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Psychic Backing Away From $1 Million Psychic Challenge

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment

File:Psychic reading.jpgA prolific Toronto-area psychic named “Psychic Nikki” recently made headlines by saying that she would be interested in taking the ‘Psychic Challenge’ offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).

The JREF offers a $1 million prize to any person who can demonstrate psychic abilities. What is the catch? Well there is none, really.

You just have to demonstrate a statistically significant ability to predict future events (beyond that of chance) in a controlled scientific experiment. The terms of the experiment are agreed upon by both the “psychic” and the JREF and the experiment itself conducted by a third-party.

Easy, right?

Unfortunately, of the hundreds of people who have attempted the test, none have been able to demonstrate that they are, indeed, psychic.

Enter “Psychic Nikki”.

On August 31, 2011, the CBC reported that Psychic Nikki was considering taking the challenge,

“I would say yes, I would take [the] challenge because I have enough faith in my own abilities if I was available,” Toronto-based psychic Nikki told CBC News.

“I am the real thing so I don’t have to worry about this stuff.”

The statement came after a high-profile challenge by James Randi to famous psychics to come and prove their abilities.

Psychic Nikki was quite confident. She has, by her own claim, predicted

the Sept. 11 attacks, the Japan tsunami and the deaths of Michael Jackson, crocodile hunter Steve Irwin and Anna Nicole Smith.

Though despite predicting these events, she did not bother trying to prevent any of them. You can actually check out her Twitter feed to see some of her predictions, which include:

I’m pretty sure people riot/protest in Paris every week…

Been 10 days, nuthin’ yet on that  one…

And my personal favourite,

The predictions are rather vague (excepting the Mona Lisa one), which is odd considering her website states that

She is an audient clairvoyant – the ability to see and hear and come up with specifics.

Psychics use specialized strategies to appear like they are foretelling the future. For example, they will make a large number of vague predictions (called “Shotgunning”), and then claim victory when any individual prediction comes close to the truth. Predicting an earthquake in California at some point will probably end up being true, but it is hardly convincing evidence of psychic ability.

Now, as revealed on the JREF website, Psychic Nikki has started distancing herself from the challenge.

The JREF called Nikki on Sept. 2, requesting an email address to send her information about the Million Dollar Challenge. After CBC News published a followup story on Tuesday, Sept. 6, Nikki returned the JREF’s call, leaving a message in which she promised “I will try to contact you in the next couple of days for sure.” The JREF called her back within an hour, again offering to send information about the Challenge and answer her questions.

A full week after Nikki promised to call the JREF “in the next couple of days,” she still had not responded.

She also commented on the challenge on the Dean Blundell show on September 9th. Most notably she said that

This test is controlled, that’s why I don’t want to take it

Which is basically the point. Once “psychics” find out that the test will be fairly testing their abilities, they either back away or ultimately fail the test. That is bad for business.

This is not at all surprising, but it is a bit refreshing to see it get coverage in big news outlets like the CBC. I expect that attention to this story will slowly dissipate once Psychic Nikki stops talking about it, but the point as been made.

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Ryan

50th Anniversary of the Discovery of Stem Cells

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

In the early 1960s, two Canadian scientists by the names of James Till and Ernest McCulloch at the University of Toronto made the discovery of stem cells.

Stem cells, put simply, can be thought of as “blank slates”; cells which can divide differentiate in a variety of cell types. They can now be used to grow human tissues and may even one day be able to grow entire organs which can be transplanted into human subjects.

The medical implications of this discovery are incredible. To help celebrate, the Ontario Science Center has an exhibit open until October 2, 2011, depicting the wonders of stem cells.

So if you live in the Toronto area, be sure to check it out!

(Thanks to @DiscoveryCanada for bringing this to my attention)

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REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will go dead on September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan

The CN Tower Struck By Lightning

August 29, 2011 1 comment

It happens pretty often, but seeing it on video is quite cool.

On August 24, 2011 there was a large electrical storm over Toronto, Ontario. The CN Tower itself was struck by lightning about 15 times in a half hour.

Happy New Year!

January 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Well I’m back. After a nice long break and a whole lot of slacking I’ve returned to good ole’ Calgary and my place of employment.

The holidays were a lot of fun, if busy. When you live in a different part of the country than all your friends/family, coming home for a week or so is quite an ordeal.

An awesome ordeal, though.

Over many beers, pints, shots, and chocolates I caught up with most of the people I wanted to see. A successful trip indeed.

But now I have returned to real life, my cubicle at my office overlooking downtown Calgary and it is good to be back. Travelling is stressful even when on vacation and I’m glad to have a little down time.

I realize the irony that coming back to work seems like “down time”, but I think many of you know exactly what I mean.

So over the coming weeks expect me to be back to full blogging form. My enthusiasm for science/skepticism has not wavered, though my diligence in posting everyday has in the last few weeks.

So Happy New Year to all, hope your hangovers have subsided by now and you are as ready as I am to start a great new year of scientific discovery!

“There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life.”

December 2, 2010 2 comments

That’s what was postered on the side of buses in Toronto, Calgary and Montreal last year. And they are planning to do it again.

The Centre for Inquiry (CFI) is launching a campaign which would see similar ads on the sides of buses in Toronto starting in January, pending final approval from the Toronto Transit Commission. This  year’s campaign is “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence”, and compares the belief in God and Allah to the belief in Bigfoot and Tarot reading.

Photo From Centre for Inquiry

The campaign’s website says:

Why is belief in Big Foot dismissed as delusional while belief in Allah and Christ is respected and revered? All of these claims are equally extraordinary and demand critical examination

Assuming they get approval to run the ads in Toronto, the CFI hopes to move the campaign into other major Canadian cities. 

Justin Trottier, national executive director of the Centre for Inquiry said about the campaign
 
I’d love it if everyone saw the ads and know the point of the campaign is to emphasize not the kind of knee-jerk debunking to anything suspicious but that we’re interested in a genuine debate, a conversation about so-called extraordinary claims. We’re not here to mock people who believe in these claims
 
But of course, there is mixed reaction from both the religious and atheist communities. Many religious leaders felt that the ads were designed to ridicule people’s faith. Others felt that their beliefs can stand atop the belief in Bigfoot, so a discussion on the topic would be welcome.
 
Some in the scientific and atheist communities felt that the ads were too confrontational, and that this was not the proper way to elicit a discussion on these topics.
 
My opinion is that extraordinary claims certainly do require extraordinary evidence. Bigfoot, psychics and the like all need proof before we can accept them as facts. But religion is built on faith; the belief without proof. I maintain my right to believe in a God or not, just as the rest of the world should. Challenging those beliefs on a bus is not a proper forum for this discussion.
 
Furthermore, if people want to worship a God I do not believe in, it is not my place to challenge them about it. They have as much right to believe as I have not to believe. However, if religion starts to influence government policy, then it definitely becomes fair game to argue the proper place of religion in politics. Thankfully, this is not as big a problem in Canada as it is in the USA.
 
I’d love to hear what  you guys think about this issue, so please take a second and answer this poll below, or leave a comment.
 

My Awesome Trip to Ontario or Why I Haven’t Written Posts in Awhile

August 10, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m back everyone!

I hope you enjoyed my Top 10 Sci-Fi movie countdown while I was away on vacation. I got some great comments and nobody has told me I was way off base with my picks (yet).

So what have I been up to? While I currently reside in Calgary, Alberta, I grew up in Ontario. I made a 10 day trip back home to visit friends and family.

I had a fantastic time too!  I made it back to London, Ontario where I went to the University of Western Ontario.

There, I visited the lab where I did my M.Sc and had drinks at my favourite pub Molly Bloom’s.

Molly Bloom's Irish Pub, London, Ontario

I felt totally sick in the morning, thanks in large part to my lab buddies sneaking Vodka shots into my beers without my knowledge. I had a great time though.

I then headed north to visit friends in Port Elgin.

Port Elgin, Ontario

There I had some great BBQ, saw great friends and had great times.

Beer Can Chicken

After that, I travelled to Ontario’s capital, Toronto. There I stayed for a few days going out for dim sum and drinking at the Bier Markt downtown.

Good Times Being Had

I also had a great time on a patio the following night along Bloor Street.

After partying it up on the streets of Toronto, I headed northeast to my hometown of Peterborough.

Peterborough, Ontario

There I got to see a whole whack of my family, as it was my Mom’s 50th Birthday and we had a big party for her. It went really well and I had a great time.

The following day, I got to see two of my best friends from high school get married!

The ceremony was beautiful, the location was fantastic, and the party afterward, well…I don’t quite remember. But I have some blurry photographic evidence which leads me to believe it was awesome.

More Good Times Being Had

After 10 days of this, you can imagine I am pretty exhausted. I need to get back to work to actually relax.

But thats what I was up to while I was gone, but of course science never takes a holiday, and I got some great stuff to write about in the coming days. Stay tuned…