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SWIFT March 7, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Breaking News, Easy Solution, Another Wrist-Slap, Just Another Cold Reader, A Happy Convert, Explanation, Prophet/Profit Manual, Musical Advice, Rebuttal, That Old Null Hypothesis Problem, Steorn’s Demise Again Denied, Who & Why?, That Health Anchor, Desiré?, and In Closing…

padre pio

The corpse of Padre Pio, the Italian monk from the Capuchin order who was said to have regularly exhibited stigmata – wounds on his hands, feet and side like those of Jesus Christ during his crucifixion – and who was made a saint by Pope John Paul II, has been exhumed on the 40th anniversary of his death. Some seven million people visit his tomb every year. Those wounds reputedly bled frequently throughout his adult life. He was exhumed in order to be put on public display at the end of April. We’re told that the remains will be “prepared by experts before being placed in a glass coffin.” I certainly hope so.

The body was in "fair" condition, a Church statement said, and “his nails looked as if they had just undergone a manicure.” The statement also said that the body “has been conserved well,'' and “we could clearly make out the beard,” except that

The top part of the skull is partly skeletal but the chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved.

Table of Contents
  1. Breaking News

  2. Easy Solution

  3. Another Wrist-Slap

  4. Just Another Cold Reader

  5. A Happy Convert

  6. Explanation

  7. Prophet/Profit Manual

  8. Musical Advice

  9. Rebuttal

  10. That Old Null Hypothesis Problem

  11. Steorn’s Demise Again Denied

  12. Who & Why?

  13. That Health Anchor

  14. Desiré

  15. In Closing…



BREAKING NEWS

padre pio

The corpse of Padre Pio, the Italian monk from the Capuchin order who was said to have regularly exhibited stigmata – wounds on his hands, feet and side like those of Jesus Christ during his crucifixion – and who was made a saint by Pope John Paul II, has been exhumed on the 40th anniversary of his death. Some seven million people visit his tomb every year. Those wounds reputedly bled frequently throughout his adult life. He was exhumed in order to be put on public display at the end of April. We’re told that the remains will be “prepared by experts before being placed in a glass coffin.” I certainly hope so.

The body was in "fair" condition, a Church statement said, and “his nails looked as if they had just undergone a manicure.” The statement also said that the body “has been conserved well,'' and “we could clearly make out the beard,” except that

The top part of the skull is partly skeletal but the chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved.

His followers and friends claim that Padre Pio performed hundreds of healings and other miracles during his life. At first, the Vatican opposed the growth of the popular following around the saint, but then changed its attitude, and now he’s going on display.

It’s claimed that Padre Pio could predict future events, had the power of “bilocation” – being seen in two places at once – and he had the ability to know penitents’ sins before they had confessed them. He was also said to have emitted the scent of flowers. A little after-shave lotion would have accomplished that, but we’re dealing here with religious belief, and reason or common sense must not interfere.

The BBC press release from Rome, perhaps simply choosing to get it wrong and thus creating yet another “straw man,” said:

Critics have claimed that he was a fraud who may have used acid to create the stigmata wounds on his hands, but the Church has repeatedly denied these suggestions.

As well they might. That’s a ridiculous suggestion, and would never be made by any serious critic, any more than any skeptic would claim that Uri Geller bends spoons by using corrosive acid on his fingers to soften the metal; the modus operandi is far simpler, in both cases, though the observation about Geller has been made, in all seriousness. As we pointed out in connection with another stigmata claim at tinyurl.com/39dvkr and a reference at tinyurl.com/2o2gsv, these wounds are very easy to produce, as long as the rewards are great enough and the subject is sufficiently eager for attention…

Strangely, we see no mention here of whether or not the Padre was embalmed. Saints, after all, are supposed to have incorruptible corpses, and a poorly-maintained skull isn’t made less so by a perfect chin… Mother Teresa also failed this simple test, as did Saint Bernadette… See www.randi.org/jr/102502.html – do a search for “Teresa.”

Bottom line: this public exhibition of a corpse is a tasteless, sensationalistic, cultish stunt worthy of P.T. Barnum, not His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. We can be sure that the desiccated remains will have been prepared with make-up, a careful coiffure, a new costume with much gold embroidery, and any necessary repairs. God will appreciate the help in maintaining the carnival business…




EASY SOLUTION

In Romania, the woo-woo index has just risen a few points, though it’s never been low. In the town of Lilieci – which we can’t even find in an atlas or encyclopedia, and which may refer to several different locations in that country – the citizens have been reporting broken windows, bicycles flying through the air, objects moving on tables, and candles blown out when there is no wind. Now, before we go any further, let’s benefit from our previous experience with this sort of claim. It’s well known that folks get carried away, and they will try to get in on any currently-popular fad or attraction. One cracked window-pane can soon become a dozen when householders start examining their windows, a bicycle that simply falls down during the night takes on supernatural aspects, and a failed candle becomes an icon, when the community believes that there’s an “influence” present… Everyone wants a share of the limelight, and might even invent a suitable one-up version to get attention, if we can believe that…

Well, the local Romanian police conducted a vandalism investigation, a sober move. At first, they laughed at claims by the citizens that evil spirits were actually behind these events, but then they closed the case after concluding that ghosts were indeed to blame. A police spokesman said:

There were bottles and things flying around. I did not know what to dodge first. We can find nothing to suggest it was anything other than what the people had claimed.

In other words, the police couldn’t find the cause of this mischief – or perhaps just imagined or hyperbolized events – so they officially opted for a supernatural cause. Case closed.

But all is well. A priest has been called in to perform exorcisms of houses in the town – you know, that’s chanting, tossing holy water around, the proper robes, take up a collection – so that the attacks will finally stop. Phew! That was close! And we should throw in a little garlic, in case there’s a werewolf or a vampire involved. Eye of newt and toe of frog, as well? Can’t be too safe, you know…




ANOTHER WRIST-SLAP

Reader Arnold Rosner – among several others – sends us to tinyurl.com/365tmm, where we find a most interesting – and frustrating – account about the popular “Airborne” farce that claims to serve as a cold-symptom reliever and immunity-builder. And, as it proudly states on the box, it was “created by a second-grade school teacher.” Wow! What better qualifications could possibly be asked for? Says Arnold:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a FEDERAL AGENCY, finally took some action against Airborne. Do you think this is a start? Or just an aberration?

Not quite, Arnold. The Center for Science in the Public Interest [CSPI] is a 501(c)3 non-profit – just as the JREF is – consumer advocacy group. See www.cspinet.org/about/index.html. It’s not a Federal Agency.

It’s been nine years now since this “Airborne” nostrum first appeared on the shelves of pharmacies all over this continent. From the first time I saw this package, my quackery alarm went off. We figure that it would have taken the Federal Trade Commission, and/or the Food and Drug Administration and/or the Federal Communications Commission, about two weeks to at least have obtained temporary injunctions against the sale and advertising of this product, but by the time those agencies got in gear, the company was selling – annually – $300 million worth of this product! And now that the government – prodded by the CSPI – has scolded them for having foisted this junk on the public, what was the fine imposed on them? It was 23 million dollars! That’s less than ten percent of the annual sales figures for this $6.99 bottle of pills! Don’t you think that the company has already made their money, and can easily afford this terrible penalty?

There was no credible evidence that Airborne could prevent colds or protect the user from germs in the environment, as they advertised it could. It also claimed to “boost the immune system,” but no supporting evidence was produced. It was vastly overpriced, and amounted to a simple vitamin pill that was cleverly – but deceptively – marketed and sold to the naïve who figured that a “second grade school teacher” was not only enough of an expert on pharmaceuticals, but was also incapable of deceiving them. An ABC News report disclosed that the company's claimed “clinical trials” were not conducted by medical scientists, but instead by two laypeople, at their home.

Again, folks, the formula for getting rich in America is this simple:

1. Originate a useless product.
2. Lie about it.
3. Falsely advertise it
4. Sell it.
5. Wait a few years until the FTC, FDA, or the FCC catch up with you, then pay the miniscule fine, and retire for the rest of your life. You’re safe, because our legal system does not work. It’s very broken.

ab

If you have an organization already in place, like Walgreen’s Pharmacy has, skip step #1, above, copy the formula, package the product in exactly the same size and format, and simply change the name to something like “Wal-Born,” and display it alongside the original scam product. That’s what Walgreen’s has done, and sales are brisk!

In another few years, maybe these agencies will have a moment to look at another useless product, “HeadOn,” the .2-ounce stick of “homeopathic” wax with zero active ingredients. By then, the manufacturers will have made much more profit than Airborne, and can all retire comfortably. Quackery will sail on…




JUST ANOTHER COLD READER

williams

I’ve been referred to a series of “readings” – actually carefully-selected video excerpts – by one Lisa Williams, a “psychic” who took the fancy of a SWIFT reader in Belgium. He then wrote me to extol her virtues, not recognizing that she’s using the same old “cold reading” technique that they all use. Williams says she’s also a healer and an authority on crystals – with all the woo–woo connotations that those subjects summon up. Go to that URL – tinyurl.com/347yxo – and view the first two excerpts, labeled “Kim & Kris,” and “Robin,” respectively, then consider this short analysis that I’ve prepared.

Re the first video, Williams has “contacted” a spirit at the request of the two women, Kim and Kris. She starts out her fishing expedition by saying:

Whoever this woman is, she’s a real chatterbox.

Now, this is an effective way of actually asking who the “woman” is, by both stating that (a) she – Williams – doesn’t know, thus encouraging that further data be provided, and (b) by tossing in an innocuous “chatterbox” qualification. The victims react as expected, nodding, “Yes,” though this observation could apply to almost anyone, so it’s of no real significance, and if it had missed – that is, if the spirit is actually one of a laconic, shy, uncommunicative person – it could still be a “hit.” I say that because on one occasion when John Edward – remember him, the “Crossing Over” show? – gave a reading, the victim was greatly impressed simply because Edward had designated the ghost of her mother as being “enthusiastic, loud, outgoing, and chatty.” And – get this – the victim took that as proof that it was her mother’s ghost, saying with breathless enthusiasm:

You know, in life, my Mom was very shy, withdrawn, and quiet! I’m so happy to know that now she’s in Heaven, she’s become so changed!

Notice: Edward’s guess about the spirit was 100% wrong, but this woman so greatly wanted – needed – this to be the shade of her mother, that she turned it into a “hit”!

Another requirement in cold reading, is that it’s important to elicit as many “yes” answers as possible, so that an overall impression of success is produced. Williams continues:

She’s abs… Okay, she’s giving me, “mom,” so I would have to say she feels like a “mom” figure. Is this “mom”?

Note: Williams says that she has been “given” the “mom” impression, and now she needs to extract either acceptance or rejection of this guess from the victims. She also says that she “would have to say” that this “feels like” – rather than it is, to provisionally label this as only an interpretation – a guess – rather than as a statement, so that she can excuse it if it’s wrong. Williams finally just asks directly if her guess is correct, and gets immediate affirmation from the victims. This sort of detail is often incorrectly recounted by the victim as, “She told me that was my mom!” when she asked if it was…

The second video, of “Robin,” evidently used another tried-and-true ploy of cold reading guessing technique: “I have two persons here, one older than the other.” This immediately provides twice as many possibilities, and if the ghost that is not accepted is also dropped by the reader, no one notices. Williams says:

The younger guy’s very comical, real funny, you know, he enjoys life.

Again, if the subject actually had zero sense of humor when he was alive, this can be turned into “he’s comical now in Heaven”; in any case, it’s a generality. Williams goes on, fishing for a cause of death or injury:

Someone hit my jaw! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Did your brother have a problem with his jaw?

Again, this is a direct question, typical of cold reading. Note that we’re not told whether Williams was guessing at an altercation, a dentist appointment, a fall, an accident, a hereditary condition, or anything specific; the victim is expected to fill in the details, and of course she does. The immediate answer from Robin is:

He had a really bad accident.

But pay close attention to this next question from Williams:

Were there questions about his passing?

When someone dies in an accident, there are invariably such questions, and this is a very good guess to make in a cold reading. But it’s the very quick response that Williams offers – even interrupting the brief “yes” affirmation – that is significant here. She jumps in, adding:

…because he’s telling me there were questions about his death.

This is a gimmick also often used in cold reading by James Van Praagh, making a guess and then when receiving an affirmative answer quickly following it up with “…because he’s telling me…” and giving back the same information that was just elicited from the victim, as if it came from the ghost. Also, notice that Williams – as with any cold reader – is asking questions, not telling the victim anything!

Readers may wish to view some of the other videos on this site, to further look into the “cold reading” methods, and report on them. Meanwhile, to my correspondent in Belgium: Lisa Williams is just another cold reader, nothing more.




A HAPPY CONVERT

Mr. Sam Opuku, an applicant for the JREF prize, had the chance to ponder further on the matter, on the JREF and its employees, and on his real reasons for believing he had supernatural powers that could capture the prize. After his epiphany, he agreed to prepare the following document for use here on SWIFT:

In Pursuit of the James Randi Educational Foundation Million Dollar Challenge

Many who profess psychic or other powers say they've felt that they were “special” since childhood. I also thought I had a “sense” of how those sorts of things worked. I would find out that my childhood imaginations had carried themselves into adulthood and that I started to value the illusions as part of how I saw reality and myself. Once I realized this, I was able to start letting them go and see things more as they are. These revelations came through my pursuit of the JREF Challenge, an experience for which I am incredibly grateful. I learned about myself, how I was seeing things, and got started on a “rehab” for my incorrect perceptions.

Although I’d looked into many different “metaphysical” things before I started after the JREF Challenge, I'd never done it with any focus, I never had a purpose for it. This allowed me to look at things in ways that confirmed my beliefs and to ignore those things that were in opposition. If something didn't work as advertised, it was a minor footnote or user error; if it did, it was a big discovery. Of course any explanation of a successful result outside the metaphysical was unheard of. I had a blind spot that meant reason and metaphysics would never meet in my head, even worse I didn't know I had one. However, a showdown between reason and metaphysics would happen with the JREF Challenge.

I don't remember exactly how I became aware of the challenge, only that once I did I thought it'd be easy. I allowed myself excuses for the challenge going unanswered for so long. I thought with all the psychics and mystics out there who made books, videos, or audio courses, and had financial success, something had to work. I saw things work, so why had no one ever succeeded? I created all sorts of theories as to why the Challenge persisted:

• JREF was unreasonable about the test to make sure it failed

• JREF was being deceitful in some way or rude to discourage valid claimants and only allowed sure failures to apply

• “Other people” didn't know what they were doing (of course I would...)

…and so the list goes on. I thought of more excuses than I can list in anything less than an encyclopedia-sized volume of text.

No matter what the reasons were, I committed myself to overcome all roadblocks and either succeed or prove JREF fraudulent. This attitude persisted until I met that insurmountable roadblock to the challenge called REALITY.

Once I'd decided to pursue the prize I set about investigation and research into the challenge itself. I joined the JREF forum to get a look inside, username “Mente” – if you're curious, I never posted, just lurked and gathered intel. I'm a Mensan, so I was able to join the Mensan group for parapsychology where I met a few others who'd pursued the Challenge and confirmed my theory that JREF was unreasonable and intentionally difficult. I searched online and found a few who tried to answer the challenge and blogged about it. I listened to all the Randi lectures I could find. I watched video of him debunking Lydick and others. I read his biography and the history of the Challenge. While I was doing this investigation I was working on a paranormal device I came up with in college based on several other devices I'd observed in books or other places. After some testing at home to come up with the sort of experimental terms I'd agree to, I filled out an application, got it notarized, and sent it in. This brought me into contact with Jeff Wagg, who turned out to be the first step in my re-examining what I believed.

I was prepared for rudeness, to be ignored, to be deceived, or even insulted but Jeff was exactly the opposite. At worst Jeff was strictly polite but most of the time he was cordial or outright friendly. I even shared a joke with him via email during our correspondence as we worked out what the test would be. We got to a point where it would be up to Randi himself to accept the terms. At some point Jeff put my name in as someone who could potentially be tested on Japanese TV. Being unable to settle testing criteria on TV with Randi, it never happened, but the TV crew did come to my apartment to film me and my device for footage later. They even paid me for my time and trouble. After that experience, I decided that one of my other theories was right: JREF was a bit too stringent. Despite that validation, I was left with an experience that was in opposition to something else I thought about JREF. It was the first contradiction I acknowledged, everyone I interacted with was absolutely reasonable. I could not find fault with any part of their professionalism. This was disconcerting as it upset my earlier perceptions. Always on the look out for information I asked the film crew from Japan about James Randi and they spoke of him as a nice, kind person.

Despite this information, by now I not only wanted to answer the challenge for the money and fame, but also to validate what I believed about myself. Reality was less important to me at that point than what I wanted to believe.

Not to be stopped in the action I’d committed to, I decided I would pursue the challenge through affiliates of JREF. I started to speak to affiliates of JREF, if I had a success with one of them it was agreed they'd work with JREF to get a formal test. I started to seek advocates, like college professors, who could vouch for the validity of my claim. At some point, an I'm not sure what it was but the evidence against my claim reached a threshold where I was forced to reexamine everything and stop pursuing the prize altogether.

I mulled over all the strange questions I found through the whole process:

• If JREF was so unreasonable how could it be filled with professionalism and reasonable people?

• If my claim was so valid why did my criteria have to be so specific? (Maybe I was the one who was being too strict?)

• If it was that easy to come up with a claim and JREF couldn't be blamed, why was the Challenge unanswered?

• Why didn't any of the professional psychics seek the easy money?

…and on and on and on...

One easy answer to all the questions and more: I was wrong.

A very tough pill to swallow. Once I fully admitted it to myself, I devoted the same determination I used to pursue the JREF Challenge to finding out why. I researched “psychics” and “mystics,” especially the "greats" like Geller, I learned a few magician’s tricks and how to make tricks, I looked into scams of all sorts and the psychology of how you are fooled and how you fool yourself, all of which was VERY educational. This knowledge in hand, I looked at everything surrounding my claim and the prize, again.

If I was someone else looking at what I did, I would have been amused. The JREF Challenge has helped me realize limitations in thinking I didn't know I had. In one sense, the challenge has served as an incredible educational tool. I was sorry to hear the challenge is expiring. I've been honored to have been educated by it and JREF as a whole. I'm not completely purged of spurious beliefs/perspective but I am on the road to recovery.

To the Amazing James Randi, Jeff Wagg, and all of JREF –

Thank you.

Sam, you’re one of the many reasons that we’re in business. We read this with great satisfaction, indeed.




EXPLANATION

The irrepressible Avital Pilpel again clarifies a point for us, one that I’d assumed everyone understood:

I have an explanation as to why it is the "Zionists" who are now in control of everything according to the paranoids anti-Semites, instead of the “Jews."

A Zionist is someone who believes the Jews should return to Palestine and establish a Jewish state there, and/or a supporter of Israel. Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews. Also, not all criticism of Zionism or Israel is anti-Semitism. Two obvious examples of people who severely criticized (some) Zionist/Israeli policies, and are certainly not anti-Semitic, are Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

For the paranoid anti-Semites, it is precisely these differences between Zionism and Judaism that makes "Zionism" a tempting target for their hatred,

And Avital leaves us with this:

Have you heard the Catholic Church just came out with a new diet communion wafer? It's called, "I Can't Believe It's Not Jesus."

I think he’s just joshing…




PROPHET/PROFIT MANUAL

Reader Darren McBride provides this interesting set of instructions:

I blew it last night! My 19-year-old college age daughter casually mentioned that both Nostradamus and the ancient Mayans predicted that the world would end in 2012. She obviously either saw or heard about the silly show on the history channel that advanced & supported this theory. Unfortunately, rather than counter my daughter’s comment with well reasoned arguments, I got angry and started yelling and cussing. I’m ashamed that I said some hurtful things. I told her that a college student should be learning to think critically and not repeat such drivel without knowing the facts. So although I’ve apologized to her, I’ve also been ruminating on “what I should have said” and how I can convince her that my outburst was based on a somewhat informed opinion. As a starting point today I sat down and wrote out a few thoughts and create something I call “A survival guide for prophets”. The intent was it was to write something to start a dialogue with my daughter about whether anyone can predict the future & critical thinking.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard that the History Channel has done a few of these types of “documentaries”. A short clip can be found here: youtube.com/watch?v=6DlQDkOLBRw. Strangely, the Nostradamus discussion centers around a series of his illustrations, rather than the actual text. I was unable to puzzle out which quatrain was used by the History Channel to make the end of world prediction. Such shows are clearly profitable and popular, although not necessarily the least bit accurate. One of the people consulted by the History Channel claims they misused his data on the Mayan calendar: alignment2012.com/historychannel.html. As for Nostradamus, you and many others have pointed out that his quatrains are so vague that they are of little predictive value. Any number of unscrupulous authors have attempted to interpret his writing after-the-fact, but most of them have been disingenuous, as you point out in discussing the changes John Hogue made to his book from ‘87 to ‘91. Now, even the revised 1991 edition in which he replaces Ayatollah Khomeini with Saddam Hussein as the 3rd Anti-Christ, is laughable! If he keeps revising his book maybe eventually he’ll get a hit.

www.randi.org/encyclopedia/Nostradamus.html. As for Nostradamus predicting the end of the world in 2012, I understand he clearly stated that his prophecies extend to the year 3797. Personally I don’t care whether his “predictions” go to 3797 or not because to me it’s obviously all B.S. written for his own notoriety & profit. But…. it may help to point out this discrepancy to my daughter and to other History Channel believers.

So below is my attempt to discuss how to maximize long term survival if you’re a prophet. It’s clear how many of these things apply to Nostradamus. I got some of the ideas from the “guide to cold reading” at www.skeptics.com.au/articles/coldread.htm. Since I put some effort into it, I was hoping you’d be interested in using it in your excellent weekly SWIFT newsletter. Thanks for everything you do.

A Survival Guide for Prophets.

1. Always be vague in your prophecies. Avoid specific names, places, and dates. Practice substituting initials, numbers, location descriptions, positions of stars or planets, and symbols, for specifics wherever possible. This allows your prophecy to be interpreted after-the-fact in ways that fit a variety of situations. You can also claim that the vagueness was deliberate to avoid some type of persecution.

2. Write your prophecies in verse or poetic language. This increases the mysticism associated with your predictions. At the same time poetic vagueness allows your words to be subject to interpretation. In addition, if readers don’t “get” what you are saying, you can imply that they are uneducated, uninformed, or stupid.

3. If possible, prophesize in a foreign language. Better yet, use a dead language such as Latin or ancient Hebrew. If this isn’t practical, use lots of big words and technical terms that the average reader will feel stupid for not knowing. Try to use outdated terms or ambiguous language at all times. This can be very helpful later because you will be able translate the original text in a variety of subtle ways to more closely fit with actual historical events.

4. Use large quantities of words and paper. Never prophesize in a succinct way. Always use more words than necessary, tipping towards the excessive. Include lots of words because the more words you have and the more guesses you make, the more likely some of them will “hit” and thus be interpreted as predicting some real event. This is similar to the technique used by modern-day psychics referred to as “cold reading.” The more stuff you throw against the wall, the more will inevitably stick. The believers tend to ignore misses and concentrate on hits, so sheer volume is your friend. The huge volume of words also prevents those with only casual interest from studying your words (usually out of sheer boredom).

5. It can be helpful to misuse or redefine common words to mean something else. This allows you and your followers to later scoff at any skeptic who analyzes a single line and shows it to be false. You simply point out that he obviously didn’t read the whole text or he would know that you are re-defining and using the words in a whole new way.

6. If you can get away with it, “predict” something that has either already happened, or is likely to happen in the near future. Better yet, routinely claim that you already predicted past events and state in a loud firm voice that everyone knows this to be true. Modify past websites or text as necessary to support your claim.

7. Believe what you say. Confidence is the key to success, whether it’s for a prophet or a cold reader. One of the most important guidelines for prophets is to employ “double think” in such a way that as you practice these deceptions, you actually fool even yourself into thinking you have some sort of “gift.” In this way, you can never be caught out, even if you are drunk, delirious, or otherwise have your guard down.

8. Always mention that prophecy is not a perfect science, and that there are going to be a few misses from time to time. Be modest about your talents. Act as if this is perfectly normal and no one should expect anything else because of the mystical nature of your gift and of the universe. State that due to difficulties of language and communication, you may not always convey the meaning you intend. In these cases, readers must strive to fit the reading to world events.

9. Always give the impression you know more than you are saying. The more mystical and mysterious you seem, the more likely it is that people will believe you.

10. If criticized, make sure to claim that your critics have “closed minds.” Point out that they don’t know everything and that they are “know-it-alls.”

11. If you can, get celebrities or politicians to endorse your predictions. Use them aggressively to support your reputation. Celebrity endorsements add credibility.




MUSICAL ADVICE

No comment needed: www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFO6ZhUW38w




REBUTTAL

Here’s a response I sent to four presumptions written by a Mr. Martin Albl (?) and published in a recent issue of the Aberdeen News. Such folks have a remarkable facility for misunderstanding and misquoting quite simple statements and then building their fairy castles on them. Mr. Albl’s assertions are numbered, followed by my comments:

(1) Since life is nothing but the result of chance genetic mutations, there can be no ultimate purpose to life – it is simply accidental.

This statement assumes that there is an “ultimate purpose to life,” which implies/requires an agency that designed that purpose or plan, a factor as yet unproven. And the “accident” notion is similarly assumed.

(2) Since humans did evolve from other life forms, there is no essential difference between humans and other animals.

#2 is simply wrong; there are vast “essential” differences between a bread mold and a giraffe, and between a Musca Domestica and a human. I’ll leave it to you to enumerate them…

(3) Our sense of right and wrong (ethics) is nothing but the chance evolution of certain ideas that helped us to survive as a species.

This is also wrong; ethics are largely common-sense actions and attitudes, arrived at through experimental failure-and-success. They tend to lead to survival.

(4) Although we might have the illusion of free will, our life choices are really nothing but the predetermined results of our genetic makeup.

This points out the illusion of free will, a function which is only operable in low-level decisions – “I will try to find income-tax lacunae that may be slightly dishonest” – but not on hard-wired reactions such as, “I will drop this hot poker because it is burning my hand.”

Next set of false presumptions, please…?




THAT OLD NULL HYPOTHESIS PROBLEM

From reader Rob Davison:

I saw today these two articles on the Science Daily website, one was heartening, the other was rather dismaying. Firstly, there is news that neuro-imaging has demonstrated that ESP (probably) does not exist. See tinyurl.com/2w8xgt

To quote from the article:

Psychologists at Harvard University have developed a new method to study extrasensory perception that, they argue, can resolve the century-old debate over its existence. According to the authors, their study not only illustrates a new method for studying such phenomena, but also provides the strongest evidence yet obtained against the existence of extrasensory perception, or ESP.

I understand from the article that the basis of this study is that the brain reacts differently when shown a picture, say, for the first time compared to one it has seen before. Subjects were sent “pictures” by ESP, and were then shown the pictures to their eyes, and their brains reacted as if they had never seen the pictures before. That may not be exactly right, but I think I have the gist of it. The conclusion was that since all subjects tested reacted the same way, without exception, then there is no evidence that ESP exists. However, they are ultimately foiled from being able to state that ESP does not exist because you cannot prove such a “null hypothesis.”

Rob, the “null hypothesis” does indeed prohibit the researchers from stating that – judging from these tests – ESP does not exist. However, since we’ve not seen any evidence that it does exist, we cannot know its true nature, assuming that it could exist, because we can’t study it. Radioactivity – before it was discovered, isolated and studied – was only a chimera. Now we know that it has quite unusual and previously unexpected qualities. If ESP exists, we cannot impose on it the requirements we demand of other similar – and well-established – phenomena, because we don’t have it to examine. It may have the same degree of unusual and previously unexpected qualities as radioactivity…

In any case, testing for ESP is not at all difficult, and I would be very edified to see a massive set of experiments done to test whether telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition are real. This is one way to settle the matter and allow science to get on with its work untroubled by peripheral considerations. One reason I think that this massive project will never happen, is because a huge test of homeopathy – a notion without which medicine could move ahead much more easily – was recently planned to be done in to be done in Hungary, the funding was in place, the JREF prize was up for grabs, the homeopathic community said it was eager to get on with it, and yet – after all this time – we still have no definite agreement nor venue arranged. This, as I’ve said before, is very typical of those who apply for the million-dollar prize. The JREF will stay with this until a final cancellation is announced by the homeopaths. It will never come from us. We’re like that, adhering to our agreements, no matter what…




STEORN’S DEMISE AGAIN DENIED

Reader Niall Morrissey follows up on Bob Park’s apparently premature announcement re the Steorn group, in item at randi.org/joom/content/view/166/1/#i5. He writes:

I'm not sure where Bob Park gets his information from, but I can't find any reference in the Irish news to Steorn's folding up.

Their website is still up (not proof of anything, but at the same time, there are no comments in the forum indicating that any of their congregation has read such news). And, as late as October 2007, their premises was included in a visit by the Irish President Mary McAleese, who was noting the anniversary of the trust which is responsible for the business park where they operate. Again, that doesn't say anything as to their viability at that time; they could have folded after she left. I should point out, by the way, that her visit was not to Steorn per se, but to the Business Park – she was in no way giving them her imprimatur, which would be a grave offence for a President, in any event.

I've kicked off some enquiries with friends in the locale (now I'm living in Paris I can't just hop on a bike and go visit the place). I'll let you know what they find.




WHO & WHY?

metalman

So just who is this man, and what is he doing? And why? Next week, I’ll give you the statement made about him, but clear the room first; this is a whopper…!




THAT HEALTH ANCHOR

Reader Greg Stokley objected to a naïve – if not simply fraudulent – report featured on TV station WKYC Channel 3, NBC-TV in Cleveland. He mentioned he would send them a letter of protest, he did, and we see here his letter and the response he received. Says Greg:

I got a reply back already; not from the reporter, Monica Robins, but from one of the main anchormen, Tim White, who is the one who actually introduced the report on the newscast. Here’s my e-mail to them:

Dear Ms. Robins:

Considering your position as a Health Anchor, I’m shocked that you would put out such a ludicrous report as the one on homeopathy broadcast on this evening’s (Thursday, 2/21) newscast.

Your attempt to make homeopathy look like some kind of legitimate medical practice is outrageous. To illustrate your utter disregard of truthfulness, accuracy, and balance, let’s just look at a couple examples from your report (which I’m taking from what is posted on the WKYC website):

Example 1:

Quote: “Homeopathy is a therapy based on the concept that disease can be treated with drugs, in small doses,…”

Comment: “Small doses?” Try “NO DOSES!” The diluting process of homeopathy dilutes the alleged active substance to the point where there is literally NO substance in the water that remains to be given to the patient/victim. You should know this fact. If you do, the wording of you report is, at best, blatantly deceptive. If you don’t know, then your research for the report is inexcusably negligent.

Example 2:

Quote: “Albert is still being treated with modern medicine, but says his doctors are amazed at his recovery.”

 

Comment: Gee wiz… Did you even try to talk directly to this patient/victim’s MDs to see what they REALLY have to say about his recovery and the role that homeopathy may have played in it? I sure didn’t see any reference in your report to any comments by his doctors or any attempt by you to get a comment from them. Instead you just took Mr. Baker’s word for what he claims they said. What kind of professional journalism is that?

And so, on and on goes the total lack of accuracy and attempt to do any critical investigation on your part throughout the entire report.

This report comes across as nothing more than a complete attempt to promote the fraud and quackery of homeopathy. And even worse, it’s dangerous. There are people out in viewer-land that may see this nonsense and actually decide to switch from life-saving, legitimate, medical treatment to homeopathic quackery and end up missing a chance to save their lives.

I feel you owe it to your viewers to do a follow-up article on this subject in which you let actual MDs present their analysis of homeopathy to bring back a little balance to your apologist stance on the subject.

Following are a couple of websites that explain, in far more accuracy that you did, what homeopathy is really based on. I certainly hope you check them out.

James Randi Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural and csicop.org/si/9709/park.html

tim white

and here is anchorman Tim White's reply:

Not my fight, Greg, but you’re going to have to do better than cite James Randi and CSICOP as grounds to refute anything. Had you watched closely, you would have seen the homeopathic practitioner was an MD.

The story was not intended to be a debate about alternative medicine; it was a story about the occasionally positive effects of practices outside the medical mainstream ... a mainstream that, in my lifetime, scoffed at such things as accupuncture [sic], exercise, and even nutrition as factors that might bear on well-being. Skepticism is fine, but huffing and puffing cynicism helps no one.

If you are going to lambaste Ms. Robins’ reporting, your will need to offer far more than indignity and a couple of cultural websites.

Tim White

 

I told you it would be good for some laughs. Did you realize your website is a "cultural" site? And to think that the horrible field of mainstream medicine could be trusted to pass judgment on anything; after all, they scoffed at acupuncture, exercise and nutrition in the past.

Well…. I’m aware of the medical community’s skepticism of acupuncture, but I don’t recall any MDs ever saying that exercise or nutrition had no effect on peoples’ health. I guess Mr. White met up with a different class of MDs that I did in the past. I guess I’ll also have to stop referring people to the websites of JREF and CSICOP for enlightenment. After all, Mr. White has little regard for the utility of such sites.

Oh well, I tried. Maybe I'll have a little more success next time.




DESIRÉ?

While I’m hardly going to laugh at anyone’s voluntary choice of gender, I have to tell you that Dr. William Nelson, creator of the fabulous EPFX – see randi.org/joom/content/view/131/1/#i8 – is now known as Desiré Dubounet. Go to desifm.net.




IN CLOSING…

AN APPEAL

Since the Pear Cable people welched on their agreement to supply a pair of their Pear Anjou (?) cables for a test of Michael Fremer's golden ears, I'm asking all readers to look for someone who has a pair of these cables to loan us for a definitive test. Anyone out there..?

Registration for TAM6 continues apace. We’re going to be auctioning off – again – a tour of the fabulous Slammer, Penn Jillette’s Las Vegas home, on E-bay. Watch here for the announcement. It will be limited to a dozen lucky bidders, as before, and will include lunch and even a highly probable drop-in by Teller, chatty as ever… I’m negotiating with a major UK TV outlet for a series on the Million Dollar Challenge, that also to be announced here.

To quote the late Billy DeWolf, “Busy, busy, busy…”


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