April 13, 2007
Table of Contents
Reader Alan Peterson, with Radio America Network, Washington, D.C., found this for our entertainment and education:
The Modern Mechanix website: blog.modernmechanix.com is a marvelous repository of classic layman's science and tech magazine articles from the past... you know, those flying cars, the rocket belts, and robots that will do our housework someday "in the future" (around 1975 or so).
But even futuristic thinking had its woo-woo side. Consider this article: tinyurl.com/yv4e5t about a German inventor who theorized (?) that aligning a bed with the Earth's magnetic field would result in extremely sound sleep. A crank-driven turntable would let one turn a bed into the field when desired, then return the room to an aesthetically pleasing state the next morning.
The text says this idea was derived from "extensive experiments.” Very possible, given the times. Go through the site and see what else never came true: the steam-powered airplane, for one: http://tinyurl.com/2rdvzp.
Yes, Alan, but these wild ideas occasionally turn into workable devices, and should be looked into both by amateurs and by professionals. Here on the JREF site, we ridicule the more obvious crackpot ideas – the magnetically-oriented bed is one such – but let’s not miss out on the telephone, the transistor, or the Internet…!
Is it good feng shui, or bad feng shui? There are plans in San Francisco's Chinatown to erect a community college building, a 17-story flowing glass tower. Some local residents and merchants say City College of San Francisco's proposed structure is a "monstrosity" that would loom over Portsmouth Square – and they say it has already created negative feng shui. These are matters that some folks take seriously, as if they were based on fact. Feng shui, which translates as “wind and water,” is an ancient Chinese concept that says the placement of things brings balance to their surroundings and thereby promotes prosperity, health and happiness. Really?
No one has much of a problem with that “balance” idea, in architecture, city planning, or industrial layout, but feng shui involves mystical, superstitious, medieval ideas that residents of San Francisco can actually take seriously. Why can’t common sense, practicality, and consideration for the inhabitants of the area, outweigh the woo-woo?
Pope Benedict XVI, the current Dinosaur in the Vatican, has recently declared his “extended reflections on evolution.” These will of course be of great interest to science, since Benedict speaks from a position of expertise. In a new book he’s produced, "Creation and Evolution,” he tells the world that Darwin's theory “cannot be finally proven.” Well, duh, only the evidence – copious amounts of it, being added to every day – supports Darwin, Mr. Ratzinger. As for “creationism,” sir, there is ZERO evidence to support that notion. Of course, that offers you no problem, because if it feels good, accept it – that’s from the Alfred E. Neuman school of philosophy.
Ratzinger went on, as expected, about the “gaps” in the evolution record – apparently unaware that those gaps are being filled in, regularly. He pointed out that
…the theory of evolution is not a complete, scientifically proven theory
– which no scientist has even claimed, since no theory is “complete” or “scientifically proven.” Science does something that religion never does, and never will do: science welcomes and incorporates facts as they are presented, whether they agree with the theory to which they apply, or not, and adjusts any discovery to incorporate the newly-discovered evidence – thus growing and improving the view we have of reality. Science is never “proven” – it offers a view that explains the world as we see it, a view that is subject to improvement, adjustment, or even reversal, if the facts require that to be done; science gets better by discrete steps, getting closer to the truth, with each step. Religion, on the other hand, is set, hardened, incorrigible, dogmatic, and incapable of changing its notions. It rules as a dictator, denying any and all facts that oppose its dogma. It does not grow.
Happily, Ratzinger’s book did not endorse “intelligent design,” though his bombing of evolution certainly implies his support of that failed chimera.
This Jurassic approach of his flies in the face of his predecessor, the former Vatican fossil, John Paul II, who declared that Charles Darwin's theories on evolution were sound, so long as they accepted that creation was the work of God. Can’t ignore that capricious, vengeful, jealous, insecure deity, because he’s liable to start tossing thunderbolts…
The pope's remarks reiterated one of his most important themes – that faith and reason are interdependent. By “faith,” he refers to blind faith, the faith-without-evidence upon which religion is founded. He says, in his book:
[Science]’s results lead to questions that go beyond its methodical canon and cannot be answered within it.
No. If that had read, “cannot be presently answered within it,” I’d have less reason to differ with the author – though I cannot imagine any question that lies beyond a methodical approach. We are constantly moving forward the boundaries of our knowledge – tentative though that knowledge is – through rational thought and the experimental process; religion is stuck in the amber that it has generated down through the ages. And, note the Pope’s identification of the scientific method as a “canon.” That amply demonstrates his misconception of science; a “canon” is an axiom, an item of dogma, not at all a permitted aspect of science. That’s for religion. Science has no canons, sir.
Reader Péter Lovasi alerts us to a video at www.youtube.com/profile?user=JamesYoung764.
This is the common ploy that a specific woo-woo will employ to disassociate himself from other woo-woo artists. According to Mr. Young, because there are fakes and frauds in the paranormal field, does not mean that astrology is a farce – and I agree that astrology stands on its own as a farce, and of greater antiquity. Young compares reading a horoscope to reading a road map, but people who read the map may end up knowing where they are, while astrologers never do. The basic Big Question arises for Mr. Young as for all the others: why has he not applied to win the JREF prize…? Notes Mr. Lovasi:
Not a media celebrity, nor academically backed but his dictatoristic and arrogant handling of criticism and his nonsensical statements are irritating, and his challenge to his critics is more than I can stand.
A chap named Jack Myers has rather cast doubt on the fact that I ingested a full bottle – 32 tablets – of homeopathic sleeping-pills while speaking for the TED conference last month, a stunt I’ve done several times all over the world. Here in Florida, in Canada, Finland, Norway, England, and other venues, I’ve choked down handfuls of lactose tablets and capsules. Myers just couldn’t believe that this potent medicine wouldn’t incapacitate me, since he accepts the mythology of homeopathy, all because his friends have assured him that it works. I hope they don’t assure him that Santa gets down chimneys, too…
Now, here’s where Mr. Myers stepped all the way into the lions mouth, when he committed himself to a confrontation, thus:
Here's my challenge. I will meet Randi on any stage and bring a bottle of the same store purchased homeopathic sleeping pills he took. I will open the sealed bottle and he can take the full bottle there on the spot as he did at TED. If he can stay awake for 12 hours without getting sick, I will pay him $1,000.
Upon receiving this posting, and with visions of ten one-hundred-dollar bills dancing in my head, I immediately and happily sent off this response to Jack Myers:
Mr. Myers: I have just now received a copy of your April 1/02 2:36 PM communication…
There is much in that text that needs to be addressed in detail – and will be – but at this moment, I will confine myself to your “challenge,” in which you accuse me of being a liar and of faking my ingestion of “Calms Forté” sleeping pills at TED. Sir, I enthusiastically accept your challenge. On an agreed-upon date and time, at a location of your choosing, I will swallow an entire bottle of Calms Forté sleeping pills supplied by you, followed by an adequate amount of water – which you will also supply – and I will submit to being constantly observed from that moment until twelve hours later.
Mr. Myers, I not only will not suffer any ill effects, I will not even feel drowsy. Following that, you will pay me the $1,000 you agreed upon.
I am also prepared to sign any document you may wish to prepare, that releases you from any responsibility for my well-being as a result of this voluntary action.
I trust that you will not have any problem if the media are in attendance, and if a complete video record is kept of the event …?
As I told my TED audience, I have done this stunt in several countries around the world. For you to decide that I had to be lying in that statement, is attributable only to the conviction you must have that homeopathy works – which it does not. As I’ve done before, I’m betting my life on that. I am accustomed – you may have missed this point in my TED talk – of putting my money where my mouth is. I hope that you will not withdraw your offer…
I await your answer with interest…
Stay tuned. Watch Myers start floundering about trying to figure out how he can get out of this lions mouth before the jaws close… Ah, but you must be wondering why Mr. Myers accepts all this woo-woo. Just go to www.mediavillage.com/stories/starcasts.html and it will all be clear: that daring offer of his was an attempt at defense. Mr. Myers is a believer/vendor/promoter of woo-woo, and my talk at TED put his belief structure in peril…
This upcoming test of myself was barely announced, when a wine-enhancer promoter, Douglas Dubin, who peddles The Perfect Sommelier – see www.randi.org/jr/2006-06/060906just.html#i4 – announced that just now he discovered that we’d offered him the prize long ago! What, you may ask, is this miraculous device? In the words of the promoter:
The Perfect Sommelier works by creating a magnetic field between the stopper and the base. The wine molecules follow the flux path created by the magnetic field, lengthening the tannin chain and aligning the other components. Remarkably, the effect is to open the wine resulting in softer tannins and rounder fruit, as if it had been cellared for several years.
Of course, this is sheer fantasy, engaged in by those who use their imaginations far too freely, so I’m a million dollars sure of it. To assure him of our eagerness to test his device and allay his fears that he might not be eligible for the JREF prize, I immediately wrote to Mr. Dubin:
This is confirmation of our offer. Firm confirmation. I cannot understand why you would have the slightest doubt that you are eligible to win our US$1,000,000 prize. What ever gave you that notion...? Unless you have decided that maybe your magical device doesn't work?
Come on, Mr. Dubin! Prove it, and win a million!
We stand ready to test the device. VERY ready. And, if any of these devices were to really work, they would – by definition – be paranormal, so it all falls within the venue of the JREF million-dollar challenge. Your organization has a media presence, and all sorts of endorsements, so you qualify perfectly for the reward!
Folks, that was a week ago, and Mr. Dubin has not responded. What? Another Sylvia Browne? Another withdrawal from the lists?
It was ever so…
Reader Joy Rohde in the UK reports that Uri Geller, who had been asked to use his distant-healing powers on Harvey, the son of one Katie Price – more commonly known as stripper “Jordan,” and one of the wealthiest women in the UK – to restore his sight. Jordan met Geller’s daughter Natalie four years ago at a glamour model's Pimps and Prostitutes-themed 25th birthday party. The child – now five years old – was born without the nerve that sends the message from the eye to the brain, an incurable affliction.
There has been no change in the child’s condition, as expected. As reader Joy says, “Looks like Geller struck out again.”
We have just added “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins to the JREF library – it’s number 2,074…!
Uri Geller is actively trying to remove videos that portray him in a critical light from the World Wide Web. We've decided to host some of them on our own site, and they can be seen at www.randi.org/uri. If you have the time and inclination, please download these videos and upload them far and wide.
Do a search here in SWIFT for “Flamm” and you’ll see copious mentions – note particularly www.randi.org/jr/2007-02/022307sniffex.html#i10 – of the Quixotic battle Dr. Bruce Flamm’s been waging with the Journal of Reproductive Medicine [JRM]. His latest note to that publication – which has stubbornly refused to admit that they hoaxed the scientific community – is this:
Here is strike three for the 2001 Cha/Wirth/Lobo study. Strike one, author Daniel Wirth is arrested by the FBI. Strike two, author Rogerio Lobo admits he knows nothing about the research and removes his name from the paper. Strike three, author Kwang Cha has now been charged with plagiarism.
No question of it, the JRM will ignore this, as well, though it firmly damns the farce that the journal perpetrated. They feel no obligation to their readers, to the science of reproductive medicine, or to society. Perhaps their sponsors should be approached…
Our most excellent friend Bob Park, of the American Physical Society (get on his list of fans and subscribers by going to listserv.umd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=bobparks-whatsnew&A=1) needs to be quoted here from his provocative column. Discussing a remark he made that annoyed some religious readers, Bob wrote:
…all of science is built on territory once occupied by gods. Is there some boundary at which science is supposed to stop?
Yes, Bob, there is. As soon as science does not agree with outdated, disproved, mythological, naïve, quite false Biblical – or Koranic – notions of how the world really works, it becomes unwelcome to the woo-woos. And that point was arrived at long, long, ago, though some folks haven’t even noticed…
Which reminds me: I’m hoping that we may have put a new word into general circulation: “woo-woo.” It has the meaning – in the Oxford Dictionary, citing an 1841 usage – of “imitative of the sound of wind,” which is not too far off the way I use it, which would be, as a noun: “a person who accepts as valid, a ridiculous or highly unlikely premise” and as an adjective: “like, or acceptable to, a woo-woo.” Remember, dictionaries don’t define words, they only provide the usage. So, the more we employ the word, the closer it gets to being accepted…
I’ve invented a few collective nouns, which I think is a distinct service to the language. (A collective noun is one that designates a group of specific things. For example, the collective noun for “sheep” is “flock,” and for “geese” – when not flying! – is “gaggle.”) I choose to refer to a gathering of psychics as a “giggle,” for conmen, it’s a “fleece,” and for prophets, a “failure.” One wag on the JREF Forum came up with “Congress” as a collective for conmen, but that was unkind. I use an “absence” for a group of homeopaths, I refer to a “confusion” of parapsychologists, and a “cackle” of witches. Palmists are gathered as a “handful,” it’s a “struggle” of astrologers, and more than three phrenologists become a “bump.” And a group of spoonbenders can be called, a “desperation.”I’m sure there are many more. Any offerings…?
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