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Skeptimedia is a commentary on mass media treatment of issues concerning science, the paranormal, and the supernatural.

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Skeptimedia replaces  Mass Media Funk and Mass Media Bunk. Those blogs are now archived.

Stupid politicians and cops

No, this is not a story about Sarah Palin and Bernard Kerik. It is about a California state senator named Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and several Chicago police officers. The senator wants to play at protector of the people by putting warnings on cell phones and the cops want to play at being paranormal investigators and TV stars in their off hours. Let's begin with the cops. Larry Potash of WGN did a nice piece on the cops: Paranormal Detectives. Regular cops trade in their guns for EMF detectors and infrared cameras as they investigate places thought to be haunted. One of them claims ghosts give off energy that can be detected by an EMF detector. Did he read that in the instructions? I doubt it. Why not use a hydrometer? Maybe ghosts give off moisture. Why not use a compass? Maybe ghosts have magnetic fields that point to true north. The cops seem unaware that police radios or a number of other things could affect their EMF detectors.

It is disturbing that grown men who work by day as police officers are wasting their time investigating things that go bump in the night. It is even more disturbing to find that their bosses approve. When it was pointed out to both cops and bosses that somebody might question their credibility in court if it were known that these guys were ghost chasers, the boss interviewed said they'd cross that bridge if they ever get to it. (For the idiot who is about to write me to say that he says no such thing, let me clarify. The boss doesn't use those exact words. He says something to the effect that they've discussed the issue and they'll discuss it again if the credibility issue is ever brought up in court.)

Not only does WGN question the work of the paranormal detectives and wonder about the negative effect such activity might have on public confidence in the competence of its police officers, it brings in skeptic James Underdown to show an alternative way to do a paranormal investigation. The skeptical way involves having a toolkit with critical thinking as the chief investigative tool, a much more valuable tool than an EMF detector for such work. The scientific paranormal investigator looks for a natural explanation for unusual sounds, drafts, closing of doors, etc. The other kind of paranormal investigator is the kind you are likely to see on television shows like "Paranormal State." They bring in tape recorders, EMF detectors, video cameras, and a few other devices and set to work calling anything that affects their devices a ghost. When these investigators hear a gate close behind them, they think ghost rather than wind.

The Chicago cops seem sincere in their belief that their investigations might have some value, and they're willing to be made a laughingstock for their activities, at least as long as their bosses condone their foolishness. The California state senator, however, is most likely not as stupid as he appears. He probably is aware that the evidence is not there yet to support putting warnings on cell phones. It is more likely that he is a cynic who thinks the average citizen is a moron who will fall for his phony claim to be concerned about protecting us.

I think Jeff Duerr of Roseville got it right in his letter to the editor of the Sacramento Bee:

While we are at it, let's institute another label warning. This warning should be prominently tattooed on the forehead of Leno and others of his ilk who pretend to be solving real state problems. The warning would be: "Warning: I am a state bureaucrat and am capable of creating endless, meaningless legislation that will divert attention from the fact that I am incapable of dealing with the real issues of California. I will, of course, hold pompous news conferences to promote unnecessary legislation and boost my image."

Mark Leno said in his press conference that cell phones are wonderful devices, but "they also emit radio-frequency radiation, which does have human health effects." Apparently, ghosts also emit radio-frequency radiation, but that doesn't worry the Chicago paranormal detectives. I wonder if Leno has considered the effect on cell phones when ghosts take up residence in them? Would they emit modulated radiation in the unhealthy range? Can these waves be picked up by tape recorders and be used as proof of life after death? Where does the nonsense end?

The stories above may be examples of the continued stupidification of America, but they are mere child's play compared to the handcuffing and arrest of a 12-year-old girl for doodling on her school desk. Equally stupid was the arrest of a graduate student teacher at UC Davis by campus police for making a bomb threat in a classroom. James Marchbanks walked into his drama classroom and presented an envelope holding end-of-course evaluations by saying, "I have a bomb, this is the last time I am ever going to see you. I am going to leave class before the bomb goes off, but you are all going to stay here until it’s done." Three students reported him to the police last December, claiming they were frightened. A letter reportedly signed by 13 other students in the class says Marchbanks was clearly using a figure of speech to present the documents that might "bomb" his career.* Rather than settle the issue in the dean's office, Marchbanks was taken to Yolo County jail where he was held for four days before being released without being charged. Some say that had Marchbanks not been black he would have been treated differently by the campus police. We'll never know.

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* AmeriCares *


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