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The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Volume 10 No. 1

6 January 2011

Systematized ignorance is the most delightful science in the world because it is acquired without pain and keeps the mind from melancholy.*

In this issue

What's New
Dolphin Time Travel
Australian exorcisms
Science and the decline effect
Scum one
Scum two
Scum three
Token nod to obesity

What's New?

new entries There were several entries added to The Skeptic's Dictionary last month: Reichenbach's odic force, placebo jewelry, the Nobel disease (includes a section on the MD disease), uromancy, anthropomancy, slate writing, Impact Training, MJB Seminars, alkaline diet, Robert O. Young, and birthers.

new book review At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.

new Skeptimedia posts Racial Intelligence (a reply to Dane who is not racist but who wants to know why blacks have low IQs); PBS still pimping unhealthy programs (Brenda Watson gets a free ride); My Bible Park (if I were in charge, here's how the park would look); Sources: How the WWW allows one person to seem to be many sources--The Eileen Danneman Story (the story of one anti-vaxxer who has found a way to appear to be an army); Another year, Another Thousand Scams (obvious); Science is fine, but we're not (a response to Jonathan Lehrer's New Yorker pieces about the illusory fading of truth in science); and The Miracle Detectives (a review of the Oprah Winfrey Network's program).

new post by SD editor John Renish The King Who Could, Maybe--Saudi Arabia's Abdullah.

new reader comments climate change deniers (citing Newsweek as a source and a puerile attempt to insult me don't inspire confidence in the reader's observations); takionic beads (some experiments you might try at home); Nessie (my claim to "skeptical thinking" is challenged); Freud/psychoanalysis (a Freudophile challenges me to a duel); and dinosaurs and humans together (a young creationist exposes himself).

new What's the harm posts

4 Jan 2010. Pakistani governor murdered by his bodyguard for opposing blasphemy law.

30 Dec 2010. A group of men arrested in Denmark on Wednesday were about to mount a “Mumbai style” attack on the Danish newspaper that ignited Muslim fury around the world by publishing satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad

29 Dec 2010. Child dies as parent prays instead of seeking treatment for his diabetes.

7 Dec 2010. Two dozen kids and faith killing

7 Dec 2010. Pakistan mother denied presidential pardon for 'insulting Islam'

5 Dec 2010. A dozen killed in Haiti cholera witch-hunt

3 Dec 2010. Ghanaian woman burned to death for being a 'witch'

2 December, 2010. Exorcism rapist locked up for 11 years.

Three chapters from my critical thinking text posted Chapter 3 - Sources; Chapter 8 "Causal Reasoning"; and chapter 9 "Science and Pseudoscience." All are pdf files. I also posted Answers to Selected Exercises

I've updated Greg Haskin's A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking by adding a short essay he has written on How To Develop Sound Opinions on Important Issues.

The topical index page "Frauds & Hoaxes" is now "Frauds, Hoaxes, Conspiracies."

The loch Ness "monster" page was revised to include speculations and clarifications regarding the so-called "surgeon's photo."

The JZ Knight/Ramtha page was revised to include more data on this clever businesswoman.

Many files were updated. A complete list with links to the updates may be found at skepdic.com/updates.html.

Just When You Thought You'd Seen It All....

Dolphin Connection International presents a Dolphins & Teleportation Symposium at which, we are promised, there will be "momentous revelations and personal experiences of time travel, dolphins, and our evolving paradigm for 2012 in harmony with Earth."

Get your ticket now, before the conference is teleported back to 1957 and you're left stranded in the future in a dolphinless ocean. One of the featured speakers is Andrew D. Basiago, who claims to have time-traveled to Mars. Andy, as he refers to himself on his website, is the founder and president of MARS and team leader of Project Pegasus. He's a past member of MENSA and describes himself as " a lawyer, writer, scholar, and 21st century visionary."

He says he's "an emerging figure in the Truth Movement leading a campaign to lobby the US government to disclose such controversial truths as the fact that Mars harbors life and that the US has achieved 'quantum access' to past and future events." He says his "writings place him at the forefront of contemporary Mars anomaly research." Who could doubt it?

As a child, he says, he participated in a secret US time travel program as one of America’s first “chrononauts.” He asks us to join him in his fantasy:

Imagine a world in which one could jump through Grand Central Teleport in New York City, travel through a tunnel in the time-space continuum, and emerge several seconds later at Union Teleport in Los Angeles. Such a world has been possible since 1967-68, when teleportation was first achieved by DARPA’s Project Pegasus, only to be suppressed ever since as a secret weapon. When my quest, Project Pegasus, succeeds, such a world will emerge, and human beings linked by teleportation around the globe will proclaim that the Time-Space Age has begun.

Pigasus awardMaybe Andy should be given a Pigasus award for his Pegasus Project.

Joan Ocean is the one putting on this dolphin and teleportation conference. If you think Andy is special, please take note of what Ms. Ocean has to say about dolphins and time travel:

...dolphins have taken me time traveling into the future and they have shape-shifted with me, allowing me to experience their multidimensional reality of great Joy and Harmony. Through these experiences I have learned that humans have what it takes to enjoy this transdimensional world when we are daring enough to go there and explore it.

You can join Joan and Andy in Hawaii next June. Unfortunately, the time travel option isn't quite perfected, so you'll have to travel by boat or plane (unless you live on the Big Island) to the conference. The price of $3,100 per couple includes 5 nights in a hotel in Kona and "visionary films with noetic codes to illuminate your awareness/consciousness." What are you waiting for? Deals like this only come along once in a lifetime or two.

Exorcisms in Australia

Last November, one of the world's leading exorcists came to Sydney, Australia, at the invitation of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Sydney. Jeremy Davies, 74, exorcist for London’s Westminster Archdiocese, was invited to lead a forum on exorcism. Why? Because customers are demanding it. What? According to Julian Porteous, the Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, a growing number of people are approaching the Church to seek help in expelling what they believe are demonic spirits. “Many of these people who approach the Church for exorcism have got involved with various new-age or occult practices,” says Bishop Porteous. “What starts off seeming innocuous and not creating any difficulties at some stage turns dark. They start to experience quite frightening personal phenomena and it is at this stage that they turn for help.” Who knew?

Who are these desperate people? According to Porteous, they are people who engage in non-Christian alternative relaxation techniques such as yoga and reiki, as well as forms of divination such as tarot cards, fortune-telling, and séances. He also blames Harry Potter books and films, as well as the vampire-themed Twilight series. These naughty media have revived curiosity with the supernatural. The Church needs to respond by training more exorcists, says the bishop, who says he's performed a few exorcisms himself over the years.

It's nice to know the man in charge has experience.

Science and the Decline Effect

Jonathan Lehrer's piece in The New Yorker on how the truth in science fades because of the mysterious decline effect is wrong about all areas of science except parapsychology. Daryl Bem's paper purporting to show strong support for precognition seems destined for the junk pile of false starts that characterizes the history jim alcockof psi research. The paper hasn't even been published yet but it is already being lampooned as "craziness" (Ray Hyman). James Alcock reviewed the paper and had this to say about the first (of nine) experiments described by Bem:

Just about everything that could be done wrong in an experiment occurred here. And even if one chose to overlook that methodological mess, because of the multiple testing problem his data still do not support the claimed above-chance effect. It is difficult to have confidence that the other eight experiments, some of which were carried out earlier than the one just described, were conducted with appropriate attention to experimental rigor...

Benedict Carey of The New York Times noted that none of the reviewers for the journal that accepted Bem's paper "were topflight statisticians." As most readers here know, today's parapsychologists rely on statistics to support their view that they can detect psychic phenomena that the psychics themselves have no clue are occurring. One critical paper submitted to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the world's preeminent social psychology journal according to Alcock, attacks the statistical methods used by Bem. Eric-Jan Wagenmakers, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, is co-author of a rebuttal to Bem's paper that is scheduled to appear in the same issue of the journal. The rebuttal is titled "Why Psychologists Must Change the Way They Analyze Their Data: The Case of Psi."

richard wisemanRichard Wiseman has detected an important flaw in Bem's work involving the method of scoring he used that could significantly affect the statistical outcomes. Wiseman advises those attempting replication to change the way the tests are scored. He also advises rechecking the scoring done in Bem's experiments.

Bem is not turning the other cheek on the criticism. He has responded to Alcock's scathing critique by noting that the paper was peer-reviewed. He also calls Alcock a few names. So hah hah.

Meanwhile, the news involving real science isn't all that pretty when it comes to vaccines and autism. The British Medical Journal calls the Andrew Wakefield study that started the vaccine/autism scare "fraudulent." In a series of articles starting this week, seven years after first looking into the MMR scare, journalist Brian Deer shows the extent of Wakefield’s fraud and how it was perpetrated. Decline effect, indeed.

Scum of the minute

More than a decade ago, I and other skeptics called attention to an outfit called DKL, DielectroKinetic Laboratories, and a dowsing rod they were selling called the LifeGuard. At that time, the devices sold for between $6,000 and $14,000. The market was primarily law enforcement and government agencies. The main claim for the dowsing rod was that it could detect a human heartbeat 500 yards away in a clearing and through several feet of concrete at "shorter distances." The most ridiculous claim, though, was the claim that the various LifeGuard models "can detect and lock onto a person in three to five seconds, and they can distinguish a human from any other animal, even a gorilla or an orangutan." The device was tested by Sandia Labs and found to not work as advertised.

In the summer of 1998, I got into a rather lengthy e-mail conversation with a retired U.S. Navy Captain, Jim Bryant, who had invested in DKL and was ready to defend it to the end. (Bryant's Manassas Cab Co. website lists him as a Director and Vice President of DKL International.) Some readers might find our exchange amusing if not interesting. Capt. Bryant's comments still stand as a testament to self-deception and rationalization by a very intelligent man.

Eventually DKL quit making outlandish claims about being a necessary tool for finding lost humans, but not until it first tried to sell the dowsing rod as a tool useful for detecting stowaways. Capt. Bryant was an honest man, as far as I could tell, but he knew nothing about doing controlled experiments. The folks at Sandia demonstrated that as soon as the expert user of the LifeGuard did not know which box contained the target, he performed at chance levels. Of course, when shown where the target was located, the device pointed in the right direction every time.

Fast forward to 2011 and the DKL website once again is claiming the LifeGuard is the tool you need when disaster hits and you need to find buried humans (and not waste your time digging for days only to find you've saved an orangutan!). The dowsing device is still advertised as useful for finding hidden humans in cargo boxes portside, as well as for mine rescues.

I'd forgotten about DKL until a reader sent me an e-mail with a link to a news story published by McClatchy newspapers in 2008. These DKL folks are as bad as the guy with the phony bomb detector, Jim McCormick. The headline of the news item reads: Finding quake survivors just one use for remote heartbeat detectors. The story itself is a puff piece promoting the LifeGuard written by Nancy Walcott, DKL's public affairs officer, who is married to John Walcott, the chief of McClatchy's Washington Bureau. I think the story should be referred to as a press release. It claims that the LifeGuard detected "at least 17 victims from the China quake, which struck May 12 in Sichuan Province. The device also was used to pick up the heartbeat of a victim of the 2001 World Trade Center collapse, though that rescue effort failed." Excuse me if I'm skeptical.

I do believe, however, that Ms. Walcott tells the truth when she says that some Japanese police ordered 100 DKL detectors in 2004. I believe her when she writes that "Geovox Security Inc., of Houston, has sold 150 of its AVIAN Heartbeat Detectors for use in immigration, border control and prison agencies around the world." I'd also believe her if she told me that the AVIAN Heartbeat Detector works just as well as the DKL LifeGuard. Geovox claims its system can detect a concealed passenger in less than a minute. What they don't tell you is that you have to first tell them which vehicle has the concealed passenger.

Here's the beautiful part of this press release. Walcott claims the LifeGuard "can pick up signals [from a human's beating heart] 20 to 50 meters away through a one-meter thick concrete wall." It can track an individual standing in the open at a distance of 500 meters. She claims, and her editor didn't challenge her for some odd reason, that it does this the way an electrocardiogram monitors the electric field created by a beating heart. There's a reason the ECG technician has to physically attach leads to your body when the test is conducted. The electric field created by the human heartbeat is extremely weak and needs to be amplified to be read by the machine. The LifeGuard dowsing rod is a hand-held device that supposedly can detect this tiny electrical field at 500 meters and through one meter of concrete. Right.

Furthermore, the LifeGuard is superior to the AVIAN, which must rely on "tiny shock waves created by a beating heart of a person who is touching a solid object, such as the side of a truck." According to Walcott, the Department of Homeland Security has issued a contract to Geovox "to upgrade its system, which can be fooled by winds or other activity." Don't you feel safer knowing these things? I'll bet you didn't know that your heartbeat sends a signal through your fingers that can affect a truck you touch in such a way that some soldier holding a dowsing rod 500 meters away can detect. Neither did I. In fact, I don't think I know it yet, despite being told it's true by the people doing business with the people in charge of Homeland Security.

More scum

Howard Berg, the fastest liar in the West about speed reading, is still around, claiming he reads 30,000 words per minute. Do the math. He once signed an FTC agreement:

IT IS ORDERED that respondent, directly or through any corporation, subsidiary, division, or other device, in connection with the labeling, advertising, promotion, offering for sale, sale, or distribution of Howard Berg’s Mega Reading or any substantially similar product in or affecting commerce, shall not represent, in any manner, expressly or by implication, that such product is successful in teaching anyone, including adults, children and disabled individuals, to increase their reading speed above 800 words per minute while substantially comprehending and retaining the material.

Berg learned at the feet of the master. He did an informercial where Kevin Trudeau pretended to interview him!

The FTC agreement states

In truth and in fact Howard Berg’s Mega Reading is not successful in teaching anyone, including adults, children and disabled individuals, to significantly increase their reading speed while substantially comprehending and retaining the material.

Of course, the FTC is in the pocket of the socialist cabal run by Big Pharma, so why trust anything it says or does?

The third scum is a charm

A big nod must be given to NMT. See http://tinyurl.com/27wepsv for Ben Goldacre's account of how this company abuses the libel law in England.

US medical device company NMT are suing NHS cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst over his comments about the conduct and results of the MIST trial, which sadly for NMT found no evidence that their device prevents migraine. The MIST trial was funded by NMT, and Wilmshurst was lead investigator until problems arose.

Wilmshurst has already paid £100,000 of his own money to defend himself, risking his house, and spent every weekend and all his annual leave, unpaid, dealing with this, at great cost to his family.

NMT provides one more reason to keep libel laws out of science.

Dishonorable mention goes to the City Council of Costa Mesa for their voluntary ban on dental amalgam. The council members might want to read the American Dental Association's latest amalgam safety update or "More Notes on the Anti-Amalgam Movement" by Robert S. Baratz, M.D., D.D.S., Ph.D.

Token nod to Obesity after the Holiday Food Orgies

It's a crisis of Biblical portions: read all about it at http://www.healthyweightnetwork.com/


Written by Bob Carroll
with the assistance of John Renish
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