Nickell’s Skeptickles: Daffynitions A-Z

October 10, 2013

Here are some wacky definitions that skeptics may find amusing. (I am, of course, following the lead of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911, originally published as The Cynic’s Word Book, 1906.)

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A Lesson in “Spin”

October 02, 2013

As we know, political groups put their own “spin” on news stories. Let’s suppose that, while strolling near the White House, President Obama discovered a wallet on the sidewalk and returned it to its owner. Here is how some different sources might report the story.

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Chupacabra, or Déjà Chu?

September 20, 2013

Another (yawn) chupacabra has been reported, this time by a good ol’ boy in rural Leake County, Mississippi.

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Oklahoma Man Didn’t Die of SHC

September 17, 2013

You heard it here early on: The elderly Oklahoman who supposedly died of “Spontaneous Human Combustion” (SHC) on February 18, 2013, did not perish from that nonexistent phenomenon. Now the medical examiner in the case fully agrees, contradicting the earlier speculations of the local sheriff.

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Moral Red Line

September 11, 2013

 

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“Compound Oxygen”: Quackery of Yore

September 04, 2013

When I purchased the blue bottle pictured here, I suspected it was a relatively rare item with an unusual story. I was right on both counts.

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

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

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).

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“Human Torch” Baby: SHC or Abuse?

August 15, 2013

According to news reports (e.g., timesofindia.india-times.com, 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 MSN.com, Dustin Seibert. I told the latter I was concerned about the child’s safety—though not from SHC. (Interview online at news.msn.com/rumors/rumor-baby-suffer-from-spontaneous-combustion; August 14, 2013.)

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Dr. Porter and His Healing Oil

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?

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