Oct 222016
 

Donald Trump’s recent comments about the prospect of a rigged election and widespread voter fraud should he lose have taken his conspiracy theories to a new level.

Political conspiracies are nothing new, and date back millennia–the Roman Empire was rife with intrigue and plots--but Trump’s endorsement of conspiracies is unprecedented in American politics. No modern politician has so successfully and routinely employed conspiracy theories as Trump.

Trump has implicitly or explicitly endorsed several prominent conspiracy theories, including about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. When asked about it during a media interview Trump responded, “I’m hearing it’s a big topic… They say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.” (In fact Scalia died of natural causes, a pillow was not found over his face, and his family was aware he’d been ill for some time.)

Trump has also endorsed several explicitly anti-science conspiracy theories including that childhood vaccines cause autism, and that global warming is a hoax (tweeting on Nov. 6, 2012 that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”). Trump’s best known conspiracy theory, however, involves questions about President Obama’s birthplace, which was of course a clear challenge to his legitimacy as president under the Constitution.

But recently Trump took a new tack. Vanity Fair noted last week that “Donald Trump is once again down in the polls, and like clockwork, the Republican nominee has resumed warning his supporters that ‘Crooked Hillary’ and her allies will steal the election. His latest theory as to how the vast left-wing conspiracy will cheat him out of the White House? Undocumented immigrants, Trump says, are receiving fast-tracked U.S. citizenship so they can vote for Hillary Clinton in November.”

Trump has trafficked in many conspiracy theories for years, but this is one is different. Here’s why.

By employing this specific type of conspiracy theory Trump sets up a no-lose situation for himself (and those who endorse him). Trump has called into question the legitimacy of the very foundation of a representative democracy: voting.

A conspiracy about the prospect of voter fraud in case of Trump’s loss resonates personally and emotionally with ordinary voters in a way that other conspiracies will not: Not everyone cares whether or not Obama was born in the United States, and even fewer likely care about the exact circumstances of Justice Scalia’s death. But voting is a different matter: it is the people’s voice and right, and everyone wants their voice heard. As US District Judge Mark Walker ruled recently, “No right is more precious than having a voice in our elections.”

Voter fraud is not unheard of in elections around the world, of course, and while some voter fraud is possible, rigging an entire American election would be virtually impossible as a practical matter. There are simply too many independent machines to alter all of them, and in any event even if Trump’s claim was true, there are not enough recently-minted citizen migrants to significantly alter voting patterns across the country.

The voter fraud conspiracy is especially insidious because it cannot be conclusively disproven. Any investigations that find no truth to the allegations can simply and easily be dismissed as whitewashes and cover-ups. The nature of conspiracy theory is such that any evidence that contradicts or undermines the theory is assumed to itself be part of that that cover up. In this way conspiracy theories are self-perpetuating and what in science is called non-falsifiable; that is, they cannot be proven wrong.

It’s not clear whether Trump himself genuinely believes that conspiracy–after all, if he is certain that the system is fatally rigged against him, why bother to continue?–or if it’s just one of his trademark bluffs and blusters. If Trump loses the election in November, there will be some people-perhaps thousands, perhaps millions-who harbor some doubt about the legitimacy of the outcome. And that can indeed undermine confidence in the country.

Oct 202016
 

Little-known fact: I’m a contributor to ep5, a non-profit organization of volunteers who provide educational content to public radio. I’ve recorded about a dozen “90-Second Science” pieces on skeptical subjects including chemtrails and the chupacabra…

 

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Oct 182016
 

I’m quoted in a new article in The Guardian by Jason Wilson:

“It started in Green Bay, Wisconsin. On 1 August, witnesses reported a clown walking around with black balloons. At the end of that month, in Greenville, South Carolina, a clown tried to lure some kids into the woods. Four days later, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the same thing happened. On 6 September, local news in Greensboro, just up the road, reported that “a person wearing a scary clown mask, a red curly wig, a yellow dotted shirt, blue clown pants, and clown shoes” was chased off by a local with a machete….”

You can read the rest HERE. 

 

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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.

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Oct 142016
 

Tonight I will be giving a presentation to the Albuquerque Science Fiction Society titled “Contacting the Dead: Séances From the Victorian Era To Modern Times.” It is the same talk I gave to wide acclaim at this year’s packed Bubonicon conference:

“Though TV shows like Ghost Hunters have raised the profile of ghost hunting, there’s nothing new about seeking out spirits of the dead. For millennia people have tried to communicate with the deceased, using everything from chalkboards to Ouija boards to EVP (electronic voice phenomena). Focusing on the 1800s through today—including early mediums, the Spiritualist movement, and files from England’s Society for Psychical Research—writer and investigator Ben Radford discusses the theories and techniques behind attempts to speak to the dead. Fans of SF, fantasy, horror, and occult history will enjoy this informative and entertaining historical look at a century and a half of attempts to contact the afterlife.”

The event will be held at 7:30 at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 5301 Ponderosa Ave NE in Albuquerque, off of San Mateo. There’s a $2 fee for non-members. If you’re in the area, come on out for this fun and informative talk!

Oct 132016
 

I was recently interviewed by a Spanish journalist about the clown scares sweeping the country; here’s an excerpt:

Q: What is your opinion on the recent sightings of terrifying clowns in the United States and other countries? 

A: The scary clown panic has spread across the country to dozens of states and even internationally, fueled by hoaxes, copycats, pranksters, rumors, and social media. The creepy clown panic became so serious that it was addressed in an October 4 White House briefing!

Q: Why is this phenomenon occurring right now?

A: There are several reasons why this scare clown panic is happening now. The most important is probably the effect of social media. People see these scary/funny clown photos on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and get inspired to dress as a clown and participate in the scares. Plus, of course, the news media is reporting these stories a lot.
Q: What could be the motivation of those people who dress as clowns to scare people?

A: Most of them are doing it for fun and attention, they want to make the news—but do it safely and anonymously, without facing any consequences. Even if the police come, there is very little they can do since dressing as a clown is not illegal. There are a handful of reports of minor injuries, but nothing serious, no abductions or murders by these hoaxers. After all, if you really want to assault or injure somebody, you don’t need to dress as a clown to do it!
Q: According to your book Bad Clowns, why is the clown in all societies and cultures?

A: The clown character, historically and culturally, has always been an ambiguous person—neither good nor bad, but sometimes either or both. The clown is a trickster figure, as is the Devil, of course, so there has always been an element of the unexpected, the scary or threatening in the clown. But the type of clown most people are familiar with these days is of course the good, happy clown. So these scary clowns subvert that idea, and that’s one reason they are so interesting and compelling.
Q: According to your book, why are many people afraid of clowns?

A: There are several reasons why people are scared of clowns, but one is that clowns are masked, and people are uneasy around masked strangers—for obvious reasons! Plus, the makeup is often garish and exaggerated, which looks okay from a distance (for example from the seats in a circus), but looks scary close up.

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Sep 302016
 

I’m quoted in a recent piece on The Daily Beast, talking about government (sorry, gubmint) mind control conspiracies. You can read it HERE! 

 

“They’re looking for shielding materials, garments, fabrics, metals, paints, and meters for measuring, but oftentimes they can’t really articulate what they’re trying to shield from or trying to measure,” said DeToffol.

That’s because none of what these people are trying to protect against actually exists, says Benjamin Radford, a fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a New York think tank that promotes science-based reasoning. Further, this sort of “thought broadcasting”—which is known among conspiracy theorists as “Remote Neural Monitoring,” or “RNM”—is a classicmanifestation of paranoid schizophrenia, says Dr. Michael Sacks, an attending psychiatrist at NewYork Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 282016
 

I’m quoted in a new LiveScience.com piece on clown scares!

“But the humor of these characters wasn’t always harmless. Secure in their status as jokers, royal jesters could direct amusingly insulting potshots at even the king himself, said Ben Radford, author of “Bad Clowns” (University of New Mexico Press, April 2016), which explores the dark history of these comical buffoons. “A jester might make a sly joke about how many mistresses a king had or how fat he was,” Radford told Live Science. “Their role allowed them to do that. As the jester, they were the only person in the kingdom who would be given that license.”

You can read the full piece HERE. 

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 252016
 

I was recently interviewed by Anton Hill of the YouTube gaming chat show … We talk about lots of things, including my board game Playing Gods… You can listen HERE. 

BoardVert copy

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 222016
 

My new CFI blog examines the issue of taking offense, and taking offense on behalf of others. I’m joined by Celestia N. Ward and Ian Harris in examining where we draw the line and why. Check it out HERE! 

 

It’s no secret that (potentially) offensive things are all around us: Social media and news stories are populated by stories of both genuine and almost-certainly-staged outrage over offensive remarks. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump seems constitutionally incapable of not making offensive comments, whether about Mexicans, women, Muslims, war heroes, or anything else. Then there’s comedian Stephen Fry, who takes a dim view of the process of taking offense: “It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase: ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”

I think we can all agree that there are indeed some things worth being offended about. It’s one thing to be offended as the target of an objectionable action or insult, but what about being offended on behalf of other people, whether requested or not? In many cases people defer to a victim’s interpretation, experience, or “personal truth” about what happened. After all, a person who tells another what or how to think about that person’s experience is imposing their own set of values and beliefs….

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 202016
 

I wrote a new piece for Seeker (formerly Discovery News) on ghost lights, including in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula…Check it out–if you dare, it’s HERE!

Ghost hunters and mystery buffs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula often seek out a lonely road at a remote spot in the woods near the Wisconsin border hoping to see a mystery known as the Paulding Light. Some come prepared with bug spray and beer, while others arrive empty-handed. All, however, harbor hopes of seeing the mystery for themselves. Mysterious lights in the sky are of course as old as antiquity and come in many forms, ranging from meteors to UFOs. Lights such as those seen in the Upper Peninsula are often referred to as ghost lights or spook lights. These lights are not merely encountered as factual, visible anomalies but instead often appear in the context of ghost stories. Local folklore provides a legendary “explanation” for the lights, part of a long tradition of creating narratives to explain natural celestial processes…

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 182016
 

Bad Clowns, by Benjamin Radford, blends humor, investigation, and scholarship to reveal what is behind the clown’s dark smile. This book describes the history of bad clowns, why clowns go bad, and why many people fear them. Going beyond familiar clowns such as the Joker, Krusty, John Wayne Gacy, and Stephen King’s Pennywise, it also features bizarre, lesser-known stories of weird clown antics including Bozo obscenity, Ronald McDonald haters, killer clowns, phantom-clown abductors, evil-clown panics, sex clowns, carnival clowns, troll clowns, and much more.

 

For my history of evil clowns, see my Utne piece HERE. 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 162016
 

Earlier this week a story spread widely on social media about an Alabama pastor, Allen Joyner, who allegedly told a high school football game crowd he was announcing for that people who don’t stand for the national anthem should be killed.

In a Facebook post, a woman named Denise Crowley-Whitfield wrote “the announcer audibly spoke the words that millions of Americans are thinking. He said, ‘If you don’t want to stand for the National Anthem, you can line up over there by the fence and let our military personnel that a few shots at you since they’re taking shots for you.'”

According to Crowley-Whitfield, his statement was greeted with wild applause from the crowd at McKenzie High School, much to the horror of people who believe in the First Amendment and support NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s recent decision not to stand for the anthem. It was a ready-made viral outrage story highlighting religious bigotry and misplaced patriotism.

The pastor, however, claims he was misquoted… You can read the whole story HERE.

 

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 122016
 

I recently found my original idea for the cover art for my book “Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore.” I wanted something interesting and evocative, and my publisher UNM Press did a great job on it. Below is my original sketch, and the final cover:

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Tracking the Chupacabra cover JPG

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 102016
 

I got a Google Scholar alert telling me that my work has been cited in a research paper titled “Human Error: Crucial Failure in Nuclear Accidents.” As an undergraduate in UNM’s General Honors program, I wrote an award-winning essay analyzing the role of human error in the space shuttle Challenger accident and the Chernobyl nuclear accident (both in 1986). In sum, though both were widely considered technological failures, they were actually caused by human error and failure to follow safety procedures.

 

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You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 082016
 

I was a guest last month at New Mexico’s premiere science fiction and fantasy convention, Bubonicon. I gave a talk titled Contacting the Dead: Séances From the Victorian Era To Modern Times, described below

Though TV shows like Ghost Hunters have raised the profile of ghost hunting, there’s nothing new about seeking out spirits of the dead. For millennia people have tried to communicate with the deceased, using everything from chalkboards to Ouija boards to EVP (electronic voice phenomena). Focusing on the 1800s through today—including early mediums, the Spiritualist movement, and files from England’s Society for Psychical Research—writer and investigator Ben Radford discusses the theories and techniques behind attempts to speak to the dead. Fans of SF, fantasy, horror, and occult history will enjoy this informative and entertaining historical look at a century and a half of attempts to contact the afterlife.

Meeting of the Bens

Meeting of the Bens

At the autographing session I was seated next to 6-time Hugo Award winning sci-fi writer Ben Bova. We chatted for about 15 minutes; he was engaging and delightful, recounting stories of working with his friends Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and other greats of the golden age of sci-fi. Fans brought piles of his books and old magazines for him to autograph. I joked with him that having to sign so much was a penalty for being prolific and said I’d only written nine books (compared to his hundreds of credits) and he encouragingly replied, “That’s nine more than most people.”

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 062016
 

A few thoughts on the recent furor over a pro football player refusing to stand for the National Anthem. I couldn’t care less what Colin Kaepernick does and don’t question his right to protest as he sees fit. But I do find it bizarre that he believes that standing for the anthem somehow implies that he personally and necessarily shows pride in the flag, the country, or its character, for the same reason that I don’t believe that when people recite the Pledge of Allegiance they truly think or believe that by doing so, they are offering their “allegiance” to a flag or the country for which it stands. Children and adults who recite the Pledge don’t—either implicitly or explicitly—personally endorse the statement affirming that America actually provides “liberty and justice for all,” nor do they assert that our nation is indivisible (or, for that matter, that it exists under the Christian god).

Instead, like the National Anthem, it’s a custom largely devoid of significance; it’s not actually an oath of fealty or assertion of support from a citizen to a state. “This country stands for freedom, liberty, justice for all—and it’s not happening for all right now,” Kaepernick said—apparently lamenting that an unachievable, aspirational statement had not come to fruition in the real world. 

I’m fine with his protest, and my issue has nothing to do with disrespecting the country or the flag but instead the strange premise that standing for the anthem implies personally endorsing its content or asserting that the country’s ideals are being met; I’ve never heard that before, and don’t know of any logical basis for that assumption. I’ve also not seen anyone explain this reasoning, but will be curious to see if anyone does.

Sep 042016
 

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“Apply directly to the forehead,” infamously commanded a TV commercial for HeadOn, a pain reliever introduced in 2006 by a company called Miralus Healthcare. The product, which costs $25 and is sold in drug stores and online, claims to relieve headache and migraine pain. It is not a pill nor a solution but instead a waxy paste. Topical medicines are sometimes used to relieve local skin and muscle pains, but the idea that it could somehow relieve headache pain has aroused plenty of skepticism. According to its Amazon.com listing, “Head On Pain Reliever apply directly to the forehead. It is invisible and non greasy. Homeopathic. It’s [sic] can be used as often as needed. Safe to use with other medications.”

 

You can read the rest at my CFI blog HERE. 

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 022016
 

Creepy clowns have recently been reported in Greenville, S.C., allegedly luring children into the woods behind a block of apartments. It’s scary and alarming — but whether they’re real is another matter. Most of the handful of reports are from children, though a few are from adults. No one has actually been harmed or even touched. The children believe the clowns live in a house located near a pond at the end of a trail in the woods, though when police investigated they saw no signs of suspicious activity or anyone dressed as a clown….

You can read the rest of the story HERE. 

And, of course, you can read more about this mysterious menace in my new book Bad Clowns!

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You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Aug 222016
 

Recently a journalist contacted me with three or four questions about dowsing. I’ve written about dowsing several times, and last year I wrote a CFI blog about a conversation I had with a dowser. Here’s a transcript of the interview:

1) Why do you believe dowsing is fraudulent? Do you think dowsers are purposefully fraudulent or just deluded?

I don’t believe dowsing per se is fraudulent–that is, for the most part it’s not a scam, hoax, or intentional deception. Instead it’s a form of self-deception that often convinces others. There’s no intent to deceive, it’s more of a mistake or misunderstanding. I’ve met many dowsers over the years and without exception they have been credible, down-to-earth people. They seem sincere because they are sincere: they really believe they have this power, and have convinced themselves over and over with their results. In this way they often convince other people, especially those who haven’t researched skeptical or science-based explanations.

As for its origins, in her book Divining the Future: Prognostication From Astrology to Zoomancy, Eva Shaw writes, “In 1556, De Re Metallica, a book on metallurgy and mining written by George [sic] Agricola, discussed dowsing as an acceptable method of locating rich mineral sources.” This reference to De Re Metallica is widely cited among dowsers as proof of its validity. However it seems that the dowsing advocates didn’t actually read the book because it says exactly the opposite of what they claim: Instead of endorsing dowsing, Agricola states that those seeking minerals “should not make use of an enchanted twig, because if he is prudent and skilled in the natural signs, he understands that a forked stick is of no use to him.” So even 400 years ago, dowsing was recognized as not being useful.

 

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.

Aug 202016
 

An excerpt from my upcoming book on ghost investigation:

“The quantity and variety of alleged spirit images has exploded over the years, but the quality of the evidence remains as disappointingly ambiguous as ever. Some are shadowy, human-like figures; others are flash reflections of light appearing as round white spots dubbed “orbs”. Some ghosts are reported to look and act exactly like living, real people, with their true nature only being revealed when they suddenly vanish or walk through a wall. If those accounts are to be credited, then logically and theoretically there could be tens of millions of ghost photos that are not recognized as such—strangers in crowds or backgrounds in public areas could presumably include ghosts. If these spirits are visually indistinguishable from ordinary people as some eyewitnesses claim, then any photo which contains one or more people whose identity (and therefore status as alive or dead) is not conclusively known could include a ghost. I’m not suggesting this is the case, of course, but merely noting the practical complications that this view of ghosts implies…”

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Aug 182016
 

A new article on Gizmodo about monsters references my chupacabra research: “Other descriptions peg it as looking like a wild dog with a pronounced spinal ridge. Skeptical investigator Benjamin Radford went in-depth into the legend of the chupacabra, and concluded that many sightings were actually dogs or coyotes with mange, which contributes to their strange appearance…” You can read it HERE!

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Aug 152016
 

My article on Seeker (formerly Discovery News) is about the tragic legacy of fake bomb detectors in Iraq… check it out! After years of equipping important security checkpoints throughout Iraq with non-functioning bomb detectors, the Iraqi government has finally banned their use… 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.

Aug 122016
 

There’s a YouTube video that’s been around since 2014 about my chupacabra research, though I only recently got around to watching it. It’s a little slow and amateurish, but a decent and concise summary; you can see it HERE. Of me he says, “I think [Ben Radford’s] done a great job and as far as I’m concerned he has solved the chupacabra mystery.”

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Chupacabra illustration by Benjamin Radford

Chupacabra illustration by Benjamin Radford

Aug 112016
 

As you may know, in 2001 I helped solve the mystery of the bizarre 1997 Pokémon seizure incident. I wrote an article that became a cover story in Fortean Times and co-authored a medical journal article about it. I revisit the puzzling case in my new Seeker article:

Only those living under a rock or on a self-imposed news and social media quarantine could fail to have heard about the latest fad sweeping the world: Pokémon Go. The game app uses geolocation features that allow users to view a virtual Pokémon-populated virtual world through their phone’s camera. The goal is to “capture” the digital creatures (“Gotta catch ’em all” is the game’s slogan) and use them to train and battle for virtual territory.

The game has become enormously popular, with millions of people around the world playing the game since its July 6 launch. It’s been credited with getting slothful video game players out for fresh air and exercise—and even sparking romance.

While for most it’s harmless fun, reports have emerged of various pickles that Pokémon players face, and in a recent Seeker piece Aylssa Danigelis listed ten hazards of virtual reality gaming, including trespassing arrests, car crashes, falling or tripping due to inattention, and robberies.

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.

Aug 102016
 

 

News stories last week have challenged the conventional wisdom dispensed by dentists for decades: that flossing your teeth regularly helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease. But that’s not quite accurate. My article explaining why is HERE! 

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Aug 082016
 

My recent article for Seeker (formerly Discovery News) is about the politics of vaccinations…

 

In medicine the benefits of childhood vaccination are widely accepted. The evidence is clear and overwhelming: vaccines do not cause autism (or any other condition), and the benefits of preventing severe diseases far outweigh the small risks of side effects. This is non-controversial, and vaccination is a staple of preventive medicine worldwide.

You can read the rest HERE

 

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Aug 032016
 

A dowser I was testing once proudly noted (partway through the trials) that so far he had successfully found water at a significantly higher rate than would be expected by random chance (20% instead of 5%). I pointed out that performing better than random chance was a pretty low bar and asked him if he would be eager to hire a doctor, architect, or mechanic who—like him—was wrong 80% of the time. He just glared at me and said my negative attitude was interfering with his powers.

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Aug 012016
 

This is cool.. I was recently mentioned in a Forbes article on ghost hunting science and pseudoscience:

There’s no shortage of retailers to provide for your spooky-seeking needs. Products marketed as “Deluxe Ghost Hunting Kit” and “Ghost Hunting Spirit Box” can be found on Amazon and Ebay…Benjamin Radford, Deputy Editor the Skeptical Inquirer, said using “ghost hunting” equipment in general might be the field’s fatal flaw, “Ghost hunters go after whatever they think is weird. There’s no way of testing for a weird feeling.” Science… life’s wet blanket.

You can read the whole story HERE. 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Jul 302016
 

For those who didn’t see it, I recently wrote a piece about a fascinating 1880s-era scientist/educator/feminist/ghostbuster named Eleanor Sidgwick…

The long-awaited “Ghostbusters” remake is out… While vampire slaying has often been portrayed as a female-dominated profession (at least on television), ghost hunting seems more male-centered, at least as depicted on reality TV shows such as SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters,” now in its eleventh season of not finding ghosts.

The new “Ghostbusters” film has an all-female lead cast, but if you’re looking for a real-life pioneering female ghostbuster, you couldn’t do much better than Eleanor Sidgwick.

You can read the rest of the story HERE. 

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Jul 282016
 

My new article on a viral ghost photo claimed to show an accident victim’s soul leaving his body is now out:

A photo taken at the scene of a fatal motorcycle crash in Kentucky has gone viral, with many claiming they can see the accident victim’s spirit leaving his body. The image, showing what seems to be a gray or white vertical form in the air above two ambulances, was photographed and shared on social media by Kentucky resident Saul Vazquez….

You can read the whole piece HERE. 

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Jul 252016
 

About three or four times each year I get an e-mail (or, more rarely, a phone call or handwritten letter in block writing) from someone who wants me to read and carefully evaluate their amazing manifesto, usually involving some quasi-mystical “scientific” theory they’ve been working on for years (or decades). They are usually sincere, self-taught laypeople with no real academic education who are sure they’ve figured out universal truths that mainstream scientists are too blind to see, and say that the nuances of their genius can only be revealed by reading 300+ pages of their explanations and diagrams. I usually ignore them but I recently skimmed one and replied…

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You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Jul 232016
 

My mystery-solving investigation skills were praised a recent issue of “The New York Times Magazine,” which notes that I “thoroughly debunked” a famous eyewitness encounter with a monstrous Lizard Man. To the best of my knowledge–and despite many articles and even a whole book on the creature–I’m the first person to have debunked that sighting.

An excerpt:

But when it investigates the paranormal, Fortean Times brings painstaking research and analysis to bear on topics that most sensible observers would dismiss immediately. Consider our mutual friend the Lizard Man. The November cover story traced the South Carolina legend’s roots to a 1988 sighting by a Lee County teenager. This young man claimed that he stopped on his way home from work to change a flat tire when he spotted the seven-­foot-tall creature, which jumped atop his car, curling its long green fingers around the roof. Later, deep scratches were found in the paint. It’s a silver-­screen-­ready scene, recounted in seductive detail. But just when you’ve been sold on the legend, the pendulum swings back to skepticism. Yes, it’s cinematic — “suspiciously cinematic,” the writer Benjamin Radford warns, while thoroughly debunking the story. And I mean thoroughly: “Any bipedal creature running and jumping on the roof of a car would land with its head, hands and fingers toward the front of the car and its windscreen,” Radford noted. But “somehow this acrobatic Lizard Man ended up with its fingers on the rear windshield.” Yeah, right.

You can read the piece HERE.

FT blurb

 

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Jul 212016
 

With all the recent discussion of shootings and how the news media have covered it, I thought I’d revisit a blog I wrote in 2014 about how people often misuse (and misunderstand) the phrase “the media.”

As a longtime media and science literacy educator (as well as author of Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us), I regularly see “the media” blamed (and rarely praised) for any number of ills, some justified but many not. The phrase “the media” appears regularly and continually in public discourse-often as the subject of blame or derision: “the media” is said to incite violence, to inflame racial hatred, to manipulate consumers through advertising, and so on. “The media” is said to push an impossible beauty ideal on American women leading to an epidemic of eating disorders; violence in entertainment media such as video games is blamed for real-life violence, and so on. This is nothing new; blaming “the media” is an old tradition-in fact when Jack the Ripper was active in 1880s London, violence in the play “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was blamed for inspiring the serial murders.

You can read my CFI blog HERE.

Jul 182016
 

I’m mentioned, flatteringly, in a recent “New York Times Magazine” for an investigation and article I wrote. You can read it HERE.

“But when it investigates the paranormal, Fortean Times brings painstaking research and analysis to bear on topics that most sensible observers would dismiss immediately. Consider our mutual friend the Lizard Man. The November cover story traced the South Carolina legend’s roots to a 1988 sighting by a Lee County teenager. This young man claimed that he stopped on his way home from work to change a flat tire when he spotted the seven-­foot-tall creature, which jumped atop his car, curling its long green fingers around the roof. Later, deep scratches were found in the paint. It’s a silver-­screen-­ready scene, recounted in seductive detail. But just when you’ve been sold on the legend, the pendulum swings back to skepticism. Yes, it’s cinematic — “suspiciously cinematic,” the writer Benjamin Radford warns, while thoroughly debunking the story. And I mean thoroughly: “Any bipedal creature running and jumping on the roof of a car would land with its head, hands and fingers toward the front of the car and its windscreen,” Radford noted. But “somehow this acrobatic Lizard Man ended up with its fingers on the rear windshield.” Yeah, right.”

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Jul 122016
 

Looks like my new book “Bad Clowns” even made it to the Wikipedia page on clowns. Very cool! If you haven’t read it yet, there’s still a few copies left at your local independent bookstore, or at Amazon.com!

 

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You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.