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SWIFT April 25, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

A Great News, The Stupid Fuel Magnets Are Back, More "Qi" Discussions, A Moatter of Some Sensitivity, From An Unexpected Source, Where's that Damn Ark, The Opinion From Backstage, Beyond Parody, My UK Visit.

flamm

We have a most welcome note from Dr. Bruce L. Flamm, MD, who for the last eight years has been battling the ridiculous report that prayers intoned for infertility patients in Korea could result in a 100% increase in pregnancy rates among the subjects. We’ve followed this for some time now – just do a search on SWIFT for “Flamm,” and you’ll see.

Table of Contents
  1. Great News

  2. The Stupid Fuel Magnets Are Back

  3. More “Qi” Discussion

  4. A Matter of Some Sensitivity

  5. From An Unexpected Source

  6. Where’s that Damn Ark?

  7. The Opinion From Backstage

  8. Beyond Parody

  9. My UK Visit



GREAT NEWS

flamm

We have a most welcome note from Dr. Bruce L. Flamm, MD, who for the last eight years has been battling the ridiculous report that prayers intoned for infertility patients in Korea could result in a 100% increase in pregnancy rates among the subjects. We’ve followed this for some time now – just do a search on SWIFT for “Flamm,” and you’ll see. Now, the Los Angeles Superior Court has – finally – thrown out the major defamation lawsuit that Korean fertility specialist Kwang Yul Cha filed against Dr. Flamm, a California physician who had published several articles questioning the validity of the report. That lawsuit, first filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in August 2007, was thrown out last November but then reinstated in January. Now it’s finally dismissed.

In 2001, a study was published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine claiming that prayers from the USA, Canada, and Australia caused a 100% pregnancy rate in the subjects of those prayers – an incredible claim, indeed. Kwang Cha and his associates were widely reported in the news media, including on the USA ABC news program Good Morning America, who should have known better than to perpetuate this nonsense. The following year, the study’s credibility was undermined when one of the co-authors, Daniel Wirth, was arrested by the FBI and later pled guilty to fraud. Cha's other co-author, Columbia University’s Rogerio Lobo, later revealed that he had not participated in the research and he withdrew his name from the published findings.

As Dr. Flamm says:

[This] ruling is a victory for science and freedom of speech. Scientists must be allowed to question bizarre claims and correct errors. Cha's mysterious study was designed and allegedly conducted by a man who turned out to be a criminal with a 20-year history of fraud; a criminal who steals the identities of dead children to obtain bank loans and passports is not a trustworthy source of research data. Cha could have simply admitted this obvious fact, but instead he hired Beverly Hills lawyers to punish me for voicing my opinions.

We’re struck by the fact that the Journal of Reproductive Medicine – which capriciously published the original report, and then dug in its heels and refused to react to the very obvious fact that this was a spurious, quack, non-scientific action, refused to withdraw the article! This journal should be taken to task for flying in the face of medical science and so blatantly deceiving its readers.

Dr. Flamm is a partner physician with Kaiser Permanente and a Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California. He has been the senior investigator on numerous medical studies and has written several books and book chapters. SWIFT congratulates Dr. Flamm on his definitive victory, and tosses him kudos for his valorous fight against spurious science!




THE STUPID FUEL MAGNETS ARE BACK

UK reader Victor Sellwood sends us to an item of interest:

You may be interested in a short correspondence between a Motoring journalist – “Honest John” – for the UK's Daily Telegraph, in his “agony column.” A manufacturer of magnets for car fuel systems tanks wrote in, making tenuous woo-woo claims for fuel efficiency and berating the journalist for putting the product down. He got short shrift from the journalist, as you can see. Perhaps you'd like to contact the journalist to offer the Million Dollar challenge to the letter writer?

Oh yes, Victor. Already done, see ahead… The complaint from the scammer:

There must be many who, like me, are losing faith in your self-styled honesty. Your flippant put-downs regarding magnets on fridge doors bear no relevance to magnets on cars. I'm not surprised you notice no improvement in your fridge. As a successful distributor of car magnets, I wrote to you some months ago, and you replied with the suggestion that I was persuading people to invest in a product whose benefits were scientifically unproven. I wonder why you are so sure about this. I have in front of me a long list of scientific studies on the effects of a magnetic force on fluids in tubes, from blood to water to gas to – gasp – petrol and diesel. The fact is that this subject is not as big an issue as, let us say, cancer, so scientific evidence does not get too much publicity in the media.

You are wrong in your assertion that these gadgets can't work or else leading manufacturers would fit them. One of the big American companies does just that, on at least one of its models. I can only assume that the powerful fuel lobby prevents them from being fitted more widely. These magnets are a good investment and it makes sense to have something removable that you can take with you from one car to the next. If you really want readers to respect your opinions, might it not be sensible to try such a magnet yourself, and then come clean in your column once you discover what many thousands of motorists already know?

“Honest John” responded:

You're on your own, mate. If these things worked, they would be fitted to every new car because it is in every manufacturer's interest to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 during official lab testing. The fact that they don't fit these gizmos says it all. Everything you write is vague and unsubstantiated. You claim one of America's big car companies fits these magnets, but don't say which. Why not?

I chose to get in on the act, particularly since I’m on the lookout for any possible applicants for the JREF million-dollar prize, which we’re negotiating to offer in the UK, specifically, on a proposed TV series there. I wrote:

Honest John: Following your most recent put-down of the silly car-magnet vendor, several of my readers inspired me to write and offer the long-standing million-dollar offer of this foundation, for a successful test of such fripperies. However, knowing the characteristics of these scam-artists, I can assure you that the person involved will prefer to sail on successfully bilking his victims rather than to submit his miraculous device to a simple, definitive, test – but I hereby refer him/her to randi.org/joom/challenge-info-2.html and I give my assurance that the device/system – if it can be shown to work as advertised – will assuredly take the million dollar prize. In fact, I’ve just returned from the UK, where I negotiated a contract to present this challenge on TV to the UK public.

Any response offered by the vendor will feature the usual canards about the prize offer being spurious – a claim which can easily be shown to be false.

So, we’re awaiting a response. Fat chance.




MORE “QI” DISCUSSION

qi

Reader John Lombard is a Canadian citizen who has been living and working in China for fifteen years. He’s been working with a small group of Chinese scientists and intellectuals to promote interest in both Humanist and skeptical organizations in that country. He writes re last week’s item at randi.org/swift-april-18-2007-2.html#i8:

I wanted to add a little more to the discussion on "qi" as it applies to acupuncture. I'm by no means a proponent of acupuncture (and in fact, one of our upcoming skeptical events in Beijing will focus specifically on this question), but as someone who has lived in China 15 years, and done a fair bit of study on Chinese culture, I must express some disagreement with Bob Park's analysis of the origin or meaning of "qi," and its relation to acupuncture.

Much of the problem is that we really don't have any words, or even concepts in English that adequately translate the meaning of "qi"; we must do so by approximations and analogies. However, two key points that I'd like to mention:

1) "Qi" can be translated as "air," "breath," "spirit," "energy," or a number of other words, depending on its context and use. In fact, "qi" can be used in reference to objects that are entirely solid, and have no "air" aspect whatsoever.

2) The meridian lines that Qi energy is supposed to follow bear little resemblance to the circulatory system in the body. Everything that I've seen regarding acupuncture indicates that a general theory of energy moving through the body came first, and that later observations about the circulatory and nervous system were used to support that original theory – not the other way around.

I think that the best way to describe "qi" in English is to go back a long time in Chinese history, to their early efforts to understand and classify the world around them. They saw everything as being made up of something they called "qi," which in this context might best be described as "energy." This "qi" could be divided into various fractions, or densities, so a cloud would have a much smaller “fraction” of qi than a rock would, but both would still be described and categorized using "qi." You might consider "qi" as the fundamental unit of matter, but depending on its form and concentration, it could take on many different appearances, and have many different effects.

Randi comments: speaking as an amateur on this matter, I can look upon this as an early expression of the idea of fundamental atomic theory, in which all matter is composed of protons, electrons, and neutrons. Though it took John Dalton to strictly codify atomic theory, by the 5th and 6th centure BCE, the Greeks and Indians had expressed this idea... Back to Mr. Lombard’s contribition:

The debate in China about Traditional Chinese Medicine is, in many ways, similar to the debate in the U.S. about creationism. There are many Chinese – including scholars and academics – who hold TCM's beliefs to be an integral part of Chinese culture and history; and therefore, an attack on TCM is an attack on Chinese culture itself. The arguments and vitriol between both sides in the debate is remarkably similar to that between creationists and evolutionists in North America. Chinese doctors who have suggested having TCM tested and analyzed using a proper scientific process have been demonized; some have lost their jobs, others have been physically assaulted or received death threats.

I just hope this alternate perspective might help bring more understanding to the debate.

Thank you, John. Indeed, this clarifies our understanding, but brings our attention to the problems still extant in China, as it enters the world area and has to shake off so many traditional ideas and bits of philosophy. Now, if only creationists would look at the facts...




A MATTER OF SOME SENSITIVITY

sheesh

Please bear in mind that what follows is an example of cultural differences, not of basic smarts. Ethnic differences in attitude and philosophy can lead to gross misunderstanding of reality and how others perceive it, and though we in the USA and UK may assume we’re somewhat further ahead in sophistication, a simple reference to football riots can be very sobering indeed…

Reader Nathan Jekich reports that police in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, just arrested thirteen suspected “sorcerers” accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men's penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by charges of witchcraft. Now, these reports of so-called penis-snatching are not uncommon in West Africa, where strong belief in traditional religions and witchcraft remains widespread, and where ritual killings to obtain blood or other body parts still occur regularly. The current claims of penis theft began circulating last week among some 8 million inhabitants of Kinshasa, dominating radio call-in shows, with listeners being advised to particularly beware of fellow passengers in communal taxis who might be wearing gold rings, considered an attribute of witches.

Some males who claimed to be victims said that sorcerers simply touched them to make their genitals shrink or disappear, and these actions were followed by what some said were attempts to extort cash from them with the promise of a cure. There were attempted lynchings of accused witches, and some were seen to be covered in marks after being beaten. Police arrested the accused sorcerers and their victims in an effort to avoid the sort of bloodshed seen in Ghana a decade ago, when twelve suspected penis-snatchers were beaten to death by angry mobs. Reported the police, when they tried to tell a victim that his penis was still there, he would claim that that it's now become tiny or that he’s become impotent.

To those ignorant of basic male psychology, we should explain that apparent diminution of that organ can often be imagined by the possessor, especially when any question of masculinity is suggested, suspected, or introduced; we are sensitive to such influences, and I’m sure that our brothers in the Congo are similarly tuned, in this respect. Of course, some of us have never fallen prey to such delusions, faced with the evidence…

Life is just full of problems…




FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE

stooges

Reader W. Yarber points us to youtube.com/watch?v=aFk4FRsI9Ps, where a very sober public-service video can be seen. He writes:

I don't know if you ever saw/used this clip before, but here's a vintage 60-second commercial in which the Three Stooges blast phony arthritis cures and medical quackery in general. If the link doesn't work, just search "Three Stooges Arthritis" on YouTube. If the STOOGES can see through such scams, how low IS the bar for believing that stuff?

Thank you, Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe. Miss you guys…




WHERE’S THAT DAMN ARK?

ark

From reader Larry Thornton:

Some guy on a blog writes...

With all the "hidden knowledge" forum members seem to possess, I'm interested in the best guess of where the Ark of the Covenant is hidden. Here are the possibilities I've collected:

1) Tikrit, Ethopia; stolen and carried there by the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

2) Still buried beneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

3) Under the site of the crucifixion, wherever that might be.

4) Recovered from the Temple Mount by Crusaders, Hidden around Rennes-le-Chateau, France.

5) Beneath the Cathedral in Chartres, France, which has scenes of Templar knights returning with the Ark.

6) In the crypt of Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland.

7) Across the Atlantic, buried on Oak Island, Nova Scotia.

8) And there are even some people who believe the Ark is in Utah, New Mexico or Arizona...

Forgive the fresh approach, folks, but what about this startling possibility:

9) There is no Ark, and never was, except in folk stories...




THE OPINION FROM BACKSTAGE

From heavy skeptic Richard Wiseman – also a magician – come these interesting survey results. He polled a crowd of magicians, and he thanked them for their participation:

Many thanks for taking part in the recent survey that I carried out into magic and belief in the paranormal. We had over 400 performers take part, and the results are fascinating. Previous work has suggested that magicians may hold surprisingly high levels of belief in psychic ability. However, this was not the case in the new survey, with about three-quarters of respondents expressing skepticism about the paranormal. However, about 25% of the group thought that psychic ability was a reality and, interestingly, about a third of these claimed to have had an experience that they thought was paranormal whilst performing.

Most of these experiences appear to take place during performances of mentalism, and psychic entertaining. I have written up the main findings in a guest article on the “Skepchick” website today. The article can be found here: skepchick.org/blog/?p=1319#more-1319.

I have also provided more information about the survey, and related research, on my own site, here: richardwiseman.com/magicsurvey.

Again, many thanks for taking part and I hope that you find the results interesting. Please feel free to email me if you would like a copy of the article, or have any comments.




BEYOND PARODY

Professor D. Colquhoun, FRS, held the established chair of Pharmacology at University College London, and was the Honorary Director of the Wellcome Laboratory for Molecular Pharmacology. His interests are in quantitative analysis of receptor mechanisms. In 2004, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the University College, London. He directs us to dcscience.net/?p=227, where we learn that someone apparently believes that amethysts “emit high yin energy” – as opposed to yang energy, of course. Writes Professor Colquhoun:

Times Higher Education has published a league table showing that the University of Westminster is head of the league table for the number of courses in quackery. With fine timing, I just acquired the slides for their lecture on "vibrational medicine". See a selection of them. It seems that "Amethyst, the 'Transmutator'… emits high Yin energy, so transmuting lower energies and clearing and aligning energy disturbances…"

This is part of a vocational "Bachelor of Science" degree. It is beyond parody. You couldn't make it up.




MY UK VISIT

randiuk

I enjoyed an excellent break from my JREF duties from the 16th to the 22nd of this month, in the United Kingdom to discuss contract possibilities with a leading TV production company. Prospects for beginning a series there appear to be excellent, and I’ll report as things move along. I got to confer with old friends such as Sid Rodrigues, Richard Wiseman, Sue Blackmore, Chris French, Wendy Grossman, Mike Hutchinson, and many others, and I dropped in on the new and exciting headquarters of The Magic Circle, as well.

The JREF million-dollar prize will be a part of the eventual TV presentation, but the producers want to keep the format well away from any possible “game show” aspect, a decision that met with my hearty approval. Already, on the last day of my brief stay there, we did a preliminary examination of a chap who actually thinks he has a diagnostic method whereby the subject is asked questions about his/her color preferences, and a computer then generates what he fondly thinks is a diagnosis of the subject’s state of health. Rather, it is designed to indicate whether the subject either has a specific ailment, or is susceptible to developing that ailment – a claim which simply cannot be tested until, obviously, the subject has lived out his/her life span. The claims of this system are just not falsifiable; there is no way the claims can be wrong, so the assessment was not definitive, I’d say… However, the applicant is adamant in still wanting to be tested.

We’ll see…

On Saturday night I lectured at Conway Hall, capacity 475, which was sold out within 48 hours, and many late-comers were turned away. I regret that… An excellent visit, all in all.


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