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SWIFT June 13, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Silly Neck-Stuff, Incredible, Yet Another “Search” Show, Discovery Channel Discovers More Woo-Woo, Dow Jones Offers the Latest in Science, What Winners Do, Pretty But Useless, Waldorf Schools Examined, and In Closing…

Junk Jewelry

Reader Richard O. Brown writes us about that silly “Q-Link” that we’ve handled at tinyurl.com/63u6zl. Just another fraudulent – but highly profitable – bit of junk jewelry. Richard says:

Q-Link couldn't have gotten a less critical puff piece if they wrote it themselves: tinyurl.com/6jj6jf

Embarrassing. At least, based on the online comments, the readers aren't buying it. The Chronicle has good reporters who can write critically about science, health and technology, but as usual they assign an "arts and features" writer with no science background to this.

All sorts of sports and music-world heroes are said to wear this phony “charm,” as if IQ is well represented by pop stars. “More than 300 golfers in the PGA wear theirs” so we can be further reassured by that inclusion. There's more. Said Richard Gray, president and CEO of Clarus Transphase Scientific Inc., maker of Q-Link:

Table of Contents
  1. Silly Neck-Stuff

  2. Incredible

  3. Yet Another “Search” Show

  4. Discovery Channel Discovers More Woo-Woo

  5. Dow Jones Offers the Latest in Science

  6. What Winners Do

  7. Pretty But Useless

  8. Waldorf Schools Examined

  9. and In Closing…



SILLY NECK-STUFF

Junk Jewelry

Reader Richard O. Brown writes us about that silly “Q-Link” that we’ve handled at tinyurl.com/63u6zl. Just another fraudulent – but highly profitable – bit of junk jewelry. Richard says:

Q-Link couldn't have gotten a less critical puff piece if they wrote it themselves: tinyurl.com/6jj6jf

Embarrassing. At least, based on the online comments, the readers aren't buying it. The Chronicle has good reporters who can write critically about science, health and technology, but as usual they assign an "arts and features" writer with no science background to this.

All sorts of sports and music-world heroes are said to wear this phony “charm,” as if IQ is well represented by pop stars. “More than 300 golfers in the PGA wear theirs” so we can be further reassured by that inclusion. There's more. Said Richard Gray, president and CEO of Clarus Transphase Scientific Inc., maker of Q-Link:

It was amazing. In the space of a few weeks, the guy pitching the opener of the World Series, Josh Beckett, flying out of his shirt was the Q-Link and then Alex Shabalov, the U.S. chess champ, was wearing it. In a chess blog, he said he put it on and it helped him to win the tournament.

How can such definitive evidence be refuted or even doubted? I can add this: No major Federal building in Washington in which a Q-Link has been worn, has ever been destroyed in an earthquake! And Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker and Anthony Hopkins are on the list of wearers, too! Now, that’s convincing!

The Q-link is claimed to increase energy, improve focus and concentration, reduce stress, enhance stamina and endurance, and protect against EM from cell phones, power lines and computers. Richard Gray, appropriately known to his friends as simply, “Rich,” for good reason, tells us that everyone has a “biofield” about which he knows nothing, cannot define, and cannot prove exists – but it sells jewelry.

If you put the physical body into states of stress, the biofield goes out of balance. What the Q-link does is resonate sets of natural frequencies with the biofield, returning it to balance.

How could I have been so ignorant, I must ask? Gray says that inside the Q-Link is crystalline matter imbued with frequencies that “exist outside of the electromagnetic spectrum.” This is a new area of science, he says, and controversial because there is no way to prove the energies exist. Oh. Who knew?

The Q-Link operates by interacting with energy systems of the body, not directly on the body. All we're doing is providing a clearer pathway between the body's energy system and physical body itself... People are understanding that if we look after the energetic, holistic body, that is the way to a more sustainable health. That's why we're seeing this resurgence – in yoga, meditation – it's all linked to the idea that the energy body performs an important function in every day life.

Prices for the pendants range from $100 to $1,000 depending on whether you want plastic or platinum. You see, if you flash the platinum model, folks will know that not only are you foolish, you’re as dumb as a stump, too.

Maybe that will help...




INCREDIBLE

Frequent correspondent Dr. J. W. Nienhuys, in the Netherlands, tells us:

No longer is Dutch woo-woo confined to commercial TV, second-rate mediums, overcreative petty officials, and naive government ministers; the rot goes all the way to the top now.

Dr. Nienhuys gives us this account of how the normally perceptive Dutch seem to have officially abandoned all scientific standards – a quality of thought that took them to the top of the intellectual scale with such luminaries as Van Leeuwenhoek, Christiaan Huygens, Bart Bok, and Jan Oort – to name only a few of the hundreds of Dutch intellectuals who have advanced knowledge so famously. Now, Dr. Nienhuys tells us:

In the Netherlands, astrology is endorsed by the Royal Academy of Sciences (KNAW). Two demographers from the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographical Institute (NIDI, one of the KNAW institutes) looked for astrological influences on marital stability. On a single zodiac circle, when the positions of Sun, Moon and planets (the 10 astrological “planets”) of both husband and wife are marked out, one can measure the angular distance between the “planets” of husband and wife. This yields 100 angles, and when such an angle has approximately one of the values 0, 60, 90, 120, 150 or 180 degrees, some astrologers believe it has either a positive or negative influence on marital stability.

The details are unimportant here. Dr. Tineke Fokkema and Mieke Reuser calculated the number of “positive” angles minus the number of “negative” angles for each of 4.2 million marriages, and they also fished around for much more astrologically interesting stuff. Naturally, most marriages scored about 0, but to their surprise they found excess divorces in groups of marriages that deviated a lot from zero. Even after trying to correct for various artifacts (compare the article of Voas in Skeptical Inquirer 32.2) there still was an “effect.” Rather than finding out where they had overlooked something, or trying to create a credible control group, they rushed into print in the April issue of Demos, the magazine of their institute. If you can read Dutch, read and weep: tinyurl.com/3rag5n

Their article was a full-blown explanation of astrology running for five pages, and only toward the end some lip service was paid to the idea that it might be something like the notorious correlation between stork nests and human births. And if one thought it was some ill-conceived April Fool joke, in the end of May the KNAW sent the magazine to all their members. In all two centuries of its existence, the KNAW has never communicated a discovery in this way to all its members.

The Dutch astrologers are jubilant. A few elderly scientists were livid. Indeed, over half a century ago (1954) this same KNAW did a good job stamping out Earth Ray belief in the Netherlands, but this venerable institution seems to be going to pot. Not long ago they awarded membership to a clever nanotechnologist, who happened to be a prominent creationist. What next? An update on the Bible Code or the Hollow Earth Theory, or just plain old homeopathy?




YET ANOTHER “SEARCH” SHOW

Here we go again. In the TV business, all it takes is a teeny-bopper intern to happen upon the most transient of “hot” subjects, and enthusiasm does the rest. Currently, everyone wants in on the “find a psychic” rage, and it doesn’t ever occur to them to look at the abysmal ratings and reviews that such efforts produce. Even Russia has a “psychic search” show going, and the winner of that is – they state – supposed to become eligible to try for the JREF million-dollar prize – though that’s available to everyone who can qualify, without any amateur attempts to winnow down the applicants. And, note, we’ve never heard from anyone in Russia to give our view of such a show and/or to make an offer…

It seems that it’s now Australia’s turn. From a news item:

SEVEN ON SEARCH Andrew Daddo will host a new reality show for [TV channel] Seven titled The One: Search For Australia’s Most Gifted Psychic. The series puts seven self-proclaimed psychics through a series of challenges, such as finding a lost child, diagnosing a medical condition and reading a celebrity’s mind. Each week the panel – psychic Stacey Demarco and sceptic Richard Saunders – will eliminate one contender until only one remains. You have been warned.

RS

Forget the warning, and get on with the farce. Here we have – as with the Russian show – an attempt to find the least-failed “psychic” among a lot of losers. That assumes, of course, that there are any persons connected with the show who have any notion at all about how to control and evaluate these fumblers. In the Australian case, they have Richard Saunders, as we see, and that certainly is a huge step forward! It all remains to be seen whether Richard will be too rational and perceptive for the producers, of course. After all, they want winners, and too much close observation by Richard just might bomb the show, off the top. Will Richard Saunders be allowed to place any controls at all on the “psychics,” will he have any authority, and will the producers choose to do a really factual – “reality” – show that examines such claims?

We’ll see…




DISCOVERY CHANNEL DISCOVERS MORE WOO-WOO

An anonymous reader, “Martin,” informs us:

Discovery's "Science Channel" is currently showing a mini-series called "The Science of Star Wars." Most of it is simply a series of promotions for a set of current DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] research projects, interspersed by tiresome links involving [robot] C3P0 tenuously drawing comparisons between the inventions and the Star Wars Universe, in a woefully unfunny way.

However, in episode three they attack the subject of "The Force." In a shockingly unquestioning series of segments they explain how "Chi" provides the shaolin monks with their superhuman abilities. The subject of Chi is presented as an incontestable fact alongside the other “real” phenomena such as magnetic levitation, swarming algorithms, and UAVs.

This isn't bad science, it just isn't science. It's a disgraceful blur between science and fantasy, presented as science. Highly recommended viewing if you feel like raising your blood-pressure.

Yet another failing of the Discovery Channel to live up to expectations… And how DARPA ever got connected with such a mess, is unknown.




DOW JONES OFFERS THE LATEST IN SCIENCE

Dow Jones

Reader Chris Torrero tells us of two things that we “may not be aware of”:

i) It appears that the coach of the French football (soccer) team in the European Championships uses astrology to aid in team selection: euro-2008-team-profile-france.html

ii) At the meeting of the Special Libraries Association in Seattle, Dow Jones is offering handwriting analysis. "What does your handwriting say about you?" tinyurl.com/5uytu5

Whilst I don't know what handwriting analysis says about me, I do know what it says about Dow Jones (and it isn't very nice).

Well, that’s if the DJ people mean “graphology” by the term “handwriting analysis,” Chris, and it seems that they do. There’s a legitimate study involving the science of handwriting analysis, and those who pursue it are often confused with woo-woo fortune-telling and “character-reading” artists… On my Granada TV series, years ago, we tested the best of these, and he obtained exactly the results we’d expect by chance alone. Mind you, that didn’t dampen his claims one bit. He managed to find all sorts of contradictory “vibrations” hanging in the atmosphere…




WHAT WINNERS DO

Robin

Robin L. Zebrowski is an ABD Ph.D. student in the philosophy department at the University of Oregon who won one of our JREF scholarships last year. You can find out all about her at tinyurl.com/63e47z – just scroll down a bit. She’s written to us to say:

As one of the scholarship winners from last year, I can say with certainty that the JREF money helped me in very specific educational goals. (It might be cool if the Foundation kept tabs on the scholarship winners – that might serve to reassure people that the money wasn't spent on booze and hookers, and at the same time it would be a bit of an incentive to be sure we use the money wisely since we'll have to report back). Regardless, part of the scholarship application includes an evaluation of what you intend to use the money for, which I can only assume is factored into the awarding criteria.

Anyway, the JREF money helped me pay my tuition this last year so I could work on writing my dissertation. I'm defending over the summer, and I've already accepted a tenure-track job in Cognitive Science, building a new department for a liberal arts college here in the US. It's pretty rare in my field to get a tenure-track job before defending one's dissertation, and I really think the scholarships I got this year helped me work even harder, knowing I had several organizations with their eggs in my basket, so to speak. Having the JREF award on my vita gives me a certain sense of pride AND responsibility to do the best job I can – I realize my work reflects on JREF to some degree, and I'm proud of that.

Hope this perspective helps somewhat!

Thank you, Robin! Knowing that our funding helped in such a useful manner, is welcome news. We’re happy to hear from you! As a side note we are accepting applications for our scholarship awards for the 2008-2009 academic year. More information can be found at http://www.randi.org/joom/jref-scholarships.html




PRETTY BUT USELESS

Reader Terence de Giere tells us, re last week’s item on the V.I.B.E. toy:

I have actually seen one of those V.I.B.E machines that Linda Rosa reported to you [last] week. The V.I.B.E. I saw was marketed with the name TeslaStar. A number of web sites seem to be offering this device. Interestingly, there is a complaint document at the FDA about its use by a chiropractor, where it had no effect on the patient. The patient reportedly called the manufacturer of V.I.B.E. (presumably Koonce) who told her that the TeslaStar is a "knock-off" of his machine.

This reminds me of Steven Wright's one liner "I woke up this morning and found out somebody stole all my stuff and replaced it with exact duplicates."

While it is a very pretty thing to look at, especially in a darkened room, the V.I.B.E. machine is very flimsy, it has none of the solidity of construction that one sees in standard medical machinery this size. It would fall apart if tipped over, and the tubes would probably shatter as well. The manual, in fact, states it is delicate, and it seems the recipient has to assemble the machine when it arrives. It appeared to me the components are just stacked vertically to assemble it. It would do much better as a work of modern art than a sample of useful technology, and it has a price tag to match. The manual is a few sheets printed in color with a low resolution ink jet printer on plain paper, loose sheets in a plastic folder, and the ink crept slightly so the text was slightly fuzzy. The manual describes how one can do "experiments" on oneself, all very vague.

The manual describes that one might feel better or worse after an "experiment" (I do not recall if the word "treatment" appeared in the manual). That pretty well covers all the possibilities. There is a mechanical timer, attached to the machine by an electric cord and there is a master power toggle switch on the base of the machine itself. The recommended time was about 30 seconds. I tried it for the maximum time which was 3 or 4 minutes. All I noticed was the distinct odor of ozone.

The purchaser of the machine appears to have bought it to counteract hearing loss. How that would occur is beyond me. The tubes in the machine are filled with various gases and they glow when excited by the current. The sun would seem to be a better source of these frequencies, and it costs considerably less.

I believe I know someone else who has one of these machines, friends of owner of the one I saw, so word of mouth seems to be one way these things spread. Those that buy these items do have a distinctly different world view from those of main stream scientists, even though they are interested in science and technology. I was interested in science from a very early age, yet I do not recall ever being taught the nature of scientific inquiry or logical thought when I was in school, so education seems to me play a large role in explaining how bogus technologies can proliferate in a supposedly scientific age. The FDA warning letter is interesting because it cites an absence of any manufacturing controls at the plant.

Another factor operates here, Terence. Those who have invested in such schemes, tend to defend them even after they’ve discovered that they don’t work; they would have to admit to themselves and to others that they were suckers who fell for a scam. That, they won’t do…




WALDORF SCHOOLS EXAMINED

Robin

Dr. Adrienne Huber, Australian educator and psychologist, has been appointed as an international supporting advisor for the San Francisco-based world movement People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools, PLANS, which was organized in late 1995 by former Steiner/Waldorf parents, teachers, students, administrators and trustees, and their expert support base. This group is actively investigating the Waldorf schools, originally known as Steiner schools. Rudolf Steiner was a Nazi-era mystic who came up against the whole movement, threatened by the party, and fled. He embraced Anthroposophy, an occult religion that now both guides and inspires Waldorf teachers.

Waldorf education is very secretive in nature. There is virtually no hard information about what goes on in Steiner classrooms or on the effects it has on children’s learning. Parents learn little if anything about the curriculum, but I have seen it in operation in Finland, and it’s really woo-woo. The students are taught about spirits that inhabit rocks and trees, astrology, and every variety of occult lore. The Waldorf's two-year teacher training program is simply inadequate and farcical.

The first year of their training is an Anthroposophical seminary program, the study of Steiner's occult philosophy as revealed in his books “Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment,” and “Reincarnation and Karma” and “Occult Science.” Go to www.steinerbooks.org to see just how nutty this man was – and realize that parents actually put these people in charge of their children’s education!

Says Dr. Huber, referring to a statement by Steiner about the connection between Anthroposophy and his system of education:

Most people will recognize this as a clear statement that anthroposophy is the pedagogy and Anthroposophy is religious at heart – since it is concerned with inputting to “souls,” not the education of minds and hearts. Religion is not taught explicitly, rather it is implicit in everything that is done and “lived” in the name of “pedagogy.”… [Students and their parents] have no idea of what they are being drawn into and that makes it difficult for them to challenge the practices. They have no idea what they are looking for.




IN CLOSING...

Re a few of the comments posted by readers about last week’s SWIFT: First, dictionaries do not define words; they give current usage. And, the usage I gave for the word “monster” IS the number-one use given by my Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, contrary to what one reader claimed. And, the word “Benzolite” is a name made up by amateurs; it has several different proposed formulae, and we cannot assume that any are correct. It’s like the word “stuff” or the phrase “you-no-die-mean?” repeated so often by careless speakers...

Reader Reed Hubbard notes:

This past Friday (6/6/08), the USA Today crossword puzzle included an interesting entry. 64-down is a three letter word with the clue, "Alleged psychic Geller." What I found interesting was the word, "Alleged." Perhaps this is progress, in that Geller is not merely taken at face value? Anyway, I found it amusing and not a little encouraging.

Every little bit helps... (The word is “Uri” – or did you guess?)

Brian Dunning sends us to herebedragonsmovie.com – which I highly recommend... Then go to cnn.com/2008/CRIME/06/11/crime.club and see just how backward, pandering, and lacking in academic standards a school can get when adults aren’t in charge…

We’re off to TAM6 with a record registration of 840+ and more expected at the door. This should be a heavy conference....!


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