Article about my work…

August 26, 2012

Hey, ho!

I thought I’d let you know that my work was profiled in an article in Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. It’s “The Article They Don’t Want You to Read.”


The Week in Conspiracy: Post TAM 2012 edition

July 17, 2012

For the last several weeks, I’ve been teaching, packing, hunting for a house, and preparing for my TAM panel. It turns out that when I’m not writing this feature, I do feel as if something is lacking, so I am making a great lunge at normalcy by coming back and writing another Week in Conspiracy. After TAM, a new project is in the works that is going to take this to the next level. More to come. But we are assembling the super-friends to start this sucker up. Needless to say (a phrase that should not exist) when you get a couple hundred skeptics in a bar together, the ideas come fast and furious (another phrase that shouldn’t exist, but for different reasons). I’ve been meticulously gathering the woo as I always have, so there are no gaps in the coverage, just gaps in publication.


Well, it looks sort of unavoidable that I’m going to have to talk about the mass shooting in Colorado. Damn it. But were not 24 hours into the aftermath and I’ve seen the CIA, FBI, MK-Ultra, and Obama targeted as possible culprits. I’m only going to point out a couple of the worst…people in general who have decided to fap furiously to the misery.

Lone Deranger ‏@postielinley
Alex Jones Says Aurora Shooting Was Staged By Obama  // Proof Alex Jones is a complete fucktard
Retweeted by Rhys Morgan

Enough of that. On with the other not news at all:

Twit of the Week

This week’s twit award goes out to the IntelHub, who sent (or “communicated”) this highly ironic tweet:

Obama Seizes Control of All Communications Systems With Executive Order: — IntelHub (@IntelHub)

I would be remiss if I did not mention Josh Bunting’s quip on twitter:

Josh Bunting (@josh_b42)
7/22/12 6:13 PM
Michele Bachmann = M.B. = Muslim Brotherhood. Coincidence?

Conspiracy Theory of the Week

This week’s winner was flagged by Brian Gregory, and it made me very happy: “Earth landing ‘totally faked,’ claim Martian conspiracy theorists.”

That’s all for now, folks! Expect another slight hiatus as I finish up my summer class and move to Wisconsin. I leave in, like, a week and am pretty excited. Got a little house with…gasp! office. No more typing in the living room, no siree! I also have a couple of badass projects in the works, as always. But these are super-badass. For real. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!


This Week in Conspiracy (11 April 2012)

April 12, 2012

It’s that time of the week, y’all, when I mosey up to biggest and baddest in conspiracy theory, size ’em up,  and brand them with humor. Then I run away, trying not to get gored.

Let’s see what’s shaking.

Not exactly the Durham Light Infantry

Twit of the Week:

President @BarackObama claims to be a Trekkie. But where’s the proof? Why won’t he release his fan fiction? — Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrien)

Conspiracy Theory of the Week:

Well, that’s about all I can take this week folks. I have a backlog of conspiracy theories for you, but a lot of work to attend to in the near future. Also, my brother suckered someone into marrying him this weekend, and I need to write the best man’s toast. But I will keep my ear to the ground, don’t you worry.


By the way, I also write as “The Conspiracy Guy” for the CSICOP website. Visit me there for in-depth coverage of some of the major conspiracy theories. My latest is about the Denver International Airport.

This Week in Conspiracy (5 February 2012)

February 6, 2012

BAM! Finished another article and sent it off tonight. What next? I could watch Puppy Bowl reruns….Aw shucks, let’s do a conspiracy theory round-up!

Conspiracy Theory of the Week: Ron Paul Edition

First, an irony of epic proportions. It turns out Ron Paul’s biggest donor is a Bilderberger.

Also, and I know I posted this earlier, but I love, freaking LOVE, this video at the Georgia Guidestones by a Ron Paul supporter/conspiracy theorist. Make sure you watch until after the wind dies down, because, wow, there is some profound linguistic analysis.

Conspiracy is so much fun!

Anyway, I have a couple of reviews in the pipeline, so stay tuned. Keep it classy, Internet!


The Last Two Weeks or So In Conspiracy (31 Dec 2011)

December 31, 2011

Yeah, I’ve been out of contact recently, traveling the country, racking up foursquare points (why, I’m not sure), and learning the ways of the iPad. Things have settled back down, and I can take a little time to bring everyone up to speed on the wide, wide world of weird.

In the next few days, I’ll be heading out to Seattle to interview for a job in Mississippi (yeah, it’s easier if you just don’t think about it). I have seized upon the opportunity to make sure that I have a long layover at the Denver International Airport, which is where the bigwigs who are really in charge are going to wait out the end of the world. Or detain gun owners. Or transfer planes. Nobody is too sure about that. Anyway, I’m there. I’ve been trying to contact the artist whose murals have come under suspicion most goofy so that I could meet and interview him during my 4 hours at DIA, but given the weird attention his work has received, he’s hard to get in touch with, as you might imagine. (If anyone has any ideas…the email addy on his website is obsolete.)

Mike Adams, Health Stranger

davidfrum (@davidfrum)
12/26/11 1:08 PM
“CNN is run by Jews.” From the comments on my Ron Paul column …

Well played, redneck. Well played. I’m willing to bet that you read Veterans Today, which was also horrible this week.


I enjoyed this book, because of some of the insider information that he brings out. I liked the insights into the invisible world, for example, how certain aliens are working with Satan the Devil, how Satan looks like a reptilian, including his hosts.

Conspiracy theories of the last few weeks:

“And, therefore planet Earth, as a female cosmic body with its newer, progressively greater level of 4th dimensional energy emanating from her – from Earth’s core – she is finally ready to be ‘fertilized’, and is attracting, pulling, drawing to her… the transformative cosmic 4th dimensional vibratory ‘male’ energy from the new crystal blue star (that was comet Holmes).”

Told you.

Dishonorable mention:

  • IntelHub gives exopolitics a run for its money, though, and this one blew me away with the goof. OK. Try to keep up. The Intel Hub, whose logo appropriately suggests something stinks over there, sez: “Chemtrail-like Substance Could Be Used in Blue Beam Type Operation.” Blue Beam is a continuation of the Philadelphia (boat teleportation) and Montauk (dead raccoons) Projects. Blue Beam is designed, according to this guy on the Internet, “to create a world-wide light show with accompanying electronically driven wave patterns.” Also, WTF does that even mean? Anyway, the pulse of energy is supposed to make people think that God is talking to them. Totally f-in’ superfluous, since people already think that God is talking to them! This is really an elaborate one that assumes earthquake-making, archaeological forgeries, telepathy, messiah-arriving, faked one-world religion, and staged UFO invasions. But this is the real problem: the IntelHub is setting itself up to believe this unfathomably vast pile of whale poop: “The Intel Hub has also received similar reports from various locations in the CONUS (Continental United States) and is requesting additional information/sightings to be sent to us (” No matter how much contradictory information can be brought to bear on the questions raised by the Blue Beam video (like all of physics, meteorology, aerospace and electrical engineering, and psychology), they are completely and explicitly uninterested in that evidence. So, if, for instance, an airline pilot wrote in saying, “Hey, I need to take into account all the mass on my airplane to calculate how much fuel I have, including the ‘magic fairy chemtrail dust,’ so it’s impossible that I would be able to spray and not know about it. Now tell me I’m poisoning people to my face, suckafoo,” Intelhub will hear none of it. Here’s a tip: Grow. Up.

Week’s Best Headline:

Not strictly related to conspiracy theory in…any way I can think of, but this headline needs to be read aloud to orphans every Christmas: “Victoria’s Secret: Busted for Undies With an Ugly Past”.

Thanks for an excellent year, folks! We had over 100,000 hits, many of which were not my mother. We’ll see you on the other side of the New Year!


Conspiracy Theory Panel at Dragon*Con

December 7, 2011

Kylie and Bob. Richard Saunders is sitting on my shoulder whispering evil thoughts: "Try the marmite..."

Go over and visit Kylie Sturgess at The Token Skeptic. She posted my conspiracy theory panel at Dragon*Con 2011. It features Kylie, Ben Radford, my colleague Tom Lolis, and yours truly discussing all things conspiratorial. Of course, we all thank Mark Ditsler for his work recording and producing the audio and Derek Colanduno for, you know, just the whole Skeptic Track.


This Week in Conspiracy (20 Nov 2011)

November 22, 2011

It was a crazily jam-packed weekend for those of us at Skeptical Humanities, so this is a little late and a little short. On Saturday, Eve and I put on our thinking helmets (sometimes you just need the extra protection) and attended an event by paranormal enthusiasts. One of us will be writing about it soon, I’m sure. We were so tired at the end of the day, I think we missed our first skeptics in the pub event since…ever.

This morning, we were out again. I had been invited by the Alabama Freethought Association to talk about conspiracy theories. About 20 people showed up, and Lake Hypatia seems to be a sort of Mecca for southern atheists.

Speaking of Mecca, when we got there, an hour early (stupid time change), in one of the sitting areas on the lovely campus, we found a Koran under the bench. We pointed it out when our hosts arrived, and they brought it inside because someone might think that leaving it outside would be a desecration. That’s class, people. Learn from them.

Onto the week that was weak!

Conspiracy Theory of the Week:

That’s all for now, m’laddies. I’ve got lots more, but not a lot of time at the moment. So, keep your eyes open for more from this week in next week’s edition.


Today, South Dakota. Tomorrow….the WORLD!!!

November 15, 2011

I was recently interviewed on David Leonard’s Alive at Five radio show out of Yankton, SD. It’s a fun show that covers a  lot of topics that I find interesting. The interview was a hoot, and thanks to David for inviting me to talk about 9/11 Truthers.




Very Superstitious: The Token Skeptic Podcast

October 28, 2011

Yo. We’re at CSICon, and you can’t make us not be. I had lunch with Eugenie Scott, Steve Novella and Richard Saunders.

Yeah, I’m just name dropping.

Let me do it again. Here’s a panel I was on with Steve Novella, Steven King and Barbara Drescher. Kylie Sturgess was the host.

Very Superstitious.


Superstitions as a Window Into Culture: Whooping Cough Cures

September 7, 2011

As Dragon*Con approached, I gathered my thoughts and made notes for a panel about superstition. As you might imagine, while as a general skeptic I have some opinions about the matter, I found that I was having a hard time conjuring examples on the fly.


Dragon*Con Superstition Panel: Kylie Sturgess, Bob Blaskiewicz, Steve Novella, Stephen King, Barbara Drescher (photo by Maria Walters)

Enter Opie and Tatem’s Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions, which I picked up and started reading a few weeks ago. It opens with a surprising use for adulterers: if you secretly rub your warts on them, you will be cured. Personally, I think that this was more likely an adulterer detection test–rub your warts on the suspected adulterer and if the warts clear up, well, it’s a mixed blessing.

The volume focuses on the folk wisdom and superstitions in the British Isles, but I find that by reading them, really do get a sense of the ways of life of the people who embraced the practices. In fact, the type of superstitions that you encounter can tell you a lot about the region it comes from. In a fishing community, if you saw a bowl turned over, you might be wary of going out in your boat for fear of capsizing. In a mining town, if you found your work shoes tipped over in the morning, you might be excused for not going down in the hole that day. Superstitions reflect the fears, hopes and values of the people who harbor them.

You can tell a lot about the lives from people from what they fear. As most of the superstitions in the Oxford Dictionary date from the 19th century and earlier (there was intense interest in “collecting” folklore in the 19th century), they reflect the concerns of rural, largely agricultural communities, for instance, warding off droughts and keeping your pollinating bees in the loop about the head of the household’s health. Hives were abandoned, however, and droughts still occurred, perpetuating the need for the superstitions. But I found something I was not expecting as I sifted through this tome, something that spawned so many proposed cures and protections in all ages across the British Isles that it must have been a matter of near-obsessive concern–whooping cough.

Now, the compilers of the dictionary did not miss the importance of the themes running through the superstitions, so even though a whooping cough cure might be listed under “caterpillar” and another under “running water,” those two entries will also be found in the subject index under “whooping cough.” This is a very useful index. Now, the dates that I am giving here are approximate–sometimes the source is a printed interview of remembering their childhood–for the most part, however, the superstition was alive within the lifetime of someone living when the reference was made. Also, I should point out that with a single exception, the metaphorical interpretations that follow are my own, though I think that they are realistically plausible speculations.

A number of clear themes in British superstitions surrounding whooping cough emerge from the catalog assembled by Opie and Tatem. One motif that sticks out–and illustrates that everyone knew exactly what was at stake when a child contracted whooping cough–is the theme of burial, which appears in a number of guises. The most straightforward example is the practice, recorded in the 1830s, of “dipping the persons affected nine times in an open grave” (49). Modified versions of this dipping practice–perhaps an allusion to baptism, or possibly trying to “fake out” death by pseudo-burial–appear at other times as well. One that is clearly related is to take a child to a mill and dipping them in the hopper. As late as the early 20th century, people recalled patients being taken to a grain mill during an epidemic, and the miller starting up the mill and saying, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, grind away this disease.” You might have to repeat this several times for optimal results (248). A shallower burial might suffice, when one digs a shallow hole and puts the patient face down to breathe into it, possibly to bury only the disease itself (48). Another version was to take a child into a cave. In the 1810s, one might seek to propitiate the “aerial beings” by taking the child into a cave and chanting: “Hob-hole Hob! my bairn’s got kink-cough: take’t off; take’t off” (67). Opie and Tatem found a machine age variation on this theme, hanging the head of a child out of the window of a train going through a tunnel (321), because if fresh coal smoke doesn’t cure an irritated respiratory system, I don’t know what will.

Cures for whooping cough often involved a surprisingly large amount of cruelty to very small animals. For instance, there is a whole suite of superstitions that involve hanging something from the afflicted’s neck. The whooping cough, of course, constricts the airways of very small children, and the attention to the neck may reflect an application of the magical cure to the site of the problem. In the 1850s, one might take a caterpillar and put it in a little bag around a baby’s neck. As the caterpillar died, so did the cough abate (64). a decade later, you might take a dead beetle, hang it around the neck of a child with whooping cough and as the bug rotted away, the cough vanished too. In the 1890s, one might take nine hairs off the back of a donkey (there’s that number 9 again), put it in a bag around the neck of the sick kid. When I wondered why the hell one would look at a donkey’s back and say, “Hey, that could be a cure for whooping cough!” I found an interesting photo:


Donkeys have dark crosses on their back! Now this is really interesting, and now I wonder if the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey in the Bible might have been inspired by this probably fairly common sight. The cross then becomes a sort of divine butt-print and an ever-present reminder to the faithful of that particular story. Clever that! [Note: see Pacal’s excellent correction below!] Also, this suggests reasons for a really bizarre cure, passing the child underneath a donkey, which was recorded in the 1820s and remembered as late as the 1930s (122-123). This also seems to be related to a few other practices, for instance, passing the baby underneath a piebald horse (305). Also, one might pass the child through the arched roots of a bramble bush, specifically cited as a symbolic rebirth (37). Lacking a donkey, you could pass the child under the belly of a piebald horse, whose breath was also thought to be curative (305-306).

Courtesy Bill Atkinson.

Getting back to things that were traditionally hung around the neck of children, items usually associated with squeezing were also employed, including the corset lace of the child’s godmother (with 9 knots in it!) or the garter of the child’s godfather (174-175).

Getting back to cruelty to small animals, in the 1850s, one might pass small snails between the hands of the afflicted and hang them by a string in the chimney. The cough was thought to leave as the snails died. An earlier version involved wrapping a house spider in muslin above the mantle and letting it die. One might also feed the hair of the sick baby to a dog, hiding the hair in bread and butter. If the dog dies, the baby will recover. Lastly, in the 1850, one might consider “[p]utting a trout’s head into the mouth of the sufferer and…letting the trout the breathe into the child’s mouth.” I wonder if this one too had a symbolic association with asphyxiation, though I could be wrong be wrong about that; it was also thought that putting a live toad’s head in your mouth would transfer the sickness to the toad (170). You could also try a soup with nine(!) frogs in it, as was recorded in Yorkshire. For some reason, it was important that nobody saw the frogs as you carried them home and prepared the soup, especially, I imagine, the person who was sick (170).

Trout were considered an important curative, it seems, for whooping cough. An interesting one remembered in the 1930s suggested that drinking milk a trout has been made to swim in would be beneficial. You could also drown the fish in beer, which you then drank (162-3). Other lactic treatments for the “kink-cough” included drinking new milk from a wooden bowl made of holly (201), though ivy-wood bowls worked too (214), and, in the 1860s, “For the Hooping cough . . . let the patient drink some milk which a ferret has lapped” (148).

An especially innovative cure involved feeding afflicted children either roasted or fried mice. Also you could powder mice and put them into the patient’s morning and evening beverage (268), though, as Barbara Drescher observed at the panel, if you add water to powdered mice, you just get mice. Pliny, by the way, thought that serving a boiled mouse to a child cured bedwetting (267-8). Useful little guys.

There are comparatively few overtly religious superstitions. In a practice that went back to at least the 1770s, those afflicted with whooping cough would go to Catholic Chruches to drink out of the challice after Mass, even Jews, it is reported (93-4). Of course, if you don’t like going into churches, you can always fast on a Sunday and carry a sick child to three parishes (298).

A kid with whooping cough is a miserable creature indeed; how could you possibly make him more miserable? Well, how about forcing him to drink seawater at low tide? When he vomited, the sickness was thought to disperse on the tide with the sick (407).

Lastly, two superstitions that I simply can’t even imagine how they were supposed to work. Porridge made over a stream flowing from east to west was thought to be a better remedy than any old porridge (430). Finally, you could give the afflicted a piece of bread made by a woman who has successively married two men, both of whom shared the same last name; this is apparently a variation on the older tradition of taking the bread of a woman who did not have to change her surname when she married (277).

As you can see, the variety and strangeness of the folk cures for whooping cough reveal how horrible the disease was and suggests the lengths that people would go to to cure it. We don’t have these superstitions anymore. We don’t need them. We have safe and effective vaccinations. Adults who have not had a dTap (or tDap) booster in the last 10 years should plan to get vaccinated during their next checkup. Write that down. You don’t do it for yourself as much as you do if to keep clear the narrow airways of children too young to be vaccinated.

Congratulations to Maria Walters, Jamie Bernstein, and the original MoFo herself, Elyse Anders, for the Women Thinking Freely pertussis booster clinic at Dragon*Con. Special thanks to Bill (“The Amazing Bearded Man”) Atkinson of the CDC and the workers from the Cobb County Health Department who made it possible and to the folks at Dragon*Con who put aside space for us. Thanks to Sanofi who donated 100 doses of flu vaccine to the cause of public health, one dose of which I am currently enjoying with minimal autism–it was very popular and we were out quickly. We managed to give out 250 doses of whooping cough and flu vaccine. Next year, we’re going to rock it even harder!

Bob and Eve get shot at Dragon*Con. FLU shot!



Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem. Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.