Friday, August 8, 2008

Grainy Security Camera Footage Baffles Rubes.....

As if on cue, CNN today provided yet another example of the kind of uncritical fluff local news reporting that has becoming increasingly prevelant, this time in the form of a haunted school in Asheville, NC.

Reporter Connie Legrand of WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, SC is quick to point out that one very typical motion sensitive security camera provided some very atypical footage of a shadowy human-like figure appearing to float across the screen complete with a shadow beneath it. But there is nothing atypical about this footage, which in reality is no more than an amorphous hazy blob that jumps around briefly. The shadow that is assumed by the reporter and those interviewed to be an unassailable and unexplainable fact is a soft call at best.

The image is most likely a bug or floating debris but I admit that I am not an expert in the analysis of such things. Neither are any of those allowed to give opinions in the piece yet the presented conclusion is that something beyond the natural world must be involved because the Executive Director of Public Relations for the District can't figure it out. Apparantly it's either a bat or a ghost to this pseudoskeptic. It is infinitely more likely that this is a hoax, or the work of aliens for that matter, than that a visitor from the spirit world chose this school to make its film debut. The presence of aliens violates far fewer fundamental realities of science.

Images similar to this have been discovered many times since the use of surveillance cameras has become widespread, with one memorable recent example being from the security camera of an Oklahoma junkyard. Another one from a Santa Fe courthouse also comes to mind. Most of them tend to be covered by the local news with the resulting story dispersed across the country via the larger news outlets. Eventually a critially minded investigator like Ben Radford or Joe Nickell gets around to figuring them out and so far none have passed muster as proof of the paranormal.

But according to Legrand, the real skeptics have met their match with this mysteriouos apparition. Which true skeptic was interviewed to try and debunk this footage you ask? Why Sarah Harrison of the Asheville Paranormal Society of course. Was Sylvia Brown not available? According to Harrison, whose website declares her society to be scientific, open-minded but skeptical, and available for free spirit rescues and spirit cleansings if necessary, "I have seen many video surveillance footage of alleged ghosts and this is the only one that I can’t debunk. Many video’s(sic) of “ghosts” are hoaxes, but I think this would be impossible to hoax.” The investigations documented on the website paint a different picture however, leading me to wonder if she is talking about the phony videos of ghosts that weren't confirmed by her team psychic.

Reports like this, whether about ghosts or UFO sightings as well tend to contain similar themes and carry identical messages. In addition to the "skeptic" whose worldview is threatened, there is of course always the true believer who just knows the mysterious specter on the monitor is a ghost, probably of some tortured soul who met an untimely end at the location in question or, in the case of Asheville ghost a deceased student apparantly not happy with a former teacher. Perhaps I should rethink how I evaluate my students before it's too late. And I hope that the teacher quoted doesn't teach science, but then again the kind of faulty reasoning which leads to her sentiments would be a detriment to students in any class if allowed to find its way into a lesson plan. That is the most concerning aspect of this situation.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

that was well thought out and well written. thanks! i alway loathe that there is never any follow up to these sensationalist reports. now CNN too. why should i be surprised really. they will report it, and then you will forget it. i am sounding like an older person (i am 36) but media is just disposable sound-bites.

Zoo Knudsen said...

Well you're older than me but definitely not old. I've read since writing this that the most likely candidate is actually a spider. A live one and not some kind of arachnid specter of course. News outlets like this kind of stuff because it is easy and brings in the viewers. They are lazy. The issue of a lack of follow up is much more concerning in the realm of health reporting, where preliminary data that hasn't even been published is touted as the scientific consensus, especially when it is something alarming and panic inducing. When the data fails to survive the peer review process, the media has moved on to the next scare.

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