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The case of the cold Holstein and the BMW

23 Sep

If you Google the short phrase ‘cow on car’ you are sure to see this image:

cowhood01

Is it real?  I put the question to 80 participants as part of an eye gaze experiment in which I and some colleagues used infra-red light eye tracking to see what people looked at when they saw this and other images.  At the same time, we asked if they thought the image was manipulated, and if so, how.

What do you think?

Of our experiment participants, 23 were unsure. Of the remaining 57, 11 said that the photo was unmanipulated and 46 said it was manipulated. That means that the participants were divided in opinion 34 to 46, or almost half and half (42.5% to 57.5% to be exact).

Often logic (both good and bad) was employed; several participants posited that the cow had gotten up there because it was a cold day and the car had probably been recently driven as it is not covered in snow, so the hood would have been warm. One participant of Russian origin said that a cow wouldn’t usually do something like that, but in Russia “we can train them to do it.” Many participants said that the car would have been dented if the cow climbed up there, and one participant with a farming background said “I know how much a cow weighs, and that car couldn’t stand up to it.”

The farmer was right of course; the answer is that the image is manipulated, a composite of a BMW Series 3 in a snowy field or plaza near some housing, combined with an image of a perfectly normally situated Holstein [1] milking cow (below).

Interestingly, there is a second manipulation in the image that most people missed, but that, conversely, a few people used as their main justification for deciding the image was manipulated. Can you see it?

If you can, then congratulations, you’ve spotted what most people didn’t. The second manipulation is difficult to see via something I like to call the ‘hiding effect.’ The hiding effect results from a major manipulation being so eye-catching that the manipulation with a smaller profile goes unnoticed. In this case, it is the blurred out license plate. Despite its obviousness once you notice it, the cow resting on the hood distracts your attention, and indeed in our experiment the blurred license plate only received about 3% of the total attention paid to the image.

Original image of the cow lying contentedly in a green paddock.

Original image of the cow lying contentedly in a green paddock.

The photo above is the original photo of the cow on the BMW.[2]  It was uploaded to a Russian photo sharing website named Kazansoft.  (I made enquiries to Kazansoft about the photographer and location and I hope to be able to update this post with that information should I hear back.)

The BMW image must have been taken no earlier than 2003, because this E46 version of the Series 3  was manufactured between 2003 and 2005 according to my sources in the Bimmerfest BMW community (who also commented that this BMW has some modifications, for example it may have all wheel drive and someone has added some turn signal black outs and angel eyes as well.) [3]

The Holstein image was presumably uploaded to Kazansoft some time prior to November 2013 (possibly on cdn.acidcow.com on 29 January 2013 [4]), because on 18 November 2013 the Surrey Police in England tweeted this entertaining and now relatively well known composite image of the Holstein cleverly spliced onto the hood of the BMW with a useful weather-related warning:

rpu_surryPolice_originaltweet

This image went modestly viral, and eventually became a high profile member of Internet fauxtography.

If the percentages hold true on a larger scale to our experiment results, then of the 13,706 retweeters of the post, about 5,800 of them don’t know that the image is manipulated even though many might be suspicious of it. I find that quite interesting.  What do you think?

Acknowledgements:
[1] Thanks to branguscowgirl, Nesikep, tja477t, regolith, and Son of Butch from the Breeds Board forum of Cattle Today for their knowledgeable advice and confirmation that the cattle breed is Holstein.
[2]Thanks to The Museum of Hoaxes for identifying the source of the original photo.
[3] Thanks to tim330i,  sixpot_simon, and Zeichen311 of the Bimmerfest BMW forum for identifying the BMW and providing other interesting information about it.
[4] According to the image search site TinEye, the oldest internet ‘crawl’ of this image was on 29 January 2013 on cdn.acidcow.com at http://cdn.acidcow.com/pics/20130130/acid_picdump_67.jpg


Images:
Kazansoft image used by permission of the copyright statement in Russian associated with the image – “Все разрешения: ” above the button for 1024 x 768 which Google Translate translates as ” All permits : ” at http://desktop.kazansoft.ru/wallpaper/2248.html Consulted 22 September 2015
Other images are in the public domain
References:
RPU-Surrey Police. https://twitter.com/SurreyRoadCops/status/402506502109663232/photo/1 Consulted 23 September 2015
The Museum of Hoaxes. http://hoaxes.org/weblog/comments/cow_on_hood_of_car Consulted 22 September 2015
Cattle Breed query to Cattle Today Breeds Board: http://www.cattletoday.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=100510#p1281713 Consulted 26 September 2015
BMW series/model query to Bimmerfest BMW forum: http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/showthread.php?t=872525 Consulted 26 September 2015
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4 responses to “The case of the cold Holstein and the BMW

  1. 39yearslame

    September 24, 2015 at 12:18 am

    What a fun picture! The manipulation was well done, too; it jumps out as suspect because of the bizarre nature of the image, rather than any obvious visual problems. Of course, in its original context, the fact that it’s a manipulation comes across more strongly, which is definitely a good thing. I’m surprised more people looking at the image didn’t notice the blocked license plate number, though.

    It might be interesting if there really were cows that climbed up on car hoods to keep warm in the winter. Rather, that might be an interesting world to visit, but perhaps one wouldn’t want to live there…

     
    • sabrinacaldwell

      September 24, 2015 at 7:07 am

      I think one of the reasons it is successful as a manipulated image is that despite the evidence of our eyes, at the same time our mind is supplying intuitive logic to support the image – that of course a cow wouldn’t want to lay on the snow if there was a nice [supposedly warm] car to sit on. Perhaps the world you mention might be the same one that Monty Python’s sheep in the trees inhabit. : )

       
  2. David

    September 25, 2015 at 7:03 am

    I confess that I decided it was manipulated, for a small/obscure reason, but missed some of the more obvious reasons. I thought the shadows under the cow’s belly and under the car did not indicate the same lighting conditions. With hindsight, though, I can agree that there is no depression of the front suspension, given the space in the wheel arch and the even clearance front and back.

    I think we’ve all seen house cats do that. I’ve seen wild deer jump up on top of a 6′ round hay bale (which are, of course, not much like a cow at all). So I guess it helps to suspend disbelief, when you can say… “stranger things have happened.”

     
    • sabrinacaldwell

      September 25, 2015 at 8:28 am

      That was a very interesting comment David, thank you. It really makes me think – about so many things – how each of us has ‘go to’ techniques for solving problems, how known related scenarios (like heat seeking cats) incline us to credulity in other similar scenarios, how having an open mind can perhaps sometimes be a mixed blessing, and derivatively, how despite the occasional pitfalls of having an open and questioning mind, it is still the best kind of mind to have!

       

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