Sunday, November 25, 2012

Those Odious Orbs

I submitted "Those Odious Orbs"to The Bent Spoon Magazine and they were very kind to use it.  Check out the entire issue here:

Recently my friend Wes Forsythe invited me on his show "Paranormal Filler" to discuss the never-ending battle with those who believe in "spirit orbs".  He posed the question, "How the hell did we end up losing the orb debate?"

At first, I wasn't so sure we (meaning those of us who don't accept that orbs are paranormal since there is no supporting evidence) have lost the debate.  After all, many more paranormal teams are now dismissing orbs in photos or videos, recognizing them as airborne particles.  People are actively calling out teams who post them as "evidence".  Some paranormal sites won't allow orbs photos at all.  For example, enforces a strict no-orb policy.  And thanks to experiments conducted by credible researchers,* there is plenty of available evidence showing what actually causes orbs in photos and video.  But the fact that we're still having the debate, despite all the information listed above, indicates we haven't exactly won, either.

So, why?  There are many people who want to believe in ghosts so badly that they will cling to any "evidence" that will support their beliefs - even after it has been soundly disproved.  There also those who are emotionally invested in catching "evidence" because it somehow feeds their egos or agendas.  They create justifications of how "their" orb is the real deal.   How many times have we heard the following: "But there was no dust when I took the picture."   "But I recorded an EVP in the same spot we caught the orb."  "But I felt a cold spot, when I took a picture, there was an orb."  "But this orb is real because it is more opaque than dust orbs".   Of course, all of these have also rational explanations, which people either don't bother to learn about or choose to ignore. Then there is my personal pet peeve:  "99% might be dust but there's the 1% that are paranormal."  Who came up these numbers and where is the data to support them?  There is absolutely nothing to substantiate this claim!  Yet, it has been repeated so often that some people accept it as fact.

There are also claims that some orbs have been seen with the naked eye.  There is no evidence that these are paranormal either.  There are known phenomena to consider first, including ball lightning, electric discharge, piezoelectricity, bioluminescent matter, as well as visual misperceptions due from physiological and environmental factors.  Before we call something supernatural, we should try to better understand the natural world first.

One of the biggest criticisms of paranormal investigating is that most people in the field fail to educate themselves about their equipment or scientific methodology before they go traipsing around with cameras, recorders and EMF meters.  Many spend much more time coming up with nifty team names and logos and collecting "likes" on Facebook than they do learning the simple basics of how their cameras work.  Even some "seasoned" investigators who boast they have been in the field for a decade or two are still presenting common false positives such as lens flare and long exposures as evidence. In today's world, where information on basic photography is widely and easily accessibly, there is no acceptable excuse for this.

Business-minded people recognize these issues and exploit them for profit.  That is why we still have paranormal themed TV shows portraying orbs as evidence.  Some try to be clever by changing the terminology from "orb" to "light anomaly", but it's just the same camera affect caused by the same conditions.  Unfortunately, bogus evidence attracts more viewers than does rational explanations.  And viewership equals advertising revenue for the network, so I doubt they have any burning ambition to set the record straight.

In addition, many historic cities have least one ghost tour.  Again, the owners of these tours are in it for profit, so they promote false positives as "proof" to attract naive tourists.  They also know these customers will share their "ghost photos" that they captured on these tours with friends and family.  It's great free advertising.  And other businesses are cashing in on orb photos: for a fee, you too can "investigate" and "catch evidence" at so-called haunted hotels, restaurants, and abandoned hospitals. These owners are invested in continuing the promotion of spirit orbs.  Not a lot of people are as willing to fork out the money if all they know that they are only photographing dust.

To be honest, I like to keep an open mind.  After all, I used to be a believer myself before I took the time to do a little research.  Maybe there are spirit orbs floating about.  But until somebody comes up with technology that can provide objective data to differentiate them from the orbs caused by all the other known factors, I will remain skeptical.

So moving forward, how do we "win" the debate?  My answer:  inform and educate.  If you have a voice, a webiste, or blog, then you have the power to counteract the misinformation being pushed onto the public by TV shows. Make paranormal investigators and business owners accountable for any "evidence" they promote.  If you spot someone presenting orb photos, contact them directly and provide relevant resources for them to learn from.  If they persist after that, then either call them out publicly or notify someone who will.**  The notion that orbs are ghosts didn't pervade populate culture overnight.  It was repeated as "fact" for a while before it took hold.  With a little time and a lot of persistence, the truth will prevail.

*Kenneth Biddle:  Orbs Or Dust:  A Practical Guide To False Positives
Craig Telesha:  Strange Frequencies
Midnite Walkers Paranormal Society:
Association for Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena:

** Worst Paranormal:
VIPER Paranormal:
Debunk Paranormal:

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