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At www.earnedmedia.org/pray0426.htm we had an opportunity to see just how capricious and cruel God is. You see, clergy in Washington D.C. officially prayed this last April 27th for lower gasoline prices. Now, the failure of this effort might be due to the fact that the news release – and, I guess, the prayer itself – didn’t even specify that they were praying about “gasoline,” as differentiated from natural gas, propane, carbon dioxide, neon, or flatulence – just “gas.” This pious appeal took place at a service station between North Carolina Avenue and 4th Street SE from 12:00 noon to 2:00PM, and on their Pray Live site at www.praylive.com.
The “praylive” site pointed out that “Many are talking about the rising gas and energy prices and overlooking the power of prayer when it comes to resolving this energy crisis.” Well, at www.randi.org/jr/2006-04/041406schwartz.html#i7 we found that another definitive test of the power of prayer failed grandly; can we now seriously believe that Jehovah, God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Lord of the Universe, The Big Kahuna, etc., would choose to apply more attention to gasoline prices, than to cardiac patients or starving nuns? Well, come to think of it, I’ve been told that this Friend in the Sky does “work in mysterious ways,” so I’ll just wait and see.
So far, God has not heard the appeal, if we judge by the adjacent chart. Or, He’s teasing us…? The red line indicates the point at which this massive appeal was made to God…
Reader Sean Kehoe is up on the subject of vampires, it seems. At randi.org/jr/2006-05/051906sylvia.html#i13, I mentioned the problems of a Filipino magistrate in the Islands, but we’re now warned of an even more sinister reason why this Judge may have lost his job. Says Sean:
He wasn't in communication with mystical dwarves, he was communing with vampires. Look at the names of the “dwarfs.” Both “Armand” and “Louis” are vampires from Anne Rice's popular series of vampire novels, and “Angel” is yet another vampire, this time a character from the Buffy television series.
Why are fictional vampires meddling in the Filipino legal system?
Good question, Sean!
Reader Zack A. Kleinfeld defends the USPTO. I suggest that you go to http://tinyurl.com/ebu6t to see the whole application he writes about…
Although there are some major issues with the USPTO's issuance of some clearly invalid patents, you'll be happy to know they do at least reject some of the most obviously outlandish claims. Take, for instance, the patent application entitled "Full body teleportation system.” The application starts out with a drawing of the inventor “teleporting” and only gets more absurd from there. In the "Background of the Invention" section, the inventor happily relates how he came to advance teleportation state-of-the-art:
The basis for this invention is an event… occurring on May 2, 2004, in which the inventor ("he") personally experienced a full-body teleportation while walking to the bus stop (A) along a road (B) that runs perpendicular to the nearby commercial airport runways where planes are landing. ... Realizing that he had passed the bus stop, he turned around to see the iron grating approximately 50 meters up the street in back of him. Because there was no recollection of having jumped across the iron grating nor of having passed the bus stop's yellow marker line, he realized that he had been teleported a distance of 100 meters while moving along with the traveling wave…
It took a number of days in order to understand this sequence of events. The explanation involves knowledge of a wide range of subjects such as gravitation physics, hyperspace physics, wormhole electromagnetic theory and experimentation, quantum physics, and the nature of the human energy field.
…It is obvious from the above scenario that the airplane momentarily crossing perpendicular to the road generates the aforementioned pulse.
Very obvious. However, the examiner didn't think so, and, as he should have, questioned this invention's utility. Sending a non-final rejection, the examiner wrote:
The invention is not supported by a credible utility or well-established utility because the claims call for the generation of gravitational waves and the interacting of the waves with hyperspace and the effects of which are asserted to come from such interaction. The existence of hyperspace in not well proven nor shown to exist in accordance with credible science and physics. The use of hyperspace and gravitation waves in the claims therefore must be backed up with significant scientific experimental data...
Somehow, I think it's unlikely such data will be forthcoming, although the inventor is still free to try to change the examiner's mind.
This is an example of the system working the way it should.
Yes, Zack, I’d have to agree. However, let’s see what follows in this drama; all that’s needed is an examiner who is into woo-woo stuff, and the “inventor” is back in the running. Let’s anticipate a more sober approach.
In passing, I’m looking into the rumor that employees of the USPTO have been instructed on the “one-in-five” practice whereby 20% of the received applications are merely passed on and approved without being examined. I find this difficult to believe, but maybe readers have input on this…?
Reader Ted Canova wrote to his local TV station complaining about their airing – via paid programming – of the Kevin Trudeau show promoting his book. See www.randi.org/jr/081905time.html#18 for details of what we here in South Florida were able to accomplish in the matter of actual sales of Trudeau’s book.
Ted received an answer from David Hinterschied, General Manager of WTLH-TV, FOX49 / WFXU-TV, and WB24 in Midway, Florida. While we can understand the executive’s basic problem, we must hope that he will eventually understand that Trudeau is a recognized quack, and is delivering a dangerous message to the station’s viewers. Here is the response:
First of all thank you for being a viewer of FOX49. We value the input of viewers like you. In many ways you are right to voice your opinion about various paid programming on any of the television stations or cable outlets. These programs air on virtually every media outlet with pictures. However, I have a problem with pre-empting programs based on the opinion of the hosts of those programs.
Ted, If we start with this program then why not the rest of the shows? It puts us in a difficult position of being the judge and jury of what is true and what is not. A lot of folks would probably call it censorship, which I'm not for either. Freedom of speech is a right that exists to protect unpopular speech even more so than "popular" speech. Unfortunately this often translates into letting con men and shysters have their say, but the alternative is even worse in my opinion.
And opinion is exactly the loophole that Trudeau is exploiting this time around. His "Natural Cures" book/website isn't billed as medical advice, it's sold as a piece of literature that includes his opinions on medicine. Like all good pitch men he knows how to skirt the letter of the law to stay just on this side of the line. The March 2006 Scientific American magazine did an article entitled "Cures and Cons" that coincidentally focuses on the host in question. Besides urging people to beware of certain pitches it also addresses his free speech.
Amazingly, Natural Cures is exempt from this injunction. "Books are fully protected speech. He can author a book and voice his opinions," says Heather Hippsley, assistant director for the division of advertising practices at the FTC who investigated Trudeau's infomercials. "The line is: Informational materials, OK. Products and services, banned."
So as far as the law is concerned, it seems that Trudeau is in the clear. I appreciate your complaint and hope you consider the position we take on this matter.
Ted Canova replied:
Typical. As usual, the bottom line is what counts. Would you allow someone to promote a book in favor of segregation, or the Neo-Nazi Party? I doubt it. Yet that is also free speech. But it would lose you viewers. Walgreen’s removed Kevin Trudeau's book from their shelves as soon as they were aware of its content, and I doubt that they are against free speech. They just care about the health of their customers. You have made it obvious that you don't have this concern about your viewers.
Here, Ted has asked some questions that Mr. Hinterschied would have considerable difficulty answering…
Reader Andrew Bromage clears up an example of fuzzy terminology:
First off, thanks for a wonderful resource. I've been browsing the Randi Encyclopedia, and it has a lot of really good information in it.
I'd like to briefly comment about the entry on UFOs. According to Wikipedia, the relevant US Air Force regulation defines a UFOB [USAF term] as "any airborne object which by performance, aerodynamic characteristics, or unusual features, does not conform to any presently known aircraft or missile type, or which cannot be positively identified as a familiar object."
The last part is the important one. My wife, whose father was in the US Air Force, told me a story once about a radar operator during the 1970s who showed her a "UFO." It was a blip on a screen. The operator commented that "it's unidentified now, but we'll know what it is soon enough."
Basically, the way the operator used the term, it referred to anything which appeared on a radar screen but had not (yet) been positively identified. The impression that I got (I'm afraid I have no citations for this) is that the term dates at least back to World War 2, from the earliest days of radar.
So in this sense, I suppose, "UFOs" are very real, even if many of the claims made about them are not.
Thank you, Andrew. Radar, even today, is known to be subject to irregularities and false images, but the UFO fans choose to ignore the technicalities and read significance into every odd blip that shows up. For them, it immediately and permanently becomes an extraterrestrial space ship with ETs aboard…
Reader Scott, in Kuwait, enlightens us on how police professionals extract information and compliance from suspects – in much the same way that “cold readers” like John Edward do. This is very revealing!
I have been re-reading the book "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets," by David Simon. It was the basis for the TV show Homicide that used to be on NBC. Simon was a Baltimore Sun reporter who documented his experiences riding along with homicide detectives for a year.
Simon's discussion about interrogation reminded me yet again of the parallels between cold reading and interrogation. I thought the same thing when I read the Skepdic definition of cold reading, and the appropriateness of the term "professional manipulator." I suppose warm or hot reading might be more correct, since usually the investigator will have some information about the suspect and the crime. I have received training from several professional interrogation schools and government agencies, and all use pretty much the same techniques as each other. All are also pretty close to cold/warm/hot reading.
Generally the first thing taught is observation of body language. Some rely heavily on neurolinguistics, watching which way people's eyes dart, but most stick to the basics of watching for the subject to release the stress from lying non-verbally and noticing their response to what they're hearing. Just as John Edward might throw out 20 or 30 statements and watch for one that hits home, so will an interrogator. In videos of actual interrogations, the suspect will often visibly respond with posture changes or nodding along when you hit on the right theme to hook them. With practice, the student can see these responses in their own interrogations.
The second technique comes naturally to most people. "It's not my fault." The interrogator will rationalize and minimize the severity of the actions. Most criminals justify their actions some way in their own mind, or have an internal explanation of why they did something. Very few are overwhelmed with guilt and directly accept responsibility for their actions. Ideally one of the themes will hit on what the subject already used in his own mind, but if not, something close and plausible will work. "I can understand why you took the money... the guy was rich and didn't need it, you were just borrowing the money and were going to pay it back, Christmas is coming up and you need to buy toys for the kids, etc." "And it's not like you were using the money to finance terrorists or buy drugs. You weren't using it for drugs were you? Good, I didn't think so. Because I know what kind of person you are. You care about people..."
Listening to the subject is obviously important, and people certainly often say things differently when they're lying. But some of the best interrogators will talk for hours, not stopping until the subject has shown non-verbally that he agrees with the statements. The development of rationalizations or "themes" can take some imagination in order to create a lengthy, believable story the subject will relate to. And just like a psychic, a detective will have stock phrases or stories at their fingertips they can slightly rearrange to suit the situation.
Interrogation is also pretty much like a good used car sales pitch. I guess the biggest difference between sales, psychics, and interrogation is that most people interrogated by law enforcement can have their day in court. If the judge or jury think the interrogation "shocks the conscience" of going too far, they can throw out or discount the confession. Additionally, I will freely admit in court exactly how I talked someone into a confession. Television aside, an exceedingly small number of investigators will assault, threaten, or torture a suspect. First, as Simon points out in his book, most cops don't care that much about who shot PeeWee the drug dealer over a $5 crack rock. And second, as all the fortune tellers, psychics, and spirit channelers prove, cold reading works.
What actually helped me most in my interrogation was being a member of the Crisis Intervention Team on the Houston Police Department, where I used to work. A portion of the patrol officers volunteer for this assignment to be able to respond to calls involving people who are mentally ill or in emotional crisis. The same basic salesmanship techniques are used to talk someone out of committing suicide, or willingly going to a psychiatric hospital. The classes to get the Mental Health Officer license included role playing. Initially, most people can only go for a few minutes saying "Don't jump. Think of your family. Umm, did I say 'don't jump?' already?" After a few years on the team, I got used to talking to mentally ill or suicidal people for up to several hours. The talking builds rapport and gives more opportunities to find the right thing to say to convince the person to do what you want. Yet again, it is being a "professional manipulator." Overall, that was probably one of the most rewarding assignments I've ever had. Ironically, the only pictures I have of me doing that kind of work are from last summer when an American with bi-polar disorder climbed a tower here in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti police were at a loss about what to do, so they called the embassy at 2 am. I went up in the basket at about 4 am, and in about 45 minutes was able to talk her into coming down. In this case, it was fairly easy because she was delusional and thought she had been ordered to climb the tower. I pointed out she had accomplished her mission, and could come down. It was just scary as hell riding that stupid cherry-picker up 8-stories.
After reading Scott’s account, the word “manipulate” takes on a new meaning, doesn’t it...?
Now I’ve seen it all. At www.cbn.com/communitypublic/shake.asp we learn that the incredible Pat Robertson – whose major exercise we thought was putting his foot in his mouth – has established an astounding world record in the weight-lifting game. The reverend can miraculously leg-press a ton of weight!
It’s true! Otherwise, Pat would never have advertised his “Pat Robertson's Age-Defying Shake” – which is a protein drink he’s peddling, not a nervous condition! – so that other men his age (he’s 76!) can equal this feat. The established world record for this feat is 1335 pounds, but Pat’s God connection has obviously brought about this improvement.
Just where does Robertson get these inane ideas? Is it all obtained by personal conversations with his Friend in the Sky, or does an angel whisper in his ear? In any case, we’re told that the facts are contained in a startling FREE booklet that you can have as your very own. I suggest that you do a Geiger-counter pass if and when you receive this data, because if plutonium’s not involved here in Pat’s superhuman powers, I’ll be very surprised.
All of this brings to mind the poster shown here, which I have on my office wall. “VigoRadium” was one of the quack offerings available in the 1920s, and until prominent celebrity endorsers of such products started inconveniently dropping dead, people – those who could afford it – were chugging water containing at a minimum 1 microcurie each of the radium #226 and #228 isotopes. Well, it’s now generally understood that ingesting radioactive chemicals is a no-no, but therapeutic magnets, homeopathic water, and various exotic tropical fruit extracts continue to bring in fortunes for their sellers.
Aren’t we happy that Pat didn’t know about those radium isotopes? With his endorsement, we’d have no trouble spotting the faithful in the dark…!
Australia’s Richard Saunders is at it again, this time with a video link to the Skeptics Conference in Sydney, 2000, where I spoke for one hour, 29 minutes, and 29 seconds… Richard has made this available to us all. Just go to http://tinyurl.com/gq7s9 to see me haranguing the crowd…
Remember www.randi.org/jr/021805a.html – where I recounted my experience with trying to get ABC-TV to tell the truth about “John of God” in Brazil? Well, John has a new and profitable gimmick going for him at the “Casa,” where he has his headquarters. Get this:
Those of you who have been to the Casa will be familiar with the Crystal bed – the Entity regularly “prescribes” sessions on the bed to help supplement the healing process.
There are three crystal beds located in buildings adjacent to the main Casa building. Each bed has 7 quartz crystals suspended above the bed which align with and correspond to the 7 chakras of the human body. A session consists of lying on the bed for approximately 20 minutes while listening to soothing music through headphones. The crystals radiate color to the respective chakras to cleanse them and to balance their energies. The Entity may prescribe crystal-bed therapy for you, or you may choose to have a therapeutic session on your own.
But now John is also selling his scam to lesser scam artists, who can advertise that they also have “real” beds that John graciously permitted them to purchase from him:
The following individuals have purchased Crystal beds from the Casa and have got approval from the Entity to offer treatment sessions at home. [list appended]
It never ends. I’m sure that the infomercial ABC-TV ran for John is still bringing him in lots of big bucks, with naïve viewers choosing to believe what ABC offered them. Crystal beds are just a bit more gravy…
Recently, the Rocky Mountain News ran a story by columnist Jennifer Rosen, who writes about food and beverages. Reader Joe Huey informed me of this article. The reporter achieved just the right approach to a silly subject: “wine magnets.” This subject was handled in SWIFT at www.randi.org/jr/101504gallic.html#8. Ms. Rosen comments:
You can't fool all the people all the time, but magnets get you pretty close. Wine breeds insecurity, which begets suckers, hence the growing throng of wine magnets.
Place your bottle on a magnetic coaster from Wine Cellar Express (www.winecellarexpress.com) or the Perfect Sommelier (www.perfectsommelier.com), and in 30 minutes or less it ages to perfection, like it had been cellared for years!
The Wine Enhancer goes one better. This heavy epoxy disc containing a copper coil and colorful crystals not only softens tannins but virtually eliminates red-wine headaches and hangovers! (www.lifeforceenhancements.com)
Snap the Wine Clip (www.thewineclip.com) around the neck of your bottle and its "six rare earth magnets" turn big, ugly, impure molecules into charming small ones.
Now, I've always understood that the smoother tannins are the long molecules, too big to fit in your taste receptors. But what do I know, me and my spoil-sport, fact-driven left brain?
The magnetic claims are clearly true, because important words are capitalized:
The Enhancer collects, amplifies and broadcasts Life Supporting Energies in Perfect Coherence. The Sommelier's Base and Top Magnets create a Flux Path of Electrically Charged Molecules.
Don't be embarrassed if the science goes over your head. Essentially, you've got these rowdy molecules all doing their own private Watusi when along comes this magnet and syncs them all up like a kick line of Rockettes. Then, presto, your wine has more fruit, less acid, a bigger nose and a better health-care plan.
Sound silly? The MagicFlavor Plug-in Magnetizing Dispenser should clear things up:
Our device is having a di-pole where the fluid will be cut through the magnetic field 90 degree with respect to the line of field. Once it is cut through the field, an ionization is induced on the molecules, hence each group of phenol will lose a hydrogen and have a (minus) charge. This effect will course the ionized groups of molecules to form a virtual chain which will be physically similar to the aged wine.
I couldn't have said it better. In fact, I couldn't have said it at all.
Reader Joe Huey adds:
I wrote to Jennifer and thanked her for the column. She wrote back and said the Perfect Sommelier emailed her and thanked her for sending them a customer! Oh, well…
Sour grapes, maybe…?
Reader Sean Kehoe writes us about the recent SWIFT article on Boots Pharmacy and the "Silent Knight Ring" – see www.randi.org/jr/2006-04/042806boots.html#i1.
I read the recent article about Boots and the voodoo rings they're hawking. Before writing an email to Boots asking them why they're selling this contraption, I thought I would browse the rest of their alternative medicine section. I came across this wonderful text that I thought would appeal to the man – you! – who tried to overdose on homoeopathic sleeping tablets.
This is the warning text for an “alternative” spray remedy for snoring found at www.boots.com/shop/product_details.jsp?productid=1021333
Please read the product packaging before use. Seek professional advice before using if you suffer from epilepsy, skin allergies, are pregnant or are using homoeopathic remedies.
Would I be eligible for the Randi prize if I were to prove that there could be an allergic reaction when using this product in conjunction with homoeopathic remedies, otherwise known as water to most people?
A reader named Jim Thomson has sent me an alarmed letter, spelling and punctuation as in the original:
MY SISTER HOUSE, HAS GHOST NAMED RILEY CUSTER –WHO DIED IN 1897 – HER COUCH WHICH IS VERY HEAVY –GETS LIFTED UP –ITEMS GO FLYING THROUGH THE AIR, HER STOVE GETS TURNED ON, ALL THE BURNERS, HER DAUGHTER MATRESS GETS MOVED FROM BEDROOM TO BATHROOM AND BATHROOM DOOR GETS LOCKED, AND MANY OTHER STRANGE THINGS HAPPEN, HER NAME IS ANN COLE, PLEASE CALL HER FOR MORE INFORMATION
MANY PEOPLE HAVE WITNESSED THESE THINGS OCCURING…… PLEASE DO CHECK THIS OUT AND PROVE THE GHOST OR WHATEVER ELSE IT COULD BE….
Gee, though I’m tempted to immediately rush off to Jim’s sister’s house, I recall that such wonders don’t seem to occur when I’m present, so I’ll just have to gnaw my lip in frustration. But I’m sure that the juvenile in the house – of whatever age – will eventually tire of hauling mattresses back and forth and lifting the couch…
Reader Don Churms alerts us to a wonder:
Here’s a YouTube video that may interest you, showing an acupuncturist purporting to have the ability to shock people with electricity from his chi energy. Maybe a conjurer can see what he’s doing here…
Go to http://tinyurl.com/s5bc4 to see this video clip. When I did my TV series for Seoul Broadcasting, South Korea, in 2003, the producer – Nam – turned out to be one of those rare individuals in the TV business who was willing to listen to someone who knew a specialized subject – in this case, me. After I gave him specific instructions, he went with a crew to Malaysia and videoed a “healer” there. This faker was very confident of not being caught, but Nam was too much for him. I won’t go into all the detail now, but I’m planning on making a video excerpt from the show, and posting it here on SWIFT. This “chi” scam artist on YouTube is probably using the very same setup as the Malaysian crook did, a small battery-powered device worn on the body that develops very high voltage at very low amperage, that can be directed from the body of the performer to anything that’s at a lower potential than he is. It’s a form of Tesla coil, and it’s very effective. There’s also a rabbi in New York using this same gimmick to convince the faithful…
Reader Jeffrey Skowron, Ph.D. psychologist, reports that he’s had quite an epiphany:
I have always been impressed with the respect you pay to those “believers in the paranormal” who are sincerely deluded (and equally impressed with the ridicule you heap on those who “believe” only to fatten their wallets). I have recently had an experience that has made me somewhat more understanding of that subset of the seemingly absurd who believe they have been abducted by aliens. A few nights ago I experienced an episode of what I think was sleep paralysis.
I am familiar with the work of Richard McNally on UFO “abductees,” having had the pleasure of introducing his talk on the topic at a behavior analysis conference last fall. Coincidentally, I had just finished reading the review of Susan Clancy’s book Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens in a recent edition of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. While I have always appreciated their research methods and results, I always found it difficult to understand how the symptoms of sleep paralysis could be construed by anyone to be a case of alien abduction.
I now have a much better understanding.
Last Friday night I was having what I remember to be a not-unpleasant dream about being part of an undersea diving team (before any of you get to interpreting the “meaning,” I will let you know that I fell asleep watching a show about shark videographers!). My dream was interrupted by what I interpreted as a hissing, snakelike voice saying something like “I got you now,” and then I immediately had the sensation of intense pressure on my back, as if someone or something heavy was on top of me (I was sleeping on my stomach – a relatively unusual position for sleep paralysis). It was very unnerving. At this point I was aware of my dream being over and of being in my own bed. My skeptical mind took over, and I realized what was going on.
My wife was sleeping in the bed with me, as well as my 4-year-old daughter, who had snuck in sometime during the night. I recognized that this was an episode of sleep paralysis. I just needed to get one of my bed-mates to complete the process of waking me up. I tried to yell out “help me,” and though I was initially unable to speak, eventually I was loud enough to wake my wife, who poked me and told me I was having a bad dream.
Unlike many of the “abductees” studied by McNally and Clancy, I am not prone to magical thinking, fantastical beliefs, or, from what people tell me, schizotypy [a psychological concept which describes a continuum of personality characteristics and experiences related to psychosis and in particular, schizophrenia]. However, I can easily see how some of the sensations both during an after the episode could be interpreted as more than what they were. I awoke with a pretty bad headache, either from the insertion of an alien microchip into my brain or a remnant of a migraine I had a few days earlier. I also had a stiff neck and sore back, either from being strapped down to an examination table in the spaceship or just the usual early morning aches of an almost middle aged, out of shape guy. The most intriguing sensation, however, was not physical, but cognitive. I had the feeling that this has happened before (either the result of repeated abductions and probings, or my interpreting a recently created memory as an older one, such as with déjà vu). I don’t have any specific memories of previous episodes and am pretty sure I’ve never experienced anything like it (it was traumatic enough that I think I would remember!). Still, I had this general feeling that it had happened before.
Even though I was aware of what was happening throughout most of the episode, it was still one of my most frightening experiences in recent memory. The whole episode probably lasted a minute at most. Had I either not been aware of what was going on, or not had someone available to snap me out of it, I’m not sure how long it would have lasted or if I would have gone on to experience some of the other phenomena associated with sleep paralysis, such as the sensation of floating or the visual hallucinations.
I’m happy not to find out. The sensations and experiences were so out of the ordinary, I could see how they could be misinterpreted by someone without my knowledge of sleep paralysis, let alone by someone prone to fantastical and magical thinking.
Jeff, I’ve been through a number of similar experiences, even the “end-of-the-tunnel” illusion that is so often described by people who think they’re dying, and I know how strong – and convincing – these events can be. Only by holding on to your rationality can you – um… hold on to your rationality…
Since my recent serious illness, I’ve been having more frequent occurrences of one of my very favorite kinds of dreams, one from which I will awaken due to some ordinary interruption, then go back to sleep knowing that I’m willingly re-entering the dream from where it left off, and enjoying it!
You may have noticed that the horrendous tsunami promised us on May 25th, didn’t happen. See www.randi.org/jr/2006-05/050506imminent.html#i1 for details. Now go to http://tinyurl.com/qygcv and see the raft of sycophants who hastened to join in the glory of an event that fizzled, a firm prediction made by prophet Eric Julien, based on Nostradamus, the Bible, and Mother Shipton – not exactly known for accuracy, but good enough for Julien. In the very few quotations that follow, the enthusiasm, conviction, and eager embrace of such nutty ideas will surprise you, if you haven’t dipped a toe into this pool before.
Eric Julien himself: Beginning with the moment when you will have finished reading this fourth and last article on May 25 2006, the countdown will be merciless. Every minute lost not warning others will bring about thousands of deaths. Would these not be as many crimes? Are we not dealing here with crimes against humanity? The time might come to pass when we might have to bring suit against those legally at fault.
Bob Neumann: North Carolina will be flooded to the West all the way to Morganton, 200 miles inland and to an altitude of 1,160 feet.
Ruby Golden: The ocean will invade the land all the way to Gwinnett County in Georgia… to an altitude of 1,080 feet, and a distance of 225 miles inland.
Billie London: Florida will be covered by waves higher than the roofs.
Need I tell you that these confident statements will not be followed by any admissions of error? These “prophets” get their jollies from making it into print, anywhere, and then they go right back to doing it again, regardless of their obvious failures. It’s the well-known Unsinkable Rubber Duck syndrome…
Sometimes I just have to throw up my hands in despair. Here are two examples of recent applications for the JREF million-dollar prize that we’ve received. The first is from a man named Bill Perron, in California. Mr. Perron’s business card has an interesting variety of professions listed. He says he’s a
Magician, Astrologer, Handwriting Analyst, Tarot Reader, Palm Reader, Court Jester Extraordinaire, & other intriguing personalities.
He’s also a “Member of Hollywood’s MAGIC CASTLE,” he announces.
As you’ll know from the published rules, applicants are told in the rules that they must submit a “brief, two-paragraph description of what will constitute the demonstration” they’ll offer. Mr. Perron offered this. Capitalization, spelling, and punctuation are exactly as in the original:
USING MY DELL LAPTOP COMPUTER AND LEXMARK PRINTER I WILL PRODUCE HOROSCOPES CONTAINING THE PLANETS, THEIR RELATIVE POSITIONING AND INTERPRETATIONS OF THESE POSITIONS AND WHAT THEY INDICATE ABOUT A PERSON THEIR PERSONALITY, CHARACTERISTICS, AND NATURE. I WILL DO THIS WITH A DEGREE OF ACCURACY THAT WILL BE OBSERABLY BEYOND MATHEMATICAL PROBABILITY.
THEN I WILL OBSERVE HOW MR. RANDI FRAUDENTLY GETS OUT OF PAYING ME THE MILLION DOLLARS THAT I WIN.
MY PREFERED WAY TEST MY HOROSCOPES IS TO GO TO A PUBLIC PLACE PERHAPS A SHOPPING MALL AND ASK TOTAL STRANGERS WHO ARE MARRIED TO ALLOW ME TO DO A HOROSCOPE ON THE HUSBAND AND THEN TO HAVE THE WIFE READ THE 8 PAGES OF THE ANALYSIS OF THE HOROSCOPE AND TELL US HOW ACCURATE IT IS. I HAVE FOUND WIVES TO KNOW THEIR HUSBANDS VERY WELL AND THEY ARE NOT SHY ABOUT BEING VERY CRITICAL OF THEIR SPOUSES IF I GET AT LEAST A 60% OR BETTER ON THE HOROSCOPES THAT IS ABOVE CHANCE SO I WIN. I BELIEVE 5 HOROSCOPES ARE ENOUGH TO TEST THE ACCURACY BUT IF JREF WANT ME TO DO MORE I WILL BE GLAD TO BUT THERE HAS TO BE AN EVENTUAL LIMIT. SINCE JREF BELIEVES ASTROLOGY IS BUNK THEN ONLY ONE ACCURATE HOROSCOPE SHOULD BE SUFFICENT BUT REPEATABILITY IS REQUIRED SO I SUGGESTED 5 ACCURATE HOROSCOPES I WILL BE USING 12 ZODIAC SIGNS ALL THE PLANETS ALL 12 HOUSES PLUS ALL THE ASPECTS TRINES, SQUARES, ETC. THIS JUST FURTHER DOCUMENTS & SUPPORTS THAT MY ACCURACY IS WAY BEYOND CHANCE.
We immediately spotted problems with this claim, and I’ll ask that our readers apply their talents to determining what’s wrong, and suggest an appropriate protocol to test a revised claim based on the original that you see here. PLEASE: you can do this anytime between June 2nd and June 16th – but use the subject line: SUGGESTED PROTOCOL, so that I can select out your comments and suggestions more easily, okay?
The second application comes to us from Japan. The sender has included individual translations of each paragraph in the application form, which is not really required, but we thank him for his courtesy. Where this communication stands out rather strongly, however, is where he states his claim. This time, it’s only seven words:
I have terepace and then various pow.
Don’t ask. I’ve no notion what this man is trying to say, and I’ve written him to that effect. In fact, I’ve referred him to friends in Japan who will contact him and figure out what he means to convey to us, and we’ll go from there. We’ll do all we can to accommodate his needs.
No, please don’t send me attempts to translate from this chap’s letter. Work on Bill Perron’s attempt, and let us hear from you, okay?
In Penn and Teller's second season, in the episode "Fountain of Youth" they ran a bit on running snails over people's faces in a shopping mall as an anti-aging remedy. And now it’s on sale down here in Latin America. Check out: www.tventas.com/fito470026.php. That's snail cream they are selling – for 39$ US – as an anti-aging remedy!
Try a Google search on: celltone caracol (“caracol” is snail or conch in Spanish). I got 763 hits.
Should P&T not get a cut of those profits? After all, they came up with it first.
I got 915 hits, and I want a part of this action!
Damn! It’s June already…
We’ve snagged Scott Dikkers, editor-in-chief of The Onion, that delightful satirical newspaper, for TAM5. Who better to describe the media business, in “Skepticism & the Media,” our theme for 2007’s conference? We’ve also got Professor Neil Gershenfeld, Director of “The Center for Bits and Atoms” at MIT. Strangely, The Onion featured an article about students at the MIT Media Lab who, it said, were viciously hazing robots at that facility. Say not so! We must wonder how Dr. Gershenfeld will explain this to Editor Dikkers!
One of our most reliable popular sources of scientific information has always been Scientific American Magazine. Just today I received a welcome communication from John Rennie, editor-in-chief of this publication, accepting our invitation to speak at TAM5. What a privilege to have him aboard. His magazine has been a bulwark against poor media handling of serious developments in science and technology, one that actually offered a sizeable prize back in 1922 to any “medium” who could legitimately provide spiritualistic phenomena for their committee. John will also be speaking on the Abrams Machine, a scam that was popular in the 20s, and took a lot of money from naïve doctors and their patients…