March 28, 2003

Clustered Water — Again, Holy Carp!, Browne & Psi Tech Goof Again, A Good Science Example, Denmark Goes to the Dark Side, and the AAI Conference.

Reader Kelly Snowden, of Redding, California, reports:

Recently I entered a local health food store . . . and came across a "complimentary issue" of "The Clustered Solution," which is an 8-page faux-newspaper devoted to shilling Clustered Water(TM).† It claims to be a specially prepared water which "clusters" six water molecules, held together by shared hydrogen atoms.† The ring of water molecules supposedly has a hexagonal shape, and "when it is found in association with other clusters, it forms a crystalline matrix which is the key to countless biological functions within the body."† The makers claim that the small "clusters" are able to move more freely through the "pores" in cellular membranes than normal water.

This sounds pretty similar to Penta Water, and for all I know, may be being made by the same folks.† Looking back at some of your weekly columns, I recognized a number of similar claims, such as that the efficacy of the special water can be demonstrated with a Bioelectric Impedance Analyzer, etc.† This stuff supposedly was "discovered" by Lee Lorenzen, after his researches led him to the "healing spring" of Lourdes, France — hardly an auspicious start for legitimate scientific research.† Still, the ad claims that "doctor" Lorenzen took his discoveries to Japan, after being pooh-poohed by the NIH and AMA (I wonder why?), and his magic water's effects were supposedly documented on over 210,000 patients in 61 different clinics, with the results published in 9 books in Japan.

Randi comments: Hold on. Just think about those figures. Do you realize just how long it would take to analyze and catalog 210,000 testimonials? From 61 sources? For all we know, if this database exists at all, it may just be quotes from people saying "I feel better," or "It works." Not realistic, in my view. Moving onÖ..

The paper includes a testimonial by Dr. Howard Wolin, M.D., who "specializes in advanced nutrition and healing techniques."† Clustered Water(TM) is so amazing that it won the coveted "People's Choice" award for "Best Cold Nutritional Beverage" at the 2002 National Nutritional Foods Association trade show.† So obviously, it must work!

Randi again: Dr. Wolin, not to my surprise, is a psychiatrist, and as evidence of his expertise, one of his inventions is a machine that health/inspirational guru Anthony Robbins — thatís the one who encourages fire-walking for therapy — calls, "the best time management exercise technology on the planet today." Another perhaps hyperbolic statement in a trade that depends on hyperbole? You can see Wolinís bio, listing his interests and activities, at www.wolinworkswonders.com/bio.htm. Kelly continues:

The stuff is obviously bogus [quoting] — "not only is it energized with a frequency which is capable of 'fine tuning' the cells of the body, but it is uniquely structured so that it moves through the body more easily — enhancing cell water turnover and numerous metabolic processes.† Clustered Water(TM) is 'energized water,' but it is much more!"†

What I found particularly amusing is the warning that dupes shouldn't drink the magic water at night, because it "tends to liberate energy on the cellular level," meaning that you'll be so bursting with energy that you won't be able to sleep!† Also, since it has such a powerful detoxifying effect, it may bring about a rapid expulsion of toxins, and cause such things as excessive urination, changes in bowel movements, body aches, fatigue, headaches and unusual amounts of mucus — all of which "should be viewed as positive feedback!"

Anyway, in case you hadn't seen this particular brand of snake oil yet, I thought I'd bring it to your attention.† They apparently have a web site at www.clusteredwateronline.com.

Kelly, thanks for the snake-oil run-down. Note the use of "energized," "frequency," and "structured," buzz-words that are dropped in to bolster the empty promises. These hucksters couldnít define these terms if they tried. And remember that the Penta people, using the same sort of obfuscation, long ago agreed to be tested for the JREF million-dollar award, then backed out without explanation. Iíve a suspicion that Cluster Water(TM) would join the Sylvia Browne Club, tooÖ.


Will wonders never cease? Now we have God appearing as a fish to the faithful! An obscure Jewish sect, the 7,000-member Skver sect of Hasidim in New Square, 30 miles north of Manhattan, are sure that they recently experienced a mystical visitation via a 20-pound carp awaiting a future of gefilte, that was heard shouting in Hebrew, in what many Jews worldwide are hailing as a modern miracle.

Two fish-cutters at a fish market, about to slice up the critter, say they heard it suddenly begin shouting apocalyptic warnings in Hebrew. One of the cutters named Nivelo, not of the Jewish faith but a devout Christian, after bending his intellect to the puzzle, has decided that the carp was the Devil. Hey, different strokesÖ. The noisy carp satisfies the belief of some Hasidic sects that properly righteous people can be reincarnated as fish. You read that right. Perhaps some return as goldfish (a variety of carp, almost) and others as sharks — lawyers?

I canít help recalling Don Knotts in "The Incredible Mr. Limpet"Ö..

Regardless of their astonishment at this wonder, Nivelo and his co-worker, Rosen, went right ahead and chopped up the fish before it could talk to others, but not before the befuddled Rosen cut his finger in the struggle and had to retire from the scene. Rosen said that when he approached the fish he heard it uttering warnings and commands in Hebrew. "It said ĎTzaruch shemirahí and ĎHasof bah,í he said, "which essentially means that everyone needs to account for themselves because the end is near." Donít tell me that fish listen to President Bushís speeches!

The fish, said Rosen, ordered him to pray and to study the Torah. It also identified itself as the soul of a local Hasidic man who died last year. It has probably by now been consumed by satisfied but unknowing customers.

But itís official: Matisyahu Wolfberg, a lawyer with obvious expertise on such matters, has declared, "This is one of those historical times when God reveals himself for a reason. [The event] has sent spiritual shock waves throughout the Jewish community worldwide and will be talked about throughout the ages." Yes, unfortunately, Iím sure that Mr. Wolfberg is correct on that last. Silly stories have long livesÖ.

Weíre told that one gefilte-fish company has thought about changing its slogan to: "Our fish speaks for itself."


Lynda McClelland, 46, had been missing for nearly three years. Last Friday, her remains were found buried in a wooded area in Allegheny County, near Pittsburgh. It was three feet beneath the surface, wrapped in plastic, along with a knapsack, gun case, and a holster.

Gee, thatís strange. You see, her daughters made an appearance last year on the "Montel Williams" TV show, where a psychic asserted that their mother was alive, and in a Florida hospital. The "psychic" was Sylvia Browne. Sheíd told Lynda McClelland's daughters that Lynda had ended up, confused but alive, in a Florida nursing home after disappearing in July 2000 from her Forest Hills home. From the appearance of the hillside where the body of the unfortunate woman was found, and the vegetation growing on it, the police opined that the body had been there for some time, certainly from before the time when Sylvia made her revelation on the Williams show.

Just when, if ever, will TV host Montel Williams recognize the grief and confusion he is promoting by featuring Browne and other such vultures on his show. Or does he care at all?


Teacher/reader Jonah Cohen, of the Science Center of Connecticut, says he "just had to comment on something in the 3/14/03 edition of SWIFT":

One reader wrote in: "And nothing says failure, to some, quite like being wrong."

Undoubtedly true, but as a science educator (I work at a science center) I must add that this is one of the things that our educational should try to remedy. For science is not just a collection of facts (as I know you yourself have written), it's also a process for gaining knowledge, and it's an ongoing process. Even a wrong answer can contribute to that process. Here's a simplified example from a chemistry class I teach:

Let's say you have three clear liquids, we'll call them A, B, and C. When you mix them together, two at a time, here are the results.
A+B = turns red
A+C = turns red
B+C = no visible change

You may then theorize that chemical A is an indicator (one that changes colors in the presence of certain other chemicals), while chemicals B and C are both the same type of chemical. (For argument's sake here, let's say they're bases [alkalis, opposed to acids].)

Randi comments: From my high-school chemistry, Iíd suspect the use of the indicator phenolphthalein here. Thatís of no importance to the argument, but I wanted to inform Mr. Kirby — my chemistry teacher — that his efforts were not totally wasted. He wonít be informed, if my version of survival-after-death is correct, but at least I triedÖ.

Now I come along and propose a different theory: I think that A is the base, while B and C are separate indicators which both happen to make the same color change. What to do now? If your theory is correct, we'd expect exactly the experiment results we got... but the same holds true if my theory is correct. Yet we can't both be right, our theories are totally opposite.

Randi again, trying to make trouble: Or, B and C are the same indicator. Back againÖ.

Well, at this point we'd want to devise a new experiment to test our competing theories. We could try adding a fourth chemical — a known base — to A, B and C to see what happens. Or, the 4th chemical we add could be a known indicator. (Or we could see which of our three chemicals can neutralize a known acid indicator reaction.)

The point is, let's say we do one or all of these tests and your theory turns out to be correct. My answer was wrong. By the sadly prevailing trend in education, put a big X on my test, give me an F, and (under the laughably-named "No Child Left Behind Act") declare my school to be a failing one and ship its students to another school! Wrong Answer = Bad, right?

That's not how it should be in this instance. I was doing science well. I examined the evidence, and came up with a theory that explained it perfectly. (If I'm doing science well, I should also admit that my theory was wrong once we do the further experiments. If I dogmatically cling to it, I'm less a scientist and more of a sucker for phone psychics.)

And my wrong answer had several benefits. First, it taught us about one important part of the scientific method: thinking creatively and devising ways to test our ideas. It also bolstered your (correct) theory. At first, you had just one set of experiments verifying your position. After you were forced to justify your idea by competing with mine, you now have two sets of experiments backing you up (or four, if you did all of the methods — adding a known base, a known indicator, and neutralizing an acid) and you can be far more certain that your idea is correct. If some outside-the-box thinker proposes a third theory that still manages to explain the experimental data as well as yours, then you'll need to devise yet another set of experiments to test the competing theories. If your idea passes that test as well, you're now even more certain that you are correct.

Some people think that scientists believe things because some authority figure says so, that biologists hold Darwin the way creationists hold the Bible. Not so. If physicists tell you a perpetual motion machine can't be done, it's not because James Randi or any other person says so, it's because the laws of thermodynamics have been tested a bajillion times, and so far they've yet to fail.

One moment, Jonah. I know for a fact that some "scientists believe things because some authority figure says so." Not real scientists, of course, but those who believe that as educated persons, theyíre qualified to accept what they want to, as being fact. I suspect it was Arthur C. Clarke who warned that some people are educated far beyond their intelligenceÖ.?

And [the laws of thermodynamics] have been so thoroughly tested because of all the wrong answers of people who challenged them in different fashions, jacking up the certainty that said laws are correct to near 100%. (Not quite 100%. I suppose tomorrow someone could claim the JREF prize with a free energy device, but I'm not holding my breath, I'd look funny blue.) Exploring different possibilities and learning how to evaluate the competing ideas is vital to science education. I fear it's not done often enough... too often, I suspect, getting the "right answer" is all that's valued.

Well, thanks for listening, this is a topic I wrestle with often with my students.

Jonah, thatís the kind of wrestling that more teachers need to do, rather than falling back to just reading the textbook. Challenge and confrontation are much needed in classrooms, as I learned in my school days, to my great advantage. I often offer, as proof that there can be more than one perfectly correct answer to a question, the example of a quadratic equation.

Thanks for your contribution!


Reader Randall Duncan reflects what so many of us felt about recent good news that a missing girl was found safe and well, then sets upon the "Technical Remote Viewing" (TRV) goofs for having caused so much grief with their declarations on the case:

I was so happy to hear that Elizabeth Smart was found, apparently in good health. I trust that Dane Spotts, CEO of the TRV scam, will come forward immediately with an apology.† You may recall that he euchred†Elizabeth's uncle into visiting a site where his experts said Elizabeth's body could have been found.† Then he bitterly complained that authorities didn't conduct a thorough search of the area "pinpointed" by TRV experts. Elizabeth's father would have nothing to do with the publicity-hungry Mr. Spotts.† This is entirely to Mr. Smart's credit.

† Here we see another proof that wishful thinking is far from harmless.††A heartbroken family with a missing daughter was used in a sleazy scheme.†All shame†to Mr. Spotts, who will never admit the scam. †

Just like other wishful thinkers (such as Christians, voodoo priests, dowsers and Communists), Mr. Spotts will have already constructed fallback positions galore to "explain" his easily explainable error.† The simple explanation:† TRV doesn't work; it isn't real (the two claims he makes, with a straight face, on the TRV site).† I sincerely hope that Mr. Spotts is a wishful thinker; that is the most charitable explanation of his disgusting antics.

This account of the father not having anything to do with Psi Tech, differs with Spotts' claim. He says that they got along just fine, and that they consulted closely on the emergency. Only one of these accounts can be right. Not only does Spotts not admit that his "sensitives" were quite wrong, but through Joni Dourif, President of Psi Tech, he offered a convoluted attempt at rationalizing this gaffe. This can be seen at www.psitech.net/news/tsl_031403.htm, where she writes:

. . . I can only imagine how upset and angry I would be if my daughter had been abducted and missing and I was informed by a reputable intelligence gathering company that she was dead.

What? A "reputable intelligence gathering company"? What "intelligence" have these people ever gathered for anyone? The Psi Tech nutters are left-overs from the tax-feast enjoyed by the CIA when they squandered $20 million over ten years to see if "remote viewing" worked, and terminated it all when they found that it didnít — something that the JREF could have told them, and proven to them — for about $1,000 in expenses, in about two weeks. Joni states that this "technology" "was created at tax payers' expense as a spy tool in the Dept. of Defense for real-time espionage." Yes, and it real-time failed. As expected. But Joni carries on:

. . . Any other alleged "Remote Viewers" who make claims of superiority using our failure in this case to boost their credibility are obvious and conspicuous amateurs who have insufficient skill to take on risky projects.

Joni, could it be that these "obvious amateurs" are just a tad smarter than you are? Not better RVers, since it seems no one can do that, but with just a little more common sense? She also comments:

[We] expend the time and effort to perfect this technology by applying it to real-life cases. That is how we learn to perfect our skills.

Tell us, please, when do you think that this magic moment of perfection will be with us? At about the time that Sylvia Browne shows up for her JREF test? Itís already been 14 years, and most professions can be learned well within that period. Do keep us informed, Joni.

We dickered for over two years with one of the most famous of the Remote Viewers, Wayne Carr, to design an appropriate test for what he teaches in his school to his students. He suddenly did a Sylvia, too. Whatís with these people?


Youíll recall my dismay that a Federal agency actually conferred with crackpot author Michael Drosnin on his claim that the Bible contained the present whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Well, James A. Cherry, Senior Software Engineer with Sandvine Incorporated, reminds me, regarding our 14-Mar-2003 commentary, that Australian Professor Brendan McKay of the Department of Computer Science at the Australian National University, Canberra, has thoroughly debunked Michael Drosnin's claims that the Bible contains coded messages. Go to http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/torah.html, where youíll find excellent information on Dr. McKay's work.


April 18-20 Iíll be a speaker at the Atheist Alliance International (AAI) conference held this year in Tampa, Florida, and Iím told I will be presented with the Richard Dawkins Award, given for

. . . contributions that raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance, to one who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge, and/or who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy, and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.

It will be good to see Dr. Dawkins again, and to bring him up-to-date with my recent adventures. I admit that I have a few basic problems with the atheist movements, in general. My personal approach to the matter has been to specify that Iím an Atheist of the Second Kind. I define an atheist as either one who says there is no god, or one who says there is no evidence that there is a god. I got both these definitions from a variety of dictionaries, over many years. I certainly believe that there is no such thing as a deity of any sort, but thatís based on an examination of the "proofs" that are offered, on history itself, and on direct personal experience. However, I only ask that a believer in gods, demons, angels, miracles, and/or life-after-death prove their case; since I donít make a claim, Iíve nothing to prove. No, the word "agnostic" doesnít cover it, since Iím a firm disbeliever — though willing to be proven wrong upon the presentation of suitable evidenceÖ.

Iíve purchased a copy of "The Blind Watchmaker," which I consider the most effective and valuable book that Dr. Dawkins has ever written, to send to a pretty lady in Seoul, Korea. She was our interpreter there, and expressed interest in knowing what Richard Dawkins had to say about the existence of a Creator and whatís now known as the default retreat of the creationists, "Intelligent Design." Iím hoping that an autograph from the author will serve to strengthen the message of the bookÖ.

Dawkins is one of my Personal Giants.


In Denmark recently, an excellent TV program series by ōjvind KyrÝ was prepared for broadcast. It will attack the way that the media in that country have so uncritically accepted and promoted belief in the paranormal. Mogens Winther of Denmark, a frequent correspondent, informs me:

Danish TV2 has for some years now shown what they call two of the "largest media successes" for years — "Power of Spirits" — and "Clearsight" (A kind of "Beyond the Grave").

These shows — with crying parents who get claimed contact with their dear dead relatives, and where demon-haunted houses and persons are liberated from sticky "peeping" ghosts, etc. — turned out to be a major money machine. Out of the 20 top programs seen on TV2, 13 were of this kind. Contacts have even been made with foreign TV corporations, concerning export to United States. The leader and export manager of these programs has been interviewed in the newspapers recently — attacking the upcoming skeptical TV program series of ōjvind KyrÝ which is planned to start next week.

Last month — we here in town got our own impression of the real power of these clairvoyants and their spirits. "Clearsight" visited our town, Sonderborg, during preparation of a new transmission. The film location was the old castle of Sonderborg, only a very few steps from the high school where I teach mathematics. So why not ask these clairvoyant fellows to demonstrate their claimed psychic abilities in front of a young group of clever high school students, we thought?

In the huge and murky cellars below our high school we have a number of large wardrobes. We took one of our students, the intrepid Simon, and locked him into one of these wardrobes. Then we asked the TV clairvoyants to visit our school and thereby help us to solve the "Mystery of the missing Simon." Conducting this experiment would give me, as a teacher, a wonderful opportunity to introduce complex mathematical topics like binomial distribution, probability, level of acceptance, mathematical significance, etc.

Of course the answer by those clairvoyants was no, even though this would only take a few minutes, and they were already in town. And you donít have to be clairvoyant to understand why they actually refused such a simple test of their claimed abilities. Nothing will ever be dared to risk such a valuable moneymaking machine as this. But never mind — this opened up a lot of interesting discussions in our class. And the story about their refusal was mentioned in several media, including a cartoon by artist Gert Ejton that was shown with the story on the front page of Fyens Stiftstidende, a major Danish newspaper. The words are "You canít find me."

Thanks you, Mogens! Your class is fortunate to be under your influenceÖ.


My sincere apologies for not changing this web page last week. Just hours before I was to transmit the material to our web master, I underwent a major computer crash, and it was many days before we were able to rescue the data needed. Bad vibrations, Iím sure. But weíre back.

Next week Iíll tell you more about Berea College, in Kentucky. An exciting and stimulating place that should be emulated.