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Joe Nickell

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Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and "Investigative Files" Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. A former stage magician, private investigator, and teacher, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Pen, Ink and Evidence (2003), Unsolved History (2005) and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (2007). He has appeared in many television documentaries and has been profiled in The New Yorker and on NBC's Today Show. His personal website is at joenickell.com.

Dr. Taft’s “Asthmalene”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 27, 2015

A product with the unique name “Asthmalene” was sold as an asthma “cure” by the Taft Brothers, physicians, who joined forces in 1868 and settled in Rochester, New York, where they formed a medicine company, Dr. Taft Bros.

 

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Era of the Flying Saucers

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.6, November/December 2014

Investigative Files

“Selma”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 21, 2015

My wife Diana and I celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday by seeing the movie Selma. It brought back many memories of our civil rights work in the sixties. She was at the iconic March on Washington, and I marched with Dr. King in Frankfort, Kentucky. I also picketed the Lexington, Kentucky, federal building during the Selma crisis (along with several friends, including famed agrarian writer Wendell Berry), and I became a community organizer in Georgia. In 1968, in Atlanta, wearing a black armband, I stood in a long line and walked past Dr. King’s open casket following his assassination.

Terrorism

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 14, 2015
Terrorism
 

Je Suis Charlie

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 12, 2015
Je Suis Charlie
(on the terroristic assassination of journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, Paris, 1-7-15)

In the Media: 2014 Activities of Joe Nickell

January 12, 2015
In the Media: 2014 Activities of Joe Nickell

In the middle of his fifth decade of investigating the world’s strangest mysteries, CSI’s Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell continued to address paranormal, historical, and forensic mysteries—both in new investigations and media appearances.

The Yukon’s Bigfoot Bears

Skeptical Briefs Volume 24.2, Summer 2014

Investigative Files

Despite a lack of convincing evidence for Bigfoot, belief persists, and Bigfoot buffs are active almost everywhere, including the sparsely populated Yukon.

“The Imitation Game”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 2, 2015

In case the name isn’t familiar, the central figure of The Imitation Game, Alan Turing, was a clandestine codebreaking hero of World War II. He went on to work at Britain’s National Physical Laboratory, where he created one of the first designs for the ACE, a stored-program computer, and he is now widely considered the father of the modern computer as well as a pioneer in artificial intelligence.

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Monster Catfish: Investigating a Whopper

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.1, January/February 2015

Investigative Files

Haynes’ Arabian Balsam

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 19, 2014
Haynes’ Arabian Balsam

In patent-medicine parlance, the term balsam, originally describing an aromatic resin, came to apply generally to “an aromatic oily or resinous medicinal preparation, for healing wounds or soothing pain,” according to The Oxford English Dictionary (1971).

“Rosewater”—and Personal Anecdotes of Iran

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 8, 2014
“Rosewater”—and Personal Anecdotes of Iran

Based on the true story of an Iranian-born journalist named Bahari, Rosewater marks Jon Stewart's directorial debut. It is the comedian's stark drama of Bahari’s arrest for his courageous broadcast journalism. In 2009, Iranian president Ahmadinejad declared victory in his election hours before the polls had closed. In response Bahari bravely submitted camera footage to the BBC showing the unfolding street riots. After his arrest by Revolutionary Guard police, an interrogator identified as “Rosewater” tortured and interrogated him for 118 days. Rather than my adding to the many critiques of this film (I do give it a 3 on a 4-point scale), I thought I would instead share impressions of my own experiences in Iran in a contrastingly different time—some incidents showing the more favorable behaviors of many ordinary Iranians.

Seeing “The Theory of Everything”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 5, 2014
Seeing “The Theory of Everything”
This is not one of my Nickell-odeon reviews: Having seen this first-rate movie, I was first speechless, then moved to write the following poem.

Van Gogh Still Being Murdered

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 2, 2014
Van Gogh Still Being Murdered
 

Van Gogh “Murdered”—Again

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 25, 2014

The two writers whose notion of Vincent van Gogh’s “murder” helped promote their new biography of him (Naifeh and Smith 2011) have dug in their heels despite much intelligent criticism, notably from scholars at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (Tilborgh and Meedendorp 2013). Now the biographers are back, supposedly vindicated by a forensic expert, pathologist Vincent DiMaio (Naifeh and Smith 2014).

Bigfoot at Mount Rainier?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.5, September/October 2014

Investigative Files
Bigfoot at Mount Rainier?

In October 2013, led by a professional guide, I visited Mount Rainier and its vicinity, the locale of numerous alleged sightings, track discoveries, and photographs of the elusive creature.

Honey Island Swamp Monster Film: A Patterson Knockoff

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 6, 2014
Honey Island Swamp Monster Film: A Patterson Knockoff

Louisiana Honey Island Swamp Monster fakery continues to sell, while sometimes common-sense skepticism on the subject has all the currency of—well, a wooden nickel. This was brought home to me personally when I was asked by a production company to look into the latest alleged exploits of the ever-elusive creature. Unfortunately, after I enlisted the aid of Tom Flynn—CFI’s resident photograph, film, and video expert—the producers left us in the lurch. It’s pretty obvious why: the evidence—a brief Super-8 film of the Swampster—is so bad that any critical analysis would leave one asking why the show would be made at all.

Song of a Siren:
 A Study in Fakelore

Skeptical Briefs Volume 24.1, Spring 2014

Investigative Files

Lorelei is described variously as a “sorceress,” “siren,” “water nymph,” “mermaid,” and even, in the plural, “mermaids.” In any case, at least she represents a romantic legend of the Rhine—or does she?

Haunting Hokum

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 30, 2014

Walk into a large bookstore and note the signs for different genres: True Crime, Photography, Nature, the Occult. . . . Threatening to take over the latter is a sub-group that is proliferating so rapidly I think it deserves its own genre: Haunting Hokum.

“Are We Alone?” Speaking at the Trottier Symposium

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 27, 2014

In early October I spent a few days in enchanting Montreal, on two of which (the 6th and 7th) I participated in the annual event, The Loren Trottier Public Science Symposium at McGill University. (Dr. Trottier—an engineer, co-founder of the famous graphics and imaging group Matrox, and recipient of many prestigious honors and awards—makes this event possible by his vision and generosity.) The Symposium moderator was McGill’s indefatigable Joe Schwarcz, Director of the Office of Science & Society and a well-known author, skeptic, and CSI Fellow. This year’s theme was “Are We Alone? (The symposium was recorded and posted online.)

“Ghosts of the Queen Mary”: A Nickell-iferous Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 23, 2014

Published September 16, 2014—in time for pre-Halloween promotion—is the book Ghosts of the Queen Mary, by Brian Clune with Bob Davis, hosts of a radio show called Planet Paranormal Presents, and with an introduction by Christopher Fleming, former co-host of a TV show called Dead Famous which involved the late “psychic” Peter James. James, we are told, incessantly roamed the historic RMS Queen Mary, docked at Long Beach, California, and was “responsible for discovering the many ghosts that inhabit the ship” (p. 139)—“at least six hundred spirits” by James’ count (66). That’s a lot of ghosts, but before one contacts the Guinness World Records folk, we should point out that the book provides no scientific evidence of existing spirits of the dead. Science, in fact, has never authenticated a single ghost.

“Bracketing” for Historical Detectives

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 8, 2014
“Bracketing” for Historical Detectives

For my collection of dictionaries (which also includes various related volumes such as antique spellers and other wordbooks), I recently purchased a little primer (about 3 x 4 12’’ tall) bearing no publication date. I usually pass over undated works because their use in literary investigation is therefore limited.

The ‘Miracles’ of Father Baker

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.4, July/August 2014

Investigative Files
The ‘Miracles’ of Father Baker

Here we look at a few of the unusual incidents that some have called “miraculous,” although none has been accepted as such by the Catholic Church.

“Magic in the Moonlight”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 26, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight is the story of a skeptical—even pompously cynical—1920s magician and his attempt to expose a séance medium whose powers appear to defy exposure.

Dillinger’s Ghost

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 22, 2014
Dillinger’s Ghost
 

RIDDLEculous V

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 8, 2014
More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

“Incorruptible” Corpse of St. Cecilia

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 28, 2014
“Incorruptible” Corpse of St. Cecilia

Reputedly, Cecilia (or Cecily) was a member of a noble Roman family who—having been forced into marriage—persuaded her new husband, Valerian, to respect her holy vow of virginity. Legends say he was himself converted to Christianity by a vision of his wife’s guardian angel. Cecilia is regarded as the patroness of music and musicians, and is represented as such in many paintings, including one by Raphael (1843–1520). The designation came about because, it was said, while organs played at her wedding, “she sang in her heart” to Christ (Coulson 1958, 107, 114). She is commonly depicted playing a flute, harp, or other instrument, especially an organ (see accompanying picture postcard, ca. 1915, author’s collection).

The ‘200 Demons’ House: A Skeptical Demonologist’s Report

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.3, May/June 2014

Investigative Files
The ‘200 Demons’ House: A Skeptical Demonologist’s Report

Sparking an international media frenzy, a house in Gary, Indiana, was—according to two unnamed “clairvoyants”—besieged by over 200 demons.

Maria Monk: A Nun’s ‘Secrets’ Revealed

Skeptical Briefs Volume 23.4, Winter 2013–2014

Investigative Files
Maria Monk: A Nun’s ‘Secrets’ Revealed

It turns out that the fantastic assertions she made were investigated thoroughly at the time by Protestant clergymen who were permitted to inspect the actual convent, discovering that its interior was incompatible with Monk’s descriptions.

Hair Samples: From Bigfoot or the Bigfoot Bear?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 18, 2014

The hirsute (hairy) man-beast known as Sasquatch—or, since 1958, more commonly called Bigfoot—is elusive indeed. Although wanted dead or alive, no such living creature has ever been found (notwithstanding Roger Patterson’s 1967 film of “Patty,” supposedly a Bigfoot with pendulous breasts but actually the common Bigsuit or Sasquatchus costumedus). Neither has a corpse been discovered (despite such hoaxes as the Minnesota Iceman, a carnival exhibit billed as a “Sasquatch—Safely Frozen in the Ice” but instead a specimen of S. latex).

Is the “Crying Woman” Really Bigfoot?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 5, 2014

While the Animal Planet TV series Finding Bigfoot never does find the elusive man-beast, the show’s “team” tries hard to convince us they have. Again and again, they try to conjure up the mythological creature with a fuzzy photo, bent twig, or fleeting shadow. Their leader, Matt Moneymaker, is, at least, aptly named for a Bigfoot ballyhooer.

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