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March 23, 2007

 "...the chief end I propose to myself in all my labours is to vex the world rather than divert it." - Jonathan Swift


  1. Facts Getting in the Way of Ideology
  2. A Useful List
  3. Quotes For Today
  4. Tell Me Everything I Need to Know
  5. It Tastes Bad Anyway
  6. Only Partial Satisfaction
  7. And More …
  8. A Date Problem in Egypt
  9. Be Seated For This One
  10. On YouTube
  11. In Closing…

Be sure to tune in April 1st for the Pigasus Awards!

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At you’ll find an astonishing exchange sent to us by a reader, taken from the Washington Monthly:

House Republican Leader John Boehner would have appointed Rep. Wayne Gilchrest to the bipartisan Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming – but only if the Maryland Republican would say humans are not causing climate change, Gilchrest said. "I said, 'John, I can't do that,'" Gilchrest, R-1st-Md., said in an interview. "He said, 'Come on. Do me a favor. I want to help you here.'"

Gilchrest didn't make the committee... He’d expressed his interest in the committee several times to Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, telling them the best thing they could do for Republican credibility was to appoint members familiar with the scientific data. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a research scientist from Maryland, and Michigan's Rep. Vern Ehlers, the first research physicist to serve in Congress, also made cases for a seat, but weren't appointed, he said.

"Roy Blunt said he didn't think there was enough evidence to suggest that humans are causing global warming," Gilchrest said. "Right there, holy cow, there's like 9,000 scientists to three on that one."

Familiarity with the scientific data? Sorry, no. We're the GOP.

Well, I’d have to see data supporting the 9,000-to-3 ratio claimed, but it’s not far off. Of course, we’re talking “faith-based” here, so anything goes…

I was recently given a DVD of Al Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth."  After viewing that documentary, I have abandoned any doubts that I may have had about the reality of our species’ contribution to global warming.  Gore – a statesman if ever there was one – makes his point repeatedly and powerfully. If you haven't seen it, by all means do so...

[As soon as this item appeared here in SWIFT, a huge number of comments poured in from readers who disagreed with my take on the Gore film. Some of these caveats came from persons whose opinions I must consider very carefully, so I take this opportunity of assuring you all that I’m re-examining my position, and will get back here when I’ve considered the matter more fully.]


The “Institut für Umvelt- und Verfahrenstechnik” [Institute for Applied Environmental Technology (UMTEC)] in Switzerland, has issued an excellent “Checklist for identifying dubious technologies,” starting with “Rules of thumb that can help you identify 90% of all dubious technical products.” Writes Prof. Dr. Rainer Bunge:

Being in charge of a research institute in the field of Environmental Engineering, I am frequently asked to assess "unconventional" products and processes in my field. Unfortunately, quackery is not only confined anymore to the realm of medicine but also spills over into the technical disciplines. However, it is sometimes surprisingly difficult to differentiate quackery from genuine innovation. Over the course of many years, I have therefore assembled a checklist for "dubious technologies" that your readers may find useful (see attachment). Feel free to post our checklist or use it in any way you wish.

Here is the introduction to Dr. Bunge’s list:

1. Magnetic or electromagnetic impulses have no influence on the technologically relevant properties of liquids like water or gasoline. Key words: improving fuel efficiency; softening of water; desiccation of walls...

2. Crystals have no specific influence on liquids, electromagnetic fields or radiation.  Key words: informed, vitalized... drinking water, protection from electromagnetic pollution.

3. Water has no definite structure, no "memory," and cannot transmit "information."  Key words: vitalized, levitated, "informed" water...

4. “Earth radiation” and “tachyons” do not exist. Key words: Divining rods, Tachyon Energy.

The rest of this interesting and useful document can be seen as a PDF file here.


Reader Gwen Way gives us this quotation from Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826):

Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.

But Reader Linda Rossi turns to another U.S. President to give us another quote:

The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by obvious realities.  We need men and women who can dream of things that never were…

That statement, which can be mis-read and mis-used by those who wish to destroy its value, came from John F. Kennedy, and, as we might expect, was thus mis-used by Ms. Rossi, Sylvia Browne’s business manager, the one who substituted for the reluctant Sylvia on the “Anderson Cooper 360” confrontation I had on CNN, in January. A fragile straw to clutch at, Linda…!


Reader Corey Watts, in Australia, writes:

It is with great disgust that I draw your attention to, which is a link to the website of one of Australia's largest commercial radio stations. Yep! The Biggest Douche in the Universe, “psychic” John Edward, is now a regular guest there. Those wanting readings are asked to simply fill in these details:

1. Name
2. Address
3. Suburb or Town
4. State
5. Post Code
6. Gender
7. Daytime contact phone number
8. Birthdate
9. Relationship to the deceased

WOW! All the listener needs to do is provide John Edward with lots of personal information. Why do you need my birthday? Have the deceased lost their memory? And he'll “cross over” and bring back messages…

Corey, this is the procedure known as “hot reading” – where the scam-artist knows certain facts about the victim in advance, and then can build on them, and go on an Internet search for details. This selection asked for by the Edward team, would result in very extensive data about the victim, particularly if currently-available databases were employed. That way, Edward need not look in on the operation at all; it can all be handled by flunkies, and the money goes straight into the bank.


Reader John Pfingst, of West Islip, New York, informs us:

Here's an interesting article about “health-giving” mineral baths at the Saratoga Spa State Park run by the State of New York. It's now been discovered that they've been mixing in plain tap water for the past 10 years! Officials are only concerned about the deceiving of the public, not about whether there are benefits in soaking in mineral water, etc., etc. I think a claim like this, by a government entity, is extremely newsworthy.

The watered-down-water article is found at But, as one interested reader commented to us, does this say anything about the gullibility of all the people who have bathed there over the years and sworn that they could feel the effect(s) of this magical mineral water?


There were many notices sent to me reporting that last week’s item at was wrong because David Miles had not made the changes he’d promised. It’s true that he did add this to the ad:

INTENDED for entertainment purposes. This is NOT a scientifically proven device. It's a unique gadget.

However, the text still clearly endorses the mythology claimed. This is like the “For entertainment only” disclaimer at the end of the talking-to-the-dead ads. In any case, it’s a wimp-out. Edmund Scientifics got stuck with a warehouse full of quackery because their customers were smarter than the merchants thought they were…


Go to to see more well-paying silliness in the audio business, and then to, for the idiocy of a 68-year-old former kindergarten teacher named Inger Naess. People will buy anything, folks!


Reader Kevin M. Folta writes about, asking, “Looking for a time traveler?” He tells us:

There was a “time traveler” on Oprah who said she could revisit her past life in ancient Egypt.  She went into a trance, to the awe of the audience. She then said, "I am in ancient Egypt… I see the Nile River… I am among the pyramids…" The audience sat stunned at this display of time travel.

Then she said, "The year is 41 B.C."  The audience gasped in amazement. Of course, nobody bothered to ask how she would use Christ's birth as a time reference if it hadn't happened yet.

The madness continues.   Thanks for everything you do. I'm going to send a lot of money some day.  The idiots have taken over.

Kevin, your last two sentences remind me of one of the last letters that I ever received from Johnny Carson – it was dated, “8 Sept – 2002,” and it closed with this statement:

On the gullibility scale, Larry King is second only to Montel Williams.  I hope the enclosed will help to educate them both.

The "enclosed" was a six-figure check.  I immediately responded:

John, your generous contribution is of course most welcome, but I must tell you that it is not sufficient for the intended purpose.

There was more, of course…


Reader Dave Marini:

I do not know if you have seen this video before, but it shows a Kiai Master – one of those knock-you-over-without-touching-you kinda martial artists – waging $5,000 that he could beat any MMA fighter who is a knock-you-over-by-hitting-you-really-hard kinda martial artist... I think the result speaks for itself...

Go to


Reader Jon Dunbar, in South Korea, tells us of something I’d never heard of before…

Only recently I was able to track down clips on Youtube. I'm a Canadian and my wife is Korean. My wife remembers when she was very young seeing an Uri Geller special on TV, so I tracked down some videos about him that involved you. I was very pleased to see you've visited Korea, and I'd love to find a copy of the shows you did.

Anyway, this might not be right up your alley, but I thought you might take interest in it. Stop me if you've heard of "fan death" before. Basically it's a common belief in Korea that sleeping in a closed room with the fan on will cause death. It's strange, but nearly every Korean believes it. The newspapers report dozens of fan deaths every summer, and even fan manufacturers themselves include warnings on their packaging. This may not be a case of a fraudulent psychic bilking people out of their money, but think of all those unexplained deaths every year.

What I find interesting about fan death is how people consider it science. They will insist there are scientific reasons for it, and may even be able to explain them. They know fans cause death, so why? Maybe the fans create a vortex around your mouth, sucking away the oxygen? Or maybe the fan releases carbon monoxide, or it might chop up air particles and make them unbreathable? And if fans are not lethal in other countries, maybe it's due to Koreans' unique physiology?

Some people in Korea are starting to see that fan death is not real, but I still hear about it from time to time. Recently five Koreans tried to commit suicide by locking themselves in a hotel room and turning on a fan. The only reason they survived, reports the media, is because one of them backed out and turned off the fan. Unfortunately, I haven't seen this article in the English media yet.

Anyway, I was hoping you'd be interested. Wikipedia has a good description of fan death, at

Yes, Jon, I find this very interesting, but I really think that the majority of South Koreans will not accept this strange notion. My experiences there have satisfied me that they’re very sensible, rational, folks…


My description of my splendid adventure in Monterey, California, at the TED conference this month, will have to wait until next week, folks – as will another psychic-trick revelation. Time has caught up with me again, and I’ve just been too busy. I went to Chevy Chase, MD, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the National Capital Area Skeptics [NCAS], a very successful and active group that can be reached at Lots of good friends attended, and I received the very handsome Philip J. Klass Award, named in honor of the gentleman at

Next week, you’ll see that the UK comes in for a large share of the attention, some positive, but not all…  

Finally, in the “no-comment-required” category, go to and reinforce your conviction that people will be taken in by the most obvious frauds.  Then, go and take a shower with non-hexagonal water, to neutralize the effects of the exposure to such crapiola…

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