Sharon A. Hill
|Sharon A. Hill|
|Born||August 23, 1970|
|Thesis||Being Scientifical: Popularity, Purpose and Promotion of Amateur Research and Investigation Groups in the U.S. (2010)|
|Known for||Geology, Scientific Skepticism|
Sharon A. Hill (born August 23, 1970) is a science writer and speaker known for her research into the interaction between science and the public, with a focus on education and media topics. Hill's research has dealt particularly with topics of the paranormal, pseudoscience, and anomalous natural phenomena, and began at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), where she performed her graduate work in this area. Hill attended Pennsylvania State University, earning her B.S. degree in Geosciences, and works as a geologist in Pennsylvania.
Hill is the founder of Doubtful News, a news site that links synopses and commentary to original news sources, as well as provides additional information to assess critically the claims made in the media. Hill is a contributor to the Huffington Post blog and has appeared in written and podcast media discussing related topics. She writes the Sounds Sciencey column for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), has contributed reports and articles to Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptical Briefs and contributed to various skeptical, science and paranormal blogs. Hill also has been a speaker at various science-related and science-fiction-related conferences, including Balticon, The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM), NECSS, and Dragon*Con.
Hill has worked as a geologist with the Pennsylvania State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in the department's mining office. As a geologist and public policy expert, Hill has been involved in the investigation and remediation efforts of sinkholes and has presented on public policies related to sinkholes as well as on mining regulatory issues.
Hill considers herself to be a skeptic. Interested in ghosts and monsters from a young age, as Hill grew older she realized that "science was a better way of explaining the world." She credits the works of Stephen Jay Gould as her gateway into skepticism. In her 2011 Meet the Skeptics! podcast interview, she states that becoming a skeptic was a gradual process and that she realized "there was a better way to look at these subjects [ghosts] in a more critical way." 
On a March 2013 episode of The Skeptic Zone, Hill was interviewed by Richard Saunders. During the interview, Hill discussed the founding of her Doubtful News web site, the process by which information is gathered, as well as using social media to improve coverage.
In March 2013, Hill launched the "Media Guide to Skepticism" document, an informational resource developed in cooperation with other skeptical thinkers about scientific skepticism "licensed through Creative Commons for reproduction." In an April 2013 episode of the Token Skeptic Podcast, Hill detailed how she assembled drafts of the guide, inspired by Wired.com's "Media Guide to Volcanoes", with the aim of assisting reporters looking to write about scientific skepticism, as well as those new to the movement. Hill's guide focuses on defining skepticism, outlining its importance, and addressing common misconceptions.
Hill was a main program speaker for the James Randi Educational Foundation's The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) 2013 in July 2013, delivering a presentation entitled "The Honest Broker of Doubtful News," where she also participated in a panel discussion on "Bigfoot Skeptics: Abominable Science!", and moderated a panel on the "Skeptical Scope and Mission." Hill led a workshop on coalition building at TAM 2012, which included panelists David Silverman and David Niose.
Hill appears as a panelist on Virtual Skeptics, a weekly web series featuring "news and discussion of topics of interest to skeptics."
Hill is also a contributing blogger for the Huffington Post as "a researcher specializing in the interaction between science, the media and the public," and has contributed to various skeptical, science and paranormal blogs such as Skeptoid and Aaron Sagers' Paranormal Pop Culture.
Study of paranormal investigative groups
In 2011, Hill appeared at the Balticon Science Fiction Convention, where she delivered the presentation "Being Scientifical," which focused on amateur research groups and particularly focused on self-styled paranormal researchers.
The topic of amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs) was also the subject of Hill's Masters thesis, which examined the "community of amateur paranormal investigators and how they used science." Hill researched paranormal groups that studied ghosts, UFOs, and monsters and that were not affiliated with any institution or scientists, groups with no connection to the scientific community. She looked at how they used science, specifically the words "science" or "scientific" in their websites. She wanted to see if science was in their methods and/or goals and to see if any of these groups were scientific at all. She found that the groups "used science almost exclusively as a way to look legitimate...These people didn't have any scientific training." She told Meet the Skeptics! that the groups used science "as a stereotype: the jargon, the equipment, the attitude." 
According to the Abstract, Hill's research demonstrated that while "ARIGs often used science-like language, symbols and methods to describe their groups' views or activities," the one thousand amateur paranormal investigation groups that were studied often employed "non-scientific and subjective methods...in conjunction with objective methods," and that the processes "considered scientific" by ARIGS "did not match with established methods and the ethos of the scientific research community or scientific processes of investigation."
In an interview regarding The Scope of Skepticism, Hill discussed with Kylie Sturgess her opinion, based on research findings, that most paranormal groups can cause harm to the public. According to Hill, many amateur paranormal investigation groups state they "do science... when it's absolutely not." In her podcast interview with Meet the Sketpics!, Hill states that "amateur paranormal investigation groups who that say they use the quote unquote scientific method, try to do that but they miss out on that more complicated end of it where they don't want to test their ideas, they don't want critique...they don't want to present it to the scientific community, they don't want it picked at, and therefore it's not science."  Hill has criticized paranormal investigators for telling parents that demons are the cause of noises and their children's odd behavior, characterizing this practice as "mean and unethical."
After attending the Phenomenology Conference in Gettysburg, PA, Hill wrote about her observations for the Center for Inquiry (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). She described what she saw as a shifting attitude of these paranormal groups from a "sciencey-sounding" approach to a spiritual one. She refers to an example of this change, the Catholicism-influenced TV show Paranormal State, noting a lack of scholarship and noting that contemporary investigation teams seemed to be able to "do as they please". Of these paranormal groups, Hill wrote that it is critical for observers of paranormal culture to note "how important FEELING is in these experiences, rather than THINKING."
In 2011, Hill started the Doubtful News web site, which curates news sources while providing commentary and background information. Hill stated on Skepticality that Doubtful News is "a way to look at weird news in a more skeptical light." A May 2012 article in Skeptical Inquirer documented its launch, which Hill said "came about because there was no one-stop source of breaking news of interest to critical thinkers that was not primarily straight science offerings or opinions." As a private blog, the comment policy of Doubtful News is intended to limit comments to promote informative, civil discussion that adds to the topic and limit 'lame arguments and profanity' or promotion of propaganda sites.
In February 2013, Hill was interviewed by Huffington Post writer Lee Speigel in her role as a science writer regarding her analysis of Dr. Melba Ketchum's "Sasquatch Genome Project" and its publication in the DeNovo Journal of Science, which Ketchum acquired for the stated purpose of publishing her research into alleged DNA evidence of the sasquatch or "Bigfoot." In 2013, Hill authored a chronology and analysis of the Ketchum Bigfoot project for Skeptical Briefs, which assembled a comprehensive reference listing of the project as well as a special report on the subject for Skeptical Inquirer.
Her views on Bigfoot and other paranormal creatures are guarded, as she has stated
I'm not out to say Bigfoot does not exist... I can't say they don't exist... What I can say is after all these millennia of human existence, the evidence in favor of those things as being genuine is unconvincing.
Role of skepticism
Hill has criticized narrowing the focus of skepticism to target religious belief specifically, stating that "[c]riticism of religion really doesn't have a place in scientific framework... But when religious claims cross over into testable claims, then they are fair game for the skeptic." Although Hill works to investigate claims of the paranormal, she has stated that "'Does God exist' is not a skeptic question," and that "[s]cientific skepticism and atheism are very different things."
Hill has encouraged an increase in dialog between paranormal believers and skepticism groups, encouraging skeptics to "[t]ake time to listen to the other side, especially ... the believers, because there is something to learn from them." In April 2013, Hill reviewed a skeptic conference for Aaron Sagers' paranormal entertainment site Paranormal Pop Culture.
In a May 2013 interview for The Paranormal Podcast by Jim Harold, Hill described ways in which the efforts of both skeptical and paranormal investigators could benefit from sharing viewpoints. In dialog with Hill, Harold stated that "we as believers [...] can maybe take some useful things from [the skeptical perspective], be a little more critical when we're looking at things and still maintain our beliefs, our viewpoint."
Skepticism as consumer protection
On an April 14, 2013, interview on Strange Frequencies Radio, Hill stated that she views the role of scientific skepticism as one of "consumer protection" to help people better evaluate even everyday claims: "We really need to apply skepticism every day in life, or else we'll get scammed, taken by some product that doesn't work, or it could affect our health or checking account."
In 2012, Hill was named as a Scientific and Technical Consultant for the Center for Inquiry.
- "Sounds Sciency". CSICOP. Retrieved 2013-04-06.
- Esack, Steve (2004-02-06). "Route 33 bridge in fast lane — Span split by sinkhole may be replaced by autumn for $6 million. [FOURTH Edition]". Morning Call (Allentown, Pa., United States). p. B1. ISSN 0884-5557.
- Hill, Sharon A. (2005-09-23). Resolving Sinkhole Issues: A State Government Perspective. American Society of Civil Engineers. pp. 520–528. doi:10.1061/40796(177)55. ISBN 978-0-7844-0796-7. Retrieved 2013-03-07.
- 21st Century Noncoal Regulatory Issues (PDF). 46th Forum on the Geology of Industrial Minerals (Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey). May 2010. Retrieved 2013-03-17.
- Christopher Brown (9 August 2011). "Podcast:Meet Sharon Hill". Meet the Skeptics!. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
- Saunders, Richard (March 3, 2013). "The Skeptic Zone #228". The Skeptic Zone (Podcast). Event occurs at 0:06:40. Retrieved 2013-03-17.
- Hill, Sharon (March 22, 2013). "Guide to Skepticism - A Community Document". James Randi Educational Foundation.
- Sturgess, Kylie (April 16, 2013). "On the Media Guide to Skepticism". Token Skeptic Podcast (Podcast).
- "The Amaz!ng Meeting - Schedule". James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved 2013-07-18.
- "Coalition Building for the Skeptical Activist - TAM 2012". Youtube.com.
- "About the Virtual Skeptics". Retrieved 2013-05-05.
- "Sharon Hill". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-03-22.
- "Sharon Hill - Skeptoid". Skeptoid.com. Retrieved 2013-04-07.
- Hill, Sharon A. (April 29, 2013). "Believe it (or not) but there is a lot to learn at a skeptic-con". Paranormal Pop Culture.
- "Balticon, Maryland Regional Science Fiction Convention". Retrieved 2013-03-26.
- "2012 PA State Atheist Humanist Conference: Sunday Morning Welcome / Sharon Hill". PA Nonbelievers. Retrieved 2013-04-06.
- Hill, Sharon A. (December 2010). "Being Scientifical: Popularity, Purpose and Promotion of Amateur Research and Investigation Groups in the U.S.". New York: University at Buffalo, State University of New York.
- Sturgess, Kylie (2012). The Scope of Skepticism: Interviews, Essays and Observations from the Token Skeptic Podcast. PodBlack Books. p. 99. ISBN 9781291005011.
- Hill, Sharon. ""Phenomenology" Paranormal Conference Shows Shift from Sciencey to Spiritual". Center For Inquiry. Retrieved 2013-04-26.
- "Another Doubtful Year". Skepticality. Retrieved 2013-04-06.
- Radford, Benjamin (June 2012). "Doubtful News blog launched". Skeptical Inquirer 36 (3): 6. ISSN 0194-6730.
- "Comment Policy".
- ""MonsterTalk" podcast". Retrieved 4 February 2014.
- Speigel, Lee (2013-02-14). "Bigfoot DNA Tests: Science Journal's Credibility Called Into Question". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-02-26.
- Hill, Sharon A. (2013). "The Ketchum Project: What to Believe about Bigfoot DNA 'Science'". Skeptical Briefs 23 (1).
- Hill, Sharon A. (May–June 2013). "Bigfoot DNA Study: Making an End Run Around Science". Skeptical Inquirer 27 (3).
- Jim Harold (27 May 2013). "The Skeptical Perspective – Paranormal Podcast 287" (Podcast). Paranormal Podcast. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
- "Episode 235". Strange Frequencies Radio (Podcast). April 14, 2013.
- The Skeptical Inquirer 37 (2): 8. Missing or empty