Jun 132017
 

I was recently interviewed for Voice of Islam’s Drivetime radio show, discussing Orwell’s book 1984 and its relevance to 2017. The topics ranged from Big Brother mass surveillance, concerns about public privacy, and the use of doublespeak in politics (including under the current U.S. president). You can hear the interview HERE. 

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 

Jun 052017
 

Apparently my book “Bad Clowns” is frequently bought along with a book titled “Future Sex.” I see my readers are optimists!

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You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 

Jun 022017
 

For those who missed it and are interested in spending an entertaining and informative–or at least minimally objectionable–75 minutes, may I suggest the most recent episode of The Folklore Podcast, in which we discuss folklore of the chupacabra…

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, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 

May 262017
 

Soon after my recent appearance discussing folklore of the chupacabra (the topic of my book Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore), I got the following e-mail from a listener named James:

“I thought your appearance on The Folklore Podcast was very interesting and informative. It inspired me to search about chupacabras. One thing I came up with was about ‘Goat suckers’ and chotacabras. Too bad that I only have the 1997 version of the 1985 book The Jealous Potter by Claude Lévi-Strauss, but it sounds like there were a lot of myths/folklore about goat suckers in the folklore. Is there a reason you did not reference this in your book?”

I replied, “Thanks for reaching out to me, it’s good to hear from you. I’m glad you liked the Folklore Podcast interview, it was fun! Your question is a good one. I actually do briefly discuss the goatsucker bird in the first chapter of my book Tracking the Chupacabra (see page 4).

 

Tracking the Chupacabra cover JPG

The chupacabra monster is very specifically a vampire: it sucks blood from its victims. The “goat sucker” bird that shares its name instead sucks milk from goats, which is a very different theme (there are few if any reports of surviving chupacabra victims, as the monster’s actions are said to be lethal). Also the word chupacabra (as specifically describing the subject of my book) was, from all indications, coined in 1995 and referred specifically to rumors of goats being killed and drained of blood in rural Puerto Rico, not to the milk-drinking whippoorwill bird.

The main reason I didn’t go into much discussion about it is that as Levi-Strauss notes, stories about the bird are very diverse and difficult to classify (involving deities, marital jealousy, etc.). Other than one passing reference to a Tunuka Indian myth, there’s little or no vampiric aspect to it. As far as I know that’s the only reference to such blood sucking in The Jealous Potter, and in the quoted passage the attack is done by ghosts (souls of the dead), not the flesh-and-blood animal said to live on the island. Ghost folklore is interesting but not really relevant to the chupacabra I researched.

The coining of the word is, from my research, almost certainly a coincidence (chupacabra is an obvious coinage to describe anything said to prey on goats, regardless of its origin or nature). I suppose I could have added a few more sentences about the goat milk-drinking bird myths but since it wasn’t directly relevant to the chupacabra I was writing about (a supposedly real terrifying blood-sucking monster), I didn’t want to take the reader too far off track. I hope that answers your question, and I appreciate The Jealous Potter reference, which I missed!”

Apr 202017
 

My work has been included in the new edition of a university textbook on Abnormal Psychology. (No, I’m not a case study.) Cool!

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

Apr 082017
 

I was recently interviewed by Vice media about my investigation into the 1997 Pokemon Seizure case.

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I think the girl who got me a latte at my favorite coffee shop wasn’t even born when I solved that mystery…

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

Apr 052017
 

A Memphis mother calls police saying that her baby son was kidnapped by a Black man who stole her car. An Amber Alert was issued; police dogs, helicopters, and searchers scoured the area for hours–and find that her baby was never missing.

Skeptics and skeptical researchers routinely encounter and investigate a wide variety false reports: False reports of Bigfoot, UFOs, miracle healings, alien abductions, psychics, illnesses, and so on. I’ve personally investigated many such reports, including of phantom clowns (see my book Bad Clowns for more), racist conspiracy theories and legends (such as the Blood Libel anti-Jewish myth and anti-Muslim stories), and more. The xenophobic archetype of the evil outsider is ancient and takes on new forms. Understanding the psychology and motivations behind false reports can be enormously helpful. Some of them are hoaxes, but many are the result of sincere mistakes, misperceptions, and other cognitive errors.

When false reports concern “unexplained” topics (faked ghost sightings or UFO photos, for example), the result is usually just wasted time and the loss of credibility of a hoaxer or its proponents. However when false reports involve real-world subjects (for lack of a better term) they often implicate minorities and can result in miscarriages of justice. False reports of crimes, for example, are often used as a weapon against minorities.

You may recall Susan Smith, the mother who in 1994 blamed an African-American man for kidnapping her children when she in fact drowned them in a lake. Or Jennifer Wilbanks, the so-called “Runaway Bride” who claimed to have been kidnapped and assaulted by a Hispanic man, but who had in fact voluntarily left her groom at the altar. Or the infamous Central Park Five case, in which five Black and Latino teenagers were arrested in 1989 for the brutal rape and assault of a white jogger in New York’s Central Park. Many people–including Donald Trump and African-American poet Sapphire (author of Push, from which the Oscar-winning film Precious was adapted)–jumped on the bandwagon falsely accusing the young men of the crime. The list goes on and on… and continues today.

For a more in-depth analysis see my CFI blog HERE. 

 

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

 

Mar 152017
 

For centuries rumors circulated about an ancient lost city—not Atlantis but a “White City” of immense wealth hidden in the Honduran jungles of Central America. Myths of treasure and every imaginable curse run rampant—but the fact that the city existed somewhere out in the jungles was widely accepted by Hondurans.

I attended a talk by Doug Preston, about his research and new book The Lost City of the Monkey God—at Albuquerque’s historic KiMo theater, whose resident ghost I investigated and debunked several years ago (as described in the first chapter of my book Mysterious New Mexico)—and followed up with a telephone interview, excerpted here.

Radford: You seem to have a knack for finding yourself in the middle of fascinating mysteries and real-life adventures, between the deadly jungles of The Lost City and The Monster of Florence, where you’re tangling with a serial killer. Most writers lead a fairly sedentary life—why are you different?

Preston: “Well I think it’s probably a little bit of stupidity there [laughing]. I find myself falling into my own stories, like with The Monster of Florence I started off thinking I was writing a story about these long-ago crimes in Florence, these serial killings, but all of a sudden we [Preston and his co-author Mario Spezi] got pulled in by the police investigation, and pretty soon I was being interrogated as a suspect… it was really crazy.”

 

Radford: As you talk about in the book, finding the Lost City came at a great cost, both in terms of the expedition, your health, and other factors. Can you talk about what went into finding it?

Preston: “The legend of the Lost City did talk about the city being cursed, that all who went in there would become sick and die, and so forth. And of course I completely dismissed those legends. Well it turns out that part of the legend is kind of based on the truth, and that is that the valley is a hotzone of disease, and two-thirds of the expedition came down with this really serious tropical disease called mucocutaneous leishmaniasis. It’s incurable, I’ll have it for the rest of my life, and it’s really quite an awful disease. But I’m getting excellent treatment.”

 

Radford: You talk about some of the myths and legends surrounding the city; where did they come from?

Preston: “These legends and stories really date back about 500 years to the time of Cortez. He wrote a famous letter in 1526 while he was in Honduras to the emperor Charles V and reported that he’d heard very reliable information of a wonderful and rich civilization in the interior of Honduras, very wealthy and rich an advanced culture, and ever since then there have been legends and stories about this lost city, sometimes called the White City, Ciudad Blanca, sometimes called the Lost City of the Monkey God, somewhere in these mountains. A number of people have looked for it, and some have actually died in the search…Like most legends, it’s based on the truth, it’s based on the fact that there was a great civilization in this area that actually built more than one city.”

 

Radford: Let me touch on some of the challenges to writers and science popularizers when reporting a story such as this. There’s always a tension between wanting to communicate complex ideas in science, anthropology, archaeology, and so on to the public, but not overly sensationalize them. You touch on that in your book, expressing a bit of reluctance about calling it a “lost city” in the vein of Indiana Jones, but in the end you have to get people’s attention.

Preston: “Well, this is something that you as a science journalist know about very well… As you mentioned, you have to strike a balance between writing a heavy and scientific tome which nobody will read except scientists, or going too much in the other direction and writing something that’s so frivolous and non-factual that you’ve really done a very great disservice to the science. I try to occupy the middle ground. Everything in the book is accurate, nothing is made up, everything has been very carefully vetted—but it is exciting, this is a sensational discovery…. As for using language like the ‘lost city,’ well it is a city and it is lost! I know some archaeologists have said, ‘Oh, that’s just Indiana Jones hype’ but in fact it isn’t hype. It is actually real and it is quite exciting, and I want to convey that excitement to the reader without burdening them with a lot of scientific jargon.”

 

Read the rest of the interview HERE.

 

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

Mar 112017
 

From a review of my book Bad Clowns in Fortean Times magazine (Issue 349): “Benjamin Radford shows in his masterful survey that bad clowns have always been with us…. This is not a dry or scholarly read, and there’s a lot of welcome debunking. Bad Clowns moves colorfully and quickly, thanks to Radford’s acerbic wit. Verdict: A clown car just stuffed with insight and wit. 8 out of 10.”

Not bad!

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

Feb 282017
 

I got a Google Scholar alerting me that my research on African witchcraft and superstition belief is cited in a new academic book, “Witchcraft as a Social Diagnosis.” Glad my work is helping to bring attention to the dangers and injustice of modern-day witch hunts!

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Feb 222017
 

From a review of my book Bad Clowns in Fortean Times magazine (Issue 349): “Benjamin Radford shows in his masterful survey that bad clowns have always been with us…. This is not a dry or scholarly read, and there’s a lot of welcome debunking. Bad Clowns moves colorfully and quickly, thanks to Radford’s acerbic wit. Verdict: A clown car just stuffed with insight and wit. 8 out of 10.”

 

Bad Clowns FT review

Jan 262017
 

August 8, 2014: The Shoppes at Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica

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I was done. I’d arrived at the gated tourist mini-mall about half an hour earlier, and couldn’t take any more of the servile shopkeepers shilling shelf after shelf of schlocky tchotchke of unrivalled tackiness. I didn’t need a colorful coffee mug featuring a baked (and well-endowed) rasta firing up a spliff, nor a shot glass with a slightly off-kilter outline of Jamaica, nor a Bob Marley-scented candle (don’t ask). I considered getting a bag of criminally overpriced Blue Mountain coffee, but thought the better of it when I read the fine print saying that the contents were “no less than 30% Blue Mountain coffee beans,” which by my admittedly shaky math left a lot of percentage for non-Blue Mountain beans. It was the off-season, and only a handful of sunscreen-scented tourists ran the gauntlet.

Awaiting a return shuttle back to my hotel, with the low tropical roar of the Caribbean to one side and the famous Rose Hall plantation house looming on the hill facing us, I noticed that the young woman at the boxed-in greeting/information desk was reading a romance novel.

The type didn’t surprise me—more romance novels are sold each year than all other genres combined—but I noticed that it was an American Harlequin-branded novel. I wondered if this young black Jamaican woman was relating to the blonde, Caucasian characters in the book and on the cover. After all, it’s often said that people want to see representations of themselves—their bodies and their culture—in their entertainment, spawning perennial complaints about the lack of minorities in TV shows and films. Curious, I approached the desk. She looked up, prepared to offer a canned answer about what shops were where, when the shuttles ran, or where the nearest restroom was.

Instead I pointed to the book tented before her on the desk and asked, “Do you prefer American romance novels to Jamaican ones?” She smiled and said yes. I asked if Jamaican ones were available and she said yes, but that they aren’t widely read. (The previous day I’d been in two bookstores in the nearby city, Montego Bay, looking for books on local folklore and seen a handful of locally-published books with sensuous dark-skinned covers—surrounded by rows of Fifty Shades of Grey.) She said that it wasn’t that Jamaicans preferred non-Jamaican characters or settings, nor that North American romance writers were better than locals. Instead, she said, Jamaican books are more expensive than others because they are printed elsewhere and shipped here, thus subject to import taxes and shipping. (Harlequin novels are, too, of course: except for sugar and coffee most things are imported to the island. But they’re mass-produced cheaply, and economies of scale drive up the cost of Jamaican books.)

Also, she said with a shrug, “Jamaicans don’t read.”

You read,” I noted with a smile.

“Yes, but I was forced to,” she replied. “As a girl I’d get a whoopin’ if I didn’t read. My mom had encyclopedias and she would make me read them to her, to learn.” I leaned forward on the wooden ledge, intrigued; I assumed her mother was a schoolteacher. “Was your mom a big reader?” I asked. She shook her head: “No, not at all. She didn’t finish high school. But she wanted me and the other children to learn to read, it was important.”

It was clear that the whoopin’ she referred to was not metaphorical; having spoken to a handful of Jamaicans I got the distinct impression that corporal punishment was widely practiced. She’d actually get smacked for not reading, not learning. “I love reading now,” she hastened to add. “I’m glad she made me read, I love to read the Twilight books, Harry Potter, all those.”

I was in Montego Bay for a television shoot; a producer from a show called The Dead Files (which airs on The Travel Channel) brought me out to do an on-camera interview about an investigation I’d conducted into Rose Hall, a former slave plantation said to be haunted by the ghost of Annie Palmer—the White Witch of Rose Hall. It’s one of the best-known mysteries in the Caribbean, a sordid tale of slavery, sexual perversion, voodoo magic, multiple murdered husbands, and bloody revenge. I’d done historical and on-site research solving the mystery; it can be found in Chapter 12 of my 2010 book Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries.

Back at my hotel after the shoot I’d spent the previous night reading a memoir titled Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs, who was born a slave in 1813 North Carolina and eventually escaped to freedom in 1842. It’s an unusual first-hand account of slavery during that time—rare because most slaves were illiterate; in fact in 1830 the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law making it illegal for anyone to teach a slave to read or write, and the penalty was severe: “If a white man or woman, be fined not less than one hundred dollars, nor more than two hundred dollars, or imprisoned; and if a free person of color, shall be fined, imprisoned, or whipped, at the discretion of the court, not exceeding thirty-nine lashes, nor less than twenty lashes.” As for slaves, “if any slave shall hereafter teach, or attempt to teach, any other slave to read or write, the use of figures [numbers] excepted, he or she may be carried before any justice of the peace, and on conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to receive thirty-nine lashes on his or her bare back.” Similar prohibitions enforcing slave illiteracy were found elsewhere at the time.

This practice, along with the history of slavery intimately associated with the country, was fresh in my mind as I heard the young woman tell her story. Most blacks in Jamaica are the descendants of African slaves brought to the island beginning in the 1500s by Portuguese to work on sugar plantations. I didn’t ask, but it’s very likely that her relatives—perhaps as recently as her great-grandfather—were slaves.

An irony dawned on me. The discipline meted out by a parent, of course, is very different from the discipline meted out by a slave owner. However there are parallels, and the ironic contrast of a mother giving her child a beating for not reading and improving herself was impressed upon me, especially coming from a community who in earlier days may have at one time been beaten for learning to read and write. Many American children only grudgingly learn to read and write, and after graduating high school never read for pleasure or work. They’re not illiterate; they can read food labels, government forms, bills, and day-to-day information. But beyond that, they pretty much don’t read—just as she said most Jamaicans don’t read. A generalization, to be sure, but one with more than a grain of truth to it.

I saw this first-hand years ago when I worked with the Literacy Volunteers of America teaching adults and non-native speakers to read; in most cases the clients grew up in households where reading was neither valued nor encouraged. I was fortunate to grow up in a literate home where newspapers, books, and magazines could be found, but many people do not have that benefit. I felt a strange literacy-based kinship with this young Jamaican woman and her mother. I pictured her as a young girl in their small house in the island’s rural mountains reading encyclopedias (which are written at a far higher reading level than anything you’ll find in most classrooms) aloud to her mother and siblings, tripping over the polysyllabic words—and in the priceless process learning about everything from antelopes and architecture to zoology and zymurgy. She grew up to be a bright, personable, intelligent, and well-spoken young woman.

As a reader, writer, and media literacy advocate I of course value literacy, and we were both grateful that her mother did as well—even if it took the threat of a whoopin’ to enforce it. I asked her what she wanted to do in the future, and she said she was planning to get a degree in business administration, a natural and lucrative career for a booming tourist island. I heard my hotel shuttle arriving behind me, but before I left I told her I was sure she was going to be an important and successful professional some day. She smiled confidently, sat upright in her chair, and turned back to her romance novel.

 

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

Jan 232017
 

A new horror film titled The Bye Bye Man scared up $16 million in box office sales over the past week. The film is based on the chapter “The Bridge to Body Island” in Robert Damon Schneck’s nonfiction book The President’s Vampire (reissued last year as The Bye Bye Man, complete with the obligatory cover teaser “Now a terrifying motion picture!”).

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Intrigued by the topic, I read the book and interviewed the author. Our conversation covered a wide range of topics, from alien abductees to Charles Fort’s disappointingly lax scholarship (see Schneck’s chapter “The President’s Vampire” for more), but we soon chatted about the monstrous creation he helped usher to the big screen… you can read my Special Report HERE.

 

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

Jan 062017
 

A classic article from the archives, in which I talk about ghost hunting ethics:

The drive from my apartment to the haunted house was about twenty minutes, but I found myself wishing it would take longer. I wanted more time to get a handle on what I was going to say, how I was going to tell the family that their house was not haunted by a demon or angry ghost. In theory, it should have been a straightforward conversation, not unlike telling a nervous child, “There’s nothing under the bed, now go to sleep.” It should have been a comforting and satisfying task for a prominent, experienced skeptical investigator. In practice, however, there were real people with real fears and real feelings, people who had been misled and lied to. And I’d probably have to lie to them again—or at least not tell them the whole truth.

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.

Jan 032017
 

My book Bad Clowns, which covered a very popular topic last year, is still making the news. A recent article by a psychologist explains that

“Jesters and others persons of ridicule go back at least to ancient Egypt, and the English word “clown” first appeared sometime in the 1500s, when Shakespeare used the term to describe foolish characters in several of his plays. The now familiar circus clown – with its painted face, wig and oversized clothing – arose in the 19th century and has changed only slightly over the past 150 years.

Nor is the trope of the evil clown anything new. Earlier this year, writer Benjamin Radford published “Bad Clowns,” in which he traces the historical evolution of clowns into unpredictable, menacing creatures.”

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.

Dec 302016
 

My book “Bad Clowns” was recently mentioned in the London Review of Books, and quoted in this piece on internet trolls…. you can read the piece HERE.

 

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

Dec 022016
 

A new article on BBC-Earth discusses my five-year investigation into the mysterious vampire beast El Chupacabra; if you’re interested in how I solved one of the world’s best-known monster mysteries, check it out HERE!

 

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

Nov 282016
 

An excerpt from my upcoming book on ghost hunting:

It’s important to realize that apparently odd, peculiar, or strange things happen in our everyday lives—and usually pass unnoticed. The cat or dog acts strangely for no apparent reason; we discover we had more (or less) money in our pocket or purse than we remembered; we happen to look at a digital clock at 12:34, or 11:11; on a crosstown drive we seem to catch all green lights—or all red ones; keys get misplaced at an especially bad time; an old friend calls out of the blue not long after you thought about him or her; and so on. 

When afraid, alarmed, or psychologically primed to the idea that something unusual and unknown is going on, our sensitivity to anything odd or out of the ordinary goes up, and things that we would otherwise ignore (or perhaps not even notice) can take on added significance. Common occurrences such as flickering lights, dead batteries, unexplained but fleeting unease, computer crashes, blurry sections in photographs, video glitches, and so on can be, and have been, claimed as possible evidence for ghosts. Not only does this unconscious psychological bias lead us to pay attention to such mundane mysteries, but it also imbues them with added significance, making them much easier to remember. A flashlight that happens to go out during a power failure will be soon forgotten, but a flashlight that happens to go out in a dramatic moment when a ghost hunter is asking for a sign from an invisible spirit will be remembered for a lifetime…

 

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

Nov 152016
 

Batman’ has vowed to stop the scary clowns! (No, really–kind of.) In my CFI blog I take a closer look at what drives copycats.

The rash of scary clown reports that have plagued America over the past two months have recently spread to other continents including Australia and Europe. It’s gotten so bad that schools in the United States and Canada have been put on lockdown, and Ronald McDonald has (temporarily) been put on ice. According to Yahoo News, “Seems the scary clown craze is not only in America. There is an issue with people dressing up and frightening people in England, but they pissed off the wrong person: Batman. Someone in Cumbria, located in North West England, has been chasing off those dressed as clowns in the hopes of making children feel safe, according to The Telegraph.”

As I discuss in my new book Bad Clowns, This is not the first time that a costumed real-life superhero, of sorts, has come to the rescue of people in clown peril… 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.

 

Nov 082016
 

Reporter Mike Balsamo has an error in his Associated Press story about clowns: Aurora Colo. theater shooter James Holmes did not in fact dress up as the Joker during his attack (as I explain in my “Bad Clowns” book, pp. 115-119 and also in this CFI blog).

 

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There are other errors as well, including that The Joker’s hair is green, not red, and it refers to “working clown John Wayne Gacy.” Gacy did not work as a clown, he was a building contractor who volunteered as a clown on a few occasions but was not a professional clown.

 

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

Nov 022016
 

MMA fighter claims that he was attacked by two clowns, one armed with a sledgehammer and the other with a knife. When he saw them approach one night his martial arts training kicked in and he immediately crouched into a fighting stance. He fought them off in a valiant battle, and called the police to recount his heroism.

 

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Of course he later admitted he made up the whole thing…

 

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

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.

bc-intro-3b

 

 

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 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 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 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:

IMG_4196

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 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!

Bad Clowns small

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