Sunday, January 27, 2008


CNN - Original Air Date: January 24, 2008

Larry King and company went at the Stephenville UFO sightings for a second time. The main difference this time around was that the believers outnumbered the skeptics only 3 to 1 (rather than about 12 to 1, previously). On the skeptical side was Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine. No offense to Larry's last skeptic, but Michael is a much better spokesman for his side. For their part, the UFO crowd (minus Stanton Freidman this time) was less shrill, though no less passionate. And like Michael, all of them had books and/or films to promote. (Or nearly all.) There weren't a lot of telling points on either side. How could there be when King keeps interrupting the proceedings with questions like: Michael, why do you insist that these people haven't seen what they claim. To which Shermer would reply: I don't deny what they've seen, I only dispute their conclusions that what they saw were alien spacecraft. And so, the sides talk at cross purposes. Again, CNN played numerous UFO clips of dubious origins -- without any labeling at all.


Discovery Kids - Original Air Date: starting Oct. 25, 2001

Hosted by Buffy's Michelle Trachtenberg, this show is aimed at the younger set and combines scientific inquiry with pseudoscience believers and mythology. I'm not sure which episode I saw, as I tuned in late. It may have been "UFOs Over Phoenix," but the part I saw dealt with Area 51. They interviewed a believer (who went to the gates of the forbidden zone before backing off) and then a scientist who opined that the reason so many people see UFOs in this area is that the Area 51 base tests top-secret aircraft. (Both manned and unmanned.) The show seemed to have a reasonable balance of mythos/story and skepticism. I'll have to see if I can catch more episodes.


History Channel - Original Air Date: 2006

A serious survey of the great Tunguska explosion, its history, and what probably caused it. Particularly interesting is the footage of Russian scientists and expeditions dating back from the present to the time of the explosion. My favorite bit is the Russian scientist who replicates the blast pattern of the explosion using a room filled with what looks like matchsticks standing on end. This experiment reveals the angle of impact and amount of force needed to create the devastation seen in the Siberian forest. A good show with good science. The most likely culprit for the explosion: a stony asteroid exploding before it hit the tundra. (Sorry UFO buffs!) The show ends with a call to find and intercept future near-earth-objects (NEOs) like the one that flattened Tunguska.


National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 2007

This is a very good show about the Roswell incident and the myths that have been built up around it since. It starts by explaining the sequence of events as they were reported, gives background on the era of the crash, relates the history of UFO sightings, and details the Roswell story as believed by many UFOlogists. Then the show looks at the facts and draws a very skeptical conclusion -- a conclusion which, frankly, the facts seem to support. Standout on this show is the repeated use of eyewitness testimony and records. They have the son of the Air Force officer who recovered the object, and tapes of the father as well. They also have news reports and witness reports from the time. Plus, they have at least one scientist from the top-secret Project Mogul. Also, this is the first show I remember that mentioned Behind the Flying Saucers, by Frank Scully, a "true" story (later revealed to be a hoax) that seems a likely source for many Roswell myths -- most of which only appeared 30+ years after the actual incident. The conclusion the show reaches is that Roswell actually featured the crash of a top secret -- and very unusual -- balloon array from Project Mogul, and not a UFO crash.


ABC - Peter Jennings- repeating on NGC - Original Air Date: 2005

An interesting show combining interviews, recreations, skepticism by top scientists, and historical perspective. Topics range from recent sightings to Roswell to alien abductions to SETI. The late Peter Jennings does an admirable job of pulling together past and present UFO accounts. Of particular interest are the recreations, all of which -- according to a disclaimer -- have been approved by the witnesses for accuracy. That's a nice touch. It's also a nice touch that the recreations are labeled as such. (Many programs today mix "real" footage with fake and never distinguish between the two.) Many of the eyewitness reports are very compelling and well told. The show seems to suggest that Project Blue Book was not as rigorous as it should have been; this, of course, plays into the UFOlogist conspiracy theories. Certainly there are deficiencies on both sides -- and Jennings's reporting points that out. Neil deGrasse Tyson and several other scientists talk compellingly about evidence, and why eyewitness testimony is "the lowest form of evidence" in science. 'In science, seeing is NOT believing." Maybe that seems obvious, but the dispute over that idea is what keeps the UFOlogist community and the scientific community at each other's throats about UFOs. Overall, the show does a good job of presenting the accounts, uncovering the facts and evidence, and presenting the scientific and sociological explanations for many cases. Does it explain every sighting? No, nor does it intend to, but it's a good rational overview of the UFO phenomenon. A very well produced show to start exploring case.


CNN - Original Air Date: January 18, 2008

What do you get when you pit a dozen witnesses and believers against one lone and not-too-attractive skeptic? You get the kind of show that passes for "news" these days. Lots of flash and bang and very little substance. King asks annoying and often irrelevant questions, guests spar testily, and nothing is solved or much illuminated. What does come across clearly is that the complete inability of UFOlogists to admit when something has been debunked (Arizona lights) -- and this damages their credibility on everything else. The skeptic's stalwart nature can be annoying, too, but what can you expect when many on the other side treat UFO myths and conspiracy theories as though they were religious scripture? The "follow the money" principle would seem to imply that anyone making a living talking about UFOs -- and there are several on this show doing so -- are unlikely to be unbiased advocates. Perhaps most annoying of all is the cluttering of the show with UFO footage -- some "real," much fake, and some from TV and the movies ... with none of it labeled for what it is. When tornadoes struck Wisconsin unexpectedly this January, pictures from witnesses quickly showed up; even the "best" UFO photos are unclear by comparison. And I have no idea from this show whether any of the photos & videos shown were actually from Stephenville.


SciFi Channel - Orignal Air Dates: 2004-8

The most famous of the current "True Supernatural" shows, these shows are quite good. Some of the science they bring to bear (EVP, EMF) is a bit dicey, and much of the suspense is created by over-excitable investigators. But -- when not going for the ratings -- the TAPS teams bring a reasonable amount of scientific investigation and skepticism to bear. They're at their best when debunking, though occasionally obvious solutions seem to slip past them. They also need to do a better job of controling light sources, some of which may be responsible for the fleeting shadows often seen by the group. The first season, where TAPS' standard for declaring something "haunted" was very high, was in some way the best. But I'm sure "haunted" houses are better for ratings.

MONSTER QUEST - General Review

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2007-8

A mixed bag of scientific techniques and investigation. Sometimes, the show is dead-on, other times pretty fuzzy headed. Clearly, the need for sensational "cliff hangers" at the commercial breaks often hurts it. (Ghost Hunters has a similar problem.) And sometimes it stretches things out (the "rods" show) in order to avoid quickly reaching a "no supernatural stuff here" conclusion. (Rods, BTW, are insects and other fast-moving objects transformed into something "mysterious" by slow-moving camera technology.) Also, there was one bigfoot show (they've done about 4 -- each with a slightly different focus) where the investigators hid in a cabin while a possible bigfoot stood in the woods and threw stones at them. Not very brave, or scientific. (Hey, look! An unknown animal! Let's hide!)

IS IT REAL? - General Review

National Geographic Channel - Air Date: 2005-2007

This show is usually the toughest and most scientific of the series supernatural shows. Their research is generally good, and their cliff hangers tend to foreshadow an eventual debunking (when that's the outcome) -- the question then becomes not "is it real?" but "how do they know it's not real?" That's a refreshing switch from 50 minutes of credulity followed by a 10-minute "but it's all fake" bit at the end (which often happens with Monster Quest). I saw the chupacabra episode this week, and it pretty well proved: 1) there are more wild dogs in the world than chupacabras (and such animals are often the actual culprits in alleged chupacabra cases), 2) so-called animal mutilations can be achieved by natural processes of decay and predation, 3) some people would rather cling to their own superstitions than believe scientific evidence.

DEEP SEA DETECTIVES -- The Loch Ness: The Great Monster Mystery

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2005

Divers may not be the best detectives, but they sure are intrepid. And the show's research is pretty good, too. What they discover in this episode is: Loch Ness is too murky to find much in, though it's deep enough to hide many secrets (including shipwrecks). A local believer takes issue with Adrian Shine's conclusion that the loch eco-system couldn't sustain a big animal population (while this is true, he says Shine doesn't take into account migrating salmon, which don't eat while spawning). There's also a focus on Robert H. Rines expeditions (though Rines original "monster" photos have proved dubious). Annoyingly, though the program is copyrighted 2005, it highlights a 2001 expedition in which Rines finds what may be a carcass (though the scale seemed wrong to me), which will be explored in a future expedition. No explanation of why no follow-up was done between 2001 and 2005. Surely that carcass, whatever it was, is gone by now.

Uncanny Radio Going Live

Uncanny Radio's first live broadcast is on the schedule for February 6, 2008 -- from 8-9 PM (Central Time).

Be sure to tune into WBSD radio -- or listen live via the web.  With luck, Linda and Manwolf (Steve) will even be taking calls.  Watch for more details and phone numbers soon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Welcome to Howls & Growls

Welcome to Manwolf's Howls & Growls -- I'm your host, Stephen D. Sullivan. Howls & Growls is the companion site to Uncanny Radio.

Howls & Growls will feature the reviews run on Uncanny Radio, and (over time) should become a veritable consumer's guide to the uncanny on television and in other media.

Be sure to tune in to Uncanny Radio live, every Wednesday night from 8-9 PM (Central time) on WBSD -- or stream live from the WBSD website. Just click on the Listen Live button.

And stay tuned for podcasts and other cool features -- coming soon!