Wednesday, 28 May 2014

In The Pink! A Peer Review of PINK (Paranormal Investigations National Kinship) Group.

Sometimes a gauntlet is thrown down and you simply can't resist picking it up. A little while ago I became aware of a paranormal investigation team call PINK (Paranormal Investigations National Kinship)  via a  public spat they had with a group that offer paranormal peer review, Paranormal & Supernatural Peer Claims Review. PINK accused this group of being unfair in their review and not focusing not the actual "evidence" on their site. Many who viewed the spat on PSPCR regarded their objections as the same sour grapes that many groups resort to after an unfavourable review, PINK maintain that they have no objection to peer review in general.

Now I'm not going to get involved in the argument, all I can say is that I have found PSPCR to do excellent work in the past, I'm aware that their brutal honesty offends some. I would maintain that sometimes groups are too attached to their "evidence" and this causes poor behaviour when it is assessed. I am not suggesting that is the case here. As a side note: Many groups could learn a lot from PRIP's response to my recent peer review of one of their investigations. They were very cordial and open to criticism. It was refreshing to say the least, and I thank PRIP for this.

Anyway, I offered PINK the benefit of doubt, and the opportunity to have me peer-review some of their evidence and methods. They accepted, but haven't sent me any details or suggestions of what they would like me to look at, so I will take a general look at their website.

Before I continue, you will notice that I haven't linked to the group's site. This is because there seems to be an ongoing security issue. The group are aware of this and are attempting to rectify the situation with their web-hosts. Until that is resolved, if you want to check out the site you can do so via their Facebook page, linked above. 


Before launching into their methods any investigations specifically (which I won't do today, as it would make the post way to lengthy) its worth seeing what PINK have to say about themselves. Here from their site in their own words. (Note: I've not pasted this directly from their site as it is in a horrible pink font that is really difficult to read!)
"All of our evidence is  true, factual and never altered in anyway!  If there is ever a doubt of authenticity it is never posted.  Everything is attempted to be debunked to the fullest before we ever consider it to be paranormal!  Most of our orb activity will have several dust particles as well.  We will always Make sure you can tell the difference!  Remember not everything is proven to be a haunting on our end..... "
Good to know they don't tamper with their evidence, but that doesn't in itself rule out misattribution. 
"A lot of our evidence so far is about orbs!  We know the "orb" controversy is out there in the paranormal investigators world.  We are aware most are dust particles, bugs, carpet fiber, outside elements and etc.  We try to claim orb activity with it's own lighting, color, own direction of travel, change in speed of movement and most definitely are coming across what is called and ectoplasmic orb or twirl!  We also are finding some orbs will even change shape and have captured some with starting of manifestations. No not all orb's are paranormal and are not claiming every orb to be..."
The acknowledgement that many orbs are caused by dust particles etc... may SEEM like a positive, but its followed by the claim that the team can tell the difference between orbs generated by dust and those generated by spirit. This amounts to little more to me than "trust us... we're experts. We'll tell you what to think." Also it demonstrates that the team is more than willing to jettison rational explanations on a whim. It is quite possible for dust and other air borne particles to rapidly change direction, all it would take for this to occur is a relatively minor change in air current, there wouldn't even need to be a change in the immediate vicinity, the door or window opened elsewhere in the house, effects of air-conditioning, the warming or cooling of the house or objects within it are enough to alter air currents. This is known as Brownian Motion and is well understood.

The change in colour is due to the effect of Moire patterns and imperfections on the camera lens, the change in shape likely due to truncation of the initial shape due to it moving as its image is recorded on CCD. Again these are effects that are well known to photographers.

The suggestion of materialisation of faces in the orbs, certainly would imply something paranormal in origin, the problem would be assessing whether was materialisation, or simply pariedolia. The human brain has evolved in such a way that it can make sense of random data, forming patterns. The seeing of faces in clouds, Jesus on burnt toast and maybe faces in orbs, are simply the visual manifestation of this tendency.

I'll be quite honest, my heart sank when I read "A lot of our evidence so far is about orbs..."
orbs are just so well explained. A great deal of the paranormal community are now rejecting the idea of orbs, they are done and dusted (HAW HAW!).

The rationalisation of some orbs as natural phenomena and others as supernatural in nature, is the file-drawer effect in full-swing with a sprinkling of the "no true scotsman fallacy" for good measure, it seems to me. I can find no other method of distinguishing between the two causes given and certainly no acknowledgement that velocity, colour and shape changes can be naturally explained too.

Methodology and bias. 
I searched PINK's site to try and find some greater indication of the research methodology used. The most information I found was on a page called "Spiritual Warfare":

"As paranormal researchers we are very conscientious and professional about preparing for an investigation.  I know for us it’s at least a day and a half process!  That is just preparation to go into an investigation.  We will save the whole process of how we do an investigation for another time!"

There is then some information about the checking of equipment, and the kind of details that the team record such as weather conditions etc... While I commend this attention to detail, and it certainly offers more insight into the conditions that surround the investigation, its major significance must come in comparison to previous "happenings" at the location. So if an anomalous noise is being heard when there is high wind, or an apparition only appears during periods when  the sun is in a particular position or with a certain amount of cloud cover, these details become more relevant.

Also there is no mention of taking a base-line measurement of the qualities which are recorded during the investigation. For example, in one of PINK's investigations we are told there is a change in temperature in one room from 72^0F to 89^0F. While this seems like a significant rise in temperature without a base-line reading we have no idea whether this is anomalous or simply common-place for this room. Other factors such as the room's dimensions, geographical placement and position in regards to heating and cooling systems in the house. Its also vital to know how the measuring equipment was used. For example, a laser thermometer records the temperature of the surface upon which its beam is reflected by. If this is a surface with pipes running behind it, or an outer wall this can lead to extreme drops and rises in temperature.

Interestingly, in that particular investigation, the team offer a rational explanation for some of one the child's experiences. They determine that EMF Hypersensitivity maybe responsible. The problem with that is that is that EMF hypersensitivity is a phenomena that is as unproven as ghosts and spirits! In an attempt to offer a rational explanation they have fallen back on pseudo-scientific rubbish!

Continuing with the "Spiritual Warfare" page reveals that PINK paranormal have a potentially disastrous bias when it comes to the conduct of their investigations.  The name of the page gives it away really. The team has an extremely Christian outlook, this is bound to introduce bias into the investigation if you are approaching the phenomena as a Christian. This would seem to be the case as the team conduct an opening and closing "prayer" before and after an investigation. Remember that this information was considered more important than laying out an actual methodology for the investigations.

The Opening Prayer:
"Saint Michael the Archangel, Defend us in battle Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray And do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, By the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits. Who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.  Amen..."

The closing prayer:
"In the name of Jesus Christ, I command all human spirits to be bound to the confines of the cemetery.  I command all inhuman spirits to go where Jesus Christ tells you to go, for it is He who commands you.”  AMEN" 
In addition to this the team advise "cleansing ceremonies"  and various new age practices as protection. Its a pot-pourri of superstitions and beliefs essentially. What worries me about this is it confers a definite lack of objectivity, PINK seem to know what they are looking for or what to expect before they even enter a location. The null-hypothesis simply isn't a factor. PINK aren't going in to look for anomalous events, they are looking for confirmatory evidence of previously held beliefs. Is it any wonder they find it?

This bias is never more evident than in this piece of advice from PINK to their team members:
"Do not ever go into an investigation thinking nothing will or can happen.  Treat every aspect with the potential!  This is keeping yourself prepared for the unexpected!"
This serves to create an atmosphere of suggestibility amongst the team. Never a good idea if you want an objective investigation!

Code of conduct?

There is plenty of rational advice on the page, but much of it is justified by superstition. take the warning not to remove objects from the site of an investigation:

"Do not ever take an object from a haunted location home with you!  You may bring home more than just the object home with you."

Rather than focusing on the issue of spiritual attachment, shouldn't the message here be "Please don't steal from our client's homes or places of work."? That would be the responsible message surely? The message relating to drugs and alcohol is equally frustrating. Not concerned with the image this misconduct would project upon the group, or danger of irresponsible behaviour as a result of consumption, PINK decide to warn that alcohol and drugs increase the risks of possession!  

I do have to question how responsible PINK actually are. I can't find any evidence of anything relating to a code of conduct on their site, I've discussed this on our Facebook Page at length. If you are a team going into people's homes, or anywhere as a group actually, you need a code of conduct to protect yourselves and your clients.

Often the first thing listed on said codes of conducts is maintaining an air of professionalism at all times, even if you are a hobbyist team. That means no horse play or fooling around. Unfortunately PINK's site features an entire section devoted to such mucking around! I could not access this as its password protected, but if you want to keep it private, why risk your air of professionalism by admitting it exists at all?

A quick scan of the equipment PINK uses reveals the usual suspects. EMF meters, audio recorders, Frank's Box.... All pretty standard for paranormal investigation teams. The methods and uses of all this equipment is pretty questionable, many teams simply don't know how to use their equipment properly, and the suitability of these means to "detect ghosts" is highly subjective. One could say that as this equipment has never yielded any results, so why use it? Its probably rather churlish to protest these methods as paranormal groups in general do use them.

One piece of equipment I can specifically object too are dowsing rods.  While all the above listed items maybe of no use detecting the supernatural at least they have been shown effective at detecting SOMETHING. All the dowsing rods have ever successfully been shown to detect is signs of the ideomotor effect in the hands of the operator. Much like the use of ouija boards, table tipping and mediums, there is absolutely no use in using an unverifiable method to detect an unknown quantity.

So that's the team, and their methods, from the best information I can gather. The team bio's section of the website is pretty lacking in information. From what I see they don't have a medium or conduct spiritualist communication methods, which is a plus. 


The Good.

The team don't seem to engage in highly subjective spiritual methods of gathering evidence.

A brief look at their investigations, reveals that the team collect a great deal of information of environmental circumstances surrounding the investigation. It would be better if very were to add some context to this, by telling us if these conditions match those under which the proposed supernatural incidences occur.

The Bad

The team need to rectify the situation with their invalid security certificate. Even if it means changing hosts. You could have the world's most definitive proof of the paranormal and it wouldn't matter. People get a security notice then navigate away. 

Pink need to consider their position on "orbs", at the moment they certainly don't have justification that some orbs are natural and exactly what skeptics say they are, and others are paranormal. The attributes they use to make this distinction are also explainable using well known effects amongst photographers.

PINK should be careful not resorting  pseudo-scientific explanations, and passing them off as "rational". For example: Electromagnetic hypersensitivity may sound nice and "sciencey" but it is as unsupported by evidence as any paranormal phenomena.

The team need to institute a code of conduct. This will reassure client's that their cases will be handled sensitively and with professionalism. Also it will ensure members know what is expected of them.

Client's interviews should include as much about environmental conditions, lighting conditions, etc... as possible. These should be the conditions the investigation is conducted under, as closely as is viable.

Get rid of the drowsing rods. Can't find water, can't find oil, can't find ghosts. Period. 

PINK need to be aware of the effect of suggestibility in their investigating team. D not warn the team to "expect anything" as it primes them to expect "something". If they believe they are going to have a paranormal experience, they probably will!

Team should be told as little as possible as occurrences in the location before the investigation. This again relates to suggestibility. If they are told where in the locations to expect occurrences, then the psychological effect of this may well cause the experiences.  

The Ugly

The most worrying thing about PINK is they clearly seem to have decided that ghosts exist and the purpose of their investigations is to collect evidence of this. That completely negates the idea of the null hypothesis. If you enter an investigation with the intention of finding evidence of the paranormal you will find it, however mundane. 

PINK's seeming strong Christian tone introduces a strong bias to any investigation carried out. It will seem to confirm their previously held beliefs. Any religious beliefs should be kept separate from the investigation. At the moment, PINK are making their religion a central part of the investigation, via practices such as opening and closing prayers. This removes the objectivity from any findings.

We desperately need to know more about PINK's methodology, do they collect base-line readings for example? How the team could of considered a "spoofs" section more important than this boggles the mind.

 Future reviews.

Now I suggested that PINK offer "the best evidence" they could muster, they have been hinting at the fact that they have some very solid evidence from a recent investigation. On Monday morning this appeared on their facebook page.

In an upcoming blog, I'll take a look at this evidence hopefully. Barring this I'll look at another investigation in depth, to get a better picture of the methods PINK are using and what they consider evidence. This will give me a chance to examine individual methods in more detail.