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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.

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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Book of Seasons: An Elegy, for Paul Kurtz

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 37.1, January/February 2013

Paul Kurtz In Memoriam

Return of “Spontaneous Human Combustion”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 21, 2013

Here we go again! In 2011 it was an elderly Irishman who allegedly perished by “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC). Now it is an elderly Oklahoman—according to the Sequoyah County sheriff—who supposedly died by SHC.

A Ni¢kell’s Worth

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 20, 2013

Some musings from one who is now well into his fifth decade as a skeptic, humanist, and paranormal investigator:

Shaker Digestive Cordial

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 14, 2013

My collection of pseudoscience and paranormal artifacts—online at http://www.skeptiseum.org—has received a new addition: a bottle embossed “Shaker Digestive Cordial/A.J. White New York.” It arrived as a gift from a thoughtful skeptic, Alan Harris of a La Cañada, California, who had queried me about it a couple of years ago. (Thanks Alan!)

“Dr.” McLean’s Nostrums

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 8, 2013
“Dr.” McLean’s Nostrums

While my wife Diana and I visited an aunt in Kentucky during the holidays, from the winter solstice to New Year’s, I paid a visit to Georgetown, where I saw—for the first time in 17 years—my old friend Jerome Redfearn, proprietor of Central Kentucky Antique Mall. As we talked and I browsed, looking for items for my Skeptiseum collection, something caught my eye—a quack medicine item of more than a century ago (pictured here). The price proved to be perfect: Jerome presented it to me as a gift!

A Fiery Death: Murder or ‘Spontaneous Combustion’?

Skeptical Briefs Volume 22.3, Fall 2012

Investigative Files
A Fiery Death: Murder or ‘Spontaneous Combustion’?

This is the story of a fiery death that became a cold case—a mystery unsolved since 1847. It begins with an elderly Frenchman, whose badly burned body suggested to authorities that it may have been set afire to conceal evidence of foul play.

Photographing Sasquatch

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 4, 2013
Photographing Sasquatch

Here is an unaltered photograph I made of a Sasquatch my wife and I encountered on December 22, 2012, in rural Pennsylvania. Take a good look: They don’t get much more real than this.

HORROR-SCOPE FOR SKEPTICS II

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 23, 2013

This incorporates the very latest in astro-illogical forecasting by Nickell-o the Seer.

Personas: 1000 and Counting

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 17, 2013

As will likely be known by those who have visited my website, I have spent my life in a hands-on search for knowledge—part of it relevant to my career of “paranormal investigator,” but much more of it, I think, applicable to my being a “secular humanist.”

In the Media: 2012 Activities of Joe Nickell

January 16, 2013
In the Media: 2012 Activities of Joe Nickell

CSI’s Senior Research Fellow, Joe Nickell, continued his work investigating the world’s strangest mysteries.

Religabouts

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 14, 2013

On December 9, 2012, my wife Diana and I escorted an elderly friend to an annual Polish Wigilia—an event featuring the traditional meal that a Polish family would have on Christmas Eve, followed by the singing of Polish Christmas carols. It was a delight to immerse ourselves in this old tradition.

NRA: Answer or Problem?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 7, 2013

Regarding the recent mass shooting at a Connecticut school, the NRA, at its press conference of December 21, 2012, equated problem mental states with such shootings involving assault-style weapons. Indeed, NRA head Wayne La Pierre brought his own problem mental states to the issue by suggesting that the solution was to place armed guards at all schools. Let me take this opportunity to make some additional suggestions—each in the La-La Pierre vein.

Top Ten Uses for Assault Weapons

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 2, 2013

In light of continued mass shootings using assault weapons, and the argument of some (including many espousing “humanist values”) that such weapons have no purpose other than mass killings, I have provided this helpful top-ten list of uses:

States of Mind: Some Perceived ET Encounters

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.6, November/December 2012

Investigative Files
States of Mind: Some Perceived ET Encounters

Together, as we shall see, these cases illustrate that UFOlogy continues its long tradition of mystery mongering and the implicit reliance on a logical fallacy called “arguing from ignorance”: “We don’t know what was seen in the sky; therefore, it must have been an extraterrestrial craft.”

Ghosts at a Shaker Village

Skeptical Briefs Volume 22.2, Summer 2012

Investigative Files
Ghosts at a Shaker Village

In 1774 a “visionary” named Ann Lee—as charismatic as she was uneducated—sailed from Manchester, England, to New York to spread her new faith. In time “Mother Ann’s” United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming would found nineteen utopian communal villages.

Biblical Revisionism

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 17, 2012

The following is from The Bible According to the Most Modern Apologists for Religion—an as yet unpublished text.

Celebrating Milbourne Christopher

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 6, 2012

My good friend William V. Rauscher—magician, Episcopal priest, psychical researcher, and author—has produced yet another excellent book—a long-overdue tribute to American magician Milbourne Christopher. I especially welcome it, because Christopher was one of the greatest influences on my early career as a magician turned paranormal investigator.

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