SWIFTJuly 6, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Still Teasing Investors, That Old Farce is Back, More On the South Africa Situation, God Sought After, Marked Cards, A Quack Workshop, In Closing.

 

Reader Jurij Dreo, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, refers to our previous mentions of the Steorn perpetual-motion/free-energy fiasco at randi.org/jr/2006-08/082506yet.html#i1 and randi.org/jr/2006-09/092206bad.html#i6 and brings us up-to-date on the situation:

It seems that the benefits of the physical law-breaking achievements at Steorn (steorn.com) you have already written about twice will need to be postponed for a while, for Steorn is having "technical difficulties" with their "working" model of the free energy device they dubbed "Orbo." Here are current comments:

4th of July, 6pm London Time:

The world (well, at least those of us who feel amused at watching such "car crashes") tuned in to watch a live webcast presentation of Orbo that was set to begin at 6pm in London's Kinetica museum (kinetica-museum.org). Alas, we were disappointed, since at 6pm London Time all was quiet in the land of Steorn. Then a new hope – we might still be able to cancel our monthly gas, oil, and electricity subscriptions for good: the time on Steorn's website was reset to "6pm Eastern Time," which seemed to indicate a US East Coast time zone. Since this time delay translates into midnight for the Central European Timezone, I decided to stick around for a couple more hours to witness this wonder with my own two eyes.

Table of Contents
  1. Still Teasing Investors

  2. That Old Farce Is Back

  3. More On the South Africa Situation

  4. God Sought After

  5. Marked Cards

  6. A Quack Workshop

  7. In Closing



STILL TEASING INVESTORS

Reader Jurij Dreo, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, refers to our previous mentions of the Steorn perpetual-motion/free-energy fiasco at randi.org/jr/2006-08/082506 and randi.org/jr/2006-09/092206 and brings us up-to-date on the situation:

It seems that the benefits of the physical law-breaking achievements at Steorn (steorn.com) you have already written about twice will need to be postponed for a while, for Steorn is having "technical difficulties" with their "working" model of the free energy device they dubbed "Orbo." Here are current comments:

4th of July, 6pm London Time:

The world (well, at least those of us who feel amused at watching such "car crashes") tuned in to watch a live webcast presentation of Orbo that was set to begin at 6pm in London's Kinetica museum (kinetica-museum.org). Alas, we were disappointed, since at 6pm London Time all was quiet in the land of Steorn. Then a new hope – we might still be able to cancel our monthly gas, oil, and electricity subscriptions for good: the time on Steorn's website was reset to "6pm Eastern Time," which seemed to indicate a US East Coast time zone. Since this time delay translates into midnight for the Central European Timezone, I decided to stick around for a couple more hours to witness this wonder with my own two eyes.

4th of July, 6pm US Eastern Time (11pm London Time):

15 minutes past the "deadline," only one of the 4 cameras that were supposed to show Orbo spinning us into a new age, worked. And camera No. 4 just showed the spinning "Eye of London" Ferris wheel (which is right outside the Kinetica museum). This did not satisfy us narrow-minded skeptics, as we wanted to see the real thing, not just a fuzzy dark view of the London Eye! A couple of minutes later the "deadline" for the live demonstration on Steorn's website changed for the second time – this time around the line said: "Due to technical difficulties we will now be live from the 5th July."

A disappointment to say the least.... but a glimmer of a hope for the next day!

5th of July, 2pm London Time:

Steorn's website ever-changing "deadline parser" again displays a brand new message:

"We are experiencing some technical difficulties with the demo unit in London. Our initial assessment indicates that this is probably due to the intense heat from the camera lighting. We have commenced a technical assessment and will provide an update later today. As a consequence, Kinetica will not be open to the public today (5th July). We apologize for this delay and appreciate your patience."

It would appear that Orbo's magnificent powers can only be realized in the absence of "intense heat from camera lights." Whether this refers to psychological stress or physical heat, is yet to be determined. Alas, it seems Orbo will at best only be able to power our cell phones in the coolest of shades – under the desks of the people at Steorn...

Those ferociously powerful lights appear to be simple gallery lights, not anything at all unusual. Or maybe Steorn has been hit by the light of Reason? No, I guess not.

We will of course keep our readers abreast of these exciting developments, and we have to wonder whether Steorn CEO McCarthy will hasten to accept the JREF's generous offer of our one-million-dollar prize to finance this setback... Click here for his latest response: [Comment]





THAT OLD FARCE IS BACK

Reader Dr. Terry Polevoy, at healthwatcher.net, informs us:

The people at Canada's INCAM Research Group are at it again. Now they want someone to research IRIDOLOGY as an assessment tool for the early predisposition of cancer. My guess is that their next project will be the study of tea leaves, palms, and belly button lint as a means to predict which patients will develop an addiction to reading Weekly World News, or who might join the Paris Hilton fan club.

Yes, Canada is a place where anything is possible.

See randi.org/jr/092801.html for an explanation of this weird and totally bogus idea…




MORE ON THE SOUTH AFRICA SITUATION

I will spend somewhat more space and time here on the ongoing state of affairs in South Africa that I have recently referred to, because readers have pointed out to me that (see randi.org/jr/2007-06/062207.html#i4) it’s just as bad as I’d perceived it to be. This needs to be addressed by citizens of S.A., and acted upon.

Reader Martin Delaney, the Founding Director of Project Inform, one of the earliest US (1985) AIDS treatment information and advocacy organizations (website projectinform.org) has battled with the "AIDS/HIV denialists” – and other medical quacks – and is currently part of a group that fights denialism in the US and South Africa. Martin points us to a book written by his friend Dr. Nicoli Nattrass, "Mortal Combat – AIDS Denialism and the Struggle for Antiretrovirals in South Africa." It tells the story of the enormous effort that was required trying to overcome the harm done in South Africa by its president, by its Health Minister, and a collection of Western-based con artists and quacks. That struggle continues today.

Martin offers this, suggested by last week’s item at randi.org/jr/2007-06/062907.html#i6:

I for one would like to express some support for your recent comments about the rationalism of South Africa. You're right on target talking about the HIV issues. I am in daily contact with researchers and activists there and have seen first hand the terrible damage done by Mbeki's HIV denialism and the "seeds and twigs" approach to medicine favored by the Health Minister. A new book chronicles the battles over these issues in the last few years. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is still widespread belief that AIDS can be "cured" by having sex with a virginal child, as well as by a number of bogus remedies that are openly sold and promoted without opposition. South Africa's problem is that despite the end of apartheid, it is still a country of widely disparate populations, some of which are firmly planted in the 21st century and others which are still living in a distant and superstitious past. There is a pervasive political correctness, however, which prevents anyone from challenging even the most primitive and destructive beliefs.

As for teaching evolution, it's true that it's in the school curricula, but it's hardly a measure of rationalism. Much of the educational system simply hasn't reached the point where a debate about creationism vs. evolution could even take place. One of the great problems of this pervasive tolerance of irrationality is that it creates endless opportunities for exploitation by ruthless crooks – usually based in Western countries. Because of such factors as Mbeki's denialism and his Health Minister's garlic cures, South Africa is many years behind where it should be in confronting the AIDS epidemic. It is no mere coincidence that it has the worst spread of AIDS of any significant country, to say nothing about its problems with malaria, TB and half a dozen tropical diseases.

South Africa has made enormous strides in terms of social progress, but it has a very long way to go in matters of rational medicine and health.

Fortunately, there are many world class scientists and health care workers in South Africa who, along with the internationally acclaimed Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), are making heroic contributions in the fight against AIDS. Together, they will overcome these problems, just as the country overcame Apartheid in earlier years.

Martin Delaney’s friend Greg Folkers supplied media write-ups that further express just how pervasive the official acceptance of woo-woo is in South Africa. In summary, one press article asks:

Got a cure for AIDS? Maybe you're convinced that large doses of vitamins can do the trick or that you have found the answer scores of scientists over the last 25 years could not. If you live in South Africa there is little to prevent you from packaging your "wonder product" in an old coke bottle or a fancy pill container, depending on your means, and selling it for whatever price you can get. Pharmacies in Johannesburg's chaotic inner city stack their shelves high with immune boosters, herbal remedies and health tonics. Most items are not explicitly advertised as effective against HIV, but street hawkers outside are less shy about making such claims. They offer products with names like "Life Extension" and "Ozone Rectal Treatment" for prices that equate to a sizeable chunk of the average South African's monthly income. Despite selling untested concoctions that make unproven claims about their effectiveness in treating AIDS, they are rarely disturbed by the authorities.

There’s the problem. As here in the USA, authorities have to be forced into taking action against quackery, or they do nothing, sitting back and relying on “faith-based” forces to sort out the mess. As the report says:

A lack of enforcement of the regulations that cover all medicines, and the delay in adopting new legislation that would focus specifically on complementary medicines, has allowed the growth of a rampant industry in untested remedies for AIDS and other serious illnesses. According to Nathan Geffen of the AIDS lobby group, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the government's reluctance to crack down on the sale of untested remedies is in line with Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's history of endorsing such products. "All of this sends a signal to people that it's open season to sell untested medicines," he said. "There's no enforcement, and even active support of quackery."

In theory, any substance purporting to treat a disease or its symptoms is covered by South Africa's Medicines Control Act and subject to a rigorous registration process that includes providing proof of properly conducted clinical trials.

And, doesn’t this sound just like the situation here in the USA, where we seem to pride ourselves on having such high standards of medical care – and caring? The article continues:

In practice, labeling a medicine "complementary" appears to exempt it from this process: “registration” simply involves submitting a dossier listing the product's contents and the claims for its efficacy to the Medicines Control Council (MCC), the regulatory authority. According to Alan Tomlinson, chairman of the Health Products Association of South Africa (HPA), an umbrella body for the complementary medicines industry, once the dossier has been submitted, a receipt from the MCC is sufficient to begin trading.

The MCC's registrar, Mandisa Hela, denied this, explaining that a dossier had to be evaluated first, but Andy Gray, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Department of Pharmacology, pointed out that none of the 15,000 dossiers for complementary medicines submitted to the MCC since 2004 had received the results of the MCC evaluation. He argued that taking a dossier at face value "makes a mockery of the whole system" and in the absence of historical evidence confirming a complementary medicine's safety, it should go through the same registration process as any other medication. Europe and Australia have taken this approach to complementary medicines, but under the leadership of Tshabalala-Msimang the MCC appears determined to put alternative remedies in a separate category from conventional medicines…

And here’s where the tired old “science-can’t-be-applied-to-our superstitions” ploy is brought into play by South African authorities – though that last word takes on new and unintended meaning, when so applied:

[Health Minister] Tshabalala-Msimang referred to the draft legislation in a 2005 editorial published in The Star, a local newspaper: "We cannot transplant models designed for scientific validation of allopathic [conventional] medicine and apply it to other remedies. There is a need for creativity to come up with relevant and pragmatic models to prove safety, quality and efficacy of complementary, alternative and African traditional medicines."

Total nonsense. Medicines and medical procedures can be definitively tested, using established means. One test is to simply try them; this has been done in South Africa, and the results have been deadly and disastrous. Now the Health Minister of that country is blaming that failure on the methods used to investigate, not on the process itself! If it doesn’t work, throw it out and grow up! Is that philosophy too difficult for a 67-year-old politician to understand? I knew about that when I was only 14 or so!

There’s much more to this frightening discussion, to be seen more completely at plusnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=73039, but I’ll just add this: A recent World Health Organization report noted that if South Africa is to meet its AIDS treatment goals, "It is necessary to address issues related to stigma, the fear of treatment side-effects, and quackery." If this doesn’t convince the world that South Africa needs to get its act together, I don’t know what will. That country is in deep trouble, as I previously commented.

Mr. Delaney also asks us if

…there's anything we can or should be doing to counter the nonsense being spread world-wide by George Noory on the Coast to Coast radio show. Normally I wouldn't care but it's now one of the most widely-heard radio shows in the entire world, and since Noory took it over from Art Bell, it has gotten worse with each passing month. It seems that any idiot claiming any bit of nonsense gets a featured slot on the show, while anyone with real credentials or scientific training is never heard. I really believe the show is doing harm to the American public, encouraging the modestly educated to return to the superstitions of past years. Ghosts, "shadow people," witches spells, Sylvia Browne, creationists, quack therapies, perpetual motion machines, remote viewing – the list is endless and gets repeated and recycled almost every week. Tonight it's some goofy creationist babbling about how the Earth is just a few thousand years old.

Is there any way we can go after this guy? This crap is increasingly making the US the laughing stock of the developed world.

Martin, George Noory is doing very well without having to adopt any scruples, ethics, or responsibility. (George, look up those strange words in the dictionary.) He doesn’t need any of that baggage, which might slow him down. Creationists, Browne, ghost-hunters, all dote on the free run they’ll get because they know that Noory simply doesn’t care for anything but his ratings. Montel Williams, by his own admission, doesn’t believe in psychics, but features them because they bring in the audience, and thus the ratings. There’s no respect held for the listening/viewing audience, because they’re the cannon fodder that’s expendable.

Sometimes I wish that people actually would be called to account for their lies, deceit, and callous indifference after they die. Fat chance…




GOD SOUGHT AFTER

From readers John and Jenelle McKenna, Brisbane, Australia, comes this news flash:

It is our understanding that due to information provided to them by us, SETI (the Queensland branch of the "Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence") has commenced the first elements of a studious search for GOD in the Heavens above the Kameruka Street Miracles Site, in Queensland. (Come on world, give them some dollars to help them do it.)

Interestingly, Portuguese reporters Joaquim Fernandes and Fina d' Armada have claimed that FATIMA was an “alien visitation.” Given that the Pope has ignored us in deference to a power struggle within the political realm of the Vatican, perhaps a significant portion of the Catholic Church therein believes Fernandes and Armada. FATIMA, LOURDES, the KAMERUKA Street Miracles, and us (i.e. the McKenna family) are all linked together. And soon the world will see that link. Will Larry King or Oprah get the first interview? There is nothing alien in GOD'S world.

Sadly, had the Pope overcome the power struggle within the Vatican and agreeably gone with us to Lourdes the whole world would see the "Immaculate Conception" talking to all of us. Not to worry, soon the world will hear the verbal message it has to hear…

Can’t wait…




MARKED CARDS

From the UK, our friend Tony Youens writes:

In November last year, five amateur magicians in the UK decided to create the ultimate signed deck of cards to auction off for charity. The idea was to get together a complete deck of 52 red-backed poker-sized Bicycle playing cards, each one autographed by a magician. About 6000 e-mails later, they now have a full deck… and more. Signatures from across the world include: Penn & Teller, Lance Burton, Jay Sankey, Banachek, Martin Gardner, Ali Bongo, Mac King, Geoffrey Durham, Simon Lovell, Cyril, the Pendragons, Wayne Dobson, Michael Ammar, Nathan Kranzo, Roger Crosthwaite, etc. And James Randi, of course.

But there just weren't enough cards in a single deck, so there are also signed blanks and Jokers – even the “Poker Rules card” was signed!

All those involved owe a huge debt of gratitude to James Randi as well as Rich Ferguson from Official Poker Inc. Both not only signed cards themselves, but also hassled their magical friends to sign for us as well. Rich also sent us a boxed set of his DVDs to give away with the deck! I would also like to make a special mention to the originator of the idea, Graeme Smith, who has put in countless hours of work in order to bring this to fruition.

The auction is due to start on eBay on July 11th and will run for 10 days, finishing on Saturday July 21st. Full details of the whole collection can be found at billymccoy.co.uk EVERY penny raised is going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help provide magical experiences for children with life-threatening illnesses.

Our distinct pleasure, Tony, to assist a good cause…!




A QUACK WORKSHOP

Reader Tim Williams, in Ardrishaig, Scotland, writes:

…I attended a seminar arranged and paid for by my (Government) employer. The seminar was entitled “Lifestyle Management” and was pitched as, “A workshop to introduce you to a variety of options you can choose from which will help you to achieve a better work-life balance and reduce the risk of suffering from stress-related illness.”

The course was presented by a Dr. David Mason Brown of Equilibrium Associates Ltd. (www.in-equilibrium.co.uk). The course began with what appeared to be sensible advice about diet, sleep and exercise but then began to take an alarming (to my mind anyway – no one else was even remotely thrown by this) curveball into auras, chakras and alpha states. Dr. Brown claimed that we all had auras and that he could see them. He said mine was perfectly healthy, which was nice of him… He spoke at some length about a Russian “KosMed” device which, he claimed, is a new specialist MRI scanner which can measure “organic quantum” chemical effects and can “prove” the existence of auras. He also showed us some footage of Tibetan Monks drying wet sheets in sub-zero temperatures by, supposedly, increasing their skin temperature through meditation, plus footage of a Dr. Deepak Chopra talking about the power of positive thought and the need to banish “toxic” elements from one’s life – toxic boss, toxic girlfriend, etc.

Now, I’m not properly versed in many aspects of science and I don’t want to criticise a doctor without good reason but much of this sounds decidedly bogus to me! I wonder if you’ve ever heard of this man or his organization. Am I right to be sceptical?

Tim, let me count the ways… Your employer has, I believe, not looked into this sufficiently. Bear in mind that if this Dr. Brown can – as he says he can – see auras, then he’s eligible for the JREF million dollars, which for his convenience I’ll state is just under £500,000, a sum that he could so easily win! Our friend Dr. Chris French at Goldsmith College is prepared to test Dr. Brown definitively and simply on his claim that he sees human auras, and is eagerly awaiting that opportunity. We so informed Dr. Brown recently, but strangely we’ve not had any interest! We sought him out at the “In Equilibrium” website and sent this invitation:

Please inform Dr. David Mason Brown that this Foundation offers him our long-standing one-million-dollar prize if he can – as he advertises – detect a human aura. The terms are available at randi.org/research/index.html and we have asked that renowned researcher Professor Chris French at Goldsmiths College, University of London, conduct such a test at Dr. Brown’s convenience. We would send this message directly to Dr. Brown, but we see that according to your website, he cannot be contacted via e-mail. We await a response with interest...

And we’re waiting patiently…



IN CLOSING…

Reader Rick Cortes, in Burbank, California, sends us this store sign:

We now have 2,100 books in the overflowing JREF Isaac Asimov Library, and as soon as our faithful, hard-working intern Chris Cochran has it all organized and approved, we’ll be offering – for a modest fee to cover costs only – a complete “.xls” (Excel) file to interested parties, on a CD. That way, you can ask for the loan of any book for research. This is a rich source of data, folks, and we’re happy to have such a facility available for you. This should be ready by August 1st.

On the 18th, I’ll be speaking to the Defense Science Research Council (DSRC) which is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the central research and development organization for the US Department of Defense (DoD), for whom I’ve spoken before. They manage and direct selected basic and applied research and development projects for DoD, and pursue research and technology where risk and payoff are both very high, and where success may provide dramatic advances for traditional military roles and missions – as well as for civilian needs. I’ll be carrying on about various situations where some decisions to investigate and spend federal funds on quite obvious quack notions and frankly metaphysical fantasies, might have been avoided. I expect a fair amount of flak and flying metaphors to be encountered…

And I’ll be speaking for Google at the beginning of August, and NYASK – New York Area Skeptics – in September…