February 23, 2007
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Reader Kathy Focsaneanu, Graduate Student, Department of Chemistry, University of Ottawa, Canada, writes:
I see you and your crack team are – again – investigating the producers of "Sniffex" and I just had to throw in my two cents worth.
My father is an expert in the field of landmine removal. After serving 30 years in the military, he now applies his knowledge to the global humanitarian effort to remove landmines and restore the land to productive use. He set up United Nations de-mining operations in Cambodia and Bosnia, and has worked in Angola, Mozambique, Thailand, Azerbaijan, and many other countries, aiding them in ridding themselves of the landmine scourge. These operations are now the model for all other UN Mine Action Centers. He and his colleagues have worked very hard to raise awareness of the terrible consequences of landmine use, and have tirelessly promoted a worldwide ban on these devices.
Recently, my father received an unsolicited email from a promoter of the Sniffex. He recognized it for what it was, and passed it on to me for a laugh.
I cannot believe what gall these people must have to be advertising their piece of junk to a noted and respected landmine expert. Landmine detection is no trivial matter: it is an extremely dangerous and painstaking exercise. It sickens me to think that some organization out there may purchase these devices and place them in the hands of de-miners.
It seems that these charlatans think some vague “test results” and a slick website is all they need to start raking in the bucks (which, of course, is unfortunately true). Let’s hope these jerks get the “exposure” they so dearly deserve.
As promised last week, I'll continue here the strange meanderings of Mr. Paul Johnson, the CEO of Sniffex Inc. – now known as “Homeland Safety International, Inc.” – and also the sole officer of that corporation. He wrote me this incredible letter:
Your commentary on my company's product from in August 2005 has now cost numerous lives around the world (I believe). Homeland Safety Intl., formerly Sniffex, Inc., has been damaged beyond anyone's ability to calculate it because of one commentary on a product you never saw, never talked to anyone who had used, or tested with your team. And basically, as your attorney told my attorney, when we tried to strike an agreement to get this commentary off the web their response was, "well he's an idealist, and so it doesn't really matter (what the facts are), he thinks what he wants to and there isn't much chance of talking him out of it.
Randi comments: This conversation never took place. It is perhaps Johnson’s garbled version of something he was told, but it is not factual.
So, I am not going to try. I am going to tell you that if you hadn't written that commentary, and it still didn't come up at the top of a search for "sniffex" and "paul johnson", many lives would have been saved. Thank God there are people and groups and governments that don't believe everything they see on the internet and have bought the device. Thank God we saved military peoples lives in Thailand as they were about to cross a bridge with a mine under it. Thank God we found material evidence (spent shells) in a killing field in this country. And, let's see, there's Beirut, Iraq, Bangladesh, India, Egypt, the US Military, etc, etc. using the product successfully. So here we are, working to build a company, I can do nothing about your commentary because I cannot afford to go through the process of continuing to sue you and going to court at this time to defend the product we sell.
Randi comments: Mr. Johnson will not identify the “US Miltary” reference, made above. Do you wonder why? I’m sure he would prefer that you believe it’s for purposes of security, but the real reason is that the US Military has not used the Sniffex, does not use the Sniffex, and I certainly hope that they will not use the Sniffex.
You have a distinction though, you and Stocklemmon are right together at the top of the search. That puts you in pretty bad company. They are stock shorters who put out bs reports and make money as the stock goes down.
I would encourage you to read the other 100+ links that come up with that same search. It MAY give you some pause, some feeling that, maybe, just maybe, you have gone too far and have risked people's lives by discrediting a product you have never seen, discussed with anyone who has, or even really done any research on.
It WILL sooth [sic] your conscience to know that there are places and situations where Sniffex does not work. They are the exception. It will NOT sooth [sic] your conscience to know that in most situations where there is a threat of terrorist attack, Sniffex could be a valuable tool to keep people out of harms way.
What strikes me as most odd is that if you really wanted to know the facts about Sniffex, you would have called me and discussed the product with me and arranged a demo, not a staged $1,000,000 prize game that my assistant threw away because it looked like just that! In fact, instead you put our product in with all the "crazies" of the paranormal world.
There’s nothing to discuss. More endless anecdotal material would serve no purpose at all. Only a simple, straightforward, test of the Sniffex would serve a purpose – and see Mr. Johnson walk away $1 million richer. Johnson, just accept the test and prove your point. I’ve no time to argue with you.
Well congratulations, you won. We still sell Sniffex, but not anywhere near what we should. But we now sell numerous other products in the homeland security field. And, sadly, your commentary still stops companies and governments all over the world from looking seriously at Sniffex. But, if you care about "saving" people, take a look at the rest of the entries in that same search. Look at all the places it is being used. Unfortunately, the two stories I related above of its success are not able to be published, but I would be glad to put you in touch with the people "on the ground" who did the discoveries.
I promptly responded to this incredible tirade:
BULLSHIT! And you know it! You're either an idiot or a madman – that's not yet decided.
And I received this:
I will assume that your response is a threat. Sorry to hear that. If I am not mistakened [sic], you have never seen our product, never talked to a user, nor have you had a demonstration of any kind. I think that is correct, right? My guess is you are relying on a report from the Navy that was done at YPG (Yuma Proving Grounds). That was done before we knew the that [sic] Sniffex was not effective in areas saturated with "radicals" from previous explosions. YPG has been a test sight [sic] for bombs for at least 30 years and within a half mile of where they tested Sniffex was tested in an area they call "Little Bagdad". Now, ask yourself, why did we even get to YPG. The answer is not in the report, but I will be glad to share it with you if you give me a call.
I am sorry you have taken this hostile postion [sic] and I wish you no harm, but we have to protect our company and our product.
You are very much "mistakened." I have conferred at length with users who thoroughly tested the device, and had several demonstrations.
But then, you are "mistakened" on many matters.
Consider: It seems very evident that even if this dowsing-rod did work, it would be useless in a war zone saturated with “radicals.” By “radicals” Johnson probably refers to nitrogen compounds that could be present after an explosion, but would be cleared away quickly by air currents and/or any precipitation. Note, please, that the U.S. Naval test report says there were 10 m.p.h. breezes in the vicinity during their tests of the Sniffex… Furthermore, page 42 of the Instruction Manual for this toy states:
The operator [when operating the Sniffex] must be aware of the location of known firearms and take care to remove them from a test area. Failure to account for and remove known firearms will result in a “false positive” in the direction of a suspected vehicle, i.e. while Sniffex® did locate a weapon or explosive, it was not the suspected target, nor in the target vehicle… NOTE: The operator can carry a weapon; this will not interfere with Sniffex®.
Incredible. A sidearm worn by the person holding the device, will not affect the operation? This of course answers the problem that might be encountered when an armed soldier tries to use the Sniffex. Wouldn’t want to spoil the “US Military” market, would we? On one occasion when these giddy Sniffex folks were doing a demo of their toy – and it failed, as always – they opined that some potted plants in the room had affected the device because of the nitrate fertilizer used on them. No, I think not. Those polyethylene – plastic – potted “plants” didn’t require fertilization…! Again, reality is intruding on an otherwise excellent alibi. From a foreign correspondent, on this subject of “contamination”:
When we received our demonstration [of the Sniffex] overseas it was with a local distributor, working for a regional distributor, who had approached us, not someone from the US. I heard later the guy who did the demonstration for us was sent back to Lebanon for retraining by the regional distributor. Apparently they determined he was the problem, not contamination in our case. I have never met or spoken with Mr. Johnson or any of his directly-hired employees and the Navy test was before I had even heard of the product.
The funny thing about the contamination claim is that from the report it appears the device was apparently unaffected by contamination when the users knew explosives were present. Only when they didn't know if there were explosives did the contamination cause problems. Funny how that works, isn't it? It reminds me of the MOLE claim of contamination in their test at Sandia.
The “MOLE” tests at Sandia Labs, New Mexico, referred to by this correspondent, were of exactly the same sort of useless device as the Sniffex, and the same sort of complaints were made, of course. There is always an alibi invoked; the fact that the device simply doesn’t work, is never mentioned.
Still on the matter of “contamination” of the mystical signal that the Sniffex is supposed to pick up, this is taken from the Naval Sea Systems Command, EOD Technology Division document “Test Report: The Detection Capability of the Sniffex Handheld Explosives Detector”:
After placement [of the target] any unnecessary explosives were moved out of the test area during each trial to a distance of .35 miles away. The vendor agreed that this was sufficient standoff to prevent accidental identification of explosives…. any boxes that had previously contained explosives that were no longer in contact with explosives were removed from the area. The device was operated by a vendor representative…
[on the second day of testing, performed indoors] The vendor agreed that this was an acceptable method of evaluating the SNIFFEX’s abilities, and stated that the SNIFFEX would be able to detect explosives in this situation…
What really fascinates me about the official Instruction Manual for the Sniffex, is that on page 28, Paul Johnson has outlined exactly the procedure under which he – or any person of his choosing – could be tested for the JREF million-dollar challenge! Note: this is Johnson’s own designation of a proper test of the Sniffex, and we agree with it, 100%! Under “Blind Test Procedures,” he describes a simple setup of four containers, one of which is to be chosen to contain the test explosive or weapon. Yes, Mr. Johnson, we accept – and we’d like to hear your excuses for not accepting, please. Such a test will win the JREF million-dollar prize, hands down! But you will refuse this, finding ways to waffle out of agreeing that your own test – published in your own manual! – would not suffice for you to win $1 million.
Finally, go to www.stocklemon.com/08_01_05.html to see other opinions on the Sniffex and its promoters…
Reader Michael Mayfield in Australia writes:
"The Secret" (See www.randi.org/jr/2007-02/021607failure.html#i3) has been around for a little while now. Of course you would be shocked to discover that it has been promoted on the Larry King Show, among others (will Montel be next?). It has been largely ignored in its home country, Australia, until very recently. Perhaps because most people are too smart to be duped by it! It is, however, a hot topic in some workplaces at the moment. Anita Quigley, a journalist for the popular Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph recently devoted an entire, quite critical column to it.
It's hard to describe how much flim-flam new-age mumbo-jumbo "The Secret" actually promotes. Perhaps the best and most amusing way of summing it up that I have seen so far is the quote by Time Magazine journalist Jeffrey Ressner, who wrote "a kid who wants a red BMX bicycle cuts out a picture in a catalog, concentrates real hard, and is rewarded with the spiffy two-wheeler"!
This is an hilarious response to that article by Daily Telegraph (Australia) columnist Anita Quigley, the article that castigated the film, “The Secret.”
Here’s another alternative to The Secret that I am passing on to you because it definitely worked for me and we all could use more calm in our lives. By following the simple advice I heard on a Dr. Phil’s show, I have finally found inner peace. Dr. Phil proclaimed the way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started. So I looked around my house to see which things I have started and hadn’t finished; and, before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Cardonay, a bole of Baileys, a butle of Kehuha, a pockage of Tim Toms, tha mainder of my Prozic and Valum scriptins, the res of the Chesescke, some cofee an a baxa cholates. Yu haf no idr who gud I fel.
I’ve been reminded that last week I failed – as I'd promised – to provide readers with an explanation of the second of a short repertoire of “psychic” tricks commonly done by the scallywags who claim to have real powers. Sorry. Here’s how they do the trick whereby they purport to send out a telepathic image of an ESP card, a simple drawing, or a number, that they then ask the audience to “pick up.”
First, the standard ESP test cards – the “Zener” deck – consists of five different symbols, shown here. They consist of one, two, three, etc., lines or components, as shown in this sequence, so they also represent numbers. The probability of any one card being chosen by chance alone, is obviously one-in-five, or 20%. Note that I said, “by chance alone.” Magicians have known, for many, many years now, that by far the most likely symbol to be chosen, is the star – for a variety of psychological reasons. So, when the “psychic” makes his/her choice of the “target” symbol the audience should try for, it’s always the star!
Interestingly, Uri Geller has done this stunt many times, always choosing the star symbol, as far back as 1997 when he appeared on “Beyond Belief” in the UK. Did he decide to “project” star symbol? Yep…!
As for the “psychic’s” request for the audience to “make a simple drawing of any object” that he can predict or discern magically, studies have shown that by far the most-often-chosen drawing is that of a house – similarly, for a variety of reasons. Following in order of preference are a stick-figure, a sailboat, and a face… This, when a huge selection – literally thousands of possible objects – is available for the subject to select! The observed percentages shown in the illustration are for these four most-chosen subjects.
Asked to choose a random number – which no one can actually do without technical assistance, because of built-in preferences or biases which can be enhanced by suggestion – a subject’s choice is similarly limited. We find that when asked to choose a number between 1 and 10 – with the limitation, “Don’t choose 3, because that’s what everyone chooses!” the overwhelming preference is 7. For a 2-digit number, it’s 37, or 35. People very seldom choose a repeated digit – 22 or 99, almost never – and odd numbers are much favored over even numbers. This dramatically brings up the odds of the “psychic” being right.
There are numerous other gimmicks used, of course. For example, when a performer has chosen the star for the ESP-card stunt being done on live TV, though the noted preference will probably assure success, it can’t hurt to have friends out there who call in – repeatedly – to vote for the star, can it? On one occasion I know of, a radio program in the UK took guesses from their audience when a certain “psychic” there tried the stunt, but also asked them for their telephone numbers at the same time, so they could check back with them. Lo! When many of those who’d given correct guesses were called back, those were incorrect phone numbers! One can only conjecture how this happened…
My Norwegian friend Trygve sends us to www.vitalterapi.net/butikk/index.php?act=viewProd&productId=36, where we’ll find an “Electricity Harmonizer” which – for about $250 –
…dampens the electricity's "chaotic field" and can decrease the harmful radiation by more than 50%.
Simple to install, but be sure to install it in safe distance from the outlets! The Electricity Harmonizer should always be installed when you deflect your home from ground radiation.
Well, since I deflect my home regularly, I’d better snap up one of these life-savers, right? But, wonders Trygve:
After you've bought these people's hilariously expensive duppeditts, maybe they'll throw in an "Economy Harmonizer" as well?
At www.randi.org/jr/2007-01/011207challenge.html#i1 – the January 12th SWIFT – you’ll see a statement by Adam Hart-Davis which I questioned. It read:
I am no sort of believer in the paranormal, but I have seen too much dowsing success to dismiss it out of hand, and I have seen a sensible professor of engineering set up a successful investigative test.
Yes I do know about Randi’s cheque, and I have also looked critically at the footage of a massive dowsing test he carried out in Australia. In that test he bamboozled the contestants with muddled statistics. They did indeed show a significant effect, but he managed to flannel his way out of it.
So I am not prepared to deny dowsing out of hand.
You’ll see that I vigorously objected to these comments. And I heard back from Mr. Hart-Davis:
Many thanks for your email and for your kind words about my work. You may remember we had lunch in London around 1979 while I was working on one of the Arthur C. Clarke series, and I later filmed you giving a lecture about spoon-bending at UCLA.
Last week I received a letter from a Chris Oldman who had, I think, heard a casual remark I made in a radio interview, and said it had caused his jaw to bounce off the floor. In the interview I was asked whether, having worked on the Clarke series, I believed in the paranormal. I said no, definitely not, although I was not prepared utterly to rule out natural dowsing, since people with forked twigs had walked over ground and later dug to find water.
In his letter, Mr. Oldman accused me of accepting a claim of the paranormal, which I definitely did not; this was simply not true.
In my reply to Mr. Oldman I criticised the handling of the statistics in your Australian dowsing test, a test which we showed in the Clarke series, for the following reason. I paraphrase from the book ARTHUR C CLARKE’S WORLD OF STRANGE POWERS by John Fairley and Simon Welfare: Searching for gold and for water, with a ten per cent chance of getting the right answer, the dowsers claimed they would get 80 per cent success. In practice they achieved an overall success rate of 12 per cent, combining the gold test and the water test. But on the water test alone they scored 22 per cent – well above chance. The results of the two tests should not have been combined.
I don’t think that anyone’s jaw needs to drop at my taking a skeptical and critical approach to such evidence. I strongly approve of your skeptical stance and your million-dollar challenge, and frequently refer people to your website, especially those who write to me with perpetual motion machines.
Take care, and please keep up the good work,
There are several facts about which this gentleman – and Simon Welfare, who I would have thought might have contacted me about the matter – are unaware. First, the dowsers themselves – not we – insisted that the results of all their attempts should be combined; they hoped to make the strongest possible case, and had agreed to equally divide the A$50,000 prize if they won it. In such matters, the applicants’ needs are always met when they cannot compromise the protocol or the results of the tests. Second, because of the perceived anomaly, those same dowsers were once again tested, this time in Perth, Australia, very shortly after the tests cited, because they felt they would do better in that location. Though I knew that this additional test would be done, and I approved that process, I had to return to the USA, so could not be present. They failed spectacularly, obtaining results that almost exactly mirrored the Sydney tests in reverse, so that the overall testing procedures showed null results.
However, Mr. Hart-Davis, quoting the Fairley-Welfare book, describes the 22 per cent result (the chance expectation was 10%) as being “well above chance,” without taking into account or even citing the number of trials conducted. The significance of that number is critical to making any conclusion, and it was not high enough to cause any wonder.
In any case, it is not proper to select out any section, portion, or aspect, of a set of tests to establish a significant result, unless, of course, the intention to do that is announced in advance. Though that method may be used for preliminary procedures that will help to design a final confirmatory test, it is not applicable unless it's so announced. Tossing a coin, one cannot select out a sequence of six “heads” to show a perfect score, if the goal was to obtain “heads.” That’s called, “data-selecting,” and it is the one most often-invoked no-no in amateur testing procedures…
Also, I see no reference here to the “sensible professor of engineering” who performed “a successful investigative test” of dowsing, nor are his results quoted. We’d very much like to contact him, so that his tests could be repeated and confirmed.
Dr. Bruce Flamm – see http://www.randi.org/jr/2007-02/021607failure.html#i7 – asks us to help:
Here is an opportunity to do a great service for science and evidence-based medicine. I am asking journalists and newsletter editors to call Dr. Lawrence D. Devoe at the Journal of Reproductive Medicine (JRM) and ask him to explain why he refuses to retract the fraudulent Cha/Wirth/Lobo “pray for pregnancy” study. In light of [last week's] LA TIMES article, I can not think of one legitimate reason that he could give for his failure to take immediate action. Please publish his response in your newsletter.
Here is a brief summary of the facts:
The results of the 2001 Cha/Wirth/Lobo study defy the laws of physics. The authors claimed that prayers from the United States and Canada caused a 100% increase in the success rate of complex IVF infertility procedures performed in Korea. The study originally had three authors; Kwang Cha, a mysterious infertility doctor, Daniel Wirth a “paranormal” researcher, and Rogerio Lobo, then a department chairman at Columbia University in New York. See http://tinyurl.com/2d69qg.
The astounding results were so statistically significant that they could not be due to chance alone. The results were either supernatural, paranormal, or fraudulent. See http://tinyurl.com/24ce35.
Daniel Wirth, a man with no scientific or medical training, was the individual who allegedly conducted the bizarre research. Co-authors Cha and Lobo now agree to this point. Mr. Wirth is now in Federal prison serving a five-year sentence for fraud. He has admitted to a 20-year history of criminal fraudulent activity. See http://tinyurl.com/2pqwul
Wirth's mentors who supervised his “parapsychology” masters degree now believe that all of Wirth's healing studies may be fraudulent. They have published a comprehensive article giving into the basis for this opinion. See http://tinyurl.com/2wb65g.
Rogerio Lobo of Columbia University admitted that he had nothing to do with the alleged research and can not verify any of the methods or results. He says he only edited the manuscript and assisted with its publication. He has removed his name from the paper. See http://tinyurl.com/2rnxyj
Kwang Cha, the only remaining author of the Cha/Wirth/Lobo paper who is not in prison, has now been charged with plagiarism. In 2005, Cha published a research paper in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Today, the editor-in-chief of Fertility and Sterility announced that the article was plagiarized, a word-for-word copy of a paper published by a different author in Korean medical journal. The editor will recommend to his editorial board that Cha's 2005 article be retracted from the journal and that Cha and all of the listed authors be banned from publishing in the journal for three years. See http://tinyurl.com/2phdwf.
In light of all the above, there is no author left to support the mysterious 2001 Cha/Wirth/Lobo study and absolutely no reason to believe the absurd results. Yet Dr. Devoe, editor of the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, still refuses to retract the nonsensical paper.
I'm sure you understand that this outrageous and unprecedented behavior by the editor of a scientific peer-reviewed medical journal threatens evidence-based medicine and the credibility of the scientific literature. How can anyone decide what articles can be relied upon for correct information if articles known to be fraudulent are not retracted?
I urge you to call Dr. Devoe and ask why he insists that a fraudulent article remains in the scientific literature. He is apparently not responding to emails but does seem to be taking calls from journalists. Here is his contact information: http://www.reproductivemedicine.com/Admin/Contact.htm
Flash! This going-to-press news from Bruce Flamm:
The editor of Fertility and Sterility, Dr. Alan DeCherney, now says that Cha and his associates committed not only plagiarism, but also perjury. He confirms that all authors had actually signed a document stating that the research was original and had not been published in another journal. I don't see how Cha can squirm out of this…
Devoe at the JRM no longer has a leg to stand on. This incident removes his last excuse for not retracting the preposterous 2001 article. What will the JRM do now? …he’s been looking into this matter for five years!
Dr. DeCherney, who has succinctly referred to the Cha/Wirth/Lobo paper as, “baloney,” says he is now recommending that Fertility and Sterility journal publish a statement saying that the paper was plagiarized, and bar all the listed authors from publishing in that journal for three years. Cha could not be reached for comment, and did not return calls, nor did the Journal of Reproductive Medicine. Dr. DeCherney said his journal had declined to publish the Cha/Wirth/Lobo findings in the first place. It is very obvious that Devoe has no reason to ignore this overwhelming evidence that the pray-for-fertility farce is an out-and-out fraud, pure and simple, yet he has sealed up his Ivory Tower and decided to allow such flummery to remain unchallenged. The dragon is at the gate, but he is simply turning up the music… Readers, this is – as Dr. Flamm says above – an outrageous and unprecedented attitude by a scientist who until now could have been respected and heeded. Please take action on this matter, and report any response to us.
Reader Doug Richardson writes:
The reference to "Capricorn One" in this [last] week's column reminds me of this website I discovered recently, created by the Hare Krishna people: science.krishna.org/Articles/2000/08/00082.html.
I never knew that the Moon is 800,000 miles farther from the earth than the Sun is, did you? Let's campaign to get this taught in science classes as an alternative to the "atheistic science" that says that the Moon is closer. Maybe we can get Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter to sign on. However, on another website from the same people, www.salagram.net/MoonLandingHoax.htm, Swami Prabhupada (founder of the cult) says that the Moon is 1,600,000 miles "above the Sun" – twice as far. I'm not sure which figure to believe. Maybe chanting will help? Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Goo Goo G'Joob....
Doug, I’m just as much amused at the authority the HKs offer at their website:
Although many believe man first reached the moon in July, 1969, we have information from a very reliable source, the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures, that the astronauts never actually went to the moon. The manned moon landing was a colossal hoax.
Well, that does it, doesn’t it? After all, these writing are over 3,000 years old, so cannot be doubted… And get a load of the expression on the swami’s face. Obviously not a man to be trifled with. He could fry an egg just by looking at it…
From the UK, Tony Youens sends us to YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK3cul71BQk) to see host Charlie Brooker telling his audience his opinion on Derek Ogilvie, a current “psychic” wonder who does a show over there called, “The Baby Mind Reader.” Well, we can’t laugh at the UK, seeing we’ve had the “Pet Psychic” show, which makes about as much sense. Says Charlie:
Now, I'm not saying that Derek and all the other psychics don't have special abilities, I'm just saying that if they do, all known laws of science are going to have to be rewritten, but then what’s science, anyway? Hey, I mean, ooh, it's only a rigorously tested, peer-reviewed system of knowledge about the way our world works, built up over centuries, that's all. It's not a patch on mindless superstition, which has been around for far longer and brought us exciting things like ghosts and demons, witch trials, and the Tooth Fairy, and of course, the baby ––ing mind reader.
Ogilvie, not to our surprise, has been announcing to the media that he’s accepted the JREF challenge to win a million dollars, which he certainly has not. Despite repeated promises over several months, he’s refused to send in his application. Tony Youens has sent us this quotation from Ogilvie:
I've started work on my new project. I can't tell you much about it so watch this space for more details but what I will say is that James Randi and I will be working together very soon! I bet you can't wait to find out what is going on but there is a great deal of money at stake. $1 million actually! I hope that James and I end up being good friends out of this as I'd really like to work with him in the future on other projects.
Well good luck with all those “future projects,” Derek! I sure won’t be there!
The show is as silly as you can imagine, with Ogilvie squealing in a falsetto that he thinks expresses the baby’s desires. A prominent UK TV production team intends to do a special on Ogilvie, and we’ve agreed to our participation only if Ogilvie makes formal application – which he still refuses to do. It is to be hoped that, if the program goes ahead, it will be made clear that the Baby Psychic, not the JREF, backed out of the challenge.
You never know…
Reader Ben Teague e-mailed “Aquamantra” (see www.randi.org/jr/2007-02/021607failure.html#i14) about the JREF prize:
Please consider taking the 1 million dollar challenge to prove that the water you're selling actually does what you say it can do. Please click here for details: www.randi.org/research/index.html.
A response arrived, one that we’d expect from anyone thus challenged, with the usual excuses:
Thanks for your consideration.
We would consider, however, our water doesn't need proving. As well, according to the limitations of quantum physics in accordance to standard science, the Observer is the Creator of their reality. And since Mr. Randi, is clearly not a believer in Aquamantra or its products, his observation will sku [sic] any test and therefore, the proof will be what he is looking for, and not what is the universal truth. The proof in peoples' lives, is enough for them to know that we come from truth and love. For Aquamantra, the joy and happiness we receive in emails, phone calls and support is proof enough, that we have create [sic] a product for the common good of humanity. Peace and Blessings to you my friend.
Another reader, Doug Kosty, also wrote them:
Just wondering if you have any data to support the claims that you make for your products. This is, of course, for any claims that extend beyond the properties of normal tap water. Looking forward to your research references.
Again, a prompt and courteous – but totally non-responsive – reply arrived:
Aquamantra makes no claims that extend beyond the properties of natural spring water, which comes from Mt. Palomar. Our mission is that of truth and love, to inspire and touch people from the inside out. We encourage people to think I AM LOVED, and then Drink our water. It is completely up to the individual drinker how they taste the water. In answer to your question, it is not our goal to research how everyone tastes our water, but if you are curious, we recommend reading our testimonial page as they are several people who admire and love our universal message to create a better humanity.
Reader Mark Tucker comments:
I just finished reading your comments about the Aquamantra™ spring water, and I just had to take a look at the site. Funny stuff. Cute models, though.
I noticed on their "What is a mantra?" page an invitation: "What is the phrase that keeps you going day after day?" they ask. "Email us with your mantra, maybe we'll use it to create our next AQUAMANTRA!"
OK, I will. How's this? "I am too smart to fall for this crap... I am too smart to fall for this crap..."
Reader Art Kaufman searched the US Patent and Trademark Office database, which reveals that neither "I Am Healthy" nor "I Am Lucky" are active trademarks, though "I Am Loved" has several active entries. Comments Art:
Gosh, woo-purveyors lying to make their stuff look more "real." Whoda thunkit?
First, we must respect the fact that the Aquamantra people answered these inquiries at all; it is very rare, indeed, that this happens. But, all considered, a quick retreat, no answering of questions, and the old head-in-the-sand move, are seen here. Oh, and I almost forgot: Peace and Blessings…
Reader P.T. Quinn, of Ann Arbor, writes:
I had no idea the Earth is hollow and probably a civilization lives there. Apparently, there's some sort of portal at the North Pole, and a group of folks who call themselves "Advanced Planetary Explorations, LLC" from 248 Lawrence Street, Madisonville, Kentucky, are organizing a North Pole expedition. They're part of a group called "The Phoenix Science Foundation" that's led by some guy named Brooks A. Agnew, PhD.
I found all of this information by starting here: www.ourhollowearth.com/ourhollo/index.html. That linked to this: phoenixsciencefoundation.org/apex_form.htm.
World Top Secret: Our Earth Is Hollow! Could the earth, moon, planets and stars all be hollow bodies? Amazingly, the answer is Yes! And very likely inhabited within!
Then they proclaim:
The North Pole Expedition is slated to leave Murmansk, Russia July 4th, 2007 and return July 17th, 2007. If the full funding necessary to conduct the NPIEE [North Pole Inner Earth Expedition] is not raised by June 28th, 2007, the NPIEE may be postponed until the following year. We reserve the right to direct investments and donation [sic] to any legitimate purpose pursuant to completion of the NPIEE.
No! We are not some fringe group of New-Age cultists hyping a fictional story! To our knowledge, there has never been data from any source collected from this area of planet Earth. What are you afraid of? Discovering that we are not alone on...or in...this planet? Come on. Join us. Let's go see. We can't go to Mars or to the Moon, but we can go to the North Pole.
The science is real. The story is more than 5,000 years old. If we discover anything that significantly changes the concept of the current structure of the Earth, or reveals the presence of life other than our currently accepted civilization, it may be the greatest expedition in the history of the world.
The group's ambitious intention is to include the following participants:
33 seats for Scientists and Engineers
15 seats for film makers and photographers
5 seats for IT experts and Satellite uplink experts
23 seats for Exopolitical trainers and ambassadors
24 seats for previous team members
There's much more the story than I can possibly mention here. But it also involves an Native American Mormon author who believes the civilization might be a "Lost Tribe of Israel" and he looks forward to meeting his "brethren" or something. Does it get any sillier than this? Just when you think you've heard it all like the "Sun Eater," something else answers that question with a resounding yes.
Well, at least we’re assured that this is not “a fringe group of New-Age cultists,” friends. We’ve handled this very old and tired idea before, at www.randi.org/encyclopedia/Hollow%20Earth%20theory.html and www.randi.org/jr/052804reggie.html#11, for examples…
In my opinion, channel 10 saw that psychic claims would get attention – good or bad – and jumped on that rickety bandwagon. Time to hop off, folks. That wagon is going downhill, fast…
Reader Jan-Eric Nystrom:
While "Google-Earthing," looking at places in the US of geological interest, I happened upon a link added to GoogleEarth: www.creationscience.com. I guess this site is pretty familiar to you? Just for fun, I had a look at the site, and in a few seconds I found these preposterous statements in their astro/physics section, here with my remarks:
Saturn has 33 known moons. One of them, named Phoebe, has an orbit almost perpendicular to Saturn’s equator. This is difficult for evolutionists to explain.
Randi: No, only 19, but with lots of smaller orbiting chunks. And there is no difficulty at all providing excellent explanations for this oblique orbit! Does the Bible offer any evidence on this…?
Jan-Eric: Creationists make it really simple: "It was created thus..."
Geologists admit that they do not know how the Grand Canyon formed.
Randi: Wrong. They “admit” no such thing. They have an excellent picture of the event, and a plethora of hard evidence. What does the Bible offer as evidence…? Nothing.
Jan-Eric: Really? I think geologists have a pretty good idea...
It is now recognized that plate tectonics does not occur on Venus. (Part II of this book will explain why plate tectonics also does not occur on Earth.)
Randi: I’ll leave this to Jan-Eric…
Jan-Eric: O-ho-ho! We can measure the continental drift on Earth. Also, the fact that tectonics does not occur on Venus, proves nothing about the Earth!
The Moon does exist. If it was not pulled or splashed from Earth, was not built up from smaller particles near its present orbit, and was not captured from outside its present orbit, only one hypothesis remains: the Moon was created in its present orbit.
Randi: At least they got the first sentence correct. There are three “ifs” here, any of which could provide the answer, with varying degrees of likelihood – this technique of showing that science is still considering the possibilities, is an attempt to show that science doesn’t know anything for certain. But science considers all the possible scenarios, while religion turns to the Bible… And finds nothing …
Jan-Eric: Only one hypothesis? I could invent lots more...
Had Earth ever been molten, dense, nonreactive chemical elements such as gold would have sunk to Earth’s core. Gold is 70% denser than lead, yet is found at the Earth’s surface. Therefore, the entire Earth was never molten and did not form by meteoritic bombardment.
Randi: Who said it formed “by meteoritic bombardment”? And maybe the core of the Earth consists of molten gold…? What grade school did these folks attend – or did they?
Jan-Eric: Nice proof! As any amateur magician knows, you can get a steel needle, and even a copper penny to float in a glass of water. However, to be scientifically correct, I do have to point out that this trick is NOT a proof of the molten earth or bombardment theory...
Because Venus is relatively near the Sun, its atmosphere is 860°F – so hot its surface rocks must be weak or “tarlike.” (Lead melts at 622°F and zinc at 787°F.) Only if Venus’ subsurface rocks are cold and strong can its mountains defy gravity. This allows us to draw two conclusions, both of which contradict major evolutionary assumptions.
Randi: Just what are these un-named “assumptions," please?
Jan-Eric: This statement only shows that the creationists don't know their physics/chemistry. Lead and zinc are not rocks, and their melting point is irrelevant. Most rocks are not "tarlike" at 860°F (460°C). Sure, there is a considerable range of melting temperatures for different compositions of rock. The silicates (i.e. the most common rocks) are all molten at about 1800°C but all are rock solid (pun intended) when cooled to about 500°C.
As often happens, our friend Avital Pilpel has provided us with some well-derived wisdom…
Dr. Emoto's (sounds like a 1950s comic-strip villain, doesn't it?) comment about "the flavor of 100% pure thought" reminded me of the car air freshener (the scented cardboard type) I saw recently. It was "treasure" scented – with an illustration of a treasure box overflowing with gold and diamonds. Huh? And wouldn't a treasure-scented car attract thieves?
As for the "Feng Shui" monkey cage (no metaphor intended) it seems to me it's not the stupidity of the zoo's keepers, but the cynicism of the zoo's PR firm, which is the culprit. Paying an extra $4500 to a quack, in order to make the $7,000,000 display with the $1,000,000 monkeys the world's "first feng-shui designed zoo exhibit" is good business. It is sure to attract Feng Shui enthusiasts, of which there are quite a few in L.A., for a trifling addition to the total cost. Expect the cage's feng shui properties to be prominently displayed in advertisements.
It's a marketing gimmick, not a philosophy, to cater to your potential clients' beliefs. If the zoo's marketing people find out not enough Muslims visit the zoo, you'll get the "first zoo in America where the lions only eat halal meat". Scientologists inexplicably stay away? Expect an infestation of "Clear" animals. Creationists won't visit a "Darwinist" zoo? Suppress pro-evolution signs next to the animals' cages, or sell "alternative theories" "biology" books in the zoo's gift shop.
After all, the one religion the PR firms (and Montel Williams) truly believe in, is that of the almighty dollar.
Reader John Williams, in Lovelady, Texas, informed Joan Ocean – who has the Sasquatch site we cited last week, and advertises herself as an “MSc”:
Do you know that if you can prove what you say about Sasquatch on your website, you may be eligible for James Randi's $1 million? Details can be found at www.randi.org. Will you be willing to take the test? Thanks for answering.
Ms. Ocean answered John promptly:
Thank you for thinking of me. I have many witnesses beside myself who have had contact with this special group of 34 Wise Ones (who we call Sasquatch). But they have no need for money and as you can understand, their privacy and location must be respected for their safety. I only want to let people know about them in the hopes that someday the human race can meet them in person and benefit from their ancient wisdom. Some of the native American people are their friends as well. They are gentle and intelligent. Only the younger generation has learned to write in English. Otherwise they write with symbols. Their preferred means of communication is telepathy. In that way they are similar to our beloved dolphins and whales.
Umm, Joan, the offer of a million dollars was to you, not to the hairy guys. Nice avoidance, though, I must admit.
It’s always a puzzle to determine whether or not these woo-woos really believe in what they promote. With those like Sylvia Browne and Uri Geller, there’s no doubt: they know full well what they’re doing. But it appears that Master-of-Science Joan Ocean is probably genuinely deluded, judging from this note.
A reader who wisely wishes to remain anonymous, but whose name would of course be given under the appropriate legal mandate, writes of an experience he had which rather cast doubt on the claims Uri Geller makes for genuine psychic powers. I cite this item as the statement of a reader. I cannot attest to the report, nor for the validity of the account.
I had the opportunity to see Uri Geller’s show in Peterborough, England, around 3 years ago. I was very excited at having gotten tickets for the event. Up to this point, I was sure he was genuine, an opinion formed after reading books and seeing documentaries, etc., and having followed Mr. Geller’s life story over several years.
I also have a sincere interest in magic tricks and am familiar with sleight-of- hand/misdirection.
The show was interesting but I was unimpressed with anything I saw, in fact everything could easily have been replicated by magic means. Bear in mind that I was a “believer” and had been interested in Mr. Geller since a teenager – so some 20 years or so – however I kept an open mind, but was on the lookout for any scams. The Theatre was a quarter full.
After the show Mr. Geller did some book signing and stuff, and I had brought a spoon along with the intention of getting him to bend it. Right at the end of the signing session, most people had gone, a few people were asking him to do something, i.e. bend a spoon.
He was quite energetic, walking around quickly and not staying in one spot – all of this in the foyer of the theatre. I can't remember how but he ended up with my spoon, which I remember he was keen to find out whose it was.
Now I remember that as he was quickly walking about with this spoon, I clearly saw him very quickly physically bend the spoon with force, then walk to the little crowd that had gathered, and by placing the spoon under his fingers so that the bend was hidden, he then appeared to bend it in front of our eyes, by rubbing it. I was flabbergasted.
I was gobsmacked, and shocked, not that he had psychically used his abilities, but that he had clearly cheated. It really rocked my faith and foundations of belief I’d had in him. My mind really spun, I can tell you, for days. I was in denial for quite some time.
No one else saw him do this, and I believe I only saw it because of my “magic” interest; I was watching him extremely carefully. I have told no one else of this, not even my wife who came with me. I have nearly e-mailed you before, but I guess I was still in denial. This is truthfully what I witnessed, and I thought you may be interested.
Funny how things turn out, isn't it?
I’m surprised that this witness, after stating that he had some expertise in misdirection, describes Geller’s actions as, “quite energetic, walking around quickly and not staying in one spot,” and then fails to connect that action with misdirection! This is an accurate picture of a conjuror trying to get in some covert action without being observed. Looking away – as if searching for the owner of the spoon – gesturing and otherwise making his frenetic movements acceptable, provides an excellent scenario for making a quick bending motion. The same move was seen, for example, on British TV during a “Noel’s Houseparty” broadcast in October, 2006, which can be seen at youtube.com/watch?v=K_Mkxl6ubaA. The fascinating thing about this specific TV event is that those who did the taping – which was made without Geller knowing it – had not initially set out to catch him, and didn’t even spot the exposure that was shown, until astute viewers informed them about it after they saw the broadcast!
On Sunday, March 18, at 1 p.m., I’ll be speaking at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the National Capitol Area Skeptics, in Chevy Chase, MD. My subject will be “Beware: Skeptic on the Loose! The price is right – FREE – so click on www.ncas.org/2007/02/ncas-20th-anniversary-event-james-randi.html for details. This will be preceded by a brunch with me at 11:00 a.m., in Silver Spring. This, you pay for, but make reservations: very limited seating.
Go to www.prometheusbooks.com/catalog/book_1867.html to read about – and purchase – the latest book by Victor Stenger. The reviews tell the tale… Vic will be making a personal appearance at Borders in Boulder, Colorado on Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 2 pm Mountain time, kicking off a book tour.
The JREF library now stands at 2,057 volumes…!
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