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Robert Todd Carroll


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logo.gif (2126 bytes)the Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter 48

October 20, 2004

I know that liberty is not America's gift to the world liberty and freedom are God's gift to every man and woman who lives in this world. George W. Bush

I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace.— George W. Bush

In this issue: a few changes to the Ramtha, auras, near-death experience, and Indigo children entries; psychics on Wall Street; kudos for the Bad Astronomer; the Governator terminates ethyl mercury; got God in your genes?; more on our faith-based National Park Service; Kevin Trudeau keeps on ticking; and summer camp at the YMCA for little Brights.

What's New

Since the last newsletter, I've updated the Ramtha entry to include John Olmsted's review of "What the #$*! Do We Know?", reprinted with permission of Michael Shermer and the Skeptic Society. According to Olmsted, the "films’ producers, writers, directors, and a number of the stars are members of [J .Z. Knight's] Ramtha School of Enlightenment in Washington." One of the experts in the film is "Mgr Micheál Ledwith, the former president of Maynooth College who resigned following allegations of abuse," according to the Irish Times. I haven't seen the film but apparently Mgr Ledwith is just one of several theologians or scientists interviewed regarding the relationship of quantum physics to spiritualism. I've been getting more mail than usual lately from the quantum quacks. Maybe it has something to do with this film. Here's a sample:

You claim there is NO evidence for synchronicity? Well, if you understood even a bit of Quantum Physics or statistics, you'd understand Jung's defense. Now, even more is known about the relationship between synchronicity and Quantum Physics, so you'd better get ready to eat your words.

John Wheeler of Princeton University (arguably the top theoretical physicist in the world) has proposed the "Quantum Holographic Theory (QHT)," described by the top theoretical physicists in the world as the most exciting theory in more than 30 years, and is now the top contender for a G.U.T. [??] QHT says that the universe is made of information, that matter and energy are mere holographic illusions. If this is true, then the Hebrews, Buddhists, Coptic Christians, Freemasons, and Hindus have all got it right and you have got it wrong.

Unfortunately, the author didn't bother to inform us as to how quantum physics or quantum holography relates to synchronicity or any of the religions he mentions. Of course, everybody knows how quantum physics validates Freemasonry, so I can understand his silence on that one.


I posted a note about an article by Dublin biologist Rowan Hooper published in The Japan Times Online. Hooper explains the importance of the uterus in human evolution. He also mentions Richard Dawkin's latest book, The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. I've started reading it and it looks to be another classic from the pen of one of the great science writers of all time. Dawkins uses Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as a model, with species playing the role of pilgrims, telling us their tale from such things as the fossil record, DNA, and the like, as they "travel" backwards in time to the first living creatures on the planet some 3.5 billion years ago.


I updated the near-death experiences entry after being contacted by a features writer for The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Washington. I did the interview but have no idea if anything I said got into her article. I was also interviewed recently by Art Chimes of Voice of America for a weekly science and technology show called "Our World," which is broadcast to an international audience. It will be broadcast to listeners mainly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East on October 23. The Skeptic's Dictionary is being featured in the Website of the Week segment. We'll also be featured on their website.


I posted notices of the deaths of John Mack, Jacques Benveniste, and Betty Hill.


I updated the entry on auras to include a new study by Dr. Jamie Ward of University College London’s Psychology Department. The study "documented a woman known as GW who could see colors like purple and blue in response to people she knew or their names when read to her," a condition known as emotion-color synaesthesia. Dr. Ward speculates that some cases of seeing auras may be due to synaesthesia, a little understood phenomenon whereby a person has a sensation appropriate to a different sense, such as "seeing" sounds, or "hearing" or "tasting" colors.

Synaesthesia is a condition found in 1 in 2000 people in which stimulation of one sense produces a response in one or more of the other senses. For example, people with synaesthesia may experience shapes with tastes or smells with sounds. It is thought to originate in the brain and some scientists believe it might be caused by a cross-wiring in the brain, for example between centres involved in emotional processing and smell perception. Synaesthesia is known to run in families. (News-Medical.Net )


I posted comments about a strange test done by Richard Wiseman on Natasha Demkina, the Russian girl who claims to have a paranormal ability to see into people's bodies and diagnose illness.


I posted comments on several TV programs with paranormal themes.


I posted a link to an article about a study that found some health risks in taking vitamin supplements.


And I revised the entry on the Indigo children. Some readers may find evidence of synchronicity between this revision and the updating of the aura page.


Psychics On Wall Street

Ever hear of Inspired Living Advice Network run by Healing Universe? Neither had I until I read one of their press releases that claims that these days it is not uncommon for corporate executives, academics, and other professionals to consult a personal astrologer or spiritual intuitive (psychic or clairvoyant) for investment advice. L. Barrett Powell, the founder of Healing Universe, notes that  "J.P. Morgan used astrology to guide him and look at how successful he was in life!" Yes, but he's also dead. Do you think astrology had anything to do with his death?

Powell says she speaks "with professionals who are Wall Street CEOs, investment portfolio fund managers, entrepreneurs, presidents and vice presidents, music industry execs, university professors, radio executives, well-known winery owners, homemakers, and parents from around the world." These are mighty busy professionals, but they have time to seek advice from a spiritual intuitive! Why do they call Powell instead of somebody with real knowledge? Because she can "help them gain clarity in a decision-making process" or "make progress on a project."

The press release ends by noting:

Healing Universe's Inspired Living Advice Network launched September 3 and features experienced intuitives who go by the names of - Oakeru, Shelley, Eve, Nan, Samantha, Jan, Susan, Rachael, and of course Powell herself. They charge $2.99/minute and offer astrology consultations, psychic and Tarot readings and Runes readings.

I think they left out the name of one of their stars, a Miss Cleo.


Scientific American has announced the winners of its Science & Technology Web Awards 2004. One of the five sites chosen by the editors in the Astronomy division was Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy. The folks at Scientific American say that Phil "has made a career out of gleefully debunking bad astronomy." Actually, he debunks bad logic and bad beliefs, like the beliefs that Planet X is on its way to earth and that the Apollo moon landing was a hoax.

Congratulations, Phil! For those of you in Australia, don't miss Phil's talk to the Australian Skeptics in Sydney, one of the great cities of the world. I won't be there but I will be at the Amazing Meeting 3 (TAM3), the Randifest in Las Vegas next January 13-16, where you can hear Phil along with the likes of James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, and many others of like mettle.

Gov. Schwarzenegger: Better Safe Than Sorry

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill (AB 2943) that will restrict the use of vaccines containing more than trace amounts of ethyl mercury. He said he did so not because there was solid evidence of danger but because of a concern that the mercury could damage the developing brains of fetuses or young children. Of course, there is no way to prove that it couldn't. To be fair, the governor was just echoing the concerns expressed by the FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics. I've discussed this issue at length before. See Funk 26.

For more info on the governor's action, see

California To Restrict Use of Mercury-Containing Vaccines for Pregnant Women, Infants

The God Gene?

The cover story in the October 25 issue of Time magazine is about the role DNA plays in spirituality and religion. The cover and story give great play to molecular biologist Dean Hamer's The God Gene: How Faith Is Hard-wired Into Our Genes (Doubleday 2004). According to Time,

Hamer began looking [for the God gene] in 1998, when he was conducting a survey on smoking and addiction for the National Cancer Institute. As part of his study, he recruited more than 1,000 men and women, who agreed to take a standardized, 240-question personality test called the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI)....Hamer decided to use the data he gathered in the smoking survey to conduct a little spirituality study on the side. First he ranked the participants along Cloninger's self-transcendence scale, placing them on a continuum from least to most spiritually inclined. Then he went poking around in their genes to see if he could find the DNA responsible for the differences....To narrow the field, Hamer confined his work to nine specific genes known to play major roles in the production of monoamines—brain chemicals, including serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, that regulate such fundamental functions as mood and motor control.

Studying the nine candidate genes in DNA samples provided by his subjects, Hamer quickly hit the genetic jackpot. A variation in a gene known as VMA2—for vesicular monoamine transporter—seemed to be directly related to how the volunteers scored on the self-transcendence test. Those with the nucleic acid cytosine in one particular spot on the gene ranked high. Those with the nucleic acid adenine in the same spot ranked lower. (p. 66)

Has the research been published in a peer reviewed journal? Not according to Carl Zimmer in his review of Hamer's book for Scientific American.

[Hamer] and his colleagues are still preparing to submit their results to a scientific journal. It would be nice to know whether these results can withstand the rigors of peer review. It would be nicer still to know whether any other scientists can replicate them. The field of behavioral genetics is littered with failed links between particular genes and personality traits. These alleged associations at first seemed very strong. But as other researchers tried to replicate them, they faded away into statistical noise. In 1993, for example, a scientist reported a genetic link to male homosexuality in a region of the X chromosome. The report brought a huge media fanfare, but other scientists who tried to replicate the study failed. The scientist's name was Dean Hamer.

The Time article raises some interesting questions about religion and spirituality in relation to science, evolution, adaptations, nurturing, brain processes, and the like. What it doesn't note is that there is a strong correlation between being a scientist and disbelief in a personal God of the Judeo-Christian variety. See Survey.

Our Faith-Based National Park Service

Last December I wrote about our how our National Park Service (NPS) was displaying religious symbols, selling creationist materials, and contemplating adding 'conservatively correct' images to government videos as part of President Bush's faith-based everything approach to reality. At that time, the Grand Canyon Bookstore was selling a book in its science section with the creationist version of the way the canyon was formed. Here's an update.

On October 13, 2004, PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) issued a press release announcing that the "Bush Administration has decided that it will stand by its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah’s flood rather than by geologic forces." Apparently, the Administration did not tell the truth to members of Congress or the public when it said that the policy was “under review at the national level by several offices.” According to materials obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act, no such review took place.

The book in question is Grand Canyon: A Different View, edited by Tom Vail. "For years, as a Colorado River guide I told people how the Grand Canyon was formed over the evolutionary time scale of millions of years," said Vail. "Then I met the Lord. Now, I have a different view of the Canyon, which, according to the Biblical time scale, can't possibly be more than about a few thousand years old."* NPS spokesperson Elaine Sevy said, “Now that the book has become quite popular, we don’t want to remove it.” According to physicist Bob Park (What's New, October 15), the book has been moved from the Natural Science to the Inspirational section of the store.

According to PEER, in August of 2003, Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale of  Vail's book but NPS Headquarters intervened and overruled Alston. NPS Chief of Communications David Barna said there would be a high-level policy review of the issue, but the review never happened.

NPS Headquarters, says PEER, didn't respond to "a January 25th memo from its own top geologists charging that sale of the book violated agency policies and undercut its scientific education programs." A letter of protest signed by the presidents of seven scientific societies on December 16, 2003, was ignored by the NPS.

“Promoting creationism in our national parks is just as wrong as promoting it in our public schools,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, “If the Bush Administration is using public resources for pandering to Christian fundamentalists, it should at least have the decency to tell the truth about it.”

I don't know. It seems the Administration has been up front about their faith-based views. For example, when Superintendent Alston, on legal advice from Interior Department lawyers, removed some bronze plaques with verses from the Psalms that had been installed on canyon overlooks, NPS Deputy Director Donald Murphy ordered that they be reinstalled. According to PEER, "Murphy also wrote a letter of apology to the plaques’ sponsors, the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary." I think that was pretty decent and up front pandering.


Quackery of the Hour: Kevin Trudeau

While channel surfing last week, more than once did I came across an infomercial featuring Kevin Trudeau and his book Natural Cures They Don't Want You to Know About. I didn't stay to watch the entire show, but twice I heard him say that you can't get cancer in alkaline cells and that cancer can be cured by changing the pH of the cancerous cells to alkaline. No doubt if this were true and significant, it would be the greatest medical news of all time and Trudeau should have his Nobel prize by now. I guess there is some sort of conspiracy on the part of the AMA and the big pharmaceutical firms ("they"?) to keep this knowledge from reaching the general public. Thank goodness for self-publishing and the freedom to buy time for TV commercials.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that Trudeau has been fined $2 million and banned from advertising product health benefits in any medium by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). See Kevin Trudeau Banned from Infomercials


Federal Court Finds Kevin Trudeau in Civil Contempt.

Trudeau has been making false claims for years about various products, including "coral calcium." Apparently, he is not alone in his belief about the benefits of being alkaline. See for more of this quackery. For an antidote, see Acid/Alkaline Theory of Disease Is Nonsense by Gabe Mirkin, M.D.

Secular Summer Camp for Kids

Looking for a summer camp where there's swimming, horseback riding, hiking—and a class on the myth of God? Camp Quest is your answer. It's not too late to start thinking about where to send the kids in 2005.

Founder Edwin Kagin said kids come here for "a vacation from Judeo-Christian culture."

Steve Jordahl, correspondent for Family News, part of the Christian culture, quotes Kagin as saying: "We have interactive classes on evolution, and on critical thinking and inquiry, and prepare them to deal with the kind of nonsense being vended in the larger community," such as the biblical account of the flood and intelligent design.

According to the Camp Quest website,

Camp Quest is the first residential summer camp in the history of the United States for the children of Atheists, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists, Humanists, Brights, or whatever other terms might be applied to those who hold to a naturalistic, not supernatural, world view.

Camp Quest was started in 1996 by the Free Inquiry Group, Inc. (FIG) of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Camp Quest rents facilities from the YMCA at Camp Campbell Gard in Overpeck, Ohio. For more information, contact Camp Quest, P.O. Box 264, Union, KY 41091; Phone: 859-384-2324; Email:

That's not synchronicity; that's irony.


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