Everyone panic. Or not.

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A few weeks ago, I moved my desk next to an upstairs window overlooking a Bradford pear tree. For the past 3 weeks, when I sat at the desk during the day, periodically, a flock of about 50 starlings would swoop in and land on the tree,  devouring the shriveled fruits up like grapes. Then, in a whoosh, they would be off. Sometimes I would hear them clamor on the roof. This has happened no less than a dozen times. They seemed hungry. 

On my way home from work over the past month, I noticed crows arcing across the sky across the interstate from as far as I can see from left to right. This happened for several consecutive days in the same place.

This is the behavior of birds. It seems remarkable but not too unusual.

On December 26, we were on the beach in South Carolina near Charleston. It was snowing. There were starfish embedded in the sand. The south was experiencing record cold. It happens. I felt bad for the alligators in the swamps.

Suddenly, we experience such a Fortean start to 2011!  A massive and suspicious bird die-off in Arkansas on New Years Eve triggers a wave of mystery, speculation and imaginative explanations fed by more accounts of animal mortality events.  The current media sensation of reporting mass mortality events is very interesting in many ways. Shall we count the ways? Yes, we shall, because it’s fun – fun like outrageous speculation about the end of the world! (Well, if you have a hot-air filled balloon of speculative belief about these things, you won’t think this is fun.)

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What would happen if MonsterQuest found something?

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I’m wondering…

What would happen if a show like MonsterQuest actually discovered something interesting to science during one of their investigations? I mean, they find curious things sometimes – like a structure – but they just leave it behind without explanation. But, what if they REALLY filmed an animal. What would happen to the film? Would they announce it, show it beforehand, drum up a huge premier viewing event? Continue reading

The red herring

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Conclusion to “Sham Inquiry
The coelacanth is a red herring

Mainstream science, which is respected and functions very well with its current methodology, excludes those fields who don’t pass muster. For a theory to be considered as an explanation for observations of the natural world, even the public realizes it ought to be scientific. Using supernatural qualities as necessary components in your theory will get you excluded from consideration outright by the scientific community. The public, on the other hand, finds the paranormal quite fascinating and is willing to give consideration to those that put on a good show. Continue reading

Elbowing in

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Continuing with “Sham Inquiry

Elbowing in on good science

The Journal of Scientific Exploration is the published by the Society for Scientific Exploration which describes itself as “a professional organization of scientists and other scholars committed to studying phenomena that cross or are outside of the traditional boundaries of science and…are ignored or studied inadequately…” Many of the members’ topics of research and methods are considered pseudoscience by conventional scientists. The journal is closed to outside contributors and criticism. Continue reading

Ghost Hunting – Sham Inquiry

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Thousands of eyewitnesses report ghostly encounters from ancient history to modern times. Contact with the dead is very much part of our modern culture. With the expansion of television content and the internet, stories about hauntings have surged in popularity.

Ghost hunting is a popular hobby for thrill seekers. It’s fun to be scared. The official community of ghost hunters, including those of popular reality TV programs, are non-scientists. However, they invariably tout the scientific nature of their activities. Continue reading

Unorthodox and proud of it

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The category of unconventional theories is labeled “maverick”, “fringe”, “frontier” and “exploration” in front of the word “science” to describe the work. (This community is featured on The Anomalist website – www.anomalist.com.) The conclusions they reach are at variance with what is taught as conventional science. Because these ideas are outside of the mainstream consensus and so obviously at odds with some aspect of current understanding, this foremost characteristic should send up a red flag and prompt questioning [1].

Unorthodox does not automatically equate to “wrong”. The more controversial the theory, however, the more airtight the evidence must be to convince. In pseudoscience, one will find the evidence elusive, with a selective use of facts focusing on anomalies, not the main body of observations. (See here.) Capitalizing on the image of science as progressive and offering new insights, pseudoscientists will often mix in just enough real science to fool naive readers. It sounds exactly like science should sound.

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[1] Carey, S. S. (2004). A Beginner’s Guide to Scientific Method, Wadsworth. p. 17 ; Bunge, M. (1995). “In Praise of Tolerance To Charlatanism in Academia”. The Flight from Science and Reason (1996). P. R. Gross, N. Levitt, M.W. Lewis, New York Academy of Sciences. p. 101.

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