October 1, 2004

Court TV Program, MSNBC Off the Deep End, Help This Man, More Korean Psychics, Going Around In Crop Circles, Religious Mysteries Examined, and In Conclusion....

Table of Contents:


This is the second page from me while I'm in Europe. I'm on my way to Sweden right now....

Reader Ken Anderson is rightly irked by what he sees on "the tube," and has done something about it. Says he:

Yes, our own Court TV has completely decided to place ratings over ethics.

I guess that shows where their values lie. I have sent the following to Nancy Grace, the anchor woman that is announcing all of the psychic shows that are to be on this week. She is also the hosting a new show called "Psych Out" that features various performance artists that claim to have solved crimes. Here is the letter:

I'd like to say that I enjoy much of the programming on CTV, as it is usually entertaining while at the same time being educational. The judicial system and investigative practices are great things to learn about, as they do affect us all.

This is not the case with "Psychic Detective week." I find it distasteful for CTV to go the route of ratings instead of maintaining some semblance of journalistic integrity. These shows simply cater to pseudoscientific claims and falsities that merely increase the profits of these "psychics", who have NEVER solved a crime. These shows do not educate people, but instead, have the opposite effect of perpetuating ignorance and gullibility of the audience.

Have you ever thought of voicing a skeptical opinion on these issues? It would be great to have a show that debunks these psychics, but perhaps that would not attract ratings. James Randi, of the James Randi Educational Foundation, is an expert on these psychics and can provide much insight into how these psychics actually work. He also has one-million dollars that can be claimed by any psychic who can simply demonstrate psychic ability.

I urge CTV to stop placing ratings over ethics. These psychics are predators, feeding off of the finances and grief of those they claim to help. CTV should be actually trying to stop these psychics from thwarting the legal system, if you really cared about the public.

I understand you are not the program director, and I sincerely hope that you do not believe in these psychics yourself. Please voice these concerns to your program director. I also ask that you voice skeptical opinions about these issues.

There is information on Carla Baron, at www.iigwest.com/carla_report.html

I'd like to think that I will get more than just excuses or silence back, but I sure wouldn't gamble any money on it.


Reader Richard Hubbard reached me in Germany, informed me that Molly Masland, Health Editor for MSNBC, wrote about one Maleah Jacobs, who she describes as

. . . an animal communicator who specializes in two-way telepathy with critters. For $100 an hour, Jacobs will "check in" with a pet to see how it's feeling, what it's thinking about, and help it work through any special behavioral issues it might be dealing with — all over the phone.

Masland — the MSNBC Health Editor, remember! — goes on to say that:

[Jacobs has] "talked" to a range of animals from elephants, zebras and dolphins to gorillas and grizzly bears. . . the animals use pictures and images as well as physical sensations. . . they'll show her whether or not they like their food, where they might be hurting. They'll show her the people in their lives, scenarios, situations, and then typically all of those things will be paired with some kind of emotion.

Masland says that the pet owner first e-mails Jacobs a photo of the animal along with basic information, such as the pet's name, age, sex, breed, how long the animal has lived in the home and other pets it lives with. She also asks the main reason for the consultation, usually a behavioral or health problem.

She continues:

. . . these telepathic consultations usually take place with Jacobs lying on her bed at home where she says she can work better. "When I'm alone on the phone, I'm much more centered and grounded and can get the information clearer and quicker."

But then Editor Masland sobers up a bit:

Pat Linse, co-founder of the Skeptics Society, says psychics use a skill called "cold reading" to convince clients they have some sort of supernatural ability to know things or predict the future.


Reader Marten Lettinga is the Chemistry/Physics Instructor at the University College of the Cariboo, in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. He's alarmed at a site he discovered, and decided to launch a Skeptic Club in response to some real flaky stuff being shared informally with students by a Psychology colleague of his. He gives a link to the wacky stuff that this man espouses:


Marten comments:

An outsider looking at this may think that the institution is actually considering this to be authentic research. However, this page is actually maintained by the Public Relations Department that posts practically anything that is submitted to them by faculty. I have complained about this particular posting explaining that such unscientific nonsense has no place on the website of a public post-secondary educational institution. This is especially more significant now that our institution has officially gained University status (with a new name to be selected soon).

My complaints fell on deaf ears since they claim that they received no negative publicity even after printing that posting in the newspaper in 2001. It has been 3 years now and this nonsense is still there for all to see on the website. I was wondering if you could drop the institution a line to wake them up as to the sheer foolhardiness of posting such crank science passed off as "research".

Well, Marten, maybe our readers will drop a few notes to the institution....! Let's see!


Reader Matt Briggs wrote me asking about how to control a bunch of Korean kids who were presented as geniuses who could read while blindfolded, and who would be be "tested" — which means put on a show — soon in his area. I suggested:

Have they agreed to use envelopes? I'm sure they haven't.

You HAVE TO work within their limits, as they state them; you can't ask a swimmer to fly.....

Just hold a piece of paper under their chins, and bring the colored paper beneath that. They won't be able to see....

Matt responded:

Thanks very much for the tips, but I must report that the experiment happened on Monday night (about 30+ showed; many people from MIT and Harvard: I don't have a list, unfortunately), and was a failure in the sense that the kids did no better than chance. In fact, it was worse than that. I can also say that the whole thing is no longer confidential and can openly be reported.

The Korean team actually agreed to use the envelopes, and even announced that they had practiced with them for two weeks before the experiment. They were claiming hit rates of 80-90% with the envelopes during these two weeks. I have no clear idea how they did these unsupervised trials.

Matt doesn't say here what the target pool was, playing cards or letter cards, though from what comes later, I believe they were just colored cards Leaves us a bit unable to give an analysis....! Continuing....

I had the exact same materials for the experiment with the exception that I glue-sticked the envelopes shut instead of just closing them. They also agree to this beforehand. Actually, my two sons (back in New York) glued and stuffed the numbered envelopes using a randomization sheet that was unknown to me, so that nobody in the room at the time of the experiment, including me, knew the order of the cards. I carried a separate sealed envelope that contained the list so that I could check with what the proctors had written down during the experiment.

The three kids, who sat together at a table, started the evening by doing a blindfold "demonstration." But only one kid at a time was blindfolded. Not surprisingly, all the kids got the blindfold guesses correct. I'm pretty sure they didn't peek below their nose, though they could have above it because they held the cards up high in the air to indicate that they were ready to announce their guess.

But I and two other proctors, who both had experience in magic and statistics, felt that the kids were cluing each other (the third proctor admitted the possibility but did not care to guess). All in the room could see the card except the blindfolded kid. The kids were fairly close to one another and they were allowed to move about and talk when the other of them was blindfolded. I have suggested to the main researcher, who is unaffiliated with the Korean Institute for Brain Science (KIBS), ways that we can check this. Somehow, and you'll be shocked to learn this, but somehow they are not interested in finding out if the kids are cheating!

The main trial then began. Each kid had a separate proctor, and I watched from the sidelines. It was a very fair experiment, with the kid taking up to 20 minutes to guess, then announcing his guess in English, the proctor repeated the guess, the kid confirmed it loud enough for all to hear, the proctor wrote down the guess then checked the envelope for holes or tears, then the proctor opened it and wrote down the actual color. They never found any holes and so on, though one kid's envelopes were consistently wet as if he tried to lick them (the paper was too thick to allow him to see anything, even so); the dampness could also have been sweat as the kid held the cards to his face tightly.

Again, I'm poorly informed, Matt. Who supplied the cards? How many different colors? What size were they, etc.?

Gist is that one kid did 7 trials, the other two did 6 each then the experiment was stopped out of concern for the kids' anxiety. They were scheduled to do 12 trials each. They got 4 hits during these 19 trials, right what chance would predict (kid one got 1, kid two got 1, kid three got 2).

At this point, the oldest kid (15 years old) wanted to do another blindfold demonstration. Same as before: he got both new cards right. It was then suggested that all three kids be blindfolded at once, and that, respectfully, no noise be made. I didn't love this idea because there were many other people in the room who could have cheated if they wanted to, but the audience insisted on it. Only kids two and three attempted a reading, but kid one was blindfolded anyway. Whereas before, each kid could do a blindfold experiment in about a minute, this time it took about five to seven minutes until kid number three started to complain of a stomachache. And so, even the last blindfold demonstration was called off with no guesses made.

The evening ended with the main experimenter (Dr. Lee) saying that, "Absence of evidence...", hoping that more trials would be done, that none of us really understood what is going on, and with the head of the KIBS saying, through an interpreter, something about "mysterious Z-rays that are absorbed or emitted by the human brain."

So it is now, of course, two days later that the recriminations and alternative explanations begin. The group has told me that will continue to practice very hard with the envelopes and will try the experiment again. It's not clear whether I and the proctors will be allowed to witness it.

I also suggested to them that if they truly get as good as they say they can, that they contact you to win that million bucks. No bites on that yet.

We, Dr. Lee and I, plan to write these results up, though I don't know where to submit them. Before the experiment I was told that I would be allowed to write whatever I wanted and that if I could not then I would write my own paper.

I've left out a lot of details but I have already gone on too long. Thank you for your patience and for the interest. You are a great hero of mine and if I did this experiment right it was because I tried to pay close attention to what you have done before.

Matt, sympathetic as I am to your situation, you let the kids run away with the situation. That doesn't happen when I get going on such a test. For example, I just spent the last two days here in Würzburg testing "psychics," and it never once got out of hand. A full report will be forthcoming as soon as I'm back in the States. Those tests were for the million-dollar JREF prize, and I'll be doing others while I'm over here....


Reader Michael, in the Northern Territory, Australia, wrote to Linda:

I understand the boss is traveling at the moment, but I had to write in about an awful "documentary" called "Unsigned Circles" that was shown on our ABC, Australia's national public TV broadcaster, last night. I vaguely recall reading something about these clowns in a past commentary, so apologies if I'm going over old ground.

When I heard that the ABC, normally a broadcaster with fairly high standards (provided you enjoy English police dramas), was airing a program on the "fascinating phenomenon of crop circles" I immediately assumed that there would be some sort of skeptical content. I was sorely disappointed. I have rarely seen such an irrational and poorly produced piece of work — completely implausible "experts," a central figure who is obviously a con man on the make, an incredible mish-mash of theories, dowsing, mangled mysticism, pseudo-science, and a total absence of rational thinking. They even have one fellow dismissing the concept of "balance" in documentaries, his rationale being "if you were doing a program on banking experts and new banking methods, would you interview a bank robber for balance?" ???

I thought it was fairly widely known that crop circles are created by talented and mischievous characters using ropes and whatnot to create geometrical patterns — there are even web sites such as www.circlemakers.org dedicated to the hobby. Well, "Unsigned Circles" includes some passing references to planks tied to feet and crop circle "hoaxes," but these were used to illustrate the differences been "fake" circles and "real" ones. Apparently you can't use a bit of wood to push wheat down one way and then fold adjacent stalks over them, only "plasma" can do that. Actually, I can't remember if it's plasma or "four-dimensional" sound energy.

I think an extract from the promotional blurb sums up the most distressing and disappointing aspect of this sort of thinking:

For those involved in exploring these amazing imprints on our planet, one thing is common. It has changed their lives forever with the growing realization that the world we live in is infinitely more complex and mysterious than we could ever have imagined.

Whereas I would argue that, to anyone with any degree of rational curiosity, the world is already "infinitely more complex and mysterious" than we can imagine, I'm starting to get the feeling that the one thing that really is "common" to those who believe in the paranormal is their inability to appreciate the wonders of the natural world — what their beliefs actually provide is a way of simplifying complex systems by attributing anything challenging to "higher" forces. Just make it up as you go along.

Presumably very much like our ancestors who invented the first gods in order to explain unsolvable mysteries like thunder, lightning, the movement of planets... I didn't catch the date of production for "Unsigned Circles", maybe it was MIV rather than MMIV.

Seriously guys, become a Bright, get a life.


Reader Matteo Martini tells us:

I have just arrived home from the trip to Medjugorje [Yugoslavia] with a priest friend of mine. The trip has been very interesting for the reasons I will explain later, I have also met many people including two Americans who built a castle two km. away from the center of Medjugorje which is a reproduction of the castle described in the works of St. Therese.

But let' s start from the beginning. I arrived at Medjugorje on the first, me and my friend got up on the 2nd to go to see the apparition of the Holy Lady Mirijana. We went under a very big tent at 7 a.m. with some 500 other people, we sang and prayed for 2 hours and at about 9, Mirjiana arrived.

What happened? At once, she stopped looking around and fixed her gaze on one point in front of her, started to move her mouth but no sound was heard. And her eyes blinked all the time. After about 5 minutes of this she looked up, and a tear came down her face.

That was all.

I saw nothing really paranormal here. I think you can cry somehow if you want to. This does not seem any proof of anything paranormal.

Then I spoke with a woman here and asked about the strange effects of the Sun that are said in many sites to happen in Medjugorje. Every person I tried to speak to about the Sun miracle said, "This is not really important, what is important is faith." But I kept asking so they (this woman and later a guy I met in the shop close to the church) told me that something strange with the Sun happens every afternoon, even if those effects are not quite as visible now as they were twenty years ago at the beginning of the apparitions of Medjugorje. So I took my video camera and went close to the church at about 5 p.m.

From time to time I watched the Sun but nothing particular was happening. Then it was six, six thirty and nothing was happening. Then I looked at my right and saw an Italian family staring at the Sun. The daughter was saying, "Don't you see that it is spinning?" and the father said, "Yeah! And it's becoming a little bit blue too." Then the daughter again, "And now it seems like it is falling down to the Earth ," etc. I looked at the Sun and it was not spinning nor falling and it was of the same color I saw it in the last 30 years.

I filmed everything with my camera and tomorrow I will watch at my video one more time, but nothing was happening and I was standing one meter from that family. Two minutes passed and then I saw some ladies standing 20 meters from me and staring at the Sun. They were saying more or less the same things, "The Sun is falling," and "The Sun is spinning," etc.

The Sun was not falling nor spinning.

Then looking again, I realized that, after staring at the Sun for 15 to 20 seconds, you actually see it a little bit different, maybe moving a little bit and changing color. But those are the same optical effects that you may happen to see if you stare at it a little bit too much even in Munich, Rome, New York or London. Before the Sun set I was able to recognize at least fifteen of these ummm, these witnesses.

I came close to that Italian family again and started to say, "It seems to me that there is something black on the lower part of the Sun now" and the father said "Yeah! That is true!" And "It seems to me that now that it's splitting a little bit into two...!"

It was hard to avoid laughing.

I will come back to Medjugorje, there is still the mystery of the water coming down from the big statue of Christ and I would like to take some other good video of the witnesses.

Matteo, we'll look forward to your next report, though I suspect it will also be devoid of miracles. You have your eyes and your mind too open for wonders to occur....


Sorry to be rushed this week, folks. The German skeptics group GWUP has hosted me, and they deserve my sincere thanks. More when I get a bit more time.... I'll have lots of fascinating psychic-test photos and reports to give you when I return....