Officially Endorsing the Useless, An Improvement?, Maybe They’re Kidding – We Hope So, Pre-Summer Madness, Disturbing, Obscurity Par Excellence, Question, Takeover, Haunting in Homestead, Sailing Stones - by Jeff Wagg, The Flamingo - by Jeff Wagg

Our good friend Bob Park – go to mkn and subscribe – ran this appropriate observation, not hesitating a bit to express his opinion:

A couple of weeks ago the Metro Section of the Washington Post ran a front page story about a pilot program in a Washington suburb to incorporate acupuncture into the treatment of drug addiction. There is something called the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association that certifies people to administer acupuncture for drug addiction. As I read this I paused to watch a chiropractor on Good Morning America wrenching some poor woman’s neck to lower her blood pressure.

Table of Contents
  1. Officially Endorsing the Useless

  2. An Improvement?

  3. Maybe They’re Kidding – We Hope So

  4. Pre-Summer Madness

  5. Disturbing

  6. Obscurity Par Excellence

  7. Question

  8. Takeover…

  9. Haunting in Homestead

  10. Sailing Stones - by Jeff Wagg

  11. The Flamingo - by Jeff Wagg



Our good friend Bob Park – go to and subscribe – ran this appropriate observation, not hesitating a bit to express his opinion:

A couple of weeks ago the Metro Section of the Washington Post ran a front page story about a pilot program in a Washington suburb to incorporate acupuncture into the treatment of drug addiction. There is something called the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association that certifies people to administer acupuncture for drug addiction. As I read this I paused to watch a chiropractor on Good Morning America wrenching some poor woman’s neck to lower her blood pressure. It raised mine. But back to acupuncture: this morning I was sent a notice from the University of Maryland Health Center about its acupuncture services. “Originating in China about 5,000 years ago,” it began, “acupuncture is the oldest continuously practiced medical system in the world.” You might prefer something a little more up-to-date. If my health is involved I want to know what was learned yesterday. It goes on to explain that acupuncture is based on the circulation of qi, “the life-giving energy that circulates along channels to all organs and enables them to function.” My own university put this out? There is no qi. It‘s superstitious nonsense. After you stop laughing, check out the health service at your institution. The American health system has completely sold out to this crap.

America’s addiction to acupuncture began with New York Times correspondent James Reston’s 1971 trip to China, during which he was operated on for acute appendicitis. Contrary to widespread accounts, he was injected with a standard local anesthetic, not acupuncture. It was two days later that he experienced indigestion with only a traditional Chinese physician on duty. He was treated with moxibustion, a form of acupuncture, and needles were used to “get the qi flowing.” An Alka-Seltzer might have been better. Reston’s own words can be found on the web.

And, reader Nicholas R. Setzer wrote us about this:

I am writing to you about the UMD Center for Health and Wellbeing – in particular a claim they have on their website. The questionable assertion can be found at – where it is claimed that

...acupuncture is effective for a wide variety of problems. It has been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations and the National Institutes of Health.

I searched the WHO database on policy and could not find evidence to back such a claim. I also could not locate the endorsement by NIH. As such I thought I’d defer to your expertise to see if I have missed something in my search or if the claim is, as I suspect it to be, fraudulent. I should also note that I was prompted to investigate this when I received an email alerting me to an event sponsored by the Center for Health and Wellbeing that promotes acupuncture.

In 2006 I sent an email to Tracy Marie Zeeger regarding such an event detailing the failure of acupuncture to produce results, which she forwarded to Dr. Bodison, the directory of the University Health Center. I never heard from Dr. Bodison, who is the one [ir]responsible for the Health Center offering acupuncture.

Nicholas, this finding should not be a surprise to you. Such claims are regularly being made, with little or no objections from those quoted. They apparently consider such matters to be beneath their attention level, and the public suffers...


Still on the Magic Needles Quackery front, reader David Crawford of Kelowna, British Columbia, informs us:

I was upset recently by the announcement that our Medical Services Plan here in British Columbia would soon be funding acupuncture treatments for the poor and needy. They won’t fund cochlear implants so little kids can hear – but they will fund quackery in one of its many guises. Appalling!

I fired off a quick letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun newspaper as follows: (see letter ahead) I imagine funding for ear-candling and other forms of nonsense can’t be far behind at this rate. Keep soldiering on my friend – your work is much appreciated.

David’s letter to the editor:

I write on behalf of those citizens who retain the ability to exercise their common sense, in the desperate hope that Health Minister George Abbott might some day join us. Ignoring for the moment the crowds of people chanting “But it works for me!,” there are those of us who can think and understand science (even in its most basic forms) who have come to understand that acupuncture simply doesn’t work.

Universities in China don’t teach their students how to stick needles into “energy meridians” – they teach bacteriology, immunology, anesthesia and good, proper science. “Traditional Chinese medicine” embarrasses them as being archaic, quaint and sometimes dangerous folklore.

It appalls me that MSP would take precious dollars from medicine that works, and throw it at quackery that simply doesn’t. Abbott and his entire ministry should be ashamed of their pathetic scientific ignorance. I can appreciate the strong desire to dumb a minister down for the masses – it makes the cue cards easier to read – but please stop. We masses aren’t as dumb as we look.


From an announcement by the UK group conducting regular “Skeptics in the Pub” meetings – which are very well-attended, indeed – comes news of what appears to be a big step forward in legislation:

...the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951, the last remnant of the old witchcraft legislation, is to be repealed in April 2008. Mediums and psychics will now be under a new and modern legal regime in respect of any unfair commercial practices. But how will these new sanctions work in practice? Will mediums and psychics who adopt questionable practices be more or less likely to face legal action?

The ancient common law offence of blasphemy may also soon be abolished. A recent High Court decision has effectively narrowed its scope in any case. There is the new offence of “incitement to religious hatred.” But can the legal process really deal with what can be questions of religious dispute?

Other examples of where the law grapples with issues of belief and non-belief include the “Evolution” trials in the United States, the Holocaust denial trials, and when religious groups seek to incorporate aspects of religious law into more general legal systems.

We can be sure that much fuss has been generated by this attempt to protect the UK public. We’ll await the effects of this action with interest, and since I’ll be in the UK next week, I’ll be able to personally inquire about the effects – even from the Pub itself, since I’ve been invited to speak at a Skeptics in the Pub meeting while there...

I’m informed that all details of my UK visit next week can be seen at


From the UK’s “New Scientist” News Service comes an article on “The Mechanism of Poltergeist Activity”:


The sight of small blonde girls watching television is guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of anyone who has watched the movie Poltergeist. We’re right to be terrified, say physicists. Children generate poltergeist activity by channeling energy into the quantum mechanical vacuum.

Pierro Brovetto, whose last known address was the Instituto Fisica Superiore, in Cagliari, Italy, and his colleague Vera Maxia wanted to explain the origin of poltergeist phenomena, characterized by objects flying around the room “of their own accord.”

The researchers note that poltergeist encounters have been reported around the world and across different cultures, but tend to have one thing in common, say the authors:

Poltergeist disturbances often occur in the neighborhood of a pubescent child or a young woman.

So Brovetto and Maxia have come up with a mechanism to explain just how these women and children create such havoc. Like so many problems that arise in adolescence, puberty gets the blame:

Puberty is a modification of the child body which involves various organs, chiefly the brain.

Brovetto and Maxia hypothesize that the changes in the brain that occur at puberty involve fluctuations in electron activity that, in rare cases, can create disturbances up to a few meters around the outside of the brain. These disturbances would be similar in character to the quantum mechanical fluctuations that physicists believe occur in the vacuum, in which “virtual” particle and antiparticle pairs pop up for a fleeting moment, before they annihilate each other and disappear again.

Brovetto and Maxia believe that the extra fluctuations triggered by the pubescent brain would substantially enhance the presence of the virtual particles surrounding the person. This could slowly increase the pressure of air around them, moving objects and even sending them hurtling across the room.

The poltergeist paper will appear in the journal Neuroquantology.

incam We contacted Brian Josephson, a Nobel laureate physicist who is on the editorial board of Neuroquantology. “This looks distinctly flaky to me,” Josephson commented.

Journal reference:

Oh, I just noticed the dateline for the New Scientist article: 1st April, 2008…


Pay no attention to that heading. There’s a madness for every season… From an anonymous Portuguese reader comes this:

Always a pleasure to read your Friday news, through a proxy, though.

I got some great news from Portugal today: in the last few days, the radio waves have been pounding our ears with news about a new treatment for body toxins. Yes, it’s true, it’s pre-summer madness again. This magnificent product, called “Depuralina,” cleans the body of toxins and excess fluids, thus giving you better health and a body to fit into your last year’s bathing suit. The problem is: people have been taken into hospital emergency rooms with toxic reactions to the product. The product ingredients: who the Hell knows what it’s made of?

The Health Minister has suspended (but not fully stopped) the sale of the product. Too bad we still have astrologers on public television and African witch doctors on Portuguese radio. The curious thing: if you take an aspirin and then slip in the bathtub, they stop the sale of the aspirin. But with these so-called Complementary and Alternative Medicines (SCAM), nothing stops them. Oh well, one fight at a time, one toxic reaction at a time...


Good friend and reader Scot Morris sent this URL to us. I warn you, it’s very disturbing.

If you ever had the slightest doubt about the fanatical nature of evangelism, this will dispel any such notion. I admit: I can witness many excesses, tragedies, unfortunate events of all sorts – with one exception: I cannot bear to see a child cry from genuine grief and/or fright and/or pain – and to see children being led astray by crazy adults with a mythological philosophy, brings out all my protective instincts and anger. This 8 minutes, 23 seconds, of lies and pseudoscience by a Laurel & Hardy pair of proselytizers, is something we should not forget. These self-deluded idiots deserve to have every advantage of evolution removed from their DNA – and the resulting sludge should be flushed…

Go to: and join my dismay...


letter envelope

I’ve complained before about illegible letters we receive, but this one has to be the best-ever example. Now, it’s quite possible that this writing is simply careless, but it may be the result of age or some infirmity. Either way, it should be obvious to the writer that no one can read it. You’ll see, from the envelope, that it came from France, and it’s written in French, but even the address is unreadable, and the amount of postage is wrong, delaying the letter by more than a week. If it hadn’t come to the attention of a postal employee who guessed it was for us, it would have never been delivered.

I publish this here, so you’ll see just what we have to go through in maintaining the Challenge...



Thinking cap time... In March, I attended a stunning show of maps and related items at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore – where the Archimedes Palimpsest is being studied by scholars – see – and one unique item took my attention. It’s pictured here, a ladies glove dating from 1851 showing highlights of The Great Exhibition in London. The Crystal Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Kensigton Gardens are a few of the sites pictured there, so milady had only to glance at her left hand to find these attractions. Ingenious, no?

My question, however, is this: though this object is hardly hi-tech in any respect, if its equivalent existed today, what would we probably call it? If or when you get the answer, you’ll just know you’re right...

Answers requested...


As you read this I will be in Boulder, Colorado, with the “Conference on World Affairs” – see – enjoying the opinions of my fellow-participants. Our colleague Jeff Wagg will finish off this SWIFT for me, shape it up, and post it. I’ll be back next week, just in time to head off for the UK...



Reader Kevin Larkin has sent us a link to this story, in which a Homestead, PA police department is reporting the following:

Several people have seen the keys on a typewriter moving on their own. Others can't explain the attic door, which continues to spring open no matter how many times it’s bolted. The chilling air that blows through enclosed hallways and around old cellblocks is also pretty spooky, the officers said.

And this..

… a broken down snow plow that somehow started up last November without a key and battery.

The police are resourceful people. After all, part of their work is investigation. So who do they call to explore these mysteries? The Greater Pittsburgh Paranormal Society (

From their rather ungrammatical site:

The primary objective of GPPS is to investigate and collect data pertaining to the paranormal, and to offer assistance to those who believe their lives are being affected by a haunting and to help them take charge of their lives.

We also classify and collect possible evidence, and to firstly rule out any natural occurrences. In the case that G.P.P.S. does not find evidence on the first investigation, we will offer another investigation immediately, and offer ongoing assistance to you. Just because we do not find evidence doesn't mean that we do not believe that you are a victim of a haunting.

The GPPS is clearly predisposed to the belief that the paranormal exists. By calling in this organization, the Homestead police can only have two results: 1) Yes, we found evidence... your station is haunted… or 2) We didn’t find anything, but we still believe you when you say it’s haunted.

Kevin makes an important point here:

I always wonder why "skeptics" aren't ever consulted to look into these paranormal phenomena? Probably because we aren't predisposed to believe that chilling air has some spooky connection, rather than just a draft.

Sometimes they are. Our friend Ben Radford has been consulted on a few cases, and has actually solved a few “hauntings” ( But more important is the fact that we skeptics need to do a better job of making ourselves available as a resource. A skeptical investigation would include ruling out hoaxes, pranks, and fabrications. The source of cold drafts can be found using thermal imaging, as is common when energy efficiency studies are conducted on homes. The typewriter should be checked for electrical shorts. As for the snow plow, which we’re assuming is a truck, there are ways a prankster could start an old truck without a key or battery. Does that prove it wasn’t started by a ghost? No, but is there any reason to think that it was? The absence of evidence is simply that… it is not evidence for ghosts, whatever they might be.

We can’t blame the GPPS for being called in though. When the Homestead police asked “Who you gonna call?” skeptical organizations didn’t come to mind. As a skeptical community, that is our problem to fix.



This past weekend, I had the chance to visit Racetrack Playa, part of Death Valley in California. This unusual place is known for its “sailing stones,” which are rocks that move by some unseen force and leave tracks in the mud. Some of these tracks are hundreds of yards long, and change direction many times. How does this happen?

It’s a beautiful, desolate, and somewhat difficult place to get to. During my visit, I heard some folks in a jeep talking about how “it must have been aliens.” I felt obligated to tell them that there were natural explanations for the movements, but they said, “yeah, we read about that, but it’s not as interesting.” This mindset has always baffled me. Isn’t it interesting that natural forces can act in such an unpredictable way? It is to me. It’s also interesting that we can take a mystery like this and apply our brain power to come up with a solution. I don’t see how applying the deus ex machina of aliens is more interesting than a real answer.

For those who are interested, there are a couple of working theories, and one of them involves ice. You can hear and read our friend Brian Dunning’s explanation at


As the Amaz!ng Meeting draws closer, I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve discovered on my visits to the Flamingo Hotel and Resort. First off, this is a really nice place for the conference. There are extensive grounds with waterfalls, pools, and hundreds of exotic birds and other animals wandering around. The conference room itself is also quite nice, and unlike last year, you can get to it easily without going through the casino. As a bonus, restrooms are nearby!

For those unfamiliar with the lore, the Flamingo is the casino that Bugsy Siegel created. The movie Bugsy with Warren Beatty was about this property. There’s even a monument to Bugsy in the garden.

The location can’t be beat. The Flamingo IS the center of the Vegas strip. Most of the other major hotels are only a short walk away, and there are numerous shows and restaurants nearby. If you want to go to Star Trek at the Hilton, just hope on the monorail in back of the property. Not that you’ll have time for much.. this year’s TAM is packed. More information on TAM is available at

Hope to see you there.