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An Outbreak of Mass Hallucinations and Shoddy Journalism

Why We Need Skepticism More Than Ever

“Things are seldom what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream.”—W. S. Gilbert

When a mysterious epidemic of hallucinations was reported to have broken out in Oregon in October of 2016, media outlets around the world portrayed the story as a baffling medical mystery. There’s only one problem: it never happened. The case of the hallucinating Oregonians serves as a stark reminder of the threat posed by an uncritical media, and the need for skepticism and critical thinking.

During the early morning hours of Wednesday October 12th, 2016, an extraordinary story began unfolding in the community of North Bend, a small picturesque suburb of Coos Bay nestled along the Pacific Ocean in southwest Oregon. At about 3 am, police responded to a 9-1-1 call of vandalism. The complainant was a 57-year-old woman who was a live-in caregiver for an elderly resident. The caller claimed that several people were trying to remove the roof of her car. When police arrived, they could find no evidence of any crime and soon left. Two and a half hours later, the same woman again called to report that the vandals were back and trying to remove her car roof. Once again police rushed to the scene but could find nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the responding deputies, Doug Miller and David Blalack, could find no evidence that any crime had been committed. Given the unusual nature of her claims, police grew suspicious that the woman may have hallucinated the episodes. She was taken to the nearby Coos Bay Area Hospital where she was examined by medical personnel, “appeared fine, and returned home.”1

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About Skeptic

SPECIAL SECTION Skeptic’s Science Dialogues: Bill Nye in Conversation with Michael Shermer on Climate Change, Travel to Mars, Artificial Intelligence, Nuclear Power, GMOs and more… ARTICLES Miracle Water: Why Zamzam Water is Not a Valid Medical Treatment; Lone Wolf Terrorism: The Convergence of Mental Illness, Marginality, and Cyber Radicalism; Torturing Data; Mass Hallucinations and Shoddy Journalism; What Would it Take to Change Your Mind?; ET v. Earth Pathogens; Trouble in the Multiverse; Science v. Subjectivity: Football Playoff Teams Selecting College Football Playoff Teams as a Case Study COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Functional Medicine; The Gadfly: The Multi-headed Hydra of Prejudice REVIEWS The Stealth Determinism of Westworld—a Review of the television series Westworld; Back to the Future and Forward to the Past—a Review of Time Travel: A History; Cosmic Consciousness and the Ptolemaic Principle—a review of You Are the Universe: Discovering Your Cosmic Self and Why it Matters; Science International—a review of Courting Science: Securing the Foundation for a Second American Century; Conjuring Magic—two books on the history of magic: Conjuring Asia: Magic, Orientalism and the Making of the Modern World and Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World JUNIOR SKEPTIC An Easy Guide to Baloney Detection