Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AiPT! Comics cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture and skepticism of pop culture.
Today Kenny Biddle, investigator of paranormal photos and videos, takes a look at Travel Channel’s latest attempt to harness the trend, and finds some familiar material.
Just when I thought paranormal shows were on the decline, a new series appeared this past week. Paranormal: Caught on Camera, from Meetinghouse Productions, premiered on the Travel Channel and is described on the network’s website:
Some of the most amazing, eye-opening and downright scary paranormal videos from around the world are featured as a panel of experts break down the footage and analyze what exactly the eyewitnesses captured. Insights from some of the most knowledgeable specialists in the field and firsthand accounts from the people lucky enough — or perhaps unlucky enough — to witness this strange phenomenon themselves just might make a believer out of even the biggest skeptics out there.
Normally, I’d expect a show like this to showcase never-before-seen or little-known videos that would hold the viewers’ attention. However, the first episode features eight videos that I’ve seen dozens of times already. It felt more like a “Top Ten Haunted” compilation video you’d see on YouTube, rather than a cable network series.
The very first video featured is a “Hotel Poltergeist” from Frank Ramirez. As Ramirez moves about his hotel room, items such as a telephone receiver and a coat hanger move on their own. Not surprisingly, they move toward Ramirez, as if he’s pulling on thread or fishing line. In fact, just before the telephone receiver pops off the base, you can see light reflect off the line attached to it.
I reviewed this video, and did an entire recreation video myself, several days after the original was posted. In my opinion, this is one of the worst “poltergeist” videos to be uploaded to the internet, yet Paranormal: Caught on Camera kicks off its series with this poorly-executed hoax.
The second featured video is an alleged UFO over the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine in Jerusalem, which shows a bright light coming straight down and hovering over the building. After two flashes of light (which look like camera flashes), the object zooms straight up. The camera follows and we see several red orbs blink in and out.
The video, originally posted January 28, 2011 by user “eligael,” has gained the nickname “The Holy UFO Hoax,” due to how badly it compares with the plethora of UFO videos on the internet. There are many flaws with this video, one of which is the lack of witnesses. An event such as this would have produced thousands of eyewitness reports, yet we have just the one.
And the camera shake seems to be artificially added, because there are specific times when the left edge goes beyond the actual video footage, yet “fills in the blanks.” Robert Sheaffer, a longtime UFO investigator and author of the Bad UFOs blog, explains what’s going on:
The original Jerusalem UFO has now been definitely shown to be a hoax. Effects of the video processing software are clearly seen. The hoaxer used Motion Tile effects with edge mirroring to introduce camera shake into the video. You can see the mirroring effects along the edge of the video. This proves that the video did not go directly from the camera to YouTube, that it made a stop in between inside a sophisticated video editing software suite. Once you start editing it like that, a skilled hoaxer can put practically anything in it.
The trend of completely ignoring basic research practices in regard to the show’s content continues throughout the episode, from videos of a bug crawling across a security camera lens to the sounds of squealing train brakes apparently signaling an apocalypse. Videos that have known, natural explanations are presented as “paranormal” without the slightest bit of doubt.
Even when there seems to be no known explanation, as in the case of the “Snowbound Sasquatch” — a video taken by Myles Lamont from Tricouni Peak in British Columbia — the attitude of, “I don’t know what it is, therefore Sasquatch” was invoked. “The color seems uniform, seems to be a brownish/blackish color,” states Derek Hayes, host of the Monsters Among Us podcast and one of the experts on the show. “I just don’t see a hiker being in that situation wearing clothing of that color.” Brown and black clothing is not unusual whatsoever (according to a quick internet search of hiking sites), so this conclusion is baseless.
I’m not sure what qualifies one to be an expert for this series, but as someone who investigates (and solves) mysteries myself, I was deeply unimpressed with the quality of the “expert analysis,” mostly because I didn’t see any actual analysis going on.
Most of the commentary, which seems to be what they considered analysis, involved rehashing pseudoscientific ideas common to paranormal enthusiasts, but failed to tell the viewers exactly what the eyewitnesses captured. When “analyzing” the hotel poltergeist, writer and hypnotist Rosemary Ellen Guiley says,
Activity does not happen for no reason at all. We have to look for a cause first. We need to pinpoint a time and an incident in history that could account for the onset of paranormal activity.
This is a totally biased approach; it assumes the activity is paranormal and doesn’t question whether it could be something else, like a staged event. It’s a running theme throughout the entire episode, with the “experts” offering anecdotes and assumptions presented as supporting evidence for these videos being paranormal.
The part of the show’s description that promises “insights from some of the most knowledgeable specialists in the field“ confuses me, since I only saw one person who I would consider a “specialist” featured on the episode. Natalia Reagan, an anthropologist and primatologist, was shown commenting on a Russian dashcam video which is most likely a meteor breaking up/exploding in the atmosphere.
I tried to understand why someone who’s a specialist in study of what makes us human (anthropology) and the study of non-human primates (primatologist) was asked to analyze a video of an explosive event in the night sky over Russian. Furthermore, her commentary during this segment seems to go way off topic when she states,
Are we to assume this is a UFO taking off, is this a UFO landing, did they lose three days of their life and woke up with, like, an implant in their arm? These are the things I have questions about.
I have no clue why the question of lost time or implants comes up, since these two ideas were never brought up by anyone else, including the narrator. Her comments seem out of context, like they were part of a different conversation that was edited into this segment.
The other alleged specialists included various ghost hunters, such as Brian Cano, known for his participation in another paranormal series, Haunted Collector (which had its own issues with authenticity). Also featured is Susan Slaughter, an actress (in several films I’ve not heard of) with credits for appearing in all three versions of the Ghost Hunters series. Sapphire Sandalo is also on the panel, a YouTuber who creates animated videos telling ghost stories (but nothing related to analyzing videos). There are several podcasters, too, though they bring as little analysis as the others.
Guiley, who is featured prominently throughout the episode, sets the tone of ridiculousness. I’ve seen her in-person, speaking at various events where she blatantly misrepresents what science is and how it works. She doesn’t lend any credibility to the series; if anything, she makes it worse.
The two “experts” that bothered me the most, though, were Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran, publishers of Weird N.J., a magazine about all the weird, odd or unique places in New Jersey, all told by the state’s residents. I’ve been a fan of the magazine for many years, and I own a large collection. Although many tales of ghosts, monsters, and UFOs related to the magazine are questionable at best, I’ve always found the in-depth articles from Mark & Mark to be well-researched and balanced. However, their appearance in this series seems extremely biased, which was a huge disappointment to me. I saw none of the balanced investigative research I’m used to seeing from them.
To be fair, guests usually don’t get to decide which parts of their interview are included and which parts are edited out. For all we know, the members of “panel of experts” could have offered other explanations or even told the producers they knew a video was staged or had a natural explanation. When all is said and done, it’s the producers that decide what’s included and what isn’t, thus setting the tone of the show.
This means whatever they don’t like or doesn’t fit in with their narrative would end up on the cutting-room floor. So even though I don’t consider the featured panel of experts to be particularly relevant to what the show claims to be about — breaking down the footage and analyzing what exactly the eyewitnesses captured — the fault of not following through on this ultimately falls onto producers of this series.
This leads to a major problem with Paranormal: Caught on Camera — it’s completely one-sided. There isn’t a hint of skepticism throughout the entire episode. All the experts present only one perspective, that of believers who don’t question the authenticity of the videos we’re presented. We don’t see any effort to research the validity of the featured videos, only blind acceptance and numerous nonsensical offerings to justify each video being paranormal.
I want to conclude with something that demonstrates the overall lack of quality of this series. On February 8, I received an email from Matylda Liro, a producer with Meetinghouse Productions, with the subject heading of “Urgent Media Request.” She was currently working on a new TV show for the Travel Channel called Paranormal Caught on Camera – yes, this very show. “We’re trying to get in touch with Turner Clay,” she wrote. “We’re interested in featuring his video on our show. I know that you reviewed his work before, so I was hoping you could help me to get in touch with him.”
The video in question is called “Ghost screaming in haunted hotel – FULL LENGTH,” which I wrote a detailed analysis on back in 2017, with updates in 2018. What I want to point out here is that in her email, Liro states “I know that you reviewed his work before,” which means Liro should have been well aware that Clay’s video was found to be a hoax, since my review offered ample evidence of that conclusion.
This tells me the show’s producers aren’t concerned with a genuine analysis and breakdown of alleged paranormal videos — they want to show the viewer a bunch of crap that could easily be explained with a few minutes of Google searching, without ever giving the viewer those explanations.