Tuesday, 16 August 2016

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

























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

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


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

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

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


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












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


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

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

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

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

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




Monday, 15 August 2016

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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



*Ahem*

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


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












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

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

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

Friday, 12 August 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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




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

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


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

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Hugh Grant: The Art of Spectacularly Missing the Point.

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



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

 Because his son saw the ghost again the next day.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 6 August 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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











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























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

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

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

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











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











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

Alexa: It's gone cold....

Coffey: Freezing...

Alexa: I feel him in my stomach...

Coffey: I feel  it in my gut...


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


Saturday, 30 July 2016

Soul Exception: Is Footage Of a Soul Leaving a Body in a Hospital In China Proof Of Life After Death Or another Sloppy Fake?


The tabloid press is once again hailing a piece of video footage shared on social media as evidence of paranormal phenomena. Such esteemed establishments as The Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun write today of footage allegedly shot in a Chinese hospital back in 2014. The Mirror asks it's readers "Could this footage prove once and for all that there is an afterlife - and that we all have souls?" Whilst the Sun offers a quote from an authority as high as a YouTube commenter who breathlessly exclaims the video is “a real shock for the materialists.” What not a single version of this story contains is the slightest piece of background information about the footage or where it actually came from. Sure, we're told when it was uploaded to Youtube and we're exposed to the ramblings of Youtube commentators, but where are the individuals that originally created, or leaked, this footage? Conspicuous by their absence. Likely, because hoaxers don't tend to be very forthcoming. True nor do people who leak CCTV footage, but they could be quoted anonymously.

What is also conspicuous by its absence is the original unedited footage. Every version of the story I checked featured this truncated and altered version of the video (below), which purports to show a spirit exiting the prone body of a female patient. This is also the version which is being widely shared on Youtube.



You'll notice the time code is covered, bizarrely by flowers, and the screen is cropped quite severely. In my experience, that is only ever done to hide evidence of fakery. You'll see in the unedited footage below, the edits clearly aren't aesthetically pleasing or add extra clarity. I went in search of a non-cropped version and found it pretty easily. I did find clear evidence of the video being changed to a composite shot as in this similar footage also supposedly shot in hospital. Take a look at the unedited video and see if you can also see the red flags.



Change the speed setting to slow (0.25) and watch between 0.09 and 0.12 seconds. What you should notice is an instantaneous lightening of the screen at around 0.10s. If you watch the footage closely a few time you are unlikely to miss the instant change in brightness, but it's difficult to demonstrate with a still image. I can attempt this by asking you to focus on a particular element in the picture, in this case, a dark line of the left-hand wall towards the bottom of the image. It's clearly defined in the darker image at 0.09 but can barely be seen at 0.11.



There also seems to be a distinct drop in the clarity of the two images at these times, though this may just be a factor of the increase in brightness. What's the significance of this change? The figure on the bed at 10s is a still image, what we see at 0.10 is the change between a live video and the composite shot of a still image of the room and a video of something (a sheet?) moving upwards and away from the bed, so the moving spirit is part of a video image playing over the top of the still image. As it is shot in slightly different lighting conditions the change between the non-composite video and the composite image is clear.Surprisingly, this section of the video is actually visible in the footage circulated by the tabloids but at roughly 0.06s, unsurprisingly, this change in picture marks the beginning of the "paranormal activity". Funny how that is ALWAYS the case with these pieces of footage. *Edit* As Gareth Farmer points out in the comments, we should also be very wary that the "spirit" heads directly towards the door. I suspect that this is because the overlaid video is a sheet pulled off the figure and pulled or carried through that doorway.

I also expected to find evidence of alteration in the time code which was obscured in the source much like in the Malasyisain possession video I covered a little while ago. This isn't really present, but I believe that's because the hoaxers have overlaid their own time code on the finished video, which is the mistake the Malasyisain hoaxers made, they left the original time code and the still image was clear from the non-moving clock.

Here are the big clues this is what has been done.

Firstly look at how unprofessional the time code looks. The date line is very well spaced, whilst the time code is squashed so much that the numbers actually overlap.







Also, this date line isn't Chinese. Culturally the Chinese rank dates in order of largest to smallest, so this dateline should read 2014/07/20 and that's even if western numerals were used at all. Often Chinese letting will appear between the numerals. Here are some other examples of genuine date lines in Chinese CCTV, the top right image is actually taken from a hospital.












Even if this footage did originate in China, it's pretty clear to me that it's been altered by some in the West unaware of Chinese date conventions. I'd say the person who uploaded the edit noticed this too, and that was their reason for placing flowers over the dateline. With regards to the splicing at the left edge of the video this where the Western lettering CM2 appears. Although western lettering could be used here, if it were it would more likely read CAM02 or Camera02 rather than CM2 as generally camera numbers in public and commercial property is never numbered in single digits and CM isn't a commonly used abbreviation for the word camera.

So can materialism survive this onslaught? I think so. The truth is, even if this video wasn't a pretty clear fake, video evidence will never be considered evidence robust enough to overturn principles of science or philosophy. The potential for fakery and the lack of replicability is too great. Any other stance is simply wishful thinking.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Creation Search. Creating a Safer Echo-Chamber.






Fundamentalist Christians currently face a huge problem, the freedom and availability of information on the internet. This probably isn't something you've ever considered a problem, but you likely aren't a follower of a false and harmful ideology that is based on a tissue of lies and the willful misrepresentation of science. In other words, you very probably aren't a creationist. This problem has been approached in various ways since the popularisation of the internet, with many pastors and creationist organisations condemneding the internet and advising followers to steer clear of it altogether.

At a Christian retail show in 2009, Christian apologist Josh MacDowell (left) told attendees

"The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have... whether you like it or not... the abundance of knowledge, the abundance of information, will not lead to certainty; it will lead to pervasive skepticism...A the Internet has leveled the playing field [giving equal access to skeptics].”

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/internet-the-greatest-threat-to-christians-apologist-josh-mcdowell-says-52382/#be8eMcT61URh5vWp.99

Oh NO! Our children are being exposed to contrary worldviews they may start to *gasp* think for themselves.... we can't have that!

Notice that MacDowell doesn't say an abundance of "false information" just "information". Clearly, it's in the Creationist parents best interest that their children have access to as little information as possible. They, correctly, assume the greatest antidote to indoctrination is education. Whereas once "secular" learning institutes were the main enemies of these ideologues, now the children can be exposed to alternative viewpoints and actually scientific findings in their own bedroom. Fundamental Christians approach to their children going to college had been a simple one, they simply created their own, where the environment could be more strictly controlled. Institutions such as Bryan College make promises such as "Christ Above All" to assure panicking parents that their children will return home as indoctrinated as when they left, if not more.

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/internet-the-greatest-threat-to-christians-apologist-josh-mcdowell-says-52382/#be8eMcT61URh5vWp.99

 

A similar approach was taking to educational resources on the internet. If creationists could not prevent their children from viewing scientific and skeptical sites, they would ensure that there was an abundance of counter-information sites available. Many of these sites claim to be practising "creation science" which would be better labelled "counter-science", mainly because as of yet, no creationist I've interacted with has been able to point to a single piece of original research published under the umbrella of creation science. The main drive of creation science is to offer counter points to established science, by starting out with a Biblical stance and then collecting evidence to fit this stance. So not science then.

The problem is, as the internet grows and more "secular" science sites spring up, these creation sites become drowned out. This is contrary to the grip that alternative health and sites and conspiracy theorists sites hold over their respective fields. For example, if you search "Cancer treatment" using Google's search engine you'll pretty quickly come across posts from organisations such as the British homoeopathic association promoting holistic treatments for breast cancer. Even more impressively, Google "9-11 truth" and the results are filled with sites spouting nonsense about "nano-thermite" and the like. Whereas, a search for "what is evolution" yields pages free from creationist nonsense. It's the success of alt-med and conspiracy sites that may well spell doom for the visibility and availability of creationist sites in search engines which currently use an algorithm which ranks sites in terms of popularity.

In March 2015, it was announced that Google intends to begin implementing a move to rank sites on factual content using an established base of knowledge rather than popularity. 
This was based on a paper entitled "Knowledge-Based Trust: Estimating the Trustworthiness of Web Sources" produced by various members of the Google team. The paper states:
"We propose using Knowledge-Based Trust (KBT) to estimate source trustworthiness as follows. We extract a plurality of facts from many pages using information extraction techniques. We then jointly estimate the correctness of these facts and the accuracy of the sources using inference in a probabilistic model. Inference is an iterative process, since we believe a source is accurate if its facts are correct, and we believe the facts are correct if they are extracted from an accurate source. We leverage the redundancy of information on the web to break the symmetry. Furthermore, we show how to initialize our estimate of the accuracy of sources based on authoritative information, in order to ensure that this iterative process converges to a good solution."

Clearly, this would be terrible news for anyone making a living promoting anti-science, especially if one's entire ideology is based on promoting a warped vision of science. It's clear that, if this move was implemented, creationist websites would face a serious visibility crisis, especially if other search engines follow Google's lead. There is a fairly logical solution to this of course. Creationists could just introduce their own search engine to compete with Google.

And sure enough, they've created one. 


Search Creation is the search engine created by the Creation Network, an offshoot of Kent Hovind's Creation Science Ministries, currently ran by his idiot son Eric, whose Creation Today show and Creation Minute show are either the stupidest things ever committed to the internet or parodies of stunning genius. His Creation Minute: Six Types of Evolution, where Eric purposefully confuses the use of the word "evolution" with the concept of evolution by natural selection in order to persuade his followers to write off various scientific concepts which disagree with his view of reality, really has to be seen to be believed. As an interesting aside, Kent asked Eric to run CSE for him whilst he severed a ten-year prison sentence for fraud. He has since been released and is somewhat aggrieved that Eric won't give it back! He claims that Eric is making a living off his name, but ironically didn't complain when Eric reproduced his free lecture series and sold it as a set of premium DVDs. Maybe because he profited from it too?

So clearly Eric, who shamelessly cites Creation search as his "favorite creation resource" on his Facebook page, wants you and your children to be as stupid and poorly educated as he is, so he's created a search engine which he claims draws from a resource of just 20 websites, obviously a massive reduction of the amount of sites available through any other search engine. 




I have to seriously doubt the veracity of this claim, I ran several searches in Search Creation and the vast majority of the returned results were from the same five sites every time! *Ahem* The last search was... *ahem*.... for a friend... who erm... lent my computer?



What about the quality of the information on offer when you Google a complex subject? Unsurprisingly, it's not good. If you live in a Christian creationist household and want to teach yourself "Vector algebra" for example, you've got no chance. Search the term, and you'll find the only article in the top ten results linked that contains any mathematics is from the site Biblical Science Forum and is an argument that the existence of consistent mathematical laws is proof of God's majesty. All the other relevant sites consist of similar arguments. Of the paltry 10 results returned, in comparison to Google's 595,000 results for the same search, there's no actual indication of how one would perform even simple vector algebra, this exposes perfectly the key intent of Search Creation. It's designed to present support for ideological ideas, not to provide information. It's search engine created with the express intent of perpetuating ignorance. This is the only way creationism is going to survive, by creating a robust echo-chamber were followers are not confronted with troublesome facts and information.

One has to wonder, if Christian creationism is true, and can be shown to be such why are it's advocates so opposed to its followers being exposed to "secular" websites?