Journalist, scientific researcher, and famed skeptic Benjamin Radford has written numerous articles and six books on topics ranging from urban legends to various paranormal phenomena, all the while ruthlessly championing critical thought. On the heels of releasing two books last year (Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore and The Martians Have Landed!: A History of Media-Driven Panics and Hoaxes with Robert E. Bartholomew), Radford will make a handful of appearances at Dragon*Con this year bringing a much needed voice of reason and sanity when it comes to discussing urban legends and all things supernatural. Before making his way to Atlanta Radford took a few minutes to talk a little bit about what he does.
It's important to note that although we share same last name (and the same chin), to the best of my knowledge I am in no way related to Benjamin Radford.
Chad Radford: Will your “Monster Talk LIVE!” discussion touch on your experiences writing your book, Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore? Also who is Blake Smith who’s speaking on the panel with you?
Ben Radford: Yes, I'll talk a little bit about my chupacabra investigation, but it will mostly be about the events that led up to my appearance on “Good Morning America,” being interviewed about the Loch Ness Monster. Blake is my co-host on our MonsterTalk podcast, and a computer programmer living in Kennesaw. He shares my interest in ghosts and cryptozoology stories.
Your discussion titled “The Sex and the Spirits: Ghost Porn” sounds like it's gonna to be a memorable one as well. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind that one?
Sure... [he says with a laugh]: Well, I've been doing these investigations into ghosts, haunted houses, and ghost photographs for almost 15 years now, and over the years I've seen it all: "orbs" (white spots caused by camera flashes) as ghosts, faked ghost photos, all that sort of thing. But one day a few years ago I was sent an anonymous photo asking about a ghost-like spectre in what I will delicately describe as an "intimate photo" between a guy and his girlfriend. They didn't necessarily think it was a ghost, but they'd seen many ghost photos that looked identical, and they wondered about it. So I began researching and collecting examples of ghost porn — strange and unusual ghostly images in sex photos. So if anyone ever finds porn on my computer I can honestly say it's for important research.
Why do you devote so much of your social and professional identity to pursuing the truth or exposing the falsehoods surrounding supernatural claims, urban legends et al.?
I chose this (admittedly unusual) line of work because it helps to satisfy my curiosity about the world. I'm endlessly fascinated by everything around me, why things are the way they are, how things work, why people believe things. Some people may think that looking into topics like ghosts or UFOs or Bigfoot or miracles or crop circles is a waste of time, but I disagree. If these things are real, then we should try to understand them. But if they aren't real then the alternate is equally interesting: why are people reporting and experiencing things that don't seem to exist, or whose existence or nature hasn't been proven? My goal is to try to understand things, try to figure out what someone experienced or photographed. If the answer is that it's a ghost, or a miracle, then that's great; I'm not out to debunk or disprove anything, but instead to explain it. If explaining it means disproving it, then exposing the fact that it wasn't real to begin with is a public service because we can focus on the cases with better evidence. And don't forget, whether you or I believe in these things, many other people do: polls show that significant numbers of Americans believe in ESP, angels, ghosts, and so on. So they should be taken seriously, and investigated with science and critical thinking.
In all of your investigations has there been a case involving the supernatural, in any respect (ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, miracles, crop circles, et al.) that you couldn't explain, or at least that you couldn't walk away from with a sense of neutrality?
I do get asked that question fairly often: Have I encountered things I couldn't explain? It's sort of a tricky answer; there are many cases in which there simply isn't enough information to answer a question (or find a solution) one way or the other, so in those cases, they remain unsolved. But those are usually the cases that are very poor to begin with; for example if someone comes up to me and says, "When I lived in Dallas in 1994, my girlfriend and I heard mysterious ghostly footsteps upstairs when no one was there; can you explain that?" Then of course my answer is no—I can't explain that or solve that mystery. I wasn't there, I have no photos or video to work from, all I have is one person's vague account of something that he says occurred 18 years ago. There are many cases like that, where a mystery remains unsolved because there's nothing to investigate. That doesn't mean there's anything mysterious or paranormal about them, it just means there's not enough information to work with. However in other cases, there's a positive correlation between the amount of credible, investigatable evidence and solving the mystery. The more good information you have, the more likely a mystery is to be solved. So far, I've solved cases with enough information—though I could be stumped on my next investigation!
Radford's Dragon*Con schedule:
Scientific Investigation Workshop. Thurs., Aug. 30. 7 p.m. Hilton 309, 310.
Skeptrack Kick Off 2012. Fri., Aug. 31. 10 a.m. Hilton 205, 206, 207.
Sex and the Spirits: Ghost Porn. Fri., Aug. 31. 8:30 p.m. Hilton 207, 206, 205.
Monster Talk LIVE! Sat., Sept. 1. 5:30 p.m. Hilton 207, 206, 205.
Scientific Investigation Workshop. Sun., Sept. 2. 10 a.m. Hilton 309, 310.
Mass Hysteria: Madness, Myths, and Truths. Sun., Sept. 2. 2:30 p.m. Hilton 207, 206, 205.
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