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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.

Visiting an Urban “Village Church”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 3, 2013

My wife Diana and I went on another religabout—our contraction for religion and walkabout, which describes an excursion to observe or experience some religious activity.

 

Another SHC Death That Wasn’t

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 26, 2013

The caller identified himself as “a longtime fan” and had a case for me to look into, he said. A New Jersey man had been found inexplicably incinerated on a state park path. He wondered if it might be an instance of spontaneous human combustion. I explained that the scientific evidence for that possibility was non-existent, but that I would have a look anyway.

 

Holy Apparitions and “Cryptic Photos”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 25, 2013

On November 10, 2013, my wife Diana and I went on one of our religabouts (excursions to observe or experience some religion-related event—see my blog of January 14, 2013). We responded to an ad in the Buffalo News to learn about “the powerful apparitions” of Jesus and Mary and “awe-inspiring cryptic photos” at a Catholic shrine in Queens, N.Y.

 

Sylvia Browne: A Post-Mortem

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 21, 2013

“Celebrity psychic” and professed medium Sylvia Browne has died. (Pause here while we all try to get a grip.) The notorious pretender Browne—formerly Brown (and therein lies a story), who was born Sylvia Celeste Shoemaker in 1936—died November 20, 2013, at the age of 77. To skeptics who gleefully claim she failed to foresee her own death, one must note that she did appear to recognize the end was near, but that that information came from medical science, not spirit guides.

 

“12 Years a Slave”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 19, 2013

This is not a movie to enjoy, but it is one that will amply repay one’s time spent watching it.

 

Water Nymph

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 12, 2013
Water Nymph

 

Mind Over Metal

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 37.4, July/August 2013

Investigative Files
Mind Over Metal

Can people move or alter physical objects simply by using a hidden power of the mind called psychokinesis? I have encountered many claims of such powers in the course of my work (since 1969) as a paranormal investigator.

Tea Party Movement

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 17, 2013
Tea Party Movement
 

Bigfool Times

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 16, 2013

My article that presented the evidence for standing bears as the source for many Bigfoot sightings (Skeptical Inquirer Sept./Oct. 2013) was reasonable and respectful of other views. The response from Daniel Perez of Bigfoot Times was anything but—accusing me of dishonesty and stupidity. Perez got me in his sights (he thought) and squeezed off a few shots—shooting himself, well, in his big foot. It seems, for starters, that he did what he accused me of.

Nickell’s Skeptickles: Daffynitions A-Z

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 10, 2013

Here are some wacky definitions that skeptics may find amusing. (I am, of course, following the lead of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911, originally published as The Cynic’s Word Book, 1906.)

Messages from ‘Star Families’—in the ET Language

Skeptical Briefs Volume 23.1, Spring 2013

Investigative Files

Cassandra Vanzant’s claims are legion. At one time or another she has acted as a tarot-card reader and instructor, ghost hunter, spiritualist medium, angel communicant, ordained minister, professional psychic, and of course, telepathic “Master Alien Communicator.”

A Lesson in “Spin”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 2, 2013

As we know, political groups put their own “spin” on news stories. Let’s suppose that, while strolling near the White House, President Obama discovered a wallet on the sidewalk and returned it to its owner. Here is how some different sources might report the story.

Chupacabra, or Déjà Chu?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 20, 2013

Another (yawn) chupacabra has been reported, this time by a good ol’ boy in rural Leake County, Mississippi.

Oklahoma Man Didn’t Die of SHC

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 17, 2013

You heard it here early on: The elderly Oklahoman who supposedly died of “Spontaneous Human Combustion” (SHC) on February 18, 2013, did not perish from that nonexistent phenomenon. Now the medical examiner in the case fully agrees, contradicting the earlier speculations of the local sheriff.

Moral Red Line

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 11, 2013
Moral Red Line
 

“Compound Oxygen”: Quackery of Yore

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 4, 2013
“Compound Oxygen”: Quackery of Yore

When I purchased the blue bottle pictured here, I suspected it was a relatively rare item with an unusual story. I was right on both counts.

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”—A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 29, 2013

Lee Daniels’ The Butler, though awkwardly titled, is a first-rate movie that tells the story of one of the greatest achievements of American history, the Civil Rights Movement. It is seen through the eyes of a White House butler, whose service extended through eight presidents, from Eisenhower to Reagan.

Update: India’s “Human Torch” Baby

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 26, 2013

To recap: News reports (e.g., Times of India, August 13, 2013) told of an infant from rural India who had suffered four instances of what some believed was “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC—a phenomenon not accepted by science, although believed by a few crank scientists).

“Human Torch” Baby: SHC or Abuse?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 15, 2013

According to news reports (e.g., timesofindia.india-times.com, August 13, 2013), a baby boy from a village in Tamil Nadu, India, “caught fire” on four occasions. Since so many incidents were unlikely to be accidents, some persons were suggesting the case might be one of “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC). I received a request to “please help this child” from a young Indian man (who sent me the link to the story) and also a request for an interview by a reporter from MSN.com, Dustin Seibert. I told the latter I was concerned about the child’s safety—though not from SHC. (Interview online at news.msn.com/rumors/rumor-baby-suffer-from-spontaneous-combustion; August 14, 2013.)

Dr. Porter and His Healing Oil

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 12, 2013

In doing some research (for my “Historical Sketches” column in my hometown newspaper) I unexpectedly came across a mid-1920s photo showing small tin signs for “Dr. Porter’s Healing Oil” affixed to the front of a store warehouse. I wondered: just who was Dr. Porter, and what was the story behind his medicinal product?

Firewalker Willey Cartooned!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 1, 2013

Skepticism’s great friend, David Willey—who became famous as the “Mad Scientist” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno—has been featured in the nationally syndicated comic strip, Jump Start, drawn by Robb Armstrong.

Scotland Mysteries—Part II: Ghosts, Fairies, and Witches

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 37.3, May/June 2013

Investigative Files
Scotland Mysteries—Part II: Ghosts, Fairies, and Witches

Joe Nickell continues his investigation of Scottish enigmas—based in part on his excursion following the 2012 skeptics QED conference in England, with intrepid skeptical investigator Hayley Stevens and her father Andy, who is a photographer and professional guide.

“The Conjuring”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 23, 2013

Being given rave ratings by gee-whiz reviewers, while being panned as just another cliché-ridden scary movie by intelligent film critics, The Conjuring is a piece of work. It depicts Roger and Carolyn Perron (played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor), together with their five daughters, moving into an old Rhode Island farmhouse in 1971 where, well, hysteria soon reigns. The flames are fanned by Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) the famous—or infamous—paranormal “investigators.”

Treatise on Invisible Beings

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 37.2, March/April 2013

Article
Treatise on Invisible Beings

Allegedly invisible entities—popular belief notwithstanding—are indistinguishable from imaginary beings.

Boston Strangler Breaking News

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 22, 2013

Between June 14, 1962, and January 5, 1964, eleven Boston-area women—ages 19 to 85—were victims of a serial killer or killers. The cases were linked by similar elements of modus operandi: each victim was attacked in her apartment (except for one murdered in a hotel room); each had been sexually attacked; each was strangled with an article of clothing (although one had also been repeatedly stabbed); and each, with a single exception, was Caucasian.

RIDDLEculous

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 19, 2013
What is the difference between a skeptic and a free lunch?

“Oz”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 17, 2013

A fantasy adventure, Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to the 1939 movie classic, The Wizard of Oz (itself based on the 1900 children’s novel by L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz).

Firefighter’s “Miracle Recovery”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 9, 2013

At 6:54 a.m., December 29, 1995, the roof of a burning house collapsed on Buffalo fireman Donald J. Herbert. Before being rescued he had been starved of oxygen for some six minutes, resulting in brain damage. For almost the next decade he was in a minimally responsive state, unable to communicate effectively.

The Golden Rule(s)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 2, 2013

The Golden Rule—a common-sense ethical principle based on mutual empathy—is shared by numerous religious and philosophical traditions. For example, there is Judaism’s Torah verse: “. . . Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The popular Christian version (paraphrasing Jesus from Matthew 7:12) is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And so on—in Islam, Buddhism, and many others, including Humanism. (See “Golden Rule,” online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule.)

“Now You See Me”—A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 26, 2013

Now You See Me is the story of a four-magician team that somehow pulls off stunning heists while performing, and then, in Robin Hood style, showers their live audiences with the loot—all the while dogged by the FBI and Interpol. Could we ask for more?

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