Every day at the James Randi Educational Foundation, we hear about "psychics" manipulating people, financially and emotionally; we hear from families who have been burned by false mediums, clients who have been scarred (literally and figuratively) by unfounded alternative medicine procedures, and even violence commited in the name of the supernatural. It can be easy to be overwhelmed by these stories coming in from seemingly every corner of the globe. But what can you do about it?
Introducing a new weekly column, right here at Randi.org, "What You Can Do to Fight Woo." Every week, I will share with you new stories from around the world (and next door too), about unfounded claims and the people (and sometimes animals) they hurt. But most importantly, I will tell you a quick way you can fight back, and make a difference. Here's what's on our radar this week.
New Jersey "Psychics" Co-Opt the Tragedy of Witch Burning to Defend their Practices
The Problem: "Psychics" Lee Van Zyl and Lee Ann LaRocca claim they have the ability to talk to the dead, converse with non-human animals, and have other psychic powers. Van Zyl, who once worked directly with remote villages in South Africa where people were assaulted and brutally killed for "witchcraft," used those experiences to defend her own alleged abilities. Of the comparison between witch burning and being ostracized for her own psychics claims, she said "I kind of saw what could happen if people were misinformed," in a recent article at nj.com. For $10-75 a class, you too can learn from Van Zyl and LaRocca how to perform reiki, channel a dead relative, or psychoanalyze your cat... or so they say. Their website even states that during a mediumship session, they will not demand a penny from you until they provide you with "proof of [the] identity and personality" of your dead loved one. Yet, not a single piece of scientific evidence currently supports the claim that mediums can talk to the dead.
What You Can Do: Ask Van Zyl and LaRocca to put our money where their mouth is! Challenge them to take the JREF's Million Dollar Challenge, to prove they have psychic abilities. If they win, they can give the winnings to the charity of their choice. Perhaps one that fights childhood witch burnings? Write to them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 973-866-0192. Always be brief and polite, for the best results. Simply challenge them to take the test and if they refuse, ask them to stop using the real tragedy of witch burning to defend their groundless claims.
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It’s said that in the year 305C.E, an Italian now known as Saint Januarius, was martyred by decapitation. We're told that some enterprising bystander witnessing this festive event had the foresight to not only bottle some of the resulting blood but also to save the head of the unfortunate man.
In 1337, just about the time when relics-of-the-saints were becoming very popular among competing archbishops – the famous Shroud of Turin popped up at about that time, too – the Cathedral of Naples announced that the head of Januarius and the vial of his blood, recently rediscovered, were going on display. Mind you, the head was not actually shown. A silver urn said to contain it was displayed, as it is even to this day. It seems no one has ever troubled, dared, or cared – to look inside the urn. But faith is a wonderful thing.
In an effort to make our extensive video library available online free of charge, The James Randi Educational Foundation is posting high quality digital video lectures and sessions from previous Amaz!ng Meetings and other events on randi.org. Check back often to see the latest video content.
Australian skeptic, podcaster, author, television personality, and professional origamist Richard Saunders recorded at The Amaz!ng Meeting 7. Saunders discusses the origami Pigasus and dowsing as a model for teaching critical thinking to students.