Sunday, 12 November 2017

A Quick Retcon: How Changing the Flash's History Made the Character Less Unique.




This month sees the release of the next movie in the DC extended universe film series, Zack Snyder's Justice League. The movie will represent something of a milestone for many comic-book fans as, barring two quick cameos in Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad, it will make the first big-screen appearance of comics premier speedster, the Flash. The movie is expected to be followed up with a big-screen adaptation of the limited series "Flashpoint" which will serve as a Flash solo movie. This is disappointing for me, a fan of the character since the short-lived 1990 TV series starring John Wesley Shipp in the titular role, as "Flashpoint" isn't really a solo Flash story. The reason it is popular with some DC comics fans is it features alternate versions of established DC characters in a timeline drastically altered by Barry Allen, the Flash, in one of his time-travel escapades. It's disappointing because I think that with over fifty-years of stand-alone stories there's more than enough material to justify a Flash solo-outing. It seems as if Warner Bros don't have much faith in the Flash as in his solo-outing he'll play second fiddle to Wonder Woman, Aquaman and an alternate version of Batman.

It's also disappointing as it solidifies my fears that a recent addition to the Flash's background, that has been upheld in his mediocre but fun enough TV series currently screening on US network the CW, will also be carried over to the movie version of the character. Before I explain what that is, it's essential to explain what the concept of a "retcon" is.



Essentially a retcon is when a fictional character's background is given an extra previously unknown element or aspect that had not been previously revealed to viewers or followers. The difference between this happening on a TV show and a comic book is that comic book retcons are often far more extreme than the introduction of a childhood friend or relation, comic book retcons can often change who a character fundamentally is and almost everything about that character. In terms of retcons, DC comics publishers of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash, are either the pioneers or the worst offenders based on your stance on retcons and whether you think they are a good or a bad thing. The most retconned characters in the realm of comic books are undoubtedly Wonder Woman and Hawkman. The latter has been alternately a museum curator and hero by night, an intergalactic space cop and the reincarnation of an Egyptian king, whilst Wonder Woman suffered the rather ungracious feat during DC's first major retcon "Crisis on Infinite Earths" in 1985, of being completely wiped from continuity so she could be reintroduced in 1986 as a "new hero" to the DC comics universe. This means her role as a founding member of the Justice League was given to fellow heroine the Black Canary. Her origins have been retconned several times since this, it seems that everytime a high-profile creator takes over the Wonder Woman title a change to her origins is enforced.



In terms of retcons at DC, the Flash remained relatively untouched until recently. This is likely because the Flash is one of DC's "legacy heroes", in that many people have taken the role on different occasions. Barry Allen, the character most associated with the title was the second character to hold it after the original Flash Jay Garrick. When DC sought to reboot its universe in 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Flash escaped the retcon eraser wielded on Wonder Woman, Superman and others by having Barry Allen die and be replaced by his protegee "Kid Flash" Wally West.



This was a genius move by DC. Under the guidance of some of the comic industry's finest creators such as Mark Waid, William Messer Loebs and Grant Morrison, Wally became one of DC's most identifiable and likeable characters. His powers at first paled in comparison to Allen's, with this gradually revealed over many years and 78 issues to be a psychological effect of Wally's fear of replacing his mentor and beloved uncle, To Wally, becoming as fast as Barry meant accepting that he was dead and not coming back. It was only when faced with having Barry's worst enemy do this in his place that Wally finally stepped up and became the equal of his predecessor.



This continued for roughly ten years, with Wally settled in the role of the Flash and finally starting to appear in cross-media appearances as the holder of the title, something the 1990s series had avoided, until DC decided that their 2005 major reboot "Infinite Crisis" should feature a shift of the Flash role as it's 1985 predecessor event did. This time Barry Allen's grandson from the future, Bart Allen, seized the mantle of the Flash. Bart had been introduced in Wally's series as the reckless and immature Impulse. He later took Wally's of Kid Flash, following his path to the main speedster of the DC universe. Unfortunately, the move was an unmitigated disaster. Bart was not as sympathetic a character as West, who had been a staple of DC comics almost as long as Barry Allen, and the writing of Bart's, now the third Flash, solo series was incredibly poor. Fans simply didn't accept Bart as the Flash. DC decided to cut it's losses and killed Bart in brutal and unceremonious manner, then having West return from his hiatus to avenge Bart's murder. Along with him, Mark Waid, the writer who made West a fan-favourite and had him finally accepted as the Flash, returned to smooth the transition. Unfortunately, even Waid couldn't achieve this. West had moved on and so had Waid.

The decision was made to return Barry Allen to the role of the Flash after him being dead for over twenty years. There was just one problem. Barry had been, for lack of a better term, something of a bland character. He was far more valuable to DC as a measuring stick of heroism to the DC universe. Over the twenty years, he had been gone Allen had achieved close to sainthood. It was clear that if he were to be accepted in the modern age of comic-books, Allen's character would have to be significantly fleshed out. This job fell down to up and coming DC writer Geoff Johns, the man now with a major role in the development of DC television series and big screen adaptations.

Johns decided that what Allen needed was a more tragic backstory and a more typical reason for becoming a superhero. He did this by introducing the idea that Barry's mother had been killed by his arch-nemesis the time-travelling Reverse Flash, as an act revenge against his constant defeats at Allen's hands, oh and the fact that Allen had previously murdered him in the 1980s! Adding insult to injury, Allen's father, Henry, was falsely accused of the crime and had died in prison. The events of Flashpoint, the inspiration behind the upcoming Flash movie, were caused by Barry travelling back through time in an attempt to save Nora Allen, his mother.

Allen was now an orphan, inspired by the fates of his parents to help others. Sound familiar?

It should.



What Johns had essentially done is provide Barry Allen, the Flash, with an origin story shared by a multitude of heroes. Batman, Superman, Spider-man and numerous others had been inspired by the loss of parents or father figures. Johns had also retconned Green Lantern in EXACTLY the same way a few years before this, having Hal Jorden's father killed in an air-crash which Jordan witnessed. Clearly introducing this as the inspiration for Allen's heroic activities, made the character significantly less-original. The original version of Barry Allen used his abilities, not because of revenge, or a misplaced sense of responsibility. Allen became the Flash because it was the right thing to do. This is what differentiated him from other characters. When the Flash arrived to combat Captain Cold, the Mirror Master or Gorilla Grodd with a crack of lightning and a smile he did so because it was the right thing to do.

In a Secret Origins annual published in the late 1980's. It is shown that at the time of Allen's death he is transformed into pure energy. A lightning bolt. He travels back through his own timeline approaching a scene all too familiar to him. He realises that he has become the very bolt of lightning that initially granted him his fantastic abilities. He has a stark choice. If he strikes his younger self it will lead him down the path to his eventual, unavoidable death. He chooses his fate anyway.

Barry Allen's, the Flash's story, should be one about personal sacrifice. A morality play about doing the right thing to help others even though it hurts and it costs you the peaceful life you deserve. I'm so sad that in these morally grey times, my children won't have a hero of scarlet and gold who helps others for no other reason than that's what good people do. I think we all need that today. The Flash isn't meant to be a grim and gritty hero, and I don't think that a dark outlook necessarily makes for a more complex character. I'll be there when the Justice League Movie hits cinemas with my son and daughter. I'll hope that the heroics of the Flash thrill them, but simultaneously, I'll be saddened that this version won't teach them that one doesn't need a tragic backstory to be a hero.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

A Rough Guide To Debunking Fake Ghost Videos.


Earlier this month the Null Hypothesis/Skeptic's Boot blog hit a quarter of a million views, a milestone that is pretty insignificant in comparison to other skeptical blogs and podcasts, but it still represents a massive achievement for a  bloke from the North West of England with few discernable skills. In celebration of this and the fact that it's Halloween the idea time for spooky videos, I've decided to do something self-indulgent and go back over a few samples of alleged ghost video footage in order to demonstrate some of the techniques I use to get to the bottom of supposed video "evidence" for ghosts and the paranormal. The list I'm running through is in no way exhaustive. As soon as I post this I know I'll think of another ten things I should've mentioned.

When reading this list, remember, I'm not an expert, anyone could get to the bottom of these videos, the key is perseverance and attention to detail. The list isn't particularly technical. You'll also notice from the first example, that many of the lessons I've learned regarding debunking have come from mistakes I've made. You can consider this rule zero in getting to the bottom of this footage: Learn from your mistakes and never be too proud to admit them.

As always with the video footage that I feature, there is a Youtube compilation available at the foot of the page.

1. Seek Multiple Sources

One of the first lessons I learned in debunking alleged paranormal footage came as a result of me making a mistake in accepting footage as is when offered by the tabloid press. In April 2014, the footage below circulated around social media and the tabloid press. It purports to show a shadowy figure running through a Bolivian stadium during a soccer match.


When I assessed it, I believed that it may be the shadow of the stadium's "spider cam" which records ariel images of the pitch. I was wrong. If I'd have searched for alternative versions of the footage, I'd have discovered that it's clearly a guy running down the stadium steps and across the bleachers.

I had this own goal in mind when I examined alleged Chilean poltergeist footage from the Daily Star for the Spooktator podcast in March this year. In searching for alternative footage I found the Star had taken an old video produced by a Facebook user called Ashy Murphy, removed the soundtrack and attached it to a completely unrelated story.

Whilst we're on the subject of the Ashy Murphy footage....

2. No Strings Attached....

Here's that Ashy Murphy footage. You'll be unsurprised to learn that the effect below was achieved with fishing line.




The key to spotting a fishing wire hoax is watching on zoom, and very slowly. What you're looking for are moments when the light in the room hits the wire. You aren't going to spot this at full speed unless it's particularly clumsily done. Don't restrict your view to the edges of the moving objects. Watch the negative spaces between objects, as in the second image above you'll often spot the fishing wire in what appears to be empty space.

Be careful to look in places you might not necessarily expect. In the "banging morgue door" video from March this year. The wire isn't attached to the edges of the door as you'd expect. It's attached, instead to an inside fold in the door.





Also be on the lookout for motion blur, a wagging loose wire in slow motion is easier to spot than a tight wire. That's how I caught YouTuber "Sam Strange" in the video in which she alleged a poltergeist had yanked the head off a Darth Vader toy. When her partner held the head up to the camera the wire could be clearly seen. Unfortunately, I can't show you this footage as the videos are removed, unfortunately, and the channel now has a new age/reincarnation theme.


In both cases above the only reason, I was able to spot the method of fakery was that the hoaxer revealed too much. Both cases they brought the camera too close to their "haunted object" and allowed anyone attentive enough to spot their fakery. Watch carefully for this moment in your footage, when your hoaxer overplays their hand.

That said, some hoaxers are more careful than others.

3. Managing Misdirection....

There isn't much difference between a faked piece of ghost footage and a magic trick, other than the fact that most magicians aren't interested in actively deceiving you. Sure, they want to mislead and confound, but most are open to the fact that they are doing this. Both parties use the technique of misdirection, they want you to look in specific places without noticing other things. Get around this by looking at the entire frame. Often this means directly avoiding the phenomena you are meant to be paying attention to, which feels weird at first. This means being aware of areas of the screen the camera tries to avoid. If your hoaxer has an accomplice they'll often give you a full view of an area except where the accomplice is hiding. 

Take this footage from UK Ghost Hunts, an English paranormal tourism group, for example:



Our intrepid cameraman bravely chases the hallway spook just slow enough to allow him to duck into a side room off the corridor, which of course, our cameraman never investigates.

A striking example of this was provided by the aforementioned Youtuber Sam Strange, who faked a series of ghost videos on her channel back in 2015. In a video that Sam claimed featured a Darth Vader toy being disassembled by a "ghost". Sam gives us a panoramic view of her bedroom, which seemed to show her cats and her were alone. She then leaves the room gives a brief tour of her apartment, before returning to find the toy taken apart. During the shot, Sam tries to keep the camera above waist height. Her trip through the apartment allows her partner time to take the toy apart. But how did he get in the bedroom?

Of course, Sam's boyfriend was present in the room the whole time, but if I don't see him can I prove this?

4. Consider the Environment.

The key to discovering Sam's fakery was to consider the environment of the bedroom before and after the phenomena occurred. Remember how I said Sam "tried" not to show us below waist height in the bedroom? Well, she failed. One brief shot of the bedroom floor revealed some items such as a show and a large cardboard sheet poking out from under the bed.

 When Sam returns to the bedroom, the items that were under the bed have shifted. Could this possibly be because Sam's partner has slid out from under the bed, disassembled the toy and then whilst Sam is at the back of the apartment, moved to the front door and shouted "I'm home!" as a cue to let Sam knows she's clear to move back to the bedroom?


5. Get Shady. 

Watching the environment also helped me highlight some discrepancies in Adam Ellis' "Dear David" footage from a couple of months ago. In footage that was alleged to have taken place over a short space of time, it was clear that the natural light had moved from one end of the room to another.



Watching the effects of light on an environment can expose a multitude of sins. In a video that purported to show a soul leaving a prone body in a Chinese hospital, there were clear signs of a "lightening" of the screen during the period in which the "phenomena" was occurring. This is most visible on the wall at the foot of the screen on the left.



Screen lightening of this type is a very good indication of the use of screen overlay. Two separate pieces of footage are shot, one with a figure moving across it. They are then overlaid, resulting in the moving figure appearing in the composite as a ghostly, transparent shape.

6. Watch the clock. 


Another dead giveaway that this method has been used is the clock on the footage. As one part of the footage is "held still" whilst the phenomena occurs. This can result in the clock also holding still. This is the case with a piece of footage which may well be one of the most widely spread and shared on the internet. The footage, shown below, alleges to show a "possessed man" failing to the floor in a Malaysian supermarket, after which a ghostly figure is said to appear by the man.


Notice that from the time the shadow moves across the chiller cabinet to the moment the stock hits the floor the clock freezes. Look at the two separate time codes circled below: the youtube time code is 1:04 whilst the security footage time code is at 01:29:21.



Now looking at the point just before the stock has hit the floor. The store time code is at 01:29;22, so one would expect the youtube time code to read 1:05. It doesn't. It reads 1:08. This is because the store clock spends three seconds at 01:29:22.



The three seconds of 01:29:22 clear evidence of alteration of the video.




Also just before this point at 1.03 watch the "possessed" man's left foot. You'll see clear evidence of an edit as his foot jumps from one position to another. It's difficult to display this. Watch at 0.25 speed and focus on the foot you'll see a clear jump edit. It's for this reason you'll often see hoaxers remove or alter the clocks in their faked videos. Remember that "Chinese hospital" footage mentioned above? Here's the clock as displayed in that footage.


Notice how poorly formatted it is? The numbers on the clock almost run together and overlap. Also, the date isn't written in a way found in China. Culturally, the Chinese rank dates from the highest unit to the smallest, specifically year/month/day. Other aspects to look for in this bar include the seconds counter being missing and the fact that there are no camera numbers. Most places with CCTV have more than one camera and it's vital for security reasons that these cameras are labelled separately as is it that seconds are available for precise timings. If these things are missing it's a good sign your footage has been tampered with or wasn't CCTV to begin with.

7. Explore the extras.

Just as CCTV footage normally has camera details and a clear date-line, there are a few things they normally DON'T have. Sound for instance. The video "Ghost screaming in a hotel room" was uploaded by YouTuber "JimmyNut22" on September 4th, 2012. "Jimmy" also uploaded the video with the alternative title "Alien screaming in a hotel room" the day after this but has since deleted it. 


You'll notice that we hear the dispatcher talking on the radio to John, who is investigating the room, who is recording the dispatcher? Also, we can hear the screaming coming from the room but we can't hear John's voice talking to the dispatcher whilst in or outside the room. Also, look at the way this camera is positioned in this footage. A good proportion of the screen is occupied by the ceiling. This wasn't fitted by a professional security company.

Other factors to consider with CCTV footage are the screen resolution and light sources. CCTV doesn't tend to have particularly good screen resolution, and it doesn't tend to have its own light source. A good example of this is the recent "poltergeist" footage allegedly filmed at a school in Cork. The footage is supposed to be CCTV but look at the strong light source around the area of activity. 


The lights are off in the building, and public spaces such as this generally have lighting fixtures on "rings" meaning that if you turn one off, the whole bank is turned off with it. So where is this strong light source coming from?

8. A Neat Orderly Queue of Paranormal Phenomena.

Ok, so this particular observation may not help you debunk any particular paranormal footage, but it's a common feature that you'll find in every hoax video you'll ever watch. Paranormal events almost never occur simultaneously. Take the above video as an example. No two events occur at the same time! This is always the case with poltergeist footage. There are two options: either, ghosts are very bad multitaskers or hoaxers generally only have one pair of hands.

9. Question everything.
Earlier this year, UK ghost hunting show Most Haunted created a media sensation when they publicized what they claimed was the first genuine footage they had ever captured of a ghost. The British tabloids went into a frenzy and the subsequent attention briefly revived waining interest in the show. The first thing that struck me about the footage was the behaviour of Karl Beattie. 



Karl allegedly spots a ghostly figure on the stairs and for some reason places the camera down. He even gestures to Stuart Torvil to show him where the apparition will appear on the lens of the camera. This behaviour is highly unusual, especially as Karl "sees" the ghost through Torvill and before it appears on the stairs. When he places the camera down, he carefully adjusts it to get a particular shot. Then he almost immediately picks up the camera and runs down the hallway with it. Why do this?

Because the overlay method of creating a ghostly figure I mentioned above requires a still shot. It would be very difficult to achieve with the camera hand-held. That's why Karl put the camera down, that's why he carefully adjusts it, that's why he checks with Torvill that it's positioned correctly.

Another example of the necessity to question the logic of behaviour and choices made by the author of such footage comes from the Adam Ellis "Dear David" case mentioned above. In Ellis' video footage we see his rocking chair placed by the front door gently rocking apparently without influence. 



What are we to question here? Why has Ellis placed this chair by the front door? It isn't there in any of his other footage, and it's quite clear that its placement would make it difficult for Ellis to enter or exit the apartment. Worrying, since Ellis is supposed to be out of the home whilst this footage is being recorded. How did he get out without disturbing the chair? Why place the chair in such an awkward place? Perhaps it's because that's somewhere in the apartment where pressure on the floorboards elsewhere can cause the chair to rock?

10. And Finally, Hyman's Maxim.

Very basically, Hyman's maxim, developed by skeptic Ray Hyman, states that before we strive to explain something we should ensure there's something to explain. Let me demonstrate this with an example. The footage below alleges to show a poltergeist or some other paranormal entity flipping several cars on a busy crossroads in China. 


The key to debunking this one is observing the right-hand side of the screen, where a street sweeper is going about its business when it suddenly halts at the same time as the cars flip. This is because the sweeper snags a fallen telegraph wire and pulls it taught. The wire is under the cars and this is what flips them. But it isn't necessary to do a lot of legwork on this as it was reported in the press before the footage was attributed to a poltergeist. A Reddit user who speaks Mandarin here explains the incident as it was reported on Chinese news. Despite this and the fact that the solution was widely reported in the western press, the story and the footage are still widely circulated on social media. 

That's my list. As I said it's not exhaustive and I'd love for you to share your own tips in the comments. There are numerous people I'd have to cite for helping me come to the conclusions I have here but I simply don't have space to list them all. Even though I'm not an expert in analysing video footage there are some people I do consider experts chief amongst them Mick West of Metabunk and Kenny Biddle. In addition to them, UK paranormal investigator Hayley Stevens has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of techniques to produce fakes. Again this list is far from exhaustive but these are three of the people I've learned the most from. I guess we could call these recommendations tip 11.

Finally, if you enjoyed this post please like and share it. There's a reason this blog hit 250,000 views and exists at all today, and that is because of the support and the shares it has received on social media. Thank you to everyone who has shared the blog and supported it and me.

See you at 500,000.

If you are still in need of more spooky content for Halloween check out my post on the laws of physics and ghostly properties on Scisco media's site.

The Youtube compilation of the footage featured in this article.



Apparently the Youtube compilation for my "rough guide to debunking fake ghost videos" was hit by a copyright strike by the owners of the banging morgue door video. Funny they didn't seem to care about the thousands of shares the video has had by channels who believe it is genuine though! Here's a re-edited version with the offending content removed.


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Huff Model: Disrespecting The Dead For Publicity and Financial Gain.

What is it about certain individuals and groups within the paranormal field that causes a complete abandonment of any idea or taste and decency with regards to the recently deceased? Where are these team's ethical standards when it comes to consideration of the loved ones, friends and family members of the recently deceased?

In the horrible example here, the only answer can be "completely absent".



Steve Huff (left) and a paranormal group who follow his reprehensible Modus Operandi

I've written about a repeat offender in this regard, Steve Huff, several times before (1). Huff's MO is supposedly using ITC methods, mostly with devices he builds and sells himself (2) to contact recently deceased celebrities. The most disgusting example of this was when Huff claimed to have contacted former Ghost Adventures star, Debbie Constantino (3), a few short days after she was brutally by her partner Mark. There was a groundswell of disgust at this from the paranormal community that had been absent during Huff's sessions with dead celebs. To many, Debbie was well known and well liked, and they saw Huff having crossed a line that he had previously not crossed.

None of this deterred Huff, after every celebrity passing you could predict with morbid certainty that Huff would be exploiting it shortly after with little regard for the hurt he caused. He continued this grim pattern undaunted until earlier this year, in early August, when he suddenly declared that as a result of "demonic attacks" he was quitting the paranormal/ITC community for good (4). There was a lot of suggestions as to what may actually be behind Huff's exit, with some suggesting possible legal woes on the horizon and others implying that various trading standards agencies were, at last, taking an interest in his sales practices. I myself was very curious about Huff's motivation, mulling over the possibility of this all being in view of a potential book deal. Whatever they suspected Huff's reasons for quitting were, few were surprised when Huff was back up to his old tricks a few weeks after quitting for good and fewer still were surprised that his operation hadn't changed one iota. Since Huff returned, he's conducted sessions in which he's alleged to contact Hugh Hefner and Tom Petty.

As I've stated before, I think Huff is utterly disgusting. He seems to have no issue with using the deaths of celebrities to promote himself. His practices are cold, cruel and completely devoid of compassion or empathy. I never thought I'd come across an individual or group more contemptible than Huff in the paranormal field, hobby or whatever you choose to call it.

That all changed today.

"Paranormal Den" is a group that predominantly produce EVP and ITC videos for Youtube and Facebook, where their page has almost 11,000 followers. They do not hide the fact that they are heavily influenced by the aforementioned Steve Huff, they use similar equipment, like his FB page and even have claimed to have contacted Huff's spirit energy in the past (6). Unsurprisingly, given this influence, they also conducted sessions with deceased celebrities, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. Clearly, this makes them as tasteless as Huff, but what makes them worse?

How have this group lowered the bar?

On October 7th Paranormal Den, presumably comprised of the two individuals pictured in the page's profile image, though they aren't specifically named on the page or the Youtube channel, decided that they would attempt to use a radio sweeping device to contact the spirits of the victims of the Las Vegas massacre.


"Crazy and unreal" they call it.

I call it crass and shameful.

At this point, I am posting their video, I am not going to give them the views and attention they desperately seek. Even though I've ripped it directly from their Facebook page. It's bad enough I had to watch it, I don't want to encourage you to do the same. It's here for completeness, nothing else.



The "session" is laughable. The purpose they claim is to question the spirits with regards to the ridiculous conspiracy theories circulating regarding the Las Vegas shooting, such as the debunked idea that there was a second shooter at the Mandalay Bay Hotel (7). You'll be unsurprised to learn that the usual tropes and errors associated with the presentation of EVPs are all here. The audio is presented with captions explaining what the "spirits" have supposedly said resulting in a highly suggestive experience. I listened without captions as I always do with ITC and didn't get any results that Paranormal Den caption. When they hear "execute" I hear "eggs" for example. In addition to this, the responses that were supposedly given barely line up to questions asked even if we accept Paranormal Den's interpretation of the snippets collected by the broken radio they consider a piece of scientific equipment. What is especially laughable about this is the footage is heavily edited with lots of cuts implying that the laughable responses are the cream of the crop in regards to what was collected.

I have to wonder if Steve Huff is aware of this group? Maybe, they're in his shitty ITC collective. I wonder if he is, does he have the balls to condemn this disgusting exploitation of innocent people gunned down by a lunatic. Steve, if you're not aware of them, they're certainly aware of you. They're following the model that you've established withs regards to high profile, exploitative ITC sessions.  This is your legacy. Hopefully, the next "attack" you suffer that prompts you to quit won't "demonic" but one of conscience. That said, I suspect that like demons, you're conscience is highly unlikely to actually exist. 


Sources

(1) http://skepticsboot.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/grave-robbing-21st-century-style.html

(2) http://skepticsboot.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/impossible-box-or-just-box-review-of.html

(3) http://skepticsboot.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/counting-cost_23.html

(4) https://www.facebook.com/HuffParanormal/posts/1546650475399065

(5) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnvYg5Km9Zk

     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aFGFp_Fkqg

(6) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OB8JKsBpBE

(7) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/04/us/politics/fact-check-vegas-gunman.html

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Sargon and the "Skeptics".






I wanted to take some time out from my usual postings to discuss an event that happened over the weekend in the US. Now, I know that much more important and upsetting events have taken place in the US and to say this pales in comparison may well be the greatest understatement ever published on the internet. This isn't about Puerto Rico or the terrible events that unfolded in Las Vegas. This is far less severe, upsetting and frankly important as those events. That's not to say it doesn't matter though.


Last Saturday at Mythcon Milwaukee, an event organised by Mythicist Milwaukee, an organisation that promotes ideas such as freedom from religious bigotry and hatred, a discussion was held between Thomas Smith and Swindon's most viewed vlogger Carl Benjamin (left), better known by the screen name Sargon of Akkad. Before the event, there was a significant effort to have Carl "deplatformed" which I don't think was the right tactic, but I understand why it happened (and I suspect you will shortly). I don't believe in "deplatforming" in general, my argument for not including Carl was simply "he isn't even remotely rational or what I'd call skeptic" so why should he be there?

The organisers met these complaints by suggesting that Carl is an "entertainer" justifying his inclusion.

Sargon is currently being hailed as the leader of a new skeptical community by his supporters and critics alike, he's massively popular with well over half a million Youtube subscribers and he has over 3,000 Patreon doners paying him almost $9000 dollars a month. This is despite that fact that up until recently Carl was a 9-11 truther, he believes the Pizzagate conspiracy actually occurred and on a recent appearance on the Joe Rogan Show, he repeated an Alex Jones talking point. Namely that chemicals in drinking water are turning frogs "gay". This is the problem with these new "skeptics" they don't use the scientific method or critical thinking. The one time Carl attempted to use a scientific paper he fudged it so comprehensively it was laughable. There was a good case to be made that he failed to even read the first page of the study he cited. He's not alone: Armoured Skeptic, also a guest at the same convention, is frequently criticised for piss-poor research. Youtuber Naked Ape makes laughable videos about voting Trump not because he agreed with a single policy, but because it made him feel good and pissed off "SJWs".

The image below shows how Carl describes his "work" on Patreon. This is how he lays out his storefront.


"Sargon of Akkad is creating arguments" Indeed he is. But skepticism has never just been about creating contrary points. It's about the methodology you employ to do that. The lose definition Carl's supporters use to place him in the skeptical movement, would also be lax enough to also include Ray Comfort, who is creating arguments like "The Banana: an atheist's nightmare" against evolution into the skeptical community.

Ray Comfort creating arguments

Let me give an example of how exactly Carl goes about "creating arguments." In June last year, Mr Benjamin decided to respond to Jess Phillips, a member of Parliament in the UK, in response to a comment Phillips had made regarding rape threats she had received online.  Phillips was affiliated with a group that aimed to reduce the volume of harassment women receive online, which Carl took umbrage to. Quite why anyone would find the idea of reducing harassment offensive boggles the mind really. Even if you don't think women receive much harassment on the internet, and it isn't really a problem, surely the idea that there should be less is still a valid thing? I mean to most rational people less of any bad thing is a good thing.

Well, not to Carl.

He decried this movement as “social communism” one of a series of phrases that Carl uses without much apparent understanding (Here's the actual definition of "social communism": "Social communism is a system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single, often authoritarian party holds the power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people."(1) ) So how did Carl decide to present his disagreement with Phillips' ideals? A well worded and considered blog post? A well researched and argued Vlog? A long social media post, which despite being light-weight made some valid points?

If you answered "yes" or even "maybe" to any of those questions, firstly: don't they're rhetorical. Secondly, you really don't know Carl. Benjamin decided that rather than take any of those courses of action, he would instead tweet Phillips a response.


Yeah, he responded to a woman commenting about rape threats by telling her he wasn't prepared to rape her. To add insult to injury, as normally happens when Carl decides to take issue with someone, it's prefaced by a deluge of sycophantic followers doing EXACTLY the same thing, in this case resulting in Phillips receiving over 600 tweets by morons telling her they would also not deem her attractive enough to rape.

If you didn't already think Carl was a vile little scumbag incapable of making a salient point, he attempted to defend his actions in an interview for the Times (2).
"“I never made any threats,” he says. “It was a classic example of how the regressive left tries to shame and silence anybody who disagrees with them. Any criticism of a woman by a man is called misogyny. It’s ridiculous.”"
Whether you consider what Benjamin said a threat or not is somewhat subjective, I personally don't. But that doesn't preclude it from being completely vile, hateful and unwarranted. And yes, it's deeply misogynistic. The irony here is Carl decided in order to counter the comments of a woman who believes talk of rape and misogyny is rampant on the internet, he actively increased the amount of misogyny and rape threats on the internet, therefore reinforcing Phillips' argument.

With enemies like Carl who needs allies?

In this article Carl also touches upon an idea that he frequently repeats, the people attempting to remove him from Twitter were "anti-free speech". What Carl and others don't get about this is that companies and organisations don't owe them a platform. Twitter removing Carl for violating terms of service isn't a blow against free-speech, nor is Youtube demonetising his videos. These companies don't have to host him and them choosing not to doesn't curtail his free-speech, he just has to find another soap-box. Despite being such a staunch advocate of "free-speech" Carl has absolutely no issue a reporting others to twitter and having their accounts suspended when they've offended him! Further to that, his stance on free-speech is so pronounced that he actually created a petition to have "universities" stop teaching "social justice courses".


Now picture that screeching caricature of a feminist there, demanding the rights of others be restricted. Isn't this EXACTLY what Carl is doing with this petition in demanding that university students rights to be exposed to ideas he doesn't agree with? Ideas that are offensive to him?

Hypocrisy thy name is Carl.

If you want an idea of just how facile this petition was, consider Carl never specified which Universities it was aimed at or which courses he objected to. His "letter" explaining these facts suggests that if intellectuals had weight classes, Carl would struggle to make bantamweight. I haven't edited this, below is legitimately his letter to "universities". Quite why they aren't paying attention to him bewilders me.



The fact is Carl is nothing more than a reactionary shit-lord. His sole purpose is to be "edgy" as exemplified by the video he created in which he screams various racial slurs at footage of a down-syndrome child who doesn't want him to use the term "retard" as a pejorative anymore. The video's on the left. If you want a sample of what Sargon is all about, watch it.

Its fucking horrible though.

All this should give you an idea of who Carl is so you won't be too surprised to learn that his appearance at Mythcon was pretty shameful. When Thomas Smith raised the subject of Carl's tweets to Jess Phillips, a significant portion of the crowd cheered. Carl proceeded to point to them in appreciation as lamely as one could expect for a rock star from Swindon. Buoyed by the support he stated he didn't care about the reaction people had to his tweets. I think this reaction from the crowd upset Smith as much as it did me.

You can watch that here: https://twitter.com/twitter/statuses/914264270740877314

I never thought I'd see the day when a crowd of "skeptics" would cheer the idea of tweeting about rape to anyone. I've listened to arguments from others who've left the skeptical community because they claimed it's becoming toxic, and I've argued against them.

How can I do that now?

Maybe they saw this element growing and I didn't. The fact that many of the people who warned me were women shames me.

That cheer blindsided me.

This support from a vile piece of shit from Swindon, caught me off guard. I genuinely thought he'd be laughed out of Mythcon. That he'd be booed off stage not welcomed as a hero. I'll always be a skeptic, I'll always use critical thinking and the scientific method to assess claims and ideas that are presented to me. But as far as I can make the change, I won't use that label to promote myself anymore. I can't and won't be associated with men like Carl of Swindon.

Little men, with little ideas, little charm, little wit and little intelligence.

Sources

(1) https://prezi.com/tufixf1axdxv/what-is-social-communism/

(2) https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/i-set-out-to-troll-her-why-all-this-fuss-about-600-rape-tweets-56h38ts97

More about Carl Benjamin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rc24YtUslCU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmKGPRXE-xw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTfCkp0Juao&t=427s

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

5 Unexplainable "Ghost Sightings" Explained.

When websites and media outlets outside of paranormal specialist interest write an article about ghosts or the supernatural it's often presented as "unexplainable" or "undebunkable". As this recent article published on the website "oxygen" demonstrates though, this is most commonly a result of the author's own naivety, ignorance or failure/unwillingness to do even a modicum of research. The article in question, published on September 14th, titled "5 Documented 'Ghost' Sightings That Are Too Convincing Not To Believe" by Sowmya Krishnamurthy (1) begins:
"There are countless stories of human interactions with spirits and those that have "crossed over" beyond the grave. From Marilyn Monroe to Abraham Lincoln -- these documented encounters are hard to deny as paranormal activity."
So let's rise to that challenge and see we can do what Sowmya couldn't and find possible reasons to "deny" these five pieces of evidence provided is supernatural. Quotes describing the encounters or footage from Oxygen are in italics under the bold headings.

1. The Cleveland Museum "Claude Monet" ghost.
"In 2015, a special Claude Monet exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art was overshadowed when a mysterious figure who looks exactly like the late French Impressionist painter showed up in a photograph." 




If you're thinking "that just looks like a person who looks like Monet" then that's exactly what I was thinking too. We should we assume this is "a ghost". It looks pretty clear that the figure is there in the environment as the light is interacting with the figure. Is it a stretch to imagine a Monet enthusiast may style themselves after the man? They may well also take an interest in the setting up of a Monet exhibit. There is another possibility. Could this have intentionally been set up by the museum? What better way to start off an exhibit with loads of free attention from the local press? The story appeared first on WYKC.com, a Cleaveland TV station's website on October 8th, two days after the image was allegedly taken, in a short story with a link to the museum's website but no quotes from an employee (2). It was then picked up by Cleaveland.com (3) and published in the arts section with links to the specific exhibit's website and quotes from an e-mail sent to them from the museums' director of communication, Caroline Guscot:
"Caroline Guscott, the museum's communications director, said Friday that Jeffrey Strean, the director of architecture and design, took the picture of the mysterious visitor and posted it on his Facebook page.The photo shows the bearded, hat-wearing visitor looking down into the lower lobby outside the museum's special exhibition galleries, where preparations for the exhibit "Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse" were being completed on Tuesday.The visitor bears an odd resemblance to a banner-sized photo of the bearded, hat-wearing Monet, also visible in Strean's shot. Strean's image was not retouched, Guscott said. "What are the chances someone looks like that and happens to be at the museum the day we are finishing installation?" she wrote in an email.
The story was then picked up by various local news outlets and art related websites in turn-up up to Halloween (4) (5). Interestingly in these iterations of the story, the quotes remain the same as those given to Cleaveland.com by Guscot but this time are attributed to a lower ranking member of the communications team, Kelly Notaro.
""We thought it was such a coincidence that on the final day of installing Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, this man resembling Claude Monet was seen peering down into the lower lobby outside the special exhibition hall," Kelley Notaro, communications associate with the museum, told TODAY.com. "This snapshot taken by a staff member is not retouched or Photoshopped. And we have heard from others that they’ve seen the man, but there hasn’t been a confirmation in his identification! This is the first exhibition leading into our centennial year, so we are excited to start it off with something as cool as capturing a photo of this Monet look-a-like standing directly above an actual photo of the artist himself," said Notaro."
 You may be thinking now would a museum really resort to circulating a story like this just outside Halloween in order to get people in through the doors of an exhibit, after all, this isn't an English public house we're talking about? I thought the same thing, but the Cleaveland Museum has blogged about haunted paintings before and of the building itself being haunted by a former director (6) in a 2010 post encouraging families to visit for the Halloween weekend. Ultimately, I don't blame the museum for attempting to garner this type of gaudy publicity but I think it's a great shame that they feel they have to resort of this to get people to engage with art.

Is this unexplainable? Hardly. Moving on.

2. The Dinner Guest


Oxygen tells us this is the "photobombing ghost" of a transvestite who used to dine in the restaurant the image was taken in, I'm not making this up. They also attempt to divert possible objections by appealing that:
"It can't possibly be a reflecton because there are no windows or mirrors in the Begue Room."
This would be more convincing was that the most likely explanation of this ghostly image. As it happens, I don't think this is a reflection as such. I just think it's an example of an image created by the slow shutter speed setting of the camera used to take the image. Artist Emilie Lauwes uses this photographic artefact directly (below) to create ghostly images for an opera publicity shot (7).


The article offers this rationale to point to indicate this is indeed a phantom crossdresser "If you look closely, the image even appears to be of a figure in women's clothing and accessories." The author doesn't seem to consider who else wears women's clothes and accessories, living female patrons of the restaurant. Heck, living transvestite patrons even. It's obvious to me that a fellow diner has wandered into the shot as the couple take their selfie. Once again, this goes from unexplainable to easily explainable with a tiny bit of research.

3. Ghostly Cemetry. 
"This video is from a cemetary in Liverpool known for housing over 58,000 bodies, including one renowned sea captain. The captain was stabbed to death under mysterious circumstances. The shadowy figure caught on tape is seen swaying back and forth, which could very well be that captain, still tortured by his demise, or keeping watch over the cemetary grounds. Another theory is that the ghost could be the limping figure of William Huskisson MP. He has a mausoleum on the grounds after he was killed, when run over by a locomotive in 1830."
This one is from my neck of the woods. The footage below was allegedly taken in St James cemetery, Liverpool and first appeared in the Liverpool Echo in August this year (8). The footage is actually much older than that. It was originally published on the YouTube channel "The Way I see Liverpool" back in May 2015.



Now I've had a few ideas other theories about this footage that Oxygen seemed to have neglected. It could be an artefact of video compression as suggested by a commenter on the original Echo article. There certainly is a lot of pixelation during the video, most notably at the top of the screen. Another possible explanation is some form of steam, smoke or water vapour rising from the pavement in a vague face-like shape and the pareidolia doing the extra work.

I've got another theory though. I think this is a rather clumsy fake. The clue is those silver fleks near the bottom of the screen (below). What are these fleks?


Looks to me like rainfall. The thing is, these fleks don't move during the video. As the steam or smoke forms the rough face then dissipates, the raindrops make no downward motion. There isn't any other motion anywhere else within the frame either. In fact, the smoke doesn't itself drift or slowly form, it moves and changes shape instantaneously. There's no transitional changing. There's no motion in the raindrops, but if you watch the whole screen, the frame itself shifts about several times. I think what we have here is a video that is composed of several versions of the same still shot, almost like an animated flip book. Obviously, some of these stills are doctored with photoshop of a brushes application to give us our ghostly face.

4. Marilyn Monroe in the Roosevelt Hotel. 
"The Roosevelt Hotel is an iconic landmark in Hollywood and is known for its famous spirt inhabitants. One of its most famous guests, actress Marilyn Monroe, loved the hotel. She would stay for extended periods of time and died of an overdose while here. Since then, legend has it that the tortured actress never checked out."
Let's start with a glaring and blatant inaccuracy. Monroe did not die at the Roosevelt Hotel! She died at her home in Brentwood Los Angeles (9). This one isn't specifically about one particular sighting, photo or video, but the various reports of encounters with the ghost of Marilyn Monroe in the Roosevelt hotel. There are various anomalous images and experiences collected at the Roosevelt all of which have been attributed of Monroe's "ghost". I'd say there's a great deal of suggestion involved here. I suspect many visitors to the Roosevelt over the past were well aware of Monroe's association with the hotel and we have to consider the psychological effect of suggestion here, also the desire to have a paranormal encounter of some kind, especially with such an iconic figure. It means that unremarkable images such as this one featured in the article, are ascribed to Monroe.


The featured image was taken in 2005 by Frontline Paranormal investigator John Cain, who believes that Marilyn's image can be seen above both inside and outside the mirror (10). Sorry John, but I don't see anything but a blur, I certainly don't see Marilyn or a figure at all. This is an example of the kind of suggestibility and shoehorning that occurs at sites of famous hauntings.

To read more about explanations for the Monroe ghost encounters at the Roosevelt including the most famous example Joe Nickell's column for CFI covers it well (11).

5. Abraham Lincoln and the Mumler image. 
"Seven years after his assassination, an image of what appears to be the late President was spotted in a photo with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln. As USA Today shares, the photo was taken in 1872 by spirit photographer William H. Mumler. Critics at the time claimed that Mumler was a fraud, possibly using a technique like double exposure to create the image, and he was brought to trial. However, he was acquitted, and since then, paranormal fans are convinced the late President was communicating through the grave to his widow."
Remarkably and with no sense of self-awareness it seems, our Oxygen author here explains their own "unexplainable" image.


Mumler was indeed brought to trial and acquitted, but he was also ruined professionally, a fact our Oxygen author neglects to mention of course. During the trial, PT Barnum demonstrated the double exposure effect which Mumler had used to scam Mary Todd and countless others who had lost relatives in the American civil war by faking an image of himself also with Abe Lincon (12). This image couldn't be easier to explain. Mumler used a previously imprinted glass plate in his camera. Far from being "unexplained" it was explained over a century ago.

This really exposes the Oxygen article as what it is, lazy, uninspired, insipid click-bait. Not only are the images featured far from "unexplainable" one was explained before anyone reading this was even born.

Next time you find an article that claims to be "unexplainable" on the internet, explain it, even if you just publish the explanation on your own social media. Let's start getting accurate information out on the net in the same volume as the click-bait bullshit.

Sources

(1) http://www.oxygen.com/blogs/5-documented-ghost-sightings-that-are-too-convincing-to-not-believe

(2) http://www.wkyc.com/news/local/cleveland/could-it-be-monet/13720506

(3) http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.ssf/2015/10/did_monets_ghost_visit_the_cle.html

(4) https://news.artnet.com/art-world/claude-monets-ghost-haunting-cleveland-museum-art-345974

(5) https://www.today.com/money/claude-monets-ghost-haunting-cleveland-museum-art-see-photo-t51471

(6) http://www.clevelandart.org/blog/2010/10/29/mysteries-unveiled-museum-after-midnight

(7) http://emilielauwers.be/Portraits

(8) http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/ghost-caught-camera-st-james-13479249

(9) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12305_Fifth_Helena_Drive

(10) http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-814833

(11) https://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/another_ghost_in_the_mirror_marilyn_at_the_hollywood_roosevelt/

(12) http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150629-the-intriguing-history-of-ghost-photography

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Nun, the devil and the science "news" site. IFLS may "love" science but they seem to love clickbait a whole lot more.

Back in 2015 I wrote a blog post (1) examining a single day's output of the science news website "I Fucking Love Science" or IFLS, finding that the content was particularly poor as a representation of science in general, with the articles providing a focus on extremely flawed, commercially conducted surveys in particular. The reason I found this particularly worrying was due to the vast number of people that received their science news through IFLS, standing at almost 23 million on facebook alone at the time. It's now up to 25 million likes and almost as many people following the site, receiving regular updates in their newsfeeds. What concerns me is that if this was the only access these people had to science news then their view of science, in general, would be extremely malformed.

Since that post, I've regularly checked in on IFLS, and found the content hasn't generally improved. Sure, there is the odd interesting and legitimate article, many of which are copy and pasted from other sites, but the majority of the articles have been little more than pure click-bait.

Unfortunately, with a recent article, IFLS descends from the position of "questionable click-bait" to outright supernatural bunkum and the possible propagation of the very dangerous idea of demonic possession. The article in question entitled  "Letter Written By A "Possessed" Nun Decoded Using Software From The Deep Web" by Tom Hale, published on 11th September tells us of a letter composed by a 17th century "possessed" Sicilian nun named Sister Maria Crocifissa Della Concezione. The story was also covered by such esteemed science periodicals as the NY Post (3), The Daily Mail (4) and The Daily Star (5) among others. Is this the kind of bedfellows a science website should be keeping?

Also consider the source IFLS use as it's primary source here, an Italian radio station's website. (http://www.105.net/news/tutto-news/237723/lettera-del-diavolo-dopo-oltre-300-anni-un-algoritmo-la-decifra.html?refresh_ce)

Sure The Times also published a version of the story (6) but it's short and doesn't mention the concept of possession at all. To compare how the Times report downplays the supernatural element let's juxtapose it's introduction to the story to that of IFLS and one of the tabloid sources.

What the Times says:
"A letter written in code by a 17th century Italian nun, which she claimed was dictated to her by the Devil, has been deciphered by scientists using a code-cracking algorithm after centuries of failed attempts. The nun, Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione, is believed to have screamed and fainted while writing letters at the convent of Palma di Montechiaro that she said were Lucifer’s ploy to convince her to serve evil rather than God."
What IFLS says:
"Back in the 17th century, a Sicilian nun wrote a letter claiming she had been possessed by the devil. Over 340 years later, scientists have finally deciphered this rambling message using a decryption program they came across on the deep web.The letter was supposedly written by Sister Maria Crocifissa Della Concezione at the Monastery of Palma di Montechiaro in the early hours of August 11, 1676. The following morning, she awoke covered in ink and claimed she had been possessed by Satan, who forced her to write the message. At the time, claims like these were taken very seriously."

What the Mail says:
"A 17th century 'letter from the devil' written by a Sicilian nun who claimed to be possessed by Lucifer, has finally been translated thanks to the dark web.The coded letter was written by Maria Crocifissa della Concezione at the Palma di Montechiaro convent in 1676, and she claimed it had been scribed by Satan using her hands."
I realise that this is somewhat subjective, but the IFLS article's tone seems to much more closely resemble the tone of the tabloid reporting of the subject. At only the conclusion of the article does the author acknowledge the possibility of psychological disorders and he never mentions the known psychological effects and afflictions that have symptoms that were previously associated with spiritual possession, leading to often fatal misidentification. I expect that from the Mail, but this is shockingly poor form for a science website.

As for the actual translation of this diabolical letter, Tom tells us:
"They (Ludum Science Center in Catania) have already translated 15 lines of the letter. So far, their work has revealed that the letter speaks of the relationship between God, Satan, and humans. It reads: "God thinks he can free mortals. This system works for no one... Perhaps now, Styx is certain."..
What Tom fails to mention is that we need to consider that the link between religious fixation and various mental illnesses such as schizophrenia is extremely well established (7). It's especially prevalent with individuals with strong religious upbringings and surrounded by religious iconography. Like a nun maybe?

I have some reason to suspect that the actual translation of the letter may not be particularly robust, particularly from this section of the article:
"It (the letter) goes on to try and convince the nun to abandon her faith, arguing that God is merely the invention of man and that Jesus and the Holy Ghost are “dead weights”...."
The letter was alleged to have been written in 1671, the origins of the term "dead weight" dates back to 1651, its first recorded mention, but its definition of a person of limited usefulness or burden was not widely used at this time. The main usage was nautical.  Also, its first uses were in English literature (8). Are we to believe its common usage had reached Italian nunneries within twelve years of it being coined?

It's possible but not likely.






I have to wonder if the editors at IFLS realise this article may have pushed the term "science" just a little too far, at the time of writing the site has turned off commenting on the post. I suspect it may disappear altogether shortly. By that point the damage may well have already been done, the post has been shared 28 thousand times. I came across it on not on a science group or page but in a small paranormal group posted by an admin who frequently posts articles about "demonic possession" and warning signs that your house is haunted.

Telling indeed.

Sources

(1) http://skepticsboot.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/where-is-love-how-ifls-is-failing.html

(2) http://www.iflscience.com/technology/letter-written-by-a-nun-possessed-by-satan-decoded-using-deep-web-software/

(3) http://nypost.com/2017/09/11/dark-web-helps-decipher-361-year-old-letter-from-lucifer/

(4) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4864708/Devil-letter-written-posessed-nun-finally-translated.html

(5) http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/weird-news/643967/Devil-Christian-Bible-Proof-Letter-Possessed-Maria-Crocifissa-Italy-Decrypted-Decoded-God

(6) https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/nun-sister-maria-crocifissa-della-concezione-letters-from-lucifer-decoded-via-the-dar-web-d5jwx5mwk

(7)  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4031576/

(8) http://www.finedictionary.com/Dead-weight.html#etymology

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Skeptic, Cynic Or Debunker?

This is a response to a comment left on my last post regarding the evidence presented in the Dear David saga by a Google Plus user going under the name "Eric Doe". I love getting comments and feedback on the blog, even critical feedback like Eric's. I don't even mind if commenters want to hang on to their anonymity. What I dislike is when commenters prevent me from replying to their comment as Eric has done, but I am going to reply to Eric's comment in a full post as it raises a few interesting questions about the role of skeptics in addressing paranormal topics and the question of whether I am a skeptic or indeed a "debunker" as he accuses me of.

*Unfortunately immediately after this response was posted "Eric" deleted his comment. As I only shared the post on my personal wall and my page, I suspect it is someone who I could interact with quite freely on Facebook. Why they chose to comment anonymously escapes me, as does their reason for removing the post.














Here's the comment in its entirety and I'll address it one part at a time. Eric's original comment in bold.
I have certainly not been convinced by his claims, but there is a question that I need to ask you relating to the topic in general. You have 'debunked' every case and instance of supernatural events that you've addressed with a long line of reasoning, some of which contains lines of reasoning that are considered debatable.
Firstly, I've never set out to "debunk" anything. I've set to seek a rational explanation for the "evidence" I'm offered, I attempt to use critical thinking, scientific principles and the preexisting framework of scientific understanding to explain a claim more parsimoniously and often this process results in finding explanations that aren't supernatural in nature. I've never debunked anything that wasn't bunk-filled, to begin with.

If any of my reasoning seems "debatable" to anyone I'd suggest they debate it. If they want to do so with me, even better. Often what I offer in the blog is an alternative hypothesis. Am I always right? Nope. And I correct myself in those instances when I discover I'm wrong. We have, with the stories and data I address, the supernatural hypothesis already. It would be superfluous for me to offer a supernatural hypothesis myself as presumably we're already given at least the beginnings of this.What I seek to offer is a stripped down, naturalistic hypothesis. Of course, I try to use well-reasoned arguments to back up my hypothesis. Is this balanced? Only if I allow the reasoning of the person or group making the supernatural claim to be heard as well, which I believe I do. I make sure there are competing hypothesis on the table, my readers can then decide which seems more credible. Often there are other competing rational explanations out there, that's great and often I address and assess these too.
But that criticism isn't really what I'm concerned with. What I am concerned with is that debunkers tend to not be very objective.
It often takes a great deal of effort to "debunk" a claim. I'd hazard a guess that in "debunking" the various stories, articles, beliefs photos and videos I've addressed on this blog, I've scrutinised them a heck of a lot more thoroughly than the people who've just outright accepted them as supernatural in nature. I often spend hours with a piece of footage, assessing it. If this doesn't imply the fact that I treat the "evidence" fairly and even-handedly I don't know what does. Being objective doesn't mean turning a blind eye to something, accepting it immediately or viewing it through slightly splayed fingers. You think many believers are being objective when they assess things like the "Dear David" evidence before they assume it's supernatural?

Also, this gives me my first indication that when Eric says "debunker" he actually means "cynic" which I'll address when it comes up again shortly.
My question is this: What would it require for you to believe that a claimed supernatural event or occurrence is legitimate?
Something testable, repeatable and independently verifiable. A hypothesis that is falsifiable, an element that I believe current supernatural hypothesis sorely lack, and this represents a major stumbling block between the supernatural and the scientific. I'll tell you what I don't accept: anecdote. Personal experience.

To accept ghosts exist it requires almost all of physics to go back to the drawing board. If there is some energy of spirit, let's call it vitality, then there must also be some vital force. In turn, a new force requires new fields and new force carrying particles. This means that the standard model of physics is wrong. In order to accept this, physicists are going to require evidence that is at least as voluminous and well supported as the evidence for the current paradigm. They're going to require data that cannot be explained in any other way under our current understanding. If you think that orb photos, or EVPs or moving chairs captured on grainy video are going to suffice, you are deluding yourself.

Sorry if that makes you angry or upset. It's the truth.
It's been my experience that there is a vast difference between a skeptic and a debunker.
There really isn't. If you're a skeptic who is actively using critical thinking and the scientific method to assess claims, there will be occasions when you inadvertently "debunk" these claims.  What Eric is doing here is conflating a process and the end result of that process. A skeptic unavoidably becomes a "debunker" if he/she applies their method well to a claim that is demonstrably false.


 A true skeptic has a completely open mind, is humble, willing to admit that we have not reached the pinnacle of all knowledge, and is willing to fairly and objectively consider evidence with that openness of mind, being willing to accept that not everything has a physical explanation. 

Eric here handily provides us with his own definition of what a skeptic should be, some of it's right. Some wrong. Who says a skeptic has to be humble? And who says we have to accept not everything has a physical explanation. I'm not going to accept something lacks a physical explanation until I encounter something that can't be explained physically. I'm willing to accept the possibility. But again, I'm going to need a high standard of evidence.

As an interesting side note here: what exactly does Eric define as "non-physical"? By constantly describing spirits and ghosts as "energy" believers are specifically acknowledging that they are physical in nature. Energy is a physical property of matter. If ghosts exist, and they are definable as energy, then they are physical. This is also true if they can have a measurable effect on the natural world, there must be some method of interaction.

Guess what? That means they should also be measurable. Wonder why we haven't yet?

A debunker is one that has already made up their mind even before considering the evidence (i.e. dismisses the topic out of hand and approaches all new instances of said event to be false and delves into the instance seeking to find how to tear it apart.) It seems to me that you are not a trueskeptic but a debunker.
Eric also provides his own definition of what a debunker is. Now let me ask you: if I've dismissed paranormal instances and data I write about "out of hand" why the fuck do I often spend hours examining it? Surely if I fit Eric's definition of a "debunker" then I'd consider this a wasted effort? Eric instantly contradicts himself, one can't "dismiss the topic out of hand" whilst simultaneously "delving into instances" even if the aim is to "tear it apart".

This is what makes me think Eric conflates the concepts of a debunker and of a cynic.

 As for me not being a "true skeptic" (Eric's definition) and being a "debunker".

I'm both.

I hope that my comment and query is not taken as rudeness or unfair criticism as that is not my intention. I truly want to understand your perspective and to learn what you require in order to believe that there is something more than merely the physical? Thanks for your time.
As always I appreciate the feed back and I hope my position is clear. The ultimate answer to your question is "empirical evidence" even though I think the more interesting question raised here is what does it mean for something to be non-physical? If something can be described as energy, can interact with the physical world and apply force to physical objects then it is by necessity: physical.

Before I end the post:

I recently appeared on the Paranormal Concept show with hosts Kerry and Paul and fellow guest Kev Kerr of Pararationalise. The show was great fun and Kev is really informative. You can listen to the show here:

https://www.spreaker.com/user/parasearchuk/paranormal-concept-kev-kerr-rob-lee-skep

Whilst you're at it, check out Kev's site Pararationalise, which is a great resource:

https://www.pararationalise.org/

Please show them your support.