May 14, 2004

The Nine Lives of Katz, A Kudos, The Art of Recovering From Total Failure, "Organic" Carried to the Extreme, Astrology Reduced to Essentials & Hypnotic Matters, A UFO Epiphany, More "Least Haunted" Progress, Young Dinosaurs, Fun Site, The Geller Curse, Less of a Miracle, Exposing the Errors of ABC's Primetime Thursday, Invisible Critter, Coming Up in Italy, and In Conclusion….

Table of Contents:


Transferring some old written files in my office, I recently came upon notes I'd made many years ago while interviewing Yascha Katz for a RAI3 — Italy — TV program. Katz was the former manager of Uri Geller in Israel. In the Katz folder was his sketch of the signaling code used by the Geller team in his early years doing the mentalism act. You see it here applied to an old photo. I don't accuse the gentleman shown, of having been involved in this act, or even of having been in a Geller audience, but if he was, that's the digit "9" that he'd be sending up to the stage. Or, it could be the color "white," if that's what was being determined by "telepathy" or "clairvoyance," though of course only if those powers were to somehow fail, and trickery might be called for. The color correspondences were the same as those still used for the standard American Standards Association (ASA) "resistor" code:

0  =  black
1  =  brown
2  =  red
3  =  orange
4  =  yellow
5  =  green
6  =  blue
7  =  violet
8  =  grey
9  =  white.

It's customary for the performer on stage to cue the audience confederate when he's picked up the cue, usually by putting a hand to his forehead as if aiding concentration, or pulling on an ear. I don't have that in my notes, but I have several other — needlessly complicated, in my opinion — methods of signaling that involved tilting and handling of a cigarette by the confederate seated in the audience front row.

That file has other interesting items too, some of which I won't share with you…. Yet….


Reader Eric Ladd says nice things:

This is more of a "shot in the arm" for you. I realize from your weekly web updates that it might seem daunting for you to continue on your course of enlightening the public. I'd like to tell you about a long time convert: me. I have been a frequent visitor to because of my childhood. Roughly two years ago, I was at home and something jogged my memory. It was a childhood memory of seeing you on television, challenging a man who claimed to be a telekinetic. He was going to prove it by moving a pencil with his mind. If my memory serves, he demonstrated this once, then you sprinkled some packing peanuts around the pencil and asked him to move only the pencil with his mind. Of course he could not and claimed the packing material was causing "interference." You then demonstrated how this trick was done by lightly blowing on the balanced pencil and moving your hands in a "magical" way.

Anyway, with memory jogged I performed a quick search (incorrectly at first because I looked up "the amazing randy") and have been coming to your site regularly if not religiously — tongue-in-cheek intended. I saw this ad for Barq's root beer that had me tickled and thought I would share it. Here's the link. Click on the "Psychic" commercial:

You see, I frequently encounter people or things that remind me of you and your work. Because of you, my thought process, analysis, and how I live, was changed and I want to thank you. I'm sure there are a great many others out there that feel the same way. I also wanted to let you know that I continue to question the unexplained, and use my common sense and sensibility to solve issues instead of the human propensity to accept the supernatural. Once again, thank you for working to debunk the woo-woo out there. I'm glad you were doing it when I was still forming as a person. I consider my brief television encounter with you an important part of who I am.

Now, I ask you, folks: is it worth doing this job, or not? Thank you for caring enough to mention this, Eric. It really did make my day — and a little more.

Mea Culpa Department: On the other track, I was scolded — rightly — for exempting the Vikings from being alive in the Middle Ages, and scolding Jez for claiming that. And, for saying the "NBC" was the UK's National Broadcasting Commission — which doesn't exist. I plead temporary insanity. No, that was the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission. Drat! But I'm back on my medication now…. And, "phonon" is a legitimate scientific term, though certainly not the way that Galaxy Wave used it. A number of readers wrote telling me how shocking that item was, and some were trying to do something to get that Galaxy Wave website shut down. Small chance….


Reader Joe Shippert has experienced the remarkable resiliency of practitioners of the psychic trade, an absolute requirement of the breed:

Here's a funny anecdote that I've been sharing with my skeptical friends for a couple of months. I thought you might find it amusing too. This is a true story. Last December, my company held its winter celebration. It was a nice little party where we could relax, enjoy good food and get dressed up a bit. Several "psychics" were hired to perform all manner of nonsense: palm reading, tarot cards, handwriting analysis, etc. My wife and I decided to give one a try.

Before we went in, I resolved to free my mind of critical thinking. I figured the psychics were there for entertainment purposes only and I was there to be entertained. Why not just go with it and try not to think too hard? Unfortunately, the psychic simply would not let me give up my skepticism. During the palm reading, she told my wife that she was going to have two children.

"Really?" my wife asked. The psychic looked at my hand, too. Yes, she definitely saw that we were going to have two children.

My wife played it cool. "Oh, that's surprising, because I can't have children," she said. What she didn't tell the psychic was that we'd both had surgery two months before; my wife had a tubal ligation and I had a vasectomy!

But the psychic didn't give up. She suggested that maybe we would have two dogs. We have four cats.

It was certainly entertaining, but not in the way I think it was intended.

Or two pairs of cats….?


Reader Tim Regan is of the opinion that some things can go just too far….

Pseudo-science doesn't worry too much about animal/vegetable/mineral definitions in their products. Our local grocery store sells "organic salt."


Take a look at for the most sensible approach to astrology that I've seen in a long time, suggested by reader Jonathan Jolly of Texas, and then visit for a super offer to buy into a scheme that

. . . takes its root in the ancient qabalistic magick and the modern psychotronics, giving you an unvaluable [sic] tool to influence people remotely and make magick operations with your computer.

Reader Nick Oliver warns that you should be sure to be seated before looking in on that "magick" site...


A solving of a Mars-identification problem we ran here recently brought this from reader David Joffe:

The anecdote from Nick Jarvis reminded me of a small incident that happened to me while flying recently. It was at night, and looking down and out of the window, I noticed what looked like a large, bright, glowing object, moving very fast, matching the speed of the plane, and appearing to move "this way and that" very quickly. The first thoughts that rather eerily sprang to my mind were of the many eye-witness descriptions of supposed "UFO sightings" from planes that I had read about long ago as a child. After a few moments thought, I realized that I was just looking at the full moon above reflecting off some oddly patterned clouds below!

Now I'm not someone who generally believes in the paranormal anyway, but I still found it somehow pleasing to finally have a simple, logical explanation for something that intrigued me as a child. It was interesting to me how precisely what I had seen matched those old eye-witness descriptions.

I've frequently been treated to such epiphanies, and I understand your delight, David. We humans are not satisfied with unanswered questions, with unsolved problems, or unexplained observations. We seem to not only want, but to strongly need, answers — and that's one important reason why we are so prone to accept easy solutions. It makes the scam-artists' work so much simpler….


Reader/correspondent Jez Wood, in the UK, continues describing the Most Haunted TV series there in which Derek Acorah is the resident "psychic." Here's his blow-by-blow account:

My earlier mail described that televisual feast that is Most Haunted. Well, as I stated, the live show for Easter is upon us. It's a 3-day event with live broadcasts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. The reason for my mail is just to keep you informed as you are very kindly including my article in your webpage, and some more information has arisen that applies to my earlier comments.

You will remember the "tied-down/flying spoon." Well, the team are now holding a public vote on whether the public believes it was a paranormal event or whether it was thrown by a crew member. Get this, just vote "spoon yes, or spoon no" to whatever hotline it was they provided. I'll let you know the results as they come in.

Now then, they went into a little more detail than they did when the event took place, even going to great lengths to show us the spoon "tied down." The spoon seemed to be part of some display, and was "tied down" to prevent theft. Hmmm, the great masked spoon thief is among us. I'll leave any readers to wonder why this "display" was not shown when the event occurred. Anyway, it was fastened by a piece of plastic loop which my elderly Grandmother, or my 5-year-old son, could have removed should they be afflicted by the culinary utensil kleptomania virus.

Now, [hostess/presenter] Ms. Fielding got very upset when someone dared to suggest that her husband (the cameraman, remember?) threw the spoon. "Why would my husband throw a sharp object (!) in my direction that could hit me and I could be scarred for life?" she bawled.

It's a spoon, not a javelin!

It's at this point that the spoon was identified as having a sharpened end. I'm no spoon expert, but I have never heard of a sharpened spoon. I'm not saying they don't exist, more like "why" would they. A skeptic, (you read correctly, there was a real live skeptic there!) even went to the trouble to build a model of the room with cardboard figures representing the crew in the room at the time. There were ten. Here he suggested who may be possible spoon throwers. Once again he was lambasted and mocked when he had the audacity to put forward a logical explanation. He was repeatedly interrupted and patronized by the presenter, whom I feel would have been more at home presenting a Disney show. I do apologize for bringing you down, Mickey and Donald.

Anyway, that's the earth-shattering events from last night. Should there be any more, I'll let you know.

Later, Jez reports….

As promised, here is my update of the three-day treat that is Most Haunted. Almost seven hours later here are the findings that we have all so eagerly awaited. The things I do for skepticism!

Re: the telephone vote of "spooky spoon 'yes' or spooky spoon 'no'" ....89% viewed this event as being paranormal. I do not know what else to say. I really don't.

Randi comments: Remember, Jez, it's the believers who tend to vote, thus the score is rather tilted. Most of the others think this is just too silly to waste time on. For example, did you vote….?

Night Two: This live show attempted to get in touch with the "Witch Finder General," that being Matthew Hopkins, the man responsible for the capture, arrest, prosecution and execution of some 200+ "witches" throughout England in the Middle Ages.

Randi comments: Hopkins died in 1647, well after the Middle Ages had been succeeded by the Renaissance, but that's a small point…. Back to Jez….

There's not much to say. Several webcams were set up with some 12,000 people phoning in to say they had seen grey ladies, horses, dogs, orbs etc....etc. Not once was the footage rewound to show the rest of us. Mr. Acorah attempted to get in touch with Hopkins and his cohorts, to no avail.

This brings me nicely onto night three. The main points this evening were, a possession, an E.S.P. experiment and a whopping great blunder dropped by Acorah and Fielding! Allow me to start with the E.S.P. live experiment. An ESP symbol was picked by the troubled skeptic and sealed in an envelope. Sounds familiar does it not? Members of the studio audience and the public at home (communicating via text message) had to read the thoughts of our man and attempt to see the chosen card. Same old story.

The results: [From the standard Zener cards, the circle, the plus-sign, wavy lines, square, and star] Starting from the least-picked card to the most popular, in fifth place was the circle, followed by the plus-sign. Coming in at number three we had the star, with an impressive number two for the square. And this week's most-chosen was the wavy lines.

Then the envelope was opened to reveal the actual chosen card. It was a circle. This result was the worst possible result! What followed was a very quick change of subject and a commercial break. The experiment was never mentioned again. Strange, that.

The possession: Now this was one of the best yet. Psychic Derek Acorah was possessed by the spirit of Hopkins. What followed was Acorah going through his repertoire of various ancient English accents, threatening Ms. Fielding, calling her "wench" and even asking to see her breasts! (There had to be some perks in this job!)

He was duly carted off by two security men, kicking and screaming, where he was taken backstage for a cigarette. He did make an appearance at the end of the show to say that he was feeling much better. That's OK then. Incidentally, I'd like to point out that Fielding made a statement following her sexual harassment by the Witch Finder General. This was: "I know for a fact that possession among mediums is very rare." Shaking my head in despair every time I read that, I simply have no comment to make. It is worth reading again and pondering for a moment or two.

My final observation: the blunder! Before Acorah was "taken over," he entered the room, and immediately said he felt sick, a feeling I was rapidly sympathizing with. He made statements such as, "He's here!" and "It's him." Fielding questioned him over and over, and Acorah eventually said, "Hopkins," "Thank you, Sam," and then, after repeating "Hopkins" several times, he said "Andrew Hopkins! It's him, Andrew Hopkins!"

A puzzled-looking Fielding said, "Who?"

"Andrew Hopkins," came the response.

"And what relation is he to Matthew Hopkins?" asked Fielding.

I smiled. Widely.

Stuttering followed: "Andrew… er… Andrew… er… Andrews… Hopkins… Andrews and Hopkins."

I smiled wider.

Being the true professional, Acorah managed to twist it back round to Matthew Hopkins and said that he could also sense James Hopkins, Matthew's father. This could not be verified, as his parents are not listed in any history book.

I did e-mail Most Haunted to say how easily that "Matthew" could be misheard for "Andrew" through an earpiece, but did not receive a reply. Strange. Needless to say the name Andrew was never mentioned again. Not once.

Well, that's it. Most Haunted is starting its fourth series next week. I do not expect to see or hear anything new, or indeed, anything at all. If I do, you will be the first to know. Please do not hold your breath.

Thanks, Jez. We can't wait...! Maybe the elusive Andrew will show up!


Dinosaur Adventure Land is a theme park in Pensacola, Florida. The proprietor, Kent Hovind, offers a Darwin-free view of dinosaurs who he thinks lived in a world less than 6,000 years old. He's a former bible school science teacher with his own ministry, Creation Science Evangelism, and is strictly against thinking, as his words to The New York Times revealed. Said he, defending his use of the theme-park route to explain creationism:

There are a lot of creationists that are really smart and debate the intellectuals, but the kids are bored after five minutes. You're missing 98 percent of the population if you only go the intellectual route.

Very true. Blind ignorance accomplishes much more than reason ever could, when you're not allowed to think. And it's SO much easier, isn't it, Kent?

But it looks as if Satan is out to get the park. Just two weeks ago IRS agents raided Dinosaur Adventure Land to remove financial documents from Mr. Hovind's home and offices, saying he was not paying taxes on a couple million dollars of income, and had neither a business license nor tax-exempt status for his enterprises. Said Hovind, with righteous zeal, "I don't have any tax obligations."

We'll see….


Here's a way — sent to us by reader Richard Burgess — of generating your own Nostradamus quatrains! Go to: and click away. No astrological nor precognitive experience needed...


In the UK's Daily Mail newspaper, readers are encouraged to provide answers to provocative questions. A recent question plus an answer from reader John Atkinson, on the Isle of Man:

QUESTION: How wrong can you actually be? What is the best example?

ANSWER: The very best might have been the flight of "Wrong-Way Corrigan," who took off from New York with a flight plan for Los Angeles, but landed eventually In Ireland, citing a compass problem.

But as that myth has been exposed — he did it deliberately — I offer "The Curse Of Uri Geller" as an alternative. As Geller claims to have strong "psychic powers," one might expect him to get the odd thing right, but his record indicates otherwise. Indeed, it would be difficult to be more wrong.

He predicted that David Coulthard would win the British Grand Prix; Coulthard crashed at the first corner and retired on lap three.

In July 2001, he tried to get people to stop Paul Clarke being evicted from the Big Brother house by placing their hands on the TV screen; Paul was evicted soon after.

During Wimbledon 2001, he announced be was using his "powers" to back Tim Henman; Henman lost to Goran Ivanisevic.

In 1997 he predicted that Go Ballistic would win the Grand National; the race was abandoned.

He tried to assist Reading Football Club and Exeter City Football Club; both teams were relegated.

Geller "treated" the former world heavyweight boxing champion Frank Bruno in a glass pyramid in Berkshire; not long after, in September 2003, Bruno was taken against his will to a mental hospital.

Gee, 100%! Similarly, another ad in a tabloid there commented:

Since the early seventies Uri Geller has baffled the world. And today the question still remains unanswered: How on earth does he make so much cash from one or two unimpressive conjuring tricks?

Whether he's restarting a proportion of intermittently faulty mechanical things, or bending cutlery under the table, his mysterious powers to make a living continue to confound the experts.

There was more, but in rather bad taste, which I'll spare you….


Reader Paul Hetherington, re

You were too kind to the "Psychic Barber" concerning point 5, where Gordon says "He likes the picture of him you've chosen as it shows him as he really was." This is not a guess about mothers selecting to display a photograph, since the grieving relatives are instructed by Gordon on the website: "The letter should be in your own handwriting and accompanied by a photograph of yourself and your loved one." So even less was not clearly derived from the poor woman's letter!


Three weeks ago ABC's Primetime Thursday aired a one-hour special on the paranormal, on which Michael Shermer appeared as the token skeptic for all of about 12 seconds. The taping came about somewhat by chance when Michael was in the same ABC-TV location in New York taping a John Stossel special, so they simply asked him to comment generally on psychic detectives. One viewer, a skeptic named Curtis Cameron, took the time to track down the facts on some of the stories in that program, and despite the huge budget ABC allocates for research, he was able to come up with far more probable explanations than the ABC researchers were able to find. Here is Curtis' very insightful letter.

Dear Primetime Thursday:

I was severely disappointed in your paranormal stories from April 15 about the boy who is allegedly reincarnated, and the "Psychic Sherlock" Carla Baron. I had seen your teaser commercial a couple of days before, which said something like "if you're a skeptic, we dare you to watch," so I was expecting something quite a bit better.

It took me about ten minutes of researching on the Internet to conclude that the reporters either didn't check their facts, or they intentionally left out key details which would cast doubt on the stories as presented. What happened to the maxim "if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out"? The PT reporters didn't even find basic evidence to question their stories.

For example, the story about the reincarnated boy differed from the account offered in the Pittsburgh Daily Courier from April 15. That article specifically said that the boy was taken to the Cavanaugh Flight Museum when he was 18 months old, and that his fantasies and nightmares started after that time. I don't recall your TV show clearly stating this timeline — I had the impression after watching the show that the "memories" happened by themselves, without an incident to prompt them.

Then in the interview with the mother, she told the astonishing story about how her son knew what a "drop tank" is, and that she had never heard of one. It didn't take me too long to visit the web site of the Cavanaugh Flight Museum and see, among the few items exhibited that are not actual airplanes, a drop tank! This isn't some obscure museum piece that wouldn't be noticed, there are not that many of them there, others being an ejection seat and some guns. Why did you not mention this in your program? Was it because the reporter didn't even do very basic research, or was it intentionally hidden?

In the segment about Carla Baron's psychic detective work, you mentioned two of the other cases which she claims demonstrate her ability. The first was the case of Rafael Tello, who killed his wife and daughter. Your story said that Ms. Baron's psychic predictions about an incinerator led the police to find some victim body parts near an industrial building almost 40 miles away, right? However, according to articles in The Desert Sun by Christine Mahr, these body parts were found by hikers, not by police. Also, you tried to make it appear that Ms. Baron got a "hit" by describing the smokestacks and saying that the body parts were incinerated. In the pictures you showed, the building didn't appear to have incinerator smokestacks, but things on the roof that looked like they could be ventilation, or possibly chimneys. And you glossed over the fact that the body parts weren't incinerated. So in light of this, how does this case support her abilities?

In her second case that she supposedly got right, teenage boy Lloyd Israel disappeared and Ms. Baron correctly predicted where the body would be found — in some corn fields. What your reporter neglected to tell the audience in this case was that his car was discovered at the time of his disappearance, abandoned on a road among corn fields, and his body was discovered not far from where his car was found. This little fact would completely destroy any claim to a psychic "hit" of Ms. Baron, yet you conveniently left it out.

The case she was trying to solve during the segment was the disappearance of Cindy Song. Even though she completely struck out, you close with the frustratingly vague "a source tells Primetime that an informant has given details possibly linking Song's disappearance and the area where Baron says she got the strongest vibes." I've never taken a journalism course, but I can't imagine this kind of work would receive passing grades in any of them.

Then of course you had Michael Shermer and Paul Kurtz as skeptics, for "balance." Both of these guys are quite capable of debunking what you're peddling, but they would have needed more than the four or five seconds that you gave them.

ABC's own John Stossel has recently made the claim that no psychic has ever actually helped solve a missing persons case (using psychic ability). As far as I'm aware, this is true. Do you think your cases here show how he's wrong?

Chris will keep us informed about any possible reaction/response ABC-TV might make….


Professor Richard Wiseman was an award-winning magician before he opted to become a full-time psychologist. He's with the University of Hertfordshire now, and using his expertise as a conjuror to examine certain bits of specialized knowledge used in conjuring. His new book, Did You Spot the Gorilla? will be out in August.

Many of you will have seen on the Internet a test using a 30-second video clip of a handful of people playing basketball, in which the viewer is asked to count the passes made by one of the teams.

Most get the correct answer to this question, but also fail to spot a woman dressed in a gorilla suit who walks slowly across the scene for nine seconds. She's un-noticed even though she passes between the players and stops to face the camera and thump her chest. This won't-notice phenomenon is well-known to conjurors; an audience will miss very obvious and clearly-presented evidence if they're misdirected to other aspects that they think are important. For example, a spoon is easily bent, unseen, if the conjuror stands up and crosses over to a new position, because the audience relaxes attention when nothing is supposed to be happening.

This new Wiseman book outlines the scientific evidence and thinking behind this remarkable phenomenon. Knowing the quality of Dr. Wiseman's work, I can't wait to see how he develops this subject. I suggest that you'll also want to learn more about it.


The old saying is, "See Venice, and die." Well, if you'd like to see Venice — and not die! — as well as wander in the footsteps of Galileo at the University of Padova/Padua, choose October 8-10 of this year. Why? Because an important and stimulating conference will be held there at that date, sponsored by CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and by CICAP, the Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Speakers will include Piero Angela, Sergio Della Sala, Steno Ferluga, Chris French, Luigi Garlaschelli, Ray Hyman, Barry Karr, Paul Kurtz, Robert Morris, Joe Nickell, Massimo Polidoro, Ian Rowland, Amardeo Sarma, and Richard Wiseman. I'll be in there somewhere, too. Go to for all details.

A wonderful trip, great company, and two beautiful, historically important cities, along with what promise to be stimulating and memorable lectures by important folks. How can you lose? Get registered, and go!


Another week of wrassling with the psychics and other phonies has ended. There are big changes coming up on the website, with added frills and better accessibility. Our legal eagle in Miami has things underway for a grubby-twisting that will put an end to the attacks that are getting to be ridiculous, but still have to be stopped; not everyone has common sense. You'll be kept informed. The Forum, as usual, is in a turmoil — but that's being handled by Hal, and will soon be ironed out to the satisfaction of all, I'm confident. We learn as we go along….