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Pocketmags Digital Magazines

Embracing Option D: Knowing When You Don’t Know

I am often asked to examine seemingly mysterious and inherently ambiguous photos. Usually the person asking has already settled—sometimes tentatively, more often strongly—on a specific interpretation. They know what the photo shows and want my independent confirmation that their favored interpretation is correct. That shadowy blur in the distant forest is a Bigfoot; that weird white orb—complete with faint facial features if you just magnify enough—is a ghost, and so on.

One of the first steps to analyzing a photograph, and more broadly a claim, is carefully distinguishing between what is known, what is suspected, and what is assumed. The three are often casually lumped together, but parsing them out is important. Usually key premises are possibilities instead of established fact. Considering alternative explanations is another part of the process.

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