Missed Target, Simon Says...Skepticism, Ogilvie: I'm a Failure, Not a Fraud, Facilitated Ignorance Claims More Victims, Grammatical Note, Krugel Again, Frowning Bob, Alternative Medicine Flunks Exams, LSU Ghost Hunters?, Scientology Seeks Silence, In Closing...

Baby Cryer

Reader Lisa Miller sends us to tinyurl.com/527zct to see an ad for yet another quack device that is being offered for sale, this time by Target Stores. She writes:

Today I came across an item for sale at Target that had me completely frightened for any newborn who might be born to parents either desperate or stupid enough to buy this junk.

Table of Contents
  1. Missed Target - by James Randi

  2. Simon Says...Skepticism - by Phil Plait

  3. Ogilvie: I'm a Failure, Not a Fraud - by James Randi

  4. Facilitated Ignorance Claims More Victims - by James Randi

  5. Grammatical Note - by James Randi

  6. Krugel Again - by James Randi

  7. Frowning Bob - by Jeff Wagg

  8. Alternative Medicine Flunks Exams - by Harriet Hall

  9. LSU Ghost Hunters? - by Alison Smith

  10. Scientology Seeks Silence - by Jeff Wagg

  11. In Closing... by Jeff Wagg

MISSED TARGET by James Randi

Baby Cryer

Reader Lisa Miller sends us to tinyurl.com/527zct to see an ad for yet another quack device that is being offered for sale, this time by Target Stores. She writes:

Today I came across an item for sale at Target that had me completely frightened for any newborn who might be born to parents either desperate or stupid enough to buy this junk.

As I am sure you will see, the idea of parents trusting this machine instead of their instincts could be very dangerous to the child involved. The ad says that this machine picks up and “analyzes” five different reasons the baby is crying. As a parent, I can tell you that there are more that five different reasons a baby cries, and if this so-called technology truly works why then is it so limited?

I am sure your readers can see how a sick child could be in great danger if his parents were to trust this ridiculous junk. In fact, “sick” is not even one of the moods picked up by the device.

The text accompanying this device says that it:

…teaches new parents to distinguish the different types of cries of their baby. Reasons can be summarized into 5 categories: Hungry, Bored, Annoyed, Tired and Stressed.

No, it convinces naïve parents that there are only five reasons a baby cries, that a baby doesn’t cry when ill, and that they are using state-of-the-art science. All wrong, folks. This device is eligible for the JREF million-dollar prize. We await an application.

One welcome feature:

Baby Sound Monitor Accessories Include 4 AA Batteries.

Well, for the fatuous advertised price of $99.99, I should hope so. If it were $100, I think I’d pass it up…


TV is not exactly a bastion of critical thinking. For every show like "Penn & Teller's Bullsh!t", "Mythbusters", and "House", there are a hundred ones like "Medium", "Ghost Hunters", "Paranormal State", "The Ghost Whisperer", and "The Montel Williams Show".

But wait! I sense something. An M, I think. Yes, an M. Does that mean anything to you? How about an S? And...B?

Why, that must mean "The Mentalist", starring Simon Baker!

The show, which premiered just this week on CBS (Tuesday nights at 9:00, www.cbs.com/primetime/the_mentalist/), is a bright spot of skepticism in the darkness of the woo-woo TV landscape. Simon Baker plays Patrick Jane, a police detective who used to make his living as a stage psychic, pretending to be able to talk to the dead. However, a moment of extreme hubris --- imagine, a stage psychic displaying such a thing! -- leads to the death of his wife and daughter. He renounces his fraudulent ways and goes legit.

Several times in the program he shows his disdain for people who claim to have paranormal powers, at one point saying, quite clearly, that there are no such things as psychics. I gave a cheer when I heard that! It's rare indeed to hear something like that from a likable main character. How often are skeptics portrayed as emotionless losers, arrogant jerks, and irritating whiners? Almost always. Baker's portrayal of Jane is a wonderful change.

Besides the skeptical aspects, I actually enjoyed the program. It was well written and well acted, with an engaging cast. But I wonder how long it can last. TV shows about paranormal powers are very popular, with so many viewers gobbling them up. And since Jane's skepticism was borne of tragedy, will they ever have his character come to grips with his guilt, and accept paranormality?

That would be a shame. I can't read the minds of TV executives, nor am I clairvoyant -- too bad, as I could use Randi's million -- but given past history, I fear "The Mentalist" may not have a long run. However, like any good scientist, I hope I'm wrong! It's an excellent show, and I encourage critical thinkers and skeptics to give it a go... and if you like it, write letters to CBS. We could use more shows like it on TV.


In the September 24, 2008 edition of The Scottish Sun, (thescottishsun.co.uk/article1727245.ece) Derek Ogilvie proclaims “I’m a failure, not a fraud.” It appears he’s not happy with the contents of the documentary about him, which reveals the results of the Million Dollar Challenge test we conducted on him many months ago. Derek says regarding the results:

I only failed a test. But if James Randi would allow me, I would be more than willing to do it again.

After all, there’s a million dollars up for grabs.

Derek Ogilvie knows full well that he can repeat the test after 12 months have passed. We will welcome the opportunity to test him again, of course. I predict that he will obtain the same results: just what chance alone would call for…


From reader Joe Henderson we hear of yet another fiasco resulting from the “Facilitated Communication” [FC] – see tinyurl.com/3lv6rp and tinyurl.com/bfpa5 – nonsense that has ruined so many lives. A Michigan couple was accused of raping their daughter just because a "facilitated communicator" said so. It’s difficult to believe, but even after PBS “Frontline” did their definitive exposé of this cherished delusion, it is still fiercely embraced by Dr. Douglas Biklen, dean of Syracuse University’s School of Education. He and a small percentage of academics all over the world are still promoting FC as if it were factual.

In West Bloomfield, Michigan, last December, the Wendrow family became classic victims of this pseudoscientific nonsense. Their 15-year-old severely autistic girl was said to have typed out a statement accusing her father of raping her since she was six, and claiming that her mother knew of the assaults but didn’t do anything to stop them. This girl certainly could not type, or even write, and even though a medical examination clearly showed that she had not been raped, as claimed, prosecutors decided to ignore all that evidence. They arrested the parents, who had no criminal history, but now suddenly faced decades in prison.

Julian Wendrow, the father, spent 80 days in jail without bond. At trial, the prosecution based their case solely on statements the mute child reportedly made while using the widely discredited "facilitated communication," in which messages are typed on a keyboard with the help of an aide called a facilitator – who is the one actually doing the key-pressing. The trial showed clearly that the charges had been farcical from the beginning. The Wendrows saw all those charges dropped, and have now filed a lawsuit alleging 38 counts of wrongful imprisonment, invasion of privacy, violation of their due-process rights, malicious prosecution and other outrages. Similar lawsuits on behalf of the daughter and her 13-year-old brother are expected to be filed. The officials involved in this farce are legion. County Prosecutor David Gorcyca and his chief assistant, Deborah Carley, are named in the suit. Assistant Prosecutor Andrea Dean, along with the West Bloomfield Police Department and the detective who interrogated the couple's son, are included, along with Lt. Carl Fuhs, the police department spokesman, the local school district and several employees, the Oakland County Sheriff's Office and the state Department of Human Services.

The Wendrow family has been torn apart by the nonsense, and may never recover. And it was all due to this stupid quack notion. Although “facilitated communication” has been widely and soundly discredited – internationally! – by major universities and researchers, by the media, and by authorities who research such matters, others have chosen to promote it to bring big bucks into their corporate pockets. Were any of them named in this action…?



Recently, while reading Sam Harris’ latest essay, I was reminded that there are certain phrases and expressions that I avoid when writing or speaking. One was used by Harris when he asked readers to consider how vice-presidential candidate Palin has “spent the past 44 years on earth.” What’s the alternative that’s so strongly suggested – and even – endorsed – by the use of this phrase? That there is an existence off this planet, and not only in a spacecraft or on the Moon. This is a notion that I’m sure Sam Harris does not embrace in his philosophy. (While I’m at it, I’ll once again plug my rather ignored suggestion made at randi.org/jr/120701.html [search for “capital”] about capitalizing the word “Earth” when it refers to our home planet…)

Another common usage I avoid is the word “creature,” since this implies that the animal referred to was “created,” though Webster’s Dictionary gives no such connection. A creature – as something created – would require a creator, and I won’t get involved in having to argue my way around that brouhaha…

KRUGEL AGAIN by James Randi


UK reader Malcolm Dodd reminds us of a SWIFT item – at tinyurl.com/4nr2wh – in which one Danie Krügel was identified as a purveyor of false hope to citizens of South Africa [RSA]. Malcolm writes:

I have just spotted this article: Dubai police reject SA help. There is no mention, of course, that Madeleine McCann is still missing and that Krügel is a scam artist. Note that The RSA Ambassador (and many other Government officials previously) believes that combining DNA and GPS technology in a magic box can locate missing persons (and animals presumably).

This should be the easiest of claims to check. I will send a hair to be used in the test and the witch doctor will tell you where I am. What is his claimed accuracy? Would it hinder his powers if I were to disclose my postcode and I arranged to be there at a given time?



Randi reported back in August (swift-august-29-2008) that Steve Warshak of Berkley Premium Nutraceuticals, makers of Enzyte and creators of spokesperson, “Smilin’ Bob,” had been convicted of fraud. Mark Kernes of the AVN Media Network gives us a more detailed report in this article (www.avn.com/law/articles/32031.html). Not only was Warshak fined $93,000,000 and sentenced to 25 years in prison, he’s had to forfeit $459,000,000 of his company’s profits to the government. Consider that this is a bigger penalty than the leaders of Enron face.

Mark points out some important and unusual elements in this case:

... while the most recent Enzyte commercials have avoided making direct claims regarding the product's effects on the user's penis, the mere fact that the ads implied increased size and/or stamina is enough to trigger legal action.

Wow, if only that were taken to heart by more judges and federal agencies in our country. And how’s this for customer service?

Berkeley Chief Operating Officer Jim Teegarden testified that Warshak required customers to provide notarized documents from a doctor proving that they had small genitals in order to get a refund, according to an article on the Consumerist.com Website. If customers complained, he said, employees were instructed to "make it as difficult as possible" for them to get their money back. In some cases, Teegarden said, Warshak required customers to produce a notarized statement from a doctor certifying Enzyte did not work.

“Doctor, I need you to swear that I have small genitals.” Somehow, I don’t think that request was uttered very often. If consumers were comfortable with talking about such things with their doctors, there’d be far less demand for these pseudo-products.

The JREF has seen many judgments against fraudsters, but the perpetrators are typically fined a mere pittance compared to the amounts of money they’ve raked in over the years. If you can make half a billion dollars selling fake remedies, as Steve Warshak’s company did, what deterrence is even a $15,000,000 fine? This judgement is a breath of fresh air, and hopefully a sign of things to come.


Two recent books have examined alternative medicine, putting it to the test of rigorous science and critical analysis, and they have found that if the emperor is wearing any clothes, it doesn't amount to more than the skimpiest loincloth.

Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine is by R. Barker Bausell, who designs research studies for a living and did acupuncture research at the NIH. After explaining the scientific method, the placebo effect, how we fool ourselves, and how research studies can go wrong, he analyzes the quality of research behind alternative medical claims and concludes that there is no compelling evidence that any alternative treatment is more effective than placebo.

Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine is by Simon Singh, a physicist and journalist, and by Edzard Ernst. Here's the neat thing: Ernst is

  • a medical doctor who has practiced alternative medicine including homeopathy
  • the world's first professor of complementary medicine
  • a scientist whose research group has spent the last 15 years vigorously seeking scientific evidence to decide which alternative treatments work and which don't

Talk about credibility! He wanted to find good evidence for alternative medicine and he couldn't. His conclusions:

  • Homeopathy is a bogus industry that offers patients nothing but a fantasy.
  • Acupuncture "might" be effective but only for some cases of pain and nausea; its underlying concepts are meaningless.
  • Chiropractic is unbelievable, risky, and only as useful as physical therapy for back pain.
  • Some herbal remedies are interesting but more are unproven, disproven and downright dangerous.
  • From aromatherapy to reflexology, alternative treatments fail the test of science.

Critical thinkers will be mightily impressed by these books. True believers will whine ineffectively. Alternative medicine won't go away any time soon.

LSU GHOST HUNTERS? by Alison Smith

Ghost Busters

Louisiana State University (http://www.lsu.edu/) has taken the plunge into paranormal investigation education by adding a leisure course to their catalogue - Ghost Hunting 101: A Scientific Approach to Paranormal Investigating.

I'm going to start with the obvious and chortle at the course title, as grammatically it would mean that one was investigating in a paranormal manner (like investigating the architecture of a house by attempting to walk through the walls) rather than the more obvious term 'paranormal investigaTION' which would describe the type of investigation being done. And of course, we're also stuffing our hands in our mouths to prevent laughter at the word 'scientific' from dribbling out.

In all fairness, the course is a three-day leisure class, and others of similar caliber are offered, such as Fabric Painting. However, at the end of a class on fabric painting, I might have a very interesting new look involving t-shirts and glitter paint, whereas at the end of the Ghost Hunting class I will probably be out five hundred dollars in equipment costs so I can try it at home, and in turn become the owner of a swiftly shrinking sense of self-worth based on my inability to find anything with said equipment.

Not to say that I necessarily disbelieve in ghosts. I have no idea. Casper has never materialized at the foot of my bed, so I can't really say. What I can (and do) say often is that the equipment used for ghost hunting does not work according to its intended purpose, as stated by the paranormal community. A dear friend of mine once said "Ghost hunters use equipment because it gives them numbers. They'd use dice if they looked more interesting."

But, I agree, my assessment might be unfair – I mean, how do I know what equipment they are using? Perhaps they have designed all new equipment based on lab-tested ghosts. The course description does, after all, say, "…you'll study a scientific approach to paranormal investigating using various types of high-tech equipment…"

Luckily the ghost hunting educational program gets press, because otherwise we would be left to wonder forever what on earth that meant.

This article (www.lsureveille.com/1.749896), published by LSU's newspaper The Daily Reveille, gives us a bit more insight.

The ghost hunting course is taught by Brad Duplechein and Jennifer Broussard of Louisiana Spirits (http://www.laspirits.com/), a paranormal investigation group. The photo included in the article (to the right) includes a peek at the type of equipment Duplechein and Broussard include in their instruction, and much of it is highly identifiable.

LSU Equipment

The Handheld IR Thermometer (estimated price: $129) – Used to measure cold spots in haunted locations. In reality, only measures surface temperature, so that if you attempt to measure the temperature of a ghost in a room, you are measuring the temperature of a wall. Or a table. Or a trash bin.

The Trifield Meter (estimated price: $169)– Used to measure the electromagnetic field surrounding a ghost. Assuming ghosts shed electromagnetic fields like snakes shed skin. More likely to measure the presence of a microwave, a television, or a cell phone in the area.

The K-II Meter (estimated price: $50) – Also used to measure electromagnetic fields, but now with a non-specific, un-numbered readout. But with pretty blinking lights. Possible tag-line for K-II: When one false reading just won't do.

The EMF-822A (estimated price: $80) – Also used to measure electromagnetic fields with a nifty digital readout. Possible tag-line for EMF-822A: According to retailers, the only selling point is that it was featured on Ghost Hunters.

And, of course, The CCTV (estimated price: $176) – I can't even describe this one beyond the tag-line. Allowing you to investigate at night for that spooky effect while also relaying video poor enough to mistake a Jack Russell Terrier for the Hound of the Baskervilles.

But it's also possible that Duplechein is aware that this equipment doesn't work, and that he's including it in the course as a demonstration of how not to investigate. Let's take a look at what Duplechein actually said, and try to give the man some credit.

I approach things with scientific approach. I don't claim anything; I just try to prove things.

Score one for the science of ghost hunting. He doesn't claim anything, he's just trying to prove things. Because, let's face it, that's what the scientific method is REALLY about. Forget all that wording about peer review, double blind studies, and unbiased results. Heck, I'm willing to allow this type of investigation into science. Yes, the next time I go to the doctor, instead of asking for tested medical treatments, I'll just ask them to wave an unproven piece of equipment at my body and hope for good results. Riiiiight. Oh wait, that already happens (www.reiki-for-holistic-health.com/chakra-balancing-healing.html).



An “Anonymous” Swift reader has made us aware that our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (http://www.eff.org) have posted the following item of concern (eff.org/massive-takedown-anti-scientology-videos-youtube):

Over a period of twelve hours, between this Thursday night and Friday morning (September 4th and 5th), American Rights Counsel LLC sent out over 4000 DMCA takedown notices to YouTube, all making copyright infringement claims against videos with content critical of the Church of Scientology. Clips included footage of Australian and German news reports about Scientology, A Message to Anonymous/Scientology, and footage from a Clearwater City Commission meeting. Many accounts were suspended by YouTube in response to multiple allegations of copyright infringement.

YouTube users responded with DMCA counter-notices. At this time, many of the suspended channels have been reinstated and many of the videos are back up. Whether or not American Rights Counsel, LLC represents the notoriously litigious Church of Scientology is unclear, but this would not be the first time that the Church of Scientology has used the DMCA to silence Scientology critics. The Church of Scientology DMCA complaints shut down the YouTube channel of critic Mark Bunker in June, 2008. Bunker’s account, XenuTV, was also among the channels shut down in this latest flurry of takedown notices.

The Church of Scientology has never been open to scrutiny, and sadly, YouTube’s policy of shutting down every account that has a complaint only helps the church hide its secrets. Legally, the church is claiming copyright infringement. Do they actually own the copyright? One would assume the TV stations in Germany and Australia would have cleared it. YouTube however, doesn’t research the claim, they just act on it.

The JREF has run into this before, and our approach is: keep posting the videos. If you are certain you hold the copyright for a piece, or that there is none, repost the clip every time it’s taken down. Someone will have to complain each and every time.

A current search of YouTube shows that there are many articles critical of the church to be found, so it seems like this latest salvo has failed. Let’s prepare for the next one.

Admin Edit: The EFF has a follow up to the YouTube takedown:


IN CLOSING... by Jeff Wagg

As we enter October, it dawns on me that the word “October” probably has something to do with the number 8. As this is the 10th month, I ask.. what gives? The Encyclopedia Britanica gives us tthe answer: it was the eighth month in the Roman calendar, and two months have been added to our calendar.

Why am I telling you this? Because I was curious, and I took the time to look up. I wonder if “curious” is an integral part of the definition of skeptic that we’ve been overlooking. We (skeptics) take the time to do research rather than just shrug our shoulders. Now my research was brief and not exhaustive by any means, but how many non-skeptics would have gone even that far? That’s an honest question; I’m not even sure I’m on to anything here.

Things continue to be busy at the JREF. We have some high profile challenges underway, some new ones coming up the pipe, and we’ve begun inviting speakers for TAM 7 (July 9-12, 2009 in Las Vegas). If you add a Google Alert for James Randi, you’ll see just how productive Randi’s been. (I received 141 articles in my last search.)

And keep in mind that time is running out for The Amaz!ng Adventure 4: Chasing El Chupacabra (March 8-15, round trip from Los Angeles) . Full details are found at www.amazingmeeting.com. Escape the March cold and join us on a trip to Mexico!