Mass Media Funk is a commentary on mass media stories about the scientific, the paranormal, the supernatural, and anything else that yanks at my eyebrows.

Robert Todd Carroll

©copyright 2007







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October 29, 2000. Professor Stephen Wright of the UK is going to put therapeutic touch to the test on eighty patients with severe cases of psoriasis. All the patients will be given treatments such as anti-inflammatory creams and
ultra-violet light therapy, but half of them will also be treated with therapeutic touch. How he plans to measure success was not mentioned in the article from the Independent News.

October 28, 2000.
According to, an assistant principal of an intermediate school in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, is being sued for violating the civil rights of a 15-year old girl who was suspended from school for making a teacher sick by casting a spell. The suit charges that the school seized the girl's notebooks and " barred her from drawing or wearing signs of the pagan religion Wicca."

October 23, 2000. has a story today about Lesley University's doctoral program in an alternative mental health treatment called "expressive therapies." The director of the program is a "licensed art therapist" named Julia Byers whose main thesis seems to be that traumatized people find "the arts can be a better form of expression than words." The United States is apparently behind the times. Argentina has music therapists in most hospitals and Israeli hospitals have art and drama therapists. But the U.S. does have an advocate in Expressive Therapy Concepts of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, "a nonprofit organization dedicated to education & service in the creative arts therapies & related disciplines."

In some ways, using the arts to treat the mentally ill is traditional. Art and creative writing have been used both to diagnose patients and to give them an outlet for their feelings and visions. There is evidence that some kinds of mental illness go hand in hand with creativity.

But this is different. As one expressive therapist put it: "The creative arts are an avenue to connect spiritually, with ourselves and each other." The arts can "take us out of our analytical minds so we may be guided by our intuitive self."* Eric Miller, director of Expressive Therapy Concepts, sees expressive therapy as an alternative, not a complement to drug therapy for the mentally ill. "The area is spreading now because people aren't satisfied with drug therapies anymore," he said. "The arts give people an intuitive sense of power and control in their lives. Some just need help learning to harness it and seeing the good it can bring them."*

While it would undoubtedly be beneficial to integrate more of the arts into the treatment of the mentally ill, I would not want to live in a community where the mentally ill quit taking their drugs because they now felt in touch with their intuitive power through dance, music, painting, poetry or drama.

Lesley University enrolls 7,000 students at their Cambridge and Boston campuses and on 150 sites off campus, in 15 states and several countries. So far only two students are enrolled in the doctoral program for expressive therapies.
[thanks to Scott Mathias]

October 21, 2000. reports on An apparently mentally ill woman who tortured to death two of her children has been found guilty of murder despite a therapist's claim that an "alter" named Sharon committed the crimes. Psychologist Marilyn Anne Hutchinson testified that 32-year old Mary Bass developed multiple personalities to cope with sexual and physical abuse as a child and that she also suffered from schizophrenia and depression. The prosecution argued that “Sharon” was "too convenient and rejected the multiple-personality diagnosis." The jury apparently agreed.

October 21, 2000. Today's Sacramento Bee has an article by Shari Roan of the Los Angeles Times regarding an ancient herbal remedy that seems to be effective in treating prostate cancer. Chinese herbal medicine will probably get a big boost from the results of two studies which used PC-SPES, a combination of eight different herbs including saw palmetto and ginseng, to treat end-stage prostate cancer. "The herbal remedy appears to have estrogen-like properties. Estrogen is a female hormone and is one of the oldest proven treatments for prostate tumors, the authors note."*

This month, the Journal of Urology is publishing the results of a study done on 69 men by Dr. Aaron E. Katz, associate professor of urology at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. After one year, 88% had a reduction in PSA. ("PSA is a protein in the blood that is elevated in men with prostate cancer and certain other benign conditions."*) However, "the men had a variety of other treatments for their cancer, including surgery, radiation treatment or hormone therapy."* According to Dr. Ian M. Thompson, Jr. chief of urology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, the results of this study are "exciting and disturbing." The good news is that PS-SPES seems to work; the bad news is that we don't know how, what dose is right and safe, or what the long-term side effects might be.

Next month the Journal of Clinical Oncology will publish the results of a study by Dr. Eric J. Small et al. with similar positive results. Dr. Small, of UC San Francisco, was concerned about the effect of his study since "we don't even know what [PS-SPES's] long-term side effects are." The Katz and other studies have found breast enlargement, reduced libido and blood clotting, among other things, as side effects. In other words, the side-effects are similar to those with estrogen treatment.

An earlier study on PC-SPES, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (September 17, 1998), concluded: "PC-SPES has potent estrogenic activity. The use of this unregulated mixture of herbs may confound the results of standard or experimental therapies and may produce clinically significant adverse effects." However, it is unlikely that the side effects will be as severe or as permanent as those from microwave treatment for enlarged prostate: burnt urethra or partial penile amputation.

Because PC-SPES is considered an herb rather than a drug, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not tested or recommended it. Herbal remedies are essentially unregulated. Thus, their purity as well as their effectiveness may vary with their source. 

Coincidentally, it is reported today in that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health, has announced $7.8 millions in grants for various studies on alternative therapies, including one "to examine whether...PC-SPES may reduce DNA damage in cancer cells and improve the immune system in prostate cancer patients."

further reading

below, entry for October 4

October 20, 2000. Scientific American news reports on a new study by memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus et al. in which they were able to manipulate belief about demonic possession in 18% of their subjects by presenting them with plausible articles "promoting the existence of demonic possession." Scientific American writer Kate Wong suggests that the "re-release of the movie "The Exorcist" may actually spark a dramatic increase in the number of demonic possessions reported." The Loftus study will be published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

October 14, 2000. "The Contender," a movie starring Joan Allen (Pat Nixon in Oliver Stone's "Nixon"), is unusual on several counts. Its protagonist,  U.S. Senator Laine Hanson, is a woman, a liberal, and an atheist with more principle than the President, his staff, and all the members of Congress combined. Her kind of principle is the kind of martyrs who die for the faith rather than betray their master. Sen. Hanson is nominated to replace the deceased vice-President, and rather than betray her belief in the sanctity of privacy and exonerate herself from lurid sexual charges, she refuses to answer questions about her "private life" even though it probably means she will not be confirmed. In the tradition of John Austin and H.L.A. Hart, Sen. Hanson believes there is a line of separation between law and morality and around a person's private life which neither government nor neighbor has any business in crossing unless invited. Abortion, she says, is not an issue the Supreme Court has any business dealing with. Our privacy should not depend on the will of the Supreme Court. The Constitution is not there to protect religion from the state but the state from the encroachment of intolerant religions which would impose their morals on the rest of us.

Her refusal to defend herself is seen by the bully boys as weakness. A real man wouldn't refuse to fight; a real man fights dirt with dirt, punch with counterpunch. Virtue is for weaklings, for girls. A real man knows that lying and violating every principle you claim to stand for is better than letting people think you are weak or immoral. Sen. Hanson doesn't follow Machiavelli, she follows Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius. In real life, such a U.S. Senator is beyond belief. In real life, a Congress ultimately seeing and understanding her kind of courage is beyond possibility. In real life, the value of privacy seems so lost on so many in this country that Lurie runs the risk of having created an incomprehensible heroine. But this is the movies, where directors like Rod Lurie can depict their fantasies and can leave their audiences with some sense of what it would be like to live in a different world than our own.

Lurie is a former journalist/movie critic and he is merciless in his portrayal of the depths to which political journalism and politics itself has fallen. We don't want and we don't get substance, we get entertainment. The more lurid, prurient, or deviant the better.

Maybe Lurie will follow up "The Contender" with a movie about the naïve fanatics who think we can reform this nation by homophobia, sexism, jingoism, racism or prayer. He could start the movie by having the President (Jeff Bridges) assassinated by a homophobic neo-Nazi pro-life evangelist who blames immigration for all our woes, including the high price of crude oil.

October 6, 2000. The Associated Press reports in NandoTimes today that a British meta-study of some 214 studies on the effects of fluoridating drinking water has found "No evidence of harm." More than 360 million people worldwide have fluoridated water. Fluoridation has been found to reduce tooth decay by only15 percent. Fluoridation is linked to dental fluorosis, or mottled teeth, however, in nearly half of those whose water is fluoridated. 

October 4, 2000. The current issue of Time magazine (Oct. 9, 2000) has an article that focuses on the horrible side effects of certain herbs when mixed with drugs such as those given by an anesthesiologist before surgery. A similar article on the danger of mixing herbs and drugs appeared in HealthCentral last July. For example, ginkgo biloba may reduce the number of platelets in the blood and prevent blood from clotting properly. Taking ginkgo with a blood-thinning med like aspirin could make a patient susceptible to bleeding. Something like11 million Americans use ginkgo to improve memory and increase blood circulation. 

St. John's wort, popular among self-medicators for depression and insomnia, may prolong or increase the effects of anesthetic agents. It may also enhance liver enzymes that process many medicines, causing the drugs to leave the body more quickly and thereby reducing the effectiveness of the medicines. "There are cases in which St. John's wort seems to have lowered levels of the asthma drug theophylline, the immune-suppressant cyclosporine, the heart medicine digoxin and drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS (Health Central)"

Ginseng, taken by millions as a general tonic or to unblock chi, may elevate blood pressure and increase heart beat rate, neither of which is generally desirable in the operating room.

further reading

October 2, 2000. The pope announced that on Sunday he will canonize hundred of new saints, including a number of "martyrs" who died during the Boxer rebellion in China. Sunday is the 51st anniversary of the founding of the communist People's Republic of China and the Chinese are furious that the pope is granting sainthood to criminals. Most of the so-called martyrs "were executed for violating Chinese law during the invasion of China by imperialists and colonialists," according to Sun Yuxi.

October 2, 2000. "The Supreme Court set aside a ruling that let public school students in a Florida county choose a class member to give a prayer or other message at high school graduations," according to

September 30, 2000.
Despite claims by scientists that an anti-gravity machine is impossible, NASA has granted $600,000 to Superconductive Components Inc. in Columbus, Ohio, to build one, according to
[thanks to Tony Fabris]

September 25, 2000. According to, the Florida attorney general is investigating telephone "psychics" charging $4.99 a minute who are really homeless people recruited from a Salvation Army shelter. The homeless "psychics" said they were given scripts to work from and their psychic abilities were not tested. Steven Feder, president of one of the psychic hotlines, said the allegations are “completely and utterly false.”
[thanks to Mary Fairchild]

September 21, 2000. Lawrence Lerner, a professor of natural sciences and mathematics at California State University at Long Beach, has evaluated the teaching of evolution in all 50 states and has given a passing grade to fewer than two-thirds. (To find out who they are, you have to read this month's issue of Nature. An overview of his article is given by CNN's environmental news staff. [update: NandoTimes has a report on the report as released by the Association for the Advancement of Science.]) His criteria for grading included the following for the primary grades:

students should be able to understand that all living things reproduce, that their offspring resembles but does not copy their parents, and that there is a relationship between species and the environment in which they live.

For secondary students, there should be an

understanding of the survival between and within species....[and knowledge of] the limitations that species face due to environmental factors such as the availability of food and water, specialization, genetic mutation and natural selection.

Lerner notes that Alabama, Texas and Nebraska teach evolution as just one possibility of how the universe came about. As mentioned in MMF before, science textbooks in Alabama have a warning that evolution is just a theory and not a fact. Yet, says Lerner, "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Without it, the facts seem counter-intuitive and they don't connect." The main critics of evolution are religionists who maintain that God created all living things directly. Other religious critics, such as Scientologists and Raëlians, maintain that humans and other life forms on earth are the result of breeding experiments by aliens from other worlds.

September 19, 2000. The Chicago Sun-Times took a walk on the dark side today, with several stories about exorcism. The lead story is about the new exorcist assigned to the diocese of Chicago, with a smattering of details on how to identify demonic possession and the importance of the movie The Exorcist in truly understanding this mystery. (If you want to read something interesting about The Exorcist, I suggest Emily Eakin's "Exorcising the Exorcist" in this month's issue of Brill's Content. Unfortunately, it's not posted online and you will have to get a hard copy of the magazine if you want to read it.) 

Another story in the Sun-Times tells us how universal the beliefs in demonic possession and exorcism are. There is even a short article on the Pope's recent failure at exorcizing a demon. Nothing was said of the recent spate of illicit exorcisms in England, however.

September 5, 2000. Those who have been wondering why the Pope would beatify (consider for sainthood) the anti-Semitic Pope Pius IX may have their answer in a statement released by the Vatican that claims other religions cannot be equal to Roman Catholicism. The Church also ordered its theologians not to
teach otherwise, according to

September 5, 2000. According to the Sunday Times of South Africa, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, South Africa's Minister of Health, is spreading the word that the Illuminati introduced AIDS to Africa through the smallpox vaccine in 1978 to reduce the African population as part of a worldwide conspiracy. He also claims that the cure is known but is being kept secret until the death goal is met.

The theory is not original with the Minister of Health but is contained in a book by William Cooper titled Behold, A Pale Horse. Who knows what the President of Ireland will claim after reading Kingdom of the Ark, which claims that the Irish descended from Egyptian pharaohs.
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

August 30, 2000. Joseph Lieberman, the man who may be President should Gore get elected and die in office, is doing his best to alienate atheists. He has publicly stated that morality must be based on belief in God, which is false, and that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion, which is also false.

Most ethical systems in Western philosophy are not religious based. For starters, Lieberman might read Aristotle, Mill and Kant.

Lieberman is no threat to the rights of the non-religious when he asks people to pray with him, or when he thanks God publicly for making him such a great man, etc. He wouldn't be a threat if he claimed publicly that Moses was his favorite political philosopher. He's not even a threat to our rights when he claims that only religious people can be moral or that all morals come from religion. Such claims just reveal his ignorance. He becomes a threat to our liberty when he claims we have no right to freedom from religion.

He should ask a Constitutional Lawyer about the separation of church and state and the rights of Americans not to have the faith of their political leaders or of any majority sect imposed on them. There is no religious or theistic requirement for citizens of the United States. Atheists and agnostics have the same rights and privileges as every other citizen. We should be able to go to public places like our schools, courtrooms and malls without having to witness or make an effort to evade the organized religious rituals of others.

reader comment

16 Oct 2000 
While I agree with Mr. Lieberman on few points, I do agree that freedom of religion is not freedom from religion. This does not mean, or even imply, that a person cannot be an atheist, an agnostic, a Luddite, or a snake charmer. It means that he is free to worship his God and Jerry Atheist is free to worship no god. To often, however, freedom of religion is taken to mean the Mr. Lieberman should not let it be known that he thinks his religion is the right way to go because that would offend Mr. Atheist. The latter is better described as freedom from religion. Mr. Lieberman was not wrong on this point.

Dennis McNeese

reply: I agree that we have no right to expect all people in public places to avoid expressing religious sentiments for fear of offending people of other religions or of no religion. Freedom from religion does not mean we should expect to be free from witnessing others express religious beliefs. If a person wants to say the rosary while walking in the mall, we shouldn't object even if we're offended. But we should not have to swear on Bibles in our public courtrooms. We should not have to participate in an organized prayer at a town hall meeting or high school ball game. But we should not expect the juror next to us not to pray out loud if she feels like it and we should not expect the parent to our left at the ball game to refrain from making the sign of the cross when her daughter goes to the free throw line.


[thanks to Allson Garcia]






©copyright 2002
Robert Todd Carroll

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