Aug 11 2008

High School Ghost Video

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Comments: 19

The ever-present video camera is creating a new form a “paranormal” news. Anytime anything even slightly strange occurs on a video surveillance camera someone is likely to cry “ghost.” The local news media will eat it up. They will interview a bunch of people and then choose the most sensational nonsense to air. The video will find its way onto the internet, and it will zip around the ether for a few days, finally fading from the public’s short attention span.

Last year we were told there was a blue ghost haunting a gas station. The video shows a fuzzy blue blob bouncing around the image. For some people, the fact that the image was the slightest bit unusual and could not be instantly explained was enough to trigger the argument from ignorance – I don’t immediately know what that is, therefore it is something paranormal, perhaps a ghost or angel. For those with more of an inclination for critical thinking, it was a small mystery to be solved – but the assumption was that it was something physical and therefore knowable.

It turns out that the blue blob was an insect crawling on the lens of the camera. Close examination of the movement of the blob convincingly shows it to be very insect-like. The movement never went behind anything in the field of view, so it was closer to the lens than anything else in the shot – consistent with something on the lens. The blue color may have been just an artifact of the digital camera, but the area around the camera was painted the same electric blue, and so it could have been due to reflected light.

The new video is taken from a security camera at Asheville High School. What it shows is a shadow in one doorway appearing to move briefly from left to right, then a pause, then a shadow above that door, and then shortly later a shadow in another area moving from right to left. This short video is a composite of the relevant images.

Watch this news report. It’s painful. The reporter presents the story as if it is a straightforward story of an “apparition”. She consults a “paranormal expert” and essentially treats the story as if she were talking to a scientist about something mundane. The logical fallacies are flying – primarily the confusion of unexplained with unexplainable combined with the argument from ignorance. Apparently it was not necessary to talk to a skeptic or someone with common sense.

In the other news report (linked above) a teacher at the highschool, Martha Geitner, made this brilliant assessment:

It’s a ghost! Of course it’s a ghost! It’s the ghost of some former student who is really angry with his teacher and has come back to get back at the teacher, and he’s just making himself known at this time.

The paranormal expert was also confident (not even a “maybe”) that it was “definite paranormal activity.” What they are saying is that there is no possible mundane explanation. They are also assuming that ghosts exist, and that this shadow is in fact a ghost. There is nothing about the shadow that is at all specific. Even though several people claim it looks like a small child or person, it’s just a blob. The reporter in the second news story claims that the ghost “transforms” it shape.

Here is a vastly simpler explanation. The shadow is a shadow. That means there is something moving around the rotunda in the video, but not walking on the floor. Whatever it was triggered the motion detector on the camera. It seemed to be moving about in a chaotic pattern.

My guess – a bird. The custodian said he wanted to say it was a bat – that’s a good guess also. A small flying creature, out of the view of the camera, close to the lights and casting a morphing blobby shadow. The custodian said that the shadow was not shaped like a bat – do these people live in the same world I do? Haven’t they seen the way light and shadow can play across a floor, especially as seen through a low-res overexposed camera.  Something close to a light source can cast a shadow much bigger than it, and it can be very distorted and indistinct.

Take a look at the short composite video again – it certainly looks to me like something flying around.

But I could be wrong. It could be something else. It could have been an actual intruder. I doubt it, but I don’t have a real good sense from the low quality video what the actual layout of the building is, where the lights are, etc. The news reports were incredibly useless – in addition to the absolute inanity of the reporting they didn’t do any actual investigation or give us information we could use to try to figure it out ourselves. How about some shots of the physical space, show us where the light source was, do an experiment to see if you can reproduce the effect.  Something useful.

The news reports were nothing but mind candy for idiots, which is apparently what they think of their viewers. I have come to expect this from local tv news, but this video was picked up by CNN. They at least pretend to be an actual news organization.

The story of fluff, is how they would defend their shoddy reporting. They are just presenting the story and their viewers can decide for themselves – which is code for “we are not going to do any actual critical analysis or investigation” and “we know it’s dumb but it sells, now get away from me kid, you bother me.”

I know the story is fluff. The content is not important. What is important is the ability to think clearly and logically, and constantly feeding the public credulity and nonsense is counterproductive. Sure, it’s just business and they have the right to put out what sells (and I have a right to criticize them for it). But then they have to put aside any pretense to journalistic integrity or quality.

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