A Message from James Randi
Happy Halloween from the James Randi Educational Foundation! With all this talk of ghosts and witches and black cats crossing your path, sometimes we forget that while you and I might enjoy these silly superstitions at this time of year, some take them far more seriously... and often with serious consequences. The JREF is always there to fight harmful superstition wherever it rears its ugly head. Whether it’s examining why someone believes their house is haunted by ghosts, or bringing to light the unspeakable horrors of “witch” burnings in Africa, the JREF works tirelessly to expose harmful superstition and those who promote it.
When this newsletter gets sent out, I'll be en route to India for a speaking tour with JREF president D.J. Grothe (an appearance at THiNK, as well as talks in Bangalore and Mumbai, and meetings with Indian Rationalists and skeptics of the so-called God-Men) so I'll miss Halloween celebrations, including the Houdini Séance.
But in this Halloween edition of our newsletter, you'll see topics from the spooky to the sinister, and you will learn about the ways you can fight groundless superstition. Trick or treat!
Announcing JREF Fellow Leo Igwe
The James Randi Educational Foundation announced this week the appointment of Leo Igwe as a research fellow, which will allow him to continue focusing on advancing skepticism throughout Africa. Mr. Igwe is a skeptical activist from Nigeria and a former representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Currently, he is researching African witchcraft accusations at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.
Mr. Igwe, in partnership with the JREF, will work to respond to harmful and growing superstitious beliefs throughout Africa, including belief in psuedoscientific “medicine,” and witchcraft, which result in heinous murders of adults and children alike. Igwe will report on the state of superstition in Africa regularly at randi.org, with his column, Skeptical Africa. Through his work in the field and in academia, Mr. Igwe aims to better understand the root cause of unfounded superstition throughout the continent, and to help combat it through educating the public about relevant issues in Africa, domestically and internationally.
He is also the author of the new A Manifesto for a Skeptical Africa, a call to arms for African skeptics, science advocates, humanists and secularists. The aim of the manifesto is to promote skepticism in Africa and help save lives. The manifesto has been endorsed by key figures including prominent individuals in science and skepticism throughout Africa and around the world.
Read more about Leo Igwe, here.
Robert Carroll’s Unnatural Acts Now on eBook!
Robert Todd Carroll’s Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed! is an invaluable book for those seeking to immunize themselves against irrational thought. Having curated the exhaustiveSkeptic’s Dictionary for over fifteen years, Dr. Carroll is an expert in how the untrained mind can trick itself into believing all manner of pseudoscience and superstition.
Now, for a limited time, you can purchase Unnatural Acts for Kindle or Nook for just $6.66. That’s 62% off the retail price, and it’s an especially significant number for those who believe 2012 may just usher in the apocalypse... (Spoiler alert: Those people are wrong.)
Take advantage of this special offer while you can, and add to your collection one of the best skeptical books available, Unnatural Acts by Robert Todd Carroll.
UFO Photo Contest Winner Announced
You know those times when you have a friend take a maternity photo of you, and all of a sudden, Buzz Lightyear shows up in it? Well, that happened to Maggie Waldron of the United Kingdom, which won her a feature in The Sun, complete with photo and the "spooky" story, calling the the Tim-Allen-shaped apparition "a UFO."
When we saw the photo (at left), we couldn't help but wonder if JREF supporters could replicate it themselves, showing that the same image could be produced with less than supernatural means. We took to Facebook and asked our readers to try their hand at mimicking the effect, and within hours had several dozen entries, from the spot-on to the downright hilarious.
We are happy to announce the winner of our contest is Heather Adams, who will receive a Team Randi shirt for her entry. Congratulations, Heather!
The original "UFO" photo. Heather Adams' winning entry. Buzz Lightyear or Android logo? You decide.
Consequence: Eric Weiss vs Roswell
In the latest episode of Consequence, we talk to former UFO enthusiast Eric Weiss about his ill-fated trip to Roswell, New Mexico to investigate the supposed extraterrestrial crash site. We also go in-depth in discussing “Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell”, the paranormal-themed late-night radio talk show that inspired untold numbers of people to buy into some fairly outrageous claims.
Hear it here!
From Our Fellows
Houdini Halloween Séance
by Dr. Karen Stollznow, JREF Fellow
Following the death of his mother, magician and escape artist Harry Houdini developed an interest in spiritualism. In an attempt to contact her, Houdini spent many years investigating psychic mediums and séances. He never discovered proof of the validity of these claims, although he certainly encountered many frauds.
Houdini met with a “timely” death on 31st October, 1926. Before he died, he had shared a secret code with his wife Bess. He would try to transmit this message to her from beyond the grave. Every year, on the anniversary of his death, Bess attempted to contact Houdini via public séances. Every year, her attempts were unsuccessful. In 1936, ten years after his death, Bess held yet another unsuccessful séance at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. She announced that this would be her final attempt.
The secret code included the words, “Rosabelle, believe”. This was a phrase from a play in which Bess had once performed. The message also included a ten-number mind-reading code. The medium Arthur Ford received the code, but the revelation was not so psychic. Bess had revealed the code to him, whereupon Ford lied that he had successfully contacted Houdini.
Over the years, many skeptics have kept up this tradition by honoring Houdini with a Halloween séance. For some 15 years, Joe Nickell has held an annual séance for the Center for Inquiry.
This Halloween, on the 86th anniversary of Houdini’s death, we will be holding a special webcast event. A number of skeptics across the country will join together to contact Houdini (or not, as the case may be).
A number of known skeptics will be involved, including Paranormal Mentalist Aiden Sinclair, Blake Smith of Monster Talk, Mike Edwards of the Alpha Project, and Jamie DeWolf, the great-grandson of L. Ron Hubbard. We will be using a number of tools of divination to attempt to communicate with Houdini, including ouija boards, pendulums, and a Magic 8 Ball. A number of secret questions for Houdini will be supplied by well-known skeptics, including Richard Dawkins, Banachek, and Jamy Ian Swiss.
James Randi Visits the World-Famous Magic Castle
Showing near-paranormal energy, James Randi spent five very long days in Hollywood last week for taping and interviews for the new documentary in production about his life, An Honest Liar. The shoot was at the world famous Magic Castle, one of Randi's favorite places.
See all of the photos here.
It’s the End of the World! ...Or Is It?
There’s nothing creepier than the threat of an apocalypse, and that’s just what some wannabe Mayas are predicting this December. So we’re setting sail in a luxury cruise ship to the Riviera Maya, to see for ourselves if the “Maya prophecies” hold water or are just hot air.
Join us, December 9-16, for a skeptical adventure on the high seas with James Randi and a team of seafaring skeptics including Ben Radford and Jennifer Michael Hecht. In between stops at the beautiful Maya ruins and the gorgeous natural surroundings in Honduras, Belize and Mexico, we will enjoy talks on some of the most titillating skeptical topics, from prophecies of doom to monsters and myths. It may not be the end of the world, but time is running out, so book your stateroom today!
Recently at Randi.org
New Videos from the Amaz!ng Meeting 2012: Brian Dunning and R. Elisabeth Cornwell
The JREF Grieves at the Loss of Paul Kurtz
What You Can Do to Fight Woo (in Five Minutes or Less) | Carrie Poppy
No Benefit from Routine Checkups | Dr. Steven Novella
A Night with Richard Dawkins | Dr. Karen Stollznow
The Ethical Case for Pink Slime | Kyle Hill
Rbutr in the Classroom? | Bob Blaskiewicz
Big Bird - and I - are Concerned! | James Randi
This Week in Doubtful News | Sharon Hill
JREF in the Media
Psychic buster sees some unbelievable times ahead | The Age Australia
"One of the weirdest claims was the woman who said she had the power to make men urinate when she willed it. One of our employees volunteered for the job and downed a lot of water… he sat there for something like three hours and nothing happened." - James Randi
‘Ghost buster’ Randi speaks about avoiding con artists claiming supernatural powers | The Diamondback
"As a test, he once took 32 homeopathic sleeping pills — more than 15 times the recommended dosage. Randi said the experience was anticlimactic: Absolutely nothing happened, although it theoretically should have killed him. Poison control apparently laughed when he called."
An Interview with D.J. Grothe | The Pink Atheist Podcast
"Our brains are wired to be powerfully self-deceptive." - D.J. Grothe
Exposing Woo in a 'Whack-a-Mole' World | The Malcontent's Gambit
"The New Age psychics... are not knowing frauds, in my view. But it's still very dangerous because believers go to them, hoping for and expecting real advice surrounding serious problems they face." - D.J. Grothe