Jul 262017
 

In case you missed it, this week on Squaring the Strange Pascual and I discuss the value of being pedantic. I discuss some new developments in the “Blue Whale” urban legend/moral panic, and Pascual takes some sketchy claims about sunscreen and cancer to task. As always, Celestia drops in for another awesome fortune cookie. For our Patrons, we’ve included a bonus segment at the end of the episode about the recent Amelia Earhart “lost evidence.” Check it 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! 

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.

 

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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 202017
 

Along with mermaids and dragons, unicorns are among the world’s best-known mythical creatures. From early artistic representations by Albrecht Durer and medieval tapestries to kitschy New Age posters and kids’ T-shirts, unicorns are universally beloved. We all recognize the striking image, but the story behind the magnificent beast is equally enchanting.

The unicorn did not spring fully formed in the popular imagination; instead, it gradually evolved from numerous early sources. First reports of the unicorn date back to the fourth century when Greek physician Ctesias recorded exotic tales he’d heard from travelers: “There are in India certain wild asses which are as large as horses, and larger. Their bodies are white, their heads dark red, and their eyes dark blue. They have a horn on the forehead which is about a foot and a half in length.” The horn, he added, was said to be white, red, and black.

The legends spread, and different cultures spawned various versions of the unicorn. The ki-lin of Chinese lore — which had a 12-foot-long horn on its head and a coat of five sacred colors — was renowned for bringing good luck. Though modern images tend to assume unicorns are horse-sized, the Physiologus (a 12th-century bestiary) described it as “a very small animal, like a kid.” The comparison is to a baby goat instead of a preteen human, but in either event the unicorns described wouldn’t stand much above knee height.

You can read the rest of my LiveScience.com piece 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 092017
 

The latest episode of Squaring the Strange is out! This week we explore the topic of nostalgia and how a good dose of skepticism is needed in how we remember things. Pascual is skeptical about a news story regarding sperm in women’s bodies and I offer some analysis on the oft-heard question “Why aren’t they calling it Terrorism?” following certain attacks. Celestia also stops by with a fortune cookie about a much beloved figure in the skeptic world. Check it out!

 

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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! 

Jul 082017
 

For those who missed it, I was recently a guest on “StarTalk Radio” with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, and the irrepressible Seth Shostak! Topics included UFOs, conspiracy theories, and whether a shortage of cow anuses on other planets is the cause of mysterious cattle mutilations.

You can listen 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 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!

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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 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! 

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 282017
 

In my new CFI blog I examine the recent interview of conspiracist Alex Jones by NBC’s Megan Kelly…

Former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly is doing her best to establish herself as a hard-nosed journalist in recent interviews with Russian president Vladimir Putin and conspiracy peddler Alex Jones. Both shows were breathlessly hyped, and while Putin has spent decades conducting disinformation campaigns (and continues to do so; see my CSI Special Report “How Russian Conspiracies Taint Social Activist ‘News’”), the interview with Jones was the more controversial. This was due in part to Jones’s promotion of the conspiracy that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax.

The question of whether or not Kelly should have given Jones more of a platform for his blinkered views (or any legitimacy) is a fair one—and one she anticipated. In the program Kelly defended her decision at least partly on the grounds that Jones has some influence over the President of the United States. As I’ve noted in Skeptical Inquirer magazine and elsewhere (and in a PBS NewsHour segment), no modern politician has so successfully and routinely employed conspiracy theories as Donald Trump. Trump enjoys flirting with fringe and extremist elements including conspiracy theorists, and has appeared on Jones’s program. This is a legitimate concern, and Alex Jones, as the source of many of those conspiracies, is by extension useful to understand.

That being said, the Kelly interview generated more heat than light (or ratings, as I’ll touch on). I watched the first ten minutes of the interview—it was about as much as I could stomach—and it was exactly what I expected. Jones blustered and bluffed his way through the interview, blithely brushing aside self-evident contradictions and routinely resorting to the familiar tactic of “I’m not saying any of this is true… I’m just asking questions!” What, if anything, Jones really believes remains an uninteresting mystery and it’s unlikely the program changed any minds.

You can find 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 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.

 

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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 242017
 

I was recently interviewed for the website ParanormalBucket, talking about skepticism, how it’s different from debunking, approaching investigations, and some of my favorite cases!

Here’s the first question and answer:

Riley Mitchell: You have described yourself as a “science-based” paranormal investigator. Would you explain a bit about what that designation means in practice and how you go about your work?

Ben Radford: I use “science-based” to contrast with other types of investigation, most of which are subjective. There are many ways humans find out about the world around us. The most common is through personal experience; we see or hear something, learn from it, and move on. For the most part personal experience works well for everyday things like learning not to lock your keys in the car. But personal experience can sometimes mislead us, especially when dealing with things that we don’t encounter every day—such as the paranormal.

Personal perception and experience tells us that our planet revolves around us. The sun moves across the sky from east to west, while we don’t appear to be moving at all. But personal experience is of course wrong; it is instead the Earth that revolves around the sun. Science reveals that the earth we walk on is also revolving at over 1,000 miles per hour (at the equator)—contrary to personal experience. So science is very useful in offering objective analysis. Though science doesn’t have all the details, it has many of them, and those parts that scientists still don’t understand won’t be filled by the earlier “mysterious” explanations. Science is simply a way of examining the world, a very effective method of analysis and investigation. You don’t need to be a scientist to investigate unexplained mysteries, but you do need to understand the principles involved.

Science has proven itself incredibly successful in explaining and finding out about the world. If we wish to know why a certain disease strikes one person and not another, we turn to medicine instead of a witch doctor. If we wish to know how to build a bridge that can span a river, we turn to physics instead of psychics. Paranormal or “unexplained” topics are testable by science: either a psychic’s prediction comes true or it doesn’t; either ghosts exist in the real world or they don’t.

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 232017
 

Hey folks! I’m a guest, along with my buddies Seth Shostak, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, on the recent episode of “StarTalk Radio,” talking about UFOs and alien life. Check it 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 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! 

May 312017
 

In the recent episode of Squaring the Strange we examine a variety of things including the reputed demise of the MP3 format, the outcome of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, and we take a close look at the principle of corroboration in determining truth. Check it out!

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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! 

May 282017
 

I was recently interviewed about George Orwell’s book 1984 and its relevance to today’s world, including concerns over Big Brother, privacy, and “doublespeak.” You can hear the show at this link (my segment starts around the 9 minute mark), and we will also be touching on this topic in a future episode of Squaring the Strange, so be sure to listen!

 

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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).

 

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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 232017
 

My new CFI blog examines a case study in TV ghost hunting illogic and pseudoscience. “This show aired in 2016 when the two stars have, they claimed, a combined thirty years of ghost hunting experience. In any other career, a third of a century experience would result in demonstrably better results, but not in ghost hunting, where thirty minutes of ghost hunting experience can yield exactly the same results as thirty years.”

 

There is no one “right” way to investigate paranormal and ghost claims, except through the use of critical thinking and scientific methods. The techniques I present in my seminars and book Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries have proven themselves useful and effective in solving mysteries. They are drawn from many sources including professional investigations (such as procedures used by police detectives, FBI agents, and investigative journalists), scientific methodologies, formal and informal logic, psychology, personal experience, and other investigators-along with a dose of common sense.

Often it’s useful to provide examples of flawed investigations, and in that light I offer an analysis of a recent episode of the ghost hunting show Kindred Spirits titled “Breaking and Entering” (airdate November 18, 2016). In it former Ghost Hunters cast members Amy Bruni and Adam Berry investigate a supposedly haunted home owned by a woman named Meghan.

 

Read more 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! 

May 172017
 

My Skeptical Inquirer column about the purported links between EMF fields and ghosts is now online!

Many ghost hunters, including the T.A.P.S. team on the television show Ghost Hunters, use EMF detectors to search for electromagnetic fields because they believe that intense magnetic fields can create hallucinations, which in turn might create the illusion of ghosts. The basis for this theory comes primarily from research done by a Canadian cognitive neuroscientist, Michael Persinger. He found that hallucinations (such as out-of-body experiences) could be triggered by stimulating specific areas of the brain with fixed wavelength patterns of high-level electromagnetic fields…

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! 

May 122017
 

Nice note from a teacher friend of mine, glad to see an article I wrote several years ago is still being read and steering people toward skepticism…

 

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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! 

May 082017
 

How useful is the Facebook ‘Safety Check’ function during terrorism and disaster? A closer look in my CFI blog…

When the attacks in London happened, many people used Facebook’s “Safety Check” functions to alert friends and family that they were safe.

When launching the feature, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced, “When disasters happen, people need to know their loved ones are safe. It’s moments like this that being able to connect really matters.” As Wired explains, “When activated, Safety Check locates Facebook users near a disaster site through the city they list on their profile, or from where they last used the Internet. Users then receive a notification asking to confirm that they’re safe or to say that they weren’t in the affected area. Those who choose ‘safe’ generate a notification to their friends and followers, who can track how many of their friends were affected.”

I’m sure the effort is well intended, but my natural skepticism led me to wonder just how useful it really is. There are about 10 million people in London at any given time (8.5 million residents plus another 1.5 million visitors per month, roughly) and the chances that any given one of them will be harmed or killed in terrorism or a natural disaster is very remote.

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.

May 052017
 

Hey folks! After co-founding and co-hosting the Parsec-winning “MonsterTalk” podcast, I’m returning with co-host Pascual Romero for “Squaring the Strange.” The show brings evidence-based analysis and commentary to a wide variety of topics, ranging from the paranormal to the political, the mysterious to the mundane. Our first month of shows is now out, please give it a listen!

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Apr 302017
 

I recently recorded an in-studio segment with Shabam!, a new science podcast for kids. My role: explaining skepticism, and how to think critically and evaluate claims:

Shabam! is a new type of science show that blends fictional stories with real science. If you love science but hate those awkward scientist interviews that involve graphs and confusing metaphors, you’re in luck. First off, Shabam! is an audio program – so no graphs. And second, through the magic of sound effects and music, you’ll hear stories that reveal the awesomeness in the world around us – like cellphones and vaccinations.

In season one, our main story is about three kids separated from their parents during a Zombie apocalypse. Over the course of 10 episodes we follow their quest to reunite with their families. But their experience leads us to another conclusion – that there’s a lot of science all around us that we take for granted.

And finally, you may be wondering whether we’ve added silly songs and jokes to make up for the fact that we can’t show you graphs. Yes we have. Also, we only interview cool scientists who aren’t awkward, which means the whole family can enjoy it!

 

I’ll let you know when it’s out!

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.

 

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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.

Apr 182017
 

“This photo of Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg has one convicted felon; if you immediately assumed it was Stewart, you should think again!”

mindful of stereotypes!

This meme is a wonderful lesson in prejudice and stereotypes–or at least it would be if they weren’t both convicted felons… Stay skeptical, my friends!

 

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

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 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 252017
 

My recent interview on NPR about UFOs and aliens, opposite Leslie Kean, George Noory, and others, is now out. It’s not a bad show, but if you want to hear some skepticism, start about 40 minutes in… you can listen HERE.

From the Colin McEnroe show:

UFOs have been reported in America since the 1600s. And in all that time our government has largely dismissed the objects as being of Earthly origin. But this culture of dismissal in the U.S. is not indicative of how sightings are handled around the world. Some foreign governments readily discuss the possibility of extraterrestrials having visited Earth, and others go so far as to openly support the possibility.

As reports of UFO sightings in America have skyrocketed since the 1940’s, we ask why the phenomenon isn’t given a more serious look. We’ll examine some of the most compelling cases of all time and ask what it is about these unidentified objects that captivates the imaginations of so many. This hour we speak with believers and skeptics about UFO’s.

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

Mar 202017
 

While there are many factors in Trump’s rise, one of the most bizarre is his use of conspiracies. Whether the topic is voter fraud, Obama wiretapping Trump Towers, or anti-vaccination arguments, no modern politician has so successfully and routinely employed conspiracy theories as Donald Trump.

Political conspiracies, both real (Watergate) and dubious (G.W. Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks) are nothing new. In the 16th and 17th centuries, for example, during outbreaks of the bubonic plague, dozens of people in what is now Switzerland and Italy were arrested and accused of intentionally spreading the disease as part of a plot to steal from sickened, wealthy landowners.

But Trump’s endorsement of conspiracies is unprecedented in American politics. Trump enjoys flirting with fringe and extremist elements including conspiracy theorists. Trump has also appeared on the radio show of noted conspiracy advocate Alex Jones, who has repeatedly claimed that the Obama administration has faked or staged domestic shootings (including the Sandy Hook school massacre) as a pretext for confiscating American’s guns.

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.

Mar 182017
 

My article on the scope of skepticism from Skeptical Inquirer magazine is now online: “Pseudoscience, superstition, and nonsense will always be with us in some form, wasting human resource and preying on the vulnerable. As long as there is darkness, skeptics will be there to fight for the light amid a chorus of curses.”

 

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer are celebrating forty years of organized modern skepticism—though of course skepticism itself has a long and honorable tradition, as practiced by Harry Houdini, Benjamin Franklin, Reginald Scot, David Hume, and others.

As it happens I have been closely involved with CSICOP/CSI for half of its existence, and therefore much of my adult life (had I been told at ten what I’d be doing at forty, I’d have considered that an extraordinary claim indeed). In some ways, the decades seem to have passed in the blink of an eye, and in other ways, it has taken an eternity.

I wasn’t there in the early years: the heady seventies when astrology was rampant and Uri Geller was cranking out the woo trying to stay one step ahead of James “The Amazing” Randi. My entry to skepticism came in the mid-1990s when I began writing for Skeptical Inquirer after seeing a back issue (with a cover article by Randi) debunking a certain famously ambiguous and wily French author. A few years later at conferences, I got to meet both Randi and Carl Sagan, and with the encouragement of those two pillars of skepticism and others—as well as a fortunately timed editorial vacancy at Skeptical Inquirer—I joined the organization.

You can read the rest HERE. 

 

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

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.