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

From Abracadabra to Zombies

What's the harm? No. 2

These links and comments illustrate the harm done by occult, paranormal, pseudoscientific, and supernatural beliefs. The harm may be tangible and easily documented: physical, financial, or interpersonal.

October 31, 2005. A Christian pastor was electrocuted as he conducted a baptism service in Waco, Texas. The Rev. Kyle Lake, 33, was partly submerged at University Baptist Church when he grabbed a microphone and tried to adjust it while baptizing a woman in front of 800 people.

The church’s website proclaimed: “We are confident that Kyle is in Heaven today because of his trust in Jesus Christ as his savior.” Let's hope so; otherwise, he might start sending cryptic messages to James van Praagh.

Less that a week later, a 20-year-old man in Sacramento, California, was electrocuted when he tried to extinguish a fire caused by a downed power line. Whoever says ignorance is bliss should be reminded that ignorance can sometimes kill. Water conducts electricity. Unless you want to die or risk a serious injury to yourself, do not touch or use any electrical device while in or near water or other conductive fluids. Furthermore, not all fire extinguishers are safe to use on electric fires. Class C fire extinguishers can be used on electric fires; the C means that the fluid used in non-conductive. Class A and Class B extinguishers—the kind you might have around the house—use conductive fluids and should not be used for electrical fires.

August 24, 2005. A 5-year-old boy died this week during chelation treatment for autism by Dr. Roy Kerry, whom LifeExtension considers an "innovative doctor." Others might have another name for him.

The autistic boy died while receiving an intravenous injection of a synthetic amino acid known as EDTA (ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid).

update: November 25, 2007. Kerry is facing manslaughter charges and is being sued by the parents. He also and faces disciplinary action from the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine.

August 13, 2005. An 82-year-old man in poor health was bilked out of more than $40,000 in Perth, Australia, when he responded to a flood of offers to buy talismans, charms, and other worthless trinkets that would allegedly protect him from evil.

More than 100 psychic-type scams a month are reported to the Western Australia Department of Consumer and Employment Protection agency.

July 16, 2005. Jennifer Nicole Evans, a self-proclaimed psychic who went by the name "Miss Brooks," was found guilty on eight counts of extorting more than $200,000 from several folks in the San Antonio, Texas, area. Miss Brooks promised some of her clients good health and mended lives in exchange for cash, jewelry, furniture, and other items of value. She threatened other clients with curses and bad fortune if they didn't pay up. Miss Brooks received a sentence of 23 years in prison, but will only have to serve 12, for her psychic activities.

update: November 12, 2007. In December, 2006, an appeals court overturned the conviction, ruling that Evans's conduct didn't fit the legal definition of theft by coercion, the Texas equivalent of blackmail. The three-judge panel said Evans never threatened to hurt anyone. And she never threatened to reveal anyone's embarrassing or damaging secrets.

June 19, 2005. A Romanian priest and four nuns have been charged with imprisonment leading to the death of a schizophrenic woman whom they crucified as part of an exorcism ritual. Maricica Irina Cornici was asphyxiated when left alone for three days in a convent room after being bound to a cross and gagged.

Father Daniel, the priest charged in the case, reportedly said: "God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil. I don't understand why journalists are making such a fuss about this. Exorcism is a common practice in the heart of the Romanian Orthodox church and my methods are not at all unknown to other priests."


update February 19, 2007: Daniel Petru Corogeanu has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for killing Irina Cornici during the exorcism that involved starving her and chaining her to a cross. An autopsy found that the cause of death was dehydration, exhaustion, and lack of oxygen. Fr. Daniel and the four nuns who helped him were found guilty of manslaughter. The nuns were sentenced to five to eight years. The BBC reports that dozens of Corogeanu's followers wept upon hearing the verdict read. He's been kicked out of the priesthood by the Orthodox Church and the nuns have been excommunicated. The Church said that from now on they are going to do psychological testing of candidates for the priesthood. The Roman Catholic Church advises priests to take modern psychiatry into account when considering exorcisms. The RCC issued this advice in 1999, when they made their first revisions since 1614 in their instructions on exorcism.

update September 21, 2007. Fr. Corogeanu has had his sentence reduced to 7 years. Church officials say Corogeanu had dropped out halfway through his course at the church's religion school. Despite leaving the program, he was anointed as a priest because of a shortage of priests to serve in new convents and monasteries.*

update February 9, 2008. Corogeanu has been free for these past two-and-a-half years while his appeal was heard. It was denied and he began serving his sentence a couple of weeks ago. He was defrocked and the four nuns who helped him with his fatal exorcism were excommunicated. Corogeanu said he would serve his term if that was God's will.*

update 16 Jan 2011. Adina Lucia Cepreaga, Simona Birdanas, and Elena Otel were were released early for good behavior. Corogeanu will be released next spring.

update 2 May 2012. Corogeanu has been freed and plans tosmirking monk who crucified a nun open a monastery. Let's hope he doesn't kill anyone else while doing his god's will. [/update]

April 6, 2005. Two years ago Paul Howie, a 49-year-old picture framer in Mayo, Ireland, suffocated to death from a tumor obstructing his airway. An inquest was held recently and Howie's widow described the treatment her husband had received from Mineke Kamper, a "natural health therapist" who warned them that Paul would die if he turned to "conventional," i.e., science-based medicine. The widow testified that Kamper told stories of  "people who did not follow her advice and were now dead and she looked me in the eye and asked me did I want my husband’s death on my hands."

John T O’Dywer, coroner for South Mayo, told the inquest that Kamper manipulated the Howies by misinforming them of the nature of Paul's illness and misleading them about the proper course of treatment. "The public should be cautioned that putting their trust in such unregulated practitioners to the exclusion of conventional medical practitioners and medicines can be dangerous and even fatal, as is unfortunately the case in this instance," said Mr. O’Dywer.

January 31, 2005. A group in Boston went to about 30 outlets selling Ayurvedic herbs and purchased about 70 products made in either India or Pakistan. When tested in a reputable laboratory about 20 per cent of them had significant amounts of heavy metals such as lead, mercury or arsenic, sometimes at very high levels.

December 5, 2004. UK naturopath Max Tomlinson convinced his wife to have a home birth assisted by a homeopathic midwife and his son nearly died and was born with cerebral palsy because of it. When Tomlinson's wife, Filipa, was 35 weeks pregnant and suffering from something Tomlinson's herbs couldn't help, he took her to a GP. She was diagnosed with obstetric cholestasis, a liver disorder that meant there was a high risk of the baby being stillborn. The GP wanted to induce labor but Tomlinson took Filipa home and gave her milk thistle and dandelion. When Filipa did go into labor and had dilated to the point where they could see the baby's hair, she did what felt natural to her. She walked around and crushed the baby's skull. When they finally went to the hospital, they failed to tell the conventional medical personnel that she'd been in labor for more than 15 hours. Had they known, they would have induced labor. Two hours later, the baby was born. Writes Tomlinson: "When he finally emerged, he looked like he had been beaten up. One side of his head was so swollen, he had no neck, and his skull was squashed into a point."

Tomlinson said that the "experience has been a terrible journey of guilt and expectation for us. I feel hugely guilty because it was my belief that home birth was the best way. If Filipa hadn’t met me, she would probably have gone through a normal birthing process in hospital. It was my influence that opened her thoughts to the idea of a home birth. We were so lacking: we were ready with the homeopathic side of things, but we weren’t prepared for an emergency. I hope others learn from this: always have a qualified midwife or a GP there, just in case. It’s madness to put your baby’s life at risk."

further reading

November 23, 2004. Most "alternative" medicine practitioners are able to satisfy many customers because their medicine is generally harmless. The treatments wouldn't get off the ground if they were obviously harming large numbers of people. The real danger from such practices comes not from the practice itself but from the patient avoiding conventional treatment that could save her life. Usually, however, when the patient dies after refusing conventional medicine in favor of some untested quackery, nobody blames the quack. Imagine the surprise of aspiring naturopath David Eugene Pontius of British Columbia when he was charged with three counts of unlawful and unprofessional conduct for advising a woman with breast cancer not to seek chemotherapy. The woman died after six months of treatment by Pontius who told her that her cancer was the result of gangrene and mercury poisoning in her teeth.
[thanks to Alex Scofield]

November 13, 2004. Nicole Mancini, 29, and John Thurber, 35, were arrested at St. Mary's Church on charges that they planned to sacrifice her three children, ages 9, 7, and 2. Police said Mancini told them that Jesus sacrificed himself for her, so she was going to sacrifice the boys to free her soul.

November 2, 2004. A Princeton psychic, Christine Evans, who told a Buckingham woman she could "rid her house of evil spirits" if the woman paid $71,000 for special gold coins has been charged with fraud, police said. She's been charged with theft by deception, fortune telling, and tampering with evidence.

October 28, 2004. A conman took $695 from townsfolk in the Ethiopian town of Kazamilehas, promising them he would multiply the cash and make it "fall like rain" from the sky. He told them to cover their faces so that a demon who would descend from the sky to talk to him would not harm them. When they did so, he fled with the cash.

October 21, 2004. If a psychic ever tells you that she needs to cleanse your money, jewelry, or other valuable, she probably plans to take you to the cleaners. Dorothy Prier, a Wisconsin psychic, used the cleansing ritual scam to bilk several thousand dollars from her mark by claiming the spirits told her to cleanse the money of negative energy.

June 9, 2004. A South Florida "psychic" is held on $250,000 bond. She allegedly used multiple identities and phony stories to rob at least two elderly men of nearly $1 million.

April 29, 2004. A West Palm Beach, Florida, woman who claimed to be a psychic was arrested after police said she conned a woman out of $100,000. Investigators said Amanda Roxann Williams and her mother told the woman if she didn't pay for their psychic services, her son was going to be killed. Police were still searching for Williams' mother Thursday morning.

April 15, 2004. JONESVILLE, Va. - A Pentecostal minister, the Rev. Dwayne Long, was bitten by a rattlesnake as he handled it during an Easter service at a rural church. He died after refusing medical treatment. Members of his church believe that ritual serpent-handling is a form of obedience to God and when people die from a snakebite during a service, it is a sign that it was their time to go.

March 27, 2004. Doug Perkins, local administrator for the federal Transportation Security Administration director, defended doing a bomb search of American Airlines Flight 1304 at Southwest Florida International Airport because of a tip from a psychic. "In these times, we can't ignore anything," he said. No bomb was found. The flight to Dallas was cancelled because some crew members had exceeded their work hours by the time the search was finished.

March 1, 2004. Oklahoma joins a growing list of states whose politicians want to dictate what should be taught in science classrooms, regardless of what the vast majority of the scientific community deems appropriate.

March 1, 2004. Several northern Nigerian states have announced they will not participate in a campaign to wipe out polio because Muslim clerics believe the vaccine is a western plot to sterilize their women. "Dr. Haruna Kaita, a pharmaceutical scientist and Dean of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences of Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, took samples of the vaccine to labs in India for analysis." He said he had evidence of contamination with anti-reproductive hormones, according to LifeSite, an anti-abortion web site.

February 18, 2004. Psychic 'misled actress to hopeless cancer death'

February 11, 2004. Michelle Mingo, a woman whose prophecy led to the starvation murder of her baby nephew, pleaded guilty to two counts of being an accessory before the fact of assault and battery on a child under 14. She was sentenced to time served by Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Donovan. Earlier this month, Karen E. Robidoux was convicted of assault and battery charges in the starvation death of her son Samuel. "Based on Mingo's prophecy, Robidoux and her husband, Jacques, withheld solid food from their son for 51 days. Jacques Robidoux was convicted of first-degree murder."

Mango acknowledged her role in the child's death before walking out of court with her "spiritual husband." She belongs to an Attleboro religious sect.

February 7, 2004. Magical thinking is sometimes harmless but it can be deadly as well. Sprinkling a little water on someone to "purify" them seems innocuous enough. Having sex with virgins, usually children and always against their will, to "purify" the body is not only an evil act but when it is done by HIV-positive men it can be deadly. Yet, this practice still goes on in parts of Africa today.

February 5, 2004. I received an email recently from a social worker whose clients are HIV-positive. One of her clients recently announced that he would be going off his HIV medication because he had found a better product. He found his better product on the Internet at AIDS Remission (AR), where one is taught that there are a few simple truths in life, such as

  • HIV is not some "thing" someone catches.

  • HIV does not occur in a body that is healthy.

  • HIV is not fatal, and ignorance can be.

  • AIDS cannot be cured from something outside the body.

  • Ultimately, only the body can cure itself of AIDS....and the body knows how to.

These folks are right about one thing. Ignorance can be fatal.

One of the more prominent signs of quackery--besides making absurd claims and passing them off as true and validated by scientific study--is the obligatory claim that there is a vast conspiracy by the medical establishment to harm you for profit. Here is AR's version:

The following [disclaimer] statement is made to comply with the legal requirements of, and minimize any retribution from an unnatural and adversary-based medical system in which a majority of its participants in error, legislatively exercise an attempt to have exclusive rights to the treatment of disease or deficiency, treating such disease or deficiency with man-made chemicals (drugs), radiation or surgery, to the exclusion of natural means, and most frequently to the detriment of those being treated.*

After claiming that they are really just dispensing nutritional information, not medical advice, these folks reveal who their inspiration is: David R. Hawkins. You may remember him from Newletter 30. He's the "nationally renowned psychiatrist, physician, researcher and lecturer" who got his degree from Columbia Pacific University, an unaccredited diploma mill. The AR folks are impressed by Hawkin's books, which are aimed at helping "you in your quest for emotional and spiritual well-being." They also remind the reader that it "your constitutional right" to believe anything, no matter how stupid or harmful, and whatever happens to you is your responsibility.

The AR folks then describe the product that is offered to people who are HIV-positive: the Lifestar CD4 Restoration Protocol. There is nothing on Quackwatch about this therapy, but there is a very good article on naturopathy by Barry Beyerstein and Susan Downie. There is also an article on naturopathy by Stephen Barrett himself.

The Lifestar CD4 Restoration Protocol is standard voodoo naturopathy: you need to raise your consciousness, stop ingesting unnatural stuff, start ingesting natural stuff, think happy thoughts, don't think negative thoughts, get rid of bad beliefs, suck in good beliefs, the body is naturally pure and healthy, you can restore your energy and your immune system to top form if only you go natural and positive! Stay away from conventional medicine: It's unnatural! Listen to your friends at Lifestar! The surefire way to find out whether this all-natural protocol is working is through applied kinesiology. I'm not kidding.

Finally, here's your shopping list and here is how much it will cost you: $1,500 plus shipping and handling for the first few months and then under $100/month thereafter). Of course, this only takes into account how much money you will need to spend. The actual cost could be much greater.

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* AmeriCares *

The Skeptic's Shop

About harm

It is difficult to assess the harm done to society and the world at large by the spread and encouragement of anti-scientific, irrational, and magical thinking. It is also difficult to measure the extent of harm done to individuals and their families who give up thinking for themselves to follow some guru astrologer, psychic, or cult leader.

It is impossible to calculate the losses to those bilked because they are ignorant of basic logical and psychological principles.

For those cancer patients who are thinking of trying an untested alternative therapy, please read Dr. Stephen Barrett's A Special Message for Cancer Patients Seeking "Alternative" Treatments.

Read this book and you will wonder no more about the harm done by false beliefs


This page was designed by Cristian Popa.