Oct 182015

From the Radford Files archives:


Ali Sabat was condemned to die in early April. Sabat, the Lebanese host of a popular TV show, for years gave his viewers psychic advice and predictions. This may cost him his life. Many people around the world claim to foretell the future, talk to the dead, and do other amazing (if scientifically unproven) feats.


The problem is that Sabat is a Shiite Muslim, and many Muslims—like many fundamentalist Christians—consider fortunetelling occult and therefore evil. Making a psychic prediction is seen as invoking diabolical forces, perhaps even entering into a pact with Satan. Fortunetelling, prophecy, and other forms of divination have been condemned by Saudi Arabia’s religious leaders. In 2008, while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, Ali Sabat was arrested by that country’s religious police, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. His crime: sorcery. Yes, people can still be accused of practicing witchcraft and condemned to death for it in 2010.


According to the human rights group Amnesty International, a court last month upheld Sabat’s death sentence, with the judges deciding that “he deserved to be sentenced to death because he had practiced ‘sorcery’ publicly for several years before millions of viewers.” He was scheduled to be publicly executed April 2, but his beheading was deferred. Sabat is not out of trouble; he did not receive a reprieve, merely a temporary stay of execution, and as of the writing his fate remains in question. In an ironic twist, Sabat might save his life if he confessed that his psychic predictions and powers were all a hoax (or an act merely for entertainment) and therefore not a true exhibition of occult powers.



This piece originally appeared in the Briefs Briefs column in the June 2010 Skeptical Briefs newsletter.


You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Oct 142015

From the Radford Files archives:


In March, the Vatican began an investigation into miracles and appearances of the Virgin Mary at the famous Medjugorje shrine in Bosnia. According to an Associated Press report, “An international commission of inquiry headed by Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini — a top adviser to the late Pope John Paul II — has been formed to study the case and report back to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican said in a statement.”


The “Miracles of Medjugorje” date back to 1981, when six teenagers claimed they saw a vision of the Virgin Mary on a hill near their village (then part of Yugoslavia). As sunset approached, they claimed, they saw a veiled woman appear in the sky, surrounded by a blinding white light. The woman carried an infant in her arms and did not speak but instead gestured for them to come closer. The teens ran back to their village, but no one else saw the incident.


The curious vision reappeared to the same group the following day, though this time she spoke, telling them what they all assumed: “I am the Blessed Virgin Mary.” After that, the same floating woman, child, and bright light appeared nearly every day for the next decade—each time only visible to the original group. The location changed often, and sometimes the Virgin Mary would tell the teens messages which they would then relay to local church authorities (and later to the huge crowds of devout followers gathered nearby).


So how would the Vatican go about investigating this miracle? The same way it investigates anything else: interviewing eyewitness, possibly doing tests, looking for physical evidence, and so on. Joe Nickell, in his book Looking For a Miracle, notes that the local Bishop, Pavao Zanic, at first embraced the Marian visions but soon grew to doubt the teens’ story after he began investigating. “Zanic found grounds for doubting the authenticity of the apparitions, including numerous contradictions in the children’s stories.” In fact, at the conclusion of his investigation, Bishop Zanic stated quite unequivocally, “The phenomenon at Medjugorje will be the greatest shame of the Church in the twentieth century. Once can say that these are hallucinations, illusions, hypnosis or lies.”


Perhaps due in part to Bishop Zanic’s earlier miracle investigation, the Vatican has yet to validate the Marian apparition or call the sightings a miracle. Still, more than 30 million people have visited the area in the past three decades despite its lack of official status—even as a shrine. Perhaps because of the continuing popularity of the site, the Vatican decided it was time to take another look at the “Miracles of Medjugorje.”



This piece originally appeared in the Briefs Briefs column in the June 2010 Skeptical Briefs newsletter.


You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Oct 122015

From the Radford Files archives:


A recent poll by Harris interactive found that 14 percent of Americans suspect that President Barack Obama may be the Antichrist. Nearly a quarter of Republicans, and 16 percent of Democrats, responded this way. Forty percent said they think Obama is a Socialist, and just under one-third believe he is Muslim.


If the statistics are valid, the number of people who believe that Obama is the Antichrist is alarming. For many people—especially religious fundamentalists— “the Antichrist” is not a metaphor. It’s not meant as a joke or hyperbole. They really, literally mean they believe that the President of the United States may either be evil incarnate (Satan), or the entity who fulfills Biblical prophecy as the adversary of Jesus Christ.


Yet a close reading of the Bible reveals an interesting discrepancy: According to Scripture, the Antichrist will try to deceive the public by claiming to work on God’s behalf. He will be a so-called wolf in sheep’s clothing, a duplicitious man of God pretending to do God’s work while instead furthering his own diabolical agenda.


President Obama has never implicitly nor explicitly claimed to God’s work. Though he has invoked God and religion on occasion, his presidency has been fairly secular. (Those people who believe that Obama is both a Muslim and the Antichrist have some mighty confused and contradictory theology.)


George W. Bush, on the other hand, repeatedly invoked God during his presidency. He was quoted in The Faith of George W. Bush as saying “I’ve heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for President.” Bush also said, “The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled. This confrontation is willed by God who wants this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a new age begins,” and that “I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.”


Of course George W. Bush is no more the Antichrist than Barack Obama is. Yet if what the Bible says about the Antichrist is true, Bush is a far more likely candidate than Obama. For the majority of Americans who are pretty sure that President Obama is neither a Muslim nor the Antichrist, it’s easy to mock such outlandish beliefs. But beliefs have consequences; in early April, nine self-proclaimed paramilitary “Christian warriors” were arrested in Michigan. They had been preparing for a battle with the government—and, ultimately, perhaps the Antichrist.



This piece originally appeared in the Briefs Briefs column in the June 2010 Skeptical Briefs newsletter.


You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 282015

In a recent interview about exorcism and spiritual possession I had to keep reminding the interviewer that in many cases possession is a welcome experience done under the supervision of a witch doctor or houngan (in the case of voodoo). When Americans think of possession the kind they’re most familiar with (thanks to novelist William Peter Blatty and filmmaker William Friedkin) is from Roman Catholic canon, but around the world possession is often sought out and seen as spiritually beneficial…

Sep 182015

I was interviewed on the harm in magical thinking, including discussing my research into muti murders in Africa, in which albinos have been persecuted, attacked, and murdered because of the belief that their body parts are magical. It’s a topic I’ve written about and raised funds to help stop last month. Listeners can hear the show (titled “Magical Thinking: What’s the Harm?”) HERE. 


You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Sep 142015

For those who didn’t see it last week, here’s my article on Stonehenge myths and how restoration efforts sparked conspiracy theories is now out, you can see it HERE.  


You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Aug 072015

Police in Florida suggest that a triple murder in Pensacola late last month is connected to witches, Wiccans, and/or Satanists. My new article on why that’s almost certainly false, with a discussion of previous crimes police wrongly attributed to Satanists or witches, is HERE. 

Jul 222015

A new study finds that self-described vampires are, not surprisingly, reluctant to disclose their sanguine ways to mental health professionals. My closer look at people who claim to be (and sometimes believe themselves to be) real-life vampires can be found HERE. 

Apr 182015

I recently read Candice Miller’s book The River of Doubt, about Theodore Roosevelt’s 1914 exploration of an unknown river in the Brazilian Amazon. It’s a fascinating story of adventure, misadventure, murder, and more. In the book I also found an excellent real-life example of one of my favorite logical fallacies:post hoc ergo propter hoc, also called faulty causation…. You can find the article HERE. 

Mar 282015

My recent article on a horrific crime: a toddler with albinism in Africa was abducted and butchered for his body parts because of the widespread belief that they can be used for potent magic spells. Yes, belief in magic can sometimes be harmless–but it can also be deadly. Read more HERE. 

Feb 252015

My article for Discovery News on how the U.K. is using belief in black magic to stem sex trafficking in Africa is now up! I hope you find it as interesting as I do… It’s good to see this sort of bottom-up culture-specific effort to end this scourge. You can read it HERE. 

Feb 182015

From a story I wrote in 2014: Dozens of environmentalists in Iceland have staged a high-profile protest against a road scheduled to cut through an area of volcanic rock because of elves… You can read the story HERE. 

Jan 182015

I was recently interviewed by UNM Prof. V.B. Price for New Mexico Mercury magazine, in which I  talked about my new book Mysterious New Mexico, skepticism, and investigations. Who got upset by my book? Find out!

The five-question interview is available online HERE. 

Dec 212014

The Brazilian airline TAM recently changed the flight number of one of its planes based on a prediction by a self-proclaimed psychic that the flight was doomed.

Why? You can read more HERE. 

Nov 102014

My recent article on why the Pope endorses evolution while at the same time reaffirming belief in demonic possession. He’s got one foot in the 21st century and one foot in the Middle Ages. Here’s why; you can read it HERE.

Oct 312014

If you believe in ghosts, you’re not alone. Cultures all around the world believe in spirits that survive death to live in another realm. In fact, ghosts are among the most widely believed of paranormal phenomena: Millions of people are interested in ghosts, and a 2005 Gallup poll found that 37 percent of Americans believe in haunted houses — and nearly half believe in ghosts. You can read the story HERE. 

Oct 272014

The Oujia board, also known as a witch board or spirit board, is simple and elegant. The board itself is printed with letters and numbers, while a roughly heart-shaped device called a planchette slides over the board. The game was created in the 1890s and sold to Hasbro in 1966. It began as a parlor game with no association with ghosts until much later, and today many people believe it can contact spirits… You can read my article HERE.

Oct 132014

Yes, people are still being accused, tortured, and killed because of witchcraft accusations. It happened last week in East Africa when seven people died; my article on this horrible event, with some background on witch hunts, can be seen HERE.

Sep 222014



BR ABQ1In the current issue of “Albuquerque: The Magazine” I’m interviewed in a one-page feature in the Culture section talking about my investigations and new book Mysterious New Mexico! Check it out!

Jul 112014

My recent article on the Vatican’s move to formally recognize a group of professional exorcists. In 2014.

The Catholic Church recently formally recognized The International Association of Exorcists, a group of 250 priests worldwide who claim to drive demons and devils out of possessed individuals. You can read the piece HERE.

Jul 022014

A classic piece I wrote about my trip to Macchu Picchu, in Peru…

Hard-headed types like scientists and skeptical investigators are often seen as dour debunkers, devoid of magic and awe. We are seen as eggheads and naysayers who don’t believe anything wondrous that we can’t put under a microscope. Yet I passionately disagree; as Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, and others have eloquently pointed out, the skeptic’s world is not devoid of awe. Instead, we simply find wonder in the natural universe instead of a supernatural one. In 1997 I visited two of the great mystical “energy centers” of the world: the pyramids at Ghiza and the Peruvian ruins of Macchu Picchu in the South American Andes. The Peruvian ruins sit atop a steep verdant mountain, surrounded by lower hills emerging regally from cottony white clouds. The huge stone complex, which is a remnant of the Inca civilization, was rediscovered only recently (in 1911), having escaped the Spanish Conquest because of its remote location and rugged terrain.

You can read the rest HERE. 



Jun 222014

A man fainted while holding his breath as he drove through a tunnel near Portland, Oregon, causing a head-on collision that sent four people to the hospital, possibly highlighting the ill effects of even common, and seemingly silly, superstitions. You can read more about it HERE.

Jun 022014

My article on a modern-day witch hunt that killed a woman in Brazil lats month is on Yahoo News; you can read it HERE. 

A woman suspected of being a witch was beaten by a mob and died last week in Guarujá, Brazil, near the country’s largest city, São Paulo. The attack was prompted by suspicions the woman was involved in a kidnapping in the area, following a Facebook post by a local news outlet, according to a report from Folha de São Paulo, the country’s largest newspaper.

May 222014

Many religions claim that humans can be possessed by demonic spirits, and offer remedies to address this inconvenience. The Bible recounts six instances of Jesus casting out demons, while voodoo and Catholicism proscribe elaborate rituals and cleansings to remove spiritual stains.

Might you be possessed? Maybe; check out my classic article HERE. 

May 072014

I’m quoted in a recent piece on AmericanLiveWire discussing moon myths and superstitions:

Benjamin Radford, Bad Science columnist, elaborates: “If police and doctors are expecting that full moon nights will be more hectic, they may interpret an ordinary night’s traumas and crises as more extreme than usual. Our expectations influence our perceptions, and we look for evidence that confirms our beliefs.”

You can read more HERE.