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Dr. Terry Polevoy, of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, wrote a complaint to Global TV, a major media outlet in his country, following a 3-part series they recently did on a purported home-grown “healer,” Adam McLeod. They’d promised they would present skeptics’ views and a scientific examination of the claims – a promise only barely fulfilled by consulting with Canadian skeptics, but their contribution was edited down to insignificance. On the Global National News site, a report appeared. Dr. Polevoy wrote:
Regarding the Adam Dreamhealer story on Global National News on October 4, 2006 at http://tinyurl.com/lldpf: Rumina Daya, the reporter in this piece, must take full responsibility for the serious errors in her report on Adam McLeod. She failed to provide balance.
First of all, nobody has ever been proved to be cured of any illness either after attending one of Adam’s workshops, reading his books, listening to his tapes, or viewing his DVD. They certainly have never been cured by having Adam view their photo or fax sent to him over long distance. Nobody who he has publicly admitted to have seen or "treated" has ever actually had a confirmed pancreatic cancer, including Ronnie Hawkins, the burned-out Canadian icon of rock 'n roll.
Daya's statements indicated that they did have pancreatic cancer and that they were cured by Adam. Those statements are totally and completely false.
The McLeod's company has raked in millions of dollars. The original web site was actually started by his family back in 2000. I believe that he was 14 yrs. old at the time. The company was registered in Canada, not British Columbia.
Adam has repeatedly refused testing by academic psychologists from British Columbia universities who have high academic standing and are widely respected in the field of the investigation of quacks. He has also refused to be tested by James Randi in Florida. He has a questionable and unproved record, and his stories are so full of holes that any rational person should be warned to stay away from him.
Perhaps Global TV needs to spend more time investigating this fellow and his family. I believe that the B.C. Attorney General received complaints about him a few months ago, and that individual recently turned those concerns over to the B.C. Minister of Health.
What this basically reveals is that the B.C. government will take no action over flim-flam operators like Adam and his family. The reasons for the lack of concern make no sense.
If a fellow like this and his family were "grifters" who showed up in your city at a hotel to defraud the public out of their hard-earned cash, the police would certainly be there. What is the difference between McLeod and his entourage of scammers and a group of "grifters"? I personally don't see any.
Distance healing is a scam, and it should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Stuart Kreisman, another viewer similarly alarmed, also wrote to Global:
[The third night's] message was essentially "there are some who don't believe in Adam, but they are closed-minded ‘scientific fundamentalists.’" You basically gave him a free 3-day commercial. Will you seek Adam's help when you, or one of your loved ones, become seriously ill? If not, then please carefully consider the ethics of what you have done.
Doug Sydora, of Vancouver station CHAN, responded to Mr. Kreisman:
…it was very difficult for her [the reporter Daya] to find people in the medical profession willing to comment on healers… I’ll forward your note to Rumina.
If that’s true, Mr. Sydora, then Rumina Daya isn’t much of a researcher. The preposterous claims made by Adam and his parents are obviously untrue, simply because by now they would have caused a major international revolution in medical science. In the past, I’ve tended to give journalists a certain leeway because they just are not scientifically – or rationally – knowledgeable. In this case, where highly unlikely and totally unsubstantiated statements have been simply accepted and publicized – to the serious detriment of the viewing and reading public of Canada! – I must conclude that Global TV and its sponsors just don’t care that they have committed this tragic blunder. After all, the sponsors were, I’m sure, hugely pleased, and isn’t that the only criterion they have?
Furthermore, Mr. Sydora, and anyone else at Global TV who might care, those claimed cures of pancreatic cancer were easily checkable, yet Global chose to merely accept them as true! Pancreatic cancer is rarely operable, and the survival rate is very low; for McLeod to claim this sort of magical cure, is a cruel, attractive, remunerative, scam. How many suckers will this heedless TV farce attract to his cult? Oh, I keep forgetting! You at Global don’t care! You only want the ratings, and Rumina Daya’s piece brought that to you. The truth be damned, right?
Reader David Dill points out that once again, Pat Robertson, the foot-in-his-mouth evangelist, has trumpeted out more of his dire prognostications and warnings. Says Dill:
It appears that we may have a hurricane season where not one hurricane hits the US. (I think we had one tropical storm hit.) That may be a first in my lifetime. This is exactly the opposite of what Pat Robertson predicted earlier this year:
If I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms… There well may be something as bad as a tsunami in the Pacific Northwest. (http://tinyurl.com/f7zqv)
I hope you will draw as much attention to this false prophet as possible. You might even want to ask his followers how they should react to his deception in light of Deuteronomy 18:20.
Mr. Dill refers to a much earlier preacher, speaking for a deity, as they like to do, who is said to have warned:
But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
Gee, that should scare Pat, don’tcha think? If we’re going to scratch around in ancient mythology for material, I suggest we go down two more verses to Deuteronomy 18:22, where we find:
When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that [is] the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, [but] the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
Translated from King James’ tortured re-working, that means that we shouldn’t get worked up over a presumptuous Bible-thumper who – regularly – screws up his messages from Over the Rainbow. But folks, I am afraid of such a person, though not of his weather predictions. He controls the actions of a huge number of U.S. citizens who will blindly press the buttons on the voting machines as he directs them to. That’s something to fear. Mr. Dill continues:
I think it was 1998 when [Robertson] predicted that a hurricane would hit Orlando after Disney, Inc., announced they would provide benefits to the partners of their gay employees. Not only was Orlando spared any hurricanes that year, but instead one hit Virginia Beach, VA, the hometown of Pat Robertson (http://tinyurl.com/nb9tn).
I'm probably one of the few Christians who thinks you are doing more to help the Christian faith than to hurt it, and highlighting another trickster using Christ to make a fast buck would be helpful.
Mr. Dill, you err in that assumption. I make no attempt to assist any variety of delusion, particularly religion, the original mistake from which all of the psychic, supernatural, woo-woo notions arose, and I try to highlight all the tricksters who mislead our species. Pat Robertson is only one of them, an extremely wealthy man who, in his arrogance, thinks that some deity gave him all that money, rather than the naïve followers who thought they were contributing to a noble cause.
I ask you to note that Pat uses the expected escape-hatch modifiers in his predictions. He starts off with “If I heard the Lord right…” and “There well may be…” so that in case he hasn’t heard his imaginary master’s voice correctly, it’s only his poor hearing. Pat, isn’t there anything you’re sure of?
Reader Jan-Eric Nyström of Helsinki, Finland, alerted me to the fact that the Faithful have just had one of their cherished Shangri-La delusions snatched away by a Papal Edict. Basically, the Vatican is now pondering whether stillborn babies belong in Heaven, or not. Apparently they have not belonged there so far. Also, it appears that anyone born before Jesus is automatically excluded from Heaven!
In various places – such as the Penny Catechism, a primer approved by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales – it is declared that Limbo is “a place of rest where the souls of the just who died before Christ are detained.” Sort of like an ongoing Guantanamo, but based on a different mythology, I guess.
It seems that Limbo’s lack of doctrinal authority has long failed to impress the now-Pope, who was recorded as saying before his election, “Personally, I would let it [the notion of Limbo] drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis.” Oh, I see – maybe.
Okay. Tell me if I’ve got this straight. So the virgin birth of Christ, transubstantiation, Heaven & Hell, the loaves-and-fishes party, walking on water – not to mention the parting of the Red Sea and that pillar-of-salt business, Jonah living three days in a whale’s belly, the water-to-wine trick, and those ever-burning bushes – they’re not just “theological hypotheses”? They’re all established facts? But what’s happened to Limbo, that overly-cozy place where – up till now – the blindly faithful were supposed to believe that millions upon millions of souls of still-born and/or unbaptized babies were piled up “resting” because they’re awkwardly free of sin but not actually baptized, thus banned from Heaven? Those tiny shades are stacked next to the souls of unfortunate folks who were sent to Limbo because they “went” before Christ was born, so of course they couldn’t get to Paradise, either. You’re saying that Limbo is now a silly idea that’s being “dropped”? So were – or are – all those souls there, or are they now somewhere else, and if somewhere else, where? I have to ask rational questions like this. It must be the devil in me…
And just where’s Purgatory in this new map of Never-Never-Land? That’s another massive waiting-room whose inhabitants might just be dumped out if Gregory gets busy on developing the neighborhood! I must confess, ever since fish-on-Friday was dismissed, I’ve been increasingly alarmed and understandably confused about what’s Right and Wrong. What sacred notion can be next to fall?
Jan-Eric urges us:
Remember Mark Twain: “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”
The Indian Rationalist Association has expressed their satisfaction that Shashi Tharoor, a controversial Indian candidate for the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations, has had to pull out of the race. Tharoor got three negative votes, one of which was from a permanent Security Council member. The formal election of the Secretary-General is due on November 9th.
Rationalists in India, particularly their president Sanal Edamaruku, reacted strongly to the decision of the government of India to nominate Tharoor for this important position despite the glaring fact that he’s a devotee of the notorious Sai Baba and a hardcore propagandist of obscurantism, miracle-belief and all kinds of superstitions. As the UN Undersecretary-General for public information, Tharoor showed the international media that he was in favor of paranormal claims and in praise of “godmen” and other miracle-mongers. In 1995, he enthusiastically endorsed the hilarious Ganesh milk-drinking frenzy as a real miracle. See www.randi.org/jr/080202.html, do a search for “Ganesh.”
Indian Rationalist president Edamarku referred to Tharoor as a man
…who has made it his program to promote ignorance and gullibility, the very scourges that held India back for centuries.
He pointed out that Tharoor did not hesitate, when a major sex-scandal erupted over the “god-man” Sai Baba, to rush to his rescue by singing his praises in the international media. In the International Herald Tribune, Tharoor declared that Baba’s conjuring trick of producing “holy ash” is a miracle. He certified that Baba actually materialized valuable gifts for his devotees from thin air, and boasted that he himself was the recipient of a gold ring with nine embedded stones. How naïve can a grown man get? The secret of the “godman’s” magic has been thoroughly exposed by rationalists, and his sleight-of-hand tricks were caught by television cameras and clearly shown in TV documentaries around the world, but Shashi Tharoor remains his staunch defender.
Tharoor is simply a deluded, ignorant, superstitious man. We congratulate the Indian Rationalist Association for speaking up and pressing for responsible Indian politicians to act in this matter.
Reader Brent Kelley alerts us:
I've been flipping through a book called "Weird Texas," full of tales of alleged bigfeet [Bigfoots?], "goatmen," chupacabras, ghost lights, anti-gravity roads, and whatnot. Today I stumbled across a section labeled, "Eerie Silence Phenomenon."
It seems that the authors were out in the woods one night when they realized that it was... quiet. But not just regular quiet – EERILY quiet.
And they report that many other Texans have experienced the same thing!
Explain THAT one, Mr. Amazin'!
Shhh! What’s that loud silence I hear…?
Reader Justin Ward investigated the individual at www.randi.org/jr/2006-10/100606case.html#i7 who claims the endorsement of Cambridge University:
If you ever hear from Cambridge University about this, you might query, among other solecisms, the spelling on Mr. Aliakbari's certificate of the word “fulfillment.” Furthermore, a visit to the CIE website yields the following information:
University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) is the world's leading provider of international qualifications for 14 to 19 year-olds.
Doing the math, Mr. Aliakbari was 48 when the certificate – of appreciation – was printed – sorry, awarded. That must have been a tough exam.
Reader Richard Kemp also chimed in on some research he did on the same matter:
Concerning your article in the latest Swift about Mr. Ali Akbari:
The certificate appears to be from the Cambridge International Examinations centre at www.cie.org.uk, who do not appear to offer PhDs at all, but provide A-levels, O-levels, and diplomas in various subjects – that is, school examinations, not University degrees. In addition, the Cambridge University library can be searched at www.lib.cam.ac.uk/ (through Catalogues/Newton/Manuscripts and Theses). I hope this is accessible from outside the university network, and apologize if it is not. Unsurprisingly, there is no entry for "Akbari" or "Aliakbari", and the only thesis in the library with "healing" in the title is a PhD dissertation by Jill Rubinstein titled "Healing spirits, healing hands: an anthropological inquiry into English Spiritualist healing" – no doubt an interesting work in its own right.
I would therefore have no personal hesitation at all in declaring Mr. Akbari's certificate a fake, or at least fraudulently produced. However, I do not speak for the University...
Well, Mr. Ward and Mr. Kemp, Ms. Jenny Green does speak for the University. She is the Administrative Officer for Student Administration and Records at Cambridge. She e-mailed me:
Thank you for your email to the University Press Office which has been forwarded on to me. I can confirm that the document you attached in your email regarding Mr. Mohammad Aliakbari is not a document issued by this institution. You should also note that the degree he indicates on this document, Doctor of Philosophy in Healing by Power Therapy, is not a course offered for study here.
Should you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reader Allan Taylor was also in touch with the University of Cambridge International Examinations office, and Mr. Ian White there notified him:
I can categorically state that this certificate has nothing at all to do with the University of Cambridge International Examinations, and that I have now written to Mohammad Aliakbari to insist that he removes the certificate immediately.
Unfortunately this is not the first time that we have seen these types of fake certificates appear, and I do appreciate your drawing our attention to it.
I trust that this clarifies the situation.
We thank Jenny Green, Ian White and Allan Taylor for their assistance. No surprises there, right? So Mohammad Ali Akbari is a liar, a fake, and a charlatan, and the UAE was right to close him down. Now, if only we in the USA could take a lesson from that situation. It’s a demonstration that simply checking on credentials, consulting with authoritative sources, calling in dependable experts, and generally just looking at the facts about healing modalities, perpetual motion machines, "free energy" schemes, and the myriad of other scams that are being perpetuated on the US public daily, could result in appropriate actions and reactions from our own state and federal authorities. That is, if "faith-based" considerations do not interfere with a rational approach to the truth about these matters…
Reader Gino Paglia relates a personal experience:
I'd like to start off by thanking you for your headway and fight against "woo-woo" and scam artists. I ALWAYS look forward to your articles every Friday with religious fervor (pun intended, though you've probably heard that one about 10,000 times).
Your recent article "A Case of Evaluation" [www.randi.org/jr/2006-10/100606case.html#i1] made me think of an event I had years ago. Some might call it spiritual, but to me it was a logical reaffirmation. Since I was very young, I've always been a skeptic. It even got me kicked out of Catechism (Catholic School type thing) at the age of 7 for punching holes in the Biblical stories the Nuns/Priests haphazardly spray paint on the blank canvases of children's minds. The one that got me kicked out was asking,
If Herod was evil for killing all males under two years old after Jesus was born, does that make God evil for killing all of Egypt's first-born and torturing the public with ten plagues even though those people had nothing to do with Pharaoh's laws?
I was branded "unteachable"... but I digress.
I'm 35 now. Back when I was 26, I had the chickenpox. I've come to realize that the medical experts weren't kidding when they said it's better to have it when you're young, than older. It was the worst two weeks of my life. During the height of this viral torture I was unable to sleep or even lay down for four days straight. I could only sit and bear the feeling of my skin rotting and crawling from my frame. By the third day of sleep deprivation, I started to hallucinate. At first it was just dark shapes at the edge of my vision. Later it turned into full-blown animated human shadows in front of my field of view, following me everywhere, whispering faint, incomprehensible, calls.
I believe that any person with any speck of religion or superstition would have deemed this a "visitation." In fact, a few friends started to think I was seeing dead family members who were "comforting” me. The whole episode did leave me with a sense of wonder, wonder and amazement at the functionality of the human mind. After a little research, I found that with the lack of sleep, my mind was trying to compensate by going into short "waking naps" where the mind is half awake and half asleep. This had the effect of bringing things from my sleeping mind to my waking senses.
Fascinating and incredible. I love how the brain works. I've come to believe it's our half-evolved brain that's the culprit, one side being logic/detail and the other creative/emotional. When you put the two together, you have an amazing piece of machinery that will try to figure out every single puzzle it comes across, and for that which it cannot figure out, it will fill in the gaps to its satisfaction.
Anyways, just thought I'd share my woo-woo-to-logic experience with you.
We appreciate your input, Gino. This shows that you’re not “unteachable,” at all…!
Reader Ketil Tveiten, in Oslo, Norway, sounds off on items in last week’s SWIFT:
Thanks again for my weekly dose of enlightenment! Or should I say, chuckles and exasperated sighs over how stupid some people are?
To be fair to Polish legislators, it seemed to me like the paragraphs you cited from Polish law took the tone of "this stuff doesn't work, so it isn't harmful, so why bother banning it?" rather than "we believe this stuff." It seems more as if the legislators know that their people are getting scammed and don't care, rather than actively believing in the nonsense. In other words, they're evil, not stupid. I don't really know if that makes the situation any better...
I thought when reading the Deborah Blum quote in the first item, "Why do so many people... blah blah... 'a human tendency to stamp meaning onto events,' BINGO!" It's a bit ironic that she answered her question herself, that swiftly after asking it.
Yes, Ketil, but Ms. Blum wasn’t aware that she’d identified her own error…
Also, a question about the JREF Challenge: When was the last time anyone agreed to be tested and actually showed up for and completed a test? I've been peeking at the application forums occasionally, and every application seems to have dissolved in disagreements over protocol, applicants suddenly disappearing or rejected when declared clinically insane. I've seen several tests in your old films, but have any taken place recently?
I forget if you've mentioned it lately (a quick search said you didn't), but I think the South Park Scientology episode (available at www.xenu.net) is still worth a recommendation.
People regularly agree to be tested and then show up, Ketil. They just don’t often show up in Florida, since we have representatives all over the globe who volunteer to conduct tests in situ rather than requiring applicants to travel long distances. Most of these we don’t report on, since they’re all simple failures, and are of very little interest. Yes, agreed, the South Park Scientology episode is still of interest…
Following up on Mr. Tveiten’s mention of the lead item on last week’s SWIFT, several other readers added their comments. One was Michelle Gershon:
I read Deborah Blum's opinion piece featured in this [last] weeks Commentary with confusion. This woman is supposed to be a science writer, yet in this piece she took the true believer's tack regarding science. Her final sentence defining the beliefs of William James:
He worried that a close-minded community of science could become a kind of cult itself, devoted to its own beliefs and no more.
That is a conclusion I have read over and over in various wording from those promoting belief in ghosts and alien abductions, and even to explain why someone will not accept The James Randi Challenge! Perhaps Ms. Blum needs a quiet vacation so she can regain her perspective on science. Nothing she wrote in her piece helped me see any evidence of the paranormal being reality.
I can add my own story to those of people having a premonition come true. A dear friend passed away two weeks ago. The day she died I had a sense that would be the day she would do so. The phone call informing me of her death was not a surprise. I even suspected it was her son calling when the phone rang. Two children who were with me also stated they believed that had to be a call that she had died. The three of us must be psychic, right?
Not at all. My friend had lung cancer which was very advanced when finally diagnosed, having spread to her stomach and brain. Her oncologist gave her a probability of death within three to thirteen months. After the first two radiation treatments she began to fail rapidly. An in-home hospice had been set up. On the Wednesday prior to her death she began to refuse nourishment in any form. The hospice nurse informed her family that this was a sign that death was imminent. The two children with me on the day of her death are my grandsons and also hers, as her son married my daughter. The boys had a sense she would die soon, because the day before they’d been taken to say goodbye to her and had observed her condition themselves – at the ages of eleven and nine they could tell she was barely aware of their presence. My own knowledge of the way a body reacts at the end of life gave me a pretty good idea of when she would no longer be alive. There was nothing “psychic” going on at all. As for the phone call, it should be obvious that we were expecting it and it was not really a prediction at all.
In my opinion, Ms. Blum needs to take a short vacation and regain her perspective. Science is not anywhere near a “cult,” and to accuse those who follow the precepts of science to be acting in the same manner as those who believe firmly in the existence of any sort of paranormal activity, is a sign that one has lost that perspective.
Reader Brock Henry, of Sydney, Australia, added his observations:
I read your SWIFT story about evaluating evidence, and I have a story to share, which I tell people when they tell me their "I woke knowing something was wrong" paranormal stories.
This is a true story. A few years ago – well, many years now – I woke during the night with a powerful feeling that something was wrong with my Mum. I asked myself, how would I know? She lives 100km away, and as far as I knew she was in perfect health. So I went to sleep and forgot about it.
That weekend, we went there for lunch and everyone – including Mum – had a good time.
Boring story huh? People look at me strangely, wondering why I'm telling this story! Anyway, I think the phenomenon you are describing is confirmation bias – well, kind of, anyway.
But it’s worse than we might have imagined. Alas, Deborah Blum has been failing in her acuity for a few years. Our friend Linda Rosa (see http://www.randi.org/jr/071604an.html) who is involved in battling the popular quackery known as “Attachment/Holding Therapy,” noticed the Blum item, and wrote us:
Blum shocked us by accepting an invitation to keynote at the 2003 ATTACh conference. ATTACh is the national association for Attachment/Holding Therapists. It was co-founded by the "rebirther" who is sitting in prison this very moment (I pause to savor that image) for killing Candace Newmaker. We tried to explain to Blum how lending her name to that group could ultimately hurt a lot of adopted and foster children.
Blum insisted that some of the ATTACh members were trying to change their ways. A fat speaker's fee may have convinced her, there being a lack of any real evidence for this claim beyond a bit of clever word-smithing.
I did extract her assurance that she would work at trying to stop this "therapy" where children were clearly being tortured, but she has showed no interest since then. Blum has even put her ATTACh keynote on her CV!
So Attachment Therapists hype the participation of Blum and that of a few other reputable but naïve academics as evidence of mainstream acceptance of AT. Right now, we know of seven ongoing criminal cases that are related to Attachment Therapy. They involve the abuse of some 38 children, and three deaths.
In light of all this ongoing suffering, we're glad to see you taking on Blum for more soft-headedness.
Now we hear that Jens Lorek, a lawyer in Dresden, Germany, is pursuing state compensation claims for people who believe they were abducted by aliens – and we don’t mean by Italians. We’re talkin’ intergalactic here, folks. A German news service asked the obvious about Mr. Lorek: “Völlig gaga oder genial?” That translates as, “Totally crazy, or brilliant?”
Lorek says that he has offered his services because some people are afraid of making fools of themselves in court. Really? How could that amuse anyone? Since – as we well know – the woo-woos report scores of alien assaults every year, Lorek believes that his clients could appeal for treatment or for cures, thus leaving open the possibility that they might be a tad verrückt. As an alternative legal approach, he points out that there is a German law which grants kidnap victims the right to state compensation. Whether a German court could stop laughing long enough to make such an award, remains to be seen.
Reader Catherine Neelon of Allentown, Pennsylvania, writes:
I've been slowly making my way through your very entertaining and informative commentary archives (I think I'm up to the beginning of 1992), so I apologize if you've made mention of this particular product before and I just haven't read about it yet. The brand is Bach Flower Essences and the product is called Rescue Sleep, from a product line called Rescue Remedy.
I've been having problems sleeping recently, and made mention of that fact at the TV production studio where I work. Our news director, hearing of this, offered to give me a sample of this new natural sleep aid product that I believe she had recently done a story on. I was dismayed, however, upon examining the product, to see it labeled as homeopathic. A 5x dilution of the active ingredients was indicated – which I knew, from reading past Swift commentaries, meant that practically nothing of them was left in the final solution.
That’s one part of medication in 100,000 parts of water or milk sugar…
Curious, I looked the up products on the Internet – www.rescuesleep.com and www.rescueremedy.com – and through links found they were made by a European homeopathic company, Nelsons. I was amused by some of the statements I read on the Nelsons website, under the section on Values and Efficacy:
Mainstream medicine seeks to develop and provide novel drugs that are effective and safe, and address symptoms and causes. Clinical trials, including the “gold standard” double blind placebo controlled trial, have been developed to test how pharmaceuticals treat physical symptoms. They act as a measure of efficacy and safety – the evidence base that is required to achieve a license for a new product.
However recent definition of the human genome and the development of techniques that reveal a patient's specific DNA may lead to modern medicines being tailored to individual patients, not simply their symptoms – an approach that mimics complementary medicine's holistic philosophy. In this context, the double blind placebo controlled trial, held up as the “holy grail” of evidence-based medicine may loose [sic] its hallowed status. Designed to test how pharmaceuticals treat physical symptoms not individuals, it cannot be the whole “test” of complementary medicine. Audit trails that track outcomes of treatments and procedures and impact on quality of life for patients are now considered legitimate additions to dossiers of evidence, as are patient and professional testimonials. See http://www.nelsons.net/efficacy.
And here I thought I needed evidence that the stuff worked before I tried it. What was I thinking?
Thanks for your continuing efforts for those of us who like to think for ourselves!
At http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/5405348.stm we find that some bottled previously-holy water said to come from the sacred well of Mecca and being offered for sale as “Zam Zam,” has unacceptable levels of cancer-causing chemicals and three times the permitted level of arsenic. It also has twice the legal level of nitrates – which can affect infants. The Westminster City Council said the water cannot legally be exported, so any offered for sale is unlikely to be “authentic.” Tests were carried out by the London council last year during the Islamic festival of Ramadan, when demand for the water was at its highest.
Thus, Zam Zam joins the tap-water and Mazola oil offered by evangelist Peter Popoff as “water from Izrull” and “olive oil from the sacred mount.” All, I assure you, are equally effective…
Reader Jürgen Busch of Limburg, Germany, relates to the situation – last week – in which no amount of reasoning will convince the true believer:
Since I found your web site I'm a frequent reader of your weekly comments. And the more I read, the more I try to convince friends to join in the experience. Unfortunately, most of the time I fail, maybe because of poor English skills of my friends, maybe because of "solid believers" – I have a strong feeling the latter is the case, because even skeptical German-language web sites are not attractive to these friends.
The reason I write is, that I have a story about "special powers" like your experience with Steve's mother, though my story is not so much "supernatural" stuff. It shows that even in contact with technical systems, people tend to believe things that are untenable.
Some years ago, when dialing on the phone was not using a dial tone but the impulse method, my mother was claiming she could tell when someone was trying to call her, when she was already on the line with someone else. She told me she could hear the second person dialing on her line, and that she believed it must be something special with her line.
Of course that was impossible, since during dialing the connection is not yet established, so how would the phone company know which line to select to send the pulses of the remaining digits to?
The point was that my mother had a pretty bad line and you could quite often hear dial pulses from neighboring lines during conversations over the phone. It was something that happened every now and then. But there was positive reinforcement (in the sense of her belief) whenever she was called again by someone else after she had finished the first call, and when this caller confirmed to her that he had been calling before when her line was busy. This was so strong for her, that she started to believe she had "heard" that attempt to call. She just ignored all the cases when the caller told her he reached her with the first attempt. Her usual answer was, then, that somebody else must have tried to call her.
James, I'm a physicist so I tried to convince her that she was wrong on every technical aspect I could find. Even with the "power of science" and the bonus that I was her son – does it exist? – it took months. And I'm still not sure whether even now, after years, she might still believe that she could have heard the attempts, but is just not discussing that with me any more...
People – all people, even me, knowing the effect – seem to be not so different from B. F. Skinner's pigeons. We tend to believe a theory very quickly with only a few hits, but need thousands of misses to get rid of that wrong belief.
Maybe you can add that story to your pool of "technical superstition."
Only if you’re really interested in a highly-detailed discussion of this tendency to confuse technology with the supernatural, go to http://tinyurl.com/ontpq, where The Guardian (UK) ran an excerpt from The Perfect Thing: How the Ipod Shuffles Commerce, Culture And Coolness, by Steven Levy, a book to be published in November. A fascinating study, from both the technological and psychological points of view. You’ll see there that several of those interviewed believed that possibly supernatural elements were at work with their electronic devices! And, see http://www.randi.org/jr/030102.html, where a coffee-percolator speaks…!
An autographed photo of Uri Geller went up on EBay last week with a minimum starting bid of £4.99. That’s US$9.25. There were no bids. Damn! The new Skepchicks calendar, however, is getting lots of attention. See www.skepchick.org/calendar for details…
Go to www.sltrib.com/old/opinion/ci_4433433 for the whole article, but here’s just an extract to interest you:
I got some insight last week into who supports torture when I went down to Dallas to speak at Highland Park Methodist Church. It was spooky. I walked in, was met by two burly security men with walkie-talkies, and within 10 minutes was told by three people that this was the Bush's church and that it would be better if I didn't talk about politics. I was there on a book tour for ''Homegrown Democrat,'' but they thought it better if I didn't mention it. So I tried to make light of it: I told the audience, ''I don't need to talk politics. I have no need even to be interested in politics – I'm a citizen, I have plenty of money and my grandsons are at least 12 years away from being eligible for military service.'' And the audience applauded! Those were their sentiments exactly. We've got ours, and who cares? The Methodists of Dallas can be fairly sure that none of them will be snatched.
Reader Matt Morgan one-ups us on relics…
I look forward to reading Mr. Randi's column every week, and have been following with interest the last few entries on religious relics. There is one relic that I have not yet seen mentioned. I was lucky enough to visit Italy last February. We went to a church in Siena where they have the head of St. Catherine.
I wish I was making this up. They did not allow photos in the church, but I found the picture above at www.basilicacateriniana.com/reliquia1.htm. Those Italian Catholics certainly are a ghoulish bunch.
Hey, Matt, most of Cathy’s body is in Rome, her head and right thumb are in Siena, and her left foot is in Venice. She really got around, that girl! The process of pulling pieces off saint’s bodies to distribute around the world for display, is referred to as, “translation.” I call it, “dividing up the goodies.” But then, I’m not very religious…
Gary Osborn describes himself as “a writer on mysticism and esoteric traditions” and “an initiate into the mysteries” with interests ranging from history, science and technology, quantum physics, philosophy, psychology and popular culture to metaphysics and esoteric subjects. Wow. I wonder if he has time for lunch…?
He’s also been involved with members of the “Esalen Physics of Consciousness Group” including theoretical physicists Jack Sarfatti and Hal Puthoff, former US astronaut Edgar Mitchell, author Colin Wilson, and magician Uri Geller. Now, there’s a heady group of deep thinkers, folks.
In an email communication sent to me by Sarfatti – for no reason I can imagine – Osborn shows his profound understanding of “mysteries” in this excerpt:
As for "trivial" synchronicities… I would say and from my own observation of them, that a synchronicity is the result of our being “intensely” interested in something – say a word or name we might hear for the first time – or perhaps a familiar word or name presented in an unusual context or situation which evokes a certain feeling in us.
However, because we might then realize the word or name is trivial, or our sudden interest in it is trivial – as it appears to be going nowhere – we will then become instantly “disinterested” and will dismiss it from our mind.
This “fusion of opposites” – as in our sudden “interest” and “disinterest” in something and in equal measure and both at the same time, will trigger a synchronicity featuring that something, and so we will find that it will crop up again and again – and usually in a very short space of time.
For instance, a few days before we met on Wednesday, I went to meet someone on the sixth floor of an office building in Sutton, Surrey, named “Quadrant House.” The building gets its name from its location behind Sutton Station which is The Quadrant.
The word "quadrant" evoked something… interest. I don't know why. I hadn't chanced across this word as a name before, but realized that it didn't mean anything to my conscious mind or memory and so I dismissed it… disinterest. However that same evening, the band I'm with was playing at a club in Richmond – several miles away… and the club was in a road called “The Quadrant.”
I didn't know this until we got there as we only knew the name of the club and that it was off the high street in Richmond. So then, this same name given to two different locations “The Quadrant” in Sutton and “The Quadrant” in Richmond, crops up twice in my life and on the same day and both by chance.
What does it mean? Nothing… but perhaps the purpose of this particular synchronicity is that I'm now using it as an example in this discussion.
A few details – for our readers, but not for Mr. Osborn, who is not concerned with such awkward facts. Sutton is only seven miles from Richmond – the one that Osborn refers to – and I really can’t find anything miraculous about the fact that the name “Quadrant” was used for a restaurant, an office building, a housing development, a pub, and a street in that area! This is a perfect illustration of the remarkable need these people have to find this mysterious Jungian “synchronicity” everywhere in their lives. For them, there are no co-incidences, no ordinary relationships that are not “quantum”-derived, and everything they experience is magical and enchanted…
At least, when Osborn asks “What does it mean?” he has the right answer…
Earlier, above, under the item “TECHNICAL SUPERSTITION” I referred to an in-depth article to be found at http://tinyurl.com/ontpq, which also explains this strange obsession some people have with imagined correspondences between events. Only if you have any doubts that this is a delusion enjoyed by Osborn and his friends, refer to this article. It’s very comprehensive and interesting, but maybe more than you might need.
Peter B. Lloyd, another member of this strange group, chimed in later during this Sarfatti fantasy-feast, with his own pinch of fairy-dust to scatter about:
Finally, let me add some thoughts on synchronicity, which Uri [Geller] also talked emphatically about. Like everybody else (at least everybody at our meeting), I often experience striking coincidences that seem to be “meaningful” as Jung termed them when he defined “synchronicity.” Some are very potent, others are trivial. Here are some minor ones surrounding the meeting: before the meeting at Uri's house, I interviewed Jack at the house of the late Frank Malina, founder of the Leonardo journal. After the meeting I stayed at a hotel, and worked in an office, both in Leonardo da Vinci Laan [Avenue] in Brussels; and then went home to Malta via Leonardo da Vinci Airport. Lots of da Vinci's but so what? Given that synchronicity is, as Jung said, acausal, it can never function in any utilitarian way. You can never use synchronicity to do anything, or to discover anything. It's just the background chatter in God's mind. Sure, it's real and it's meaningful, but you can't do anything with it so you may as well ignore it...
Get the sequence here, folks: this guy – before the meeting – and remember, before, after, and/or during, the meeting, would be accepted! – interviewed someone at the house of a deceased former editor of a journal bearing the name Leonardo. In any case, that house used to belong to a deceased man who founded a journal; if it had still belonged to that man, and/or had he still been living, those facts would be included as “synchronous,” as well. If it had happened during the meeting, or after it, those circumstances would also be noted, and held to be significant. His subsequent hotel and an office were in a street named after Leonardo; there are literally dozens of major streets and buildings named after Leonardo. He then – at a transfer point, not the initial flight! – flew into a city, Rome, served by the airport bearing Leonardo’s name! Unless he were to leave on a special charter flight, he’d have to use that airport, the one that serves 92 of the 103 airlines that fly into and out of Rome, and all the large jet craft!
As in Osborn’s case, Lloyd says, “Lots of da Vinci's but so what?” He sees how silly his own observation is, but he uses it – as they all do – to add to the useless and endless bits of trivia that can appear, to the unwary, to bolster the case for synchronicity. He’s helping to build a house of paper and string; masses of bad evidence can’t replace a handful of good evidence.
We’ll have more about this Peter Lloyd chap, next week…
Here’s a cute item we’ll have ready for TAM5. It will have an adequate supply of long, sharp, pins, for experimental voodoo purposes. Sales are expected to be brisk…
The young Japanese magician Cyril Takayama was raised in Hollywood, California. His mother was French-Moroccan and his father was from Okinawa. When he was a teenager he was accepted into the youth program at the famous Magic Castle. His ingenuity is obvious in this video selection, which also shows us how universally understood the conjuring art can be…
Next week, we’ll clear up the confusion that is causing fluttering hearts among potential JREF million-dollar prize applicants. Also, Remote Pet Healing will be offered for consideration, along with the news that the province of Quebec has officially – and substantially – invested in one of the many bogus fuel-saver gimmicks. But the major attention in the next SWIFT by far will be on the continuing saga of Peter Lloyd, which gets even more hilarious – if that’s possible.