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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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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“True Jersey” NJ.com published a stinker of a story on the Jersey Devil

They might want to reconsider this tagline.
They might want to reconsider this tagline.

A paranormal investigator who writes a column called Paranormal Corner for NJ.com broke a story this weekend that was both a coup for web hits and an utter disaster for her credibility.

Kelly Roncace received an email with a photo of what the sender said was the Jersey Devil. The JD is one of the most iconic American legends dating back to colonial times. The story in a nutshell is that a woman gave birth to a cursed baby who turned into a monster unlike any biological creature. It supposedly haunts the Pine Barren woodlands of New Jersey to this day. Great myth! For many and various reason, it’s clearly a MYTH and not factual.

Roncace set up the story by relating the legend and noting that many people still claim to see it.

“For more than 200 years, people living in or passing through New Jersey’s Pinelands have reported seeing a strange, winged creature that has come to be known as the Jersey Devil.

There are tons of stories about the monster, and thousands of witnesses who claim they have encountered it.

Late Tuesday night, I received an email from a reader who recently became one of those witnesses.”

What did she do next? She had to verify his sincerity:

Before I could write about his experience and print the photo, I had to be sure he was sincere.

“Yes, I swear it’s not Photoshopped or a staged thing,” Black responded when I asked if he was willing to let me use his name and state that the photo he sent was not manipulated in any way. “People have said it’s fake, but it’s not. I’m honestly just looking for an explanation for what I saw.”

Why not be sure he was not pulling your leg?

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True Monsters show basically true to useless formula with one small exception

Krampus_historychannelTrue Monsters debuted on History Channel on Friday night. The show was promoted to be a somewhat different take on “monsters” (cryptids, legends and myths).

“True Monsters sorts the fiction from the often-muddled facts about the most terrifying monsters, awe-inspiring myths, and timeless legends in history. From monstrous creatures to wrathful gods, this series tells the incredible stories that reveal the surprising truths.”

I hadn’t read much about it beforehand, but I did know that historian Dr. Brian Regal was to be interviewed for at least one episode. So, I was hopeful that expert commentary would be the strength of the program to provide us new info about the deeper meanings and alternative explanations for the often overly-simplified and highly-fictionalized pop culture monsters and myths.

The press release for the show called it “provocative”. This was their setup:

“Through a blend of cinematic re-creations and engaging storytelling, ‘True Monsters’ reveals more about our monsters — and about us — than ever before. Touching on traditional myths from countries like Greece and Norway, the series broadens out to include monsters and characters from all kinds of sources, including the Bible and modern day urban legends. ‘True Monsters’ will entertain while also explaining what led humans to create and fear such creatures and stories in the first place.”

A very promising premise but very difficult to do in a hour program on one topic. Unfortunately, they packed several somewhat questionably related topics into the episode thus short-changing them all. I didn’t learn anything new but this show wasn’t made FOR an audience made up of people like me.

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If you think Bigfoot is an interdimensional being, you’ve lost your footing

A person making an extraordinary claim may feel very special. A couple that I met recently who do paranormal research described some acquaintances’ behavior during an investigation of a supposedly haunted place : a woman “swooned” as the spirit overcame her. It was all very dramatic, they said. I’ve seen similar when one ghost hunter of a group claims sighting of a full-body apparition. The rest of the group pays rapt attention to the experiencer, openly wishing they had the encounter as described.

I recently gave a talk at a local paranormal-themed event about science and the paranormal, part of which was a description of “supernatural creep”. This week, I was reminded how powerful the pull of the supernatural is to some and that they will slide towards ever more sensational and dramatic interpretations.

Pursuit of paranormal investigation can be a path to personal empowerment. It becomes serious leisure – part of the definition of self. Some curious people that I thought were grounded have left the ground, metaphorically speaking. Paranormal people I thought were worthy collaborators turned out to be jokers and self-promoters, first and foremost. They’ve either lost contact with reality via small steps, or they have deliberately pursued sensationalist fantasy for some reason or another. (I can’t really say why, don’t know.)

Supernatural creep happens when an investigator takes eyewitness stories at face value, including supernatural qualities of the encounter, and incorporates these features into the description of the phenomenon. Such features include invoking spirits, demons, angels, miracles, or physical implausibilities such as time- or inter-dimensional travel, psychic communication, or other behaviors that do not align with the laws of nature. Read More »