December 10, 2004

Science — Calgary Style, Penta Water Pulls a Coup, Hero of Alexandria Rides Again, Holding the Tongue Is Difficult, The Situation in Korea, Wisdom From 1776, Well-Deserved Award, Bad Company, This Is a School Principal?, What Would Jesus Eat, The End of the Stereophile Exchanges — For Now, Who Pays the Quacks, and In Conclusion...

Table of Contents:


Reader Stephanie Barnes of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, boasts about her kid — with good reason.

Rather than repeat the oft-heard complaints that today's youths are lazy, thoughtless, and soft in the head, I thought I would take this opportunity to brag shamelessly about my son and his classmates. Please indulge me, if you will. I predict it will make you smile, though I am no psychic...

Two years ago, my then ten-year-old son, Tavian, was given an independent study project in his sixth grade class. Having heard many tales about remarkable successes in alternative "medicine," he decided to prove to his classmates just how gullible the general public is, and the importance of skeptical thought in avoiding becoming a victim of conmen and liars.

First, Tavian enlisted the cooperation of his teacher in keeping the subject of his project completely secret from both students and faculty in his school. Then, using scientific method, he developed an hypothesis, that 30 to 40% of people can be tricked into believing something that isn't true, and an experiment to prove it. He loosely based his experiment on an ad hoc "experiment" he found on the Internet. It went something like this: An experimenter asked a class of young children to put up their hands when they detected the strange smell he was spraying into the air with a common spray bottle. Of course the substance was tap water, but as the mist became visible to the children, they began putting up their hands, indicating they smelled something very strange. After two minutes, over 70% of the children had raised their hands.

Tavian found many flaws in the methodology of that experiment, including "adult pressure," peer pressure, the possibility that increased humidity made ambient smells more apparent, a poorly worded question, smelly tap water, and more. Therefore, he modified his experiment thus:

1. Subjects, (students) would be brought out of their class, one at a time, to a "kiosk" at the other end of the school hallway. They would be instructed that they must say absolutely nothing to their peers when they returned to class. This was enforced by a "quiet reading period," and a very watchful teacher.

2. Subjects were handed a small sheet of paper, on which was written: "Please circle the answer that best fits your opinion of the smell of the sample." Under this was: 1) No smell at all; 2) Very slight smell; 3) Strong smell; 4) Very strong smell.

3. The subject was then ushered into the kiosk, alone, where there was a glass beaker sitting on a small table. The beaker contained distilled water, and had been rinsed in distilled water to eliminate any possible chlorine odor from the sample. The beaker sat upon a large aluminum tray, also rinsed in distilled water.

4. Written instructions told the subject to place their nose in proximity to the sample, inhaling deeply several times. When each subject was satisfied of their opinion, they circled their answer, and handed the question sheet to the volunteer. (The volunteer was 10 metres away from the kiosk, and, to avoid 'tainting' the results, said absolutely nothing to the subjects)

5. This process was completed until every grade six student in the school had been tested.

Tavian then analyzed the data and concluded that slightly over 40% of students tested indicated a positive result for smelling the sample. Some subjects even said it was a strong smell!

Several days later, Tavian presented his results to the grade six students and faculty in the library of the school, in the form of a compelling, and highly entertaining, Power Point presentation. He provided a great deal of background information on the placebo effect, its history of discovery, and its relevance in medical research. He even included a section on homeopathy and spiritual healing. The reactions of both students and faculty were wonderful to see; shock, amusement, annoyance, were all apparent. Everyone was surprised, including the adults. What was intended to be a thirty-minute presentation became over two hours of animated questions and answers about the nature of the placebo effect, its effects on experimental validity, and the predictability of human behavior.

I got to watch this entire procedure, from inception to presentation, with fascination. I had the joy of seeing Tavian's passion for truth, in action. I had the privilege of watching young minds, (and some not so young) being opened to the importance of rational thought and healthy skepticism. What fun!

Thank you for tolerating this unabashed bragging on my part. I suppose my point in submitting this to you was to say that, with fifty or so children awakened to the wonderful world of rational thought, and millions more thirsty for a similar experience, perhaps our (adult skeptics and educators) work is cut out for us. Offhand, I can't think of a more worthy, or necessary, cause in education.

I sense a future scientist in the Barnes family within the next decade...!


Reader Chris Rowe is startled to find that a blatant quack wriggled his way into the Olympic Games:

I was recently reading a few columns by Dave Barry, a humor columnist for the Miami Herald, about his experiences in Athens during the Olympic Games. In the article "Thirst-quenching sponsorships are aplenty in Athens" he talks about the sponsor for the U.S. water polo team: Penta Bottled Water! Imagine my surprise to learn that this pseudoscientific product is now a major sponsor for a world-wide sports event! Fortunately, Dave Barry has more critical thinking skills than most people involved with the Olympics. As a short excerpt:

The press-release reason is that Penta — unlike whatever pathetic loser water you are drinking — "is an ultra-purified drinking water that undergoes a rigorous 13-step purification process, which includes a patented physics process that gives the water unique properties." The release states that this was the brainchild of "Penta inventor and CEO William D. Holloway."

That's right: This man invented water. Picture the scene. It's late at night. William D. Holloway is sitting in his laboratory, thinking. Suddenly, he has an idea: "What if I combined one atom of oxygen with . . . two atoms of hydrogen? It seems crazy, but it just might work!"

The whole article can be read here (although you must register first for free): Miami Herald Article.

"Testimonials" of the Olympic athletes can be viewed here as well: It is a sad state of affairs, but this is what to expect when money is involved.

And, Chris, you have to hand it to William Holloway. He's selling ordinary water at fantastic prices — US$1.35 a cup! — he gets away with it, and no one cares! What a great racket!


Reader Ken Harn has written in suggesting a possible solution for the device shown with the two young amateur Italian scientists — Niccoló Giuliani and Niccoló Tocazzi — in last week's page. He says that it may be a somewhat more convoluted version of "Hero's Fountain," which he says was described on page 53 of Dunninger's Complete Encyclopedia Of Magic back in 1987, though it's much older than that — about 20 centuries!

And he's right! Here is the diagram in that book — which was actually written by Walter B. Gibson, creator of The Shadow mysteries, who also wrote for Houdini and other performers. The Encyclopedia is largely a collection of items that first appeared in Hugo Gernsback's "Science & Invention" magazine of the 1920s.

Though you see "rubber tubing" specified here, and the "fountain" is illustrated as being rather copious, here is a photograph, from the site of the same setup, using rigid glass tubing. The Italian boys simply cascaded a few of these basic systems to make their very effective demo. Eventually, though it appears as if the liquid is being pumped from a lower position to a higher one — and this is the premise of many a "perpetual motion" scheme — the liquid eventually ends up one level lower. (I've added a dotted line to this fuzzy photo, showing the path of the fine stream that comes out of the narrowed glass tubing at the top, and empties into the primary reservoir into which the liquid is first poured.)


Reader Richard Seibel is alarmed at his local hospital and what it offers:

Having had the pleasure of reading your column for years, I decided to try to make a small difference in my immediate environment. As background, I am now old enough to join the "New Vitality Center" programs offered through one of our local hospitals — Chilton Memorial. This is basically a collection of programs for people 55 and over. Programs include yoga (good for stretching, etc.), Memory Training (could have used that in my 20s — pretty good, backed by data, etc.), ... and, sad to say, Reiki.

During the course of a yoga class, the instructor off-handedly mentioned, "Did you know that there are trigger points in the foot that are connected to the gall bladder?" Doing my due diligence, I gathered some information for her — one of your essays, Dr. Barrett's Quackwatch, some other work from reputable sources on the net, etc. On the brighter side, she did actively listen, and seemed genuinely interested. Beliefs die hard, her friends are reflexologists, and she heard the reflexology nonsense from her yoga instructor, so I expect it will be a long struggle, but at least she listened with an apparently open mind.

That was the good news. It goes downhill dramatically from there. Since the New Vitality Center is under the auspices of the hospital, the hospital is putting what IMHO used to be their good name behind this program and the courses that are offered. I tried to find the same level of debunking on Reiki that I was able to get on Reflexology, but for some reason there is far less. Perhaps it is so far off the wall, there is almost no legitimate research on it? So I went to the source — what Reiki claims it can do. It was worse than I had anticipated, e.g. Level 2 (out of 4) is the ability to heal from a distance. So, armed with some information, I went to the staff asking why Reiki is being offered. The staff said, "it works, it is amazing...." I asked, "Do you believe somebody waving their hands across the room can actually heal someone?" Incredibly enough, the response I got back was, "They have done it over the telephone."

Further discussion yielded that the Sports Rehab facility associated with the hospital uses Reiki and some doctors in the hospital are recommending Reiki to their patients. The staff eventually did back down a bit and say, "Well, Reiki is good for relaxation." Of course the literature they handed me, as well as the literature on the net, says "healing" all over the place and occasionally, somewhere far after "healing" is the term "relaxation." The staff now tried to tell me that the term "healing" here really means "relaxation." Having gone through double hip replacement (sure glad I believe in Western medicine and not Eastern energy lines) and having had my wife survive breast cancer (REALLY glad for Western medicine), I can guarantee you, people in the position we were in would not look at the term "healing," and think "relaxation." Maybe I don't know English, but "healing" to me means "my problem gets fixed." We left it on their part with, "there are some people who like it and they come back — others don't. ... and people seem to want it." Of course, on my part I have no influence, so I thanked them for listening.

Even worse news, I found out the AMA — which one would think would be a good source to go to find info on what is considered standard medical care (e.g. chemo/radiation for breast cancer vs. Laetrile) no longer has a committee on quack medicine. And their web site has nothing on "alternative" medicine. I had high hopes of finding some authoritative information there and was quite disappointed. I came away with these thoughts:

1. "Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain."

2. How in the world can we turn out professionals — doctors, nurses, PTs, who after 20+ years of school, believe this nonsense?

3. I guess it is far easier to spend 500-1000 hours learning to wave your hands in the air than to spend 20,000+ hours to become a doctor.

4. A profound respect for people who have kept up the good fight for years, if not decades. It is beyond me how to even begin to deal with people who say, "She can heal over the phone," and have any sort of a rational discussion after that.

Thank you, Richard. Start looking for another hospital perhaps....?


Reader Dave Webster, in Korea, tells us of the beliefs and confusion there:

I was very interested to see that Ilchi Lee has taken his show on the road. As a ten year veteran of life in Korea I am accustomed to seeing posters advertising his system, known here as Dahn Hak, on every street corner. Indeed there are several centers here in my town. I'm very sorry, though hardly surprised, to hear that it's growing over there as well.

As much nonsense as the West can swallow, the East can easily provide. Korea is literally awash in nonsense and credulity. They cherish their myths and legends and no new undertaking is complete without a semi-mystical story to explain its origins. One of my favorites is a system of swordsmanship said to improve mental powers (Hae Dong Gumdo in Korean), clearly borrowed from a similar Japanese style that has been widely known for years, that the founder here claimed it's based on the secret techniques taught to him by a mysterious traveler named Baek Doo San who lived in and wandered about the mountains of Korea. Strangely, the name of the alleged traveling sword master, Baek Doo San, is also the name of a revered mountain in North Korea. So when did they romantic event occur, 16th century? Yi Dynasty? Nope. Sometime since the 1980's judging by the relatively young age of the founder.

Laughably, anyone who has spent any time in modern Korea knows how absurd the idea of traveling sword masters and itinerant warrior monks is. This is a thoroughly modernized, high tech society in the same vein as Japan or the U.S. Sadly, many westerners are still gullible enough, not to mentioned poorly informed enough, to believe this type of romantic nonsense, and as long as the money keeps coming in we'll continue receiving Dahn Hak, Hae Dong Gumdo, Feng Shui, Oriental Medicine, and a whole lot more. Incidentally, a quick internet search revealed that Hae Dong Gumdo is now international as well.

I could write volumes about the inane beliefs and urban legends that are routinely believed and fiercely defended here. One of my wife's friends, a newlywed, is currently trying to find a "lucky" apartment to move into based on the advice of a fortune teller who told her that only apartments whose names begin with a certain letter will ensure a happy and prosperous marriage. She paid a pretty penny for this startling insight into the workings of the cosmos and now finds herself and her husband commuting an hour each way to work as a result. But it's a small price to pay for luck.

To try to put into perspective just how awash this place is in credulity and wishful thinking, seven of the world's ten largest protestant churches are here in Korea. 'Nuff said. And to all the silly westerners looking for answers in Asia, remember that there is truly nothing new under the Sun. There are no magical answers or powers here, anymore than there are at home.

Richard, I am regularly asked if some countries are more superstitious or pseudoscience-oriented than others, and my answer is that it's similar to the different kinds of cuisine that are found around the world. Though the flavors and style of serving are different, the language and costumes vary, and the table manners may be dissimilar, food is still food. Before I went to Korea on my last trip, I was assured that I'd find very different sorts of paranormal and supernatural claims there. Not at all to my surprise, I found quite the same scams, methods, tricks, gibberish, and delusions there as I'd found in many other cultures.

Next week, some news about Ilchi Lee's and "Brain Respiration's" claimed references and endorsements....


Reader Judge Bob Molder (yes, he's a judge!) informed me of a wonderful quotation I'd never come upon before:

I enjoyed the letter in this week's Commentary from the woman who believes in fairies and has taught her children to believe as well. She says that although she has "never seen one, doesn't mean that I will give up hope of it" and that " is nice to have something to believe in."

The letter reminded me of a passage in "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Historian Gibbon is discussing the rise of Christianity and how pagan belief in polytheism was on the decline at the time, creating a spiritual void in the general population (Latin: vulgus). He writes, in the justly famous Chapter 15:

A state of skepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds. But the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude that, if they are forcibly awakened, they will regret the loss of their pleasing vision. Their love of the marvellous and supernatural, their curiosity with regard to future events, and their strong propensity to extend their hopes and fears beyond the limits of the visible world, were the principal causes which favoured the establishment of Polytheism. So urgent on the vulgar is the necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other mode of superstition.

Things don't seem to have changed much. Incidentally, the first volume of "The Decline and Fall" was published in 1776. Keep up the good work. It is an uphill battle you are fighting.

Judge, recall what I wrote above about things not changing in respect to different cultures. That observation applies to China, and incorporates Gibbon's statement. There has been a notable relaxation of the strict laws in that vast country that opposed the introduction of Western ways and the emphasis of religious beliefs, quickly followed by the transformation of Beijing into a showplace of neon, pedestrian malls and shops by international chains such as Starbucks, Givenchy, and Yves St. Laurent. To my mind, this signals that the communist system is phasing itself out of existence there, and in reaction to that, the Chinese citizenry have embraced all sorts of quackery and fanaticism — much of it there before this new phase of their politics, but now released to exploit the vulnerable — as happened in parts of Europe similarly freed of communism. Gibbon was quite right, I think.


Psychologist and memory expert Elizabeth Loftus, a good friend of the skeptical movement, who was ranked 58th by the Review of General Psychology on its list of the 100 top psychologists of the 20th century, has just been awarded a $200,000 prize as winner of the University of Louisville's Grawemeyer Award for Psychology. Her work has shown that memory is not simply a recorder that will replay exactly what happened, but is very susceptible to suggestion and manipulation.

Dr. Loftus' research in that direction has brought into question the validity of the notion of "repressed memories" that have been said to surface years later in the guided recollections of adults who then accuse their families and friends of every sort of "recalled" criminal behavior. Ms. Loftus has testified as an expert witness or worked as a consultant on a number of high-profile trials, including the infamous McMartin preschool molestation case. This award to her is encouraging to those of us who have been appalled by such witchcraft accusations, and who support the "False Memory Syndrome Foundation," to be seen at and who deserve your support.


Reader Mark Doherty got a shock — as I did — when he looked up my book "The Faith Healers" for purchase on the Internet, and found, under "Customers interested in The Faith Healers may also be interested in:" these gems:

Learn Energy Healing — "A Significant Breakthrough" Alternative Medicine

For Christmas: New Lake CD Original Radio Sermons from 1935 Preached by Jerry Breeden.


Medical Intuitive — Specific answers to why you are hurting and how to heal it now.


Reader Rudy Buys informs me that a gypsy stunt is being pulled off in South Africa, where former Grahamstown school principal E. S. Majika reported that he'd been conned out of thousands of rands by a bogus prophet who promised to make him rich. He said he'd been approached two weeks ago by a "Dr. Juma," a claimed prophet from Zanzibar who revealed that he had a lucky message for him from his ancestors. He said that Majika must visit him in his surgery, bringing his Bible and a ten-rand note. Well, Majika went there, and to his astonishment, he watched the prophet put the money into a pot and start to cook it.

Ah, but this was miracle cooking. When the lid was opened there were three more R10 notes in the pot! Majika was instructed to return the next day with a sheep and 478 rands. When he showed up, Dr. Juma slaughtered the sheep and told Majika that he would use the R478 to buy "equipment" to help him — Majika, that is — to get rich. Sure.

Majika returned two days later with his Bible and Juma put a blank piece of paper into the book. He told Majika to go home and hide the Bible and come back the next day. So far, this is exactly the same procedure used by gypsies all over the world. We've gone from R10 — about US$1.73 — to R478 — US$83 — so we're speeding up the plot. The next day, when Juma heated up the paper over a flame, mystical writing appeared promising to help the victim to get more money and urging him to follow the doctor's instructions. This is simply the gypsy stunt of writing on paper in lemon juice or milk, which upon being heated shows up as a brown image.

Then Juma went for the "big bajoor" on Majika, and told him to get R5,000 — US$865 — and bring the money to the surgery. Of course, Majika did so and at the witch doctor's instruction, put the money into a little silver trunk supplied by Juma, who then locked the trunk and gave the key to Majika. They took the trunk to Majika's house and put it in a cupboard. The money was safe, right?

Majika drove Juma back to his surgery and was told to go home and return to the surgery in 45 minutes. To his astonishment, when Makika returned, Juma was not there! At this point, the victim got just a tad suspicious. Rushing home, he found that the money was gone from the trunk! Who would have guessed? Only a chunk of green sponge was there in place of the cash — which I must admit is better than others I've heard of, when the duped person doesn't even end up with a US$865 green sponge....!


Very little comment on this one. It speaks for itself, eloquently. Go to


Readers who have been following the turgid drama involving Stereophile Magazine and their unflinching support of audio quackery, may wish to write to the editor of that periodical and/or learn of the complete responses that he has prepared. If so, I direct them to his email address, He has given me permission to provide this information. Many readers were complaining to me that I was spending too many words on trying to get the publication to respond to the JREF challenge. It is now clear that I've been wasting my time trying to elicit any sort of responsible reaction from them. Those who cannot provide the evidence, simply retreat from the confrontation, as we've so often seen. They're in appropriate company; Sylvia Browne, Dr. Brian Josephson, Uri Geller, Dennis Lee, John Edward, James Van Praagh, George Tice, Ben Piazza, to name only a few of those who have run away.

Respecting those readers who are weary of hearing all this audio-scam argument, I'll make this the last we'll run here — for now — on this matter. Those interested in pursuing it can do so via the e-mail address cited above.

Reader Dale Miner seemed to have pertinent comments and opinions, which he sent to me:

I want to thank you for helping expose the tremendous amount of misinformation and actual fraud in the "audiophile" world. The damage that these "experts" have done to the hobby and business of high performance audio is huge. The problem of "techno-quackery" is only getting worse as products for the home get more sophisticated and therefore more mysterious to the average consumer.

The non-sense that we have seen in the audio community is now in the video field as well. The $1000 video cables (directional, of course!) to connect a DVD player to a monitor are on the market as are any number of other miracle devices to make "tremendous improvements" in video performance.

Thanks again for trying to get these frauds to prove and justify their ridiculous claims.

Not knowing how authoritative this man might be, I inquired of him, and received this:

I have an engineering degree (BSEE) and I have worked in the field of video and systems design for almost thirty years. I am a member of SMPTE, (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers), AES (Audio Engineering Society) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers). I have been involved in the design and construction of several notable projects such as Lucasfilms' "Tech Building" at SkyWalker Ranch In Marin county and the "Experience Music Project" in Seattle. I have also worked as an engineer at several television stations and production companies.

It has been my privilege and good fortune to work with some of the most knowledgeable people in these fields. I have never heard anyone say that we should utilize some of this subjective techno-voodoo in a real world professional facility. Believe me, anything that can be shown to be effective in improving sound or picture quality is tried and often used. It just really bothers me that these "audio/video-philes" often go unchallenged by their own editors, let alone getting any sort of proper peer review. I'm waiting to see a paper presented at a conference or published in one of the technical journals explaining the principles of these "wonder devices."

I suspect I will be waiting forever.

No test, measurement, fact, demonstration, discussion or logic will get these fanatics to alter their views. You must have much more patience than I!

Well, Mr. Miner, that patience often wears thin, and I'm glad to have the support of a genuine professional, experienced, knowledgeable, expert like you. Thanks.

Reader Andrew Schauer sums it up for us with an example of a temporarily-fuddled customer:

I've been reading with great amusement your exchanges and reports from the world of "Stereophile," and it has confirmed much of what I thought of the consumer con act carried out in the world of "high-end" audio systems. My brother and I (who are both musicians/music producers/audio engineers) once encountered similar consumer blindness when we visited one of my brother's friends. As we arrived at his house, he was eagerly unwrapping two huge speakers that had just been delivered. In an attempt to wow us, he played some music through his old speakers before he swapped them out. My brother asked him to play something with high production value, and he retrieved some live jazz recordings from the early 60's — our first clue he wasn't very in touch with his ears (it was good music of course, but hardly something that would showcase the power of modern speakers). Once we made some music suggestions, he played his old system for us, and it sounded amazing.

Then he began to set up the new speakers. As he unwrapped these monsters, his eyes lit up as he quoted the "Stereophile" reviews, went on about wood types, and discussed the merits of systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars (had he heard any of these systems?). He was particularly proud that these new speakers were made from solid wood panels, and not fiberboard like many speakers. I thought it odd, because solid wood is far more likely to expand, contract, and warp with climate change. Additionally, solid wood is more acoustically live and can have resonating frequencies that adversely alter the tone. By far what was most disturbing was that he kept talking about the price. Finally they were set up, and we braced ourselves for what would have to be the best audio we had ever heard.

Hardly. It wasn't horrible, but the older speakers (that were a quarter of the cost) had sounded much better. My brother and I remained politely restrained, but I think our lack of enthusiasm was clearly visible.

Maybe this is unique. Maybe most "Stereophile" clientele are highly educated in acoustics and can sort through all these phrases that sound alien to us regular people. Maybe it means something to be "harmonically fuller," or to have better "pitch definition" (more in tune?). Maybe not.

Here's what I think: this guy dropped all this money on those speakers because he trusted the reviews. He fell prey to the lie of consumerism — more money means better quality — and "Stereophile" happily fills the silence by pandering to gear greed with bullshit terminology so it sounds like they know what they're talking about. A reader may think they know what "harmonically fuller" means, because audio perception is so personal and subjective. Just imagine, your favorite music Harmonically Fuller. Wouldn't that sound better?

Even for the suckers (apparently rich suckers) at the bottom of the "Stereophile" food chain, there's something elitist about it all. They throw money at stereo equipment, and by simply playing music for their friends, they can show off their superior taste and wealth. There is a science to accurately reproducing recorded audio, but I guess science doesn't pay the bills for "Stereophile." I'm glad you're calling them on it.

Andrew adds that not long after this chap had rhapsodized to him and his brother over the speakers he'd invested in, he returned them — apparently having sensed that he'd been over-using his imagination. All too rare an event, I believe. As a kid, when I was building my own speaker enclosures from instructions in Popular Science and other "high-tech" publications of the time — they were often "bass reflex" plywood boxes with a "port" and lined with fiberglass wool — I well knew that solid lumber was apt to go out of shape, while plywood was very stable and much cheaper, an important quality factor, to me.

Another reader, Charles Lambdin, Psychology Graduate Student at Wichita State University, sent some comments to Atkinson, and reported to me:

The exchanges between yourself and those at Stereophile magazine are highly entertaining. As you know, their responses to your allegations are comprised of a hodgepodge of fallacious reasoning, unfounded accusations, and red herrings all thrown up in a smoke-and-mirrors evasion tactic designed to distract us from the obvious fact that these people cannot demonstrate that these products work (unless "work" is defined as providing an arbitrary prop to facilitate the placebo effect via a little self-delusion).

In response to your million-dollar offer, they come back with snide remarks. They are conning their customers by selling sham products that do not work. The claims they offer on how these products work don't even qualify as pseudo-science; they are nothing but hocus-pocus nonsense phrases primarily comprised of "quantum" and "harmonic" gibberish. Selling sticks that improve sound is no different than selling crystals that improve mood. These people do it for the money and as you know, if they could take your million dollars they would. That they cannot is the lesson to be learned; it is the point and the reason you have the offer in the first place. You've put your money where your mouth is, you've supported your arguments with evidence, and you call on others to do the same.

Mr. Atkinson not only cannot take your million dollars, he cannot even muster a legitimate response to your allegations, so he falls into the land of fallacy by resorting to what so many do in this situation: the ad hominem. He attacks you personally! You are a "liar and a con artist"! Never mind that you used to be a magician, and were merely being honest about what magicians do! Magicians (and I am one) use psychological principles to make it look like they have supernatural powers. They trick their participants (and I use that word very intentionally, as half of the "effect" lies in the viewer) into misperceiving natural events. Ethical magicians, in my opinion, are upfront about the fact that this is what they are doing (and this does not at all entail revealing how the trick is done). Unethical magicians misrepresent themselves as really possessing supernatural powers.

Atkinson has robbed a phrase from your days as an entertainer and honest magician and fallaciously uses it to refer to you in your role as an investigator. (By the way, I'll vouch that his cracks at your title as "The Amazing" simply demonstrate that he's never watched you perform!) Most humorous of all, he even seems to think that calling you by your birth name is an insult. Every time he refers to you as "Mr. Zwinge" I cannot help but picture him with a wry smirk on his face, as if he's put you in your place. This is a peculiar and extraordinarily juvenile ad hominem in my opinion. You are, after all, a celebrity in entertainment. If Cary Grant had hypothetically started a business, would it have counted as evidence that he was a deceitful businessman to have pointed out that his birth name was Archibald Leach? Hardly.

Further, Atkinson's response to your million-dollar offer attacks your testing procedures, yet he does not attack an accurate description of your offer and procedures. He attacks a caricature of them. This is the old straw man fallacy, and as psychologist Amos Tversky said, "The refutation of a caricature can be no more than a caricature of a refutation." It seems that Mr. Atkinson is able to identify at least some rubbish claims when he sees them, as he never responded to the following e-mail which I sent to him:

Mr. Atkinson,

My name is Charles Lambdin. I am a PhD student at Wichita State University and have developed an amazing product I would like to share with you. This product, which I have named the Objective Stimuli Interference Minimizer (OSIM), is essentially a band which one places around one's head. The band covers the eyes and the ears, and creates an additional barrier between the frontal temporal and rear occipital lobes and the external world.

Normally, when one is engaging in certain subjective tasks, the harsh incoming stimuli of one's surrounding reality impedes one's subjective revelries. This cumbersome onslaught of external stimulation has (as you can imagine) a negative effect on one's imagining, which further serves to lessen the intensity of subjective internal realities. OSIM works by minimizing incoming external signals which only serve to distract and lessen the richness of such subjective interpretation. By minimizing the incoming flow of such concrete signals, OSIM maximizes one's perceptual experience on a quantum and subjective level, adding depth and resonance to one's internal and personal postmodernistic experiences. It is my personal belief that your reviewers at Stereophile magazine, for example, could very well add to the keenness and subjectivity of their discerning ears by wearing the OSIM.

The OSIM, you see, is deceptively simple: it is comprised of loops of soft-ply bathroom tissue coated with duct tape — that's right, duct tape! It has been my experience and is my belief that wearing this blindfold enables the soft-ply tissue to soften the effects of traditional sense perception, allowing the user to increase self-obfuscation and unchecked interpretations of reality. As stated above, I believe your product reviewers could increase the efficacy of their reviews by employing this device. If worn properly, you see, they would not be able to actually hear the music at all (and I believe that this "hearing" does impede their judgments), allowing them to review the product purely on a quantum harmonic level. I think the OSIM could go at $1200 a pop.

Please let me know what you think, Charles Lambdin.

Oh well, he's missing a buck. Maybe he thinks he can debunk my OSIM — though those at Stereophile magazine use the phrase "debunker" as though it has negative connotations. In closing, the only thing wrong with what you do, Mr. Randi, is that there are not enough people doing it. I, for one, think the world is a better place because of the labors of people like you.

Finally, take a look at and see a rational account by a competent critic, of one aspect of this silly brouhaha between "inventors" and the suckers.

There has been so much reaction received to this entire audio debacle that I must now give attention to more pertinent matters. I'm finished with this subject — for now. Thanks to all of you who contributed your opinions.


Reader Ward Griffin has received a promotional post card from his HMO which offers him at least two kinds of recognized quackery that they agree to now include in their coverage. The post card announcing this leap forward, read, in part:

Kaiser Permanente Northwest now offers all members a special discount for Complementary care — acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy, and naturopathic care.

Ward, in cases where chiropractic is used as a form of massage therapy, and not in the way the founders intended — with "subluxations," "blue light therapy" and other mythical/mystical aspects — I believe it can be useful, so I'd not have too much of a problem with that aspect. But acupuncture and naturopathy are not acceptable, in my opinion. Says Ward: is disappointing to realize that my monthly healthcare premium is used to support this discount program. It appears that intelligent people who have spent years studying medicine have lost the will to stand up for what they have learned to be scientific fact.

Oh, I believe it not lack of will, but the pursuit of the cash involved, here. Including the flummery makes this HMO much more attractive to potential subscribers, but Kaiser Permanente Northwest seems to know how to protect themselves from possible lawsuits that customers might contemplate if they were to suffer damage from the quacks. In small print, we find this disclaimer:

The products or services described above are neither offered nor guaranteed under your Kaiser Permanente health plan contract. These services or products are provided by entities other than Kaiser Permanente, and Kaiser Permanente does not endorse or make any representation regarding the quality of such services or products or the financial integrity of these entities. Kaiser Permanente expressly disclaims any liability for the services or products provided by these entities. Any disputes regarding these products or services are not subject to the Kaiser Permanente grievance process.

Bottom line: the HMO is perfectly safe, no matter what. The only ones to possibly suffer damage are the subscribers who make use of the quackery rather than real medicine — and people like Ward who pay for the avarice of the HMO which is in turn based on the naivety of others.


We're heading into over 400 registrations for The Amaz!ng Meeting 3, and we still have five weeks to go! We'll be offering you a CD-ROM with several interviews made in Australia, the Seoul Broadcasting System exposure of Uri Geller, some radio interviews, and other goodies — in a format that will play on any average computer. Also, the DVDs of last years Amaz!ng Meeting are now ready; watch the JREF web page for the release announcement. I regret to announce that author Fred Pohl, who I'd expected to attend TAM3, has had to be postponed, possibly to next year.

So far, we've registered attendees from Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Sweden, UK, and of course the USA, who will be enjoying TAM3. We'll be arranging national groupings for those who want to sit under their respective flags. And media interest is very high, perhaps due to the presence of Richard Dawkins. We'll have Richard's books for sale, and the Shermer crew will be very much present with their busy minions scurrying about. I'll be bringing along a few super-powered magnets and tubes, so you can see what all the fuss is about in that matter.

Next week, we should be ready to tell you about the big Sylvia Browne news; it wasn't quite ready when this page was completed. You'll learn about the infamous Columbia University "prayer research paper," and how those in charge have desperately waffled about trying to avoid coming to grips with the scandal. "Psychic" Char Margolis comes in for some lumps, and so does "Brain Respiration." Until then....