Advice to Publicists: Know Your Audience

A publicist who obviously didn't read my site very carefully sent me this e-mail:Subject: wow...website is giving away free psychic readings with a famous psychicThought your audience would be interested in this. The savvy staff from the site, wowOwow.com, is offering a refer-a-friend sweepstakes that's unlike anything else ...wowOwow.com, whose contributors include Whoopi Goldberg, Marlo Thomas and "60 Minutes" Lesley Stahl, is offering four people the chance to win a free psychic … [Read more...]

Run Your Car on Water! (No, Not Really)

The other day, I came across a pseudoscience site so laughably ridiculous I just had to share it:http://www.runyourcaronwater.com/(Warning: Page has sound.)As the URL indicates, the unknown people behind this site are selling a kit which they claim will enable you to turn your car into a "water-burning hybrid" that can use ordinary tap water as a fuel source. I'll go over the mechanics of why this is impossible in a minute, but first, I want to call attention to this curious claim:You … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions X: Crystal Power

To mark the tenth installment of Popular Delusions, I'm turning my attention to one of the most common and enduring superstitions among the New Age set: the belief that naturally occurring crystals have some sort of special power to store, concentrate, or focus vaguely defined "energies".A web search readily brings up hundreds of sites discussing the magical potencies of various crystals, most of which have to do with their supposed healing powers. Here's an entirely typical … [Read more...]

The Harm Psychics Do

Out of Toronto, this jaw-dropping story: Colleen Leduc, a local mother, was accused by school officials of letting her autistic daughter Victoria be sexually abused - based on the word of a psychic! (HT: Boing Boing).Leduc's weird tale began on May 30, when she dropped young Victoria off for class at Terry Fox Elementary and headed in to work, only to receive a frantic phone call from the school telling her it was urgent she come back right away.The frightened mother rushed back to the … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions IX: Numerology

As you can see from this picture, the building where I live has no thirteenth floor:But of course, what this picture depicts is a mathematical impossibility. My building does have a thirteenth floor; it's just that it's mislabeled as the fourteenth floor, with all the floors above it similarly mislabeled by one.This may be a small thing, but every time I step into the elevator, it's a jarring reminder of how superstitious beliefs still permeate our society. I can see the logic in, say, a … [Read more...]

The Million-Dollar Challenge Ends

Some news from earlier this year you might have missed: James Randi is officially ending his million-dollar challenge to those who claim they have psychic or supernatural powers. The challenge will be offered for two more years, and assuming no one succeeds and claims the money, will be terminated in March 2010.It's not hard to see why Randi would do this. After ten years without a single successful applicant, I think he's made his point. Unsurprisingly, the best-known, most prominent psychic … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions VIII: Anti-Vaccine Hysteria

In all of human history, the invention of vaccination should be classed as one of our greatest medical triumphs. This innovation has saved millions of lives and prevented untold suffering and misery; it has brought many once-epidemic diseases under control, and eradicated others altogether. Tragically, our era has seen a dangerous new strain of pseudoscience emerge, one that threatens all of these gains.The theory behind vaccines is conceptually simple. Human beings possess an exquisitely … [Read more...]

The Cure for Cancer! (Cure Not Included)

The other day, I received a jaw-dropping piece of spam e-mail:The Detox Box is a remarkable device that uses frequencies to destroy toxins in the body. It's similar to how a singer can hit a note and shatter a wine glass.According to the e-mail, this marvelous machine is based on the ideas of one Dr. Royal Rife, who lived in the 1930s and claimed to have developed the world's first "virus microscope". (It is physically impossible to resolve the average virus with a light microscope, … [Read more...]

The 40th Skeptics' Circle

The doors of the Observatory are closed, and an eager crowd has gathered before them, milling about anxiously to await the unveiling of the newest Skeptics' Circle. Your host, Ebonmuse, steps up to a podium beside the doors and addresses the crowd thusly:"Step right up, folks, to the Daylight Atheism Museum of Superstition and Pseudoscience! Dare to plumb the most bizarre depths of the human imagination! Marvel at the fascinating beliefs cultures throughout history have dreamed up to explain … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions I: Astrology

I do not regularly read the New York Daily News, which could be generously described as a tabloid, but two juxtaposed stories in the May 29 edition happened to catch my attention, and not in a good way. To the right is a scan of the page (click for larger version):As readers can see for themselves, just below a story on the birth of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's newborn daughter is an article by the paper's astrology columnist, Susan Miller, confidently asserting what the girl's personality … [Read more...]


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