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

ęcopyright 2007







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May 10, 2000. A few months ago we noted that Kepler College in Seattle was "seeking authorization by the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board to offer degree programs" in astrology. The college has now received authorization to offer both bachelor's and master's degrees in astrological studies. The first president of the college is Systems Analyst Enid Newberg, who "uses astrology only for her own personal growth" but "has been involved in the field in both research and consulting since 1973."

If Kepler College doesn't suit your needs, there is always the International Institute for Alternative Medicine, where one can get a Ph.D. for 100,000 rupees.
[thanks to Mogens Winther]

May 9, 2000. Reflexologists better stay clear of Japan where their trade is considered a cult and can get them arrested, according to YahooNews.

May 6, 2000. "Two million people died of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa in 1999 - 85 percent of the total world deaths from the disease in a region that accounts for only 10 percent of the world's population," according to Andrew Selsky of the Associated Press. Dr Christian Fiala, however, thinks the numbers are greatly exaggerated and that there is no clear definition of AIDS being used to make these diagnoses. Furthermore, he believes that dirty needles rather than promiscuous heterosexual behavior (a Christian missionary myth) is the cause of much of the misery in Africa.

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki seems convinced that HIV is not the cause of AIDS and current treatments cause rather than effectively treat AIDS. (The arguments for this view are posted at He refuses to provide the "anti-AIDS drug AZT to HIV-positive pregnant women. He declared the drug too dangerous to use even though it has been proved that AZT drastically cuts the chances of newborns contracting the deadly virus." At a recent conference in Pretoria, Mbeki invited "U.S.-based researcher Peter Duesberg, a scientific outcast for his theory that AIDS is caused not by the human immunodeficiency virus but by illegal drugs and AZT." I didn't know illegal drug use and AZT were that popular in Africa. Anyway, Duesberg is not alone in his skepticism about HIV and AIDS. Nicholas Regush of shares this skepticism and thinks that the current model of HIV and AIDS is propaganda put forth by "mediocre scientists"  whom he challenges to a public debate.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Library of Medicine have a different opinion.

update: May 25, 2000. South African president defends controversial AIDS policies

further reading

[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus and Ed Hill]

May 5, 2000. What happens when religious groups take over social services, as in Texas? Find out about George W. Bush's bold program in the
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

April 29, 2000. Cult critics ripped falun gong at a "Cults and the Millennium" conference in Seattle, according to the SF Chronicle. Critics says it is a cult in the worst sense, whose authoritarian leader advises members not to think, not to seek medical care, and not to associate with family members who won't join the group. They are waiting for the aliens to take over the world. Defenders say the cult gives them peace of mind.
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

April 26, 2000. reports that Ohio's state motto has been found unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. "With God, all things are possible" was taken from a Bible passage and expresses "a uniquely Christian thought," according to a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 2-1 ruling reverses a lower court's decision permitting Ohio to use the motto.
[thanks to Rob Long]

April 25, 2000. Memories of Things That Never Were by Jane Brody (NY Times 4/25/00) gives an account of various abuses by therapists who use hypnosis, guided imagery, and group pressure to "help" patients "recover" memories of sexual abuse. One woman was so brutalized by her therapy that a psychiatrist diagnosed her as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to her repressed memory therapy!
[thanks to Tim Boettcher]

April 22, 2000. A study in Norway has found that chiropractic is ineffective in the treatment of colic, according to VG Net.

Jon Henrik Gilhuus has provided a translation of the story:

"Chiropractic useless against colic"

Chiropractic treatment of children with colic has no impact on colic pains, a new study at the pediatrics dept of Haukeland Hospital shows.

The study, which included 86 infants, is the largest ever done in this field, reports NRK (Norwegian State Broadcasting Company). The study was carried out by chiropractor Steinar Forshei and three doctors.

Forshei has treated infants himself and is surprised by the results. He believes that one reason why chiropractic can seem to work is that the treatment makes parents feel that they are taken care of.

April 21, 2000. The chupacabra is off the hook; dogs have been killing livestock in Chile, according to Yahoo.
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

April 20, 2000. Dr. Nicholas J. Gonzalez, an advocate of the Gerson coffee enema cancer treatment has been found guilty of negligence for the second time, according to In 1997 he was ordered to pay more than $2 million to the family of a patient. This time he was dinged only $282,000. Yet, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has committed over $1.4 million of our tax dollars over five years to study Gonzalez's crackpot cancer "cure".
[thanks to Tony Fabris]

April 20, 2000. Two large studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine cast doubt on the anti-cancer benefit of eating low-fat, high-fiber diet, according to Jeff Donn, Associated Press Writer. Another study published in January 1999 came to the same conclusion.

April 19, 2000. Once again, a person of faith claims God put a gold crown on her tooth. Her dentist denies it, though he admits he misled her into thinking God had changed a porcelain crown to gold because "he didn't want to dash his patient's faith in a miracle," according to the Birmingham News.
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

April 18, 2000. Satellite photos of Area 51 are now available on the Internet at, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. No aliens are visible, however.

April 17, 2000.  A Southern California school district which banned the Ten Commandments from being posted on a fence at a high school baseball field acted properly, according to two appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. A local businessman thought he would be clever and put the Ten Commandments on advertising space he rented from the school, but the courts ruled (and the Supreme Court refused to hear the man's appeal) that the school has a right to exclude subjects "that would be disruptive to the educational purpose of the school." The businessman claimed his freedom of speech was being violated, according to the Nando Times.

April 16, 2000. English Church Attendance Survey, an independent study of all denominations done by Dr. Peter Brierley, claims that only 7.5 per cent of the population in England went to church on Sundays last year and that in the past 10 years church attendance dropped by 22 per cent. At this rate, he says, the Christian Churches will be dead in 40 years. Read about this exciting development in the Independent News.

Contrast this with the results of a study done in the United States on media coverage of religion and the increase in the percentage of journalists who attend religious services. According to the, religious coverage doubled from the 1980s to the 1990s and the percentage of journalists attending religious services in 1980 was 14%, compared to 30% in 1995.
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

April 14, 2000. According to Variety, Chris Carter, creator of the X-Files, a television drama given to uncritical acceptance of a world in which the laws of science and the rules of evidence need not apply, is said to be in negotiations to produce a full-length film on Ted Serios based on Jule Eisenbud's book The World of Ted Serios: 'Thoughtographic' Studies of an Extraordinary Mind. Mr. Serios claims he can produce images on film with his thoughts (thoughtography), a feat which would require rewriting the laws of physics.
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

April 13, 2000. WebMD reports that we're more likely to find vitamins conducive to good health in our kitchen than in our bathroom...if you have foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts in the kitchen. According to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) pill supplements for vitamins  C and E, selenium, and carotenoids have no proven role in preventing disease. IOM recommends a ceiling on daily consumption of selenium and vitamins C and E to reduce the risk of adverse side effects from overuse. The full report is available from IOM.

April 11, 2000. Holocaust denier David Irving lost his libel suit against American scholar Deborah Lipstadt, who had called Irving "one of the most dangerous" Holocaust deniers in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.

According to

Irving questioned the use of gas chambers, and claimed the number of Jews who perished was far lower than the 6 million generally accepted. He said most Jews who died at Auschwitz did so from diseases such as typhus, not gas poisoning.

Israel released the previously secret memoirs of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann for use by Lipstadt and Penguin's legal team. The memoirs contained methodical descriptions of the genocide, including timetables of death transports.

Irving faces legal costs of some 2 million pounds ($3.2 million). CNN reports that Irving does not plan to appeal. The L.A. Times reports that he called the ruling "perverse" and said that it would be easy to win on  appeal. The Nando Times reports that he will appeal.

According to Marjorie Miller of the Los Angeles Times, Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, said "We hoisted him on his own petard. We tracked his footnotes and followed his sources." In Britain, the accused in a libel case must prove what he or she said is true. The defense convinced High Court Judge Charles Gray that Irving "has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence."

Most historians estimate that about one million people were gassed to death at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Irving calls Auschwitz a "tourist attraction" that was built after the war.
[thanks to Glen Green and Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

further reading

April 9, 2000. Today's has an interesting article about the rising belief in the paranormal and the mystical in China and the work of debunker Sima Nan, for years a relentless critic of qigong, and now a critic of UFO and Bigfoot sightings, which are on the rise in China. The Chinese government is obviously concerned about this rise in unscientific thinking and must think there is a causal relationship between it and the decline of interest in communism. Witness their attack on the falun gong movement.

Sima blames traditional Chinese thinking for making people susceptible to weird beliefs. "Chinese thinking is different from Western thinking," he said. "Westerners try to get at things very clearly, asking what, why and how much. Chinese are more interested in dealing with things using metaphors or intuitive comparisons." I don't know about Chinese thinking, but not all Western thinking is very clear; "alternative" thinking such as homeopathy and astrology seem based on metaphors, intuitions and sympathetic magic rather than on testable empirical evidence.

Nan is called the Chinese Houdini. He will need to be some kind of great magician to have a significant impact on such a formidable foe.
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

April 7, 2000. Archaeoraptor, proclaimed to be a possible link between dinosaurs and birds, "is really a composite of at least two different animals," according to the National Geographic Society, which made the original announcement regarding the fossil six months ago.
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

April 6, 2000. The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill requiring science books used in Oklahoma public schools to acknowledge that "human life was created by the one God of the universe,'' according to Yahoo! The bill now goes to a committee to decide its fate, according to The Oklahoman.

Such a bill couldn't get passed if the issue were religion texts, but science is a different matter. Just as there are still some sore losers in South Carolina who demand the Confederate flag be flown over the state capital (they consider the attempt to separate from the Union over a century ago to be an essential part of their heritage), there are still some sore losers who don't want to admit that science set itself free from religion centuries ago.

What next? A law making it punishable by up to five years in prison for denying that scientific theories need refer to God? That way we could catch up with Switzerland which has such a law for those who deny the Holocaust, according to the Nando Times.
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

April 6, 2000. Two new types of cancer in sharks have been discovered, according to John C. Harshbarger. Kidney cancer in the dogfish shark and lymphoma blood cancer in the sandbar shark have been added to the list of cancers already known to exist in sharks. This news would not be of interest to most skeptics were it not for the "alternative" quacks who claim that shark cartilage can cure cancer in humans because sharks don't get cancer.
[thanks to Robert Long and Joe Littrell]

April 6, 2000. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has settled fraud charges with three Internet companies claiming that an herbal tea called Essiac is effective in curing cancer, diabetes, AIDS and feline leukemia or that cetylmyristoleate (CMO) can cure arthritis and a variety of other ailments.

Under the settlement, the three companies must pay refunds to their customers and are banned from making false claims for any food, drug or supplement and from misrepresenting the results of any research....

Two of the companies also used deceptive "metatags," hidden pieces of text on many Web pages that are often used by Internet search engines in pursuit of certain words or phrases. For example, a person searching for cancer treatment information may be pointed to a page if it includes the phrase "cancer cure" in a metatag.

[Jodie] Bernstein [director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection] said consumers should beware panaceas and be particularly wary of terms like "scientific breakthrough," "miraculous cure," "exclusive product," "secret ingredient" or "ancient remedy." []

The companies involved are: 

  1. Natural Heritage Enterprises of Crestone, Colorado (Michael D. Miller, president);

  2. CMO Distribution Centers of America of Sarasota, Florida (Kalon Samulonis, president); and

  3. EHP Products of Ashland, Kentucky (Elaine Parrish, president ).

     [thanks to Robert Long]

April 2, 2000. Farmers in the Philippines, unable to control a potato pest with chemicals, have turned to an ancient rite to save their crops: pig burning to appease the gods and stop deaths following pestilence or disease (pakde). Part of the ancient ritual involves the mambunong (tribal priests) slaughtering a black pig to study its liver for omens.

April 1, 2000. The National Post reports that Sister Jeanne
O'Laughlin, a Catholic nun, believes that Elian Gonzales will be sacrificed in a witchcraft ceremony by Fidel Castro if the boy is returned to his father in Cuba. (Last November the boy's mother and her lover drowned along with eight others but the boy was rescued and has been held captive by the Cuban community in Miami ever since.) Any hope of reasoning with Elian's Miami captors will be futile, as he is now been mythologized into the new Moses who will set his people free. Many believe he has mystical powers and that the Virgin Mary appears regularly in his bedroom mirror.
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

April 1, 2000. Today, Art Bell retired again. The details announced in his retirement message are too horrible to think this is an April Fool's day joke. 

March 29, 2000. If you were psychic, you'd tell anyone who asked what numbers were going to come up in the next Lotto drawing, wouldn't you? Even though you are only charging $2.50 a minute for a phone call, you'd tell the caller what numbers are going to win the jackpot of, say, $80,000,000; wouldn't you? Apparently that's what some folks in Florida think, according to the Miami Herald.

March 29, 2000. Since Muslims are allowed by law to use loudspeakers for three minutes each Friday to call people to prayer in Oslo, Norway, atheists have been given the ok to use loudspeakers to announce "God does not exist." It's a matter of fairness, according to
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

March 29, 2000. A lawyer for the Japanese cult which released poison gas in a Tokyo subway in 1995 has been found guilty of attempting to murder a lawyer for the victims of the cult attack, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

March 25, 2000. A Urantia sect called the Amadonians and led by Steve Arden, also known as Amadon Amadon, who was bankrupted by two female employees who won a sexual harassment lawsuit against him, is setting up a new shop in Oregon. This odd group combines the spiritual with spirits: they help restaurants, bars and resorts apply for liquor licenses. 

March 22, 2000. DOnline (the D is for Dallas as in Texas) reporter George Roffman writes that 

D Magazine went to five area stores—Tom Thumb, Whole Foods, Drug Emporium, GNC, and Fresh Start—to compare the most popular supplements available. At each store we bought three identical bottles of DHEA, ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, melatonin, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort, and milk thistle.

When tested, they found that half of the bottles did not meet their label claims and five of the bottles had no active ingredients at all. Solgar performed the worst of all the brands tested. The article points out that there is no industry standard or government regulation which would insure the customer of the accuracy of the labeling claims, whether those claims refer to ingredients or alleged properties such as "increases mental prowess."
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

March 22, 2000. Finally, alternative dentistry has arrived, according to The Arizona Republic. Dr. Michael Margolis of Mesa, Arizona, doesn't do root canals because, he believes, they cause problems in other parts of the body. He just pulls the tooth. He also uses a "healing light" which shoots out a red laser beam at a frequency that, he claims, kills bacteria. "There is no doubt it works," he says. He also thinks that fluoridation of water is an evil plot of the government and the American Dental Association. We are being poisoned because of  money, politics and power. In Mesa, where the issue of fluoridation of the water supply was put to a vote, Margolis is not alone. There are 16,478 others who don't want the stuff in their water.
[thanks to Joe Littrell]

March 21, 2000. Earlier in the week, PETCO announced that it would be opening a new store in New Jersey with the help of  Norma Caesar who is a pet therapist and claims to be an animal psychic.  She is being billed as "an expert on the psychic nature of pets" who "is able to communicate with all animals." Just as James Van Praagh acts as an intermediary between any human and any dead person, so Norma Caesar acts as an intermediary between any human and any animal. Both claim to get messages, one from the dead and the other from living animals, that seem beyond the reach of the rest of us ordinary mortals.






ęcopyright 2002
Robert Todd Carroll

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