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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.

Bigshoot: A TV Misadventure with “Bigfoot”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 14, 2017

As one of several mysteries for the currently airing series on the Science channel, Strange Evidence, CFI video expert Tom Flynn and I were asked to look at a creature videotaped on a deputy sheriff’s dashcam. It was recorded on the night of May 16, 2009, in northern Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Park.

 

Ghosts at Nevada’s Pioneer Saloon

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 6, 2017
Ghosts at Nevada’s Pioneer Saloon

On a Friday night sojourn from the excellent CSI conference in Las Vegas (October 26-29, 2017), three of us visited the “haunted” century-old Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Nevada—no doubt the most haunted site in the former mining town, population 229, not counting ghosts.

 

Houdini’s Halloween Legacy

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 1, 2017
Houdini’s Halloween Legacy

Halloween, the time of would-be goblins, is also celebrated by magicians and magic lovers as National Magic Day (part of National Magic Week, the last seven days in October). First called “Houdini Day,” it was initiated by the Society of American Magicians following the death of the great conjurer, escape artist, and nemesis of fake mediums, Harry Houdini, who died at age 52 on Halloween, 1926.

 

Bigfoot as Big Myth: Seven Phases of Mythmaking

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 41.5, September/October 2017

Feature
Bigfoot as Big Myth: Seven Phases of Mythmaking

The hairy man-beast known as the “Sasquatch” or “Bigfoot” is now ever present in North American culture. Supposedly a throwback to our evolutionary past, it is an “ape-man” version of us just as the little-bodied, big-headed, humanoid extraterrestrial is a futuristic one.

St. Padre Pio’s Relics Tour U. S.

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 23, 2017

Relics of Padre Pio—the late, alleged stigmatic—attracted the credulous faithful during two tours of the United States in 2017. The show was apparently good for business everywhere.

 

“Marshall”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 17, 2017

If one views Marshall (2017) with the expectation that it will depict the lifetime of its subject—Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), the civil rights stalwart—one may be surprised (as I was) but not disappointed.

 

RIDDLEculous XV

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 10, 2017

More funny riddles from a skeptical view.

Bigfoot Eyeshine: A Contradiction

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 28, 2017

The fabled North American man-beast, Bigfoot, continues to draw interest after two centuries of searching—despite the lack of a specimen and an utter absence of fossil evidence. Proponents continue to rely on such questioned evidence as photos and films, footprints, hair specimens, and the like.

 

Sarsaparilla for Syphilis?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 22, 2017
Sarsaparilla for Syphilis?

I recently acquired an old sarsaparilla bottle, its label stating that it was intended for medical treatment of such diseases as “chronic rheumatism,” “obstinate cutaneous eruptions,” and “syphilitic conditions.” It was to be used orally, not topically. Yes, this is the same sarsaparilla long used as an herbal tea and tonic that evolved into a health drink before finally becoming a soda pop similar to root beer (Nickell 2011).

 

Vexed by “Vaxxed”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 13, 2017
Vexed by “Vaxxed”

I am long familiar with the anti-vaccination “movement” (a conspiracy-theory cult based on a hoax), but it nevertheless came home to me recently. Literally. A black bus with the word Vaxxed in 4-foot-high letters parked a stone’s throw from CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY. (No, I didn’t throw a stone.)

 

Response to Fake News on Climate Change in “The Federalist”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 6, 2017

“Prominent Debunker Shows Himself Gullible to Al Gore’s Unsupported Climate Shilling,” read the headline in The Federalist, August 29, 2017 (Gleason 2017a). Why, they were talking about moi!

 

H. David Sox (1936–2016)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 25, 2017

H. David Sox—a onetime advocate for the Shroud of Turin who was later persuaded it was a fake and went on to delve into other art forgeries—has died. He and I knew each other only slightly but respected each other’s work, and I am deeply saddened by his loss.

 

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

Australia’s Storied Ghosts

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 41.5, September/October 2017

Investigative Files

“An Inconvenient Sequel”:  A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 17, 2017

Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006)—his powerful documentary on global warming—justly helped earn him the Nobel Peace Prize of 2007. Now comes his An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, an engrossing presentation of power-point slides and video footage that updates the dynamics of planetary weather change.

 

JonBenet Murder Mystery Solved? (Not by Psychics)

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 41.4, July/August 2017

JonBenet Murder Mystery Solved? (Not by Psychics)

The death of six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey went unsolved for two decades. 
Psychics were worse than useless, but the author’s proposed solution resulted from evaluating the best evidence.


Haunted Buffalo Asylum

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 10, 2017
Haunted Buffalo Asylum

Among Western New York’s allegedly most haunted sites stands the architecturally acclaimed H.H. Richardson complex, begun in 1871 and opened in 1880 as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. Its two 185-foot towers rose from a four-story structure originally flanked on either side by five stepped wards, with its female wing being completed in 1895. Based on the humanitarian philosophy of Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, the asylum was intended to provide curative hospitalization for the mentally ill. Crowded by a surge in patients, its occupancy was eventually exceeded by the thousands. In 1927 half the grounds were lost to a college, and more were claimed by modern buildings in the late 1960s.

 

Murder by Darkness: Does Mammoth Cave’s Specter Harbor a Secret?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 41.4, July/August 2017

Investigative Files
Murder by Darkness: Does Mammoth Cave’s Specter Harbor a Secret?

Joe Nickell solves the case of an unlikely ghost, hidden in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave

Turin Shroud: “Blood” Still Fake

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 28, 2017

“New research,” reports the Catholic News Agency (July 14, 2017), indicates that the “Shroud of Turin Bears Blood of a Torture Victim.” Actually, it was the research that was tortuous: questionable science in the service of confirmation bias.

 

Cartoon: Obamacare Repeal

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 21, 2017
Cartoon: Obamacare Repeal

Artwork by Joe Nickell.

Eclectic Medicine

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 7, 2017

In nineteenth century America, a number of what today are called “alternative” medical practices—“magnetic healing” (hypnosis), homeopathy, and eclecticism, among others—vied with each other and with regular or “old school” medicine—i.e., allopathy, today’s science-based medicine.

 

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

The Bigfoot Obsession

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 41.4, July/August 2017

Review

Barker’s Nerve and Bone Liniment

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 19, 2017
Barker’s Nerve and Bone Liniment

Barker’s Nerve and Bone Liniment was a proprietary medicine introduced by Thomas Barker in Philadelphia in 1859. It was intended for both man and beast.

 

Multipurpose “Florida Water”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 1, 2017
Multipurpose “Florida Water”

“Florida Water”—popular through most of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth—was neither water nor a product of Florida. It had a surprising number of uses, medicinal and otherwise.

 

The New Zealand Moa: From Extinct Bird to Cryptid

Skeptical Briefs Volume 27.1, Spring 2017

Investigative Files
The New Zealand Moa: From Extinct Bird to Cryptid

Cryptids are of two types: either (1) unknown species, such as Bigfoot or at one time the Mountain Gorilla; or (2) known species that supposedly become extinct but may have survived and could be rediscovered.

“Globster” Mysteries

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 22, 2017

Cryptozoologists call them “globsters”—great decaying masses usually seen when they wash ashore somewhere. The unidentified carcasses are typically called “sea monsters”—until science determines their true identity. Such a creature—a 50-foot leviathan—appeared on an Indonesian island beach in early May 2017. The rotting corpse was first thought to be that of a giant squid (the “Kraken” of sea lore).

 

“Mouth Elixir”: Bell-shaped Dr. Bell Bottle

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 11, 2017
“Mouth Elixir”: Bell-shaped Dr. Bell Bottle

This distinctive bell-shaped bottle (see photo) is embossed on its bottom, “DR. V. C. BELL’S MOUTH ELIXIR.” What on earth was that?

 

Some Queensland Mysteries

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 41.3, May/June 2017

Investigative Files
Some Queensland Mysteries

Strange mysteries may be found almost anywhere, but they seem especially plentiful and interesting in Australia.

Televangelist Hinn Investigated—Again

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 5, 2017

Benny Hinn—the televangelist who talks with God and knocks people down by merely pointing at them—is being investigated for fraud and tax evasion, following a raid executed by a search warrant on April 26, 2017. I am not surprised. He is full of tricks.

 

“The Lost City of Z”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 28, 2017

The Lost City of Z is the story of an alleged indigenous city in Brazil’s Amazon, its name given by British soldier, surveyor, and explorer Col. Percy Fawcett who sought to prove its reality. To understand Fawcett’s quest, we must see it in the context of such myths generally, which—pursued from the fifteenth century—helped lead to the development of archaeology.

 

Steller’s Sea Ape:
 Identifying an Eighteenth-Century Cryptid

Skeptical Briefs Volume 26.4, Winter 2016/2017

Investigative Files

Since its appearance in 1741, a mysterious creature has remained controversial—a so-called “sea monkey” that puzzled naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller.

Ghost “Orbs” at the Witch’s Barn

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 24, 2017
Ghost “Orbs” at the Witch’s Barn

Many ghost hunters insist that “orbs”—strange balls of light that mysteriously appear in their photos—are a form of “spirit energy.” If so, they seem nowhere more evident than at a Rhode Island barn where, according to some sources, two persons were hanged, including a witch named Bathsheba. She was central to the horror film, The Conjuring, reportedly based on the case files of the infamous Ed and Lorraine Warren, self-styled “demonologist” and “clairvoyant” who made a career of scaring people with made-up demons.

 

Miracle Tableau: Knock, Ireland, 1879

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 41.2, March/April 2017

Investigative Files
Miracle Tableau: Knock, Ireland, 1879

The ability to see pictures in random forms—as in clouds, tea leaves, and inkblots—is known as pareidolia... Some publicized examples I have made pilgrimages to examine include the face of Jesus in the skillet burns of a tortilla…

“The Conjuring” Double Bombshell

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 11, 2017

The author of the book that launched The Conjuring franchise (two main horror films and spin-offs based on the work of two notorious paranormal investigators) has now launched a double bombshell. He is suing the movies’ producers for allegedly violating his rights, while also stating that central claims in the movies are bogus.

 

Joe Nickell Receives Distinguished Service Award

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 5, 2017
Joe Nickell Receives Distinguished Service Award

Thanks to the committee for Buffalo’s annual Science Exploration Day who — on the event day of March 22, 2017, at the University of Buffalo — honored me with the Distinguished Service Award. The following page appeared in the event booklet:

Claims of Chi: Besting a Tai Chi Master

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 41.1, January/February 2017

Investigative Files
Claims of Chi: Besting a Tai Chi Master

Tai chi is a shortened form of taiji quan, “Supreme ultimate boxing.” Conceived centuries ago as a martial art, it is now also practiced—as “Taoist tai chi”—as an exercise technique…

A Brief Biography of “Magnetic Healer” H.N. Wheelock

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 28, 2017

As presented elsewhere (Nickell 2017), I acquired for my collection a trade card of nineteenth-century “Magnetic Healer” H.N. Wheelock. To learn more about him, I researched various sources, including an authoritative Wheelock genealogy (Sullivan 2017). CFI Libraries Director Tim Binga greatly assisted with this project, tracking Wheelock through federal and state censuses and other records. Here is what we discovered.

 

Rare Trade Card of “Magnetic Healer”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 24, 2017
Rare Trade Card of “Magnetic Healer”

The Victorian trade card (a forerunner of the later business card), pictured here, is graced by the engraved portrait and facsimile signature of H.N. Wheelock. He is described on the reverse as a “Mental and Vital Magnetic Healer”—that is, one who treated both mind and body. “WILL THOU BE MADE WHOLE?” he asks.

 

Unique Quassia Cup: Made Its Own Medicine!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 10, 2017
Unique Quassia Cup: Made Its Own Medicine!

The cures were in the wood of this nineteenth-century medicinal goblet. It supposedly turned ordinary water into a powerful tonic for treating fever and numerous other ailments.

 

RIDDLEculous XIV

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 1, 2017

More funny riddles from a skeptical view.

Dispelling Demons: Detective Work at The Conjuring House

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.6, November/December 2016

Investigative Files
Dispelling Demons: Detective Work at The Conjuring House

I analyzed the Perrons’ claims of demonic activity and showed that they were consistent with the effects of strong winds, misperceptions, schoolgirl pranks, vivid dreams, simple suggestion, role-playing, and other factors.

“Otto’s Cure” for Consumption, Etc.

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 17, 2017
“Otto’s Cure” for Consumption, Etc.

“Otto’s Cure for Throat & Lungs” was allegedly effective for diseases including whooping cough and consumption (tuberculosis). (There were many such bogus consumption cures.)

 

Ghost in the Window: At Toronto’s Colborne Lodge

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 10, 2017

According to many sources, Colborne Lodge at Toronto’s High Park (where I visited in 1973) is still the residence of the lady of the house, Jemima. Illness confined her for many years to her upstairs bedroom, until she died in 1877 and was buried on the property. “To this day,” states Dennis William Hauck in his The International Directory of Haunted Places (2000, 155), “her apparition is seen staring out that same upstairs master bedroom window, looking down at her iron-fenced gravesite and massive monument.” Hauck goes on to explain that she was the wife of Sir John Colborne, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, but he is mistaken.

 

“Hidden Figures”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 1, 2017

Hidden Figures is an important, must-see movie. It tells the inspiring story of three African-American women who rise above the sexism and racism of the 1950s and 1960s to work as “human computers” at NASA, helping to launch Americans into space.

 

Cartoon: Immigrant/Refugee Ban

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 31, 2017
Cartoon: Immigrant/Refugee Ban

Artwork by Joe Nickell.

St. Jacobs Oil: New Acquisition

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 24, 2017
St. Jacobs Oil: New Acquisition

My recent acquisition of another St. Jacobs Oil liniment bottle warrants this update. My earlier blog (St. Jacob’s Oil, January 8, 2014) told how German immigrant August Vogeler (1819–1908) came to America and founded a patent-medicine business by 1845; after 1878 he and his son Charles were selling “ST. JACOBS OEL” (sic, using German spelling). I only described their early bottle but showed a photo of a later one.

 

Relic Madness

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 19, 2017

The mania for holy relics—in Catholicism objects once connected with the body of a saint—stems from belief that a relic is imbued with miraculous power including supernatural healings. Not surprisingly, this superstition has led to many excesses.

 

A Tramp-art Cross

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 11, 2017
A Tramp-art Cross

In my previous blog, “A Tramp-art Picture Frame,” I focused on a typical work of that folk-art genre. Here is a very different example (see photograph).

 

A Tramp-art Picture Frame

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 3, 2017
A Tramp-art Picture Frame

A folk-art phenomenon of yesteryear was so-called “tramp art”— wood items handcrafted from discarded materials, ostensibly by hoboes, either to sell or to barter for food or drink. Pictured here (see photo) is a tramp-art frame with its religious oleograph (which I acquired for my collection in 2002).

 

RIDDLEculous XIII

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 21, 2016

More funny riddles from a skeptical view

 

Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 14, 2016
Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root

Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root Kidney medicine began in the mid-1870s and in time became a household name. It was the creation of Dr. S(ylvester) Andral Kilmer (1840–1924) who developed a line of patent remedies in Binghamton, New York.

 

Herkimer Diamond Mysteries

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 6, 2016
Herkimer Diamond Mysteries

Although not a precious gem like the diamond, the so-called “Herkimer diamond” is itself the focus of much attention. In June 2016 I was able to add to my collection of curious stones by searching for “Herkimers” at a mine in New York state and learning more about their natural and allegedly magical properties.

 

Mystery Coin of 
the Yukon

Skeptical Briefs Volume 26.3, Fall 2016

Investigative Files
Mystery Coin of 
the Yukon

According to raconteur Ed Ferrell in his Strange Stories of Alaska and the Yukon (1996, 120), the coin “appeared to have been minted before the Ice Age”

Stagecoach Tavern Ghosts

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 29, 2016
Stagecoach Tavern Ghosts

Where my travels take me, I often have occasion to check out a “haunted” tavern or inn. In several months’ time in 2015–2016, for example, I visited two such places in Australia, others in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, Vancouver’s Gastown, and Niagara Falls, NY, and then in June 2016, the Tavern on Main in Chepachet, RI.

 

Ghosts at New Orleans’ Secret Horror Chamber

Skeptical Briefs Volume 26.2, Summer 2016

Investigative Files
Ghosts at New Orleans’ Secret Horror Chamber

Perhaps such antics will inspire a new generation of ghost hunters.

Old English Black Oil Liniment

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 22, 2016
Old English Black Oil Liniment

“Black Oil” is an old English name for a horse liniment. It eventually came to be sold in America as “a never failing Remedy for Man and Beast.”

 

Mother Gray’s Sweet Powders

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 18, 2016
Mother Gray’s Sweet Powders

LeRoy, New York, has many claims to fame—apart from the mysterious twitching outbreak I investigated for Skeptical Inquirer in 2012. It was the birthplace of Jell-O in 1897 (the museum is well worth seeing) as well as something called Mother Gray’s Sweet Powders for Children, among other products.

 

Jesse James’s ‘Haunts’: Legends, History, and Forensic Science

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.4, July/August 2016

Investigative Files
Jesse James’s ‘Haunts’: Legends, History, and Forensic Science

Before trying to explain something, first be sure that it really occurred.

“Miraculous” Infant Jesus of Prague

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 7, 2016
“Miraculous” Infant Jesus of Prague

The Infant Jesus of Prague is a small (18.5 inches tall) wax-covered wood statue of the child Jesus in a church in Prague, Czech Republic. Many of the faithful believe it to have magical powers.

 

Creators of the Paranormal

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.3, May/June 2016

Feature
Creators of the Paranormal

A handful of twentieth-century figures “created” the modern concept of the paranormal and its leading topics, transporting fantasy, myth, or speculation into a kind of believable “reality.” Most proved to be a chimera.

RIDDLEculous XII

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 26, 2016

More funny riddles from a skeptical view.

‘Harmless’ Homeopathy Horror?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 20, 2016

Skeptics often dramatize the uselessness of homeopathic remedies by taking large doses to prove their point. That may be unwise in light of a recent FDA warning.

Gallows Ghosts? Mystery at Brisbane’s Tower Mill

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.3, May/June 2016

Investigative Files
Gallows Ghosts? Mystery at Brisbane’s Tower Mill

Residents in the neighborhood in the mid-twentieth century reported that “sometimes when they looked up at the small window facing the street they could see a faint glow and a figure inside the tower, swinging gently from side to side.”

“Magnetic” Medicines

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 12, 2016
“Magnetic” Medicines

Various “magnetic” balms, oils, and other products were common in America, especially during the nineteenth century and before the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (effective January 1907). I have already discussed Prof. Long’s Magnetic Comb, which allegedly stopped falling hair and cured headaches (Nickell 2016). There were numerous magnetic gadgets, but here we look at “magnetic” medicines.

Poem: Ark Encounter

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 4, 2016
Poem: Ark Encounter

It is, in a word, breathtaking—the replica of an imagined Noah’s Ark built by creationists in northern Kentucky. My wife Diana and I visited the site, called Ark Encounter, August 3, 2016. It prompted the accompanying photo (showing her) and poem (another in the style I call improvisational rhyming).

Dimming the Paulding Light

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 28, 2016

Having investigated on site in North Carolina the famous Brown Mountain Lights mystery (Nickell 2016), I have learned more about another example of the ghost lights phenomenon (of which there are several): The Paulding Light of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Another Whopper

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 23, 2016
Another Whopper

In an earlier article, I detailed my examination—conducted for National Geographic Wild’s TV show, Monster Fish—of an old photograph of a humongous catfish. It proved not to be a fake photo, but rather a genuine photo of a faked scene. (See the Jan./Feb. 2015 Skeptical Inquirer for my “Monster Catfish,” pp. 20–22.). Here is another whopper, from a vintage postcard I am just adding to my collection. Take a look.

Fink’s Magic Oil: Secret of the Magic

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 14, 2016
Fink’s Magic Oil: Secret of the Magic

Fink’s Magic Oil was a supposed cure for rheumatism, cholera, and numerous other ills, developed by Ohioan Henry George Greatrake Fink, an erstwhile Methodist minister who moved to Pittsburgh to reap a worldly fortune in the patent medicine business.

“Magnetic” Comb Cured Headache?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 8, 2016
“Magnetic” Comb Cured Headache?

Wow! A “Prof. Long’s Magnetic Comb” not only removed dandruff and stopped falling hair but cured headaches—or so it was claimed at the turn of the last century (see photo—author’s collection).

“Captain Fantastic”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 31, 2016

Captain Fantastic is a unique movie without a boring moment. It tells the story of a family of back-to-nature fanatics—not from the political right (which would only have been scary), but from the Sixties left. They have foregone Christmas but added “Noam Chomsky Day,” which apparently can be held whenever father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) deems appropriate.

The School Auditorium Ghost

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 24, 2016

Sometimes a ghostbusting skeptic just gets lucky. So it was, following my luncheon speech at a CFI conference, when an attendee told me she knew the true facts behind the “haunting” of Pembroke Middle School in Corfu, N.Y.

New Tests: Dawson Was Piltdown Forger

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 18, 2016

After an eight-year examination, a team of researchers has concluded that the infamous Piltdown Skull hoax—consisting of human skull fragments together with an ape-like jaw having two teeth—was the work of a single forger: the “discoverer” and original suspect Charles Dawson. The study clears other suspects touted over the years, including the French priest Teilhard de Chardin, English paleontologist Arthur Smith Woodward, Scottish anatomist Arthur Keith, and, among others, famed Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

Ley Lines: Investigating on Site

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.5, September/October 2016

Investigative Files

Otherwordly: Mysteries of Newfoundland and Labrador

Skeptical Briefs Volume 26.1, Spring 2016

Investigative Files
Otherwordly: Mysteries of Newfoundland and Labrador

According to the tale, if one were driving at night from Deer Lake toward the city of Corner Brook one might encounter “a woman in a white dress.”

In the Stars? Personal Investigations of Astrology

Skeptical Briefs Volume 25.4, Winter 2015/16

Investigative Files
In the Stars? Personal Investigations of Astrology

Something wonderful happened to me in 2003 that I never saw coming. Had it been foreseen by stargazers in their forecasts for me in that year?

Dr. Hartshorn’s Medicines

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 10, 2016
Dr. Hartshorn’s Medicines

Dr. Edward Hartshorn (1817–1887) was a physician who marketed various cure-alls during the patent medicine era.

 

The Dreamed Visit

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 28, 2016
The Dreamed Visit




This is about the reality of an illusional experience. Philosopher Paul Kurtz was founder of The Center for Inquiry. (Written in the style I’ve developed, called Improvisational Rhyming, the poem is probably more effective read aloud.)

La búsqueda de evidencia negativa

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.6, November/December 2015

Online Extra

A todo el mundo le gustan los misterios. Resuelva uno en el campo científico y enseguida vendrán los elogios.

W.T. Rawleigh Company

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 22, 2016
W.T. Rawleigh Company

William Thomas “Will” Rawleigh (1870–1951) was an American medicine peddler, who eventually parlayed his early success (beginning in 1889) into an international manufacturing enterprise.

 

The Memory Keeper

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 13, 2016
The Memory Keeper

This is a poem dedicated to Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who died July 2, 2016. His numerous books included Night, based on his memories of imprisonment at the concentration camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

 

“The Conjuring 2”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 5, 2016

p>
On the heels of the 2013 The Conjuring comes another James Wan-directed horror film, The Conjuring 2, but it is a bit of a stretch to call it a sequel. It does not continue the case of the Perron family hysterics in Rhode Island, but rather presents another one, that of the Enfield Poltergeist in England, 1977 to 1979.

 

 

“Genius:” A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 5, 2016

Movies about genius continue to hold our interest—films like The Imitation Game (2014, heralding the father of the modern computer, Alan Turing), The Theory of Everything (2014, about the theoretical physicist Steven Hawking), and The Man Who Knew Infinity) 2016, on the life of math visionary Srinivasa Ramanujian).

 

Dispelling Demons of “The Conjuring”—on Site

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 1, 2016

During mid-June 2016, after her invitation, I drove to the rural Rhode Island home of Norma Sutcliffe, who lives in the allegedly demon-haunted house that was the subject of the 2013 scary movie The Conjuring. Whereas “demons” allegedly plagued the Perron family for ten years beginning in January 1971 (Perron 2011, 2013, 2014), Norma Sutcliffe (having acquired the property in 1987) has lived there with her companion Gerry for three times as long, and has never had trouble from demonic forces.

 

Murder in the U.S. Capitol and the Ghost of William P. Taulbee

Skeptical Briefs Volume 25.3, Fall 2015

Investigative Files
Murder in the U.S. Capitol and the Ghost of William P. Taulbee

After my centennial article on Taulbee’s assassination appeared (Nickell 1990), I learned of a follow-up claim: Taulbee’s unrequited ghost haunts the steps that are still marked with his blood.

RIDDLEculous XI

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 23, 2016

More funny riddles from a skeptical view.

Vancouver’s “Haunted” Old Spaghetti Factory

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 17, 2016
Vancouver’s “Haunted” Old Spaghetti Factory

The Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown—Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood—is reportedly a very haunted place, but you couldn’t prove it by me (see photo). The popular eatery, which opened in 1970 in a former grocery wholesalers at 53 Water Street, houses an old trolley car and assorted other artifacts and antiques. It is also, reportedly, home to no fewer than four ghosts, one that of the old tram conductor himself.

 

Sasquatch! Look Out!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 8, 2016
Sasquatch! Look Out!

After speaking at the Imagine No Religion Conference in Vancouver (May 20–22, 2016), I was able to spend some time investigating local mysteries. Notably, private investigator Dale Jackaman and I (see Figure 1) went into an area of prime Sasquatch country—the area around Chilliwack, Harrison Hot Springs, and Hope—where the fabled beast has long been reported, and in the future I intend to relate my investigations of specific historical sightings there.

 

“Yeti or Not”—the Bear Facts

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 3, 2016

Tipped by a Huffington Post journalist, I watched Animal Planet’s Yeti or Not world premier, Sunday, May 29, 2016—part of a “Monster Week” lineup.

 

Searching for the Yowie, the Down Under Bigfoot

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.2, March/April 2016

Investigative Files
Searching for the Yowie, the Down Under Bigfoot

The Yowie is becoming increasingly standardized in its appearance. It is sometimes said that it resembles “depictions of the American Bigfoot” or that “America’s Bigfoot would be an identical type”

“The Man Who Knew Infinity”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 20, 2016

Buffeted by forces ranging from poverty to romantic estrangement, academic strictures, outright racism, and profound illness, math visionary Srinivasa Ramanujan lived a brief life that has yielded a rich study in perseverance and the triumph of genius. It is titled, The Man Who Knew Infinity.

Dr. Kennedy’s Medical Discovery

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 17, 2016
Dr. Kennedy’s Medical Discovery

The embossment, “Dr. Kennedy’s / Medical Discovery / Roxbury, Mass.”—on a bottle in my collection (see photo)—was first used in 1846 by Dr. Donald Kennedy. Or perhaps we should place the “Dr.” in quotation marks, since all of his early advertisements—including one from 1854—omit the title, as in “Manufactured by Donald Kennedy.”

Sir Harry Kroto

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 6, 2016

English chemist, Nobel laureate, humanist, CSI Fellow, and all-around admirable human being, Sir Harold Kroto has left those of us who knew him saddened over his death, April 30, 2016, of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Dr. Hawks Universal Stimulant

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 4, 2016
Dr. Hawks Universal Stimulant

The bottle shown here is embossed “DR. HAWKS [sic] UNIVERSAL STIMULANT”; the product was advertised at least as early as 1861.

The Cascading House

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 25, 2016
The Cascading House

My three previous blogs—including the last one, “Dispelling a Ghost at Fallingwater,” the stunning accomplishment of architect Frank Lloyd Wright—are the fruits of a long weekend with my wife Diana to Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, celebrating our 2016 anniversary. Here is one more, a poem about Fallingwater written in a style I have developed and call improvisational rhyming. (It is perhaps most effective when read aloud.)

Dispelling a Ghost at Fallingwater

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 22, 2016
Dispelling a Ghost at Fallingwater

Is Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater—built 1936–1939 as the home of Edgar J. Kaufmann, president of Kaufmann’s Department Stores—actually haunted, perhaps by the ghost of his wife Liliane?

The Brown Mountain Lights: Solved! (Again!)

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 40.1, January/February 2016

Investigative Files
The Brown Mountain Lights: Solved! (Again!)

As with UFOs, some lights will remain unidentified—not because they are inherently mysterious but because they are just eyewitness reports or snapshots with so many variable factors.

Bigfoot in the Laurel Highlands?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 11, 2016
Bigfoot in the Laurel Highlands?

On a 3-day trip (for our April 1, 2016 anniversary), my wife Diana and I stayed in a small log cabin in southwestern Pennsylvania. This was in the rugged Laurel Highlands—the area of Farmington (with its “haunted” historic Stone House Inn) and Bear Run (the stream where America’s most famous house, Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, is cantilevered over its waterfall).

Ghosts at Stone House Inn?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 8, 2016

To celebrate our tenth anniversary (or our fiftieth, if you know our story), my wife Diana and I made a three-day trip to visit American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater. We stayed in a small log cabin in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands (keeping a sharp lookout as we drove the back roads, since this is a habitat for the Bigfoot Bear—see next blog).  

Kendall’s Spavin Cure

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 1, 2016

Benjamin J. Kendall marketed his Spavin Cure in Vermont in 1876, intended as a liniment for medical and veterinary use.

Historic “Gold Cure” for Addiction

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 18, 2016
Historic “Gold Cure” for Addiction

In the latter nineteenth century, as temperance and prohibitionist sentiment flourished, quack cures for alcoholism began to be offered, beginning with the Keeley Double Gold Cure in 1890.

Holey Shroud Theory

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 14, 2016
Holey Shroud Theory
Here’s a limerick I wrote about the Turin Shroud (at approximately the time I was writing my book, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin):

“Newsweek”: In Flagrante

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 11, 2016

The once-respectable Newsweek has been caught in flagrante. Between the covers, so to speak, we find an editor not only shamelessly touting a notorious Brazilian “healer” but also promoting one of his arch shills, a “psychic” who had a lengthy earlier career as a pornography queen.

RIDDLEculous X

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 29, 2016
RIDDLEculous X

Reverend Peter Popoff: Still Unrepentant

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 23, 2016

I chanced upon an infomercial for the notorious Peter Popoff, televangelist and roving healer, on TLC (January 21, 2016), featuring a “Toronto Miracle Crusade.” For me it was dèjá vu once again.

Death of Cynthia Dwyer

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 18, 2016

Cynthia Dwyer is a name you probably will not recognize, but it caught my attention when it appeared in a Buffalo News headline, February 16, 2016, announcing her death at 84. She had been the “53rd hostage” from the Iranian crisis that began in 1979. She was also, subsequently, the editor of my first book, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin.

Poem: “The Bigfoot Bear”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 10, 2016
Poem: “The Bigfoot Bear”

For the past few years, I have been intensely studying what I call “The Bigfoot Bear”—that is, any bear, especially if standing and even walking upright, that may be mistaken for a Bigfoot. Here I offer a poem on that subject (rather than an investigative report). It is written in a style I have developed, that I call improvisational rhyming. It is perhaps best appreciated when read aloud.

Rev. Downs’ Elixir

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 5, 2016
Rev. Downs’ Elixir

Shown in the accompanying photograph, this 12-paneled aqua bottle (hand blown in a two-piece mold and measuring about 5 38’’ tall by  1 1316’’ diameter) is embossed “REV. N. H. DOWNS’ / VEGETABLE / BALSAMIC / ELIXIR.”

Poltergeist Scribbler: The Bizarre Case of Matthew Manning

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.6, November/December 2015

Investigative Files
Poltergeist Scribbler: The Bizarre Case of Matthew Manning

What has been called “one of the most extraordinary outbreaks of poltergeist phenomena” of the twentieth century began with an English schoolboy, aged eleven and a half years, Matthew Manning.

Solving the 1932 Bladenboro Fire-poltergeist Case

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 26, 2016

In 1932, several mysterious fires erupted in a house on Elm Street in the small town of Bladenboro, North Carolina. Police, fire experts, and others were baffled by the outbreaks that occurred over three days in the home of elderly residents Council H. Williamson and his wife Lydia. Beginning on January 30 with a burning curtain and window shade in the dining room, and continuing the next day with a set of bedclothes, a stack of papers stored in a closet, and a hanging pair of trousers, the rash of twenty mysterious fires ended about noon on February 1. Soon, however, the fiery case went cold and, according to an article by AtlasObscura.com, remains unsolved to this day (Tomlin 2016). But that has now changed.

The Bigfoot Obsession

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 25, 2016

With Joe Gisondi’s Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot (2016), the subtitle says it all. Gisondi, an outsider, traveled with Bigfooters, those credulous folk motivated to search for the fabled creature despite zero scientific evidence for its existence. At times he sounds like a skeptic: “How could creatures presumed to be so large remain so elusive?” (77). At other times he seems a believer: “. . . I felt something watching me” (37). He is, in fact, a journalist trying to be objective and show both sides: “As always I straddle the world of what could be and what is” (42).

See “The Real ‘X-Files’”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 11, 2016

By now you have perhaps learned of the online video by Vice Media, The Real “X-Files?” in which I star as “the real-life Scully” (as in Agent Dana Scully from the popular TV series and film).

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

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).

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

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.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

Dillinger’s Ghost

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.4, July/August 2015

Investigative Files

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

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.

The New Pope Saints

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.2, March/April 2015

Investigative Files

On April 27, 2014, two former popes—John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli, 1881–1963) and John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla, 1920–2005)—were made saints of the Roman Catholic Church. But how are saints created?

Enfield Haunting: Guy Playfair not a Fair-playing Guy

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 7, 2015

I don’t know if Guy Lyon Playfair has ever been scared by his own shadow, but he is most assuredly a True Believer in some scary things that science can’t prove actually exist—poltergeists, for instance. Skeptics have been following Playfair for years—rather like trailing behind an elephant in a parade to clean up after it.

“Woman in Gold”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 28, 2015

Simply put, Woman in Gold is the story of Maria Altmann who—her family’s paintings having been stolen by the Nazis—seeks to reclaim a particularly famous one from the Austrian national art museum that “owns” it.

Fake Turin Shroud Deceives National Geographic Author

April 23, 2015
Fake Turin Shroud Deceives National Geographic Author

Science—and truth—have come under attack by an online article that bears the imprimatur of National Geographic.

The Wizardry of Oz

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 21, 2015
The Wizardry of Oz
 

Monster Catfish: Investigating a Whopper

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.1, January/February 2015

Investigative Files
Monster Catfish: Investigating a Whopper

There are different versions—folklore at work—regarding the origins of both the giant fish and the old photo. Some say the picture is genuine, while others insist that it is not.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

Monster Lookalikes: Reflections of a Paranatural Naturalist

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 39.3, May/June 2015

Investigative Files

Now a Second “Human Torch” Baby

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 13, 2015

A bizarre case has become even more bizarre as burns from alleged “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC)—inflicted on a baby boy from rural India in 2013—have now been followed by similar burns on his newly born brother!

“Miracle” of “Jesus” in Mud

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 9, 2015

Caused by heavy rain, a mudslide on a remote Colombian hillside has revealed an apparent image of a face many believe is that of Jesus. Appearing on Saturday, March 21 (a week and a half before Palm Sunday), the mud Christ drew the attention of media (ah) muckrakers who mostly treated it with amusement.

Poltergeist at Amityville?

Skeptical Briefs Volume 24.3, Fall 2014

Investigative Files

On December 18, 1975, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into a six-bedroom Dutch colonial home in Amityville, New York. But soon they were driven out, they claimed, by horrific supernatural forces. Ghosts? A poltergeist? Demons? Let’s take a look, as new claims continue to surface.

RIDDLEculous VII

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 26, 2015
More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

St. Pat’s “Miracle,” 1697

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 16, 2015

On St. Patrick’s Day, 1697, a painting known as the “Irish Madonna of Hungary” began to weep tears and blood—a “miracle” that has remained unexplained, if not unexplainable, to this day more than three centuries later.

CNN’s “Finding Jesus”: Disingenuous Look at Turin “Shroud”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 6, 2015

The ongoing, six-part series Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery— which began on Sunday, March 1—represents CNN’s run-up to Easter. By a coincidence of a financial nature, the series co-appears with a book of the same title by religion writers/filmmakers, David Gibson and Michael McKinley. The first episode of the TV series (but curiously the last chapter of the book) was about the “Shroud” of Turin. Easter after Easter, this alleged burial cloth of Jesus is trotted out like a ghost story at Halloween, typically with the same shoddy standards.

New “Ghost” at Hampton’s Court

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 4, 2015
New “Ghost” at Hampton’s Court

At England's Hampton Court Palace, in Middlesex, “ghosts” are always welcome, whatever their true nature. Recently 12-year-old Holly Hampsheir captured a strange figure on her iPhone—as she and her cousin of the same age noticed the following day, while perusing their images. Was it the fabled ghost of the Grey Lady? asked the tabloid Daily Mail. Or was it something else? as I was asked by Alan Boyle of NBC News.

Epilepsy “Cures”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 24, 2015
Epilepsy “Cures”

New York City directories listed Henry Root, Patent Medicines, from as early as 1881 until 1913 or possibly later. Sometimes calling himself “Dr.” Root, he offered a “cure” for epilepsy—only one among many.

A Parisian Patent Medicine

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 18, 2015

Recently acquired for my collection of paranormal and pseudoscience artifacts is a rather curious bottle.

Pictures (For Diana)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 12, 2015
Pictures (For Diana)
 

Science Slams “Supplements”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 10, 2015

Like the snake-oil products of yesteryear, which ran afoul of the 1907 Food and Drug Act, today’s “herbal dietary supplements” were dealt a severe blow in New York state when the attorney general ordered four major, national retailers to stop selling such store-brand products. Concluded the state’s top lawman, Eric T. Schneiderman: “Misbranding, contamination and false advertising are illegal. They also pose unacceptable risk to New York families—especially those with allergies to hidden ingredients.”

RIDDLEculous VI

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 3, 2015
More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

Dr. Taft’s “Asthmalene”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 27, 2015

A product with the unique name “Asthmalene” was sold as an asthma “cure” by the Taft Brothers, physicians, who joined forces in 1868 and settled in Rochester, New York, where they formed a medicine company, Dr. Taft Bros.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

Era of the Flying Saucers

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.6, November/December 2014

Investigative Files

“Selma”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 21, 2015

My wife Diana and I celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday by seeing the movie Selma. It brought back many memories of our civil rights work in the sixties. She was at the iconic March on Washington, and I marched with Dr. King in Frankfort, Kentucky. I also picketed the Lexington, Kentucky, federal building during the Selma crisis (along with several friends, including famed agrarian writer Wendell Berry), and I became a community organizer in Georgia. In 1968, in Atlanta, wearing a black armband, I stood in a long line and walked past Dr. King’s open casket following his assassination.

Terrorism

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 14, 2015
Terrorism
 

Je Suis Charlie

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 12, 2015
Je Suis Charlie
(on the terroristic assassination of journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, Paris, 1-7-15)

In the Media: 2014 Activities of Joe Nickell

January 12, 2015
In the Media: 2014 Activities of Joe Nickell

In the middle of his fifth decade of investigating the world’s strangest mysteries, CSI’s Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell continued to address paranormal, historical, and forensic mysteries—both in new investigations and media appearances.

The Yukon’s Bigfoot Bears

Skeptical Briefs Volume 24.2, Summer 2014

Investigative Files

Despite a lack of convincing evidence for Bigfoot, belief persists, and Bigfoot buffs are active almost everywhere, including the sparsely populated Yukon.

“The Imitation Game”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 2, 2015

In case the name isn’t familiar, the central figure of The Imitation Game, Alan Turing, was a clandestine codebreaking hero of World War II. He went on to work at Britain’s National Physical Laboratory, where he created one of the first designs for the ACE, a stored-program computer, and he is now widely considered the father of the modern computer as well as a pioneer in artificial intelligence.

Haynes’ Arabian Balsam

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 19, 2014
Haynes’ Arabian Balsam

In patent-medicine parlance, the term balsam, originally describing an aromatic resin, came to apply generally to “an aromatic oily or resinous medicinal preparation, for healing wounds or soothing pain,” according to The Oxford English Dictionary (1971).

“Rosewater”—and Personal Anecdotes of Iran

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 8, 2014
“Rosewater”—and Personal Anecdotes of Iran

Based on the true story of an Iranian-born journalist named Bahari, Rosewater marks Jon Stewart's directorial debut. It is the comedian's stark drama of Bahari’s arrest for his courageous broadcast journalism. In 2009, Iranian president Ahmadinejad declared victory in his election hours before the polls had closed. In response Bahari bravely submitted camera footage to the BBC showing the unfolding street riots. After his arrest by Revolutionary Guard police, an interrogator identified as “Rosewater” tortured and interrogated him for 118 days. Rather than my adding to the many critiques of this film (I do give it a 3 on a 4-point scale), I thought I would instead share impressions of my own experiences in Iran in a contrastingly different time—some incidents showing the more favorable behaviors of many ordinary Iranians.

Seeing “The Theory of Everything”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 5, 2014
Seeing “The Theory of Everything”
This is not one of my Nickell-odeon reviews: Having seen this first-rate movie, I was first speechless, then moved to write the following poem.

Van Gogh Still Being Murdered

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 2, 2014
Van Gogh Still Being Murdered
 

Van Gogh “Murdered”—Again

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 25, 2014

The two writers whose notion of Vincent van Gogh’s “murder” helped promote their new biography of him (Naifeh and Smith 2011) have dug in their heels despite much intelligent criticism, notably from scholars at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (Tilborgh and Meedendorp 2013). Now the biographers are back, supposedly vindicated by a forensic expert, pathologist Vincent DiMaio (Naifeh and Smith 2014).

Bigfoot at Mount Rainier?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.5, September/October 2014

Investigative Files
Bigfoot at Mount Rainier?

In October 2013, led by a professional guide, I visited Mount Rainier and its vicinity, the locale of numerous alleged sightings, track discoveries, and photographs of the elusive creature.

Honey Island Swamp Monster Film: A Patterson Knockoff

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 6, 2014
Honey Island Swamp Monster Film: A Patterson Knockoff

Louisiana Honey Island Swamp Monster fakery continues to sell, while sometimes common-sense skepticism on the subject has all the currency of—well, a wooden nickel. This was brought home to me personally when I was asked by a production company to look into the latest alleged exploits of the ever-elusive creature. Unfortunately, after I enlisted the aid of Tom Flynn—CFI’s resident photograph, film, and video expert—the producers left us in the lurch. It’s pretty obvious why: the evidence—a brief Super-8 film of the Swampster—is so bad that any critical analysis would leave one asking why the show would be made at all.

Song of a Siren:
 A Study in Fakelore

Skeptical Briefs Volume 24.1, Spring 2014

Investigative Files

Lorelei is described variously as a “sorceress,” “siren,” “water nymph,” “mermaid,” and even, in the plural, “mermaids.” In any case, at least she represents a romantic legend of the Rhine—or does she?

Haunting Hokum

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 30, 2014

Walk into a large bookstore and note the signs for different genres: True Crime, Photography, Nature, the Occult. . . . Threatening to take over the latter is a sub-group that is proliferating so rapidly I think it deserves its own genre: Haunting Hokum.

“Are We Alone?” Speaking at the Trottier Symposium

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 27, 2014

In early October I spent a few days in enchanting Montreal, on two of which (the 6th and 7th) I participated in the annual event, The Loren Trottier Public Science Symposium at McGill University. (Dr. Trottier—an engineer, co-founder of the famous graphics and imaging group Matrox, and recipient of many prestigious honors and awards—makes this event possible by his vision and generosity.) The Symposium moderator was McGill’s indefatigable Joe Schwarcz, Director of the Office of Science & Society and a well-known author, skeptic, and CSI Fellow. This year’s theme was “Are We Alone? (The symposium was recorded and posted online.)

“Ghosts of the Queen Mary”: A Nickell-iferous Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 23, 2014

Published September 16, 2014—in time for pre-Halloween promotion—is the book Ghosts of the Queen Mary, by Brian Clune with Bob Davis, hosts of a radio show called Planet Paranormal Presents, and with an introduction by Christopher Fleming, former co-host of a TV show called Dead Famous which involved the late “psychic” Peter James. James, we are told, incessantly roamed the historic RMS Queen Mary, docked at Long Beach, California, and was “responsible for discovering the many ghosts that inhabit the ship” (p. 139)—“at least six hundred spirits” by James’ count (66). That’s a lot of ghosts, but before one contacts the Guinness World Records folk, we should point out that the book provides no scientific evidence of existing spirits of the dead. Science, in fact, has never authenticated a single ghost.

“Bracketing” for Historical Detectives

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 8, 2014
“Bracketing” for Historical Detectives

For my collection of dictionaries (which also includes various related volumes such as antique spellers and other wordbooks), I recently purchased a little primer (about 3 x 4 12’’ tall) bearing no publication date. I usually pass over undated works because their use in literary investigation is therefore limited.

The ‘Miracles’ of Father Baker

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.4, July/August 2014

Investigative Files
The ‘Miracles’ of Father Baker

Here we look at a few of the unusual incidents that some have called “miraculous,” although none has been accepted as such by the Catholic Church.

“Magic in the Moonlight”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 26, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight is the story of a skeptical—even pompously cynical—1920s magician and his attempt to expose a séance medium whose powers appear to defy exposure.

Dillinger’s Ghost

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 22, 2014
Dillinger’s Ghost
 

RIDDLEculous V

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 8, 2014
More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

“Incorruptible” Corpse of St. Cecilia

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 28, 2014
“Incorruptible” Corpse of St. Cecilia

Reputedly, Cecilia (or Cecily) was a member of a noble Roman family who—having been forced into marriage—persuaded her new husband, Valerian, to respect her holy vow of virginity. Legends say he was himself converted to Christianity by a vision of his wife’s guardian angel. Cecilia is regarded as the patroness of music and musicians, and is represented as such in many paintings, including one by Raphael (1843–1520). The designation came about because, it was said, while organs played at her wedding, “she sang in her heart” to Christ (Coulson 1958, 107, 114). She is commonly depicted playing a flute, harp, or other instrument, especially an organ (see accompanying picture postcard, ca. 1915, author’s collection).

The ‘200 Demons’ House: A Skeptical Demonologist’s Report

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.3, May/June 2014

Investigative Files
The ‘200 Demons’ House: A Skeptical Demonologist’s Report

Sparking an international media frenzy, a house in Gary, Indiana, was—according to two unnamed “clairvoyants”—besieged by over 200 demons.

Maria Monk: A Nun’s ‘Secrets’ Revealed

Skeptical Briefs Volume 23.4, Winter 2013–2014

Investigative Files
Maria Monk: A Nun’s ‘Secrets’ Revealed

It turns out that the fantastic assertions she made were investigated thoroughly at the time by Protestant clergymen who were permitted to inspect the actual convent, discovering that its interior was incompatible with Monk’s descriptions.

Hair Samples: From Bigfoot or the Bigfoot Bear?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 18, 2014

The hirsute (hairy) man-beast known as Sasquatch—or, since 1958, more commonly called Bigfoot—is elusive indeed. Although wanted dead or alive, no such living creature has ever been found (notwithstanding Roger Patterson’s 1967 film of “Patty,” supposedly a Bigfoot with pendulous breasts but actually the common Bigsuit or Sasquatchus costumedus). Neither has a corpse been discovered (despite such hoaxes as the Minnesota Iceman, a carnival exhibit billed as a “Sasquatch—Safely Frozen in the Ice” but instead a specimen of S. latex).

Is the “Crying Woman” Really Bigfoot?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 5, 2014

While the Animal Planet TV series Finding Bigfoot never does find the elusive man-beast, the show’s “team” tries hard to convince us they have. Again and again, they try to conjure up the mythological creature with a fuzzy photo, bent twig, or fleeting shadow. Their leader, Matt Moneymaker, is, at least, aptly named for a Bigfoot ballyhooer.

Tracking Florida’s Skunk Ape

Skeptical Briefs Volume 23.3, Fall 2013

Investigative Files
Tracking Florida’s Skunk Ape

Combining myths of the American Sasquatch—better known since 1958 as “Bigfoot”—and various swamp monsters, Florida’s “Skunk Ape” is reportedly a large, shaggy, man-beast that haunts, especially, Florida’s wilderness areas.

“Finding [the] Bigfoot [Bear]”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 7, 2014

The television show, Finding Bigfoot, continues. While the hairy man-beast still remains elusive, the Animal Planet’s “team” keeps looking, assisted by local good ol’ boys and gals, their imaginative children, producers trying to make something out of nothing, and cool night-vision equipment.

The Conjuring: Ghosts? Poltergeist? Demons?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.2, March/April 2014

Investigative Files
The Conjuring: Ghosts? Poltergeist? Demons?

The 2013 scary movie The Conjuring was very loosely based on the story of Roger and Carolyn Perron and their five daughters who moved into a “haunted” Rhode Island farmhouse in January 1971. There, hysteria soon reigned, the flames of which were fanned by the infamous paranormal “investigators” Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Shiloh’s Consumption Cure

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 24, 2014
Shiloh’s Consumption Cure

The word cure on an old patent-medicine bottle is an almost sure indicator of quackery. No doubt should remain when the product is touted as a cure for consumption (i.e., tuberculosis)! There were many such cures as related in the chapter “Consumption Cures” in Nostrums and Quackery, published by the American Medical Association in 1911. It is a sordid tale of the exploitation of sufferers of pulmonary tuberculosis by means of the temporary benefits of the placebo effect and a remarkable number of “treatments” and “cures,” which fall between worthless and addictive (Nostrums 1911, I: 72–169).

RIDDLEculous IV

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 17, 2014

More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

“Heaven Is for Real”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 11, 2014

Based on the bestselling book of the same title, this is the story of a little boy, a pastor’s son, who had what is known in the parlance of paranormal claims as a “near-death experience” (NDE). That is taken as proving what the title declares, Heaven Is for Real.

‘Miracle’ Statue of Fatima

Skeptical Briefs Volume 23.2, Summer 2013

Investigative Files
‘Miracle’ Statue of Fatima

After years of crossing paths with it, I finally met up with the Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Fatima, which has been traveling the world to relate the “message” of the Lady of Fatima—that of world peace.

Diamond Brand (Whispered Secret) Pills

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 3, 2014
Diamond Brand (Whispered Secret) Pills

The red, black, and gold tin box pictured here (about 2 1/4” x 1 5/8”  x 1” high) was the product of Chichester Chemical Company of Philadelphia: Diamond Brand Pills. Nowhere on the box, however, is any indication of what the pills were expected to remedy. Indeed, each box was secured with a blue ribbon as if to keep a secret. (Note: The present box has a flange on the bottom that fastened the ends of the ribbon, which are still present.)

Rheumatic Cures

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 21, 2014
Rheumatic Cures

The adjective rheumatic pertains to rheumatism, a general, if a rather archaic term describing such acute and chronic conditions as inflammation, joint pain, muscle stiffness and soreness. “Rheumatism” once referred to arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, bursitis, fibromyalgia, degenerative joint disease, and various other conditions (Taber’s 2001, 1806–1807).

A Pilot Comments on UFOs

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 12, 2014
A Pilot Comments on UFOs

James McGaha and I have another investigative article in Skeptical Inquirer—indeed another SI cover story. Titled “Mount Rainier: ‘Saucer’ Magnet” (May/June 2014), it presents the solutions to two important UFO cases occurring at or near Rainier: Kenneth Arnold’s “flying saucers” of 1947 and a lesser-known cold case of 1896 (during the great “airship fever”). We also discuss how a mountain like Rainier helps to form saucer-shaped, lenticular clouds—sometimes seeming almost as active as a bubble machine.

More on Mummies

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 30, 2014
More on Mummies

Regarding my previous blog, “Mummies’ Secrets,” here are two artistic responses to the same exhibition; a poem (in my “improvisational rhyming” style) and a sketch of a natural mummy (a 17th-century nobleman discovered in 1806 in a German castle crypt, dressed in fine boots).

Mummies’ Secrets

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 25, 2014

On April 12, 2014, I visited the Buffalo Museum of Science to view an excellent traveling exhibit, “Mummies of the World.” Mummies are interesting in their own right, of course, but they also provide insights into cultures that imagine mummies’ supernatural potential.

Father John’s Medicine

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 23, 2014
Father John’s Medicine

Father John’s Medicine is the name of a cough remedy with a long history and accompanying legend.

The ‘Bell Witch’ Poltergeist

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.1, January/February 2014

Investigative Files
The ‘Bell Witch’ Poltergeist

Called “America’s best-known poltergeist case,” Tennessee’s sensational “Bell Witch” affair of ca. 1817–1821 has gone unexplained, it is said, for two centuries.

St. Hyacinth’s Miracles

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 18, 2014
St. Hyacinth’s Miracles

Known as “The Apostle of the North,” Saint Hyacinth (ca. 1185–1257) is a much honored figure in Roman Catholicism. He is the subject of a painting, Apparition of the Virgin to Saint Hyacinth by Ludovico Carracci (1592, now in the Louvre) and, among lesser artworks, a mosaic mural dominating the front of a church named for him in Dunkirk, New York. (CFI colleague Tom Flynn, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, called it to my attention, and I visited it to take the accompanying photo.) The mural depicts the future saint performing miracles, and therein lies a tale—or rather, several tales.

A Sighing Debunker

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 14, 2014

A TV producer, visiting me to shoot segments for a new series, told me of his experience with another skeptic, unnamed, whom he had talked with by phone.

Mystery of Belgium’s Glowing Virgin

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 2, 2014

On two trips to Belgium (in 1998 and 2006), I investigated several “miracle” claims, including a healing shrine, known as the “Belgian Lourdes”; the “Holy Blood of Christ” at Bruges; and a wonderworking statue at Belgium’s most-frequented pilgrimage site. (See my The Science of Miracles, 2013, pp. 23–25, 101–103, 187–190.) Now, another remarkable statue there—one that glows!—has come to light (so to speak); however, its mystery was quickly solved by scientists. (Belinda Robinson, We have seen the light! MailOnline [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2590014/We-seen-light-Mystery-glowing-Virgin-Mary-statue-visited-hundreds-Belgium-solved-scientists-discover-covered-luminous-paint.html]; March 26, 2014.)

A Brief Look at Phrenology

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 26, 2014
A Brief Look at Phrenology

Phrenology is a form of character reading (like graphology and physiognomy) as supposedly revealed by the individual contours of the subject’s head. The term was introduced in 1815 to refer to a “physiognomical system” of two German doctors, Franz Joseph Gall and John Spurzheim, who gave phrenological readings and lectured on the subject in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Phrenology flourished during the latter century due to the publishing and merchandizing efforts of the Fowler brothers, Orson S. and Lorenzo N., together with their brother-in-law, Samuel R. Wells. The company, Fowler & Wells, was headquartered in New York City with a branch in Philadelphia.

Warner’s Safe Cures

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 18, 2014
Warner’s Safe Cures

Familiar to collectors of antique bottles, especially those for patent medicines, is the distinctive flask-shaped, amber-colored bottle for Warner’s Safe Kidney & Liver Cure (about 9 3/4’’ tall; see photo). Interestingly, given the word safe in its name, such bottles are embossed with the design of a strongbox, but we are getting ahead of an interesting story about a multiple-quack-medicine empire. Here it is—focusing in turn on each word of the company’s name, Warner’s Safe Cure Company.

RIDDLEculous III

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 9, 2014

More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

“Slave” Takes Oscars

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 4, 2014

It wasn’t a vision, but in my “Nickell-odeon review” of 12 Years a Slave (Nov. 19) I did foresee Academy Awards in that film’s future.

“The Invisible Woman”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 26, 2014

Charles Dickens (1812–1870), the most popular and one of the greatest of English novelists, also deserves plaudits for his literary indictments of society for abusing the poor. To be sure, however, he did have faults. For instance, he fostered belief in the pseudoscientific notion of spontaneous human combustion in his novel Bleak House (1852), although Dickens at least seemed honest in his error.

“The Monuments Men”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 18, 2014

The Monuments Men is a true story, based on a book of the same title, written by Robert M. Edsel and subtitled Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. No exaggeration that.

Valentine’s Day

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 14, 2014
Valentine’s Day
 

RIDDLEculous II

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 4, 2014

More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

Dr. Bateman’s Pectoral Drops

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 29, 2014

During some research, I was intrigued by an entry in an old general store ledger from West Liberty, Kentucky, in 1830 for “1 Vial Batmans [sic] drops.” Although I suspected this was just a patent medicine of the day, I was surprised to learn of its staying power as a product marketed (and imitated) for some two centuries.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Universe

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 17, 2014
Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Universe

Lynn Sherr has done an excellent job of profiling (in the good sense of that word!) Neil deGrasse Tyson in Parade magazine (January 12, 2014). At the bottom of the handsome cover photo—depicting the astrophysicist who is known through the known world—are the words, “Master of the Universe.” The label, at once lighthearted and profound, perfectly fits Tyson.

In the Media: 2013 Activities of Joe Nickell

January 15, 2014
In the Media: 2013 Activities of Joe Nickell

As CSI’s Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell continued his work—now in the middle of his fifth decade—of investigating the world’s paranormal, historical, and forensic mysteries.

More on St. Jacob’s

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 15, 2014
More on St. Jacob’s

I recently acquired another bottle (see previous blog) advertising St. Jacob’s Oil. However, I was immediately suspicious of it, not the least reason being the price—too cheap for such an item. It was also unlike previous bottles of that famous old liniment—in shape and size as well as means of manufacture: it had not been blown in a mold but was produced by an automatic bottle machine. Could it simply be a more modern example of the product?

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Detective: Uncovering the Mysteries of a Word

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 37.6, November/December 2013

Investigative Files

St. Jacob’s Oil

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 8, 2014
St. Jacob’s Oil

St. Jacob’s Oil, a liniment, was one of the common proprietary remedies for rheumatism and other aches and pains in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Its advertisements were not only painted on barns but on fences and even rocks, proclaiming, “St. Jacob’s Oil Conquers Pain.” Sometimes the remedy was touted in verse (Fike 2006, 195):

“Philomena”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 6, 2014

Judi Dench is wonderful in the title role of Philomena Lee, a real woman who spent half a century searching for the out-of-wedlock son she had been forced to give up.

“Mandela”—A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 30, 2013

The death of one of the great people of the twentieth century, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela (1918–2013), had mixed consequences to the movie based on his life: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

“The Book Thief”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 18, 2013

Based on the book of the same title (the very popular novel for young adults by Markus Zusak), The Book Thief is as endearing a story as seems possible given its setting in Nazi Germany.

Ghost-hunter Arsonists?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 16, 2013

In folklore studies, a “legend trip” is the term for a visit to a site that has a legend (a narrative reflecting a folk belief) about uncanny events there—say the activities of ghosts; the visit is made to test the legend. Such a legend trip resulted in seven men being arrested for the suspected arson of a historic Louisiana plantation house on November 21, 2013.

Bigfoot Lookalikes: Tracking Hairy Man-Beasts

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 37.5, September/October 2013

Investigative Files
Bigfoot Lookalikes: Tracking Hairy Man-Beasts

Over my years as a skeptical cryptozoologist, I have looked for real, natural lookalikes to explain various reported “monsters.” Are there animals that might be mistaken for Bigfoot?

Bones of Contention

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 11, 2013

On Sunday, November 24, 2013, the Vatican, via Pope Francis, publicly unveiled for the first time several bone fragments that some have claimed are those of St. Peter himself. Retrieved in 1942 from beneath St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, they have since been bones of contention.

Awardee

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 6, 2013

I am very grateful for two awards recently bestowed on me.

Martin Gardner’s Autobiography

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 4, 2013

The man whom Stephen Jay Gould called rationality’s “single brightest beacon” has given us yet another fine book, his posthumously published Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner (Princeton University Press, 2013). It has an introduction by Persi Diaconis and an afterword by James Randi.

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

Feature
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).

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

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).

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

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.

“Lincoln” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 26, 2012

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a masterful recreation of the Civil War president and the efforts that led to the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (ratified December 6, 1865), abolishing slavery.

Bell Witch Cave

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 21, 2012
Bell Witch Cave

As a sidelight to the excellent 2012 CSIcon event in Nashville, I was able to make an excursion on October 27 to Tennessee’s “haunted” Bell Witch Cave with a favorite co-investigator, Vaughn Rees (who drove to the conference from his home in Ensenada, Mexico!).

Old Anti-Catholic Hoax Continues

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 14, 2012

Recently, I bought an intriguing book in an antique shop: Maria Monk: Secrets of the Black Nunnery Revealed. It was undated but was obviously a reprint of an older volume. Purportedly, in the 1830s, the author escaped from a Montreal convent where priests entered through a secret tunnel to have sexual relations with the defenseless nuns. If a child resulted, the infant was baptized, strangled, and thrown into a basement lime pit (Monk n.d., 130–31). Pregnant herself, Monk escaped to have her baby and pen the tell-all tale. Or so she claimed.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

Science and Art: Complementary Disciplines

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.5, September/October 2012

Feature

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

The ‘Murder’ of Vincent van Gogh

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.5, September/October 2012

Investigative Files

Remembering Paul Kurtz

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 8, 2012
Remembering Paul Kurtz

Here is my elegiac tribute to Paul Kurtz (1925–2012), the founder of the worldwide skeptics movement.

HORROR-SCOPE FOR SKEPTICS

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 6, 2012

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

Montauk Monster and the Raccoon Body Farm

Skeptical Briefs Volume 22.1, Spring 2012

Investigative Files
Montauk Monster and the Raccoon Body Farm

In July 2008, the carcass of a creature soon dubbed the “Montauk Monster” allegedly washed ashore near Montauk, Long Island, New York. It sparked much speculation and controversy, with some suggesting it was a shell-less sea turtle, a dog or other canid, a sheep, or a rodent—or even a latex fake or possible mutation experiment from the nearby Plum Island Animal Disease Center.

Neurologic Illness or Hysteria? A Mysterious Twitching Outbreak

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.4, July/August 2012

Feature
Neurologic Illness or Hysteria? A Mysterious Twitching Outbreak

Six cases were reported, then twelve, then fifteen and counting as the story captured attention across the United States and beyond. I twice visited Le Roy on behalf of the Skeptical Inquirer, to talk with parents and others involved, visit relevant sites, and otherwise investigate this strange outbreak.

Skepcook: Grape Tomatoes and Basil Salad

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 23, 2012
Skepcook: Grape Tomatoes and Basil Salad

This healthy, delightful little salad was inspired by Italian pesto, which the Skepcook learned to make on a trip to Genoa, the home of pesto. (Thanks to Massimo Polidoro and the other great skeptics of CICAP, the Comitato Italiano per il Controllo elle Affermazioni sul Paranormale, for inviting me.)

Enfield Poltergeist

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.4, July/August 2012

Investigative Files
Enfield Poltergeist

In August 1977, a series of disturbances that were soon characterized as a case of poltergeist phenomena or even demonic possession began in Enfield, a northern suburb of London.

Visiting a “Miracle” Statue

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 17, 2012

On September 16, 2012, after years of hearing about it, I finally stood before the “miraculous” Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Fatima, which travels worldwide to bring a supposedly supernaturally obtained message of world peace.

Rare Spiritualists Photo Discovered

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 11, 2012
Rare Spiritualists Photo Discovered

I often spend weekends searching area antique stores and malls for treasures for my paranormal and pseudoscience collection (a small amount of which is online at www.skeptiseum.org). So it was that I came across the old stereoscopic card pictured here. (Placed in an antique viewer called a stereoscope—one of which is included in my collection—such a double picture appears in 3-D.)

“The Master”  (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 26, 2012

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role, is a stunning, must-see movie.

Famous Alien Abduction in Pascagoula: Reinvestigating a Cold Case

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.3, May/June 2012

Special Report
Famous Alien Abduction in Pascagoula: Reinvestigating a Cold Case

Among reports of extraterrestrial encounters, the 1973 claim of two Mississippi men to have been taken aboard a flying saucer remains controversial. Was it a real encounter or a hoax? Or is that a false dichotomy?

Ghost Author? The Channeling of ‘Patience Worth’

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.3, May/June 2012

Investigative Files
Ghost Author? The Channeling of ‘Patience Worth’

Pearl Lenore (Pollard) Curran (1883–1937), wife of John H. Curran of St. Louis, began in 1913 to receive poems and novels, via Ouija board, from a seventeenth-century Puritan english woman named “Patience Worth.”

Trump Card

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 9, 2012
Trump Card

“The Science of Ghosts”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 4, 2012

I announce my latest book, The Science of Ghosts: Searching for Spirits of the Dead, from Prometheus Books. (It is the first of what I hope to make a series, the next being The Science of Miracles.)

To the Future

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 30, 2012

To my descendants in the twenty-second century:

I thought I would post this brief sketch of the time in which I live, which otherwise will seem quite unfamiliar, perhaps incomprehensible, to you so far in the future. I wanted you to hear things from me, rather than from recordings of what we now call “the media,” lest you suspect that they were just kidding.

“ParaNorman”  (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 28, 2012
“ParaNorman”  (A Nickell-odeon Review)

The new animated movie, ParaNorman, is rated PG, meaning “Parental Guidance suggested.” However, I would recommend a different rating: RIP.

UFO Buzzes Balloonists!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 15, 2012
UFO Buzzes Balloonists!

On Sunday, July 29, 2012, three intrepid balloonists went aloft over Genesee Country Village (one of the largest living history museums in the United States) located in Monroe County, New York. I should actually say Intrepid balloonists, because that was the name of the replica Civil War gas balloon the trio were dangling from.

Doomsday—Yet Again!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 2, 2012
Doomsday—Yet Again!

As we approach the proclaimed end of the world—actually, just the end of the Mayan calendar, December 21—many credulous people are in distress. But I am reminded of a folk song (“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”), whose refrain asks sadly, “Oh when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”

Mermaid Body Found?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 24, 2012
Mermaid Body Found?

Has the body of an actual mermaid been discovered? Well, no, but that very idea was launched by an Animal Planet “documentary” that proved to be a crockumentary—in this case a fictional story offered in the realistic style of The Blair Witch Project (1999).

Chinese Ape-Men: In Science and Myth

Skeptical Briefs Volume 21.4, Winter 2011-2012

Investigative Files
Chinese Ape-Men: In Science and Myth

The term ape-man is used in two major ways. As CFI’s visiting scholar in China during October 2010, I encountered—so to speak—an example of each of these two types of ape man, which some believe are related. As we shall see, each has proved elusive in its own way.

High-Wire King Claims the Falls

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 18, 2012
High-Wire King Claims the Falls

During the night of June 15, 2012, I watched Nik Wallenda, of the famous Wallenda acrobatic family, become the only person ever to walk a high-wire across Niagara Falls. (Other funambulists, beginning with the Great Blondin in 1859, traversed the gorge a mile or so downstream.) Wallenda—a man of impressive daring and discipline—is a fascination to me, especially since I have acrophobia. (I don’t even like being this tall!)

Will ETs Invade During the Olympics?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 9, 2012

The extraterrestrials may have finally done it: zapped Nick Pope’s brain!

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 29, 2012

Is nothing sacred? Ask that of the novelist (Seth Grahame-Smith) and the subsequent moviemakers behind Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. How else does one explain their cra$$ exploitation of the sixteenth president, who was martyred for emancipating the slaves and saving the Union at the cost of a bloody war? Bloody? Humor here, with fake blood by the barrelful. Ha, ha!

Dr. Drew: $elling Out $cience

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 27, 2012

Flipping through TV channels (June 11, 2012) I happened upon Dr. Drew, just in time to watch the physician uncomfortably hosting the notorious “psychic medium” James Van Praagh. I say uncomfortably because Dr. Drew Pinsky does not for a moment believe Van Praagh can talk to the dead. So why, in the name of Ethics, you ask, does he have the pretender doing readings on his $how? Can we $olve thi$ my$tery?

A Scintillating UFO Experience

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 18, 2012

Journalist Jacqui Jeras—reporting on CNN Newsroom, Sunday, May 27, 2012—described a UFO that had been seen over Blue Springs, Missouri, for the previous two weeks. It first looked like a star, “experts” said, but then began flashing red and blue colors, leading to descriptions of “a purple light” and “freaky blue lights in the sky.” Video closeups confirmed the effect.

Traditional Chinese Medicine: Views East and West

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.2, March/April 2012

Investigative Files
Traditional Chinese Medicine: Views East and West

Perhaps no gulf between the East and the West is more significant than in theories and practices concerning medicine.

Stargazing: The Transit of Venus

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 7, 2012

As a stargazer (a lighthearted term), I have often looked at the heavens—as in my personas of poet, skeptical UFOlogist, even miracle claims investigator, or often, simply as one interested in the real world that science best explains. As a boy I was taken by my uncle Charlie Cunard to the University of Kentucky observatory to see Mars. Over the years I have witnessed solar and lunar eclipses, Perseid meteor showers, and many other celestial events, both with and without telescopes. (Once, at Conyers, Georgia, where “sun miracles” were being reported, I looked in vain for one, working with Georgia Skeptics who had set up a telescope equipped with a solar filter.)

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 5, 2012

If you are not a senior citizen and plan never to become one, perhaps you could skip The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But I wouldn’t recommend doing so.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

Ghost-Busted! Phony Tales of Dixie Spirits

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.2, March/April 2012

Forum

The Blob Ness Monster

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 21, 2012
The Blob Ness Monster

Has Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, best known from a 1934 photo that has since been revealed as an April Fool’s prank, once again been recorded—this time on sonar?

“The Raven” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 16, 2012

Baltimore, 1849. First, there is the brutal murder of a woman and her daughter in a fourth-floor apartment that is locked from the inside. Then the body of a man named Griswold is found in a torture chamber, sliced in half by a great curved blade at the end of a pendulum.

On a Wing and a Prayer: The Search for Guardian Angels

Skeptical Briefs Volume 21.3, Fall 2011

Investigative Files
On a Wing and a Prayer: The Search for Guardian Angels

Are these experiences really supernatural? Or are they only natural, the result of misperceptions and even misreporting? A look into the phenomenon of claimed guardian-angel encounters is illuminating.

Pop-Culture Zombies

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 8, 2012

On ABC’s popular show Castle, in an episode titled “Undead Again” (aired April 30, 2012), Detective Beckett summons the show’s writer/consultant namesake to a murder scene where the victim’s body bears severe human bite marks. The only witness also has bite marks that match those on the dead man, and the witness insists their assailant was a zombie!

“Bully” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 3, 2012

At school-bus stops, in busses carrying students to and from schools, and in schoolyards and schools themselves, as well as online, bullying takes place at an alarming rate—an estimated over 13 million American kids suffering this "most common form of violence young people in this country experience" (online at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt168218/plotsummary).

The Doctor’s Ghostly Visitor: Tracking ‘The Girl in the Snow’

Skeptical Briefs Volume 21.2, Summer 2011

Investigative Files
The Doctor’s Ghostly Visitor: Tracking ‘The Girl in the Snow’

Although skeptics insist ghosts are unreal, there are many ghostly encounters that seem to present startling evidence to the contrary. One such incident is presented in the book The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales by Ruth Ann Musick.

Home Town Destroyed

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 23, 2012

I'm overdue to write this. On March 2, 2012, occurred the worst thing ever to happen to me: My hometown of West Liberty, in eastern Kentucky's Appalachian foothills, was largely destroyed by a tornado. If I feel so devastated while not even living there, how much worse must it be for those who lost their very homes and livelihood.

Scanning Loch Ness

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 10, 2012
Scanning Loch Ness
From March 14 to 17, 2012, I explored Scotland’s Loch Ness with British skeptic and investigator Hayley Stevens and her intrepid father, Andy (a professional driver and talented photographer). We took a sonar-equipped boat across the lake to Urquhart Castle, noting depths of up to 750 feet, and I bagged one of the fabled creatures—in the accompanying poem.

The Holy Mandylion: A Déjà-view

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.1, January/February 2012

Investigative Files
The Holy Mandylion: A Déjà-view

It was like déjà-vu. In 2008, in a traveling exhibition called “Vatican Splendors,” I had seen the Holy Mandylion, also known as the Image of Edessa, which was once held to be the miraculous self-portrait of Christ. Now, in Genoa the following year, I was seeing another such image...

The Atlanta Child Murders: Evidence vs. Psychics

Skeptical Briefs Volume 21.1, Spring 2011

Investigative Files
The Atlanta Child Murders: Evidence vs. Psychics

While television often offers pseudoscience and fantasy instead of lessons in critical thinking (consider shows like The Ghost Whisperer), there are noteworthy exceptions. One is Soledad O’Brien’s CNN special Atlanta Child Murders (2010).

Limbaugh Caught at For-Pay Sex Talk!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 19, 2012

Rush Limbaugh often refers to feminists as "feminazis," but he simply appears to be projecting his own misogynist tendencies. Now Limbaugh is caught in another contradiction—and in an exposé of his sexual proclivities.

Did Shakespeare Write ‘Shakespeare’? Much Ado About Nothing

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.6, November/December 2011

Feature
Did Shakespeare Write ‘Shakespeare’? Much Ado About Nothing

Anti-Stratfordians start with the answer they want and work backward to the evidence—the opposite of good science and scholarship. They reverse the standards of objective inquiry, replacing them with pseudoscience and pseudohistory.

Lady Sword Swallower

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 12, 2012
Lady Sword Swallower

On February 25, 2012, more than twenty of the world's dwindling number of sword swallowers "dropped swords" at Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditoriums worldwide to celebrate the Sixth Annual World Sword Swallower's Day. My wife Diana and I were at the Niagara Falls, Ontario, Ripley's with Vanessa, Canada's celebrated female sword swallower, to watch her have a snack of cold steel.

Psychic Connections: 
Investigating in Hungary

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.6, November/December 2011

Investigative Files
Psychic Connections: 
Investigating in Hungary

While in Hungary from September 16–22, 2010—initially to participate in the fourteenth European Skeptics Congress (held in Budapest September 17–19)—I found time for some interesting investigations.

An Antique “Temperance Drink”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 24, 2012
An Antique “Temperance Drink”

On February 21, 2012, CFI Libraries intern Christian Exoo (a graduate student in Library Science at the University of Buffalo) gave me the two items pictured here, an antique medicine bottle and accompanying advertising booklet, for my medical quackery collection (part of which may be viewed on www.skeptiseum.com.) Christian discovered the artifacts in the wall of a late-nineteenth-century house in Canton, New York, during a renovation. Both items were new to me, and, additionally, complemented each other with helpful information.

In the Media: 2011 Activities of Joe Nickell

February 17, 2012
In the Media: 2011 Activities of Joe Nickell

CSI Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell had yet another very busy year, utilizing his varied background as stage magician and mentalist, private detective for a world-famous detective agency, forensic science writer, historical document consultant, and university scholar in literature.

“Red Tails” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 17, 2012

This movie about the Tuskegee Airmen—the black American aviators of World War II—has an appropriately Forties feel to it. A mix of dogfights, on-the-ground conflicts (personal, military, and racial), and a love story that ends in tragedy, Red Tails should have been made decades ago.

The Skepcook: Reviewing “Herbal Recipes”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 10, 2012

As an herb gardener (see that persona on my website, www.joenickell.com), or at least as my wife Diana's understudy, I appreciate the satisfaction of growing, harvesting, and processing herbs—dried sage and oregano, for savory cooking; fresh basil, to snip onto sliced tomatoes (accompanying scrambled eggs for breakfast); and spearmint, for my Kentucky mint juleps! We also cultivate rosemary, chives, parsley, thyme, and more.

Four to Watch (Nickell-odeon Mini-Reviews)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 31, 2012

To catch up on our movie watching, my wife Diana dared us to go on a movie marathon. So (after a morning trip to a psychic fair) we embarked on a whirlwind tour, getting home just before the witching hour. With her handling logistics (directions, times, and eating on the run) and me driving the getaway car, we crisscrossed town and watched four new feature films. All were in the good-to-excellent range, and I recommend them to fellow skeptics and humanists. (As I say, a humanist is an atheist with a heart.) Here are capsule reviews (presented in ascending order of excellence).

Bozo School of Politics

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 20, 2012
Bozo School of Politics
Newt, Mitt, and Rick

WWJD?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 18, 2012

Among evangelicals it is common to ask, in a situation, What Would Jesus Do? (sometimes shortened to WWJD?). However, evangelicals being a politically conservative lot, it is well to ask, just how much in agreement would Jesus be, regarding their stance on some of today's controversial issues? In other words, we know they are right (even far right), but are they right with Jesus? Here are some answers.

Asteroid’s Namesake

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 6, 2012

Thanks to my friend, colleague, and fellow UFO researcher James McGaha, I now have the distinct honor of having an asteroid named for me! This fact was revealed at the 2011 CSIcon in New Orleans, held on Halloween weekend.

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 3, 2012

"Ah, Watson, do come in. I see you have just been to that latest, ah, ‘movie,' supposedly based on what you so faithfully romanticize as my ‘adventures.' And I perceive you were extremely dissatisfied with it.

Investigating Life as a Poet

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 29, 2011
Investigating Life as a Poet

Given that my main persona is investigator—of historical and literary mysteries (see my "Did Shakespeare Write ‘Shakespeare'?" in the Nov./Dec. 2011 Skeptical Inquirer), as well as homicides, and, most extensively, of paranormal enigmas—relatively few know of me as a poet—in which role I investigate life and attempt to shape the results into art.

Turin “Shroud” Called “Supernatural”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 22, 2011

As reported in the UK Independent of December 21, 2011, scientists working for the Italian government have claimed to find evidence that the image of Jesus crucified appearing on the notorious Shroud of Turin was not produced by a medieval artist but instead was likely caused by a supernatural event.

The Skepcook: Regarding “No Substitutions”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 19, 2011

The "no-substitution" policy of some restaurants is not a customer-friendly way to help one address his or her dietary concerns. Of course, sometimes substitutions cannot reasonably be made, but where they can be, restaurateurs should be encouraged to adopt a more flexible policy.

In Search of the Emerald Grail

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.5, September/October 2011

Investigative Files
In Search of the Emerald Grail

Il Sacro Catino, “The Holy Basin,” is one of the most famous embodiments of the legendary “Holy Grail,” and I was able to study both it and its legend there in the fall of 2009, attempting to resolve some of the mysteries and controversies concerning it.

“J. Edgar” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 5, 2011

Let me confess at the outset that my response to Clint Eastwood's new biopic about Federal Bureau of Investigation founder J. Edgar Hoover is necessarily colored by my own personal encounters with the man. Actually, there were two J. Edgars.

“Chupacabra” Attack

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 29, 2011
“Chupacabra” Attack

The Chupacabra is a fabled vampiric creature that has supposedly preyed on farm animals in many countries since it first appeared in Puerto Rico in 1995. Is it on the loose now in the American midwest? In November I was able to examine the carcass of one such reputed creature on a Missouri farm.

Shootout with Martians: In the Wake of the 1938 Broadcast Panic

Skeptical Briefs Volume 20.4, December 2010

Investigative Files
Shootout with Martians: In the Wake of the 1938 Broadcast Panic

A visit to an art exhibit—based on Orson Welles’s famous 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast—at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center in Buffalo introduced me to a remarkable incident that reportedly occurred during the “panic” caused by Welles’s dramatized Martian invasion.

“Who Believes in Roswell?”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 14, 2011

What has come to be known as "the Roswell Incident"—the alleged mid-1947 retrieval of a crashed flying saucer and its humanoid crew from the desert near Roswell, New Mexico—continues to be controversial. It is the Holy Grail of UFOlogy, and many believe the truth is being covered up by a government conspiracy. However, skeptics cite evidence that what really crashed on Max Brazel's ranch was a secret U.S. spy-balloon array from Project Mogul (an attempt to monitor Soviet nuclear tests). Only later were alien bodies added to the story, through repeated hoaxes, proliferating urban legends, and the confabulated memories of aging witnesses.

“Anonymous”  (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 9, 2011
“Anonymous”  (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Fresh from counting the take of his other box office bonanzas—Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012—Roland Emmerich has gone from creating disaster movies to launching a movie disaster. Called Anonymous, this is a conspiracy fantasy based on the idiotic notion that Shakespeare was not the author of his literary masterpieces, which were instead penned by the Earl of Oxford.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

‘Messages’ from the 9/11 Dead

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.4, July/August 2011

Feature

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

The Séances of ‘Hellish Nell’: Solving the Unexplained

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.4, July/August 2011

Investigative Files

The Skepcook: Gourmet Anti-Vampire Soup

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 20, 2011

A guest who turns away from this delicious first-course offering, is probably a—well, you know what! Check the person's image in a mirror!

Theatrically Yours:  “The Ghost of Fort Niagara”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 11, 2011

"The Ghost of Fort Niagara" is an engaging little musical by the multitalented Neal Radice, founder and director of Buffalo's Alleyway Theatre, as well as author, composer, lyricist, and set and lighting designer—just to mention his personas that are directly involved in this Alleyway production!

The Case of the Miracle Oil

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.3, May/June 2011

Investigative Files
The Case of the Miracle Oil

I was invited to a home in Northern California where myriad icons, statues, and other religious effigies were “miraculously streaming oil”.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

GHO$TLY ENDEAVOR: Ethical Issues Haunt Kentucky Press

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.3, May/June 2011

Special Report

Scientific Investigation vs. Ghost Hunters

Skeptical Briefs Volume 20.3, September 2010

Investigative Files
Scientific Investigation vs. Ghost Hunters

I have often crossed paths with The Atlantic Paranormal Society, headed by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, stars of the popular Ghost Hunters series.

Irish “Spontaneous Human Combustion”? Blarney!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 27, 2011

In a classic instance of faulty logic—what is known as "an argument from ignorance"—an Irish coroner has proclaimed "spontaneous combustion" as the cause of death of a 76-year-old man, Michael Faherty, whose body was found extremely burned at his home in Ballybane, Galway. Although his remains were found lying "with his head closest to an open fireplace," fire officers nevertheless concluded that that blaze was not involved! They did not explain how they had ruled out the obvious source of the ignition (BBC News Online, September 23, 2011).

“The Debt” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 21, 2011
“The Debt” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

The Debt is a riveting thriller about Mossad secret agents David, Stefan, and Rachel, who are played—in scenes of 1966 and 1997—by two sets of actors.

Outlaw-Imposture Syndrome

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 7, 2011

The targets of impostors are not only the noted but the notorious also. Numerous persons have claimed that they were an erstwhile presumed-dead outlaw, like Jesse James or—the latest target—Butch Cassidy. So similar are the features of such cases that they define what I now call the Outlaw-Imposture Syndrome.

“Cowboys and Aliens” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 25, 2011

It's a cross between True Grit and War of the Worlds—with sequences of fine acting and great special effects worthy of either movie.

Why, then, is Cowboys and Aliens such a failure?

Midnight in Paris (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 15, 2011

Ah, midnight in Paris!

Or anytime in Paris if you ask me—a place where I once had a magical time, until the Orient Express whisked me away, like a magic carpet, to Istanbul.

The Ghost Haunters

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 27, 2011

(What the spirited duo might say, if they weren't speaking through a ghost writer.)

“Psychics” in the Casey Anthony Murder Case

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 11, 2011

In the travesty of justice that was the Casey Anthony Murder trial in Orlando, two things may have escaped the reader's notice. The first is that the O.J. Simpson jury must have moved with O.J. to Florida and made themselves available to serve at the Anthony trial. The second concerns the involvement of "psychics." Did, in fact, a "psychic" divine the location of the remains of little Caylee Anthony, who was long sought after she went missing from her Orlando, Florida, home in the summer of 2008?

The First Grader (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 8, 2011

An inspiring narrative of humanity—of strength, values, and triumph—The First Grader should attract humanists in droves, perhaps especially secular humanists (i.e., atheists with hearts), since its messages are entirely secular. The story is all the more relevant for being "Based on a true story."

Gay-Marriage Victory

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 5, 2011

I am proud that my state government has at last, on June 25, 2011, passed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, and that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo—who personally lobbied for its passage, as I voted for him to do—promptly signed it into law.

Heaven’s Stenographer: The ‘Guided’ Hand of Vassula Ryden

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.2, March/April 2011

Investigative Files
Heaven’s Stenographer: The ‘Guided’ Hand of Vassula Ryden

She claims to receive communications not only from her guardian angel, “Daniel,” but also from Jesus and even Yahweh himself, who guide her hand ...

Padre Pio: Scandals of a Saint

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.2, March/April 2011

Review
Padre Pio: Scandals of a Saint

A review of Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age by Sergio Luzzatto.

Failed “Psychic” Tip

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 21, 2011

Do "psychics" really solve crimes or help police find missing persons? Not according to an incident that drew not only Liberty County, Texas, sheriff's deputies, but also Texas Rangers, FBI agents, and cadaver-sniffing dogs, as well as a swarm of reporters and a TV helicopter.

“Finding Bigfoot” a Howler

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 13, 2011

Finding Bigfoot, a new series airing on Animal Planet on Sundays (10 p.m. eastern and pacific time), looks like another silly TV program aimed at the credulous. Its "special preview episode"—filmed in the "remote woods of northern Georgia," in the Chattahoochee National Forest—set forth the show's formula: make it look as much like Ghost Hunters as possible.

“Incendies” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 7, 2011
Based on a play, Scorched, by Lebanese emigrant to Montreal Wajdi Villeneuve, Incendies is at once an intriguing mystery, a compelling evocation of human values and choices (humanists take note) during a horrific war, and an utterly stunning drama about the quest for familial completeness—a drama that harks back to the ancient Sophocles tragedy, Oedipus Rex.

The Beast of Gévaudan— In New Orleans?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 3, 2011
The Beast of Gévaudan— In New Orleans?
Attend CSICON 2011 to learn more.

Another Ghost in the Mirror: Marilyn at the Hollywood Roosevelt?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 31, 2011
Another Ghost in the Mirror: Marilyn at the Hollywood Roosevelt?
Believing is seeing.

Ghost in the Mirror—Part II: Mystery Solved

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 25, 2011
Apparitions—and “orbs”—explained

Ghost in the Mirror—Part I: Mystery at the Lowe Hotel

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 16, 2011
Can the mystery be solved?

Alien McHoaxes, McSkepticism, and More

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 9, 2011
Wow! An alien corpse on ice! Discovered "in the frozen wastes of Siberia"—at a "known UFO hotspot," no less—the damaged but preserved creature (partially buried in snow) surfaced in a short video posted on Youtube. In just a few days the clip drew nearly three-quarters of a million viewers, according to an online British news source (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1378400/Body-dead-alien-Siberia-claims-UFO-hurtling-earth.html; April 20, 2011).

Trump Trumped!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 4, 2011
The President Plays His Trump Card

“Water for Elephants” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 29, 2011
“Water for Elephants” (A Nickell-odeon Review)
Carrying water for "Water for Elephants"

‘Pop’ Culture: Patent Medicines Become Soda Drinks

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.1, January/February 2011

Investigative Files
‘Pop’ Culture: Patent Medicines Become Soda Drinks

Mineral water, including naturally carbonated water, has long been promoted as a curative for various ailments.

Death by Chupacabra!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 25, 2011
Rumors of my death are fictional.

“ Paul”  (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 19, 2011
Off-the-planet humor.

Well Met: Loren Coleman

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 12, 2011
Well Met: Loren Coleman
Different perspectives but much in common.

The Business of Mothman

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 6, 2011
The Business of Mothman
Mythical creature may attack wallets.

Mothman: The Continuing Saga

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 28, 2011
Mothman: The Continuing Saga
Monster or owl? You decide?

Meeting Margaret Fuller

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 22, 2011
A modernist of over 160 years ago.

Baker’s “Miracle” Minions

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 14, 2011
The lack of critical thinking continues.

Father Baker’s “Miracles”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 7, 2011
Not so miraculous.

Meeting Mr. Lincoln

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 4, 2011
Meeting Mr. Lincoln
What a likeable fellow!

The True Cross: Chaucer, Calvin, and the Relic Mongers

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 34.6, November/December 2010

Investigative Files
The True Cross: Chaucer, Calvin, and the Relic Mongers

Calvin suggested that "if we were to collect all these pieces of the True Cross exhibited in various parts, they would form a whole ship's cargo."

Windermere “Monster”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 25, 2011
Windermere “Monster”
Not likely a leviathan.

“The Illusionist” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 22, 2011
Views from opposite ends of life.

“Tracking the Man-Beasts”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 14, 2011
“Tracking the Man-Beasts”
Announcing my newest book.

“The Rite” Stuff

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 10, 2011
Confessions of a skeptical demonologist.

“The Rite” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 2, 2011
“The Rite” (A Nickell-odeon Review)
What possessed Warner Brothers?

Tijuana: Magic and Mystery

Skeptical Briefs Volume 20.2, June 2010

Tijuana: Magic and Mystery

At first thought, Tijuana has little to do with the Olmecs, who lived in the rich lowlands of Mexico’s Gulf Coast and created a great civilization that was...

“Season of the Witch” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 25, 2011
“Season of the Witch” (A Nickell-odeon Review)
Supernatural thriller helps keep Church in the Middle Ages.

In the Media: 2010 Report

January 20, 2011
In the Media: 2010 Report

Chronicling another busy year for CSI's Senior Research Fellow, Joe Nickell.

Secrets of the Mona Lisa “Code”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 19, 2011
Viewers may be seeing things.

Nostradamus: A New Look at an Old Seer

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 34.5, September/October 2010

Investigative Files

As these examples show, one cannot claim that Nostradamus successfully predicted the future.

Martin Gardner’s Presence

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 34.5, September/October 2010

Special Tribute

Despite his personal shyness, Martin's writings were those of a polar opposite: a bold, courageous critic, a prolific correspondent, and a towering thinker.

Thermal-image “Ghosts”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 6, 2011
Thermal-image “Ghosts”
More on ghost-hunting pseudoscience.

Bighoax Revisited

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 4, 2011
Bighoax Revisited
More on Philip Morris, Bigsuit maker.

Experiencing the Psychomanteum

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 23, 2010
Experiencing the Psychomanteum
Trying to visualize spirits of the dead.

Ghostly Piano Player & Others

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 20, 2010
Ghosts left lodge when investigator arrived.

Another “Weeping” Statue

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 15, 2010
“Miracle” most likely “pious deception.”

Preliminary Report: Investigating in China

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 8, 2010
Preliminary Report: Investigating in China
Three weeks as Visiting Scholar.

“Sherlock”: A Reincarnation

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 29, 2010
The genius detective returns, this time to a modern-day London.

Joe Nickell Investigates: Alcatraz [Video]

November 15, 2010

Joe Nickell recently traveled to Alcatraz to experience for himself some of the alleged supernatural claims made about the island.

The Real ‘Ghost Whisperer’

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 34.4, July / August 2010

Investigative Files

Although Winkowski distinguishes herself from both mediums and psychics (she claims no future-telling ability), she nevertheless shares much in common with...

Oscar, the Death-Predicting Cat

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 34.4, July / August 2010

Review

A Review of "Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat." By David Dosa.

“Conviction” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 12, 2010
"Conviction" is a docudrama about a wrongful conviction.

“Howl” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 10, 2010
Howl is a fitting tribute to a groundbreaking poem.

The Flying-saucer Conspiracy

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 1, 2010
Who you gonna believe?

14th Annual CFI Houdini Seance

Special Report
October 31, 2010

Joe Nickell recently sat down with Director of CFI Libraries Tim Binga to hold the 14th Annual Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Houdini Séance.

Atlanta Child Murders—Part II: “Psychics”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 26, 2010
Their crystal balls were cloudy.

Atlanta Child Murders— Part I: Critical Thinking

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 18, 2010
Fiber evidence helped solve a series of slayings.

Tragically “Haunted”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 12, 2010
Tragically “Haunted”
Investigating “ghosts” at the site of America’s worst hotel fire.

Paracelsus:  The Magic and the Science

Skeptical Briefs Volume 20.1, March 2010

Investigative Files
Paracelsus:  The Magic and the Science

Among the significant European figures of the sixteenth century, Paracelsus (1493–1541) was a transitional figure in the contest between magical and...

“Ghost Train” Death

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 21, 2010
At vigil, real train tragically surprises ghost hunters on trestle.

“The Last Exorcism” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 13, 2010
“The Last Exorcism” (A Nickell-odeon Review)
Another possession flick descended from a dubious “true story.”

Visiting the Buddhist Monks

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 8, 2010
Visiting the Buddhist Monks
Ceremonies are not magical but metaphorical.

“Killer Crocodile!”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 30, 2010
“Killer Crocodile!”
It was the alarm that proved to be a crock.

Jersey-Devil Expedition

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 26, 2010
Where the devil was the creature?

Tribute to Martin Gardner

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 20, 2010
Tribute to Martin Gardner
In honor of the late skeptic

“Dinner for Schmucks” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 13, 2010
“Dinner for Schmucks” (A Nickell-odeon Review)
Dinner table’s turned on the real schmucks.

The Movement

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 9, 2010
A discussion is overheard.

Abductions and Hoaxes

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 34.3, May / June 2010

The evidence provided by Stan Romanek that purports to prove he has been repeatedly visited or contacted by extraterrestrials is all of a suspicious nature.

With David Copperfield

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 6, 2010
With David Copperfield
A tour through the looking glass.

Talking to the Dead, Directly

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 23, 2010
But do they talk back?

The Amaz!ng Meeting

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 15, 2010
The Amaz!ng Meeting
In a word, Amaz!!!ng!

The Asteroid

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 14, 2010
What might really happen.

“No One Dies in Lily Dale” (A NICKELL-odeon Review)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 7, 2010
“No One Dies in Lily Dale” (A NICKELL-odeon Review)
Some important questions to ask about—and of—ghosts.

The Real McCoy

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 2, 2010
The Real McCoy
Bob McCoy—the anti-quack—was a genuine crusader.

John Edward: Psychic Medium—or Small?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 28, 2010
Infamous “psychic medium” talks and talks and talks to the unresponsive dead.

When I Became a Zombie

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 23, 2010
When I Became a Zombie
One of 325 zombies — as real as any.

“Superbill”: An Arresting Tale

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 16, 2010
Counterfeits helped prompt new money design.

Poem from “The Rock”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 7, 2010
Poem from “The Rock” -- A tale of no ghosts and a famous escape.

Remembering Martin Gardner

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 2, 2010
Remembering Martin Gardner
Remembering the father of modern skepticism.

Undercover in Mexico

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 24, 2010
The latest in quackery is south of the border.

The Hoax as Art: A Review

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 17, 2010
Art exhibit derives from “War of the Worlds” broadcast.

Pope Deceived by “Shroud”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 10, 2010
“Shroud” of Turin proves Pope not infallible.

Ghost of Clement Hall

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 4, 2010
Ghost of Clement Hall
Spirited tale is given to wander.

Tribute to CICAP

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 26, 2010
Tribute to CICAP
New book by Italian investigators is tops.

John Edward: Spirit Huckster

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 34.2, March / April 2010

Investigative Files

“Psychic medium” John Edward is reemerging from relative obscurity after his popular television show, Crossing Over with John Edward, ended in...

Yeti? Not Yet!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 20, 2010
Chinese “Yeti” is probably a mangy critter.

Christian Science Maneuvering

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 12, 2010
Christian Scientists seek accommodation with science.

The Fraud of Turin

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 6, 2010
The Shroud of Turin is still a medieval fake.

From Mystery to Mastery

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 29, 2010
An acronym expresses the investigative process.

Ghostly Goodnights

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 22, 2010
Hotel ghosts are easily explained.

Challenging Devil’s Hole

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 5, 2010
Writer and wife brave the “curse” of a rugged Niagara Falls.

Fortean Snow

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 1, 2010
Pink snow appears in Buffalo.

Skepticalisms

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 17, 2010
A word is coined for skeptical remarks.

Those Haunted Aykroyds

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 12, 2010
Peter H. Aykroyd (father of Dan) writes A History of Ghosts.

The Masked Librarian

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 4, 2010
CFI Libraries director Tim Binga has a dramatic role.

Avatar: A Critical View (Through 3D Glasses)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 28, 2010
Avatar: A Critical View (Through 3D Glasses)
Set in the future, the story criticizes past abuse of native peoples.

Evolution in Writing

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 20, 2010
Computer-caused decline in handwriting may also limit graphology pseudoscience.

Sherlock Holmes on Sheerlack Qualms

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 11, 2010
The great sleuth reviews a movie about him.

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‘Noetic Science’ in The Lost Symbol

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 34.1, January / February 2010

Review

Review of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Belgian Miracles

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 34.1, January / February 2010

Investigative Files
Belgian Miracles

A member of the European Union, Belgium is located between the Netherlands, Germany, and France. The country takes its name from its first recorded...

Shroud Debunked—Again

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 29, 2009
Real shroud’s weave is unlike that of Turin “shroud.”

Go See ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 18, 2009
Go See ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’
Satire on warfare by New Agers scores a direct hit.

Antidote to ‘The Fourth Kind’

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 15, 2009
Skepticism wards off extraterrestrials.

‘2012’: Movie Prompts Predictions

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 2, 2009
Disaster movie’s premise is a disaster.

Shroud of Turin Developments

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 1, 2009
Two research endeavors contrast “shroud science” with real science.

Elvis Lives! Investigating the Legends and Phenomena

Skeptical Briefs Volume 19.4, December 2009

Investigative Files
Elvis Lives! Investigating the Legends and Phenomena

Legendary American singer Elvis Presley is heralded not only as the major innovator, "The King," of rock 'n' roll but also as a godlike figure...

Flying with ‘Amelia’

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 13, 2009
Flying with ‘Amelia’
Earhart biopic steers true course.

Science and the “Miraculous Blood”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 3, 2009
Thousands kiss "miracle" flask despite swine-flu contagion.

The Real Secrets of Fatima

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 33.6, November / December 2009

Investigative Files

Among the intriguing mysteries of modern Catholocism are the "miracles" and "secrets" supposedly imparted by the Virgin Mary...

Deflating the Balloon-Boy Tale

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 28, 2009
Publicity seeker may get what’s coming to him.

‘Paranormal Activity’: Fright on the Cheap

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 20, 2009
Talk About Low Budget!

Body Worlds and Leonardo

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 16, 2009
Body Worlds exhibition draws religious ire, scientific praise.

British Apology to Codebreaker

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 12, 2009
British Apology to Codebreaker
British Prime Minister apologizes for mistreatment of late codebreaker.

Two Who Marched with King

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 1, 2009
Two Who Marched with King
Civil rights marchers finally meet.

Ghost Hunters Spooked at Dragon*Con

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 24, 2009
Angry response reveals emotional basis of belief in ghosts.

Angels-Magazine Stories

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 18, 2009
Angels on Earth is weak in critical thinking.

Reflections on Dragon*Con 2009

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 16, 2009
Reflections on Dragon*Con 2009
Joe Nickell participated in four skeptical panels at last weekend's Dragon*Con, and one XTrack event as a guest...

Creationists Tout “Nessie”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 9, 2009
An evangelical course treats the Loch Ness Monster as fact.

The Man Who Sold Bigsuit

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 2, 2009
The Man Who Sold Bigsuit
Philip Morris sold costume for famous Bigfoot film.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

The Questionable Research of Hans Holzer, Dean of Ghost Hunters (1920-2009)

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 33.5, September / October 2009

News & Comment

During the second half of the twentieth "Dr." Hans Holzer, a self-styled parapsychologist who died April 2, 2009, at the age...

Pirates’ Ghosts: Aar-r-gh!

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 33.5, September / October 2009

Investigative Files
Pirates’ Ghosts: Aar-r-gh!

They embody legend: romantic, swashbuckling, heroic figures--enchanting rogues whose ghosts eternally guard their buried...

John Calvin and the Shroud of Turin

Skeptical Briefs Volume 19.3, September 2009

Investigative Files

While writing an introduction for an edition of John Calvin’s 1543 Treatise on Relics, I became intrigued by a little mystery...

Vatican Miracle Game

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 25, 2009
Medical science shortchanged by miracle claim.

Encountering ‘Aliens in the Attic’

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 21, 2009
Encountering ‘Aliens in the Attic’
Children’s fantasy is a takeoff on the alien mythology.

Paleontologists Tour “Creationist Disneyland”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 14, 2009
Paleontologists Tour “Creationist Disneyland”
Scientists tour “monument to scientific illiteracy”

Great Quackery Collector Dead

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 4, 2009
Olgierd Lindan, freethinker and quackbuster, dies at 95.

Thought-Reader Banachek

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 30, 2009
Thought-Reader Banachek
Internationally known performer astounds

The IIG Awards

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 16, 2009
Thanks from an award recipient

Famous ‘Psychic’ Blindsided

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 10, 2009
Rosemary Altea fails to “see” self being scammed.

Crop Circles Evolve

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 3, 2009
England’s crop-circle formations prompt an iconological study.

Quest for the Giant Eel

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 33.4, July / August 2009

Investigative Files
Quest for the Giant Eel

On a six-day trip to the Canadian province of Newfoundland in Labrador, I encountered some very large creatures...

The Child Preachers

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 25, 2009
The Child Preachers
Like "Marjoe the Miracle Child," Kid preachers thrive.

Bigfoot and ETs: Developing Mythologies

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 22, 2009
We watch as mythologies develop for our times.

“Champ” Sighting Solved?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 9, 2009
“Champ” Sighting Solved?
Creature in the video is apparently identified.

“Is Anybody There?”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 3, 2009
Movie with Michael Caine skirts the Great Beyond.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

Cardiff’s Giant Hoax

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 33.3, May / June 2009

Review

Review of A Colossal Hoax: The Giant from Cardiff that Fooled America by Scott Tribble

Demons in Connecticut

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 33.3, May / June 2009

Investigative Files
Demons in Connecticut

Take a house reeking of death, bring in a "demonologist," commission a professional writer to enhance the alleged events...

The Image of Edessa Revealed

Skeptical Briefs Volume 19.2, June 2009

Investigative Files
The Image of Edessa Revealed

Among certain reputedly miraculous images of Jesus was the Image of Edessa, known later to the Byzantines as the Mandylion.

Debunkers Launch “Great UFO Hoax”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 26, 2009
Fooling UFO believers is a double-edged sword.

Tribute to James Randi (with Humor at My Expense)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 22, 2009
Escape artist turned world’s skeptic, Randi was adored at conference.

UFOs: Unending Friedman Outrages

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 13, 2009
Saucer conspiracy theorist uses illogic, name calling, and worse.

Tearful effigies are pious (and not so pious) frauds.

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 6, 2009
Another "Weeping" Icon

Not-so-Psychic Sylvia Browne

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 23, 2009
Infamous “psychic” continues to refuse scientific testing

Latest “Shroud” Pseudohistory

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 14, 2009
Notorious Shroud of Turin is still a painted fake.

“Vampire” Unearthed

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 8, 2009
Archaeological dig reveals seventeenth century exorcism of a "vampire."

Demonizing in Connecticut

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 27, 2009
Demonizing in Connecticut
Demonic movie "Based on true events" is a crock

Psychics Blind in Investment Scandal

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 25, 2009
Buffalo-area "psychics" fail to foresee doom

US Government’s UFOs

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 18, 2009
UFOs become IFOs--from the U.S. government.

Levy Case a Psychic Failure

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 10, 2009
"Psychics" useless in Chandra Levy case

The New Snake Oil

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 4, 2009
Alternative Medicine: acupuncture or quackapuncture?

Searching for Vampire Graves

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 33.2, March / April 2009

Investigative Files
Searching for Vampire Graves

It should not be surprising that there have been instances of reputed vampirism in the United States.

Cagliostro: ‘Quack of Quacks’

Skeptical Briefs Volume 19.1, March 2009

Investigative Files

While on a five-country investigative tour of Europe in 2007, I twice came upon historic residences of the master deceiver...

Pope’s ‘Holy War’ Against Pseudo-Mystics

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 24, 2009
Pope’s "Holy War" Against Pseudo-Mystics New guidelines to employ science, dogma, superstition.

Friday the Thirteenth

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 12, 2009
The supposedly jinxed date is just another day.

Miracle on the Hudson

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 10, 2009
A "miraculous" rescue is actually nothing of the sort.

Haunted Wedding Dress

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 4, 2009
Pennsylvania mansion’s animated gown has rational explanation.

Bigfoot Bozos

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 28, 2009
Georgia “clowns” ineptly reprise frozen-Sasquatch hoax.

‘Witch’ Killings Continue

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 23, 2009
"Witch" killings continue with the burning of a suspected witch in Papua New Guinea, a delusion continues.

“Miraculous Elián” Returns?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 9, 2009
The controversy over Elián Gonzáles--who was once deemed miraculous--is to resume during attorney general confirmation hearings.

Return to Roswell

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 33.1, January / February 2009

Investigative Files
Return to Roswell

The crash of a UFO near Roswell, New Mexico has been explained as something much more mundane: a balloon-borne device.

Exorcism: The Devil’s in the Details

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 30, 2008

Joe Nickell Exorcises the Nonsense out of Reverend Larson

December 29, 2008

CNN Interview with Joe Nickell and Reverend Bob Larsen

Lourdes Medical Bureau Rebels

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 26, 2008
The international medical bureau at Lourdes, the Catholic healing shrine, will no longer designate cases "miraculous."

Demjanjuk: ‘Ivan the Bloody’

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 16, 2008
Germany justified in seeking U.S.'s extradition of Nazi death-camp guard Ivan "John" Demjanjuk for Holocaust war crimes.

‘Hex’ Signs: Searching for the Magic

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 32.6, November / December 2008

Investigative Files
‘Hex’ Signs: Searching for the Magic

My introduction to Pennsylvania Dutch "hex" signs came when I was a teenager running my own sign-painting business...

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

Lighthouse Specters

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 32.5, September / October 2008

Investigative Files

Remote sentinels on rocky shores, lighthouses have been called "America's castles." Certainly, they are places of scenic...

Padre Pio: Wonderworker or Charlatan?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 32.5, September / October 2008

Special Report
Padre Pio: Wonderworker or Charlatan?

Of the twentieth century's two most famous stigmatics, both were suspected of fraud, but Pio went on to be canonized in 2002.

Grilled-Cheese Madonna

Skeptical Briefs Volume 18.3, September 2008

Investigative Files
Grilled-Cheese Madonna

It has become the quintessential holy image to appear on an item of food: the Virgin Mary on a grilled-cheese sandwich.

Charles Fort: Purveyor of the Unprobed

Skeptical Briefs Volume 18.3, September 2008

Book Review

Review of Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural.

Photoghosts: Images of the Spirit Realm?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 32.4, July / August 2008

Review

Review of Ghosts Caught on Film: Photographs of the Paranormal By Melvyn Willin.

A Skeleton’s Tale: The Origins of Modern Spiritualism

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 32.4, July / August 2008

Investigative Files
A Skeleton’s Tale: The Origins of Modern Spiritualism

At the home of a blacksmith named John Fox, strange rapping noises began to occur in the bedroom of Fox's young daughters...

Catching Ghosts

Skeptical Briefs Volume 18.2, June 2008

Investigative Files
Catching Ghosts

Despite the popular antics of inept "ghost hunters," ghosts continue to remain elusive.

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

Sir Edmund Hillary, Explorer, Skeptic (1919-2008)

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 32.3, May / June 2008

News & Comment

The conqueror of Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, who died January 11, 2008, was a man of many famous exploits.

Eucharistic ‘Miracles’

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 32.3, May / June 2008

Investigative Files
Eucharistic ‘Miracles’

Did an incident that reportedly occurred in Turin, Italy, in 1453 offer unimpeachable evidence of the supernatural?

Entombed Alive!

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 32.2, March / April 2008

Investigative Files
Entombed Alive!

It is a horrifying concept: being buried—or walled-up—alive. Fears of such possibilities were once rife.

Werewolves—or Weren’t?

Skeptical Briefs Volume 18.1, March 2008

Investigative Files
Werewolves—or Weren’t?

Among those creatures that inhabit the night, or at least the nightmares of the credulous, are vampires, zombies, and werewolves

Exciting UFOs Become Bland IFOs

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 32.1, January / February 2008

Investigative Files
Exciting UFOs Become Bland IFOs

Most "flying saucers" are eventually identified as planes, balloons, meteors, or other objects, or even as illusions or hoaxes.

A Case of Automatic Writing From Robert G. Ingersoll’s Spirit?

Skeptical Briefs Volume 17.4, December 2007

Investigative Files
A Case of Automatic Writing From Robert G. Ingersoll’s Spirit?

Did famed orator Robert Green Ingersoll communicate posthumously through a spiritualist medium to recant his atheism?

The Netherlands: Visions and Revisions

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 31.6, November / December 2007

Investigative Files
The Netherlands: Visions and Revisions

Like people everywhere, the Dutch can also be superstitious--hence the conference theme, “the paranormal.”

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The Loch Ness Critter

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 31.5, September / October 2007

Special Report

Gordon Holmes caught on camera a "jet black thing, about forty-five feet long, moving fast in the water."

‘John of God’: Healings by Entities?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 31.5, September / October 2007

Investigative Files
‘John of God’: Healings by Entities?

A Brazilian faith healer claims spirits take control of his body to enable him to perform surgeries without anesthesia.

The Bermuda Triangle and the ‘Hutchinson Effect’

Skeptical Briefs Volume 17.3, September 2007

Investigative Files
The Bermuda Triangle and the ‘Hutchinson Effect’

Calling it "the world's greatest mystery," Gian J. Quasar revisits the enigma of the Bermuda Triangle.

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Peru’s Ancient Mysteries

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 31.4, July / August 2007

Investigative Files

Peru, like all the Americas, was relatively recently settled. A succession of native cultures flourished in various regions...

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Little Audrey: The Life and Death of a ‘Victim Soul’

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 31.4, July / August 2007

Special Report

A milestone in supernatural claims has been reached: Audrey Santo—the brain-damaged girl in Worcester, Massachusetts...

Lake Monster Lookalikes

Skeptical Briefs Volume 17.2, June 2007

Investigative Files
Lake Monster Lookalikes

As a cryptozoologist--albeit a skeptical one--I have long been on the track of fabled creatures...

‘Psychics’ Fail to Foresee Their Own Fortunes

May 18, 2007

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia's fortune tellers failed to foresee the closure of their shops

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A Pathologist Among the Spirits

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 31.3, May / June 2007

Review

Beyond Knowing: Mysteries and Messages of Death and Life from a Forensic Pathologist. by Janis Amatuzio, MD

Deciphering Da Vinci’s Real Codes

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 31.3, May / June 2007

Investigative Files
Deciphering Da Vinci’s Real Codes

Leonardo da Vinci was something of a cryptographer, and much attention has been given his various "codes".

The Making of The Reaping: Behind the Scenes of a Supernatural Thriller

April 5, 2007
The Making of The Reaping: Behind the Scenes of a Supernatural Thriller

If you were a filming a supernatural thriller, would you have Hilary Swank play a Joe Nickell type, or Joe Nickell play himself?

Mysterious Entities of the Pacific Northwest, Part II

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 31.2, March / April 2007

Investigative Files

Some assume that UFOs are a modern invention, but since ancient times men have reported seeing strange things in the sky.

Mysterious Entities of the Pacific Northwest, Part I

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 31.1, January / February 2007

Investigative Files

Mankind's imagination has always been excited by the possibilities of unknown regions.

Headless Ghosts I Have Known

Skeptical Briefs Volume 16.4, December 2006

Investigative Files
Headless Ghosts I Have Known

In the popular imagination, ghosts are a form of “energy” that survives death.

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Spirited Defense: William James and the Ghost Hunters

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 30.6, November / December 2006

Review

Review of Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. By Deborah Blum.

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Shame on Shamus Sham

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 30.6, November / December 2006

Special Report

The false confession of American John Mark Karr—that he had murdered child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey in 1996...

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Death of a Demonologist

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 30.6, November / December 2006

News & Comment

Ghost hunter and self-styled "demonologist" Ed Warren, 79, died August 23, 2006, at his Monroe, Connecticut home.

Siege of ‘Little Green Men’: The 1955 Kelly, Kentucky, Incident

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 30.6, November / December 2006

Investigative Files
Siege of ‘Little Green Men’: The 1955 Kelly, Kentucky, Incident

What were the humanoid-like creatures that terrified a family at their farmhouse?

Ghost Hunters

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 30.5, September / October 2006

Investigative Files
Ghost Hunters

Belief that spirits of the dead exist and can appear to the living is both ancient and widespread.

Snake Oil: A Guide for Connoisseurs

Skeptical Briefs Volume 16.3, September 2006

Investigative Files
Snake Oil: A Guide for Connoisseurs

In an earlier article, "Peddling Snake Oil" (Nickell 1998), I addressed the question of snake oil’s existence.

Shame on Shamus Sham

August 24, 2006
Shame on Shamus Sham

In addition to the portrait, Allison predicted the killer would have "connections" to Germany and Georgia, and gave details.

Riddle of the Crystal Skulls

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 30.4, July / August 2006

Investigative Files
Riddle of the Crystal Skulls

Around the world are found mysterious artifacts, crystal skulls that many New Age enthusiasts believe possess mystical powers.

Postmortem on ‘Alien Autopsy’

Skeptical Briefs Volume 16.2, June 2006

Investigative Files
Postmortem on ‘Alien Autopsy’

Britain's Manchester Evening News termed it a hoax that "fooled the world". Well, not exactly...

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The ‘New’ Idolatry

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 30.3, May / June 2006

Investigative Files

For a live, prime-time television program, I was asked to evaluate claims that a statue in Sacramento streamed tears of blood.

Lake ‘Monster’ Resurfaces

March 15, 2006

"Is there a monster in Lake Champlain?" asked Good Morning America, on their February 22, 2006, program.

Argentina Mysteries

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 30.2, March / April 2006

Investigative Files
Argentina Mysteries

While visiting Argentina, I was also able to take a look at some local mysteries with which I already had some familiarity.

Sherlock Holmes, Paranormal Investigator

Skeptical Briefs Volume 16.1, March 2006

Investigative Files
Sherlock Holmes, Paranormal Investigator

Sherlock Holmes was not just the world's "only unofficial consulting detective."

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Robert A. Baker (1921-2005)

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.6, November / December 2005

News & Comment

Robert A. Baker—one of the world's preeminent authorities on such phenomena as ghosts, alien abductions, religious apparitions..

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‘Winking Jesus’ Statue: Mystery Solved!

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.6, November / December 2005

News & Comment

On July 28, 2005—according to a Hoboken, New Jersey, street "preacher"— a plaster Jesus statue he had installed...

Legends of Castles and Keeps

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.6, November / December 2005

Investigative Files

During the Middle Ages, the castle arose as the private fortress of a monarch or nobleman.

Psychic Sleuthing: The Myth-making Process

September 26, 2005

In July, a Pittsburgh news magazine cover story presented a rather confusing picture of the effectiveness of psychic detectives.

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Italy’s ‘Miracle’ Relics

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.5, September / October 2005

Investigative Files

In October 2004, after participating in the Fifth World Skeptics Congress in Abano Terme, Italy—near Padua, where Galileo...

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Mystical Experiences: Magnetic Fields or Suggestibility?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.5, September / October 2005

Feature

Some skeptics have embraced Persinger's studies which supposedly demonstrate that electromagnetic stimulation of the brain...

Sylvia Browne’s Latest: Ghost-Written?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.5, September / October 2005

Review
Sylvia Browne’s Latest: Ghost-Written?

Review of the book by Sylvia Brown

Healing Waters - Part I: Spas

Skeptical Briefs Volume 15.3, September 2005

Investigative Files

Here we look at ancient baths and later spas; in Part II we discuss legendary "fountains of youth" and reputed healing shrines.

Winking Jesus Statue: Mystery Solved!

August 9, 2005
Winking Jesus Statue: Mystery Solved!

According to a New Jersey street preacher, a Jesus statue he had installed as part of a sidewalk shrine suddenly opened one eye.

The Case of the ‘Psychic Detectives’

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.4, July / August 2005

Investigative Files

Although mainstream science has never validated any psychic ability, mediums continue to sell their fantasies to the public.

Return from the Dead

Skeptical Briefs Volume 15.2, June 2005

Investigative Files
Return from the Dead

She had suffered a fever of 104.5 and experienced shortness of breath, whereupon she declared, "Mother, I'm going to die."

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Second Sight: The Phenomenon of Eyeless Vision

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.3, May / June 2005

Investigative Files

Natasha Demkina claims a special ability: She can supposedly peer inside people's bodies, observe their organs, and diagnose...

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Joe Nickell Replies

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.3, May / June 2005

Follow-up

Ray Rogers largely sidesteps my criticisms. He claimed to have uniquely found cotton and madder on the shroud's radiocarbon...

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Rebuttal to Joe Nickell

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.3, May / June 2005

Follow-up

Joe Nickell has attacked my scientific competence and honesty in his "Claims of Invalid 'Shroud'...

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Claims of Invalid ‘Shroud’ Radiocarbon Date Cut from Whole Cloth

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.3, May / June 2005

Special Report

A Longtime Shroud of Turin devotee now admits there is the equivalent of watercolor paint on the alleged burial cloth of Jesus.

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Alleged Reagan Astrologer Dies

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.3, May / June 2005

News & Comment

Joyce Jillson, the self-styled "Hollywood Astrologer" who claimed to have cast horoscopes for the Reagans, died October 1, 2004.

Claims of Invalid “Shroud” Radiocarbon Date Cut from Whole Cloth

March 2, 2005
Claims of Invalid “Shroud” Radiocarbon Date Cut from Whole Cloth

Longtime Shroud of Turin devotee Ray Rogers admits there is the equivalent of a watercolor paint on the alleged burial cloth.

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Intuition: The Case of the Unknown Daughter

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.2, March / April 2005

Investigative Files

In the fall of 2003, my life was transformed by the news that I was the father of a beautiful, thirty-six-year-old daughter.

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Holy Grilled Cheese?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.2, March / April 2005

News & Comment

A Hollywood, Florida, couple received $28,000 when they auctioned a reputedly ten-year-old grilled cheese sandwich bearing...

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Mystery Painting: ‘The Shadow of the Cross’

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.1, January / February 2005

Investigative Files

An enigmatic painting is exhibited at the church of San Francisco de Asis (St. Francis of Assisi) at Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

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Betty Hill, First ‘Alien Abductee,’ Dies

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.1, January / February 2005

News & Comment

Eunice "Betty" Hill—whose claimed 1961 encounter with extraterrestrials spawned the alien-abduction mania—died October 19,2004.

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Alien-Abduction Guru Mack Killed in Accident

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.1, January / February 2005

News & Comment

John E. Mack—whose position as a Harvard psychiatrist seemed to add legitimacy to his endorsement of alien abduction claims...

The Lake George Monster Hoax

Skeptical Briefs Volume 14.4, December 2004

Investigative Files
The Lake George Monster Hoax

Called "one of the grandest hoaxes of all times", the Lake George Monster has occasionally resurfaced since its debut in 1904.

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Psychic Sylvia Browne Once Failed to Foresee Her Own Criminal Conviction

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 28.6, November / December 2004

News & Comment

Self-claimed "psychic, medium, clairvoyant, channel" Sylvia Browne has gained notoriety by appearing on...

Rorschach Icons

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 28.6, November / December 2004

Investigative Files
Rorschach Icons

People arrive in droves to view them: holy images that appear—many believe miraculously—in the most unlikely places.

Abraham Lincoln: An Instance of Alleged ‘Spirit Writing’

Skeptical Briefs Volume 14.3, September 2004

Investigative Files
Abraham Lincoln: An Instance of Alleged ‘Spirit Writing’

Modern spiritualism began in 1848 at Hydesville, New York, when two schoolgirls pretended to communicate with a ghost who...

Police Psychics: Do They Really Solve Crimes?

April 29, 2004

Is it a matter of science versus mysticism as some assert, or an issue of having an open mind as opposed to a closed one?

The Stigmata of Lilian Bernas

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 28.2, March / April 2004

Investigative Files
The Stigmata of Lilian Bernas

Canadian Lilian Bernas claims to exhibit-"in a supernatural state"-the wounds of Christ.

Riddle of the Glowing Statues

Skeptical Briefs Volume 13.4, December 2003

Investigative Files
Riddle of the Glowing Statues

Two women noticed it first. The eyes of the Virgin Mary statue on the church's bell tower had begun to glow.

The Curse of Bodie: Legacy of Ghost-Town Ghosts?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 27.6, November / December 2003

Investigative Files
The Curse of Bodie: Legacy of Ghost-Town Ghosts?

Today, the ghost town of Bodie, California, is one of the most authentic abandoned gold- mining towns of the Old West.

The Case of the Alien Hand

Skeptical Briefs Volume 13.3, September 2003

Investigative Files
The Case of the Alien Hand

It was Monday, March 24, 2003, when the voice of CSICOP Executive Director Barry Karr came over my intercom...

Legend of the Lake Champlain Monster

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 27.4, July / August 2003

Investigative Files
Legend of the Lake Champlain Monster

Termed "North America's Loch Ness Monster", "Champ," reportedly haunts the waters of its namesake.

Bone (Box) of Contention: The James Ossuary

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 27.2, March / April 2003

Special Report
Bone (Box) of Contention: The James Ossuary

Supposedly recently discovered, a box that purportedly held the remains of Jesus' brother, is the subject of controversy.

Legend of the White Lady

Skeptical Briefs Volume 13.1, March 2003

Investigative Files
Legend of the White Lady

Every town in Franconia has a legend of Die Weisse Frau - a ghostly figure that walks about at night terrifying people.

Amityville: The Horror of It All

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 27.1, January / February 2003

Investigative Files
Amityville: The Horror of It All

Although the original event proved to be a hoax, that fact does not seem well known to the general public.

Mothman Revisited:
 Investigating on Site

Skeptical Briefs Volume 12.4, December 2002

Investigative Files
Mothman Revisited:
 Investigating on Site

In a previous critical report, I suggested the identity of “Mothman.” Subsequently I was able to make an investigative trip to Point Pleasant.

Psychic Pets and Pet Psychics

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 26.6, November / December 2002

Investigative Files
Psychic Pets and Pet Psychics

Many believe that the bond between man and animals, known from great antiquity, includes extrasensory perception (ESP).

Circular Reasoning: The ‘Mystery’ of Crop Circles and Their ‘Orbs’ of Light

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 26.5, September / October 2002

Special Report
Circular Reasoning: The ‘Mystery’ of Crop Circles and Their ‘Orbs’ of Light

Since they began to capture media attention in the mid 1970s, crop circles have provided mystery and controversy

“Visitations”: After-Death Contacts

Skeptical Briefs Volume 12.3, September 2002

Investigative Files
“Visitations”: After-Death Contacts

Those who suffer the loss of a loved one may experience such anguish and emptiness that they are unable to let go...

‘Miraculous’ Image of Guadalupe

Skeptical Briefs Volume 12.2, June 2002

Investigative Files

Mexico's Image of Guadalupe is a sixteenth-century depiction of the Virgin Mary that, according to pious legend...

Benny Hinn: Healer or Hypnotist?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 26.3, May / June 2002

Investigative Files
Benny Hinn: Healer or Hypnotist?

Hinn's selection process is-- perhaps not surprisingly--virutally identical to that employed by professional stage hypnotists

Voodoo in New Orleans

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 26.1, January / February 2002

Investigative Files
Voodoo in New Orleans

New Orleans has been declared America's most haunted city, and tour guides-following the imaginative lead of Anne Rice...

Secrets of the Voodoo Tomb

Skeptical Briefs Volume 11.4, December 2001

Investigative Files

Among the sites associated with New Orleans voodoo is the tomb of its greatest figure, Marie Laveau...

John Edward: Hustling the Bereaved

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 25.6, November / December 2001

Investigative Files
John Edward: Hustling the Bereaved

I was asked by television newsmagazine Dateline NBC to study Edward's act: was he really talking to the dead?

Tracking the Swamp Monsters

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 25.4, July / August 2001

Investigative Files
Tracking the Swamp Monsters

Do mysterious and presumably endangered manlike creatures inhabit swamplands of the southern United States?

In Search of Fisher’s Ghost

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 25.3, May / June 2001

Investigative Files
In Search of Fisher’s Ghost

Joe Nickell investigates Australia's most famous ghhost

Mysterious Australia

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 25.2, March / April 2001

Investigative Files

Joe Nickell investigates paranormal claims in Australia

Remotely Viewed? The Charlie Jordan Case

Skeptical Briefs Volume 11.1, March 2001

Investigative Files

Was fugitive drug smuggler Charlie Jordan nabbed after a CIA "remote viewer" helped pinpoint his location in northern Wyoming?

Exorcism! Driving Out the Nonsense

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 25.1, January / February 2001

Investigative Files
Exorcism! Driving Out the Nonsense

Belief in demonic possession is getting a new propaganda boost.

The Flatwoods UFO Monster

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 24.6, November / December 2000

Investigative Files
The Flatwoods UFO Monster

Joe Nickell investigates the Flatwoods UFO Monster of West Virginia

Haunted Inns: Tales of Spectral Guest

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 24.5, September / October 2000

Investigative Files
Haunted Inns: Tales of Spectral Guest

Joe Nickell investigates the resident ghosts of various hotels

Spirit Painting (Part II)

Skeptical Briefs Volume 10.2, June 2000

Investigative Files
Spirit Painting (Part II)

Part II: The Bangs Sisters

Aura Photography: A Candid Shot

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 24.3, May / June 2000

Investigative Files
Aura Photography: A Candid Shot

At psychic fairs and other popular venues, "aura" photographic portraits are all the rage.

The Secrets of Oak Island

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 24.2, March / April 2000

Investigative Files
The Secrets of Oak Island

Joe Nickell on Canada's best-known mystery

Spirit Painting (Part I)

Skeptical Briefs Volume 10.1, March 2000

Investigative Files
Spirit Painting (Part I)

During the heyday of spiritualism, among the "physical phenomena" commonly manifested were so-called spirit paintings.

Sideshow! Carnival Oddities and Illusions Provide Lessons for Skeptics

Skeptical Briefs Volume 9.4, December 1999

Investigative Files
Sideshow! Carnival Oddities and Illusions Provide Lessons for Skeptics

Like Robert Ripley, I have always been attracted to the odd and the curious.

Miracles or Deception? The Pathetic Case of Audrey Santo

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 23.5, September / October 1999

Investigative Files

As we near the millennium, the media have been pointing to "millennial madness" as the source for a wide range of divine claims.

Springer Psychic: A Study in ‘Clairvoyance’

Skeptical Briefs Volume 9.3, September 1999

Investigative Files
Springer Psychic: A Study in ‘Clairvoyance’

On March 16, 1992, I appeared on The Jerry Springer Show with what were billed as "today's outrageous psychics."

Still a Miracle?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 23.4, July / August 1999

News & Comment

Good Friday, 1999, a claim of a miracle becomes the subject of an investigation by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans

Fatal Non-vision

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 23.4, July / August 1999

News & Comment

Although billing himself "Canada's world renowned super psychic," Maha Yogi A. S. Narayana failed to foresee his own murder.

The Church Poltergeist: It’s the Village Mayor

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 23.4, July / August 1999

News & Comment

"Just in time for Halloween," was the wry comment of Leon Harris, news anchor for CNN's "Early Edition," October 22, 1998.

Review of Psychic Medium Van Praagh on CNN’s Larry King Live

June 8, 1999

On-air séances are nothing new. Thirty years ago I arranged one in a dimly lit radio studio in Toronto...

Paranormal Lincoln

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 23.3, May / June 1999

Investigative Files
Paranormal Lincoln

Guiding the United States through its greatest crisis has caused the shadow of the sixteenth president to loom still larger.

The Gypsies’ ‘Great Trick’

Skeptical Briefs Volume 9.1, March 1999

Investigative Files

Everyone knows what fortunetelling is supposed to be, but sometimes it is best defined as "the art of absconding with fortunes."

The Silver Lake Serpent: Inflated Monster or Inflated Tale?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 23.2, March / April 1999

Investigative Files
The Silver Lake Serpent: Inflated Monster or Inflated Tale?

On July 13, 1855, in Wyoming County, New York, two boys and five men were fishing from a boat on Silver Lake.

Peddling Snake Oil

Skeptical Briefs Volume 8.4, December 1998

Investigative Files
Peddling Snake Oil

Questions about the origins of the term provide the basis for an interesting investigation.

Helix to Heaven

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 22.6, November / December 1998

Investigative Files
Helix to Heaven

The Staircase Stands but the Myth Falls

Investigating Spirit Communications

Skeptical Briefs Volume 8.3, September 1998

Investigative Files
Investigating Spirit Communications

Thanks to modern mass media, old-fashioned spiritualism is undergoing something of a revival.

Talking to Heaven — Who’s Answering?

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 22.4, July / August 1998

Review
Talking to Heaven — Who’s Answering?

Review of James Van Praagh's Talking to Heaven

Italy’s Graveyard “Ghost” Photo

Skeptical Briefs Volume 8.2, June 1998

Investigative Files
Italy’s Graveyard “Ghost” Photo

On January 24, 1998, CSICOP received an e-mail letter and scanned photograph from Dave Esch...

Fiery Tales That Spontaneously Destruct

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 22.2, March / April 1998

Investigative Files
Fiery Tales That Spontaneously Destruct

Spontaneous human combustion cases continue to spark controversy, largely due to the efforts of nonscientist journalists.

A Case of ‘SHC’ Demystified

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 22.2, March / April 1998

Investigative Files
A Case of ‘SHC’ Demystified

Sidebar to this month's article on spontaneous human combustion

A Case of Reincarnation — Reexamined

Skeptical Briefs Volume 8.1, March 1998

Investigative Files
A Case of Reincarnation — Reexamined

Perhaps not since an American housewife supposedly discovered she was the reincarnation of an Irishwoman...

The Roswell Legacy

Skeptical Briefs Volume 7.2, June 1997

Investigative Files

Fifty years ago this summer, the modern UFO craze began...

Spontaneous Human Nonsense

Skeptical Briefs Volume 6.4, December 1996

Investigative Files

Follow up to the earlier article in Skeptical Inquirer

Not-So-Spontaneous Human Combustion

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 20.6, November / December 1996

Investigative Files
Not-So-Spontaneous Human Combustion

Like Count Dracula, the mythical specter of "spontaneous human combustion" (SHC) refuses to die.

Nessie Hoax Redux II

Skeptical Briefs Volume 6.3, September 1996

Investigative Files

A reader's response

Ghostly Photos

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 20.4, July / August 1996

Investigative Files
Ghostly Photos

A rash of new “ghost” photographs is plaguing the Western world.

Levengood’s Crop-Circle Plant Research

Skeptical Briefs Volume 6.2, June 1996

Investigative Files

The question of bias is important since Levengood's attitudes and assumptions reveal him as a partisan crop-circle "believer."

A Study of Fantasy Proneness in the Thirteen Cases of Alleged Encounters in John Mack’s Abduction

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 20.3, May / June 1996

Investigative Files

Since Robert A. Baker's article appeared in the Skeptical Inquirer, a controversy has raged over his suggestion...

Nessie Hoax Redux

Skeptical Briefs Volume 6.1, March 1996

Investigative Files

In 1934, a photo of "Nessie," the fabled Loch Ness Monster, was allegedly snapped by a London gynecologist named Robert Wilson.

Miracle Photographs

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 20.2, March / April 1996

Investigative Files
Miracle Photographs

October 27, 1995, the television program "Unsolved Mysteries" aired a segment that included investigative work by CSICOP.

The Skeptic-raping Demon of Zanzibar

Skeptical Briefs Volume 5.4, December 1995

Investigative Files

The scene is modern-day Zanzibar where a terrible monster is swooping into bedrooms at night and raping men.

CSICOP Assists in Philadelphia TV Station’s Psychic “Sting”

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 19.6, November / December 1995

News & Comment

A cleverly conceived and strikingly effective psychic expose was conducted in May 1995 by Philadelphia WCAU-TV's Herb Denenberg.

“Alien Autopsy” Hoax

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 19.6, November / December 1995

Investigative Files
“Alien Autopsy” Hoax

It keeps going and going and...

The Haunted Tape Recorder

Skeptical Briefs Volume 5.3, September 1995

Investigative Files
The Haunted Tape Recorder

As most people who own them know, tape recorders sometimes malfunction...

The Nazca Drawings Revisited: Creation of a Full-Sized Duplicate

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 7.3, Spring 1983

Feature
The Nazca Drawings Revisited: Creation of a Full-Sized Duplicate

Re-creation of a 440-foot Nazca figure on a Kentucky field shows how the Peruvian drawings were most likely made.

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