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SWIFT May 2, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Could Astrology Be Bunk?, Another Devastating Video, A Revelation, Sniff the Woo-Woo, Three Weeks to Go, A Presumption, More UK Woo-Woo, More Unfounded Hysteria, In Closing…

deankelly

Perish the thought! How could it be that a belief thousands of years old might be erroneous? No, don’t hand me that tired old the-Earth-isn’t-flat parallel. Belief in astrology is very well established, and astrologers are wealthy and in demand. Even India, one of our centers of philosophical and mathematical genius, has astrology as an intimate part of it’s day-to-day life!

Table of Contents
  1. Could Astrology Be Bunk?

  2. Another Devastating Video

  3. A Revelation

  4. Sniff the Woo-Woo

  5. Three Weeks to Go

  6. A presumption

  7. More UK Woo-Woo

  8. More Unfounded Hysteria

  9. In Closing…



COULD ASTROLOGY BE BUNK?

deankelly

Perish the thought! How could it be that a belief thousands of years old might be erroneous? No, don’t hand me that tired old the-Earth-isn’t-flat parallel. Belief in astrology is very well established, and astrologers are wealthy and in demand. Even India, one of our centers of philosophical and mathematical genius, has astrology as an intimate part of its day-to-day life!

Well, we’re now informed that serious researchers have – beyond any reasonable doubt – tossed astrology on the scrap-pile, as a result of the completion of the most thorough scientific study ever made into it. You see, they have been tracking more than 2,000 persons, most of whom were born within minutes of each other. Now, according to classical astrology, these subjects should have had very similar traits, since birth-time is a very important factor in this ancient “science,” and should be a particularly decisive element in the fortunes of humans. Astrology has always insisted that its central claim, that human characteristics are molded by the influence of the Sun, Moon and planets at the exact time of birth, is a valid item to be examined in order to test this “science.” Up until now, they have simply pointed out whatever similarities they could find between what they call, “time-twins,” a process which to the serious investigator is categorized as “data-searching,” or looking for corroborative data rather than examining all available data.

This current finding came about as a result of a totally different data-base study. Birth data on more than 2,000 babies had been originally gathered as part of a medical study begun in London in 1958, a study into how the circumstances of birth might affect their future health conditions. Babies born in early March that year were registered, and for the next half-century, their subsequent development was monitored at regular intervals. Researchers looked at more than one hundred different characteristics: eventual occupation, anxiety levels, marital status, aggressiveness, marriage partners, sociability, IQ levels, as well as abilities in art, sport, mathematics and reading – all were recorded. And, co-incidentally, of these happened to be factors which astrologers claim can be evaluated from the “birth charts” they draw up for their gullible clients.

So, a legitimate, proper, study of how the early influences of birth factors could change or mold adults who developed from those basic elemental babies, turned out to be what is now seen as a definitive blow against the presumptions of the star-gazing early sooth-sayers – whose sooth now appears to be very faulty: no significant evidence of similarities between the "time twins" was found. The researchers reported this in a recent issue of the “Journal of Consciousness Studies,” saying:

The test conditions could hardly have been more conducive to success… but the results are uniformly negative.

Analysis of this research was carried out by Dr. Geoffrey Dean, a scientist and former astrologer - now thoroughly reformed - based in Perth, Australia, and Professor Ivan Kelly, a psychologist at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. Dr. Dean has an interesting history: he was once a professional astrologer, but upon examining his “art” more carefully and testing its claims, he discovered that it was an invalid premise, and ever since then he has continued to question its claims, using his knowledge of the inner world of the trade and how it promotes its flummery. In examining this new data-base, he commented on one of the fallacies of the practitioners:

[The astrologers] sometimes argue that times of birth just a minute apart can make all the difference by altering what they call the “house cusps,” but in their work, they are happy to take whatever time they can get from a client.

Think about it: how many persons are likely to know the exact time of their own births? Not many, and yet the 50-year study cited here only accepted “time-twins” about whom an exact time was recorded, so this was an excellent chance to test astrology – a chance that astrologers themselves should have been eager to embrace.

But the findings caused alarm and anger in astrological circles – no surprise at all to us. Astrologer Roy Gillett, the president of the Astrological Association of Great Britain, bristled that the study's findings should be treated "with extreme caution," and accused Geoffrey Dean of seeking to "discredit astrology." How that conclusion could be reached, when Dean and Kelly both accepted – in advance – to examine the data from this independent source as a test of the validity of astrology, is yet another mystery, this time of how astrologers think - if, indeed, they do.

Now, the Association of Professional Astrologers claims that 80 per cent of Britons read star columns, and other studies have found that 60 per cent regularly read their horoscopes. This new research will have next-to-zero impact on such faithfully self-deluded individuals, who value their fantasies much more than any facts of reality. Astrology is a huge international business, fueling thousands of telephone lines, internet sites and horoscope columns in newspapers and magazines. Even more frightening, a recent survey found that one-third of science students subscribed to some aspects of astrology, while some supposedly hard-headed businessmen now support a thriving market in "financial astrology," paying for predictions of trends such as the rise and fall of the stock market. Mind you, as we reported in SWIFT previously, we know of businesses that subscribe to astrologers services because they want to know in what direction their opposition – who seriously follow astrological horoscopes – are likely to go… Weird…

The time-twins study is only the start of the bad news for astrologers, however. Dr. Dean and Professor Kelly also sought to determine whether stargazers could match a birth chart to the personality profile of a person among a random selection. They reviewed the evidence from more than 40 studies involving over 700 astrologers, but found the results turned out no better than guesswork.

And the Dean/Kelly team has only met the initial onslaught…!




ANOTHER DEVASTATING VIDEO

We at JREF are celebrating the fact that 103,000+ (at this moment) viewers have clicked in on our 95 different videos which are on our JREF YouTube channel. That’s very satisfying, indeed. But reader “Jurek” directs us to something even more devastating than the item of last week at tinyurl.com/57h4no:

In Swift from April 11, 2008, you showed a video where two proselytizers were brainwashing children about evolution...The title of this item was "Disturbing." It was indeed disturbing, but I think that it pales in comparison with this – tinyurl.com/2ur2ur. And it was shown to kids! This is an unforgivable crime. THAT'S disturbing. I wish those people who doubt that Christianity is child abuse, would see it... And these are the ones responsible – http://www.tbfduncan.org.

I sincerely warn you on this one, as I did in the previous video. It's very disturbing...

And from reader Hank Hammer comes this comment on the same item:

Here is a copy of the email I sent to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on 4/12/08. It’s almost 3 weeks later and still no reply: it's a good thing I'm great at holding my breath.

I must commend you on your open-mindedness in allowing creationists to host a tour of your museum for children. I have no problem with such a tour if done professionally. But, I watched the video of the tour and I would like to tell you why I am disturbed by what I observed. What I saw was two docents using brain-washing techniques on little kids. As evidence, let me list some of the things that I observed. “TG” means, Tour Guide:

TG: What is the J-word?

The children obediently answered "Jesus."

TG: Everybody look at me and say, "no." Try that with me, "no."

The children obediently echoed "No."

TG: Are you seeing any signs of scientific evidence here? No. What are you seeing? Artwork.

Can you imagine how loudly these docents would scream bloody murder if the other guides said that about the creationist tour? Very unprofessional to attack the other museum tours.

TG: Is evolution a religion? Yes. It is a religious belief.

That is easily proven to be wrong. And what if the other guides said that the creationist tour was a "fantasy"? These two docents would accuse the museum of religious discrimination, yet it is okay for them to attack and ridicule the other tours.

TG: I come here for good science; not somebody's science fiction.

I come here for facts; not somebody's fantasy.

TG: This is a fairy tale.

Can you imagine their reaction if this had been said about their tour by the other docents? Yet they are allowed to say this to impressionable young children.

TG: Everybody try that with me in unison – How do they know?

The children obediently repeat it.

TG: Let's try that again in unison – How do they know?

After the children obediently repeat it again the docents reward them by saying "Very well done." Talk about Nazi brain-washing techniques – that's right out of “Mein Kampf.”

If there were a tape of a “regular” tour, I'm sure we'd find that those docents would be teaching the kids about the exhibits in the museum, but I doubt that they would be attacking and ridiculing the “creationist” tour in such an unprofessional manner. If you want to allow them to present a creationist tour, that is fine. But I think you need to either re-train the two docents on this video and teach them to understand that while presenting history from their perspective is fine, using brain-washing techniques on little kids is not; or replace these two very unprofessional guides with Christians who can do their job professionally and in the best interests of the children.

I would appreciate a reply that I can post on web sites that are interested in, and are waiting for, your response.

Randi, before you castigate me, I would like to say that I was slightly disingenuous when I told them that I had no problem with the museum allowing a “creationist” tour. I put that in there only because I thought it would be more likely that they would read the whole email and maybe even send back a response. Either they saw through my veiled attempt or they simply want the clamor to just die away and they think it will if they just ignore it.

Hank, ignoring it is always safe. You’ve nowhere to go, to re-state your complaint, and just ignoring such material is always safe. The Denver Museum seems to specialize in remaining ignorant. But that may be too harsh a judgment; next week, we’ll hear from a fan who explains the reasons behind the museum’s stance…




A REVELATION

Reader Aaron Drabbit, in Canada:

It's been some time since I last wrote, but I've been enjoying the weekly SWIFT as usual. I've been busy; I live just outside of Victoria BC, the "garden city" of the Pacific Northwest, and it’s spring....and I'm a gardener. So as I dig, plant, fertilize and inspect every emerging shoot in my landscape I'm also researching new and improved ways to make my garden grow. Imagine my delight when my favorite hobby and a healthy dose of skepticism collided this week when I discovered this website: tinyurl.com/6j6ang. It's like MythBusters and HGTV had a love child and christened it in the Church of Reason. Not only has it exposed many myths that I have – ignorantly – been promoting (who would ever have thought that using bone meal during transplanting could be BAD for root development?!), but there are some excellent articles even a non-gardener can appreciate such as: "If it's published it must be true": tinyurl.com/5vuylo

Randi notes: Go ahead, open the file. It’s safe…

For somebody like me this was a very exciting find – and one I just had to share. Interestingly, in a discussion with my wife, it brought up the profound difference between the scientific approach to life, and the religious one. When I was faced with new information, well researched and expertly presented, data that immediately dispelled beliefs that I had wholeheartedly accepted, my world didn't come crashing down. Quite the contrary! I found new energy and excitement at the prospect that I had been "doing it wrong" all these years, but I now had the knowledge I needed to put things right. It made me realize that I love being proven wrong! That, it seems, is perhaps the biggest difference between the religious and scientific approach. I don't know many "believers" who relish the idea that they might be wrong....




SNIFF THE WOO-WOO

mkn

Reader Martino Ciaramidaro of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, alerts us to startling news. As if we needed evidence against the myth that merely sniffing nice flavors and/or fragrances could produce healing – or even a physical boost of any sort – a nearly $374,000 grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health has just been consumed in a comprehensive two-year experiment at Ohio State University to assess the claims of “aromatherapy,” a charming New Age notion that will – I’m sure – continue to sail right on as if nothing happened to disturb its reign in the woo-woo world.

Such eager customers as Continental Airlines, British Airways (as part of their “Well Being in the Air” program), Virgin Atlantic, Malaysia Airlines, Air New Zealand, Lufthansa and Aero Mexico have embraced aromatherapy as a special service for their above-tourist-class passengers. They seem to believe that it “motivates the body, mind and the spirit” via “essential oils used in combination with carrier oils like apricot kernel, jojoba, sweet almond and grape seed” which are

…applied on the body for massaging. Aromatherapy is now used to treat a whole range of conditions and is believed to work on people both physically and psychologically… when you smell an essential oil, it triggers the limbic system – the part of the brain that controls emotions and stores and retrieves learned memories – and relaxes you. [It also] combats the effects of jet-lag and travel fatigue, alleviating symptoms of dry pressurized cabin air and creating a general feeling of well-being.

Well, that’s now been seriously questioned by tests performed on two of the “heavy hitters” in the world of “smell good”: lemon and lavender. The Ohio State University researchers – Ronald Glaser and Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser – conducted what they say is the most scientifically rigorous test of physical changes caused by smelling these two popular scents – and came up with nothing. Their report appeared in the March issue of the journal “Psychoneuroendocrinology,” which all by itself calls for special training in pronunciation…

Properly randomized and controlled trials that tested heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormones and immune functions, showed no significant changes before and after the big sniff. In fact, some of the 56 men and women in the two-year study actually showed a stronger reaction to distilled water than to either of the identified aromas.

The issue of specific sense-priority, I think, can enter in here. We all know of persons who assign different strengths to the senses of touch, smell, taste, vision, and hearing – though those are not the only senses we experience. Motion, acceleration, pressure, temperature change, and other “senses” seem to have been ignored or devalued when that list was drawn up. For example, a good friend of mine is color-blind to red, but his senses of smell and of change of intensity of color-hue, are very well-developed, to a point of inconvenience.

Yes, the OSU tests showed that certain scents did seem to affect mood, but didn’t do anything physiologically, which had been an expectation of adherents to the idea. The study subjected volunteers to mild stress agencies and then measured how quickly they recovered. There was no significant response to lavender and lemon, which figure prominently in essential oils, lotions and sprays marketed as remedies for a range of ailments by the multi-million-dollar aromatherapy industry. The physiological indications didn’t change, even when some of the truly-believing volunteers – people who attested to the power of aromatherapy and regularly bought good-smelling products to soothe themselves – were told what scents they were sniffing, and what pleasant side effects they should expect to experience.

As we would expect, the results of the study didn’t alter the convictions of Kathy Keville, a noted aromatherapist and author of a dozen books on the subject, including “Aromatherapy for Dummies.” Though Kathy didn’t dispute the science behind the Glasers’ work, she said that any of the more than 200 essential oils she uses regularly might have led to different results – and we must agree that she has a point. Also, she said, applying the essential oils topically instead of simply sniffing might also have produced different effects. Aromatherapy, said Ms. Keville, may not be a cure for specific illnesses or pain, but it’s a great adjunct therapy, she said. Yes, feeling good is – good – but as always, the question is whether a consumer only wants to feel better, or wants to be better…

The Glasers say they would have been happy to report that a whiff of lavender or lemon cures what ails you – if it were true. OSU officials said – in my view, so as not to completely discourage the True Believers – the small exploratory study offers “a good basis for future research.”

Duh.




THREE WEEKS TO GO

truth

Well, you all recall the Steorn & Orbo farces that we handled here on SWIFT. Now we learn that the entire world is going to change on June 20th, but not due to some unforeseen problem with these devices. Just go to freeenergytruth.blogspot.com/2008/04/free-energy-on-june-20th-fe-truth-world.html. I’m told that a link to the website is at the very end of the interview here. The illustration shows the current state of the “free energy” logo…




A PRESUMPTION

The latest in presumptive farces has been laying rational folks in the aisles and bringing devout believers to shout hosannahs. A choir director who believes that prayer can bring down high gas prices is trying out his approach at some of the costliest pumps in the country. A 59-year-old man named Rocky Twyman of Washington, D.C., went to San Francisco last weekend to stage a pray-in at a Chevron station. Why Chevron was chosen, isn’t revealed. Twyman is also calling on churchgoers across the nation to ask for God's intervention where he says politicians have failed. He wants God to provide cheaper gasoline to the faithful! Our Dale Lockwood comments:

It seems that if the delusional economics of certain presidential candidates are not sufficient – giving tax breaks for gas to encourage demand in a tight supply situation – we just have to move up the org chart another level or two and ask the big man. I don't seem to remember where in the Bible it says that God is concerned about our ability to access cheap gas and continue pouring out greenhouse gases. I suppose the appeal to the supernatural could just be considered "Intelligent Economics" and the Dismal Science will be next to face religion in the classroom.

But Jay Leno had the most appropriate observation on this matter. Said he:

I think perhaps this appeal should have been made to Allah, not to God.




MORE UK WOO-WOO

liverpool

It appears that I have a lot of work to do in the UK. Reader Marcus Hill tells us:

I was skimming through the internal news bulletin of Liverpool John Moores University, my esteemed employers. My skeptical eye was naturally caught by the word "Reiki", so I read more closely:

LJMU is Celebrating Learning at Work in 2008. As part of this we are running the following events: Reiki

Diversity Matters UK is offering Taster Sessions of Reiki at a fee of £10 per person. Reiki is a technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It gives feelings of peace, tranquillity and positive wellbeing.

[date, venue and booking details]

This was followed by

Tai Chi

These sessions introduce the Chinese health regime, which has been practiced for around 4000 years. The benefits are that it helps participants gain peace of mind and longevity. It is also a great stress buster and a means of keeping fit. [Provider's name] is offering free one hour sessions on the following dates.

[date, venue and booking details]

I spotted a couple of huge claims in there, so I emailed the following to the staff development person listed as the booking contact:

I was interested to see the claims in the session descriptions for Reiki and Tai Chi in the latest LJMU bulletin that the former “promotes healing” and the latter “helps participants gain … longevity”. These are interesting and quite extraordinary medical claims. Since LJMU is an institution of learning with an international reputation, I know we wouldn’t be promulgating unfounded medical claims, so I’d be really interested if you would point me towards the peer reviewed publications of double-blind placebo controlled trials (i.e. the standard level of evidence required for such medical claims) which prove the efficacy of Reiki in promoting healing and Tai Chi in increasing lifespan. If no such evidence exists (and I’m pretty sure you’ll find it doesn’t), you really should add disclaimers or phrases such as “whose practitioners claim” to any future promotion of scientifically unproven so-called “healing” or “health regimes.”

 

I'll let you know if there is any kind of interesting reply!




MORE UNFOUNDED HYSTERIA

Reader Avital Pilpel comments on the item last week at randi.org/joom/swift/swift/swift-april-25-2008-2.html#i4:

As you correctly note, mass hysteria – something odd or unwanted occurred, so it MUST BE a conspiracy by the people of the BAD group, let's get 'em! – is hardly limited to the Congolese people. Here’s one recent example from Israel, as reported by the biggest newspaper in the country, "Yediot Aharonot":

In a small, mostly Jewish, village (which shall remain here unnamed), the pharmacist of the village's drug store is an Arab. He was accused of "poisoning his Jewish patients." The evidence? As the newspaper reported, one woman "felt sick" after she took the medicine he prescribed, and she asked around. Two or three of her neighbors, when interrogated by her (in a completely objective manner, I'm sure) recalled a similar experience!

What more evidence do you need? It might seem odd that the pharmacist, of all people, is such an inefficient poisoner that all he could manage was to make a few of his dozens of patients slightly nauseated, but that just proves how SECRET the poisoning conspiracy was, you see.

To its credit, the paper gave ample space to the pharmacist to reply (he was flabbergasted, understandably), noted the weakness of the evidence, and strongly implied that he's innocent. Since then I've heard nothing; if he were arrested or, for that matter, lynched, it would surely have been reported. The matter was probably dropped after the police, to whom the "poisoned" patients complained, found no evidence to prosecute.

What have we learned? The importance of the rule of law, and of a free press. The police and courts are, among other things, necessary, exactly in order to make sure those who "everybody knows" are guilty –usually members of a disliked group – do not get the lynching they "deserve," and the free press can call attention to such issues and allow criticism.




IN CLOSING…

If you need any more proof of the inanity of scientology and the rantings of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, go to file.sunshinepress.org:54445/scientology-ot-levels.pdf. As usual, just go to any page, any paragraph, and try to make sense of the drivel...

And go to www.nycskeptics.org/darwin08 to see the coolest T-shirt…! See! Buy!

Our associate Jeff Wagg writes about an individual who uses the name “Mabus” – taken from a fictitious name found in the Nostradamus ravings – who has sent us – literally – hundreds and hundreds of spam items, and copies to many hundreds of others, as well. He’s a used-computer salesman somewhere in the wilds of Quebec, where he appears to be – at least temporarily – unemployed, and has a lot of time on his hands. Though we’ve effectively cut him off via a sophisticated spam filtering system, we’ve also decided to fight fire with fire. Says Jeff:

Sorry to spam the list. This rather confused individual's name is Dennis Markuze. His regular e-mail address is sales@usedcomputershop.com. He can also be found at markuze@usedcomputershop.com. He might enjoy getting some e-mail from his admirers.

I’m sure you get the message…

Finally, go to tinyurl.com/5gw54z, download and save the powerful FrontLine program that expresses so well the long-standing battle that SWIFT - along with many others - has had with the advocates of the ridiculous pseudoscientific notion known as “Facilitated Communication.” Get it quickly, before the zealots who support this farce can get it taken down – and they will try to do that, I guarantee you…

We have received an official notice from Ms. Susan Ferrell, Attorney at Law, who writes:

I am the Student's Legal Advisor at the University of Arizona. I am writing on behalf of Anastasia Gorbunova, who is the subject of an article in the March 16, 2007 edition of "Swift." The article states that Ms.Gorbunova is a research assistant for Gary Schwartz. Ms. Gorbunova most emphatically denies that she has ever been a graduate researcher for Dr. Schwartz. I understand that the contributor, whose anecdote was the basis for the article, has already unsuccessfully asked you to take it down. Ms. Gorbunova is asking again that you take the article down or at the very least remove her name. She is prepared to take legal action if she cannot prevail upon you to take it down voluntarily.

I hope that will not be necessary.

The mention from 2007 can be found at http://www.randi.org/joom/swift/swift/swift-march-16-2007.html#i3. Note that Ms. Gorbunova only denies that she was “a graduate researcher for Dr. [Gary] Schwartz,” not that she wasn’t “shaken up” by the “psychic energy” that the magician was seemingly putting out... Imagination is a strong force among the naive.

We hereby comply with this urgent request...


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