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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.

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Lincoln’s ‘Haunting’ Presence

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.1, January/February 2016

Review

“Concussion”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 29, 2015
Concussion soon reveals how the Big Business and fans of an American craze respond to a medical interloper who would cost them money (and fun).

Haunting Tales: Folklore or—?—

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 16, 2015

I am often struck by how careless are the writers of those endlessly proliferating articles and books promoting belief in ghosts and hauntings.

“Spotlight”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 2, 2015

Here it is at last, the film about priests’ child sexual abuse in Boston—and its cover-up by the Catholic church—seen from the vantage point of the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story.

“Suffragette”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 25, 2015

Suffragette is the story of oppressed women seeking the right to vote in early twentieth-century Britain.

Bigfoot Roundup: Some Regional Variants Identified as Bears

Skeptical Briefs Volume 25.2, Summer 2015

Investigative Files
Bigfoot Roundup: Some Regional Variants Identified as Bears

Having long observed that many Bigfoot sightings seem consistent with bears, I have for some time been expounding on the subject—showing that, when bears stand upright on their hind legs, they become North America’s foremost Bigfoot lookalikes.

“He Named Me Malala”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 13, 2015

The documentary He Named Me Malala is of course the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who fought for girls to be educated just like boys, and refused to be intimidated by the fascistic Taliban who in 2012 shot her in the head.

Pueblo Kachina Dolls

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 2, 2015
Pueblo Kachina Dolls

The Kachinas are powerful supernatural beings in the spiritual life of the Native American Hopi and Zuni Pueblo peoples. Kachina wooden dolls are given to children, not as playthings but as treasured objects to help them identify the many different kachinas. (Shown here are Hopi dolls from the author’s collection, made by Indian craftmen.)

The Black Madonna: A Folkloristic and Iconographic Investigation

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.5, September/October 2015

Investigative Files
The Black Madonna: A Folkloristic and Iconographic Investigation

One of the most famous of true icons (traditional religious panel paintings) is the so-called Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Poland (Figure 1). Its notoriety was boosted when, following his election to the papacy, the “Polish Pope” John Paul II prayed before it on a visit in 1979. For an international History Channel series, Miracles Decoded, I was asked to look into the icon’s origins. I

Beware Urgent “IRS” Calls

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 23, 2015

At 12:09 p.m., Thursday, September 18, 2015, my answering machine recorded an urgent message from the IRS:

From Lily Dale: A Report on the Spirits

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 20, 2015
From Lily Dale: A Report on the Spirits

On Saturday, September 5, 2015, my wife Diana and I attended yet another open-air séance at the village of Lily Dale, on Cassadaga Lake, New York. Lily Dale advertises that it is “The World’s Largest Center for the Religion of Spiritualism.”

Junipero Serra: Pope Francis’ U.S. Saint

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 9, 2015

During his first visit to the United States, Pope Francis I canonized a Spanish Catholic Franciscan friar, Junipero Serra y Ferrer (1713–1784). With only one “miracle” to his credit (though not for the church’s lack of trying!) he became Saint Junipero Serra, but the act provoked anger from many Native Americans and his statue at one mission was vandalized.

Turin “Shroud” Still a Fake

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 2, 2015

In 2005, Turin Shroud proponent Ray Rogers claimed that earlier carbon-14 tests of the shroud linen—showing it to date from between 1260 and 1390 and to thus be a fake—were invalid because, he hypothesized, the samples must have been taken from a “medieval patch.” Rogers and I had an exchange of arguments in the Skeptical Inquirer. But a new paper by three Italian chemists, in the same journal in which Rogers published, shows who was right.

Quack Fighter Wallace Sampson

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 23, 2015

Wallace Sampson, who died May 25, 2015, was an oncologist, a professor emeritus at the Stanford University School of Medicine, anti-quackery activist, a colleague, and friend, who once helped me prepare for an undercover role as a dying patient seeking out a bogus cancer cure in Mexico. Please read Harriet Hall’s tribute to Wally—her mentor—in the September/October 2015 Skeptical Inquirer. Had he done nothing more than inspired her—“the Skepdoc”—to follow in his footsteps, he would have left an indelible mark, but he did much, much more.

Psychic Scams

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 10, 2015

They didn’t foresee their arrests—no surprise there—but some New York City fortunetellers have been revealed as, some frankly admitting that they were nothing more than, scam artists engaging in grand larceny. Here, from a New York Times article by reporter Michael Wilson (reprinted in The Buffalo News, August 29, 2015), are some of their stories.

RIDDLEculous IX

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 31, 2015
More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

Bitter(s) Medicine

Skeptical Briefs Volume 25.1, Spring 2015

Investigative Files
Bitter(s) Medicine

Bitters bottles are a window into an earlier era of quackery (although sometimes perhaps well-intentioned), as well as into the related worlds of unbridled advertising, liquor sales and consumption, and, of course, the very human need for relief from myriad ailments.

Those Haunted Rocking Chairs

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 14, 2015
Those Haunted Rocking Chairs

Whether the product of imagination or other causes, ghostly phenomena are frequently reported as story elements that folklorists term motifs. Among common examples are the ghost at the bedside, phantom footsteps, a mysteriously moving door, an inexplicable light in a window, and so on (as I explain in my 1995 book Entities (pp. 44–53).

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The Case of the Haunting Handprints

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.5, September/October 2015

Review

The Hand on the Mirror: A True Story of Life Beyond Death by Janis Heaphy Durham

“Mr. Holmes”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 29, 2015

As Sherlockians know, one of the great detective’s earliest (pre-Watson) stories (“The Musgrave Ritual”) was set in Sussex, as were some later tales penned by his faithful sidekick (“The Sussex Vampire” for example). And in 1903 Holmes retired to Sussex Downs to enjoy life as a beekeeper, although mystery intervened: In “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane,” Holmes must solve a case of strange horror, but he does so, not with his deductive genius but by his powerful memory (recalling a book he once read).

My Latest: “American Hauntings”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 15, 2015
My Latest: “American Hauntings”

Co-authored by Robert E. Bartholomew, a world expert on panics and hysterias, is our American Hauntings: The True Stories behind Hollywood’s Scariest Movies—from The Exorcist to The Conjuring.

“It Is Said That . . .”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 13, 2015

Yawn. Another ghost book, long on mostly unattributed anecdotes and short on anything resembling evidence.

RIDDLEculous VIII

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 29, 2015
More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

Cartoon: The Search

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 22, 2015
Cartoon: The Search
 

Dr. Pierce: Medicine for ‘Weak Women’

Skeptical Briefs Volume 24.4, Winter 2014/2015

Investigative Files
Dr. Pierce: Medicine for ‘Weak Women’

In the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, alleged cures for “female weakness” were among the nostrums marketed by quacks.

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Dillinger’s Ghost

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.4, July/August 2015

Investigative Files

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At Last a Photo of the Soul?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.4, July/August 2015

Review

Image of a Spirit by Paul Williams

Dillinger’s Ghost and Hoover’s Vendetta against G-Man Purvis

Online Extras
June 11, 2015
Dillinger’s Ghost and Hoover’s Vendetta against G-Man Purvis

Although there were other “public enemies” of the Depression Era, John Dillinger had daring and style to spare. But so did a tenacious G-man named Melvin Purvis, an agent so effective and so adored by the public and press that his boss, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover, seethed with jealousy.

Beginning a Theory of Everything

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 11, 2015
Beginning a Theory of Everything
In memory of Victor Stenger

“Clouds of Sils Maria”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 1, 2015

Some moviegoers will find the film Clouds of Sils Maria difficult. When my wife Diana and I saw it recently, the young lady sweeping up popcorn afterward confided to us that, at some showings, people actually walked out during the show. It was nearly mid-way through before I really caught on and began to see how this ostensibly humdrum movie was not just “literary,” but profoundly so, and was—rather brilliantly—going somewhere.

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