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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and let's keep Skeptoid as good of a resource as we can!
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