September 7, 2004

Bad Guesses, Differences in Educational Standards, Living More Easily With Quackery, Precognitive News, My Influence Is Felt Again, EMF Comments, Stock Reply From KSTP As Expected, University of Virginia Gets Really Scientific, Glamorgan Again, That Gluten Mess Again, Two News Items We Celebrate, and In Conclusion....

Table of Contents:


This week, a woman wrote and first denied any interest in the JREF prize, then followed with this:

I do Picture readings myself and am getting quite good, I do not employ any of the techniques that you noted in your article. When I am wrong, I am wrong. It's just that simple. I accept that I am not correct all the time, that would be impossible. I am a normal, logical, rational person. I just do what I do.

I would be happy to do readings for you free if you would like to test my claims. I am willing to do as many as you like for you to decide what you think of it. Just send me a Picture of anyone, please no one who has passed away, and no couples or groups, it's too confusing. You do not have to tell me anything about them and I will not ask you any questions. My inaccuracy rate is about 1 on 15.

Well, I couldn't pass that up. I went into my pool of target photos, and randomly selected one. On all of these, I have exhaustive background information. I sent it to her and received this in return:

He is a frequent snacker and has never been one for big meals. I am sensing something in a bowl that he eats from when he reads, something small, I think peanuts. He is not one to miss the sunday morning paper. He has a need to understand the inner workings of things. He is very methodical in his approach. He has one child a daughter. I am not getting the sense of a wife.

I pointed out to her that snacking and peanuts were not really critical aspects of one's life, and of course also asked what she meant by that last fuzzy sentence. She replied:

The reasons this statement was made in a vague manner is because I could not figure out if he was remarried. So I will go as far as to say that my inclination is that his first wife is dead.

I responded that the man whose photo I'd sent has two children, and his wife — his first and only wife — is still alive. She answered:

One last thing for my own curiosity, could you tell me if he is allergic to gluten? I know this seems ridiculous, but it was in my head when I looked at his pic. But I didn't say it. I know this is all just to prove something for you. For me it's just practice. You are counting on me being wrong. I am perfectly fine either way.

I won't bother you again.

I've written the subject of the photo to ask about gluten, and snacking habits. Regardless of the answers, I can hope that this woman's last promise will be kept.


Our good friend and NBC News space analyst James Oberg, who has written extensively on UFO tales, has provided some historical perspective on New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's recent attempts to resurrect interest in a discredited UFO claim, an item mentioned here two weeks ago. Says Jim:

Astronomer Phil Plait, who maintains the "Bad Astronomy" Web site, has a similar feeling about reopening the Roswell case. He writes:

The main point, which should not be lost, is that this is yet another pseudoscientifically driven waste of taxpayer money. What's next? A congressional investigation into the Moon Hoax? A House astrologer? A special Mars probe to investigate Cydonia? Feh.

In the bad old days of the Cold War, military establishments in the Soviet Union, the United States and elsewhere soon realized that many of their secret aerial operations could be camouflaged by public misperceptions and myths about flying saucers. . . . And now, decades after the motivations for the misdirection have faded, and relevant files, memoirs and interviews have come out, it's almost touching that the last remaining holdouts of believers in the bogus stories are the UFO buffs.

They proclaim their dedication to dispelling "government cover-ups" — but in cosmic irony, they are among the last defenders of the convenient Cold War cover stories that protected spy balloons, super jets, missiles, space warheads, equipment malfunctions and accidents, crashed satellites and so many other military aerospace activities whose owners wanted to avoid public awareness.

If so many dedicated people hadn't wasted so much of their lives on the wild space-goose chases, it might even be funny.

You can see the up-to-date news about space on Jim's site: Go there....


A reader in the USA but originally from Europe, anonymous for this page, comments:

First, I'd like to thank you for your great website and the JREF, along with its million-dollar challenge. There were often times I wished I could offer some pompous charlatan a million dollars to prove his claims, and wasn't able to. Just the very existence of this foundation has made my arguments with these hacks all the more fun. To be honest, I did not even know who you were, nor what the JREF was, until very recently (about two weeks ago). Since then, though, I've read through your commentaries and the rather amusing exchanges with Sylvia Browne. However, despite my not knowing about JREF, I was (and still am) still very much an atheist and a skeptic.

I don't know if it was the environment where I grew up, or my parents, who were both scientists, but no one in my family was ever even remotely interested in any kind of quackery or religious nonsense. I grew up in a Communist country that had strict standards about what was taught at school. It was science, and it had to be proven science. Such a curriculum, started from an early age, installs into one a healthy respect for the scientific process.

Upon moving to the U.S.A., I was amazed to see how little science an average child learns. Where I had just finished 5th grade in my birth country, I was catapulted into 7th grade in the States, and even sent to 9th grade math! My mother, upon volunteering to teach at a local elementary school, found out that the students there did not learn basic math way past 3rd grade! A multiplication table was something all students were expected to know by the end of the 1st grade in my childhood. To be frank, I think that most of the gullibility that is experienced in the U.S. is the direct result of this lack of education.

However, let me tell you a story about how I finally realized exactly how little a "true believer" thinks about his religion or its tenets. Before I entered college, I (thankfully) did not encounter any extremely religious people and kept living in a world where, to me, it seemed everyone was more or less reasonable. However, in my first year at the university, the neighbor across the hall was, indeed, very religious. We didn't discuss religion much, but we did find out that we both played tennis, so often went out for a game or two. On one such occasion, the man decided to convince me of the righteousness of his religion (Christianity) and attempted to convert me to it. I avoided the conversation at first, then simply said that the religion wasn't very logical. He asked me how. To this, I quickly replied the first thing that came to my head — the age-old stumper, "Can God create a rock he cannot lift?" To be quite honest, this is an amateur's defense, but it was the first thing that popped into my head. The scary part was that he went very, very quiet. During the 20-minute walk to the tennis court, he didn't speak a word. During the tennis set, which he usually wins 6-2 or 6-3, he lost pretty badly. Afterward, he came up to me quietly and asked, "Can we never discuss God again?" I replied that I didn't want to in the first place, but left it at that. I still remember the look of utter desperation he had on his face as he was pondering my question during the 20-minute walk, and it's scary.

The fact that this incredibly devout Christian was literally brought to a mental halt at such a simple, and to me, natural question, is incredible! I thought that the church would at least train its adherents in some basic philosophy to be able to half-way decently argue with an atheist, but it seems they don't really care. To be honest, I have talked to more savvy religious folks, and while they do eventually lose an argument, it certainly isn't because of the above question. However, those are fairly rare.

All in all, Mr. Randi, thank you very much for everything. I look forward to reading your Friday columns and further correspondence.

I find it unusual that your friend paid any attention to the "rock" paradox, at all; most believers aren't at all shaken by logic or rational inquiries....


Reader Martin Del Vecchio alerts us that through Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) system has enthusiastically announced what they call an "enhancement" to their "Living Healthy Naturally Program." They now include at least three major forms of quackery that they will cover through their policies! They will provide all their members with "up to a 30 percent discount off the standard retail rates at network practitioners in all fifty states," for these ten "alternative medicine" systems:

Massage Therapy
Nutrition Counseling
Naturopathic Medicine
Pilates [an exercise method]
Tai Chi
Qi (Chi) Gong
Mind / Body Therapies

And to make it easier for members to be victimized, BCBS only requires that they show their ID cards when they arrive at a practitioner's office. They don't have to worry about claim forms or filing paperwork, and they can use the programs as often as they like. They can locate a practitioner by logging onto a given website or the website, or by calling the Member Services telephone number on their member ID card. No struggling or bothersome details to handle — they can throw their money into the quacker barrel much more easily now, and their fellow members will pay for it in their regular subscriptions! What could be more beneficial....?

Reader Gary D. Paquette has another quack item to report:

I had the displeasure of seeing yet another article on acupuncture presented on CNN Daybreak this morning where Dr. (?) Andrea Pennington calmly explained to the audience that acupuncture can absolutely, positively be used to treat obesity. After explaining how the human ear resembles the shape of a fetus in the inverted position, she said that one must merely stick a needle into the portion of the ear which would correspond to the stomach of the fetus in order to curb its appetite. In case you missed it, I have attached the transcript of this story culled from the CNN Daybreak website. [omitted]

You may also read more goodies from Dr. (?) Pennington at:

Do go there and see just how vapid a trained doctor can be....


Reader Luigi Novi tells us:

I was skimming through the newest issue of TV Guide (August 29) and looking through their weekly "Cheers & Jeers" section, came across a Jeer for "Ahead-line News," a proposed half-hour weekly series that features four female psychics predicting newsworthy events that will occur in the near future. Great! Just when you though that so-called news shows have been dumbed down enough already, confusing entertainment with journalism, titillation with information, and relevance with hype, now they've gone one step further. This may be a harbinger of things to come. Forget weather satellites. The weatherman can place a ouija glass over his map (or the bluescreen) to tell where there's going to be rain! Forget teleprompters! The anchors can simply read the minds of the copy writers! Field reporters? Feh. Just get remote viewers when you need an on-location story. Their slogan can be "We Predict, You Decide."

Of course, will these psychics be able to tell us what the show's ratings will be like? If the show tanks, will that call into question their powers? Or will we all rationalize by concluding that the status of their show simply isn't newsworthy?

I sense that Luigi is a skeptic....


Reader Jim Kutz — I hope — is pulling our collective leg....

The Skeptics, and particularly the Evil Randi, know the paranormal is real, but have developed ways to interfere with it. What skeptics call "controls" are actually ways of controlling someone's "chi" so it won't work, using light beams and other seemingly innocuous methods. All so-called "controls" should be avoided.

If you explore any building where Skeptics are testing paranormal claims, you'll find a large psychic-energy suppressor that looks exactly like a water heater. This ingenious device actually does heat water, but does so by draining the psychic energy from anyone in the vicinity. The Skeptics have a secret plan to install these special water heaters everywhere. You can recognize them by the letters "EPA", which stand for Energy Preemption Accumulator."

Also, one of you needs to get your cloaking device checked — it's leaking blue light when you're airborne at night.

Hey, you work on a small budget, that's what happens!


A reader who wishes to be anonymous expressed pleasure at my comments on the ghost-hunting-busting activities and "kits" recently, and added:

It seems like much longer, but little more than a year and a half ago I traded in my "ghosthunting" equipment for a brain, and this "kit" that they're selling to spook hunters just made me laugh, partly from embarrassment. I guess the electromagnetic meter they're referring to must be an EMF detector...I had one of those, and used to get very excited when it went off in my old dormitory. It went absolutely haywire when I pointed it to a certain corner of the room that my especially sensitive friends claimed was haunted/possessed/full of marshmallow ghosts or whatever. It also went haywire when I pointed it to the cupboard, my roommate, trees outside, the bus, a classroom desk and an ice cream cone. I later gave it over permanently to my roommate to play with.

I wish I had half the stuff I had back then to show some of the folks over at the JREF forum...I still have a notebook full of "automatic handwriting" I did that I'm still too ashamed to even look at.

Your commentary came on the heels of an email I got from my editor, who loves ghost stories and implored me to visit the Shadowlands website and read the "amazing scary info" there. I shot an email off to her with the usual business content, plus the JREF's site address. I hope she actually visits.

It's been suggested to me that the "electromagnetic meter" mentioned as one of the hi-tech tools used by these strange people, might be a regular Field Strength Meter (FSM), which picks up a wide spectrum of electromagnetic signals from wireless phones, garage-door openers, any radio transmitter, some TV remote controls, and a variety of other devices. We used one years ago when investigating Peter Popoff and tracing the source of signals sent to him by some god or other....


Reader Ted Vriezen of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, wrote to his local TV station KSTP in Minneapolis/St. Paul, re their 10 p.m. news coverage of a "crop circle" story:

To whomever at KSTP (please forward this to the appropriate responsible person):

I was very disappointed by your recent crop circle story as seen at

I consider this crop circle story an example of very irresponsible reporting. Crop circles have been debunked a number of times as hoaxes done by people walking with boards under their feet, not dragged as the farmer in the story suggested. And using ropes, a variety of geometrical patterns can be made. You made absolutely no mention in your story of the possibility of a hoax which is, by far, the most reasonable explanation for crop circles. The proposed pseudo-scientific theory from BLT Research about plasma vortices descending from the upper atmosphere causing the crop circles has absolutely no legitimate scientific support. I suggest you talk to someone in your meteorology department.

Why was this story of the crop circle occurrence presented in this way? Were any legitimate scientists consulted? Someone from the U of M perhaps?

Do you intend to have a follow-up story of any kind to bring any kind of closure to the story?

Please. Someone respond to this.

Thank You.

P.S.: Look at these web sites.

Ted listed a few sites that would explain the true nature of this "phenomenon." In response to his 194-word, well-stated and clear inquiry, he received 37 words back from KSTP spokesperson and assignment editor for 5Eyewitness News, Nicole Bonanni:

Thank you for your email. I am sorry that you disagree with the presentation of the crop circle story. Currently there are no plans to do any kind of follow-up. We do appreciate your comments and concerns.

Obviously the meteorology department was not consulted, the U of M was not called, and scientists were left out of consideration; the story was too good to investigate too carefully — or at all. I really don't think that KSTP's Ms. Bonanni really appreciated Ted's "comments," nor had any respect for his "concerns," despite her assurances. He is, after all, only a consumer — not an advertiser. As for "BLT Research," who gave them the "plasma" claptrap" that they embraced, I see they have parapsychologist Bill Roll working with them. That explains a lot.

That was a stock lawyer-vetted response from KSTP that translates as, "Though we represent to our public that we present facts and valid information to them, we really don't care, and we choose to ignore any criticism that interferes with our uncritical promotion of pseudoscience, quackery, and superstition."


Max Roberts is a psychologist with the University of Essex, in the UK. He's perhaps appropriately dismayed:

I couldn't find any record of the following on your web site, but here is yet another psychiatrist at an apparently reputable medical school who is making extraordinary claims. What is it with psychiatrists? Hope you find this web page ( of interest. As a psychologist myself, I think it is somewhat misleading to call this unit the "Division of Personality Studies."

Here's part of what the site states:

The Division of Personality Studies (DOPS) is a unit of the Department of Psychiatric Medicine at the University of Virginia. Utilizing scientific methods, we investigate apparent paranormal phenomena, especially:

Children Who Claim to Remember Previous Lives (reincarnation)

Near-Death Experiences

Out of Body Experiences

Apparitions and After-Death Communications

Deathbed Visions

Okay, I agree that to do studies of such claims is legitimate, and that such studies are part of the area into which scientific investigation should be made. However, my extensive experience into the attempts that have already been made, show that those who become involved are most often poorly equipped to do so. True, they have a full selection of letters following their names, but usually have no specific expertise in critically examining the "evidence" presented.

However, at one of the DOPS pages — — I find an article by Dr. Ian Stevenson — an important associate of this group — that rather encourages me. I encourage readers to examine it. Though I do not recognize hypnosis as an "altered state of mind," I do agree that the process — whatever its true nature and status — might be of value in analyzing personality problems and discovering needed facts about the subjects. I've expressed my opinions on hypnosis before, at such spots as and

I'll give the DOPS people a looking-over, but I can tell you now that unless they add to their associates a reputable conjuror — not just someone who occasionally does kids' birthday parties — I'll have to doubt that they're fully equipped. I have many experts who I could suggest to them....


Reader Struan Hellier of Shrewsbury, England, follows up on the Glamorgan brouhaha:

I was interested to read in your commentary that the University of Glamorgan is holding courses in reflexology. It doesn't end there. Check out for another course promising an

. . . introduction to crystal healing . . . chakra balancing and dowsing and basic yoga — all in one week!

I, too, will be expressing to the university my concerns both about their promotion of utter nonsense and their distasteful willingness to separate the gullible from their money. I will forward any reply I receive.

Struan, we haven't heard a word from them so far, though I expressed my concerns — and the JREF million-dollar prize — to the University, both by e-mail and by postal mail. However, I'm not surprised. Others who have also contacted them — like you — have also not had any responses. The directors are in their Ivory Tower.


Reader Rick, from New Orleans, joined some 30 other readers who straightened me out on the communion crackers. I was well aware of the actuality here, having been raised in the Anglican Church, which also uses the communion ceremony. I was reluctant to strain the "silly factor" of my readers by getting into exactly what the Roman Catholic Church actually says about the matter. I'll let Rick and some of my other readers do so. Here's Rick:

Your story about the young New Jersey girl was disturbing enough as you told it, but it gets even worse. You write that "this wafer is supposed to represent the flesh of Christ. Did that original flesh have gluten in it? No." But according to Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the wafer does not represent the flesh of Jesus — it literally turns into that flesh, although it retains the physical properties of the original wafer. That's bad enough in itself, but things get even worse when your original logic is applied to the transubstantiated wafer. If the wafer actually becomes the flesh of Jesus, then any wheat gluten it contains is purely incidental — the magical force of the ritual comes from consuming the flesh itself, not from the symbolism of eating blessed bread.

Reader Barry Vaughan:

Surely, according to Catholic dogma, the host is supposed to miraculously transform into the body of Christ, retaining only the appearance of bread? This leaves two obvious questions:

Why does it matter what the wafer is made from if it will be transubstantiated anyway?

If what those receiving mass are eating is actually the body of Christ, why do people with celiac disease get an allergic reaction? Was the Messiah naturally high in gluten?

Or could it be that, heaven forbid, Catholic dogma is mistaken?

Barry, that was three questions, but I forgive you. Eat some gluten. Reader Dan Milton scolds me:

Sorry to see you have fallen for the Protestant heresy that the Eucharist represents the flesh of Christ. It is the flesh of Christ (with the little matter of the accidence not matching the essence, or something of the sort). If wheat can become the flesh of Christ, I would think, with the appropriate ceremony, rice could become wheat, solving the little girl's problem. But I'm not a theologian.

Reader Tony Kehoe:

I think the Roman Catholic priest doesn't understand RC doctrine very well; the whole point of the wafer is that no matter what it's made of, it transubstantiates into the body and blood of Christ upon ingestion. No matter what. Therefore, whether the wafer is gluten-free or not, is irrelevant. . . .

The discussion attracted an anonymous reader who suggests that he is a Catholic priest. In a very long posting, he tells us that the Church

. . . teaches that the wafer actually becomes the body of Christ. This particular sleight-of-hand is called Transubstantiation. This is a most important thing that Catholics must believe. It was made dogma during the council of Trent:

Canon I. If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that he is only therein as in a sign, or in a figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.

If true, then I'm anathema, that is, "a person or thing detested or loathed, condemned to damnation." I accept that....

As Catholics we believe the bread and wine to be the actual Body and Blood of Christ. There are other views, and people are welcome to them — the Lutherans have "con-substantiation," the Protestants the "memorial meal." They are welcome to them, as is anyone else that hasn't the Catholic Faith in its entirety.

As a note: "consubstantiation" says that "the substance of the body and blood of Christ co-existent in and with the bread and wine." Seems a subtle difference, to me, and at best inconsequential. Moving on....

To the natural mind all this makes perfect sense — the kid is allergic to gluten, so therefore the Church is a monster to insist on its use in the host. But do remember that Satan (that's right, the actual devil) looks for any excuse to make the Church a "monster" and that the human mind, if uncontrolled by Faith, will believe anything, because it is impossible (unless one is a low grade moron) to believe nothing. The old maxim is, in fact, that "when one ceases to believe the Catholic Faith, one will not believe in nothing at all, but in anything at all."

What then? Shall we please man or God? Are we so damned arrogant as to believe that we know everything? As far as I can remember, Jesus said, "This IS my Body", not this REPRESENTS my Body — and this controversy predates the Nicene Council. Non-believers have ALWAYS held to the latter, Catholics the former....

Well, thank God this is America and a man is free to think, believe and say (I wonder about the last anymore, especially if one is Catholic) what he has in his heart. I am about to do a Mass for 47 men that died for this right, and I take it very seriously. And, while I believe that you do a fine job of de-bunking some really silly things, I think this one was quite unworthy of your time. It is simply silly. I love ya anyway.

I've far too many comments on all that, to make here. I'm left as a "low grade moron" and I guess Satan won. As for this reader "loving" me, I'll pass....

I can't help but wonder: if transubstantiation is an actuality, are not millions of persons every day guilty of cannibalism? And isn't that frowned upon in most parts of the world....?


I'll just print this here as it appeared, from a news service, about Roy of the Siegfried & Roy team. Roy, you'll remember, was attacked by one of his tigers last October 3rd, and was very seriously injured. I admit that I had tears in my eyes as I read this news item:

In his first public appearance since the career-ending tiger bite, Roy Horn waved and flashed a thumbs-up Tuesday at the Stardust showroom. A stunned crowd broke into applause as the wheelchair-bound Horn was escorted to his table minutes before the start of "Havana Night Club," the Siegfried & Roy-backed revue from Cuba.

The 59-year-old Horn clearly enjoyed his first night on the town, pumping his fist in the air and hollering his approval as the show played out on the stage where Siegfried & Roy's career took off in the mid-1970s. "It's a historic night," Siegfried & Roy Manager, Bernie Yuman said. "He's been looking forward to this for months."

In evidence of his paralysis, Horn applauded by slapping his right hand against his leg to the energetic Latin beat. Roy returned from Denver on Saturday after a two-week evaluation at Craig Hospital, a leading rehabilitation center for stroke and trauma victims.

"It allowed him to see his potential," Yuman said.

I'm just so happy to know that Roy is functioning, at least minimally. He's a trouper, and we're all happy for him.

And hallelujah! We did it! Dick Feynman gets his proper recognition!

David Failor, executive director of Stamp Services for the U.S. Postal Service, has announced that there will be a postage stamp issued to honor physicist Richard Feynman! Ralph Leighton and the Friends of Tuva, who plugged for this to be done, were at first turned down, but maybe the postings that went in from our appeal here ( might have done the finishing touches on the job. We'd sure like to think that's true. Adding to the excitement is that there will also be a stamp for geneticist Barbara McClintock! It's about time. She's the poorly-credited scientist who had so much to do with the solution to the DNA puzzle, and was so thoughtlessly ignored when the honors were handed out.

However, in the same news release on this happy news, was included this unfortunate item:

After 12 years of issuing stamps to commemorate the Lunar New Years, the U.S. will issue a "souvenir sheet" of all 12 designs, with each stamp worth 37 cents. However, the total for 12 stamps is $4.44, and the Postal Service was advised that 4 is considered an unlucky number in Asia. Instead, the USPS will issue a double-sided sheet of 24 stamps, valued at $8.88. Eight is considered a lucky number, said Failor.

Eye of newt, toe of frog, can't be far behind....


The JREF has been given a really marvelous gift, a personal item from a prominent showbiz personality that we'll be auctioning off via E-Bay very soon — the item, not the personality. It's pink, it's big, and it's loud. Not ready to tell you just yet, but soon....

Intern Jacob Spinney leaves us this week. Jonathan Pritchard, our other intern, left last week, and since both guys have to get back to school, we're internless at this point. Jacob did a really marvelous job for our JREF library, getting the 1,728 volumes — aside from our very special rare books section — into order, labeled, and organized properly. This was weeks of dedicated work, detailed entries, and careful sorting. We are indebted to Mr. Spinney for this great service. Thank you, Jacob. You'll see both these chaps at The Amaz!ng Meeting in January.

Finally, an appeal. We need responsible persons in Hawaii — preferably with academic connections — who will conduct tests of JREF prize applicants in those islands. If you're resident in Hawaii and might be available for that purpose, please contact Kramer at and give him your qualifications. Two of those qualifications should be patience and a reluctance to take human life; some of these applicants are pretty strange and eccentric....