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In the Media: 2012 Activities of Joe Nickell

Joe Nickell

January 16, 2013

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

In 2012 he published two new books: The Science of Ghosts: Searching for Spirits of the Dead (Prometheus Books) which Michael Shermer termed “the definitive book on ghosts from a scientific perspective,” and CSI Paranormal: Investigating Strange Mysteries (the first title published by CSI’s new Inquiry Press). These bring the total of Nickell’s books to more than forty, and represent his over four decades of investigative work, involving paranormal, forensic, and historical mysteries. In 2012, Nickell also completed the manuscript for yet another comprehensive book, The Science of Miracles: Investigating the Incredible.

As so often in the past, Nickell was again filmed for numerous television shows, including National Geographic’s The Paranatural series, episodes of Canadian television’s The Conspiracy Show, and a documentary forthcoming on NBC. He appeared on Anderson Cooper’s syndicated afternoon TV show, Anderson, where, according to the Los Angeles Times, he “did a fine job offering a coherent, yet sympathetic, response” to several UFO witnesses. Nickell was also seen in reruns on several other TV programs.

In addition, Nickell appeared on radio shows (like Barry Lynn’s Culture Shocks and Coast to Coast AM), was interviewed for many newspaper articles an d online sources, and wrote for the Huffington Post—these in addition to his many lectures and other conference contributions (as far away as Manchester, England). Nickell was sought on such new subjects as the predicted Mayan apocalypse (he correctly said not to worry), and such old standbys as the Shroud of Turin (telling the Buffalo News, for instance, “It’s the work of a confessed medieval forger done in France in the middle of the 14th century using red ochre and vermilion tempera as part of a faith-healing scam”). (He also commented on the “Shroud” for MSNBC online).

Nickell was the subject of several media profiles as well. The summer 2012 issue of & magazine (published by the University of Kentucky College of Arts & Sciences) interviewed him about his work. The piece was titled “Curiously Inclined” (each letter of the heading being composed of fine-print lines of text listing many of his numerous “personas” (over a thousand now): stage magician, undercover operative, historical document consultant, fingerprint recorder. . . .

Alan Boyle, writing for NBCNews.com, interviewed Nickell for a special pre-Halloween (October 26) profile titled, “Sleuth Finds the Truth in Ghost Stories.” Boyle called him “the world’s longest-running full-time professional paranormal investigator.”

A more expansive profile appeared as a front-cover story in Buffalo’s alternative paper, Artvoice, titled “Hunting Monsters, Chasing Ghosts: The Marvelous Life of Detective Joe Nickell.” Stated writer Charlotte Hsu regarding CSI’s “staff detective”: “You are mesmerized. You see that he has lived the lives of many men. He has hunted for lake monsters on two continents, sought out graves of vampires, unmasked phony psychics, and read the flattened wheat of crop circles for signs of hoaxers.” (To read the entire May 30 article, go to www.joenickell.com, select “Press Page” and see “Profiles.”)

Nickell published in Skeptical Inquirer and other venues as well as his own blog, Investigative Briefs, the results of earlier investigations in China (including traditional Chinese medicine and China’s version of Bigfoot, the Yeren), in Italy (the Holy Mandylion), and elsewhere, and he wrote (with co-author Major James McGaha) the SI cover story, “The Roswellian Syndrome.” (This identifies how debunking can send a UFO report underground, where it becomes mythologized before resurfacing as a vast conspiracy tale.) Other significant case reports included an examination of the evidence in the “murder” of Vincent van Gogh, a magician’s analysis of the famous Enfield Poltergeist phenomena, on-site repeating of the mysterious twitching outbreak at LeRoy, New York, a forensic review of a historic “spontaneous human combustion” death, and a firsthand investigation of a “haunted” Shaker village.

Importantly, Nickell also conducted a number of new investigations on various fronts, including, in Scotland, the Loch Ness Monster, the spectral Green Lady of Stirling Castle, and others, and, in England, the Lake Windermere Monster. As well, he looked into UFO and ghost cases, some newly surfaced Davenport Brothers spiritualist records, and much, much more, including the notorious Tennessee “Bell Witch” (in progress). He and Major James McGaha co-authored another large, encompassing piece, “Treatise on Invisible Beings.”

In part, the varied nature of Nickell’s work stemmed from his diverse background. In 2012, for example, he took “orb” photos in a “haunted” cave; performed chemical and microscopical analyses of “miracle dirt” from Chimayo, New Mexico; monitored sonar scans aboard a boat on Loch Ness; interviewed two alien abductees; conducted (in St. Louis) an examination and textual analysis of archived “Patience Worth” automatic writings; participated in a “psychokinetic” spoon-bending workshop; analyzed the speech patterns of allegedly channeled extraterrestrial beings; did folkloristic studies of several legends (one of which, in verse form, he translated from the German and reversified in English); visited and photographed a traveling “miracle” statue; and so on.

In his approximately weekly blogs (he also tweets now), Nickell again offered diversity. Although his “Investigative Briefs” is typically a report or occasionally an essay, he also sometimes provides a satire, movie analysis (as a “Nickell-odeon Review”), an offering from the “Skepcook” (such as a healthy recipe), or other form, such as a poem, or even a political cartoon. As a wag once said of him, “He seldom sleeps.”

Joe Nickell

Joe Nickell's photo

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.