Just a brief, light-hearted post before I'm off for a couple days to visit my girlfriend in Olympia, WA (her blog, incidentally, can be found here). I once again have Dr. Phil Plait's blog Bad Astronomy to thank for bringing these news items to my attention.
The first story from The Telegraph in Britain tells the tale of a group of "paranormal enthusiasts" who have supposedly captured the image of a soldier, dead for 363 years, still fighting the English Civil War. The picture below comes from the above "story" link.
"The Northampton Paranormal Group caught the figure on camera during a visit to the site of the Battle of Naseby, a field between the villages of Clipston and Naseby in Northamptonshire, last month."
The "figure" in question can be more accurately described as a multi-colored blob created by some digital image distortion. Whatever defect in the image that has produced the psychedelic color palette in the background has also gotten the members of the paranormal group mighty excited. Emma Whiteman, leader of the group, said:
“When we saw it, when we were looking back through the pictures, we were gobsmacked. We’re saying that it’s a soldier. Some people can see it sitting on a horse and some people just see it as a walking soldier.”
The group seems to be so "gobsmacked" by this image that they can't even come to a decision on what it actually depicts. A member of the cavalry? A soldier walking by himself (who appears to be carrying some sort of wand)? What the hell, why not go way out on the limb already threatening to snap under the wait of the entire Northhampton Paranormal Group and call it a centaur ghost. They had centaurs in the English Civil War, right?
The paper graciously offered the forces of skepticism and rationality (inhabitants of a little place I like to call "reality") four whole lines to explain that *gasp* the image might not actually depict a ghost.
"Sceptics said the effect was caused by the camera itself."
"Anne Haddon, of The Naseby Battlefield Project, said: 'I haven’t heard anything like this at the battlefield in all my association with it. It’s fair to say I’m a bit sceptical.'"
But of course, no one wants to read about what someone who works at the battlefield where the picture was taken has to say; let's push her statement all the way to end. That's the responsible way to write an article.
The second story tells of a classic case of perhaps my favorite psychological phenomenon: pareidolia. The picture below comes from the above link.
The article would have its readers believe that Jesus Christ (yes that Jesus Christ) found time in his busy schedule to appear in a bucket of ice cream in the Avenues Candy and Ice Cream Shop in Utah. The Anointed One himself can apparently be glimpsed in the left-hand side of the image below.
A patron of the ice cream shop seems to have no problem imagining the possibility of Jesus appearing in his next spoonful of Neapolitan.
"Scott Toxsic says why not? His image has shown up other places. 'Potato chips, and brickwork, and all kinds of things,' he said. 'But whoever thought ice cream? It's amazing!'"
Amazing, yes! Amazing that it always seems to be the alleged son of God that appears in inanimate objects. As Dr. Plait pointed out, that could just as easily be Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon.
As is the norm with these types of stories, a token skeptic is dragged in to ruin things for everyone, and given the smallest percentage of the article possible:
"There are still the skeptics, like Chase Pinkham. 'It just kind of looked like ice cream to me. I don't know,' he said."
Why don't stories reporting the appearance of a holy figure in someone's food ever mention pareidolia? It strains my mind to understand why news media don't take the opportunity to teach the public something about science. I know newspapers are often more concerned with the amount of readers than subject matter, but do the media actually think the public is so ignorant that they wouldn't appreciate a brief science lesson about the workings of the human mind?