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Teleportation Magic Established By Science, At Last! PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

No, I’m not a scientist. I’ve never claimed that distinction. I’m just someone who is awed by those who have attained academic degrees and gone forward to augment our understanding of how the world works – which is what I believe science should be all about. Years ago, I saw with satisfaction how great progress was being made in science, how the inevitable errors were promptly corrected, and how we could depend on what we were told by the media – though there were always some media sources we well knew were dedicated to nonsense and quackery, and we wrote those off. But we knew who the dependable people and agencies were. All that has changed.

Now, I’m much less enthused about the sort of science that I encounter in the press and on television, and the Information Age has obviously become our enemy rather than our friend, as we once thought it would be. Money and ego have taken over. Any nonsense that powerful people like Oprah Winfrey want to promote is featured as fact, quackery is extolled, pseudoscience is flaunted as fact in news media rather than on pulp magazine racks, and at the rate that flummery is taking over, I’m wondering whether my next book, A Magician in the Laboratory, will ever see print – I can’t seem to finish it because of the constant load of misinformation that pours in, daily. Here are two examples of the sort of thing that has so discouraged me:

I’ve mentioned before Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon in the Department of Surgery at Columbia University and medical director of the Integrative Medicine program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. This man has “therapeutic touch” practitioners prancing about in his operating room to “even out the human aura” on patients that he has laid out on his table for surgery. He has endorsed such juvenile notions as reiki – his wife is a professional reiki “master” – and he has a very popular TV show that Oprah bought for him in which he preaches every sort of “alternative medicine” that comes to his – or Oprah’s – admiring attention. When I was interviewed along with him for an ABC-TV show a few years back, he demonstrated that his dedication to medical misinformation was very well advanced. Now he has a series of shows featuring one of the major quacks in business today, osteopath Dr. Joe Mercola.  This is a man who has denounced vaccination, the use of prescription drugs, and surgery, to treat patients. Whether he wears a witch-doctor mask while he works and/or peddles his line of merchandise, I don’t know. A 2006 editorial in Business Week characterized Mercola's marketing practices as "relying on slick promotion, clever use of information, and scare tactics.”

Showing that other countries can match our naivety, Professor Jeff Reimers of the University Of Sydney in Australia, has now concluded from his earth-shaking experiments that DNA can mysteriously be teleported. Yes, that means sent through space by magical means. He has attracted support from Nobel laureate Dr. Luc Montagnier, who believes that there is evidence that DNA can transport electromagnetic imprints of itself to cells within the human body with which it has had absolutely no contact, according to an article in the New Scientist magazine, yesterday. Reimers believes that enzymes – who are apparently living entities with sensory systems, in his view – are tricked into believing that the electromagnetic imprints projected by DNA molecules – which must be similarly equipped with sensory abilities – are received and accepted as being real. As a magician, I have to wonder whether these enzymes and DNA molecules would also enjoy a good card trick or two…

Reimers' lab team, we’re told, set up an experiment in which they placed two test tubes next to each other “within a copper coil.” Already, it sounds scientific, right? Then, in one of those tubes they placed DNA. The other tube was filled with just pure water. Do I begin to sense homeopathic influences here? The tubes were then subjected to a “low frequency electromagnetic field,” and after 18 hours were given a “polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process that multiplied millions of copies of the DNA sequence. A miracle took place. In the water-only tube there appeared “imprints” (?) of the same DNA molecules that were in the first tube! This was the first-ever scientific proof of teleportation, just as magicians have been doing for years – though on a much larger scale – in Las Vegas. Penn & Teller, take notice…

In my admittedly amateur view of all this scientific stuff, I feel that that a more likely possibility is that the very common scientific error known as “sample contamination” could be at work here, rather than a complete overturning of science, though that sort of press release seldom makes headlines.

No, my faith in the media – and in “alternative medicine” – is still at a very low point…

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Has the world gone mad, or is it just us?
written by Jim Shaver, January 19, 2011
Randi, I couldn't agree more. Today while at lunch with some friends, I made a joke about a "homeopathic" concentration of some ingredient or other in a drink I was imbibing, and that comment inadvertently set off an impassioned discussion (mostly from myself) of how insane the world seems today.

As for the "DNA teleportation" (?!) experiment you referenced, there are a hundred ways (off the top of my head) the experimenters could have screwed up the scientific validity of their test. But since they will not publish their data or disclose the full details of the experiment until their paper is published in one or more peer-reviewed journals, we may never know just how they screwed it up. Still, I'm sure that proof of magic, homeopathy, ghosts, clairvoyance, free energy, and perpetual motion is just around the corner. We should be more patient.
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written by Monkey Man, January 19, 2011
In the old days I would have totally assumed it was proven just because it was in the news. It was partially googling my favorite whack ideas and ending up in the JREF forum half the time (where I learned about the book "The Psychic Mafia") that snapped me out of it. When I google dna teleportation, Orac's skeptical blog post is the first result. THAT'S good news. Heh, sometimes I think Google manually chooses the first results on these stories...
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Please Don't Feed The Troll
written by mariamyrback, January 19, 2011
@Epicure,
Please don't feed the Troll. I eradicate the problem as quickly as I can but sometimes it stays up for a few hours. It would be more helpful if you report the post as abusive that way my compatriate Ms. Crabtree knows about it, too.
Thanks!
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written by lytrigian, January 19, 2011
PCA will magnify the effects of contamination by many orders of magnitude, seeing as making numerous copies of something present only in very small amounts is exactly what it's for.

This would be a lot more impressive if there was some measurable effect on the water without resorting to PCA.

In any event, I think we've known for a very long time that the media cannot be trusted on any technical subject, and I think we ought to know by now to not trust any result reported to the media before it's been in a peer-reviewed publication.

But that's the beauty of science. This experiment seems easy enough to replicate. Once the failures pile up, it will end up on the same trash heap as Pons and Fleischmann's cold fusion, Benveniste's water memory, and Blondlot's N-rays. And if the failures don't pile up -- well, sometimes revolutionary experiments happen. This isn't likely to be one, but you never know.
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written by Steel Rat, January 19, 2011
Now, I’m much less enthused about the sort of science that I encounter in the press and on television, and the Information Age has obviously become our enemy rather than our friend, as we once thought it would be.


I agree about television "news" and print papers, but I do not agree about "the Information age", assuming you're talking about the Web.

Without the web, and independent bloggers, the climate Hockey Stick would still be believed as legitimate, the CRU emails would not have seen the light of day, and many government shenanigans would have gone unnoticed. Not to mention we wouldn't have internet porn, that alone is worth it! smilies/tongue.gif
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written by lytrigian, January 19, 2011
Actually, the "hockey stick" was corrected by the normal scientific process. Other researchers looked at the data and the statistical methods used with it, and a new consensus emerged.

Mind you, that new consensus still shows the late 20th century as the warmest period in history, so I don't know why you're bothering to bring it up.
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Good Run Randi!
written by thepeej, January 19, 2011
Your're right. The waves keep comin', they always will. But you've officially passed the torch and the troops WILL carry on. You are now an icon and writer, so leave the trenches and write the book. Please! I need it for my collection. Thanks for everything.
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@loqk
written by Bruno, January 19, 2011
At some point though, claims are so fantastically implausible that ridicule is a vastly more sensible response than trying to replicate the experiment. We'd get seriously bogged down if we had to replicate every experiment where someone claims to have produced esoteric quantum effects using materials obtained from the local hardware store.
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written by farslayer9, January 20, 2011
loqk, you make great points, but you are missing one thing: plausibility. There is no known instance of DNA transportation and no known mechanism. It's good to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out. From what I've read, the experiment's setup was piss-poor at best, so contamination is very likely the reasonable explanation.
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@steel rat, Lowly rated comment [Show]
Corrections to the Mysterious DNA Replication Story
written by JonK, January 20, 2011
I believe Randi is mistaken about some of the details regarding this story of mysterious DNA replication. The work was done by Nobel prize winning (for discovery of the HIV virus) virologist Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute. The role of theoretical chemist Jeff Reimers, a recipient of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute award, has been to say that, in his judgment, the work, however fantastic, should not be dismissed out of hand, as many other scientists have done since the announcement.

Nor is it unusual for scientists to decline to provide detailed experimental results prior to first journal publication. There are many practical reasons for this, including leaving a fully documented trail that the author is in a position to defend in light of future questions.

Where Dr. Montagnier would seem to have gone astray is to go public with such a startling result instead of waiting until it appeared, fully documented, in a refereed journal. (I'm assuming, but do not know, that he approved the announcement as opposed to it being revealed by colleagues with whom he shared his results). This is reminiscent of the "cold fusion" controversy and before that "polywater", both of which "discoveries" failed to stand up to more detailed experimental scrutiny. Though somewhat different, Randi played a critical role in demonstrating the experimental errors involved in the claims of Dr. Jacques Benveniste, in another "water with a memory" experiment.

While I am very skeptical of the claims being advanced here, I am not closed minded and agree with those scientists who call for careful attempts at replication in other laboratories. Only then will we be able to judge the level of "woo" in this unfortunately precipitous announcement.

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"Liberal Topic"
written by JonK, January 20, 2011
@Davis
Global warming is not a "liberal topic", but rather a scientific issue. While I do not ask my follow scientists about their politics when I go to listen to their papers, I do know that they vary across the spectrum.

As for Randi's preconceptions, Davis may be unaware that Randi took a skeptical position on anthropogenic global warming in this blog and has modified it as he investigated the subject further. That's what true skeptics do.
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@JonK
written by Davis, January 20, 2011
Randi "modified" his position on global warming only after being called out by me and many others who recognized his, for lack of a better word, hypocrisy. He constantly brow beats those who blindly accept pseudo science (and rightly so) yet he falls in the same trap on these types of issues. For example, had "An Inconvenient Truth" been produced by a right wing spokesman or group, Randi would not have had the orgasmic knee jerk reaction he obviously experienced.

Since you are a scientist, JonK, I would be interested in knowing if you think personal bias, political and religious beliefs ever influence the scientific method and if so, to what extent.
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written by MadScientist, January 21, 2011
Wow. I'll guarantee a PCR + gel electrophoresis will always turn something up. Maybe I should write another paper telling the world how the copper coil wasn't even needed, all that's necessary is to verify that the earth's moon is somewhere in our solar system. I wonder if I can get any Nobel laureates to support my work.
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written by MadScientist, January 21, 2011
@JonK: There is no need to replicate the sham experiment. All you need is a competent chemist or biology person who has even minimal experience with the Polymerase Chain Reaction and electrophoresis to say it's a load of bunkum. In a similar vein, we don't waste time trying to replicate claimed demonstrations of perpetual energy machines (except perhaps to show the cheap tricks involved in the demonstration).
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written by LuigiNovi, January 21, 2011
James Randi: ...and at the rate that flummery is taking over, I’m wondering whether my next book, A Magician in the Laboratory, will ever see print – I can’t seem to finish it because of the constant load of misinformation that pours in, daily.
God, I hope that's an exaggeration. I've been looking forward to reading that book.
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written by JonK, January 21, 2011
@MadScientist: This isn't my field (though I do like to think I'm "a competent [physical] chemist"), but the fact that a number of respected scientists in the area do think the experiment is worth repeating deserves some respect. As I said, I'm very skeptical, largely because I cannot see a mechanism and, like others, suspect some sort of contamination. At the very least, it would serve to correct the literature if the paper appears as promised.
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written by rjh02, January 21, 2011
The headline in the new scientist is "Scorn over claim of teleported DNA" The article says "Many researchers contacted for comment by New Scientist reacted with disbelief." Yes the experiment will be repeated and they will be unable to duplicate the results. Just like cold fusion.

I think science is in safe hands.
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Regarding Dr. Mercola
written by mycroft100, January 22, 2011
I subscribe to Dr. Mercola's newsletter. I would guess that about 1/3 of what he writes about appears to be sound medical advise and the rest does not. Does the later invalid the former? Or am I seperating the wheat from the chaft?
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