My new CFI blog on the return of Pennywise the evil clown! Horror fans around the world have waited for years to see one of the most terrifying clowns in cinematic history, and finally Pennywise returns later this week in the new version of Stephen King's It. As a post on Uproxx noted, "Who needs nightmares when you can be traumatized by creepy-ass clowns in person? The Alamo Drafthouse is celebrating the arrival of the 2017 cinematic take on Stephen King's It with a clown-only screening of the movie. The Austin location of the theater chain will cater to a clown-specific audience on September 9th with a special screening of It. All attendees are expected to be done up like a clown (I can count the Captain Spauldings already) and can also visit ‘an IT pre-party where we will have face-painters available for clown ‘touch-ups,' a photo booth, raffles for prizes, and other terrifying merriment.'" You can read the rest HERE.
My new blog about Amy Schumer blaming herself for a shooting at her film "Trainwreck." By applying skepticism to news media claims we can see that she's blaming herself needlessly, and that there's no clear connection between the content of a film and violence that occurs there... You can read it HERE. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
My new CFI blog on James Donovan, the hero in the new Spielberg film "Bridge of Spies," is HERE. The film is largely about his integrity in demanding due process, yet Americans often are happy to ignore due process in favor of social justice outrage... You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
On October 30, Destination America aired a 2-hour live special about a group of ghost hunters trying to exorcise a house; my article on it is HERE.
From the Radford Files archives: The film Creation, starring Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin, tells the story of Darwin's revolutionary book On the Origin of Species. Darwin, steeped in the ways of science, was also a skeptic who demanded good evidence for extraordinary claims. Darwin’s correspondence to friends, family, and colleagues reveals he held very skeptical views about psychics, the paranormal, and alternative medicine. For example, in a September 4, 1850, letter to his second cousin Rev. William Darwin Fox, Darwin was scathingly dismissive of psychic powers (clairvoyance) and homeopathy: “You speak about Homeopathy; which is a subject which makes me more wrath, even than does Clairvoyance: clairvoyance so transcends belief, that one’s ordinary faculties are put out of question, but in Homeopathy common sense & common observation come into play, and both these must go to the Dogs, if the infinetesimal doses have any effect whatever.” (Here Darwin is referring to the illogical homeopathic premise that tiny amounts of a drug are more effective than larger doses.) Darwin then notes that in order for homeopathy to be scientifically tested, it would need to be studied against a control group: “How true is a remark I saw the other day...in respect to evidence of curative processes, viz that no one knows in disease what is the simple result of nothing being done, as a standard with which to compare Homeopathy & all other such things. It is a sad flaw, I cannot but think in my beloved Dr. Gully, that he believes in everything...” A year earlier, in a letter dated March 19, Darwin had written of the gullibility of physician James Manby Gully, who had treated Darwin’s father: “Dr. Gully was a spiritualist [a member of a group that regularly communicated with the dead] & believer in clairvoyance [also known as ESP or mental telepathy]. He bothered my father for some time to have a consultation with a clairvoyant, who was staying at Malvern, and was reputed to be able to see the insides of people & discover the real nature of their ailments.” To pacify his physician friend, Darwin’s father finally agreed to meet with the self-proclaimed psychic who had so impressed Dr. Gully. But, he insisted, he wanted to test the psychic’s power for himself. “Accordingly, in going to the interview he put a banknote in a sealed envelope. After being introduced to the lady he said \’I have heard a great deal of your powers of reading concealed writings & I should like to have evidence myself: now in this envelope there is a banknote—if you will read the number I shall be happy to present it to you.’” It was a very simple and fair test: if the psychic could see through a patient’s clothing and flesh to diagnose diseases, surely she could see through a simple, paper-thin envelope and determine the denomination of a bank note. The psychic refused, saying she was insulted at being asked to prove her amazing abilities: “The clairvoyante answered scornfully ‘I have a maid-servant at home who can do that.’” She did, however, go on to (incorrectly) claim that Darwin's father had horrible internal diseases—perhaps her spite at the skeptic clouded her psychic abilities. Darwin’s letters provide a fascinating historical context to paranormal claims. 160 years after Darwin and his father debunked homeopathy and fraudulent psychics, such unproven are still very much with us. Homeopathic remedies can be found on the shelves of most chain drug stores, and many people today claim to diagnose and treat diseases using psychic powers; they no longer call themselves clairvoyants but instead “medical intuitives.” You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
From the Radford Files archives: 2012 Disaster Film Contains Pro-Science Themes The recent big-budget Hollywood blockbuster disaster film 2012, directed by Roland Emmerich, depicts a global catastrophe and flood. John Cusack stars as a divorced Los Angeles writer who wants to reunite with his family, and ends up going (almost literally) to the ends of the earth to save them. At the same time in Washington D.C., a geologist discovers that the earth’s unsettled tectonic plates will cause havoc. Soon the whole world is enveloped in chaos and destruction. Though 2012 is not a great film, it does have some interesting pro-science aspects that skeptics should appreciate. While John Cusack is the lead star, the hero of the film is really a black scientist, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Helmsley is the president’s chief science advisor, and it is he who first discovers the impending danger. The film somewhat realistically portrays the difficulties of scientific uncertainty—how sure do you have to be to sound the alarm? This is not an academic question, and arises in discussions of scientific prediction on a wide range of topics ranging from asteroid impacts to global warming. Not only is the scientist the hero, he is also the film’s major moral compass. There are no evil, white lab-coated scientists in 2012, there are only scientists doing their best to save humanity (and a few nerds thrown in for good measure). 2012 is a completely humanistic disaster film; the catastrophes are not the work of angry gods, nor magic spells, but nature itself. The film shows prayer failing miserably to stop the destruction (even the Pope in the Vatican gets smacked away; Emmerich told me he originally wanted to show Mecca being destroyed, but didn’t want to risk offending Muslims). In the end it is science that saves the day. These are wonderful pro-science depictions that I’d hope to see in more films; it’s a shame to see them buried in a well-meaning but bloated disaster film like 2012. This piece originally appeared in the Briefs Briefs column in the September 2009 Skeptical Briefs newsletter. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.