Episode #62

News Items

    Interview with Joe Nickell

    • Joe Nickell, Ph. D. is a PI – Paranormal Investigator. He is the author of ‘Investigative Files’ column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, a Senior Research Fellow, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and Associate Dean, Center for Inquiry Institute.Background: Joe Nickell has worked professionally as a stage magician, private investigator, journalist, document analyzer, and university instructorPublications:Author of over 20 books, including Inquest of the Shroud of Turin, Secrets of the Supernatural, Looking for a Miracle, Missing Pieces, Entities, Psychic Sleuths, Real Life X-files: Investigating the Paranormal, The UFO Invasion, and Secrets of the Sideshows. His latest book is Lake Monster Mysteries (with Benjamin Radford, 2006).Website: www.joenickell.com/

    Lightening Rods

    • From: ‘Ashley Zinyk’ To: podcast Subject: Lightning RodsHi guys (‘guys’ is commonly used to address a mixed-gender group in Canada)I think Randi made a mistake in Episode #61 (around 4min 05sec), with regard to lightning rods. He said that they don’t conduct lightning ‘unless they’re poorly grounded’. I tentatively accepted that, and planned to look up further information later. The more I thought about it, though, the less it made sense. My previous idea of how lightning rods worked was that the current flowed harmlessly through a metal conductor instead of through something that might catch fire or explode. But how could a lightningrod work without conducting the lightning? Previous stories of lightning hitting the Sears Tower, the space shuttle, etc. agreed better with the conventional explanation.I looked this up in the first reference I had handy, the 1977 ‘How it Works’ encyclopedia. Volume 10 supported my notion of how lightning rods work, and had a photograph of lightning striking a rod, which Randi said shouldn’t exist. However, another volume of that encyclopedia says ‘Scientists don’t know how dowsing works, but we know that it does’, so clearly the reference wasn’t rock-solid.However, when I got access to the web, I found a 2004 article in ‘Electricity Today’, and a 2002 article from the American Meteorological Society that support the traditional theory. It seems that there are controversial ‘lightning eliminators’ that their proponents claim can prevent strikes entirely, although electrical engineers and physicists seem to be lined up against them. In any case, we can be sure that conventional lightning rods work by getting hit, instead of letting the lightning hit something else.Maybe Randi was giving us a deliberate test of our credulousness, or our respect for authority. In a recent podcast, Steve took us to task for only listening to podcasts by peo
    • Hi guys and goddess!First off, big fan of the show. I recently discovered it and have worked my way back to the BCER (Before the Common Era of Rebecca). I have been too busy with a major art project to write until now, so here are a couple of things.Just got finished listening to the 29th podcast (I think that is the one) where a mention was made of a Japanese phrase while comparing cultures. The phrase ‘The protruding stake is hammered down’ (‘deru kui wa utareru’) is a commonly known phrase in Japan. I have also heard it as ‘The protruding nail is hammered down’ (‘deru kugi wa utareru’) as was mentioned in the podcast. I think this may be one of the few idioms that was not blatantly ripped off from the Chinese because of the grammar involved is inherently Japanese, separating it from the kinds of idioms that are commonly shared between the languages (usually consisting of four Chinese character compounds).Your podcast has entertained me and helped me to expand my critical thinking skills and for that I thank you. There is one experience that I have had in my life, that I have never been able to outthink no matter how critically I have looked at it, and I wanted to know what the other skeptics would think of it and approach it. First I will tell you of the experience and then I will give you some information on me to add to your analysis if you choose to ponder it.I was a sophomore in college (don’t worry, this is not a roommate-drugged-me-and-got-me-in-the-ass story) and I began my sophomore year in January having sat out at the fall semester for financial reasons. I was attending Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, which is a small private school with a student body of about 550 students or less. Some of my fellow sophomore classmates had mentioned in passing the name of a freshmen girl that apparently had some kind of ESP related to astrology (a double-whammy of magic crap!). One day I met her at the local Quicktrip (a midwestern convenience store) and I decided to test her out. I had never spoken to her before, but I recognized her due to the size of the school and the fact that we had seen each other in the cafeteria almost every day. I clearly remember walking up to her (henceforth I will call her..Jane) and our first conversation went something like this:Me:Hi, howsit going?Jane: Fine, how are you?Me: Good. Nice eyebrows (she had dyed them a bright, unnatural yellow).Jane:Thanks.Then came the test time so I sprung the magic question.Me: So, what is my sign?Without hesitation, and true to school legend she immediately spit out:Jane:Virgo.Needless to say I was impressed, and as I said ‘Wow’ and turned to walk away she blurted outJane: September 10th.THAT was the real shocker right there. On our first conversation and with limited exposure to my personality or any kind of real interaction with me Jane was able to deduce not only my astrological sign, but also my exact birthday. This was the rumor that other students had reported to me as a true quirk of her character.Now, here is some info on me and my question follows. I abhor most talk of ‘god’ and the rules that are laid down by the ‘godly’. I am a non believer in any faith, and I consider myself an ‘Apathetic Agnostic’, my motto being ‘Don’t know, can’t know, don’t care’. While I am a fan of science fiction, and while I think it could be COOL to find real evidence of the loch ness monster, aliens visiting us and Bigfoot (aside from the documentary by the Henderson family), the supernatural has never been something that I have believed in. I have also never once had my mind altered by anything other than medical drugs (headache medicine, prescriptions for sickness etc.), meaning I have never been drunk or high and I indeed have never even drank or smoked (other than second hand) or injected anything for pleasure. To me this absence of chemical alteration should mean that my memories are as pristine as humanly possible, but listening to some of your older BCER episodes I heard the discussion about the malleability of memory and how easily things could be altered in the mind by circumstance so that has made me raise new doubts about that experience or at least how I remember it.Here is my question: How would you all react to this experience?This is not a metaphor for anything, it is an experience that I actually had and is as clear as any other memory that I have ever had (so far as that goes). I have tried to outthink this experience on occasion over the years (surely she had not memorized all 500+ student’s birthdays with a school database somehow), and had to conclude that although I do not believe any kind of fortune telling crap, divine intervention crap, or horoscope crap in the newspaper (expect of course for the horrorscopes found in The Onion – and we all know that those are 100% testably accurate), I have been forced by this one experience to respect that there is SOME kind of truth to this ‘science’ of astrology. It feels wrong to type that, but that is my conclusion. Granted to say I don’t really care, and I am not interested in studying it, but this experience or trick has befuddled a respect into me for this otherwise quaint and harmless man-made interpretation of our heavens.How would you approach this experience had it happened to you?I could write on about this for a few more pages I think, but I have some things to get done. Let me know what you think and contact me with any questions. I have no special medical or research background, but if you were interested in giving me an inquisition to stretch some more information out of me, I would be up for it if we could work out a time.Thanks for the podcast and keep up the good work, Erich Meatleg Amerikan living in Japan

    Science or Fiction

    • Item #1 Science

      A newly published study shows that high levels of testosterone kills brain cells.

    • Item #2 Fiction

      A newly published review of prior research shows that the most effective method for getting people to adopt healthful behavior, such as quitting smoking, it to use both fear and shame.

    • Item #3 Science

      Researchers have discovered that tarantulas can produce silk from their feet.

    Skeptical Quote of the Week.