December 19, 2003

Izzy's Birthday, 7 Failed Prophecies, "True" Psychics Revisited, Magic Coral Castle, A Billion For Peace, Edward Reveals His Secret, Jonathan Speaks, PBS Quack Feature, Astrology Discovery, The DNA Brouhaha, Bush's Horoscope, Penta Continues to Avoid Us, Opinions of Pseudoscience, Browne's Back!, A Fake Homeopathic Remedy (?), The True Masters Are Coming!, and Parker Brothers In League With The Devil...

Happy Newton's Birthday! Just 361 years ago this next Thursday, Sir Isaac Newton was born, a man we know existed, someone who contributed hugely to his and to our world, and a chap we can and should commemorate by means of observance of his birthday. Instead, most of the world chooses to believe that another guy was born on this day, a notion for which there's no proof at all.

Oh well, you hang in there, Izzy, and pay no attention to that Einstein fellow who one-upped you. But we really have to talk about that hair. Folks are talking….

Well, Saddam is now caught and locked up, to my total amazement. I have always believed that Saddam and his sons were killed way back at the start of the attack on Baghdad! How could I have doubted that, when the statement of "psychic" Riley G. Matthews, Jr. — who advertises himself as a close friend of Uri Geller — confidently predicted in a March 24th, 2003, press release, referring to himself in the third person:

[He] conducted a remote viewing session shortly after the Iraq war started and his viewing revealed that Suddam [sic] Hussein and his Sons were in fact killed in the initial US aerial bombings of the Baghdad military targets. Riley G's viewing also revealed that the present Iraq Military regime would be withholding the deaths until after the US invades Baghdad. Shortly before the city of Baghdad is liberated a special news release by the Iraqi military will relay that Saddam and his sons died fighting for Iraq. This release would be done to keep the present Saddam regime in some sort of power with the Iraqi military and terrorist ties, and not to give credit to the US for killing Saddam on the first strike in the war. Riley G believes that if the truth about Saddam's demise was known to the Iraqi people that they would revolt and break-free of Saddam's terrorist control and take up arms against the Iraqi military.

Riley G's remote viewing also revealed that Saddam's people may in fact release a chemical attack in the final hours of the war to kill as many US military members and his own people as possible. The belief is to martyr them all rather than allow a free Iraq.

Just par, for remote viewing! Six "revelations" wrong out of six! But nine days before that, on March 15th, 2003, this potent RV'er had said that he had:

. . . a strong suspicion that when we (USA) start our direct invasion of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's troops will fire off those Chemical weapons that he does not have…and wind up killing off his whole city… Better to martyr them all that [sic] surrender to the evil USA…

Correction: that's seven out of seven misses…. How can a psychic be more wrong that this? Of course, I'm sure you've noticed that not one "psychic" predicted anything about Saddam's capture (except Riley, who said it would never happen) and now we can await the swarm of claims from the psychically uninformed about how they had a "feeling" or a "hunch," but just didn't publish it. So what else is new?

Reader Paul Walker-Bright, of Chicago, Illinois, comments further on a subject from two weeks back:

I read with interest the comments from Ms. Whitney Harris regarding the abilities of "true" psychics. What I found particularly interesting is that if you substitute the words "psychiatrist," "counselor," "therapist," or even "minister" for "psychic" in her comments, you would get a pretty good description of what those professions involve, as well. A practitioner in each of these professions also provides comfort and support as well as advice on how to deal with a person's problems. In other words, in Ms. Harris' world, a psychic is just another kind of therapist. It seems to me that Ms. Harris has rationalized away all of the paranormal content of psychic abilities. That being the case, I would like to know how Ms. Harris would answer the question: Why is it necessary for psychics to dress up their "therapy" with all of the paranormal mumbo-jumbo, claiming special abilities that allow one access to information denied to us mere mortals? According to Ms. Harris, all you really need to be a "true" psychic are good listening skills and the ability to empathize with others — capabilities which, while perhaps not common, are not all that unheard of among us non-psychics.

The basic question is, then: why do people go to psychics for advice and comfort that can be obtained from others? The attraction of paranormal mumbo-jumbo and claimed special abilities obviously provide one answer. Another answer might be money — it can be considerably more expensive to obtain therapy from a psychiatrist or other licensed professional than it is to visit your local psychic/astrologer/tarot reader/etc. Of course, the flip side is that the licensed professional is supposed to have a certain amount of education, training and expertise, although as you have documented many times on your site there are plenty of "therapists" out there whose therapy is no better than, and in many cases worse than, the average store-front psychic.

Ms. Harris' comments demonstrate the importance of having a public educated in these matters. The average person probably is not well equipped to distinguish between the gibberish of the psychic and that of the psychiatrist (both can be seen as claiming special skills and abilities that allow them insight into people's psyches), and so has no incentive to seek out the more expensive treatment. The same holds true for "alternative" medicines. The task is to educate people to recognize the difference between treatments that have been scientifically validated and those that have not — regardless of whether or not those treatments are explicitly paranormal in nature.

Yes, correct, Paul. But also bear in mind that the psychics — unlike honest medical practitioners — will always provide Pollyanna-ish news to the inquirer, which makes for much temporary comfort and illusionary relief. Quackery plays the money game, always. Education, as you point out, is the solution.

Reader T. R. Milne is dismayed over a "Wired News" article dealing with the famous Coral Castle exhibit here in Florida. The article in question featured the proclamations of one "Ramirez," a claimed dowser who is an apostle of Ed Leedskalnin, the man who said he built the castle all by himself — a feat which some think impossible without the use of ETs, levitation powers, and other magic. Ramirez is certainly convinced of all the Leedskalnin claims. The article describes Ramirez as

. . . a skilled dowser — that is, someone who uses wooden and metal rods and pendulums to locate sources of water, oil and lost objects — [who] has his own ideas about how Leedskalnin managed to move the huge blocks.

Dowsers also can detect unusual energy flows, explained Ramirez. Using metal dowsing rods made of bent coat hangers and PVC tubing, Ramirez said he has located some very odd energy "vortexes" within the boundaries of the castle.

Gee, that's really weird, because the castle was moved to its present location by the owners of the tourist attraction. That's not where it was built, at all! But maybe the vibrations — or something — move along with the rocks….?

Ramirez believes, says Wired News, that

. . . Ed discovered a way to move massive blocks of coral by taking advantage of the magnetic powers of the Earth. The Earth [says Ramirez] is surrounded by an invisible web of energy that is concentrated at certain spots. At these spots energy flows freely and people are much stronger than they would be elsewhere.

Our correspondent, Mr. Milne, has his own evaluation of those theories:

Wow. Ramirez "is a skilled dowser." [The reporter] even took a picture of his dowsing equipment. She throws out the fact that Leedskalnin made a sundial accurate to within 2 minutes and follows that with some dowser tidbits and leaves them all out for us to think about as if both facts had equal validity. She will "reserve judgment" but tells us that miracles of healing science occurred. And she seems to take the "energy" as fact but, like the Dowser, wonders how Leedskalnin made use of it.

Too funny.

What strikes me as funny here is the claim that the man "made a sundial accurate to within 2 minutes." That dial would have to be at least the size of a tennis court, and very sophisticated indeed. Continues Mr. Milne:

And I can get the Q-Ray for three payments of $49 from some outfit in Illinois... and Michael Jackson has only good intentions... KFC Chicken is health food... tax breaks for multimillionaires will lessen my problems in this economy.... How can I help but laugh?

Hey, it's either that, or cry….

Reader Carl Fink tells us that according to a recent Reuters News article, movie director David "Twin Peaks" Lynch is trying to raise $1 billion to support a "University of World Peace," to bring peace to the world via Transcendental Meditation. That's the same old Maharishi Mahesh Yogi crap, always asking for funding to solve global problems when he can't even solve his own. He's been on that bandwagon for years now, taking full-page ads in TIME Magazine to beg for billions.

Mr. Lynch insists that the TM method of peace infusion has been proven to work in multiple tests, but here he's fallen for the TM line, which we blew apart right on this page — October 5th, 2001. And, of course, Mr. Lynch can win the Foundation's million dollars if he can show such proof. But a guy who asks for a billion probably looks at a million as small potatoes. Yeah, that must be it. The article is at:|oddlyenough|12-11-2003::09:11|reuters.html

Reader David Wirths reports from the John Edward Watch kiosk:

[Edward]'s got a pay-per-view event on DirecTV this month. He says himself in the text of the Q&A, "Ultimately, it's about me and the people who are calling in live." I guess it's also about the $24.95 you get hit with when you sign up to watch.

When asked "What do you think about other psychics?" he answers (in part) "Just because someone has a TV show, wrote a book, or is on the radio doesn't mean that they're phenomenal at what they do or that they are coming from the right place." Enough said, in my opinion.

Agreed. Edward will do well with this, simply because the supply of suckers is so great, and they're determined to believe, to squander their money, and to accept nonsense.

Young Jonathan Pritchard was supplied to us by Berea College, in Kentucky, as an intern, and served at the JREF all this last summer — to great acclaim. He writes us:

Here's something I think you would be pleased to know. Tonight I had Tyler, a good friend of mine that lives in the dorm next door to mine, over to watch a movie or two. I was reading your latest update when he came over, and he wanted to know what the site was all about. This led into a discussion lasting for more than three hours that ranged from religion to faith healing.

Upon the subject of faith healing, he cited an example of his friend's mom, who had cancer and was given three months to live several years ago, is still alive today. I reached for your book on the topic, and flipped open to page 9 giving him the instructions to start a couple pages earlier to get the context of that section of the book. He was immediately taken by the text and I heard several, "Hmm's," as he read.

He said, concerning faith healing, that he "knows what he knows" (like I haven't heard that one before...), but that it's good to understand other ways of thinking, and that you don't really believe something unless it has been thoroughly examined. I agreed, and told him to not be scared of wherever that leads him. I gave him the link to your site, and he said he would definitely surf that way.

I think there's hope for him yet, and I just wanted to let you know that your work has been presented to someone who is looking. He said, as he left, that he was going to go back to his room more confused now than he ever has been. I told him being confused is a good place to be if you are going to face the answers bravely and not warp them to fit what you want or need to be right. We'll see how this develops, it will definitely be interesting. I'll keep you posted.

I'm sure you will, Jonathan. And those attending TAM2 in Las Vegas will see this young man Jonathan in action, helping out with the many chores needed to run the affair. Look for this what-me-worry face….

Registration is moving up towards 400, folks! This is going to be a really fine conference, in so many ways. However, I must report to you that Paulette Cooper — of Scientology Fighter fame — as well as Dr. Richard Wiseman from the UK, will not be present due to unavoidable commitments. Bummer. But I have every expectation that both will be at TAM3 in 2005. Wow! Are we already planning that one….?

My local PBS station has insulted me — and many more — again, during their recent fund-raising campaign. At these times, they offer us an endless stream of pseudoscientific, quack-promoting material in which the scam artists advertise their goods — which are often offered to the viewers as special bonus awards to accompany specified donations. What's really got me, this season, was "Dr." Gary Null blathering on about his latest book, "Gary Null's Ultimate Anti-Aging Program," with this learned person handing out such gems of knowledge as, "You create diseases like arthritis with your thoughts." Gee, that's a big surprise to me. I had the misapprehension that arthritis came about as the result of aging, accident, and/or weight-bearing problems. Of course, this appeared on the "Education" channel, so I'm sure it's been carefully examined for accuracy.

No, friends, this is a heedless pursuit of funding by my local PBS station, who have surrendered their integrity and lent their good name to the quacks. This is the very reason I withdrew my support from the station years ago, when they offered us Deepak Chopra in a two-hour tirade, followed by another hour dealing with "How to Find Your Guardian Angel." I was equally insulted by that campaign, as well.

PBS-TV used to have standards.

On that same subject, the inimitable Bob Park — who you'll see in all his feisty attitude at The Amazing Meeting 2 in Las Vegas — ran this on his excellent web page ( recently:

To raise the money it takes to bring us intelligent, commercial-free programs, PBS stations resort to Pledge Week. It works like this: the quality programs we normally enjoy are replaced with sleazy infomercials delivered by unscrupulous "operators" like health guru Deepak Chopra, M.D. (WN 9 Oct 98). Chopra promotes a brand of spiritual healing that he says is confirmed by modern quantum theory. His 1993 book, "Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old" topped the best-seller lists for weeks. His medical advice, however, comes straight out of ayurveda, ancient Hindu medicine that is 3,000 years older than quantum mechanics. On Monday, Chopra had a two-hour PBS special, "The Soul of Healing," in which he explained how you can "invoke your inner pharmacy." Does it work? Trust me, after just a few minutes of Chopra, your inner pharmacy will deliver a massive dose of road-rage hormones. It's really a cunning Pledge Week message: See how bad television would be if there were no PBS?

Good observations, as usual, Bob….

Reader David Crawford, in Calgary, Canada, celebrates a new accomplishment for astrology:

You'll get a chuckle from the new astrologer in the Calgary Herald newspaper. Every day she begins her column by saying something to the effect of "All signs have the all clear for shopping and important decisions — except for between 3pm and 4:30pm." I'm glad to see such accuracy in the astrological community. For the longest time we've thought it was all bunkum — but obviously they now have refined the art down to hour-by-hour accuracy! Well done!

Seriously — I think the only training one should have for being a syndicated astrologer is to be a former English teacher — how do you re-write the same sentence in so many different ways, so often? THAT'S what is amazing about astrology!

The whole brouhaha on DNA that Sid Rodrigues set in motion here last week has resulted in all sorts of input, all of it interesting. Sid's professionally in the business of identifying and validating DNA, so he knows the subject. But it turns out that there are several questionable bits on that web page ( that readers picked up on. Read on:

First of all, the most obvious error is in the caption to the graphic: "Half our DNA comes from our parents." No, all of it comes from our parents. That statement should have been: "About half of our DNA comes from each parent." Some 60 or so readers sent that one in. Then there were the trouble-makers. Read on:

Randy Poe pointed out:

In fact, it's clearly not just a typo but a complete misconception by the artist. Note that the child of the purple and blue parents has a body which is 1/4 blue, 1/4 purple, and 1/2 red, indicating that it is inherited from some mysterious alien source.

Some readers suggested UFOs/aliens, genetic engineering, and federal interference as causes for this coloring puzzle. Reader Phill Smith, in the UK, kicked in with:

. . . which deliberate error do you want? I assume it's not the "deliberate" misspelling of Deoxyribose Neucleic Acid, rather the far more intriguing suggestion that half of your DNA comes from your parents. This begs the obvious question of where the other half comes from.

Thanks for your excellent site, which provides enough ponderable reading to have my brother '"addicted'" to science, and keeps him from doing work all week.

I can imagine more dangerous addictions. Phill, I suspect that your "mis-spelling" comment refers to the use of "nucleic" rather than "neucleic," or the "Deoxyribo" rather than "Deoxyribose," and not the division of Deoxyribonucleic Acid into three words? I can't find "neucleic" anywhere in Webster's or in the Oxford Dictionaries, but it's frequently used in scientific papers, as shown by a Google search, and that use is sometimes accompanied by "Deoxyribo," and sometimes by Deoxyribose"….

John Renish, of San José, California, tells us that

. . . we inherit mitochondrial DNA only from our mothers in addition to half our nuclear DNA from each parent's cell nuclei, so more than half of our DNA comes from our mothers.

Reader Todd Dart handled two other recent subjects along with the DNA matter:

Thank you for an excellent (as usual) 12 December SWIFT. I've been a long time reader but never much of a contributor. However, given this SWIFT was chock-full of good stuff I'd thought I'd throw my comments out on several topics discussed for Bob and all to see.

[Todd handles the "half from your parents" goof, then moves on:]

Your answer to the question about Ouija boards brought back a rather amusing story of my own experience with the devil board. As young teenagers my friends and I experimented with Ouija boards. We were quite taken aback by how easy it was to get the thing to work, since the instructions said it wasn't easy and it might take a while before anything happened (obviously we were "psychically gifted" or some such). The real question is, when communicating with the "spirit" world, who would adolescent boys prefer to contact? Why, girls, of course.

The problem was we needed a non-living female with whom to Ouija back to the material world. She had to, of course, meet two requirements: 1. She had to be dead. 2. She had to be hot. Being young, we didn't know about many hot, dead babes, but somehow we hit upon Mae West as a good candidate. Drawing up our full psychic powers we somehow reached into the ethereal plane and lo and behold we got Mae West "on the line."

This was in late 1979 or early 1980. No one, of course, even bothered to question or verify that Mae West was actually dead. Imagine my surprise to hear the news in November of 1980 that she had just died. Hadn't we spoken to her from the spirit world? Apparently not.

Then who, or what, had caused the stylus to move on the board? After reading more on the subject (I was as this time also very interested in science and had, fortunately, already been exposed to rational thinking) I found it was easily explained as subconscious inputs. So the answer was pretty evident to me; we had done it ourselves. I didn't know these were called ideomotor reactions until your article, so I learned something new today — thanks! That event one of many that sparked a skeptical flame that continues to this day.

On the subject of identifying oneself as an atheist or an agnostic, I suggest John should also read Bertrand Russell's short essay titled "Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic." Even Russell, a great philosopher, struggled somewhat with how to define himself.

This is as good a place as any to admit that I've been careless about spelling "ideomotor" correctly. I've often used "idiomotor" in error. The former refers to unconscious actions, while the latter — if it existed — would probably apply to matters of personal application. Sorry.

Reader Greg Winslow, on the DNA matter, offered:

Others may have spotted it before me, but the following bit of stating the obvious jumped out at me: "Children can inherit different mixes of DNA, which is why brothers and sisters are not identical"

Really? I would have thought that the lack of a penis on one would have accounted for that… Silly me.

Silly, indeed! Even I've noticed this significant difference, but I never made a fuss over it in public, Greg!

But reader Jochen Boeger, of Germany, is not at all out of agreement with the DNA matter as stated:

There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with the page you mentioned. I have always suspected that the other half of my DNA has been provided by the postman.

Going further into these matters would be madness. But finally, just to show that more than such obvious errors can escape me, reader "Rob" in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, spotted a usage by Barry Kendall that whizzed right by me — and obviously right by many other readers. Barry had written:

. . . in a drug store a few weeks ago when I got a subscription filled.

Rob observes:

Subscriptions from the drug store.... How cool is that!!! Sign me up right away…. Just kidding!

Reader Steven Thompson insists that proper credit for the "Levitation of a Living Woman" poster be provided:

In the interest of full disclosure, the great Randi poster discussed on your website was done by semi-legendary 1940's-50's comic book artist Jay Disbrow who often signed his work "Jayson." I had the pleasure to meet him in Philadelphia in 1977 at a Comic Book Convention where I purchased a signed print of one of his comic book pages. In an industry where so many artists learn to draw from copying earlier artists, Disbrow was (is?) completely unique with an instantly recognizable style. It is a very nice, old-fashioned looking poster.

Yes, and it looks that way because I gave Jay copies of some old early-20's Howard Thurston and Harry Kellar posters to imitate, style-wise. He did a great job. And I received so many inquiries about these posters, that I found a few that I'll part with, if the price is right…. Maybe on E-Bay, and certainly at TAM2.

Reader Roger Barrett of Hull, UK, observes, referring to a recent TV appearance I did over there:

I'm a big fan of the website and have read a few of your books. I watched the program "The Ultimate Psychic Challenge" and was surprised when there were boos and hisses by some of the audience when you simply told the truth. This reminded me a bit of the "Pop Idol" program where the audience cheer and applaud the singers even if the singing isn't very good. It's then up to the "Nasty" judge to tell it like it is and again they get the '"pantomime" boos. This kind of program is extremely popular in the UK and probably would be in most countries. How about doing a kind of "paranormal idol" program. I would love to see you and Uri Geller on the same panel judging all the "acts."

In a totally unrelated story, I bought a copy of Ian Rowland's "The Full Facts of Cold Reading." After I had read it I gave it to my sister who is a skeptic like myself. Anyway, a few weeks later she phoned me up and for a joke she stated that she could see the name "John." I had got off the phone with John just before she rang and she didn't even know I had a friend called John. This just showed me how easy it is for people to be convinced of this kind of stuff.

Hmmm. Yes, I could do a show like that with Geller, as long as there was a physical barrier set up, but where would I find a genuine psychic…?

Frequent contributor Matthew H. Fields of Ann Arbor, Michigan, points out the quality of our Forum members:

A follow-up on Serdar Yegulalp's comment on Steven E. Cerier's piece: Yegulalp wrote: "Artists should be among the people helping us move out of the dark ages, not keeping us in them." In the Arts section of the JREF on-line forum, I note that some pretty astounding artists are active in skeptical, rational, optimistic, humanistic, Brightistic activities.

Including, I might add here, Matthew H. Fields, classical composer….

Reader Richmond Clements tells us that a former Czech Defense Minister (1993-4), Antonin Baudys, is being criticized for predicting — by astrology — that George W. Bush will die within the next two years. Baudys says an ominous conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter means that President Bush is facing "a critical situation" until the middle or end of the year 2003:

I can't say whether Bush will die naturally or whether he will be assassinated. I don't want to comment on whether it will be linked to terrorism. Astrology only predicts the environment for situations that can lead to concrete events. But how things actually end up happening really depends on individuals and the people of history.

However, a Czech astro-physicist named Jiri Grygar says:

I think it's ridiculous. The stars have no interest in US presidents whatsoever.

That'll be quite a shock to the present White House, almost as much as it would have been for the Reagan White House.

Reader John Williams of Lovelady, Texas, wrote the Penta Water people and asked why they'd not gone through with their agreement to be tested by us for the JREF prize, as they'd previously agreed. They answered:

Hello John, We have not accepted James Randi's challenge. Being a new company we do not have the funds to do the research that James Randi's say's [sic] you have to have to get the million dollars. Slowly but surely we will get the money to do the research. To have studies done, would cost over two million dollars. So as we have more studies done to validate the water's properties, I think that we will take the James Randy's [sic] challenge. Thanks!!!

Chad Holloway

Where do I start? This is a silly canard created by Penta — via Mr. Holloway — to try wriggling out of the test they'd agreed to years ago. The costs of such a test would be minimal, since all the JREF requires is for Penta to differentiate — by any means they choose — between ordinary tap water and their product. That's a yes-or-no guess done with about 50 bottles. Simple. Cheap. Practical. Conclusive. None of these adjectives are acceptable to the Penta people.

Two million dollars? You can stage a Broadway show for that, and all we want is a simple yes-or-no test. No costumes, music, or choreography needed, Mr. Holloway.

Will we hear from you, now that this "misunderstanding" has been resolved?


Reader Jamie Mulcahy got into an exchange with a typical JREF-avoider who fears the million-dollar challenge. Jamie's report:

I have been reading your website for some time now and I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusions about pseudoscience. While browsing the web I came across a site for dowsing. I emailed a question to the author of this site, without even mentioning your name, and I got this reply. (I was merely asking him to explain why we used any scientific methods at all when dowsing could so easily replace all of that hard work you have to do verifying results and meeting acceptable and repeatable scientific standards, etc.)

I don't have time to go into it (nor I really want to), but maybe you should first check the morals and integrity of your god and guru Randi. Believe me, there is way more!!!

So you appear to be the leader of all skeptical thinking in the world! Anyway the most amazing thing in this reply was one of the web links he sent me which proved you to be of false character.

This link may be in your archives but I can't remember seeing it mentioned.

When I followed this link I suddenly grasped the scope of the pseudoscience problem. In fact it is better to call it a pseudoscience disaster. I can see a parallel between the problem of only a few controlling 90% of the wealth in the world, and this new and bigger problem of only a few understanding how the world actually works. Are we heading for another dark age? Will the weight of pseudoscience drown out the voice of reason? I am now really concerned that eventually more and more people will believe in nonsense, such that the collective weight of numbers will drown out those of us who believe in science and logic. Once true scientific thought is driven underground and those in control are all pseudoscience and religious fools, the world will inevitably collapse into chaos. Imagine, important decisions about crop harvesting and farming are left to psychics (i.e. chance); energy production as we know it is replaced by free energy devices (i.e. nothing); Medical practitioners are all banned unless they use homeopathy, chiropractic, faith healing or any quackery (public health is non-existent)*; Psychics replace police departments (criminals lose all fear of getting caught); divining becomes our means of finding all natural resources; (we use pure luck to find anything).

A frightening aside to this medical quackery problem: I read an article a while back about the AIDS pandemic in Africa. Apart from the irrational responses of many African national leaders about the virus and how it is spread there was one particularly chilling account. Witch doctors in one regional area (Botswana from memory) were stating AIDS comes from some sort of evil spirit. The way for sufferers to cleanse themselves was to have unprotected sex with Virgins!!!! This is where the path of quackery can lead.

JREF is an apt title for your foundation. We really, really need everyone to have access to science-based education to prevent the looming disaster. A lecturer of mine used to say "common sense is not common" when illustrating the stupidity of some animal owners. (He lectured in equine medicine and surgery). I used to think this was a witty little phrase which helped explain why seemingly rational people sometimes do really stupid things. Now I think it is a frightening description of a growing proportion of our population.

I encourage readers to visit the link mentioned above, so that they can see how the writer of the anti-Randi tirade invents rules, opinions, attitudes, statements, and other canards for me. Of course, he has to do this, or my case stands out as established.

Reader "Gary" tells us:

As you probably already know, Sylvia Browne was again on the Larry King show Friday Dec 5, 2003. I forced myself to watch the program. What a [epithet] Sylvia is. She told one caller that her mother is dead (the callers mother). The caller said she would call her mother and ask. She told another one that her husband died of a stroke. The caller said heart attack. "No, no, no," said Sylvia, "it was a stroke, but that doesn't matter." Facts don't matter, it seems. When someone doesn't make the connection to the dead one Sylvia is describing, they must ask around in the family, someone in the family will surely make the connection. It is incredible that people fall for this rubbish. They call in, tell her the facts, she parrots the facts back, and they gawk in awe. Truly amazing. I have not followed Sylvia's history. Did she always talk to the dead, or is this something somewhat new? Is she trying to cash-in on a portion of John Edward's talking-to-the-dead market? Oh, BTW, I predict that Larry King, and Montel will not act as escrow agents. They may lose viewers if they partake, and to them, viewers are more important than integrity or truth.

For your information, even though Larry King received the Certified Mail letter from us 46+ days ago, he has not responded to our request — one way or the other. Does that seem strange, when Mr. King not only agreed, on his own program, to see that Browne would go through with the test, but appeared at one time to be willing to act as a go-between for us? No, we'll never test Sylvia, even though we've met every one of her capricious demands. She's back under her rock.

Our friend Ian Rowland — who you'll also see at TAM2 — asked me to post this request:

Next April and/or early May I'll be visiting a few of the New England states. The main purpose of this particular trip is to do some lectures for magicians and mentalists in various East Coast locations. However, if there's a chance to do some public lectures, similar to the one I had in June at Caltech, I could fit those in as well. In particular, I'd like to lecture at any of the so-called "Ivy League" universities.

Wait, there's more. Ian won't be charging for these lectures! So, if you've any connections to facilitate a lecture for the Ivy Leaguers, please get in touch! His CalTech lecture was hugely successful, and we're looking forward to hearing it in January.

A correspondent identified only as "Jeffrey" offers us some math:

Your commentary and calculations about homeopathy potencies on page "" prompted me to take the calculations a little further.

[He provides the calculations for a 30C potency homeopathic preparation.]

According to my calculations, to have just one entity of the active ingredient, e.g., a molecule, there must be a mass of water + alcohol equal to almost two billion Earths! Some might object that a normal dose simply has an extremely small amount of active ingredient, but "1 part" of an active ingredient means, for example, one molecule. A fraction of a molecule is, by definition, no longer that molecule.

Jeffrey, the homeopaths recognize this fact, but say that the "vibrations" of the original ingredient are still there. If you presented them with a moving-van full of "vibrations," they wouldn't know how to count, measure, or bottle them. But, they're rich, and getting richer, because all the responsible agencies fear to do anything about them.

I'll add here that I've looked into the TV-touted claims of a preparation called, "Zicam" which claims to be homeopathic. It sells for $12 a bottle, it lists the active ingredient as "zincum gluconicum" (which is fancy for zinc gluconate) but the dosage is hardly homeopathic: a person taking a dose of "1x" Zicam is getting exactly the dosage of usable zinc recommended by real doctors! It appears that the use of zinc may actually work to reduce the severity of cold symptoms, but why does the Zicam producer misrepresent it as "homeopathic," when it's clearly not? The answer may lie in the fact that the FDA cannot investigate any remedy labeled "homeopathic." Think about that….

Look in on to learn about a major lawsuit presently underway involving this product and some very serious and permanent damage said to have been suffered by some users….

A reader, Ing. Alejandro Medina de Wit, who lists himself as "Consultor en Tecnologías de Información" (Consultant in Informational Technologies) writes to me:

I had the opportunity of watching your show in the Discovery Channel a couple of weeks ago, and I was both intrigued and amused about the $1 million dollar challenge. I felt compelled to write you a short e-mail and express my personal opinion on the matter, with all the due respect. Not that I consider myself to be an official source of knowledge or an authority on the subject: I am a normal, down-to-earth fellow with an interest for both science and "spiritual matters" (I'd consider that last phrase to be an oxymoron). As a true Latin person — I was born in Southern Mexico, in the border with Guatemala — I grew up with all sorts of witchcraft, enchantments, myths, legends, and whatnot around me. My family is one with a strong appetite for Spirituality and as such, I grew up surrounded by all these things. I later acquired an appetite for Science and was lucky enough to have access to books on any conceivable subject that I could think of. Thus, I can be a true skeptic but with a mind open enough to accept that there are many things in our reality that simply cannot be explained.

Randi comments: I often hear this "things that cannot be explained" phrase used by otherwise well-informed people. This is a remarkable error. How could anyone possibly know that any "thing" cannot be explained? Perhaps Señor Medina meant, "things that have not yet been explained"?

My opinion is that no-one will ever be able to claim this $1 million dollar reward. Ever. It's only a waste of time. Amusing, yes, but a waste of time nevertheless.

Why? Because the whole concept, as my oxymoron above, is against the very idea it tries to state. You are indeed quite familiar with all the show people trying to obtain such prizes and recognition by means of basically fooling people. Parapsychologists, metapsychics and the rest of the clowns are nothing but people with strong imaginations and sometimes good intentions, at best. These people will never be able to claim the prize as they are basically fakes — unless they fool your tests, but I believe you are a very clever person surrounded by a team of very intelligent people that will not allow that to happen!

Next comes a huge assumption by this man, unsupported by evidence of any sort, but probably a remnant of his previous association with superstition — from which he's obviously not at all recovered.

There is however, another breed of people. True Masters, if you will. These are the people that are real, that are not interested in the matters of society. These people could very well surprise you and your team, if not scare the pants off you. Why then, do these people do not show up and claim the prize, you'd ask?

No, frankly, it never occurred to me to ask that. "These people" don't show up because they know well that they can't perform when properly observed. Think about Sylvia Browne and Uri Geller. And my pants are firmly in place. Let's see this scary event.

Well, think about it: If I were one of these real people (not that I am), if I had gotten to the point where I had transcended matter and was able to perform paranormal and supernatural feats, and I was able to manipulate reality at my will, why would I be interested in a puny $1 million reward? I'd have access to the Universe, to infinite knowledge. I'd be in utter peace with myself and the Creation, I'd have attained what is referred to as "Enlightenment." Why would I be interested in being dissected by a team of neurotic doctors, exposed to the public and risking ending my days in some doctor's lair in a museum, with my skull floating in formaldehyde among the rest of the human-induced freaks? Such a person, Mr. Randi, will never, ever, show and claim such a prize, because he/she will know that it will only bring disaster upon him/herself. Such a person knows that her/his only future would be the Cross, so to speak. The Creation, in Its infinite wisdom, only grants such powers to those with the consciousness to handle them. Not to greedy clowns.

Well, that last designation writes off a great number of possible contenders, to me. Note that we now have a character/element/deity/personality/spirit, or whatever, introduced into the discussion as "The Creation." From a promising start, this argument has suddenly become a metaphysical conundrum.

So forget about finding a real master that way, Mr. Randi. He/she will never come to you with that bait. It's only a childish presumption. If you're looking for such a person, it is you who will have to be found.

Incredible. These capricious and obviously shy "masters" just don't want to be found, it seems. Okay, I'll go along with the presumptions and the mythology. But I must ask this man, how is it that you are the one granted such powerful insight into the ways of deities? Why are you The Chosen One? Or doesn't that bother you? Much more importantly, a really simple question: where is the evidence — any evidence at all — that these "true masters" exist, or ever have existed….?

Take your place right over there with Sylvia Browne and the others, under the rock. Yes, it's getting crowded there, but they'll make room. I guess I'll just have to be content with lesser entities to try for the prize. The "real" guys are in their Ivory Towers, meditating — or whatever they do to escape their own egos. Our correspondent closed his comments with what I'm sure is a well-meant and genuine wish for me:

Good luck!

I assure you, señor, luck has nothing at all to do with it. And when I think of "true masters," I think of Vermeer, Rodin, and Beethoven….

Vaughn Smith offers us further comments on the "Ouija" board….

While Christmas shopping the other day, I passed two women in the games aisle who were in a heated discussion over what game to buy their teenage niece. One woman pointed to the Ouija board game and commented, much to my amusement, "Oh. Not that. Why do they even sell that? A device for contacting evil spirits." The other woman nodded her head in agreement and shuddered at the mention of it. It made me realize how different our two realities were. What would life be like, living in a world where toys from Wal-Mart could open the portal to another dimension filled with demons eager to destroy your life and haunt you forever — for a mere $16.99?

I couldn't resist, and commented, "Isn't it amazing how some $2-an-hour employee at Parker Brothers managed to crack the code of the universe years ago with a piece of wood and some plastic and was able to devise a foolproof contraption to contact the deceased?" They both gave me the strangest look because it was clear they couldn't compute what I had just said.

"On the other hand," I continued, "at least it doesn't need batteries."

Thought you might enjoy that. I know I did.

I'm laughing between the groans….

Enjoy the holidays, folks. Be good to one another, feed someone who's hungry, comfort a stranger, smile at a little child. Do what we should all be doing, every day.

Without needing a holiday to remind us….