Joe Nickell

Joe Nickell, Ph.D. (University of Kentucky, 1987), is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) - an international scientific organization - and investigative columnist for Skeptical Inquirer magazine.A former professional stage magician (he was Resident Magician at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame for three years) and private investigator for a world-famous detective agency, Dr. Nickell taught technical writing for several years at the University of Kentucky before taking the full-time position with CSI at its offices at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York.Utilizing his varied background, Nickell has become widely known as an investigator of myths and mysteries, frauds, forgeries, and hoaxes. He has been called "the modern Sherlock Holmes," "the original ghost buster," and "the real-life Scully" (from "The X-Files" ). He has investigated scores of haunted-house cases, including the Amityville Horror and the Mackenzie House in Toronto, Canada. Nickell was an inspiration for Hilary Swank's role as a miracle investigator in The Reaping (2007).



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In the process of individualization, the scientific examiner sometimes makes use of probability and may cite Newcomb’s Rule (after Professor Simon Newcomb) : “The probability of concurrence of all events is equal to the continued product of the probabilities of all the separate events.” Consider a document typed on an old fashioned typewriter with the standard forty-two type bars and eighty-four characters. Suppose that examination of the document reveals that the machine that typed it has five individual characteristics—one caused by a misaligned type bar (a 1/42 probability) and the others caused by defects in individual characters (or 1/84 probability each). The mathematical formula for this set of circumstances would be: 1/42 × 1/84 × 1/84 × 1/84 × 1/84= 1/2,091,059,712— a figure greater than the total number of typewriters of that particular model in existence.9 In many cases of individualization, the probability of each factor or “event” is unknown, and courts tend to take a dim view of assigning arbitrary values. Nevertheless, individualization, after the common-sense approach of multiplying each unusual factor by each additional one has been explained, represents the basis of many forensic comparisons presented in court.
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Hence forensic science is a broad term that embraces all of the scientific disciplines that are utilized in investigations with the goal of bringing criminals to justice. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences defines it as “the study and practice of the application of science to the purposes of the law.”3
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Kirk raises an interesting point, noting that “for the criminalist to use the word ‘identification’ in its accepted context is to admit that there is no reason for his special existence…
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