Book Review: Abominable Science

abominable scienceAbominable Science! authored by Daniel Loxton and Donald Prothero is one of those books that comes along and makes the world a better place. A rare treat that you didn’t know you needed until you had it in your hands.

The combination of good research, good references and an honest, open-minded yet critical outlook turns Abominable Science! into a must-have for anybody with a passing interest in monsters and strange creatures.  Continue reading

The Demonic Humanists and the Insecure Christians

In December the British Government blocked the legal recognition of humanist marriages because it was seen as a ‘fringe’ issue.  Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association called this decision an insult, pointing out that ‘under this government, Scientologists have been added to the list of religions that can perform legal marriages, joining Spiritualists, the Aetherius Society (which believes in aliens and that the Earth is a goddess), and dozens of other religions. To describe the legal recognition of humanist marriages as a “fringe” issue insults the many couples – much larger in number than these many small religious groups – whose planned marriages next year will not be able to go ahead if Number 10 blocks this change.’ Continue reading

Is This The Beast Of Bodmin?

According to ITV West Country, Henry Warren was taking photos of Bodmin Moor when this “mystery creature” pictured above jumped out in front of him and ran off. Could it be the legendary Beast of Bodmin? Probably not.  Continue reading

Can prayer cure illness?

 

In the studio pre-broadcast
In the studio pre-broadcast

If you happen to watch BBC1’s The Big Questions on a Sunday morning then you might have spotted me among the guests this morning. I was invited onto the show to debate the question ‘Can prayer cure illness?’ because of my involvement in the ASA complaint against Healing on the Streets in Bath. I was joined in the ‘no’ camp by Kevin Friery of Hampshire Skeptics, and I owe him huge thanks for helping calm my nerves about my first live TV experience. I also think he deserves credit for the comment he made about praying for traffic lights to stay green! Continue reading

The Animal Panel at QED

It has recently been announced that I am going to be speaking on ‘The Animal Panel’ at the QED Conference in March 2012. This is the second QED conference and will be the second time I’ve spoken on a panel for them and I’m very excited to be doing so. I will be speaking alongside Deborah Hyde and Joe Nickell (who both have a lot more experience than I do).I am quite a new comer when it comes to researching monsters (in any form). I’ve had my fair share of experiences researching the ‘beasts’ that are said to roam the English countryside and have an obsessive knowledge of all big cat sightings in the South of England because of the fear I developed after a big cat scare in the village I grew up in.

‘The Hilperton cat’ that started it all off

I was so petrified of the idea that a big cat could be in the village of Hilperton that I lived in until the age of eighteen that I would regularly have nightmares about it (and I still do). My fear is mainly because I had two ‘cat’ experiences of my own at the age of seven that I rarely tell anyone outside of my family about. Maybe I shall share them with the panel? They still make me shudder to this very day.

When I first started learning about the rational causes for these reports and experiences it was people like Joe Nickell who inspired me to stop hiding under my duvet, and to go looking for the facts. Once you start rummaging it can be very hard to stop. Yet I also know just how real these scary experiences can seem because of my own scary experiences.

Monsters, they might not always be real, but they’re still scary. I am truly excited to be speaking as part of the Cryptozoology panel, you can find more details here on the QED website. 

That lion

a screen capture of the tweet about the lion

Tweets spread quickly today after nationalrainenq, the twitter account of ‘National Rail’, tweeted ‘Passengers are currently unable to alight from trains at Shepley due to reports by police of a lion in the area.’ It was then tweeted that the police had given the all clear and that passengers were allowed to leave the train as usual, and this evening an article appeared on The Guardian site entitled ‘Train affected by lion ‘sighting’. It stated:

Inspector Carlton Young, of West Yorkshire Police, said: “We’ve had unconfirmed reports of a lion or a lion cub in the area. We’ve had officers looking around. At the moment we’ve had nothing confirmed and we’ve not located anyone who is claiming to have lost an animal.”

Officers believe the woman – who claimed to have seen a lion on Penistone Road, Shepley – was a genuine caller. Around 12 officers were dispatched to look for a lion along with a police helicopter.

Insp Young added that the search would be resumed on Monday if there were any more reports.

It’s not unusual for people to think they’ve seen something that looks like a big cat. It happens quite often and I have blogged before about my research into a case of such a thing happening in Wiltshire recently.

Often the reports of big cats are misidentifications of other animals as big cats, such as large dogs or actual domestic cats (which was the case with the big cat spotted in the village I grew up in. A photo taken of a cat in a field that was reported to be a panther was actually a domestic cat), or sometimes the cats can be actual big cats that may have escaped or been illegally released from a private collection.

The interesting thing that happens once these cases hit the newspapers though is a sort of echo effect that sees people interpret something they see as a big cat when they normally wouldn’t have done. The recent case of ‘The beast of Trowbridge was a great example of this.

I myself fell victim to the echo effect created by the reporting of The Beast of Trowbridge after seeing a black animal running along the canal near my home, I remember being so shocked I couldn’t move as I thought ‘oh my god! I’ve seen the cat!‘. A few seconds passed and the ‘cat’ came back into my view and I realised it was actually a black whippet off of its lead. I haven’t ever been as scared as I was in those few moments. Had I not stuck around to see it again and recognise it as a whippet I would probably still believe I had seen a panther yards from my home.

I am not denying that there are big cats in the wilds of England, in fact it’s very likely that there are, however there is also no denying that the way that cat sightings are reported in the media has a lot to do with the amount of cat sightings that are reported. Not only that, but I can remember a ten year old Hayley Stevens being terrified of going outside after it was reported in the local paper that a panther had been captured on camera in the village she grew up in…

p.s. don’t panic. IF a big cat is out there, they’re usually quite elusive creatures that wont bother you unless you bother them or make them feel threatened. Big cats also have large territories, so several sightings could actually be just one cat rather than loads.