Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Paranormal Devices

In my latest Naked Skeptic article I wrote about Frank Sumption’s Frank’s Box, a device that supposedly communicates with the dead, angels and aliens.

It’s a radio with the scan lock disabled so it can’t tune into an actual station, but believers claim the ‘words’ amongst the fragments of music and noise are messages from strange entities.

But it’s just a broken radio…

What are some strange paranormal/pseudoscientific devices you’ve encountered?

What do they claim to do?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

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  1. The Offspring was stopped on the street one day by a Scientologist. He did the e-metre thing as a joke. His report: ‘The guy was so dumb, he didn’t think I’d see him playing with the dials! How does anyone fall for that crap?’

    I have raised a nice little [well, OK, not so little] skeptical child.

    I think crystals annoy me more than many other things, especially when quacks use them to “detect” vitamin imbalances or “too much zinc”. I have a friend who believes in such woo; he was furious that the WGA insurance wouldn’t cover “crystal therapy”. He recently called in a pet psychic to find out why the cat he’d adopted after his cousin’s death was so neurotic. Hell, for $100/hr, I’d have been happy to tell him the creature was upset because its world had been turned sideways, because it now had to share a home with another cat and a dog and two strange bipeds and its longtime hooman had disappeared. No, on second thought, pet psychics annoy me even more that those who wave rocks around and call it medicine.

  2. Dream catchers in cars drive me mental. Are you sleeping in your car? What dreams are they catching? aarrgggh. I don’t know why its so much more aggravating when the woo doesn’t even have internal consistency, but that really bugs me.

  3. Not a device, per se, but I used to work at a Japanese bookstore that sold a book called Dr. Kopa’s Stick-On Feng Shui (in Japanese). Health not its best? Need a little luck? Just slap a few of the magical feng shui stickers around your house.

  4. I was at a friend’s place in Southern Vermont last fall and I saw big contraption on top of their watercooler. Turns out it was some kind of magnetic filter for water, as in it was supposed to filter magnetism from water.

  5. Amy mentioned these around Christmastime: pretty glowing rocks with magical ion-shooting power and a host of health benefits. My Mom received one last year as a Christmas gift. She doesn’t really buy into it, thankfully, but it is a lovely night light.

    As a child on trips I had those motion sickness bracelets – basically just rounded pieces of plastic in a wristcuff. I’m not sure if they count as I did a quick search and couldn’t find any solid evidence for them either way.

  6. A friend of mine in high school had a quack magneto that would cure all ailments. It had two brass tubes the “victim” would hold in their hands that were wired to the magneto box, which was quite ornate. It was well built.

    The magneto spun two coils past the ends of a big horseshoe magnet. Curious arrangement, but they wouldn’t have had the rare earth magnets of today.

    There was an iron shunting bar you could put over the ends of the horseshoe, which would then induce much less current into the spinning coils. Ahh, but the thing about that was that you could spin it faster.

    The fun bit was you could spin it up as fast as you could, then remove the magnetic shunt. The induced current would get strong enough to contract every muscle in your arms and you couldn’t possibly let go. The only way to escape was to touch the cans together, shorting out the whole device.

    Loads of fun. Didn’t cure shit.

  7. During medical school I rotated with a family medicine doc who was way into the woo- a bit irritating, since I was attempting to get an M.D. in legitimate medicine. In addition to running his primary care practice, he also ran a “laser center” from the same office: (please take note of the “It’s not magic, it’s SCIENCE”). Basically, it was this flexible plastic covered in dozens of laser pointers that was attached to a fancy looking contraption with dials and a computer screen. He put it on wounds, sore spots, rashes and then charged $45/30min. session. He would recommend that a patient do 3 sessions weekly anywhere from 30min-an hour until they felt better. It was unreal.

    The scary part was that he really believed it; it wasn’t just about the money. I’m confident of this because he would tell his patients with cold sores to go out and buy a laser pointer and press it to the site where they felt a tingle and it would prevent the cold sore from ever appearing. I was appalled, and a bit tickled when he started to explain, “well, really a laser pointer is just a beta-950 cold light laser. The photons it produces can stop the herpes virus in it’s tracks. It all make sense when you think about it.” Well, shucks, when you put it that way, doc….

    The article I linked to it is full of all kinds of interesting points, like the reason mainstream medicine won’t accept laser therapy because of the fancy scientific proof it requires, he wants us to accept laser, “without relying on the scientific standard which is the double blind placebo controlled crossover studies that are demanded by medicine to prove that anything works.” And of course: “You might even call it high-tech acupuncture, except instead of needles, you use photons.” Brilliant.

    Ok, rant over.

  8. I’ve encountered three so far.
    One was the use of dowsing to find an uncharted electrical line in our backyard (whatever…).

    The other is ‘pet communicators.’ It’s amazing what people will believe sometimes…One was featured at a rescue event I attended. I withheld my criticism because she was donating 50% of her take to our rescue. I suppose it was a bit hypocritical of me, but at least the money was going to a good cause.

    And of course, the perennial favorite, astrology. I know way too many people that believe that crap.

    I’m not counting Bible waving Fundamentalists. That’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

  9. I saw a commercial for giant band aids that you put on your feet at night and peel off in the morning. They are supposed to suck all the “toxins” out of your body and “cleanse” you. These are some of the dumbest things I have ever seen.

    Oh and I saw a commercial for a jack off machine that is supposed to give you a bigger erection naturally without drugs.

  10. @Gabrielbrawley: Oh and I saw a commercial for a jack off machine that is supposed to give you a bigger erection naturally without drugs.

    Sounds like way more fun to try than a giant band aid. I’m furry from head to toe. Many of my nightmares feature band aids.

  11. I was at an antique store and they had these boxes that plugging in to the wall and the had a wand thing attached to them with a glass bulb at the end. I swear the instruction manual said “2 things cannot exist in the same place at the same time. So when the electricity goes in the pain goes out.”

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