I’ll be posting here more often now…

I’ve closed up the Doubtful News shop. I received several comments from people who were sad to see it go. I still strongly hold there is a HUGE need for the skeptical POV for these mainstream stories. It’s expected and it’s looked for by many. Sadly, there aren’t that many options these days. See this post on my suggestions for larger-scale investment by skeptical organizations; it can’t just be one or two people going nuts trying to address viral misrepresented news in between work that pays and sleep.

I say Doubtful News was a great success. I learned so much, I made so many mistakes. I was never officially sued, though I got a few threats. No biggie. If you don’t get threats, you’re not making an impact. I think the DN site with almost 8000 posts is ripe to mine for some research project. I hope to do a book eventually.Read More »

Practical skepticism about being “closed-minded”

open mindIn my last post, on accepting strange ideas because “science doesn’t know everything”, I unpacked a comment from a person who was invested in believing psychic powers were genuine. Next in my series of responses to credulous, and rather vehement, commentators, I reply to accusations that I’m closed-minded, not thinking “out of the box”, stuck in the “establishment” of science. According to these “open-minded” thinkers, this attitude limits my ability to perceive and be sympathetic towards non-materialistic [1] conclusions about strange things in the world.

I’ve addressed this before because it’s really annoying. It’s used so frequently, and was brought up by a few people regarding my rejection of a TV ghost hunter’s claim that a house in Indiana was a source of actual demonic activity. Zak Bagans’ Ghost Adventures airs on the Travel Channel which suggests it has a goal of being entertaining, emphasizing exciting and mysterious places that lend themselves to adventurous exploring. That’s fine, that’s entertainment. But when Bagans suggests his outrageous adventures are evidence of paranormal reality and that he’s being scientific or careful in his investigations, I’m calling bullshit as warranted. He’s not a good investigator and television shows are not research. I called BS on this Indiana demon house story from the very beginning when it sounded exactly like a Hollywood horror movie even including physics-defying feats by so-called possessed people. The story had no credible support. I was criticized for saying that the eyewitness accounts from police, a priest, and some hospital personnel were of no special importance because it was their story and not independently verified. I think something odd was going on with that family but demon possession was NOT it.

In a nifty twist, Bagans swooped in and bought the house within days of the story breaking and apparently made a documentary there (yet to be released). Based on his credibility (which is nil), I’m not that interested in his POV. Does that make me closed-minded? About this particular situation, yep, but not without damn good reasons. Good reason is what this haunted house story lacks completely.

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The State of the Science: Parapsychology (Book Review)

In October of last year I wrote a blog post about a review of a new parapsychology compendium. Finally, I’ve gotten to read the entire book referenced for myself, cover to cover, 400+ pages.

cardena coverParapsychology: A Handbook for the 21st Century (2015) edited by Etzel Cardeña, John Palmer, David Marcusson-Clavertz

It took about 7 weeks to get through the whole thing. I took copious notes, as I always do, to help me remember and understand. But why do this? Most people have zero interest in academic parapsychology. They can’t even explain what it is or why I might pay any mind to it. Most of my skeptic friends dismiss it outright. I’ve been interested in professional and amateur endeavors in this subject area for 20 years. There are two main reasons why I spent so much time crawling through this book:

  1. I wanted to see what they have to offer. What is the state of the science? Where has it been? Where is it going? What is the feel of the academic scene? What do they consider important? What does the future of parapsychology look like?
  2. I have been working on amateur research and investigation groups and it was necessary to consult an expert source in order to compare to professional standards. In both respects, this book was incredibly helpful and perfect for that need.

An academic book like this is not well suited for a typical review. You can scan the contents online. So, perhaps the most useful thing I can do is to explain what I derived from the information provided as a person educated in science with a great interest in the scientific and popular aspects of this particular field. It’s an outsider’s view, certainly, but as the book itself alludes, there really aren’t that many insiders. If this book can compel me to be motivated about parapsychology research, it’s a real prize.

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Going down the same road gets boring

dull road

In a sort of continuation of my “All News is Doubtful” piece about why producing Doubtful News has lost interest for me, I was listening to a podcast interview with Brooke Gladstone of On The Media (one of my favorite shows) and what she said resonated with me. She was talking to Max Linsky of Longform Podcast about how she evolved and how her show evolved. She noted that to go down the same road for several years, covering the same stories over and over again, will wear you down and make you want to tear your face off. That’s how I felt about Bigfoot stories a while back because they were so stupid. And it’s how I feel now about news of strange sounds from the sky, the local paranormal group investigating a so-called haunted location, the “chupacabra” seen in the neighborhood, and the latest UFO flap. These stories are so alike that they are boring and feel like we’ve written them before. I would rather just link to what I said before. Same shit, different day. I admit I may have reached my limit for writing about weird news.

I guarantee there will be others that will come along and write the same stories, with the same information, from the same angle, over and over again. And they will be new to a new audience.

Is there a value in these weird news stories? Lots of people love them!Read More »

Doubt and About: Cusp of Spring 2016

It’s the first day of 2016 that I have the window open. (It’s 57 deg.) Yay! Get behind me Winter.


So here’s the thing…

I’m working on a book the incorporates my thesis work on amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs). This is so tedious at times. It would have been much easier to start from scratch instead of taking existing content, reworking it for a new audience, filling out the concepts and adding updates. I did find a great software tool for manuscripts – Ulysses. If you write anything on Mac that is longer than a blog post, I suggest investing in this app or one like it. If I had to revise a manuscript of this size in a Word document format, I would have given up.

I don’t have much more to say about it because I remain unconvinced it will be published any time soon. Though, I will swear, that there is no way I will resign this time investment to a null outcome.  As dog is my witness, I WILL publish this damn thing, no matter how.Read More »

Dawkins’ dark cloud and silver lining (and Scalia’s death)

In my post of February 3, I mentioned that I was unhappy with the disinvite of Richard Dawkins from the NECSS conference. I lamented that it occurred the way it did and hoped for more information to shed light upon it. I’m pleased to hear that NECSS organizers sent a letter of apology with a re-invite to Dr. Dawkins. Sadly, later that evening, he had a minor stroke.

Dawkins at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014. Photograph: Murdo Macleod.
Dawkins at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014. Photograph: Murdo Macleod.

Please listen to Richard HERE as he describes what it’s like to have this particular kind of health issue and, for good reference, note how he had the wherewithal to execute a plan that possibly saved his life. It’s important information regardless of how you view his opinions or personality.

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Revolution on Tuesday, factions by Friday: When efforts self-destruct

boxing haresTo continue with a theme I started yesterday on outrage fostered by social media, I found this relevant piece by Thomas Friedman: Social Media: Destroyer or Creator? 

Friedman describes how that Facebook revolutions start out as pretty awesomely powerful things, then they self destruct. Hold on… I’m having a deja vu moment.

Many new communities – from atheists to religious, ghost hunters to skeptics – have flourished on the Internet as people of like minds were able to connect to each other and share their thoughts and interests. It was all great, for a while. The exciting sense of community eventually broke down into factions that became vehicles for the spread of misinformation and rumors. I hesitate to compare all these groups to each other since Friedmans’s piece is actually about a very serious issue – the Egyptian revolution in 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. Yet, the process of group formation, dynamics and destruction appears fundamentally similar. In the end, there was no consensus achieved and no progress made towards a sustainable working government. Read More »