Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Burden of Proof

More and more skeptical themed websites and blogs are popping up now-a-days. While I appreciate this trend, it's also producing more dilemmas for the skeptical community. I have been seeing more and more "debunking" of photos and videos lately and it has me thinking, just because someone has created a more plausible explanation doesn't automatically deem the subject debunked. The explanation might just be as much bunk as the original claim. For instance, I have seen several videos debunking the video of the Savanna cemetery ghost. While it could have been spanish moss or a deliberate hoax, both concepts are pure speculation. There's nothing wrong with coming up with alternate suggestions, but substantial proof is still necessary. It's a double edged sword.
Same with this photo that's been making the rounds on the paranormal forums.

While it could has been created with photoshop, it also could have been created by shooting through a pane of glass, or just a lousy picture taken in a poorly lit environment. If we skeptics demand solid proof, I think we owe it to the rest of the crowd to give the same. As for this photo, There are many ways it could be duplicated, but I cannot make any claims about it. I don't have enough information.

We skeptics are supposed to be the rational ones. Let's try and set an example.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Swamp monster duplicity

Although I'm getting a little sick of it, more evidence has come to light.
This picture has been making the rounds and most sources point to this thread on
Sources provided a screen cap of the post, too.
Also provided were the alleged original files:

What's nice about having the original files is that you can examine the EXIF data. Unfortunately, these were not the original files and have both been edited. However, the pixel size of these pictures do not correspond with each other, which suggests manipulation.

So, we're relatively sure that the monster image has been manipulated. The next step is searching for traces of it.

One odd thing I noted is that every leaf and twig seem to be in the exact position in the two photos, as can be seen in this superimposition:

What's odd about that is that, according to the time stamps, these pictures were taken nine days apart. You would expect to see some change. Though, this image proves that the deer photo was not the original photo. The only detectable trace of manipulation I could find is the dark "halo" around the monsters head. Originally I thought that it could have been a shadow, but the IR light cast from the camera originates in the center and this dark area stretches to the left (center). This seems to indicate that the smudge tool was used to blend the foreign object (the monster) into the background image.

None of this evidence supports or denies the claims made that this is a part of a viral marketing campaign of any sort, However it does support the fact that this is a digitally manipulated image.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Now taking requests

Shadow of a Doubt has expanded and is now taking submissions. This new service offers professional analysis and interpretation of alleged evidence of the paranormal.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Swamp Monster addendum

Update: postulates that the swamp monster photo is part of a viral marketing campaign for the upcoming Resistance 3. Insomniac games' tweeted
Whoops… looks like one got out. If you see a Grim on the loose… please return to Insomniac Games, Burbank, CA:
The "Grim" is a new strain of the Chimera enemy that first appeared in Resistance 2.

I make no claims to the accuracy of this report.

Newer update:
More internet speculation. According to, this image is Super 8 viral marketing that began on a hunting supply site's Facebook page and wended its way to mainstream media:
It first appeared on Wildgame Innovation's Facebook page. It is a picture reportedly snapped by a deer hunter on a reserve in Berwick, near Morgan City, Louisianna [sic]. It was originally being passed off as real, but now inside sources close to the production say its actually a viral image from Super 8 (the Steven Spielberg-produced and J.J. Abrams-directed alien flick ). There is even video from a young Weirton, West Virginia extra called "Crying Girl", who talks about having a run in with this creature in the movie.

I'm going to maintain the position that this is just a simple hoax for now.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Swamp Monster caught on trail cam

Let's nip this in the bud.
This story is popping up on all of the blogs I read and thankfully, most people agree that it's fake. However, the fact that it made the news is sad.
Ok, yeah, it looks pretty fake, but the submitter claims "this is not a hoax!". Really? Was it a hoax the previous time you submitted it to a trail cam forum?

Hmm, something fishy going on here... Did you see it?


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Soviet Saucer

This is going to be a quick one.
There has been some buzz about an alleged UFO photo emerging from an old Russian Air Force retiree. He claims that the photographed this UFO at an air force base in Shpitzbergen.
the news of this allegedly originated from POPMECH.RU, but I have had some difficulty finding it.

It's pretty obvious that this is a hoax at first glance, but I felt it necessary to do the 2 minutes of google searching to find the original photo.

Case closed.
There are other ways of knowing that this was a hoax without locating the original photo. The most obvious to me is that the photographer didn't center the UFO in the picture. What was he taking a picture of, the Mig or the UFO? Also, the Plane is at the focal point, meaning the UFO should appear significantly blurred, which it is not. The colors seem a bit off, being that this photo was allegedly taken in the 1950s as well, though I'm not expert on that subject.

The fact that this was taken seriously by anyone is a serious problem. Especially that it was considered news.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Spirit photography

As defined on Wikipedia, Spirit photography is a type of photography whose primary attempt is to capture images of ghosts and other spiritual entities, especially in ghost hunting. It was first used by William H. Mumler in the 1860s. Mumler discovered the technique by accident, after he discovered a second person in a photograph he took of himself, which he found was actually a double exposure. Seeing there was a market for it, Mumler started working as a medium, taking people's pictures and doctoring the negatives to add lost loved ones into them (mostly using other photographs as basis). Mumler's fraud was discovered after he put identifiable living Boston residents in the photos as spirits.

Let's think about this for a moment. The idea is taking a photograph of something we, as humans, cannot see with the naked eye. What special property do cameras posses that our eyes lack?
Let's briefly explore how a camera works .
A camera allows light to enter the lens by opening the shutter, the light refracts when entering the lens and converges at a focal point. The photo emlusive film reacts to the light focused on it, creating an image on the film. This is essentially how our eyes work as well. Just replace the film with our retinas.

For this to apply to ghosts, they would need to be able to either emit light or reflect natural light. Meaning, we would see them! Some have claimed that they exist outside of the visual spectrum.

First, we can throw out the idea that they're emitting this energy, because they would have to somehow collect or ingest energy first to transfer radiant energy.

Now, let's begin at the low energy end and work up. Cameras would be very useless if they could "see" radio or microwaves, being that the air is full of them. Not only from space, but radio stations, cellphone towers, satellite transmissions.
Infrared, or IR, is detectable by specific types of cameras. It's essentially heat energy. If heat were being reflected off of a ghost, the ghost in turn would be heated, you could imagine. I can point out that this is contrary to the descriptions made by ghost hunters, claiming ghost create cold spots.
After the IR comes the visible spectrum followed by Ultraviolet. Most ultraviolet rays are blocked by ozone, and those that aren't can be dangerous to humans. Typically, you don't hear of ghost hunters getting melanoma from haunted houses.
Next are X-rays. Prolonged exposure to x-rays can be very dangerous and even more so in the case of Gamma rays, which can destroy cells. These harmful rays are blocked by Earth's atmosphere anyway.

Where do ghost fit in? They don't. Photographic evidence of ghosts will never exist because it simply is impossible.
"But, wait!", you say. I have seen pictures of something that was not visible at the time, but appeared on film.

ORBS, or sometimes "spirit lights", have been a trend in the paranormal community since the mid-eighties. Thankfully, it seems that most people are catching on to the reality behind this phenomenon, but some still cling to the paranormal explanation.
To put this as simply as possible, orbs are particles near the the camera, but out of the focus region, that are illuminated by the camera's flash. The end.

Some paranormalists believe that there are true orbs among the misidentified ones (typically, there own orb photos) and that they can distinguish the two easily. Others say that orbs are not spirits at all, but energy being transfered from batteries and power-lines to the ghost, allowing it to manifest. This idea is easily shot down by the fact that energy travels in the path of least resistance. Traveling down a conductive wire and then exiting through an insulated coating then traveling through the air in a globular form truly breaks the laws of physics. Sorry.

So, having established the fact that spirit photography is impossible, how do I reconcile all of the photographs of ghosts being taken everyday?

There's an app for that.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fact or Faked

Fact or Faked is a fairly new show from the Syfy network described as the following (from the official website):
"Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files revolutionizes paranormal programming by investigating the evidence witnesses post on the Internet every day. Have you ever seen a photo or video online and wondered, "Is this real?" This is the show that will answer that question.

Heading up the Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files team is Ben Hansen, a former FBI agent with a life-long fascination with the paranormal. Now, having left the agency, he leads a young team of intrepid investigators who will convene to dissect the latest unusual images and decide whether they merit further investigation. Grainy videos will be brought to life as the team conducts thorough and elaborate experiments in an attempt to recreate the phenomena, and Ben will make the final choice which cases will require a trip into the field.

Once an investigation is underway, the team will talk to witnesses, carry out experiments using the latest in high tech detection devices, collect physical samples, and determine whether a case should be debunked, or whether it's a baffling paranormal mystery that might even put the team in danger. It's all in a day's work for the dogged investigators of Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files."

I like the concept of this show. however, they seem to apply the same method of thinking as the rest of the paranormal shows, If A=3 and B=5 and the equation before you is A+B=X, and you cannot solve it….one should not assume that X does not exist and maybe you should just solve for Y.

A fine example of this was their mid-season finale in which they investigate a video submitted by an amateur ghost hunter of an alleged apparition.

(please excuse the video quality)

Here are some stills of the "ghost train"

's a spider.

This fact goes unnoticed as the team comes up with much more elaborate explanations in an effort to "debunk" the video:

Guys, it's a spider.

Driving ATVs through a graveyard is awesome, though.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Pseudoscience of Ghost Hunting part 3: "Going Dark"

I almost overlooked this, but it's a staple of every ghost hunting show on TV. Why paranormal investigators turn off the lights during investigations.

The answer might seem pretty obvious once you give it
a second of thought, but I didn't want to be too hasty, so I did a little searching. Although I did find more insight into this method than with the EMF meters, I didn't come across anything that I would call a theory.

First, there is the thought that if you deprive one of your senses, you will enhance the
rest. This is a pretty common idea, most likely stemming from the belief that blind people have hightened senses. Turns out, that's something of a myth.
A blind person's senses are no better developed than the average person's. Blind people do, however, tend to use their othe
r senses more effectively and with more awareness, out of necessity. This greater awareness is one of the
factors that has perpetuated the myth that becoming blind heightens the other senses.

Another source claimed that in the dark your eyes are more dialated, therefore ghosts will require less energy (photons) to manifest. If you don't think about it too hard, maybe that makes sense. However, you dont want to make it so easy for a ghost to manifest that they can do it without even existing.

So, is there a benifit to filming in nightvision?

Since this was going nowhere, I thought i'd look to the source. I found Ghost Hunters International's own Barry Fitzgerald and Dustin Pari's book, "The Complete Approach: A Scientific and Metaphysical Guide To The Paranormal". Given that they are stars of a ghost hunting TV show and they used the word "scientific" in the title of the book, I'd find some answers.

Instead, I found this quote:
"Infrared light feels like acid to ghosts in certain stages of manifestation. Ultraviolet light is similarly ghost-toxic."

I've humored this subject for far too long. Why do they turn off the lights? Because it's spooky. Consumer-grade video equipment doesn't work well in dim light, so the resultant grainy, digitally-distorted image will essentially be a Rorschach test. It's supposed to be scary.

The Pseudoscience of Ghost Hunting part 2: EMF

We've seen them on every ghost hunting show. They're marketed as ghost meters by many providers. EMF meters are widely believed to detect the presence of spirits, but where did this idea come from? Could ghosts actually produce an electromagnetic field? Or is the appeal stemmed from the famous PKE meter from the Ghostbusters movies?

I have exhausted all of my own resources trying to find the original thought behind ghosts and EMF. No one i can find seems to know why emf meters are used. I can only presume that most amateur groups are only emulating what they see on tv. My guess is, in the effort to sound scientific, ghost hunters will use any piece of fancy technology they can afford (being that the now less popular Geiger counters are so expensive) and attach scientific sounding techno- babble. Who's going to question it? Ask any ghost hunter about what electromagnetic fields are and how they're produced. I doubt you'll get a concise answer. It all sounds impressive, so people buy into it.
So, what is an electromagnetic field? Shortly, it's the combination of an electric field and a magnetic field . The electric field is produced by stationary charges and the magnetic field by moving charges (currents), these two are often described as the sources of the field.

Plugging a wire into an outlet creates electric fields in the air surrounding the appliance. The higher the voltage the stronger the field produced. Since the voltage can exist even when no current is flowing, the appliance does not have to be turned on for an electric field to exist in the room surrounding it.

Magnetic fields are created when the electric current flows. Magnetic fields and electric fields then exist together in the room environment. The greater the current the stronger the magnetic field. High voltages are used for the transmission and distribution of electricity whereas relatively low voltages are used in the home. Electric fields around the wire to an appliance only cease to exist when the appliance is unplugged or switched off at the wall. They will still exist around the cable behind the wall.

Of course, there are larger sources of EMF including the Earth itself. This is how compass' point north, but the types of EMF detected with "ghost meters" measure low frequency fields. Like that of a refrigerator, cell phone or a tv camera.

Another thing I’ve noticed is how many investigators hold and rotate the detector while taking measurements. This may or may not be an issue depending on the EMF detector. If it’s a single pole detector then it becomes a major issue, which the majority of EMF detectors being employed are of this type. The reason it’s such an issue is that single pole detectors are polarized, therefore changing orientation of the meter can change it’s ability to accurately measure the strength of an EM field.This can lead to the false conclusion that a field has died off when in reality the field hasn’t changed strength at all

Surprisingly, most ghost hunters know most of this, but they still continue to use them. Why would they do so? I wager that the only reason they use EMF detectors at all is because they so easily find "anomalies." Rather than think about the fact that they seem to find such anomalies everywhere they go, they declare each and everyone paranormal.

The Pseudoscience of Ghost Hunting part 1: EVP

Electronic Voice Phenomena. Recorded voices of the discarnate,
discovered on playback of audio recording devices. A common practice of amateur ghost hunters using cassette recorders or dictaphones. Typically during an investigation, a series of questions are asked with a moment of silence between them. Afterward, the audio is poured over and scrutinized, listening for answers from the deceased and more often than not, they are successful.
Spend two minutes on google and you'll find dozens of examples of this. Here are a few selections:

Can you hear them? They're a little hard to make out, but listen again. The first one says, "Shit happens." and the second says "I'm Bob."
Now, that's all dependent on the interpretation of the person reviewing the audio.

The EVP phenomena first emerged in 1959 when Swedish opera singer
Friedrich Jurgenson noticed a strange sound on one of his recordings of bird songs. It was a voice allegedly saying something along the lines of "Bird songs at night". Jurgenson assumed it was little more than radio or CB interference until he discovered the voices reoccurred and seemed to be speaking directly to him. After a long series of these recordings, Jurgenson was compelled to write books of these anomallies, Rosterna fran Rymden (“Voices from space”) and later, Sprechfunk mit Verstorbenen (“Radio-link with the dead”).

In 1964, Latvian psychologist Dr Konstantin Raudive read Rosterna fran Rymden and arranged to meet Jurgenson. In '65 they conducted a series of recordings and interprited one of such to have recorded a number of voices speaking in German, French, and Latvian including the phrase “Va dormir, Margarete” ("Go to sleep, Margaret”).
Raudive later wrote : “These words made a deep impression on me, as Margarete Petrautzki had died recently, and her illness and death had greatly affected me.” After he spent the last years of his life exploring this phenomina, recording over 100,000 audio recordings. This culminated in the 1971 publication of his book Breakthrough

Raudive developed several different approaches to recording EVP, and he referred to:

  1. Microphone voices: one simply leaves the tape recorder running, with no one talking; he indicated that one can even disconnect the microphone.
  2. Radio voices: one records the white noise from a radio that is not tuned to any station.
  3. Diode voices: one records from what is essentially a crystal set not tuned to a station.

Raudive delineated a number of characteristics of the voices, (as laid out in Breakthrough):

  1. “The voice entities speak very rapidly, in a mixture of languages, sometimes as many as five or six in one sentence.”
  2. “They speak in a definite rhythm, which seems forced on them.”
  3. “The rhythmic mode imposes a shortened, telegram-style phrase or sentence.”
  4. Probably because of this, “grammatical rules are frequently abandoned and neologisms abound.”
Today, nearly every paranormal investigator, including the groups featured on cable tv, practice in the recording of EVPs and there are roughly 50,000 websites dedicated to the recordings.

Here are some more examples:

Pretty compelling, right? Seems like more than just misinterpretations of white noise (excluding the hoaxes). How can anyone claim that it is anything but definite speech?

Now listen to "this" .

Sine-wave speech is a form of artificially degraded speech first developed by Robert Remez and Philip Rubin at Haskins Laboratory.

In this work, Remez and colleagues demonstrated a dramatic change in the way in which sine-wave speech sentences are perceived, depending on listener's specific prior knowledge.

Most naive listeners hear this as a set of simultaneous whistles, or science fiction sounds. However, for listeners that have previously heard this "sound" . Now listen to the first again.

Listening to the sine-wave speech sound again produces a very different perception of a fully intelligible spoken sentence. This dramatic change in perception is an example of "perceptual insight" or pop-out. We have argued that this form of pop-out is an example of a top-down perceptual process produced by higher-level knowledge and expectations concerning sounds that can potentially be heard as speech

Here is another example:

"sinewave 1" "clear speech 1"

The problem is that anyone recording these "voices" (in the case of ghost hunting) is already looking for them. They have a prior bias and are going to over- examine any anomalous sound and claim they hear speech. I believe that in most cases, the real culprit behind hearing voices of the dead in your tape recordings is Paradoilia. Yes, the same reason you see Jesus in your cheetos. After all, how is the spirit of a deceased person able to produce sound without vocal chords? The human brain is a very powerful tool, able to proccess random information into recognizable images and sounds. This is how we developed language and writing. Don't sell yourself short by writing these sounds off as something paranormal.