Junipero Serra: Pope Francis’ U.S. Saint

October 09, 2015

During his first visit to the United States, Pope Francis I canonized a Spanish Catholic Franciscan friar, Junipero Serra y Ferrer (1713–1784). With only one “miracle” to his credit (though not for the church’s lack of trying!) he became Saint Junipero Serra, but the act provoked anger from many Native Americans and his statue at one mission was vandalized.

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Turin “Shroud” Still a Fake

October 02, 2015

In 2005, Turin Shroud proponent Ray Rogers claimed that earlier carbon-14 tests of the shroud linen—showing it to date from between 1260 and 1390 and to thus be a fake—were invalid because, he hypothesized, the samples must have been taken from a “medieval patch.” Rogers and I had an exchange of arguments in the Skeptical Inquirer. But a new paper by three Italian chemists, in the same journal in which Rogers published, shows who was right.

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Quack Fighter Wallace Sampson

September 23, 2015

Wallace Sampson, who died May 25, 2015, was an oncologist, a professor emeritus at the Stanford University School of Medicine, anti-quackery activist, a colleague, and friend, who once helped me prepare for an undercover role as a dying patient seeking out a bogus cancer cure in Mexico. Please read Harriet Hall’s tribute to Wally—her mentor—in the September/October 2015 Skeptical Inquirer. Had he done nothing more than inspired her—“the Skepdoc”—to follow in his footsteps, he would have left an indelible mark, but he did much, much more.

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Psychic Scams

September 10, 2015

They didn’t foresee their arrests—no surprise there—but some New York City fortunetellers have been revealed as, some frankly admitting that they were nothing more than, scam artists engaging in grand larceny. Here, from a New York Times article by reporter Michael Wilson (reprinted in The Buffalo News, August 29, 2015), are some of their stories.

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August 31, 2015

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

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Those Haunted Rocking Chairs

August 14, 2015

Whether the product of imagination or other causes, ghostly phenomena are frequently reported as story elements that folklorists term motifs. Among common examples are the ghost at the bedside, phantom footsteps, a mysteriously moving door, an inexplicable light in a window, and so on (as I explain in my 1995 book Entities (pp. 44–53).

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“Mr. Holmes”: A Nickell-odeon Review

July 29, 2015

As Sherlockians know, one of the great detective’s earliest (pre-Watson) stories (“The Musgrave Ritual”) was set in Sussex, as were some later tales penned by his faithful sidekick (“The Sussex Vampire” for example). And in 1903 Holmes retired to Sussex Downs to enjoy life as a beekeeper, although mystery intervened: In “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane,” Holmes must solve a case of strange horror, but he does so, not with his deductive genius but by his powerful memory (recalling a book he once read).

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My Latest: “American Hauntings”

July 15, 2015

Co-authored by Robert E. Bartholomew, a world expert on panics and hysterias, is our American Hauntings: The True Stories behind Hollywood’s Scariest Movies—from The Exorcist to The Conjuring.

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“It Is Said That . . .”

July 13, 2015

Yawn. Another ghost book, long on mostly unattributed anecdotes and short on anything resembling evidence.

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June 29, 2015

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

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