A ruse by any other name still stinks

As one who runs a website about weird news, it’s been a crazy start to the year. A number of hoaxes proliferating around the media the first week of this year. They are passed on almost with the same respect as actual news. If you resolve to do anything this year, resolve to doubt the news when it sounds too outrageous or too weird to be true. Because it’s probably not.

There are too many urban legends and popular rumors going around to follow at any one time, but let’s take a quick look at some of the major hoaxes that recently created hype in the media.

Made for TV hoaxes

Not counting the Punk’d and Candid Camera-type practical joke setups that are humorous (if rather mean), several television programs aim their hoaxes at the public, making them realistic, and keeping the background a secret as the bizarre video goes viral across the web.

In July, in Whitstable, Kent, U.K, a video from a medicine shop’s closed circuit television showed a man surprised by a falling box. But before the fall, the camera captures the box defying gravity, levitating off the shelf, hanging there for a moment, then dropping.

Was this paranormal activity? (There were obvious signs that it was not.) It was such a fun video that it was passed around extensively. Finally, in December, it was revealed as a hoax for a TV show. The reveal happened on a broadcast that did not get good ratings. Most people may still assume the video was actual evidence for paranormal activity.

The case of the glowing squid-like mystery creature in Bristol harbor, also in the U.K., didn’t hang on quite as long. People in the harbor sounded amazed to see and film a bright, pulsating animal that did not look like a machine. It looked like something out of this world!

The prank was released on YouTube as part of a marketing stunt by UKTV’s entertainment channel, Watch, to launch the show “The Happenings”. I really wanted that bioluminescent beastie to be real.

Continue reading A ruse by any other name still stinks

I’m just expressing my views. All (or no) apologies.

This week I had a dispute with someone who did not like what I wrote. The week before, I overreacted to something someone else wrote on Twitter. The important part in this post is how the misunderstandings arose: assumptions about your audience. So often, it is that.

When I write at the various places I write – paranormal or skeptics sites, or for the general public – I’m very conscious of my audience. What do they already know and what is their viewpoint of the world? I have to tailor my talks too – for background, experience, age, etc. But that’s hard to get completely right because you never know if some expert or some complete newbie is in the audience and your words or actions fall short, sail overhead or explode with unintended casualties.

I got blasted by a speaker who assumed that everyone in the audience was sympathetic to her view. She assumed we all knew her background and, perhaps because we had chosen to be there, were supporters.

Never assume.

There are critics everywhere.

When you put yourself out in the public eye such as being a speaker at a conference, talking on any media, on the internet, or publicly on Facebook or Twitter, you should not be surprised that something won’t sit well with someone. For opinionated people who like to share, this happens every month. Maybe every week or every day.

As many skeptics have pointed out, disagreement with your views does not mean I don’t like you as a person, or that I’m your enemy, or that I’m a bad person, or that I’m deliberately out to get you. It’s not character assassination to express disagreement or to point out an error. I am not out to be nasty, just to express my view. Continue reading I’m just expressing my views. All (or no) apologies.

Today’s edition of being scientifical: UFO research and homeopathy

Ever on the lookout for scientifical examples, here are two that I thought were interesting.

The first relates to my interest in amateurs being scientifical. UFO researcher Budd Hopkins presented the results of a study he conducted at a conference about UFO abductees. According to Robert Sheaffer (Skeptical Inquirer V. 35 No. 3 May/June 2001 p 25-27), he was roundly taken to task. Hopkins devised an image recognition test supposedly to determine if children were being abducted. He also conducted a Roper poll to find out how many Americans believed they have been abducted. His research lacks the basic protocol of credible research. Why? Hopkins is not a scientist. Continue reading Today’s edition of being scientifical: UFO research and homeopathy

Research groups’ useful social function is not “being scientific”

The LA Times reports on the MUFON conference with the headline “convention emphasizes scientific methods”. The reporter then skewers this idea by showing how at least some of the attendees have thoroughly embraced the idea of alien visitation and human-alien hybridization. Oh my. (Read about a scientist’s experience in attending a MUFON conference here.

The reporter doesn’t have to go to the fringe to point out the sham of science here. It’s more basic than that – rooted in popular misunderstanding about what science is and what scientists do.

UFO researchers, including MUFON, were included in my study of ARIGs (amateur research and investigation groups). I looked at how they use the concept of science and being scientific in their activities. In this article, we see some common devices come up: they emphasize the “precision of a scientist” and the use of devices; they document reports, they are “professional”. All that is fine but certain critical components of being scientific are missing. Continue reading Research groups’ useful social function is not “being scientific”