Table of Contents:
  1. Quite a Record
  2. A Matter of Experience, A Quality of Education
  3. Changing Definitions
  4. Colombian Adventures in Woo-Woo
  5. Comments from La Belle France
  6. Sylvia is "Confused"
  7. And Expensive
  8. Chess is Not All Logic
  9. Flying Cows
  10. Friends On-Line in Sweden
  11. And from Norway
  12. In Conclusion...


I was thrilled today to receive an e-mail from the webmaster of a Toronto “psychic” named Anthony Carr. He advertises that he’s "the world's most documented psychic”! Surely that’s something to which I’d have to pay rapt attention, and I thought I recalled the name, so I looked back through our SWIFT archives. Lo! I’d mentioned Mr. Carr and his “documentation” three times previously – back in November of 2002, and in October and December of 2004.

Mr. Carr’s webmaster – who just might be Mr. Carr himself, since he’s anonymous and has yet to master the art of spelling – sent this trumpeting ultimatum to us, punctuation, wording, spelling and style as in the original:


Failure to remove the photos. information in your newsletters & links are a clear copyright violation and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

You do not have permission to link, reuse copyrighted text, videos, photos or other information from . We expect an immediate resolution to your lack of compliance. Failure to comply will be forwarded to all the proper authorities.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Webmaster for

Don’t try that URL, folks. It’s misspelled, three times, just the way Anthony – or his dunderhead webmaster – sent it to us, so it doesn’t work. It should be – which does work. (As we go to press, it appears that Mr. Carr has taken his site down. But there is an archive here: But let’s just take a look at Mr. Carr’s “documented” record of predictions, since he’s clearly “looking forward to hearing” from us. Here are just 26 major prognostications from him over the last two years of straining his crystal ball. I’d suggest a touch of Windex:

1995: Anthony Carr predicted that a major political/athletic figure would be assassinated at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Anthony Carr predicted that the Irish would be coming into their own, and that as a result everyone would want to think, dress, and act Irish. Anthony Carr predicted that singer Madonna would establish herself as a “star” and as a dramatic actress in the film “Evita,” and that she'd also win an Oscar for that film. All wrong.

1997: Anthony Carr predicted that actress June Allyson would appear along with James Stewart in a special anniversary TV special commemorating the mysterious disappearance of 1940's band leader Glenn Miller. Stewart died the same week this prediction appeared. Anthony Carr predicted that in 1999 actor Christopher Reeve would be walking about. Reeve died in 2004, without ever walking after his accident. All wrong.

1999: Anthony Carr predicted that Muhammad Ali would make a miracle recovery from Parkinson's disease. Anthony Carr predicted that an iceberg the size of California would threaten to wipe out Hawaii. Anthony Carr predicted that Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy would give birth to twins. She died in July of that year. All wrong.

2000: Anthony Carr predicted that O.J. Simpson would "either admit his guilt in 2000, or new evidence will prove that he is a murderer." All wrong.

2002: Anthony Carr predicted that actor Richard Harris' cancer would go into remission, and that the third Harry Potter film would win him "industry-wide applause." This item appeared in the paper two days after Harris died of cancer. All wrong.

2004: Anthony Carr predicted the accidental detonation of North Korean nuclear weapons resulting in the death of thousands. Anthony Carr predicted the shooting death of Saddam Hussein involving a woman. Anthony Carr predicted the first-ever male pregnancy brought to term – a boy. Anthony Carr predicted that Osama bin Laden would be brought to New York. Anthony Carr predicted that there would be an earthquake in Hollywood. Anthony Carr predicted that Colin Powell would accept a nomination for President of the USA. All wrong.

2005: Anthony Carr predicted that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would be confronted by an un-named California newspaper with rumors of his "gay" indiscretions. Anthony Carr predicted that Martha Stewart would spend time in a mental institution for acute paranoid schizophrenia. Anthony Carr predicted that actor Ben Affleck would attain a weight of 300 pounds. Anthony Carr predicted that actor Matt LeBlanc of "Friends" would die in a flaming motorcycle accident; Matt just announced his divorce. Anthony Carr predicted that "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening would murder his gay lover — actor Kevin Spacey — and be convicted of it. Anthony Carr predicted that Oprah Winfrey would win the Nobel Peace Prize. All wrong.

Yes, this is quite possibly the “world’s most documented psychic.” However, I have to wonder whether it ever occurred to Anthony Carr that he should either (a) stop documenting his guesses, or (b) find a more suitable line of work?

In any case, since Carr reminded me of his impressive record, I thought we should revisit it…


Author Sam Harris – “The End of Faith” – has recently referred to “the Bush administration’s scuttling of science.” I would have to disagree with the affirmative tone of that phrase; though there has been a very obvious and determined attempt to direct the American people back into prehistory, I do not see that it’s really been successful. Even in Kansas, efforts to impose Biblical standards on education have been beaten back. Facts have stubbornly persisted and it’s becoming clearer day-by-day that we cannot afford the comfort and complacency of myth-based living. There exists right now an extensive and powerful global community that puts everyone in touch, enables almost-instantaneous transfer of data and ideas, and forces reality on us all. It’s getting harder to be a fool. Those religious zealots who choose to mumble against progress, cannot long prevail; their days are numbered by simple Darwinian selection, though we might wish it were a faster process. Harris recently wrote:  

But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy.

Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

But having those advantages doesn’t necessarily confer any common sense on the beneficiaries. They can choose to be very handsomely educated, and yet remain stupid and bigoted. The halls of academe swarm with well-educated persons who betray the standards and the traditions of recognized education while hiding behind their diplomas. Being well-educated doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re smart or rational …


At – and elsewhere – I examined the miserable record of the famous Catholic shrine at Lourdes, France. Not because of my comments, I’m sure, the Church has now reorganized their standards of how miracles at that profitable site should be viewed. In my opinion, a sour apple is sour no matter how it’s viewed.

Lourdes seems to have found a cure for its apparent lack of miracles – but not of paying visitors – simply by defining a less-strict set of rules. This religious theme park offers racks of chintzy souvenirs, medallions, prayer cards, vials of blessed water, and other trinkets, along with package tours, to the six millions of vulnerable pilgrims who arrive each year, many of them sick and desperate to experience – or at to least witness – a miracle. But miracles, especially after this re-definition, aren't what they used to be.

And, Lourdes isn’t even what it’s advertised to be, and never was; it’s a trumped-up myth. In 1858, a 14-year-old local girl named Bernadette Soubirous claimed she’d seen "a lady" at a grotto there. Word of this spread quickly, everyone immediately assigned an identity to the “lady” – she was of course the Virgin Mary – and soon there was an organized and thriving business set up. Hordes of pilgrims from across the world showed up to pray, buy the chachkas, fill the hotels, and generally put Lourdes on the commercial map. The Church got together a few committees of properly religious academics to endorse the site, the sick came to bathe in the rather dubious spring water, and the area quickly gained a reputation for producing miracles. To date, some 7,000 pilgrims have claimed to have been cured since the medical bureau began keeping records in 1883 – but only 66 of those have been officially accepted as miracles. Only 66? That’s such a miniscule fraction of those who went there asking for a cure, that it’s well within the margin of error exhibited by any data set – but the Vatican doesn’t pay any attention to such fripperies. What most observers don’t bother to learn, however, is that Bernadette herself was never cured of the tuberculosis and asthma that led to her dying at age 35 in a local convent. Her body was so distorted and decayed that the officials who preserved her as a saint created a wax mask with implanted hair – a Madame Tussaud-style job – to display her body.  That awkward fact was – and still is – ignored or rationalized away by those who want and need the woo-woo to be real.

Well, real medicine has raised the bar on what they’ll accept as a sudden miraculous recovery from an ailment. A “miracle,” according to Webster’s, is "an extraordinary occurrence that surpasses all known human powers or natural forces," and real medical procedures are sufficiently advanced that it can no longer be held that any disease is “incurable.” That is, any disease can usually be treated and increasingly often cured by medical procedures, but it cannot be said that a disease is – by its nature and definition – incurable. Admittedly, decapitation may be an exception.

As a result, the Church is considering a new category of religious experience that could be called, "miracle lite." By a proposed edict, a new category of wonders called “authentic healings” can now be “recognized” at Lourdes, so that those who recover – for whatever reasons, through medicines, therapy, surgery, or dietary changes – can choose to share the story of their physical and spiritual experiences with others. Even if a pilgrim has recovered through the delayed results of earlier treatment, such rather back-door endorsements can be accepted.

Said Bishop Perrier at Lourdes, "Most healings may fail to meet this or that criterion for a miracle. We want to get recognition for a category of authentic healings linked to Lourdes." Okay, “linked to Lourdes” could also mean that someone who was given a vial of questionable water from the site, might claim that their winning a lottery was attributable to that influence. It’s no sillier nor farther fetched…


We learned this week that Mario Iguaran, Colombia's chief prosecutor, hired a psychic last year who, he said, “hypnotized” his staff and performed an exorcism over a voodoo doll as part of his official duties. As remuneration, this happy character – Amando Marti – received an employee badge, a government paycheck of $1,800 a month, a pistol-carrying permit, and the use of a private armored car.

Marti, a self-described clairvoyant, says he found corrupt government workers in illegal wiretaps and bribery during the months he spent scanning the prosecutor's heavily fortified bunker with his awesome powers. He says he also hypnotized officials and that they then confessed to deep secrets and ratted out colleagues as they stared into Armando’s eyes.

Citizens of Colombia had enough. Señor Iguaran eventually delivered a televised apology to the nation for the

…unfortunate incident that began as something folksily quaint but that has now ended up affecting the institutional well-being of the federal prosecutor's office.

“Quaint”? Well, before we begin wondering if Colombia is up-to-speed, we’d better examine our own “faith-based” administration. Maybe we need some officially-appointed mesmerists and/or gypsies on staff…?


Reader Christophe Thill sends us “Some random comments about Swift – September 22 – from Paris (France) where the summer is slowly turning rainy...” Since his observations are rather well-derived, in my opinion, I give you his entire rant about

Regarding "Brother André's" heart: this reminds me of my trip to Italy, about 13 years ago. One thing there, you have to visit the churches, as there are so many of them and they're so beautiful. In the St. Anthony basilica in Padua, I saw the saint's finger, and his tongue. Each was in a glass globe, with a gold stand, and of course they were black and not very pleasant to look at. In Firenze [Florence] I saw the mummy of Saint Zita, doubtless the biggest relic you can imagine, in a glass coffin. No wax mask, like Bernadette Soubirous: just a blackened and dried body, looking like something straight from a Lucio Fulci movie – perhaps that's the inspiration for all these Italian horror films. But the funniest thing was in some other city: a glass jar containing small bones and bone fragments, labeled "relics from various saints." Sort of a Holy Cocktail... Where all these body parts really came from, is anyone's guess.

In Lucca (wonderful Roman church) I saw a "miraculous" wooden statue of Christ. No, it doesn't weep or bleed. Simply, it was "miraculously" created. I learned that there's even a special word for this, “acheiropoietic,” meaning "not made by the hand of man." Of course.

And of course there are the countless pieces from the True Cross – must have been really big!

About the woman hit by lightning: Looks like a Monty Python sketch. Remember the song from "The Meaning of Life"?

O Lord, please don't burn us,
Don't grill us or toast your flock,
Don't put us on a barbecue,
Or simmer us in stock…

My comment on "Islamofascism": Yes, I agree with the critics. I'm offended by the word because I'm offended by stupidity. "Fascist" and "Nazi" are words with a specific content, both a strict one referring to a historical period, and a wider one that is also related to it. Here in France, everything that has to do with the radical right (such as the Vichy regime in the 1940s, or current politician Jean-Marie Le Pen), is frequently called "Nazi." That term's not applicable. But when I say this, I'm not making a compliment! Words have meaning, and we should stick to that...

Re Katherine Harris:

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."

Who was it who said: "if you're not with us, you're against us"? Actually, it was Joseph Stalin...

Christophe, I don’t find any support for your claim that Joe Stalin said that, but perhaps a reader will put in some time on researching it…

Reader Robert Woodhead also chimed in on the Katherine Harris statements:

We have to have the faithful in government because that is God's will... Separating religion and politics is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers…

You know, when I read this, it immediately came to mind that Katherine Harris and Osama Bin Laden are in total agreement on this point! And, of course, if you accept this position, then anything you do (stuffing ballot boxes, or flying airplanes into buildings) can be justified as God's will...


Reader Patrick Kline begins with a rather puzzling statement, then goes on to propose a project that is highly unlikely to take place because (a) it would cost a fortune, (b) Sylvia Browne would refuse it again because she already has before, and (c) Larry King would have no part of it. Read and you’ll understand:

I must say that both you and Sylvia are very convincing people. I have read articles/books on the both of you and have listened to the clips of you and Sylvia on the radio.  I recently roamed around on your website and you were referring to people recording their sessions with Sylvia. My question to you is, why don't you (like you did with the Indian psychic) have random people contact her with specific questions and video tape it and even have representatives from Larry King there conducting such experiments and seeing how correct she was on the questions and then calculate her accuracy? It seems to me that if she is a fraud, there are ways to trap her through using other people. I know there are examples of her being "confused" with the miners and things like that. But if you have 10 people and she is completely wrong, even her most dedicated fans would have to become skeptic. I really like that fact that you like to question things like this and find your shows and books very interesting.

Keep thinking out of the box.

Patrick, you fell right out of the box, from a great height, long ago, probably with that naïve expression on your face. What “Indian psychic” are you talking about? When Sylvia so obviously simply screws up and is blatantly wrong, that’s just her getting “confused”? Have you never read what we’ve revealed about her on our web page…? If she were 100% wrong on ten – or even 100 – situations, that wouldn’t convince any of the true believers, ever; they’d just decide that the poor dear was, well, “confused.”  I know that you would, Patrick.


Reader Garry Thorburne and his family are really “into” Sylvia Browne. I’ll bet they buy magnets for their shoes, avoid walking under ladders, and use homeopathic eyedrops, too:

I have been reading one of Sylvia Browne's books – my sister read it and gave it to me. I have read it, my wife is half way through it and my mother is waiting to read it. I thought it made very interesting reading and I must admit she had me and everyone else I know that has read it, start to believe in her.

Until I thought I'd check out her website, "$750 for a 20-30 minute reading" that alone made me think she was a fake. Surely if you were blessed by this god given gift she talks about, you wouldn't turn it into this money making machine. Surely you would want to share your insight with others spreading happiness (lets face it in these strained days we all could do with having something good to believe in).

Yes she should charge, we all have to eat, but $750 for 20-30 minutes destroys every word she has written. After telling my wife Sylvia's fees, she gave me the book back to return to my sister, and said the same thing. "I was starting to believe in her, but charging money like that just makes it sound as though she has created a little world for herself taking money from people searching for answers. And with fees like that I guess the poor aren't entitled to any answers."

I wanted to send this email to her, but her website does not accept emails, and so found you listed along with her site in a search. If you know of an email address for Sylvia Brown please forward this to her. I would like to know if God intended on this special gift to be used to exclude the poor and not so well off, or is it purely for the rich.

Mr. Thorburn: Did you ever wonder why her website won’t accept email? Personally, I don’t find sufficient reason in Browne’s high fees, alone, to decide that she’s a fake.  Hospitals, too, charge such fees, and they actually get the job done. However, Browne’s claim that she can speak to the dead, does alert me to the possibility that she’s either demented or a fraud.

Think about that. She says she can speak to dead people. Dead. Not just sick, but DEAD. Hello? Mr. Thorburn?


Our correspondent Avital Pilpel alerts us:

Currently, a match for the world chess championship is taking place [in the Republic of Kalmykia] between Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov. The match is arousing more than the usual interest because it is a unification match: after 13 years when, for various complicated reasons, there were two (and even three) "world champions" at one time, finally a match between the two current "world champions" is taking place to determine the one uncontested world champion.

And, guess what? reports (you'll have to scroll down):

Apparently one of the mysterious names on the Veselin Topalov team is that of a mystic or parapsychologist, as Topalov's second Silvio Danailov admits. "We do not show him in public," said Danailov, "because we are worried about overreaction from the media. Such people do not like publicity. Sometimes he talks with Veselin, but more often chats with me.

Vladimir Kramnik's manager reacted to the presence of the mystic:

I can tell you my personal attitude. I do not want to sound rude, but in my opinion using parapsychologists is just a lot of nonsense [a stronger expression was used]. Such things affect you only when you take them seriously, and we do not. Vladimir has a very strong personality, and he feels fully responsible for his own decisions, both at the board and outside it. So there is nothing to worry about.

I like Kramnik's manager's attitude. Incidentally, so far, Kramnik is leading 2.5 to 0.5 (two wins and one draw) despite Topalov being a heavy pre-match favorite. Apparently this mystic has the same sort of psychic power Uri Geller does: every sportsman they help, no matter how good, immediately starts losing. Now that is a real paranormal phenomenon.

It's surprising nobody on Topalov's team figured the real reason for this frauds "dislike of publicity" – namely, that like other scam artists, he wants to only take credit for "hits." It's a win-win situation for the "mystic": if Topalov manages a come-from-behind victory, he'll claim this was due to his magical help. If Topalov loses, he'll deny any involvement – publicity-shy, you know.

Incidentally, this happened before. In the 1978 world championship match between Karpov and Korchnoi, Karpov's team included one "Dr. Zukhar", a hypnotist. It is unlikely Karpov's team seriously believed they could hypnotize Korchnoi.

But they did know that Korchnoi is a rather gullible, paranoid person: to this day, Korchnoi insists that in the 1980s he played a chess game – by mail – with the long-dead Hungarian master Geza Maroczy, with the help of a living “medium” who got Korchnoi's moves and sent back Maroczy's replies.

So they probably figured that the very mention of a hypnotist on their team would upset Korchnoi – which it did. Indeed, this stuff does seem to only work if you believe in it.


Reader Jeff Nesmith sends us this site to examine. The question arises: what makes this any less believable than the “cattle mutilation” accounts that so titillated the public a few years back…? See


Skeptic and reader Martin Rundkvist of Stockholm, Sweden, tells us that the 44th Skeptics' Circle is now on-line at He says they’ve got some really good entries this time, and invites us to feel free to have a look...


Norwegian reader Ragnar L. Børsheim writes us about the “Intelligent Design” influence in his country:

Here in Norway, ID is not a big issue at all, at least not yet. Last week one of the ID movement's avid missionaries, Paul A. Nelson, visited Norway and held a lecture at the major learning institute of theology (Menighetsfakultetet) in Oslo. And the newspaper Dagbladet invited him to a net-meeting where the papers’ readers could ask him questions about ID.

Almost all the people posting their questions were critical of ID. You find all the questions and answers at – questions and answers in English. So I guess Norway is not the most fertile ground for the ID movement. I cannot see that any other major media in Norway have found Mr. Nelson worthy of attention.

Creationism has never been a household name or idea here, not even under its new name, ID, except among the few most devoted religious zealots. And with the majority of people growing more secular all the time, and when (especially young) people are more and more referring to "Christians" as a something of a fringe group in society, one would think that the ID movement will have a very hard time making its way into Norway's publicly-funded educational system. By the way, in the latest governmental Church-department's poll of separating church and state, almost 80% are now in favor of separating the church from the State.

But we shall never say, never. Norway has its fair share of woo-woo/new-age morons, too. It seems that most people nowadays find it easier to believe in alternative medicine hocus-pocus, crystal energy and astral power, than in religious dogma. And that also includes religious dogma presented in a pseudoscientific wrapping like ID.

I, for one, found the obvious negative/critical attitude in most questions to Nelson in the net-meeting, to be quite uplifting. I can’t think of much more of a waste of time than debating ID contra evolution-by-natural-selection. It's like debating whether the Tooth Fairy actually could exist, or not. In my view, ID is not worthy of adult attention.

Ragnar, I dearly wish that we here in America could shake off the shame of pseudoscience in this respect, the way your country has…!


I remind readers that Martin Gardner’s 92nd birthday is coming up in three weeks. We’ve already received a number of cards from readers, destined for him. They’ll be FedEx’d to him en masse to arrive on the 21st, as a tribute to his continued contributions to rationality and reason. You might wish to add a personal note, as well. Please send to:

Martin Gardner
c/o JREF
201 S.E. 12th Street
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 33316-1815

Registrations for TAM5 continue rolling in. I think you’ll be surprised by what John Rennie, editor of Scientific American, will be telling us about Harry Houdini’s involvement with that publication. You see, back in 1922, the magazine… Ah, but John tells it much better than I…

Also, be sure to tune in to "The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe" where I'm now a regular contributer. This weekly podcast is put on by the fine folks at the New England Skeptical Society in conjunction with the JREF, and you're sure to be entertained, educated, and enlightened. It's also available on iTunes.