Spontaneous Human Combustion

Published by (2009)

On a recent episode of Fringe (a rather mediocre, in my opinion, series on the supernatural), the investigators come across apparent cases of spontaneous human combustion (SHC).  Popular Mechanics decided to write an article about the science behind SHC (it turns out there isn’t any) and luckily contacted me to give them the skinny. You can read the article here.

SHC is a fun pseudoscience in that there is nothing concrete at stake – no health claims, no products, no concerns about squandering limited research funds. It’s purely a scientific question, one highly amenable to skeptical analysis.

In order to understand SHC imagine the following scene: An elderly woman who lives alone is found dead in her apartment. She is the victim of fire; her body is mostly reduced to ash, and only the ends of her arms and legs remain. The ashen outline of her head lies upon the hearth of her fireplace, the iron grill of which has been knocked to the side. There are signs that a fire recently was burning in the fireplace. A brown greasy substance coats the walls and ceiling near the body, but otherwise the room is unharmed.

Now set aside all common sense and reason, and you’ll have a typical case of spontaneous human combustion.

The idea that people can suddenly and spontaneously burst into flames … (keep reading) NeuroLogica Blog » Spontaneous Human Combustion.

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