Where skeptics (don’t) fear to tread

By Phil Plait | November 12, 2006 10:31 pm

I have a somewhat simple view on life.


For example, if I see something in a photograph, and it looks a little funny, my first reaction is to assume that I am seeing something ordinary in an unusual way. So if I’m sitting, say, on top of a Ferris wheel at the state fair, and I take a picture, and this thing shows up:

I’d look at it and say to myself: "It has wings, and a head, and maybe feathers, and is high in the air over a well-lit fair ground. I’m thinking it’s a bird."

But of course, I’m just a narrow-minded scientist with no imagination. Obviously, as anyone can plainly see, this is clearly an angel.

Yeah, you read that right. An angel.

Or so it’s reported in the Tampa Bay news (there’s a video linked to the segment there, too). Catherine Austin, the woman who took this picture, says it’s an angel. Her evidence?

“It looks just like an angel,” Catherine says. “It even has a ray of light that comes from the bottom toward the body of the angel and it’s centered right in the middle of the picture – and I believe in angels. It’s just an angel.”

Duh. And I figured it was just a bird. What was I thinking?

OK, yes, I shouldn’t make fun of her. But c’mon, really… just how much of this are we supposed to take? Look at the picture. It’s a bird! Maybe, just maybe I might be convinced it’s a moth. But I’ll take either one — both of which have heads, bodies, wings, can fly, and (and this is the clincher) are known to exist — over an angel.

Both she and her son, however, have already thought of this:

“There are some skeptics who say it’s something other than an angel, but most people who see it immediately say it’s an angel,” says Catherine.

“It’s got a head, wings, legs, and if that doesn’t look like an angel, I don’t know what does,” says Frederick, her son.

I’ll point out that despite the son’s claims, the object in the picture does not appear to have any legs. That rules out Clarence, at least.

Let me be a little more fair. If people want to believe in angels, there’s not much I can do to stop them. It’s their right to believe in whatever they want. But no matter what, looking at a picture of a bird and saying it’s an angel is silly no matter what you believe.

Maybe I’ll petition the new Congress and ask them that they make my pareidolia page required reading.


Well, who knows. Certainly Ms. Austin is wrong; whatever she saw at the state fair wasn’t an angel. But as Mrs. BA just pointed out to me, maybe it’s not an angel or a bird. Maybe it’s the state fairy!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Debunking, Science, Skepticism

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