SWIFT January 25, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

The Geller Effect Lives On, Oregon “Scientific”?, Updates, Mission Impossible, An Excellent Opportunity, UFO Observations, Because You Need Quackery, Bear With Us, A Simple Solution, Pat’s Back – With More Prophecies, PBS Persists in Woo-Woo, That Highway, You Mean the Prophecy Was Wrong?, Ho Ho Ho, In Conclusion…

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Here is – essentially – a diatribe against the perceived fuddy-duddy convictions of shortsighted modern scientists. It was written by author Colin Bennett, who says that

…the problem here is that in the 20th century we have lost the relationship between imagination and fact.

Table of Contents
  1. The Geller Effect Lives On

  2. Oregon “Scientific”?

  3. Updates

  4. Mission Impossible

  5. An Excellent Opportunity

  6. UFO Observations

  7. Because You Need Quackery

  8. Bear With Us

  9. A Simple Solution

  10. Pat’s Back – With More Prophecies

  11. PBS Persists in Woo-Woo

  12. That Highway

  13. You Mean the Prophecy Was Wrong?

  14. Ho Ho Ho

  15. In Conclusion…



THE GELLER EFFECT LIVES ON

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Here is – essentially – a diatribe against the perceived fuddy-duddy convictions of shortsighted modern scientists. It was written by author Colin Bennett, who says that

…the problem here is that in the 20th century we have lost the relationship between imagination and fact.

That rather sets the stage for what follows, since Bennett has freely interchanged imagination and fact, as you’ll see. He has also been beguiled by such wonders as the JFK Assassination Conspiracy, the Candy Jones/Long John Nebel/CIA* plot, Charles Fort, the Mothman Prophecies, “chemtrails,” and George Adamski. What follows is an exercise in naivety:

* ask me about this sometime. I was there…

The Politics of Miracles

In the politics of bourgeois science, it appears that miracles must be small and not happen very often. The current Geller debate reminds of the old Arthur Koestler battles of the 1960s.

Uri Geller cannot be allowed to win the argument, and he must be put down on principle by foul means or fair in order to preserve the politically-sensitive "scientific" paradigms. The consequence of him bending metal with his fingers would put the whole of physics up for grabs, and that is just one effect of general acceptance. He is violating much more than physics: he is arousing cultural fear, which is far bigger than scientific psychology. The consequence of acceptance that such things can happen effects [sic] the whole field of Law and the question of civil liabilities. Perhaps Geller should be asked the question, is this involuntary? Can he turn it on and off at will? If not, then alone, driving a vehicle would be most dangerous to himself and other people. Again, there is the question of whether the Geller effect can change the metallic salts present in the body of every human being. What about medical apparatus, heart pace-makers? Could he effect [sic] (involuntarily) the metallic salts of a person standing next to him? Could he be sued for a heart-attack? Could he be bumped off by the military for unwittingly sabotaging equipment?

If the Geller effect is not such a general field as this, then it must be closed-circuit, narrowly specific, constrained to items such as spoons and keys, and performing on command. Whoever heard of such a powerful mechanical force not involving heat, chemical change, sound, or magnetic effects, commanded by an individual, and fited [sic] to shape? Can he do it with spoons made of other materials?

In any case, it is a wonder beyond belief. Can we conceive of such a force? Is Geller ever afraid of the consequence of losing his temper?

I would reject the Geller effect immediately had I not been part of a private demonstration in London where I saw it with my own eyes from eighteen inches away. Such things have happened before in History. Saint Joseph of Cupertino could not help levitating before scores of witnesses, as could Daniel Douglas Home. Charles Fort devoted an entire book, Wild Talents to what might be called human impossibilities. In our own time, the best book to read (besides Mind Reach) is George Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranormal. Hanson challenges the idea of a uniform field of objective experience extending itself quite uniformly again into infinity.

Our vision and understanding in science and Ufology is limited by the paradigms set within the cultural controls. We have to rid ourselves of the old 19th century determinism of Victorian Station Master trolls who would limit both vision and transcendental possibilities.

No, I didn’t make this up, folks. Really!

Science as a culture takes precautions nevertheless against alternative systems which prowl around it like the approaching hordes in the film Night of the Living Dead. By foul means or fair, science must therefore very quickly out-propagandize any supposedly confused and “failed” competitors whose systems are not based on facts. This has resulted in a kind of systems-war between science, mysticism, religion, and the Arts well described by C.P. Snow in his seminal 1950 essay The Two Cultures.

It appears that I am the only person in the world who has read Professor Hastead’s [sic] book on metal-bending children, whose abilities exceeded Geller’s. I gaze at jars full of twisted scrap and I think to myself that the real mystery is that Hastead’s [sic] book was utterly ignored. Should anyone want a really creepy mystery, then let them try and locate these jars, photographs of which are in Hastead’s [sic] book. An investigator will find himself in a world of disreputable scientific intrigue that bourgeois science wants swept under the carpet.

Lift the scientific stone, and the white-coats tremble.

We are dealing here with cultures themselves as information memes which as live entities, have their own schedules of allowances. But perhaps that is too post-modern a thought for the old-fashioned physicists at Physics Today.

So there!

Colin Bennett

This is the ever-popular conspiracy claim that orthodox scientists, those of “the old 19th century determinism of Victorian Station Master trolls,” as the author puts it, suppress new ideas and findings in their field, so that they can comfortably continue their parochial existence, free of the threat of exciting new developments like mental spoon-bending. Hardly. For an example, in 1905, when Albert Einstein popped up with his radical idea of Special Relativity – to be followed by the much more comprehensive General Relativity – the accepted idea of “luminiferous aether” was firmly in place, had been there since the 1880s, and had been carefully defined and accepted by such an authority as Lord Kelvin. Then, overnight, aether was denied by science because Einstein had provided a much better – and testable – theory. Relativity itself was subsequently relegated when quantum theory emerged… Does science sound as if it cannot be convinced of new ideas, Mr. Bennett?

Note that Mr. Bennett also cites two sources for his acceptance of mental spoon-bending. First, the previous accounts of miracles that he’s read about, he easily accepts. Daniel Dunglas Home (see http://www.randi.org/encyclopedia/Home,%20Daniel%20Dunglas.html) is hardly a dependable reed upon which to lean, and the feats of Padre Pio are strictly religious anecdotes. Second – and this is what seems to have firmed up his belief – he cites observations that he personally made “with [his] own eyes from eighteen inches away” of a Geller show. Readers of mine will know that anyone seeing anything from that close a point of view has seriously limited his ability to observe adequately, and I think that Mr. Bennett might also readily admit that he has no expertise in the art of conjuring.

I’m puzzled by Bennett’s reference to the magical ability he says Geller has to “[bend] metal with his fingers,” since that’s exactly what he does, and what anyone can do! I think that he meant to write, “with his mind,” here. And, the book he refers to was written by John Hasted, not “Hastead.”

I can’t tell just when this piece was written by Bennett, but it surely was before the present reversal that Geller has made about having psychic powers. I have to wonder if that might change Bennett’s opinion, though I doubt it will; this delusion he has, is too valuable to him. Also, I’ll bet that he wishes he’d been able to use a very recent quotation from “Physics Today” as further evidence of this Conspiracy-of-Scientists theme. Physicist Frank Wilczek, the Feshbach Professor of Physics at MIT, shared the 2004 Nobel prize in Physics. He was dedicated to Don Herbert – TV’s famous “Mr. Wizard” and in his current “Physics Today” column titled “Reference Frame,” he chose to contrast Herbert with Uri Geller:

The Wizard of Oz practiced deliberate mystification. He is the fictional prototype of a long line of tricksters, going back to the temple priests of ancient Egypt and earlier, and through to Uri Geller and a host of lesser charlatans today. Their elaborate houses of cards collapse under the pressure of curiosity, so they ward off curiosity..

Yes, Mr. Bennett, even prominent, real, scientists such as Frank Wilczek, in prestigious international journals, believe that Uri Geller’s admission is genuine. And as the Toronto Star newspaper of October 24th, 2007, commented just before the NBC “Phenomenon” series got started:

Why is Uri Geller about to appear on our television sets this evening? Shouldn’t this widely discredited "master of the paranormal" have vanished like a magician’s rabbit 30 years ago?... Even if it disappoints, the dynamic between Geller and [Criss] Angel should be fascinating. Because Angel is the one thing Geller never seemed to be back in those pre-debunked days: honest…

In the ’70s, Geller earned fame and fortune. He was on magazine covers, talk shows, television specials. What separated him from other magicians, however, was his claim to not be a magician. Stopping clocks, making a compass go haywire, reproducing doodles contained inside sealed envelopes, these were not tricks, he said. No, he was using his mind, manipulating inanimate objects with his will…

In Geller’s world, the physical laws were not immutable. Well, so long as he could control the props and conditions. When others brought the spoons to the table – as once happened in 1973 during a disastrous appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson – Geller came across as a churlish huckster, unwilling to use his will, incapable of bending anything except his reputation.

But despite such highly expert and informed media and academic statements, you will cling to your delusions, Mr. Bennett, because you desperately need them to be true. Have you concluded that Uri Geller is now lying when he says he isn’t psychic, but that he wasn’t lying when he told the world that it was real? Perhaps you should contact Geller and ask him, “Why did you lie to us? Was this all just a joke, to you? Are we simply tools to be used, and then thrown away? Or are you really psychic?”

To paraphrase you, sir, “So there!”

(For more on the Geller brouhaha, see item #1 under UPDATES, ahead.)




OREGON “SCIENTIFIC”?

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From reader Dave Crouch:

On 01/09/08 I received a promotional email from Oregon Scientific. It included the “i.Balance necklace.” Please see the following link for details: tinyurl.com/2lxbhx. I have attempted to contact the company via two different email addresses, and have yet to receive a response.

This is the content of the email that I have sent:

I recently received a promotional email that included the i.Balance necklace. I was shocked to see such an item being advertised by a company that has the word scientific in its name. Up to now Oregon Scientific has always sold items that help promote the love and appreciation of science. Please direct me to the authoritative source that will back up the claims made on your web page. Until I receive such evidence, I will have to assume the company has moved into the realm of snake oil salesmanship. You have lost a customer.

As of today the ridiculous claims and the $49.99 sales price remain on their web site. I guess at this point I am powerless to do anything, other than no longer purchase products from the company.

Thank you for your dedication to dispelling the phantoms of ignorance and superstition.

Understood, Dave. Readers who look at this item will find these preposterous claims being made:

The i.Balance enhances metabolism and improves your quality of sleep. Wear the i.Balance around your neck all day to soothe fatigue from sore muscles caused by work or exercise. Great product for any age.

Negative ions encourage blood circulation and metabolism.

Maintains natural body balance, improves sleep quality and thus allows the pleasure of a stress-free life.

Neutralizes acids caused by stress and environmental pollution by increasing the alkaline level of your body.

Can be worn 24 hours a day, ensuring optimal health condition round the clock, anytime, anywhere.

Convenient, safe and reliable.

Replacement not required.

Quackery and pseodoscience, pure and simple. And this is being sold by a company that boasts about awards in design they've received - though not in science – so where does the term “scientific” come in, I must ask? Perhaps “Oregon Pretty Toys” would be a more suitable moniker.




UPDATES

From correspondent Avital Pilpel comes this additional information:

1. About Geller: I supposed you’re not surprised he lied. With my own ears, I heard Geller tell people at a Barnes & Noble book signing that he was a secret agent for both the CIA and the Mossad [The Institute, Israel’s intelligence agency] on top-secret missions, that he had made 200 parachute jumps in his career in the Israeli paratroopers, and many other boners. After all, he was believed when he claimed to have teleported from New York City to the house of one of his credulous supporters in Chappaqua. Once you find out you can get away with that, every other lie is small change...

By the way, the claim you quoted last week by the producers of "The Successor" that it was the "highest rated TV show in Israeli history" is a blatant lie – big surprise. Until the mid-80s, there was only one TV channel in Israel, and consequently, ratings of most programs were over 60% – including the sign-off broadcasting of the national anthem at midnight! – and popular shows (especially the news) regularly topped a 90% rating.

2. About the Causeway/highway thing: actually both translations [of scripture] are accurate! The original Hebrew says maslul va’derech – "a road and a way." That doesn’t mean there would be two different roads. It is a literary device in Hebrew poetry known as "parallelism," saying the same thing twice in different words, for emphasis. It really means "a [single] big road," so either "highway" or "causeway" could fit. Now: this big road is supposed to be constructed in the desert – so "highway" is OK, but it is also supposed to appear during the End of Days, when

…in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert." (Isaiah 35:6).

So it would probably be a "causeway," too!

3. Ronda Bryne’s "The Secret" has now reached Israel. Together with the big "Alternative medicine 2008" conference taking place in Israel’s largest exhibition hall in Tel Aviv – offering every crank treatment under the sun – and the ever-popular Jewish version of creationism making its usual rounds, especially in the religious community, it’s a good place for nonsense, right now.

Still, who said nonsense cannot promote peace? There seems to be only one thing that all the sundry religious groups fighting in this land agree on, from Meir Kahane’s "God told me to kick out all the Arabs" party, to Hamas’ "Allah told me to kick out all the Jews" party. They all agree that evolution is a dirty lie invented by evil atheists to destroy the true faith.

Hey, it’s a start, anyway.




MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

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Some people tend to bit off more than they can chew – to spontaneously coin an oft-used phrase. Journalist A.J. Jacobs, a senior editor at Esquire magazine, recently spent a year trying to adhere to all the moral codes in the Bible, a task that can sure keep a fellow jumping, as he quickly discovered. He grew an appropriately Biblical beard and donned suitable robes…

Since there are 700+ Biblical rules to follow – some very general, but some quite specific – Mr. Jacobs decided he’d better consult with a selected group of spiritual advisors – rabbis, ministers and priests – who could provide him with guidance and advice throughout his difficult odyssey. Naturally, as a basic first step, he obeyed the Ten Commandments. And he carefully observed the Biblical “be fruitful and multiply” rule, and as a result his wife had twins during his year of experiment. He remembered the Sabbath and kept it holy, of course, but also paid close attention to rules that are usually ignored, rules such as not wearing clothes made of two different fibers such as nylon and linen, an obviously sinful act. Mr. Jacobs observed:

You can definitely pluck passages out of the Bible to support almost any position. I found one website that claimed that the Bible approved of pot-smoking because of a line in Genesis about God providing plants for us…

But some of the rules quite baffled his 21st-century brain. Could he justify Biblical laws about stoning homosexuals, and dutifully toss rocks at denizens of New York’s Greenwich Village? What about stoning disobedient children? And did he have to go to a livestock market and buy oxen for sacrificing obligations? Where do you dispose of those poor dead oxen…? The mind boggles!

Mr. Jacobs is also the author of "The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World," which relates his dedicated effort to read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Umm, that might not do it, and might occupy too much of one’s life span, but hey, whatever turns you on, sir.




AN EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY

I’ll begin this rather lengthy item by defining what I’ve always referred to as the Grubbies. These are people who in a previous generation would send anonymous letters by post to their target, or to someone who might react against that person, with the sole intent of harassing the recipient. Those communications – which were referred to as “poison pen letters,” would hint at secrets that might be revealed, or unspecified lurking dangers just over the horizon – providing the Grubby with satisfaction and presumably bringing the recipient fear, or at least annoyance and concern.

Now the Grubby art has metamorphosed to embrace The Computer Age. Via the Internet, using multiple addresses, reaching very large audiences by almost-instant access and protected by anonymity, these strange folks have a multi-layered existence. They can invade from many different angles, if they so choose, striking anyone who has computer access – especially those who have some recognition. Media figures, politicians, business persons, anyone who can be easily accessed electronically, become potential targets of a Grubby. Vulnerable persons who will respond – often because they must, in defense – can become entangled with Grubbies who enjoy knowingly misrepresenting their case, ignoring the facts and presenting what they know to be wrong, just to get their victims angry or worried.

The JREF and I have been easy targets. I’m referring now only to the Grubbies, and not to those who are innocently ignorant of the complexities of the real world and who provide us with problems to which we respond readily – though often with great sighs and frazzled patience. But when we receive obviously Grubby-flavored inquiries and/or attacks, we answer briefly and try to turn to more important matters, but that’s not always possible – nor advisable.

We’ve just had a rather lucky attack, and I say lucky because this one covers the spectrum of Grubby tactics rather fully, and gives us the opportunity to illustrate just how such an attack takes place. The sender wrote that he/she was sure that I would not respond, therefore I’m doing so in detail. This week, and next – if we have room – I will present you with both the original text of the attack, and my answers. The author of this exercise in snapping-at-heels is quite plainly educated enough to understand what the JREF is all about, what we do, and how we do it – but he/she chooses to pretend not to know, and drags in every canard we’ve handled for the past decade about the million-dollar challenge. It apparently brings him/her great delight to imagine my frustration and annoyance, and he/she jumps to the keyboard to feverishly respond so that not one drop of dismay is missed.

In this exchange you’ll see the blatant misstating of what we stand for, of what we’ve said or written, and direct attributions of attitudes and philosophies we’ve never held – in spite of the many years of SWIFT and the contents of my books, articles and media appearances. Here’s the first of these dreary exchanges. The name of the Grubby has been changed to “Simplicio,” one of Galileo’s characters in his 1632 work, “A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.” Read these 653 words, and you can see how our Simplicio errs almost from the first few words, beginning the attack – titled, “Termination of James Randi’s fraudulent MILLION DOLLAR PARANORMAL CHALLENGE” - with the usual facetious approach:

Well thank you for gracing me with your presence oh amazing one. I’ve got to admit, I’m surprised you took the time to reply to this ragtag group the first poster put together. Someone must have struck a nerve.

First, let me start off with the fact that you have no scientific background. You’re a magician. An entertainer whose career goal is to trick people. Given that, I fail to see how you’re at all qualified to determine anything scientifically. I, at least, hold a degree in chemistry. So, right off the bat there’s probably millions of people on the planet more qualified to judge scientific truth than you and your high school education.

Second, I do find it amusing that you’re retiring the challenge at this point, given the speculation that your bonds are worthless. You threw the "million DOLLAR" challenge out there, and eventually had to back down and admit that there was no million dollars...just some bonds that may or may not have been junk. Economy hitting those IOUs hard these days Randi? Well, it doesn’t really matter, because you never had any intention of taking any case seriously.

I’ll interject here, with one point. I think the idea of a million dollar challenge is a great idea. To prove or disprove, I think that’s what every scientist strives for. However, yours was just a fraud, thrown out there to further your little spat with Geller. Different story, different day.

So, back to your particular challenge. Would you deny the fact that your standards for even being considered for the prize are ambiguous? For instance, section 2.3 of your rules:

…some claims that are far too implausible to warrant any serious examination.

Who decides this? The man who stands to lose a million dollars? So, in other words, if any challenge actually scared you, you just denied them entry and claimed it bogus.

Science conclusively tells us all we need to know about such matters.

As a scientist, this one really kind of bugs me. "Science" is an ever changing field. What’s impossible today will be possible tomorrow, and sometimes things are discovered that change the way we look at the world. Now, I wouldn’t advocate buying into the delusions of some people myself, but, you can’t just deny whomever you wish entry based on your own ambiguous rules and call it a fair challenge and huff and puff about how you champion the real world of science.

Other claims, such as "Crop Circles" and UFO’s are rejected because they have been definitively proven to be the result of hoaxes or mass hysteria.

Not my favorite subject, but, worth exploring a bit. Even the US government claims that at least a few percent of all sightings are worth exploring because they’re unable to be explained. Surely you have solid backing for your claim that each and every sighting is false, or proven to be something else, right? How about the O’Hare incident of last year? Did you investigate? Serious reporters and investigators haven’t been able to explain that one yet, so I’m waiting on your explanation.

In a personal quote from your rules you state:

The claims are sometimes interesting variations on very old misconceptions or delusions, but seldom is there anything that surprises us or that requires very much heavy analysis.

So, have you even bothered to look into anything? Or do you just throw each out as you go along as "proven" or "delusions" and skip the actual analysis?

Of course, when confronted with a particularly incredible claim like "remote viewing" (the current version of "clairvoyance") we can easily stop short and ask ourselves just why we are involved with such obvious nonsense.

Once again, I have no personal bone to pick on the subject, but, the US government, again, spent many years and many millions of dollars on the subject and came back with some surprising results.

Well, that’s enough to include for this week, so let’s handle these all-too-common canards, one at a time:

1. Re: I’m surprised you took the time to reply. Simplicio, I always respond to inquiries, no matter how uninformed. We are, after all, an educational foundation.

2. Re: Someone must have struck a nerve. No, not any more than usual. I’m just tired of answering these vapid accusations, and this is an excellent opportunity to illustrate to my readers just how uninformed some people can choose to be.

3. That I have no scientific background. True, very true, and often acknowledged. But see #5, ahead.

4. That I’m a magician. An entertainer whose career goal is to trick people. No, that’s not my goal, to “trick” my audience, though I deceive them – honestly – for purposes of entertainment, just as any other actor does. As an actor, I play the part of a magician, you see. It’s a role I adopt. Acting. Look it up.

5. You fail to see how [I’m] at all qualified to determine anything scientifically. Enthusiastically agreed, as I’ve so often said and written! That’s why I always defer to well-qualified scientists – physicists, statisticians, psychologists, specialists of all kinds – so that they can conduct the tests, at which I am never present except when specifically asked by the applicant. Some of those we ask to proctor these tests are prominent scientists, and a few are Nobel Laureates. (Concerning my “high school education” that you so deride, I carried a special voucher on my person as a kid. That permitted me to not attend school if I so chose, since I had an I.Q. of 168/Stanford-Binet and was classified as “Genius or Near-Genius.” I often spent days at the Royal Ontario Museum or at the Toronto Public Library, where I had an access-to-stacks pass. I ascribed little import to the I.Q. rating system – as I do now – since it only indicates potential and is often a sign of specialized knowledge; on the I.Q. test I used specialized knowledge, and since I was familiar with differential and integral calculus from the age of 14, I often used it in place of algebra or trigonometry to solve classroom problems, to the dismay – and amusement – of my teachers.)

6. You refer to the speculation that [our] bonds are worthless. As I’ve written many times, and as specified in the Basic English rules for the challenge applicants, a simple inquiry to the JREF via fax, phone call, e-mail, postal letter, or perhaps telepathy (?) will promptly bring anyone a copy of the current JREF Prize Account status – which I append, since you seem to lack any of these means of communication! The million dollars is there, reserved for this purpose alone. Our regular bank accounts are separate from this account, Simplicio. See? Appended here is a copy of the statement, above, as GSdocument.jpg.

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7. You ask: Economy hitting those IOUs hard these days Randi? Umm, no, Simplicio. Try to understand: the JREF owes no money, we have no mortgage, we own the JREF property, free and clear. We have an excellent credit rating – as I do, personally, and I, too, have no mortgage nor loans of any sort. Sorry to disappoint you.

8. You refer to my spat with Geller. No, that’s not a “spat,” Simplicio. It’s a full battle that has lasted 35 years now, and has resulted in Mr. Geller having to admit that he’s a trickster, and that he has lied for all those years to anyone who would listen. You forgot about all that, did you…?

9. You ask if our standards for even being considered for the prize are ambiguous. No, they’re not. They’re clearly stated, again in Basic English – which seems to be too much for you to handle.

10. You question my expression: "some claims that are far too implausible to warrant any serious examination" Who decides this? The man who stands to lose a million dollars? You know better, Simplicio, of course. Even you might consider claims to be able to fly from high places using only the flapping of arms, persons who claim to be God – of whatever variety you may choose - those who say they can drink poison without effect, or one who claims to live for decades without eating, to be unworthy of wasting time on. And, again, as stated before, the million dollars does not belong to me. It’s the property of the JREF…!

11. Re: Your ludicrous statement: As a scientist… What’s impossible today will be possible tomorrow. Really? Well, try this one, "scientist" Simplicio: “It’s presently impossible to jump to the Moon using only a pogo stick.” Or: “It is presently impossible to divide 117 evenly by 12 using the base-10 system.” Or: “It’s presently impossible for anyone to write down all the digits of pi.” Now, you may have dates at which any or all of these feats are going to be possible, Simplicio. If so, I can’t wait to hear…

12. You cite: Even the US government claims… Are you serious, Simplicio? These are the folks who went to war because they believed there were WMD in Iraq! Were they right? Government agencies make all sorts of claims! Of what import is that?

13. You write: How about the O’Hare incident of last year? Did you investigate? Serious reporters and investigators haven’t been able to explain that one yet, so I’m waiting on your explanation. Note that you said, “yet,” Simplicio. I don’t know that we’ll ever get an acceptable explanation for this report; similar reports have never been explained. But we also don’t know how Sophia Loren looks that good, at 73+ years of age; that ain’t only Oil of Olay, you know. The fact that we have a report that has – as yet – no satisfactory explanation, seems to serve you woo-woos as an event that you can flaunt as “proof” to prove a point, but that would not suffice for a real scientist, Simplicio. Oh, I almost forgot. You’re a chemist! I’m awed…

14. You ask: …have you even bothered to look into anything? Or do you just throw each out as you go along as "proven" or "delusions" and skip the actual analysis? Again, Simplicio, I refer you to the 64 years in which I’ve been doing just that, all over the world. In fact, my next book, “A Magician in the Laboratory,” will deal with many of the in-depth investigations I’ve done. The fur will fly when that hits the bookstands, I assure you!

15. You write: …the US government, again, spent many years and many millions of dollars on the subject and came back with some surprising results. Yes, I agree. The “surprising results” were that they’d spent 20 million dollars of US taxpayer money over a 10-year period, and found NOTHING! That what the CIA report said, despite the subsequent claims of those who failed the tests. Read the facts, Simplicio!

Well, that’s all the time I’ll spend on this right now, Simplicio. There are 800 words more in your rambling tirade, but I’ll stop for now because I have better and more important things to do. But – be assured – I will address the rest of your accusations and misapprehensions later. I’ll only close this with your own closing comment, which is – as expected – quite wrong. You wrote:

I’m sure you won’t read this Randi, and I’m sure you’ll have nothing to say. You might bluster around a bit and cause some ruckus. Probably edit out parts of this, change others, and post it on your site, as you’ve been known to do to other people. I’ve got plenty more if you want to come back. I’m not the type to "fall silent" when confronted with a fraudulent bully.

Did you spot the Grubby technique here? This paragraph is to provoke a response, just in case none would be offered, which is anathema to any Grubby. They survive on conflict, and any lack of response stops them dead in their attack. The empty expectations expressed are designed to challenge and disturb – quite the opposite effect that I experienced. I saw the opportunity to use this tirade as an illustration, one that can be referred back to when needed to prove my point. Simplicio of course knows that I did read the attack. And – as he/she sees – I’ve had much to say about it. I’ve not edited anything, I haven’t changed anything, and I invite Simplicio to show where I’ve done this “to other people,” or will he/she fall silent on that, too? All of this – unedited – now appears on our site, Simplicio. So, please do “come back,” any time! I can’t promise that I’ll waste this much space on you each time, but this will serve as a convenient example of how the JREF deals with Uninformed Bullies…

James Randi – designated: “Fraudulent Bully.”




UFO OBSERVATIONS

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Our friend James Oberg comments on the recent Larry King “UFO Hour” show in which he participated:

Notice James Fox’s idiotic opening line: "Uh, I don’t mean to insult your intelligence, but could it have been a comet?" Two things: of course he meant “meteor,” he just misspoke. Friedman gently corrected him. Worse: he implied that “intelligence” was a factor in avoiding misinterpretation of visual stimuli. This is a widespread delusion – people who DO misinterpret things, as the vast majority of UFO witnesses are doing, get really torqued when somebody offers a prosaic explanation – “Are you saying I’m SToooPID?” is the standard response. Lucius Farish, despite his profound familiarity with the UFO literature, made exactly this gambit when I – correctly – identified a favorite personal UFO sighting of his with the Echo balloon. With their ego defense mechanisms engaged, and with the high-status thrill of now having personally become a witness to alien visitors, it becomes impossible to rationally investigate such witness reports further.

But as the Hendry/Hynek results indicate, it is intelligent people who are more likely to “cue up” earlier perceptual memories to “fill in the gaps” and “leap to conclusions” about baffling and ambiguous perceptions. That’s why adults are easily fooled by deliberate prestidigitation, while children and lower-IQ watchers are not – the latter witnesses’ minds are actually truer to the raw perceptions. It’s why pilots make such lousy aviation accident witnesses, according to the NTSB investigation techniques; they are too eager to over-interpret the meaning of what they are seeing, rather than noting and preserving RAW perceptions. Ditto pilots as UFO witnesses, with due credit to Hynek.

Being misled by a visual apparition is NOT an insult to a witness’s intelligence. More often than not, it is a tribute to it – while reflecting poorly on that person’s EXPERIENCE as a witness – and reflecting poorly on foolish people who think SMART people are more credible as UFO witnesses.

As a magician I’m very familiar with this seeming conundrum. We know that children – as James Oberg points out – are often not deceived by simple sleight-of-hand simply because they’re not experienced enough with the real/adult world, to be fooled. They’re unsophisticated. They need to see the egg actually go into the other hand, and are not smart enough to assume that it did, though it would certainly appear to have done so, to an adult – a “smarter” – person…




BECAUSE YOU NEED QUACKERY

Reader Dr. Keith Grimes writes:

Firstly, thank you for your work and ever-entertaining and informative weekly newsletter. Living in the UK, I work as an Out-of-Hours General Practitioner (Doctor) on Thursday nights, so in the wee hours of Friday morning when things have quietened down, I get a chance to catch my first glimpse of SWIFT.

I’m sure you understand my frustrations as a skeptic doctor dealing with the huge amount of quackery and nonsense peddled by alternative health “practitioners.” In my line of work, I frequently come across patients who have been misled, disappointed, and on occasion plain defrauded by these people. What makes it worse is seeing the mainstream media endorse such rubbish. And so I come to the reason for my mailing...

The UK newspaper ‘The Times” has a Saturday magazine, with a section titled “Because You Need It” by Sarah Vine. In the Saturday, 5th January, 2008, edition (tinyurl.com/32xq5f) she writes about “The New Detox device” aka the Quantum QXCI. I’ll let you and your readers have a glance at the (short) article, but to the mere mention of a device that

…somehow, uses the principles of quantum physics to scan for allergens, viruses, toxins, fungi, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies…

sends shivers down my spine. And Dr. Singh only charges £150 (approx $290 USD) for such a service!

On the same day, the newspaper led with an article about the formation of a Natural Healthcare Council, endorsed by no less an expert than our own Prince Charles – see tinyurl.com/2vdxot. Another dangerous step towards formal recognition of such nonsense as Reiki and Homeopathy.

I was heading off on holiday as I read the articles, so had the opportunity to ski off most of my anger. Writing to you on my return, I guess I’m taking my first active steps in what has thus far been passive support of your work. Next up: a stiffly worded letter to the journalist in question!

As ever, keep up the good work!

As for Prince Charles, his only real expertise seems to be in The Wearing of a Crown for Fun & Profit.




BEAR WITH US

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From reader Doug McDonald in the UK comes this exciting news of “Timmy the Energy Bear,” about which Doug writes:

I am not tolerant in general of woo being advertised as medicinal, but Timmy the Energy Bear has me more ticked off than is typical. To be teaching or encouraging poor or magical thinking in children is inexcusable. Please warn your readers about this product. The web address is tinyurl.com/2htam3.

By the way, do you suppose the "Natural Daylight Energy in a new and exciting form of soothing Photon Platinum™ non-woven Fabric" listed as being inside the bear is simply raw cotton? With the right kind of twisted logic, one might be able to say that.

This product sells for £29.99 – about US$60, and is recommended – by the vendors – for children who:

HAVE ASTHMA AND BREATHING PROBLEMS

HAVE TROUBLE OR RESTLESS SLEEPING PATTERNS

HAVE PROBLEMS WITH ALLERGIES AND HAY FEVER

OR NEED TO HELP AND ENCOURAGE THEIR IMMUNE SYSTEMS

Doesn’t that sound like most kids you know? No evidence of any sort for these claims is offered, of course. The naïve are expected to simply accept… But what’s inside Timmy, we must ask. They say:

Gentle Magnetic Fields, and Natural Daylight Energy in a new and exciting form of soothing Photon Platinum™ non-woven Fabric.

NOTE: As with all products containing magnets, do not use if wearing a pacemaker, defibrillator or any other battery operated implants. WARNING: always read the label and keep out of reach of children.

Believe me, I make it a strict rule to keep out of the reach of children, especially those toting unattractive magnetic bears…!




A SIMPLE SOLUTION

From reader Tom Moore we hear of the solution to a long-standing “haunting” problem in China.

In Guangxi City, China, just west of Hong Kong, there has been a ten-year battle between haunting spirits and the inhabitants of a five-story building. A series of owners had been driven out of the structure by disturbing midnight banging noises which neighbors naturally attributed to restless ghosts. What else?

The mystery has now been resolved – very profitably – by a pair of brothers named Chan, who set out to investigate whether natural causes might be responsible for these late-night disturbances. The formerly valuable property – now valued at only $6,500 because of the spooks – attracted the Chans, who only need a crowbar to solve the puzzle. After picking up the keys, they began work. Visits during the day showed no phenomena, but at night, the muffled banging became clearly evident, particularly on the lower floors. It was loudest in the first story bathroom, but went away when they pounded on the floor. The brothers reached into their ghostbuster’s kit, came up with a crowbar, pried up the floor, and discovered a septic tank. Bracing themselves, they lifted off its cover, and down in the muck, they saw something move. Lo! It turned out to be a pair of ten-pound catfish and eight smaller fry, their offspring. The “haunting” was over.

They learned that a previous owner had once brought a bucketful of live catfish into the bathroom for cleaning, and somehow, two of the fish had managed to flop loose and make their escape down the toilet. Unknown to everyone, they stayed on, flourishing in the septic tank and raising a small family. They were of course most active at night, with the sounds of their splashing about and banging amplified through the building’s plumbing.

(We’re not told the fate of the catfish, but it may be assumed to be an unfortunate one…)

The ghost problem settled, the building has appreciated dramatically, to over $135,000 – not a bad return for the investment of some simple common sense and rational thinking…!




PAT’S BACK – WITH MORE PROPHECIES

Reader Felipe Oliveira points out that Pat Robertson is back at it again with more of his hilarious end-of-year predictions. See tinyurl.com/2f727s. Says Felipe:

Apparently, God tells Mr. Robertson that in 2008 "God is gonna give us China," meaning that they will accept Jesus and "become the largest Christian nation in the world"! How lucky! God is going to suddenly erase hundreds of years of Buddhist and Confucius-ist dominance! IN ONE YEAR! At least this seems to indicate that Pat reads the news and is aware that a closer relationship with China might benefit the USA financially.

As a side note, I recently saw a picture of Chinese children going to school IN A CAVE because the government didn’t have enough money to build them a school. That’s how much emphasis the Chinese put on education. And what do we have? Creationists! I’m glad I’m still in college. I think I’m going to sign up for some Mandarin Chinese lessons...




PBS PERSISTS IN WOO-WOO

Reader Chris Long alerts us that PBS has again pandered to irrationality:

“Atlantis Found?” During the week of Christmas, PBS contributed yet another piece to the woo-woo crowd with the airing of a “documentary” titled “Atlantis Found?” Plato was wrong, the “experts” intoned, conceding there was no lost continent in the Atlantic Ocean to the west of Gibraltar. But wait, there’s more! Atlantis could have been the ancient city of Troy! So, a self-appointed expert on the subject trudged around the ancient ruins uncovered by Heinrich Schliemann over a hundred years ago pointing out features that fit Plato’s description. He even walked along a man-made depression in the landscape stating that the “canal” fit Plato’s description. But there was a problem: the canal was inclined about fifteen degrees, making an ancient connection with the Mediterranean doubtful. The archaeologist accompanying the guy said no, this was an ancient drainage ditch. Oops !

Then, we were told, Atlantis was actually the island of Thera, part of the pre-bronze age Minoan culture. Problem is, Thera is still very much above ground. Then it was back to modern Turkey where, the narration intoned, Atlantis could have been located until that assertion can be disproven (get it?).

Then on to South America, where a former “aerial photo intelligence analyst” had “proof” that South America was really Atlantis. But, he explained, if it really wasn’t South America, then there are several sites on that continent that fit the description of the Lost Continent. One photo we were shown featured a large lake that was obviously man-made and fit the description of the inland harbor the Atlanteans supposedly built. On to the harbor site, where the photo guy found an open-pit gold mine, definitely man-made, but a few thousand years later than Plato asserted.

Where, then, is Atlantis? They’ll keep on looking, the experts said, and get back to us on that one. Since there is no sunken continent (continents cannot sink) west of Gibraltar, Plato was wrong, and it’s up to modern woo-woos to find the actual site. One assertion that made perfect sense was that Atlantis was actually an allegorical metaphor created by Plato to show what happens to civilizations that become materialistic and corrupt. That part I believed.

Hats off to PBS for their remarkable contribution to modern science and archaeology! Wonder how much hard-earned contributor money was spent on that program…?

As if that weren’t enough disappointment, reader Rodrigo Otero provides an example of the History Channel embracing woo-woo even more ardently than PBS. He writes:

Yesterday I saw something that I never thought would be possible on the History Channel! In essence, they said that the Bermuda Triangle “Mystery” is caused by a black hole! See tinyurl.com/36ygts. And who backs up this claim? The most reliable of scientists: John Hutchison! Double Wow! Or double Woo?

Randi: see randi.org/jr/121302.html and do a search for “Hutchison.” Rodrigo continues:

Here’s the theory: there is a black hole in that region, perhaps in the air or undersea. And it is known that black holes cause extreme magnetic distortion, and that area is (allegedly) famous for this kind of phenomenon, so there must be a black hole there!

But wait! There’s more!

The Dragon Triangle, in the Sea of Japan, is diametrically opposed to Bermuda’s! And both share the same phenomena! So, there must be a “wormhole” between these two locations! Problem solved!

And also, the Mariana Trench is in the middle of the Dragon Triangle; in the same way, the Puerto Rico Trench is in Bermuda’s. So this shows a connection between these two locations!

In the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Why didn’t we perceive this before?

Well, now seriously, I am very saddened by all this... Mr. Hutchison had somewhere between 10 to 20 minutes of airtime to deliver his blather to the television audience. There were some crackpots there, too, "validating" the ideas. But there were also at least two apparently serious scientists, saying that, because of Global Warming, the weather in the Bermuda Triangle will probably get fiercer. The narrator’s voice says:

Because the black hole grows with time and matter, the problem will only get worse.

And then the scene cuts to one of these scientists who says that, considering global warming, melting of the poles, etc., that region’s weather will become much more dangerous to human life. But to someone not paying close attention, it can appear that this is caused by a black hole! And the narrator did not say “the supposed black hole would cause more destruction.” He said, “the black hole will…! The once-hypothetical black hole is now a fact, proven by science!

At least, the caption below Hutchison’s name was only “theoretician” – this line they did not cross! By the way, I searched randi.org and found this guy in the 13th December, 2002 Swift Edition. It’s the same guy...




THAT HIGHWAY

Reader Jeff Nesmith, a professional truck driver, comments on last week’s item on Highway I-35 – see randi.org/joom/content/view/149/27/#i5:

You know, not all that long ago, I ran a load of sheet steel out that way, then wound up on I-35 for my next load. I’ve got any number of friends out there on that highway at any given time, all of whom are hauling freight, and all of whom are experiencing what we do on any other highway in the nation.

You’re busy, and I’m preaching to the choir, here, so I’ll keep this short: Cindy Jacobs’ evidence for this "Holy Highway" is about as nonsensical as saying there’s tennis in the Bible, because "Joseph served in Pharaoh’s courts."

If I-35 is so frigging "holy," how come at every truck stop I was propositioned by lot lizards? How come there’s a party row in every truck stop? How come most of my fellow drivers keep telling me about losing straps and winch bars, and in some cases, whole trailers, to thieves and hijackers? (Or is stealing no longer a sin?) Will someone please explain the number of people who have gone missing, never to be seen again, in direct proximity to I-35, or were these folks simply raptured away?

Every day, I experience new evidence that I made the right decision in walking away from this bizarre world of "revelation" and "prophesy." Reality may not be as pleasant, but it pays a lot better.




YOU MEAN THE PROPHECY WAS WRONG?

Reader “Brandon” sends us to a pompous, self-assured, “prophet” who has everything worked out and decided – as do most such preachers. He writes:

When I started finding videos posted by members of my town’s "cute" little cult on YouTube, I thought you might get a kick out of them, just for the sheer silliness on display.

They call themselves the House of Yahweh – though, based on the apparent state of their, uh, "compound," a better name might be the Trailer Park of Yahweh – and believe that their leader, a local named Yisrayl Hawkins, is some kind of divine prophet. I don’t know all the details, but if you join, you apparently have to change your last name to Hawkins. Oh, and it seems they think that a huge, world-ending nuclear war is coming.

In 2006. Oops. youtube.com/watch?v=UK36gJH0PHI

Luckily, Yisrayl came back later and assured everyone that when he said war was "starting," he just meant that it was being planned. Makes sense! The REAL war is coming in June.

Of 2007. ...Oops. youtube.com/watch?v=Tom2j-YP-bA

I hope you got a good laugh out of this bit of silliness. We’d better laugh while we can, since the House of Yahweh will have the final laugh when nuclear war begins, um, last year.

I must admit, Brandon, that I can’t laugh at this man, or at what he stands for. He’s thoroughly, irrevocably, deluded. Nothing will slow him down or change his mind, and he’ll continue on this way making excuses for his blunders, still bringing in funds from his “flock,” and confident that he’s not only right, but infallible.

Go back to that designation “flock.” Webster’s says it’s – primarily – a group of sheep, goats, or birds. Hmmm. Sheep end up being fleeced and/or eaten, goats haven’t a much rosier future, especially in the Middle East, and chickens can only aspire to meeting The Colonel’s minions… The designation is apt.




HO HO HO

Reader Mason Deaver sends us two excerpts from CDs by comedian Steven Wright:

From "I Have A Pony":

One night I stayed up all night playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.

From "I Still Have A Pony:

I’m addicted to placebos. I could quit, but it wouldn’t matter.




IN CONCLUSION…

We’re in the middle of, or just out of, TAM 5.5 as you read this. So it’s So next it'll be on to TAM6 – June 19th to 22nd in Las Vegas – still shaping up, but I can tell you that we’ll have Professor Arthur Benjamin, the famous mathemagic performer, up front with his exciting show in which he instantly multiplies huge figures by other huge figures – in his head, extracts square roots mentally, and generally puts the calculator manufacturers in fear of extinction… Art will not only do these feats, he’ll tell you how you can do them, too…!

I’m off to Germany in two weeks to tape a full Geller-tricks exposure, after I return from Alice Cooper’s 60th birthday party in Phoenix. I’m at a magician’s convention in Tampa in February, as well as the Smarter Data Conference in Atlanta. Lots of lecture dates coming up, and it appears that I’ve returned to full fettle…! Evil doers, cringe! Scallywags, retreat! I’m baaaack!


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