Mass Media Funk is a commentary on mass media stories about the scientific, the paranormal, the supernatural, and anything else that yanks at my eyebrows.
August 22, 1999. I received an anonymous e-mail today from someone identified only as RandiExpert@Hotmail.com, directing me to a WWW site devoted to attacking James Randi, Paul Kurtz, the False Memory Foundation, CSICOP, and Prometheus Books, while defending Uri Geller and someone called Riley G. The site, misleadingly called The Truth About James Randi and others, is particularly vicious in its defamation of Randi, making slanderous if not libelous claims of child molestation in explicit, obscene terms. The others attacked are implicated in pedophilia, as well. For instance, Kurtz is said to be chairman of Prometheus Books, which is said to publish "books about children's sexual encounters with adults." The anonymous attacker does not mention that the book in question is titled Children's Sexual Encounters With Adults : A Scientific Study. According to BookNews, the study
The implication is that anyone who would study pedophilia or children's sexual behavior, or be in any way connected to the publication of such a study, or challenge conventional wisdom about the traumatic nature of all sexual experience for children, or support any organization who has at least one member who does any of the above, is a pedophile and a child molester.
The deeper implication is that characters like Riley G, Uri Geller and their supporters may abandon argument and defense against charges of fraud, charlatanism, etc., and simply accuse their critics of being child molesters. Their hope would be that the masses are uncritical and unknowing, would assume that where there's smoke there's fire, and would then ignore the skeptics and their claims. Above all they would hope that several bottom feeders in the mass media would pick up the story and try to make it another Monicagate. Anyone expressing skeptical views about the paranormal or creationism will be subject to this kind of defamation. I mention politically active creationists because these fanatical fundamentalists will use any means necessary to stifle criticism and attack any view they think implies that their fairy tale about God and creation is false. If slander works for the paranormal frauds, you can be sure the politically active creationist charlatans will imitate them.
I filed a complaint with Freeyellow.com and within 24 hours the offensive anti-Randi site was removed. If you are interested in what was there, I suggest you write to the coward who will not identify himself but accepts e-mail at RandiExpert@Hotmail.com Perhaps he will expose himself.
August 11, 1999. Reuters reported today that the Kansas Board of Education has rejected evolution as a scientific principle. The 10-member board voted six to four to eliminate evolution from the science curricula.
The Kansas Board did not ban the teaching of evolution. Only the legislature has that kind of power. The Board simply deleted any mention of evolution and the Big Bang theory from the science curriculum and from the materials used to test graduating students. Creationists such as Board Member Steve Abrams, a former head of the state Republican Party, hailed the decision as a victory in the war against evolutionists. Creationists want children to believe that God made them and every other species individually for a purpose. They do not want children to think that a divine power might be behind the Big Bang or evolution of species because that opens the possibility that God might not exist. Creationism maintains that God created everything, a belief which leaves no room for an explanation of the existence and nature of things without reference to God.
Creationists do not accept the fact that species evolved from other species. Nor do they accept Darwin's theory of natural selection, which asserts that individual members of species, as well as species themselves, survive and multiply if they find themselves within an environment that supports their survival and prosperity. Otherwise, they die and die out. Natural selection occurs without preference for some individuals or species over others, and appears to occur without purpose. Steve Abrams wanted to add to the science curriculum standards the assertion that "the design and complexity of the design of the cosmos requires an intelligent designer," but he was voted down.
Nevertheless, the Kansas Board recognized "micro-evolution" as a fact: natural selection within a species. Perhaps the six who voted for the new standards do not understand that natural selection within species was what stimulated Darwin to his general theory of evolution. Nor do they seem to understand that you can't have a theory of evolution without the fact of evolution (any more than you could have a theory of planetary motion without the fact of planetary motion). Scientific theories are explanations as to how things happen. You don't try to explain how something happened unless it happened. Natural selection is one theory as to how evolution happened. It assumes evolution is a fact.
Politically active creationists failed in their attempts to have creationism taught alongside evolution as a science. The Supreme Court ruled that compelling the teaching of creationism was tantamount to teaching religion, which state schools may not do under the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The so-called creation science movement, however, is not dead. They have just changed tactics. The goal now is to debunk evolution wherever possible, using any means necessary. One of their favorite tactics today is to blame all sin and crime on lack of proper Bible study and the teaching of "godless" theories such as natural selection and the Big Bang theory. Listen to one of the bright lights of this movement, Marc Looy of the creationist group Answers in Genesis. The Kansas vote was important, Mr. Looy said, because
That there is no scientific evidence to support these claims is a matter of indifference to those who believe them. When science does not support their beliefs, they attack science as the handmaiden of Satan. I wonder what Mr. Looy has to say about Christian Identity (Buford Furrow Jr.) and the World Church of the Creator (Benjamin Nathanial Smith), or Operation Rescue (Randal Terry) and other Bible-loving groups that preach hatred and inspire violence and murder. I wonder what Mr. Looy has to say about all the violence and evil going on around the world in countries where the Bible has never had a stranglehold. It's all part of God's mysterious plan, no doubt. Insanity is part of God's plan. Evil is part of God's plan. Everything is part of God's plan. God is inscrutable. Nobody can know why God does anything. Thus, even evolution and the Big Bang could be part of God's plan. Anything can be part of God's plan. Thus, the idea of God's plan is completely vacuous. It explains nothing and justifies nothing because it explains everything and justifies everything.
In Alabama, biology textbooks carry a warning that says that evolution is "a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. . . .No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact." Right. In Alabama, I guess, if you wake up to snow on the ground, but no one saw it snowing, then you may only propose a theory as to the origin of the snow. The great state of Alabama apparently is banking on their students being too dumb to recognize language that tries to deceive and manipulate them.
Some of these creationists are the same people who hail as "scientific" the "discovery" of stones depicting humans attacking dinosaurs. The idea of climbing on the back of a dinosaur while one's comrades attack from below with stone axes does not even get a raised eyebrow. The idea that scientists might be wrong about timelines and that dinosaurs and humans might have co-existed far outweighs the preposterousness of this proposition for creationists. Any port in a storm, I guess.
As for myself, I'm beginning to have some doubts about natural selection. If it were true, wouldn't these creationists have been picked off by now?
You can write to the Board members to express your thoughts on the decision. Their names and addresses are listed at www.knea.org/strengthen/sboecontacts.html
(August 12, 1999. Sacramento Bee, "Kansas: No more evolution in school - creationists alter science curriculum," by Pam Belluck New York Times; the story is also in the Nando Times: "Kansas bars evolution from classroom" by Carey Gillam).
comment from Cathy George:
(reply: Thanks for the correction.)
August 1999. Homosexuality is rampant among God's creatures, it seems. New Scientist reports on the work of several researchers that should have Jerry Falwell and the Mormons scratching their Holy Books. (Both are well-known for their campaigns to rid the world of the sin that dares not speak its name.) Penguins, giraffes, seagulls, manatees, bonobos (pygmy chimps), etc., are pairing off for same sex pleasuring despite the many human campaigns by God's chosen preachers to stamp out the sin of homosexuality. It will be interesting to hear from the evangelists as to the divine purpose of all these queer creatures.
July 5, 1999. ZDNet has an extensive article on Amway's entry into e-tailing which will be known as Quixtar. All Amway agents (now to be known as IBOs: independent business owners) have been invited to open up their own e-mall, selling not only Amway products but products of other manufacturers as well. The emphasis, as with Amway, will be on multi-level marketing, i.e., recruiting new Quixtar agents who are encouraged to recruit agents ad infinitum. Agents will get a cut of sales made by those they recruit, and by sales of recruits of recruits, ad infinitum theoretically.
Why would the 5th and 6th richest men in the world, Rich Devoss and Jay Van Andel, founders of Amway, want to get involved with Internet sales? For one thing, there is a lot of money to be had in e-commerce: they're hoping for $1.5-$2 billion in sales the first year...better than Amazon.com or E-Bay. Secondly, sales at Amway have dipped recently (18.5% drop in the last year).
Why not call the new company E-Amway instead of Quixtar? That might have something to do with name repulsion.
Will it work? It will certainly work for Devoss and Van Andel. They will have millions of agents to sell products, including their Amway products, from the day they open on September 1, 1999. Unlike Amazon.com, who had to spend some time recruiting agents to sell their products, Quixtar will be able to bank on Amway agents to aggressively market their products from the getgo. How much money will the Quixtar agents make? They may think they will become nanosecond millionaires but my guess is that they will fare about as well as they did as Amway agents.
July 23, 1999. According to the Nando Times, Science Now reports that Robert P. Liburdy's scientific work, which established a strong correlation between electromagnetic radiation and cancer, has been based on faked data. Liburdy has been forced to resign from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
"Liburdy's studies, reported in scientific journals in 1992, provided the first plausible biological mechanism linking electromagnetic fields exposure to disease." However, he omitted any data that did not fit with his hypothesis. The Office of Research Integrity of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that Liburdy was guilty of scientific misconduct for "intentionally falsifying and fabricating" his data to support his claim of cellular effects from electric and magnetic fields. Liburdy denies the charges and says there is no problem with his data, only with how he interpreted it.
Liburdy, who has received several millions of dollars in federal money to conduct his research, has been banned from receiving any federal funds for the next three years.
June 29, 1999. A Los Angeles county mental health worker has been accused of using county phones to make over 2,500 calls to psychic hotlines at a cost of over $120,000. Who said there's no harm in a little fun? Read all about it. [submitted by Glen Green]
June 26, 1999. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a warning to consumers using the Internet to find health information. The focus of the FTC's report is on false or misleading advertisements for products claiming to cure serious illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. According to Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, surfing the Web uncovered many sites that could prove dangerous to consumers.
Gary Dykstra, the Federal Drug Administration's Deputy Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs admits that the "Internet can be a very powerful and useful tool for consumers - but it must be used carefully." He advised consumers "to check out medical products or services offered on the Internet with physicians, pharmacists and other health care professionals." The FDA and the FTC vowed to work together and with healthcare and consumer groups "to help broaden consumer awareness about the Internet - its potential benefits and possible risks."
Some of the risks are serious. For example, Body Systems Technology, Inc. (BST) marketed shark cartilage capsules and a liquid containing a Peruvian plant derivative as being shown by scientific studies to be effective treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS, and arthritis. BST has agreed to quit making such unsubstantiated claims and to refund money to the people they defrauded.
Jim B. Richardson's Magnetic Therapeutic Technologies, Inc. (MTT) claimed that his magnetic therapy devices are effective in the treatment of a multitude of medical problems and diseases, including various types of cancer, HIV, and high blood pressure. MTT agreed to quit making such unsubstantiated claims. A similar agreement was made with Sande R. Caplin's Pain Stops Here! Inc., which also promoted magnetic therapy as a cure for cancer, high blood pressure, and other serious ailments.
Some of the risks are the usual ones people in pain are exposed to. For example, John and Melinda Sneed's Arthritis Pain Care Center (APCC) marketed CMO, purportedly a fatty acid derived from beef tallow, as a cure for most forms of arthritis. They claimed that CMO permanently modifies the immune system, making it beneficial in treating numerous other diseases as well. The Sneeds also claimed that scientific studies supported their claims. APPC has agreed to quit making such unsubstantiated claims and to quit misrepresenting the results of scientific research.
Bernstein offered the following list of things for consumers to look for in identifying quackery:
In short, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
June 25, 1999. Exposing psychic fraud became more difficult today, as the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that an investigative journalist for ABC who used a hidden camera and microphone when she posed as a psychic invaded the constitutionally protected privacy of the "psychics". ABC was working on an exposé on fraud in the telephone psychic industry. The fruit of the investigation was broadcast on "Prime Time Live", which led to alleged emotional devastation and a lawsuit by two of the "psychics". The decision opens the door to reinstating a $1.2 million judgment for damages and attorney's fees made by a lower court.
June 2, 1999. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports on a study which found that taking androstenedione ('andro') does not build muscles, but it may increase the risk of heart disease, pancreatic cancer, and breast enlargement.
Andro is taken by many athletes, such as major league baseball player Mark McGwire who hit 70 home runs last year. It is sold in "health food" stores, where it is touted as a natural and safe alternative to anabolic steroids.
The researchers, led by Dr. Douglas S. King of Iowa State University, found that "testosterone levels did not increase immediately after androstenedione administration or during 8-week resistance training with androstenedione supplementation. Increases in muscle strength during training were similar in androstenedione and placebo groups..."
The researchers also found a significant lowering of high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in the blood in those receiving androstenedione. HDL is the "good" cholesterol which helps take away plaque from the walls of arteries. In addition, certain estrogen levels in the blood increased in the men taking the supplement. In men, increased blood estrogen levels are associated with the development of enlarged breasts, as well as with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and pancreatic cancer.
Shrewd self-medicators will not mistake Androstenone Pheromone (AP) for the real thing. AP is applied externally to attract women who like the smell of dirty socks.
May 3, 1999. THE STAR (a National Newspaper in South Africa) reports on some questionable police work which demonstrates how harmful so-called psychics can be.
About ten years ago, police in WkaDukuza in KwaZulu Natal identified a pedophile
(Gert van Rooyen) who had kidnapped and murdered some ten children. Upon discovery, the
pedophile and his lover (Jouy Haarhof) killed themselves. Several of the murdered
childrens' bodies were never found. Recently, an unnamed local psychic told the police
that he/she had a "vision" that the bodies are buried on the property of a local
man. The man, who had no connection with van Rooyen or Haarhof, is, understandably, very
upset. Nevertheless, he is cooperating with the police in what ought to be recognized by
any reasonable person as an "unreasonabl search." The local police do not
determine reasonableness on the basis of the source of their information, but on the
"gravity of the case" and on the (false) hope the psychic has given to the
parents of the missing children.
Robert Todd Carroll
|More Mass Media Funk|