Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

excreta bovae cerebro mystificum

P+T modelling the exclusive CFZ range of menswear.....

As regular readers will know, last November, Gothboy and I spent several days at Loch Ness filming a segment for Penn and Teller's Bullshit - a US TV show whose remit is: "to expose ideas they believe to be unscientific or pseudoscientific through critical thinking and scientific skepticism, and to expose promoters of such things—especially those with ulterior motives (primarily financial exploitation)".

The show aired on US TV a couple of nights ago, and through the medium of Internet Piracy, we saw it today on Olly's laptop. Loren Coleman had reviewed it on cryptomundo and been generally scathing about it. Having read what he had to say, I was somewhat nervous, but having seen the programme, I feel that I can now comment.

First of all, I have to admit that I thought it was quite funny. OK, we were quoted out of context, and not given space to argue our point of view. (Actually, all that stuff was filmed, but P+T in their ultimate wisdom, decided not to use it). All the reasons (nine I think) that they gave for why the Loch Ness Monster couldn't possibly exist were addressed and rebuffed. In fact, most of them were done so here on this very blog on Friday, December 02, 2005, if you care to read it. I also took exception to them quoting a dictionary description of `fortean` as being a synonym of `paranormal`, which it most clearly is not.

If they had read the relevant entry in our own FAQ they would have known that our definition of `Fortean` is:

"Charles Fort was an American philosopher who died in the 1930s. To quote directly from the Fortean Times website:

"Throughout his life, Fort was sceptical about scientific explanations, observing how scientists argued according to their own beliefs rather than the rules of evidence and that inconvenient data was ignored, suppressed, discredited or explained away (which is quite different from explaining a thing)."

Unfortunately, in recent years forteana has become synonymous in many people's minds with the word gullible, which is completely alien to what Fort (to whom, by the way, the term fortean would have been anathema) would have intended."

But I am nit picking. This was an entertainment show, and in parts was very funny. I particularly enjoyed the bits when P+T dressed up as me and Richard, and on the whole we got off pretty lightly. We even got an endorsement from P+T for the "Richard Freeman Undercrackers"
which will no doubt go up on our site before much longer.

However, sadly, many people in the crypto community have missed the point. The dozen or so people who have emailed me this morning bemoaning the fact that the subject wasn't given the gravitas that it deserved remindly me strongly of an event about five years ago when we still had monthly meetings in the back room of an Exeter pub. Someone had come along to the meeting to see guest speaker Chris Moiser talk about his African adventures, and was dismayed to find the - very informal - talk, punctuated with good natured jokes, and silliness, both from the CFZ, Chris, and the audience.

"What a way to behave at a scientific symposium!" he blustered to me after the evening was over, and did not seem to take the point that it was no such thing. Far from being a `scientific symposium` it was a group of 12-15 mates who met in a boozer once a month for a chat, a drink, and a concersation with a visiting speaker!

The man who wrote to me this morning complaining that some of the guests (including me and Richard) on the P+T show were not treated with respect and gravitas missed the point equally badly! We all knew that the show was called "Penn and Teller's Bullshit" and, even the most dense amongst us, should realise, that a show with a title like that was NEVER gonna be a serious look at the subject.

We did the show for three reasons.

1. We needed the money.
2. We wanted to do some other stuff at Loch Ness, and P+T covered all ourexpenses.
3. We are both fans of P+T. They are two legendary stage magicians (who are also rumoured to be members ofthe art-rock band `The Residents`), and mostly their brand of noisy libertarianism fits in with my own.

I am glad we did it. It was fun, the film was amusing, and if we - and other people in the crypto community - were lampooned a bit, so bloody what! P+T are welcome to come along to the Weird Weekend should they want to at any time, and I assume that since they have dressed upas us, we can wander on stage and join them during one of their Las Vegas residency shows, at some time in the near future...


Oll Lewis said...

One of the good things about the show was that the 'rent-a-skeptics' were also lampooned.

It was quite a balanced show and they never got 'nasty' about it either. The 'rent-a-skeptics' arguments were the same old tired and flawed logic that they always trot out, but then it always is. I'm a scientist myself and during any science degree you are taught never to dismiss anything out of hand and that science ultimately can never prove or disprove anything to the point of certainty, in fact this is part of the scientific method. Any scientist who forgets this part of their training is obviously not using the scientific method as they should in their work or experiments, because they have evidently forgotten it, and their entire body of work is flawed and should be pulled into question.

Lisa said...

As of yet i have not watched this episode of P&T's Bullshit, but i have seen the last series which was put out on an entertainment channel on cable TV and found it to be very funny, however full of factual errors and grossly one sided regarding the various subject matter which they covered.

I guess the answer is in the first paragraph 'entertainment', how could any rationally thinking individual think that such a programme would be serious with Bullshit in its titial.

I am all too aware of what tricks & illusions TV as a medium can be utalised for,(this is after all what P&T are renowned for) and I am quite sure i am not alone in thinking that i am not the only person that 'does not belive everything i hear and only half of what i seen.

CFZ guys, take comfort in the knowledge that you are not slaves the Las Vegas show scene to make ends meet and that your choice of lifestyle is far more exotic,challenging, exciting and rewarding than any P&T's Bullshit programme.

Their programme is just a bit of light humored entertainment designed to be watched then forgotten.

What you guys do is 'real life' and lasts a whole lot longer.

Darren Naish said...

What I want to know is.. when will it be screened on British TV?

willowcatblack said...

Jon, never used a Blog before so here goes. Just wanted to say how much i enjoyed your book 'Monster Hunter' and your current articles in fortean and Paranormal mags. Im so sorry to hear about your dad. Im hope you are keeping ok and looking after yourself.