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SWIFT November 23, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Derek Ogilvie Bombs – Bigtime, Quackery Accepted Down Under, Maharishi Lumps Coming up?, Good Observations, The Van Praagh Video, More Disasters Coming Up, FSM Recognized?, Quackery Examined, Amazon Disappoints, Whose Blunder?, Asking for Research, and In Closing.

Ogilvie

We hear that a “reality series” featuring Scottish “psychic” Derek Ogilvie, titled "Baby's Wil Is Wet" (translation from Dutch: “What Baby Wants Is Law”), begins on RTL 4 in the Netherlands this fall with 15 episodes, and the producers are talking to networks stateside about a U.S. version of the show.

Table of Contents
  1. Derek Ogilvie Bombs – Bigtime

  2. Quackery Accepted Down Under

  3. Maharishi Lumps Coming up?

  4. Good Observations

  5. The Van Praagh Video

  6. More Disasters Coming Up

  7. FSM Recognized?

  8. Quackery Examined

  9. Amazon Disappoints

  10. Whose Blunder?

  11. Asking for Research

  12. In Closing…



DEREK OGILVIE BOMBS – BIGTIME

Ogilvie

We hear that a “reality series” featuring Scottish “psychic” Derek Ogilvie, titled "Baby's Wil Is Wet" (translation from Dutch: “What Baby Wants Is Law”), begins on RTL 4 in the Netherlands this fall with 15 episodes, and the producers are talking to networks stateside about a U.S. version of the show. Ogilvie is the self-professed expert in reading the minds of infants, and author of "The Baby Mind Reader," which gives marvelous accounts of his success in exchanging thoughts with babies. He previously appeared in a UK TV series of that name. Some months ago, he was introduced to U.S. audiences with an appearance on NBC's "Today" when he visited here to be tested by the JREF for our million-dollar prize.

As I’ve written here previously, that test took place this last May. I also said that the JREF has continued to observe our agreement with the TV production company not to reveal the outcome of the tests, until they gave us permission. However, since the show won’t be broadcast until next year, for some reason, and the prize is still in place, it seems very evident now to any observer that Derek Ogilvie failed to win it, and seeing that the Netherlands series is now being launched – to the huge benefit of Mr. Ogilvie – it’s time we stated the results. It appears that Ogilvie may have somehow neglected to mention those results to RTL 4 when they were negotiating his contract…!

You should know that – as agreed to in advance by both parties – Derek Ogilvie travelled to Fort Lauderdale accompanied by an entourage, a TV crew, and complete confidence. He completed the required forms, so we have the conclusive, signed-and-witnessed statements from him in which he agreed that all the conditions for his comprehensive test with the JREF were fair, binding, and acceptable, in every respect. He offered no objections, made no complaints, and expressed no doubt about his ability to perform his wonders at that time, in that place, in those weather conditions, in his then-state of health, and in all and every way – he said – it was 100% satisfactory. Optimum. Ideal.

Ah, but Mr. Ogilvie has now decided, in his highly-perceptive hindsight, that the JREF test “can't be scientific, because Randi is an illusionist.” Umm, yes, I have been known to perform illusions, it’s true, but I’m damned if I can figure out what he means by this weird remark. If I were a dentist or a plumber, would that also apply…? The JREF test was carefully designed to be proper, evidential, and correct. Ogilvie knew this, he approved of it, and he entered the list prepared to carry off the prize.

We arranged to use a sound studio at the University of Miami, unused for that day, a soundproof set of rooms that ensured isolation of the target area, the production area, and the area in which Ogilvie was located. This arrangement met with his approval, and ours.

First, we allowed him to select, from several sets of volunteers, a set of parents-and-child about whom he felt confident. He did so, after a few rejections he initiated. The father of the selected trio said that he was not convinced of the abilities that Ogilvie claimed, while the mother accepted such powers and felt the tests would be successful. After a few changes by Ogilvie of the objects we’d offered as targets, and a few minor adjustments of the arranged protocol that he requested, we placed the principals in their respective positions, we set up the cameras, I stepped out of the area, and they began recording. The trials were done as planned, with signatures and approval being obtained at every juncture.

The results: It was abysmal, a disaster, a fiasco, and an excellent example of the proof of the laws of chance, and of permutations and combinations. Derek Ogilvie got exactly one out of twenty correct, precisely what chance – without any of his mystical powers at work – would have called for… Notified of the result, he accepted that he’d failed, and stated that he had no excuses to offer.

Of course, RTL will go right ahead with this coming TV series, because they know that they don’t have to adhere to proper controls, and can edit vigorously to be sure that the results they offer to the public – and the sponsors! – will be sanitized, and will present Ogilvie in a positive light.

The truth is that Derek Ogilvie – after much coaxing from the TV producers in the UK – finally applied for the JREF million-dollar prize, negotiated a protocol, and signed the agreement, as we also did, of course. We were all committed to going through with the test, and we did. Ogilvie failed. He then offered a silly excuse for the failure, and that alibi will be accepted by the woo-woos, believe me.

So what else is new in the field of parapsychology…? No surprises here, at all…




QUACKERY ACCEPTED DOWN UNDER

From reader Dean Malandris comes this dreadful story. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that New South Wales Coroner Mary Jerram has found that, in her opinion, there is sufficient evidence for their Director of Public Prosecutions to consider bringing charges against the parents of a baby who died after they treated her with homeopathic remedies. Nine-month-old Gloria Thomas died in May 2002 in Sydney Children's Hospital of sepsis, or bacterial infections. The child was severely malnourished, and had very serious eczema. The inquest was told that the cracks in her skin caused the baby severe pain and were a potential source of the bacteria that eventually killed her.

Her parents, Thomas Sam – a homeopath – and Information Technology professional Manju Samuel, treated her with homeopathic remedies rather than with her medically-prescribed pharmaceuticals. Coroner Jerram said the evidence showed that the parents caused Gloria's death and that their negligence warranted criminal punishment.

Nonsense. The responsibility lies elsewhere. I ask: Is the practice of homeopathy accepted by Australian health authorities? Are homeopaths allowed to practice in Australia as professionals? Are homeopathic preparations legally sold in stores in Australia? Is homeopathy legally advertised via the media in Australia? If the answers to any of these questions are “yes,” then the practice of homeopathy is not illegal in that country, and Thomas Sam – obviously convinced that homeopathy is effective, certainly was within his rights to administer what he believed was appropriate medical care to his daughter, and was doing what he thought was proper and correct!

Yes, the sad fact is that the parents were very wrong, perhaps stupid, and naïve, and that is what led to the death of the little child, but I do not believe that being wrong, or stupid, or naïve, is in violation of the law. Obviously, I am not addressing the question of whether the parents are culpable for neglecting to administer the medically-prescribed substances that might have saved the life of Gloria Thomas; that is beyond my expertise. I am suggesting that the fact that homeopathy is not considered – by the Australian authorities – to be a serious danger to human life because it can replace proven, evidence-based medical treatment – is a mistake, a lacuna in thinking that should be addressed, in Australia and around the world. Homeopathy is a very insidious notion; it appears to be possibly beneficial at best, and innocuous at worst. It is neither. It is quackery in its most virulent form.

Coroner Jerram said, as if to recommend a procedure for at least trying to remedy this situation:

I… recommend the NSW Department of Health consider introducing a mandatory system of registration for persons practicing or wishing to practice homeopathy.

Registration of quacks? As what, Ms. Jerram? Dangerous persons? Harmless eccentrics? Fun-seeking crackpots? Why not simply look into the abysmal record of homeopathy – the actual facts, the evidence, and not the endless anecdotes and “testimonials” so preferred by these amateurs – and issue a statement that tells Australians what total, mystical, pseudoscientific claptrap homeopathy really is, and warn them against using it for anything but amusement? Or would that not be politically correct?

Ask Gloria Thomas…




MAHARESHI LUMPS COMING UP?

maharishi

Reader Geoff Gilpin informs us that he’ll be appearing in a TV documentary about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Transcendental Meditation movement. It’s titled, “Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: A Biography,” subtitled “The Maharishi Effect: A Personal Journey Through the Movement That Transformed American Spirituality,” and it’s produced by ITN Factual of London for the Arts & Entertainment network. The program will premiere on the History Channel International on Wednesday, November 28, at 8:00 AM and 2:00 PM Eastern.

Geoff expects that the show will go into rotation after that, and he’s been told that the program will also air on the Biography Channel at some point. You can check his web site at www.geoffgilpin.com and his blog at www.geoffgilpin.blogspot.com for more news.

I expect that this author will provide a sober evaluation of the TM movement, and its major guru. In any case, I’ll be tuned in, and I’ll look forward to hearing from readers who wish to provide their opinions…




GOOD OBSERVATIONS

On the “Daylight Atheism” site – at tinyurl.com/2ufslp – there is an extensive response to the subject of last week’s SWIFT item titled “Back to Superstition” dealing with the serious drought problem in the state of Georgia. That item can be seen at randi.org/content/view/127/27/#i5 – and I quote briefly from the Daylight Atheism response:

Undoubtedly, [the drought] is a serious crisis – which makes it all the more ridiculous and embarrassing that the governor of an entire state is engaging in a superstitious magical ritual which he hopes will change the mind of his omniscient, infinitely intelligent god… The logic behind intercessory prayer makes no sense. Does Gov. Perdue suppose that Georgians' prayers will bring to God's attention a need of which he was not previously aware? Is God forgetful, so that he needs to be reminded to send rain each year? Or did God knowingly cause the drought for reasons of his own – and if so, what arrogance it would be for a Christian to assume that they know better than God what God should do and that they can persuade him to alter his plan!

Read – in particular – the comments from readers that follow this article…




THAT VAN PRAAGH VIDEO

Last week’s Special Attraction was the potent Alvarez video (see randi.org/joom/content/view/124/1/) revealing the formula that “psychic” James Van Praagh – and so many other “cold readers” – use to give the impression that he’s in touch with the deceased. Reader Brian Miller observes:

Yahweh

I once saw John Edwards ask some poor victim if her passed relative had "by any chance" a Disney character or toy in the house somewhere. "Does that mean anything to you?" Of course she instantly burst into tears.

Dumbo, perhaps, or Dopey?

Brian, are you neglecting Goofy…?


MORE DISASTER COMING UP

Members of a Russian doomsday cult recently barricaded themselves in a cave to wait out the End of the World – it happens in May, 2008 – while the cult's leader Father Pyotr Kuznetsov, 43 – who’s in police custody awaiting proceedings on charges – undergoes psychiatric exams.

This cult calls itself the "True Russian Orthodox Church." The leader, say police, set up an organization "whose activity is associated with violence on citizens and instigation to refuse to perform their civil duties," according to the Itar-Tass news agency. There are four children among the 29 cult members holed up in a ravine in Russia's Penza region, where they dug themselves a cave. One of those children is only 18 months old, and temperatures in the cave are below +54 degrees Fahrenheit – that’s +12 degrees Celsius. They have refused police requests to come out or to release the children, and they have threatened to commit suicide if the police resort to force.

Metropolitan Kirill, a high-ranking Russian Orthodox Church official, seeing an opportunity to promote religious belief, told the press:

What we're seeing in Penza right now is a most vivid example of what could happen to a country, to a society, if this society is deprived of proper religious education.

Umm, and it’s also what could happen to a country, to a society, if this society were provided with “proper” religious education. Religions have always been eagerly apocalyptic; there’s nothing like a generous flood, earthquake, plague, or meteor shower to send the populace streaming into the churches in panic.

And to fill the offering plates…




FSM RECOGNIZED?

Yahweh

Oregon State physics graduate Bobby Henderson is back in the news. He’s the guy who thought up (created?) the newest popular deity, the Flying Spaghetti Monster – FSM. For more information, see randi.org/jr/200509/091605church.html#1. Last weekend, leading religious scholars gathered in San Diego for the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting, and the FSM was discussed, which gives a kind of scholarly imprimatur to this interesting phenomenon, which first emerged in 2005 during the debate in Kansas over whether “intelligent design” should be taught in public school science classes. Now, the FSM – as intended by Henderson – gets laughs, but it also raises serious questions about the nature of religions. The supporters of intelligent design hold that the order and complexity of the universe is so great that science cannot explain it. The concept's critics see it as faith masquerading as science.

The FSM notion made the rounds on the Internet, prompting laughter from some and derision from others, but it stuck around. In the great tradition of satire – as so well shown by Jonathan Swift – its humor was in fact a clever and effective – though indirect – argument. The Monster was saying that there’s no more scientific basis for intelligent design than there is for the idea that an omniscient creature made of pasta created the universe. If intelligent design supporters can demand equal time in a science class, asked Bobby Henderson, why not anyone else? The only reasonable solution, one that we at the JREF vigorously promote and support, is to put nothing into sciences classes but the best available science. Said Bobby:

I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world: one third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.

This ideal situation, which would surely bring out the very best arguments for and against these three possibilities, seems – to me – to be rather optimistic…

The emergence of this FSM idea attracted the attention of three young scholars at the University of Florida who study religion in popular culture. The three – Samuel Snyder, Gavin Van Horn and Lucas Johnston – eventually managed to get a panel on FSM-ism on the agenda at one of the field's most prestigious gatherings, the AAR’s annual meeting. They titled their contribution, “Evolutionary Controversy and a Side of Pasta: The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Subversive Function of Religious Parody." Yes, it’s done humorously, but so was Gulliver’s Travels” (more correctly titled, “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships”) back in 1726, and that book did much to shake up citizens of the day…

All hail, FSM!



QUACKERY EXAMINED

I’ll apologize in advance for the length of this next item. It deals with the kind of situation we should be aware of, the sort of thing that should – but doesn’t – bring strong action and reaction from our legal authorities.

Yahweh

Recently, the Seattle Times newspaper set staff reporters Michael Berens, Alan Berner, Christine Willmsen and Sonia Krishnan along with researchers David Turim and Gene Balk to examine the case of one William Nelson – a then-unemployed part-time math instructor in Ohio who in the 1980s designed a machine he called the “EPFX” – Electro-Physio-Feedback-Xrroid System – which he claimed could analyze samples of hair, saliva or blood from a patient, then transmit healing frequencies to that patient. He said it would diagnose and destroy disease – everything from allergies to cancer – by firing radio frequencies into the body. Nelson says he has sold some 17,000 EPFX devices worldwide at a cost of $19,900 each, 10,000 of those in the USA alone.

See randi.org/jr/061104the.html#3 for my previous references to this highly successful, wealthy, insulated, charlatan.

This is not a new notion at all; medical charlatans have used “energy devices” in this country for more than a century. This particular variety was originated in 1916 by one Albert Abrams, who produced a similar device he called, “The Oscilloclast.” See tinyurl.com/2zb3dm. That was followed by the Drown Machine, sold very successfully by one Ruth Drown, and soon by several others. These machines were said to perform diagnoses and then broadcast – by radio – healing frequencies some hundreds of miles away, to the patients. Al these are all examples of the flummery known and adored by the naifs as, “energy medicine” – which appeals to suckers because it sounds sorta scientific. And, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a thoroughly woo-woo physician in New York who I ran into on an ABC-TV show a few years ago – see randi.org/jr/021805a.html#1 – has declared that:

Energetic medicine is the way of the future.

So, how can we doubt it? But how do unqualified people like Nelson define “energy medicine”? Believers in this notion say that illness results from disturbances of energy fields in the body. They use weird electronic devices that they claim can interact with these fields through various means such as electromagnetism, sound and light, and they invoke scientific-sounding words such as “frequencies,” “vibrations,” and “wave lengths,” to embellish their nonsense. These devices are purported to interact with the body's cells to reduce pain or inflammation, as well as producing cures.

Needless to say, none of these claims have been proven valid. The National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that while some energy devices may hold promise, none have provided any evidence that they actually work.

Nelson was investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical devices, and they ordered him to stop selling his machine and making his false claims. Nelson refused, was indicted on felony fraud charges, and fled the USA to Hungary, where the atmosphere for quackery is obviously much more forgiving.

Today, Nelson, 56, runs one of America's boldest health-care frauds from an ancient building in Budapest protected by barred gates, surveillance cameras and guards. He rakes in tens of millions of dollars selling a machine used to exploit the vulnerable and desperately ill. He claims he has sold 17,000 EPFX devices worldwide, at $19,900 each. That comes to US$340 million. But before you choose to believe that, look at some other claims he makes: He says that he worked as a contractor for NASA, helping to save the troubled Apollo 13 mission, as a teenager; NASA has no record of his employment. He claims that he was an alternate member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team; he was not an Olympic athlete. He says that he has eight doctorates, including degrees in medicine and law; all his "degrees" came from unaccredited schools and mail-order diploma mills.

Actually, at age 33, Nelson was a part-time mathematics instructor at Youngstown State University in Ohio, according to school records.

This man is only one of many purveyors of this sort of quackery. Capitalizing on weak government controls (ten years ago, our Congress reduced medical-device oversight) the scam-artists have used these devices to drain the suckers' bank accounts, to misdiagnose, and to divert critically ill people from genuine life-saving methods. The infamous Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act of 1997 made it cheaper and quicker to bring quack devices to market. Consequently, the number of energy-device makers has increased to 462, up 45% in the past decade, according to a Seattle Times analysis. Of course, the act also exempted many manufacturers of low-risk devices from submitting evidence that the machines (a) worked and (b) were safe.

Incredibly, the FDA places these manufacturers and distributors on an “honor system” when it comes to classifying their devices, providing a popular strategy for some manufacturers to list their devices as biofeedback machines. Legally, they can only be used to relieve stress. FDA officials do not know how many energy-medicine devices exist, where they are used and even whether they are safe. Ever since the Act, most energy-device manufacturers who register with the FDA submit little more than basic contact information. And the FDA doesn’t ask too many questions; that might mean they’d actually have to react and do something, you see.

Federal and state regulators have failed to warn the public about such devices as the PAP-IMI, which has been linked to patient injuries and death, nor did they confiscate all of these devices, which pulse the body with strong electromagnetic waves. They had been smuggled into the country as seed germinators. The PAP-IMI remains in use today. The authorities have betrayed us, once again, leaving the quacks to get rich on the naivety of their victims.

FDA spokeswoman Karen Riley, prompted by the Seattle Times, said that the agency is “looking into the EPFX,” based on The Times' findings. “Looking into”? What’s to look into, Ms. Riley? This is clearly simple fraud, and any grade-school kid can tell you that. Don’t hold your breath, folks. This agency is a ponderous, dark, corner of the bureaucracy which is unable – or unwilling – to act in a proper way to protect the public.

From the Seattle Times article:

In a clinic in Tulsa, Okla., JoAnn Burggraf, 58, sat in an oversized armchair as she was hooked up to an EPFX. Clinic owner Sigrid Myers, who was trained on the device in Seattle, wrapped black straps containing electrodes around Burggraf's forehead, wrists and ankles. The straps were connected to the shoe-box-sized EPFX, which plugged into a desktop computer.

Myers used the EPFX to scan and analyze Burggraf's body. Burggraf watched as the monitor displayed bright-colored graphics representing parts of her body that Myers said were unhealthy. Then, Myers recounted, she set the EPFX to "zap mode" and transmitted imperceptible, low-level frequencies through the electrodes and into Burggraf's body. She and her husband, Jerry Burggraf, owned a successful cleaning and restoration company in Tulsa. He developed leukemia and underwent chemotherapy. In 2004, he began EPFX treatments, hoping to stop the disease.

He died in March 2005 at age 59.

Her husband endured painful side effects from the chemotherapy. After that, she distrusted doctors. She started EPFX sessions, at $60 an hour, seeking relief from pain in her joints and legs. "I begged her to go to the hospital," her son, Bryan Burggraf, 37, said. "Mom told me this device would make her well." But her pain grew worse, becoming so intense that she frequently blacked out. In October 2005, Bryan finally convinced his mother that she needed to go to a hospital immediately. She was so weak and sick, with inflamed, open sores on her legs, that she eventually had to be transported by helicopter.

She died within hours of admission. Tests showed that her body had been devastated by undiagnosed leukemia.

Her son said doctors speculated that his parents were exposed to now-banned solvents used in their restoration business. "I'm outraged that this fraudulent device is still out there," Burggraf said. "If my mom had gone to the hospital earlier there may have been hope. If nothing else, she would not have died in incredible pain."

Sigrid Myers, the operator who treated the Burggrafs, was previously a professional massage therapist – a calling that would not seem to provide her with the expertise she’d need to treat life-threatening diseases. She admits she has no formal medical training, but on the wall of her home clinic are half-a-dozen framed certificates that provide her with health-care titles and credentials such as "naturopathic doctor." Despite her obvious failure with these two patients, she continues to treat patients in her home office with a newer version of the EPFX, which is to say, the latest version of flummery. She persuaded an elderly patient to buy the machine for her. It cost $12,000. In exchange, she didn't charge the woman for EPFX sessions to treat her heart disease.

The Seattle Times reports that this patient died, too. They continue:

Nelson registered his company with the FDA in 1989 as a maker of biofeedback machines, meaning he could sell them only as stress-relieving tools. By law, he could not claim the devices diagnosed or treated disease. But Nelson did it anyway. In 1992, the agency ordered him to stop making false claims, then later ordered a recall of the EPFX. But Nelson continued to sell it as a healing machine. He was indicted on nine counts of felony fraud in 1996 and fled the U.S…

The company remains registered with the FDA.

Today, Nelson's sales empire reaches across 32 countries with dozens of distributors, brokers and trainers in the U.S. Top sellers can get hefty commissions, tropical cruises and BMW sedans. Emma Robinson, a regional manager for the Pacific Northwest, earned one of the BMWs. She said she pulls in about $7,000 a week through sales commissions and by treating patients at her clinic, Quantum Pacific Wellness Center, in Wilderville, Oregon.

Nelson and his distributors saturate the Internet with glitzy Web sites packed with animation, music, videos, even operators available to answer questions. EPFX sales have exploded, fueled by aggressive marketing including such pitchmen as a physician for pop star Britney Spears and a chiropractor for cyclist Lance Armstrong.

How does such an operation continue, and why does it get such support? Well, energy-device operators benefit from the well-known placebo effect, the psychological phenomenon in which patients report improvement that cannot be linked directly to treatment. People feel better through the power of suggestion, or because they believe they are expected to feel improvement, and the endless anecdotes and testimonials – whether they’re true or not – bolster their convictions. As always, it’s the question: Do you only want to feel better, or do you want to actually be better? If the former, sniff some cocaine. And die.

The EPFX device that Nelson sells consists of circuit boards and other computer components that run software full of colorful graphics of the body. During a typical treatment, a patient may watch as a computer screen displays an animation of the interior of an artery blocked by white blobs, representing cholesterol. Then the blobs shrink and disappear, and the implication is that this miracle has taken place in the patient’s body.

Sounding like another crook pitchman named Kevin Trudeau, Nelson preaches:

Traditional doctors don't want you to use the EPFX. They will tell you it's a fraud. That's because they are scared. I have discovered something that will put them out of business. And they don't want you to have it.

Three years ago, Nelson scored one of his biggest public-relations victories. He managed to actually get two devices inside a U.S. hospital in Springfield, Missouri – St. John's Hospital, an 866-bed facility. He now advertises this as proof that mainstream medicine accepts the EPFX. Now, St. John’s hospital administrators have launched an investigation into how the EPFX machines got approved for use there, having learned about this from the Seattle Times investigation. It turns out that a woman appropriately named Faith Nelson – no relation to the head quack – a registered nurse who works in the department where the devices are used, is also a regional sales manager for the EPFX! And a Susan Blackard, a hospital vice president who oversees that department, and also a registered nurse, trained several hundred people in EPFX use at a conference last year in Budapest.

The Oregon Board of Chiropractic Examiners earlier this year barred chiropractors from using the EPFX. The board's executive director, Dave McTeague, said:

This device is complete hocus-pocus. There is no rational explanation as to how it works.

Umm, Dave, those comments also apply to your art – chiropractic – and yet I don’t see you questioning that notion…

The Seattle Times again, with another heart-breaking account:

Seattle cancer patient Karen McBeth, 59, had no trouble finding an EPFX operator. A retired employee with state Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, McBeth had squamous-cell carcinoma that mushroomed into terminal bone cancer. She underwent chemotherapy. By early 2005, she was in so much pain that she could barely walk.

Desperate for a cure, she looked for an alternative and through friends learned of BioScience, a health-care clinic in Port Orchard that offered EPFX treatments. BioScience was run by Robert and Marie Erdmann, and their daughter, Ann Riner. None of them had a state health-care license. McBeth was skeptical at first. But she did some Internet research and learned the device manufacturer was registered with the FDA and that dozens of physicians and chiropractors touted the device.

She began twice-weekly treatments. She was even persuaded to buy a machine for use at home, and spent $17,000 from her retirement savings. "She was led to believe that treatment would cure her cancer," said her husband, Al Bergstein.

By the summer, she began to doubt whether the device was effective. She died Sept. 3, 2005…

Bergstein said the device offered a false hope that consumed his wife and robbed the family of precious remaining time with her. A retired Microsoft manager, Bergstein looked at the source code in the EPFX's software. It appeared to generate results randomly. "It's a complete fraud," he said.

Marie Erdmann, 64, who now manages the clinic since the death of her husband last year, defended the EPFX. "It's where medicine will go, but it will take a long time," she predicted.

William Nelson is a rich man who has brought death and financial ruin to hundreds of persons. And he’s getting richer as more and more of his victims die…

The Seattle Times deserves our accolades for caring enough to do an in-depth examination of this man and his crooked, cruel, attack on the desperate. To him, it’s a colossal joke that makes money…




AMAZON DISAPPOINTS

Reader Ala'a H. Jawad tells us:

I was reading about "Kindle," the new E-Book platform announced by Amazon.com today. When I browsed to see which books are available for electronic download, I immediately inspected books under: Science/Astronomy (my favorite topic), only to find that the third book on the list is something called "The Day After Roswell." Furthermore, the "Astronomy" subcategories include a dedicated category for UFOs! I was disturbed by this since I purchase almost all my books, music albums and DVDs from Amazon, only to find out that to them the subject of UFOs belongs under the "Science" category…

Well, no one’s perfect, as they say, but I, too, would expect more discernment by Amazon…

I underwent a similar disappointment this last week when I saw on WLRN/Florida – a PBS TV station – under “The History Project,” a program titled “UFOs: The Real History.” This was a totally irresponsible, one-sided, pandering, presentation of the so-called “evidence” for the reality of UFOs as extraterrestrial craft. Not one of the professed “experts” on the subject expressed any doubt about these lights-in-the-night, some of which have been long known as hoaxes, and some explanations offered by scientists on the propulsion systems, were just ludicrous.

I was further disheartened by seeing another program announced for WLRN on their website, advertised as, “In The Valey of The Wolves.” Go to www.wlrn.org/web/tvfeatures.php and try to see it before it’s changed – which I trust it will be. No, maybe I don’t trust WLRN, at all, for anything.

WLRN calls itself “The Learning Channel.” It should be the “Misinformation Channel.”




WHOSE BLUNDER?

I’m beginning to think that Geoff Kait of Machina Dynamica just can’t be serious about his products, though I get angry letters from his fans who tout his items… But please visit machinadynamica.com/machina60.htm and see the latest flummery, a “Teleportation Tweak,” which is described as:

…an advanced communications technique… for upgrading audio systems remotely – even over very long distances (Machina Dynamica has successfully performed the Teleportation Tweak for distances up to 10,000 miles). The Teleportation Tweak has a profound effect on the sound and is performed during a phone call to Machina Dynamica; the phone call can be made via landline or cell phone from any room in the house. The Teleportation Tweak is performed over the telephone line and will sound to the listener like a series of mechanical noises. The tweak itself takes about 30 seconds.

Remarkably, the Teleportation Tweak is independent of distance and signal transmission medium and will work anywhere in the world. The "signals" transmitted over the phone by Machina Dynamica remain robust even over great distances. It is not necessary for the system to be ON at the time of the telephone call; however, if A/B comparison of the Teleportation Tweak before and after the call is desired, the customer's audio system should be turned ON and warmed up prior to the call.

There’s more promised. It’s said that 3-dimensionality, lushness, inner detail and “air,” as well as picture quality of any video system in the house will also be improved, giving better color and contrast, we’re assured.

Now, I can only come to two possible conclusions: either Geoff Kait is a total idiot and believes that these preposterous objects actually work, or I’m the idiot for having fallen for his hoax – which I’m afraid he’ll announce any moment as a huge joke, a demonstration just to show that some people will buy anything, and that there’s no limit to their naivety. In fact, after re-reading what I just wrote, I’ll opt for my having been taken in by a fabulous hoaxer. I don’t know how “funny” this is, taking advantage of gullible folks, but I guess that you can only get so silly, and then anyone has to admit that you’ve gone over the line. The “Teleportation Tweak” was the offer that really did it – the title, in particular… Okay, I was fooled…

In any case, he’s asking – and I think he may be getting – $60 for a 30-second phone call to download “a series of mechanical noises.” I note, too, that this offer is a little different from his others. He cautions the buyer that

Machina Dynamica's Teleportation Tweak is not covered by our 30-day money back guarantee.

Drat! And I so wanted to find out if it were a real offer…!




ASKING FOR RESEARCH

For those of you who are casting about for a project you might enter into to help the JREF, I think that I have a dandy. For years now, I’ve been encountering quotations from Uri Geller in which he firmly disavows any ability as a magician – that is, one who does tricks rather than genuine miracles. He has repeatedly stated that he doesn’t do tricks, doesn’t know how to do tricks, and has never done tricks, and has also said repeatedly that something he’s just done is “not a trick.”

One such example is a TV show in the UK that featured magicians, in which he was asked:

Why are we so honored to have you here, when you’re not really a magician?

In response, he firmly stated:

No, I’m not a magician, and I never have been.

I’m looking for similar statements, spoken or written, preferably with dates, in which Geller has denied doing tricks, or has said that he has “powers.” A hint: very often, he will say, “Look…” just before the denial. That seems to be a “twitch” he got into years ago…

So, I’ll look forward to receiving any and all such items… And I thank you!




IN CLOSING…

Reader Eddy Walet has a peculiar hobby, one that provides proof of the origins of those mysterious “orb” photos that have so taken the attention of the woo-woos who think that every cemetery is loaded with fuzzy ghosties who present themselves to be photographed by digital cameras. Go to homepage.mac.com/ewalet/energy/energy.html and see what I mean…

Carrie Renwick, of the Humanists of Florida, tells us that there has been a strong reaction to the recent NOVA program, "Intelligent Design on Trial," and that interested persons can go to shop.wgbh.org to purchase a DVD of the program for $19.95. And, she says, religious folks are now "up in arms" about a new movie (and book), THE GOLDEN COMPASS. The author has been accused of promoting a "stealth Atheist agenda," as if the Religious Right hasn’t been at this game for generations now. Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists, will be discussing this matter on Friday, November 23, as a guest on CNN Headline News in an exchange with Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. If you miss it Friday, look for repeats during the week…

Johnson and Donahue will be discussing the movie, which is based on the book of the same title by atheist writer Philip Pullman. The Catholic League has condemned this critically-acclaimed book, and the movie is slated for release on December 4. News reports have established that the producers – New Line Cinema – have "toned down" (that means, “censored”) portions of the film that religionists might find offensive, and the Catholic League has called for a boycott of the movie. (See: tinyurl.com/2mdbh4)

The segment with the Johnson/Donahue debate will air nationwide on the CNN Headline News channel sometime after 5:00 PM ET on Friday, Nov. 23. Check your local listings at www.cnn.com. You can then join the conversation and post your comments on the NoGodBlog at www.nogodblog.com.

We just got the word that there's a cabin opened up on the Amaz!ng Adventure 3: Galapagos. It won't last long.. call 954-467-1112 if you're interested. Also, there's still space available for The Amaz!ng Meeting 5.5 in Fort Lauderdale. Spend a weekend with us in our home town of Fort Lauderdale, learn about getting active in skepticism, and visit the JREF offices for an open house! Contact us for details.