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SWIFT December 21, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Exposed Again, An Argument, Sokal Re-Created, My Recent Rant, The Latest High-Tech News, Involuntary Comedy, Possibly a Convert, A Just Complaint, In Closing...

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Thirty or so years ago, very few of us – obviously including Uri Geller – had any notion that today’s easily-available technology would catch up with simple tricks. I offer you here a video selection made back in 1976 which has now popped back into existence to further expose one of Mr. Geller’s limited repertoire of tricks. In this excerpt from the video, as you’ll see, he tries to convince his audience that a bent key continues to bend as they watch it, and in this he is very successful. You can hear the comments:

(Begins at 1:12)

Geller [to the child, Ken]: Lift your hand.

Announcer: Now lift your hand, Ken. Lift your hand. Do you see any keys bending?

Geller: No…

Child: I see one.

Geller: Oh yes, this is bending!

Table of Contents
  1. Exposed Again

  2. An Argument

  3. Sokal Re-Created

  4. My Recent Rant

  5. The Latest High-Tech News

  6. Involuntary Comedy

  7. Possibly a Convert

  8. A Just Complaint

  9. In Closing



EXPOSED AGAIN!

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Thirty or so years ago, very few of us – obviously including Uri Geller – had any notion that today’s easily-available technology would catch up with simple tricks. I offer you here a video selection made back in 1976 which has now popped back into existence to further expose one of Mr. Geller’s limited repertoire of tricks. In this excerpt from the video, as you’ll see, he tries to convince his audience that a bent key continues to bend as they watch it, and in this he is very successful. You can hear the comments:

(Begins at 1:12)

Geller [to the child, Ken]: Lift your hand.

Announcer: Now lift your hand, Ken. Lift your hand. Do you see any keys bending?

Geller: No…

Child: I see one.

Geller: Oh yes, this is bending!

(Frame #1 taken from here at 1:26)

pic Announcer: One key is bending.

Geller: Wait a minute, I have to show this to the TV. Yes, this key is going. [pause] Yeah, wait a minute, I…

Announcer: Yes, definitely, it’s a big thick brass “Shlage” or Shlage-type of key, just like the one he bent last night for us.

Geller: I don’t know what this key is for, but you see what I’m doing, is I’m stroking it very, very, gently. And yeah, it’s curling up more. I don’t know how well you can see…

Announcer: You see that, Ken? It’s really happening.

Child: It’s bending even more.

Geller: Yes, this will curl up a little more here. Um, you see, I’m putting an energy into it. Can you see this on the…

Child: It’s incredible.

Geller: There’s no… there is absolutely no heat. Ken, touch the key and you’ll see, but touch them under, under where it’s bending. Do you feel any heat? There is absolutely no…

Child: Yes…

Geller: You do? There is really no heat. It’s, ah, you touch it, I mean you touch it, you can see if there really is heat or not.

Announcer: No, it’s just the body warmth. The body warmth, and it’s continuing to bend.

pic Geller: I just want to show it to the camera...

[applause]

Bystander: There goes another one!

Announcer: The key that he has bent is fastened to a key cluster and another key is beginning to bend on the cluster fastened below it.

(Ends at frame #2, at 2:17)

Here we see the usual "ratcheting" move that Geller has always used to produce the bending illusion, simply tilting the tip of the key upwards slowly to give the effect of it bending.

So, in 51 seconds of merely showing this key – which was on a huge cluster of keys that was produced from nowhere and run through by Geller – he has created the illusion that convinced the observers that they’d seen it continue to bend! And it didn’t change one bit…!

To establish this, I asked Rich Montalvo (our media manager) – who manages somehow to get this page up in time every week – to prepare a video comparing one frame – noted as # 1, above – from the video just at the point where Geller has announced that one of the keys he’s holding has bent, and a second frame from the point where the audience and the host of the show have become convinced that they’ve just seen it bend even more. As can be plainly seen, there has been no change whatsoever in the shape of this key, even though spectators swore it was bending! Now, technology has allowed us to easily demonstrate that this is so.

Interestingly enough, I had no idea of the existence of this video, until it was sent to me by a believer who felt that it was very convincing and proved Geller’s powers! On the contrary, it very plainly exposes his trick!

If there’s been any doubt in your minds about my contention that Uri Geller is about to announce that he’s been lying all these 30+ years about not being a conjuror, that should vanish when you learn that the December issue of the Academy of Magical Arts Newsletter features a photo of him embracing Gay Blackstone – wife of the late Harry Blackstone. There’s no text mention of this, just the nonchalant introduction of this association so that Geller can try casually slipping into the fraternity as if he’d always been there. As I’ve said here on SWIFT, that’s not going to happen. His lies and hyperbole are so evident and damning, that he’ll not escape them…

The Newsletter even spelled his name wrong, so there’s some hope that the Magical Arts Newsletter recognizes the trick…




AN ARGUMENT

Reader Jay Roessler, in Hinsdale, Illinois, writes:

I have been an admirer of yours for many years, beginning with an appearance on the Tonight Show where you proceeded to perform psychic surgery on Johnny Carson, without leaving a single mark.

Randi comments: Here’s an example of how telling and re-telling a story can change the content. This gentleman refers to a program in which I “operated” on an audience volunteer – while Johnny watched…! Jay continues:

I have read a number of your books, read your weekly SWIFT column, and enjoy your quarterly "’Twas Brillig" and occasional television appearances – when they actually allow you to make your argument without interruption or editing. I guess my point with all this obsequiousness (is that a word?) [Randi: yep!] is to tell you that I have learned many skills on HOW to think (as opposed to WHAT to think) by reading your works as well as those of many other skeptics, and I’d like to think I’ve used those skills to improve the quality of my life, as well as the quality of my arguments for or against various issues.

One of these issues, if not the greatest, is the issue of God. I must agree with you in that I do not believe in a higher being, certainly not in the God as sold, or proclaimed, to me throughout my comfortable suburban WASP-ish life. My arguments against believing in a higher being have usually fallen in line with many skeptics and scientists, essentially that there is no evidence to support the idea of a God. But recently I’ve had an epiphany of sorts, not a revelation that I’ve been wrong, just as to how the argument may be framed. It is an argument I’ve never heard a skeptic or atheist make, so I thought I would share it with you and ask if I’m on the right track, or is my reasoning flawed.

Lately when conversations have turned to religion and I, eventually, reveal that I do not believe in God (I still can’t shake using the capital G), after the gasps and responses of "I’ll pray for you," I have justified my opinion by saying "The Bible admits that man created God, not that God created Man." You may understand their confusion. My argument:

In Exodus 20:3, God’s first commandment states in its second sentence, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

Randi comments: In my New English Bible, this is translated as, “You shall have no other god to set against me.” Same impact and significance, however, in what follows. Jay continues:

1. God does not say that there are no other gods. God simply says, in effect, that any other gods shall follow me, not come before me. Apparently humans may worship other gods, but God is superior to them all, much like Zeus was superior to the rest of the Greek and Roman gods. However, Genesis states that God created the heavens and the Earth, making no mention of creating other gods. If humans are allowed to worship other gods (just not before God), and God did not create them, where did these gods come from? One can only infer that these other gods are, well, man-made. And if God is essentially acknowledging that lesser gods may be worshiped and they must be man-made, does it not follow that all gods, including God, Himself, is man-made as well?

Jay, I think not. This could be inferred, but it’s not so stated…

2. Let’s say that the second part of the last sentence of the first commandment is, well, a typo, and God simply said "Thou shalt have no other gods," forgoing the "before me" part. Again, doesn’t this essentially concede that humans may actually consider having other gods, yet are commanded not to? And is this not, effectively, an admission that gods are selected by humans? Again, begging the question that, well, God himself is potentially selected by humans, and a man-made being?

Strangely enough, my friends don’t seem to understand my argument. Of course, maybe I’m on the wrong track anyway.

I thank you for your indulgence in my cockeyed hypothesis, and I would appreciate any critique or assistance you may offer regarding my attempt at a rational thought (difficult where the Bible is involved).

Please keep up all your good works. You have been a great, positive influence on me, and I know many, many others as well. As one who used to enjoy the predictions of psychics, I now know to make all these people of extraordinary claims simply prove that which they claim. As you know they always fail, but I am richer for your guidance in seeking truth, not fantasy.

I’m flattered, Jay, but I think your argument – whether the King James translation or the more recent New English Bible version is used – could just as effectively be that the very reference in Exodus to “other gods” strongly suggests that this particular one wants to be above them all, and thus is not the only one…! In any case, thank you for this interesting argument.




SOKAL RE-CREATED

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Reader Tomasz Witkowski writes about an Alan Sokal-style of hoax done in Poland. Refer to randi.org/jr/2006-08/082506yet.html#i5 for a previous mention of the original delicious affair. Tomasz gives us a description of his hoax taken from “Poor Pothecary,” a site run by a technical writer living in Devon, UK., which covers the debunking of bad science:

Via Modne Bzdury via Bad Science, this looks interesting. A psychologist in Poland, Tomasz Witkowski, has announced how he conned Charaktery, a scientific monthly focusing on popularizing psychology, with a Sokal-style hoax article about a fake psychotherapeutic method. Here’s his original article, “Wiedza prosto z pola” – “Knowledge straight from the field” – written under the pseudonym Renata Aulagnier:

Here’s the Witkowski article:

I don’t know Polish, so have had to get the drift by machine translation. “Knowledge straight from the field” leads with a postulated scenario: that a patient could be MRI-scanned to measure their morphogenetic field. If the morphogenetic resonance is out of kilter, the patient can be exposed to appropriate influences to correct it, such as listening to different kinds of music in various proportions, or going into a large crowd of people with the correct vibes (e.g. a theatre or a football stadium) to get into tune with their field. Thus psychotherapy could be achieved without lengthy analysis, issues of resistance, disclosure of embarrassing sexual secrets, etc.

But this is not science fiction, the article says, and goes on to describe a "Strasbourg experiment" in which such a technology has been developed (the idea inspired by Carl Jung and Henri Bergson, the mathematician from Lacan – who "first discovered the possibility of employing mathematical topology in the analysis of the structures of intellectual diseases," and the mechanism from Sheldrake.

Randi comments: this is a reference to Rupert Sheldrake, who we’ve previously dealt with in SWIFT. Moving on:

Witkowski’s motivation appears to have been disillusionment at the quality of peer review – despite Charaktery here on his explanatory page, Witkowski’s particular indictment of Charaktery is that not merely did the piece get past the editorial system, but the editors actually collaborated in expanding it with uncredited material from writings elsewhere about Rupert Sheldrake.

This is currently all over the Polish blogosphere. As I said, I don’t know Polish, but if anyone who does would care to translate properly, it looks rather an excellent sting. (Having various professorial-level academics on the editorial board, he argues that it’s been playing to the popular market by publishing articles about topics like neuro-linguistic programming and morphogenetic resonance. And as he describes here on his explanatory page, Witkowski’s particular indictment of Charaktery is that not merely did the piece get past the editorial system, but the editors actually collaborated in expanding it with uncredited material from writings elsewhere about Rupert Sheldrake.

Interesting indeed. We can now share with another scientific community our guilt at being naïve …!




MY RECENT RANT

A comment by reader Chad Eisner re one of my most recent SWIFT complaints – to be seen last week at randi.org/joom/content/view/141/27/#i8 – rather thoroughly chastised me for lacunae in that item. Wise words from such authorities as Noam Chomsky and Stephen Pinker were brought in to confront me, and I felt quite scolded.

I should add here something that should have been in that item: Dictionaries do not define words, but give meanings, derivations, pronunciation, and – most importantly – their common usage. All of these but the derivations are subject to periodic change, and may vary from edition to edition. I’m struck by the word “route,” for example – meaning a path of travel. I pronounce this as “root,” as I learned it when a child, but I seem to always hear it used as “rout” in conversation, on the media, and in public addresses. I note, too, that Webster’s offers the pronunciation as both “root” and “rout,” though I would apply that latter usage to the disorderly flight of a defeated army…

Thank you, Chad. I guess I’m an old fuddy-duddy. Yes, that’s in Webster’s, too…




THE LATEST HIGH-TECH NEWS

This is straight from the Condé Nast website, and can’t be improved. I’m not at all surprised that Fox was the agency that gave rise to this item:

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Fox Business continues to push the boundaries of what constitutes business news. Last week it was genital cosmetic surgery; this week it’s astrology.

On [a recent] edition of the morning show Money for Breakfast, co-host Peter Barnes interviewed astrologer Constance Stellas about the upcoming Federal Reserve Board meeting. Displaying charts she had drawn up for the meeting and for Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, she predicted a half-point rate cut.

Alas, the cosmos must’ve been having an off day. The actual rate cut was 0.25 percent.

Or maybe Stellas was simply outside her area of expertise? According to her website, she reads the stars to determine "what colors, sounds, tastes, and feng shui are best for you." She’s also the author of The Everything Sex Signs Book: Astrology Between the Sheets, which "combines astrology and psychology to uncover a potential lover’s preferred seduction style, fantasies and turn-ons."

Now I ask you: would you place any confidence at all in the Money for Breakfast show or in Constance Stellas…? As for my own personal belief in astrology, I’m a Leo, and we’re told that those born under that sign are very reluctant to accept such claims…




INVOLUNTARY COMEDY

Please, go to youtube.com/watch?v=15u6fHkICxc to see a very effective discussion regarding evangelical matters. From The Chaser’s War on Everything, it requires no comments to support it…




POSSIBLY A CONVERT

A reader in Melbourne, Australia, writes:

I would like to relate to you something that happened to me yesterday, but would prefer that my story remain confidential to protect the other party from any embarrassment. Please excuse the length of the email.

A while ago, a work colleague of mine had mentioned in passing that he believed in psychics and loved John Edward’s Crossing Over. Yesterday, I decided to show him a short clip from the “Talking to the Dead” episode of “Penn & Teller’s BS” and described to him cold reading and hot reading techniques in detail.

His response, which I am sure you have heard many times, was, “Yes, there are a lot of fakers out there, but there are good ones too. I’m definitely a believer.” At this point, I simply said, “Fair enough, but at least you now know of things to look for when assessing whether a psychic is genuine or not.”

A few minutes later, he opened up his bag and brought out a book by Allison Dubois and told me “Allison is the real deal, you should read this book, I’ve read four of her books, etc, etc.” He relayed the story of Dr. Gary Schwartz’s testing of Allison that proved she was a psychic, etc.

He said, “Allison did readings of people over the phone from different parts of the world and didn’t get any feedback until the reading was over.” You can’t cold read without feedback. I then told my work colleague of the Forer personality test experiments and a similar experiment I saw performed by the Amazing Randi many years ago on television. I told him that people are more alike than unlike and general comments can fit with a large percentage of the population who are just itching to shoe-horn it into their own lives.

Randi comments: You may refer to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertram_Forer for details of the Forer work.

I asked, “What accuracy did Allison get with these readings?” My colleague said, “80%.” I replied, “So did Forer.” My work colleague replied, “I don’t care, I’m a believer.”

Well, I thought, it’s time to bring out the big guns. I directed him to www.randi.org and the million dollar challenge. I also mentioned the JREF has challenged both Allison Dubois and John Edward who both refuse to take the bait and that no one has passed the preliminary tests of the million dollar challenge.

I then brought up the video from www.randi.org showing you debunking a British medium in 1991. We watched the tape together and I regularly paused to discuss the techniques she was using. I particularly pointed out where the psychic went from one person of the audience with the name “Jimmy” (a miss) to another person with the name “Doris” (a miss) and the second audience member told the medium to go back to the name “Jimmy” (turning a miss into a hit). He was particularly surprised at the 30% audience connection with the name “Taylor” and the 55% audience connection with the “grandfather with a heart condition.”

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Randi comments: That was “psychic” Maureen Flynn, on my Granada TV series, “James Randi, Psychic Investigator.” We have audio cassettes of this reading available…

My work colleague then replied, “This medium is awful. She’s not very good at all.” I replied, “Is she awful because she’s awful, or is she awful because I’ve told you how she is doing it and your looking at it objectively for the first time?”

That was it! That was the comment that set off the light bulb in my colleagues head! He all of a sudden went quiet. He then said the video was very good and he would have a browse around randi.org over the weekend. He also admitted that a completely convincing reading he once received from a psychic may have been shoe-horning as well. He even jokingly said, “You’re going to turn me into a skeptic.”

I can unashamedly say that it was a wonderful feeling putting someone on that first step to critical thinking and rationality. I completely understand what has kept you motivated, Mr. Randi, and thank you for your wonderful website, which, of course, I couldn’t have done without.




A JUST COMPLAINT

Reader Todd Weekley, in Boston, Massachusetts, writes:

Thank you, as always, for your tireless efforts to educate people. I always look forward to Fridays because of SWIFT.

Last week’s column contained an article about the EPFX device and the Food and Drug Administration’s response. I have noticed in past [SWIFT] items involving the FDA (and other government agencies) a level of disbelief that the agency has been so slow to catch on. The result is an accusatory tone (e.g., "for years, the [FDA]...did nothing to warn the public"). While I agree that the FDA has dropped the ball on some subjects, and has been subject to corruption (e.g., during the Nixon administration), they generally do a pretty good job of protecting the public, particularly when they are as woefully underfunded and understaffed as they are.

Understood and acknowledged, Todd. And with the present science-bashing and “faith-based” administration, I don’t know whether we can expect any improvement when things change politically, and I note with alarm that their would-be successors are all dexterously weaving woo-woo into their campaign speeches. It’s difficult to understand how we as citizens have allowed these agencies to have become so underfunded, and yet not made much of a fuss. Here on SWIFT, we’ve made a huge fuss…

My guess is that, with the number of applications for new products being reviewed, site inspections, post-market surveillance, and the like, those who work at the FDA have very little time to read SWIFT. Certainly, the mentions of quack drugs and devices that turn up from time to time would assist their enforcement division, though I feel a more proactive effort on the part of the JREF (and possibly the readers of SWIFT) of sending a quick note to the FDA alerting them of a questionable product, would result in a more efficient use of their resources.

News, Todd: we make sure that these agencies receive regular copies of SWIFT, but those can go right into the spam basket if intercepted by a person who does not support our point of view, right?

FDA has identified market surveillance as an area that needs to be improved, and is calling on the industry, medical care providers and patients/users to help by reporting adverse events. I would add notice of unapproved products, such as the EPFX, to that.

In the future, please keep the staffing and financing issues of the FDA in mind when you start pointing fingers. If they had known about this product for the entire time and done nothing when they could, then I fully agree with your criticism. However, for the most part, they are doing the best they can with the resources they have; this one may have slipped past the radar that is already clogged with countless bogies. Want better results? Encourage Congress to send more resources their way.

That’s just what we do here on SWIFT. But reaching the deaf and then restoring their hearing, is difficult…




IN CLOSING…

fremer

Many of you have commented about the strange person Bill Perron who has been flailing about in the Comments section of SWIFT. Here’s my own brief observation:

We made a decision, long ago, not to casually remove posts or posters from this site, unless matters got so “colorful” that such an action would be called for. Bill Perron’s presence here has been rather less than colorful – more of a muddy gray, but he is presently more frustrated than usual. For example, he says that we

…complained to Youtube to get the Bill Perron ten thousand dollar “Honesty Challenge” removed.

Well, that never happened. We reserve our complaints for more important matters than his mere aggravation. And, Perron is – again – not reading text correctly. It’s not “woo” that we battle against, as Perron seems to think, it’s “woo-woo,” with which he is very familiar, as a leading practitioner of that art.

Why doesn’t this man simply state what he thinks this grievous “lie” is that I told…? I’m sure we’d all like to know, so we can get his blathering off these pages! I assure you that I’m not about to cater to his demands for interaction; that’s what he’s hoping for, and that’s not “in the cards” now, or ever. We’ve now blocked Perron from this area until he decides to share this “lie” with us all, after which we will/may remove that ban. Your move, Perron…

I’d like to be able to close this week with better news, but it appears that Texas education is continuing its slide into oblivion. The Texas Education Agency – who just dumped their director of science, Christine Castillo Comer – see the item at randi.org/joom/content/view/138/27/#i7 – after superiors accused her of displaying bias against creationism and failing to be “neutral” over the teaching of evolution, has now recommended allowing a Bible-based group – the Institute for Creation Research – to offer online master’s degrees in science education!

Seriously – no joke intended – I ask whether Texas will next consider allowing degrees to be offered by the Church of Scientology, Sylvia Browne’s Church of Novus Spiritus, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. These churches claim extragalactic blue octopi, warm snow in Heaven, and Eternal Meatballs for All, which are just as ludicrous, juvenile, and irrational as the equally unsupported claim of a 6,000-year-old Earth! Surely these woo-woos will want in on the Texas action, I’d say.

2008 just has to be better…


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