You searched for james randi - Benjamin Radford

Nov 262012
 
Advertisers spent tens of millions of dollars for the chance to be in the new Bond film Skyfall. But is it worth it? After all, just because James Bond is seen driving a particular type of car, or drinking a particular brand of beer doesn't mean that audiences will rush from theaters to buy that car and that beer. Read the piece HERE.
Nov 152017
 
As a teenager I was fascinated by books about the strange and mysterious world around us. In the summer I’d walk to the local used bookstore and pull out a handful of crumpled allowance dollars to scoop up some old paperbacks from the Fifties. Along with Doc Savage and Tom Swift pulp novels, I’d pick up some “true mystery” books. In particular I recall buying several books by Frank Edwards, with titles like Stranger Than Science. Inside I found a banquet of odd and mysterious stories and phenomena, spilling from page after yellowed page. These weren’t ghost stories, or silly pulp fiction novels; these were, as the cover blurb read, “Astounding stories of strange events! All authentic —all absolutely true!” I loved these snippets of mystery, of supernatural coincidences, prophecy, terrifying creatures, and all other manner of oddity. They had titles like, “The Invisible Fangs” and “The Girl Who Lived Twice” and “A Voice From The Dead?” A blurb on the cover from the Colorado Springs Free Press called it a “fascinating collection of weird, fully-documented stories taken from life that modern science is powerless to explain!” Yet the assertion that the stories were “fully documented” was perhaps the strangest claim in the book, since none of Edwards’ stories cited sources, references, or in fact any documentation whatsoever! The “science cannot explain” line was quite popular, and also appeared on many other similar books, such as Rupert T. Gould’s 1965 book Oddities, subtitled “Mysterious, true events science cannot explain!” I pictured worried scientists—imagined as balding men in horn-rimmed glasses and white lab coats—huddled together chain-smoking and fretting about the mysteries they couldn’t explain. A few years ago when researching the famous Coral Castle in Florida I came across this claim repeatedly. In Homestead, not far from Miami and off the South Dixie Highway, sits the world-famous structure. Though not really a castle—and not really made of coral—it is nonetheless an amazing achievement. More than 1,000 tons of the sedimentary rock was quarried and sculpted into a variety of shapes, including slab walls, tables, chairs, a crescent moon, a water fountain and a sundial. “You are about to see an engineering marvel that has been compared with Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Egypt,” touts an information sheet available at the site. Many sources claim that the castle, originally called Rock Gate Park, is scientifically inexplicable. According to the attraction’s website, “Coral Castle has baffled scientists, engineers and scholars since its opening in 1923.” Despite researching information about the site, I was unable to find any references to all the baffled scientists. Who were they? When were they there? What were their credentials? What exactly did they test or examine that left them perplexed? When I put these questions to the staff at the Coral Castle I got baffled if bemused shrugs. How can you boldly claim that scientists can’t explain it, if you have no record of any scientists actually trying to explain it? They may or may not be able to, but unless they have made a sincere effort you can’t honestly claim that they failed. I was recently reminded of this when I was contacted via Twitter by someone with the handle “Ninel Kulagina Fans.” They wrote “In 50 years, no magician has replicated the filmed 1967 Kulagina/Naumpv macro telekinesis demonstrations under the same observer conditions.” I promptly and politely replied: “Which magicians tried, where, and when?” It was a sincere and simple request: I was told unequivocally that “no magician has replicated the telekinesis demonstrations under the same observer conditions,” and in order to determine the validity of that claim I’d need to know more about the times that magicians had tried and failed to replicate said experiments. The afternoon came and went without a reply, so the next day I repeated my request: “So: Which magicians tried, where, and when? Still waiting for a response.” Eventually the fan (or fans) of Ninel Kulagina realized that I was serious and asking for evidence of their claim. Instead of the names of one or more magicians who had tried to “replicate the filmed 1967 Kulagina/Naumpv macro telekinesis demonstrations under the same observer conditions” (along with the dates, published research on the topic describing the experimental conditions, etc.) I got the following reply: “Doesn’t say ‘tried.’ A success by a magician would require a famous parapsychologist, science film crew. No reports in 50 years of success.” This answer—and its tacit admission—was quite revealing: The person admitted up front that no magicians had even attempted to replicate those telekinesis demonstrations under the same conditions (or any other, for that matter). It certainly is true that skeptical magicians (most prominently my colleague James Randi, as well as other including Ray Hyman, Banachek, and Dan Korem) have tried to replicate alleged claims of telekinesis by performers such as Uri Geller, James Hydrick, and others; the magicians were successful in those attempts—but only because they tried in the first place! Kulagina’s claims have been analyzed and discussed by many skeptical researchers including Randi, Martin Gardner, and Massimo Polidoro. Stating that no magician has replicated a specific telekinesis performance is only meaningful if one has attempted to do so but failed—which is the false conclusion implied in the tweet by Ninel Kulagina Fans. We don’t know whether or not a professional magician could replicate Kulagina’s performance because it hasn’t been done, and there’s no reason to think that the magician would fail. I responded with a final reply: “So you’re claiming that X has never happened, yet acknowledge that X has never been attempted. Do you see the faulty logic there?” Fans of Ninel Kulagina responded, “I see a red herring or avoiding the issue fallacy or both. As you know, Randi et al have simulated, but not under same conditions. Thanks.” The red herring claim was especially rich, but at any rate I’m still waiting for any Kulagina supporters to provide the name(s) of the professional magician(s) who tried to replicate Kulagina’s effects, where and when these attempted replications took place, under what conditions or controls, under whose supervision, etc. If and when those are provided (and validated) I’ll be happy to concede that no magician has replicated the Kulagina demonstrations under the same conditions. When it comes to claims of baffled scientists and skeptics, there’s a simple lesson to remember: “Can’t” isn’t the same as “didn’t try.”

Course Part 2

 

Using Science to Investigate the Paranormal

Hello there! Welcome to Part 2 of my ten-part introduction to the basics of scientific paranormal investigation, adapted from my book Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries, and the workshop I give of the same title. It’s intended to give the layperson a taste of how a science-based paranormal investigator goes about solving mysteries. This time we’re going to take a look at what it means to use science to investigate the unexplained. Let’s begin with definitions. A few years ago, following a talk at a conference, I was challenged by an obviously-less-than-skeptical attendee. “How can proven scientific methods of research be used,” he asked, “when by definition, the paranormal is that which defies scientific explanation?” It’s a fair question, but based on a faulty premise. Paranormal does not mean something that defies scientific explanation. Using that definition, consciousness (something everyone experiences most of their lives) would be considered paranormal, since science can’t fully explain what it is or how it comes about. Or, to use another example, if the paranormal was simply something that science doesn’t understand, then germ theory (how germs cause disease) was “paranormal” in the 1700s, simply because scientists didn’t understand how it works. Many “paranormal” things can be (and have been) scientifically tested, from Bigfoot hair to psychic powers. No, “paranormal” simply means something that appears to be supernatural or seems to violate natural laws. James Randi, in his Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, defines paranormal as “an adjective referring to events, abilities, and matters not yet defined or explained by science.” Joe Nickell provides a definition of paranormal in his book The Mystery Chronicles: More Real-Life X-Files, that which is “supposedly beyond the range of science and normal human experience.” Many so-called paranormal topics are not “outside the realm of science,” instead, if they exist, they will be incorporated into science. Contrary to many critics of skepticism, the reason that many mainstream scientists don’t study the paranormal is not because they are too timid to tackle something outside their worldview, but instead because there’s little hard evidence upon which to base an experiment or conduct research. Science is simply a way of examining the world, a very effective method of analysis and investigation. You don’t need to be a scientist to do science (or to investigate unexplained mysteries), but you do need to understand the principles involved. As you follow my lessons and investigations, these principles will be illustrated again and again. Drawn largely from the scientific process, psychology, criminal investigation techniques, and logic, these are not boring rules to memorize, but powerful, real-world ideas for critically examining everything from crime scenes to psychic powers to personal decisions. Improbable occurrences do happen; just because something seems bizarre or unusual is reason only to look more closely, not dismiss it out of hand. A good scientific investigator is a skeptic, not a debunker or cynic. The Goal of Investigation If the goal of investigation is to understand an unexplained phenomenon, then the methods that produce information solving the mystery are the right ones; the methods that do not help solve the mystery are the wrong ones. It’s as simple as that. Paranormal subjects are investigated just like any other subject: through critical thinking, evidence analysis, logic, and scientific methodologies. Of course, some methods of investigation are better than others. The best way to approach investigation is the same one that professional investigators and detectives use everyday: the scientific method. Police detectives and crime scene investigators, for example, use time-tested, proven techniques and methods to solve crimes. Let’s say, for example, police are called to investigate a burglary. There are many different methods that detectives could potentially use to solve the crime. Police could consult a local psychic to identify the criminal, or they might simply wait for the criminal to turn himself in. Another way would be to carefully search for and scientifically examine evidence at the scene for fingerprints or DNA evidence. Any of these methods could theoretically solve the case, but only one way—methodical, scientific investigation—has proven useful in solving crimes and mysteries. Why Scientific Investigation? There are many ways humans find out about the world around us. The most common is through personal experience; we see or hear something, learn from it, and move on. For the most part personal experience works well for everyday things like learning not to lock your keys in the car. But personal experience can sometimes mislead us, especially when dealing with things that we don’t encounter every day—such as the paranormal. Personal perception and experience tells us that our planet revolves around us. The sun moves across the sky from east to west, while we don’t appear to be moving at all. But personal experience is of course wrong; it is instead the Earth that revolves around the sun. Science reveals that the earth we walk on is also revolving at over 1,000 miles per hour (at the equator), contrary to personal experience. Another example is lightning. For much of human history lightning was a mysterious, perhaps paranormal, phenomenon. Was it thunderbolts from the gods? Until experiments in 1752 (one of which was performed by Benjamin Franklin), the electrical nature of lightning was likely but unproven. Today scientists have a far better understanding of lightning; what was once mysterious and supernatural has now been largely explained. We know it is an electrical atmospheric discharge; yet science, as always, doesn’t have all the answers. Lightning yet holds many mysteries, including how it can generate X-rays. Though science doesn’t have all the details, it has many of them, and those parts that scientists still don’t understand won’t be filled by the earlier “mysterious” explanations. Science, not mysticism or pseudoscience, created most of the conveniences and essentials we enjoy daily. So hopefully this has helped give you a grounding in what the paranormal is, and how science can be used to solve mysteries. In the next installment I’ll discuss the differences between ”unexplained” and “unexplainable,” and “possible” versus “probable.” Understanding these distinctions is critical to approaching the paranormal from a scientific point of view.  
Part One || Part Two || Part Three || Part Four || Part Five || Part Six || Part Seven || Part Eight || Part Nine || Part Ten
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Oct 142012
 
I'm a guest speaker on the James Randi Educational Foundation's 'It's Not the End of the World!' Caribbean cruise in December. I'll be speaking on 2012 prophecy, crystal skulls, and Mayan monsters! Other great speakers include James Randi, D.J. Grothe, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Carrie Poppy, and others. See Honduras, Mexico and Belize, snorkel, scuba, and visit Maya ruins! You can book your stateroom HERE, and mention my special code word MONSTERS to receive a $50 discount.
Sep 122012
 
I will be joining The Amazing Randi and a team of star skeptics (including D.J. Grothe, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Brian Thompson, Carrie Poppy, and Toni Van Pelt) for a cruise held by the James Randi Educational Foundation. Some claim that the Mayan calendar predicts that the world will end this December, but we're a bit skeptical. That's why we're setting sail on an unforgettable cruise from Tampa, Florida to the heart of Mayan civilization, with stops in Honduras, Belize and Mexico, to see some of the most beautiful Mayan ruins and celebrate skepticism while the world doesn't end. Once on land, you will soak up the sun on the Roatan Bay Islands, Honduras, teeming with marine life and home to some of the best pillar coral in the Caribbean. And the beauty of Tabyana Beach is always a sight to see. Belize City, Belize was once home to a complex Mayan civilization, and today, many of the architectural treasures from that amazing lost culture remain for you to explore in virtually untouched verdant jungles. In the jungles of Costa Maya, an unspoiled coastal paradise in the Yucatán, you might spot brilliant butterflies, exotic tropical birds, deer, monkeys and even jaguars. And the island of Cozumel off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula continues to be known for its fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities. Despite the growth of tourism in recent years, the island and its only town, San Miguel, retain much of their original warmth and charm. The cruise goes from December 9 to 16 and leaves from Tampa, Florida. To reserve your stateroom, call (415) 952-JREF or e-mail cruise@randi.org. More information can be found HERE. 
Jul 122012
 
I will be appearing this weekend at TAM, the annual meeting of the James Randi Educational Foundation, in Las Vegas.  I will be participating in a workshop on conducting scientific paranormal investigation, along with my MonsterTalk podcast co-hosts Dr. Karen Stollznow and Blake Smith, as well as Ross and Carrie of the Oh No, Ross and Carrie! show. I will also be giving a short presentation Saturday 8 to 8:30 AM: Doomsdays and 2012 Mayan Prophecy The world was supposed to end last year, and a few years before that—and this year too. What’s going on, and why do some people think doomsday is once again upon us? Join me for an overview of doomsday predictions, focusing on the 2012 Mayan prophecy that some claim foretell our doom. You can register for TAM HERE.

Podcast Compendium

 
Listen to the dulcet tones of Mr. Radford in this very-nearly-entirely complete compendium of all his podcasts ever. Click on any title to download or listen in!

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The Edge of the Unknown radio show On this episode of The Edge of the Unknown radio show, I discuss skepticism, some of my famous investigations, urban legends, and much more!

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Strange Frequencies Radio SFR 267 – Ben Radford Investigates “Stonehenge Surprise” Crop Circle My look at the best case for crop circles, a seemingly unexplainable fractal pattern that appeared near Stonehenge in 1997—an investigation that appeared as the cover story for Fortean Times magazine!

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Strange Frequencies Radio SFR 250 – Ben Radford on Media Myths and Media Influence

My discussion of media myths, based on my book Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us. Check it out!

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Project Archivist podcast Episode 61 Ben Radford, Sex Demons and the Sexy time. Welcome back for episode 61. For this week we welcome back good friend of the show Ben Radford. Ben talks with us about the weird world of sex demons and sexually oriented entities. We take a look at the folklore behind Lilith and the Succubi, the Tokoloshe, the Djinn, “Sexy time” with Kesha and a African ghost, the “Oily Man” Orang Minyak. Then finally in this weeks moment of WTF?!? Roejen wigs out and attempts to channel a bad Christian Bale Batman to bring up Popobawa, the bat-winged sodomizing demon of Zanzibar.

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Sasquatch Detective Radio January 17, 2011 Steve Kulls along with co-host Chris Bennett delve into the Bigfoot mystery each week. Tonight's guest, Ben Radford, Managing Editor of Skeptical Inquirer Magazine. As well challenge his disbelief in Sasquatch, as he challenges ours in a friendly exchange of differing opinions.

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Beyond Ghosts paranormal podcast Episode 66, June 16, 2010 The science and pseudoscience of ghost investigations!

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Think Atheist Show on Blog Talk Radio July 8, 2012

Mr. Benjamin Radford is one of only a few people actually doing real scientific-minded investigations into paranormal phenomena and cryptids like Bigfoot, lake monsters, and the chupacabra. Mr. Radford has appeared in the past on The Discovery Channel, The History Channel, The National Geographic Channel, BBC, and CNN and in The Wall Street Journal, Wired, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair. He is both the deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine and a Research Fellow with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He has authored or co-authored six books including Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us; Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking; and Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. We asked Mr. Radford to join us to talk about how what he does as an actual scientific-minded investigator differs from what those termed “paranormal investigators” tend to do, about the fascinating stories of bigfoot and chupacabra and about his investigations into each, and about critical thinking generally.

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Paradigm Shift radio April 22, 2011 Guest: Benjamin Radford, author, editor, speaking on the chupacabra mystery

“Among the monsters said to roam the world’s jungles and desolate deserts, none is more feared than the chupacabra—the blood-sucking beast blamed for the mysterious deaths of thousands of animals since the 1990s. To some it’s a joke; to many it is a very real threat and even a harbinger of the apocalypse. Originating in Latin America yet known worldwide, the chupacabra is a contradictory and bizarre blend of vampire and shapeshifter, changing its appearance and characteristics depending on when and where it is seen. Rooted in conspiracy theory and anti-American sentiment, the beast is said to be the result of Frankenstein-like secret U.S. government experiments in the Puerto Rican jungles. Combining five years of careful investigation (including eyewitness accounts, field research, and forensic analysis) with a close study of the creature’s cultural and folkloric significance, Benjamin Radford is the first to fully explore—and solve—the decades-old mystery of the chupacabra.”

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Grand Dark Conspiracy Podcast #108: March 5, 2012 Episode features an interview with Benjamin Radford on the mystifying oracle Ouija board.

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MonsterTalk is a free audio podcast that critically examines the science behind cryptozoological (and legendary) creatures, such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or werewolves. Hosted by Blake Smith, Benjamin Radford, and Dr. Karen Stollznow, MonsterTalk interviews the scientists and investigators who shine a spotlight on the things that go bump in the night. For once (and unlike mystery-mongering television shows) a monster-themed program gives skepticism more than just a couple minutes of lip service! Click here to add the Monster Talk Podcast to a feed reader.

2011 Index

December 21st: Squatching with The Krampus By popular demand, we take a brief aside into fantasy to talk with one the more sinister figures associated with the Winter Holidays: The Krampus. Then we get a bit more serious as we welcome one of the co-hosts of the popular podcast The Bigfoot Show, documentarian and comedian, Scott Herriott. Scott has made several films about walking the Pacific Coast Trail and about his personal quest to find Bigfoot—and the people he’s met in that search. This MonsterTalk interview includes a detailed recounting of his own brush with what he believes may have been a Sasquatch. December 7th: Unbottling some Jinn If you think Genies are funny like in Aladdin, or sexy like in I Dream of Jeannie get ready to have your assumptions challenged. In the Middle East, Jinn aren’t whimsical characters of fantasy. They are considered to be frightening, real entities that haunt desolate places and can perform terrible magic. In this episode of MonsterTalk we interview author Robert Lebling about his book Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar. If you miss this episode you’ll wish you hadn’t! November 15th: MonsterTalk meets Skeptiko: The Psychic Detective Finale In September of 2008, Ben Radford appeared as a guest on the podcast Skeptiko, hosted by Alex Tsakiris. During that interview, he agreed to take up Alex’s challenge to investigate the best case of the efficacy of psychic detectives. What followed was months of research, numerous interviews and a follow-up which ended in acrimony. Now, three years after the initial challenge, Skepticality presents a discussion between the hosts of MonsterTalk (Blake Smith, Ben Radford and Karen Stollznow) and Alex Tsakiris about Skeptiko, the interface of skeptics and believers, and the matter of whether or not Ben’s investigation disproved the psychic’s claims. November 9th: Paranormality: Psychic Dogs, Ghosts and Silly Voices—an Interview with Richard Wiseman While at TAM9, the hosts of MonsterTalk sat down to talk with psychologist Richard Wiseman about his new book Paranormality: Paranormality: Why we see what isn’t there. It was supposed to be a chat about the paranormal, ghosts and Wiseman’s findings. But a conversation with Richard Wiseman is rarely so simple as that. October 26th: Crypt O’ Zoology: Dinosaurs in Africa! From The Lost World to Alley Oop to The Flintstones, the idea of dinosaurs and humans living together has captured the imagination of readers across the globe. But there are some who believe that this idea isn’t fictional. Is there a population of sauropod dinosaurs living in Africa in modern times? In this episode of MonsterTalk, we interview paleontologist Dr. Donald Prothero at TAM9 about his research into the creature known as Mokele Mbembe! Cryptozoology, paleontology and creationism converge in the jungles of the Congo. October 5th: Bad Wolf On November 8, 2005 Canadian geological engineering student Kenton Carnegie went for a walk. He told people that he’d be back by 5 pm. When he hadn’t returned by 7 pm, a search party went out and discovered his remains in the woods. In this episode of Monstertalk (a follow-up to last week’s), we interview professor Valerius Geist about the true cause of Kenton Carnegie’s death. Some people thought he was killed by a bear, but more likely he was killed by a myth. September 21st: The Big Bad Wolf Chances are if you listen to MonsterTalk you probably like nature documentaries. No doubt you’ve seen stories about wolves and heard words to the effect that wolves are often maligned and that wolves have an undeserved reputation for being killers. Yet how does one reconcile the idea that dangerous wolves are a myth with the many myths and fairy tales which feature wolves as the villain? In this episode of MonsterTalk we take on the legend of the big, bad wolf and what we find may surprise you. This episode features an interview with author Jay M. Smith, about his book Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast. September 7th: Dead Men Are a Ghoul’s Best Friend In this episode of MonsterTalk we discuss Ghouls and their real world counterpart: cannibals. The hosts are joined by Carole A. Travis-Henikoff, author of Dinner With A Cannibal: The Complete History of Mankind’s Oldest Taboo. This episode also features guest MonsterTalker Adam Levenstein, a long-time friend of the show whose background combines anthropology and skepticism. August 10th: A Connecticut Haunting in a Keen Author’s Court The 2009 film The Haunting in Connecticut is purported to be based on true events. Similarly, there was the 2002 documentary A Haunting in Connecticut (which aired on The Discovery Channel and helped spawn the series A Haunting). These true events have been compiled by author Ray Garton into his book In A Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting. The shocking tale contains adult elements of a graphic nature, and if true, described a terrifying case of a demonic and ghostly attack on a family. But Garton now says that the allegedly true events weren’t quite what they seemed. Content Advisory: This episode of MonsterTalk contains adult themes and coarse language. July 27th: Ancient Alien Astronauts: Interview with Ken Feder Did ancient humans gain their technological achievements through the assistance of creatures from other planets? This week on MonsterTalk, Dr. Feder, an archaeology professor who has taught a course on the topic, shares his thoughts. Feder is the author of Frauds, Myths and Mysteries—a book with more good scientific content on the cover than most TV shows have in an entire season. July 6th: Hayley Stevens’ Lake Monster Mysteries There are very few people who make their living hunting monsters. For most of us who investigate such mysteries, it is a labor of love. Today on MonsterTalk we get to talk with one of our listeners about her investigation into a lake monster. In her investigation she went where few would dare to tread. Join us as we talk with amateur investigator Hayley Stevens about her dive into lake monster mysteries. June 8th: Searching For Sasquatch Is cryptozoology science or pseudoscience? Do scientists ever really study cryptozoology, or merely ignore the field entirely? This week we dig into the history of Cryptozoology itself—focusing on the search for America’s most famous cryptid: Sasquatch. This week on MonsterTalk, we’re joined by Dr. Brian Regal to talk about his latest book, Searching For Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads and Cryptozoology. May 11th: The Zombie Autopsies This week on MonsterTalk, we interview Harvard medical doctor Steven Schlozman, author of The Zombie Autopsies and get inside the walking dead to discuss a plausible mechanism for the zombie apocalypse. April 20th: Tracking the Manbeasts Renowned investigator Joe Nickell returns to MonsterTalk to discuss his latest book Tracking the Man-beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More—a survey of a human-like monsters that runs the gamut from Almas to Zombie. The book covers scores of monsters from legend and lore, and many entries include insights from Joe’s personal investigations. March 30th: Resurrecting the Extinct Plenty of people have hypothesized about being able to bring back an extinct animal, but (so far as the MonsterTalk team knows) the only person who has successfully brought an extinct animal’s gene back to be able to express itself in a living organism is Dr. Andrew Pask and his team of genetics experts. Tasmania’s marsupial tiger, the Thylacine, appears to be extinct. But today MonsterTalk interviews Dr. Pask about his experiments, the best chances of resurrecting dead species, and what makes the Thylacine so interesting to evolutionary science. March 16th: Is The Skookum Fair Dinkum? In the year 2000 startling claims of a body cast of a Bigfoot emerged from the deep woods of Washington State. More than a decade later, MonsterTalk interviews Bigfoot researcher Daniel Perez about the facts behind this contentious artifact — which some still claim to be one of the best pieces of evidence for the existence of Bigfoot. March 2nd: Tracking the Chupacabra This week MonsterTalk co-host Benjamin Radford becomes the interviewee! Radford discusses his newest book, Tracking the Chupacabra. The culmination of a five-year investigation, this book may provide an actual solution to these mysterious humanoid sightings. February 25th: Tracking the Chupacabra (exclusive preview) Exclusive for MonsterTalk listeners, an audio preview from Ben Radford’s latest book Tracking the Chupacabra, read by the author. This 32 minute selection contains material from the opening of this new book, which provides the solution to the mysterious bloodsucking beast known as El Chupacabra. We hope you enjoy this free sample. Please feel free to share it with your friends. January 26th: Unmasking the Ninja This week the hosts of MonsterTalk take on the mysterious, mystical, legendary menace of the ninja! Should ninjas be considered monsters? They come out at night, have mysterious powers and use fear and lethality to wreak havoc. But to be sure, we Ask a Ninja. Also, we interview Matt Alt, co-author (with Hiroko Yoda) of Ninja Attack: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai and Outlaws. January 12th: Ethnobiology: A Lizard’s Tale In this episode, the MonsterTalk crew interviews Dr. Tony Russell, a professor at the University of Calgary who studies evolutionary and functional morphology in geckos. Dr. Russell’s work includes ethnobiology — the utilization of folklore to guide his research. He discuss the uses and limitations of this mode of research, as well as the remarkable features of the lizards that he studies.

Download any or all of the 2011 episodes here.

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2010 Index

December 22nd: A Bestiary of Creatures Author Christopher Dell has collected an astonishing array of art from around the world depicting many obscure and mysterious creatures in his new book Monsters: A Bestiary of Devils, Demons, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Magical Creatures. Christopher Dell joins the MonsterTalk crew to discuss why humans are so fascinated by these bizarre entities. December 1st: The Iceman Goeth Late in the 1960s, in the era which gave us the famous Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film, fairgoers in Minnesota were confronted with a marvel: a hairy, primitive-looking humanoid frozen in a block of ice. Was it an anthropological relic? Was it a sasquatch? As investigators from the Smithsonian Institute and cryptozoological researchers studied the frozen creature, they came to very different conclusions as to what it represented. The MonsterTalk hosts interview Bigfoot researcher and former side-show performer Matt Crowley — and try to crack the case of The Minnesota Iceman. November 3rd: On Monsters This week on MonsterTalk, author Stephen Asma (Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago) speaks about his comprehensive book surveying Western monster-lore. Is humankind’s fascination with monsters broader than any single cause? Asma’s On Monsters examines hundreds of legends — and their cultural, psychological and social implications. October 20th: The Rise of Bat Boy In the pantheon of American monsters, only one truly dominated the newspapers of the 1990s. Checkout lines everywhere were haunted by the bald-headed, wide-mawed visage of Bat Boy. What was Bat Boy, and where did he come from? The MonsterTalk team interviews cartoonist Tye Bourdony, a former employee of the Weekly World News. Bourdony shares his insights about Bat Boy and the rise and fall of the famous tabloid paper. September 29th: Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack 2010 This week’s episode was recorded before a live studio audience at Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack 2010 (in Atlanta, Georgia). MonsterTalk hosts Ben Radford and Blake Smith bravely faced the horror of live questions from listeners — including Australian skeptical activist Dr. Rachael Dunlop, Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning, and others! September 15th: Just Scratching the Surface MonsterTalk frequently explores tales of imaginary monsters — creatures of myth, fiction, and folklore. Today, the hosts consider a real creature, one that preys on humans and their closest animal companions. It is often invisible. It drinks blood to survive. And, it is responsible for many of the sightings of the dreaded chupacabra. Podcast audiences may cringe and recoil in horror to learn the true facts of the creature known as — Sarcoptes scabiei! September 1st: Cryptozoology & Science, Part 2This week, MonsterTalk continues its discussion of the intersection between science and cryptozoology. The hosts interview Dr. Donald Prothero and Daniel Loxton, who are working on a book that will give a deep overview of the field of cryptozoology and how it intersects with actual science. This interview was recorded at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 in Las Vegas. August 11th: Cryptozoology & Science, Part 1 What is cryptozoology? Is it science? Is it folklore? Does it make predictions? In part 1 of a 2-part series, MonsterTalk examines cryptozoology as a field, including speculation on the cryptids most likely to turn out to be real. Guest Dr. Darren Naish, paleontologist and science blogger, makes some surprising statements about the field, its role in science and culture, and the intersection of amateur and professional science. July 21st: The Columbus Poltergeist (featuring James Randi) In 1984, objects began to fly around the room in the presence of a Columbus Ohio teen named Tina Resch. The local paper claimed this was a poltergeist attack, and published photos to prove it. Tina’s story caught the attention of a young organization called the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal [CSICOP, now Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI)] and its chief investigator, James “The Amazing” Randi. In this episode, Randi tells the MonsterTalk hosts about the outcome of this case — and shares his personal views about the unfortunate impact it may have had on Tina’s life. June 16th: Cthulhu Rises In this special literary edition, MonsterTalk ventures into a dark domain that can be confidently called fiction: the monstrous, genre-defining oeuvre of horror writer Howard Philips Lovecraft. Joined by noted Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price and biologist PZ Myers, the MonsterTalk hosts discuss Lovecraft’s life and works, and dare to confront his most famous creation: the vast alien monstrosity Cthulhu. Can the hosts gaze into the shrieking outer darkness and return with their sanity intact? Find out on this episode of MonsterTalk! May 26th: Bringing Light to a Moth In this episode, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP) investigator Joe Nickell joins the MonsterTalk crew for a look into the West Virginian legend of Mothman — allegedly a human-sized creature with wings and glowing red eyes. Nickell discusses the ways monsters evolve following a community’s initial reports, and the cyclical nature of spates of sightings. May 5th: Monsters from the Lab In this week’s episode, MonsterTalk looks once again at genetics and creatures created in the laboratory. Dr. Marcus C. Davis joins the hosts to discuss what constitutes a “monster.” In his work, Davis deals with paleontology, as well as embryological manipulation — which, by some definitions, means he literally creates monsters. What kinds of creatures are scientists making in labs today? What is the scope of their power? What guides their ethics? Learn more this week on MonsterTalk! April 21st: Historical Ghost Investigations Part II: Sinking the Watertown This week, MonsterTalk continues its two-part discussion of historical ghost investigations. Blake Smith describes his investigation into a famous photo that allegedly shows two dead sailors floating off the side of a 1920’s oil tanker. Methodology for conducting historical investigation is detailed, using Ben Radford’s upcoming book on scientific paranormal investigation as a basis for the talk. Did two sailors haunt their fellow shipmates? Does the photo really show two ghosts? Find out the answers in this informative conclusion — and find out how you can solve your own cases! April 7th: Historical Ghost Investigations Part I: Kimo / Therapy Ghost investigations often feature in television shows and other media. Typically, these amount to people wandering around at night with EMF detectors, talking into the darkness and jumping at shadows and noises. But how does one do a scientific paranormal investigation? On this first half of a two-part MonsterTalk, the hosts review two past ghost investigations (Ben Radford’s “Kimo Theater Ghost” and Dr. Karen Stollznow’s “Waverly Hills Sanatorium” investigations) and discuss some of the techniques that can help solve such cases. What steps are common to this type of research? Learn more this week on MonsterTalk. March 24th: Ghost Bird What happens when a creature thought to be extinct is spotted alive in the swamps of Arkansas? Can such a creature have survived? Can scientists verify the story? And when a town’s hopes and a school’s grant money are on the line, to what lengths will people go to find proof? This week on MonsterTalk we discuss these issues with Scott Crocker, the documentary filmmaker behind Ghost Bird — a feature length exploration into the mystery of the Ivory-billed woodpecker. March 3rd: Getting into the Spirit of Things Things get spooky this week on MonsterTalk, as the hosts venture into the science of ghosts. What does neuroscience have to say about the possibility of consciousness or mind existing outside the body — or continuing on after the body has died? This episode’s guest is neurologist Dr. Steven Novella (veteran of on-site ghost investigations, and host of the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast), who shares his insights on brains, minds, and specters from beyond the grave. February 17th: Suitable for Framing In this episode, the hosts of MonsterTalk talk with Greg Long, author of the 2004 book The Making of Bigfoot (which was reviewed at the time by Skeptic’s own Daniel Loxton). Long’s book is built from hours of interviews with surviving contemporaries of Roger Patterson, the filmmaker who shot the influential Patterson-Gimlin footage. For many people, this film remains the best evidence that Bigfoot is real. However, Long’s research uncovered a side of Patterson most people had never heard of before — and it isn’t pretty. According to Long, the famed Bigfoot film shows nothing more than a man in a modified gorilla suit. Moreover, Long may have found the man who wore it… February 3rd: Bigfoot: First Impressions In the world of Bigfoot, good evidence is hard to come by. Anecdotes and blurry photos keep the documentaries coming, but most skeptics agree that a body or a living specimen are needed to confirm the existence of a large North American mystery mammal. But what of alleged Bigfoot footprints? One expert claims that at least some track castings contain proof of an actual unknown ape. That expert is retired law enforcement agent Jimmy Chilcutt — and he’s agreed to come talk with the skeptics on MonsterTalk. January 13th: Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum! Giants appear in cultures around the world: Biblical tales of giants more than ten feet tall; Roman and Greek stories of titans and heroes; European stories of giants of mountain and hill. They all have one thing in common: enormous monsters. On this episode of MonsterTalk we chat with archeologist Dr. Ken Feder about giants, biblical archeology — and one of the biggest hoaxes in American history.

Download any or all of the 2010 episodes here.

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2009 Index

December 23rd: I’m Gonna Get You, Goat Sucker! The most famous of the Latin American cryptids is El Chupacabra, the goat sucker. This episode of MonsterTalk examines the lore behind this slinking, sinister, blood-sucking creature. Is it a real animal? A creation of secret scientific experiments? An alien’s pet accidentally released on Earth? Co-host Benjamin Radford takes the guest spot this week as we discuss the research behind his upcoming book (tentatively titled) Tracking the Vampire: Chupacabras in Fact, Fiction and Folklore. December 9th: They Came From Outer Space! Are creatures from other planets visiting the earth, trampling our crops to create cryptic messages, violating people in their sleep, and doing terrible things to our livestock? How plausible is it that we are being visited by intelligent beings from beyond Earth, or that we’ve been visited in the distant past? This week on MonsterTalk, astronomer Dr. Phil Plait, author of Death from the Skies! joins us to talk about monsters — from outer space! November 18th: Horrifying Hybrids In this episode, MonsterTalk examines monsters that genetically blend humans with the other. Hosts Blake Smith, Ben Radford, and Dr. Karen Stollznow explore the plausibility of alien-human hybridizations, dig into the real science of genetics — and consider the ethical questions involved. Weighing in on these issues is Dr. Steven Jones — noted geneticist, teacher, and television presenter. (He is also the author of many books including Darwin’s Ghost, Introducing Genetics, Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise.) Did Stalin really want to build an army of gorilla-human hybrids? Is the upright-walking chimp called Oliver really some kind of chimpanzee-human mix? The plausibility of such creatures may surprise you… October 28th: Darwin vs. the Wolfman In this week’s Halloween episode, MonsterTalk ventures into the realm of the werewolves — and asks what Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species implies for this fearsome monster’s plausibility. Guest Dr. Brian Regal (Assistant Professor for the History of Science at Kean University) discusses his lecture about whether Darwin slew the last of the werewolves. Professor Regal also explores the relationship between creationists and cryptozoology, and introduces his new book, Pseudoscience: A Critical Encyclopedia. October 12th: Pterosaurs Paleontologist Dr. David Martill joins us to talk about prehistoric flying reptiles and his visit to Papua New Guinea with the TV show MonsterQuest to search for the legendary Ropen, an animal which some say is a modern day surviving Pterosaur. Dr. Martill is a reader in Paleobiology with the University of Portsmouth and he joins us to talk about the current state of Pterosaur science and to discuss the plausibility of surviving populations of these fascinating creatures. MonsterNEWS: Wake the Muck Up The recent sighting of waves in the Lake Worth Lagoon, near West Palm Beach Florida, caused a brief monster stir. MonsterNEWS: Sloth in the Media Well, the “Montauk Madness” has returned but this time from Panama (Central American, not Florida). MonsterNEWS: Thunderbirds & Winged Bigfoot We cover three recent stories with wings: the Parking Lot Thunderbird, the Argentine Windshield Pterosaur, and a winged Bigfoot photo that turns out to be a bird. August 31st: The Plesiosaur Hypothesis Is there a mysterious prehistoric “living fossil” lurking beneath the waters of Loch Ness? The idea that a colony of Plesiosaurs might have survived into modern times in the deep dark waters of Loch Ness has long captured the imagination of cryptozoology fans. But what do we know about these mesozoic marine animals whose fossils disappear from the record at the same time as the dinosaurs? MonsterTalk found an expert to answer some of our questions about what science can tell us of these magnificent beasts. Dr. Adam Stuart Smith is a specialist in aquatic prehistoric reptiles. He runs the website www.plesiosauria.com and works for the National Museum of Ireland where he is part of a team dedicated to documenting and databasing the Natural History collections. August 16th: Fins & Fossil Footprints Did a Japanese fishing vessel catch the body of a prehistoric aquatic dinosaur? In this week’s MonsterTalk, we interview Glen Kuban to discuss the 1977 case of the Zuiyo-Maru, dinosaurs, paleontology, cryptozoology and why so many creationists want to find living dinosaurs. Kuban has done extensive research on two cases important to monster enthusiasts. His article explaining the true nature of the “mysterious” carcass netted by the Japanese fishing vessel Zuiyo-maru and his decades long investigation into the alleged “giant humanoid tracks” in the Paluxy fossil bed in Texas both highlight the importance of a thorough investigation before assuming the remarkable is true. INTERVIEW: Animals in the Okanagan Blake Smith is interviewed on AM770 (CHQR) about Canadian Lake Monsters and a recent animal sighting in Lake Okanagan. July 27th: Anatomy of a Beast In this week’s MonsterTalk, we interview Michael McLeod, a writer, producer, and director who has created documentaries for PBS, the PBS series Frontline, the Discovery Channel, and other national venues. His book Anatomy of a Beast is an in-depth look at the origins of the Bigfoot mythology that culminated in the Patterson-Gimlin film. He examines the lives and beliefs of the men (for it was mostly men) whose writing, research, hoaxes, stories and films brought us the Bigfoot we know today in popular culture. The book gives a very humanizing look at people whose efforts range from the silly to the desperate. July 2nd: Bigfoot DNA Our panel (Ben Radford, Dr. Karen Stollznow and Blake Smith) interview Professor Todd Disotell, PhD. Todd has been a guest on multiple television shows to examine potential Bigfoot and Yeti DNA. We ask him about the science of DNA analysis, his thoughts on cryptid-TV, and what he’s found in his studies.

Download any or all of the 2009 episodes here.

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Oct 062011
 
“If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.” –Benjamin Franklin   I was recently and publicly called a “fat hater” on Facebook by someone I know. It was in response to an article I wrote for Discovery News about a rhyming children’s book for 4 to 8 year olds called Maddie Goes On a Diet.  The article was about a controversy surrounding the book, in which an overweight 14-year-old girl loses weight and gains self-esteem through diet and exercise. Outraged critics were concerned that the book could harm children, and I interviewed one expert (and quoted another) who claimed the book was damaging. I also analyzed their criticisms, and pointed out several logical errors and mistaken assumptions that critics were making about the book (for example that the diet Maddie goes on is an unhealthy, calorie-restricted diet, and that the book was likely to have a significant influence on children or their diets). I spent about half a day researching and writing the column, and the final product provided a much deeper level of analysis and critical thinking than most of the other news stories on the topic (do a Google search for the topic and see for yourself). Many Discovery News readers agreed with my analysis. Yet others dismissed my piece—not because my facts or arguments were wrong, but because it was just another example of my well-known “fat hating” bias. My article could be safely ignored and dismissed (or perhaps not even read) because anything I wrote was clearly driven by an anti-fat ulterior agenda. I would have welcomed some substantive criticism or comments explaining where my logic or arguments were faulty, but none were offered. This is, of course, a version of the logical fallacy of the ad hominem attack: Criticizing the person, not the argument or claim. We see it all the time in skepticism; it’s nothing new. But when a colleague and ostensible critical thinker does it, it’s disheartening. I should confess that I have also been publicly accused of hating both gays and dwarves. No, I’m not making this up. Interestingly, as far as I know I’ve never been accused of hating (or bias against) Blacks, Jews, Asians, or Muslims. Then again, the week’s not over. As it happens, I am not at all shy about identifying targets of my hatred; George W. Bush and psychics who exploit grieving families pretty much complete the list. If I hate you, I’ll make that perfectly clear; you won’t need to read between the lines. But gays, dwarves, and fat people (not to mention fat gay dwarves) are fine by me. The claim that I hate gays would surely come as a surprise to my many lifelong gay friends, including James Randi, to whom I dedicated one of my books. And the idea that I hate overweight people would also surely come as a shock to nearly all of my ex-girlfriends, few of whom are svelte. A few years ago, I even lost a friend who refused to speak to me because I had written an article that included a discussion of false rape claims. She (apparently) badly misread the piece and somehow concluded that I was suggesting that real rapes don’t occur, or that real victims shouldn’t be believed. I of course wrote no such thing. On very rare occasions I’ve even heard the suggestion that I am somehow biased in favor of sex offenders (whatever that means) because I have written about the sex predator panic scares, explaining to parents that family and friends pose a far greater danger to children than any convicted sex offender. In fact a child is far more likely to be physically or sexually abused, abducted, or even killed by his or her parents than a sex offender stranger. This is a well-established statistical fact, and how that could be interpreted as a bias toward sex offenders is beyond me. I am used to attacks and criticism; it comes with the territory. Any time you are challenging someone’s beliefs or claims, and especially when you do with references, sound arguments, and sources, people get upset. In my twelve years of doing skeptical investigations and science literacy work, I’ve been threatened with both violence and lawsuits (including from a New York Times reporter—involving a predator panic piece I wrote, in fact). I get hate mail of some sort nearly every week; I’m told that I’m stupid, willfully ignorant, and an embarrassment to journalism. Some people leave comments on Discovery News articles saying I should be fired. I think writing is the only profession where people who have read a few paragraphs of your work feel entitled to tell you what a horrible, incompetent person you are, and on a fairly regular basis. I don’t mind the criticisms, it’s the bias accusations that annoy me, and it’s instructive to briefly analyze them. When I question claims about aliens and UFO photographs, critics assert that the only logical reason I would do so is because I have a bias or agenda as part of a government conspiracy to keep the truth from the public. When I question claims about alternative medicine and homeopathy, it’s not because I have researched it and know a lot about it, but because I’m being paid by Big Pharma. When I question claims made by psychics, critics say it’s because I have a bias toward protecting the scientific status quo—or that if I were to accept the reality of psychics it would devastate my worldview. And when I question claims about the links between media images and eating disorders, it can’t be because I know something about it—having studied it for years and written a book about the mass media—but because I hate fat people. All of these folks have one thing in common: The assumption that the reason I’m criticizing their claims or arguments because 1) I haven’t done adequate research into the subject, and if I did, I’d realize that they were right; and 2) I have a hidden agenda, some bias or ulterior motive that compels me to write my ill-informed rubbish despite all the obvious evidence against my position. Often the basic logic goes something like this: “You are saying something that’s different than what I heard (or believe), so you must be wrong.” It rarely seems to occur to them that maybe what they heard (or believe) might be wrong, and that the author who has spent hours (or days or years) researching it might know more about it. Truly open-minded people who are willing to listen and consider information and arguments that contradict their beliefs are discouragingly rare. Many of these accusations of bias and hatred would of course not happen if I stuck to safe, non-controversial claims (among skeptics, anyway). If I restricted my critical analyses to UFOs or Bigfoot or psychic claims, I would only garner criticisms and attacks from the believers (and there’s plenty of those). My friends and fans, skeptics and otherwise, are happy to have me fight the good fight against woo, pseudoscience, and New Age bullshit day in and day out, month after month, year after year. But some of them get very uncomfortable when I write and discuss topics that touch a nerve, especially issues about gender or sexuality (religion, as you might expect, isn’t really a point of contention among this crowd). Things get a little awkward when I question whether or not, for example, the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign actually had any effect, or whether the “epidemic” of gay teen suicides last year was real. Things get a little awkward when I question whether sex offender notification laws are useful, whether false rape claims are a problem, or whether fashion models and a rhyming kid’s book actually lead to anorexia. I apply my skepticism across the board, asking for evidence behind any and all claims. I don’t like it when people whose ideas and policies I oppose lie and repeat false statements to make their points, and I don’t like it when people whose ideas and policies I agree with lie and repeat false statements to make their points. I try hard not to be selectively skeptical. I believe that there should be no sacred cows, no taboo topics. I will continue to write about body image and sex offenders and bad statistics and faulty arguments wherever I encounter them. I will endure the barbs and personal attacks, because I believe that these things should be openly discussed, and the arguments, pro and con, should be carefully analyzed instead of ignored or dismissed because of some perceived bias. Truth is best served when everyone asks, “What is the evidence?” not only for claims and ideas they oppose, but also for those they support. The principles of free speech are not tested by popular speech, but by unpopular speech. In the same vein, the true nature of open and skeptical inquiry is not tested when a person says something we agree with, but in how we react when a person says something we disagree with.
Aug 282011
 
ABC News recently carried a piece I wrote about the failure of psychic detectives, and the James Randi Educational Foundation's $1 Million Challenge. I'm especially proud of the article because it goes in some depth about psychic claims, and credits Randi for his expose of faith healing scoundrel Peter Popoff. Even Carla Baron herself, one of the psychics mentioned in the piece, commented on it! She wrote,
This "challenge" has provided an unending source of amusement for me personally. Keep it up, and never let us REAL psychics out of your sight! We could possibly get away with something utterly unfathomable. ;)~ Carla Baron
You can read the story HERE. 
Aug 222011
 
The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has announced that it is publicly offering $1 million to celebrity "psychic mediums" including James Van Praagh, Allison DuBois, Convicted Felon Sylvia Browne, Carla Baron, John Edward, and others if they can prove their abilities in controlled experiments. Put up or shut up! Read the full story on Discovery News HERE.

Scientific Paranormal Investigation Reviews

 
"Ben Radford has provided us with an excellent primer on how any reasonably observant person interested in looking into paranormal, supernatural, or occult claims can do so without having to invent the art from scratch. To prepare his reader, Ben relates how easily even he - as a highly experienced investigator - has been deceived by his own mistakes in perception, and how he has learned from those errors. This is of course an important lesson for anyone who wants to provide accurate information about these matters. He goes into detail on how one has to be informed in the basics of science and of the design of scientific protocols with which to handle the various puzzles that an investigator will inevitably come up against, and he gives us a selection of examples described by such experts as Martin Gardner, Joe Nickell, Susan Blackmore, Massimo Polidoro, and Richard Wiseman - to name only a few with whom I am closely connected. I'm flattered to be included in these pages among those savants. Occam's Razor, the tedious Ghost Hunters shows that bore us on TV, Bigfoot, spectral "orbs," and spoon-benders are also examined, but the real paydirt here is found in Ben's own detailed accounts of events he's personally looked into and revealed as errors, jokes, misperceptions, or outright frauds. First-person descriptions and details - again - are persuasive items that catch the reader's attention and respect. Ben Radford knows his calling. Read, consider, and learn. It's all here." --James Randi, magician, investigator, author, and founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation "From case studies to detailed instruction on the best paranormal investigative methods, Radford has written a book that is sorely needed, especially as a corrective to the popular TV mystery mongers who seem reluctant to use good science. Radford dares to argue that investigators of the paranormal should approach their work scientifically, and then shows the reader precisely how to do so. Now when someone asks me how she can get involved investigating the paranormal, I have the perfect handbook to refer her to. This is a must-read for any skeptic interested in the front-lines of the war between undue credulity and the scientific worldview." -- D. J. Grothe, President, James Randi Educational Foundation "This is the best book I have ever read on the subject of paranormal and ghost investigations... It's dead-on target about how to do real, scientific investigation. I can't recommend it enough." --Tim Yancey, Encounters Live Paranormal Radio "This book is about practical, applied skepticism. As a regular participant in TV shows, Radford gives us an insiders view on how these shows are made and their ultimate purpose. With his enthusiasm for pop culture, he is able to deftly connect the influences and effects of culture to paranormal popularity. I have not seen any comparable insight anywhere else. True gems of wisdom are richly strewn throughout the book. This book is a necessity for all paranormal investigators. It ought to be required for those questionable 'home study' courses for ghost hunters. At least, then, they might learn how to solve some mysteries instead of inflate them." --Sharon Hill, Doubtful, "Solving Unexplained Mysteries: A review of Scientific Paranormal Investigation by B. Radford," June 21, 2010, http://idoubtit.wordpress.com/category/books/. "Radford is one of only a handful of professional, scientific paranormal investigators in the world. He has a proven track record of explaining the unexplained and in this book he reveals the scientific principles that can be used to shed light on the most mysterious of phenomena." --Prof. Richard Wiseman, psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire and author of many books including Guidelines for Testing Psychic Claimants. "What does it take to do scientific investigations of ghost stories, the claims of psychics, or the appearance overnight of complex designs in corn fields? Radford not only explains what tools the investigator needs, but shows the reader how he applied those tools in real-life cases. If you're thinking of becoming a paranormal investigator, Radford's book is essential.... Some prefer their mysteries unsolved. Others enjoy the chase and the hunt, the tracking and the inference from evidence to hypothesis, the testing of possible explanations, and the ultimate solving of the mystery backed by logic and clear reasoning. If you're one of these latter types, you'll enjoy this book. If you want to become a paranormal investigator, Radford's book is the first thing you should put in your toolkit." --Robert Carroll, emeritus professor of philosophy at Sacramento City College and author of The Skeptic's Dictionary and Becoming a Critical Thinker. "If you are inclined to believe we are being observed by bug-eyed aliens in UFOs, or in the reality of ghosts, psychic powers, crop circles, clairvoyant cats, sea monsters, Bigfoot, psychics who find murder victims, or mediums who channel the departed, then you probably won't buy this book. If you do, it won't alter by two degrees your mindset. On the other hand, if you care to know how professional investigators of bogus science go about solving mysteries, and the amazing - and often amusing - facts they uncover, then this fascinating book is a must. Ben Radford has been there, he has seen and heard and smelled it all!" --Martin Gardner is the author of many books about science, pseudoscience, mathematics, philosophy, and literature. "Science and skepticism are the best tools ever devised for baloney detection, and Benjamin Radford has written a brilliant and highly readable manual on how to solve mysteries, investigate claims, and detect baloney. Every student, teacher, and congressman should have a copy at the ready." --Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, author of Why People Believe Weird Things "I've investigated several paranormal claims... and this book definitely resonated with me. If any of you read my blog on a regular basis and enjoy it when I research some paranormal claim, I highly recommend reading this book... it's fascinating stuff." --The Dumbasses Guide to Knowledge, http://www.dumbassguide.info/
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Scientific Paranormal Investigation

 
Scientific Paranormal Investigation By Benjamin Radford. Rhombus Publishing Company: 2010, 300 pages. Paperback, 80 photos and illustrations, index, $15.25. ISBN: 978-0-936455-11-2

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What is it like to travel the world investigating the paranormal? To not just sit back and wonder about the world's famous unexplained mysteries, but actually go out and solve them? To investigate haunted houses, searching for evidence of ghosts and spirits? To search the world's lakes for giant, fearsome monsters? To investigate - and create - the mysterious phenomena of crop circles? To talk to people who speak to the dead, solve crimes for police, or use ESP? (Download Ben Radford's "Top Five Ghost Hunting Mistakes: Science and Pseudoscience in Ghost Hunting" [pdf]) Scientific Paranormal Investigation is the first book to give the public an inside look at the life, methods, and work of a real-life scientific paranormal investigator. I have pursued "unexplained" phenomena for over twelve years - not just read or written about them, but actually gone out to see what's there. In a nutshell, Scientific Paranormal Investigation is the literary equivalent of The X-Files meets CSI: Crime Scene Investigations: applying scientific methods and principles to real-life mysteries, and coming up with explanations when it seems none are possible. Whether the subject is a crime scene or a haunted house, the questions are the same: What did eyewitnesses see? What does the evidence show? For the millions who have an interest in the paranormal but who are not necessarily familiar with what skeptics are or what they do, this book provides an understanding of skepticism and how science can be applied to modern mysteries and the paranormal. With contributions by James Randi, Joe Nickell, Martin Gardner, Susan Blackmore, Ray Hyman, David Clarke, David E. Thomas, Richard Wiseman, Karen Stollznow, James Underdown, Daniel Loxton, Gary P. Posner, Massimo Polidoro and Blake Smith. Index Part I: Skepticism and the Paranormal Chapter 1: Understanding the Paranormal and Skepticism Why Scientific Investigation? Unexplained Vs. Unexplainable The Importance of Scholarship Chapter 2: The Psychology of the Paranormal The Psychology of Experience Eyewitnesses and Personal Experience Case Studies in the Psychology of the Paranormal Part II: Conducting Scientific Paranormal Investigation Chapter 3: Investigation Principles and Guidelines Mystery as Missing Context Finding Mysteries Types of Mysteries and Investigations Researching the Mystery Applying Scientific Methods to Paranormal Investigation Analyzing Claim Clusters Logical Fallacies Guidelines for Scientific Paranormal Investigation Nuts and Bolts of Investigation Field Investigations Interviewing Eyewitnesses Investigating Photographic and Video Evidence Investigation Equipment Other Perspectives on Scientific Paranormal Investigation Chapter 4: How Not to Investigate the Paranormal: Science and Pseudoscience in Ghost Investigations Part III: Case Studies in Scientific Paranormal Investigation Chapter 5: The Demonic Ghost House of Buffalo Chapter 6: The Psychic and the Serial Killer: The "Best Case" for Psychics Chapter 7: Riddle of the Crop Circles Chapter 8: Ogopogo, the Bloodthirsty Lake Monster Chapter 9: The Mysterious Santa Fe Courthouse Ghost Chapter 10: The Amazing Lee B., Remote Viewer Chapter 11: The Mysterious Pokémon Panic Chapter 12: The White Witch of Rose Hall Chapter 13: Slaying the Vampire: Solving the Chupacabra Mystery

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Mar 182017
 
My article on the scope of skepticism from Skeptical Inquirer magazine is now online: "Pseudoscience, superstition, and nonsense will always be with us in some form, wasting human resource and preying on the vulnerable. As long as there is darkness, skeptics will be there to fight for the light amid a chorus of curses."   The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer are celebrating forty years of organized modern skepticism—though of course skepticism itself has a long and honorable tradition, as practiced by Harry Houdini, Benjamin Franklin, Reginald Scot, David Hume, and others. As it happens I have been closely involved with CSICOP/CSI for half of its existence, and therefore much of my adult life (had I been told at ten what I’d be doing at forty, I’d have considered that an extraordinary claim indeed). In some ways, the decades seem to have passed in the blink of an eye, and in other ways, it has taken an eternity. I wasn’t there in the early years: the heady seventies when astrology was rampant and Uri Geller was cranking out the woo trying to stay one step ahead of James “The Amazing” Randi. My entry to skepticism came in the mid-1990s when I began writing for Skeptical Inquirer after seeing a back issue (with a cover article by Randi) debunking a certain famously ambiguous and wily French author. A few years later at conferences, I got to meet both Randi and Carl Sagan, and with the encouragement of those two pillars of skepticism and others—as well as a fortunately timed editorial vacancy at Skeptical Inquirer—I joined the organization. You can read the rest HERE.    You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Oct 152016
 
Over the past month schools throughout Alabama have been threatened by several people claiming to be clowns. Responses to the threats—many of them originating (or shared) on social media—have resulted in increased police patrols and in some cases full lockdowns. Police in Flomaton Ala. investigated what were deemed credible threats to students at Flomaton High School that were shared via social media. A total of about 700 students at Flomaton High School and nearby Flomaton Elementary School were told to shelter in place while the schools, following protocol, were placed on lockdown for much of the day while dozens of police and other law enforcement officers searched the grounds for threats. The threats had originated from two Facebook accounts, "FLOMO KLOWN" and "Shoota Cllown"; the digital trail led FBI investigators to one adult and two teens. Twenty-two year old Makayla Smith of Flomaton was arrested for making a terroristic threat while posting as an evil clown and is being held on a $200,000 bond. This string of incidents may leave parents and teachers wondering if the "clown lockdown" is the new normal, and indeed a similar incident happened again in Irondale, another Alabama town. As the news website AL.com reported, "Irondale police Officer James Lewis, a school resource officer, said a student reported to police that a Facebook post hinted at the possibility of clowns showing up on campus at Shades Valley High School. Irondale police Det. Sgt. Michael Mangina said they have two school resource officers assigned to Shades Valley. In addition to those two officers, extra officers were patrolling the campus today. Mangina said they are monitoring the situation, but said they are not overly concerned. 'Part of the problem is the fact this stuff gets on social media and it explodes and it alarms people and it just spreads,'' he said. 'In today's climate, we're better safe than sorry.'" In a third Alabama school threat that week, two people dressed as clowns appeared in a Facebook video brandished a knife and ranted for several minutes about "coming for you in Troy, Alabama." Police identified the two in the video, which had been seen more than 50,000 times, as juveniles who attend Charles Henderson High School in Troy. Police did not charge the two boys because the video did not contain a specific threat to a person, building, or institution, but warned in a public statement that other potential copycats that such pranks would not be tolerated: "The Troy Police Department strongly discourages anyone from dressing as a clown or wearing a clown mask for any reason due to the sensitive and threatening environment that this type of costume is currently under." Not only have creepy clowns recently been reported in Greenville, S.C., allegedly luring children into the woods. No evidence of those clowns has emerged and they are widely considered merely rumors, but there have been a handful of people dressing as clowns and scaring people. Last month a pair of Canadian teenagers dressed as clowns were having fun in a park scaring younger kids, and in Wisconsin a clown seen at night was revealed to be part of a viral marketing campaign for a scary film. In some cases both adults and schoolchildren have admitted to making up stories of seeing threatening clowns. Any other time reports of threatening clowns would likely have been ignored or dismissed, but these copycat clown incidents come at a time when very real terroristic threats and school shootings are in the news. Parents can take comfort that no clowns are actually trying to abduct or harm kids—not a single credible report has surfaced of any child being hurt or even touched by a threatening clown in recent weeks. Still, teachers and police understandably err on the side of caution, deciding it's better to be safe than sorry. Social media plays a large role in inspiring these copycat incidents and police, who waste time and resources responding to these false reports, hope that the novelty of reporting fake clown threats wears off soon. bc-intro-3b