Category Archives: Culture
Goblins… yeah. EXPLODEY ones. This episode of Virtual Skeptics we also talked about elves and had a fun and rather disturbing game of Scientology? Or North Korea? Don’t miss that it’s a hoot and a holler. The full video is linked below. Check it out. But I wanted to write up and link to the information I gave about the Zimbabwe goblins. It was a fascinating story, not quite what you think.
Last Tuesday, the 22nd, I came across the story of a so-called sorcerer’s house in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe that exploded under mysterious circumstances.
Police officials said the blast killed five people. The sorcerer, often known in the West as a witchdoctor, was doing business with a man seeking to improve his failing finances, They were both among the dead, witnesses said. Army bomb disposal experts told neighbours they found no remnants of a bomb or petrol or gas containers.
In Zimbabwe superstition, sorcerers can use lightning, to eradicate enemies. Neighbours told reporters they feared a “lightning manufacturing process” was being carried out.
I heard nothing more on this, I didn’t expect to.
But then on Monday, I find this story:
A traditional healer and a survivor claim that the house in which they were carrying out a cleansing ceremony exploded after they beheaded a goblin. According to the story, a man acquired the goblin from a neighboring country to bring wealth and prosperity to his business. But the goblin became troublesome, making demands, so he needed to get rid of it. The ceremony cost him $15,000.
At first, I didn’t connect the two stories until someone told me it was the same place. So things got interesting.
Virtual Skeptics #19 revealed that the end of the world comes alongside a bad hair day. I linked to the video of the show at the bottom in case you missed it. But this was an interesting topic this week for me. Here is a write up…
I follow a lot of sources for news stories for Doubtful News including some more paranormally-minded or, should I say, unskeptical sources. I’m always interested to see what kinds of stories are circulating in that community and they are often the first to spot the bizarre ones.
I use information from those stories to promote critical thinking about them. I think it’s harmful to spread inaccuracies so I wish to provide the skeptical, rational view.
Earlier this week, I saw a story on a news blog site about a mass grave found in Mexico that contained skulls that had deliberate cranial deformation. That is an interesting story in itself but the hook was that these skulls looked like your pop cultural stereotypical alien head. The “alternative news” sites Beforeitsnews.com and abovetopsecret.com, hubs for UFO and conspiracy tales, had latched onto that idea calling it a “mass alien grave” (that’s the way BIN said it, and I advise not visiting that site even for a laugh because it’s a piece of shit. However, they have since altered the title to delete the alien reference.) Then it appeared on the Daily Mail and the story went huge. Read the rest of this entry
I have finally experienced Dragon Con, the world’s largest sci-fi/fantasy convention, which was held August 31 to Sept 3 in Atlanta, Georgia. Encompassing 5 hotels and including 40,000 or so attendees, many of whom were in costume, it was a bit overwhelming at times. But, I was determined to squeeze the most out of my participation, hosting a great discussion panel on Monday about skeptics and believers, and attending as many talks as I possibly could.
Besides the uniqueness inherent in a convention fueled by artistic flare, this conference is different from all others I’ve been to in that the various “tracks” (themed schedules) are visited by others who may not attend a conference based solely on that particular theme. Certainly many people wandered into the Skeptic track room as they made their way to events in the nearby Science or Space tracks. This buffet of choices allowed me to see how other fields discuss their content. So, I wanted to share my observations on the Paranormal track, the sessions featuring the TV ghost hunters, and the fantastic talks about monsters.
This is a year of speaking “firsts” for me. I never did a panel. But my first workshop/panel went great (at TAM). I never talked to kids before but my trip to the local elementary school’s third grade with my bag of rock samples went splendidly.
Back in March, our local YMCA asked parents to volunteer to be guest speakers for their teen summer camp. I suppose most adults are called in to talk about their jobs or their hobbies, but I saw an opportunity to talk to kids about critical thinking. Specifically, about the 2012 Mayan apocalypse. My own daughter (13 at the time) had expressed curiosity about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world prediction. She revealed that lots of her friends believed in strange stuff she KNEW (from me) was nonsense, including the 2012 scenario. Kids get their information from media and their peers (who share even more media with them). They are influenced by what they see on TV. It shapes their idea of what is normal and accepted in our culture. I can hardly imagine other kids talking to their parents about paranormal and mystical topics and I shudder to think what information they might get in return. Not many families apply skepticism to their daily lives as openly as mine.
I could not pass up this outreach opportunity for a captive audience of just the right age (11-14).
What follows is some detail on how to do these kinds of talks just in case you ever get the opportunity to do one yourself. Even if it’s not about 2012, you can still talk to kids about how to think about psychics, ghosts, alternative medicine, whatever. THIS is the age you can make an impact. They are interested in knowing. What strikes them, they remember.
When my blog sites started getting a bit of traffic, namely Doubtful News, I received email requests for “guest posts”. People wanted to volunteer content for the site even my sites that seem to have nothing to do with their speciality (if they gave that information at all). They often just commented that they like the site. Guest posts make no sense for that site. I view all unsolicited offers with great suspicion, as you can imagine. I deleted all of them. I assumed they were scams.
Today, I received a followup email from two that I had deleted – from J. Davies and E. Shumann. They seemed persistent. A third came from M. Jensen as an inquiry on my very low traffic monster site for kids that I did as a project for an education class. She asked if it was the right email and included a subject line about an ocean graphic which had nothing to do with that site. Hmm. Red flags.
My latest article for my Sounds Sciencey column is about chemistry. Or, more precisely, how it is viewed by the public.
There is this thing you might see on labels of products ranging from baby health goods to fertilizer: “CHEMICAL FREE”. But what does that even mean? I say it’s meaningless and is harmful for consumers.
Over the last 4 decades, the idea of chemistry has gotten a terrible reputation. People just don’t like chemicals. Yet, they certainly don’t understand that EVERYTHING we eat or drink or use in our showers or on our bodies is made of chemicals. Everything we use or wear is derived from a chemical process. To be without chemistry is to not exist. Our bodies run on chemistry.
The word “chemical” has been hijacked to mean “toxic”. And “toxic chemicals” has become a buzz word for environmental and health movements against everything from fracking to vaccines. That’s dangerous. In order to be an informed consumer and citizen, when talking science terms, you need to understand what you are actually advocating for or against. When you say “toxic chemicals,” what science-trained ears perceive from you is “this person is not scientifically literate”.
So, I advocate not to fall into the hype of “chemical-free”. Check out my piece and see how we got here as a society and what can be done about it.
New Sounds Sciencey piece. Read more about trendy new black water beverages and how they taste.
Are you a believer or a skeptic?
Awful categories, aren’t they? No one fits neatly into one or the other all the time. I apologize in advance for using these words as descriptors. I couldn’t think of a good way to express what we mean when applying these as processes, not a broad brush label.
Everyone is skeptical about something. Some of us apply it more evenly or have embraced it more thoroughly (as a process we use to judge claims). Even true believers harbor doubts about aspects of their subject. Sometimes, the doubts win and they drift away from their believing community.
I’m not talking about God, I’m talking about ghosts and Bigfoot.
I want to share some interesting episodes that took place in what I’m calling my Bigfoot weekend of October 21-23. I discovered many people existing in the gap between skepticism and the paranormal. They can tell us a whole lot about these topics we might otherwise miss.
There is a stereotype about Bigfoot and Nessie devotees. Typically, they are middle-aged or older men, often with facial hair. They seem obsessed and the public might see them as a bit “off”. It’s true that there is not that much diversity in the list of monster researchers. But, cryptozoology is changing.
Today’s researchers are examining questions from a new perspective. They can organize and communicate better thanks to the internet. There are new types of books and media. I feel positive about the future of the field of cryptozoology and excited for new things to come. At The Amazing Meeting 9 (TAM 9) in Las Vegas in July, gathered together was a group of people that had everything to do with my positive attitude.
All the people in this photo contribute to moving the subject of cryptozoology away from the stereotypes and the paranormal realm and into the circle of popular cultural and scientific understanding. This group is no less excited by the idea that cryptids are real, unknown animals. It’s just that we are realistic about it. We don’t assume the stories can be taken at face value because we know mistakes are made. We do not come in with a presupposed notion about what a person saw. Our scope is larger; our conclusions are based on what we know is likely true, not what we wish to be true.
Photo by M. Crowley
In a recent post on Skeptoid blog, I suggest that paranormal-based tourism, such as ghost tours and monster festivals, which are growing in popularity, border on fraud.
“Ghost tours and monster festivals are fun. But, their apparent frivolity disguise an underlying invitation to buy into an idea just because it’s entertaining while having no basis in reality.”
Commenters remarked that I might be getting too worked up over it. Meanwhile, I found this commentary from a local who thinks his town needs one of them monsters to draw tourists and he is not beyond creating one from scratch. Read the rest of this entry