Sunday, May 12, 2013

Casting An Eye At The Pods: MonsterTalk

By: William G. Muir

I love science!

There I said it. 

The first bit of scientific inquiry I ever did was in the 4th grade. It was a real simple exercise, just measuring objects in the school play ground. To some it might seem trivial, but it opened up my 4th grade mind to a whole new way of looking at the world.

It ignited a passion in me that burns till this day. So much so that I got a degree in computer electronics. Although I probably been better served if I had gotten a degree in either biology or anthropology.

Because I am such a big fan I will seek out those things that have to do with science. In my spare time I am just as happy reading popular science books like A Demon Haunted World (Carl Sagan) and The Greatest Show On Earth (Richard Dawkins), as I would be playing World Of Warcraft. I also enjoy watching shows like Cosmos and documentaries like the Walking With BBC series.


So in today's podcast review I want to look at a somewhat sciency show. I say somewhat sciency in the respect that while the show isn't about what is going on in science, it does approach it's material in a scientific way. What do I mean by that? I mean they follow the scientific method to take a critical look at the topic they present to their listeners.

So what is this podcast that I am talking about? MonsterTalk. The MonsterTalk podcast is produced by Skeptic magazine and is hosted by Blake Smith, Karen Stollzon and Benjamin Radford. As a trio, these three investigate and research the paranormal and cryptozoological professionally, or as in the case of Karen as a hobby.   

Dr. Karen Stollzon, an Australian expat living in the United States, is a Linguist and Researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. Her field of expertize is in the preservation of endangered languages. Karen's spare time is devoted to investigating such things as pseudoscientific and paranormal beliefs and practices, including: ghosts, aura reading, psychics, medical intuitives, alternative therapies, mediums, faith healing, conspiracy theories, cults, haunted houses, among other things. Besides MonsterTalk  she also is a host of the  Center for Inquiry’s Point of Inquiry podcast. Her column, Bad Language, appears in Skeptic magazine.

Blake Smith is a researcher who works focuses on the paranormal as well as cryptozoological. His interest in all things mysterious can be traced back to his readings Jan Harold Brunvand works on urban legends. Blake's work can be seen at MonsterScience.org, DoctorAtlantis.com, and on
YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Benjamin Radford is a Fellow with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. He is a columnist for Discovery News and LiveScience.com, as well as an author of such books as Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World’s Most Elusive Creatures (with Joe Nickell); Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore, and Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries.

Unlike Ghost Hunter, Finding Big Foot and MonsterQuest, the host of MonsterTalk take a scientific approach to the subject they look into. The host of the former shows all go into each episode assuming that they have the answers, they just have to now find the evidence to support them. Most people confuse this for science, but that is not how it works. In science you observe what is going on, collect the data and then try find the solution that best fits. 

While all three host of the show are skeptical about claims involving the paranormal, cryptozoological and other unexplained phenomenon, they do not try to debunk such claims on the show. Instead they bring on experts in these fields, most often time scientist who have done research into the subjects. Other times they bring in others who have some kind of connection to the cases. 

 One of the guest/expert on MonsterTalk was horror writer  Ray Garton. He was on to talk about his involvement with the supposed "Haunting" In Connecticut case. As a young writer Ray was approached by his agent to write a book for paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warren's were linked with a family who had moved into house that had at one time been a funeral home. 

Ray soon became frustrated and suspicious of the story he was being told. When he took his concerns to Ed Warren he was told that the couple was crazy, that everybody that came to the Warren's were crazy and that he should what he could from what the Snedeker's told him and to make the rest up. The Warrens had hired him, had wanted him, because he was a horror writer.

Ray soon learned things just didn't add up. He was never told about what kind of cancer the
Snedeker's son had. The only time that he did got to talk to the boy was on the phone. The call was quickly cut off by the mother once her son told Ray that once he started taking medication he no longer had any weird sighting. Ray latter found out the boy was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Ray has spoken out against his book, In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting. Neither Ray nor his book were involved with the documentary or movie related to this case.

 Before I get to recommend or not recommending this I think there are two things that should always get in mind when we hear stories about the unexplained. When in doubt always follow Occam's Razor. Occam's Razor states when all things are equal you should go with the answer that introduces the fewest new variables..i.e If every morning you wake up and your newspaper is on the roof of your house. Option 1) It might be that paperboy is getting revenge for you stiffing him at Christmas time. Option 2) It could be that Big Foot is playing a practical joke on you. In this case it would be safe to assume that Option 1 is probably more likely to have happened. 

The second thing to keep in mind is this, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. (Carl Sagan) If your friend came to you and claims there car broke down on the interstate you really don't need much evidence to believe their statement. You know that cars exist and your friend has one, the interstate exist and everyday cars breakdown, some of them on the interstate. If you needed more than your friend's word to backup their claim a receipt from the tow truck driver or from the garage fixing there car will do.

But let us say your friend came to you one morning and said that they missed out on poker night because they had been picked up by aliens the night before. The aliens then took them half way across the galaxy and they partied at night club where he met and fell in love with an alien, got married and had just returned. As proof your friend offers you the alien marriage license. At this point you would need much more than just the "alien marriage license" to believe friend's story. For one thing the license could have been something he came up with on his own computer. The bigger problems here are that we have yet to make contact with any non-terrestrial life forms, there seems to be no way to travel near the speed of light, and who is to say aliens follow the same customs we do here on Earth? What makes you think aliens get married?   

So now it is time for the $64,000 question, would I recommend the MonsterTalk podcast? Yes, yes I would. If you are at all interested in giants, werewolves, vampires, Big Foot, The Loch Ness Monster, chupacabras or any of the other strange things in this world you should give this podcast a listen. Not only will you learn what evidence we might (or might not) have for all these strange creatures, you get to learn the history behind the myths and legends. You see how these stories evolved over time, growing into the tales we have today.

Not only is the show extremely educational, it does it in a lighthearted and engaging manner. Instead of lecturing the host and the guest have a conversation with the listeners. There is no dull, drawn out repetition of rhe facts. Everything is broken down into fun filled stories that captures not only the attention, but the imagination of the listeners as well.

I give this podcast a thumbs up.

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