As a general rule, I don’t watch the local news. I have an app on my phone that gives me weather, and I can check sports headlines on Twitter and Google faster than it takes for the segment to just tell me the damn score already. Twitter, the local blogs and NewOK (when I’m desperate) give me all of the relevant state news without all of the insipid stories that aren’t really news but filler.
The downside of this is that sometimes I miss out on stories created with this blog in mind. Fortunately, someone I follow on Twitter, had the presence of mind to re-tweet this gem on Monday night.
Yes, that’s the actual headline from the story.
Spontaneous human combustion, at least the kind described in this story, doesn’t actually exist. Well, it does exist in that people really do burn up without taking out the surrounding area, but it isn’t mysterious and isn’t ‘spontaneous’. It is well understood and fully explainable. There is no mystery and no need for a wild headline.
I can tell you what happened here, with a fairly high degree of probability. The victim, who is described in the story as elderly, an alcoholic and a smoker found in the kitchen, lit himself on fire. Due to some combination of his age and alcohol, he was unable to react properly. Instead, his body fat and clothing acted as a candle.
For a good account of how this happens, check out the great Skeptoid post and podcast episode on spontaneous human combustion. Spontaneous human combustion is a misnomer. It should properly be called the human wick effect.
In response to this, I tried to come up with some equally silly headlines. Here are a few of them:
Oklahoma Woman Disappears, Sheriff Not Ruling Out Alien Abduction
Hair Found in Woods, Sheriff Not Ruling Out Bigfoot
Child Vomits, Doctor Not Ruling Out Demon Possession
We should make a game of it. List yours in the comments below.