Wednesday, 30 April 2014

How Open Can a Mind Be?


An accusation I often find levelled at myself whilst having discussions with "believers" is that I, have a closed mind. This quite often follows my request for evidence of a claim. I simply can't stress the following statement strongly enough:
             
            Requesting evidence of a claim or proposition, isn't indicative of a closed-mind!

Requesting evidence is sensible, it is what we do every single day, it isn't confrontational, it shouldn't cause offence. Certain believers want their claims to be taken on face-value without providing any supportive data, if these people were selling you a car, would they take such um bridge if you asked to check under the bonnet (hood for our American friends)? I doubt it.

I sometimes wonder if the offence caused isn't because the people making these claims, know that they simply cannot provide any evidence beyond eye-witness testimony. This is never more evident than when I mention the possibility of testing claimed psychic abilities. A bit of background, I have recently noticed a spate of Facebook users performing readings on photographs shared by other users on paranormal pages. Now this is a claim that would actually be fairly easy to test over social media. Thus far I have offered the test to several individuals who have made such claims. One individual was very nice, thought that it was a good idea, but declined anyway. The rest, without exception have become extremely irate that I  would even dare suggest they test their "powers". Every single one of them has approached the idea from the angle that such a test would only be an attempt to "DISPROVE" their claim. That implies to me that these people aren't confident at all in their abilities. Yet they don't think twice about telling people they have spirits, ghosts or demons in their homes, or around their persons.

Anyway, back to the point, each one of these individuals, and in many cases supporters witnessing the discussion, have linked my desire to test these abilities under tightly controlled conditions, to the possession of a "closed mind". The truth is, if I actually had a closed mind. If I had decided that aspects of the paranormal and supernatural categorically do not exist, then I wouldn't waste my time testing these claims!

The truth is that we can assess whether a person has a "closed mind" by asking one single pertinent question:

What would it take for you to change your opinion/belief of x?

My answer would be, in all cases, empirical, testable, verifiable evidence. What about the believers, could anything change their beliefs? Often the answer I have received to such a question is "I know what I saw/experienced/felt and nothing could persuade me otherwise." Well when we get that answer, we can only come to one conclusion about who is in possession of the closed mind.

 In the past two days I've come accross a couple of photos posted with the message "This isn't (insert photographic effect) So don't tell me it is, I know its not!" or similar. Also I've seen videos posted with the message "This is proven so don't even try to debunk it!" or thereabouts. This is clearly demonstrative that some "believers" need to heed their own advice about being open minded. Here's a face book message I received as I was writing this, that perfectly sums up every point I've made in this post.



Also here are Ken Ham and Bill Nye responding to the question that perfectly sums up the "closed-mind" issue. Watch this and then you are free to go about your day.




Sunday, 27 April 2014

Something fishy about this one!

This is an image circulating around social media at the moment, purporting to show a " Professor Dimitrov" crouching in front of his discovery, a mermaid skeleton, made near Sozopol Beach, Bulgaria. 


You'll probably be unsurprised to learn that this is an example of clever photographic manipulation. The image, minus Professor Dimitrov, was entered into a Worth1000 photo effects competition, and placed 6th in Archaeological Anomalies 13. http://www.worth1000.com/entries/685114/mermaid-skeleton-found
It was entered by the user 
 "the1calledDANO", more of who's work can be found here: http://all.worth1000.com/artists/the1calledDANO

The original image the artist used is this one, which can be found here: 
http://wastedonarchaeology.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/a-few-thoughts-on-excavating-skeletons/



Professor Dimitrov was added later, presumably by the japester who first began circulating this as an actual discovery.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

FOUL! Bolivian Stadium Ghost Red-carded.

                          IMPORTANT UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF THE POST!





Has anyone seen the supposed Bolivian football stadium ghost yet? During a match on 17th April 2014 at Hernando Siles Stadium in La Paz, Bolivia, a shadowy figure appeared to sprint at high speed through supporter seating, unimpeded by physical obstacles.  Here it is and below that is my best guess as to what the rational cause may be. 



First I though it may be a person running amongst the bleachers which separate one block of seats from another. I rejected this because the figure seems to be moving too fast, and crucially the movement seems too smooth to be an actual person.

This leads me to my best hypothesis, stadiums have cameras suspended on cables above them, which can run the length of the stadium.
(such as this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VQ8LOR3xKcand this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spidercam)

I think what we are seeing here is simply the shadow of one of these cameras, this would explain the smoothness of motion, the apparent and the lack of physical interaction with seeming obstacles.

"But what about the distinct moving legs!" I hear you cry. I think that is simply an illusion caused by the shadow distorting as it passes over objects and dips between the stadium seats.

To me this case suggests the desperate need for GHOUL line technology.... Get it "ghoul" instead of "goal"! See... it's funny... sorry... 


OWN GOAL!

UPDATE: I WAS WRONG!


This isn't the shadow of an overhead camera, it actually is a person! Check out this video at around 0:48 and 1:05 to see him running down the stadium steps! Apologies guys. Just goes to show we all make mistakes, and we have to adjust our positions based upon new information.






Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Demon Diet! A Newer, Lighter, Less Infernally Damned, You!

Want to shed unwanted pounds before bikini and bathing suit season! Before you tackle the tummy, why not rid yourself of the filthy denizen of hell that is gnawing  on your eternal soul! This page can help you just that! Don't take my word for it look at the conclusive before and after photos below!

Before: That's you now,                                         After: No more demon!
see the added demon weight?                                                                                                 




















See! Pretty conclusive right? But what's that? You don't think you have a demon weight  problem, often known as possession. Luckily "Pigs in the Parlour"  by Frank and Ida May Hammond (1973)  helpfully included a guideline to identifying the tell-tale signs of possession.... the ones that are less obvious than head-spinning, levitation and pea-soup purging.


                               Tell-tales signs of possession, according to Frank and
                                                       Ida May Hammond
       


1. Emotional issues: These include feelings of anger, resentment, rejection, fear and       hatred.

2. Mental health issues: Ida May says schizophrenia is a DEFINITE sign of                   possession (she knows this because God explicitly told her so in a special                 revelation. "...I want you to know that it is demonic. It is a nest of demon
    spirits..."  Also, procrastination, indecision, compromise and doubt.

3. Speech problems: Lying, cursing, criticism, mockery and gossip.

4. Sexual problems: Sexual fantasy, masturbation, perversions, lust, homosexuality,       fornication, adultery, provocativeness and harlotry.

5. Physical infirmities.

6. Religious "error". Which I think means disagreeing with the Hammond's in any way, shape or form.

Now, I don't know you. But, I'm pretty sure that a good deal of those seven points apply to you, or have at some point. Why? Because that list pretty much encompasses the wealth of human experience.

So now we all know that pretty much all of us are possessed, how the heck did we end up that way? Luckily, exorcist Bob Larson is on hand to tell us what we did wrong! In his book "Larson's Book of Spiritual Warfare" Bob tells us the causes of demonic possession: Listening to rock music, new-age practices, role-playing games, practising Wicca, voodoo and Eastern religions. Also, reading horoscopes, tattoos, piercings and, of particular concern to budding geologists, experimenting with crystals. (NB: This list is not exhaustive).

So now you know that you are categorically, most certainly, infested with demons, (and if you say you're not, well that's lying AND religious error! So you are definitely possessed!) what do you do about it? Well in a coming blog we'll discuss ridding your demon though exorcism, which isn't always lethal! The new you is almost here!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Learning to love constructive criticism!

Pet Peeve Time! I hate it when paranormal groups post "evidence" and then get offended when people come along and critique it. Take this group for example. The Supernatural Investigation Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/supernaturalinvestigationgroup/). Snappy name guys! They posted video footage to their page showing "something" interfering with one of their investigations in the bedroom of a client's house.*

video




As you can see, the camera shakes a little, strands of a light coloured fibrous material flash across the right-hand side of the screen, and the camera jerks upwards and then downwards. Now, it looked to me like someone accidentally nudging the camera, and then readjusting it. My first instinct said a curious child, told under no circumstance to touch the equipment, getting a bit bold then trying to cover their tracks. This seemed logical as the bedroom was clearly that of a young girl's. There were quite a few toys, dolls and what looked like a play kitchen and a fairytale castle.

When I asked the lead investigator if this was possible, they said no. Their clients had no children. Unfortunately, they had previously given the client's name and a link to her facebook page, a mere click revealed, the clients in question do indeed have children. Five of them, including two daughters, with... LONG... BLOND... HAIR. When I put this to the lead investigator, I was kicked from the group, the video was swiftly removed and the following rather libellous post was put up.




Here is something else interesting, how did the investigator set up this camera then leave the room, with toys stacked against the door? The lead investigator told me there were no other entrances or exits to this room. Implies to me there was someone in this room all along.

Look, if you are part of a paranormal group, and you have "evidence" that you are so emotionally invested in that you prepared to lie to preserve it.... DON'T PUT IT FORWARD FOR CONSIDERATION. This will save butt hurt feelings all around. You can't expect everyone to share your complete lack of objectivity.

*Video reproduced for purposes of critical review.

** Unfortunately after this was posted implications were made that I was somehow viewing private information regarding people involved with this case. I can categorically state I have, at no point viewed anything that was not shared in the public domain, specifically Facebook. In addition to this, I only followed links provide by Deborah head investigator of this group. This demonstrates clearly how low some, by no means all, of these investigators are prepared to stoop to protect their evidence. Disgraceful!




Thursday, 17 April 2014

Short Reflections on the Coventry Guild Hall "Ghost".

Anyone else seen this in the News recently? A supposed green glowing phantom appearing behind Michael D Higgins, as the Irish president gave an address in the Coventry Guildhall. Original story here: http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/look-ghost-spotted-during-irish-6969292



The first thing I noticed when checking the gallery of photos in the Coventry Telegraph is that the rest of the photos clearly show that whatever the effect is, that it is also reflected in the floor of the hall.

The Green "apparition" reflected in the polished floor.

                                   


A little research revealed that the tapestry behind the Irish President is protected by a special form of glass which protects the piece from certain wavelengths of light. I think the "phantom" is simply light from one of the attending TV crews studio lights. In the top photo, the outline of a chair in front of this glass clearly makes up the right-hand side of the "apparition".



Its due to this that I think this apparition is simply light from studio lights, reflecting off the protective glass and then on to the polished floor. Could be vice versa. It's something for us to REFLECT on! Sorry...





Monday, 14 April 2014

Bullshit Top Trumps. Sharing Science With Believers.

Part of the problem with the paranormal/supernatural believer community is that it is simply too easy to claim expertise in a field. How often on these pages and websites do you hear claims such as "I have psychic abilities...." or "I'm a medium...." or my personal favourite "I am a demonologist!" I absolutely love it when people claim to be "demonologists! Why? Because anyone, and I mean anyone, can claim to be an expert in something that almost categorically does not exist!  The reason these people do this is to gain an air of authority in discussions with other believers. I've seen countless discussions that run like this:

Believer A "Well I think x is a ghost!"
Believer B "You are wrong! It's a demon! I should know... I'm a demonologist!"
Believer A "Well I'm psychic so....I say ghost."

Its like Bullshit Top-Trumps. Demonologist trumps believer. Psychic trumps demologist.


Ed and Lorraine Warren: A demonologist and a psychic. Why? Because they say so! Also not a bad hand in bullshit top trumps!

A common result of this posturing is that the people making these claims have to shelter their "authority" from scrutiny. That means they become quite hostile towards people who have actually STUDIED an academic subject.  This threatens the fragile sense of achievement they have built for themselves, the level of aggression I have personally experienced from experts in their own lunchtimes has been truly shocking, especially if you ask them to display their expertise, or test their abilities. Frankly, they don't like being put on the spot because they fear their hollow boasts will be exposed. Their game of bullshit top trumps is ruined, when any actual academic disciplines are brought to the table.

This is actually quite a shame, when I talk about science, I don't do this to run anyone's nose in the dirt or threaten their self-made status... I do it because I am passionate about science and I want others to be passionate about it too.

Unfortunately, these debates often provoke the same response in casual observers "Well everyone has an opinion, and they all are equally valid!" Well this may be fine when arguing about "...was it a ghost.... or a demon... or a chupacabra?" Things that all in probability don't actually exist, but this limp post-modernism simply doesn't hold when discussing science. There is no democracy in science, not all opinions are equally valid. It isn't fair, and nor should it be! As Richard Feynman said:
"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong!"The consequence of this is the science advocate can often come across as rather strident, unrelenting and uncompromising when discussing science with a paranormal believer. That means that if you chose to discuss science in these circles, you're not likely to win much support, you are likely to anger and offend the less secure participants in the circle, and your stay is likely to be short and not end well. It doesn't matter how civil you are, talk about science on these sites and dare to be confident in your assertions... and you will be gone, probably after you've been accused of bullying and harassment, all while being exposed to the sort of prejudice and discrimination that would never be tolerated if it were directed at someone based on race, gender or sexual orientation.

This is what has happened to me countless times, a recent encounter resulted in a complete idiot commenting on every single post I made despite her having nothing of any value to add, and attacking me for sharing a link to a science site so people could check what I was saying. To a lot of believers, the greatest offence is encouraging others to think for themselves. Ironically, one of this woman's frequent claims was that I, and others, were "juvenile, yet she happily goes by the name "Debbie Doo Doo's". Hardly the apex of maturity. The admins of these groups will almost always be biased towards the believer, they set these pages up to shelter their beliefs from scrutiny in many cases.

So, with all this said, why keep going back? Why submit to more abuse? Well, the answer is, the paranormal community DESPERATELY needs people who aren't afraid to talk about science and the scientific method, the skeptic is a vital voice when discussing these matters. Also, remember, when you talk to these people about science, you may well be banging your head against a brick, but there could well be a lot of fence sitters reading that conversation who you ARE getting through to. Maybe they haven't thought about science since leaving school, maybe  they haven't learnt how to examine paranormal claims scientifically. These people need your voice! That is why I do it. That's why some of them will. maybe. start doing it too.


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A Demon Debunked!

Here's an image that has been circulating around the paranormally inclined on the net for a little while now. Variously described as either a "demon" or an extraterrestrial looming over the bed of a terminally ill patient (who died some after if you believe the story that is coming along with this in many cases), what this actually presents is an example of how our eyes can deceive us, and how our minds seek to organise random data based on our cultural bias.

So.... Quite creepy. The "shape" certainly resembles a hunched, deformed figure. But what are we actually seeing here? Here's an excellent breakdown of the "demon's" constituent parts from a metebunk user.



Now I don't know about you, but once I viewed that breakdown I could no longer "see" the demon or alien in the original image. That's the power of pareidolia and a great example of why we should never just believe our eyes when it comes to assessing indistinct images of alleged paranormal entities. 

Monday, 7 April 2014

Too Busy To Be Well-Informed?

A frequent allegation put to me when I pop up and debunk some nonsense story or image on one site or another is "you must have a lot of time on your hands." The implication being that some people are just too busy, too rushed off their feet, to fact-check information they are passing on to others. I say that if you are too busy to actually check that something you are sharing is actually true, DON'T SHARE IT. If you do you are guilty of spreading misinformation, can this have a dangerous side effect? In most cases, no, but consider the effect that a little fact checking would have had during the MMR scare back in 1998. There is little doubt that rates of incidence of these preventable illnesses have risen as a result of the propagation of inaccurate information. The worst thing about this is we now live in a time when sources of information have never been so easily accessible to the general public.

So how long does it take to "debunk" a false story? Seconds in many cases. Take this example a friend posted on Facebook.




Now, I'm no fan of Palin, and she certainly has the capability to say legitimately stupid things... But this seems too good to be true for her critics. In fact, it sounds remarkable like satire... which is exactly what it is. it took me no longer than 30 seconds on Google to find the original source... The Daily Currant, a satire site. http://dailycurrant.com/2014/03/20/palin-wonders-if-flight-370-flew-directly-to-heaven-2/

Here is a paranormal tale that took minutes to completely destroy using nothing more than a Google image search. Here're the story and image accompanying it. 

"Judith Tompkins was only eight years old when she disappeared in the late 1800's, Her father was rich and he dabbled in photography. This was the last image taken of Judith before she disappeared. Her father died in prison after being convicted in her disappearance. This image shows a hint that something else may have been at work."



Now my first thought was that this image was a case of photoshop with regards to the 
hand, and in the case of the "faces" under the bed. A search for the original
image seemed to confirm this.


As you can see, the original image comes from a 1902 Christmas card. And sure enough, a
closer look reveals no hand and no faces. 


This took literally no longer than three minutes and didn't require any special skills, just Google, and a curious mind. Being well informed shouldn't optional it should be mandatory. And when you have literally the largest source of information at your fingertips, you have no excuse being anything else.