SWIFT July 13, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Tricks of Their Trade, Shaky Assurance, Appreciation for TAM, Gotta Watch Those Portals, A Strange Request, Steorn Again, And How to Spel, A Real Witch Doctor in London, A Religious Shock, Down-Under Debate, Incomplete Information, Giggle Time, and In Closing…

 

 

NCSEI came upon an excellent article/review by paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman (Pennsylvania State University) in “Reports,” the journal of the National Center for Science Education. I’ll extract one paragraph from that article, which deals with a very slick presentation by a Dr. Oktar Babuna given for the Muslims Student’s Association at Penn State. That lecture was titled, “The Collapse of Darwinism and the Fact of Creation.” It illustrates how clever and duplicitous the creationists can be. After all, reason and evidence are not their friends, so they stoop as low as they can to try putting across their nonsense. This is an example of their tricky attack on a rather high-profile target, and here’s the pertinent paragraph from Ms. Shipman’s article:

Table of Contents
  1. Tricks of Their Trade

  2. Shaky Assurance

  3. Appreciation for TAM

  4. Gotta Watch Those Portals

  5. A Strange Request

  6. Steorn Again

  7. And How to Spel

  8. A Real Witch Doctor in London

  9. A Religious Shock

  10. Down-Under Debate

  11. Incomplete Information

  12. Giggle Time

  13. In Closing…



TRICKS OF THEIR TRADE

I came upon an excellent article/review by paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman (Pennsylvania State University) in “Reports,” the journal of the National Center for Science Education. I’ll extract one paragraph from that article, which deals with a very slick presentation by a Dr. Oktar Babuna given for the Muslims Student’s Association at Penn State. That lecture was titled, “The Collapse of Darwinism and the Fact of Creation.” It illustrates how clever and duplicitous the creationists can be. After all, reason and evidence are not their friends, so they stoop as low as they can to try putting across their nonsense. This is an example of their tricky attack on a rather high-profile target, and here’s the pertinent paragraph from Ms. Shipman’s article:

Babuna also argued that mutations, the second major mechanism proposed by evolutionary theory, were inevitably deleterious and usually resulted in death. Mutations are only harmful, he said: "Sixty years of genetic studies on fruitflies has yet to produce a single advantageous mutation." He also showed a video clip of Richard Dawkins being asked by an interviewer to name a mutation that had been shown to be clearly advantageous. Dawkins thought for some seconds without answering before the clip ended, a bit of clever editing that made this foremost evolutionary biologist look foolish.

I asked Professor Dawkins if he could identify that video clip, so that SWIFT readers might see the “clever editing” used to make a spurious point… Dawkins responded:

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

A full account of the hoax is given by Barry Williams, in the (Australian) Skeptic. It is given in the chapter of A Devil's Chaplain, called “The Information Challenge.” Briefly, the long pause occurred when I tumbled to the fact that the film-makers were creationists, and I had been tricked into allowing them an interview. I was trying to decide how to handle the difficult diplomatic situation. Should I throw them out immediately? Should I answer the question? Should I stop the interview and discuss their dishonesty with them before deciding whether to allow the interview to continue? I eventually took the third option. It later turned out that they used the long pause to make it look as though I was unable to answer the question. At the end of the long pause, they cut to a scene of me talking about something completely different (presumably the answer to another question which was cut), to make it look as though I was evading the question by changing the subject.

In the original film, “From a Frog to a Prince,” the “information content” question is put to me by a MAN. We see him in a bare room, very obviously not the well-furnished room in which I am shown (not) answering the question. The new version on YouTube is different in at least two respects. First, the question is put to me by a WOMAN (we don't see her). And while she is speaking I am obviously not listening to anybody asking questions (I would be looking straight at the questioner if so) but I am clearly lost in thought, the same long train of thought that persists for a long time after the question ends (intended to look embarrassingly long, as if I am incapable of answering the question).

There is another difference. In this new version of the film, I ask them to stop the camera (and this really happened, for the reason given above). Then there is the cut to me answering the completely different question, as if trying to change the subject. In the original film, my request to stop the camera is missing.

You can see the video clips in question at youtube.com/watch. This is yet another example of how ready access to information is revealing the pathetic methods used by those who try to suppress the truth and sway the naïve, whether it involves spoon-bending, perpetual motion, or a misunderstanding of the process of evolution.





SHAKY ASSURANCE

Canadian reader Doug Hannan comments:

The items in your latest commentary regarding the "alternative medicine" nonsense in South Africa reminds me how lucky we are here in British Columbia. We have government watchdogs such as the PCTIA (Private Career Training Institutions Agency), with stated aims such as these:

(a) to provide consumer protection to the students and prospective students of registered institutions;
(b) to establish standards of quality that must be met by accredited institutions;

So when you see the agency's official logo prominently displayed on sites such as this: www.naturalhealthcollege.com you can rest easy in the knowledge that strict standards of quality have been applied by our provincial government and have been met.

Take, for example, the online career guide on the home page. Only those who achieve a 20% (1 out of 5) success rate with these "important questions" will be encouraged to proceed. Having cleared that hurdle you can then enroll in the "Intuitive Practitioner" course here: intuitive practitioner. On completion of this you can pursue their suggested career path: "Metaphysical store, phychic [sic] lines or start your own business." My suggested slogan for said business: "Even tho my college can't spell it, I are one."

As much as it pains me to say, sometimes our "nanny state" simply doesn't nanny enough.

Thank you, Doug. I note that the effusive blurb on the “Natural Health College Course” page tosses about standard woo-woo phrases like “Ying and Yang,” “Meridians & Chi,” the “Five elements theory,” and the “Basic Acupressure point, Pulse reading, and Source points.” Then they describe their “Emotional Clearing Technique,” “Intuitive Training,” “Meditation,” “Muscle Testing,” “Energy Balancing Level 1,” “Reiki Level 1,” and “Reiki Level 2.” The “Muscle Testing” is the old Applied Kinesiology” nonsense, of course; pure quackery.

Yes, it is reassuring to know that the province of British Columbia is protecting its citizens so zealously. Lots of “consumer protection,” “standards of quality,” and insulation from those awful “alternative medicine charlatans,” that’s for sure!

Sheesh!





APPRECIATION FOR TAM5

At chicagoist.com/2007/07/10/interview_peter.php you’ll find a fascinating interview with Peter Sagal, the enthusiastic host of NPR’s show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” An excerpt caught our attention:

Chicagoist: Rather than ask you a bunch of questions about the nuts and bolts of “Wait Wait” – we kinda covered that the last time we spoke – I thought I’d start by asking you how you ended up on Penn Jillette’s old radio show?

Peter Sagal: Oh, wow! That was very cool – in fact, I just listened to that. I was in Las Vegas, and I was invited to speak at something called “The Amazing Meeting.” This is, of course, James Randi, The Amazing Randi, devoted to skeptics, and the topic was “Skeptics in the Media,” and it turns out that I have fans among the leadership there – a wonderful guy, whose name is escaping me right now – but he’s been a fan of the show, he invited me to visit, and then they finally got me an invitation for me to actually be a speaker. And I was flattered! Anyway, I went. It’s hard to find a collection of cooler people.

Other speakers included Christopher Hitchens, Penn and Teller, who are kind of the unofficial sponsors, the guys from South Park were there, the Mythbusters were there – I mean, my god, can you imagine a cooler group of people to hang out with? Plus, John Rennie, the editor of Scientific American was there, some really cool guys from MIT Media Lab, it was great. I love Vegas, but I’ve never been there and had no time to gamble, which is one of the funner things to do.

Matt King was there, who’s a friend of mine, the magician. Life was good. So to answer your question, Penn was – as you know – used to be doing this radio show, and his great problem in doing this radio show was finding the time to do it, amidst everything else he would always be doing. So what he did was they took over James Randi’s hotel room, and he and his co-host just shuttled all the guests from the convention up to the hotel room one after the other, and taped the show, so I got my turn.

C: Well, it strikes me as a little odd having you associated with a bunch of atheists and skeptics. Did they invite you because you share their beliefs, or just because they happened to like you?

PS: I think it’s mostly the latter. There’s a strong overlap between our demographic of the show, and their demographic. So everyone there was delighted to meet me, which was very flattering. But the topic was “skepticism in the media,” and I think I was invited in part because I make my living making fun, in part, of the media. So they thought it’d be nice if I did that for them. So I did. I have to say, it was fairly well received. I took the assignment quite seriously – I wrote a little speech, and it was nice.

Well, Peter’s talk at TAM was one of the highlights for me, as for many others. We’re always so grateful to those who agree to speak for us, as you can imagine. Attracting such folks can be rather intimidating, but we get great cooperation and enthusiasm from them, so it makes the job very satisfying indeed. In 2008, we’ll have both TAM 5.5 and TAM 6, in Fort Lauderdale and Las Vegas, respectively, so this should provide a good opportunity for our fans and friends to attend at least one of these events.





GOTTA WATCH THOSE PORTALS

Grateful reader William Bopp writes:

I wanted to comment about, once again, the George Noory Coast-to-Coast radio show. I was reading your recent commentary and noticed another reader complaining about the nonsense put forth by Noory and Art Bell.

Tonight's C2C program is another winner that I thought you might find interesting. On July 25, George is going to do a show where he "consults" with a Ouija board live on air and well I guess all sorts of spooky things are bound to happen. Nothing new there, but I found it interesting that one of his guests, Richard C. Hoagland, urged him not to do this, not because he believed in the occult but because he is a "physicist" and was afraid that George would open up a "portal" to the dark side and who knows where that portal may show up? I mean, any number of the listeners that night could get lost to the dark side!

There was also a guest named Rosemary something or other talking about "night terrors," shadow people and whatnot. She made sure to say that normal sleep paralysis is different than, umm, when one is haunted by shadow people and vampires and of course, the old hag. I am not exactly sure how to tell the difference but it is definitely a different experience.

One night I heard George Noory make the statement that "there is nothing wrong with being a skeptic as long as you have an open mind." I wonder what it would take to make Mr. Noory change his mind about any of this stuff? Anyway, thank you again: if not for you, Michael Shermer, Dr. Dean Edell and a few teachers and professors I have known, I might still believe in this kind of crapiola, myself.





A STRANGE REQUEST

At randi.org/jr/020405will.html#8 on February 4th, 2005, I referred to the very weird claims of the “BatMax,” a “foil” label that the faithful are told will increase their battery’s life by simply being in contact with it. Yes, you read that correctly…

Recently, I had a call from Alain Aisenberg, CEO of the Florida company that manufactures this product. He urged me to reconsider my previous opinion of the BatMax by running it through a test. I of course agreed to do so, and promptly received a snazzy folder and an envelope containing eight labels – five of them 2.5X4.5cm, three of them 3.2X5cm. That’s to accommodate different sizes of batteries, you see.

The detailed printed instructions – Mr. Aisenberg’s idea of how a proper test of the BatMax should be done – ran for more than 1,480 words, and provided a very cumbersome method of how such a procedure should be carried out. The experimenter is told, for example, to have a “digital chronometer or any other time measurement device” available for “recording the duration of the battery life.” If improvements of a few seconds are considered significant, I doubt that the BatMax will have a place in my life…

In any case, Mr. Aisenberg’s proposed test is hardly sufficient. We are suggesting that two identical phones be obtained, with equivalent fully-charged batteries in place, the only difference being that one phone will have a BatMax “foil” put in place, after which both phones will be set on “standby” and observed until their respective batteries are exhausted. We would suggest that this process be repeated at least seven times, since according to Mr. Aisenberg, “5-7 charging cycles” are required to show the extension of the battery life due to the presence of the BatMax.

Here’s the request: Is there anyone out there among our readers who can and will conduct an appropriate test of this claim? We’ll supply the stickers, of course…





STEORN AGAIN

From reader Paul Christus comes this notice of disclaimer from the Steorn people – see last week’s item at randi.org/jr/2007-07/070607steorn.html#i1. As Paul comments, “They sure give themselves an ‘out’ in the 'fine print' on their website. Wonder why…”

THE MATERIALS ARE PROVIDED "AS IS" WITHOUT ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTY OF ANY KIND INCLUDING WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, NONINFRINGEMENT OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, OR FITNESS FOR ANY PARTICULAR PURPOSE. IN NO EVENT SHALL STEORN, ITS OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, AGENTS OR SUPPLIERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES WHATSOEVER (INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, DAMAGES FOR LOSS OF PROFITS, BUSINESS INTERRUPTION, LOSS OF INFORMATION) ARISING OUT OF THE USE OF OR INABILITY TO USE THE MATERIALS OR IDEAS, EVEN IF STEORN HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES. BECAUSE SOME JURISDICTIONS PROHIBIT THE EXCLUSION OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY FOR CONSEQUENTIAL OR INCIDENTAL DAMAGES, THE ABOVE LIMITATION MAY NOT APPLY TO YOU.

Steorn and its suppliers further do not warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information, text, graphics, links or other items contained within the Materials or Ideas. Steorn may make changes to the Materials or Ideas, or to the products described therein, at any time without notice. Steorn makes no commitment to update the Materials or Ideas.

Thank you, Paul. As we mentioned previously, Steorn ran a full-page ad in the Economist magazine in August last year, asking for scientists to study their “Orbo” wheel, which is supposed to rotate forever. They got either several hundred or several thousand scientists (different news releases had different numbers who applied) and then used a very interesting process of choosing 22 of the applicants to test their claims. Why such a strange number? Were these the only 22 who indicated enough naivety to suit Steorn? And these scientists, Steorn says, will not be publicly named “until the tests are finished,” to “protect their privacy and avoid interrupting their work.” I see.

First, this is certainly not a proper way to test such a claim. You can’t select out certain scientists, and it appears as if that’s what Steorn did. That’s a weird process that could be designated, “Advance data-selection,” and sounds like a system that might become popular in parapsychology…!

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Going to the official website of Steorn, I saw a peculiar-looking wheel – shown in this illustration – which appeared to be the device itself, and I immediately scurried to the JREF library to leaf through a copy of "Perpetual Motion – The History of an Obsession," by Arthur Ord-Hume. Sure enough, on page 72, I found an illustration of the classical "perpetual motion" wheel that inventors for the past 400+ years have been trying to get working. This next illustration of the “Leupold Wheel” is slightly altered to agree more with reality, and not with the theoretical notions that were entertained by those who were sure it would work. The sections in red are those in which the contained ball is poised to change its position in a “quantum” fashion, and the pink area indicates where the contained ball is slowly on its way to taking its next position. Regardless, the entire wheel is in equilibrium, and not producing any energy, and thus no motion.

 

I'm not going to get into all the details of why such wheels don't work. The simple fact is that some of them will rotate for a while after being given a push, but they work just as well even if the theoretically-oscillating balls are not present; nature has a way of not giving away free energy. But what really struck me here was the resemblance of the device shown on the Steorn website, to this classic misconception of an ever-rotating wheel, except that in the Steorn version, the required little balls are not present! Reading further into the description given, I think they’re trying to say that they've tried to replace the perambulating balls with some sort of external surround, perhaps one giving out magnetic pulses or even puffs of air. Who knows? This just doesn’t make any sense.

At the same time, reconsidering this very amateurish engineering farce, it has dawned on me that perhaps the entire Steorn matter is simply an elaborate practical joke – and I mean that quite seriously. I can't imagine that people have really spent so much time and money to produce a device that not only does not work, but cannot work. It's inconceivable that they ever thought it had actually proceeded to the stage where it continued to turn! The simplest experiment would have established that very obvious fact!

Going back a bit, take a look at these next two illustrations!

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In the first, we have 16 balls inside a similar device, using the Steorn configuration in a classic presentation popular in the perpetuum mobile world. The sections colored in red balance those in white, bringing into the calculation the specific position of the balls relative to the center of rotation. Clearly, the inventors believe that a ball provides a push in the required direction as it falls, but they ignore the ball in the diametrically opposite position, which provides exactly the same amount of torque to the wheel in the opposite direction!

Note that the situation is slightly different when different sizes of balls are involved. Where the balls are small, as on the left, the wheel has not turned far enough to allow the ball to shift to the left position, due to the locus of its center of gravity, while on the right with the large balls, the center of gravity has already moved the ball to that left-side position. Regardless, the wheel is in equilibrium, and as soon as it is slowed by friction, it will come to a stop.

I got into all this because of Steorn’s apparent use of this 300-year-old mistake…

We’ll never see the promised demo from Steorn – unless they have an engineer who can fake a performance for them, and that would be very possible, I assure you. From 1964 to 1996, David Jones wrote a wonderful column for New Scientist Magazine, then launched a number of seemingly perpetual-motion machines into museums across the world. These very convincing contraptions all operated on different principles – a hidden means of adding energy to the system – and for all I know, Mr. Jones may now be in Dublin working on a clever means of entertaining and hoaxing the public…





AND ALSO HOW TO SPEL

An enthusiastic press release for a new woo-woo book that arrived at the JREF via junk mail, bears these two opening paragraphs, shown here in the original spelling, with four self-contained howlers:

Phsycic Kids examines the uncanny abililty exceptional children have to predict things from thunderstorms to miscarriages, and other telepathetic, subtle energies.

Through a collection of experiences from real people in Ireland and others around the world this groundbreaking book investigates the phenonomenum of the large number of kids who come into the world bearing inherent gifts, telepathy and amazing predictive abilities.





A REAL WITCH DOCTOR IN LONDON

It’s always amazing to me just how easily trained specialists can allow their woo-woo beliefs to invade and even take over their professional activities. Recently, during a consultation at Westside Contraceptive Services in Westminster, London, a “Family Planning” doctor, Dr. Joyce Pratt, actually prescribed an exorcism to a patient seeking contraceptive advice, an investigating medical tribunal was told. The patient was advised by Pratt that she was “possessed by an evil spirit” and had "something moving inside her."

Considering that the woman was a practicing Muslim, and liable to accept such nonsense – in exactly the way that so many fundamentalist Christians also do, all over the world – this obviously unethical proselytizing effort by Pratt should call for vigorous action by the Fitness to Practice Panel of the General Medical Council in Manchester, who heard and examined the report of this activity.

During an appointment for a routine contraceptive injection, the patient had reported that she was experiencing pain and bleeding. In response, Dr. Pratt told her that she would use her "black magic powers" to help her, and recommended that the patient visit a priest at Westminster Cathedral, who would pray over her and resolve what Pratt perceived as a stomach problem. Pratt then told the patient to drink what she claimed was “Christian holy water” from a bottle in the consultation room, and read to her from a Bible, said prayers over her stomach, and gave her crosses and stones to ward off evil.

The patient had recently been to Asia, and Pratt suggested that perhaps someone there had put “evil spirits” inside her, so they had to be banished by exorcism.

In a written statement, the distressed patient said:

Dr. Pratt told me I shouldn't mention what she had told me, to anyone. She wasn't nasty – I felt that she wanted to save me, and she told me she had the power.

Well, no, ma’m. You have the power, the power to walk away from the quacks – religious or otherwise, self-deluded or malicious – who lie, mislead, and swindle you while waving their credentials about…





A RELIGIOUS SHOCK

In Uganda, police arrested a preacher named Obiri Yeboah for using a stage magic device to dupe people into believing that they have experienced miracles. They found the scammer using the “Electric Touch” device – see yigalmesika.com/electric%20touch.htm – which magicians use to give small electric shocks to volunteers, and seized the apparatus from the luggage of the self-proclaimed "Prophet" at the airport last week. Yeboah heads up one of the many Pentecostal churches in Uganda, advertising to his congregations that he can perform miraculous cures for diseases, or help with financial problems.

Uganda, as many other African nations, has seen a proliferation of "miracle" churches, of which this is only one of many…





DOWN-UNDER DEBATE

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We’ve been asked by the Rationalist Society of Australia to announce this event:

On Thursday August 2, from 7 pm to 9:30 pm, the Rationalist Society of Australia, in conjunction with the Philosophy Department of the University of Melbourne and Creation Research, will present a major public debate: “That the universe was created by an intelligent designer.” It will be held at the Public Lecture Theatre, Old Arts Building, University of Melbourne, under chairman Prof Graham Priest.

Major speakers will be:

For – John Mackay, International Director of Creation Research
Against – Ian Robinson, President of the Rationalist Society of Australia

This debate is free and open to the public. Admission by ticket only. Information on how to obtain tickets will be available shortly from RSA president Ian Robinson at rationalist.com.au. Phone (03) 5997 6576, Fax (03) 5997 6504, and Mobile 0407 24 00 24.





INCOMPLETE INFORMATION

Reader John Boles in Michigan sends us to moebius.psy.ed.ac.uk/~info/ResearchCentres.php3, where we note that this data base, claiming to list “sites maintained by individuals that have useful information or other resources relating to parapsychology,” doesn’t seem to be aware that several of the facilities listed, including the Princeton lab known as PEAR (see randi.org/jr/2007-02/021607failure.html#i9) has closed down. Strangely, they don’t list a great number of organizations such as CSICOP and JREF, nor periodicals such as Skeptical Inquirer or Skeptic Magazine, though “The Archives of Scientists Transcendent Experiences (TASTE)” and the “Journal of Non-Locality and Remote Mental Interactions (JNLRMI)” are featured …! How could that possibly be, we must wonder?





GIGGLE TIME

My friend Jan Willem Nienhuys in the Netherlands provides us with this hilarious excerpt from the site www.katharateam.com, where they explain how they got their weird name:

The word KATHARA (KA-Light, THA-Sound, RA-One) refers to the Core Structure of Morphogenetic Fields, the Holographic Templates of Sound-Light & Scalar Waves that serve as the blueprints on which matter manifests. Other energetic holistic systems utilize various "different" levels of the morphogenetic field, from the Chakras & bio-energetic Auric field, to Meridians & Axiom A & B tonal lines, to facilitate healing, limited only to the level of the blueprints of physical form.

Says Mr. Nienhuys:

And so on. Reams and reams of this. One can take no less than 25 courses in this stuff, a kind of advanced "speaking in tongues." There was a short mention of this in a forum on your site, but nothing to indicate the vastness on nonsense there.

Agreed! But this is one sentence from the site that really got to me. It shows the almost-infinite patience of these enlightened individuals:

The races on this planet are being offered a "Gift" from the Guardian Races of the Melchizedek Cloister Emerald Order, that we have been waiting for over 550,000 years to receive.





IN CLOSING…

We’re now taking Online registration for TAM 5.5 on our website. Go to: TAM 5.5 Registration and prepare to join the giddy crowd here in Fort Lauderdale in January.

The Galapagos Islands cruise is just about filled up, and we’re now having Ecuador lay in an extra set of tortoises to accommodate our needs…