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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.

RIDDLEculous VII

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 26, 2015

More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

St. Pat’s “Miracle,” 1697

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 16, 2015

On St. Patrick’s Day, 1697, a painting known as the “Irish Madonna of Hungary” began to weep tears and blood—a “miracle” that has remained unexplained, if not unexplainable, to this day more than three centuries later.

 

Poltergeist at Amityville?

Skeptical Briefs Volume 24.3, Fall 2014

Investigative Files

On December 18, 1975, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into a six-bedroom Dutch colonial home in Amityville, New York. But soon they were driven out, they claimed, by horrific supernatural forces. Ghosts? A poltergeist? Demons? Let’s take a look, as new claims continue to surface.

CNN’s “Finding Jesus”: Disingenuous Look at Turin “Shroud”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 6, 2015

The ongoing, six-part series Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery— which began on Sunday, March 1—represents CNN’s run-up to Easter. By a coincidence of a financial nature, the series co-appears with a book of the same title by religion writers/filmmakers, David Gibson and Michael McKinley. The first episode of the TV series (but curiously the last chapter of the book) was about the “Shroud” of Turin. Easter after Easter, this alleged burial cloth of Jesus is trotted out like a ghost story at Halloween, typically with the same shoddy standards.

New “Ghost” at Hampton’s Court

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 4, 2015
New “Ghost” at Hampton’s Court

At England's Hampton Court Palace, in Middlesex, “ghosts” are always welcome, whatever their true nature. Recently 12-year-old Holly Hampsheir captured a strange figure on her iPhone—as she and her cousin of the same age noticed the following day, while perusing their images. Was it the fabled ghost of the Grey Lady? asked the tabloid Daily Mail. Or was it something else? as I was asked by Alan Boyle of NBC News.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

The New Pope Saints

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.2, March/April 2015

Investigative Files

Epilepsy “Cures”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 24, 2015
Epilepsy “Cures”

New York City directories listed Henry Root, Patent Medicines, from as early as 1881 until 1913 or possibly later. Sometimes calling himself “Dr.” Root, he offered a “cure” for epilepsy—only one among many.

A Parisian Patent Medicine

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 18, 2015

Recently acquired for my collection of paranormal and pseudoscience artifacts is a rather curious bottle.

Pictures (For Diana)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 12, 2015
Pictures (For Diana)
 

Science Slams “Supplements”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 10, 2015

Like the snake-oil products of yesteryear, which ran afoul of the 1907 Food and Drug Act, today’s “herbal dietary supplements” were dealt a severe blow in New York state when the attorney general ordered four major, national retailers to stop selling such store-brand products. Concluded the state’s top lawman, Eric T. Schneiderman: “Misbranding, contamination and false advertising are illegal. They also pose unacceptable risk to New York families—especially those with allergies to hidden ingredients.”

RIDDLEculous VI

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 3, 2015
More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

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.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

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.)

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