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Caught On Tape

by Steven Novella, Nov 24 2008

Did you see the awesome video of the Canadian meteor from this weekend? Incredible. The meteor streaked across the night sky, growing brighter as it descended. When it reached the denser parts of the atmosphere it grew bright enough to light up the entire sky. It then may have broken apart – as of this writing the meteorite or pieces of it have not been found.

What is even more incredible than the meteor itself is that there is so much footage of it. This was a completely sudden and unexpected event. No one could have prepared for it. It lasted only a matter of seconds. And yet multiple people happened to have cameras running and were able to catch the full event with reasonably high quality video.

It reminded me of this amateur video of a tornado in Miami. Actually, there are multiple such amateur videos – all descent quality. Just follow the links from YouTube.

In fact YouTube and other similar sights are filled with amateur video of all kinds of weird things and unexpected events. There are many videos along the theme of “What is this weird thing?”

The point is – we are entering an age of nearly ubiquitous video, and the quality and ease of use is getting better at a steady rate. Any phenomenon, even rare ones that strike with little warning, will eventually be captured on video of sufficient quality to allow for meaningful analysis.

And yet, no such video exists of bigfoot, chupacabras, any alien or their spacecraft, the Loch Ness monster, or Kevin Trudeau’s ethics – probably because none of these things exist. Of course, the absence of evidence does not constitute proof that something does not exist. But, absence of evidence becomes increasingly compelling the more thoroughly something has been looked for. As our world becomes increasingly blanketed in video recorders and cameras, the absence of convincing images of a phenomenon argues more and more strongly against its existence.

There are low-quality videos of most of the things I list above, and other things like ghosts (although the argument here is complicated by the fact that ghosts are purported to be insubstantial). But never high-enough quality to have a really good look – good enough to see sufficient details to tell whether or not the bigfoot is actually a guy in a costume, or if Nessy is actually a large floating log. Videos of such thing are usually little more than good enough to spark the imagination, but not useful as evidence.

During our investigation of the Warrens – famous local Connecticut ghost hunters, Ed Warren showed us a video (he would not give us a copy) that he took of the White Lady of Union Cemetery. The video showed a human figure shrouded in flowing white walking through a graveyard at night. The figure was at that perfect “sweet spot” distance so that you could make out a walking human form, but not close enough to tell if it were a person in a sheet.

While video cameras and digital cameras become more and more common and better and better quality, I look forward to seeing compelling video of aliens dissecting a chupacabras, or bigfoot riding Nessy.

Or not.

14 Responses to “Caught On Tape”

  1. w_nightshade says:

    “or Kevin Trudeau’s ethics”
    Man, I laughed hard at that. Dr. Novella, you put up such a professional face on your podcasts and blogs that I often forget you are also a really funny guy.

  2. RonS says:

    I was speculating about the possibility of a study of something similar recently. It seems to me that as photographic equipment has improved, UFOs have started traveling further away from their photographers. That is to say, the better the camera, the more distant the sighting. I would bet that if one had access to a large enough pool of photographic data, combined with eyewitness reports, one could generate a set of data demonstrating that UFO sighting distances are inversely proportional to camera quality. A rational conclusion being that UFOs are generally attributable to ordinary (if on some cases rare) events. The irrational conclusion would of course be that the UFO pilots have a sensor that detects cameras and elect to chart courses that leave them close enough to be photographed, but far enough away that they are blurred.

  3. Doubting Foo says:

    I made this point to my son over the weekend after I saw that video. I’m trying hard to keep him skeptical of some of the crap monster hunter shows, he’s 9 so hopefully I’m teaching him early enough.

  4. Mike B says:

    Has there been any attempt to locate this object at the point of impact. From the size and brightness, the object appears to have not completely burned up during entry.

    Perhaps it was a superman-esque pod delivering new bigfoot babies from a distant galaxy. Before you know it, Canada will be crawling with a hearty bigfoot population.

  5. Why is it that nothing exciting ever happens when I have my camera out and ready? :(

    Excellent post though. Hopefully I can direct some folks to this entry and see what they have to say.

  6. Max says:

    We’re also entering an age of easy video editing with Adobe After Effects and the like, so expect to see more videos of UFO’s and ghosts.
    That video of a meteor reminded me of this one:

    Just means more work for Captain Disillusion.

    So it’s like the Internet. There’s a lot of good information, and even more garbage. It’s up to skeptics to filter it out.

  7. Jeff says:

    “Kevin Trudeau’s ethics”! Loved it. Caught a few minutes of his informercial the other day. At one point, the caption at the bottom of the screen referred to him as a “Consumer Advocate”. Ha!

  8. TurboFool says:

    One fantastic result of the video footage of the meteor was the amount of conspiracy theorist attention it got. I got trapped in a roughly eight-hour comment battle with one such conspiracy theorist who almost instantly changed the subject to 9/11 and the Jewish Mafia of all perfectly logical segues.

    I learned many terrifying things about the depth of paranoid lunatics from him. But I learned surprisingly little about how our government was behind this “meteor” strike. I look forward to the sites that pop up about this cover-up of the missile testing, or blue beams (this was mentioned several times, so I need to find out about this “phenomenon”), or downed UFO, or whatever consensus the theorists nail down after they manage to pick apart every suspicious speck in every video.

  9. BillDarryl says:


    Of course Trudeau is a “Consumer Advocate.” He’s all for people buying as much of his crap as he can sell them!

  10. Just for the record, I’m taking down all you doubters’ names and will be turning them over to any new Alien Overloads, whom I would welcome with open arms. Call mine Pascal’s Alien Wager.

  11. Nicole says:

    That is a really great point and something I never thought of before. Thanks!

    And to think, I find myself getting slightly annoyed when I Google some obscure topic or image and can’t immediately find it. Then I’m surprised at myself for expecting returns for everything so quickly! What did we do before teh google??

  12. Andrew says:

    The area it landed in has been narrowed down to something like 6 by 8 square kilometers. There is a $10,000 reward for finding a one kilogram chunk. The original piece is estimated to have weighed 10 tons and was about the size of a business desk.

  13. Militant Agnostic says:

    An astromer and a grad student found fragments near Llodminster (a town on the Alberta Saskatchewan border). They are contimuing to search for fragments.

    The searchers were asking for surveillance camera footage. I assume it is easier to determine trajectory from these because they are fixed cameras.

  14. Well, of course they want pics from a fixed camera. Broken cameras don’t work, silly.