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the Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter 58

August 23, 2005

"Each of us is ... infected by about 1014 bacteria even as we are sitting here reading this....each of us can make 1012 or more individual T lymphocytes with receptors that can distinguish among 1012 or more things that threaten us...." Gerald N. Callahan, Ph.D., Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion

In this issue:

What's New in The Skeptic's Dictionary & Skeptic's Refuge

There are three new dictionary entries: Mary Toft hoax, Kevin Trudeau, and e-meter. The entry on Trudeau prompted a response from a reader. An ad in Newsweek for Trudeau's Natural Cures book prompted a response from me. The book has been taken off the shelves at Walgreen's, thanks to a campaign led by James Randi. Now let's work on getting it removed from Costco. Costco's corporate mailing address is: PO Box 34331 Seattle, WA 98124.

I sent off the following to Costco:

I was at the Vacaville, CA, store this afternoon and noticed a large number of copies of Kevin Trudeau’s Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About. Are you aware that this book claims that the pharmaceutical industry has conspired with the government and the food industry to poison us? Trudeau has no medical or nutritional background. He is a convicted felon who has been fined by the FTC more than $2 million for making false health claims. In the book you are selling, he tells readers such things as that exposure to the sun does not cause skin cancer but that sunscreen does! When the corporate executives at Walgreen’s realized what was in this book, they ordered it removed from their shelves. I hope Costco will do the same.

Randi tells me he is going to promote the Costco campaign in his next newsletter. Trudeau's book is becoming a bestseller and has the potential to do a great deal of harm to many people. At the very least, businesses that sell pharmaceuticals should be willing to listen to our complaints. What kind of agency is the FTC if it would fine this guy millions for making false health claims, order him not advertise false health claims, but allow him to sell a book full of false health claims? Is this an example of faith-based regulation and enforcement?


I've posted another critical thinking mini-lesson: control group studies. This piece was also submitted for the Fall issue of the Inquiring Minds Newsletter.

I revised several entries, including the intelligent design entry. President Bush gave a major boost to the propaganda campaign of the ID folks by putting in his two cents on whether ID should be taught in public schools. Ted Koppel (with a report from Chris Bury) on Nightline had an excellent program on ID on August 10, 2005. The only weak part of the program was the interview with Cal Thomas. The only thing Thomas contributed to the discussion was to express his view that many right-wing conservative Christians feel marginalized by living in a secular state where their religious views aren't professed in every courtroom, classroom, and barroom. (Those were not his exact words. I'm paraphrasing here.) George Will did a good job of arguing that ID is a matter of faith, not science. The report from Chris Bury was excellent. It focused on the successful propaganda campaign of the Discovery Institute to convince American politicians, school board members, and citizens to "teach the controversy" even though there is no controversy to teach. For those of you who haven't had time to read my revised ID entry, the new conclusion reads:

So, the question must be asked: Should we teach ID in our biology classrooms even though ID is not a viable alternative to natural selection? The answer is "yes, if we teach ID properly." The answer is "no" if we are asked to teach ID as a viable scientific theory worth spending precious classroom time on. To teach ID properly would be to demonstrate to the students that nothing of scientific interest follows after one posits an external agent to explain something. To say the eye was designed by God or an alien race is to say: Stop, go no further in trying to understand this. Students might be taught that ID is just the kind of theory that some philosophers and theologians find interesting but since it doesn't lead to any deeper understanding of biological mechanisms, doesn't lead to new discoveries or research ventures, and doesn't have any practical scientific applications, it is left to those in other fields to pursue. A good biology teacher ought to be able to explain why ID, even if true, is of little scientific interest in about 15 or 20 minutes. That should leave plenty of time for them to instruct their students in science.

Teachers might even remind their students that if bacteria could talk, they could make a very good case for intelligent design by considering how the universe was clearly designed to favor their eternal existence. T cells might disagree and think the universe was designed to favor their eternal existence, but the bacteria were here billions of years before most other life forms arrived and they'll be here for billions of years after most other living things have ceased to exist.


I revised the psychic entry to include some material about the origin of the word as applied to persons and to note a new book by Peter Lamont called The First Psychic.

The retrospective falsification entry was revised.

I updated the alien abductions entry to include a link to a New York Times review of a new book on the subject, Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens by Susan Clancy.

Finally, I posted comments about several news items:

  • Meetings of the Skeptics' Circle and a new film about Edgar Cayce is in the works*
  • Psychic's crystal ball starts unforeseen fire*
  • The passing of Robert Baker and Philip Klass*
  • Facilitated communication leader named head of Syracuse University's school of education*
  • Elder abuse*
  • Carla Baron strikes (out) again*

Mea Culpa

On my feedback page I say that I am especially grateful to those careful readers who notify me of my errors. I mean it, but some readers take this as an invitation to lecture me on what they see as a requirement of anyone who would dare criticize the thoughts or actions of others. Here's a recent example:

If, as part of the skeptical enterprise, you're going to take others to task  for a lack of precision in thinking, I think you should be especially careful not to provide others the opportunity of taking you to task for a lack of  grammatical precision, because such a lack of  precision in grammar can likewise be deemed to reflect a lack of cognitive precision. Just as there are those who might question the acuity of someone who thinks that the plural of "woman" is "womens," or who seems to believe a statement such as "Things ain't  like they used to was" is good, standard English,  there are those who will have  similar questions about the acuity of someone who appears not to know the difference between the transitive and intransitive forms of the verb "to lie."

This perspicuous reader is referring to my misuse of the verb in question in the last newsletter. I had Dr. Hoeller's patient laying when she should have been lying. I admit to the sin and have no excuses to offer. To some readers, such lapses must seem like gaps in the fossil record that prove evolution is false. However, I question whether the occasional grammatical lapse disqualifies me from criticizing the thoughts and actions of others. Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful for the correction. It's the lecture that is grating. I can't see the value in comparing a careless grammatical error with believing that cracking one's wrists over another person's neck adjusts the atlas, which in turn alleviates neck, back, or leg pain.

For those who would like a refresher lesson on the lie/lay issue, here is what our reader has to say on the subject:

It is only when the verb has a direct object that one uses "lay," "lays," or "laying," as when a teacher says to students at the end of a timed exam, "Please lay your pencils down," "pencils" being the direct object of the verb. But a gym  instructor, speaking correctly,  would not say, "Lay down on the mat." He would say "Lie down on the mat."  He might also say, correctly, but somewhat stiltedly, "Lay yourself down on  the mat," where the personal pronoun "yourself" serves as the verb's direct object. You might appreciate the difference better if you remember the old  childhood prayer that begins, "Now I lay me down to  sleep." This is correctly  worded, because in this construction the verb "to lie" has a direct object,  the personal pronoun "me." But if the prayer went, "Now I lay down to sleep," it would be grammatically incorrect.

Had Bob Dylan been more concerned with grammar than Grammies he wouldn't have written Lay, Lady, Lay. He would have written Lie, Lady, Lie or You Lay Yourself, Lady, You Lay Yourself.

Quackery of the Minute

Gary Schwartz isn't the only quack to hide behind the shield of Veritas, the motto for his Human Energy Systems Laboratory. It is there that he conducts his research into the "survival of consciousness." Dr. David Hawkins, a trained medical doctor and psychiatrist who gave it all up a few years ago to follow a more spiritual path based on Eastern religion and philosophy, founded Veritas publishing house to publish his own books. Hawkins has found that applied kinesiology (AK) is the perfect adjunct to spirituality. On his website he boldly asserts: "David Hawkins conclusively proves the ability of kinesiological testing to distinguish truth or falsehood in any statement...." Hawkins seems to be genuinely convinced of this claim. Until seeing how the FTC's rulings are ignored by Kevin Trudeau, I had thought of suggesting that instead of simply laughing off another quack moment, we band together and complain in large numbers to the FTC about the false and misleading advertising Hawkins is engaging in. But what good would it do?

I've posted the form letter I received from the FTC regarding Trudeau's disregard for both the law and for sanctions by the FTC. The bottom line is that the FTC has entered my complaint into their "shared law enforcement data system." My guess is that unless thousands of other similar complaints are filed, mine will be buried in their computer without ceremony.

Here is Hawkins's description of how AK works (taken from the work of Dr. John Diamond, another fallen-away psychiatrist in love with Eastern mysticism):

It takes two people, the “tester” and the “subject.”

1. Have the subject stand erect, right arm relaxed at his side, left arm held out parallel to the floor, elbow straight.

2. Face your subject and place your left hand on his right shoulder to steady him. Then place your right hand on the subject's extended left arm just above the wrist.

3. Tell the subject to resist when you try to push his arm down.

4. Now push down on his arm fairly quickly, firmly, and evenly. The idea is to push hard enough to test the spring and bounce in the arm, not so hard that the muscle becomes fatigued. It is not a question of who is stronger, but of whether the muscle can ‘lock' the shoulder joint against the push.

Yes, that's it. That's the magical technique of AK that can unlock the door to many truths. The only thing missing is the direction to face east and wear tin foil under your cap.

Hawkins, by the way, is not only an M.D. but a Ph.D. The latter was earned from Columbia Pacific University, an unaccredited diploma mill that was shut down by court order. However, he has a B.S. from Marquette University (1950) and an M.D. from the  Medical College of Wisconsin (1953), two schools with fine reputations. One of my correspondents has been studying Hawkins's works for several years and has spent some real money ($400) on seminars taught by the good Dr. Doctor. My correspondent became "a dissatisfied customer," however. He wrote to Dr. Hawkins and not only asked him for a refund but he inquired into his Ph.D. from Columbia Pacific University. "Pat" in the Veritas office replied: "We did not know it was unaccredited. At the time that Dr Hawkins got his PhD it was a credited [sic] university. This was in 1995." Newspaper reports assert that California's Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education, which approves the operation of all private, post-secondary schools in California, denied the school permission to operate as a degree-granting institution in December 1995. This was after a period of review and response that began with Columbia Pacific's application in 1994. The school was closed by court order in 1999, though it operated in its last years without accreditation and without state permission.

Even though Hawkins may not have been aware of the school's accreditation problems, he knew it was a correspondence school and that the standards were not very high.

In any case, the dissatisfied customer complained to the FTC that Hawkins was misrepresenting himself by not letting people know where he got his Ph.D. from and for promoting a pseudoscience:

the 'science' taught in the products he sells, 'applied kinesiology,' is pseudoscience that has been falsified repeatedly in double-blind studies. No legitimate university would have awarded him the degree. He is misleading people by misrepresenting his qualifications and charging a lot of money by teaching, with the false 'Ph.D.' that he has the answer to 'ultimate truth.' In fact, he is a cult [leader] masquerading as a 'scientist' and making a lot of money in the process on his false claims.

Hawkins took time from his busy schedule to personally correspond with this dissatisfied customer. About his study at Columbia Pacific University, Hawkins wrote:

I was pleased to have as my Faculty mentor Dr. Sheldon Deal, and he was President of the International Academy of Applied Kinesiology. Degrees were legitimate and legal until 1997 when the court ordered closure over legalities which the university denied. Students after 1997 were entitled to refund (according to information on the Internet 4/28/05). The degree I have was issued in 1995. In a 2001 letter the alumni association merely states that the university had legal problems with no word since.

That the university collapsed some years later is their problem to handle. I was satisfied, and I only wanted it for statistical accuracy of the data that was published in 1996 by UMI Dissertation Abstracts (Bell and Howell Co., Ann Arbor) as Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis and Calibration of the Levels of Human Consciousness. The 1st editions of Power vs Force did not even list a Ph.D. degree, but I was advised by the editor to add it as it was of interest to the public. The integrity of Power vs Force plus subsequent books and lectures is a matter of public record and has been authenticated world wide by numerous study groups as it is in 12 other languages. To help contextualize the situation, I can addend qualifications which are of greater importance than a mere degree if you will email me a fax number. An M.D. was quite sufficient for 50 years. I am sorry you had to wait a week for a reply. If you are not satisfied with any products, your money will be cheerfully refunded. Further information is available on

On that site one may find out, among other things, how quantum physics validates applied kinesiology. (What New Age quackery doesn't quantum physics validate?) In any case, Dr. Doctor Hawkins not only sent the dissatisfied customer a refund, he sent him a copy of his transcript from Columbia Pacific University, which seems to indicate that Hawkins only completed 59 of the required 60 units for the degree. This is a minor point, to be sure. Of more concern should be Hawkins's enchantment with applied kinesiology and how he has deceived himself and many others into believing that this pseudoscience is a major assist to spiritual awakening. He has convinced himself and many others that AK is a surefire way to determine how spiritually advanced a person, a corporation, or a nation is.

Not everybody is disenchanted with Hawkins, however. Another correspondent wrote:

Boy did you ever blow it. Hawkins is an MD and has a PhD. Look it up and get it right this time. I have personally read his doctoral thesis, have you?

You had better check out David R Hawkins and maybe read one of his books before you say another word.

As a professional and a scientist, I suggest that you look up Dr. Hawkins published research in the medical community before discounting his intellect or education.

What would be your motive for discrediting Dr Hawkins in the first place? and without first-hand knowledge of the premise upon which his conclusions are based? Read Power vs. Force and then discredit him if you can.

One thing is certain in this life and that is that there is a consequence to every act. What you do to try and discredit such a man as Dr. Hawkins will ultimately create the same reflection in your own reality -- count on it. That's the way consciousness and energy operate. The universe is just and that's the way the universe is and you can't change it so try and be a little more responsible and contemplative about what you disseminate to the general public.

p.s.  I'm a physicist with 4 U.S. patents -- you can look those up too.

I didn't look it up, but it wouldn't surprise me to find a physicist with several patents who has an affection for Eastern philosophy and the belief in non-physical consciousness and metaphysical energy. I suggest, however, that if you want to read something sensible about applied kinesiology (besides my SD entry on the topic!) read the section on Facilitated Communication, Applied Kinesiology, and TCM in Ray Hyman's article "How People Are Fooled by Ideomotor Action." Read also Dr. Stephen Barrett's article Muscle-Testing for "Allergies" and "Deficiencies".  If, after reading both articles you are still convinced that applied kinesiology is a science, then you are beyond redemption but I'll pray for you anyway.

I have several e-mails in my archives regarding Dr. Doctor Hawkins:

  • June 2003: I am alarmed that a longtime "follower" of Dr. Hawkins recently used kinesiology to confirm that an in-law was possessed. Shadows of the Salem witch hunts.
  • June 2003: Dr. Hawkins is a sincere, kind and intelligent person. I have read every book, viewed every video and audio tape produced. [In] the initial video-set, titled "Power vs Force," [AK] was actually used to find a pistol in his living room.

    Some of the statements made by this otherwise kind and intelligent man are shocking, i.e., as to kinesiology. With the increased sales of his books and other materials, the concern I have is that this nonsense could become an insane tool for wrong. I have witnessed its wrongful and malicious use by those very close to the Dr. His followers use it to rank all sorts of things using the Map of Consciousness as a reference: people, countries, events, movies, music, etc. Before each lecture-performance, he tests the audience to see how on the Map of Consciousness they are as a group, i.e., how close to enlightenment and therefore how far from the spiritual-dregs. Amazingly, the groups lectured to always start very high on this logarithmic scale. After the lecture, he retests the group (using his wife as the agent) and they always go up the scale five to ten points. His testing shows that very few humans climb the Map of Consciousness by more than five points in a lifetime. Thus, the lectures are a great investment!

  • June 2003: Why would one deliberately get a degree from Columbia Pacific University? See, for example: (U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs)

    The research stands or falls on its own. There is a heavy use of pseudoscience when it fits and leaping to spirituality to fill in the gaps. If you are cautious about the leap, then you just are not sufficiently spiritual. Try a dab of appeal to authority combined with ad hominem to fill in the holes, i.e., the enlightened master has spoken and who are you to challenge these words? I believe these techniques are used by a lot of the people marketing spiritual books, tapes, courses, or whatever.

  • May 2005: He believes in karma, past lives, the collective unconscious; he is very Freudian (was trained as a psychoanalyst is the 50s). For example, he says things like, "Nothing happens by accident." Yet, he performed an "accidental amputation" on himself when he cut off his thumb.

    A revealing book of his is Dialogues on Consciousness and Spirituality. He says humans wanting to survive is ego and vanity, and nature would be better off without us.

    He also still to this day lies. It is obvious that no one is getting good results with AK, but he continues to say that it gets generally universal results....What is also bad about him is that he makes his results absolute (listen to him speak on Beyond the Ordinary: you get the sense that you are not supposed to contradict him).

    Some quotable quotes: "I don't like to talk to dumb people." "There are no such thing as 'rights'." "Wal-mart is the way to God." (He got tired of people criticizing the fact that he supported Wal-Mart in "Power vs. Force"). "All opinions are vanities." "The mind has no capacity to tell truth from falsehood."

The mind can't tell truth from falsity, but AK can. It's too bad that AK can't be used on oneself to determine when one is deluded and self-deceived.

If the reader is still not convinced of the quackery being sold by Dr. Hawkins, consider the reading list he has posted on, where he identifies himself as Honest Truthfinder. Number one on his list is A Course in Miracles. In addition to his own books, he recommends a hodgepodge of spiritual tomes and books supporting AK. Check out his Yahoo Group to find out what his followers have to say. Finally, read a testimonial by another M.D. who is a devout follower of Dr. Hawkins. David Gersten, M.D., explains how Hawkins uses AK to quantify consciousness on a scale of 0-1,000. 'Consciousness' refers to some sort of developing spiritual entity. When you score between 700-1,000 you have reached "enlightenment."

Skepticism will get you a calibration of about 140. George W. Bush calibrates at 460, according to Hawkins, which is in the range of intellectual genius. According to Dr. Gersten: "Below 200 an individual or society are at very high risk. Up until 1986, the world CS calibrated in the low 190's, but there was a sudden shift in 1986, taking the world CS to 207, which is a safe place to be. The reason for this positive shift is unknown." Are you kidding? That was the year Argentina won the World Cup! (In case you are wondering, CS is the scientific symbol for consciousness in AK-babbletalk.)

One would think that a trained psychiatrist would give more credit to the power of the unconscious mind to cause muscles to tense or relax (ideomotor action) and would not be buffaloed by the applied kinesiology quackery. One would also think that a trained M.D. and Ph.D. would know that you can't do a proper controlled experiment with an audience of paying customers who are given envelops containing either Nutrasweet® (bad, bad, bad!) or vitamin C (good! good! good!), a popular technique used by Dr. Hawkins. He and Dr. David Gerston, another psychiatrist, refer to these public exhibitions as double-blind controlled studies. Maybe Dr. Hawkin's skipped that lesson in correspondence school.


More quackery: DNA Perfection. Toby Alexander is hawking this one. Toby writes:

I then found out the real reason I was guided to this work. I found out that I am what is called a Type 1 Indigo child. Type 1's are born with 6 [DNA] strands activated at birth and have a 48 strand template. We can activate 12 strands by the age of 33 and supposedly there are only 350 people with this blueprint on the planet right now. This explained why I am so drawn to this work. I have a contract to help evolve the rest of humanity's 12 strand DNA template. This is a responsibility that I do not take lightly.

Maybe Toby should look at this primer on DNA. Anyway, Toby continues:

Scientists acknowledge that we currently only use 3% of our current 2 strand DNA. Thus we live in a society where people are sick, unhappy, stressed out, create wars, have difficulty experiencing love, and are totally disconnected with the universe. Most people have to meditate for many years just to have a so-called 'mystical' experience, that's how disconnected we are now. Imagine activating 100% of your 2 strand DNA, PLUS 10 additional strands! You will go from using 10% of your brain to becoming a multi-dimensional being with psychic, telepathic, and manifestation abilities beyond anything you've ever dreamed of. Plus, you will stop the aging process and actually start to rejuvenate to look and feel YOUNGER. This is the Original Divine Blueprint, what man USED to be. It has been written that Jesus had 12 strands of DNA activated. There have been children born throughout the history of humanity to raise the frequency of the planet that have more than 2 strands of DNA active - they are known as Indigo children. These are the incredibly intelligent, loving, and amazing children that are being mistakenly diagnosed as having A.D.D. because they are too smart to pay attention in class.*

Alexander seems to be following the lead of the inediate, Ellen Greve (a.k.a. Jasmuheen), who claims her “DNA is changing to take up more hydrogen and is developing from 2 to 12 strands.” With help from the likes of Ellen Greve, Toby Alexander, and David Hawkins, the world's CS may soon dip into negative numbers.

Podcast Interview and Review of The Skeptic's Dictionary


If you have an iPod and want to listen to an interview with James Randi, Michael Shermer, Phil Plait, Ben Radford, and others click here to sign up for the Skepticality podcast. I was interviewed on July 25th and the interview is posted here.

Skeptic magazine reviews The Skeptic's Dictionary in the latest issue.

The Amazing Meeting IV

James Randi has announced the line-up for next January's meeting of the minds in Las Vegas. Last year it was Richard Dawkins. This year it is Daniel Dennett, among many other notables. Wow!

The theme of TAMIV is "Science in Politics and the Politics of Science." In preparation, then, perhaps we should all read Chris Mooney's latest from Basic Books: The Republican War on Science.


Pat Robertson Corrects Biblical Teaching

For centuries, Scriptural scholars thought Jesus had said "turn the other cheek." He really said "Burn the other's cheek," according to Christian evangelist Pat Robertson, who has called for the assassination of Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez. What about the repercussions? Not to worry, says Robertson. "I don't think any oil shipments will stop." In the end, isn't that all the really matters?

Pat's not a true Christian, you say? What would a true Christian say about this:  ??


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