Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Answer: Fake or real? How do you know?

Generally speaking... 

...how do you know if it's faked or real?  

These days, with wonderfully competent photo editing software, and the sheer number of people generating content, it's sometimes really hard to tell.  Let's tackle each of these Challenges one at a time.  

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

The obvious thing in the picture is the jet fighter in the upper left.  (Let's not start to wonder whether or not all of the buildings in the scene are actually just as they are...  But there's an implicit lesson here--don't get too distracted by the obvious bogosity in the image--more than one thing could be manipulated here.)  

But let's focus on the plane.  If you download the entire picture and zoom in a bit, this is what you see: 

I've added a couple of arrows to indicate the direction the light is falling.  The sun is clearly up and to the right of the plan (that's why the shadow is falling from the rudder onto the elevator).  Notice also that the sunlight makes a pretty sharp shadow; it's full sunlight on the plane.  

By contrast, let's take a look at the tower in closeup: 

Here you can barely see any shadow.  It's a diffuse light, still tinged with the rosy colors of sunrise (or sunset), a kind of light consistent with the time on the clock (although many such clocks are wrong).  In any case, as you can see by this small arrow, the shadow is barely there, and it's coming in from the left.  

So this picture is clearly a composite of two different photos.  Each piece of the picture is illuminated by a different source of light.  And in outdoor photography, all sunlight comes from the same direction.  (There are exceptions, but this isn't one of them.)  

As Luís pointed out (quite correctly), doing a Search-By-Image on just the subimage of the fighter matches up perfectly with this image of a F-16 fighter from the Hellenic Air Force during a solo demo flight at Tanagra Air Base, Greece

Remmij also spotted the roundel on the wing and tried to identify it.  It's hard to ID for sure, but it's not a US mark, and it's unlikely that any other country would be flying F-16s in a tight pivot around Philadelphia City Hall.  

Remmij ALSO spotted another indicator of being shopped:  A cursor left in the image!

So this image is clearly a FAKE! 

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.
How do you start on a question like this?  How CAN you possibly determine is a hotel review is faked or not?  
If you think about it, there are many great reasons to write a fake review (of hotels, restaurants, music recordings, films... anything that people buy AND review will attract faked reviews).  
I started this question by searching for some background on how to detect faked reviews: 
Somewhat surprising, I found a web site (ReviewSkeptic.com)  that claims to do some processing of the language of a hotel review and then give you a score about how fake/deceptive (or not) it is!   (You can read the news release about ReviewSkeptic, or the research paper underlying the mechanism here, if you're up for the math involved.) 
Running these two reviews through ReviewSkeptic suggests that they're both real reviews.  That's encouraging, but could we do more? 
One obvious thing to do is to check other reviews by the same person.  By doing the obvious query (select the first sentence of the review and search for it), you'll find that this review was written by MarkB, a Level 2 TripAdvisor reviewer.  If you click on the TripAdvisor badge for him, you'll see he's written 6 reviews, 5 positive, 1 negative.  By following up on all of the reviews he's written, can see see they're all more-or-less in the same tone (and language patterns), and distributed around, not all focused on one place (as would be typical of someone who's doing intentional deception).  
The same analysis with the second review finds that Madeline75 , a Level 5 reviewer, has been writing reviews for 10 years on TripAdvisor and has written 59 reviews, scattered across lots of time and places. Again, the reviews are very similar in tone and language, and have a good distribution of opinions--some great, some terrible, just what you'd expect in real-life.  
I'd mark both of these hotel reviews as REAL! 

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.”

Let's start with the obvious approach--just copying them into Google search and seeing what we find.  (Actually, what I'm going to do is to remove the quote marks to do my search--the word order preference of Google's search algorithm will find the quote, if it exists, and any near misses.)  For example: 

     [ Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you ] 

The results are interesting.  There are lots of results that tell us that this IS a true Jefferson quotation.  However, the first result is from Monticello.org, which is (I checked--so should you), the official site of Monticello, the famous home of Thomas Jefferson.  The have a full page just on this quote, debunking it as an actual Jeffersonian saying.  They helpfully point out that they couldn't find it in all of the sources they checked (and they list the sources--a great practice if you're doing reporting on topics like this), but they DID find it in a Polish authors writings that were first published in 1988!  (Specifically, Witold Gombrowicz, 1988: Diary, Vol. II (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1988), 130.) 

There's so much business in fake Jefferson quotes that Monticello.org has done the world a service and written up a collection of their Rules of thumb on How to Spot a Fake  to determine if a Jefferson quote is real or not.  This page is basically an introduction to text style analysis, and well worth reading.  Among other things, Jefferson basically never used contractions--e.g., "don't" in the above quote, or the use of anachronistic language... such as "gun control."

Quote #1:  FAKE! 

Same trick with 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 ] 

This query leads straight to a Google Books result which is a compilation of Jefferson's writings.  The Portable Thomas Jefferson has exactly this passage.  (Actually, that whole page is really interesting to read. Jefferson had some fascinating ideas about what kinds of animals might exist in North America.)  

Quote #2:  REAL!   

When we do the same thing with the 3rd quotation, we quickly find that it's been widely discounted as a fake Jefferson quote, but is still being used in political speeches by Ben Carson, potential Republican candidate. 

Could he have just mangled a real Jefferson quote?  

That claimed quote uses the heavily loaded phrase "gun control."  If you're going to quote someone, and "gun control" is in the quotation, you're probably not going to get that part wrong.  

Let's try to figure out when "gun control" became a common phase.  In cases like this, the first thing I turn to is Google NGram.  Searching NGram for " gun control " gives us this graph: 

Since Google Books includes all of the writings of the Founding Fathers, if it had been a reasonably frequent phrase, it should have shown up in the chart.  But it seems that aside from the use of "gun control" during World Wars 1 and 2 (always in the context of how to guide and point real guns in battle), the modern use of the phrase "gun control" seems to have started in the late 1950s or early 1960s.  

A quick search for: 

     [ etymology "gun control" ] 

gave me a number of sources (e.g., WordOrigins.com on "gun control"), all of which seem to concur about the introduction of the phrase (in the modern sense) around 1960. 

But I thought I'd check a long-running newspaper archive for this as well.   I settled on the LA Times (after checking a couple), partly because they have a tradition of writing about "gun control" and also because they have a decent advanced search function that allows one to sort the results by "oldest first."  

Sure enough, running the search for "gun control" there on their papers from 1881 until 1981 showed exactly the same pattern--before 1960 it was about military fire control; after 1960, it's a political phrase about gun ownership.  

Based on these quick scans of the phrase over time, I'm going to conclude that this possible quotation isn't just mangled... 

... it's FAKE!  

Search Lessons

1. Pay attention to the angle of the light and shadows in photos.  Simple tricks like drawing in the light lines can tell you quickly if the photo has been composed out of pieces.  

2. Note the presence of identifying marks on suspect items.  There's no way a fighter with a Greek roundel on its wing would be buzzing Philly city hall. 

3. As always, searching for tools to help do analysis tasks is a great trick.  Before starting this Challenge, I had no idea that an analysis site like ReviewSkeptic existed.  Now I have another tool to verify / validate things.  

4.  Checking quotations is tricky: double and triple check your sources.  For these quotes we got lucky.  We found one in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, and were able to discount the others fairly easily.  But behind each bit of research is a deeper validation of the sites you're reading. Here, Monticello.org is a really authoritative site that gives excellent analyses (including source citations) for all their work.  In the case of the 3rd quote, I wanted multiple sources telling me that "gun control" was born (in the modern sense) around 1960.  It's a bit more work, but it's pretty compelling.  

Another Challenge tomorrow!  In the meanwhile... Search on!

Update: Regular Reader Passager points out in the comments that I have an error in my 3rd quote.  He writes that:  

"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" is fake. For the real quote you have to replace reasons by regions. Knowing a little astronomy, I noticed the phrase with "reasons" had absolutely no sense, just checked with "regions" on monticello.org and found the right quote.

Ah... Sorry about that.  I wish I were that clever.  It was just a typo on my part.  Moral of this story:  If you're going to write about real and fake, be careful to copyedit your prose with care! 


  1. Nice write up. Adding a little more, too:

    The jet's source image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2f/F-16C_block_52%2B_fighter_jet,_Hellenic_Air_Force_(November_2010).jpg

    I knew it was an F-16, and guessed the symbol might be Israeli.
    Searched for "israel F-16 fuel tank", and found the image, on a page talking about "conformal fuel tanks", which were never used by the USA. I also determined the symbol was not israeli by searching for "israel F-16 roundel". I tried "greek F-16 conformal fuel tanks" and found the right source image on Wikipedia.

    The one I found has been 'shopped to get rid of the condensation contrail off the starboard wing tip, but they left the condensation forming over the wings on the turn.

  2. Well, Dan, it seems that the second quote as written in the challenge "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" is fake. For the real quote you have to replace reasons by regions. Knowing a little astronomy, I noticed the phrase with "reasons" had absolutely no sense, just checked with "regions" on monticello.org and found the right quote. I thought this was one of your tricks : an almost right quote, just one word wrong.

    Nice challenge anyway.

  3. The F16 is discussed here with some mighty curious aviation advice. http://www.doyletics.com/tidbits/militaryadvice.pdf

    jon tU

  4. 5. Any time The Dog Star, a Philly cheesesteak & the Shadow are in the same image: double and triple check your sources.
    9:39…still missed the shadow first time around
    …they must have different flight rules on the west coast
    btw, jon t U - enjoyable bit of aviation eye/mind candy you found.

    1. Dr. Russell, your photo analysis is great, liked specially the clock. Ngram is something didn't think to try and the search lessons are super helpful as always. About error in 3rd quote, Luis noticed on his comments while solving the Challenge. I didn't notice it because my tendency is to read whole paragraph and not word by word. I need to pay more attention besides didn't know the original quote.

      Remmij; thanks for sharing your process and links. Roundel was new for me. The video verification looks great and it is also something new.

      Thanks for creating Challenges and giving us each week new tools, Dr. Russell. Hope you had great time in your talk at Rutgers

  5. Replies
    1. was curious how things had changed over time… some things, not so much…
      …~ 108 years later (7/2013) Broad & Spruce

  6. I don't know if anybody linked to this previously, but here's a pretty thorough piece on how to check the veracity of a photo.

  7. Here is some new research that was published recently on an algorithm designed to catch fake feedback.