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Some farces come and go inside of a few weeks. Some, however, are perpetuated, promoted, maintained, and celebrated by interested agencies or persons who benefit from their existence. One of the latter is the claimed liquefaction of a half-vial of reddish jelly which is supposed to be the congealed blood of Saint Gennaro – Januarius – fortuitously saved as it issued from the trunk of the saints body when he was beheaded back in the third century C.E. See for more.

Go to,7792,1586139,00.html to see excellent coverage of that tired old blood-of-the-saint claim that the Church is still flogging to the terminally naïve. As we’d hoped, members of CICAP – Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Affermazioni sul Paranormale – were consulted. Said our excellent friend Massimo Polidoro, after bombing out this farce:

We’re accused of being blasphemous but we are not interested in people's religious beliefs. We are people who want to understand the world around us. When people have both sides of a story, they can make up their own minds.

There’s some exciting new claptrap for Massimo and his colleagues to examine, too. CICAP's next project will be to investigate crop circles, a new phenomenon for Italy. Massimo is hardly fazed. Says he:

[The Italian crop circles] are pretty simple at the moment, nothing like the ones you see in England. But I'm sure the people who are doing them here will catch up soon.

I’m sure he’s right. The fantasists will ooh and aah, and books verifying these miracles in Italian, will swiftly appear…


Corn Again?

Reader Chip Taylor of Cabot, Vermont, told us ( about the issue of Goddard College and the Crop Circle Conference scheduled there. Here’s his promised follow-up:

I attended – off and on – a small alumni reunion at Goddard this past weekend. In bringing up the matter of the Crop Circle Conference, I can report that several folks associated with the college agreed with me, and further said that this sort of thing (the Conference), "... didn't sound like something the current College President would support." And indeed, I did get a written reply from him (Dated 22 Sept). Excerpts from his letter follow:

You have pointed out something of importance that has been discussed at Goddard more than once in the past. As you can imagine, income from the College's auxiliary services is an important component of revenue. You should know that rental of College space is not to be construed as an endorsement of the organization using Goddard's facilities, or the views of that organization... however, there certainly are organizations whose missions may be so divergent from Goddard's own that we would recommend the exploration of alternative space, and not make space available at Goddard.

Although I personally agree with your opinion about the particular organization you have identified in your letter, the organization's mission does not conflict with the College's mission to such an extent that refusing to make space available would have been necessary or appropriate. In the past, we have hosted . . . [Here he lists a number of events and conferences of a political but not "woo-woo" nature] I am certain that somebody somewhere might raise concerns about any of these for some reason . . . we are committed to applying our institutional mission and ethics to determining whom we would turn away from Goddard College.

Please be assured that we take very seriously any endorsement of organizations, be it explicit or implied, and that we will be intentional and careful about such associations (real and perceived) in the future.

Granted this isn't a refutation of the Crop Circle Conference, and it's written in an academically careful manner, but overall it's a bit encouraging, at least. The President does say he agrees with my opinion of the group in question. Maybe it's a start. And I did have a short but rational chat with the new Dean of Undergraduate Programs. So perhaps a follow-up visit to discuss those "Healing Arts" faculty/courses might be worthwhile.

You should know, Mr. Randi, that Carl Sagan's Goddard visit those 42 years ago had a profound impact on me. I owe it to his legacy to do what I can to keep that flickering candle flame lit against the darkness.

I told Chip that he might wish to suggest to the President the same action that the Smithsonian used when faced with a similar situation, the “Smithsonian Solution”: have a representative of the college present at the start of the conference to clearly state to those assembled that Goddard does not necessarily endorse the subject under discussion, and that no such inference should be taken.

I must extend my sincere kudos to Goddard’s President for responding to Chip’s inquiry; most persons in his position would choose to ignore that inconvenience. .


Reader Dr. Dave Touretzky of Carnegie-Mellon informs us about “Applied Scholastics,” a clever Church of Scientology ploy to infiltrate educational systems:

Dr. Chris Wright, Superintendent of the Hazelwood School District in Missouri, was not pleased when Bennetta Slaughter (CEO of “Applied Scholastics”) falsely announced that her group would be partnering with the Hazelwood Public Schools to provide supplementary tutoring to Hazelwood students. In part, Dr. Wright's letter to Slaughter said:

We have repeatedly indicated that we are not interested in your services, not willing to participate in your training programs, do not want your materials, and will not enter into any association with Applied Scholastics.

That seems to-the-point, clear, and definitive. The art of writing such statements seems to be a waning one, though the JREF strives to perpetuate it…. Dr. Touretsky continues:

Dr. Wright was also not happy with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which granted Applied Scholastics' application for “approved provider status” without any meaningful review of the organization or its materials. Her letter to Commissioner Dr. Kent King warns that Applied Scholastics is trying to hide its Scientology connection, and suggests that the department should reexamine its approval.

More kudos! It’s been a good week! It remains to be seen whether the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reacts to Dr. Wright’s notice. It appears that maybe Missouri really deserves its “Show-Me State” status!


Reader James Rice of Falkville, Alabama, asks us:

First I want to thank you for your tireless work to educate people about the rampant nonsense in our world today. I have to check out your website every week to keep up with the latest goings-on.

What I'm writing about this week is a commercial that came on during, of all programs, Carl Sagan's “Cosmos” on the science channel. This is a commercial pushing a book by “Dr.” James Chappell claiming to offer people an all natural cure for diabetes. My bullshit detector immediately pegged out and I was disappointed that such drivel would air on that channel. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised though; after all, an advertising dollar is an advertising dollar, even if it’s for a dubious product.

Of course Dr. Chappell offers no evidence to back up his statements and makes the usual claims that the drug companies don't want you to know about the “all-natural” cure he is offering. I hope nobody is hurt or dies because they stop their medication and follow whatever treatment he is touting.

I tried to find out more about this scam on but there is nothing there yet; I guess this must be something new. If you do get a chance to check this out yourself or find out more about this I hope you can include it in one of your weekly commentaries.

Quack And Ring Well, James, I looked up James Chappell. His “doctorate” is in chiropractic – which rings alarm bells immediately. He also claims to be a “naturopathic” physician, clinical nutritionist, and medical herbalist. He says he “specializes in chronic, severe and terminal illnesses,” but he

…does not treat disease, but rather teaches people how to heal themselves using classical, aboriginal and advanced quantum energy natural healing protocols from around the world.

Damn! Who can resist accepting “quantum energy natural healing protocols”? That’s advanced science, if I ever heard it! Ah, but he has real qualifications, as well! He says he spent ten years as one of the lot doctors at Universal, MGM, Paramount, and Burbank studios in Hollywood, California, “seeing actors, producers and directors.” Gee, if I go there, I’ll “see” all those folks, as well, or does Chappell mean that he actually did anything for them? I’m sure there were enough dippy individuals there he could preach to, however.

He’s also the publisher of the book he’s touting. Hark! The quacking and bell-ringing just went up a notch!



A reader whose name should be unspecified:

A while ago I wrote to you and the JREF regarding a conference on energy healing being held at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Clinic, part of the group of hospitals and clinics including Massachusetts General Hospital. Apparently my e-mails to the organizers of that event went unheeded as the following announcement, received today (10-7-05), shows:


Thursday, October 27th, 6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. 101 Main Street, Suite 101, Medford MA

Join us for an evening of revitalization as you learn about and experience Reiki/energy healing. Featuring Spaulding Rehab’s own Reiki/Energy Healing Practitioners. RSVP to Renuka Jain by October 21, 781-391-7518

I do not have time to attend this to ask critical questions of the presenters, and, not having letters after my name, I fear my comments would be dismissed out of hand anyway. As an employee of MGH, however, this embarrasses me for the hospital and its affiliates, and angers me that such bunk is being promoted.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can combat such quackery here?

On October 7th, a week ago, I wrote the following letter to Eric D. Leskowitz, M.D., with copies to Eve Kennedy-Spaien, Joseph F. Audette, M.D., Kimberly T. Myerson, and Jerrold F. Rosenbaum, M.D. – all MGH persons directly connected with this matter:

Dr. Leskowitz:

I am directing this note to you and a few colleagues.

We at the James Randi Education Foundation are seriously dismayed to find that the Massachusetts General Hospital is sponsoring “an evening of revitalization” promoting Reiki and “energy healing” on October 27th.

The Massachusetts General Hospital and the Spaulding Rehabilitation Clinic appear to have excellent reputations – attributes that would encourage the public to trust and rely on any lectures, presentations, or endorsement made by or at these agencies. The blatantly quack notions known as reiki, and “energy healing,” are subjects for giddy New Age seminars, not public presentations upon which people depend for legitimate information about health care. There is zero scientific support for reiki and “energy healing,” and I am surprised and shocked to find that those who made arrangements for this MGH conference, did so without troubling to determine whether these subjects were based on fact, or on superstition.

You advertise that the Spaulding Rehabilitation Clinic is the only rehabilitation hospital in New England ranked among the nation's best in U.S. News & World Report, and that it ranks among the ten best in the USA. You advertise that Spaulding is a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, home to Harvard Medical School's Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and to its residency training program. You strive, you say, to “remain on the cutting edge of rehabilitation medicine.” Doctor, reiki and “energy healing” are NOT on any “cutting edge”; they are retreats to superstition and medieval thinking. Does Harvard University share your embrace of quackery?

MGH has a responsibility in this matter, to correctly inform the public that there is no scientific – or any other – basis to the quack notions that are being offered at the Clinic in this hospital-sponsored conference. For our part, we will publish a notice to that effect on our next – October 14th – web page, at, along with this letter.

No response has so far been received. It appears that the quackery session, an exhibit and endorsement of hand-waving, pseudoscience, and superstition, will take place under the auspices of Massachusetts General Hospital as officially scheduled.


Reader Olivier Van Cantfort, in Belgium, tells us of a local hoax done there. Go to the site only when you have time for a long session; it’s quite lengthy, but revealing. Writes Olivier:

First I would like to express my congratulations for your very informative and entertaining column.

One reader comment in this week’s commentary about how seriously internet parodies can be taken by some people, also rang a bell with me. This reader mentioned: "... On one page, I discuss how Snow White threatened to sue Disney when an apple she was given turned out to be poisonous. A while back, I received an e-mail from a producer at NBC asking how she could get in contact with the person mentioned on my site because she was working on a news story about food poisoning at amusement parks...."


Well, just to prove that stupidity is a worldwide pandemic and that TV show investigators obey the same rules everywhere, the same kind of adventure happened to a French satiric website. The whole story, translated in English, is available at
However, the story didn’t end with the E-mail they received from the first French TV, because the creators of the web site decided to go on for the fun and they staged a full scale hoax! They really trapped the TV show crew and convinced them of the whole story which ended up being broadcast on prime time – including shooting in a totally phony art exhibition, and interviews onstage. They sent denials everywhere the day after the show. All this created quite a shock in the little French media world.
This is both very fun and very enlightening about how deep and thorough some TV show investigations can be, especially if, just like this French TV show, the name of the show is "Incredible But True !" or similar...

As if we needed evidence that the media can be hoaxed….! Thank you, Olivier.


Reader Prescott Carlson is the Principal/Creative Director of Prudentia Communications Group in East Dundee, Illinois. He writes about the serious technical problems he faces with the noble art of Feng Shui:

Your account in this week's commentary of yet another goofy embracing of Feng Shui prompted me to write in about an encounter I had recently.

I am a freelance web programmer and designer, and last week a referral came to me asking for a bid to complete a website for their yoga studio. They listed the normal expected requirements I get from most clients, except for the one at the bottom of the list – "overall web design must conform to the principles of Feng Shui." So apparently Feng Shui may be applied in a two-dimensional environment as well! I wonder, though, would the flow of qi generated from the site suffer because the visitor was using a computer in a windowless guest bedroom? What if they’re facing west with their laptop in the local Starbucks? If I keep a goldfish bowl near me when coding the HTML, will this bring more success to the website? Does a formula need to be applied to take into account the energy output of the monitor?

I respectfully declined their invitation. I've experienced clients where we could not agree on a design concept, but I certainly wasn't about to have mockups rejected for not having the correct “energy”....

Thank you so much for all of the hard work you and the JREF staff do every day, it is greatly appreciated.

But there’s more on this subject:


Reader Paul Claessen of Palm Bay, Florida, tells us of his wife’s weird epiphany:

Thank you so much for your brilliant commentary on NBC-TV’s show covering “Feng Shui.” It’s been a while since something made me laugh so hard that I almost fell out of my chair. I immediately sent a link to your article to my wife, but I’m afraid that she didn’t fully get the gist of your writing as she informed me that she found something interesting in this ancient Asian wisdom that would possibly work for her. She wrote me:

I really enjoyed Mr. Randi’s article about Feng Shui, but I must say that I found something in Ms. Barrett’s remarks that struck me as wonderful advice worth experimenting with: I read her remark “Anything that brings you happiness, that makes you feel inspired and motivated, that’s what you should have in your office” and immediately complied with this notion by throwing out all the bills and not paying them.

Mr. Randi, I hope you realize your writings sometimes may have inadvertent side effects! But thanks for publishing them anyways…


Reader Denny Scott of Melbourne Beach, Florida, has noticed:

I was shocked to pick up a friend's copy of the AARP [American Association of Retired Persons] magazine for Sept./Oct. and find an article, "Spark Your Sixth Sense." Seems that, "... Unlike other senses, it turns out, psychic abilities may actually benefit from aging." Guess you – Mr. Randi – have not yet aged enough to develop these powers.

The article goes on to quote Emily Williams Kelly, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia, and Lisa Nash, a clairvoyant and online psychic reader at Global Psychic, Inc. with tips to improve your sixth sense.

Ironically, earlier in the magazine was an article on tips for seniors to avoid scams and charlatans. Who knew that advice would come in handy so soon.

Go to to see the article in question. It starts out, “Just for fun…” as if readers should not take it seriously – but obviously, many will, especially since a Ph.D. and a “clairvoyant” are quoted. And look into the University of Virginia to see just how thoroughly woo-woo they are. A short excerpt from the vapid content of this AARP article should be sufficient warning to the consumer:

Lisa Nash

"Signs are everywhere," adds Lisa Nash, a clairvoyant and online psychic reader at Global Psychic, Inc. "Pay attention to what you see while you are driving. It may be an indication of what's in your life's path. A dead deer on the side of the road might indicate that you are neglecting your inner power that comes from gentleness."

How about – just getting down to Earth for a for a moment – “A deer got hit by a car”? One can only wonder how this intellectual giant would interpret sightings of (1) a dead raccoon, (2) an old bathtub, or (3) a telephone book; perhaps (1) a bank robbery – that mask, you see! (2) wash away your sins, and (3) make lots of new friends? Lisa Nash tells us she’s a clairvoyant, a clairaudient, and a clairsentient; no mention of claire-de-lune, or moonlight….

This is all just such obvious trash that anyone can see through it, but AARP readers are vulnerable, and the Association appears to be more interested in titillation – or filling space in the magazine – than in publishing useful facts. I have successfully resisted the numerous invitations-to-join that AARP continues to drop in my mailbox regularly, for that very reason.


Take a look at to see the latest old news on Sylvia Browne, courtesy of our friend from CSICOP, Joe Nickell…


Every time I see even the slightest retreat toward reality by the woo-woos, I take hope. We’ve just learned that the Roman Catholic Church has published a “teaching document” – whatever that means – instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true! Now, this will seriously annoy the fundamentalists, who accept everything – including the page-numbering in the Bible – without question. Their statement says that worshippers “should not expect total accuracy” from the Bible.

Coming as it does amid the terrifying rise of the religious Right, in particular in the USA, this is an important development. The ID nut-cases of course want a literal interpretation of the story of creation as told in Genesis, taught in schools along with Darwin’s theory of evolution as if the two were comparable. This latest view by the church is that due to obvious inconsistencies in the story, the Biblical versions cannot be “historical.” At most, we’re told, they may contain “historical traces.” Gee, that goes for “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” too!

The next thing we know, the Church will be forgiving Galileo. Oh, wait a minute. They already did that – or didn’t you hear? It only took them three centuries to think it over. Way to go!

Two senior Catholic prelates said people today "are searching for what is worthwhile, what has real value, what can be trusted and what is really true." I accept that. In other words, science – right?


Reader Charles Smallwood alerts us:

I got on the site that you mentioned in your most recent commentary. I signed up to receive "7 Great Lies of Religion" this site claims to expose. This doesn't exactly promote atheism, instead these emails talk about "God" and “Jesus,” etc. Of course, I've only received the first three of seven lessons, and they're nothing profound so far. It looks like this guy is just promoting his own version of "God" rather than atheism.  

I’d appreciate other interested readers who might look in on the site, and see if Charles’ apprehensions are well-founded. Please?


Here is the entire text of a letter sent by Dr. Bruce Flamm just recently concerning his ongoing battle to get some honesty in operation with the Journal of Reproductive Medicine (JRM), a publication until now believed to be dedicated to responsible reporting of scientific research in its specialty. A fertility study they published claimed that distant prayer caused an astounding 100% increase in the success rate of “complex infertility treatment.”  If that were so, one would think that fertility clinics all over the world would be rushing to replicate these amazing results.  However, four years has passed since the Columbia "miracle" study was published and not a single medical clinic in any nation is taking this absurd claim seriously.  I’ve handled this subject here before, and Dr. Flamm has fought valiantly to get the JRM to do the right thing – all to no avail. I don’t prefer this kind of action, but I will now urge my readers to send actual postal letters to the JRM and to Dr. Lawrence Devoe, asking him to respond appropriately to this legitimate request for action.

Lawrence Devoe

Here is the text of Dr. Flamm’s self-explanatory letter:

October 10, 2005

Lawrence D. Devoe, MD
Journal of Reproductive Medicine
8342 Olive Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63132-2814
RE: Highly flawed and possibly fraudulent study

Dear Dr. Devoe:

Below is a copy of a letter I sent you three months ago. To the best of my knowledge, you have not taken action and the flawed Cha/Wirth study (formerly the Cha/Wirth/Lobo study) has still not been retracted. Since I last wrote you, this scandal has escalated to the point that it now involves the president of Columbia University, Professor Lee Bollinger.

I recently received letters about this embarrassing situation from Mr. Bollinger and from Dr. Gerald Fischbach, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Columbia. My understanding is that Columbia University has contacted you and insisted that you remove all links to Columbia University from the flawed publication. I am not aware of any other case in which a university has presented a medical journal editor with a similar demand. This unprecedented action speaks volumes.

Several colleagues in our field have informed me that you are a reasonable man. Clearly, you were not the Editor-In-Chief when this bizarre study was published but, unfortunately, you “inherited” the problem. In any case, you are now at the helm and the reputation of the Journal of Reproductive Medicine is in your hands. Sadly, despite mountains of evidence that the Cha/Wirth study is flawed and possibly fraudulent, it has not been retracted. As you are aware, Mr. Daniel Wirth, the man with no scientific or medical credentials who designed and supposedly conducted this study, remains in federal prison. I again urge you to take the ethical course of action and retract this bizarre “supernatural” publication from your evidence-based medical journal.

Bruce L. Flamm, MD
Clinical Professor
University of California, Irvine.

Folks, recently your letters to Walgreen’s Pharmacy got the Trudeau book off their shelves, but this is a far more serious situation, and your immediate assistance is needed to make JRM and Dr. Devoe react. Please help. Thanks.


(With appropriate acknowledgement to Todd Robbins!)

Jack Ames of Waterloo, NSW, Australia, is one of our more colorful readers, I think you’ll agree. He sent us this interesting account:

A number of years ago I saw in LIFE magazine an article in which you demonstrated what goes on in the old "Three-card Monte" game. I carried it around with me for years until finally it fell apart somewhere along The Road. It was a fine article, and correct as far as it went; however a very important – vital – part, was not mentioned.

I was born and raised on carnivals and circuses in the U.S. During the summer of 1947, when I was 16 years old, I worked as the "stick-handler" for the best "broad-tosser" in the business: Otis Hackman. (Carnies called the three-card monte game, "tossing the broads" because traditionally three queens – one red, two black – were used.)

Randi comments: Though Jack may never have heard this, I’ve been through many discussions with experts – from Sid Radner through John Scarne – about that label, some using the expression “board-tosser” derived from the concept of tossing pieces of cardboard back-and-forth. In any case, it’s “three-card monte.” The word “monte” – Spanish for “mountain” – or for the portion of the card-deck that remains after the hands are dealt out – is taken from “mountebank,” referring to a quack who addresses a crowd of assembled suckers from an elevated position. Today that would include those who do this from a stage or the TV screen. Hello, Sylvia Browne, Kevin Trudeau? Jack continues:

The “Broad Mob” consisted of the Dealer; the Shade, whose business it was to set the tone of the game – create confusion, etc., the Stick-handler, who fed and collected money from the town marks we used, usually three or four locals. Carnies never, never, used the word, "shills." We called them “sticks.”

Otis Hackman was a hero, and carnies – the few Old Timers who remain – still talk about his prowess with the cards. He was a narcotics addict and kept up his habit through money he earned dealing monte; in turn, the dope gave him an amazing facility as a dealer.

Are you interested in knowing the final secret? I guarantee you it is "fair dinkum," as we say down here in Australia, where I have lived the past forty years. I am a retired journalist.

I of course immediately responded:

Please tell! I suspect it's something to do with the actual physical placing of the cash.... I've seen a few variations on this. Or, it may be the bent-corner gaff.

I have copies of that LIFE article. I've just mailed you one.

An amazed Jack answered:

I'll be damned! You hit the nail on the head, mate. I should have known.

I never ceased to be astonished at the control Otis had. He'd pretend to have a coughing fit and the Shade would lean over and quickly put a "lug" on the corner of the red one, making sure the mark saw it. Then, as you know, he'd shuffle them a few more times, taking the lug off the red queen and putting one on a black queen. No one would ever pick the red queen.

Randi comments: Well, Jack, I had good teachers, and I paid attention. Concerning the above paragraph, it tells us exactly what’s meant by a “confidence game.” Here the “mark” – sucker – appears to have been given an advantage over the Dealer, an unfair and dishonest advantage, and by trying to take the benefit from it, he outsmarts himself and loses. Most importantly, he can’t complain about it, because he’d have to admit that he himself was trying to cheat…! He’s apparently been taken into a confidence, and that has turned the game against him, with poetic justice clearly shown. Back to Jack:

In Galesburg, Illinois, we scored $1500 from a deputy sheriff – no small sum in those days – the Shade started a big commotion, and we took off under the sidewall [of the tent, or “top”]. It was an exciting life for a pimple-faced young'un.

Over the years, I've seen a few other dealers, and all of them were tragically inept. One was in the front of the Haymarket Theatre in London, another in San Francisco.

Randi comments: Well, I might have also seen that same guy operating at the Haymarket, Jack – he was really bad – but I’ve seen mighty fine broad/board tossers in other parts of London, in Barcelona, in New York City, and in Lima, Peru.

I'd like to thank you for holding that little back, and so do all the carnies and tossers. I've written many stories about The Road, but never gave the total gaff away. My old Dad (and Otis), now gone to that Great Winterquarters in the Sky all those years ago, would've come back to haunt me.

Many, many thanks to you.

P.S. : A great fan of yours was the late writer, Wm. S. Burroughs. He was a dear friend of mine. He loved hearing my Road stories, especially that one.

Cheers, mate...

Dear reader: Courtesy of Mr. Jack Ames – and I helped – you’ve now enriched and advanced your vocabulary with some new words, among them: board-tosser, Broad Mob, broad-tosser, confidence game, Dealer, gaff, lug, mark, monte, mountebank, Shade, stick-handler, stick, sucker, top, and tossing the broads! As always, we’re entertaining, as well as educational!

But one poetic reference here from Jack might have escaped you: The Road. That, particularly to a carnie, is the world out there, with its good and bad people, celebrations and regrets, delights and problems, victories and losses. It’s the process of survival, the path we all take – each in our own way – between Birth and Death. Alongside The Road, we either leave behind good deeds, or bad ones that will serve as lessons to others; worst of all, we might leave nothing behind. For there to be no sign at all that we passed through this world, is very sad, to my mind.

Ladies and Gentlemen! Step right up!

The Road lies ahead….


Reader Bob Howell sends us to an hilarious site: that will have you in stitches. Click on “Watch Film” and he sure you’re sitting down….

If you’re still able to, next click on

That should be enough entertainment for this week….