Paranormal investigators and Velikovsky sound similarly sciencey

worlds in collisionIn January 2013, I wrote about Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, and pseudoscience, referencing Michael Gordin’s excellent book The Pseudoscience Wars (2012). Well, I’m writing about it again, to be included in a book about amateur investigation groups “sounding sciencey” and fooling the public. I went back to some of my old sources and found a good one. It’s nice to know that even though you forgot you ever thought about this thing before, you actually wrote it down, and now realize you were on the right track.

 

A fascinating discussion by R.G.A. Dolby (1975) provides a case study about a popular idea that was nearly universally rejected by orthodox scientists, sold directly to the public by a non-expert, and even involved religious connections. It is a classic case of what we call pseudoscience.

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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 »

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Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 5: Which came first – the monster or the myth?

This is the fifth and final post in a series examining cryptids (“hidden” animals said to exist based on local testimony), namely lake monsters, in terms of the folklore, tradition, and native tales of these creatures.

Previous parts:

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

Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 2: Lake Monster Tropes

Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 3: Hiding in the cold, dark water until Judgment Day

Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 4: Crypto-zoologizing the natives’ magic monster

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?


lmtIf the book Lake Monster Traditions (LMT) has a most important message, it is:

It’s more complicated than that!

We simply should not be equating native folklore stories with a true cryptid destined to be discovered and classified by science.

For example, it is a serious error, often committed by journalists and monster fans, to suppose that one mysterious creature accounts for all Nessie sightings. That’s absurd. We can certainly consider logs, several known animals, waves, and hoaxes, at the very least in the run down of possible explanations. To say that all reports can be attributed to A “Nessie” – a flesh and blood creature – is a naive and wrong conclusion. In the same vein, it’s a serious error to say that the water deity or demon of the natives corresponds to a single (or a suite of) mystery animal(s) today.

So which came first, the monster or the myth? Well, both. And, neither. The story through time is a mesh of several different color threads making our legendary beast of today an amalgam of history.Read More »

From: http://www.barryherem.com/prints/pages/print037.htm

Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 4: Crypto-zoologizing the natives’ magic monster

This is the fourth post in a series examining cryptids (“hidden” animals said to exist based on local testimony), namely lake monsters, in terms of the folklore, tradition, and native tales of these creatures.

Previous parts:

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

Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 2: Lake Monster Tropes

Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 3: Hiding in the cold, dark water until Judgment Day

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?


It is convenient to look back on the rich nature stories of Native American folklore and retro-fit today’s cryptids into their pantheon of spirits. That’s a mistake.

Bigfoot proponents commonly point to Native stories support the tales of the hairy man of the woods. Or historic names are used to refer to the monster of the lake. Even recently, the South Carolina media trotted out an unsupported (from what I could tell) tall tale about the local natives knowing of a man-like creature with a tail in order to give the Bishopville Lizard Man some additional credibility. It seems logical to look for additional evidence from history.

But it’s not as logical as it seems. Instead, to make such a claim is overly simplistic, shows a lack of knowledge about folklore and culture, and is disrespectful as well as being a bad argument to support crypto-claims. This post provides additional support for why using native folklore to support cryptids is not sound. To remove these beasts from their native context is to do them a great injustice.Read More »

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Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 3: Hiding in the cold, dark water until Judgment Day

This is the third in a series of posts examining cryptids (“hidden” animals said to exist based on local testimony), namely lake monsters, in terms of the folklore, tradition, and native tales of these creatures.

The first part is here: Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 1: The Illusion of Facticity in Unknown Animal Reports

The second part is here: Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 2: Lake Monster Tropes

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?


This chapter of LMT (Lake Monster Traditions by Meurger) begins with musings on the water-horse of European folklore. It’s complicated. I’m currently not able to keep track of the many and various forms of water horses mentioned which would require me to dig into the many references. Some are very horse-like, only revealed as insidious by the algae in their mane, a stereotypical sign of danger if you are quick enough to recognize it before they leap into the water. Others are described more like horse-fish or merbeings. Shapeshifters are impossible to describe. The body of tales of the water horse, even in a specific region, are not consistent. Therefore, they don’t approach the rank of testimony making them problematic to consider as a basis for real animals.

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The notion of the water-horse spans the spectrum of today’s cryptozoology. The kelpie, for example, isn’t considered to be a “real” animal. But the cadborosaurus is. Both have the water-horse features. Incidentally, the lovely but creepy water-horse concept was cheapened by The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep  (2007) that portrayed a childhood Loch Ness Monster tale. 

It’s difficult to ignore the clearly fantastic element in these myths of lake creatures. They serve as watchers or omens. They demand a sacrifice, whether that means claiming the drowned, deliberately taking those that venture into the water, or coming out on land to grab a victim for themselves. This connects to another trope  – the lake not giving up its dead. The myth also discourages divers from exploring the depths, lest they become the next sacrifice. And it discourages locals from attempting to retrieve the dead because they serve an ultimate purpose, to appease the monster. It’s considered taboo for the residents of some locations to even talk of the monster. As Meurger says, it is not that the locals he visited didn’t want to talk or didn’t know about the beast, they were AFRAID to talk about it. This is magical thinking which is not comparable to the ethno-known concept of modern cryptozoology.Read More »

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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.

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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.

—————

References

Hill, 2010. “Being Scientifical: Popularity, Purpose and Promotion of Amateur Research and Investigation Groups in the U.S.”  https://idoubtit.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/hill_arigs_being_scientifical_thesis.pdf

Hill, 2012. “Amateur Paranormal Research and Investigation Groups Doing ‘Sciencey’ Things”, Skeptical Inquirer 36:2 March/April 2012.  http://www.csicop.org/si/show/amateur_paranormal_research_and_investigation_groups_doing_sciencey_things

“Scientific or Sciencey? Yeti, Nessie, et al.” http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2015/sepoct/scientific-or- sciencey.html [Full text here, please do not distribute.]

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Cryptozoology and Myth, Part 2: Lake Monster Tropes

lmtThis is the second in a series of posts examining cryptids (“hidden” animals said to exist based on local testimony), namely lake monsters, in terms of the folklore, tradition, and native tales of these creatures.

The first part is here: 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?


 

 

As I noted in part one, Michel Meurger’s 1988 Lake Monster Traditions (LMT) supports the view that reliance on folklore and traditional stories as evidence of cryptids is problematic for many reasons. Chapter 1 of the book is called “The Enquiry” as Meurger and Claude Gagnon undertake field work to the lakes of Quebec in 1981. Many locations are mentioned but the main reports focus on ten lakes that have known lake creature lore.

The creatures reports can be categorized into six general types:

  • big fish
  • horse-head
  • living log
  • boat-like
  • seal-like
  • serpent-like

At the end of the chapter, there is a handy table that shows either that many different kinds of monsters may live in the same lake, or that we can’t accurately pin down a solid description of several of the famous lake denizens. The latter is far more probable. Decades of attempts have been made to find biological evidence for the source of mystery animal reports in lakes around the world. No cryptid has been discovered.

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