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Listener Feedback: Monstrous Reversals

Donate Some updates and additional information to a few past episodes... better all the time.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid Podcast #775
April 13, 2021
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Listener Feedback: Monstrous Reversals

Once again we turn to the mailbag and answer some listener feedback — plus we're also going to throw in a handful of updates to past episodes. Shows like this are always a lot of fun because they bring back some episodes you probably remember, and often introduce you to a few that you might have missed — and, ideally, prompt you to go back and catch them up. Today we're talking about the reasoning powers of Sherlock Holmes; we uncover some original evidence about the Alaska town supposedly abandoned due to Bigfoot attacks; we'll see if there really is new information about what happens when the Earth's magnetic poles reverse; we'll see how an 1803 ghost story changed the law in England; and finally we'll see if the police state conspiracy website NaturalNews is really as bad as we think it is. Spoiler: it's worse. Let's get started with our favorite consulting detective:

Sherlock Holmes: Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning

So this first one is actually from a show just two weeks ago, #773, a list of my Top 10 Pro-Science Fictional Characters. At first I wasn't sure whether to include this in a feedback episode (which this one is) or in an episode dedicated to correction of errors (another of which should be coming up soon). In the listing for Sherlock Holmes, I mentioned that the detecting tools he used included his powers of deduction — a term virtually synonymous with Holmes. An error did occur, but I decided to include this feedback here because the error was not mine, but was that of Holmes himself and, and of his author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Many of you emailed me, literally beginning within minutes of the episode going live. One representative such email came from listener Stephen:

Love the character and have taught many of the stories in class, but deductive reasoning. Doesn't he use INDUCTIVE reasoning?

Yes! He does. To be sure I downloaded all of the collected works to do a keyword search. His reasoning is called deduction exclusively, but it is in fact induction. Deduction would be if Holmes had started from a hypothesis like all criminals are left handed, and said "This man is left handed, therefore he must be our criminal." Induction would be if Holmes started with an observation like "This man is left handed, and the blow was struck from this direction, therefore this man is our criminal." Then of course there's abduction, but this is the point at which I call you overtly pedantic and send a virus back through the Internet to destroy your email program.

But the bottom line stands: Sherlock Holmes used induction, not deduction; and Holmes and Doyle both called it by the wrong name.

The Original Port Chatham Monster

Episode #772 told a tall tale of an Alaskan town that was abandoned due to persistent Bigfoot attacks — a tale which was relatively easy to disprove, perhaps to nobody's great surprise. We tracked down the origin of the story to an article in a 1973 edition of the Anchorage Daily News, but sadly, I was unable to find it in any extant archives, save for an excerpt reprinted in a later book promoting Bigfoot as a real creature.

All hail listener Kevin, whose archive-fu skills exceeded my own. He found the original article and sent me a copy. It was called "Portlock: Home of a Sasquatch?" and was written by a Robert J. Dolezal. Kevin sent the PDF and wrote simply:

Thanks to the Alaska State Library, here's the article with photos & illustrations.

The discovery of the original article adds nothing new to the story; it was already known that it was the original source for a few of the vague details of what supposedly happened in Portlock. It's a narrative written by one of two men who sailed a boat to visit the empty buildings, then met a friend who related a few campfire stories, all uselessly devoid of any details.

So, no changes to the episode, other than the original article's citation has been added to the references section of the transcript page.

Magnetic Pole Reversal and Extinctions

Episode #728 was about what really happens when the Earth's magnetic poles flip, and more importantly, what doesn't happen — and the popular media is always telling us that it heralds worldwide catastrophe. Listener Michael wrote in with one more such example, when CNN reported that a recent paper in Science magazine claimed one such event did indeed cause havoc including the extinction of the Neanderthals:

They appear to claim that the magnetosphere was rendered almost completely inactive 42,000 years ago for a period up to 800 years. The article goes on to claim that these new findings show polar reversal would have drastic climate and environmental impacts and may have caused a number of species' extinction. I thought I'd pass it along in case this research significantly changes what we humans know about the subject. But based on your episode, it felt like something in the CNN article didn't add up.

Whenever a mass media outlets claims a recent science publication has made earthshaking new revelations that overturn our understanding of anything, your default assumption should be that the media outlet is looking for clicks and is exaggerating. That was the case here.

The paper referred to went quite a lot further than most other researchers who have been writing about this particular field reversal for the past 50 years. It was the Laschamps Event from about 42 Ka to 41 Ka. Much of what was in the paper was already known: the magnetic field strength did drop to about 5-6% of what it is now, worldwide concentrations of cosmogenic isotopes rose, ozone levels dropped, and a variety of other effects took place. Claims that the Laschamps Event caused the extinction of Neanderthals and other megafauna around the world are not new, and they are typically minority views.

Importantly, what failed to receive CNN's amplification was a competing article in that very same issue of Science that found in favor of the conventional view that the links between certain extinction events and the Laschamps Event were too tenuous to draw any causal relationship. If you're a CNN editor, are you going to pick the paper that reports a sensational view, or one that reports a conventional view? Both articles are linked in the References section below.

The Hammersmith Ghost and the Law

Episode #714 was about a famous ghost case in London in 1803 in which the people in the Hammersmith district believed that a ghost was going around attacking people at night. It became so prevalent that vigilantes began patrolling, and one of these, upon seeing a figure clad in all white, fired his pistol and killed a bricklayer walking home in his white work coveralls. I pointed out, as an aside, that the case made some waves in English case law — in the form of the idea that a mistaken (though genuine) belief could be a valid defense for a homicide. The young vigilante never had any intention of killing any human being.

I actually heard from a number of people in England, both barristers and legal scholars, who felt (quite rightly) that I had either not accurately or completely characterized the impact of the Hammersmith Ghost case on English law. So I'm going to let the words of listener Mike speak for themselves on this one:

So it really only talks about the degree of force you can use depending on your honest belief, not whether a mistaken belief makes the use of force right in the first place. Indeed this section was subjected to a later, very highly publicised, by section 43 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. This allowed people to use greater force in defence of their homes against burglars. If you want to know more about how the law is intended to apply this is the Crown Prosecution Service guidance (Note this guidance does not apply to Scotland): https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/self-defence-and-prevention-crime.

Overall I (and Tammy) think the correct thing to say would be that this "kicked off a legal debate around the law and how an honest but mistaken belief could be used as a defence. As far as England, Wales and Northern Ireland are concerned, the law is now set out in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. However, who knows what will happen in the future."

I stand clarified, with thanks to Mike and Tammy.

NaturalNews is Worse Than You Thought

I've done a handful of episodes where I revealed the top ten worst anti-science websites, and in all of them, the number one slot has always gone to NaturalNews, the police state conspiracy website run by anti-pharmaceutical activist Mike Adams. This award has always been due not only to the depth and profundity of its harmful anti-science content, but also for the website's surprising reach and influence. Well, turns out NaturalNews is even worse than I knew.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue is a London-based think tank that studies hate and extremism. In 2020 they published a 47-page report titled Anatomy of a Disinformation Empire: Investigating NaturalNews. It is eye-opening reading, to say the least. From the executive summary:

The complex web of infrastructure surrounding NaturalNews is vast. Its activities remain largely unchecked on social media sites, where it finds platforms to proselytise. Despite being banned from Facebook in 2019 and again in 2020, NaturalNews has continued to post on branded Facebook groups and appears linked to a network of over 400+ affiliated domains, including domains promoting extremist and violent material. In May 2020, Facebook banned posts with links to NaturalNews.com, NewsTarget.com, and Brighteon.com, all of which appear to be owned and run by NaturalNews and its founders.

These sites were banned from the platform after using content from troll farms in Macedonia and the Philippines. But existing efforts from Twitter and Facebook to limit the presence of NaturalNews, and recent attempts to stem the spread of some
of its affiliated sites, have failed to halt the ride of disinformation from the empire established by Adams over the last decade.

So, yeah. Adams left his advocacy for natural supplements to replace medical care far behind him, and has moved onto promoting COVID-19 and George Floyd conspiracy theories and extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers. With his content streaming through any of his 400 domain names, it's going to continue to be difficult to recognize and block.

So, listeners, keep that feedback coming in. Remember you can always email me with suggestions for new shows, and I'm always looking for corrections and new evidence to help enrich past shows. Reach me at brian@skeptoid.com, and let's keep Skeptoid as good of a resource as we can!


By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.

 

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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Listener Feedback: Monstrous Reversals." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 13 Apr 2021. Web. 8 May 2021. <https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4775>

 

References & Further Reading

Bradford, A. "Deductive Reasoning vs. Inductive Reasoning." Live Science. Future US, Inc., 25 Jul. 2017. Web. 6 Apr. 2021. <https://www.livescience.com/21569-deduction-vs-induction.html>

Cooper, A., et. al. "A global environmental crisis 42,000 years ago." Science. 19 Feb. 2021, Volume 371, Issue 6531: 811-818.

Dolezal, R. "Portlock: Home of a Sasquatch?" Anchorage Daily News. 15 Apr. 1973, Newspaper: 4-5.

ISD. Anatomy of a Disinformation Empire: Investigating NaturalNews. London: Institute for Strategic Dialogue, 2020.

Satterfield, D. "Did We Break the Planetary Temperature Record Sunday? Probably So!" AGU Blogosphere. American Geophysical Union, 17 Aug. 2020. Web. 8 Apr. 2021. <https://blogs.agu.org/wildwildscience/2020/08/17/did-we-break-the-planetary-temperature-record-sunday-probably-so/>

Voosen, P. "Kauri trees mark magnetic flip 42,000 years ago." Science. 19 Feb. 2021, Volume 371, Issue 6531: 766.

 

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