Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Trisaksri Ghost Repellent Is Indeed Utterly Repellent.

I can always rely on Week in Weird, the paranormal "news" site to dredge up some horrible element of the paranormal from the past to haunt me. Last time it was their "Paranormal TV Shows That Were Cancelled Too Soon" article that brought back terrible memories of the utterly repugnant exploitation-fest that is "Chip Coffey's Psychic Kids". Today they dredge something equally repellant (get used to this pun), and even Greg Newkirk takes a skeptical tone towards this one. 

Behold The Trisaksri Ghost Repellent (2nd Edition)! Wait. It's not... not very impressive.... maybe my build up was a bit too grandiose. I'll try again... 'av a look at this tat....

Okay.... that's erm... rustic? Let's take a look round the back of this bad boy.

Let's not judge a book by it's cover and discover what the inventors of The Trisaksri Ghost Repellent, Supa Boondee Workshop, have to say about the device. Bear in mind before we do, English is not their first language. Also, I'm going to be ignoring a major elephant in the room here: In searching for the alleged mechanism for how the TGR box repels ghosts it hasn't escaped me that as ghosts haven't ever actually been shown to exist, there's nothing but speculation about the qualities they possess. Despite lots of talk from paranormal groups about electromagnetic fields, we can't view this as anything but idle speculation. In that respect selling anything that proposes to detect/capture/measure or quantify in any way ghosts is akin to selling strawberry jelly with the recommendation "9 out 10 Elves prefer strawberry". It's meaningless. What I'm looking for isn't an actual mechanism or theory but a consistent one. When we have that, then we can actually do some skeptical analysis.

From their sales site Supa Boondee Workshop say:
"You or someone may have experience with ghost or devil after bought new second hand house from the former owner. Some houses may have bad spirit inside which will interfere your daily life unhappy and frighten your children. Finally many of you leave away the house and find a new home. We have a solution for you, "Trisaksri Ghost Repeller". Just place this device in side your house and switch ON. All ghost and devil will leave away your home and won't come back again. Now who run away, You or ghost ? Save money in finding a new home."

So it'll repel the devil as well? That's handy. But how does it work? Ignoring the obvious answer "It fucking doesn't", the sales site of the 2016 version doesn't actually give many details how the manufacturers propose a wooden box with LED lights "repels ghosts" all we are told on the site is:

"Video capture the ghost then convert to radio signal and sent to WAVE KILLER."
Now, the Week In Weird article states:
"when you’re ready to clear your home of negative entities, you simply flip the switch on the Ghost Repellent box, which activates a low-level electromagnetic field, condenser microphone, and infrared camera that work in unison to detect paranormal activity. Super Boondee calls this the “phenomenon receptor”. When the machine detects an anomaly, it automatically fires off a “Wave Killer” radio blast that they claim is enough to force the nasty phantom to abandon its chosen haunt. Much like those sonic-rodent repellents, the box will simply continue to drive off ghosts no matter how many times they attempt to return."
I'm actually sure where Newkirk got this information. Possibly from the manufacturers themselves, but let's face it, if he'd just made it up himself it's probably as credible as anything Supa Boondee workshop offer. In fact, I'd say he's managed to make the device sound incrementally more legitimate, The reason for Greg's creativity is likely that Supa Boondee's statement seems to imply they posit that ghosts and spirits can be captured and held as video information. Their description clearly states the entities are sent to the "wave killer" not that the "wave killer" is fired at them. This proposition is one that even the most credulous paranormal enthusiast is unlikely to accept.

I was able to find slightly more information pertaining to an earlier version of the Ghost Repellant manufactured in 2009. At that point, the Supa Boondee site featured an FAQ page, which has likely vanished now as due to a swath of ridicule the company has likely decided the less information it offers the better.

Here's what that FAQ said:

Q: What about my house has a good spirit of our ancestor protect my family, would this machine kill their spirit ?

A: The machine can distinguist the phenomenon signal input, good spirit and bad spirit has its characteristic, the device will ignor or skip the good spirit.

Q: What happen if we unplug the machine at later time, how can we sure the ghost won't come back again with more angry ?

A: The machine is smart than ghost, fear and not return. You did not battle with ghost, the machine fight with ghost for you.

Q: How can i know my house has ghost ?

A: We can not tell you, you are the only person face this experience yourself. For e.g. having bad dream or nightmare every day, some abnormal noise in the night, fear in the night, etc.

So we're left with literally nothing. We're told what the box does but not how it does it, or how it even could do the things it states!

Let's take a look inside and see if the Trisakri Ghost Repellent's inner workings reveal anything.

Erm... that just looks like useless circuitry ripped out of something else to me. But I have to admit that pretty much describes the inside of every device I've ever seen. Luckily, I know a guy who isn't completely terrified of wires and circuits. And sent the above image to the ever awesome Kenny Biddle along with this schematic of the 2009 version published in the Week in Weird article:

Here's what Kenny concluded:

"At first glance....this looks like junk from an old PC tower. WTF is a "Phenomenon Detector"? Ha! That made-up component is probably worth $800 itself (actual retail value...10 cents)... It's just parts from a computer...and some other random electronic parts (looks like from radios) screwed to the walls of the box. It's worthless."
As Kenny points out the things that really highlight this as a complete scam are the meaningless components, what particularly struck me was the pseudoscientific glory of the "wave killer engine". Sounds like something a bad comic book villian from a 1970's Captain America comic would say. In fact...

With such vague descriptions and psuedoscientific bluster, it's clear that no amount of useless circuitry can differentiate the TGR box from magic. Checking further into the 2009 version of the TGR box reveals more outright inanity. Here's the company's statement made shortly after the device was revealed:

Announcement !

Since the 5th March 2009 we launch this product, we have received a lot of complaint where you can read the comments on various forum on the internet. Most people against this product which made us unhappy, so we will wait about 2 more weeks if the feedback is remain negative we may decide to terminate Ghost repellent out of our product ranges. Herewith, we apologise for the uncomfortable sensitive caused to you at this time.

Thank you,
(Boondee Laboratory)
11th March 2009

Hmmm sounds a like"If you lot don't stop pointing out what terrible scam artists we are.... we won't sell this scammy shit anymore!" Good. Of course, they backtracked on this when they went back to the well and released the device in 2016. Apart from some minor cosmetic changes, the major difference between the 2009 and 2016 models is the price. You may think "Well the box was negatively received and it is a MASSIVE fucking con. One can't be surprised if they lower the price." Except they haven't raised the price. Considerably. The 2009 model was selling for $259, whilst the "improved" 2016 model retails for $1500. I think I know the reason for this huge price hike. I think Boondee may have sold a very small number of these boxes in 2009, and they've decided that if they just sell one or two this time around before yanking the product again, the high price point make this worthwhile.

Now,  you may well be forgiven, given all I've told you, to suspect that this whole Trisakri Ghost Repellant is a hoax. How gullible do these people think believers in ghosts and spirits are? Well, Boondee also sells a wide range of dodgy devices. Here's their "free electricity" device, which I initially thought was a "free energy" exploiting piece of tat. The truth is actually a bit more worrying. 

The device, also housed in a plain wooden box, attaches directly to your electricity meter meaning not only is it dangerous, it's actually illegal! That's if actually works. The description offered is equally as vague as that offered for the TGR box:

"Generally any electrical appliances when apply with home electricity it will run your watt hour meter. But Boondee resonant device does not run your watt hour meter. This is a reason why it is called Free Electricity, you use electricity but the watt hour meter is not spinning. Thus you don't pay electric bill !!"
So no, I don't think this is a wind-up.... that's Boondee's other "free electricity" device, the GR 777. I shit you not. Just look at it's windy wooden majesty.

It's clear Boondee are an equal opportunity exploiter. Whilst their GTR box targets those with legitimate fear of ghosts and spirits, their free electricity devices target the poor and desperate. Without a doubt the Trisaksri Ghost Repellant is repellant, but the only thing it will ever rid you of is your cash. I doubt your daft enough to buy one, but I suspect someone somewhere won't be. 

What Are My Dark Hidden Motivations?

I'm going to make this quick. A frequent line of argumentation I receive in response to the criticisms of the people and organisations I comment on is to attack the motives behind my commentary. The reason people do this is very simple. They can't actually coherently argue against the points I raise, so they target the reason for raising them.

There are some common reoccurring themes, jealousy and money being the most common two. I've lost count of the amount of people who've called this blog click bait and accusing me of generating money through ad revenue. Here's the latest idiot to do this, a commenter called Daemenus on my recent post about the Youtuber Bearing. After a laughable string of logically inconsistent attempts to defend Bearing's use of an image he didn't own or alter in any way shape or form, or failed to correctly credit once (I incorrectly said he had credited Total Drama Island, upon rewatching the discussion in which I thought this occurred the statement is actually made to him and he squirms awkwardly in response. I apologise for misleading my readers into believing Bearing showed the slightest shred of decency. He didn't.), Daemenus made this utterly laughable comment:

"I realize that may be hard for you since you are only blindly attacking for profit, it's only natural for you to use Psychological Projection to tell yourself we are as blind and selfishly motivated as you are."
Hmmm... there's and easy way to debunk this one guys. It won't require screen caps or trawling through libraries of ghost app images or the slightest bit of research. Take a look at this page. What don't you see? There are no advertisements, there's no merchandise, no pop-ups, no amazon links, no sponsored content. You'll see that at the bottom of my page there are no links to click bait that contradicts everything I've written above, as you'll find on the Pharyngula blog of staunch feminist PZ Myers. There you can happily nod and cluck as he points out perceived misogyny and then go and generate him some cold hard cash by following a link to "cheerleader had no idea why they were cheering".
Unlike PZ I don't hold my principles until the foot of the page or when there's fucking money on the table. Also, there's no link to a Patreon page or a Go-Fund-Me, I don't have one, I've no intention of having one. I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with bloggers and vloggers who seek funding from their audience, some of them make excellent content and deserve support, but I don't like to be beholding to anyone. Plus, I'd have to be.... you know... good and stuff. I suppose the biggest irony of this questioning of my motivation is it always comes in defence of people who are making money from their audience. Bearing, for example, has ads on all of his content, he also has a Patreon and makes a handsome $626 a video.... oh and a merchandising store selling tee-shirts with a stolen image, which Daemenus laughingly insists is "parody" some-how. Previous to this, I received similar criticism from supporters of Jayne Harris and HD paranormal, who is charging hundreds of pounds for online courses in demon identification or some other nonsense.

I've never made a penny from the blog and I never will.

So why do I do it? What really motivates me? It's quite simple. To paraphrase One-Punch Man: "I'm just a guy who's a skeptic for fun..."

Hey... I should put that on a tee-shirt. No one will notice, right?

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Free Speech Under Threat? Copyright and Cartoon Bears.

Even those unfamiliar with feminism opposing, social justice warrior baiting cartoon bears may have come across the hashtag #freebearing over the past 24 hours and may be forgiven for being led to believe by the surrounding hyperbole laden tweets that there has been some great violation of the principles of free speech committed to this Austrailian Youtube content provider, instigated by malicious opponents to what he has to say.

Many of Bearing's fellow Youtube content providers produced videos in support of Bearing reflecting that idea, with Sargon of Akkad, in particular claiming that Bearing's termination was "politically motivated" and that the SJWs were likely responsible. A claim he ridiclously had to back track on in a caption added later. Unsuprisingly, a toothless and somewhat laughable change.org petition was soon established too. As an aside isn't it a bit ironic that those supporting an alt-right content producer took what has previously been dismissed by the right as the most wishy washy liberal avenue of action available? The tweets and youtube comments early on seemed to follow a general trend:
"They're trying to silence us! Our ideas are too dangerous! They can't disprove what we're saying so they're trying to shut us up..."
It's a cry most commonly heard amongst proponents of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience and alternative medicine:Of course, such claims are never backed with evidence, and can often be demonstrably shown to be false. Governments suppress 9-11 truthers often by supposedly assassinating those with the most damning truth, natural cancer cure are held back by crooked "big pharma" they tell us. Medical journals refuse to publish the works of maverick doctors such as Andrew Wakefield.... A less general example would be Rupert Sheldrake's "banned" TEDx talk from a few years ago, which disappeared from the group's site soon after it was published. Sheldrake and his supporters claimed this was an attempt by the science mainstream to silence him. TED, according to some, had succumbed to the pressure of noted scientists and tried to hide Sheldrake's presentation. The truth is, unsurprisingly, quite different. TED had received a number of complaints from the scientific community, who were not trying to "silence" Sheldrake but were pointing out that much of his talk was patent nonsense. In particular, claims Sheldrake made about the constancy of the speed of light drew ire. In response to this criticism and subsequent review of Sheldrake's talk, TED moved the talk to a more suitable location of their website and fully acknowledged the video, criticism and the reasons for their action. They even published several of Sheldrake's responses to the incident.  If this were an attempt to silence Sheldrake, it was a woefully orchestrated one. Of course such logic didn't sate the outrage of Sheldrake supporters.

So is this suspicion and paranoia limited simply to the tin foil hat brigade or could Bearing's supporters be guilty of it too? Leninist firing squads anyone?

As any truly rational thinker knows, any cognitive bias that exists in proponents of such ideas lurks somewhere in all of us, the key is to recognise and overcome this flawed reasoning. Unfortunately, this recognition has been sadly lacking in the alt-right, anti-SJW youtube and twitter communities today as they rallied around the body of downed comrade Bearing.

A bit of background, many Youtube producers, especially those that produce controversial content are rather upset about the introduction of a self moderation program on the video sharing site, Youtube Heroes, which will allow regular users to flag offensive videos and even have them removed in extreme cases. I actually think this is a terrible idea, and open to individuals using their status to gain the upper hand in personal vendettas. Evidence of this can be seen in the way the Digital Millenium Copyright Act has been misused to take down videos channels deemed offensive or disagreeable to some. The misuse of the DMCA reporting system isn't without punishment, those that file false DMCAs face hefty fines or even prison time is extreme cases. Clearly, such measures having dissuaded everyone from filing malicious DMCAs and misuse of the Youtube Hero system will hold no such repercussions. I don't however, believe as some content producers clearly do, that this represents the ultimate threat to free speech. Nor do I even believe it represents the death knell of the same on Youtube. It may well make monetising videos with controversial content more difficult, which may not be such a bad thing. Many Youtube content producers clearly produce controversial and inflammatory videos because they know this will increase views and therefore swell their coffers. Also, your free speech isn't violated if you're free to take your ideas elsewhere and Youtube doesn't owe it's content providers a platform, It can choose what it does and doesn't want on its site.

Many have assumed that the termination of Bearing's youtube account is the first shot fired by the SJW infiltrated Youtube Heroes program. Here's EDL endorsed Youtube antagonist, Sargon of Akkad again to warn that the war has begun!

Fellow anti-SJW blogger, Undoomed was equally apocalyptic in tone beginning his video "Well it's started..." He goes on to ask "What is it about free speech that scares these people so much... we will not let this stand". Actually, the odds that this supension had anything to do with SJWs aren't great. Bearing's account was actually reported by the preexisting DMCA system and it wasn't so-called SJWs or feminists that dealt him this blow, actually Bearing isn't quite the victim many many assumed. In fact I'd say he's his own worst enemy. To unravel the mystery of who did in Bearing let's take a look at the most frequent image that appears in his video series, his cartoon avatar which features in every single video on his primary channel.

You may be not be surprised to learn this isn't an image produced by Bearing himself, although it seems like he's additionally animated it in some of his work. The character actually originated in a 2007 Canadian animated series called Total Drama Island which ran for 28 episodes and last aired in late 2008. The three DMCAs filed against Bearing have all come from Fresh TV and Elliot Entertainment the creators of Total Drama Island, whom Bearing, whilst he has acknowledged as the source of his image, never approached for permission to use. As you'll see from the image taken from series (left), there's no difference barring some very small superficial changes.

Now, it may seem like Fresh TV are being somewhat petty, after all this is a bit part character in an animated series that hasn't produced an original episode for eight years, but Bearing isn't just using this on his Youtube channel, he's also producing merchandise prominently featuring the TDI bear.

Not bad for an image that isn't yours. If I were Bearing I wouldn't be sweating the DMCA too much right now based on this. A few of Bearing's supporters have highlighted the DCMA's fair use clause, but personally, I fail to see it applying here. Bearing hasn't made significant changes to the character, it's not used as parody, criticism or review of the source material.So whilst this may be lumped into several Youtubers ongoing campaign against the misuse of DMCAs against content which clearly fulfils those criteria, it really shouldn't. This may anger Bearing supporters, and I don't support the gloating at his termination that is occurring in certain quarters, but I can't believe he's been this staggeringly thick. Whilst I take no satisfaction in a man losing his livelihood, Bearing has gotten away with using a copyrighted image since August 2015 and used it to generate revenue, did he think that could carry on for an indefinite length of time?

Clearly, the lesson to be learned here is we should all be slower to jump to conclusions about threats to our liberty before the evidence is collected.... and don't appropriate other people's cartoon bears for financial gain. I should start #freecartoonbears maybe? Or #don'tjumptoconclusions?

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Have Scientists REALLY Confirmed Life After Death Exists Or Has The Sun Created A New Level Of Hyperbole?

"LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL: Scientists ‘confirm’ life after death exists with ground-breaking study" declares a breathless headline in Sunday's Sun newspaper. The story, unlike the paper's usual paranormal churn, doesn't reside in the paper's "weird" section, it sits proudly in the news proper section, although how much of an honour that is in this publication is questionable.

The first alarm bell that should sound upon reading the article is that the word "confirmed" appears in inverted commas. Did scientists confirm this or not? It turns out, reading further on in the article reveals that the words "life after death" should very probably also be in inverted commas, much like the approach the Telegraph took when reporting this story, way back in October 2014 (yep it's the same study from Southhampton). No-one ever said the broadsheets were above sensationalism, at least they use punctuation in a suitably weasely way.

So clearly when the Sun says "A new study shows people continue experiencing awareness for up to three minutes after death.what the reporter must actually mean is a study that's new to them, as this study, by Dr Sam Parnia and Southampton University was published in Resuscitation: The Journal of The European Resuscitation Council back in their December 2014 volume!

The article begins with what I believe passes for philosophy and deep thought in the Murdoch press:
"DEATH is an inevitable consequence of life, but scientists believe they may have found some light at the end of the tunnel. Life after death has been “confirmed” by experts who say consciousness continues even once a person’s heart has stopped beating."
So far so good, but it soon becomes apparent that this isn't the kind of "life after death" you may have been expecting.
"In a study of more than 2,000 people, British scientists confirmed that thought persists after death, and simultaneously uncovered convincing evidence of an out-of-body experience for a patient declared dead by medics. Scientists had believed the brain ceased all activity 30 seconds after the heart stopped pumping blood around the body, and that awareness stopped at the same time.But research from the University of Southampton suggests otherwise.A new study shows people continue experiencing awareness for up to three minutes after death."
Three minutes that's hardly skipping through the clouds with Aunt Mildred as that headline may have led you to believe, nor is this a newly discovered phenomena. All that has changed is the length of time consciousness has been found continued after the heart stopped beating, if the study is correct. This also highlights a common failing in reports about "death", there are different standards of death. What the study is referring to is the heart stopping and the cessation of respiration, clinical death.  This isn't death as such. The success of modern resuscitation methods has necessitated the introduction of the concept of "brain death" when the brain stem dies and there is no further hope of resuscitation.

Obviously, it isn't this form of death which these patients experienced. Had it been, I suspect that Dr Parnia and his colleagues may have had some trouble surveying them about their cognitive experiences whilst their heart had stopped. Here's the critical flaw in reporting of the significance of this study: none of these patients died. This isn't a study of consciousness after "death" or extrapolated further "life after death". It's a study of consciousness during heart failure. You may well think that it's superfluous for me to point out this blatantly obvious flaw, which really should go without saying. To that I respond, the Sun ran with this story a stock image (below) of a body with a bloody toe-tag on it! I don't think the reporter who wrote this considered this distinction at all when they lazily picked images to fit in the text!

Laughably the Sun then quote Dr Sam Parnia, the head researcher on the study, who gives a definition of "death" which completely discredits all of the Sun's hyperbole thus far:
“Contrary to perception, death is not a specific moment but a potentially reversible process that occurs after any severe illness or accident causes the heart, lungs and brain to cease functioning.If attempts are made to reverse this process, it is referred to as ‘cardiac arrest’; however, if these attempts do not succeed it is called ‘death’.”
So Parnia believes that "clinical death" is a somewhat moot term, that's arguable, but it's clear by that standard he cannot consider any of the patients surveyed to have actually experienced death!

Let me further put the boot into this article, the study doesn't mention clinical death once. Patients are described as cardiac arrest sufferers. The addition of ideas of "death" have clearly been added to the press coverage for purposes of sensationalism. Now, it's perhaps unfair to ascribe this to the Sun, as it's clearly an aspect of the earlier Telegraph report. What worries me is that no one has corrected the press with regards to this blatant inaccuracy, or someone has and the press have completely ignored their words of caution. I can only speculate on that, but what I'm sure of is no one from the Sun bothered to check the paper they were reporting on, and they have no urge to allow their readers to do the same as they don't actually link to the paper in the story. Clicking the link highlighted by the word study takes the reader to a laughable page of all the "research" the Sun has reported on (left).

At best the only finding we can extrapolate from the original study, and that's if we consider it methodologically sound, is that consciousness may survive for a short time after the heart ceases, perhaps longer than initially suspected. Even this finding of the possible extended duration of consciousness is perhaps not surprising, we may well be discovering this now as a result of modern resuscitation methods are bringing patients "back" from clinical deaths after longer periods.

Ah but wait... there is something extraordinary left to be explored here, remember this tease from earlier in the article?
"...(the study) simultaneously uncovered convincing evidence of an out-of-body experience for a patient declared dead by medics...."
To be clear this is an abnormality of one patient in 2000, in terms of the study there is nothing statistically significant here. Also, I don't see any reason to suspect that this was an out-of-body experience or to suggest it as evidence of mind/body duality. Here's how Parnia describes the patient's experience:

“This is significant, since it has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with ‘real’ events when the heart isn’t beating. In this case, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat.This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted. Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events.”
Parnia should know better, what he is describing here is pure anecdote. He only has testimonies of the patient and those involved in the resuciation that the events were similar, also we are given no indication of how similar. I'm pretty sure I could roughly describe what's going on in an emergency room, how specific was the patient. Secondly, maybe he could hear what was going on around him, we've established that he may have had consciousness, is it that much of a stretch to imagine he had auditory input too? Am I missing something, and if I am, please point it out to me, why does any of this suggest an out of body experience?

Perhaps unsurprisingly there's no mention of this particular patient in the abstract, methodology, results or conclusion of Parnia's paper. It may lie somewhere in the main body of text unavailable to me as it's behind a paywall, but one should expect if it had the significance Parnia ascribes to it, one would find it in these sections.

It makes me rather sad to see a legitimate study, though I suspect quite flawed, reported in such a sensationalist way. Especially considering it seems the head researcher has been happy to indulge such sensationalism. There's an interesting and important hypothesis lurking in this paper, and it may well yield findings and further studies to match. It's a shame that a public becoming more open to scientific reporting is unlikely to ever be exposed to these things.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Why Fear Wi-Fi? How the Irrational Fear Of Electromagnetic Radiation is Exploited.

A recently released video of a meeting held in March features Jill Stein, leader of the US Green Party and their Presidential nominee in the 2016 election, fielding a question from a kindergarten teacher regarding the "danger" Wi-Fi signals may pose to her pupils in light of increase one-to-one computer usage.

Stein's response was as follows:
 "We should not be subjecting kids’ brains, especially, to that. And we don’t follow that issue in this country, but in Europe, where they do… they have good precautions around wireless — maybe not good enough… because it’s very hard to study this stuff… We make guinea pigs out of whole populations and then we discover how many die. And this is like the paradigm for how public health works in this country and it’s outrageous, you know…"
Whilst disappointing and worryingly ignorant, especially as Stein is a physician by trade, and she's been quite rightly taken to task for them, Stein's comments reflect a wider concern not just with Wi-Fi but also with mobile phone signals and in particular mobile phone masts. And despite what Stein says, there have been many studies which show, thus far no threat from such things. Claims surrounding such forms of communication normally concern the ideas of "radiation" and the negative connotations surrounding that word that have been lingering since the atomic age.

In reality, we're constantly surrounded by electromagnetic radiation. A simple understanding of physics dispels any idea that electromagnetic radiation of the type used for Wi-Fi and mobile phone signals could cause cancer, even in cases of prolonged exposure. To understand why such things as Wi-Fi and mobile phone signals are not to be feared it's necessary to take a look at the electromagnetic spectrum.

The electromagnetic radiation used in Wi-Fi and mobile phones exists in the longwave section of the above diagram, between radio waves and microwaves. As an electromagnetic signal's wavelength shortens its frequency increases according to equation 1 (bottom left) where c is the speed of light, is the frequency and that wishbone looking thing is the wavelength.

You've likely been told that light is both a wave and a particle, but a nitpicky physicist will tell you that's only loosely true. Light can be described as both a wave model and a particle model, and combined a wave-packet, or a quanta (hence quantum physics) of light, a photon.  The energy of this packet is given by equation 2, where E is the energy and h is Planck's constant.
As both the speed of light (c) and Plank's constant (h) are unchanging (constants) it should be clear from the above that as the wavelength decreases the frequency increases, and in turn, as the frequency increases the energy of the light also increases. So clearly the right side of the above diagram represents high-energy, high-frequency electromagnetic radiation. This is high energy radiation is also known as ionising radiation. When photons interact with an electron in an atom, they are often absorbed and the electron, which can only occupy an allowed orbit with an associated energy value, moves up to an excited state. If the supplied energy is sufficient the electron escapes the atom altogether, the atom is ionised in other words. 

So you can see from the diagram above, the ionisation energy of an electron in the ground state around a hydrogen nucleus is 13.6 eV. Larger atoms have larger ionisation energies, which is simple to understand, more protons in the nucleus mean a stronger positive charge and therefore a stronger "pull" on the negative electrons ( for simplicity I'm ignoring an effect known as shielding which prevents this from being a strictly linear relationship). Electrons are far more likely to be found in a ground state than an excited state, as electrons in such a state quickly emit photons of the necessary energy to drop down to a lower excited state or the ground state.

So let's see if a photon of the electromagnetic radiation found in Wi-Fi signals is sufficient to ionise hydrogen. I'll switch to word because Blogspot doesn't have an equation option....

This is the photoelectric effect discovered by Einstein and explained why increasing intensity of light shining on a metal doesn't increase the yield of electrons despite the increase in photons. Not just any photon will do. It has to have the correct energy value. Ionising radiation can indeed lead to cancer and other health problems arising from damaged DNA, but we've seen above, Wi-Fi signals are far from ionising.

So what about mobile/cell phone signals? They tend to have a wavelength of roughly 30cm or 0.3 m so have a corresponding energy of 0.000004 eV, even further away from ionising even the loosest held electron.
So why does such ignorance still persist?

 Unsurprisingly, where ignorance and fear lurk there is a pretty penny is to be made from the exploitation of the same, and the prolonged cultural fear the word radiation carries has been turned into quite a cottage industry. Where this was once focused on fears of a nuclear attacks (left), now the focus is on the more common and mundane. For example boxer shorts manfacturer Spartan offer gentlemen protection for their sperm from being "blasted" by their mobile devices. A promotional video on Vimeo for the company urges people share news of their product. I'll oblige them...


The Spartan Boxer/Brief is snake oil for the modern age. You absolutely should not buy that product. Mobile Phone radiation is not cooking your sperm! Don't pay $40 for a pair of underwear that does nothing!

Other products make even more, frankly, laughable claims to exploit on the fear and ignorance of their customers, Take Y-paint (as opposed to Y-fronts. Haw haw), a product which claims to block "high-frequency" electromagnetic waves but yet in the description, the manufacturer describe it's efficacy against radio waves and microwaves... LOW-FREQUENCY radiation!

I could go on with these bullshit products, let's instead come around to where we started. Like the manufacturers of these and thousands of similar products, Jill Stein, who has lots of laudable goals to be fair, is also selling fear. Whilst Donald Trump preys upon the fears and ignorance of narrow-minded and right wing republican voters, touching on issues of immigration, race and religion, Stein preys on the voters who haven't been exposed to decent scientific explanations for modern advances such GMOs, vaccines and Wi-Fi and mobile signals, and in many cases are scientifically illiterate.

As Trump supporters ignorantly and hypocritically fear other races, religions and sexualities whilst basking in their own freedoms, Stein supporters fear and distrust the very foundations of the modern world whilst basking in its benefits.

Are both equally bad? Nope. But "That guy is far worse than me!" has never been the best defence has it?

Friday, 12 August 2016

Is Every Historic Building In Britain Haunted? Meet The Man Who Means To Prove It and Tabloids That Exploit Him.

There's a shadowy figure stalking the halls and staircases of some of Britain's most famous historical buildings. Wherever he is spotted, reports of paranormal phenomena are almost certain to follow. Usually in the tabloid press. Meet Mark Vernon (left), Yorkshire ghost hunter and self-proclaimed "paranormal detective". Mark has appeared in two prominent news stories within the last few months. The latest first appeared the Keighley News on 6th August and was quickly picked up by the national tabloid press. The story tells us Mark had been at 17th Century East Riddlesden Hall for only 10 minutes when he caught footage of an alleged "ghost". He then went on to capture the same apparition in several other rooms of the building. The most notable thing about the footage is how singularly unspectacular it is.

The footage features a light coloured "orb" drifting back and forth and up and down the screen. You can see the footage used in the news story at the 3:00 mark in this video Mark uploaded to YouTube roughly a year ago (below). Apologies for the awful 90s throwback dance music Mark chose to package the video with.

I'm sure after watching the footage, you concluded as I did, there seems to be absolutely no reason to suspect this "ghost" is anything more than a piece of fluff or dust immediately in front of the camera lens. The fact that it follows the person capturing the video around the Hall suggests to me it's something small, dust, fluff or even an insect, attached to the camera or the person shooting the film. I mean physically attached... not you know... a spiritual attachment. Of course, this may not be the case, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that these are just three separate specks of dust.  Historic buildings tend to be, well, dusty, and bed linens and tapestries, in particular, hang on to dust well.
                              (above) The "spirit" appears by a staircase

               (above) The "spirit" also appears in one of the hall's bedrooms.

                                   (above) ...and in front of a tapestry

I think what is most interesting about this story is why is it only being featured in the press now? Vernon shot this footage over a year ago, so if he truly believed it to be evidence of the paranormal, why sit on it for twelve months? I think it's because Mark recently garnered some press attention with another piece of footage recently, and was actively looking for something similar to offer the press. 

In June this year, a video filmed by Vernon in Wakefield Cathedral (left) was featured in the Daily Mail and other tabloid news outlets. I looked at it at the time and considered whether to blog about it. I decided against it because, frankly, there was nothing to really write about. Mark tells the Mail "'I was investigating it for 40 minutes - I caught a ghost, a shadow man, walking past my camera in broad daylight." And the footage alleges to show this shadow figure, but I almost literally cannot see anything. There's a slight lightening of the screen in the highlight area, but are we seriously to extrapolate from that "ghost"? Come off it. The only other supportive evidence Mark provides is that a team of spirits "told him" the identity of the ghost, and Mark highlights a snippet of audio that he believes is a spirit communicating with him. The problem with this is, as I'm sure you heard on the video, the audio is filled with the constant hum of tourists chatting. This snippet of speech is likely just part of that background hum.

Mark's YouTube channel is filled with similar non-remarkable footage filmed mostly in historic locations, I have to say I don't really doubt this man's honesty. I don't think he's a cynic out to exploit a lazy and greedy tabloid press that will accept just about anything as evidence of the paranormal, especially if it comes with a video that can be monetised. Let's face it, once you've viewed that non-skippable ad in front of Mark's videos on the Mail or the Sun or the Mirror, those companies have your money. They couldn't give a shit if ultimately, you've watched a video of nothing happening. Rather I think Mark is just a chap who sees "paranormal activity" everywhere he looks, and I also believe he genuinely enjoyed his moment of fame.

As I've mentioned before, many paranormal investigators are, as Kenny Biddle termed them, anomaly hunters. Mark's videos show him as a man with this propensity dialled up to eleven. As Mark Smith of Northern Ghost Investigations points out on the group's Facebook page, 30 years experience isn't that impressive when you're still falling for dust orbs.  When a man plays the Omen soundtrack over an image of himself with glowing white eyes shot in night vision, a simple and well-understood effect which he implies means he is possessed, it's clear there is some severe straw clutching going on. 

Likewise, videos which claim to feature "2 ghosts and an alien" (not some bizarre tribute to "2 girls one cup" I hope) show us a man who sees paranormal entities everywhere he looks, in the mundanity of the everyday world lurk ghosts and aliens. Where others see dust and fluff, dwell phantom monks and demons. As Mark told the Mail in June, in his own words:

"'I have the ability to make things happen when I walk into a room."

I think this speaks volumes about the narrative Mark has formed around himself. It's a shame that the attention he and his work have recently enjoyed in the press is closer in nature to exploitation for money-generating click-bait than genuine exposure.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Hugh Grant: The Art of Spectacularly Missing the Point.

Hugh Grant, star of...erm... lots of films.... spoke to James Corden on his Late Late Show on Thursday night regarding his experience of calling a ghost hunter to exorcise his London home after one of his three-year-old boys claimed to have seen the ghost of a little boy. The ghost hunter in question, Wendy Mandy, came recommended to him, seemingly made several visits and claimed she could exorcise the spirit haunting his child.

Grant tells us "{She} burnt about 7lb of sage, then banged a little drum and played an instrument and said all the spirits are gone"
Before concluding
"It's bollocks"
But wait! Don't post Grant's membership badge to the club of wise and venerable skeptics just yet. We may want to look at his reasons for concluding that Mandy's stick waving and herb immolation ritual isn't quite on the level first. The reason he gives is...

 Because his son saw the ghost again the next day.

What I don't understand is why Grant called Miss Mandy at all, he describes feeling "ashamed" at the whole idea of calling a "ghost-hunter". I'd say the issue isn't that he called a ghost hunter, but rather the type of ghost hunter he called. I know plenty of "ghost hunters" who would've approached Grant's request with seriousness and professionalism, I doubt he would've approved of the conclusion they came to either. He probably would've appeared on a similar chat-show complaining that skeptical ghost-hunters had dismissed the idea of his son seeing a ghost, as a normal extension of childhood imagination. Grant wanted a woo-merchant who would tell him what he wanted to hear and act in line with that. Sorry mate, sold as seen. You wanted New Age horse shit and you got it, you can't return it 'cos it stinks.

Of course, Miss Mandy (below) isn't taking this lying down. She took to the Daily Mail (where else) to berate Grant, and suggests the reason the exorcism didn't take was the fault of his cynism causing a
"negative frequency". She also claims, that she doesn't normally work with "cynics". I'd hazard a guess, that's because cynics (and skeptics) ask too many questions and may be suspicious of her methods. Like many new age practitioners, Mandy requires complete acceptance for her abilities to work. 

‘I did what I could. When you’re dealing with frequency you’re dealing with something in the intellectual left brain. Science is proving that plants have their own language, animals have their own language – it’s a frequency language, it’s not upper-class English Hugh Grant language.
Of course, this is all just obfuscation, skeptics are well accustomed to woo-peddlers using the specific excuse of "negative vibrations" they give off preventing any kind of testing using the scientific method giving positive results. James Randi has frequently described being told his "negative vibrations/energy" disrupt the abilities of those taking his million-dollar challenge to prove the paranormal. Believers in psi-phenomena have even coined a term for the phenomena "the Shyness Effect". Of course, this is just special pleading and an ad-hoc rationalisation and that is all Miss Mandy is doing here, attempting to rationalise her apparent failure. Her adoption of scientific terminology in a completely nonsensical way, pointing to non-existent scientific research and even claiming to be an expert in quantum physics, is her attempt to trick the reading audience into believing she has a level of expertise and knowledge that shouldn't be questioned.
"...It [frequency] is actually quite a complicated subject, I can tell you I’ve studied feng shui for ten years amongst other things....There is no course where you can learn what I’ve learnt. I’m the genuine article. This is science... quantum physics."
All this translates to is "I'm an expert, I couldn't possibly explain it to you peons. Just take my word for it." How about no. The "bollocks" that Mandy practices is not directly related to "quantum physics" or "frequencies", the latter of which aren't that difficult to explain really, in any way. Saying that it is, is just her attempt to avoid the inconvenience of having to explain exactly how her method works.

 Any physicist you ask will confidently assure you that the relatively young discipline of quantum mechanics has yet to find a use for the "Tibetan singing bowl" or even the burning of sage.

As for Grant, he seemingly fails to consider that there was no ghost in the first place, that instead of calmly sitting his son down and talking to him about imaginations and imaginary friends, he threw some money at the problem and resorted to New Age horse-shit. I doubt that there is a parent in the western world whose three-year-old didn't at some point claim to have seen something that isn't real. My son had a long-running relationship with an imaginary friend called Mr Monkers, a well-rounded character with many quirks and foibles, who generally was most disruptive at bath time and bed time.

Funny that. The times of day most children would do anything to avoid, Mr Monkers would suddenly appear to wreck havoc. He also had a propensity for putting his fingers in the jam.

What I did was calmly explain to my son that it was OK to creatively use his imagination, but he must remember the difference between this and reality (and that jam was far more palatable on toast rather than fingers). This kind of fantasy can be encouraged and nurtured without blindly indulging it, and it probably shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, hopefully leading to a healthy approach towards role-playing, a vital part of the childhood experience. Hopefully, this helps discourage Miss Mandy's approach to role-playing, granting oneself mystical powers which no-one else is capable of understanding, protecting these fantasies with a haze of misunderstood science and carrying it well into adulthood. 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

A Look Back at Chip Coffey's Psychic Kids: Children of The Paranormal.

I recently came across a seemingly harmless article on Week I Weird, which I thought may make some amusing reading: "Gone Too Soon: The Five Best Paranormal Reality Shows That Should Never Have Been Cancelled "  Unfortunately, the article left me rather pissed off when I saw the image  which heads it.

Why? In the top left of the image is a representation of Chip Coffey's "Psychic Kids". The person clutching their face in terror, a common image in paranormal TV shows, isn't an adult. It's a child. Also, that isn't simulated fear we're seeing there, that's a child placed in an extremely tense, scary situation in a state of absolute terror.

The show ran for three seasons between 2008 and 2010 and its basic format  was as follows: Coffey and his team met with children who claimed to have psychic abilities with the aim of "training them" or enabling them to "cope" with their experiences in some way. Usually, this involved taking them to some haunted location to "face their fear". Many of these children were clearly vulnerable and Coffey pushing his bullshit beliefs on them could potentially have done an untold amount of damage in their lives.

Perhaps the easiest way to demonstrate why I find Psychic Kids so utterly repugnant is to talk through an episode as I did in the past with the recently cancelled Ralph Sarcchie vehicle "The Demon Files". For the sake of fairness, I'm actually going to look at three episodes, Demon in the Mirror, The Ghost of Georgie and the main episode I'll focus on, season one's The Demon House. 

Needless to say, before the episode, we are met with the usual disclaimer distancing A&E from a show that they are airing, and in this case, also produced. This disclaimer is the television executive's answer to a "protective white light" it sounds good but it remains to be seen if would actually protect them from anything. In this case, legal action presumably being the concern rather than evil spirits or some such hogwash. The show begins properly, with various soundbites of some of the "psychic kids" describing how scared they are of the paranormal entities and phenomena they believe they experience. It's clear from the get go, front and centre that this show is specifically designed to exploit the fear and anxiety of the children involved to invoke catharsis from the audience. Of course, the audience is sat at home and can turn the TV off if they so chose, the "psychic kids" aren't so lucky.

After the credits, we meet the two girls who are our psychic kids for the episode, Hayley and Alexia and their mothers. Alexia is the main focus of the episode, as it is her old home in which she allegedly saw demons which the team will investigate later. The most striking thing about the segment isn't the girls themselves, who repeat the same paranormal stories we frequently hear, it is the mother's fear and distrust of mental health professionals and the whole scope of health professionals in general. 

"I can't take her to a psychiatrist... who is going to help her? An ear, nose and throat specialist?" 

Hayley's mother scoffs, as if those are the only two types of medical professionals that exist, and seemingly doesn't even consider that care workers and teachers could possibly help her child. Of course her mother never even tried a medical intervention, nor did Alexia's.

 This distrust and dismissal of the mental health industry and the general paranoia at how the outside world will deal with the kids "powers" is a common theme throughout the show, it's touched upon in every episode I've watched thus far. At one point Hayley's Mum states that if she takes Hayley to a doctor, the social services will "take her away". Hayley, displaying more common sense than anyone I saw during the three episodes states "No they won't mom." Her mother emphatically puts down this attempt at rationality.

The look of distress on Hayley's face when her mother says this is genuinely upsetting.

The other parents featured on the show express similar ideas and the general mistrust of the medical and social establishment. Likely this is encouraged to create the narrative that the heroic Coffey is the only one who can help these children, but it's an irresponsible and worrying idea promoted with perverse glee in the show. The most disgraceful thing about this permeating attitude of fear and paranoia is that the show features a trained, and well-qualified psychologist. Dr Lisa Miller (left in final image below) is Coffey's partner in crime on the show and is also a trained clinical psychologist from Columbia university. Later in the show when the mothers meet Miller they repeat their fears that their daughters will be taken away or heavily medicated if they seek professional help to her. And Miller, a qualified mental health professional, a PhD associated with a well-respected university, the director of clinical psychology no less, sits and fucking nods in agreement! One of the mothers actually suggests that her child would be given electric shock therapy, a treatment that is no longer employed anywhere in the treatment of mental health.... AND MILLER NODS!

At no stage does this doctor, this woman of science, correct the mothers about their misrepresentation of the profession in which she makes a living. I've screen capped the sequence above, is the look on Miller's face in the final image reflective of the dilemma she's faced with? She either allows the show's narrative to continue or she defends here profession from blatant and public misrepresentation. She has the opportunity here to publicly dismiss some of the stigmas that blight both mental health professionals and those that suffer from mental health issues. She chooses to allow the show's narrative of Coffey being the only person who can help these girls to continue. Now, you may be thinking that Miller could well have offered these parents legitimate help off screen, that's a possibility, but it doesn't help the audience, some of whom may share these misconceptions. Some may even have children dealing with these issues, or worse, and Miller's silence endorses the idea that they should avoid medical and social care.

Let me be clear here. Dr Lisa Miller Ph,d. You are, in my humble opinion, an absolute disgrace to your profession. Your silence during this scene is complicity. I sincerely hope your superiors at Columbia become aware of your inaction and what you helped promote on this show. You're shameful.

Miller also clearly indulges the fantasy of psychic abilities the girls have developed. At no point does she suggest any kind of testing of the girl's abilities. In the "Ghost of Freddie" episode she actually partipates in the calling forth of evil spirits!

She also thinks that placing the children in a stressful, potentially oppressive environment is a fine idea, and never issues any words of caution at all. This is all relayed in a conversation that is bizarrely filmed from in a bush and behind a tree, possibly in an attempt at creating an impression that this was filmed without Coffey and Miller's knowledge, which is clearly nonsense as they are obviously micced. So Miller thinks this experience would be helpful to the girls, is that her professional opinion? Is she prepared to stake her reputation on it? I doubt it. Probably why she insisted on being filmed from the shrubbery.

On to Coffey. One thing I notice is Chip seems to have a thinly veiled disdain for his charges in the show. His relationship with them is cold, he shows little warmth or affection towards them. As a side note, I find this is often the case with self-proclaimed psychics. Chip claims he is going to teach the girls methods to protect themselves but actually teaches them.... well nothing. All he seems to do is accept the paranormal claims they throw out and agree with them, never elaborating on what is offered and responding as monosyllabically as possible, often mumbling "Ahmm" as an answer. Never mind communicating with the dead, from what I see over the three episodes I watched, Coffey can barely communicate with the living!

The image above comes from a scene when Coffey takes Alexa to a dock near her home to "test her power" by detecting  spirit she has supposedly seen there. Everything she throws out Coffey simply confirms, it's quite laughable:

Alexa: It's gone cold....

Coffey: Freezing...

Alexa: I feel him in my stomach...

Coffey: I feel  it in my gut...

This is supposed to confirm Alexa's abilities, but that's only valid if we assume Coffey also has these abilities. There's no attempt at verification and the whole scene simply appears as a grown man indulging a child's fantasy.

Of course, Coffey's role is greater than that. When the children are placed in stressful and frightening situations Coffey amps up the anxiety by warning of things such as "negative entities". The general approach of the show is also driven towards the aim of ensuring the children involved are as scared as possible. As with most ghost-hunting TV shows all investigations are conducted in the dark with night vision cameras. This is despite most of the children clearly describing having experiences in broad daylight. The reason for this is clear, the participants in the show must be afraid, or the audience won't be afraid. This is the basic premise of catharsis, if these children aren't afraid, why would we, the audience feel the thrill of fear?

The third act of the three episodes I watched all revolved around one of the children involved "facing their fear". We're told this is necessary for the kids, but we're never actually told why it's necessary.  So it's the  third act when the kids are exposed to high pressure, tense and particularly scary environments. It's these sections that expose Psychic kids as pure exploitation. In "Demon House"  Alexa is being taken back to her old home where she believes she has encountered evil spirits to confront them again. This confrontation must, of course, be conducted at midnight and in the pitch black. She seems visibly shaken returning to the house, but repeats she has to do it for "reasons". I think that Alexa, despite her fear, enjoys the attention of being the focus of this narrative, Hayley less so.

At the house comes the only example I found of Chip disagreeing with one of his charges when Alexa suggests that a noise is just the wind. "No it wasn't!" he snaps in an admonishing tone. Coffey won't tolerate any attempt at rational thinking.

Alexa corrects her error by immediately "sensing" a laughing figure. Coffey reacts by shouting "whoa" at apparently nothing and the girls flee the house in terror. Chip remains in the house, looking around with the blank expression more befitting a ventriloquist's dummy than a man who has just terrified two teenage girls, while Hayley consoles a seemingly genuinely upset Alexa.

When Coffey finally comes out to console the girls, he does so by suggesting to these already scared and vulnerable children that what they encountered was a demon.

The kids agree this is a demon, and Chip drafts in two self-appointed experts, Linda Isbell who claims to have been a demonologist for 26 years and Beth Roberts who doesn't tell us how long she's been an expert in things that don't exist... sorry... a demonologist. Their role is to "cleanse" Alexa's old home. The episode goes out with a whimper rather than a bang, with the girls returning to the house with Chip and the crew. Alexa declares the demon cannot hurt her anymore and we're done.

Bizarrely, all three episodes end in this exact way. In the episode "Demon in the Mirror" Coffey acts out a role play in which one of the Psychic Kids is physically dragged in front of the titular mirror to banish a "demon lady". It's a weirdly uncomfortable scene and one that gives a very clear picture of Coffey. As he stands in front of the girls, arms crossed giving orders in militaristic tones, it's very clear he is enjoying the control he has over the situation immensely. He strikes me as a rather pathetic little man, probably the ideal choice for a show like this, who else would be so desperate for affirmation that they would have to seek it by exploiting potentially vulnerable children?

I hope I've demonstrated how exploitative this show actually was. It certainly wasn't just harmless paranormal fluff like other psychic and ghost hunting TV shows. As parents and Aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters we work tirelessly to protect our children from being placed in unnecessary stressful and frightening situations. Making a child who believes in demons go into a "haunted house" at midnight, one which holds horrible memories for them, be they false or otherwise, or physically forcing them to stare into a mirror in which they believe they have seen a "demon" is unspeakably cruel.

I'll leave you with this. The three children (below) featured in "Ghost of Freddie" episode are twelve, eleven and eight years old. At the end of the episode, Coffey sits in a room with them calling forth "evil spirits" with Dr Miller. These aren't adults. Not even teenagers. I don't ever want to see children subjected to such ideas and conditions for my amusement. Psychic Kids should not come back. it should have been commissioned, it's a blight on the careers of everyone involved. If you think that show was in any way acceptable, that it was justified in placing minors in a position in which they are so scared, then you need to have a serious think about the about the amount of suffering you think is acceptable for entertainment's sake.