Robert Todd Carroll

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October 19, 2004. Betty Hill has died. She and husband Barney claimed to have been abducted by aliens on September 19, 1961. That story seems to have started the many cult beliefs about alien visitation and experimentation on humans. Barney claimed that the aliens took a sample of his sperm. Betty said they stuck a needle in her belly button. She took people out to an alien landing spot, but only she could see the aliens and their craft. The Hills recalled most of their story under hypnosis a few years after the alleged abduction. Barney Hill reported that the aliens had "wraparound eyes," a rather unusual feature. However, twelve days earlier an episode of "The Outer Limits" featured just such an alien being (Kottmeyer). According to Robert Schaeffer, "we can find all the major elements of contemporary UFO abductions in a 1930 comic adventure, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" ["Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)", in The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal edited by Gordon Stein (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1996), pp. 767-777.]

Hill was 85 at the time of her death from cancer. A story in her hometown newspaper notes that in addition to the evidence derived under hypnosis there was physical evidence of abduction: "The physical evidence from that night would include scuffs on Barney’s shoes, stains and tears on Betty’s dress, circular marks on their car and their watches, which had both stopped." That should be enough evidence to persuade even the hardest of skeptics.

Barney died in 1969.

"Their story became more widely known when the late John G. Fuller published The Interrupted Journey in 1966. Later, the TV docu-drama, "UFO Incident," starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons portrayed their UFO experience."*

October 14, 2004. Here's an article from Japan by a biologist in Dublin that you'll never find in an American newspaper! Here you will learn, if you did not already know, that Richard Dawkin's latest book is out: The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution.

October 12, 2004. Jacques Benveniste, the French immunologist who turned to the defense of homeopathy late in his career and who gave the world the 'memory of water', died in Paris on October 3rd. He was joined in death just a few day later by another Jacques, who in the eyes of his fiercest critics, when deconstructed, might reveal the philosophic equivalent of Benveniste.

September 30, 2004. A new study published in the Lancet has found that vitamin supplements do no good in protecting against cancer or other diseases. In fact, the study has found that some supplements may even increase one's cancer risk.
John Mack, author of  Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens (1994)  and Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters (1999), was killed by an allegedly drunken driver while walking in London yesterday. Mack was a psychiatrist who risked his position as a professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School for his apparent belief in the reality of alien abductions.

In 1994, a committee of peers at Harvard met to review his clinical care and clinical investigation of the people he interviewed in the course of his alien abduction research. The committee initiated proceedings to determine whether he should retain his tenure. After a 14-month investigation, the school "reaffirmed Dr. Mack's academic freedom to study what he wishes and to state his opinions without impediment.''*

Mack founded The John E. Mack Institute to further his vision of "how extraordinary experiences can affect personal, societal and global transformation." The motto of the institute is "Exploring Consciousness and Transformation."

Whatever else Mack believed about his abductees, he saw their experiences as spiritual and as fitting well with his own beliefs regarding spiritual transformation and larger environmental issues. ("We need to change our materialistic, destructive ways.") Mack's biases towards the paranormal and the spiritual both helped and hindered his research. On the one hand, his beliefs allowed him access to those who have "experienced abduction" (whatever that might actually involve). They trusted him and revealed to him what they could of their experiences. Skeptics could not hope for such access and have to analyze from a distance, speculating about sleep paralysis, hypnagogic states, and the like. On the other hand, because of Mack's convictions he seems to have been unable to treat the physical, physiological, and psychological elements of the alien abduction experience as a phenomenon in itself without a connection either to mental illness or spiritual breakthrough. In the end, however, even skeptics must be grateful to Dr. Mack, for he has provided a rich data base for phenomenological analysis of a unique and intriguing element of human experience. However, his use of hypnosis may have contaminated much of the data by influencing, even if unconsciously, the memories of his patients. (He claims the abduction experience is identical to experiences with "star people" reported by numerous native American tribes and other cultures.*)

NPR's Robert Siegel's interview with Dr. Robert Jay Lifton of the Harvard Medical School, a friend and colleague of Dr. Mack, is available online. A longer interview by NOVA is also online. In the NOVA interview he lets it be known that his foray into the alien abduction scene was worth it. "I've gained more than I've lost," he said, "in terms of inviting people into this mystery." Mack was also the subject of a documentary film by Laurel Chiten entitled "Touched."

September 28, 2004.  A slew of paranormal-themed programs is materializing on television, according Marisa Guthrie of the New York Daily News. She's not just crying werewolf if three counts as a slew. Two of the shows--"Proof Positive: Evidence of the Paranormal" and "Ghost Hunters"--are on the Sci Fi Channel. The other is Court ("The Investigative Channel") TV's  "Psychic Detectives." On the other hand, NOVA's "Origins" starts tonight--a little candle in the dark...even if a repetitious and drawn out candle.

What's worse than a woman who claims that her dogs channel messages from the spirit world and send them to her telepathically? A news outlet that publishes the story.

September 26, 2004. Natasha Demkina, the Russian girl with the x-ray vision, is back in the news. This time her paranormal ability to see into people's bodies and diagnose illness was tested under controlled conditions. My guess is that the girl is deluded and really believes she has uncanny medical diagnostic abilities. Otherwise, why would she agree to be tested by the likes of Richard Wiseman and CSICOP? The whole event was filmed for the Discovery channel, so we will all get a chance to witness the test that, according to the Guardian, went something like this (note: I did some minor editing):

For the first part of the test, Natasha was asked to try and diagnose the conditions of people who had described specific ailments to the scientists....

In the second part of the test, Natasha sat in front of seven people and was given a list of medical conditions ranging from an artificial hip to a metal plate that had been implanted in one of their heads after the removal of a tumor. The scientists decided that if Natasha could correctly identify who had which operation five times out of seven, she would pass.

The article in the Guardian is confusing, however. On the one hand it says that she misdiagnosed three and got four right. So, the scientists say she failed. She disagrees and who can blame her. How many physicians get four out of seven diagnoses right before ordering tests? Natasha claims that she'd have done better if the conditions under which she was tested weren't so unfriendly.

On the other hand, the article also quotes Wiseman as saying "Before each reading, I asked the people what was the main medical problem and Natasha never got one of those right." I guess we'll have to watch the Discovery program to find out if she got none or three right. (The program airs in the UK on Thursday September 30 at 9 pm, but I could find no info on when it might air in the U.S. If you do tune in this Thursday at 9 pm in the U.S., you'll see "Motorcycle Girl.")

Wiseman thinks Natasha has a gift for diagnosis but doubts it involves x-ray vision or other paranormal power, but it appears he only tested her diagnostic skill, not her method of diagnosis. He doesn't accuse her of cheating but he claims there were a lot of text messages being sent between Natasha and her companions during the test. Since such behavior had been expressly forbidden, I don't understand why he didn't nullify the experiment and start over.

One thing Wiseman found interesting was that even the patients who were misdiagnosed were impressed with Natasha's readings. Some might compare her readings to those done by psychics and fortune tellers.

update: A report on this test has been published on the Internet. Many of the confusions in the Guardian article are cleared up. See also a later Funk posting.

September 23, 2004. Court TV brought together some 100 alleged psychic detectives in the Time Warner Center mall in New York City today. It called the event "Psych-Out." Nice publicity stunt to promote the opening of its second season of "Psychic Detectives," a show which "tells the true stories of real cases where psychics help detectives solve some of law enforcement’s most baffling cases."  Right.

Emanuella Grinberg, who wrote the story for Court TV about the event demonstrated her fair and balanced approach to the issue by closing with a section entitled Cynics Step Up, where she placed a single comment from a neighborhood woman who was suspicious of it all. For the record, Gary Posner's favorite psychic detective, Noreen Renier, was there but she had to step out for a smoke because there was "Too much noise, too much energy flying around." There's nothing like a good smoke to ward off flying energy.

September 21, 2004. The Raelians have sent out the following press release. It should be of special interest to the intelligent design folks at the Discovery Institute.


The Raelian Movement supports the academic debates about the Theory of Intelligent Design VS. The Theory of Evolution.
USA, September 21, 2004  - Following the publication of The Theory of Intelligent Design*, the U.S. Raelian Movement ( will soon launch a series of ongoing debates throughout schools and universities on “Intelligent Design” – the exact theory they have been teaching for over 30 years.
The whole world would benefit from a healthy educational system where the Theory of Evolution and The Theory of Intelligent Design are both taught in schools. Students have the right to know about the two different scientific theories and to openly debate which one better explains how life originated and diversified.
It would be intellectually unhealthy and even dangerous to try to stop this new scientific peer-reviewed information from circulating. Freedom of speech must especially apply in the scientific arena. 
One of the major arguments against The Theory of Intelligent Design has been that it went against the “naturalism philosophy” of science (nothing supernatural should be involved in explaining the world).   The Raelian Movement would like to underscore that The Theory of Intelligent Design does not lead to a supernatural designer but to an extraterrestrial human civilization designer, which is in line with “naturalism philosophy”. One day, maybe sooner than you might imagine possible, we will go to other planets and scientifically engineer life on them. Then, probably, these worlds will create deistic religions from the interactions we will have with them. After this, they will develop an evolutionary theory to escape from the super naturalistic view of their ancestors, and finally, they will discover that life on their planet was indeed designed - but by us, human beings who came from another world, the Earth…
For all interviews please contact our Public Relations office at : 305-690-9800 or
  • The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories”, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (volume 117, no. 2, pp. 213-239) http://www.discovery.


Who said there is no justice in this world?
[Thanks to Ed McConnell]

September 16, 2004.Wangari Maathai According to the East African Standard, Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan assistant minister for environment and natural resources and a professor of biology at Nairobi University, claims that HIV/AIDS was a biological weapon manufactured by the developed world to wipe out the black race from developing countries. Maathai is a world-renowned environmentalist and advocate for women's rights. According to Maathai, AIDS is a tool to "control" and "exterminate" [black people] designed by evil-minded scientists.
[thanks to Kenn von Kaufmann]


There are few things more bothersome than a reformed atheist, except perhaps a reformed atheist who has become a professor of historical theology at Oxford university. Here are just a few snippets from Alister McGrath's recent article in The Spectator:

  • But it’s now clear that the atheist case against God has stalled. Surefire philosophical arguments against God have turned out to be circular and self-referential.

  • Yet atheism has not simply run out of intellectual steam. Its moral credentials are now severely tarnished.

  • The appeal of atheism as a public philosophy came to an undistinguished end in 1989 with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Atheism, once seen as a liberator, was now cordially loathed as an oppressor.

  • The recent surge of evidence-based studies demonstrating the positive impact of religion on human wellbeing has yet to be assimilated by atheist writers.

  • Atheism offers precisely the kind of ‘metanarrative’ that postmodern thinkers hold to lead to intolerance and oppression. Its uncompromising and definitive denial of God is now seen as arrogant and repressive, rather than as principled and moral.

  • The most significant, dynamic and interesting critic of Western Christianity is no longer atheism, but a religious alternative, offering a rival vision of God — Islam.
    [thanks to Kenn von Kaufmann]


According to the BBC news, Serbia's education minister, Ljiljana Colic, ordered schools to stop teaching the theory of evolution for the current school year, a leading newspaper has reported. Glas Javnosti, a Serbian newspaper reports that in the future Darwin's theory of natural selection would only be taught alongside creationism because they are both equally dogmatic.

Biologist Nikola Tucic described the ruling as "outrageous," and claimed that Serbia's Orthodox Church was interfering in politics.

"We are slowly turning into a theocratic state," said Tucic.

update: After a deluge of protest from scientists, teachers and opposition parties, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica called Colic, an Orthodox Christian, in for a meeting. Her plan was dropped. And she has quit her post, but not before firing a number of school directors. She not only wanted creationism taught alongside evolution, she told teachers to skip a chapter in biology texts on evolution.
[thanks to Holger Märtens and Doug Wyatt]

September 9, 2004. Recently, the Biological Society of Washington (BSW) published a paper by Stephen C. Meyer, a senior fellow of the intelligent design advocacy group known as the Discovery Institute. His paper, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," was published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (vol. 117, no. 2, pp. 213-239). Meyer's conclusion is

An experience-based analysis of the causal powers of various explanatory hypotheses suggests purposive or intelligent design as a causally adequate--and perhaps the most causally adequate--explanation for the origin of the complex specified information required to build the Cambrian animals and the novel forms they represent. For this reason, recent scientific interest in the design hypothesis is unlikely to abate as biologists continue to wrestle with the problem of the origination of biological form and the higher taxa.

According to the National Center for Science Education, on September 7  the BSW issued a statement repudiating the paper, saying that it

represents a significant departure from the nearly purely taxonomic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 124-year history. It was published without the prior knowledge of the Council, which includes officers, elected councilors, and past presidents, or the associate editors. We have met and determined that all of us would have deemed this paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings.

We endorse the spirit of a resolution on Intelligent Design set forth by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (, and that topic will not be addressed in future issues of the Proceedings. We are reviewing editorial policies to ensure that the goals of the Society, as reflected in its journal, are clearly understood by all. Through a web presence ( and contemplated improvements in the journal, the Society hopes not only to continue but to increase its service to the world community of taxonomic biologists.

The Panda's Thumb, your one-stop website for material on evolution and the antievolutionists, has several items on the Meyer controversy, including a detailed critique of Meyer's paper by Alan Gishlick, Nick Matzke, and Wesley R. Elsberry.

further reading

September 9, 2004. Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick, author of MMR and Autism (Routledge 2003), has a very interesting article in the Guardian regarding parents of autistic children who believe their personal experience and research--most of which has been guided only by the desire to prove what they already believe, namely, that their children's autism was caused by vaccinations--qualify them as experts on both autism and vaccination. As the parent of an autistic child, Fitzpatrick sympathizes with the desire to find something to blame for the autism. But, as Dr. Fitzpatrick notes, being a parent of an autistic child does not give him "any special insights into the question of what causes autism, or into any other aspect of the condition."

There are several anti-immunization websites and some of them are posting inaccurate information about the evidence of a causal connection between vaccinations and autism. Fitzpatrick's concern, however, is not just with the misinformation but that

Any parent who looks to the anti-immunisation campaigns for information will readily find strident condemnations of the government, the medical establishment and the drug companies. Anybody who defends immunisation can expect abuse and allegations of corruption or conspiracy. The basic thrust of much of it is that the pro-vaccination party has commercial links with drug companies. Yet, perhaps not surprisingly, these anti-vaccination groups often have their own links with commercial interests.

He notes that a group that goes by the swell name of Jabs (Justice, awareness and basic support) has been in litigation against MMR for more than a decade. The legal firm of Alexander Harris

cleared around £5m out of the total of £15m of legal-aid funding spent before the Legal Services Commission pulled the plug last October. Jabs' encouragement of parents to join this ill-conceived quest for compensation has had a demoralising effect, not only on the families involved, but on the parents of children with autism, who have been made to feel guilty that by giving their children MMR they may have caused their condition.

According to Fitzpatrick, the anti-immunization websites provide links to private clinics offering alternative vaccines to MMR and to "mercury-free" MMR vaccines. "These clinics have been major beneficiaries of popular anxieties about immunisation, making 'substantial' profits by providing inferior vaccines at inflated prices, to parents whose fears have been inflamed by misinformation and scare-mongering journalism." One such beneficiary was Dr. David Pugh, whose clinics in Sheffield and Elstree, Hertfordshire, were closed down after allegations of unsanitary and fraudulent practices. Pugh, who faces trial on criminal charges, has been endorsed by a number of parent groups.

Last May 19 I noted that an examination of scientific studies worldwide has found no convincing evidence that vaccines containing thimerosal cause autism.

update: March 15, 2006

A Review of “Early Downward Trends in Neurodevelopmental Disorders Following Removal of Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines” by Interverbal

©copyright 2004
Robert Todd Carroll

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