Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sylvia Browne Predictions: 2011

It's that time of year again. Time for family, food, and psychic predictions by none other than Sylvia Browne. Lets take a look at what she had in-store for us in 2010, 2011 and beyond!

Browne's predictions are as follows:

"Around 2009 to 2011, I predict Americans will start working on what I like to call our 'buts.' There are problems that we are aware of that make the global community smaller. We have liked to say, 'Our system works'..but...

...Children are not properly fed, clothed, educated, protected or given adequate medical care.

...Many in our population do not have a place to call home.

...Some of our youth get more attention from gangs and drug dealers than they do positive role models.

...People who are ready, willing and able to work cannot find decent jobs.

...Our elderly are not cared for properly either financially or medically.

...Some death row inmates are innocent.

...Some elected officials and large corporations do not think of the welfare of the people as a high priority - they'd rather just increase their bank accounts.

I predict we'll develop strong resolve and resources to address these problems and come up with some good solutions."

This seems quite vague, to say the least. Browne states that Americans will start to work on problems in our country that need solutions. Which Americans? The President? The House? The Senate? Me? You? Your neighbors? Who exactly is going to start working on these problems, Sylvia? What does "will start working on" mean? It seems that any American putting up a flier about the homeless needing homes would make your "prediction" accurate. Not very impressive.

"I predict a great rise in skin cancer in children until 2010. There is a lot of media coverage about the UV rays and many products to protect people against them. But people are still often careless when it comes to the sun. Then again, people could pay attention - and reverse this prediction right out from under me. I would certainly be all for that!"

What a great technique. Browne explains away a failure before it even happens. She wins either way!

"I predict the President elected sometime between 2008 and 2020 will die in office from a heart attack. The Vice President who will finish their term will have an unpopular and mistaken intention to declare war on North Korea. By that time, North Korea will have weapons of mass destruction. In the middle of efforts to declare war, I predict the Vice President will be assassinated."
This could be between President Obama and whoever the next president will be. According to Browne, whoever the president is between 2008 and 2020 will die in office from a heart attack. Browne is very specific when she says "will die in office from a heart attack". Does this mean if the president dies in office from something other than a heart attack, Browne's "prediction" is a failure? It would seem so. "North Korea will have weapons of mass destruction." I think North Korea has had weapons of mass destruction since October, 2006. Browne also predicts that the Vice President will be assassinated in office. I guess we'll have to wait till 2020 to see if any of this pans out.

"There will be a worldwide investigation into the Vice President's death with both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. A lot of attention will be paid to one of the investigative congressional committees and serious accusations will be made regarding missing funds. Finally, it will be revealed that their accusations are part of a conspiracy to damage the American people's faith in their government, with the media manipulated to 'fan the flames,' and the committee will be vindicated in the end."

Again, we'll have to wait until 2020 to see if any of this comes true. What a great time window Browne has given herself. If one is investigating the death of a Vice President, what would be considered a "pleasant surprise"?

"I predict we can truly say 'goodbye' to the common cold in 2009 or 2010. The solution to the common cold involves heat. Keep in mind that the body's first response when we develop a cold is to come down with a fever. Many doctors today no longer rush to push patients to take temperature reducing medications when they come down with a fever, unless the fever is dangerous. They feel the immune system is the patient's best medicine and should be given a chance to fight back. So as the immune system fights a cold with heat, the cure for the common cold certainly may lie in this first signal to heal."

According to the Mayo Clinic the symptoms of cold might include a low-grade fever. According to WebMD a fever would indicate the flu not a cold. Again, Browne is not very specific. Is it a low-grade fever or a high fever, Sylvia? It's almost the end of 2010 and the cold is still around. Is this a failure? Lets wait until January 1st, 2011 and see.

"I predict that a small cubicle will become available in doctor's offices sometime in 2009 and it will be heated to a very precise temperature. There may be a special vapor placed into the cubicle. Patients will stand in the cubicle for approximately five minutes and the rhinitis germ will be destroyed."

I see no evidence that this "prediction" was accurate. I call this one a miss.

"Another wonderful bit of good news on the health front with this discovery - since this cubicle can easily take on the rhinitis germ, many people that have breathing problems with allergies and asthma complications will find some breakthroughs as well. We will see this cubicle discovery used for healing for those with breathing disorders. The cubicle will become available in 2009 or 2010."

There is no evidence that this "cubicle" has come to fruition. This "prediction" looks like a miss to me.

"I predict hypnotic past-life regression will become available through a group of trained psychologists on both the east and west coasts of the U.S.A. in 2009. It will prove to be quite a success and will be widely practiced by 2011."

Once again, I see no evidence of this coming to fruition. I call this one a miss, too. If you would like to read more about hypnosis and past life regression go here and here.

Well, that does it for 2011. Lets look forward to what Browne will "predict" for 2012 and beyond!

Further Reading:

Predictions for 2009: Sylvia Browne Can't Lose

"Psychic" Article from The Skeptic's Dictionary

Michael A. Stackpole: How to Comminicate Skepticism to the Public

Michael A. Stackpole from TAM 5.5 from JREF on Vimeo.

Michael A. Stackpole is a podcaster, best-selling science fiction writer, author of the "Pulling Report" which debunks myths about the harmful effects of role playing games, and a long-time activist skeptic. In this fun and informative talk from The Amaz!ing Meeting 5.5, he tells us how to effectively communicate our skeptical message through mainstream media, blogging, or through conversation with friends and family.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Psychic and I

My name is Josh Hunt and I am a skeptic. I wasn’t always a skeptic, though. You might be asked the question, “what’s the harm in believing in the paranormal?” You might even be asked why skepticism is important. I have an answer to both questions and it comes in the form of a personal story.

In 2004, when I was eighteen, I moved to New York City to study and pursue a career in acting. I had gotten a regular job working as a room service order taker. I remember feeling very out-of-place and very uncertain about what I was doing. I had so many questions that I wanted answered, but I didn’t know who to ask. Was I supposed to be in New York City? Was I supposed to be an actor? Will I be working in a job I hate for the rest of my life? Who would have the answer to these questions? Maybe a psychic would.

One day, on my thirty minute break, I was walking around lower Manhattan when I saw an advertisement for a local psychic. The fee was ten dollars. I figured I had spent more than that on junk food and porn. I called the psychic and a woman’s voice came on the phone. I told her that I was interested in getting a reading done. She said that her name was Crystal and that she would see me the next day in the afternoon.

I can only describe this woman as a sweet elderly aunt or grandmother with an accent. I sat down and she began the reading. Crystal started by staring at me and then looking me up and down. She told me that I had a "dark aura" and that “bad spirits” were causing it. Crystal said that these “spirits” were keeping me from achieving my goals and reaching my fullest potential. Before I left, I asked her if I was meant to be an actor, and I also told her that I was working at a job I didn’t like. I had given her all of the information that she would ever need. I came back a day or so after that and she told me exactly what I wanted to hear. She told me that there were people in Los Angeles talking about me and that I would start shooting a movie in a few months. A question that I should’ve asked her was how could people in Los Angeles be talking about me when they don’t even know I exist? At that point I had never even sent my picture and resume to anyone in Los Angeles. Crystal was telling me exactly what I wanted to hear and that’s all that mattered to me.

Crystal told me that we needed to get rid of these “bad spirits” and fast. How were we going to do that? She told me to get a glass jar, clean it out completely, tear off the label, and fill it with water from the tap in my kitchen. She also instructed me to put the jar of water in two plastic shopping bags (one bag was inside the other) and put it somewhere where no light would touch it. I went ahead and put it under my bed. I then brought the jar of water back to Crystal. Crystal said that if what she was about to do worked then the water would go from clean to dirty. She began to pray over the jar of water and she kept praying louder and louder. Crystal revealed the jar to me with a gasp. The water was dirty! It went from clean to dirty right before my eyes. From that point onward any skepticism I held was now gone. I was convinced that this woman was the real deal. At no point did the words “magic trick”, “slight-of-hand”, or “self-deception” enter my mind. Crystal performed the jar trick one more time. She told me that I had something like cancer in my stomach and took a different jar of water and turned it red. The red obviously resembling blood convinced me even further that this woman was the real deal.

Crystal had informed me that there were “bad spirits” surrounding my money. She told me that she could take these “bad spirits” away. She asked me how much money I could get to her. I told her about six to five hundred dollars. I immediately raced out, went to the ATM and got out about five hundred dollars. I brought it back to her and she prayed over it and told me she would bless it by bringing it to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for more blessing. Crystal kept telling me that she would give me my money back, but kept stalling. She then told me to quit my job, because I was not meant to work there. I put in my two weeks’ notice and felt very scared and uneasy. Well, she did give me a candle with Jesus on it. Surely a sweet old woman with a Jesus candle wouldn’t try to swindle me, right?

I finally decided to march right over to her apartment and get the money she said she would return to me. I walked up to the front desk clerk in her apartment building and told him I was there to see Crystal. He said that Crystal and her family had moved out. I walked out on the sidewalk and the next thing I remember I was in my apartment. I felt like the whole world had collapsed on me. I had been betrayed and swindled out of about $1,700. I kept asking myself how I could be so stupid to fall for that con. I said I would never tell anyone because I felt so embarrassed. This is why I think skepticism is important. What happened to me is happening to a lot of people even as you read this.

This story was also published here:

"The Psychic and I" on Indie Skeptics

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Your Best Skeptical Face

At our last two meetups I took some pictures asking people to "give me your best skeptical face". I thought it would be a fun little thing to do. It turned out one of our Drinking Skeptically attendees was reluctant at first but then joined in the fun.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A TAM Virgin

Instead of building The Amazing Meeting 8 up in my mind to be an awesome event, I decided to have no expectations. This was my first TAM and it turned out to be better than I ever could have imagined! As soon as I got to the Las Vegas airport I started to recognize big names in the skeptical community. The first was Paul Kurtz. A living legend was walking right by me and I think I was kind of staring at him. I also saw DJ Grothe, pointed at him and said, "that's DJ Grothe!" To which Ginger said, "don't point!" I felt like a kid in a candy store! I also met Joe Nickell and Brian Dunning in-person. I am big fans of both of their work and it was very surreal to be seeing and talking to them in the flesh.

At one point I said, "Am I really standing here talking to Joe Nickell in the flesh?"
To which Dr. Nickell replied, "No. I'm just a hologram. I'm not really here."

I even got to take a picture with James Randi himself! He was very nice, approachable and he signed my copy of Flim-Flam! All of the speakers were the same way. Very warm. Very approachable.

The only thing that was better than the talks was being among 1,300+ of my fellow skeptics. It was so invigorating mingling with fellow skeptics from, not only all over the United States, but all over the world. Skeptics that I met were from Canada, Ireland, England, and Australia! It feels good to know that attendance at TAM, events like TAM, and the skeptical community are all growing. It always feels good to know that you are not alone in the world.

Another highlight for me was the Grassroots Skepticism workshop. It was so inspiring and motivating to get all kinds of ideas for our local skeptics group here in Cleveland. It was exciting to know that we are all struggling to organize in our own local communities and trying to expand the skeptical community. It gave me a lot of ideas and I cannot wait to help the Cleveland Skeptics to grow and thrive!

If you have never been to The Amazing Meeting I highly recommend you attend at least one in your lifetime. Start saving now and go!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception

Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things -- from alien abductions to dowsing rods -- boils down to two of the brain's most basic, hard-wired survival skills. He explains what they are, and how they get us into trouble.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dr. Eugenie Scott: Science and Skepticism

How are science and skepticism related? Is skepticism a part of science, or is science a tool of skepticism? Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, discusses these questions, and explores the importance of teaching both science and skepticism.

Notable Links:

National Center for Science Education

Bay Area Skeptics

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

James Randi @ TED 2007

Legendary skeptic James Randi takes a fatal dose of homeopathic sleeping pills onstage, kicking off a searing 18-minute indictment of irrational beliefs. He throws out a challenge to the world's psychics: Prove what you do is real, and I'll give you a million dollars. (No takers yet.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

DNA Replacement Therapy

The Cleveland Skeptics recently attended the Gift of Light Psychic Fair, where I came across fliers on DNA Replacement and DNA Implantation distributed by Dr. Steve Glasgow. Trust me, you really want to click the links to see the fliers in all their glory.

I didn't do more than glance at these fliers until after I left, otherwise I would have certainly engaged Dr. Glasgow in some conversation. I thoroughly regret my mistake. Once home, I could not find any references to DNA replacement and implantation of the New Age sense on the web. However, one of the fliers says that his treatment is much more than DNA "activations" out there so I used that as my starting point. Although I was convinced that this DNA therapy must be something new, I saw that Orac talked about DNA Activation on his blog, Respectful Insolence, long ago. Orac described the amusing claims made by Toby Alexander's site, DNA Perfection but I also found others, including one by Deena Douglas. The basic shtick is we are only utilizing two strands of our DNA when there are really 12 (or more) that could all be up and running. (I thought DNA working overtime is a cause of cancer growths, but who's counting?)

DNA Perfection offers activation of 12 strands of DNA, while Denna Douglas offers 24 strand activation. Well, who you gonna go with?? But wait, there is more! Dr. Glasgow speaks of 144 strands, yes, 144 strands of DNA. It reminds me of the "7 minute" abs scene from There's Something About Mary. I should offer to do 20,736 and see if he twitches.

Let's pull our toes out of the pool and jump knee deep in horse doo-doo, shall we?

The DNA Replacement flyer first states,
...the "Original Human DNA" has been located in a sealed ancient stone container... A starter of the "Original Human DNA" is placed in your body and allowed to grow and expand. This is the original DNA that humans had when the first arrived on this planet.
Ancient stone container? Placed in my body? First "arrived" on this planet?

Maybe I shouldn't be so shy about having this DNA placed in my body. After all, "no human touching of any kind is involved," because it is, "physically implanted into the human body through a multidimensional spiritual process called apportation." This is done by the "Doctors and Angels in the Spirit world." Plus, as part of the process I get "Chakra balancing and vortex rotation adjustment." Sounds like something for a New Age auto mechanic.

So all I have to do is allow the Spirit world to place this DNA, "into the bone marrow of the spine near the solar plexus" and I'm good to go. Until I hit 72 strands. Then it is time for a second procedure, and time for another payment.

Now there is pseudoscience which knows how to mix just the right balance of scientific sounding nonsense and just plain nonsense to appeal to the average Joe. Like The Secret. But on this one somebody turned the crazy dial until the knob fell off.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Michael Specter: The danger of science denial

Vaccine-autism claims, "Frankenfood" bans, the herbal cure craze: All point to the public's growing fear (and, often, outright denial) of science and reason, says Michael Specter. He warns the trend spells disaster for human progress.

Michael Specter is a staff writer for the New Yorker. His new book, Denialism, asks why we have increasingly begun to fear scientific advances instead of embracing them.

Notable Links:

Michael Specter's Official Website

Sunday, March 14, 2010

UFOs over Cleveland

As if Cleveland isn't scary enough. Now there are strange lights darting about the sky. One man video taped it. "A local man said he spotted a UFO and he believes it's proof we're not alone. 'Absolutely nothing we have on this earth even looks like that,' said Eugene Erlikh." Immediately, Josh on the mailing list (go here to join) reminded us of the words of Michael Shermer, "before we say something is out of this world, we should first make sure that it's not in this world." Carla Jackson, the lone skeptical voice from the article, is even tougher to please. "Camera trick," said Carla Jackson. "I have to be there to actually see it."

Apparently Lake Erie has become known as a hotspot for UFO sightings.  According to the above article, Musician Michael Lee Hill has filmed many UFO videos from this area and posted them on YouTube. He has even sold some of them to news and documentary makers. Although the videos just look like airplanes from the nearby Hopkins and Burke Lakefront airports, Hill rules out this prosaic explanation by pointing out that the lights are not blinking.

If a sighting is not just a plane, there are other possibilities as well. Last year in New Jersey, two skeptics out to demonstrate the credulity of the media, ufologists, and the public at large launched several flares attached to helium balloons and let the mayhem begin. Of course there are those who create hoaxes for other motives such as money or media attention (but one should be careful not to jump to this conclusion either). One member of the Cleveland Skeptics suggested that lasers of some sort could be reflected off of clouds to create a UFO effect.

Yet another explanation involves no humans intervention at all. Josh points out that even though they spend more time looking at the sky than anyone, astronomers and lay expert astronomers rarely report UFOs. "Notice how there aren't a lot of UFO reports from professional and amateur astronomers." That's because they know how to identify objects such as Venus, meteors and other astronomical phenomena which are often labeled as UFOs by the untrained eye.

Josh sums it up, "Lets all remember what the 'U' stands for.  'Unidentified'. To go from calling it an unidentified flying object, to calling it an alien spaceship from another planet is committing the logical fallacy, (the) argument from ignorance.  The only thing that 'argument' proves is that you don't know what it is. "  

Additional Links:

Case closed:MUFON says Euclid, OH, UFOs Are Planes

Lake Erie UFOs Are Stars on YouTube

Neil deGrasse Tyson's take on the UFO phenomena

Do astronomers see UFOs? by Phil Plait

A Website for Astronomers to Report UFOs

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chelation Doctors Sued

This Chicago Tribune story brought me hope:

Coman alleged in Cook County Circuit Court that Usman and Rossignol prescribed "medically unnecessary and unjustified" chelation treatments, designed to force the body to excrete toxic metals, even though the child did not suffer from heavy metal poisoning. The treatments carry a risk of kidney failure, the lawsuit alleges.

"This is a big business, and there are a lot of people who are willing to put aside the safety of children to make money off of scared, desperate parents," Coman said in an interview.

For more on Chelation Therapy, check out:

Boy dies after chelation therapy
Chelation Watch
Should we study chelation for autism?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's In There

"That is when she saw it, the image of a man with long hair and a beard in the leftover sauce."

So here we go again, simple pareidolia is seen as a sign by the faithful.

This time, the long-haired, beared man has chosen to appear in a West Scranton Pizzeria shop who to their benefit is now receiving free advertising. (Not to say the discoverers of the visage necessarily have ulterior motives.)

"Maryann Marsico, who works at Brownie's, said even an atheist would find it unmistakable." Of course the long-haired, beared man could have been Charles Manson, Zeus or even Mohammad. Whatever you want to see, it's in there.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What is Drinking Skeptically?

In November 2008, The Cleveland Skeptics joined the national Drinking Skeptically network. Drinking Skeptically is, "an informal social event designed to promote fellowship and networking among skeptics, critical-thinkers, and like-minded individuals."

Some Cleveland Skeptics meetings are lectures, activities, or  meals out without alcohol, but Drinking Skeptically is a more casual monthly get together where drinkers and non-drinkers alike can kick back at the bar and feel free to have a drink or two. But you do not have to drink and in fact, usually only about half of attendees actually drink.

We host Drinking Skeptically usually on the last Saturday of the month. We have members from all over so we try to mix up the locations, but because there are a lot of beer appreciators in the group, we will favor those with the best beer selection. Suggestions are very welcome; send us an email at the address in the footer.

Please don't feel you have to be a drinker to join us, and those of us who do drink, please drink responsibly.

RSVP for a Drinking Skeptically today!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Holy Crap!

Holy Crap! And I do mean Holy. And I do mean crap. Through I learned of a new show called, "Possessed" staring Reverend Bob Larson, a new reality show in which the good Reverend travels the country exorcising demons from the supposedly possessed. Apparently this is not the first time Bob had dabbled in the entertainment world. I remembered a clip fellow Cleveland Skeptic blogger once sent me in which Bob Larson and Joe Nickell go head to head about a show called, "The Real Exorcist" (see below).

Reverend Larson claims that these people are "troubled souls" who are "emotionally fragile" so he must be careful not to psychologically damage them. Although Reverend Larson may truly believe that he is helping these people, how is it not hurting these people with serious problems by not only distracting them from a real solution but by doing it on camera for the world's amusement?

Furthermore, how many of the "possessed" are just taking Larson for a ride? From his testimonials page is a letter that reads:
My life is a living hell. I practice the occult every night with Lucifer. I signed a pact in my blood and buried it with real human bones. My fingers make the shape of claws. I wake up at night growling. I throw up if I go to church. PLEASE HELP ME!!!!!!!

Lastly, is Larson taking his followers for a ride as well? He offers dozens of books, pamplets and DVDs for sale in which one can find out if one is possessed or cursed and how to take part in "spiritual warfare."

Be sure to check out all of the links above and browse his site. It is really amazing. It offers such goodies as the "Demon" test on which I fortunately scored at low risk for demon possession. (Whew! I was worried there for a moment!).

Edited to Add: I found this youtube video in which a local newschannel tries to expose Bob Larson's finances, although it is unclear what the truth is and the amounts of money involved are not that big.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Myths of the Revolutionary War

Skeptics often focus on the natural sciences. Well here is an interesting article about some myths of history in Smithsonian found via