1998 Schedule, Readers comments on Lucent Matter...

James Randi --- Wizard (JREFInfo@ssr.com)
Wed, 24 Dec 1997 14:00:25 -0800 (PST)

For those of you who might be interested, here's an abbreviated
schedule of my public appearances for the first 6 months of 1998:

New York City Jan. 7-17
Art of Magic on PBS Feb. 11/9 p.m.
Cleveland, South Shore Skeptics Feb. 20th
Newark, Ohio - Ohio State Univ. April 15-16
USENIX New Orleans June 16-17

Please consult the web page for details.

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Letters from readers about the Lucent matter...
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Here are some of the comments I've received in regard to the Lucent
Technology matter, recently posted. They're anonymous, but Marvin
Minsky is in here, along with several L.T. employees who are
obviously genuinely concerned. This is the information that the
Lucent executive chose not to accept from me. I hope he is wearing
goggles to keep the sand out of his eyes while his head is buried.

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Your story of the new-age lectures being given at Lucent
technologies is interesting given that their main corporate logo was
borrowed from a Japanese Zen religious symbol called the 'Enso,' which
is an ink brush painted circle that does not quite close. It is used
by Zen masters as a kind of signature of their own state of
enlightenment. The dictionary definition of Lucent also means 'filled
with light'. I have queried Lucent corporate media relations about
this association to Zen Buddhism and they claim that the symbol was
arbitrarily picked to represent 'human innovation', they call it the
'innovation ring', and claim it does not explicitly derive from the
Japanese Zen symbol.... anyway, even if they were innocent of the
Japanese Zen origin of this symbol, their own interpretation of it is
certainly new-ageish.

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This little anecdote hit pretty close to home. It serves to
strengthen my notion that soon it will be impossible to remain well
employed without being required to at least pretend to embrace such
nonsense.
I work for a large mining company....a few years ago management
decided they needed to "change the company culture" in such a way that
it would improve production, lower the production costs...by
implementing one of the many different Teams concepts.... Although we
haven't had to put up with classic paranormal type pseudo-science as
illustrated by the Lucent Technologies example, the way [they] set up
examples to prove how effective teams are, reminded me of the way
misdirection is used in magic tricks.... It left most with the
illusion that it did show that team work was very much more effective
than working as individuals.... The test...seems to epitomize the
kind of tests performed by pseudo scientists.
Before its demise, I used to work for the U.S. Bureau of Mines.
In some seminars there for similar programs, ideas like "perception is
reality" were expected to be believed. Believing this idea, I guess
magicians really do saw women in half, manage not to kill them, then
restore them without leaving so much as a mark.
This stuff really worries me. As a condition of employment am I
going to have to pretend to believe all manner of nonsense? It seems
that we are being drawn into the demon-haunted world, irrevocably, as
if it were a black hole and we had ventured too close.

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Thanks for the newsletter. Amazing to hear such nonsense was not
laughed out of Lucent. I have heard about similar nonsense in the
Mid-Continent Regional Educational Lab (MCREL) in Aurora, Colorado.
It is one of about five or so outrageously well funded FEDERAL think
tanks around the nation. Some years ago, I heard an employee relate
that these "labs" are at the forefront of experimenting with New Age
employee indoctrination (and encourage the introduction of
pseudoscientific and other poorly-researched practices into public
schools, as well). I only remember one of his examples: The lab held
sessions in which everyone was required to visualize individual
employees' wishes coming true. Once a group spent 5-10 minutes
visualizing a successful adoption (the situation was not hopeful). At
the end of the session, and from that moment on, everyone spoke as if
the adoption were a certainty. Any humor or doubts on the matter were
considered treasonable. I suspect MCREL and its kindred labs would
make rich pickings for an investigative journalist.

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Below is a copy of a message I sent to Mr. _____ [executive in
charge of the Lucent project]. He simply forwarded it to "Marilyn"
and sent me a copy without comment.

Dear Mr. _____: James Randi told me of your remarks. At the risk of
further annoying you, I'd like to make a few remarks of my own. Let's
agree that Lucent would like to have the reputation of being a sound
scientific institution--as did its predecessor, Bell Laboratories.
This means that we have to be careful about our appearance with regard
to the popular pseudosciences.
For example, I once interviewed a good number of elementary
school science teachers, and many of them considered astrology to be a
legitimate source of knowledge. I found this to be quite shocking,
because it has indeed been completely discredited when examined
scientifically....
Now Randi mentioned that you remarked that "many attendees were
pleased with her seminars and the techniques she used." Of course.
In general, the 'crackpot therapists' get better receptions than do
the ones who use more scientific methods. Each individual responds in
their own way, and (for example) many innocent people say that they
have benefitted from homeopathic medications -- which also have failed
to show significant benefits when evaluated by controlled experiments.
It's OK, I suppose, for you to say, "if it works, and people like
it, then what's wrong with that?" There are two answers. First,
there's no evidence that (for example) "applied kinesiology"
works--except that, like horoscopes or dianetics, or reflexology, or
iridology, etc., naive people are often impressed with it.
Much more important, though, is for the lab to avoid losing its
professional reputation. This has happened recently, for example, to
Public Television, through their endorsement of flaky therapists such
as Chopra. Randi is right on this issue. Lucent has lost a lot of
its reputation already, and it would be sad if it further embraced
outright quackery.

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I am new to the world of newsgroups and I don't know the
etiquette, but I felt compelled to chime in on this thread. The
original comments from James Randi came from the James Randi
Educational Foundation's e-mail hotline, last Thursday.
This Monday, the hotline posted more comments from James Randi on
this subject. I have included his full comments from that e-mail
below, for the benefit of this newsgroup....
As a supporter of Mr. Randi and JREF, and a contributor to the
2000 Club (whose $1.1 million prize to anyone who can establish a
psychic power has yet to be successfully claimed), I am happy to see
how many of my constituents were as angered and appalled as I was by
these events here at Lucent.
If anyone would like to learn more about James Randi, JREF and
the 2000 Club, I refer you to the JREF website at www.randi.org.

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Just for the heck of it, I did a search for Marilyn Wheeler on
the Internet. She's at http://www.mwheeler.com/1.html. There is no
mention of weird stuff on her website. I don't think her primary goal
is to push mumbo-jumbo. I think she has just fallen for some of this
stuff herself and has integrated it into her teaching. Problem is,
she's teaching these "techniques" as if they are scientifically
validated facts. I think she is just a little (a lot) mixed up
herself. But, I found it amazing how intelligent, educated people
apparently accepted what she said at face value and without question.
I am told that one engineer in the follow-up meeting ... insisted that
Marilyn was right in her claim that we have "energy fields" around us.
My own feelings are that this type of teaching is a kind of insidious,
toe-in-the-door spread of pseudo-science.
Simply put, I don't think this lady is a outright fraud. I think
she has just fallen for this stuff herself. She should, however, not
be teaching this couched in a legitimate context, in my opinion.

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To this Lucent employee: I think it's your sworn duty as a
skeptic to raise as much hell as you can at Lucent to get people to
think about this nonsense.

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Although I as a writer, and likely any reader of my essay, come
from western cultures, and thus the Lucent incident seems more
egregious--they should have known better, they're educated and indeed
a site of great learning and innovation--still we might ask folks at
the site of either incident, why did you fall for this, why is
everyone so silent, why is it slow and seldom that someone observes
that the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes? Is it because when
someone does, he gets yelled at by the True Believers? And why do
they do that? In other words, what are the forces MAINTAINING this
kind of acceptance, even gullibility? Qui bono, perhaps....
Management fads and motivational speaking (in a word, hype) seem to
play [a] role in the Lucent incident.... As Feynman observes,
scientific approaches, and their components of analytic thinking,
critical inquiry, and empirical test, are not common now or ever, here
or anywhere.
We just think we're living in a scientific age. In fact, we're
living in an age enabled by a very few individuals, never even 1% of
the population, who knew how to do science and technology. And even
they can be badly fooled by tricks, areas outside their specialty, and
so on. The ability to let nature speak, instead of trying to tell her
what she's supposed to be saying, is quite rare. Period.... Yet the
scientific and liberal enlightenment was a social movement, not just
an individual one. Can we argue even historically, let alone morally,
that it's OK to let the masses be sitting ducks for ripoffs of various
sorts in a society which is fundamentally founded on technology
enabled by a scientific understanding of nature? Is it more
offensive, or more harmful, to spread nonsense when it's identified as
science, than when it's identified as religion, politics, or opinion?
Yes. It simply dilutes the meaning of science, waters down the sense
available, waffles on the standard to be applied. There's no harm in
quite a good deal of nonsense in fairy tales, as long as they are
called "fairy tales". This too cuts across cultures, very nicely,
very effectively.

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I thought I would mention, in the spirit of the recent Lucent
nonsense, an instance of pseudo-science I came in touch with at my
former workplace. At the time I was employed by _____ (in the
Information Systems dept.), a proposal was made by our counterparts at
a US affiliate (in Dallas as I recall) that the then somewhat popular
fad of "biorhythms" be put to use at _____ (I am referring of course
to the computerized prediction of daily physiological performance
based on one's birth date/time). I am pleased to report however that
the proposal met with a considerable amount of derision/humor and died
a swift and merciful death.

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The situation with Lucent Technologies and the Applied
Kinesiology demonstration is, of course, all too common. As someone
who has read a lot of success and motivation literature I'm all too
aware of it. Being an entrepreneur and someone who is in general
concerned with self-improvement, I've naturally enough read a number
of books on the psychology of success: things like Napoleon Hill's
Think and Grow Rich, as well as more contemporary books and cassette
programs. While I feel there's a lot of useful information to be
gleaned from this success and motivation material, there all are also
general doses of pseudoscience and the paranormal. For example, on
Brian Tracey's The Psychology of Achievement tape series, Tracey(sp?)
mentions the ability to visualize empty parking spots and then drive
right to them. Pretty nifty, huh? The power of visualization sure is
amazing!

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There are more....

Randi.

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