SWIFT July 20, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

To Debate or not to Debate, Passing the Test, Perpetual Emotion, Notice!, An Adventure in Falling, Geller in the News, News Update, Excorcism Excercise & Exhortation Experts, and in Closing...

 

Reader Joe Wilkins comments on the wisdom of debating those who might be more experienced in that tricky procedure…

The essence of the argument is this: debating is a sport in which representatives of opposing viewpoints perform in front of judges and an audience in order to determine who has better defended their position. In the intercollegiate sport of debating, a particular team might be "pro" on one occasion and "con" on another and be able to win the argument in either case simply through their superior debating skills. Science, on the other hand, is a system of testing hypotheses in order to gain some predictive knowledge of the physical world.

The ability to debate in a public forum has absolutely nothing to do with science – just as creationism and intelligent design have nothing to do with science. So, entering into a public debate on a scientific topic with a non-scientist is a little like is like determining political policy through individual combat or deciding whether Newton's laws of physics have any validity through the medium of arm wrestling.

Table of Contents
  1. To Debate or Not to Debate

  2. Passing the Test

  3. Perpetual Emotion

  4. Notice!

  5. An Adventure in Falling

  6. News Update

  7. Exorcism Exercise & Exhortation Experts

  8. In Closing



TO DEBATE OR NOT TO DEBATE

Reader Joe Wilkins comments on the wisdom of debating those who might be more experienced in that tricky procedure…

Once again, let me say I love your website and your commentaries. I understand your support for the Australian Rationalists in posting the info regarding their upcoming debate with a creationist representative, but after listening to an interview on Freethought Radio libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=204299# with Lori Lipman Brown, the only full-time secular lobbyist in Washington, I wonder if this kind of debate is a good idea. Her official stance on the subject is that scientists and rationalists should not debate creationists. This may seem counterintuitive, but she presents a pretty compelling argument for why this is so.

The essence of the argument is this: debating is a sport in which representatives of opposing viewpoints perform in front of judges and an audience in order to determine who has better defended their position. In the intercollegiate sport of debating, a particular team might be "pro" on one occasion and "con" on another and be able to win the argument in either case simply through their superior debating skills. Science, on the other hand, is a system of testing hypotheses in order to gain some predictive knowledge of the physical world.

The ability to debate in a public forum has absolutely nothing to do with science – just as creationism and intelligent design have nothing to do with science. So, entering into a public debate on a scientific topic with a non-scientist is a little like is like determining political policy through individual combat or deciding whether Newton's laws of physics have any validity through the medium of arm wrestling.

Perhaps, Joe, so I suggest that those who do not have appropriate skill in debating, should stay out of that arena. No one forces them to enter the Coliseum…





PASSING THE TEST

Reader John Armstrong answers a survey:

I was quite interested in the bit on Natural Health College (July 13th SWIFT) so I followed the link to their web page to take their survey to see if I should consider enrolling. Before beginning the survey, I noted that NHC suggests that the “education” they offer will prepare you “to work in the best Spas, Health Centres, Fitness Centres, Beauty Salons and Cruise Ships in the World.” Aside from the typical Gratuitous Capitalization, the pages were filled with a number of grammatical miscues; nothing egregious, but amusing nevertheless. The payoff came from the survey itself, which I answered truthfully:

Do you like helping people? – Yes

Do you believe in Alternative Healing? – No

Do you want to be a professional and achieve a Certificate or Diploma – No

Do you want to either be able to work in the highest quality Spas, Health Centers, Fitness Centers, Beauty Salons and Cruise Ships in the World, or do you want to start a successful business in Natural Health? – No (there was no option for “Hell No”)

Are you willing to dedicate time to furthering your education? – Yes

After clicking the “continue” link, I was greeted with:

Congratulations! You answered 2/5 to the questions just asked! Most Natural Health Practitioners only need one driving reason to be passionate about their work. Please continue by going to the next page to read more.

So even though I don’t believe in what they teach or have an interest in obtaining a degree from them or have any desire to take part in the potential professional outcomes of a NHC education – in spite of all of this – I somehow still have what it takes to be a Natural Health Practitioner!

Not to worry, John. You can surely learn another trade, like shoplifting, forgery, or income-tax evasion. There are just so many possibilities for an ambitious guy…





PERPETUAL EMOTION

Our good friend Donald Simanek writes re last week’s item at randi.org/jr/2007-07/071307tricks.html#i6:

I just read your comments using the Leupold wheel as an example. My web site has a partial history of perpetual motion, titled "Perpetual Futility" at tinyurl.com/gx645, and, of course Leupold is featured. He didn't invent that wheel, and he didn't believe it would work. For your convenience I excerpt that section from my web page [below]. It includes a translation from Leupold's book, perhaps the only translation into English available on the www, done by Hans-Peter Gramatke and myself last June. Leupold is forthright about the futility of this wheel, and about the ineptitude of the perpetual motion inventors he knew.

In his diagram, note the dotted lines of his lever arm analysis of torques. Of course, vectors and torques had not been invented then, but the method is equivalent, and is the same method Leonardo da Vinci used in his own analysis of overbalanced wheels, as shown in his notebooks. Leonardo reached the same conclusion – they won't work.

Many perpetual motion machines carry names of people who didn't invent them, and didn't even believe in them, simply because they were the first to analyze and discuss them, usually negatively.

From Donald’s book:

Jacob Leupold (1674 –1727): Jacob Leupold's interests and talents focused on "mechanical things." He was a maker of instruments for experimental physics, a scientist, mathematician, educator and economist. His very popular and influential book, Theatrum Machinarum Generale (Leipsic, 1724) was a collection of mechanisms and machines of many kinds, and has been called the first systematic analysis of mechanical engineering. It included a design for a high pressure non-condensing steam engine, much like those built nearly a century later. As with most book collections of mechanisms, he analyzed a common perpetual motion wheel, unfortunately known today as "Leupold's wheel" though Leupold didn't invent it, and was very clear in declaring that it wouldn't work, based on careful analysis.

Excerpt from: Theatrum Machinarum Generale, Leipsic, 1724. p. 31-33.

The Perpetuum Mobile, or the machine that runs without external power without stopping, as long as material lasts and nothing breaks, moving itself, is so well known by name today that even the minor craftsmen, even bootmakers and tailors, not only talk about it, but fancy they could make such a thing if they only had money and time. As this is something that many have searched for with great desire, time, effort, and cost, then surely it is perpetuum mobile.

And this desire is, even today, so deeply anchored in so many that they would rather let themselves be beaten to death than confess that they failed.

On this same item, reader Ted Vriezen sends us this fascinating quotation from Leonardo da Vinci:

O speculators about perpetual motion, how many vain chimeras have you created in the like quest? Go and take your place with the seekers after gold.

Says Ted

Leonardo makes it clear that he didn't believe in perpetual motion, but he sketched different forms of perpetually rotating wheels to illustrate his arguments.

Ted also sends us to www.grand-illusions.com/acatalog/info_81.html, where we find the interesting toy shown in this illustration. Comments Ted:

This design uses off-centre weights or masses. The idea is that the weights are further from the centre on one side of the wheel, and therefore cause it to turn. In fact the reason the wheel turns is quite different, and nothing to do with perpetual motion. This educational kit was developed by Middlesex University in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was designed to accompany the exhibition: Leonardo da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design.

The toy uses two quite different principles of operation, cleverly combined. The balls-in-wheel setup does nothing to contribute to the motion, but the entire wheel is actually rolling down an incline, right-to-left, due to the tapered axle and the converging upper edges of the track… It goes for $40 – a good price!

Then Donald continues, on yet another subject:

To my surprise there was a newspaper piece about you [Randi] in this weekend's "Lock Haven Express," way out here in the boondocks of Pennsylvania. Remember that 2-pound British coin you showed me? [see www.randi.org/jr/04-04-2000.html] Here's a 2007 update from Darren Dowling in England:

I like to make my students question things and we were discussing gears the other day while learning about loci in a GCSE class. I pointed out the “error” on the two-pound coin and the students asked why they did it and why they didn't check first. So I emailed the Royal Mint and received this response:

Dear Mr Dowling: Thank you for your recent enquiry respecting the “technology” design on the reverse of the two-pound coin. The idea behind the design is to represent the development of technology through the ages but it is not directed at doing this in a literal way. The artist wanted to convey this theme symbolically and so the number of cogs in one of the rings of the design was not a key consideration in his mind.

Your observation is correct and you are not the first person to notice that the number of cogs means the gearing would not strictly speaking work in reality. We would, however, wish to emphasize that this is a coin design symbolic of the development of technology and its success lies in visually representing a complex idea in an interesting and succinct fashion.

Best Regards, Evelyn Thomas

A nice answer but one that I would call "arty farty wiffle waffle" (actually I would use other words but that is a more polite version). Would it not have been nice to represent the development of technology by applying some basic physics and engineering and seeing if the damn thing worked first? I am pretty sure that is how we managed such a technological revolution. Interesting and succinct ideas stand for little in physics if they clearly incorrect.

I’d say that this is an insufficient answer, and the term, “strictly speaking” is redundant. The cogged-wheel system would not work at all





NOTICE!

I know that you readers can’t keep up with all of the news, but it should not have escaped your attention that at firethegrid.com/ the End of the World, or some sort of “surge of creation energy,” which sounds fatal, to me, was announced. That occurred on July 17, 2007 at 11:11 Greenwich Mean time. If any of you noticed stars disappearing or graves opening, please let me know, so that SWIFT can be updated…





AN ADVENTURE IN FALLING

Reader Shannon Woods sends us this adventure:

I came upon your work, initially, because a friend's paranormalist rantings led me to random Google searches for skepticism and rationalism. I wanted some citable material to prove him wrong. It was "The Faith Healers" that hooked me.

You see, as a child, I was taken by state-appointed guardians – people trusted by the government to raise me well – to a revival by none other than one Ernest Angely. I don't, at this point in my life, lay blame upon my guardians. They were good people, and they did not tell me that I must believe. They were simply misled.

My foster-mother honestly believed. She would kneel weekly before the television and place her hands against the screen to receive Angely's pre-recorded prayer power. I do not know whether she sent him any money. It seems alien to me now, seventeen years later, that anyone could believe something like that, but I can say for her, at least, that she didn't try to enforce her beliefs upon me. That's more than I can say for some of the other foster parents I endured.

Sometime in 1992, I believe, we made the trek to Baltimore to see Angely's revival at the convention center. At the time, just being in a big city was enough of a life-impacting event for me; I was nine, and all the bustle and business around me was almost a miracle by itself.

After the pre-arranged cases, the people in wheelchairs and on crutches, and the sufferers of innumerable internal cancers, had gone before Angely for personal interaction and "healing," he called a for a general rush to the altar. I don't know whether they turned anyone back before they reached the dais, but I went up with my foster-brother, not having to be encouraged much because, at my young age, I loved to be part of demonstrations, and I waited for Angely to make his way down the line toward me.

I was most definitely, at that time, a believer in Christ, a belief which I have since discarded. I was a credulous young child. But I was also a little girl who wanted to grow up to be a scientist, and I had embraced the concepts of skepticism and doubt when they'd been presented. Jesus, I thought, could heal me, but I doubted he would manifest himself through a sweaty preacher with a bad hairdo in a convention center – no matter how whizz-bang and big the surrounding city was. And, aside from that, I thought he was unlikely to heal me before the hundreds of thousands of people in the world who had worse conditions than mine. I determined to myself, on the way up to the stage, that I would not fall down as all the people before me had. I would let Ernest Angely touch me on the forehead, but I would not fall down. It was important to me.

I did have a medical problem in need of healing, an intestinal disorder which has since been healed by – surprise – modern medicine, and so I was prodded forth by my foster-mother. My foster-brother accompanied me, though I can't remember what he wanted to be healed of.

We stood in the line and watched Angely work his way toward us. I remember sweating under the stage lights as I waited, and I remember locking my knees as he neared, thinking that would help me to stand upright under the touch that was felling grown men before me in line.

And then he touched my forehead, and I toppled over.

The way I remember feeling it, I had almost no control over my legs. It was like they folded, unbidden, underneath me. But even then – even in that moment, and even as a pseudo-religious child – I started asking myself how he did it. I've been asking myself for seventeen years, because, in the whole of my experience, there have always been answers to the "hows" and "whys," and they've always been a lot simpler and a lot more believable than any supernatural explanation. Certainly my intestinal disorder – and, additionally, a genetic dental disorder, for which I eventually had to undergo dramatic surgery – didn't dissipate after the event.

I'd always entertained the notion that perhaps Angely had concealed some sort of electric shock device in his hand, to make my knees go weak – but after reading "The Faith Healers," I'm more inclined to believe that it was just the effect of the hot stage lights combined with Angely's forceful push that toppled me. After all, I was a nine-year-old girl, and he was a full-grown man. It can't have been hard to push me over.

At any rate, Mr. Randi, I've been searching for answers – though not of the paranormal sort – to that episode for a long time, and your book gave me a bit of closure. I thank you for that. I'm immensely enjoying "Flim-Flam!" currently, and have just ordered "An Encyclopedia..." to read next. I make a point out of harassing my local Barnes & Noble into carrying your books. I hope, someday soon, to be able to attend one of your appearances. And I am recommending your books (and all of the wonderful videos available on YouTube!) to my friends – especially that silly paranormalist.

Thank you again.

Shannon, I’d not put much stock in the “electric shock device,” though such things have been used for this purpose, particularly by a certain rabbi in Brooklyn, many years ago. I think that you were suggestible, young, and a bit awed by the surroundings, and I recall that even I – in disguise as a bewigged elderly cane-toting invalid, had a hard time resisting Angeley’s firm push when I attended a healing session in Akron, Ohio…

Thank you for sharing this with us.





NEWS UPDATE

Following up on the item last week at randi.org/jr/2007-07/071307tricks.html#i8, reader Paul Roberts in the UK writes:

Just to update you, on 12 July “Dr” Joyce Pratt was found guilty of professional misconduct by the General Medical Council, and banned from practicing for six months. Not for being a witchdoctor, which was not proven, but for lack of co-operation with the authorities investigating the complaint.





EXORCISM EXERCISE & EXHORTATION EXPERTS

Reader Yair Hollander writes:

I thought the following link would make your day: http://tinyurl.com/3ako9o. To quote from it:

Over 330 exorcists from 29 countries around the world have arrived in the southern locality of Czestochowa [Poland] for their annual behind-closed-doors meeting during which they are to discus new ways of fighting Satan. According to the church guidelines, an exorcist is a bishop or an appointed chaplain who is able to “communicate with the evil.”

Evil as in telling parents their loved ones are dead when in fact they are alive? Or vice versa taking all hope from parents when the real situation is that their children are still out there alive and waiting to be found?

Why would they need to communicate with Sylvia Browne? Oh wait, maybe they mean evil as in imaginary make up evil? Like we used to make up when we were children? Surely the first choice above should be the evil these exorcists must get rid of first.

I just cannot picture 330 of these weird people all in one place. Where is Federico Fellini when such an opportunity presents itself…?





IN CLOSING

From Reed Esau comes this item of interest:

SkeptiCamp is a skeptics’ conference where attendees themselves provide the content. It's based upon the wildly successful BarCamp, intense gatherings featuring discussions, demos and interaction from participants. Where BarCamp is tech-oriented, SkeptiCamp instead focuses on themes of science, critical thinking, and the dozens of topics of interest to skeptics. Who can participate? It's open to everyone and asks each attendee to either give a short presentation or to volunteer in some way. For details, including the upcoming event in Denver, see barcamp.org/SkeptiCamp Or call Reed at 303-215-0672(h) or 303-824-0847(w).

The New York City Skeptics Association was founded in May of 2007 for the purpose of promoting skeptical inquiry, critical thinking, and science education in the greater New York City metro area. Their first meeting will be held on Saturday July 28 at 3:00PM at The Malibu Diner in New York City, located at 163 West 23rd St. between 6th and 7th Avenues. All interested persons are welcome to attend! Jamy Ian Swiss will be a member of this new group!

For more information please visit http://www.nycskeptics.org. If you’d like to join their mailing list and receive updates about NYCSA activities, please send an e-mail to info.nycsa@gmail.com with "join mailing list" in the subject or body of the e-mail.