Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Daily 2 Cents: Elisa Lam's Strange Death -- Vietnam 'Monster' -- Green Anaconda Invades the Everglades


Elisa Lam's Strange Death

Was Elisa Lam murdered by a ghost? Many on the internet seem to think so. The latest viral meme on Facebook is the story of a Canadian woman named Elisa Lam, who was found dead on the roof of a hotel inside one of the building’s four water tanks. No one knows how she got there, and the case is being called “eerie” and “a possible case of possession and murder.” Police are stumped as to how this lady could have ended up drowned in a water tank on top of a hotel, say reports.

Central to the rumors and theories is a video of Lam just before she died. She seems to be wrestling with a malfunctioning elevator and acting strangely; as the website Vigilant Citizen puts it: “almost not human.” Lam appears to be peeking in and out of the elevator as if something is following her. The elevator doors look as though they are functioning in a very odd manner. Lam’s death has been ruled an “accidental drowning,” but the internet thinks differently. Story after story has appeared on Facebook along with the video as “proof” that Lam is being chased by someone-or something-and the images of her acting strangely are offered as a smoking gun that certainly, a ghost, evil spirit or demon of some kind is harassing her. Was Elisa Lam murdered by a ghost?

No. Elisa Lam was not murdered by a ghost. In fact, the most interesting thing about this story is that it is a perfect example of how the brain fills in details and looks for “evidence” of what the viewer wants to be true. This phenomenon is also known as “confirmation bias.” According to The Skeptic’s Dictionary, confirmation bias is a scientific, psychological term that “refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.”

That means that when watching the video of Lam in the elevator, the brain of the viewer erases logical explanations for Lam’s behavior and looks for supernatural phenomenon where none exists.

The fact is, Lam’s death and her behavior leading up to her death can be explained by numerous possibilities, all occurring in the natural world. One, for example, is that Lam had a psychotic break with reality, began hallucinating, and committed suicide or drowned by accident.

In fact, this is the most likely scenario. USA Today wrote that the police report ruled Lam’s death accidental, and that it also stated Lam suffered from severe bipolar disorder. Of course, the reports going around the internet conveniently omit Lam’s mental illness, and instead, focus on the fact that no drugs were found in her system and that she was not a known drug user. Again, a perfect example of confirmation bias: omit the information that doesn’t support the hypothesis and focus on information that does.

The police report also states that the water tank in which Lam was found had “unlocked openings.” With regard to confirmation bias about the water tanks, the memes going around social media leave out the fact that the water tank in which Lam was found was unlocked, and instead, focus on the fact that the tank was behind a “locked and alarmed door that only employees had the key to.” However, the important information erased from this section of the story is that the tank could also be reached by climbing by an unlocked, unalarmed fire escape that is very accessible and that anyone can climb with little effort, especially a fit 21 year old woman.

Lam’s behavior in the elevator has been described as “almost not human” and “very strange” by many memes on the subject, and yet, to the critical thinker, her behavior looks exactly like that of someone having a manic episode or who is otherwise confused.

The “malfunctioning” elevator? Again, the stories don’t focus on the fact that Lam can be clearly seen punching multiple floors over and over again. This will cause any elevator to open and close its doors multiple times; and there is nothing mysterious or supernatural about that whatsoever.

How can the bizarre nature of Lam’s death (found in a water tank) be explained? Well, Elisa Lam is far from the first person to have committed suicide or accidentally drowned in a water tank. In 2010, a Spotswood, NJ man climbed into a remote water tank and drowned. His death was ruled a suicide brought on by his lack of employment at the time. In 2013, a toddler accidentally drowned in a water tank in Wisconsin. These are just two examples that pop up among hundreds of examples of people who tragically died the same way.

Was Eliza Lam murdered by a ghost? No. Absolutely not. Every circumstance in Lam’s death can be easily explained by the natural world, and it dishonors her memory and struggle with mental illness to fabricate outlandish stories about non-existent supernatural entities or some bizarre and nearly incoherent “conspiracy” theory about the hotel in which she was staying. Let’s stop the childish reports and let Lam’s family grieve in peace without having to see such nonsense spewed forth about their loved one. - GuardianLV

NOTE: Here is another take on this story - The Mysterious Case of Elisa Lam

Hunting the Dead Realm: A Testimony and Guide to Capturing the Otherside

Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience

Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination


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Vietnam 'Monster'

Japanese news site Karapaia posted video and images of the excavation last week, which show Vietnamese citizens watching on as the giant creature is hoisted up and loaded onto a trailer. The explanation most media outlets have provided? It's no monster, but rather your average ordinary whale....though, it is an interesting video.

Video - Vietnam 'Monster'

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Emus Take Over Queensland Town

Emus are stopping traffic in the main street of Longreach in western Queensland as the drought forces them into town to look for food.

The emus have been walking residential streets in Longreach for some months but they are now in the main street, halting traffic and feeding in garden beds.

Longreach Mayor Joe Owens says they seem at home.

"They are taking absolutely no notice of the people, or the cars or dogs," he said.

When they are crossing the street, people have to stop for them. They just toddle across as they please.

"When they are crossing the street, people have to stop for them.

"They just toddle across as they please."

Councillor Owens says locals are giving way to the emus.

"Out in the paddocks, there is not a lot of food for them, because emus really are seed eaters," he said.

"A bit of green grass - they will eat that for sure - but they haven't got that out in the scrub - it's just nature's way of survival.

"They have found nice feed and they are just wandering around picking the best they can from, what I can gather, all over town.

Emu strides in street as chicks drink water from puddles in Longreach street in western Queensland in November 2013.

"We just have to work around them."

Grazier and naturalist Angus Emmott says he has never seen them in the centre of town and it is quite a novelty.

"I think the locals are quite enjoying the scene of having them outside their shop fronts - that is something I haven't observed before," he said.

"The roos and the emus are just desperately seeking something to eat and a bit of greenery, so they are marching in and getting it wherever they can.

"It is doing away with their natural cautiousness of man, so they are marching right up into the main street."

Police are asking drivers to take care and give the emus the right of way.

Cars are slowing to allow the emus to pass, but Police Sergeant Wayne Lynn told ABC Local Radio there have been some casualties in other streets around the town.

"We do know stories of a few emus that have been hit by cars," he said.

"People have come in and told us and we get onto the council.

"They get a bit scattery when they hear a car coming and they just take off - they've been spooked.

"People just have to be mindful when they see them and be careful and give them right of way - it doesn't hurt to slow down and let them cross, because they are under a lot of pressure at the moment looking for food and water for their families." - ABC.net

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Green Anaconda Invades the Everglades

On a muggy day about 10 years ago in the Florida Everglades, Jack Shealy was riding his bike along a dirt road leading into the Trail Lakes Campground, where he has worked for decades. Like any good gladesman, Shealy has a substantial portion of his brain wired to recognize snakes in places where the rest of us would see only leaves and shadows. He skidded to a stop at the sight of a serpentine form stretched out in the sun.

This particular snake was not especially large—only about a meter in length. Yet the color was something different. Greenish brown with dark, oval spots. This was not a snake that belonged in the Everglades. Shealy did something that comes naturally to the family. (His nephew Jack M. Shealy recently became notorious for jumping into the water to wrestle an invasive Burmese python.) He jumped off of the bike and captured the angry snake by hand.

Trail Lakes Campground just happened to have a herpetologist on staff. Rick Scholle, who runs the campground’s roadside zoo, examined the snake and realized that he was looking at a juvenile green anaconda. A nonvenomous constrictor native to South America, the green anaconda is the biggest, heaviest species of snake in the world. It definitely does not belong in the Florida Everglades.

I met Shealy and Scholle while I was on an expedition in February to hunt invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades. The Burmese pythons have become a well-publicized problem, but once I got down there and started spending time with the fishermen, bikers, reformed gator poachers, tour guides, smugglers, and biologists who inhabit the sparsely populated southern Glades, I found that the situation wasn’t everything it was made out to be on the evening news. The pythons were less of a problem than the media had made them out to be. And many other invasive species were crawling around without receiving nearly as much attention. Read more at The Largest Snake in the World Has Invaded the United States

Snake in the Grass: An Everglades Invasion

Invasive Pythons in the United States: Ecology of an Introduced Predator (Wormsloe Foundation Series)


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