SWIFT December 14, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

pic God Told Me to Do It, A Current Tragedy, A Step Forward, A Good Reason for Being an Atheist, Re Geller, Same Old Story, Science According to Abraham, Time for Education, Fremer Stirs!, Officially Quackery, Lights in the Sky – Again, Applied Nonsense, and In Closing…

Some of the most prominent televangelists in the USA are now under Senate investigation. See tinyurl.com/2cfh7o. As an apparent result, Richard Roberts – who took over from his father Oral – told students at Oral Roberts University that he did not want to resign as president of the scandal-plagued evangelical school, but that he did so because on Thanksgiving Day, God told him to.

Table of Contents
  1. God Told Me to Do It

  2. A Current Tragedy

  3. A Step Forward

  4. A Good Reason for Being an Atheist

  5. Re Geller

  6. Same Old Story

  7. Science According to Abraham

  8. Time for Education

  9. Fremer Stirs!

  10. Officially Quackery

  11. Lights in the Sky – Again

  12. Applied Nonsense

  13. In Closing…



GOD TOLD ME TO DO IT

pic

Some of the most prominent televangelists in the USA are now under Senate investigation. See tinyurl.com/2cfh7o. As an apparent result, Richard Roberts – who took over from his father Oral – told students at Oral Roberts University that he did not want to resign as president of the scandal-plagued evangelical school, but that he did so because on Thanksgiving Day, God told him to.

“Every ounce of my flesh said no” to the idea, Roberts said, but he prayed over the decision with his wife and his father and decided to step down. Wait a minute! He – a preacher – “decided,” even after God ordered him to do so? Richard must rank ’way up there with the saints and archangels, to be able to ponder over whether or not he’ll do what God says! He said he wanted to "strike out" against the people who were persecuting him, and even considered countersuing, but "the Lord said, ’don’t do that,’" and told him about the Real World, which involves lawyers and “intimidation, blackmail and extortion.” God apparently knows the law, too, and is smarter than I’d thought.

Last Wednesday, Roberts said God had told him that he would "do something supernatural for the university" if he stepped down from the job he’s held at the 5,700-student school since 1993. Yeah, sure.

But hold on here! More than 25 years ago, didn’t God also have a long chat with Richard’s dad, Oral? I recall that Oral was divinely commanded to build a monstrous hospital, the $250-million-dollar "City of Faith Medical and Research Center" – which then went broke. This complex consists of a thirty-story hospital, a sixty-story medical center, and a twenty-story research facility. Wow! Bad advice from Above, I’d say. Then in 1987, Oral reported that God had instructed him that he’d better raise $8 million by March of the same year or God would “take him home.” This so terrified the faithful that they anted up, and Oral’s still with us… That was close!

Perhaps communication lines with Heaven are a bit tangled in Oklahoma…?




A CURRENT TRAGEDY

From frequent contributor P. T. Quinn:

I’m sure you’re aware of the shooting at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs that left five dead Sunday including the shooter – the very same church that Richard Dawkins featured in his documentary "The Root of all Evil." At the time of the documentary the then-pastor Reverend Ted Haggard had a conversation with Mr. Dawkins that didn’t end very well. A bit later the Rev. Ted lost his position when it was revealed that he had indulged in meth use and homosexual behavior – distinct no-no’s for evangelicals.

That aside, it was a true tragedy that the 24-year-old gunman shot dead two young girls before being killed himself by a female security guard. It turns out that the gunman came from a deeply religious family and was rejected from "Youth on a Mission," a branch of the New Life Church. The news services have reported that it was a revenge shooting, also involving another fatal shooting at an earlier related location, and the shooter had claimed to hear voices.

Even though the guard acted properly in stopping the shooter, I find it a bit disturbing how many times in her statement she mentioned that God had guided her. I didn’t count, but maybe it was 25 or 30 times. In my view, this demonstrates how dangerous religious fanaticism can be, and I think Mr. Dawkins is absolutely right in his assessment about the many unfortunate consequences of it. I used to hold the view that evangelical Christianity was rather benign, especially in comparison to radical Islamism, but now I’m not so sure. In fairness, though, evangelical Christianity doesn’t have the same kind of violent numbers. Check out the link of the guard’s statement and perhaps you’ll agree. Something seems wrong about her mindset.

Perhaps a better move for God – if I may be so bold – would have been to direct just one of the guard’s bullets to a leg or a shoulder, just to stop the rampage. That guard fired multiple rounds at the crazed man, though we now know that it was not her shots that killed the man! He turned his own gun on himself and committed suicide, so God didn’t even have any part in the action! God would have been a failure at the OK Corral…

But these are profound matters that I admit I simply cannot comprehend.




A STEP FORWARD

Reader Curtis Wolf, also chairman of the Florida Science Education Standards Committee – sponsored by the Center For Inquiry Florida – writes:

I thought that your readers will be interested in the proposed science standards for the state of Florida, telling public school teachers what to teach in their science classes. These will likely be approved in February by the Florida Board of Education. They contain strong support for evolution and other scientific big ideas, which of course is creating controversy among creationists. If you have any questions, please see my website at flasciencestandards.org.

We need your readers to contact the Florida Board of Education and speak out in favor of the proposed science standards. Information on how to contact them is at fldoe.org/board/default.asp. We hope that your readers will help out on this issue.

By the way, you have been an inspiration to those of us who love science and believe in being skeptical of all claims. Thanks for all of your work.




A GOOD REASON FOR BEING AN ATHEIST

Reader Linh Vien Thai writes from Japan:

I have a close friend who knows a fellow who is traveling and writing about weird places. There’s a place in Mexico where Mayans are worshiping in the weirdest ways. Culturally they believe that belching/burping is "evil" leaving the body. Hence the traditional belching concoction has now been replaced by the more cost-effective Coca Cola.

Imagine that!

I thought it’s a joke, but it’s not. See philipcoppens.com/chamula.html. I believe our traveler is an atheist who’s found a great example of why he is one. It’s hard to imagine but then again when it comes to fundamental believers, anything goes.




RE GELLER

On the “Phenomenon” show just finished, Criss Angel’s million-dollar offer to Uri Geller (which reminded many readers of the long-standing JREF offer, for some reason!) if he could tell him what he had in a sealed envelope, was polished off. As we should surely expect, the believers out there rooted around to find some scrap of validation for Geller’s on-air fumble, and they think they’ve found it. Geller said:

Although we were born one day apart – I was born on the 20th of December and you on the 19th – there’s a lot of years between us, forty years. You were one year old when I came out with my spoon-bending, and I wish…

Note the numbers – emphasized in red, above – 1, 20, 19, 40, and 1. The woo-woos – encouraged by Geller of course, as you’ll see below – chose to select out the two 1s, ignoring the other three numbers. Reader Ryan Schaffer noted this, commenting:

In an interview published today, Uri Geller commented on Criss Angel’s challenge. As you can imagine, he attempts to bend reality. He states:

Maybe if he would not have jumped in and cut me short, I would have zeroed in not only on 911, but the whole year 2001. If I was being tested in a laboratory these all would clearly be considered hits.

It’s interesting that Geller forgot to mention that Angel supplied two envelopes and revealed only one. I guess Geller is too busy doing interviews and bending spoons to tell us what’s in the envelope that Angel will reveal on "Mindfreak."

And, Geller’s recollection – never too strong, in any case – was that he’d been interrupted by Criss; no, the host stepped in to try rescuing an item that was going nowhere. You can go to youtube.com/watch?v=G096iqoGIjY and see the version of this confrontation put up by the woo-woos, with their penetrating observations inserted in red over the video. Note: Geller’s comment, that “If I was being tested in a laboratory these all would clearly be considered hits” is quite true, if that lab were being run by children, idiots, or parapsychologists. These geniuses would pick and search through every word, add up totals of letters used in the commentary, assign numerological values, and in some way arrive at a total of 911, be assured. But, “clearly,” Mr. Geller? No, only very obscurely, but that’s the way parapsychology operates…

Speaking of obscure, from the King James Version Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:12:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

That has nothing at all to do with this matter, but it keeps the item from losing its delicious vagueness and false profundity…




SAME OLD STORY

Reader Geoff Gilpin appeared on a TV documentary recently, and went through the same drastic filtering process that I’ve gone through, so many times in the past, to remove any content from a story that might otherwise have a rational explanation. Writes Geoff:

I don’t know if you saw that Maharishi documentary on the History International Channel a couple of weeks ago. It’s too bad that they didn’t include more skeptical analysis. Most of my critical comments wound up on the cutting room floor – they interviewed me for two hours and wound up using about 45 seconds.

I’m particularly disappointed that Maharishi’s flimsy scientific theories are becoming mainstream. To counter this trend, I wrote an essay titled, “Quantum Consciousness, Quantum Miracles, Quantum Failure.” It explores the popular New Age idea, promoted by the likes of Maharishi, Deepak Chopra, and the “What the BLEEP” filmmakers, that human consciousness can influence the laws of quantum mechanics. The pop culture idea that quantum physics lets you “create your own reality” isn’t just wrong, it’s had serious negative consequences for the believers. You can download the PDF file here: geoffgilpin.com/pdfs/Quantum-Failure.pdf

There’s also a link on my web page (geoffgilpin.com) and blog (geoffgilpin.blogspot.com). I think the essay is right up your alley. If you like it, please consider including a link to it in SWIFT.

Done.




SCIENCE ACCORDING TO ABRAHAM

The battle between science and superstition has again gone to the courtroom. Nathaniel Abraham, 35, a former researcher at the famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Cape Cod, filed a lawsuit last week in US District Court in Boston saying that the center dismissed him in 2004 because of his Christian belief that the Bible presents a true account of human creation. This of course included a denial of evolution, which would be an essential part of any work done at the lab in biological science.

Abraham is asking for $500,000 in compensation for a “violation of his civil rights,” and the Woods Hole administration’s attorney has stated, rightly, that

Woods Hole believes they have the right to insist on a belief in evolution [by their employees].

This lawsuit of course raises the question: “Can people work in a scientific field if they don’t believe in its basic tenets?” Consider this: if an employee of an accounting firm decided to accept a religion that had as a belief that 4+4=9, would the employee’s civil rights have been violated if he were fired for this? Can’t picture that one? Well, I guess it’s a bit bizarre, but suppose that a hospital hired a doctor who then decided to refuse to administer blood transfusions because he’d become a Jehovah’s Witness. Would his civil rights be violated if the hospital fired him?

Abraham is now a biology professor at Liberty University, in Virginia. A biology teacher, and he doesn’t accept – or teach – evolution? But it all becomes clear when we learn that this is a Baptist school in Virginia founded by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell.

Adding confusion to the scene, Boston Globe reporter Beth Daley, in her article reporting this event, wrote, by way of explanation:

Creationists reject the notion that humans evolved from apes…

Well, Ms. Daley, so do I, and so do any scientists I know of. Darwin never made that claim, though it’s often stated by the media to show their poor understanding of evolution and of Darwin. Homo sapiens descended from the same root stock as the great apes, and the two diverged about two million years ago, but humans did not evolve from apes…

I’m no Solomon, but I think that Mr. Abraham could also look for work in another field where absurd opinions and beliefs are not an impediment – like politics.




TIME FOR EDUCATION…

While I’m asking for better expressions of science and education in the media, I’ll drop in a rant on a couple of recent examples of such boo-boos that I noted just this last weekend. On a popular NBC-TV news show here in Florida, I heard the reporter use the expression, “…to support she and her daughter.” This is the same channel that regularly runs a bottom-screen “crawl” on “Today in South Florida” that is full of typos and bad grammar, even referring to Florida’s governor as “Bob Christ,” and describing how the driver of a motorcycle “looses” control… And, though it didn’t happen due to NBC, they ran an interview with Tim Tebow, the very young sophomore winner of the prestigious Heisman Trophy, whose acceptance speech – by actual count and timing! – dropped in the expression “you know” on an average of once every 2½ seconds! And this is supposed to be educated communication?

And, I’m always incensed by the cute way prices are expressed to make them look more acceptable. Locally, gasoline goes for $3.499, a mattress set is advertised on TV at $299, a car can be leased for $399 a month, and – this one takes the prize – a ski outfit is on sale at $259.99…! Is anyone deceived by this juvenile trick? If so, civilization is doomed…

Folks, communication is a talent that we share with other sentients, but we’ve developed it to a point that far outclasses others. Our language – imperfect as it is – is a very powerful agent for exchanging data, expressing emotions and ideas, and functioning on a high level. When we treat it cavalierly, we lose some of our control over our environment and our continued existence. We should be working harder to make sure that we’re correctly getting across our thoughts when we employ words, spoken or written…




FREMER STIRS!

[ What follows is an apology. I had been sent the posting referred to ahead, by a trusted person who does not normally make such errors, and has expressed contrition – as I do. This test of speaker cables actually involved a Michael Lavigne, another well-known audiophile who rather matched the description of Mr. Fremer. Michael Fremer is not the person referred to ahead in this item, and I regret the reference. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am running this item as it originally first appeared here on SWIFT. ]    

It appears that Michael Fremer – see tinyurl.com/22a9f7 – has undertaken – well, almost – the test that he was supposed to do with us for the JREF million-dollar prize! On what I presume is the “Audio Visual Science Forum,” though their title appears nowhere on the site – tinyurl.com/277jfr – appears a very comprehensive account of this test, which I’ve reduced down to a mere 1,200-or-so words here. An “A/B” test is a comparison between two systems, circuits, components, etc.:

Summary of test: Fremer could not differentiate between Monster and the Opus MM with any accuracy using the designed testing methodology. Unfortunately, these amateur experimenters ignored one of the basic rules of a proper double-blind test, optionally stopping the test a little less than halfway through. This, to my mind, invalidates the entire test; it’s now as if it were never done.

They report that they “think” they performed eight A/Bs before they aborted the experiment. That’s their guess, since they didn’t record the details of the event. Incredible!

From their report:

There were 4 of us present at the test. [Michael Fremer] had performed sighted listening tests on his own, and before I arrived he performed sighted listening tests while wearing a blindfold to acclimate himself to the testing method. His blindfold was a pair of duct-taped safety glasses. He could not see anything except a tiny bit directly below him. Theoretically, he could have strained his neck and been able to see the floor by the speakers where the wire was, but this was not allowed. After all, cheating would only serve to cheat himself. While switching wires, Mike wore earmuffs to minimize any possibility of identifying wires by the noises of switching the wires.

Discussion: The other two persons are not named. Why? By “sighted listening tests,” they mean tests in which the subject can see what’s being done, and can know the correct answers. The blather about Fremer being half-blindfolded – which means he was not blindfolded! – is ridiculous. It’s not at all difficult to properly “blind” a subject for experimental purposes, so why did they allow a source of peeking? And, where they say, “While switching wires,” I generously assume they meant, “While we were switching wires.” In what follows, an “A/B trial” refers to a changing between modes A and B by a random means, hopefully with the same signal strength going into the speakers in A and in B modes. Moving on…

The plan was to do twenty A/B trials, which were chosen by flipping a coin. This was done before I arrived. After I arrived, we decided to check the level-match between wires. We did not have a method to level-match the wire if they were non-matched, however we also felt that the wire should match. Because the Opus uses some kind of network box, it conceivably would be possible that the signal were attenuated or otherwise altered and change the level, making it possible to identify the wire this way, rather than by sound “quality” per se. The levels matched with a sine wave tone within 1/100th of a volt, the difference between the two sides was several hundredths of a volt with both wires. The difference between the L and R channels was greater than the possible difference between wires, which anyway was insignificant. We decided to check this because while we had no way of matching levels precisely, if there were a level difference we would have added a step to our methodology by turning down the volume all the way and then allowing Mike to adjust the volume up, which would eliminate the ability to judge any difference in volume. We didn’t need to do this, so Mike could listen without having to change the volume all the time, however he was free to change volume if he wanted.

This is incomprehensible. The words “…however we also felt that the wire should match” mean nothing! Should match what? Consider the phrase, “…it conceivably would be possible that the signal were attenuated.” Did they mean to write, “signals” for “signal,” or should it have been, “was” for “were”? And, “…the difference between the two sides” is similarly meaningless. The two sides of what? Do they mean between the two channels – the left and the right – or between the “two sides” of something else?

You should know that there are elegant and simple systems for carrying out these A/B switching, but Fremer had opted not to use them, thus providing him with a further problem. The human mind has a rather poor ability to retain an audio image in memory – it being basically linear – and a rapid switching system would seem to be much preferred by one being tested, so that the recollection of audio subtleties is not strained due to the pauses between trials. That’s the situation discussed next:

There was, being generous, about one minute of a wait between changing cables. This was the case for both the sighted preparatory tests, and the blind tests. His amp basically goes straight through, so even with it turned off, it is feeding the speakers for a while. We would wait a little bit after turning off the amp before disconnecting the speaker wire and switching wire. We took care to be quiet while putting the wire down so as not to make any noise which could distinguish the wire. We changed the wire each and every time, regardless of whether switching to the other cable. At each time Mike would wear the earmuffs, even if he was going back to a known test, again to eliminate any possibility of identifying the wire by the noise of changing the wires.

A “break” was then taken, though at what point into the eight (possibly) trials that interruption was made, was not recorded by these amateurs:

We did at one point stop and go play pool for a few minutes and then come back to the test, doing a sighted (though still blindfolded) test to re-familiarize Mike with the cables.

So our results with Mike as our listener were clear: for this particular methodology, Mike could not accurately identify a difference in the cables. Again, a backwards result of Mike wrongly identifying the cables reliably also would have been a positive result.

I’ll amplify my opening statement about the amateur handling of this test. Only two of the persons conducting this test were actually identified, they’re not sure how many tests they really did, they didn’t do the intended twenty trials, and they don’t tell us what number the subject got right/wrong. Most importantly, conducting only eight tests is not at all sufficient to provide a win-or-lose picture. The speaker cables being tested were not in any way equivalent, from the very beginning, since the “Opus MM” system uses what they refer to as “some kind of network box” – which could have profound effects on the performance, though these four amateurs knew nothing about it, or what it did! The “blinding” procedure they used was faulty, they took an impromptu, unplanned, break some place in the sequence, we’re given no details of the actual physical setup – remember, this was in the home of Fremer, and should have called for very strict control! – and there’s no report that any sort of record of the protocol and the actual procedure was kept.

This was a useless endeavor, and it doesn’t count. I’m holding Fremer to his agreement to test Pear Anjou cables against Monster cables, as we originally agreed to. And again, he knows my number. However, I think that we are justified in considering Fremer to have given up, if he fails to be prepared to announce a time and place of his acceptance by January 15th, 2008. That gives him 26 days…

You there, Mr. Fremer…?




OFFICIALLY QUACKERY

epfx

We learn now that the FDA has officially banned the import of the EPFX, manufactured in Hungary by William Nelson, who fled the U.S. in 1996 after he was indicted on felony fraud charges related to his invention, a machine the inventor claims can cure diseases such as cancer and AIDS. FDA compliance director Timothy Ulatowski, who oversees medical-device regulation, said that this action is the first step in an investigation of the inventor Nelson – see randi.org/content/view/131/27/#i8 – his distributors, and the network of EPFX operators. The director referred to Nelson’s claims this way:

This is pure, blatant fraud. The claims are baloney. These people prey in many cases on consumers who are desperate in seeking cures for very serious diseases.

Well, Director Ulatowski, here on the JREF, we’ve been aware of this fakery and the fact that the public here and abroad have been pouring millions of dollars into William Nelson’s bank accounts, for many years now. We first placed it on SWIFT more than three years ago – see randi.org/jr/061104the.html#3 – and in that time, Nelson has been filling his bank with cash – while we fretted – at a rate of several millions of dollars a month. Sir, I suggest that a visit to SWIFT just might bring to your attention a great number of fakes that your agency might wish to look into, but we can’t throw academic degrees onto your desk; we just stumble along revealing the truth, and hope that someone responsible will happen upon our efforts.

Last week, even the Washington State Chiropractic Association asked a state board that governs chiropractors to ban the EPFX; there apparently are limits to chiropractic naivety. The EPFX is one of the most common “energy devices” in the U.S., with an estimated 10,000 machines presently in use in clinics, offices and homes. Real physicians, real nurses and chiropractors across the USA market and use the device, which now sells for US$19,900. One of their celebrity pitchmen was Jeffrey Spencer, a chiropractor for champion cyclist Lance Armstrong.

But for years, the Federal Drug Administration, the US agency appointed to regulate these matters, did nothing to warn the public about Nelson’s outrageous claims and the rapid spread of the use of the EPFX. Now, the medical devices involved in clinical studies will be included in the investigation being conducted by a U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, which oversees the FDA.




LIGHTS IN THE SKY – AGAIN

What puts Roswell, New Mexico, and Kecksburg, Pennsylvania – 40 miles south of Pittsburgh – in the same category? Like many small towns around the world, the inhabitants of both small towns seem to think that an extraterrestrial presence visited them. In December of 2003, Leslie Kean, a freelance journalist, looked into an odd case of a seeming mystery, with financial support from the SciFi Channel, which then ran a show that year titled "The New Roswell: Kecksburg Exposed."

While the U.S. government says that nothing special happened in the small town of Kecksburg at 4:47 p.m. on Dec. 9, 1965, many persons believe that a UFO zoomed by. Now, a bright meteor may have flashed over their skies, but there’s no evidence that an alien space ship or even a Russian space probe fell to Earth, as many there believe. One inhabitant of the area, Bill Bulebush, 82, says firmly that he knows what he saw, heard and smelled, despite the official doubts of the government and others in the community. Said retired truck driver Bulebush:

sketch

I looked up and saw it flying overhead and it was sizzling. I found it in the woods down there and I got to it 15 to 20 minutes after it landed. I saw it 10 to 15 feet away from behind a big tree – because I was worried it might blow up – and it smelled like sulfur or rotten eggs and was shaped like a huge acorn, about the size of a VW.

Other people in the area said that shortly afterward, dozens of US Army soldiers and three members of the Air Force showed up; later that night, they say, a flatbed military truck took the object away. Now, it seems, Mr. Bulebush and his fellow believers may have their best chance yet to establish their case. A recent settlement in a four-year-long Freedom of Information Act court battle requires that NASA look into its files for documents about this incident. A lawsuit has been filed calling for this claim to be investigated, 42 years after it is supposed to have taken place.

In 2002, journalist Kean was asked by SciFi to look about and find a UFO case with credible witnesses and possible physical evidence. That would seem to be the least that could prove a case, especially since most similar claims have only a “light in the sky” or less upon which to base a story. She created the Coalition for Freedom of Information to support the effort, and to look into other "unexplained aerial phenomena."

Part of Kean’s own criteria, despite SciFi’s title for the Kecksburg show, was to pick a case as far removed as possible from the 1947 incident in Roswell, N.M., at one time thought by many to be an actual crashed alien spaceship, a UFO, but later shown to be only the debris of a highly-secret surveillance balloon equipped with sensitive listening devices surreptitiously sent up by the USA. It was designed to actually pick up the sound generated by possible Soviet atomic detonations. Today, such crude methods are far superseded by better technology, of course.

Government agencies sometimes exhibit inventive ways of cramming their feet into their mouths. After reporter Kean filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2003 and was told by NASA that it couldn’t find any documents related to Kecksburg, she knew she was on to something, since she already knew that the space agency had some pertinent documents. She got the attention and co-operation of federal Judge Emmet Sullivan, who had tried to move NASA along for more than three years. Sullivan referred to NASA’s submitted search efforts as a "ball of yarn" that never fully answered the request for information, adding, "I can sense the plaintiff’s frustration because I’m frustrated."

On October 17, legally-pressured NASA said they’d make a new search of their records and agreed that both sides would periodically report to Judge Sullivan on their compliance. They also agreed to pay Kean $50,000 to defray her attorneys’ fees and costs.

The amount of available data is massive. Kean and her attorney have now received the first batch of documents, 689 pages of inventory sheets that only indicate details of what is in the boxes and files in NASA’s archives. Kean said she’s "cautiously optimistic" that they’ll turn up something that relates to the Kecksburg event, whatever that may turn out to be.

But many people in Kecksburg believe that Kean’s effort is just another adventure in fantasy; not all of them accept Bill Bulebush’s story. Ed Myers, 81, who was chief of the Kecksburg Volunteer Fire Department back in 1965, says that he didn’t see the soldiers or the blue lights some people swear they saw, but Bill holds onto his hope that the lawsuit will be his validation.

Think of this: it’s now 42 years since whatever-it-was flashed into the skies above little Kecksburg. During that time, the story has been told thousands of times, written about, and inevitably it has changed, in many ways. We all know the interesting phenomenon of starting the recitation of a joke at one end of a circle of willing listeners who will repeat it to the next neighbor in line, then be amazed at how easily and profoundly the details, the characters, and the sequence can – and will – change, though earnest efforts are put forth to retain the integrity of the original version. Bill Bulebush, and others who tell their versions of this event – or their versions of what Bill might have told them over the years – may very well be telling what they sincerely believe to be true. Or – it’s just possible – Bill’s story might be 100% true and accurate; perhaps a craft from another civilization actually crashed here back in 1965.

Our memories are imperfect, always. That’s the nature of our senses, whether visual, auditory, tactile, or even olfactory. As a professional magician, I’m very well aware of the stunning fact that I can perform some minor miracle, then while a stunned spectator is going through the head-shaking routine, I’ll recap what I just did, in detail, and have the spectator agree with my account – even though it’s incorrect in certain details that make it an insolvable mystery, if those details were true! And the spectator doesn’t have to be some variety of idiot in order for my story to be accepted!

hook

Here’s an example from many years ago. The eminent philosopher Sidney Hook was laid up in a hospital following some minor surgery, and I had the opportunity of dropping by to meet him in the company of some friends – one an advanced amateur magician. When I walked into the hospital room, as I usually do, I “cased the joint” – I looked around to see the possibilities for pulling off a trick or two. I saw boxed tissues, tongue depressors, sanitary gloves, various magazines, and the inevitable Gideon Bible sitting nearby. As I rather expected, it was suggested that I perform a mind-boggler for Professor Hook, and I did. I picked up a tongue-depressor, leafed through the Bible, and asked the victim to tell me when to stop. He did, I stopped, and slipped the wooden stick between the pages of the book. I then looked at the very last page of the Bible to announce the number of pages from which he had freely and randomly chosen, then handed him the book with the stick inserted and walked across the room to the window as he opened it to look for the first time at the page he’d selected. I asked him to glance at the page he had before him and silently select one word from the top line.

Well, he did that, then closed the book and held onto it. I picked up a magazine, wrote a word on the back of it. and placed it down before him. I asked him what word he’d chosen from among all those in the Bible, and he told me. I asked him to turn over the magazine. Plainly written there was the word he’d chosen…

Okay. That description is – word-for-word – 100% correct. Many magicians will be able to verify for you that this is true. It’s one of my favorite mentalism tricks. But what really got to me in this event was the way the account of what I’d done on that occasion got scrambled, hyperbolized, distorted, and quite out of shape. Even Sidney Hook’s own version, I discovered, was quite wrong in certain critical details! I never got to tell this to the Professor, I’m relieved to tell you…

This trick is difficult, having a few points at which it can go totally awry, in a quite irreversible manner. That’s busting-out-in-tears and taking-up-juggling time, friends. And, I have wrinkles that are specifically of my own design that make this wonder possible. No, I’m not about to tell you, folks, though I just might be talked into revealing it to a competent mentalist…

I tell you all this to illustrate that human recollection is imperfect, as I wrote above, and witnesses cannot be faulted for being human…

Bill Bulebush – I’m convinced – has been telling his experience just as he remembers it.




APPLIED NONSENSE

I heard from an alarmed employee of the Van Buren Intermediate School District in Lawrence, Michigan. He wishes to remain anonymous, and will be referred to here as “Mr. A”:

I am an employee of a school district in southwest Michigan. Every year we set aside one day for professional development that the entire staff is expected to go through. The district pays for presenters to come and give short classes on different things relating to education. One of the classes offered this year that I was both surprised and dismayed to see on the list, is Applied Kinesiology.

Our district is bringing in Dr. Todd Overdorf from the AK Chiropractic Research Center in Holland, MI (akresearchcenter.com/). According to the description in our materials we will learn about the following:

Hear the benefits of natural health care including whole food nutrition. Learn about the application of natural muscle testing and postural analysis in diagnosis and treatment of a variety of conditions.

According to their website, his associates are a Dr. Louis C. Boven and Dr. Craig A. Kingsbury. Do you have any further information on this person, his associates, or his practice that I might be able to give to our administrators so that they can be further educated on what AK is really about, in addition to the information I already plan on giving them on AK from yours and Quack Watch’s web sites?

As for my actions regarding this, I plan on joining the committee that makes the decisions for our professional development classes so that they can have at least one voice of reason there. Thank you in advance for any information you might have on this.

On Dec 10, 2007, I wrote this gentleman:

Mr. A: Thank you for your inquiry. I’m appalled that your school district is actually bringing in these people to preach a totally discredited idea such as Applied Kinesiology! This is such a perfect example of quackery, that I use it in my public lectures as an illustration. We have tested several practitioners of AK, both here and abroad, for our million-dollar prize, and – needless to say – every one of them has failed. See a few references on randi.org.

I challenge Todd Overdorf, Louis Boven, Craig Kingsbury – and ANY OTHER practitioner – to simply prove to an independent panel that AK works, and they will receive the JREF million-dollar prize.

Asked about this offer, they will give the usual responses: The prize doesn’t exist, it’s already been won but not awarded, James Randi would be the judge of the tests, the tests would be unfair and biased, etc., etc. All of these objections are untrue, and they know it, but they will weasel out of acceptance, because they know they can’t prove their claims.

If the school district goes ahead with this plan, they will open an audience to pure quackery. And no, they will not be opening the arena to "free speech" any more than they should to Flat-Earthers. In my experience, they’ll take the easy way out by simply letting Overdorf say his piece, do the damage, and go home without any opposition. That’s what committees do.

Quackery will win, again, and those who submit themselves to it will part with their money in return for nothing. Those who make the decisions to allow this nonsense, will rest easily because they won’t see the damage done by their actions.

Mr. A’s message to the superintendent:

I would like to express concern over the inclusion of Applied Kinesiology (AK) as part of Professional Development Day. You may not be aware that AK has no basis in medical fact and is considered pseudoscience by qualified, accredited medical professionals. AK’s claims as a valid diagnostic technique have never been proven by any scientific, medical study. I believe this should have been investigated before inclusion in the PD class list because as an educational institution, we should not be teaching pseudoscience to our teachers and consequently to our students.

Please look over these resources on this subject:
randi.org/encyclopedia/applied%20kinesiology.html
quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Tests/ak.html
skepdic.com/akinesiology.html

A response came from the superintendent:

I appreciate your concern regarding this matter, but I disagree in that we need to offer many opportunities for our staff to "pick and choose" what they feel is best for their professional development.

Many offerings that we have listed could be debated on what is the proper teaching technique or information that will be shared that might not be the "best" practice. I feel that staff will determine what is best for them and take back with them what they feel they can use to help them grow or research more to find out if these methods are truly what they should be following.

Mr. A answered thus:

If someone wanted to offer a class on psychic reading for health and wellness, would you as an administrator allow that class to be taught? No. Doing so would be irresponsible, as psychic reading has never been proven to work in diagnosing health issues and it could lead people to do things that would endanger their health.

The same goes for Applied Kinesiology.

By allowing AK to be presented at PD day, it will open our staff to pure quackery by presenting an untested, unproven diagnostic tool under the guise that it really does work. Not all people, but some, will leave that class thinking that AK is legitimate science. They will use it and will be prescribed treatments that, at minimum, do nothing, and at maximum, could be life threatening, all because they follow the AK diagnoses instead of the advice of their doctor. Understand that this has nothing to do with "teaching technique" or information that is not considered "best practice." This has to do with one item that our district is endorsing to its teaching staff that has been proven again and again to be 100% wrong. To me this is very irresponsible for a district to promote.

The superintendent’s response:

How do you know that it is 100% wrong, from the readings that you sent me?? I did not read it this way. Also, I have no idea about Applied Kinesiology and the pros and cons. This was an item that was brought up at our Professional Development meeting by one of the staff members. Of the 15 or so members on this committee no one questioned this offering. The last point, we are not endorsing this, we have it as an offering, if no one signs up for this program, it will not be offered.

Please feel free to be part of our Professional Development committee to have input into this process.

Mr. A closes:

What bothers me most is that he honestly believes that our district is not endorsing AK though we are "offering it." I can guarantee that if it is offered, people here will sign up for it. I have the sneaking suspicion I will be sick on the day we have our professional development... and I will take him up on his offer to join our school’s Professional Development committee.

The superintendent’s last comment is significant. He writes, “I have no idea about Applied Kinesiology and the pros and cons.” Am I being too demanding to ask that he find out about this matter, and be prepared to act on it? He’s not just anyone, folks! He’s the superintendent, which Webster’s gives as

…a person who oversees or directs some work, establishment, district, etc.; a supervisor.

That doesn’t sound like someone who merely allows staff members to accept or reject a proposal through ignorance… I have no doubts concerning this man’s integrity or intentions, but I must say that he could become better informed before so easily allowing such nonsense to be introduced into the Van Buren Intermediate School District in Lawrence, Michigan, as if it were legitimate.




IN CLOSING…

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