Though Ben is known mainly for his investigations into unexplained phenomenon, he applies his skepticism broadly, and often tackles topics related to news and social media. Most of his books deal with media literacy in some way, and it’s the subject of two books: Media Mythmakers and America the Fearful. Here are some highlights.

Select investigations

Why Old News Is Often Fake News

We’ve all seen it on social media, especially Facebook. Some friend, or “friend,” or friend of a “friend,” posts a news story. Because it’s social media, the story is often selected (by human nature and algorithms) for its outrage factor. Amid the kitten videos and funny or cute memes, the news stories most likely to be shared are those that push people’s buttons—sometimes good news but more often bad news, tragedies, disasters, and the obligatory political outrage du jour.
Read it at the Center for Inquiry

Of Course Cops Weren’t Poisoned at a Shake Shack

A claim that NYPD officers were served poisoned milkshakes at Shake Shack was quickly proved to be false.
Read it at Rolling Stone

‘Richard Jewell,’ Skepticism, and Media Literacy

The recent Clint Eastwood film Richard Jewell holds interesting lessons about skepticism, media literacy, and both the obligations and difficulties of translating real events into fictional entertainment. It’s no secret that non-police security officers get little or no respect. They’re universally mocked and ignored in malls, security checkpoints, and airports. The stereotype is the self-important, dim, chubby ones, typified by Kevin James in Paul Blart: Mall Cop and—shudder—its sequel. Of course the stereotype extends to sworn officers as well, from rotund doughnut aficionado Chief Wiggum in The Simpsons to Laverne Hooks in the Police Academy franchise. They’re usually played for laughs, but there’s nothing funny about what happened to Richard Jewell.
Read more at Center for Inquiry

Exactly Who Is Calling Miley Cyrus Fat?

Miley Cyrus is on the attack after comments about the pop star’s recent weight gain. Why won’t those critics come forward and why does she respond to them? Pop star Miley Cyrus made national headlines this week for a Tweet in which she and her friend Demi Lovato denied she was fat. If this doesn’t seem newsworthy, just hold on.
Read it at Seeker

Diversity in Devastation: Media Myths and Mass Shooter Demographics

Mass shootings are, sadly, in the news again. Across the country violence is up overall in recent months, and gun-related homicides are on the rise. From Boston to Chicago to New Orleans, as covid restrictions relax shootings increase. The natural question is: Who is doing all the shooting, and why?
Read it at the Center for Inquiry

How to Survive an Alien Abduction

Thousands of people say they were abducted by aliens, and you might be worried you’ll be next. If you suddenly find yourself floating out your bedroom window toward a mother ship hovering somewhere over the South Valley, take the following steps. You should memorize this list; if you keep it by your bedside table, you will likely be paralyzed and unable to reach for it—or your glasses—as you are tractor-beamed toward the ET visitors.
Read more at Weekly Alibi

Social Media Maven Mom Falsely Accuses Hispanic Couple of Abduction Attempt

In early December in Petaluma, California, a woman named Katie Sorensen saw—or thought she saw, or claimed she thought she saw—a man and woman trying to abduct her two young children. The incident happened December 7 outside a Michaels craft store where Sadie and Eddie Martinez were Christmas shopping. Sorensen, a social media influencer, said that a man parked next to her and watched her as she exited her car (and was putting her kids in a double stroller) before getting back in his vehicle. As she entered the store she said that the man, now accompanied by a woman, followed her inside. She later described them as “not kind…they weren’t clean-cut individuals.”
Read more at Center for Inquiry

The Critical Angle: Did the Alamo Drafthouse really have women-only ‘Wonder Woman’ screenings?

The long-delayed, highly-anticipated sequel to the 2017 film Wonder Woman finally hit screens both big and small on Christmas Day. Wonder Woman 1984 opened to mixed reviews, but it would have been hard to live up to its predecessor.The original film was a commercial and critical blockbuster, earning over $820 million and a 93% Certified Fresh rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Wonder Woman did well for many reasons, including a strong performance from lead actor Gal Gadot, a solid script, an empowering female-led cast and crew, and good special effects. Less attention has been paid to the savvy grassroots marketing of the film, which effectively harnessed social media and media outrage. A closer look at the situation through the lenses of media literacy and critical thinking reveal a fascinating — and fabricated — story.
Read it at AIPTComics

Other investigations

  • Miracle Machine / ROM
    Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2009
  • Mysterious Elk Deaths
    Northeastern New Mexico, 2013
  • Plagiarism research
    The Element Encyclopedia of Vampires, by Theresa Cheung, 2012
  • Psychic and the Serial Killer
    Parsippany, New Jersey, 2008-2009
  • UFO / Missile report
    Los Angeles, California, ABC News, Discovery News, 2010
  • White Witch of Rose Hall
    Montego Bay, Jamaica, 2005