Abstract There has been a long debate on the source of temporal fluctuations in natural population densities. The difficulty is that unpredictable irregularities might be attributed either to external environmental factors or to chaotic dynamics of populations, or even to the interaction of these two factors. Some years ago Cohen (1995) pointed out that real time series follow redshifted Fourier power spectra, while the simplest chaotic population dynamical models are mostly blueshifted. Since then, the controversy has focused on comparisons of Fourier spectra originating from different models and data. Here, we show experimentally that estimation process by human observers shifts power spectra to the red. This result implies that because of estimation distortion, real population data must be less redshifted than many recorded time series suggest.