September 24, 2004

From Europe, The Psi Breakthrough at Last?, Waiting for the Right Answer, Deep Questions, Stereophile Again, God the Puzzle-Master, Scissors, Comb, and Crystal Ball, Send Them Here, Theocracy Denied.

Table of Contents:


This is the first of three prepared pages to be put up during my absence in Europe. I'll try to add to each of them from afar, if my time permits....

I recently happened upon this archived item that I think you'll find interesting, a piece I wrote in 1994. I think it's a good example of how carefully claimants can manage to avoid any real tests of their cherished claims

I'd had a few run-ins with Martin Caidin (1927-1997) who authored some fifty books, some of which were made into films and TV shows. Caidin also made fanciful claims of psychic abilities which he said would easily prove that psychokinesis (PK) was real. He frantically avoided accepting my challenge by refusing even the simplest of proposed control protocols, but he never tired of running on about how I would not test him. Where have we heard that before?

Here, from Friday, 20 May 1994, is that article:


I'm informed that California parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach is touring his current guru, science fiction author Martin Caidin, around the USA claiming that Caidin can teach people to make a paper vane turn on a needle-point by psychokinetic power. Such "psychic motors" have been sold and described in hobby books for years. The vane turns from the effects of air currents, from the breath, body heat, drafts, etc. Auerbach is telling anyone who will listen that Caidin has had as many as 18 vanes moving at one time via his personal PK powers, and has even made one thus move in an evacuated Bell jar. If this is true, there has been a huge leap forward in physics, paraphysics and in our understanding of the forces of nature. This could be the long-awaited breakthrough in psi.

Or maybe not.

It appears that Loyd Auerbach chooses to believe and accept anything and everything that any colorful character tells him. I can confidently bet that he did not see actually the 18 targets moving, nor did he witness the vane in the evacuated Bell jar spinning. I'll bet he was told all this by Martin Caidin, and he simply believes it. I don't at all think that Auerbach is a scam artist, I think he is just a gullible type. After all, he makes his living writing for FATE Magazine, and we know how precarious a position that is...!

Concerning a claim made by Caidin that I simply refused to go and witness his miracle, again the ugly facts interfere with the myth. I've spent too much of my life spinning my wheels trying to catch up with wills-o'-the-wisp (or is that "will-o'-the-wisps"?) that aren't there when I arrive, so when I was contacted with a challenge to go and see him perform, I theorized that he was setting up a room full of paper vanes and claiming success when one or more started moving. Indeed, upon hearing more about the claimed "miracle," that turned out to be the case, though on a bigger scale than I'd imagined. After all, the greater the number of vanes, the better the chance that a few will start moving through perfectly well understood physical forces, not PK.

Now, it is almost literally impossible to set up a room in which there are no air currents, residual or otherwise, and since the air mass acts like a fluid, it must move about, subject to the very slightest change in temperature or of atmospheric pressure. Any air movement will make a carefully-balanced paper vane turn. My challenge to Caidin was for him to make a specific, randomly-selected vane among the forest of vanes, move upon command by PK without other vanes also moving. That was the only way he could have gotten me to look at his miracle. But Caidin declared that (a) I was not the sort of person who should set up such a test, and (b) that he didn't have to prove anything to me, anyway. He's right on at least one of those.

I will accept Caidin's claim (and his disciple's validation) if he will make one paper (or other) vane move by psychokinetic power while it is sealed in a Bell jar. Of course precautions against volatile substances, static electricity, etc. would have to be taken. That is easily done, and would cost very little; it could be done easily and definitively. My prediction: that Auerbach and Caidin will refuse such a test, for reasons such as "no time," "no interest," "not needed," etc. They have a good gag going, teaching this "power" to the gullible at $80 a pop, and I think they'll not want anything to interfere with that. And, before going any further, let's define the term, "Bell jar." This is a bell-shaped, strong, glass container that has been ground flat on the edge so that it can be sealed (using specially-formulated low-vapor gasket grease) to a flat, horizontal surface. Its size ranges from about 4 inches to 24 inches in height. The device is usually fitted with an inlet stem on the side and a valve, so that the inside can be evacuated to whatever degree of vacuum is required, and if needed, the interior space can then be charged with another gas or mixture of gases, at any required pressure within the limits of the device.

Note: A simple glass jar inverted over a paper vane is not a Bell jar! If Caidin is using the lesser system, let him say so. He and Auerbach are, after all, supposed to be scientists; let them start getting scientific. They are charging $80 a head to their customers, agreeing to try teaching them how to move paper vanes by psychokinesis. Anything less than a strictly-applied protocol is not in accordance with that agreement.

I note, in passing, that the two Project Alpha Kids, Steve Shaw and Michael Edwards, were able to turn a vane under an imitation Bell jar at the Mac Lab back in 1978, and convinced the parapsychologists there that it was a genuine feat of PK. Their exclamations of delight at the phenomenon were real enough.

Another prediction: Caidin and his #1 apostle will go ahead with the $80-a-head process of demonstrating and teaching PK exactly as they originally planned, along with the extravagant claims and colorful anecdotes. Some of the customers will decide that they have PK powers, and some won't. Those who don't will not complain, but just go in search of another guru.

Stay tuned! I can hear the ads....

HEAR with your own ears the C&A dog-and-pony show as the indignant proprietors bluster and fume!

SEE unhappy customers wondering why they can't move a paper vane!

EXPERIENCE yet another New Age fiasco!

BETTER than spoon-bending!

MORE USEFUL than a lottery system (or spoon-bending)!

CHEAPER than Philippine Psychic Surgery!

ACTUALLY MIX with heavy celebrities like Caidin & Auerbach!


(NOTE: no complaints allowed, in order to preserve the scientific integrity of this mystical event.)

BE ASSURED: no kibitzers or dreadful skeptics allowed.

You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll howl! But no refunds!


Reader Don Bruey tells us:

Reading a recent commentary about how people see what they want to see when dealing with astrology, etc. I posted this story on one of the JREF forums a while back also under the handle Professor Frink.

I went to lunch last year with my preschool-aged son. We had just received a kid's hamburger meal from a fast-food restaurant. The toy was a figure shaped like a video game character. Its arm was a lever, and when pushed, it spun an internal spring-loaded ball whose surface could be seen through a hole in the figure's stomach. When it was done spinning a word or phrase would appear: "No," "Yes," "Maybe," "Ask Again," and so on. The kinds of responses you get from a Magic 8 Ball.

After I explained to him how it worked, he asked it a question: "Is it going to rain today?" He pulled the lever, and "Yes" appeared. When I told him it said "Yes," he immediately pulled the lever again. This time it said "Maybe." Then he pulled the lever again a few more times. When he finally got a "No" response, he yelled "Yay! It's not going to rain today!"

Sound like any astrology buffs you know?


Correspondent John Atkinson wonders, concerned about the Dreaded Geller Curse....

I'm getting worried about Uri Geller ... how long before he demands a million dollars from Man Utd [Manchester United football team] NOT to lend his support?

How much would the New York Yankees pay NOT to have it?

Would Bush or Kerry pay to have him endorse their opponent?

John, these are philosophical matters far beyond my expertise....


Reader Dan Dugan of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, writes:

Following is a part of an exchange I had on an internet newsgroup with the editor of Stereophile magazine regarding your continuing mention of audio claims in your commentary series. Could you please comment on this. I agree with your observations about audio claims and would like more information on the exchange you had with that magazine as to possible testing of claims. I have merged two messages for ease of reading:

Re: James Randi gets clarified on audio biz
From: (John Atkinson)
Date: 15 Sep 2004 22:43:01 GMT

In another of [Randi's] pieces, Stereophile was said to have entered into talks to test the claims for the Tice clock for which they had reviewed it as having made a positive audible effect.

This is not correct. James Randi didn't contact anyone at Stereophile about testing the Tice TPT Clock (which on his website he originally referred to as the "Tate" Clock). You can find my comments on the Tice Clock and the Peter Belt devices at and Stereophile's review coverage at , while J. Gordon Holt's report on the Belt devices is published at .

Randi comments: If Mr. Atkinson wishes to see the Tice/Stereophile folder we have here, it amounts to 57 printed pages, including an August 23rd, 1991 two-page letter to Thomas J. Norton of the magazine staff outlining a simple test that could be carried out on Tice's claims. That letter never received the courtesy of a response from Stereophile.

Dan continues:

To which I replied:

Date: 17 Sep 2004 03:12:37 GMT

In which case one might suggest he clarify, for which similar corrections are readily posted when he finds himself in error, these bits:

Quoting Randi:

I've had run-ins with Stereophile before. Refer to We discussed doing proper tests of their ridiculous claims for such devices as the "Tice Clock," a simple and definitive procedure that would certainly show the truth behind the nonsense — but they opted out half-way into the discussion. I also pursued George Tice himself, and found that he kept running away from proper tests, even though I had top audio people and the very best equipment available to do the work. It was ever thus.

Bold claims, then retreat. And they're never embarrassed, because they know that the suckers will continue to buy the products.

[Randi] might have mixed recollections of proposed testing with the Tice interaction described at: The Stereophile-related url above pointing in part to:

Quoting Randi:

That magazine, Stereophile, has published articles that make most pseudoscience look pale. The "Tate Clock," a regular Radio Shack digital clock treated with liquid nitrogen and a "secret process" to align electrons in the power supply (?) is only one of the products it tested and approved, as well as $1800 speaker cables marked with arrows to indicate in which direction the electricity should travel.

But, as with all obsessions, these are items that afficionados simply must have, because they're expensive and "in."

Dan adds: "The "Tate" mention is easily a typo as he uses the correct spelling in many places over several articles."

Yes, I was confusing two quacks, Tate and Tice. Mea culpa. And no, this is not the same John Atkinson who wrote the Geller comments, above. Two quite different John Atkinsons! What are the chances of that....?


Reader Andrew Stouppe observes:

There are a few things that have always made me roll my eyes whenever the subject of Bible Codes comes up.

Upon what authority of information do we conclude that its even worthwhile to search for coded messages in any holy text? Who said it was there to look for in the first place? God? If we assume a God exists, which we have no evidence for, why would he hand us a rather explicit handbook for life and then go to the trouble of hiding messages in it without mentioning it? Isn't the whole point and purpose of the Bible, Quran and Torah to be a guide for all of God's people to live by? The point of encryption is to hide information from people whose possession of that information would be detrimental to you. What could God possibly be afraid of any man knowing? If messages have been encrypted in these texts then how do we know we are getting it right? Where is the decryption key? Most discussions of codes I have seen seem to sidestep these questions completely.

As you and I are already aware, none of the effort and research that has been wasted in this inquiry has manifested any benefit to mankind. We have not saved lives or resources with accurate predictions drawn from these texts. In fact, in a program I saw on cable on the Torah Codes the "expert" code readers made statements to the effect that attempting to see the future with the codes would probably make God angry. What is the point then? If he gave us accurate predictions of the future as a reward for figuring out the code, we are to believe he expects us not to use it to our advantage?

These people are claiming that they have special knowledge of these texts. The nature of their claims contradicts the explicitly stated intent of those texts. In fact these texts specifically proscribe this type of activity:

Ezekiel 13:9: So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations.

Ezekiel 22:28: Her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, "Thus says the Lord GOD," when the LORD has not spoken.

Matthew 24:24: For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.

Furthermore these texts state that they are whole and complete. God's word is for everyone and he is going to use as many words as necessary to get his point across. If God didn't put it in there in black and white for all to see, then it's not God's word.

Luqman [31.27]: And were every tree that is in the earth (made into) pens and the sea (to supply it with ink), with seven more seas to increase it, the words of Allah would not come to an end; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.

If God exists he certainly does not need us to decode secret messages for him to get the word out. He has said as much if we take holy texts as his word. If God does exist then we should rest assured that he has everything in hand. If he tells us in the Bible, Quran and Torah that those texts cover it all we should trust him. He has stated that his word is for everyone and applies equally to all. God is above all this tricky sneaky stuff anyway. He has no need for it and repeatedly points it out as a uniquely human trait.

If God does not exist then these texts are the work of men. Men have created plenty of allegorical and symbolic texts with hidden meanings. However once we exclude god and before we can begin to address the uselessness of the "messages" or the difficulty of encoding messages that can reliably be extracted from a text which expresses ideas coherently on its own, we must first address the question of the accuracy of human predictions of the future.....


Reader Daniel Cullen writes:

I'm a 17-year-old magician and I specialize in mentalism. I don't believe in any psychic powers or any of that bullshit, as Penn and Teller would say. The reason for this email is that my hair stylist guy believes he has psychic power. He said it started later in his life and that he doesn't like it. He says that he uses cold reading. One day after my haircut I decided to ask him about it. And wow it was all I could do to keep a straight face. He first told me that he can look into someone's eyes and tell the future or their past. So I said go ahead look into my eyes and tell me what has been going on in my life for the past few days. He then said well it's been a long day and my brain is tired.

I said, oh come on, you claim you're so great at it and have done all this amazing stuff, give me a little sample. Then he tried to get out of it again by saying he needed an object of mine to hold on to or preferably crystals. He finally settled for just looking in my eyes and came up with some simple stuff. Blonde girl needs to talk to me, accident going to happen soon, guy with short hair who wears glasses sometimes. He later told me again he doesn't like having this power it is scary. Then he said he wants me to meet up with him some Sunday when he usually does this work and wanted to bring me some crystals. I responded by saying, yeah, sure, Dave.

The next time I go in there I'm going to bring a little tape recorder. I need some things to say to him so that I can expose him and prove to him that he is a fraud. Do you have any suggestions for me? I feel that exposing him and others is very important. Thank you.

Daniel, don't assume that this man is a fraud. If he honestly believes he has such a power, then it's quite possible that there's no fraud involved. Self-delusion is what we most often encounter here at the JREF, so be a bit more charitable.


Reader Stephen Bickers has a problem:

Before I start with the true purpose of this email, I would like to say how impressive and fascinating I find your website. I wish everyone could read it so that we could rid the world of so much nonsense.

I'm going through a moral dilemma at the moment and having read some of your work, I thought that you might be a suitable person to help advise me.

A few years ago, I went through a period of collecting books on the paranormal, such as the ones by Erich Von Daniken or Brinlsey Le Poer Trench and others of their kind. I would pick them up from charity shops, read them whilst having a good laugh at the crazy ideas contained within them, then put them away on a bookshelf to gather dust. Years passed, until recently I became compelled to clear out some of the junk I have accumulated. Now, worthless as these books are (both monetary and contentwise) as a committed bibliophile I can't bring myself to just throw these books out with the rubbish. However, due to the risk that someone more gullible than I might buy them, neither can I donate them to a charity shop or secondhand bookshop.

So what would your advice be? Do I go against everything I stand for regarding books and chuck them in the trash? Or do I keep them intact and run the risk of spreading on the dangerous ideas inside? I would greatly appreciate your feedback on my dilemma

Yes, I have a solution. The JREF library — close to 1,900 books right now — can certainly welcome these books. Our procedure is to send any that are duplicates, to the Skeptic Magazine/Michael Shermer team in California, so nothing goes to waste. We'll await your shipment....


It appears that the Serbian government has reversed a recent previous order that banned Charles Darwin's theory of evolution from schools. This followed widespread and worldwide criticism from scientists. Deputy education minister Milan Brdar announced that his boss, Ljiljana Colic, who had decreed the controversial policy, had gone "away on business," after having proposed banning the evolution theory this school year, until creationism could be taught alongside. She had said that both Darwin's theory of natural selection and the Old Testament view on the beginning of life were equally "dogmatic."

This is quite untrue. Dogmatism is a religious concept, and is not applied in science — though the fundamentalists like to claim that it is. After numerous protests from scientists, teachers and opposition parties, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica had called Mrs. Colic in for a meeting, after which the decree was dropped.

A prominent Serbian biologist described the original ruling as "outrageous" and said it showed that Serbia's Orthodox Church was interfering in politics. "We are slowly turning into a theocratic state and in the 21st Century we are going back to the Book of Revelations," he said.

Gee, here in the USA we hear and read that every speech, every comment, and every statement coming from the White House has religious content, despite the valued "separation of church and state" that we're supposed to enjoy. Commenting in Florida recently following his personal inspection of the damages resulting from hurricanes, President Bush assured the devastated citizens there that "We're praying for you, we'll get help to you as soon as possible, and we ask God's blessings on you and on your families." Reassuring....