Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Psychic Detectives Allow Murderer to Escape Death Penalty

Posted in LiveScience by Skepdude on September 21, 2009

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT LIVESCIENCE

Last month I pointed out how a self-proclaimed psychic detective failed to help find a young girl,Jaycee Dugard, who had been abducted and held captive for nearly 20 years. In addition to Dugard, Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart — and, well, every other missing person — psychic information failed to recover Brooke Wilberger, a university student missing since May 24, 2004. Police said they received more than 500 tips from psychics about Wilberger’s location, though she has only now been found.

According to ABC News, “Five years after Brigham Young University student Brooke Wilberger vanished from an Oregon apartment complex, her remains have been found. Authorities told The Associated Press today that her suspected killer, Joel Courtney, told police where he’d left Wilberger’s body following her 2004 disappearance. His admission was part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty. It was not immediately clear where the remains were found. The Benton County District Attorney’s office said Monday that Courtney, 42, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The deal allowed Wilberger’s family to finally learn what really happened to their daughter after all these years.”

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT LIVESCIENCE

NY Pastor: God’s Wrath Is Near (Again)

Posted in LiveScience by Skepdude on March 10, 2009

We seem to be having a God theme today, so in keeping with the unofficial theme here’s an article by Benjamin Radford.

According to the founding pastor of New York City’s Times Square Church, David Wilkerson, denizens of the Big Apple should stockpile survival gear and a month’s supply of non-perishable food in preparation for an “earth-shattering calamity” that could happen at any moment. The threat is not from foreign terrorists this time, but instead from God.

Wilkerson, claiming he was prompted by the Holy Spirit, recently wrote in his blog that “An earth-shattering calamity is about to happen… It will engulf the whole megaplex, including areas of New Jersey and Connecticut. Major cities all across America will experience riots and blazing fires… There will be looting — including Times Square, New York City.” (Only a Manhattanite would assume that God’s destruction of the world would begin with New York City).

“What we are experiencing now is not a recession, not even a depression. We are under God’s wrath,” Wilkerson wrote. “God is judging the raging sins of America and the nations…I do not know when these things will come to pass, but I know it is not far off.” He suggested that those wishing to survive should gather supplies; apparently the wrath of the most powerful being in the universe can be thwarted by extra water, a flashlight, and a case of beans.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “LIVESCIENCE”

The Art of Deception Revealed

Posted in LiveScience by Skepdude on February 13, 2009

The great fake psychics are great improvisationists. This means that a really good pseudo-psychic is able to produce phenomena under almost any circumstance. A quick mind and a good knowledge of the techniques and psychology of deception are all that is needed. Sometimes, only a quick mind is enough.

In one early test of telepathy, in 1882, pseudo-psychic G.A. Smith and his accomplice, Douglas Blackburn, were able to fool researchers of the Society for Psychical Research. In a later confession, Blackburn described how they had to think fast and frequently invent new ways of faking telepathy demonstrations.

Once, for example, Smith had been swathed in blankets to prevent him from signaling Blackburn. Smith had to guess the content of a drawing that Blackburn had secretly made on a cigarette paper. When Smith exclaimed, “I have it,” and projected his right hand from beneath the blanket, Blackburn was ready. He had transferred the cigarette paper to the tube of the brass projector on the pencil he was using, and when Smith asked for a pencil, he gave him his. Under the blanket, Smith had concealed a slate coated with luminous paint, which in the dense darkness gave sufficient light to show the figure on the cigarette paper. Thus he only needed to copy the drawing.

I was lucky enough to learn the art of improvising from one of the greatest “teachers” on the subject, the Amazing Randi. I had met him only a few hours before, nearly twenty years ago, and he was already teaching me how to conduct a perfect swindle!

A puzzle

Randi had come to Italy to help us promote CICAP, the Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and he was expected to be on a talk show in Rome to discuss his work and talk about the Committee. The host, an actress called Marisa Laurito, asked him what he was going to do in front of the cameras, and he said that he planned to duplicate a drawing made by her in secret. She agreed and asked what was needed.

Just some paper and some envelopes,” said Randi.

“Chiara,” said Marisa, addressing her secretary, “please, go and get those things from the office.”

Randi shot a glance at me and said “Massimo, maybe you should accompany her, to see if they are the right size.”

The right size? I did not know what the right size was; I had never seen him perform up close, and I could not imagine what was needed. But, as soon as I was going to open my mouth, Randi smiled and said, “Go, Massimo, please,” pushing me ahead.

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Monsters, Ghosts and Gods: Why We Believe

Posted in LiveScience by Skepdude on August 19, 2008

Monsters are everywhere these days, and belief in them is as strong as ever. What’s harder to believe is why so many people buy into hazy evidence, shady schemes and downright false reports that perpetuate myths that often have just one ultimate truth: They put money in the pockets of their purveyors.

The bottom line, according to several interviews with people who study these things: People want to believe, and most simply can’t help it.

“Many people quite simply just want to believe,” said Brian Cronk, a professor of psychology at Missouri Western State University. “The human brain is always trying to determine why things happen, and when the reason is not clear, we tend to make up some pretty bizarre explanations.”

A related question: Does belief in the paranormal have anything to do with religious belief?

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “LIVESCIENCE”.