelligent, up and coming skeptic based in the UK should review a few episodes!

Until they do here's my take on an episode I recently viewed.

Hosted by the team of Nick Groff, previously of Ghost Adventures and Katrina Weidman one time star of Paranormal State, Paranormal Lockdown has a gimmick in order to distinguish from the slew of other similar shows. In this case, Groff and Weidman (below) lock themselves in an allegedly haunted location for 72 hours in search of "groundbreaking evidence" of the paranormal. Another interesting factor is the inclusion of recognisable figures from the paranormal field in each episode. Guests thus far include John Zaffis, Steve Huff, Tony Spera and Lorraine Warren and Gregg Newkirk and Dana Mathews of Week in Weird "fame."

The show aired its first season between March and April 2016 on Destination America, with the second season which aired on TLC completing its run in March 2017.

I was first introduced to the show in preparation for the Spooktator episode 18, and as I simply wouldn't have anything to contribute if I didn't watch an episode, I viewed season one episode 5 "Hinsdale House". Watching the episode pretty much confirmed the presence everything I thought I'd find in the show. More than that, however, it actually allowed me to crystallise much of what I find vexing about this form of paranormal research, or what is better termed "ghost hunting", both on television and in the practice of many teams across the US and UK in particular. If you want a snapshot of why the modern idea of "ghost hunting" is becoming farcical you could do worse than view this episode of Lockdown.

What I'm going to put on the table here isn't a straight review of lockdown as I did for Demon Files. Rather, I'll view the show through a lens of the commonly occurring tropes and problems I find with this genre of reality television. The problems listed are by no means conclusive or exhaustive, but I'm going to use the framework to review future and past "ghost hunting" TV in the same way.

Enough inside baseball. Let's crack on.

Paranormal Lockdown, Season one: episode five, Hinsdale House. 

Before moving on to the details of the specific episode itself, it's worth mentioning the complete rip-off of House of the Rising Sun that operates as the series' opening theme. Which is laughable. In fact the whole opening looks more like some mid-90's Angel/X-Files rip off.

Problem 1: "Feels Over Reals" The Over Reliance On Subjective Evidence

Aww... Nick "feels sadness." I feel nauseated.
Most paranormal investigation TV shows place an emphasis on the "evidence" collected and presented during the course of an episode, but I've noticed that so much of this is in the form of the "feelings" of the on-screen investigators. These feelings are subjective and shouldn't be considered evidence at all. Statements such as "I have an oppressive feeling" or "I feel like something wants us to get out" may add a sense of dread to the show when not much else is happening, but they add nothing else.

Viewing this episode of Paranormal Lockdown allowed me to quantify just how reliant these shows can be on presenting subjective feelings as evidence. To do this I counted the number of times Groff, Weidman or the episode's guest "star" Tony Spera, son in law of Ed and Lorraine Warren, issued a statement that began "I feel..." or implied some unnatural sense which could not be verified. I also included times when Groff claimed to have "heard" sounds which were not recorded by the crew's equipment.

The total number of subjective statements made the team: 33.

Statements include:

"We all feel something dark."

"I felt a burst of energy."

"I feel like I'm being dragged back." and "I feel like I'm being strangled."

"I feel like I'm being punched in the head." 

"(I feel) a negative overwhelming energy."

And most laughably:

"I feel confident in the evidence we've collected."

Ok, that last one is a bit cheeky.

That's all in 42 minutes, so a subjective statement on average every 76 seconds! Consider I've not included the show's numerous recaps in that count, and that the running time includes the lengthy intro song.

Compare this with the number of pieces of objective evidence offered by the show: 2. Both EVP samples, which are, ironically, highly subjective in nature themselves!

"there's no heaven" After learning Paranormal Lockdown has been commissioned for season 3 I tend to agree
Unsurprisingly, these samples are presented with on-screen captioning so there's no possibility of the audience hearing anything that Groff doesn't want them to hear, or worse case scenario, random noise. In fact, this is so widespread in ghost hunting let's call that:

Problem 2: EVP and ITC methods presented in a highly suggestible way with no mention of the various equipment flaws, such as the auto gain circuit, which can lead to anomalous data.

Which all leads to:

Problem 3: Scientific Equipment as window dressing.

Many fans of ghost hunting television are commending Lockdown for its use of scientific methodology and equipment, that fact that absolutely stuns me, as in the Hinsdale house episode, barring the use of what seems to be a simple dictaphone and night vision cameras they don't actually use any equipment! I was expecting the usual tropes of K2 meters, thermal cameras or at least laser thermometers but Groff and Weidman don't use any of it. They do appear to have this stuff with them on the investigation, but it isn't directly referenced.

It's for this reason, I've decided to review a second episode of the show, I was going to do it immediately but this post is likely to be lengthy enough. I know Groff and crew must resort to this kind of bunk at some point as Steve Huff has been involved with their show and bullshit paranormal technology is his bag.

What I've noticed is the technology that is featured in these shows is mere window dressing, employed to lend an air seriousness and credibility to findings. Of course, this credibility instantly disappears under the scrutiny of anyone who can actually use or understands the equipment in question. I'd go even further, in the case of the TV shows in question, the equipment used is a MacGuffin, a device required to move the plot along. Easy to conclude when you see a hapless ghost hunter waving an EMF detector around like Harry Potter with his wand.

During a section where Tony Spera explains the swarm of flies in the window is due to a strong electromagnetic field produced by a demon (presumably a tiny demon sat on the window ledge) I expect Groff to whip out some form of equip to detect this. He doesn't, perhaps because he knows flies swarm in windows because they tend to be pretty warm during the day, also some species of flies lay their eggs in window frames. Also, there is no evidence flies are attracted to electromagnetic fields despite Groff laughably telling us that "many believe" this.

As for the claim that demons give off electromagnetic fields.

Problem 4: Unverifiable Statements about entities not proven to exist given as fact.

A statement like the one above by Tony Spera that demons give off electromagnetic fields in patently nonsense, as are any similar comments made in these shows about ghosts. As these things have never been shown to exist, and as of yet, there aren't any phenomena that occur in the natural world that can only be explained by something with attributes of demons or ghosts. So not only have ghosts and demons not been shown to exist, there isn't any NEED for them to exist. It's shocking how casually ghost hunters slip in facts about paranormal phenomena and the qualities possessed by the same.

Include in this:

"What we're getting in... all adds to to demonic."

"Their overall goal is to break you down..."

"These physical effects... are warning signs of a demonic possession"

All mentioned in this episode, and which lead to:

Problem 5: If ghosts and demons haven't been shown to exist.....

....Then there's no way to distinguish between a "demonic haunting" and a regular haunting. Again, Groff, Spera and Weidman's justification for making this differentiation in the class of haunting is how they all feel about the house. This cuts down the drama of the paranormal investigation show, a genre of TV that has been used "demons" increasingly over the last decade as a device to up the ante with a public desensitised to ghosts, which can often be presented as placid or even well meaning. Demons are always evil, dangerous and menacing, the mention of such, especially in more fundamentalist Christian areas of the US is likely to increase the audience's cathartic sense of fear and titillation. It's more likely to keep them watching.

This means that big moment when one of the investigators turns to the audience and says "I think... it's demonic!" is essentially a damp squib if any thought is actually given to what they propose. "Well, we don't actually know if demons exist. or ghosts, so we've no way of actually knowing if our location is haunted at all... but if we did, I've had a headache since lunch....and was roughly the time we entered..." may be more honest, but it isn't going to fly with viewers.

Crinkly old shill Lorraine Warren menacingly warning Groff to go to Church for protection, I can see that working with both Bible belt Americans and thrill-seeking movie goers.

Problem 6: How Dangerous are demons again?

This isn't necessarily a major point, but one thing that strikes me about shows that wax lyrical about the dangers of demons, ghosts and negative entities is that on occasion when these beings to manifest physical harm, it's normally a superficial scratch or welt. In this episode of Lockdown, for example, we hear from Groff. Spera and Warren how dangerous demons are. Spera warns Nick he may be battered physically (with some glee too). Warren even describes being strangled in the house, but when it comes time for Nick to be assaulted he receives a small scratch on his hand. One that doesn't even leave a mark.

Problem 7: An Over-emphasis on a location's history.

Groff and Weidman, during the course of the investigation, tell us numerous accounts of Hinsdale house's history, fleeing families, brothers shot in the woods and boys killed in bandsaw accidents, amongst other anecdotes we'll cover in problem 8 below. This is a common theme with ghost hunting TV which has carried through to pedestrian teams, a great deal of research is conducted in the history of a supposedly haunted location. These anecdotes of past events and encounters are frequently linked by these teams to current events with little or no reason to do so. Investigations should be conducted without the risk of a prior knowledge of a location introducing bias to collected data.

Local history is often added in these shows for "flavour" who doesn't love a ghost story? And ghost stories need a narrative beginning, in the case of a ghost story the beginning comes in the form of a death. Unfortunately, real-life teams have taken a blatant story-telling element from these shows and integrated it into their work.

Speaking of "story telling".

Problem 8: Complete fabrication and wild speculation.

The only thing worse than the use of historical events introducing bias to an investigation is the introduction of completely fabricated events, to which a framework of wild speculation is built.

During the course of the episode Groff and Weidman, with Spera in tow, set from into the woods surrounding Hinsdale house. Groff tells us the woods have been a site of satanic rituals for some time, quite how he knows this is unclear. If there is a secret cabal of Satanists performing black masses in American forests, isn't the keyword "secret"? This becomes part of the haunting narrative when Groff later claims to hear "chanting" in the same woods.

He also tells us the house is built on "native Indian burial grounds" that old chestnut. He later adds "supposedly" to that assertion. And who exactly is asserting this? Where has Nick got this information from? We're never told. Just that clearly this has something to do with the hauntings.

We are also given the story of a woman, allegedly hung in the woods around Hinsdale. "Over 100 years ago, a woman was said to have been hanged in these woods..." Groff suggests. Again we get no indication of where Nick acquired this information, who this woman was, who hung her, who found her. Nothing. What we do get is a laughable sequence in which Groff and Weidman, and I'm not fucking joking here, go looking for a tree that "looks old enough" for the woman to have been hung from. Of course. they find one that fits the bill and conclude that it very likely is the correct tree. A few supposed EVPs confirm this is the right tree, as does Weidman's feeling of unease.

Looks creepy enough... this is definitely the location of our imaginary hanging

On the journey to the tree, Weidman speculates that the woman was an unwed woman, pregnant with child. Nick agrees "she could be pissed off" he adds, later speculating that this is the reason the Hinsdale spirit has targeted him. It doesn't like men. Again wild speculation is built into the show's narrative.

Problem 9: Investigating in the dark

Again a staple of both paranormal television and real ghost hunting groups, no investigator who uses this technique has been able to explain to me why ghost hunting is more likely to bear fruit when conducted in darkness. Surely investigators should be seeking to emulate conditions in which past sightings have occurred? Of course, ghost hunting in a well-lit environment isn't half as tense. The investigators themselves may not be as frightened and thus lessen the catharsis experienced by their viewers. Also hunting in well-lit environments may cause dissonance in a general public conditioned by television and film to expect ghostly occurrences in darkened enviroments.

*EDIT: Ian McKay of the excellent facebook group SUSPECTS made a great point in regards to investigating in the dark:

"One thing about the report Rob. Where you say "In a similar theme to the one above, no ghost hunter has yet to explain to me satisfactorily the purpose of locking down a location during an investigation." Whilst I get what you are saying, I would suggest that not only should you investigate in the daytime when people have their experiences, but also in the dark. I think all scenarios should be investigated personally. If ghosts were to exist, then who knows if they are diurnal or nocturnal? lol. If I thought somewhere was genuinely haunted, then I would record the shit out of the place. These TV shows record a night or 2 there and say 'great times, on to the next'. What BS is that? If you have evidence of a haunting and can prove it, you are ready for rich rewards. Get the proof, not look for the next potential."

Problem 10: The "Lockdown" premise is faulty

In a similar theme to the one above, no ghost hunter has yet to explain to me satisfactorily the purpose of locking down a location during an investigation. Many suggest that this is a form of control as exercised in scientific experiments. Here's the problem with that thinking. Firstly, as ghosts are yet to have been quantified as possessing particular qualities or causing particular environmental effects, how can one put in place "controls" for these effects.

Secondly, if we speculate that ghosts do, for example, cause cold spots, or anomalous electromagnetic fields, simply preventing people from entering a location isn't going to protect that location from drafts or electromagnetic fields generated by cameras and other pieces of equipment.

Finally,  these locations are rarely ever truly "locked down", in the episode in question Weidman wanders in and out of the house with a cameraman as Groff is conducting EVPs in an upstairs room. We are told there are no other crew members in attendance, but we can't be sure of this. In most ghost hunting shows we see different members of the crew split into teams to investigate different areas within a location, surely causing environmental disturbances.

Problem 11: Where's the baseline?

As with every other ghost hunting television show I've ever seen, the Lockdown team make no effort to measure baseline readings in the target location. As a result, they simply cannot know what constitutes a normal reading for that location. This means they can't suggest what is an anomalous reading is for that location!

For me, this is one of the main factors why I simply can't take most "ghost hunting," again delineating this from legitimate paranormal investigation, seriously.  If paranormal occurrences are suggested by anomalous data, it's vital to know what constitutes an anomaly.

Conclusion and Problem 12: The lack of originality in ghost hunting TV.

During the show Groff suggests that what he and Weidman are doing is "hardcore investigation", I legitimately don't see any investigation happening in this episode. A stark example of this is the image of Groff "investigating" by lying on a bed talking to himself. Shouting "I need answers" does not constitute looking for answers. The only thing Nick is investigating here is the comfort of mattresses in haunted locations!

Nick investigating Hinsdale house in a similar style to the investigation Goldilocks conducted in the three bears home.
The most striking thing about Paranormal Lockdown is how nonstriking it is. It's so similar to what has gone before, I was able to use a sample episode to define problems with the genre as a whole. Sure it has a gimmick, one which happens to be commonly employed in many other shows of this nature. But, it's otherwise indistinguishable. In fact, I'd say the most distinguishing factor is that Nick and Katrina seem strangely unmoved by what they are doing. Almost bored even...

Problem 13: When the stars of your ghost hunting show seem exhausted and bored maybe it's time to find a new format.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Shut that Door! Brazilian Poltergeist Video Debunked.

I'm currently working on a review of Paranormal Lockdown, whilst I do that I've got time for a quick debunking. Yet another ghost video is doing the rounds. Allegedly filmed in a Brazilian morgue, although later iterations of the story place the footage in a children's hospital in the same country, the video shows two security guards or janitors again depending on the source, approaching a rapidly opening and closing door.

Take a look.

Creepy right?

But, the footage raises a few questions. Why is the torch kept on a very narrow beam? Why does the person filming the incident give us a good view of the corridor EXCEPT on the left-hand side?

As always the key to debunking this one is ignoring the typically low-res versions offered on tabloid news sites and going to the original source on Youtube, where we can examine the footage on full screen and in glorious X0.25 speed.

There we find, during the handy examination of the door by the janitor/guard, our old foe... FISHING WIRE! This time it's been ingeniously attached to the inside of the door.

Yep, nice try, but got ya. Hook, line and sinker.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Science is not the enemy: A Response to "Limits of science, trust and responsibility"

Brian Cox' comments regarding the limits of physics and the supernatural certainly have opened some old wounds in the paranormal community, but let's not pretend that anger and mistrust of science and scientists is anything new. It's especially prevalent in the psi-supporting pockets of said community.

I suspect this is due to some of Psi's leading figures, Rupert Sheldrake especially, making a nice career in book sales and on the lecture circuit presenting science, the modern edifice of academia and scientists in particular as the enemy of psi research. Claims of rejected papers, silenced and ignored researchers and nasty skeptics abound. I will hardly be the first to point out that much of Sheldrake's ire seems a result of his perceived rejection by the scientific community. The truth is amongst the many facets of the scientific method is the concept of replicability. If results of an experiment are to be accepted they should be replicated by independent researchers and yield similar results. Experiments in psi suffer from a huge replicability crisis. Positive results disappear when experiments are conducted by independent teams of researchers, especially when these teams tighten up on the methodology used by the original experimenters. A great example of this would be Daryl Bem's Ganzfield experiments hailed at one time as a breakthrough in psi research, many teams attempted to replicate Bem's results and met with abject failure.

I recently came across an article written by Tom Bulter (above), Co-Director of  ATransC, an organisation which collects various ITC and EVP "studies" and "evidence." Butler also served as an advisor to Michael Keaton horror film "White Noise". The piece, entitled "(An) Open Letter to Paranormalists: Limits of science, trust and responsibility"  couldn't more reflect the mistrust and anger at the scientific establishment that I discussed above. In showing just how wrong the author is, I hope to also show that science isn't the enemy of the "paranormalist" but should be wholeheartedly embraced by anyone with the slightest hope that paranormal research will ever have a shred of credibility.

The letter is directed to "paranormalists" a term Butler uses in much of his material, which he defines as:
"paranormalist(s) are people who experience, study or have a more than casual interest in psychic ability (psi functioning, remote viewing, healing intention), healing intention (biofield healing, distant healing, healing prayer) and the phenomena related to survival of consciousness (mediumship, visual and audible ITC, hauntings)."

Did butler really intend to use "or" here rather than "and" as by his definition, I as someone who has never experienced anything remotely "paranormal" still qualify as a paranormalist because I have more than a casual interest in the same.

Before the letter begins Butler gives us a preamble that contains information that provides context to the letter itself:

"The “science” practiced by parapsychologists is not necessarily good. Much of it is done to prove paranormalists are delusional. You and I know that, to prove we are delusional, they must ignore or falsely represent our evidence...scientists are supposed to be our friends. Some are, but the majority consider the average paranormalist inferior in many ways … as second-class citizens that are not as smart, as well educated or as wise as people with a Ph.D."
The point of any research isn't to ignore or falsely represent evidence, it's to collect data that may eventually be considered evidence. Bulter's letter has barely begun and the antagonistic tone is established. I also get more than a touch of bitterness in Bulter's words. Sorry, but if you don't have a PhD you are less educated than someone that does, in the field that the PhD has been earned at least. This doesn't make you "inferior" but it does mean if you're arguing with a professor of biology about the theory of evolution, you are somewhat deluded. Arrogant even.
"If you want to see these phenomena properly studied, if you want informed scientists to help you understand your experiences, if you want to see this field of study evolve into a well-understood science, then it is important that you know who to trust, who to believe and with whom it is safe to trust your phenomena.... It is for you to be aware of the differences, because many of those who have not been aware of the difference, have regretted ever volunteering to be research subjects."
This is a very worrying and devicise rhetoric. Implying that believers shouldn't trust some scientists, predominantly those who don't pander to their beliefs, is simply a way for people like Butler to push bad ideas like EVP without the intervention of nay-saying skeptics or others who endorse critical thinking. OK, let's agree with Butler but go further. Don't trust scientists blindly, any of them.  And don't trust me or Butler. So check out studies, check that the methodologies used in these studies are sound. Don't trust scientists.

Trust the scientific method.

Butler goes on to discuss the model he uses to describe the paranormal in the letter. I find his use of the word "model" most interesting. Generally speaking, when scientists propose models of reality they use existing theories and data to construct them. The aim being to describe, analyse or quantitfy some complex element of the natural world. In physics models are often over-simplistic, mockingly referred to as "spherical cows" because of a joke frequently told by physicists.* Despite their simplicity, these models have utility. I wonder if Butler's model will meet these criteria?

Early indications in the preamble suggest not:
"The model is based on currently understood mainstream and parapsychological science. Unlike more widely accepted models, it is greatly informed by lessons learned from mediumship and Instrumental TransCommunication (ITC), especially Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP)."
Hmm... so Burton's model isn't based on a pre-existing framework of laws and theories, but based on the anecdotal evidence of mediumship and highly subjective and frankly suspicious evidence provided by ITC and EVP.

The first part of Butler's letter divides parapsychologists into three distinct categories. I'm not going to detail this part too much but you can follow the above link and check it out for yourselves. The outcome of the division is clearly stated: Parapsychologists who have a materialistic world view are "debunkers" and presumably the scientists Butler suggests paranormalists should not trust. What Butler fails to grasp, or aims to ensure his audience fail to grasp, is that the scientific method is employed to ensure that experimenters world views don't taint the outcome of experiments. This does fail, but only when the experiment has a methodology that isn't robust enough- that's why transparency in science is so vital. It's also why science has peer review and replicability.

Hey, don't most psi-related studies with positive results fail replicability tests? Funny that.

Butler then gives an account of how "paranormalists" experience paranormal phenomena, involving cartesian duality. I'll be frank what follows is word salad to me. Possibly I'm just a bit thick. Also, Butler's description of our minds becoming entangled with our bodies at birth sounds suspciously like L. Ron Hubbard's crazy "thetans" story upon which Scientology is based.

Here's the full pitch:
"The avatar model seems to best describe what we know about our etheric-physical nature. The idea is that a person is the conscious self of an immortal etheric personality which becomes entangled with a human body at the moment of the human’s birth. The conscious self experiences a lifetime from the perspective of the human....

In a very real sense, you create your world. It only exists as your mostly unconscious perceptual processes assign meaning to sensed environmental psi signals. Those psi signals come from your loved ones, your collective of fellow personalities, thoughtforms, your body’s self-image and your physical body’s five physical senses.

A model that is useful and may as well be correct is that a person is necessary for a psi influence to manifest in the physical. Put differently, you, or an interested observer, provide the channel for trans-etheric influences such as EVP, remote viewing, precipitation and haunting phenomena."
 What we "know" or what Butler believes? It's a vast understatement to say there isn't any evidence of what Butler suggests, it's wild speculation. Don't worry if didn't understand a word of what Butler says here a diagram will clear things up surely?
"Here, I will explain that all the functional areas in the Life Field with Avatar Diagram (below), except the human body itself, are etheric. If you take a little time to contemplate the implications of this point, I think you will see that conscious self has experiences, and by convention, assigns physicality to experiences encountered from the avatar perspective."

I actually think Butler is unnecessarily adding complexity to the idea of Cartesian duality, this too conflicts with one of the core principles of creating a scientific model: elegance. A 2010 paper published in Nature Nanotechnology describes elegance in scientific models as follows:
“When a theory or a model explains a phenomenon clearly, directly and economically, we say it is elegant: one idea, easy to understand, can account for a large amount of data and answer many questions.” (Chris Tourney, Elegance and Empiricism 2010, Nature Nanotechnology)
Butler's model and its description do seem to meet many of the criteria of pseudoscience. Take a look at this description of how to spot pseudoscience taken from website relatively thinking and see how many points I've highlighted in Bulter's model already:

I make it the first five, plus I know this model hasn't been peer reviewed, so that's six. And Cartesian duality is frequently refuted.... full house?

The letter continues.
"Our experience in the ATransC has shown that a person tends to record EVP that confirms mostly unconsciously held beliefs."
Or could it be that a person's unconscious beliefs inform what they think they hear in those EVP responses? Much like paranormal teams that present their EVPs with screen caps, the element of suggestibility is a major factor in visual and audio pareidolia which is often overlooked. Sometimes purposefully. Apparently, key to Butler's model of the paranormal is the placement of the cart before the horse.
"This science is still evolving and these points are still only indicators, but the message to us is that what we experience tends to agree with what we believe. We tend to more often have possibly genuine paranormal experience if we believe in the paranormal. Conversely, if we do not believe in the paranormal, we might not even notice such experiences."
Again, you tend to believe you've had genuine paranormal experiences if you happen to believe in the paranormal. This isn't any form of revelation, believers are less likely to search for a rational explanation for an experience if they preemptively believe that paranormal phenomena exists and therefore IS a rational explanation.
"Research has shown that people who believe in paranormal phenomena are more apt to think a picture is paranormal then those who do not believe. This is true of all forms of phenomena. It does not mean there is no paranormal phenomena, only that some of us are not as discerning as we need to be. 
This tendency to error on the side of paranormal is used by Anomalistic Psychologists to prove that all reported phenomena are errors in perception. It can be difficult to know, when reading Anomalistic Psychology research reports, that the intention is to debunk rather than to understand." 
I'm not trained in psychology, so I can't even begin to speak about the field, but I'm as certain as a layman can be that the aim of anomalistic psychology is not to debunk anything. The aim surely, in the study of the paranormal by anomalistic psychologists and parapsychologists is to understand through study psychological causes for reports and experiences of paranormal phenomena. The fact that this endeavour inadvertently does debunk some reported paranormal phenomena can hardly be held against science. To suggest otherwise smacks of sour grapes.

Speaking of which.
"It is understood that scientists hold a Ph.D. in the field to which they apply the scientific method. Yes, anyone can conduct science, but the system is designed to filter out all but academically trained people. I hold a BSEE and it is acceptable for me to say that I study a subject, but saying that I am researching a subject is not technically acceptable. "

There's a reason that PhDs and those working towards PhDs tend to be considered qualified to perform research because scientific subjects are incredibly dense and complex, so much so that it's necessary to diversify and specialise in a very specific area. A deep understanding of a specialised field of study takes years to achieve. It's this level of knowledge and dedication that is required to perform research in science where new knowledge should conform with existing laws and theories.
"Remember I said that Anomalistic Psychologists deliberately ignore evidence of paranormal phenomena. To make their point, they must find ways to conduct research with practitioners that will show the practitioner is delusional or cheating. From experience, there is a good possibility that, even if you produce phenomena under controlled conditions, the resulting report will be written to suggest that you did not or in some way may have been cheating. For instance, there might be ten words acknowledging the phenomena and a hundred words explaining it away."
It's often claimed by proponants of psi research that methodologies are designed to eliminate positive results, but if the rigorous application of the scientific method eliminates positive results then they were probably an artefact of the poor protocol. This seems to be unfair to Butler, clearly from his letter he takes the application of science personally. He blames scientists for the failure of well-conducted studies to show positive results. They're out to discredit him and other "paranormalists". Or maybe science doesn't hold much stock in EVP and ITC, Butler's personal area of study, because there's nothing scientific about them?

Butler's model of mind/body duality makes one prediction:
"If I did the work correctly, the model should be reasonably close to what you believe..."
Butler has designed a scientific model with the sole purpose of conforming to his own beliefs. Science and scientists will never and should never accept this blatant sophistry.

*There is this dairy with cows and everything. The dairy farmer wants to increase his production of milk. To do this, she hires three consultants – an engineer, a psychologist, and a physicist. After a week, the engineer comes back with a report. He said: “If you want to increase milk production, you need to get bigger milk pumps and bigger tubes to suck the milk through.”

Next came the psychologist. He said: “You nee to make the cows produce more milk. One way to do this is to make them calm and happy. Happy cows produce happy milk. Paint the milking stalls green. This will make the cows think of grass and happy fields. They will be happy.”

Finally, the physicist came to present her ideas. She said: “Assume the cow is a sphere….”

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Mirror Missing The Mirror.. And The Investigative Team That Didn't Investigate!

I say this a lot, but prepare yourself for a new low in paranormal tabloid reporting AND the methods of paranormal "investigation" teams... 

The story "Mysterious 'spectre with face, hand and CLAWS' floats at unsuspecting woman's shoulder in chilling photo taken at homeappeared in March 3rd Mirror and marks their very real effort to snatch the title "fake news" outlet of choice, as well as the title "most ungainly headline imaginable 2017." The "news"paper tells us of a "terrifying apparition" which appeared in a photograph next to mother Lou Johnston, 44, from Hull.

The Mirror quotes Lou as follows:
"Some see the picture and automatically think it's a mirror behind me and that is a reflection - but there is no mirror behind me. I don't even own a mirror of that size... I've had so many people get in touch and say that it is something paranormal and it can't be explained at all. Lots of people see the shape of a figure stood next to me with a hand and claws. I have always been a sceptic so I just let people offer their thoughts on it.""
That's what this strikes me as glare created by the flash of a camera or other light source reflecting off something highly reflective. A mirror being chief suspect. But Lou tells us she doesn't own a mirror that size. Hmmm... so if that's the case why has the Mirror felt it necessary to crop the image in such an extreme way. They don't normally exclude heads and feet.

The answer is abundantly clear, they've cropped the image to hide what appears to be a mirror behind Lou. Need convincing you skeptical bunch?

Well, the Star ran the same story, and being generally a bit thicker and/or lazier than the Mirror they ran the picture uncropped... right above Lou's denial of owning a full-length mirror.

Take a closer (right), you'll clearly see it appears to be light reflecting from the Mirror Lou doesn't own. I actually think it's a shaft of sunlight rather than the flash, as you can see the sunlight on the carpet by Lou's feet. I know Lou claimed the image was taken at 10pm but let's face it, she's already lied to cover what she know is the blatant cause of this apparition.

The Star and the Mirror both handily (pun intended) help debunk another element of Lou's tall tale. The "claw" of the manifestation is blatantly Lou's hand. But again if you're a fan of hard evidence Lou helpful replicates her original hand on hip pose. The Star even provide a side by side comparison (below)!

So, what's the upshot of this? What does it mean for bloggers such as myself who cover this kind of tripe. Clearly, these papers don't give a fudge about what they're printing. Why the hell should we?

(continued after image)

For me, stories like this and the Star Chilean poltergeist story have done nothing but made me more resolute to continue my debunkings. This kind of blatant fabrication by the press must be called out. Make no mistake critical thinking is under attack right now. I may not be on the front line, but I'm at home selling war-bonds at least.

As long as there are people out there who take these stories seriously there has to be someone prepared to show them how false they are. As skeptics or even skeptical believers, we can't resolve to leave people behind because they're more susceptible to this rubbish than us.

Whilst I have sympathy for believers who are taken in by this rubbish, my softer side quickly evaporates when I see "investigative teams" failing to do a modicum of research. Case in point: It was shared on Facebook by paranormal group Marston Vale Paranormal investigations. 

Now frankly MVPI should be ashamed of falling for this crap, and doubly ashamed that they copy and pasted the Mirror's story to their own site. In fact, they've done this copy and paste with several recent ghost stories in the press. MVPI proudly brag about being investigators since 2009, but couldn't do the five minutes research that it took me from my couch to expose this story?

Let's compare the work they did on the recent "fishing trip selfie ghost" to the work the awesome Kenny Biddle did. Once again MVPI simply copy and pasted the story from a tabloid source, this time the Mail. Now go to Kenny's page and see what he did, he stripped the photo performed various analysis and other stuff I'm way too thick to understand (left) and got a plausible answer. There should be no reason MVPI aren't working as hard as Kenny, or me, or any number of investigators and bloggers.

As if only to compound my frustration at the team, this is the "mission statement" on their website:
"We strive to find reasonable explanations behind paranormal experiences and this is done by going to locations and using our equipment. We gather evidence of any phenomena and examine it hopefully finding a plausible reason behind our findings."

Well, you didn't do much "striving" here did you guys? And you want people, potentially scared and vulnerable people at that, to invite you lot into their homes and conduct investigations?

Further investigation on their site reveals the team's alleged dedication to rational explanations, the scientific method and identifying dismissing natural phenomena.
"We at Marston Vale Paranormal investigate to the best of our ability and the capabilities of our equipment, and using professional computer software suites we attempt to find a reasonable explanation behind anything captured either via photograph, video, audio or electro-magnetic. We take during daylight hours control images for comparisons so we have something to work with in trying to find plausible reasons for capturing light or audio at locations... Some images show capture of rain (although you are asking for trouble taking flash photos in the rain, everything turns into orbs!), insects, dust, or other organic matter, not everything on film is a 'ghost', however we prefer to use the term 'paranormal'. Paranormal is a general term that designates experiences that lie outside "the range of normal experience or scientific explanation" or that indicates phenomena that are understood to be outside of science's current ability to explain or measure. "
I guess that doesn't extend to the content of your website.