March 23, 2001

May the Schwartz Be with You, the Tooth Fairy's Existence Proven by Science!, The "Sylvia Clock" is Up, the Academics Check In, and Leroy's back....!

It won't stop. Dr. Gary Schwartz of the University of Arizona is the current darling of the media, who eagerly quote his belief in spiritualist mediums, remote viewing, and other wonders, and stick him in front of cameras to bury himself in wild claims — and though a recent claim that he also believes in the Tooth Fairy, may be somewhat hyperbolized, there is evidence to the contrary, up ahead. The media adore him because he's a real scientist, an actual "Doctor" who embraces bump-in-the-night ideas without a trace of shame — though with carefully-added caveats, so he can always back out — and he never tires of telling about his academic qualifications, numerous papers and other writings. His latest foray into never-never land was a "debate" earlier this month, "Soul Science research at the University of Arizona's Human Energy Systems Laboratory" which turned out to be a love-in with "mediums" and others, lots of feel-good speeches, but nothing new or useful.

A good question for Dr. Schwartz: if he is not really sure of these bizarre matters, when the media present him, worldwide, as having firmly established the existence of mediumistic powers — by science — does he correct them by mail, by phone, in person? If so, we don't see any such amendments.

It might be a warning sign to us that Schwartz was educated at Harvard, which also gave us Dr. John Mack, the man who apparently has never met anyone who hasn't been abducted by space aliens. I'm getting increasingly alarmed calls from scholars who are wondering about what they might do to counter all this credulous academic acceptance and validation of nonsense. For that reason, I'll give you the following bit of background.

The JREF suggested a protocol for testing so-called "mediums" to Gary Schwartz during his visit to the Foundation in Fort Lauderdale in August of last year. He found this quite acceptable. In fact, he commented on its high quality and "ingenuity," though it was a quite ordinary design and one with which he should have already been familiar. This is a very definitive protocol, one that could be easily and economically implemented, one that would result in a clear picture, not only of whether the performer was able to produce as claimed, but whether the methods we at the JREF believe are being used to accomplish trickery, are in fact the reasons for apparent successes. Now Schwartz seems to have abandoned any plans to use that excellent design. One can only wonder why.

Since Schwartz has admitted that he's never done a double-blind experiment, insisting that when he does get around to that mode he will improve it to "triple-blind" — whatever that means! — I will await his implementation of proper controls before making further comment; there is no need to explain something that has not yet been shown to exist. What he has done so far appears to be a series of games and amateur probes, quite without any scientific value — though the mediums are quick to quote him and claim academic validation from the University of Arizona. Agreed, Schwartz has employed masses of technical attachments, lots of bells and whistles, and has applied statistics to the half-data obtained, but that is much like measuring chimneys with a laser beam to determine whether a fat man in a red suit can get down them, and to thereby explore the reality of Santa Claus.

And in what reliable, peer-reviewed, prestigious, scientific journal has this research been published? In the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, which also recently featured a book review of Sex and the Paranormal and papers titled, Telepathic Phone Calls, and Further Evidence for a Statistical Balancing in Probabilistic Systems Influenced by the Anomalous Effect of Conscious Intention. So there! Perhaps the "orthodox" journals like Nature and Science aren't able to grasp the importance of such new discoveries, and will be left behind when this next paradigm becomes established.

I should also make this clear: Schwartz gleefully advertises my own refusal to be a participant in his games, and the psychics are now snickering that I fear his findings may bring my own conclusions into jeopardy. That hope may be safely abandoned. Dr. Schwartz fails to mention the reason for my refusal, which is based entirely on his insistence that I declare, in writing, that I will never share any of my observations or conclusions with anyone, in any way. I cannot operate under such onerous limitations, nor will I ever contemplate doing so. This man of science, who preaches loudly about forthrightness, openness, sharing, honesty, and evidence, will have none of it when it might damage his own cherished notions. This is not science, not in any degree.

Were I a participant in the Schwartz operation, the kind of information that I would look for, may already be available, either through others who participated in the work, or from video records that seem to come to hand by mysterious means. Please note the video frame shown here. It was made from one of Schwartz's "scientific experiments" with John Edward. The "medium" has just taken his seat in the lab, adjacent to another chair to his left where the subject is located. This is what Schwartz considers to be "isolation" of the two persons. Lo! Do we perhaps see Edwards here taking a quick test peek through an opening in the partition? Say not so! This is science, tight controls and all that, and Schwartz himself told Edward, "There will be no eye contact, so a screen will separate you." I'll bet that Edward chuckled when he saw the set-up!

Now, I make no claim that Edward actually peeked through the opening during the "reading." If we had the original material, we could not only make that observation, but many others, as well. But we'll never see that. What I'm pointing out here is that the opportunity to peek was certainly there, and it should not have been, had Schwartz known how to — or cared to — implement proper security. It's not too hard to do, Dr. Schwartz, even for a Ph.D.

And how "definitive" was John Edward in this "reading"? Let me quote a short part of his guessing-game, prefaced by his usual opening. This 119-word excerpt takes exactly 26 seconds; try reading it in that period, and you'll see just how rapidly Edward speaks. The responses from the sitter are shown in square brackets.

Okay, what's going to happen, is there'll be a series of impressions, pictures, and words, and things that make no sense to me, come through in my mind. I'm going to tell you what I'm seeing, hearing, and feeling, and eventually ask you to confirm it and verify it, simply by yes's and no's. [Okay] Okay. Um, the first thing that's coming through is that somebody's talking about a male figure to your side. A male figure to your side would be a husband or a brother who has crossed over. Do you understand that? [Yes] Okay, actually there's two... there's three, there's three. They're showing me, one seems to be like a husband figure to you. Do you understand that? [Yes]. Smug

In passing, note that both those "Do you understand that?" inquiries resulted in "Yes" responses, but that does not indicate that the sitter has identified with either a husband or a brother or anyone who "seems to be like a husband figure to [her]". It only means that the sitter understood the statements.

This is just the same old fare, cold reading, exactly what Edward and the other "readers" do! If we had an entire transcript or tape of this series of guesses, we'd be able to evaluate it, wouldn't we? But we will never have that. Dr. Schwartz won't share it with us. Why? That slamming noise you hear is the door to his Ivory Tower closing.

If Schwartz were less interested in bragging — endlessly! — about his academic background, and would become more involved in doing real science rather than just doing the cosmetics, I think he might begin to be taken seriously. He is the perfect example of the Ivory Tower resident.

Gary Schwartz has also claimed that his very favorite "medium," Laurie Campbell, is 100% accurate in performing some "highly anomalous" readings. Examine that terminology. Schwartz — as with all these folks — delights in rooting around in the data-base and coming up with names, numbers, initials, anything that he can point to as being highly unlikely to "connect" with the reality of the subject. This is blatant data-searching, one of the most pervasive and destructive aspects of bad science. One cannot fail, given enough time and opportunity, to find correlations with obscure elements. Pseudoscientists have wasted their entire academic lives finding repeated series of digits in the irrational number "pi" for example, and assigning significance to those discoveries.

Well, I'd like to see a demonstration by Laurie with "binary-class" guesses, whether someone is thinking about — for example — a male or female, young or old, living or dead, relative or friend, and since these are inarguably yes-or-no matters, they should be absolutely ideal terms for testing. NOTE: "100%" means no misses, not one, but I'd settle for 80%, in a sufficiently large database. This is a perfect situation, and I await Schwartz's application for the million-dollar prize, which surely will come in shortly after Sylvia Browne submits hers. Which is to say, never.

Schwartz, challenged by a correspondent to apply for our prize, answered:

Three areas of our research would easily win the prize.... But we do not apply for prizes ...

I will respond to this by stating the only four reasons that I can imagine to explain this attitude:

1. Schwartz is already wealthy and doesn't need the million dollars.

2. The University of Arizona will not accept gifts of money from Schwartz.

3. Schwartz has no charity in mind such as hungry children, AIDS research, or the homeless.

4. Laurie Campbell's performance on such a test is actually far closer to the 50% expected by chance.

But Professor, you said you could "easily" win the prize, with any of three examples from your research! Then come and take it!

As soon as Gary Schwartz produces data derived from a proper scientific experiment rather than from a game-show exercise, we can begin to examine that evidence — which I have always insisted must speak for itself. As it is, we hear only muffled mumblings and not one clear word.

Schwartz observer Marc Berard writes that perhaps TIME writer Leon Jaroff was not incorrect in his assessment of Schwartz's belief structure, when he opined that the scientist believes in the Tooth Fairy:

It occurred to me recently that you can prove that Schwartz actually does believe in the Tooth Fairy. In his book he mentions how in thinking about stories, we create info-energy systems that can take on a life of their own. In my review of the book, I mentioned how that would mean that Santa, Ronald McDonald, Freddy Kruger, and Romeo, would then all exist as these info-energy system "spirits." In private correspondence with Schwartz, he agreed with that statement, that his theory predicts the existence of such beings.

Now, the Tooth Fairy has been in many cartoons, jokes, stories, and commercials over the years. Therefore Schwartz's theory actually predicts the existence of the Tooth Fairy. As it is fairly certain that Schwartz believes in his theory, and his theory predicts the existence of the Tooth Fairy, therefore Schwartz must believe in the Tooth Fairy.

Read that last sentence again. That strange rumbling sound you hear, is my mind boggling. Is there nothing that Dr. Gary Schwartz of the University of Arizona does not believe in?

"When men are most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken."
David Hume 1711-1776

Well, the Sylvia Browne Clock is here, as promised, on the opening page of this web site! Go back and find it. Sylvia's face is shown next to a proper clock, and the figure you see there is the number of days since March 6th, when she accepted, on the Larry King Live TV show, our offer to be tested for the million-dollar prize. Ms. Browne has been duly notified, by postal mail and by e-mail, and we wait with bated breath for her call....

Avid reader Scott Romanowski sent us this caveat: "When you put up Sylvia Browne's clock, you'd better make sure it's Y10K compliant!" Noted, Scott.

Well, at least Sylvia has made one prediction, which like her prediction that Bill Bradley would be US President, can be easily checked. She tells us that Courtney Cox will get pregnant this year and have a baby boy. Let's see. And one has to wonder whether Browne and Cox know one another.... And don't I recall that she once predicted that Bill Bradley would be our next president? How wrong can you get....?

NEWS: From time to time at JREF, we've received complaints that we lack real academic input to our tests of psychic powers. This is quite incorrect, since we've always involved legitimate academics in our work. But Sylvia Browne's recent exciting acceptance of our million-dollar challenge has brought a number of fresh offers from a variety of very well-qualified savants, here and abroad, who are willing to participate. Sylvia, if this lack of proper scientific connection has been a factor in your reluctance to be tested, you may now banish that notion! We have major centers of learning and a prominent parapsychologist on tap, ready and willing to design, supervise, and conduct proper tests of your ability! Good news, right? Hello? Hello, Sylvia! Sylvia....? Hmm. Seventeen days, and counting.... And no response....

Another reader comments:

If you do hear from Sylvia, she'll probably say that she's just too busy to take the $1M challenge. Chances are that she won't even be able to find the time to fill out the application for the test. If that's the case, please give her my name. I'll be happy to do the paperwork on her behalf for a mere 10% cut of the dough.

Satisfied reader Glen Pennington writes:

I would like to thank you for the truly interesting web site that you have put together, as well as your work over the years in promoting rational thought and debunking charlatans. I find seeing people like John Edwards on TV rather depressing, as he is playing upon the emotions and needs of others for personal gain. It is good to know that there are people out there attempting to show what is really happening.

I saw the picture of the face on Mars in your latest update. With the recent probes sent to Mars, has NASA taken any other pictures of the "face" site? I wonder if anyone has attempted to locate the "face" site in the latest images taken from Mars? This could certainly be an interesting exercise. Of course, people will probably argue that the "fact" that the face no longer exists is more proof of intelligent life on Mars.

Well, Glen, that area of Mars has been photographed several times since, in high resolution, and the Space Aliens/Martians/CIA have now altered the site — as you suspected they might — so the face is no longer there. As for your delight in our work, I suggest that you visit the Membership area of this web site, and join up! Just so long as the Space Aliens/Martians/CIA don't delete that section....!

If you were tuned in to see me on The O'Reilly Factor recently, it was as I warned you: a "breaking news" story pre-empted that appearance. But I'm re-scheduled up ahead somewhere. The media are fickle indeed. I suspect that TV Guide will run an article of mine on John Edward, soon. They paid me for it, and that's always a good sign.

I received an interesting note from reader Bob Holmes who went through his own early epiphany and learned from it:

You may be interested in my own personal experience with a phenomenon similar to the ideomotor effect. As a youngster, I was a Hi-Fi nut — building all my own equipment. On one occasion I had built what I considered to be the ultimate preamp and decided to give it an A/B test. [Alternating between the two modes being examined.] It was absolutely amazing — as I switched back and forth between my old and new preamps I was astounded at the beauty and clarity of the new unit's sound. Imagine my chagrin and embarrassment when I discovered that I had incorrectly wired the A/B switch. It was doing absolutely nothing!

Similar to the ideomotor effect, I was hearing what I wanted to hear. I can laugh about it today, but it taught me more about human psychology than I ever learned in college. This, I believe, is the root cause of the utter tripe and nonsense one can read in Stereophile magazine today (come to think of it, wine rating probably falls into this category as well).

That magazine, Stereophile, has published articles that make most pseudoscience look pale. The "Tate Clock," a regular Radio Shack digital clock treated with liquid nitrogen and a "secret process" to align electrons in the power supply (?) is only one of the products it tested and approved, as well as $1800 speaker cables marked with arrows to indicate in which direction the electricity should travel. But, as with all obsessions, these are items that afficionados simply must have, because they're expensive and "in."

Final News Items: In my book, "The Faith Healers," I wrote about faith healer Leroy Jenkins, one of the old-timers in the business. He challenged me or anyone else to prove he was a fake. That's not the point, of course; my challenge is for him to prove that he's the real thing. Since that time, Leroy did another stint in prison, one of several he's been through. Upon his release recently, he took up fake healing again, and now he's back in the newspapers. Seems Leroy just married an elderly black lady who is about 80 years of age, just nine days after her husband died. Why? He told the media that he married her to "protect her from the vultures." Since this woman's husband hit a nine-million-dollar lottery, I believe she needs protection....

And a major French magazine, referring to the Geller/Rabbi/Jackson ceremony recently, designated one as "Le prestidigitateur Uri Geller." Boy, that must frost the prestidigitateur, I'll bet! You're not supposed to say that!

The puzzle last week was minor, I admit. Matt Gilleece was the first with a solution. The Sri Lankan mask was there to throw you off. I hoped you would get locked into thinking of the word being formed in that up-and-down configuration. The illustration here shows how unwise that would be.... But I was fascinated with the high percentage of solvers who re-arranged candles and then used a mirror, when simply looking at it from a different position so simplified things.... That's a second, more involved, answer. Yes, you can use a mirror to the side, but that adds another element — and I think we agree that the most parsimonious answer is the best! Matt Fields points out that one of the classics from the pocket calculator era was the number 71077345, which you'd punch in to spell ShELLOIL.

Puzzle this week: Two hikers approach one another on the road between London and Bristol. Rachel left London at 7:15 on Sunday morning, and her average rate of travel is 4.5 Km an hour. Anastasia, a more experienced hiker, left Bristol at exactly 8:00 that same Sunday morning, traveling at an average of 5 Km an hour. Which hiker — within 1 Km — will be closer to London, when Rachel and Anastasia meet? No hitching rides, bicycles, or other clever methods, are involved. For your information, London is 173 Km. from London in a straight line, but 281 Km. by the roads the women traveled. Their average rates of travel allow for their rest and sleep periods. And yes, the two cities are in the same time zone.

Answers, please, to, and I cannot respond to all solutions.

P.S. Just received an official invitation to re-visit China in December, and got a notice that TV Guide will run my article on John Edward in the April 7th issue.