Aug 202017
 
I will be speaking at Bubonicon, New Mexico’s premiere fantasy/sci fi convention; on Friday night August 25 I will be giving a presentation on “New Mexico’s UFO Conspiracies” and handing out sample issues of Skeptical Inquirer. We will also be recording an episode of Squaring the Strange, so look for my co-hosts Pascual Romero and Celestia Ward! This year's Bubonicon 49 runs August 25-27, and the theme is time travel. There's plenty of authors, experts, and costumed fun.   bubon Come check it out!   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 042017
 
My overview article on crop circles is now up at LiveScience.com, check it out!
Crop circles — strange patterns that appear mysteriously overnight in farmers' fields—provoke puzzlement, delight and intrigue among the press and public alike. The circles are mostly found in the United Kingdom, but have spread to dozens of countries around the world in past decades. The mystery has inspired countless books, blogs, fan groups, researchers (dubbed "cereologists") and even Hollywood films. Despite having been studied for decades, the question remains: Who — or what — is making them? 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! 
Apr 152017
 
I was recently a guest on the NPR affiliate WAMU in D.C., "The Kojo Nnamdi Show", talking about the role of skepticism and media literacy in recent rumors of child abductions. 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.
Apr 122017
 
An inspirational cancer survivor widely honored (and featured in Beyoncé's "Lemonade" video) turns out to have made up or changed important parts of her past. Now many of her supporters are feeling betrayed, accusing her of theft, faking illness, and worse. It's a fascinating lesson in how easily people can be manipulated by tapping into popular narratives, and why critical thinking is important... You can read the remarkable, in-depth CNN article HERE.    You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Apr 102017
 
A mysterious 310-foot-diameter crop circle that appeared in a farmer's barley field in Chualar, Calif., as 2013 ended puzzled the public for more than a week. Echoing the sentiments of many, the field's owner told CNN, "To be that intricate in design, it kind of baffles me as to how that was done."Videos and photos of it went viral, and though some dismissed the crop circle as a hoax, others weren't so sure. Some crop-circle experts wrote in-depth analyses that claimed to cleverly decode hidden meanings in the pattern, including that a bright comet would appear in the sky later in 2014...   You can read the whole story HERE.    You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
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 052017
 
My recent blog on how a faked abduction may have contributed to the mosque shooting in Quebec, and why false crime reports often target minorities...   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... The Abduction of Alyssa Langille On Sunday January 15, a 15-year-old Canadian girl named Alyssa Langille was abducted by two men in Mississauga, near Toronto. According to news reports, "A witness said two men jumped out of a silver van at St. Barbara Blvd. and Comiskey Cres. just after 1 p.m. on Sunday. They forced the girl into the van and were last seen heading south on St. Barbara towards Derry Rd., according to the witness." The suspects were described as a "South Asian man around 24 years old, described as tall with a thin build, and wearing an orange turban with a grey sweater with cut off sleeves and a green shirt underneath. The second was simply described as a South Asian male." Based on that information an Amber Alert was issued, and the news media told the public to be on the lookout for these abductors and their victim. Exactly two weeks later in the neighboring province of Quebec, a man named Alexandre Bissonnette allegedly opened fire in a mosque, killing six people and wounding eight others in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a "terrorist attack on Muslims." Though the suspects in Langille's abduction were not specifically identified as Muslim--Sikhs and other turban-wearing groups have of course been mistaken for Muslims--the South Asian nation of Indonesia has a high percentage of Muslims, and the implication was clear to Canadian audiences. In another layer of fear-fueling misinformation about minorities, Fox News falsely tweeted that the suspect in the attack was of North African heritage, specifically Moroccan. Fox News eventually removed the information after being asked to do so by Trudeau's director of communications, Kate Purchase. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also made the same error. As it turns out Alyssa Langille was not in fact abducted. Her father had called police after the girl's sister found that Alyssa had placed clothes in her bed to make it appear as though she was still sleeping in it, but she had run away. Toronto police found Alyssa in Scarborough, a district of Toronto, unharmed. It's easy to see how Langille's abduction would have hit a nerve, especially in Canada's eastern provinces; as The New York Times noted, "right-wing extremism has long thrived in Canada among skinheads, white supremacists and others," particularly in Quebec. The racist trope of the ethnic foreigner preying on young white women is particularly evocative; perhaps one of the best known cases involved Emmett Till, the African-American teenager who was lynched in Mississippi at the age of 14 in 1955 after reportedly flirting with a White woman. According to recent news reports, Till's "accuser has recanted the most incendiary parts of her claims against him. Carolyn Bryant Donham told author Timothy B. Tyson that her long-ago allegations that Emmett grabbed her and was menacing and sexually crude toward her, ‘that part is not true.'" Indeed, defending the "honor" of White females is a longstanding theme in White nationalism. Whether the (non)abduction of Langille partly inspired Bissonnette to attack the mosque is unknown at the moment, but it is almost certain that the social media-savvy extremist was aware that a dark-skinned turban-wearing man and his colleague were being sought in connection with the abduction--or worse--of the young blonde woman. There is a further ironic twist to this story. Usually it is the "victim" who falsely accuses racial or ethnic minorities of their kidnapping or assault--often because it lends crediblity to their claims and plays into widely accepted negative stereotypes about those groups. In this case it turns out the eyewitness who claimed to have seen Alyssa Langille abducted by a turban-wearing man in a van was Uzma Khan, described as "a 32-year-old woman from Mississauga" Ontario, who has now been charged with public mischief for her false report and is due in court later this month. It's not known why Khan made the false report--perhaps it was for attention, or she misunderstood something she saw--but her decision to specify that a fictional abductor resembled a popular image of Muslims may have had results she could not have predicted. False crime reports of any kind are not only a waste of police resources and divert attention from real victims, but they can also have real-world consequences.
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    
Jul 302016
 
For those who didn't see it, I recently wrote a piece about a fascinating 1880s-era scientist/educator/feminist/ghostbuster named Eleanor Sidgwick... The long-awaited "Ghostbusters" remake is out... While vampire slaying has often been portrayed as a female-dominated profession (at least on television), ghost hunting seems more male-centered, at least as depicted on reality TV shows such as SyFy's "Ghost Hunters," now in its eleventh season of not finding ghosts. The new "Ghostbusters" film has an all-female lead cast, but if you're looking for a real-life pioneering female ghostbuster, you couldn't do much better than Eleanor Sidgwick. You can read the rest of the story HERE.    You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Jun 212016
 
The new horror film The Conjuring 2 is, like its predecessor, supposedly based on the "true case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren," a real-life married pair of self-styled demonologists involved (however peripherally) in several high-profile haunted house reports, mostly in the 1970s and 1980s. It reunites writer/director James Wan with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, reprising their roles as Ed and Lorraine Warren, respectively. The first Conjuring film was set at a rural Rhode Island farmhouse in 1971, but this new film begins with a wholly unrelated--and far more famous--case, that of murderer Butch DeFeo who killed his family in their Amityville, New York, home. The killings really happened, and DeFeo's defense lawyer famously tried to claim that DeFeo should be found not guilty because ghosts made him do it. The jury saw right through this flimsiest of Devil-made-me-do-it defenses but the Warrens did not, taking Butch DeFeo at his word that some unseen evil lurked in the house and compelled him to kill. The heavily fictionalized story was later made into a novel by Jay Anson and spawned a popular horror film franchise.... You can read the rest at my CFI blog HERE.    Conjuring_2                       You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Mar 182016
 
I was recently guest on The Edge of the Unknown Radio show with Joshua Gregory, talking about my various investigations and miscellaneous weirdness. 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 222015
 
Last month a blogger for NJ.com shared a photo of a bizarre, somewhat goatlike silhouetted winged form in the sky. Despite several obvious signs that the anonymously submitted photo is faked, it went viral and has been widely shared on social media as long-sought evidence of the mysterious Jersey Devil. My Discovery News article on the Jersey Devil is HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Nov 182015
 
Last month reports have surfaced in England of people dressed as clowns stalking and trying to abduct — or at the very least scaring — children. I gave a presentation on this topic earlier this year for the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research. My Discovery News article on it is HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Nov 082015
 
Last month a bizarre photo circulated apparently depicting a flying city in the clouds. Explanations ranged from mirage to hoax to conspiracy operations; my take on it for Discovery News is HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Oct 202015
 
I and three other experts including Susan Gerbic are extensively quoted in a new story about internet hoaxes: "In today’s fast-paced news culture, misinformation and disinformation are spread with a click, often before authenticity and credibility are verified. Sometimes it's harmless and funny, like The Onion fooling Fox News. But in other cases, this type of behavior is not only irresponsible but also incredibly dangerous. To understand this culture of deception, Hopes&Fears gathered four experts on hoaxes, falsehoods, rumors and pseudoscience..." You can read it HERE. 
Oct 082015
 
From the Radford Files archives: In October 2009, a six-year-old boy named Falcon Heene was thought by many to have been floating alone through Colorado skies on Thursday in a silvery weather balloon created by his inventor father. It turned out that the whole incident was a hoax, staged by his parents in hopes of getting their own reality TV show. One issue that has been lost in the story is that a lying “eyewitness” was at the root of the story.   The fact that a large silver balloon flew in the air was, by itself, hardly worth noting. No, what propelled the story to international importance was the first-person eyewitness account of Falcon's brother Brad. According to Sheriff Jim Alderman, police questioned Brad several times about what he had seen shortly before the balloon flew away. “He said he saw his brother climb into that apparatus and he was very adamant, they interviewed him multiple times and that was his consistent story.” At that point the concern became for the safety of the young boy, not an escaped balloon: Had he fallen to his death? Was he still aboard the balloon? He had been abducted? Where was the child?   Police were skeptical, but the boy repeated his story and insisted on the truth of what he’d seen. Many people (and journalists) probably thought, “Why would a child lie about something like that?” Much is often made of first-person eyewitness testimony in our society; indeed it is the basis for most ghost, monster, and other paranormal claims. Some people have even been convicted of crimes based on little more than one person saying, “I saw this happen.” But as this case reminds us, just because a person—even a seemingly guileless young boy— swears to have personally seen something, and consistently sticks to the story, does not mean it’s true.       This piece originally appeared in the Briefs Briefs column in the September 2009 Skeptical Briefs newsletter.   You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Jun 302015
 
My new article on KFC urban legends, and how a piece of chicken can look like a fried rat, is up at Discovery News, you can read it HERE.  It's an interesting blend of psychology, folklore, and culture...
Jan 302015
 
You may have heard that a boy who wrote an inspiring "true story" best-seller about going to heaven has admitted he made it up. I wrote an article on it, and a analysis about why many people believed it, you can read it HERE.
Aug 282014
 
SI new   My column in the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine features an investigation into what was called "the most important genuine crop circle ever discovered." I'm not convinced, and after you read my piece I don't think you will be, either...
Apr 072014
 
Recent videos of animals fleeing Yellowstone Park have many tourists and local residents concerned that a volcanic eruption may be imminent.... I take a closer look at the story... you can read it HERE. 
Feb 082014
 
People who have stigmata exhibit wounds that duplicate or represent those that Jesus is said to have endured during his crucifixion. The wounds typically appear on the stigmatic's hands and feet (as from crucifixion spikes) and also sometimes on the side (as from a spear) and hairline (as from a crown of thorns). I researched the topic and wrote about it for LiveScience.com; you can read it HERE.
Dec 222013
 
Last month I appeared on the Edge of the Unknown Radio on the All 1 Broadcast Network, and talked about a wide variety of weird and non-weird things. It was a fun show, and you can listen to it HERE.   
Dec 202013
 
My Discovery News article on the top myths busted this past year is now up! This past year was a strange one, with a variety of popular beliefs being busted. Some were welcome news: Other myths left a funk like a fart-filled balloon when they burst.... You can read it HERE. 
Oct 302013
 
My investigation into what is considered the best case for crop circles appears as the cover article in this month's issue of Fortean Times magazine. You can get a copy at Barnes and Noble and elsewhere, get it before it's sold out! images
Oct 032013
 
A mother in Utica, Ohio, has been charged with faking cancer in her 4-year-old son and profiting from the scam. Emily Creno, also known as Emily King, told friends, family and others she met via Facebook and other social media sites that her son JJ had a type of terminal brain cancer called pleuropulmonary blastoma, and would only live a year and a half longer.... You can read the rest of this weird story HERE.