In the current edition of Skeptical Inquirer I was pleased to find that I received a mention from Robert Sheaffer in his regular UFO column, citing my discussion of the many failures of Jacques Vallée and Chris Aubeck’s Wonders in the Sky (2009) in advance of the new edition that the wealthy Vallée asked his readers to fund for him. The same edition (July/August 2016) also contains the results of a reader survey that the magazine sent out to a random selection of its readership. Skeptical Inquirer’s statement of ownership and circulation late last year listed a total circulation of 24,672. The magazine sent out 3,000 surveys and received 549 responses. There is, of course, a good chance that the survey over-represented older readers based on who took the time to fill out the lengthy 39-question survey, but the results seem to be generally in line with what I already knew about the audience for science-oriented material of any kind.
In the darkest days of the year (in the northern hemisphere, at least), when sunlight is at a premium, it can be easy to despair at the sad state of the world. Consider, for example, the fact that Paul Seaburn at Mysterious Universe got duped by a very obvious hoax and reported that a Sumerian cuneiform tablet shaped exactly like a decade-old cellphone had been found in Austria. This hoax has been circulating since at least 2012 (originating, apparently, on a now-defunct Facebook page), but Seaburn breathlessly reports on it as though it were (a) legitimate and (b) something that just happened, giving only lip service to the possibility of a hoax at the very end of his Weekly World News-style report. That’s par for the course with fringe folk, who don’t care about facts or details as long as a claim supports their fantasy.
Professor: Donald Trump Uses "Strategic" Misinformation That Funnels Conspiracies into the Mainstream
In an article in the Washington Post the other day, Paul Farhi explored how Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination, is helping conspiracies theories and fringe ideas enter into the mainstream by engaging in uncritical repetition of bad ideas from unreliable internet sources. Prof. Jeffery Hemsley of Syracuse University told Farhi that Trump engages in “strategic” misinformation in order to reflect back to ignorant and biased voters the bad ideas they already believe (or are primed to believe) are true:
I know that I’ve been rather harsh on Micah Hanks’s articles whenever I’ve read them, but one of the reasons for this is that Hanks, the self-described “Mouth of the South” and host of the Graelian Report, consistently casts himself as a researcher of a much higher caliber than he has ever proved himself to be. He also fancies himself to be a much better writer than he has ever proved himself to be. (Disclosure: In April I agreed to his producer’s request for me to go on his radio show to “debate” skepticism and Fortean phenomena, but they never had me on.)
But I come here today to agree with Hanks, though not quite in the way he would like.
Before we begin, John J. McKay, whose work I’ve cited on this blog in the past, is asking for help on behalf of his ex-wife. Please visit his page to read her story.
As most of you know, I’m reading advance galley proofs of Graham Hancock’s new book Magicians of the Gods, which I will be reviewing when the book is released. I had an unpleasant surprise while reading the book last night: I’m in it! In a chapter on the megalithic ruins of Baalbek, Hancock discusses me, and it was… unusual. It was unusual both for the context and for what it says about Hancock’s research methodology.
I’m scheduled to appear this evening on a podcast called The Afternoon Commute at Hoaxbusterscall.com. I’m supposed to record the show at 6:30 PM ET (3:30 PM PT), though I’m not sure if it is broadcast live or only released as a recording. While the host represented himself as a skeptic, it appears from the website that the show has its fair share of unusual beliefs, ranging from the New World Order to moon landing conspiracies. This will be interesting...
Tablet magazine published an exposé of skeptic Al Seckel, a longtime stalwart of the skeptic movement, whom the magazine accuses of misrepresenting or allowing others to misrepresent his credentials since the 1980s, among other unethical activities, including (they imply) bigamy. According to author Mark Oppenheimer, Seckel has described himself or been described as a physicist, a cognitive neuroscientist, and a molecular biologist, despite holding no advanced degrees in those subjects, and as the president of various organizations that appear to have existed only on paper. He used these credentials to hobnob with the academic elite and gain international fame as a lecturer and skeptic. “In Seckel’s case,” Oppenheimer writes, “the illusion is driven, I think, principally by a fantasy of the intellectual salon, of being at the center of a vibrant conversation among great brains.” It will be interesting to hear whether those who have accused me of various levels of evil in reporting on fringe authors’ exaggerated or false credentials will express similar outrage that Seckel has been exposed for his unearned degrees as well.
I have to say that I was quite surprised to look at the final Nielsen cable ratings for last Friday, when Ancient Aliens returned to the History channel schedule after three years in exile on H2. I imagine History was shocked as well. According to Nielsen’s published ratings, Ancient Aliens did not rank among the 100 most watched cable shows for Friday April 10. This means that fewer than 300,000 adults between 18 and 49 watched the program on Friday, since 300,000 18-49 demo viewers were the audience for the 100th most popular show. I’m not able to estimate the total number of viewers since Nielsen ranks shows based on 18-49 viewers, not total viewers. In its 9 PM time slot, the program lost big to Discovery’s Bering Sea Gold and reruns of The Cleveland Show and Full House. This is a dramatic fall for a show that brought in 1.5 million viewers (400,000 in the 18-49 demographic) when it aired after Curse of Oak Island in a couple of special presentations over the winter. Can it be that the age of Ancient Aliens is finally drawing to a close? I wouldn’t count on it, but it seems that History’s efforts to rebuilt their Friday night and challenge Discovery’s dominance of the evening among middle aged male viewers didn’t go according to plan.
Have you seen the rather harsh write-up of the Paradigm Symposium in the Twin Cities Daily Planet? Author Caleb Baumgartner offered a caustic take on the annual gathering of fringe figures, though I can’t say that his analysis was entirely unwarranted. In the interest of disclosure, I do need to say that Scotty Roberts, who runs the Paradigm Symposium, invited me to speak at next year’s gathering. I am not able to commit that far out for a four-day event, but I am looking into whether I can make it work.
Like many of you, I read with dismay BuzzFeed’s article about allegations that Skeptic magazine founder Michael Shermer raped skeptic Alison Smith in 2008 after plying her with alcohol at a party during The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas. Shermer released a statement denying the allegations but admitting to having had consensual sex with Smith. He points out that there is no evidence for the accusations and that the accuser continued to correspond with him happily years after the event. Other women speaking to BuzzFeed reported unwelcome sexual advances from Shermer, including an incident where he was allegedly “playing with his crotch” while hitting on a young woman at an atheist event. Shermer denies this as well, noting that the allegation of several minutes of indecent display in the midst of a crowded event is hard to credit.
Because I have criticized fringe authors for their involvement with former American Nazi party president and convicted pedophile Frank Collins (in his Frank Joseph publishing persona), it would be hypocritical of me not to take note of these very serious allegations since Michael Shermer has published many of my articles, including my very first, “Charioteer of the Gods.”
I have never met Michael Shermer in person, nor have I exchanged more than a few lines of email with him over the years. All of my Skeptic magazine articles were published before allegations against Shermer became public knowledge, and certainly before I became aware of them today. Apparently PZ Myers wrote a piece about the allegations last year, but this came after my last Skeptic appearance and was not known to me.
If the allegations are true, it is truly disturbing. For the time being, I don’t see myself returning to the pages of Skeptic until this sorts itself out. Also: These skeptic and atheist conferences sound like absolutely awful bacchanals. I am glad I have never been to one.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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