Saturday, January 23, 2010

Monster Talk

My current work allows/demands me to listen to audio while I do other things. As a result, I've been consuming a lot of podcasts and audiobooks as of late, many associated with topics relevant to this blog. So expect more discussion of them here.

First up, a fun and informative new discovery I made last week, Monster Talk. It's the podcast affiliated with the site Monster Science. It's a skeptical podcast, now affiliated with Skeptic Magazine, about cryptozoology. I mention this to warn some of the people who have read this blog in the past. More importantly, I am someone who would be placed by most people into the skeptic box, but yet who usually doesn't like to read material specifically generated with that label in mind. And I can say that the sins (some folks in this little sub-subculture of paranormal culture can get overly pompous or derisive, and at times can be not much better than their targets when it comes to ignoring data) that drive people away from a lot of Skeptical writing are rare on Monster Talk.

I get the distinct feeling that this podcast was designed to counter History Channel's MonsterQuest. In addition to tv sound bites from earlier woo-docs of television past (I don't care what you say, but Leonard Nimoy's hosting/narration of In Search Of ... was awesome), the show is name dropped from time to time, and one of the hosts (Ben Radford) and several of the guests have participated in the show. Given the popularity of MonsterQuest, I'm not surprised, and I think this isn't a bad idea.

The real key to Monster Talk being good stuff is that more often than not, it gets good scientist or scholar guests, lets them talk with fairly good direction of the interview, and doesn't ask that the material be dumbed down. You learn about cryptozoological claims and their standing, but you learn more about the methods of biological science, fascinating ancient or modern creatures, the geology of fossils, the history of evolutionary thought, and other technical or weighty topics wrapped in a fun package. When the show delves into history or cultural examination of these topics, it isn't quite as good as it is with the physical sciences of biology or paleontology, but then my background is in anthropology, so that may be my bias/expectations showing.

I haven't listened to all the shows yet, but I would particularly recommend the following episodes

- July 2, 2009: Bigfoot DNA. Interview with Professor Todd Disotell of New York University, who has analyzed a number of alleged "mystery hairy hominid blood" and hair samples. This is exactly what most people who are interested in "monsters" in a scientific sense should be interested in, regardless of whether they like the results or not.

- August 31, 2009: The Plesiosaur Hypothesis. Discussion of all things plesiosaur, and the relationship between lake monster claims and the history of paleontology, with Dr. Adam Stuart Smith of the National Museum of Ireland. Unless you are a real aficionado of this branch of paleontology, I guarantee you will enjoy learning things about these creatures that you did not previously know.

- October 28, 2009: Darwin vs. the Wolfman. Dr. Brian Regal of Kean University discusses his observations on the effects of the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection on myth, folklore, and what would become cryptozoology. I don't entirely agree with his hypothesis, but I think much of it is correct and provides some important insights into the Victorian and 20th century ideas of monsters and science.

Go check out these and the other episodes.

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