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SPR mag provides a charitable view of ‘The Conjuring 2’

The latest copy of Paranormal Review, the magazine of the SPR (Society of Psychical Research), is, as usual, a good read, full of interesting ideas. I like this magazine because of the quality of the content and that it’s done by the SPR and not fly-by-night ghost chasers. This issue provides a thoughtful talk on today’s paranormal (parapsychological) topics for even the skeptically-minded.

The cover features an image from the The Conjuring 2 movie starring fictionalized Ed and Lorraine Warren, “Demonologists”. The Warrens were real but the depiction of their involvement in the Enfield situation and in the Perron house of the original The Conjuring movie are almost entirely dramatized. Why the SPR-affiliated editors decided to take such a charitable view of this movie is beyond me, considering it ignored the far more involved SPR work on the case. I applaud the SPR for taking the high road here.Read More »

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Moving past the skeptical community era of constant offense and victimization

main-qimg-e50fc45a8a973c846fed73eb98a42039-cAn interesting piece appeared on the Center for Inquiry website exploring opinions about taking offense over others’ speech or actions, faux outrage, and being offended on others’ behalf: Offense by Proxy and the Moral Right to Indignation

This piece explains pretty well why I also do not agree with the views of frequently outraged social justice “warriors” and some outspoken feminist writers.

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Where’s Wessie? Snake story is confusing and growing cold

It’s now September and there is still no conclusion to the Wessie mystery which surfaced in late June. Is there a giant snake on the loose in Westbrook, Maine?

In my last post, I discussed the evidence advanced so far and the problems with it – eyewitness reports from locals and from two police officers, though the latter was at 3:30 AM. I recently found a reference to the first sighting which is a bit too much to swallow:

…a woman filed a report with the Westbrook police department claiming to have seen a snake as large as a truck, with a head the size of a basketball.

Head the size of a basketball? Only in the movies.

That’s not what the police saw nor does it correspond with the physical evidence discovered – a shed skin from an obviously huge snake (but “truck size?”), just laying there in the open near the Presumpscot River, found by a local on August 20. This was not Titanoboa. Yet, Wessie-mania went into maximum overdrive.Read More »

Cryptozoology “expert” called in to look for Maine serpent (UPDATED: Snakeskin found)

Back in June, locals of Westbrook, Maine said they saw a large snake slithering around. After no sign of the beast a week later, a Westbrook police officer witnessed it eating something near Riverbank Park on the Presumpscot River. A second officer called in also saw it. From their Facebook page:

On 6-29-16 at about 0330 hours an Officer on patrol in the area of Riverbank Park observed a large snake on the riverbank in the area of Speirs Street. The snake was eating a large mammal, possibly a beaver (not joking). A second officer arrived and they both watched it swim across the river to the Brown Street side of the Presumpscot River where it disappeared in the thick underbrush. They estimated its length to be at least 10 feet. WPD contacted the Maine Warden Service and they expect that the snake will remain dormant for a few days because it just ate a substantial meal. The snake has been dubbed “Wessie” or the “Presumpscot Python” by locals. We ask the public to be mindful of the snake’s presence in the area and immediately report any sightings so we can remove the animal from the river.

No northern US snake gets that big. Snakes that size are native to tropical areas. The news of a possible escaped Burmese python set the town abuzz. This article noted that local businesses hoped it would be a draw, a clear case of crypto-tourism. After a week with no additional sightings confirmed, the Mayor said she called in an “expert” but declined to elaborate. Many local people were already looking for it. The article mentioned that “a local cryptozoologist and herpetologist group” had volunteered to help.

Burmese Python by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble/Creative Commons
Burmese Python by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble/Creative Commons
Today, an updated article says that the unnamed expert was a cryptozoologist but he has yet to investigate. Hmm…Read More »

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Human sacrifice at CERN? It’s not a joke when bizarre claims are taken seriously

Reaction has been varied regarding a video seemingly depicting a human sacrifice on the grounds of CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, the location of the Large Hadron Collider and cutting edge particle physics research. Some people are chuckling at the spoof while others see it confirming their dark suspicions and sinister worldview. As a science advocate who knows that people all too readily subscribe to truly outrageous ideas about how the world works, I’m angry at these participants who were clearly CLUELESS about the damage they could do to the beleaguered reputation of big science.

Take a look at the video.Read More »

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Scottish poltergeist story is highly questionable, even if the police say they saw something

A story about a family in Rutherglen, Scotland, who called in police to report paranormal phenomena, rode the media wave yesterday into today. The original source was the local Rutherglen Reformer paper that appears digitally on the Daily Record (UK) website. Here is the main story: Rutherglen family call in police after witnessing paranormal activity

A desperate Rutherglen family were forced to call in the police after witnessing apparent paranormal activity in this home.

[…] officers were left stunned when they witnessed clothes flying across a room, lights going on and off, oven doors opening, mobile phones flying through the air and even a chihuahua dog on top of a seven foot hedge.

The terrified family, who live on Stonelaw Road, called police in a panic on August 8 and 9 after two days of bizarre occurances. It is understood a sergeant and two PCs witnessed the incidents.

Several question IMMEDIATELY arise and are not answered by any of the news reports:

  • Who were the officers who responded?
  • Did the offices actually witness what is described? Where are the detailed reports?
  • Did the family call on both days? Why?
  • “It is understood” that various policeman witnessed it – what does that mean? Why are no names included?
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OK, fine, here ya go!

I looked for all reports of the incident. What I found was a repetition of the Daily Record story with the same unsourced quotes. All stories include a stock photo of a chihuahua as well, which I thought was humorous. Adding the bit that the dog was affected by the phenomena adds greatly to the interest in the story, but also allowed for some egregious exaggeration as I note later on.

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Reinforcing bad info: The side effect of debunking

imageIt’s not the best job in the world to bust people’s clouds. How often have you been thanked for providing the Snopes link to debunk that urban legend? The typical reaction to Snopes-type debunking is to ignore it or reject it. In the former, people will continue to promote the falsehood when it’s advantageous to them. In the latter, they will double down on their original belief in the falsehood in what is called the Backfire Effect.

Snopes has a tendency to write headlines that reinforce the myth. Here are the top two stories from a screen cap today as examples.Read More »