NEWS UPDATE: February 2010
Well, we're back, after a very busy, and very extended Winter Holiday. There's much to report, so let's get right to it …
WASHINGTON STATE TELEPATH IS COMING TO TOWN
Regan Traynor will arrive in Los Angeles on February 20th to perform a preliminary demonstration of his claimed psychic powers. Those of you who enjoyed our live web-cast of Anita, uh, well, stay-tuned. We're looking into the possibility of doing it again.
If Regan is successful, he will move on to the test for the $50,000 prize. Win or lose, we congratulate Regan for putting his powers to the test.
A complete copy of the agreed upon protocol is available here. Basically, we take a standard deck of 52 playing cards, shuffle them, and lay them down one at a time in front of Regan. Regan will then transmit the card to his buddy in the IIG isolation booth, which we borrowed from a 1960's game show. The receiver records his or her "vision" and we compare it to the order of the cards to see if Regan actually psychically sent the information. Regan only needs to get 7 out of 52 to advance to the formal test. Of course, if he does really well, we may skip the formal test, and take him straight to Vegas.
Dowsing doesn't make the international news too often, but terrorism sure does, so that's probably why the U.K. press has been reporting that Iraqi security was relying on dowsing to find bombs!
The ADE-651 is a "flimsy" device with "no batteries" that relies on "dowsing". A British Company sold more than 1,500 of them for up to $60,000 per unit to the Iraqi Government, which used them at military checkpoints.
Reporting on the story has been clearing housed at the unambiguously named Explosive Detector Frauds, whose most recent headline reports of the January 22nd arrest of Jim McCormick, the fraudulent device's seller. That same blog names "The Most Stupid Man on Earth" – The Iraqi official responsible for buying the devices – Major General Jehad al-Jabiri. The blog, and several other news sources quote his response to claims that the device does not work: "You need more training." Obviously, General Jehad was convinced by the incredible persuasive power of this.
In case you're wondering, "How come the skeptical community wasn't on top of this?" We were. Randi challenged McCormick directly in October, 2008 to put up or shut up.. Obviously, our $50,000 is offered on top of Randi's 1 million, but since McCormick is now in prison, he's probably got bigger concerns than protocol negotiations. If only all of our reports ended like this.
QUAX VAX ATTAX LAX ON FAX, LANCET RETRAX
Well, we figured that if our neighbors in Hollywood are going to keep attacking vaccines, then we'll give you the Variety Magazine version of the big news. The prestigious medical journal The Lancet has finally issued a formal retraction of the 1998 article that sparked the Vaccine paranoia that has led to a re-emergence of Dickensian childhood diseases.
So what does the article's author – the completely discredited Andrew Wakefield – have to say on the subject? Well, the Los Angeles Times quotes an e-mail: "The allegations against me and my colleagues are both unfounded and unjust and I invite anyone to examine the contents of these proceedings and come to their own conclusion." Invitation accepted!
Well, okay, it was retroactively accepted by Steve Novella for his blog on randi.org. Since we couldn't possibly do a better job of summarizing this complicated issue, we'll refer you to Novella's post. The bottom line: vaccinate your kids!
WHAT CAN WE DO TO BROWNE?
Actions speak louder than words, so you can just watch this video.
Or, if you're too lazy, here's what happened. On December 29th, IIG members including our own Mark Edward confronted Sylvia Browne in person, while participating in her latest live show as an audience member. Mark brings up a delicate subject – dead people whom she had incorrectly claimed were alive! Specifically, he said he was being haunted by:
Opal Jo Jennings: A six year old who was murdered in Texas in 1999, but
Browne told her mother that she was alive in Japan.
Terrence Farrell: A firefighter who died during the 9/11 attacks on New York City, whom Browne claimed was alive.
Holly Krewson: Died in 1995 or 1996, but in 2002, Browne told her mother
that she was alive and working Hollywood as a stripper.
Lynda McClelland: She died in 2002, but Browne told her daughters that she was alive in Florida, abducted by "MJ." Lynda was actually murdered by a "David Repasky" in Pennsylvania. An uncited source on Wikipedia claims that Repasky was present at the erroneous reading!
Sago Mine Disaster Victims: Twelve miners killed in a cave-in in 2006, whom Browne declared alive and well on a radio interview, shortly before authorities discovered that they had been killed.
This should have been personally embarrassing to Sylvia, but she did not recognize any of the names. Sylvia thought these names were Mark's "guides." Mark then collapses, evoking no response from Sylvia.
Well, the show ended shortly after that, with almost no reaction to Mark's behavior. Of course, for the rest of us, it is further testimony to Browne's mendacity. If she was psychic then why couldn't she a.) know that Mark was a skeptic, b.) recognize the names of the victims, and c.) have never gotten their stories wrong in the first place?
But there's more! Hundreds of audience members had little pieces of paper in their possession with the names of the victims printed on them. Of course, we had distributed them earlier, but no one seemed to suspect a thing, even though this did cause a great deal of curiosity. Mark Edward was even asked by an attendee to sign the flyer, which he did, feigning ignorance of its origins. "Those were the same names I kept hearing in my head," he said, suggesting the man do some research on the names. Hey, if we only persuade one person, it was worth it.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN STUPID
While investigating self-proclaimed psychic detectives, we're amazed by the police officers that cooperate with these charlatans. Of course, they're a minority, most cops are skeptical, but shows like "Psychic Detectives" always find an officer willing to appear on camera. Well, now the unofficial spin-off Paranormal Cops carries on the tradition on the no-longer-accurately-name A&E Network.
The show supposedly follows Chicago Cops using Ghost-Hunter style tactics to solve crimes, but actually follows a combination of Chicago-Area PD's, Police Technicians, professional mediums, and actors. The one actual Police Detective is Sgt. Fabiani of the Stone Park, Illinois Police Department. We wrote to the department chief to ask him:
What is a citizen of Stone Park supposed to think when a police officer who[m] they rely upon by day to uphold the rule of law, carefully investigate, gather evidence and conduct interviews with witnesses is shown chasing and "conversing" with ghosts in abandoned buildings? …
Is this valid police work? Might a citizen be confused and a little bit afraid to see police officers collecting evidence in this fashion? Might a defense attorney impeach Fabiani's testimony in court? "Your honor, this officer also claims to have collected evidence for the existence of ghosts. Why should a jury take evidence he collected in this case seriously?"
You, sir, have a civic duty to protect the public and to uphold the image and credibility of your law enforcement personnel. You are denigrating the reputation of your department and police departments everywhere by allowing this on your watch. The fact that these officers would be capitalizing on their "authority" is disgraceful enough, but the silence of your department is nothing short of a violation of the public trust.
The Chief's response:
… Sgt. Fabiani followed the Department protocol in secondary employment and I did not see anything wrong with that.
… [N]ever in the show they stated they use EMF reader as evidence for a Police Department. I believe that you are reading a T.V. show as a daily reality for a Police Officer and that I can assure you is not true.
One thing's for sure, if any of us worked as a public defender in Stone Park, IL, we'd love to get Sgt. Fabiani on the stand.
SOME "LEVERAGE" AGAINST PSYCHICS
With all the credulity on the tube, it's good to see someone get it right. On February 3rd, TNT aired an episode of their slick thriller "Leverage" titled "The Future Job" in which the Mission-Impossible-Type team goes up against a John-Edwards-Esque psychic. The official episode guide describes "Dalton Rand" as "a con man masquerading as a psychic medium (guest star Luke Perry) in order to drain the life savings of his bereaved clients."
While we don't like the notion that a psychic could be anything else other than a con man (or con woman), we applaud TNT for getting it right. If you missed it, stream it here, or download it legally here, and don't forget to send them an encouraging letter here.
KILLER SWEAT LODGE GURU
As skeptics, you often times take stance that is, at least superficially, pessimistic. That means that it's never any fun when you turn out to be right. That's what happens when someone's quackery leads to death.
Arizona "Spiritual Leader," and assassin-like-named-individual James Arthur Ray has been putting participants through a grueling "retreat" that involves being placed in a sweat lodge. In October, three of them died.
We challenged Ray to justify this, and we got a boilerplate response:
I'm continuing to devote all my energy to determine the facts surrounding the tragic accident at Sedona …
In the meantime, I want to let you know that not only is this situation requiring all of my personal focus, it's also consuming my entire team's focus as well. For that reason, you can expect significant delays in responses to all general business requests …
Hello, I thought you might be interested in an article which was just published on New York Magazine's website …
I trust you are well and once again thank all of you for your continued love and support for everyone involved.
The article was largely laudatory of Ray, and included this bizarre question:
NY MAG: Do you think in some divinely or cosmically ordained way this was the victims' time to die?
RAY: I don't think I'm qualified to answer that. I think that's something that everyone would have to come to their own conclusions about.
Fortunately, the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department was not so mired in metaphysically ambiguity when they charged him with three counts of manslaughter. Hopefully future "spiritual leaders" will take note.
DEREK AND THE UFOS
Derek Bartholomaus's exhaustive examination of Billy Meier's UFOs (and related events) continues! Now up on our web site is our deconstruction of Meier's claim that the Asteroid "Apophis" would hit the Earth.
It's true that there is an Asteroid called Apophis, and it's true that real scientists with a semi-accurate measure of its path thought that it might hit the Earth, and it is true that two decades earlier, Meier predicted a collision. The problem is that Meier never gave a date for the collision, he claimed the object would be a vague "red meteor," and now, with better data, scientists no longer believe that Apophis is likely to strike the Earth.
Meier retro-fitted the data. The "red meteor" prediction was made in 1981, and the Apophis collision was predicted in 2004, but Meier's alleged spokesperson didn't call the "red meteor" Apophis until after 2004. There are no specifics given between 1981 and 2004. This is how "prophecies" are fulfilled.
Here's the real question: if all of Meier's predictions need to be confirmed by the scientists in the first place, why shouldn't we just pay attention the scientists, and ignore Meier? Read about it here.
AN EVENING WITH THE IIG
After three successful years of gathering the cream of the crop of Hollywood … well the cream of the crop of our friends who work in Hollywood … we're ready to do it again. The fourth annual IIG Awards will be folded into a gala evening of skepticism, entertainment, and debauchery that will be celebrated on our organization's tenth anniversary.
The IIG Anniversary Party will be on August 21st, 2010 at the world famous Steve Allen Theatre. Admission is free, but don't be surprised if there are multiple opportunities to contribute monetarily to the organization. The star-studded line-up is so amazing that we have to reveal it slowly, over the next few months. You'll read about right here.
Our article on the California Board of Registered Nurses is finally available on the on-line edition of Skeptical Inquirer. Read it here. Then, since you didn't actually buy the issue, how about donating to CSI? It is a non-profit organization, after all.
Darwin's 201st Birthday is this month. Sure, it's not as exciting as the big bicentennial we had last year, but too much faith in the decimal system is not healthy.