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Visiting the Fringe

“Hello, Ms. Hill,” said the man at the registration desk before I had a chance to give my name. “We’re glad to have you here.”

So much for flying under the radar. I’m the skeptical one at the Fringe New Jersey one-day conference. I’m used to this, though, having gone to several paranormal-themed events. Why do I attend? As I said in this review of an academic parapsychological conference, I came to learn and explore evidence and ideas from new points of view. It’s always interesting. Listening to those who don’t think the same way you do is the key to understanding the bigger broad view regarding why we believe and why it matters. I don’t have to talk, just be part of the audience eager to hear what the invited speakers have to say.

audienceThere were five presenters this day. Each got to speak for an hour which is rather nice. They all had long, complex stories to tell, so the extended time accommodated this. Each story had a tone and purpose, contained information put forward as supporting evidence, and had a conclusion. Stories with arcs like these are not typical of scientific conferences or even skeptical conferences. For those, the audience is walked through information about a specific concept or hears a proposal with an argument, supporting evidence, and findings in an objective, usually detached, tone. The emotive story is clearly more appealing to a general audience. But, it can be trying to those listening who find your story to be a bunch of BS. I disagreed with many of the fringe ideas presented but I still learned a great deal and was entertained.

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What I’m watching: Speculative Zoology

I’m sad I can’t be at TetZooCon 2016 in London this weekend.

Best wishes, Darren and John, from your fans in the U.S.

Here is Dr. Darren Naish’s 2014 TetZooCon lecture on Speculative Zoology.

Speculative zoology discussion overlaps MAJORLY with cryptozoology but takes into account evolutionary factors (pushed beyond modern observations). It’s a fun topic.

I prefer my cryptozoology from experts with PhDs rather than blow-hard Bigfoot hunters, thankyouverymuch…

Where’s Wessie? Snake story is confusing and growing cold

It’s now September and there is still no conclusion to the Wessie mystery which surfaced in late June. Is there a giant snake on the loose in Westbrook, Maine?

In my last post, I discussed the evidence advanced so far and the problems with it – eyewitness reports from locals and from two police officers, though the latter was at 3:30 AM. I recently found a reference to the first sighting which is a bit too much to swallow:

…a woman filed a report with the Westbrook police department claiming to have seen a snake as large as a truck, with a head the size of a basketball.

Head the size of a basketball? Only in the movies.

That’s not what the police saw nor does it correspond with the physical evidence discovered – a shed skin from an obviously huge snake (but “truck size?”), just laying there in the open near the Presumpscot River, found by a local on August 20. This was not Titanoboa. Yet, Wessie-mania went into maximum overdrive.Read More »

Cryptozoology “expert” called in to look for Maine serpent (UPDATED: Snakeskin found)

Back in June, locals of Westbrook, Maine said they saw a large snake slithering around. After no sign of the beast a week later, a Westbrook police officer witnessed it eating something near Riverbank Park on the Presumpscot River. A second officer called in also saw it. From their Facebook page:

On 6-29-16 at about 0330 hours an Officer on patrol in the area of Riverbank Park observed a large snake on the riverbank in the area of Speirs Street. The snake was eating a large mammal, possibly a beaver (not joking). A second officer arrived and they both watched it swim across the river to the Brown Street side of the Presumpscot River where it disappeared in the thick underbrush. They estimated its length to be at least 10 feet. WPD contacted the Maine Warden Service and they expect that the snake will remain dormant for a few days because it just ate a substantial meal. The snake has been dubbed “Wessie” or the “Presumpscot Python” by locals. We ask the public to be mindful of the snake’s presence in the area and immediately report any sightings so we can remove the animal from the river.

No northern US snake gets that big. Snakes that size are native to tropical areas. The news of a possible escaped Burmese python set the town abuzz. This article noted that local businesses hoped it would be a draw, a clear case of crypto-tourism. After a week with no additional sightings confirmed, the Mayor said she called in an “expert” but declined to elaborate. Many local people were already looking for it. The article mentioned that “a local cryptozoologist and herpetologist group” had volunteered to help.

Burmese Python by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble/Creative Commons
Burmese Python by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble/Creative Commons
Today, an updated article says that the unnamed expert was a cryptozoologist but he has yet to investigate. Hmm…Read More »

Animal Planet’s Monster Week tones down the hype for 2016

jump_the_sharkIt’s business as usual at Animal Planet channel. It’s Monster Week. You know, it’s not that bad to air shows like The Cannibal in the Jungle for one week or on occasion. But AnPlan has gone too far in the past several years by suggesting that mermaids, Megalodon and cryptids exist by co-opting bad or outright FAKE science to make people think there is more support for these claims than there really are.

Animal Planet and Discovery channel (both of Discovery Network) often share shows so you may have seen a variety of strange offerings on both. (A complete list of paranormal programming in English, go to my list here.) For AnPlan in particular, fiction began to overtake nature programming in 1997 with the show Animal X about mystery cryptids. Then, they got into the Pet Psychic shows from 2002-2004 and again in 2010. But seriously, pet psychic shows are not even interesting and are kind of ridiculous even to the average person who believes in psychic abilities. River Monsters began in 2009 and is still going. It’s not exactly an unnatural program but occasionally does hype up the drama and lead viewers to misleading ideas. This hinted at what was to come – actual cryptid hunting.

Finding Bigfoot was a ratings success at AnPlan starting in 2011, becoming its top rated series (for a time – I think River Monsters may now hold that spot). Then, in 2012, the shit really began to hit the TV screen. Mermaids: A Body Found was a fictional show that was made to look like an actual documentary. The two-hour special used fake footage, CGI, fake “underwater sound recordings”, and had actors portray scientists to discuss the thoroughly dismissed “aquatic ape theory”. There was an immediate response. People who expect to see science on AnPlan thought this was science! There were some who actually believed mermaids were real and the government was hiding the truth! The NOAA had to issue a public statement to assure the nation that, no, mermaids were NOT real. The network had gone off the deep end but took the position that ratings were more important than information about real animals. After the raging success of Mermaids for Monster Week 2012, a sequel came in 2013 with even more misleading content and fake scientists. Also included in the 2013 Monster Week were programs that sounded like Roger Corman movies: Man-eating Squid, Invasion of the Swamp Monsters, and Invasion of the Mutant Pigs. Discovery Channel meanwhile was basking in the glow of confusing the public again with a fake documentary on an extinct giant shark that they wanted you to think was still around. Cue fake footage and doctored photos. This was the end of association with the network by many scientists who had had enough.mermaids-e1368894096230

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Well-worn paranormal paths go nowhere: When to give up

Gary Campbell is the keeper of the Official Sightings Register at Loch Ness. In an article today in the Daily Record, he says that even after 20 years of this project, sightings still continue.

Gary Campbell, keeper of the register, said the fascination of Nessie was showing no signs of abating.

He accepted five sightings for 2015 – the most in 13 years.

Hoaxes and those that can be explained are not logged. The mystery, he says, remains unsolved. It appears that any reported sighting that can’t be easily explained is logged as evidence of a bigger “mystery” and the “mystery” is subsequently turned into a singular mystery “creature”. Through mass media magic, an unknown phenomenon (or multiple phenomena) morphed into a plesiosaur-like monster living in the loch. Living plesiosaurs in Loch Ness is an absurd and unscientific conjecture. However, that the Loch has some strange surface phenomena is not in doubt. But, Campbell connects the phenomena reported at the Loch not only with Nessie, a real creature, but with a long historical record (since the story of Saint Columba).

“It’s 1450 years now since the first report of a monster in Loch Ness – it doesn’t look like Nessie’s going anywhere just yet.”

This is bogus reasoning. The Nessie mystery is long-solved. It’s not one neat and clean explanation but there is no monster.  He’s right in that she’s not going anywhere because tourism is too big of a hook for this area. Even though this would have to be an animal that does not breath air, doesn’t die, doesn’t have babies, and can live on sparse food supplies and avoid detection during thorough scans of the water body, it’s still “real” to some who can’t let go of that cherished belief. There’s nothing very harmful about myths and local legends but what about those for which this has become the basis for their life’s work?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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