November 22, 2002

Dolphins As Therapists, Young CSICOP, Q-Ray Fake, Astounding Geller Discovery!, Spanish/Nigerian Prisoner, More Balls, Fry Fried, Edward Explains, Dowser Lies, Keypad Follow-Up, and Moon Landing Error!

Michael McCarron of Nova Scotia tells us of yet another form of quackery he's come upon in his profession, one that has long been plagued by pseudoscience and mystical "New Age" notions....

I have to tell you about an article I read today about John Upledger. In case people don't know who he is, he runs the Upledger Institute ( ) which is a "complementary care and education" center. Mr. Upledger is the leading proponent of "CranioSacral therapy" — "feeling" the rhythm of cerebrospinal fluid and moving the skull bones to cure illness and aid the sick.

Randi comments: this specific form of quackery has caused several deaths, when practitioners literally crushed the skulls of child patients. It's a very dangerous form of pseudomedicine.

Now there are all kinds of faults with the whole CranioSacral therapy thing, but let's gloss over that for the moment. I'm a massage therapy student at a college in Nova Scotia, and generally the teaching is solid. In scientific and practically useful courses taking 2200 hours, many of these hours are spent in the school-run clinic treating the public under the supervision of our instructors. I am an extremely skeptical person, which comes in handy when the occasional pseudoscientific idea gets presented as fact in the classroom.

We receive a tabloid called "Massage Today" It is available to us in our library, free. In the November, 2002, issue (volume 2, number 11) on page 4 there is a column called, and I'm serious, "My Dolphin Mentor."

Mr. Upledger begins by telling us about his first dolphin experience in 1954. He was in the Coast Guard, he said, and even though he was, "100+ miles offshore," he felt safe because there were dolphins in the water, "even when we had seen sharks in the vicinity earlier." Might I suggest he felt safe because he had huge guns on the ship with which his buddies could shoot sharks?

Fast forward past "many positive dolphin encounters" to 1996, when at the Upledger Institute they started a "dolphin-therapist CranioSacral Therapy (COST) program." They floated a patient in about four feet of water with three therapists — one at the patient's head, one at their feet, and another at the pelvis — leaving one side open for...yes, "any dolphin that desired to join the process" (my emphasis). By his own admission, he never "experience[d] a dolphin's contribution as less than equal to our own."

It gets better. Upledger says that a dolphin named "A" initiated a friendship with him and that the mammal "would often lie very still in the water next to me while I was working with a patient. I could feel his presence even when we were not in physical contact with each other (my emphasis)." Might I again suggest that Mr. Upledger is feeling the water move because there's only four feet of water and he has a five hundred pound mammal breathing next to him. Call me skeptical if you wish....

It continues. Apparently "A" took a liking to Mr. Upledger and went so far as to place his blow hole under his hand ("lore has it that you must never touch a dolphin's blow hole"). I'll quote the rest of this because it's too good to miss:

"A" kept his blow hole under my hand for a minute or so. Then he began moving his body fore and aft again for a while before he left. During our contact, it felt as though his energy went through me. I felt empowered and I had an innate sense that I would be able to tap into this vibrational energy and use it in the future as it seemed appropriate.

He now uses "dolphin energy" on clients at his Palm Beach Gardens clinic. I wish I were making this up. He went to Scotland for a symposium and was working on a patient in front of an audience of other CranioSacral Therapists, and while he was in a "train-of-thought mode" he said, "I'm going to use some dolphin energy here." He said that the "therapeutic energy input increased significantly at this time." What exactly the hell "therapeutic energy input" is, I have no idea.

Apparently, the audio technician for the event told Upledger after this that, "as [he] applied the dolphin energy, the static in [the] recording also increased significantly." The same thing allegedly happened every time the dolphin energy was applied. Also, a lady in the audience ("a conservatively dressed woman who appeared to be in her 60's") told Upledger that, although she was skeptical of things like this, she too had heard the static in her hearing aid. To make things even better, a month after the symposium, Upledger said he got a letter from the lady who said that she "still did not believe in dolphin energy, but she also felt compelled to let me know that four days after the symposium, she discovered that she no longer needed her hearing aid. She said she could now hear a watch ticking in her once deaf ear."

Randi comments: In my experience, I've found a few healers, particularly one from Israel, who used a small concealed device to generate high-frequency, high-voltage, signals that literally jolt "healees" with an electric shock and certainly produce the electromagnetic radiation that could produce the static described. Audio systems, particularly wireless mikes, react heavily to it, and it's triggered off and on by the operator. It's just possible that this may be the modus here....

Who needs more proof than that? A converted skeptic in a dolphin energy story! Come on people, what else do you need? Do you think the static would have "significantly increased" if Mr. Upledger had not announced to everyone that he was now using "dolphin energy"?

I'm telling this because it's difficult to maintain some semblance of scientific base in my chosen career. As I have read before, "massage therapy is a profession ripe with pseudo-scientific bulls***." I'm in no position to argue with that, but a difference can be made, one person at a time. Thanks for listening, and I love this site.

Michael, I have a good friend who is a practitioner of massage therapy. He's dedicated to the genuine, and very effective, techniques that he uses, but was dismayed in his early professional training when he found all sorts of quackery being taught him. He managed to become accredited and licensed without having to accept the nonsense, and now performs his profession with great pride. He has discussed with me many times just how faddish the massage business has become, and how difficult it is to be involved in it successfully without embracing the nonsense. Thank you for your contribution.

The Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) has asked me to post this interesting notice:

The Young Skeptics Program recently began a new initiative, called the "Young Skeptics Press," to give aspiring writers a chance to have their material published on a major web-site, and possibly win some great prizes as well. Submissions can be fiction or non-fiction on any topic, provided that it's somehow related to critical thinking or skepticism. The next judging will take place on May 1st, 2003. First prize is a one-year subscription to Skeptical Inquirer Magazine! Okay, so it's not a million dollars, but there's a much better chance of winning. For full details, or to submit an entry, visit the Young Skeptics Press web-site

We would also appreciate hearing from any skeptical groups or individuals who are interested in becoming more involved with our new online press.

I'm amused by the comment, "Okay, so it's not a million dollars, but there's a much better chance of winning." Judging from all my years of experience, I'd say that "a much better chance" should read, "at least a chance."

Reader Charles Blue opines:

I remain disgusted by the early morning informercials touting "ionized bracelets" for the relief of pain. These items can cost nearly $200 — money that could be better spent by folks on Advil. Two months ago, I contacted the Q-Ray company and requested any test results that support their claims. Needless to say, the chirping of crickets was all I heard back. Well, results have just come in from a third source and they reveal what we all knew to begin with, that these bracelets were nothing more than a money-making scam.

Very true, Charles. A news release from Reuters Health reveals that a new study by the Mayo Clinic has found no evidence that the "Q-Ray ionized bracelets," devices made of copper and zinc and widely sold over the Internet, work at all to relieve pain, which is their major advertised claim.

The bracelets are advertised as "a natural way to keep the body's energy force, or 'qi,' healthy." It's claimed that they balance qi's negative and positive components, called yin and yang. As long as yin and yang are in balance, the notion goes, you remain in good health and pain-free. Hey, don't look at me like that; it's their idea, not mine!

The Mayo Clinic used 610 patients, all 18 or older, average age 48, who had musculoskeletal pain in the neck, lower back, elbows, wrists, or feet. Half of the afflicted wore the "ionized" bracelets in the exact manner specified in the manufacturer's recommendations, and half wore a bracelet that was identical in appearance only. No one knew which bracelet they were wearing, nor did the researchers. This was an ideal "double-blind" test setup.

Principal investigator Dr. Robert Bratton told Reuters, "We measured their pain rating over the course of the month. . . . There was improvement in both groups [test and control], but no difference between the two." Notice: both groups reported significant improvement in their pain! Wearing an ionized bracelet is no more effective than wearing a placebo bracelet, Bratton concluded, although the Mayo Clinic study does support the idea that a placebo can help pain. Reuters reported that Dr. Bratton's golf buddies inspired him to do the study. They kept asking him if the bracelets might help after observing so many professional athletes wearing them.

Pain is a very subjective phenomenon. What's painful for one is often not painful for another. It's not at all surprising that if a sufferer thinks he/she is receiving the benefits of some technology or magic, the degree of discomfort can be lessened.

"We need to look at what our patients are doing for their various problems," Dr. Bratton said, "and undertake objective, controlled studies to prove whether or not these treatments are beneficial." We at the JREF agree enthusiastically with this statement. In the same breath, we ask why (a) it took so long for anyone to undertake an investigation (the Q-Ray has been sold internationally for more than a decade now), (b) why it was golf buddies who had to suggest it, and (c) what is going to be done, and when, about the myriad of other quack devices being sold on the US and foreign market? We're offered and sold "blue light therapy" by chiropractors, homeopathic "remedies" by Eckerd Drugs and most other pharmaceutical chains, and various roots and leaves to use as cures — and they don't work, either!

A UK reader writes:

My psychic power says Uri's blown it. Uri Geller has had a lot of exposure recently but none of it appears to have done his credibility much good. In "Reputations," (BBC2, Thursday) he appeared at his Sonning mansion peddling away on his exercise bike and replying to e-mails from simple folk who seemed to think he can save their poverty-stricken world, or even the whole world come to that! One woman had written to him about her apparent impoverished predicament. He paused to take in psychic breath and told the woman called Katherine that if she considered she has a problem then she should think of all the sick children in hospital. Well, that must have been a great comfort to her then.

He had failed so miserably by wrongly predicting Michael Jackson's birthday and getting lost in the jungle, claiming he didn't wish to use all those special powers he says he has, in ITV1's "I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here" recently. The perceptive viewing public saw right through him and soon voted him off. At least they appear to possess more nous [common sense] than is often credited to viewers of that kind of program. In one gem moment in the program, however, Geller declared he had found a connection with George W. Bush, Harry Potter, Colin Powell and Jesus Christ, and the September 11th attack — all the names contain 11 letters! So, too, Mr. Geller, does "Load Of Balls."

No comment....

We've all been sent those vicious messages from "Nigerian" lawyers/politicians/bankers/widows/military types, that plead for our participation in bringing vast sums of money from mysterious places, to the USA — better yet, right to our own bank accounts. This is for convenience, of course, since there are certain political difficulties that must be overcome, but we're assured that since we are of impeccable character, intelligence, and reputation, they trust us.

Well, this is the cake-taker of them all, one that arrived in my e-mail last week. This operator actually sent me a photo of two trunks full of Ben Franklins, the smaller of which is to be mine when I've assisted them to get the stuff shipped to my home. How can I resist?

Unfortunately, there are hundreds of persons here in the USA who have fallen for this scam, a modernized version of the very old "Spanish Prisoner" swindle. Recently, David Mamet turned out a film starring Steve Martin, on this theme. Though it appears different from the Nigerian swindle, it's the same general structure. In a more innocent day, starting in the 1920s, victims were told that a member of Spanish (or Hungarian, or Roumanian, etc.) royalty was unjustly imprisoned, but had vast funds available if he/she could only get at them. A crooked official, the story (known in the racket as, "the tale") went, was willing to look the other way if some generous soul would sufficiently lubricate his palm with money, thus enabling the prisoner to escape and make his/her way to freedom and the USA, eventually.

Since communication was not what it is today, the swindlers could get, first the bribe money, then the transportation costs, followed by various "good-faith" deposits (each of which would be acknowledged by a bank receipt from a fictitious private bank), and the overseas fares, from the victims. They were to be rewarded handsomely upon the landing of the royal personage, but all this was to be kept very confidential, since there were jealous and vindictive officials abroad and in the States who could abort the entire operation.

Indeed, there were cases in which the victims would actually go to the dock, flowers in hand, to greet the royal personage, only to be told by a very sad messenger that he/she had been detained by officials at the boarding point, and would not be arriving for another three months....

It's hard to believe that we have among us folks who would fall for such an obvious scam, but then there are those who believe that fast-talking show folks can call up the dead, that pills of unknown and untested herbs can cure cancer, and that some brave, unheard-of inventors have found the secret to free energy and will allow us to invest in their companies. Oh, say not so!

Concerning the Stone Balls of Costa Rica last week, John W. Hoopes, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Kansas, suggests:

You should also add that any statements about the balls as having "an accuracy of either 2% or .08%" simply perpetuates a myth that comes from a totally uninformed interpretation of the original measurements made by archaeologist Samuel K. Lothrop. His measurements of circumferences of the balls were made with a flexible cloth tape that did not have a precision greater than 1/8 of an inch. The myth of the "accuracy" of these balls comes from the fact that he presented calculated averages to three decimal places of multiple circumferences of balls measured to the nearest 1/8 of an inch. This is a classic case of the fallacies that can be generated by presentations of data as being more precise than the instrumentation allows!

Professor, your statement, "a precision greater than 1/8 of an inch" I presume refers to that dimension within the length of the measuring tape itself? Since we're not told the length of that tape.....

Thanks, professor. I've very often found this sort of false accuracy in careless statements made by those who should know better. Years ago, I was questioned by a student who had found in a travel book a figure for the altitude-above-sea-level of the city of Cuzco, Peru. It read, 3,398.5 meters. The student wondered how such an accurate figure had been arrived at, and that was a very legitimate inquiry. Even with the astounding capabilities of modern satellite-sounding systems in place today, such accuracy is not only not useful, but necessarily false. The Earth is constantly heaving and moving, so figures within half a meter — or even within two meters — for such a measurement are imaginary, or only correct for a fraction of a second on any given day. And, at what point is the measurement taken? The center of Plaza de Armas? That's a very hilly city!

Your mission, dear reader, should you decide to accept it, is to discover how that over-exact figure was arrived at. Clue: the book was in German, translated from the original American edition. As always, should you or any member of your I.M. Force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This site will self-destruct in five seconds. (Give or take 200 years)

Ah, but there's more. I actually delight in getting my come-uppances, since I learn that way. But just bear in mind that I can get too much of it.... Professor Hoopes also wrote:

As an archaeologist with over twenty years' experience in the prehistory of Costa Rica and a longtime admirer of your own excellent work, I was surprised and dismayed to read your "Lava Lamp" explanation of these objects. Have you examined the Costa Rican examples first-hand? Have you discussed your theory with geologists?

Randi answers: yes, and yes. I visited Palmar Sur, in SE Costa Rica, where the balls are rather easily found. And I did not intend that readers infer that the "globs-in-magma" explanation was mine; it appeared in National Geographic many years ago, written by real geologists. The "Lava Lamp" analogy to explain it, that was my idea....

Are you aware that individuals who have examined both the Costa Rican and the Mexican examples have come to the conclusion that these were each formed under very different circumstances — and that the Costa Rican examples are in fact man-made?

Well, it appears, from your input, that some of them are man-made. Not the ones I looked at, in my amateur opinion. I also saw them in a small valley near Cartago, east of San Jose, if my memory serves me well. And I'm told that they are also found on the Isla de Ca?o, just off the west coast of the Osa peninsula. The professor continues:

Did you know that there are examples of Costa Rican balls made from calcareous [chalk-like] material, ones that could not have been formed under the circumstances you describe, that are found in the same locations as the examples made of granodiorite? You will be interested to know that recent, unpublished research has found more of these objects in situ. I would be happy to provide additional details if you wish.

Professor, both the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institution have postulated the "balls-in-magma" scenario for the giant stone balls found in Mexico, near Guadalajara, and in Guatemala. They believe that they were formed during the Tertiary period of history, some 65 million years ago, by the process of crystallization at about 700 to 1200 degrees Celsius. (Interestingly, the Tertiary period is about when we believe that mammals came to ascendancy on Earth....)

If these were Man-made, obviously at enormous cost of labor, why were they then left around randomly, scattered all over the landscape? In 1954, many completely buried stones were found in Costa Rica, not connected with any nearby ruins of any sort, and they were invariably dissimilar-sized — as these balls regularly are. Also, bear in mind that early civilizations in the Americas seemed to be generally averse to the circle, not using it in their architecture. They used it only for calendar stones, and at the so-called Mayan "Observatory" at Chitchen Itza, which has several of the balls both inside and outside. The natural origin of these objects seems, to me, much more likely than the made-by-Man notion.

My late friend Ivan T. Sanderson postulated a list of possible purposes these balls might have had for ancient Man, and failed to find any reasonable — to we moderns, at least — function that might have rewarded the arduous toil and technical skills that would have had to be applied to actually make the balls. Not finding a purpose for an impressive artifact is rare in archaeology.

Professor Hoopes continues:

Ivar Zapp and George Erikson are cranks for sure, as are Rand Flem-Ath and Colin Wilson. However, not everyone who is interested in the stone balls is a crackpot! I, for one, have no doubt that these artifacts fit within the technology of the Precolumbian culture of the region, nor do I doubt that they were made by human hands. There was a long tradition of amazing stonework in ancient Costa Rica, which includes spectacular "flying panel" metates [corn-grinding flats] and other objects carved of basalt.

Again, professor, some of those balls were quite likely Man-made. I did not mean to imply that early artisans could not or did not make balls from stone; I merely indicated the diorite objects — particularly the very large ones — as unlikely to fit that description. Diorite is a very hard stone, But I'm paying close attention to your criticisms.

I am very concerned that your own explanations of the balls as a "mere miracle of Nature" will only contribute to the widespread misinformation about these intriguing objects. I have created a small website that may help you with a reappraisal of these objects at

I stood in the corner for 15 minutes. Is that enough? Seriously, I thank the professor for caring, and making these corrections. I'm not convinced, but I'm considering....

On that subject (the postulated formation of the stone balls, not corner-standing) reader Coby Wholeben reminds me:

Your discussion of round stones in your latest commentary, and how they can occur naturally, reminded me of the "Shot Tower" in Virginia, at the New River Trail State Park. Back in the 19th century, small quantities of molten lead were poured from a pretty good height, and by the time they hit the water at the bottom, they had formed perfectly round lead shot, to be used in the guns of the time.

Not only back in the 19th century, Coby. Today the pellets are still formed by pouring molten lead (plus traces of antimony and arsenic) through sieves which scatter it into droplets, and while on their way to a pool of water about 30 meters below, those droplets tumble about in the air, cooling, and hit the water as very accurately spherical balls. From thence, many of them eventually make their way into innocent wildfowl via shotguns. Bummer!

From Dave Longley of Derby, England:

First of all, thank you for all the work you have done over the years to dispel the myths that are holding us back, as a race. Your efforts continue to inspire me. At the age of 23, I can look forward to leading a life based upon logic, looking at things in a different way, and learning. My mother is very superstitious, and as a result this rubbed off on me, causing me all sorts of confusion and fear. Now, thanks to yourself and numerous other influences, my life has changed. I don't want to got all soppy, but I thought that you would like to know that you have made a real difference in this world.

Now, this brings me to a chap called Colin Fry. Colin Fry is a "psychic medium," currently enjoying moderate success over here in England, contacting the dead. Mr. Fry has his own show on a channel called Living, this channel also hosts the fantastic and deeply gifted John Edward (I'm getting an M connection, or a MER sound or a MMM sound, something to do with M that is directly connected to you, please do my work for me.), the channel also has "Most Haunted Places" and such "paranormal" programming.

"The 6ixth Sense, with Colin Fry" [cute name!] is a show which is basically a direct ripoff of "Crossing Over," with gullible British people and "celebrities" queuing up to hear from dead relatives, who all come through in the same vague, unclear way that spirits do when they are trying to contact us from the other side. Why do spirits do this? When I die, I promise to be crystal clear when I contact my distraught, impressionable and gullible family members. The reason Mr. Fry has angered me is that when the channel that showcases this charlatan did a special "documentary" on him, it turns out that he "teaches" people to be psychic! People go to him to be taught how to interpret the voices and images that they receive. I'm sure he does this for free of course, ahem.

He has a nerve. Typical reading:

Fry: (To invisible spirit) "Okay sir, yes, I can hear you." (To woman) "My love, is your Father on the spirit side of life?"

Woman : "Yes."

Fry : "I thought so, because I am getting a strong fatherly presence."

Amazing, I am sure you will agree. He asks a 50-year-old-plus woman if her father is dead! What a gift!

Colin Fry is the new Doris Stokes. My family say things like, "How could he know that?" and when I give them an explanation, I'm laughed at. It seems to me that peoples ignorance is the contributing factor to most "paranormal" experiences. My friend, very rational, came to me one time very scared, he had been held down by "something" in his sleep, he couldn't yell for help, and he lay there terrified. He had never heard of sleep paralysis. It happened to me when I was a teenager, when the X-Files was taking off and my Mother was telling me her UFO sighting stories. I thought I was being kidnaped by aliens. Ignorance is not bliss.

Randi comments: Look at to learn about who Doris Stokes was, a big figure in the psychic rackets in the UK and in Australia.

How can I tell the population of this country that this guy is a fake, how can I get him to take your challenge? I love my Mother, but she is going to train to be a medium, so that she can prove to me that it isn't fake. People are making a lot of money out of this scam and people are getting hurt. I'm about to embark on a study of Mr. Fry's shows. I am going to count how many assertions he actually makes, how many guesses, how many hits, misses, and more importantly how many questions he asks. It will be interesting. Sorry about the rambling nature of this mail, when my study is finished, I will send you the results.

Well, Dave, remember that (a) you're seeing an edited tape, and (b) you have no idea of where the audience came from, (c) what the total guessing session consisted of, and (d) whether he's had access to anything or anyone before the taping. You can't really find out much, but you certainly should try!

Next week, we'll give you examples from a "reader" in Ireland, which resembles those given above, very closely.

John Powers writes:

My grandmother received her final issue of Bridges, the John Edward magazine, today. I showed her your site and that was enough to convince her not to renew. As usual, its idiotic blather is framed by an exceptionally poor, unprofessional appearance. Grammatical errors and depressingly bad poetry are wrapped up in Times New Roman and the "Newsletter" template from Microsoft Works.

But, a surprise! The front page article by black-turtlenecked John Edward (swoon!) is a long tirade against an unusually skeptical talk show host. I forward it to you because it might be fun to analyze. Edward's mood throughout is quite desperate; perhaps the self-serving con artist thinks name-dropping will save his career. I never knew that Rosie O'Donnell was a skeptic, either. Here's a revealing bit, reproduced exactly as printed by Edward:

In my conversation with her, she claimed that she could do what I can do. She described doing a "reading" for people in her audience during commercial breaks, and said that she even made a few cry. That they were so impressed that she KNEW the things that she knew. Than she felt bad because she had to disclose that she was using a technique, asking questions. Because she could also be a fast-talking New Yorker, Rosie said, she could do this, too. On my end of the phone I just shook my head in disbelief. I told her that everyone can connect with this energy, but assured her that she COULD NOT do what I can do. I added that if she really could, than she should also be tested at the University where I was tested — on three separate occasions.

Anyone with any sense of logic would be mystified by these statements. Rosie O'Donnell performed a reading for an audience, obtained results similar to Edward's, and then revealed that it was a trick. Did she actually connect with "this energy" — as Edward claims that everyone can — but pretended it was a trick? I suppose not, because he also says that she could not do what he can do, feebly mentioning his vague testing at "the University." It's not enough that John Edward makes piles of money perpetuating a hoax, but he's cocky about it, too. And he even shot himself in the foot:

I told her that she should do her research and speak from fact. She told me she did. She searched the web and went to a number of skeptical websites and message boards, and got her education about this work there. My response was one of disappointment. I described that as basically going to Cuban Governmental website to obtain information on the United States. The only thing that you would find there is propaganda for their cause.

But Edward doesn't spout propaganda, oh no.

My suggestion is to follow the same principles that I do. Don't allow yourself to get into a debate over your beliefs. They are yours, and you own them.

In other words: don't ask or respond to critical questions about predetermined knowledge or beliefs. Very well, then... a return to medieval times! And why not keep that dough rolling into Get Psych'd, Inc (What, no "E")? It is appalling how Edward plainly spells out his racket and continues to claim that it is for real. His writing here and elsewhere in the article is a good indication of his fraud — because when you know what the truth is, it is more difficult to act as though you are clueless.

Reader Robert Pickler writes, also on Edward:

The other day I was with four co-workers and we stumbled upon the "Crossing Over" television program. Two of them were firm believers in Mr. Edward's psychic ability. The other was on the fence. I, on the other hand, had been a believer (probably about a year ago) until I started to watch the program with "open eyes." Instead of condemning my co-workers, I said something to this effect: "For a psychic, he seems to be asking a lot of questions." This opened the flood-gates. Before the show had ended the two were in disbelief of the psychic powers Mr. Edward claims to possess. The one on the fence took a little longer and then finally agreed that Mr. Edward is a very good entertainer and not much beyond that. I thought it unusual that the one "on the fence" took longer to "come around" than did the others. I should've asked him why, but didn't for some reason.

The "Global Announcement" site mentioned last week has now declared its status as a hoax. One down, hundreds to go..... It had to admit that it's a promo stunt for an upcoming production.

Here's a pertinent cartoon by Patrick Hardin, for The Chronicle of Higher Education. You know, it reminds me of my most pressing question for the "pet psychics": why do they have to ask the name of the pet from the owner? Surely its own name is the single most significant word the creature hears and will react to?

At, someone named Russ Thompson has written, as a definition of what he fancies I am:

Mr. Randi believes in nothing, and gleans [sic] quite a nice living writing books and by leading those who support him around by the nose. He (The James Randi Educational Foundation) put up a 1,000,000 Dollar challenge to anyone that [sic] could prove dowsing works. I suggested to Mr. Randi via email that he or a member of his team, bury a one ounce plastic container of water within a one acre plot of ground, then take me to the area the following year and I would find it for him. He declined and said it had to done his way, his way is to never have to pay.

I am sure he has to prick himself every morning with a needle to assure himself that he is alive, and it is not just another thing to be de-bunked.

Mr. Randi you lose by default, but since my subsistence is not dependent on others, I ask you to donate it to the American Cancer Society! Oh yes post it on the web when you do!

Hmmm. Where do I start? I had to make a number of spelling and other corrections in order to make this intelligible to you, but I'll take it bit by bit....

Mr. Randi believes in nothing, and gleans [sic] quite a nice living writing books and by leading those who support him around by the nose.

Au contraire. I believe in sunlight, in mathematics, in laughter, in rocks, and in Sophia Loren, to name only a few items. I don't do any "gleaning" at all, and all my earnings from lectures go directly into the Foundation, which pays me a salary. Also, I haven't written a book since 1995. My, how uninformed Mr. Thompson is!

He (The James Randi Educational Foundation) put up a 1,000,000 Dollar challenge to anyone that [sic] could prove dowsing works.

Nope. We put up the million to anyone who could demonstrate any paranormal, occult, or supernatural event or ability. That simply includes dowsing — which is by far the most common claim made, since it's the most popular self-delusion.

I suggested to Mr. Randi via email that he or a member of his team, bury a one ounce plastic container of water within a one acre plot of ground, then take me to the area the following year and I would find it for him.

I'll say at this point, that the JREF and I get this sort of claim regularly. There are always persons out there saying that they've been in touch with us, and that they've challenged us, but very few of them are people we've ever heard of, or from. If Mr. Thompson did indeed make such an offer, I'm sure he has the records of it. I have none.

He declined and said it had to [be] done his way, his way is to never have to pay.

A blatant lie. Not only did I not say that, I would never make such a reply. Mr. Thompson is a liar, though I understand why he has to lie. He cannot demonstrate his claim, and this is the only way he can defend himself: by lying.

I am sure he has to prick himself every morning with a needle to assure himself that he is alive, and it is not just another thing to be de-bunked.

Gee, something else I don't remember....! Sounds as if Russ Thompson is getting desperate for laughs. I'm not surprised.

Mr. Randi you lose by default, but since my subsistence is not dependent on others, I ask you to donate it to the American Cancer Society! Oh yes post it on the web when you do!

No, Russ, you lose, by lying and inventing fantasies. These comments of yours are obviously desperate attempts by you to escape having to be tested for your abilities, unlike those honest folks who have been tested by us for dowsing powers, all over the world. You create these lies in hopes that some of your readers will believe them, and I'm sure that some will.

Tell you what, Russ, get in touch with us and formally make your offer. Better still, I'll offer to place that container of water in one of ten small boxes, and you use your wondrous powers to tell me in which box it's contained. That's easier and faster that burying the container and waiting a year — unless you need a year to come up with some frivolous alibi, of course. Do it twice, Russ, and you've passed the preliminaries for the one million dollars! The other way, you'd have much less chance of success.

We're all waiting for your response, Russ Thompson. Put up or shut up. Or join Sylvia Browne under that rock.

A copy of this was e-mailed to Thompson on November 18th, 2002, at 1:30 p.m.

Boy, I could spend days here discussing the various and numerous comments I received on the keypad problem. I'll only handle two. Randall Boyce wrote:

Your six possible combinations include 1381, 1318, and 1138. Since the 8 key is dirtier than the 3 key, you would have to conclude, based on your own logic, that the 8 is pushed before the 3 — dirt rubs off the finger onto 8 key which leaves 3 key cleaner. And that is exactly what has happened on your key pad. . . . All 6 possible combinations I sent you are logical, granted, combinations that begin with 1 are far more likely. But you ask for six. The three combinations I mentioned above are not only unlikely, they are impossible.

Mr. Boyce, I must admit, had reduced my possible six down to three, 'way back on November 11th, but I'd only asked for a probable six, not wishing to stretch my Holmesian skills too far.... Arthur Conan Doyle allowed Holmes to assume a quite regular, almost perfect, world. I wasn't willing to expand my presumptions to that extent. So, Randall Boyce is a champ here.

Balazs Oroszlany gives very sophisticated points (which I can't go into, here) in his analysis, coming up with his conclusion that 13 and 18 were very probably in the code, leaving only 1318 and 1813 as likely combos. He also noted that 1813 — the actual combo — is the birthday of both Verdi and Wagner, but admits that he has no rational explanation for this guess. Hmmm. Well, I'll tell you that birthdays have nothing to do with it; that would be too obvious, especially using 1874 (?) but Balazs is closer than he will ever know.....

Several of you pointed out, quite correctly, that I did my analysis from an already-informed point of view, and that I also had the advantage of being able to experiment with the actual keyboard and Sophia-dirt. Very true. But life's not fair. And that's the lesson for this week!

Still on this subject, reader Scott Kinkade writes:

Your reference to readers using a "Sherlock Holmes" approach to solve your alarm-combo puzzle reminded me of a gratifying little incident I had several years ago while driving my father's car. He had a mobile phone mounted on the dash — this was before cell phones were small and cheap. I wanted to call home, and I knew that most such phones were able to store phone numbers, referenced by a number from 1-99 or some similar range. Observing that the "Send" button was immediately to the right of the "9" button, and having a good understanding of how my dad thinks, I tried pressing "8,9,Send" (those three buttons were all in a straight line.) The phone rang, and my father answered.

The satisfaction that I got out of (a) solving that little puzzle, and (b) making that little connection with my dad, is something that more gullible and fanciful people seem to not understand. I was once told by a friend: "It must be sad being so skeptical...not believing in anything wonderful." They can't understand how wonderful it is to observe and learn how the world really works. Because of the way he shaped my thinking, I will still feel that connection with my father even after he eventually passes on. Much more so than having some multi-millionaire telling me that he "senses a D sound. Or J."

Those last four sentences express so well my own philosophy, and I hope, dear reader, that they are meaningful to you, too.

It just keeps coming. Are you ready for another of those hilarious web sites? Go to Just an excerpt here will show you how funny it is:

Just way too many things wrong with this picture! Notice the absence of stars again. The arrows indicate the various directions in which shadows are falling, again showing evidence of inconsistent scene illumination. Yet there is something even more obviously wrong with this picture. If the length of the lower support column of the lunar lander was 4 feet tall, this would indicate that the astronaut was over 8 feet tall, which none of the astronauts were. Another careless mistake from NASA.

In the UK, readers can tune on Tuesday on BBC2 at 9PM or go to

Until next week....