I had a discussion with Melba Ketchum today on Twitter regarding her continued claims that Bigfoot will be proven true. Some of it spilled over to Facebook – her favorite communication outlet. I was surprised she responded and it went on for quite a while. For those of you who missed it, good for you. But here it is mostly in its entirety (a few other tweets weren’t worth adding); see what you can glean from this.
For background, note that my site, Doubtful News, has been critical of Melba’s work with good cause (melba ketchum | Doubtful News). I also wrote a chronicle of the history of her project for Skeptical Briefs (which you can see here The Ketchum Project: What to Believe about Bigfoot DNA ‘Science’ – CSI) and in Skeptical Inquirer. I’m not some lone skeptic picking at her claims. She has the entire scientific community against her. She revels in being the maverick, persecuted, pulls the Galileo gambit. I find it distasteful.
This is the first time she responded to me in public. She should totally stop doing that.
Skeptics often get put down for speaking out against a community’s or a individual’s cherished belief. They call us downers or haters, ignorant or closed-minded (all are often baseless accusations). Or, as some of emails and comments from wankers suggest, I’m a “whiney bitch”. I don’t appreciate that crap because you don’t know me, you just see what I write and project your own feelings onto it – argue about what I say, don’t judge my personality or call me names because you look like an idiot. Attacking the person is easier and more cowardly than dealing with the claims themselves. I just ignore those people or let it roll off with a laugh.
In order to progress in a field, there must be civil discussion, but there will also be disputes. I try to keep it civil as long as others do. But everyone won’t be friendly or supportive – that’s a given.
Here’s the thing… as much as I hate being pigeonholed into the stereotype of mean skeptic, I wonder how paranormalists who are very interested and committed to their subjects get along in society?
Ghost hunting and Bigfoot tracking is popular and mainstream from my perspective, but not understood or appreciated by everyone. Do these folks get harassed by others – their friends, family and work colleagues – for their perceived unusual interests? I’d suspect they sure do. They have as much passion and drive to understand their subject area as skeptics do, they just choose a different approach to it.
It’s not fair for me to complain about getting picked on for a skeptical stance when I think people get picked on for a credulous stance too. I’d like to hear about it. How is your interest in fringe topics perceived? Is it cool to be an investigator of fringe topics? Or is it ridiculed? Are you respected or rejected? Lauded or laughed at?
[Note: Comments are moderated which is why you don't see the "whiney bitch" stuff get through. So it might take a bit for your approved comments to be posted. Also, for purposes of this post, I'm using "paranormalist", for lack of a better word, in a way that means anyone who subscribes to the idea there are things to discover that are currently outside of scientific acceptance, which includes ghosts, Bigfoot, UFOs, psi, etc. I mean no offense to those who think these phenomena have a non-supernatural explanation yet to be found.]
Last night, I simply could not read any technical stuff before bed so I browsed my Kindle looking for some entertaining reading. The thing is, I don’t really do much fiction, almost everything I have is nonfiction. Then I came across “All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals” by Darren Naish, C.M. Kosemen, John Conway, and Scott Hartman. This was it, the perfect hour’s entertainment before bed perusing fascinating artwork and professional commentary regarding speculative reconstruction of prehistoric (and modern) animals. It was a lovely blend of nonfiction with a good dollop of fiction and I very much enjoyed it.
This book shows what might possibly (very likely) is off (completely wrong) about artistic reconstructions of dinosaurs, plesiosaurs and pterosaurs. Fun stuff. You will learn that animals are reconstructed “shrink-wrapped” and naked. It’s sort of because that’s all the evidence we have and must guess at the soft tissue adornments and coloration. But what if we got a bit creative. That’s what this book does. Fun stuff. Sometimes silly, but thought provoking. What if these animals behaved in a completely different way than we expect? Well why not draw that?
The last section is enlightening as real animals are portrayed in a way that mimics how we would interpret prehistoric animals – shrink-wrapped, with no fat or characteristic soft parts (like pointy cartilage ears), no fur, and out of context.
The past week was weird!
I have no idea why Deepak Chopra found it necessary to tweet back at me (apparently he has a very thin skin for criticism and nothing better to do than refresh his twitter page). I wasn’t really talking to him, I was praising a brilliant example of exposing pseudoscience. Perhaps he just does not like my Twitter account name. Anyway, here is what happened.
Yeah, I got a few Chopralites chiming in that I didn’t “get it” but mostly I got some new followers out of it. Read the rest of this entry
It is my opinion that public school children should be taught a class in comparative religion.
I recall a cursory review of the history of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism as part of social studies but Americans are pretty clueless about other religions besides their own. That’s a societal flaw. I’m not particularly interested in common religions; I have a general idea how they practice. But uncommon religions are pretty darn strange, and even more interesting to me when they involve occult practices or bizarre ideas. It’s about time I found out more about them.
Karen Stollznow’s book God Bless America [on Kindle] is subtitled “Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in The United States” so I was pretty sure it would contain some zingers. This book is a parade of information about the lesser known and controversial (OK, weird) religious beliefs of America and it is suitable as a text for a class on world religions. The title is not very fitting because it’s not about God so much as about the people who invest themselves in these unusual belief systems. Stollznow goes to meet many of them firsthand. They would have creeped me out.
I had the best time last weekend. I gave a talk for the National Capital Area Skeptics which was held at the National Science Foundation building ON CARL SAGAN DAY. It was perfect. The talk, about an hour, is linked below. Thanks to J.D. Mack of NCAS for the excellent editing and production. It is very important to me to have talks and interviews recorded so I can promote them to people who couldn’t be there. While there was a nice turnout, putting these talks online greatly increases the distribution and lets my folks see it too.
I really enjoyed Lyle Blackburn’s previous book, The Legend of Boggy Creek (reviewed here), so I had to get my hands on his next one about the Lizard Man of Lee County, South Carolina. I knew of the legend and had recently researched it because of continued reports of car damage in various places. (The Lizard Man was known for attacking cars.) What attacks cars but giant lizard men? Well, read to the end…
As with his last book, Blackburn does not attempt to speak on the actual existence of a local swamp monster he is investigating. He aims, and succeeds, to “provide an entertaining and comprehensive account of the creature”. Once again, he gives us a must-have guide to a particular cryptid.
However, there is a lot less meat to this book than what was available for the Fouke monster. The Fouke monster had his own movie; the Lizard Man was likely spawned from the movies. The core of the evidence is, unfortunately, unverifiable eyewitness reports. While some people may take these stories at face value, skeptics are right to be skeptical. It is clear that there is considerable fantasy and funny stuff working in Lee County.
Here is something we don’t think about for our websites and blogs: How do they respond to DMCA complaints? As critics of those who HATE to be criticized, we are GOING to get this kind of nonsense threat and intimidation.
I spent a harrowing Friday and Saturday moving my Doubtful News site to a new host after a crapload of issues from my existing host: InMotion Hosting. I was using VPS which made me a mid-tier customer. Because of the site traffic, we had to add on Cloud Flare to help ease the server load. Nearly every week, I was logging into chat or calling InMotion support to inform them that the website was down. They gave me tips on cache plugins (which sometimes messed up the site or didn’t help at all), told me my plugins were problems, that Apache had crashed on the server or that there was up and down load. Obviously, this was not a great fit but it was better than the 3 previous hosts we outgrew within months.
The final straw came from their horrendous and incompetent response to a bogus copyright complaint by a “psychic” businesswoman who claimed infringement by use of her trademark in our web post. This was regarding a news story that was NOT about her in any way. I didn’t even know she existed. Not only is that not applicable to copyright law (none of us would be able to write about Apple or Microsoft or any name brand), but we didn’t even use her damn trademark in the post. You can read about it here and have a look at what kind of person does this sort of thing.
The net is full of silly ghost stories today. They are fun and enjoyable as long as they remain entertainment. But when ghost hunters claim to do science… I get to have some say. Here is a new piece I did for Huffington Post. Post it to the comments of your local ghost tales from the media.
I got some nice press from NBC News today.
Finally check out Virtual Skeptics from last night, we were very silly.
There are some writers for which you know pretty much exactly what you are going to get. Donald R. Prothero is one of those writers. I expect a well-researched, comprehensive treatment of the topic with a flavor of emotion here and there. That’s what I got with Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten our Future, 2013, Indiana Univ Press.
The core of the book is summed up in the John Burroughs quote given on page 1:
To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, but to imagine your facts is another.
Once you observe the methods of creationists as the classic example of science denialists, you can recognize the same tactics in those that reject climate change. I have also noted the same tricks in environmentalists or those holding contrarian views about vaccines, the paranormal, and various consumer products.
The premise of Reality Check is that when “a well-entrenched belief system comes in conflict with scientific or historic reality” the believers in this system will actively discount, ignore or distort the facts that go against it. They may stop at nothing to defend their belief – they will lie, hide evidence, manufacture evidence, pay people off, bully, harass, discredit, and even threaten the scientists who are supporting the “inconvenient” conclusion.
The book highlights denialism rampant in the fields of environmentalism, global warming, evolution education, vaccine information, AIDS treatment policy, medical claims, energy policy and population size and growth. Each chapter exposes the hidden agendas of those who reject the scientific consensus and provides the reader with the solid, established evidence.