Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Paranormal Teams Must Stop Using Physical Injury As Evidence Of "Ghost Attack"

In my last post, I discussed one of the effects of a boom in paranormal investigation teams being formed which are either heavily or solely inspired television ghost hunting. So it only seems fitting that I tackle another aspect of that same phenomena in this subsequent post. This time it's an element that is more worrying than poor investigation techniques or a fundamental misunderstanding of how equipment operates. I find the explosion of paranormal investigators using physical marks and scratches as evidence most concerning. The phenomena seems to have grown in response to its popularisation on shows like Ghost Adventures, now there are few paranormal teams whose social media page doesn't include images of team-mates bodies adorned with scrapes and scratches. (Please note, barring the example below and the one at the foot of the post, I've used very few examples of these scratches and welts presented by paranormal teams throughout what follows. This was a conscious choice, as whilst many of these images would strengthen my case and I do normally like to present examples, I don't want to garner further attention for the practice, which I find pretty abhorrent.)

Here's an example from Greg Newkirk of Week In Weird. Gregg claims that scratches occurred during an investigation at Ohio State Penitentiary. 



In the "raw footage" offered by Newkirk, he expresses feeling pushed, the camera cuts and when footage resumes we find three finger marks dragged down Newkirk's back. Clearly, Newkirk doesn't understand what raw footage is, the edit here distinctly prevents this from being considered "raw". It's just footage. Nor is it footage of an "entity attack" as Newkirk describes it on Week in Weird. As is common in paranormal TV the marks on Newkirk's back are unveiled "live" on hard camera. This is done to give the impression that the marks must have occurred recently and thus isn't faked off camera. It's an element that's negated here by that edit. This element of immediacy is also neglected in the volume of images produced by Paranormal Investigation teams. The reason that paranormal TV shows present this as "evidence" is it's presented as happening right on camera. This doesn't transfer to static images. I'd describe what these Tv shows do as something or a crude conjuring trick. It's not difficult to explain where or when the scratches occur, immediately before filming or possibly as some sleight of hand on camera which goes unnoticed. These images aren't even a crude conjuring trick. It's akin to the magician revealing the card in the inside pocket of his jacket and expecting applause when he tells you he assures you it was in the deck and it is the card you would have chosen if he'd given you the opportunity to do so!

Newkirk and the paranormal teams also neglect another element of paranormal investigation shows: they fake evidence all the time and this is the easiest thing to fake. Blemishes and easy enough to produce, especially in areas of sensitive skin such as necks and backs, coincidentally where these things always seem to occur. 

So why should we consider these scratches and blemishes as anything remotely non-naturalistic? Newkirk (and I use his arguments as an example of wider held justifications) is again on hand to explain why skin abrasions such as the one he received are distinguishable from ones received from more naturalistic in origin, i.e:- one's own fingers/fingernails and the finger/fingernails of a co-investigator:
"When someone is scratched by a stray nail, a girly-fight, or their own hand, there’s often the tell-tale remainder of white, ashy skin flakes and traces of blood, but in the case of “supernatural scratches”, the wounds seem to fit a different set of criteria. They’re free of blood, lack the powdery remainder of skin cells scraped off by fingernails, and appear as something much like burns or welts."
Skin flakes and blood traces? Aren't such things extremely small? It would take a detailed examination to ascertain that such things were absent from supposedly paranormally induced marks. Also just because red marks appear doesn't mean the skin has been broken. Pressure applied to the skin can cause blood vessels to burst under the skin. It's like Newkirk doesn't know what a bruise is. Even when bruising doesn't occur pressure applied to the skin can cause blood to rush to that area to deliver clotting factors.

Greg continues:
"...Even more interesting is that the scratches disappear shortly thereafter, usually within hours of their appearance. These kinds of criteria aren’t simply limited to scratches either, but manifest as many other physical marks allegedly inflicted by supernatural forces..." 
Again, one would expect any red mark on the skin to fade, in the latter case which  I outlined above without any visible signs of any physical trauma. So why do these red marks appear so red? I think back to your childhood. Ever been hit by a football in the cold? Hurts a lot much than in the warm. It also leaves a more intense red mark. This because in cold environments the blood in your body is withdrawn from extremities to maintain body temperature. This includes the skin in a process called peripheral vasoconstriction. Thus when some pressure is applied to the skin and blood rushes to the area to deliver clotting agents that area appears much redder than surrounding areas. Couple this with strong lights sources against dark environments which can blanch the appearance of the skin anyway, making the red welts appear far more pronounced. Where do ghost hunters do their work predominantly? In the cold and the dark.

You may well be thinking now "why should marks made by ghosts applying force appear any different from force applied by the fingers?" Is it surprising the body reacts in a similar way, which is opposed the differences Greg lays out above. There's a very crucial argument from physics similar to the one I made here. The force would have to be applied by some form of matter, which should be detectable in other ways. It should have mass. Most ghost hunters would insist this isn't the case. Or they'd attempt to invoke energy mass equivalence, as they don't understand what "energy" is, or the deeper implications of E=mc^2, most tend to view energy and mass as some currency which can be exchanged in an easy non-violent fashion. Cue Greg's energy argument, and an instant display that he doesn't really understand at least one form of energy.
"Upon closer inspection, marks left by “ghosts” don’t conform to wounds left by physical force. They more often appear to have been left by energy, like stray electricity moving through the air, leaving behind burns and welts in its wake,,,"
Stray electricity doesn't just wander through the air until it strikes a hapless ghost hunter. Electricity moves between areas of differing potential. Stray electricity describes a system where some form of isolation has failed and a potential gradient has been created. More pertinently when "energy" causes a mark on flesh it isn't shaped like fingers. Newkirk and others who use similar arguments to justify want us to focus on the details so we miss the obvious. These marks and welts are almost always in the form of finger marks, they almost always reflect the normal spread and positioning of fingers. Often one can even differentiate the typically stronger fingers from the darker welts and find they conform to the positioning on the hand.

Conclusion

When I first wrote about this topic it was in response to evidence of the paranormal offered by an Irish paranormal investigation team. I took particular exception to an image of a female team member with welts on the side of her neck which appeared self-inflicted. The team member in question became very upset that I had implied that she had self-harmed. But I'm sorry, that's the most obvious conclusion that the evidence points to. That or that someone else did that to her. Or she has a rare undiagnosed dermatological condition. Paranormal teams who offer these images as evidence cannot point to anything that suggests a non-natural explanation, all they tend to offer is anecdote around the circumstances under which the marks occurred, and anecdote doesn't constitute a high enough level of evidence to overlook our everyday experience of how these marks occur, not to mention the wealth of evidence from physics and biology. By sharing these images these teams and individuals encourage others to self-inflict wounds upon themselves in the name of "evidence". They are encouraging people to hurt themselves. Even if they believe these marks are genuine, that's deeply irresponsible.

I'll leave you with some images that deeply coloured my opinion of this topic. It's a "paranormal investigator" from a team I won't name. He's sat in a chair nursing the wounds of a supposed "ghost attack" and what looks like an alcoholic beverage and he appears drunk. The marks don't appear to have been made by fingers but by a sharp object. Next to his chair is a small child who lives in the house the is under investigation. This child likely believes that something unseen in this house physically harmed this man.

This subject speaks deeply to the ethical responsibility of paranormal investigation, and many teams come up lacking to a shocking degree, and responsible teams must consider speaking up in comdemnation.