Monthly Archives: October 2011

Shades of Grey

Organised Skepticism can be a double edged sword, a powerful tool if used correctly, but use it arbitrarily, or without understanding, and it can give you a nasty cut with the backswing. Such belief-based own goals were, for a long time, the preserve of the credulous believers and pseudo-scientific charlatans, people exploiting the easily led and deluded, yet the current rise of ultra-hardcore Skepticism at the fringes of what we do, with it’s seemingly arbitrary blanket judgements about how every believer in the unproven and unfounded is automatically either suffering from some form of undiagnosed mental aberration or knowingly exploiting the uneducated in an effort to turn a fast buck denies a fundamental rule of our collective experience of reality – the fact that our world is rarely black and white, but actually very many shades of grey.

As anyone who has stopped by my blog and read my fortnightly Woo Watch knows, I like to point the finger and laugh just as much as the next Skeptic, take a humorous snipe at those who make a career from believing the impossible or those who should in general know better, and for that very reason I never thought I’d become an advocate for a conscience within the Skeptical movement. But even I draw the line at the sort of black and white thinking that I have witnessed in numerous places recently, especially online, and the horrible thought that Skepticism itself might be falling into the same dogmatic patterns that we accuse others of. I didn’t come here to stand in the light of reason to watch my new island of truth sink into the same closed-minded belief based nonsense that I abhorred back when I was forced to attend a Church of England primary school in my distant youth, and I won’t watch it start down that slippery slope without voicing my concern.

For example, what do you think of when I say Psychic? Can there even be such a thing? Not according to our current understanding the world, no. I know that, you know that, and we all have a good laugh when we see one trying, and inevitably failing, Randi’s million dollar challenge. But not everyone is a Derek Accorah or Sylvia Browne. Some of these people actually believe in what they are doing, and they hold nothing but the desire to help others with what they erroneously perceive as their oh-so-special gifts. They are most likely not suffering from a mental illness, despite the frankly asinine statements I have heard recently, and while it could be argued that they are deluded, the most likely explanation is that they are uneducated and unable to understand exactly what is going on inside their own heads. They are seeking meaning in a world without a definite personal narrative, and just like the less hardcore Conspiracy believers, teen Witches and disinterested but loyal Religious adherents they make the best of the shreds of data that they have, never wondering if it is the right answer because they lack the vocabulary to even ask the question in the first place.

The bottom line is, we are the good guys in all this, helping to steer those who would know no better towards those very answers, as defined by the scientific method and critical thinking, and away from making the sorts of uninformed errors that result in them selling grandma to pay for just one more reading with Mystic Bob or donating the last of their wages to the slick preacher on cable TV. We should champion critical thinking, true, but that’s where the criticality should stop. While some of those out there in Woo Woo land are guilty of knowingly deceiving others, just as many are sadly convinced of their ability to defy the laws of our consensus reality, and through education, not humiliation, will we reach them. We are Skeptics, not cynics, and what use is our movement, our desire for change, if all we do is become that what we despise and see the world through the same black and white perceptual blinkers that leads inevitably to fundamentalism, in the process playing right into the hands of those who would accuse us all of adhering to a religion based upon science while seemingly pretending otherwise?

Glass Divination Challenge

Glass divination is a technique used by many paranormal research teams at supposedly haunted locations. The aim is to communicate with the spirits of the deceased, who push the glass around a surface (usually a table top) in response to questions. People sit in a circle and focus their ‘energy’ on the glass to help the spirit move it.

Think ‘ouija board without the board’ and you have glass divination.

Successful glass divination is a product of two things; either somebody around the table is intentionally moving the glass, or the people around the table are unconsciously moving the glass. The first is called cheating, the second the ideomotor response.

Scientific tests by American psychologist William James, French chemist Michel Chevreul, English scientist Michael Faraday (Zusne and Jones 1989: 111), and American psychologist Ray Hyman have demonstrated that many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious “energies,” are actually due to ideomotor action.

Furthermore, these tests demonstrate that “honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations” (Hyman 1999).

They also show suggestions that guide behavior can be given by subtle cues (Hyman 1977).

The above mentioned ‘suggestions that guide behaviour’ include folklore tales attached to a building, or the stories told to the investigator about what has happened or been witnessed at the location, by the owner of the location owner/staff/residents. If you are aware of the fact that a woman who was murdered is said to haunt a corridor in the building looking for her unmarked grave, it’s likely that that knowledge will influence the way in which the glass moves.

There is a simple yet effective way to test whether the glass is being moved by the people resting one finger upon it. You need to be able to visually see the movement, and I have found that the best way to do this is by covering the glass with putty. Any intentional or unintentional movement of the glass by those touching it will show in the soft putty.

Here’s a demonstration:

Why not try using putty as a control, and letting us know the results?

The Phones4U Ghost

screen cap of ghost girlOn the 29th September 2011, a columnist called Ellie Ross working for The Sun newspaper published a story titled “Spook or spoof? CCTV appears to show a ‘ghost’ haunting a phone shop”.

As usual, this was a sterling example of how The Sun seems to think its readership is mostly comprised of people with severe learning difficulties, and given their past record for “accurate” reporting and continued sales, there may even be some truth to this theory. However, you could be forgiven for thinking this is also true for the reporting staff at The Sun.

Traditionally, a reporter would travel to the source of the news, or perhaps have a contact list of people to feed them snippets of useful information. They would then spend some time fact checking, cross referencing and gathering supporting evidence before releasing a story. However, all you need to do now is have access to a keyboard and be able to browse Youtube, and this is exactly what Ellie Ross appears to have done. She wrote:

“CCTV footage posted on YouTube appears to show the ‘ghost’ of a young girl haunting a well-known mobile phone store A spooky-looking female figure can be seen walking past a doorway at the back of the store, pausing to turn her head and look straight into the recording surveillance camera”.

Now I am sure you will have noticed by now, that she has given herself a journalistic “out” by posing the title of the story as a question, in case she gets “rumbled”. (Btw consider yourself “rumbled”) However we will ignore that for now…

The “well known mobile phone store” is clearly identified as “Phones 4U” by the internal advertising in the store. At the back of the store, there appears to be a doorway partially obscured by shadows. The figure of what looks like a child in blouson sleeves appears momentarily, stops, turns to look in the general direction of the security camera, and then fades from view.

It never ceases to amaze me, how these ever elusive ghosts never seem to fail to perform for the cameras at every given opportunity. Ellie continues:

“The opening credits state that today’s shop was “built on the site of a Victorian orphanage” — suggesting that the ‘spirit’ is one of its dead orphans”.

I do hope nobody is too surprised that The Sun has descended like a right wing vulture to pick on the corpse of a long dead child, simply to sell “newspapers”. Regardless, here is the video of the alleged event.

The video clip on Youtube that Ellie found was titled “Ghost caught on camera” (pioneering title I thought). The uploader, an individual with the pseudonym “Tushae” uploaded this video on the 26th September 2011. A full three days before The Sun picked up the story.

Tushae wrote a small description of the video:

“GHOST CAUGHT ON CAMERA!!! A mate just sent me this, didn’t want to put it up. YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!!!! He showed it to some experts but they can’t explain it then found out his shop was built on Victorian orphanage called the yorkshire orphan asylum. THIS IS SOOOOO FREAKY!!!!”

He later added another update:

“[update] UNBELIEVABLE! The sun has put this video on their site. My ghost caught on camera in now everywhere 😉 there must be something in it!”

Yes indeed. There must be “something” in it. Let us see exactly what that “something” is.

Just prior to the video, there is an edited section designed to provide additional background details. It states:

“A ghostly figure was caught on CCTV where I work. This genuine footage, which has been examined by experts. They were unable to provide any answers. I later discovered the shop was built on the site of a Victorian orphanage”.

This introduction seems to be from the person who sent the original video to Tushae. We know this because it states that it was taken in their place of work, and Tushae claims the video was forwarded to him by a friend. This “friend” claims the video was examined by “experts” and yet there is no mention of who these people are, or indeed which field their expertise lies in. This “friend” also claims he later found out the store was built on the site of a Victorian Orphanage. One would have to ask how? Perhaps they are also an amateur historian?

NB:

I can find no historical link to any Orphanage with that name. The only two Orphanages I can find in Yorkshire from the Victorian period are the Hull Seaman’s and General Orphan Asylum, and the Port of Hull Society and Orphan House. There may have been others at the time. Perhaps one of our readers is an avid amateur historian? If so, please contact us, so we can amend these details at a later date. This section does not apply to the person who submitted the original video.

Ellie Ross provides the name Andrew Dasilva in relation to this story. This may be the given name of Tushae, or even his friend (the originator). It is not stated implicitly who Andrew Dasilva actually is.

Ellie adds:

“But this viral spook could well be the work of pranksters using special effects”.

That is indeed a possibility. In fact, using applications like ‘Adobe After Effects’, it becomes incredibly easy. Here is an example of how that is possible from Youtube user chrisftw92. I believe the “ghost” has been replaced with Hank Hill from the Mike Judge series “King of the Hill”?

A few things bothered me about this video. The higher than usual production values. The over used preamble. The textual effects. The high quality soundtrack. The replay. The zoom. The clarity of the “apparition” in the final frame…

It did not seem to be a typically unusual video that somebody has passed around for further opinions. It seemed too refined and planned. From the footage and effects, and finally to the press release. I decided to dig a little further.

I was also surprised to find this video of the Phones 4U “ghost” had gone viral. Usually, when a video goes viral (self replicating) it simply means it has become very popular, often copied and parodied until it becomes an overused stale meme. It is a bit of a gamble for the originators of such videos, as only a few finally become viral. Undoubtedly, these “viral videos” certainly are “attention grabbing”, and that is why they are also often used by advertising agencies as part of an ad campaign. Which got me thinking “what if”?

After researching the phones 4u and advertisements, I discovered that there was a connection.

It would seem that Phones 4U are clients of a company called Adam & Eve.

Adam & Eve were awarded Campaign Agency of the Year 2010 and Marketing Agency of the year 2010.

It makes sense that a large company like phones 4U would employ the services of such a company to boost sales, or to promote a new product. In fact the ad slogan (strap line) for this particular campaign is “Missing Our Deals Will Haunt You“.

It turns out that Phones 4U hired the Adam and Eve agency to promote a new mobile phone. The new phone I have identified is The Samsung Tocco Icon. They are advertising it as “only £59.95 on Pay As You Go”. The campaign is costing a massive £5.2/3m, and is geared for the pre Christmas rush.

The adverts all revolve around ghosts and zombies, stalking people, cornering them, and then announcing the sales pitch they could have had. It’s all very silly, and in good fun. The campaign consists of teasers, press releases, radio coverage and digital promotions. The campaign is also due also be promoted in store.

The adverts were created by Aidan McClure and Laurent Simon, and were directed by Garth Jennings through the production company Hammer & Tongs. You may remember Hammer & Tongs are credited with directing the movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In fact on the phones4u Youtube channel, you can see one of these ghost adverts right now.

Do you recognise the girl?

Addendum:

Now the really odd thing about this campaign is that this information was released on the 28 September 2011. That is two days after Tushae uploaded his Youtube video, and one day before The Sun ran with this story. One can only assume that Tushae is working for a creative ad agency, or was leaked the footage by a creative ad agency, and this may mean The Sun is using this to secretly promote Phones 4U. I do not know if this is true, but it certainly looks that way. Adverts disguised as news? I am sure Michael Marshall of the Merseyside Skeptics would have something to say about that…

Bob Dezon.
October 2nd 2011