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SWIFT February 29, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

The Latest on the Geller Front, Steorn: Still Active?, South Africa Again, And Once More, Howe Numb Noory, Hot Air A-Plenty, Homeopathic Tragedies Revisited, Accept the Good Part, The Grubbies Attack!, Defended, Price Winner, Norwegian Nuttery, In Closing..

geller

The TV program titled “The Next Uri Geller” – just run by the Pro-Sieben channel in Germany – now has its audience wondering just why anyone would want to have another such character. Though it was all kept very secretive, the strange clauses in the contract signed by mentalists who asked to be part of the program, have now been made public, and since German law is very contract-oriented, there are many questions being asked – a little too late. Some of the contract terms were anything

Table of Contents
  1. The Latest on the Geller Front

  2. Steorn: Still Active?

  3. South Africa Again

  4. And Once More

  5. Howe Numb Noory

  6. Hot Air A-Plenty

  7. Homeopathic Tragedies Revisited

  8. Accept the Good Part

  9. The Grubbies Attack!

  10. Defended

  11. Prize Winner?

  12. Norwegian Nuttery

  13. In Closing…



THE LATEST ON THE GELLER FRONT

geller

The TV program titled “The Next Uri Geller” – just run by the Pro-Sieben channel in Germany – now has its audience wondering just why anyone would want to have another such character. Though it was all kept very secretive, the strange clauses in the contract signed by mentalists who asked to be part of the program, have now been made public, and since German law is very contract-oriented, there are many questions being asked – a little too late. Some of the contract terms were anything but magical; at first, the producers didn’t even want to lay down the prize of €100,000 that they’d advertised!

Pro-Sieben described the casting theme of the show as, “incredible phenomena,” but the only really incredible fact about the show was the contract itself. Constantin Entertainment, the company who produced the show, issued a “contract for participants” full of terms that did a lot to expose the strange whims of the producers, though it turned out that the ethics of the would-be participants were a cut or two above those of Constantin Entertainment. Though any professional stage magician/mentalist of course presents an audience with illusions that appear to be impossible, it is considered a serious ethical breach to represent one's performance to be “paranormal” or “supernatural.” Thus, many of the candidates shook their heads when – after they had successfully passed the selection/audition procedure in Cologne – a contract was presented to them by Constantin in which the conditions for their participation said that by signing, they were certifying that they possessed

…pronounced psychic and intuitive abilities such as mind reading, telekinesis, suggestion and autosuggestion.

Said one of the applicants who refused to sign this agreement, and was later interviewed:

When I received the contract, my first thought was: I don’t believe my own eyes… I simply cannot attest that I can move things with my mind. I don’t have such abilities or powers, nor do any of the other candidates. Personally, it displeases me very much that the producers of the show are pretending that something supernatural will actually take place.

floating table The program I did for the rival TV channel – “Welt der Wunder – Kraft der Gedanken” – hadn't attained an 8% audience in 2008, but on the show we did, they got 10.7% – an average of 1.2 million spectators, 2.2 million at peak! They also beat the main competitor in the group of science-magazine shows. Their Internet server at www.wdwip.tv is able to handle 10,000 different users at one time, but it broke down immediately after the show started, which means that there were more than 10,000 different persons trying to get in, and they don't yet know exactly how many they finally got. Amazing, because their viewer record – up to then – was 1,500… That 10.7% rating for a "science" show is considered quite a success.

From Australia, our colleague Richard Saunders sent me his commentary on the “Welt Der Wunder” show:

levitation I must say that I am amazed that after all these years an independent production would display such sense and reason by clearly presenting you as exposing the tricks of Uri Geller. There is little room left here for question as you show in no uncertain terms that Geller’s miracles are indeed parlor tricks. Spoon bending, starting broken watches, compass moving and lifting people into the air all come in for the James Randi treatment.

Although the tricks of Geller seem to be the backbone of the show, you are also seen to be explaining other miracles such as how to move matches under an inverted glass fish tank, and table levitation. The German translation of your words is very good and conveys your meaning well. The general narration in German also clearly describes other feats, such as people who seem to be magnetic, and then explains how this really works.

A section about 9/11 seems to also debunk any paranormal connections however my German did let me down a little as I am unable to give you a clear understanding. Also, there is a segment about a seminar and a segment about brain function that appears to explain so-call paranormal events but I am unsure of my complete understanding here.

I was able to understand most of this show and I am delighted with it. Congratulations. This show needs to have English subtitles added ASAP. I can also report that the producers have been in contact with Australian Skeptics for our advice about getting the program aired in this country.

kulagina The "Welt der Wunder show – Kraft der Gedanken" will be re-broadcast on German TV. The first date is March 1st, at 7p.m., and then at 11p.m. on NTV. Next is March 3rd at 10p.m. on NTV and the last will be on March 4th at 8p.m., also on NTV.

The “winner” of the Geller show on the rival ProSieben channel was a man calling himself "Vincent Raven," even though his tricks failed regularly, he had zero sense of humor, and he opted to seriously claim that he had special powers and could speak with dead people. In fact, he relayed to one bereaved and weeping audience member a message he said her dead father had for her "from the beyond." This fraudulent claim that he had real magical powers – aided by a tame on-the-shoulder raven as psychic assistant! – shooed him in as the winner; he played their game, and he was rewarded…

What really got to me – and this indicates just how determinedly woo-woo-oriented ProSieben is – they have just announced that there will be another Geller show: this time the winners of the “competitions” from several countries will compete against each other in one show… Despite the poor reviews, the media scorn, the overall public perception that Geller is a discredited psychic pretender and has been masquerading as a wonder-worker for 36+ years, sponsors are still eager to be part of the fakery – because it sells products. No surprise there. The dollar/euro is the bottom line; the consumer public be damned. I’m sure Geller will coast along on this wave for awhile longer.

For a while…

For anyone that would like to watch the "Welt der Wunder" show you can visit our video gallery and see the complete show in 5 parts. View those videos here.




STEORN: STILL ALIVE?

Reader Niall Morrissey, along with several other SWIFT readers, commented on Bob Park’s recent item – at www.randi.org/joom/content/view/166/1/#i5 – by informing us that this may have been a premature death notice. Writes Niall:

Steorn are still in business – at least according to their CEO Sean McCarthy, they are. They have other business ongoing, so their viability may not be entirely dependent on their Orbo [the perpetual-motion device].

They have utterly failed to meet the various deadlines for their promised demonstration – as well as for the jury consideration of their device. Indeed, there is great doubt as to whether a jury was ever actually elected. They may now be hoping that the matter dies a quiet death. I'm determined to prevent that happening, so that at least a search on the Internet will show that the cycle from claim through verification, through to final acceptance that it cannot be done, is cleanly presented on the record. For the moment, the previously garrulous Sean McCarthy is ignoring all requests for interim updates on the process.

It's such an obvious hoax. The failed demo was initially blamed on heat from the lights, and subsequently on failure of the bearings. Any engineers worth their salt would have asked the audience to talk amongst themselves while they sorted out such minor issues. As McCarthy said at the time, though, had they wished to commit a hoax, the audience would have seen a wheel spinning, no matter what. My suspicion is that perhaps the demo setup was more open than he had envisaged. Either that, or his engineering company lacks even the minor skills required to convince an eager crowd of OU [over-unity] supporters.

In the meantime, I am aware of two media sources in Dublin planning a "What has happened with your claims?" story in the next while. As I said before, there is reluctance to tackle someone to whom they have already given airtime, as it may make it appear that they were taken in; it will still be done, though.

Be warned, though, it's always possible that the place is now just a crater in the ground, a successful experiment having generated too much energy, creating a localized singularity which simultaneously proved their claims right, while tragically destroying the only working version of the free-energy device along with the geniuses who could have saved mankind!

Bob Park tells me he’s rooting around to discover the source of his item, and may report to us at any moment…




SOUTH AFRICA AGAIN

Reader Linton Davies, in Pretoria, South Africa, sends us this item taken from the BBC website:

South Africa's outspoken health minister has said medicines used by traditional healers should not be subject to clinical trials. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang warned against using what she called Western protocols for research and development. Medicines used for thousands of years should not become "bogged down in clinical trials", she said. She was speaking during a meeting with traditional healers to discuss a draft policy to regulate the practice. Said she:

We cannot use Western models of protocols for research and development.

doctor

Of course, this is the usual reaction against science and rationality – especially as practiced in the West – by Ms. Tshabalala-Msimang, who we’ve met previously several times in SWIFT, most recently at tinyurl.com/ysft3r. She says:

The healers complain that the South African government has been too slow in implementing a law passed in 2005 aimed at integrating traditional medicine into the mainstream health system.

Yes, I’m sure there were complaints. Superstition and ethnic pride have combined, in this unhappy country, to depress the quality of medical care to the lowest point possible. Anyone there with sufficient means opts to go to any other country just to avoid the perils of South African medicine. Says the BBC agency:

Ms. Tshabalala-Msimang has faced criticism in the past for suggesting garlic and vegetables be used to combat the spread of HIV.

And as a direct result of that suggestion, the index of HIV-related deaths and infection are higher in that country than anywhere else. Thank you, Ms. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, for the agony, death, and despair that you’ve brought to your country and your fellow-citizens through your support of superstition.

Linton Davies continues:

Yes, maybe traditional healers have some arcane knowledge that can actually cure something, but according to the health minister this is just a nuisance. I have the feeling that clinical trials would only serve to drive a lot of traditional healers underground, so to speak, and people would go on consulting them anyway. They are consulted because they offer a wide range of services: they can give you a potion to cure disease, cause disease, cast out evil spirits, make you impervious to bullets – if you're planning a bank heist – and they can help you earn money and get you in touch with dead relatives, something for all occasions.

If you ever visit a "muti shop" (sort of a drug store), you'll see that the products are indeed very traditional: bark, leaves and roots from a variety of plants, as well as animal products such as dried toads and bats, crocodile teeth, anteater claws, bird's beaks and very likely the odd human body part. How can we ever drag people from darkness into light? The JREF has done a sterling job over the years, but I despair when I think of the popularity of "traditional healers" anywhere in the world, not to mention exorcism, turning water into wine, faith healers, mediums, the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, reflexology, crystals, magnets, dowsing rods, etc.

Linton, I have to caution you, as I’ve done to many others: don’t condemn all natural products – “bark, leaves and roots” – out of hand. Digitalis, aspirin, quinine, belladonna, and a myriad of other very medicinally-useful substances, were initially discovered by trial-and-error and by listening to “native healers.” They remain important parts of our pharmacopeia. However, anteater claws and human body parts, in my admittedly amateur opinion, might be subjected to more rigorous evaluation…




AND ONCE MORE

Reader Patrick Linzer provides us with yet further evidence that South Africa needs a severe shaking-up and a heavy dose of rationality:

Hello Randi, and respectful greetings from a somewhat uncertain South Africa, what with our present assortment of political, economic and social troubles. Your weekly SWIFTs are a welcome beacon of sanity that gives direction to those who find themselves tossed about in a turbulent inundation of malarkey. Would that more of our fellows read your epistles.

One certainty, however, is the perpetual profitability of the preposterous. Previous SWIFT editions have mentioned South Africa’s Danie Krügel who claims to have developed a unique technology for locating missing people using a cutting of their hair, or, variously, a sample of their DNA. Well, it seems that this man’s talents admit of no boundaries. Just recently he claims to have developed a new device that is derived from his locating apparatus – a new device that allows him to diagnose early on a variety of cancers in humans, given the afflicted person’s blood sample. In addition, he says that his new device can be programmed to detect other diseases.

Unfortunately there is at present no English-language media report covering this. An Afrikaans report is available… but there is a reasonably good English translation to be found at the South African Skeptics’ Forum tinyurl.com/2fdu74. Note, however, that the translation contains an error, as noted subsequently in that forum thread. To be sure, it is a little odd that Mr. Krügel’s fan site www.daniekrugelfacts.com does not yet mention this remarkable diagnostic ability of Mr. Krügel’s, which has supposedly been validated by a practicing medical professional as well as the newspaper, Rapport, that reported it.

A careful reading of the newspaper report raises appreciably more questions than it answers, in particular concerning such things as controls against cheating, blinding, randomization, various inadvertent cues, and so on. Moreover, the report does not mention whether any relevant experts, e.g. oncologists or biophysicists, were consulted about the physical plausibility of Mr. Krügel’s claimed technology, and the overall flavor of the article is one of thinly veiled credulity. As one commentator astutely put it, “Holy double-blind testing, Batman!” The clear and present danger is that this fairytale in two chapters has rapidly gathered the kind of momentum where the hype and fabrications surrounding Mr. Krügel’s capabilities overwhelm any rational appraisal.

Mr. Krügel has also asserted that he is in the process of patenting his technology. It is interesting that, according to Wikipedia (under the topic “patent prosecution”), South Africa is not especially strict about patents, and an application can be passed without “substantive examination” in a matter of a few months instead of years. The rationale is that patents are passed sooner and any challenges involving precedence or validity are left open for settlement by litigation. This means that Mr. Krügel should experience few if any barriers to patenting his technology. I’m sure, however, that I am not alone in the suspicion that Mr. Krügel will draw this out forever and a day.

All in all, it is my considered opinion that both Mr. Krügel and his many adherents in the media and elsewhere should either put up or shut up. But I’m also realistic (or, if you will, cynical) enough to understand that, as [musician] Ry Cooder once lamented, “Chances is mighty slim.”




HOWE NUMB NOORY

The “Coast to Coast AM” radio show is singled out by reader Christopher Long, who provides us with a critique – not too difficult a task, and fun – for our entertainment:

radin

Woo-Woo in Overdrive on Late Night Radio

On the evening of 22-23 February, the notoriously woo-woo AM radio show, “Coast to Coast with George Noory” had a guest named Linda Moulton Howe. It was an exercise for the factually-challenged. What is incredible about the 4-hour+ woo-woo sessions on Coast to Coast is the constant rehash of a short list of “unexplained” events and phenomena, though it can be fun listening. It seems Ms. Moulton Howe has a new book out, which, as we all know, qualifies her as an expert on whatever topic about which she stands and delivers.

Cattle mutilations were a big topic, and Ms. Moulton Howe had host Noory rhapsodic over her “evidence.” It seems that cattle that die of lightning strikes (common on western ranges) or natural causes, soon show evidence of excisions around natural body openings, according to the expert Ms. Moulton Howe. Aliens, we were told, use the removed flesh and tissue for “genetic material gathering” and cloning cows for food, blah, blah. You get the idea. What Ms. Moulton Howe “forgot” to tell us was that, amidst public panic over a few cattle mutilations, a clever sheriff out west and his deputies decisively proved that maggots can and do produce seeming excision wounds around natural body openings of deceased cattle. You see, it is those natural body openings where the flies lay their eggs…you know the rest. Quite a clever experiment for a local sheriff. But those facts were not on the radar screen during the Coast to Coast program.

The recent “confirmed” UFO sightings in Texas also came under scrutiny by the talented Moulton Howe. At one point we were told that she called a U.S. Navy Reserve air station in Fort Worth, I believe, and spoke with a Navy officer – Major so-and-so. Oh, really? Majors in the U.S. Navy, eh? The screed about the Texas sightings centered around low-light video of deer feeding at a feeder when a blinding column of light shone next to them and one of the deer disappeared! Poof, gone! Teleported to another dimension, I suppose. Then she went on to talk about a scientist in Europe who had seen something similar and had digital infrared images of the light beam. The scientist (forget his name; I was laughing too hard), she said, determined the light beam had the composition of plasma. Oh, really ? I didn’t know you could do a light amplitude or spectrum analysis of digitized images…Ooooops! You see, all the pixilated data is just a mathematical abstract of....you know the rest... Anyway, the government is covering everything up, we were told, and no-one will blow the whistle because they are all “under threat.” You’ve heard that one before…

During the course of taking calls, host George Noory had an exchange with a caller and both were speaking of the DaVinci Code as an established fact. Go figure. The audience for such junk is recognizable: one guy claimed to have an IQ of 250 and had been in mental institutions and prisons (that part I believed); another guy claimed to have been awakened in the wee hours of the morning with an alien that looked like a catfish reposing in his bed; another guy claimed “International Bankers” were responsible for UFO sightings but the link between the two was a trifle unclear and escaped me.

Then it was time for crop circles, a still “unexplained phenomenon,” according to Ms. Moulton Howe. Funny, she must have missed the pictures the original pranksters took of themselves making alien glyphs in a wheat field; it seems a lot of people missed those pictures. I have a suggestion for Ms. Linda Moulton Howe. Take those low-light cameras that are photographing plasma beams and go to England and camp near wheat fields in the area known for crop circles that now hosts previously-absent tourists. Set up a blind and record away. We’ll soon see the creators of crop circles…let’s just hope a beam of plasma light doesn’t teleport the pranksters to another dimension…

Christopher, we must give due credit and accreditation here. This woman is a regional-Emmy-award-winning investigative journalist and documentary producer-writer-director-editor. She has a Masters Degree in Communications, has won a Station Peabody Award, and was Director of Special Projects at Channel 7, Denver, Colorado. She would appear to have credentials as a communicator. Unfortunately, she has also opted to accept the cattle-mutilation nonsense and the “crop circles” mythology, though these matters have been fully explained, several times over…




HOT AIR A-PLENTY

radin

With no great pleasure, I have to direct you to an astonishing site – www.erichufschmid.net. This man Eric Hufschmid raves on and on endlessly about Zionism, pedophilia, Holocaust Denial, the Apollo Moon Landing Hoax, sex slavery, 9/11, taxes, immigration, everyone who ever “disappeared,” and the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, and blames it all on the MacArthur Foundation, Michael Shermer, Phil Plait, Rebecca Watson, John Walsh of “America’s Most Wanted,” Ron Paul, and – of course – me. To Hufschmid, these are all “Jewish crimes,” we’re all “Zionists,” and we’re responsible for everything bad that’s ever happened to humanity. He’s a perfect example of a paranoiac conspiracy nut, and I suggest that you go there to see the face of the deranged enemy. It’s both disgusting and hilarious to try following the meanderings of such a mind. Hufschmid sees every event, statement, attitude, goal and effort of anyone who promotes rationality, as Zionist-inspired plot to conceal the Truth and confound The Good People.

Well, we’ve got him confounded, that’s for sure. This is the sort of person who has nothing else going for him, he’s stumbled upon the fact that the media will snap up any sufficiently-far-out ravings, and he’ll suddenly find himself up on Google and before cameras and microphones, being exploited by otherwise idle broadcasters. Next stop: Coast-to-Coast and George Noory!




HOMEOPATHIC TRAGEDIES REVISITED

Reader and friend Barbara Mervine writes:

I was reading Monica Dickens autobiography "An Open Book" – she was the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens. She writes about being a nurse in wartime Britain, assigned to a Homeopathic hospital:

To most of the wartime nurses, homeopathy was mysterious witchcraft. There was not time for us to be thoroughly instructed in the purpose of the harmless-looking little pills we were told to give, and so sometimes we either did not give them, or gave them wrong.

Because of the war, the hospital had changed from being specialized to doing general work. There was a normal amount of surgery, and most of the staff were not homeopaths. Some of them still were, however, and this led to some confusion of treatments. One patient coming in with a lump on her breast would have a biopsy and perhaps an immediate mastectomy. Another, with a homeopathic doctor, might choose to try the little pills until the cancer had spread and the mastectomy had to be radical.

Later she talks about another patient:

I can still see that man with pneumonia on the ground floor ward. He was an author, a man as likeable as the books he wrote about the English countryside. The sulfonamides were being used effectively against pneumonia, but the patient and his doctor, a disciple of the famous homeopath who treated King George V, persevered with minute doses of the pneumococcus. Much too late they agreed, under pressure, to try sulfadiazine. He was dying anyway, so of course the dear man died, and his doctor said, “There you are, you see, the sulfa drugs don’t work.”

It seems homeopathy has been not working for a long time. But when I read this it was quite sad to think that there were (ARE?) homeopathic hospitals.

Yes, there are hundreds of such hospitals still operating all over the world, Barbara, and since the “art” of homeopathy was established here in the USA well before the Federal Drug Administration existed, that notion is “grandfathered” into place, and is immune to FDA interference – ridiculous as that sounds. I’ve pointed out that marijuana, opium, and heroin were also here before the FDA, but they don’t enjoy that privilege, do they?

The reference by Ms. Dickens to the administration of “minute doses of the pneumococcus” is incorrect, however. First, homeopathic dilutions are so large, that none of the original substance reaches the patient, Avogadro’s Limit having been reached and passed, and this sounds as if Ms. Dickens may have been – understandably – confused by the reference, which might have been to the sulfa compound, not to the bacterium. There was possibly a mixup here between homeopathy and the legitimate process of invoking immunization by attenuated bacterial matter…

Reader Brian Miller sent me this observation made by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes during his valedictory address delivered to the Graduating Class of the Bellevue Hospital College, March 2, 1871:

Some of you will probably be more or less troubled by that parody of medieval theology which finds its dogma in the doctrine of homeopathy, its miracle of transubstantiation in the mystery of its dilutions, its church in the people who have mistaken their century, and its priests in those who have mistaken their calling.

If this man could recognize such quackery 137 years ago, why is it so difficult to discern today…?




ACCEPT THE GOOD PART

Reader Peter Brannen writes:

I happened to be watching AMC [the American Movie Classics channel], and up popped a commercial for the "Cancer Treatment Centers of America." It began with a testimonial from a woman who claimed (to paraphrase) "the hospital sent her home to die." Then came the CTCA, to take care of her cancer. The ad then listed their treatments, starting with the usual – surgery, chemo, radiation – but then got into "holistic" and "mind-body." Now, I wouldn't normally worry about woo-ads, as they're all over the place, anyway, but this was on a major network (AMC) and really looked legitimate right up until the end, which I think makes this a particularly insidious ad, and something you might be interested in looking into.

I must disagree with Peter here, to some extent. The CTCA website is found at: www.cancercenter.com – read part of what they state there:

We offer truly integrative cancer treatment that combines the best conventional treatment with scientifically based alternative and complementary therapies. Several complementary treatments are available, including the following:

At CTCA, qualified naturopathic practitioners will assist your physicians and recommend natural approaches to safely support your whole body, strengthen your immune system and boost your energy. The mission of these practitioners is to best equip you with the natural tools necessary to help you fight the cancer. Our naturopathic practitioners constantly communicate with your other care team members, such as surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, nurses, nutritionists and physical therapists, to make sure the naturopathic plan they recommend is synchronized with every other facet of your treatment.

Nutritional Support: Each patient at CTCA receives a nutritional assessment and an individualized meal plan designed to prevent malnutrition, reduce side effects of treatment and enhance his or her well-being. Registered nutritionists work closely with you and your oncologists and naturopathic practitioners to make sure that the food you eat complements your cancer treatment. Recommended diets include foods proven to reduce the side effects of certain treatments.

Mind-Body Medicine: Our mind-body medicine program (Psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI) helps you connect with your inner strength and maintain or regain a sense of hope and control over your situation.

This is a carefully-crafted statement, I think you’ll agree, and I can’t really argue with it. If it instills further confidence in the patient, which can lead to improved willingness to accept legitimate, proven, treatments, it is probably useful – given the emphasis that is placed on “the best conventional treatment with scientifically based alternative and complementary therapies,” as specified above. CTCA recognizes the need for proper nutrition that agrees with and works with the therapies offered, and specifies that the alternative team members must defer to conventional methods, and that satisfies me.

I’m willing to accept a certain amount of woo-woo if it has a positive effect, particularly as well-controlled and monitored as this seems to be. Patients who might otherwise choose to ignore proper methods of treatment and embrace only “alternative” forms, just might be satisfied with the CTCA approach, and might thereby survive.




THE GRUBBIES ATTACK!

[Admin]: A few added comments on this item are needed. The article which is mentioned is roughly 4,000 words not 19,000, as was previously stated. The author of said article is Greg from the dailygrail.com. Although Randi does properly quote Auerbach, it is important to note that he is not implying that Auerbach authored The Myth of the Million Dollar Challenge.

Sigh. As we confidently predicted, the grubbies are chortling over the announced impending termination of the JREF prize offer. At tinyurl.com/2tbdsk you’ll find a 4,000-word tirade that I’ll spare you, but here’s my succinct response to just the first ten of the multiple canards they promote. First, they begin with a perfectly correct summation of the situation, then slide downhill into innuendo, ad hominem, and blatantly false attacks. Here’s that summation:

For ten years, the modern skeptical movement has wielded a cudgel against claims of the paranormal: the James Randi Million Dollar Challenge. In many debates over the possibility of psi abilities, the Challenge provides a final word for one side..."has so-and-so applied for the Challenge?" The financial reward offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation is seen by many skeptics as providing an irresistible motivation for anybody with paranormal ability – after all, if someone could genuinely exhibit such powers, surely they would step forward to take the million?

Couldn’t have said it better, myself! Then they start to recite the canards, the first ten of which I’ll list here, ten for all of which the evidence has been featured on SWIFT:

1. “…none of the “big fish” – medium John Edward, spoon-bender Uri Geller, psychic Sylvia Browne – have applied [for the JREF prize]”

radin

Wrong. Though forced into it on international TV, Browne accepted, then failed to follow through because, she said, she didn’t know how to reach me… Duh. She talks to the dead, but she can’t reach me? I’m alive, I’m in the telephone book, and Google alone has 762,000 references to me, of which 2,130 have my phone number, address, e-mail, and fax number, yet Sylvia couldn’t reach me…?

2. “Loyd Auerbach… [says] that the suggestion that ending the Challenge after 10 years supports any statement that psi does not exist or someone would have won the challenge, is absurd on many levels.”

Agreed, quite absurd. And we have never said nor even suggested that statement. Loyd invented that, all by himself…

3. Auerbach again: “The procedures for the Challenge included several hurdles in favor of, and multiple ‘outs’ for Randi and the JREF that any discerning individual capable of any kind of extraordinary human performance would think twice about (and here I'm not just referring to psychics and the like).”

We have asked for examples of these “outs” and have been given the following:

4. Auerbach: “First, and perhaps the most important, is the effect size required to win the challenge.”

Nonsense. However, in responding to this objection, I will point out that the applicant invests nothing, has nothing to lose, and should be able to beat the odds in the same way that any person could – unless Auerbach is appealing to the “special exemption” angle in which it is claimed that psychics must be given huge advantages because their talents are so undependable, erratic, and inconsistent – one of the ludicrous appeals made by this “science,” and one not enjoyed by any other science.

In any case, here comes an announcement, a drastic change in the rules. My abysmal ignorance of statistics requires that I frequently appeal to statistician Chip Denman of the University of Maryland for frequently sobering advice and counsel. Having just received some of that wisdom, I’m announcing a further refinement – and generous it is! – to the JREF million-dollar challenge. These changes will go up on the rules page as soon as we can get around to it… Says Mr. Denman:

It is certainly true that medical and social sciences traditionally use a 5% rule [to determine significance], but that's a matter of tradition in areas of inquiry where the emphasis is on finding possible effects that will be studied in more detail by future research. These scientists are willing to risk getting a false positive 1 out of every 20 times, rather than missing a potential lead. And in many areas such as physics or engineering, a 5% rule would never, ever suffice! Would anyone really tolerate a 5% chance that the plane will crash or the bridge will collapse?

Setting the bar for significance is "merely" a matter of deciding how risk-tolerant you're willing to be. I believe that it is entirely sensible to set a high bar for the $1M prize. Maybe one out of a million is a bit extreme, but it's your money and your risk.

On the other hand, you might consider a lower bar for the preliminary test and still protect yourself overall. For instance, you could use .01 (which is frequently seen in the scientific and statistical literature) for the preliminary, and a 1 out of 100,000 rule for the final test – and taken together, you'd know there was only a one-in-a-million shot that someone could get lucky on both.

That’s what we’ll do. We’ll choose the “other hand.” So, as of now, we will require that applicants beat a one-in-one-hundred chance of success – by dumb luck or co-incidence – for the preliminary test, and then a one-in-one-hundred-thousand chance in the formal test – a point that has not yet been reached in the past ten years of our trying…

This simplifies the JREF Challenge, it makes it more attractive, and it just may earn some attention…

5. Auerbach, still: “…and if you don’t agree to terms [for the test], your application is rejected.

Again, nonsense. We have NEVER had an applicant fail to come to agreement with us when terms were negotiated, and every one of those applicants simply failed and did not re-apply – which was their stated right. The only applicants who were ever rejected were those who – from the very first – made ridiculous claims that could not in any way be accepted, claims that showed that they were delusional or joking; an example is the man who claimed he was God, and that I was usurping his powers with the conjuring tricks I do. Even Loyd Auerbach might consider that ineligible. Or maybe not…

6. The famous “Ganzfeld” tests are cited by Auerbach as examples of phenomena that could not be tested because of the amount of time and data required. Since no one has ever submitted this claim to us for testing, we’ve never had to handle it. Had that occurred, we would have negotiated reasonable terms, of course.

7. Still with Auerbach: “…applicants must first pass a 'preliminary test,' before they are allowed to progress to the actual 'formal' test which pays the million dollars. So an applicant must first show positive results in a preliminary test (yielding results against chance of at least 1000 to 1) then once through to the next stage they would then have to show positive results against much higher odds to claim the prize (by all reports, at odds of around 1 million to 1).

Correct, though with the modifications just described above in point #4. What Auerbach purposely fails to understand – in order to have an argument – is that a pole-vaulter should be able to pole-vault, a cook should be able to cook, and a psychic should be able to do what he/she claims, to better than 1/100 odds. I claim that I’m a car driver. I have driven my car to and from work about 7,000 times since the JREF opened. I have and always have had a perfect driving record – for all my driving days since I first got my license, not just for driving to work – and so I can claim to be an automobile driver. I’ve beaten the odds – by far – for my own claim, already…!

8. Auerbach: “Failure in either test means no cash prize, and a fail beside their name. In many respects it would be like telling a professional golfer to shoot 63 around Augusta National, then come back and shoot 59, to prove that he can play golf.”

The golf analogy escapes me, but my understanding of the game is that the player should be able to achieve a certain rate of success, or he/she would be classified as a “duffer.” So far, “psychics” have attained and firmly held the duffer position. Loyd, with your vast experience of the woo-woo world and its wonderful performers, find us a psychic who can actually perform, and split the prize with him/her!

9. Says Auerbach: “Dr. Michael Sudduth of San Francisco State University also pointed out to me a wonderful irony in one of the rules. Challenge rule #3 states: ‘We have no interest in theories nor explanations of how the claimed powers might work.’ As Sudduth puts it: ‘Curiously, Randi's challenge… makes little sense unless we assume that psi is the sort of thing that, if genuine, can be produced on demand, or at least is likely to manifest itself in some perspicuous manner under the conditions specified by the challenge.”

Correct! We are only concerned with performance. But those “conditions specified by the challenge” would be up to you, Loyd. They would be designed and built into the protocol – by you. That’s what the Challenge is about! When my cardiac surgeon sets about opening my chest, I have zero interest in theories, only in results. Is that too difficult a concept? You see, the man operating on me is a surgeon. He produces results on demand, with an expected rate of success, the same way that “psychics” all over the world say they can produce their results. Uri Geller has never failed on any show – except the one in which I participated – so he’s an “on-demand” performer.

10. Auerbach: “As a consequence, you might well say ‘no wonder no serious researcher has applied for the Challenge.’ Interestingly, this is not the case. Dr. Dick Bierman, who has a PhD in physics, informed me that he did in fact approach James Randi about the Million Dollar Challenge in late 1998.”

Yes, I recall that we did exchange correspondence, though I have nothing in my files from around that date. However, we’re dealing here solely with the JREF million-dollar challenge, and Dr. Bierman is not one of those who applied for that prize; his name appears in none of the application files. And, I have to wonder why Dr. Bierman did not press me to pursue the matter, since he reports that it seems to have simply vanished. We’ve had many of such disappearances, in which apparently interested persons, scientists among them such as Dr. Wayne E. Carr – also a PhD, so we know he’s a real scientist – who negotiated with us literally for years before backing out. His file is huge, and I gave up counting the pages so I could report for this commentary, when I reached 120. My correspondence with Dr. Bierman, who was in Amsterdam, appears to have terminated in 1983 when he informed me, though not in reference to the million-dollar challenge:

Bet or challenge, I am afraid that for the moment there will be nothing. Through personal circumstances the present subject will not be able to enter the formal procedure so that it seems rather a waste of time to proceed.

As we might expect, the strange but ever-vigilant Australian lawyer named Zammit (rhymes with “Dammit!”) jumped into the action started by the other grubbies. He sent e-mail in all directions demanding that I verify the existence of the million-dollar prize, though he was of course well aware that legal validation was available to any inquirer by postal mail, a phone call, a fax, or via e-mail, but he saw a spotlight, and jumped in. The somewhat delusional Zammit has an idea that my name is something else, and he obviously believes he has stumbled – literally – on another insidious secret I’m hiding… With huge line-gaps and spaces minimized, here’s what we received:

THIRD NOTICE of CHALLENGE: to Zwinge Randi: do what Victor Zammit did: formally - make out a legal written statement on oath (subject to up to seven years in prison if caught lying - perjury): that you, Zwinge do in fact have the one million dollars in currency cash or it’s confirmed equivalent in equity - you claim you have regarding your alleged challenge. A proviso should be that any applicant will have the automatic right to cite this very important document. If Zwinge does not have the million dollars, he MUST withdraw the challenge - many claim his challenge is the most fraudulent challenge in human history. Have the courage? Have the dough? Have the stomach for this challenge?

(From Victor Zammit’s own ONE MILLION DOLLAR CHALLENGE www.victorzammit.com ) first put on the Net Friday 25th January 08)

Subject: How we stopped Randi's MILLION DOLLAR PARANORMAL CHALLENGE

And for all you other FRAUDS, watch carefully the consequences of Randi’s *great idea*…..

Please visit: centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/3283/ to see how we stopped James Randi's Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge For over 40 years Randi has had total control over who and how the testing was conducted, yet despite all this he has terminated the challenge. The ONLY REASON why the challenge was stopped is because he lost and refused to pay. Apparently, Randi likes to breaks the rules when it serves him: randi.org/joom/content/view/40/32/

"14. This prize will continue to be offered until it is awarded. Upon the death of James Randi, the administration of the prize will pass into other hands, and it is intended that it continue in force."

Great force.....it's over......

where is my MILLION DOLLARS, you LITTLE NO-NAME FRAUD

I immediately e-mailed Zammit a response, to save him from apoplexy or worse:

From: James Randi [mailto:randi@randi.org]
Sent: Tuesday, 26 February 2008 2:03 AM
To: 'Victor J Zammit'
Subject: RE: How we stopped Randi's MILLION DOLLAR PARANORMAL CHALLENGE
Importance: High

February 25th, 2008, at 10;03 hr. An open message to the obviously misinformed and rather desperate Mr. Zammit:

(1) My name is not “Zwinge Randi,” and it never has been. My name is James Randi, legally and properly. You seem to think that you are privy to some deep, dark, secret information about me that is being concealed; in this, as in so many other delusions you exhibit, you are wrong.

(2) Please – summoning up your highly expert legal abilities – draft a formal statement for me to sign, clearly stating that the million-dollar prize exists, is specifically held for that purpose, and exists as immediately-negotiable bonds which can be converted to cash by anyone to whom it is awarded. Upon receipt of that document, I will sign it and have it notarized (in your vast experience, you may be familiar with this legal procedure?) and I will both mail you a copy by post and exhibit it as a scanned document on the JREF web page, within 24 hours. I agree to risk the possible seven years imprisonment, and I volunteer to travel to Australia if and when I am charged and convicted of fraud in this respect.

(3) I generously agree that “any applicant will have the automatic right to cite” this document, and to receive a copy of it by postal mail, if so desired.

(4) In response to your inquiry, yes, I am able to summon up the “courage” and the “stomach” that you require, Mr. Zammit. Are you similarly able? We all await your response with great interest…!

Promptly, Victor Zammit responded, though I suspect that this is a standard computer-generated answer:

Thank you for your email. I will be replying to your email on my return to the office on Friday this week. Victor Zammit

We'll see...

I really feel that I’ve spent far too much time now refuting the claims made in “The Myth of the Million Dollar Challenge.” The fact that this celebration of the upcoming closing of the challenge is bringing such joy to the woo-woo community, proves that the challenge offered an insurmountable impediment to the wonder-workers out there. They will all heave a mighty sigh of relief when March 7th, 2010, rolls around, and then will begin wailing that they weren’t given their chance to carry off the prize money…




DEFENDED

Reader Dale A. Wood was angry at the recent tirade (referenced above) that appeared all over the Internet, and commented:

I don't believe that any of the contents at the “Myth of the Million Dollar Challenge” site are of any importance, and that it doesn't deserve to be distributed at all. Here are just a couple of examples of unfounded and supercilious statements in it:

1) "In the case of parapsychological research, however, where effect size is often small (though apparently robust)".

That statement of "though apparently robust" is arrantly without any foundation. As a matter of fact, on a multitude of occasions, apparent psychic effects have been demonstrated – only to fail to be repeated on further trials. Lots of people simply cannot understand that chance events, or clusters of events, happen all the time, but when they cannot be repeated, they don't mean anything.

2) Several people in the article say that they "Don't trust Mr. James Randi."

I reply, "So?" If you have a real effect, the ultimate test is to prove it in front of someone whom you don't trust. That might be worth something. "Proving" anything at all, but only in front of someone who you trust, is just a slackers way out. It reeks of only "proving" things in front of gullible people.

3) If someone claims to "prove" to me that 2 + 3 = 6, that is going to take one whale of a lot of evidence. As Dr. Carl Sagan said on plenty of occasions, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Why can't people get that through their skulls?

Dale, as you know, we don’t allow any attitudes, biases, or predilections to enter into any examination of paranormal claims – which is why we require that protocols are designed to be double-blind, so that such elements cannot be present. Whether or not I’m trusted, is not a factor, because “trust” is designed out of the system. Thus, this caveat by the grubbies, is moot…

I will add, briefly, that Suitbert Ertel – who is featured in the tirade – was thoroughly tested for the JREF prize back in 2004, in Germany. He failed, as did all the others who were tested. The sloppy conditions that Ertel had in place for his own “controlled” test were such that I was easily able to accurately predict which numbered ping-pong ball I was about to draw from the target-randomizer-bag that he had constructed. His lack of security was appalling. But I see here no report of the incompetent protocol conducted and designed by this man…




PRIZE WINNER?

radin

In a recent “Faith Column” of The New Statesman, UK, a man named Kenneth Eckersley advertised that he’s

…active in the Church of Scientology, and a former Magistrate and Justice of the Peace.”

This chap makes two claims that certainly can be examined, and that are very eligible for the JREF million-dollar prize. He wrote:

…in his twenties, my brother was able to rid himself of 19 years of asthma through Dianetics procedures. My first wife, after several years of non-conception, was diagnosed as totally incapable of bearing children, yet later gave birth to our two beautiful girls as a direct result of Scientology spiritual counseling.

Surely these are miracles? The problem I see, however, is that (a) the cessation of asthma in the brother will not be able to be proven to be due to Dianetics, and (b) somehow there will be no medical records in existence showing that Mrs. Eckersley was “totally incapable of bearing children” prior to receiving counseling from the Church…




NORWEGIAN NUTTERY

Reader Peter Brannen writes:

Although Norway is a very secular society, some folks always seem to manage to extract funds from ignorant bureaucrats. Mr. Bjorn Ostmo, of "Bjorn's Healing" recently got a 620-dollar funding from his local municipality Tromsoe, in order to help him establish his website.

Here is Bjorn's Healing's business idea: He claims to be able to drive ghosts from haunted houses and buildings, as well as providing general healing of people. His preferred method is what he calls "distant healing," and includes the help of archangels. You have to send him a photo of your body. No, not a digital one but a paper photo. His reason for this is:

On a paper photo there are no placebo effects. The distant healing works always, due to an energy field around the earth.

Wow, what science! I wonder if he’ll make my neighbor's cat stop howling at night if I send him a photo of the whole cat. Among the world's charlatans, this guy is small fry. So is the amount of money contributed from the Tromsoe municipality. However, the fact that an official body hands out money for this scam should not be ignored. Asked why they did this, the spokesman for the municipality, Mr. Yngve Voktor, says that they want to treat all applicants on an equal basis!

Strangely enough, no one here seems to bother to question why taxpayers money is being dished out for such nonsense. No large newspaper has followed up. I guess people are used to stupidity from the bureaucracy, but it makes me feel helpless when it comes to the general public's lack of awareness regarding this type of scams.




IN CLOSING…

We’ve just been contacted by “Captain Disillusion,” obviously a real super-hero who is very much in tune with the JREF and how we think. I’ll just send you to www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yh80XIhRsSY for a sample of this guy’s wonderful work. We’re in contact, and we’ll be getting back to you on what the Captain and I will be doing in the very near future. The Captain’s definitely our kinda guy…!

After you recover from that, go to tinyurl.com/3bhc6m for an important observation on a school science fair, read the posting, then read the comments that follow – which are very revealing of the attitude and terror that fundamentalists have of reality… For an article that tells you why I so value my association with Martin Gardner, go to tinyurl.com/34xhuh.

radin

Reader Dale A. Wood has forwarded me a stunning photo, to be seen here. I ask you to go to Google and look up the facts about the Crab Nebula, then look again at the photo and realize what you’re seeing. Just to tease you: light travels at about 186,000 miles per second. That puts the diameter of the image you’re seeing in this photo, at about 65,000,000,000,000 miles. And it’s about 38,000,000,000,000,000 miles – 6,500 light-years – away from Earth. That means you’re looking at a photo that is not of the Crab Nebula as it is today, but as it was in the year 4500 B.P.! That has to make you think…

Ain’t science – and reality – grand…?


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