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Of Psychics and Serial Killers

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

It was announced on Monday that the remains of four women who were buried near a Long Island beach were most likely the victims of a serial killer.

The women are supposedly prostitutes who advertised on Craigslist, which is where the killer most likely targeted them.

It is a horrible and sad story, and hopefully the police will catch the bastard before he hurts anyone else.

But of course, the media has found a way to make the story even worse with this little gem about a psychic who “predicted” where the bodies would be found. As reported in the New York Post:

A psychic eerily predicted where the victim of a suspected serial killer could be found — nine months before cops dug up the corpse and that of three other young women on a Long Island beach, police sources said.

In April, the clairvoyant, hired by the desperate family of Melissa Barthelemy, 24, of Buffalo, chillingly saw “her body buried in a shallow grave overlooking a body of water,” the police source said. The psychic also said “there was a ‘G’ in a sign nearby.”

Fox News has also run the same story on their website.

This makes me sick. Melissa Barthelemy was missing since July 12, 2009. So 10 months later, a desperate family willing to do anything to find her, turned to a psychic to try to find her.

This psychic took these bereaved people’s money and gave them nothing. Absolutely nothing in return.

What did they actually predict? After being missing for 10 months, the odds of the poor girl being dead were unfortunately pretty good. So nothing there.

Next the “psychic” told them that her body was buried “overlooking a body of water”. You are in New York! On the Eastern seaboard! There is water everywhere. If the poor girl was killed, odds are pretty good that she would turn up somewhere near a “body of water”.

The “psychic” also said that there would be a “G” in a sign nearby. And Melissa Barthelemy was found near Gilgo Beach. That’s pretty good, right? *facepalm*

They didn’t say if the “G” would be in the name of the lake, or the town, or a nearby store, or the hi*g*hway.

Simply looking out the window of my office, I count no less than 5 signs that contain the letter ‘G’. She certainly played the odds on that one.

But psychics don’t care if their predictions are vague. That’s the whole point. Horoscopes do the same thing. “You will face a difficult decision today.” Thanks horoscope, even though I face difficult decisions every day, you got that one right I guess.

If this “psychic” had this great power, why couldn’t they predict anything useful? Like the name of the lake, or a road, or the face of the serial killer? Because psychics don’t have a great power. They makes vague “predictions” and, after the fact, overzealous news outlets try to fit the facts to the vague predictions. This person is a con-artist who takes the money off grieving people.

So whoever this “psychic” is that took advantage of the Barthelemy family should be ashamed of themselves. These people have lost a family member and the idea of someone profiting off their misery makes me physically ill.

Update (April 14, 2011):

As it turns out, this psychic was even more off than I had originally thought. It seems that Barthelemy was not buried in a grave at all. She was found above ground in a wooded area, just like the other victims.

Also, even though she was found at Gilgo Beach, there was no indication that there was a sign nearby at all.

So again, chalk this one up to psychics taking blatant misses and spinning them so they seem like hits.

Fail.

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Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2010 1 comment

Here are a few things to be afraid of today:

1. The WiFi hysteria in Ontario is still going on, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that WiFi is perfectly safe.

2. While its fun to go to movies about the paranormal, it seems actual belief in the supernatural may be getting even more common.

3. Christopher Walken reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. (Thanks to Zee’s Wordly Obsessions for bringing this video to my attention).

Albino People Being Slaughtered in Africa

June 6, 2010 4 comments

Why is scientific knowledge important? For reasons like this.

In the African nations of Tanzania and Burundi people afflicted with albinism, a disorder resulting in the lack of pigmentation in the hair, eyes and skin, are being hunted and killed so that their body parts may be used by witch doctors in their rituals.

Albino body parts are highly prized in these circles. The limbs fetch a hefty price ($2000 to $3000 per limb), and often the heads of albino people are kept as good luck charms.

Albinism also results in severely reduced vision quality. As a result, few albino people are able to complete educational programs or gain employment. Couple this with their differently coloured skin, Albinos are heavily discriminated and feared in these countries. It is believed by many in these cultures that albinism is a curse and may even be contagious. This makes them easy targets for witch doctors and limb-hunters. It is estimated that as many as 10 000 albinos live in fear and hiding in Tanzania and Burundi.

The biggest problem here is a lack of scientific education. Now granted, in developing countries it can be exceptionally difficult to gain widespread public education of scientific theories. But this situation is a horrific microcasm of the larger problem of lack of scientific knowledge in communities all over the world.

Albinism is caused by a defect, or complete absence, of an enzyme which produces melanin. Melanin is what gives hair, skin, and eyes their pigmentation. This lack of skin pigmentation makes the person much more susceptible to skin cancer and damage from the sun (a problem especially bad for those living in Africa).

Of course, there is no scientific evidence which supports the practice of black magic or anything similar. These practices are superstitions which have been passed on for generations. Old habits die hard, evidently. The belief in witch craft  also led to the murder of 40 000 to 100 000 so called “Witches” in Europe in the Reformation period between 1480 and 1700.

Witch Hunts in Europe

Albinism, when treated properly with adequate sun protection and vision correction, is non-life threatening and certainly not contagious. In fact, those who have albinism in North America have the same life expectancy as the rest of the population. In Eastern Africa, however, the life expectancy is around the mid-30s.

This is an issue not isolated to Africa. Many people believe that certain races are genetically inferior to others and that they deserve ridicule and apartheid. Even in North America, people are still being murdered because of the colour of their skin or their genetic background. It is a terrible state of affairs and often stems from poor education and ignorance.

But there is hope. An organization called “Under the Same Sun” is currently working in Eastern Africa to help those afflicted with Albinism in Tanzania by providing them with medical treatment and education. The international Red Cross also has a presence in the region and is providing sanctuary to children with albinism.

I am constantly arguing for the importance of greater scientific knowledge and education all over the world. Cases such as this are perhaps the most horrific example of scientific ignorance, and what the result can be.