No, you are not the new Jane Goodall: My Twitter exchange with Melba Ketchum

Put Bigfoot in your garden Credit:Designtoscano.com
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I had a discussion with Melba Ketchum today on Twitter regarding her continued claims that Bigfoot will be proven true.  Some of it spilled over to Facebook – her favorite communication outlet. I was surprised she responded and it went on for quite a while. For those of you who missed it, good for you. But here it is mostly in its entirety (a few other tweets weren’t worth adding); see what you can glean from this.

For background, note that my site, Doubtful News, has been critical of Melba’s work with good cause (melba ketchum | Doubtful News). I also wrote a chronicle of the history of her project for Skeptical Briefs (which you can see here The Ketchum Project: What to Believe about Bigfoot DNA ‘Science’ – CSI) and in Skeptical Inquirer. I’m not some lone skeptic picking at her claims. She has the entire scientific community against her. She revels in being the maverick, persecuted, pulls the Galileo gambit. I find it distasteful.

This is the first time she responded to me in public. She should totally stop doing that.

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

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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

Bigfoot study getting skeptical attention

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My Bigfoot pieces on Doubtful News have been getting some attention. That makes me think that a (balanced) skeptical view is welcome on this topic. For one, it just SCREAMS “skepticism needed,” with even the Bigfoot researchers disgusted at the quality of Bigfoot evidence coming out and the seemingly daily parade of hoaxes.

Ketchum Bigfoot DNA paper released: Problems with questionable publication (Updated) | Doubtful News.

The up to date news is that the Melba Ketchum study is looking worse every day. The promised high-definition video from the associated Erickson project has yet to appear except for the short clip of what looks like (just saying) a carpet breathing a bit TOO deliberately. And perhaps the face looks a little too like Chewbacca? Hmm.

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Ketchum’s Galileo Gambit

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One of my essential reading blogs, Respectful Insolence, has resurrected an older post on The Galileo Gambit. It was timely. It was in reference mainly to the day to day parade of quackery that passes by in the media. Orac coined the term “Galileo gambit” to describe a very common ploy used by quacks – they compare their persecution and non-acceptance to that of Galileo.

At least, I think I was the first to coin this term. I haven’t been able to find a reference to the “Galileo Gambit” dating before I wrote the original version of this post way back in 2005.”

Immediately, I thought of Dr. Melba Ketchum who recently pulled the Galileo Gambit when she announced the publication of her Sasquatch DNA paper.

We encountered the worst scientific bias in the peer review process in recent history.  I am calling it the “Galileo Effect”.  Several journals wouldn’t even read our manuscript when we sent them a pre-submission inquiry.  Another one leaked our peer reviews.  We were even mocked by one reviewer in his peer review.

Sorry, a lame excuse. It’s special pleading for why she had such trouble with her paper.

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The ‘You Decide’ gambit – new Sounds Sciencey piece

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This was always a pet peeve of mine – a show or commercial presented a very biased or incomplete case and told viewers, “You decide”. It sounded so democratic and fair. They were just providing information. But the SMART COMPETENT viewer would be able to use common sense to come to the right conclusion.

Except it doesn’t work that way. Nearly everyone telling you a story is trying to help you see things their way. It’s skewed. No matter how strongly they assert “I’m not trying to make you a believer” they will add “But THIS happened to me.” Left unsaid is, “and if you don’t buy it, you think I’m either a liar or you are an idiot.”

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Scientist states he has explanation(s) for sky noise but it only sounds sciencey

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I’ve been closely following the story of strange noises from the sky that flared up in January. I wrote about them on Doubtful News.

The noises are widespread, varied in type, sometimes able to be explained and sometimes known to be hoaxed. But, because this spate of anomalies (a Fortean Flap, if you will) is in the so-called apocalyptic year 2012, the phenomena has attracted the acute attention of conspiracy theorists, End Times believers, and people just concerned that something weird is happening with the planet.

“I don’t care if anybody gets it. I’m going as the Doppler Effect.”

Though the sky noises phenomena is fading away – the receiving frequency of these claims are lowering like the Doppler effect – reports are still trickling in.

Followers of sky sounds were excited by the news that an actual scientist who sounded like he knew what he was talking about described the causes of strange sounds.

Reposted all over the web as being from an “acclaimed”, “credentialed” and “renowned” professor, unfortunately, this article immediately raised a slew of red flags with me and others who are sensitive to what real science looks like and how not so established ideas try to dress themselves up in sciencey getups. A cursory look revealed that this piece has hallmarks of pseudoscience and creates far more confusion than clarity.

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New cryptozoology: less credulous, more scientific

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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.

From left: S. Hill, B. Smith, B. Radford, D. Prothero, J. Nickell, M. Crowley, K. Stollznow, D. Loxton

Photo by M. Crowley

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On the shoulders of giants: Using references

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Science as knowledge is cumulative. It is built upon that which was discovered by those that came before. The profession of science relies on getting (and giving) credit where it’s due and demonstrating you know what the heck you are talking about (1).

Good nonfiction books (not just science books) have references to show that the authors have based their writings on the foundation of what others have established and they acknowledge those authors for their work.

I use a list of references in a book or paper to judge the quality of the research. A nice comprehensive list not only shows that the author was diligent about citing sources for their info (i.e., was a careful researcher), but also tells me that he/she has made an effort to become familiar with the literature that’s already out there. This process is called literature review and it’s a primary step in doing scientific research. It sort of makes you “well versed” which you ought to attempt to be before writing a book of your own. Continue reading