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SWIFT January 18, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Geller Reversal, The Law Is a Ass, It’s All in the Mind, That Magnet Claim From Last Week, Highway of Holiness, Dowsing Update, Remember TM?, Good Comment, Miracle Substance For Sale, The Q-Ray Swindle in Canada, In Closing…

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Didn’t I tell you that Uri Geller, due to the recent exposures of his tricks on YouTube and on live TV, was no longer able to support the mythology that he is psychic, and now has to back away from the firm claims to genuine psychic power that he’s made for the last 35 years? Well, he’s done so. Reader Stefan Pochmann writes:

At youtube.com/watch?v=zGrn1IkMXbE you can see Geller in a recent German show completely failing to guess a picture of a square with four dots in it. Then at 2:14 into the video he explains:

Table of Contents
  1. Geller Reversal

  2. The Law Is a Ass

  3. It’s All in the Mind

  4. That Magnet Claim From Last Week

  5. Highway of Holiness

  6. Dowsing Update

  7. Remember TM?

  8. Good Comment

  9. Miracle Substance For Sale

  10. The Q-Ray Swindle in Canada

  11. In Closing…



GELLER REVERSAL

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Didn’t I tell you that Uri Geller, due to the recent exposures of his tricks on YouTube and on live TV, was no longer able to support the mythology that he is psychic, and now has to back away from the firm claims to genuine psychic power that he’s made for the last 35 years? Well, he’s done so. Reader Stefan Pochmann writes:

At youtube.com/watch?v=zGrn1IkMXbE you can see Geller in a recent German show completely failing to guess a picture of a square with four dots in it. Then at 2:14 into the video he explains:

Sometimes when I do things, this is not a trick. Do you understand me?

Interesting comment! This implies that he sometimes has a miracle happen in his hands, though he usually uses trickery. He’s got to keep some woo-woo in there, it seems… I must add that the reason Geller didn’t come up with the identity of the sealed drawing, just might be that it was prepared by the highly-skeptical host without Geller being present (see randi.org/jr/12-15-2000.html for the Geller method) and the spoons, etc., were kept away from him, too. But, Geller did manage to minimally bend a key, by his usual method, which was quite visible on camera.

Then in November of 2007, in an interview with Magische Welt (Magic World) he said, clearly and plainly:

I’ll no longer say that I have supernatural powers. I am an entertainer. I want to do a good show. My entire character has changed.

No, Mr. Geller, just because you’ve run out of options and have to retreat, your character hasn’t changed at all. You’re still the man who lied – for 35+ years – to the media, to your sponsors, to the public, to researchers, to naïve scientists, and to government officials, saying that you were not a magician, that you didn’t and couldn’t do magic tricks, that you had genuine psychic abilities. And you said all this knowing that these people would choose to believe you and would commit themselves to promoting and endorsing your spurious claims.

Try to remember these names, Mr. Geller: Andrija Puharich, Brian Inglis, Byron Janis, Charles Panati, Claiborne Pell, Colin Wilson, Edgar Bronfman, Edgar Mitchell, Eldon Byrd, Guy Lyon Playfair, Harold Puthoff, John Hasted, John Taylor, Jonathan Margolis, Jose Lopez Portillo, Maria Janis, Moshe Dayan, Russell Targ, Ted Bastin, Val Duncan, Wernher von Braun, Wilbur Franklin, William Cox, and Yascha Katz. These are just a couple dozen of the hundreds of people you lied to, people who put money into your pocket, wrote supportive books about you, validated your claims, brought you to the attention of prominent persons, or otherwise helped you because they believed you when you told them you were the real thing, and played your tricks on them! Now you’ve admitted that it was all just a big joke?

Now, it certainly can be argued these people were naïve. They were out of their fields of expertise, and assumed they couldn’t be fooled – but they were wrong. You took full advantage of their naivety, used them up, and discarded them when you were finished with them. That’s what a predator does.

Well after Geller had done his turnabout, on January 13th, 2008, reports Mark Schmidt of the German Skeptics group GWUP, the newspaper Berliner Kurier published an interview that contained this exchange:

Question: Do you have telepathic abilities?

Answer: Without any doubt.

Says Mark:

So there was no waffling around. Asked for proof of this claim, he agreed, but did a “proof” for telekinesis, when he moved the hands of a clock.

On the second of his German TV series, Geller – having seen the damning “Stern” article, said of the performers on that on the show, “Nobody is claiming supernatural powers."

Reader Robert Matic in Melbourne, Australia, informs us that it appears Australia is the latest to jump onto the “Successor” band-wagon (see www.c21media.net/news/article=39308). Bad decision, guys…

There are other very interesting facets of this German edition of the TV series. We got copies of the contracts signed by the performers, and I understand that votes for their choice of best performer from the home audience on the program, cost US75¢ each. I have to wonder who gets that money… Back in 1989 in the USA, on a similar live program, Geller’s arrangement with Lexington Broadcasting – unknown to me – was that he received the vote-by-phone fees that were called in, which was a swindle of the viewers because votes from three of the U.S. time zones never got a chance to be counted, though the callers paid for that privilege; the results were announced, live, after only the votes from the first time zone – the Eastern – were counted up, though the rest of America continued to phone in, thinking their votes were being counted…!

More importantly, the German contract states that those votes won’t necessarily be counted, but that a panel might decide, rather than the voting process! Incredible! Then what are the voters in Germany paying for…?

No one sees this long period of mendacity as a joke, Mr. Geller. Those who will never see their academic careers restored, those who poured money into projects based on your claims, those who can never again face their colleagues because they were charmed by a charlatan, are not at all amused. And the media can never again take you seriously, of course. But I’m well aware – as you are – of the fact that the media doesn’t much care about whether or not a colorful character is telling the truth; the story is the be-all and end-all with them, integrity be damned. So you’ll coast along. But I just wonder whether any of those you damaged, will decide to go to the law – as you so frequently have – to redress that damage.

It will be interesting to see…

Next week I’ll give you the actual tricky phrasing of that contract, and we’ll be hosting a TV crew from Germany here at the JREF as we prepare a full video exposure of all the Geller tricks – the ones that he used to say were genuine miracles – and I guarantee that it will be very informative. More on this, anon…




THE LAW IS A ASS

Reader Brian Peck, from Raleigh, North Carolina, tells us about their “Divining Rod Sheriff”:

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Looks like law enforcement is embarrassing itself again. I’m sure you have read about the missing (now found dead) pregnant Marine here in North Carolina. In an article in The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), Final Edition, of Saturday January 12, 2008, is a picture with the following caption:

Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown with a divining rod that was used in the search of the backyard of Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Lauren. Divining rods are rods are thought by some to dip downward to indicate the presence of subsurface water or mineral deposits.

 

The picture shows Sheriff Brown in a lovely teal jacket holding a single dousing rod that looks like an old hanger bent sort of straight. At least the taxpayers didn’t have to buy him those fancy mail order dousing rods. Why dousing rods were needed for this search, I don’t know. The search area was a pretty bare backyard with a recently turned area of earth in the center where the presumed remains have been found. Also, I sort of thought you needed two rods to make this work. I have been unable to find the picture on the N&Os Web site, but will keep looking. Another giant leap in law enforcement technology.

Brian, I’m amazed at your ignorance! A really experienced dowser/douser can use just one rod!

And, lest too many fingers get bruised jumping to the keyboard to correct the title of this item, it is an exact quote from Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” spoken by Mr. Bumble. Look it up!




IT’S ALL IN THE MIND

Reader Terry Austin points us to an interesting bit of research which indicates just how suggestible we are. A study by researchers from the California Institute of Technology and Stanford’s business school, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the pleasant sensation that people experience when tasting wine can be linked directly to its apparent price. And that’s true even when, unbeknownst to the test subjects, it’s exactly the same wine with a dramatically different price tag! You see, the researchers just affix more expensive labels to the bottles they wish to be better appreciated! It’s been found that with the apparently higher-priced wines, more blood – and thus oxygen – is sent to a part of the brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex, whose activity registers pleasure. FMRI – Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – brain scanning showed evidence for the researchers’ findings that

…changes in the price of a product can influence neural computations associated with experienced pleasantness.

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This research, along with other studies the authors allude to, seem to deny the idea that experienced pleasantness, worth, or effectiveness of a product is based on its intrinsic qualities. The tests even showed that

Even more intriguingly, changing the price at which an “energy” drink is purchased, can influence the consumers ability to solve puzzles!

Reader Bob DeMers gives us more on violins to follow our item at randi.org/jr/2006-12/120806landmark.html#i3, which proves the same point:

I heard a story recently (on public radio I think) describing an incident with violinist Jascha Heifetz. After a performance, He overheard a critic say “Of course he sounds great, he has a Stradivarius.” Heifetz was so annoyed that he went out and bought a pawnshop violin and used it in the next performance before that same set of critics. After the usual glowing response to his performance, he smashed the violin to splinters in front of everyone’s shocked eyes and then revealed the ruse.

I can’t find a specific reference for this story, but I did find this reference to Heifetz: home.wanadoo.nl/ovar/shosrev/brilliant6429.htm

Most people will assume that only Stradivarius violins "sound really good" and that other violins will have inferior sound. But as Jascha Heifetz proved in many experiments, nobody, not even the critics, could tell whether he was playing his Guarnerius or a modern copy; then, if he announced which violin he was playing, the critics would hear what they expected to hear. So, when he would announce he was playing a copy and go ahead and play the Guarnerius, the critics would complain it didn’t sound good. Or he would announce the Guarnerius and play the copy and the critics would rhapsodize over the tone. But the point is, Heifetz could tell. Sure, a Stradivarius or a Guarnerius sounds good, but mainly it is much easier to play, especially if you’re Heifetz.

Can we continue to have any doubts about the ability of quacks to get repeat business for worthless remedies?




THAT MAGNET CLAIM FROM LAST WEEK

I was hoping for some input from qualified observers on the item we had at www.randi.org/joom/content/view/145/27/#i10. That wish has been met. Patrick Chipman, M.Sc. at the University of Memphis, a doctoral candidate in cognitive psychology, while he admits that he’s not – yet – a physiologist or a physicist, says that he likes to think that he has a bit of a handle on experimental design:

The Skalak article basically argues that there is a time-and-dose dependent effect on inflammation as a result of exposure to magnets. Presumably, the design is single-blind, with only the rats blinded to the manipulations (pg. 6). The article makes no mention as to whether the experimenters were blinded, so we really have to assume that they weren’t. Another potential problem in their design is that the sham treatment isn’t really a good sham; normally, you replicate everything, including faking all of the equipment. It seems that their sham treatment had a visible difference (no magnet was present) (pg. 7), which could influence the results. It would certainly destroy any blinding of the experimenters, if there was any. Of course, I’m sure they’d argue that blinding the experimenters isn’t necessary and the rats were unconscious anyway, so what did it matter if the sham was imperfect? There’s another concern in the seeming random use of de-ionized water or saline as controls, with no justification whatsoever for the change. I may not be a physiologist, but I’m pretty sure de-ionized water and saline are going to have different effects in the body because they have different effects on blood electrolyte levels. As for the induction of inflammation, I don’t know enough about how inflammation is typically induced to give an informed opinion on that.

The most troubling concerns for me don’t show up until the results section. It’s worrying that the results are reported in a way that makes verification difficult. Effect sizes aren’t reported, nor do we have any means or standard deviations to work with. There’s literally no way to verify Skalak’s statistical claims and to determine if they’re meaningful or not, based on the information provided. Take, for example, the most show-stopping claim (pg. 27, figure 2C). The chart is quite misleading, for one, as it has a different scale from some of the other charts. More importantly, a 27% volume change for the sham treatment is compared to a 16% volume change for the magnet treatment. Is an 11% difference meaningfully significant? There’s really no way to know. Are his error bars accurate? Again, there’s no way to know without having the means and standard deviations of the “raw” data available. Whenever I see an article without a table of means for each condition, I raise an eyebrow. If you combine that with relative measurements based on rescaling instead of raw results, I start getting paranoid.

Another worry that pops up on page 27 is the number of rats in each condition. Why, I wonder, are the numbers different – not just between different tests (different graphs), but in the same test? If he had access to a number of rats, as presumably a biomedical researcher would, why are his group sizes unequal? Did some of the rats refuse to be part of the experiment? Did they die? Did he just ignore the data from the rats that didn’t fit his model? Why isn’t this addressed anywhere in the paper?

My take on this article is that there’s some sort of smokescreen going on in the statistics, and possibly one in the experimental manipulation (the more I think about it, the more the saline/DI water switch worries me). There’s definitely shenanigans in the group sizes, as reported on page 27.

If there’s a particular section of the article you’d like me to try to decipher, I’d be happy to give it a try. I’m a long-time reader of SWIFT, and I’m more than willing to lend some time to help out.

I know just enough about experimental design and protocol to see that the question of whether the tests were double-blinded, the effect- and group-sizes, the standard deviation, and the differing scales, can all be very meaningful. I’m also concerned and puzzled over why the number of rats involved, varied…

Let’s see what the general reaction of the academic world is to these results…




HIGHWAY OF HOLINESS

There’s no limit to the amount of significance that the True Believers can summon up from co-incidental relationships. Any combination of letters, numbers, shapes, or sounds, such pareidolic events as natural clouds or rock formations, patterns in smoke, accidents of wood-grain configurations or dried tea-leaves, continue to bring hosannas and jubilation to otherwise drab lives. We’ve seen The Virgin Mary and Jesus in pancakes and grilled-cheese sandwiches, in wall on subway walls, and on plywood doors. Remember the “Bible Code” excitement? See randi.org/jr/091704a.html#2. Examinations of sacred texts – in any given language – provide The Faithful with obscure errors in which any fanciful relationship is accepted with gasps of elation as evidence of a deity – or a demon! – conveying a message to those who are sensitive enough to perceive the subtleties of supernatural intervention in the humdrum lives of the miracle-embracers.

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Well, it’s now been discovered that an Interstate Highway stretching from Laredo, Texas, to Duluth, Minnesota, was prophesized centuries ago in The Holy Bible! You see, “Isaiah 35” - to the obsessed believers - refers to U.S. Interstate Highway I-35. It’s obvious, says Pastor Cindy Jacobs, who was granted a revelation when thumbing through her well-thumbed Bible. Searching about for something – anything – in the thousands of words in Isaiah, she came upon chapter-and-verse 35:8, where she read:

And there shall be a causeway there which shall be called the Way of Holiness, and the unclean shall not pass along it; it shall become a pilgrim’s way, no fool shall trespass on it. (New English Bible)

The same passage from the King James version reads:

And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.

No, I don’t understand how these two versions can mean the same thing, either. First, a “causeway” is a raised road, to cross over wet ground or a body of water. But this road is supposed to be constructed in the desert! Duh. And why or how these “fools” will stay off the causeway or highway, is not at all clear, unless the KJV means, they won’t make the mistake of going there… These interpretations are just full of problems.

That verse, Cindy found, is supported (?) by Isaiah 40:3, where we see:

There is a voice that cried: Prepare a road for the Lord through the wilderness, clear a highway across the desert for our God. (New English Bible)

In the King James version, this appears as:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

When the news services showed us video of hysterical preachers at the “purity sieges” and “prayer vigils” that were organized to celebrate this revelation, I saw what looked like anything but a “desert,” but then I’m admittedly picky, picky, picky. The “unclean” reference, however, was clear: there were roadside establishments advertising certain sensual services for men, not to my surprise.

Pastor Cindy Jacobs – not at all convincingly – tied all this in with the JFK assassination and the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis, which she pointed out occurred “at or near I-35”! She said:

Let’s pray that there will be safety for everyone on this highway.

I dunno how safe it will be, with preachers literally screeching at the sides of the road. Pastor Steve Hill, who looks relatively calm and organized when he’s not haranguing drivers-by, was shouting:

Millions live up and down this highway, Lamb of God, touch Oklahoma, Lord Jesus, touch Texas, Lamb of God. Oh, Lord, touch Minnesota, sweet Jesus…

Just don't drive off the highway while wondering what this man is doing out there yelling.




DOWSING UPDATE

Reader Jim Boskus, who you met back at randi.org/jr/2007-04/042007todd.html#i5, writes:

I just wanted to update you on developments regarding the dowsing class.

As you predicted, I have not heard back from Ms. Karen Turcio. I received the one communication from her and there have been no replies to my subsequent emails. Now I see what you must deal with on a near daily basis.

This organization recently held a public meet-and-greet. I, along with a like-minded friend, stopped by to ask why they are sponsoring nonsense. We actually met the organization’s president who said he didn’t know if dowsing really worked, but he has seen demonstrations where dowsers were able to find water. We explained that water is nearly EVERYWHERE and if you pick a random spot and dig there is a good chance you’ll hit water. In addition, we pointed out that dowsing has never been demonstrated to work in a controlled scientific experiment. We also told him about your foundation and the million dollar challenge. This man had never heard of either. He did seem intrigued by the million dollar challenge. We asked him to forward the challenge (I gave him a copy of your email) to Dr. Carter. He said he would.

I guess we’ll see what happens. I’ll let you know if I hear anything further, but I’m not holding my breath....

Good decision, Jim! As far as these folks are concerned, they just want all this to go away, so they’ve closed it off and resigned from any discussion. Either they found that they were wrong, or they just decided to go on being misinformed. That’s what I told you to expect. Facts are embarrassing to such folks.




REMEMBER TM?

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There was a time in the 60s when Transcendental Meditation – TM – was all the rage. Robed devotees were seen in parks and at meetings, even the Beatles had a brief fling with the notion. Well, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who started the whole thing back in 1955, has announced his official retirement.

The announcement of this event – I have a version here in truncated form – has to take some sort of prize, in my opinion. I invite you to read it and gain some insight – not spiritual! – into what drives these strange folks. Here are the words of John Hagelin, known to his followers as “Jai Guru Dev, Raja of Invincible America.” No comment is needed. We’ve placed it here in SWIFT so that you can download all 1,130 words (!) or just take my word for it that it’s as saccharine as can be legally done. If you think you can stand it, go to: JaiGuruDev.html

My friend Andrew Skolnick, the science and medical reporter who wrote an exposé on Deepak Chopra and the Transcendental Mediation Movement’s entry into the snake oil business, back in 1991, has a pertinent comment on this document:

Oh, this truly is a Cosmic Cross Road moment. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is retiring from carrying the weight of world upon his shoulders. I don’t know whether to cry, to rejoice, or to laugh my ass off. I would do the latter if I didn’t need it so much to break my falls on the icy streets of Buffalo.

You may not have noticed – what with rise of fascists in America, Bush’s endless war in Iraq, his threat of war against Iran, the collapsing U.S. economy, global warming, and all that – but we have been blessed with "the complete transformation of the world from the depths of ignorance and suffering of Kali Yuga to the perpetual sunshine of Sat Yuga." What can I say except, Huzzah and hallelujah.

I only wish that this glorious moment had happened 16 years ago so that I might take credit for Maharishi’s withdrawal from the TMountain top (as some people wrongly credited me after Deepak Chopra split from Maharishi’s side to build his own lucrative mountain top in southern California).

For now, I’ll just grab some popcorn, sit back, and watch with amusement the Balkanization of the TM empire. Can’t wait to see which of the Divine Rajas throws the first dagger.

Hope you enjoy as much as I have, the prose of John Hagelin, "Raja of Invincible America," a.k.a. the greatest physicist since Isaac Newton, the twice Natural Law Party candidate for President of the U.S., and the guy that once tried to explain away my JAMA expose on TM as an angry hit piece from someone who wrongly blames Maharishi Ayurveda for the death of a "close friend with AIDS" (wink, wink). He later apologized for mixing me up with someone else.

So much for Cosmic Consciousness.

When Raja Hagelin speaks of the "the growing signs of peace in the world," I can’t help but think of "Comical Ali," Saddam Hussein’s propaganda minister who stood smiling before the news cameras and insisted that the U.S. invasion had been crushed even though the U.S.’s rapidly advancing forces could be seen and heard in the Iraq capitol just a few miles away.

Jai Guru Dev, Andrew




GOOD COMMENT

I received an interesting objection from “LeeTheAgent” – how I wish I could address these folks by real names! – last week. He wrote, first quoting me as I explained how the JREF challenge was going to be discontinued:

…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.

Then he asked me, quite properly:

Wait wait wait... wasn’t the whole damn point of changing the Challenge Rules to go after these frauds? Ok so now what? The current rules (going after the big fish) is pointless? And they never expected the new rules to produce anything? I mean, hell, I’ve been waiting for an all out attack on the previously mentioned loonies since they changed their rules, and now they’re saying it doesn’t even matter? I’m sorry, I love Randi, I love the JREF, but there comes a time when you have to be skeptical of the skeptical. With their new rule change, doesn’t this mean that virtually no testing will be made anymore? And we skeptics will no longer have the JREF challenge to wield against the believers? Then what exactly can the JREF do now? So many of us skeptics were looking forward to the new Randi challenge, to be proactive and take the battle to them, and now this? I really don’t understand.

It’s understood that you don’t understand, Lee. We’ve issued strong challenges to these specific persons, in SWIFT and media articles, on TV, radio, and podcasts. They’re insulated by their handlers and their money, and of course can continue to operate because the media won’t put their noses to the grindstone. I’m willing to listen to any suggestions about how the JREF can pursue the Bad Guys…

One ray of hope: we’re setting out to raise enough cash to be able to purchase a quarter-page display ad in The New York Times, openly challenging Van Praagh, John Edward, and Sylvia Browne, but not Uri Geller, since he’s now resigned from deity status. That just might alert enough of the public to sit up and start complaining…




MIRACLE SUBSTANCE FOR SALE

Reader Andrew Garvey thinks that he has an interesting story for us, and I agree. He writes:

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I stumbled across "Orbitally Rearranged Monatomic Elements" yesterday and spent the rest of the day absorbed in the fascinating, inspiring literature about the history of "powdered white gold" "gold ash" "the philosophers’ stone" "the tree of life" "mfkzt" [not a typo] and all the other names attributed to this miracle substance.

This stuff is incredible! Not only did it turn the Ark of the Covenant into a monster capacitor that knocked down walls, not only did it levitate pyramids, put pharaohs in touch with the gods and grow hell-of-a-big oranges, but I can buy a one-ounce bottle of it at www.whitepowdergold.com/ for $89.99 plus $10 shipping and handling.

Naturally I was intrigued, and being a skeptic I went ahead and sent the company an email:

Hello, I was very interested in buying a vial of white powder gold but the expense is a bit high for me. Is it possible to merely buy the powder and mix it in water myself? Is there any kind of coupon I can use? Seasonal discounts? Anything I can use so I don’t have to spend nearly so much?

Despite their busy schedule, the company found the time to write back:

Hello Andrew,

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately we don’t offer the product in powder form. In fact, due to the anti-gravital effects of the product it would be practically impossible to even measure it in powdered form – which is why we suspend it in water.

The only discounts we are offering at this time are for multiple bottle orders, for instance, an order for 7- one ounce bottles or more is discounted 10%, for 12-one ounce bottles or more it is discounted 15%. I believe that if you tried our products that you would feel as our current clients do, that it is well worth the investment. There are other products on the market claiming to be similar to ours, however, as far as we know, ours has the highest parts per million count of any of the others out there.

If there is anything else I can be of help with please let me know. Have a terrific weekend!

Melissa Hill
White Powder Gold

Yep, you guessed it. It levitates in its pure form! How cool is THAT? A room-temperature SUPERCONDUCTOR! A shame, I suppose, that I’d have to spend nearly seven hundred dollars before I started getting a 10% discount. With the price of gold climbing nowadays, I suppose it’s no wonder.

So I started looking around for ways to make my own, and sure enough, I came across some videos detailing how, for about $10 of Celtic sea salt and grapeseed oil, I, too, can enter the realm of the gods, grow monster walnuts and make my plants glow and spark. See tinyurl.com/yo7vzz.

But I wasn’t so enthusiastic about the idea of a second-rate product that I made myself. I wrote back to the people at White Powder Gold asking how they go about measuring their proportions for mixing ORMUS since the pure form makes any scale lighter than it was before. I even mentioned that I was a little skeptical of their claims. Here’s what she sent me:

Hello,

I am sorry you are still a skeptic. I am unsure what else I can say. As for how we measure it, I am unable to reveal that to you or give out any info regarding our processing methods. Best of luck to you in your search for answers.

Melissa

Damn proprietary rights! It’s like they’re always hatin’ on the little guy. That’s the culture of corporatism for you.

So, James, I’ll just have to go out and make my own "mfkzt" and hope I don’t make monatomic arsenic instead. I’ll be sure to keep you informed of my progress, and when I attain enlightenment – both metaphorically and literally – and am able to fly around my house, grow back my cat’s tail and make my microwaved ravioli reside outside of space-time, I might be nice enough to share my secrets on this incredible journey with your readers.

And hopefully I won’t be so enlightened that I’ll claim proprietary rights. That’s like, OT VIII for mfkzt.




THE Q-RAY SWINDLE IN CANADA

Reader Jed Sutherland informs us:

Re your discussion of this blatantly fake device: We in Canada have been subjected to endless TV ads for the bracelet for the last few years. Finally, CBC’s Marketplace program carried out an investigation into whether the claims were true by:

1. Interviewing Mr. Park Junior (who avoided explaining how the bracelet is "ionized" by averring that "it’s a secret known only by the manufacturer").

2. Having a scientist examine a bracelet using an electron microscope and try to determine whether any evidence of ionization was present (he couldn’t see any evidence).

3. Speaking to people who wear this junk jewelry. Not that this was a huge sample, but all of the wearers swore that the bracelet relieved their pain. One guy said that even if it was a placebo, it worked for him and that’s all that mattered.

In the end, people want to be fooled.

The Canadian Health and Consumer agencies have been conspicuous by their absence and disinterest in dealing with these con men.

Jed, politicians are the same in every country, and their inertia is legendary. It takes a huge amount of influence and threats to get them to do anything; the popular attitude is that people should be smarter than to fall for such nonsense. I find that stance totally unacceptable.

However, reader Robert Jones has taken me to task in regard to last week’s Q-Ray item – see randi.org/joom/content/view/145/27/#i17. Robert writes:

I think you owe an apology to the hard-working people at the FTC. They are allies of the reality-based community and don’t deserve the contempt you recently threw their way.

In your 01/11/08 Swift commentary on the judgment against Q-Ray, you pointed out that you had first mentioned the flummery that is the Q-Ray Bracelet in November of 2002. You then asked the 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?

The fact is, the Commission filed a complaint with the courts on May 27, 2003, after several months of investigation and preparation for litigation. (see ftc.gov/os/caselist/0323011/qtinccmp.pdf) The subsequent four-and-a-half years until the final judgment last week were not the result of "…inertia by a federal bureau…" but a result of complex, protracted litigation. It’s not the FTC’s fault it takes so long for matters to work through the court system.

As I’m sure you know, the FTC doesn’t have dictatorial powers. They can’t just remove products from the marketplace, no matter how ridiculous the marketing claim. The Commission has to build a case under the law and sue in federal court. It’s unfortunate, as it does allow these scam artists to operate openly for years, but that’s the law.

You wrote:

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.

You’re right about the staffing and funding. Given the thousands and thousands of scam artists operating in America today, the Commission couldn’t make much of a dent if it had ten times the staff and funding, yes, even if they hired Judge Easterbrook. The Commission worked years to stop just one scam artist, the makers of Q-Ray, from bilking gullible consumers. If you want real change don’t blame those working hard to stop this nonsense, change will have to come from Congress and the President.

The Commission is going after these charlatans every day of every year. When the Commission does win a long, hard-fought victory, calling them "indolent, incompetent or stupid" is simply unfair.

Robert, what I’m trying to express here is, first, that these con artists are allowed to stay in business for so long, that when they’re finally brought to ground, they’ve already made their fortunes and they can just quietly move away, and laugh over their shoulders at their victims and the agencies that finally – far too late – closed them down. Second, some – though not all – of these schemes are so obviously spurious and fraudulent, that any high-school student can immediately spot them as such. Yes, I know that proper legal procedures have to be initiated, but surely there can be a “stop” put on these advertising campaigns and sales pitches? Drugs and medical devices have to be kept from the market until shown to be legitimate. Why are these toys – masquerading as legitimate medical devices – allowed to go on sale any more readily than pills or syrups making similar claims…?

The pseudoscientific language, the perfectly juvenile claims, the inadequate descriptions, and the ludicrous theories behind some of the claims, are not supported in any way, yet the FTC cannot do anything to prevent a huge market being developed, and vast millions of dollars being raked in? I cannot believe that our system is that helpless in the hands of the scam artists.

Still, I grant you that I was perhaps overly harsh on those in the FTC – and in other agencies – who may have been asking the same questions as I have, and may be similarly affronted and frustrated. To them, I apologize.

And, there are other suggested corrections on the last SWIFT. Re the item on the magnetized rats, I referred to the notion that started this nonsense, the claim that the magnets affected the iron-in-the-blood. Reader Robert Biermann wrote that though the presence of only one iron atom in the hemoglobin molecule would not make the molecule magnetic, the oxygen content (203 atoms) is paramagnetic and could also be attracted by an external magnetic field. That’s true, but the magnetic field applied is so very weak, that I still can’t imagine any effect…




IN CLOSING…

Reader Markus Kompa sends us to youtube.com/watch?v=g1_1KYAYinQ for his latest fork/spoon bending demo. Perhaps a little too enthusiastic, though Uri Geller has told us that one has to really “believe” in the magic, for it to work…

And reader Lee Causseaux shares with those of us peripherally informed about the mysteries of the upper reaches of physics, an exercise in science:

I do not know if you have seen this, but I found it an amusing bit...a well executed tongue in cheek study of homeopathic medicine through quantum physics. www.cs.rug.nl/~michael/qthair.pdf.

A Kurt Vonnegut quotation just sent to me, taken from "Cat’s Cradle":

New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth… The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.

Well said…

And Rod Clark of the Skeptic’s Circle directs your attention to: skepticscircle.blogspot.com/. Drop in and visit awhile…


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