A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Volume 11 No. 4

April 2012

"...contraception is ... not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." --Rick Santorum, Republican candidate for president of the United States

What's New?

podcast: I did my first episode of Unnatural Virtue for the Skepticality podcast. The topic is intuition. Unnatural Virtue will feature brief comments on topics in critical thinking, skepticism, and science. Feedback welcome.

On the same episode of Skepticality that I make my debut, Tim Farley expands his segment on Skeptic History. It's now called Skepticism Past and Future. Tim's technical expertise is put to work as he introduces listeners to Lanyrd, a new online tool for getting free publicity for your skeptical event. Many skeptics groups have already taken advantage of this free tool. Tim also describes RBUTR, another new tool in beta that allows skeptics to link their articles directly to the misinformation they are debunking. Tune in to get more details: Skepticality Episode #179: Dictionaries, Bugs, and Space. The main attraction on this episode is Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist that some of you may have heard of.

eBook: Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed! is now available for the Nook

Bob Carroll getting his head shaved on St. Baldrick's DaySt. Baldrick's Day: As part of a fundraising effort for science-based research on treatments and cures for childhood cancers, many people showed their solidarity with the kids by going bald the quick and easy way: we let the barbers do the balding.

Skeptimedia blog: There was one post here, called god, i miss Hitchens. The gap left by Hitchens in intelligent, witty, skeptical observation of the human condition that is America during Republican primary season remains and is not likely to be filled any time soon. But, there is another part of Hitchens I don't miss.

Unnatural Acts blog: There were several posts here. straw man fallacy, availability bias, false implication, and classical conditioning and placebo effects.

reader comments: EMDR (a therapist offers her explanation for this treatment which works 100% of the time for her and I offer some observations on her speculations) and A Course in Miracles (a benign request is granted).

revision: The quackery entry was revised to clarify the relationship of quackery to CAM and "integrative" medicine.

updates: Several entries were updated.

climate change deniers (to include a link to Mark Lynas's review of Watermelons: How Environmentalists Are Killing the Planet, Destroying the Economy and Stealing Your Children’s Future by James Delingpole.)

applied kinesiology (to include links to two Science Based Medicine posts: 1. Applied Kinesiology by Any Other Name… by Harriet Hall "Whether you call this applied kinesiology or nutrition response testing or wallet biopsy, it still stinks." 2. AK: Nonsense on Full Automatic by Mark Crislip.)

Ponzi schemes (to include a link to a story about High Yield Investment Programs and a link to a story about R. Allen Stanford, a Texas financier who ran a worldwide Ponzi scheme that lasted more than two decades and involved more than $7 billion in investments. Stanford defrauded nearly 30,000 investors in 113 countries with fake high-interest certificates of deposit at the Stanford International Bank based on the Caribbean island of Antigua.)

chupacabra (to include a link to Ben Radford's article 'Chupacabra' Kills Sheep in Mexico: Why False Reports Persist.)

Skeptimedia: Deception on the Burzynski Clinic Website? to include a link to Orac's post: Another Burzynski patient dies.

precognition: (To include some information about several failed attempts to replicate Daryl Bem's precognition studies that got much play in the media when it was published in 2010 in a peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychological Association: the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The front story here, though, is that that journal had no interest in publishing the follow-up studies.)

Superbrain Yoga

If you want to see the power of suggestion and wishful thinking in action watch this video excerpt from a local CBS news station promoting an ancient Hindu practice of tugging on one's ears while doing squats.

The following is from the website www.superbrainyoga.org/

Superbrain Yoga® is a simple and effective technique to energize and recharge the brain. It is based on the principles of subtle energy and ear acupuncture.

This powerful technique is explained in Master Choa Kok Sui's latest book Superbrain Yoga®.

Pilot studies on the effects of Superbrain Yoga® on school children include children with disabilities such as ADHD/ADD, developmental and cognitive delays, Down syndrome and specific learning disabilities.

Children studied showed significant increase in academic and behavioral performance, greater class participation and improved social skills. In one study, the result of an electroencephalograph showed increased amplitude in the parieto-occipital region of the brain following the Superbrain Yoga®. This indicates increased brain electrical activity following the exercise. More studies on the effects of Superbrain Yoga® are being conducted.

Naturally, there is no evidence that electrical activity in these or any other parts of the brain are related to the alleged improvements in thinking and behavior attributed to eartugging. Nor are there any references to where these "studies" might be published, much less any information about their design and how they were conducted, how many subjects were involved and for how long, etc. Superyoga.org does, however, provide the following disclaimer:

If any discomfort or adverse effect is experienced, the practitioner is advised to stop the practice immediately and consult a Medical Doctor and a Certified Pranic Healer.

Certified Pranic Healer? So, now you know who to call should you knock yourself out tugging on your ears while doing squats.

Lord GaneshaOne of the comments on YouTube about this practice is enlightening: "Super Brain Yoga my ass. This is the first ritual done by Hindus every day in front of Lord Ganesha. It's called Thoopukaranam in Tamil." Ganesha is easily recognized by his Elephant head.

Another website authored by someone from India claims that kids were made to do this exercise as a punishment when they didn't do their lessons.

I don't doubt that there are a few medical doctors who think they see improvement in brain function in their Alzheimer's patients who do this exercise. I don't doubt that there are some special ed teachers and parents of special ed kids who are sure they see quicker, brighter children after doing this exercise. What I doubt is that tugging on your ears while doing squats is anything more than a placebo exercise. It pleases people, but it isn't going to improve memory or raise your IQ by 3 points, remove plaque from dendrites, or open up new neural pathways.

I have no idea why Hindus did this exercise in front of Lord Ganesha, who is considered a Remover of Obstacles and a Patron of Letters. But the connection with ear tugging in the West was made by Dr. Paul Nogier of Lyons, France, who believed that the ear is a complete energetic system and can be used to treat the whole body. He saw the ear as an inverted fetus, with the lobe corresponding to the head. Yanking on the lobes, apparently, is now seen by the promoters of Superbrain Yoga as improving the energy flow in the head. The squats might be a way of reminding the exerciser of how difficult it is to improve things in the head by tugging on the ears, even if you use the right hand to tug the left ear lobe and the left hand to tug the right lobe. (I discuss Nogier briefly in my entries on acupuncture and micro-acupuncture.)

There are detailed instructions for doing this exercise properly to get the right energy connections. I won't go into them here, but I will tell you that they are backed by the same science that discovered the law of correspondence, a law that continues to escape the notice of the rest of the scientific community. All I will say in conclusion is that you better face the right way, position your arms and fingers just so, and breathe in the proper fashion or you will fail to transform or internally alchemize lower energies into higher subtler energies that can energize your brain so it can function more better.

Sri Poonam Uppal

Poonam UppalIf SuperBrain Yoga doesn't work for you, then you might try Sri Poonam Uppal's healings. Her followers consider her "a true saint and karmic soul healer, selflessly sharing with the people of the world." She has had a few unsatisfied customers, however. A correspondent of mine claims she charged a friend of his $40,000 for an exorcism of "a vicious demon." This was cash transaction, I'm told, because the Guruji doesn't accept checks or cheques. My correspondent may not have done the math correctly, though. He tells me that the Guruji charges $250/hour for her healings. That would mean this fellow's exorcism took 160 hours. We all know that even the most incompetent exorcist can get rid of a vicious demon in less than six hours.

"We all knew he just needed medication to stabilize his over-thinking mind and not overstress himself." Unfortunately, after the healing, this poor fellow's friends say, he still felt the same. Why am I not surprised?

Poonam offers many therapies, but one of her specialties is karmic soul healing. You don't have to tug your ears to unblock your energy, because her method works "from inside to outside not outside to inside." My correspondent claims that he has filed a police report and that the police are investigating the Guruji. Good luck to them.

Sri Poonam has established the OMRIT AWAKENING CENTRE™ in Singapore where she "can help you overcome obstacles and live a healthier, happier, peaceful, more satisfying life. Sri Poonam has healed individuals from all walks of life and religious backgrounds. Your soul possesses the infinite knowledge you need to become unconditionally loving, compassionate, and giving. She will assist you to reconnect with the truthful right pathway of your soul. Sri Poonam and her caring team are now happily sharing and utilizing her discoveries, special gifts, knowledge, proven methods and experience in a quest to introduce a whole new dimension of healing, to assist all those who find their way to the OMRIT AWAKENING CENTRE™." Be sure to bring cash. Remember she doesn't take checks.

In the End, There was Darkness

Each of us has grown weary of the world at some time in our lives. For some, the world and everything in it becomes, as Jean Paul Sartre put it, de trop, too much. For some, the material world is replaced in the imagination with an ideal that is immaterial. For others, it is replaced with nothingness and non-existence. For a small group of people, light or energy becomes their ideal. They bridge the gap between the material and the immaterial or some such thing. Anyway, there are a few people who think they can live solely on light, the divine light or energy. I've written about some of them in the inedia entry of The Skeptic's Dictionary: Jasmuheen (Ellen Greve), Wiley Brooks, Hira Ratan Manek, Tapaswi Palden Dorje, and Prahlad Jani.

Until recently, however, I was unaware of a 2010 documentary film by Austrian director P. A. Straubinger on the subject of inedia. It is called In the Beginning There Was Light (Am Anfang War Das Licht). (Click here for the website in German and here for a trailer with English subtitles and a few English speakers.) Straubinger's film was not done to convey the dangers of inedia. In fact, his film adds to those dangers. His goal is to explore various explanations for how people live without food by consulting "experts." Of course, the line of experts he consults are New Age scientists of the sort you will find in films like What the Bleep?!@ and Something Unknown is Doing We Don't Know What. They include Dean Radin, Robert Jahn, Brian Josephson, and Rupert Sheldrake.

The Storyline section of the Internet Movie Base page for the film states: "In the Beginning there was Light tells about the phenomenon 'light nourishment,' the incredible fact that there are individuals who neither eat nor drink." Incredible fact? Well, that's half right. It's incredible, for sure. A fact? Hardly. The fact is that inediates are deceptive. Of course, nobody could prove that no person anywhere ever lived without eating or drinking. But anyone who would believe people who say they are inediates rather than try to catch them in their deception, and who would then seek out "experts" to explain how they do it, is exposing himself as gullible and beyond trustworthiness. This is not open-mindedness This is letting your brains fall out. Food, water, and sleep are not optional for human beings. Believe otherwise to your own detriment. Pass on such nonsense and you endanger others of fragile mental temperament, especially those who long to escape a world they find painful and full of horror.

SkeptiCal 2012Dr. Indre Viskontas

SkeptiCal, the Northern California science and skepticism conference, will be held Saturday, April 21, at the Berkeley Doubletree Hotel. The conference will feature topics on the 2012 apocalypse, the neuroscience of the believing brain, debunking on television, and much more. For a list of this year's speakers, click here. For the schedule, click here.

The Amaz!ng Meeting 2012

The dates for The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) 2012 have been set: July 12-15. For a list of this year's speakers click here.

The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has hosted its annual Amaz!ng Meeting since 2003 as a way to promote science, skepticism and critical thinking about paranormal and supernatural claims to the broader public. “TAM,” as it’s known by regular attendees, has been held in Las Vegas, NV since 2004 and has become the world’s largest gathering of like-minded science-advocates and skeptics. People from all over the world come to the Amaz!ng Meeting each year to share learning and laughs with fellow skeptics and distinguished guest speakers. Nearly 1,700 people attended The Amaz!ng Meeting 2011 in Las Vegas.

Written by Bob Carroll
with the assistance of John Renish
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