The Twitter Report: Leave the Long Island Medium Alone!

Just before the new Cosmos premiere last week, I noticed that "#LongIslandMedium" was trending on Twitter, a reference to a woman named Theresa Caputo. She's just the latest in a long line of talking-to-the-dead hucksters who exploit the grief of the bereaved, using the same unsubtle cold-reading act that never fails to dazzle the gullible. I decided the hashtag could use an antidote to credulity: Like all people who falsely claim they can speak to the dead, the #LongIslandMedium is abusing … [Read more...]

Critical Thinking vs. Victim-Blaming

SnakeOil

This caught my skeptical eye: an article about police efforts to fight the "blessing scam" in Asian neighborhoods in New York City. The scam involves a con artist who approaches the mark, usually an elderly person, to convince them that their cash and valuables are tainted by bad luck that can be removed by a special blessing ritual. The victim is persuaded to put their valuables in a bag and hand them over, but during the ceremony, sleight-of-hand is used to switch the bag for an identical one … [Read more...]

Pseudoscience Without the Science

I was at the pharmacy the other day when I happened to notice this little accessory, which boasts on the package that it "may help to promote BALANCE, STRENGTH & ENDURANCE" (and which carries a disclaimer about not being evaluated by the FDA - always a good sign): I have to admit, I get weirdly enthusiastic whenever I see a new brand of snake oil on the shelves. I always want to see what kind of pseudoscientific claim the manufacturer has come up with to support their wildly improbable … [Read more...]

News Flash: Psychics Still Useless

You may have heard about this bizarre story out of Texas this week, where a self-proclaimed psychic called police with a tip that a certain home was the site of a mass grave containing dozens of dismembered bodies, including the bodies of children. A swarm of reporters, FBI agents and Texas Rangers promptly converged on the address, bringing cameras, news helicopters and cadaver-sniffing dogs. At first they found spots of blood on the porch, seemingly proving that the psychic tip-off was good … [Read more...]

Swimming in a Sea of Pseudoscience

This past weekend, I was out at brunch when I saw a rack of free magazines in the restaurant's foyer. I picked out one of them, which as it turned out was a promotional brochure and schedule for something called the New Life Expo to be held in New York City this coming weekend. I read on, and the further into it I got, the more appalled I was. If you thought that humanity was entering a new and enlightened age, this magazine will force you to reconsider. If you took your impressions of the … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically XI: The Null Hypothesis

So, you may have heard that Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, has a new book on the same subject, called The Power. Personally, I'm bewildered. Her first book promised to tell you how to get everything you've ever wanted. What possible room could there be for a sequel? You might also have heard of the famous athletes who are wearing this bracelet, which, according to its makers, uses "processed titanium and holograms" which are "designed to interact with your body’s natural energy", … [Read more...]

Weekly Link Roundup

• It's about time! The SEC has charged a psychic with securities fraud for claiming to be able to supernaturally foretell the direction of the market. • The staff of IslamOnline, a Cairo-based journalism website that offers a platform for liberal and reformist views, have gone on strike over plans by the Qatari owners to impose stricter editorial controls and force a more conservative viewpoint. • I'm very glad to report that Ireland's government is now backtracking on the … [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...]

A Critique of the Learning Annex

The Learning Annex is a privately owned continuing-education school in New York. As a resident of New York City, I can testify to its success - its kiosks of free course catalogs are on nearly every street corner in Manhattan. It was founded in 1980 by Bill Zanker, who sold the company in 1991 and then repurchased it and resumed ownership in 2002. The 2007 Inc. 500, a list of the nation's fastest-growing private companies, ranked the Learning Annex at number 346 and said that it makes over $100 … [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...]


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