When I’m at home in my normal life, I don’t watch much tv, but living in LA without my family commitments I do end up with the odd spare half hour at the end of my day that needs to be filled with a little mindless distraction. And if mindless distraction is what you’re after, American television excels. For some reason1 my brain is drawn to what used to be known as the Sci Fi Channel, but has recently been idiotically re-branded as SyFy. Judging by what SyFy dishes up, I can only assume this naff baby-speak appellation has been applied as an opening gambit in a profit-inspired move to drift the channel away from science fiction programming into a domain that consists of, well, anything that can be loosely assembled under the heading of ‘Crap’.

It’s a category which is headlined by one of SyFy’s own creations, Fact or Faked. Paranormal Files.2 The premise of the show is this: a bunch of ‘experts’ review a selection of videos sent in each week by viewers, and then pick their favourites to ‘investigate’. The opening credit sequence, weighty with overblown seriousness, introduces us to the members of the intrepid Fact or Faked team:

Ben: Former FBI Agent

Bill: Lead Scientist

Jael: Journalist

Larry: Special Effects Expert

Chi Lan: Photography Expert

Austin: Stunt Expert

Call me shallow, but the very first time I watched the program I took an instant dislike to both Chi Lan and Jael – the former because she’s an opinionated airhead and the latter because I hate her name. Larry is basically an overly-serious nerd, Austin is a gullible prat and Ben looks like he was roped into the whole debacle against his wishes3 and is constantly planning his escape from the show.

But you will have sensed that I have saved my vitriol for Bill, the ‘scientist’. Simply put, Bill is an idiot. He is certainly not a scientist in any meaningful sense of the word.

In an effort of forbearance I will refrain from further description of the dumbness of the show itself, and instead just concentrate on a story that was on last night and one that I think demonstrates the full credentials of this team, who must surely all be card-carrying alumni of Scooby Doo University.

The story in question concerns a phenomenon called the Paulding Light Mystery. A video from YouTube shows a tree-lined hill with a bright light waxing and waning in a dusk sky. A ten second long grab (which Fact or Faked repeats over and over) features a mysteriously appealing visual effect as the light is refracted by atmospheric conditions or possibly some kind of lens aberration.

The Facts: If you go to a certain spot just outside the town of Paulding, Michigan, and look toward the south after dusk, you may see, depending on the weather conditions, a bright light just on the top of the tree line. The light may vary in brightness and duration and even sometimes in colour. It is an unusual phenomenon in the annals of the paranormal, in that the light appears quite reliably, with a frequency that has allowed a bit of a tourist industry to have risen around it. In other words, if you visit Paulding, there’s a pretty good chance that you too can see the light.

The Myth: The Paulding Light is said to be the spirit of a dead railway signalman who was crushed to death while trying to warn an oncoming train about another train stalled on the tracks ahead.

So there you have the setup. Let me try and give you some idea of how the Fact or Faked crew typically proceed when investigating something like the Paulding Light.

Dusk approaches. Jael, Austin and Bill have been assigned to this story. They arrive in their Scooby Doo Mystery Machine with a fully decked-out Paranormal Investigation Kit: gas sensors, Geiger counter, FLIR camera system, walkie talkies and a two-person mini all-terrain vehicle. People are already milling about in anticipation of being on television an appearance of the mysterious light.

To fill in some time the team does a couple of vox pops. First of all they badger some poor old lady into saying that she thinks that, yes, the Light is the spirit of the dead signalman. Her demeanour is less ‘genuine conviction’ than ‘How much are you going to pay me?’ Next, a rotund geeky chap steps up to the camera and says that, in his opinion, the Paulding Light might simply be car headlights. Uh-oh. A sensible person! Quick! Cut away to Austin leaping into the ATV – the Light has appeared!

This is as close as Fact or Faked ever comes to presenting anything like a balanced point of view.

The members of the Fact or Faked team then set about deploying their peculiar notion of what constitutes ‘science’ in an attempt to find an explanation for the phenomenon. In this show, Jael and Austin head off to the place where they assume the Light ‘must be’ and traipse around in the dark with the Geiger counter and the gas detector arriving at the conclusion that the Light isn’t produced by radioactivity or swamp gas. Around now I start throwing things at the television. Of course it isn’t, you pillocks – even the most obtuse of dunderheads could make a quick assessment of that theory and throw it out the window. It is obvious that you’d need a mighty outpouring of gas or nuclear energy to generate something as bright as the video shows – that’s not the kind of thing that goes undetected for 40 years.4

Nitwits.

Austin then heads off to a local airport and, with an ultra bright electric torch,5 attempts to duplicate the phenomenon by getting a pilot in a light plane to fly low over the area in question. Well, it does make a bright light in the sky, but it’s plainly not the ground-level geographically fixed light that everyone is seeing. How is it that I don’t need to fly around in a plane to figure out that this is also not a plausible contender?

Then the team (grudgingly it seems to me) get down to the most frequently offered explanation for the Paulding Light – that it’s caused by car headlights from either US Highway 45, or the old Highway 45. They choose a segment of the highway that they have deemed the likely place for car headlights to be the culprit and Austin and Jael use their television credentials to get the cops to block off the road. They then drive back and forwards while communicating with Bill back at Sighting Central. Not a sausage. Bill can’t see them.

Instead of even contemplating that the spot they’ve chosen might actually be the wrong stretch of the road, the team hastily dismisses the car headlight explanation. Then, conveniently, before anyone can raise a finger in objection, the Paulding Light has reappeared. Now, with no explanation that satisfies the Fact or Faked ‘professionals’, it falls to Bill to suggest the next course of action.

I want to pause here for a moment and remind you that Bill is featured as the ‘lead scientist’ of this show. Are you containing that concept in your minds? Right then, lets forge on.

So, what is the best scientific strategy that Bill, lead scientist of Fact or Faked, can come up with at this juncture? I hope you don’t snort whisky out your nose like I did, when you learn that Bill’s suggestion is that they try EVP.6 Yes, that’s right, having ‘thoroughly exhausted all possibilities’, Bill, the scientist, determines that they should attempt to contact the Spirit World to find out more about the restless wraith of the phantom signalman. The next few minutes of the show, with Austin, Jael and Bill wandering around the Ottawa State Forest attempting to coax the spirit of a dead railway worker to leave a message on their audio recorders must rank as one of the most risible things I’ve ever witnessed on television. The Scooby Doo-ers seemed genuinely deflated when their recordings turned up nothing.

Jesus H Christ. What kind of dimwitted, brainless lunacy are these people peddling?

And that was where the show ended. With every single scientific explanation exhausted and without any spirit communications from the Ghostly Signalman to set the record straight, as far as Fact or Faked. Paranormal Files is concerned, the Paulding Light remains a total and unfathomable mystery…

The End.

So utterly unconvinced was I by the team’s findings that I immediately leapt from the couch and did what any sensible modern person would do – I searched for the full YouTube clip of the Paulding Light from which Fact or Faked clipped the brief segment that they used on the show.

I’ve embedded it below for your viewing pleasure. Just listen to the credulous amazement of the onlookers as they gaze upon the perplexing riddle of the Paulding Light! Ponder on why Fact or Faked chose to present to their audience the very small snippet at the head of the clip, rather than a bit at, oh, around about the 1 minute mark. Indeed – listen to someone on the audio track at around 3:15, tell you EXACTLY WHAT THE PAULDING LIGHT IS (as if you need to be told by that point because to any normal rational person it’s as obvious as a pig at a christening).

But heck – view the clip and make up your own mind about what the ‘mysterious’ Paulding Light might be: the spectre of a dismembered signalman? A nuclear explosion? Too much gas? I’m pretty sure you’re not going to come to the same conclusion as the insightful investigators from Fact or Faked.

  1. I think it’s some vestige of a long-dashed hope that someday, somewhere, someone might actually make a decent science fiction movie – you know, one that is actually intelligent… Maybe that’s just too much to hope for. []
  2. It REALLY annoys me that there is no question mark after the ‘Faked’. If it’s not a question and is just a statement, why do we need a tv show, you morons? []
  3. No doubt so the producers could flaunt his FBI credentials… []
  4. These people plainly haven’t got a clue about how nuclear fission works. The amount of radioactivity generated by something that could create a light as bright as the Paulding Light would have contaminated everything within several hundred miles. The lame Ghostbusters-style traipsing-around-in-the-dark-with-a-Geiger counter is nonsense of the highest order. []
  5. Now THIS is impressive – 25 million candlepower, according to Austin. Mind you, since ForF plays loose and fast with the facts everywhere else, I’m not sure we can take his word for it. This of course is one of the problems with a show like this – if there are actually any facts present, they get swamped under the tide of make-believe, rendering everything questionable… []
  6. You may remember that I discussed EVP at length on The Cow some time ago, including my personal experiences with it. []