“Read a Damn Book – 132: Skeptoid 5 – Massacres, Monsters, and Miracles”
I have enjoyed listening to the podcast, Skeptoid, for over ten years. The show is hosted by Brian Dunning, and it’s one of those “weird things that people believe” types of programs, in which Dunning researches a great many interesting topics---from fad diets to famous hauntings to missing persons to conspiracy theories, which some people find credible and other don’t, to see if he can find compelling evidence that suggests the topic might be more than just myth or urban legend, or of they might be plain old hooey… This book, Massacres, Monsters, and Miracles, collects the transcripts from 49 Skeptoid episodes and lays them out for readers to either read from cover to cover or, if you so choose, to flip through, reading just the topics that you find most interesting.
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual digital book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Brian Dunning – Skeptoid 5 – Massacres, Monsters, and Miracles (2013)
Any source can be mistaken (or intentionally spread false information,) so it’s important to do your own research, if the topic is sufficiently important that it could affect society or the planet or the lives of your family members or anything of equal importance. What I like about Skeptoid is that Dunning does his research and then presents his sources. He doesn’t just copy and paste the common stories off of Wikipedia or Reddit, but he searches for evidence that is as close to the original topic as he can find. If he’s investigating a U.F.O. crash in Texas in the 1800s, he looks at local papers from the area from that time period to see what was actually being reported as the story was supposedly unfolding. (Unfortunately, the episode in which he investigates that supposed crash is NOT in this book---but it was a great episode!) (I’m mostly going to use examples from episodes that are NOT in this book because I'm trying not to give away too much about any specific case that is examined here. That way readers can be as surprised as possible by Dunning’s findings!)
Dunning also doesn’t say that he is always 100 percent correct and can’t ever be wrong, and in fact, he frequently does shows that are just collections of times that he has been in error, with corrections and updates to his findings. In some cases, to address common or particularly determined complaints he receives from listeners about his episodes, (people get very passionate about their personal beliefs and can be extremely invested in their favorite conspiracy or fad medical treatment or cryptid,) he will do an episode where he reads listener complaints and either admits his fault or addresses why he feels the complaints are unfounded and don’t contradict his finding. (Some of the complaints get NASTY, which can be funny---even if they aren't very scientific.) And, a last point about Dunning’s podcast, one of the most interesting things about Skeptoid is how often Dunning says at the end of a show that there just isn’t enough evidence for him to say, for sure, WHAT the truth really is. (For older mysteries, where most or all of the original participants are gone now, we may never have enough information to know the truth---and that’s something that most people find uncomfortable to admit, but in many cases, there just isn’t enough evidence to completely confirm or definitively disprove a claim. Sometimes, all we can say is: “We don’t know.”)
Anyway, in this book, Dunning looks at a BEVY of interesting topics: Jack the Ripper, Haitian zombies, spontaneous human combustion, the Jersey Devil, the Abominable Snowman, gay conversion therapy, near death experiences, The Voynich Manuscript (a fascinating book that nobody has been able to decipher), Nazi super-weapons, and 40 more fascinating concerns and concepts! As a huge fan of monsters and ghosts and psychic phenomena and U.F.O. stories, I am EXTREMELY interested in these types of articles, even if the scientific consensus on them is, usually, rather negative. I enjoy the STORIES, the folklore, the myths---but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to know what the scientific opinion is as well. In many cases, the research that Dunning conducts while looking at a specific case leads to some incredibly fascinating topic that I didn’t know even existed! For example, in one of his more than 600 episodes, the topic was “Shadow People,” he brought up the fascinating phenomena of hypnopompia and hypnogogia---which is when a person is caught in a state of being partially conscious and awake, but also partially in a dream---which I vaguely remembered touching on in a psychology class that I took back in 1990 or 1991, but that I’d mostly forgotten about! (Unfortunately, this show is also not in this book!!! But trust me, there are a BUNCH of fantastic topics that ARE covered in this collection, I just don’t want to give away the punchlines!) I have even personally experienced hypnopompia, but I didn’t understand at the time what was happening and just thought it was one of my weird BRAIN things… (I have a lot of those…)
Beyond some of the fringier topics that Dunning covers in this book, he also looks at things like logical fallacies, issues with voting methods, and historical research. I spent a number of years in academia, and I’m fascinated with the topic of research in general, but I particularly enjoy Dunning’s take on these concepts. He has a dry wit, which I find very funny, and a snappy snarkiness that gives some of his critiques (of the lazier or more fallacious arguments) a nice bite. (I am of the belief that children should be taught how to think logically in school---not how to take standardized tests---and feel that logic and philosophical concepts should be taught in kindergarten or first grade, instead of waiting until college to mention them...but that might not be entirely related to this book… Let’s move on.)
So, in summary, the book is fun, easy to read, and an interesting look at some strange, controversial, sometimes highly improbable, but utterly fascinating topics. If you like stories of monsters or unexplained disappearances or historical mysteries, then this book will have a lot for you to chew on! HOWEVER, if you are a dyed in the wool believer in the absolute truth of any of the topics that Dunning covers, you might find yourself becoming angry with Dunning and his proclamations, but just remember this---it never hurts to hear the other side of the story. If the evidence that Dunning presents is not as strong as the evidence that you are already aware of, then you are always free to keep your current view, but I would think any belief that is sufficiently well founded should be able to weather any debate without crumbling. I tend to be far more skeptical than most folks, so I tend to be in line with much of what Dunning presents, but I’m also a huge fan of believer stories, and I listen to a number of pro-fringe podcasts as well as the skeptical ones. That way I get both sides of the coin and can spin it however I like!
Massacres, Monsters, and Miracles is available on Amazon as both an average priced paperback book and in a remarkably inexpensive digital version! I can almost guarantee that there are going to be SOME weird topics in this book that most folks haven’t heard of before, and whether you are a believer in “THE WORLD OF THE STRANGE” or a scientific skeptic, this collection of topics is, if nothing else, a great launching pad for further research (whichever direction your explorations might send you in!)
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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