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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.

Mermaid Body Found?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 24, 2012
Mermaid Body Found?

Has the body of an actual mermaid been discovered? Well, no, but that very idea was launched by an Animal Planet “documentary” that proved to be a crockumentary—in this case a fictional story offered in the realistic style of The Blair Witch Project (1999).

 

Chinese Ape-Men: In Science and Myth

Skeptical Briefs Volume 21.4, Winter 2011-2012

Investigative Files
Chinese Ape-Men: In Science and Myth

The term ape-man is used in two major ways. As CFI’s visiting scholar in China during October 2010, I encountered—so to speak—an example of each of these two types of ape man, which some believe are related. As we shall see, each has proved elusive in its own way.

High-Wire King Claims the Falls

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 18, 2012
High-Wire King Claims the Falls

During the night of June 15, 2012, I watched Nik Wallenda, of the famous Wallenda acrobatic family, become the only person ever to walk a high-wire across Niagara Falls. (Other funambulists, beginning with the Great Blondin in 1859, traversed the gorge a mile or so downstream.) Wallenda—a man of impressive daring and discipline—is a fascination to me, especially since I have acrophobia. (I don’t even like being this tall!)

Will ETs Invade During the Olympics?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 9, 2012

The extraterrestrials may have finally done it: zapped Nick Pope’s brain!

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 29, 2012

Is nothing sacred? Ask that of the novelist (Seth Grahame-Smith) and the subsequent moviemakers behind Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. How else does one explain their cra$$ exploitation of the sixteenth president, who was martyred for emancipating the slaves and saving the Union at the cost of a bloody war? Bloody? Humor here, with fake blood by the barrelful. Ha, ha!

Dr. Drew: $elling Out $cience

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 27, 2012

Flipping through TV channels (June 11, 2012) I happened upon Dr. Drew, just in time to watch the physician uncomfortably hosting the notorious “psychic medium” James Van Praagh. I say uncomfortably because Dr. Drew Pinsky does not for a moment believe Van Praagh can talk to the dead. So why, in the name of Ethics, you ask, does he have the pretender doing readings on his $how? Can we $olve thi$ my$tery?

A Scintillating UFO Experience

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 18, 2012

Journalist Jacqui Jeras—reporting on CNN Newsroom, Sunday, May 27, 2012—described a UFO that had been seen over Blue Springs, Missouri, for the previous two weeks. It first looked like a star, “experts” said, but then began flashing red and blue colors, leading to descriptions of “a purple light” and “freaky blue lights in the sky.” Video closeups confirmed the effect.

Traditional Chinese Medicine: Views East and West

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.2, March/April 2012

Investigative Files
Traditional Chinese Medicine: Views East and West

Perhaps no gulf between the East and the West is more significant than in theories and practices concerning medicine.

Stargazing: The Transit of Venus

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 7, 2012

As a stargazer (a lighthearted term), I have often looked at the heavens—as in my personas of poet, skeptical UFOlogist, even miracle claims investigator, or often, simply as one interested in the real world that science best explains. As a boy I was taken by my uncle Charlie Cunard to the University of Kentucky observatory to see Mars. Over the years I have witnessed solar and lunar eclipses, Perseid meteor showers, and many other celestial events, both with and without telescopes. (Once, at Conyers, Georgia, where “sun miracles” were being reported, I looked in vain for one, working with Georgia Skeptics who had set up a telescope equipped with a solar filter.)

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 5, 2012

If you are not a senior citizen and plan never to become one, perhaps you could skip The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But I wouldn’t recommend doing so.

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Ghost-Busted! Phony Tales of Dixie Spirits

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.2, March/April 2012

Forum

The Blob Ness Monster

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 21, 2012
The Blob Ness Monster

Has Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, best known from a 1934 photo that has since been revealed as an April Fool’s prank, once again been recorded—this time on sonar?

“The Raven” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 16, 2012

Baltimore, 1849. First, there is the brutal murder of a woman and her daughter in a fourth-floor apartment that is locked from the inside. Then the body of a man named Griswold is found in a torture chamber, sliced in half by a great curved blade at the end of a pendulum.

On a Wing and a Prayer: The Search for Guardian Angels

Skeptical Briefs Volume 21.3, Fall 2011

Investigative Files
On a Wing and a Prayer: The Search for Guardian Angels

Are these experiences really supernatural? Or are they only natural, the result of misperceptions and even misreporting? A look into the phenomenon of claimed guardian-angel encounters is illuminating.

Pop-Culture Zombies

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 8, 2012

On ABC’s popular show Castle, in an episode titled “Undead Again” (aired April 30, 2012), Detective Beckett summons the show’s writer/consultant namesake to a murder scene where the victim’s body bears severe human bite marks. The only witness also has bite marks that match those on the dead man, and the witness insists their assailant was a zombie!

“Bully” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 3, 2012

At school-bus stops, in busses carrying students to and from schools, and in schoolyards and schools themselves, as well as online, bullying takes place at an alarming rate—an estimated over 13 million American kids suffering this "most common form of violence young people in this country experience" (online at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt168218/plotsummary).

The Doctor’s Ghostly Visitor: Tracking ‘The Girl in the Snow’

Skeptical Briefs Volume 21.2, Summer 2011

Investigative Files
The Doctor’s Ghostly Visitor: Tracking ‘The Girl in the Snow’

Although skeptics insist ghosts are unreal, there are many ghostly encounters that seem to present startling evidence to the contrary. One such incident is presented in the book The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales by Ruth Ann Musick.

Home Town Destroyed

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 23, 2012

I'm overdue to write this. On March 2, 2012, occurred the worst thing ever to happen to me: My hometown of West Liberty, in eastern Kentucky's Appalachian foothills, was largely destroyed by a tornado. If I feel so devastated while not even living there, how much worse must it be for those who lost their very homes and livelihood.

Scanning Loch Ness

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 10, 2012
Scanning Loch Ness
From March 14 to 17, 2012, I explored Scotland’s Loch Ness with British skeptic and investigator Hayley Stevens and her intrepid father, Andy (a professional driver and talented photographer). We took a sonar-equipped boat across the lake to Urquhart Castle, noting depths of up to 750 feet, and I bagged one of the fabled creatures—in the accompanying poem.

The Holy Mandylion: A Déjà-view

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.1, January/February 2012

Investigative Files
The Holy Mandylion: A Déjà-view

It was like déjà-vu. In 2008, in a traveling exhibition called “Vatican Splendors,” I had seen the Holy Mandylion, also known as the Image of Edessa, which was once held to be the miraculous self-portrait of Christ. Now, in Genoa the following year, I was seeing another such image...

The Atlanta Child Murders: Evidence vs. Psychics

Skeptical Briefs Volume 21.1, Spring 2011

Investigative Files
The Atlanta Child Murders: Evidence vs. Psychics

While television often offers pseudoscience and fantasy instead of lessons in critical thinking (consider shows like The Ghost Whisperer), there are noteworthy exceptions. One is Soledad O’Brien’s CNN special Atlanta Child Murders (2010).

Limbaugh Caught at For-Pay Sex Talk!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 19, 2012

Rush Limbaugh often refers to feminists as "feminazis," but he simply appears to be projecting his own misogynist tendencies. Now Limbaugh is caught in another contradiction—and in an exposé of his sexual proclivities.

Did Shakespeare Write ‘Shakespeare’? Much Ado About Nothing

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.6, November/December 2011

Article
Did Shakespeare Write ‘Shakespeare’? Much Ado About Nothing

Anti-Stratfordians start with the answer they want and work backward to the evidence—the opposite of good science and scholarship. They reverse the standards of objective inquiry, replacing them with pseudoscience and pseudohistory.

Lady Sword Swallower

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 12, 2012
Lady Sword Swallower

On February 25, 2012, more than twenty of the world's dwindling number of sword swallowers "dropped swords" at Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditoriums worldwide to celebrate the Sixth Annual World Sword Swallower's Day. My wife Diana and I were at the Niagara Falls, Ontario, Ripley's with Vanessa, Canada's celebrated female sword swallower, to watch her have a snack of cold steel.

Psychic Connections: 
Investigating in Hungary

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.6, November/December 2011

Investigative Files
Psychic Connections: 
Investigating in Hungary

While in Hungary from September 16–22, 2010—initially to participate in the fourteenth European Skeptics Congress (held in Budapest September 17–19)—I found time for some interesting investigations.

An Antique “Temperance Drink”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 24, 2012
An Antique “Temperance Drink”

On February 21, 2012, CFI Libraries intern Christian Exoo (a graduate student in Library Science at the University of Buffalo) gave me the two items pictured here, an antique medicine bottle and accompanying advertising booklet, for my medical quackery collection (part of which may be viewed on www.skeptiseum.com.) Christian discovered the artifacts in the wall of a late-nineteenth-century house in Canton, New York, during a renovation. Both items were new to me, and, additionally, complemented each other with helpful information.

In the Media: 2011 Activities of Joe Nickell

February 17, 2012
In the Media: 2011 Activities of Joe Nickell

CSI Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell had yet another very busy year, utilizing his varied background as stage magician and mentalist, private detective for a world-famous detective agency, forensic science writer, historical document consultant, and university scholar in literature.

“Red Tails” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 17, 2012

This movie about the Tuskegee Airmen—the black American aviators of World War II—has an appropriately Forties feel to it. A mix of dogfights, on-the-ground conflicts (personal, military, and racial), and a love story that ends in tragedy, Red Tails should have been made decades ago.

The Skepcook: Reviewing “Herbal Recipes”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 10, 2012

As an herb gardener (see that persona on my website, www.joenickell.com), or at least as my wife Diana's understudy, I appreciate the satisfaction of growing, harvesting, and processing herbs—dried sage and oregano, for savory cooking; fresh basil, to snip onto sliced tomatoes (accompanying scrambled eggs for breakfast); and spearmint, for my Kentucky mint juleps! We also cultivate rosemary, chives, parsley, thyme, and more.

Four to Watch (Nickell-odeon Mini-Reviews)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 31, 2012

To catch up on our movie watching, my wife Diana dared us to go on a movie marathon. So (after a morning trip to a psychic fair) we embarked on a whirlwind tour, getting home just before the witching hour. With her handling logistics (directions, times, and eating on the run) and me driving the getaway car, we crisscrossed town and watched four new feature films. All were in the good-to-excellent range, and I recommend them to fellow skeptics and humanists. (As I say, a humanist is an atheist with a heart.) Here are capsule reviews (presented in ascending order of excellence).

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