My new CFI blog on the solving of a strange mystery, the theories behind it, and why investigation matters… You can read it HERE.
A hunter stumbled upon a bizarre sight on a 75,000-acre ranch north of Las Vegas, N.M., on Aug. 27: the remains of more than 100 dead elk. Wildlife officials were puzzled and wild theories ran wild, but in the end science found an answer; you can read my LiveScience.com article about it HERE.
Last year I wrote an article about widespread criticisms of the BMI measurement, and in that piece I included the following paragraph:
Another criticism is that the BMI was developed over 150 years ago, and its longevity somehow discredits it. What would become the BMI was developed around 1850 by a Belgian statistician named Adolphe Quatelet, and has been used more or less since then. This is, of course, flawed logic: if anything the fact that the BMI has been widely used for so long is actually evidence that it works-not that it doesn’t work. To use only one example of many, germ theory has been around since at least 1815 (when Agostino Bassi did experiments showing that the etiology of disease could be traced to germs), and no one suggests that germ theory is “outmoded” or incorrect merely because it’s been around for nearly 200 years.
A reader took me to task for it, though I’m not sure the criticism is valid; read it HERE and decide for yourself!
An ancient statue in a British museum was caught on camera turning in its locked display case last week, and it’s unnerving many people.
My in-depth analysis of the strange case is HERE.
The decision made by expectant couples to have their births in water attended by dolphins has raised eyebrows; it’s part of a New Age “natural birthing” trend, but it may be dangerous; you can read more HERE.
The family of a young British girl traveling in their home country of India is accusing a medical clinic of killing their daughter for her organs. Gurkiren Kaur Loyal’s family said she was being treated for dehydration in Punjab when she died.
You can read the story HERE.
Can a person’s handwriting reveal their personality and aptitude for a job? That’s what many handwriting experts, called graphologists, claim — and millions of people may be denied jobs because of this controversial practice.
My article on graphology was recently posted to Discovery News; you can read it HERE.
Though television police shows like CSI often make it look like identifying human from animal bones is easy, in reality it can be very difficult. There have been many examples where bear bones have been mistaken for human bones. You can read more HERE.
A boring new study published in PLoS-ONE has riled critics who read sexism into it where none exists. Blame poor journalism and ill-informed, knee-jerk reactions by people attacking things they never bothered to read. You can read my piece on Discovery News.
The story that I and many other reported on about the recent news that Melba Ketchum has sequenced Bigfoot DNA keeps getting stranger. A new piece by Sharon Hill of Doubtful News notes that a sharp-eyed skeptic found that one of Ketchum’s references is actually to a well-known April Fool’s Prank! You can read it HERE.
I recently wrote several pieces about the long-awaited “Bigfoot DNA” study; one discussing the analysis, on NBC News, can be read HERE.
Did you know that I created a free 10-part e-mail course on the basics of scientific paranormal investigation? Even if you’ve taken my workshop or read my award-nominated book “Scientific Paranormal Investigation,” you’ll probably learn something new & interesting!
You can sign up for it HERE!
I’m quoted discussing water scarcity in an article in The Journal of Water Law, talking about the myth that there is a water shortage on Earth. You can read the article HERE.
Needles found in airline food last week have raised concern over the threat of AIDS and other diseases, but how serious is the danger? Find out HERE.
A new issue of The Bent Spoon— “A Skeptical Magazine for the True Believer” is now out. It’s the one-year anniversary issue, and has lots of cool and interesting articles on a wide variety of paranormal topics. And I’ve got an article about the importance of asking the right questions. It’s free, and you can read it (and other back issues) HERE.
Huffington Post’s Lee Speigel did a nice piece about the so-called sunken UFO in the Baltic Sea, a story I wrote about and did follow-ups on. I’m quoted in his piece, which you can read HERE.
My investigation of a mysterious video allegedly of an angel seen in an Indonesian shopping mall was carried by several news outlets last week; you can read one story HERE.
The editors of nearly 20 international editions of Vogue magazine agreed last week to ban from their pages all fashion models younger than 16 or “who appear to have an eating disorder.” The move comes at a time when thin models are increasingly being accused of promoting unhealthy body images.
But will it do any good? You can read more HERE.
A study published last year in a scientific journal claimed to have found strong evidence for the existence of psychic powers such as ESP. The paper, written by Cornell professor Daryl J. Bem, was published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and quickly made headlines around the world for its implication: that psychic powers had been scientifically proven.
I wrote a piece about this last week for Discovery News; you can read it HERE.
I will be speaking at Fullerton College in Anaheim, California, on Friday March 23 and Saturday March 24. The topic will be Media Literacy, Science, Ghost Hunters, and Bigfoot.
Join Discovery News writer/investigator Benjamin Radford for a presentation about the media, science literacy—and Bigfoot. The news media is a powerful influence on society, and understanding how journalism works can help us avoid being misled. News and science stories in particular can be hard to interpret but have important implications for our lives.
The talk will also include a discussion of how the media treats “paranormal” and unexplained mysteries such as ghost, Bigfoot, and UFOs. What does the wild success of “reality” TV shows like Ghost Hunters and Finding Bigfoot say about the level of critical thinking and scientific literacy in America? Do they have any influence on the public’s belief, or is it all harmless entertainment?
Come find out!
The talks will be at 10 AM, location TBA. Check my Facebook page for more details.
Benjamin Radford is a deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and a Research Fellow with the non-profit educational organization the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He has written hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics, including urban legends, the paranormal, critical thinking, and science literacy.
His six books include Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us; Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries; and The Martians Have Landed! A History of Media-Driven Panics and Hoaxes. Radford is a regular columnist for LiveScience.com, Discovery News, and Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and has appeared on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Learning Channel, CBC, CBS, BBC, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Wired, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair.
A man in Dorset, England, recently found about two dozen mysterious clear blue gel balls in his back yard. Read more about Mr. Hornsby’s tiny balls HERE.
A new study finds that kids with access to junk food at school were no heavier than those without, and suggests that money spent on efforts to reduce childhood obesity would be much more effective in other areas, such as encouraging parents to choose healthier meals for their kids. Read the full story HERE.
As we head inexorably toward 2012, I wrote a piece for Discovery News looking back at some of the strangest mysteries of this past year, and some of the mysteries that remain with us as we enter the new year.
What’s behind, and what’s ahead? You can read the story HERE.
I investigated the best case for psychic detectives, offered by Skeptiko podcast host Alex Tsakiris, in 2008. It was claimed to be one of the strongest cases in history, due in part to the fact that (according to a TV show Alex watched) two police detectives support Nancy Weber’s claim of having assisted in the 1983 investigation of serial killer James Koedatich.
The case is far too complex to summarize here, but appears as chapter 6 in my book Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. With help from Blake Smith, I have prepared excerpts of interviews with both police detectives, so you can hear the eyewitnesses in their own words. These clips highlight a few examples of how the two detectives, Moore and Hughes, recollections vary from the story that Nancy Weber tells. The clips and transcriptions are available HERE.
At the CSICON conference recently, my colleague Richard Saunders gave a presentation on his investigation of the “Power Bands” scam. He asked my assistance on the stage to demonstrate how the supposed methods by which the bands show their efficacy are merely simple tricks. You can watch the video HERE.
I was interviewed last week by a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch on ghost hunting science and pseudoscience. It seems a local ghost hunting team asked him to participate in a ghost hunt, and he wanted the real deal on the science end of things. You can read it HERE.
“If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.”
I was recently and publicly called a “fat hater” on Facebook by someone I know. It was in response to an article I wrote for Discovery News about a rhyming children’s book for 4 to 8 year olds called Maddie Goes On a Diet. The article was about a controversy surrounding the book, in which an overweight 14-year-old girl loses weight and gains self-esteem through diet and exercise. Outraged critics were concerned that the book could harm children, and I interviewed one expert (and quoted another) who claimed the book was damaging. I also analyzed their criticisms, and pointed out several logical errors and mistaken assumptions that critics were making about the book (for example that the diet Maddie goes on is an unhealthy, calorie-restricted diet, and that the book was likely to have a significant influence on children or their diets).
I spent about half a day researching and writing the column, and the final product provided a much deeper level of analysis and critical thinking than most of the other news stories on the topic (do a Google search for the topic and see for yourself). Many Discovery News readers agreed with my analysis.
Yet others dismissed my piece—not because my facts or arguments were wrong, but because it was just another example of my well-known “fat hating” bias. My article could be safely ignored and dismissed (or perhaps not even read) because anything I wrote was clearly driven by an anti-fat ulterior agenda. I would have welcomed some substantive criticism or comments explaining where my logic or arguments were faulty, but none were offered.
This is, of course, a version of the logical fallacy of the ad hominem attack: Criticizing the person, not the argument or claim. We see it all the time in skepticism; it’s nothing new. But when a colleague and ostensible critical thinker does it, it’s disheartening.
I should confess that I have also been publicly accused of hating both gays and dwarves. No, I’m not making this up. Interestingly, as far as I know I’ve never been accused of hating (or bias against) Blacks, Jews, Asians, or Muslims. Then again, the week’s not over.
As it happens, I am not at all shy about identifying targets of my hatred; George W. Bush and psychics who exploit grieving families pretty much complete the list. If I hate you, I’ll make that perfectly clear; you won’t need to read between the lines. But gays, dwarves, and fat people (not to mention fat gay dwarves) are fine by me. The claim that I hate gays would surely come as a surprise to my many lifelong gay friends, including James Randi, to whom I dedicated one of my books. And the idea that I hate overweight people would also surely come as a shock to nearly all of my ex-girlfriends, few of whom are svelte.
A few years ago, I even lost a friend who refused to speak to me because I had written an article that included a discussion of false rape claims. She (apparently) badly misread the piece and somehow concluded that I was suggesting that real rapes don’t occur, or that real victims shouldn’t be believed. I of course wrote no such thing. On very rare occasions I’ve even heard the suggestion that I am somehow biased in favor of sex offenders (whatever that means) because I have written about the sex predator panic scares, explaining to parents that family and friends pose a far greater danger to children than any convicted sex offender. In fact a child is far more likely to be physically or sexually abused, abducted, or even killed by his or her parents than a sex offender stranger. This is a well-established statistical fact, and how that could be interpreted as a bias toward sex offenders is beyond me.
I am used to attacks and criticism; it comes with the territory. Any time you are challenging someone’s beliefs or claims, and especially when you do with references, sound arguments, and sources, people get upset. In my twelve years of doing skeptical investigations and science literacy work, I’ve been threatened with both violence and lawsuits (including from a New York Times reporter—involving a predator panic piece I wrote, in fact). I get hate mail of some sort nearly every week; I’m told that I’m stupid, willfully ignorant, and an embarrassment to journalism. Some people leave comments on Discovery News articles saying I should be fired. I think writing is the only profession where people who have read a few paragraphs of your work feel entitled to tell you what a horrible, incompetent person you are, and on a fairly regular basis.
I don’t mind the criticisms, it’s the bias accusations that annoy me, and it’s instructive to briefly analyze them. When I question claims about aliens and UFO photographs, critics assert that the only logical reason I would do so is because I have a bias or agenda as part of a government conspiracy to keep the truth from the public. When I question claims about alternative medicine and homeopathy, it’s not because I have researched it and know a lot about it, but because I’m being paid by Big Pharma. When I question claims made by psychics, critics say it’s because I have a bias toward protecting the scientific status quo—or that if I were to accept the reality of psychics it would devastate my worldview. And when I question claims about the links between media images and eating disorders, it can’t be because I know something about it—having studied it for years and written a book about the mass media—but because I hate fat people.
All of these folks have one thing in common: The assumption that the reason I’m criticizing their claims or arguments because 1) I haven’t done adequate research into the subject, and if I did, I’d realize that they were right; and 2) I have a hidden agenda, some bias or ulterior motive that compels me to write my ill-informed rubbish despite all the obvious evidence against my position.
Often the basic logic goes something like this: “You are saying something that’s different than what I heard (or believe), so you must be wrong.” It rarely seems to occur to them that maybe what they heard (or believe) might be wrong, and that the author who has spent hours (or days or years) researching it might know more about it. Truly open-minded people who are willing to listen and consider information and arguments that contradict their beliefs are discouragingly rare.
Many of these accusations of bias and hatred would of course not happen if I stuck to safe, non-controversial claims (among skeptics, anyway). If I restricted my critical analyses to UFOs or Bigfoot or psychic claims, I would only garner criticisms and attacks from the believers (and there’s plenty of those). My friends and fans, skeptics and otherwise, are happy to have me fight the good fight against woo, pseudoscience, and New Age bullshit day in and day out, month after month, year after year.
But some of them get very uncomfortable when I write and discuss topics that touch a nerve, especially issues about gender or sexuality (religion, as you might expect, isn’t really a point of contention among this crowd). Things get a little awkward when I question whether or not, for example, the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign actually had any effect, or whether the “epidemic” of gay teen suicides last year was real. Things get a little awkward when I question whether sex offender notification laws are useful, whether false rape claims are a problem, or whether fashion models and a rhyming kid’s book actually lead to anorexia.
I apply my skepticism across the board, asking for evidence behind any and all claims. I don’t like it when people whose ideas and policies I oppose lie and repeat false statements to make their points, and I don’t like it when people whose ideas and policies I agree with lie and repeat false statements to make their points. I try hard not to be selectively skeptical. I believe that there should be no sacred cows, no taboo topics.
I will continue to write about body image and sex offenders and bad statistics and faulty arguments wherever I encounter them. I will endure the barbs and personal attacks, because I believe that these things should be openly discussed, and the arguments, pro and con, should be carefully analyzed instead of ignored or dismissed because of some perceived bias. Truth is best served when everyone asks, “What is the evidence?” not only for claims and ideas they oppose, but also for those they support. The principles of free speech are not tested by popular speech, but by unpopular speech. In the same vein, the true nature of open and skeptical inquiry is not tested when a person says something we agree with, but in how we react when a person says something we disagree with.
One of the most common charges leveled against skeptics and scientists is that they refuse to acknowledge the existence of paranormal phenomenon (psychic abilities, ghosts, extraterrestrial visitors, etc.) because it would destroy their worldview. Skeptics and scientists, they say, are deeply personally and professional invested in defending the scientific “status quo.” This claim is heard over and over again, often from New Age writers, UFO buffs, and the like. The reaction to recent faster than light claims show it is wrong. Read the full article HERE on the CFI blogs…