Defending the faith of cryptozoology

Standard

My latest post, regarding the rational vs non-rational response to the new cryptozoology book by Loxton and Prothero, Abominable Science, went live on Huffington Post yesterday.

Cryptozoology Gets Respect While Bigfooters Behave Badly.

When critical thinkers approach the subject of Bigfoot (or cryptozoology in general) with a focus on the evidence, they are met with reproach. We are challenging much more than the claim; we challenge their belief. They will resort to what Biblical literalists will do to evolutionists – they demonize, call us names, misquote, pick at small mistakes, and take words and ideas out of context. They create an extreme position and shoot it down (called a “straw man” argument) because it’s a power play to make them feel superior. (Note that some aggressive “skeptics” will do that and it’s not fair play in that case either.) All the while, they skirt the MAJOR flaws in their own conclusions.

Bigfoot-themed and other cryptozoology blogs and forums are typically hostile to skeptics, even moderate ones like myself. They can’t understand why we even want to participate since we are going to “deny” everything. Gee, sorry for being interested in the topic and in getting a good answer for peoples’ experiences. Questioning is not denying, it’s thinking.

A while back I challenged cryptozoologists to read the book and make a fair assessment. Some seem to have read it. Three known men gave it ridiculous reviews. They only read the parts that interested them and presumed judgement on the whole book. That is intellectually dishonest and really shallow, not to mention extremely arrogant, behavior. This is why we can’t take self-proclaimed cryptozoological experts seriously. They treat their subject more like a religion, based on faith.

Continue reading

Count von Count’s arithromania

Standard

Last Dragon*Con, I went to a talk about movie monsters. It was a small group with three artists up front chatting about their favorite creature features. It was so much fun, all that trivia. There was one tidbit from that presentation that I found so adorable and interesting, I was amazed I never thought of it before. I had to write about it. Yes, it’s taken me a year to do it.

I don’t know how they got around to the topic but we were discussing the Count from Sesame Street. You may remember that he counts everything. Nifty, eh? What a great kids character – just a touch scary (like other Muppets) but not threatening.
count

When I was a kid, a bit after the Sesame Street days, I got into monster books and loved to learn “facts” about vampires. One way to stop or at least delay a vampire, I’d heard, was to throw a handful of rice or seeds behind you. He would (apparently) compulsively stop and have to count every grain before proceeding. Interesting…

Is that where the Count von Count got his counting habit from?

The person next to me in the monsters talk said “Yes”.

Really? How did I not make this connection!

Continue reading

Doubt and About – Challenge to cryptozoologists

Standard

Since I got back from July jaunts, I’ve taken a little break. I’m not doing Virtual Skeptics for August. So, in my spare time I managed to learn some accounting software (ALWAYS TRY TO LEARN NEW THINGS!).

Speaking of learning new things, the main point of this post is a challenge for people who follow one of my favorite fields of research to try something new.

I’ve been gushing over this book, Abominable Science by Loxton and Prothero, since I got it.
It takes a lot for me to really love a book. I might not read a five-star worthy book in a whole year. But this one is very special. I’m glad to have played a small part in its content. That’s not the reason why I love it. I love it because it reflects some of my own serious thinking about the field and reveals some really important issues that desperately need to be considered. It illuminates a huge problem in cryptozoology – possible the main problem – BAD SCHOLARSHIP. Today’s cryptid researchers forego diligence in examining claims in exchange for bolstering a beloved belief. (For example, authors like Nick Redfern, books series like “Monsters of [U.S. state]“, websites like Bigfoot Evidence and radio shows like Coast to Coast AM). Those are  more fiction than nonfiction, fun and not serious (though some people take them very seriously).

It’s assumed that the skeptical view is not desirable. Wrong. People who want answers should logically seek them, not ignore a worthwhile contribution to the discussion.

I am asking any self-styled cryptozoologists to examine this book and tell me what you think. A common trope is that skeptics are not open-minded. Well, practice what you preach. Take a look at this book, which is fully referenced so you can make your own call on the evidence if you are so inclined. I have suspected that it might be ignored by those who prefer to monger mysteries instead of digging into the truth behind them. That’s cowardly. Don’t be like that. Expand your thinking. Question your assumptions.

So that’s the challenge. Read it and let me know what you think. I will happily share your comments with the authors as well because they value critique and feedback, unlike many in the paranormal field who seem to just want praise and a spot on a TV show.

Also, in the interest of respect for your subject area, you also should listen to the podcast Monster Talk. They bring on actual experts to discuss the science behind monsters. Boring? Not in the least. It’s so witty and smart. Yes, it’s a big change from Bigfoot audiocasts that just wax speculatively about the latest rumors and online evidence. But, again, give it a try. Check out the skeptical scholarship. If you want to understand the topic, you must be open to all angles.

OK, that’s that. Here’s more. Continue reading

Slender Man – We made him and his family what they are today

Standard

I can’t recall when I first heard about Slender Man but since he was only created in 2009, it must have been relatively recently. He is, however, one of those characters that you would SWEAR has been around for a much longer time and has a history. The truth is, he was created by an imaginative mind and he just worked.

I was listening to It’s A Thing, the conveniently-sized podcast by two of my favorite Tech reporters – Tom Merritt and Molly Wood. It’s a trend-spotting show. Tom’s thing was ‘Slender Man’ which he heard about from some kid. Slender Man is a “thing” indeed.

(The) Slender Man was born from a photo editing contest on the Something Awful web forums in 2009 when “Victor Surge” submitted for evaluation two images of groups of children with a tall, thin, creepy faceless dude in a black suit. For effect, the submitter added a story to go along with it establishing that the figure brings death and bad luck.

slenderman_kids

Something’s not right about that thing in the back left

Along with his stretchy, tentacle-like arms and hairless pate, whatever more you need to know about Slender Man can be found here at Know Your Meme, at the Slender Man Wiki, and on this adorable video. Continue reading

Freak Out Over Hairless Mystery Beasts

Standard

Hairless carcasses attract morbid attention. Is it a mutant? A monster? Well, it’s most likely an unfortunate local animal who fortunately left remains for us to photograph, gawk over, get grossed out about, and share around the world on social media.

tenby-beast

Tenby, Pembrokeshire, U.K.

We are coming up on the spring/summer season and we already have our first mystery beast of the year which washed up on the U.K. shore: The Tenby Mystery Carcass. The best guess for this is likely a badger, judging from the size, head, teeth and claws. It may look large and horse-like but note the footprints, it’s not large. It’s about medium-dog sized.

Even though they are strange and disgusting, I’m intrigued by these critters and can’t pass up a chance to post their pictures and speculate (with comparative evidence) about what it is.

Carcasses on the beach are unpleasant. They are smelly, bloated and missing important parts. There may be trauma to the body. Decomposition will make the creature look nasty and also makes it difficult to comprehend what they looked like alive, possibly so much so that we can’t relate them to a known animal. Often, as part of the decomposition in water, the hair falls out with just a little bit remaining as clues to what it looked like alive.

Covered in seaweed, one of the most interesting was dubbed the San Diego Demonoid due to its overall weirdness and HUGE canine teeth. Continue reading

Mischevious creatures everywhere: Virtual Skeptics “panties goblin” episode 24

Standard

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.

Black Imp or goblin

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.

Continue reading

News wrap-up on Skepticality and Monster Talk

Standard

I’m on this week’s Skepticality.

Thanks to Derek for inviting me on to talk about the year in news.

You can see my favorite weird news stories of the year here. And how about my punning skilz this year!

Also, don’t forget the year in monsters! It was a big one. Here is the monster wrapup from 2012. And you can catch me talking about it on Monster Talk. You all need to subscribe to Monster Talk podcast – the science show about monsters.  Continue reading

Vampires in Serbia. What’s up with that?

Standard

On November 24, a story appeared in the Austrian Times relating fear of a vampire roaming the remote village of Zarozje,Serbia.

That seemed odd. Vampires aren’t something we assume people actually believe are real.

The story, however, was legendary. According to Serbian folklore, a man, Sava Savanovic, lived in a wooden house near a mill on the Rogačica river. He was a horrible guy, a vampire, who would attack villagers and drink their blood. These stories went on as late as the beginning of the 20th century. For several decades, the watermill was owned by the Jagodić family and was in operation until the late 1950s. After its closure, it became a tourist site. The legend of Savanovic appears to play a part in that draw for tourists.

The Balkans, of which Serbia is a part, has a rich history of superstitions involving vampires. As late as the 18th century, the accusation of a person being a vampire brought on mass hysteria, mob violence and public executions.

Back in the village… the Savonovic house by the old mill stream recently collapsed. That was followed by reported misfortune upon the local towns – five deaths and a suicide occurred. I also found in news reports that people were hearing strange sounds and footsteps in the woods. OOoo, spooky. Also rumored is that Sava can exist not as a bat but as a butterfly.

Continue reading

Going off-track: A visit to the paranormal side of Dragon Con

Standard

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.

Continue reading