The Existence of Mermaids/Merfolk

by Carissa Zurbrugg

The existence of merfolk (mermaids and mermen) has been a fascination and a topic of question for people for thousands of years now. This belief consists of the idea that there were aquatic humanoids, residing in the depths of the sea that were some sort of half fish, half human hybrid. Information on merfolk appears in Japanese legend, Greek mythology, ancient folklore, and through tales of medieval sailors who clam to have encountered “sea maidens.” This belief was most popular during medieval times, but is even popular to this day, as Animal Planet’s “Mermaids: The Body Found” series, which aired in the 2000’s, was the most popular show in Animal Planet history. It is important and extraordinary because even though there is no real evidence for it, the idea of these fish people has still inexplicably attended to the minds of almost all sea-faring people for thousands of years.

Evidence (which lots of people claim to be false evidence) for mermaids was presented in Animal Planet’s series. It claimed that mermaids were real, and scientists from the NOAA (National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration) were hiding their secrets of mermaids from the world. Although Animal Planet did include a disclaimer saying “This two hour special is science fiction based on some real events and scientific theory.” The documentary series also presented a clip of a supposed mermaid washed up on the coast of Israel in 2009. Other evidence of the existence of mermaids is only spoken through word of mouth from sailors and sea-faring people who have claimed to have interacted with merfolk; this was mostly during medieval times when their existence was essentially assumed, just as much as the existence of other sea creatures was assumed. Stories say they were associated with misfortune and death, trying to lure sailors off their course. Japanese legends have their own embodiment of merfolk called “kappa” which were water spirits that appeared less human than other depicted merfolk, but interacted with people and challenged them to games, in which the consequence for losing was death. Modern evidence against mermaids claim that the human-sized ocean animals that are described in folklore are simply sea animals such as manatees. A statement from the NOAA simply says that no real evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.

Those who believe in merfolk could possibly be mistaken or interpreting their anecdotal evidence wrong, as a source says that the supposed “half fish-half human” being that sailors claim to have seen at sea could have been a different sea creature, since only a small part of the creature was seen along with the contributions of low light at sunset and the distances from which they were seen. It is basically saying that being able to identify these creatures at all would be very hard. This is why people who claim to have seen mermaids could possibly be mistaken.

The belief of mermaids mostly comes from the sea-faring people’s community. Social influences that help them to sustain this belief are eye witness sightings and stories passed among them of sightings and interactions with mermaids.

Psychological explanations for the belief system of mermaids is that there is no physical evidence for or against mermaids; no one can yet prove that they did exist, yet people who have spent lots of time at sea claim to have seen and interacted with these aquatic phenomenons. They have somehow been a topic of interest among people for thousands of years now, and will continue to be an extraordinary belief of the sea-faring community until they are proven fact or fiction.




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Psychic Mediums

by Paige Whitley

A medium is someone who claims to be able to communicate with sprits in the afterworld and relay their messages to their loved ones they left back on the physical world. This practice has been recently gaining more popularity through shows like “Long Island Medium” and “Hollywood Medium” but has been around since the 1840’s. 1. Many people claim to be skeptical until a reading provides evidence towards someone actually being able to speak to a spirit – through personal stories. There are two types of mediumship: mental and physical. Mental mediumship uses the five senses and one’s consciousness to communicate and within that there are three forms: clairvoyance (sight), clairaudience (auditory) and clairsentience (tactile). Physical mediumship is when the medium is communication with spirits, the audience can see what is happening to the medium: raps (taps), ectoplasm, levitation, materialization and automatic writing. 1.

There are many reasons why people believe in mediums and many reasons why people don’t believe in mediums. People against mediums believe that the medium gets information before a reading, or secretly gets information through generic questions. Suzanne Giesemann, an alleged medium, wrote on her website that she needs to feed off of her clients, so she can change direction if she wasn’t correct or she can keep going with a certain detail. Giesemann also states that if her client sits there silent, there will be an energy blockade and she won’t be able to read the spirits. 2. In reality, mediums start with a very generic question or statement that could apply to almost anyone and reach out for help to understand a message they are receiving from a spirit and since it is so generic when a medium is inaccurate they can backtrack and correct themselves. 3. Some mediums can also prepare ahead of time and do their research on the person they are reading, which is very easy to do now a day.

Many people are readily eager to believe in mediumship due to the fact that if they are being read, they have lost someone, and this could be a part of their grieving system. People also believe in mediumship because they are looking for a reason to keep going or a meaning to life. Generally, all kinds of people have their own reason for believing in mediumship. Age, education level, and political views don’t have any difference between who believes and who doesn’t, but women tend to believe more than men and people that do believe tend to support private enterprise compared to people who don’t believe that tend to support corporate enterprise. 4.

Believers come from everywhere and anywhere. Of course, someone claiming to be able to communicate with spirits will spark some interest with people. Some people believe because they want to be able to know there is an afterlife. Some people believe because they are grieving the death of a loved one. Some people believe just because they can. Although, in the Bible it does say to not seek out a medium, so people may claim for mediumship to be against their religion. New shows keep coming out about mediums and this is a social platform that is new and very useful to getting mediums to convince more people to believe in them.

To conclude, people want to believe in mediumship because there is confirmation on the afterlife, they get to find out if their loved ones that have died are doing well and watching over them, and since it’s gaining popularity on social media it seems more acceptable. People go to mediums in a vulnerable state and chose to believe it because they are tricked into giving information to a medium and fall into the hole of it all seeming 100% real. Mediumship is very hard to measure, and mediumship is very hard to disprove; therefore, people will support it. There isn’t a placebo effect or anything like that but even if it’s all fabricated, it gives people a little bit of happiness and mediums will thrive off of that.




by Kathleen Warren

Graphology, also known as graphoanalysis, is a process that is used by some to attempt to determine personality traits and details about a person based off of their handwriting. It began in 1871 by Jean-Hippolyte MIchon, and it is still popular in Europe, especially France. It has been used to assess child development, give career advice, and even to provide psychological analysis (Schofield).Today a major and problematic use of graphology is to determine which job applicant corporation managers should hire. This is problematic because proof of the validity of graphology hasn’t been found, and it is still being used to make important decisions that can have a large effect on individuals’ lives. Graphology can be considered an extraordinary belief because it is a form of pseudoscience, and it would require the belief that personality traits can be communicated, via unconscious mental functions, through handwriting (Carroll).

The evidence often used to prove the validity of graphology include its similarity to forensic handwriting analysis. Graphologist examine many of the same features as forensic document examiners when analyzing handwriting. However, they try and use it to analyze personality rather than to detect authenticity or forgery. Another element often used to argue the validity of graphology is the satisfaction rate of clients who have paid for handwriting analysis. Since it is estimated that in France 50-70% of businesses use it (Schofield), many believe it, and defend it by must be accurate because that many people couldn’t all be incorrect about it (Novella).

Graphology is not accepted as a real science because of the evidence against it. One way it has been tested is by having multiple graphologist analyze the same handwriting sample. When this was done, the graphologists all provided different personality traits (Schofield), proving there wasn’t a universal accurate way to analyze handwriting. Another reason it cannot be proven to be true is the content of the sample being analyzed often influences the reading more than the handwriting traits. This was seen when the graphologists were asked to describe the personality of subjects when the handwriting sample contained a passage that had been copied from a magazine (Carroll). If handwriting was truly how the unconscious personality details were being read by the graphologists, then they would not have still been able to describe the personality of the writers. However, they were not able to accurately describe the personalities when the writings were not autobiographical.

Many of the people who believe in graphology live in France. This is likely because it is accepted in France, and it began there (Schofield). This could also be partially due to graphology training courses in France that are popularly attended. Because there are approximately 1,000 handwriting analysis practitioners in France (Schofield), it is probably easier for them to sustain their beliefs. It could also be popular in France because of a “national proclivity for the abstract; or an instinctive rejection of US-origin “personality” tests” (Schofield).

There are psychological explanations that account for the belief in graphology. One reason it is believed is because it has the appearance of science (Novella), even though there is no scientific proof. Another reason people believe it is it make appeals to authority, by stating it is based on theories by psychologist Carl Jung. It also relies on confirmation bias, as people will pay more attention to the details the graphologists lists that align with their opinions of the subject, than to the mistakes made. It also makes an appeal to a conspiracy, by claiming that the opposition is part of a “big psychology lobby” (Novella) and, therefore, cannot be trusted.


Celebrities Faking Their Deaths

by Thang Tran

There are several rumors about deceased celebrities going into hiding like Elvis Presley, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, or even extremely old icons like Amelia Earhart. However, one of the most popular theories is one of a living celebrity being dead which is the theory of Paul McCartney’s death and supposed body double. This story circulated via rumors in 1967 and then boomed when Tim Harper published a story with his evidence of the death (Schmidt, 2009). The situation was that in 1967 Paul McCartney supposedly crashed driving after being frustrated with the band. The record label allegedly hired a body double to pose as Paul to not cause grief amongst the fans. People that believe this theory usually look deep into the “evidence” of the album’s supposed subliminal messages and playing certain songs backwards and doubt the testimonies and interviews from the band and people close to the band. The theory had lost most of it believers over time as Paul McCartney built up his career and people just forgot about it after time.

The facts of the matter are that around this time of the rumor going about, Paul was getting less and less face time from the press and the general public because of his general erosion of wanting to feel famous after years of concerts and public fanfare according to interviews during this time (Neary, 1969). There are supposed messages in certain songs where parts focused in on or reversed sounded like phrases like “Paul is dead”, “I buried Paul”, other cryptic things about the subject (Yorke, 1970). This can be summed up to pareidolia where human beings look for messages or familiar shapes in pictures or sounds. Perhaps people did not have access to the evidence against the theory at the early times of this rumor, but as time went on the theory waned down on substantial evidence.

At previously mentioned the rumors mostly escalated when they first appeared. People went out to their shops to buy the albums or relistened to their albums if they had them already. They would listen closely or play backwards the parts that were told in the rumors and that was all they had to go by unless they were a hardcore fanatic and had access to every Beatle interview or news clipping vs just finding the “Paul is dead” theory from a tabloid at the time with big print and such an outstanding premise of a theory. The people that wanted to believe most likely believed it from the get go and the people who didn’t have the evidence to believe probably took a little to believe if they did at all.

The communities that most likely believed the theory were probably people that didn’t like Paul or noticed Paul acting differently post 1967 which was during a phase where the band was being more experimental with their music than continuing their boy band ways which also could have influenced people to believe more into the theory. The people that looked into or even started this rumor could have also been trying to just gain publicity. Some social influences that negatively affected the theory was that the band was shortly about to part ways after the article made it big anyways. The tremendous news of the band breaking up was most likely going to overshadow any rumor this late into the band’s career. However, this theory could have been supported by those thinking the band broke up because of the rumors surfacing.

In conclusion, there are a handful of reasons why people believe a currently living celebrity has been dead for over 50 years. Whether by hearing pareidolia, changes in the behavior of the band after years of being in the limelight, or cognitive dissonance from people that see several hours of Paul living post 1967 with several interviews. There are also people in general that will follow new findings that break the norm of what people believe to believe they have “insider knowledge”.


Schmidt, Bart ,It was 40 Years Ago, Yesterday… (2009, September 18). Retrieved February 25, 2018, from

Neary, John (7 November 1969). Retrieved February 25, 2018“The Magical McCartney Mystery”. Life: 103–106.

Yorke, Ritchie (1970). Retrieved February 25, 2018 “A Private Talk With John”. Rolling Stone, 7 February 1970: 22

Alien Nanotechnology

by Julia Strand

Alien nanotechnology, which is believed to be pieces of evidence embedded into abducted humans by extraterrestrials. There is a documentary called Patient Seventeen, which shows Dr. Roger Leirs seventeenth surgery removal of extraterrestrial implants. With more than half the people in this world believing that aliens exist, Dr. Roger Leir is not alone in his belief. This information has been found and studied through the pieces found in these abductees. Over the past two decades, researchers have been exploring the belief that these encounters may in fact be true.

During the documentary of Patient Seventeen, Dr. Roger Leir came to find that the extraterrestrial implant that was inside of his patient was made of a total of 36 elements, which is far grater than any industrial form of article. Dr. Roger Leir also shared in his documentary how the isotopic ratios of Zinc 64 and Zinc 66 would indicate that these elements could not have been made possible from elements found here on earth. The case against this belief would be that there is no legitimate evidence that is able to be backed up scientifically. Dr. Roger Leir also was very stringent when it came to sharing his research, which never sits well in the scientific world.

Interestingly, the contributions that form this belief system comes from a vast array of research from depicting of objects found in such patients. That being said, people are lead to believe what they do from the information found from the elements that make up the objects. I would think that the background information or more so misinterpretation of such is what would cause someone to believe one way or another. When someone provides a great deal of research, such as elements in an object, people can easily be persuaded and be lead to believe what the researcher believes.

The community of believers come from those who also believe in UFOs and aliens and that they do in fact exist. There are multiple social influences that have contributed to this growing belief system, especially over the past couple of years. Media is a huge form of influence, through movies, TV shows, and anything that even talks about them. Even if they are not projecting them to be real or not, it still puts the thought out there.

The psychological explanations for the belief system is compromised by research that could not be explained by any other reasoning than what Dr. Roger Leir has concluded. The elements found in these objects highlight one of the bigger psychological explanations for this belief. For there to be no other explanation of the combinations of elements, and the complexity of the whole, it makes it seem easier to believe. I feel as though the biggest psychological explanation this belief has would be the cognitive dissonance someone experiences to lead them to have to change their perspective.



Psychic Mediums

by Charlie Stack

One of the most interesting topics that have stood out to me is the rise and popularity of famous psychics throughout history such as James Van Praagh and how easily it is to have people buy into believing them. To go even further, I am interested in the relationship between psychics and their clients and if they are causing harm, or if they are providing a positive experience. The first and foremost thing that people fail to understand about psychics is that no psychic has ever scientifically proven their talent. Psychics are people who claim they can predict the future by reading other people’s minds. Even if people understand this, they still tend to believe psychics have some supernatural ability. I believe it is because when people are desperate for answers they will turn to desperate measures to find something to believe in. Often when trauma is experienced or an act of terror that seems to have no moral reasoning as to why it happened, people want to know the ‘why’ so badly that they will turn to a medium to provide a false, made up, guessing explanation as to why the event occurred.

Originally, I did not see the harm in psychic mediums. To me, it was a form of therapy that helped people coped with trauma in ways that they may be unable to otherwise. After some explanation, I realized the problem lays deeper than the surface level. Being psychic mediums are unable to provide any scientific explanation, or reasoning behind what they do, people give them “super human” powers. The problem within that is if you give someone complete power there will always be people who use their power negatively, or make detrimental mistakes. There are many stories of mediums using their false powers to cause extreme harm. Some of these are, Delores Hoffert from Miami, Florida – her husband emptied his bank account because a medium claimed she had a cure to cancer. He later died and Delores was left widowed and broke. Another example is Pam and Craig Akers, whose son went missing. A psychic told them that he had died on national television, four years later, he was found alive and well. There are many more negative stories of psychics using their make-believe powers to inflict horrible pain on individuals and their lives.

To me, the amazing thing is people can still believe in these mediums and give them credibility. When do we collectively agree that they are utterly ridiculous and deserve no credit or money from anyone? Psychics may be one of the most successful forms of con artists of all time. They take advantage of the pain of others and use it to make a living. It is one of the few fields in the world that you can make a living off of no scientific backing, data, or anything real.



Talking to the Dead

by Menelik Solomon 

There are several extraordinary beliefs that have made a significant impact on people. There are many extraordinary beliefs that I believe are relatively harmless, such as the belief of big foot or the belief of the Lochness Monster. However, there are still plenty of extraordinary beliefs that have had a severely negative impact, beliefs that are actually incriminating and full of lies. An extraordinary belief that exemplifies these poor standards is one’s psychic ability to connect with dead people. There are people that claim to have these extraordinary powers and they’ve made a profession getting paid by people who really miss their passed loved ones and come to them to get in contact with them, when there has never been any evidence to prove this is possible.

The psychic gets information for their reading by asking the subjects a series of questions and then reads their responses to give them a psychic reading. These self-proclaimed psychics often slyly get information on their subject, such as relationship status, occupation, or number of siblings, before doing the reading by looking them up online and then pretend that they learned that information through their psychic powers. In most cases, the subjects actually believe the psychics are communicating with their dead loved ones. This hit its peak of popularity throughout the 80s up til the early 2000’s. Sylvia Browne was famous for these psychic readings and by 2008, Browne was charging over $700 for brief telephone sessions. She was found to have been making roughly $2.9 million from her psychic reading enterprise. People can be investing their last dollars to be fooled. This wrong and very important because not only are innocent and broken people being lied to, their being falsely dragged into an emotional rollercoaster.

Some would argue that there is evidence that these psychics are for real because of some of the information they dig that does seems so accurate that it could not have been a guess. But in reality, there is much more evidence against them because for every celebrated piece of information that they guess right, there is a substantially greater amount that are guessed wrong. However, the subjects are mistaken for believing in the psychics because they only account for the few things the psychics guess right, not the many more pieces they guess wrong.

Talking to dead people should seem absolutely irrational to any normal person. Many people don’t even believe in an afterlife, so why would anyone ever believe that some random people have the special psychic ability to connect with dead people? This is because most of these subjects come from broken families who are still in mourning and will believe anything that makes them think there loved is still out there and that they can still connect with them. They are experiencing confirmation bias. Regardless of the evidence pointing against the psychics favor, these subject believe the psychics because they really want to believe that what he or she is saying is true.

In conclusion, extraordinary beliefs are often harmful but sometimes people are really hurt and fooled. Humans connecting with the dead seems like a foolish concept, but humans have a strong belief system and are most willing to hold their strong beliefs for those that they love. Even the evidence is pointing to the fact that these psychics are wrong, people still believe them because that is how strong their love is for their loved ones. But the psychics must be stopped because they wrongfully lying and taking money from these hopeless individuals.


by Lillian Sindelar

Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils medicinally. Essential oils are oils extracted from different parts of plants. These oils can be ingested, topically applied, inhaled in close contact, or can be diffused to fill a space. Aromatherapy involves an individual inhaling certain types of oils which are meant to have their own benefits. This can be done through diffusion, bathing in aromatic water, or being massaged with the oils. The practice primarily takes place for pain management and has been used in various parts of the world for centuries (Hamlin & Robertson). The exact conception of the practice is unknown but connections to ancient Egypt and Greece have been made. Egypt has been credited for being a pioneer in extracting oil from plants. In Greek mythology, there is a belief that perfume and fragrance are connected to the Gods. Traditionally, in many cultures, perfumes have been an indicator of wealth and wellness (“Aromatherapy History”). Today, to experience aromatherapy, people may pay for specific treatments, may add it into an existing treatment such as a massage, or can purchase the essential oils over the counter for use at home. The primary age group that participates in aromatherapy is middle-aged to elderly people.

Aromatherapy remains popular in nursing because it is a cheaper remedy than many other medical practices. Also, there are less risks to the patients involved. It has been used with patients with cancer to promote health. This would be less invasive than many other others. Among other things, research has been done to study the relationship between aromatherapy and sleep quality. It was found that the inhalation of oils was more successful (compared to massage therapy) in improving sleep. Interestingly, aromatherapy has been found to assist in mental and psychological wellness even more than sleep quality (Hwang 66). However, sleep quality was more significantly effected by aromatherapy as compared to physical pain (Anderson et al.). Specifically oils such as lavender and chamomile have strong findings (Hwang 62). The difficult part about drawing conclusions is that the the way aromatherapy is conducted (massage or inhalation) as well as the condition of the patient greatly determines how effective the treatment will be.

Conversely, aromatherapy has also been found to have little or no effects in other studies. In a study looking at agitation of elderly Alzheimer’s patients, it was found that aromatherapy was ineffective compared to pharmacological therapies and music therapies. This is an example of a diagnosis where subjects have deterioration of the brain and the circumstances may be too severe to fix in this way. They may need stronger methods of therapy to combat their symptoms (Millan- Calenti et al. 178). Aromatherapy is also practiced on people with Arthritis and other physical ailments. Many confounding variables may explain the results that come from aromatherapy studies. The problem in this particular example is that people with arthritis may feel relief after being massaged based on the physical contact without any real effects of the oils.

Even though aromatherapy has not been effective across the board, people still continue to engage in the practice. Inhaling certain scents does indeed cause a reaction in our brain. Biologically, essential oils are taken in through the olfactory system and trigger our brains. The messages reach the the limbic system (which is the part of our brain that controls emotions) and the hypothalamus. This is that part of our brain that helps our body stay in homeostasis and is linked to sleep and emotions as well. Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, are then released making people feel “better” ( Sanchez-Vidana et al. 2). So, in conclusion, there are reasons as to why aromatherapy would work for people.

In recent years, focusing on health and wellness has become a trend. Eating organic foods, using holistic medicine, and living a more natural life is more common. The use of essential oils doesn’t need to take place in a medical setting which attracts people to it. Even if you don’t have a more serous medical issue, its almost like an activity to try for the younger generation. Infusers are an item many people have either to aid in sleep or simply create a peacefulness in their homes. Most of the research supports aromatherapy as an appropriate way to improve mental and psychological health. However, the evidence for improving physical health is not well supported. There aren’t studies out there about massage treatments with and without the use of essential oils. This would display if aromatherapy was superior with the Cancer and Arthritis patients talked about above. Essentially, aromatherapy works; it just depends on your diagnosis, the way you receive aromatherapy and the severity of your symptoms.


“Aromatherapy History.” Aromatherapy – The Balance & Harmony of Body and Mind, 2010,

Anderson, AR. Et al. “Using complementary and alternative medicine to treat pain and agitation in Dementia: A review of randomized controlled trials from long-term care with potential use in critical care.” Critical Care Nursing Clinic of North America, vol. 29, no. 4, Dec. 2017, pp. 519-537. Pain Management.

Hamlin, Amy S. and T. Michelle Robertson. “Pain and Complementary Therapies.” Critical  Care Nursing Clinic of North America, vol. 29, no. 4, 2017, pp. 449-460. Elsevier Inc., doi: 10.1016/j.cnc.2017.08.005.(

Hwang, Eunhee. “The effects of aromatherapy on sleep improvement: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis.” The journal of alternative and complementary medicine, Vol. 21, no. 2, Feb. 2015, pp. 61-68. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc, . doi:10.1089/acm.2014.0113.

Millan-Callenti, Jose Carlos et al. “Optimal nonpharmacological management of agitation in Alzheimer’s disease: challenges and solutions.” Clinical Interventions in Aging, Vol. 11, 2016, pp. 175-184. Doi: 10.2147/CIA.S69484

Sanchez-Vidana, Dalinda Isabel, et al. “ The effectiveness of Aromatherapy for depressive symptoms: a systematic review.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Vol. 2017, pp. 1-15. Hindawi Publishing Corporation,

Facilitated Communication

by Ashton Schneider

Facilitated Communication, also known as Supported Typing, is a communication technique that was created to assist severely autistic or other communication impaired individuals in sharing their thoughts, feelings or ideas.¹ Proponents of this technique, which include family members, teachers, and assistants of those with autism, believe that these individuals are not actually mentally disabled but have a rich inner life. They claim severely autistic individuals are cognitively the same as any other typically developed person and that their disability stems from an inability to simply make the physical movements required for communication (e.g: controlled movement of the vocal cords or hands, etc).²

The Facilitated Communication (FC) technique itself is employed by a facilitator who assists the disabled individual, the communicator, in pressing the keys on a keyboard or letter board while giving verbal encouragement. This is done by forming the person’s fingers into a fist with the index finger extended and supporting the elbow, gripping the wrist, sleeve of a shirt, or hand and then guiding the arm forward toward the keyboard. FC became popular in the United States in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It was largely promoted by a man named Douglas Biklen, a professor at Syracuse University in New York, who learned the technique while in Australia from Rosemary Crossley.³ It is mostly used with individuals on the more severe end of the autistic spectrum who are characterized by profound difficulties with communication, social skills, and in entertaining abstract concepts. Many of these people also have repetitive, jerky movements or an intellectual disability.⁴ The current understanding of autism is precisely why this belief is such an extraordinary one; if we are to believe that Facilitated Communication does what Biklen claims it does, then we would need to completely change how we define autism. (For additional information about FC and the controversy surrounding it I have provided links below.)

Evidence supporting FC is of the anecdotal variety. Demonstrations of the technique have shown what appears to be the communicators typing out full, intelligible sentences. They could carry on conversations with those speaking to them, answer questions, and tell of how they had felt trapped for so long before FC was available to them. Their statements also seemed to make sense coming from someone with a disability who has not been able to communicate up until now.²

Some criticisms can be made after simply observing a few demonstrations of FC in action. For starters, in a few instances the disabled individual isn’t even looking at the letter board or keyboard, and this may continue for the majority of the time in which they are supposedly communicating. Secondly, in other demonstrations it appears as though the facilitator assisting the communicator is doing quite a bit of assisting. So much so, that it looks as if the facilitator is doing more than just guiding the hand or arm and is actually just using the communicators hand to type.² The most damning evidence, however, comes in the form of a series of experiments conducted to test just who is doing the communicating. One in particular, done by Smith, Haas, and Belcher (1994), consisted of presenting either matching or differing pictures, objects or messages to the facilitator and communicator. Communicators were told to describe what they had seen through the use of varying levels of FC (no help, hand over hand support with error prevention, and hand over hand support without error prevention). Correct answers were obtained only when both the facilitator and communicator saw the same image and a full support style of FC was used. ⁵,⁷

When it comes to FC, several cognitive mechanisms and social factors are responsible for the creation and maintenance of the belief. For starters, confirmation bias, where a person bends ambiguous data to fit what they already believe, plays a heavy role in turning observations of the technique being performed into “hard evidence” that these individuals must be the ones communicating. Secondly, avid supporters make use of post hoc excuses to explain away why some people cannot get FC to work, or why certain experiments fail to find any evidence in support of the technique.² This works to insulate the claim from being testable in the future because it makes it unfalsifiable. Thirdly, and especially in the case of Biklen himself, cognitive dissonance plays a role. He has put a lot of time and effort into promoting this technique, as well as put his reputation on the line and as such is unlikely to admit that it is a pseudoscience despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting exactly this. Additionally, Biklen, who first brought FC to the United States, has a PhD and because of this is able to influence others beliefs because he occupies a position of authority.⁶ Socially, believers in FC come from a community of people who have loved ones with autism or who work with them closely. It’s no surprise then, that these individuals would want to very much believe in FCs credibility as it provides them with the opportunity to communicate with loved ones who previously were unable to do so. Being surrounded by staunch believers enhances a person’s motivation to believe, as well.

In conclusion, advocates of Facilitated Communication have made some pretty extraordinary claims; and while it’s entirely understandable how a person can come to believe in the extraordinary, the evidence doesn’t always warrant the strength of the belief. Claims that revolutionize everything that we know about a concept require much more than anecdotes, authority, and a large number of very convinced believers to make them truly persuasive to a rightfully skeptical audience. It may provide us a great deal of comfort or joy to believe in an idea but if this is based on a lie or a misconception, it could prove to be much more damaging than the truth itself in the long run.


1) Syracuse University website: d_typing/default.aspx

2) FRONTLINE: Prisoners of Silence video:

3) American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website:

4) Autism cation

5) Lilienfeld, S.O., Lynn, S.J., & Lohr, J.M.(Eds).(2015). Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology.(2nd ed.)New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

6) Syracuse University Page on Douglas Biklen:

7) Smith, M., Haas, P.J., & Belcher, R.G. (1994). Facilitated communication: The effects of facilitator knowledge and level of assistance on output. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24(3), 357-367. Retrieved from: &sid=e49158f8-7254-4ea4-9fed-7eeed5135968%40sessionmgr4009

8) Special thanks to Dr. Michael Vasey for discussions in class regarding FC:

Holocaust Denial

by Grace Robinette

Globally, one of the major historical events most students learn about is the Holocaust.  From the time students were young to well into college educations, the Holocaust has been widely discussed, analyzed, and taught. For decades now, the atrocities that resulted from the Holocaust have been central in understanding racism, bigotry, and prejudice as well as global relations. So, how is it that despite overwhelming evidence, there are still people who deny the Holocaust ever happened? Enter, Holocaust deniers and the extraordinary belief that the Holocaust is a conspiracy.

Broadly, Holocaust denial is when people ignore and try to argue the facts of the Holocaust. In the same category is Holocaust distortion, which is disputing the impact and magnitude of the Holocaust. The belief stemmed from antisemitism, and has been a way to discredit Jews, as well as reduce sympathy from them. Denial and distortion of the Holocaust are also meant to instill doubt about Jews as a way to further push a Nazi agenda. This movement began its rise in 1980 when the Journal of Historical Review as well as the Institute for Historical Review emerged. Since then, it has been publishing articles that combat claims of accuracy regarding the Holocaust. To call this belief extraordinary is an understatement, simply considering the amount of evidence, testimonies, policies and practices and knowledge that came out of this horrendous event. There is overwhelming support for taking action against those who deny the Holocaust and it has actually even been criminalized in many developed countries.

To first understand the extraordinary beliefs surrounding Holocaust denial, one must first examine the facts. Holocaust deniers base much of denial on three key details: sheer numbers of Jews executed, lack of physical evidence outlining direct orders to murder Jews and the debated existence of gas chambers. Holocaust denier’s ague the validity of the numbers associated with the Holocaust, saying that the facts and figures have fluctuated over time, from 4 million to 6 million. In addition, they argue that there were only 2.4 million Jews under German occupation, which does not account for the remaining 3.6 million. While there is no one document that details each death, experts estimate the amount of Jews executed is around 6 million. These estimates are based on several records including the census reports, eyewitness reports and recovered archives.

Additionally, Holocaust deniers claim there was never any direct statements made about executing Jews. Again, there is a sliver of truth in this statement, because there was never and outright proclamation about the extermination of Jews. In addition, there is no certainty as to when Nazi’s set forth the annihilation plan. Despite there not being a forthright statement, policies were put in place over a span of years to isolate Jews and create a society that was impossible for Jews to participate in German society, culture and economy. As a result, there was an abundance of hate and antisemitism. This discrimination transitioned straight into more overt and drastic forms, such as murder via death camps, shootings and starvation. It was framed that Nazi authorities had the go-ahead from Hitler to eliminate any threats, perceived or physical, to the German rule, which translated directly as Jewish people. There was been direct documentation but towards the end of the war, German officials destroyed as much evidence as possible to cover their tracks. What remained, however, was eyewitness reports as well as surviving documents proving the orders to eliminate Jews.

The last piece of the Holocaust denier’s argument is that gas chambers are not possible and were made up as an attempt to exaggerate the Holocaust. This belief stems from Ernst Zundel, a German man residing in Canada who dedicated his life to denying the Holocaust and disseminating neo-Nazi literature, who insisted that the gas chambers in Auschwitz be examined to determine their validity. In 1988, he recruited Fred Leuchter to complete the task with his only credentials being that he was a self-proclaimed expert in the field of execution methods. If him being a self-proclaimed expert wasn’t red flag enough, surely the fact that it was execution methods he claimed to be an expert in should have been.  However, he returned with his findings reflecting that the gas chambers were false based on the engineering of them. From there, a slew of people denied the use or existence of gas chambers. Yet, upon further investigation, it turned out that Leuchters methods were unreliable and had no validity, thus further falsifying Holocaust deniers pillars of beliefs.Unlike other extraordinary beliefs, such as horoscopes or palm reading, the choice to believe in the claims of Holocaust deniers is not based in misinformation, but rather outright bigotry. Don’t get it twisted, those who believe in the denial of the Holocaust are delusional, but not in a way that cognitive contributions can fully account for. Not only is the evidence against their beliefs overwhelming, it clearly follows an agenda that is hateful and evil. There is a trail leading back to the root of each belief, which at first may have been understandable early on, but at this point it’s inexcusable.

There is an obvious social context here. As previously mentioned, the beliefs are based on a neo-Nazi agenda and came out of a time where discrediting Jews was essential to their political plan. Since then, Holocaust denial has been carried through the generations by those who have an interest in creating tension with Jews and would benefit from Jews losing their agency. Whether it be people who hate Jews for illegitimate reasons or people who seek to attack the foundation of the nation state of Israel, Holocaust deniers are bad news all around.What can be said about those who are Holocaust deniers is that they certainly fall victim to the confirmation bias. They seek out information and expertise that further asserts their claims as true. They may only trust sources that further enforce their agendas, however, they are in a very small minority of people who can deny a major historical event. In  the end Holocaust deniers beliefs, while may be perpetuated by misinformation or bias, is inherently derogatory and detrimental to Jews globally.