Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Search Challenge (11/11/15): Fake or real? How do you know?


... people have been faking stories, photos, and claims for as long as humans have been around.  Of course now we're aided by technology, which sometimes makes these deceptions a bit more difficult to ferret out.  

Here's an early famously faked photograph:  

This is one of the images of the Cottingley Fairies.  

In 1920, a series of photos, supposedly taken by two young girls while playing in the garden, claimed to show that fairies really did exist. Even Arthur Conan Doyle, he of Sherlock Holmes fame, was taken in by the images.  To our eye, these seem extraordinarily obvious--yet at the time, photography was still a fairly new thing, and we hadn't become quite so accustomed to fakery.  

Fast forward to now, and we see even more photographic faking.  People are copying missiles in faked launches, or removing unsightly telephone wires.  So we need to learn a few skills in detecting what's real and what's not.  As you might suspect, I'm going to argue that we need better SearchResearch skills! 

So here are a couple of Challenges for the week.  We'll start with easy, and get harder as we go along. 

1.  Is this a faked photo?  If so, how can you tell?  (Be specific.)  

2.  How could you tell if these hotel reviews are true or faked?  

Review 1: Stayed here for two nights with my wife and golden retriever in a pet friendly room. All staff in the hotel are super friendly and helpful. Can't beat the location. Visiting our son at Dalhousie. We are traveling from Maine and have greatly enjoyed Halifax. If you are into jogging, you can leave hotel and make loop in the point.
Review 2: We only stayed for one night but I would have happily stayed here longer. The hotel is beautiful throughout. We upgraded our room for a good price and had a really nice king bed which was really comfy. We ordered room service too for breakfast and were very impressed how quickly the food came.

3.  In this political season, many quotations from famous people (e.g., the Founding Fathers) are being bandied about.  Which of these Jeffersonian quotes do you think is real OR fake

Quote 1: “Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you."
Quote 2: “That the obliquity of the ecliptic, when these elephants lived, was so great as to include with the tropics all those reasons in which the bones are found." 
Quote 3:  “Gun control works great for the people who are law-abiding citizens and it does nothing for the criminals, and all it does is put the people at risk.”

As always, let us know how you figured these Challenges out!  

Search on! 


  1. Here's how I dealt with these challenges:

    1. Hard. Will try later.
    2. Hard too. Ditto.

    3. Easy. Let me try to find the answer without asking my sister, who works at Monticello (site of Thomas Jefferson Foundation)…

    Just for the writing style, I suspect quote 2 might be right (in spite of an apparent typo, reading "reasons" where "regions" would make more sense). I also suspect quotes 1 and 3 might be misattributed.

    From each one of the quotes, I chose the snippets that seem more distinctive and searched them within quote signs:

    Quote 2: [ "obliquity of the ecliptic, when these elephants lived" ]. Google Search, Google Books and Amazon all find several books attesting the veracity of the quote (and also that I was right about the typo).

    Quote 1: [ "Action will delineate and define you" ]. Second Google Search result is from Monticello, an article in the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia filed under "Spurious Quotations". Interesting page.

    Quote 3. Now that I found this Monticello page, I can search the Encyclopedia directly there. [ gun control ] gives another spurious quotation, "Strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms". On the comments, "gun control" is mentioned twice, including "Anti-gun control web sites are promulgating dozens of such quotations from the founding fathers -- most of which make the fathers sound oddly like Wayne LaPierre. The quotations are all of a size that makes them suitable for copying and pasting into the comment streams of online news stories."

    So, back to my first strategy (without the quote signs now, because "the people who are" seems redundant and thus a sign of either oral speech or flawed recalling): [ Gun control works great for the people who are law-abiding citizens ] gives several credible sources. The 4th one on my SERP is from Politicsusa, which I have the impression of being credible but then its snippet reads "“Thomas Jefferson himself said, 'Gun control works great for the people who are law-abiding citizens …". Hmmm... I open the page though and I get it now. This is a quotation of what Ben Carson has said in at least two recent occasions. Although the site is opinionated and maybe biased (disclaimer: I share those opinions, in fact), it seems to be well documented, including a link to one of Monticello's "Spurious Quotations".

    Answers to question 3:
    Quote 1. Spurious. Author: Witold Gombrowicz
    Quote 2. Real (minus a typo)
    Quote 3. Spurious. Probably based on a somewhat similar quote by Cesare Beccaria which happened to be transcribed by Jefferson himself to one of his journals “compiled while he was studying the law and containing abstracts of important cases.”

  2. Back to challenge 1, because it doesn't seem to be as hard as callenge 2 anyway.

    The jet plane looks a little too big to be true. Taking from the perspective, it's easy to see that this is a wide angle photo. A telephoto lens would approach distant objects a lot more, and that would be the only way for a distant plane to appear so big.

    Anyway, I tried to search for the image both on Google and TinEye. Nothing. On Google though, the words suggested were "city hall" and, on one of the pictures shown, I found the building to be the Philadelphia City Hall.

    On Bing Maps I confirmed the buildings behind the city hall are indeed those shown on the photo, if you use Bird's Eye view to look westwards.

    Now let's check the possibly spurious element, the plane itself. Snipping only the plane and searching for it gives a perfect match on both Google Image Search and TinEye. TinEye is more practical here and leads me directly to an image of a F-16 fighter of Hellenic Air Force during a solo demo flight at Tanagra Air Base, Greece. It is clearly the same photo.

    1. I am had the same result using a Google reverse image search, where google guessed the words [city hall] for this photo. This this made me super intrigued as to how the word guessing works for reverse image search works.

      Because when I replaced the word [city hall] with [.] the results showed images of clock towers and spires from around the world but it didn't seem that any of them were images of city halls. City halls only seem to come up when you add the word [city hall], so how did the guess get made?

      Does anyone have any insight or interesting observations on how this word guessing works?

  3. As to challenge 2 (the fake or legit hotel reviews), my first thoughts were also to search for distinctive snippets of those sentences.

    Review 1 seems legit, being from a "Level 5 Contributor" on TripAdvisor (here). But it needs double-checking and I haven't thought of a good strategy for this to be done. And Review 2 is not as straightforward to find.

    So I needed to find a new strategy. Google Search [ how to find if a hotel review is legit ] gives several articles dealing with the subject. I head directly to the 8th result on my SERP though, because it's a site title Review Skeptic whose search results snippet is promising: "Review Skeptic is based on research at Cornell University that uses machine learning to identify fake hotel reviews with nearly 90% accuracy."

    According to Review Skeptic, both reviews are Truthful.

    When I have some more time, I will read some of those articles and subsequently try to substantiate this answer furthermore.

  4. Good day, Dr. Russell and everyone.

    Thanks Luis for the comment and your help. I tried different things and never thought about the path you share with us and is great. Thanks!

    For this new SRS Challenge, searched:

    1. With previous Challenge Answer [ image photoshopped ]

    Looking photo looks fake because how Sun hits buildings and not the airplane.

    For question 2:

    [reviews real or fake]

    Fake online reviews

    Selected the whole paragraph, right click and did Search Google. Results show reviews on TripAdvisor for The Lord Nelson Hotel & Suites, Halifax, Canada. Went to the Hotel Site and they are Pet Friendly

    Q3. Selected the whole text again.

    1: [The whole phrase]
    2: [“That the obliquity of the ecliptic, when these elephants lived"]
    3: [“Gun control works great for the people who are law-abiding citizens"]

    Spurious Quotations


    1. Is this a faked photo? If so, how can you tell? (Be specific.)

    A. Fake. Sun looks different in building than in airplane.

    2. How could you tell if these hotel reviews are true or faked?

    Review 1: Hotel is Pet friendly and data looks real.

    Review 2: Author has many other reviews and talks specific about hotel. Review sounds too "good" so I think is made by someone who works for the hotel.

    3. In this political season, many quotations from famous people (e.g., the Founding Fathers) are being bandied about. Which of these Jeffersonian quotes do you think is real OR fake?

    Quote 1: “Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you." A. Fake.

    This can be unequivocally attributed to Witold Gombrowicz. How it came to be attributed to Thomas Jefferson is unclear. The Jefferson Monticello website, maintained by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation

    Quote 2: “That the obliquity of the ecliptic, when these elephants lived, was so great as to include with the tropics all those reasons in which the bones are found." A. Real. Many books mention Thomas Jefferson

    Quote 3: “Gun control works great for the people who are law-abiding citizens and it does nothing for the criminals, and all it does is put the people at risk.” A. Fake

  5. at first I was going with the general locus communis knowledge that air to air ordinance use in proximity to William Penn was frowned on… even back in 1905…
    as a general rule-of-thumb, I don't believe the Greek Air Force flies over downtown Philly with conformal tanks - it was a solo demo flight at (LGTG) Tanagra Air Base, Greece…
    (πιλότος maybe looking for a Philly with Whiz rather than a Gyros with Tzatziki sauce??)
    Hellenic Air Force
    W. Penn
    wee Willie
    …something still seemed off about the Philly location — then I noticed the cursor in your photo - a pretty good indicator it was under the digital knife.
    the telltale cursor

    a brief fairy tangent:
    a different fairy, Nicobobinus
    Cottingley Fairy materia home
    on YT
    Joan Fontcuberta: Stranger Than Fiction Trailer

    another bit of questionable activity

    as for the hotel reviews - so subjective, always take them with a LARGE grain of salt & assume all are dubious…
    — and then there is alway the innocuous typo… what's a 'gluten retriever'?
    "Review 1: Stayed here for two knights with my gluten retriever and wife in a spouse friendly room…"
    large grain - I always thought they were sodium (NaCl) pixies…

    as for the TJ quotes - picking #1 as the legitimate one…

    1. Hello Remmij, Luis, Jon and everyone. I didn't notice the typo, Luis and your sister job's sounds very interesting. As you mentioned, that site is very good and reliable source.

      Remmij, how did you noticed Greek airplane? I saw the link you posted but you knew it before that, right? That shows is fake. About cursor, I also noticed but thought it was in my lap not on photo. Cursor could be in real photo if we do a screen print with it. Great catch in both cases.

      When read about 'gluten retriever', thought I had big vision trouble and re-read original post. Glad I didn't miss that retriever!

      I will visit the links and read again comments to find and learn more.

    2. part 1:
      Ramón, sorry for the lag — you asked about ID-ing the Greek aircraft… this is my best approximation of the path:
      had an idea it was Philadelphia, so when I zoomed in on the plane and saw the non-U.S. roundel, suspicions of an altered photo arose -
      tried to ID the roundel - narrowed down to these sRs users & similar:
      possibles - MX, PT, CA, AR, SV, GR, DK, IL
      limited success, but an entertaining diversion… thought the plane was an F-16, but the conformal tanks were throwing me off so looked for
      the F-16 on Wikipedia and luckily found the image Dan used there and it was captioned as a Greek aircraft [F-16C block 52 of the Hellenic Air Force with conformal fuel tanks and AIFF]
      went ahead and looked up some info & additional images on the conformal tanks:
      conformal tank article
      Sunday, Nov. 8th, Dubai - UAE wing roundel, Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs)
      very similar duo photo on HAF F-16s, two types (Two Greek Block 52 Plus aircraft, F-16C #501 and F-16D #601, showing the Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs) on both models, and the dorsal spine on the D model [LMTAS photo]) — was a useful site too - found additional, interesting images there:
      IL 16 w/ roundels (Egyptian?) & a unique Iranian target icon
      Pakistani w/o conformals
      PT for Luís
      ILAF w conformals & wing tanks
      HAF F-16D block 52 #601 with dorsal spine, on the ground
      pilotless F-16 drone w 007 ties
      small antennas

    3. part 2:
      a detour from the plane ID — as I followed some of the links on the F-16/Wikipedia page, I ran into these drop downs from the USG…
      first time that has happened for me and made me wonder if Dan might write something in the future about these kind of occurrences
      while searching and some of the methods used by his investigative reporter colleagues? Also about search and the deep/dark web as opposed to the clear web?
      While I'm familiar with terms of usage statements, these seemed overly verbose and a bit boot-on-the-neck in tone - re-enforced by not being
      able to exit the page without clicking OK (net overlords) and freezing browser functions…
      on Safari
      on Chrome
      … at any rate, found a way not to be KOed by the OK and moved on…
      found some other related images as I poked around… real or different real?
      Philadelphia harbour, this year
      Philly/Camden yards/harbour/Delaware River
      more HAF jets with conformal tanks over Philly
      the Coooollgle 767 landing at NUQ with drone escort
      …finally, after all that, was feeling a bit out of search-sync so signed up for the 90 second searchResearch express refresher course.
      The lab fee covered the personalized smock and spiffy goggles, but had to supply my own tin foil for my pointy dunce cap (added antenna for enhanced power)
      …not sure of the benefits, but now know that search smells like ozone and nitric oxide… (like an electrical short)
      training day

      fwiw: good tip/reminder rrRosemary! - on how to search the review quotes - use fragments, not the whole.

    4. …meanwhile, in Gooimeer, NL… not 8:16 hours (courtesy of Mr. van Ess)
      in Dutch livery
      16 operators
      (btw, enjoyed the Calder generational background - reminded me of the Wyeths - like Sandy's "Ghost") nice research on the heels of the Mercury Fountain, Ramón.


  6. 1. The plane: Hard shadow from tail section showing sun is high overheard, yet the clock shows 10 past 7. No shadows at all in the rest of the image. BUSTED. Search shows Ben Franklin's astonishment at seeing this plane over his Philadelphia City Hall. So what's the matter with kites?

    2. [reviews real or fake] finds lots of help. I searched entire sentences to see if anything showed up online but none did so thinking now both are real but unpublished. By Cornell University will check the veracity of a review. So here goes. It says first one is Truthful. Looks like a tossup to me.

    Second: Also Truthful. It claims 90% accuracy.

    3. Quote 1 I suspected is a real one. confirms this. But triangulating finds this is wrong. quoting itself with an article from Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, points out:

    Earliest known appearance in print: 1988[1][2]

    Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Thomas Jefferson: 2003[3]

    Other attributions: 1988:Diary by Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969), Polish writer

    Status: We currently have no evidence to confirm that Thomas Jefferson ever said or wrote, "Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you." This can be unequivocally attributed to Witold Gombrowicz. How it came to be attributed to Thomas Jefferson is unclear.

    And Fred Shapiro's Yale book of Quotations has no record of Jefferson every uttering these words, either. FAKE

    Quote 2: The exact phrase shows up in The writings of Thomas Jefferson: being his autobiography, correspondence, reports, messages, addresses, and other writings, official and private, Volume 8 Thomas Jefferson Taylor & Maury., 1854 page 288 REAL

    Scholar in Notes on the State of Virginia by TJ 1787 has this cited 2201 times.

    Quote 3: notes that Jefferson Monticello cited above lists this "quote" as spurious when attributed to TJ because there is no clear annotation to suggest TJ agreed or disagreed with the claim. TJ's source was Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria. TJ copied this into a notebook. FAKE

    jon tU

  7. <:-| … sitting in the corner with my dunce cap on - schooled by Luís, Ramón & jtU on the reviews
    (great tool find) and the TJ quotes! nice job gentlemen.
    (Luís, no doubt, you're sister would be proud of your Jeffersonian detective work)
    that's why I enjoy sRs - learn something new every time. Off to hangout with my new pixie friends… oddly, they are Google-less - who knew?
    not these folks - thought that was Dan on drums at first…

    1. Good day, Remmij. Thanks for sharing the fairies link, your photos and the story about dunce cap. If you are in the corner with that hat, make some space for me :) You are so much better searching and creating content than I am, so it will be an honor to use that cap next to you.

      Pixies video looks like Dr. Russell and your photo is great

    2. I just read this article that adds something else to Real or Fake problems. Can the vocabulary of deceit reveal fraudulent studies?

  8. After reading Remmij William Penn links:

    [Philadelphia's City Hall]

    [Philadelphia's City Hall unknown facts]

    Philadelphia's City Hall is the largest, tallest and most expensive of all city halls in the United States. Since no steel frame was used, the walls at the first floor are up to 22ft thick to support all the weight from the floors above...The massive statue is 37ft high and weighs 27 ton. It is just one of 250 sculptures created by Alexander Calder for both the interior and exterior of the city hall.

    The History and Mystery of Philadelphia City Hall [Fallout Shelter sign] From Wikipedia: A fallout shelter is an enclosed space specially designed to protect occupants from radioactive debris or fallout resulting from a nuclear explosion. Many such shelters were constructed as civil defense measures during the Cold War.

    50 Things You Probably Didn′t Know About Philadelphia

    [fallout shelter sign philadelphia]


    [alexander calder philadelphia]


    From Sculptor to Mobile Creator: Three Generations of Calder Artists Calder spent nearly 20 years sculpting around 250 figures for City Hall.

  9. #1 Fake or real Fake - Cropped image; google search; Philadelphia City Hall; compare backgrounds

    1. Not so sure backgrounds are different. To verify I tried to find images from same angle in Streetview and photos but I found nothing. So I considered angle of the jet; altitude;lack of jet stream; perspective; light; shadows, time on the clock; lack of data in EXIF; and despite all this I am left with doubt.

    2. So rather than focus on the buildings etc I chose to crop the jet and see if I could find an original on the internet. I got only one hit - - and if you look at the image with the jet over Phily and the jet found in my Google Image Search I think these could be a match. (ignor the pixelation of the first image because I had used the zoom to look closer & didn't go back to 100%- look at the image above.) What are the chances we would get an exact match?

  10. #2 Fake reviews -

    Second review caught my eye. Why? because of the reviewer, Madeleine 75. Check her profile and you see she is a top reviewer. But as well I noticed looking at individual reviews that she may have been in more than one hotel on a given day. I know she may have posted at one time but there are too many reviews. Also she is very lucky because her reports are very positive all the time.

    Review #1 Profile of Mark b has only a few reviews which are not all glowing. Looks positive but I would still look for more reviews.

  11. I should have said on the reviews that I selected a portion of the text to find the source of the reviews"The hotel is beautiful throughout." as trying to match the whole review would likely not give good results.