BENNY HINN TUMBLES IN DENMARK

Correspondent Claus Larsen, in Denmark, gives us an account of the recent appearance in Copenhagen of televangelist Benny Hinn:

On April 28-30, faith healer Benny Hinn, whose ministry rakes in millions of dollars each year from sick, deluded and desperate people, held a three-day seminar in central Copenhagen. Over 20,000 people attended, from all over the world. Let there be no doubt about it: It was a huge success. On www.BennyHinn.dk you can read about how the "Benny Hinn Crusade Reaches the Whole Nation." TV2, one of the two major Danish domestic tv-channels, Saturday night April 29th, broadcast a 2½-minute-long feature prime time on the TV2 7 p.m. News. This gave the whole nation of Denmark the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the message of Jesus Christ as the Savior of all mankind, Benny Hinn version.

Curiously enough, there was absolutely no mention of a 13-minute feature on DR, the biggest Danish TV channel. Or, maybe not so curiously, because that feature took the skeptical approach, instead of the uncritical segment on TV2. Øjvind Kyrø, who also produced the television series "A Sense of Deceit" (www.randi.org/jr/060603.html and www.randi.org/jr/040403.html) took a crew from DR to the show, with permission to film what turned out to be a killer performance.

It was heart-breaking. Among the many sick and handicapped, we followed a 9-year-old girl, Kisser, who is suffering from a crippled spine, immobilized from the navel down, and thus confined to a wheelchair, probably for life. Her father had his hopes up from the start. Benny Hinn simply had to, one way or another, cure his daughter. "Today, it may be Kisser's turn", he said, with the girl on his lap. "We don't know if it is, but we will keep on, until it is. We have to."

Randi comments: Here is Hinn at his devious best. I’m reminded of the Toronto encounter I had with him. The parents of a little boy about eight years old tried desperately to get by the security lineup at the back of the main floor, and finally burst through carrying the child up to the foot of the stage, shouting that they had been to several of these meetings, but had always been denied access to the stage area. The child appeared to have some sort of palsy, and was twitching and crying out sporadically. Coolly, Hinn beckoned to them to come onstage, first whispering something to a guard.

The couple approached, Hinn took the boy in his arms, the lights came down to highlight him, and he said – from my memory, since this item was excised from the program as it was broadcast – “Lord, we pray that you will heal this innocent child. Do it now, or in a day or two, or a week, or whenever your great wisdom tells you. But we know you will heal him, as you have promised.” Hinn handed the child to a guard, then burst into song. Two more guards closed in, and forced the parents down the side stairs and into the hall leading out of the stadium. They unlocked the chained door and pushed all three out into the street. The parents’ objections were drowned in the music and hosannas…

Though this was videotaped by the Hinn organization, it was of course never used in the sanitized broadcast that went out after editing. Claus continues…

Thus, the stage was set, and the play could begin. Looking more like a rock concert than a sermon, it took several hours of uplifting singing, praying and hollering before Benny Hinn appeared. A large number of security guards, flown in from the US, made sure that everything happened the way it should. And Benny Hinn had hardly appeared on stage, before he gave the order: He whispered to an aide with a microphone, and then stared right into the main camera. After which, the camera was ordered to be shut off.

His spokesperson, Truett Hancock, explained: "The unfortunate truth is, the media has not really given us a fair deal, in reporting on the miracles that have taken place, and so we've just had to make the decision to avoid allowing the media to do that." In other words, "You guys don't tell it the way we want it, so you can't film what's really going on."

Fortunately, Øjvind Kyrø had anticipated this, and had placed hidden cameras elsewhere. What they filmed was the usual shtick, described in your book, "The Faith Healers": Lofty promises of miracles galore, hours of mindless droning, the most gullible being filtered before allowed on stage, old ladies jumping about, glowing endorsements from the gullible afterwards. Miracles were happening all over the place: Somebody was being healed of a skin disease to the right. Someone's spine had been healed. Some could feel a fire in their body. Some could even feel a "warm sensation in their bodies.” These people were never named, of course. Who wants to check, when the Holy Spirit – in the form of Benny Hinn – is at work?

Many people in the audience were in ecstasy. The blessed – and most malleable – few, who were lucky enough, made it to the stage. A child, suffering a brain tumor to be operated the upcoming week, was promised that God's power had already begun to work in her body. An elderly lady could stroll without her walker. A woman with bone cancer could wiggle her arms and legs (with Benny Hinn mimicking her movements, in one of the most cruel, mocking scenes I have ever seen). After these miraculous healings, Benny Hinn touched their foreheads, or threw bolts of God's healing power at them, and, BAM!, down they went, in a frenzied ecstasy.

Randi comments: Those who are admitted to the stage are all very carefully chosen, as I indicated above. As with all the so-called “faith healers,” anyone in a customized wheelchair, anyone showing an amputation or other obviously untreatable disability, is barred from the stage area and kept at the back of the auditorium where there are no TV lights. In the lobby afterward, there are often victims writhing on the floor, having recovered from the adrenaline rush they underwent when first touched by the “healer.” They are ignored by those leaving the arena, since they’d “lost the faith” and were once again in the thrall of Satan.

One could almost smell the endorphins. And there was never any role-playing. Oh, no. Only Britney Spears could have done a worse acting job.

Unfortunately, the little girl with a damaged back did not regain her health – she had to drive home with her parents, disappointed. She did, however, had a more pronounced desire to stand up and walk than she had before. Somehow, I think her parents hoped more than she did. She never looked as if she believed anything would happen anyway. Which, in the Land of Faith Healing, means that she is to blame for Benny Hinn's failure. If you are cured, it is the work of God (through the faith healer). If you are not cured, it is because you haven't believed enough.

But desperation breeds hope, hope springs eternal, and hope will make people pay. The collection of money (cash, checks or plastic) in white buckets to fund these "crusades," while songs of the promise of upcoming miracles churned out from the stage, made it very clear: "Prosperity Teaching" means that you can be healed, but only if you pay up. You have to "plant a seed," before you can bask in the grace of Hinn… sorry, God. A true Faustian deal with the devil.

And then, it was time for rationality to kick in on the Øjvind Kyrø show. A psychiatrist, Henrik Day Poulsen, explained that Hinn was merely using very simple but powerful methods to control people to give him money. He made it clear that it was extremely unethical to lure people to believe that e.g. a small child with a brain tumor could be cured in a second.

Michael Ahlstrand, magician and skeptic, who was both at the show and in the studio afterwards, aptly explained what was really going on, complete with a brief demonstration of how a person could be "hypnotized." Cool, calm, and collected, he gave a sound, rational explanation, thoroughly countering everything that had happened.

It was a very, very good show, exposing Benny Hinn's money-grubbing scheme of exploiting the sick and gullible, his voluptuous stays in hyper-expensive hotels (he reportedly stayed at the Copenhagen Marriott, in the Royal Suite, costing over $3,000 a night), and his refusal to let a free press operate, even turning down an interview – which he never gives. The skeptics were able to explain, calmly, honestly and seriously, how Benny Hinn operated. Only the most desperate would believe in Benny Hinn after that feature. Which, I'm afraid, they will.

Not a single newspaper had any follow-ups, though. Ah, well... Can't have it all, I suppose.

We can assume that Hinn will simply move on, wait for Øjvind’s efforts to be forgotten, and return to Denmark when he wants some more kroner. And the audience – new victims and the old ones – will be there, ready to be conned…

Thank you, Claus.




DEVILS & DEMONS & SPOOKS – OH MY!

Dorothy in Oz would be pleased. Not to our surprise, we find a news release saying that more than half of the Church of Scotland's 1,200 ministers are reporting personal experience of "dark spirits" and "evil powers." Ever eager to confront sin and imaginary forces, “The Kirk” is now planning to train their ministers to deal with "Satanic" forces. That includes everything from poltergeists to "possessed" parishioners. A “leading expert” on the subject says that ministers will not be taught how to conduct exorcisms, however; this is obviously highly specialized work, getting rid of something that’s not there in the first place. The ministers will be advised to refer parishioners to a small team of frocked experts in the paranormal. Happily, they will also make sure those afflicted with flying chairs and spinning heads will take advice from doctors and psychiatrists, who are a distant second in this field because they insist on logic and rationality – a far cry from The Kirk’s pursuit and appeal.

A report for the Kirk's Deliverance Group on the supernatural confirmed that despite living in a materialistic age, many parishioners say they have encountered the Dark Side. A spokesman for the Church of Scotland declared, “In recent years there is much more openness about discussing the subject." He said that full-blown exorcisms, where ministers believed that a person had been “fully possessed" by a devil, are so rare that he had never come across one. Something will have to be done about that! He described a more commonly found, lesser, form of demonic possession, where a spirit will afflict a person, perhaps by causing “mood swings, physical pain or depression.” Though to a callous sceptic these may appear to be rather common situations which are improved by the presence of friends and family, or by a visit to the local G.P., the church embraces them as being the results of woo-woo interference from forces that are not visible, palpable, nor provable – but very popular. Being demon-inhabited can raise one’s status in many communities.

The church spokesman described one case he’d dealt with by a “deliverance,” which is far less than an exorcism. He said:

I was speaking to a woman who felt she was being oppressed by a spirit, and wanted help. Then the atmosphere changed and she started being hostile to me. I then addressed her by name, we'll call her “Mary,” and I said, “Is that you speaking to me, Mary?” And she said nothing. So that told me I was dealing with something supernatural.

What could be more obvious?

The “deliverance” service offered by the church can last up to an hour and involves two ministers, one who orders the spirit out of the possessed person, and the other praying for the minister doing the delivering. This is plainly a dangerous procedure. A loose demon might pop into your body…

We’re assured – tongue in cheek? – that the ministers only intervene after taking medical and psychiatric advice…

The Reverend Douglas Irving, a former lawyer who convened the Deliverance Group for the Kirk – and who says that he himself has dealt with a poltergeist – said:

Jesus commissioned us to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, and also cast out demons. It is a part of healing, even if just a small part. I don't like the Hollywood image of the exorcist and don't even use the word “exorcism.” I want to take the sensationalism out of the whole thing.

Come on, Doug, get real. There’s no “sensationalism” in your religion? Devils, demons, raising the dead, ghosts, eternal life, transubstantiation, etc., etc.?

Happily, one of those awful “secular scientists,” Dr. Andrew Gumley, an expert in psychosis at Glasgow University's department of psychological medicine, said:

This is a fascinating subject but I would urge people to be careful about seeing all these kinds of occurrences in terms of the supernatural and possession by the Devil. For example, hearing voices at some stage in one's life is relatively common, affecting up to 25% of the population and it can be a common feature in people recovering from extreme trauma.

Gumley, by being rational, you’re playing with eternal damnation here….




ONGOING COMPLAINTS DEPARTMENT

Reader Myron Getman writes:

I'm an employee of the State of New York. Each year, there is a craft-fair held around Christmas time on the Concourse level of the Empire State Plaza. I work in the Wadsworth Laboratories which are right off the Concourse. As a result, I walk to and from work past the craft-fair.

This year I noticed two vendors selling magnetic jewelry, and both were making outlandish claims about pain relief and healing powers associated with their jewelry – complete with big signs, red letters and, holy cow!....anecdotal evidence! I couldn't take seeing them mislead people any longer and I sent the following letter to the Office of General Services [OGS], the Attorney General, and the Governor.

I am writing to express my disgust at seeing not one, but two vendors selling magnetic jewelry at the recent holiday craft-fair on the Concourse level of the Empire State Plaza. I have no objections toward what they are selling but, rather, I am extremely worried about the claims they are making concerning their products. They claim that magnetic jewelry helps ease pain or actually cures certain conditions!  There is absolutely no scientific data supporting this claim and statements of this type are irresponsible, deceptive, and fraudulent.  As an employee of the New York State Department of Health, I am insulted OGS or anyone else involved with the State of New York would allow something of this nature to be sold on State property!

The jewelry they are selling is composed of a natural form of iron ore called magnetite. As indicated by the mineral’s name, magnetite’s main characteristic is that it is naturally magnetized. In the past this material has been referred to as “lodestone” and was used in early compasses. Magnetite, when polished, has a pleasing gunmetal metallic luster that makes it suitable for jewelry or other decorative purposes. Irresponsible individuals use magnetite’s very real properties to create and sell very fake “healing” or “pain reducing” jewelry.  These individuals then use anecdotal evidences to support their claims. Unfortunately, anecdotes cannot be substantiated or tested and, if anything, only indicate a placebo effect.

Randi comments: Myron then outlined three extensive studies of the claimed “magnetic healing” effect which were very negative. He continued:

Why do I think the State is in error by allowing these people to sell their “harmless” placebos on the Concourse?  They are selling a product that does not do what they claim. Furthermore, their claims could prevent or postpone someone from seeking treatment they really need. There is legal precedent for the prosecution of individuals and companies who falsely claim healing or pain relieving attributes to magnets – the FTC cases against “Magnetic Therapeutic Technologies” and “Pain Stops Here! Inc.”, as well at the State of Texas’ case against “Magnetherapy, Inc.”

Please take immediate action to prevent these people from continuing to defraud trusting individuals by promising them magical properties from a common mineral.  I will be sending copies of this letter to the Governor’s office, the Office of the State Attorney General, and James Randi at the James Randi Educational Foundation. I will be looking forward to hearing back from you and seeing your prompt actions.

Well, time passed, and Myron updated us:

I thought I would drop you a line and give you a brief update on my fight to get the New York State Office of General Services to stop allowing "healing" magnet jewelry hucksters to sell their wares on the Empire State Plaza Concourse.

I sent you a copy of a letter I sent to the OGS and the Office of the Attorney General [OAG]. The OAG did file the complaint and provided me with a case number of some kind. Judging by the letter I received from them, this is standard practice and I don't expect anything from it.  To date, I haven't heard anything further from them.

The letter to OGS was examined by their commissioner who then wrote me a letter and passed a copy of my letter on to the New York State Consumer Protection Board.

The NYSCPB called me at work one morning and asked me to provide them with any documentation refuting the claims of healing magnets. I did so that very day and provided them with 3 or 4 different papers. They seemed interested (especially considering they were hosting a consumer protection fair within a few weeks) and I thought something would be done.  I asked them to please keep me informed.

A week or two went by and I heard nothing.  I did notice the magnet people were not selling their trinkets at the consumer protection fair and I took this as a positive sign.

A few more weeks went by until, about two weeks ago, I received a copy of a letter from the Office of the State Counsel. The letter basically stated that 1) there is published evidence magnets do not work but 2) there is published evidence they do work (where they found these papers, I do not recall at the moment). Therefore, they felt they could not legally bar them from selling their trinkets on the Concourse – especially seeing how they are bidding and paying for the retail space. Their advice to OGS is to periodically check the magnet sales stands to see if they are making unwarranted claims (I honestly believe "Stop Pain Now" is an unwarranted claim). The lawyer's letter did address the “Pain Stops Here!” decision and others I had raised and advised OGS that the magnet salespeople will have probably tailored any claims they make to accommodate any real scrutiny from a legal perspective (Again, I don't believe this is the case)…

As you have probably already guessed, they are still selling their wares and nothing real appears to have been done to prevent them from misleading the general public.  I can say that it appears they have stopped providing their anecdotal "evidence" as a sales mechanism.  Perhaps this is a result of the scrutiny but I cannot say.

I do not know what to do next.  I am considering approaching the local paper, the Times Union, with my story and what I have outlined here for you. I doubt it would make an exciting story though so I'm afraid I've hit a wall – for the time being.

I know the feeling, Myron. But hang in there. We’ve lots of examples where merely making a formal complaint has led to serious actions being brought into play. Complain enough, and someone, somewhere along the line, has to be sufficiently aroused to reach to a higher level and ring official alarms. By all means, go to the Times Union…! And keep us informed.




ARE THEY SERIOUS?

Reader Dan Green says:

If I had to come up with a funny name for a channeled new age entity, I would likely use something like Crackpotico or Lunatickle. Damn if reality hasn't beat me to the punch, for there's already a serious one called Hilarion. http://hilarion.com




HOW TO IMPROVE THE ACT

From reader Vincent Golden, Curator of Newspapers and Periodicals at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, comes this interesting item, culled from the Sporting Times and Theatrical News (Boston) of Nov. 13, 1869. The Davenport Brothers was a famous act that flourished for 23 years – 1854-1877. They were William Henry Harrison Davenport and his brother Ira Erastus, and they traveled the globe with their act, which consisted of their being tied into a huge cabinet stocked with musical instruments and other props, all of which would mysteriously fly out of the cabinet after the lights were turned down. Though it wasn’t at all difficult to fool Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he thought them to be "probably the greatest mediums of their kind that the world has ever seen," for what that’s worth.

Here is the suggestion, appropriately illustrated, offered by the newspaper:

A Novel Suggestion for the Davenport Brothers’ Cabinet Mystery.
The wonderful feats of legerdemain, spiritual influence, natural magic, or whatever they may be, which have for years provided those two sensational showmen, the Davenport Brothers, and their equally sensational agent, Mr. Fay, with their daily bread, are becoming stale.  The number of times they have been “exposed” have not tended half so much to bring their tricks into disrepute as the fact that the brothers have learned nothing new.  Apparently the same number nine boot protrudes through the various holes of the cabinet immediately after the tying operation at their exhibitions which amused the curious and astounded the credulous, ten years ago.

We have a suggestion to offer for the consideration of those industrious and praiseworthy young absorbents of the loose change of the public, and in order that it may appeal to them more forcibly we have taken the trouble to illustrate it attractively.

To the contemplative mind of a man with an eye for the beautiful, there is nothing more pleasing than the sight of a trimly-gaitered female foot surmounted by a taper ankle. Such displays carried to extreme, achieved success for the “Black Crook” and the “White Fawn,” and we have known the laziest of men to be dragged for blocks by the influence of a dainty ankle judiciously maneuvered.  We would therefore suggest to the Davenports, in view of their waning popularity, that in their cabinet trick of “mystery” they will find it to their advantage to confine themselves strictly to the exhibition of the lower extremities of the “female form divine” in all its places of loveliness, from the trim and slender chaussure of sweet sixteen to the plump development of “fat, fair and forty.”

Let them carry out the idea as illustrated by our artist, and not only fame and fortune but the benedictions of their fellow-men will attend them.




AN EXCELLENT ANALYSIS

Reader Patrick Quinn gives us some details on “pet psychic” Sonya Fitzpatrick, one of the crowd of “pet psychics” who cater to that fraction of the public who anthropomorphize freely, and think their pets are bound to them even after death. I’m always surprised that the first thing these scam artists do is ask the pet’s name – not from the pet, but from the owners! Surely the pet relates very strongly to its own name…?

Sonya describes herself on her web page – www.sonyafitzpatrick.com/biography.aspx – as “America's most loved and most trusted animal communicator and animal activist… an amazing and gifted woman who, from her early childhood in England has been able to communicate with animals.” Patrick writes:

New England Skeptical Society has this page featuring some stories about Sonya’s cold reading techniques from a few years ago – www.theness.com/articles.asp?id=16. [The author is our friend Bryan Farha.]

A disclaimer [saying that she cannot undertake to find lost pets – ?] is right in the middle of www.sonyafitzpatrick.com/readings.aspx, just above “4 easy steps.” If you look around the site you'll see all kinds of silly – but lucrative – stuff about her and her incredible abilities. A particular hoot is her story of as a child her father slaughtered some geese and she felt so terrible about losing her “friends” that she rejected her powers until the 1990's so as not to be heartbroken again – and after a “spiritual awakening” she resumed her telepathic communications with our animal companions.

I often have to think: What could get sillier in this field? And this pet psychic farce almost forces me to stop asking that question… Why in the world would Sonya not find a lost pet? She’s in contact, the pet’s not that stupid, and could tell her, right? Or could it be that this would require a real answer, instead of the usual generalities? This would be proof, folks, and if Sonya had that, she’d have won the JREF prize…!




HEAVY READING

Read through this, then follow the instructions at the end…

This universe has a law, it has an interesting law. It says if you make a cause in the present you cannot effect or make an effect out of the Roman Empire because that was two thousand years ago. And the day you can change the Roman Empire in the past by making a cause in the future, why, you're doing all right.... That would be a reversal of the whole proceedings. Hm. We'll know much more about this when we get onto time. But just let me say this at the moment: There isn't any past, and there isn't any future. And the present time, this instant of awareness in present time, might as well be across a period—present time might be eight hundred billion years long and it might be a sixth of an inch long, and it might be a lot of things which it isn't. ...

And the point you have to know—two things, the points you have to know—is one: space and energy and objects are created by postulates, and they are changed by postulates and they are destroyed by postulates. And that postulates from a higher level do not have any order of precedence because of a time stream....

But when you look at this universe, you're examining cause and effect upon a time stream. And so you have cause being succeeded by an effect, apparently, and as a result you have an aberrated condition developing, because the person can never go otherwise than downhill.

If every postulate he has ever made is still in effect and all he can do is slightly modify the limits, you’ll find getting into a narrower and narrower sphere of action; he can't help but get into a small sphere of action. …

And a fellow gets beaten down on this dwindling spiral of postulates, because he’s got an unending stream….

What’s a postulate? A postulate is simply a command statement of being. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now, decide which of the three following answers is correct. This is an excerpt from an article by:

  1. Dr. Alan Sokol, who wrote the famous hoax article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” which was accepted by a leading academic journal. It made no sense, but was loaded with appropriately heavy words and proper grammar.

  2. The editors of The Onion, the satirical newspaper that has specialized in offending and titillating readers with articles like, “Pope Benedict Asks If It’s Too Late to Change Name,” “Sniper Class Gets To Have Class On Roof Today,” and “Critics Blast Bush For Not Praying Hard Enough.”

  3. Sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard, who founded the Church of Scientology. Graduates of his courses learn that giant blue octopuses from another galaxy came to Earth and imprisoned alien criminals in volcanoes before blowing them up, and the ghosts of those criminals now inhabit human beings.     

Answer next week, readers! You can send your guess – 1, 2, or 3 – to randi@randi.org, headed, “Answer to puzzle.” I’ll report the score….




OFFICIAL TRANSLATION

One of my friends in Germany, Martin Mahner, has straightened me out on a statement of mine that I’ve been fond of making, that the German word for a “dowsing rod” is “Wünschelrute,” which translates as, “wishing stick.” I’ve never heard a better definition, nor a better way of describing the dowsing procedure itself! Says Martin:

[The translation] “wishing rod” is better. Actually, in ancient German, "wünschen" also had the meaning of "to conjure." So "conjuring rod" would also be a valid translation. Today, however, “wünschen” just means to wish. But the word “Wünschelrute” was derived from that old meaning, to wish or to conjure.

So, I’m not too far off…  It’s still wishful thinking, right?




THE US PATENT & TRADEMARK OFFICE

I received a dozen or so criticisms of my attack last week on the USPTO and their wild decisions. I’ve chosen to use one that explains the situation rather well. It’s from the Netherlands from an anonymous (for our use here) author…

I enjoy your Commentaries greatly, and I think you are doing great work. You have, over the past years, made comments about the patent offices around the world granting patents for idiotic “inventions,” taking them to show the patent offices to be populated by idiots. I have a little job at one of these offices, and I am in quite a good position to observe how they work from the inside. I'd like to point out a few nuances about their operation in the case of stupid inventions.

The idea behind a patent is basically this: Grant someone who takes the trouble to come up with a new idea, protection against his competitors running off with his expensive research results. This is done by having the inventor send in a detailed description of his invention. This is then officially registered and published as being his. For a period of time (25 years in my country) he will be the only one allowed to exploit this invention. If someone takes his invention and improves upon it, the new inventor can use this new invention and even patent this improved version.

The net result is (or should be, at least!) that all research of value is published for all to base new research on, and to reward the researchers for their improvement upon the State of the Art.

This system is prone to abuse though. By strategic patenting of non-inventions, one could hamstring ones competitors. That is why in the patent world, there are three main criteria for a patent to be allowed to be granted:

1) It has to be NEW, so nobody should have published or used the invention before.

2) It has to be INDUSTRIALLY APPLICABLE, so it should serve a purpose in industry, agriculture or commerce.

3) It has to result from INNOVATIVE INVENTION, it should not be so obvious that any idiot could have come up with it.

In principle, this should always function properly. In practice, the application of these criteria varies a lot. Some patent offices, like the Japanese or the European patent offices, work quite perfectionistically, while others, like the Australians, seem somewhat less gung-ho. (An Australian patent lawyer managed to patent either fire or the wheel, I forget which. He did it in protest to perceived laxness.) Most offices fall in between.

In theory, perpetual motion machines, homeopathic drugs, dowsing machines and so forth should all fail on the criterion of industrial applicability: if it doesn't work, it has no industrial value. Some would die at the newness criterion, and most should die at the invention criterion because no thought went into it, and they are all made up. Still, even the stricter patent offices sometimes grant stupid patents. There are reasons for this, some quite political, some technical, but they all boil down to this: It doesn't matter.

Patents are not meant to be mini-Nobel prizes. They aren't state endorsement of the quality of research. They are there to protect the inventor. In order to make sure the patent system isn't abused, applications are examined before being granted. If someone wants to pay thousands to have something patented, something that no sane person will ever want to use, and it will not impact the State of the Art in any way, why not? If you oppose these fools, they will start appeal after appeal, taking up time you don't have and costing everybody money. So you grant, file, and forget. Nobody cares. If you search the millions of patents on file for idiotic things, you find whole slews of them, tucked away in unused fields and obsolete classes. I found over one thousand perpetual motion machines in one afternoon, and even UFO detection machines (one of which would actually work well, if ever a UFO would appear!).

Randi comments: While this may be a satisfactory way of tucking away bad ideas and bad inventors, it appears to me to be a rather clumsy and too-cute maneuver, particularly for a government agency that wants to be taken seriously. I’d be embarrassed to admit that applicants are just “lost” in the system as a convenience. More importantly, the granting of an official patent for any product, innovation, or system, very strongly implies – though wrongly, as our correspondent points out – state endorsement of the quality of research. This is a misapprehension that only education can remedy, but the term, “patented” is taken as official approval, by many unsuspecting potential buyers. No, I cannot agree that patents should be granted just to get rid of a nuisance.

Our correspondent continues:

The patent examiners don't believe the claptrap, they are usually very good engineers in their field. They just don't have the time to fritter away on a kook that doesn't know when to quit. It could be viewed as unprofessional, and my boss would NOT appreciate it if he knew I was the one telling this (so please withhold my name if this gets published!), but it is one of those human faults that grease the wheels of industry.

I think my continued objections are stated above adequately. Another reader, Chris Csernica, reminds me:

At least those patents [on walking through walls and teleportation] haven't been granted yet. These are patent applications. It's true that anyone can apply to patent anything; whether the patent is granted in the end is a different question. (But the USPTO has been granting some thumpingly stupid patents lately, so I'm not necessarily optimistic.)

Chris states the real weakness of my attack, which is that the two crazy patents haven’t yet been granted, but we have so many examples of just-as-nuts ideas being embraced by the USPTO, that I suspect these will pass muster, too. Dowsing rods such as the DKL Locater, the Quadro, the Mole, one we can’t – yet – mention, and many others, have received patents. Chris continues:

Here are links to the applications online if you're interested in seeing the whole thing. The URLs are long, so I shortened them with http://tinyurl.com for your convenience:

"Walking through walls training system" http://tinyurl.com/fl4ao and "Full body teleportation system" http://tinyurl.com/zo8db

If you thought the abstracts were meaningless gobbledygook, the explanations of how all this is supposed to work would embarrass the worst hack pulp science fiction writer.

So, my case was overstated. I’ve done that before. I hope this satisfies the handful of persons who yelled at me for my statements…




CRASHING SAUCERS

This last week, a UK study by the Ministry of Defense [MOD] was released which should – but won’t – dampen the enthusiastic embrace of belief in UFOs, a definition of “UFO” being an unexplained, unidentified, object seen in the sky and assumed to be extraterrestrial. The report says the sightings are the result of natural forces, not aliens. Bummer!

In a 400-page report, the MOD confirmed that a secret study had found no evidence that "flying saucers" or unidentified flying objects were from “out of this world, but more probably meteors and/or unusual atmospheric conditions such as bright lights in the sky.

When I was a child in Toronto, Canada – 1937-43 – I enjoyed night skies that allowed me to observe – through an old brass spyglass – fabulous star configurations, planets, the Moon, and galaxies. I also became involved in meteor-plotting, made easier because of the relative lack of artificial illumination. I saw Northern Lights that took my breath away, long shimmering “curtains” of greenish light that hung above. Indeed, my small coterie of fellow science enthusiasts vied with one another to first spot a reddish or yellow display. Those were wonders to us, though we never assumed that they were not natural phenomena, and certainly never related them to extraterrestrial agencies.

The UK MOD said that   

No evidence exists to suggest that the phenomena seen are hostile or under any type of control, other than that of natural physical forces… Evidence suggests that meteors and their well-known effects, and possibly some other less-known effects, are responsible for some unidentified aerial phenomena… Considerable evidence exists to support the thesis that the events are almost certainly attributable to physical, electrical and magnetic phenomena in the atmosphere, mesosphere and ionosphere.

As for inquiries about their plans for "dealing with the arrival of extra-terrestrials," the MOD stated:

While we remain open-minded, to date the MOD knows of no evidence which substantiates the existence of these alleged phenomena and therefore has no plans for dealing with such a situation.

Their full report, "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in the UK Air Defense Region," will be published on its Web site on May 15. The scurrying and scrambling noises you hear are from the UFO devotees who are desperately trying to reinforce their precarious position….




FOR FLORIDA READERS

The National Center for Science Education executive director, Eugenie C. Scott, will be participating in a free public forum at Florida State University on May 17, at 8 p.m.: "Keeping Science and Religion Separate In Schools: The Vigil After Dover." Also scheduled to speak are Georgetown University theologian John F. Haught and Michigan State University philosopher Robert T. Pennock, both of whom testified as expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, and from Florida State University, philosopher Michael Ruse, biologist Joseph Travis, and law professor Steven Gey. The Pulitzer-prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum will moderate. Itís free. For further details, visit www.research.fsu.edu/dover




IN CONCLUSION…

Next week, we’ll visit the Philippines to see the state of their courts, review wine magnets (?), and look at a claim for blindfold reading….