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.
May 9, 2007. Uri Geller is being sued for filing "a baseless legal threat of copyright infringement."* Geller, who has a history of suing critics or anything he sees as a threat to his reputation as a psychic, filed a complaint with YouTube.com last December* regarding a posting of a 13-minute video clip from the Nova program Secrets of the Psychics. Geller's company, Explorogist Ltd., apparently owns three seconds of the overall video (CNET.news says it's five or six seconds*). In the Nova clip, Geller is shown duping the likes of Barbara Walters and Tom Snyder regarding his psychic powers. Randi duplicates a key-bending trick and demonstrates one way to guess what picture a person has drawn when your back is turned. Then, he conspires with Johnny Carson to take control of the situation when Geller appeared on the Tonight Show. Carson and crew posed some tasks for Geller to do that he had no control over. The Carson people provided their own props and asked Geller if he wanted to do the guess what I drew when your back was turned trick. Geller said he wasn't up to it. There were some canisters on a table and Geller was asked if he could identify which ones had water. He said he didn't feel strong that night and there was too much pressure to perform. Unable to control the situation, Geller couldn't perform. Randi notes that the Carson exposé didn't hurt Geller's career. But Geller, who obviously doesn't own the copyright to the Nova program, claimed he did and that YouTube had infringed on it. You can watch the video here.
Randi says he had to spend most of the money he was awarded by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to fight Geller's lawsuit against him. Randi wrote a book exposing Geller (1982) and once said in an interview that Geller had "tricked even reputable scientists" with tricks that "are the kind that used to be on the back of cereal boxes when I was a kid. Apparently scientists don't eat cornflakes anymore."* Geller lost the suit against CSICOP and Randi.
Geller once sued Nintendo for the equivalent of 100 million dollars over a Pokémon card. He claimed that the "Kadabra" ("Un-geller" in Japanese) is an unauthorized appropriation of his identity. The Pokémon in question has psychic abilities and carries bent spoons. Geller lost the suit. (For more details, see the Wikipedia article.)
Secrets of the Psychics also reviews Randi's crew exposing Peter Popoff getting messages not from God but from his wife via wireless communication. The crew consisted of my friend Bob Steiner, Don Henvick, and Alec Jason. The exposé was written up in Randi's The Faith Healers (1987), a book that should be required reading in every school in this and every other country. Popoff went bankrupt but has been back in business for several years. Inside Edition's Deborah Norville recently did a piece on Popoff's better-than-ever flim-flam, "The Profitable Prophet."
On May 11th, this Friday night, however, Popoff may get taken down again, if only for the three-count. At 9pm Eastern time, ABC's 20/20 will host a 2-hour special: "Seeing is Believing: The Power of Faith." Popoff will be one among several alleged faith healers who will be featured. Randi was interviewed for the 20/20 special. Let's pray he has more success in enlightening the masses this time around and that the 20/20 crew doesn't cave in to the faith-based will-to-believe in comforting codswallop.
May 5, 2007. With so many presidential candidates, any misstep that indicates one of them is a bozo is welcome. When you're looking for the least incompetent (evil, moronic, whatever) of the bunch, you're grateful when one of the candidates commits a howler. Surprise! Mike Huckabee wins the prize for first candidate to end his chances of getting my vote to be the next leader of the free world.
"If you want to believe that you and your family came from apes, that's fine. I'll accept that...I believe there was a creative process," he said, as he tried to explain his denial of evolution and belief in direct creation of species by a supernatural power. Huckabee says he wants our public "schools to acknowledge that there are views that are different than evolution." Unfortunately, these comments are not the ones that make him a bozo. Huckabee told George Stephanopoulos that he is "troubled by a person who tells me their faith doesn't influence their decisions." Apparently, Huckabee was referring to Mitt Romney, a Mormon, who said he would not let his faith get in the way of his decisions. Frankly, I think it's admirable for a person not to let faith get in the way of their decisions. They're likely to make better decisions if they follow such a principle. Huckabee, on the other hand, is telling us that his decisions will be influenced by the stories of nomads who roamed the deserts of the Middle East thousands of years ago and who survived to produce a written account of their version of things from the creation to the end of time.
If Huckabee means what he says, then if he is elected we'll be treated to a Decider who thinks science is trumped by Genesis, an idea that puts him at the right hand of Lord Bozo.* Who will Huckabee name as his science adviser? Kent Hovind?
Of course, it could turn out that Huckabee is a hypocrite and doesn't mean what he says. Or, perhaps he means what he says but doesn't say what he means, like our current Decider. President Bush has vowed to "veto any legislation that weakens current federal policies and laws on abortion, or that encourages the destruction of human life at any stage." Of course, he meant to say he won't spend our money on the destruction of human life at any stage before birth. After you're born, it's "Katie bar the door," as my high school coach used to say.
April 22, 2007. William Dembski and Michael Behe have been claiming for years that "blind natural processes, such as the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and random variation, are incapable of generating biological structures like the bacterial flagellum." How will they respond to the publication of a study that has "unraveled the steps in the evolution of the bacterial flagellum"? The work was done by evolutionary biologist Howard Ochman and postdoc Renyi Liu of the University of Arizona, Tucson. You can read their article for yourself. It's posted in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Will the intelligent design folks even read the article? Or will they simply move on to some other item and claim that it's complexity is irreducible and impossible to explain by evolutionary processes?
Listen to the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe for the New England gang's discussion of this paper in their latest podcast.
The point is not that intelligent design is demolished by this discovery, but that the road taken by Behe and his comrades is fraught with dangers. They claim that science will never be able to explain things like the evolution of the bacterial flagellum by natural processes, but that leaves them looking foolish when the individual items they now list as impossible to know become known. Even if Ochman and Liu are wrong, their work demonstrates the foolishness of the ID approach that says STOP LOOKING, a miracle happened here, so shut up!
March 8-9, 2007. We should have known we were in trouble when Dynamic Chiropractic, a chiropractic industry magazine, hailed the ascension to power of Arnold Schwarzenegger as something that "should bring a long-awaited, collective sigh of relief" (Sacramento Bee, March 8, 2007, "Chaos on chiropractic board"). California's governor soon appointed to the state chiropractic board several buddies from his body-building and action hero days. At their last meeting they dismissed the Executive Director of the Board, Catherine Hayes, because she had signed a pending review of a case involving a chiropractor who claims he can cure earaches with chiropractic and homeopathy. Board President and chiropractor Richard Tyler, whom the governor credits with having a significant influence on making him a star in the body-building world, then took over as Executive Director. Tyler practices what he calls "alternative chiropractic." He's even written a book on the subject. According to the Sacramento Bee, Tyler claims he has cured earaches in children by adjusting the atlas.
According to a follow-up story in the Bee on March 9, Tyler has written that he knows how to improve organ function using chiropractic. When challenged that his claim can't be proved, he retorted: "True-but then virtually nothing can be proved anyway." He then went on to repeat the myth that 90% of what medicine does can't be proven, "but that doesn't stop them from dispensing all those weird chemical formulas they don't understand to their patients." In a 1991 article in Dynamic Chiropractor, Tyler claimed that modern medicine was no more scientifically sound than chiropractic. Tyler said he agreed with the chiropractor who took out an ad in that magazine that stated: "vaccines are not proven to be effective or safe and that they weaken the immune system." I guess they didn't teach him about smallpox or polio at his chiropractic college.
Board members Tyler and Franco Columbu, another friend of the governor from his body-building days (he was best man at Arnold's wedding to Maria Shriver), attorney Shawn Steel (who specializes in defending chiropractors and was state Republican Party chairman during the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis), and Judge James Duvaris ousted Deputy Attorney General Jan Tuton from their last meeting (an attorney is required by law to be present at all board meetings) and want to replace her with Steel. Five Highway Patrol officers were called to the meeting and Tuton was handed her termination notice by Duvaris.
After ridding themselves of the opposition, the Board of Chiropractic Examiners then voted to license chiropractors who graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Florida and backdated the approval to December 1, 2005. (The first class to graduate from the Florida school did so on December 16, 2005.*) Schwarzenegger's buddies later approved a resolution supporting a controversial practice known as "manipulation under anesthesia" (MUA), declaring it to be within the "scope of practice" of chiropractic. (According to Chirobase, "MUA has little appropriate use and is potentially dangerous. Because the normal protective reflexes are abolished, the manipulated joint can be overstretched."*)
When asked about the board's behavior, Arnold replied: "What is important is that the chiropractic board represent the chiropractors." He then broadened his claim by asserting that the job of all state boards is to represent their industries. State law says otherwise, however. A quick look at the website of the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners states:
The governor, it seems, needs a civics lesson in why we have state boards.
The Bee also reports that there is a pending case in San Joaquin county being prosecuted by J. C. Weydert, who argues that "state law clearly states that chiropractors cannot perform MUA procedures." Weydert referred to a 2005 appellate court decision that said that "the state's 1922 initiative prevents chiropractors from engaging in procedures that were not taught in chiropractic schools as of that time."
The California state Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development is investigating. Meanwhile, the governor's communications director, Adam Mendelsohn, is busy working on language that will spin the governor's statements into something that will mean the opposite of what he actually said. Here was his first salvo:
Why the governor hopes to manage consumers was not explained.
update: April 12, 2007. It was reported today that both Franco Columbu and a board member appointed by Schwarzenegger in February, Frederick Lerner, have Ph.D.s from unaccredited schools. Franco Columbu had received a cease-and-desist letter in 2004 from the board ordering him to stop advertising a doctorate from Donsbach University. (Columbu was appointed to the board last year.) According to the Sacramento Bee, "Columbu still advertises on his personal Web site that he has a 'Ph.D. in nutrition' as part of a sales pitch for a $200 personalized nutrition and training program." Lerner's Ph.D. is in electromedical sciences ("the application of electric currents on humans and animals") from City University Los Angeles. I did a cursory exploration of Columbu's nutrition area on his website but couldn't find any claim to a Ph.D. in nutrition. He says he's a "well-known expert on nutrition," but if his expertise came from Donsbach, he should say he's a well-known quack and probably has no more expertise than Gillian McKeith.
update:15 April 2011. The California state Senate approved a $600,000 settlement in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Catherine Hayes, former executive director of the Board of Chiropractic Examiners. She had sent an email to governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office challenging the competency of his appointees shortly before her dismissal. Then-board chairman Richard Tyler, a chiropractor and longtime friend of Schwarzenegger's, briefly assumed the role of interim executive director, and the board came under fire for taking several controversial actions in the wake of the shake-up.
Lawmakers later deemed that the panel violated open-meeting laws and that Hayes was improperly fired.
Hayes filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court in 2008 alleging that she had been fired for cooperating with a criminal investigation into the practice of chiropractors working on patients under anesthesia and for reprimanding board members for not complying with open-meeting laws.
The Senate bill, which was approved on a 37-0 vote, directs $600,000 from the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners' Fund to pay for the settlement. It now goes to the Assembly for approval. Read more: http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2011/04/senate-approves-3.html#ixzz1JcUS4hcK
February 15, 2007. In my last newsletter, I criticized the President and Health Minister of South Africa for not taking the initiative in promoting HIV treatment with anti-retrovirals. They recommend things like garlic, beetroot, and other herbs for the treatment of 5,000,000 South Africans with HIV. I heard from a few South Africans that since the Health Minister got sick, things have been improving and that President Mbeki is showing signs of being open to proper treatment of HIV. Also, I should have noted that at least Mbeki is open to discussion of a variety of scientific opinions on the cause and proper treatment of HIV/AIDS. This is in contrast to many dogmatic defenders of treatment with anti-retrovirals for everybody.
In any case, Mbeki now looks like an enlightened scientist compared to leaders in Gambia and Iran. The President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, claims that he can cure Aids in three days. Jammeh's "cure" consists of secret medicinal herbs. He gives treatments on Thursdays and so far has treated ten patients. He is supported by his health minister Tamsir Mbow, who says patients have gained weight and physically improved.
According to the BBC, Professor Jerry Coovadia, who heads the HIV research team at the University of KwaZulu Natal and is a member of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, said it was tragic that Gambia had a "political environment that allows a minister of health and a president to violate every foundation of science and public health."
Jammeh says he can also cure asthma in three days with his herbs. "I am not a witch doctor," he says. "You cannot have a witch doctor. You are either a witch or a doctor."
Meanwhile, Iran's Health Minister Kamran announced that Iran's scientists have produced an herbal remedy that boosts the immune system's fight against the HIV/AIDS virus.
"The herbal-made medication, we call it Imod, serves to rein the AIDS virus and redouble the body's immunity. It is not a medication to completely kill the virus, it can be used besides other anti-retroviral drugs. The drug is effective and safe with no proved side effects." It is made using nanotechnology. Of course. Anything else would be uncivilized!
Iran reports having about 5,000 cases of HIV.* Kamran claims that Iran's scientists have been working on developing this new remedy for the past five years and that it has been tested on 200 patients. The rest of the world remains skeptical, except perhaps Kevin Trudeau, who probably has written a book about the natural cure for AIDS that "they" didn't want you to know about.