Friday, 31 October 2014

Crowdsourcing the paranormal

CobwebThe internet has had a profound effect on paranormal research. For instance, it is now relatively easy to contact other researchers instantly. And then there is crowdsourcing. Take one example - analyzing anomalous photos. A strange photo can be taken, get uploaded to the web and have lots of people analyzing it within minutes. Potentially, it's a fantastic resource. But there are problems with the way this process works in practice.

If you get many alternative explantations for an anomalous photo posted online, that's great. However, I've noticed that paranormal photos often get analyzed as being either genuine or fake. Using this method of analyzing means that if you can't show the photo is a fake your only alternative is to accept it must represent some genuine paranormal event.

I have personally examined over 3000 anomalous photos in detail and discovered that over 90% of them were neither genuinely paranormal NOR fake. They were actually photographic artefacts. The number of fakes I've come across is tiny. The photos I looked at were sent privately. I suspect the percentage of fakes is higher with photos shared generally around the web. That's because anyone faking paranormal photos is, presumably, trying to get a reaction. So spreading it around the web and seeing who gets fooled is obviously going to be more satisfying than sending it privately to just one person for comment. Having said that, I think the number of fake paranormal photos on the web is still small. Most of the publicly displayed photos I've seen appear to be photographic artefacts, as expected.

Of course, some people do offer photographic artefacts as an explanation for paranormal photos posted online. The problem is, a surprisingly large number of the artefact explanations offered online for particular photos are wrong, in my opinion at least. But if a supposed paranormal photo actually has a natural explanation, does it matter which one it is? Well, obviously yes it does. Those of us who are serious paranormal researchers are looking for a scientific understanding of reported extraordinary phenomena. We are not campaigners trying to prove, or disprove, the existence of the paranormal.

Crowdsourcing is potentially valuable tool that the inte

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