There are some writers for which you know pretty much exactly what you are going to get. Donald R. Prothero is one of those writers. I expect a well-researched, comprehensive treatment of the topic with a flavor of emotion here and there. That’s what I got with Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten our Future, 2013, Indiana Univ Press.
The core of the book is summed up in the John Burroughs quote given on page 1:
To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, but to imagine your facts is another.
Once you observe the methods of creationists as the classic example of science denialists, you can recognize the same tactics in those that reject climate change. I have also noted the same tricks in environmentalists or those holding contrarian views about vaccines, the paranormal, and various consumer products.
The premise of Reality Check is that when “a well-entrenched belief system comes in conflict with scientific or historic reality” the believers in this system will actively discount, ignore or distort the facts that go against it. They may stop at nothing to defend their belief – they will lie, hide evidence, manufacture evidence, pay people off, bully, harass, discredit, and even threaten the scientists who are supporting the “inconvenient” conclusion.
The book highlights denialism rampant in the fields of environmentalism, global warming, evolution education, vaccine information, AIDS treatment policy, medical claims, energy policy and population size and growth. Each chapter exposes the hidden agendas of those who reject the scientific consensus and provides the reader with the solid, established evidence.
One of the most important aspects of a sound a scientific explanation is how well supported it is. Specifically, we’d prefer to see an array of multiple lines of independently derived evidence that points towards common conclusion. This gives us a theory with predictive power – evolution, plate tectonics are two classic examples in science and now global warming also has converging results from different fields of study. All solid scientific theories have a strong network of these lines of information. It is not just one person’s idea or one or two study results. Sound explanations are multi-directionally supported.
I am pleased to say that a recent special aired on British television regarding the Yeti did a fine job of using this concept of multiple lines of evidence to support a conclusion. The following has some spoilers although many of you already know – the legendary Yeti has biological origins from bears.
You should have seen me smiling when the show began with EXACTLY the right tone: Dr. Bryan Sykes, geneticist who is heading the DNA analysis portion of the project through Oxford University, is not looking for evidence for the Yeti. He is looking for ANSWERS.
My main beef with amateur researchers looking for Bigfoot, ghosts or UFOs is that they fail to understand the critical importance of the research question. They start off on the wrong foot – by looking for proof of what they want so desperately to be true. That first misstep hopelessly biases any investigation from the start. The question must be “What, if anything, is happening here?” See the difference? By changing the question, the narrow scope has now opened to include the best answer and helps prevent the potential for sham inquiry, which is how I characterize Melba Ketchum’s DNA project.
Host Mike Evans, a vet and a biologist, declares: “Bigfoot believers claim they have evidence to support its existence. The problem is, none of it has ever been properly substantiated.”
Finally! A documentary about a cryptid that focuses on the core problem with the field. Anecdotes by the thousands mean little when they are not supported with something more reliable. This show lays out a careful and refreshingly new path to reach answers about a mystery animal.
I’ll run down some of the bits from it. The show is in three parts, only the first part has aired as of this posting. It covers the Yeti in the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet. Further episodes will examine the Sasquatch in North America and the Almasty in Russia.
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.
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. 
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.
Last Doubt and About was the end of August. Things ramped back up in September as I returned to Virtual Skeptics and got some book reviews and other writing out there. Book Reviews were for American Gypsy and In the Name of God (soon to be released). More book reviews are on the way.
People just send me books to review. I love that. But I don’t have unlimited time so I like to stick with subject areas I really like. ALL cryptozoology books are welcome. Drop me a line and I will send you a mailing address.
A new piece I did for my column Sounds Sciencey was fun thanks to the help I got from a wide network of friends. Check it out here: Ghost Meters: I Can Name that Ghost in 5 Milligauss. I didn’t give a glowing review to EMF meters or ANY equipment to detect ghosts. My recommendation is for ghost hunters to change their procedures: Read the rest of this entry
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.
I 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. Read the rest of this entry
Christian Science-based faith healing communities in U.S. today are failures of their own self-destructive ideas. At least that’s the conclusion you can’t help but make when a group sacrifices their own children to be “pious” and respected. I found this disturbing tale laid out in In the Name of God:The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide by Cameron Stauth . I recommend this book for anyone even remotely curious about faith healing in the U.S. and about the practices of Christian science churches. It’s important to recognize the stories behind the news of children who die from medical neglect.
I don’t recall how the author or publisher decided to send me a review copy of this book. I suspect it was because on Doubtful News I cover the charges, trials and sentencing of parents who practice withholding health care. I didn’t understand. I could not wrap my head around it. How can you be in the 21st century and eschew the standard of care for sick kids? This book helped me understand that these are people who think that religious freedom trumps all else, even their child’s right to live.
While examining stories for Doubtful News, I noticed a wave of faith healing deaths or near deaths coming out of Oregon City, OR from a religious community known as The Followers. The Followers of Christ had their roots in the teachings of the Christian Science church founded by Mary Baker Eddy. Mary grew rich and famous by teaching others how to heal without officially practicing medicine. This method had no overhead. But it had consequences. Many people recovered normally or had illnesses that make life difficult but not end it. If they died, it was “God’s Will”. And, it is their choice, thanks to religious freedom, to allow their child or themselves to die. God takes all of the credit, none of the blame. The Followers of Christ turned out to be one of the most lethal churches in America basing their teachings on literal interpretation of the Bible, medical avoidance, shunning, and fear of Hell. There is also the Faith Tabernacle church who has seen a pattern of dead children. Even repeat offenders. (Schaible case) Read the rest of this entry
This is an interesting article that rings true. Activism leads to negative stereotypes. You know the ones. Environmentalists are liberal tree-hugging hippies. Feminists are braless man-haters. Skeptics are curmudgeonly know-it alls. We have to change this. I consider myself an environmentalist, a feminist and a skeptic and I do not fit those stereotypes at all.
Researchers who looked at the studies regarding perception of activists say this:
“Unfortunately,” they write, “the very nature of activism leads to negative stereotyping. By aggressively promoting change and advocating unconventional practices, activists become associated with hostile militancy and unconventionality or eccentricity.”
“Furthermore, this tendency to associate activists with negative stereotypes and perceive them as people with whom it would be unpleasant to affiliate reduces individuals’ motivation to adopt the pro-change behaviors that activists advocate.”
So the message to advocates is clear: Avoid rhetoric or actions that reinforce the stereotype of the angry activist. Realize that if people find you off-putting, they’re not going to listen to your message. As Bashir and her colleagues note, potential converts to your cause “may be more receptive to advocates who defy stereotypes by coming across as pleasant and approachable.”
Speculating can be fun. But it’s nicer when you aren’t making stuff up out of thin air based on wishful thinking. Scientific underpinning is comforting. That’s why I liked Shadows of Existence: Discoveries and Speculations in Zoology by Matt Bille.
This book was published in 2006 so it’s slightly out of date but the majority of info is still worthwhile for the cryptozoological-minded and it’s far better written than the majority of crypto books out there. It’s sound. It’s solid.
Bille is knowledgeable. This effort took substantial research and it shows. He is also realistic, takes evidence into account and, yet, is hopeful that new, amazing discoveries are out there. This is my philosophy as well. Therefore, I approve of his tone throughout.
The book is a series of short essays organized into four sections: New creatures, In the Shadow of Extinction, Classic Mystery Animals, and Miscellanea. There is so much good information treated in an even-handed and fair manner. Read the rest of this entry
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.
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.