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SWIFT January 11, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

More Nonsense, Hoax Still Active, Plain and Simple - It's a Magic Charm, Welcome News, The Anouncement, Warning, Edward Down Under, Bagged Psychics, Pendulum Magic, A Surprise to Look Into, Oops!, He Should Know, Science-Based Medicine, Re 666, Sylvia Again, IQ Test, Justice Is Served, In Conclusion...

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Reader James Todd, Ph.D., with the Department of Psychology at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, comments on the continuing academic endorsement of the ridiculous “Facilitated Communication” [FC] notion as a means of treating autistic children. See www.randi.org/joom/content/view/121/27/#i1 for our most recent mention of this subject. Dr. Todd writes:

In case people are wondering, Nancy Cantor, Syracuse University Chancellor, has recently confirmed her FC true belief. I suppose that her appointing Douglas Biklen as Dean of the Syracuse College of Education, was probably enough to demonstrate that. But this nails it down.

In a speech delivered on September 7 this year, Cantor (a Stanford-trained Ph.D. in Psychology) stated:

Table of Contents
  1. More Nonsense

  2. Hoax Still Active

  3. Plain and Simple – It’s a Magic Charm

  4. Welcome News

  5. The Announcement

  6. Warning

  7. Edward Down Under

  8. Bagged Psychics

  9. Pendulum Magic

  10. A Surprise to Look Into

  11. Oops!

  12. He Should Know

  13. Science-Based Medicine

  14. Re 666

  15. Sylvia Again

  16. IQ Test

  17. Justice Is Served

  18. In Conclusion…



MORE NONSENSE

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Reader James Todd, Ph.D., with the Department of Psychology at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, comments on the continuing academic endorsement of the ridiculous “Facilitated Communication” [FC] notion as a means of treating autistic children. See www.randi.org/joom/content/view/121/27/#i1 for our most recent mention of this subject. Dr. Todd writes:

In case people are wondering, Nancy Cantor, Syracuse University Chancellor, has recently confirmed her FC true belief. I suppose that her appointing Douglas Biklen as Dean of the Syracuse College of Education, was probably enough to demonstrate that. But this nails it down.

In a speech delivered on September 7 this year, Cantor (a Stanford-trained Ph.D. in Psychology) stated:

Consider, for example, the work of Jamie Burke, an individual with autism, who was 15 years old when he began using facilitated communication, a technique developed and advocated by Douglas Biklen, a protégé of Blatt and now dean of the School. "I was a boy who had much intelligence but no voice," Jamie says in the documentary film he wrote and narrated, produced by Biklen. "Now I'm using my speech, it feels like freedom." And while the controversy about facilitated communication in the research literature in psychology and education never seems to tire, the compelling testimony to its power is written and rewritten in the stories of autistic individuals, turned public scholars, college students (including Jamie at Syracuse)...

This document can be seen at tinyurl.com/2nu4bt. Jamie Burke is now 21 years old. Dr. Todd continues:

Let me tell you about Jamie Burke. Burke can speak independently at about a 4-6 year-old-level. He reads (looks at, more likely) children’s picture books to occupy himself. I have personally spoken with him. He was well protected by his mother and a facilitator, who prevented him from saying very much with his own voice. After greeting me vocally, they made him push buttons on a speech synthesizer which uttered some pre-programmed statements. When he facilitates with his mother, he becomes a poet and philosopher. His mother stands behind him, holding both arms at the elbows, pushing his hands toward a laptop keyboard. He reads what he types with good accuracy and inflection. It is an impressive though creepy demonstration. Obviously, no one asked why he couldn’t just say it all in the first place. But it was all explained anyway. Supposedly he thinks so fast that he needs to type to slow himself down. He is one of the much-vaunted “two handed typists” the FC people like to talk about. He is also a genius with an IQ in the 130 range – so they say. Just thought you’d like to know.

This is just such total pseudoscientific nonsense that it borders on being criminal, in my opinion. As happens with so many of these children, a “facilitator” and/or a parent serves to prevent the child being properly examined and audited; it seems evident that they don’t want an observer to know the true extent of the autism. It’s obvious that Dr. Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Syracuse University, is uninformed in the art of reality, and has chosen to naively accept the Facilitated Communication notion – perhaps because it brings the university huge amounts of money? This claptrap has been tested time and again, and has always failed to be validated! (I was personally involved in such a test, and blocked at every turn from free access to the children involved; when I gained access, I learned what I needed to know, and it was enough for me to recognize the vacuity of the FC farce.) Still, parents of autistic children pour millions into the project because they’re desperate. That’s the sort of people who are sought out by those who recognize their vulnerability and want to – and do! – take advantage of it.

Where are the state and federal authorities who should be monitoring such activities? DOES ANYONE IN AUTHORITY CARE?

Apparently not.




HOAX STILL ACTIVE

Reader Leonard Hipp brings our attention to a full-page story that he saw recently on the back page of the “Health” section of the January 6th edition of the Asbury Park Press, in New Jersey. We covered this medical scam on SWIFT several times in the past, the latest being at www.randi.org/jr/2007-04/040607mi.html#i9. The original Gannet Publications article from which the Asbury Park Press piece was taken, can be seen at: www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080106/LIFE10/801060321. Writes Leonard:

I have seen links to this article already posted on other health-related message boards as well as forums dealing with medical problems such as fibromyalgia, for example. It has already gone beyond the people who might have seen it in the newspaper. This dangerous misinformation has spread to several other sources now!

As you know these ionic foot baths are a scam and you've talked about them before in a few of your articles. This article was written by Maggie Downs and appeared in the following Gannet Publications, but I would suspect it appeared in dozens more newspapers, and was just not re-printed on their websites:

Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, NJ, "Good Health By the Foot"

Delaware News Journal, Wilmington, DE "A whole-body detox in a foot bath"

Courier Post, Camden, NJ, "The Ions Have It"

The Desert Sun, Palm Springs, CA, "Fizzy foot bath claims to pull toxins out through your toes"

Poughkeepsie Journal, Poughkeepsie, NY, "Foot bath may clean body, too"

 

Here is an excerpt from a letter I fired off to Gannet Publications yesterday:

This irresponsible journalism is intolerable in my opinion. How many dozens (perhaps hundreds!) more newspapers was the article printed in? How many hundreds of desperate and gullible people will now go to one of these spas and lose their money on this scam because of these newspaper stories? It is quite dangerous to endorse this scam instead of seeking proper medical attention. The article quotes a spa owner diagnosing problems and giving medical advice without a medical license! Isn't this illegal, not to mention dangerous?

Of the many paragraphs devoted to the story, a SINGLE SENTENCE is rational: “The ionic foot bath has been criticized by some for being a hoax.”

WHY would Ms. Downs even bring this up without looking into those criticisms? If she had taken the time to look, she would have discovered the AMPLE evidence that it is indeed a well-known hoax! One simply has to run the bath WITHOUT feet in it to discover that the water still changes colors! The color is formed by oxidation of the motor parts, and is NOT TOXINS being pulled from the body as the article states!

 

I've joined the forums of all five of the above newspapers and pointed to information that exposes these baths as fraudulent, and I've contacted Gannet Headquarters in McLean, VA about it. Next step is a letter to the editors of each of the newspapers, and attempts at contacting Maggie herself to ask if she might set the record straight by testing one of these baths herself! I'll keep you posted on what I hear.

We thank Mr. Hipp for actually speaking out on such a matter. These “foot baths” are strictly fraudulent, and as he points out, the author of that misleading Gannet article could have discovered that fact by just a few keystrokes on the Internet.

But that would have spoiled a sensational story – the sort upon which these services thrive – and the truth had to be ignored to avoid that possibility.




PLAIN AND SIMPLE – IT’S A MAGIC CHARM

Reader Lior Dagan observes:

It happened a while back, but I thought that this is something that the JREF community should know about.

A year and a half ago, Israel and Lebanon went to war after two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped while being in Israeli territory. The kidnapping was preceded by bombing of a few small villages. A war broke out, and several tens of Israeli soldiers died – as in any war. jwn

Ovadia Yosef, the Israeli leader of the religious party Shas, spoke a few months ago in one of his after-Saturday speeches, which are known to now and then offend parts of the Israeli public. This time he had figured out why the Israeli soldiers died in that war. It had nothing to do with the idiotic commands that the Ministry of Defense sent, or with the fact that there are no zero-casualty wars. They died because they did not wear the Tfilin! The Tfilin is an artifact worn when a Jew prays to God. Secular soldiers do not wear this at all, as they do not pray. The conclusion is, of course, that they weren't religious enough, and so they became KIA.

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Randi comments: The tfilin (tefilin, tefillin, etc.) are a pair of small boxes – usually black – containing Hebrew text, very much like other “charms” from other religions, with sacred words inscribed. One is bound to the arm, as shown, the other to the forehead.

This is amazing! The Rabbi just said that he who wears a Tfilin should be "bullet proof"! Why didn't anyone from the I.D.F. figure this sooner? And why didn't he, as well, one who has lived in Israel at least since the fifties, and has seen Israel go through several wars?

This is the time to remember Lt. Klein from the "Egoz" reconnaissance unit, who died after throwing himself prone on a grenade, to save his soldiers from death. He was a devout Jew, and he did wear the Tfilin three times a day, in freezing temperatures, and very high heat, sometimes at expense to his sleep, which is a rare commodity for any combatant soldier. He had to sacrifice a lot to do what the evil Rabbi Yosef said that he didn't. Rabbi Yosef, after a scandal broke, said that "he loves the IDF soldier with a great love." This does say, of course that he apologizes to religious Jewish soldiers, who died so that he could ride in his BMW 750 and speak evil, stupid words whenever he wants.

P.S. My atheist brother-in-law, who removed mines and booby-traps in this war, came from the war unscathed. He does recall not wearing a Tfilin for a VERY long time. But that – according to the Rabbi – is very unlikely.




WELCOME NEWS

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From colleague Phil Plait – The Bad Astronomer – comes reassuring news. As usual, media outlets around the globe have begun beating the drums and sounding the sirens over yet another dire End-of-the-World scenario that has an asteroid wiping out our planet on the 29th of this month. Yawn. Phil tells us that this is actually an exaggeration, if you can believe that! He writes, on his very interesting page – at www.badastronomy.com – these calming words:.

This is interesting: an asteroid named 2007 TU24 will pass roughly 560,000 kilometers (330,000 miles) from the Earth on January 29, 2008. That’s close enough to be interesting, but far enough not to worry about it. Funny coincidence: that’s almost the same time that [asteroid] 2007 WD5 will pass very close to Mars. The odds of a Mars impact are still not zero, but there is no chance at all of TU24 hitting us.

I don’t usually track such news, but I actually found out about this at Digg.com, where some folks were digging up a misleading video about the asteroid. The video wasn’t hugely popular, but it’s had a few thousand viewings, which isn’t bad. I have some beefs with it, and I think they point to some misconceptions people have about asteroids.

First, though, the video is a bait-and-switch to talk about how Ron Paul isn’t getting press. OK, feh… But the science, too, is misleading. The first thing the video author shows is the well-known asteroid Ida, claiming that it’s TU24, which is incorrect.

pic Then he shows how close it will pass, with a grossly misleading graphic of the Earth and Moon sitting right next to each other, making it look like this asteroid will just barely miss us. Make no mistake: this is a pretty close pass for an asteroid, but it has no chance at all of hitting us, so it’s no big deal. Looking at the list of recent and upcoming close approaches by asteroids (http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/, you can see this one is one of the nearest for a while, but there are many other near misses… stress the word "miss."

In the description, he also says:

It will be 1.37 Lunar Distances from earth on January 29, 2008. Let’s hope they’re right. Gauging trajectory on something coming right at you isn’t easy.

Nope, it’s not heading right for us. It’s heading to a point in space where the Earth will be on January 29. Actually, it’s headed to a point in space more than half a million kilometers from where the Earth will be at that time. Either way, that spot in space is currently more than 60 million kilometers (40 million miles) away from us right now; a fair ways off. So actually, getting the orbit is just a matter of getting good observations, like it usually is.

Asteroids are a real threat, and need to be taken seriously. This video – and the way I see the media treat the threat in general – in my opinion, make matters somewhat worse. Perhaps I’m hammering this particular video a little hard, but to me it represents a whole class of misleading coverage of asteroids. And c’mon, if you want to make a point, just make it. (Mis)using astronomy this way isn’t helping any.

Phil’s new book, “Death From the Skies,” will be out soon, and of course available through the JREF. And if you’re not already a subscriber to his page, go to www.badastronomy.com, scroll down the right margin to find a small spot: “Read Bablog via e-mail,” and click in… Why Phil hides this spot so carefully, no one knows…




THE ANNOUNCEMENT

We’ve had a heavy reaction to last week’s announced upcoming termination of the JREF Million-Dollar Challenge, both in personal e-mails, phone calls, and in the postal mail. Comments have run both pro and con – no surprise there. But there have been a few misunderstandings expressed by readers.

First, I see suggestions being made that funding could be raised to replace the million dollars, as if that sum was required to keep the JREF afloat. Not so. We support the JREF through private gifts, bequests, sales of books and videos, and lecture fees. The burden of the challenge is the work and time required to handle the long-drawn-out negotiations with persons who – frankly – are frequently not resident in a real world. I say that in an understanding tone, since it’s evident that they do not see the need for comprehensive and carefully-designed testing procedures, and we’ve had to walk them through the process of developing a view of how Nature actually works, and how they may have misunderstood that complicated process.

Second, we never thought, for a moment, that the “Big Fish” out there – persons such as James Van Praagh, John Edward, Sylvia Browne, even Uri Geller – might actually step forward to be tested on their claims. The purpose of the challenge has always been to provide an arguing basis for skeptics to point that the claimants just won’t accept the confrontation. And, an added advantage to the challenge was that it could serve to show the amateurs – those genuinely self-deluded but convinced of their abilities – that as described in the previous paragraph, they might be looking at the world through a fuzzy lens…

The bottom line is: The JREF has made its point – week after week – for 10 years, and now we have two years until this generous offer will end. We have to ask: how long are we expected to wait for a miracle?

And if you needed any more evidence that those who loudly accept the JREF million-dollar challenge speak with forked tongue, go to tinyurl.com/24ojlt and see what Audioholics Online A/V Magazine has to say about the comedy generated by Michael Fremer and Adam Blake, who have precipitously backed out of proving their claim that Pear Anjou speaker cables can be differentiated from ordinary cables. Yes, it’s a tired old horse, and very dead, but it’s good to see that responsible audiophile authorities are able to see just what a farce such a matter can become.

Thank you, David Waratuke and Audioholics…!




WARNING

In last weeks “Comments” following SWIFT, reader “Chris C” mentioned a commercially-available trick named “Hypno Heat” which accomplished the effect described under the item “Another Conversion” (see www.randi.org/joom/content/view/144/27/#i12.) Here is the cover of the circa-1989 8-page book that accompanied the trick, though the instructions erroneously refer to “tin-foil” as the material to use; no, it’s aluminum foil, though they state that “just about any foil will work.” Untrue.

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The company, Viking-Haenchen Manufacturing Company of McAllen, Texas, shows its currently available products at www.vikingmagic.com/?nd=dept, and “Hypno-Heat” is conspicuously absent. One wonders if someone might have been poisoned by this very dangerous and highly toxic product, or if they just wisely decided to withdraw it from the market. Though “Chris C” also opines that no chemical tests would reveal whether a mercuric compound might have been used, a simple test is to dissolve the resulting ashes in water, and place a very clean bit of copper into it. The resulting silvery deposit on the copper proves the presence of mercury.

But – another and more common method is also used for this trick, one that’s somewhat less dangerous but still not safe. Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is common lye, a powerful alkali, with a “pH” – hydrogen exponent – of a full 14, as alkaline as anything can get. You see, a very thin layer of aluminum oxide – Al2O3 or corundum – forms immediately on aluminum when the metal is exposed to air, and that layer – very hard and chemically identical to sapphire or ruby – protects the metal from further oxidizing. When aluminum oxidizes, it is a powerful exothermic reaction. When corrosive lye is in contact with aluminum, that thin layer is dissolved, and oxygen can reach the surface. That means the aluminum generates great heat and literally consumes itself as long as the lye lasts. A small bit of lye rubbed together with aluminum foil and a trace of water, produces heat quickly and can begin to smoke right away and burn up.

The big drawback to the lye method is that the chemical has a soapy feel, which must be avoided because it means that your flesh is being turned into soap – not a nice way to go…!




EDWARD DOWN UNDER

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I’ve refrained until now from reporting the recent farce that took place in Australia where the family of the late TV star Steve Irwin – “The Crocodile Hunter” – actually called in “dead-speaker” John Edward to contact the spirit of this ebullient character who so charmed us across the world with his capers and his very educational commentary. I was awaiting a definitive report of this event, and happily, I now have the following account written by a SWIFT reader who appears to have an excellent grasp of what transpired:

My name is Glenn Davey. I’m a 24-year-old from Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been looking for an excuse to drop you a line for about a month and a half now, as your work has not only put the final nail in the coffin of all my previous questionable and irrational beliefs, but provided hours of “edu-tainment”! A flow-on effect from this is that my girlfriend has also questioned and revised her own beliefs. When I announced to her that I was a Bright, I showed her your 2003 article “Why I Deny Religion, How Silly and Fantastic It Is, and Why I'm a Dedicated and Vociferous Bright” – which made a very positive impression on her, so thank you for your writing!

Unfortunately, it seems that for every couple of light bulbs that ping on, there is a multitude of others who are sitting in the dark. The purveyors of woo-woo like attaching themselves to other notable figures for the press it provides. The least of these is the nicest-dern-guy in the clap-trap game, John Edward, who made an appearance the other day at Australia Zoo, the wildlife park of the late Steve Irwin (see www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,23013062-952,00.html). Edward plied his trade before 4,500 animals-and-psychics-lovers at AU$90 per head. At a total of $405,000 (over $360,000 US) this was a lucrative endeavour on behalf of the marketing teams behind both Edward and the Irwins.

When asked if they’d had a private “reading” with Edward, Steve’s widow Terri smiled and nodded. Steve’s father later added:

There's no doubt that Steve was with us. It's not black and white, it's grey, but there is a definite Steve energy that is unmistakable.

Hmm, “not black and white, it’s grey” sounds like there is some doubt whether Steve was there or not. I’m sure that Edward was unmistakably doing his part by imagining up all kinds of thoughtful messages from “Steve” based on the massive amount of research he would have been able to do before this engagement. Mannerisms, thoughts, quotes, would all have been available from video footage available to anyone. Naturally, Terri and Bob Irwin, as invested believers-and-grievers, did their part to read everything into it the session that they wanted to get out of it.

Steve fans were left hanging, though, as Edward made no attempt to contact him on the “other side” during his performance at Australia Zoo:

I've been waiting all week and as a fan of John Edward I was sure he'd bring Steve through to us.

 

So said one disappointed mother of two. I see this as simply a deft business move by Edward. Steve is a well-known and beloved character, here and in the US and other countries. For most, I think, it may be believable that Edward contacted Steve in a private, exclusive reading, but if he came out and did it on record, before an audience, he would be open to much more scrutiny. Any “message” he transmitted would be printed as headlines across the country the next morning. The media do hunger for them sound-bites, after all. No, that would have been Too Much Exposure, whereas John seeks Just Enough Exposure – such as this newspaper article – to keep business rolling over.

Once again we see that Edward is just another unethical guy with a product to sell to anyone who will buy it, and you can attribute everything he does – and the rest of the charlatans – to straight-up business decisions. What is maddening is that supernatural belief still exists in society despite those like Uri Geller and Sylvia Browne being so phenomenally atrocious at what they do! They perform so poorly and make such poor business decisions that it is even more damning on modern culture that they make as much money as they do!

It says a lot about how far the sceptical movement has to go. I aim to actively join the tide of rationality. One day soon I may even have the joy of patronising an Amaz!ng Meeting. Meanwhile I will write and study and do what I can to further education. I like people, and I love our universe. For the human mind, I hold equal parts fascination and disgust. Perhaps we just need to evolve a little further? At any rate, I believe we’re worth fighting for.

Glenn, I agree with you about Edward’s calculated decision not to “contact” Steve Irwin before witnesses. He knows that his “in camera” – private – audience will only report guesses that worked, because they not only want Edward to be successful, they need him to succeed, so that their false hopes are encouraged and their favoured delusions are satisfied.

Thank you for this report.




BAGGED PSYCHICS

banachek

A 79-year-old “psychic” named Sophie Evon, a Canadian citizen who fled prosecution in Seattle, ended up on a most-wanted-fugitive list in Canada, and after being sought for more than eight years, she was finally identified and arrested. She was ordered extradited back to the USA, and when her appeal against extradition was denied, she fled from house arrest, but was eventually caught again and sentenced to 1½ years in prison nearly nine years after tricking a lovesick woman – a recent immigrant from China – into turning over her life savings to win back her boyfriend.

Evon and her daughter-in-law, Sylvia Lee, ran a business called “Ms. Lee's Psychic and Astrology Readings.” They’d met their victim at a video store in the summer of 1999 and persuaded her that she needed a $300 "spiritual cleansing" to help her win back her former boyfriend. But that amount was quickly increased. As usual with these schemes, and despite the victim’s expressed doubts, she withdrew more than $200,000 cash from her savings account and her parents' retirement account and entrusted it to the two con artists. Needless to say, when the victim returned for a scheduled appointment with Evon and Lee two days later, she found that the “psychics” and the money were gone.

Sylvia Lee, a U.S. citizen, was extradited to Washington and was convicted there by a jury on three counts of first-degree theft committed in 2001, and sentenced to 18 months in prison.




PENDULUM MAGIC

Reader Benjamin E., in Germany, shares a story with us:

I've been a reader of your commentary for several months now and enjoy it every time, because the news and stories you present make me laugh so hard, though I sometimes feel frustrated about the so widespread dullness in Western society.

I recently experienced how it feels to have contact with a person you would call a “quack,” but I was not in the situation to show her what I think about her beliefs. Let me explain: I'm 21 years old and live in a town in the Black Forest in the south of Germany. Since 2006, I'm a trainee hearing aid acoustician.

Some days ago, an elderly lady came to our store and wanted to have new hearing aids. She already had a pair, which was over 10 years old and therefore really out of date. So we updated her audiogram – a diagram which shows how a person can hear, and thus builds the basis of the later fitting of a hearing aid – and started normal counseling, as we do with every client. After having explained the price range and the different technological abilities of hearing aids, we offered her a non-binding test of several pairs of hearing aids which seemed to be suitable, each of them for about a week.

Then she told us that she would be leaving the country in three weeks for several months of development assistance. She really impressed me with this kind active life that only a few of that age still have. At a later meeting, it turned out that she had also built up a kindergarten somewhere in Eastern Europe with her capital, so she couldn't test more than one pair of hearing aids, bearing in mind delivery time and the decision of the health insurance company – and therefore she could not compare the hearing aids.

“But don't worry,” she said, “I've got a way of making the decision without comparing. Just bring me some brochures of your manufacturers.” And so we did. She pulled out a little sack with a string on it and started swinging this like a pendulum over the brochures and asked the pendulum which product would come into question. I don't know what she thought she was doing exactly, whether she was asking a ghost, a demon, an angel or some kind of god, but I'm sure, this person must have had hearing aids for ages, because she found out that one company, which is chosen very often by other clients, was absolutely horrible and that another one would be okay, if the hearing aids would not cost more than €1900 – and so on.

After 15 minutes, she had made her decision: a pair of “behind-the-ear” (BTE, in contrast to the “in-ear” models that most Americans prefer) hearing aids from a German manufacturer for about €3,400 was the pendulum’s favorite. She also had a pair of ten- year-old ear moulds, which normally would have been replaced by a pair of new ones, but the pendulum told her that this was not necessary.

So we ordered the hearing aids the pendulum wanted her to have, adjusted them at a second meeting for her hearing loss and gave them to her for a test week. The decision-meeting will be next Monday, but she is surely going to buy the hearing aids, because she would otherwise have to accuse the pendulum of having lied to her...

I can assure you, it was very difficult not to laugh when I saw this lady swinging her sack-thingy over our counter, but remaining silent in this case meant over €3,000 for my company. Ironically, I can't even think of purchasing products of this cost, because it's more than I earn in a year – but she decides just not to think, and lets her rheumatism decide about it...

Benjamin, I’m sure that anything you might have said to this customer would – pardon the pun – fall on deaf ears. She’s satisfied that she has mysterious forces working for her, and she enjoys that more than knowing the realities of the world…

Another observation, Benjamin: If you’re making less than €3,000 a year, I want to know your secret of survival…!




A SURPRISE TO LOOK INTO

It’s just been trumpeted that a recent study has apparently demonstrated that the use of a localized static magnetic field of moderate strength can result in significant reduction of tissue swelling when applied immediately after an inflammatory injury! I find this not only very interesting, but highly doubtful, and I’m of course eager to hear more. As long ago as the early days of Greek civilization, magnets have been touted for their healing properties, and are still widely advertised today as an “alternative/complementary” method of treating a number of conditions from arthritis to depression, but so far, there hasn’t been scientific proof that magnets can actually heal.

Until now.

We now have Thomas C. Skalak, Ph.D., professor and chair of biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia, and currently President of the Biomedical Engineering Society, claiming to have proof that magnets work in this respect! Professor Skalak isn’t just any ordinary scientist, either. He’s been active in cardiovascular and biomedical engineering research and training for over fifteen years at the University, and his research efforts are directed in two major areas: biomechanics of microvascular structure, function, and adaptation, and engineering of wound prevention and repair. In fact, he’s also the Director of the Center for Engineering of Wound Prevention and Repair, which is funded by a private foundation. He aims to

…link clinical problems in wound repair with state-of-the-art scientific tools and engineering technologies to understand and modify the cellular events involved in this process.

Due to lack of proper regulation and widespread public acceptance of quackery, “magnetic therapy” has become a $5 billion world market. Consumers eagerly buy pendants, bracelets, knee braces, bandages, shoe inserts, mattresses, pillows, and other products that are said to be embedded with magnets, hoping for a non-invasive and drug-free cure to their aches and pains. Until Dr. Skalak hove into view, this was all based only on anecdotal evidence. On one point I cannot argue with Dr. Skalak, when he says:

The FDA regulates specific claims of medical efficacy, but in general static magnetic fields are viewed as safe.

Yes, and so are homeopathy and prayer “safe,” in that respect. The important question is: does it really work?

Well, we’re told that Dr. Skalak has been studying magnets for a number of years in order to “develop real scientific evidence about the effectiveness of magnetic therapy.” To me – as an amateur – the only correct attitude here would be, to study magnets in order to discover whether or not they are effective in this respect, not to develop evidence that they are – but I quibble.

In any case, Skalak’s lab used a five-year, $875,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, to investigate the major claim made by companies that sell magnets: that magnets increase blood flow. This notion seems to have arisen from the fact that red blood – as opposed to some blue and green liquids that other life-forms have flowing in their bodies – contain hemoglobin, which is C738H1166N812O203S2Fe, in humans. Note the single iron atom – Fe – among those other 2,921 atoms in this very complex molecule. That means, the theory goes, that hemoglobin can be affected by a magnet – even a stationary one. Duh. No, that doesn’t happen, friends.

Now, I’m always willing to be shown. Researchers working with Dr. Skalak’s lab support their claim through research with lab rats. In their initial studies, they report, magnets of the strength of about 10 times the common “refrigerator” variety were placed near the rat’s blood vessels. Now, such a magnetic device is extremely weak. Its field drops off to next-to-zero just a few millimeters away from its surface, yet the Skalak researchers say that they found the magnets had the effect of dilating and constricting the vessels, and that they could induce vessel relaxation in tissues with constrained blood supply, ultimately increasing blood flow. I find this claim to be incredible.

The lab results are published in the November 2007 issue of the American Journal of Physiology. If any sufficiently qualified reader can explain/interpret to me the contents of that report, I would be most grateful. I find it difficult to evaluate the protocol – particularly whether it was done strictly double-blinded, which could make all the difference, of course. Both rats and scientists can be fooled…

Dr. Skalak already has plans to continue testing the effectiveness of magnets through clinical trials and testing in elite athletes. Now I must applaud that, so long as proper double-blind evaluations are employed in all phases. The scientist says:

We now hope to implement a series of steps, including private investment partners and eventually a major corporate partner, to realize these very widespread applications that will make a positive difference for human health.

I will look forward to developments in this matter with great interest.




OOPS!

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A reader has sent me to www.2007rapture.com/index.php, where I discovered just how difficult this prophecy business is, not to mention the Message-Straight-from-God angle. A Floridian named Shelby Corbitt, who firmly predicted The Rapture (you know, the suddenly-floating-up-to-Heaven business) for last year, now has to explain how either she – or God – got it wrong. She closes his 6,800-word explanation with this comforting note, apparently forgetting to correct the year of her revelation:

Keep in touch with this website, I will post all messages and information from God as I get it. Until God says something new keep doing what He has already said to do.

God does not want anyone left behind. He gives us free will. We choose our own destiny. If you make bad choices, you will have to suffer the consequences. You will be held accountable for an ungodly lifestyle – God loves you so much. He just wants you to love Him back by doing and living the way He says is right. He will not force Himself on you. You must choose to recieve [sic] Him. Get ready for the return of Jesus NOW, 2007.

Shelby’s message was appended with this ominous notice:

You have exceeded your daily limit.

Okay, but limit of what? Patience…?




HE SHOULD KNOW

Did you ever wonder what Pope Benedict thinks about global warming? He made a telling intervention in the recent Bali conference, releasing a message prepared for World Peace Day fully three weeks earlier than scheduled, just to emphasize the point. He said:

Any solutions to global warming must be based on firm evidence and not dubious ideology.

On rare occasions, words fail me. This is such an occasion.




SCIENCE-BASED MEDICINE

From skeptic Dr. Harriet Hall, MD – “SkepDoc” – comes this:

To all my friends and correspondents: I'm proud to announce a new blog devoted to science-based medicine. It is a joint effort of 5 MDs, (Steven Novella, Kimball Atwood, David Gorski, Wallace Sampson, and Harriet Hall) each taking one day of the week, with occasional guest authors. I will be posting an entry every Tuesday; my first one went up today – a book review of Snake Oil Medicine:

Science-Based Medicine is a new daily science blog dedicated to promoting the highest standards and traditions of science in medicine and health care. The mission of this blog is to scientifically examine medical and health topics of interest to the public. This includes reviewing newly published studies, examining dubious products and claims, providing much needed scientific balance to the often credulous health reporting, and exploring issues related to the regulation of scientific quality in medicine…. The authors are all medically trained and have spent years writing for the public about science and medicine, tirelessly advocating for high scientific standards in health care. Together, and with contributions from other medical science writers, they will turn a critical eye toward all issues relating to science and medicine. They hope to make the Science Based Medicine blog a vital resource for consumers, providers, regulators, the media, and anyone interested in quality health care.

We will be carrying on our fight against quackery and pseudoscience, but we hope the blog will be much more than that. See www.sciencebasedmedicine.org




RE 666

Reader Robert Lennartz tells us:

Your piece on the changing of the Allen Parish telephone prefix from 666 reminded me of an incident in a video store. I rented an older DVD and a more recent one and it turns out the total for this combination came to $6.66. I made some joke about this to the clerk. He informed me that when this total occurs – which it commonly does – some customers then will take action (such as purchasing candy) to change the total from that number. It would be interesting (but perhaps disheartening) to know the percentage of customers who do this.

I did not ask him for an estimate.




SYLVIA AGAIN

On the FARK forum, at forums.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=3305688, “SpankyPinkbottom” (?) contributed this comment re the coming discontinuation of the JREF prize:

Intercom: Paging Sylvia Brown - please pick up the white courtesy phone. You only have two years left to claim your million bucks.

Sylvia: You're thinking of an “D” or a “T.” Do you have a relative named Frank?

Hotel worker: No. I'm just here to point you toward the courtesy telephone.

Sylvia: Does Frank have a phone?

Hotel worker: I don't know any Frank.

Sylvia: Check with your parents, dear. And you really should take more zinc.

Hotel worker: You need to call Mr. Randi. The courtesy phone...

Sylvia: It's in the hallway. I know.

Hotel worker: No, it's in the break room with the vending machines.

Sylvia: Well, I obviously need to go through the hallway to get to the break room. Little white plastic phone on the wall, next to the soda machine, right?

Hotel worker: No, it's red and it's on the center table. Look, if you'll just go down the hall...

Sylvia: Is the table made of zinc?

Hotel worker: I'm getting my manager.

And, speaking of Sylvia and 2008 prophecies, take a gander at tinyurl.com/3a7jq2.




IQ TEST

Q. How do you make holy water?

A. Boil the hell out of it.




JUSTICE IS SERVED

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On November 22nd, 2002, we first ran a SWIFT item here about the ridiculous “Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet.” (See www.randi.org/jr/112202.html and do a search for “Q-Ray.”) At long last, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission [FTC] has closed down the operation of this Illinois-based Q-Ray Co. and its owner, Que Te Park. In the more than five years since we brought it to public attention, Mr. Park has sold literally millions of these pieces of junk jewelry, all over the world – at prices ranging from $60 to $190, with a “deluxe” model going for $300. But these toys were not offered or advertised as jewelry; they were sold as cure-alls for the ailing, for athletes, and for the elderly. Extensive tests in labs all over the world quickly discovered that there was no “ionization” involved, and no therapeutic effects at all, yet Park continued to peddle his products freely.

The scheme all started to unravel back on September 6, 2006, when the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois found that the Q-Ray bracelet vendors were in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. Having vast financial resources, Park and his gang easily obtained an appeal order, which happily for us came into the hands of Judge Frank Easterbrook, the Chief Judge of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. More about this man, up ahead.

Questioned before investigators, Que Te Park testified that his term “ionization” as applied to the bracelet, had no scientific meaning, and that he had no idea what the phrase “ionization performance” meant. Park had simply made up a theory that the bracelet works like acupuncture, or Eastern medicine. He had no testing or studies to support his theory, and there was no scientific evidence to that effect presented in court. The Q-Ray bracelet was marketed as an “ionized bracelet” as part of a scheme devised by Park and the corporate defendants to defraud consumers out of millions of dollars by preying on their need to find a simple solution for alleviating physical pain.

Not surprisingly, the court ordered reimbursement in a minimum amount of $22.5 million up to a maximum of $87 million. Then Park’s appeal was entered, and eventually was considered by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. In his just-announced decision on this matter, Judge Easterbrook wrote that the Q-Ray's claims about how the bracelets were supposed to work – through "enhancing the flow of bio-energy" – were nonsense. He added:

Defendants might as well have said: Beneficent creatures from the 17th dimension use this bracelet as a beacon to locate people who need pain relief and whisk them off to their home world every night to provide help in ways unknown to our science.

Well stated, Judge! Evidence from tests of this bracelet had already shown conclusively that it does not receive, retain, nor emit any sort of electrical charge, nor does it have any properties different from any other bracelet made of the same metals. It’s just a piece of pretty junk.

My question: What does it take to get our FTC to act promptly on evidence? Did they wait this long so that Mr. Park and his associates would have sufficient assets to retire comfortably? We wouldn’t want out-of-business jewelry peddlers laying about the streets and looking for welfare assistance, would we? Such inertia by a federal bureau is just impossible to understand, in my opinion. We have an FTC that is simply indolent, incompetent, or stupid – and don’t give me the tired old song-and-dance routine about insufficient staffing and/or funding. There’s a solution for that: hire Judge Frank Easterbrook to do the job.

The FTC – as a result of the denial of the appeal – now says that the Q-Ray peddlers have been ordered to turn over US$16 million in profits, which will be paid out in refunds to consumers for false advertising, and they must pay up to $87 million in refunds to those consumers, as Easterbrook said in his decision, issued Jan. 3. Q-Ray is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.




IN CONCLUSION

I continue to be fascinated by the frailty of human recollection. We so confidently tell stories about events that took place years and years ago, only to find – often – that the details have become transformed in subtle ways in our memories. As Stanley Kaufmann of The New Republic has observed:

What is memory? Not a storehouse, not a trunk in the attic, but an instrument that constantly refines the past into a narrative, accessible and acceptable to oneself.

This last week, a visitor from my youth dropped by unexpectedly at the JREF. His name is David Gardner, a well-known actor in Canada. As we sat and reminisced about long-ago events in our lives, his recollections showed me just how fuzzy my own probably were. Every now and then he'd come up with a fact or a figure that rather jarred me, though I tried to give no visible indication of that alarm. I've been made increasingly aware of this problem as Kim, assigned by Penn – of Penn and Teller – to gather together the facts of my early life, has come up with startling differences between my versions of various events, and the versions of both the media and other acquaintances.

Of course, making honest mistakes is not lying. As the years pass, that marvelous chunk of gray jelly located behind the eyes loses details and sharpness – something we should all expect, I must warn you. I have before me the current issue of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation Newsletter, and therein can be found the most outrageous, cruel, malfunctions of justice and the legal system. Until you begin to understand the problems experienced by victims of those who have been accused of everything from rape to murder of children due to Satan worship involvement, you have not begun to comprehend the idea of injustice. I strongly recommend that you visit www.FMSFonline.org to learn more about this situation. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation – a 501(c)3 charity – is manned by dedicated directors who can certainly use your support. You can also send a message to pjf@cis.upenn.edu to receive electronic versions of their newsletter as well as notices of upcoming radio and television broadcasts about the Foundation.

That's all for this week. Next week, we'll be reporting about a planned visit to Germany where we will be preparing a definitive video explaining to the public what's been happening in that country via TV and a Mr. Uri Geller. As they say, stay tuned…

The TAM5.5 event is coming up on the 26th, and we still have room for more. To register or for more information visit: http://www.randi.org/joom/content/view/48/39/

 


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