Friday, 27 February 2015

Hooray for The Daily Mail! A New Level of Stupid every day.

This is going to be brief.

The last few months have truly set a bench mark for the stories the tabloid press will sell as "paranormal". I wrote about a few here and here and here. These were all pretty bad. Today's story in the Mail surpasses all of them for sheer inanity and stupidity.

It clearly shows that anything, literally anything could be labelled "paranormal" and sold to The Mail and most of the other tabloids. Brace yourself for this: A TODDLER FELL OVER!

Shocking I know! Take a look at this video and decide how unusual you think this incident is.

Now, do we REALLY need to recourse to the supernatural to explain this?

Here'e the article, I don't have to link to because there is so little text I can happily repeat without worrying about you getting bored:

"This home video shows the eerie moment a one-year-old girl was pulled to the ground by a mysterious unseen force.
Lexi Hood was playing peek-a-boo with her father, Gareth, and mother, Charlene, 31, at home in Bridgend, Wales, when she was suddenly knocked to the ground.
Mr Hood, 35, said his daughter, who he described as 'sturdy on her feet', said 'naughty boy' as if she was telling someone off.

He added that strange creaking sounds had been heard in the house ever since.
The clip, taken while the family was watching a film three weeks ago, shows Lexi standing in front of the TV with her hands over her eyes. "

That's it. 112 words. This isn't a news story. Its nothing.

Well nothing except an insult to journalism. And an insult to Mail readers. AND an insult to people who may actually believe in ghosts. Believers in the paranormal aren't stupid, I say that even though I don't happen to agree with an on most paranormal subjects and I often think that they ignore important elements of their belief.

There's no doubt they need to be more discerning, and stop sharing BULLSHIT like this.

I give you an explanation of this video in under 112 words.

"Toddlers are just getting accustoming to walking. Their heads are proportionally much larger than their bodies, their legs are weak. No toddler is "steady on their feet", this means they sometimes struggle to balance. And when they lose their balance, they stumble and occasionally fall. That's what we see here."

There 49 words. Done.

If you believe in the paranormal and ghosts in particular, please think before you share "what does this say about me and my beliefs?" If you must visit the site, use DO NOT LINK, don't give them the hits, because that's all these stories are Click Bait. And if you do visit the site, search the video and watch it YouTube, that way the Mail, or The Mirror doesn't get the advertising revenue.

And if we all started doing that, watch how fast this bullshit dries up.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Don't get your Hampton Court.

The Daily Mirror reports today Holly Hampsheir,12, has captured the image of the Grey Lady of Hampton court, Dame Sybil Penn, as she photographed cousin Brook. It appears that Penn has had a make-over, perhaps inspired by watching the Woman in Black or Insidious.

 The Mirror insists that the photograph has been examined by "an expert" who claims it is genuine. No mother details, such as this expert's name or qualifications, are given nor is he/she directly quoted.

While the photo may not display any immediately obvious signs of fakery there are some interesting inconsistencies within the story: Holly's second name is given as Hampsheir in the text, yet the photographs are label Holly Mcgee. The photographs are also labelled "PAY-HOLLY-MCGEE". Forgive the cynicism, but there's your motive right there too.

Perhaps more relevant is the fact that Holly's mum, Angie, is quoted as follows:
“ I was speechless. There was no one else in that room and she’s floating through the rope. Those ropes were alarmed.”
Firstly these don't appear to be the type of ropes that would be alarmed, they appear to be bog-standard ropes that delineate where tourists are, and are not allowed to walk. Also the ghost does not appear to passing through the rope at all. In fact it appears very in-transparent, none of the scenery behind the ghost is visible through the image. The orientation and positioning of the Grey lady seems out of sync with the picture, almost as if its a flat image inserted into the picture at a later point.

Angie claim that the girls were alone in the room also appears false. The image above clearly shows a shadow of someone facing Brooke in the doorway of the room.

This second image seemingly shows someone else with a camera bag, at the left edge of the picture:

Surely these two individuals would of been in prime place to see this "ghost"?

The second picture also highlights another flaw the the girl's story: Both claim that they sensed nothing on the day, and it was only later when they checked the photos that they discovered the Grey Lady.If this is the case why is Brook staring back at the EXACT spot where the ghost would appear in the first picture? Why was the second snap taken at all? Its from the virtually the same position and angle as the first.

Mark Smith of NGI, Nothern Ghost Investigations, made the interesting observation: the ghost seems to be a composite of Brook's hair and the jacket of the wellington boot wearing individual on the right of the second picture:

He adds that this effect can be caused when an iPhone is set to "panoramic" and two objects pass through its field of view.

Its telling that the Mirror chose to omit this second picture.

Of course none of this is conclusive, but that is why "ghost" photography will never be adequate evidence of the paranormal. Fakery is too easy, and too profitable.

Yep,  Mick West at Metabunk has confirmed what Mark stated. Here is his demonstration:

To see more and you absolutely should, visit him here

Fantastic job by Mick & Mark. Well done to both of you.

I'd say this is case closed.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Caspers: Worst Ghost Photos of 2014

Originally Posted On Skeptic's Boot 24/02/15

Its the end of awards season, so when better to launch an award for the lamest ghost photos of 2014? Well DURING awards season would be the obvious answer, but I only just thought of this and I didn't want to wait until next year.

As you will see I've designed a trophy that is every bit as resplendent as the creators and propagators of the winning entry deserve. No expense and minutes on mircosoft paint have been spent... I mean spared. I'm sure the winners will proudly display their virtual trophy on their websites and social media profiles for years to come.
The only criteria for entry is I had to come across it during 2014. Many of the photos were produced pre-2014, that doesn't matter.

Social Media Simpletons: Did they REALLY think they would get away with these?

1. The exposed tit.

Guess what? It was from an app. 

2. A load of old RAPs. Courtesy of Radford Area Paranormal Society or RAPS.  

This one came with this message: "Greetings to all
Here are two photo's taken back to back in a house that is experiencing "scratching" on all the doors and the walls from what we have learned. This family did some "FALSE" practices (ways of the world) to try and rid their home of the activity taking place. As a result from what their improper actions done they have amplified this activity and now the entity is manifesting to the family.
As of tonight we have verified that these are authentic pictures taken over this past weekend, as we received these yesterday and verified truthful from a family member and stated not faked at all.
These were sent to one of our Investigators to look at and discuss. The pictures were taken split seconds apart from a smart phone as best as could be captured from the hard scratching on the door that was taking place.
We wanted to share with all of you and we hope to discuss the Demonic activity with the family to set them free from the nightmare they are now in.
Pray for this family."

False practices you say! Err... would that be the false practice of using a Ghost app to insert a scary little girl into your picture? As exposed by TK Anderson on the excellent "There's a (Ghost) App for that" Facebook page. 

The Media "who is checking this stuff?" award. 

1. Scratch that Mitch: Mitch Conner and the Graveyard Ghost (almost every paper)
As exposed on this very page.
The most shocking thing about this one was it ran in almost every major tabloid in the UK, and it took me, with the help of April Abercrombie, less than ten minutes to expose Mitch's fakery:


2. You're not Shona believe these ones! The Daily Mirror
This poor family were followed around the York Prison Museum by a menacing little girl ghost, who had the nerve to appear as the same image in EVERY photo!

Kids these days! 
Here she is sat next to their computer, as they fake photos of her to sell to the Mirror!  
She didn't get a cut, no wonder she looks pissed off!
Seriously though the image appears on several ghost apps this one came from Ghost Prank. 

The "Every Breath you Take (a photograph of)" award for best moisture. 

1. Its Breath. 

2. Its Breath.

3. Its B... Spaghetti Bolognese? 

And Finally...The "what the hell is that supposed to be" Life Time Achievement award goes to...

The Rev, Neal Farley for these entries. 

1. Errr... Cookie Monster? 

2. Errrr... Woody (without his hat)?


Honourable Mentions

Slow shutter speed.

Every orb Photo... Ever

This awesome camera strap from 1999!

So that's it. I could have literally chose a hundred more. Chose your nominees if you like. I'm not really bothered who wins. 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Dear Amy.... Addressing common misconceptions about skeptics.

Originally posted on Skeptic's Boot 17/02/15
This blog is a response to a message posted by Amy Bruni on facebook today 16/02/15. The reason I'm writing back to Amy is I think that she has some common misconceptions about skeptics and, in particular, the operations and causes they take up.
For those of you who don't know, Amy is one of the investigators on "Ghost Hunters", one of the more popular examples of the current glut of paranormal TV shows. As such, she's never really registered that much with me. I don't mean this as a slight. I don't bother with paranormal investigation shows, they are nothing but fluff really. The methods they use are laughable and the results obtained, frankly, questionable to say the least.

Here's Amy's post:

Dear Amy,

I am writing to you in response to a widely shared Facebook post you made on 16/02/15. as it seems to repeat some of the many misconceptions and misunderstandings "believers" tend to have about "skeptics". Chiefly the confusion between a "skeptic" and a "cynic". A cynic seeks to dismiss claims out of hand regardless of evidence. This is a position that is almost as illogical as accepting a claim without evidence. A skeptic is simply a person looking for evidence to verify a claim before they accept it. A cynic is close minded. A skeptic, usually, anything but.

Don't confuse the two.

I agree with your proposal of everyone's right to hold a belief, or a set of beliefs. But this is quite different than stating that these beliefs should remain unchallenged! Its also quite different to imply that all beliefs are equally valid. Put simply, beliefs that are ill-formed and based on little to no evidence, should be challenged.

Amy do you really think that its "weird" that skeptics seek out disscussions with believers? I don't. I think that many believers don't come to skeptical meetings because they don't want their beliefs challenged. They aren't secure enough in their beliefs to defend them. Most skeptics would love believers to come to skeptical conferences, most of us love talking about these topics. Most of us like to be challenged!

Why should believers and skeptics remain separate?

For many believers this is a matter of convenience and comfort, they simply don't want to consider opposition to their position. That isn't healthy and its certainly not productive.

That's the opposite of why skeptics such as myself engage with the conversation. I'm comfortable in my approach to the supernatural, so I'm willing to look at the opposing views. Many believers want this too, they are adopting a skeptical outlook as well.  Because scepticism isn't a whole hearted rejection of any and all beliefs. Its adopting the scientific method to analyse claims and beliefs. This isn't a negative thing, nor does it mean that believers immediately have to drop any or all belief. They just have to accept that the evidence isn't there yet. Whether they continue to look or not. That's down to them.

Why would anyone want to limit this growth, which comes through interaction?

Unless they stand to lose something, of course.

You talk about skepticism as a belief system. It isn't, and this is an extremely common misrepresentation. Skepticism is a common position that is held by most of the world's population Amy. For example, when you shop for a used car and you check under the hood, look for rust and check the wheel bearings, you are applying skepticism. You are not accepting the word of the seller verbatim. You are wanting to obverse and test things for yourself. Its sensible. It would be reckless to do otherwise, right?

Now if that seller, refused to allow you to examine that car, If they were filled if righteous indignation and demanded you leave their property, and further more implied that you were some how, less of a person for trying to impart some of what you had learned about the car to other potential buyers... you'd be mighty suspicious of their motivation wouldn't you?

So you can conclude there that skepticism is a process that you've gone through to examine a specific claim. Yet turning that process on claims of the supernatural is somehow distasteful to you it seems. Why should we question the claims of the used car sales man but leave the psychic unchecked?

You then move on to the subject of skeptical activism. I have a quite strong stance on this. Believers should not be opposing skeptical activism, they should be WHOLE HEARTEDLY SUPPORTING IT.

There is absolutely no doubt that there are frauds and charlatans at work in the paranormal field. Even the strongest believer would have to admit that there those in the field who are claiming such skills and abilities falsely for the purpose of extracting money from others. If you are a believer surely you would want these fraudsters exposed?

I've talked about this "sorting of the wheat from the chaff" in the paranormal field for some time, in my opinion its about time that believers started working with skeptics on projects such as Susan Gerbic's excellent two-part Operation Bumblebee and Ice cream Cone, which exposed techniques used by a particular psychic. Surely this is a good thing for believers?

Unless you have a sinking feeling that maybe all psychics are faking their abilities in one way or other, either knowingly or unknowingly. Maybe you feel that when one of the cards is removed the whole house of cards is at risk?

In that case it would prudent to discourage these kind of actions. Polarising believers to see "skeptics" as the enemy somehow. To create and us versus them type mentality. Would this help persuade believers not to scrutinise any claims at all?

As for us skeptics having something better to do: yep there's lots we could all be doing to help the poor and the needy. Your BLATANT appeal to emotion there is duly noted. I for one happen to think that it is DAMN important to encourage others to think critically. And that's all skeptics involved in this kind of action are doing.

We want people to think more critically. We aren't telling anyone what to think. We want to show people how to think more clearly.

And the brilliant thing is, we've all been there. Most skeptics were at some time, believers of some description. Hell, many of us still are.

There was a time when I believed all sorts of nonsense. No one could have discouraged me from having these beliefs, but when I started to read about critical thinking and the importance of evidence and testing and the burden of proof, etc... I started to untangle these things naturally, by myself.

But its not like encouraging critical thinking could save a life is it?

Actually... I'm pretty positive that it could.

Gloria Sam, a child who died of a severe, but treatable skin compliant, in Austarlia 2009 could have perhaps been saved if her parents had been exposed to critical thinking. If they had consulted standard health care instead of relying on homeopathy, I have little doubt she would be alive, and they would not be jailed.

What about the children of a Maryland Mother who murdered them in an "exorcism" attempt last year? Would they still be alive if their mother had been exposed to critical thinking techniques? Would they still be alive if there was less propagation of the idea of demons and possession as fact throughout the media?

One can only speculate. But I'd be willing to bet the the promotion of critical thinking would definitely lessen human suffering as a whole. If you need persuading of the URGENT need for the encouragement of critical thinking visit What's The Harm. There you will find a whole raft of cases were a little critical thinking could have lessened suffering, or saved a child's life.

What's this got to do with exposing of psychics, and the highlighting of faked evidence for ghosts, or something as simple as pointing out that "orbs" aren't the spirits of the dead, but very explainable phenomena?

The connection is that critical thinking has to start somewhere, often it starts small.

Sometimes it takes practice, sometimes it takes the simpler demonstrations to lead to something greater and more worthwhile.

Early on in your post, you use the word "accosting". Again I think this is an appeal to emotion. But I'd like to show you a real "accosting". This is a video of the abuse, skeptic Mark Tilbrook received whilst handing out leaflets outside a Sally Morgan show last year. The perpetrators were Morgan's husband and son. The abuse including numerous homophobic slurs and threats of violence.


 The next time you decide to use such a hyperbolic phrase as "accosting" perhaps you could consider the abuse Tilbrook received and question "Is a skeptic asking for evidence of a claim really on a par with that?"

Tilbrook's crime was simply one of trying to encourage critical thinking. His leaflet (reproduced below) did not attack Morgan or any other physic directly. It was simply designed to encourage critical thinking about psychic's and their methods. Why would this warrant such aggression?

Hopefully reading this may of better informed you on the skeptical approach, and hopefully persuaded you that critical thinking is a desperately needed commodity.

Robert Lea
- Skeptic's Boot.

Friday, 6 February 2015

A Haunted British Pub You Say! Most unusual!

Originally published on Skeptic's Boot 6/02/15
Actually not so much if you believe the tabloids.

When people from other countries think of Great Britian I wonder what first pops into mind? Fish "n" chips? Bad Teeth? Football hooliganism? All silly out-dated sterotypes of course... but what about the good old fashioned British pub, which wouldn't be complete without a resident spook.

The Daily Fail reports today on Birmingham pub the Old Crown and some not-so spooky goings on. I actually have to add: This is something of a first for the Mail, they've actually debunked this story for me. I don't have to do the slightest bit of "leg work" the answers are all here.


The story focuses on a bottle of cordial "mysteriously" falling and rolling across the pub floor, not too remarkable at all. I suppose the mysterious part is why the bottle fell, we shouldn't be to surprised at it rolling, it was in motion already, it would have been more unusual if it had come to a dead stop!

The Mail describes the motion like this:

"The video shows a bottle of blackcurrant cordial mysteriously moving across a surface and falling on the ground."
Actually no. The video shows the bottle falling and ROLLING. Round things tend to roll when disturbed. If you think that's mysterious you are going to be positively blown away by bowling.

All that we really need to figure out is what caused the bottle to fall.

Here's barmaid describing the events surrounding the bottle tipping:

'I went down to the cellar to get some more spirits and suddenly I heard a big bang from upstairs... I immediately rushed back to the bar to see Andy and Rudie leaning over staring at the bottle on the floor... They told me what happened and I was spooked. It's so weird.'

So Amy quite legitimately blames the two witnesses Andy and Rudie for tipping the bottle. The video doesn't SEEM to show them interfering with the bottle. I initially suspected some mischief was involved. With Andy and Rudie as likely suspects. Firstly the screen is cropped. I rejected this simply because if it were the the pair pulling the the bottle one would expect it to fall towards them. It doesn't. I suspect that the video is cropped simply because the sharers wanted us to see the bottle more clearly, not realising this would also cause the loss other other information, such as what else was going on in the surrounding environment.*(another reason I don't think this is a hoax)

Looking at a few photos persuaded me that there is a much more mundane explanation:

Look at the photo of the cordial bottles, note that they are lined up on a raised drinks mat. I'd say the edge is perhaps half centimetre off the bar surface. Note that in this arrangement the blackcurrant is on the right of the orange. In the video its clearly on the other side, also the bottle in question is shown to be round based, rather than square like the orange and lime bottles:

The Mail handily supplies some stills from the video with the edge of the mat hardly circled!:

So here's what I think happened.

The last person to use the blackcurrent cordial places it back on the raised mat with part of the base of the bottle hanging over the edge of the raised drinks mat. On her way down to the cellar Amy opens and shuts an interconnecting door. Vibration, probably increased by the fact that the bar hatch is raised, disturbs the balanced bottle. It falls.

The direction of its fall supports the idea that it falls off the left edge of the mat.

Of course there could be another explanation. But in my opinion there only one type of spirits behind this bar.

So, some folks are speculating that the bottle may be pulled by a fine line or fishing line. Here's why I don't think that is the case: If this was pulled by a wire attached to the narrow neck of the bottle, necessary to make the bottle fall in the manner it does, the force acting on the bottle wouldn't be acting directly through the bottle's centre of mass. This would mean there would be rotational motion along the bottles central axis, as well as translational motion. The bottle would turn on its axis. Even if the line was approximately attached to the centre of mass, we would expect to see a wobble effect as this would unlikely be perfect.

This is opposed to the effects of gravity on the bottle which would purely through the centre of mass resulting in purely translational motion.

There is a slight turn in the bottle, which I believe is a result of tipping as the bottle falls.

Anyway that's my reasoning better explained. 

Monday, 2 February 2015

Highlighting of Ouija Board Use Perpetuates its Unwarranted Reputation.

Today's Northern Echo carries the story of a County Durham mother and daughter, Margaret Carroll and Katrina Livingstonewho are in critical condition in hospital after a fire broke out in their home. Police suspect that the pair committed arson, and they have been arrested on this charge and reckless endangerment. That wouldn't normally be the kind of story I cover on this blog, but most reports are focusing heavily on the fact that the pair may of been dabbling with the Ouija board the evening before the fire.

The basis for this seems to come from the word of neighbours of the family, who add Lvingstone had told them the board warned the pair that they would soon die.
"Donna Sowerby, who lives nearby in First Street, said Miss Livingstone (the daughter) told her she used a Ouija board on Friday night, which told her she and her mother were going to die."
The Metro goes as far as to directly implicate the Ouija board, running a large picture of the children's game at the top of its article on the fire:
"On Saturday, a fire started at Mrs Carroll and Miss Livingstone’s home in Consett, County Durham, and again a Ouija board is believed to have been involved..."

There is added relevance to this because Carroll's husband, Paul Carroll is currently awaiting sentencing for drowning his dog and dismembering it. And guess what this vile piece of shit blames the crime on evil spirits he conjured with... you guessed it... the Ouija board.

Prosecutor Blair Martin told the Court:
“When initially interviewed by police the defendant said the dog had died while he and his wife were using a Ouija board to contact dead spirits... He said a bad spirit had entered the dog and it died.

Carroll seems to have now dropped his alibi and has pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal. In fact he dropped the excuse in his second police interview. Its most certainly also relevant that Carroll suffers from severe learning disabilities and mental health issues. Did he believe that the Ouija was some how responsible for his crimes? I doubt it.

I also doubt that the timing of this fire and the mentioning of the Ouija's death threat by Carroll's step daughter to her neighbour and the sentencing of Carroll is pure coincidence. Did this pair some how intend to add credibility to Carroll's initial alibi with their actions? One can only speculate.

Of course the press still  still focuses on the fact that a Ouija board was at some point used by the parties involved in both cases.

What they fail to realise is by focusing on the board as a factor in these terrible events the media perpetuate its aura as a dangerous divination tool. The spreading of this ignorance leads to mythology around the Ouija board that obscures that fact that the movement of the plancette is described by factors such as the ideomotor effect, involuntary muscle movement that also lies behind other forms of divination such as dowsing and automatic writing,  that have been understood for decades!

There really is no mystery. And there certainly isn't communication with the damned or the dead.

Yet ask the majority of people and they will tell you the that the Ouija is somehow dangerous. Look at some of these comments from a discussion on whether the Ouija board should be sold in Toys'R'Us. They display the typical attitude and belief about Ouija boards:

What incidents? Rumour and urban legend and stories in the media such as the two above, where upon closer inspection the Ouija board becomes little more than an after-thought. Remember the three youngsters taken to hospital after playing with a talking board? Turns out that it was the hallucinogen Brugmansia that was responsible for their condition, not the Ouija board.

"Things they don't understand"? Maybe the users of such boards don't understand them, but within the scientific and skeptical community the phenomena is well understood! So what we are really condemning here is ignorance. 

And this is the most common claim: "The Ouija Board is dangerous".

The Ouija board isn't dangerous. The aura surrounding it and perceptions of it in many people's minds most certainly is. 

When people approach the use of a Ouija board in a heightened state the likelihood of having a terrifying experience that is poorly remembered after the event is vastly increased. Therefore leading to more urban legend and fear and ignorance.

The Ouija board's reputation may have a terrible effect on anyone suffering from mental health issues or learning disabilities, there's nothing supernatural about this, and the only counter is better understanding and the dismal of rumour and ignorance.