February 11, 2005

An Insider's View of Islam, Graphology Accepted at Rand University, More Kabalah Drivel, The Bubble People Are Among Us, Another Graphology Failure, Major Swindle in Operation, and In Conclusion....

Table of Contents:


A reader — who will be anonymous to prevent possible reprisals — writes us:

First, allow me to tell you about myself; I'm an engineer by training, now working in a science research institute as an environmental researcher. I'm frustrated by the fact that I use science as a tool to monitor the environment of a land where the majority of the population chooses to have faith in "anti-reason." I'm currently attending a United Nations conference in Europe, so my resources are limited at the moment. I promise you, however, that I'll email you pictures of the topics I'll discuss once I return back home.

I'm a long-time fan and admirer of your work. I saw the following article and immediately thought of how this situation is similar to what we have in my country, Kuwait: www.nytimes.com/2005/02/01/science/01evo.html?ex=1108011600&en=9943266aee31283e&ei=5070

When I was a high school student almost 25 years ago, we were taught evolution in biology class, and creationism in religious studies — which are mandatory in both our public and private school systems.

Now, and mainly due to the Islamist fundamentalist movements similar to those that control the extremist terrorists, our government is shying away from teaching evolution. Not only that, but there is a movement to discourage including references to ancient myths and beliefs in school curriculums, as if teaching children the Iliad is somehow going to make them believers in Zeus and Mars!

At the same time, our society is suffering from a deluge of beliefs in the paranormal. Many women resort to "witchcraft." Newspaper ads — and until recently TV commercials — preach the virtues of the mystical properties of honey — as it was mentioned in the Koran, astrology books are selling better than popular science books, and many believe that even attempting to debunk such beliefs is against Islam.

I notice in your writings — as well as those of Martin Gardner — how you point out that the religious zealots try to paint the world according to their own perspective, regardless of logic and proper knowledge. To them, truth simply is not the goal. But this situation in a society that has agreed to separate the state from religion is heaven compared to those of us who still live under the preachers. When it gained independence, Kuwait was a unique country in that it quickly adopted a constitution and implemented a democratic process through an elected parliament — not totally a democracy, but it was anticipated that reforms would come in due time. That was not the case, as the government kept on interfering with this process, and about two decades ago it found the perfect weapon to tame the democratic process by teaming up with the religious factions.

To these factions, evolution is a really dirty word, and some fanatics go to extreme lengths to discredit evolution and Darwin by resorting to tactics similar to those which are embraced by the believers in "The Protocols of Zion," for to the fanatics everything is a conspiracy against Islam. To them, the goal of the evolutionists is to cripple religion, and preach science as the ultimate truth. If this sounds familiar to you, at least in the US evolutionists are not termed "apostates," and ultra-fundamentalists will not demand their blood!

Today, it's not unusual to see banners in the streets and newspapers advertising "religious/Quranic healing," probably using methods similar to those you've mentioned in your book on the subject, but with less theatrics. Islamist fundamentalists, as I mentioned, are preaching the value of using honey in healing anything — you name it! There is a paragraph in the Koran that states, "honey has a healing power," and Islamists, as always, maintain that this must be the ultimate truth. A few months ago, a commercial on the state's official TV station advocated a brand of honey to heal pulmonary symptoms. The commercial was pulled of the air after reports emerged that the brand was spiked with steroids and cortisone.

Randi comments: The Koran shows the ignorance of The Deity — of whatever name — by quoting pseudoscience and myth, repeatedly mentioning the supernatural skill of bees in producing sweet honey "from the bitter juices of plants." The Bible, Book of Mormon, Hindu Veda, Koran, Talmud, Torah, and ancient writings of China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, rave about the supposed curative powers of honey. Says the Koran in Chapter XVI, "The Bee," "There comes from their bellies a liquor of varied color, wherein is medicine for men." The Prophet himself says, "Honey is a remedy for all diseases." Our correspondent continues:

Astrology is always popular, in fact in our institute it's customary for some people to check their horoscopes as soon as they turn their computers on, probably before checking their email!

Another aspect that is becoming popular is belief in witchcraft and "black magic" by people who are supposed to be well educated! I must admit that I narrate this subject with a great deal of anger since I was subjected to accusations from a female colleague who accused me of "applying curses at her." She went to the extreme of going to the police to accuse me of attempting to murder her! BTW; this is taking place at the premier science research institute in the country! (Since this topic is still ongoing, I prefer not to dwell on the details now, but if you wish I'll report to you later with the details).

Newspapers advertise lectures on witchcraft and how to avoid it. The attached clipping is an example, my quick translation:

The healing center for psychological consultations, in cooperation with the Shurooq committee of the charitable organization is pleased to invite you for the lecture "The Black Eye and Witchcraft Between Religion, Medicine and Law." The lecturers include: Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Owayed, the Islamic preacher, Dr. Adel Al-Zayed, a specialist in psychology, and Mr. Khalid al-Abdul Jaleel, the prominent lawyer. The lecture will be held at [address & time given.] A special place is reserved for the lady members of the audience. STUNNING FACTS! STRANGE STORIES!

And this clipping came from a prominent newspaper, not from a tabloid or a newsletter!

I hope you'll forgive me for my long post, and I do apologize. As I said, I've become so disturbed by the current state we have succumbed to in our country. I only hope that we can keep the torches of sanity lit long enough for the public mentality to regain its sense of reason and behave like citizens of the modern era!

This chap says that he is a member of The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), and has read the book, "Science and the Paranormal." Oddly enough, my books are not mentioned...!


Reader "Quinton" in South Africa recently exchanged words with someone there who has accepted some claims on graphology. He shares this with us:

Attached find a copy of correspondence between myself and a senior psychology lecturer at Rand Afrikaans University, one of our (South African) esteemed universities (where I did my own Social Sciences degree, so I'm not being sarcastic). The exchange happened after I replied to his question regarding my thoughts on graphology....

Thanks for your response. The reason I asked is that I consider myself to be something of a sceptic, but an open minded one — anyway a masters student of mine has just completed a dissertation which demonstrated unequivocally the utility of Graphology as an assessment tool in identifying sexually abused schoolgirls. It was a double-blind study, that was tightly controlled — and the graphology was able to separate the handwritings of confirmed abused cases from non-abused cases with about a 78% level of accuracy — that's much higher than other psychometric or projective instruments designed for the same purpose. My point is — it's sometimes hard to separate out the pseudo- from the science but some improbable stuff seems to work well — sometimes based on the belief systems of the user.

Quinton responded:

Graphology nestles firmly, and comfortably, between homeopathy, chiropractic, the polygraph, dowsing, and other "sophisticated" pseudosciences. It purports to be a science, but it derives from ancient belief systems (divining tools, to be more precise), and has no real value. It is a subjective, intuitive "art," which relies on the practitioner's interpretation of the information before him. As with the other pseudosciences listed above, even educated, intelligent people get taken in by the convincing technobabble used to promote it, but careful testing and analysis soon reveal the flaws. Buying and committing to memory a "Flight Manual for the Model 6 Enterprise" at a Star Trek convention doesn't make you a pilot, nor the starship real.

Quinton is quite correct in his view of graphology. Not only have we always offered the JREF prize to graphologists, but we've tested them — with the expected results. Since that exchange, Quinton has advised this person to refer to the JREF web page, and our comments on graphology. There is no evidence that we've been consulted.... See up ahead for yet another item on graphology.


Reader Mario Tamboer has more on the silly — but lucrative! — Red String and Kabalah Centre nonsense we mentioned last week. He refers to a TV show he saw on BBC dealing with it:

I've been able to find it online. Like I've heard you say in your lecture, Google knows everything! Here is the link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/4158287.stm

Check out the Holocaust claim one of their people made. If this is their organization's opinion, then these people are really, really sick. By coincidence, the program was aired at the same time prince Harry was caught wearing a Nazi uniform at a fancy dress party. The prince Harry row may have overshadowed the outrage over the Centre's remarks somewhat.

There was also in the program:

- An interview with a Rabbi, who was rather displeased with Mr. Berg. One reason was that he had strong suspicions Mr. Berg had sold a Torah scroll he had been given to one of his followers as being specially made for him. The Rabbi showed his scrolls and explained that they were usually a gift from members of the congregation and that the cover of the scrolls was important, since it indicated who was the giver of the scroll and where it belonged. Apparently, Mr. Berg had simply changed or removed the cover and sold it. The Rabbi was appalled that anyone would do such a thing to make some money.

- A visit to the tomb of Rachel, where the Red String comes from (or so they claim). That wasn't easy, since it's in Palestinian territory, with access controlled by the Israeli army. When they got there, they were offered a piece of red string for free and the Rabbi at the tomb was totally surprised there were people asking money for it. He apparently had also never seen anyone of the Kabalah Centre wrapping loads of string seven times around the tomb (seven being the magic number), so where do their strings come from?

- A report from the undercover reporter that went in seeking help, saying that he had previously really suffered from cancer, and had been cured by scientific medicine. His comment was the gem of the whole program. He was very, very angry that while the hospital that had saved his life had problems raising funds to buy new lifesaving equipment, money was being wasted on useless crap like the Kabalah Water.

With the endorsement of stars like Madonna, Britney and David Beckham, Mr. Berg and his Kabalah Centre seem to be on a roll. I have no doubt lives are being ruined by this cult. Thank you for drawing attention to it. True believers are usually beyond rescue, but there might be some fence sitters that can be reached in time.


Reader "Rob" has discovered a subculture....

I guess you could say that I have been a lifelong skeptic. I have to laugh at the follies and beliefs that seem to be legion in our "technological" world. Your Web site is fascinating reading and light against the darkness.... While it may not have a direct bearing on the type of flim-flam flummeristic behavior that you see from practitioners of the magical art of making money disappear (except your prize), the following article is a fascinating study that can explain part of the self-delusion: www.apa.org/journals/psp/psp7761121.html. I first saw it mentioned on the front page of USA Today, and then recently ran across it again. Funny, isn't it, that one could conclude that the largest percentage of people who are most likely to say they are a competent "medium" are least likely to be giving a realistic evaluation of their abilities, even if their abilities really existed? Hmmm. The ramifications are interesting, if not stunning.

I'm advised that the Bubble People link is not working. Try http://content.apa.org/journals/psp/77/6/1121 for a synopsis.

As an aside, for some time now I have been postulating the existence of bubble people in the general populace. I have known they were there but could not prove it. Now, however, I am able to actually observe them in everyday life, based on indirect effects, behaviors, and other results. These are people all around us that create and inhabit a special, invisible bubble world within which the observation and acknowledgment of reality is partially or completely suspended.

The effect is like a bubble or aura, surrounding the affected individual(s). All objective information is altered when it crosses the wall of the bubble (call it re-fact-tion), based on the internal set of rules randomly defined by the bubble's inhabitant(s). "It can't be that way, it would be painful or inconvenient or expensive or ..." — therefore it isn't. "I want it to be true" — therefore it is. Voilà. The bubble springs into being. I am working on a special electronic measurement device to detect the presence of a bubble, no matter how small.

The issue is that bubble itself is invisible — bubble people look normal at first. The only way an objective external observer can detect the presence of a bubble is indirectly, by checking the perturbation in the stream of facts before and after it encounters the bubble around the bubble-person. The better the bubble inhabitant is at altering or deflecting objective facts, the freer the bubble floats away from any real-world anchor. It is a form of information anti-gravity, and there are a remarkable number of applications for the effect if you are so inclined.

The further the bubble is floating from reality, the greater the eventual danger to the inhabitant(s). Unfortunately, there is also a danger to unwary bystanders. I am still exploring collateral effects, but they appear to be real. Look out below.

Verifying the ostensive rules of bubble people (bubble heads?) is not an easy task. The rules seem to change whenever confronted or observed directly, like a bad attempt to duplicate the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in sociological cloth. I observe, however, that there are several fundamental (fuzzy) laws implicit in the creation and sustenance of a fully-functional anti-reality bubble:

0. [The Zero-eth Law] We are free to dictate what is real based on our beliefs, feelings, and personal needs.

1. Bubble size is directly proportional to the number of inhabitants and the strength of their beliefs.

2. Bubble buoyancy increases with size -- the larger the bubble, the further it floats from reality.

3. Money and advertising act to increase the size of the bubble and reinforce the strength of the bubble walls.

4. Small bubble effects aggregate over time [the recruitment effect].

5. Sharp objects (facts, truth, etc.) can destabilize (burst) the bubble and are instinctively avoided at all costs.

My theory and the fundamental laws/rules still require further fleshing out and refinement, but I promise to keep working on them — it has been a life work so far. The preliminary theory does have some immediate practical use. For example, it explains the problem that most identifiable bubble-people have with you and the JREF in general — you are both very sharp objects.

Some day, I will have the GUTEM (Grand Unified Theory of Embolistic Methods) ready to publish. Until then, keep up the puncturing, er, good work.

P.S.: I hope my attempt at humor isn't taken the wrong way. I already have several people living in my theory bubble with me. We find it a very useful mental model to explain certain behaviors around us. It helps keep our feet on the ground and our minds sharp.

Rob closes his e-mail with some wise words from Patrick Henry of which I'd previously been unaware. They're taken from his famous speech, "Give me liberty or give me death," and can be found at www.law.ou.edu/hist/henry.html and I think we could all do well to read that speech from time to time....

We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth.... For my part, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst; and to provide for it.


Reader Vit Drga calls out attention to a development at the recent international conference that was attended by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and other notables:

Could it be a coincidence that the week that Swift ends with an item on graphology, that graphologists (and a clairvoyant) have gathered more egg on their faces? Very cosmic... A writing pad left behind on the Davos economic forum stage was covered in scribbles. The UK press reported it as Tony Blair's scribbles on 29 January 2005. However, two days after the verdict of two graphologists — Helen Taylor and Emma Bache — and a clairvoyant, Nina Ashby, were published, it turned out that the scribblings were those of Bill Gates, not of Tony Blair.

So, even though the graphologists had recognized that the writing was different from a sample of Mr. Blair's handwriting from 18 months previously, which was clear enough to me from the from the samples reproduced in the newspapers, they'd failed to assert that the current sample was from a different source than a comparison sample from 18 months ago. They were led by their expectations, by what they were told. It's dreadful to think what could happen if or when such "skills" are applied as expert testimony in a court case...

Randi comments: The graphologists found in the writing "aggressive, nervous energy," which is "not rooted in practicality." And, they said, certain aspects were "perhaps symbolic of a death wish." A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said, very diplomatically and properly:

We look forward with amusement to explanations by a variety of psychologists and graphologists of how various characteristics ascribed to the prime minister on the basis of the doodles, such as "struggling to concentrate," "not a natural leader," "struggling to keep control of a confusing world" and "an unstable man who is feeling under enormous pressure," equally apply to Mr. Gates. We are astonished that no-one who ran the story thought to ask No 10 [Downing street] if the doodles were in fact Mr Blair's, particularly as it was obvious to anyone the handwriting was totally different.

Knowing the Blair penchant for accepting occult claims, I'm only surprised that the reading wasn't accepted, anyway....


Reader Andrew T. in North Carolina tells us of yet another stupid fraud and swindle being offered by a company colorfully titled "Machina Dynamica." It's the amazing "Intelligent Chip," a thin, one-inch square orange wafer that they claim "improves CD sound quality in the blink of an eye." You'd better be seated for this one:

The Intelligent Chip automatically upgrades any CD/DVD/SACD disc when the Chip is placed momentarily on the top surface of the player while the disc is playing. The sound of the upgraded disc more closely resembles the sound of the original master recording, with less congestion, more information, greater dynamic range and more air. The disc upgrade is virtually instantaneous — and is permanent. The Intelligent Chip is available in two models — the GSIC-10 ($16) upgrades 10 discs; the GSIC-30 ($40) upgrades 30 discs.

So what is the "scientific theory" behind this wonder? Read:

The Intelligent Chip corrects a relatively obscure but important problem inherent in all commercial discs; this problem is one reason commercial discs frequently "don't sound quite right," sounding anemic, overly bright or tinny. The disc upgrade is permanent and the upgraded disc will sound better even when played on other machines.

Yes, that's how they describe the theory behind it! Even better is how it's applied:

Instructions: Remove the orange Intelligent Chip from its clear plastic protective case and place it on top of the CD/DVD/SACD player directly above the transport section, silver label facing up. Next, insert the disc to be upgraded in the player and push "Play" and allow the disc to play for 2 seconds. The Chip can also be placed on top of the player while the disc is playing with similar results. The upgrade takes less than 2 seconds and is permanent. Once the disc is upgraded, either remove the Intelligent Chip from the player and return it to its protective case or leave it on top of the player and insert the next disc to be upgraded into the player; discs may be upgraded sequentially, at one time, with the Chip in place on the top of the player. If left on top of the player, the Chip will not function until the next disc to be upgraded is inserted in the player and played. If you attempt to upgrade a disc that has already been upgraded, the Chip will "sense" that the disc is already upgraded and spend no energy on it, thus avoiding using the Chip unnecessarily. Always store the Chip in its protective case, well away from the player.

Ah, but there are precautions to take with such high-tech material! And this won't last forever, as we all suspected:

The Chip should always be stored in its protective case well away from the digital player, otherwise it may lose its effectiveness over time. It is also suggested that the Chip be used in a timely manner to avoid the possibility of loss of effectiveness. Note: It is helpful to mark the Chip and the disc each time a disc is upgraded. The GSIC-10 is good for 10 discs, the GSIC-30 for 30 discs. Once the Intelligent Chip has upgraded the prescribed number of discs it ceases to function and can be discarded.

Well, my suggestion is to discard the fraud right from the beginning, friends. This swindle takes the proverbial cake, icing, candles, and all. I know I've been asking this question frequently in recent weeks, but here it is again: Just how abysmally stupid can audio crazies get?


Many of you have expressed your strong opinions about the ABC-TV "Primetime Live" show this last Thursday. Briefly — for I'll handle this farce next week in detail — I went to NYC, spent two days there and taped for two hours with John Quiñones. I ended up being misquoted, for a total air time of just eight seconds. I just didn't give them opinions that they liked, so I was edited out of the presentation. ABC-TV has betrayed their public to produce a gross misrepresentation that passes as journalism. I'm infuriated, and you should be, too...

It's been said that for speakers at our Amaz!ng Meetings we tend to choose only those who agree with us or who hit a "popular" level. Well, those who don't agree with us are often rather reluctant to consider being involved with us; I can understand that reticence, but I can now announce that a leading parapsychologist — a good friend of mine, despite our philosophical differences — has just agreed to speak at TAM4! Details will follow in due course.... And, Dr. Chip Denman will be giving us his peerless talk on Spiritualism, as well! Both are already "in the bag."

And, you might remember those blowhards who call themselves the "Yellow Bamboo." They were just officially tested in Australia, and failed miserably to perform. They literally "bit the dust." But I'm sure they'll bluster their way back into the media again, as always.

Next week, we'll deal with the Richard Smith analysis of the BC "psychic," and the mysterious mother/child intuition claims — both items we failed to squeeze in here this week — as well as a connection between "American Idol" and psychic feelings, and how Alternative Medicine has thoroughly invaded Canada.