Even with good intentions, we still piss each other off


Last week, I made a lot of people angry. I was angry, I lashed out at them. That was a mistake. In some cases, I was able to smooth things over but in others, I made it worse.

Also, I noticed several people reacted strongly to critique of their fields – cryptozoology in particular, but also against their faith or deeply held beliefs.

Kitty Mervine pointed me to this good piece that shows what I did wrong, what mistake I always make, and the mistakes most of us make when we get mad.

What to Do When You’ve Made Someone Angry – Peter Bregman – Harvard Business Review.

As it turns out, it’s not the thought that counts or even the action that counts. That’s because the other person doesn’t experience your thought or your action. They experience the consequences of your action.

So true. And that’s why they get mad. Really mad. The typical response doesn’t help. This is going to take some practice to fix.

Over the past year or so, I realized I don’t like to get into online disputes that will go on for hours or even days. It never gets resolved and just gets worse. So, I’ve made some rules for myself to follow to stop that trigger response to lash out. The first step is to limit contact with people who trip the trigger (often deliberately because, face it, some people thrive on outrage theatre). I’d be all for civil discussion but reading their twitter feed or blogs is just asking for my blood to boil. So I don’t.

Block the trolls, don’t go to their websites, don’t look for them to give you something to chew on. Be careful about engaging. Let stuff go.

Unlike some people who have deliberately gone out of their way to name and shame people for specific things they have done, I’m almost always responding to a problem I have with their claim. Yes, I don’t like the state of amateur paranormal investigation, for example. I dislike the activity. That does not mean I can’t be friends with those who participate in the activity. It’s not personal. But, I try to understand that some people consider these activities to be defining of who they are – they are Christians, they are psychics, they are Bigfoot researchers, etc. So if I or others attack the claim, this essentially equates to attacking them. All I can say is, that’s not my intent but as shown in that piece about getting angry, it’s not about the intentions, it’s about the consequences. I’m trying. Maybe everyone should try harder.

Doubt and About for last week in May


Geez, it’s summer and my calendar is jam packed. I just got back from a FANTASTIC trip to L.A. to do a presentation for the JREF which will be on YouTube as outreach in a few weeks.

But my NECSS talk “Sounds Sciencey” has now appeared on YouTube. Check it out and see what you think. I have to rewatch it. I’ve gotten some feedback from the skeptic side. Not sure how it will play with the paranormal crowd. Please note that your talks are tailored to the audience you are speaking to. Therefore, each one will be somewhat different depending on that focus. When it goes out to the internet, it plays differently and the reaction will, subsequently be different. It’s important to keep this in mind if you don’t want to come off badly to one audience or another. But my job was to speak to the NECSS (science/skeptical) crowd.

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Rumors, hoaxes and myths of the week, then I tell you how to sort through it


I need a name for these weekly wrapups of activity. Suggestions?

Good week for crossovers. My post on Slenderman (Slender Man?) did well with the paranormal crowd. I’ll be working with some experts to develop another piece on this relating to pop culture. Looking forward to doing that.

I was able to connect with the local Bigfoot investigation group after a rumor broke that a Bigfoot was shot near Altoona. Turned out to be a bust. As is typical. The Bigfoot community is especially awash with hoaxes to the point that you can not take anything serious. I wrote about this for Huffington Post. That post got many positive comments and was passed on via social media. I was happy to see that. It’s really important to pass on things you like so they reach the maximum audience. Nothing is as depressing as doing a lot of work and having it go no where.

Therefore, I’m thinking about book projects… :-) Continue reading

I get tweets: What fringe subject is worthy of investigation?


I read every tweet and email and take them into consideration, answer or discard as necessary. I got a tweet yesterday that prompted me to write this post first thing when I woke up this AM. Here is is:

[W]hat fringe subject do you think is worth serious investigation? Obviously, it isn’t Bigfoot.

It’s a good question to answer considering that this person sees me as a “skeptic” (in the way they perceive “skeptic”) and apparently sees me as at least a bit dismissive of Bigfoot research. Perhaps this person only sees my opinion in dribs and drabs across the internet and has picked up that I don’t particularly like the field of Bigfootery these days. I’m not sure who could – it’s full of unprofessional, money-grabbing, sham research. Hoaxing is rampant and the “evidence” presented daily on certain websites is worthless.

Yes, I’m negative on Bigfoot research. No doubt. But there are two items that need to be clarified. Since Twitter is a poor media for such discussion and I could not point to something I’d written already or an interview I did that wasn’t really long and too much to hand out and say “read this”, I’m writing it here.

First thing: All fringe subjects are worth of investigation. Observations deserve explanation. Continue reading

Paranormal politicking


My interests are in paranormal topics, coalition building, policy, and problem solving. Having visited the paranormal side on several occasions, I’m one of those skeptics that is not hated or despised by those that disagree with the “skeptical” scene. Distilled rom those interests, one of my goals is to find a way to interact effectively with the paranormal community and maybe come up with new ways of doing things. In order to do that, you can’t just jump in and expect change. It’s complicated so I try to explore the issues.

That serves as an introduction to an introduction…

I started reading Jeremy Northcote’s The Paranormal and the Politics of Truth: A Sociological Account. It’s already marked up from when I referred to it for my thesis project but it was time I read it through. Odd that sometimes you pick up a book years later and it resonates with you in a completely different way from the first encounter with it, thanks to life experience and current events.

So, I digested the introduction and I found some zinger ideas that I wanted to write down and contemplate anyway so I might as well share them and see how everyone feels about it (in consideration of my propensity to be collaborative).

The following are notes and ideas taken from the Introduction, pages 1-11. Continue reading

When I’m disliked by only one side, then I know I have a problem


Some of you may know I now blog for Huffington Post as well as the usual outlets. Some of you have been kind enough to read and retweet. I appreciate that. My latest piece is out.

Suspend Your Skepticism and Just Listen.

I’ve been circulating in the Skeptisphere for a good long while. But I have not forgotten the value of being challenged and seeing alternative views. This draws me to paranormal conferences and events. I go there to be immersed in highly unskeptical ideas. It is immediately clear, to me at least, that I am out of my comfort zone at these events. I do not feel free to talk to anyone lest they determine I am not of their “ilk” and decide I should be shunned. But I am curious, and no one berates me for wanting to listen and observe. What is it about the paranormal culture that draws people here? Why is this population of people happy to spend a weekend engaged in these particularly paranormal activities, listening to speakers and making new friends?

This is a piece I wrote after I returned from a paranormal conference. I would strongly suggest all capital-S skeptics read it and would love to know what you think. I find myself cringing when I hear people (e.g. “skeptics”) laugh at paranormal believers (not beliefs but BELIEVERS) and soundly state “Bigfoot is a myth. Grow up!” How narrowly you see people. Skeptics lack empathy in many cases. You may decry me for giving paranormalists the time of day but I think they have something to say about being human. I’ve not been treated kindly by some in the skeptic-athesist community and I’ve been stabbed in the back and teased by some of the “skeptical believers” (I don’t accept their soft definition of “skeptic”) and of course you’re doomed if you are the Skeptic on a pro-paranormal forum. But, honestly, I’m so used to that. I write policy for a living. If I make everyone happy or NO one happy, I’m doing something right. It’s when I am only liked by one camp that I know I have a serious bias problem.

On the flip side, a new Sounds Sciencey was published this week as well. Continue reading

Feeling versus Thinking: Spent the weekend at a paranormal convention


I spent the weekend at a paranormal convention in Gettysburg, PA. Now, to most Skeptics, they may not have been able to hold out three days but, actually, it’s a truly enlightening experience. I’ve been to a few paranormal events like this before. I’m certain I was the only card-carrying Skeptic at this one. I’ll be writing and talking about it in various outlets soon but I wanted to give you the quick takeaways.

These conferences are fun and rewarding for the people who attend. They feel like they are among their “kind”. In their spare time, they do paranormal investigations so their regular jobs do not compare. This is no different than a skeptical or any other hobby con. But the big difference between a skeptic event like Skepticamp or a conference is the worldview of the attendees. At a Skeptics convention, the scholarship is high, mistakes are pointed out, serious critiques are brought up in the questioning and it’s all about thinking, not feelings. For this event it was very much the opposite. It was all about suspending scientific thought, very much more spiritual (in the religious sense) than I anticipated. It did not matter what religion you subscribed to (it all sort of mashed together) but your belief will protect and heal you. References and evidence were weak, emotion was strong. Personal stories are welcomed – when were you most scared and most vulnerable? People are very profoundly altered by experiences they had and are struggling to understand them. Without critical thinking tools or framework, it appears explainable in the spiritual sense. Often, what is lacking from Skeptics is empathy towards others’ struggles to understand their frightening experiences. In fact, empathy is downright rare.

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I probably should rest my wrist but never without interesting stuff to write about


Having some typing issues these days.

Carpal tunnel syndrome. And here I am typing. Perhaps I have overworked a bit. I can’t help it.

So, I might be laying off the social media a bit. For that reason, and because I’ve gotten the sense that the general “skeptic” community (North America) is off the rails. Excepting the group of people with whom I regularly communicate, there is a DISTINCT LACK of cooperation among others. In fact, one could say it’s dysfunctional. With notable exceptions, very few people support each others’ work, even if that means a simple retweet or facebook share. Or, they are overly supportive of friends, not giving credit for merit and not appreciative of others efforts. That is a very bad place to be.

But I’d like to mention one positive note which comes from the paranormal community. Check out this post on Mysterious Universe where the Media Guide to Skepticism was mentioned in a positive light. That feels like an accomplishment to me and I’m very grateful for the chance to visit new areas and be introduced to new audiences. Maybe I can undo at least a little of the poor reputation skeptics have in the paranormal community. I appreciate those who give me a chance.

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Stop with the straw man already


I have a new Sounds Sciencey post out: Burning the Mean and Disparaging Skeptic Straw Man. It turned out to be a much bigger essay than I expected with two overarching discussions so I split it into two and will finish the next one for next month.

As my friends know, I’ve been engaging with those in the “paramiddle” and even on the paranormal side. The focus of this piece is my appearance on Binnall of America audio. It’s been great. Mostly. Lately, there have been some episodes of skeptic bashing from people I thought were reasonable and easy-going. There ARE still those people but a handful seem to revel in generalizing skeptics as the bad guys, the party poopers, and enjoy when things go wrong. I’m not one of those skeptics who berates people personally, even those I don’t like. I argue over their positions or claims or ethics. At least I try.

From the piece: Continue reading

LEAVE the ghost and UFO hunters alone! say paranormalists. Your thoughts?


I was recently a guest on a paranormal-themed podcast. To set the context, I was the FIRST skeptic on this long-running show, Binnall of America. I was so very pleased for the opportunity and, if you listen, you will see that it was respectful and fun discussion. I loved it and thought it was truly worthwhile. But not everyone did.

I’m currently looking into the relationship between “skeptics” and “paranormalists” (is there a better word?) and will be writing about it in depth in the future but I would REALLY love feedback on the episode.

It’s here.

But since 2 hours is a big commitment of time, I would also appreciate comments on this one description that accompanied the show, from The Anomalist.

How can one bridge the gap between paranormal researchers of all stripes with skeptics? By hearing out the other side. Tim Binnall has a long interview with skeptic Sharon Hill. The common ground covered here is going after homeopaths and antivaxxers who ultimately hurt people. We question the invective directed towards ghost hunters and company, comparing them to juggalos for instance, whose greatest crime is trespassing in a place regular people don’t care about. The application and advancement of science would be better spent pursuing curing cancer, developing renewable energy, and cleaning the environment than taunting sexagenarians with MUFON as their homepage. Whether you agree or not, this episode is provocative to say the least.

Just to note, Tim compared them to “juggalos”, not me. He is not a fan. Frankly, I’m not either, generally, but I find it socially fascinating and there are many who really TRY to do a good job and want to help people. But that’s not my concern. My focus is what appears to be a confused idea about applying skepticism just to “curing cancer, developing renewable energy, and cleaning the environment”. I don’t know ANYONE who is “taunting sexagenarians with MUFON as their homepage.” Straw man. And woman.

This opinion was also echoed in a twitter discussion between @whoforted and @dailygrail. So, it’s a typical sentiment – to keep skepticism/science only to the places where it apparently REALLY harms people and let the paranormalists just have fun.

I have my opinions on this but I would greatly appreciate hearing yours.