Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Radio Misterioso tonight!

I'm in Los Angeles right now on business, and tonight I'll be on Radio Misterioso with host Greg Bishop and Walter Bosley, discussing the world of the weird and the strange, and, if we feel really frisky, Mark Pilkington's new book, Mirage Men. You can tune in at Kill Radio.

Paul Kimball

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Remembering Mac

It was a year ago that Mac Tonnies passed away. Greg Bishop and I will be on Radio Misterioso this evening, Midnight to 2 am AST, remembering our friend. Join us!

Paul Kimball

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Aztec: 1948

Of all the films I've made, this is one of two that I wish I could do over again, primarily because it helped resurrect the Aztec UFO hoax, which should have stayed dead and buried (same reason for the other I would do over, Do You Believe in Majic). I learned a valuable lesson - a documentary filmmaker doesn't necessarily need to take a neutral stance, particularly when what he's being told is nuts. As the years have gone on, I've realized that even-handedness is about presenting the truth, and not about treating both sides as if they are equally valid when they clearly are not. But I was young(er) and less experienced back then, and didn't want to be seen as anything other than fair. Mea culpa.

Still, it's nice to see my old friend, the late Karl Pflock, who I think covers the Aztec hoax as well as it could be covered. He also brings up the Farmington Armada, which is the one case from the Aztec region that people should discuss, but it's just not sexy enough, because it doesn't have a crashed flying saucer and 16 dead little aliens.

The film was shot for less than $15,000 (and piggy-backed on the production of Do You Believe in Majic), which shows in the production value at points, and the reliance on interviews, but it's something of which I'm proud.

Alas, it would be nice if the distributor's write-up actually reflected what was in the film. Instead, the write-up is clearly designed to sell the film to the "aliens are here / crashed flying saucer" crowd, which is somewhat disingenuous, given the fairly even-handed point-of-view the film takes. Marketing in the film industry has absolutely nothing to do with truth.

A couple of other things:

The film was shot in 2003. Still no results from the core sample that Scott Ramsey took and was having analyzed.

None of the documents that Scott showed me referenced a flying saucer crash at Aztec. None. Not even remotely.

He never did give me the name of the anonymous witness he refers to in the film. When he says he told me about him, it was just what this guy had allegedly told Scott. I was never given the opportunity to confirm any of what this person supposedly said, or even that the person actually existed, despite requesting to do so.

Finally, here's an interesting anecdote from the production, which my crew members still find amusing. We were doing some filming down near Socorro, at a wildlife sanctuary (where Scott said there might have been a flying saucer crash...), and across the road were two guys, who had parked their van and gotten out with binoculars and a camera. Most of the time they were looking at various birds, but every now and then they would look over at us, something I've gotten quite used to over the years - if you have a large video or film camera out, people tend to stare, and wonder what you're filming. Anyway, after a few minutes, Scott came over to me and told me he thought the two guys might be government agents following us! He made a big deal about taking down their license plate number, and said he was going to get a friend to "run" them. Then he suggested that we turn our camera around, and start filming them. I politely refused, and a minute or two later told my guys to pack up. We had what we needed (just some b-roll that was never going to be in the film), and I was a bit weirded out by Scott, not for the first time. I'm saving the rest of the stories for the Aztec chapter of my memoirs!

For my views on the Aztec hoax, I encourage everyone to type "Aztec" into the search engine for this blog, which will take you to all of the posts I made after the film was released.

Paul Kimball

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Earthlike Planet

Found: An Earthlike Planet at Last

The planet is only about three or four times as massive as our home world, meaning it probably has a solid surface just like Earth. Much more important, it sits smack in the middle of the so-called habitable zone, orbiting at just the right distance from the star to let water remain liquid rather than freezing solid or boiling away. As far as we know, that's a minimum requirement for the presence of life. For thousands of years, philosophers and scientists have wondered whether other Earths existed out in the cosmos. And since the first, very un-Eearthlike extrasolar planet was discovered in 1995, astronomers have been inching closer to answering that question. Now, they've evidently succeeded (although to be clear, there's no way at this point to determine whether there actually is life on the new planet).
Remember the day, and the name: 29 September, 2010 - Gliese 581g.

Does this mean aliens from Gliese 581g are visiting Earth? Of course not. But it does point out, yet again, why the extraterrestrial hypothesis for the UFO phenomenon, of all the "paranormal" hypotheses on offer, makes the most sense - by far.

Paul Kimball

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kevin Randle - Animal Mutilations (and some other things)

Part II of my interview earlier this month with Kevin Randle, wherein we discuss animal mutilations, a few more points about the "abduction" phenomenon... and some miscellaneous subjects, including a certain Colonel of the Israeli-founded S3!

"Maggots, mutilations and myth: Patterns of postmortem scavenging of the bovine carcass", the Canadian Veterinary Journal article that I reference in this episode, can be read in its entirety here.

Paul Kimball

P.S. Here is a picture of yours truly in June, 2009, inside the secret S3 HQ in Prague!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

While on hiatus...

Yours truly with actress Christina Cuffari at the 2010 Atlantic Film Festival screening of Eternal Kiss on Wednesday, September 22, 2010.

Paul Kimball

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On hiatus

From time to time, the real world, and in my case the "reel" world, intrudes on my interest in the paranormal, and demands most of my attention. With my first feature film, Eternal Kiss, premiering at the 2010 Atlantic Film Festival next week, this is one of those times.

Accordingly, I'm on hiatus until late September.

Paul Kimball

Monday, September 13, 2010

Thought du jour - 13.09.10

"The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold." - Aristotle

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thought du jour - 12.09.10

"I've encountered a lot of people who sound like critics but very few who have substantive criticisms. There is a lot of skepticism, but it seems to be more a matter of inertia than it is of people having some real reason for thinking something else." - K. Eric Drexler

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thought du jour - 11.09.10

"The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos." - Stephen Jay Gould

Friday, September 10, 2010

Kevin Randle - The Abduction Enigma and the Will to Believe

On September 8, 2010, I recorded an interview with veteran UFO researcher Kevin D. Randle, most famous for his work on the Roswell case, wherein we discussed two particular topics that he has conducted extensive research in, but has rarely been interviewed about - animal mutilations, and the “alien abduction” phenomenon.

In this segment, Kevin and I discuss “alien abductions” - how it’s not caused by aliens from Zeta Reticuli (or anywhere else), what some of the non-paranormal explanations are, and why the truth has been overlooked by the vast majority of the UFO research community for the past 25 years, to the benefit of “researchers” like David Jacobs and Budd Hopkins, and to the detriment of the people they claim they have been trying to help.

For more information about Kevin’s research into the “alien abduction” phenomenon, you should get a copy of his excellent book The Abduction Enigma, co-authored by Dr. William Cone and Russ Estes.

Paul Kimball

Thought du jour - 10.09.10

"Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies." - Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Thought du jour - 09.09.10

"Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination." - Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Case of the Cursed Painting

In another of our investigations from the United Kingdom in 2009 while shooting Ghost Cases, Holly Stevens and I joined our friends in the UPIA, Dave Sadler, Steve Mera and Paul Reeves to investigate the Lion and Swan Hotel in Congelton, England.

As you watch this episode, it might seem to you like nothing much is really going on, which is in a sense true, and which is also what happens most of the time with ghost investigation (frankly, it's what happens with any kind of research or investigation). I think this is quite useful to watch in and of itself, which is why I structured the episode the way that I did - so that folks could see what really goes on during these investigations. However, it also leads up to a surpising conclusion that still has me thinking about what might really have happened, over a year later.

Ghost Cases - The Case of the Cursed Painting (Part I)
Uploaded by redstarfilms. - Classic TV and last night's shows, online.

Ghost Cases - The Case of the Cursed Painting (Part II)
Uploaded by redstarfilms. - Check out other Film & TV videos.

Unhappy coincidence? Almost certainly. But, as the Bard said, "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy". When one has been involved in something that they would otherwise have casually dismissed as that "unhappy coincidence" (as I no doubt would have in this case, were I not the one at the center of events), then one gains a greater understanding of Hamlet's caution to Horatio, and the need to leave at least a little room open for doubt.

This is the last episode of Ghost Cases that I'll be posting here, but there are 11 more interesting and thought-provoking stops on the journey of discovery that Holly and I took back in 2008 and 2009. If you want to see the rest of the series, write to your friendly neighbourhood broadcaster and ask that they contact our distributor, Breakthrough Entertainment, to inquire about acquiring the series for broadcast.

Paul Kimball

Thought du jour - 08.09.10

"If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong." - Sir Arthur C. Clarke

CBS Reports - UFO: Friend Foe Or Fantasy? (1966)

Walter Cronkite reports on the UFO phenomenon in 1966 for CBS. The segment features interviews with Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe and Dr. J. Allen Hynek.

A fascinating bit of UFO-related history.

Paul Kimball

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Seth Shostak - "Who or What Built the Universe?"

In today's Huffington Post, Seth Shostak takes a look at the debate between science and religion over how the universe was built.

An excerpt:

The split between religion and science is relatively new. Isaac Newton, who first worked out the laws by which gravity held the planets and even the stars in their traces, was sufficiently impressed by the scale and regularity of the universe to ascribe it all to God.

Physicist Stephen Hawking, who has authored a new book on cosmology (The Grand Design), now says that Newton underestimated his own discoveries. The law of gravity is like "love" to the Beatles: it's all you need. With gravity in place, the cosmos-as-we-know-it was just a matter of hanging out for a few billion years.

However, this approach inevitably begs the question, "who designed gravity?" Isn't it remarkable that this gentle force seems so perfectly suited to the job of assembling a grand and habitable universe?
You can read the entire article here.

Paul Kimball

Thought du jour - 07.09.10

"The supernatural is the natural not yet understood." - Elbert Hubbard

Monday, September 06, 2010

Ghost Cases - UK production stills

Here are some photos from my week in England investigating four locations with Holly Stevens and my friends from the UPIA for Ghost Cases.

Dave Sadler and Steve Mera of the UPIA, outside the White Hart Hotel, in Uttoxeter:

Yours truly and Aaron Gowlett, our cameraman, setting up a shot at the Bridestones, near Congleton:

Holly, Aaron and I after the shoot at the Bridestones:

Holly, yours truly, and Dave Sadler at the Bridestones:

The Lion and Swan Hotel in Congleton:

Steve Mera, yours truly and Dave Sadler discuss our plan of action for the investigation at St. Edith's church, Shocklach:

Steve Mera, cameraman Aaron Gowlett, soundman Dale Ryan Leckie, and Holly, at the White Hart:

Holly at the White Hart:

Holly at the Bridestones:

Steve Mera and Dave Sadler at St. Edith's church:

Holly and I at the Bridestones:

I had a great time working with Dave, Steve and the rest of the crew from the UPIA, and of course my former partner-in-crime Holly, at some truly historic and fascinating locations.

Paul Kimball

Phenomena Magazine

My good friends at the Unknown Phenomena Research Association produce Phenomena Magazine every month. It's always an interesting read, with case reports, reviews, and other articles, put together by serious investigators who take a skeptical but open-minded look at various types of allegedly paranormal phenomena. Best of all, they provide the magazine for free!

You can download past issues here (#8 features Ghost Cases on the cover), and subscribe here.

Paul Kimball

Steve Mera and Holly Stevens - the proper use of EMF meters in ghost investigation

In these outtakes from our investigation of the Manchester On-Line radio station in Manchester, England, for an episode of Ghost Cases, UPIA researcher Steve Mera, B.Sc. and my co-host Holly Stevens, B.Sc. demonstrate the proper use of an EMF meter in "ghost hunting" - not as a "ghost detector", as many claim, but as a means for determining possible explanations... and in this case, a public health hazard.

Paul Kimball

Ruppelt and Keyhoe - on-line

If you're interested in the UFO phenomenon, and you've never read Edward Ruppelt's classic book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, you can do so on-line here.

You can also download Donald Keyhoe's most well-known book, The Flying Saucers are Real, at Project Gutenberg.

Paul Kimball

Thought du jour - 06.09.10

"I don't mind UFO's and ghost stories, it's just that I tend to give value to the storyteller rather than to the story itself." - Robert Stack

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Jerome Clark - Subjectivity in Anomalous Experiences

Jerry Clark is one of the few UFO / paranormal researchers that I truly respect - which is not the same thing as saying that I always agree with him, of course. His UFO Encyclopedia is one of the most important works with respect to the UFO Phenomenon, and should be on the bookshelf of anyone who claims to take a serious interest in the subject.

At the 2008 Dinsdale Award lecture, Jerry gave on the subject of "Subjectivity in Anomalous Experience".

The abstract:

The long debate about the existence or nonexistence of extraordinary phenomena, from supernatural entities and fantastic monsters to mystery airships and UFOs, has long been predicated on an unexamined literalism. Either these things exist, it is presumed, or they are the products of error and deception. To a degree, this is a defensible approach. Beyond that, however, the frame of reference is woefully inadequate, failing to explain vividly felt encounters with otherworldly beings and beasts which over all of history human beings have experienced, even as no compelling evidence of their presence in consensus reality has ever emerged. Clark’s lecture discusses anomalous events vs. experience anomalies, which – though epistemologically unrelated –have a curiously parasitic relationship, and calls for a radical new understanding of the strange occurrences that have plagued, infuriated and fascinated human beings at all times and places.

Well worth watching by anyone interested in paranormal research.

Paul Kimball

Thought du jour - 05.09.10

"Science is wonderfully equipped to answer the question 'How?' but it gets terribly confused when you ask the question 'Why?'" - Erwin Chargaff

Saturday, September 04, 2010

St. Edith's church investigation (May 2009)

This is the episode of Ghost Cases that I found the most interesting, and which still baffles me over a year later - an investigation of the cemetery and grounds of St. Edith's church in Shocklach, England with our good friends Dave Sadler and Steve Mera from the Unknown Phenomena Investigation Association. Some very strange things happened that evening back in May, 2009, that tested the limits of my skepticism.

Ghost Cases - Shocklach Church episode, Part I
Uploaded by redstarfilms.

Ghost Cases - Shocklach Church episode, Part II
Uploaded by redstarfilms.

Did we experience something paranormal? I can't say for sure. All that I can say is that it was definitely the weirdest night of investigation I've ever experienced. There was so much going on, and we had the opportunity to look for answers, i.e. a possible sound that could account for the horse's hooves that Holly and I heard, or a light source to account for the light that Steve observed, but we couldn't come up with anything. Of course, we also didn't obtain any hard evidence, such as audio or video recordings, of what we experienced.

So, the reasonable person might ask - what conclusions did I draw from all of this?

None, really. I can't explain what happened, nor can I prove it to someone who wasn't there. I'm not sure that I can even prove it to myself.

Is there a rational explanation for everything that happened? Perhaps. However, there's a part of me that says otherwise - a part of me that believes we may have actually encountered something truly anomalous that evening, perhaps even something paranormal.

I fully intend to return to Shocklach church, sooner rather than later, to spend some more time there, and see if the events of my first trip repeat themselves. As Dave Sadler said to me before we got there, it's a special place.

I couldn't agree more.

Paul Kimball

Thought du jour - 04.09.10

"A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence." - David Hume

Friday, September 03, 2010

Paul Kimball - intrepid demon investigator

An outtake from Ghost Cases footage. While in Manchester, Holly and I investigated a supposedly haunted radio station (along with Dave Sadler and Steve Mera of the UPIA), and we did a radio interview with Tony Filer and Paul Ripley, who host a paranormal radio show there. Here is an edited clip that shows me for the well-researched, intrepid investigator that I really am!

Because it can't all be deadly serious!

That's Steve to my right and Holly on my left. Tony Filer has his back to the camera, and that's Paul Ripley to the right - you'll see him as the shot pans over.

Paul Kimball

New Light on Rendlesham

Dr. David Clarke, a British UFO researcher, has convinced Col. Ted Conrad, the Bentwaters/Woodbridge base commander during the time of the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident in 1980, to give a complete statement about his views as to what happened, which stand in direct contrast to the views that have been presented over the years by his deputy at the time, Col. Charles Halt.

You can read Dr. Clarke's article here. An excerpt from Col. Conrad's statement:

There were no conspiracies, no secret operation, no missile accident, and no harsh interrogations by OSI [Office of Special Investigations, USAF]. I was in a position to know about the OSI. It was a special organisation with a special mission. They had their own chain of command, but in practice the OSI commander kept me informed of any ongoing investigations they had. Someone reporting unexplained lights would not normally have been subject to OSI attention. They were after serious lawbreakers, including drug traffickers, security risk, and the like.

If I have any regrets, it is that I should have challenged Lt Col Halt’s account of the events on the night of 28 December. However since I wanted to avoid the appearance of shaping the story, I was reluctant to require any changes to his letter to Don Moreland [sent to MoD on 13 January 1981]. Also, I think maybe Don Moreland and I should have met over lunch one day to discuss a better way to handle the information in Halt’s letter. Halt’s letter gave us cover by putting Don on the spot. This left Don with the full burden of the letter and its disposition. When the letter was eventually released from MoD, it generated the frenzy of speculative reporting and the inevitable allegations of cover-up.

In the final analysis, the Rendlesham Forest lights remain unexplained. I think they are explainable, but not with the information we have been able to gather.

Theodore J. Conrad.
Col. Conrad goes on to state: "I also think the odds are way high against there being an ET spacecraft involved, and almost equally high against it being an intrusion of hostile earthly craft."

The traditional pro-ET / peo-paranormal view of the Rendlesham incident can be seen in this segment from my film, Best Evidence: Top 10 UFO Sightings, which features Col. Halt and Nick Pope.

What really happened in Rendlesham Forest in December, 1980? I think it remains an open question - indeed, so does Col. Conrad, and so does Dr. Clarke, who writes:

As was the case with the original Roswell incident, there is a great difference between the few certain facts that can be established from contemporary records and the elaborate legend that has grown up around the Rendlesham UFOs. The legend has been nurtured by tabloid headlines and sensational TV documentaries and today is so well known that the Forestry Commission have set up a “UFO trail” in the forest for pilgrims who wish to relive the story in their imagination. As the decades pass attempts to separate fact from fiction become increasingly difficult. All that can be said with certainty is that it is unlikely we will ever know what really happened in Rendlesham forest in December 1980.
Rendlesham has often been referred to as "Britain's Roswell". As Dr. Clarke points out, and as I think should be clear to any objective observer, that appellation is accurate, albeit not necessarily for the reasons that it's pro-ET proponents have suggested.

Paul Kimball

Thought du jour - 03.09.10

“The skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches, as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found.” - Miguel de Unamuno

Kevin Randle on The Other Side of Truth - next week!

Just a note to let folks know that I'll be interviewing Kevin Randle next week for my podcast, The Other Side of Truth.

Our discussion will center primarily around two subjects which Kevin has researched extensively - animal mutilations, and the abduction phenomenon.

Needless to say, we'll be taking the kind of skeptical look at these two areas that you don't often hear on other paranormal-related programs.

I'll let everyone know when it will be available - I anticipate next Friday.

Paul Kimball

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Top 10 Myths of Popular Psychology

Hat tip to my friend, Dr. Angie Birt (pictured at left), an Assistant Professor of psychology at Mount St. Vincent University here in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for letting me know about this interesting article - Top 10 Myths of Popular Psychology.

Below I have excerpted the sections that I think are of particular relevance to paranormal researchers, who should be thinking about things like this each and every time they interview someone, or offer an opinion or conclusion as to some aspect of the paranormal based on eyewitness testimony.

Paul Kimball

Top Ten Myths of Popular Psychology

Virtually every day, the news media, television shows, films, and Internet bombard us with claims regarding a host of psychological topics: psychics, out of body experiences, recovered memories, and lie detection, to name a few. Even a casual stroll through our neighborhood bookstore reveals dozens of self-help, relationship, recovery, and addiction books that serve up generous portions of advice for steering our paths along life’s rocky road. Yet many popular psychology sources are rife with misconceptions. Indeed, in today’s fast-paced world of information overload, misinformation about psychology is at least as widespread as accurate information. Self-help gurus, television talk show hosts, and self-proclaimed mental health experts routinely dispense psychological advice that is a bewildering mix of truths, half-truths, and outright falsehoods. Without a dependable tour guide for sorting out psychological myth from reality, we’re at risk for becoming lost in a jungle of “psychomythology.”

In our new book, 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior, we examine in depth 50 widespread myths in popular psychology (along with approximately 250 other myths and “mini-myths”), present research evidence demonstrating that these beliefs are fictional, explore their ramifications in popular culture and everyday life, and trace their psychological and sociological origins. Here, pace David Letterman, we present (in no particular order) our own candidates for the top 10 myths of popular psychology.

Myth #1: We Only Use 10% of our Brains
Whenever those of us who study the brain venture outside the Ivory Tower to give public lectures, one of the questions we’re most likely to encounter is, “Is it true that we only use 10% of our brains?” The look of disappointment that usually follows when we respond, “Sorry, I’m afraid not,” suggests that the 10% myth is one of those hopeful truisms that refuses to die because it would be so nice if it were true. In one study, when asked “About what percentage of their potential brain power do you think most people use?,” a third of psychology majors answered 10%. Remarkably, one survey revealed that even 6% of neuroscientists agreed with this claim! The pop psychology industry has played a big role in keeping this myth alive. For example, in his book, How to be Twice as Smart, Scott Witt wrote that “If you’re like most people, you’re using only ten percent of your brainpower.”
There are several reasons to doubt that 90% of our brains lie silent. At a mere 2–3% of our body weight, our brain consumes over 20% of the oxygen we breathe. It’s implausible that evolution would have permitted the squandering of resources on a scale necessary to build and maintain such a massively underutilized organ. Moreover, losing far less than 90% of the brain to accident or disease almost always has catastrophic consequences. Likewise, electrical stimulation of sites in the brain during neurosurgery has failed to uncover any “silent areas.”

How did the 10% myth get started? One clue leads back about a century to psychologist William James, who once wrote that he doubted that average persons achieve more than about 10% of their intellectual potential. Although James talked in terms of underdeveloped potential, a slew of positive thinking gurus transformed “10% of our capacity” into “10% of our brain.” In addition, in calling a huge percentage of the human brain “silent cortex,” early investigators may have fostered the mistaken impression that what scientists now call “association cortex” — which is vitally important for language and abstract thinking — had no function. In a similar vein, early researchers’ admissions that they didn’t know what 90% of the brain did probably fueled the myth that it does nothing. Finally, although one frequently hears claims that Albert Einstein once explained his own brilliance by reference to 10% myth, there’s no evidence that he ever uttered such a statement.
Myth #4: Human Memory Works like a Video Camera

Despite the sometimes all-too-obvious failings of everyday memory, surveys show that many people believe that their memories operate very much like videotape recorders. About 36% of us believe that our brains preserve perfect records of everything we’ve experienced. In one survey of undergraduates, 27% agreed that memory operates like a tape recorder. Even most psychotherapists agree that memories are fixed more or less permanently in the mind.

It’s true that we often recall extremely emotional events, sometimes called flashbulb memories because they seem to have a photographic quality. Nevertheless, research shows that even these memories wither over time and are prone to distortions. Consider an example from Ulric Neisser and Nicole Harsch’s study of memories regarding the disintegration of the space shuttle Challenger. A student at Emory University provided the first description 24 hours after the disaster, and the second account two and a half years later.

Description 1. “I was in my religion class and some people walked in and started talking about [it]. I didn’t know any details except that it had exploded and the schoolteacher’s students had all been watching which I thought was so sad. Then after class I went to my room and watched the TV program talking about it and I got all the details from that.”

Description 2. “When I first heard about the explosion I was sitting in my freshman dorm room with my roommate and we were watching TV. It came on a news flash and we were both totally shocked. I was really upset and I went upstairs to talk to a friend of mine and then I called my parents.”

Clearly, there are striking discrepancies between the two memories. Neisser and Harsch found that about one-third of students’ reports contained large differences across the two time points. Similarly, Heike Schmolck and colleagues compared participants’ ability to recall the 1995 acquittal of former football star O. J. Simpson 3 days after the verdict, and after many months. After 32 months, 40% of the memory reports contained “major distortions.”

Today, there’s broad consensus among psychologists that memory isn’t reproductive — it doesn’t duplicate precisely what we’ve experienced — but reconstructive. What we recall is often a blurry mixture of accurate and inaccurate recollections, along with what jells with our beliefs and hunches. Indeed, researchers have created memories of events that never happened. In the “shopping mall study,” Elizabeth Loftus created a false memory in Chris, a 14-year-old boy. Loftus instructed Chris’s older brother to present Chris with a false story of being lost in a shopping mall at age 5, and she instructed Chris to write down everything he remembered. Initially, Chris reported very little about the false event, but over a two week period, he constructed a detailed memory of it. A flood of similar studies followed, showing that in 18-37% of participants, researchers can implant false memories of such events as serious animal attacks, knocking over a punchbowl at a wedding, getting one’s fingers caught in a mousetrap as a child, witnessing a demonic possession, and riding in a hot air balloon with one’s family.

Myth #5: Hypnosis is a Unique “Trance” State Differing in Kind from Wakefulness

Popular movies and books portray the hypnotic trance state as so powerful that otherwise normal people will commit an assassination (The Manchurian Candidate); commit suicide (The Garden Murders); perceive only a person’s internal beauty (Shallow Hal); and (our favorite) fall victim to brainwashing by alien preachers who use messages embedded in sermons (Invasion of the Space Preachers). Survey data show that public opinion resonates with these media portrayals: 77% of college students endorsed the statement that “hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness, quite different from normal waking consciousness,” and 44% agreed that “A deeply hypnotized person is robot-like and goes along automatically with whatever the hypnotist suggests.”

But research shows that hypnotized people can resist and even oppose hypnotic suggestions, and won’t do things that are out of character, like harming people they dislike. In addition, hypnosis bears no more than a superficial resemblance to sleep: Brain wave studies reveal that hypnotized people are wide awake. What’s more, individuals can be just as responsive to suggestions administered while they’re exercising on a stationary bicycle as they are following suggestions for sleep and relaxation. In the laboratory, we can reproduce all of the phenomena that laypersons associate with hypnosis (such as hallucinations and insensitivity to pain) using suggestions alone, with no mention of hypnosis. Evidence of a distinct trance unique to hypnosis would require physiological markers of subjects’ responses to suggestions to enter a trance. Yet no consistent evidence of this sort has emerged.

Hypnosis appears to be only one procedure among many for increasing people’s responses to suggestions.

Myth #6: The Polygraph Test is an Accurate Means of Detecting Lies

Have you ever told a lie? If you answered “no,” you’re lying. College students admit to lying in about one in every three social interactions and people in the community about one in every five interactions. Not surprisingly, investigators have long sought out foolproof means of detecting falsehoods. In the 1920s, psychologist William Moulton Marston invented the first polygraph or so-called “lie detector” test, which measured systolic blood pressure to detect deception. He later created one of the first female cartoon superheroes, Wonder Woman, who could compel villains to tell the truth by ensnaring them in a magic lasso. For Marston, the polygraph was the equivalent of Wonder Woman’s lasso: an infallible detector of the truth.

A polygraph machine plots physiological activity — such as skin conductance, blood pressure, and respiration — on a continuously running chart. Contrary to the impression conveyed in such movies as Meet the Parents, the machine isn’t a quick fix for telling whether someone is lying, although the public’s desire for such a fix almost surely contributes to the polygraph’s popularity. In one survey of introductory psychology students, 45% believed that the polygraph “can accurately identify attempts to deceive.” Yet interpreting a polygraph chart is notoriously difficult.

For starters, there are large differences among people in their levels of physiological activity. An honest examinee who tends to sweat a lot might mistakenly appear deceptive, whereas a deceptive examinee who tends to sweat very little might mistakenly appear truthful. Moreover, as David Lykken noted, there’s no evidence for a Pinocchio response, such as an emotional or physiological reaction uniquely indicative of deception. If a polygraph chart shows more physiological activity when the examinee responds to questions about a crime than to irrelevant questions, at most this difference tells us that the examinee was more nervous at those moments. Yet this difference could be due to actual guilt, indignation or shock at being unjustly accused, or the realization that one’s responses to questions about the crime could lead to being fired, fined, or imprisoned. Thus, polygraph tests suffer from a high rate of “false positives” — innocent people whom the test deems guilty. As a consequence, the “lie detector” test is misnamed: It’s really an arousal detector. Conversely, some individuals who are guilty may not experience anxiety when telling lies. For example, psychopaths are notoriously immune to fear and may be able to “beat” the test in high pressure situations, although the research evidence for this possibility is mixed.

Were he still alive, William Moulton Marston might be disappointed to learn that researchers have yet to develop the psychological equivalent of Wonder Woman’s magic lasso. For at least the foreseeable future, the promise of a perfect lie detector remains the stuff of comic book fantasy...
About the authors

Dr. Scott O. Lilienfeld is a Professor of Psychology at Emory University, editor-in-chief of the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, and past president of the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology. His principal areas of interest include personality disorders, psychiatric classification, evidence-based practice in clinical psychology, and science and pseudoscience.
Dr. Steven Jay Lynn is a Professor of Psychology at Binghamton University (SUNY), the director of the Psychological Clinic and the Center for Evidence-Based Therapy, and a diplomate in clinical and forensic psychology (ABPP). He is the author of more than 270 books, chapters, and articles on science versus pseudoscience, hypnosis, memory, dissociation, and psychological trauma.

Dr. John Ruscio is an Associate Professor of Psychology at The College of New Jersey. His interests include quantitative methods for social and behavioral science research and characteristics distinguishing science from pseudoscience.
Dr. Barry L. Beyerstein was Professor of Psychology in Simon Fraser University, and an internationally recognized expert on myths about brain functioning. Dr. Bernstein passed away in 2007.

Thought du jour - 02.09.10

"Education has failed in a very serious way to convey the most important lesson science can teach: skepticism." - David Suzuki

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Algonquin Hotel "orb" footage

One of the most satisfying parts of conducting an investigation of an allegedly paranormal incident or place comes when you actually manage to obtain some "hard" or "real" evidence, as opposed to just the stories of people who claim to have seen or experienced something unusual. In my opinion, the best type of evidence that can be obtained of any alleged paranormal activity - short of actual physical evidence of an alien spacecraft, or a ghost - is photographic or video evidence of something which may be anomalous.

Many people have claimed over the years to have that kind of evidence, but most of them, in my opinion, are lying. How can you tell? Simple - if these people make the "evidence" available for everyone to see, particularly if they do so for free, then regardless of whether the evidence shows anything paranormal or not, at least we know that the person who claimed to have the evidence actually did have something, and they were willing to let others examine it and offer their opinions on it. In short, they were interested in the exchange of knowledge.

If they won't do that, you can bet biscuits to navy beans that they either don't have the evidence, or that they have dramatically overstated its worth. Unfortunately, in the unregulated world of so-called paranormal "investigation", few people are ever called out on this type of claim - instead, they are asked back time and time again on radio shows and to conferences in order to discuss their "evidence", almost always promising that its delivery is right around the corner... and then they don't deliver, for one reason or another (interference by the "powers that be" is always a popular excuse). When challenged to "put up or shut up", they usually do neither. Like the energizer bunny, they just keep going, and going.

That's not science. It's not even pseudoscience. It's hucksterism.

I was taught and trained to do things differently.

During the filming of Ghost Cases, Holly and I conducted an investigation of the Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, which is supposedly haunted by the spirit of a bride who was stood up at the altar about a century ago, and committed suicide as a result. As will be seen in the following videos, which are excerpts from the footage we shot that night, we obtained some evidence.

Now, I'm not going to purport to tell you what it is - I'll leave that up to the reader, and I encourage folks to discuss it here in the comments section, or elsewhere. The point is that we have gathered some evidence, and I'm eager to have folks look at it, and then see where the proverbial chips fall.

First, by way of context for the footage, here is some of the background story and events that led up to the moment when it was obtained, because the context is important - particularly as it relates to what happened in room 473:

And here is the evidence itself, and a conversation between myself and UPIA investigator Dave Sadler, to whom we showed the footage when we were working with the UPIA in the United Kingdom a few months later:

And now, here are some enhanced still photos, made by Steve Mera from the UPIA:

So, what does this evidence show?

To say that I am skeptical about "orbs" as proof of something paranormal would be an understatement (as I note in the second video), but the circumstances, particularly the fact that Holly looked behind her just after the orb appeared, despite the fact that there was no-one else in the room, and she stated afterwards that she had no idea why she looked behind her just at that moment, makes me pause, and at least consider the possibility, given the confluence of events, that there might be something anomalous about this orb. Of course, that's not the same thing as saying that we encountered the spirit of the dead bride in room 473 - it's just me saying that I find it... interesting.

But as any good investigator should, I leave you with the evidence that we gathered, and encourage you to judge for yourselves.

Paul Kimball

Thought du jour - 01.09.10

"A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent, unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective." - Edward Teller

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence

The Federal Judicial Center's Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence is a very interesting look at how the United States federal judiciary has been briefed on scientific evidence.

Of particular interest to paranormal investigators and so-called "proto-scientists" (the term most often bandied about in support of pseudo-scientific paranormal hucksters who claim a lot of evidence, but never deliver the goods) is the section titled "How Science Works", from p. 68 to p. 82, by Dr. David Goodstein (pictured at left), who served as the Vice Provost of the California Institute of Technology from 1988 until 2007.

Dr. Goodstein identified a very useful series of what he termed "myths" and "facts" about science:

“In matters of science,” Galileo wrote, “the authority of thousands is not worth the humble reasoning of one single person.” Doing battle with the Aristotelian professors of his day, Galileo believed that appeal to authority was the enemy of reason. But, contrary to Galileo’s famous remark, the fact is that authority is of fundamental importance to science. If a paper’s author is a famous scientist, I think the paper is probably worth reading. However, an appeal from a scientific wanna-be, asking that his great new discovery be brought to the attention of the scientific world, is almost surely not worth reading (such papers arrive in my office, on the average, about once a week).
The triumph of reason over authority is just one of the many myths about science. Here’s a brief list of others:

Myth: Scientists must have open minds, being ready to discard old ideas in favor of new ones.

Fact: Because science is an adversary process in which each idea deserves the most vigorous possible defense, it is useful for the successful progress of science that scientists tenaciously hang on to their own ideas, even in the face of contrary evidence (and they do, they do).

Myth: Science must be an open book. For example, every new experiment must be described so completely that any other scientist can reproduce it.

Fact: There is a very large component of skill in making cutting-edge experiments work. Often, the only way to import a new technique into a laboratory is to hire someone (usually a postdoctoral fellow) who has already made it work elsewhere. Nevertheless, scientists have a solemn responsibility to describe the methods they use as fully and accurately as possible. And, eventually, the skill will be acquired by enough people to make the new technique commonplace.

Myth: When a new theory comes along, the scientist’s duty is to falsify it.

Fact: When a new theory comes along, the scientist’s instinct is to verify it. When a theory is new, the effect of a decisive experiment that shows it to be wrong is that both the theory and the experiment are quickly forgotten. This result leads to no progress for anyone in the reward system. Only when a theory is well established and widely accepted does it pay off to prove that it’s wrong.

Myth: Real science is easily distinguished from pseudoscience.

Fact: This is what philosophers call the problem of demarcation: One of Popper’s principal motives in proposing his standard of falsifiability was precisely to provide a means of demarcation between real science and impostors. For example, Einstein’s theory of relativity (with which Popper was deeply impressed) made clear predictions that could certainly be falsified if they were not correct. In contrast, Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis (with which Popper was far less impressed) could never be proven wrong. Thus, to Popper, relativity was science but psychoanalysis was not. As I’ve already shown, real scientists don’t do as Popper says they should. But quite aside from that, there is another problem with Popper’s criterion (or indeed any other criterion) for demarcation: Would-be scientists read books too. If it becomes widely accepted (and to some extent it has) that falsifiable predictions are the signature of real science, then pretenders to the throne of science will make falsifiable predictions, too. There is no simple, mechanical criterion for distinguishing real science from something that is not real science. That certainly doesn’t mean, however, that the job can’t be done.

Myth: Scientific theories are just that: theories. All scientific theories are eventually proved wrong and are replaced by other theories.

Fact: The things that science has taught us about how the world works are the most secure elements in all of human knowledge. I must distinguish here between science at the frontiers of knowledge (where by definition we don’t yet understand everything and where theories are indeed vulnerable) and textbook science that is known with great confidence. Matter is made of atoms, DNA transmits the blueprints of organisms from generation to generation, light is an electromagnetic wave; these things are not likely to be proved wrong. The theory of relativity and the theory of evolution are in the same class. They are still called theories for historic reasons only. The satellite navigation system in my car routinely uses the theory of relativity to make calculations accurate enough to tell me exactly where I am and to take me to my destination with unerring precision. It should be said here that the incorrect notion that all theories must eventually be wrong is fundamental to the work of both Popper and Kuhn, and these theorists have been crucial in helping us understand how science works. Thus, their theories, like good scientific theories at the frontiers of knowledge, can be both useful and wrong.

Myth: Scientists are people of uncompromising honesty and integrity.

Fact: They would have to be if Bacon were right about how science works, but he wasn’t. Scientists are rigorously honest where honesty matters most to them: in the reporting of scientific procedures and data in peer-reviewed publications. In all else, they are ordinary mortals like all other ordinary mortals.
Good stuff, understood by all true skeptics, if not by the believers and disbelievers in the paranormal.

Paul Kimball


When Holly Stevens and I were in the United Kingdom in May, 2009, filming four episodes of Ghost Cases, we had the opportunity to work with Steve Mera, Dave Sadler and the rest of the team from the Unknown Phenomena Investigation Association, aka the UPIA. The UPIA investigators employ a skeptical and rationalist approach to the paranormal, but they also keep an open mind about the possibility that our current science might not be able to explain everything about our world. In short, they are looking for answers, not confirmation of an existing belief system. It was a distinct pleasure working with them.

In the two videos below are some outtakes from footage shot for an episode that looked into stories of paranormal activity at the Bridestones, a neolithic burial chamber located outside of Congleton, England (the UPIA website has some great photos here). In the first of these clips, Dave recounts some of the allegedly paranormal activity that has been reported at the Bridestones, including a man who reported "missing time"; in the second, Steve and I wandered out into an adjacent field to discuss the phenomenon known as "earthlights", a possible explanation for many allegedly "paranormal" incidents, from centuries-old tales of fairies and will 'o' the wisps, to modern stories of UFOs. You'll notice the time code at the bottom of the footage, which also gives you an inside look at how material like this is edited together for television.

The earthlights theory is largely attributable to Paul Devereaux - you can read more about it at his site. He writes:

First may I say that I think most UFO reports are the product of (i)misperception of mundane aerial objects whether manmade or astronomical; (ii) mirage effects; (iii) hoax; (iv) psychosocial effects ranging from mental aberration to temporary personal stress conditions affecting a witness’s perception or interpretation of a perception; (v) the occurrence (unawares) in the witness of trance conditions, such as when awaking from or falling into sleep, or when driving, especially at night. Of all these, I’d suggest simple misperception is by far the greatest cause, though I suspect the trance explanation is involved more than we might suppose, especially in the case of reported alien abductions. Having said all that -- as a result of my own experience as well as my own research -- I ALSO think there is a small rump or residue of sighting reports that DO actually relate to genuinely unexplained phenomena. In my opinion, a percentage of this small rump of sightings relates to geophysical or meteorological phenomena that I have termed ‘earth lights’.
For more information on "spooklights" and related phenomena, check out this very good article by Dr. David Clarke. He writes:

Methane exiting from the surface of the marsh would be expected to burn, if ignited, as a flickering, fixed flame, but would hardly move through the air or against a prevailing wind. The marsh gas explanation for spooklights has been superseded by others, some fanciful and others plausible. Popular at the moment is the ‘earthlights’ theory which is a convincing connection between lights and the faulted geology of the regions in which they appear. Although no clear production mechanism has yet been discovered which scientists are entirely happy with, the theory suggests the lights are the product of a build up of electrical charge in areas of geological stress. Rather than being directly caused by earthquakes or tremors, the lights are symptoms of the earth’s internal traumas, springing into life as electrons are slowly released into the air and possibly through the water table as strain waxes and wanes in zones of geological faulting.
You can also find a brief synopsis by the UPIA here.

Paul Kimball

Neil deGrasse Tyson - Alien vs. Human Intelligence

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains the almost certain differences between us and any advanced alien / extraterrestrial intelligence we may encounter.

Paul Kimball