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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

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Researching psychic claims

‘Psychic’ or ‘medium’ is a term used to describe someone who claims to have a special ability or to use a ‘sixth sense’ to receive information which cannot easily be gleaned through normal human senses. A person may claim to do this with the assistance of spirit (as in mediumship) or they may claim to have special powers of perception either gifted to them or that they have honed.

Those who do not wish to describe themselves as psychic sometimes use other, less grandiose terms such as ‘sensitive’ to describe an increased ability to receive information using means alternative to our known senses.

It is reasonable when presented with such claims to seek to prove whether the claimant can do that which they profess to be able to do. A scientific approach to psychic claims may include formal or informal research aimed at proving such claims.

Once clear about the claim being made the researcher needs to design a research methodology which they think can capture the claimed skill and convert it into data. The data can then be analysed to determine whether the claimant can, in fact, achieve a hit rate above chance when set the task of performing their claimed psychic ability.

Researchers usually work with the claimant to agree the parameters of the study and will agree, before the study takes place, the threshold for concluding that the claim is upheld. This means agreeing how the research will be conducted and how the results will be analysed as well as where the line can be drawn to determine that the claimant has succeeded in proving their claim. In sceptical circles the burden of proof is said to fall upon the claimant since they are claiming to be able to do something extraordinary.

In general, the evidence presented for psychic phenomena has not been sufficiently verified to reach the threshold for scientific acceptance. Alternative explanations such as chance, coincidence, cold reading, suggestion and many other non-paranormal techniques have been put forward and demonstrated.

When embarking on a piece of research to attempt to prove psychic ability it is important to develop a research question or hypothesis. This is a statement of what it is you are asking or attempting to prove. Research tools are available for use and can add credibility to your research and assist in the process of answering your question. Michael Thalbourne’s Sheep-Goat scale lends itself very readily to the study of ESP, for example. He has produced a questionnaire which enables us to determine an individual’s level of belief. His theory says that believers in the paranormal (‘Sheep’) perform better than non-believers or ‘Goats’ because ‘Goats’ actively avoid hits in order to prove their theory of non-belief and have been evidenced to score below average in ESP tests. We need to approach research with an open mind but also with a theory to test. Essentially when conducting research we not only want to discover whether a phenomena exists but we also want to discover how it occurs and to be able to discuss some possible explanations.

Parapsychology is the name used to describe the scientific study of anomalous phenomena and typically includes the study of ESP, psychokinesis, mediumship and other claims of Psychic ability. Parapsychologists are sceptics in the true sense of the word. In other words they are not necessarily non-believers but they do apply rationalism and logic to their research. Parapsychology also challenges the assumption that subjective experience is ‘truth’. There can be no clear distinction between objective and subjective experience. What happens to me is not necessarily ‘truth’ as in a true reflection of what happens outside of myself as experienced by others. In fact the notion of truth itself can be challenged. In other words, parapsychology acknowledges that everything we experience is filtered through our own subjectivity and cannot be treated as fact.

It is easy and fun to conduct informal research into all the areas covered in this article. For example, Extra Sensory Perception (ESP), the act of telepathic transfer of images is traditionally practiced using Zenner cards but any image or object which can retained out of sight of the person trying to determine what it is can be used.

The most highly regarded research into psychic phenomena is that which uses a double-blind methodology. This method which is commonly used in drug trials, attempts to remove bias and influence which can flaw the study. The ‘double’ part of this term means that both the experimenters and the participants have no knowledge of the target and they do not even know who belongs to the control group and the experimental group until after the research has been completed and analysed.

Double-blind research is an excellent way to conduct research into psychic phenomena because the claim that unconscious bias and subtle unintended cues can explain positive results is a real and credible explanation. If the experimenters do not know what the target is then they cannot influence the participants. In a single-blind experiment the participants are blind but the experimenters are not. There remains a high risk that subjects are influenced by experimenter bias when using this methodology.

In simple terms, when designing a study, for example, to evidence ESP, if the experimenters know what the target object is then an explanation for any positive results will be that the experimenter communicated the target to the participants either consciously or unconsciously. Double-blind is therefore considered to be a much stronger method and the possible explanations for any results are narrowed.

Lastly, the bigger the sample size or number of people taking part in your experiment, the more generalisable your results will be. If you have a strong methodology your research can continue on more than one occasion so long as the method remains the same and this provides an opportunity to obtain more data.

If you would like to learn more about designing your own research I recommend a visit to any of the websites below for more information on the scientific study of psychic claims.

Links
http://parapsych.org/index.html

http://www.assap.org

http://www.jref.org

http://www.gold.ac.uk/apru/

http://www.koestler-parapsychology.psy.ed.ac.uk/

http://www.aiprinc.org/

http://paranormal.lovetoknow.com/ESP_Experiments

http://www.skeptic.org.uk/

Science of scams: Ouija board

I thought it was worth sharing this interesting video from the Science of scams team regarding the science behind why the glass moves during an ouija board session.

The same can be said for the glass used during a glass divination session, and the ideomotor response is the cause behind such tools of divination as dowsing rods and crystals too.

A typical response that I often come across from people who believe that ouija boards, or even glass divination or the other methods I mentioned work is that some times the movement or the glass/rods/crystals can be explained through the ideomotor response – but other times it cannot.

However, we have to look at this claim logically.

Anybody who is taking their research seriously and anyone thinking rationally will be using occams razor as a way to sum up the information they are presented with.

The idea that some cases of a glass moving can be explained by the ideomotor response but some cannot is a flawed way of thinking and could be classed as confirmation bias of that persons beliefs about the ouija board.

What we know for a fact is that involutary muscular movement causes the glass used in an ouija board session to move. Therefore, when trying to explain why the glass moved in a ouija board session we cannot rule this possibility out and, as it a more likely explination that say – a ghost moved the glass for which there is no proof, it is the one we have to go with. Simples.

Make sure you check out other videos from the Science of Scams team via their Youtube Channel. They rock.

Ghost stereotypes?

ghouulIt’s quite evident when one reads some books aimed at those with an interest in the paranormal – or even if you visit websites about the paranormal/ghost phenomena that there appears to be a trend to stereotype the kinds of ghosts that haunt our homes and buildings.

If you ever read a paranormal book/website you’ll probably be provided with a lot of information about the different types of ghosts, their characteristics and behavours.

‘Doppleganger’, ‘Poltergeist’, ‘Shadow ghost’, ‘grey lady’ – These are just some of the ‘types’ of ghosts, apparently

These classification seem to be just more information that is copied down in a parrot fashion by ghost hunting teams who cannot be bothered to conduct any proper research for themselves – it almost appears as though people who display such information about ghost stereotypes just read it, take it as a fact without even looking into the information for validity, and then copy and paste it into their website.

The truth is that no ghost/spirit – call it what you will, has ever been documented in a controlled condition. There is no documented evidence that suggests that ghosts exist. So ask yourself, if there is no documented evidence that ghosts do exist – how can these ghost hunters class ghosts into different types?

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