Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files 1.5: "Blazing Horizon/Rollover"

As frustrated as I am with this show, which continues to fall short of its supposed intentions, it does provide a rather convenient excuse to discuss some of the logical and practical issues that come up in paranormal investigation. Most of them pertain to a certain degree of confirmation bias and sloppy thinking, but sometimes it's a reaction to the realities of the reality television world.

In the first case, I think it's more a matter of limited scientific knowledge. I'm not going to pretend that I have a firm grasp of every nuance of the sciences. I have my knowledge sets just like anyone else, and I try to expand that as best I can when necessary. In this situation, I've happened upon enough scientific analysis of "ghost lights" in my regional area (thanks to the Hookerman Lights story) to see a correlation.

What the team missed is a somewhat subtle scientific principle called the piezoelectric effect. Now, part of the problem is that this is a very specific example of that principle. Certain geologic properties of an area or region will, during a shift in mechanical stress, release energy. This can express itself as a ball or balls of light. If there's a conducting material in the area that can keep the energy in this state, then the ball of light can persist for hours. And yes, something as simple as regular temperature changes from day to night can trigger enough of a subsequent change in mechanical stress to trigger the effect.

What I noticed, in this situation, was the legend of a railroad conductor, almost identical to the Hookerman lore. I didn't see railroad tracks (a fairly obvious conducting material), but I did see the power lines running towards the apparent location of the light, which supports the theory. Also, a quick cursory Google search reveals limestone as a feature of the local geography, and which consists of the right kind of minerals to exhibit the effect. So the piezoelectric "cocktail" exists.

(On a sidenote, I know there are those who swear that it's just car headlights/taillights. To me, that doesn't quite add up. First, the anecdotal reports appear to go back before the existence of the roadway seen from the observation point. Second, just on the video shown, the light persists too long and steady for it to be typical car traffic. Third, my understanding is that the preferred observation point is not the only such point, and others don't have the potential for cars to be a reasonable source. That said, some of the accounts are obviously traffic-related, and if the information I read was inaccurate, my conclusions would obviously be wrong.)

I really can't blame the team for not thinking of this natural explanation; it's simply not all that well known. But I can blame them for poor design of experiment. When the light first appeared and was persistent, they apparently went looking for the source. They drove to the point where the light was supposed coming from, and didn't see anything. So they just went back to the observation point and shrugged.

But why not split up, triangulate the position of the light from three distinct observation points, determine the rough source location on a map, and then slowly converge on that point, maintaining line of sight verification throughout the process? It might take a little more time, but it would resolve the issue easily enough. Even if they didn't want to triangulate the source location, why not approach the apparent location in a stepwise fashion, so they can identify when and where the light becomes "invisible"? There were just too many holes in the design of experiment for my taste. Almost as if it was intentionally so, to ensure an inconclusive result.

In the second case, I was just baffled by the lengths to which the team went to find an explanation for something that has been adequately explained on countless occasions. The little celebration at the end was particular hilarious. "We explained gravity! We're so awesome!"

Just about every state has its example of this urban legend, and in every single case, someone has done the homework and figured out that it's just an optical illusion. It really takes about ten seconds to prove this out. Take a simple contractor's level and put it on the ground, and see for yourself that the road is on a slight decline. Case closed!

This isn't even like the "ghost car" situation, where it's instructive to go through the various theories and show how one can prove which one is correct. Sure, it was fun to see them show how it works for different vehicles, right up to the school bus, but why bother with testing the idea that it could be weird magnetic fields or talk about spirit children when the perfectly logical and natural explanation is staring you right in the face?

I get the distinct feeling that this video was chosen because it was so easy to debunk. It makes the team look good and thorough, and that lends more credibility to the cases where they drop the ball. I'm sure others will say I'm giving them way too much benefit of the doubt, and would conclude that it's all just designed and packaged for entertainment, with all participants aware of the con. I must concede, based on the episodes thus far, that they may be right.


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