Initial Assessment

DGTM article 1

Citizens of the United States never smell the paranormal for long. With our skeptic sleight of hand, we show them that in all history, every thorough investigation has always come back with a single, straight answer: Nothing unknown to science. The problem is how to be there first.

Law enforcement makes over 10,000,000 arrests per annum, nationwide. The number of homicides is close to 15,000. In cities like Detroit and Baltimore, annual murder clearance rates can drop to 25%. The overwhelming majority of these crimes, including the thousands of unsolved murders every year, are natural. The threat they pose to our nation is insignificant. Only a microscopic share is in fact our mutual and primary concern.

What am I looking for?

People overestimate their ability to control events. In rolling dice, 40% assume they'd improve with practice. Mild damage to this illusion of control produces depression. Severe damage produces other mental states. Severe damage exhibits emergent self-propagating qualities.

We are looking for the truth. In descending order of importance, we want to be the first to know about the following:

  1. Serious threats to the public's illusion of control.
  2. Anything that may kill large numbers of US citizens by means unprecedented in public history books.
  3. Any information that, if investigated, may lead to any of the above.

All reasonable suspicion of paranormal causes should be investigated. All evidence found should be contained under our supervision, or destroyed, as dictated by the nature of the information.

What is the information?

The paranormal bouquet emanates from evidence. Danger lies in confrontation with any sufficient subset of certain facts, as these facts become obvious and therefore difficult to disregard or wholly misinterpret.

Blurry pictures can be ignored. Anecdotes can be ignored. Sworn testimony, in the absence of corroborating evidence, can sometimes be ignored. Even if accurate, such material will be disregarded by the majority of the population.

Long takes of standard- or high-definition video at high frame rates cannot be ignored, as the cost of convincing forgeries quickly reaches into the tens of millions. Reproducible processes and stable materials unknown to science cannot be ignored.

Which cases do I flag?

The paranormal bouquet is the motivated suspicion of hard evidence previously unknown to public discourse and likely to harm the public's illusion of control. In descending order of urgency, you are to forward a case for the attention of others in the group on the following grounds:

  1. Compelling evidence is proffered to the public, to the media or to scientific institutions.
  2. Compelling evidence is proffered to law enforcement.
  3. Any event of high public interest whereof the simplest explanation that is not contradicted by the available facts would require an extremely flexible worldview.
  4. Any similarly unexplained event connected to criminal activity.
  5. Confirmed existence of hard evidence under any other circumstances.
  6. Motivated suspicion of paranormal phenomena.

How do I recognize the evidence?

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart declined to define hard-core pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964). He wrote “I know it when I see it”, and so will you. Up close, the paranormal bouquet is as the smell of mold to an antiquarian.

You cannot be sure that a paranormal phenomenon is occurring until you see it for yourself. However, to be first on the scene, you must quickly assess the likelihood of any such contact. A house without running water and without a basement, on a hill in Nevada, is not likely to be affected by mold. The antiquarian can know this without jumping on a plane to Nevada.

What reduces the likelihood of paranormal causes?

A thousand people have taken up James Randi's challenge to demonstrate their own paranormal abilities. Since 1996, the reward for success has been $1,000,000. Applicants help design their own test and agree to the conditions of their success. Though many have believed fervently in their own abilities, all have failed. This is not because paranormal abilities fade under scrutiny. They do not.

Real paranormal abilities correlate poorly with the public's belief in them. We have helped make it so, but we ourselves are not infallible. Standard operating procedure is to apply the following series of guidelines. For every matching guideline, the paranormal bouquet diminishes.

  1. The alleged victims are male, belong to a minority, are young, and/or live in urban areas. These characteristics predispose a person to be the victim of mundane criminal activity.
  2. Victims or witnesses have a criminal history.
  3. Witnesses can be tied to drug use or pre-existing mental illness.
  4. Witnesses have a history in the entertainment industry.
  5. Witnesses tell a story with a formulaic dramatic structure.
  6. Witnesses are inconsistent.
  7. Anyone involved in the event appears unfazed by it.

In addition to this, any supposedly supernatural event is likely to be a hoax or a product of hysteria if it has the characteristics of superstition, magical thinking, or other preconceptions known to recur as a result of the characteristic weaknesses of human thought.

In short, if the available facts can be satisfactorily explained without recourse to previously unknown phenomena, the cause is likely to be mundane. More specifically, to motivate a larger operation, a paranormal explanation should be the simplest possible explanation of all of the available facts. In making this assessment, consider the plausibility of the phenomenon having eluded public notice up to the present.

How do I recognize superstition?

Breaking a mirror can hurt your hand, but does not bring you seven years of bad luck. A criminal motivated by Venus's position in the sky, or the reading of tea leaves, is not of special concern. Because these superstitions are familiar to public discourse, any indication of their efficacy would be cushioned by existing beliefs. Crimes involving fortune-tellers, omens and other familiar superstitions do not merit investigation.

Even unfamiliar superstitions show common patterns. A reportedly paranormal event is unlikely to have taken place as described, or at all, if the suggested chain of cause and effect involves topics that routinely cause the brain to short-circuit:

  1. Outsiders. Powers are ascribed to a group or individual with low social and economic status in local society, whose alleged motive is envy or hate.
  2. Sexual fantasies. For example, women are alleged to have become witches through sexual acts with demons.
  3. Children.

Use these tendencies, and existing convictions, to your advantage. In Arkansas, a belief that three local teenagers are child-murdering satanists can be substantially less disturbing than the truth.

How do I recognize magical thinking?

Magical thinking is a belief in the ability of human thought to bring about effects in the world, without action. Such belief illustrates the illusion of control in its natural state. Children routinely indulge in it. Except where it has formed in acute self-defense, magical thinking indicates the absence of paranormal phenomena.

When challenged, magical thinking commonly breaks down into a more systematic, but equally harmless system of belief, along two lines. The characteristic models of causality in these delusions are found all over the world, and should reduce our interest.

  1. Sympathetic magic. For example, it is alleged that a burning in effigy has killed the person whose form was imitated.
  2. The law of contagion. For example, the perpetrator is believed to have harmed the victim through a lock of the victim's hair.

Neither form is efficacious. As with entrenched superstitions, consider endorsing magical thinking to mislead witnesses of paranormal events.

How do I report a case I have flagged?

The leader of your cell has the information necessary to contact others, including A Cell. All reports go through him or her. Except in case of emergency, your report on what you suspect is paranormal activity will include all of the following:

  1. Your code name.
  2. If an official criminal case or ticket has been filed: The case file ID(s), i.e. database name, the privilege level required (if applicable), and unique identification of the entry.
  3. Similar ID on other relevant documentation in databases.
  4. Electronic copies of any relevant information not available in databases, including photos of any artifacts obtained, if available.
  5. Your assessment: The credibility, probable nature and level of the threat, with your motivations.

Important: Do not send paranormal artifacts with your initial assessment. Observe standard containment procedures and await detailed instructions before sending any physical packages. Addresses are provided only as needed.

How do I assess the level of a threat?

The magnitude of a threat is directly proportional to the quality and stability of the evidence it can produce for its own existence. A local, transient and undocumented phenomenon has the lowest level of threat.

A threat exists on two axes: the physical and the psychological. The physical threat is your primary responsibility only if you have already established that it is both credible and urgent. Under all other circumstances, assess the psychological threat first.

Remember: Media disinformation and the distraction of local law enforcement are key to any major action against a physical threat. Notify A Cell before any and every planned action that poses a risk of death, psychological incapacitation or incarceration to all members of your cell. Always include the location of your target in such notices. Do not wait for a response.

The symptoms of severe damage to the illusion of control are sometimes distinguishable from ordinary shock, even in the initial accounts of local law enforcement and medical staff. However, this is not a reliable indicator of a paranormal threat. The psychological threat level of a genuinely unprecedented phenomenon is likely to escalate in an exponential fashion if it is not controlled at an early stage, even if the shock appears mundane at first. It must be kept under control through the reduction of information, until it can be permanently resolved.

What are my priorities on the ground?

On arrival to the scene of a new investigation, always identify any individuals who claim to have had direct experience with the paranormal. If your initial approach is Overt or Covert, interrogate these individuals, while offering them alternative explanations. This will serve all of your highest priorities:

  1. Further assessment of the likelihood of paranormal causes.
  2. Initial assessment of the extent of psychological damage.
  3. The formulation and dissemination of mundane explanations.
  4. Intimidation.
  5. A personal connection to these individuals, for monitoring.

Remember: Belief is not a conscious choice. It is a consequence of interpreting the facts one can recall. If you can reach witnesses at a very early stage, when they have not yet settled on their own interpretations, it will be much easier for you to blur their memories and substitute mundane explanations for their own, on the basis of your assumed authority. If mundane explanations are forcefully rejected, consider false magical explanations, as outlined above.

The initial interviews will typically determine your own belief in the reality of the threat. If the paranormal bouquet does not evaporate, the curtain rises.