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JREF Swift Blog
Swift, named for Jonathan Swift, is the JREF's daily blog, featuring content from James Randi, the JREF staff, and other featured authors.

Spirits in the Pub PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Karen Stollznow   

Bar staff at one of Britain’s oldest pubs believe they have captured a ghost on their surveillance cameras. The footage, which shows flickering lights and a shadowy figure, was filmed at the Ye Olde Man and Scythe in Bolton. The pub dates back to 1251, and is reputedly haunted by the Seventh Earl of Derby, James Stanley.

Manager Tony Dooley checked the CCTV one morning and discovered that they had stopped recording at 6:18am. “I came down and saw a glass smashed on the floor so I was instantly suspicious and went to check the CCTV and found it has stopped working. We checked the footage and it revealed this figure,” he said to the Manchester Evening News. “To be honest I was a bit concerned - I'm a bit of a sceptic when it comes to ghosts but you become more of a believer when you see things like that.”

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t investigate the video; it only retells the history of the pub in an attempt to support the haunted claims. Here is the video of the alleged ghost.

That old time religion: This week in Doubtful News for February 25, 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sharon Hill   

It was a really rough week to be a true believer. Here is a rundown of the faith-based and fantasy news courtesy of Doubtful News.

A deranged woman attempts to kill her mother thinking she is the anti-Christ.

Another deranged woman tells police she killed 22 people as a member of a Satanic cult. The Satanists disavow all connections.

Last Week In Science Based Medicine PDF Print E-mail
Written by Harriet Hall   

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.

The Canadian National Breast Screening Study ignites a new round in the mammography wars (David Gorski) - This large study compared mammography plus clinical breast exams to usual care in women aged 40-49 and mammography plus clinical breast exams to breast exams alone in women aged 50-59. It found that mammography did not reduce breast cancer mortality; the benefits were offset by overdiagnosis. Nevertheless, Dr. Gorski thinks it would be prudent to stick to current guidelines with perhaps more of a personalized approach to women between the ages of 40 and 49. 

Tylenol May Not Be As Safe and Effective As We Thought  (Harriet Hall) - Britain’s National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued a 600 page report analyzing the published evidence about Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetamol) for the relief of pain in osteoarthritis. They initially warned that it should not be used because of serious side effects and low efficacy. After clinicians protested that eliminating acetaminophen would mean using more dangerous drugs, they revised their draft to recommend it as a first-line treatment for osteoarthritis. Tylenol is safer than other pain relievers, but this controversy is a good reminder that all drugs can have side effects.

We’ve come a long way, baby … uh, wait. What? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jamy Ian Swiss   

My date-for-life, Kandace, is taking a psychology course and sent me this quote from her textbook:

“Earlier in this chapter, we saw how Descartes’ radical new idea separating the spiritual mind from the physical body enabled scientists to start identifying biological bases for behaviors, thus challenging the pseudoscientific ‘common sense’ that attributed certain behaviors to mysterious spiritual forces. Today, psychology continues to dispute the unfounded claims of pseudoscience, which range from palm reading to psychic predictions to use of crystals to heal physical ailments.

“What makes psychology different from these pseudopsychological approaches to understanding people? Not one of them has survived trial by the scientific method, which is a way of testing ideas against observations. Instead, pseudopsychology is based on hope, confirmation bias, anecdote—and human gullibility.”

– Psychology: Core Concepts (7th Edition) by Philip G. Zimbardo, Robert L. Johnson and Vivian McCann

The separation that Descartes proposed allowed science to look at essentially biology and behavior independent of spirituality and mysticism, and therefore free of the medieval church’s control and influence over such subjects, and the authors of course go on to explain that contemporary science has reunited these metaphorically separate elements into the single biological entity we know as the brain. (Albeit mind/body debates still occur in some quarters, among the religious, the spiritual, and philosophers – you may insert your philosopher joke here, but I will leave ticking off philosophers to my friend Lawrence Krauss for the time being.)

While running some errands earlier today, I was considering this historic breakthrough in thinking and the accompanying debt we owe to Descartes – meanwhile stopping by an outlet of the large retail chain, “The Sports Authority.” As I entered the shop I passed a two-sided display that caught my eye. Have a look:

Biting the Big One: Snake Bite Kills Preacher PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Karen Stollznow   

Jamie CootsThe lethal tradition of snake handling arose from a literal interpretation of several Biblical passages. In Acts (28:1–6) Paul survives a bite from a vicious viper. Mark (16:17–18) promises impunity from snakes and even poison, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Luke (10:19) gives us the, “power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” Of course, we’re yet to see any church take up the practice of serpent or scorpion treading…

Snake handling is outlawed in many states in America, although this hasn’t stopped its practice among people who claim religious freedom. On Saturday February 15, Jamie Coots died of a bite during a snake-handling ceremony. Coots was the preacher at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Kentucky (where snake handling is illegal). He was also one of the stars of National Geographic’s reality TV show Snake Salvation. During the service at his church, Coots was bitten on his right hand. He soon passed out and his family took him home. Emergency workers arrived at the church and then his home, but Coots refused treatment and died at about 10pm. 

This wasn’t his first venomous bite. Coots had been bitten nine times before, and even lost half of a finger to a rattlesnake bite. Four generations of his family have handled snakes as preachers, from his grandfather to his son Cody. Coots kept over 70 snakes for this purpose, and had been arrested twice for illegally possessing a collection of copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes that he had caught himself. Snakes used for snake handling are usually in poor shape. Their mouths aren’t sewn shut like the cobras used by snake charmers on the streets of India, but they are mistreated and mishandled, and these snakes are often sluggish and sick. 

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