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June 8, 2007

 "...the chief end I propose to myself in all my labours is to vex the world rather than divert it." - Jonathan Swift


  1. Imagination Rules
  2. “Baby Psychic” Still at It
  3. Revelations
  4. A Heavy Video
  5. An Old Act
  6. A Successful Approach
  7. Hume at Home
  8. Disturbing News From the Netherlands
  9. An Important Congress
  10. Abject Apology Department
  11. In Closing…
An Evening with DawkinsThe Amaz!ng Meeting 5 DVD Set with Bonus Critical Thinking Workshop
and Sunday Papers

Video documenting the fifth Amaz!ng meeting in Las Vegas. Speakers include: Michael Shermer, Penn and Teller, The MythBusters, John Rennie, Scott Dikkers, Phil Plait, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Neil Gershenfeld, Hal Bidlack, Richard Wiseman, Peter Sagal, Christopher Hitchens, Nick Gillespie and Ron Bailey, Eugenie Scott, Lori Lipman-Brown, Jamy Ian Swiss, James Randi, and many more! Includes all Sunday papers! 6 DVDs total spanning over 17 hours.

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I’ve been sent a hilarious reference to “SLI” phenomena, or “Street Light Interference.” This miracle is manifested when a properly-naïve person drives beneath a street light, and it turns off… Though they’ve been told any number of times, the astonished goofs refuse to be aware of the fact that these lights are often equipped with photoelectric switches that detect bright light and automatically switch off the circuits, letting them re-connect again as soon as the source of light has passed – or it becomes sufficiently overcast to call for an added light source. This function can be tested simply by obtaining a bright spotlight and flashing it around to locate the photocell, which will then react appropriately.

Believe it or not, folks, there’s even a “Street Lamp Interference Data Exchange” established as a place where SLIders – that’s what these powerful people are known as – can share their imaginary experiences. For some, appliances turn on and off, and volume levels on their TV receivers jump up and down. The fact that their remote controls operate at sound frequencies and levels that are found in their environment, does not enter into their consideration. Though most such devices now operate via patterned infra-red pulses, some older ones use sound. I recall when the very first controllers came out, they gave out a “ping” that could be duplicated by dropping a coin on a saucer, and I got together some foreign coins that would perform all of the limited functions – sound volume, channel change, and on-and-off – rather well. One nuisance was that cars going by in the rain on 6th Avenue – where I then lived in Greenwich Village – would play tricks with my system by producing ultrasonics that activated the sensors. But you know, it never once occurred to me that psychic forces might be at work! Shows you how little imagination I have. Go to for details on this delusion…

But there’s more. On this same page, there’s a video in which some goof bends a spoon. You’ll watch carefully as he builds up his psychic powers, then… Ah, but enjoy the side-busting surprise…!


Reader Tony Youens, UK, sends us to to see the latest shenanigans of UK “psychic” Derek Ogilvie, who says he can telepathically communicate with 1-to-3-year old children. Read this, and watch the accompanying video, then decide just how convincing his case is. We met Derek back at


Reader William B. Keith of Houston, Texas, gives me two quotations that I’m sure have sent the Bible-thumpers scurrying to find rationalizations. Says Mr. Keith:

If a person believes every word of the Bible, that is in the King James version, then he believes that "money answereth all things." That’s from Ecclesiastes 10:19:

A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry, but money answereth all things.

ALL things. “All” means everything. If salvation is a real thing then money answers salvation. Don't ask me how, I don't even know how a man or a god or a man-god or a god-man dying on a cross could save me. I guess I am not supposed to understand, I am just supposed to believe it like an idiot. Of course I don't think he ever did, it was just a trick. Maybe they really do use money in heaven.

In Ecclesiastes 3:18-19 it says that mankind is beasts (animals, mammals) and that man has no preeminence above a beast.

I never hear or read of the creationists and intelligent design people quoting those scriptures. Why? Are they ignorant of them or are they just ignorant in general?

Randi comments: The actual 3:18-19 text reads:

I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them; as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast; for all is vanity.

Mr. Keith concludes:

I am a 77 year old absolute, complete, total, dyed-in-the-wool atheist and have been for some 50 years.

Somehow, I guethed that, Mr. Keith. Yeth, I thertainly did…


At you’ll see just how useful and informative the current post-a-video can be, as our buddies Penn & Teller take apart “psychic” Rosemary Altea. Contained here are pertinent comments from Penn that skewer Altea’s claims, pointing out just how much information she had in advance of the encounter with the grieving victim of her scam.


From last week at, reader Karl Black makes a parallel between her act and a much older version:

A note about the "Angel Lady" – What she’s doing is nothing new. The Catholic Church has been promoting patron saints to pray to for centuries, all of whom have their own specialty. As a child being brought up in the RC church I read a book on these saints and it actually helped me realize that religion was based on mythology. My favorite is Saint George the Dragon Slayer. Be sure to pray to Saint George the next time you’re stopped dead in your tracks iguana, maybe?

Here are a few more hilarious angels listed in the Angel Lady’s Glossary, just to convince you of the inanity of this person. No kidding, folks, these are her Angels, along with their assigned duties. My own personal additions to the descriptions are in square brackets…

Alan, Angel of Investments: Nurtures financial growth. Contributes to sound decision-making. [Free stock tips and insider trading info. Works with Trevor, below.]

Allison, Angel of Plants: Supports growth of healthy plants. Helps to develop a green thumb. [And provides gloves, I hope.]

Cornell, Angel of Decision-Making: Develops ability to evaluate information. [Is that information about absurd beliefs such as the notion that Cornell can do this?]

Gunther, Angel of Fitness: Provides energy and discipline. Supports exercise programs. [German calisthenics, marching, and lots of coffee. Sit up straight!]

James, Angel of Public Speaking: Brings success to speakers. Bolsters confidence. [My own personal angel, obviously, and always with me during speaking engagements. Works with Kevin, below.]

Joseph, Angel of Joy: Sends individuals blessings of ecstasy and bliss. [Questionable, to say the least. Sounds illegal, to me.]

Kevin, Angel of Friendship: Improves skills for communication. Creates cooperation. [Named after my NY agent, who endlessly threatens and coerces.]

Laramie, Angel of Discovery: Searches for lost people, objects and pets. [He doesn’t find them, he only “searches.”]

Marilyn, Angel of Leisure: Provides sources for play, fun and relaxation. [Like Joseph, above, highly questionable goals.]

Maureen, Angel of Time: Makes adequate time for work activities and travel. [Makes watches run slow, stops clocks.]

Melody, Angel of Self-Esteem: Sparks internal recognition of value and potential. [No matter how ugly you are, Maureen thinks you’re a movie idol.]

Patrick, Angel of Sports Achievement: Helps participants with athletic activities and dancing. [Dancing after cheating in a shuffleboard game or rigging a horse race.]

Raymond, Angel of Technology: Works with computers and electronic devices. [A largely failed angel, who won’t even go near an Apple, tempting or not.]

Rex, Angel of Cars: Works with mechanics. Oversees automobile performance. [Also defeats traffic radar, toll booths, and parking tickets.]

Rita, Angel of Writing: Clears thoughts. Provides focus for written material. [Obviously not available to me.]

Robert, Angel of Balance: Helps achieve stability, equilibrium and peace of mind. [And juggling…]

Robin, Angel of Social Contact: Organizes social events and outings. Arranges meetings of friends and dates. [Along with Joseph and Marilyn, above, Robin is under constant investigation.]

Ruth, Angel of Divine Justice: Settles disputes. Guides toward equitable resolutions. [Carries truncheon and pepper spray.]

Solomon, Angel of Security: Bolsters sense of safety and well-being. [He oversees Homeland Security and Endangered Species.]

Terina, Angel of Attraction: Finds soul mates. Brings support and romance. [Less suspect than Joseph, Marilyn, and Robin, above, but being closely watched. Define “romance,” please?]

Trevor, Angel of Stocks: Guides in evaluating market information. Provides success. [Along with Alan, above, and no guarantees.]


Reader John Welte, of Rally for Reason – see – reports:

I am writing to express my appreciation for the mention of the Rally For Reason in your May 11 Swift commentary. The rally took place without a hitch on May 28 outside the iron-gated Answers in Genesis [AiG] Creation "museum."

Demonstrators from all over the country gathered peaceably in a field across the street from the fortress of fantasy (why does a museum need armed guards and attack dogs?). As visitors rounded the bend in the road, the first thing they saw was a large Rally for Reason banner and a line of folks holding signs with messages such as "Science – not Superstition."

Members of the international, national, and local media roamed the crowd interviewing everyone who was willing to speak. We kept stressing the fact that we were not there to interfere with anyone's beliefs, but were protesting the fact that AiG is claiming their myths to be proven as scientific fact. As I told reporters, I would be protesting the opening of a "psychic science" museum or "homeopathic science" museum if they were opening near me. The "science" used by Ken Ham is just as unsound.

See the AiG website for great examples of circular arguments and fitting results into your pre-determined paradigm. They try to make the facts fit into a Biblical, young-Earth scenario. If I didn't think it was so damaging to young minds and an affront to real science, I would see their attempts as sad and pathetic.

For a list of speakers, some of whom were genuine scientists, video, and photos of the event go to I think we put the woo-woo world on notice that all people will not stand by and let uncritical thinking, dogma, and fantasies go unchallenged.

And a P.S.:

Fran here – John and I both had our JREF t-shirts on at some point during the grueling 3-day preparation and rally. I chose to wear the "Top 10 Questions" shirt the day of the rally. Many people commented positively or asked where they could get one. I told all to check out the great work y'all are doing at JREF. Thank you!

On this same subject, reader Erin Butler adds:

A new Skeptics' Circle (archive) is up and running over at Polite Company. This time, the inspiration is provided not just by the posts submitted, but also by a certain museum that recently held a grand opening in Kentucky. Considering the fight against woo in its many forms, this edition is titled The Show That Never Ends.


Reader Chris Calvey shares this with us:

As a part of my summer reading I’ve recently completed David Hume’s “An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding.” Hume, as you know, was a vociferous skeptic and atheist (some would say agnostic). Of particular interest to me was section 10 of the enquiry, a scathing criticism of supernatural belief entitled “Of Miracles.” I thought you might enjoy a few passages from the essay:

But as the former [miracles] grow thinner every page, in proportion as we advance nearer the enlightened ages, we soon learn, that there is nothing mysterious or supernatural in the case, but that all proceeds from the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvellous, and that, though this inclination may at intervals receive a check from sense and learning, it can never be thoroughly extirpated from human nature.

As true as it was the day it was written, unfortunately. More:

The smallest spark may here kindle into the greatest flame, because the materials are always prepared for it. The avidum genus auricularum, the gazing populace, receives greedily, without examination, whatever soothes superstition, and promotes wonder.

The phrase avidum genus auricularum is Latin for “the tribe with an eager ear for gossip.” It’s a shortened version of an expression by the poet Lucretius, who said “humanum genus est avidum nimis auricularum” which means, “the human species is too eager for gossipy ears.” Both seem to be accurate descriptions. Back to Hume:

I would still reply, that the knavery and folly of men are such common phenomena, that I should rather believe the most extraordinary events to arise from their concurrence, than admit of so signal a violation of the laws of nature.

And boy do they concur often.

Thank you, Chris!


Reader Peter Hoogerbrugge, of Rotterdam, Netherlands, sends us this:

You may have heard already from one of your other Dutch sources, but the Dutch skeptic movement got a heavy blow this week with the high court ruling about the use of the word “Quackery.”

A Dutch medical doctor by the name of Maria Sickesz developed in the last century a kind of healing called “orthomanual therapy.” This kind of therapy leans heavily on chiropractic practices. As with chiropractic “healing,” othomanual healing is highly debated because there is no sound scientific foundation. Also in more recent years Sickezs claimed more and more illnesses that orthomanual therapy could cure – all without proper evidence.

A few years ago the “Dutch Association against Quackery” drew up a list of the twenty biggest quacks of the century and awarded Sickesz and her therapy a high position on that list. Sickesz went to court and initially she lost her case. Then she appealed and the (sad) result was that the former ruling was overturned. She won her case.

The argument of the court was based on the connotation of the word “quack,” which was, according to the court, negative. Since Dr. Sickesz is very sincere in her business it was wrong to apply a negative sounding label to her therapy. A quack, but a very sincere one. Nowhere in the ruling was there a reference to the unproven and potentially dangerous business of orthomanual therapy. Nowhere in the ruling did the judges give any thought about the grave consequences of unproven medical treatments. It was all dictionary-based.

It appears that any person can dish up any kind of nonsense without hindrance, but as soon as their bluff is called, the court steps in and protects their scam. This may sound a bit harsh, but I certainly feel very disappointed with this ruling.

The sad result is that the very small and not very solvent Association against Quackery (founded in the 1890's!) will have to stop their activities. In the ruling was also included an award of the cost of the legal proceedings and a mandatory – and very costly – series of advertisements in national newspapers with a rectification and apology. They cannot afford this, so the association will go bankrupt.

From now on, any medical adventurer in the Netherlands can go about their business freely and refer to this ruling whenever anyone calls “quack”!

I responded to Peter, telling him that in English, the term "quack" implies fraud rather than only lack of scientific validity, and perhaps his case was lost because the term also has this meaning in his language...? He responded:

With the official Dutch dictionary in front of me:

Kwakzalver (quack): 1. someone who applies useless means to cure one or other illness, or claims to have knowledge against all possible disease, usually with much noise (ophef) and offers this for sale; an unqualified practitioner of medicine. 2. someone who tells lies to the general public; a fraud.

The court judged this case fully on the second meaning of the word and then only focusing on the disqualifying words related to fraud. Now Dr. Sickesz may not be a fraud (she is sincere, so we are told) but the court totally disregarded the first meaning of the word “quack,” which was the way it was used by the Association against Quackery.

This has been, definitely and tragically, a miscarriage of justice. It seems to me that a lawyer should be able to appeal this reversal of verdict, but I’m no lawyer and I am certainly not at all familiar with the law in the Netherlands… We can only hope that some agency there will choose to represent the Dutch Association against Quackery, and take appropriate action…


Reader Paul O’Donoghue – did you guess he’s Irish? – is a founding member of the Irish Skeptics, a group for which I spoke in Dublin back in 2004. He asks us:

I would be most grateful if you could place a note on your site announcing the 13th European Skeptics Congress to be hosted by the Irish Skeptics Society in Dublin from September 7th to 9th, 2007. Speakers include Barry Beyerstein, James Alcock, Massimo Pigliucci, Vic Stenger and Ben Goldacre, the writer of the UK Guardian newspaper column Bad Science.

The theme of the congress is "The Assault on Science: Constructing a Response." Full details are available on our website at


Some people have far too much free time. At, we ran an item that mentioned a phenomenon – not at all critical to the subject dealt with – and I heard back from “David V.” who was mentioned though not actually named. Now, there are folks out there who bristle and bellow whenever they are even remotely involved; David V. is obviously one of these. Though no reader could guess who he is, nor even in what country he could be found, this man sent me a furious 1,190-word complaint that I had “disrespected [him] publicly.”


Get a hobby.

And, on that same item of commentary, reader Benjamin Crawford of Memphis, Tennessee, adds to the picture:

Mr. Radford's quote that was posted in the Swift commentary wasn't complete. His message actually becomes rather skeptical of those "mysteries" after that point, and it is a defense of science in the end. To complete the quote:

Though science can explain many strange phenomena, some mysteries remain to be solved – often because there is simply not enough information to reach a definitive conclusion. Some of these phenomena may one day be fully understood, as many things that were once mysterious or unexplained (such as the causes of disease) are now common knowledge.


The JREF has done two major tests of “psychic” powers within the past two months, involving complete commercial video coverage. We’re not free to reveal the results, since neither session has yet been shown on TV, and we respect the needs of the producers for exclusivity. We’ll have full discussions here, of course. I’ll only say that the JREF put the million-dollar prize on the line, and the results can only be described as, “very interesting” and “classic.”

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