Tag Archives: Brian Dunning

The Russian Sleep Experiment

Russian test subjects are said to have done unspeakably horrible things when sleep deprived.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid

It has become a permanent fixture in the fabric of Internet lore: the Russian Sleep Experiment, an account of a horrific experiment said to have been conducted in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. The subjects were five political prisoners, placed into a sealed chamber and exposed to a gas which prevented them from sleeping. After fifteen days the researchers entered the chamber, and found the men — sleep deprived beyond any human experience — had committed horrors that could scarcely be conceived. Today we’re going to look into the story, and into the facts of sleep deprivation. Might something as grotesque as the Russian Sleep Experiment truly be within the scope of human possibility?

scary stairs_300pxAccording to the story, the researchers cleared the gas from the chamber and entered, finding one of the five men dead:

The food rations past day 5 had not been so much as touched. There were chunks of meat from the dead test subject’s thighs and chest stuffed into the drain in the center of the chamber… All four ‘surviving’ test subjects also had large portions of muscle and skin torn away from their bodies. The destruction of flesh and exposed bone on their finger tips indicated that the wounds were inflicted by hand…

The abdominal organs below the ribcage of all four test subjects had been removed. While the heart, lungs and diaphragm remained in place, the skin and most of the muscles attached to the ribs had been ripped off, exposing the lungs through the ribcage. All the blood vessels and organs remained intact, they had just been taken out and laid on the floor, fanning out around the eviscerated but still living bodies of the subjects. The digestive tract of all four could be seen to be working, digesting food. It quickly became apparent that what they were digesting was their own flesh that they had ripped off and eaten over the course of days.

Those questioning whether or not this was a true story didn’t have to do very much work. It’s a widely published fact that the Russian Sleep Experiment was a piece of fiction, posted anonymously in 2010 to Creepy Pasta, a web site that showcases scary fictional tales. Despite this, there are always conspiracy minded people insistent that the story is true, or was leaked from some secret government lab; but no matter how strong their desire that this be the case, nobody has ever turned up anything like that. Sometimes a creepy story is just a creepy story.

Continue Reading – – –

The Denver Airport Conspiracy

Is the Denver International Airport really a headquarters for the New World Order?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid

On the surface, Denver International Airport seems like any other modern airport. It’s new, it’s clean, it’s big, and it’s modern. But some investigators have found more to it than meets the eye. Much more. Claims abound that Denver International was designed and built by the Illuminati as the headquarters for the global genocide that will trigger the New World Order.

denver-8_300pxAn Internet search for “Denver airport conspiracy” reveals that there is a lot of talk about this, and that the specific claims and observations are numerous. Here’s an overview of the basics. According to the conspiracy theorists, Denver already had a fine airport, Stapleton International. But despite widespread protests, Denver International was built and opened in 1995, with fewer runways, thus reducing Denver’s capacity. Its construction began with five mysterious buildings that were completed and then buried intact, with the cover story that they were “built wrong”. Up to 8 levels of underground facilities are said to exist, and workers who go there refuse to answer questions about what they do. The entire airport is surrounded by a barbed wire guard fence, with the barbed wire angled inward, to keep people in, like a giant prison, not out like at other airports. And if viewed from the air, the runways are revealed to be laid out in the shape of a Nazi swastika. Questions about what the government might be doing in this underground base may have been answered in 2007, when fourteen commercial aircraft reported spontaneously shattered windshields as the presumed result of electromagnetic pulses.

Indoors, the airport gets even stranger.

Continue Reading @ Skeptoid

Pouring Cold Water on Cryotherapy

Questioning whether this new spa treatment provides all the medical benefits it claims.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

One of our most abundant renewable resources is bogus medical therapies. About every day, someone thinks up a new one: sometimes invented from whole cloth, sometimes extrapolated from a real therapy, sometimes tweaked from an old tradition. Today we’re going to look closely at one such spin-the-wheel-and-create-an-alternate-therapy: cryotherapy.

frozen faceDon’t confuse this with medical cryotherapy, the freezing off of tissue, usually called cryoablation. Alternative cryotherapy is a hijack of an actual medical term repurposed to refer to the use of what they call a cryosauna, the opposite of a regular sauna. Rather than applying ice to a specific body part, a cryosauna is used for what they call Whole Body Cryotherapy. It’s a small room for one or more people, cooled by liquid nitrogen to extreme temperatures, usually about -125°C/-200°F but sometimes advertised as low as -170°C/-275°F. You have to wear special slippers to protect your feet since you can’t touch anything in there, and you have to wear a mask to avoid frostbite to your pulmonary system. You stay in for no more than three minutes.

What is the medical claim? Unfortunately, as it is with so many alternative therapies, cryosaunas are claimed to cure just about anything the proprietor says, and they all have different spiels. Most all of them say it treats inflammation, skin conditions, and aids in workout recovery. There are several spas, plus chiropractors and other alternative practitioners near me who offer cryotherapy, according to Yelp.

Almost all of the customer reviews are raving. Here are some samples:

“My inflammation almost immediately decreased and I felt a huge wave of euphoria similar to a runner’s high.”

“Felt great afterwards. Will try again to see if I have any lasting effects.”

“I feel euphorically energized after each session and I have noticed that my tendinitis has gotten better after 2 sessions.”

“I feel so good afterwards. I can tell this cryotherapy is helping to heal my body!”

Why do these people feel so good unless there’s something to cryosauna therapy? Is it possible their reaction comes from something other than genuine treatment of some medical condition? The evidence shows that it probably is.

Continue Reading at Skeptoid – – –

The Flying Saucer Menace

The true, interwoven history of flying saucers in American folklore.

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via Skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

The term “flying saucer” conjures up images of campy science fiction films from the 50s and 60s, with people in shiny metallic suits backed by experimental electronic music. They were something of a national obsession for a while, with “saucers” reported in the sky manned by everyone from Russians to little green men. KennethArnoldAir Force pilots chased them to their doom, and occasionally they would crash and spawn legends like Roswell. It turns out that the true genesis of flying saucer folklore is at least as fascinating as any of the fables themselves, and a worthy place to turn our skeptical eye.
Most historians of the strange trace flying saucers back to a private pilot named Kenneth Arnold, who had an encounter while flying his small plane in Washington state on June 24, 1947. His was not especially unusual; UFOs had always been reported, and there was nothing new about aliens; this was nearly a decade after Orson Welles’ famous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. Arnold’s story was merely the first time the term “saucer” had been used, when it was reported in the East Oregonian newspaper the next day, on June 25:

 

He said he sighted nine saucer-like aircraft flying in formation at 3. p.m. yesterday, extremely bright — as if they were nickel plated — and flying at an immense rate of speed. He estimated they were at an altitude between 9,500 and 10,000 feet and clocked them from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Adams, arriving at the amazing speed of about 1200 miles an hour. “It seemed impossible,” he said, “but there it is — I must believe my eyes.”
Arnold’s story was syndicated and made his story famous, at least in the general public’s eye; as far as the UFO literature was concerned, his story made him immortal. Buoyed by the attention, UFO stories began to get traction in the newspapers, like any trending topic. Here’s an example of one from July 8, less than two weeks later:

 

The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment group at Roswell Army Air Field announced at noon today, that the field has come into possession of a flying saucer.
According to information released by the department, over authority of Maj. J. A. Marcel, intelligence officer, the disk was recovered on a ranch in the Roswell vicinity, after an unidentified rancher had notified Sheriff Geo. Wilcox, here, that he had found the instrument on his premises…
After the intelligence officer here had inspected the instrument it was flown to higher headquarters.
The intelligence office stated that no details of the saucer’s construction or its appearance had been revealed.
This one may sound familiar to you. It is, of course, the original newspaper article that launched the Roswell canon of alien lore.

Continue Reading at Skeptoid . . .

Kenneth Arnold’s report to Army Air Forces (AAF) intelligence, dated July 12, 1947, which includes annotated sketches of the typical craft in the chain of nine objects. (Source: Wikipedia)

inFact: Chemtrails

Video via inFact – YouTube:


Transcript via inFact:

Some people believe that airplane contrails are really the government spraying us with poison. Could this be true?

There are at least three possibilities: contrails are the normal and expected result of fuel-burning planes flying at high altitude; all trails left in the sky by planes must be the result of the covert spraying of chemicals; or some contrails are natural, and some are chemtrails.

The first one we know for sure. When a hydrocarbon fuel burns in air, water is the largest byproduct by mass. At low pressures at altitudes higher than 25,000 feet and temperatures less than -40 degrees, water vapor always condenses into cloud; or anytime the addition of this small amount pushes the humidity past the saturation point. So in any given set of atmospheric conditions, all planes will either produce a condensation trail or not.

But what if the government wants to spray chemicals into the atmosphere, according to the popular urban legend? Is spraying from airliner altitude an effective way to do it? There are good science-based reasons why this wouldn’t work.

MORE – – –

The Chess-Playing Mechanical Turk

The Turk 745_600px
An overview of the amazing chess playing robot of the 1700s.

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re headed back in time, all the way back to the Vienna court of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary, in the year 1770. There the scientific polymath Werner von Kempelen, then thirty six years old, brought forth a mechanical automaton: the figure of a man seated at a large wooden chess table, the cabinet below filled with clockwork. A volunteer from the audience stepped forward. Kempelen wound up the machine, and it reached out and made the first move, the clockwork whirring and ticking. The astonished volunteer was quickly defeated. Delighted with the mechanical marvel, Maria Theresa ordered many more performances. In fact, the Turk, as it was nicknamed for its Turkish clothing, toured the world for the next 80 years, defeating the world’s top chess players plus luminaries such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin, without anyone ever discovering its secrets. Although many skeptics published fine articles purporting that the Turk actually contained a child, dwarf, or legless adult chess player, or that it must have been secretly controlled by its exhibitor, the workings of the Turk remained one of history’s best kept secrets.

But all secrets are fleeting, and shortly before the Turk’s destruction in an 1854 fire, its last owner’s son, Silas Mitchell, published the revelation, proving that no skeptic had ever correctly guessed how it worked. In fact, no one had even come close. Over the years, three authors in particular had put forth the best known hypotheses, and Kempelen had fooled them all.

But the most intriguing mystery about the Turk would not turn out to be how it worked, but rather why a man like Kempelen would have built it. Kempelen was no Barnum. He was neither a showman nor a magician; he was an inventor and engineer of the highest caliber and held a series of important public works appointments in Maria Theresa’s government. The last thing he’d do would be to construct some sort of sideshow trick. The first of the three most notable proposed explanations came in 1789, by Joseph Friedrich, Freiherr zu Racknitz. He wrote a book based on his many viewings of the Turk and his friendship with Kempelen. Racknitz noted that the Turk’s exhibitor would always first open and close the cabinet’s various doors for the audience’s inspection. He concluded that a very small human operator was inside the cabinet, lying flat during the opening of the doors; and then, during game play, sat up, played the game on a small secondary chessboard, and watched magnetized needles on the bottom of the tabletop to learn what move the opponent had made. By Racknitz’s measurements, the hidden human would have had to be less than five feet tall, and less than seven inches high when lying flat. Kempelen refused to offer any assessment of Racknitz’s proposed solution.

The Turk 800_600px
In 1821, Robert Willis, an engineer of musical instruments, published a pamphlet with his own explanation of the Turk. Willis noted in particular that the order in which the doors were opened for inspection never varied. This, he proposed, was to allow a hidden human operator to move from one part of the cabinet to another, allowing the various cabinets to be shown empty in sequence. Then, to play, the operator would sit up, place his own hand inside the Turk’s arm, and watch the board through the thin fabric shirt covering the Turk’s chest.

The best known analysis was that of Edgar Allan Poe, published in 1835, which ultimately found in favor of Willis’ explanation but differed in that it offered far deeper reasoned analysis of why it must be so. For example, Poe noted  .  .  .

Continue Reading – – –

Area 51 Facts and Fiction

Some say alien spacecraft are tested at Nevada’s legendary Area 51 site; what does history have to say?

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re going to soar above the alkaline flats of the Nevada desert at speeds in excess of Mach 3, banking and weaving among the peaks, and come in for a landing at runway 32R at airport designation KXTA. We’re inside the restricted airspace of the Nevada Test and Training Range, operated from nearby Nellis Air Force Base. Area 51 sign 05Commonly called Area 51 by the general public, this well-developed base on the shore of dry Groom Lake is one of the most famous mystery sites in the world, shrouded in rumor and wild claims of aliens and conspiracies.

In 2001, two friends and I took a Cessna Skyhawk from Las Vegas to Tonopah, closely skirting the border of the restricted airspace surrounding Nellis AFB. This happened to be just prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, at which time the restricted airspace was greatly expanded, and the route that we took then is no longer possible today. But at the time, flying past the radar facility atop Bald Mountain, we were able to legally look right down into Groom Lake, and took plenty of photographs and video. We were contacted by the air traffic control tower at Groom Lake, which was plainly visible from our position, and he asked us what our destination was. We told him Tonopah, and he asked if we’d like him to give us a direct vector to Tonopah. This was his way of saying “Maybe you’d like to veer away and go straight to Tonopah rather than hugging our border.” But as we weren’t doing anything wrong, we declined his offer and finished out our original flight plan. We saw a number of other landing strips scattered about inside Nellis, but none that were as well developed as Groom Lake.

Why were we able to do this, at a base that everyone believes is so top-secret? Everyone says the government denies its existence or that it doesn’t appear on maps. There is indeed one very big secret at Area 51. In the words of Joerg Arnu, founder of the Dreamland Resort web site: “The biggest secret about Area 51 is that it was never secret.”

U-2 spy planeIn late 1950, the United States Atomic Energy Commission established the National Proving Grounds for the testing of nuclear devices, inside the Las Vegas Gunnery and Bombing Range. This huge area was subdivided into parcels called simply Area 1, Area 2, and so on; and only those Areas from 1 to 30 became a final part of the project. Area 51 was merely a leftover piece of land among many others.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s Project AQUATONE had resulted in the design of what would become the U-2 spy plane, but for security reasons, they wanted someplace more private than Edwards Air Force Base to develop it. In 1955, a team led by Lockheed’s chief designer, the legendary Kelly Johnson, flew around Nevada looking for an alternate site. They found one inside Area 51: the dry Groom Lake, which they described as “A perfect natural landing field… as smooth as a billiard table without anything being done to it.”

[…]

Bob-LazarSecurity and confidentiality have been constant throughout Groom Lake’s history. Nobody outside the base has ever had access to whatever work was being done inside, and for a long time, everything that had ever happened there was classified. So conditions were ripe in 1989 when a guy named Bob Lazar told a Las Vegas television reporter that he’d been working there for the past year, reverse engineering alien spacecraft to learn how they worked. For years, Lazar enjoyed a good run of television guest appearances and other publicity.

A lot of people in the UFO community really wanted to believe Lazar’s story, as it so perfectly confirmed their conviction that aliens visit the Earth and that the government covers it up. But everyone who seriously fact-checked Lazar’s claims  .  .  .

MORE – – –

Ancient Astronauts

alien greys 918

Did aliens visit the ancient Earth and inspire human cultures? Some people claim so.

skeptoid eyeby Alison Hudson via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

UFO enthusiasts often cite June 24, 1947 as the beginning of the modern UFO phenomenon. On that day, Kenneth Arnold coined the term “flying saucer” for the unidentified objects he saw flying past Mount Rainier, and sparked the public’s interest in the idea of alien visitors from another world. But what if aliens had arrived on Earth sooner than that? What if they arrived a lot sooner? That’s the basis of the Ancient Astronaut hypothesis, which suggests that alien visitors have been coming to earth for not just decades, but centuries, and maybe even millennia.

Click the image to visit Ancient Aliens Debunked

Click the image to visit Ancient Aliens Debunked

Notions of an Earth visited the ancient past by aliens from another world date back at least a century. In many ways, the Cthulhu mythos, H. P. Lovecraft’s famous mythology of Great Old Ones from deep space who come to Earth and build eons-old cities, is an iteration of the Ancient Astronaut idea. In fact, it’s quite possible that Lovecraft’s stories greatly influenced Morning of the Magicians, a nonfiction French book written in the 1960s that give serious consideration to the idea of Ancient Astronauts visiting the Earth.

If you’ve heard of the Ancient Astronaut hypothesis, however, the man you probably have to thank for it is Swiss author Erich Von Daniken. In 1968, Von Daniken drew on various ideas of ancient aliens, probably including the ideas expressed in Morning of the Magicians, and turned them into a book called Chariots of the Gods? In doing so, he launched the modern Ancient Astronaut hypothesis.

aliens1_933_824_150pxThe argument put forth in Chariots of the Gods? is rooted in Clarke’s Third Law, which says that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”” In fact, the second chapter of Chariots of the Gods? sets the stage for the book with precisely that argument. Von Daniken asks readers to imagine what would happen if human spacefarers ever visited a distant world that was populated with a primitive alien culture. He argues that these primitive aliens would lack the vocabulary and knowledge to understand our advanced technology. Instead, they would view their human visitors as divine beings capable of incredible magic.

When our spaceship disappears again into the mists of the universe, our friends will talk about the miracle — “the gods were here!” They will translate it into their simple language and turn it into a saga to be handed down to their sons and daughters.

It’s from this premise, Von Daniken spun his theory: that if other spacefarers visited our primitive Earth cultures, then we too would view them as miraculous gods. And in fact they did visit, he argues, as evidenced by the great works that these primitive cultures simply could not have made on their own and the strange drawings and myths these cultures left behind.

Chariots of the Gods? was a bestseller, as were Von Daniken’s follow-up books with titles like Gods from Outer Space and In Search of Ancient Gods. They created a widespread public awareness of the Ancient Astronaut hypothesis that persists to this day.

Popularity doesn’t equate to quality, of course, and the book itself is full of flawed and spurious logic. As just one example  .  .  .

MORE – – –

The Astronauts and the Aliens

A close look at some of the stories of UFOs said to have been reported by NASA astronauts.

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid – August 10, 2010
Read transcript below or listen here

It was 1962 and American John Glenn was orbiting the Earth in Friendship 7, his capsule on the Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. Ground controllers were mystified at Glenn’s report of fireflies outside his window, strange bright specks that clustered about his ship. The first thought was that they must be ice crystals from Friendship 7’s hydrogen peroxide attitude control rockets, but Glenn was unable to correlate their appearance with the use of the rockets. Astronauts on later flights reported similar bright specks, and eventually we learned enough about the space environment to identify what they were. Spacecraft tend to accumulate clouds of debris and contamination around themselves, and even though Glenn’s rockets sprayed jets of crystals away from the capsule, many of the crystals would gather in this contamination cloud, where they reflected sunlight and interacted with other gases in the cloud. Experiments on board Skylab in the 1970’s using quartz-crystal microbalances confirmed and further characterized this phenomenon. The case of John Glenn’s mysterious fireflies was solved.

The Apollo 16 "flying saucer", compared with a view of the spolight boom from a different mission Photo credit: NASA

The Apollo 16 “flying saucer”, compared with a view of the spolight boom from a different mission
Photo credit: NASA

The stories of our humble explorations of the space around our planet tell of courage, danger, and adventure. But do they conceal another element as well? For as long as humans have had space programs, there have been darker tales flying alongside: tales of mysterious UFOs, apparently alien spacecraft monitoring our progress. These stories come from the early days of the Soviet launches, from the Mercury program, the Gemini program, the space shuttle flights, and perhaps most infamously from the Apollo flights to the moon.

Like pilots, astronauts are often given something of a pass whenever they report a UFO, a pass that presumes it’s impossible for someone with flight training to misidentify anything they see in the sky. Most famously, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, has long maintained that most UFOs are alien spacecraft and that the government is covering up its ongoing active relations with alien cultures. Coming from a real astronaut, Mitchell’s views are often quite convincing to the public.

NASA’s reaction to Mitchell was anticlimactic, but highlighted that their business is launching things into space, not studying UFO reports  .  .  .

MORE – – –

Also See: Apollo 16 UFO Identified (ufocasebook)

The Zionist Conspiracy

Are the rumors true that Jews are planning to take over the world’s governments and banks?

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid (August 16, 2011)
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re going to point the skeptical eye at conspiracy theories that claim Jews are trying to take over the world. There is not just one version of this, there are many; and in their various forms, they’ve been around for centuries. There’s hardly been a moment in the past 2,500 years when some group somewhere has not been fomenting mistrust and suspicion of Jews and their motives:intjew_300px The Jews want to take over your government, the Jews want to take control of your banks, the Jews want to abolish your church. The accuracy of these claims is one thing; the history behind them is another.

Although the word Zion means many things to many cultures, it’s usually a place of peace and unity, and cross-cultural brotherhood. However it’s most often associated with the Jewish people in particular. In that lexicon, the word Zion typically refers to the “promised land”, the homeland promised by God to the Jews according to Judeo-Christian canon. Zion can also refer more specifically to the city of Jerusalem or the location of Solomon’s Temple, and sometimes to the Biblical land of Israel.

Historically, a Zionist was any person who fought for the establishment of a Jewish nation in Zion. This was finally fulfilled over the course of many bloody months from 1947 to 1949, as various nations fought over the partitioning of Jerusalem and the surrounding region. The nation of Israel has held a tenuous foothold ever since, and it remains the political and spiritual homeland of all Jewish people all over the world. Since its establishment, the mission of Zionists has been to defend and strengthen Israel, and to oppose challenges to its sovereignty; in short, Zionism is Zionist nationalism.

Judenstern_225pxSome critics of Zionism frequently broaden the application of the word Zionist to include any people anywhere who express support for Israel. Suffice it to say that antisemitism is not your everyday bigotry. Its roots run deep, it is cross cultural, and it’s been institutionalized as an official national policy by some of the world’s greatest superpowers. Nazi Germany is the only most obvious example of antisemitism as policy, but it’s hardly the only one. 500 years before Christ, in the time of ancient Persia, Xerxes ordered all Jews in his kingdom to be killed. Various Roman emperors and Greek kings ordered the Jews to be exterminated. While the Christians prosecuted their Crusades against Muslims and Jews, the Muslims were forcing Christians and Jews to either convert or be killed. In the 1300s, Jews were widely burned at the stake throughout Europe for “causing” the plague. In the 1400s, the Spanish Inquisition burned some 30,000 Jews for refusing to leave their country. But this list could go on and on ad nauseum. Jews have always been blamed for something, and were always at the receiving end of the genocide. There are scant examples in history of Jews doing the same to anyone else.

And yet claims of Zionist Conspiracy have always persisted, lack of evidence notwithstanding.

MORE – – –

That Elusive Fibromyalgia

Some say fibromyalgia is a real disease, while others question the diagnosis.

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re going to head down to our doctor’s office with a complaint that he hears all too often: we have pain. We’re tired. We get headaches, and our hands and feet might be numb in the morning. And along with that pain comes some stiffness. It’s like, “Doc, I just don’t feel all that great.” Don’t fret, because the doctor has heard it all before. But also don’t expect to be able to guess what your doctor is going to say. fibromyalgia_250pxThe diagnosis of fibromyalgia — nonspecific pain that doesn’t seem to have any particular source — is as controversial as just about any other subject at your doctor’s office. Some believe it’s a real physical condition, some believe it’s purely psychogenic, and some think it doesn’t exist at all. What is really known about this popular but vague diagnosis?

Everything about fibromyalgia is rife with red flags. Sham treatments for it are offered in magazine ads and on late-night television infomercials. You’ll see it advertised on billboards. Books, websites, special diets, and worthless supplements are all marketed to sufferers just as aggressively as is the condition itself — the more people can be convinced that they have it, the more products they’ll buy. Chapter and verse, fibromyalgia bears every single warning sign of a pseudoscience. But where it veers from this course and enters the realm of real science is that a growing number of medical researchers believe there is something real here, and some cases are now even proving to be treatable.

Much of the time, when we discuss the subject of whether conditions have a psychological cause or a physiological cause, we find a general trend that psychogenic conditions are best treated by psychotherapy, and physiological conditions are best treated with non-psychiatric medicine. Fibromyalgia appears to be a rare exception to this rule. Its causes have not been determined to be purely psychological, but it does seem to be best treated with psychiatric medicine, including both antidepressants and psychotherapy.

Have I confused you yet? Here’s the thing  .  .  .

MORE – – –

Here Be Dragons (Brian Dunning)

Originally posted February 9, 2013 this video is definitely worth a second look.

Enjoy :)

MIB


Here Be Dragons is a 40 minute video introduction to critical thinking. This video is on my “must watch” list for skeptics and critical thinkers :)

Most people fully accept paranormal and pseudoscientific claims without critique as they are promoted by the mass media. Here Be Dragons offers a toolbox for recognizing and understanding the dangers of pseudoscience, and appreciation for the reality-based benefits offered by real science.

Here Be Dragons is written and presented by Brian Dunning, host and producer of the Skeptoid podcast and author of the Skeptoid book series.

Source: Here Be Dragons – YouTube.

The St. Clair Triangle UFO

On January 5, 2000 in St. Clair County, Illinois, police officers chased what has come to be known as the St. Clair Triangle UFO. What was in the sky that day?

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

It was a bitterly cold winter morning on January 5, 2000 in St. Clair County, Illinois. At just 4:00 in the morning it was black as pitch and more than three hours before sunrise, and the streets were correspondingly deserted. Today we’re going to study what is said to have happened over the next 45 minutes or so, involving at least four police officers from different different towns, speeding down the highways, chattering on their radios, and pursuing what would become considered by some to be one of the most elusive UFOs in history. It’s become known as the St. Clair Triangle case, and it’s had UFOlogists scratching their heads ever since.

St. Clair Triangle UFO_300pxIn all, seven people saw the object, including four police officers; due to the wee hours, not many people other than police officers were up and about. The first was 66-year-old Mel Noll who parked at his miniature golf course around 4 in the morning, to make sure his plumbing hadn’t frozen. He saw what he described as a big house floating in the air, with windows and all sorts of details. He went to the nearby police station in Highland, where the dispatcher radioed officer Ed Barton. He saw a bright white light, followed it, then parked and got close enough to shut off his own lights and observed that it looked like a giant triangle with bright white lights at each corner. Nearby, insomniac Johnny Doss, listening to a police scanner, heard the call and also went outside and saw what he later described as having several bright lights.

UFO Triangle 752_225pxNext, officer Dave Martin in a neighboring department spotted it, and described three bright white lights with a blinking red one in the middle. Nearby, officer Craig Stevens also heard the chatter and parked his car in a big dark field where he hoped he might be able to see something, and described a huge object with three bright lights in back and a red one in the middle. Further south, officer Matt Jany got out his binoculars and saw what he thought he heard the others describing. It was big, taller in the middle, with lots of lights on it; white on the extremities and red in the middle. The final sighting was two hours later, near sunrise, when commuter Steven Wonnacott saw what he described as a motionless arrowhead shaped object, with a few bright lights and lots of smaller lights on it. Overall, the object spent about one hour traveling some 100 km in a generally southwestern direction.

The UFO community wasted no time. Among the first on the scene was . . .

MORE – – –

The Water Woo of Masaru Emoto

Masaru Emoto believes that water entagles with human consciousness and emotion, a concept he calls ‘hado’. Is there anything behind Emoto’s water woo?

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re going take a look at one of the founders of a pseudoscience that has, for more than three decades, given birth to a whole slew of knockoff pseudosciences pertaining to water. The man is Masaru Emoto, born in Yokohama in 1943, and creator of what he calls hado (rhymes with shadow). emoto_225pxIt is Emoto’s firm conviction that water, human consciousness, and human emotion are deeply entangled; and he has become best known for his photographs of ice crystals (basically snowflakes) that he says are either beautiful or ugly based on the emotions expressed at the time of their formation. If you write a positive word on a bottle of water, or expose it to a picture of beautiful animals like dolphins, it will freeze into beautiful ice crystals; but if you speak harshly to it, or write a negative word on the bottle, it will freeze into ugly non-crystalline lumps. Emoto’s definition of hado is “The intrinsic vibrational pattern at the atomic level in all matter. The smallest unit of energy. Its basis is the energy of human consciousness.” Throughout his writing in his several books, Emoto uses the word “vibration” in much the same way as Deepak Chopra uses the word “quantum”: without any actual meaning relevant to its context. He writes:

Hado creates words
Words are the vibrations of nature
Therefore beautiful words create beautiful nature
Ugly words create ugly nature
This is the root of the universe.

Dr. Masaru Emoto, the Japanese “scientist” who magically turns normal rice into gross rice, simply by yelling at it.

Dr. Masaru Emoto, the Japanese “scientist” who magically turns normal rice into gross rice, simply by yelling at it.

It’s quite poetic, yet to find any meaning in it, it seems one must view Emoto’s writing purely from the perspective of metaphysics and allegory. But Emoto means it quite literally, and a massive number of products and books have sprung to life in the ecosystem created by Emoto’s magical water beliefs. Water filters claiming to form water into special molecular arrangements that promote super health cite Emoto. His emotion-governed ice crystals were a major theme in the 2004 New Age pseudo-documentary film What the Bleep Do We Know? Uncounted companies sell bottles of water that they say has been blessed, or spoken to positively, or exposed to positive energy, or otherwise prepared in some manner according to Emoto’s research. One web site selling such blessed water (since defunct) even claimed:

…Malformed crystals were created when the water was placed next to a microwave oven, a cell phone, a computer, and a television (unless it showed wholesome family shows).

Emoto also famously claimed that jars of rice will rot if negative words are written on the containers yet will stay fresh if positive words are used instead, an experiment that has become viral on the Internet. And, of course, his beliefs have been embraced and publicized by Hollywood celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow.

But to establish the validity of a scientific claim, we don’t look at what pop culture phenomena it has created. Instead, we look at the data; so to learn more about Emoto’s hado, we have to set aside all of that.

MORE – – –

Out of Place Artifacts (OOPArts)

Originally posted February 28, 2014:

Some objects found around the world seem to defy rational explanation.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re going outside with pick axe and shovel in hand, dig through some ancient strata, and unearth something that looks like it shouldn’t be there. In fact, upon closer inspection, it definitely shouldn’t be there. Throughout recorded history, diggers — both amateur and professional — have been finding objects that appear to be modern or made of advanced materials, but are located in old rock or other places where they shouldn’t, or couldn’t, be.classic-tape2 Such objects have become known as out of place artifacts, or “OOPArts” for short. An OOPArt, by definition, is one that contradicts our existing understanding of history. Some take this to its apparently logical next step, and believe that OOPArts prove history wrong.

In this episode we’re going to take a quick look at some of the most famous OOPArts and see what’s known about each, and hopefully see if we have enough information to conclude that known history must be wrong. A lot of objects that show up on published lists consist of artworks — sculptures or carvings — that make ambiguous depictions, which some interpret as being out of place. One example is a pictograph from Egypt that some say shows an electric lamp. We’re not going to include these today because they’re most likely misinterpretations. Instead we want hard, physical proof of items that couldn’t and shouldn’t exist, but do.

The Baigong Pipes

The Baigong Pipes

Two of the best known have already been covered in previous Skeptoid episodes. The Baigong Pipes, featured in episode 181, were said to be a network of metal pipes buried in native rock said to be 150,000 years old. Some believed they proved the existence of an ancient culture of aliens; others actually studied the pipes and found that they not only weren’t very pipe-like, they were simply petrified wood and bamboo that had washed into a basin and later solidified.

Not all turn out to be misidentifications. The Antikythera Mechanism, featured in episode 184, was a Greek clockwork mechanism found in a shipwreck, and it did indeed represent knowledge that was about a thousand years off from our previous understanding. The find turned out to be really important, and we changed our models of ancient technology as a result. Since it was found, other artifacts have continued to fill in the gaps. This is the model we hope to see for all candidate OOPArts. No misidentification; nothing open to interpretation; just solid physical evidence that changes our understanding. So let’s see if any of the other famous examples fit the bill.

The Coso Artifact

The coso artifact sliced in two

The coso artifact sliced in two

In 1961, three people were out collecting geodes and other interesting rocks for the rock and gem shop they operated in Olancha, CA, little more than a truck stop in the Owens Valley west of Death Valley. When they put their specimens under the diamond blade saw to cut them open, one of them jammed the blade. It had a piece of metal in the center.

It became known as the Coso Artifact, named for the Coso Range of mountains in which it was found. Spark plug collectors all agree that the object inside the rock, as depicted in the one existing X-ray, is a 1920s Champion spark plug. Rocks take a very long time to form, certainly a lot longer than 40 years; so the Coso Artifact has become an icon of OOPArts, and is popularly believed to constitute an insoluble problem.

Unfortunately, the real secret of the Coso Artifact is that . . .

MORE – – –

When People Talk Backwards

Some people believe that your brain encodes its actual meaning in reverse within everything you say.

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Just when you thought there was nobody in the world crazier than yourself, along come people who believe that we all subconsciously say what we really mean in reverse, through the unconscious but deliberate choosing of careful words which, if played backwards, say what we actually mean. Get it? ear_180pxThe idea is that I think some coffee is really horrible but I still want to be polite, my brain will subconsciously choose words to make my polite compliment that, if played backwards, would say: This coffee stinks.

Proponents of this hypothesis call it Reverse Speech, because they were really creatively inspired on the day they named it. This is a small group of people — I believe there were six of them at last count — who take this completely seriously and believe that a whole world of secret information and opportunities is waiting to be unlocked by analyzing peoples’ speech in reverse. They turn first to world leaders, play their speeches backward, and listen to learn what they believe is the truth underlying the speech.

A leading advocate for reverse speech, also called backward masking, is David John Oates, an Australian. He’s written several books on the subject and even used to have a syndicated radio show promoting his theory. backward masking_250pxJust about any time a reverse speech expert is interviewed on television, it’s David John Oates. His web site is ReverseSpeech.com, and it’s loaded with all the examples you could ever hope to hear, as well as quite a few products and services he’d like to sell you if you believe his claims. He believes strongly that the human brain secretly encodes its actual meaning in reverse into a person’s normal speech. You can use this to your advantage in business, by decoding what the people across the table are actually telling you; and you can even use it in personal development by listening to your own speech backwards and learning more about what you really want. One of the examples from ReverseSpeech.com is of this man giving a talk:

And when you play it backwards, turns out he was trying to comfort you with the message “You’re frightened, lean on me”:

Pretty interesting, but not necessarily convincing to a skeptic. A skeptic is more likely to dismiss these guys as conspiracy nuts and laugh at what paranoid delusionals they are, but it’s actually way cooler and more interesting (and more constructive) to ask if there is any science behind what they’re claiming. backwards masking_300pxI’m not talking about science supporting the claim that people say what they actually mean in reverse; I’m talking about science behind the perception of order from chaos. And, it turns out, there is good science behind it. The journal Science published an article in 1981 by Remez, Rubin, Pisoni, and Carrell called Speech perception without traditional speech cues. By playing what they called a “three-tone sinusoidal replica”, or a complicated sine wave sound, they found that people were able to perceive speech, when in fact there were no traditional speech sounds present in the signal. So rather than laughing at a reverse speech advocate, instead appreciate the fact that there is good science driving their perception of what they’re hearing. They’re not making anything up, they’re just unaware of the natural explanation for their phenomenon.

To better understand what these authors did in their experiment, listen to this brief cue consisting of nothing but sine waves:

It almost does sound like speech, doesn’t it? But it’s not quite clear what it’s saying. Well, suppose someone told you that it says:

Now listen to it again:

This time, it’s almost impossible not to hear the words that you’ve been preconditioned to hear. Let’s play another one, this one is harder . . .

MORE – – –

PageBreak_half

Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The clash between the champions of scientific skepticism and supernaturalism.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Harry Houdini (1874-1926) was best known as the world’s most famous magician during his lifetime, and also as a tireless debunker of false mediums and dishonest claims of profit-driven supernaturalists. He followed a simple strategy, one that’s the fundamental basis of the scientific method: Work hard to falsify all new hypotheses, and maintain a mind open to all new evidence. houdini_conan_doyle_250pxSadly for Houdini, this meant testing what could have been one of the most important personal relationships to the history of public understanding of science.

Much has been made of the friendship between Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur would seem to have been a man of science and rational thought, but he was a lifelong steadfast believer in the supernatural. In fact, it was something that was at the forefront of his attention much of the time. One of the most telling events in Sir Arthur’s career came when he was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, which is often criticized for being composed mainly of true believers in the paranormal, and not all that interested in objective research. In the 1920s, Sir Arthur led a mass resignation of 84 members of the Society, on the grounds that it was too skeptical. The staunchest of the resignees joined the Ghost Club, of which Sir Arthur was a longtime member. The Ghost Club made no apologies for being fully dedicated to the supernatural as an absolute fact. In addition, Sir Arthur’s wife, Lady Doyle, was a medium who often conducted séances appearing to be in communication with the dead, and Sir Arthur was absolutely convinced of the reality of her ability.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spirit photo_200px captionedDespite a radical difference of opinion, Houdini and Sir Arthur managed to keep their friendship alive for some years, each often writing to the other of their mutual respect, their agreement to disagree, and the value of honesty and integrity in one’s own beliefs — neither man ever doubting the other’s sincerity; at least for a while.

In the spring of 1922, Houdini invited Sir Arthur to the home of his friend Bernard Ernst, a lawyer in New York, in an effort to show him that even the most amazing feats of mediums could be accomplished by skilled — albeit earthly — trickery. He had good reason to sway Sir Arthur if he could; Sir Arthur was passionately engaged in promoting the supernatural to his vast worldwide audience, a public disservice if there ever was one, as honestly intentioned as it was. Houdini prepared a magic trick, one that’s familiar to any practitioner of the art. He had Sir Arthur go outside in private and write a simple note that there’s no way Houdini could have seen; and then upon his return to the room, Houdini had a cork ball soaked in white ink magically roll around on a slate and spell out the very note Sir Arthur had written. Sir Arthur was aghast. Houdini wrote him:  .  .  .

MORE – – –

Also See: An Actual Recording Of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Spirit” From A 1934 Séance (io9.com)

Seance

The Many Voices of Frank’s Box

2009-12-02-Franks_Box_3_600px
Frank’s ghost box is a radio designed to hear communications from ghosts. What can we actually learn from it?

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Many times have the annals of the paranormal been graced with descriptions of Frank’s ghost box, an electronic device that is claimed to allow ghosts to communicate with us through randomly tuned radio broadcasts. Imagine turning the tuning knob on a radio (first, imagine a radio that still works that way), and recording the sound output. You’d expect a bunch of random noise from across all those stations you just swept past, and that’s exactly what Frank’s Box produces. FranksBox 844But inventor Frank Sumption, and many imitators who have built similar devices, believe they receive intelligent communication in that noise. It’s basically an iteration of what ghost hunters call Electronic Voice Phenomena, the idea that ghosts communicate with us through electronics.

I should note that the impetus for this episode was an email I received from Frank Sumption’s niece. I won’t give her name or what she said in the email, but her point is that Frank is a good, honest, average guy who is notable only in that he believes he’s stumbled onto something. He doesn’t scam anyone; he’s neither selling his box with unproven claims, nor is he charging people money to talk to their dead relatives. Frank makes the plans to build his device available for free as a downloadable PDF file, and he has a page on SoundCloud where he posts his most interesting recordings, for everyone to hear. He’s a guy who has some bad information, and has failed to apply critical thinking to it within the context of scientific literacy. In other words, he’s exactly like 99% of the people out there. Nevertheless, most of the time when Frank Sumption has been mentioned anywhere, online, in print, or on a radio program or podcast, he’s dismissed as a crazy nutcase — and that’s precisely what prompted his niece to write. So today we’re going to look at the phenomenon of Frank’s ghost box and talk about how and why it occupies the place it does in pop paranormal culture, and hopefully find something more intelligent to discuss than hurling personal insults.

So let’s get to what you really want to hear, some of Frank’s received messages. Let’s get started with one just to get the idea. On his SoundCloud page, Frank posts clips that he has already edited down to just the moment that he considers significant, and then repeats each one several times as he adds equalization and/or changes the pitch to make the speech more distinct. Here’s one, and I’ll just tell you in advance that Frank has identified the words “Frank we’ll save you” in here:

Frank’s Box, or the “ghost box” as Frank prefers it to be called, is often described as a random radio tuner, but there’s a bit more to it than that. He first developed the idea in 2002, and there are three basic parts to his device. First is a component that generates either white noise, like this:

Or, a sweeping tone like this:

GhostBox_300pxThen the voltage of that signal is moderated to the correct voltage that can be used to control the tuner of a radio taken from a car stereo, which is the second component. Car stereos are used whose tuners are voltage controlled, which in their original factory condition, would have come from the tuning knob; but in Frank’s case, it’s either a random signal that constantly tunes the radio all over the dial, or a sweeping signal that tunes the radio all the way from one end to the other. Frank has said he believes that the sweeping method gives better results than the random, or white noise controlled, method.

The third component is what he calls the echo box. It’s a box about the size of a shoe box with speakers and a microphone inside. The radio’s audio output is played over the speakers inside the chamber, and picked up by the microphone. The signal coming from this microphone is what produces the final product. So what you hear from the box is not the direct output of what the radio tuner picks up; you’re actually hearing it one generation away. It’s played over speakers into a small box and then that live audio is recorded and played for you.

Frank describes the purpose of the echo box  .  .  .

MORE – – –

2009-12-01-Franks_Box_2_600px

The Haunted Dybbuk Box

A popular tale tells of a haunted Jewish wine box that brought ill fortune upon its owners… apparently.

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Every once in a while, there’s a small, local ghost story that’s not very good, or that even has an obvious commercial origin, and that has no business becoming popular — but it does. The famous “dybbuk box” (also spelled dibbuk) is one such story. It went from a screenwriter’s pen on an eBay auction page, all the way onto the Hollywood big screen, with 2012’s The Possession starring Kyra Sedgwick and directed by Sam Raimi. It is the story of a small antique wooden box designed to hold a few bottles of wine, to which was attached a horror story going all the way back to the Holocaust. Whoever owned the box, it was said, experienced terrible disturbances for as long as the box was in their home. Why? Because, according to the story, the wine box was inhabited by a “dybbuk”, said to be a tormented spirit come back from the dead.

Dybbuk, by Ephraim Moshe Lilien.

Dybbuk, by Ephraim Moshe Lilien.

The whole idea of the box being inhabited by a dybbuk (דיבבוק) is nonsensical, according to what a dybbuk is supposed to be. The Encyclopedia Mythica describes it as “a disembodied spirit possessing a living body that belongs to another soul” and usually talks from that person’s mouth. An important 1914 Yiddish play The Dybbuk was about the spirit of a dead man who possessed the living body of the woman he had loved, and had to be exorcised. The word comes from the Hebrew verb “to cling”, so a dybbuk is specifically a soul who clings to another. Nowhere in the folkloric literature is there precedent for a dybbuk inhabiting a box or other inanimate object.

But of course, we’re talking definitions of folkloric terms, fictional by their very definition; so there’s no reason why this particular dybbuk can’t inhabit a wooden box if it wants to. And besides, the fact that folklore exists for a possessing spirit tells us nothing about whether or not factual events did indeed harass the owners of this box. dybbuk box_225pxThe folklore is irrelevant to the question of whether or not this wine box did indeed cause the frightening disturbances attributed to it. So let’s see what the box’s claimed history is.

One thing to keep in mind is that, if you’ve heard this story before, you’ve probably heard that the box was owned by a whole series of people, each of whom had lots of terrifying experiences, and they then got rid of it to someone else. In fact, the lone skeptical quote associated with this story is from Chris French, who said of these many owners:

“[They were] already primed to be looking out for bad stuff. If you believe you have been cursed, then inevitably you explain the bad stuff that happens in terms of what you perceive to be the cause. Put it like this: I would be happy to own this object.”

kevin mannis syfy_250pxBut then when we look at its actual history, the number of people whose hands it is documented to have gone through becomes astonishingly small, two or three at most; and each of whom went to great pains to tell the ghost story in a dramatic way. Let’s have a look.

The dybbuk box first appeared in 2003 as an eBay auction by Kevin Mannis, who owned a used furniture shop in Portland, Oregon. But it was not listed as a piece of furniture; it was listed as a mysterious haunted item. Mannis wrote on his eBay page an elaborate horror story.

MORE – – –


Click image to watch

Click image to watch

The Legend of the Flying Dutchman

Flying Dutchman 734_600px
What is the real source of the ancient nautical legends of the Flying Dutchman ghost ship?

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Some say it is a spectral schooner seen under full sail, sometimes in the distance, sometimes at night or through the fog, sometimes gliding above the water; its sails may be torn to ribbons, or it may be making great headway even in the lack of wind. Some say the Dutchman refers to the captain of the ship, a man cursed to sail the seas forever and never make land. Flying Dutchman 736_300pxSome say the captain and his ship are doomed to forever try to round a stormy cape, never quite succeeding and always being beaten back by the howling wind and waves. But whatever the specifics of the legend, the Flying Dutchman has become a mainstay of maritime lore.

With such a famous story, it would seem worthwhile to see whether it grew from some seed of fact. References to the Flying Dutchman have been around for more than two centuries, and sailing ships were plowing the salt water for centuries before that; so it seems a practical certainty that we should be able to nail down exactly what triggered the stories. A good place to start is its most famous iteration in pop culture. In Wagner’s 1840 opera Der Fliegende Holländer, it is not the ship that is named the Flying Dutchman, but refers to the captain of the ghostly vessel.

The Dutchman, who is unnamed in the opera, commands a ship with only a spectral crew. He makes port in a storm in Norway, and grapples to the ship of Captain Daland. The Dutchman reveals to the captain that years ago, me made a curse during a storm, swearing to Satan that he would round the Cape of Good Hope even if he had to keep trying until doomsday. Satan took him at his word, and cursed him to never be able to make port until he found a woman who would love him until she died. Fortunately, the captain has a nubile daughter, Senta, who, upon hearing of the Dutchman’s terrible plight, falls in love with him. But another suitor, the muscular and handsome huntsman Erik, reminds Senta that she had once promised herself to him. When the Dutchman hears of this, he assumes he is lost forever and casts off with his ghostly crew. Flying Dutchman 735_300pxBut Senta’s love was true, and when she sees the Dutchman sail away, she throws herself into the ocean and drowns. The terms of the curse thus fulfilled, the Dutchman and his ship are seen ascending to heaven (thus becoming the “flying” Dutchman), where he will finally be able to rest.

Interestingly, the Cape of Good Hope is not the cape infamous for its stormy seas; that’s Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America. The Cape of Good Hope is the tip of the peninsula jutting south from Cape Town, South Africa, and is some 150 kilometers west-north-west from the true southern tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas.

The ship is known for its many ghostly appearances; showing up out of the dark or the fog and then disappearing, often terrifying the sailors who witness it. An interesting point shared by so many of the books and articles written about the Flying Dutchman is that they all list the same half dozen or so famous sightings of the ship; but these reports are all terrible, because in not a single instance is there any reason for the witness to have identified the ship as that of the infamous Dutchman. They saw, or believed they saw, unidentified wooden ships under sail. Let’s have a look at a few:

In 1881, the future King George V of the United Kingdom was a midshipman aboard the H.M.S. Bacchante, when he reported unambiguously that a ship he identified as the Flying Dutchman had crossed their bow. Thirteen men on the Bacchante and two other ships saw it, and it remains in the Admiralty’s official publications in The Cruise of H.M.S. Bacchante.
transparent
In 1942, Nazi admiral Karl Dönitz, at that time the senior commander of the U-boat forces, is reported to have said that “Certain of his U-boat crews claimed that they had seen the Flying Dutchman during their tours of duty east of Suez.”
transparent
In 1939, dozens of people at Glencairn Beach in Cape Town reported seeing the Flying Dutchman charging toward shore under full sail, only to disappear just before disaster.
transparent
Lighthouse keepers at the Cape Point Lighthouse are said to have frequently sighted the Flying Dutchman during storms.
transparent
In 1835, a British ship came near having a collision with the Flying Dutchman, approaching at night under full sail in a storm, but it vanished at the last instant.
transparent
And so on, and so on.

Tall ships remain common all around the world, and have been ever since they first took to the water. Even most modern Navies maintain a multi-masted square rigged ship for training purposes, such as Norway’s Christian Radich, the American USCGC Eagle, and Japan’s Nippon Maru II. Oman is even launching a brand-new three masted, square rigged ship in 2014. Combine these with the hundreds of other square rigged ships afloat and at sea worldwide, and it’s very possible to go out today and see what you might think to be the Flying Dutchman.

So to narrow it down, let’s work backward from Wagner’s 1840 piece, to can see what source materials were available for him to work from.

MORE – – –

Flying Dutchman 738_600px

Albino Facts and Fiction

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid

The past decade has brought news of an atrocity, mainly from Africa: the slaughter of albino humans for their body parts for use in ritual magic. Bodies are usually found headless and missing one or more limbs, but sometimes are completely torn apart, missing even internal organs. The reason is, of course, pure unadulterated pseudoscience; we can confidently state that there is no magical benefit to the use of albino body parts, and that’s to say nothing of the abhorrence of murder for any purpose. Clearly there are some fictional beliefs out there concerning the nature of people with albinism, and today we’re going to look at some more of these beliefs that might be held even by those of us who are not into black magic.

A young man with albinism in Africa Photo: Wikimedia

A young man with albinism in Africa
Photo: Wikimedia

But the use of their body parts in ritual magic is the elephant in the room. Arms and legs are the witch doctors’ preferred bits. They are used as charms and talismans, and other body parts also have magical value, such as hair being sewn into fishing nets to bring good luck. About five albinos per year are reported to be killed in Africa for their body parts, but the total is probably larger. Perhaps even more frightening is that about the same number of people survive similar attacks, suddenly accosted by men with machetes who hack off the valuable limbs and abscond, with little care for the still-living victim they leave behind. It’s quick cash; in Tanzania, a single limb can be worth up to four times the average annual income. A complete albino body, chopped apart and sold bit by bit, can be worth more five times what the average Tanzanian can expect to earn in a lifetime; a figure often given in the press is $75,000. Fortunately, over the past few years, witch doctors and attackers have been prosecuted and some have been executed, leading to a reduction in these attacks.

But another problem faced by African albinos is that they are nearly always from broken homes. When some African fathers see their child born white, they assume their wives must have been having affairs with white men. The Albino Association of Kenya says that 90% of albinos in that country are raised by single mothers as a result.

There are four basic types of albinism, some of which have subtypes, corresponding to different genetic defects  .  .  .

MORE – – –

Cleansing Diets

It seems nearly all your friends are doing special cleansing diets. Should you do one too?

By inFact via YouTube

Transcript via inFact:

Cleansing diets are a food fad that’s been around for decades, from the Hollywood 48-Hour Miracle Diet, to lemon & maple syrup concoctions, to today’s absurdly overpriced high-sugar fruit smoothie drinks that you buy an in impressively multi-colored, day-specific pack.

Notice that accredited healthcare providers like medical doctors and dietitians never recommend that you buy these cleansing products — they recommend the most basic (and free) health advice of all: eat right and get some exercise. It’s only the unaccredited, unlicensed tradespeople like nutritionists and yoga teachers who will advise you to buy cleansing products — and not surprisingly, will often sell them to you themselves.

Why don’t doctors advise cleansing for general health? Because there is no such thing in medical or dietetic science. The idea that toxic substances from a normal diet build up in your body and cause health problems is a fantasy invented by marketers. Proof: Humans and animals all exist fine, and have for millions of years, without these products. We have perfectly functioning systems already built in: kidneys and livers. The technical medical terms for detoxification are “poop” and “pee”.

Continue Reading Transcript – – –

The Santa Barbara Simoom of 1859

Santa Barbara 600px
Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid

Today we’re going to go back more than a century and a half to a hot summer day on the central coast of California, to the town of Santa Barbara. June 17, 1859 began as a summer day much like any other, clear with plenty of warm sunshine, plus a cool breeze to make it just perfect. But according to legend, something happened that wrought sudden death and destruction: from out of nowhere, a wind with temperatures usually reserved for baking ovens blasted down from the hills, killing animals and injuring people. It immediately set the country’s highest recorded temperature. They named it the simoom, after the hot Sahara wind of the same name. But it turns out that data is hard to come by. Was the Santa Barbara simoom a true freak of nature, or perhaps merely a tall tale told to visitors?

Here is a snippet about the 1859 simoom from the Insider’s Guide to Santa Barbara:

Until 1934, Santa Barbara had a record high temperature on the U.S. Weather Bureau’s books. On June 17, 1859, a simoom (scorching wind) swept down from the northwest, and the mercury soared to 133° Fahrenheit (about 56° Celsius). Cattle dropped dead, and birds fell from the sky. The record was topped when the mercury hit 134° Fahrenheit (about 57° Celsius) in Death Valley in 1934.

It sounds a bit like a tall tale, a perfect subject for our skeptical eye.

fire_300px

Was the Santa Barbara simoom a true freak of nature, or perhaps merely a tall tale told to visitors?

Sudden, hot winds are absolutely a reality on the California coasts. They’re called the Santa Ana winds, and are the main contributors to the wildfires that can so often be so destructive to coastal communities. Dry air from the Mojave Desert and even the Great Basin further inland forms a high pressure region which cools, sending it spilling downhill toward the coast. The wind is very dry and gusts can reach hurricane forces at their strongest. The wind is usually hot, but not because it came from the desert; it gets heated on the way by adiabatic forces; basically, compression. Santa Ana winds can happen at any time of year, but are most common in the late autumn and early winter.

Although Santa Barbara is a ways up the coast from the Santa Ana winds, it is indirectly affected by them. The high pressure systems that create the Santa Anas are usually moving east, so a few days before they collapse into Santa Anas, they often cause a similar phenomenon in Santa Barbara that locals call the Sundowner. When the Sundowner winds spill over the Santa Ynez mountains and rush to the sea, they can wreak some havoc; but because their path is much shorter, adiabatic compression forces don’t have as much opportunity to heat the Sundowners as much as their more southerly cousins.

MORE – – –

What is a homeopathic drug?

Many people believe homeopathy is a natural, herbal supplement like any other. But is it?

Via inFact with Brian Dunning

What is a homeopathic drug?

“All natural.”

“I would say it’s an herbal supplement that is prescribed by a doctor.”

“Just a little bit of active substance.”

Stop! You’re all wrong. By definition, a homeopathic drug is one that contains no active ingredients at all. None! Not a single molecule. That’s what homeopathic means.

But look at the ingredients. This one shows a 30C amount of Kali Bichromicum Powder. It’s listed, so it should be in there, right? Wrong. The only things actually in this product are the inactive ingredients, lactose, sucrose, or cellulose. Note the amount shown of the supposedly active ingredient: 30C.

What does that mean?

Continue reading the transcript – – –

12 Step Programs

Are religious-based twelve step programs better at stopping addiction than other programs?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

In 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous was formed by two men struggling for sobriety, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith. Theirs was a new type of program in that it formalized a series of twelve steps that an alcoholic must follow in order to get sober and stay that way. smith wilsonThe original Alcoholics Anonymous was only the first of many such programs set up to address just about every type of addiction and obsessive behavior you can think of: Overeaters Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Underearners Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Clutterers Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and even Online Gamers Anonymous. Today we’re going to look a bit into the history of twelve stepping and also how it compares to mainstream psychological treatment of addiction, but mainly into the most important question: Does it work?

It’s impossible to discuss the history of the twelve steps without acknowledging that it is first a religious practice, and second a recovery method. Seven of the twelve steps invoke God. This is the main thing that separates it from medical or psychological addiction treatments that are primarily targeted at the biochemical and psychological causes of addiction. So let’s get started by reviewing the actual twelve steps, and these are the steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous:

    1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
    2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
    3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
    4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
    5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
    6. AA-step-1.12_225pxWere entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
    7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
    8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
    9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
    10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
    11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
    12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Wilson and Smith were both from an evangelical Christian organization called the Oxford Group, and the twelve steps they formalized were reminiscent of practices from the Oxford Group. It had standards it called the Four Absolutes (honesty, purity, unselfishness, love), a set of four spiritual practices, and the “Five Cs” procedures: confidence, confession, conviction, conversion, and continuance. Thus, salvation through evangelical Christianity was deeply interwoven with the concept of twelve stepping. In the words of Bob Wilson:

“…Early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Group and directly from Rev. Sam Shoemaker, their former religious counsel in America, and from nowhere else.”

Because of this, twelve step programs have been strongly criticized, usually by people who dropped out of the programs for one reason or another, and became disgruntled. Some have written books and devoted whole web sites to the idea that twelve stepping is just a bait-and-switch program; come to stop your addiction, but stay to join our church. It’s the same criticism that’s been leveled at Scientology’s Narcanon; it promises to help you get off drugs, but is in reality just a side door into the Church of Scientology.

MORE – – –

The Truth About Remote Viewing

project_stargate
The psychic technique of remote viewing is consistent with simple, well known magic tricks.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid (May 11, 2007)
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re going to sit in a quiet room and draw sketchy pictures of — well, of anything, really — and claim psychic powers, for we’re demonstrating the amazing psychic ability known as “remote viewing.”

remote viewing psychic_300pxRemote viewing was made popular beginning in the 1970’s, when some in the US intelligence community grew concerned that the Soviets had better psychics than we did. $20 million was appropriated to test the skills of a group of psychics called remote viewers. Supposedly, you could ask them a question about some place, and they’d use psychic abilities to draw you a picture of whatever’s going on there, and it was hoped that this would lead to useful intelligence. Project Stargate, and a few others like it, was canceled by the 1990’s, due to a lack of reliable results. Proponents of Project Stargate say that the US government’s investment in the project proves that it had merit. Critics point out that the funding was stopped, and say that if merit had been found, funding would have at least been continued, if not dramatically increased. We can be reasonably assured that the project did not move underground with renewed funding, since the participants have all long since gone public with full disclosure of what happened. Since none of them have turned up mysteriously disappeared, we can safely assume that the government is not too concerned about this supposedly “classified” information.

The most famous remote viewer to emerge from these projects is a man named Joseph McMoneagle. Today he offers his remote viewing services on a consulting basis, and in 1994 he went on the television show “Put to the Test” to show just what he could do. [This] is a clip from the show … and if you want, … watch it, form your own opinion, then [read] my comments.

remote viewing_250pxWhat you’ll find is that the show’s unabashed endorsement of his abilities contributes largely to the perception of his success, but if you really listen to the statements he makes, and look at the drawings he produces, you’ll find little similarity to what he was supposed to identify. They took him to Houston, Texas and sent a target person to one of four chosen locations. McMoneagle’s task was to draw what she saw, thus determining where she was. They edited the 15 minute session down to just a couple of minutes for the show, so you’ve got to figure that they probably left in only the most significant hits and edited out all of the misses.

The four locations were a life size treehouse in a giant tree, a tall metal waterslide at an amusement park, a dock along the river, and the Water Wall, a huge cement fountain structure. Here is what McMoneagle said:

  1. There’s a river or something riverlike nearby, with manmade improvements. Houston is a famous river town, so this was a pretty good bet. It applies equally well to the waterslide and to the dock.
  2. There are perpendicular lines. I challenge anyone to find any location anywhere without perpendicular lines.
  3. She’s standing on an incline. She was not standing on an incline, and there were no apparent inclines at any of the four locations. Remember, they edited it down to just the most impressive two minutes.
  4. She’s looking up at it. This would apply best to the treehouse, the waterslide, or the Water Wall. There was really nothing to look up at at the dock.
  5. There’s a pedestrian bridge nearby. Sounds like a close match for the treehouse or the walkways on the waterslide.
  6. There is a lot of metallic noise. Probably the big metal waterslide structure is the best match for this.
  7. There’s something big and tall nearby that’s not a building. This applies equally well to all four locations.
  8. There’s a platform with a black stripe. Not a clear match for any of the locations.

That’s it – those were the only statements of Joe’s that they broadcast. Strangely, at no point did they ask McMoneagle to identify the location; they did not even ask him to choose from the four possibilities. Instead, they simply took him to the actual destination where the target person was, which turned out to be the dock, and then set about finding matches to Joe’s statements. Suddenly, nearly all of Joe’s statements made perfect sense! Certainly there’s a river nearby. There was a traffic bridge in the distance: traffic, pedestrians, near, far, no big difference. Metallic noise and something big: there was a ship at the dock, but if you ask me what kind of noise a ship makes, metallic is not the word I’d use. And that platform with a black stripe? Could be a ship.

I argue that the target person could have been  .  .  .

MORE – – –


Project STARGATE: Psychic Soldiers via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube

Project STARGATE may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but for years taxpayer cash funded experiments with psychic powers. Tune in to learn more about the Cold War psychics — and why some people believe these programs continue today.

Lie Detection

Has technology ever been able to reliably discriminate between lies and truths?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 8.00.43 PMA lot of people, like police officers and gamblers, think they can tell when a person is lying. But what we’ve always longed for is hard data; testable, mechanical proof that a subject is telling the truth or lying. For a long time, the standard has been the polygraph machine. Unfortunately it’s also widely believed to be unreliable and to be inadmissible in a court of law, so today we’re going to look at the hard data to see what polygraphs can and cannot do, and what other lie detection techniques may be on the immediate horizon, and how they fare in comparison. So put out that fire on your pants, and sit back.

Polygraph machines haven’t changed much since the earliest versions were introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century. They combine readings of blood pressure, respiration, pulse rate, and skin conductance, graphing these out with moving needles on a paper scroll. The idea is that these readings will change based on your stress level as you tell a lie. Polygraph_animatedWhile that basic concept is sound, the problem — and it’s a big one — is that any real effect is lost under a sea of other variables. Not only can the subject manipulate all of those readings with simple actions (biting the tongue, poking oneself with a hidden sharp object or fingernail, or even clinching the anal sphincter muscle), but the results are highly dependent upon the interaction between the subject and the polygrapher.

A large part of a polygraph test consists of the presentation. The machine is intended to be intimidating, as are all the wires and sensors attached to the subject’s body; as are actions by the polygrapher such as marking with a pen on the scroll at mysterious intervals. The polygrapher always begins by making you feel that you are very easy to read; for example, by asking you to lie to an innocent question like whether you’re wearing blue jeans, and then looking at the results and reacting as if you are the most comically easiest person to read ever. Polygraph 818_225pxThe whole show is designed to make you anxious about lying; so that if you do lie during the test, your stress will hopefully rise high enough above the noise level to actually give a useful reading. If you go in knowing all of this, knowing that you’re not overmatched and that this is a fair fight, you’ve got a great chance of yielding no useful results, whether you have anything to hide or not.

But more than that, the reading of polygraph results is completely subjective. There was a famous case in 1978 of a man named Floyd “Buzz” Fay, arrested for a murder he had nothing to do with, and who was convicted based on a polygrapher’s analysis of a lie detector test. Fay’s appeal included reports from four other polygraphers who examined the same charts and concluded there was no evidence of any deception. Fay was ultimately released when other investigations found the true killer, and he then became a keystone of the fight against the use of polygraph tests in courts.

Fay was not the only data point. In 1983  .  .  .

MORE – – –

Orbs: The Ghost in the Camera

Are orbs really ghosts, or a common artifact of photography?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Next time you pick up a camera, watch out. You’re holding in your hand the very device responsible for tens of thousands of the most bizarre and unexplainable type of ghost photographs: Orbs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOrbs, formally called Spirit Orbs, are those semi-transparent white balls seen floating around in many photographs taken in ghostly locations. Orbs are among the class of paranormal phenomena that are visible only to cameras, and not to the naked eye.

The usual hypothesis presented by believers is that orbs represent spirits of dead people, though some support variations on that. The science behind this hypothesis is not clear. For example, there are no plausible hypotheses that describe the mechanism by which a person who dies will become a hovering ball of light that appears on film but is invisible to the eye. There are lots of other things that a dead person might become, presumably; and the only reason believers have chosen orbs seems to be that orbs are the most common unexpected objects seen in photographs. If there was any good science behind this, there would at least be some plausible proposals for what the orb might consist of, how and why it is generated by a dead body, why it floats in the air; and also some good predictions about who will become an orb after they die, what size and color that orb would be, and where and when it can be found. orbsI welcome any hypotheses that would explain how orbs could be a real phenomenon, but I haven’t been able to find any. The only evidence is anecdotal reports and, of course, the obligatory photographs, found on the Internet by the thousand.

Orbs most often appear on camera when a piece of airborne dust, an insect, or a water droplet is close to the camera, outside of the depth of field, and the flash source is no more than a few degrees away from the axis of the camera lens. This causes the object to be brightly light but way out of focus, resulting in a semi-transparent whitish circle. If the flash or other light source is significantly off of the axis of the lens, you won’t get nearly as much light reflected right straight back to the camera. If the object is within the depth of field it will be in focus and generally very small, and probably not noticeable. If the object is not very close to the camera, again it won’t pick up enough light from the flash.

I’m often challenged by believers that if orb photos are so easy to take, why don’t I do it then? I don’t because many people have already done so. If you want great step-by-step instructions for taking an orb photo, go to assap.org and click on Paranormal Photos. You will get all the examples, instructions, and explanations that you could ask for.

MORE – – –

The Real Amityville Horror

America’s most popular true ghost story was a hoax.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via Skeptoid, 2007
Read transcript below or listen here

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.

Amityville_Horror_1979_300pxJust 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 apparition of a demonic boy appeared and was photographed.

The apparition of a demonic boy appeared and was photographed.

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.

MORE – – –

Hillary vs. Mallory: The First to Everest

Did George Mallory really beat Sir Edmund Hillary to the summit of Mount Everest in 1924?
Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re going to up in altitude, back into history, and down in temperature, to the days when the most daring adventurers wore wool, cotton and leather instead of advanced lightweight synthetic materials. They had heavy wood handled ice axes instead of aluminum. Their canvas and nylon sleeping bags and tents weighed at least three times what today’s climbers use. Sir Edmund HillaryThey packed calories with heavy metal tins of fish and fruit instead of dense energy bars and electrolyte shots. Their only support was sparsely manned expeditions, rather than today’s crowds of competing porters and contractors and rope layers. Their chances of survival were far slimmer, yet even in the punishing days of the mid 20th century, men managed to compete to be the first to summit the world’s tallest point: Mt. Everest.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to summit the mountain and live to tell the tale, which they did in 1953. But they certainly weren’t the first to try; Tenzing had, in fact, made it the previous year to a point only 240m short of the summit with a Swiss expedition. A competing claim exists from about 30 years earlier, when climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine disappeared while on the final leg of their climb. Their claim is a thin one; it’s based only on the fact that they disappeared and thus aren’t proven to have failed. But today we’re going to examine what evidence there is, and see if we can arrive at a “best guess” at who was first.

The north face of Mount Everest (Wikipedia)

The north face of Mount Everest (Wikipedia)

Let’s look at some foundational information about the mountain. Everest is, in broad strokes, a three-sided pyramid. Its north and east faces are in Tibet, and its southwest face is in Nepal. The boundary between the two countries follows the ridge lines over the summit, so only that northeastern ridge is entirely in one country, Tibet. Tibet and Nepal were both originally closed to outsiders, so nobody had ever been able to try and climb the mountain. But in 1921, Tibet was persuaded to allow access, giving mountaineers access to the north face, the east face, and the northeastern ridge between them. Thus, this ridge, today called the north ridge route, became the route used by the early mountaineers, including Mallory and Irvine. Its grand finale is a series of technical walls that must be climbed, called the First Step, Second Step, and Third Step. The Second Step is the hardest of the three. In 1950, coincident with China’s assertion of its claim over Tibet, access to foreigners was closed, and the north route was no longer available.

George MallorySo when Hillary and Tenzing’s 1953 expedition succeeded, it was via the southeast ridge route. Having secured permission from Nepal, climbers start from the base camp west of the mountain in Nepal, ascend to that southern ridge dividing Nepal from Tibet, and head northwest to the summit, straddling the border all the way. This route remains the most popular today, and is significantly easier. Its most famous obstacle near the summit is the Hillary Step; besides that, it’s mostly no more than a strenuous hike.

So, since Hillary and Mallory took different routes to the summit, we can’t directly compare them. Hillary made it up the southeast ridge route, no problem; and will only be dethroned if evidence ever surfaces that Mallory made it up the north route thirty years before. The only way we can ever solve the mystery is to  .  .  .

MORE – – –

inFact: Homeopathy

Many people believe homeopathy is a natural, herbal supplement like any other. But is it?

Via inFact -YouTube

Click here for more information including full transcript and References.

Slacktivism: Raising Awareness

Does clicking a “Like” button on a web site really accomplish anything useful?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

“Slacktivism” is a portmanteau of slacker activism. Everyone likes to think they are being an activist. The Internet is bursting at the seams with ways to make this easy: click a Facebook “Like” button; sign an online petition; retweet a shocking photograph. Facebook-Like-Button-big 03_225pxSuch forms of armchair activism almost never accomplish anything. At their best, most of them are wastes of your time; a pointless click of the mouse. But at their worst, they can steal millions of dollars from armchair activists who are persuaded to donate actual money to what they’re told is some useful cause.

I remember a day in the 1980s when I was driving through a depressed area of Los Angeles, and there was a billboard advertising “Speak Out Against Racism”, with a 976 phone number. These are premium rate phone numbers where the owner receives a portion of the caller’s bill for the call. Out of curiosity, I noted the number and called it later, and all it was was a solicitation for you to leave your thoughts about racism, and then you could speak for however long you wanted, into the recording. slacktivism 02_250pxThere was no indication that anyone was even listening to the recorded messages; in fact, I doubt anyone did anything but collected their monthly check for the calls and took it to the bank. It was an early version of what we now call slacktivism; a malicious one at that, because someone was making money off people who thought they were doing something useful.

Today, an example of slacktivism is more likely to be benign. The online petition is very common. Online petitions are not generally binding on anyone, so they carry essentially no weight at all. But they’re an easy way to make people think they’re accomplishing something, so companies like Change.org offer them by the hundreds of thousands; Google currently lists about three quarters of a million petitions on that site alone. Perhaps once in a long while, a petition will garner enough signatures to persuade a reporter to write an article that a company may respond to from a public relations perspective; but more often, these are not productive. slacktivism 925_300pxOne such example was a petition demanding that PepsiCo remove brominated vegetable oil from their products. Known as BVO, this oil has many uses including non-food applications, like virtually every compound found in virtually every food. Thus, it’s really easy to scare people with. “This food contains a chemical used in flame retardant!” shouted the petition. Not a problem, but because of the negative publicity, PepsiCo announced they’d remove it.

Slacktivism is also commonly used to promote deliberate hoaxes, in addition to the ignorant paranoia to which PepsiCo responded. Twitter is often used to spread misinformation in a shocking way that prompts many people to respond. In 2014, a photograph was circulated that showed a laboratory with a lot of cats strapped into frightening-looking racks. The caption said “Retweet if you say NO to animal testing.” Over 5,000 people spread the shocking message, with cries of “vivisection” and all sorts of horrors, apparently unaware that it was a photo that had, at some point, been deliberately misattributed by a hoaxer who got it from the Gainseville Sun news website. The cats in the picture had been seized from an abusive hoarder, and were being spayed and neutered by veterinary students at the University of Florida to prepare them for adoption to start new lives.

MORE – – –

Left Brained, Right Brained, or Hare Brained?

Pop psychology tells us we’re all either left brain dominant or right brain dominant. Really?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Perhaps the most pervasive popular belief that people associate with neuroscience is the idea that we all tend to be either left-brained or right-brained, based on traits like creativity or analytical ability. It’s well known that certain brain functions are localized in various parts of the brain, so it would seem to make sense that some of our individual strengths and weaknesses can be quantified based on brain hemisphere dominance. left_right_brain_250pxQuite a few companies even sell products intended to analyze your brain sidedness, promising a variety of personal development benefits. But is this belief — so widely held — good science, terrible science, or some mixture of the two?

Once in college, I took an Honors Colloquium class that was supposed to expose us to a wide variety of ideas and experiences. It was taught by three professors who were presented to us as being the smartest, most well-rounded guys on campus. One of our exercises was to take a test that was supposed to reveal our brain sidedness. The questions were similar to what you might get in a personality test, asking about whether you prefer math or art, privacy or crowds, planning ahead or working on the fly. Some days later we each received our results: a two-axis radar chart, showing a skewed diamond with its left and right corners representing the levels to which we depended on our left brain or right brain, and the top and bottom corners showing the degree to which we depended on our anterior or posterior parts of our brain. It was explained to us that these results could be used to help us self-assess our aptitudes at various skills. Would we be good at sales, leadership, or education? What areas of ourselves could we work on to improve ourselves? What kind of value could we add to an organization with our particular brain map?

Left brain or right brain?

Left brain or right brain?

Most students had crazily shaped radar charts that showed a strong dependence on one brain area or the other. The horizontal axis had a range of zero to 120 on both sides. We all thought that anyone who had a chart exceeding 100 on either side must be extraordinarily talented according to the popularly believed norms: if you were over 100 on the left you were a math or analytical genius; if you were over 100 on the right you were the next Mozart or Rembrandt. I was very proud that mine was the only one that was symmetrical, 94 on both sides; but after later reflection, I recalled that many of the questions had to do with the classes we were taking. At the time my idea was to double major in computer science and film directing, so I’d given a lot of answers that indicated I was both analytical and creative. I hadn’t had much experience in scientific skepticism at that point, but if I had, I might well have realized that the test was grossly unscientific and relied completely on self-reported answers that might have changed from one day to the next, depending on mood, terminology, context, and many other variables.

Looking at the same test now, I realize that was only the tip of the iceberg. Brain sidedness as a predictor of either preferences or aptitudes is unscientific for a very good reason: it’s virtually entirely wrong.

Let’s go back to that popular public assumption that the left brain is analytic and the right brain is creative, upon which so many of the questions in my Honors Colloquium test focused, and upon which the whole class based the entirety of their analyses of their test results. The natural inference is that people whose left brains are dominant must be good at analytical skills, and people whose right brains are dominant must be good at creative skills. The reverse would also be true: If you are a mathematician or engineer, we might deduce that you are left-brained; and if you’re an artist or poet, that you’re right-brained.

Where did this idea come from?

MORE – – –

The Riddle of Flight 19

bermudatri

What caused the 1945 loss of these five aircraft that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Nearly everyone has heard of the Bermuda Triangle, the supposedly mysterious region off the United States’ southeastern coast where planes and ships are believed to disappear at an alarming rate. Its story began in 1946, when a training flight of five US Navy aircraft disappeared, leaving no trace. Also lost without explanation was a large Navy flying boat that went to search for them. bermuda-triangle_250pxSome believe they were swallowed up by whatever strange forces are at work in the Triangle, perhaps some magnetic or weather anomaly, or perhaps something intelligent and more sinister. Today we’re going to examine all the evidence to see if we can solve what happened to the missing planes and their crew.

The aircraft were five Grumman TBM Avengers, the same type of plane in which George H. W. Bush was shot down during World War II only two years earlier. Although they had the same general appearance of a single-engine WWII fighter plane, the Avenger was actually a small bomber containing a bomb bay and carrying a crew of three. Behind and below the pilot were a turret gunner, and a third crewman who was the radio operator, bombardier, and ventral gunner. The plane was powered by a single massive 14-cylinder radial engine, intended to be rugged and reliable enough to keep the plane flying over water even when damaged by enemy fire. Thus, the Avenger was the biggest and heaviest single-engined airplane of the second World War.

Lt. Charles Taylor, Flight 19 instructor Photo: US Navy

Lt. Charles Taylor, Flight 19 instructor
Photo: US Navy

It was just three weeks before Christmas in 1945 when Flight 19 took off for an afternoon training flight from the Naval Air Station at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The exercise was called “Navigation Problem #1”. They were supposed to fly a large triangular route, 91° east out to a point south of Grand Bahama island, then 346° north to a point north of Grand Bahama, and then 241° southwest back to Fort Lauderdale. Halfway out along the bottom line of the triangle, they were to drop practice bombs at a place called the Hen and Chicken Shoals. The total distance was to have been about 316 nautical miles, or about 585 kilometers. Lieutenant Charles Taylor was the instructor, but one of the four student pilots was to act as flight leader. One of the planes was a man short, so in all, there were fourteen men aboard the five planes. The missing man, a Corporal Kosnar, had asked to be excused. Most UFO books and books about the Bermuda Triangle usually state that he had a premonition of danger. This claim seems dubious, as any airman requesting to be excused on that basis would not likely have been coddled and released. In fact, Kosnar was excused because he had simply already completed all the required hours of training.

All went well with dropping the bombs, and continued to go fine until the planes reached their first turn and were supposed to head north, overflying Grand Bahama in the process. That’s when everything got unaccountably crazy. Taylor seemed to be lost. Radio contact was made with ships and with other Navy planes in the area. There was great confusion and contradicting reports of location and direction. At 6:20pm, Taylor made his final radio call:

All planes close up tight… We’ll have to ditch unless landfall.. When the first plane drops below 10 gallons, we all go down together.

TBF_(Avengers)_flying_in_formation_300px

US Navy Avengers, similar to those of Flight 19. Image: WikiPedia

Other Navy planes that had already been airborne were already searching for them by that time, heading to an area that land stations had triangulated as being the last known location of the Avengers. Bizarrely, this area was well north of the exercise’s triangular route. They’d gone nearly three times as far north as they should have, and never made the turn west back toward the coast.

Within two hours, two big PBM Mariner flying boats had joined the search, each with a crew of thirteen. One of them exploded in flight and went down, an event witnessed by the crew of the commercial ship S.S. Gaines Mills. The PBM had been declared in top shape, and no clue as to the cause of its loss was ever found, nor was its wreckage… just like the fate of Flight 19.

So what happened? The weather was getting pretty rough; the seas and the wind were both running high, and there was rain. While the weather certainly affected visibility to some degree, it was probably not a significantly contributing factor. Any number of bizarre explanations have been suggested: waterspouts, seaquakes; the types of things that have never been known to bring down an aircraft. There’s even a book out titled The Loss of Flight 19: Is There a UFO Base inside the Bermuda Triangle?

The hype that exists was mainly the fruit of the labors of Charles Berlitz, who could arguably be described as the father of the Bermuda Triangle with his 1974 book The Bermuda Triangle in which he promoted all manner of strange hypotheses that could take down a ship or a plane. None of his suggestions have ever been observed to actually do so in the real world. So does all of this mean that we’re forced to leave the mystery of Flight 19 as an unsolved mystery?

MORE – – –

5 Conspiracy Theories that Turned Out to Be True… Maybe?

Skeptoid listeners are always asking for conspiracy theories that turned out to be true. Here’s the best I could come up with.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or Listen here

Ever since the earliest days of Skeptoid, listeners have been asking me for two things: Do an episode on paranormal claims that turned out to be true, and do an episode on conspiracy theories that turned out to be true. For both types of requests, I’ve always answered “Great, just find some for me.” Nothing. Ever. Crickets chirping. So when I went on the Joe Rogan podcast, conspiracy box secret package_250pxwhich has an enormous conspiracy theory following, I asked straight out: Please send me examples of conspiracy theories that turned out to be true. I was buried in email… to the degree that such a thing is possible.

Judging conspiracy theories can be a tricky business. For one thing, they’re often uselessly vague. I can say “The government does things we don’t know about,” and then virtually anything can come out in the news and I can claim to have been right. For another thing, the world is full of real criminal conspiracies, and I can always point to any one of them and claim “Hey, this is a conspiracy theory that was proven true.” So I have a simple pair of requirements that a conspiracy theory must adhere to in order to be considered the type of conspiracy theory that we’re actually talking about when we use the term.

  1. First, it must be specific enough to be falsifiable. This is the fundamental requirement that every scientific theory must comply with to be considered valid. By way of example, compare a vague version of the chemtrails conspiracy theory to a specific disprovable claim. You can’t just say “Some airplanes spray some unknown chemical.” That’s so vague that you could claim you were proven correct the next time a crop duster sprays a field. conspiracy-theories-true_225pxBut if you say “United Airlines tail number NC13327 is equipped to spray VX nerve gas, and that one right there is spraying it right now,” then that’s a claim that can be disproven with a single inspection. You make a claim that specific, you’re proven right, I’ll stand behind you 100%.
  2. Second, it must be known to the conspiracy theorist before it’s discovered by the media or law enforcement. Simply repeating what someone else’s proper investigation has led them to does not constitute developing a theory. Woodward and Bernstein did an intense investigation and put together evidence bit by bit until they had the whole story of the Watergate scandal; at no point did they sit back in their chairs, propose an elaborate conspiracy, then watch as every detail unfolded exactly as they predicted. If you want to impress me with your conspiracy theory, you have to discover it (in detail) before other investigators piece together the proof and make it public for you. Otherwise you’re just claiming credit for reading the newspaper.

So now let’s look at the most common “conspiracy theories proven true” that I was sent:

1. The Gulf of Tonkin

This was overwhelmingly the most common story sent to me from listeners of the Rogan podcast. It was the American excuse to enter the Vietnam War. A small naval battle took place between US forces and North Vietnamese torpedo boats, after which Congress gave President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to order military action in support of certain Southeast Asian countries who were threatened by Communist forces. Basically, a thinly-veiled authorization for Johnson to go to war with North Vietnam.

USS Maddox in action against North Vietnamese torpedo boats (navy.mil)

USS Maddox in action against North Vietnamese torpedo boats (navy.mil)

The conspiracy part comes from the claim that the naval battle never actually took place, or that it was a fake “false flag” attack by American conspirators trying to give Congress the excuse they wanted. There’s probably a grain of truth to this. There was indeed one real engagement on August 2, 1964, in which planes and ships were damaged on both sides and the North Vietnamese suffered a number of casualties. There’s no doubt there. But it was the second attack two days later on August 4 that was fishy. American forces fired heavily on radar targets only, and nobody ever reported any visual sightings of North Vietnamese forces.

Throughout the day on August 4, as the action was unfolding, Captain Herrick of the destroyer USS Maddox cabled Washington a number of times, and reported in no uncertain terms that he believed there were no enemy forces. This information was public from the beginning. Even as Johnson was drafting his resolution, Senator Wayne Morse was holding public press conferences to reveal that the second attack was without evidence.

Provoking attacks may seem pretty unethical to most of us, but the fact is it’s been a common military tactic since the Romans and the Carthaginians. At no point were the details of the Gulf of Tonkin incident unknown, so it never existed as a conspiracy theory.

2. COINTELPRO

FBISeal_200pxThe FBI’s domestic Counter Intelligence Program was a terrible thing from the beginning. It operated since 1956, and also less formally for nearly 50 years before that. Their purpose was to discredit and harm American groups mainly associated with civil rights, characterizing them as hate groups that threatened national security. The program was blown in 1971 when a group of eight men, calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, broke into a small FBI office in a perfectly planned and executed raid. They seized some 1,000 documents detailing COINTELPRO operations and mailed them to newspapers. The FBI was unable to identify any of the burglars before the statute of limitations ran out, so they got away with it clean. As a result, the FBI was forced to terminate this often-illegal program.

MORE – – –

The Mystery of the Sailing Stones in Death Valley

Benjamin RadfordBy Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

California’s remote, beautiful, and foreboding Death Valley has held a mystery for almost a century: it has stones that seem to move on their own, when no one is looking. It happens at Racetrack Playa, a dry lakebed known for its “sailing stones.” This effect occurs at a few other places as well, though Death Valley is the most famous spot.

Heavy rocks like these seem to slide across the surface of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park.

Heavy rocks like these seem to slide across the surface of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park.

In their book “Mysteries of the World: Unexplained Wonders and Mysterious Phenomena,” Herbert Genzmer and Ulrich Hellenbrand state that “the perfectly flat, dry ground is scoured and scraped with paths that suggest these boulders are being moved along the ground… there is no indication of how this movement could have been brought about by outside forces, and no stone has ever been observed actually making its way across the ground.”

Not all of the stones in Death Valley move. Those that do only move every two to three years, and they don’t all move at the same time or in the same direction. In fact, some seem to have made abrupt 90-degree turns, judging from the tracks, which range from tens of feet to hundreds of feet long. Most of the stones are not huge boulders but instead range from about 6 to 18 inches (15 to 45 centimeters) in diameter.

Several theories have been proposed to explain this curious phenomenon, including some sort of localized, unknown magnetic effect. This theory has been discounted for a variety of reasons including that many of the stones do not contain significant amounts of magnetic elements such as iron, and that the stones should gradually assemble in one place — which they don’t. Some have suggested that the strong winds that blow through the area might move the rocks after the lakebed has become slick.

The most likely solution to the mystery involves a combination of wind, temperature and water. Although Racetrack Playa is a dry lakebed, it is not always dry; in fact, water collects on the surface after rainfall or when snow from surrounding peaks melts. Brian Dunning, a California researcher who discussed this mystery on his Skeptoid podcast, notes that when water is present and the temperature falls below freezing — as it sometimes does — a thin sheet of ice is created: “Solid ice, moving with the surface of the lake and with the inertia of a whole surrounding ice sheet, would have no trouble pushing a rock along the slick muddy floor… As the wind shifts and the flow ebbs, these ice floes drag the rocks across the slippery mud surface in zig-zagging paths, even moving heavy rocks and sometimes dragging some but washing past others nearby.”

NASA researcher Ralph Lorenz became intrigued by the enigmatic stones while studying Death Valley weather conditions. He developed a tabletop experiment to show how the rocks might glide across the surface of the lakebed.

Ralph Lorenz’s home experiment

Ralph Lorenz’s home experiment

“I took a small rock and put it in a piece of Tupperware, and filled it with water so there was an inch of water with a bit of the rock sticking out,” Lorenz told Smithsonian.com.

After putting the container in the freezer, Lorenz ended up with a small slab of ice with a rock embedded in it. By placing the ice-bound rock in a large tray of water with sand at the bottom, all he had to do was gently blow on the rock to get it to move across the water. And as the ice-embedded rock moved, it scraped a trail in the sand at the tray’s bottom.

MORE – – –


Video via inFact with Brian Dunning (YouTube)

Killing Princess Diana

Some say the death of Princess Diana in 1997 was actually a murder plotted by her government:

  • Why didn’t any security cameras record what happened in the tunnel?
  • Why was Diana’s body quickly embalmed?
  • Why weren’t Diana’s security forces there to protect her?
  • What about the white Fiat Uno?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid.com
Read transcript below or listen here

It was perhaps a certainty that the most famous royal celebrity death of the twentieth century would attract conspiracy theories, so it’s not surprising that that’s exactly what happened when Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car accident in 1997. She’d been divorced from Charles, Prince of Wales for about a year, and she and her boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed were in Paris. princess_dianaThe story of that evening had all the elements of an international caper: money, royalty, luxury, celebrity, sex, drugs, and death. How could this calamity, at once a small family tragedy and the greatest show on the worldwide stage, have not attracted attention of every kind: sadness, anger, outrage, and charges of crime and conspiracy?

Diana and Dodi had just spent nine days aboard the Al-Fayed family’s enormous motoryacht, the Sonikal, off the French and Italian Riviera. They stopped to overnight in Paris at the Ritz Hotel, owned by Dodi’s billionaire father Mohamed Al-Fayed. After midnight, they left the hotel and headed to an apartment that he also owned, a short drive away. They were in the back seat of a Mercedes S-Class sedan driven by Henri Paul, the hotel’s deputy head of security. Paul was drunk and on anti-depressants. In the front passenger seat was Trevor Rees-Jones, Dodi’s bodyguard. None of them were wearing seatbelts. As so often happens to members of the royal family, they were pursued by a number of paparazzi photographers in other cars. dianacrash4Paul drove faster to try and get away from the paparazzi. Just before the Mercedes started down the ramp into an underpass tunnel, Paul swerved slightly to avoid a slower car, but grazed it. He then began to fishtail, at which point he effectively lost control of the Mercedes. Once inside the tunnel, going about 100 kph, the car slammed into a vertical pillar head on. It spun and struck the wall, facing backward. Half a dozen paparazzi were on the scene and remained until authorities arrived four minutes later. Seven of them were arrested. It was 12:30 in the morning.

Paul and Dodi died on impact. Trevor Rees-Jones suffered severe facial and head injuries, ultimately recovering but with no memory of the accident. Diana was fatally injured and died some three and a half hours later at the hospital. Six months later, Mohamed Al-Fayed claimed his son and Diana had been murdered by British intelligence. Why? Because the Al-Fayed family was Muslim, Diana and Dodi had been secretly engaged, and the British could not bear the royal blood to be so tainted. Three years later Mohamed added that the couple had revealed only to him that Diana had even been pregnant with Dodi’s child. Specifically, Mohamed charged that MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, conceived, choreographed, and executed the car crash to murder the pair.

MORE – – –

3-7-77: The Montana Vigilance Code

This mysterious code representing vigilante justice has a history steeped in mystery.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Woe be unto he that attracts the ire of the Montana Highway Patrol, or to the enemy that finds himself in the crosshairs of a fighter plane of the Montana Air National Guard. For all these uniforms bear a symbol steeped in antiquity and mystery alike: the code 3-7-77. What does it mean? montana-patchThose who wear it claim only that they don’t know; but legend says the riddle is known to those in years past who were shown the symbol just before dying at the hands of the Montana Vigilance Committee.

The State of Montana is not best known for its warm embrace of Federal interference. People in Montana tend to like to have things their own way. Threatening a Montanan on his own property is not likely to go well for you; many still consider their sidearm to be the most efficient form of justice. In the 19th century, when no meaningful law had penetrated that far west, your sidearm was likely to be your only justice. And when the enemy was many, or more than one person or town could handle, Montanans and other Westerners developed their own form of law that protected the public interest with maximum efficiency. They were called vigilance committees. Frontier justice was not slowed by bureaucracy or derailed by official trivialities. It was swift, comprehensive, not subject to appeal, and almost always found at the end of a rope.

The origin of 3-7-77 has been debated by Montanans ever since it became publicly known in the late 19th century, but its meaning is clear:

MORE – – –

Animal Predictors: Psychic, Sensitive, or Silly?

Many animals are presented in the popular media as being psychic. Is this the best explanation?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

psychic_dog_250pxIn the wake of a popular 2014 hoax email going around claiming that animals were fleeing Yellowstone National Park in record numbers to escape an impending volcanic eruption, it probably makes sense to have a Skeptoid episode addressing animal predictions in general. Most are not hoaxes. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re psychic, though. There are a range of possible explanations for the apparent ability. Perhaps the animals have some special sensitivity, perhaps it’s an error made by the people who observe them. Today we’re going to take a look at a few popular cases of famous, modern animals believed to have the power of prediction.

Oscar the Cat

In 2007, the media went wild over an article published in the highly respected scientific journal The New England Journal of Medicine claiming that a cat named Oscar was able to predict which patients at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island were about to die, and would curl up with them until they did. Psychic cat_225pxThe story proved so popular that its author, Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician at the Center, was offered a book deal and expanded the story of Oscar’s amazing predictive ability into a 240-page book, Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat. Oscar’s story has since been included in virtually every list of psychic animals in every kind of media, and is often cited as proof that the ability exists, particularly due to its publication in such an esteemed journal.

But please, hold the horses a moment. The opening section of the Journal is called Perspectives, and includes essays, editorials, and opinion pieces. Dosa’s article was in this section; it was most certainly not presented as research, but simply as a fun anecdote. Dosa made no representation that it was either scientific or based on serious study of the cat’s behavior.

psychic dog_225pxBy the time of the book, Dosa said some 50 deaths at the Center had been preceded by visits from Oscar. But as many science journalists have noted, no data was ever collected or analyzed. No mention was made of how often Oscar visited other patients. Since it’s a nursing home, most patients are terminally ill and remain there until they die, so it’s hardly even possible for Oscar to ever be wrong. No criteria were ever observed for the length of time between Oscar’s last visit and the patient’s death, the duration of Oscar’s visit, or how those numbers compared to his visits to other patients. Moreover, Dosa even states in the book that “for narrative purposes” he “made some changes that depart from actual events”.

From what we know of Oscar, there is no need to suggest that he has the power of prediction, either psychic or based on some smelling ability or behavioral sensing. Oscar’s story can almost certainly be explained by confirmation bias: the tendency of workers at the center to more strongly notice Oscar’s actions when they confirm the belief, in exactly the same way that many hospital workers notice busier nights during a full moon, a notion that’s been conclusively disproven. But we can’t know for sure since nobody has ever studied the way Oscar divides his time between the living and the dying. Until they do, we have a cute story, but certainly not a psychic cat.

MORE – – –

Your Body’s Energy Fields

We are constantly bombarded with marketing references to your body’s energy field. Is there such a thing?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

body-energyfield_250pxYears after Skeptoid’s original episode #1 on New Age Energy, talk of energy fields — particular the human body’s energy fields — continues to permeate pop culture. A quick Google search for “human energy field” yields an avalanche of New Agey sciencey-sounding results: biofields, noetic balancing, auras, chakras, cleansing and activating your fields, bioenergetics, science unlocking the secrets, luminosity, sensing, negative energy, positive energy, and the human bioelectromagnetic field. Does the human body indeed have any characteristic that can be reasonably described as an energy field?

Although most of the usage you’ll hear of the term sounds like something from Deepak Chopra which is clearly without any factual meaning, the idea that a living body has some measurable effect on its immediate environment is not necessarily an unsound concept. Our bodies generate heat, we have mass, fluids move within us and millions of electric signals are constantly being transmitted through our nervous system. Might we not actually produce an energy field?

Molecular structuresA useful place to begin is with definitions, namely those of “energy” and “field”. Energy is a measurement of something’s ability to perform work. A liter of gasoline has chemical energy stored in molecular bonds that, when broken, produce an exothermic chemical reaction. Put it into the engine, and this reaction will cause the engine to run, converting stored chemical energy into kinetic energy. We can precisely quantify the amount of energy stored in that liter of fuel. A basic unit of energy is called the joule, and a typical gasoline contains about 42 megajoules of energy per kilogram. A typical alkaline AA battery contains about 9,000 joules. The calories of chemical energy that my bloodstream absorbs when I eat a Power Bar charge up my muscles enough to dig some specific, and measurable, amount of dirt in my garden.

That’s all that energy is: a measurement of work capability. But in popular culture, “energy” has somehow become a noun. “Energy” is often spoken of as if it is a thing unto itself, like a region of glowing power, that can be contained and used. Here’s a good test. When you hear the word “energy” used, substitute the phrase “measurable work capability.” Does the usage still make sense? Remember, energy itself is not the thing being measured: energy is the measurement of work performed or of potential.

OK, so that’s energy, a measured, quantified amount of work capability. So let’s wipe the slate clean and look at what a field is.

MORE – – –

The Black Eyed Kids

BECbanner
Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid

They might knock on your door on a late, quiet night that you’re home; or if you’re out, they might approach your car while you’re stopped. They might seem to be in need of your help, or they might just want to come in for no clear reason. They won’t look threatening; mere children, in fact. But they do want to come in. They may give you this excuse or that one, but no matter what you say, they will persist. black eyed kids 904_250pxThey must get in. And you will say no. You will say no because they are not quite right: their eyes are black. Pure black. From lid to lid, dead black orbs devoid of sclera or iris will send a chill up your spine. They are the black eyed kids.

Stories about these creepy looking children have been multiplying in recent years. Virtually all of them are copy-and-pasted from one web page to another, or appear in self-published, print-on-demand books that are little more than copied Internet content. Thus it’s pretty hard to attribute very many of the stories to credible witnesses. Nobody has ever taken a reliable photograph of a black eyed kid; none have ever been stopped by authorities on the lookout for runaways. Real or not, the black eyed kids are known really only from the many oft-repeated accounts of dubious origin:

I was sitting on the couch watching a movie, when suddenly I heard someone hardly beating the door. I got up went to the closest next to the front door and pulled out a cricket bat. shadow doorway_225pxI opened the door and I saw three kids standing there… One of them told me that they were lost and needed to call there mum. They asked to come in, that was the biggest mistake of my life when I said okay… I went into the living room and what I saw amazed me little. All three of them were sitting quietly, faced down. At the same time all three of them looked at me. Those were seriously the most scariest eyes I had ever seen. But staring at them for 10 seconds more and I was screaming like a girl. I ran towards the garage door, I felt all three of them running after me because I could hear their feet thumping the wooden floors. I ran into the garage and locked the door.

• • • • •

black eye_200pxI looked through the peephole… Outside were two kids… Had it not been for the feeling of overwhelming dread and fear, I probably would have asked these children in and given them some tea or hot chocolate to get them out of the bitter cold. Something about them seemed off… The older one spoke. She had a voice that was mature, confidant, strong, and accentless. She held her head tilted downward, and I couldn’t see her eyes. She said “We have to use your phone.” I stood frozen in fear. How did she know I was there? She raised her head to face me directly, and that was when I saw her eyes. There was a reason I couldn’t see them through her bangs before- they were black, or midnight blue, or a dark, dark purple- they were otherworldly. She said “Our mother is worried.”

• • • • •

black eyed kid window_150pxI saw some kid walking back and forth along the sidewalk in front of my parked car… The boy walked over to the side of my car and just stares, I think to let me get a good look at his eyes. To freak me out. Let me tell you.. If you have never seen a black eyed kid.. you have no idea what to imagine. Pupils black as the night sky. The boy whispers “You must let me in” and then i locked the car doors and ducked down into the space below the seats. Five minutes later he was gone. When my mother got into the car she told me a boy with black eyes had came into the hairdressers had insisted for my mother to give him the keys to the car.

Stories told by anonymous posters identified only by their Internet handle. Overall, the body of evidence is not a compelling one. A number of eyewitnesses claim to have called the police and had them show up, but the literature  .  .  .

MORE – – –

Oil Pulling

This New Age alternative health fad claims to be based on ayurveda… but is it?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

So it’s the 21st century, and our collective knowledge in fields such as medicine and hygiene is better than at any other time in our past. If you have some medical problem, chances are we’ve developed a pretty good treatment for it that’s better than it was 25 years ago, and 25 years before that. Just about everything anyone can think of has been tried and tested as a treatment for that condition. oil-pulling_250pxWhy then do some Westerners shun the results of what we’ve been able to learn, and instead seek out folk remedies notable only for their roots in pre-scientific knowledge? Nowhere is this trend more aptly illustrated than in the latest fad, oil pulling.

Oil pulling is an alternative therapy that involves putting vegetable oil in your mouth, swishing it around for a few minutes, then spitting it out. There are many different variations. Some say you should do it for about 3 minutes; some say you should do it for a full 20 minutes. Some say you should gargle it; some say you should swish it around; some say you should fill your entire mouth cavity completely and just hold it. SnakeOil-250pxThe types of oil to be used also do not seem to adhere to any particular standard: some say that any store-bought oil is equally useful; some specify that coconut oil should be used; some say sesame oil, sunflower oil, or even the oil produced by separating butter, called ghee in India.

For all the many variations of how oil pulling is to be done, there are just as many conflicting beliefs about what it is supposed to do for you. Most often found is the claim that it cleans and protects your teeth from plaque and bacteria, but just as common is the idea that it “pulls” toxins out of your body (thus the name oil pulling). Like all alternative detoxification claims, there is no accepted description of what these alleged “toxins” are. An article on Food Matters, an anti-pharmaceutical activism web site based on the 2008 film of the same name, lists the following as other “possible benefits of oil pulling for overall health”:

  • Migraine headache relief
  • Correcting hormone imbalances
  • Reducing inflammation of arthritis
  • May help with gastro-enteritis
  • Aids in the reduction of eczema
  • May reduce symptoms of bronchitis
  • Helps support normal kidney function
  • May help reduce sinus congestion
  • Some people report improved vision
  • Helps reduce insomnia
  • Reduced hangover after alcohol consumption
  • Aids in reducing pain
  • Reduces the symptoms of allergies
  • Helps detoxify the body of harmful metals and organisms

Oilpulling.com says that:

Oilpulling heals totally “head-aches, bronchitis, tooth pain, thrombosis, eczema, ulcers and diseases of stomach, intestines, heart, blood, kidney, liver, lungs and women’s diseases. It heals diseases of nerves, paralysis, and encephalitis. It prevents the growth of malignant tumors, cuts and heals them. Chronic sleeplessness is cured.”

oil pulling 02
Taken by itself, any one of these is likely to raise your eyebrows: How, the 21st century mind might ask, could swishing a non-specific type of oil in your mouth using non-specific technique address any or all of these conditions? Is human biology really so simple and its health really so easily manipulated? How could someone be convinced by such a claim?

The answer to that question should come as no surprise to regular Skeptoid listeners. We turn to our list of logical fallacies, and look up the Appeal to Antiquity: the invalid logic which states that an idea is old, therefore it’s valid. The antiquity in this case, as presented by nearly every book and web site that promotes oil pulling, is ayurveda, traditional medicine from India.

MORE – – –


TRUE or FALSE: Swishing plant oils in your mouth has been proved to ameliorate a variety of medical ailments? Click here for the answer.

TRUE or FALSE: Swishing plant oils in your mouth has been proved to ameliorate a variety of medical ailments?
Click here for the answer.

15 Phreaky Phobias

Are phobias really irrational, or does the brain have a better reason for creating them?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via Skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

scared-1_200pxWhat 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

Fear_of_spiders_by_hackamore_200pxWhy 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

clown pennywise 838_225pxIn 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.

when_birds_attack_08_225px5. 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.

MORE – – –

The Boggy Creek Monster

Is Arkansas’ Fouke Monster a real zoological specimen, or an important part of local folklore?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

It was 1971, in Fouke, Arkansas. Fouke is a small hamlet of under a thousand people, in the Boggy Creek area of southwestern Arkansas, tucked in just between Texas and Louisiana. It’s in the middle of a thousand miles of flat country, dense dark woods rippled with rivers and creeks that twist every which way before finally draining into the Louisiana swamps. Beast-of-Boggy-CreekIt was on a hot summer night in May that two newlywed young couples, and a friend or two, were crashing in the house they’d just rented a few days before after a long day of unpacking. But the mellow evening took a shocking turn for the worse when Elizabeth Ford, 22, thought she’d have a nap on the couch when it happened.

You know that moment when you see something unexpected, but it takes a few seconds for your mind to process what it is? That was Elizabeth’s experience. When she realized that what she was looking at was a huge furry hand with claws, reaching through the open window and groping on the couch as if to find her, she screamed — and Fouke would be changed forever.

Even as the two young couples made emergency move-out preparations, giving up on their new home after less than a week, reporter Jim Powell covered the incident for the Texarkana Gazette, calling it like it was a campy 80s slasher pic:

Elizabeth Ford said she was sleeping in the front room of the frame house when, “I saw the curtain moving on the front window and a hand sticking through the window. At first I thought it was a bear’s paw but it didn’t look like that. It had heavy hair all over it and it had claws. scared-1_200pxI could see its eyes. They looked like coals of fire … real red,” she said. “It didn’t make any noise. Except you could hear it breathing.”

Ford said they spotted the creature in back of the house with the aid of a flashlight. “We shot several times at it then and then called Ernest Walraven, constable of Fouke. He brought us another shotgun and a stronger light. We waited on the porch and then saw the thing closer to the house. We shot again and thought we saw it fall. Bobby, Charles and myself started walking to where we saw it fall,” he said.

About that time, according to Don Ford, they heard the women in the house screaming and Bobby went back. “I was walking the rungs of a ladder to get up on the porch when the thing grabbed me.”

…The “creature” was described by Ford as being about seven feet tall and about three feet wide across the chest. “At first I thought it was a bear but it runs upright and moves real fast. It is covered with hair,” he said.

The episode triggered a rash of sightings that kept the Texarkana Gazette lively for months. And more significantly, it attracted the attention of filmmakers, who quickly shot the 1973 docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek. The film dramatized dozens of sightings and featured many Fouke and Boggy Creek residents, telling and reenacting their stories. One of the most fantastic involved a boy named Lynn Crabtree who encountered the beast while hunting in 1965, and shot at it repeatedly without effect.

It’s at this point when, during researching such a story, we start to examine the timeline.

MORE – – –

Texarkana Gazette Fouke monster

Out of Place Artifacts (OOPArts)

Some objects found around the world seem to defy rational explanation.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re going outside with pick axe and shovel in hand, dig through some ancient strata, and unearth something that looks like it shouldn’t be there. In fact, upon closer inspection, it definitely shouldn’t be there. Throughout recorded history, diggers — both amateur and professional — have been finding objects that appear to be modern or made of advanced materials, but are located in old rock or other places where they shouldn’t, or couldn’t, be.classic-tape2 Such objects have become known as out of place artifacts, or “OOPArts” for short. An OOPArt, by definition, is one that contradicts our existing understanding of history. Some take this to its apparently logical next step, and believe that OOPArts prove history wrong.

In this episode we’re going to take a quick look at some of the most famous OOPArts and see what’s known about each, and hopefully see if we have enough information to conclude that known history must be wrong. A lot of objects that show up on published lists consist of artworks — sculptures or carvings — that make ambiguous depictions, which some interpret as being out of place. One example is a pictograph from Egypt that some say shows an electric lamp. We’re not going to include these today because they’re most likely misinterpretations. Instead we want hard, physical proof of items that couldn’t and shouldn’t exist, but do.

The Baigong Pipes

The Baigong Pipes

Two of the best known have already been covered in previous Skeptoid episodes. The Baigong Pipes, featured in episode 181, were said to be a network of metal pipes buried in native rock said to be 150,000 years old. Some believed they proved the existence of an ancient culture of aliens; others actually studied the pipes and found that they not only weren’t very pipe-like, they were simply petrified wood and bamboo that had washed into a basin and later solidified.

Not all turn out to be misidentifications. The Antikythera Mechanism, featured in episode 184, was a Greek clockwork mechanism found in a shipwreck, and it did indeed represent knowledge that was about a thousand years off from our previous understanding. The find turned out to be really important, and we changed our models of ancient technology as a result. Since it was found, other artifacts have continued to fill in the gaps. This is the model we hope to see for all candidate OOPArts. No misidentification; nothing open to interpretation; just solid physical evidence that changes our understanding. So let’s see if any of the other famous examples fit the bill.

The Coso Artifact

The coso artifact sliced in two

The coso artifact sliced in two

In 1961, three people were out collecting geodes and other interesting rocks for the rock and gem shop they operated in Olancha, CA, little more than a truck stop in the Owens Valley west of Death Valley. When they put their specimens under the diamond blade saw to cut them open, one of them jammed the blade. It had a piece of metal in the center.

It became known as the Coso Artifact, named for the Coso Range of mountains in which it was found. Spark plug collectors all agree that the object inside the rock, as depicted in the one existing X-ray, is a 1920s Champion spark plug. Rocks take a very long time to form, certainly a lot longer than 40 years; so the Coso Artifact has become an icon of OOPArts, and is popularly believed to constitute an insoluble problem.

Unfortunately, the real secret of the Coso Artifact is that . . .

MORE – – –

The Cult of Nikola Tesla

Via inFact with Brian Dunning on YouTube

Nikola Tesla was one of our greatest pioneering electrical engineers. Unfortunately, pretty much everything else you’ve heard about him isn’t true. http://infactvideo.com

Solving the Lead Masks of Vintem Hill

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

For a long time, I’ve wanted to do an episode that doesn’t just give the results of my findings, but instead follows the process of researching and putting together an episode. A lot of times that’s hard to do, because most subjects include way more information than can be squeezed into twelve minutes, much less include my research and development process. jtyost_preview_400pxBut I finally got one that’s just right. It came from Brazil, back in 1966, when the bodies of two men were found on a hillside. By itself, it might not have been a very interesting case for the police, until they examined the bodies. Each item that they found made the case stranger and stranger. It became known as the lead masks of Vintém Hill.

The idea first came in through my email, as most subjects do, from a listener who’d heard of it and thought it sounded interesting. Dead bodies found on a hilltop in Brazil wearing strange lead masks. I jotted a few notes and put it in my folder. And then one day, while looking for a future episode, I came upon it, and it sounded cool enough that I did a few web searches. Morro do Vintém, or Vintém Hill, is a green prominence in the relatively wealthy Rio de Janeiro suburb of Niterói. I haven’t been there, and I always like to get a good geographic feel for a location. So I looked it up on Google Earth, studied the angles, and looked at as many photographs as I could find.

A great place to start any research project is Wikipedia. You’ll usually get the popular version of the tale, plus sometimes a few useful references. The story goes that on August 20, 1966, a boy was flying a kite on the hill when he found two dead bodies. Police were summoned and found the two men, Manoel Pereira da Cruz (32) and Miguel José Viana (34), who were electronics repairmen in Campos dos Goytacazes, which is pretty far away, about 200 kilometers to the northeast. 4769584_orig_250pxThey were said to be wearing business suits and raincoats, with a package containing an empty water bottle and two small towels. But the oddest thing of all is that they were wearing lead masks. There was no clue what the lead masks were, or what the cause of death might have been.

The men are believed to have had enough cash on them to buy a cheap used car, around 3,000,000 cruzeiros, which is hard to convert because the inflation rate was staggeringly high in 1966. They took a bus to Rio. On their bodies were receipts for the raincoats they were wearing (since it was raining that day), and a receipt for a bottle of water, needed to return the bottle later to get their deposit back. However, most of the money was unaccounted for, as they had only a small amount left on them. When police questioned the clerk who sold them the water, she said they seemed agitated and concerned about the time, and that it was getting dark and starting to rain. They hitched a ride up the hill with two unidentified men in a Jeep.

And one final touch: they were found with a small notebook. On one page was a list of electronics part numbers, presumably pertaining to their repair business. Some authors have interpreted these as encrypted codes with a special meaning. Normally I’d follow that up to make sure, but (1) I didn’t see a photograph of their part numbers; (2) the time needed to research Brazilian electronics parts numbers from 1966 was probably past the point of diminishing returns; and (3) one contemporary author said he’d already done it with a couple of the codes and found them to be legit. So I decided to let that slide. Unfortunately, I almost always have to leave certain threads like this unfollowed, due to time constraints.

On the other paper of interest was written the following:

16:30 estar no local determinado.
18:30 ingerir cápsulas, após efeito proteger metais aguardar sinal máscara

which is unusual grammar, and translates in English to:

4:30 PM be at the determined place.
6:30 PM swallow capsules, after effect protect metals wait for mask signal

8535983_orig_600px

This clue seems to be as close as the police ever got to finding a motive or a cause of death. No capsules were found, and if the men had taken any capsules (possibly poisonous), then we never learned the reason or what they were. According to all the reports I could find, toxicology tests were never done on the bodies, and the reason given was that the coroner was too busy. So what about these lead masks?

MORE – – –


The Moving Coffins of Barbados

chasevault_600px

An old tale tells of coffins that jumbled themselves up in a crypt in Barbados.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read podcast transcript below or listen here

It was 1812 when wealthy landowner Colonel Thomas Chase died by his own hand on the island of Barbados in the Lesser Antilles. He was not a well loved man, and was known for excessive cruelty to his slaves and his bad temper. His body was borne to the family vault he’d purchased some twelve years before, which already contained the remains of two of his daughters. The great marble slab covering the stairs down into the vault was moved aside, and eight strong men bore the heavy, lead lined coffin into its resting place. But a horrifying surprise awaited the burial party. Sometime within the preceding month, the coffins in the vault had all been moved, and were found scattered helter-skelter about the small stone-walled crypt. So goes the story of the moving coffins of Barbados.

The story goes on to say that on four other occasions, from 1816 through 1820, the Chase Vault was opened and again the coffins had all been moved around. Each time they were carefully replaced, the vault was sealed, and not once was any evidence of tampering found.

[ . . . ]

The Chase Vault

The Chase Vault

… the Chase Vault’s first known occupant, Thomasina Goddard, was buried in 1807. She was left in place when Thomas Chase purchased it, at the death of his daughter Mary Ann Maria Chase in 1808. Sadly he had to bury a second daughter, Dorcas Chase, in 1812. It was only a month later that he died himself, and it was this opening of the vault that first revealed the apparent vandalism.

The infant Samuel Brewster Ames was buried there in 1816, and once again, the coffins had been scrambled. Thomas Chase’s coffin was said to be leaning head-down against the wall. The coffins were properly stacked and the vault was closed again, but two months later when the adult Samuel Brewster was laid to rest, it was again found in disarray. When the Chase Vault accepted its final occupant, Thomasina Clark, in 1819, it was again found disturbed. This time, officials took notice. The vault was inspected and found to be solid with no secret passages or other access. A plan was made to later open the vault to check for integrity. Sand was raked smooth on the floor to capture any footprints. The marble slab covering the stairs was cemented in place, and several government officials — including the governor Lord Combermere — were said to have placed their official seals in the cement.

In 1820 the vault was duly opened. All was undisturbed including the sand and the seals, except the coffins, which were — as before — irreverently scattered and tumbled atop one another. The coffins were all removed and buried separately, and the vault was left open and unsealed, where it remains to this day.

The story looks pretty solid. The vault is there, and the death records are on file. The only thing that’s missing is any evidence that anyone was placed in the vault — ever.

So where does the story come from?

MORE – – –

6 Problems with Wind Turbine Syndrome

Some believe that wind turbines are sickening people. Might there be anything to this?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via Skeptoid: Critical Analysis Podcast. Read podcast transcript below or listen here.

Today we’re going to take a look into the high-powered world of wind generated electricity, and of one of its alleged side-effects: Wind Turbine Syndrome. For the past few years, a growing number of activists have charged that proximity to a wind turbine causes detrimental medical effects in humans. It’s called Wind Turbine Syndrome, and depending on who you ask, it causes everything from fatigue to cancer. Is it possible that such a relatively simple and common machine could be sickening people?

Wind power stationsFor a long time, these giant modern windmills, usually clustered in wind farms, were known only to be ugly and annoying, as well as visually distracting. Other than being audible, mainly from the industrial roar of an air conditioning unit attached to the larger ones, they are not known to have any other environmental effects.

I wanted to hear what they sound like, so I went out to some nearby, some really huge 3-bladed ones that are pretty typical. I found that the air conditioners, which appear to be the same size and type as my own at my house, were the only audible noise. However, when you stand almost directly under the blades, you can hear a faint whoosh as each blade goes by. Here is a recording I made by pointing my phone up at the blades:

Note that it’s really hard to hear anything other than the hum from the air conditioners. Here’s another I found online:

And here’s one more, said to be from a smaller wind turbine on a really windy day, note how you can hear the blades better:

Wind! Turbine!! Syndrome!!!

Wind! Turbine!! Syndrome!!!

Things changed in 2009, when a New York pediatrician, Dr. Nina Pierpont, self-published a pamphlet she called Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment. Her “natural experiment” was to speak on the telephone with 23 people who answered her advertisement asking if they lived near a wind turbine and if they ever felt sick. 15 of them of them said they had family members who would probably agree. Based on these 38 personal assessments, Pierpont claimed science proved her belief that wind turbines cause a vast array of maladies.

A number of activists, including a handful of other doctors, have joined her crusade, convinced that wind turbines are causing a huge number of physical ailments that we all previously took for granted. Unfortunately, she has failed to win any significant support from the science or medicine communities. Let’s now look at six reasons why that’s the case:

Problem #1: There is no consensus on what it does or who it affects.

The first thing you’ll notice if you do any independent research on Wind Turbine Syndrome is how non-specific it is. Do pay attention to the fact that every article lists different causes and different effects. Is it sound, light, radio frequency, electromagnetism? Does it cause headaches, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, dizziness, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis?

Wind Turbine Syndrome causes everything

Wind Turbine Syndrome causes everything

Just about everyone who’s written about Wind Turbine Syndrome has a different idea about what it is and what it does. This fact doesn’t prove anything, but it should serve as a radiantly waving red flag to warn you that the subject might be something upon which there’s little agreement. And, on matters of sound science, there’s generally at least a standard model of some kind. So while this doesn’t prove anything, it should give any responsible researcher cause to reconsider.

Problem #2: The symptoms attributed to Wind Turbine Syndrome do not require any cause.

The complaints boil down to a few basic symptoms that are most often reported: fatigue, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, dizziness, irritability. These are among what we call “symptoms of life” — things that happen to everyone very often, none of which require a specific cause. We all feel fatigued sometimes, we all get headaches, everyone’s got anxiety about something, and we all sometimes have trouble sleeping. In other words, the symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome are indistinguishable from normal, healthy responses to life.

I searched and searched, and have found exactly zero blinded studies done to see if the proximity of active wind turbines produces a physiological reaction that deviates from the norm. So at this point, there is no reliable evidence that the problem exists at all. There are any number of personal stories — Nina Pierpont relates dozens on her web site — but without any controlled study, her reports of those people’s personal beliefs tell us nothing.

Problem #3: The timing of complaints is too unlikely.

If wind turbines did cause medical problems, we would expect to find a relationship between when they are installed and when people begin experiencing symptoms. But we don’t.

Nina Pierpont’s Wind Turbine Syndrome web site tells us that symptoms come on as early as ten minutes after getting close to a turbine. The first complaints, though, began not within minutes or days, but more than ten years after people began to be exposed.

MORE – – –

The Queen Mary Is Not Haunted (But I Understand Why You Think She Is)

By John Champion via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

The RMS Queen Mary, a ship of enormous historical import, has been transformed into a roadside attraction whose owners profit off the allure of “ghosts.” Her glorious factual history has been brushed aside in a bid to pander to eager ghost-hunting tourists who aren’t thinking critically about the claims.


“For me, it is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

—Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World

I’ve had a fascination with classic ocean liners for most of my life. In particular, I have had a sincere awe for the RMS Queen Mary (QM) since I first stayed on board in the early 1980s—well after her retirement in 1967 and subsequent conversion into a hotel. She is a thing of beauty—a near-perfect expression of the industrial design aesthetics of the era (conceived in 1929, launched in 1934, maiden voyage in 1936). To say that we don’t make them like we used to is an insulting understatement.

Queen Mary ship swimming pool in the 1930s, “ground zero” for supposed paranormal activity. (Mirrorpix/Newscom)

Queen Mary ship swimming pool in the 1930s, “ground zero” for supposed paranormal activity. (Mirrorpix/Newscom)

Anytime in the last few years that I have even mentioned the Queen Mary, the immediate reaction from people within earshot is, “Ooh! I’ve heard that she’s really haunted!” My first reaction is a kind of amusement: how could one even tell the difference between something being really haunted as opposed to fakely haunted? My next reaction is usually a sigh of, “Here we go again,” and my final reaction more recently has been a kind of offense taken on behalf of the ship. I suppose that since an entire generation has passed since the Queen Mary was in service, the popular understanding of her has morphed into something a little weird and otherworldly rather than something that was a practical means of (elegant) travel. I write this article to express my own dismay but also to try to piece together why the QM has this persistent aura as the “haunted ship” and to make a plea to emphasize the real history of the ship as part of her future.

What Is a Haunting?

haunted queenmary_300pxI suppose the first thing to do is to make a concise case for the problem of claiming that anything is “haunted.” No, I do not believe in ghosts, and at the same time a truly skeptical position must concede that this is not an outright rejection of the possibility that ghosts might exist, only that they haven’t been discovered yet. The problem is that there is no agreement among ghost believers as to what they actually are. If I had to aggregate just from popular ghost-hunting stories, I could paint a picture that ghosts are: sound-producing, light-producing, simultaneously corporeal and noncorporeal representations of “energy” (Electric? Chemical? Nuclear? Magnetic?) that can manipulate elec­tronic devices, temperature, and phys­ical bodies—except for when they don’t. There are so many definitions and assumed qualities of ghosts that it is impossible to come up with a working definition. In science, I would call that a “hypothesis.” Once there is a hypothesis or a working model explaining the properties of ghosts, then one could go about controlled experimentation. No one is at that stage though—be­cause, again, ghosts have no known properties. So, no, the things that are claimed as “evidence” of ghosts (orbs in photos, mysterious sounds on a tape, a creaky door) can’t hold up as scientific evidence until a working hypothesis is established.

Furthermore, of course, anecdotes are not evidence. An anecdote is a personal story of a personal experience. It’s not a reliable way to make a judgment about the validity of a claim. Our minds are subject to bias, misunderstanding, mis­interpretation, and conflation. The more anecdotes that accumulate don’t lead to the credence that the claim is true; it’s simply more “noise.” Personal experience is usually the absolute worst way to make a judgment about the veracity of any claim.

So that’s a little taste of why I don’t buy it when people make the “ghost” claim, but there are far better sources to brush up on your scientific understanding, such as Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things, and 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True by Guy P. Harrison. While you’re at it, check out Brian Dunning’s excellent (and short!) dismantling of ghost claims in “Do Ghosts Exist?” on his blog at www.skepticblog.org/2012/08/30/do-ghosts-exist. There’s much more that can be said here, but I want to get back to the Queen Mary.

History

haunted_places_queen_mary_250pxThe Queen Mary was one of the crowning achievements of the art and industry of shipbuilding. She was created and sailed in an era after the Edwardian opulence of ships like the Titanic and Lusitania and just before the jet age had arrived. She’s a blend of old hand-craftsmanship with the speed and technology of modern industrial achievement. To put it in twenty-first-century terms, she was a marvel of art and design in the way that the space shuttle amazed onlookers thirty years ago or the 787 Dreamliner and Airbus 380 do today. She held the speed record for crossing the Atlantic for nearly two decades and carried more troops at a single time than any other vessel during World War II.

After an exceptional service history (and with the speed and economy of air travel relegating ocean travel to vacation cruising), the QM was set for retirement in Long Beach as a hotel/conference center/tourist attraction. Since 1967, tourists have visited her in dry dock and gotten a small taste of what travel was like when the “Queens” ruled the seas.

The infamous Watertight Door No. 13. where 18-year-old John Pedder was crushed to death. Photo: flickr

The infamous Watertight Door No. 13. where 18-year-old John Pedder was crushed to death.
Photo: flickr

Retirement, sadly, would be anything but peaceful. As soon as she pulled into port for the last time, the Queen Mary was subjected to numerous “renovations” and conversions that would forever mar her interior. Entire sections have been gutted, rooms and artifacts lost to history, artwork destroyed, and other blunders of huge proportion. The ship’s operations and ownership have changed hands numerous times in the years since, and she has struggled economically. In many respects, the experience has been “dumbed down” with subpar restaurants (with some notable exceptions), chintzy events, and history taking a backseat to exploitative tours—the most prominent and most egregious of which is the “ghost” tour.

In the early 2000s, the “Ghosts and Legends Tour” was installed. It makes use of some very interesting (and otherwise off limits) spaces of the ship. Fantastical tales of the paranormal are woven into the ship’s actual history and presented with a theatrical flair and some low-rent special effects. Tourists see the magnificent first-class pool area but not in any state resembling its days at sea. This version is fading, cracking and filled with fog. The real-life accident with the Curacao—in which 239 sailors perished—is played out for maudlin drama in a former mail hold that plays the part of the “bow.”

The Problem with the ‘Haunting’

On any night at the Queen Mary, groups of tourists who are interested can also take a guided tour from a “paranormal” expert guide. They bump around wav­ing electronics of dubious utility in the air hoping for some “evidence” of an apparition. They can explore otherwise off limits sections of the ship and really take their time exploring while asking each other, “Did you hear something?”

MORE – – –

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 799 other followers

%d bloggers like this: