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Episode Notes for
Bringing Light to a Moth

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Blake Smith: In 1966 the city of Point Pleasant, West Virginia was terrorized by a mysterious creature. It was an armless, winged, man-sized monster with reflective red eyes that soared through the night skies chasing fearful locals. For a year, people sighted the creature off and on until a tragedy, the collapse of the Silver Bridge, ended the sightings. Some said that the creature foretold the tragic bridge collapse, a disaster that killed forty-six people just before Christmas in 1967. In the following years, books, and eventually even a movie, collected details into a narrative that contained extra-dimensional beings, prophecy, and coincidence all tied together by a creature known as, the Mothman.


Blake: Welcome to MonsterTalk, the science show about monsters sponsored by Skeptic magazine. I’m Blake Smith and together with Ben Radford and Dr. Karen Stollznow we take a skeptical look all manner of monsters and monstrous claims. Karen was away on assignment and unable to participate in this episode, but will be returning next week. Mothman. I first read about Mothman in the works of paranormalist author, John Keel. At least two of Keel’s books, The Mothman Prophecies and Strange Creatures from Time and Space, had beautiful cover art from Frank Frazetta, one of my favorite artists. John Keel died last year [2009] in July. Frank Frazetta died on May10 of this year [2010]. Loren Coleman, noted cryptozoologist, mentions these deaths in association with a collection of names he keeps called, “The Mothman Death List.” Though forty-plus years on, deaths like these seem less mysterious than inevitable. A link to Loren’s list will be in the show notes and you can look at it and draw your own conclusions. What’s interesting about the Mothman case is how it has evolved. What started as a straight up monster story has become an almost New Age tale of a creature from beyond our dimension with mysterious powers. The movie version, perhaps for reasons of trying to cram a narrative into a somewhat disjointed tale, described the Mothman as a kind of extra-dimensional being either attracted to, or trying to warn humans of, tragic events that comprise many deaths. Many people panned that film, but I thought it did an effective job of presenting a kind of cosmic horror story in which we are better off not coming into contact with such alien intelligence. It’s an entertaining idea, this powerful, all-knowing entity. Ironically, skeptical investigator, Joe Nickell, investigated and discovered that the reality behind the Mothman revealed a creature indeed known for it’s inhuman wisdom and for it’s ability to determine how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop.

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: Today we’re talking with Center for Skeptical Inquiry senior investigator, Dr. Joe Nickell. Joe’s the author of Adventures in Paranormal Investigation, Looking for a Miracle, Real or Fake, and many other books that anyone interested in paranormal mysteries or historical investigations would love, also including Lake Monster Mysteries, which he co-wrote with our regular host, Ben Radford…Joe, you’ve been with CSICOP for a long time. Joe Nickell: Yes, many, many, many years, fulltime since 1995.

Blake: Excellent. You’ve done numerous investigations and many of them are pertinent to the topics we would cover on MonsterTalk. Today I want to talk to about a couple of cases, if we have time, so maybe we should just focus on one to begin with.

Joe Nickell: OK.

Blake: The Mothman story. It’s a case that’s been made into a movie, it’s been dealt with on numerous mystery television shows. What is your involvement with the Mothman case?

Joe: Well, I simply got interested in, first, with the antecedent of Mothman, which was the Flatwoods Monster back in 1952, and I went down to West Virginia investigated the Flatwoods Monster. Later, Mothman was made into a movie and I decided that that territory was familiar to me and I looked into Mothman and I decide that Mothman sounded just an awful lot like the Flatwoods Monster, which I had rather laboriously compared to the West Virginia barn owl. And I believe what the boys saw at Flatwoods was, almost certainly, a barn owl. There are a number of identifying characteristics. So when I hear of Mothman appearing in Point Pleasant in 1966, and sounding rather like the Flatwoods Monster, I wrote an article suggesting the same and then later was able to go down there and do a more extensive investigation and it was one of those times you just had to admit you were wrong. I decided that Mothman was not a barn owl, but almost certainly a barred owl. Some people would say, well, six of one and half a dozen of the other, what’s the fuss over two owls that are very, very much alike, but the eye shine did it for me. The initial sighting on November 15, 1966 was Linda Scarberry and others. They described a winged creature basically with no head or neck, just sort of eyes set at the top of winged body and eyes that were, and this is very important, TV reports and others often referred to Flatwoods and Mothman as having glowing eyes. They had no such thing. They had shining eyes responding to lights and Linda Scarberry made that very clear they were only shining in response to the car’s headlights, but they were described as being like bicycle reflectors. That feature, that crimson eye shine, is characteristic of the barred owl. Further research showed me that barred owls were plentiful in the area of the sighting, which was the old TNT area, it’s an old munitions, World War II munitions area, and it has since become McClintoc Wildlife Preserve and was, in fact, among other things, a bird sanctuary with lots of barred owls.

Ben Radford: So how did the whole Mothman story turn into such a production with the film and everything?

Joe: Well, this is the way it goes. You have some little incident and then some journalist gets a hold of it and exaggerates it, makes it into a story, and pretty soon the power of suggestion seems to take over, and other people may have an encounter. The Mothman flap lasted for about a year. We don’t know that people were seeing the same thing. In fact, one guy shot, I don’t know how well known this is, one guy shot and killed Mothman. Mothman was killed. Ben: Mothman is dead! Breaking news on MonsterTalk!

Joe: …but long live Mothman. Mothman is invincible. Maybe we should say Mothmen. This one Mothman, after he was killed, morphed into a type of snowy owl.

Blake: [laughter]

Joe: So there be more than one type of Mothman and, who knows, they may not all be owls. When I went down to Point Pleasant, admittedly I should have done the first time, obviously I’ve made what little career I have for forty years out of on-site, hands-on, roll-up-the-shirt-sleeves type of investigations, and it was not my finest hour that I wrote about Mothman not having actually gone and investigated. So I’ve redeemed myself and went down there and spent time in the area and talked to people and so forth. There was this common folklore that Mothman was started by one guy, dressed up in a costume, and jumping out and scaring people. I had cut through all that stuff because, quite clearly, that is not possible as an explanation for the initial sighting, nor for many of the other sightings. There may have been someone jumping out, I don’t say there was not, but that all happened later as part of the contagion, part of this bandwagon effect that you get and, in fact, there were different people who were said to be the very person. You talk about your folklore and how there are variants of tales, I mean we even had variant culprits. It all got rather silly. In addition to that there were pranks, people sending up red lights, you know, with helium balloons and one guy would spend some time gliding over in an airplane, cut his engine off and sort of glide. There were a number of credible reports of pranks, but this was in sort of the wake of the initial Mothman flap. To get back to the question, I think that it takes very little to trigger a series of reports, what’s usually called in UFO-logy is called a “flap” and, by extension, used some in monster-ology, a flap being a series of events, and usually the flap runs its course. It involves maybe first a particular intense sighting that gets a lot of coverage, then maybe because people are programmed to expect to see something, something with shining eyes, then almost anything with shining eyes in the Point Pleasant area could thought of, particularly if it had wings, particularly if it were owl-like, could be thought of as Mothman, so you have multiple sightings, and then you have people who maybe are convinced the other reports are not credible, or anyway need making fun of, and they go out and have a good old time, and so you get a whole bunch of things happening. What I’m pretty convinced of is that Mothman is a creature of the real and natural world and this planet.

Ben: So not a dragon or anything.

Joe: I think not. It’s very difficult to prove a negative. One other thing that might be interesting to mention along the lines of Mothman that I’ve recently done, because I studied, among my many careers and checkered past, I studied iconography under Guy Davenport at the University of Kentucky in graduate school, work on my PhD in English literature. I have used iconography for a number of investigations, the Shroud of Turin, and the evolution of the image of Christ in art as it’s shown to culminate in the Shroud of Turin, suggesting that the Shroud of Turin is not the real burial cloth of Jesus, but the work of a artist of about the 14th Century. I’ve done an alien timeline that showed how creatures, and my alien timeline does include Flatwoods Monster and Mothman…

Blake: I just want to say I loved that piece of art. That’s a beautiful piece.

Joe: Well, thank you. It’s been misunderstood, but some people who think that’s intended somehow to prove that this came before this and this and that and so forth…of course, iconography can never be…you can never be sure, in most cases, whether you’ve gotten every image that was ever seen, they’re not actually linear in their effect entirely, but the alien timeline a way of illustrating something that you know by just reflecting and going back and looking and you see how the alien image has changed over time. And even if there might be an earlier of a particular type, still the basic evolution is there and so the timeline shows how we start out with all these different types, the Little Green Men, and Venusian creatures bathed in light, who look like us, and hairy dwarfs and goblins and blobs and so forth. And then you get the little big-eyed, bigheaded humanoid of Betty and Barney Hill and eventually you get still others, Mothman and others, and so forth, but this little big-eyed, bigheaded humanoid comes back and back and back until finally he’s sort of the official alien that you see in all the toy stores. And you could do a different alien timeline and select some different images and so forth, but would still clearly get to the same place. It’s an illustration not a proof so much; it’s an illustration of that process. So while I just recently did something like that with Mothman, not as a drawing, but more just descriptive, but it’s interesting that the original Mothman looks just exactly like a barred owl.

Ben: I think it’s a coincidence.

Joe: Well, it could be. Absolutely that could be. It looks like a barred owl except for its larger size. I’ve taken a lot of flak, sometimes in good humor; from cryptozoologists who say that isn’t it a coincidence there’s a species of gigantic owl at Point Pleasant. My point is that, well then they admit that, of all the creatures on planet Earth, and again now, I’m talking about the original Mothman, of all the creatures on Earth, Mothman looked more like a barred owl. I think I would just challenge anybody to come up with a better look alike; I wait for them to do it, than the barred owl. And the only difference really is the height, the Mothman was considerably bigger and so I asked these people, which is more likely that people seeing something at night with no frame of reference and being scared and seeing it only briefly, how likely is it they might be mistaken as to size versus that a hitherto unknown creature, perhaps from another planet, has come once to the planet Earth and there we have to sort of believe that. But I’ve been noticing how that version of Mothman has begun to take on a life of its own and, for example, Mothman sprouted arms. There comes a time at which Mothman sported arms and other features. You can see it more, I traced this in a piece I’m working on, and you can trace several different steps and phases of the iconography of Mothman. It is evolving. It begins to take on eyes that are no longer round and looking like bicycle reflectors, but eyes that are shaped like the eyes of an alien, sort of wrap around eye.

Blake: Coincidentally, I’m actually wearing a Mothman shirt that one of our listeners sent me, Tonya Kaiser, hey, Tonya…[laughter] and it’s got…it’s a beautiful shirt and I love the artwork, but the artwork shows exactly that. It shows a Mothman with bat-like wings, arms, and legs and has a modern alien-style head with almond eyes.

Joe: And maybe is there any kind of reptilian look at all in the head…

Blake: Well, it’s a black and white line drawing…

Joe: Does it have any kind of crest on the top of the head or anything?

Blake: This one doesn’t, but it does have claws.

Joe: Yeah, yeah. We could, maybe not very accurately, but we could look at your t-shirt and sort of date it. If this image were just shuffled among some others and we said sometime between 1966 and yesterday this image was made, we could date it, we wouldn’t date very close to 1966 and we could date it after this and maybe after something else and so forth. It’s still evolving and so I think that’s a very useful investigative strategy is to use iconography to show that these images take on a cultural aspect and that people begin to modify it and to associate it other things and let it evolve and artists, of course, are helping this along, but it’s in flux to such an extent that in recent years, Linda Scarberry, herself, has actually said that she saw the muscles in Mothman’s arms. And I’ve got her original account and she specifically says there were no arms, she specifically says that there were none. It would be astonishing, except of course, all of us know this all too well how memory is fallible and it recreates all the time and so forth. That’s why, when you are investigating cases, it’s good to go back and see what the original, earliest accounts said. When you do that, the Flatwoods Monster, for example, the description is pretty impressive on several profound features, how much it looks like a barn owl, the eye shine, the terrible claws, the sort of head shaped like the ace of spades, that sort of thing, it’s high-pitched hissing scream-like sound and so on. You can fairly specifically indicate the barn owl and yet over time that creature’s evolved so that the recent MonsterQuest episode has…they don’t spend a lot of time on the imagery at the beginning and then they admit things have changed, but they can rationalize that. They end up with sort of a reptilian-type of creature that’s a very, very different from the original.

Blake: Yeah, can we talk about that for a minute? I thought that was very odd. If one just assumed that alien invasions were real, I still think there’s a flaw in their logic there because they seem to be conflating the gray alien with the reptilian alien, and even though I think both of those are folkloric manifestations more likely than actual creatures from outer space, they’re different. Even people in the field should recognize they’re different and it seemed like a big mistake to bring in Lloyd Pye’s Starchild and try to talk about that in conjunction with this reptilian creature that they were describing. It was like mixing up Superman and The Thing.

Joe: Well, exactly, exactly. If someone has been on the inside of some of these productions, maybe I should say unfortunately been on the inside of some of these productions, I know they were working on Flatwoods and Mothman and there were two different production companies working on them and the Mothman crew got me first, much to the chagrin of the person who was in charge of the Flatwoods Monster. So they knew early on that we were going to be featuring the barred owl and we were going to be doing owl experiments, you were going to see owls on their program and so forth. And I think they felt the need to go in kind of a different direction and we were literally cutting out a lot of the material they might have used for Flatwoods Monster. One of the policies that MonsterQuest had was that they basically tried to avoid extraterrestrials; they weren’t interested in UFOs and extraterrestrials at all and so they sort of reluctantly kind of felt they had to kind of bring in Stanton Friedman or something. Like how do we make a program that doesn’t sound like some kind of repetition of Mothman?

Blake: Yeah.

Joe: And my point was that you could link it to Mothman unashamedly and say…Loren Coleman said that he saw in the Flatwoods case, and he and I are on the same page with this, elements foreshadowing, he said, Mothman. So much so that I thought Mothman was barn owl and not a barred owl, a huge distinction, I hope you’ll never let me forget. I would have just embraced the similarity and linked them in the other show, but I guess they wanted to go in a different direction and then you have to have some kind experiment for the MonsterQuest shows and so forth, and so I think they felt the need to play me down. I was already on board, but I didn’t get as much play. And that program did not allow me to analyze the sighting by Freddie May and the others, the original Flatwoods Monster sighting. That was left on the cutting room floor. Just absolutely left out. I have a drawing that I think was very convincing; they just left that out. They let me say some things about panic and so forth that they could use to their advantage, but not anything that might be really devastating to any thesis they might have.

Blake: Now you definitely got fairer treatment in the Mothman episode.

Joe: Absolutely I did. Part of that was, I think, the fact that they didn’t want Flatwoods Monster to look like Mothman 2. They were trying to make it more different, but there is an amusing little anecdote that I’ll tell you about MonsterQuest. I was on yet another MonsterQuest show, I’ll just speak vaguely so I don’t get anyone too much into trouble, but a producer of a segment after we had shot for a day and we were in a bar having some food and I wasn’t drinking a whole lot, I know what they say, but I wasn’t drinking that much. And he said, let me tell you about your participation, he said when they started talking about doing this segment, doing this particular show, he said he asked the big guy of the series, “Can I have Joe Nickell?” And the response was, “Well…yes…but this time let’s hope he’s not too convincing.” [laughter] Just an astonishing commentary…

Ben: You’re doing your job too well there, Joe.

Joe: Well, I was really flattered by the comment and I think he meant to share it in that regard, but, of course, it’s also a rather sad commentary on how these shows leave stuff on the cutting room floor. I had a rocky career with Unsolved Mysteries, I was on some shows, I helped them get people for some shows. One time they hung up on me when I said a bad word, I was talking to a producer and I used a bad word…ethics…

Blake: Oh, no…

Joe: …It upset them and she hung up on me. One time I was chastising a producer, they had done a show and I knew that the skeptic I had recommended that they get, Major James McGaha, had really pretty well solved their mystery for them. And I said, you know, you can’t just leave stuff out, that’s just not honest. And it’s amazing the response I got, she said, “Well, Dr. Nickell, the name of our show is Unsolved Mysteries.”

Ben: You’re missing the point of the show…

Joe: “Like, jeez, don’t you get it? You’re supposed to be smart. Don’t you get it? Our show’s named for heaven’s sakes, Unsolved Mysteries. We don’t need wise guys like you coming along and solving things for us.” Another time they wanted me to go check out this psychic named Ronny Marcus and Ronny Marcus was doing some shtick, rather like Uri Geller, you know, stopping watches and bending cutlery with his brain waves, that sort of stuff. I could see where this might be going. And they wanted me to go to Louisville, Kentucky and check out this Ronny Marcus. And I said, ok. She said, we’re hoping that this is fantastic and so forth. And I said, you know; just suppose with me, for the moment, that I catch him cheating. She said, “Well, I hope not” or something like that. But suppose I do, suppose I catch him cheating? And she said, “Well, then we wouldn’t have a show.” And I said, let me see if I’ve got this correct now, if I go there and I’m incompetent and I can’t find the cheating and I’m amazed and mystified, you’d like to put me on so I look stupid, but if I’m smart enough to catch a trickster, I just shot myself in both feet and I’m not going to be on your show. This is why they would occasionally hang up on me; I guess I was probably being impertinent.

Ben: Let me ask, in the Mothman case, to your mind is this more of a historical mystery, that is something that just happened back then or are there still Mothman sightings these days?

Joe: Well, the TV shows like to try to bring together, and even the Mothman show, which I thought was a whole lot better than the Flatwoods one for MonsterQuest, was a lot more honest, but you can find, if you cast about, you can find, here and there, they had a couple more cases of somebody seeing some kind of large-winged creature and trying to yoke that and put it together as Mothman. A couple of these were in recent years, but it’s pretty thin skew. To me, Mothman is a particular flap that happened in 1966–67 in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia and that’s a particular thing that we can track. We can say what the initial Mothman image looked like, we can watch that evolve and morph and move into prank-lore, and joke-lore, and folklore, and so forth, but I don’t think that meaningfully there are Mothmen elsewhere. I think those other cases, very few ought to be looked at on their own merits and not try, because once you start trying to yoke these together, and this happened on the Flatwoods program, this helps you get hybrid creatures that no longer look like the original. You have maybe an original case and you can be fairly clear about what the first descriptor said the first day and identify it perhaps as a barn owl or barred owl, but then it starts somebody else saw something and it was a little different and so now people can pick and choose. Once you’ve got a handful of these sightings you can pick a few elements from this and a few elements from that and you can watch them doing that on some of these shows. You can see how these creatures are changing because somebody wants to continue to use the word Mothman to describe something that really ought to just be looked at as a creature. If we’re looking at a California case, we ought to just look at it for what it is and not rush to subsume it under the rubric of Mothman.

Blake: A lot of that, like the transmogrification, I guess, of the Chupacabra from a spiked-alien into a mangy dog or a…

Joe: Or vice versa…

Blake: Or vice versa. [laughter] I knew you’ve investigated a lot of, I don’t want to call them one-off, but unique monsters that become famous for an area like the Fouke Monster, the Point Pleasant creature, the Honey Island creature. What’s the effect of these kinds of monsters on these small towns where they appear? Obviously, within cryptozoology, these places become famous, like I had someone, Jeff Wagg, in fact, from the JREF, went through Fouke, Arkansas and picked me up a t-shirt and he said there’s just not much going on in Fouke, Arkansas anymore.

Joe: No, these things are…I’ve been to several towns, they end up…the initial incident happens then there’s maybe a flap briefly, then the incidents usually fade into obscurity for a few years, kind of like a dormant virus. And then, at some point, particularly when some of the residents have become elderly, somebody comes out with a book. I mean, there’s a pattern not unlike this in several places, and it gets hyped again…the Roswell crash, or Mothman, or any of a number of these…the Kelly, Kentucky Little Green Men flap and, eventually, some enterprising person decides they should have a festival.

Ben: Why not?

Joe: Yeah, there have been a number of monster festivals, both lake monster and UFO and so forth. I was given the Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which is the big city near the Kelly incident; the mayor gave me the key to the city. And it was a sad day when I found out that that really didn’t get me into anybody’s liquor cabinet. It was a nice festival and we had a good time and these things sort of seem to kind of later end up as a sort of fun episode of the past, but this time the monster has been thoroughly exaggerated. The elderly people now are telling much more fantastic tales than they ever did before and somebody, if they haven’t written a book already, is getting one ready and the t-shirts are not far behind and in Point Pleasant they’ve got a little museum.

Blake: Yeah.

Joe: I don’t if you are aware, but Mothman has a big bright statue right there in downtown Point Pleasant.

Blake: Yeah, the big metal work…right?

Joe: Yeah, yeah, and, of course, it is a highly evolved version of Mothman, as you would appreciate.

Blake: Right.

Joe: I don’t know if that answers your question, but there is a kind of a process that you can see repeated. It might be interesting sometime to do something about that evolution, just look at the process.

Blake: It’s something we definitely…it comes up again and again on our show because of the sort of the folkloric quality of the stories. The monsters evolve, the stories evolve and I just kind of wanted to talk about how did the towns take it and what’s the impact. I think you brought up a good point that the festival is probably the culmination of what happens.

Joe: It is. You can find, usually, it’s been my experience with several of these places where I’ve gotten to know the residents. I have friends in Flatwoods. The three of us could drive down to Flatwoods and I could stop at a prominent home there in Flatwoods and we could make ourselves at home and have sandwiches and have a good time, we’d be very welcome. I stop there occasionally and renew my friendship and so forth, and you get to know people that are skeptical and you get to people that are believers and somehow these people often kind of coexist in a little town and they learn not to feud sort of the same way, well, one’s a Democrat maybe and one’s a Republican and the have to kind of get along, maybe they both go to the same church or something. You can find someone who will tell you, oh, yeah, well that’s absolutely…my uncle saw that and he was straight as an arrow and you can take that to the bank, buddy. And the other person will say, well, you know, those people were not credible and everybody laughed that it was probably just a prank or something and you get another view. But eventually, some enterprising chamber of commerce-type decides that they can have a festival. And by which time, everybody’s encouraged that, well, laugh or not doesn’t matter, we’re gonna have a festival. We’re gonna sell t-shirts and we’re gonna see if we can hype the heck out of this.

Blake: I’ll tell ya, within reason, if they have chili, I’ll go to any kind of festival.

Joe: Well I will too. There are actually pictures of me being abducted at Hopkinsville, Kentucky. There’s actually a picture of me with two big aliens absolutely real, in the carnival sense of being real…real costumes and so forth. They’re abducting me and I’m apparently struggling and stuff, but I had a good time at Hopkinsville and further the mayor made his driver and car, me and this guy on the other side, Peter Davenport, the UFOlogist, were both given keys to the city and both given use of the mayor’s car, a very nice car, and his driver for the day. We had a day before we had to really perform and he took us all over. I wanted to see the original site and all this stuff and we had a great time.

Blake: Here’s my last question, we’re trying to ask everybody this and that is, and I’m sorry for giving you a little preparation, but what’s your favorite monster?

Joe: Oh, my favorite monster.

Blake: See it’s hard isn’t it, I’m sorry. [laughter]

Joe: Well, it is hard, but certainly I do feel some affection to the Flatwoods Monster because I had such a good time there and I thoroughly enjoyed investigating that and I proposed an explanation for it that I think is widely accepted, in some circles, as being a very probably explanation. When Audubon Society publication mentioning that I had said it was a barn owl said to check it out, it was a real screen. It’s been rewarding in various ways, as I say, I can go to Flatwoods and not everybody there wants to kill me, there are people who are friendly. I’ve given the Flatwoods Monster the name Emmy Lou. I believe it was a female, because, I think, I’m a little bit of a limb here, pun intended, but I think the barn owl, hearing this barking dog coming and these boys and stuff, would have been long gone normally, but I think it was a female brooding young and she stood her ground and was trying to huddle quietly with her brood. When they shined a flashlight at her eyes, she took action and she responded and later they would not know what hit them. It scared them to death. They remember a high-pitched hissing sound and sort of swooping and what Mrs. May called, “terrible claws.” She was very effective; she scared them to death and they ran off. One of the boys was sick that night and I take that almost certainly as a symptom of hysteria.

Blake: It’s astonishing how much size can be misjudged when you’re shocked of scared. I know even in just my house, well not specifically in the house I’m in now, I’ve been in houses where I’ve had a rat run at me directly and it just seemed like a small dog, but, you know, it was a rat.

Joe: Yeah, we need to come up with a name for this effect. When you encounter a wild critter and it surprises you and if it frightens you a little bit, it grows in size. It’s an interesting effect.

Blake: Something about focus, I mean, it the same thing with the moon on the horizon, it’s the same size as it is up in the sky, but your perspective is focused on it…

Joe: Yes, and there is actually a psychological term for that. I’m forgetting what it is, but I’ve heard a term used. It’s sort of like gun barrel effect or something, you know, when somebody pulls a gun…

Blake: Oh, right, right, right…

Joe: But this is a little different, it’s not so much that the gun looks bigger, but they’re using it to indicate that you often will give a good description of the barrel of a gun…

Blake: …but totally miss the guy.

Joe: …but you don’t whether the guy had a red beard or white hair or four feet or eight feet, you know, none of that. Certainly all of that is an element in our perception.

Blake: Absolutely. Well thank you so much for coming to talk with us today. Do you have any new books coming out?

Joe: Nothing this very moment…

Blake: You definitely have a lot of books our readers would want to look at so we’ll link to some stuff in our show notes.

Joe: My last book is called Real or Fake. It’s not about the paranormal, but it’s about how we determine if various artifacts are genuine and so forth. There’s a lot in it for the skeptic.

Blake: Excellent. Thank you very much.

Joe: Thank you for having me.

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: Today on MonsterTalk you were listening to an interview with CSI investigator Joe Nickell. Links to some of Joe’s books will be in the show notes and they are a great addition to any library. MonsterTalk is hosted by myself, Blake Smith, Ben Radford, the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer, and Dr. Karen Stollznow, writer, researcher, and host of the Point of Inquiry podcast for CFI.

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Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall, M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods. The lectures each range from 32 to 45 minutes.

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Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

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The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

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Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and why do they tend to proliferate? Why does belief in one conspiracy correlate to belief in others? What are the triggers of belief, and how does group identity factor into it? How can one tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

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The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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