Not paying attention: An unskeptical Facebook kerfuffle

I’m frequently discouraged by how often and quickly people who value “critical thinking” send barbs towards others with the same goals using unwarranted accusations and mischaracterizations. It’s too common. A few weeks ago, I was accused on a Facebook friend’s page of only writing about “low hanging fruit” and that my website Doubtful News was limited to applying skepticism to “paranormal, conspiracies and alt med”. A rude and ignorant commenter who favors ad hominem insults says he “begged” me to cover issues that really hurt people like “computer scams, phishing”. That might be a blatant lie or it just might be an exaggeration, I can’t remember anyone contacting me about that at all. Regardless, it was absurd. As with pseudoscience, it’s hard to unpack such trumped-up claims. The writers’ goals were to support their efforts to make a feel-good social judgment upon me. They weren’t interested in facts, just emotions. The facts are this: my platform has LONG BEEN application of science and skepticism to all appropriate subject areas – the circle can certainly grow!

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Cryptid capers: The Iceman, Scooby Doo, and those meddling copyright holders

Dr. Darren Naish has a new post out on the Minnesota Iceman. It’s adapted from his book Hunting Monsters which is soon to be out in hard copy (already in electronic format). Good news! However, the cryptozoological go-hards don’t generally like the scholarly-type books which often carry a more skeptical tone. They tend to go for the anecdotal collections that have few or poor references and that promote the mystery beasts as real. So books like this one from Darren, along with Radford’s Tracking the Chupacabra, Regal’s Searching for Sasquatch and Loxton and Prothero’s Abominable Science (among others) are deliberately ignored, or trashed by a few surly self-styled cryptozoological experts (who wouldn’t even read the entire book). It makes me think that many in the field don’t want to do the work needed to actually document the cases well and fit them into the literature, or they just want to promote their preferred beliefs and the truth doesn’t matter as much. They also have a chip on their shoulder about those who do the book work, so to speak, a necessary academic exercise, as opposed to seeking a mystery creature out in the woods who wins the award for Hide and Seek Champion.

Speaking of the truth, the Iceman’s origin is cloudy. The owner, Frank Hansen did not have a version that he stuck to. Darren relates five different origin stories:Read More »

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When Bigfoot became an alien (around 1973)

Talk about a flashback! In my latest podcast interview with Jason Colavito, we are discussing the alien-Bigfoot connection (in the context of Bigfoot as Nephilim) when Jason mentions the TV series Six Million Dollar Man that featured Bigfoot as a recurring character in four episodes, and once on the Bionic Woman show from 1976 to 1977.

The Secret of Bigfoot (part 1) aired on February 1, 1976. I was 5 years old, so I likely did not watch this but I do have a strong recollection of seeing these shows and being rather frightened by the Bigfoot character – he was huge and had a look very similar to the Patterson-Gimlin film Bigfoot (“Patty”). In fact, other than the lack of breasts, this Sasquatch suit fit pretty well in comparison to Patty. The head and face are always the hardest to make authentic-looking. This TV bigfoot featured creepy eyes and appeared roaring out of the shadows, giving me a serious case of the willies. Already obsessed with monsters, I loved it anyway.Read More »

Put down the fries and vodka

baconvodkaI know some people binged on fried foods and ice cream post-election. This article today from Washington Post shows you weren’t alone. But it didn’t really make you feel better. I know I hit the brandy and vodka a bit more at the end of the day than I should have. Sleep, a walk outside, watching a good movie or show, enjoying time with family and pets, getting into some deep thinking over a book all served me better. Read More »

“the reality is that Catherine is freakish…”

I’m bored today and have no motivation to do anything so I took a peak into my “spam” catcher and the results were entertaining. These were captured in a filter even before moderation because they come from accounts who just wish to include their web addresses or keywords in as many places as possible. Often, the comment is vaguely complementary enough so most people let it through.

Here are some examples of vaguely complementary (exactly as posted):Read More »

Intellectual arrogance – Belittling with “I feel sorry for you”

I listen to about 8 different podcasts to get various perspectives, ideas and learn new things. I’m behind in my podcast queue at the moment and I try to squeeze 10-15 minutes in everywhere I can. I was listening to On the Media (OTM) while getting ready for work: Bob Garfield was interviewing Jared Taylor, a White Nationalist and founder and editor of American Renaissance. You can read the transcript here. Taylor believes that “blacks are less intelligent than whites, whites are less intelligent than East Asians, and that the races are driven, by nature, to segregate.” I hold the value of equality of all people under the law and that it benefits the US collectively to have a diverse and inclusive, peaceful society without race or class divisions and inequalities. Mr. Taylor doesn’t think so. I can’t be sure exactly how he wants America to be but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t agree.

At the end of the discussion, he says this to Garfield:

You really have a closed mind. I feel sorry for you, really. You’re unable to look around you and see the double standards, the contradictions, the facts. But I hope you’re happy in your ignorance.

Isn’t that ironic? A white male talking about double standards, contradictions and facts. There was a lot to chew on in that short interview but Mr. Taylor failed to earn any respect from me considering his segregationist and non-humanist values to which I do not subscribe. I think if you listen, you will get a similar take-away from it. Not all ideas are equally valid.Read More »

People really believe this stuff. The NY Times didn’t realize that…

I started the site Doubtful News in 2011 with the premise that science-based, skeptically-minded coverage of news stories that you shouldn’t believe on face value was sorely needed. There was good reason to doubt the news headlines and fantastic anecdotes passed off as news even then. I lamented there were not enough hours in the day.

Here we are in 2016 and the idea of “fake news” – whatever the definition of that is – is ubiquitous. The Washington Post posted yesterday:

Fake news can refer to deliberately fabricated stories, often with the purpose of making money for the creators. (Think of those Macedonian teenagers looking to strike it rich on the gullibility of American audiences reading about politics.) It can also refer to comedy or satirical news, faked for the purposes of entertainment. Both of these types of stories are often shared across social media — and are taken as true by some readers.

FAKE rubber stamp. Part of a rubber stamp series.

Back in 2011, it was clear that people really believed this stuff : Guatemala pig alien born after ufos seen in the sky, Jesus seen in a cloud, Month of birth may suggest what career a baby will have, John Travolta was a time-traveller based on an old photograph. These posts came mostly from UK tabloids but it didn’t take long for them to be spread and then get picked up in all their stinky ridiculousness, to be click bait for what people once assumed were reliable news sites, like Yahoo News, CNN and the local news channel web pages. At some point around 2010, the border between backchannel Internet forums and mainstream news became very porous and incredible tabloid fodder became “news”.

Today, I wrote this piece about Breitbart and climate change propaganda, Breitbart was a  main proponent of spiking mainstream news with stories that had a kernel of truth but were rotten in the interior. These stories were meant to destabilize the decisions between truth and fiction. People read the headlines, they shared, the pseudo news became the news. It’s not like we had no warning that society was threatened by this trend, just 9-11 conspiracies, alien disclosure, reptilian overlords, and Sandy Hook crisis actors claims.

The guest on Fresh Air recorded yesterday was The New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet. My mouth dropped open when he admitted he had no idea that “fake news” was a thing until it was too late.

When did you become aware of the fake news that’s all over the internet now and the impact that it’s having?

BAQUET: You know, not early enough, not early enough, to be honest. I bet most editors would say that. I think it was only near the end – I mean, I would get stuff myself in my email and on my Facebook feed with outlandish allegations about the Clintons and outlandish allegations about other people. I guess I thought at the time that it was just sort of part of the traffic of the internet and that – and we could ignore it and that people were ignoring it. I think – I’m not convinced that it had impact on the presidential election, by the way.

Emphasis above added by me. He was this ignorant? Was he that detached from the pulse of the internet? Apparently so. He continues:

But I think that probably I wish I had paid more attention to it earlier than I did. I bet every news organization is saying that now. We wrote about it, but I wish we had paid more attention to it. I just thought some of it was so outlandish. I mean, even the – I mean, the most outlandish one that’s come into the news in recent days that the Clintons ran a child porn ring out of a pizza shop in Washington, D.C. I guess I thought nobody would believe that. I thought that was so outlandish a claim.

GROSS: Yes, until a man walked in with an assault weapon and started shooting.

BAQUET: That’s right. And until we learn that the son of a future Cabinet member sort of was retweeting it.

Welcome to the real world.

PEOPLE REALLY BELIEVE THIS STUFF!!! 

Some days I banged my head on the wall because my website had provided evidence that a story was blatantly false three days ahead of it making mainstream news as true. DoubtfulNews.com was getting a few thousand clicks while sites spouting complete nonsense were getting millions of views. My work got little to no support, where creators of the other sites were getting thousands of dollars a month in ad revenue. Snopes.com was inundated with urban legends to debunk that they hired professional writers. Caitlyn Dewey could only keep her “What was wrong on the Internet this week” column up for about a year. There was NO excuse to have been surprised at how this phenomenon affected the what the public believed. It was not just the fringe; this stuff was discussed by everyone. There were multiple gigantic red flags no self-respecting journalists should have missed that fake news was a major problem we needed to address.

But big name media sources did nothing and rolled along as usual. We got the bamboozler-in-chief we deserved. Now America is one big reality TV drama fest. It was inevitable.

Dear NYT and WaPo: I’m available for consultation. You need assistance. It’s a whole new world out there.

Trust No One: All news is doubtful – Doubtful ~ Sharon Hill