IO9 has a great interview with, Paranormal investigator and cryptozoologist , Joe Nickell (picture here is mine, not theirs). Please do not allow words such as, Paranormal investigator, fool you, for while indeed many practitioners of woo claim such titles, Joe is 100% solid skeptic. When I saw him myself a few weeks ago, he explained that he once worked for a well-known detective agency, but since he is not permitted to utilize their name for publicity purposes, lets just say that their name starts with ‘P’ and they went after Jessy James. The point is this, he now applies the rigor you would use at a crime scene to paranormal and monster claims. In other words he is on a quest for the truth, and is not after evidence to prove his specific beliefs.
Paranormal investigator and cryptozoologist Joe Nickell has spent 40 years doing fieldwork and research, digging for the truth behind bizarre phenomena like weeping statues and haunted houses. He invited us to his office to talk about the connections between Bigfoot and alien mythology, life as the token skeptic on TV, and why debunkers are just as bad as mystery mongers.
Joe Nickell is perhaps the world’s only full-time salaried paranormal investigator. “I’m terrible at catching ghosts,” he told me with a wry smile. “I have a pitiful record when it comes to catching extraterrestrials.” His jovial manner belies the stereotype of the dour skeptic, and he delights in showing off his collection of curios and oddities gathered in the course of his work as senior research fellow for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and author of the “Investigative Files” column for Skeptical Inquirer.
It then carries on and goes into the details of the investigations he has done into stuff such as Bigfoot and other famous claims, and also discusses the equipment he uses … it really is worth reading. Yea OK, I’m a fan, but it is still a great article and takes no left-hand turns into the twilight zone of media stupidity.
There are also some great quotes from him that I love (yes, I’m still doing the fanboy thing here)…
- “We should look for the truth because the truth matters,”
- “I have a pitiful record when it comes to catching extraterrestrials.”
- “I’ve spoken to people who saw what they thought was a lake monster, got closer and discovered it was actually a line of otters. That really happens.”
- “I’ve found that I have more in common with the cryptozoologists out there in the woods than with the armchair skeptics.”
- A TV producer is also quoted as saying, “When I asked the MonsterQuest production head if I could use Joe Nickell in this episode, he said, ‘Sure, but hopefully he won’t be too convincing this time.'”
- He chides skeptics who are dismissive or even derogatory toward eyewitnesses. “I’ve spoken with many witnesses, and they are sane, intelligent, sober, honest people who have seen something that, yes maybe they’ve mistaken for something else, but even skeptics have been mistaken.” (Nickell reserved no such respect for frauds and hoaxers, however).
Now that last point is a very important key. They do not go into this in too much detail, but knowing Joe, I feel it is important to say it. He does not charge in with a “what a lot of bollocks” attitude, but instead brings a truly open mind and a quest for the truth, not his specific beliefs. He also treats people with considerable respect, and never talks down or belittle silly claims, but instead carefully listens to what they say and then embarks upon a quest for the truth. Most eye-witnesses are indeed just honest folks who have simply made a mistake and are not fraudsters or scam artists out for a quick buck. Those are also out there as well, and when faced with such, he will not pause, but will indeed expose them.
Also, one other key point that the article does make quite well is a message we should all drum home – we know it is true, but we really do need to get this message out …
“Don’t get your science from crappy TV shows,” Nickell said. “If someone has convincing findings, it will appear in one of the science journals. These paranormal shows are as real as wrestling.”
Yes OK, he takes part in those shows and they greatly frustrate him by quote-mining the heck out of what he does, but still, having a skeptic in place is better than a stream of pure woo.
Incidentally, they do not mention this at all, but he is also great at magic. Pass him your card and you will soon be amazed to watch as it vanishes and then re-appears before your very eyes. This skill grants him a distinct advantage, because he knows how such illusions are done, he understands how easy it is to be both fooled by others and to also fool ourselves.