|SPECIAL REPORT Part I :
Figure 1. NBC TODAY SHOW DUPED! Joins the club with AP, Fox News, ABC, CBS, CNN and other world media outlets who were fooled by the monster pig photos. Hoax busted by a StinkyJournalism.org special investigation. NBC forced to either debunk their own May 29th report or make 11th hour cancellation with guests en route. Producers chose the latter.
| EXCLUSIVE STORY HIGHLIGHTS:
* See full list of Monster Pig reports here.
**Note: MonsterPig.com has continually changed since its inception.These changes have become more drastic since StinkyJournalism’s investigation began in late May. Most notably all the photos of Monster Pig have been removed except for one that has clearly been photoshopped. Therefore all MonsterPig.com links are referenced from our archive.
What’s going on here in these six dramatic photographs posted to the MonsterPig.com website? Stinky Journalism sought the help of retired NYU physicist, Richard Brandt, as press reports cited no scientific opinions about the photos, which locals and hunters alike found suspicious. Stinky Journalism exclusively puts the photos to the test, with resident trick photography expert, and Art Science Research Laboratory director, Rhonda Roland Shearer’s in-depth report.
The Associated Press News Wire, followed by FOX News, reported that a “monster pig” had been shot by an eleven-year-old boy in rural Alabama. A dramatic photo (see Figure 2) accompanied the story. It showed the young hunter, Jamison Stone, a hardy 5 feet 5 inches, leaning on the back of the stupendous and dead 1,051 pound, 9 foot 4 inch, feral pig. This striking photo, which ran on the front page of the Saturday May 26th, New York Post, created an international news stir.
One problem. Evidence collected by Stinky Journalism indicates that the photos, which ran on televisions and newspapers throughout the world, are not the straightforward snapshots they seem–but fakes.
“Monster Pig… Bigger than Hogzilla”
Giant feral pigs have long been the stuff of legendary pursuits. Encounters with mythic creatures often result in suspicious and iconic photographs: think Bigfoot, think Loch Ness, think the New Jersey Devil. One commonality among such expeditions is that they almost invariably lack independent verification and clear physical evidence. Famously, the last wannabe “hogzilla” flamed out after a 2005 National Geographic investigation. Hyped at 1,000 pounds and 12 feet long, the beast was exhumed by National Geographic researchers (see Figure 3) who reckoned the hog weighed in at 800 pounds and measured 8 feet in length. “It’s a big pig, but no ‘hogzilla,'” said Jamison Stone’s father, Mike Stone, about their own giant pig.
Jamison Stone’s web site, www.MonsterPig.com, was set up by his father, auctioneer Mike Stone, soon after the May 3rd shooting. The site claims that his prey is “BIGGER than Hogzilla” of National Geographic fame (see Figure 4). While hats and T-shirts are in production, you can buy the “giant hog felled by boy” image–poster-size–from Stone’s website. They have sold ten, according to Stone. Jamison’s newfound notoriety for bagging a bigg’n, according to his website, has even led to an invitation to appear in a movie production of a feature called The Legend of Hogzilla, a harrowing tale of a man who stalks the fearsome swine that murdered his wife (see Figure 5). (But can it be a mere coincidence that the day after the AP wire story ran the movie’s casting call was announced in the press, stating that Jamison had bagged the beast and a movie part?)
During one of several conversations with Mike Stone, he said that he and Jamison would even be flying to New York City to appear on the Today Show on Tuesday, May 29th. (More on that later.) He also complained that calls and emails had been pouring in, non-stop, from around the world. “Some [have been] positive. Some negative,” Stone said.
The reason for the international stir was simple: the hairy sucker depicted in the photograph looked huge. To my questions about world record status, Stone’s father told me no world records were at stake because none exist for feral hogs. “It’s not a record of anything,” he said. “Everyone thought there was some sort of record when they call.” And it’s true that the MonsterPig.com web site only makes a carefully worded and modest claim: “The feral hog is definitely one of the biggest, if not the biggest ever taken by an 11 year old.” The only documented world record I could find was for a colossal domestic swine, Big Bill, whose bulk at 9 feet and 2,552 pounds dwarfs the Jamison’s hog which allegedly measured 9 feet 4 inches and weighed in at 1,050 pounds. So, without a record on the line, the press hoopla revolved around a single dramatic image of a small boy beside the giant beast he’d felled in the wilds of rural Alabama.
But size is relative.
At first glance, the Stone photo seems off-the-cuff and candid. However, a closer examination of a larger version of the AP photo published on Stone’s website, offers clues to how the pig’s dimensions were exaggerated by careful positioning of the photograph’s subject, victorious young hunter, Jamison, in relation to the pig and the photographer.
The larger photo (see Figure 6) shows Jamison Stone with his arms positioned, seemingly, atop the pig’s spine. This shot, however, has all the hallmarks of a photo trick seen often in travel photographs. (Think of ones you’ve seen taken in Egypt where a giant pyramid is “magically” held in the palm of the hand.)
MoIllusions categorizes this particular photo trick under “Relative Size Illusions” and explains that the eye is tricked “into believing objects are smaller or greater than their original size.” In the case of the Stone photos, the eye sees a smaller boy and the brain is tricked into believing the pig is much bigger than it is. (For more examples see Figures 9 and 10 below.)
Overwhelming evidence, however, indicates that the Stone picture is a relative size illusion devised with the goal of making the pig seem bigger than it actually was.
(I should preface what follows by saying that I am an art historian whose work for the last 10 years has centered on the 20th century artist and Dada prankster, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). Duchamp himself employed trick photography. He depicted himself as a ghostly apparition is several studio photographs. In one famous image, Duchamp carefully positioned his head behind a table. When lowering it to exactly the table’s height, the resulting photo looked as if his head were decapitated and resting on the table’s surface. It’s no overstatement to say photo trickery has been employed since the advent of the camera.
I must also mention here that Jamison’s father, Mike Stone, claims that the positioning in all six extant photographs was unplanned, accidental, coincidental. “These are authentic pictures,” said Stone. “They have not been altered.” Later he told me “No one staged any one…One camera was lost at the scene. Someone ran over it, or it fell off the back of a pick up truck as we were leaving.” The other photos he threw out because “they weren’t flattering.” Stone, however, did mention a few additional photos of the pig “being dragged out by a backhoe.”
1. Two photos, Figure 11 and Figure 12 , show the size of Jamison’s head changing size even though his relative position is supposedly the same.
On a remote page of the www.MonsterPig.com web site( Web site pagesremoved as in early June. This is archived page.)is another, unpublished photo (see Figure 11). The picture was taken in the same spot as the poster version and strangely depicts a larger Jamison. This small hiccup can be interpreted in one of two ways: Jamison’s head expanded like a balloon in the time between the two photos; or he was, in fact, in different positions in each of the pictures. You decide.
In both photos we are meant to believe that he is right next to the beast. However, the discrepancy in the size of Jamison’s head is a telltale sign that there’s something funny going on. It’s easily explained if we know that a simple illusion is being employed. His head appears much bigger in Figure 11 because he is, in reality, much closer to the pig.
In all photos, our senses are deprived of a third dimension. A photo’s depth is achieved through the brain’s ability to interpolate perspective. But that awareness can be manipulated. The laws of perspective tell us that smaller can mean smaller–or farther away. If we do not hold that principle, consciously, in our minds, our eyes can easily be fooled.
2. A close up look at Jamison’s arm “resting” directly on top of the beast’s spine reveals: a.) the boy’s arm is freakishly tiny, b.) the pig’s individual hairs are super-sized, or, c.) more reasonably, Jamison is farther away than we assume as evoked by the illusionary juxtaposition
Look at the boy’s arm on top of the great beast in Figure 6. You can see individual hairs, which seem gigantic when compared to the boy’s arm. Since we know that the individual hairs, even on a giant pig, cannot be this big, another hypothesis is that the boy’s arms are very small. But relative to the length of those hairs, Stone’s arms are far too small to be plausible. The only reasonable explanation is that Stone is situated to seem closer to the pig than he really is.
This kind of trickery is no mystery. Pick up one of the many books on the subject if you don’t believe me. The techniques used are common knowledge. For example, The Klutz book, shown below, uses the very trick in question on the front cover. (It should be noted that the book is intended for children ages 9 and up.)
The people in the distance are lined up by the photographer while looking through the viewfinder to appear as if they are “resting” in the boy’s hands in the foreground.
3. Measurements of the photo by New York University retired physicist Dr. Richard Brandt indicate a hoax
Just to be sure, we talked to renowned physicist, Dr. Richard Brandt. Brandt took the known measurements of the pig (9 feet 4 inches) and Jamison (5 feet 5 inches) and calculated their relative positions within the photograph. Assuming that the boy is directly beside the pig, he concludes that if the pig were, in fact, 9 feet 4 inches long, the boy’s height would be 3 feet 9-1/2 inches.
David and Goliath indeed!
Conversely, if the boy’s height were maintained at 5 feet 5 inches, the pig would scale to a whopping 15 feet! Dr. Brandt’s testing reaffirms the explanation that Jamison’s distance from the pig was manipulated by the photographer–a la the Sphinx and Taj Mahal–to make it appear that he was right next to the hog and effectively exaggerate its size.
Dr Richard Brandt, Physicist, New York University, Retired
In Figure 11, the photo of the boy is sitting kneeling behind the hog, the photo shows the actual relative sizes of the boy and hog. The corresponding geometry is illustrated in Figure A. The effective observers eye is at the left, the plane of the photograph is a distance x2 to the right, the hog is centered a distance x1 from this plane, and the boy is a distance d behind the hog center. The height f of the hog and height f3 of the boy above the hog can be determined from measurements on the photograph, normalized by the known 9′ length of the hog. The distance d and actual height h of the hog can be determined from the width of the hog measured from the photograph of the hanging hog, normalized by the known 9′-4″ length of the hanging hog. The actual height a of the kneeling boy can be determined from the same photograph. The geometry of Figure 11 implies the following equality among these lengths:
(f+f3)/x2 = a/(x1+x2+d)
In Photo, Figure 12, the boy appears to be much smaller and leaning onto the hog. Given Photo, Figure 11 , it is clear that what was actually photographed was the boy standing far behind the hog, kneeling, making the hog appear to be much larger relative to the boy. The situation is illustrated in Figure B. The eye, photograph plane, and hog position are as in Figure A, and the boy is standing a distance x (to be determined) behind the hog. In the figure, f2 is the size of the boy’s head (hat to chin) in the photograph, and f1 is the distance between the boy’s chin and the top of the hog. (Notice how the perspective geometry reduces the actual size b1 of the boy’s head to the relatively smaller size f2 in the photograph.) These distances can be determined from measurements on the photograph. The actual height b1 and b of the boy’s head and body can be determined from the hanging hog picture (The boy’s height is b + b1 = 5′-5″ .) The geometry of Figure 12 implies the following equalities among these lengths:
h/(x1+x2) = f/x2, b/(x+x1+x2) = (f+f1)/x2
The above three equations can be solved for the three unknowns x, x1, and x2. The result is that the boy is standing about x = 7 feet behind the center of the hog. This result is approximate because the various distance measurements made on the photographs have some uncertainty due to blurred details and possible distortions in the photographs, as well as probable inaccuracies in the reported size of the boy and hog. It seems probable the x value actually lies between 5 and 9 feet. Note that if the boy in Figure 11 were actually standing right behind the hog, the boy would be only about 4 feet tall instead of over 5 feet.
4. Other photos, too, reveal discrepancies in perspective
In Figure 14, compare the size of the man in the tractor to the hog hanging in front. Note how from this unexaggerated, straight-on perspective the pig does not appear overwhelmingly large. Furthermore, when Figure 15 is compared to Figure 16, one can see clearly see the false perspective employed in the latter.
Here, again, we are dealing with an illusion. The multiple measurements listed directly on the photograph hammer home dimensions achieved through photo trickery. The boy is 5 feet 5 inches, says the caption. The father, 6 feet 1 inches. And the hanging hog, snout to hoof, is 10 feet 7 inches. Though Jamison and his dad appear to be standing directly adjacent to the pig they are, indeed, positioned well behind the pig.
Indeed, the perspective trick in the photo above works well because the subjects’ feet are aligned with of the dangling feet and snout of the hog. In a 2-dimensional representation, this careful positioning prevents the viewer from judging, exactly, where the boy and man are standing in relation to the animal. If their feet had been positioned, say, farther below the pig’s snout, as in Figure 16, the eye would have information by which to judge their true position in 3-dimensional space and, more importantly, to determine the pig’s real size. By carefully aligning the snout and feet in along one parallel line, the photo tricks our brain into accepting the immediate–which is to say, false-premise that the beast is humongous, instead of just large.
Rooting in the mud: AP and FOX News should have known better than to run this story. But without consequences, what’s to stop them?
In its reports about the Monster Pig, the AP used the distancing phrase, “if the claims are accurate.” Why use such a qualifier if the story was independently verified? Because the AP knows from prior stories (just as we do) that there is a high probability that these “weird but true” news stories have a high probability of being debunked.
Stinky Journalism News has uncovered similar bogus stories. One about a record breaking snake. In 2004, the BBC eventually had to slither away from their false claim of a 49-foot-long snake discovered in Central Java. Reuters used a simpler but related method to the technical calculations used by Dr. Brandt to measure the relative size of the snake in context of the size of the surrounding objects in the snake photos. The BBC later withdrew their story and replaced it with another that said the snake was a mere 21 feet long after Reuters debunked their story.
In the case of the giant hog, even a cursory glance at the photo evidence should have tipped off an experienced photo editor that something was wrong. Yet no experts on photo alterations or forgeries were quoted and none were consulted by the AP or Fox News (or any other of the hundreds of media outlets world-wide who ran the AP story for that matter).
The Fox News report only touched on sources of doubt. “Kinder, who didn’t witness the weigh-in, said he was baffled to hear the reported weight of 1,051 pounds because his scale an old, manual style with sliding weights only measures to the nearest 10. “I didn’t quite understand that,” he said. Mike Stone said the scale balanced one notch past the 1,050-pound mark, and he thought it meant a weight of 1,051 pounds. “It probably weighed 1,060 pounds. We were just afraid to change it once the story was out,” he said.”
But even with that gaping hole in eyewitness testimony, the story ran. Why the painful lack of skepticism? The story, it seems, was just too good to check. Put yourself in the newsroom among the editors anticipating the Memorial Day doldrums. A wild story about a gargantuan pig might well shift a few eyeballs fixated on beaches and barbecues to the web, newspapers and television screens.
Indeed, the AP, Fox News, the NY Post among others, were duped. But duped willingly. When these weird but true stories prove false, these publications can claim they were “tricked by sources” and not that they should have done better verification.
In science, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In journalism, the two-source rule for ANY claim, extraordinary or not, is the preferred litmus test. If a fact seems suspect, the thinking goes, add a third source. No expert opinion or documentary evidence is required.
LATER THIS WEEK: Part II
Fake the photo. Hype the hog . . . Awaiting the fall.
By faking the photo, the Stone family was able to hype their big hog. But, we will show, without a willfully pliant and manipulative press, the Stone’s hoax would not have become an international sensation. The story has, literally, run hog wild. The press reports can be read in Poland.
A key question will be at the heart of our second installment: have the Stones been unwittingly set up for a great fall by their media suitors? And why did NBC suddenly cancel the Monster Pig segment after Today Show producers learned the truth from Stinky Journalism’s report?
Look for the story in Part II of our special report.
* See full list of Monster Pig reports here.