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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.

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?

“Haunted” Country Store

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 14, 2013

In a little store in the village of Clarence, New York, items tumble from shelves, pictures fall from walls, and the front door mysteriously opens, while from upstairs come the sounds of eerie footsteps and moving furniture. Previously a candle shop, its employees reportedly believed ghosts were to blame.

Announcing “The Science of Miracles”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 12, 2013
Announcing “The Science of Miracles”

In case you haven’t heard, my new book—The Science of Miracles: Investigating the Incredible (Prometheus 2013—is out. The BBC’s magazine Focus has already honored it as its science-book-of-the-month for June. Here is what some distinguished people have said about it:

Shroud—Further Update

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 3, 2013

Just in time for Easter 2013 (as readers may recall), a new book claimed recent tests proved that the Turin “shroud” was not medieval, as carbon-14 tests had shown, but instead dated from the first century. The Archbishop of Turin, however, dismissed the results, because the fibers tested could not be authenticated as having actually come from the shroud. (As I pointed out in my blog of March 28, the tests were highly doubtful in any case.) Also, the new pope, Francis I, revealingly referred to the cloth as an “icon” (i.e., a work of art) rather than “relic” (which it would be, in Catholic parlance, if it had actually wrapped the corpse of Jesus).

The Pope’s Non-Exorcism

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 28, 2013

An exaggerated claim that transformed a simple prayer by the new pope into an “exorcism” has sparked controversy—provoking denials from the Vatican and a retraction from at least one church media outlet.

“Renoir”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 21, 2013

[Pierre] Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) was, with Claude Monet and other French painters in the 1860s, a founder of Impressionism, a movement allied with artistic Naturalism. Its adherents sought to paint real life directly from nature—among their goals being to capture light’s changing effects. Why do we care? Because appreciation of art is part of what makes us truly human. As philosopher Paul Kurtz stated, speaking of secular humanist values, “We are engaged by the arts no less than the sciences.”

“42”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 17, 2013

My first understanding of the moral imperative of racial integration probably came from my father. He had been a talented baseball pitcher in college (with, I’m told, an impressive all arms-and-legs delivery and a tremendous “slider” ball). I think some part of him always regretted giving up that tentative career for a sensible job and the role of family man, and he often talked baseball. I listened especially well during the fifties and sixties when that conversation turned to civil rights, and he would tell of having played against, and even at times bunked with, what were then known as “Negro” baseball players. That he considered them unquestionably equals no doubt helped spark my own involvement in the civil rights movement (especially during 1964–68).

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Scotland Mysteries—Part I: The Silly Ness Monster

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 37.2, March/April 2013

Investigative Files

Bigfoot Legend, Bob Gimlin

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 13, 2013
Bigfoot Legend, Bob Gimlin

When I attended Bigfoot School April 27 at Chautauqua Lake, New York, among the six signing my diploma was a man named Bob Gimlin, an 82-year-old horse trainer from Yakima Valley, Washington.

Another Sylvia Browne Failure

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 9, 2013

I cannot get over the horrific revelations in Cleveland where, for a decade, three girls—now young women—were held as sex slaves by a vicious sociopath. As I reflected on the case, however, I said to my wife Diana that once again “psychics” had failed to locate missing persons. Wouldn’t three victims in a single location have provided increased stimulus for the mystics’ touted powers?

Bigfoot School

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 8, 2013
Bigfoot School

Life is continuing education, and in that spirit I keep seeking new experiences, tutelage, and personas. I achieved all of these on Saturday, April 27, 2013, by becoming a Bigfoot School Graduate and receiving my handsome Chautauqua Lake Bigfoot School Diploma—signed by several of the field’s luminaries. It now has an honored place next to my Ph.D. diploma and various forensics certificates.

“Junkyard Ghost”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 3, 2013

As mentioned in a recent blog, I assisted with, and appeared on, an episode of MSNBC’s Caught on Camera, “Mysteries and Monsters” (April 21, 2013). It consisted of six videos or films of allegedly paranormal events, the probable solution to one of which I now treat at greater length.

“Girl Rising”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 1, 2013

Shown on a limited basis for a short time in select theaters, Girl Rising should attract humanists for its focus on the world’s need for girls to be educated. As the documentary’s narrator says, “Girls are simply one more thing the world has thrown away.”

Uncovering Secret Messages

Skeptical Briefs Volume 22.4, Winter 2012/2013

Investigative Files
Uncovering Secret Messages

Among my many interests as a boy was cryptography—the study of codes, ciphers, and other secret writings. I sent and received nighttime Morse code messages by flashlight between neighbors’ houses and mine, made and solved cryptograms, used my forensic chemistry lab to make various invisible inks and developers, and even compiled a treatise on the subject.

“Mysteries and Monsters”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 24, 2013

On April 21, the popular MSNBC-TV show Caught on Camera aired an episode titled “Mysteries and Monsters.” I assisted in the research for the six segments and appeared on camera in three of them. Here is a brief synopsis of the entertaining show, together with some additional comments. (The segments are given in order, with an * indicating the ones in which I appeared.)

The Story of “Rattlesnake Pete”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 15, 2013
The Story of “Rattlesnake Pete”

Among the old-time snake hunters and peddlers of rattlesnake oil was Peter “Rattlesnake Pete” Gruber (1858–1932) (see first photo). As related in Arch Merrill’s Shadows on the Wall (1952), Pete was born in Oil City, Pennsylvania, the eldest of a pioneer oil refiner’s nine children. He would later claim, that, while a boy hiking in the local hills, he had come upon an old Indian woman from the Seneca reservation. Dragging behind her on a rope a big dead rattlesnake, she explained to Pete how she would extract the fatty oil, which was used to treat rheumatism, stiff joints, even earache—among other afflictions. Impressed by the boy’s interest, she even gave him the snake’s skin. Pete later learned from the Indians how to capture the rattlers, and from the medicine men how to use them for various folk remedies.

UPDATED: Another Easter for the Turin “Shroud”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 28, 2013

Claims that new tests show the “shroud” of Turin is not medieval after all, but dates from the first century, have been published in the media by Italian researchers. As is typical of a religious rather than scientific agenda, their news was shrewdly released just in time for Easter. That alone casts doubt on the claims, but there is more.

Boy Sherlock

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 27, 2013

Already a detective at eight, when I was about ten years old (about 1954), I became Sherlock Holmes.

Horrors! Amityville Returns!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 20, 2013

Although claims in The Amityville Horror book and movie seemed to have been laid to rest—after a civil trial yielded evidence that the “demonic” events were mostly fiction—the case has resurfaced once again. This time the oldest child of the troubled family, Daniel Lutz, who was nine at the time of the brouhaha, has come forward to claim the essential story was true and that he and his stepfather George had been “possessed.”

Miracle Dirt of Chimayó

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 37.1, January/February 2013

Investigative Files
Miracle Dirt of Chimayó

El Santuariò de Chimayó in New Mexico is a place of pilgrimages. Scores visit the little adobe church daily, while thousands walk miles to worship there on Good Friday. Many come seeking a cure for their afflictions, scooping from a small pit in the church floor a reddish soil that they rub on afflicted areas of their bodies or even sprinkle on their food or brew in tea.

Skeptickles

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 11, 2013

In defense of her ignorant use of the non-existent word refudiate (following George W. Bush’s misunderestimate), Sarah Palin tried to grab the neologist’s hat by comparing herself to a literary master: “Shakespeare,” she said, “liked to coin new words too.” Well, I refudiate her attemptation to Shakespearialize her allegified coinizing. She misunderestimates our intelligization.

“Dark Skies”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 4, 2013

Help! Alien beings are abducting us! At least that is the message of the movie Dark Skies (released in February 2013).

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