From time to time, Bob and I buy and sometimes even read fringe publications. We use them to illustrate logical fallacies and (occasionally) sound critical thinking (no really, it happens occasionally). I was looking through some of the notes I’ve made on a couple of these publications and thought I might share them with you, gentle reader, lest you be tempted to pick up one of the magazines for your own reading pleasure.
Up first, TAPS paraMagazine (March/April 2010). Everyone’s favorite Ghost Hunters, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, are pictured next to the magazine’s name, but, aside from a paragraph or two on the “Founders” page (5), they seem to have little direct involvement in the magazine, although they, along with Steve Gonsalves, are listed as “senior staff.” Gonsalves is also listed as the Art Director.
(For a tl;dr capsule review, scroll to the end.)
So, okay, The Name: paraMagazine: who came up with that? Is it beyond a magazine? beside a magazine? I suspect they didn’t think that one through very carefully.
Overall, the magazine is rather self-serving and self-promoting: there are ads for TAPS-related events and products as well as stories (and a cartoon) that promote TAPS. Fair enough: TAPS is part of the title, after all. On Ghost Hunters, however, the members of TAPS argue that their method of investigation is scientific and even skeptical (wow, I can hear you cringing), so what else do they advertise in a magazine to which they attach their corporate name, individual names and likenesses? Well, on the inside cover, there is an advertisement for DVDs from Reality Films. Any conspiracy you can think of, Reality Films has a video about it: Lies & Deception: UFO’s [sic] & the Secret Agenda (What They Don’t Want You to Know); UFOs and Close Encounters (The Most Amazing Encounters of Alien Abductions, UFO Visitations and Government Cover Ups in History!); The Truth Injection (more new world order exposed; Swine Flu Conspiracy, New World Order, Totalitarianism, Financial meltdown, and more…); The Conspiracy to Rule the World: From 911 to the Illuminati; Angels, Demons & Freeemasons: The True Conspiracy (666, New World Order); Inside the Freemasons: The Grand Lodge Uncovered (Freemasons on Freemasons [is anyone else imagining the world's worst porn?]); Secret Societies and the Global Conspiracy: The Ultimate Conspiracy 3 DVD Set! (Discover the Secret Origins of the Knights Templar, Fremasonry, The Bilderbergers, Serpent Cults, the Illuminati and MORE!).
Not sure about conspiracies, but you’d like to cure all illness and live forever? Well, there’s an advertisement for Covenant of Silence: The Secret of Immortality Revealed by Nicholas D. Collette:
All throughout history, elite secret societies have guarded the knowledge of how to manufacture the true “Elixir of Life”, which restores youth, prolongs life, cures disease, and opens the gateway to extraordinary psychic power…. After 12 years of researching these texts and experimenting in the lab, correct methods have been discovered which don’t involve the use of corrosive chemicals or dangerous acids…. Experience the power of the true Elixir of Life for yourself, and open the gateway to the paranormal!
So it turns out alchemy is true. Yay. I suppose this is mostly silly, but it is also potentially dangerous as it claims the Elixir can cure illness (though it apparently can’t cure dangling modifiers).
Perhaps it’s not fair to judge the magazine by its advertisers. So, let us look at the magazine itself.
The magazine is edited by Scotty Roberts, and his “From the Editor” is the reader’s first introduction to the prose one can expect from this periodical. If Scotty Moore ever took a creative writing class, he should sue his teacher. Heck, he should sue all his English teachers:
The Mag you now hold in your hands is the product of an evolution. It started as a big dream of its founders and went on to reality, coursing it’s way through the Pillars of Hercules of the business and creative process–the good, bad and ugly (p. 4, emphasis added).
He goes on to say that their goal is to become “the finest paranormal magazine on the market,[sic] today.” They will accomplish this, in part, “[b]y offering a more journalistic approach.” You will note the apostrophe error I have bolded above, as well as the unnecessary comma. I feel a bit petty pointing these errors out, but the poor quality of the writing, punctuation and grammar are quite distracting. Glancing through my notes, I see that I have recorded at least 14 apostrophe errors. Every possible mistake you can make with apostrophe has been made: possessive “its” has been given an apostrophe; the contraction “it’s” lacks an apostrophe; non-possessive plurals have apostrophes; possessives lack them. Then there are the awkward attempts at rhetorical flourishes, as when Roberts imagines his magazine traveling through the Strait of Gibraltar for some reason.
One of the magazine’s more serious articles is called “The Resonance Factor: The Role of Vibration and Consciousness in The Infrastructure of Reality” by Larry Flaxman and Marie D. Jones. A better title might be, “She Blinded Me with SCHMIENCE!” To be honest, I’m not quite sure what the authors are trying to say. They are taking real science that I suspect that they don’t really understand and trying to apply it to everything: ghosts, UFOs, The Secret, Bigfoot–everything. And it all has to do with resonance and vibrations and sound. Somehow resonance connects “Let there be light” and the Big Bang theory:
The term resonance really is much more encompassing than one might initially realize…. Judeo-Christian tradition refers to the Word as the first utterance of the Creator, from which all of creation sprang forth. Science points to the Big Bang as the explosive moment of the birth of our universe. (p. 9)
See? The article starts vague, and uses many weasel words and the weaselly passive: “some believe,” “is generally believed,” “studies have shown,” “may indeed be,” “may also work,” “research has shown.” You get the idea. Eventually, they discuss some real scholarly-sounding articles, but I’m not sure the quotes, which are probably taken out of context, actually have anything to do with what the authors of this article are saying. One of the experts they cite is Amit Goswami, who appeared in the film What the Bleep Do We Know!? In general, the article doesn’t make much sense; it is hard to understand, but it sounds all sciencey. Since most normal people can’t understand scholarly scientific articles (I include myself), the fact that it doesn’t make sense may actually lend it credibility to some readers (I do not include myself): they expect science to not make sense, so stuff that doesn’t make sense must be science.
An article about orbs (16-17) starts out more promisingly. For starters, the author, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, is actually a professional writer. The content of her works may be questionable, but she is a more competent writer than some of the other contributors. Secondly, she briefly gives rational explanations for the appearance of most orbs; however, eventually she says, “even the hardest skeptics acknowledge that at least a tiny percentage of orb photos cannot be explained” (17). I suppose this is technically true, but the implication seems to be that if these orbs haven’t been explained they are therefore inexplicable. Of course, this is not true: while we may not have sufficient information to formulate a firm explanation, we don’t have to assume that the explanation must therefore be ghosts or aliens or quantum energy farts. Naturally, Guiley isn’t content to say, “huh, we don’t know what that is. The video just isn’t clear enough.” No, she, citing Miceal Ledwith and Klaus Heinemann, authors of The Orb Project, suggests they might be “images of spirit manifestations, or emanations of spirits” (17). She also cites physicist William A. Tiller, another alumnus of What the Bleep, who suggests that orbs may indicate an “unfolding of ‘communications manifestation,'” whatever that may mean. In the end, Guiley concludes that “Orbs should not be dismissed outright. There may be much more behind them than we realize.” Or, you know, maybe there isn’t.
Stay tuned for “Review of TAPS paraMagazine, Part the Second,” in which we will encounter a new Jack the Ripper, who eviscerates the English language and dumps her entrails over her shoulder. We will also discover how a Ph.D. in medieval English literature makes one a qualified paranormal researcher.
tl;dr capsule review: One of the cats barfed on the magazine. A harsh assessment, but fair.
ES, with assistance from Mina the Cat (pictured below)