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SWIFT August 3, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Blatantly Suppressing Science, More Royal News, JREF Library File, Sylvia Got Something Right!, All Talk But No Cure, Yet Another Dowsing Rod, And It Still Pours, Accreditation Responsibility, Solutions Offered, Error, Educator McLeroy Again, Flamm Again on Flim-Flam, Another Favorite Myth Exploded, In Conclusion…

From reader Jan Willem Nienhuys comes another disturbing story from the Low Countries.

One of the “public broadcasting corporations” in the Netherlands is the EO, where “E” stands for Evangelical. Why such religious organizations are “public” is too complicated to explain. Competing with the EO is the Roman Catholic KRO, which specializes in psychic superstitions like miracle stories, reincarnation, and “competitions” between psychics. The EO turns out to be a bunch of liars as well. They broadcast the BBC series "The Life of Mammals" presented by David Attenborough, and it turns out that they left out certain comments about evolutionary theory; all references to "millions of years" were also systematically edited out. The last part of the series, mainly about the descent of man, was omitted altogether.

Table of Contents
  1. Blatantly Suppressing Science

  2. More Royal News

  3. JREF Library File

  4. Sylvia Got Something Right!

  5. All Talk But No Cure

  6. Yet Another Dowsing Rod

  7. And It Still Pours

  8. Accreditation Responsibility

  9. Solutions Offered

  10. Error

  11. Educator McLeroy Again

  12. Flamm Again on Flim-Flam

  13. Another Favorite Myth Exploded

  14. In Conclusion…



BLATANTLY SUPPRESSING SCIENCE

From reader Jan Willem Nienhuys comes another disturbing story from the Low Countries.

One of the “public broadcasting corporations” in the Netherlands is the EO, where “E” stands for Evangelical. Why such religious organizations are “public” is too complicated to explain. Competing with the EO is the Roman Catholic KRO, which specializes in psychic superstitions like miracle stories, reincarnation, and “competitions” between psychics. The EO turns out to be a bunch of liars as well. They broadcast the BBC series "The Life of Mammals" presented by David Attenborough, and it turns out that they left out certain comments about evolutionary theory; all references to "millions of years" were also systematically edited out. The last part of the series, mainly about the descent of man, was omitted altogether.

No doubt the EO wanted to please the 61% of their subscribers to their weekly TV guide who adhere to the 6-day/24hr theory of divine creation. Only 1% believes that “God did it by evolution” and the remainder is divided between “God created, but not in 6/24” (32%) and “don't know” (5%). There were almost no subscribers who thought God had nothing to do with it. The EO didn't bother about nonsubscribers who wanted to watch Attenborough. The EO admitted that they had already been doing this kind of censoring for years.

This censorship was discovered by Gerdien de Jong, the professor of evolutionary biology in Utrecht and such a fan of Attenborough, that she watched the series wherever she could: on the BBC, on the Flemish public TV, and on the EO. Her full report (in Dutch) is on evolutie.blog.com/ dated July 27, 2007. She says that she can understand why the EO doesn't like these parts, but that they shouldn't have broadcast the series at all instead of bowdlerizing it.

Mr. Nienhuys, I would suggest that the BBC should be made aware of this blatant interference with their program content, as well as David Attenborough – who I’m sure would strongly resent being censored. The “offensive” material has been left off the broadcaster's DVDs, also! I’m disappointed, since I was under the impression that citizens of the Netherlands take great pride in their freedom of speech rights…





MORE ROYAL NEWS

Reader Christian Andersen comments on last week’s item at randi.org/jr/2007-07/072707bashing.html#i5:

To continue the ongoing shenanigans in the Norwegian royal house, a book from 2001 called "On the Way" claims that Mette-Marit, the psychic princess Märtha Louise's sister-in-law, has also received treatment from her:

Märtha's hands. I would like to say something about them. It may sound strange what I'm about to say, but she has a special warmth in them. A lot of people have warm and good hands, but it's almost like she has a little sun in hers. A very calming and healing touch. She has been giving me some treatments.

The treatments were for an ailment called "nyrebekkenbetennelse", which literally translated is "kidney-pelvis inflammation" – I have no idea what that is in English! Later, she says Märtha Louise calmed her down on a plane trip, almost but not quite curing her of fear of flying.

Another Andersen, Peter Emil, adds:

The Angel School of Princess Märtha Louise of Norway farce continues here in Norway. Until now, the debate has largely centered around the question of whether a princess should courageously offer her genuine religious beliefs or not – with some faint protests about the rip-off commercial aspects. The angel school courses are already fully booked for the next year – at minimum US$2,000 per course! But with 40% of the population believing that angels exist, the room for more fundamental skepticism has been limited. Sadly also, only a handful of scientists have challenged the angel nonsense, but summer vacation is not over yet, so I sincerely hope for more science-based protests in the near future.

Well, finally, Mr. Trygve Hegnar, the editor and owner of one of Norway's largest financial newspapers – Finansavisen – has taken the debate onto the battleground where it belongs: In an editorial today, he clearly states that angels do not exist, and that the princess is guilty of fraud. As in most countries in the world, fraud is a criminal offense here in Norway. The editor's point is that the princess is offering a product/service that simply does not work, and that she consequently violates our laws regulating marketing of product and services.

"What would happen" – the editor continues – "if one of the angel school participants comes back without having experienced the faintest contact with angels, and files a lawsuit?"

What also will be interesting is to see if the Princess files a libel suit against the editor for calling her a swindler – guilty of fraud. Will the burden of proof be on the editor to prove that angels do not exist, or must the princess prove the contrary? The witness stand must be teeming with angels if she hopes to win…

The Monarchy here in Norway is strongly supported by a large majority; our three kings in modern times, including Märtha’s reigning father King Harald, have all been immensely popular, pragmatic and competent. But now that also the Crown Prince Haakon's wife, the queen-to-be Mette Marit, has endorsed the princess' healing abilities, the farce reaches substantial royal proportions.

The editor offers only two options: either the King stops his daughter's angel school, or she resigns her princess title.

May I suggest a third option: encourage Princess Märtha to apply for your million-dollar prize! I may send her your credentials, to facilitate her application, but I'm not sure if there will be any response.

“Uneasy rests the head that wears a crown.” Shakespeare, Henry IV, part 2. Well put, Will.





JREF LIBRARY FILE

Reader Eric Cline offers comments concerning last week’s item at www.randi.org/jr/2007-07/072707bashing.html#i13:

I have downloaded the Excel file of the contents of the Isaac Asimov Library, and I look forward to seeing all this fine collection contains. Let me use this occasion to provide one more plug for the wonderful infidels.org, which has (at least) hundreds of articles on skepticism (of the religious sort) in its archives. This site has been mentioned on your site in the past, and it is a great treasure trove of fascinating articles, including a large section of historical writings by noted persons.

Eric, I’ll add a note here to the library item, which received much enthusiastic attention from our readers. In what we call the “private” sector of the JREF library, we hold the rare book collection, books of special value that can be accessed only in person and under supervision. Here are most of the items in that group, a few others of them being out for conservation and/or rebinding:

“Discoverie of Witchcraft” by Sir Reginald Scot. 1665. Very fine condition, rebound.

“The True Predictions or Prognostications of Michael Nostradamus.” 1671. Translation by Theophilus de Garencières, the first edition in English. Fine condition, original binding.

“Conjuror’s Magazine” – bound copies, August 1791–September 1792. Bound together with “Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy” circa 1789, translated by Rev. C. Moore. The magazine seems more concerned with suggestions on how to please clients with favorable horoscopes, palmistry, and witchcraft-style remedies, than actual conjuring-for-fun. See www.randi.org/jr/062802.html.

“The History of the Inquisition in Spain” by D. Juan Antonio Llorente. 1827. A dreadful 400-page document listing the trials and punishments of the 340,000 victims of the Holy Inquisition, written by a former “Secretary of the Inquisition.”

“Letters on Natural Magic” by Sir David Brewster. 1842. Correspondence between Brewster and Sir Walter Scott on various philosophical and natural-history matters.

“A Treatise on Astronomy” by Elias Loomis, L.L.D. 1883. A remarkably complete account of the knowledge of this science as it stood at this period of time.

“Magical Experiments, or Science in Play” by Arthur Good. 1890. Clever “parlor tricks” and amusements to while away Victorian evenings…

“Behind the Scenes With The Mediums” by David P. Abbott. 1909. (2 copies) One of the most devastating exposés of the séances and psychological “cold reading” scams ever written.

“Latest Magic” by Professor Hoffmann. 1919. Well-delineated conjuring tricks by Angelo Lewis.

“The Coming of the Fairies” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 1922. These are the two actual copies originally owned by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths – the two girls who perpetrated the hoax – both copies autographed to them by Conan Doyle.

The library file is available for viewing at randi.org/library.





SYLVIA GOT SOMETHING RIGHT!

Reader Neil Henley Hitachinaka, in Japan, informs us, re our item last week about Sylvia Browne’s failed prophecies:

Just a quick note to mention that in fact, Japan's Niigata prefecture did have a large earthquake (6+) in 2004. In fact, the big one two weeks ago occurred in the same prefecture. Considering that this is the most earthquake-prone nation on Earth, such a prediction carries about the same weight as the "hurricanes in Florida" divination. I foresee strong typhoons battering Okinawa this year. Am I eligible for the $1 million?

Waiting patiently for T.V. footage from your recent trip to Japan.

Neil refers to a recent videotaping I did in Japan, in which an American “psychic” tried for the JREF prize. I’ll run a report and put up some footage from that, very soon… Another of our readers, obviously impressed with Jon Blumenfeld's SWIFT entry of last week, offers his own set of ten Sylvia Browne’s misses. Here’s “The Next 10: Volume II” – by our friend Bryan Farha.

1. American troops will be pulled out of Iraq by June or July. (prediction for 2004 – Wrong)

2. Osama bin Laden is "dead as a doornail." (prediction for 2004 – Wrong as far as we know)

3. Martha Stewart will not go to jail. Stewart reported to a federal prison in West Virginia on October 8, 2004. (prediction for 2004 – Wrong)

4. North Korea will launch nuclear weapons in 2004. (prediction for 2004 – Wrong)

5. The United States will go to war with North Korea this year. (prediction for 2006 – Wrong)

6. There will be an alcohol scandal about the President of the United States this year. (prediction for 2006 – Wrong)

7. The government will allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana this year. (prediction for 2006 – Wrong)

8. Michael Jackson will do jail time. (prediction for 2006 – Wrong)

9. SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is related to dairy allergy with some children. (prediction for 2006 – Wrong)

10. Aliens will visit Earth in 2010.....We'll see. (prediction from 2006)

I must also point out Sylvia’s clever use of colorful similes, as shown in #2, above. Slick! We can only admire her erudition. (Look it up, Sylvia…)





ALL TALK BUT NO CURE

Reader Peter Smith directs us to a hilarious and presumptuous site, talkingcures.co.uk, and gives us his philosophy on the matter:

Firstly many thanks for your enlightening and entertaining web site. It is the first thing I log onto every Friday at work.

I am a teacher and I was highly amused when one of my students handed me the attached, mainly because my name happens to be Peter Smith. Young Alex was convinced he had discovered my secret life and was hoping to get some mileage out of my alternative occupation. Unfortunately for him this was not to be the case. The exponent of Talking Cures Pain Relief may share my name but that is where the similarity ends.

I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and am in continual pain. I can blank out the discomfort if I am really engrossed in something I am doing – such as a good lesson, one of those rare rounds of golf where the ball is actually going where it is meant to, or writing on my word processor, but I know that if I want consistent pain relief then I have to rely on the medications prescribed by my doctors and not on some remedy or technique devised by the fairies.

My late mum suffered all her life from chronic arthritis. She was a typical French peasant with no illusions about anything and yet in the last few years of her life she decided to try acupuncture. Needless to say it was a total waste of her money and she was in pain until the day she died. I am glad that she never found the Talking Cures Pain Relief address as I suspect that even a hard-boiled skeptic like mum may have been tempted by the claims made.

Mr Randi, Keep up the good work, keep pricking those bubbles and long may you prosper.





YET ANOTHER DOWSING ROD

Reader Don Fearn directs us to tinyurl.com/3bmm57, to see an article from Modern Mechanix of September, 1934. It reads:

Divining Rod Tunes in on Ore

DEVELOPED on radioactive principles, a new divining rod has been perfected to tune in on underground minerals and water.

The device, invented by Walter Henning, German engineer, consists of a vertical axis and horizontal arm from which a capsule is freely suspended. Into this capsule is inserted a given substance, which is said to respond to the radiations of the mineral sought.

According to the inventor, the divining rod performs as soon as it comes near to the metal sought. It will point to the ore deposit, then turn on its axis, the number of turns indicating the depth below the surface where the ore can be found.

Don, this is exactly the same content as any number of – literally – hundreds of such “inventions” that all depend on the “ideomotor reaction/effect” that has sucked in so many thousands of persons over the centuries. See randi.org/encyclopedia/ideomotor%20effect.html for a description. No, dowsing does not work, and the majority of claims made for the JREF million-dollar prize are directed at this remarkable self-delusion…





AND IT STILL POURS

UK reader Simon Blake refers to last week’s item at www.randi.org/jr/2007-07/072707bashing.html#i9:

In this week's SWIFT I note with some amusement the quote from the pagan:

We were hoping for some dry weather but I think I have changed my mind. We'll be doing some rain magic to bring the rain and wash it away.

I'm not sure where these people practice their "magic" – deep in a cave, presumably – but it's apparently escaped their notice that our small country is in the grip of the single wettest summer and most destructive floods in living memory, with the damage so far totaling $5 BILLION and counting.

Simon, people who have their heads in the clouds seldom have the time to notice that their feet are wet…





ACCREDITATION RESPONSIBILITY

Reader Stuart Stilling:

I would just like to make two comments on items that appeared in the July 27, 2007, SWIFT. First, you include a quote from an individual who works for the federal government and rates resumés submitted by employees. The author talks about the Academy of Oriental Medicine and states:

It really saddens me that these Universities can claim official government accreditation when they are teaching things that do not exist.

I would like to point out that the government does not provide accreditation. Schools are accredited by regional accreditation associations, professional associations and by other groups. For example, the APA [American Psychological Association] provides accreditation for schools in clinical psychology. The Academy of Oriental Medicine's accreditation is from the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine – see aoma.edu/program.html. While I agree with the author that the school is teaching things that do not exist, the government is not responsible. The government's role is simply to record whether or not the school has received accreditation from a recognized accreditation authority, usually as a basis for providing student loans.

Stuart, perhaps it depends on what you designate as “government.” I might be hard-pressed to distinguish between “regional accreditation associations” and groups endorsed by “government.” Do such associations themselves need to be licensed and/or have permits or authority? Nevertheless, your point is well made.

I apologize to “The Government.”

This reader then addresses the item last week at www.randi.org/jr/2007-07/072707bashing.html#i11:

Second, the SWIFT column contained an account of a person who has given up his belief in Christianity and has been suffering from depression. This individual talks about seeking medical treatment, and seeing two psychiatrists and three psychologists who believe in the necessity of a "higher-power" for recovery. I do not know about the psychiatrists, but the three psychologists are clearly violating the ethical standards of their profession. As such, they should be reported to their state board. Given the area that your writer comes from, these psychologists probably reflected their community. This reflection, however, does not relieve them of their professional responsibility to use evidence-based methods, as well as to not impose their own religious beliefs on their clients.

Stuart, I think that any and all “professionals” must “reflect their community” to some degree or another. It would be exceedingly naïve to believe that a devout Christian psychologist would not try to sway a Moslem husband toward allowing his wife to circulate in public without covering her face and body, if that practice was causing the woman distress… I recall years ago in Canada when a school psychologist became very agitated when I told him plainly that I did not believe in any deities, devils, miracles, or angels; he clearly declared that I was going to his personal version of Hell upon my demise, and hearing of this confrontation, one of my teachers eagerly took up the futile battle to save me from eventual fire and brimstone.

You’ll see much more of our readers reactions to this item, right here:





SOLUTIONS OFFERED

I will apologize for the length of this next item: more than 2,000 words. I am providing this so that it can be seen just how much our readers can empathize with an individual’s problems, and how they’ll offer constructive suggestions. Many more of the same nature were received, but these six examples cover the spectrum well…

Reader Eric Cline – already heard from on another subject, above – offers his support to the uneasy reader at www.randi.org/jr/2007-07/072707bashing.html#i11:

…in regard to this week's comments by the anonymous 32-year-old who was suffering from depression following loss of religious faith, let me pluck an excellent quote… which perhaps will help this person philosophically deal with the new understanding. It is from Clarence Darrow, and it deals with the question of whether or not religious faith should be encouraged simply because it is more comforting, never mind whether or not it is true:

We are assured that without this faith, life is only desolation and despair. However that may be, it remains that many of the conclusions of logic are not pleasant to contemplate; still, so long as men think and feel, at least some of them will use their faculties as best they can. For if we are to believe things that are not true, who is to write our creed? Is it safe to leave it to any man or organization to pick out the errors that we must accept? The whole history of the world has answered this question in a way that cannot be mistaken.

[Taken from "The Myth of the Soul" by Clarence Darrow]

From reader Ryan Gagne:

I want to take a moment and respond to the person who wrote the REALITY CAN BE ROUGH letter in the recent SWIFT. I too have recently come to the full realization that belief in an all-powerful omniscient being is irrational, unnecessary, and outdated; however, it was more of a progression for me rather than a sudden flip.

I understand how the author is feeling. I had a moment of those same feelings, but I quickly overcame them. Once I realized how amazing and awe inspiring the universe truly is, the depressed feelings quickly subsided. The mind blowing physics and sheer magnitude of it all is the real wonder of our existence. I suggest the author of the letter do some minor research into this. I think it may help; I know it did for me.

“The Demon Haunted World” by Carl Sagan and “Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person's Answer to Christian Fundamentalism” by David Mills are two books that I recommend. These books helped me affirm my newly acquired, for lack of a better saying, "non-belief." I also would like to the author to know that he or she is not alone. There are many warm and friendly people who support him or her. If the author has not already done so, I suggest he or she set up a JREF Forum account. There are many individuals who can give advice, support, and encouragement.

From reader John Brown:

I read your letter on The Swift this evening, and thought I'd try to offer some unsolicited advice and counsel, as I too am a 32 year old former believer who's had an occasional hard time coming to grips with reality.

I know exactly how tough it is growing up in America, being raised on Christianity and science fiction, hoping that the future will bring swift and enjoyable interstellar travel, and death will bring eternal happiness in heaven: only to realize as I reached adulthood that the speed of light is as yet unsurpassable by man-made vehicles (and may be so forever), and that there is no god and no heaven either. It sounds a little silly to those who've been rational from birth, but for the believers out there, it can indeed be rough. I'm not claiming I'm completely sorted out yet myself, but here are some things to keep in mind that might help.

1. Just because God doesn't have your back doesn't mean that a lot of the rest of us don't, and that you can't be part of a community. One of the advantages religion offers is a built-in community of like-minded people, and being an active part of a community is a fairly essential part of being a well-adjusted person. I don't know you, and what your life is like, but finding a community or communities to be part of might be a good starting point. Volunteer work has been hugely valuable for me, and I highly recommend it to others, as there's always a need for helpful people. Teach someone to read, staff a crisis line, or ladle out soup to the homeless. Whatever you pick, the experience will be worth it. (Check out www.volunteerhouston.org/ for a variety of opportunities).

Also, you might consider dropping by a humanist/freethinker/atheist society meeting, as from your letter, it sounded like you were feeling pretty alone in your nonbelief in your Houston suburb. A quick Google search for "houston atheists" brought up the Houston Atheists Society, Humanists of Houston, and the Houston Freethought Alliance, to name just a few.

Failing either of those, find something you either really like to do or have always wanted to learn to do and join a club or take a class in it. Just don't isolate yourself, as it's a lot harder to be depressed when you're with a group of fun people that share your interests. If you're too depressed to find anything fun at the moment, pick something you would have enjoyed before you got depressed. Sometimes you just have to go through the motions for a while, but learning a new skill is never time wasted.

2. Mortality makes life that much more valuable. The most precious things in this world are the rarest. A pound of dirt is worth pennies (at best), a pound of flawless diamonds is worth thousands. Having a finite amount of time in which to accomplish your goals can help you get focused on what you truly want to achieve, and deep down, I'm pretty sure you've got an unfulfilled dream or two. You've got this lifetime to do it, and what doesn't get done in this lifetime doesn't get done. Period. On a more positive note, assuming you're a reasonably healthy individual, you've got somewhere between 40 and 80 years ahead of you, which is more than enough time to accomplish just about anything you set your mind to. Pick one of those long-lost aspirations and make it a reality! If you can't think of any unrealized dreams right now, you may want to go back to work if your therapists OK it. A job, even a tedious and unfulfilling one, can provide structure and stability to your days, which can be helpful in times of stress. Obviously, if it was making things worse, stay on leave for the time being.

3. A belief in a higher power is not essential, and as you now know, is a little irrational, but it never hurts to have a sense of purpose, and a therapist can probably help you get on track with (re)discovering it and helping you achieve it. I don't know if you need to find yet another professional to work with – it can take a while to find the right fit – or if you can get one of your existing therapists to replace the words "higher power" with "sense of purpose in this lifetime" in their sessions with you, and help you sort out how to start moving forward toward achieving your goals. But hey, congratulations on having the bravery to get professional help! There are a lot of people out there who don't even take that step. It may take a while to get the proper program in place, and a while after that to really start making progress, but by just getting started you're a lot further along than a lot of unhappy people in this world.

Just remember that you're not alone. While you may feel, quite literally, god-forsaken at the moment, remember that there are 6 billion people on this planet, and most of them are at least reasonably friendly. Many of them have had experiences similar to yours, and I'd be willing to bet almost all have had at least one cherished belief or dream crushed. If you find a community or communities to be part of, pick an unrealized goal or two to start working on, get the professionals you're working with to start providing the help you need, and I think you'll be well on your way.

Anyway, those are just some random comments from the peanut gallery from someone who's been in a similar place. I wish you the best of luck!

Reader Brandom R. Nielsen:

Upon reading the latest issue of SWIFT, I was particularly drawn to the anonymous reader’s account that was posted under the heading “Reality Can Be Tough” since it paralleled my own experiences. Please forward this message to the reader if you believe it would help him or her.

For the first 23 years of my life I was a Christian who prayed every day, read the Bible, and took great comfort in both God’s love for me and the idea that my immortal soul might find perfect rest and peace through my adoption of Jesus as my personal savior. However, after examining my own assumptions and doing a great deal of reading and discussion with both believers and non-believers, I lost my faith and became an atheist.

This event was the catalyst for the greatest depression of my entire life. Upon rejecting the idea of God, I had lost my greatest confidant and my greatest comfort. Life appeared to lose all of its beauty, and everyone dead that I had ever loved died again, since the idea of a reunion in the afterlife had been revealed to be untrue. As a consequence, I became withdrawn, drank far too much, and would sob in the middle of the day for no specific reason. This went on for months. Religion had left me utterly unprepared for even a mediocre comprehension of reality.

That was almost four years ago, and life is full and rich again. Overall, I consider myself a happy person. I won’t distract you with my particular sources of comfort, especially since my sources of comfort will probably be different from yours, but I want to assure you that the same bravery and thirst for knowledge that led you to reject the idea of a supernatural being will be the same tools to help see you through the initially unpleasant wake of the rejection. In closing the door to faith, you have opened the door to reality – a far wider and more expansive space – and there is much to cherish and savor. To quote Bertrand Russell, “Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a splendor all their own.”

There is great comfort and joy to be found in a simple appreciation of reality. Your curiosity and search for truth led you to reject your faith, but there is so much more truth to discover and learn now that you aren’t burdened with the intellectually confining notion of a higher power. To borrow a term, it is like being born-again; a new beginning for your mind.

I assure you that life can be good again, and I have not faith, but hope and confidence that it will be for you.

Reader Brian Makepeace offers:

Like you [Randi] I was an early skeptic of the god concept and all things supernatural but I can, nevertheless, empathize with the writer from Houston (July 27 Swift) who recently abandoned his theistic belief system. Although he claims he misses the positive influence his “belief” had on his life, and that he now suffers from depression as a result, I would guess that most of his new-found angst is due to the fact that he has become an outsider in his community. As an atheist and skeptic in a town filled with new-agers, I know first-hand how lonely and depressing it can be when you feel like the only sane person around. I would recommend that the gentleman search online for skeptic, agnostic, or atheist groups in his area. There is nothing like meeting people with similar experiences and sympathetic ears to cheer one up. If, after meeting some new like-minded friends, he still suffers from depression, he should continue to seek mental health attention – even if from a doctor who is a “believer.” Perhaps then, medication would be appropriate and effective, even if the counseling isn't.

If this isn’t enough to convince you that our readers are trying to help, go to tinyurl.com/363h54 for a bit more…





ERROR

Reader Johan P. Bakker, Staff Mechanical Engineer with Unisys, corrects me on a statement in last week’s randi.org/jr/2007-07/072707bashing.html#i1 item, where I wrote that the United States Patent & Trademark Office [USPTO] doesn’t require any working model of a perpetual-motion machine to be presented when a patent is applied for. I’ve been told to consult the rules, which clearly state:

With the exception of cases involving perpetual motion, a model is not ordinarily required by the Office to demonstrate the operability of a device. If operability of a device is questioned, the applicant must establish it to the satisfaction of the examiner, but he or she may choose his or her own way of so doing.

I stand corrected and contrite. Reader Charles Staniforth, however, refers to a ploy that I’ve seen used by these deluded scallywag inventors. He writes:

Have they broken [the Law of Conservation of Energy]? I doubt it. Would they need to show a working model to get a patent on a claimed PMM [Perpetual Motion Machine]? I suspect they would. They say they will get round this by patenting the device in pieces, so to speak, with no one patent making a claim to perpetual motion.





EDUCATOR MCLEROY AGAIN

Reader John White:

While reading Phil Plait’s letter in this [last] week’s commentary about Texas’s new creationist head of the Board of Education, I thought, “Didn’t I just read about him in another article?” Oh, yes. He was quoted in a USA Today article (usatoday.com) about how Texas has the highest rate of teen births in the country despite (because of?) its emphasis on teaching abstinence rather than sex education. This is the relevant quote from USA Today:

Don McLeroy, president of the State Board of Education, noted that sex education is mainly a local issue, with state law requiring each district to have a local committee that decides what will be taught. "The idea that just giving them a lot of information is going to solve it, I think, is kind of naïve," he said. "Certainly, it's more of a societal problem than it is a school problem."

Now, let me get this straight. The guy in charge of educating Texas’s children makes a blanket statement that it’s naïve to think that giving teenagers “a lot of information” is going to solve any problems. I thought that was what school is for! Incidentally, every state in the Deep South, the most religious area of the country, has very high teen birth rates. Makes you wonder what they’re teaching in those churches!





FLAMM AGAIN ON FLIM-FLAM

Among many other previous references in SWIFT, you can click on randi.org/jr/2007-02/022307sniffex.html#i7 for an update on the ongoing battle Dr. Bruce Flamm has been waging with medical pseudoscience. The latest:

You may find this hard to believe but authors of supposedly scientific medical articles are still quoting the fraudulent Cha, Wirth, Lobo "pregnancy by prayer" study as if it were valid! It takes only 30 seconds to search Google for the terms, "Cha, Wirth, Lobo.” This instantly yields HUNDREDS of articles and comments about the absurd publication, along with mountains of information about the arrest and conviction of author Daniel Wirth. How could anyone miss this?

Yet here is a brand new 2007 paper in the prestigious Medical Journal of Australia citing the amazing "pregnancy by prayer" study results as if they were uncontested facts! See tinyurl.com/2p3kmu.

Specifically the new article in Medical Journal of Australia states:

In another study, researchers investigated the impact of intercessory prayer offered by Christian prayer groups in the US, Canada and Australia on outcomes of in-vitro fertilization-embryo transfer at Cha Hospital in Seoul, Korea. The pregnancy rate in the prayed-for group (50%) was significantly higher than that in the control group (26%) (P = 0.0013).

Reference: Cha KY, Wirth DP. Does prayer influence the success of in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer? Report of a masked, randomized trial. J Reprod Med 2001; 46: 781-787.

And, adds Dr. Flamm, in response to my request for the current position of the editor of this formerly-respectable journal:

[Editor-in-Chief Lawrence D. Devoe, M.D.] at the Journal of Reproductive Medicine has made it clear that he will never retract the absurd and almost certainly fraudulent prayer publication. He no longer responds to my emails.

This is, as I’ve said before, an incredible flaunting of scientific protocol and ethics by Dr. Devoe, obviously because of his personal embarrassment that he accepted such a woo-woo paper in the first place, and/or his desire to have this mythology be true. He’s dug in his heels and caused the JRM to lose its acceptability in the medical world. The JRM thus appears to have decided to endorse and accept quackery and blatant fraud as items of their agenda.





ANOTHER FAVORITE MYTH EXPLODED

I’ve been fascinated for some time now with the new advanced imaging techniques that are being used to resolve the text of the “Archimedes Palimpsest,” now acknowledged to be the earliest known Greek text of writings by the philosopher/mathematician/scientist/engineer Archimedes, some of it unknown until this discovery. See www.randi.org/jr/02-09-2001.html. All sorts of scintillation and X-ray fluorescence methods are used, and the document is slowly surrendering its secrets.

But now these same techniques are enabling scholars to decipher some of the multitude of scraps of papyrus fragment that fill drawers of their museums. One such, a 1,500-year-old bit of papyrus written in Greek, the original language of the New Testament, contains a key passage from the Book of Revelation that is causing consternation in the determined woo-woo scene concerning the bit about the fabled “Number of the Beast,” or the sign of the anti-Christ whose coming is predicted in the book’s apocalyptic verses. Most versions of this section of the Bible give it as 666, but it is shown in this text – which pre-dates the other texts by at least a century – as 616.

The older version uses the Greek letters signifying the number 616. Bummer, right? Now all those books and stories will have to be re-written and the films scrapped! This was a perfectly good delusion, apparently shattered by the nasty facts.

Although the papyrus, discovered in an ancient garbage dump – archaeologists call this a “midden” – outside the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus, was first excavated in 1895, it was badly discolored and damaged, and could not be read. The new technology has made it possible to see what it originally said. Scholars believe that the Book of Revelation was actually written by the disciple John, and in the popular King James Bible, the translation of the passage reads:

Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

However, the New English Bible has it thus:

Here is the key; anyone who has intelligence may work out the number of the beast. The number represents a man’s name, and the numerical value of its letters is six hundred and sixty-six.

Now, biblical scholars aver – correctly – that with the early texts, they’re dealing with copies, and those are made, at best, 150 to 200 years after the original was written, and they can have errors in copying, or changes intentionally made for political or theological reasons. True, of course. But let’s not get too carried away with enthusiasm over this latest discovery. What if another papyrus scrap predating even this “616” one shows up and gives us the old 666 – or even 665…?

Scholarship is too rocky a road. I think I’ll opt for good old superstition, mythology, and blind belief. Like in the Good Old Days…





IN CLOSING…

At youtube.com/watch?v=Ih2CbttEMrg you’ll find an excellent almost-seven-minute video clip that shows a vigorous attack on a popular and world-wide scam that Australian authorities have now put a stop to. This is the kind of confrontation that should be given to every one of these crooks, but is seldom achieved.

 

Finally, look at this video, in which I prepare viewers for an excerpt that shows Uri Geller on an early-morning Israeli TV show, and then give me your thoughts… It’s at [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOtpJCzH82g]