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Fortean Times - - Reviews / Podcasts - BRIAn J RoBB PRESENTS THE FORTEAN TIMES POD­CAST COL­UMN

Pod­cast: Mon­ster Talk www.skep­tic.com/pod­casts/ mon­stertalk/

Host: Blake Smith, Karen Stol­lznow, Ben Radford (early episodes only) Episodes Count: 140 For­mat: In­ter­view, Dis­cus­sion Es­tab­lished: July 2009 Fre­quency: Fort­nightly Top­ics: Cryp­to­zo­ol­ogy

It may sound like a pod­cast aimed at mon­ster movie fans (for that you need to turn to Mon­ster At­tack or Mon­ster Kid Ra­dio), but Mon­ster Talk is in fact a pod­cast fo­cus­ing on cryp­to­zo­ol­ogy, the weird world of ob­scure crea­tures and mon­sters from folk­lore. The first episode, al­most a decade ago, launched with a dis­cus­sion of Big­foot, cov­er­ing the his­tory, ev­i­dence, and ex­ploits of Big­foot hunters – all from a scep­ti­cal per­spec­tive. Ini­tially a spin-off of the Mon­ster Sci­ence web­site, the pod­cast is now un­der the aus­pices of Skep­tic

Mag­a­zine and is hosted by the en­ter­tain­ing duo of Blake Smith and Dr Karen Stol­lznow. The pod­cast aims to in­ter­view sci­en­tists and in­ves­ti­ga­tors who have fo­cused on cryp­to­zo­o­log­i­cal and leg­endary crea­tures, tak­ing in favourites like the Loch Ness Mon­ster, lake crea­tures, were­wolves (in the con­text of Dar­win and evo­lu­tion), ‘el Chu­pacabra’, aliens, and Pterosaurs.

A full text tran­script on the web­site ac­com­pa­nies each episode (a treasure trove for re­searchers) and a set of notes of­fer fol­low-up op­por­tu­ni­ties, link­ing to web­sites, news sto­ries, and other re­sources con­cern­ing the spe­cific topic of each episode. Mon­ster Talk was a win­ner of the 2012 Par­sec Award for Best ‘Fact Be­hind the Fic­tion’ Pod­cast, the show’s third nom­i­na­tion in the cat­e­gory. The show has also been nom­i­nated for the 2013 Ock­ham Award for ‘out­stand­ing skep­ti­cal achieve­ment’.

The sound qual­ity on the early 2009 episodes is vari­able at first, but the team be­hind the pod­cast have learned through ex­pe­ri­ence, and it is now a pol­ished pre­sen­ta­tion, of­ten led by some in­tro­duc­tory chat fol­lowed by an in-depth in­ter­view with some­one who is an ex­pert on the show’s topic. Re­cent con­trib­u­tors have in­cluded psy­chol­o­gist Ray Hy­man on the US gov­ern­ment ‘psy­chic sol­diers’ pro­gramme, Guy Lion Play­fair on the En­field Pol­ter­geist, folk­lorist Mark Nor­man on the phe­nom­e­non of ‘black hounds’, Joe Gisondi on Big­foot hunter cul­ture (a re­cur­ring topic for Mon­ster Talk), and re­searcher Sharon Hill on the ‘stone tape’ the­ory.

As this sug­gests, Mon­ster Talk has ex­tended its re­mit be­yond cryp­to­zo­ol­ogy to take on all kinds of forteana. The first years of the pod­cast (140 episodes are freely avail­able to down­load) did hon­our the fo­cus sug­gested by the ti­tle, but, as the hosts dis­cov­ered, there is only so much that can be said about the key top­ics of cryp­to­zo­ol­ogy. There are al­ways new dis­cov­er­ies to cover and new ex­perts to in­ter­view, but when you’ve de­bunked the core sub­jects, it makes sense to cast your net wider.

As you’d ex­pect, given its ‘skep­ti­cal’ stance, Mon­ster Talk takes a solidly sci­en­tific view of the world of cryp­to­zo­ol­ogy. The very first episode on Big­foot (and ‘rel­a­tives’, like the Orang Pen­dek and the Yowie) presents a lengthy in­ter­view with Pro­fes­sor Todd Disotell, who re­counts his ex­ten­sive study of sup­posed Big­foot ‘sam­ples’– be it bi­o­log­i­cal residue, fur, blood, or what­ever – none of which have proved to be con­clu­sive enough to show that Big­foot is real. The ques­tion of ev­i­dence of­ten comes up in Mon­ster Talk dis­cus­sions – why is the ma­te­rial al­ways so ropey, the pho­tos al­ways out of fo­cus (de­spite the pro­lif­er­a­tion of mod­ern cam­era phones), and the eye­wit­ness re­ports so in­con­sis­tent? All of this and more is tack­led from an es­sen­tially sci­en­tific view­point, mak­ing Mon­ster Talk a nice an­ti­dote to all those wild-and­woolly-crea­ture and weird world pod­casts out there.

Other sub­jects cov­ered over the years in­clude the beast of Boggy Creek, sea ser­pents, sleep paral­y­sis, the leg­ends of At­lantis, Satanic pan­ics, vam­pires, de­mon­i­cal­ly­pos­sessed cats (!), and the mod­ern folk­loric fig­ure of Slen­der­man – a pos­i­tive feast for those of a fortean bent.

And if you are in­ter­ested in mon­ster movies, try episode 124 (from March 2017) ti­tled ‘Crush, Crum­ble, and Chomp!’ in which the team in­ter­view Ed Godziszewski, au­thor of a book on Kaiju, those gi­ant Ja­panese movie mon­sters who love to spend their time tram­pling on ur­ban cen­tres.

Strengths: In-depth, sci­en­tif­i­cally driven dis­cus­sion and in­ter­views of true value.

Weak­nesses: Mon­ster Talk, while hav­ing a sense of hu­mour, can be a bit po-faced and oc­ca­sion­ally dry. Rec­om­mended Episodes: Ep19: Cthulhu Rises (fo­cus­ing on the mon­sters of HP Love­craft’s fic­tion); Ep25: The Rise of Bat Boy (a Weekly

World News favourite); Ep49: In­ter­net Video Hoaxes (in­side the world of hoax­ers); Ep60: Sasquatch: Ketchum If You Can (Dr Disotell re­turns to de­bunk more Big­foot non­sense); Ep110: Tell Me Strange Things (on the mys­te­ri­ous life of Mon­tague Sum­mers).

Ver­dict: A thor­oughly en­joy­able, se­ri­ous-minded take on the wide, weird world of cryp­to­zo­ol­ogy and far be­yond. Rec­om­mended.

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