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SWIFT December 28, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

There Are Other Gods Out There, Nice Try, An Expensive Magical Rod, Finding Significance, Not Just Yet, Playing the God Card, Saccharine Sooth, Tune In, Still Scamming, Medical Mythology Addressed, Viewer Comments, The Secret’s Out, Very Wise Words, Do This, Neatly and Evasively Done, In Conclusion.

commandments

Reader and frequent commentator Avital Pilpel has sent me a 334-word message that I will give you here in full, not only because it’s interesting and from an expert, but because it’s brief enough for you to handle easily. Had it been 350 words… Referring to the item at randi.org/joom/content/view/142/27/#i2, Mr. Pilpel writes:

In your discussion with Jay Roessler, both of you are – slightly – wrong, due to translation problems.

The original Hebrew says, "Lo ihyu lachem elohim acherim al panay" – you shall have no other Gods al panay. Literally, "al panay" means "on my face." It is an Hebrew idiom, meaning "in preference to me." It is often used elsewhere in the Bible in matrimonial matters, i.e., when someone divorces one wife and marries another al paneyha – "over her face" – that is, in preference to her.

Table of Contents
  1. There Are Other Gods Out There

  2. Nice Try

  3. An Expensive Magical Rod

  4. Finding Significance

  5. Not Just Yet

  6. Playing the God Card

  7. Saccharine Sooth

  8. Tune In

  9. Still Scamming

  10. Medical Mythology Addressed

  11. Viewer Comments

  12. The Secret’s Out

  13. Very Wise Words

  14. Do This

  15. Neatly and Evasively Done

  16. In Conclusion…



There Are Other Gods Out There

commandments

Reader and frequent commentator Avital Pilpel has sent me a 334-word message that I will give you here in full, not only because it’s interesting and from an expert, but because it’s brief enough for you to handle easily. Had it been 350 words… Referring to the item at randi.org/joom/content/view/142/27/#i2, Mr. Pilpel writes:

In your discussion with Jay Roessler, both of you are – slightly – wrong, due to translation problems.

The original Hebrew says, "Lo ihyu lachem elohim acherim al panay" – you shall have no other Gods al panay. Literally, "al panay" means "on my face." It is an Hebrew idiom, meaning "in preference to me." It is often used elsewhere in the Bible in matrimonial matters, i.e., when someone divorces one wife and marries another al paneyha – "over her face" – that is, in preference to her.

The ten commandments, like many other interactions between Jehovah and the Israelites (or their patriarchs) in the Bible, are written in the language of a marriage contract. The Israelites promise to "worship no other God in preference" to Jehovah, while He, in return, agrees to "only recognize you from all the families [i.e., tribes, nations] of the Earth." The treaty concludes, "You shall be my Nation and I shall be your God." There is no implication in those parts of the Bible that other gods do not exist, or that Jehovah is necessarily the most powerful God of some pantheon (let alone all-powerful), any more than there is a claim that the Israelites are the only nation on earth or the most powerful one.

This type of belief, which assumes other gods exist but demands a special relationship a specific god and a specific tribe – in particular, that preference (or exclusivity) in “worship” be given to that god – is known as henotheism. It can be seen as a stage between full polytheism (when other gods may be worshipped freely) and monotheism (when it is denied that other gods exist at all, and not merely forbidden to worship them). Some of the most important parts of the Bible – Jehovah's appearance in Mt. Sinai to give the Israelites the ten commandments, the pact between Abraham and Jehovah that makes Palestine the "promised land," etc. – are henotheistic. The Jews only became monotheistic, for complicated reasons, long after these parts of the Bible were written.

Okay, and I see that this comment only supports even more my contention that there is nothing in the Bible that says the God they endorse and so admire, is the only deity…! Is this a “find,” or what?

Several of those who posted comments on last week’s page also reflected these observations of Mr. Pilpel, though less specifically. Thank you!




NICE TRY

Reader Ron Holmstrom in Chugiak, Alaska, wrote to a local FOX-TV show there about their coverage of a recent near-disaster in which a family of four was rescued after having been lost in a mountainous area. A “psychic” had been called in for consultation (Wow! On FOX-TV? Quelle surprise!) and was credited by the station with having been helpful. Ron was insulted by the applied slant of the story, and he wrote:

When the relative first told the story this morning, the "psychic" had supposedly told authorities the location and the owner's name of the cabin where the lost family was holed-up.

Now that it has turned out that they were actually sheltered in a culvert, how will the story change so the fortune-teller can be famous? The "psychic" said they were in a cabin and she could sense the cabin owner's name! They were in a CULVERT! Guessing whether they were alive or not could be determined by flipping a coin.

Jeez!

The TV station responded:

We said that earlier... sorry you missed it.

Ron was not to be easily pushed aside:

I did hear it. The problem is, that was what made her prediction wrong. Further coverage has omitted this. This sort of thing is simply what props up superstitious claptrap. Unfair.

Oh well…

Now you have carefully omitted the most important details of what the "psychic" allegedly told the grandmother. Namely: That the family was in a cabin and that she knew the name of the cabin owner. I know facts like that can louse up a good gee-whiz story, but come on!

By the way, I am writing to you from my cabin in Alaska. That would be my cabin, not my culvert.

Ron, join us in resignation to the fact that the media wants, needs, prefers and thrives on woo-woo, in total disregard for inconvenient facts. Here in Florida, on another “lost family” episode with a similarly satisfactory result, I counted 17 designations of this event as a “miracle” during one local news report. No, a miracle should be a little more stunning than a rescue effort that works out, I think. And, when the rescue fails, perhaps we should wonder whether the angels were off carousing somewhere, or God was out on the celestial golf course, and missed the request for a miracle…




AN EXPENSIVE MAGICAL ROD

pipe

From reader Dean Malandris we received notice of this truly hilarious – yet still fraudulent – web site. Dean describes it as, “For the truly intellectually handicapped, a great web site,” and I enthusiastically agree. It’s to be found at toolsforwellness.com. Says Dean:

Pretty much all of your favorite woo-woo products under the convenience of one on-line store. Devout believers can truly have a field day, poring over the catalogue. My personal favorite has to be the copper tube they charge $220 for: toolsforwellness.com/safespaceiii.html. As they say in the movies, "I gotta get me one o' THESE!"

NOT.

I note that the validity of this device seems appropriately indicated by the “click to enlarge” note – which when clicked on the site, gives you exactly the same-size graphic… and the text for this “Tools for Wellness” advertisement reads, in part:

This powerful 20-inch copper tube holds imprinted holographic bars, programmed to neutralize and protect up to 200 acres of land.

If you need to permanently eradicate noxious vibrations on your property this is for you. This self-driven broadcaster rod is designed to be placed in the ground to address imbalanced energies in the soil and earth.

Shielding against Geopathic Stress from harmful earth grid systems and earth fault lines reduces the effect of electromagnetic radiation (EMR).

The energy pattern the Safe Space 3 radiates is designed to clear a range of toxic energies and negative etheric forces from the land as well as the atmosphere of the area. It can have a strengthening and calming effect on all living within the area.

Briefly: There is no such thing as a “powerful” “holographic bar” – let alone an “imprinted” one. No such “programming” is possible, the “neutralization” and “protection” claimed are imaginary, no such “vibrations” – “noxious” or otherwise – exist, the rod “broadcasts” nothing, and it’s not “designed” to do anything but extract money from the naïve. The “imbalanced energies” cited, are imaginary, “Geopathic Stress” is a fiction, there are no ‘harmful” “earth grid systems or earth fault lines” – real or imaginary – and “electromagnetic radiation” of any sort is totally unaffected by having a magical copper rod buried in the area; EMR is always there. There’s no “energy pattern” “radiated” by this rod, no “toxic energies and negative etheric forces” – whatever they may be – are “cleared” by this means, and the vendors cannot demonstrate any effects whatsoever from the use of their fake device.

Or, I may be wrong, in which case a legal action brought by the vendors of the “Safe Space 3” product will easily prove their case and cause the JREF huge financial losses in favor of the vendor. We await such an action.

Hello…?

(I must admit that Dean exaggerated the price of this wonder. It’s only $219.95… and I note the subtly imbedded “20,” “200,” and “220” magical sequence in their text…)




FINDING SIGNIFICANCE

Here’s an excerpt from an otherwise excellent and well-thought-out story at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC] site at cbc.ca/news/viewpoint/vp_handler/20071219.html by Richard Handler, their “Ideas Guy.” It’s titled, “Moments of extraordinary knowing.”

We all have heard stories that can't quite be explained. Let me end [this item] on one of mine.

Years ago I was lying in bed at night and I became besieged by wracking pain. It was as if I was on a torture bench. It kept me awake all night.

I flayed and moaned. Then, in the very early morning, the pain subsided. A little later, my mother called. She told me my father had died of a heart attack.

Now the Amazing Randi would ask me: How many other times have I been wracked by pain, woke up and forgot about it? I would say, not many. And this pain was special, out of the ordinary. But could I prove it? No.

So Randi would be skeptical. He may be right to be.

I just think that perhaps something else was going on. Something I don't understand and that cannot be explained in ways we all comprehend.

Perhaps I am guilty of wishful thinking, of wanting the world to be more mysterious and more spiritually connected than it is. Still, this story fits in nicely with the holiday season, where human possibility is celebrated, whether you believe in strange things or not.

For Mr. Handler, I’ll offer here a repeat of a comment I published here in October of last year. I was discussing this same “finding significance” phenomenon”:

Let me give you another example of this phenomenon from my own experience.

As a teen, I was often hired by neighbors as a babysitter. I'd take along some books, check that the kid or kids were in bed, and stretch out on a couch to read and/or listen to the radio. I seldom had any sort of situation develop, and I'd often fall asleep. One night, the parents who'd hired me were rather late returning, but shortly before they returned home, I woke to the sound of labored, rather uneven breathing that seemed to fill the living room. Suddenly it stopped, and everything was silent. I was left wondering, and somewhat disturbed. Not more than ten minutes later, the parents walked in and relieved me of my duties. It was about midnight.

The next morning, I awoke to find my father looking very sad, and was told that my grandfather — his father — had died the night before, in Montreal, 300 miles away. Of course, my mind flashed back to the phenomenon I'd experienced, and I had to consider the possibility that the old man — with whom I'd had a very close relationship — had shared his last moments with me via some unknown modus.

But then I had to think back about the whole picture. My grandfather, we knew at that time, was in a bad way. He was not expected to live much longer, and his demise was really just a matter of time. We'd been ready for the bad news for several weeks. It appeared to me that I'd probably worked the strange sounds I'd heard into a fuller picture that had been suggested by the situation. However, I had to find it remarkable that such a unique phenomenon had occurred at just the time that it might have been expected. Fortunately, a week or so later I was relieved of any such conclusion.

I was again employed as a babysitter at the same home. I settled in as usual, on the couch. Suddenly, I became aware of the same breathing pattern that I'd heard at about the same time the week previous. Pulling the couch away from the wall, I found that the hot-air duct for the living-room was located directly below the position that my head occupied as I reclined on the couch. I quietly made my way upstairs to the baby's bedroom, directly above the living-room. The baby's crib was adjacent to the air duct which connected to the duct below. As it happened, the baby was still rolled over with her face very close to the register grate — I had been hearing the labored breathing of the infant, not of the shade of my grandfather!

It's not very often that solutions to such seemingly strange phenomena present themselves so easily. Perhaps I'm just lucky in that respect. However, I do believe that if we were to search for more ordinary explanations rather than opting to invent or adopt paranormal explanations, we'd have a much better grasp of how the real world works, though professional writers might find their wells of inspiration going dry...

That’s my account, and now let’s look at Mr. Handler’s experience.

Importantly, I note that we’re not given the nature nor the location of the “wracking pain” suffered by the author. The pain of a heart attack can consist of discomfort or numbness in the center of the chest, uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach, shortness of breath, and/or breaking out in a sweat. Believe me. I went through all this. Also, we aren’t told at what hour the pain was experienced by him, and whether that might provide a parallel to the distress suffered by his father, nor do we learn whether his father already had a heart condition and would have been expected to have such an attack.

I believe that Mr. Handler is choosing to create a false association for this event, which he would have written off as a rather memorable but not significant night-time experience, if the death of his father had not occurred in conjunction with it. By our vary nature, we humans tend to easily make such associations. This practice tends to “round out” the picture for us and provide a more satisfactory conclusion. People who bet a “lucky number” in a lottery and win, or who choose a winning horse by the color of the livery, may similarly choose to assign significance. Mind you, Mr. Handler has made allowance for the possibility of such psychological phenomena in his article, and I’m sure he would not try to point out this recalled event as proof of anything, so he’s “off the hook,” clearly…!




NOT JUST YET

Last week Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes wrote a letter to The New York Times. See randi.org/joom/content/view/142/27/#i9 for our brief comment on the matter which concerns him. He wrote:

wilson

Re “Green Light for Institute on Creation in Texas” (news article, Dec. 19):

I would like to be clear that there is no “green light.” There is a process for considering applications for authorization that the state follows with all applicants, and we are in the early stages of considering the Institute for Creation Research’s effort to offer online master’s degrees in science education.

The advisory panel’s report is just that – advisory – and as commissioner of higher education, I have the authority to accept, reject or modify its recommendations. I am reviewing the report and seeking more information and advice from scientists to evaluate the program and make recommendations to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on Jan. 24.

The board has the authority to accept, reject or modify my recommendations. So we are a long way from making a final determination in giving a green light.

The primary goal in reviewing the application is to consider whether the program will contribute to helping high-school students be successful in rigorous college science courses. In evaluating it, we will make certain Texas remains hospitable to high-quality science education and scientific research.

This is hardly a matter that can or should be submitted to any “board” for a vote. Would Commissioner Paredes’ board take under consideration the question of whether or not to leave cookies and milk for Santa Claus? That is just as legitimate a question. In my opinion, any program that is – right up-front – clearly not only unscientific, but anti-scientific – as creationism is – should not have to undergo deep thought and mulling over by a committee to decide whether it would be suitable for a science curriculum. Creationism is not part of science. It may be a part of philosophy or what Nobel-winning chemist Irving Langmuir, in his famous 1953 essay, dubbed “pathological science,” but it should not enter classrooms except as a religious subject.




PLAYING THE GOD CARD

Reader Frank Monaco quotes presidential candidate Mitt Romney on MSNBC:.

I was amazed that a potential leader of our country would say this:

The creator does deserve to be in the public square, that we are a nation that was founded based on principles of faith and we're not going to sweep that away and become a secular nation.

Adds Frank:

I thought we have always been a secular nation?

Gee, I thought so too, Frank. It just shows how we can be ignorant of the basics of democracy and the true structure of the system. Or perhaps Mitt Romney was just trying for a few votes from the terminally religious…?

Nah…

While we’re here, I’ll just express a personal opinion about this situation. I’ve been hearing so many pundits preach that the religious affiliation and the convictions of a candidate should not be matters brought into consideration by the voters. That’s ridiculous. Think: if religion is a paramount element in a candidate’s thinking, morality, behavior, decision-making, attitude, and philosophy, then it should be the major element to be considered by a voter! Heaven or Hell, survival into the Afterlife or Everlasting Torment, damnation or eternal bliss – these are paramount matters, aren’t they? In my mind, the turning point for my vote will be to select a candidate who I perceive as playing the I-love-God game solely in order to win – because he/she cannot win an election without embracing mythology, even if only cosmetically. If elected, that candidate just might be able to make a presidential decision based on evidence and rationality, rather than on an ancient and totally naïve book written by understandably uninformed authors…




SACCHARINE SOOTH

If you have 5 minutes and 49 seconds to be entertained by “Veronica” – not her favorite name, as she says, but one she adopts to more easily speak to lower-vibration folks like us – go to youtube.com/watch?v=g1ctJimXu2w and enjoy. An anonymous reader sent me there, saying that

We puny three dimensional beings can be and see so much more with the help of "VERONICA". Referenced web pages can be found at: InnerWhispers.info, and at AprilCrawford.info.

But be sure to brush your teeth immediately after. The sugary traces might cause caries…

If you’ve survived this, you might want to travel on to new heights of idiocy with these, sent in by a reader who found them through the "Science and Technology" category at YouTube. He comments:

I had welcomed the recent return of the "Science and Technology" category at YouTube that had been removed about a year ago. But it bothers me that videos like this end up in the category. Then I stumbled across this video: youtube.com/watch?v=6dvMGzCK7kM of another channeler in the "Science and Technology" category. I then discovered that this person has posted 860 videos since Aug 6, 2007. See youtube.com/profile?user=DesteniProductions. That's more than 6 videos per day. This person channels historical figures, celebrities, random people, animals, things. It's just too bizarre and sad. Here is just a very small sample of these:

youtube.com/watch?v=OMpNkAtJmo4 (The first video)
youtube.com/watch?v=1KSQ2wxEviU (A dog/girl in heaven)
youtube.com/watch?v=cFTmkgSesZo (Nostradamus)
youtube.com/watch?v=3oXZE0eoqUw (The first molecule in the Universe)
youtube.com/watch?v=yRJIuFWWCNc (Bees)
youtube.com/watch?v=GIdW-9P1rhc (Ingmar Bergman)
youtube.com/watch?v=O_Xah69uUsE (Mother Teresa)

I’m sure you won’t be able to look at all these, or want to, but maybe this could be a good school project on delusional pastimes for a student with very bad judgment?




TUNE IN

Reader/author Geoff Gilpin (see randi.org/joom/content/view/141/#i6) informs us:

Put some cosmic consciousness in your holiday with my upcoming interview on public radio. I’ll be appearing on “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” a program that airs on the NPR, PRI, and XM satellite networks. Dates and times vary by station, but most listeners will get the program on Sunday, December 30th. Check the following page for a list of stations and air times: www.wpr.org/book/stations.html.




STILL SCAMMING

From Wired.com we received a list of “The Top 10 Heartbreaking Gadgets of 2007,” and #2 on their list is the Steorn Company, which we referred to back at randi.org/jr/2007-07/070607steorn.html#i1. The item reads:

Eternal energy from the Emerald Isle, that's what Steorn promised us with Orbo. The Irish company pitched us a perpetual-motion machine that would change the world using "time-variant magneto-mechanical interactions." Instead we got a plastic wheel with dodgy bearings and a press conference full of so many blatant lies it embarrassed even us. Sure, we'd all love free energy, but handing a toy out to 22 hand-picked scientists isn't going to do it. We'd be better off tying a piece of buttered toast to the back of a cat and throwing the tandem out the window. And hey, at Wired News we obey the laws of thermodynamics!

Add to this another mention from Wired News as 2007 vanishes into history:

It's time again to inhale the fumes of failure. Every December, Wired News asks its readers to nominate their choices for our annual Vaporware awards. We hand out accolades (and raspberries) to the most-prized products that were promised but never delivered. Reader votes have helped whittle the list down to the top 10 honorees for the 2007 Podium of Shame. So, with a quick nod to this year's honorable mention – Iran's nuclear weapons program – let's savor the vapor, starting with the bottom of the short list.

#10. The Steorn Orbo:

At the close of 2006, the Dublin-based firm Steorn announced the creation of the Orbo, a magnetic motor device that generates free, constant energy. In other words, a perpetual-motion machine. Steorn claims its technology can be used in everything "from portable music players to cars.”

First law of thermodynamics be damned, Steorn planned a public demonstration for July 2007. The display was ultimately cancelled.

The company promises to eventually reveal the Orbo's inner workings, but Wired News reader Randomeis thinks he has it figured out: "It runs on the unlimited supply of VC (venture capitalist) gullibility."

You can see the incredible nerve still being exhibited and advertised by this company of Irish scam-artists at www.steorn.com. And they’ll still be here in 2009, when that rolls around…

Reader Jeff Snowden sends us to tinyurl.com/2rrlsk to read what he calls, “a classic example of True Believer diplomacy” contributed by a poster known as “Naked Robot” – who explains himself quite adequately…




MEDICAL MYTHOLOGY ADDRESSED

Courtesy of the Children’s Health Services Research, Indiana University School of Medicine, and the Regenstrief Institute – both of Indianapolis, Indiana – we now have a good examination of a number of rather well-accepted medical notions that may not be as firm as we’d thought. The seven immediately cited are:

1. People should drink at least eight glasses of water a day
2. We use only 10% of our brains
3. Hair and fingernails continue to grow after death
4. Shaving hair causes it to grow back faster, darker, or coarser
5. Reading in dim light ruins your eyesight
6. Eating turkey makes people especially drowsy
7. Mobile phones create considerable electromagnetic interference in hospitals.

The researchers wisely and carefully conclude:

Despite their popularity, all of these medical beliefs range from unproved to untrue. Although this was not a systematic review of either the breadth of medical myths or of all available evidence related to each myth, the search methods produced a large number of references. While some of these myths simply do not have evidence to confirm them, others have been studied and proved wrong.

Physicians would do well to understand the evidence supporting their medical decision making. They should at least recognize when their practice is based on tradition, anecdote, or art. While belief in the described myths is unlikely to cause harm, recommending medical treatment for which there is little evidence certainly can. Speaking from a position of authority, as physicians do, requires constant evaluation of the validity of our knowledge.

I’m particularly happy with numbers 2 and 7. Visit bmj.com/cgi/content/short/335/7633/1288 for the full discussion.




VIEWER COMMENTS…

The advent on YouTube of the Geller video from last week brought a number of interesting comments from viewers. Only seven are given here, with a few minor grammatical corrections, FYI:

Geller

The only benefit to the existence of Uri Geller is that his body acts as a natural carbon sink. Thanks Uri. Because of you, global warming is slightly slower than it otherwise would be.

I am legitimately saddened that Skeptics are the last ones protecting the sanctity of the enlightenment, its values of logic, the scientific method, and critical thinking. The fact that charlatans like Sylvia Browne, John Edward & Uri Geller are worth billions, and even our greatest mind, Randi, is worth a fraction of that, tells me very sad truths about what we value as a culture.

May we never forget what Randi does, and may we never lose our sense of logic!

Apparently he's about to come out and say he's been lying for the last 30+ years and try and slip into the magical society nice and quiet. That just AIN’T gonna happen, every magician everywhere knows all about him and his lies and NOBODY is going to forgive and forget just like that.

"A key can be displayed in such a way that it looks like it's bending. Just by stroking it, you'd swear that it's bending right up before your eyes. Magicians call this process ratcheting. But to do this, the key has to be bent in advance." – James Randi in [PBS “Nova”] "Secrets of the Psychics."

It’s videos like this and James Randi that make me not so disappointed in humanity and its logic.

It’s an illusion… it just appears as if it’s bending upwards, but in real life he is just inclining it.




THE SECRET’S OUT

spoon

At tinyurl.com/24yfsb the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper has just published a complete explanation of the spoon-bending trick so dear to Uri Geller, and I’m sure the fur will be flying in all directions. The explanation they provide is quite correct, though it doesn’t cover the spoon-breaking stunt. I wonder if they’d be interested in knowing about that, as well? I’m available…




VERY WISE WORDS

ARW

While watching a re-run of the 1996 BBC program, "Attenborough in Paradise" a wonderful documentary filmed in Papua New Guinea's jungles on the remarkable Birds of Paradise found there, I heard Sir David read a quotation from Alfred Russel Wallace, the man who proposed – in parallel with Charles Darwin – a theory of “natural selection.” While Wallace was a fully-developed woo-woo in regards to spiritualism and certain aspects of brain functions, he also wrote these perceptive words, dealing with the Birds of Paradise:

I thought of the long ages of the past, during which the successive generations of this little creature have run their course – year by year being born and living and dying amid these dark and gloomy woods with no intelligent eye to gaze upon their loveliness, to all appearances such a wanton waste of beauty… It seems sad, that on the one hand such exquisite creatures should live out their lives and exhibit their charms only in these wild inhospitable regions… This consideration should surely tell us that all living things were not made for Man. Many of them have no relation to him, their happiness and enjoyments, their loves and hates, their struggles for existence, their rigorous life and early death, would seem to be immediately related to their own well-being and perpetuation, alone.

Apparently, Sir Richard agreed with Wallace’s observation. He closed the program with the quotation, and merely added, “Indeed so.”




DO THIS

Go to tinyurl.com/yp8fjp for a Washington Post piece by Sally Quinn, read it, and then think about my contention that we’re already immersed in a full-blown theocracy…




NEATLY AND EVASIVELY DONE

Reader Jim Boskus sent us this:

I am writing to you because, once again, I have encountered quackery that needs to be challenged. I recently received a catalog as a supplement with our daily newspaper. This catalog is a listing of the classes being offered by the Duchess Association for Continuing Education, an organization that offers classes for all ages under the sponsorship of the local school district. One particular class got my attention. Here is the course description:

Course #9464 $75

Dowsing Human Energy Fields For Self Improvement and Well-Being – by John Carter, PhD, BCH, CI

This introductory course will teach you how to apply dowsing rods for assessing human energy fields, chakras, and blocks to attain the most appropriate levels for personal achievement and well-being. Learn techniques for assessments of emotional issues; addressing them, promoting strong and powerful frames of mind, and correcting the imbalances in the energy field. Wear loose fitting clothes, bring a pillow and a water bottle.

 

I was aghast that this organization would offer such a class under the guise of "education." I promptly fired off this email to the organization's Class Coordinator:

Good day Ms. Turcio,

I am writing because I have received the DACE catalog of classes being offered for Spring 2008, and there is one class that troubles me. On page 8 there is a description for a course titled "Dowsing Human Energy Fields." According to the catalog, this course will "teach you how to apply dowsing rods for assessing human energy fields." You will also "learn techniques for correcting the imbalances in energy fields."

I am curious as to how this nonsense is included in a course catalog that contains "education" in its name. In case you aren't aware, dowsing (for ANYTHING) has been repeatedly proven to be completely ineffective. There is ZERO EVIDENCE to demonstrate that dowsing works. In fact, if the instructor for this course (John Carter) can prove that he can detect "human energy fields" by dowsing he would be awarded ONE MILLION DOLLARS by the James Randi Educational Foundation (you can find the details at www.randi.org.

I am quite certain, however, that your instructor would not be able to demonstrate this ability in any sort of controlled environment. Did you even challenge him to prove that he has this remarkable power before scheduling this class? What if I told you that I could teach techniques that will allow you to communicate with fairies and leprechauns? Would you allow me to teach a class too? Well, this is no more outrageous than what your instructor can supposedly teach.

I find it incredible that the Arlington Central School District is sponsoring this garbage. What's next? Classes on woo-woo nonsense like "Communicating With Your Spirit Guide," "Techniques for Remote Viewing," or perhaps "How to Interpret Tarot Cards"?

"Teaching" bilge like dowsing has no place in a legitimate educational institution. Sponsoring a class like this gives credibility to the purveyors of this nonsense that they simply do not deserve. I hope you give more thought in the future as to the nature of your course offerings. I can only hope that no tax money was used in the promotion or presentation of this "class."

I just want to add that if you are not the person who approved this class, please let me know who did. I want to make sure I'm communicating with the right person.

I have yet to receive a reply. If you'd like, I'll forward to you any response that comes my way. I thought that perhaps this is something you could use in your weekly column. It's important that people realize there is a lot of work to do when it comes to promoting reason and rationality.

I answered Jim:

Yes, please let us know if you receive a response. My own communication sent to Ms. Turcio is shown here:

Ms. Turcio:

I hereby officially offer the million-dollar prize of the James Randi Educational Foundation to Dr. John Carter, who I understand will be offering a course for the DACE catalog of classes being offered for Spring 2008. If he can show in a simple, definitive, double-blind, test, that dowsing works – in any way that he prefers to demonstrate – the prize will be awarded.

This is a legitimate offer, which I predict Dr. Carter will turn down – and I ask you to consider why he would refuse to be tested, with a one-million-dollar prize to be so easily won...

Please refer to randi.org/joom/content/view/38/31/ for the details of the challenge.

Remember, I predict that Dr. Carter will decline to be tested. If I'm wrong, we will immediately set in motion a simple test of his claims.

As I’d expected, I had no response whatsoever to this offer. Then I heard again from Jim Boskus:

I finally received a reply from Karen Turcio. Here it is:

I am in receipt of your three emails as well as the one included from James Landi. Our continuing education program has a vast variety of programs to fit many different interests and is considered to be informational and/or recreational in nature. The Arlington Continuing Education Program is a self-supporting program. The program is funded solely by class fees and no taxpayer dollars are used.

Thank you for you concern. I trust that you will understand that taking classes is a matter of choice and the choices offered include areas that you may or may not believe in nor wish to participate in, but that there are others that do and will. I will keep your suggestions in mind when scheduling future semesters.

Sincerely, Karen Turcio Coordinator, Arlington Continuing Adult/Community Education Program

Yes, Ms. Turcio used “Landi,” I’m sure in innocent error, since she is obviously far removed from such matters as checking out the validity of doubtful claims…

Her response is pretty much what I expected. She doesn't address the issue at all. She merely talks about how their programs are "informational or recreational in nature." She also says that the classes offered "include areas that you may or may not believe in.” She fails to understand that my "beliefs" have nothing to do with it. The issue here is that they are offering a "class" where the instructor is making an unsubstantiated claim. How this falls under the guise of "education" escapes me.

I also notice that she does not respond to your challenge AT ALL.

I'll be following up on this and I'll let you know how things progress.

I don't know if she sent a reply to you or not. I'll probably respond to her, but since she works for a school district I'm guessing that she won't be back to work until after the New Year. At the very least I would like her to put me in contact with this "Dr. John Carter" who is the class instructor.

I find it interesting that she does not respond to my comments about dowsing being bunk. She just says that "the choices offered include areas that you may or may not believe in nor wish to participate in, but that there are others that do and will." So there you have it. If there are people who want to "learn" nonsense, then we'll teach it to them! Just incredible...

I'll keep you informed as to any future exchanges I have with her.

Well, Jim, I’m pretty sure that you’ll not hear another peep from “coordinator” Karen Turcio. She’s already provided you with one response and that’s more than the large majority of such officials choose to give such inquiries. Ms. Turcio is in a secure and comfortable position. She’s handled, with alacrity, your suggestion that tax money might have been misappropriated, but she has chosen to ignore the problem of whether or not the consumers of this service are being cheated, misled, or deceived; that’s not in her assigned list of duties. This is the attitude of many such low-level authorities, and probably always will be.

However, if a damaged consumer of these spurious services should sue, or if a higher-placed authority should choose to question the wisdom of Ms. Turcio’s decision, that would be a very different matter indeed. But relax, Ms. Turcio. You’re safe, and the consumers will spend their money, take their lumps and go away. The school system will happily take the income, and your job will be done.

Also, “Dr” Carter won’t notice any of this; he’ll just flounder around as always, perhaps even believing what he teaches, ignoring the million-dollar prize we’ve offered him for doing what he does as a profession – when he could just do it – to win a million dollars. And no one will wonder just why.

We know why.




IN CONCLUSION

When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain…?

Oh. Sorry. I’m rather carried away by the upcoming production of Shakespeare’s MacBeth conceived and directed by our friend Teller – of Penn & Teller – and artistic director Aaron Posner, which will run from January 15th through February 10th at the Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, New Jersey – my old stamping grounds. Ticket sales have been so brisk that the run has extended its winter production by eight more shows added to the original performance schedule.

But the answer to the question above, is, "next year." There will be a few startling announcements to be made next week… There was a high-level meeting of the JREF Executive Board last week, and there will be drastic changes at the Foundation.

Our talent lineup for TAM6 is due very shortly, and we’ve landed – as usual – some brilliant talent to attract you. TAM5.5 is still signing up folks from all over, and there’ll be some of the most astonishing magical talent there to confound you…

Happy Xmas, all, and have a wonderful 2008!