Facilitated Fraud, The Perfect Solution, Getcher Latest Vibes, Van Praagh in People Mag, A Quandary, A Sad Comment on Our Time, Wait – There’s More, We Renew Our Offer, An Alien Sighting, Another “Police Psychic”, Don Your Deerstalker Caps!, Legislation Sought, Arm-Pushing Again, A Boots Specialty, Ask Questions, FYI, In Closing…
In mid-May, I spoke at Syracuse University, where Douglas Biklen, Dean of their School of Education, is still preaching the ridiculous notion of “Facilitated Communication” – only because the University can’t resist the huge amounts of cash that go into their coffers because some naïve and generous persons and agencies simply can’t recognize academic flummery when it’s immediately in front of their noses.
In mid-May, I spoke at Syracuse University, where Douglas Biklen, Dean of their School of Education, is still preaching the ridiculous notion of “Facilitated Communication” – only because the University can’t resist the huge amounts of cash that go into their coffers because some naïve and generous persons and agencies simply can’t recognize academic flummery when it’s immediately in front of their noses. I – of course – directly addressed this subject head-on during my lecture, but I found that the audience was very reluctant to hear or deal with this shameful and widely-known stain on the reputation of the University; the squirming about and the deadly hush that resulted when I brought up “FC,” was quite evident. I also noted that Dean Biklen was not in attendance, though he was well aware that I was speaking on campus…
Now, reader Terry Austin sends us to tinyurl.com/63moxd, to see a report by colleague Steve Novella on just how this thoroughly false, misleading, scandalous, and damaging “scientific” farce – endorsed by Syracuse University despite overwhelming evidence that it simply does not work – is handled beyond the walls of academe, when proper rationality is summoned to the matter. Terry writes:
You've mentioned FC from time to time, with a clear understanding of what BS it is. I thought you might be interested in an in-depth followup to some real world damage caused by this pseudoscience crap.
Terry, when I confronted these charlatans in Madison, at the University of Wisconsin, another site eating up research funds on this useless philosophy – see tinyurl.com/5flcfw and tinyurl.com/5sdlyw – a breathless “researcher” told me how a 7-year-old autistic girl – through the “facilitator” who guided her hand – had written, “I need a new hypothalmus”! Incredibly, but not surprisingly to those of us who have followed this swindle, the researcher took this as positive evidence that the child was a genius...
THE PERFECT SOLUTION
Some group advertising themselves as “Aquarius Wholism” – whatever that may mean – is peddling the “Benzolite Octahedron Neutralization Kit” for a mere €395 – currently about US$620. It seems that all our problems are now solved. They advertise:
With the introduction of the Benzolite Octahedron, we have entered the next level of transformational skills. This powerful tool creates a very high energy that transforms all existing radiation and earth currents from being harmful into a quality that is supportive to humans, pets and plants. The Benzolite Octahedron improves the energy balance of homes and commercial premises and neutralizes negative environmental influences.
This “B.O.”, they say, is used to neutralize the dreaded
…ever more thicker [sic] blanket of electro smog around the earth
which in combination with
geopathical elements like earth currents and subterranean water streams
is draining our
Oh, now I understand. Advanced science. And just what is this device? According to the B.O. flack, it
consists of two equilateral pyramids connected by their foursquare bases.
See the illustration… Ah, but these pyramids
…are each filled with 180 grams of Benzolite Plus, a new generation of Benzolite with an improved quality.
“Improved”? Over what? “Old” Benzolite? We’re not told, but the new stuff
will stimulate our personal growth further then regular Benzolite.
Hallelujah! In any case, one unit of this really bad sculpture
…is sufficient for homes up to 75 x 75 feet.
And, we’re told, a sick time study at a major – un-named – Dutch utility company showed a sick time reduction of more than 30% after neutralizing the office building with Benzolite. Wow!
I thought readers should have this claptrap administered in small doses, as above, rather than in one indigestible lump… And just think: some people will buy these…!
GETCHER LATEST VIBES
Reader Linda Rosa informs us of yet another quack healing machine.
Greeley, Colorado, is home of the VIBE machine – www.vibemachine.com – one of hundreds of quack devices on the market. I've been concerned about the VIBE for years, seeing firsthand how it created a mania in northern Colorado, with numerous people setting up VIBE salons, buying VIBEs to leave to their heirs, and for home use. VIBE manufacturer/inventor, Gene Koonce, has claimed that there are 900 VIBEs "out there." Selling at $17,800 each (I saw one for a mere $8,000 on craigslist), that's getting into the neighborhood of $16M. There certainly appeared to be significant financial harm.
Here is VIBE inventor/manufacturer Gene Koonce's interview with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf about the VIBE for Health Journal Television: tinyurl.com/6724yg. What's needed here is some additional attention by the press, the FTC and the Colorado AG's office.
To my readers: Yes, I know there are seven url’s here for you to refer to, but anything Linda sends is valuable, so I suggest that you follow each one to get the whole picture...
VAN PRAAGH IN PEOPLE MAG
Reader Jennifer S. Young, who describes herself as, “Proud Skeptic, Former People Magazine reader and current member of the James Randi Educational Foundation (since 2007)” writes:
I would like to think that maybe the editors [of People Magazine] would listen to my letter and maybe be a bit disappointed at the loss of my business as a long time paying customer. I would also like to believe that maybe my letter would be printed in the next issue. I'd really like to believe that maybe a retraction or a disclaimer might be put in the next editorial page, stating that woo woo like this is, like professional wrestling, "simply for entertainment purposes only," But, I always remember the first lesson in skepticism, and I seriously doubt it. I am looking forward immensely to The Amazing Meeting 6. Thank you again for all you do.
In a recent article in People Magazine entitled "He Sees Dead People" [June 9, 2008], medium James Van Praagh states that "everyone has a right to believe what they believe." I could not agree more. I believe in compassion and respect for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. But I have seen too much evidence in my thirty-one years to say that I do not believe the answers we as humans have been seeking since our ability to fathom life and death lies in the hands (or minds therefore) of mediums. When it comes to mediums and their work, I strongly believe the very strong, consistent and responsibly collected evidence that has been gathered over decades by notable men and women such as Harry Houdini, James Randi, The Center For Inquiry, and numerous local and national skeptical investigative groups. I believe that any People Magazine reader interested in the proof surrounding the claims of these mediums would be fascinated by the wealth of information that these skeptics have gathered (www.randi.org, www.skepticsociety.org, www.cfi.org) that are available to the public online via websites and blogs. Finally, I believe that, when it comes to responsible journalism, this article is an example of what not to do.
Jennifer, weigh the odds here. One subscriber is lost, but a sensational, woo-woo, irresponsible, untrue, feature article is gained, subscribers are happy, the circulation department is ecstatic, Van Praagh is laughing, and People Magazine just doesn’t care. No surprises here! And don’t strain your eyes looking at the mailbag page of People. Remember, they just don’t care.
In the “Times On Line” at tinyurl.com/5kk25 columnist Matthew Parris discusses the new law that came into effect in the UK which requires fortune-tellers, clairvoyants, astrologers and mediums to now state explicitly that their services are “for entertainment only.” Mr. Parris observed:
Well, you see the philosophical marsh into which this new principle leads. Is Parliament aware of any harder evidence for the efficacy of faith-healing than for the reliability of clairvoyance? I'd like to hear it. Otherwise, let the collecting boxes in church display a sign "for entertainment purposes only" and let Catholics buy candles to light "for entertainment purposes only"; and let trips to Lourdes be sold "for entertainment purposes only." And let the raiment of the priest administering the Sacrament be embroidered likewise.
A SAD COMMENT ON OUR TIME
Ad currently appearing on the Internet…
SEEKING FAMILIES WITH PARANORMAL ACTIVITY IN THEIR HOME
Yes, and thereby demonstrate to the world your ignorance, naivety, and willingness to be exploited… But it did say there that they “want to help you”…
WAIT – THERE’S MORE!
We knew it. Even a highly successful show eventually has to reach for the “woo-woo” crutch to stay on its feet…
Casting PSYCHICS!!! for NBC's Deal or No Deal
WE RENEW OUR OFFER
From reader Jon Henry:
Apparently some tinfoil hat nutjobs in Santa Fe are trying to get WiFi banned because they are "allergic" to milliwatt-strength signals in the 2.4GHz range. Never mind that this is the same wavelength of a myriad of other devices in common use, or that it's virtually impossible to be anywhere on the surface of the planet (except in a Faraday cage) and NOT be exposed to RF field density probably an order of magnitude greater than the output of a typical WiFi router.
John, I hereby renew the JREF offer to The Tin Hats: We will pay the million-dollar JREF prize to anyone who can show that they are sensitive to WiFi or cordless-phone signals. Simply detecting such a signal by sensory means will suffice – but don’t get overly-enthusiastic by coming up with a scheme for detecting such frequencies by electronic means. We’re way ahead of you, there...
That loud silence you hear is from the super-sensitive Mr. Arthur Firstenberg…
AN ALIEN SIGHTING
“Baxter” – from Rocky Mountain Paranormal writes:
I wanted to bring some stupidity to your attention. A fellow by the name of Jeff Peckman is trying to get Denver City Council to pass a proposal to create a commission that would prepare Denver for space aliens. He got the idea when he saw a video from another local by the name of Stan Romanek: www.stanromanek.com Stan "protects" his video evidence pretty well so no one can debunk it but we have been investigating him for several years now and have seen all of his evidence.
Baxter, Peckman wants Denver to come up with $75,000 for his suggested “Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission,” but I feel that he – as with so many other amateurs who invent these schemes – is missing a very big point here by making an unwarranted assumption. He guesses that extraterrestrials and humans will have certain things in common, that they will be somewhat alike. ETs are likely to be as different from humans as termites are to tube-worms. The giant tube worms, Riftia pachyptila, live at bone-crushing ocean depths, never seeing light from above, in a highly acidic surrounding of sea-water rich in hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and other poisonous – to other life-forms – chemicals. They are as alien a variety of life as we can imagine, yet they share our planet, perhaps happily…
Any assumption that ETs would – in any way – be similar to, compatible with, visible to, or even discernable to, our species, is unfounded. Consider only the variations of atmosphere – gaseous or liquid – in which an ET could survive: pressure, composition, temperature, density, and pH – any variation in any of these qualities, could make communication or even an approach, impossible. This consideration, alone, makes me doubt the wisdom of investing in any way to prepare for an actual encounter with an ET.
I do not for a moment devalue the marvelous SETI – Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – project of Frank Drake. Its aim is to
…explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.
That is an admittedly ambitious aim, but Drake and his colleagues are going about this scientific search in a logical, rational, fashion, and I invite readers to go to www.seti.org to explore their efforts…
ANOTHER “POLICE PSYCHIC”
Reader Chip Taylor in Cabot, Vermont, writes:
Nick Garza was the Middlebury College student who went missing last February. This was a VERY high profile case, and Burlington,VT "medium" Nan O'Brien got a fair amount of PR in the press about her involvement with this case. What I found particularly egregious was comments made by Ms. O'Brien and reported on WPTZ TV and on their web site:
Mr. Garza's body was found May 27th in the Otter Creek not far from campus.
Chip’s e-mail to MiddleburyPD:
While I am sad at the outcome of the Nick Garza case, I do have some questions which I believe you can easily answer. Before I retired I worked for the Vermont Department of Public Safety, and although I was not a "sworn officer" I interacted daily with those who were. Never in all those years was I aware of any so-called "psychic" providing any useful information whatsoever in either criminal or missing persons cases. Yet the press gave much prominence to "clarivoyant medium" Nan O'Brien in this case. My questions:
The reply from the Middlebury Police Department:
Although we met with Ms. O’Brien and she sent us information it was not at the request of the PD. Our understanding is that Ms. Garza made contact with Ms. O’Brien. There is no information provided by Ms. O’Brien which directly aided in the finding of Mr. Garza.
DON YOUR DEERSTALKER CAPS!
I ask our readers to put on their Sherlock Holmes outfits and view the attached video, then prepare 100 words or less on the methods they detect being used by “medium” Keith Charles in this 6-minute excerpt from a program in the UK. Sharp eyes will discover psychologist Chris French in the front row…
Click Link for video, which may take a while to load. CHARLES1.rm
Next week, I’ll give you Charles’ second attempt, in which he cannot see the person he’s supposed to read, nor can he get any feedback from them…
Reader Bill Fahber, in France, did some disappointing research:
If homeopathy is proven to be based on implausible science, shouldn’t legislation be passed that forbids pharmacists from saying it works?
Bill, I suggest we call it “The First Annual Attempted-Suicide-By-Homeopathy Contest.” I think that “suicide” is a better buzz-word, and I’m sure that the media have word-search facilities that zero in on that word, as well as “UFO,” “psychic,” “prophecy,” and “miracle.”
And, this reminds me that I have a still-unfulfilled appointment to meet Jack Meyers in New York City and collect his $1,000 when I down a “fatal” dose of homeopathic sleeping pills. See tinyurl.com/58ywvn. That agreement was made over a year ago! I’m still on for that, but other travels have kept me away from NYC. The next opportunity I have to be in NYC and spend an extra day, I’m all yours to poison, Jack…!
Reader Rob, in Australia, informs us:
An Australian morning show, “9am with David and Kim,” today had in an applied kinesiology practitioner, Fiona Chin, to give a demonstration. This would be offensive enough, but Fiona had the audacity to claim that the practice was “scientific.” She even used the word “metaphysics,” hollow in this context, and gave “vibrations,” as an explanation (excuse?) for the ludicrous activity of pushing down on David's arm while he held a bottle of milk in his other hand. I hope David recovers from his newly-diagnosed lactose intolerance. Perhaps seeing Fiona again will sort out his vibrations! I sent them an e-complaint and will send in the reply if there is one.
A BOOTS SPECIALTY
Reader Tony Kehoe informs us that Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, co-author with Simon Singh – see tinyurl.com/6kxeza – has accused the Boots Pharmacy in the UK – see tinyurl.com/4dcyeo – of becoming the country's largest seller of quack medicines. Ernst criticizes the company for selling alternative medicines, in particular more than fifty homeopathic remedies which have been shown by clinical trials to be no more effective than sugar pills – which is just what they are. Boots has 1,500 stores across the UK, stocks 55 different homeopathic nostrums, 34 of which are sold under their own brand name.
Dr. Ernst accuses Boots of breaching ethical guidelines drawn up by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain by failing to tell customers that its homeopathic medicines (a) contain no active ingredients, and (b) have been shown to be ineffective in clinical trials. Said he:
The population at large trusts Boots more than any other pharmacy, but when you look behind the smokescreen, when it comes to alternative medicines, that trust is not justified. You can buy a lot of rubbish, with covert advertising stating things that are overtly wrong. People are spending their money on stuff that doesn't work. Boots seems to be fast becoming the biggest seller of quack remedies in UK [main] streets… pharmacists should tell their customers that a homeopathic remedy they are about to buy doesn't contain a single molecule of whatever it says on the label, and that there's no clinical evidence that it works beyond a placebo effect… Very few people are aware that the underlying principles of homeopathy are totally scientifically implausible, and even fewer people are aware that the trials show it doesn't do anything.
The market for homeopathic “medicine” in the UK was estimated at £38m [US$75,000,000] in 2007 and is expected to reach £46m [US$90,000,000] by 2012, according to a report from a research firm.
Boots responded to Ernst’s comments, saying:
Homeopathy is recognized by the National Health Services, and many doctors and other health professionals see it as a useful option for medical treatment… In addition, many of our customers also choose to use homeopathy. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain issues guidance to pharmacists on provision of homeopathy and homeopathic preparations to ensure that the sale and supply is appropriate.
The fact that homeopathy is “recognized” means nothing; I recognize psychics as fakes, but that recognition does nothing to encourage them to publicize that fact. And, no amount of “guidance” can serve to endorse astrology or phrenology…
The First Coast Freethought Society, Inc., headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, has as its motto, “To question is the answer." We’ve just heard from Earl Coggins, the President and Founder of FCFS, who tells us that they now have close to $3,000 toward their goal of $4,000 to fund their National Public Radio Corporate Sponsorship Fund. NPR has been a powerful source of sponsorship to them. Of all persons coming to their website seeking more information, nearly 60% heard of them from NPR, far more than any other source. Our SWIFT readers might want to take a moment to drop a check in the mail to P.O. Box 550591, Jacksonville 32255-0591, or click on firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org to contribute online.
I’ve seen a number of objections to my use of the word “monster” to describe the baby at http://tinyurl.com/48bsa7 I think the word was quite properly applied. Webster’s Dictionary gives the #1 usage of the noun “monster” as:
…any animal or human grotesquely deviating from the normal shape, behavior, or character.
The child I mentioned was highly hydrocephalic. It had a huge, bulbous, head – larger than mine – with a tiny body and facial features, tightly-closed eyes, and a distinct forward body curvature. It was obvious that the mother could not have given birth to the baby by normal means; a Caesarian intervention had been necessary, and had been performed. The baby’s fists were perpetually clenched, it screamed constantly except when feeding, bled from the mouth, and kicked violently even when held or carried. I saw no sign of any sort of reaction to external stimuli, nor did I ever see its eyes open.
That child was a monster. I used the appropriate word.
I had discussed the child’s condition with the unfortunate father, and I’d fully witnessed his despair. As for my subsequent retreat from the situation as I described it, I had no evidence whatsoever as to what had actually happened – nor had anyone else. I saw the result – sad as it was – as the best possible outcome, I very much liked the young couple, I wished them only success and a better future, and I chose to make things as easy for them as I could. Since the family was well-known in the neighborhood, I felt that the officials who handled the matter probably had the same information and motives that I had.
I would make that choice again, given the same circumstances.
You can link to an image of another child with this condition, to fully appreciate what I experienced, but I seriously advise you not to do so. The photo is very disturbing, and I hope you'll choose not to opt for this. The photo can be seen: Here <randi.org/images/commentary/200806/hydro.jpg
Some items are just too hilarious to bear comments. Go to tinyurl.com/3enejr. Before June 13th, or you’ll lose out…!