You'd think, after four years of writing Skeptophilia, that I'd be inured to wacko claims.
If anything, though, my incredulity has only increased over time. "Are you kidding me right now?" I frequently say to my computer screen, while doing research. But of course, talking to a computer doesn't earn me much in the way of Sanity Points myself, so perhaps I should just proceed on to the latest assaults on my suspension of disbelief that I've come across in the last few days.
First, from the "You Do Realize That That Was A Movie, Right?" department we have some people in the Chicago Police Department who want to create a Pre-Crime Division, à la Minority Report.
The people behind this are using an "analytical tool" developed at Yale to generate a list of four hundred or so people in the Chicago area that are identified as "most likely to be involved in violent crime" in the future. "These are persons who the model has determined are those most likely to be involved in a shooting or homicide, with probabilities that are hundreds of times that of an ordinary citizen," a press release stated. Commander Steven Caluris of the CPD added, "If you end up on that list, there's a reason you're there."
Righty-o. Because that could never backfire. People on the list apparently then receive visits from a law enforcement official, warning the pre-malefactors that Commander Caluris knows when they've been sleeping, he knows when they're awake, he knows when they've been bad or good, so be good, for goodness' sake.
Or something like that.
What strikes me about all of this, besides the fact that there has to be a constitutional law issue here somewhere, is how easily such a system could fuck up royally. Speaking of movies we don't want to emulate, how about Brazil -- where a clerical error landed poor Archibald Buttle in the hands of Michael Palin as the psycho torture chamber supervisor. I can only hope that wiser heads will prevail, even though historically, once someone lands on a "great idea for revolutionizing the field," it takes a complete crash and burn and usually several years of finger-pointing and blame-placing before things change.
Our second story is from Florida, where we have a woman who is billing herself as the world's only "psychic nanny."
Denise Lescano, of Naples, Florida, says that it's her mission in life to help families deal with children who can speak to dead people.
"This is not a scary thing, this is a very healing and comforting thing. Many of the families that come to me, they really don't even believe in me, they are skeptical. When I am able to help them and really pinpoint what is going on, it is incredibly validating and relieving for the family."
My reaction is that once again, we seem to have people who are confusing a movie with reality, in this case The Sixth Sense. Yes, I know that children often make oddball claims, and that some of them can be downright spooky. My younger son, when he was age six, scared the absolute shit out of me one time when he had a night terror. I heard him scream, and leaped out of bed and flew down the hall -- it was about eleven at night, and at the time I was a single dad -- to find him sitting bolt upright in bed, eyes wide open, trembling. I ran to him, and said, "Nathan, what's wrong?"
He pointed toward an empty corner of his room, and said, in this strange, deadpan voice, "It's staring at me."
As is typical with night terrors, he calmed down and went back to sleep after about ten minutes or so, and the next morning remembered nothing. I, on the other hand, needed months of therapy to recover from the experience.
So, yeah, kids say bizarre things sometimes. But I flatly refuse to believe that there was a monster (invisible to everyone but him) staring at my son from the corner of the bedroom; and the anecdotal reports of Kids Who See Ghosts that Ms. Lescano describes don't really do much for me, either.
Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.