I’ll be posting here more often now…

I’ve closed up the Doubtful News shop. I received several comments from people who were sad to see it go. I still strongly hold there is a HUGE need for the skeptical POV for these mainstream stories. It’s expected and it’s looked for by many. Sadly, there aren’t that many options these days. See this post on my suggestions for larger-scale investment by skeptical organizations; it can’t just be one or two people going nuts trying to address viral misrepresented news in between work that pays and sleep.

I say Doubtful News was a great success. I learned so much, I made so many mistakes. I was never officially sued, though I got a few threats. No biggie. If you don’t get threats, you’re not making an impact. I think the DN site with almost 8000 posts is ripe to mine for some research project. I hope to do a book eventually.Read More »

The Bigfoot Book: Speculation and supernatural but no skepticism

bfbookNick Redfern’s latest, The Bigfoot Book, has a sound premise and great potential. It’s all about stuff you may never have heard about or saw relating to the Bigfoot phenomena. This is a collection of small articles on topics related to the Bigfoot phenomenon – an “encyclopedia” (though not comprehensive by any means) written in an easy reading style. The sometimes arbitrary titles – such as “Exeter Watchman Publishes First Newspaper Article on Bigfoot” to describe what appears to be the first account of a Bigfoot-like creature in print in the US – are too often not helpfully descriptive. And entries are arranged in annoying alphabetical order making this a book you need to read cover to cover or you will miss the interesting stories buried in it. The collection includes articles on movies, books, scientific reports and documents, historical references, press releases, and more from all over the world. The entries include many from the UK courtesy of Jon Downes and the CFZ. US readers will find many new things in here and summaries of subjects that have not been previously discussed in book form such as Melba Ketchum’s DNA study results and recently released movies like Willow Creek.

It falls short, however, because of a fatal flaw. Serious researchers of cryptozoology will be disappointed as the sources for the content draw heavily from unreliable Internet sites or are copied quotes from other sources.

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Book review: Margery and Houdini story reveals gaps, not answers

the-witch-of-lime-street-book-coverA review of The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher

This is a story of Spiritualism in America in the early 1920s. The darling of the psychic scene was Margery (a faux name) intended to hide the identity of Mina Stinson Crandon, a young, outgoing wife of surgeon Dr. Le Roi Crandon, called “Roy” in the book. The title is a reach that comes from Margery’s claim that she would have been called a witch 150 years ago. Instead, they sent scientific committees to examine her.

Witch has a few things going for it:

  • Good research sources directly from the time period that reveal how popular this phenomenon was.
  • A number of positive blurbs to promote it.
  • Several impressive insights into the characters and institutions of the time.
  • A snazzy glow-in-the-dark cover that represents the glowing paint used on mediums to judge whether they were moving their extremities.

But I was not too impressed overall and would only give a rank of 2.5 out of 5. Read More »

Yeah, he was a great singer but…

I loved Prince. Not everything he did, but a lot. And even if I didn’t get it, I appreciated that someone else loved it. He was a musical genius. With genius comes fringe ideas. He had some irrational views that have surfaced I don’t agree with that may be considered harmful, such as his endorsement of views about the poisoning of African American communities by chemtrails, manganese and whatever was put in malt liquor. He was a Jehovah’s Witness and was apparently against gay marriage. I don’t really know how fervently he believed in these things. I don’t seek expert advice from actors, singers or reality-show celebrities, so what he said about these subjects never crossed my mind.

But I see people struggling with this. I do too.

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Paranormal investigators and Velikovsky sound similarly sciencey

worlds in collisionIn January 2013, I wrote about Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, and pseudoscience, referencing Michael Gordin’s excellent book The Pseudoscience Wars (2012). Well, I’m writing about it again, to be included in a book about amateur investigation groups “sounding sciencey” and fooling the public. I went back to some of my old sources and found a good one. It’s nice to know that even though you forgot you ever thought about this thing before, you actually wrote it down, and now realize you were on the right track.

 

A fascinating discussion by R.G.A. Dolby (1975) provides a case study about a popular idea that was nearly universally rejected by orthodox scientists, sold directly to the public by a non-expert, and even involved religious connections. It is a classic case of what we call pseudoscience.

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Dreaming of DNA: Review of Sykes’ Bigfoot, Yeti and the last Neanderthal

bigfoot sykesOriginally published in the UK as The Nature of the Beast, Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes’ Bigfoot, Yeti and the Last Neanderthal: A geneticist’s search for modern apemen is highly enjoyable and reveals a bunch of interesting tidbits as well as showing us some rather personal insights and new facts from the professor who attempted to bring credibility to the study of hairy hominids.

First, I’d say, all Bigfoot enthusiasts should read this book. I’m fairly certain the title was changed for the US distribution to add the word “Bigfoot” in order to appeal to the Finding Bigfoot-crazy Americans. Sykes viewpoint as a scientist and as a Yeti/Bigfoot cultural “newbie” is unique and provides an insightful look into the wacky world of Bigfootery. While that sort of makes the book charming, it also makes it problematic. Dr. Sykes apparently didn’t know the first thing about the subculture of the North American hairy man and he got taken for an exciting ride a few times. He got pulled into the belief, admittedly losing scientific objectivity at times.  To those of us who already knew the sordid history of Bigfoot seekers – Melba Ketchum, Derek Randles, and Justin Smeja or the collection of those who say they have a special relationship with the creature or believe it is a spiritual or supernatural being –  this book could, at times, be wince-inducing.

“…when I have found myself in the company of cryptozoologists, their sincerity and absolute belief in the existence of their quarry begins to rub off.”  – Dr. Bryan Sykes

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Practical skepticism on “experience makes it real for me”

It takes me quite a bit of time to write a long post. First, I have to think about it, then I have to figure out what I want to say and then say it and then make sure I’ve said it so people can understand. Commenters, on the other hand, react and write their opinions often in a slapdash manner. They expect me to post them even if they make no sense. I often don’t. That’s my choice, to frame the discussion a certain way. I get that you don’t agree. The Internet has made it appear that everyone has an equal voice in every matter. That’s untrue. I’ve done considerable and careful research on most of the things I write about. But to some, their own personal experience trumps all that. Nope. And here’s why.

A VERY common comment I get when I criticize claims of the paranormal is this one: You’ve obviously NEVER experienced this. If you did, you’d change your mind.

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