September 19, 2003

Yellow Bamboo Surprise, Fear of Technology, and Answering Montague Keen...

Surprise, surprise! A man who visited Bali to test the "Yellow Bamboo" group, who make supernatural claims that they can knock down an attacker just by shouting, has reported to me that he actually fell to the ground during the test! As soon as I get around to looking into this further, I'll give you a full report. This might actually be something….!

I've often said that one reason for the publics easy acceptance of paranormal and/or supernatural claims is the general lack of "connection" they feel with modern science and technology. Confronted with the facts of modern physics, for example, the average person feels bewildered and adrift. Everyone uses computers, telephones, and other very sophisticated bits of advanced high-tech without understanding how they work, or how they were designed. Much easier is the attitude that "science doesn't have the answers," and "it's not really understood by anyone." With that going for them, the hoi polloi find acceptance of speaking-to-the-dead and "your lucky lottery numbers" easy to accept.

I was sent an article that describes a parallel to this default position, one on the ever-popular "conspiracy" theme, from the London Times. This is an excerpt:

Patrick Leman, a psychologist at Royal Holloway College, London, who has been studying why conspiracy theories are so appealing, said: "Conspiracy theories feed into a feeling of disconnection with government. People don't like gaps in their accounts; they have a need to believe them. They invent fantastical things that protect them from the real world."

In one experiment, he showed people footage of a fictional president who was shot at, and provided fictional newspaper articles. People were more likely to believe that there was a conspiracy behind the shooting if he was killed than if he was uninjured. He concluded: "People think that a big event must have a big cause, but often things are caused by cock-up or accident, not conspiracy."

Thousands of people die in Europe every year in car accidents resulting from fast driving and too much alcohol. But when Diana, Princess of Wales died, many could not accept that such an important event could have such a simple cause. Many believed that she was assassinated by the secret services to stop her marrying a Muslim.

Lone gunmen kill hundreds of people a year in the United States, but when the victim was President Kennedy, few wanted to accept such a simple explanation. It had to be a conspiracy.

From Thomas Gray (1716-1771): "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."

I promised last week that I'd try to prepare a detailed response to the irresponsible attack being made on me and on the JREF via the Internet, by one Montague Keen. In doing so, I will not be gentle; my "other cheek" is not easily turned. I'll answer his attack in kind, but without any veneer of false manners, the way academics maneuver about to be politically correct. Keen knows better. He's well-educated, intelligent, and perceptive in some ways, which allows him no escape from censure for his unfair and virulent assault against me. He is practicing willful ignorance; he knows the truth, but chooses not to use it. This has caused much joy among the grubbies, who exult mightily whenever one of their standard-bearers marches forth to proclaim the imminent demise of the skeptics and delivers a tirade that Shakespeare seems to have anticipated in Scene V of Macbeth. The Keen attack is, considering its errors, hyperbole, and lack of real substance, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Keen delights in dragging in academics who appear to be supporting his bizarre beliefs. Two weeks ago, I pointed out that such luminaries as Jacques Benveniste and Brian Josephson suffer from that certain kind of intellectual myopia that clouds the perception of so many academics. That is unfortunate for their appreciation of reality, but more so because people like Keen can quote these misguided souls to lend illusionary support for nonsense. French author and philosopher Montaigne (1533-1592) in one of his Essays, observed:

There is a kind of rudimentary ignorance which precedes the learning process; another doctoral, following that learning — an ignorance which learning does beget, even as it spoils the first.

In effect, he is saying, as Sir Arthur C. Clarke once told me, that some people have been educated far beyond their intelligence. Bear that in mind as you find Keen eagerly throwing in PhDs to bolster his argument.

A huge document has been circulated by Keen following a recent program in the UK by Fulcrum TV, a show which obviously caused much consternation among the gullible in that country. Titled, "The Ultimate Psychic Challenge — A Challenge to James Randi," Keen's attack has been quoted from from extensively by those desperate to devalue my work. Please note that Keen doesn't make any attempt to accept or meet the JREF challenge, but chooses to offer his own, as we've so often seen in this field. More on that, later.

I do not normally respond to furious tirades such as this. However, knowing that so many anonymous persons delight in firing off these unguided missiles in all directions without checking their facts, I am issuing this brief response for those who might wish to use the contents to oppose the erroneous accusations made here. I've selected just pertinent parts of this mess on which to comment. My day is far too full to do more, and besides, all of this has all already been done on my web site, in my articles, and in my books — a fact that the author of the tirade has wisely chosen to ignore, since his entire fabrication would be shredded by reference to those sources. I've chosen only the relatively important parts of his attack to comment on, since the rest is not worth consideration. This also sends the grubbies scrambling through the content I've ignored, trying to find the "smoking gun" that they feel I'm afraid to mention; that keeps them off the street, at least.

I still have not seen a videotape of the "Ultimate Psychic Challenge," which in any case was hardly "ultimate" in nature, though I've had much of it recounted or sent to me by UK readers who have seen it and studied it. One of those readers referred to the "impossibly pompous twit Keen whose twisted logic always enables him to arrive at his hoped for decision whatever the facts." Let's examine here that opinion.

As a good example — many more will follow! — of the manner in which Keen plays with the truth, in describing the opening of the TV taping session and the obviously failed "cold reading" section of the taping, he writes that it was "so unsuccessful that the embarrassed floor manager had to announce a technical fault and stop the show." No, it was aborted and edited out simply because the producers had at first felt that I would not be recognized by a UK audience, and that the audience would react accordingly, accepting me as a "real" psychic doing the same tired old act. As my own unscripted question to that audience subsequently showed, the majority of them were well aware of my identity, and being largely believers, they sat there fiercely refusing to respond as they might have done, were they of the opinion that I was a "genuine" psychic reader. I note that the author of this attack conveniently does not mention that fact. Even as I walked into the studio, I heard audience members commenting, "That's James Randi!" and it was evident to me that the planned attempt at "cold reading" would certainly fail; the victims have to believe that the artist has supernatural abilities, or they cannot accept what always follows in such a routine. Even the media's photographers who snapped me before the taping began, called me by name. However, I'd accepted to make the effort, to satisfy the intent of the producer and director of the show. They had visited me in Florida in preparation for the show, and though I was sure I'd be recognized, we agreed to give it a try, with the provision that it could be aborted if it turned out that I was recognized.

To add to the inevitability of my being recognized, I found that the agency assigned to obtain a studio audience for this taping, had featured on the Internet an appeal for persons to attend a program with a psychic subject, and featuring the "world's best-known skeptic of psychic powers." I modestly accept this designation, but I was shocked to see it so revealed that I would be a participant. Anyone reading that would be very likely to assume that I was going to be there, and I'm not too hard to identify by appearance.

Perhaps we should ask, at this point, just who is this man Montague Keen? He describes himself as a journalist, agricultural administrator, magazine editor and farmer, a member of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) for 55 years, chairman of its Image and Publicity Committee and secretary of its Survival Research Committee. He apparently believes in everything and anything. His book on Crop Circles, he says, presents "scientific evidence" for that practical joke, and is now available for £2.50, knocked down from £3.95. This is a man who desperately needs all the flim-flam to be so, and is desperate when the truth threatens to be expressed.

One reader, responding to a frantic bleat sent out by a man named Zammit — to whose web page I sent you last week to view the Keen rant — tried to reason with Zammit:

. . . the only other argument you have against him is his failed cold reading. Given that you already said that most of the audience knew who he was, it was unlikely that a cold reading would work — I'm amazed he agreed to it. However the "hot" reading was bound to work, they had evidence that would point to one person in the audience, and it did, but only the person involved seemed amazed (because, obviously, the others knew he was using a back door method).

But there's much more here that you're not told by Keen — nor by Zammit. We'd researched the audience in preparation for the "hot" readings, using very ordinary means such as published data bases, newspaper files, school records, and telephone directories, and we'd gotten very specific data on one woman, a Rebecca, who was a confirmed believer. When I asked her to identify herself during the "hot" reading, though I knew exactly where she was seated, she decided not to do so, sitting grim-faced and defiantly staring at me. It's her right, of course, to refuse to participate, and perhaps it was my fault that she did so, because I did not specify, as did Keith Charles, the "genuine medium" to whom Keen refers, that subjects must "be honest" with him.

The reading by Keith Charles that Keen refers to by saying, "His on-floor readings were likewise impressive, save when an opaque screen precluded sight of a studio guinea pig," was such a farce, I can understand why Keen is terrified to go into details. Here is the transcript of this "blind reading," given after a subject chosen from the studio line-up outside had been secretly introduced behind an opaque screen. Charles stood on the other side, and the subject was admonished by the presenter [host] Kate Galloway, to only answer with nods, but no sounds. "C" is Charles, "G" is the host. Mr. Charles began:

C: Well, I'll let you know when I've got somebody here, ummm.


C: The first impression I am getting, umm, is that there is a lady who wishes to communicate, who would have, umm, passed over not too long ago. Now I'll qualify that, quantify that in a moment, umm, but I feel there is a recent passing connected, umm, to the recipient, the person your side, umm, and I am being shown here a cancer condition that would have been, umm, around my tummy or lower. It, it's — I'm, I'm being shown, umm, cancer condition. The lady I will describe to you because I want to get her, her, closer to me. She's quite short. She's about five-one, five-two. Umm, she looks to me to be — I'm sorry to say this — that when I describe someone as of average build, that's really not fair, umm, but there is a lady who is — size 12? 14? And she's making me feel that this lady, umm, is talking about — her name is either Barbara or Brenda — because she is talking about being connected to who you have there, as, umm, connected with her mother, or on her mother's side of the family.

G: So far, I've got to say, a lot of shaking of head, Keith.

C: What does that mean? No?

G: No recognition at the moment.

C: Okay. I don't mind that. I don't mind that. Let me just quantify one, one other thing, then, may I? Would the person that you have there — and this is either a yes or a no, okay? — would the person that you have there have a scar that would be on their left forearm down towards the wrist?

G: No.

C: Okay, now this isn't a cop-out, this, because this is either wrong, right or wrong. Can I just throw this open to somebody your side of the audience? There's like someone in the audience here who, who would understand what I'm getting, and who would have a scar or a mark, 'cause it's quite easy to check if you've got a scar or a mark on your left forearm or left wrist, who would understand...

Not to anyone's amazement, a woman was found in the audience who began nodding vigorous assent to everything Charles said. Now, Ms. Galloway should not have allowed this blatant target switch, of course, but she was unfamiliar with the wiles of these scam-artists. And yes, that is a cop-out, Mr. Charles! It's a standard ploy to re-direct a failed reading to someone else, and you had almost a hundred people out there who were not only believers, but eager to see you succeed. And we never got to see the scar that was "accepted"...

But hold on. Going back to that dismal "blind" reading, can you tell the gender of the person behind the partition? No, you can't. You don't know, any more than Keith Charles knew. He referred to the subject only as "the person" or "recipient," just as if he didn't even know the correct gender — because he didn't know! For your information — and Keith's — it was a middle-aged man, who never stopped shaking his head in denial, for the full 77 seconds of that reading. It was "no" to every one of Charles' guesses. I note, too, that Charles also didn't know the gender of the person in the audience who picked up on his "miss," and that attempt also floundered around and went nowhere.

Keen wrote:

When [James Randi] practices as a stage illusionist, the audience know they are being entertained and deceived: they suspend their disbelief and enjoy the show. To pretend to be a genuine psychic, and to connive with the TV staff without the knowledge or consent of the victims to garner details about members of the audience, their friends and their sitting positions, with a view to misleading them — even though the ruse is later acknowledged — is to employ deception in what was claimed to be a serious program about a very serious subject.

Keen knows full well that the attempted "deception" was planned so that the audience might accept my performance in the same way that the act of a "genuine psychic medium" is taken. Had the audience been told that I was a conjuror, they would have reacted in a hostile manner, by refusing to co-operate in accepting the guesses, errors, and generalities that the "real" performers offer. Mind you, that's exactly what did happen, though for different reasons, as we've seen! Notice: this is Keen's willful ignorance at work. He knows the answer, but chooses not to use it.

But now Keen zeroes in on a dastardly act on my part which he simply salivates over. Assuming that the world revolves about him, and that nothing could occur of which he would be unaware, he chortles:

. . . to illustrate Mr. Randi's dedication to objectivity, I must also provide a more accurate account of the incident to which he devotes so much spleen on his website: his encounter in the exit corridor with a "very obese, unattractive woman" and his reaction to her "direct affront, a rude insult and an uncalled-for accusation" who "stabbed her finger at me, her face red and contorted with hatred" who called him a fake and a fraud, to which he calmly retorted in his best Churchillian manner, "Madam, you are ugly, but I can reform."

I am sure this is how Mr. Randi would like to remember the episode, but since I was alongside the lady at the time, and observed what went on, as did Dr. Parker and Dr. Puhle who were immediately in front of me, I should say that she [is not obese], is regarded as attractive for her age, smiled at Mr. Randi and said quite politely but firmly, with no finger stabbing, and to his obvious astonishment, "Mr. Randi you're a fraud", whereupon he staggered back and stammered, "And you, you, you, you're ugly," to which the lady responded as he disappeared backwards through the double doors, "But at least I'm honest". There was no Churchillian suffix. . . . This sets the standard for Mr. Randi's dedication to factual reality.

An event of this sort was related on my August 15th web page. That insult was thrown at me following the program taping, and was preceded by about one minute by another episode, the one to which Keen refers. By the time the second one occurred, I'd more fully recalled the encounter ascribed to Winston Churchill, and when a very obese and angry woman, being assisted from the studio due to her weight, then abused me, I was prepared to deliver a riposte more properly. I did so, with a certain satisfaction, and that is the event I reported. I assure all that there was no "staggering" nor "stammering" involved, nor was I at all "astonished" — in either encounter — at the virulence exhibited; I'm accustomed to it. And yes, I now know that it was Mrs. Braddock, not Lady Astor, who was the target of Churchill's splendid comment. That mistake of identity was not, in my opinion, a serious breach of honesty, but only evidence of my ignorance. Note how Keen cherishes this "discovery" of my villainy and my abandonment of "factual reality." I agree that facts and reality have been abandoned here, but I am not the agent.

Moving on in this comedy of errors, Keen states:

Now for the more serious bit: first, the $1million prize. Loyd Auerbach, a leading USA psychologist and President of the Psychic Entertainers Association (some 80% of the members of his Association believe in the paranormal, according to Dr. Adrian Parker, who was on the program, but given no opportunity to reveal this) exposed some of the deficiencies in this challenge in an article in Fate magazine.

For those unfamiliar with Fate Magazine, from their own web page we see that they publish stories on "alien abductions, angels, archaeological hotspots, fringe science, ghosts, hauntings, life after death, monsters, paranormal investigations, psychic pets, psychics, readers' personal mystic experiences, reports of the strange and unknown, spirit animals, spiritualists, and UFOs" — to only begin. Not recognized as a scholarly journal, in my opinion. And the Psychic Entertainers Association (PEA) is a group of magicians who make their living doing mentalism! Mentalism is defined as conjuring that appears to be done with the mind. The principal requirement for membership in the PEA is quite straightforward: a serious and vested interest in the ethical performance of psychic entertainment, including mentalism, bizarre magick, hypnotism, cold reading, and allied arts. The monthly journal of the PEA is "Vibrations," a collection of tricks and methods that can be used to give the impression that the performer is a genuine psychic. Are we very much surprised to learn that members say they believe in the paranormal? That doesn't mean that they use paranormal powers, does it? I believe in violin-playing, but I can't play the violin. And what the hell does belief in nonsense have to do with the JREF prize? This is one of the small rocks that people like Keen throw into a discussion freely, though this rock turns out to be only a pebble. What Keen is hoping to accomplish by this diversion, I cannot imagine. But then, he's a rather large enigma, anyway.

Keen states:

. . . it was lucky for Mr. Randi that Charles was given no opportunity to say why the $1m challenge was both misleading and worthless, an omission I hope to remedy below.

Well, we'll examine that in detail. What follows is a series of points whereby Keen seeks to "prove" the "misleading and worthless" nature of the JREF one-million-dollar challenge. Remember, he already knows the facts that I use to refute these accusations. This is more of his use of willful ignorance. NOTE: The following material discussing his errors re the JREF challenge, were sent to Mr. Keen by e-mail on August 22, 28+ days ago, yet he persists on publishing the material on several websites even though he knows it is spurious! This shows you clearly just how honest, responsive, and direct the man is!


Keen writes:

Under Article 3, the applicant allows all his test data to be used by the Foundation in any way Mr. Randi may choose. That means that Mr. Randi can pick and chose the data at will and decide what to do with it and what verdict to pronounce on it.

No, this is a blatant, knowing, lie. He mis-quotes the article, which actually states, "all data," not "all test data." That includes written and spoken agreements, and protocol discussions. There is no "verdict" to be arrived at, and this article 3 also covers the use of data obtained during the test procedure. As Keen well knows, our tests are designed with the participation of the applicant so that no judging nor verdict needs to be made — ever. The results must be self-evident. All parameters, including the standard for success in a test, are stated and agreed to, in advance. It is ludicrous to imply — as Keen does — that I or any person with the JREF could "pronounce" on any evidence.

Under Article 7, the applicant surrenders all rights to legal action against the Foundation, or Mr. Randi, no matter what emotional, professional or financial injury he may consider he has sustained.

Keen chooses to omit an italicized phrase in article 7, "as far as this may be done by established statutes." No one can — under American law, at least — surrender his/her basic constitutional rights; any effort or action by the JREF to slander or libel an applicant, or to purposely cause injury, would be actionable, regardless of article 7. This is a convenient omission by Keen to misrepresent article 7. Potential applicants are carefully informed of all this well in advance so that they may avoid any subsequent embarrassment or distress due to their failure. Consider: We are offering one million dollars, the applicant offers nothing, and enters the testing procedure knowing all the parameters. This article 7 is sensible and sane — and fair.

Thus even if Mr. Randi comes to a conclusion different from that reached by his judges and publicly denounces the test, the applicant would have no redress.

Again, there are no judges, ever! That is clearly stated. I cannot come to any "conclusion" that can affect the outcome. That's all out of my hands. Evaluation may be done independently, but the actual, binding, result will always be plainly evident. And I certainly would never "denounce" any test of which I had approved! What is Montague Keen thinking of here? Or is there any thinking involved, sir?

The Foundation and Mr. Randi own all the data. Mr. Randi can claim that the judges were fooled.

What "judges"? There are none! I am as much committed to abiding by the results, as any one else, legally, ethically, and publicly. Claims mean nothing here, only evidence, an element with which Keen seems unfamiliar.

The implicit accusation of fraud would leave the challenger devoid of remedy.

Not "challenger," but "applicant." We of the JREF are the challenging agent. Read the rules. Since the preceding assumption is false, this comment is without any merit or application. Keen should talk to a lawyer/solicitor/barrister to become at least rudimentarily acquainted with the law.

These rules, be it noted, are in stark contrast to Mr. Randi's frequent public assertions that he wanted demonstrable proof of psychic powers.

No, I have never so stated. Never. This is a good example of a technique frequently used by those such as Keen. They invent attitudes, statements, and opinions for me — as straw men — and then knock them down. I have no goal in mind except to determine whether or not an applicant can give evidence supporting his/her claim. I'm not looking for psychic powers. I don't have any goal but to ask those who purport to have these powers, to give evidence under a carefully-designed protocol — one acceptable to both sides of the discussion — that will show the existence of such powers. Should that evidence be offered, I have publicly, legally, openly, agreed to pay the JREF one-million-dollar prize. I'm absolutely committed to it. It's that simple, Mr. Keen.

First, his rules are confined to a single, live applicant.

Total nonsense. Where Keen got this notion, except from his fertile imagination, I cannot guess. There is no limitation — and he knows this full well — on the number of persons involved. Yes, the applicant must be "live." I find that much more acceptable than the alternative.

No matter how potent the published evidence, how incontestable the facts or rigorous the precautions against fraud, the number, qualifications or expertise of the witnesses and investigators, the duration, thoroughness and frequency of their tests or (where statistical evaluation is possible) the astronomical odds against a chance explanation: all must be ignored.

True. I believe that with a million dollars at stake, any sensible person would hesitate to accept data generated in the past by persons who in most cases have little or no expertise in detecting or controlling against chicanery. With the "Alpha Experiment," years ago, we proved that very strongly. We sent two young men into the leading and best-funded parapsychological laboratory, and for three years they deceived the scientists there, only revealing the project when the scientists were ready to publish what they thought were positive results. Incidentally, the scientists quoted the odds of the performances they viewed, as "billions-to-one against chance." "Published evidence," which Keen so dotes on, will be discussed up ahead.

Mr. Randi thrusts every case into the bin labelled 'anecdotal' (which means not written down), and thereby believes he may safely avoid any invitation to account for them.

Again, very wrong. First, the word "anecdotal" means, "based upon incidental observations or reports rather than systematic evaluation," according to the Webster's Dictionary, and the Oxford English Dictionary says that it means, "of, pertaining to, or consisting of, anecdotes." The Oxford defines an anecdote as, "The narrative of a detached incident, or of a single event, told as being in itself, interesting or striking." The "not written down" reference by Keen applies to the meaning given in the Oxford as, "unpublished narratives or details of history," and does not apply here. Second, I will not undertake to account for "narratives" or "anecdotes," but I am willing to consider the results of a proper here-and-now test. Is that unreasonable? I think not. And again, Keen, don't assign attitudes, statements, or opinions to me. And buy a dictionary, so I won't have to correct your usage. I'm too busy to educate you.

Keen now selects an entirely anecdotal, impromptu, typical performance by Uri Geller as evidence that I cannot refute. He refers to tests done well after the event, a bit too late, as if those tests establish the genuine nature of the event. I have a collection of bent objects — including a scrap of titanium-steel alloy — that could be examined for a century by any number of scientists, without their having any notion of how they were bent, though any number of modalities could apply. Demanding explanations for such past events is much like telling a card expert how much money you lost in a poker game on a cruise taken years ago, and expecting him to tell you whether anyone at the table cheated, and if so, how. In Keen's mind, is this one of his "white crows" he holds so proudly aloft? Here is what he writes about this miraculous event:

. . . the production of a spanner [wrench] bent by a force considerably in excess of the capacity of the strongest man, created at the request and in the presence of a group of mechanics gathered round a racing car at a pit stop by Mr. Randi's long-time enemy, Uri Geller, would run foul of the small print, which requires a certificate of a successful preliminary demonstration before troubling Mr. Randi himself. A pity, because scientists at Imperial College have tested the spanner, which its current possessor, the researcher and author Guy Lyon Playfair, not unnaturally regards as a permanent paranormal object, and there is a standing challenge to skeptics to explain its appearance.

I need not comment further on the naivety — or cunning — demonstrated by that account. On the John Edward matter, Keen writes:

[James Randi] . . . reported that one of the gifted mediums, John Edward, could have seen the sitter through a 2" curtain gap, regardless of the facts that the crack was about quarter of an inch, was subsequently sealed from ceiling to floor, and that readings were later done long distance. Mr. Randi declined an invitation to see all the raw footage for himself, while protesting that he would never [be allowed to] see it. Yet all the media representatives who visited the Arizona laboratory saw the raw footage, as did magicians and visiting scientists. Mr. Randi specifically declined an invitation to be videoed viewing the data and commenting on it.

Reference my web page of March 23, 2001, and see Edward at work. The small bit of sleeve at the right of this frame belongs to Dr. Gary Schwartz, the man conducting this airtight test of Edward. In that video, he is looking directly at Edward, who is peeking through the gap in the partition — which is certainly far more than "about quarter of an inch," as Keen claims — and that "peek" immediately preceded one of the readings that Schwartz claims — and Keen believes — to be "evidential." Keen wrote that I "reported that . . . John Edward, could have seen the sitter through a 2" curtain gap." Mr. Keen, this is sheer invention — a lie. I never said nor wrote any such thing. This is the kind of "isolation" between subject and "reader" that Schwartz takes such pride in. Keen points out that "subsequently" this blatant error was remedied. Remember the old adage about locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen? I imagine that Keen and Schwartz have never been in the horse business.

Yes, I declined the invitation from Schwartz. That man had eagerly agreed, in person at the JREF, to not only follow the protocol that we outlined to him for testing John Edward, but to supply us with all the raw data (written, video-ed, etc.) before issuing his report. From that day to this, we've heard nothing from him. He not only broke his agreement with us, but he ignored our input — for which he'd expressed much admiration — and rushed into print. He was seen everywhere on television and in the media extolling the validation of speaking-to-the-dead that he imagined he'd obtained. I don't trust him, nor will I offer him any further participation after his betrayal of our trust and confidence. I believe that is a proper and sensible stance. He has proven himself.

And, statisticians who examined the very limited amount of data that Gary Schwartz actually published, are aghast at the twisting and misapplication he made there of statistical methods. They've called them "voodoo" statistics, and even "crazy." Schwartz just doesn't understand probability, and doesn't know what he's doing. In my opinion, he's put parapsychology back twenty years. And parapsychology, a legitimate investigative science, needs less of that kind of damage, and more input from careful workers like Richard Wiseman. There's a man who knows what he's doing, though I'm sure that Montague Keen can provide us with a rant on him, too.

If we'd had that original material Schwartz promised to provide, we could not only have made our observations on that "peek," but many others, as well. But we'll never see that. What I'm pointing out here is that the opportunity to peek was certainly there, and it should not have been, had Schwartz known how to — or cared to — implement proper security. It's not too hard to do, Dr. Schwartz, even for a Ph.D. from Harvard.

Keen continues:

Equally, despite his confident assertions that cold reading can produce results as impressive as any from a platform medium, he declined an offer to prove it by comparing his performance with that of a genuine medium, surely a crucial test.

Codswallop. I am not experienced in "cold reading," though I know others who are. Keen here is setting up a situation similar to that of my being presented with a violin and being challenged to play Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. I profess no ability to play the instrument, but my failure to perform in no way indicates that Itzhak Perlman is supernatural. This is not in any way a "crucial test," at all. But Keen knows that, unless he's an idiot.

Kenn writes:

Similarly, Mr. Randi accused the experimenters of "blatant data searching", i.e. remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. This was false, and could readily have been shown to be so. He thereafter publicly declined to read any of Professor Schwartz's emails, having confined himself to deriding the Professor for believing in the tooth fairy, making wild claims and being a "doctor who embraces bump-in-the-night theories without a trace of shame". Further, that he had been a colleague at Harvard of Dr John Mack, "the man who has never met anyone who hasn't been abducted by aliens", and similar abuse. This is the language and conduct of the gutter, not of an honest difference of opinion expressed in civilized and restrained terms about scientific issues.

Well, let's look into this matter of "language and conduct" as compared to "restrained terms," shall we? Here is a selection of language used by Montague Keen, in his present tirade alone, that you might find interesting.

Fulcrum TV, the skeptic community, and I, are accused of various faults, using terms such as: "misleading and worthless," "tissue of lies," "gross hypocrisy," "naivety," "arrogance and inadequate research," "cavalier and misleading," "sheer gimmickry," "deliberate suppression of important and relevant material," "dishonest as well as deliberate," "grossly misleading," "pathologically bigoted," and "inevitably tarnished reputations."

Smooth talker!

Keen continues to run on about the tired old situation with Ted Serios and Jule Eisenbud, getting this material from Internet sources. But he avoids the Internet material from my web page, of course; that might provide data he finds damaging to that case. The Serios tricks are ancient history, being done now by kid magicians at amateur shows. Eisenbud's demands that I replicate an anecdotal performance by Serios, dressed in a seamless rubber suit and drunk, as Serios usually was when performing, even though I don't drink at all. He even wanted me to have the same blood-alcohol level as Serios! These provisions, and others, were just comical, and below serious consideration. When I very effectively replicated the basic Serios trick on a live TV show in New York with Serios and Eisenbud present, Eisenbud was flabbergasted. Serios just didn't care, and smiled wanly. And yes, I have the videotape.

Keen, once more:

Worse still are the multiple errors of fact, admixed with derision, abuse and misrepresentation, which Mr. Randi makes in his book Flim-Flam (1980) about a number of distinguished scientists, notably Russell Targ, Harold Puthoff and Charles Tart and their roles in the remote viewing experiments with Ingo Swann and the clairvoyant claims of Uri Geller. That Randi's denunciations turned out to be mainly a tissue of lies is apparent from the penetrating account given by parapsychologist D. Scott Rogo in Psychic Breakthroughs Today (Aquarian Press, 1987, pp.216-226), and devastatingly amplified in a recent website publication by Michael Prescott.

Try as I might, I've been unable to get any of these people to point out the "multiple errors of fact" in "Flim-Flam!" that so dismay them. Show me, Keen!

Keen follows with his assurance to us that he is "not applying for Mr. Randi's $1 million, but only for some evidence that his challenge is genuine." Now that I've cleared that up, will Montague Keen now apply? Listen! That's the same chorus of crickets heard when we ask Sylvia Browne to respond….

At this point Keen presents a list of twenty "cases suggestive of survival" that I'm supposed to explain. Conveniently, at least seven of the authors of these "miracles" are very dead, and others are unreachable, anyway. That’s the kind of references Keen prefers. We have no indication that any of these are factual, only that they were reported. Let’s look at a few other examples where parapsychologists and mystics went into party mode, only to fall silent and retreat from them when the truth became known. These were very prominent "evidential" cases of the same strength as those held aloft by Keen, and I only mention a few of them here. Please recall that there was a time when a large part of the scientific world believed in "N-rays," because they were "discovered" by a tenured, laurelled, respected French scientist, and multiple papers from equally respected scientists had validated their existence. Today, we know this was a delusion. When parapsychologists at the prestigious Stanford Research Institute (now "Institution") in the 1970s lauded the performance of Uri Geller and issued and published in Nature Magazine a "scientific" account of his feats, a percentage of the academic world accepted that as fact, until it was shown that those in charge had not actually tested Geller, but only allowed him to do demonstrations of his specialty. A magician was involved in the investigation. We'd be hard-pressed to find any acceptance in science, today, for those claims. The world of bump-in-the-night was agog when a young girl named Tina Resch was validated by parapsychologists as a poltergeist agent, the newspapers were full of it, and scientists clambered aboard that rickety bandwagon; today, Tina is out of consideration, and some scientists are nursing wounds from that episode. The same magician was involved in the investigation. Ted Serios, the Chicago bellboy, was once touted highly as the "thoughtography" wonderworker, and was the subject of books and glowing articles from the parapsychological community; now his tricks are forgotten, and never discussed in academe. The magician was brought in there, too. One Pavel Stepanek, beginning in 1961, was the current "golden boy" of parapsychology, having astounded parapsychologists with a series of tests which had odds of success — by chance alone — of 1/1,125,899,906,824,464 — a result thereafter never repeated. The 1970 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records even proclaimed him "the best clairvoyant ever tested." The bottom line here is that when test controls were tightened — the design suggested by a magician — Stepanek's success ratio fell to the level of chance. The "testing" of this psychic superstar is a classic example of self-interest conflicting with the interest of science, and ambition colliding with common sense. Stepanek "retired" in 1971, then emerged from obscurity in April of 1989 for an experiment in Amsterdam with parapsychologist Jan Kappers. The results were slightly below chance expectation. Stepanek and his wonders faded from view.

Are these "scientific results," once so endorsed and celebrated by parapsychologists, mentioned by Keen? No. But those that did not come under the eye of a competent magician, are rhapsodized on by Keen. There's a message to be found there….

Keen runs on about the voting carried on at the Fulcrum TV show, showing an increase in audience belief as the show went on. But even Keen admits,

. . . as Randi rightly said, the evidence is determined by scientific investigation (plug for his $1,000,000 offer amid cries of 'phoney') not by votes.

Nor, I would add, by Tarot cards or rune-casting. That may shock Keen, but I have no faith in these methods.

Only one more example of Keen's perfidy:

The program ended with a slightly botched experiment in psychometric reading by Charles for which there was quite inadequate time . . .

That hardly describes it. Charles screwed that one up, entirely. He was very wrong, and he chortled, when he discovered what he was supposed to be revealing, that this was a case which he, a former police officer, had actually worked on. He apparently presented this as a reason for his failure — while this fact should have given him even more of an advantage, if he'd had any genuine "psychic" powers! This test was not "slightly botched up." It was a total disaster. By these standards, Keen might consider the last sailing of the Titanic to be "less than satisfactory."

I believe that my reluctance to examine the entire tirade written by Montague Keen, can be seen to be understandable. If it takes me more than 6,000 words to refute just a small portion of his entire text, it would consume two days or more of my time and talent to do it all, an investment I'm unwilling to make. Nor am I required to; I've done it all before. At risk of wearing out quotations and sayings, I'll apply this old English proverb: "A fool can ask more questions in one hour than seven wise men can answer in seven years."

Keen did not look into the matter sufficiently. He simply chose to accept and quote from the canards that have been created by those desperate to avoid the confrontation between fact and myth, a confrontation that bears no terrors at all for me, but which obviously frustrates and angers them. He is a master of willful ignorance and sheer invention.

I apologize to my regular readers for using up almost all of this weeks page with my abbreviated rebuttal of Keen's attack. About every two years, I have to "clean house," so to speak, but just as Joan Rivers once said, "House-cleaning is ridiculous. You do the laundry and the dishes, you sweep the floors, you take out the trash, and four months later you have to do it all over again!" Well, I get two years of relative rest before someone comes along with a harangue that requires handling. Mind you, the damage is not neutralized; it persists, because it's too good to let go of. The believers have not much to cling to, so they snatch at the tatters and comfort themselves.

Next week, I'll try your patience with a detailed analysis of one of the "readings" done in that TV studio by Keith Charles — a feat highly evaluated by Montague Keene….