“Sticky situation” (Star jelly)


Since at least the 15th Century, there have been reports of what is generally termed star jelly, either falling from the sky or appearing mysteriously overnight. Descriptions vary, but witnesses usually talk about seeing a sticky, slimy goo, somewhat akin to Jell-O, and usually concentrated in puddle or patch form.

Folklore often attributes the jelly to meteors, but there is no scientific evidence for a connection. And even a shooting star that appears to be directly overhead is likely thousands of miles to the left or right and would leave any deposit far from the viewer. Star jelly has a much shorter shelf life than even the most perishable vegetables and usually evaporates or disintegrates before it can be analyzed.

Many guesses have been made as to what it is, from the scientific to the pseudoscientific to the just plain bizarre. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning looked at some of these and concludes that star jelly is likely not a single phenomenon but multiple ones that have come to reside under the same mysterious umbrella.

Among the rational, terrestrial explanations are that it star jelly are a form of slime mold, which are neither fungus nor bacteria, and which use spores to reproduce. They prefer dead plant matter, which enables them to feeding on its microorganisms. Slime molds begin as a single cell, can reproduce quickly, and move noticeably. When growing, slime molds are wet and slimy, and appear suddenly, with a gelatinous appearance that morphs into a dusty form. Much wind or rain at all will cause it to evaporate or disintegrate. These distinctions are consistent with many star jelly reports, though not all.

Another possible answer are a cyanobacteria called Nostoc. Nostocs exist everywhere on the planet as minuscule colonies of bacteria. They are so tiny that only a botanist looking for them would be likely to make a sighting. But when wet, Nostocs swell to a much larger size and transform into gooey lumps or puddles. This would create an illusion of sudden appearance, when it was actually a change in appearance.

Another candidate is bryozoan, a phylum which exists in colonies of interdependent individuals. Most of these colonies are about a half a millimeter long and secrete exoskeletons. In some species, these skeletons are somewhat solid, making the colony look like a plant or coral. In other species, this exoskeleton is gelatinous, which turns the colony into a wet, sticky blob. Both of these eventualities could be taken to be star jelly.

Other natural substances that could explain star jelly include unfertilized frog spawn or deer sperm. And in The Book of British Amphibians and Reptiles, authors speculate that star jelly may form from the glands in frog and toad oviducts. Birds and mammals will eat the animals but not the oviducts which, when they come into contact with moisture, swell and distort leaving a vast pile of jellylike substance.

There has been speculation that star jelly being a more revolting substance, specifically chemical waste dumped from the airline toilets. However airplanes have never dumped toilet from the sky. It is possible for airline toilet systems to leak, forming blue ice can fall off when the plane descends. But the results are not gelatinous and have a color inconsistent with star jelly descriptions.

A far less reasonable airliner-related speculation is that star jelly is chemtrail residue. This is an instance of Tooth Fairy Science, where someone attempts to explain something by means of something not yet proven. Since chemtrails remain in the realm evidence-free paranoia, they make for a poor explanation as to what causes star jelly.

Jelly star sightings are sometimes accompanied by reports of widespread sickness enveloping the area. This leads to the most (literally) out there answer, that star jelly houses an alien virus. But there would be no reason to suspect that the jelly is causing a mass sickness. That would be a correlation/causation error. There’s never been a diagnosis of a pathogen tied to star jelly and any town is going to have a virus going around to some degree at any time. You could tie that virus to anything you wanted, be it rutabaga sales, tech stock prices, or the percentage of men wearing fedoras.

“Bird drain” (Avian apocalypse)



A study of North American bird populations appearing in the journal Science this fall set off alarms about an impending avian apocalypse. But while most of the numbers in the study were strictly correct, mitigating factors make the likely scenario far less chilling.

Cornell conservation scientist Ken Rosenberg led the study, which found that since 1970, the North American bird population has declined by nearly 30 percent, a net loss of around 3 billion feathered flyers.

While the numbers were concerning, Slate’s Michael Schulson talked with experts who analyzed the statistics and found them to reveal a less dire situation than what the media had portrayed.

Writing for Dynamic Ecology, University of Maine ecologist Brian McGill expressed general approval of the article and its findings, but still doubted if the numbers warranted the anxious response. McGill noted that many of the vanishing birds belong to species not native to North America. This is especially important, McGill said, since, “land managers and conservation agencies have spent a lot of money to drive down or eliminate invasive species.” In other words, the numbers suggest that conservation efforts are working, not that birds are declining at an unsettling rate.

McGill also pointed out that species which prefer farmland once had their numbers artificially boosted by the clearing of forests and the destruction of prairie land. Hence, the decline is likely a return to a safe, thriving level, not a harbinger of doom.

Additionally, McGill writes that the species that account for the majority of the dip are among the most abundant bird species in North America. While the numbers are a cause for concern, they don’t necessarily suggest an ongoing extinction event.

University of Minnesota conservation biologist Todd Arnold agreed. “If you take away the 40 biggest decliners from the data set, then what’s left behind is hundreds of birds, some of which are declining, some of which are increasing,” he said. “But, on average, the increases outweigh the declines.”

Manu Saunders, a postdoctoral researcher who studies ecology and insect populations, is an even stronger critic of the Creeping Cataclysm narrative bandied by the press. Some graphics released as part of the study would seem to suggest panic was the correct response. One such chart showed a population line plunging nearly to the x-axis, seemingly suggesting an impending extinction. Yet this eventuality is not supported by the study’s data set and does reflect the paper’s claims.

The stage for this ornithological overreaction may have been set by a previously-released and equally incorrect study that portended doom for insect populations.

McGill worries this Chicken Little approach might cause the public to place less trust in scientific reports and to ignore their suggestions to modify behavior. Even though the scientists made measured claims and  the media sounded the false alarm, people are doubtful to remember that when the bird die-off fails to materialize. Instead, the public may misattribute the panic to the scientists and give less credence to future studies.

“Missing the target” (Human trafficking hysteria)


Law enforcement agencies will occasionally trumpet that they have conducted a sting or undercover operation that has resulted in the arrest of dozens of human traffickers and rescued hundreds of trafficking victims. This leaves people breathlessly wondering, if all this has taken place in one city over a few months, how widespread must this tragedy be?

But when journalists have the time and wherewithal to follow up and break down the specifics of each arrest, it turns out the actual number of traffickers apprehended and victims saved is almost always zero.

The law enforcement agencies arrive at their greatly exaggerated numbers by intentionally conflating all sex work with kidnapping and rape. A man and woman who use an app to arrange a clandestine for-money hook-up that involves no one else would be touted by police as human trafficking. No distinction is made between traffickers and masseuses, or between victims and found runaways.

Police round up the usual suspects and put another notch in their shining knight belts, regardless of what really happened.

In Reason, libertarian-minded John Stossel wrote about one of the more well-known instances of this grandstanding, when Florida police charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with soliciting prostitution. The media praised this rescue of sex slaves, but all involved women were willing participants. And far from being rescued (not that they needed to be), they were instead jailed and entered into the criminal justice system.

These are the results of the latest moral panic, in line with witches in Puritan America, Communism in the 1950s, and Satanism in the 1980s. Rep. Ann Wagner screeched on the Congressional floor, “300,000 American children are at risk,” a typically hyperbolic and evidence-free number bandied about my anxious believers.

Wagner got this number from a study that has been disavowed by its lead author. Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown told Stossel that if trafficking was that prevalent, “Cops would be able to find this all the time and wouldn’t have to go through these elaborate stings.”

Another unsubstantiated number comes from Ashton Kutcher, who told Congress about an app that has “identified over 6,000 trafficking victims this year.”

Yet Brown noted, “If Ashton Kutcher is finding all those victims, he’s not turning them over to police.” This is similar to claims 30 years ago that thousands of children were being raped or murdered by Satanic cults, yet no one making these assertions was able to offer the name of a victim, perpetrator, or location. The only exceptions were a couple of instances in which the allegations were false, ruining innocent lives.

These alarmist attitudes are especially impacting the hospitality industry, where hotel employees are encouraged to be unpaid law enforcement deputies. They are trained to remember long lists of innocuous activities, descriptions, and distinctions, and to consider them evidence of human trafficking.

Examples include: Having lingerie, condoms, an alcohol stash, lots of cash, or multiple phones and computers; declining housekeeping service; leaving minors in the room; infrequently leaving the hotel; using more toiletries and towels than most guests; or a prolonged stay with few possessions. Even wearing hats and sunglasses or being seen with a toy is considered evidence that the person is holding children captive and supplying them to lowlifes for the most malevolent purposes.

Because of all this, Brown has trouble containing her glee that police are starting to pay for their panicky pronouncements. There have been so many announcements making such grandiose claims that recipients of these messages have begun to suspect trafficking from the most benign activities. They then waste police time by reporting this, or worse for the cops, turn into an agitated activist whose social media campaign berates the cops for failing so stop the peddling of our children.

Brown cited an example from Glendale, Wis., where locals chided police for failing to put an end to “girls as young as 12 being snatched up from two local malls and sold into prostitution rings.” The person starting this campaign said a Milwaukee Police Department detective had told her that two Glendale malls were regularly used to traffic people.

This was followed with calls to keep girls and young women locked up at home and to engage in vigilantism: “If you shop in or frequent these areas keep your eyes open, you could make a huge difference.”

Yet no arrest records or information from the suspected trafficking center’s public affairs departments yielded one piece of evidence to support the claims. Like all good moral panics, this resulted not in relief, but in charges of denial and cover-up.

One commenter was somewhat placated, but warned, “It could happen here. Scary.” Yes, and NASA may somehow have missed a meteor that will wipe out two-thirds of the planet’s population later today. But stewing about such matters is neither reasonable nor a prudent use of emotions and resources.

Another commenter was less generous and declared, “Just because there have been no reports of this sort of thing does not mean it is not happening.” One went further still and insisted, “It IS happening and turning a blind eye does not save these young women.”

Any posters who sided with the police (and reality) were chastised for being naïve or were even called traffickers.

These reactions happen, Brown said, because, “When confronted with credible evidence that contradicts our understanding of a situation, we tend to double-down on our erroneous belief and seek ways to discredit the information or the messenger.”

The mall cases featured generic terminology, but sometimes reports of supposed trafficking feature names and specific actions undertaken – though the proof remains nonexistent.

According to Oklahoma media outlet KFOR, a woman named Amanda Kalidy said she was at Target with her 4-year-old daughter. While there, a girl about 9 years old asked Kalidy’s child multiple times for candy. Nearby, there was the most frightening creature imaginable: An unknown male. Kalidy concluded that this man was using the 9-year-old as bait to lure the preschooler into a child sex trafficking ring.

The usual panicked responses ensued, and it’s doubtful many of the posters were assuaged by an Oklahoma official telling KFOR that when trafficking does occur, the victims are usually drawn into the web by an acquaintance over time. They are not snatched from their mother at a retailer in broad daylight.

The Wisconsin and Oklahoma cases are just two examples of concerned citizenry responding to officials hyperventilating about human trafficking. The results have been dire warnings about Hobby Lobby abductions, Zip ties or shirts tied to side-view mirrors to distract victims, or white vans with external locks (used by contractors to keep their tools safe). Or there are horror stories about someone accepting a stranger’s Friend request, then having their child abducted at school later that day by their new-found Friend, who gleaned the school’s location from the person’s profile.

Most of these are anonymous, undocumented examples but sometimes a person like Kalidy will post that their child was targeted, and this is shared ad infinitum. In a typical tale, a panicked mother writes that she encountered a man found four times in same aisle as her and again at the checkout stand, and this can only mean he was there on a kidnapping mission. Of course, these supposed abduction attempts never result in an actual abduction or even attempt. And in the cases from the above paragraph, no victims are ever named.

Rather than being the end of it, this is all treated by believers as evidence of how efficient traffickers are, meaning we should be exhibiting even higher level of panic.

“Rod and not real” (Invisible flying creatures)


Believers in flying rods describe them as mystical living creatures who inhabit a realm that doesn’t fit neatly into any of our known dimensions. They can, however, slip through those dimensions with the right juxtaposition of technology and the desire to believe.

Proponents describe the rods as long and thin with waved wings for flying, and being anywhere from a few inches to a yard long. They are touted as invisible to humans, but visible to cameras.

While there are many alleged photos out there, they were not taken by professional nature photographers and videographers. Or, if they were taken by such persons, the shooters refrained from identifying their subjects as airborne, mostly invisible creatures from an unknown strata. If rods did exist, it should follow that those who do photograph nature for a living should be doing the majority of the sightings.

Instead, they were identified by Jose Escamilla, who said he made was videotaping UFOs when by happenstance he came across some unexplained floating sticks with appendages.

He only saw them when he reviewed his video. Since he had no recollection of seeing any such thing in person, he credited himself with discovering a new species of flying creatures that are invisible to humans, and only show up on film or video. In other words, he made an appeal to ignorance. This is when no other explanation is readily apparent, so the answer is whichever one the observer finds most gratifying.

But Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted serious deficiencies with the idea of these flying rods. First, zoologists should be aware of other flying insects up to a meter in length. There are new creatures discovered all the time, but most are small or in places not generally accessible. The idea that a sustainable population of large, airborne animals was discovered by chance by a UFO enthusiast and not by an ornithologist, biologist, or someone in a related field is straining believability.

Also, rod believers should be able to demonstrate that invisible creatures are tenable. There are known transparent creatures, such as certain jellyfish, but none that are invisible. Sure, if they can’t be seen, that would be a great handicap in finding them. But the onus is on believers to show that invisible creatures exist, it is not on skeptics to prove such an animal would be impossible.

Further, rod believers need to prove that cameras convert certain invisible wavelengths into visible ones without affecting the visible wavelengths, which is something they were not designed to do.

Dunning wrote there is a rational explanation for this phenomenon. It lies with two speeds – those of camera shutters and those of flying insects. Combined with lighting conditions, these can make for images that resemble the rods touted by enthusiasts as invisible flying creatures. Dunning offered a hypothetical example of someone standing with the sun at their back and facing a large-shaded area. With a horde of dragonflies scattering about, going about nine meters per second, the photographer captures these images shooting at 1/30 shutter speed.

He writes, “Because your exposure is set for the dark background, the path traced by the dragonfly’s transit will be overexposed and will appear solid white. Dragonflies beat their wings about 30 times a second, so the path described by its wingtip on your film image would be one full sine wave period, 30 centimeters long. Change these parameters with different insects, different wing speeds, different camera shutter speeds, and you can duplicate any rod photograph on the Internet.”

Among those who photograph nature for a living, this occurrence is more an annoyance than the discovery of a clandestine species. Dunning notes that the images are “strange enough that someone not familiar with photography basics might conclude that the subject in the photograph was in fact 30 centimeters long with undulating wings, and the photographer would be absolutely correct in stating that he did not see any 30-centimeter-long flying creatures with his naked eye.”

Dunning has thus provided a satisfactory explanation that should be the default answer until believers are able to capture and present a living rod.

“Head trip” (Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Fair)


On this year’s trip to the Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Fair, I concentrated on merchants hawking Supplementary, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine (SCAM). These are all oxymoronic terms. There is no supplementary medicine, complementary medicine, alternative medicine, Eastern medicine, and so on.

Products and treatments repeatedly proven effective in double blind, controlled studies are medicine, with no qualifier needed. If they lack these evidentiary distinctions, they are not medicine.

What proponents and detractors alike label “alternative medicine” are purported remedies that usually have no recommended dosage and carry no possibility of overdosing. This is because the product has no active ingredient and is therefore without medicinal value. I heard many a tale of success at the fair, but no references to double blind studies. And as James Randi noted, “The plural of anecdote is not data.”

Further, I have found that even the most rudimentary probing of the alternative medicine field will leave proponents flummoxed. They are used to being asked, “What can this do for my headache,” not, “Explain the mechanism behind how this will help my headache.”

By way of comparison, chemotherapeutic drugs work by inhibiting mitosis and targeting fast-dividing cells. That is a terse, rudimentary explanation, but that’s the gist of it and an oncologist could go into further detail, all of which would be backed by thousands of studies, peer-reviewed articles, and decades of research. But when I asked for the mechanism behind what was being sold at the fair, my ears were overloaded with fabricated terminology, pseudoscience, and anecdotes.

One reason alt med sometimes seems to work is that it usually tried after other methods have failed. Combined with the cyclical nature of many ailments and illnesses, the treatment or product might then seem effective, when in truth, it has just run its natural course.

My first stop was to a Shamanic healer, whom I asked about my headaches. She pronounced, “There’s more to you than just your physical, mental, and emotional bodies. There’s you energy body and that’s what we work with.”
That leaves me with three more bodies than I thought I had, but let’s see what she can do with the energy one.

She used what she called an energy bundle and what I called a red blanket. With this piece of vermilion fabric, she can “check your energy fields. When we do that, we get information about where there are imprints, maybe things you’re still struggling with.” Yeah, like those headaches, let’s get back to that.

“We would have to look at what’s effecting you.” Um, I said headaches were effecting me.

She continued, “Maybe some ancestral things that are effecting you.” You mean like genetics, maybe we’re getting somewhere. Instead she went down a different pathological path.

“We have a close relationship with our guides and mountain spirits, with powers, and we open up to the divine. We use stones that have connections to power places.”

By the time our conversation wound down, she had clued me on power stones and I had let her know what a double blind study was. A win for both of us.

At my second stop, the lady asked me, “Did you come last year?” It appears I’ve stumbled onto the Reverse Clairvoyance booth. As to why she was there either time, it was “to do all kind of modalities: Reiki, craniosacral, Shamanic healing, and reflexology.”

She explained it thusly: “You lay down (I’m liking that part) and there are different holds around the whole body, and the idea is to sort of calm your chakras so your body can do what it already knows how to do.” If it already knows how, why would I pay someone to do it?

She suggested craniosacral therapy and its “gentle holds” for my headaches. When I fired my standard question about the mechanism behind how it works, she told me,   “Um, gentle holds.” So, gentle holds works via gentle holds. Hard to argue with that.

She continued, “The weight you would use to hold a nickel is all the weight you would use. It can get pretty energyish.”

I love first-time experiences and while I’ve heard scores of references to energy during my annual pilgrimage to the fair, this is the first time some has uttered “energyish.”

Next up was a holistic healing table. There were the usual references to auras, chakras, clearings, blockages, and energy. And the usual dearth of evidence for auras and chakras, no clarifying of what type of energy is in play, or any explanation for why blockages would be harmful and clearings beneficial.

He blamed unspecified imbalances for causing shocks when touching a doorknob or for a light bulb blowing when you turn it on. In truth, the shocks are due to the build- up of static electricity, which cause electrons to flow from a person to a metal object. As to light bulbs being blown when turned on, that can be caused by cheap bulbs, loose connections, mechanical vibrations, or high voltages. No imbalance of a colorful yet somehow invisible energy field is needed.

He further offered that his chakra assessments may reveal that a person needs more vegetables and to carry a blue topaz. Of course, one is going to feel better eating more peppers and carrots regardless of one’s crystal accoutrements.

As to my headache question, he attributed that to my crown chakra and Third Eye. Criminy, my astigmatism makes it hard enough for me to handle two eyes, now I’ve got another one to worry about?

His cohort, who seemed lifted straight from 1967, said my ailment (and everyone else’s) could be caused by WiFi and cell phones. Since the sicknesses also occurred prior to the advent of wireless technology, this seems unlikely. She suggested keeping my energy field balanced and free of other peoples’ frequencies, offering no evidence for any of these things existing or being capable of manipulation.

I asked about the mechanism responsible and was told it was akin to cleaning the top of a swimming pool. That might be relevant if my issue was pruned hands, but I’m here for a throbbin’ noggin.

I moved on to the chiropractic booth, where a woman told me she uses “the alignment of your nerves and your muscles on your spine to align your spine.” Rather redundant. It would be like describing dentistry as caring for your teeth to ensure your teeth are cared for.

When I asked about my head pain, she had me sit next to an ersatz electronics machine. She rolled an implement on my neck, and this resulted in a readout of my back, neck, and skull that showed two red areas. There was no explanation for what this measured or revealed, or how spine adjustment would fix it, or even if it needs fixing. But red in general means bad, so the point was subtly made, or at least would be to someone less skeptical.

Next I came upon another chakra healing merchant. She reiterated earlier claims about needing to ensure my chakras are lined up and needing to see if there are any blockages. There is no way to measure this and it’s hard to imagine anyone being given a clean bill of health and told that neither they nor their money needs to come back.

She assured me that if my crown chakra is blocked, that could cause it, and that she can see each of my chakras. There have been tests of such claims, where a curtain is placed in front of the chakra reader. They are then asked to see what chakra is emanating from the person behind the curtain, or if there is even anyone there. No one has ever performed better that chance at guessing whether anyone and their accompanying chakra was behind the curtain. As I had come to the fair without any interior design merchandise, I had to settle for trusting the previous experiments and not conducting my own.

When I inquired into the mechanism, she answered, “We’re all energetic beings. Chakras are energy vortexes. When we have emotional garbage, the chakras push it out so the universe can take care of it and it also pulls in the good, clean energy.”

I asked, “What kind of energy is it, thermal, kinetic, nuclear?” She answered, “Divine energy and Reiki energy.” Hmm, don’t remember those from school. Then again, I didn’t take a lot of science.

Then I found another shaman who told me he “works with spirituality. I don’t heal you, the body heals itself. It’s a conduit for healing energies that are imparted to you. A good shaman is nothing more than a good plumber.” Interesting analogy. I’ve never heard anyone who was unplugging my bathtub refer to themselves as a right fine witch doctor.

As to the mechanism behind it, he said, “It’s just sending healing energy to that person. It’s also very connected to the spirit world. It is common for us to use drums and rattles to transmit the energy.” If that’s the case, I should just listen to R. Carlos Nakai.

Finally, I paid a visit to a sound healer and his many ringing metal bowls. He suggested I try exposure to various frequencies until I find one I resonate with. This type of approach leads to post hoc reasoning, where the subject keeps trying frequencies and when the pain goes away, they attribute it to that frequency. Yet the headache may have gone away on its own by then. With no plausible mechanism or explanation for how this works, it is mistaken to attribute it to the sound made from rubbing the rim of a copper bowl, no matter how pleasing the result is to the auditory sense.

When I asked the mechanism, he gave me the day’s most honest response, saying he didn’t know and suggested I Google it. I would choose another physician if mine recommended doing a web search to figure out why I have a back rash, so I’m going to move on from this sound healer. And I gotta tell you, a day of having these conversations wasn’t real good for my headache.

“Doubting Thomas” (Thomas John)


Skeptics should take aim at, challenge, and ridicule psychics who claim to carry on conversations with the dead that only the psychics can hear.

Their victims, however, should be approached with caution, compassion, and a well-thought plan. Skeptic leader Susan Gerbic revealed how she handled the delicate subject with a believer named Ken who had become enamored with one of today’s more prominent psychics, Thomas John. She relates, “People who seek him overwhelming believe Thomas John is in contact with their dearly departed. It’s extremely sad to watch people preyed on by these grief vampires who are trying to get a hook into their desperation and trust.”

A combination of gullibility, stubbornness, and a desire to believe works in the psychic’s favor. Gerbic related about a skeptic leader who was at a psychic show where the performer claimed to be mentally reading – but not looking at – questions audience members had jotted on pieces of paper the psychic was holding. He purported to be able to put the pieces to his head and receive the message telepathically. But before doing so, he put on his glasses, a superfluous action if he wasn’t going to read. The skeptic asked a believer who he was attending the show with, “Did you see that?” The believer answered that she did, but that they should keep quiet so as to not upset the spirits.

This anecdote reveals how tough it can be to bring someone around to the truth about psychics. Along those lines, Gerbic wrote about her difficulty convincing Ken that John was fraudulent. He remain entrenched even after Gerbic showed him how John had used Ken’s social media posts to glean information about him, then wow him with a hot read.

Ken was so impressed with John that he produced a YouTube video of the reading, praising the psychic vampire for his accuracy. According to the video, John correctly noted the following: Ken planned the funeral for the father of his roommate, Judy; Ken helped procure military recognition and medals for the deceased; that Judy had sold her father’s car; and that the father was married to a woman named Anna, who preceded him in death. John also revealed that he had seen a vision of the father and Anna dancing in heaven.

What seemed to Ken be a series of irrefutable hits was instead textbook hot reading. Gerbic and her associates found that Ken regularly mentioned Judy on Facebook, and there were multiple posts about the medals, Anna, the car being sold, and about Ken’s plans to attend the show. As to the celestial tango, Gerbic noted this is a claim that cannot be tested and is therefore of no value. Ken’s only response to all this was that there was no way John could have known what he did. The Backfire Effect kicked in since Ken had invested so much time, emotion, and money into believing John was a psychic.

Ken also revealed that he is close to death himself and said John’s words provide comfort about the situation and about his associate’s passing. Put another way, John had found another desperate victim to prey on.

We should extend sympathy to such victims. Hot and cold readings done skillfully can amaze the recipient, especially if they are unfamiliar with how they work. And Gerbic noted that, “Cold reading can come at you so fast that you can barely process what is being said.” But when you watch the taped version, pausing to digest it bit-by-bit, the misses and the manipulative techniques are seen more clearly.

Though well meaning, a skeptic can sometimes add to the victim’s burden by snatching away their hope, albeit a false one. Some of those who have come around to the skeptics’ way of thinking related that realizing it wasn’t true was like losing the loved one again.

And whether it involves dietary choices, financial decisions, or psychic readings, people will respond coldly to being told they are being ridiculous. They will shut you down and not hear anything else you have to say. So a sound strategy might be to talk about psychics in general or bring up specifics from another case and avoid addressing the victim’s personal experience altogether. Certainly don’t try and completely invalidate what to them was a powerful emotional experience. Maybe leave them with an article on cold reading and suggest they peruse it later, without you being present. Ask them a few days later what they thought of it. One doesn’t need to be a psychic to see that such an approach would be more likely to succeed.


“Plane truth” (Malaysian Airlines flight MH370)


On March 8, 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Its final appearances were some unexpected cameos on radar and satellite data. About 40 minutes after departure, the Boeing 777 signed off from Kuala Lumpur air traffic control over the South China Sea.

Minutes after signing off, the pilots made a U-turn back toward Malaysia. The plane was equipped with an ACARS system which periodically transmits maintenance data, and the system was inoperable after the U-turn.

Later, a right turn was made and the military radar detected the craft west of Thailand. The final contact, between an Inmarsat satellite and the aircraft’s automated satellite data unit, located the plane as having been in the Indian Ocean west of Australia. That is about when the plane’s fuel would have run out. Search and rescue teams were unsuccessful, though conspiracy theorists enjoyed  more fruitful days.

Plausible ideas such as a hijacking or pilot suicide were aired. But hijackers want something in return or, in the case of 9/11, aim to commit a very public atrocity. Neither of those things happened. As to the latter idea, Captain Zaharie Ahmad had recently separated from his wife and a flight simulator game at his home had some unusual Indian Ocean landings on it. But that’s hardly enough to (reasonably) deduce he committed a mass murder/suicide.

Some have pondered about North Korean involvement. There are two competing narratives here: One has Kim Jong Un lackeys hijacking the plane in order to reverse engineer it; the other paints North Koreans as the victims, with the 777 carrying a nuclear weapon meant to take aim at Pyongyang. This idea was reminiscent of suspicion that the downed KAL 007 airliner in 1983 had been on a spy mission. However, there is no satellite or radar data suggesting the Malaysian airliner was ever on a route to North Korea.

Keeping with the theme of vile eastern dictators, another hypothesis implicates Vladimir Putin. In this tale, a cutting-edge Russian spy satellite detected the Malaysian airliner plummeting into the Bay of Bengal. However the Russians kept quiet about it in order to not reveal it had this new technology. How anyone in the West knows this, since it contradicts the narrative it’s trying to promote, is unclear.

Another Putin-related claim was that the vanishing came after the US had imposed sanctions against Russia, so Putin arranged for hijackers to divert the plane to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Besides being post hoc reasoning and lacking all evidence, this proposal fails to explain how a Malaysian airliner being sent to Kazakhstan would harm the United States.

The most far-out explanations include the airliner making its way to an alternate dimension or being caught in a time warp a la Manifest

While the disappearance remains a mystery, a reasonable answer has been suggested by members of the Air Line Pilots Association. What follows is a succinct version of the theory.

First, since the airliner’s automated communications stopped, this may indicate the ACARS system had been damaged. Second, an emergency locator beacon was never triggered while within range of ground personnel who could have heard it. This suggests that whatever doomed the plane took place over several minutes and was not an instantaneous catastrophe. Third, it seems probable that the pilots became incapacitated. All three of these occurrences could be explained by smoke.

Members of the association agree their initial action when smelling smoke would be to turn off all unnecessary electronics, to include radios. This would explain the ACARS no longer transmitting, and would also explicate the lack of communication from the airplane to traffic control. As to the emergency locator beacon, pilots cannot switch it off, and besides, there would not necessarily been anything to trigger it.

If the smoldering got pronounced enough, carbon monoxide or smoke inhalation could have rendered the pilots incapacitated. As to why they wouldn’t have responded with a Hollywood “Mayday!” moment, no one in air traffic control can help with a smoky cockpit. Pilots follow a guideline of, “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate” – in that order.

The reconstructed flight path that we now know the plane followed is consistent with the association’s recommendations of what backup airports the pilots would have chosen. And when debris from a Boeing 777 did begin to appear more than a year later, it was all consistent with the notion of a crash in the ocean west of Australia.