Been There & Dunne That, Ancient Flummery, Divine Wrath?, Transforming Your Money into Theirs, Up One Scale and Down Another, Religious Extremes, Error, Angel School, A Contrary Opinion, Re-Writing Astrology, Epiphany Time, Challenging Homeopathy, Do This, and In Closing….
Table of Contents:
The Unsinkable Brenda Dunne has been discussed here (see
On http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/2.html it says "...yet the experimental results display increases in information content that can only be attributed to the influence of the consciousness of the human operator" and "...they are statistically repeatable and compound to highly significant deviations from chance expectations."
These statements are incorrect. If they were correct then you would be eligible for $US1 million dollars from the JREF foundation. Please feel free to provide poor excuses for not claiming the JREF prize.
Brenda fired back indignantly:
To: Rod Bruce
We do not publish incorrect statements. The Randi foundation offers its putative prize for the demonstration of "paranormal" abilities. We are not in the business of demonstrating “paranormal" abilities.
Sincerely, Brenda Dunne
Note that the prize is described by Brenda as, “putative.” She apparently has some doubts about the existence of the prize, which could be quickly banished if she would write, call, e-mail, or fax the JREF, after which she would quickly receive documentary proof of the prize. But Brenda doesn’t want to know that; she prefers to continue to be safely ignorant, casting doubt on the validity of the prize – and thus on the JREF – from her Ivory Tower in Princeton. And, as we’ve informed her, the claims made by her lab are most certainly of a paranormal nature, though she may prefer another more comfortable description. The term “paranormal,” Brenda, refers to “events or perceptions occurring without scientific explanation.” The “statistically repeatable” and “highly significant deviations from chance expectations” reported by PEAR and “attributed to the influence of the consciousness of the human operator,” are most decidedly “paranormal” – by definition.
But that’s all moot, in any case, Brenda, since the JREF has munificently decided to make these PEAR results eligible for the million-dollar prize, no matter how they’re described! I’ll bet that has you excited, right? A million bucks just for doing what you already proudly claim you can do! But reading on, I begin to doubt that you’ll apply. Here’s Rod’s follow-up:
Your webpage states "...yet the experimental results display increases in information content that can only be attributed to the influence of the consciousness of the human operator." Attributing the anomalies found in the results to "the influence of the consciousness" seems to indicate a lack of scientific rigor. (cf. "Occams razor").
In my opinion, the JREF prize is a laudable attempt to reduce the amount of misinformation presented to the public. If you could simply just demonstrate your claim, then the $US1m prize would be all yours – and you could use it to fund further research, or donate it to another worthwhile cause.
And Brenda snapped back:
Thanks for your interest, but we have no interest in trying to prove anything to Randi. His offer is a scam. He has visited our laboratory and is quite familiar with the quality of our work. His purpose is not to "reduce the amount of misinformation presented to the public," but to ridicule and debunk any claims that are inconsistent [sic] the prevailing reductionistic and materialistic world view.
We await with bated breath the evidence that the JREF offer is “a scam,” Brenda. A person of science, a rational being such as yourself, would not make such a statement without having evidence – dare I say, scientific evidence? – of this claim, so I look forward to your presentation of the proof. No doubt this will be submitted to the Journal of Irreproducible Results (www.jir.com/critics.html) and may win one of their coveted prizes! And yes, Brenda, I am “quite familiar with the quality of [y]our work.”
Rod Bruce, with his stubborn insistence on staying on the subject, responded to Brenda:
You are not being asked to prove anything to Randi. You are simply being asked to demonstrate your claim that "the experimental results display increases in information content that can only be attributed to the influence of the consciousness of the human operator."
It should be fairly easy for you to replicate your results under controlled conditions, and then the big prize (and all the kudos) would be yours.
The JREF organization (and its $US1m prize) is well respected and supported by the wider scientific and educational community. To claim that the prize is a scam is quite ridiculous.
I cannot speak for Randi, but I suspect that (just like me) he likes to debunk claims that are inconsistent with reality.
And there it stands, Brenda hunkered down inside the Ivory Tower, Rod outside making a big fuss, and the rest of us wondering whether anything will ever happen.
Rod, thank you. This is just another example of how Dunne will try to escape from reality by resorting to semantics. She is well aware that the JREF is willing to accept the PEAR results as being eligible for the million-dollar prize – but she does not dare to accept, because she knows full well that the results would not stand examination. She is stone-walling and obfuscating, both arts in which she – of necessity – excels.
Reader Ron Filion in San Francisco, California , directs our attention to www.sfgenealogy.com/sf/history/hgoe29.htm and www.sfgenealogy.com/sf/history/hgoe30.htm,
UK reader David Keeling ruminates on the symptoms of quackery in the description of a claimed air/water transformer, plus sundry other “purifiers” and “shields” against deadly elements and radiation, and how we can spot those signs:
Whilst out for a drink recently with some relatives, I was handed a brown paper envelope over the table, along with my pint of beer, and asked, "A friend of mine sent me this and he'd be very grateful for your opinion." It turned out that the gentleman in question had just heard about this “revolutionary” device being offered for sale in his native Germany and, as I was the only professional scientist he knew, he wanted my opinion on the science behind it.
Needless to say, as you will see after looking at the website of this company, it took about 5 seconds of looking through the offered literature before I started laughing and a further 5 minutes before I could bring myself under control to the point where I could explain myself. Later, in a more serious frame of mind (and with less beer to hand) I prepared and sent the following response in order to educate and spread the art of critical thinking.
My only regret is that Euros 2.50 was wasted posting this twaddle all the way from Germany to reach me in England... it is at least good to think that I was able to save them a lot more in the long run!
The “references” section has frequent expert opinions offered by actors, David, and we know how authoritative they are. Just think of Tom Cruise! How can you continue to doubt?
Reader Stephen Bledsoe issues a warning to Sylvia Browne, James Van Praagh, and John Edward – all of whom thump Bibles vigorously – pointing out that Leviticus 20:27 is very clear on one point: “Any man or woman among you who calls up ghosts or spirits shall be put to death.” I’d settle for a sharp knuckle-rap or spanking, perhaps a sharp scolding, but bear in mind that God’s Word is God’s Word, and walking around during thunderstorms might not be wise, you three. Repent! Repent!
On this increasingly tiresome subject of temperature scales, reader Jonathan Russell contributes:
I hope you're not too inundated with corrections from Professor William Sears' informative and entertaining bit on the significance of numbers in this week's Swift, but I think he may have gotten his chicken confused with his egg. Fahrenheit based his temperature scale on a previous scale (Ole Rømer's) that had fractions where water froze (7.5 degrees R). Fahrenheit, being clever, multiplied this by 4 and got 32. On his scale, this made body temperature 96 degrees F.
Fahrenheit had his boiling point at 212, where it remains today, but with better calibration of the scale, using the freezing and boiling points of water as reference, body temperature had to be adjusted to 98.6.
Now Prof. Sears's remarks about the arbitrariness of the significant decimal place is no doubt true, and I'm sure that when the Celsius scale came along twenty years later, many scientists ran tests to determine body temperature in that scale, but the reason that Fahrenheit has that crazy number for human body temperature is better accounting for the gradient than conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit with that old 9/5 + 32 trick.
Alright, already! To close off this subject, I'll sum up my experience, having of course assiduously researched it:
It's well known that Danish astronomer Ole Rømer was a chronically sick man and had a lower body temperature than normal, which prejudiced his research. He also used to spell his name "Fømer," but out of respect for Fahrenheit changed it to avoid confusion – and also cold fusion. Obviously, Fahrenheit was very bad at basic arithmetic, and I discovered that Celsius was born into the aristocratic Centigrade family, but changed his name when his father insisted on wearing white suits with a long, narrow, red tie.
You should know that even the very liberal and giddy U.S. Patent Office refused to grant a copyright for the "Adjustable Expanding Elastic Thermometer With Sliding Numbers" that was submitted to them – by a parapsychologist.
In my family, there's also some history on this subject. My uncle – known as “Slim” – was a vaudeville contortionist who was the subject of a radical medical experiment. They took out his spinal column and replaced it with mercury. That made him very flexible, and led to solid bookings all year long. It also had serious drawbacks; in the summer, he was as tall as eight feet, and then during a December cold snap in Canada, he went down to 14 inches, and a cat carried him off...
It's all very involved.....
(To save myself a mass of inquiring mail, I’ll state here that everything from “It’s well known,” above, to this line, is in jest….)
Journalist Polly Toynbee, last Friday in the UK Guardian, had interesting comments about the abuses of religion which several readers brought to my attention. The whole piece should be seen at
This is not about poverty, deprivation or cultural dislocation of second-generation immigrants. There is plenty of that and it is passive. Iraq is the immediate trigger, but this is about religious delusion.
All religions are prone to it, given the right circumstances. How could those who preach the absolute revealed truth of every word of a primitive book not be prone to insanity? There have been sects of killer Christians and indeed the whole of Christendom has been at times bent on wiping out heathens. Jewish zealots in their settlements crazily claim legal rights to land from the Old Testament. Some African Pentecostal churches harbor sects of torturing exorcism and child abuse. Muslims have a very long tradition of Jihadist slaughter. Sikhs rose up to stop a play that exposed deformities of abuse within their temples. Buddhism too has its sinister wing. See how far-right evangelicals have kidnapped US politics and warped its secular, liberal founding traditions. Intense belief, incantations, secrecy and all-male rituals breed perversions and danger, abusing women and children and infecting young men with frenzy, no matter what the name of the faith.
Enlightenment values are in peril not because these mad beliefs are really growing but because too many rational people seek to appease and understand unreason. Extreme superstition breeds extreme action. Those who believe they alone know the only way, truth and life will always feel justified in doing anything in its name. You would, wouldn't you, if you alone had the magic answer to everything? If religions teach that life after death is better then it is hardly surprising that some crazed followers will actually believe it.
Moderates of these faiths may be as gentle as the carefully homogenized Thought-for-the-Day preachers. But other equally authentic voices of religion, the likes of Ian Paisley or Omar Bakri Muhammad, represent a virulent intolerance that is airbrushed out by an official intellectual conspiracy to pretend that religion is always or mainly beneficent. History suggests otherwise. So do events on the streets of London. Meanwhile the far left, forever thrilled by the whiff of cordite, has bizarrely decided to fellow-travel with primitive Islamic extremism as the best available anti-Americanism around. (Never mind their new friends' views on women, gays and democracy.)
It is time now to get serious about religion – all religion – and draw a firm line between the real world and the world of dreams. Tony Blair has taken entirely the wrong path. He has appeased, prevaricated and pretended, maybe because he is a man of faith himself, with a Catholic wife who consorts with crystals. But never was it more important to separate the state from all faiths and relegate all religion to the private – but well-regulated – sphere.
UK reader David Barclay corrects me:
Either yourself or your reader Mike McCarron has slightly screwed up the account of "Billy," Alexis Carrell and the Kabbalah. In particular, the quote you attribute to Carrell in the Commentary was nothing of the sort. A quick Google on the quote reveals that the original exchange Mike is referring to is on this chat board:
It's obvious enough from that site that Billy is in fact quoting Carrell in the first passage you attribute to him, while the quote you have him deriving from Carrell are instead actually comments by Billy himself. Carrell died in 1944, long before Benoit Mandelbrot coined the word "fractal."
None of this changes the fact that Billy’s entire argument is bollocks.
Thank you David. That was unclear – and now clear….
Another example from South Africa of the rampant superstition that is found there, an advertisement:
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE ANGELS
Due to overwhelming demand, Carol and Margi are privileged and excited to be able to present a workshop in Cape Town . Trained and endorsed by Diana Cooper, they are the only qualified Teachers, able to train other Teachers, in Africa . They invite you to come and spend a day of fun, laughter and learning with them.
This costs R275 [US$42] per person, and besides the nonsense, you get “tea, coffee and notes.” You’re asked to bring a “packed lunch.” Alka-Seltzer apparently not supplied….
FACILITATORS: Carol de Vasconcelos and Margi McAlpine
On this course you will learn about:
That last item has me worried. Do you suppose…..?
This really makes me wonder about South Africa, but then, a ray of hope shines forth in a news item revealed to us by Trevor Dailey of London, Canada :
The Advertising Standards Authority in South Africa has refused to allow the Solid Rock church in Johannesburg to continue an advertising campaign that claims instant healing in the name of Jesus Christ until the church can prove its claims.
A CONTRARY OPINION
Last week I asked for comments on the strength of my blood cell discussion. Among others, reader Dr. Roger Rains, MD, obliged me:
I hate to rain on your parade, but I don't think your analysis of the red cell photos in your July 22 commentary is correct. I think the upper photos are showing a phenomenon called rouleaux formation where red cells literally stack up on each other in the presence of inflammation and some other conditions. This is the basis of a common laboratory test called the erythrocyte sedimentation rate. It can also be an artifact of preparing a slide improperly, which is probably the case in the photos.
The Ecoquest spin on the phenomenon is, of course, complete nonsense, but the photos are probably real enough.
Your site is my first internet stop every Friday. Keep up the good work.
Thank you, doctor…. No rain on the parade, but a pertinent observation, easily accepted. I still think that seemingly half-scanned frame might be significant….
Reader John Raynor shares with us:
Occasionally, when I pick up certain local publications, I will read my horoscope for amusement and to remind myself how vague predictions can be fit to such a wide variety of events. This weeks seems to be the very definition of irony ... and good advice as well, taken from www.freewillastrology.com/horoscopes/libra.html:
Here is my version of this profound statement, but this one directed at a generation in the year 3005 P.E.:
This is one of those every-now-and-then letters that keep us going….
Six years ago I sent you an email that dealt with something you had written on the existence of ghosts. Although I didn't realize it at the time, that was the first step down the road to my enlightenment. But, I still had my head up my butt about a lot of things, and wasn't quite ready to pull it out.
Your response to my question was sharp, and a bit harsh, and my immediate reaction was, "Man, he must think me really stupid." I felt pretty stupid, anyway. But I reread your response, and I kept visiting your site every Friday. My first tentative steps gradually got a lot bolder as I started reading skeptical publications and having conversations with people who seemed to know what they were talking about. And I felt pretty stupid a lot, at first.
As my search for knowledge grew, I discovered that a lot of the folks I was hearing about and reading about were talking about you. Michael Shermer, Penn & Teller, Phil Plait, and many others spoke of you as one of the cornerstones in the skeptical movement. I took some classes at the Magic Castle , and became a very amateur magician. A few people I ran into there once I became a member, knew of you, and pointed me toward other folks who had something to say about skepticism. I slowly came to realize that skepticism was a way of thinking that was not only healthy, but that I was starting to think that way too.
Over the years, I have gradually let go of a lot of beliefs I held dear, and sometimes it has been painful. I had no idea that abandoning certain concepts that I had been nurturing for so long could hurt so much to let go of. And it's not easy. As you well know, people have all sorts of things that they cling to, and assume that everyone else must cling to it too. If you say something that goes against their faith, you become the enemy to be put down or ignored no matter what. I have lost a couple of friends because I couldn't agree with the way they looked at the world, which really, really sucked.
The thing of it is, though, is that by letting go of irrational ideas, there is a clarity of thought that I had never known before. But, by the same token, no one would have been able to convince me of that – I had to find my way through it on my own to discover what lay on the other side. And I'm still figuring it out, since I don't have all the answers.
But I did want to thank you for the swift kick in the butt you gave to me all those years ago. It was the very thing I needed to start down that road.
UK reader Julian Smith reports:
Listening to BBC Radio 4 the other day, I came across a program called Case Notes presented by one of those TV general practitioners that are hired for their looks more than their journalistic ability. This particular episode focused on homeopathy, which I know is one of your pet flummeries. Here is a link to the entire show transcript, if you have the time to read it. www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/casenotes_tr_20050719.shtml
In particular, I would draw your attention to an exchange between Dr. Mark Porter, the presenter, and Dr. Elizabeth Thompson, a "consultant homeopathic physician, and honorary senior lecturer at the nearby Department of Palliative Medicine at the University of Bristol ." (By the way, it's nice to know that our taxpayer-funded University sector here in the UK is doing good things with our hard-earned. *ahem*)
Great. The presenter, far from challenging this charlatan over her bunkum practices, actually does her work for her and trots out the "water memory" guff. Nice work, Doc. But let's let that lie for now – we're just getting to the good bit....
Call me naïve, but doesn't this amount to Thompson admitting that there is no evidence that homeopathic "remedies" themselves are any different from a placebo? Is she not more-or-less saying that the anecdotal evidence of homeopathy's effectiveness (which is usually all that gets presented) has nothing to do with the prescription of water, and everything to do with spending some time talking to the patient and behaving as if they’re a human being and not a source of performance indicators? The NHS in the UK gives little time to treat patients in this way – it's all about efficiency and through-put these days.
This to me begs a question. It wasn't in the show, which was in itself annoying, though I suppose it might be unfair to only blame Dr. Porter – perhaps it was asked but was edited out by someone even more credulous. Anyway, to me, the obvious thing to do to test whether homeopathy works would be to do a test to compare clinical effectiveness of the whole of homeopathy, with the consultation and all the frills, with both a placebo and "full consultation," with conventional medicine as practiced today, and conventional medicine with a full consultation.
This could kill two birds with one stone – we'd be able to show that homeopathy really is no different from seeing a sympathetic doctor with time to listen who gives you a bottle of water or a sugar pill, and we'd be able to demonstrate to the politicians and health administrators that we'd get a lot better value for money by giving doctors time to treat people and not just diseases than we do from funding homeopathic remedies and seats of learning from the public purse.
These funding issues may not translate too well to the USA , where health funding is mostly private.
There's loads more in here to poke fun at, mind you. Who would have thought that the only barrier to any kind of "alternative" medicine getting full parity with the science-based stuff that is proven to work much better than a placebo, is that "there is not enough evidence to dismiss it." Never mind if it doesn't work – it has to be shown to be harmful to be cast out as nonsense.
Well, anyway, it's been a long time since I contacted you. I trust you are well and wish you continued success with your excellent work.
Julian, this is not quite a fair appraisal of homeopathy. Though it may seem very evident to you – as to me – that the actual homeopathic preparations are useless, the argument being made by the homeopaths is that their nostrums do work, but only if and when they’ve applied their consultation skills to decide what preparation is suitable for the given situation, and provided attention and a caring attitude. Well, if things go as planned, and funding is arranged, within the next year or so there will be a large-scale testing of homeopathy – with all the bells and whistles in place, and approved – that will definitively examine the claims. Following this test, I can safely predict that not one homeopath will change his/her opinions, and will follow that delusion to the horizon and beyond….
Go to http://skepdic.com/trudeau.html and learn what scam-artist Kevin Trudeau is now advertising. We dealt with this crook at www.randi.org/jr/111904the.html#10 and several other places. This continual assault on the vulnerable ill and aging seems to be immune to state and federal investigation, or could it be that Trudeau just has so much money that he’s able to buy his way out of prosecution? He’s a quack, a fake, a liar, and a predator who is feeding on ignorance and fear, a man who – as you’ll see on Bob Carroll’s page – has been repeatedly arrested, convicted, jailed, fined, and then freed to continue his fraud. And he’s untouchable, I guess.
Last week I was shocked and dismayed to discover that Trudeau has invaded my neighborhood even more evidently than by means of television promotions. I fired off this letter:
Mr. Jeff Bialczak, Walgreen’s
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Dear Mr. Bialczak:
I’ve been a customer of Walgreen’s for many years. I depend on my local store (#6538) for my prescription needs, and my office staff visit there frequently for various purposes. We are always satisfied with the service and attention that we receive. That said:
I just came back from picking up a prescription at my local Walgreen’s, and I found a triple stack of Kevin Trudeau’s book – “ Natural Cures ‘They’ Don't Want You To Know About” – placed right at the point-of-sale – the cash register! I’m preparing a VERY strong article to appear on my next web page (www.randi.org), and this letter will be published there along with any response that Walgreen’s might choose to make. We get an average of 15,000 hits daily on this web page.
Trudeau is a recognized quack – recognized as such by the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Courts. Walgreen’s is selling his book – which essentially says that pharmacies are useless and that “natural healing” is all that ill persons need. Why?
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that Trudeau has been fined $2 million and banned from advertising product health benefits in any medium by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). I have printed out several other news items that will show you he is a scam artist and quack. Why is Walgreen’s supporting this man by selling his product? Offering such an item for sale is surely not what a legitimate vendor should be doing, if that vendor has the well-being of its customers in mind.
Trudeau has made literally millions selling quackery – and now he is offering his book. The publisher and those offering the book are well aware of the dangerous situation they have brought about, thus the “Book Disclaimer” document that I have attached. Trudeau has been fined and jailed for his activities, and Walgreen’s sells his advertising…? Why?
I am seriously alarmed about this situation, Mr. Bialczak, and I am seeking a response from Walgreen’s management. May I have such a response, please?
We will keep you informed….
My local TV ran a good item on a group of kids’ atheist summer camps, then in closing it off, the host declared, of the children who attended, their reasons for going there: “They can’t see a god, they can’t touch a god, so they don’t believe.” No, there are deeper reasons than that, ma’m, but I’m weary of scolding….
This page has been handled – for all of its existence and on very reasonable terms – by our good friend and web master Jeff Kostick. Beginning this week, his duties are being taken over by another Jeff – Jeff Wagg. We want to express our gratitude to Mr. Kostick for his dedication to the JREF, his understanding of our various problems in getting the weekly text to him on time, and his valiant rescue of me on several occasions. Jeff Wagg will be making some changes, though we are retaining the same general framing and format. So, a sincere thank you, Jeff, and welcome aboard, Jeff!
As the more observant will have noticed, Webmaster Wagg – that has a nice ring to it! – has today put up the new Encyclopedia link on our opening page. Please note the credits we've listed re the great folks who have worked on this presentation. The JREF is in awe of their skill and dedication. Thank you, all!
Also, I urge readers to keep an eye on the TAM4 announcement section, where you'll see the latest attractions and special items we're adding to that program. We're already receiving registrations, so make plans to join us in January!