It was another big week in "doubtful" news with several important stories. Here is a rundown of the random surprises and non-surprises that occurred this past week courtesy of Doubtful News.
The major story of the week is the death of self-proclaimed psychic Sylvia Browne I had to close the comments on this thread because people expressed their "relief" at her passing. I felt that was inappropriate as well as the comments by her defenders who thought she was so gifted. There was really not much for comment - It is what it is.
Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.
The Burzynski Empire strikes back (David Gorski) http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-burzynski-empire-strikes-back/ Eric Merola has responded to Liz Szabo’s devastating USA TODAY critique of Burzynski with an ignorant rant full of his usual tropes, misinformation, and pseudoscience. He denies the known toxicity of antineoplastons and even invokes Nazi Germany, slavery, and gay bashers! Burzynski’s own response to the FDA investigation consists of unacceptable, even laughable excuses.
Faith Healing: Religious Freedom vs. Child Protection (Harriet Hall) http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/faith-healing-religious-freedom-vs-child-protection/ Religious beliefs have led to horrendous cases of medical neglect, child abuse, and murder that can't be prosecuted in most states because of religious shield laws. Those laws should be abolished, as should all non-medical exemptions to vaccination. The parents' right to religious freedom doesn't mean they can endanger their children with their beliefs. It is trumped by the duty of society to protect children.
I refer my readers to http://www.uri-geller.com/courts.htm. On this site, you’ll find very carefully selected and edited excerpts from a 1998 book – “Uri Geller – Magician or Mystic?” by Jonathan Margolis. The author fell completely for Geller’s charm and freely accepted the most ridiculous stories and claims made to him, despite having interviewed me and other skeptics. The point is made again: the public vastly prefers woo-woo over reality. What you see below is 1,252 words taken directly from Geller’s own site, in a most interesting style. It’s a continuous series of words without breaks for paragraphs, selected from all over the Margolis book, purposely discontinuous to confuse the reader, and under the general heading “A Letter from Uri Geller’s Lawyer to James Randi”. Actually, it consists of bits from over a dozen lawyers, and is largely a listing of lawyers Geller has used, again and again, over the years. His litigious nature is quite evident here. its punctuation is ridiculous, and it’s mostly disconnected phrases and hyperbole that make no sense. The errors you’ll see here are not mine, they’re Geller’s…
When Sylvia Browne died, Montel Williams offered this sappy eulogy:
"A beacon that shined [sic] for so many was extinguished today, but its brightness was relit and will now shine forever for many of us from above."
To explain to this apparently dense man where his judgment has reverted to the level of a 5-year-old, I’ll point out that Browne was not at all funny "ho-ho" but frightening – to anyone with any compassion. She fed eagerly on the insecurities, the grief, the need and desperation, of her victims. They turned to her for help, at great cost -- $850 for a 20-minute telephone chat as she squatted before the TV camera like a taloned Jabba the Hutt confronting Luke Skywalker – played by Montel – and graveled out anything-but-funny, unfounded, useless, and damaging pap that added to their confusion and pain – but which made Montel and his sponsors ecstatic, because they could hear those cash register sounds as their products slid off store shelves.
And she let 10+ years go by yet never tried for the JREF million-dollar prize, as she’d agreed to do when we both appeared together on Larry King Live so many years ago…
I agree with JREF President D.J. Grothe that we do not celebrate her death, even as we criticize the way she lived. But I’ll be quite frank with you, I cannot mourn at Browne’s passing — she really hurt far too many people, and always so unapologetically.
It's unfortunate that she only stopped hurting so many people by dying.
The JREF sends our condolences to Sylvia's family and loved ones. No one celebrates her death, but skeptics do criticize how she lived. Her dismal track record at predictions -- she confidently predicted she would die at 88, not 77, for instance -- would merely be laughable if they did not hurt so many people. Remember Sean Hornbeck. Or Amanda Berry. The number of people she hurt with her pretend supernatural abilities is nearly as high as the number of her failed predictions. It is sad that it took death to stop Sylvia Browne.
D.J. Grothe is president of the James Randi Educational Foundation