May 21, 2004
UK Nonsense-Again, Heretic Speaks Up, Ignored Law, Very True, ACSH Homepage, King Tut Curse Denied, Another Possible Modus, Gellers Powers Eagerly Sought, Invasion of the Quacks, Please Read, Timorous Magicians, The Guardian Surprises, Transparent Religious Hoax, and In Conclusion….
Table of Contents:
In the UK Sunday Times of May 16, 2004, appeared an article titled, "Top scientist gives backing to astrology," written by Jonathan Leake, who plays at being their Science Editor. "The planets may control your future after all," he wrote. This statement was inspired by a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, Dr. Percy Seymour, author of a new book, "The Scientific Proof of Astrology" are we surprised? who says he believes that "human brain development may be affected by the Earth's magnetic field, especially during growth in the womb." In his book, Seymour suggests that the Earth's magnetic field is affected by interactions with those of the Sun and the Moon. Other planets such as Jupiter, Mars and Venus also play a part, he opines.
This notion is less than acceptable to other astronomers. Dr. Seth Shostak is an astronomer involved with Project Phoenix/SETI, has a BA in physics from Princeton and a PhD in astronomy from Caltech. He's the Public Programs Scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, conducts radio astronomy research on galaxies, and has published approximately fifty papers in professional journals, as well as several hundred popular articles on various topics in astronomy, technology, film and television. His book, Sharing the Universe, appeared in 1998. His opinion of Seymour's idea is scathing. He describes the theory as "nonsensical," pointing out that even though large planets like Jupiter have magnetic and gravitational fields far greater than the Earth's, they are massively attenuated by distance. Said he, "Jupiter's magnetic field is about a trillion times weaker than the Earth's [at this distance from Jupiter]. You would experience a far stronger field from your lights and washing machine."
Undaunted, Dr. Seymour waxed sweetly poetic on the lyrical effects of these magnetic fields: "[This] means the whole solar system is playing a symphony on the Earth's magnetic field. We are all genetically tuned to receive a different set of melodies from this symphony." Oh, please! My teeth are beginning to develop cavities!
But this is what really offended and startled me. Announced the Sunday Times:
. . . Seymour's theories won qualified support from an unexpected source. Richard Dawkins, professor for the public understanding of science at Oxford University, who once suggested that astrologers be prosecuted under the trades descriptions act, said that although he had not read the book, Seymour's ideas sounded interesting.
Reading that, and seeing that it was not qualified in any way, nor expanded upon further, I contacted Professor Dawkins. He replied:
Jonathan Leake, the Science Editor of The Sunday Times (London) wrote an article on Sunday 16th May about a book that supports astrology. He telephoned to ask my opinion. I said I hadn't seen the book and could therefore offer no opinion on it. He then read me a paragraph from the jacket notes, about experimental evidence that magnetic fields might influence fetal development. I said (approximately), "Well, that's all very interesting, no doubt, but what the hell does it have to do with astrology?" The next day I found that Jonathan Leake had quoted me as providing "support from an unexpected quarter" having described the book as "interesting."
He added, in a note to me:
I am FURIOUS. Please publicize the truth of what happened . . .
Of course, in their usual crackpot manner, the astrologers were enchanted and giggly over this bit of nonsense. UK astrologer Russell Grant was quoted as saying:
At last someone is not just saying: "It's a load of poppycock." If the moon is connected with the ebb and flow of the tides, and humans are 70% water, then why can't the moon be affecting us? So we have good moods or bad moods depending upon the position of the moon?
No, Russell, you see, as most of us non-astrologers learned in grade school, the Moon attracts all matter rocks, fat, bananas, footballs, buffalos, and bottled bleach not just water equally. It has nothing to do with the human body's water content. And astrology is a load of poppycock. Very advanced poppycock.
The Times chortled that Margaret Thatcher once told MPs:
I was born under the sign of Libra, it follows that I am well-balanced.
Well, that does it. Can't argue with authority, can we?
This is just another example of half-done science, sensationalized both by the author of what will surely be a best-selling book, and a man entrusted with depicting science via the media. I'm sure you will hear from Dr. Dawkins on this and other matters, especially if you sign up for The Amaz!ng Meeting 3, this coming January in Las Vegas, when he will be our major speaker.
Reader "Bill" in South Carolina tells us:
. . . I do want to tell you how utterly valuable I find your website and foundation. I had truly begun to believe I was alone, living as I do in the deep South where people still paint their houses garish colors to keep the spirits away gargoyles are apparently a little too expensive and believe the "Root Man" will "put the root on 'em," etc. Even my family, which is made up of intelligent, educated people, believe in a variety of supernatural phenomena and will brook no suggestion that there may be other explanations than the mystical/UFO/spiritual/etc. explanations they have settled on. I have found it very depressing, and my perspective very lonely.
Please refer to me only as "Bill in South Carolina," as any other reference could easily result in me being burned at the stake. Again: Thank you. You really do make a difference.
What can I say? Thanks Bill, and stay away from piles of wood…!
Reader Trevor Dailey of London, Ontario, Canada, came across this Canadian statute:
Citation: 365. Every one who fraudulently
Trevor, remember that laws can be on the books, yet not enforced. Why they're not removed if they no longer apply, no one has been able to figure out. As we well know, this law you quote is not being enforced, because mitt-joints and astrology offices would be emptied out, coast to coast….
Mr. Dailey also found out what "Hypoallergenic" really means, at www.cbc.ca/consumers/market/microscope/micro_2000/hypoallergenic.html. Go there and make that discovery for yourself. Quite revealing!
A definition, courtesy of reader Stuart Armstrong:
Dowsing: The use of a forked stick, pair of spoons or other item to locate and extract money from people who believe that water can be located and extracted using a forked stick, pair of spoons or other item.
The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) asks us, "Please bookmark our homepage at www.acsh.org" Done. Now, you can do it….
Back in January of 2001, I handled the "Mummy's Curse" legend (www.randi.org/jr/01-12-2001.html) in detail, and a recent development brought it back to mind. The gist of what I wrote is:
The tomb of the 19-year-old pharaoh who was to become known as King Tut was discovered by British archeologist Howard Carter in November, 1922. The discovery, reported to the press in early 1923, stunned the world and spurred popular media-promoted belief in the "Mummy's Curse." By the time the explorers entered Tutankhamen's burial chamber, the idea of a curse was well-established. Scottish author Minnie MacKay promptly published a dramatic warning that "the most dire punishment follows any rash intruder into a sealed tomb." An "ancient Egyptian" inscription "Death shall come on swift wings to him that toucheth the tomb of Pharaoh" was invented, and any death or misfortune associated with the expedition, however remote, has ever since been attributed to the curse.
Lists of those persons apparently felled in mysterious ways by the curse have been developed, and are still being expanded upon to prove the truth of the claim. Not only those who actually were involved in the discovery and excavation of the mummy, but almost anyone even remotely connected with the event, have been dragged into consideration. The child of a secretary who was once employed by a scientist who "had an opinion" on Tut, died suddenly and was trumpeted as the "latest victim" of the Curse. A workman at the Cairo Museum who had expressed doubt about the Curse, was involved in a fatal auto accident and was said to have died muttering in ancient Egyptian, a language totally unknown today. The press had a field day with these items, and the party still goes on.
I made a list of the twenty-two persons who could logically be expected to fall under the dreaded curse. Included are those who unwrapped Tut, (untaped Tut?), dissected the mummy, X-rayed it and in general messed about with the kids body. A study of these persons produces some very interesting data. First, the curse would seem to be a beneficial one! The average life span of those involved was 73+ years. This beats the life span expectation in actuarial tables for persons of that period, profession, and social class, by just one year. Howard Carter, the one person who certainly should have been struck down by any curse, the first one who uncovered and handled the mummy itself, did not die until 1939, aged 64, 16 years after his involvement. The average duration of life for these persons after the opening of the tomb, was 23+ years.
Those who actually broke open the burial chamber and removed and handled the kings remains, lived an average of more than 26 years after their very intimate involvement with the mummy.
Now, in 2004, the "Mummy's Curse" story takes yet another blow. Robert E. Fulton Jr., who was there at age 14 in 1923 when King Tut's tomb was first opened, has just died at the age of 95. Fulton, who was born in New York City, passed away at his home last week, 81 years after attending the tomb opening. To live a long life, it appears that it might help to dig up a mummy. So much for curses.
Note, please: no media outlet attributed Fulton's death to the dreaded curse, or described it as "untimely" or "unusual." This lapse of hyperbole is encouraging.
We're always alert for any psychological or physiological phenomenon that might more logically explain reports of assumed paranormal or psychic experiences. Reader "Grant" tells us:
Love the site ...and wanted to add my two cents, which you may find interesting.
Yes, this is most interesting, Grant. The strange disorders that the lump of grey jelly residing behind our eyes, can undergo, are myriad. Our only caveat here is, don't take the "magic" route if you notice such symptoms; seek professional help. To me, that means clinical psychology, not astrology, incantations, witchcraft, or palmistry. Modern science can often provide adequate relief of such afflictions, and less often, cures. Acquaint yourself with the nature of hypnagogic and hypnopompic phenomena, as well. Equally fascinating.
An obviously Swedish reader asks, in reference to Geller's astounding record helping UK soccer teams:
Do you know how I can get Uri Geller to support all the other teams in the Swedish soccer league except my team? Or all the other teams except the Swedish team in the upcoming European soccer championships? Judging from his track record he must have some "strong powers" working against him!
Reader Jason Colavito tells us of a disturbing article:
My roommate is a vegetarian and subscribes to a vegetarian cooking magazine. I was surprised to see your name mentioned in such an odd context, and I thought you might like a report on how a vegetarian-natural living publication is playing to its readers' perceived New Age tendencies and furthering pseudoscience at the expense of the scientifically sound benefits of such a lifestyle.
The June issue of Vegetarian Times magazine, a kind of meatless version of Martha Stewart Living, carries an article in their monthly "wellness" section called "Healing with Homeopathy" by Alan Pell Crawford. This "news" feature portrays homeopathy as a cost-effective alternative to "arrogant" Western medicine, and it makes some far-fetched claims about why homeopathy works.
Note, please: This comparison between vaccines is something that the homeopaths have promoted to the unsophisticated victims of the farce. There is no parallel to be found here, and despite the fact that they have been fully informed in this respect, the quacks continue to push the idea, trying to coast to acceptance on the reputation of a proven and effective discovery of medical science. Mr. Colavito points this out up ahead.
Crawford fails to indicate that the NEFHA (www.nefha.com) is a "naturopathic" and Chinese medical center. On its website, it informs visitors that they should choose NEFHA over Western medicine because "[w]e have classical music playing in the background and a variety of hot teas to drink while waiting for your appointment."
Thanks, Jason. Note that the warm, gushy, "community" and "freethinker" language that homeopath Crawford employs, manages to bypass the million-dollar challenge altogether. That challenge, folks, is the one thorn the quacks cannot remove from their collective foot. It's always there, being dodged and belittled, devalued and denied. But it remains….
Linda Rosa reminds us that the estimated million-plus readers of Scientific American Magazine will be introduced to "Attachment Therapy" with the June 2004 issue, in general release right now. Columnist Michael Shermer has written "Death by Theory," a concise and chilling account of the death of 10-year-old Candace Newmaker at the hands of Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder in April, 2000. The point of Dr. Shermer's column is that Candace was killed by a pseudoscience that should be banned "before it tortures and kills children again." I ask readers to please bring this column to the attention of anyone who is undecided about this important issue.
Reader Steve Bird in Toronto opines:
I grew up in the 70's and as a kid I saw magicians here and there, and I had the fortune of being told afterwards, "There's no such thing as magic." That Kreskin guy was on TV and his show would end with a scroll about how everything was just a trick, or such. Anyway, around the time that Kreskin came off TV, they stopped saying "There's no such thing as magic" and the next thing you knew, Project Bluebook, pyramid power, Noah's ark, spoon bending, Bigfoot, and séances were at the tips of people's tongues. I think it proves that unless they are constantly told, time and time again, that this stuff is bull, the public will start believing it again. I think you have an uphill battle, and you need to get your message out to more people. Maybe a "society of ethical magicians" would help, or getting people to recall the line that "A psychic is a fraudulent magician."
Is there a great power in this vast universe?
Steve, as I've said before, the JREF doesn't specifically go after religious beliefs because belief in a deity or in an afterlife is a chosen philosophy, not a provable or even an examinable claim though I'm not at all shy about making my opinions known on those matters. As for that "society of ethical magicians" you suggest, there is a "Society of American Magicians" (SAM) started in 1902 and very substantially enhanced by the presence of Harry Houdini who introduced a vigorous anti-psychic aspect to the organization. Today, that aspect has been essentially abandoned.
When as an SAM member I sought technical and moral support from the Society when I had problems defending myself from Geller, their lawyer decided to stonewall that request. I promptly resigned from the Society, despite the fact that I'm honored in their Hall of Fame…. That was a terrible disappointment. The SAM is an organization that was once very interested in lending its prestige and expertise to exposing fakers and swindlers who took money from innocent victims by using what respectable performers clearly advertised as tricks. That they would back down for fear of being politically incorrect and/or legally culpable, was sad. The "Society of Ethical Magicians" doesn't exist any more, Steve. They're hiding under the bed….
UK reader Chris Turner informs us of this article, disappointing because of where it appeared:
This rubbish appeared in the Saturday edition of the Guardian an otherwise relatively sensible newspaper:
Q: I'm pregnant with my second baby and have a liver condition called obstetric cholestasis. Do you know of a therapy or some kind of natural liver regulator?
Avoid "polluted air" any particular polluted air, NOX [nitrogen oxides], ozone, SO2? We demand to be told. "George! Get your mouth off of the exhaust pipe you know it's bad for your liver!" "Refined sugar" unrefined sugar is just sugar (sucrose) with a funny taste and color, with maybe a few percent of impurities. It's still 98%+ sucrose, isn't it, the same stuff? "Natural organic cosmetics, soaps etc." give me strength! If they're so dangerous, surely you shouldn't use anything at all! Like they say, "CHECK WITH YOUR GP FIRST!" What they should say after, is "before following this idiots advice."
I share your dismay, Mr. Turner….
An article by Saalim Alvi from Riyadh, in The New Nation, one of the major publications of Bangladesh, announced the discovery of a gigantic human skeleton in the desert of the southeast region of Saudi Arabia, along with a startling photo as proof.
Writes reporter Saalim Alvi, "This proves what Allah SWT said in QURAN about the people of AAD nation and HOOD nation." I've been unable to discover what "SWT" means, but I think it's some sort of fawning modifier used when referring to this version of a deity. So who were the "AAD" and the "HOOD" people he writes of? He tells us:
They were so tall, wide and very power full that they were able to pull out big trees just with the one hand. But what happen after when they become misguided and disobeys Allah SWT, Allah SWT destroyed the whole nation. ULEMA KIRAM of Saudi Arabia believes that this body belongs to AAD nation. Saudi military took over this whole area. And nobody is allowed to go in this region except Saudi ARAMCO personnel's. Saudi government has kept it very secret but some military helicopters took pictures from air. And one of them he runs on internet here in Saudi Arabia.
Really? Well, the members of something called Faith Freedom International [FFI] a group apparently dedicated to restoring some sense to Islam did some research and found another photo. Here it is:
This is an overhead photo of a pit at a site outside Hyde Park, New York, taken in September of 2000. The site, where the skeleton of a mastodon had been located, was being excavated by the Paleontological Research Institution and the Cornell Department of Geological Sciences. There was no skeleton of a giant man there, and it certainly is not in Saudi Arabia. The FFI people believe that this hoax was an attempt to fortify belief in stories that were told by the Prophet Muhammad. For example, he wrote that Adam was 60 cubits (90 feet) tall, and that humans have been decreasing in stature since Adam's creation. No, on the contrary, paleontology shows that humans have been steadily growing in size. Homo habilis, who lived about two million years ago in east Africa, were no more than five feet tall. Muhammad's story of Adam and other ancient people being extremely tall is just that: a story.
The FFI site says:
If a major newspaper, in this day of the Internet and worldwide communication is not abashed to fabricate such an obvious lie to promote Islam, one can only imagine how the rest of the miracles and noble acts attributed to Muhammad were forged in a time when educated people were scarce and opposing views were gagged.
I agree…. And that applies to burning bushes and water-to-wine demos, too….
The Guardian and the Sunday Times, both UK newspapers, let us down this week. This is the kind of thing we need to complain about, folks, in an effort to get them acting more responsibly and seriously. When you see the opportunity to do so, send in a letter of e-mail to let them know you're offended….
Remember. Sylvia Browne's 1000th anniversary is coming up on Sunday the 30th. Send her a note of congratulation for having avoided her JREF agreement for this record period. Mention my name.