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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February 5, 2000. The head of the Kabalarians has lost his appeal and has been sent back to jail to finish his five-year sentence for the rape of two teens and eleven other charges of sexual abuse of five other teenage girls, according to the Vancouver Sun. The court ordered a new trial on two counts involving two other women. Ivon Shearing was originally charged in 1997 with 20 offences involving 11 women in his 500-member cult who complained they were sexually abused between 1965 and 1990. Shearing allegedly preached the need for sexual control to his minions.

February 4, 2000. New Zealand researchers claim to have an explanation for ball lightning: it's " burning dust" or  "fluffy silicon" freed from minerals in the soil. Read all about it in FutureFrame

February 4, 2000. Homeopathy for horses: is it "veterinary voodoo"? Not according to the Alternative Veterinary Medicine Centre in Oxfordshire, England. So-called "alternative" medicine for pets and farm animals is apparently widespread and growing in the land of All Creatures Great and Small. (I know; James Harriot worked in the Yorkshire dales and that wasn't his real name.) Read all about it in the Observer.
[thanks to Tim Boettcher]

February 3, 2000. Alfredo Barrago, an Italian magician, is busy demonstrating how to fake tears of blood on statues, according to The Sunday Times. Who is responsible for this weeping statue hysteria? The Vatican should shoulder some of the responsibility. The Sunday Times reports that Since 1830, the Vatican has approved 15 "authentic apparitions" by the Virgin Mary one "authenticated weeping Madonna," a statue of the Virgin Mary at Siracusa in Sicily which allegedly "wept blood" in 1954.
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

February 1, 2000. The Denver Post reports that Colorado College is using Lego-building to help "identify initiative, leadership and an ability to work in groups" in lieu of the SAT and ACT test "in an effort to attract minority and disadvantaged students."
[thanks to Antonio Ramirez]

January 31, 2000. The New York Times reports on the growing acceptance of "alternative" medicine. It's claimed that some $27.2 billion was spent by Americans in 1998 on such therapies as chiropractic, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy and massage therapy. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine now has a budget of $68 million a year, thanks to a Congress which knows which way the wind blows. It even has a "respected virologist," Dr. Stephen E. Strauss, as its director.

A 1998 survey of more than 2,000 adults was conducted by Dr. David Eisenberg, director of the Center for Alternative Medicine Research and Education at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston. Eisenberg "estimated that 46 percent of the American population had visited a practitioner of alternative health care in 1997, up from 36 percent in 1990."

Experiments are now being done with placebo acupuncture, ginkgo biloba, St. John's wort, shark cartilage and qi gong.

The article notes that in 1994 Congress passed a law that "permits manufacturers to make claims about health benefits for herbal medicines whose safety and effectiveness have not been proved by the usual standards applied to prescription drugs." The need for testing the wild and unsubstantiated claims of alternatives became greater than ever.

There are a couple of sane voices in the wilderness, however.  Dr. Victor Herbert of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine calls the center on alternative medicine "a worthless waste of money" that was "set up to promote fraud." And Dr. Marcia Angell, editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, said "the center had so far failed to publish any significant articles in scientific journals." "The proof is in the pudding," Dr. Angell said. "Just show me the papers."

Yes, the article does mention the placebo effect.

January 28, 2000. CNN.Com reports that New York City is trying to get some people off its welfare rolls by giving them job training as "psychics." In case you're wondering, psychics make about $10/hour and must have "a caring and compassionate personality" and the ability "to read, write and speak English."
[thanks to John Collin]

Only hours after this story broke, NYC announced it was halting the psychic trainee program, according to
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

January 24, 2000. The Independent News (UK) reports that there are homosexuals in Scotland and some of them are priests. They also report that at least one Cardinal is not happy about this state of affairs.

January 23, 2000. NYPost.Com reports that "complementary" and "alternative" medicine is on the rise in the Big Apple, right down to using feng shui to decorate the offices. In another article, the Post warns that herbs can be hazardous to your health.

Meanwhile, the (London) Sunday Times reports that churchmen are outraged at a proposal to dump AD (as in Anno Domini, year of the Lord) for CE (the common era). Such a change would avoid the inconvenience of trying to find a new starting date for the calendar,  and while keeping dates in harmony with the Gregorian calendar the CE designation would avoid associating itself with the notion that the turning point in all history was the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

reader comment

26 Jan 2000 

The AD vs. CE debate reminds me of what James Randi wrote about a talk he gave to a religious anti-cult group. Coming from a skeptical view point the talk he gave offended some of the members of the religious group, so his keynote address was not mentioned in the newsletter following the event. Randi remarked that by ignoring his participation the group was attempting to change the truth, just like the cults did.

Like it or not the reason the Gregorian calendar created the split in dates was because of Christ. Why does CE divide the dates at the same time? Only because that's what the Gregorian calendar does, so really it's based on the same thing. The year one was created because our society has been influenced by a belief in Christ (whether a true belief or not). To say change our dating designation to CE denies that a belief in Christ has influenced our society. Sounds like revisionist history to me.

Tim Boettcher

reply: I don't think the AD/BC dating system means Christ "influenced" western civilization, but that all historical time should be measured in terms of those who lived before salvation was possible and those who lived after the Savior arrived. Thus, those who do not accept Jesus as their true Lord and Savior must nevertheless pay homage to this notion whenever they date an event as BC or AD. Using CE and BCE avoids the tediousness of having two dating systems while providing a "neutral" way of identifying dates, i.e., neutral with respect to the belief in Jesus as the Lord and Savior of all mankind.

January 22, 2000. Real estate agents in London aren't too happy with the increasing popularity of feng shui experts being consulted by house seekers, according to the Sunday Times.

January 21, 2000. CNN.Com reports that at least one pharmaceutical firm is treating herbal medicines like traditional ones. "CVS Corp. of Woonsocket is asking customers to tell their pharmacists what herbal supplements they use. The information is entered into a computerized program that cross-checks them for adverse combinations."

Probably of more importance is another CNN report that "version 5.0 of America Online's Internet software -- which a national technology magazine this week suggested was "the upgrade of death" -- sometimes cripples existing Internet accounts with rival companies and prevents current AOL users from signing for service with competitors."

January 20, 2000. According to the Nando Times, The Intercollegiate Studies Institute of Wilmington, Del., a conservative academic think tank, has name Margaret Mead's 1928 treatise, Coming of Age in Samoa, the worst nonfiction book of the past 100 years. 

January 19, 2000. The Washington Times reports on how to cure skepticism: be declared the reincarnated spirit of a king and have a few thousand people worship you.

January 18, 2000. Britain is repealing part of the 1780 Sunday Observance Act and will now allow dancing on Sunday nights, according to the Sunday Times. What next? the king to be coronated by a gay rights minister? Not likely.

January 18, 2000. Any nut in a storm. That seems to be the motto of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. They've committed over $1.4 million over five years to study the crackpot cancer "cure" of Nicholas J. Gonzalez, who uses a variation on the Max Gerson treatment of coffee enemas and vitamins. Read all about it in the The fact that Gonzalez has already been convicted of incompetence and malpractice does not seem to bother those spending other people's money on this bogus research.

January 12, 2000. The latest print issue (February 2000) of Brill's Content has a new look and a new motto: Skepticism is a Virtue. In a two-page promo for itself, the magazine lauds the many virtues of skepticism.

January 12, 2000. The UK Sunday Times reports on the Catholic Church's continuation of the Inquisition, now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). A nun has quit her religious order rather than submit to the CDF's demand that she publicly recant her views on birth control and women priests. This should improve the Vatican's continuing efforts to ward off criticism that it is archaic, hopelessly outdated, and on the cutting edge of repression and invidious discrimination.

In an unrelated story, it is also reported that congregations in English churches are losing 2,000 members a week. 

In another unrelated story it was reported that there are more divorces among America's born-again Christians than among atheists. Even Mormons (24%) have a higher divorce rate than atheists (21%). (Though, if one accounts for the margin of error--not given in the report--I'm sure that there is no significance difference between the divorce rate for Mormons and for atheists.)
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

January 12, 2000. Marjorie Miller of the Los Angeles Times reports that  David Irving, an English historian and author of books on Hitler and Goebbels, and hero to Holocaust Denial advocates and anti-Semites everywhere, is suing historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel. Professor Lipstadt of Emory University calls Irving "one of the most dangerous" Holocaust deniers in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (Free Press). She has also claimed that Irving twists historical evidence to fit his own political views, which have been described as akin to Nazism.

Though it has been nearly seven years since Lipstadt's book was first published, Irving has had to wait to sue her because the book has only recently been published in the United Kingdom, where libel laws are often successfully used to silence critics. The burden of proof is on the defendant and public figures are not treated any differently than private citizens. In short, Irving figures he has a chance to win in England, whereas if he sued in the United States, he would probably end up like Uri Geller did when he sued critic James Randi for libel.

The trial is likely to end up being a public debate over Holocaust denial. In his opening remarks, Lipstadt's attorney said that Irving is "not an historian at all, but a falsifier of history" and "a liar." Irving read a 55-page statement listing his important contributions to understanding the Holocaust.

Irving denies that he is a Holocaust denier.

But he admits that he was wrong about some things.

January 9, 2000.  "Don't Worry About Vaccinations" is the title of a Parade magazine article by Dr. Isidore Rosenfeld. The author lists the main objections to vaccinations and responds to each of them. The main concerns are safety, effectiveness and necessity. Weighing the risks of being vaccinated versus not being vaccinated, Dr. Rosenfeld and most practicing pediatricians recommend 21 vaccinations for children by the time they are in the first grade. There are risks with vaccination, but there are also risks with not being vaccinated and the latter far outweigh the former, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

January 5, 2000. According to the, people are angry at Ed Yourdon, the MIT graduate and computer consultant who wrote Time Bomb 2000. The blurb on the back of the book says: "Saturday, January 1, 2000. Suddenly, nothing works. Not your phones, not the cash machine, not even your fancy new VCR." Some 250,000 copies of the book were sold over the past two years.
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

January 3, 2000. China has a state-sponsored bimonthly magazine devoted to UFO research which has a circulation of some 400,000, according to China also has a UFO Research Association with a membership of some 50,000. According to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, we are entering the Year of the Dragon, a time of tumult. One researcher is even investigating a report of an alien abduction in Beijing last month. The same researcher believes that "aliens may find China attractive for the same reason foreign investors and tourists do." They may, indeed.

More on China and UFOs from the Christian Science Monitor.
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

December 27, 1999. According to BBC news, a survey of leading religious leaders in England reveals that only 3 of 103 believe in the Biblical version of creation, only 13 believe Adam and Eve existed, and 25% reject the Virgin Birth story.

In an unrelated story, The The Sunday Times reports that the Archbishop of York and other Church of England bigwigs are calling for some rethinking on the union of church and state and for allowing British monarch to marry Roman Catholics.
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

December 27, 1999. The end of the world may not occur on January 1, 2000, according to the Washington Post. This should be a great disappointment to the many prophets who, by their constant predictions, gnashing of teeth and finger pointing, seem to wish life would end sooner rather than later. It may seem sick, but the end-of-the-world prophets seem to be motivated by hope rather than fear. Bad luck to them all! And a Happy New Year!
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

December 23, 1999. According to, a Denver judge has ruled that an unattended crèche in the Denver City and County Building is ok but an unattended sign is not. I wonder if the content of the sign had anything to do with her ruling. It said "The 'Christ Child' is a Religious Myth. The City of Denver Should Not Promote Religion"  and "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world." The sign was the gift of Julie Wells, a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]

December 21, 1999. Joe Firmage has donated $1 million to the Carl Sagan Foundation (CSF), a not-for-profit organization founded by Sagan's wife, Ann Druyan. Firmage calls Sagan "one of the greatest visionaries who ever lived." In a recent e-mailing, Firmage writes that "CSF is presently raising capital for a pioneering effort to transform the healing environment within a new children's hospital in the Bronx. Images of Cosmos and new learning tools from science have been designed into its walls, floors, ceilings, and systems, turning the sterile and frightening landscape of the hospital into a place of discovery and inspiration."

December 15, 1999. Deaths, Deceptions and Dubious Claims Haunt Chiropractors' Bid for Academic Acceptance is the heading of CANOES' Spin Doctors, a Canadian Internet Network. The article by Paul Benedetti and Wayne MacPhail is a detailed critique of chiropractic and recent criticisms of it in Canada. They give special attention to the attempt of the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC) to affiliate with York University, a merger that now appears to be less imminent after some recent bad publicity, including a study which claims that chiropractic manipulation may cause as many as 150 strokes a year in Canada.

December 15, 1999. An interesting lawsuit against Scientology has been filed for the estate of Lisa McPherson, who was 36, when she died Dec. 5, 1995, under circumstances that indicate, at the very least, bad judgment regarding a mentally ill person, or perhaps even criminal negligence on the part of several scientologists. The lawsuit gives a history of L. Ron Hubbard's organization. Among its claims: "Scientology is both immoral and socially obnoxious... It is corrupt, sinister and dangerous. It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit, and has as its real objective money and power...." And these are the more positive remarks....

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©copyright 2002
Robert Todd Carroll

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