Posts Tagged‘bollocks’

Weapons Grade Bollocks.

You might notice that I don’t usually post on the same topic more than once per week. That’s because I’ve usually said all I can think about for that area and posting again just feels like I’m repeating myself. So in essence skepticism was done for the week after I posted my rant yesterday about alt-med and I set off on trying to find something else new and interesting to blog about. So you can imagine my frustration when over a morning coffee a news story pops up that flared up my bullshit detector and sent me into a wild skeptical flail. The story itself? Ghosts appearing in photos in a cemetary:

DOES this photograph show the figures of two children, born nearly a century apart, walking in their own paranormal playground?

The family who took this picture while on a ghost tour in Picton, NSW,  swear there were no children inside the St Mark’s Cemetery.

Which begs the question: who, or what, is out there?

Local legend has it that the two children are David Shaw and Blanche Moon, who died 60 years apart.

Just so I don’t explode from the sheer amount of stupid that’s emanating from the media outlets that are lapping up this story (even when it’s not a slow news day, what with Prince William being here) let me tear down why this story, and indeed all stories like this, are pure weapons grade bollocks.

The first problem I see with this story is that the picture was from a digital camera. It’s not explicitly stated but the family said when they “uploaded” the photos they saw the children who weren’t there when they took the photo. Right off the bat this shows that they could have easily been altered and the lack of the original hi-res photo makes inspection for alterations difficult. The reporter on the news this morning said inspection of the photo showed no alterations since the noise appeared to match the background.

Ok sure it’s not like we can add in noise to pictures afterwards… oh wait yes we can. It’s rather trivial to put objects into a photo that weren’t there in the first place, blur them slightly and then add film grain over the top to make it appear like the photo was an original. Plus the size of the image floating around is ridiculously small with JPEG compression knocking out a good whack of detail. Additionally none of the images on the web contain the EXIF data either, which is basically a fingerprint of data the camera leaves on every shot it takes. This has all the makings of a faked image if I ever saw one.

What gets me though is that the locals were so quick to jump on the bandwagon and say who the children were. I mean really can you even make a face out in those pictures? As far as I can tell they’re the same kid and you’d have zero chance of identifying anyone with a shot that blurry. So of course the local legend must be right since the picture is of 2 kids. Usually something like this would flounder on the back pages but somehow its made its place amongst a prince visiting our country and the tragedy in Haiti. Smells like a PR stunt to me.

As you can probably tell I never buy this kind of bull that seems to come my way every so often. These kinds of things play on people’s inbuilt fear of death and hopes for an afterlife, something which I don’t believe should be used for material gains. Whenever you see something like this take a step back and ask yourself “How hard would it be to fake that?”. 99.999999999999999999999% of the time you’ll think of ways pretty quickly, in the other cases it’s a complicated illusion that will take you a lot longer to pick apart. There’s a reason why a lot of magicians out there are also rabid skeptics.

Alt Med: That Makes Me ANGRY!

For the most part I give alternative medicine a free pass since the company I keep generally doesn’t buy into the whole scene. I almost bit the head off some very nice Americans on Turtle Island when they started blathering on about it but the cocktails and amazing food kept the raging skeptic in me at bay. More recently however the alt-med nonsense has been creeping back into my life, and I can’t say that I’m willing to give it the calm disdain I had for it previously.

My sister in-law recently went and saw someone recommended to her by a friend. They didn’t state at the start what qualifications they had nor what kind of practitioner they were. After asking some general questions about health she was then subjected to something that was akin to the Scientology’s e-meter, in essence a gussied up resistance meter. The practitioner touched the device to various parts of her hand which made the meter jump and make some kind of “woooooooo” noise when it did. She then moved pegs on a board labelled with the internal organs. Apparently this was done to judge the health of her said organs. For about an hour of this she was charged the princely sum of $200, told to take some herbal concoction she mixed up and avoid any grains.  I had to laugh because otherwise I would’ve been tracking that person down and throwing science at them until they relented.

As far as I can tell this was some off-shoot of Electrodermal Screening, something I had quite a bit of trouble tracking down. Needless to say it’s impossible to diagnose someone’s health by measuring the resistance of the skin on your hand and as she was explaining it to me you could see she was realising that she’d basically been conned. However she still went on to explain it to everyone else and regurgitated what the practitioner had told her despite my advice that she should disregard everything that she had been told.

I can understand the reasons why though, when you figure out you’ve been conned there’s a certain amount of social stigma attached to it. Admitting that to your peers only serves to weaken your image amongst them, even more so when you’ve parted with your hard earned cash. Still it’s this kind of social behaviour that the alt-med practitioners prey upon in order to keep themselves in business. Sure the fair majority of them actually believe that they’re helping but that doesn’t detract from the fact that they are in fact scamming people. Wilful ignorance is not a defense in my eyes.

It probably doesn’t help that the majorit of my family-in-law had a healthy distrust for doctors. I wish I could say this was rare to but it seems that no matter who you talk to they can rattle off a bad experience with a doctor, which gives undue credit towards these alt med whackos. Sure they make mistakes but do you really want to put your health in the hands of someone who’s whole profession is based around heresay and conjecture or someone who’s spent the better part of a decade in training backed up by decades of science? It seems that we’re all to willing to throw that all out the window in the hopes that the person with the magic beans has the solution.

I’m a keen believer in that if I need information in a field that I’m not (or can’t become in a reasonable amount a time) an expert in I should delegate to the experts. My health is one of those fields and so far the expert advice of eat healthy, exercise and keep everything in moderation has served me pretty well. Sure I might begrudge having to go to the doctor when I’ve got the flu in order to get a piece of paper telling me I have the flu to get out of work, but I can appreciate the work they do. Otherwise I’d have to train myself to be a doctor and I really don’t have 10 years to spare right about now 🙂