Friday, 15 July 2016

Week In Weird: Emphasis on "Weak"

The Paranormal "news" site Week In Weird caught my attention a few weeks ago and, as is often the case, spawned a segue into another topic that I'm currently working on. Although that post is in response to a comment made by Week in Weird's Dana Mathews, it isn't about Week In Weird per se. This post is.

On the 12th July, Dana posted a column entitled "Ghost Photo Roundup: Investigating the Internet’s Weirdest Paranormal Pictures" which even a person using the most liberal definition of the word "investigation" would be forced to admit, is nothing of the sort. There is quite literally no investigation here at all, something that I can quite easily demonstrate by highlighting a familiar face. Hello Little Ghost Girl, described here as "Ghost in the hallway." Below is a comparison, the image featured in the Week in Weird article is on the left, another example on the right.

You can forgive Dana for failing to recognise this image, it's only the most famous ghost app image in existence. Here's the story that Dana gives for the image.
"This exceptionally strange photo was snapped by a group of carpenters in Norway who were hired to perform renovations on a historical site. Unfortunately, after just a few weeks, the men began experiencing some unexplainable activity. The strange knocks, disembodied voices, and other mysterious phenomena got so bad that the men refused to finish their work on the basement. After a particularly active day, one of the men took a series of photos down a particularly problematic hallway, and when they discovered what resembled a “white shadow resembling a man” in the images, they left and vowed never to come back."
Of course, Dana gives no source for this story, the only other reference to it I could find was on pinterest. Dana, or her source perhaps, has elaborated on the story offered there somewhat. Googling "Norway Carpenters basement knocks ghost" gives one precise result: the Week in Weird article in question. So not only is this photo not investigated, it seems completely fabricated (Edit: In the comments section Torkel has provided the original source, there is also another photo.)

In discussing the next photo Dana shows a stunning lack of investigation and general knowledge of the paranormal scene.

Here's what Dana writes about the image:
"This odd photo was taken on January 11, 1978, and has been at the center of many debates about the validity of the image. According to the photographer, Richard Wiseman, the woman shown partially hidden was not only not there when the photograph was taken, but at the time Wiseman was sure he’s never seen her at all. Of the many photos taken that day, this was the only picture that the mysterious woman appeared in."
Now had Dana done the slightest bit of digging, she'd have realised that the Richard Wiseman in question is, in fact, arch-skeptic, psychologist and magician Richard Wiseman the author of Paranormality. He didn't take the photograph at all, and it wasn't taken in 1978 but 1987. Wiseman's association with it comes from his website where he describes it as follows after it was sent to him in 2009:
"...this week I received another interesting ghost photo….“This is a photo of myself, my mother, and my newborn daughter taken January 11, 1987. The face beside the lady holding the baby is no one we know. We have several pictures from this day and this is the only one with the face. Can you tell me what it could be? A ghost? I get the feeling that it is not a benevolent, whatever it is.”
The person says that she has the print of the picture and perhaps the negative."
Now it's pretty clear from the photo what is going on here. Several commenters on Wiseman's blog suggest it's a double exposure, but I think that's an actual person sat behind the main figure. The person in the Coca-cola jumper seems to be looking at the person sat behind the main figure. Also, her face is similarly washed out and pale. In addition to this, I'm pretty sure the"ghost's" shadow can be seen on the vase in the background. The only evidence we have that there was none sat behind the lady in the photo is from the person who submitted it. Now I'm not suggesting that the submitter may be lying, though that is a possibility, but it's more than possible that she simply misremembers a party from 22 years ago. I don't see any reason to even begin to suggest "ghost" here. Far more likely a trick of perspective and memory.

Speaking of tricks of perspective:

Here's what Dana says about this one:
"Taken by a woman known only as “Heather in Pennsylvania”, this photobomb would have sent me running in the other direction. Forget the kid, I’m gone.
“I took this photo of my son with my Samsung Verizon camera phone,” Heather wrote. “He was sitting with his back to the couch. I’m still trying to figure out what the apparition is behind him.”
Skeptics have theorized that the image is just a reflection, however, the photographer was on the other side of the phone taking the actual picture and claims that no reflective surfaces were facing the lens.
The earliest use of this image seems to come from a blog published in 2012, and Dana pretty much quotes the story verbatim.

Again all we have here to suggest anything unusual about the photo is the insistence by the person who submitted it that there was no one else present. I'm don't really buy the idea of Dana's reflection. It doesn't appear to me that the child has his back on the back of the couch. He seems much further forward and higher. In my opinion, he's sat on someone's knee, I'm pretty sure that I can actually see the shoulder of the person in question.

Could she be leaning out to one side in an attempt to see her phone screen as she snaps a selfie of her and the child? An alternative explanation may be the child moving his head as the image is taken resulting in a "slow-shutter speed" effect, although I prefer my former explanation.

Here's the final two images featured. I'm pretty sure the first is an extremely poor photoshop. Even Dana acknowledges this. There's much else to say as the image resembles a figure in only the loosest possible sense. It looks more like the symbol that appears on toilet doors that either an actual person or a ghost.

The final image(left) may well be another photoshop, the black shadow surrounding the figure is of a much greater richness than any of the other shadows in the image. Another explanation is possibly a prowling animal. That would certainly explain the glowing red eyes.

What irks me about this post isn't the misattribution of paranormal explanations to the pictures exhibited, or even the pretty wholesale rejection of possible rational explanations. Rather it's the sheer laziness Dana displays. She clearly didn't even bother to Google search the images or Richard Wiseman's name, I get the distinct image she pulled them all from pinterest in an afternoon. Where further information wasn't available Dana has simply invented a backstory. There isn't any real content here, there certainly isn't anything even resembling "investigation." To put the article into context, here's how Week In Weird describe their content:
" With its lighthearted, middle of the road approach to the unexplained and the best-written weird news content on the web, Week in Weird has become a regular source of material for huge media outlets like VICE, Mental Floss, Coast to Coast AM, Gawker, The Fortean Times, and Mysterious Universe to name just a few."
Firstly "best written?" The post I read was barely written at all. When I read the above passage all I can think is "fluff". This is fluff, they know it's fluff. The claim it can be used as a source is laughable. The site is another example of people with an interest in the paranormal, believers and skeptics alike, being sold short again, and its a thumb in the eye to anyone who values the concept of investigation.

We deserve better.

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