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INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR ROBERT "BOB" CARROLL, PH.D. THE SKEPTIC´S DICTIONARY
by Jan-Ove Sundberg,
freelance journalist, specializing in lake monsters, domestic and
[the interview took place in 1996 or 1997]
1. What's the purpose of a sceptic like you, whose ear have you got, but other sceptics?
A. I try to provide a resource which I wish I had had when I was younger and just beginning my quest for knowledge. It was not easy to find skeptical material on religion, psychics, paranormal claims, New Age ideas, Scientology, etc. I wanted to make it easy for people, especially young people, to find skeptical materials and arguments to combat the incessant foolishness they are bombarded with daily regarding the supernatural, the paranormal, the occult and the pseudoscientific.
My audience is very varied and seems to attract all sort, including true believers, not all of whom find me pernicious.
2. "Oppressed peoples, more than any other, need their heroes and legends", you say in your article - do you have any example of this?
A. I suppose this claim seems odd since it might be taken to imply that oppressors don't need heroes and legends, which is not true. But, for example, African Americans, whose history begins with their enslavement, and whose oppression continues as they suffer the indignities of racism, need heroes and legends more than, say, British Americans. They can't really take their heroes from white culture without adding to the indignity. And the Irish, who suffered for centuries under oppressive British rule, need their heroes and legend to maintain a sense of equality, if not superiority, to their oppressors.
3. You claim that the Smithsonian, among others, are into "uncritical, wishful thinking" by encouraging a study of things like Nessie, so please give an example of critical, unwishful thinking on that same subject?
A. How about all the people who have staked careers on photographs now known to be fakes?
4. When you don't even care to study the facts about Nessie, how can you claim as you do, that there are no unambiguous sightings of this unknown animal - is this what you mean by doing things scientifically?
A. I have studied the facts and that's why I claim that there haven't been any unambiguous sightings.
5. I'm positive that you, as a professor, are profiting from what you do, so why shouldn't cryptozoolists be able to do this as well or do you feel they are a threat against your kind of profession?
A. You are probably positive about a lot of things about which you are wrong and this is one of them. I don't profit from my skeptical work, unless you consider letters thanking me for what I've written to be "profit." If so, then I profit a great deal. Furthermore, I don't mind cryptozoologists profiting from what they do. I only object to my government using tax dollars or non-profit institutions such as the Smithsonian using member money to support their hobby.
6. You claim that people who stare at the waters of Loch Ness long enough, will see things they can interpret as Nessie - is that true with yourself?
A. I actually saw Elvis when I stared at the lake, but please do not tell anyone.
7. Why should we believe you made a hole-in-one on the Old Course at St. Andrews?
A. You shouldn't, since it isn't true.
8. Isn't it true and that your witness to this, Kathie Read is a golf fanatic, who sees what she wants to see, if she stares long enough?
A. You must be referring to my hole-in-one at the local Davis course. Actually, Kathie didn't see it. She was staring into space when I whacked my ball. She could only infer I had aced the hole from the shouts of the other two witnesses and from the fact that my ball was in the cup when we all walked to the green.
9. Why do you find it a pleasure writing for The Skeptic's Dictionary?
A. I don't know. But I think it has to do with expressing and formulating my thoughts and arguments.
10. Have you any idea who reads this Dictionary?
A. Yes. I have readers from all over the world….about 10,000
visitors a month make about 60,000 visits to the more than 200 articles.
[update: We have doubled the number of visitors and visits and nearly doubled the number of articles since this interview took place.]
11. How many E-mail do you get, thanking you for such an article as the one you wrote on Nessie?
A. I get several hundred e-mail messages a month. I haven't really calculated what percentage thank me for the Skeptic's Dictionary, but I get enough positive feedback to make me think the enterprise is well worthwhile. I've had several positive responses to the Nessie article. The most negative one complained mostly about how irrelevant most of the stuff in the article was to the issue of the Nessie legend. The critic is correct that the Nessie article differs from most of the other entries. I must admit I was under the spell of the writing of Stephen Jay Gould, who is the master of tying together several disconnected themes into a unified essay. I may have failed to do a very good job, but better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.
12. Have all mysteries been solved, all animals been found?
A. Obviously not. A new species of pygmy monkey was recently discovered, for example. By the way, it was not discovered by a cryptozoologist.
13. Why do you think that cryptozoologist´s think that professors like you are a painful embarrassment, even if most of them don't have the guts to tell you this?
A. I wasn't aware that cryptozoologist's think this. I would assume they don't like critics and don't like to be ridiculed. I would also assume that zoologists would be embarrassed by cryptozoologists.
14. If you had the power to abolish it, would you still allow cryptozoology to exist?
A. Yes, I would allow it to exist. I believe that humankind suffers when it suppresses inquiry and speech, even wasteful inquiry and false speech. To believe something you have not been allowed to see challenged is to have a belief based on little more than prejudice.
15. What is your professional advices to cryptozoologist´s?
A. I have no special advice for cryptozoologists.
16. A few years ago new mammal species was found in Vietnam - comments?
A. I suppose your question is meant to let me know that you think that because I am severely critical of cryptozoology that I am equally critical of zoology, and that I believe all that can be discovered has been discovered. Otherwise, your question makes little sense to me. For the record, I don't believe all species of plant or animal have been found. I also believe that some animals and plants thought to be extinct may not be extinct. A flower thought to be extinct was recently discovered here in California. Does that make the botanist who identified it a "cryptobotonist"?
17. At the same time as you say that cryptozoologists don't do enough at Loch Ness, you don't want Nessie to be found - how do you explain this?
A. The ending of the article was to be taken metaphorically, not literally. I obviously am not worried about anyone finding Nessie. If Nessie existed, she would have been found by now. What I was saying was that we humans have a nasty history for killing and destroying things, but we also create beautiful works of art and rise to superhuman levels at times. We are an extremely contradictory species, both beastly and heavenly at the same time. When we chase after creatures such as Nessie, we are chasing after ourselves.
18. Would you be very disappointed if your kids (if you have any) started to search for Nessie, instead of going in your footsteps to become a scientific minded professor or similar?
A. My children are grown and neither is a scientific-minded professor, nor do they search for Nessie or like creatures. But I would be disappointed If they did drop everything to do an expedition to Loch Ness to search for Nessie.
19. If lake monsters were suddenly proven to exist, in Loch Ness, Okanagan, Lake Storsjon, Lake Champlain, etc. how would you rate such a discovery on a scale from 1 to 10?
20. Would you yourself admit you had been wrong all the time, apologizing to the public in general and to cryptozoologists?
THANK YOU VERY MUCH, BOB CARROLL!
You are welcome.