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logo.gif (2126 bytes) the Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter 65

March 8, 2006

I have something to say to the religionist who feels atheists never say anything positive: You are an intelligent human being. Your life is valuable for its own sake. You are not second-class in the universe, deriving meaning and purpose from some other mind. You are not inherently evil -- you are inherently human, possessing the positive rational potential to help make this a world of morality, peace and joy. Trust yourself. --Dan Barker

Previous newsletters are archived at skepdic.com/news/ Go there for subscription and feedback information.

In this issue:

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

New dictionary entries: complementary medicine, integrative medicine, and warm reading.

Revised dictionary entries: satanic ritual abusenaturalism, and penile plethysmograph.

Updated dictionary entries: Holocaust denial, Indigo children, and intelligent design.

New Blog entries:


  • A print version of The Skeptic's Dictionary in Japanese is in the works.


I will be talking about the Skeptic's Dictionary at the Atheists and Other Freethinkers meeting on Sunday, March 12, at 2:30 pm at the Sierra 2 Center, Community Room 10 2791 24th Street in Sacramento. Learn how a former altar boy became an internationally defamed atheist without even trying.

In the last newsletter, I wrote: "I also don't agree with Dawkins that religion is the root of all evil," alluding to the title of his recent TV program for Channel 4 in Great Britain (The Root of All Evil?), which is severely critical of religion and religious faith. In a recent interview with DJ Grothe (Point of Inquiry podcast), Dawkins stated that he objected to the title and does not think anything is the root of all evil.


One of the more encouraging developments in the art of communication has been the podcast, now used by several skeptical and scientifically-minded people and organizations. If you're getting tired of the same old music on your morning walk or commute, try listening to a podcast from Point of Inquiry, New Scientist, Scientific American, Nature, or Skepticality. If you've only time to try just one, try Point of Inquiry. DJ Grothe's interviews are incisive and educational. (In the past month, he's interviewed Dan Dennett, Wally Sampson, Joe Nickell, and Richard Dawkins.) Ben Radford's commentaries are very thoughtful and informative. Tom Flynn's Did You Know? segment is excellent. And Joe Nickell's accounts of his investigations are always interesting.

Did you know?

Did you know that one of every six people on the planet is nonreligious* and that one in ten Americans don't identify with a particular religion? Did you know that in America only 10 percent of the adult population say they are neither religious nor spiritual.* Did you know that the fastest growing religion in America is not Scientology but Wicca, which is doubling about every 30 months. The number of Wiccans went from about 8,000 in 1990 to about 134,000 in 2001.

Did you know that Scientology calls itself the fastest growing religion in the world? The official word is that they have tens of millions of members, but the word on the street is that at most they have hundreds of thousands. Would a Scientologist lie to promote the organization? Only Xenu knows. (With apologies to Tom Flynn.)

Critical Journalism in Australia

Kerrie Dougherty found this piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by John Dwyer.

FOR anyone interested in "evidence-based medicine" and its potential for protecting consumers from spurious health claims, watching the TV coverage of the Australian Open tennis has been a frustrating experience. The health advice a tournament sponsor, Nature's Own, gives in the advertisements for its vitamin preparation is inaccurate and misleading, and highlights the problem we have in ensuring consumers in this most scientific of ages get sound information.

The constant reminder by another Australian Open sponsor, Medibank Private, that, in an effort to boost falling membership numbers, it (as do many other private health funds) provides coverage for a range of "alternative" therapies, demonstrated to be of no benefit, is also disturbing.

It's nice to read something critical of quackery in the mainstream press.


Mr. X writes:

In the latest Skeptic's newsletter you mentioned all the excellent things you'd do with a billion-dollar grant from Bill Gates.

And I heartily wish he'd give it to you. Maybe you should seriously apply. He gives a lot to charity and is a forward thinker.

However, I would like to inform you if you do not already know: Georgetown University has just received $20 million in funding from a Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. The Wahhabist Prince has also given $20 million in funding to Harvard University. It is to promote the study of Islam.

This is the same promoter of Islamism (the political doctrine that sent hijackers crashing planes into buildings and believes homosexuals, adulterers, and apostates deserve death as a punishment) who donated $27 million to a telethon to raise money for the families of suicide bombers, and who attempted to give $10 million to the twin towers fund after 9/11 but the donation was rejected by mayor Rudy Giuliani after the prince made disparaging remarks about US policy in the Middle East.

Science and education are under threat from the bible-bashing right in the US, but no less from the Koran-thumping Islamists who have embarked on a global jihad which is only sometimes pursued by violent means.

$40 million will buy a lot of pro-Islamist propaganda.

The Saudis, in short, wish to effect change in US foreign policy by white-anting your culture.

I had to ask Mr. X what white-anting means.

White-anting a society or group is when another group with different values infiltrates it to try to change it or destroy it from within (like termites (white-ants) undermining a house by eating out the timbers).

White-anting. Isn't that what the intelligent design folks at the Discovery institute have been trying to do with science education in this country? And isn't that what the folks at Transcendental Meditation and at Scientology have been doing? They set up "free" programs to "help" people (read, get off drugs, recover from traumas, ad nearly infinitum). But their real motivation is to "help" people see how screwed up "normal" society is and "help" them join their ranks. We might call their work cultivating.

It is possible that our universities can be white-anted by wealthy Muslims. Georgetown and Harvard should be ashamed of themselves for taking the Wahhabist's money, but I would say that the odds are against the sheikh getting his money's worth, thanks to the Danish cartoon fiasco.

By now most people are aware of the manipulation of Muslims in many countries by their imams and other leaders in response to Danish newspaper editor Flemming Rose's decision to contact 25 cartoonists and challenge them to draw Muhammad. He got twelve responses and the newspaper printed the cartoons at the beginning of Ramadan. Muslims forbid depictions of Muhammad and apparently consider it blasphemy to depict their Prophet with a bomb in his turban.

Why did Rose do it? One story is that he thought artists were self-censoring out of fear of offending Muslims. (Rose had read that museums in Sweden and London had removed art deemed offensive to Muslims and that concerned him.) Another story (one told on 60 Minutes) is that he did it to show Muslims (a small minority in Denmark) that in a free country people can desecrate your holy icons at will and you better learn to suck it up. (This doesn't fly too well, however, when another European nation, Austria, is sending David Irving to prison for denying the Holocaust. I wonder if Rose ever considered publishing some of Mr. Irving's work to indicate his concern over censorship in Austria or Germany.) Whatever Rose's motivation, the local Muslim leader (Ahmed Abu Laban) went to work arousing international outrage at the Danish cartoons and a few others after he was rebuffed by the newspaper and the Danish government.

It is apparent that many of those who were burning down embassies were probably illiterate and never read a newspaper in their lives, much less a Danish one. They were provoked by their leaders to their furious outrage. The result is that the rest of the non-Muslim world has become more convinced than ever that Muslims are a bunch of medieval barbarians, unworthy to sit at the table with those who live in the 21st century. The split between Islam and the West, which was a chasm before the cartoons, is now a Grand Canyon. A couple of university programs are unlikely to do much to counteract the effect of what Americans see on television and read about on the Internet and in newspapers and magazines every day.

To convince the world that you are a religion of peace and that your prophet was a man of peace, it was probably not a good idea to set fire to buildings and flags around the world, attack embassies, and kill dozens of people.*

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that about 46 percent of American adults have a negative view of Islam. Analysts believe this is because "political statements and media reports ... focus almost solely on the actions of Muslim extremists." About one-third of all Americans believe that Islam fuels violence against non-Muslims. And one-fourth of us admit to being prejudiced against both Muslims and Arabs, even though most Muslims are not Arabs.

Some Arabs are outraged at the expression of outrage at the cartoons by Muslims around the world. Wafa Sultan, a secular Arab-American psychologist from Los Angeles, appeared on Al Jazeera television in an interview and ripped into Muslims for their "living in the Middle Ages." It is an amazing interview and should be viewed by all secular humanists, whether or not you're interested in white-anting. (A transcript is also available.)

Also, a young Muslim from non-Arabic Iran, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina, found his own way to "avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world": Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar rented the largest SUV he could get and "tried to kill UNC Chapel Hill students to avenge fellow Muslims" by running people over.*   He claimed he was "spreading the will of Allah."* Trust me, that is not how to white-ant American culture.

Scams of the minute

David Federlein spotted this one. The BioG Chip Card is a card composed of who-knows-what that you insert in a pack of cigarettes or between the cellophane wrapping and the pack. In "only 10 minutes" it allegedly "neutralizes the harmfulness of poisonous tar and reduces nicotine and other carcinogenic and toxic chemical compounds that arise out of cigarette smoke." Sincronet Media Ltd. on Barrack Street, Whitegate, Co. Cork, Ireland, sells these gizmos at a "discounted price of €34.99." It claims the recommended retail price is €50.

Someone complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK about the extravagant assertions made for the BioG Chip Card, which is being sold there by Adriana & Co Ltd, 160 Redland Road, Bristol. A circular for the product claimed:

Look and Feel Better, Improve your Health and Lifestyle, Raise Your Self-Esteem, start Saving Money in only 10 minutes! Nicotine, the main reason for this addiction, will be eliminated from your body and you will become free from this nasty habit! Forever! NOT any struggle in giving up smoking! No cravings, No agony associated with that habit! Breakthrough Product to Quitting Smoking.

Dramatically reduce: Harmful effects of cigarette smoke, tar and nicotine in cigarettes; Carcinogenic and toxic chemicals; Intake of poisonous Carbon Monoxide; Intensive smell of smoke and butts; Dependence of nicotine by 90%; Irritation of throat and cough. Smoke will become lighter, loses its heavy odour, lessens the irritation of throat and other respiratory organs, reduce coughing.

Chip Card does not reduce the quantity of smoke. Cigarette buds will not have heavy odour, neither will your body, clothes, curtains, rooms. Non-smokers, your family members, friends, colleagues and associates are no longer disturbed by the smell of smoke. Neutralise around 150,000 cigarettes.

The ASA upheld the complaint and issued a statement almost as unbelievable as the circular for the BioG Chip Card:

We noted that some independent testing had been done to compare nicotine levels in cigarettes treated with the Smoking Chip Card with normal cigarettes. However, we did not consider that the tests constituted robust scientific evidence to support the claims made in the circular. We were concerned that Adriana had not shown that all necessary testing of the product had been carried out before the circular was distributed.

I wonder what testing the ASA thinks should be done for such a product. Perhaps the card should be thrown in the water. If it sinks, it's a fraud. If it floats, it's real and should be burned at the stake.


Lorie Anderson—who has a webpage critical of the Indigo children movement—notes that Dr. Emoto of What the Bleep? fame is now selling "structured water" called Indigo Water. If you are wondering how he structures water, we reported in Newsletter 63 that he does it with his thoughts. If you are wondering whether this water has been tested, wonder no more. Here is what Emoto says:

Q. Is there any research on the Indigo Water itself?

A. Yes. Dr. Lana Ford has done extensive testing with immune compromised individuals with the Indigo Water. To very briefly summarize her findings, the Indigo water altered the hydration status of the health compromised population in 10 minutes and continued to have cumulate effectives [sic] over a 30 day period. She found that the Indigo water balanced the status of each organ of the human body, and dramatically altered the energetic field or aura around the human body. This research study was conducted in May, 2005 in North Carolina at the Sound Health Center.

I was unable to discover anything about Dr. Ford. I think the claim about "hydration status" being altered within ten minutes of drinking the Indigo Water means that the subjects weren't as thirsty after they took a drink. I have no idea how Dr. Ford measured the water balance of each organ in the human body. This may be done by intuition. Perhaps Dr. Ford used a crystal wand to determine the dramatic alteration of the energetic field around the human body. The Sound Health Center is located at 3505 Lawrence Street in Clemmons, NC. The phone number is 336-778-1616, should you wish to call and find out more about this scientific testing.

Emoto lists several benefits from drinking his Indigo water at $35 for a month's supply, but I couldn't see any that couldn't be achieved by drinking tap water, e.g., "enhance hydration." One amazing property of this water is that "by mixing one ounce of concentrate with one gallon of distilled water, you are creating eight gallons of structured water."* We need this special water, according to Emoto, because:

The structured cell water which we are born with begins to diminish and loses the hexagonal shape. The result is that our ability to absorb water decreases all the time. The only way to replace the structured water in our body is to consume a structured water product.

That is why I have switched to drinking nothing but hexagonally shaped snowflakes or beer. It is not well known, but beer molecules are hexagonal when drunk through a straw while wearing a pyramid hat. And, as an added benefit, beer is a known aura energizer. Unfortunately, when you mix one ounce of beer with one gallon of water, you do not get eight gallons of beer. You get one gallon of off-tasting water.

National Health Service (NHS) Mesmerized

The NHS in the UK, in an effort not to be outdone by the ASA in the quest for robust scientific evidence to support its practices has approved a magnetic leg wrap called 4UlcerCare "on the basis of one placebo-controlled trial carried out in Suffolk and published in the Journal of Wound Care last year. There were just 26 patients in the trial."* The NHS approved the magnet therapy because it will save money,* even though the consensus of the medical community is that magnets are no more effective than placebos.

And did you know that magnet therapy is approved by Cherie Blair, Bill Clinton, and Sir Anthony Hopkins? Also,

Some holistic therapists say magnets reduce “negative energy” in the body. They also believe magnets may encourage healthy tissue to generate its own electrical currents to stimulate wound repair.*

And some integrative holistic alternative complementary healers say that if you have enough faith you can generate enough electricity in your tissue to power a small flashlight for up to twelve hours.

Acupuncture study indicates acupuncture works and is a sham

A recent study seems to indicate both that acupuncture works and is a sham. The study found that acupuncture works as well as drugs when treating migraines. The study also found that it doesn't matter where you stick the needles. Acupuncture holds that you must stick the needles at precise points along meridians, alleged pathways for chi, the alleged energy that must be flowing and have a balance of yin and yang if one is to be healthy. What should we conclude from such a study? The data support the hypothesis that sticking needles into people has a physiological effect. There is no reason to believe that this effect has anything to do with meridians, chi, yin, or yang.

In another study, acupuncture was found to be no better than sham acupuncture at relieving pain in fibromyalgia.* But some studies have found a difference between "real" and "sham" acupuncture. (Real acupuncture would be acupuncture that uses traditional points on the body for needle insertion.) That might indicate that it does matter where you stick the needles to get an effect, but still would not suggest that the proper insertion point has anything to do with meridians or chi. It may have to do with nerve endings and pathways. Ah, the trials of modern medicine once we seek to move back to the wisdom of our ancestors who were too busy hunting animals to dissect them.

Odds are you won't buy this one

Readers of The Bookseller magazine have selected the oddest book title of 2005. The winner is People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It. In this based-on-a-true-story memoir, author Gary Leon Hill tells the story of his Uncle Wally and Aunt Ruth and how they "came to counsel dead spirits who took up residence in bodies that didn't belong to them." News of the award sent the book's ranking skyrocketing on Amazon.com from  #412,144 to #9,906 in just one day. No word from Oprah yet as to whether she will select this winner for her book club.

The Hitt Man

Dave Hitt complained that it was "tacky" to post his comments with my commentary in the last newsletter in which he says that I had "been taken in by one of the biggest scams since homeopathy" regarding secondhand smoke studies. As I say on my feedback page: if you do not want your name and/or comments posted, please say so. Anyway, I made the mistake of promising Mr. Hitt to post his response to my comments or link to his own post. I usually don't respond to anyone who uses rhetorical bullying ("I am disappointed in you" or "I don't respect you any more" [because you don't see that I'm right and you're wrong] or, as some others have said to me, "Do your homework!" Then there is the passive-aggressive bully who will write something like: "This entry was not up to your usual high standards. Really, how could you list so-and-so in your links?"). But a promise is a promise. To read Mr. Hitt's response, click the hitt me button. I choose to move on and not reply to his reply.

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