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.
(I’m not sure what the writer meant by “serious investigation” because my goal is always to find out the best answer. I assume that the opposite of serious investigation is sham inquiry and I really don’t like that. Think Ghost Hunters and Finding Bigfoot as sham inquiry because they are TV shows masquerading as research.)
I’ve been interested in ghosts, cryptozoology and anomalous natural phenomena since I can remember. It’s fascinating stuff and should be taken seriously. People see things. They have experiences that profoundly affect them and they want to know what happened. They may interpret it one way but there may be other explanations. The questions that need to be asked are “What, if anything, happened here?” and then “What is the best possible explanation?”
The reason why I dislike the current mode of popular amateur research is that they are presuming that the experience was exactly as the witness described and then directly seek out Bigfoot/paranormal activity. Wrong. That’s feeding your beliefs, not looking for the best answer. The current, popular mode of “serious research” has procedure and goals that are off-base. With some adjustments it could be much better but it may not be as exciting. I’m not sure the investigators are willing to change.
Second: It can’t be helped that some people will think I’m hostile to Bigfootery. We won’t agree on some basic stuff. But the truth is, I know several people who seriously care about the subject and are passionate about the quest. They clearly want to do the best job they can. I respect them and encourage them for that. I enjoy talking to them about how they might make their process more scientific and sound. Several seem to be open to that. Even though we disagree on some points, we are still friendly. THAT is worthwhile. That is serious research – when you can take constructive criticism and get better at what you do.
That’s why I’m writing this post. I’m open to constructive criticism. People have said I can be dismissive and I want to make sure that they know I don’t always mean to be personally dismissive but I am also passionate about the subject with my own particular views.
If you are interested in the version of skepticism that I subscribe to (and everyone should have these skills for daily life), check out the Media Guide to Skepticism.
Also, this is a piece I wrote about how paranormal proponents want skeptics to leave them alone. And why we won’t.