April 8, 2005

How Long Do We Wait, Rolling Along Down Fantasy Lane, Gallic Stars — Heavenly and In the Arena, A Welcome Response, How Embarrassing, More Puzzles, Quackery In the UK Has Surpassed Previous Expectations, Colleagues Honored, A Profiler Explains, We Asked For It, News From India, She's Baaaaack!, For Your Edification, and In Conclusion....

Table of Contents:


I receive some four or five inquiries every month about Dr. Gary Schwartz's comments on my work, and how I seem unable to answer his attacks. The fourth anniversary of my straightforward approach to Schwartz and his pseudoscience, offering to meet him head on, has just passed, and I give you here the letter I sent to the University of Arizona. I think you'll find that I presented a fair, reasoned, approach to an investigation, and I ask you to remember that Gary Schwartz had already agreed, in person here at the JREF, five years ago, that he would submit his raw data to the JREF for evaluation — but we heard nothing from him from that point on. Here is that letter:

Richard Imwalle, President
University of Arizona Foundation
P.O. Box 210109, Tucson AZ 85721-0109

March 27, 2001

Dear President Imwalle:

I write you from the office of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I am James Randi, the founder and president.

As I'm sure you are aware, international attention has recently been given to research on "human energy systems" conducted at the University of Arizona by Dr. Gary E. R. Schwartz. The general interpretation of that research, though understandably hyperbolized by the media, is that evidence may have been produced to show that some persons have the ability to communicate with the spirits of deceased persons. This is a subject that greatly interests this Foundation.

To learn about the concerns and interests of the JREF, you may visit our website at www.randi.org.

This Foundation offers a million-dollar challenge to those who believe they can offer evidence of paranormal, occult, or supernatural matters. Dr. Schwartz has expressed no interest in taking this prize on behalf of the University, because of the terminology used. He writes:

Randi's prize is for "paranormal" research. We do not use the term "paranormal" or "supernatural." We use the term "human energy systems" which is based upon contemporary physics and systems science....Randi could always claim that our findings were not "paranormal" using these theories, and therefore not award the prize.

Dr. Schwartz also has told us that:

...we do not apply for prizes. We conduct research. It is a fact that we apply for grants....The University of Arizona will accept gifts for credible things by anyone, including us.

President Imwalle, I assure you that the JREF would never choose to withhold the prize by taking refuge in the terminology, as Dr. Schwartz suggests. And we understand that the word "prize" might be rather unsatisfactory to describe an academic goal, though the word "Nobel" does spring to mind. However, Dr. Schwartz has drawn the lines clearly, and we feel an obligation to try to meet his needs in the matter.

To circumvent these problems, this Foundation agrees to include "human energy systems" as an acceptable term to be included among those for which we will award our prize, subject of course to a more detailed description of what that term would encompass in any specified protocol. In addition, we will choose to re-designate our "prize" as a "grant," so that it might be more favorably considered.

The amount in question is one million U.S. dollars (US$1,000,000) presently held in the form of negotiable bonds. We are prepared to offer this grant to the University of Arizona, to be used for any purpose, without qualification, that the Directors of the University may designate. This offer is subject to the following conditions:

1. The data already gathered by the Schwartz group (transcripts, videos, audio recordings, notes, protocols, etc.) should be submitted to an Independent Qualified Panel (see below) for evaluation.

2. Dr. Schwartz and/or his co-workers should be prepared to respond to specific inquiries made by the Independent Qualified Panel following their examination of the data submitted to them.

3. Should that data and the responses to any questions be satisfactory to the Independent Qualified Panel, the JREF will agree that the "preliminary examination" as designated in our official offer (see www.randi.org/research/challenge.html) has been accomplished. The next step would be to refine a protocol that would be satisfactory to the Independent Qualified Panel and to the needs of Dr. Schwartz, in order to proceed with the formal test of the "human energy systems" phenomena.

As for the "Independent Qualified Panel," we suggest it would include these persons:

1. Dr. Stanley Krippner, Ph.D./psychology, Northwestern University. Parapsychologist, author, Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies, Saybrook Institute, San Francisco. Member of the American Society for Psychical Research. President of the Parapsychological Association, 1983.

2. Dr. Marvin Minsky, Ph.D./mathematics, Princeton. Mathematician, educator, author. Fellow of I.E.E.E., American Academy of Sciences, New York Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Science. Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, MIT.

3. Dr. Ray Hyman, Ph.D./psychology, Johns Hopkins. Professor emeritus of psychology, University of Oregon. Author and founding member of the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Consultant, U.S. Government, Department of Defense, CIA, inquiries into remote viewing.

4. Dr. Michael Shermer, Ph.D./History of Science, Claremont Graduate School. Editor and publisher of Skeptic Magazine, columnist for Scientific American Magazine, multiple author, host of the Caltech Science Lecture Series.

This is our suggested "Qualified Panel" of Ph.D. scientists who have already agreed with this Foundation to examine the data gathered by Dr. Schwartz. They are all informed, willing, specialists, who I believe will be acceptable to Dr. Schwartz. I, James Randi, would not be involved in any evaluations made by the Panel.

Dr. Imwalle, this is a legitimate offer made by the James Randi Educational Foundation and its Board of Directors. We are genuinely interested in knowing more about the research data generated by Dr. E. R. Schwartz, and we feel that the public and the media should be properly informed of the quality and extent of the work being done at the University, rather than making uninformed assumptions. And, we believe that Dr. Schwartz will agree with us that we should follow the data where they lead.

I await your response with great interest. Thank you for considering this suggestion.

This obviously called for considerable conferencing at The University campus. Five weeks later, I received this courteous response from President Imwalle:

Dear Mr. Randi:

This is in response to your letter to me dated March 27, 2001, regarding research being conducted at the University of Arizona by Dr. Gary Schwartz. Since receiving the letter I have had several conversations with the Head of the Department of Psychology as well as with Dr. Schwartz about your proposal. Our conclusion is that the University is not prepared at this time to pursue the matter.

In reviewing the offer from the James Randi Educational Foundation with my colleagues on the campus, it became apparent that many issues need to be discussed and resolved before further consideration can be rendered. I suggest that you talk directly with Dr. Schwartz should you wish to have the matter given further consideration.

Thank you for your interest in the University of Arizona.

Cc: Gary E.R. Schwartz. Ph.D.
Lynn Nadel, Ph.D.

(Dr. Lynn Nadel is head of the Department of Psychology, professor of psychology, research cognitive scientist, and deputy director of the Center for the Study of Complex Systems, all at the University of Arizona.)

Just what do you suppose those "many issues" are that "need to be discussed and resolved"? And being "not prepared at this time to pursue the matter," how many more years should we wait until we expect that the University of Arizona will arrive at a "prepared" condition? Surely their bank is prepared to accept the million-dollar prize?

This is typical of academia. Never put any tenured professor in jeopardy by addressing embarrassing questions. Allow him to become a darling of the media, making extreme claims and announcing outrageous discoveries in the name of the university, but just hope that it will all go away. Even with a grant/prize of a million dollars — which the University would certainly accept gladly — putting Schwartz in a position where he'd have to prove his claims rather than merely writing popular books on them, is "just not done." Ivory Tower, don'tcha know?

Schwartz, from high in his permanent apartment in the Ivory Tower, responded to a comment I'd made about his recalcitrance. I referred to him as

....an academic who has abandoned reason to accept everything and anything offered him by scammers from John Edward to the gypsy down the street.

He shot back:

I refused [to take the challenge] for the same reason all serious scientists in America and Europe have refused. The process of this prize lacks scientific credibility and integrity. This guy is not a scientist — he is a mediocre magician who loves the public eye.

I cannot argue with Schwartz's opinion of my work as a magician, and I agree 100% with his first sentence, above; he refused for the same reason that so many other "scientists" have — abject fear that their naivety and ignorance would be revealed. However, the "process" of the JREF challenge is above reproach. It has never been shown to lack credibility or integrity. If Schwartz were at all familiar with the "process" he inveighs against, he'd know better — but that's not something that's within his spectrum of acceptance.

The solution to all this is within grasp, obviously; the JREF will put up the million, and Gary Schwartz will accept the challenge! Simple, definitive, fair, and "scientific." Oh, I almost forgot: Schwartz already agreed to that arrangement, and then changed his mind. Too bad.

That's Gary Schwartz you see, way up there on the top floor of the Ivory Tower, peeking out of that very narrow window. Milling about the main entrance? Those are the directors of the University of Arizona, hoping that Gary stays put and making very sure that I don't gain access to the Tower.....


An angry chap in the UK named Michael Roll has blathered on for years about my perfidy and often expressed his dismay and frustration that I'm still alive. I cannot offer him any consolation or satisfaction on that latter annoyance, but I can perhaps try to minimally educate him. Here's what he had to say in a widely-circulated tirade that is often forwarded to me for response:

This debunker [Randi] is the establishment front man for the whole of the religious and scientific establishments throughout the world. The mind boggles at the sort of funding that he must have access to.

Time out. Roll's mind appears to be very easily boggled. I cannot imagine that I would ever be any sort of "establishment front man," since the establishment is predominately superstitious, uninformed, and myth-driven. As for my representing any religious group or philosophy, that is well outside of possibility, as well. I perhaps do serve some scientific areas, in my amateur way, but certainly not on a professional basis. Mr. Roll believes that the only explanation for the success of the JREF and of my efforts, must be plentifully-available money; if he has a source of that material, he may want to share it with me. The JREF survives on the proceeds of my lectures, individual donations, membership fees, and our conventions. The million dollars sits awaiting assignment to any of those thousands upon thousands of wonder-workers out there who Roll so admires and believes in; it cannot be used for any other purpose. Moving along:

I can only speak for the UK but over here Randi is billed as the world's foremost expert on the paranormal. The staggering thing is that whenever the subject crops up on any media outlet this magician holds court on all outlets, especially in front of millions on television. Our professors of physics from Cambridge University, Wadhams and Josephson, who disagree with Randi are never allowed on British TV to balance Randi's case that death is the end of everything! It's this injustice that has made me fighting mad.

The only time the "great" Randi has ever been balanced on the British media was when the Nobel Laureate for physics, Josephson, linked the so-called paranormal with subatomic physics in a blaze of publicity in October 2001. Josephson was invited on BBC Radio 4. The Producer thought he would be very clever and stuck Randi up against this great scientist. Until that moment Randi had only come up against soft targets like mediums who did not know hay from a bulls foot about subatomic physics. Needless to say Josephson totally destroyed Randi in debate. All Randi could do was to call him a "scoundrel" on the air! Game, set, match and championship to the scientist. But hardly any person heard this on morning radio.

Time out, again. I have never referred to myself as "the great," nor would I. I know of no instance — except for this one — where that term has been used in referring to me; this is Mr. Roll's own invention. As for the "soft targets" I've come up against, they are many, it's true, but I've also been up against pretty "hard" ones, too; Jacques Benveniste springs to mind. In his case, he first agreed to my challenge (as Schwartz did, above!) then spent the next six years dodging it — along with Brian Josephson, who had also accepted the challenge! Josephson has now fallen silent and will not respond on the matter. And, as Roll full well knows, I did not call Josephson a scoundrel; I don't know him that well. My exact words were:

There is no firm evidence for the existence of telepathy, ESP, or whatever we wish to call it, and I think it is the refuge of scoundrels, in many aspects, for them to turn to something like quantum physics — which uses a totally different language from the regular English that we are accustomed to using from day to day — to merely say, "Oh that's where the answer lies, because that's all very fuzzy, anyway." No, it's not very fuzzy, and I think that his opinion will be differed with by the scientific body in general.

And that prediction was quite correct; despite decades of blundering around by the parapsychologists, there is still no hard evidence for ESP, and science does disagree with Josephson on that matter. Typically, Roll misrepresented me and invented yet another canard that I must deny, since he has no other process whereby he can fight the facts. He continued:

Randi was given a six part TV series on mediumship and the "paranormal." The astrophysicist, Sam Nicholls, wrote to the Granada studios warning them that Randi was a professional wrecker and that there would be no balance as the law demanded in the UK in order to fall in line with Article 19 of The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

He's serious, folks. He's actually saying that I've offended the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights — by being right! The woo-woo artists out there blather on and on, day in and day out, encouraged by the media and supported by the naïve — but I don't see skeptics being offered places at their tables! Let's hear more of Roll's tirade:

Nicholls warning was completely ignored and Randi was given the go-ahead! To his credit Nicholls put up a fight. He turned up at the Granada studios when Randi was making the series. Nicholls stood up and challenged this foreign magician. Randi panicked when confronted by a qualified scientist and ordered all the cameras to be switched off! Thankfully, all this was recorded for posterity and I am sure someone will now expose this self-styled expert on life after death and related subjects. As our lawyer Victor Zammit will confirm, Randi's million dollar offer is a hoax, a trick, the same as most everything connected with this magician.

First, anyone who simply asked for tickets to the shows, got them, until they were all distributed. Nicholls was just one of those who asked. What my being a "foreign" magician has to do with this matter, I cannot fathom. My friend Paul Daniels is a very prominent UK conjuror, equally confrontational on "psychic" claims; does Mr. Roll refer to him as a "native" magician? Would he similarly refer to John Nevil Maskelyne (1839-1917) — another UK magician who bombed on the "psychics" of his day — as a "native"?

As for "panic," I don't even recall this person Sam Nicholls, nor do I have any memory of such a confrontation — though several others did occur during those taping sessions, and Sam might have been one of those. There was never any request or order to "switch off" cameras, and Roll exposes his ignorance of the facts of the trade by so claiming. This is a knowing lie offered by Roll. In any case, I not only did not "order" such a move, but I had no authority whatsoever to do so. But Roll claims, "all this was recorded for posterity"? Here's my response to that: produce any recording or other evidence that such an event took place, and you'll take home the million-dollar prize, Mr. Roll. Or, if you prefer, cower under that rock over there beside Brian Josephson until people forget about this absurd lie you've promoted. Your answer, Roll?

If you really have Victor Zammit as your lawyer, it serves you right. His lack of a grasp of reality is legendary. As philosopher François Vidal wrote, "Reality ever teems with disappointment for him whose sources of enjoyment spring in the Elysium of fancy." So there.

Roll quoted questions asked by journalist Garry Bushell of The Sun newspaper, August 8th, 1991:

Why are not scientists who claim there is a rational case for a belief in life after death allowed to speak? Why have their arguments been kept off TV? I hear that comments from astrophysicist Sam Nicholls were cut from the show on mediums. Why? Could it be that Randi, a conjurer and escapologist, is only interested in easy targets?

I might ask Mr. Bushnell why he was not present at the taping? Other journalists were, and The Sun was duly notified, along with those others. Those scientists who support life-after-death notions were also invited, but declined to attend. Why? Bushnell, had he been there, would have known — not just "heard" — that no cameras were "switched off," at anyone's instructions, and though he seems to be a legitimate journalist, he could have simply inquired of Granada Television about this fiction; he did not. As for my being "only interested in easy targets," that is a lie, as well; I have taken on all comers, big and small, and have specifically challenged scientists such as Josephson himself, and "big-time psychics" such as Acorah, Edward, Browne, Geller, and a multitude of others, but they've all declined to be tested! We don't see Michael Roll addressing those facts, do we?

Michael Roll is either just a bare-faced liar, or he's simply stupid and uninformed. Your choice....


The weird coach of France's national football team, Raymond Domenech, admitted several years ago that he used astrology and "star signs" to select his players. Said he, it is an especially bad situation to have more than one Scorpio in any squad because "Scorpios always end up killing each other." Leos are also a problem, he said, because they're always "going to try something daft." Poor performances from his team in recent weeks have left Domenech's men struggling to qualify for the World Cup in Germany next year, and it may be all down to the stars.

Is he still consulting the stars before making important decisions? Ask the French. Domenech says that he has abandoned astrology in favor of more daring methods of selection, such as talent and current performances. However, in a recent documentary interview on a program which examined whether astrology still plays any part in French public life, he admitted that he still gives some thought to players' star signs — but only "marginally, at the end of the selection process, when it is a question of choosing between players of equal ability."

So he's only partially daft....


At www.randi.org/jr/040105capitalizing.html#6 we mentioned Rob Justice's exchange with Whole Foods Market on their inclusion of homeopathy in their catalog. Well, Rob's heard back from Noelle Wagner:

Thank you for comments on Homeopathy. I am sorry that you feel that this is a harmful practice, but our position is that we cater to a variety of consumers and many of them use and benefit from Homeopathy.

In that case, Ms. Wagner, I'm sure that at least one of the Whole Foods customers will be able to prove that, and will be winning our million-dollar prize! I'm waiting expectantly....!

I did check out the James Randi website, and found some of the information to be very interesting. What is unfortunate, however, is that this site only provides one view of Homeopathy and does not show any evidence of studies where homeopathy does work. For balance, I also looked at the National Center for Homeopathy's website www.homeopathic.org/controlled.htm), which gave the obviously differing view.

"Differing," yes, but no proof other than anecdotal, Ms. Wagner. No number of stories will make up for a good set of scientific data.

They did have one thing in common, however, and that was that there was no evidence of Homeopathy being harmful to the patients. This is our primary concern. We do not sell prescription drugs, which have been found time and time again to be far more harmful than any homeopathic remedy. We try to present our customers with a balanced view of alternative medicine. There are many web sites that give what they call "credible evidence" that all alternative medicine is a scam. But as most alternative medicine has been used for hundreds of years, and provides the basis for many conventional and prescription drugs, I feel that the information provided by these sites is very misleading.

Your primary concern is that your products don't harm people? That's a valid concern, but what about determining whether or not what you sell actually works? Just how many of your customers would be alive and well today if it weren't for those deadly "prescription drugs," Ms. Wagner? The fact that people have been scammed for "hundreds of years" doesn't justify your continuing the swindle! And, you have prescription drugs "harmful" and useful in the same paragraph, the useful ones having been discovered first as "alternatives." You should know that those that are useful and in current use, were put in that position by science, not by stories and rumors. Examine the recent history of "alternative remedies" and see what horrors they've given rise to.

Whole Foods Market will continue to sell homeopathic remedies. I apologize if you find this to be unacceptable. We take all of our consumer feedback very seriously, and I thank you for yours. Please feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss this issue further.

Well, at least Ms, Wagner is willing to discuss all this. And she replied to Rob's inquiry! I gladly take back my prediction that Rob wouldn't hear anything in return, and I apologize for my presumption. Ah, but there's more! Reader Andras Konya also had interaction with these folks. He writes:

I read your section on Whole Foods with interest as I sometimes shop there. Unlike Rob, I did get a detailed "explanatory" reply back from Barbara Baskin (an "Associate Store Team Leader," the synergistic equivalent of assistant manager, I suppose), after I alerted them of the Red Elk section in Swift. She wrote me:

Dear Mr. Konya,

Thank you for taking time to express your feedback regarding homeopathic remedies. You certainly have a right to your views, and a choice about what path you take for health and recovery from immune imbalances. Because we do have customers who choose Homeopathic formulas, and because they have been proven safe and otherwise meet our quality standards, Whole Foods Market will continue to offer these products.

With any type of medical treatment, including Homeopathic, Ayurvedic, and/or "Conventional," there are going to be as many opinions about their effectiveness as there are formulas and people taking them. For any further information regarding Homeopathy, our Whole Body Team Members are happy to refer you to several books and websites that offer views opposite from the website link you included in your e-mail.

Sincerely, Barbara Beskin, Associate Store Team Leader

[Andras] then wrote back:

Dear Ms. Beskin,

Not only is the idea behind homeopathy thoroughly ridiculous nonsense, but there have been zero, count them, zero double-blind studies or tests that have proven or even hinted at the effectiveness of homeopathetic remedies. Medical treatment isn't about "opinions," it's about providing products which have been shown to work. Homeopathy and most other alternative "medicines" don't meet that test. While homeopathic remedies are safe because they don't have active ingredients (or really any other), it still is troubling that an otherwise terrific store would peddle such items using such claptrap, when you people ought to go the extra mile to make sure you aren't selling bogus and ineffective merchandise.

Despite using one of your favorite words — claptrap — I did not get a response.

Don't be too sure, Andras.....!


Reader Richard Tubman made a discovery:

I went to the LA Times web site, found a great commentary by Michael Shermer and looked at the bottom of the web page. Here are the ads that appeared with Dr. Shermer's commentary:

Were Adam & Eve Giants? Journey into our Ancient Past. Admission is Free! www.BiblelandStudios.com

The Genesis Story
More people are learning the real meaning of the biblical record. www.genesis-story.com

L. Ron Hubbard
Information about the founder of Scientology and Dianetics. lron.hubbard.org

Scientology News
Good news stories covering different religions and beliefs. www.goodnewsbroadcast.com/

Creation vs. Evolution
Where Did the Universe Come From? New Angle on a Tired Old Debate Evolution.CelestialMechanic.com

Words fail me....


In regard to my "You have to wonder" item in the March 18 www.randi.org/jr/031805x.html#8 commentary dealing with claimed divine intervention in the attempted 1981 assassination of Pope John Paul II, reader Herman D'Hondt of Sydney, Australia, opines:

It appears to me that God works his miracles in a very different way now than He did in the olden days. Back then He would have smitten the villain before he even had a chance to attack His servant. Or, at least He would have killed all his descendants, or sent a pox to annoy them. Nowadays He works in a more subtle way: let the guy shoot, but at the last millisecond deflect the bullet to prevent any fatal damage, and then let the gunman go to jail for a few years. I suppose He does not want to be too obvious these days. Or is it perhaps that He felt he (the Pope that is) had been bad and deserved to be shot, but not so bad that he deserved to die?

If I combine this idea with an earlier statement by another of our illustrious religious leaders, the Anglican bishop of Sydney, who said that the Boxing Day tsunami was a warning from God to teach us to behave ourselves, it becomes clear why the tsunami did not just result in some broken arms and ribs. It must be due to the fact that the area is populated by very bad adults and children, not to mention lots of criminal babies.

Somehow my own explanation of random chance seems more satisfactory.

Agreed, Herman.


UK reader John Gregson is justifiably alarmed. With a Prime Minister and spouse who embrace all sorts of supernatural flummery, and a royal family that espouses all manner of quack practices, he finds that their National Health Service has now abandoned ship, as well:

I read this morning that the NHS are once again spending our money in the most useful way, employing a "reiki master." This savior of our medical society will "channel positive energy" into critically ill patients by the laying on of hands.

Before my eyes soared skywards, I did note the disclaimer at the bottom of the article which mentioned that this procedure carried no scientific evidence proving its claims. Maybe if they'd thought about that before hiring the "master"?

Oh well, if it appeases the Royals and Number Ten, it must be good for the common folk, right?


In presenting the 2005 Richard Dawkins Award to Penn & Teller, Professor Dawkins delivered an effective and somewhat effusive speech, for good reasons. With permission, I give you this small extract from that address. It expresses very much of my own reasoning behind my attitude and approach to the matters that I handle every day. Said Richard:

The second reason I would single out Penn and Teller for praise is not just that they are giving a wonderful example to others to come out of the closet, but that they have the courage to give offence. I don't mean that giving offence is in itself a virtue. But I do deplore a tendency, in the nice liberal circles in which most of us move, to feel that people have a right not to be offended, even if what they say is highly offensive....

...I happened to meet the leader of that same Christian Coalition, in the rival TV station to the BBC in Manchester. I was about to do the normal polite thing, smile and shake his hand. But I had just been thinking about my speech for Penn and Teller, and it suddenly flashed across my mind: "I don't have to shake this man's hand." Before I had time to think better of it, I called him, to his face, an irrational bigot. He said, "Well you didn't waste much time in getting down to the name-calling." I replied that there are just a few issues where we have to stop pussyfooting around, and free speech was one of them.

I think we have been running scared of giving offence for too long. There are times when offence is precisely the right thing to give. I remember a wonderful occasion when my scientific colleague Lewis Wolpert and I were on a TV panel with some theologians. At one point, a theologian said something like, "I must say I find Professor Wolpert's remarks about religion very offensive." Wolpert immortally shot back (read it in a South African accent), "They were supposed to be offensive!"

Penn and Teller are not afraid of giving offence, where the target deserves it, in particular where the target is any kind of hypocrisy or charlatanry.

Well said, Richard! The next time that someone comes down on me for speaking my mind openly and directly, I'll refer them to the words of Richard Dawkins. I flatter myself by assuming that he might apply those words to my own approach. It is not only difficult, but unethical, to withhold one's frank opinions when those giving offense are so obviously wrong — and do not resist insulting us equally. I calls 'em as I sees 'em, loud and clear. But you knew that...


Reader Ron Strong refers us to an interesting site:

It seems to me from reading your commentaries, that people tend to be more prone to send you examples of these institutions falling for superstition than they are to send you examples of these institutions fighting it. I also happen to think that promoting critical thinking requires both encouragement of good examples of it as well as exposure of the bad examples. So, in that light, I would like to send you an article from MSNBC where a former FBI profiler [Clint Van Zandt] points out (as his article is titled) that "Shoe Leather, Not Sixth Sense, Breaks Cases Open." See www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7320305/

It is a good article and it goes into how little help that psychics have actually been in cases and he describes how some are simply cold reading the people they are talking to, though he doesn't call it "cold reading," admittedly, but he describes it. I think the most telling paragraph in the article, though, is this one:

My point is this: If psychics were truly successful and if their results were not simply the consequence of trickery (at worse) or good interviewing skills (at best) — then why don't law enforcement agencies have psychic detective squads, a real X-files Unit, or other ways to integrate these paranormal investigative capabilities?

I often hear Sylvia Browne, Allison Dubois, and other psychics blathering about how helpful they are to the police in solving cases. I think this simple paragraph, written by an FBI profiler, someone who would be in a position to know exactly how helpful psychics would be to police, rebuts the claims of Browne, DuBois, et al, in regards to their "helpfulness" to the police, more succinctly than anything else I can think of.

Ron, thank you for bringing this to our attention — and I urge other readers to do the same, please. We're of course only too willing to present such material.


And we got it, dozens of satisfactory answers to the "key fob" problem presented last week at www.randi.org/jr/040105capitalizing.html#7. Two major solutions were offered, exemplified by these:

Reader Dave Matteson, "Amateur Car Enthusiast," writes:

The holding of the key fob to the chin is a common technique. It only works because of the elevation of the key fob. Try holding it at the same height but not pressed against the chin, move it out say a foot from your face. You should get the same results.

The difference most people notice is because usually they use their keys from hip or elbow level. The additional level helps the signal clear the doors — which in modern cars are usually heavily enforced by steel and often contain airbags — and get to the receiver which is usually located in the dash.

Reader Chad Wahls presented a rather more technical analysis. First, you should know that antennae work best at fractions or multiples of the wavelength in use:

I may not be able to completely answer the question but I can add insight.

Key FOB's transmit at a frequency between 315 MHz and 433.9 MHz. The corresponding wavelengths at full wave are 3.12 Feet and 2.26 Feet respectively. At these lengths incorporating even a quarter wave antennas would be cumbersome.

Try this. Put the FOB on the ground and poke it with a wooden stick, you will notice that its range is very short. So this dictates the fact that it uses your body as an antenna. Because of its operating frequency the average human body is close to that of 2 wavelengths, that's a pretty nice antenna! Due to the fact human height varies greatly the antenna matching is not all that exact but since it is over 1 wavelength it will work well. If you were exactly 2 wavelengths tall you would approach a perfect match and your range would be fantastic. Chances are nil as these are narrow banded devices.

Placing the transmitter to the chin (or temple from what I have also heard) moves the feed point of the (antenna) closer to the 2 wavelength antenna length in respect to the ground plane (ground/counterpoise), this provides a better antenna match and the range is extended, this is known as an end-fed antenna with counterpoise. When holding it in your hand your body provides a dipole arrangement, in certain instances this can be more directional it is not as effective a 2 wavelength omni directional radiator.

Experiment I have never tried, place the fob on the ground and cover it with your bare foot, poke the button with your toe, in theory this should work better as the transmitter is placed at the counterpoise and radiates through the entire body. Another theory is that there is more soft tissue (moisture) in the head than in the hand, allowing the transmitter to better couple. I'm sticking with the placement theory.

Perhaps more than we needed to know....? But thanks to all of you who sent in solutions! I am now more certain than ever, that any answers can be found by presenting the questions to my readers!


The JREF congratulates Mr. Sanal Edamaruku, who has just been elected as the new President of the Indian Rationalist Association (IRA). The IRA was founded in 1949 at Madras, and is one of the largest freethought organizations in the world, with thousands of members. Mr. Edamaruku was the IRA general secretary since 1983 and led a series of marches against superstition that covered thousands of villages in India during the 1990s. He received national media attention for exposing and explaining several so-called "miracles" that had gained the attention of the media, worldwide, among them the "milk drinking" statues of the Indian god Ganesh, and the "monkey man" stories.

For the "Ganesh" story, see what reader Vikram Paralkar told us at www.randi.org/jr/080202.html


(In case a posse of lawyers moves in to screech at my quoting from a web site, note that the two indented paragraphs here can be found at www.allisondubois.com/friends.html — they might insist that I delete these because of their client's embarrassment in being called to account for the errors.)

My, my! In her search for high-powered support, "psychic" Allison Dubois has flailed about and come upon a real heavy in the Bible-thumping/paranormal Hall of Flame. She had to go all the way Down Under, but she came up with this prize impaled on her thumb:

Victor [Zammit] is a Lawyer from Australia. His evidence has not been rebutted by any scientist — or anybody else in the seven years that it has been on the net. For anyone looking for an intelligent argument, Victor Zammit is a published author and is capable of providing the information that people seek.

Really? Allison should tune up those wondrous powers of hers. Zammit has been ridiculed for the very fact that he offers zero proof of what he preaches, but only scolds us for not proving him wrong — when he offers no evidence! Oh yes, he's a "published author" — self-published. He paid for the printing of his ONE book, himself, and he's the only one who sells copies, right out of his home! Now, there's a tough act to beat! Allison continues:

I want to address an issue that comes up from time to time. There is an irritating magician offering $1 million to anyone that can prove to him that there is anything paranormal. My response to this is there is a reason that mediums do not take him up on his challenge. The mediums I know, myself included, do not believe this man to be honorable. Not only is he an unintelligent skeptic, he would be an out of work skeptic if somebody were to prove this to him. Therefore, he will never come to the conclusion that any medium has met his standards. If he is so interested in million dollar challenges, maybe he should take Victor Zammit up on his. It would be appreciated if he would direct his anger, whining and bullying towards a therapist. FYI any e-mail concerning him will be rightfully deleted.

Point-by-point: I cannot argue with Allison's designation of me as, "irritating." I most certainly am irritating to her, obviously, because I'm calling her bluff — out loud, repeatedly, and untiringly. She certainly knows, since she and her lawyers have studied my web page with close attention for any loopholes that might be there, that the applicants for the JREF prize are not required to "prove to [me] that there is anything paranormal," nor that anyone has to "[meet my] standards." That's clearly stated, in simple language that I think even she can understand. But facing up to that uncomfortable fact is something that Allison cannot manage, so she tries to create a fiction that will get her off this awkward hook she finds imbedded in her psyche.

Her lawyers will agree, I'm sure, that if she and all these "mediums" — as she states, "do not believe [me] to be honorable," taking me up on the challenge would serve perfectly to establish that far beyond a simple accusation — and a million dollars would be an added incentive to do so, I'd think. She tries to direct me over to Zammit, hoping that he'll distract me from her claims. That will not happen, especially since Zammit has already refused to take up the JREF challenge, long ago. Allison, you should be better informed on such matters! It's not all there in your crystal ball, as you well know!

As for my ever being "out of work," have no fear of that, Allison. So long as you and your crowd work your scams on the public, I'll be busy. And there are others waiting to fill my shoes, have no fear.

Allison Dubois finally surrenders when she declares that she wishes to remain ignorant of me, and that she will "rightfully" delete any e-mail that dares to remind her that I'm still out here. Perhaps she meant to write, "righteously"? She's now scurried under that rock where John Edward, Uri Geller, Sylvia Browne, and the whole community of scared fakers are hiding. I'm told that they've advertised for a larger rock, this one having become far too crowded.... To quote Charles Dickens, "There are times when ignorance is bliss indeed." By this means, Allison achieves bliss....


Reader Nick Rowden refers us to a radio show put together by students at U.C. Davis called This Week in Science www.twis.org/aboutus.html Click in there and be informed.


Next week, Feng Shui underpants, waffling in Calgary, and Tellington TT Touch!