Blog Archives for August 2013

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”—A Nickell-odeon Review

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
August 29, 2013

Lee Daniels’ The Butler, though awkwardly titled, is a first-rate movie that tells the story of one of the greatest achievements of American history, the Civil Rights Movement. It is seen through the eyes of a White House butler, whose service extended through eight presidents, from Eisenhower to Reagan.

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Update: India’s “Human Torch” Baby

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
August 26, 2013

To recap: News reports (e.g., Times of India, August 13, 2013) told of an infant from rural India who had suffered four instances of what some believed was “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC—a phenomenon not accepted by science, although believed by a few crank scientists).


“Human Torch” Baby: SHC or Abuse?

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
August 15, 2013

According to news reports (e.g.,, August 13, 2013), a baby boy from a village in Tamil Nadu, India, “caught fire” on four occasions. Since so many incidents were unlikely to be accidents, some persons were suggesting the case might be one of “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC). I received a request to “please help this child” from a young Indian man (who sent me the link to the story) and also a request for an interview by a reporter from, Dustin Seibert. I told the latter I was concerned about the child’s safety—though not from SHC. (Interview online at; August 14, 2013.)


Dr. Porter and His Healing Oil

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
August 12, 2013

In doing some research (for my “Historical Sketches” column in my hometown newspaper) I unexpectedly came across a mid-1920s photo showing small tin signs for “Dr. Porter’s Healing Oil” affixed to the front of a store warehouse. I wondered: just who was Dr. Porter, and what was the story behind his medicinal product?

Firewalker Willey Cartooned!

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
August 01, 2013

Skepticism’s great friend, David Willey—who became famous as the “Mad Scientist” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno—has been featured in the nationally syndicated comic strip, Jump Start, drawn by Robb Armstrong.