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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April 20, 2001. The jury has reached a verdict in the trial of two psychotherapists who smothered to death a 10-year-old girl during a "rebirthing" therapy session: guilty of "reckless child abuse resulting in death, which carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 16 years."* The verdict comes in just three days after the governor of Colorado signed into law a bill which prohibits "rebirthing" therapy, according to

update: The two therapists, Connell Watkins, 54, and Julie Ponder, 40, were sentenced to the minimum sentence for their crime: 16 years in prison.  Jefferson County Judge Jane Tidball did not sentence the pair to the maximum of 48 years because "there was no evidence that the therapists intended to harm the child."

update (July 9, 2002): Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina has introduced a resolution in Congress encouraging states to outlaw rebirthing therapy.

April 18, 2001. Sales of St. John's wort, a medicinal herb used by many people as a mood elevator, have declined from $310 million in 1998 to $195 million last year, according to Grant Ferrier, editor of the Nutrition Business Journal. Mark Blumenthal, of the American Botanical Council, does not think that the reduced sale reflects the increased realization that the herb isn't all that it has been cracked up to be. According to the, he "speculated that the reduced sales were caused by recent reports of problems with herbal supplements and findings that St. John's wort could interfere with AIDS medicines, cardiac drugs and oral contraceptives."

A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that St. John's wort was no better than a placebo in treating severely depressed patients. (The study involved 200 patients for eight weeks.) This contradicts the results of an earlier study by Ronald Brenner, chairman of psychiatry at St. John's Episcopal Hospital in New York City. (His study involved 30 mildly to moderately depressed patients for six weeks.) A third study may resolve the issue for a while. The National Institute of Mental Health and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine are doing a joint study on the effectiveness of the herb in treating major depression. The study is very large and will be the most comprehensive study ever done on St. John's wort.

April 7, 2001. The trial of two deranged psychotherapists who smothered to death a 10-year-old girl is underway in Colorado. The 70-minute therapy-killing was videotaped. Jurors wept as they watched. The prosecutor calls it "torture" not therapy. The therapists were unlicensed, but so is every other therapist in Colorado, since the state does not license psychotherapists. They were also unregistered, which is illegal in Colorado. The therapists were arrested last May. They were practicing a "crazy therapy" known as rebirthing. Connell Watkins, the chief "therapist" in this case, defends her technique and has her supporters. The therapy was witnessed by the child's mother, who is also on trial.
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

April 2, 2001. The exhumed body of Pope John XXIII is allegedly incorruptible, according to Cardinal Virgilio Noe. The body is being moved for the convenience of pilgrims. I suggest leaving the casket open for a few weeks. The Cardinal might change his mind about incorruptibility.

April 1, 2001. Psychologists Christopher French and Richard Wiseman reported on their research into the power of crystals at the recent British Psychological Society’s centenary conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Most of the 80 participants in the experiment reported positive effects whether given real or fake crystals. The experimenters concluded that the power of suggestion and the placebo effect account for all of the alleged benefits of crystals, according to the Scotsman. "Jack Turner, a Surrey-based alternative healer whose celebrity clients have included Princess Diana, Jerry Hall, Sarah Ferguson and Mrs (Tony) Blair, insisted the scientists must have used the wrong type of stones."
[thanks to Florin Clapa]

March 29, 2001. Rael, a lunatic on the fringe, according to some, has testified before a U.S. Congressional committee on cloning and earned himself a spot on Good Morning America. What next? Idi Amin to testify on cannibalism? Interviewed by Katie Kouric?

March 15, 2001. If you think those stories about body snatchers in search of human organs for transplants was an urban legend, you might want to look at an article that appeared today in The Irish Times. One body can be worth about $220,000 if parted out. There is a watchdog organization that keeps track of this horror: Organs Watch. If you think this may happen in Third World countries, but not in the United States, you might want to look at Hot Spots: United States. If you plan to be an organ donor, you might want to read "Donors don't realize they are fueling a lucrative business." 

March 15, 2001. Was it cryptomnesia, plagiarism, coincidence, or sorcery? It looks like a court will have to decide. Nancy Stouffer claims that J K Rowling stole ideas for her fabulously successful Harry Potter books from Stouffer's books, especially from the1984 book The Legend of Rah and the Muggles. Other books by Stouffer include characters called Larry Potter and Lilly Potter. Rowling's Harry's mum was named Lily Potter. 'Muggles' is the word wizards use for non-magical humans in Rowling's books. Stouffer claims to own the trademark to the word. The Legend of Rah and the Muggles was out-of-print, but has been re-issued by Thurman House.

Scholastic Inc., the US publisher of the Harry Potter books, Rowling and Time Warner, which owns the film rights to two of Rowling's Potter books, filed a lawsuit in November in New York, asking a judge to rule that the Harry Potter books do not violate Stouffer's trademark and copyright. Stouffer's lawsuit also names Mattel and Hasbro, which have the merchandising licenses for Harry Potter stuff, as well as Scholastic, Rowling and Time Warner. In part, her suit reads

Stouffer created and wrote, among other intellectual properties, a number of children's books and book series, the most significant of which, for the purposes of this Complaint, is titled The Legend of RAH and the Muggles. The Legend of RAH and the MUGGLES is a tale of little people called "Muggles" who live in the land of Aura. The Muggles take care of orphan boys, Rah and Zyn, whose arrival at the shores of Aura magically transforms the Muggle world from a dark and polluted land ravaged by war, to a land filled again with sunlight and happiness. Certain Muggles form a group called Nevils. Other characters are known by the work they do, such as Keeper of the Gardens, Keeper of the Children, Keeper of the Food, and the like. Stouffer also created a screenplay and accompanying music and lyrics, as well as illustrations, based on The Legend of RAH and the MUGGLES. Stouffer has also marketed and licensed others to market a large number of properties under her trademarks MUGGLE and MUGGLES ("the MUGGLE marks"). Another of Stouffer's book series, titled Lilly, includes the characters Lilly and Larry Potter.

If Stouffer is successful she may regret it. According to, Harry Potter has met with opposition from parents in South Carolina. "The books have a serious tone of death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil," Elizabeth Mounce from Columbia warned school authorities, who agreed to review the books for suitability for children. And a teacher at a primary school in Marietta, Georgia was asked to stop reading Harry Potter stories to the children because of its references to the supernatural. Then, there are all those millions of kids who have become J K Rowling fans, some of whom, according to Stouffer, have threatened her life. She also claims that she's received "a number of profane e-mails from avid HP fans, using terminology claimed from JKR’s books." I didn't realize the danger in writing children's books.

Perhaps some New Age lawyer will argue on Rowling's behalf that Stouffer tapped into the Akashic record and took a few ideas from the future work of Ms. Rowling. Perhaps the great psychic Sylvia Browne will tell us how it will all end and spare us the suspense.

update: September 19, 2002. The verdict is in and Rowling is the winner. The court ruled that Stouffer "lied and altered documents to support her case."

March 14, 2001. Columbia Pacific University (CPU) has been shut down by California state officials who called it a "diploma mill." It has been operating without state approval since June 1997. According to an Associated Press article in the Sacramento Bee, the state has been trying to shut down the school almost from the day it opened, saying CPU "had virtually no academic standards." Dr. John Gray (or John Gray, Ph.D.) got his right to put Dr. in front of his name (or Ph.D. after it) by getting a diploma from CPU: a doctorate in psychology.

Gray claims to be a leading authority in communication and relationships between men and women. He is the author of several popular books such as Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. He is also one of the New Age darlings of public television. He is obviously well-trained, but not in the academic discipline of psychology.

update: November 18, 2003 - Rick Ross on John Gray

March 14, 2001. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has published a study of 84 patients who were treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), known as electroshock therapy, for severe depression. ECT is commonly used on those who suffer from depression and who do not respond to medication or psychotherapy. According the the National Mental Health Association, some 100,000 Americans are given ECT every year.

The study found that 84% of the patients relapsed within six months if not given follow-up medication. Even with follow-up medication, 39 % relapsed. 

March 5, 2001. According to Ivy Browne in an article in the Los Angeles Times, John Edward's Crossing Over program on the Sci-Fi Channel reaches more than half a million households daily ("Hearing From Dearly Departed Proves a Hit on Sci-Fi Channel"). According to Browne, Edward is a New York native, a regular guy who lives on Long Island with his wife, and who, until 1995, was working in a hospital full-time in the information systems department.

Bonnie Hammer, executive vice president and general manager of the Sci-Fi Channel, says that she attended one of Edward's readings anonymously and ended up getting a reading. "I was totally blown away," says Hammer, who thinks "Crossing Over" was just what the cable network needed. "We wanted people to see Sci-Fi as not just a channel with new and old fiction, but also a channel that is accessible to people today. Even though ['Crossing Over'] qualifies, in a sense, as science fiction because it is speculative, it touches human beings' lives, it gives them a form of affirmation. And, in its own way, it's dramatic soap stories."

In my opinion, it's spiritual piffle, as we have noted here before.* Nevertheless, look for more such programs to be dumbing down the airwaves soon.

March 2, 2001. The Islamic Taliban of Afghanistan have allegedly kept their promise to blow up two giant statues of Buddha as part of their zealous attempt to rid the country of its historical and artistic heritage as commanded by the Koran, or at least by the Taliban's understanding of the Koran. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar ordered the smashing of all statues last Monday (SFGate).  The monumental statues of Buddha are carved into the stone cliffs of Bamiyan, on the Silk Road from China to the Middle East. They're more than 1,000 years old.

If Omar can order statues destroyed in his own country, even statues of other religious traditions, what is to prevent him from ordering statues around the world destroyed? A religious group should be shown only as much tolerance as it is willing to give to other religious groups. The Taliban has removed Islam in Afghanistan outside of the boundaries of toleration.

However, the ex-president of Afghanistan, Burhanuddin Rabbani, claims that the Taliban is systematically looting art treasures and selling them abroad (CNN). The public desecration of statues is a ruse to distract attention from the wholesale theft. Either way, this is some religion.

Iconoclasm is nothing new in religion.

further reading: Afghan Taliban deny UN charges of killing civilians (TheTimes of India)

February 26, 2001 The N.Y. Times reports that a neurosurgeon operated on the wrong side of a man's brain last week at Long Island College Hospital. Both the surgeon, Dr. Rene Kotzen, and another doctor, Mike W. Chou, who prepped him were suspended. "Dr. Chou's prep was based upon a CT scan of the patient which had been incorrectly placed" — backward — "for viewing in the operating room by a member of the hospital staff."





©copyright 2002
Robert Todd Carroll

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