This Article was found on the "UFO Digest" website and was originally posted on the Buffalo University site.
Making ghosts of mysteries
ELI GEORGE - Staff Writer
Just as its name proclaims, the Center for Inquiry is a place for rationality and critical questions. That rationality was put to the test Friday when seemingly radical theories on the paranormal became the center's focus, at least for one evening.
For a lecture titled "Applying Science to the Paranormal," writer and investigator Ben Radford brought his critical attitude to psychics, Bigfoot, and a Lancaster home that was reported to be haunted.
Radford works for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and has been in the paranormal business for 10 years, during eight of which he operated in Buffalo.
Though the presentation may have sounded like it was meant to utilize science in paranormal research, it was really just the opposite: using science to undercut the unfounded and irrational beliefs of certain myths. Radford himself even displayed this idea with the pin on his shirt, reading "The Real Ghostbusters."
At the very start Radford said, "The theme tonight is evidence and the illusion of evidence."
Radford went on to explain that evidence is something tangible and scientific, something that can be measured and explained.
For an example of the illusion of evidence, he started with his mother's idea that deaths come in threes. After Princess Diana and Mother Theresa died, she wondered who would be next. This notion, though, is ridiculous, Radford said, because anyone could be the third to which his mother responded that it had to be someone well known and beloved. He noted that Jimmy Stewart had died a few weeks prior to Mother Theresa.
If the criteria are not predefined, it is not really evidence. Why not make it deaths come in four, ten and twenties?
After getting his main point across, Radford began with psychics, naming names like Sylvia Brown of the "Montel" show as examples of famous clairvoyants he feels are deceptive. He said that psychics' contradictory and vague feelings are not information.
"What's amazing is how consistently they're wrong," Radford said.
Using examples from missing person's cases, such as Elizabeth Smart and Chandra Levy, Radford explained how thousands of psychics offered their help. However, none of them were right, and he feels they waste police resources by having them follow unreliable and unhelpful leads.
"If people (psychics) truly know where people are, why haven't we found Osama Bin Laden?" said Radford.
The next target for Radford's objective and critical approach was Bigfoot. He had molds of footprints and lots of popular pictures, such as the Bigfoot who sells Spam, as examples of how the legend exists in the media and in peoples' minds. Radford then took the time to go through all of the well-known eyewitness testimonials and the few pictures and tangible evidence that exist.
Many were proved at some point or another to be a hoax, but most are at the very least highly suspect. His biggest point of proof was that there has never been any Bigfoot hair, bones, teeth, blood or bodies found, ever. No Bigfoot has ever been hit by a car, no body found in the woods or a river, and nobody has accidentally shot one either.
"There is no lack of evidence, just a lack of good evidence," Radford said.
Last, he talked about a haunted house in Lancaster he investigated in 2003. Radford received a call from the residence of the home and he drove out there to decipher the meanings behind their evidence. They had weird creaking footsteps, strange voices, weird photographs, and the husband of the household thought the ghost had kicked his bed.
Radford went through their home and discovered that they just had a very squeaky staircase, the wind carried voices in from the street, and that the photographs were merely tricks of the light.
As for the kicking, it was due to one of the living resident's sleep apnea and a very light bed frame holding that large man. Radford's rationalized theory said that movement from the resident's body could cause the frame to move.
"I went through it one by one with them. In each case, there was a logical explanation for it. The devil is in the details with these sorts of mysteries," Radford said.
Another mystery debunked.
Robert Matecki, 48, works in the mental health profession in Buffalo. Though he enjoyed the lecture he said, "I was expecting more case studies."
Ben Marsh, a sophomore physics major said he also hoped for a bit more, particularly stuff that would give him reason to believe in paranormal mysteries.
"I thought he was a great lecturer," Marsh said. "I was a little disappointed. He only made me non-believe more."