We Can’t Hire You; You’re Too Honest

Ben Radford, a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, was recently invited to be on one of those cable shows all about people who make claims about the paranormal (could it really happen?!).

Ben Radford

Hhe got on the phone with the producers and the conversation went something like this:

Producer: “… Well, we just want to have the eyewitnesses tell their stories, to describe what they saw and experienced, so the audience gets it. We don’t want to discredit them, or make them look bad… They’re just telling their side, what they experienced.”

[Radford]: “That’s fine, I understand that. I’m not trying to disprove or debunk anyone, but if what the eyewitnesses are saying isn’t true, or is inaccurate, then we have an obligation to say that. You can’t just tell one side of the story.”

Producer: “No, we want to tell the whole story, but from their perspective. We want to end the show saying that these things could be real.”

In case you ever wondered if those shows have an agenda… yep. Forget the facts. Play to the audience’s gullibility. Keep the skeptics away. Profit.

Radford eventually figured out what was going on:

I finally realized that what they really were looking for was an incompetent “investigator,” someone who would appear on their show and pretend to use science in investigations — someone who would superficially appear smart and entertaining but who in the end would be baffled and stumped by the mysteries they faced.

It’s fine to say you’re stumped when you really are… but in a lot of cases, there are perfectly logical explanations and Radford was going to call it as he saw it. Which is why the producers weren’t interested in him.

I think he made the wrong move. He should’ve played along — get in front of the cameras and tell the audience exactly what’s happening.

Sure, he’ll get edited out of the final broadcast, but at least it might be too late for the producers to find a pseudoscientist to play the role of incredulous skeptic.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.travismamone.net/ Travis Mamone

    That reminds me of that show “Ancient Aliens.” Except I don’t think that show even has a token skeptic!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      I love watching Ancient Aliens. That show is a hoot.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Strategically it is a tricky call. There is a LOT that editing can do so my guess is that unless you never ever say a sentence that shows your uncertainty about the truth, they will likely run with the clip where you start saying “Well, we can’t answer this with 100% certainty…” and they will make you seem however they want you to seem.

  • good_creon

    “No, we want to tell the whole story, but from their perspective.” Made me do a spit take, I laughed so hard

  • Octoberfurst

    >facepalm< These cable shows about the supernatural always drive me crazy for the exact reason that Hemant mentioned. They aren't looking for truth or a logical explaination, they want their viewers to believe that they are actually seeing something supernatural. (Hence higher ratings.) It's the dumbing down of the American public.
    I have watched cable shows about ghosts and I always end up rolling my eyes. The hosts always feel a chill in a certain place, claim they were touched by something and hear strange sounds on their recorders that they claim are ghosts talking. And they all have this wide-eyed wonder about them. "Wow, something just tapped me on the shoulder!" It's all so hokey.
    I have also seen the bigfoot hunter show and that is terrible too. Of course they have their token "scientist" along for the proper amount of skepticism. (Although 9 out of 10 times she agrees that what they have found "may" have come from a bigfoot.) It just makes me cringe. Critical thinking is a lost art in this country.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Ghost Hunters came to Maine and did an investigation at Fort Knox last year. This is a fort I have been in many times during the day and at night. Each year they have fright night at the fort, one would thing ghost would appear during that
      time but I have never had any sort of ghostly experience there but low and
      behold this was reported in our local paper after their investigation.

      “This place has some serious activity going on.”

      Why have I never experienced any of this serious activity? I’ve been in areas of the fort all by myself and never experienced any sort of ghostly activity.

      • NickDB

        You’re just not tuned into the spirit realm enough.

        • NickDB

          /S for just in case.

        • JohnnieCanuck

          The way you get ‘tuned in’ is actually quite easy. Just arrange that your paycheck is dependant on your finding ‘something’.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Ghost Hunters came to Maine and did an investigation at Fort Knox last year

        Incompetents, fer sher. Fort Knows is in Kentucky. ;)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

          Fort Knows? LMAO!!!

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

    I’m sure if I spent the time looking I’d find the source of what I’m about to write, but I’ve read someplace that there is a connection between fictional reading/viewing and bad economic times. It seems that the worse people perceive their state of affairs the more they turn to imaginary escapes. The Jehovah Witness’s got it dialed in on a feedback loop. They preach that it’s always the end times and gawd is the solution. As for us it would be “those damn christians are at it again, hey let’s go see The Hobbit.”

  • Michael

    I wonder which program it was, and which incompetent investigator took the job?

  • Rob

    There’s this ‘ghost show’ on British TV where people go to a dark house that’s supposedly haunted and freak out at every noise they hear. They have a token ‘skeptic’ who sometimes debunks what happened but most of the time is like ‘I can’t think of any obvious explanation for this’.

    Once they caught a moth flying past the camera and it was described as a ‘glowing orb’. Things that might have caused the noise, like rats or bad plumbing, are almost never mentioned.

    Maybe the audience for these shows just doesn’t want an explanation.

    • Janet Holmes

      Of course they don’t want an explanation. When people send me emails with ‘amazing’ stories I always search for them and 99% are fake, so then I reply with a link saying it’s fake and I never get anything except stony silence. Never do I get a “thanks for letting me know, I’ll google it myself next time”, NEVER.

      • Octoberfurst

        LOL. I’ve done the exact same thing and gotten the exact same response–stony silence. I think people just hate being proven wrong.

      • allein

        I’ve done that in the past. I had a friend who used to send a lot of “safety tips” sort of email forwards. Some of them were common sense and some of them were things that never really happened and just served to make people paranoid about things that are not threats (while minimizing the risks they actually face every day, because they’re too busy worrying about the latest urban legend they read in their email). I would just send back, without comment, a link from Snopes debunking it. She got mad at me…

      • NickDB

        Got the same here. Beginning to think that logic and rational thought are very rare indeed.

      • coyotenose

        Stony silence would be nice, actually. I get:

        -”Well it’s an/my opinion!” (Racists always, ALWAYS fall back on this one, as if it’s somehow a defense.)

        -”How dare you judge them!” (by linking Snopes?)

        -”Well I’ve worked as a [something sort of tangentially related to something somebody in the story does for a living] before, so I know what I’m talking about!” (Well, I own a computer, so I know how to spot bullshit.)

        -”You’re obviously not a parent/Christian/American/Police Officer Hero/Lesser Hornbilled Platypus or you’d understand!” (Understand how to swallow lies? Huh?)

        I’ve had to block posts from a lot of relatives on Facebook. Being extremely wrong or gullible is one thing. Being pissy about it after starting the debate is another matter entirely.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          Oh, Ceiling Cat. I hate the whinge of “You’re not a MOMMIEEEE!!! You DON’T UNDERSTAAAAAAAND!”

          Um, right, because nothing is as difficult/exhausting/time-consuming/fascinating/awesome as being a parent. Nothing. And the love I feel for my pet obviously isn’t “really” love, because it’s not a baybee.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    This is why one of the best shows on TV is Mythbusters. Too bad it’s not the most popular show, but at least we have one where skepticism and integrity are honored and regularly demonstrated.

    No, we want to tell the whole story, but from their perspective. We want to end the show saying that these things could be real.

    They want to describe the entire thing from only the gullible person’s point of view, so that gullible people will like and watch the show. That’s because gullible people are more likely to buy the crappy products and services that sponsor the show.

    Nobody ever got rich by underestimating the credulousness of the American public.

    Mr. Radford definitely was wise to not touch this. The producers would have edited him to be saying ridiculous, embarrassing things for the first episode because they were stuck with his remarks, and then they’d fire him and get some stooge to pose as a “sceptic” or “scientist” for the rest of the season, maybe in front of a green screen laboratory. (heeheehee)

  • LesterBallard

    “I think he made the wrong move. He should’ve played along — get in front of the cameras and tell the audience exactly what’s happening.”

    That’s what editing is for.

  • Miss_Beara

    My uncle is a 100% believer of the supernatural. It seems like it is getting worse now since he has retired. He watches Ghost Hunters, Celebrity Ghost Story, Long Island Medium, the one with the kid psychics, anything and everything. He thinks that John Edwards is a psychic (at least he did back when he was really popular on SciFi years ago). He tells me about them and all I can do is smile and nod. And he goes on for way to long talking about individual shows. I love him and all, but he is so gullible.

    The amount of paranormal shows on TV is shocking. Ancient Aliens, that stupid Bigfoot show, reality shows in general… sob.

    • allein

      I can’t take that Long Island Medium woman for even two minutes. I’ve had her show come on after I was watching something else and changed the channel real quick. I saw her on something else once (some newsmagazine show I think) and I thought I’d watch it, but her segment was first and I just couldn’t.

      I used to work in a bookstore that got a lot of big author events. I’ve worked John Edward events at least twice, Sylvia Brown once. I was usually stuck behind the register which was a good thing because the crowds those people drew were ridiculous (and the people in those crowds sometimes even more so) and I liked having a buffer between me and them. (Getting to and from my break was always an adventure…)

  • JohnnieCanuck

    My latest disappointment with a TV show? Bones. Emily Deschanel plays a skeptic and an atheist who is all about the evidence and not the emotion.

    In one of the recent episodes, they investigate the death of a young boy and at the end of their investigation his ghost is seen by the camera, portrayed by an actor as if it were actually there.

    Blechh.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      The whole episode was from the POV of the boy’s remains, actually. I found it oddly touching.

      • JohnnieCanuck

        I tried to just ignore their breaking the fourth wall that way, but it was too jarring. The camera work just assumed the conclusion that ghosts exist.

        I tear up more easily than anyone I know when it comes to watching certain shows, but for me that was just transparent emotional manipulation and I couldn’t manage to suspend my disbelief.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Well, they either wanted him to be Scully – the elitist, skeptical scientist who gets his comeuppance in the end; or the open-minded scientist who bucks the close-minded ignorance of his peers. Standard fictional characters.

  • Bdole

    EVERYTHING on TV is entertainment. Everything.

    Even the science shows are mere fluff, flashy CGI, and oversimplified (dumbed down) science that you could best by reading an actual science book in the same amount of time.

    Even the news which is completely devoid of context and usually one-sided: either liberal or conservative according to the tastes of the target audience.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      there is very little that actually qualifies for the academic/historical definition of “liberal” on american TV today. like, almost none.

      • Miss_Beara

        There used to be great programming on A&E, Bravo, TLC, History, Discovery, etc. A&E actually used to show arts and entertainment shows. Bravo (or A&E) used to show opera for cryin out loud. Today TLC has a marathon of Toddlers & Tiaras.

      • coyotenose

        Yeah, this. I used to watch MSNBC, and the closest even they usually came to “liberal bias” was, y’know, reporting facts.

        I stopped watching because I realized that they would inflate trivial matters to fill out shows, which is a different problem. Pity, because I really like Rachel Maddow, but on a slow day, she has to pretend that a politician stubbing his toe and cursing is a big deal. You can see it written on her face during the segment that she thinks it’s a goddamn stupid thing to be talking about, but she’s stuck doing it.


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