Video: Media Guide to Skepticism

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A while back, I produced with the help of many others, this guide to skepticism for beginners and for journalists and whomever else was interested.

In May of 2013, I was asked to come to L.A. to do a live presentation on the topic and a Q and A session as well for the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). The video is now online. It’s an hour and 20 minutes of me and Barbara Drescher talking and demonstrating.

It’s gotten some nice views and compliments already, so enjoy.

Are paranormalists picked on by society?

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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.]

Friday Doubt and About: Cut the crap

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I’d like to touch on a few points this week, really quickly…

It’s clear that those who continue to refer to me as dismissive and a “scoftic” are not actually paying attention but are ironically just being dismissive scoftics. That’s incredibly closed minded. You look foolish calling people “skeptards” and such. If you don’t get the value of critical thinking in life then you are in for either temporary bliss due to ignorance until it bites you in the ass or real trouble sooner rather than later. Life is short and it’s all you got. Choose wisely who you follow and goals you wish to pursue.

I will assume you are a good person with good intentions by default. Please don’t try to pull a fast one. If you wish to associate in a worthwhile way, I’m all for it. Some groups and people clearly are not. I will not “be nice” to them anymore since they are not returning the courtesy. I hold out hope that will change. But I’m not naive.

Some people and groups are courageous enough to step away from the stereotype of the ARIG and to be open to advice and constructive criticism. That is really awesome. I’m very happy to give credit to even-handed and well-intentioned research groups, websites and writers who show thoughtfulness and diligence as well as respect to others. There are a few. Just as I appreciate their efforts to engage with me, an apparent “outsider”, I appreciate their efforts to NOT be the generalized awful paranormal research group or Bigfoot trackers. I wish them all the best in their search for answers and am happy to help if I can.

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Bigfootery and the skeptic, or “Get offa my lawn!”

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I’ve attracted some attention from online Bigfoot forums and blogs lately. The up side of that is that I’ve made connections with super people like Brian Brown of The Bigfoot Show who invited me on as a guest. The show is here and I hope you give a listen because it’s important for what I have to say next. [1]

Recently, the BFRO (Bigfoot Field Research Org) Facebook group called me out as being antagonistic after posting a news story I wrote for Doubtful News. It was good information,  important to share so I thought, and said nothing about the BFRO. The moderator and maybe four or five others (out of a group of nearly 3500) expressed annoyance with my participation on the forum. They were not familiar with my writing about cryptozoology, they were not aware of who I was or what my purpose is. I got the feeling they categorized me as a “know it all” skeptic who has never had a personal experience and so it was ridiculous for me to even be there. (They questioned my credentials so I posted my bio, but less than 7 people actually viewed it according to my web stats.)

Pointing out my other work in order to help clarify my position was called “self promotion”. One of my comments was deleted and I was told to “be nice” (I was, they just didn’t like what I had to say). So, I left. There was no point in discussing anything there. It was not my goal to be argumentative but when someone directly confronts me on something, I feel compelled to reply if I feel it’s worth it. After I left the thread, a commenter noted that I was ‘trouble’, other forum admins had been warned about me. I’m labeled. Gee, that’s childish. Good to know I can’t “hang out” in Bigfoot forums anymore. I’m crushed. Oh well…

So, a couple of observations here.

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American gypsy psychics: Book review

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I was enticed to read this book, American Gypsy, by Oksana Marafioti,  after the Rose Marks trial. Marks was from an infamous Romani family who had repeatedly been charged and now found guilty of fraud due to their psychic-related business dealings.

amgypI didn’t know if this book had anything regarding the Romani [Gypsy] culture but I was interested in why Rose’s greatest fear was not being able to provide for her family and her loss of freedom in jail.

I did find some understanding here and it was a fun and enjoyable read as well.

Regarding the psychic issues: The writers mother can read coffee grounds as prophecy. She was encouraged to use this skill when money was tight and it worked. The author admits that the readings were more like psychotherapy, where people just needed to talk to feel better. Continue reading

Defending the faith of cryptozoology

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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.

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Even with good intentions, we still piss each other off

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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.