Virus Apocalypse: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Sneezes 

Ebola Virus outbreak 2

There is little else on this Earth quite as chilling as hearing that there has been an outbreak of the Ebola virus. It brings crashing to mind all of those terrifying movies depicting a world ravaged by a fierce virus for which there is no vaccination, no cure and a meagre chance of survival. Almost two years ago, however, the horror of Hollywood imagination made its real life debut in a handful of countries in West Africa and this appearance by one of the world’s worst viruses known to man has left the local population shattered and terrified.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), we faced the worst outbreak in recorded history and the death toll increased daily. With this shocking realisation in mind come many questions: what is the Ebola virus? How at risk is the rest of the world to contracting this pathogen and what actually happens to the body once it’s infected? Let’s take a look at the microscopic douche bag that effortlessly, in as little as a few short weeks, showed up mankind for our frailty.

Now Might Be the Time to Cancel that Trip to West Africa 

west-africa-Ebola outbreak distribution-map

Source: World Health Organisation (WHO), Ebola Response Roadmap, February 11th 2015

If you have impending travel plans for Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea and Liberia, now might be the time to reconsider. Your journey of a lifetime might just become your last. At the last count (December 27th 2015) WHO reported that 28,637 people had been officially diagnosed with the Ebola virus in these countries, with 11,315 having succumbed to it.

A 40% death rate might not seem like the apocalyptic scenario you’d associate with an end-of-the-world type virus… that is, until you put yourself in the worn sandals of some poor West African soul. Imagine your doctor telling you that your chance of surviving your illness is 60%! I’d give up all vestiges of civilized behaviour and kill myself with red wine and tequila before that miserable virus could have a chance to get hold of my internal organs. If you think 40% is bad, however, consider the fact that the death rate of the Zaire Ebolavirus has been as high as 90% in the past:

  • 71% in 2007: 187 people dead in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • 90% in 2003: 128 people dead in Democratic Republic of Congo
  • 75% in 2001-2002: 44 people dead in Democratic Republic of Congo
  • 88% in 1976: 280 people dead in Democratic Republic of Congo

I don’t care how democratic it is, I’m SO removing Congo from my travel plans!

So, while it might sound completely ridiculous to say, the people in the affected areas are at least a little lucky in some glass-half-full kind of way. I do understand this is hard to appreciate when you are bleeding out your bum.

This brings us to the profile of a pathogen so nasty and malicious, it would have had a glittering career in Hitler’s SS.

Profile of a Serial Killer

Ebola virus under microscope

The Ebola virus belongs to a nasty, sadistic family of pathogens called the Flioviridae that essentially cause the body to haemorrhage uncontrollably – that is, to bleed internally and externally and all-aroundernally. There are five different species of Ebola virus, because for some God-forsaken reason one isn’t enough. They are:

  1. Zaire Ebolavirus (EBOV)
  2. Sudan Ebolavirus (SUDV)
  3. Bundibugyo Ebolavirus (BDBV)
  4. Reston Ebolavirus (RESTV)
  5. Taï Forest Ebolavirus (TAFV)

Historically, the three problematic strains of this virus have been the Bundibugyo, the Sudan and the Zaire ebolavirus, the latter of which has been wreaking havoc in West Africa since February 2014. The other two species are, interestingly enough, not typically associated with large outbreaks. In fact, RESTV in particular hasn’t been known to kill anyone ever. Amateur.

A Little Aside: The Ebola virus was named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was here in 1976 that the first recorded outbreak occurred.

How Is Ebola Transmitted?

Ebola virus outbreak

You catch Ebola by somehow ingesting the bodily fluids of an infected person. This, given the virus’ tendency to cause flu-like symptoms, uncontrollable diarrhoea and vomiting, is mighty difficult to avoid, especially if you are living in close proximity to the sick person. And this is precisely why the virus tends to spread so quickly amongst family members and to the medical physicians who are trying to treat these patients. Given the lack of proper, sterile medical infrastructure in these poor West African countries and the strange burial ceremonies honoured there (involving kissing and touching the corpses of loved ones passed), this virus is having an utter field day.

Thankfully, in the midst of all the carnage, there’s the fact that the Ebola virus isn’t airborne. That means you can’t get it from breathing in the same air as someone who is infected, so you don’t need to fear the zombie apocalypse the next time some stranger sneezes. Just keep your mouth close and wash your hands regularly.

Symptoms and Signs Your Wife Might Be Cashing In Your life Insurance Policy Soon

Ebola Virus outbreak 4

Once infected, it could take you as little as a few days or as long as three weeks to start showing symptoms. You’ll feel like crap and probably think you have some kind of flu with symptoms that include achy muscles, a monster headache, fever and a sore throat. Meanwhile beneath the surface of your skin all hell is breaking loose…

Ebola takes up residence inside your body’s cells where it begins its merry task of replicating. Once one has become two, they erupt out of their host cell, completely destroying it in the process. This tiny asshole then starts secreting a kind of protein known as “ebolavirus glycoprotein,” which coats the interior walls of your blood vessels, disintegrating them and leaving them more leaky than a submarine with air vents.

Ebola also impedes your blood’s ability to clot, so you essentially become haemophilic… unable to stop bleeding. One sneeze can initially cause your nose to erupt in a crimson plume of infection, while an accidental bump could leave you looking like you escaped a marriage with Mike Tyson. Eventually, if you survive the fever, dehydration, rashes and swelling long enough to experience the next merry phase of the illness, your blood will start to seep out of your blood vessels in a whole-body internal and external haemorrhage. That’s right. You’ll have blood seeping out of your eyes, nose, gums, ears and other unmentionable bodily orifices.

The next few stops on the Ebola train include disseminated intravascular coagulation, shock and then death.

It’s utterly terrifying.

Where Are Your White Blood Cells When You Need Them?

White blood cells

The reason the Ebola virus has such a high death rate is because it is as keen a master of offence as it is of defence. It actually prevents the white blood cells from “hearing” your body’s natural defence alarm. So while the virus completely destroys your body, your white blood cells – the little guys responsible for protecting your body – are just hanging out, playing cards, drinking beer and hitting on platelets. But wait, it gets worse (or more hilarious depending on how morbid your sense of humour is): the Ebola virus remains so undetected by your immune system that it will actually hitch a ride on your white blood cells to other parts of the body. This explains its rapid spread to all of the body’s major organs and systems.

Sweet Jesus, tell me there’s something modern medicine can do to treat it!

Unfortunately, no. There is no cure and no vaccine for the Ebola virus. In fact, scientists are only now beginning to understand how it works, spreads and wreaks so much havoc on the body. I can imagine that the response from lab technicians willing to volunteer to do the necessary research on live virus specimens must be underwhelming.

I know I’d bunk work that day.

Homer Simpson Woohoo!

The only thing doctors can do for Ebola virus patients is keep them comfortable, hydrated and clean. It’s up to your body to do the rest, which is why it’s the strong who typically survive this virus.

Where Did the Ebola Virus COME From?

There is a very important field of specialty dedicated to understanding the origin and spread of harmful pathogens and it’s called “epidemiology.” By pinpointing the origin of a particular virus, we can understand HOW it spreads and therefore how to minimize this spread. It is also possible to infer from the point of origin the necessary clues to develop a treatment or vaccine.

In the case of the Ebola virus, the origin is believed to be fruit bats of the family Pteropodidae and genera Myonycteris torquata, Epomops franqueti and Hypsignathus monstrosus. What causes such devastation to us humans bumbles around quite harmlessly within the living tissues of these rodent aviators. The actual transmission of the virus occurs when someone gets the bright idea to have a bat barbecue or sandwich.

Unfortunately, bats are quite popular on the menu in West Africa.

Cute fruit bat

How could you eat that face?

The Ebola virus has also been documented in monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees and even certain antelope. The problem here is that uneducated people from the villages in these remote areas have no idea of the danger they put themselves in when they come across a dead animal in the forest. They don’t see the harm in prodding it, eating it, or bringing it home with them for whatever reason. They have no idea that swimming around within the coagulating vessels of this deceased creature is a deadly virus that could lay complete waste to their village in a matter of weeks.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Ebola Virus outbreak 3

When diagnosing the Ebola virus, doctors are instructed to first rule out a host of other potentially fatal illnesses, including the PLAGUE. You know a sickness is really bad when it could be confused with the plague, for crying out loud! And bad the Ebola virus is. To date and at the time of writing, more than 28,000 people are estimated to have been infected in the outbreak in West Africa.

The take-home message of this particular blog on the Ebola virus could pertain to any lethal virus, I suppose. While there are things we can do to help patients fight off infection and emerge victorious (with one hell of a story to tell the grandchildren), we have to be fully cognisant of the irony that something so small – something invisible – could utterly destroy one of the most successful species on the planet. All we can do is hope that a virus similar in action to the Ebola, but deadlier and more uncontrollable in its spread never, ever makes it out of the dark recesses of our planet.

So, kids, wash your hands before you eat and no matter how tempted you are to try new things, never order bat off the menu.

"It's Just Not Natural!"

Gay flag homosexuality

Do you consider yourself to be a normal, conventional, regular, well-adjusted, average, run of the mill, standard or straight-laced human being? Sure, you’ve got your own unique set of characteristics and idiosyncrasies. But, when you get really mad and punch the door or wall, you end up sheepishly cradling your smarting hand just like the rest of us. You don’t morph into a large green raging monster that could give Chuck Norris a run for his money.

“Yes, I suppose so,” you say.

Okay. So, what if I told you that there was a hidden camera, Big Brother style, in your bedroom and it had been capturing everything you’d done over the past month? Would you reconsider your answer? Would you desperately flip through your memories to recall whether or not there could be any footage on those cameras that could have you criminally prosecuted or thrown into the loony bin? There was that time you excavated your nostril and wiped it on your partner’s side of the bed because she was being a bitch. Or what about that really weird habit of yours: you know, the one where you talk out loud when no one’s around and then answer yourself as Darth Vader.

The point is: we all like to think we’re fairly normal. That is, until no one is looking.

SO! It is when the topic of homosexuality comes up in conversation and someone says to me, “it’s just not natural” that I can’t help but wonder what their particular behind-closed-doors vice is. If only I knew, for then I would have the ultimate retort: “It’s not natural? Neither is that thing you do with the peanut butter, the dental floss and your schizophrenic-looking poodle…”

Alas, such solid gold one-liners are saved only for carefully-scripted Hollywood comedies. For our retort to those bigoted individuals who believe homosexuality is an aberrant behaviour, we shall have to use some solid scientific reasoning and the best way to begin any intellectual debate is to look for a precedent.

Where better to start looking than in nature?

Albatrosses love

What is ‘Natural’ Anyway?

“Present in or produced by nature.”

“Faithfully representing nature or life.”

“Of, relating to, or concerning nature.”

There are quite a few dictionary definitions to be found for ‘natural’. Some definitions relate to societal expectations: “established by moral certainty or conviction.” And some relate to the behaviour of hippies: “characterized by spontaneity and freedom from artificiality, affectation, or inhibitions.” Essentially, however, to be ‘natural’ is to have precedent in nature and in our surrounding physical and biological environment. All other definitions have been adapted or even warped to apply to our civilization in one way or another.

The next important step in this analysis is to determine whether homosexuality is in fact unnatural and whether or not there are any precedents of male-on-male or female-on-female love in Earth’s biosphere.

Lots of Animals Here are Queer!

funny gay lion picture

Did you know that homosexual behaviour – as is defined by same sex courtship (wooing), affection (cuddling), shagging (*ahem*), bonding (bro’s before ho’s) and parenting – has been observed in almost 1500 different species of animals? Canadian biologist Bruce Bagemihl performed a comprehensive review of many creatures and critters and found a staggering number of cases of homosexuality between males of a species and females of a species. In 500 of these species, this behaviour has not only been observed, but is actually well-documented.

And forget obscure, little heard-of, abyssal-dwelling sea squishies… homosexuality has been documented in creatures ranging from lizards, giraffes, dolphins, domestic cats and barn owls to koalas, king penguins, salmon, killer whales and chimpanzees. Even LIONS dabble in the regular bromance with each other.

Talk about a gay pride… QUEENS of the jungle, more like.

Gay lions homosexuality

In October of 2006, the University of Oslo’s Norwegian Natural History Museum hosted what must have been a fascinating exhibition on homosexuality in the animal kingdom. It was titled “Against Nature’s Order?” The academic advisor behind the exhibition was a man called Petter Bøckman who made the following brilliant statement:

“One fundamental premise in social debates has been that homosexuality is unnatural. This premise is wrong. Homosexuality is both common and highly essential in the lives of a number of species.”

You tell ‘em, girlfriend!

Why, Though?

Affectionate chimpanzees

Animals engage in sexual behaviour for many different reasons. Sex is about so much more than just reproduction; it’s a language in itself. It’s a way to say “I love you”, “I’m sorry”, “you’re the boss” or “you’re MY bitch!” It’s a way of communicating love, anger, affection and power and it’s a way of resolving conflict; of reconnecting. No matter how above the animal kingdom you may consider yourself to be, it’s true even of the human race. There are only two kinds of people who believe sex should exclusively be an act of reproduction and those people either aren’t having any sex (the Pope) or are brought up by warped belief frameworks that permit you to marry your 12-year old niece.

Why, WHY would you believe them?

Giraffes loving each other

Case in Point(y Heels)…

  • 90% of the time male giraffes are actually having sex it’s with another male giraffe.
  • The Bonobo chimpanzee is a devoted bisexual. Boys love girls AND boys. Girls love boys AND girls. They are also one of our closest genetic relatives…
  • One out of every ten couples of black-headed gulls is lesbian and will only copulate with a male in order to reproduce. They devote every other waking second of their lives to each other.
  • Lions are notorious poofters! The males will hang out together in a rugged pack of manly maneliness, but, when the gazelles aren’t looking, they’ll shag around with each other as a way of building loyalty and camaraderie.
  • Dolphins only engage very briefly with the opposite sex during mating time, but males will remain together for many years. Sometimes, just to dispel the mood of a bad day in the office, they’ll engage in bisexual sex orgies.
  • Geese are constantly falling head-over-heels in love. And forget divorce. That’s just not a word in their genetic vocabulary. But 4% to 5% of the time, the two love birds are both male. No matter! They mate for life anyway and dedicate their efforts to raising the eggs donated to them by career girl geese.
  • Female Bonobo chimpanzees are complete and utter Sapphic sluts. I can’t even include a picture for illustration here because my blog would get blacklisted for pornography. So, here’s a picture of a cute kitten instead…

Cute kitten yawning

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

For many animals, it is a regular and totally natural part of their behaviour to “get down on it” with other members of the same sex. Actually, it couldn’t possibly be said any more eloquently than in the words used by Petter Bøckman during the “Against Nature’s Order” exhibition: 

“No species has been found in which homosexual behaviour has not been shown to exist, with the exception of species that never have sex at all, such as sea urchins and aphis. Moreover, a part of the animal kingdom is hermaphroditic, truly bisexual. For them, homosexuality is not an issue.”

Not an issue indeed. There are hundreds and possibly thousands of homosexual species in the animal kingdom.

But only one that is homophobic.

obert mugabe-zimbabwe-fall

"It's Just Not Natural!"

Gay flag homosexuality

Do you consider yourself to be a normal, conventional, regular, well-adjusted, average, run of the mill, standard or straight-laced human being? Sure, you’ve got your own unique set of characteristics and idiosyncrasies. But, when you get really mad and punch the door or wall, you end up sheepishly cradling your smarting hand just like the rest of us. You don’t morph into a large green raging monster that could give Chuck Norris a run for his money.

“Yes, I suppose so,” you say.

Okay. So, what if I told you that there was a hidden camera, Big Brother style, in your bedroom and it had been capturing everything you’d done over the past month? Would you reconsider your answer? Would you desperately flip through your memories to recall whether or not there could be any footage on those cameras that could have you criminally prosecuted or thrown into the loony bin? There was that time you excavated your nostril and wiped it on your partner’s side of the bed because she was being a bitch. Or what about that really weird habit of yours: you know, the one where you talk out loud when no one’s around and then answer yourself as Darth Vader.

The point is: we all like to think we’re fairly normal. That is, until no one is looking.

SO! It is when the topic of homosexuality comes up in conversation and someone says to me, “it’s just not natural” that I can’t help but wonder what their particular behind-closed-doors vice is. If only I knew, for then I would have the ultimate retort: “It’s not natural? Neither is that thing you do with the peanut butter, the dental floss and your schizophrenic-looking poodle…”

Alas, such solid gold one-liners are saved only for carefully-scripted Hollywood comedies. For our retort to those bigoted individuals who believe homosexuality is an aberrant behaviour, we shall have to use some solid scientific reasoning and the best way to begin any intellectual debate is to look for a precedent.

Where better to start looking than in nature?

Albatrosses love

What is ‘Natural’ Anyway?

“Present in or produced by nature.”

“Faithfully representing nature or life.”

“Of, relating to, or concerning nature.”

There are quite a few dictionary definitions to be found for ‘natural’. Some definitions relate to societal expectations: “established by moral certainty or conviction.” And some relate to the behaviour of hippies: “characterized by spontaneity and freedom from artificiality, affectation, or inhibitions.” Essentially, however, to be ‘natural’ is to have precedent in nature and in our surrounding physical and biological environment. All other definitions have been adapted or even warped to apply to our civilization in one way or another.

The next important step in this analysis is to determine whether homosexuality is in fact unnatural and whether or not there are any precedents of male-on-male or female-on-female love in Earth’s biosphere.

Lots of Animals Here are Queer!

funny gay lion picture

Did you know that homosexual behaviour – as is defined by same sex courtship (wooing), affection (cuddling), shagging (*ahem*), bonding (bro’s before ho’s) and parenting – has been observed in almost 1500 different species of animals? Canadian biologist Bruce Bagemihl performed a comprehensive review of many creatures and critters and found a staggering number of cases of homosexuality between males of a species and females of a species. In 500 of these species, this behaviour has not only been observed, but is actually well-documented.

And forget obscure, little heard-of, abyssal-dwelling sea squishies… homosexuality has been documented in creatures ranging from lizards, giraffes, dolphins, domestic cats and barn owls to koalas, king penguins, salmon, killer whales and chimpanzees. Even LIONS dabble in the regular bromance with each other.

Talk about a gay pride… QUEENS of the jungle, more like.

Gay lions homosexuality

In October of 2006, the University of Oslo’s Norwegian Natural History Museum hosted what must have been a fascinating exhibition on homosexuality in the animal kingdom. It was titled “Against Nature’s Order?” The academic advisor behind the exhibition was a man called Petter Bøckman who made the following brilliant statement:

“One fundamental premise in social debates has been that homosexuality is unnatural. This premise is wrong. Homosexuality is both common and highly essential in the lives of a number of species.”

You tell ‘em, girlfriend!

Why, Though?

Affectionate chimpanzees

Animals engage in sexual behaviour for many different reasons. Sex is about so much more than just reproduction; it’s a language in itself. It’s a way to say “I love you”, “I’m sorry”, “you’re the boss” or “you’re MY bitch!” It’s a way of communicating love, anger, affection and power and it’s a way of resolving conflict; of reconnecting. No matter how above the animal kingdom you may consider yourself to be, it’s true even of the human race. There are only two kinds of people who believe sex should exclusively be an act of reproduction and those people either aren’t having any sex (the Pope) or are brought up by warped belief frameworks that permit you to marry your 12-year old niece.

Why, WHY would you believe them?

Giraffes loving each other

Case in Point(y Heels)…

  • 90% of the time male giraffes are actually having sex it’s with another male giraffe.
  • The Bonobo chimpanzee is a devoted bisexual. Boys love girls AND boys. Girls love boys AND girls. They are also one of our closest genetic relatives…
  • One out of every ten couples of black-headed gulls is lesbian and will only copulate with a male in order to reproduce. They devote every other waking second of their lives to each other.
  • Lions are notorious poofters! The males will hang out together in a rugged pack of manly maneliness, but, when the gazelles aren’t looking, they’ll shag around with each other as a way of building loyalty and camaraderie.
  • Dolphins only engage very briefly with the opposite sex during mating time, but males will remain together for many years. Sometimes, just to dispel the mood of a bad day in the office, they’ll engage in bisexual sex orgies.
  • Geese are constantly falling head-over-heels in love. And forget divorce. That’s just not a word in their genetic vocabulary. But 4% to 5% of the time, the two love birds are both male. No matter! They mate for life anyway and dedicate their efforts to raising the eggs donated to them by career girl geese.
  • Female Bonobo chimpanzees are complete and utter Sapphic sluts. I can’t even include a picture for illustration here because my blog would get blacklisted for pornography. So, here’s a picture of a cute kitten instead…

Cute kitten yawning

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

For many animals, it is a regular and totally natural part of their behaviour to “get down on it” with other members of the same sex. Actually, it couldn’t possibly be said any more eloquently than in the words used by Petter Bøckman during the “Against Nature’s Order” exhibition: 

“No species has been found in which homosexual behaviour has not been shown to exist, with the exception of species that never have sex at all, such as sea urchins and aphis. Moreover, a part of the animal kingdom is hermaphroditic, truly bisexual. For them, homosexuality is not an issue.”

Not an issue indeed. There are hundreds and possibly thousands of homosexual species in the animal kingdom.

But only one that is homophobic.

obert mugabe-zimbabwe-fall

6 Eerie Paranormal Videos Unexplained by Science

YouTube is a fathomless abyss of all sorts of paranormal video, ghost footage and creepy, unexplained photos and clips. Most of these are frustratingly fake and can quite easily be attributed to human talent and boredom. Some, however, are a little too strange for comfort…

Here are six totally freaky, super strange and unexplained paranormal videos.

Paranormal Video 1: Caught on Film – Levitating Girl in Russian Forest

A dude talking his dog for a walk in the forest stumbles upon a most mysterious scene of a young girl suspended in thin air. When her and her friend hear him coming, she quickly comes back down from her levitation and they both make a run for it. Hmmm…

Video Source: Uploaded by Paranormal Videos | Latest Ghost Videos on YouTube channel http://youtu.be/OGABYPO1gTc

Paranormal Video 2: Headless Ghost

While exploring an abandoned school, a group of youngsters film an apparition that materialises out of thin air and walks purposefully towards them, letting rip a howling moan as it does (around the 2 minute mark). Why the investigators don’t void their bowels before running and screaming like little girls from the room is a bigger mystery than the ghost itself.

Video Source: Uploaded by Creepy Pasta Vids Coming on YouTube channel http://youtu.be/0xzpqJfTYRM

Paranormal Video 3: Unknown Winged Creature Caught on Camera

Watch this security footage from Cilandak Square in Jakarta, Indonesia, to see a strange light bolt down to Earth and then take off again. The light anomaly is clearly the shape of a winged creature and while your brain tells you “Naaaah, there’s no way this could be real…” the people who created the video certainly did a meticulously good job of making it realistic! Notice the fine details in the reflection of light off the various surfaces around the parking lot.

Video Source: Uploaded by nightghosthouse on YouTube channel http://youtu.be/oDubUuplR5g

Paranormal Video 4: Possible Fallen Angel in Catalonia (Subtitled)

Disregard the title, because even when the scary creature is revealed, there isn’t anything “angel-like” about it, although it doesn’t look human at all. Those white feathers on the ground could belong to virtually any white bird. Nevertheless, this paranormal video is worth a gander.

Video Source: Uploaded by Pascuali on YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AveJSRL8KgQ

Paranormal Video 5: Ghost Hangs Around Disneyland

A security guard shakily films a whitish apparition of a walking spook meandering through the park at night. The ghost of Walt Disney perhaps?

Video Source: Uploaded by ghostatdisneyland on YouTube channel www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnjibWcbV2o

Paranormal Video 6: Real Demons Caught on Tape

Okay, so this paranormal video is obviously the work of a very talented CGI student, but God DAMN it’s good! What’s funny and somewhat disturbing is how some of the commenters assume an authority on the matter of the paranormal, saying “demons can’t manifest like that” and “Those are hands of the torchered, desperately reaching, trying to get you to pull them out of there. But don’t fall for it. They will drag you in, so that you can burn together with them.”

Seriously?

 

Video Source: Uploaded by chestertyler714 on YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEVfREVGcaY

With enough ingenuity, access to photoshop and CGI software and the co-operation of your friends, it would be possible for anyone to create an unexplained phenomenon and “catch it on tape.” Ultimately, however, there’s no way these videos can be strictly verified or discredited, which is why they are so interesting to watch.

Boo!

Who You Gonna Call? Ghostbusters!

Scary ghost picture

I am completely and utterly titillated by the paranormal. No, I have never had any personal experiences or encounters that have led me to believe that ghosts, ghouls, spirits, spectres, phantoms and other ephemeral entities exist. And no, I did not buy my science degree from some dodgy website. So, why then would I even entertain the notion that spooks exist? If science is about clean-cut, observable, measurable absolutes – and if I am a firm subscriber to science – then why can’t I say with utter conviction and clarity that I don’t believe in ghosts?

I just don’t know. I still run like hell and jump into bed when I turn off the lights. But what I DO know is that all of the documentaries dedicated to the investigation of the paranormal are annoyingly terrible for some very good reasons. So let’s take a look at an organisation that involves itself in the (bad) “scientific” exploration of spooky properties around America and whether their findings provide support for the existence of the wanton phantoms that have, for centuries, been photo-bombing family photographs.

Drip… Drip… Drip…

Ghost-Hunters TV show

Photo Credit: StephanTylerIGH.

‘Ghosthunters’ founders Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. Note their hard-core facial expressions. This is a fundamental trait for plumbers. When you’re fixing other people’s toilets, you need to prepare for the absurd and the obscene. 

The Ghosthunters series is a documentary about a group of investigators from The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) who, at the request of some exasperated and freaked-out tenants, voluntarily sign up to spend the night in the bowels of some creepy-looking castle or derelict cabin in the woods. They do this in an effort to observe, measure and record physical evidence of paranormal activity.

This series was initially really interesting to me, because for the first time I thought that the possibility of ghosts, the paranormal or the supernatural, was going to be scientifically tested. The chief investigators and the guys that came up with the entire concept of Ghosthunters, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, come across as suitably sceptical and scientific about what they’re doing. But episode after episode, I was disappointed by the sheer lack of tangible evidence these guys came up with. I was even more disappointed by the complete lack of adherence to very simple scientific method!

Let’s take a systematic look at the many problems the “documentary” Ghosthunters presents as a not-so scientific investigation of the spiritual realm…

Funny ghost picture

Exhibit A: You’re Real Jobs are WHAT??

One of the biggest red flags of the show is that the two lead investigators, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, are actually plumbers by trade. So while we can’t very well berate them for not knowing how to operate a scientific investigation, we can berate them for perpetuating false information, or, as the Independent Investigations Group puts it, for “peddling pseudoscience and superstition.”

My criticisms of Ghosthunters and all its many spin-off shows are not unique. The program has agitated the science community who, exasperated with the absence of real tangible evidence or proper scientific method, makes a few very valid and obvious points, including the next one…

Exhibit B: Non-Measurable Quantities Does Not a Solid Case Make

Ghost hunter equipment

The TAPS team makes use of some really complicated-looking equipment; equipment that’s so complicated, it has to be called by acronyms, which generally spellbind the audience with their acronymic awesomeness. EMF meters, thermographic cameras, IR goggles, static and handheld digital video cameras, Geiger counters and digital thermometers are a few of the gadgets these guys make use of to try to detect and capture physical evidence of paranormal activity.

Yet in spite of the truckloads of wiring, equipment and gadgetry they use to catch ghosts in action, the most moving bits of “evidence” are almost always the personal experiences claimed to be had by the investigators:

“Wow, I suddenly got really cold, does anyone else feel that?”

“I swear I just felt something rush past my leg!”

“It feels so gloomy in here, like all the joy just got sucked out of me.”

Anyone with a scientific background will tell you that these kinds of feelings and emotions cannot constitute scientific evidence. As the audience on the other side of the TV screen, and probably the other side of the world too, we simply cannot corroborate this evidence. I mean, how do we know what they’re saying is even true?

Exhibit C: IR, REM-Pod-SDD, HTO, EMF, WTF(?)

Ghost hunter equipment

The equipment carried around by the TAPS team is sometimes used in ways that are known to be ineffective! One of the examples raised by Benjamin Radford, deputy editor of the science magazine The Sceptical Enquirer, is the infrared thermometer. These tools can be used to measure the skin (surface) temperature of an object. So if you stuck one in your armpit, under your tongue or in some other unmentionable place, it would be able to tell you the temperature of its immediate surroundings and by inference, your body temperature. The TAPS team use these thermometers to “detect cold spots” in the middle of a room. Not an object or a body, but a wide-open space, which is a blatantly ineffective use of technology.

Exhibit D (and this drives me nuts): Sampling Issues

Something that has caused me immense frustration right from the very first episode of Ghosthunters I ever saw, is that the Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) only ever spends one night in a location. Employing a good scientific method requires an investigator to choose a decent enough sampling size and period to ensure that they (1) capture as much evidence as possible and (2) evidence that is as broad in range as possible. This eliminates the chance of any outlying anomalies skewing the results.

Huh?

Okay, let’s look at an example. If you spent one hour in a purportedly haunted attic and in that hour an errant draft creaked open the door, you might entertain the notion that it was the work of a spectre’s hand, as I think we all might do if locked in a spooky house that we were told was haunted.

However, if you spent a week in that attic, you’d become very familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the house – its various sighs and creaks and movements – and you’d notice that the door often swings open slightly when a window is open. In other words, there is probably no pesky poltergeist or malignant spirit sharing that attic with you.

How boring.

Scary horror movie picture

The point here is, the larger the size of the scientific sample or the longer your vigilance, the more the anomalies get ironed out and the better you will come to understand your subject matter. A more accurate story will emerge, which is how the axiom “good science is repetition” was born.

One Night in Hell (Isn’t Enough)

There’s another far more obvious perspective to be had on this issue. Wouldn’t your chance of finding actual evidence of paranormal activity be much greater if you spent more than one night in a location? If the landlady of a purportedly haunted house experienced the odd floating leather-bound tome, surely you should hang around for at least a week to stand the REAL chance of capturing some real juicy footage and to get the most out of the investigation? What if the ectoplasm of Sir Arthur Froglicker decided to visit the neighbouring house for a bit of nocturnal slap n’ tickle with Lady Von Ripschlitz on the night you decided to investigate? You’d totally miss him!

The TAPS team should spend more time per location. One night is just not long enough. It’s no wonder the “evidence” they come up with is almost always inconclusive.

Exhibit E: Common Bloody Sense

If the team at Ghosthunters really, really, REALLY believed that they had caught scientific evidence of paranormal activity on their equipment, or if they really believed they had even just experienced and witnessed paranormal activity, why haven’t they gone to a scientific organisation about this incredible breakthrough? Evidence of another dimension? Of the spiritual world? It would be MASSIVE news for mankind. It’s like those infuriating illusionists. If they really could levitate, scientists would be all over that and Sir Isaac Newton would be turning in his grave.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Ghostbusters haunted dolls

Not a single episode of Ghosthunters provides indisputable evidence that ghosts exist. There could very well be someone on the inside of that creepy cabin, switching the light on and off. There could very well be someone down in the cellar with the team, making that weird coughing noise. The filmmakers are in creepy situations, which immediately make them more sensitive to perfectly rational sounds and events. All it takes is for someone to fart loudly and the entire film crew is going to run from the crypt screaming like bunch of schoolgirls.

I’m not saying that all of the things we see on Ghosthunters never happened, but the “proof” they provide isn’t physical evidence and it hasn’t been acquired using rigorous scientific methods. The show is edited for impact. At the end of the day, these people need to make money and unless they provide the goods, the audience is going to get bored and change the channel over to something even more brainless, like the Jerry Springer Show or Pregnant at 15. Just remember that science and business are a volatile mix. If you ask me, making money from the perpetration of ignorance is a filthy crime of which far too many institutions (past and present) are guilty of.

BOO!

Michael-Jackson-Thriller