Bigfoot “facts” for kids?

Bigfoot Evidence has posted a link to a website called “Is Bigfoot Real” [refrain from clicking unless absolutely necessary] which contains a page called “Bigfoot Facts for Kids”.

The so called “facts” given are as follows:

  • Where Has Bigfoot Been Seen? Bigfoot has been spotted all over the world. People often see Bigfoot in wooded areas or high in the mountains.
  • What Does Bigfoot Eat? Bigfoot is an omnivore. This means he eats both plants and animals. Researchers say Bigfoot eats nuts, berries, fish and deer.
  • How Does Bigfoot Act? Bigfoot is shy. He likes to live with others of his own kind but doesn’t like being around people. He doesn’t like to have his picture taken so it’s hard to get him on film. Bigfoot talks to each other by making loud calls across long distances.
  • Does Bigfoot Hurt People? No, Bigfoot doesn’t try to hurt people on purpose. Sometimes though, when people accidentally wander into his territory, he’s been known to throw rocks at them to frighten them away. Bigfoot isn’t trying to be mean. He’s just trying to protect his home and family. Continue reading

Your friendly neighborhood mon$ter

In a recent post on Skeptoid blog, I suggest that paranormal-based tourism, such as ghost tours and monster festivals, which are growing in popularity, border on fraud.

“Even if there are long-standing legends of strange events occurring at some location, to suggest that a place is haunted just to freak people out is contemptible.”

“Ghost tours and monster festivals are fun. But, their apparent frivolity disguise an underlying invitation to buy into an idea just because it’s entertaining while having no basis in reality.”

Commenters remarked that I might be getting too worked up over it. Meanwhile, I found this commentary from a local who thinks his town needs one of them monsters to draw tourists and he is not beyond creating one from scratch. Continue reading

Scientific or Scientifical?

About half of all amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs – those self-forming groups that do ghost hunting, Bigfoot searches, cataloging of UFO sightings, and other paranormalia) on the Internet say they use scientific methods and equipment and/or their field is based in science. [1]

As one who actually did scientific work in a lab (geochemistry) and geologic investigations, I had a hard time with their claims about scientificity. To be scientific, in a strict sense, there is no substitute for academic training. Long ago, we exhausted all the relatively simple ways of learning about the world and science rocketed out of the reach of amateurs. Now, like it or not, science takes a big effort – careful planning, funding, collaboration and eventual publication so that results can be critically evaluated by the community. In Western society, science is a privileged method of inquiry. The public generally understands that the methods of science are rigorous and the results are authoritative. So, to say that one is “scientific” is to set a very high bar. I could not help but wonder just how close to the bar these ARIG participants could get. So, I looked at their websites and read their publications. Continue reading

Bigfoot researchers making big leaps

A few behaviors really irk me: acting like an authority to the public when you don’t deserve to be authoritative and making shit up to give a good story. The scientist in me would like experience, credentials and an exhibition of expertise. I also need evidence for wild claims. Because, well, you know… I doubt it.

One group in particular is very fond of putting these behaviors together – self-styled Bigfoot researchers.

I’m fed up with Bigfoot proponents pulling “facts” out of thin air and telling me what Bigfoot likes and doesn’t like, where he sleeps at night, how he avoids detection, how he communicates. They tell the public that wood knocking and nighttime howls are from Bigfoot. They find locations where one passed through or slept. They even apparently know about their “culture”. How can you, Bigfoot researcher, justify these fantastic claims? I’d like to know.

Continue reading

Want to shed the pseudoscience label? Try harder.

When I was a kid, cryptozoology books advocated the existence of these creatures. The same dramatic stories were repeated in many books. I was swayed by the stories but eventually I got bored with them. There was something missing. Stories only get you so far. I wanted a structure, I wanted details. I really wanted a coherent argument. I did not find one at the time. Luckily, they are out there now.

Yet, the majority of popular crypto stuff harkens back to the same old, same old – stories. Last week on Boing Boing, Maggie Koerth-Baker wrote about a new Popular Science feature that, for one, described a Yeti-seeking adventure. She remarked about it: “It’s easy to see the writer getting so caught up in the excitement of the hunt that he stopped questioning whether there was really anything to hunt for.” She highlights an article where you will find the quote “The Snowman definitely exists.” Quite the unjustified leap made in that article from decades ago. Where’s the Snowman?

Cryptomundo took major exception to Maggie’s use of the word “pseudoscience” in reference to cryptozoology.

Umm… ? Maggie was describing the Popular Science feature called “PopSci’s Brief Foray Into Pseudoscience”. She was just the messenger. PopSci was using the label. Since one Boing Boing writer often highlights pro-cryptozoology stories, this framing of the subject apparently rubbed the wrong way.

I’ve done some writing about the sciencey-ness of cryptozoology and paranormal topics. I’d like to talk a bit about the use of “pseudoscience” to describe cryptozoology. Continue reading

Chupacabra gets a necropsy: Ben Radford’s new book does the dirty work

We were given a teaser of the stunning new findings about the chupacabra in Ben Radford’s preceding book Scientific Paranormal Investigation, which I reviewed here. I was excited to dig into the entire story in Tracking The Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore.

The book has high praise and positive reviews already. Of course, I loved it – not because I love every monster book. I don’t. Most popular ones are quite terrible since they rehash the same old stories without references or critical thought. I loved it because this was a unique and comprehensive look a very “pop culture” monster. There was a ton of new stuff in here. Continue reading

Monster Stories from Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is the locale for oodles of strange stories, from the ghosts of Gettysburg to Thunderbirds of the northern forests, from the Jersey Devil sightings along the Delaware to UFOs in Kecksburg (and all across the state).  A 135-page book by Patty A. Wilson chronicles, specifically, Monsters in Pennsylvania: Mysterious Creatures in the Keystone State. As a monster fan myself (I hold a PhD in Cryptozoology from Thunderwood College [wink, wink], I was eager to check out the tales of local monsters. Continue reading

Solving Unexplained Mysteries: A review of “Scientific Paranormal Investigation” by B. Radford

This past March, I registered for a seminar on Scientific Paranormal Investigation at CFI – Washington, DC. Ben Radford was presenting and the event description mentioned his upcoming book of the same name. This was fortuitous since I was working on developing a thesis project about the prevalence of sham inquiry, focusing on amateur investigation groups, such as Bigfoot, UFO and ghost hunters. Sadly, I missed the event because of the death of my grandmother.

As my thesis idea gelled, I realized Ben’s new book would be a must-have for my references. So, I purchased it directly from his website (www.radfordbooks.com)  as soon as it was announced, before it even made it to Amazon. He noted in the inscription that I was his first order.

This unique volume includes so much about the topics on which I’m focused for my project -laypersons conducting investigations into paranormal activities and what it means to be “scientific”. I wondered how this book would compare with Missing Pieces by Baker and Nickell. It’s different in content, focus and scope. For starters, at this point in time, there has never been so many paranormal investigation groups. Thanks to the internet and television, these groups number over a thousand on any given day in the U.S. alone. Millions of people view Ghost Hunters on television and think that’s an example of how scientific investigation is done. It’s a timely topic. Continue reading

The red herring

Conclusion to “Sham Inquiry
The coelacanth is a red herring

Mainstream science, which is respected and functions very well with its current methodology, excludes those fields who don’t pass muster. For a theory to be considered as an explanation for observations of the natural world, even the public realizes it ought to be scientific. Using supernatural qualities as necessary components in your theory will get you excluded from consideration outright by the scientific community. The public, on the other hand, finds the paranormal quite fascinating and is willing to give consideration to those that put on a good show. Continue reading

Cryptozoology – Sham Inquiry

Cryptozoology is “the study of hidden animals” (called ‘cryptids’). More precisely, it is the pursuit of animals that science does not recognize as existing and, in some situations, be considered ‘monster hunting’ in comparison to the ghost hunters in a forthcoming discussion.

Like the closely related field of UFOlogy, cryptozoology can accurately be described as “a simulacrum of systematic rationality…quite impressive to many…nonbelievers.” Continue reading

Pretend science

Playing Pretend Science

In order to be technical, like science, pseudoscientists engage in a method of data gathering that is not haphazard or lazy. Intricate collection and analysis is often a part of pseudoscientific activity. They may produce enormous bodies of work. Commitment to a cause can prompt “energetic intellectual effort” [1]. The motives and ‘sciencey’ feel of the whole endeavor wins over those nonscientists who can’t recognize that it simply fails to meet scientific standards. Yet, for all the diligent work, the accumulated evidence can still amount to nothing of substance.
The public is happy to admire science as long as they don’t have to understand it deeply. Sham inquiry plays to the admiration of science by the public. A lack of familiarity with how science is supposed to work is a major reason why the public has trouble recognizing counterfeit science. Add an ‘-ology’ to the end of whatever you study and it acts like a toupe of credibility – to hide the lack of substance. The public is vulnerable to pseudoscience that resembles real inquiry and genuine knowledge.
The following are three examples of current pseudosciences. They all don the accoutrements of science without delivering the substance [2]. The field of cryptozoology is the likeliest of the three to hold the interest of real scientists these days because it is associated with the genuine fields of zoology, anthropology and wildlife biology and chock-full of amateur scientists. Ghost hunting is predominantly nonscientists who enjoy using technology and the new view that it gives them on the world. Creationism is a entirely different beast grown completely from religious ideology and dressed in a cheap and transparent scientific costume. This sham does not even fool courts of law but it continues to exert tremendous ideological force on the public.

Cryptozoology
Ghost hunting
Creationism
——————-
[1] Haack, S. (1995). “Concern for Truth and Why it Matters”. The Flight from Science and Reason (1996). P. R. Gross, N. Levitt, M.W. Lewis, New York Academy of Sciences, p. 58.
[2] Bunge, M. (1995).“In Praise of Tolerance To Charlatanism in Academia”. The Flight from Science and Reason (1996). P. R. Gross, N. Levitt, M.W. Lewis, New York Academy of Sciences, p. 104.

Back to Sham Inquiry contents page.

Deconstructing ‘scoftic’

To preface, I’m not against new words. I’ve shared my love of witty neologisms such as the portmanteau words “blobjects”, “blobsquatch”, “blurfos” and the like. In those cases, we can describe ‘something that is not accurately depicted’. And, something that can’t speak for itself.

The buzz on Cryptomundo has developed over using the word “scoftic”, a designation you give to a person with regards to a topic of questionable legitimacy, such as Bigfoot.

From Cryptomundo:
Is ‘Scoftic’ a Useful Term?
Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 28th, 2007

Do you think the term differs enough from “skeptic” to be useful? Do you think the term has demonstrated evolved development of the discussion? Is it demeaning? Dismissive? Definitely useful? Worthy of deployment throughout hominology and cryptozoology? Defensively debatable? Definitive?

A “scoftic” is described as follows: “the programmed skeptic who is defined more by a pre-determined mindset than the results of any thoughtful probing of the evidence”; “a cranky skeptic”; one who displays “unhealthy skepticism”; “someone who…gives witness testimony no weight whatsoever, on ideological grounds, and who asserts numerous other bits of unreasonable dogma, such as that the quantity of reports is insignificant”; one who exhibits “fanaticism behind a pose of reasonableness” and who uses “fine print” and/or “qualifiers” when considering evidence.

Reading the rest of the post and the myriad, varied, well-thought out and some narrow-minded responses, I have my own thoughts.

The term originated with regards to Bigfoot discussions. But, it can easily jump topics and apply to the paranormal biggies – UFOs, ghosts, psychic powers. Since it generated so much response, I have no doubt that, no matter if it’s a useful word or not, it WILL continue to be used. Culture is like that. It’s now a meme, ready to spread, who knows how far.

There are distinct problems with the description. First, when we are talking in these forums about subjects on the fringe of science, or even reality, we mean something specific when we use “skeptic” but not everyones version is the same. Some use the word as a negative connotation, as if to suggest that the skeptic doesn’t belong in this group that pursues more ‘positive’ thoughts. The skeptic is the “non-believer”. And, frequently we all like to be around those who think like us, not those who question or debate.

On the other hand, “skeptic” can be a proud label to hold. True skeptics are critical thinkers and quite often know a whole lot about the multiple facets of the subject they discuss. Doubt is necessary to progress and essential to science. Most non-scientists (and some scientists) have entirely failed to grasp that. Practicing skepticism is scientific.

I’ve been involved in the “skeptical community” for many years. They are the most intelligent, articulate, witty and FAIR people I have ever met. However, there are times when even a good person falls into the trap of ad hominem comments, quick and unfair dismissals and exhibitions of bad temper. We all do it. Since I have spent time in both camps, I have observed that proponent group members are far more sensitive to debates. Any hint of skepticism during discussion triggers a red flag. The skeptic will be immediately marked and potentially censored, even if the talk has been very civil. While we all want to listen to what we want to hear, you must open up to all sides in order to strengthen the foundation of your own. We must consider dissenting views. Scientists are used to criticism and are less easily offended.

False skeptics who love to deny things just because it’s fun aren’t all that pervasive in our discussion forums. They aren’t interested enough to put in the time and effort.

I strongly disagree with allegation that one who gives eyewitness testimony little weight is beyond skeptical. I have said before and no matter what proponents say, anecdotes are not good evidence. If you propose, as evidence, that “I know what I saw”, I will probably scoff because you only think you know what you saw and you can’t repeat it or allow me to reproduce it. It’s only your interpretation. You need more than that to convince me.

This early on, the debaters can’t even decide who is a “scofic”. For example, at first it was used to describe Ben Radford. Then, in later posts, Ben is called a reasoned skeptic, and a considerate one at that. He’s usually welcomed into the debate even if he says things proponents don’t agree with.

Here is my definition of ‘scoftic’ – a person who ridicules a hypothesis or idea while showing a lack of consideration for data, evidence or reasoned conclusions.

Now, there are certainly people who do this. Mostly, these people are ignorant of the topic at hand. But, I can go to a skeptical-themed conference or listen to a podcast and hear the occasional scoffing, especially if the guard is down when you feel like you are among your own kind. I cringe when I hear it and I wish it wouldn’t occur. One point to remember is that skeptics who examine paranormal claims have heard the so-called evidence and related arguments over and over. There is hardly ever much that is new so we tend to have come to a decision on the topic some time ago. We’re still waiting, hoping, to hear about some juicy new evidence.

So, to answer the questions posed in Loren’s blog post:

Do you think the term differs enough from “skeptic” to be useful?
Yes, the terms mean different things.

Do you think the term has demonstrated evolved development of the discussion?
Pardon me? I think it’s going to mean whatever a person wants it to mean. Therefore, it will certainly be used as a derogatory label when a person exhibits outright disagreement with one’s own position.

Is it demeaning?
Not necessarily but it will certainly be used that way.

Dismissive?
Yes. One is in all likelihood stating that “I will no longer listen to you because you disagree with my personal stance on the issue”.

Definitely useful?
Not very.

Worthy of deployment throughout hominology and cryptozoology?
No, not if you want to have reasoned debate and discussion. You ought to debate evidence and issues, not label people or their positions.

Defensively debatable?
Sure, we can debate all day and night. We’ll just dance round and round.

Definitive?
No, because we won’t agree to whom it applies. And, we can hardly be definitive about anything regarding these topics. Too many questions are still unanswered. In pursuit of the answers, we’ll get nowhere and no respect if we chose to surround ourselves with a circle of our own making.

Book Review: Lake Monster Mysteries

Book Review: Lake Monster Mysteries
By Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell
2006, University Press of Kentucky

LM book

How many good books about the world of lake monsters are out there? If you discount the plethora of Loch Ness books, not many. One with a skeptical tone was absolutely needed. Continue reading

Unexplained Blobjects

I love when a creative word is coined that so neatly (and humorously) describes a cultural meme that needs describing.

Several months ago, I came across a favorite new word, my neologism of the year.

Blobsquatch

While examining the questionable Sasquatch (Bigfoot) photos that pop up regularly on the Cryptomundo blog, I was introduced to the descriptive term “Blobsquatch” – a perfect label for those photos that show a dark or washed out, undetailed mass usually surrounded by trees or half-obscured by other natural features. I queried Loren Coleman, the primary blogger on the site and renowned cryptozoologist, about the origin of this most excellent contribution to fortean slang. (See “Blobsquatch Babel” post of June 28, 2006.) He helpfully produced some further information. (See “The Short History of Blobsquatch” post of November 25, 2006.)

Loren and other Bigfoot researchers describe a “blobsquatch” as the object in a photograph that lacks definition and detail but is put forth to the viewer as (potentially) a Bigfoot/Sasquatch. In most cases, the object is a trick of light and shadows, or a mundane object, whereby the human imagination assists in “seeing” a legendary creature. The word was first coined and popularized in the Bigfoot online forums around 2002. No specific photo is credited to have prompted the coinage but kudos are due to the creative mind that birthed it.

Blobs, globs and lake monsters

My follow-up question was – just what does one call the similar phenomenon that occurs with lake monster sightings? One helpful commenter on Cryptomundo offered “Blob Ness Monster”. The media would latch right onto that.

I prefer the term “blobster”, as in lake or sea blobster. Examples: The famous Surgeon’s Photograph at left, Sandra Mansi’s photo of Champ here and the latest (impressive) video still-shot of Champ.

Blobster is sometimes used interchangeably with the word “globster” to describe a large, shapeless mass of organic material that washes up on shore. Most often, globsters have been analyzed to reveal they are the least appetizing remains of basking sharks or whales churned about by the sea.

Being a stickler for semantics, I turned to Mr. Webster to help out by differentiating between globs and blobs. ‘Glob’ is a blend of the words ‘globe’ and ‘blob’. So, globs are rounded masses. ‘Blob’ can be defined as “something ill-defined or amorphous”. Clearly, our potential Bigfoots aren’t really globular, they are more blobular, thus Blobsquatch is the ideal term. But, our globsters can be blobsters too. Personally, I prefer globsters because it has more common usage, apparently first coined in the press (by Ivan Sanderson?) to refer to a formless carcass beached in Tasmania in 1960. See American Monsters article.

Incidentally, when you blend two or more words together to form a new one, it’s called a “portmanteau” word. This blending technique has become increasing popular to describe the phenomena of superstar celebrity couples, i.e. Brangelina, Bennifer, TomKat, etc. Fortuitously, I came upon another fortean portmanteau that captures a similar concept as our Blobsquatch.

Blurfos

I submit “blurfos” as another one of those perfectly descriptive words (though not as laugh-out-loud funny as the first example). By just seeing or hearing this word in context of UFOs, you know exactly what it means. And, it also aptly describes the result of attempting to use photo evidence to prove the existence of a dubious unknown.

Blobjects

A theme began to emerge. I found other examples of ambiguous photographic “evidence” of strange phenomena.

With respect and apologies to Steven Skov Holt and Karim Rashid who popularized the concept of “blobjects” to describe certain interior design features (and the VW Beetle), I will use that nifty 21st century word to encompass this realm of nebulous visuals. It just fits, doesn’t it?

Orbs

We’ve all captured “orbs” in our snapshots.

Orbs commonly appear when light, or especially the camera’s flash, bounces off specks of dust, aerosols, water vapor, little bugs, or other reflective things out of the camera’s focal range. Orbs appearing in the context of hauntings are identified as balls of energy produced by spiritual entities. In the same context, the striking appearance of streaks of light or misty clouds that were not noticed by the photographer during exposure are labeled as ghost photos. Orbs captured on video are even more fascinating, moving with (what seems like) intelligence. Mists or shadows that take on a human-like shape and move about have been recorded on video. I’m not convinced they are genuinely paranormal entities but they are strange and curious nonetheless. Their appearance begs for explanation.

Rods

Another possible trick of light and shutter speed can result in “rods” or “skyfish”. These white or rainbow-colored, spiral shapes have been captured streaking through the skies and out of caves. Just what they are is unknown. Do they show a new form of life living in the air around us that we never perceive? Or, are they light reflections and distortions produced by tiny animals or atmospheric disturbances? Rods also show up on video where their movement is distinctly lifelike. We can’t rule out explanations that implicate the optics and workings of the camera but, again, it is a question worth asking – what is that?

Everyday Blobjects

Digital cameras are ubiquitous in our modern society. While you may not carry a full-size SLR camera with interchangeable zoom lenses around with you, it seems everyone is within shouting distance of someone with a keychain camera or a camera phone. Many people keep disposable cameras around in case of emergencies. But, the quality of the most portable cameras is not terrific. One is very limited in choosing settings for shutter speed, aperture, resolution and zoom. Inevitably, a small object in a wide range of view dissolves into pixels upon close up inspection.

It is relatively easy to produce a blobject of your own on film.

Once, a colleague of mine inadvertently captured a blurfo with a digital camera during the airspace shutdown after September 11, 2001. The object was not the center of focus for the picture and we can never resolve exactly what it is in the picture. (Blurfo in upper right quadrant.)

Blurfo1

Not a UFO. Probably.

 

Orbs have appeared in my family vacation photos from the beach and in snapshots taken at dance recitals. Are they spirits? I hardly think so. Why are these blobjects blurred or out of focus?

Distance is a problem. An auto-focus camera will lock onto the main object such as tree or person unless you specifically attempt otherwise. At far distances, small objects lose resolution and possibly lack adequate lighting. No amount of enhancement can save those.

A slow shutter speed and/or camera movement causes blur. If you are still and the object is moving fast, the resulting blur portrays movement. A small field of view – such as close up or with a zoom – magnifies any small movement of the camera. Without a tripod, the picture will be blurry.

Many blobjects are consciously photographed with the best of intentions. But, some materialize unexpectedly, when the photographer sees the resulting photo and finds an anomalous blobject in it. Here is where our imagination kicks in and tries to match patterns in the photos with what we already have stored in our memory. We may not have noticed the bug or bird that zoomed through the photo or the play of shadow in light.

A film camera can malfunction. Light leakage or a mechanical glitch can cause a bizarre, unexpected trail on the image.

Recently, movement-triggered wildlife photos have captured fur-blurs (“blursters”?). An animal at very close range triggered the camera but precious little detail is in the image to allow one to figure out what critter was responsible.

Most unidentified blobjects are simply mistaken interpretation of unimpressive things like shadows, rocks and trees. There was the infamous case of Yeti rock (See it in this blog post) where a natural rock outcropping so resembled a bipedal creature that the explorer took a photo of it, convinced he saw a live, bipedal creature. (Later reconnaissance proved it was rock protruding from the snow.) I distinctly recall a Sasquatch-shaped arborvitae tree near my childhood home that looked down at me at sunset from the hilltop and gave me the willies.

Blobjective value

Do these blobject images have value? As real evidence, no. It is understandably difficult to go back and recreate the exact situation (season, time of day, weather conditions, etc.) in which the picture was taken and eliminate various explanations although you can possibly eliminate the misidentification of aforementioned rocks and trees. The photos themselves, by their very nature, do not contain enough detail to accurately measure and describe what is portrayed in the image. Poor quality imagery isn’t valuable in any scientific venture, what use can unidentified blobjects be to prove the existence of something many people doubt?

They are most capably used as inspiration – where they do have value. The ghost hunters and ufologists are rightly becoming weary of the hundreds of orb and blurfo picts sent to them by the eager public. Nevertheless, really unique blobsquatches, blursters, and aquatic blobsters generate endless commentary and speculation.

This blobject phenomenon is fascinating because the question of what was captured in the photo remains. Even if it wasn’t what we might wish – a groundbreaking scientific discovery – it may be an important lesson in optics, photo technology or human perception.

We can be assured that a long parade of blobsquatches and other indistinct visuals will continue to appear for our scrutiny. We can view them at all angles, zoom, crop, enhance, and speculate all we want – they will never be the solid scientific evidence we need to prove that something unknown really exists. But they can inspire us to debate, imagine, discover and learn.