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Friday, August 13, 2010

FACT OR FICTION: Short Cuts in Approaches

The new SyFy series, Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files, is off to a good start with some solid research and some logical approaches. One enduring urban myth that pops up in several locations was treated in one episode. The so-called gravity hill of San Antonio (there is one claimed in several other locations around the country as well). This is the one that could have been better by simply following their own rules.

The group seeks to provide scientific testing to prove or debunk such videos as the one provided from Texas. They did a good job on the hill itself but on the claimed paranormal fingerprints they fella little short. The basis of the show is to test if results can be replicated with the same results (i.e. the 'scientific' experiment model). One aspect of the claim of the gravity hill locations is that if you put baby powder on the car fingerprints of small children emerge to reveal it was they who pushed the car.

"Fact or Faked" short cut that aspect by simply using fingerprint powder to see if prints emerged. They were therefore not replicating the conditions of the accounts or the video. They were basing their results on a product designed to pick up the traces left by oils on skin on a surface. Therefore, if something other than an oil based source provided trace the process would not pick it up. The claim is spectral presences created the fingerprints so is it logical to assume they would leave an oil based impression? What would have happened had they replicated the original with the baby powder as well?
They eventually brought out the transit proving the laws of gravity were still firmly in place but that nagging substitution is bothersome. Such shortcuts or shellgames are noticed when they happen, and despite allowances made for entertainment or time constraints, the expectations are that such shows never make assumptions about the intelligence level of their audiences. I will be waiting for new, and even more exciting, explorations by this team.

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