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Astonishing Legends, Questionable Facts

Posted on Oct. 17, 2017 by | Comments (4)
Drunken Owl Wine Bottle Holder (image used by permission of Rodney Brazil at HomeWetBar.com)

Drunken Owl Wine Bottle Holder (Photo © 2014 Joseph Oliphint Photography. Image used by permission of Rodney Brazil at HomeWetBar.com)

A small percentage of the population self-identifies as “Skeptic.” This is somewhat different than being skeptical. Anyone can be skeptical, but what I usually call “capital-S” Skeptics are people who are so interested in the methodology and practice of scientific-skepticism that they label themselves to signal to others with a single word that they value these processes enough to say that what they most believe in (or strive to practice) is filtering information through the sieve of science.1

Within this group of Skeptics, there is a sub-set who enjoy researching fringe, paranormal and Fortean topics, which Sharon Hill and Jeb Card refer to as “spooky” topics. It’s a small group of people who value science and critical thinking and try to apply those tools to stories of mysterious monsters, strange phenomena, and magical events — all the while maintaining an enthusiasm for researching and thinking about (dare I say enjoying?) these stories.

I’m in that latter group. I frequently describe it as being in a ghetto within a ghetto. I don’t know if there is a useful and handy shorthand for this group of folks — perhaps Spooky Skeptics? Regardless, from this peculiar vantage we often find ourselves having to defend against stereotypes of skeptics as “armchair naysayers,” “scofftics,” “denialists,” “cynics,” “pseudoskeptics” and “the closed-minded.” This is from the printable pool of undesirable labels; there are many less savory ones. Because of my membership in this peculiar subculture, I find myself urged to defend science in communities whose familiarity with the long, deep history of science criticism is shallow, but whose passionate distrust of Skeptics is deep.

I am the host and producer of MonsterTalk, an official podcast of Skeptic magazine. With my co-host, Dr. Karen Stollznow, we try to use these spooky topics to talk about science and critical thinking. (Ah, another subculture — podcasters.) To prepare for the show, and because I enjoy the topics, I listen to a lot of paranormal podcasts and view a lot of thematically similar shows to my own. One I regularly listen to is the podcast Astonishing Legends, hosted by Scott Philbrook and Forrest Burgess. In a recent episode they conclude a three-part look at The Kelly-Hopkinsville Incident. What transpires in that discussion is noteworthy to Skeptics and paranormal enthusiasts.

In a typical episode arc of Astonishing Legends, the hosts discuss a mysterious legend, talk about the topic and possible explanations, and then give their own thoughts about possible solutions. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I don’t — but usually I feel like they’re entertaining and well informed, even when we don’t agree on the conclusions. But in episode 81, the content proved much more poignant to me given my interests and my affinity for scientific skepticism as a methodology.

BACKGROUND ON THE KELLY-HOPKINSVILLE INCIDENT

Briefly, the Kelly-Hopkinsville incident refers to an encounter with mysterious entities in rural Christian County, Kentucky in 1955. It was closely associated with an aerial phenomena that most skeptical researchers agree was a meteor. But what about the entities? They were big-eyed, pointy-eared and sometimes said to be glowing and to float. Because of their association with the aerial phenomenon, the case was investigated by UFO researchers very soon after it took place. I won’t go into great detail about the case or its associated phenomena within this article. Here, I’m concerned about the meta-issue of how the research of this case is perceived by paranormal enthusiasts, and the proper role of scientific skepticism in that context.

In the Wikipedia article about this case, a peer-reviewed article from the journal Frontiers in Psychology by Rodney Schmaltz and Scott Lilienfeld is cited. The hosts of Astonishing Legends discuss this article and its use within the Wikipedia entry in excruciating detail, and the crux of that discussion concerns a paragraph which contains a mistake. The paper, Hauntings, Homeopathy, and the Hopkinsville Goblins: Using Pseudoscience to Teach Scientific Thinking, is written in a style which is quite accessible by non-academics (such as myself) and has been cited by at least fourteen other journal articles and numerous websites. As the title suggests, the paper is about using pseudoscientific topics as a tool for teaching critical thinking. Its content is closely aligned with my own thinking on the use of these topics for similar purposes. The authors were looking for examples to show how to apply the critical-thinking methods they were describing, and chose the case of the Kelly-Hopkinsville creatures to demonstrate the point. But there was a problem. Let’s look at the paragraph at the source of the contention. I’ve highlighted the sentence that caught the attention of the Astonishing Legends hosts.

The Hopkinsville entities have a decidedly earthly explanation. The “aliens” were in fact, Great Horned Owls, and the eyewitnesses were probably intoxicated during the “alien attack” (Davis and Bloecher, 1978). Students usually find the true story of the events amusing; and this example can lead naturally into a discussion on Area 51, the Greys, or other otherworldly interests (Nickell, 2012; Leman and Cinnirella, 2013). —Schmaltz and Lilienfeld, 2014

In that sentence there is a problem — the statements about the owls and the alcohol do not come from Davis and Bloecher. As I listened to the episode, my very first thought was, “Did the authors put in the wrong citation?” I felt bad as I listened to Scott and Forrest pretty much crush this entire paper because of this problem. They did briefly consider the possibility that the error might have been a clerical mistake, but the majority of the episode excoriated the Schmaltz and Lilienfeld’s certitude and focused on how there was nothing in the cited source to support that certainty about the root cause of this incident.

(AL 28:08) Forrest Burgess: “Now I don’t know why, it could be — the citation could just be a huge typo, which is bad enough in itself, really, because you’re publishing a peer-reviewed scientific journal. I thought that these things were better checked out… Again I’m not trying to be condescending here but it’s like people go off this thing as being totally accurate and measuring up to scientific rigour.”

I did agree with them that the citation was in error, but what followed in their discussion pained me. They were effectively taking what I guessed was someone’s innocent error and making much ado about it in a very public venue.

Part of their argument seemed to stem from their interpretation of Science as Orthodoxy. Those are my words, not Astonishing Legends’. It is an idea promoted by an author I know both they and I have read, John Keel. When Keel complains of science orthodoxy he seems to be implying that science is arrogant and implacable and bends evidence to meet its ends. I don’t know if Scott and Forrest actually explicitly believe that, but it’s what I felt was being complained about in the episode. In fact, in a sense, I felt like this episode would have been quite different if they viewed science as a tool rather than an institution. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to talk about that later.2 It’s certainly an issue with the public perception of science that is on my mind frequently.

What does one do when one encounters an error in a scientific journal? It is certainly within the purview of the public to read a journal and make public comment, but the writer in me empathizes with authors. Also, while I don’t know either author personally, I’ve read and corresponded with Scott Lilienfeld before. So I reached out to him, and also to the primary author of the paper, Rodney Schmaltz. Rodney confirmed my initial suspicions. He had meant for that to reference a different citation.

“Thank you for the email. The reference should have been Nickell, 2006, not Davis and Bloecher, 1978. I have contacted Frontiers and informed them of the correction.” —Schmaltz, 2017

I can’t really complain too much about Astonishing Legends’ take on the whole thing because I think they did a good service in at least one respect. They not only showed the error in the paper, which will hopefully be corrected by the journal in the near future, but they also highlighted some criticism of science common to paranormal enthusiasts as well as topics of criticism within the scientific community itself.

I’d like to briefly talk about some of those issues.

THE PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF SCIENCE

The general public does not understand science.

The general public doesn’t know what science is, possibly because there is no single universal definition and no ruling body or authority that really controls its meaning.3 In general, science is a methodology for trying to find explanations of phenomena4 through testing and rejection of demonstrably wrong solutions. It is always being refined as better tests and experiments are discovered, and it must always yield to evidence. If the evidence disproves the hypothesis, then it is the hypothesis that must change, not the evidence. There are longer definitions and more nuanced, but over the past couple of hundred years the methods of science have been refined to help drive out biases and preconceptions such that we might trust the results of these processes more than the anecdotes and untried ideas which served us before science was developed. (This is necessarily an understated explanation for something quite complex and diverse.) But the average person5 probably cannot define science, and probably conflates science with technology — one need look no farther than the popularity of sites like IFLScience to see this mistaken approach in full display.

The important parts — to me — that distinguish science from other methods of discerning what is real (to use laymen terms) is that science tests its ideas, and science is self-correcting. Science is not dogmatic. You can overturn scientific theories — anyone can — but you have to do it through the mechanisms of science. You can’t do it from outside that framework — your new ideas must be testable, and must stand up to testing and must validate your hypothesis.

Science journalism fails to relate science. Or journalism.

As a science enthusiast, I really enjoy stories about how science has uncovered some exciting new principle or unlocked a deeper understanding of nature. Unfortunately the vast majority of science stories don’t accurately convey the nuanced information that is revealed in what are often highly technical journal articles full of specialized terms and complex statistical mathematics. Math itself and the science ideas it helps test are often outside of the expertise and skill set of the majority of readers.6 This is not surprising since most of us are not working scientists, and the nature of science is that as it accrues more and more details about its domain, it requires more and more expert knowledge to fully grasp. The job of a science journalist is difficult from that starting point, and challenged more each year by the very vastness of the fields of expertise — but also challenged by the tumultuous nature of the media within which it is published.

Journalism was already a rocky field as more than two decades of “new media” have devastated stability for venerable old media companies. As the field has evolved, the need to drive quantifiable revenue through clicks and page views on web-based media outlets has pressured editorial boards to push for virality over quality. This has led to a disturbingly widespread tendency of science news stories to be rushed, inaccurate, and to always seek out some angle for how this latest paper will directly affect the reader. The cherry on top of that sundae of errors is the editor who wants a “click-bait” headline. The nuanced paper which describes an interesting discovery based on some molecule acting on a group of rats gets turned into the super-viral, but highly distributed, article about how some food will make you young or give you a better sex life.

In short, the pressure for accuracy in science is the inverted counterpart of the pressure for virality in science journalism. While the authors in both cases may have the best of intentions, both fields (for understandable reasons) are failing to make the scientific method well understood by the general public. I could go on, but this is a topic for vast contemplative introspection within both science and journalism. In a media culture where revenue is more important than accuracy or public service, there is no fix in sight for this problem. There is good science journalism being done, but there are more tears than wheat in the field.7

Science’s process of self-correction is messy.

I constantly encounter people talking about how scientists think they know everything, are arrogant, live in ivory towers of academic certainty, etc… But the reality is that if science were about certitude, nobody would need to become a scientist. As I mentioned before, science is a process. It is a slow process filled with many pitfalls, not the least of which is our own well documented litany of biases and logical fallacies. While, in principle, the methods of science can be described as self-correcting, the steps of that correction are conducted by human beings. Errors can range from typos, to misinterpretation of data, to hypotheses that account for some but not all of a phenomenon, to fraud and I’m sure there are many others. The uncovering of these mistakes can lead to a correction in a journal, or — for more egregious errors (like Andrew Wakefield’s notorious paper falsely linking vaccines with autism) the paper can be retracted by the journal that published it. Scientific theories can be politely but passionately disagreed upon in back-and-forth editorials, articles, or even books. A good example is Richard Dawkins and Stephen J. Gould’s arguments about Gould’s theory of punctuated equilibrium in evolution, which included Dawkins critiquing it in his book The Blind Watchmaker. That’s the friendly stuff, not even considering the shouting matches and acid emails that often occur behind the scenes of any passionate disagreement. In time the passions of scientists must give way to the erosive effects of time and what is left, when all is said and done, is still a provisional understanding of the question being examined, and any conclusion reached are always subject to being overturned.

Scientists often do not respect fields of expertise which are not their own.

There is a very human tendency to be dismissive of things which one does not understand. Even more so, there is a tendency to believe that one understands very well that which one has never examined with more than cursory interest.8 This misplaced confidence leads to both a sense that one doesn’t need to look into it, and a dismissive attitude at those who say they have more expertise. You will see this in play within scientific fields with a lot of cross-discipline criticisms such as physicists dismissive of philosophers, “hard science” experts dismissive of “social science” experts, and so on. What is usually at play here is a lack of deep understanding of the expertise in the other discipline.

This disdain or false confidence adds to that public image problem that scientists often struggle against, science as arrogance. Science really does have a PR problem, and unfortunately — as with many stereotypes — being able to point at specific, real-life anecdotes which support the stereotype tends to make it very hard to overcome. (See availability heuristic research.)

AND WE’RE BACK

I want to return now to this specific case because it works as a nice proxy for some of the nuanced issues that I face when putting together my own show, MonsterTalk. It bears repeating, in the field of Cryptozoology, we see all the spectrum of human belief writ small. I have come to realize that monster legends are an excellent way to talk about cherished beliefs without some of the interpersonal risks associated with other topics. Yes, there are many people who would come to blows over disagreement about Bigfoot’s existence, but I suspect we’re talking about thousands of people not the millions who feel a similar cognitive passion for valued ideas like their religious or political views.

However, just because there are fewer people with that level of passion does not mean that the topics should be treated lazily. If we’re going to use these unscientific ideas to demonstrate critical thinking and the scientific method, then it requires the same rigour and exactitude one would use when engaging more volatile topics. It can be done. Many well trained critical thinkers have sharpened their minds on the whetstone of Bigfoot.

So in this section, I want to talk about Astonishing Legend’s criticisms of the paper by Schmaltz and Lilienfeld. I’ll include references to the show audio where applicable.9

Mistakes were made.

The show begins by going through the Wikipedia article on the Kelly-Hopkinsville incident. (AL 6:53) In that entry, the Schmaltz and Lilienfeld paper is cited in a section titled “Explanations.” The hosts go through the paper and despite agreeing with the premise of the paper’s content, use the paper’s own points about identifying pseudoscience to skewer mistakes in the paper. A key issue, as mentioned above, is that a sentence in the paper makes an assertion that is not backed up by the cited source. A brief transcript about this issue follows:

[Note: This excerpt begins at 22:33 into the episode.]
Scott Philbrook: “That preceding statement right there is cited to Davis and Bloecher, 1978. The very report that we have drawn most of our research from for this entire series.”

Forrest Burgess: “Yeah. That was all of Part One.”

Scott Philbrook: ”Yes. So what they’re saying is that the Davis and Bloecher reports states that there’s an earthly explanation, the aliens were great-horned owls and eyewitnesses were probably intoxicated during the attack. The next sentence [quoting Schmaltz & Lilienfeld] ‘Students usually find the true story of the events amusing; and this example can lead naturally into a discussion on Area 51, the Greys, or other otherworldly interests.’ again citing Nickell, for 2012 and then P. J. Leman and M. Cinnirella, from Belief in Conspiracy Theories and the Need for Cognitive Closure, that’s from Frontiers in Psychology as well, and I want to keep that phrase in mind, ‘the need for cognitive closure.’ That’s what they’re saying people need when they use pseudoscience to evaluate these stories.”

Forrest Burgess: “Yeah, and it sounds like what these guys need too.”

Scott Philbrook: “Yeah. So this article that many point to as identifying the Kelly-Hopkinsville case as a hoax at worst or a misidentification of marauding owls at best is pretty weak.

Forrest Burgess: “It’s a little crappy in my opinion.”[laughter]

Scott Philbrook: “I think you’re (laughter) I think you’re right.”

[talking over]

Forrest Burgess: “We’re going talk this out-”

Scott Philbrook: “Let’s break it down, Forrest.”

Forrest Burgess: ”We’re gonna break it down! But I don’t want to sound like we’re bagging on these guys, their knowledge, their academic standing, any of that, their research into this… because I think these are valid points. We’re going to make a case here why I don’t think it fits with this case. And that it’s kinda… that maybe they didn’t do due diligence”

This error in the paper is mostly due to a mistaken citation, the attribution intended should have been to Joe Nickell’s research from 2006. In an article titled Siege of the ‘Little Green Men’: The 1955 Kelly-Kentucky Incident, (unlike Davis & Bloecher) Nickell does talk about both owls and intoxication.

From the outset, people offered their proposed solutions to the mystery. In addition to those who thought it was a hoax, some attributed the affair to alcohol intoxication. I talked with one of the original investigators, former Kentucky state trooper R.N. Ferguson (2005), who thought people there had been drinking, although he conceded he saw no evidence of that at the site. He told me he believed the monsters “came in a container” (i.e., a can or bottle of alcohol). A visitor to the farm the next day did notice “a few beer cans in a rubbish basket” (Davis and Bloecher 1978, 35). Whether or not drinking was involved, it was not responsible for the “saucer” sighting; other UFOs were witnessed in the area that evening (Davis and Bloecher 1978, 33). —Nickell, 2006

While this attribution error would dissolve much of the complaint directed at Schmaltz and Lilienfeld by the hosts of Astonishing Legends, it is unlikely to satisfy the entirety of their complaint. There is still the wording in the actual sentence from the psychology paper which is unlikely to sit well with people who have devoted hours, days or months (or even years) to investigating the case:

The “aliens” were in fact, Great Horned Owls, and the eyewitnesses were probably intoxicated during the “alien attack” (Davis and Bloecher, 1978). [emphasis added]

I’ll explain why this wording is problematic.

Certitude is no virtue

Part of the concern I had with the objections of Astonishing Legends to this paper by Schmaltz and Lilienfeld was that aside from their concern that even when one corrects the reference from Davis and Bloecher to Joe Nickell’s article, it is still questionable whether the wording about the explanation for the creature is accurate. Without digging into the depths of the case here, I’d like to talk about the use of “in fact” and “probably intoxicated” within that sentence.

Were the “goblins” really owls?

Joe Nickell has done much research into these “spooky” cases. I have many of his books, have read many of his research articles, have interviewed him several times for my podcast, and consider him a mentor and a friend. Our investigative methods are similar and I look to him as an excellent source for how to investigate mysteries with a scientific approach. Nickell often exudes confidence in his investigations. It is easy to conclude that his proposed solutions are the definitive scientific solutions. But outside the context of his meticulous methodology and write-ups, a summary of his findings will sound necessarily reductionist and repetitive to people who want to believe in these matters. A proposed solution of owls for cases with similar sounding monsters (Kelly-Hopkinsville’s goblins, the Flatwood monster, and Mothman all have elements that sound very owl-like) might lead one to conclude that Nickell thinks all monsters of this type are really owls. Similarly, otters and tree-trunks have been likely candidates for lake and sea monsters. In each case write-up, Nickell explains why he reached particular conclusions but it is very easy to jump to the ending and disagree with his assessment. And even concluding owls as an explanation is not the solution — it is part of an overall assessment that includes voluminous research which discusses the limits of human perception.

Schmaltz and Lilienfeld are very familiar with the complexity and limits of human perception and so would the reviewers of the article — the “peer” part of peer-review. What might sound like an absurdly unlikely explanation, that someone could confuse an owl with a large goblin-like creature, is less absurd given all of that research into the workings of the human mind and how it makes errors. Even so, while such an understanding could give one confidence in reaching the conclusion that owls are involved, I think that the wording here was imprecise and implied a level of certitude that was not warranted.

What is certain is that there is rich body of evidence that eyewitness testimony, despite being the most compelling kind of evidence in our daily lives, is notoriously unreliable. There are cultural factors that can be at play, as well as concepts such as “priming” and many other interesting elements that may better explain this case without needing to add aliens or goblins and without the overly simple explanation of owls. Any thorough treatment of this topic needs to include those factors in their possible explanations.

How probable is probably? Does drinking cause hallucinations?

The use of “probably intoxicated” is equally troubling. If one only read Nickell’s account (and the reference was supposed to be to Nickell 2006) there is still insufficient primary evidence to support the idea that the witnesses in the Kelly-Hopkinsville case were drinking or drunk. The implication, to non-psychologists, seems to be that drinking somehow causes people to see goblins. As the Astonishing Legends hosts rightly pointed out, outside of cartoons with “little pink elephants” hallucinations are not a normal byproduct of drinking alcohol. I believe what the authors were trying to allude to is that people who are intoxicated are more likely to be affected by a group delusion. Maybe. But the questionability of that explanation led the hosts to this exchange:

[32:10] Forrest Burgess: “The second one is kind of a social one for me in that the eyewitnesses ‘were probably intoxicated during the alien attack.’ Where does the word probably fit in with a scientific report?

Scott Philbrook: “It doesn’t make— yeah.”

Forrest Burgess: “‘Probably gravity has something to do with the unified, the grand unified theory, probably—’ How is that even allowed in a scientific thinking journal? Again, not to bash but—”

Scott Philbrook: “Also, it’s an offensive supposition. It’s all ‘Well look at these country folks all out on the farm, they got drunk and saw aliens.’”

Forrest Burgess: “Exactly and you’re getting my populist in a ruffle here, it’s a little bit of academic and social-standing marginalization and elitism. Those are big political charged terms now, but what I want to say is that I think that’s what’s going on. ‘These people are simple drunk hicks and they don’t know what they saw—’”

Scott Philbrook: “And by the way, they ‘we know for a fact they were owls, even though we were not there, we didn’t go there, and we didn’t even read the report on it.’”

Forrest Burgess: “Well no,—”

Scott Philbrook: “Here’s the other, you know, speaking of red flags, we only drilled down on this one source of the twenty or so that are cited with this paper, and the one we looked at, there is zero connection between the statement made in the report that we looked at and what they said the report said.”

This is just my opinion as an amateur, non-academic fan of science and monsters, but if you’re going to pick a monster-case as an example of how to spot pseudoscience, it would be ideal to be very careful about how you make that example. In this case, I fear that the authors of the journal article oversimplified their solution and picked one where the solution is far from certain. Picking any example that would satisfy everyone would also prove challenging because you will never find a fringe topic where everyone agrees that the mystery has been solved.

Everything is complicated.

It is worth remembering that everything is complicated, and the more you dig into a topic the more you may come to realize that it is impossible to fully understand anything. At some point one must draw a line and say, “Okay, this explanation is good enough,” or you risk falling down a rabbit hole with no end. I feel like science does have plausible explanations for the events that took place that night, but that they were not adequately explained in the cited paper — nor was that the point of the paper.

WIKIPEDIA NEEDS TO BE FIXED. YOU CAN HELP.

The final concern I want to mention about this case is that, outside the control of anyone involved in this discussion, Schmaltz and Lilienfeld’s paper has been used by Wikipedia in what seems to be an assertion that the Kelly-Hopkinsville case is solved definitively. Rather than use a primary source which makes such an assertion and has definitive evidence for such a solution, they pointed to this article which only references the case in a small paragraph and contains an error within that paragraph. As is often the case with Wikipedia, it gives very good coverage of popular topics but the more expertise one has on a matter, the more likely one is to see mistakes.

The good news10 is that anyone can edit Wikipedia and improve it. At the time of this writing, the Kelly-Hopkinsville case has the problem reference as described here. Even if Frontiers in Psychology posts a correction to fix the problematic text, I believe it would be helpful to edit the Wikipedia entry to go directly to Joe Nickell’s article if the point is to inform readers of possible solutions to the case.

I can’t fix the errors in the Wikipedia article myself because I believe my work in trying to tie together all the issues concerning this incident would constitute original research, which disallows me from editing the relevant entry. But there are many Wikipedia contributors working to improve coverage of topics like this, and hopefully this article will draw their attention to this particular entry.

SCIENCE IS SELF-CORRECTING

When I started working on this article, I also began correspondence with both Philbrook and Burgess as well as Schmaltz and Lilienfeld. I hope that this will be an ongoing discussion because all I find that I’m interested in many of the same things as both pairs. One outcome of the discussion is that Schmaltz and Lilienfeld have elected to request a change to their published paper. They’re submitting a corrigendum to Frontiers in Psychology requesting the sentence be changed to:

“It is plausible, if not likely, that the ‘aliens’ were Great Horned Owls, and there is some evidence that the eyewitnesses may have been intoxicated during the ‘alien attack’ (Nickell, 2006).” —Schmaltz, 2017

This softer version will likely not satisfy everyone who researches this case, but I’m proud of the authors for taking the time to make a more accurate statement in a paper whose overall content I not only agree with, but which parallels the very model we use on MonsterTalk to talk about science and critical thinking using fringe, spooky, and weird topics as a launching point for conversation.

CONCLUSION

After all this conversation I’m left in the same predicament as at the beginning, but with renewed hope that we can find common ground with people who are too often framed as enemies. I enjoy fringe topics, I believe in the scientific method, and I have faith that in time the processes of science will help drive us to a more accurate understanding of the world including the parts that now seem so mysterious. I hope that Skeptics will always strive to seek answers, admit the limits of science, adhere to the rules of the scientific method, and maintain a good bit of empathy for the people who experience the kind of astonishing events from which legends are forged.

SUGGESTED READING/LISTENING

Sometimes the reason a Skeptic is so unwilling to believe has to do with an extensive amount of expertise in the limits of human perception. Such research is deeply troubling when first encountered, and while I admit I am comfortable now knowing more about how little I can trust of my own sense, it is a disturbing thing to look into. If you want to take that plunge, I’d recommend checking out some shows like You Are Not So Smart, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, Skeptoid, The ArchyFantasies Podcast, 15 Credibility Street or even my own MonsterTalk. I’d also recommend some books such as Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World and Thomas Gilovich’s How We Know What Isn’t So as primers.

REFERENCES

  • Phillbrook, Scott, and Forrest Burgess. “Ep 81: The Kelly–Hopkinsville Encounter (Part 3).” Astonishing Legends, 18 Aug. 2017, Ep 81: The Kelly–Hopkinsville Encounter (Part 3) [Audio blog interview]. (2017, August 18). Retrieved September 4, 2017, from http://www.astonishinglegends.com/al-podcasts/2017/8/18/ep-79-the-kelly-hopkinsville-encounter-part-3.
  • Nickell, Joe (2006). Siege of the “little green men”: the 1955 Kelly, Kentucky, incident. Skeptical Inquirer 30.6. Available at http://www.csicop.org/si/show/siege_of_little_green_men
  • Schmaltz, Rodney “Personal Correspondence Received by William Blake Smith”, 23 Aug. 2017.
  • Schmaltz, Rodney “Personal Correspondence Received by William Blake Smith”, 04 Sep. 2017.
  • Schmaltz, Rodney, and Scott O. Lilienfeld. “Hauntings, homeopathy, and the Hopkinsville Goblins: using pseudoscience to teach scientific thinking.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 5, 2014, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00336.
  • Wikipedia.org (2017), Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter. [online] Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly%E2%80%93Hopkinsville_encounter [Accessed 4 Sep. 2017]
  1. Of course grabbing any cultural label opens one up to inevitable hypocrisy as it is impossible to be a paragon; one can only aspire to one’s values, not embody them.
  2. We did get to talk Friday October 13th, 2017 and that conversation should comprise MonsterTalk Ep #138.
  3. This is hardly surprising. Words change meaning and everyone carries around their own definitions, often incorrect ones.
  4. do-do-dee-do-do.
  5. I don’t want to keep harping on how “the average person” doesn’t know this or that. The simple fact is that science is a methodology which requires expertise, and much of human history was achieved without it. Expertise is by its very nature going to exclude people who either have not had the opportunity to receive training in it, or who don’t find it interesting enough to study it. This built-in exclusionary property just exacerbates the common criticism that scientists are “arrogant,” a criticism that is sometimes true but always hard to dismiss even when misapplied.
  6. Including me!
  7. John Oliver did an amusing piece that covers this, but of course you can do a web search for problems in science journalism to find out more about this problem.
  8. There has been some very interesting research into a related topic called “The Dunning-Kruger Effect,” which, for fear of committing the very kind of error of misguided confidence in something I have not studied deeply, I shall merely link to rather than attempt to summarize.
  9. I do not have an easy way to take you directly to the audio content in question without either cutting out audio excerpts or transcribing the episode audio, so in lieu of those time-consuming options, I will link to the audio and include time-stamps so that you can skip to the relevant point in the show.
  10. Some might say this is also a fault, but I am an optimist.
Blake Smith

Blake Smith is the producer and host of MonsterTalk, an official podcast of Skeptic magazine. He’s had a lifelong interest in science and the paranormal and enjoys researching the strange and unusual. By day he’s a computer consultant and by night he hunts monsters. He is married and has children. Puns are intentional; don’t bother alerting the management. Read Blake’s other posts on this blog.

4 Comments

  1. Valkyrie Ziege says:

    ; Sadly, there are people which consume, on a regular basis, “moonshine”, a simi-poisonous beverage that, notoriously, causes perception problems, and such consumers, naturally, wouldn’t tell law enforcement of such intoxication, for reasons of self-protection.
    Somewhat similar to Muhammadans consumption of “Qat” leaves, a stimulant/hallucinogen that causes religious fervor, chewed in the manner similar to tobacco-chaw.
    Al-in-all, not healthy, and a must to avoid.

  2. Bob Pease says:

    It seems that the use of Khat is against the principles of the Quran

    The implication that ” Muhammadans ” ( Muslims) are all dopers
    is not well presented here.

    Dr. Sidethink Hp.D.

  3. Barbara Harwood says:

    I seem to remember a series of television programs about Operation Blue-book which could not be explained by those who managed to debunk most of them. Swamp gas seems to be one of the usual culprits in most such sightings. There must be a lot of it around. There are probably many thousands of people who have experienced similar events but who were afraid to admit it because of the fact that they would be labeled as nuts for doing so. There may, indeed, be rational explanations, but nobody will ever know about them if they are not examined.

    • Blake Smith says:

      Yes – it was (if memory serves) shown as “Project Blue Book” but later got re-titled for DVD as “Project UFO.” It’s out of stock right now but you can find the whole series on Amazon. I think it was produced by Jack Webb of Dragnet – and he narrates portions of the show. I just watched some of these last year.

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