Partial screen shot from the ill-fated Monsanto Collaborators website touted by Mike Adams
I know I haven’t been keeping up with the blog here. As you can tell from the top menu bar and my social media feeds, I have a number of different projects and sometimes it’s hard to balance them all. Plus I have some cool new super-secret projects in the works that are taking up my time. And I do have a day job too! But fear not, I have several posts that I’m working on for this blog and activity will pick up soon, especially as we ramp up into DragonCon at the end of this month.
But for today I just wanted to offer some kudos to another blog where an investigation appeared last week that would not have been out of place right here on Skeptools. Nick Price, posting at the newly-launched blog This Week in Pseudoscience looked into a controversial post by Mike Adams (the so-called “Health Ranger” who many skeptics call the “Health Danger”).
I noticed an interesting parallel between two cases involving different flavors of “truthers” in the last two weeks. Both involved observers applying some knowledge of digital photography technology to undo the nonsense being perpetrated by conspiracy theorists. One involved a classic debunk of a claim involving video footage, the other involved some good old fashioned detective work set in motion by a clue in a digital photo file.
Both cases remind us that skeptics need to be aware of the ins and outs of technologies used (and misused) by those who would feed the misinformation to the general public. Awareness of these technologies can quickly lead to skeptical wins.
I must confess I’ve been remiss in not blogging about this particular topic earlier. Investigating anomalous photos has always been a skeptic mainstay – for over a century and a half in fact. Ghost photos of one type or another have existed practically since the invention of photography. Those have been subsequently joined by photos of cryptids, UFOs and other alleged anomalous phenomena.
Now that practically everyone has a camera in their pocket all the time (in the form of a mobile phone) photos of this type pop up constantly – along with opportunities to investigate them. And so we need as many skeptics as possible to have some skills in investigating the latest local ghost or UFO photo. There are just too many of them to send them all to Joe Nickell or Richard Wiseman.
Because photos are ubiquitous, and doctoring photos using software is so incredibly easy, tools for detecting photo manipulation (like FourMatch and Tungstene) are becoming more common. But software like that can be quite expensive – out of the range of the average skeptic.
But today I’m writing about something far, far simpler. In fact, it’s an incredibly easy way to detect obvious hoaxes based on stolen or misrepresented photos. It should be in every skeptic’s toolkit, along with a trick for using it that I’ve never seen suggested before.
Skeptics sometimes must deal with threats and harassment in emails. This week, our old friend “David Mabus” has started using email again, which means I’ve been sent all manner of reports. While I appreciate these reports, most of them are merely forwarded emails. It turns out that forwarded emails are are all but useless to a forensic investigator.
When you forward an email, key details of where it originated and how it was delivered are left behind. These details are exactly what an investigator needs to do their work. So forwarding doesn’t help.
Thus it is very important when you report a suspicious or threatening email that you use the right method, that captures all the forensic information. This method is not always obvious in modern email clients.
I will show you the method for common email clients in this post, and provide some links to other resources. Read on.