Thursday, September 23, 2021

Shadow of a Doubt - April 2021


NCAS Public Lecture Series

Twenty Years of Weird Science at Goldsmiths

 YouTube Live Event with Q and A 

Chris French, PhD
Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London
Founder / Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit

Saturday, April 10, 1:30pm US/Eastern (UTC-04:00)

NCASVideo YouTube Channel:

For more information, call the NCAS Skeptic Line at 240-670-NCAS (6227).

Following his retirement in October of last year, Professor Chris French will reflect on the work of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU), founded in the year 2000. His talk will describe his own journey from being a believer in the paranormal to becoming a skeptic, as well as his reasons for founding the APRU. He will give some examples of its work in the areas of both anomalistic psychology and parapsychology, as well as considering the future prospects of both disciplines.

Chris French is an Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and head of its Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a Patron of UK Humanists. He has published over 150 articles and chapters covering a wide range of topics. His main current area of research is the psychology of paranormal beliefs and anomalous experiences. He frequently appears on radio and television casting a skeptical eye over paranormal claims. His most recent book is Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience.

There will be an online question-and-answer segment after the talk.

How to Watch and Participate in this Online Event:

1) Use a supported browser...
2) Use the link .
3) The live stream begins shortly before 1:30pm US/Eastern (UTC-04:00) on Saturday, April 10, 2021.
4) To post questions, you must be signed in to a Google account.
5) Post your questions in the chat window to the right of the video player when the live stream is active.
6) Click into where it says "Say something..." and begin typing (up to 200 characters). Then click the send icon .

Along with your question, please post what city or town you're in.

Annual Membership Meeting
Following the talk and the question-and-answer segment, the YouTube presentation will end, and an online meeting with NCAS members will begin on Zoom.  Check your email inbox during the last few minutes of the Q and A. All NCAS members will receive information for joining the Zoom meeting.  The "Zoom Client for Meetings" can be downloaded for free at  To join, just enter the Zoom Meeting ID number and Passcode provided in the Zoom account is needed.  There's no formal agenda for the meeting.  Discussion of potential lecture speakers/topics is certainly welcome, as well as any other NCAS-related subject.

We'd love to share refreshments as we usually do in person, but we'll need your help to psychically de-materialize our supplies and re-materialize them at your location!  (Please distribute the refreshments to others, if you're able.)

Message to Current and Prospective NCAS Members
In response to the economic hardship and other uncertainties that our members may be facing, NCAS has automatically extended by one year all memberships that expire in 2020 or later.  Payment will be accepted for new memberships as well as renewals for 2019 and before: new and renewed will have a bonus year added.  Each life member may sponsor a new one-year membership at no charge.  (Double life memberships may sponsor two.)  Send your sponsored member's name and contact information to This offer will continue until further notice.

Torn From Today's Headlines
By Scott Snell
NCAS Speaker's Appearance on ABC-TV's "The Con" was a Victory for Skeptics

December 2020 NCAS speaker Bob Nygaard, a private detective who specializes in the investigation of confidence crimes, most notably psychic fraud, appeared on "Psychics," the March 17 episode of "The Con," a weekly ABC-TV series narrated by Whoopi Goldberg.  Nielsen Media Research data indicate that 1.621 million people saw the program, which portrayed Nygaard and his anti-psychic cause in a completely supportive, essentially promotional way.  Longtime skeptics may be hard-pressed to recall a skeptical person and cause receiving such a prominent showcase, especially one so generously provided by a national network news organization.  ("The Con" is produced by ABC News.)

The director of the show was Starling ("Star") Price, well-known among skeptics for Penn & Teller's "Bull*hit," which ran on Showtime for many years.  That almost certainly explains why Nygaard received a top-notch portrayal.

This will probably help Nygaard help others for months or even years to come.  He can share the online link with any new clients and tell them, "Here's what I can do to help you," and/or "Watch this and warn your friends and family about what can happen to them if they're vulnerable and a self-proclaimed psychic takes advantage."

Conceivably this will be a major breakthrough in protecting the public from con artists.

In the weeks since, Nygaard says he's been "...inundated with phone calls, emails, twitter messages, instant messages, etc.  It’s going to take me quite a while to sort through everything and get back to the people who I can help."

One of the on-camera expert contributors to the program was mentalist Mark Edward, who will be giving an online talk on April 17 (see next item).

April PhACT Lecture
Our skeptical neighbors to the north, the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT), will host their next online event on Saturday, April 17 at 2 PM ET.  Professional mentalist Mark Edward will discuss the new horizons of psychic fraud and swindle that have emerged during the pandemic.  Event details at

Torn Too From Today's Headlines
By Scott Snell
The National Weather Service Publicizes a Superstition for a Good Cause

On April 7th, the National Weather Service and its "Weather-Ready Nation Ambassadors" wanted Americans to take a "selfie" in their extreme-weather safe places (e.g., closets, basements, etc) and post it with the hashtag #SafePlaceSelfie.  All well and good, I think most everyone would agree.

But then the NWS added a peculiar detail: to do so at 11:11 AM local time.  "What is the significance of 11:11am local time?  The exact time of 11:11 is often associated with 'making a wish.' We chose that time because wishing or hoping is not an effective preparedness action. So instead of making a wish at 11:11, take the time to post your #SafePlaceSelfie. Please also note, if you can’t post at that time in your area, do not worry. We still want you to post at any time of day. Since we will start with Eastern Time, 11:11am will occur at each time zone every hour until Hawaiian time."

I was unfamiliar with this superstition, and perhaps many other people were as well.  Should the NWS publicize obscure superstitions, even for a good cause?

Maybe if the superstition were already famous (such as "Friday the 13th is a day of bad luck"), leveraging it wouldn't be as questionable.

Speaking of Superstitions
March 24 marked the 20th anniversary of a fluke event that the superstitious would likely consider a harbinger of doom.  During a Spring Training baseball game in Tucson, pitcher Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks threw a pitch that killed a mourning dove in flight:

Several years ago, Newsweek consulted experts who confirmed that the hapless bird was a mourning dove:

Based on my (admittedly) inexpert knowledge of superstitions, shouldn't we skeptics expect that killing a dove, even accidentally, would bear grave consequences for the perpetrator?

In fact it appears that quite the opposite occurred.  Johnson enjoyed a remarkable season that culminated in a World Series title.  In May he tied a record (which still stands) for the most strikeouts (20) over nine innings.  In July he set the record (still standing) for most strikeouts in a relief appearance.  In an August game, he struck out three batters on three pitches each (a so-called "immaculate inning").  Johnson earned three of the Diamondbacks' four World Series game victories that year, including Games 6 and 7, and shared (with teammate Curt Schilling) the World Series Most Valuable Player award.  By any measure, including the other seasons of his Hall of Fame career, it was an outstanding season.

So the "omen hypothesis" doesn't fit the facts in this case.  On the other hand, there is a history of belief that animal sacrifice brings good fortune.

Seems that either a very good or very bad 2001 season for him would've been "explainable" by superstition.  Would a mediocre (for him) season have been difficult for a superstitious person to explain?  Maybe not, for if a superstar has a mediocre season, wouldn't that be considered bad?  Conceivably any outcome could've been found consistent with a superstitious belief.

Torn From Yesterday's Headlines
By Scott Snell
The Pandemic, One Year Later

Have a look back at the April 2020 Shadow of a Doubt:

NCAS Board Elections: Electronic Voting
The 2021 NCAS election is underway.  In early April, your e-mail inbox should've received a single-cast secret ballot from " via SurveyMonkey <>".  (NCAS will receive information indicating who voted, but nothing to indicate who cast each ballot.)  Please vote by April 30, 2021.

Note that voters will not be at risk for spamming as a result of participating...SurveyMonkey has a zero-tolerance spam policy:

AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
When holiday shopping at, you'll find the same low prices, vast selection, and convenient shopping experience as, with the added bonus that a portion of the purchase price (0.5%) goes to NCAS! It's simple and automatic, and it doesn't cost you anything!

AmazonSmile's disbursements to NCAS in the fourth quarter of 2020 came to $34.53, meaning that $6900 of purchases were designated in support of NCAS.  (As an example of how NCAS can put that money to good use, it's enough to cover more than 100 minutes of a Montgomery County lecture room rental.)

Thanks again to our members who have chosen to support NCAS!

For more information:

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