September 13, 2002

Psi Tech "Responds," Verizon Astrology, Koran Revisited, Robbins — Part Two, A Doubtful Virgin, and Polidoro Hitched....

Dane Spotts, CEO of Psi Tech, has published a silly tirade on the Psi Tech site designed to avoid taking the JREF challenge, as offered to him. In it, he follows the gimmick often used in the past by those who fear the challenge: he offers a counter-challenge with an expiry date. This way, since we are the ones offering the challenge and we insist that he answers to that, he can refuse to do so, and the 30-day limit he imposes on his offer, expires. And, he insists that the entire test for the million must take place within 30 days — an obvious impossibility. If we fail to agree to all this, he thinks, he can then chortle that we failed to meet his terms.

Let's get real, folks. It's our challenge, and has been for years. Let Spotts respond to that, and we're in business. And our offer does not expire! Nor is there any time limit on how long the test can take!

However, since the JREF could certainly use the $100,000 that Mr. Spotts is so generously offering, if he is willing to accept the following requirements, the JREF is ready to discuss the matter he has suggested:

(1) Mr. Spotts must first state clearly that Psi Tech refuses to apply for the JREF million-dollar prize as offered.

(2) As clearly stated in our rules, we design tests so that no "judging" is required. This is to avoid the possibility that persons assigned to judge results might be swayed by their beliefs or prejudices, though this subtlety has obviously escaped Mr. Spotts. He must agree that he will accept what is known in science as a "forced choice" test, which Wayne Carr eagerly accepted before he suddenly disappeared from the scene. This would involve creating a list of 50 targets, all mutually acceptable to those involved, one of which would be randomly chosen and used as the target for a trial. The "RVers" would be provided with the target list, and asked to decide, using their claimed abilities, which target on the list had been randomly chosen. Those evaluating a trial (the retired Superior Court judges?) would simply have to compare the choice with the selection. Arriving at a correct answer would have a chance of one in fifty, by chance alone. Since TRV is said to be so accurate and powerful, this should be no problem at all, and would have to be repeated one more time to provide the minimum one-in-one-thousand (actually one in 2,500) odds.

(3) Since our million is already "in escrow" with Goldman Sachs, we require that Psi Tech deposits $100,000 into a separate escrow account. Our withdrawing the Goldman Sachs investment account, as he has required, would be expensive for us; however, if Psi Tech is willing to pay the costs of that procedure, we are willing to go along with that request. It would consist of paying the interest on one million dollars for the period of time involved in doing the test. Please inform us, Mr. Spotts.

(4) Your proposed "time frame" of 30 days for the entire procedure is not acceptable. Merely negotiating the required parameters here will easily take that long. I trust that this is not a means of your ensuring that we cannot meet that time limitation....?

(5) Please identify the three "retired Superior Court judges from the United States legal system" that you intend to use.

Upon Psi Tech agreeing to these five requirements, the JREF is ready to commence the preliminary test of TRV, to be followed by a formal test supervised and conducted by volunteers from MIT. We already have prepared a list of 50 targets, which of course would be submitted to Psi Tech in advance for their approval and/or revision.

I urge our readers to look at Dane Spotts' attack, at http://www.psitech.net/news/tsl_090502.htm. You will note that he gets the facts about the challenge wrong, copying those errors from other sites, and he runs on and on about the usual canards that the won't-do-it artists employ. That won't work, Mr. Spotts. We're up front with the offer, I will not spoon-feed you the facts because they're available on our web-site, and have been for years now. If you want to join Sylvia Browne in the penalty box, do so. It's up to you.

It appears that we have here an excellent means of determining the integrity of Psi Tech and its officers, and their willingness to be tested for a huge reward — unless, of course, the offer of $100,000 in forfeit is merely a pretense to avoid such a test. The ball is now in their court.

Hark! I hear those crickets again.....

(I must mention that recent problems with my Internet connection might have resulted in mail that I thought had gone out, but went instead to a mystical place in cyberspace. Though my Outlook program told me — and still tells me — that I sent out the initial offer to Psi Tech, that just might not have happened when I thought it did. If so, I apologize. In any case, as soon as I was accused of not sending it, I made sure it was transmitted. I now know that the above message also was sent to and received by Patrick Duda, Rob Hopping, Dane Spotts, Jeff Lucas, and Joni Dourif at Psi Tech.)


Matt Fields tells us:

As an employee of University of Michigan Health System's Medical Center Information Technology group, I am paid to think critically. I am also required to carry a Verizon pager. This comes with a number of "Value-enhancement features" called "mail drops," which are queues in which news headlines and weather reports are sent to the pager once every few hours. One of the mandatory mail drops is "Horoscope." This is, of course, insulting, and gives the appearance of a gross misuse of funds.

Yes, Matt, and further proof of how every business effort panders to public credulity in order to be "in tune" with the source of money. You're right to be insulted.


Looking over the pages of the latest issue of "Freethought Today," I extracted a few quotes and thoughts that I thought I'd share with you. You can look in on the "Freedom From Religion Foundation" at www.ffrf.org. I'm in favor of these folks, though I feel that their regular "Black Collar Crime" spread is rather vindictive and smacks of a witch-hunt. But that's a personal opinion.

Columnist Rex Wockner, of the San Antonio Current, is quoted:

If the United States of America really wants to fight these terrorists . . . it needs to strike at the source of their fanaticism — the human need to invent deities to explain our existence. It needs to join the cause of striking down superstition and mythology with appeals to reason and the evidence of science.

I agree, but I see no way of accomplishing this within a generation or two. People raised in, and saturated by belief in gods, demons, angels, goblins, fairies, and such, are hardly ever relieved of their delusions. The terrorists of 9/11 were commanded by the god of Abraham — the same one Christians believe in — to do the glorious "jihad" project that so horrified and shocked both the religious and the non-religious around the world.

Author Tariq Ali, in "The Clash of Fundamentalists: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity," states:

I never really believed in God. Not even for a week, not even between the ages of six and ten, when I was an agnostic.

Former Denver Broncos player Reggie Rivers, now a Denver Post columnist, writes:

Public schools should provide a secular education. They should focus on the things that humans have explored, discovered, invented, created and done. Yes, students should be told that evolution is a scientific theory, but they should also be instructed in the definition of a scientific theory. The theory of evolution is a cousin of the theories of gravity and relativity.

Right on, Reggie! Personally, I have never failed to marvel over the ingenuity, talent, perception, and glory of my species. Just thinking of what we have accomplished — through our own efforts, and not by supernatural or occult means — staggers the mind. Let's hear more like this!

"Freethought Today" also reports that a court in Lahore, Pakistan, has sentenced a young Muslim to death for making "derogatory statements" about the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. These "crimes" included pointing out that some of Mohammed's actions violated the teachings of Islam, such as marrying scores of wives even although Islam limits the number to four. He also observed that Islam prohibits alcohol use, while Allah in the Koran promises wine in the afterlife to good believers. Scores of people are arrested every year in Pakistan for blasphemy.

Questions: is this court telling us that Mohammed did not violate the rules of the religion he himself founded? Or is this hapless youth being executed merely for telling the truth? Perhaps telling the truth when it's unpopular, is a capital crime in Pakistan? If a Moslem were to take five wives, would he, too, be executed? Is sinning (drinking wine) okay in Paradise? If so, what other crimes/sins are then allowed in that exalted state? More crickets.....

My borrowed thoughts from "Freethought Today" end with their note that during a recent broadcast in the UK, Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins called the notion of a creator "infantile," saying, "Humanity can now leave the crybaby phase and finally come of age." I've written to Professor Dawkins asking if I might use a transcript of his address here on our web page. This man knows how to call it like it is. Bravo!


Continued from last week:

You'll recall that our correspondent, reader Michael Roes, was becoming disillusioned about the integrity of the Anthony Robbins' "Unleash the Power Within" [UPW] seminar that he and his wife attended July 26-29, full of confidence and zeal. On Monday, they had anted up $20,000 for the "Master University" course. Part Two:

Tuesday morning, I'm up in "peak state" and I'm on a mission. Where the hell's that form we signed? I read the fine print. A refund requires " . . . a signed and dated written notice postmarked prior to midnight of the business day after the date of this agreement." That was yesterday!

Oh, he's good. . . . Of course, we were attending the seminar. The "72 hours" is not referred to in the text; it's just a heading. No way will they hand us back the money if they don't have to. I heave a sigh. OK. My wife and I discuss it some more. We really do want to do it, but we sure don't like this feeling of being had! We are not linking pleasure to this experience!

Mr. Roes had referred to the "Q-Link" that was being endorsed and sold at the seminar. This is a pendant sold to the naive, described by the makers as:

". . . a powerful subtle energy tool that you can wear 24 hours a day to protect you from the harmful effects of EMF (electromagnetic field) Pollution. The special micro-electronics of the QLink are energized by your body's own biomagnetic energy field. Utilizing a proprietary Sympathetic Resonance Technology the QLink sends a continuous stream of stabilizing and balancing frequencies back to the body to fortify and strengthen the subtle energy fields. The QLink has been tested by numerous alternative practitioners and mainstream doctors and it has consistently demonstrated an ability to strengthen the body and offer protection against EMF Pollution, computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices."

Yep. The same old crap, pseudoscience and quackery at a high price. Any price would be too high for such nonsense. Their "Special Offer" this month urges you to "Receive a Free EMF Detector and a copy of our best selling "Feng Shui Secrets" E-Report with any order — $64.95 Total Value."

I disagree. I think the "total value" is zero. But apparently guru Tony Robbins accepts this device as genuine, and sells it. Mr. Roes continues:

Q-Link. Sure enough, on their website there's no sign of a double-blind test having been done on the Q-Link device itself, though there is a cleverly worded blurb "to determine potential benefits." Check it out, but read it carefully: www.qlinksales.com/. There's a huge and mostly incomprehensible dissertation on the Q-Link "how it works" page which refers to "subtle energies" (which are theorized but can't actually be measured). There's also lots of stuff about magnetic vector potentials, quantum theory, string theory, condensed specific vector energies, quantum noise and implications of theory. It's heavy reading, and no doubt, it is intended to be. In the end it says: "In plain English, a sympathetic resonator is designed to stimulate or catalyze the phenomena or system to be more of what it is. To operate with more energy efficiency. To be more stable. To have its own energy self-amplified — and to have more internal power to resist attenuating energy drains upon it." That's plain English??? Well, at least they have a sense of humor! There are endorsements, testimonials, statements and opinions from "experts" about how it enhances your resistance and resilience, etc. But there are no details of a simple test done to see if it actually works, or if it's all just the power of suggestion, or the placebo effect.

Randi comments: This use of "placebo" here is not quite correct. A small point.

So, let's take it all as read. A "double-blind" test is one where neither the tester nor the tested knows which item is real and which is placebo. Randomized double-blind tests are often performed in the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that that a certain medicine actually works and that no one is fooling themselves. Also, there are often gray areas; the medicine under test will not work with all people to the same degree or even not work as well as a placebo in some cases, so it can take months or even years to accumulate enough data to make the call. However, with the Q-Link, you can put it on and immediately see a result, as witnessed by 1,500 UPW participants with the cell-phone demonstration. This makes a quick and simple test possible.

So here's a very compelling test that could be done in five minutes, on-stage: First, a volunteer not communicating with the tester takes ten Q-Link devices and ten dummy devices, which are identical, but have been disabled. The volunteer makes a list of numbers from 1 to 20 and randomly numbers the devices, keeping track of which is which. Now, someone else chooses any 10 of these 20 units and takes them to our friend Herbert. His job is to separate the good ones from the phonies. If what he claims is true, he should be able to use a subject (or ten separate ones) and determine, without fail, which are which. With ten units, he has a one-in-1,024 probability of getting them all right by chance. And I'll bet a case of premium tofu that he can't do it! Note that some protection from ad-hoc hypotheses will probably be necessary here!

Randi observes: Hey, the JREF has also offered its million dollars to the QLink peddlers, but for some reason they haven't responded! Hey, Herbert! Interested?

Hark! Those damn crickets again! Michael continues:

Furthermore, and maybe I'm alone in this, but I regard the convoluted language on the Q-Link website as very suspicious. Nowhere does it say: "We have this thing, and it works, and we can prove it." Every single statement is qualified. Plus, there are totally bizarre statements like: "Because electrical power is not applied, and because of the unique way a sympathetic resonator works, the cell, tuning board and amplifying coil do not have to be physically wired as they would with a normal Hertzian electronic circuit." So the components aren't even connected to each other? It is, to say the least, very difficult to swallow. I know as an electronic engineer, that in order for a resonant circuit to operate in an EMF, wires between components are essential! Anyway, forget all the technical arguments. Let's see ol' Herbert pass the double-blind test!

As for Tony Robbin's endorsement of the Q-Link, I can only hope that he has simply been misled. Everyone in the science business has been wrong many, many times. Science is like anything else in real life: to get it right, you must fail often, fail quickly and learn quickly. Ask any astrologer how often they have been wrong and why, and you will get an evasive reply every time. Ask a scientist and you will get humility. That's the difference between pseudoscience and real science.

Randi comments: I hardly think that Tony Robbins has been "misled." He's smart enough to know that his nonsense about the mind controlling the human body so that the fire-walk is possible, is fictional. I'm sure he also knows that this Qlink thing is just another piece of quackery. That's Michael's notion, that Robbins doesn't know; I think he does.

More eye-openers... I notice from the Anthony Robbins bulletin board that I am not the only one who was surprised to learn that Tony himself does not attend the Life Mastery course, even though the promotional literature, etc. makes a pretty clear implication that he does. I am also not the only one who was surprised to learn that accommodation is not included in the price. How much is the accommodation? Well, it's heavily discounted, but whatever it is, you have no choice but to pay for it, or forfeit a substantial deposit. And the discount-spinning game is the oldest sales trick in the book.

My biggest question is, is the sneaky stuff really necessary? 99% of the material is awesome and it seems like it should be perfectly saleable on its own merits. Why taint the program with unnecessary skullduggery? Nevertheless, my wife and I are committed to getting as much as we can from this program and look forward to it with great anticipation. This experience just underlines the fact that no matter how much you pay for your education, you must continue to be careful about what you believe and be willing to think through all the things you hear.

Yes, my wife and I have a lot at stake here. But we're convinced that most of Tony's material is great stuff and we're determined to work it through. Hell, if Tony Robbins were infallible, it would be a religion, right? That is not what we're looking for!

Randi again: It will be very interesting to hear from the Roes couple after they've been through what they believe is basically a useful program, with "awesome" material. From what they've already said here, I believe they can give us a good analysis. I look forward to that. And we thank these good folks for their contribution to this page.


I'll close with comments about my friend Dr. Joe Nickell of CSICOP (the Committee for Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal). Joe, with a Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky, 1987, is an excellent observer and investigator of those matters that interest CSICOP, the Skeptic's Society, and the JREF — along with a great number of other similar organizations around the world. He has contributed hugely to the cause, and CSICOP is very fortunate to have him on staff. Joe's books include "Pen, Ink, and Evidence," "The Magic Detectives," "Crime Science: Methods of Forensic Detection," "Real-Life X-Files," and "Inquest on the Shroud of Turin." His scholarship is always evident.

In the current "Skeptical Inquirer," for which Dr. Nickell writes regularly, there appears a short article by him on the "miraculous" image of the "Virgin of Guadalupe" that has enthralled millions since 1531, when we're told that an Aztec peasant named Juan Diego showed up with a portrait of the Virgin Mary that he said had miraculously appeared on his cloak after the saint had visited him. I've been to the basilica dedicated to this miracle that was erected in the northeastern part of Mexico City. Well, it was done three times, the previous two buildings still there but now sinking into the swamp on which they were erected, and abandoned, much to the dismay of the Church — and God, I suppose.

I won't get into the shock and sorrow that the NBC-TV crew and I experienced while there. I was accompanied on this "shoot" by Sergio Aragones, the well-known cartoonist for Mad Magazine, who certainly shared my distaste for what we saw. Let me just say that we were surrounded by hundreds of pilgrims who were there seeking miracles, and who stepped on a moving belt that whisked them by the revered image overhead, encased in bullet-proof glass built into the door of a massive Mosler vault that was drawn back into the walls when the placed closed down at night.

Many articles and a few books have been written about the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, of course most of them highly supportive of the miraculous nature of the picture. These conveniently ignore the fact that the image has provably been changed, added to, and "improved" over the years. But that's no surprise.

Dr. Nickell reveals, in his present article, that this sacred image is merely a rather primitive work in distemper paint produced by quite ordinary means. In 1982, but only now revealed, an extensive investigation was done that showed the less-than-supernatural origin of the object, and now it is suggested that even the legend of Juan Diego originated in the following century. Writes Joe in The Skeptical Inquirer:

Mexico City's Image of Guadalupe — a sixteenth-century portrait of the Virgin Mary supposedly imprinted miraculously on an Aztec convert's cloak — has been confirmed as merely a painting. Nevertheless Pope John Paul II is scheduled to confer sainthood on the Aztec, Juan Diego, despite the pleas of some Catholic scholars. These include the former curator of the Basilica of Guadalupe, who doubts the historical existence of Juan Diego and said such a canonization would be "recognition of a cult."

Now a ubiquitous symbol of Mexican Catholicism, the image, say critics, was painted by a native artist named Marcos Cipac de Aquino. It was probably utilized by Spanish conquerors to convert the Indians to Catholicism. A church to enshrine the image was built in front of a site where the Aztecs had had a temple for their virgin goddess Tonantzin, thus grafting the Catholic tradition onto the Indian one — a process folklorists call syncretism.

Yet another fictitious saint, certainly not one about whom anything can be proven. And, a former miracle that will continue to be worshiped as magical, along with the fictitious Shroud of Turin and other phony wonders. And note that the Pope will not be swayed by facts, since an Indian saint in Mexico is needed to keep the flock together. The collective noun for sheep is "flock".....

If you've not yet subscribed to CSICOP's journal, please visit them at www.csicop.org.


Our colleague Massimo Polidoro is getting married in Italy, and I'm there to witness the event. Massimo is one of those young people that I've had the delight to meet in my work, and he has been a great friend and co-worker for many years now. He's a big mover-and-shaker in the Italian skeptical movement, a prolific author, and a dedicated worker. I first met him on a trip to Italy in 1988, when he was 19. We'd been corresponding by mail, and when I finally met him I was very satisfied with his qualifications as an investigator. Massimo, now a doctor of psychology — University of Padua — is the European representative for the JREF.

I'll also be visiting fabulous Padua, where Dante and Galileo walked and taught. These are happy days for me!