As Swift readers will know, I get very strange letters and e-mail. No, "very strange" doesn't describe them. Here's an example, from a mercifully un-named correspondent who started to apply for the JREF million-dollar prize, but first insisted on talking to me to explain his delusion conviction. That's the last thing I want to get involved in, believe me! When I explained that I only wanted his application, he sent me this e-mail:
Know this. Sound and mind are very very powerful frequencies as far as I am aware they do not have boundraries [sic] like distance that affect them.
If you would like to have a chat I invite you to email me back or call me. I am still developing my powers and must advance with caution because of what effect they may have and how bad I would feel if I accidentally killed someone.
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel at Dragon*Con's Skeptrack called ‘How to Combat Woo'. I was honored to be invited to speak with Phil Plait, Jeff Wagg, D. J. Grothe from the Center of Inquiry, and Maria Walters, a founding member of the Atlanta Skeptics and blogger on Skepchick.org. Phil has written about this here and about a new Grassroots Skeptics site here, which I'm excited about. The theme for my part of the panel was "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day."
I enjoy attending TAM and Dragon*Con, and was fortunate to attend several of the JREF-sponsored cruises. In addition to have my skeptical batteries recharged, I enjoyed the community, and miss it when I go home. I live in the Houston area, and had been meeting informally with locals who I met at these conferences or through the JREF forum. In discussing the lack of a skeptical group with fellow Houstonians Sam Ogden (also a blogger on Skepchick), friend Eric Prim and friend Elaine Gilman, who started the Denver Skeptics meetup group, now known as the Mile High Skeptics, we formed the Houston Skeptics site on Meetup.com. I often talk to people who say ‘there is no skeptics group in my area', but as you will see, it's a relatively simple matter to start a group.
As many of you know, I recently spoke at Dragon*Con, which was an absolute blast. Dragon*Con's crowd is a bit different than what you'd encounter at TAM or any of the other skeptics conferences in that the people there aren't necessarily skeptics. This leads to questions like... "Where can I learn more about skepticism?" That's a larger topic than this article will allow, but I CAN tell you what should be in your mailbox.
There are several excellent publications out there. I consider these "must read" material.
We encounter many interesting people in the course of our daily dealings with the JREF $1,000,000 Challenge applicants. Many folks are sincere and believe they truly have a paranormal or supernatural ability that they can demonstrate to us. Of these, some are simply mistaken. Dowsing, the most common claim, can easily fool average people into believing in the paranormal, and though we can completely explain what's happening, they find it hard to let go of that "special" feeling.
a brief analysis of criminological psychic predictions
Psychics as a whole seem to exhibit an almost parasitic attraction to spectacle - the more strange, outrageous, horrific or violent some event is, the more likely that some psychic will invariably allege gross incompetence and negligence upon the parts of those charged with preventing such disasters by claiming that they predicted the event far in advance and, undoubtedly, will wistfully decry on a time-lost web page "If only I was believed!" This has always galled me - as a criminology student, I like to think I am better informed about police and investigative methodology than most, and seeing the sheer amount of time and effort put into crime prevention laughed at is exceptionally aggravating, not to mention offensive.