Category Archives: Sham Inquiry
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. Read the rest of this entry
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.
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.
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.
I finished my thesis last year on amateur paranormal investigation groups. Many of you have requested copies. It can be purchased but not many would want to spend the money for that so I’m giving it away via PDF.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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. Read the rest of this entry
About half of all amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs – those self-forming groups that do ghost hunting, Bigfoot searches, cataloging of UFO sightings, and other paranormalia) on the Internet say they use scientific methods and equipment and/or their field is based in science. 
As one who actually did scientific work in a lab (geochemistry) and geologic investigations, I had a hard time with their claims about scientificity. To be scientific, in a strict sense, there is no substitute for academic training. Long ago, we exhausted all the relatively simple ways of learning about the world and science rocketed out of the reach of amateurs. Now, like it or not, science takes a big effort – careful planning, funding, collaboration and eventual publication so that results can be critically evaluated by the community. In Western society, science is a privileged method of inquiry. The public generally understands that the methods of science are rigorous and the results are authoritative. So, to say that one is “scientific” is to set a very high bar. I could not help but wonder just how close to the bar these ARIG participants could get. So, I looked at their websites and read their publications. Read the rest of this entry
A few behaviors really irk me: acting like an authority to the public when you don’t deserve to be authoritative and making shit up to give a good story. The scientist in me would like experience, credentials and an exhibition of expertise. I also need evidence for wild claims. Because, well, you know… I doubt it.
One group in particular is very fond of putting these behaviors together – self-styled Bigfoot researchers.
I’m fed up with Bigfoot proponents pulling “facts” out of thin air and telling me what Bigfoot likes and doesn’t like, where he sleeps at night, how he avoids detection, how he communicates. They tell the public that wood knocking and nighttime howls are from Bigfoot. They find locations where one passed through or slept. They even apparently know about their “culture”. How can you, Bigfoot researcher, justify these fantastic claims? I’d like to know.