The Derek Ogilvie Test, Fostering Belief, Hole-In-One Chiropractor, Michael Horn Exposed, A Day in the Life, Global Climate Change: An Opinion, Open TAM to the Dead?, Science Saves (More) Lives, A Simple Test of Horoscopes, In Closing...

Randi and Ogilvie

From UK reader Troy Donockley comes this commentary:

Last night, channel 5 in the UK broadcast a documentary about the “Baby Mind Reader” Derek Ogilvy, and I sat down to watch this anticipated “strike for reason” with excitement. A psychic was taking the Million Dollar Challenge! Yippee! It made me want to throw a street party! I was not the only one.

Table of Contents
  1. The Derek Ogilvie Test

  2. Fostering Belief

  3. Hole-In-One Chiropractor

  4. Michael Horn Exposed

  5. A Day in the Life

  6. Global Climate Change: An Opinion

  7. Open TAM to the Dead?

  8. Science Saves (More) Lives

  9. A Simple Test of Horoscopes

  10. In Closing


Randi and Ogilvie

From UK reader Troy Donockley comes this commentary:

Last night, channel 5 in the UK broadcast a documentary about the “Baby Mind Reader” Derek Ogilvy, and I sat down to watch this anticipated “strike for reason” with excitement. A psychic was taking the Million Dollar Challenge! Yippee! It made me want to throw a street party! I was not the only one.

However, I was slightly concerned, as this was part of a series called "Extraordinary People" – a kind of modern freak-show-voyeurist-ratings-puller detailing the lives of people with extreme deformity, autism, rare diseases, etc., but all, nonetheless, genuine conditions with genuine medical, scientific explanations. Where did the deluded and obviously unhinged cold-reader fit into this series, the implication being that Derek was "unique," "extraordinary," and suffering from a physical condition?

Simple. The hopelessly credulous producer/director BELIEVES there is sound science proving there IS a physical source of Dereks psychic ability... After more than three-quarters of the programme showed truly splendid common sense, revealing to the public the techniques used to fool the unwitting, it looked nicely “cut and dried” and there was much rejoicing.

Then for the last 10 minutes or so, all was blown to pieces and we were plunged into darkness: out was wheeled a carefully-selected "scientist" who with verbal subtlety actually confirmed himself to be a believer in psychic phenomena – he was probably found at a UFO seminar. He carried out a brain scan on poor old Derek, who had been doing a lot of crying on camera after being exposed, and needed some good news.

And he certainly got it. This scientist revealed that Derek’s brain patterns showed strange and extraordinary behavior when he was in fairyland with the babies. It was also implied that his phenomenal powers could be trained to become even stronger. Thus, it was confirmed that his powers are REAL. I kid you not! THAT was the conclusion we were left with! That is how the show ended! It didn’t explain that such brain activity is also common in people with schizophrenia, epilepsy or other psychotic episodes. No, no, no…such a splendid force for hope and good that is the JREF should be so sidelined by such partisan tosh, and then tragically kicked out, was quite awful and yet fascinating to watch. Channel 5 is a big station. Such manipulation. Amazing. Anyway, as shown at the end, Derek Ogilvie’s stock is soaring and this programme will no doubt take him to the next "superstar" level. Woe is us. We have a long way to go...

Keep up the wonderful work.

Thank you, Troy. I note that Channel 5 – through their pet scientist in Florida – made the assumption that there actually were some “phenomenal powers” exhibited by Ogilvie, powers that “could be trained to become even stronger,” when no indication of any powers was shown to be present! Up until this time, when Dr. Chris French at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and I, conducted these examinations, Ogilvie had never undergone any proper double-blind tests of his weird claims. All his demos have taken place informally, with wide-eyed parents offering him their children for bizarre “psychic” sessions – none of which can be verified because the children can’t be questioned!

And no, the doctor who discovered the facts about Derek’s mental processes was not “found at a UFO seminar,” as Troy surmised. It appears that while the TV producers were in Florida, a state which is famous for woo-woo and “alternate medicine,” they sought out someone – anyone – who could associate some anomaly with Derek, and they found Dr. Gerald Gluck. Channel 5 introduced him as “one of the USA’s foremost experts” in such matters, a label for which they offered no support. They obtained this authority from the Center for Family Counseling & Biofeedback in Coral Springs, Florida, which sounds as if it invented the notion under which Derek Ogilvie operates. Among Dr. Gluck’s credentials and specialties, it is mentioned that he’s a graduate of the Brennan Healing School of Healing, he’s a Healing Science Practitioner, and an “Energy Healer.” An ideal candidate for finding evidence where there is none, I’d say.

As expected, though he’d approved in every way the protocol, the personnel, the surroundings, and the attitudes of everyone concerned, and had taken days to select his subjects from a pool of ten made available to him, Derek Ogilvie – once back in the UK, and trying to help Channel 5 find an alibi for his blatant failure, announced:

These tests were designed for me to fail!

That, of course, prepared me for the letdown that so many SWIFT readers warned me about. No, Derek, you approved the protocol, 100%, in advance. It was designed and carried out carefully, and you would only fail if you did not have the powers you claimed. True, the sample size was small, but we are prepared to re-test your claims, as many times as you wish to do so. See the closing statement of this SWIFT entry…

But, in all fairness, we have to understand Channel 5’s position in this matter. They invested in an expensive project. Derek Ogilvie was a prominent figure in UK TV, and was an appropriate subject for their program, “Extraordinary People,” since – so far as they could tell – he actually had an ability to establish telepathic contact with children, and he already had a considerable following among parents who were accepting woo-woo claims of this nature. Thus, he was a perfect candidate for the JREF prize, and should be eligible to have his claims properly, scientifically, fairly, examined, both by me and by a properly-academic authority such as Dr. Chris French. And that last supposition was perfectly true; the JREF accepted immediately, as soon as Derek’s application was received. Then, after he had floundered spectacularly in both the Goldsmith’s College and the JREF tests, obtaining exactly chance results in both, Channel 5 was faced with trying to rationalize and account for their costly trip to the USA; they desperately needed some flotation when they found themselves adrift. They found it with Dr. Gluck, who – for all we know – might have already been contacted by Ogilvie himself.

After preparing an assortment of EEG readings obtained from his examination of the “psychic,” and running on with assorted technical phrases, Dr. Gluck seems to even have confused Ogilvie himself, who asked him, “Does that mean I’m telepathic?” Answered Dr. Gluck:

That’s not a scientific label. It means that you’re using sensory perception that is trance-like, that’s emotionally dominant, you’re receptive, and you’re receiving information of some kind.

We can understand Ogilvie’s confusion… No, that is a “scientific label,” and how this “foremost expert” could detect that whatever the subject was “receiving” was trance-like,” I cannot fathom…

In addition to finding and quoting this academic sycophant, Channel 5 stated that Ogilvie was

…the first professional psychic, ever, to take James Randi’s one-million-dollar challenge.

and they referred to me as

James Randi… the man all psychics have so far avoided.

They also said, of the prize money, that I was placing

…one million of [my] own money at stake.


These three designations are not true, of course. Hundreds have been tested by me, both for the million dollars, and for the previous $10,000 prize I personally offered for years, and Channel 5 was fully aware of the TV series I did for Granada Television, in which a score of “psychics” – all of them – went down to defeat rather dramatically in the UK. It’s also very clear, from our website, where the prize originated.

But, Ogilvie has indicated his desire to be tested again, and the JREF – and, I’m sure, Dr. French – are waiting with bated breath, to be proven callous and unkind, once more…


Church Sign

I attended a popular paranormal conference recently. One of the things that caught my attention was the constant reinforcement that various phenomena being discussed were absolutely real. When someone offered an experience, the group would nod and comment on how they knew it was true. “I believe you, now you believe me.” In several hours of conversation, I never heard anyone question what anyone else said, at least while in his or her presence.

This reminded me of many churches I’ve attended, where the preacher, priest or lay person would encourage the assembled to believe what they were being told. “Have faith.. faith will save you, don’t let doubt creep in…” Contrast this with TAM or any other skeptical conference. We try to follow the old writer’s admonition of “show, don’t tell.” Give the evidence and let it speak for itself.

Could it be that this constant reinforcement of belief is like a dike holding back the ever-encroaching waters of doubt inherent to our species? Just food for thought: If you’re being told to believe something, question why the evidence isn’t sufficient to foster its own belief. I’d be curious to know what the answer was.


Chiropractor Ryan Alter of Delray Beach, Florida, was featured on TV as a miracle worker who cures migraines and other health problems with “a cutting edge technique” only offered by 250 practitioners around the world: Atlas orthogonal. You can see the video clips at

His machine looks like a drill press. It holds a little rod in a precise location at a precise angle, and it produces a tiny quick tap to the side of the neck. Patients comment, “He barely even touches my neck” and “You feel absolutely nothing.” That should be a clue.

He takes x-rays before and after. He draws lines and calculates precisely where to apply the tap so as to adjust the top bone of the spine, the Atlas, by half a degree or so. Afterwards, he draws lines so that the x-ray looks better. That’s not hard to do.

This is hardly a “cutting edge” procedure. It was invented by a chiropractor named Roy Sweat several decades ago. There is no published evidence to show that this procedure actually moves the Atlas vertebra or that it does any of the other things they claim.

Atlas orthogonal, NUCCA, and other upper cervical chiropractic techniques are reincarnations of Palmer’s discarded “hole-in-one” technique. He fancied that if you fixed the top vertebra, the rest of the spine would magically fall into alignment, allowing all ailments to heal.

Not even chiropractors believe that! That’s why there are so few upper cervical practitioners. I found these opinions on a chiropractors’ online forum:

“NUCCA is extremely flawed biomechanically and can't be taken seriously.”

“atlas orthogonal therapy was made up in the figment of roy sweat's imagination, based on NOTHING, did you hear me, NOTHING.”

I heard you.

If you think this is silly, read about the “No-Touch Chiropractor” at



Michael Horn is the spokesperson for Billy Meier, a man who claims to have been frequently visited by aliens from the Pleiades. Horn’s webpage is, and while I’m loath to drive traffic there, the site speaks for itself. I’ve had some uninvited encounters with Horn, and he’s used my words out of context to attack the work of other skeptics., especially Derek Bartholomaus of the Independent Investigations Group ( That said, he respected my wish and stopped contacting me, for which I’m grateful.

Derek has been critical of Horn and Meier, and has done research into photos of “alien craft” on the site, including some that look like a flying wedding cake. Recently, Horn accused Derek of giving false information about a scientist’s testimony, and included these words: “I'm going to reveal and skewer your incompetence.” The problem with Horn’s argument is that the data came from Horn’s own site. When confronted with this, Horn admitted that his site had false information.

I invite you all to take a look at, and see how far people like Horn will go to spin words to replace reality with a tapestry of their own choosing. Derek and the other folks have done an incredible job in researching the Billy Meier phenomenon, and that alone is worth your time to explore. The photo, by the way, is one of the IIG’s reproductions. I challenge you to distinguish it from the “genuine” article found on Horn’s site.

A DAY IN THE LIFE by Sean McCabe

A lot of people who see me assisting-it-up with Randi want to know what it's like to work with The Amazing himself on a daily basis. So after much solemn reflection, here it is, the definitive blow by blow of a day in the life of Sean McCabe: Personal Assistant.

9:00 am: At work bright and early, I fetch Randi his morning coffee and listen intently as he explains the miracles of science as revealed by Splenda sweetener.

9:15 am: Steal away to the storeroom, where I surreptitiously measure my height to make sure I'm still ever so slightly shorter than Randi. I then file a few millimeters off the bottom of my shoes accordingly.

11:00 am: Take call from a very confused Indian gentleman who is trying to get a hold of some homeopathic remedies and believes that the JREF is the place to buy them from. I fill him in on some homeopathy basics and he decides that perhaps he doesn't want homeopathic remedies so badly after all.

12:00 pm Randi takes me to lunch at Denny's around the corner. They love him there! That must be the most skeptical wait staff at any Denny's in North America.

2:00 pm: Assist Randi as he takes apart a strange remote control looking gadget, with a large antenna. Its creator claims that it can be used to find gold and all sorts of other things. Randi deftly removes the "not for customer removal" panel on the back and shows me the loose screws and wires of quack-gadgetry.

3:45 pm: A couple of walk-in skeptics are at the door. Randi takes a generous portion of his time, as he always does, to talk skepticism and dazzle them with his expert conjuring.

4:30 pm: On phone with producers of The Morning Show on Fox, who want to have Randi on to give the skeptical perspective on the latest "moth in lens" ghost hysteria.

4:55 pm: Just when I'm about to leave for the day, Randi decides that we are going to make a ghost video for him to use as an example on the Morning Show the next day. He tells me to go find a wire coat hanger, and then sends me outside to spray paint it black. Rich (our media specialist) fusses around with lighting and focusing while Randi swirls a paper towel moth in front of the camera.

5:30 pm: As I pull away from the JREF I reflect on how lucky I am to have this job. Everything is once again right with the world, but I know tomorrow brings a new challenge; and even though credulity and woo lurk just around every corner, we have nothing to fear as long as there are people like Randi around with ever vigilant personal assistants at their sides.


Recently in Swift, I quoted Tim Farley, who referred to those who don’t believe that humans are a significant factor in global climate change as “Global Warming Deniers.” ( These were Tim’s words, and I failed to make it clear that they did not express my opinion in the matter. They DO express a widely held view among the skeptical community that anyone denying the evidence for global warming is wrong. There is an equally vocal minority opinion that this is just a manifestation of the often-hyperbolic environmentalist movement.

Global warming or global climate change as it is better known is one of those subjects that sets skeptics at each other's throats. It’s a complex issue, and one that I feel there is room for a lot of debate on. Why then are people so adamant in their position? I honestly don’t know.

I am not a climatologist, and don’t pretend to understand the chaotic science behind weather patterns. I can read, however, and I believe it’s clear that the current scientific consensus is that global climate change appears to be happening at an increased rate. That increase seems to be due to human activity. Is that the end of it? No. People should be poking holes at this interpretation of the data. It is our job to question these findings, especially with something so complex that the data we’re gathering may be insufficient to give us an accurate picture. A consensus is simply that: a general and hopefully not coerced agreement among people who study a certain subject. It is to be respected, but not taken as “gospel truth.”

And that’s my opinion. I don’t have anything stronger to say about it, and I have no stake in it. But I feel it is important to add: the Earth’s climate has changed drastically over time. I’m pretty sure it will happen again, sooner or later. I suggest that we keep studying the climate, and if the data show that sea levels are likely to rise or temperatures are likely to increase greatly, we stop arguing about who or what is to blame and prepare for it. And that doesn’t mean switching from a Land Rover (like mine) to a Prius, it means building sea walls, it means preparing evacuation plans, and increasing our readiness and flexibility. And we’d all do better to remove a bit of emotion from the debate, and instead focus on finding the truth rather than bolsters for our opinions.



The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 isn’t until next summer, but at the JREF we’re deep in planning mode. We are contacting speakers, and though we have a very nice list of folks to choose from, we could always use a bigger one. How to enlarge the pool? Well, we could stop discriminating against those of use who have shuffled off this mortal coil. If we could open TAM speaking slots to the dead, which... some would have us believe is possible, a few obvious names jump to the fore: Sagan, Asimov, Clarke, Allen, Andrus…. And I could go on for quite awhile. But in perusing my modest library recently, I came across a small volume whose author would have been most welcome on our stage: The Devils’ Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. For those unfamiliar with Bierce (whose photo is to the right), he was a turn of the 20th century writer, often compared to Mark Twain for wit and sensibility. Our own founder has quoted him in Swift often. His seminal work, The Devil’s Dictionary, is a lexicon of common words and their true meanings. For example, we have:

Prophecy, n. The art and practice of selling one’s credibility for future delivery.

And also

Homœpathist, n. The humorist of the medical profession.


Material, adj. Having an actual existence, as distinguished from an imaginary one. Important.

Even though these words are over 100 years old, they’re still a breath of fresh air.

Now, I have never seen any convincing evidence of an ability to speak with the dead, much less have them appear at TAM. However, we do have a technology well known to science that will allow Bierce to join us beyond the restrictions of time and space. We have… The Internet. A single click to will bring us the entire contents of Bierce’s glossary to peruse at our leisure.

As for TAM, Mr. Bierce, your presence is requested. May we count on you?


Some happy news from the University of Virginia can be found at Scientist John H. Bushweller, Ph.D. and his team have discovered new understanding of how a particular protein works in cell membranes. This may allow for an entirely new class of antibiotics that can help win the war against drug-resistant strains that are becoming increasingly problematic in hospitals worldwide.

While the content is rather technical, it represents something that we need to celebrate more: the fact that science actually works. Scientists go to work each day and improve human existence. Stories like this may cause many people’s eyes to glaze over, but the news they represent may one day keep them alive. It would be nice if the media paid more attention to that fact.


A simple test: review the results of five popular horoscope sites, and see how they compare. After all, they’re all looking at the same “data,” so the conclusions should be similar. The readings are for Sagittarius, October 2nd 2008. You be the judge:


This isn't the best time to hit the party scene or meet lots of new people. Your usual, fairly ebullient personality is somewhat subdued for now thanks to some off interference from outside energy.


Relationship elevator going up. Today you'll want to spend more time with someone you find special. That's because today the stage is set for your relationships to improve and mature. If possible, try planning something unique with that someone special. And don't let outside influences interrupt your time together.


Although your friends may think that you are giving it your all, you know better. You gain power today when you hold some of your energy in reserve. Instead of trying to get everything out into the open, take it slowly. Saving parts of your story for later can intensify your delivery and make your case even more convincing..


Today you shouldn't be shy about taking credit for something you did. If you are worried that someone else will get jealous of you, don't. How they react to your adulation is their issue, and it's nothing you should take responsibility for. You should never turn down praise unless it's undeserved -- and the praise you'll get today is decidedly well deserved. If someone has a problem with that, they need to bring it up with the people heaping all the accolades your way -- not with you.


No matter how much you may want to hold on to something that belongs to the past you know it's not a good move, so be brave and consign it to the dustbin of history. The old always gives way to the new eventually, so move with the times.

Those were the first five I came across. I only see one pattern: the advice given in each reading would apply regardless of person or day. If my birth date is influencing these thing in some way, the pattern eludes me.

IN CLOSING by Jeff Wagg

Starting October 10th, Swift will be drastically changing format. We’ll be using more of a blog-style presentation, with more frequent updates and more guest speakers. Randi will still be here to enlighten us with his wisdom, but he’ll be joined by other leaders in skepticism and science. Stay tuned for the new Swift… we think you’ll like it.

Randi is travelling again, first to California and then on October 10th to New York City where the New York City Skeptics will host him in a free lecture at Rockefeller University. More information is available at The New York City Skeptics is a fairly new group, and they’re going gangbusters. If you’re thinking of starting a local organization, they’re a fine example of how to do it right.

I mentioned in the piece on antibiotics how we need to celebrate science as well as point out pseudoscience. In that vein, I’d like to give a shout out to Science Daily. If you’re ever feeling like we’re losing the battle, a visit to might brighten your day a bit. It’s a chronicle of the progress science is making every day, and shows that despite what the mainstream media might portray, there are a lot of talented and dedicated people working to expand human knowledge. Just don’t pay too much attention to the Google ads; the contrast they offer shines a brighter light on why science is important.