Myth vs. Reality, A Different Danish, Reading Records, Tests in the Loo, UFO Fakery, MEG Censorship, An Australian Reading, Exeter Sinking?, Sniper Snooping, Houdini Exhibit, Fox Moon Scam Again, and Bearden Gets Even Sillier....
Reader Joshua Avery writes:
I thought you might be interested to hear the comments of a doctoral literature student regarding the public's odd and disturbing tendency to latch onto absurdities as truths. Being a devotee of medieval literature and especially of tales of Arthurian romance, I myself have quite a love for narrations filled with magical happenings. What exactly it is that draws so many readers to these fanciful stories in which imaginary worlds intermingle with the real one is a bit difficult to pin down. Speaking for myself, though, I can say that I find an incredible delight in the creation of such worlds, precisely because I know that they are not real. But my joy in the reading of these tales is no way diminished by my rational acknowledgment that they are, quite simply, fictions. On the contrary, the stories' very impossibility is the source of their excitement. Any attempt to make a unicorn real does more than make a mockery of my intelligence; it explodes the quite natural and healthy joy involved in the imaginative creative act. To put it another way: the public disregard for truth not only poses a danger to rationality, but also a danger to healthy and proper aesthetics.
As I've always said, Josh, without a sense of fantasy, we'd be poorer in literature and most of the arts. The important thing is to know when it's fantasy, and when it's fact. As a magician, one who deals in the creation of fantasy situations, I've had to get my feet back firmly on the ground when I'm off the stage. Otherwise, I could easily fall into that mode of irrational thought that I believe is so dangerous. I need to know where the ground is, and make sure it's firmly beneath me.
Last week, we ran a report from Michael Sølvstad, of Denmark, on a TV show there that he said rather bombed on a psychic. Now, Steen Kastoft Hansen has written to put a somewhat different light on that program. Says Steen:
I always read your comments with great interest, and I also taped and watched the Danish talkshow that Michael Sølvstad commented on. However, I have a much dimmer view about what happened at the show. First of all, only one skeptic, Michael Leslie Ahlstrand, was present, but there were lots of pro-clairvoyance persons. There was even one well-known controversial medical doctor who could counter Ahlstrand's arguments with "scientific facts" about how praying could affect people's health. Ahlstrand of course, did not agree, but there was as usual in such shows too little time to argue the claims.
Good point, Steen. Yes, I agree with your opinion that the "clairvoyant" simply saved the actual name, because that would have made the "reading" far too good. This is a technique that successful performers in this field often employ. It's very much like a juggler announcing a very difficult feat, purposely dropping an item as he begins, then succeeding. Steen goes on to ask:
Another thing, in the Danish science newsgroup, people claim that you have once tested a certain Arthur G. Lintgen, but just when he proved his claim to the prize, you declared his ability "normal", and therefore not eligible for the prize. I am sure that the truth behind the story is different, and I tried to find it on your web-site, but without luck. Could you give some details that I could pass on to the newsgroup?
I replied: I was asked by TIME Magazine to look into Dr. Lintgen's ability. He said he could examine the surface of an LP recording with the label removed or covered and identify the music. It had to be classical music, entire symphonies or suites, etc., etc. From the very first, he admitted that he had a system, and that it was not paranormal. After he did the stunt very successfully he explained to us how it was done, and we were very satisfied. At no time was the prize offered, at no time did he try to claim it. The New York Times, TIME Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times ran articles on the matter that made that fact quite clear. Go to http://www.amh.org/docs/intlo.htmand http://www.snopes.com/music/media/reader.htm and see the whole story. That information was available to those who spread this malicious lie, but they simply persist in the lie because it serves to discredit me. Please note that those who know they cannot meet the JREF challenge, also choose not to understand the challenge and lie about the matter freely. Thank you for informing me of this mendacity, and allowing me to try to set the record straight.
Reader Vikram Paralkar, obviously a dedicated experimenter, tells me:
Apropos your update of a week ago regarding the mind-boggling ramblings of Mr. Gordon-Hall, I was reminded of a Feng-Shui column written by some self-styled "Guru" in a local newspaper. It claimed that books should not be placed anywhere near the toilet as their "knowledge is drained away." Experiment of the week: I placed a Feng-Shui book on a shelf in the loo [bathroom]. A day later, I read it. It made no sense. I guess I'm a believer now.... Keep up the good work.
Reader Gustavo Pineda tells us of an inadvertent exposure he spotted:
Your recent commentary and explanation [last week] on the "UFO photography'" reminded me of a story I want to share with you. Several years ago, when I was still living in Mexico, a TV news show I was watching one day ran a short piece on an alledged "weird" phenomena. The reporter was on location, live, interviewing a man who had taken a Polaroid that was "irrefutable proof" that UFOs (or ghosts, or God, or life after death, or The Three Wise Men, I can't remember) exist. At noon, on a very sunny day, this man had taken a picture in which the sun disk was on one corner, and a very strange, bright light was on the opposite; very much like the photograph on your website. The man declared in a very serious, solemn, tone that he hadn't noticed anything strange until he took the photo, and that it was a "spontaneous" phenomenon. To further support his point he reached, off-camera, for another picture he had taken earlier that same day. And this is where things got really interesting: the cameraman followed the man's hand to a stack of papers he had piled on a small, portable desk. Turns out, when he lifted the picture he wanted to show, underneath it, and for a brief moment, I could clearly see at least two other pictures of the supposed "weird" phenomena, except not as perfect; i.e., the sun wasn't completely in frame, the strange lights were not so spectacular, and so forth.
Gus, continue picking up on these things. It's called "critical thinking," and we're dedicated to it!
Shawn Bishop, who has thoroughly exposed the errors behind the patented "MEG" device (see last week) tells us:
Just stumbled on a Yahoo group called "smartMEG" pointed out to me by Phil [Karn]. The moderator made a point of deleting a message posted by Phil informing the forum of my paper and the conclusion that there is nothing to the MEG.
As if it were needed, here's further evidence that when faced with the challenge to their validity, the claimants "pull a Sylvia." Hmmm. I like the sound of that. From now on, when they avoid responding to legitimate criticism, they're "pulling a Sylvia." See, I told you you'd be famous, girl! Is that Mr. Naudin there under the rock with you?
I'll share with you here a typical e-mail message, one of the sort that I and Andrew Harter receive every day, several times. The lower-case usage and bad punctuation is typical, the dreamy accounts of the fantasies they get into, and the eventual closing down of the communication link, are expected. I'll use a false name....
Hi, my name is donna windsor from australia. I studied a photo of you, then I started channelling. This is the information i recieved.You enjoyed blowing bubbles, slept with your dog above your head, you had an accident with your right hand fingers and right upper leg, you were always drawing stars, you loved your blackboard, theres something on the surface of the back of your head and finally you threw nets in the lake. how did i score, please let me know.
Well, Donna, you did badly. I don't recall blowing bubbles, though I must have, at one point in my life. I only enjoyed the presence of a dog for one short year, and she slept outside in the dog-house. I don't recall any specific right-hand finger damage, nor damage to my right leg. I drew as many stars as I did other shapes, I think. I never possessed a blackboard. There's hair on the surface of the back of my head, it's true, but nothing else of any significance. I don't recall that I ever threw a net, anywhere, and certainly not into any lake.
Score = zero. About the same as the others who send me these guesses and hope to get lucky.
David Cornell, from the UK, corrects my error about Uri Geller's actual function with the Exeter football club that he apparently bought into. I'd said he was their manager. Says David:
[Geller] does not manage Exeter FC but is in fact on the Exeter FC board. In Football (i.e. soccer) the manager has the same function as the American Football coach. Uri Geller has no input on tactics strategy or player selection, thankfully.
Another person knowledgeable about UK soccer a subject of which I am obviously profoundly ignorant did a brief analysis of what will probably be happening to the Exeter team, after their current rather unsatisfactory performance:
They will get relegated into the nationwide league, which is outside of professional football. The nationwide league covers all teams right down to Sunday league teams. Theoretically, your average team of Joe Bloggs, playing Sunday league football, could be promoted to the Premiership.Uri won't want to see his team fall into the nationwide leagues. The money is much worse and his players won't want to play there...
But, as John Atkinson suggests, Uri will manage to put a positive "spin" on it . . . as far as I can figure it subject to correction! the latest Exeter standing is:
Won: 3, Draw: 3, Lost: 8. And, I'm told, a draw is a loss. The gate for the latest Exeter game was 2,757, when it used to be over 4,000 before Geller joined the team....
Reader Lee Whitt tells us about Elizabeth Baron, a self-described "spiritualist" from Charleston, South Carolina, who was credited on the Rense website: http://www.rense.com/general31/docu.htm with "stunning" revelations....
I've never written to you before and I know that anything I read on the Rense web site has to be taken with more than one grain of salt, I know that this is going to get out to newspapers around the country, and this lady is going to be on Larry King very soon. Reading a article like this drives me nuts. Here are her 8 "stunning" predictions and my response.
Randi comments: Just as importantly, did she send out any other faxes mentioning any other states? And can she produce this fax?
6) Surrender in Richmond They didn't SURRENDER. They were arrested while sleeping at a rest stop. For something to be a stunning prediction, doesn't it actually have to happen?
And, note, they were not caught in Richmond! It was in Frederick, Maryland, some 130 miles north. Wrong state, wrong city, wrong event.
7) Sketch of a very young man who was the killer Forgetting that she has already wrongly "predicted" that there were as many as five people involved, she sketches the killer as a young, dark skinned man. One of the two people involved was a young black man, but he apparently wasn't the killer. It looks like the killer is a 42-year-old black man. I'd also like to see the sketch.
Thanks, Lee! Good observations! Still on the supernatural aspects of the sniper story, our good friend Paul Harris, of The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis, who can be read at http://www.harrisonline.com, offers us this:
NOT SO EXPERT AFTER ALL (#147), October 25, 2002
Thank you, Paul. You're one of the good guys, and you've always supported our battle against the scam artists, as well as the irresponsible media that promote their nonsense just for ratings.
A brief observation: when Sylvia says she "worked on" the case, that can mean she spent five minutes one day wondering about it. What's implied is that she was in there somehow officially. Nope. Just "worked on" it. (Yawn)
Closing out the sniper farce, a reader comments:
Is it too early to note that the "highly structured skill" of "Technical Remote Viewing" as "developed by the U.S. Department of Defense" was a miserable failure when the folks at Psi-Tech attempted to "remote view" the Washington, D.C. sniper?
Randi comments: we need not do an analysis of the vapid set of statements that follows, some very obvious, trite, and useless, others just simply wrong. Psi Tech was simply wrong, wrong, wrong. But, in common with all the other nutty groups out there, they'll ignore this blatant failure, and go merrily on, still saying that they can teach the suckers to "remote view." Seems to me that before I take violin lessons, I'd want to hear the teacher play. Just listen to this tune, played before the snipers were arrested:
As police search for a sniper whose random killings have spread fear through the Washington, D.C. area, PSI TECH's special operations team of Technical Remote viewers focused its efforts on profiling the killer.
Reader Peter E. Petersen, of Oslo, Norway, expresses his astonishment....
Now, I thought the Discovery Channel was a serious media committed to the advancement of science and knowledge, but I now realize I may have been terribly mistaken. I find this particularly sad, since the channel has a wide, global audience. Has your esteemed organization (or any of your readers) encountered similar flaws by this TV channel?
Peter, you can throw in the "Learning Channel," too. It's the dollars talking here, since sponsors and producers have no interest in truth, but only what will bring up the ratings. And guess what? Politicians and lawyers have also been known to lie!
Reader Alexander C. Roderick tells us about
. . . an exhibit on Harry Houdini's career both as an illusion performer and as a psychic debunker at the Michigan Historical Center in Lansing. It is not a very large exhibition; however, it does contain a variety of interesting magician's props, historical photos, and text items about Houdini's work and the connection of Michigan to the magic community. In one item you are mentioned by name among others as one of Houdini's successors. The temporary exhibit has been in place since late summer, and will run until January, with special magic performances and events planned. The site for the museum is: http://www.sos.state.mi.us/history/history.html and it contains an event calendar about this and other exhibits current and upcoming.
Phil Plait, who runs the very informative www.badastronomy.com site, is one of our scheduled speakers at The Amazing Meeting next year. On that occasion, rather than dealing with that we-didn't-land-on-the-Moon farce, which Fox-TV created, a job he does so well on his site and in his book (Bad Astronomy, Wiley & Sons), he'll be talking for us on "Christian Terrorism The War Against Science. " That should get a lot of attention!
Now we've learned that our old friend James Oberg, a 22-year Mission Control veteran, is at work on a 30,000-word monograph that will deal with that same Fox-TV scam. Jim is the author of a dozen space-related books, and a regular contributor to ABC News, and we've frequently featured his comments and contributions to rationality, here on the web page.
Roger Launius, formerly NASA's chief historian, said his office was besieged by requests for information after the Fox show aired. He said that as more time passes, the less real the lunar missions seem. Jim Oberg says,"There are entire subcultures within the U.S., and substantial cultures around the world, that strongly believe the landing was faked. I'm told that this is official dogma still taught in schools in Cuba, plus wherever else Cuban teachers have been sent (such as Sandanista Nicaragua and Angola)." That's scary, if true. Way to go, Jim!
Reader Richard Rockley writes in response to a suggestion made last week that "It shouldn't be very difficult to make a web page that had questions from a standard psychological personality test, and would record people's responses, trying to guess their astrological sign based upon a statistical analysis of all previous responses." In fact, says Richard, there is such a site. It was apparently discussed on the JREF forum recently, a place I seldom get to visit. It's here: http://www.cryptoclast.org/Opinion/astrology/reverse_astrology.htm Richard did the test, reports: "Apparently I'm a Virgo, which would come as a surprise to anyone knowing my birth date.
Pete O'Connor, of Global Environment & Technology Foundation, comments on what I had here last week about Arthur Conan Doyle's opinions on Man's primary occupation of the universe:
Anthropocentrism has also been a major contributor to our extermination of other forms of life. Mark Twain had an observation on this; I don't know the original quote, but this is paraphrased from Stephen Jay Gould's recounting of the story (I was fortunate enough to have a class with Dr. Gould):
Finally, the latest nonsense from Tom Bearden. He now tells us that a major tragedy was actually brought about by magic. A reader relates:
The official report on the Challenger disaster stated that the "O" rings had been damaged by unnaturally cold weather. The fact that the failure of the "O" rings caused the disaster is irrefutable. But, what caused the weather, which in turn led to the failure of the "O" rings, has never been addressed, even though it had been an icy morning, which is extremely unusual for Cape Canaveral, Florida. While it has always been a given that this weather was an act of God, Bearden believes it was an act of man instead.
In 1939, a Russian agent received detailed drawings from the lab of T. H. Moray in Salt Lake City. Russian agents who had befriended Moray in order to obtain the information, allegedly stole those drawings, along with the only working prototype of the device, says Bearden. According to him, the drawings were detailed images of "Moray's specialized amplifier, which extracted energy from the powerful quantum mechanical fluctuations of vacuum."
The only thing that has me puzzled at this stage of the Bearden saga, is whether he actually believes any of this crap. I don't think it would be difficult for him to accept it, but I don't know whether he's just plain nuts, or a schemer. If I could find the place under the rock that Naudin is sharing with Sylvia.....