Van Gogh “Murdered”—Again

November 25, 2014

The two writers whose notion of Vincent van Gogh’s “murder” helped promote their new biography of him (Naifeh and Smith 2011) have dug in their heels despite much intelligent criticism, notably from scholars at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (Tilborgh and Meedendorp 2013). Now the biographers are back, supposedly vindicated by a forensic expert, pathologist Vincent DiMaio (Naifeh and Smith 2014).

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Honey Island Swamp Monster Film: A Patterson Knockoff

November 06, 2014

Louisiana Honey Island Swamp Monster fakery continues to sell, while sometimes common-sense skepticism on the subject has all the currency of—well, a wooden nickel. This was brought home to me personally when I was asked by a production company to look into the latest alleged exploits of the ever-elusive creature. Unfortunately, after I enlisted the aid of Tom Flynn—CFI’s resident photograph, film, and video expert—the producers left us in the lurch. It’s pretty obvious why: the evidence—a brief Super-8 film of the Swampster—is so bad that any critical analysis would leave one asking why the show would be made at all.

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Haunting Hokum

October 30, 2014

Walk into a large bookstore and note the signs for different genres: True Crime, Photography, Nature, the Occult. . . . Threatening to take over the latter is a sub-group that is proliferating so rapidly I think it deserves its own genre: Haunting Hokum.

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“Are We Alone?” Speaking at the Trottier Symposium

October 27, 2014

In early October I spent a few days in enchanting Montreal, on two of which (the 6th and 7th) I participated in the annual event, The Loren Trottier Public Science Symposium at McGill University. (Dr. Trottier—an engineer, co-founder of the famous graphics and imaging group Matrox, and recipient of many prestigious honors and awards—makes this event possible by his vision and generosity.) The Symposium moderator was McGill’s indefatigable Joe Schwarcz, Director of the Office of Science & Society and a well-known author, skeptic, and CSI Fellow. This year’s theme was “Are We Alone? (The symposium was recorded and posted online.)

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“Ghosts of the Queen Mary”: A Nickell-iferous Review

October 23, 2014

Published September 16, 2014—in time for pre-Halloween promotion—is the book Ghosts of the Queen Mary, by Brian Clune with Bob Davis, hosts of a radio show called Planet Paranormal Presents, and with an introduction by Christopher Fleming, former co-host of a TV show called Dead Famous which involved the late “psychic” Peter James. James, we are told, incessantly roamed the historic RMS Queen Mary, docked at Long Beach, California, and was “responsible for discovering the many ghosts that inhabit the ship” (p. 139)—“at least six hundred spirits” by James’ count (66). That’s a lot of ghosts, but before one contacts the Guinness World Records folk, we should point out that the book provides no scientific evidence of existing spirits of the dead. Science, in fact, has never authenticated a single ghost.

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“Bracketing” for Historical Detectives

October 08, 2014

For my collection of dictionaries (which also includes various related volumes such as antique spellers and other wordbooks), I recently purchased a little primer (about 3 x 4 12’’ tall) bearing no publication date. I usually pass over undated works because their use in literary investigation is therefore limited.

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“Magic in the Moonlight”: A Nickell-odeon Review

September 26, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight is the story of a skeptical—even pompously cynical—1920s magician and his attempt to expose a séance medium whose powers appear to defy exposure.

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Dillinger’s Ghost

Poem: Dillinger's Ghost

September 22, 2014


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RIDDLEculous V

September 08, 2014

More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

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“Incorruptible” Corpse of St. Cecilia

August 28, 2014

Reputedly, Cecilia (or Cecily) was a member of a noble Roman family who—having been forced into marriage—persuaded her new husband, Valerian, to respect her holy vow of virginity. Legends say he was himself converted to Christianity by a vision of his wife’s guardian angel. Cecilia is regarded as the patroness of music and musicians, and is represented as such in many paintings, including one by Raphael (1843–1520). The designation came about because, it was said, while organs played at her wedding, “she sang in her heart” to Christ (Coulson 1958, 107, 114). She is commonly depicted playing a flute, harp, or other instrument, especially an organ (see accompanying picture postcard, ca. 1915, author’s collection).

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