Monsters (and sciencey-sounding nonsense) among us – Book Review

I feel I should preface this book review with an explanation of why I, a person that rejects paranormal explanations (for good reason), would be interested in reading books about cryptozoology and strange accounts. I think stories are valuable and people like them. I have no problems with authors collecting and relating stories from history or eyewitness interviews. Therefore, I often like books from professional writers who provide interesting accounts and details I’ve not heard before. Where I lose my patience is when authors exceed their areas of knowledge (such as with sciencey-sounding explanations), use unreliable reference material to support extreme conclusions, and suggest to their readers that there is merit to supernatural or bizarre explanations when they fail to thoroughly examine the situation.

That should give you a good idea of which books I’m going to like, dislike, or downright hate and want to throw in the trash. I’m thinking about using emojis to rank books from now on. Godfrey’s latest book gets this rating:

Not good.

There are some positives. First, Godfrey is a professional writer, which means I can follow along very easily, and the quality of language is just fine. She even states a disclaimer admitting that this book contains mostly eyewitness accounts and untestable ideas. It’s going too far with the “untestable ideas” that results in this volume being a fail. Not so fail-y that I would trash it, just enough to get frustrated and not like it at all. Any book in this vein is worthwhile for me in order to determine the trend of paranormal thinking in culture. I found plenty of arrows, mile markers, and giant flashing billboards to indicate where these themes are now and where they might be heading.

I categorized the specific issues with Monsters Among Us into three broad headings.

Logical blunders

First, it’s obvious that I can think of one or several alternative explanations to a perceived anomaly than Godfrey can. This is surprising because she says, as a journalist, she knows to check out all possibilities (p. 314). How can you actually know all possibilities? There will inevitably be some you will not think of. In a few cases here, potential explanations seemed obvious to me but were left out.

  • Footprints appeared in the middle of a field with snow. Misidentification of the prints was not considered. There was no mention of a bird dropping a prey item or landing in the snow. What if the other prints were removed by wind or not registered because of lack of snow, harder snow or ice? Other footprints were said to be made by a bipedal animal. How do they know? I’ve seen straight line tracks from cats across my driveway in the snow that look like they were made by a 2-legged walker. This distinction is not always so clear but used suggestively here to elevate a mystery.
  • A 1992 report of a person who appeared to turn wolf-like while in a church (undisclosed location) was dubious. There was an offhand mention of a seizure. The description of a supernatural change seems highly exaggerated and is consistent with people who describe demon possession. The setting and context were not adequately considered.
  • Godfrey relates her own incident of sleep paralysis. While accepting that it is a reasonable explanation for a frightening account, she brushes off the explanation that it was possibly related to recent anesthesia from surgery, calling that interpretation not “provable” (p. 117). She is outright mistaken when she says the visual hallucinations that accompany the paralysis are not accounted for while this is very common (e.g., old hag, Succubus, aliens or spirits at the bedside).
  • Her evidence included several photos of “mists”. These could be tufts of fibers, bugs, or result from several other natural or man-made causes. She does not aim to attempt to reproduce them, only to find similar depictions online, not a reliable foundation to claim they are beyond normal.
  • She includes a story from a witness who was a fan of monster movies. As a kid, he reports he saw a monster in his window right after viewing a scary movie. He asserts that monsters are real because of this experience. This is completely explainable by suggestion though she considered it anecdotal evidence of possible strange visitations (p. 120-122) when it simply does not pass the sniff test.
  • She also discusses Utah’s Skinwalker Ranch case extensively – strange lights, “portals”, strange creatures, UFOs – that were chronicled but never shown to have any merit from 1994 to mid 2000s. So many things have been said to go on here that it is a red flag for pure fiction.
  • One sheriff’s deputy reports seeing weird things so frequently, someone should probably follow him around to see what’s what. He’s experienced Bigfoot, weird lights, a big black cat, dogmen, and green mists. Either he is very special, is fantasy prone, or is outright making this stuff up for attention. Such stories without corresponding evidence are almost worthless.
  • She takes another story of a childhood incident related by an adult at face value that is very dubious. A girl said she saw a strange wolf-man in an urban area of southern California. Godfrey suggests that these creatures may be traveling via a tunnel system and they can move from park to park out of the view of city dwellers (p. 44).
  • Godfrey mentions the idea that man-like monsters create “tree” tenting. She notes structures are found near an area where sightings have occurred. Missing from this position is the easy-to-obtain documentation that such tree configurations are all over and do not need to be associated with monstrous makers. I can go find one in 10 minutes. Such convoluted logic here: The tents are made by Bigfoots because they need stealth and camouflage, yet we find these structures so readily? Are they magical in that the structures nor the Bigfoots are visible when they are using them? (p. 174)
  • Godfrey leaves out clarifications so that the tales sound more mysterious than they are. For example, she describes a deer carcass that was removed and later returned as “a skeleton” That can’t be right. A skeleton is just bones –  was it articulated or just a jumble of bones? How do we even know it disappeared? (p. 321)
  • Mention of mysterious lights invoked explanations of UFOs, nature spirits, wormholes, magnetic fields, black magic. These suggestions do nothing but enhance the mystery and mislead.
  • Godfrey attempts to look at folklore aspects. She only cites one book. That’s all (p. 112). She also remarks on Bible miracles as evidence of the supernatural. It’s impossible to be impressed by such shallow foundations for her conclusions.

Plausibility of the tales and the explanations is not considered, which makes some of these stories outright laughable. Speaking of questionable veracity, Godfrey wades into some ideas that sound downright sciencey.

Sounds sciencey

There are many examples in this book, as with the folklore example, where Godfrey talks about concepts she clearly has only very superficial knowledge about. She is repeating concepts that paranormalists co-opted in order to sound authoritative and scientific. Most of it is blatant pseudoscience.

  • Solar flares are mentioned often in attempts to relate a perceived pattern of strangeness to a natural influence. When the sun spot connection does not work, she states she “wouldn’t throw them out” as a potential correlation (p. 263). This is common but ridiculous. You must have some basis to consider a cause, not let every idea, including ludicrous ones, in for consideration.
  • She heads into concepts of human consciousness citing a reference from Science News, “quantum physics”, and Dean Radin. She also cites EO Wilson out of context (p. 80-81). Would Wilson subscribe to these associated fringe theories? I’d bet not. Referring to popular science outlets and people is not adequate as support for a conclusion that depends on substantial scientific understanding. It smacks of pseudoscientific behavior to cherry pick like this.
  • Another example of this is when she uses weather.com as a reference source (p. 205). A substantial part of this book was the relation of reports of a green haze that messes with people, animals, equipment causing lost time and ill feeling. She throws in the description of a “green flash”, a real optical effect that is not at all similar, but the correlation is enough to provide that tiny kernel of truth and sciencey feeling. She also trots out the straw man of “swamp gas” said to be used by skeptics to explain many strange visual reports. No one actually says that anymore, Linda.
  • She mentions space-time transients and unusual events, citing Persinger and LaFreniere. This influenced her solar flares fascination and she assumes that they are meaningful because of solar flares can cause communication disturbances, meteorological events, and strange “behavior in animals”(p. 126). Again, she makes these assertions but is missing solid factual association and substituting questionable speculation instead.
  • Mystery lights are emphasized in association with strange hominin sightings. The suggestion adopted from other paranormalists is that Bigfoot manipulates biologically-based EM fields to make mystery lights (p. 210). Just. No.
  • Magnetic anomalies are associated with these reports of high strangeness. Paranormalists LOVE this idea but it’s bogus. Magnetic anomalies are not what paranormalists assume they are. They have no effect on people and do not create strange vortexes of mystical energy. There are deviations, high and low, all over the US due to the different minerals and structure of the underlying rock. I think just because it has “anomalies” in the name makes it seem mysterious.
  • Godfrey repeats 3 times about the “surgical precision” of a removal of deer quarter. The photo doesn’t look surgical in any way but resembles scavenger remains with the skin shrunk back. No experts were consulted. Such an idea is commonly used by those who wish to exaggerate the circumstances of livestock deaths (p. 328-335).
  • Another example of being WAY too far-reaching is the author saying “science” shows that we can make things invisible (p. 305), that physics and math show “portals” (wormholes) exist (p. 314), and that alternative universes and multiverses are real (quoting physicists, p. 345). This is CLASSIC “sounding sciencey” behavior where a real scientific finding or concept is warped far beyond its reaches to serve a paranormal lust for scientific credibility. It’s misappropriation.
  • As with many other speculative writers, she invokes the word “theory” for unsupported creative ideas proposed by herself or others. I believe Godfrey can define what a scientific theory is but chooses to use it in the colloquial sense because it sounds like a well-thought out explanation. It almost never is but is instead equal to “wild guess”.

Finally, Godfrey succumbs over and over again to supernatural creep when reasonable explanations fail to account for the hard-to-swallow claims made by witnesses.

Supernatural Creep

Supernatural explanations are invoked throughout this book.

  • There are frequent mentions of Native burial grounds as a potential catalyst for strange activity. This concept, popularized by ghost hunter Hanz Holzer in relation to the Amityville Horror house (a hoax), and then the movie Poltergeist, makes no sense unless you believe in supernatural curses. I don’t.
  • Bigfoot is considered to possibly be a spirit being – both flesh and spirit, moving between worlds. Dogmen, she suggests, could be the same. This is necessary in order to accept the eyewitnesses’ extraordinary behavior of the entities as being beyond human in their behavior. Eyewitness error is lightly considered, if at all.
  • Godfrey names a spooky sense of de-realization reported by witnesses as “the Oz factor” after the land of Oz where things seem so different. When ”all ambient sounds fade away” and an eerie silence descends, this is the mark of a weirdness phase approaching (p. 212). This trope is very old, being found in consistently in relation to reporting strange events of many types. By suggesting this as something new, Godfrey appears to admit lack of knowledge of historical paranormal reports.

Cryptid reports morphing into a larger pattern of “high strangeness” events associated with a place is a very common suggestion these days in paranormal circles. The mystery naturally grows as anything odd accretes to it. The rise of paranormal tourism and legend tripping help these claims. All anomalies are tied together whether they are substantiated or not. For example, Bigfoot creature sightings were linked to UFO sightings. Weird events were connected to magnetic fields (p. 284). Whatever caused reported electrical problems with cars was assumed to cause people’s nervous systems to “short-circuit” (p. 284-5). Creative paranormalists associated these places to “nonlocalized consciousness, a field of psychic energy.” Baseless, sensationalized, imaginative, and mostly fiction. It’s just silly.

Conclusion

This is the first book I read by Godfrey. I know that is odd since she has written quite a few, but others are on my list. I love many of the dogman stories she has shared; they are creepy and wonderful. While I admire her documentation of reports of strange events, as I said in the beginning, you will lose me when you go over the cliff into absurd, sometimes laughable, speculation and philosophizing. People’s stories are often not suitable to be taken at face value and do not represent the world as it objectively is. She doesn’t stop at the reporting and can’t help but go down a dangerous road trying to make sense of it all. Well, it won’t make sense. But I doubt paranormalists will stop creating fantastic alternative realities to fit it all because such fantasy appeals to many people. I refuse to be misled by conjured-up sciencey ideas and selected or tinted evidence suited to a preconceived paranormal conclusion. If you pull that sort of garbage, I will deny you credibility as a researcher.

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