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SWIFT July 18, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Another Loud Bellow Is Heard, A Follow-Up, From Bob’s Page, Will the Delegate From Sirius Please Stand?, But It’s Only Art…, Remember Takahashi?, A McQuarie Query, Wild Web Too Wild?, Clever…, More Love Notes, and In Closing…

Bentley

The currently-most-popular religious “healer” to infest the lecture venues of America is a 32-year-old Canadian decorated with tattoos, plus a pierced eyebrow and chin. As if this isn’t ugly enough, he appears before his gullible audiences nightly wearing a t-shirt so that his illustrations can more easily be appreciated – rather like the scribblings on the back fence of a grade school, but making less sense.

In his current “Lakeland Revival,” Todd Bentley preaches that some god or other acts through him to cure cancer, heal the deaf, and raise the dead. Really? Well, The Illustrated Man can snap up a million dollars that’s available right here at the JREF – as if he didn’t already know that – as soon as he produces the evidence for any healing he’s invoked by his rantings. Now, Bentley claims that he has medical proof of many healings he’s brought about – the same story we regularly hear from all these liars – but he’s somehow not able to produce it! For the Associated Press, when asked, his “ministry” came up with a list of fifteen persons it said were cured, and who they said they’d checked out. Bentley’s people said that all but three of their stories had been "medically verified." That sounded good – though it was a rather slim number, given the thousands upon thousands of cures for which they say they can show proof.

Table of Contents
  1. Another Loud Bellow Is Heard

  2. A Follow-Up

  3. From Bob’s Page

  4. Will the Delegate From Sirius Please Stand?

  5. But It’s Only Art…

  6. Remember Takahashi?

  7. A McQuarie Query

  8. Wild Web Too Wild?

  9. Clever…

  10. More Love Notes

  11. In Closing…



A Loud Bellow Is Heard

Bentley

The currently-most-popular religious “healer” to infest the lecture venues of America is a 32-year-old Canadian decorated with tattoos, plus a pierced eyebrow and chin. As if this isn’t ugly enough, he appears before his gullible audiences nightly wearing a t-shirt so that his illustrations can more easily be appreciated – rather like the scribblings on the back fence of a grade school, but making less sense.

In his current “Lakeland Revival,” Todd Bentley preaches that some god or other acts through him to cure cancer, heal the deaf, and raise the dead. Really? Well, The Illustrated Man can snap up a million dollars that’s available right here at the JREF – as if he didn’t already know that – as soon as he produces the evidence for any healing he’s invoked by his rantings. Now, Bentley claims that he has medical proof of many healings he’s brought about – the same story we regularly hear from all these liars – but he’s somehow not able to produce it! For the Associated Press, when asked, his “ministry” came up with a list of fifteen persons it said were cured, and who they said they’d checked out. Bentley’s people said that all but three of their stories had been "medically verified." That sounded good – though it was a rather slim number, given the thousands upon thousands of cures for which they say they can show proof. However, two of the phone numbers they’d given out were wrong, six of those persons who were contacted did not respond to telephone messages, and only two of the remaining seven – when finally reached – said that they had medical records that would prove their miracles. Then one of them refused to make her physician available to confirm the validation, and the other's doctor did not return calls despite having received the patient's authorization to discuss the cure.

It’s strange, isn’t it, how such plentiful and conclusive evidence seems to become elusive when pursued? Could it be that Satan is more powerful than the deity-of-the-moment?

When performing his miracles, Bentley seems to borrow from TV Chef Emeril Lagasse, yelling "Bam!" as the dupes fall down and he proclaims them to be cured. As in all these frantic, juvenile circuses, the victims prance in the aisles, screech to Heaven, laugh – almost as if they saw the joke – shake violently, and cry. Lee Moller, chairperson of the British Columbia Society for Skeptical Enquiry, has an opinion on people like Bentley:

There are tons of faith healers who have never passed the simplest scientific test. The one thing in this world that we all fear is death. Faith healers hold out the promise of avoiding immediate death. The people who go to them are often facing terminal illness. They're at a place where they have nothing to lose.

J. Lee Grady, editor of the Pentecostal magazine Charisma, wrote in an online column:

Some of the language used during the Lakeland Revival has created an almost sideshow atmosphere. People are invited to “Come and get some.” Miracles are supposedly “popping like popcorn.”... Such brash statements cheapen what the Holy Spirit is doing.

Hold on. Just what is “the Holy Spirit” doing, Mr. Grady? No, don’t smile patronizingly and throw up your hands at my ignorance, man. This charlatan Todd Bentley knows how to bring in the money: he speaks the language of the dupes, dresses like them, and fleeces them like any good con man does. You, in your starched shirt and beatific smile, say that Bentley “cheapens” the effort to extract money from the ignorant? Then tell me this, Holier-Than-Thou, just what has this mythical “Holy Spirit” of yours done, and where’s the evidence for it? It’s in the same place where Bentley’s is, Grady, it’s in Neverland – defined by the ever-popular Wikipedia:

…often seen as a metaphor for eternal childhood (and childishness), immortality, and escapism.

Whether done by an overweight tattooed clown, or a carefully-coiffed mannequin in a white suit, this act is a tiresome, atavistic, circus spectacle that our species should have outgrown a century ago.

Yes, Bentley admits that in the process of performing his miracles, he once kicked an elderly woman in the face, choked another man, banged a crippled woman's legs on a platform, "leg-dropped" a pastor, and hit a man so hard that he dislodged a tooth. But – incredibly – he says that reports of these events were “taken out of context.” The people, he says, were healed, not hurt:

People just can't understand why God would tell me something like, “Kick that woman in the face” – who was not injured, and hundreds were healed. Or the incident where I did hit a guy so hard one time that he did hit the ground and his tooth popped out. But what people don't know is that he was a dentist. There's a whole miracle that took place in his body. He was healed of cancer and he became a (ministry donor) after the incident of knocking his tooth out, because he knew it was God. And he said, “I never felt a thing.”

money

Ah, there we have the evidence we’re looking for, Mr. Bentley! A million dollars worth of evidence, sir! Merely provide the identity of the kicked-in-the-face woman, or the dentist, and get a deposit slip ready! Oh, but let me save you some time, so you can get on with “healing” the suckers: Neither the woman nor the dentist are willing to be identified, right? How did I guess? And your highly-honed ethics won’t permit you to identify them without their written permission, right? There! Saved you a lot of time, didn’t I? So, back to scamming that audience eagerly awaiting your hollers of Hallelujah! – hurry along, or they might have time to get smart!

Fat chance.

Todd Bentley will eventually go his way, retiring rich and satisfied, and someone else will have popped up to replace him, because we’re still living in the world of a century ago, and we refuse to grow up…

Finally, just as a clincher, Todd Bentley accepts the healing of a man who says he can now see out of a glass eye.

Words fail me…




A FOLLOW-UP

Richard Saunders

The Australian TV series with which our friend and colleague Richard Saunders is involved appears to be the sort of thing that should be more often seen in every country, thus we are giving it close attention and coverage. Reader Robert Matic – see last week’s lead item at tinyurl.com/6ljk4c – has provided us with another penetrating analysis. He reports:

The second episode of “The One” screened on Australian prime-time television last night (Tuesday, 15 July 2008). Following is my review of the episode:

The second episode opened with a highlight reel of all the “hits” from the first episode – and none of the misses! – before introducing the judges to the viewing audience. Skeptic Richard Saunders was jokingly introduced as the judge who is “ruining everyone’s fun” and Witch Stacey Demarco was “hoping Richard can be converted tonight.” It was difficult not to notice that Richard was often jumped on by the host when the psychics made hits, while Stacey was never asked to comment on any of the misses – although, to her credit, she did acknowledge some of them in her judging. Regardless, it seems the host, editors and viewing audience are as adept at remembering the hits and forgetting the misses as any true believer.

Randi comments: This indicates a degree of alarm aroused in the minds of the producers, I think. Though it’s standard procedure to emphasize the successes, we might have thought that “The One” would also display at least some of the misses; it remains to be seen whether this selective editing will become the operating principle for the series. Mr. Matic continues:

Test 1: Twenty-one personal items chosen at random from the audience were displayed on a table. The psychics were to choose from the selection, make a reading and attempt to return each item to the rightful owner. This segment was – from start to end – pure cold reading classics littered with Barnum statements and generalizations and lots of shotgunning. The owners of the items were described as “run down and exhausted,” had “pain in the back or neck,” there was “something about a picture,” someone “owns or owned a dog,” had “relationship problems,” there was “something about ice-cream,” someone was “creative,” had “stillness inside, but was living a hectic lifestyle,” “would like to develop more,” “is reading more” and someone was told “it is your time now” – whatever that means. In addition to the Barnum statements and generalisations, the psychics made some guesses relating to dead relatives, hair color and/or sex of the owner, marital status, number of children and names and letters – Terry, Tony, Troy – all techniques familiar to the skeptic.

Randi comments: Here, in raw form, is the major design flaw with all such programs. The stated task was to “choose from the selection, make a reading and attempt to return each item to the rightful owner.” But that was not done; the psychics chose to bypass that direct, simple, task, and went into cold reading – as Robert points out – by throwing out generalizations and clouding the issue with blather. They were required to examine each object and them take it to the person they’d guessed to be the owner, without making guesses that might evoke useful and indicative reactions from the subjects.

If I had designed this test, I’d have followed the protocol I designed for my “Exploring Psychic Powers – Live!” back in 1989. I had 12 persons – each with a different astrological "sign" – questioned in advance of the live program by a professional astrologer, who then handed each one of them a sealed envelope bearing what he believed was their correct horoscope sign, based on their answers to the questions he'd asked. I'll add that he was not allowed to ask them their birthdates! When the program went "live" all of the subjects were asked to look at the horoscope sign they been given, go to the corresponding astrology symbol displayed on the set, and then change over to the correct astrology symbol if the one they'd been given – by the astrologer – was incorrect. As I'd fully expected, 11 of the subjects moved to the right spots. Robert continues:

The item being read by the psychic who mentioned “something about a picture” was a locket. When the audience member said that there was a picture inside the locket – when isn’t there a picture in a locket? – the psychic said he didn’t realize it was a locket! Please.

Tellingly, only one of the psychics attempted to return the item to the rightful owner! According to the introduction, this was part of the test and yet none of the psychics were brought to task. The six psychics who simply ignored this vital aspect of the test were forgiven – although some of them attempted to identify the owner by hair color or general direction in the live studio audience. Very disappointing! The one psychic who did attempt to find the owner of the item chose two people from the audience – which Richard Saunders identified as a break of the rules, but he was again shrugged off.

If I'd been there, I would have had the owners of the items already selected out and identified for the "psychics" so that the target pool would have been more limited, the statistics easier to see, and the chances of the performers a little better. I don't know the size of the audience, but if it was large, such a test would seem a little unfair. In any case, I rather prefer a "forced-choice" test, since the rest of the audience – and the folks at home – can participate by making their own guesses.

What followed is further evidence of the efficacy of Barnum statements:

Psychic (paraphrasing): “I feel it’s either this woman at the front here, or the woman up there” – possibly choosing the two audience members who were giving visual clues – e.g. nodding, smiling, etc. – to her reading.

Woman 1: “Everything you said was true about me.”

Psychic: (To this woman) “Is this yours?”

Woman 1: “No.”

Psychic: (To second woman) “Is it yours?”

Woman 2: “Yes.”

Psychic: “See! I was reading this woman, but I knew the item was the other woman’s.”

Woman 2: “What you said applied to me very much as well.”

Psychic: “Yes. I knew it was you.”

Again, a well-known technique used by these performers. This is similar to moving the dart on the dart-board after it's hit the wrong spot. This isn't allowed in dart games, nor in any other games I know of. Also, the performer himself established that he was using generalities, since both subjects found that his guesses applied to them!

Judging: Stacey acknowledged there were some misses, but said the hits were huge. I’m not sure she was watching the same show. Richard said there were some hits, but a lot of generalizations. Stacey then said one of the psychics made no misses, which surprisingly, Richard acknowledged.

Remember, please, that Richard might have been the victim of "creative editing" in post-production. We'll have to await his comments after "The One" has run its course.

Here is the reading with “no misses” – according to the judges:

Red sports car – miss

Something with trains or tunnels – hit (owner worked with trains – I assume anyone who travels by train or lives near a train line would award a hit here)

Mary – hit (mother’s name – a common name)

or Catherine – miss

Pain in hands – hit (drummer sometimes gets sore wrists – although, I assume the psychic specifically meant hands, based on her next prediction)

Arthritis – miss

Some link to Malta – hit (children are half-Maltese)

Something about take-away food – hit (children eat take-away food – there aren’t many who don’t)

Has trouble with communication – unknown

Gets sore throats – unknown

This was the best performance during this segment!

Again, none of this should have been included! It's all extraneous material, and not any part of the original task assigned to the "psychics" who participated. This is a really cheesy way of earning points illegally. My count shows 5 hits, 3 misses, and two indeterminate – hardly “no misses.”

Once again, cold reading techniques were not mentioned on the show, which was predictable, but unfortunate. I have no doubt that an example by a competent and non-psychic cold reader and a five-minute explanation of cold reading prior to the psychics’ performances would be the strongest card the skeptical community could play on a show of this kind. If this were allowed, it would be difficult to ignore the similarities between the psychic and non-psychic. Ignorance of cold reading techniques – like any magic – is what makes cold readings seem so magical. Of course, I doubt any producer would allow for such a demonstration or explanation to appear on the show. After all, psi sells.

Test 2: One of seventy shipping containers held a cargo of barrels.

The psychics had fifteen minutes to find the container. The test was introduced as “strictly controlled” and “supervised” by Richard Saunders. This test was considerably more difficult for the psychics than the previous week. Even if the camera crew could unknowingly give clues as to the general direction of the bounty, the shipping containers were stacked in such a way as to make filming of correct and incorrect choices difficult to differentiate – there are only so many ways to film a psychic touching the door of a shipping container. Still not strictly double-blind, but better. The result: all misses.

In a poor attempt to sway the viewer, a map with a red dot at the location of the correct container and the yellow arrow showing the psychic, was only shown when the psychic was close! The psychics were also shown questioning themselves near the container with the bounty in the shot. I was surprised that someone didn’t choose correctly based on this footage, but perhaps there was just as much footage of the psychics questioning themselves in front of other containers. But that just doesn’t make interesting viewing, does it?

Judging: Richard was very happy with the result of this test, highlighting that the psychics performed no better than chance. This, of course, didn’t mean they weren’t psychic, but only that their psychic powers let them down on this occasion. Stacey emphasised the performance of one of the psychics who almost chose the correct container, but said that he didn’t trust his feelings.

Test 3: Similar to the first test, the psychics were to make readings of a selection of Olympic heroes based on objects owned by the Olympians. It seems they left the worst performances till last. Answers became even more general than those made in the first test, even though they knew they were reading former Olympians. “I see arms moving,” “the person is in the public eye,” “great personality,” “has had their wisdom teeth taken out,” “has a sibling,” etc. Very general, very vague statements abounded.

Randi comments: This would be called “psychometry,” and it’s simply the “20 Questions” technique of “cold reading,” done with a veneer of importance attached to the status of those for whom the guesses were being made. Not a double-blind procedure, so useless.

Judging: Richard pointed out that people remember the hits and forget the misses, while Stacey listed the hits of one of the psychics. One of the Olympians said the psychic was 85% correct. Interestingly, the average score given to Bertram R. Forer on his list of identical Barnum statements given to a group of students in 1948 was 4.26 on a scale of 0 (very poor) to 5 (excellent). A similar test was performed by James Randi decades later, with likewise similar results.

The show ended with two psychics being eliminated by the judges based on “accuracy, consistency and specific hits.” The eliminated psychics then showed their predictions – made last week – of the final three contestants. Each psychic obviously included themselves in the final three. With three episodes to go, tune in next week – same woo time, same woo channel!

Thank you again, Robert. We look forward to a future report – if "The One" has a third episode, that is...




FROM BOB’S PAGE

Good friend Bob Park (see tinyurl.com/5hufey, item #4) and Eric Krieg, world-class debunker of perpetual motion and free energy scams, of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking – PHACT at www.phact.org/ – have tracked down the scammer behind the “Hydro Assist Fuel Cell” and the “Pre-Ignition Catalytic Converter” currently being advertised in mainstream magazines, both of them by “Dutchman Industries.” It turns out to be the infamous Dennis Lee – see www.randi.org/jr/2006-08/082506yet.html#i1. Exposed many times as a fake, Lee is one of those who continues to literally steal money from naive investors, spreading his false advertising and spurious claims of energy “breakthroughs” that attract suckers internationally. Yet the Internet and media outlets continue to publish his lies, and he simply gets richer...

Of course, as we’ve so often seen, the SEC wants to be sure that this operator has made a pile of cash before they close him down. See next week’s item on the “Sniffex” item for another example of this considerate treatment…

If you aren’t already with Bob’s fans, go to tinyurl.com/48kt9z and subscribe. Free, informative, and fun. What more could you ask...?




WILL THE DELEGATE FROM SIRIUS PLEASE STAND?

alien

Folks, you can count on it. Space aliens – though they’re not really expected to attend – are going to get media attention during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, next month. Jeff Peckman, 54, who recently made news when he “revealed” a video of a blinking UFO passenger peeking in a suburban window, once attended the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa, and in 1998 ran for the US Senate as a member of the Natural Law Party, receiving .31% of the votes. He is now promoting the creation of an “Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission,” and planning a news conference during the DNC to talk about space aliens and the "technologies that they appear willing to offer," he says:

Having so many foreign media here I think will be a good lesson for the American media about how seriously this subject can be treated and how serious of a subject it is. Fame has nothing to do with it. I don't get money doing these interviews, but I get a lot of satisfaction when I see people who have been denied the truth finally given information that reveals the truth.

And they’ll snap it up…




BUT IT’S ONLY ART...

Reader Arnold Rosner, of Hamilton Square, New Jersey, sends us to adamkuby.com/acupuncture.html, and writes:

I think this may fit into your "make sure you're sitting down" category. Portland, Oregon, is having acupuncture performed; not on its citizens, but on the CITY ITSELF! An artist, Adam Kuby, arrived in Portland a few years ago. Even though Portland enjoys a modest reputation as a weird place, it wasn't weird enough for Kuby, who stuck a 23-foot needle into the ground.

Great. Now cities have chi. Can't measure it, but we know it's there because… because… well, we just KNOW it, so stop asking. (Laughing is acceptable, and highly encouraged.)

I haven’t asked Arnold, but perhaps he missed what I and my assistant Sean McCabe both spotted. I’ll leave it to readers to find the glaring evidence, not of art, but of a huge joke…




REMEMBER TAKAHASHI?

Takahashi

I’ll let you look up the many references on SWIFT to Mai Takahashi, the Japanese girl who we exposed so very effectively, years ago. At tinyurl.com/6kcdfg you’ll find an account of my encounters with her – which contains an inadvertent error: it says

[Randi] explains that he learned his lesson after surrendering to the preferences of Uri Geller at the Stanford Research Institute in 1971 and 1972 – a lapse in scientific method which Randi believes unwittingly aided Geller's rise to celebrity.

No, those experiments took place well before I’d ever heard of Geller. I only saw how the naïve scientists at SRI had been taken in, and revealed all that in my book, “The Truth About Uri Geller” – currently available at randi.org/joom/jref-store/110.html in a new printing. And, I’ve never “surrendered” to any psychic’s preferences; producers have put conditions in place with which I have disagreed, but I’ve never endorsed any of these.

I mention the Takahashi case because we’re preparing to release a video of a performance by her in which her method is clearly seen. We’ve speeded up the video so that the surreptitious – and not too subtle – “move” is evident and unmistakable. Watch for it here…




A MCQUARIE QUERY

Reader Ward Griffin sends us to tinyurl.com/6mavjq, where the KOIN TV station defines a Laurie McQuarie as a “world-renowned criminal psychic” – without any references or supporting evidence for that, but presenting what appears to be a distinct possibility of misinterpretation of that definition; what crimes might Ms. McQuarie have committed, we must ask…? Writes Ward:

The local CBS affiliate station in Portland, Oregon ran a story yesterday featuring a psychic who says she helps detectives solve missing persons cases. This item is the second of two featuring this psychic, the first one ran on the 6:00 show and I have not found that one on the web site. The first story featured her helping with a very high profile case in Oregon City a few years ago when two middle school girls were murdered. I never heard this psychics name mentioned during the very long investigation of that case.

I sent an e-mail to the station expressing how I felt about their story:

The story that was presented today by Kelley Day about Laurie McQuarie who says she helps authorities solve cases with her intuition, was a poor example of the quality of journalism I have come to expect from KOIN news. This story was completely one-sided and there was no attempt to verify the outrageous claims of psychic ability this woman says she possesses. Did anyone contact the Oregon City Police detectives who investigated the case of the two murdered girls to see if this woman provided any useful information in their investigation? Or for that matter, any of the cases she says she helped solve? If she knows where the body of a missing woman is, and has such a close relationship with law enforcement, why has the body not been recovered? I doubt that any city, county or state police agency would give any weight to any intuitive input from this person. If I'm wrong let me see an interview with a detective that will support her claims. I know your news department can do better than this terrible example of slanted reporting.

I’ve asked Ward to inform us if any response is received




WILD WEB TOO WILD?

Reader Mark O'Leary:


I have written you from time to time with bits and pieces that you may or may not have found useful. Today I want to bring to your attention a video on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=M7LO7EB2XTI&sdig=1.

You might remember being interviewed for a program called “The Wild Web” about 9 or 10 years ago in Boston. You will perhaps catch a glimpse of a large poster in the background of your shot – it was a lithograph of The Amazing Carter, about whom you provided a great deal of interesting information after the interview. The owners of this show – long since cancelled – have been posting stories from their archives to YouTube. Yours was posted this week.

I was the segment producer who interviewed you for the story, and it changed my life. I think of that interview as my entrée to the world of skepticism, and the experience has made my life immeasurably richer and happier.

I just wanted to reconnect and say hello.

Readers will see several other equally interesting videos at that location…




CLEVER…

Reader RoseAnne Mussar, of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, sends us to youtube.com/watch?v=nntGSioZPl0. Ignore the first part, which is just cute pet tricks, but beginning at 1 minute, 30 seconds, pay close attention. This is a perfect example of either (a) purposefully deceptive editing, or (b) simply stupid camera editing. You see, in the control room, during a videotaping or a live show, a “live” director calls the camera shots. That means he/she directs which camera will be recording, by saying, “take one” to put Camera One’s output on the tape, then saying “take two” to switch to the video on Camera Two being recorded. Or, in a more involved situation, the output of two – or more – cameras will be recorded on two separate tapes, then a post-production director will alternately switch in the video from different cameras to provide a continuous representation of the action.

In this example, a broadcast of a “Pet Star” episode, note that we are never shown the pet owner at the moment the dog stops tapping. That leads me to believe that option “a” – above – was used. We almost see a cue being given at 1 minute, 45 seconds, but not quite. Notice that the dog has its undivided attention on the trainer/owner, and that cue – which can be a tilt of the head, a motion of the hand toward the “treat,” or any other small sign by the owner of which the dog has been trained to be aware, tells the dog to stop the tapping – or barking, or another indication – and thus provides the sought-after answer.

As Ms. Mussar wrote:

I thought you might find this interesting. Can you say "Clever Hans"? I thought you could....

She refers to the Clever Hans/Kluge Hans phenomenon – see tinyurl.com/66357n – to which you should refer. Thank you, Ms. Mussar.




MORE LOVE NOTES

Here are the next five of the notes that were presented to me at TAM6. If these seem rather gushy, it’s just chance; I’m selecting them at random, each week. Herewith:

Your book “The Faith Healers” changed my life. I escaped fundamentalism because of you! Thank you.

It’s no surprise for me to tell you that I love you!

Thanks for your devotion to reality.

Few persons enjoy a life that grows in significance each year. Congratulations.

Thanks for all you have done and continue to do. Live long!




IN CLOSING

sniffex

And, next week we’ll have some more-or-less satisfying news about the “Sniffex” scam that we fought for years here on SWIFT. Go to any reference found in our SWIFT archives, or to sniffextest.blogspot.com/ for interesting advance details.

I’ll be heard in an hour-long interview on Sunday, 10 to 11 pm Central time. See www.darknessradio.com/ for details…


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