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BOA : Audio


Sharon Hill

(2 Hours, 34 Minutes)

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(Full Show MP3 : 2 Hours, 34 Minutes)
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(MP3 A : 80 minutes)
(MP3 B : 74 minutes)


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BoA:Audio ventures into the realm of the skeptics as we welcome Sharon Hill, creator and editor of Doubtful News, for a discussion on skepticism, the paranormal, and that sliver of intellectual landscape that may be able to harbor both worlds. Over the course of the conversation, we will talk about the nature of skepticism, the long running 'feud' between skeptics and paranormal enthusiasts, the need to build a bridge between the two camps, squabbles within the skeptic community over religion and other topics, how the paranormal misuses 'science' in an ill-informed way, and Sharon's thoughts on ghost hunting, cryptozoology, ufology, and conspiracy theories. Plus, of course, much, much more.

It is a spirited but respectful discussion about the skeptical perspective and how it is both strikingly similar as well as vastly different from paranormal research with an honest advocate for solving paranormal mysteries, Sharon Hill.

Full Preview: We kick things with the standard bio / background on Sharon Hill and learn about how she evolved from a paranormal fan with an interest in science into a skeptic. She recalls one specific aspect of the paranormal which she found particularly frustrating. We then discuss the kerfluffle over BoA:Audio's Year in Review episode which spawned the conversation. Sharon uses this to detail the origin story for Doubtful News and how she aims to provide follow up conclusions to many of the paranormal stories that make news and the vanish. The details her work researching the 2012 Mokele Mbembe Kickstarter campaign.

This leads to some discussion on the nature of paranormal news and how they all seem to be a recurring theme of tales that do not actually solve the mystery and Sharon talks about how her perspective on the paranormal sets her apart from the more cynical skeptics who aim to debunk. We then pose the question to Sharon as to why it matters, to her, if someone believes in Bigfoot. We then talk about how the challenge of skepticism often revolves around having to disprove a negative. This segues into Sharon talking about medicinal hoaxes and why she finds them particularly galling.

Looking at the acrimonious relationship between science and the paranormal, Sharon talks about her extensive research into paranormal groups that claim to have a scientific bent. This, of course, leads to some discussion on ghost hunting groups and how they are heavily influenced by reality shows. We then discuss the need for a bridge between the scientific and paranormal communities if we are ever going to get any answers, which leads to Sharon talking about her experience at paranormal conferences. Next we examine the concept of how, in the past such as with geology, collective interests became sciences.

In light of the decades-long battle between the skeptical and paranormal communities, we consider the idea that perhaps both sides have been wrong in their approach to solving these mysteries. Sharon then responds to Binnall's yearning for the scientific community to take a fresh and open minded look at mysteries like UFOs and Bigfoot rather than relying on outdated dogma. This leads to some discussion on how skepticism and the paranormal involve a lot of arguments over semantics and often leads the conversation into areas which have nothing to do with the actual paranormal mystery being studied.

We then look at how much of the paranormal is contingent upon belief, which poses a challenge for skeptics. This leads to use talking about how the paranormal community feels marginalized and ridiculed by the mainstream while the skeptical community feels like the world is 'overrun' with positive paranormal messages. This segues into talk about how science still has not solved the 'big mysteries' of the paranormal, but that may be because, paradoxically, paranormal researchers have rebuffed science, perhaps because solving the mystery is seen as the ultimate prize at the end of the process.

Following that, Sharon shares insights into the skeptical community and illuminates some surprising similarities between skeptics and paranormal researchers. Sharon also tells us about what the skeptical community squabbles over, since they all seem to be in agreement that the paranormal is crap. Sharon details the skeptical community's debates over religion, accomodationism, which paranormal genres should be focused on, and generational as well as gender issues in the field. We also get Sharon's take on how the skeptical community would react if Bigfoot was proven to be real.

The conversation then returns to the need to find some common ground between the skeptical and paranormal community if we are actually ever going to find a solution to these mysteries. This leads to lamentation over how the skeptic v. paranormal feud often devolves into personal attacks and animosity. Sharon shares the story of how she reported on an alleged haunted house in New Jersey which devolved into a court case settled on People's Court. She also reveals how her reporting of the story led to an ugly skirmish with the paranormal group who investigated the haunted house.

Examining another big tentpole of the esoteric, we next tackle conspiracy theories and get Sharon's take on how the Manti Te'o story, of all things, provides some justification for the belief that crazy conspiracies do actually happen, even if they are not world-shattering plots. Sharon talks about some her issues with the way conspiracy theorists develop their ideas as well as how parapolitical perceptions of the government is paradoxical in the sense that it is viewed as both incompetent and all powerful. Sharon also puts forward her belief that the government cannot contain massive secrets like the JFK assassination and UFOs.

The discussion on the odd Manti Te'o story ends with us talking about how the media foists narratives on the public which are sometimes not true, which leads to us discussing how it seems to be human nature to believe that you are being told the truth and the difficulty in dealing with someone who you know is lying to you. This exchange about people lying leads to us talking about the difficulty in dealing with anecdotal evidence and how hard it is to really do anything with a wild paranormal story.

That exchange results in us talking about the ardent 'true believers' who will believe any wild story they here and how those folks are pretty much 'lost causes' when it comes to getting them to think critically about the paranormal. Sharon then posits a reverse scenario where it is fundamentally proven that the Loch Ness Monster is not real and asks how Binnall and the paranormal community would react. Sharon uses this scenario to detail 'special pleading' and 'supernatural creep' as ways that the paranormal community uses to justify their position. This devolves into some semantic splitting over 'supernatural' versus 'paranormal.'

In trying to find a source for paranormal phenomena, we find out what Sharon thinks of the idea that things like ghosts, Bigfoot, and UFOs are products of the mind. We then get 'meta' on the skeptic community and Sharon, specifically, in that she talks about how she dislikes the attitude, from some in the paranormal, that being a skeptic 'takes all the fun out of the paranormal.' From there, we talk about how Sharon finds the 'rampant speculation,' 'hype,' and 'unfounded assumption' of the paranormal community to be problematic while Binnall finds them wildly entertaining.

We stay beyond the 4th wall by pondering the state of cryptozoology and whether it is on the verge of being absorbed by mainstream science in the future. We then discuss whether it is the responsibility of the media or the consumer to determining the veracity of paranormal news. Sharon also responds to the idea that the paranormal media provides an important outlet for ideas that, otherwise, would not be given a fair platform by the mainstream media. Getting back to our discussion of conspiracy theories, Binnall puts forward the idea that the latest Sandy Hook conspiracy is just filling a void left behind by the stagnation of the 9/11 Truth Movement.

Heading towards the close, we discuss how both sides of the coin, paranormal and skeptic, have the tendency to revert to a 'you're stupid for not knowing this' attitude which impedes constructive exchanges. Sharon then talks about homeopathy and the dangers associated with 'cure all' formulas that do not work, which results in us talking about the nature of people doing dangerous or foolish things. Sharon uses this line of thought to decry the concept of 'Darwin Awards' and the idea that people doing stupid things 'deserve to die.'

Closing out the conversation, we reflect on how Doubtful News does a great job of clarifying paranormal news that otherwise get a free pass in some other quarters. Sharon reflects on her difficulty with the latest Bigfoot news, which continues to disappoint her, and Binnall clarifies what he believes constitutes a 'big' paranormal story. Closing out the conversation, we find out what's next for Sharon Hill and Doubtful News as well as the possibility of a book from Sharon in the future.

Sharon Hill Bio

Sharon Hill has been an active member of the skeptical community since 1993. In 2006, she began her blog "Doubtful" which covers topics relating to paranormal happenings, cryptozoology, anomalous natural phenomena, science & society and general skeptical goodness. Her day job is as a geologist and policy specialist. She has a Masters degree in education, specializing in Science and the Public. She runs the critical thinking newssite, Doubtfulnews.com and writes a web column for the Center for Skeptical Inquiry called Sounds Sciencey.

Her website is Doubtful News

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