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Robert Todd Carroll


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logo.gif (2126 bytes) the Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter 79

May 25, 2007

"I don't believe in global warming...and I don't believe we caused it, and I don't think the science supports it....The fact is this whole thing is cyclical, and the scientists who are not on the payroll of the government to do these studies are saying the jury's still out -- there's no such evidence there." --Jerry Falwell

In this issue:

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

Two new items have been posted since the last newsletter: an entry on change blindness and my last lecture for my Critical Thinking about the Paranormal course.

I also posted comments on why I won't vote for Huckabee, how superstition can lead to murder, the perils of not getting a second opinion when told one is going to die, a lawsuit against Uri Geller, and some bunk on faith from John Stossel and friends at ABC.

The psychic entry was updated to include a link to a story about how Philadelphia psychics are back in business after having been shut down for a few days by using a statute from an earlier era when fortune-telling was recognized as fraud.

The psychic detectives entry was updated to include a link to a website devoted to debunking TV programs on psychic detectives.

The chi and chi kung entries were updated to include links to videos exposing the delusion known as the no-touch knockout: The no-touch knockout exposed (Yanagi Ryuken) and The no-touch knockout exposed again (George Dillman).

The fire walking entry was updated to include a link to an article about a deluded fire walker.

Falwell Found Dead

CNN reported that Jerry Falwell (1933-2007) was found in his office unconscious and without a pulse. Days later somebody realized that he was dead. Just kidding. While he was alive, there was no rest for the wicked. When he was not blaming terrorist acts or floods on homosexuals, he was working hard promoting ignorance as a family value. He called the concern over global warming "Satan's attempt to redirect the church's primary focus" from evangelism to environmentalism. He rang the alarm over the gay lifestyle of a TV puppet. He spilled the beans on feminism: "feminists just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home....They hate men; that's their problem."*

He was an incorrigible pontificator. There was no limit to the number of things Falwell knew nothing about but would proclaim as if here were an infallible pope. When he sued Larry Flynt for a parody in Hustler magazine featuring Falwell having sex with his mother in an outhouse (or some such thing), Falwell compared the obscene parody to yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater when there is no fire and he called the story a malicious and dishonest attack on a public figure.

He thought the end was near and that the Antichrist was alive today and is a male Jew.* When he stepped down as head of the so-called "Moral Majority," he said: "I shudder to think where the country would be right now if the religious right had not evolved." At least he acknowledged some kind of evolution.

Did President Bush order the flag at the U.S. Capitol to fly at half-staff in honor of this sleazy merchant of faith-based ignorance? I hope this is just an ill-founded rumor making its way around the podosphere.

Christopher Hitchins had this to say on "Anderson Cooper 360" about Falwell:

The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing: that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called Reverend.

Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September the 11th were the result of our sinfulness and were God's punishment if they hadn't got some kind of clerical qualification?

People like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup....

He woke up every morning, as I say, pinching his chubby little flanks and thinking, I have got away with it again....I think he was a conscious charlatan and bully and fraud....

Lots of people are going to die and are already leading miserable lives because of the nonsense preached by this man [regarding Palestine].

One podcaster described Falwell as a poster boy for atheism and birth control. I wouldn't go that far. He was pretty clever, though, when it came to making a buck and getting his name in the news. He even figured out how to make money from a dog and pony show with a pornographer, while maintaining his reputation as a voice of purity. He had little respect for reason but was passionate for his twisted mission of getting the media to pay attention to his homophobic twaddle and the rest of the codswallop he so liberally distributed. He had his admirers, though. Sean Hannity liked him. The two Larrys (King and Flynt) liked him.

That a man of so little substance and such pompous greed could be a major player in the Republican party is a revelation that exposes an ugly wound in American politics. His inane and spiteful words could influence a large part of the electorate, proving that there is more whoredom in Washington than in Babylon, Sodom, and Gomorrah combined.

If Falwell were alive to comment on an obese preacher who dropped dead on his office floor, he might tell the world in a cheery voice that God will not be mocked. The glutton will be smitten. The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this. All the liberals and Christ-haters like the People For the American Way, the gays and the lesbians, all of them who have tried to secularize America, have to take a lot of the blame. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'. The food industry, too. They helped make this happen.

If you google "Falwell cause of death," numerous sites come up claiming to be responsible for the reverend's demise.

Opportunity Knocks: Radical Secularism Outed by a Newt

Falwell's body wasn't cold yet when the adulterous hypocrite Newt Gingrich started giving testimony as a witness for the Lord. (I'll forgive Gingrich when Republicans forgive Bill Clinton.) Gingrich had been invited by Falwell to address the 2007 graduates of Liberty University, a most inappropriately named school.* In a bit of theological legerdemain worthy of a Jesuit casuist, Gingrich claimed that the truth of the Bible and the truths of the Declaration of Independence overlap. He conveniently glossed over the fact that the Bible is an enemy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This made it a bit easier to paint a picture of America being founded as a theocracy. Then came the knockout punch: there is an enemy within trying to destroy our theocracy. No, it's not the "liberals," but "the growing culture of radical secularism." Why limit yourself to exaggeration when lying works even better? Gingrich told the audience that "secular absolutists" have declared that:

the nation cannot publicly profess the truths on which it was founded. We are told that our public schools cannot invoke the Creator, nor proclaim the natural law, nor profess the God-given equality of human rights.

In hostility to American history, the radical secularist insists that religious belief is inherently divisive, and that public debate can only proceed on secular terms when religious belief is excluded.

In this contorted logic, the public square becomes more welcoming to the extent that it strips away and banishes all religious symbols and language.

Never mind that the Declaration of Independence is not the document on which this country was founded. Its appeal to a Creator, natural law, unalienable rights, and being created equal were made for polemical reasons to justify rebellion against England and make a case that England's rule was not legitimate. A bit of bombast was to be expected. Does anyone really think Jefferson thought all human beings are created equal or that there is a Creator who cares what we do on earth? The country was founded on the Constitution, not the Declaration. Get over it, Newt. God is not part of the Constitution. No Creator is mentioned in the Constitution. Natural law and unalienable rights are nowhere to be found in the Constitution. In any case, there are few documents that are more opposed to liberty and happiness than the Bible, as any educated toady must know. Gingrich supports his contentions by such evidence as reference to a school district in Pennsylvania that suspended a teacher's assistant because she wore a necklace with a cross. Gingrich failed to mention that the teacher filed a lawsuit and won in court.*

Gingrich also supported his contention that our courts are part of a radical secular movement by referring to a case involving a teacher who wouldn't let a first-grader read a Bible story to the class. Gingrich didn't mention that the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals split 6-6 on the question and the Supreme Court didn't agree to hear the case.* The teacher had assigned the students to bring in something to read to the class. She was not trying to stifle religious belief. She apparently was concerned that she might be seen as allowing the promotion of a religious creed in the public school classroom. Who knows what kind of parental reaction would have occurred had she allowed the kid to read his Bible story?

His worst example of radical secularism, though, is his complaint about the attempt to remove "under God" from the pledge of allegiance. That phrase, put in by a hysterical Congress to distinguish the U.S. from the Soviet Union in 1954, turns the pledge into a prayer and should be extirpated.

The examples Gingrich chose to support his contention that the country has moved away from its original ideals actually support the view that the country is staying true to the course. Like Falwell, Gingrich is engaging in demagoguery by wailing about how we mock god every time we support separation of church and state, or defend the right of everyone to practice or not practice whatever religion he or she desires to practice.

This country was founded on a Constitution (not a Declaration), which embodies the same principles argued for by John Locke in his "Letter Concerning Toleration." The business of government is to take care of secular matters: health, education, welfare, protection, commerce, and so on. It is not the business of government to take care of souls. That is nobody's business but the person who owns the soul. No church should be allowed to force anyone to join it or follow its dictates. The individual, not the church and not the government, will have to answer for his or her own soul. People should be free to join or not join whatever church they wish, without interference from the government. The only way to protect religious liberty is to have a secular government that does not favor one church over another and that guarantees that each person is free to worship as he or she sees fit.

Gingrich also appealed to the fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt went on national radio to lead the nation in prayer on "D-Day, the 6th of June, 1944 as hundreds of thousands of young Americans risked their lives to defeat evil." There is no compelling evidence that prayer has any effect, so the fact that many presidents have wasted their and the nation's time by praying for victory over enemies is simple demagoguery. Like Falwell, Gingrich characterizes the attempt to protect religious liberty as "anti-religious bias" and an effort "to drive God from public life." This is a lie. Every man, woman, and child in America may publicly worship whatever god they wish. Or not. We possess this freedom because of our secular government and the First Amendment of our Constitution. The complaint that you can't practice your religion anywhere you want, whenever you want, in whatever way you want, is the complaint of a demagogue playing on the fears of the ignorant. founder Alex Tsakiris, who calls his pro-paranormal podcast Skeptiko "scientific," describes his new venture as "a public space for managing controversial scientific experiments in a way that provides open access to all phases of the research. We provide a centralized resource for scientific collaboration, and help underwrite scientifically rigorous experiments that may contribute to an improved understanding of human consciousness."

Tsakiris means "paranormal" when he says "controversial."  This stuff is controversial only to those scientists who do it and those who know little about what those scientists have actually done.

The first project for OpenSourceScience is to revisit the age-old question: "Can Dogs Anticipate Their Owner's Return?" This is one of the vital questions whose answer will revolutionize the world, according to Rupert Sheldrake. Anyway, he already has the answer. It's 'yes.' He also has the explanation, which just happens to be his own invention: morphic resonance! Do I think he will devise a new experiment that satisfies the concerns of respondents to the OpenSourceScience call for participation? No, but if he doesn't, at least the objections and concerns to his past work will be posted for all to see. Only time will tell whether this project is just a front (like Sheldrake's so-called Skeptical Investigations) to promote the work of people like Sheldrake, Dean Radin, and Gary Schwartz.

Anyone interested in contributing to future research on this vital question regarding dogs is invited to do so. I have to admit that this is a very clever ploy on the part of the paranormalists. Skeptics who criticize the project or refuse to participate in it will be accused of being closed-minded. Those who do participate run the risk of being duped into looking like they are supporting the work of people who wear white lab coats and spend their lives trying to prove that dogs or parrots are psychic. It's a no-win situation for skeptics. Only time will tell whether Tsakiris has duped the likes of Susan Blackmore, Richard Wiseman, Michael Shermer, James Alcock, D. J. Grothe, and Steven Novella, all of whom have been interviewed on Skeptiko and have either voiced their approval of his projects or given tacit approval of his work by agreeing to be interviewed by him. (D. J. Grothe was especially fulsome in his support of Tsakiris.) After interviewing Novella, Tsakiris sent out a press release announcing that Novella "threw his support behind the efforts of OpenSourceScience to fund more research."* I urge the reader to check out the reviews of Skeptiko on iTunes. Skeptiko is about as appropriately named as Liberty University.

If the paranormalists haven't got it right after 150 years of experimentation, what are the odds that they're going to start now? Gary Schwartz has already indicated by his inept work described in The Afterlife Experiments, and his equally inept response to Ray Hyman's criticisms of that work, that he does not understand what a double-blind experiment is or what a proper control group should be like. I think Tsakiris gave his true position away in his interview with Dean Radin when he ridiculed the idea of having an expert in deception as a consultant and observer in paranormal experiments. When we get to the really vital experiment, involving something like bending spoons with mental powers, does Tsakiris really think we don't need an expert in deception in the room? It they're taking bets in Vegas, I'd put my life savings on the line that Tsakiris is a shill for the likes of Sheldrake, Radin, and Schwartz. Either that or he is just pig ignorant of the history of paranormal research.


In the last newsletter, I said that Amy Tanner worked for the Society for Psychical Research. She worked for G. Stanley Hall who, at one time, was a member of the American Society for Psychical Research. By the time they were investigating Leonora Piper, Hall had left the ASPR. Both, however, were very familiar with the publications and work of the ASPR. Neither could justifiably be called skeptics who didn't bother to investigate what they criticized.

I might also mention that Radin, Sheldrake, Skeptiko, and Schwartz are not unique in their claim that critics of psychical research are irrational and suffer from psychological pathologies, as noted in the last newsletter. Here is an observation from G. N. M. Tyrrell, who joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1908 and became its President in 1945:

What is the matter with all these people, one wonders? Are they wandering in some enchanted wood? Why has judgment, balance and poise deserted them? If anyone is disposed to think that a man who professes the principles of science is bound to welcome any novel facts, on evidence, let him read the following passage from an article by Professor Chester Kellogg, of McGill University, entitled New Evidence (?) for Extra-Sensory Perception.

Since Dr. Rhine's reports have led to investigations in many other institutions it might seem unnecessary to prick the bubble as the truth eventually will out and the craze subside. But meanwhile the public is being misled, the energies of young men and women in their most vital years of professional training are being diverted into a side issue and funds expended that might instead support research into problems of real importance for human welfare. This has gone so far that a new Journal of Parapsychology has been founded...

Could any clearer evidence be wanted of a refusal to decide the question of telepathy by reference to facts? Professor Kellogg had, in 1937, not only the general evidence for telepathy which we have dealt with above, but a great deal of statistical evidence as well. He sweeps the whole of it aside in favour of an a priori judgment.

Here is what Tyrrell had to say about Amy Tanner:

Miss Amy Tanner published a book in 1910 entitled Studies in Spiritism, though in reality it deals more with psychical research than with spiritualism. In one way Miss Tanner is a more interesting critic than most, for she actually read the subject before criticising it. But she too wanders in a maze of irrationality. For three years she had been the "research co-adjutator" of Professor G. Stanley Hall, the President of Clark University. The extraordinary perversities of her analyses are pointed out by Mrs. Sidgwick. Dr. Waiter F. Prince compared a number of Miss Tanner's summarised incidents with the accounts in the original records and "found them almost without exception atrocious to the point of becoming comic. It seemed to me," he said, "'that she was incapable of grasping the salient points in any paragraph more than two inches in length." Dr. Hyslop found in 27 incidents 148 mis-statements and a host of omissions of important particulars, while, he says, she was silent on 38 incidents more significant than any she treated in her fashion. Yet Dr. Stanley Hall, blind to all this, wrote an introduction to her book and called it a "searching, impartial, critical estimate." He says: "It is significant that the chief works of the English Psychic Society have never before had a searching, impartial, critical estimate, often as they have been worked over by believers. Those with scepticism enough to have been impartial have never been able to arouse interest enough to treat these studies thoroughly. Thus, I cannot but hope that this book will mark a turn of the tide."

Scam of the Minute

In Newsletter 69 we gave an award to the QLink pendant, a device said to be able to neutralize negative EMF effects from computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. Fortunately for us, we now know how the magical pendant works. Ben Goldacre has seen the innards of the pendant and they are as follows:

  1. It has a circuit board that isn't connected to anything, so it doesn't really make a circuit.
  2. It has eight copper pads that are not connected to anything.
  3. Soldered to its center is a zero-ohm resistor that is not connected to anything.

The inventor says the QLink does not use electronics components "in a conventional electronic way." Clearly. According to one seller of this gizmo, there are many satisfied customers. They report 

a wide range of benefits that have enhanced their quality of life.

People have also reported a reduction in the effects from exposure to mobile phones, computers, air travel and all forms of EMF. Many have experienced fewer headaches and an overall increase in energy levels. Others say they feel better with more mental clarity and focus, better sleep and less anxiety. Several world class athletes report that the QLink improves their mental focus and endurance, giving them a significant competitive edge.

I stopped cutting and pasting when the webmaster started telling lies about scientific studies being done at Stanford University, University of California at Irvine, Imperial College, London, University of Woolongong, Australia, and the University of Vienna's Institute of Cancer.

It would be very difficult to do studies on this device, since, according to those hawking it, it works by a kind a energy that we don't know how to measure yet. Of course it has something to do with quantum physics. The gizmo works by "Sympathetic Resonance Technology." These folks even have a trademark for their technology. "SRTT was developed after years of research into a new class of energies called subtle or fundamental energy," they say. They claim that "subtle energy refers to a physical energy, such as electromagnetic or acoustic; that is of such low intensity that we have no means of measuring it presently. It is a physical field of very low magnitude." In fact, you can't get much lower that the QLink folks have stooped. They don't need to connect any of the electronic parts of their device because they have programmed it with SRTT, which might well be an energy in one of the eleven dimensions of string theory. We can't measure this or know anything about it, of course, except that it provides permanent optimum life-giving frequencies for the human energy system and creates a field that filters out unwanted energies. Nothing could be clearer.

Inane Creativity

 Occasionally, not frequently, but once in a while, I will get an e-mail from someone who says that his or her real reason for writing is to ask me what do I care if people believe this, that, or the other thing? The latest of these came from someone who wanted to know why I am "so militantly against creativity? If something like tarot assists someone to creatively reflect on their lives in the same way as taking a walk around a lake, what's it matter to you?" I suspect that such questions issue not out of real concern as to why I criticize various kinds of divination and "readings," but rather out of a dislike of having their inane art scrutinized in a rational way. These avid readers of tea leaves, stars, or colored cards do not like to be criticized for being irrational. They prefer to be praised for being creative and constructive. I think they don't like their craft being exposed for the inane drivel it is.

I've written my share of inane drivel. As a college student, I wrote my share of silly poems that I thought were profound, sort of in the same way a stoned person thinks he's a deep thinker, except that in the case of the poet it was lack of experience that mostly contributed to the delusion of insight.

Just because a craft has lasted thousands of years, developed its own arcane jargon, and has billions of satisfied customers, doesn't make it worth pursuing as a creative art. I point the finger at religion as my witness. One of the things I learned many years ago is that any set of phenomena has an unlimited number of possible explanations. For example, you can explain the personalities of twins by astrology, biorhythms, tarot, environmental influences, the writings of Nostradamus, genetics, neuroscience, some Biblical or Koranic anecdote, or an unlimited number of other things. All explanations require some creativity, but why choose to be creative in ways that are inane rather than profound? Why devote yourself to creative dead ends rather than to fields that open up many paths potentially beneficial to humankind?

My interest in the occult is driven by two concerns: (1) the abuse of belief in superstition and the supernatural that causes physical, psychological, or economic harm to others; and (2) the rationalizations invented to justify belief, which help us understand how the mind works. There is no chance I am going to put tarot card readers, psychics, astrologers, or the makers of the QLink pendant out of business, nor is that my goal. If I prevent a few people from wasting their time and their money, then I've succeeded in keeping the world from getting a little bit worse. On most days, that's enough for me.


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