Prof. Richard Wiseman and Ash Pryce’s Bizarre Choice

Ash Pryce and Prof. Richard Wiseman, both old friends of Cambridge Skeptics, made an unusual media appearance earlier this summer, with Edinburgh Live exclaiming, The world's most convincing haunted photo was taken at an East Lothian castle. Pryce responded on Facebook by describing the reporting as, “a bizarre choice.” Behind the choice was another old friend, churnalism.

The story dates back to a 2009 online survey, in which Prof. Wiseman asked participants to submit and comment on alleged ghost photos. The results of this survey, which is where epithet, The world's most convincing haunted photo, comes from, a fact curiously unmentioned in Edinburgh Live, received wide media coverage thanks to a PA press release.

A chance to churn cropped up almost immediately as the media coverage dug up a similar photo taken some 30-years earlier at the same location. Similar that is except for the fact that the figure in the back of this one is, as Pryce, then going under the name of Alex for reason it’s probably best not to ask, points out is obviously a woman in a pink jacket.

Prof. Wiseman’s initial academic caution, reported as bafflement in the popular press, was maintained even following an onsite investigation in which he created a fairly convincing facsimile of the original photo by kneeling in the publicly accessible area the figure was photographed.. The results of this investigation were of course neither reported on nor fed into the churn.

This latest reappearance, apropos of nothing, adds the innovation of erroneously attributing Ash’s comment about the woman in the pink jacket to the original photo, despite it being obvious nonsense in this context, and this mistake, highlighting one of the dangers of this practice, has been repeated in subsequent re-churnings of the story.

Pryce concludes his response to the resurrection of his story with the apparently reasonable request that journalists at least reach out to him for a more recent quote, but the sad fact is, under the constraints of the modern news room, not only is there no incentive for them to do this, the loss of time involved would actually be a serious penalty.

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