The Skeptic's Toolbox Meeting in Eugene, Oregon, August 12-15 is offering a number of really interesting programs this year. Included are "How Early Con Games Led to the Development of the Modern Novel,""Scams That Can Kill: Goat Glands, Zappers, and Other Medical Frauds," "Ponzi Schemes: Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford," and other fascinating panels. I've never been to one of these, but the folks involved include Ray Hyman, Loren Pankratz, Harriet Hall, and James Alcock. More here.
For the history of the regulation of magic, start with Reginald Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft, first published in 1584. Full text here. Scot wanted to disabuse his contemporaries of the notion that witches really existed, and that instead what they believed was the result of witchcraft was actually tricks, illusion, or misapprehension brought on by mental disability or disease. Scot actually pointed out that many "witches" were also "women which be commonly old, lame, blear-eyed, pale, foul, and full of wrinkles; poor, and sullen, superstitious, and papists; or such as know no religion: in whose drowsy minds the devil hath gotten a fine seat..." (thus, people who are marginalized in the community and likely to be demonized by others).
However, James VI of Scotland (I of England) believed in witches (and burned a fair number) and rejected Scot's view. He wrote the Daemonologie in response and after he came to the English throne, made use of Elizabeth I's witchcraft act (5 Eliz. 1, passed 1562, amended 2 Jac. I, 1604) with great relish.
Owen Davies, A History of Grimoires (2009).
Matthew Dickie, Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World (2003).
From the Chicago Tribune, via NPR: photographer Chris Sweda's remarkable shot of lightning striking both the Willis Tower and the Trump Tower during Wednesday's thunderstorm. That day, a jury was hearing a tape on which former governor Rod Blagojevich noted that since he could name newly elected President Obama's Senate replacement, he [Blago] might become an Ambassador. Lightning in the courtroom, lightning in the sky? No, no, just the prescience of the Trib's editors, thanks.
So, now that Tom Cruise has abandoned (apparently) The War Magician (based on David Fisher's book), the magician as hero market is wide open. Warner Brothers has picked up the option on Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil, which was originally optioned to be made into an AMC series but never emerged on the small screen. Now it looks like it may be headed for filmdom. Michael Gilio will turn the novel into a script and Jon Shestack will produce. More here.
Based on the Board’s denial, ICRGS brought this lawsuit (which was removed to this Court in May 2009) against the members of the Board—Commissioner Paredes, Lyn Phillips, Joe Hinton, Elaine Mendoza, Laurie Bricker, Whit Riter, Brenda Pejobich, and Robert Shepard (collectively, the “Board Member Defendants”)—under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for infringement of its 1st and 14th Amendment rights to free speech, free exercise, equal protection, and due process, and against the Board Members and the Board itself under the Texas Constitution, the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“TRFRA”), and Chapter 106 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code (which prohibits discrimination)....ICRGS sues for declaratory and injunctive relief only. Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment and responses in opposition to the opposing party's motion. Because the motions deal with essentially the same issues, the Court will discuss them together.
[S]ubchapter G, on its face, gives the Board authority to regulate the granting of degrees by ICRGS, which undisputedly fits within the definition of a "private postsecondary educational institution" set forth in subchapter G....Well-established principles of statutory construction require the Court to presume "the entire statute is intended to be effective"; furthermore if a general provision conflicts with a more specific provision, "the provisions shall be construed, if possible so that effect is given to both."...
Keeping these principles in mind, the Court finds [sec] 1.001(a) does not limit the applicability of the Education Code only to institutions supported by state tax funds....
Having addressed this primary issue, the Court will proceed to address each of ICRGS's causes of action in turn, to the extent it is able to understand them. It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.
First...ICRGS makes an as-applied challenge to the State's regulation of its issurance of degrees--and specifically, to the Board's decision to deny its application under those laws--basing all of its constitutional claims on an identical set of facts....
[T]he Court finds the Board's decision to deny a certificate...subject only to rational basis review, as the rules which governed the decision are neutral and generally applicable. Having so decided, the Court turns to the question of whether the Board's application of those rules to ICRGS was "rationally related to a legitimate state interest."
In subsequent paragraphs, the judge finds a legitimate interest on the part of the state in requiring certain standards of postsecondary institutions, among them regulating "the use of academic terminology in naming or otherwise designating educational institutions or their agents" and in maintaining and preserving academic records. This interest is tied to maintaining a certain level of competence and academic qualification by holders of various degrees granted by educational institutions in the state. The judge reviewed the reports submitted by the Board as well as memos submitted by Board members concerning the curriculum of the ICRGS. He noted that the negative recommendation of Commissioner Paredes included the following:
"[A]t least one of the texts which was to be used in the program set forth the principle that the earth is young, stating 'this is not a working hypothesis to be tested as to whether it is true or false[, but] a basic conclusion drawn from the biblical record of creation as written by the only One who was present, God himself.' Id. Commissioner Paredes state, '[w]hatever the ultimate merit of such views, they clearly stand at odds with the most basic tenants of scientific work such as observation, testing and analysis." Id.
[Note that the word should be "tenets", not "tenants".]
Says Judge Sparks,
Based on all the foregoing, it is clear the Board had at least one reasonable rationale for its decision to deny ICRGS's application; namely, that the proposed degree program does not adequately cover the breadth of knowledge of the discipline taught under Standard 12.
Of course, Defendants may still fail rational basis review if ICRGS is able to show Defendants rejected ICRGS's proposed program in order to punish its religious viewpoints, rather than out of rational concern about the academic merit of the program....However, ICRGS has set forth no actual evidence of any animus toward it....
Judge Sparks also discusses and dismisses the free speech and equal protection claims. ICRGS also makes a due process claim. Here it must show that it has a protected interest in offering the proposed program. But it has no entitlement to offer such a degree or program and can identify no protected interest. Nor can it show that the Board was arbitrary and capricious in asserting its power in denying the right to offer the degree.
The case is Institute for Creation Research Graduate School v. Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, decided June 18, 2010.
David Faust, University of Rhode Island, Paul F. Grimm III, University of Maryland, David C. Ahern, University of Rhode Island, and Mark Sokolike, Georgetown University, have published The Admissibility of Behavioral Science Evidence in the Courtroom: The Translation of Legal to Scientific Concepts and Back, at 6 Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 49-77 (2010). Here is the abstract.
Starting with the Daubert case, courtroom rules and guides regulating the admissibility of scientific evidence have undergone major revisions over the past 10 to 15 years. We review these changes and current legal rules and guides, in particular their impact on the admission of behavioral sciences evidence and testimony. We examine commonly intended meanings, conceptualizations, and language use relating to science and the admission of evidence within the legal system and their relation to more familiar terms and concepts within the behavioral sciences, identifying points of continuity and discontinuity. We then review illustrative legal cases involving challenges to the admission of psychological and psychiatric evidence and their implications for mental health professionals. Finally, we offer a framework for conceptualizing and prioritizing key legal criteria for determining admissibility and appraising standing on these factors within the mental health field. Increased mutual understanding between psychology and law should further enhance productive interfaces between the disciplines and add to the many instances in which the proper use of science in the courtroom has facilitated fair resolution of legal conflicts.
A North Carolina sighting of Bigfoot? Both Tim Peeler and sheriff's deputy Mark Self says they saw it. Deputy Self says it scared him. Now he's not sure about what it was. In any case, "We're working up here so if we see something we'll try to capture it and take it into custody." The department filed a "suspicious person report." Interesting, no matter what these people saw. Read more here.