Psychic Detectives and the Chandra Levy Case

The Washington Post has been running a 12 part series on the now seven year old Chandra Levy murder case. As one article in the series describes, rather sadly, the DC police department wasted time and resources with predictions from self-described psychics.

Tips were pouring in to the D.C. police department from all over the world at a furious pace, each one stranger than the last. Hundreds of psychics and oddballs were phoning in with their hunches, their visions and their sightings. Some of the tips were plausible. Others were not. All took time away from the case. Police were frustrated. They were spending an unprecedented amount of time on the case and not getting a meaningful break - a witness, a piece of physical evidence, a solid tip from an informant.

Instead, they were hearing about ghostly visions.

One psychic said that Chandra's throat was slashed and that she was put in a body bag and stowed in the basement of a Smithsonian storage building in Anacostia. Police checked the building but found nothing.

Another said Chandra was murdered and dumped in the Potomac near the Memorial Bridge. A dive team found nothing.

Another caller said Chandra was a victim of a suicide bombing in Israel. Police called their counterparts there; it wasn't true. Another psychic told a Maryland state trooper that Chandra was buried in Howard County. Troopers checked the site, but it was another false lead.

One tipster said that Chandra died in Nevada during a botched abortion by a veterinarian and that she was buried in the desert, a tip that fed a persistent rumor that Chandra was pregnant. The private investigators went out West, but came back empty-handed.

The history of psychic sleuths is a colorful one, a history I learned working with Joe Nickell at Skeptical Inquirer magazine back during the late 1990s. Joe has appeared on the Point of Inquiry podcast series to discuss his investigations of psychics and their use by police. Among the many articles he has written on the topic, this one is also available online.

How to make a black hole

Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.

  • There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
  • CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
  • Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
  • Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.

Project 100,000: The Vietnam War's cruel and deadly experiment

Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?

Flickr user Tommy Truong79
Politics & Current Affairs
  • During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
  • The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
  • Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
Keep reading Show less

China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Keep reading Show less