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.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

When There is No "Proof", Are All Opinions Equally Valid?

So here's an easy one. Take a look at this image taken at Sudley House in Liverpool, England.

Here's a few people's opinions on what is circled image may be. Interesting to see the idea of suggestibility playing a part here. Abbie who see's nothing initially, changes her stance when  the weight of opinion is against her. That isn't really what we will focusing on here though, interesting though. 

 Now, when I saw the image I instantly thought that it was a chandelier. I checked other photos of Sudley House, and quickly discovered that this photo was taken in the drawing room. A look for alternative images revealed, that there is indeed a chandelier in that room facing the framed picture.

Now I thought this represented a pretty open and shut case. Here's what the person who took the photograph had to say.

First, I really resent the implication I went to a lot of effort, a quick Google search is hardly a Herculean  task is it! Secondly. No the lights in my picture aren't reflected in the picture in the same way. But isn't this what we would expect as the two pictures were taken at different angles and at very different distances? 

Louise Continues: 

"Proven fake by an expert..." well I don't exactly know what kind of "expert" Louise wants here? A ghost "expert" an expert in lighting fixtures perhaps? Secondly, I don't think this is "fake". I just don't think its a photo of a ghost!

Ignoring that Louise makes a point about proof. I don't have proof that is the reflection of a chandelier. But does this mean both of our hypothesises or opinions about this are equally valid?

There are a few things we have to consider:

Not all claims are created equally. If I tell you that I have a pet cat you will probably accept that at face value, or with a very low standard of evi
dence. Now if I tell you I have a dragon as a pet, you are going to expect a lot more verifiable evidence.

Put simply "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

There is also the principle of parsimony or Occam's Razor. This tells us when we have competing hypothesis on the table, we should consider the one with the fewest unverifiable assumptions, that requires the addition of less mechanisms,  to be the most likely.

Now let's take the case of this photograph. We have two hypothesis on the table:

A. The photo features some form of supernatural manifestation, the spirits of dead human beings.

1. Consciousness survives death.
2. This consciousness can manifest as an image.
3. Image appears human.
4 that image can reflect photons, thus meaning that photons can interact with it or it emits photons within the visible spectrum. 
5. As it was undetectable to those present, this means this is some form of unknown matter. 

B. The reflection of the chandelier in the glass of the picture is creating a difficult to identify image.

1. Photons reflect off objects. 
2. These reflections can be captured on film.
3. These reflections can often be difficult to interpret. 
4. The phenomena of pariedolia can result in images being interpreted as faces or figures.

Neither of these lists are exhaustive, just the assumptions that seem most relevant. 

Now while there isn't a particular quantitative difference between those assumptions, there is a most DEFINITE qualitative difference. This is that that assumptions made in list A are completely un-evidenced, they are simply assumptions. Some of them require the existence of mechanisms for which we simply have  no evidence of, and in fact violate many, well understood, well evidenced theories of science. While list B contains assumptions that not only conform to our everyday experience, but also are defined by current scientific understanding and established theories.

You can see why I would lean to hypothesis B.

On top of this, I initially suspected the image was that of a chandelier, and further investigation of the drawing room of Sudley House I found a chandelier which strongly resembles the image. 

Is this "proof", no? But the idea of proof is surely reaching the point where the rejection of an idea is less likely than its application. This probably the best rational explanation that can be offered without a site visit and an exact replication of the initial photograph.

That's how I generally approach these things.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Dismantling Data.

I spotted this meme on a friend's facebook wall this morning, I think it is a perfect example of the manipulation and over extrapolation of statistics to support our personal positions. This person is one of those people who seem to think the marijuana is a wonder substance with no adverse effects... she has even argued that it is an effective cancer cure. A claim that is supported by zero clinical evidence. I have nothing against the consumption of marijuana, and accept its helpfulness with some medical conditions. My problem is that its advocates seem unwilling to accept that there are adverse effects to its consumption. Increased rates of throat cancer and related mental health issues for example.

Anyway, that isn't really relevant in this case, here's the meme.

So the backstory. All you need to know is as of January 1 2014, marijuana has been legal to sell and consume in private.
All figures taken from Denver police figures, link to the pdf at the bottom of the post.
Murder rates in Denver are indeed lower in comparison to this time last year. The figure for last year is 17, this year its 8. That's a 53% drop so the meme is right. I have two problems with it:

1. As the murder rates are very low anyway its difficult to take any statistical significance from them. One could proudly boast of a "50% drop" if your murder rate had gone from 2 to 1. It just isn't significant.

2. This seems to be a case of falsely implying that two events are correlated so they must be causally linked as well. This is the fallacious thinking that led many to believe that the MMR vaccine causes autism. I'll demonstrate below why causation doesn't equal causation.

Let's take another crime from the data and compare the rates last year to this year:
Cases of assault in the same months last year: 871.
Cases of assault since the legalisation of marijuana: 1376

Now that's a rise of 58% with a better sample size, would it be fair to imply from this that marijuana increases aggression leading to more assaults? No of course not.

Take another example:

Drunken and disorderly represents a rise of a whopping 1425% from this time last year to this! Now that is a figure that a person against the legalisation of weed could take and really run with. After all isn't marijuana frequently touted as a safer alternative to alcohol? This could be manipulated to imply that alcohol and marijuana are a potent cocktail, and its consumption leads to further alcohol abuse, not less.

Is this down to the legalisation of marijuana? Very doubtful.

So you can see, I can cherry pick this data to support either side of the debate. The overall crime rates have actually risen from this point last year.

What we are actually seeing here is the normal fluctuation between data sets. Its important not to over extrapolate data and draw conclusions whatever he may personally wish to see.

Denver crime rates 2013/14 comparison.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Measuring up to Mr Rational!

Look... I know that this blog distinctly says "No Politics" in the strap line, but I'm going to bend the rules ever so slightly here... Also there's going a bit of drama too. Normal service will be resumed in the next blog, I swear.

So, very few of the skeptical or atheist persuasion will of failed to notice the schism that has developed in those respective communities over the last few years. This has developed over issues of gender and sexism, and the increased profile of feminism within the community (for the sake of brevity here, I'm going to refer to these separate communities as one. If this offends you consider it a model of real-life.) I'm aware there are as many areas of non-overlap as there are overlap. Now, I have an opinion about this, but you know what? It really doesn't matter. There are far more eloquent and intelligent arguments  being issued by both sides of this debate, than I could ever muster.

What is bothering me about this rift, this ongoing battle, is that it has crippled many people's ability to think rationally, surely this is worrying development in a community based on rationality.

Take this chap for example. He is the admin of RATIONALwiki on facebook.

Here is his response to criticism of feminists on his page . By the way "whiteknighting" is the term that some use to describe men who defend women on the internet. The general, and completely facile, idea behind this is men who defend women and feminist ideas, only do so in order to sleep with them.

So "Mr Rational" here feels the need to highlight that the men he disagree with probably have small penises. What an absolute joke. To imply that a physical property is in anyway a factor in one's stance on feminism, in any way, is completely moronic. Shouldn't a flag bearer for rationalism be addressing their arguments? Tackling them this way, rather than throwing out juvenile insults, is surely more productive, hell you might actually change their minds.

The main irony here is this. Brian, presumably, takes objection to misogynists and those he perceives as misogynists, partially because they propagate unhelpful and offensive gender stereotypes. And how does he address this? By banging his chest, shouting down his opponents, by making insinuations about their masculinity by way of genital size. Like a changing room bully/locker room jock. In other words... like an unhelpful, offensive MALE gender stereotype! He is fighting stereotypes by.... adopting them? By propagating them?

 But wait there's more....

Notice Brian singles out attractive women here, so we are free to give woman you deem unattractive "shit" for showing their bodies then? How liberal of you! He then goes on to talk about "body image problems", really, after implying that penis size is some how a quality we can use to judge men, and implying that only attractive women should be free to dress as they feel is appropriate without judgement... You want to talk about "body image issues"? YOU ARE PROPAGATING THESE ISSUES. Your first post clearly enforces a body image stereotype.

Now Brian comes under a bit of fire for these comments, quite rightly as he is being a massive hypocrite. His argument is that his comment is a metaphor, despite not actually consisting of any of the normal  qualities of a successful metaphor. The implication is, we shouldn't be offended, or view this as hypocrisy because "its only a metaphor!" This reminds me of the age only excuse of passing racism and sexism off as harmless if what was said "was only a joke..." Now I think that addressing these topics in the form of humour and metaphor can be helpful, when used ironically, when it is the attitudes of those who hold these positions that is being ridiculed. Other than this hiding your ill-formed opinions as metaphor or humour is something as a red-herring, as humour and metaphor can still offend and propagate harmful stereotypes!

So if we don't get the metaphor, because its ill-formed we must be of low-intelligence. That's doubly true if we don't understand its also a joke! I see! Interestingly, there is a correlation between high-intelligence and understanding metaphor. But often this relationship is inversely proportional, especially in those with Asperger's syndrome, where high-intelligence is coupled  with a tendency to take things literally and a struggle to recognise metaphor. (

Also, did someone say "testosterone poisoned idiot" has he read his opening statement?

As the conversation continues the point is repeatedly made to Brian that the reason anxiety over penis size leads to insecurity is due to the propagation of the idea that length of penis is somehow related to masculinity. The opening statement clearly implies that Brian, at least subconsciously, supports this idea. Having this put to him has a strange effect in Brian. A propos of absolutely nothing, he decides to declare his own genital size... Really... I'm not joking....

Why? WHY!?!

That's a question that gets put to Brian, "why did you feel the need to tell everyone commenting your penis size?"

Here is how he responds.

 So he responds by once again suggesting that his critic has a small penis!

Personally, I think Brian felt the pathological need to announce the size of his member (I'm not saying penis again) because he couldn't bare the idea that some people may read the thread and believe he had small genitalia. This categorically shows that he believes that this small element of body morphology actually says something about a person. About their qualities. He feels judged on this, and he judges others to.

This isn't Brian's fault. He is conditioned to believe this. All males are.

Many men experienced terror in the school locker room, of people noticing their penis size of commenting on it. This carries over into young adulthood, insecurities in early sexual encounters. I believe some men never get over that. Don't realise that genital size doesn't define what kind man they will be, will they be generous, kind, selfless,  a caring partner, a good father.... it is these a define a man. None of which have anything at all to do with penis size.

We have a duty to protect, not just our daughters, but our sons too, from body image and gender conformity issues, from what society imposes on them with regards to how they "should" look and behave.
One thought for Brian, why do you think smaller penises, lack of muscle and size, possession of a high voice
etc... has often been perceived as negative traits in men? It couldn't be that these factors make these men seem more feminine could it? Which of course is only a negative thing to... a misogynist.    

What vexes me about Brian and the like, is that their opinions simply haven't been fully thought through. They are faux-feminists. In many cases they are stepping in the defend women who are more than capable of defending themselves. "Step behind me dear, I'll handle this!" They haven't stopped to think long enough to carry their beliefs through to their logical conclusion. That they are as guilty of enforcing stereotypes as the misogynists they rail against.  

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Don't Cry "Demon".... UPDATED!

Important Update at the end of the post. Also be sure to read Pete's post in the comments section. 

Here's some video footage that you are probably going to come across quite a lot in coming days, if you visit paranormal pages on social media. I warn you before you watch it that it is quite upsetting.

Now this assault that occurred on Thursday in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada,  is being circulated as an example of demonic possession, obviously I have a problem with this. There are simply too many possible rational explanations for this footage to immediately assume "possession"  as the woman recording this clearly does initially. Its interesting to note that even the lady who immediately says "she's probably possessed...", changes her stance to "she's on drugs..." as soon  as the authorities arrive. There isn't anything in the video that a person not under the influence of demons COULDN'T do. There's no head spinning, supernatural strength, levitation. The violent outburst itself seems clumsy and some what in-effective. The punch she throws is hugely telegraphed, delivered with a bent wrist and completely misses the victim's face! If this is a demon, its a demon who has never thrown a punch before.

Now a lot of people are calling hoax on this, I can understand why. The movements seem very rehearsed and, as mentioned above, the violence clearly hasn't been thought through. If it is a hoax the victim certainly isn't in on it. His reaction is far more violent, he doesn't seem afraid of this lady at all after his initial shock, and seems to aim to do her some real harm, not playing the part that would of be intended for him. Our "possessed" lady seems a little shocked by the retaliation and certainly isn't prepared for it. Maybe she has done this kind of thing before and never had someone fight back? Maybe she actually doesn't remember the attack itself? I suspect the former is true.

The question leading to the accusations of "hoax" is this: What were complete strangers doing filming this lady in the first place? Well the answer is quite simple. She was behaving strangely from the moment she boarded the train, and in these vapid and thoughtless times we live in, some people's reaction to this is no longer the urge to help, or the urge to move away. Its the urge to film something that could well go viral and earn the shooter five minutes of adulation from their equally thoughtless and dim witted peers.

A quick internet search uncovered additional footage that seems to back this up.

Here we can see her clearly disturbed, making jerking movements and clawing at what appears to be a crucifix around her neck.  Now this may further add cause to cry "demon" to some. But there are mental illnesses that in some, especially the particularly religious, can manifest as an aversion to religious iconography. There may be a very logical reason that this lady is displaying many of the traits we associate with possession. Whatever affliction she has is causing her to believe she is possessed and she is acting out the same cues that we have all been exposed to by horror films and the media in general.

We can see this acting out in virtually every "exorcism" we've ever seen whether they are presented as fact or fiction. The growling voice, the hissing, the sudden jerking movement, the fear of religious objects, the clawed fingers, this footage means all of the criteria that we have been conditioned to expect by our cultural heritage. Except the things that would be impossible or at least very difficult  to achieve, the talking in Latin, the supernatural strength, the impossible body contortions and the levitation are all conspicuous by their absence. As they always are in "real-life" footage of possession, despite still being a factor in unfilmed real life accounts from demonologists, priests, pastors and exorcists.

I am sure we will be hearing and seeing this footage a lot in days to come, I hope during the sensationalism of this, we can all stop to remember this is a lady, clearly suffering in one way or another, who is very lucky that she didn't seriously hurt herself or some else. Let's thank the emergency services for their quick involvement and hope she gets the help she clearly needs.

After reading Pete's comment below I decided to take a look at some of the symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy and frontal lobe epilepsy. Taken from
 I've added my comments in italics. Obviously some of these symptoms would only be known to the sufferer at the time. 

  • Flushing, sweating, going very pale, having a churning feeling in your stomach
  • Seeing things as smaller or bigger than they really are
  • Seeing or hearing something that is not actually happening
  • Smelling non-existent smells
  • Tasting non-existent tastes
  • Feeling frightened, panicky, sad or happy - in the earliest video she certainly seems very panicked and afraid. 
  • Feeling detached from what is going on around you- this is definitely evident.  
  • Feeling sick
  • Having vivid memory ‘flashbacks’
  • Having an intense feeling of ‘deja vu’, when you are convinced you have experienced something before – even when you haven’t
  • Being unable to recognise things that are very familiar to you - sometimes referred to as ‘jamais vu’
  • Chewing, smacking your lips, swallowing or scratching your head - the lady certainly rubs her head and chews and smacks her lips at several points during both videos.  
  • Fumbling with your buttons or removing items of your clothing
  • Wandering off, without any awareness of what you are doing, or where you are going - she certainly does this immediately after the assault. She also seems confused as to why she is being confronted.
Of course none of this is conclusive, but it certainly appears to a probable explanation.

Thanks Pete. I'll add any more information as I come by it. You can read more about TLE here, the resource includes two videos of case studies in which patients display some commonalities with the lady in our train attack video.  Worth noting that this disorder can manifest differently in different individuals.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

More than a feeling? An example of some common errors in a paranormal investigation.

Since I began looking into the methods various groups use to investigate the paranormal, I've found more and more that there are some very common (and very annoying) errors that crop up frequently. These are aside from groups claiming to be "scientific" in nature whilst still using fundamentally unscientific practices such as ouija boards and table-tipping. Both of which I'm sure I'll tackle at some point. The mistakes I'm highlighting here are far less pronounced and far more common.

 I've taken an example from Facebook of a brief report from a paranormal investigation group based in South Africa called Paranormal Research Investigations of Pretoria. I am at pains to first point out, this is in no way a personal attack on PRIP. I have no animosity towards them, I simply wish to offer some constructive criticism.

Part 1

First let's look at the information they offer about themselves on their Facebook page:

 The immediate problem I see here, is while its clear that PRIP are trying to help people, and they are at least offering their services for free, they make irresponsible claims about the techniques they use. To clarify no paranormal investigation technique has ever been "proven"  because none have ever provided conclusive evidence that ghosts actually exist.

I'm not sure that PRIP are actually clear what would actually constitute "evidence" of the paranormal. This is something we'll return to a little later.

PRIP declare a concern with their client's well being that is admirable, but I have to wonder if they have fully considered the consequence of stating categorically their homes are haunted.

One last problem I have with his opening statement is that there is no reference to what methods PRIP actually use. Sure, we are told they are proven, but we can't check this for ourselves can we? This then has to be considered a completely unsubstantiated claim, and fundamentally misleading.

Anyway, on to the actual report. Now in fairness, this is admittedly a very brief account. But it fundamentally lacks a lot of vital information and contains much which is completely irrelevant and tells us absolutely nothing of value.

1 Ok, so we start with an overview of what the client's have been experiencing, that's great. Here's the problem with what is given. It's mostly all subjective. There may be a multitude of reasons why a location may "feel" unwelcoming that are in no way paranormal in nature. Terms like a "dark" room, and a "room of revenge" aren't helpful, for a start, what the hell to they actually mean? And how exactly does one go about measuring these things? The answer is, you can't. Therefore they have no bearing on the actual investigation. What would of been more helpful, is the time, dates, locations and conditions at the property when the sightings of experiences occurred. Basically as much information about these times as possible. Where is this information? Was it even collected at all?

2. This is pure speculation. There is no supportive evidence that paranormal activity increases  in proportion to proximity to a grave-yard. To have evidence of such a causal link would require evidence that ghosts exist in a measurable quantity. We simply don't have this as of yet.

As for the speculation about the old-man with the oxygen tank. Where has this come from? If its part of the history of the house then that isn't mentioned. Is it a apparition that has been seen? It seems plucked out of thin air.

The idea of collecting history of a location may seem like a good idea prior to an investigation, but it can actually be counter-productive. This is because it gives the team an idea of what to expect, with the more suggestible members of the team there is a fare chance this will directly effect what they experience.

3. Here we return to the idea of suggestibility. So the investigators had a "feeling" of being "unwelcome" the conclusion is clearly made that this is a result of some presence in the house, but could it be a result of members of the team being aware that this is something the occupants of the house have experienced? Could it be a result of the conditions which the investigation is conducted in? Is this a result of suggestibility on the part of the investigators?

Lights out?

 One thing I was able to glean through the above Facebook comment was that the investigation was conducted in the dark. This is something that irks me. I see no reason to conduct an investigation in the dark, most ghost sightings don't occur in the dark, teams should be looking to replicate the exact conditions in which a particular sighting occurred, also operating purely in the dark is impractical and often dangerous even with a decent torch. The only reason I see for the propagation of this practice is the number of groups merely seeking to replicate what they see on ghost-hunting TV shows. In these the only reason for the practice is to artificially heighten the sense of drama and create an air of suggestibility.4. This comment really annoyed me. Thus far there is nothing to suggest that the occurrences in this home are supernatural, to go further than this and suggest that the house has a history of occult practice is ludicrous!  Based upon what grounds? This is especially vexing when you consider this groups supposed sensitivity to their clients! Clearly these are people who believe in such things and are scared of them, to put this on them is deeply irresponsible. Especially when it is based on pure speculation!5. Who made these claims of a "definite" dark presence? Again this seems worryingly subjective, with nothing in the way of corroborative evidence. Further more, it gives the definite conclusion that the team has already decided categorically what form of supernatural entity inhabits the house.Part 2
6. As you can see there is no contemplation of a rational explanation here. This is a face and that is all there is to it. One might expect a stunning piece of photographic evidence to accompany this assertion. Unfortunately this is what we are offered in a later post. 


That isn't really convincing is it? Its not even a great example of pariedolia. A magnification doesn't really add anything either. In fact, look at that cup. Did it possibly contain hot liquid? Is it possible we are looking at steam here? Or possibly condensation? Surely this needs to be ruled out before we conclude "demon"?

7. So the team go into possible explanations for this activity now. But there isn't one single rational explanation offered for any of the proposed phenomena. Every single explanation is based in the supernatural. Its almost as if this team hasn't considered for a moment that this ISN'T something supernatural! I've got to ask them. do you ever go into an investigation with the null-hypothesis in mind? Also the team clearly made up of members who are extremely vulnerable to suggestion and atmosphere. Why else would they leave without attempting to find rational explanations. I'd say this strikes me as a team that aren't particularly professional, but that maybe a little unfair without assessing any of their other work.

8. Again the history offers very little perspective to what is going on presently, especially when its post-hoc speculation based upon current events.

9. See above. What is the casual link between grave-yard proximity and paranormal activity, can we rule out that this proximity isn't causing an atmosphere of suggestibility to the clients. The propagation of other tales of hauntings and the like is only going to amplify this suggestibility.

10. These things simply can't be considered evidence of something supernatural when there seems to have been no attempt to even address perfectly rational explanations.

These mistakes, assumptions, failure to consider rational explanations, non-acceptance of the null-hypothesis, an over-reliance on subjective "feelings" and attempts to replicate the faulty methods of TV show ghost hunters are not the exception in the paranormal investigation community. They are the norm. That is why a system of peer review is desperately and urgently needed. Standards won't get better until the resistance to this is eliminated.