real science not this

Sciencey: People get it

In the course of writing, there are times when you have to either create a new word because there isn’t just the right one coined yet or you adopt a word, use it three times, and make it your own.

My research and writing for the public has often been about how activities, advertisements, and ideas might sound a lot like science, using science-sounding terms, but are not in the mode of science at all. They are false science, dressed up as science, pretending to be or imitating science. I call it “sciencey” stuff because it appears to pertain to science. This word existed but I made it my own, applying it to this construction.

You can read articles on this theme from my column for Center of Inquiry online called “Sounds Sciencey” for many and various examples.


Just because you are “sciencey” does not mean you are “scientific”. I use the word “scientifical” to describe the activities of those who deliberately pretend to act like scientists. This does a fine job of fooling the public from product advertisements to non-traditional cures and treatments and even on television where people hunt for ghosts, Bigfoot and UFOs. Keep using that word, I would love to see that get into the mainstream as well.

I hold that the reason the public is so easy to fool with sciencey and scientifical ploys is that, at least the American public, is not well-versed in what science is and how it works. We don’t have good science education in school and science as a career or even an interest is not encouraged. So, we will end up with what Carl Sagan said:

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.
~Carl Sagan

That’s a very bad thing not just because we can’t fix our own gadgets these days, but because we risk being snookered by a sciencey put-on without scientific merit.

I contributed a small part to the marvelous book Abominable Science by Loxton and Prothero. Daniel Loxton was thoughtful to send along a copy of a recent review of the book done by Robert Bishop for Christianity Today magazine’s Books & Culture site. The review was titled “Scientific or Sciencey? Yeti, Nessie, et al.”  Apparently, the “sciencey” aspect of cryptozoology is resonating. He writes:

One possibility for why belief in cryptids is so high in America is that few Americans—even the highly educated—actually understand much about the processes and principles of scientific inquiry. Cryptozoology superficially appears to be scientific, and a number of people mistake it for scientific activity. It sounds and looks “sciencey,” to use Sharon Hill’s lovely term, but that’s it. Cryptozoologists typically don’t begin with a theory to generate a viable hypothesis, deduce consequences from that hypothesis (predictions), test those consequences, analyze the data, check for errors, critically sift assumptions, and so forth. Rather, they begin with a bias (belief in the existence of a mystery creature such as Bigfoot) and then hunt for evidence to substantiate their belief. This leads cryptozoologists to force what they find to fit into their pre-established expectations. Moreover, they accept any evidence that remotely supports their belief no matter how weak or questionable, and discount any contrary evidence no matter how strong.

YES! He gets it.

It’s my hope that what I share publicly (outside my everyday job) makes some sort of impact. That’s a goal, but a difficult one to measure. It feels so good to have those few moments where you see something you do gets understood, appreciated and passed along to other audiences. A Christian magazine? Who would have thought? But it’s great. There have been other occasions, too, where people are clearly “getting it” – a topic is not science but sciencey. It really is important to distinguish between the two.

are you scienceyLater this month I’ll be giving a talk at the Albatwitch festival to a crowd that, probably even more so than the general public, is inclined to believe in the paranormal. My goal for this is to not be the grumpy debunker but to explain how science has previously looked at the paranormal and why it was rejected. Then, I intend to show how these lessons can be useful for today’s paranormal investigator. In other words, don’t pretend to be a scientist, don’t be sciencey or act scientifical. Do solid work instead.

If they get it, like Bishop got it in his review, that’s a huge win for me.

I’ll let you know how it goes.



Hill, 2010. “Being Scientifical: Popularity, Purpose and Promotion of Amateur Research and Investigation Groups in the U.S.”

Hill, 2012. “Amateur Paranormal Research and Investigation Groups Doing ‘Sciencey’ Things”, Skeptical Inquirer 36:2 March/April 2012.

“Scientific or Sciencey? Yeti, Nessie, et al.” sciencey.html [Full text here, please do not distribute.]


Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 1: The Illusion of Facticity in Unknown Animal Reports

What can we make of folklore tales that cryptozoologists use to support claims that an unknown animal has been historically reported and remains to be identified?

Cryptid researchers say that modern reports of Bigfoot-Sasquatch, lake monster, sea serpents, giant flying animals, and elusive land creatures are supported by the stories of native people, legends or myths and sagas. Are these stories evidence? Can we reach back in time to use old tales to reinforce and help explain modern sightings of cryptids?

lmtI’m not well-versed in folkloric studies just with a few pop culture college electives to my credit and casual observation for many years. But I heard from respected others that a modern interpretation and application of ancient cultural tales to the cryptozoology field was problematic. I wondered exactly why. The frequently cited source for understanding this aspect of cryptozoology is Michel Meurger’s Lake Monster Traditions: A Cross Cultural Analysis which I obtained.

There is much to digest in this book, translated from French. I do note that the translation does make it difficult sometimes to decode the meaning but it’s not incomprehensible.

I intend to write a series of posts exploring the author’s treatment of this material and his recommendations of how we should consider it for cryptozoological research.

The preface and introduction alone gave a jolt to my thinking. A review of what it contained was perhaps worth sharing for those who have not been introduced to these ideas. It’s obvious that the work still applies to today’s modern TV and internet-based cryptozoologists.


Read More »

Sciency, scientifical and wackadoodle are now official

New words have been added to the Oxford English dictionary, the “definitive record of the English language”, including a few near and dear to me…

New words list March 2014 | Oxford English Dictionary.

  • bookaholic: Yes, I am a minor sufferer.
  • Coney dog*: I very much enjoy these and have since I was a kid.
  • demonizing: This word is getting around, overused, just like “evil”.
  • do-over: I like this word, employ it often.
  • ethnozoology*: A technical term for the actual scientific part of cryptozoology. [Definition given as “The traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning animals; the scientific study or description of this.”]
  • sciency*: This is one of my words, obviously. But they spelled it wrong. Sounds Sciencey [Definition given as “Of a somewhat scientific or technical nature; (also) having an interest in or aptitude for science.”] The “somewhat” is important.
  • scientifical method*: I wish I knew what they meant by this versus the scientific method! [Definition given is as an older use meaning “scientific method”] *pffth*
  • scientificality*: Ditto. [Definition given is:  1. A scientific or technical issue, term, or detail. 2. The property or quality of being scientific.] For the 2nd def – I used the word “scientificity” but that’s not been recognized.
  • scientificness*: Ditto. [The quality of being scientific.] Ok, boring.
  • Scientological*: This was capitalized so I am REALLY curious. [Yep, having to do with Scientology.]
  • sword and sorcery: Cool!
  • wackadoo*: Citation needed. [Definition given as: A. Crazy, mad; eccentric. B. An eccentric or mentally unbalanced person; a crank, a lunatic.]
  • wackadoodle*: Love this word. On my list of favorites. [Definition given as the same as wackadoo although this does sound like a crazy poodle.]

As you can figure, the access to OED is paid and I don’t have a subscription which sucks. Can you help me out if you do and post the meanings to the 9 starrred words? I’d appreciate it. I want to be all definitive, you know. Thanks to those that sent the explanations to me!

Scientific people use words and their meaning properly. Scientifical people do not. I don’t want to just look sciencey, I want to get it correct.

You can also email paskeptic(at) Thanks.


I am thoroughly enjoying The Philosophy of Pseudoscience on Kindle, edited by M. Pigliucci and M. Boudry. In chapter 8 by Erich Good, there is a discussion on that character we call the “crank”.

I have a gmail folder labeled “cranks”. I don’t often get through their 2000 word screeds of rambling jargon and ALL CAPS. But I feel it’s important to save these for later reference. That is, I don’t think they will be vindicated in their “Truth of Genesis”, etc., proposals but I’d best keep evidence just in case they contact me by other means (like my home phone) or if they get arrested, or harass other people. The latter is a typical behavior.

A crank is described as a “social isolate, a single person with an unusual, implausible, scientifically unworkable vision of how nature works.”

Some other characteristics of cranks are as follows:

  • Do not engage in science-like activities or associate with other scientists
  • Goal is to overturn, not contribute to, modern knowledge
  • Advance theories that are contrary to our existing knowledge and implausible to scientists in the field.
  • Work apart from orthodox scientists, do not belong to scientific societies or academies (because they are ignorant know-nothings to the crank)
  • A tendency towards paranoia accompanied by delusions of grandeur – they are visionaries and must continue the valiant quest to bring the Truth to the world.
  • Feel unjustly persecuted and discriminated against. (They use the Galileo gambit – but Galileo was persecuted only by the church, not his colleagues. And, you, sir or madam, are NO Galileo.)

Sounds sort of religious, eh? Hmm. Like creationists.

Goode also noted that most cranks are men but I get a few from woman – the HIV-AIDS denialist lady, for example, and Melba Ketchum (also a creationist, I’d guess) is a prime example showing most of the features above. Her Bigfoot DNA results clashed with evolutionary theory and to this day she thinks she deserves a Nobel prize and that she was unfairly excluded from scientific publication. The premise that the work is not good is not even considered.

Cranks are deluded.

I don’t appreciate cranks who send me email every day. I don’t respond. They are marked as spam. The deluge of nonsense from cranks continues in an unbroken gradient to the crap that appears every day from paranormal or fringe bloggers. Some of these folks are the best friends of cranks and allow them a stage for their kooky ideas. I get that the cranky ideas are interesting and sometimes fun to entertain. But not to me. I realized that I am turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the daily “news” flashes announcing “UFO sighted!” or “Bigfoot video!!” IT’S ALL CRANKY CRAP (uh oh, I used all caps, I must be cranky.) Is there a chance I’ll miss something good by ignoring this stream? Perhaps. But 99.999% of it is worthless and a waste of everyone’s time. I’ll take my chances. If it’s worth anything, it will come around via a reality-based source.

It’s a sad state to waste time pursuing nonsense. There is nothing we can do about those so obsessed with aliens or shapeshifters or all-encompassing worldwide conspiracies. True believers are so mired in a fantasy world of their own making that they miss real life, fail to appreciate reliable knowledge and they can’t rejoice in progress. They seem to only want to go backwards. I couldn’t say why but it’s nothing my response will change.


Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem by Massimo Pigliucci, Maarten Boudry (2013). Kindle Edition.

Video: Media Guide to Skepticism

A while back, I produced with the help of many others, this guide to skepticism for beginners and for journalists and whomever else was interested.

In May of 2013, I was asked to come to L.A. to do a live presentation on the topic and a Q and A session as well for the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). The video is now online. It’s an hour and 20 minutes of me and Barbara Drescher talking and demonstrating.

It’s gotten some nice views and compliments already, so enjoy.

I get tweets: What fringe subject is worthy of investigation?

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.Read More »

Ketchum’s Galileo Gambit

One of my essential reading blogs, Respectful Insolence, has resurrected an older post on The Galileo Gambit. It was timely. It was in reference mainly to the day to day parade of quackery that passes by in the media. Orac coined the term “Galileo gambit” to describe a very common ploy used by quacks – they compare their persecution and non-acceptance to that of Galileo.

At least, I think I was the first to coin this term. I haven’t been able to find a reference to the “Galileo Gambit” dating before I wrote the original version of this post way back in 2005.”

Immediately, I thought of Dr. Melba Ketchum who recently pulled the Galileo Gambit when she announced the publication of her Sasquatch DNA paper.

We encountered the worst scientific bias in the peer review process in recent history.  I am calling it the “Galileo Effect”.  Several journals wouldn’t even read our manuscript when we sent them a pre-submission inquiry.  Another one leaked our peer reviews.  We were even mocked by one reviewer in his peer review.

Sorry, a lame excuse. It’s special pleading for why she had such trouble with her paper.

Read More »