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Monsters & Science

Oct. 29, 2014 by | Comments Off on Monsters & Science

MonsterTalkLogoIt’s almost Halloween and for some of you that means you’re gorging on scary movies and planning your kid’s trick-or-treating costumes. If you like monsters and scary stories but don’t care for the kind of credulous treatment they always get on documentaries this time of year, you might enjoy a few choice episodes of MonsterTalk: The Science Show About Monsters. While we do enjoy a lot of listeners from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, I get the impression that some people haven’t tried out the show because they have reduced the field of monsterology down to a binary question of “is it real?” With a ready answer to that, they dismiss further inquiry.

The utility of monsters as a tool for science communication has more possibilities than that simplistic approach suggests. What we’ve tried to do with MonsterTalk is extend the “is it real” question with additional discussion such as:

  • Could this monster ever exist?
  • What evidence for it exists outside of legend?
  • If it couldn’t exist, what is possible within the constraints of real world science?

And we also try to ask what monsters our guests consider to be their favorites. It’s fun to hear what historians and scientists like to imagine lurking in the shadows.

You don’t have to subscribe to MonsterTalk to listen to an episode. Here are some links to the show-notes for some appropriately themed Halloween topics. On these pages you can click the “play” button and hear the shows without subscribing. We’re also working towards getting transcripts of all our episodes (such as this one), which will let both search engines and the hearing-impaired consume our content.

Welcome to MonsterTalk, the science show about monsters.

Werewolves

One of my favorite monsters is the werewolf. I’ve long had a fascination with them, and the very first time I sat down to watch videos with my wife, An American Werewolf in London was one of the videos we watched.  In the course of creating MonsterTalk we’ve done several episodes that dealt with werewolves, including a 3-part look at one of the most famous alleged werewolf cases from history, the beast of Gevaudan (La Bete).

The Big Bad Wolf: Part 1 deals with the actual legend of the beast. Historian Jay Smith (no relation) investigated the stories and concluded that despite wild speculation since the killings, the likely culprit was wolves. But the interesting part, to me, was not that the culprit was mundane but in the way the culture of the time turned a mundane event into a horrific monster legend.

Bad Wolf: Part 2 deals with the disparity between the popular “wolves are peaceful” story so common in modern times and the harsh reality of wolves as apex predators. An interview with the magnificently named ethologist Valerius Geist to talk about a modern case of wolves killing a man and why people had a difficult time accepting that conclusion.

A Wolf in the Fold: Part 3 is just plain old historical werewolf research. During the Gevaudan research, Jay Smith left a question unanswered. How did the legend of the silver bullet get injected into the story of La Bete?  After a lengthy bit of research, I think I’ve tracked down the answer.

Darwin vs the Wolfman: And way back at the beginning we talked with science historian Dr. Brian Regal about his hypothesis that it was the work of Charles Darwin, not a silver bullet, that ultimately killed the wolfman.

Extraterrestrials

They Came from Outer Space!: Astronomer Phil Plait joined us to discuss the obstacles facing alien civilizations that might want to visit earth. Plus, we covered how we could tell if evidence from a possible alien encounter was actually sourced from outside this planet.  All in all, he’s not a bad astronomer.

Tabloid Monsters

The Rise of the Bat Boy: Ever wonder how things work at a check-out counter tabloid?  They report all kinds of stuff but how much is based on reality and how much is purely fictional?  Prepare to be amazed as we talk to an actual veteran from The Weekly World News and learn the truth about Bat Boy.

Ghosts

A Connecticut Haunting in a Keen Author’s Court: It could be argued that the Warrens (Ed & Lorraine) are the godfather’s of popular American ghost hunting. The true story behind the film The Haunting in Connecticut is perhaps even more interesting than the film and TV shows that were derived from it.  Meet horror writer Ray Garton and hear his first hand account of how he was required to make up a “true story” to fulfill his contract

The Warren Omission: The continued popularity of the Warren’s led to my doing an extended investigation after their popular “biopic” The Conjuring hit theaters. Interviews include excerpts from Ray’s episode, as well as Dr. Steve Novella. I think you’ll find it to be a fascinating story full of interesting twists and turns.

Demons and Devils

Alienable Rites: I love to do inquiry into the dark and supernatural. We have a lot of episodes that touch on these topics, but here are a few that really stick out.  Dr. Chris French recently joined the show to talk about the psychology of demonic possession. I should have titled it something like “Demon Possession” instead of riffing on Cabe Caleb’s The Alienist title.

Speak of the Devil: Bible scholar Robert E. Price joined us to talk about old Scratch himself in an episode that showed me I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew about biblical research.

Slenderman

Slenderman & Tulpas: How did a completely manufactured fictional creature turn into an attempted murder case involving children?  This episode is a fascinating interview that debunks some of the supernatural ideas alleged to empower the creepy internet meme known as the Slenderman.

Those are just a few of our more than 90 episodes, but I think you’ll like them. Of course we give thorough treatment of cryptids and folklore as well. The show combines science, folklore, history and cultural considerations and I like to think of it as the inverse of a typical credulous monster themed show such as MonsterQuest or In Search Of…. I hope you’ll give it a listen. In the mean time, I’ll get back to my research on technology, systems and innovation. You’ll be able to follow that work here at INSIGHT.

MonsterTalk is an official podcast of Skeptic Magazine, but the views and opinions expressed on the show are those of the hosts and guests and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Skeptic Magazine or the Skeptic Society.

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.

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