Showing posts with label skepticism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label skepticism. Show all posts

Friday, March 2, 2012

Skeptic Assumes Too Much in Cryptomundo Attack

Full Disclosure: Bigfoot Lunch Club is a contributor to Cryptomundo and we have the highest regard for skeptics. Skepticism, in our mind, requires discipline and rigor. We even have a few favorite skeptics we follow, Sharon Hill of Doubtful News and Brian Dunning of These are two skeptics that are very good at articulating arguments and they do their research. 

Then there are those who don't do their homework. This brings me to Myron Getman of The Mad Skeptic and Bobby Nelson from The Bent Spoon Magazine. Recently, Myron created a truly funny post that could have been respected as satire, had it not ventured into unfounded assumptions. The gist of Myron's argument is, "...Coleman and Craig Woolheater's favorite tactics to generate traffic -- SEO tactics and, more specifically, the use of keywords." Myron bases this assumption on his previous experience as an SEO writer. 

To be fair, Bobby only accuses of Loren Coleman using a "Cheap Attempt to get Hits on 9/11" and that Coleman shamelessly plugs his book.
Speaking of shameless plugs, visit our post on Cliff's Barackman's 10 essentials of Bigfooting to get a Coupon for your REI purchases. REI, Gear up for the great outdoors ™
We know that there has already been an exchange between Myron, Bobby and Loren, but when we read Myron's post today we couldn't help but offer our opinion. 

Although this may seem like a Valentine to Cryptomundo, I am hoping I can make reasoned arguments that:
  1. Cryptomundo does not need gimmicks like bikini clad women and high-profile keywords to get traffic.
  2. The "tactics" Myron accuses Cryptomundo of using to drive traffic don't work and he may not have a current understanding of how SEO works. (Keywords don't work
  3. If the first 2 arguments have merit, then there is another valid possibility for why Cryptomundo uses topical subjects and keywords. Occams Razor: They are being topical. Why the bikinis? Loren Coleman likes women. 

ARGUMENT 1. Cryptomundo does not need gimmicks, Below is a graph from The lower your rank number the higher your ranking (#1 is the highest ranking). Cryptomundo is ranked 100,461 out of approx. 16 Million websites. It is ranked in the very top percentile of all the websites Alexa tracks. It beats about 15.8 Million other websites. If you want to verify Cryptomundo's high traffic you can click on these other reputable ranking/traffic websites (these links will take you directly to Cryptomundo's stats), and
Traffic rank for
Traffic RankChange
1 month90,539-14,641
3 month100,461-35,643

ARGUMENT 2 The "tactics" Myron accuses Cryptomundo of using, don't work. Cryptomundo has many organic (non-manufactured) reasons why they already rank high on search engines and get plenty of traffic. These reasons are far more effective than keywords. 
One of the strongest reasons is they have over 34,000 websites that link to them, we call them backlinks; very valuable for SEO. The next biggest crypto-site only has 8000 backlinks. Cryptomundo also has a high rate of loyal returning visitors. Bikinis and high-profile keyphrases can't buy that kind of SEO gold.

If the SEO tactics Myron mentioned worked,  his post would have ranked pretty high yesterday. TheMadSkeptic didn't show up on the first 120 results for either Andrew Breitbart or Davy Jones. You could argue that if you searched for both of those together you would find his post, but according to our research, almost nobody searched for those two names together. There is the possibility he did get a lot of traffic to that post, which would have less to do with keywords and more to do with the clever lampoon.

Finally, below is the third-party report for Myron's meta tags. Meta tags are called in-page SEO. It is the first place you start when optimizing for search engines. They are not terrible, but do not rate as well as you would expect from someone who had a working knowledge of SEO or keywords.

Meta tags report for:
meta taglengthvalue
Title: 36Andrew Breitbart Davy Jones Bigfoot!
Description: 77Writings on skeptical, scientific, computer, and other topics by a scientist.
Keywords: 199skepticism, skeptic, science, education, woo, myron getman, baron_army, asbestos, bigfoot, linux, opinion, critical thinking, analysis, blog, health, new york, new york state, albany, ubuntu, xubuntu

Meta tags analysis.
Title:Title contains no errors.
This tag contains 36 characters.

Description:Description meta tag relevancy to page content is fair.
The Description meta tag relevancy to page content is 45%.

Keywords:Keywords meta tag contains too many keywords.
This tag contains 23 keywords. This is too many for what we would consider a 'robot friendly' keywords tag. The maximum number of keywords we recommend for this tag is 20.

Finally the third argument is dependent on the first two. The accusation that Cryptomundo is using keywords and other SEO as cheap tactics to drive traffic is not the simplest possible answer. Cryptomundo already gets plenty of traffic through more effective channels and topical keywords are simply just that, topical.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Is Ranae just a token skeptic? What it means to be truly skeptical about Finding Bigfoot

Ranae Holland keeping the rest of her cast members from Finding Bigfoot at bay (Photo: Neo Edwards)
Hello from your friendly neighborhood skeptic. Guy asked me to contribute my thoughts about portraying skepticism on TV, specifically about Ranae Holland's role on Finding Bigfoot. While here, I thought I might shoe-horn in some comments about the myth and reality of skepticism, sort of as an outreach activity to help understand this point of view that some find, well, irritating.

There is quite a bit of common ground that Bigfoot skeptics and believers leap over in order to get to the arguing phase. That’s a mistake. It sure would be more productive if we could start from an agreed upon place and move forward, not push against each other. Perhaps then we can actually make some progress in coming to terms with one of America’s most fascinating mysteries. So, indulge me while I explain how the critical eye views Finding Bigfoot and why it’s important to be skeptical, that is, if you want to get closer to the truth.

The Mythical Iconic Skeptic

The myth of the cynical, debunking skeptic is as pervasive and ingrained in our modern culture as the myth of the hairy wildman. Both Bigfoot and “the skeptic” are iconic in their own ways.

The idea of a skeptic in society is that of the doubter, the nonbeliever, the cynic or the debunker. I’m going to describe a skeptic in terms of scientific skepticism - that which is attempted by the community of critical thinkers led by the likes of James Randi, Ben Radford, Michael Shermer and Joe Nickell, among others.

My skepticism is an application of a method meant to sort out the likely true from the likely false. To do this, one looks at the evidence obtained in a valid, reliable, hopefully reproducible, objective way. Skepticism is about not being easily swayed by what people just tell you, what you wish were true, or what the rest of the crowd believes. Those means are weak to no support for a claim. Instead, I use established knowledge about the subject, typically from the literature of science (as opposed to religion, for example, because science is the most reliable means we know of to find out about nature). From this careful evaluation of the evidence, we can get to an answer that fits best. Or, if there is not enough worthwhile evidence, the conclusion is left open.

“Skeptic” is so often overused and misused:

The person on a forum that immediately defaults to “It’s a hoax” is not a skeptic.

The person in your family who says, “Aaah, you just saw a bear crossing the road” is not a skeptic.

The person at your workplace who says, “What silly nonsense!” is not a skeptic.

The person who says, “Hmm, what's the evidence you have for that?” is probably a fair skeptic.

Is Ranae a true skeptic?

So, is Ranae Holland a true skeptic (in the specific, critical thinking sense I laid out above)? Or, is she just the token “skeptic” thrown in there for false balance? Here are aspects to consider when evaluating just how credible you can look as a skeptic on TV.

Ranae has some scientific training - a huge plus! Science is WAY more than the cookbook, generalized “scientific method” that many investigation groups say they use. It’s an entire process of collecting the information and synthesizing it into reliable knowledge. It’s not done by one person; it’s a community effort. There are rules and protocols. It’s REALLY HARD and takes A LONG TIME. That’s why we respect it so much. I think she understands that. I would argue the rest of the BRFO does not and there is no way I would consider what BRFO does to be scientific. I think they misuse the term to mean “careful” and “systematic” but, for many reasons, they fail at achieving the high bar of “scientific”. I see Ranae's mind working, trying to run through possibilities. Unfortunately, she is not able to really act on those questions, as I'll mention further along.

Second, look at the framework in which Ranae is working. The premise of Finding Bigfoot hits you in the face – they are out to find evidence of a creature they presume already exists. This is the major flaw of the show and is what infuriates me about paranormal research in general: It’s a show about Finding Bigfoot, not finding whatever the right answer is. Because of that, Ranae is hamstrung. Any skepticism is impotent. It’s not about getting to the best answer for what people experienced, it’s about contriving evidence to support the idea of Bigfoot. When the answer precludes what the evidence says it's a sham investigation.

She is surrounded by others that truly believe. Every sound and knock and shadow is a Bigfoot to people like Matt who are so invested in this belief that it will NOT be relinquished. Ranae is put out in the dark woods with a suggestion that a Sasquatch is watching – a situation that would turn anyone hypervigilant and edgy. Viewers are rooting for the team to find the thing. She has little chance to put on a defense argument and is overwhelmed.

Incredible leaps of logic are made on the show. The men on the team have a model of what Bigfoot is, how it acts and what it’s doing next Saturday night when the moon is full… OK, I exaggerate, but not by much. They have had experiences that they have resolved in terms of encountering Bigfoot. Everything they subjectively judge as an anomaly is attributed to a Squatch. So, Ranae, who was quite familiar with the idea of Bigfoot beforehand, has this feedback loop drawing her into this view as well. This may be part of the editing of the show or it may be genuine, I can’t really tell from just what airs.

When even the pro-Bigfoot cast members complain about the editing of the show, one has to suspect there is a goal to be achieved here which is out of their control.

Being the skeptic on TV is tough. To truly fulfill this role, you must present your side to the others. You can't just make stuff up out of whole cloth (like much of what is presented on Finding Bigfoot). Yet, no one on a TV show is going to be allowed to present literature reviews and experimental results. You don’t have the opportunity to carefully and exhaustively question all witnesses and recreate their encounters. All the background science, necessary to bolster your position, is NOT exciting. It’s not good entertainment. Yelling “What was THAT?” and running away, presumably for self-preservation, is way more dramatic. Therefore, that’s what you see portrayed. Disadvantage: Ranae, the skeptic scientist.

Being the skeptic is hard

While it’s nice that this skeptical portrayal is not a curmudgeonly guy, as is the image the public typically conjures up, Ranae doesn’t want to be one who busts the balloon. I like Ranae. She is likeable, smart and personable. Plus, she looks like she is enjoying this job. I’m sympathetic towards her because I have ALWAYS been easily swayed by others around me, conforming to their views. If one is naturally not inclined to have a critical eye it takes a LOT of practice to learn new habits of careful observation and questioning.

Ranae drops the ball by failing to ask probing questions and digging deep; she appears to have fallen into step with Team Squatch. Except for the occasional eye roll and comment, she goes along with the ridiculous, illogical antics on the show. Once again, this may not be her fault, I don't know.

A true scientific skeptic on the show would make the others look utterly foolish. That’s obviously not what the producers want. The purpose of Finding Bigfoot (for entertainment) would be compromised were someone to scrutinize everything carefully and consider all possibilities. Besides, time schedules simply don’t permit it. That’s one reason why science is incredibly challenging to portray on TV.

In this article, Ranae notes her reservations about being on the show. Oh, have I heard this before, including in my own head! We know what a warping of reality TV can achieve and if given the chance, we are confronted with uneasiness about editors and non-disclosure agreements.

Skeptics outnumbered, unwanted

Should there be a real skeptic on the show? I’m not sure it’s truly possible in this case but it could be done better. A stronger skeptical voice would add more tension. But, unless the majority of the people on the show are skeptical, you will never get closer to the truth, but continue to just run round the woods scaring yourself. Ranae is outnumbered and a victim of contrived reality drama. I would have liked to see a more determined skeptic but the essence of this show did not provide a role for such a person except as a contrast to the others. Since they are so utterly invested in their view, it does not take much for the skeptic to appear contrary. I've heard some commentators remark she takes it too far. Skeptically minded people would say she does not take it nearly far enough.

Here is also a place where Ranae succeeds: she can empathize. This is a somewhat rare and occasionally dangerous skeptical trait. I don’t discount the stories people relate because I appreciate how very powerful personal experiences can be. If I were to have an experience with an unknown entity and not be able to figure out what happened, I would be strongly influenced by it as well. Ranae looks influenced. She is being drawn in; her critical faculties suppressed by those around her. Bigfoot has become the default explanation.

Ideally, a skeptic is dispassionate about the ultimate cause, wanting only to arrive at the answer no matter what it is. What a hard thing to manage, especially when you are attempting to be truthful and thorough only to have your days worth of work chopped up and jammed into a 40-some minute slot of entertainment. That's television for ya!

Whether there is a strong skeptical viewpoint portrayed on the show or not, EVERYONE should be critical of what's portrayed on TV. Programs are constructed, contrived, biased and wrapped up in a package to be fed to the masses. Understand that and train your brain to be more critical to wade through the hype.

Be your own skeptic. All the time. That is, if you want the answer instead of just reinforcement for your existing belief.

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