JREF Senior Fellow, magician and scientific skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss, "The Honest Liar," presents JREF’s newest video series, aptly titled The Honest Liar. Follow Jamy as he uses critical thinking, skepticism, and a healthy dose of humor, along with his expertise in legerdemain, to explore the facts behind false claims.
In this installment of The Honest Liar, Jamy Ian Swiss recounts a tale of years gone by when he and his friend and skeptical colleague, psychologist Ray Hyman, appeared on radio along with a channeler, and the talking spirit of a 6th-century Irishman who spoke English and offered career advice to callers. HONEST!
Last week, on January 23rd, one Thom Nickels, identified as a “Philadelphia-based author/journalist,” contributed a piece on Huffington Post entitled “The Most Talented Psychic in Philadelphia.” Perhaps it should have been attributed to the most credulous “author/journalist” in Philadelphia.
Mr. Nickels is obviously a big fan of his proclaimed friend and the subject of his story, Arlene Ostapowicz. In the course of his breathless narrative, Mr. Nickels recounts that:
Ms. Ostapowicz “… has been a guest on many television and radio shows,” although the only specific show mentioned is one in which she was allegedly invited to appear on but declined.
“In the 1980s, [Ostapowicz] was in high demand with [Philadelphia] City Hall politicians and judges.”
I’m feeling self-absorbed today. I want to talk about how skepticism helps me, me, ME.
Don’t get ME wrong. I concede that not just I, but the whole of humankind stands to benefit from a skeptical approach. But sometimes my Inner Activist needs a rest. It is then that I pause to revel in the ways skepticism benefits my paltry life, mine alone, the rest of the world be damned. Here are four examples. I’m sure many of you have your own examples, which I hope you will share in Comments.
Example First: Skepticism saves me money.
I had a favorite brand of barbecue sauce. Whenever it chanced to set foot in my mouth, my taste buds greeted it by standing up and singing hymns. One day I picked up a considerably cheaper brand, just to compare. Sure enough, it proved not as good. But thanks to skepticism, I knew a thing or two about how easily we fool ourselves. I wondered, “How would James Randi test this?” I took out two spoons and poured a dollop in each. Good so far, except skepticism had also taught me the value of a blind test. How was I going to manage that on my own? Here serendipity intervened. I received a phone call. By the time the call ended, I couldn’t remember which spoon held which sauce. I sampled them both … and could taste no difference. My taste buds now stand and sing for Brand X, and my wallet joins in.
For reals, it is the 21st century! But, some are still blaming Satan for everything. Here is a rundown of the weekly weird news courtesy of Doubtful News.
It was a huge week on Doubtful News. There was a demonic invasion.
The story of LaToya Ammons demonic possession and life in the "portal to hell" house was posted on the Indianapolis Star website and then exploded two days later. The story was, on its face, unbelievable and full of holes. Doubtful News readers were able to produce a mock up of the fakey photo. Then, Ghost Adventures star Zak Bagans, who takes his paranormal investigation awfully seriously, purchased the house. No word on whether only the paranormal believers will be allowed in but it does appear that only pro-paranormal people are invited. No skeptics allowed. This story is a circle of reinforcing feedback.
It began with a brutal double murder on July 5, 1692. A wine merchant and his wife were killed in the cellar of their shop in Lyons, France. Since the money known to be in the shop was missing, authorities concluded that the couple had been robbed and murdered using the bloody billhook that had been left behind. Forensic science was virtually non-existent at the time and the magistrates had no idea about who might have committed the crime.
Rather than letting the crime remain unsolved however, the magistrates were urged to consult Jacques Aymar. Though actually a stonemason, Aymar had become fairly famous in the area for his skill as a dowser. While dowsing had largely faded into obscurity by the 17th century, local stories quickly spread over Aymar’s success in locating underground springs and other lost items.