Recent Entries in Skeptic

Status: False (I love this legend, btw)

Carrots have long been touted for their efficacy in improving eyesight, and generations of kids have been admonished to not leave them on their plates lest they end up needing glasses. But are carrots the sight-boosters popular wisdom asserts them to be? And if not, where did this belief begin?

While carrots are a good source of vitamin A (which is important for healthy eyesight, skin, growth, and resisting infection), eating them won't improve vision. The purported link between carrots and markedly acute vision is a matter of lore, not of science. And it's lore of the deliberately manufactured type.

In World War II, Britain's air ministry spread the word that a diet of these vegetables helped pilots see Nazi bombers attacking at night. That was a lie intended to cover the real matter of what was underpinning the Royal Air Force's successes: Airborne Interception Radar, also known as AI. The secret new system pinpointed some enemy bombers before they reached the English Channel. Urban Legends Reference Pages: Food (Carrots)

Wales is arguably the most haunted country in the world, say Richard Holland, the author of a new book called Haunted Wales. We asked him to pick his 10 favourite ghost stories from across the country, which he relates here, in no particular order...

icWales - The 10 best ghost stories in Wales

The latest struggle over the teaching of evolution in the public schools of Kansas provides striking evidence that evolution is occurring right before our eyes. Every time the critics of Darwinism lose a battle over reshaping the teaching of biology, they evolve into a new form, armed with arguments that sound progressively more benign, while remaining as dangerous as ever. ...

The state science standards in Kansas are up for revision this year, and a committee of scientists and educators has proposed standards that enshrine evolution as a central concept of modern biology. The ruckus comes about because a committee minority, led by intelligent-design proponents, has issued its own proposals calling for more emphasis on the limitations of evolution theory and the evidence supposedly contradicting it. The minority even seeks to change the definition of science in a way that appears to leave room for supernatural explanations of the origin and evolution of life, not just natural explanations, the usual domain of science.

The fact that all this is wildly inappropriate for a public school curriculum does not in any way suggest that teachers are being forced to take sides against those who feel that the evolution of humanity, in one way or another, was the work of an all-powerful deity. Many empirical scientists believe just that, but also understand that theories about how God interacts with the world are beyond the scope of their discipline. -- The Evolution of Creationism

Mohammed Juma starts to sweat and fidget as he recalls his rape by Popo Bawa, the most feared spirit-monster of the Zanzibar spice islands.

"We believe reading the Koran is our only defence, nothing else," says the 41-year-old driver and father of four. "But Popo Bawa is real, and well prepared."

Holidaymakers on the Indian Ocean islands tend to smile dismissively at accounts in guidebooks of the bat-like ogre said to prey on men, women and children. But for superstitious Zanzibaris a visit from the sodomising gremlin is no joke.

Although no one ever has seen it, belief in the monster and his unnatural lust is so strong that entire villages will sleep out of doors for protection: Popo Bawa (Swahili for Bat's Wing) prefers to attack behind closed doors at night.

Oddly Enough News Article |

  9/11 Conspiracies

Interesting commentary by John Rennie on a skeptic column appearing in the upcoming issue of SciAm:

"But apparently somebody within this community of conspiracy theorists got wind of Shermer's column and put out the word, because for the past couple of weeks we've been getting deluged with e-mails and letters protesting the piece. (Apparently, a far more comprehensive article that appeared a couple of months ago in Popular Mechanics has made these people more sensitive than usual.) The letters are obviously part of a coordinated effort because many of them use exactly the same language, with the same typos."

SciAm Perspectives: A Conspiracy of 9/11 Theorists

Status: True.

One favorite tactic in political debate is to put words in the mouth of a respected elder statesmen to make it appear he presciently anticipated some modern issue or political personality (and, naturally, took a stand that supported the viewpoint of whoever put those words in his mouth). Therefore, given the recent debate over President George W. Bush's efforts to alter the Social Security system, one would expect a fifty-year-old quote from a former President (and fellow Republican) labeling as "stupid" certain "Texas oil millionaires" who want "to abolish social security" to be a similar fabrication.

Save for a few minor details, however, the quote from President Dwight D. Eisenhower cited at the head of this page is in fact an accurate one.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Politics (Social Insecurity)

When Ashley Ocampo booked a flight for a conference this weekend in Tampa, she opted to leave today instead of Friday.

Ocampo doesn't walk under ladders or open umbrellas inside.

She also doesn't fly on Friday the 13th.

"I'm just a superstitious person," she said. "I don't tempt fate." Ocampo, a 38-year-old training coordinator for a local nonprofit agency, isn't alone. Fear of Friday the 13th is so common it has its own, hard-to-pronounce name: friggatriskaidekaphobia. Some people won't work on Friday the 13th. Others won't travel. Lots of tall buildings don't have buttons for the 13th floor in their elevators, including Highpoint Center on College Avenue.

The phobia is actually a sort of psychological collision of fears surrounding both Fridays and the number 13, which have been traced to pre-biblical times and cultures around the world, according to Bruce Bickley, professor emeritus at Florida State University. "And because we're a nation of immigrants, we brought those superstitions to our world," he said.

Tallahassee Democrat | 05/12/2005 | Friday the 13th awakens age-old superstitions

David Bellamy's inaccurate and selective figures on glacier shrinkage are a boon to climate change deniers.

For the past three weeks, a set of figures has been working a hole in my mind. On April 16, New Scientist published a letter from the famous botanist David Bellamy. Many of the world's glaciers, he claimed, "are not shrinking but in fact are growing ... 555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980". His letter was instantly taken up by climate change deniers. And it began to worry me. What if Bellamy was right?

Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | Junk science

  The beast of Lytham

Some say it looks like the Hound of the Baskervilles, others mention the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote.

But this, apparently, is the beast that has brought terror to an upmarket town and caused anxious residents to look over their shoulders at night.

Cynics claim it is the product of fertile imaginations - or one or two gin and tonics too many.

the Mail online | Mail - news, sport, showbiz, health and more | The beast of Lytham

SCOTLAND'S only squad of ghostbusters have notched up their first success after scaring away spectres that were terrorising a young family.

The 11-strong squad of paranormal investigators answered the distressed plea from a mum and child who were frightened by voices and moving objects at their home in Paisley.

The team - including psychic medium Scott Williams - used motion sensors and infra-red cameras to find out what was going bump in the night.

dailyrecord - PSYCHIC 1 SPOOKS 0

  Theoretically . . .

Our students here in Cobb County, Georgia, are being told by the school board to think critically, in fact told that scientific material should be approached "with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." And this has irritated and worried some of us-parents like Jeff Selman, supporters of evolution, members of the ACLU, advocates of church-state separation, etc.-so much that a lawsuit was filed, demanding that this outrage be stopped. U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper ruled that the outrage should be stopped. His ruling demonstrated what the Cobb County School Board called "unnecessary judicial intrusion into local control of schools"-judicial activism run amok, according to full page ads in the local paper. The school board has voted to appeal the judge's decision. Local newspaper columnists and writers of letters to the editor have made it abundantly clear that the ACLU and those of us who support the case are anti-freedom, anti-science, anti-religion, socialists, and atheist devils to boot.

All of this started as far back as the mid-to-late 1800s, when science and Darwin conflicted directly with cherished religious views of fundamentalist Christians, especially in the southern United States. The more recent beginning of the brouhaha was in 2002, when the Cobb school board bowed partway to pressure from local fundamentalist activists and voted to paste a sticker into the front of certain specific science textbooks. The approved sticker did not say "Evolution should rightly be called 'Evil-ution' and is a communist plot." It didn't even say "Intelligent Design deserves careful consideration as a really swell alternative to Evolution." What it did say seems at first glance remarkably innocuous and commonsensical. It ended with the language quoted above; it started with "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things." The board-and the creationists who pressured them-no doubt thought, "Now who could argue with that?" No mention of religion or God. No attack on science. Just a bit of harmless pandering to the creationists.

Theoretically . . . (Skeptical Briefs March 2005)

Many people in Russia and the United Kingdom believe a teenage girl can identify diseases in patients better than their physicians. Investigators who tested the medical psychic for a Discovery Channel program don't agree.
Andrew A. Skolnick

One hundred ten years ago, German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen announced the discovery of an invisible form of radiation that could make photographs of bones and organs inside a living human body. At first, many scientists called the discovery of mysterious "X-rays" a hoax, but when the skeptics put Roentgen's claims to the test, they were quickly convinced about one of the greatest discoveries in science and medicine. Indeed, just six years after his discovery, Roentgen was awarded the first Nobel Prize in physics.

Now comes a teenage girl from Saransk, Russia, who claims to have X-ray-like vision that lets her see inside hum- an bodies. And she uses this vision to make medical diagnoses that, she claims, are often more accurate than those of doctors. Widely hailed in Russia as "the girl with X-ray eyes," seventeen-year-old Natasha Demkina has a growing number of patients, doctors, journalists, and others who are convinced her powers are real. [1,2] That following is proving lucrative for Natasha and her family. The young psychic reportedly charged about $13 per reading and provided about ten readings each weekday night. That income, about $2,600 a month, is more than forty times the average monthly income of government workers in Saransk.

Natasha Demkina - The Girl with Normal Eyes

  Testing Natasha

Can a seventeen-year-old girl truly "see" inside a person's body? Ray Hyman and colleagues conducted tests to search for the truth inside The Girl with X-Ray Eyes.
Ray Hyman

Our assignment might seem straightforward. A seventeen-year-old Russian girl, Natasha Demkina, says she can look at people and "see" the status of their internal organs. The Discovery Channel asked Richard Wiseman, Andrew Skolnick, and me to test her claim for their television program, The Girl with X-ray Eyes. You might think that testing Natasha's claims would be routine. The test of a psychic claim, however, is rarely cut-and-dried. Most such claims do have much in common. Each also offers unique challenges. We had to conduct the test of Natasha's claim to fit the constraints of a television program. We had only a month to devise a protocol that would be acceptable to all parties. After everyone agreed to the procedure, we had less than a week to locate a testing site in New York City and to find seven willing and suitable test subjects.

Testing Natasha

Since film footage of what is said to be a Bigfoot was first reported on April 19,05, skeptics and believers alike have been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to view the video.

After two weeks of speculation on the video`s validity, those interested will finally be able to judge for themselves. A spokesperson for the syndicated show A Current Affair, has confirmed that they have purchased rights to broadcast the Bigfoot video filmed in Norway House, Manitoba, on two occasions. The first broadcast is set for tomorrow, May 4,05, the second will be a repeat of the same episode. Fox's A Current Affair

The Canadian sasquatch story -- complete with video of a massive, hairy beast -- will air tomorrow night on A Current Affair, the granddaddy of American tabloid television, the Fox network said.

However, since the program broadcasts only in the United States, Canadians without special cable service or satellite who are interested in catching a glimpse of the video that grabbed headlines around the world will have to be content with watching a snippet of Northern Manitoba's supposed sasquatch on the Internet ( ).
The network said yesterday that its bigfoot segment will be posted on its website for international viewers on Thursday.

The Globe and Mail: Bigfoot video makes big dollars in U.S.

Status: False.

Despite its April 1 date, and its non-appearance on a real news site, a spoof article about an outbreak of "zombism" spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes in Cambodia so successfully imitated the style of the BBC's web site that it continues to be circulated by readers wondering about its authenticity. (The page's HTML code reveals that it was creating by modifying a real BBC article about Syrian troops withdrawing from Lebanon, which is why most of the ancillary links in the spoof page's sidebar refer to Syria and Lebanon even though the 'Zombies' article mentions neither of those countries.)

The article is just an April Fools' joke, and the picture of the "canine sacrificed by locals to ward off evil spirits" is a cropped version of an art exhibit photograph created years before the 1 April 2005 date of the putative "zombie" news story.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Humor (Let It Zombie)

Status: False.

The rather gruesome photograph displayed above has been circulating on the Internet (without explanation of its origins) since 2003, leading many to speculate about just what it depicts. Guesses include the head of a chupacabra (the mythological "goat sucker"), a dessicated canine head, and a Halloween mask.

This image is actually a work produced by video artist Charlie White and entitled Highland Park, one of a series of nine photographs which comprise his "In a Matter of Days" exhibit. The theme of the series was capturing images of monsters (created by Jordu Schell, a designer of film and television characters) in a variety of "accidental" encounters around Los Angeles.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Photo Gallery (Chupacabra)

Photograph shows headstone marking the grave of lawyer Johnnie Cochran.

Status: False.

The image is, of course, a fake (Cochran spelled his given name "Johnnie," not "Johnny") produced through a Tombstone Generator web site that allows users to digitally overlay their own inscriptions onto a picture of a tombstone.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Photo Gallery (Grave Statement)

Images are purportedly photographs of a sandstorm in Al Asad, Iraq, taken on 26 April 2005.

Status: True, apparently

We do not yet know the specific origins of these pictures, but the contextual information accompanying them does correspond to a real event, and they match other photos of the same phenomenon: a dust storm which struck Al Asad in the western desert of Iraq on 26 April 2005.


Urban Legends Reference Pages: Photo Gallery (Sandstorm)

Hundreds of people have now streamed through a home in northern Manitoba to view a 2-minute 49-second video that has folks believing: Bigfoot lives.

Missy Flett, a self-described cynic, said she was stunned by the image of a massive hair-covered creature walking upright calf-deep in water along a shore of the Nelson River, about 500 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

The Globe and Mail: Footage shot in Manitoba shows Bigfoot, viewers say

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