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ORIGINS - The BIG Questions Conference (October 3-4, 2008), presented by the Skeptics Society

Last minute registrations

for our 2008 Conference (on science & religion)
Oct. 3–4, 2008

Seats are still available, but going fast. You can register online through Friday noon, but at this late date it is better to phone us at 626-794-3119. You can also register in person either Friday night at Burger Continental or Saturday morning at Caltech (full registration fees apply both days).

Getting to the Conference

Detailed information regarding accommodation and shuttle service from the airport to the Westin Hotel are available on the conference website.

GET accommodation and shuttle info >

For those of you who are renting a car at the airport we’ve provided direct links to Google Maps with directions from the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Caltech as well as to the Westin Hotel. If you are starting your journey from a location other than the airport, you may enter that location in the “start address” field above the Google map.

GOOGLE directions from LAX to Caltech >

GOOGLE directions from LAX to the Westin Hotel >

Parking near the Beckman Auditorium

For parking near the Beckman Auditorium, we have created a map of the parking areas in the vicinity of the Auditorium. You can download the map in PDF format and bring it with you to the conference. Registration and all lectures will take place at the Beckman Auditorium. DOWNLOAD the Caltech Campus map >

LEARN more

Was Vanity Fair Hoaxed
in its Marilyn Monroe Cover Story?

Vanit Fair Cover (Oct 2008)

Vanity Fair cover (October 2008)

Two years ago we reported on the brilliant exposé by Mark Bellinghaus of a Marilyn Monroe hoax perpetrated at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, where included in a display of the movie star’s personal items were hair curlers. As Bellinghaus reported, famed psychic James Van Praagh used those curlers (and the blond hair in them) to make contact with Marilyn, and he even carried on a conversation with her on the national television show Entertainment Tonight. Well, Bellinghaus tracked down the origin of those curlers through their maker, Clairol. It turns out that those curlers were first manufactured in 1974, twelve years after Marilyn died, so it would be interesting to know just who Van Praagh was talking to! Perhaps there are Marilyn Monroe impersonators on the other side as well.

Psychics are not the only ones trying to cash in on Marilyn’s irresistible fame. Last April a news story broke about a newly surfaced Marilyn Monroe sex tape (what else?), which was also swiftly debunked by Mark Bellinghaus as yet another fake.


Mark Bellinghaus’ parody of the
Vanity Fair cover

Marilyn is back in the news this month as Vanity Fair magazine featured her on their October cover in honor of their 25th anniversary issue, offering a potpourri of personal papers and items that promises readers will unlock the 45-year old “Marilyn Monroe mystery.” One such pictured item is Marilyn’s personal typewriter, on which she allegedly fingered letters to the rich and famous, which immediately set off Bellinghaus’s baloney detection alarm — Marilyn Monroe couldn’t type!

This is just one of numerous fakes and mistakes that Bellinghaus says are comparable to what Clifford Irving did when he faked Howard Hughes artifacts in order to sell his authorized biography of the billionaire to the McGraw Hill publishing company for one million dollars.

If you want to read the anatomy of a hoax, check out Mark Bellinghaus’ extensive article. He’s a first rate skeptical investigator of all things Marilyn. For my money, the real “Marilyn Monroe Mystery” is why people won’t let this tragic woman R.I.P.

—Michael Shermer

detail of letter

detail of handwritten letter sent to Richard Dawkins

Dawkins & Shermer Hate Mail

It isn’t often one receives a letter so filled with hate and loathing, and yet written with such eloquence, that it is well worth reprinting (Dawkins has also posted it on his website). We are both including the letter writer’s address, in case anyone out there would like to write him a letter acknowledging his literary skills. My favorite part is the final sentiment, “Most Sincerely Yours”. That’s just priceless!

—Michael Shermer

READ the complete letter (213kb PDF) >

John Demos

our next lecture…

The Enemy Within:
2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World

with Dr. John Demos

Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 2:00 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech (map)

The term “witch-hunt” is used today to describe everything from political scandals to school board shake-ups. Long before the Salem witch trials, women and men were rounded up by neighbors, accused of committing horrific crimes using supernatural powers, scrutinized by priests and juries, and promptly executed. The belief in witchcraft — and the deep fear of evil it instilled in communities — led to a cycle of accusation, anger, and purging that has occurred repeatedly in the West for centuries…

READ more about this lecture >

READ more about upcoming lectures >


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Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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