Oct 312017
 
Halloween is here, and amid the make-believe witches, ghouls, and goblins, there are supposedly real-life villains who hope to harm on children October 31. News reports and scary stories on social media leave many parents concerned about protecting children from Halloween threats. But are they real or myth? Here are five scary myths and legends about the spookiest holiday! 1) Halloween is Satanic While many people see Halloween as scary and harmless fun some people, including many fundamentalist Christians, believe that there is sinister side to the holiday. They believe that underneath the fantasy costumes and candy-dispensing traditions there lies an unseen spiritual struggle for the souls of the innocent. Christian evangelist Phil Phillips and Joan Hake Robie, in their book "Halloween and Satanism," explain that the seemingly harmless costumes (such as witches, zombies and vampires) put children's spiritual lives at risk by interesting them in supernatural occult phenomena—and, ultimately, on the road to Satanic practices. Of course it's not just Halloween that these groups are concerned about—they have in the past protested against role-playing games, heavy-metal music, and even Harry Potter books. Historically, however, there is little or no actual connection between Satanism and Halloween; for one thing the early pagan traditions that many scholars believe became part of what we now call Halloween had no concept of Devil. The idea of a Christian Satan developed much later, and therefore Halloween could not have been rooted in Satanism. 2) Beware Tainted Halloween Candy The most familiar Halloween scares involve contaminated candy, and every year, police and medical centers across the country X-ray candy collected by trick-or-treaters to check for razors, needles, or contaminants that might have been placed there by strangers intending to hurt or kill children. Scary news reports and warnings on social media claimed that dangerous candy had been found, raising fears among parents and children. Many medical centers across the country, including in Harrisburg, Penn., are offering free X-raying of candy this Halloween. This threat is essentially an urban legend. There have been only two confirmed cases of children being killed by poisoned Halloween candy, and in both cases the children were killed not in a random act by strangers but intentional murder by one of their parents. The best-known, "original" case was that of Texan Ronald Clark O'Bryan, who killed his son by lacing his Pixie Stix with cyanide in 1974. In essence he used this myth to try to cover his crime. Yet the fear continues. There have been a few instances of candy tampering over the years—and in most cases the "victim" turned out to be the culprit, children doing it as a prank or to draw attention. Last year there were a few news reports about suspected tainted candy, and police determined that the incidents were hoaxes. In Philadelphia an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy in who reported finding needles in their trick-or-treat candy admitted they made up the story for attention, and a 37-year-old father claimed to have found tainted candy in his kids' loot; he later admitted it was a hoax and claimed that he put the needles in the candy to teach his kids a lesson about safety. Fortunately, parents can rest easy: Despite the ubiquitous warnings on social media, there have been no confirmed reports of anyone actually being injured or harmed by contaminated Halloween candy from strangers. 3) Beware Halloween Terrorists After the September 11, 2001, attacks, rumors circulated that mysterious Middle Eastern men were buying up huge quantities of candies just before Halloween. Many people were concerned that this might be part of a terrorist plot to attack America's children, and the FBI looked into the case. Prompted by the public concern over potential terrorism, the FBI acknowledged that it was investigating the cash purchase of 'large quantities' of candy from Costco stores in New Jersey. A week before Halloween, on October 22, the FBI cleared up the rumors. It was one man, not two, who had bought $15,000 worth of candy, not $35,000. The man's nationality was not revealed, so he may or may not have been Arab or dark-skinned or even had an ethnic name. As it turned out the man was a wholesaler who planned to resell the candy, and the purchase was a routine transaction that had nothing to do with terrorism. 4) Beware Sex Offenders on Halloween Though the fears over poisoned candy (whether by malicious neighbors or foreign terrorists) never materialized, the reputed Halloween evil took a new form in the 1990s: sex offenders. This scare, even more than the candy panics, was fueled by alarmist news reports and police warnings. In many states, convicted sex offenders were required not to answer the door if trick-or-treaters came by, or to report to jail overnight. In many states including Texas and Arkansas offenders were required to report to courthouses on Halloween evening for a mandatory counseling sessions. The theory behind such laws is that Halloween provides a special opportunity for sex offenders to make contact with children, or to use costumes to conceal their identities. This has been the assumption among many local politicians and police for years. Yet there is no reason to think that sex offenders pose any more of a threat to children on Halloween than at any other time. In fact, there has not been a single case of any child being molested by a convicted sex offender while trick-or-treating. A 2009 study confirmed that the public has little to fear from sex offenders on Halloween. The research, published in the September 2009 issue of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, examined 67,307 non-family sex offenses reported to law enforcement in 30 states over nine years. The researchers wanted to determine whether or not children are in fact at any greater risk for sexual assault around Halloween: “There does not appear to be a need for alarm concerning sexual abuse on these particular days. Halloween appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned.” 5) Beware Scary Clowns In the wake of the recent scary clown panics across the country, several national stores including Target have removed scary clown masks from their shelves, and both kids and parents are asking children to both beware of people in clown costumes and to not wear scary clown masks. Several counties banned scary clown costumes and masks last Halloween. As one writer noted, "A Kemper County, Mississippi's Board of Supervisors voted recently to make it unlawful to wear a clown costume in public. The ban covers all ages and includes costumes, masks or makeup. The ban – which will expire the day after Halloween – comes at the request of the county sheriff... It comes after a series of reports from around the country and Alabama that spooky-looking clowns were threatening children and schools. Some of those reports were later debunked and a few led to arrests with concerns over the creepy clown phenomenon growing as Halloween approaches." Clown masks have also been banned from some New Jersey schools; as "USA Today" reported, "The West Milford Police Department has said there is no specific threat against the community. Still, there have been spotty and unsubstantiated reports on social media about people in scary clown masks lurking around township school yards in recent weeks." Fortunately so far there are no confirmed reports of children being seriously injured, abducted, or killed by anyone dressed in scary clown masks over the past few months. Most of the reports are hoaxes and copycats, usually by teenagers who have fun scaring people or seeing themselves on social media. Halloween is scary enough on its own, between overpriced candy and sugar-sated kids. The real threats to children don't involve tampered candy, Satanists, scary clowns, terrorists, or sex offenders; instead they include being hit by a car in the dark, or wearing a flammable costume, or injuring themselves while walking on curbs because they can't see out of their masks. Most kids are very safe at Halloween, and the average child is far more likely to die of a heart attack or be hit by lightning than be harmed in some Halloween-related menace.
Sep 132017
 
My new CFI blog on the return of Pennywise the evil clown!   Horror fans around the world have waited for years to see one of the most terrifying clowns in cinematic history, and finally Pennywise returns later this week in the new version of Stephen King's It. Figure 6.9 As a post on Uproxx noted, "Who needs nightmares when you can be traumatized by creepy-ass clowns in person? The Alamo Drafthouse is celebrating the arrival of the 2017 cinematic take on Stephen King's It with a clown-only screening of the movie. The Austin location of the theater chain will cater to a clown-specific audience on September 9th with a special screening of It. All attendees are expected to be done up like a clown (I can count the Captain Spauldings already) and can also visit ‘an IT pre-party where we will have face-painters available for clown ‘touch-ups,' a photo booth, raffles for prizes, and other terrifying merriment.'"   You can read the rest HERE.
Aug 302017
 
A few years ago I wrote a piece taking a closer look at the concept of karma: "The premise of karma is that people need to be threatened with cosmic retribution into good conduct: Don’t do evil, or else it will come back to you. How about just being good to others because it’s the right thing to do?"   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, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 
Aug 282017
 
My new blog on the ethics of spirit mediumship... Usually when people think of ghostly communication it's in a positive or benign light. Ghost hunters, for example, often speak of helping lost souls "cross over" after getting information from the spirits, and mediums such as John Edward and the late convicted felon Sylvia Browne often offer ostensibly reassuring messages from dead loved ones. Whether the communication can be proven to have a ghostly origin is of course up for debate, but in many cases there can be real harm done, especially when the dead are not generic stereotypes (a Confederate soldier, for example) but once-living people. I have discussed this issue in several of my articles and investigations, including in the haunted KiMo Theater in New Mexico and Rose Hall Plantation of Montego Bay, Jamaica. In those cases, specific once-living people's family names have been tainted by their later inclusion into ghost stories.   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, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 
Aug 252017
 
Many believe that a mere glance or stare can cause harm (or even death) to others. My article on folklore the Evil Eye is now out! Everyone gets a dirty look now and then, and we usually think little of it (especially if we deserved it). For most of us it is soon shrugged off, but in many places belief in "the evil eye" is taken very seriously, and requires immediate action to avoid harm. The evil eye is a human look believed to cause harm to someone or something. The supernatural harm may come in the form of a minor misfortune, or more serious disease, injury — even death. Folklorist Alan Dundes, in his edited volume "The Evil Eye: A Casebook" notes that "the victim's good fortune, good health, or good looks — or unguarded comments about them — invite or provoke an attack by someone with the evil eye ... Symptoms of illness caused by the evil eye include loss of appetite, excessive yawning, hiccups, vomiting and fever. If the object attacked is a cow, its milk may dry up; if a plant or fruit tree, it may suddenly wither and die." 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, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 
Aug 182017
 
Several of my Skeptical Inquirer articles are referenced in the new Indiana University Press book UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says, by Don Prothero and Tim Callahan, with a foreword by Michael Shermer (you can see the book HERE). I can't want to read it!   51K-HMnVP8L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_   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!     
Aug 022017
 
I'm quoted in a new article about the "Blue Whale game" scare.: On the surface, Blue Whale has all the hallmarks of a moral panic similar to other "challenges" that often scared parents, such as the choking gamepharma parties, and the fire challenge. All of these were cases where parents, local authorities, and click-hungry media outlets took either isolated incidents or rumors and turned them into full blown scares, no matter how many people were actually doing them. Indeed, prominent skeptic Benjamin Radford wrote that Blue Whale shares many traits with classic moral panics, including "modern technology and seemingly benign personal devices as posing hidden dangers to children and teens, the threat [of] some influential evil stranger who manipulates the innocent, and an element of conspiracy theory." There's also more on this in a recent episode of Squaring the Strange.... 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! 
Jul 232017
 
Genies (or jinn, as they are better known in the Arabic world) are supernatural beings with roots in ancient Mesopotamian legends. Jinn, however, are not the lamp-dwelling, wish-granting benevolent servants that Westerners know from popular culture.   Genie5 The image that most Americans probably have of genies comes from the 1960s sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie" or the animated big blue Robin Williams-voiced wiseacre in Disney's "Aladdin." More recently, in the television adaptation of Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel "American Gods," audiences have come to know a cab-driving jinn who switches identities with an Omani salesman named Salim. (Salim had recognized the jinn from a story told to him by his grandmother). Gaiman's magical, shape-shifting jinn is fictional, but belief in genies is widespread. In "Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar" (Counterpoint Books, 2011), researcher Robert Lebling noted that "Jinn are taken seriously and regarded as real, tangible beings by a large segment of the world's population.... They often appear humanoid or even human but possess amazing powers we lack. They can change their shapes, can fly through the air, and even can render themselves invisible." (Lebling is also the creator of a Facebook page titled The Jinn Group, where members share jinn stories and lore.) You can read the rest of my LiveScience.com article 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!   
Jul 182017
 
A researcher claimed that the chupacabra can be traced back to legends of the nightjar bird. I respectfully disagreed, which he then responded to, and which I then replied to. If you want to see two educated adults (one of them right and one of them wrong) kick each other's intellectual and metaphorical shins like kids on a playground over folkloric details of a mythical monster's naming and origin, here's your chance! 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! 
Jul 062017
 
Did you miss the recent episode of Squaring the Strange in which we explored the nuance of the Hans Christian Andersen classic fairy tale "The Emperors New Clothes"" You may think you remember this story, but there are some oft-overlooked twists! Also in this episode, we read a piece of fan mail and Celestia cracks into another fortune cookie! StS facebook banner text Listen to it 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! 
Jul 012017
 
I'm quoted in "The Christian Post" about an article I wrote on the "Blue Whale Game" suicide rumor/urban legend/moral panic... 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, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 
Jun 252017
 
We are just past the 2017 summer solstice (June 20 and 21 were the longest days of the year for anyone living north of the equator), and amid the celebrations, pagan rituals, and Stonehenge treks, there were many who performed a trick seemingly unique to that day. According to some, eggs and brooms can somehow be balanced on their ends on that day (and/or on the vernal equinox, when day and night length are about the same; and/or on the first day of Spring, take your pick). YouTube videos can be found of many people trying this quirk for themselves, mostly successfully (videos showing the trick not working are of course less popular and interesting). The British tabloid The Daily Mirror--a reliable source for unreliable, sensationalized information since 1903--offered a story about goofy beliefs about the equinox including that eggs and brooms can be balanced on that day.   P1010014 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, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 
Jun 202017
 
I was interviewed last year for an article on government mind control conspiracies. Or was I? Find out 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 182017
 
Following up on my book Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore, I have occasionally written about varied speculativepseudohistories of the chupacabra, and indeed the subject is ripe for conjecture. In a blog titled "The Secret Prehistory of the Chupacabra," Jason Colavito writes that "the chupacabra name derives from 2,300 years of European and American traditions about nocturnal creatures that prey on livestock. And it all started with a small, completely harmless little bird." Colavito notes, correctly in my estimation, that "The first chupacabra was not a monster, nor was it a vampire. Originally, the goatsucker was so named not because the creature sucked blood like a vampire but because it sucked milk directly from the teat. The legend originates in a story told about the European nightjar (genus Caprimulgus), a smallish, nocturnal, and insectivorous bird that inexplicably developed a bad reputation, earning it the name ‘goatsucker.' The first author to record this story is Aristotle, in his History of Animals, written around 350 BCE." So far so good; we agree that a small bird named chupacabra--like a great many birds around the world including owls, ravens, doves, etc.--had folkloric associations, in this case that it suckled goat milk. Where we part ways is in seeing clear links between the subject of my book and the bird of lore. I briefly discuss the goatsucker bird in the first chapter of my book (see page 4). 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 different theme--there are few reports of surviving chupacabra victims, as the monster's actions are typically said to be lethal. Also the word chupacabra (as specifically describing the subject of my book) was, from all indications referred specifically to rumors of goats being killed and drained of blood in rural Puerto Rico, not to the milk-drinking whippoorwill bird. The best evidence is that the word chupacabra was first coined by San Juan-based radio deejay Silverio Pérez in late 1995 live while commenting on then-circulating rumors and tabloid stories about strange attacks on the island. I have been unable to find any pre-1995 references to a blood-sucking chupacabra in Puerto Rico or anywhere else--despite a standing $1,000 reward for any verifiable, published pre-1990s reference to a vampiric chupacabra--and Colavito offers none. Colavito does an admirable job of tracing the linguistic lineage: "The name, in its now-obsolete Spanish form chotacabra, was in common use in Spanish America (including Puerto Rico) from at least the nineteenth century (and probably many centuries earlier), changing to chupacabra in the twentieth century when the older Spanish verb chotar (to suck) became obsolete and gave way to the newer synonym chupar... the nightjar is native to Puerto Rico, and I have been able to find printed references to the bird on the island as ‘chotacabra' dating back to at least 1948....The change from the obsolete form chotacabra to the modern form chupacabra, reflecting changes in colloquial Spanish, masked the connection, leading to recent claims that the word did not exist prior to 1995." Colavito does not account for (or glosses over) the notable absence of chupacabra (as referring to the now-familiar vampiric monster, not the bird) between the time that "chotar" became "chupar" and the eve of this century. You can read the rest HERE.  And Colavito's response is 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 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!”
May 142017
 
Hey folks! The new episode of Squaring the Strange podcast is now out, and in it you can hear Pascual Romero and I in Part 2 of the series on Jamaican ghosts and folklore (this carving below is of a Jamaican "duppy"). Listen here! https://squaringthestrange.wordpress.com/   Moon duppy     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 022017
 
I recently stumbled across this photo on Twitter depicting an African Cultural Studies professor referencing my investigation into the skeptic-raping monster popobawa-- and my "Fortean Times" cover article on the topic...   18055827_10210586125583617_6055774251713405045_o You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Apr 272017
 
A new podcast cohosted by Pascual Romero and myself, Squaring the Strange brings evidence-based analysis and commentary to a wide variety of topics, ranging from the paranormal to the political, the mysterious to the mundane.   StS facebook banner text Investigating ghosts. Debunking conspiracies. Tracking chupacabras. Calling shenanigans where appropriate....   If a claim seems strange, we will try to square it with the facts. Not just another “skeptical” podcast talking about current events, Squaring the Strange goes deeper. It’s a show about critical thinking and evidence-based analysis, using science and logic to examine the world around us. Listeners will learn about psychology, myths, hoaxes, folklore, science, and all the things that add up to strange experiences—both real and unreal. The show is produced by Pascual Romero, with Celestia Ward as content producer and featuring me as understudy to the assistant co-associate content producer. You can listen to Squaring the Strange on iTunes and find us on Facebook, Twitter (at @SquaringStrange), and elsewhere on social media. The program is 100% volunteer; if you’d like to help support Squaring the Strange, please consider contributing to our Patreon account or leave us a review!   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! Bad Clowns small 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!”). the-bye-bye-man-poster-099178297d2f630b 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.
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.
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.
Oct 312016
 
Sharon Hill, Kenny Biddle, and I were quoted in a recent "Popular Mechanics" article on ghost hunting gadgets and pseudoscience... 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.
Oct 302016
 
Halloween is just around the corner, and amid the make-believe witches, ghouls, and goblins, there are supposedly real-life villains who hope to harm on children October 31. News reports and scary stories on social media leave many parents concerned about protecting children from Halloween threats. url But are they real or myth? Here are five scary myths and legends about the spookiest holiday 1) Halloween is Satanic While many people see Halloween as scary and harmless fun some people, including many fundamentalist Christians, believe that there is sinister side to the holiday. They believe that underneath the fantasy costumes and candy-dispensing traditions there lies an unseen spiritual struggle for the souls of the innocent. Christian evangelist Phil Phillips and Joan Hake Robie, in their book "Halloween and Satanism," explain that the seemingly harmless costumes (such as witches, zombies and vampires) put children's spiritual lives at risk by interesting them in supernatural occult phenomena--and, ultimately, on the road to Satanic practices. Of course it's not just Halloween that these groups are concerned about--they have in the past protested against role-playing games, heavy-metal music, and even Harry Potter books. Historically, however, there is little or no actual connection between Satanism and Halloween; for one thing the early pagan traditions that many scholars believe became part of what we now call Halloween had no concept of Devil. The idea of a Christian Satan developed much later, and therefore Halloween could not have been rooted in Satanism. 2) Beware Tainted Halloween Candy The most familiar Halloween scares involve contaminated candy, and every year, police and medical centers across the country X-ray candy collected by trick-or-treaters to check for razors, needles, or contaminants that might have been placed there by strangers intending to hurt or kill children. Scary news reports and warnings on social media claimed that dangerous candy had been found, raising fears among parents and children. Many medical centers across the country,including in Harrisburg, Penn., are offering free X-raying of candy this Halloween. This threat is essentially an urban legend. There have been only two confirmed cases of children being killed by poisoned Halloween candy, and in both cases the children were killed not in a random act by strangers but intentional murder by one of their parents. The best-known, "original" case was that of Texan Ronald Clark O'Bryan, who killed his son by lacing his Pixie Stix with cyanide in 1974. In essence he used this myth to try to cover his crime. Yet the fear continues. There have been a few instances of candy tampering over the years-and in most cases the "victim" turned out to be the culprit, children doing it as a prank or to draw attention. Last year there were a few news reports about suspected tainted candy, and police determined that the incidents were hoaxes. In Philadelphia an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy in who reported finding needles in their trick-or-treat candy admitted they made up the story for attention, and a 37-year-old father claimed to have found tainted candy in his kids' loot; he later admitted it was a hoax and claimed that he put the needles in the candy to teach his kids a lesson about safety. Fortunately, parents can rest easy: Despite the ubiquitous warnings on social media, there have been no confirmed reports of anyone actually being injured or harmed by contaminated Halloween candy from strangers. 3) Beware Halloween Terrorists After the September 11, 2001, attacks, rumors circulated that mysterious Middle Eastern men were buying up huge quantities of candies just before Halloween. Many people were concerned that this might be part of a terrorist plot to attack America's children, and the FBI looked into the case.Prompted by the public concern over potential terrorism, the FBI acknowledged that it was investigating the cash purchase of 'large quantities' of candy from Costco stores in New Jersey. A week before Halloween, on October 22, the FBI cleared up the rumors. It was one man, not two, who had bought $15,000 worth of candy, not $35,000. The man's nationality was not revealed, so he may or may not have been Arab or dark-skinned or even had an ethnic name. As it turned out the man was a wholesaler who planned to resell the candy, and the purchase was a routine transaction that had nothing to do with terrorism. 4) Beware Sex Offenders on Halloween Though the fears over poisoned candy (whether by malicious neighbors or foreign terrorists) never materialized, the reputed Halloween evil took a new form in the 1990s: sex offenders. This scare, even more than the candy panics, was fueled by alarmist news reports and police warnings. In many states, convicted sex offenders were required not to answer the door if trick-or-treaters came by, or to report to jail overnight. In many states including Texas and Arkansas offenders were required to report to courthouses on Halloween evening for a mandatory counseling session. The theory behind such laws is that Halloween provides a special opportunity for sex offenders to make contact with children, or to use costumes to conceal their identities. This has been the assumption among many local politicians and police for years. Yet there is no reason to think that sex offenders pose any more of a threat to children on Halloween than at any other time. In fact, there has not been a single case of any child being molested by a convicted sex offender while trick-or-treating. A 2009 study confirmed that the public has little to fear from sex offenders on Halloween. The research, published in the September 2009 issue of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, examined 67,307 non-family sex offenses reported to law enforcement in 30 states over nine years. The researchers wanted to determine whether or not children are in fact at any greater risk for sexual assault around Halloween: "There does not appear to be a need for alarm concerning sexual abuse on these particular days. Halloween appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned." 5) Beware Scary Clowns In the wake of the recent scary clown panics across the country, several national stores including Target have removed scary clown masks from their shelves, and both kids and parents are asking children to both beware of people in clown costumes and to not wear scary clown masks. Several counties have banned scary clown costumes and masks this Halloween. As one writer noted, "A Kemper County, Mississippi's Board of Supervisors voted recently to make it unlawful to wear a clown costume in public. The ban covers all ages and includes costumes, masks or makeup. The ban --which will expire the day after Halloween --comes at the request of the county sheriff... It comes after a series of reports from around the country and Alabama that spooky-looking clowns were threatening children and schools. Some of those reports were later debunked and a few led to arrests with concerns over the creepy clown phenomenon growing as Halloween approaches." Clown masks have also been banned from some New Jersey schools; as "USA Today" reported, "The West Milford Police Department has said there is no specific threat against the community. Still, there have been spotty and unsubstantiated reports on social media about people in scary clown masks lurking around township school yards in recent weeks." Fortunately so far there are no confirmed reports of children being seriously injured, abducted, or killed by anyone dressed in scary clown masks over the past few months. Most of the reports are hoaxes and copycats, usually by teenagers who have fun scaring people or seeing themselves on social media. Halloween is scary enough on its own, between overpriced candy and sugar-sated kids.  The real threats to children don't involve tampered candy, Satanists, scary clowns, terrorists, or sex offenders; instead they include being hit by a car in the dark, or wearing a flammable costume, or injuring themselves while walking on curbs because they can't see out of their masks. Most kids are very safe at Halloween, and the average child is far more likely to die of a heart attack or be hit by lightning than be harmed in some Halloween-related menace.   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.    bc-intro-3b
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 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 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.
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.