Readers comment on Lucent, part II.

James Randi --- Wizard (JREFInfo@ssr.com)
Mon, 29 Dec 1997 23:07:37 -0800 (PST)

A second batch of excerpts from comments of readers who are concerned
with the Lucent Technologies admission of pseudo-science to their
training sessions.....

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I suppose this is not too different from the logic by which
business leaders start using graphology, biorhythms, horoscopes, and
all the rest. They don't see much to lose if it doesn't work; they
see some chance to gain if it does work; and trying anything sends a
message about what results they value. Maybe the presenter had so
much respect for the intelligence of the Lucent people that she didn't
expect any of them would conclude "paranormal" from her little show.
I don't know.
Anyway, it looks like your problem with Lucent and this
instructor is a case of conflicting values. They want to improve
performance and don't care as much what people believe -- you (and I)
abhor irrationality and the thought that such a high-class operation
would promote it. This is a good example of the greatest problem I
find in trying to stand up for rationality -- it's so hard to do so
without telling very nice and well-meaning people who are acting like
fools what you think of what they are doing in a way that they might
take personally.

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A comment about Lucent technologies. The idea that perception is
reality is false but the actions people take as a result of this
fallacy are not. To wit, witches were perceived as "real" and "evil"
Fallacy yes, but they were burned at the stake. Ultimate reality to
the poor women. Why should this fallacy be a surprise?...As a
pragmatic libertarian I see this all the time. A couple of examples:
"A woman has the right to her own body". Very popular notion. Yet
most groups espousing this are against prostitution. Hmmm?...For the
most part I think we are still in the dark ages of philosophical
technology yet we have 21st century tools at our disposal. This is
more dangerous than the first Dark Age. Thanks for shedding some
light on the situation.

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I'm usually on your side. But this time I think you've gone a bit
off the deep end. There is no mention of applied kinesiology on
Marilyn Wheeler's Web site. It is quite conceivable, and I know of no
evidence to the contrary, that Lucent called in Marilyn Wheeler while
completely ignorant of her interest in applied kinesiology. So she's
there, giving a talk. She mentions her interest in applied
kinesiology, and gives a demo. Do you expect that she should be
kicked out because she believes in something that is
nonsense?...stretching the reality of the situation the way you have
doesn't do the cause of skepticism any good. There are a lot of
important battles out there to be won; this is NOT one of them.

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I am sad to say that your recent report on Lucent Technologies
and applied kinesiology comes as no surprise. Have been around
Universities for the last 20 years, first as a student, then as an
instructor, I am constantly amazed at the ignorance of apparently
highly educated people if you step just a little outside their
discipline.

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Having spent 26 years in the military, I've had a lot of
experience in the various management/leadership fads that come and
then disappear without a trace. A couple of years ago there was a fad
for "TQM." The training film started with the developer (and profit
maker) in Galileo's home town. (Message: "I'm like poor persecuted
Galileo"). He went on to claim that "ideas came from the edge" (of
what and what ideas wasn't very clear). His only other claim to fame
was that he'd invented the ultimate bike seat, which no manufacturer
would buy.
My friend and I asked the "Just how does this fad differ from..."
then listed some 20-some years of programs that had been tried then
discarded. The answer was that we'd "see by the end of class." Well,
in fact, yes we did see. It came in the form of a general and his
statement "If you're not part of the team, you'll have to leave."
Oh yes, TQM did disappear. At least at the organization when the
general moved on.
"There's nothing more horrible then a brutal gang of facts
mugging a beautiful theory."

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With regard to the recent fiasco at Lucent Technologies in which
a pseudo-scientific technique was reportedly presented to employees
forced to attend the conference, I offer these thoughts.

First, I did not attend and cannot therefore make any definite
statements about what actually took place. By the same token, with an
undergraduate degree in Biology and later a masters degree in
Counseling as a background, I would point out that in some "Training
Programs," metaphor is occasionally used in an effort to encourage
participants to free themselves from convention ("out of the box
thinking") in order to consider alternatives not then in vogue (as in
developing a transistor to replace the vacuum tube). It would sound
from the reports that the trainer may have either misunderstood this
concept, actually believed the pseudo-science, or perhaps failed to
exercise sufficient care in explaining that the technique was a
metaphor rather than an actual physical phenomenon.

Thanks to James Randi for spreading information on our increasing
culturally mandated ignorance.

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I recently attended a presentation by Paul Pearsall at University
of Michigan Medical Center. His topic was "The heart can think--not
figuratively but literally." Rolled into a presentation with a series
of hula dances (he's from Hawaii) were a bunch of claims, including
that he was going to present us with a bunch of new data. What in
fact he presented was a series of short quotes out of context which he
tried to use to support the vague thesis that energy fields radiate
from our hearts and communicate information heart to heart. Now,
people have in fact known of energy fields in our hearts---it takes
sensitive galvanometry to detect them externally, but that's what an
ECG is -- and the ability of the heart to respond to a high-voltage
shock.
UMMC did not make attendance mandatory but did have all employees
sign in to get "credit" for having attended.
On other fronts, I acknowledge that I use Franklin-Covey Corp's
time-management tools, having been sent to one of their seminars again
by a supervisor at University of Michigan Medical Center. Their
training includes some thought-provoking notions like consciously
relating your daily grind to your personal values. But they go one
step further and claim that their tautological homilies are natural
laws, and they define natural laws as universal truths so there can be
no mistaking their intent. Their prime example of a natural law is:
"If you do not control the events in your life, they will control
you." Common sense? A friend of mine attended one of their seminars
recently and the presenter acted like a condescending preacher,
thumping his daily planner instead of a bible. Hmmm. Their paper
goods bear copyright notices but are in fact calendars, and the
inapplicability of copyright law to calendars is explicitly spelled
out in Title 17. Funny. Franklin-Covey is run by a couple of guys
from Salt Lake City who make no secret of the fact that they're
religious. I had some hopes that they were on the road towards
factoring out their own personal nonsense from their training, but I'm
afraid it ain't so.

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Still no further reaction from Lucent. One wonders if they have e-
mail.

James Randi.

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