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The One Cent Problem PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Wagg   
Friday, 20 February 2009 00:00

At the JREF, we have a few things in a shop online. No, this article isn't a plug for our store. Instead, I'd like to foster comment on an issue that I've found major disagreement on in the skeptical community. And that is: is it ethical to charge $99.99 for something?

At first glance, the answer is yes. You can charge whatever you want for your products. But consider the impact of $99.99 versus the $100.00. Even though there's a difference of only one cent, or 1/10,000th of the original price, studies show that more people will buy at $99.99 than at $100.00. The second figure seems much bigger.

For gasoline in the US, this manipulation is carried to the impossible level of 10ths of a cent. I paid $1.799 for a gallon of gas today, which rang up as $1.80 as it's impossible to pay fractions of cents in this country and the amount is rounded up. The 9/10ths of a cent is there only to make the price look lower than it actually is.

Given that the 1¢ is probably not the breaking point in a financial decision, what is? It seems obvious that it's psychology, and that people aren't really thinking about the price so much as having emotion about it.

Bad and Good Stars in the Sky PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Randi   
Wednesday, 18 February 2009 00:00

wmPuerto Rico's 76-year-old Walter Mercado is a fixture on Univision's popular Spanish-language show "Primer Impacto." If you've never seen his show, I'd spoil the experience for you by describing it. It may be enough for you to know that he has a doctorate in Divinity from the International Philo-Byzantine Academy & University, in 1969 he was inducted as a Universal Teacher in Poona, Bombay, in Tibet and Nepal he holds the title of Chela and Buddhist Bikku, he has been a minister of the California Christian Brotherhood since 1970, and he also has a doctorate in Divine Healing from Tokyo, Japan. On top of all that, Walter is an astrologer. Wow!

It seems that the flamboyant Liberace-costumed astrologer had the right stars aligned this week when a federal jury found that though he improperly broke his contract with his former management companies, he did not have to pay the millions of dollars they sought from him for lost profits and damages. Mercado's astonished attorney said he never had a jury find that a client broke contractual obligations but owed nothing.

Sex Magnets Retracted PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Wagg   
Thursday, 19 February 2009 00:00

As Harriett reported in this Swift article, sometimes an individual can make a difference. In this case, an Australian woman outraged by ridiculous claims for a pocket sex drive enhancer successfully campaigned to have the device removed. Now the company who promoted this worthless item displays the following banner at the top of its site:

Medium Contacts Nonexistent Brother PDF Print E-mail
Written by Harriet Hall   
Tuesday, 17 February 2009 00:00
I'm always on the lookout for skeptical depictions of mediums in fiction, such as Robert Browning's delicious poem "Mr. Sludge the Medium." I just found another example where I least expected, and I wanted to share it with readers of Swift.

Latin American literature is famous for "magical realism" and its fiction is replete with ghosts and spooky doings. Yet I found a thoroughly skeptical view of a medium in Mario Vargas Llosa's novel "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter."

The protagonist is taken to a séance by a friend. The medium is a widower who discovered the spirit world during a phase of abject loneliness after his wife died, and he comments that séances not only allow one to continue seeing and hearing departed loved ones, but they are entertaining and are a great way of killing time. His description makes it sound like a séance is comparable to watching a movie or a sports event, only more boring. In his unimaginative version of the other life, the spirits get sick, fall in love, get married, reproduce, travel... the only difference is that they don't die. He calls up several spirits from Purgatory and engages in stunningly inane conversations, "How are you? It's so nice to hear you. Pray for me. Give my regards to X."
Dear "Psychics": SHUT UP PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Wagg   
Monday, 16 February 2009 00:00

NOTE: A few hours after this article was published, was redirected to another site. I don't think this article had anything to do with it, but who knows?

I've stated many times that what makes skeptics special is not what they believe in, or what they DON'T believe in, but that they're always willing to change their opinions in the light of new evidence. That said, I'm a bit upset with a site I recently found. There is no new evidence here. claims to offer free readings about the missing and unsolved crimes. The main site is merely a modified version of shopping cart software, which leads me to believe that their main priority might actually involve the selling of their woo-woo products rather than actually helping people with their "gifts."

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