The James Randi Educational Foundation has never met a “psychic” it couldn’t discredit—easily. Still, Randi understands why such frauds appeal to people.
I was in a discussion forum and somebody asked me to explain The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. I started typing when i remembered a video from several years ago that will explain it better than i can write it.
Enjoy, my friend :)
Intro by Mason I. Bilderberg
I’m not one to sit and watch lengthy videos on my laptop. So when i suggest you watch a 49 minute video, you can trust me – it’s worth watching.
Have you ever heard of Derren Brown? I’ve been following Derren Brown for over a decade, i’ve read many of his books and i think i’ve seen all of his performances. I’m never disappointed.
Here is how WikiPedia describes him:
Derren Brown (born 27 February 1971) is a British illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, writer, and sceptic. He is known for his appearances in television specials, stage productions, and British television series such as Trick of the Mind and Trick or Treat. Since the first broadcast of his show Derren Brown: Mind Control in 2000, Brown has become increasingly well known for his mind-reading act. He has written books for magicians as well as the general public.
From Derren Brown’s webpage (2012):
Dubbed a ‘psychological illusionist’ by the Press, Derren Brown is a performer who combines magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship in order to seemingly predict and control human behaviour, as well as performing mind-bending feats of mentalism.
In a nutshell, while repeatedly reminding us he doesn’t have any kind of magical abilities, Derren Brown mimics with perfection all those who DO claim to have magical abilities.
In this video, Derren takes on the following roles:
He is so convincing in these roles that he gets endorsements for his “special powers” from the “experts” who witnessed his performances.
I believe he will convince you too!
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
America’s most popular true ghost story was a hoax.
In the small town of Amityville on New York’s Long Island, on a dark evening in 1974, 23 year old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo burst into a bar and declared that his entire family had just been shot. Police discovered six bodies in the DeFeo home at 112 Ocean Avenue, and what’s more, the subsequent investigation revealed that Butch DeFeo had himself killed them all: both his parents, and his four younger siblings, with a Marlin rifle. Despite DeFeo’s claim that strange voices in his head compelled him to commit the murders, he was convicted of all six murders and remains imprisoned to this day.
Just over a year after the murders, the home was purchased by newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz, who moved in with their three children. The house was sold furnished so all of the DeFeo’s furniture was still there, just as it had been on the night of the murders. George Lutz had heard of the murders, so just to be on the safe side, they called a priest whom Kathy knew, to bless the house. The trouble began when the priest was driven out of the house by an angry disembodied voice, and received stigmatic blisters on his skin. The family daughter reported a friendly pig named Jodie, who later began making appearances to the rest of the family through windows. A sculpted lion came to life and walked around the house, and even bit George Lutz. The apparition of a demonic boy appeared and was photographed, which you can find online. Angry red eyes looked into the house at night, and left cloven footprints in the snow. George Lutz woke up in a sweat every night at the same hour the DeFeos were murdered. Stephen Kaplan, a local parapsychologist, was called in to investigate. Powerful forces caused doors to explode off their hinges. Kathy developed strange red marks on her chest and levitated two feet off her bed, and George saw her transform into a hideous old hag. Green slime oozed from the walls of the house, and a crucifix on the wall constantly rotated itself upside down. And, in one final night of terror that the Lutzes have never even been able to describe, the family was driven out of the house, never to return. Their stay had lasted only 28 days.
The events are not surprising, since a few hundred years before the Defeos were murdered, the local Shinnecock Indians used the same property as a sort of insane asylum for their sick and dying. Negative demonic energy was nothing new to the Amityville Horror house.
So what happened next?
George Lutz, whose business was failing (ostensibly as a result of the distraction of the haunting), hoped to find a silver lining and called up the publisher Prentice-Hall. The Exorcist had come out only two years before and had been wildly successful, putting things like demons and abused priests firmly in the public consciousness, so Prentice-Hall was keen to capitalize on the Lutzes’ experience. The publisher engaged author Jay Anson to write the book The Amityville Horror, and the rest is history. The book and subsequent nine motion pictures were highly successful, though most critics agree that the movies were all stupid.
Where it started to get murky was a meeting that George Lutz had during his 28 days in the house. The man he met with was William Weber, who was none other than Butch DeFeo’s defense attorney. Who initiated the meeting is not clear. According to William Weber’s admission in later years, what transpired in that meeting was an agreement that served both men’s interests. The story of the haunting was concocted, based in part upon elements from The Exorcist. George Lutz stood to gain from the potential commerciality of a ghost story based upon the DeFeo murders, and Weber would have a new defense for his client: Demons, as evidenced by the Lutzes’ experience, caused Butch DeFeo to murder his family, at least in Butch’s own mind.
When Anne Mitchell-Hedges found a crystal skull at a Belizean excavation site, rumors spread like wildfire. People claimed that the skulls possessed supernatural powers. Science has debunked these claims, but they still persist. Why?
Cultures across the planet have legends describing giant, human-like creatures. Usually, these stories are dismissed as folklore — yet some people believe a race of giants did exist at some point in Earth’s past.
Last Sunday, April 26, I went down to my town’s annual Earth Day Festival to check out everything that was there, just like I do every year.
Last year I was appalled by the amount of pseudoscience and alternative medicine woo mixed in with all of the legitimate booths and displays promoting legitimate environmental causes and advice [read about it here] to the point where they pretty much overshadowed what the Earth Day festival was suppose to be about.
The worst offender last year of course was a booth promoting Anti-GMO conspiracy theories.
Fortunately that person wasn’t back this year, but still there were people back again promoting the same woo, including the Astrology and Tarot Card reader from last year . . .
. . . and the chiropractors from last year are back as well . . .
. . . but I have some new ones for this year, starting with this one:
Now I admit at first glance this one wasn’t that bad, even through it had nothing to do with environmentalism.
Creating art can help relax a person and cut down on stress. That’s the good part about what’s being presented there.
Then there’s the woo.
They also promote past life regression and trauma healing, clearing of curses, negative spirits, and other stuff of the like, and how to protect yourself from such things, all while using nature and spiritual energy.
In other words instead of addressing any real things that can cause stress in a person’s life, they’re just claiming that it’s supernatural forces, and use “techniques” they claim to get from Shamanism to “cleanse” a person of these supernatural forces.
The next offender of promoters of woo that I saw there was . . .
I thought i’d do my duty and let everybody know the world is going to end tonight or tomorrow night – maybe, kinda, NOT! But you KNOW the loons are out there screaming apocalyse!!!!
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
In December of 1900, three men at the lighthouse on Scotland’s isolated Eilean Mor appeared to have vanished into thin air. But what exactly happened?
You’ve heard of MKULTRA in the US, Soviet psychotronics and so on, but the USSR had another program that might surprise you: For several years they searched Mongolia, Tibet and Eurasia for the fabled city of Shambhala.
Are phobias really irrational, or does the brain have a better reason for creating them?
What makes a phobia? It’s perfectly rational to prefer not to perch dangerously on the edge of a perilous cliff, and it’s only common sense to avoid the bite of a snake. But some of us take it a step further: experiencing acute symptoms of anxiety when exposed to certain threats, even when we’re actually safe. We can be on a perfectly safe railed walkway that’s high in the air, or the snake can be behind glass, but we still get the full physiological reaction. Fight or flight kicks in; anxiety, increased metabolism. Adrenalin and dopamine. Peripheral vision turns to tunnel vision and the mind becomes clear and focused on escaping the object of your phobia.
Trauma from past events is the main cause of most phobias, but some researchers also believe heredity may play a role (the eternal nature vs. nurture debate). The nurture component triggers a conditioned response to a stimulus. Here are phifteen phreaky phobias and what we know of them:
1. Arachnophobia: Fear of Spiders
Why is it that even a tiny toddler with no previous spider experience will recoil in terror from a tiny cute little animal that can’t possibly pose any threat? Some have speculated that arachnophobia is an evolutionary adaptation; individuals who lacked the fear were spider-venomed to death more often enough that their genes eventually became expressed less often. Others have pointed out that the actual threat from spiders has never been substantial enough to produce such an effect.
Whatever the cause, arachnophobia is somewhat infamous as the poster child for exposure therapy, the most successful way to treat phobias through desensitization. What arachnophobe would not want to someday be thickly encrusted with Giant Huntsman spiders?
2. Pediophobia: Fear of Dolls
A theory to explain why this phobia exists has to do with the “uncanny valley” — that gap between our comfort with the images of real people, and our comfort with fictional characters sufficiently different from humans. In between, where things like corpses, prosthetic hands, wax figures, and lifelike animated humans are, they’re almost-but-not-quite human and it creeps us out. A picture or drawing of a doll may seem harmless enough, but when a real doll is there in front of you in three dimensions and with physical synthetic eyes and hair and clothes, its evident realism drops it squarely into the uncanny valley. The uncanny valley is probably also largely responsible for:
3. Coulrophobia: Fear of Clowns
In addition to their uncanniness — appearing essentially as malformed humans — clowns are correlated with behavior that is equally uncanny. Whether they’re hitting each other over the head with giant cartoon hammers or (perhaps even creepier) quietly handing you a balloon or a flower with an overly loving grin, they behave almost-but-not-quite like people: too different, and yet too similar, for comfort.
4. Emetophobia: Fear of Vomiting
Some people just don’t do vomit: really, really don’t do vomit. They can’t think about it, watch it, or even imagine doing it themselves. The leading theory is that emetophobia is a reaction to a traumatic incident as a child, where vomiting may have been especially painful, humiliating, or associated with a strong memory such as a severe illness. As is the case with all phobias, a quick drive of the porcelain bus today wouldn’t be all that bad; but the sufferer has been conditioned to be severely anxious at the very idea.
5. Ornithophobia: Fear of Birds
In many cases we can never pinpoint what event in a sufferer’s life may have triggered their fear of birds, but the effect can be quite dramatic. Birds are everywhere outside; they can fly, they can come at us unexpectedly from any angle. This uncertainty and feeling of imminent attack is sufficient to trigger a state of acute stress response, the formal term for the fight or flight response. It triggers all the metabolic and biochemical reactions, making a life with too many outdoor excursions truly too stressful for an ornithophobe to manage.
The latest health fad making the rounds is something called “oil pulling,” an ancient Indian practice in which people cleanse their mouths (and bodies) of toxins by swishing a vegetable oil (such as olive, coconut, or sunflower) in the mouth for 20 minutes and then spitting it out.
It’s ridiculously simple, and, it is claimed, amazingly effective. According to science writer Mike Rothschild’s blog for the Skeptoid podcast, “Oil pulling is said to treat chronic pain, insomnia, cavities, allergies, thrombosis, diabetes, asthma, bad breath, gingivitis, digestive issues, meningitis, low energy, heart disease, kidney disease, ‘toxic bodily waste,’ PMS, leukemia and even AIDS. Oil pulling, it would seem, is truly a life-changing medical miracle.”
Okay, so maybe swishing a few teaspoons of olive oil isn’t a “life-changing medical miracle.” Other claims are more down-to-earth; according to one proponent, “Oil pulling is an age-old remedy that uses natural substances to clean and detoxify teeth and gums. It has the added effect of whitening teeth naturally and evidence even shows that it is beneficial in improving gums and removing harmful bacteria. The basic idea is that oil is swished in the mouth for a short time each day and that this action helps improve oral health… The practice of oil pulling started in India thousands of years ago.”
The fact that oil pulling has been used for thousand of years (if indeed it has) is asserted as proof of its efficacy but in fact means nothing. This is an example of a logical fallacy called the “appeal to tradition.” Just because a practice has endured for hundreds or thousands of years does not mean it is valid. For nearly 2,000 years, for example, physicians practiced bloodletting, believing that balancing non-existent bodily humors would restore health to sick patients.
The fact that the premise was completely false and absurd made no difference: the patients who died were assumed to have been too sick (and not killed by the bogus medical treatment), and the ones who recovered (despite, not because of, the bloodletting) were convinced the treatment was a miracle cure. It’s the same reason that people believe superstitions . . .
Dowsing is the action of a person–called the dowser–using a rod, stick or other device–called a dowsing rod, dowsing stick, doodlebug (when used to locate oil), or divining rod–to locate such things as underground water, hidden metal, buried treasure, oil, lost persons or golf balls, etc. Since dowsing is not based upon any known scientific or empirical laws or forces of nature, it should be considered a type of divination and an example of magical thinking. The dowser tries to locate objects by occult means.
Map dowsers use a dowsing device, usually a pendulum, over maps to locate oil, minerals, persons, water, etc. However, the prototype of a dowser is the field dowser who walks around an area using a forked stick to locate underground water. When above water, the rod points downward. (Some dowsers use two rods. The rods cross when above water.) Various theories have been given as to what causes the rods to move: electromagnetic or other subtle geological forces, suggestion from others or from geophysical observations, ESP and other paranormal explanations, etc. Most skeptics accept the explanation of William Carpenter (1852). The rod moves due to involuntary motor behavior, which Carpenter dubbed ideomotor action.
In the 16th century, Agricola described mining dowsers using a forked twig to find metals (De re metallica). He didn’t think much of the practice. A miner, he wrote:
should not make us of an enchanted twig, because if he is prudent and skilled in the natural signs, he understands that a forked stick is of no use to him, for … there are natural indications of the veins which he can see for himself without the help of twigs. (Quoted in Zusne and Jones 1989: 106)
Despite this sage advice, dowsers continue to dowse, claiming that they have a special power and that what they are dowsing for emanates energy, rays, radiations, vibrations, and the like.
Some people are less interested in why the rods move than in whether dowsing works. Obviously, many people believe it does. Dowsing and other forms of divination have been around for thousands of years. There are large societies of dowsers in America and Europe and dowsers practice their art every day in all parts of the world. There have even been scientists in recent years who have offered proof that dowsing works. There must be something to it, then, or so it seems.
Via randi.org written by JREF Staff
We get mail: a Catholic Priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago recently sent a veritable love letter to Randi for his decades of good work exposing supernatural fraudsters. It ends with an appeal for JREF staff to convert to Catholicism immediately. He included two objects with the letter:
The priest’s big point: “The Lord created the you without your consent, but he will not save you without your consent.”
Especially interesting was the talk of Randi’s age and how right now is surely the best time for him to finally convert: “Mr. Randi, you doubt so much that I know you must want to believe!”
He also provides some helpful instruction: “Go into a nearby Catholic Church, sit before the Tabernacle (which Catholics believe the Risen Lord Jesus IS Truly, Really, Substantially Present in the Eucharist Host) and open your heart, saying “Lord Jesus, if You are real, give me the grace to believe.” Then we are told we can “enter into the Divine Life of the Blessed Trinity!”
Our question is Since when have Catholics become so evangelizing?
We thought you might enjoy reading Randi’s response:
By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience
Amazing coincidences happen all the time — but are they simply the product of random chance, or do they convey some hidden meaning? The answer may depend on whether you believe in synchronicity.
The term synchronicity was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961). Jung had a strong belief in a wide variety of paranormal phenomenon, including psychic powers, astrology, alchemy, predictive dreams, UFOs and telekinesis (moving objects with the mind). He was also obsessed with numerology — the belief that certain numbers have special cosmic significance, and can predict important life events.
Jung’s concept of synchronicity is complicated and poorly defined, but can be boiled down to describing “meaningful coincidences.” The concept of synchronicity came to Jung during a period of mental illness in the early 1900s. Jung became convinced that everything in the universe is intimately connected, and that suggested to him that there must exist a collective unconscious of humankind. This implied to him that events happening all over the world at the same time must be connected in some unknown way.
In his book “137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession,” Arthur I. Miller gives an example of synchronicity; one of his patients “told Jung that when her mother and grandmother died, on each occasion a flock of birds gathered outside the window of the room.” The woman’s husband, who had symptoms of heart problems, went out to see a doctor and “on his way back the man collapsed in the street. Shortly after he had set off to see the specialist a large flock of birds had alighted on the house. His wife immediately recognized this as a sign of her husband’s impending death.”
There is, of course, a more prosaic explanation for curious coincidence: birds are very common, and simply by random chance a flock will appear near people who are soon to die — just as they appear daily around millions of people who are not soon to die.
The appearance of synchronicity is the result of a well-known psychological phenomenon called confirmation bias (sometimes described as remembering the hits and forgetting the misses); we much more easily notice and remember things that confirm our beliefs than those that do not. The human brain is very good at making connections and seeing designs in ambiguous stimuli and random patterns.
If Jung’s patient came to believe that a flock of birds meant that death was imminent, she would start noticing flocks of birds, and remember the times when they coincided with a loved one’s death. But she would not likely notice or remember the countless times when flocks of birds appeared over people who lived for years or decades longer. Put another way, a person dying when a flock of birds is present is an event; a person not dying when a flock of birds is present is a non-event, and therefore not something anyone pays attention to. This is the result of normal human perceptual and memory biases, not some mysterious cosmic synchronicity.
It’s easy to see why synchronicity has mass appeal; it provides meaning and order in an otherwise random universe. One famous (and more modern) example of synchronicity is . . .
People have told vampire legends for thousands of years, and the monster’s image has continuously changed over time. You already know that some people believe in vampires — but what kind?
In a nutshell: Superstitions are beliefs about the power of things to bring about good or bad when there’s no logical or scientific evidence for the belief.
It seems that everybody is superstitious about something. Ask anyone if they would wear a sweater worn by somebody who has done the worst evil thing you can imagine. Even though there is no rational or logical reason for believing that an evil person’s sweater would feel any different from any other sweater, most people don’t want to even come near the sweater of someone they think is evil.
Even grownups who think they are not superstitious will get chills or a good feeling when they touch something that belonged to someone they greatly admire. There is no logical or scientific reason why anything touched by anyone you admire should have any special effect on you. Yet, people will go to great lengths to get an autograph or to visit the home where someone they think is great was born or used to live.
The world does not divide up into the ones who are superstitious and the ones who are not superstitious. We’re all superstitious, but not always about the same things. We might laugh when we read about people who used to beat their drums to make the moon give back the sun during an eclipse. But they’d probably laugh at us for trying to touch a rock star or for buying clothes with the name of some singer sewed into them.
Many superstitions start by observing some things that happen by coincidence. You forgot to wash your socks before a baseball game and then you hit a home run. From now on you don’t wash your socks before you play a game. You wore your blue sweater to school on the day you aced a test. Now the sweater is your “lucky sweater” and you wear it whenever you have a test. Instead of accepting that things happen by coincidence, we make one the cause of the other. If you stop to think about it, you know there’s no logical reason dirty socks should help a baseball player hit a baseball. Wearing a sweater can’t substitute for studying for a test.
Many athletes are superstitious. They’ll wear twisted ropes around their necks or rubber bands with holograms around their wrists. Why? Not because they think they look good in them, but because they think the ropes and rubber bands can improve their playing. Not likely, you might think. But, if the player really believes his necklace or bracelet helps him, it might relax him and put him in a good mood. Maybe he plays better when he’s relaxed and in a good mood. So, magic jewelry might help some people sometimes, but only because of their superstition!
Some superstitions are due to magical thinking. Believing that something evil stays in the sweater of an evil person is type of magical thinking. Thinking that things that look alike share some sort of magical connection is also magical thinking. Just because a plant looks like a kidney doesn’t mean it will be good medicine for kidney problems.
Some people think that if they make a doll to stand for some person they can help or hurt the person by helping or hurting the doll. Some people think you can help a person by doing acupuncture on a doll that stands in for the person. Some think that you can make a person feel it if you stick a pin in a doll that stands in for the person. These are examples of more magical thinking.
Magical thinking seems to be based on a belief that there is some sort of energy or essence that things can magically transfer to other things.
by Yau-Man Chan via Skepticblog
To understand TCM, you do not need to understand chemistry, biology, anatomy or physiology because the foundation of TCM has nothing to do with them. You need instead to understand Taoism and Confucianism, as these philosophies are the founding principles of TCM. I will expend some ink here to explain these two very powerful underlying influences on Chinese society which gave rise to their understanding of the human body and the attendant medical fallacies.
Do numbers have some sort of intangible, mystical properties? What exactly is numerology, and why do people put so much stock in it, even today? Listen in to learn more about superstition and the origins of numerology.
It’s the #1 most common question I get: My wife, my friend, my mom, my boss, is investing their health or their money in some magical or fraudulent product/scheme/belief. What can I do about it?
This is a tough situation to be in. Whether it’s a loved one who’s ill and is being taken advantage of by a charlatan selling a magical cure with no hope of treating the illness, or a friend who’s out of work and is going into deeper debt to buy into a hopeless multilevel marketing plan, it’s really hard to watch. The hardest is when they have a real problem and are expending their limited resources trying to solve it with a medieval, magic-based system that you know can’t possibly help. But all too often, they think it’s helping. Cognitive biases, anecdotal thinking, placebo effects and cognitive dissonance combine to build a powerful illusion that our brains are hardwired to believe in. At some point, it falls to a caring friend to try and rescue them with a candle of reason.
You’re up against a foe who’s far more formidable than you might think. This isn’t like settling a bet with a friend where you can look up the answer on Wikipedia, see who’s right, then buy each other a beer. You’re going after someone’s religion. You’re setting out to talk someone out of believing something that they know to be true, for a fact, from their personal experience. That right there makes your task nearly impossible, but it’s worse. Their belief has spiritual underpinnings that make it deeply moral and virtuous. Imagine if someone came to you and flashed a magazine article that said it’s best to turn your children out into the street and never talk to them again. It’s not only unconvincing, it’s laughable. Your effort to talk someone out of their belief in their sacred cow is likely to be just as laughable.
So what should you do, give up? You may be surprised to hear it from me, but I advise you to do just that, in many cases. Know which battles to fight. Weigh the risks. Consider the context of your friend’s belief: Is he in imminent danger of harming himself or others? Probably not; and if not, this may not be the time to take what might be your only shot. So I want to make this a rule: Before you decide what to do, consider the risks and the context. How terrible are the consequences of your friend’s belief? Think that through comprehensively. Make sure you have a good understanding of the risks to your friend if you do nothing, and the risks to your relationship if you attack their beliefs and (in all probability) fail to convince them. It may well be that this first strategy I’m going to present is the safest.
Doing nothing now doesn’t mean giving up. When you choose not to confront your friend’s current weird belief, there’s still an effective strategy for helping him out that you can follow. By accepting and tolerating your friend’s weird belief, you’re actually setting yourself up to be in a position of great influence the next time something weird comes down the line. Your friend likely knows that you’re a skeptical person, and eventually he’ll recognize that you’ve been putting up with his weird belief and saying nothing. In fact he may someday ask you, “Hey, you know I believe in this weird thing, how come Mr. Cynical Skeptic has never tried to talk me out of it?”
Ask “Is it important to you?”
“You’re important to me.”
Think what a powerful message that sends. It may sound corny, but it’s a statement that your friend will always remember. You’ve just communicated that your friendship is more important than your “evil debunking hobby”. You’ve made it clear, unequivocably, that you don’t want such differences to come between you.
And now look at the position you’re in. You’re trusted. You’re an ally at the most important and fundamental level. This is exactly where you need to be if you want to be influential on someone. You can now begin to introduce critical thinking using topics that are more about exploration than confrontation, and this is a journey you should take together. Next time you’re in the car together, play a few Skeptoid episodes. Play episodes like The Baigong Pipes, Is He Real or Is He Fictional, The Missing Cosmonauts, and When People Talk Backwards. Topics such as these do not attack or challenge anyone, they instill an appreciation and a passion for the value of critical thinking. Once introduced, I find that most people want more.
Gather every bit of skeptical material you can find that you know will interest your friend, and that does not attack or challenge his belief. So long as you remain a trustworthy friend and not an irrational adversary, you’re in a position to introduce him to the fundamentals of critical thinking, and to the value and tangible rewards of reality. Don’t underestimate the value of seeds that are well planted in a good environment. If your friend comes around on his own, his growth is far more complete than any that’s forced upon him.
Always remember the story of the little boy who couldn’t get his pet turtle to come out of his shell. He tried to pull on its head, he shook it, he squirted water, he did everything he could think of. But the turtle wouldn’t come out. Then his grandfather took the turtle and placed it on the warm hearth, and within a minute the turtle was out of his shell. The little boy never forgot that lesson.
Sometimes the situation is urgent and you don’t have time to do things the easy way. There might be a medical crisis, an emotional crisis, or a financial crisis, and an immediate intervention is needed. Sometimes a friend’s situation is dire enough that helping him is worth the loss of the personal relationship. In these cases, and probably only in these cases, would I suggest a confrontational approach. And to do this effectively, draw on the established principals of the counseling intervention.
First you want to gather a group of friends or family, and you need to meet with them separately. Try to get a group, but even if there are only two of you, it’s worlds better than just you by yourself. Your next task is to present your evidence to the group that the magical system your friend is relying on is pseudoscientific and cannot help him. Do not expect them to accept what you say at face value, and do expect that some of them might buy into the magical system as well. Be prepared. Show your work. Print out pages from the web. Use the Science Based Medicine blog, use Skeptoid, use Quackwatch, use Swift. Search the best sources and have all your ducks in a row. The most important thing you need to do at this stage is to be certain that everyone in the group is united in their understanding of the useless, pseudoscientific nature of the magical sacred cow.
On a related note . . .
Susan Blackmore is a psychologist and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She is the is author of a number of books, including The Meme Machine and Zen and the Art of Consciousness.
via Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — They’re in a mystical business with few guarantees, so perhaps anyone could foresee tension between psychics and the law.
In two prominent examples, self-declared clairvoyants were recently convicted of big-money scams in New York and Florida, where one trial featured a romance-writing titan as a victim. But beyond those cases is a history of legal wrestling over fortunetelling, free speech and fraud.
While the recent trials involved general fraud charges, numerous cities and states have laws banning or restricting soothsaying itself.
Authorities say they aim to distinguish between catering to people’s interest in the supernatural and conning them. Still, some psychics feel anti-fortunetelling laws are unfair to them and to people who believe seers have something to offer.
New York psychic Jesse Bravo decries seers who make impossible promises or press clients to consult, and pay, them frequently. “There are a lot of predators out there,” he says.
But Bravo, an investment banker who moonlights as a medium, rues the disclaimer he’s compelled to give clients: Readings are for “entertainment only.” Unless solely for amusement, telling fortunes or using “occult powers” to give advice is a misdemeanor under New York state law.
“It’s a little insulting,” he says. “I believe in what I do, and the people who are coming to me believe in what I do. … But that’s OK — the state doesn’t have to believe in what I do.”
For all those who discount psychics, a 2009 survey for the Pew Research Center‘s Religion & Public Life Project found about one in seven Americans has consulted one.
Some visits evolve into extended — and expensive — relationships.
Best-selling historical-romance novelist Jude Deveraux paid psychic Rosa Marks about $17 million over 17 years, she testified at Marks’ recent federal fraud trial in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to newspaper reports. The psychic said she could transfer the spirit of Deveraux’s dead 8-year-old son into another boy’s body and reunite them, among other claims, the writer said.
“When I look back on it now, it was outrageous,” she testified. “I was out of my mind.”
Marks’ lawyer argued that Deveraux’s account was unreliable and that Marks was being blamed for some relatives’ confessed schemes.
Marks, based in New York and Florida, was found guilty and could get up to 20 years in prison on the top charge alone when sentenced this year.
Two weeks later, a Manhattan jury convicted seer Sylvia Mitchell of bilking two clients out of tens of thousands of dollars. Mitchell linked their problems to past lives and “negative energy” and prescribed cures such as giving her five-figure sums “to hold,” according to testimony.
Mitchell’s lawyer said her psychic efforts were sincere, even if their effectiveness wasn’t proved — or disproved. She’s due to be sentenced this month, with the top charge carrying up to 15 years in prison.
A private investigator who specializes in such cases says they’re about proving clients were exploited, not about passing judgment on clairvoyancy.
In such cases, “you’re dealing with a confidence scheme,” says Bob Nygaard , who’s based in New York City and Boca Raton, Fla. “It becomes clear to you the script (the psychics) are following.”
Some states and communities have concluded fortunetelling is so rife with rip-offs that it should be regulated or prohibited, at least as a paid business.
Prepare to have everything you’ve ever wanted, simply by thinking happy thoughts about it; and be careful of negative scary thoughts which might cause those things to happen to you to too. Little did you know that, just like in the original Star Trek episode Shore Leave, whatever you think of — either good or bad — will actually happen! This is the premise of Rhonda Byrne‘s 2006 book and movie, both titled The Secret.
Rhonda Byrne is an Australian television producer and author. Her book and movie propose that many of the most successful people throughout history have known a “secret” — a secret closely guarded in the marketing materials for the book and movie. The “secret” turns out to be nothing more than the old motivational speaker’s standby, that positive thinking leads to positive results. But she took the idea a step further. The Secret claims that you can actually cause events to happen by wishing for them hard enough, literally like winning the lottery or recovering from terminal illness. Similarly, a focus on fears or negative ideas will cause those things to appear or happen as well. The Secret calls this the “Law of Attraction”. The Secret further makes the completely unfounded claim that many great people knew and relied upon this wisdom, and taught it to others as “secret teachers”. “Secret teachers” included Buddha, Aristotle, Plato, Sir Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King Jr., Carl Jung, Henry Ford, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Andrew Carnegie, Joseph Campbell, Alexander Graham Bell, and even Beethoven. This claim is just a made-up lie: Most of these people lived before the “Law of Attraction” was invented, and there’s no evidence that any of them ever heard of it.
As of today (2008), a year and a half after its release, The Secret remains #26 of Amazon’s list of best selling books, better than any Harry Potter book. It has over 2,000 customer reviews. Half of them are 5 star, and a quarter of them are 1 star. This is the sign of a polarizing book. Most people either love it or find it to be utter nonsense. In the case of The Secret, most people love it. Thanks in large part to promotion by Oprah Winfrey, The Secret sold 2 million DVD’s in its first year and 4 million books in its first six months.
Many of the people appearing in the movie version of The Secret are motivational speakers who spout the same old “If you can dream it, you can do it” nonsense that Amway salesmen have been chanting for decades. In essence, part of what Rhonda Byrne has done has been to simply repackage Motivational Speaking 101 inside the wrapper of a century-old philosophical construct, which we’ll look at in closer detail in a moment.
As you’ve probably heard, The Secret has been roundly criticized from all quarters. The most common criticism is of The Secret’s assertion that victims are always to blame for whatever happens to them. Whether it’s a rape victim, a tsunami victim, or a heart attack victim, The Secret teaches that they brought it upon themselves with their own negative thoughts. This idea is, of course, profoundly offensive in many ways. Doctors attack The Secret for teaching that positive thinking is an adequate substitute for medical care in cases of serious illness: Wish for it hard enough, and your cancer tumors will melt away. Religious leaders criticize The Secret for its ethical claims that victims are always to blame, and for promoting the attitude that anyone can be just like a god by wishing hard enough. Many financial critics and advisors have pointed out the dangers of yet another baseless get-rich-quick scheme. The list of critics of The Secret goes on and on, as tends to happen to any mega-successful franchise.
So the question people ask me is “What do I think of The Secret?”
Admit it, you still get a chill when you think back to the urban legends of your youth. Every child hears the stories: masked maniacs, ghosts, alien abductions. And they all must be true, because they totally happened to a friend of a friend’s cousin’s girlfriend. Why would you need more proof than that?
Is there anything creepier than a dead bride? Apparently not, because stories of these tragic ladies crop up all over the world. On Suscan Road in Pennsylvania, under what used to be called the Susquehanna Railroad Bridge, yet another of these legends has taken hold. According to many locals, if you drive onto the bridge, turn off your car, put the keys on the roof, and wait, you will be able to see the Suscan Screamer in your rearview mirror.
Most stories agree that she is the ghost of a woman who hung herself on the bridge after being dumped at the altar. She was supposed to have screamed loudly as as jumped to her death. But there are other stories from the same area, including a creature that had “webbed feet with long claws and had a huge head.”
Bigfoot-like encounters are also allegedly common in the region. Maybe someone should ask the dead bride if she’s seen anything suspicious the next time she pops into their backseat.
This legend all started thanks to a tombstone located in the middle of a cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah. It belongs to a woman named Lillian E. Gray, who died in the 1950s at the age of 77. At first glance, it doesn’t look any different from the other graves surrounding it. Nothing catches the eye until you see the inscription written underneath: “Victim of the Beast 666.”
Now that is a bit unusual.
What could this enigmatic statement mean? Is it some kind of accusation, made by the believers in one of the most religious cities in the nation? Could she have been sacrificed by a Satanic cult? Was she a devil worshiper herself? An innocent woman punished in a Salem-style witch hunt? Those are only some of the rumors intrigued citizens have come up with to explain it.
Of course, there are always those who have to come along and ruin the fun. It looks like the inscription was commissioned by the woman’s paranoid, anti-government husband, who blamed the police for her death. It is hard to say whether that makes the whole thing less creepy, or more so.
Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California is pretty well-known for its paranormal stories. If you believe locals, it is so full of spirits that you run the risk of crashing straight into one while jogging. They might as well rename it “No One Is Alive Here Park.” But one ghost story has been the most popular and circulated, ever since it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on January 6, 1908. That’s the story of the Ghost of Stow Lake.
The newspaper piece starts with a man named Arthur Pigeon. He was going just a bit too fast in his car when he was pulled over by police. But he told the officers it wasn’t his fault, as he was trying to get away! He claimed to have seen the ghost of a woman at Stow Lake. She had “long, fair hair and was barefooted.”
The legends always claim this woman was a mother who lost a child, or else killed her child and then herself. America seems to be full of women offing themselves and their offspring.
Bobby Mackey’s Music World is a popular honky-tonk bar in Wilder, Kentucky, owned by country singer Bobby Mackey. There are three associated urban legends that have become so popular they are now considered a selling point for the establishment.
The first is that there is an actual portal to Hell located in the Well Room, which allows demons to come into our realm. It isn’t clear why they would want to. Maybe they are really into country ballads and overpriced beer.
As for the two other stories, they are more traditional hauntings. First, you have Pearl Bryan, a real pregnant woman who was found decapitated in the late 19th century. Her lover Scott Jackson and his friend Alonzo Walling were hanged for her murder. Second is the legend of a woman named Johanna, who is said to have fallen in love with a singer at a club that used to exist behind Music World. Her angry father supposedly hanged her lover in his dressing room, leading her to poison herself in retribution. Bobby Mackey wrote a song about the incident, which strongly suggests she is still haunting his bar.
In Houston, Texas, cultural memories of the Civil War have sparked numerous urban legends. One of the creepiest is centered around Patterson Road, located near Highway Six.
The claims here tend to differ, depending on whom you ask. However, everyone agrees that the ghosts involved were Civil War soldiers. Because, as we all know, every bit of land someone from that period walked across has become a ghostly hot spot by default.
Believers say that if you go onto the Langham Creek Bridge on Patterson at night and park your car with the lights off, you will hear tapping or see a mist surround your car. More skeptical locals will point out that parking your car with your lights off on a busy bridge is a good way to become a ghost yourself.
As the evenings get darker and the first hint of winter hangs in the air, the western world enters the season of the dead. It begins with Halloween, continues with All Saints’ and All Souls’ days, runs through Bonfire Night – the evening where the English burn effigies of historical terrorists – and ends with Remembrance Day. And through it all, Britain’s mediums enjoy one of their busiest times of the year.
People who claim to contact the spirit world provoke extreme reactions. For some, mediums offer comfort and mystery in a dull world. For others they are fraudsters or unwitting fakes, exploiting the vulnerable and bereaved. But to a small group of psychologists, the rituals of the seance and the medium are opening up insights into the mind, shedding light on the power of suggestion and even questioning the nature of free will.
Humanity has been attempting to commune with the dead since ancient times. As far back as Leviticus, the Old Testament God actively forbade people to seek out mediums. Interest peaked in the 19th century, a time when religion and rationality were clashing like never before. In an era of unprecedented scientific discovery, some churchgoers began to seek evidence for their beliefs.
Salvation came from two American sisters, 11-year-old Kate and 14-year-old Margaret Fox. On 31 March 1848, the girls announced they were going to contact the spirit world. To the astonishment of their parents they got a reply. That night, the Fox sisters chatted to a ghost haunting their New York State home, using a code of one tap for yes, two gaps for no. Word spread and soon the girls were demonstrating their skills to 400 locals in the town hall.
Within months a new religion had emerged – spiritualism – a mixture of liberal, nonconformist values and fireside chats with dead people. Spiritualism attracted some of the great thinkers of the day – including biologist Alfred Russel Wallace and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who spent his latter years promoting spiritualism in between knocking out Sherlock Holmes stories. Even the admission of the Fox sisters in 1888 that they had faked it all failed to crush the movement. Today spiritualism thrives in more than 350 churches in Britain.
Last week I spent 40 minutes with a telephone spiritualist who passed on messages from four dead people. Like all mediums, she was skilled at cold reading – the use of probable guesses and picking up of cues to steer her in the right direction. If she hit a dud – the suggestion that she was in the presence of a 40-year-old uncle of mine – she quickly widened it out. The 40-year-old became an older person who felt young at heart. And then someone who was more of an uncle figure. She was also skilled at the Barnum effect – the use of statements that tend to be true for everyone.
Among dozens of guesses and misses, there was just one hit – the correct name of a dead relative. Their relation to me was utterly wrong, as were details of their health. But the name was right and, even though it was a common name among that person’s generation, it was a briefly chilling moment.
Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist and magician, says my response to this lucky guess is typical. People tend to remember the correct details in a seance but overlook statements or events that provide no evidence of paranormal powers.
Wiseman’s work has also shown that we are all extremely susceptible to the power of suggestion.
If we accidentally cut someone off in traffic, we may get a scowl or menacing glare in return. For most of us it is soon shrugged off, but in many places the evil eye is taken very seriously.
The evil eye is a human look believed to cause harm to someone or something else. The supernatural harm may come in the form of anything from a minor misfortune to disease, injury or even death. Folklorist Alan Dundes, in his edited volume “The Evil Eye: A Casebook,” notes that “the victim’s good fortune, good health, or good looks — or unguarded comments about them — invite or provoke an attack by someone with the evil eye. If the object attacked is animate, it may fall ill. … Symptoms of illness caused by the evil eye include loss of appetite, excessive yawning, hiccups, vomiting, and fever. If the object attacked is a cow, its milk may dry up; if a plant or fruit tree, it may suddenly wither and die.”
It can even affect objects and buildings: The evil eye cast upon a vehicle may cause it to break down irreparably, while a house so cursed may soon develop a leaky roof or an insect infestation. Just about anything that goes wrong (for any reason, or no reason at all) may be blamed on the power of the evil eye.
The evil eye is well known throughout history. It is mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman texts, as well as in many famous literary works, including the Bible (Proverbs 23:6: “Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats”), the Koran and Shakespeare.
The evil eye is essentially a specific type of magical curse, and has its roots in magical thinking and superstition.
James Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural. He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural.
In a nutshell: Acupuncture is a kind of energy medicine. Needles are stuck into various parts of the body to unblock energy and bring back a balance of yin-yang. There is no scientific evidence for this energy or yin-yang.
Acupuncture is the puncturing of the skin with sharp needles to unclog an invisible energy that some people think runs through everything in the universe.
Even though millions of people believe this energy, called chi (ch’i or ki, pronounced chee), and the forces of yin-yang, flow in the human body through pathways called meridians, scientists have never found chi, yin, yang, or the meridians in which they flow.
Yin and yang are ideas found in Chinese stories written long before the rise of science. To explain yin-yang Chinese writers sometimes point to how mountains can’t exist without valleys or the inside of a bowl (whose shape is concave) can’t exist without the outside of the bowl (whose shape is convex).
Some people believe that to be healthy you must have a balance of yin-yang. The acupuncturist sticks the needles in special points on the skin (called acupoints). Each point is chosen by what hurts the patient. For pain in the right cheek an acupoint might be on the left big toe or on the left ear.
Where did such a weird idea come from and why do so many people believe acupuncture is a good way to treat illness or pain?
Most people think acupuncture started in China thousands of years ago, but the truth is we don’t know when and where acupuncture began.
The word acupuncture isn’t Chinese, but Latin (acus=needle and punctura=a pricking). The first use of the word acupuncture that joined the idea of needling with chi, meridians, and yin-yang, was by a Frenchman named George Soulié de Morant (1878-1955). Morant spent nearly twenty years in China at the beginning of 20th century. For 40 years Morant traveled around Europe telling doctors about acupuncture.
Biology is the study of living things. There is no biological basis for acupuncture as a way to make people healthy. Still, many people around the world say acupuncture works. What they mean is that they feel better or think they feel better after getting acupuncture. Many scientific studies have shown that when patients are stuck in the wrong acupoints or aren’t even stuck at all (though they think they are being stuck), they say they feel better. If a scientist has only the word of those who got either real acupuncture or fake acupuncture, she would not be able to tell who got which. About the same number in each group will say it works.
If fake acupuncture works as well as real acupuncture, then something funny is going on. Many people who get acupuncture do get better, but maybe getting better has nothing to do with unblocking energy or sticking needles in acupoints. Fake acupuncture isn’t unblocking energy, but it works just as well as real acupuncture.
by Dr. Steve Novella via www.randi.org
In June of 2009 the British Homeopathic Association declared “homeopathy awareness week.” I obliged by writing a post making the public more aware of the superstitious nonsense that is homeopathy. I, in fact, want people to be aware of exactly what homeopathy is, because most of the public does not know what absurd pseudoscience it is.Now I have to extend the favor to naturopathy – because the US has declared October 7-13 Naturopathy Awareness Week. They managed to squeeze in this critical vote prior to shutting down the government. Here is the resolution:
S.Res.221 – A resolution designating the week of October 7 through October 13, 2013, as “Naturopathic Medicine Week” to recognize the value of naturopathic medicine in providing safe, effective, and affordable health care.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who apparently is enamored of alternative medicine, sponsored the resolution. The resolution is not a law and does not have any specific effects, but it is concerning none-the-less. Pseudoscientists are always desperate for the trappings of legitimacy and respect. They have become quite good and finding creative ways to make it seem like their nonsense is legitimate, because they cannot gain the one true measure – actual scientific legitimacy.
Naturopaths could, for example, conduct high quality clinical research that would establish in a convincing way that one or more of their preferred treatment methods are safe and effective, equal to or superior to standard medical care. They can’t do that, however, because their treatments are largely nonsensical and worthless, so instead they seek to have naïve politicians give them the recognition they crave.
Here is how naturopaths define their approach:
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process. The practice of naturopathic medicine includes modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods.
This, of course, is propaganda and spin. They claim to use “scientific and empirical methods,” but that is mainstream science-based medicine. If they really used scientific and empirical methods, they would be practicing mainstream medicine.
The focus on the “inherent self-healing process” is a little closer to the truth, in that they tend to use modalities that make that claim. CAM practitioners in general have relied upon the “self-healing” gambit because they cannot actually treat diseases or identifiable entities – because their treatments do not work, because they are not based in reality.
Saying that a treatment “supports the body’s self-healing ability” is just hand-waving marketing hype. It gets around the fact that they do not have a plausible biological mechanism addressing a specific biological problem.
This claim is often attached to energy-based or vitalistic treatments, those that are based on the pre-scientific superstition that living things have their own “life energy” which is responsible for health. No such life energy exists, and therefore any practice based upon the notion of such energy is hopelessly worthless.
In practice naturopaths cobble together a wide range of unscientific, disproven, discarded, and fanciful treatments. They seem to prefer treatments that do not work to those that are safe and effective. Since regular medicine uses science to determine which treatments are safe and effective, this is the only way to distinguish themselves.
More than half of those taking part (52 per cent) said they believed in the supernatural, a marked increase on the two previous comparable studies, in 2009 and 2005, which both found a level of around 40 per cent.
The survey also found that one in five claimed to have had some sort of paranormal experience.
Interest in the supernatural has become big business in recent years, with the popularity of television shows like Most Haunted, which starred Yvette Fielding, and the spread of so-called “ghost walks” around supposedly haunted parts of city centres. English Heritage (EH) and the National Trust have both begun to attract people to their properties by identifying which ones are said to be occupied by ghosts, among them Blickling Hall, in Norfolk, Dunster Castle, in Somerset, and Dover Castle, in Kent. EH even conducted a “spectral stocktake” of “hauntings” and unexplained events recorded at its sites.
The new study was carried out for the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (Assap), for its annual conference.
Dave Wood, chairman of the group, which is dedicated to the study of a wide range of unexplained experiences – from supposed hauntings to UFO sightings – said: “The rise in the numbers believing in ghosts is a surprise, and is significantly higher than what we consider to have been the historical average.
“It could be that in a society which has seen economic uncertainty and is dominated by information and technology, more people are seeking refuge in the paranormal, whereas in the past they might have sought that in religion.”
Among notable personalities said to have encountered ghosts is Winston Churchill, who is on a long list of people reported to have seen an apparition of former US president Abraham Lincoln, in the White House.
Dick Van Dyke’s home had terrible feng shui. Improper positioning had him stumbling, fumbling, and tumbling all over the house. The futon in the living room had a particularly negative qi about it. To think of all the slapstick sitcoms we would be deprived of if feng shui were true…
If feng shui were true, already unbearable construction delays in major cities would be dwarfed by the demands of magnetism. The magnetic compass—built specifically for the practice of feng shui—guides modern feng shui application, and would dictate giant, regular shifts in the world’s architecture. The true magnetic north of our planet moves around like a cosmic stir stick in coffee, meaning that the proper alignment of a desk, room, or building moves as well.
To optimize the flow of qi, whole cities would need to shift every so often. Counties that could not afford the grand re-alignments would undergo terrible consequences. As magnetic poles wobbled, people would begin to feel sick and uneasy in their own homes. Others would experience piercingly odd feelings of “oneness.” Culture would begin to adapt accordingly. Certain months of the year would bring a general “lack of wellness” to a society. Alerts of shifting alignments would go out like air quality warnings. A neighbor’s house, now negatively positioned relative to your own, would affect you personally. Like accusations of witchcraft in the middle ages, a world where feng shui was true makes condemnation of a neighbor as simple as “they make me feel sick.”
With a reliance on the Earth’s magnetic field, true feng shui would drive a demand for consumer compasses. Smart phones would be outfitted with sensors. Dinner guests would have ample reason to avoid a tour of your home if the compass said so. But compass reliance also makes certain parts of the world uninhabitable. Building a positively positioned home at either of our planet’s poles, for example, would be impossible. With magnetic north so close, even walking a few feet to the right or left in such a home would drastically change the relative alignments of the structures within.
If feng shui worked, the optimal layouts for buildings would enter “best practices” manuals in architecture. Schools would have desks and hallways oriented in such a way as to promote learning. Hospitals would do the same with staircases, beds, and surgical theaters to promote healing. Feng shui masters would descend regularly to houses expecting children, ensuring the proper environment. “Energetic” layouts would be on every bachelor’s mind.
The DMV would get a radical overhaul to reduce the stress within its walls.
Georgina Guedes via News24
Last week, I read an article about how a “psychic” in the US duped a whole bunch of clients out of $25m.
I am not a believer in or a fan of psychics, whether they are of the fraudulent or genuinely-convinced-of-their-own-flummery sort. However, hanging with the tree-hugging, open-minded, spiritually attuned crowd that I do, I often get to hear about my friends’ attempts to lift the veil.
I hear them report, with delight, of the positive things that their medium has told them. Six months later, when only a few of these things have materialised (even a broken clock is right twice a day), I am informed that psychics can’t be right all the time, or that it takes them some time to warm up in a session.
And even when they do get something right, it’s generally of the “I see tension associated with your mother”, or “you will have a bout of ill health”, sort of predictions.
Almost all psychics are cons
So, really, people who visit psychics would do just as well to put a bundle of scraps of paper with possible outcomes inscribed on them into a hat and draw them at random, for all the worth or insight that a psychic truly offers.
But then, what really boggles my mind is that these people happily traipse back for another dose of fantasy dressed up as prediction, even when the previous lot proved to be mostly off the mark.
The article about the conwoman psychic in the United States says that she told her clients that she was able to predict the future, modify the past and influence the Internal Revenue Services. Taking R25m of her clients’ money is a pretty big scam, but aren’t all psychics purporting to be able to predict the future? And taking their clients’ money for it?
So while this woman was clearly a con artist, taking money from gullible victims, actually most psychics are exactly the same thing – just dealing in smaller bundles of cash. Why aren’t they held accountable? When does it become a crime?
Regulate the profession
There should be some kind of regulation for this profession. Psychics should have to register, and if their predictions are off the mark more than, say, 25% of the time, their licence to practice is discontinued. I doubt that many of them would make the cut.
However, I believe that many people would still visit discredited psychics, seeking out the kind of false comfort that can be delivered by someone with the “second sight” telling you that everything is going to be OK.
[END] via News24
Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi
Original broadcast: October 19, 1993
Description via PBS.org:
Can psychics predict the future? Many people seem to think so. Others argue that, in most cases, so-called psychic experiences are really misinterpretations of events. In this episode of NOVA, magician and confirmed skeptic James Randi challenges viewers to weigh the evidence for and against the existence of psychic phenomena.
Randi argues that successful psychics depend on the willingness of their audiences to believe that what they see is the result of psychic powers. The program highlights some of the methods and processes he uses to examine psychics’ claims. Using his own expertise in creating deception and illusion, Randi challenges specific psychics’ claims by duplicating their performances and “feats,” or by applying scientific methods. His goal is to eliminate all possible alternative explanations for the psychic phenomena. He also looks for evidence that they are not merely coincidental. His arguments can motivate your class to discuss the differences between psychic performances and legitimate cases of unexplained phenomena.
via Discovery News
If you are spooked by Friday the 13th, you’re in for a whammy of a year. And it would come as no surprise if many among us hold at least some fear of freaky Friday, as we humans are a superstitious lot.
Many superstitions stem from the same human trait that causes us to believe in monsters and ghosts: When our brains can’t explain something, we make stuff up. In fact, a 2010 study found that superstitions can sometimes work, because believing in something can improve performance on a task.
Here, then, are 13 of the most common superstitions.
13. Beginner’s luck
Usually grumbled by an expert who just lost a game to a novice, “beginner’s luck” is the idea that newbies are unusually likely to win when they try out a sport, game or activity for the first time.
Beginners might come out ahead in some cases because the novice is less stressed out about winning. Too much anxiety, after all, can hamper performance. Or it could just be a statistical fluke, especially in chance-based gambling games.
Or, like many superstitions, a belief in beginner’s luck might arise because of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon in which people are more likely to remember events that fit their worldview. If you believe you’re going to win because you’re a beginner, you’re more likely to remember all the times you were right — “and forget the times you ended up in last place.
12. Find a penny, pick it up . . .
And all day long, you’ll have good luck. This little ditty may arise because finding money is lucky in and of itself. But it might also be a spin-off of another old rhyme, “See a pin, pick it up/ and all day long you’ll have good luck/ See a pin, let it lay/ and your luck will pass y.”
11. Don’t walk under that ladder!
Frankly, this superstition is pretty practical. Who wants to be responsible for stumbling and knocking a carpenter off his perch? But one theory holds that this superstition arises from a Christian belief in the Holy Trinity: Since a ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle, “breaking” that triangle was blasphemous.
Then again, another popular theory is that a fear of walking under a ladder has to do with its resemblance to a medieval gallows. We’re sticking with the safety-first explanation for this one.
10. Black cats crossing your path
As companion animals for humans for thousands of years, cats play all sorts of mythological roles. In ancient Egypt, cats were revered; today, Americans collectively keep more than 81 million cats as pets.
So why keep a black cat out of your path? Most likely, this superstition arises from old beliefs in witches and their animal familiars, which were often said to take the form of domestic animals like cats.
9. A rabbit’s foot will bring you luck
Talismans and amulets are a time-honored way of fending off evil; consider the crosses and garlic that are supposed to keep vampires at bay. Rabbit feet as talismans may hark back to early Celtic tribes in Britain. They may also arise from hoodoo, a form of African-American folk magic and superstition that blends Native American, European and African tradition. [Rumor or Reality: The Creatures of Cryptozoology]
8. Bad luck comes in threes
Remember confirmation bias? The belief that bad luck comes in threes is a classic example. A couple things go wrong, and believers may start to look for the next bit of bad luck. A lost shoe might be forgotten one day, but seen as the third in a series of bad breaks the next.
You are not special, the stars and planets decided that at your birth. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake, as Tyler Durden might say. In fact, all your complexities and quirks, your desires and passions, everything you have done or will do fits neatly into what looks like a twelve-slice pie chart laden with calligraphy. A snowflake you are not if astrology were true.
Despite what your mother may have told you, if astrology were true there would be at least hundreds of thousands of people who share in your uniqueness. Indeed, if astrologers could determine your personality and future from your hour and date of birth, there would be 8,760 different combinations available. With 7.1 billion people on the planet this means around 810,000 people would each receive your exact horoscope, your wisdom from the wandering planets above, your future. Human psychology may be broken up into general personality traits, but astrology breaks up human life into less possible variations than the combinations of a 2x2x2 Rubik’s Cube.
If astrology were true, society would fracture. Over time we would learn what days of the year gave rise to what kinds of people. Like parents who want their children to become professional hockey players, mothers would calculate conception and birthing times in order to give their son or daughter a particular star sign. Pharmaceutical companies would make a killing developing the drugs that allowed mothers to delay and control births more effectively. Being born into a specific astrological sign would create grand social rifts. Different schools would spring up as they did for different religions in twentieth century Ireland. Potential mates would need not only good looks but also descendants who shared the same sign. Libras and Aries would be the modern Capulets and Montagues.
Studies would be undertaken to establish the psychology determined by stars and planets. The zodiac would replace Myers Briggs. Modern descriptions of psychopathy would include “being a Gemini” as a defining symptom. The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual cites Mercury as much as it does brain chemistry in a world where astrology is true.
Political parties would also incorporate star signs. Candidates run on the basis of how compatible they are with Cancers and Leos—perhaps key demographics. The Speaker of the House would need to be in the astrological 10th House. And when faraway stars eventually shift enough to change star signs, revolutions follow. A new type of human would enter the mix every few centuries. The status quo would be forever challenged by the whims of gravity.
It’s that time of year again. Ghosts, goblins and other spooky characters come out from the shadows and into our everyday lives.
For most people, the thrill lasts for a few weeks each October. But for true believers, the paranormal is an everyday fact, not just a holiday joke.
To understand what drives some people to truly believe, two sociologists visited psychic fairs, spent nights in haunted houses, trekked with Bigfoot hunters, sat in on support groups for people who had been abducted by aliens, and conducted two nationwide surveys.
Contrary to common stereotypes, the research revealed no single profile of a person who accepts the paranormal. Believers ranged from free-spirited types with low incomes and little education to high-powered businessmen. Some were drifters; others were brain surgeons.
For some, the paranormal served as just another way of explaining the world. For others, extraordinary phenomena offered opportunities to chase mysteries, experience thrills and even achieve celebrity status, if they could actually find proof.
“It’s almost like an adult way to get that kidlike need for adventure and exploration,” said co-author Christopher Bader, of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “Other people are sitting at home and renting videos, but you’re sitting in a haunted house that is infested with demons.”
“These guys who are hunting Bigfoot are out chasing a monster,” he added. “I could see the real appeal in going out for weekend and never knowing what you might find.”
There is no hard data on how common it is to believe in the paranormal, which Bader and co-author Carson Mencken define as beliefs or experiences that are not fully accepted by science or religion.
But trends in television programming offer a sense that there is a widespread interest in . . .
Imagine you are at a Las Vegas casino and you’re approaching the roulette table. You notice that the last eight numbers were black… so you think to yourself, “Holy smokes, what are the odds of that!” and you bet on red, thinking that the odds of another black number coming up are really small. In fact, you might think that the odds of another black coming up are:
0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5*0.5 = 0.00195 (a very tiny number)
Or are they?
The problem is that a roulette table – if fairly constructed – has no “memory”. That is, one outcome does not depend on the previous outcome’s result, and so the odds for a red number or black number are just about equal (actually, just shy of 50% each, since there is one or two green spaces on a roulette table depending on American or European versions).
Keeping with our example, if you bet on either red or black for each spin, this type of outside bet pays 1 to 1 and covers 18 of the 38 possible combinations (or 0.474). A far cry from the 0.00195 number above (a miscalculation that is roughly 243 times too small). Now your odds of a red coming up aren’t so good anymore…
This fallacy is called the Gambler’s Fallacy, and it’s what the city of Las Vegas is built on.
Random events produce clusters like “8 black numbers in a row”, but in the long term, the probability of red or black will even out to its natural average.
The key to your success at the casino? Understand that every individual spin (or “event”) has its own probability which never changes. In this case, 18 in 38.
So the next time you’re at a casino and you see a string of the same color coming up, remember that the odds of that color coming up again are exactly the same as the other color… it might save you a few bucks so you can play a bit longer.
There is a cartoonish sight gag that I have seen multiple times – a patient lying ill in a hospital bed has some indicator of their health, on a chart or monitor. The doctor comes by an flips the downward trending chart into an upward trending one, or adjusts the monitor so the readings are more favorable, and the patient improves.
This is a joke that a child can understand, even if they don’t explicitly understand that the humor lies in the reversal of cause and effect. And yet more subtle or complex forms of this same flawed reasoning is quite common, especially in the world of pseudoscience.
Even in medicine we can fall for this fallacy. We often measure many biological parameters to inform us about the health of our patients. When the numbers are out of the normal range it is tempting to take direct action to correct those numbers, rather than address the underlying process for which they are markers. Medical students have to learn early on to treat the patient, not the numbers.
Of course when the underlying belief is magical, rather than scientific, it is hard to argue against just changing the signs so that the reading is more favorable. Since the cause and effect is pure magic to begin with, does reversing it make it any worse?
Apparently not – at least for those in Japan who still believe in palmistry, according to the Daily Beast. At least one cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Matsuoka, is offering surgery to change the lines in the palm of your hand in order to change your fortune. Living longer, therefore, is just a matter of extending the life line. Of course this is absurd, but is it really more absurd than palmistry itself?
Dr. Matsuoka does not make direct claims about the efficacy of his procedure, but does justify it with the placebo effect and anecdotes:
“If people think they’ll be lucky, sometimes they become lucky.”
There is some truth to that, actually. Belief in being lucky or fortunate does seem to lead people to exploit more opportunities because they are more positive about their chances of success. This reasoning could be used, however, to defend any superstition, and it’s difficult to measure the psychological benefit against the risks of being that gullible and believing in magic.
He also reports:
The woman with the early wedding line wrote to the doctor that she got married soon after he had performed the operation. Two male patients wrote to him that they had won the lottery after the surgery. His luckiest patient collected more than $30,000 (3 million yen).
Well, there you go. I have no way to counter these completely unsubstantiated anecdotes.
Now excuse me while I roll back the mileage on my car. It’s been acting up a bit lately and I’m hoping this will make it run more like it did when it was new.
[END] via Skepticblog
If you can demonstrate a power unknown to science, there are people looking to write you a check.
It can sometimes be quite mind-boggling to hear a friend or family member reveal that they have some kind of supernatural ability. Often they feel an empathetic connection to others, sometimes the ability to perform minor healings, or to predict future events. Many times, these are abilities for which “supernatural” seems too strong a word; they are more spiritual or metaphysical, or based on some sensing of an energy. It’s more than likely that you yourself believe you have such an ability, or perhaps did at one time. Nearly all of us have. But whether the ability is energetic or spiritual, supernatural truly is the best word that applies. A supernatural ability could almost be seen as a superpower, something a fictional superhero might be able to do. And we all want superpowers. We all want your supernatural ability to be proven true. And we want it so much that a large number of groups around the world will pay you to prove it.
Such prizes have been available at least since Houdini, who had a standing $10,000 offer for anyone who could create a paranormal manifestation that he could not duplicate. The granddaddy of today’s challenges is the James Randi Educational Foundation‘s Million Dollar Challenge, which will pay anyone who can prove an ability unknown to science one million dollars, and Chinese journalist Sima Nan will kick in a million Yuan (about $150,000) on top of it. It’s not the only big prize out there: the Belgian group SKEPP offers the Sisyphus Prize for one million Euros, which at current exchange rates, is about a quarter million dollars more than the Million Dollar Challenge. The Independent Investigation Group, with affiliates throughout the United States, offers a $100,000 prize. Puzzling World in New Zealand has long offered the $100,000 Pyschic Challenge, and just across the pond, the Australian Skeptics offer a $100,000 prize. The Science and Rationalists’ Association of India offers a INπ 2 million Miracle Challenge, worth about $50,000. These are most of the largest prizes, but many, many smaller prizes are offered all around the world. If you have a supernatural ability of any kind, you owe it to yourself – or at least to your favorite charity – to prove it and use the reward however you see fit.
It’s easy to dismiss the groups who run these challenges as cynics who just want to gloat over someone’s failure, and for sure, such people are found in those groups. But many members of the groups joined because they, too, have always dreamed of having a superpower. Should you win the money and prove that a supernatural ability is possible, you’ll not only turn the world on its head, you’ll be handed money by people who have never been happier to sign a check.
I truly do encourage you to go for it. Here are three big pieces of advice, based on the experiences of the many previous claimants:
1. Be able to succinctly describe a testable ability.
The biggest headache for the people who offer these prizes is that the claimant can almost never provide a simple, clear description of their ability. For example, if you believe you have the power to influence a cat telepathically, you have to give a specific and testable example. Most claimants usually write in with a great lengthy email, telling about the many examples they’ve experienced of a cat doing whatever they wanted it to do; or perhaps with long rambling experiences of sharing the cat’s feelings or of their history of owning cats with whom they felt empathetic.
The challengers have no use for a long letter. You truly must be able to describe one specific ability in a single sentence. If you have many, then pick exactly one, one that you are most confident you can consistently prove.
Nobody is going to give you a cash prize for the length of your letter, or for the number of cats you’ve felt empathetic toward. You must be able to provide a clear, testable ability. If your ability is broad-reaching and vague, it will not be possible to construct a test protocol, and you will not be able to prove it. You must be able to select, within the scope of your broad-reaching abilities, something specific that’s testable and repeatable. For example, “I can make my cat jump onto its perch, within five seconds of giving it a mental command, when the cat neither see me nor hear me, and I can do it 8 out of 10 times.”
It has to be something concise, specific, and unmistakable. If you feel that your ability is too broad to be fairly represented by such a precise example, then you are unlikely to convince anyone, and will certainly be unable to prove your ability to the satisfaction of whatever criteria are agreed upon.
Many claimants report that they feel it’s unfair to try and represent their ability with a single demonstration that’s so much more specific than what they generally do. If you feel the same way and can’t agree to a simple test protocol, then you’re likely to leave the impression that your abilities are really just your own misinterpretation of ordinary coincidences. It’s something the psychologists call confirmation bias – you happen to notice when your cat jumps onto his perch while you were thinking of him, but you failed to weigh it against the far larger number of times your cat jumped onto the perch when you weren’t around and had nothing to do with it.
2. Be aware of why previous claimants failed.
Many people have taken such tests, and so far, all have failed. However, they’ve almost always cited an excuse or some external reason out of their control that the test failed. You must be aware of why previous claimants have failed, and be prepared not to suffer their same fate. This means preparation and anticipation of the problems.
Claimants are generally required to . . .
Alleged psychics who claim to have supernatural powers to communicate with the “spirit realm” have been around for centuries, from the priestesses of the Oracle in Delphi to Sylvia Browne (who has been debunked several times on this blog, such as here, here, here and here). Alleged psychics may seem very convincing at first, but that is a cognitive illusion created by the fact that these supposed psychics use psychological tools and techniques to attempt to create such beliefs in the brain of their unsuspecting victims.
This article goes into detail and examines the nature of some of these tricks. Although no division is going to be perfect, they can be divided into three categories (with some overlap): basic techniques that almost all psychics use, techniques used to increase the probability of getting a hit and techniques used to salvage a miss. When combined, they constitute a powerful method for deception, especially if the victim is in an emotionally vulnerable state or if he or she already has an inclination to believe.
There are certain techniques that are used by almost all alleged psychics that the deserved to be called basic techniques. This involves cold reading (making guesses and getting information from the victim), warm reading (making barnum statements that apply to almost everyone), hot reading (gotten information from researching the victim) and time-shifting (asking a question and claiming that the information was gotten from the spirit world when the victim tells the alleged psychic the information).
Cold reading: cold reading is perhaps one of the most common and well-known tactic used by alleged psychics. It is a technique designed to get the victim to give the alleged psychic the information, and then the alleged psychic takes credit for it and makes it appear that he or she got that information from the deceased loved one. The alleged psychic typically employ estimates and guesses that have a high prior probability of being true about the person, often informed by body language, manner of speech, outward appearance and so on. If a guess is confirmed, the alleged psychic pushes forward in that direction, hoping that confirmation bias will make the victim forget the hits and remember the misses.
Warm reading: there is a related technique refers to as warm reading. Some skeptics consider it a type of cold reading, whereas others conceptualize it as an independent technique. Warm reading occurs when the alleged psychic uses statements that apply to almost anyone (barnum statements) instead of using cold reading to get the victim to give them information. Examples include guessing for a common case of death (such as heart condition or cancer). If this technique is combined with inflating probabilistic resources, the supposed psychic has a very high probability of scoring a hit.
Hot reading: hot reading occurs when the alleged psychic has actually gotten information about the victim beforehand, either from a Google search or probing other people close the victim (such as relatives, friends, TV producers and so on). Then, when they present that information to their victims, it seems like a miraculous discovery and evidence that the alleged psychic can really talk to the dead. In reality, they have just gathered that information from living or electronic sources without you knowing it. With the popularity of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, this is becoming an increasingly powerful technique.
Time-shifting: time-shifting is a technique that begins with the alleged psychic asking a question. If the victim gives an informative response, the alleged psychic replies that the dead loved one just told him or her that. To credulous victims, it may appear that the deceased loved one provided the information before the question was asked. In reality, it was the victim that gave that information to the supposed psychic and the supposed psychic tried to make it look like he or she was actually communicating with the dead.
Techniques to Ensure a Hit
The techniques in this category attempt to increase the probability of getting hits. This is done by various means, such as making a statement without specifying what dead relative and hoping that it will fit for at least one or making a statement in front of a crowd so that at least someone will relate (inflating probabilistic resources), increasing the number of statements made hoping that some are true (shotgunning), making statements that are contradictory or cover a range of possibilities (covering all the bases), ensure that all responses by the victim can be twisted into a hit by asking questions containing negations (vanishing negative) and making unverifiable/unfalsifiable claims that can never become misses (escape hatch).
Inflating probabilistic resources: this technique can be used both when performing a private reading and when doing a reading on e. g. a TV audience. Both are based on the fact that the more possible connections that can make between what the alleged psychic claims and reality, the greater probability that the claimed psychic will score a hit. During a private reading, the psychic might make vague claims about the victim’s dead relatives (e. g. who had the cat?). Since any given person might have quite a few dead relatives, there is a greater probability to score a hit than if the psychic had asked “did your mother have a cat?”. During psychic readings on a studio audience, an alleged psychic will throw out a bait to the entire audience, such as asking “who had the dad with the clock?” or similar. The alleged psychic is almost guaranteed a hit, because there is bound to be someone who can relate to it. In this case, the inflation does not occur by making claims that could refer to any dead relative. Instead, the inflation occurs because there are so many people in the studio audience. Using these techniques, the probability of getting a hit is increased.
Shotgunning: the defining characteristic of the shotgunning technique involves throwing out a lot of claims, particularly names, and hoping that the victim can relate to at least one of them. The alleged psychic relies on the confirmation bias of the victim to ensure that he or she will remember the hits and forgetting the misses. This is based on the same general ideas as inflating the probabilistic resources, although here it is about increasing the number of allowed guesses instead of increasing the probability that a given guess is interpreted as a hit.
Nearly everyone who’s looked up at the night sky has asked him or herself at least some form of the very same question: Are we really, truly alone in the universe? The only thing that’s certain is that we definitely don’t want to be. Maybe that explains why we keep seeing UFOs in the sky… and why they’re always one of three types.
The idea that humankind is pretty much the end all be all as far as intelligent life goes is a pretty depressing thought. It’s only natural, then, that we’d grasp on to pretty much anything as a sign of alien contact—seriously, anything. History is rife with reports of UFO sightings, but if you take a second to stop and think, nearly all of them come with perfectly reasonable explanations—and not one of them extraterrestrial.
Consider this: It would take one of our space ships 60,000 years simply to reach the edge of our galaxy alone. Now, that doesn’t bode well for an extraterrestrial playdate. But this hasn’t deterred the hoards of people willing to swear until their dying day that they have seen, interacted with, touched, and/or been probed (anally or otherwise) by creatures of a world beyond our own. And sure, the thought that we’re not alone is an exciting if not slightly unsettling one, but these little claims and subsequent “proofs” of alien life on Earth almost always fall into one of three categories: military exercises gone wrong, acts of nature, and of course, man-made hoaxes.
Ever notice how UFO sightings tend to conveniently happen on or around military bases? Yeah, that’s not a coincidence. Be it weather balloon, aerial spy cam, or rogue aircraft, people are more than happy to assume that the mystery circling overhead is alien—rather than military-made—especially during times of national paranoia.
The Battle of Los Angeles
Times of paranoia like, say, WWII, for instance. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the country’s sense of security was shattered. So three months later, when a weather balloon went casually wafting over Los Angeles in 1942, hysteria naturally followed suit. What’s a terrified city to do? Why, conduct a massive military airstrike against the interloper, of course—resulting in this iconic photograph of what was later dubbed The Battle of Los Angeles.
Initially the shadow in the sky was thought to be another attack coming over from Japan, but at a press conference shortly after the incident, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox quickly put that rumor to rest, calling it a “false alarm.” Which then left media personnel free to publish all sorts of “reports” of extraterrestrial coverup. And remember—after WWII, people were shaken. They were ready to believe anything.
The Battle of Los Angeles acclimated civilians to the notion that alien sightings were not only plausible but likely. It allowed for a more comfortable way to explain away their fears, and the instances only picked up speed.
The Roswell Incident
One of the most notorious alleged UFO sightings (and the inspiration for a criminally underrated television show), Roswell, all started in July of 1947 when local ranch foreman William Brazel stumbled upon a giant ditch hundreds of feet long and filled with debris—namely rubber strips, tin foil, paper, scotch tape, and toughened sticks.
Since the bizarre mess was on the property where he worked, Brazel promptly reported it to the authorities, and the account eventually made its way over to the Roswell Army Airfield base. The base’s commander denounced the mess to be nothing more than a weather balloon gone wrong, encouraging everyone to forget about the mini-dump and go about their business. So of course, conspiracy theorists decided it was the perfect time for a good, ol’ fashioned UFO rabble-rousing.
Stanton Friedman, a physicist and amateur ufologist (it’s a word), was one of those noble crusaders for the alien origins explanation—it’s just that he decided to wait a good 30 years before weighing in because, well, no one really knows why. After interviewing Major Jesse Marcel—one of the site’s original inspectors—in 1978, Friedman got what he was looking for. Marcel claimed that the entire event was a military coverup of an alien spaceship. Bingo!
Glenn Dennis, a mortician, also piped in (another 11 years after that) and claimed that dead bodies had been removed from the site and taken to an airbase. But apparently, these people weren’t totally insane (or at the very least, totally wrong).
Because there was so much controversy over what actually happened, two separate official government investigations took place—one in 1994 and the other in 1995. The first confirmed that the cause had indeed been a weather balloon; the military was testing them in a classified program that used sensitive lights to try to detect Russian nuclear tests. The second cleared up that whole “dead bodies” issue; the test had used dummies during parachute testing, dummies which then had to be removed.
After Roswell, interest in potential alien spacecrafts skyrocketed, with almost 800 sightings occurring in the weeks that directly followed. As with the Battle of Los Angeles, the international climate probably played a role; this was mid-Cold War, when Americans were well-primed for a little extra paranoia and perpetual fear. While photographs of UFOs are now are relatively rare and met with considerable skepticism, back then, the claims were accepted in droves. Each UFO sighting was merely another log tossed on top of an already hefty pile of anxiety-inducing fodder.
The Mysterious Lubbock Lights
In August and September of 1951, the small town of Lubbock, Texas enjoyed its own brief stint in the UFO spotlight. The Texas Technical College professors spotted a group of 20-30 some-odd lights floating overhead the night of August 25. The next week, student Carl Hart noticed a similar phenomenon in the sky and snapped photos, which the local newspaper then published and eventually sent nationwide.
Lieutenant Edward Ruppelt from the Air Force’s Project Blue Book (the government agency set up for the express purpose of UFO investigations) analyzed the images and ultimately declared them not to be a hoax—but he didn’t believe them to be of alien origin, either. Rather Ruppelt believed that the vision had been nothing more than streetlights being reflected off the underbellies of a flock of plovers. Witnesses in the area supported this explanation, agreeing that they had in fact seen large flocks of migratory birds and had even her some squawking.
Still, others maintained that the lieutenant was simply attempting to cover up the training exercises of the Air Port’s new flying wing. Whichever the correct explanation might be, however, certainly doesn’t include aliens.
• Acts of Nature
These little alien scares down’t necessarily have to come from the hand of man, though. Our world is fully capable of creating its own absolutely beautiful, stunning phenomenons that can pretty easily terrify any witnesses who don’t understand what’s going on in the sky above them. Generally, as science advances, we have fewer and fewer instances of people reporting suspicious, potentially otherworldly activity in the wake of a natural occurrence. Still, it’s curious how quick we are to jump to the conclusion that a phenomenal vision came from some alien being when, in fact, it just came from our very own phenomenal world.
Portugal’s Miracle of the Sun
In 1917, 30,000 people in Fatima, Portugal supposedly witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun,” an event that was supposed to predict the appearance of the Virgin Mary. Crowds gathered to find themselves staring at a cloudy sky for hours. But when the clouds finally did part and the sun came bearing down, everybody simultaneously experienced radiating, multicolored lights that came spiraling downwards. And cue collective panic… now.
Understandably, though, and to this clearly devoutly religious population, the bright, shiny lights could very well have seemed like a sign of the End Times. Nearly 100 years later, we’re aware of the fact that staring at the sun for such a long of a period of time has the potential to directly induce mass hysteria and hallucinations. But hey, they were looking for a little excitement; at least they got what they came for. The severe retina damage was just a bonus.
Though evil spirits possessing the body of a hapless human victim seems like the stuff of science fiction, the possibility of being possessed by demons is, in fact, a common belief held by religions around the world. Even the Christian Bible alludes to demonic possession more than thirty times, including several cases of Jesus “casting out demons” from people. Most religions offer prayers, spells, or incantations that are used to remove these invading spirits via exorcism rituals.
As hard as it may be to believe, countless accounts by victims and witnesses dating back to ancient times are hard to ignore. Let’s explore ten cases of truly scary and, by all accounts, real demonic possession.
Note: For most of these cases, there are no photographs for us to share with you here. We have used images from movies and other sources to illustrate this post.
In 1906, Clara Germana Cele was a Christian student at St. Michael’s Mission in Natal, South Africa. For some reason, Cele prayed and made a pact with Satan when she was sixteen years-old, and just days later, Cele was overtaken by strange impulses. She was repulsed by religious artifacts like crucifixes, she could speak and understand several languages of which she had no previous knowledge, and she became clairvoyant regarding the thoughts and histories of the people around her.
Nuns who attended to Cele reported that she produced horrible, animalistic sounds; she also levitated up to five feet in the air. Eventually, two priests were brought in to perform an exorcism. Cele tried to strangle one of the priests with his stole, and over one hundred and seventy people witnessed her levitating as the priests read Scripture. Over the course of two days, the rites of exorcism successfully drove the dark spirits from her body.
Anneliese Michel is a controversial case, as well as the subject of many fictional accounts of her tragic story, most notably the 2005 courtroom drama The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Sixteen year-old Anneliese Michel had a history of epilepsy and mental illness, for which she had often been treated at a psychiatric hospital. However, in 1973 Michel become suicidal, spurned all religious artifacts, drank her own urine, and began to hear voices. Medicine did nothing to help the girl, who begged her family to bring in a priest because she believed that she was possessed by demons. Though her request was rejected, two local priests secretly began treating her with exorcism rites. Meanwhile, her parents stopped treating her epilepsy and mental disorders. She was dead within a year.
Michel had almost seventy exorcisms performed on her over the course of ten months. She refused to eat, and often talked of dying as a martyr. Many of the attempted exorcisms were recorded:
Known as the “real” story behind the novel and Hollywood movie The Exorcist, the tale of fourteen year-old Roland Doe is one of the most notorious stories of demonic possession. In fact, Roland Doe is not his real name; it is a pseudonym assigned to him by the Catholic church in order to preserve the boy’s privacy. In the late 1940s, Doe’s aunt encouraged him to use a Ouija board, and many speculate that after her death the boy attempted to contact his aunt with the Ouija board, an act which opened the door for the demons who wished to possess him.
The possession started with strange sounds, like dripping water, that no one could place. Eventually, religious artifacts began to quake and fly off the walls, and unexplained footsteps and scratching noises could be heard around the home. Scratches began to appear on the boy’s body, including words that seemed to have been carved into his flesh by unseen claws. The boy spoke in tongues in a guttural voice and levitated in the air, with his body contorted in pain.
His family brought in a Catholic priest, who determined that the boy was possessed by evil spirits and needed an exorcism. The exorcism ritual was performed over thirty times, with the boy injuring the priest many times throughout. When, at last, the rite was successful, the entire hospital heard Doe’s cries of bestial anguish and reported a horrible sulfuric odor hanging in the air. (Link | Photo)
In 2008, Dr. Richard E. Gallagher, a board-certified psychiatrist and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College, documented the case of a patient nicknamed “Julia” whom he deduced was indeed possessed by demons. It’s rare that a scientist and psychiatrist would acknowledge the possibility of possession; typically doctors think that possession is either fraudulent or a result of mental illness.
Dr. Gallagher personally observed items flying around the room, Julia levitating off the bed, speaking in tongues, and knowing things about people around her that she could not possibly have known. Here is an excerpt from Gallagher’s statement:
“Periodically, in our presence, Julia would go into a trance state of a recurring nature,” writes Gallagher. “Mentally troubled individuals often ‘dissociate,’ but Julia’s trances were accompanied by an unusual phenomenon: Out of her mouth would come various threats, taunts and scatological language, phrases like ‘Leave her alone, you idiot,’ ‘She’s ours,’ ‘Leave, you imbecile priest,’ or just ‘Leave.’ The tone of this voice differed markedly from Julia’s own, and it varied, sometimes sounding guttural and vaguely masculine, at other points high pitched. Most of her comments during these ‘trances,’ or at the subsequent exorcisms, displayed a marked contempt for anything religious or sacred.” (Link | Via | Photo)
Editorial via The Boston Globe
Like it or not, people care what celebrities think. So ABC’s decision to hire MTV-star-turned-medical-conspiracy-theorist Jenny McCarthy as a host of “The View” poses a certain risk. McCarthy backs a fringe theory that purports to link vaccines to autism, and the network is giving her a prominent platform that she could use to spread a harmful superstition.
The idea of a vaccine-autism link emerged in the 1990s, and has been thoroughly debunked. There’s just as much evidence connecting autism with vaccines as there is linking the condition to leprechauns and rainbows — that is to say, none. Yet McCarthy, who has an autistic child, has gone to great lengths to keep the theory alive, which has convinced some parents to withhold important vaccinations from their kids.
And that does have an impact: Statistics show that vaccination rates have declined in many states since the 1990s. Not surprisingly, dangerous diseases like mumps, measles, and whooping cough have seen a resurgence.
Autism is an emotional issue for many parents — and it’s also the kind of issue that could come up in discussions on “The View.” ABC should make it clear to McCarthy that she’s been hired as a talk-show personality, not a scientific expert, and the network shouldn’t let her use the show as a platform for her theories. Giving them even a moment’s airtime would be a disservice to the public.
via The Boston Globe
By COLLEEN LONG via The Huffington Post
NEW YORK — One woman was told by a fortune teller that her son was possessed by demons. Another was approached on a Chinatown street by a stranger who eerily claimed her daughter would die in two days. A third was informed that her dead husband was communicating from the grave, telling her to hand over thousands in cash.
“Your son will die in a car accident – he is cursed,” a 65-year-old was told.
In each instance, the women bundled up cash and jewelry in a bag and gave it to strangers they’d just met – self-proclaimed spiritual healers. They were told the contents would be blessed in an effort to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck to the family or heal a sick child – they just have to wait a period of time to re-open it.
When they do, they find water bottles, cough drops and beans. But no valuables.
Detectives say there has been a rash in New York of what’s known as an evil spirit or blessing scam, where older immigrant women, mostly Chinese, are swindled out of their valuables by clever scammers arriving from China who prey on superstition and fear. In the past six months, two dozen victims have reported valuables stolen – in some cases more than $10,000 in cash and $13,000 in jewelry, according to police reports. A total of more than $1.8 million has been stolen.
“They know the culture, they know how to talk to these victims to get them to listen,” chief New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said of the grifts. “One person’s spirituality is another’s superstition, and they prey on that distinction.”
The scam itself has many permutations, but the basic principle is the same: A woman, usually in her 50s or older, is approached by a stranger, usually a younger woman, who asks the woman if she knows where to find a particular healer or fortune teller. Another seeming stranger joins the conversation, says she knows where the healer is located, and convinces the older woman to come along. The healer convinces the victim that in order to ward off some evil, she must hand over valuables in a bag to be blessed. And then they switch the bag.
Similar scams occur in other places in the U.S. with large Asian communities, such as . . .
A woman sued her former psychic reader Wednesday, alleging the soothsayer conned her out of nearly $11,000 with false promises that she could lift a curse on the plaintiff’s love life.
Klarissa Castro of North Hollywood filed her suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Jennifer Williams and her company, Psychic Readings By Yana, located at 2201 S. Bundy Drive in Los Angeles.
Williams could not be immediately reached for comment on the complaint, which alleges fraud and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
According to the suit, Castro first met with Williams in August 2010.
“Upon the initial consultation, Williams informed (Castro) that there was a curse placed on her,” the suit states. “However, Williams assured her that she was able to lift the curse, but that she would require plaintiff to start a series of psychic sessions with Williams.”
Castro says she was “emotionally vulnerable” at the time and Williams convinced her that “without lifting this curse, (she) would be unable to have true, meaningful, loving relationships in her life.”
The initial consultation cost Castro $500, according to her complaint.
Castro says she saw Williams during the next two years, spending $4,025 for the psychic’s services. Williams also told Castro to buy special candles blessed by the psychic, to write special love letters and perform other acts in order to have the curse removed, the suit says.
The 10-inch tall relic, which dates back to 1800 BC, was found in a mummy’s tomb and has been at the Manchester Museum for 80 years.
An ancient Egyptian statue has spooked museum bosses – after it mysteriously started to spin round in a display case.
The 10-inch tall relic, which dates back to 1800 BC, was found in a mummy’s tomb and has been at the Manchester Museum for 80 years.
But in recent weeks, curators have been left scratching their heads after they kept finding it facing the wrong way. Experts decided to monitor the room on time-lapse video and were astonished to see it clearly show the statuette spinning 180 degrees – with nobody going near it.
The statue of a man named Neb-Senu is seen to remain still at night but slowly rotate round during the day.
Now scientists are trying to explain the phenomenon, with TV boffin Brian Cox among the experts being consulted.
Scientists who explored the Egyptian tombs in the 1920s were popularly believed to be struck by a ‘curse of the Pharaohs’ – and Campbell Price, a curator at the museum on Oxford Road, said he believes there may be a spiritual explanation to the spinning statue.
Watch the time-lapse video as the statue spookily moves all by itself…
Egyptologist Mr Price, 29, said: “I noticed one day that it had turned around. I thought it was strange because it is in a case and I am the only one who has a key.
“I put it back but then the next day it had moved again. We set up a time-lapse video and, although the naked eye can’t see it, you can clearly see it rotate on the film. The statuette is something that used to go in the tomb along with the mummy.
“Mourners would lay offerings at its feet. The hieroglyphics on the back ask for ‘bread, beer and beef’.
“In Ancient Egypt they believed that if the mummy is destroyed then the statuette can act as an alternative vessel for the spirit. Maybe that is what is causing the movement.”
We probably all suffer from a minor phobia or two, but some people’s lives are virtually debilitated by their fears. This list looks at ten more of the most unusual phobias that afflict people in modern days. If you suffer from any of these phobias, be sure to tell us about it in the comments. For those interested, here is the previous list of bizarre phobias.
10 • Agyrophobia – Fear of Crossing the Street
Agyrophobics have a fear of crossing streets, highways and other thoroughfares, or a fear of thoroughfares themselves. This, of course, makes it very difficult to live comfortably in a city. The word comes from the Greek gyrus which means turning or whirling as the phobic avoids the whirl of traffic. The phobia covers several categories, wherein sufferers may fear wide roads specifically down to suburban single lane streets, and can also include fearing jaywalking or crossing anywhere on a street, even a designated intersection. This phobia is considered independent from the fear of cars.
9 • Mageirocophobia – Fear of Cooking
The bizarre fear of cooking is called mageirocophobia which comes from the Greek word mageirokos which means a person skilled in cooking. This disorder can be debilitating and potentially lead to unhealthy eating if one lives alone. Sufferers of mageirokos can feel extremely intimidated by people with skills in cooking, and this intimidation and feeling of inadequacy is probably the root cause of the disorder for many. If you suffer from mageirokos and wish to develop some basic skills in cooking, check out our Top 10 Tips for Great Home Cooking and Top 10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Cooking.
8 • Pediophobia – Fear of Dolls
Pediophobia is the irrational fear of dolls. Not just scary dolls – ALL dolls. Strictly speaking, the fear is a horror of a “false representation of sentient beings” so it also usually includes robots and mannequins, which can make it decidedly difficult to go shopping. This phobia should not be confused with pedophobia or pediaphobia which is the fear of children. Sigmund Freud believed the disorder may spring from a fear of the doll coming to life and roboticist Masahiro Mori expanded on that theory by stating that the more human-like something becomes, the more repellent its non-human aspects appear. My apologies to those who suffer from pediophobia for the picture above.
7 • Deipnophobia – Fear of Dinner Conversation
Now admittedly some dinner conversations can be very awkward, but some people are so terrified of the idea of speaking to another person over dinner that they avoid dining out situations. In times gone by there were strict rules of etiquette that helped a person to deal with these situations – but they are (sadly) mostly forgotten. In today’s society in which rules and formality are out the window, it is possible that the more controlled nature of a dinner party may lie partly behind this phobia. For those amongst us who are interested in some tips for coping with fine dining, read our Top 10 Tips for Fine Dining (number eight is specifically about dinner conversation).
6 • Eisoptrophobia – Fear of Mirrors
Eisoptrophobia is a fear of mirrors in the broad sense, or more specifically the fear of being put into contact with the spiritual world through a mirror. Sufferers experience undue anxiety even though they realize their fear is irrational. Because their fear often is grounded in superstitions, they may worry that breaking a mirror will bring bad luck or that looking into a mirror will put them in contact with a supernatural world inside the glass. After writing this list I realized that I suffer from a minor form of this disorder in that I don’t like to look into a mirror in the evening when I am alone for fear of seeing someone (or something) behind me.
A slightly dated story from October 2011, but still fun. :)
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
Psychic James Van Praagh has made a fortune by allegedly speaking to the dead, but apparently he has no time for the undead.
That’s what a group of zombies recently discovered when they showed up at one of Van Praagh’s $100-a-head “spirit circles” hoping to pick Van Praagh’s brain about his so-called psychic powers.
For the record, the zombies were actually members of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), an organization that works to expose paranormal and pseudoscientific frauds.
Still, that doesn’t mean they weren’t out for blood, as protest signs reading “Talk to us, we won’t bite,” and “Psychics do not talk to the dead” demonstrated.
According to head zombie D.J. Grothe, who is also the president of the JREF and a Huffington Post blogger, the zombie attack was a fun way to make a point the organization is dead serious about: People who claim to speak to the dead, such as celebrity psychics like Van Praagh, Sylvia Browne and John Edward, are taking advantage of grieving people.
“We’re not rabble rousing,” Grothe told HuffPost Weird News. “This is a guy who is taking advantage of people’s grief. He’s not performing for entertainment, he’s claiming he’s giving messages from dead relatives. He gets people when they are at their lowest and sees them as his target market.”
Grothe says the group decided to dress up as the undead because Van Praagh has, so far, dodged questions about whether he’ll accept the foundation’s million-dollar challenge to prove his claimed psychic medium abilities under scientific conditions.
In the video, Van Praagh’s representatives first promise to get someone to talk with the group, but instead have the group kicked out by security.