NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 March 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, March 08, 2001

CSICOP routs psychics on "Larry King Live"

On March 6, 2001, CSICOP Chaiman Paul Kurtz and Leon Jaroff from Time magazine, (and CSICOP Fellow) appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live." The show proved to be one of the most balanced nationally televised forums for skeptics to debate psychics in recent years. Six other guests appeared on King's program: mediums Sylvia Browne, John Edward and James Van Praagh, along with Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, retired physicist Dale Graff, and former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt.

Larry King opened by bringing Leon Jarroff's March 2nd Time magazine article on John Edward to viewers' attention, and showing a clip from the Sci Fi Channel's "Crossing Over with John Edward," in which he delivers a child's message from the beyond to weeping parents in the studio audience.

King then quoted a skeptical description of mediumship from Jarroff's article: "It's a sophisticated form of the game Twenty Questions, during which the subject, anxious to hear from the dead, seldom realizes that he, not the medium or the departed, is supplying the answers."

Edward called Jaroff's article "insulting to the intelligence of people in the audience" and "the credibility and the integrity" of those who work on his show. When asked to respond to assertions that Edward's demonstrations were aided by eavesdropping, questionnaires, and crafty editing, Edward replied, "All of that is completely wrong," suggesting that Jaroff had not attempted to interview him or people working on the show. (Jaroff later pointed out when he tried to contact people on the show, he was told that "John Edward does not respond to criticism.")

However, when pressed about allegations from Michael O'Neill in Jaroff's article Edward waffled:

KING: "He quotes a Michael O'Neill, who attended one of your shows, and writes that O'Neill claims that his encounter on the show was edited and gave a false impression.

Clips of him nodding "yes" spliced into the videotape about statements which he remembers disagreeing. Is O'Neill wrong?"

EDWARD: "You know, I have to say that I would believe so, because I don't believe that they'd edit the show in that capacity. And again, I think that this is subjective to somebody's experience. I can't speak for, you know, Michael, I can only speak for myself."

When King asked how he would prove his abilities, Edward replied, "You know, I think that to prove it, is a personal thing. It is like saying, prove God. If you have a belief system and you have faith, then there is nothing really more than that." Throughout the night, Edward, Browne and Van Praagh insisted that any proof of mediumship was a matter of personal experience and preference, above the merely mortal realm of critical, scientific investigation.

In the next segment, King asked Jaroff whether he thought John Edward and others are frauds. "I think they're very good at what they do," replied Jaroff, "but what they do is baloney"-namely cold reading. Browne bristled at the remarks. "I don't think he's done his homework very well," snapped Browne, alleging that she has "saved baby's lives," found people that were dead," and "solved crimes." Later in the program, when Browne again rattled off a resume of paranormal achievements--"finding bodies, and World Trade Center with Ted Gunderson and all that"-Kurtz retorted: "You throw out these wild claims that you've done this, have done that: they don't hold up under scrutiny."

Kurtz blasted mediums on intellectual and moral grounds: "Well, I think the claims are preposterous…. If someone makes a claim, an extraordinary claim, then we ask for evidence of the facts. And there are no facts to support this. What we're faced with are psychic sharks, like card sharks: sleight of hand, sleight of mind. They're using methods of deception to confuse poor people who have suffered death and are bereaved and I think this is not only false, but also immoral."

Later in the show John Edward played his wild card for scientific respectability, citing his participation in Dr. Gary Scwartz' study, conducted at the Human Energy Systems Laboratory at the University of Arizona as documented scientific evidence of his powers. "Dr. Gary Schwartz believes in the tooth fairy," Jaroff blasted back, dismissing Schwartz' scientific credibility. "He believes in UFOs. He believes in levitation."

Rabbi Boteach, despite being a friend and supporter of Uri Geller, planted his feet firmly on the side of the skeptics when asked about his belief in mediumship: "Well, aren't you a bit surprised that the only message that the dead seem to be able to give to us is [that] someone had a nickname 'Miss Piggy' and they can only tell us that, you know, I had a heart condition? For goodness sake, if that's the case then-no pun intended-to hell with them…. I mean, I would think that if someone is up there in the cosmos unrestrained by the constraints of the body, they could tell us about the great secrets of existence, where is God, and how can we better human life? …Instead they're telling us things like 'I choked on a chicken bone and I'm here to tell you that I don't hold you accountable for serving me that soup.'"

The FBI's former chief hostage negotiator, Clint Van Zandt, described himself as open to the possibility of psychic abilities but noted that psychic practices were clearly irrational. "One of the first things a psychic asks a law enforcement officer to do is take your reason and logic and set it aside." When asked by Larry King whether he had ever found a psychic crucial to the solution of a crime, Van Zandt responded: "I've seen law enforcement try a lot of times. When I've seen them participate in the solution of a crime, my experience and the experience of my colleagues is that it's usually been some type of vague information, like a kidnap victim was kidnapped somewhere up along the Great Lakes and we've been told, 'You'll find the victim buried near a body of water.' Well, we understand the Great Lakes are a body of water…. I know there are people who will say, 'well we've been a consultant to the FBI.' But as far as seeing a case solved or a kidnap victim recovered-either dead or alive-based solely on the information of a psychic, no."

Toward the end of his show, Larry King set aside time for Browne, Edward and Van Praagh to perform readings and have them analyzed by the skeptics. Sylvia Browne did a reading for one caller from Santa Fe, New Mexico, looking for a family history for her parents. Closing her eyes and focusing on the spiritual realm, she fastened onto the name "Burgess… in and around Memphis."

"I don't know if this is funny or sad, Kurtz commented. "She's engaged in guesswork. The scientific community has been investigating these claims for a century and a half. It can find no hard evidence that people can communicate with the dead, no hard evidence that psychics can help detectives."

If the denizens of the spirit realm had any chance to prove their existence to skeptics in one fell swoop, it would have been on "Larry King Live." Alas, they were content to let James Van Praagh choke on national TV.

A caller from Williston, Vermont looked to Van Praagh to find out more about a brother-in-law who had "passed." He responded with vague intuitions about a throat or breathing problem, family separations, someone he couldn't trust, a tattoo, and a baby. Despite a string of generalities applicable to many American males, Van Praagh came up empty handed:

KING: Ma'am, is any of that clear to you?

CALLER: No, I have to say it really isn't.

KING: Does that mean, James, you missed on this one?

By the end of the evening, Browne, Edward and Van Praagh were increasingly irritable. Faced with skepticism, Van Praagh was reduced to cheap aspersions of the motives of Kurtz, Jaroff and CSICOP:

VAN PRAAGH: "I just want to say that it's interesting that these people here are in the business to destroy and destruct, while we are here to heal people and to help people grow. And these people, you have to look very carefully at what these people, their jobs, are. They are here to destroy."

KING: "Well the Rabbi isn't here to destroy. The writer isn't. Why are they here? They're [here] to investigate or be skeptics. I mean, that's..."

PRAAGH: "OK, let's hear the skeptics then, 'CSICOPs,' whatever. They're just here to destroy people. They're not here to encourage people, to enlighten people. They're here to destroy people."

Van Praagh's sputtering jabs at Kurtz and CSICOP at the end of "Larry King Live" sum up the kind of venom paranormal showmen inject into any debate when the rock of mystical thinking they're hiding under is kicked aside in public. NOTE: A full transcript of the March 6, 2001 Larry King Live is archived on the CNN.com web site at www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/lkl.html.

Does Monster Lurk Beneath Bear Lake?


Will Bagley

"All lakes, caves and dens have their legendary histories," a reader wrote the Deseret News from Rich County in July 1868. "Tradition loves to throw her magic wand over beautiful dells and lakes and people them with fairies, giants and monsters of various kinds. Bear Lake has also its monster tale to tell."

Although long ridiculed as a myth or mass hallucination, the history of the Bear Lake monsters (and yes, there are more than one) deserves serious consideration.

There really is a Bear Lake Monster.

Few historians would be willing to stake their reputations on a firm belief in the reality of a legendary creature, but there are Utah historians who believe a lot weirder stuff.

Let us look at the compelling proof of The Monster's existence.

Consider the long tradition that such an animal lurks in the deep waters of Utah's fairest alpine lake. The Shoshoni have not seen it since the buffalo left the valley in the 1820s, but they had seen The Monster capture and carry away swimmers. The tribe's tradition described a serpentlike creature that spurted water and occasionally crawled ashore on its short legs.

Examine the impeccable credentials of those who have seen the beast. The reputation of revered pioneers who had intimate encounters with The Monster should silence all doubters. Utah history testifies to the honesty of the Thomas, Cook, Rich, Johnson, Davis, Collings, Pratt, Budge, Slight and Broomhead families.

The 1946 report of Cache Valley Boy Scout executive Preston Pond is so detailed that it alone should end all skeptical carping that the largest aquatic life in Bear Lake is big carp. After all, as folklorist Austin E. Fife wrote after hearing Pond's story, Scouts don't lie.

Perhaps the best evidence of The Monster is the credibility of the newspaper that first reported its existence and has long been the beast's main booster: the Deseret News. In Utah, to doubt anything appearing in its hallowed pages is close to blasphemy, and this historian won't risk it.

Finally, here's a question that should settle all doubts about The Monster's existence: If there really isn't anything lurking in Bear Lake, then why, even after generations of cavorting on its shores by BYU students and the occasional presence of Congressman Chris Cannon, isn't there a Utah Lake Monster?

The evidence supporting the opposite conclusion deserves careful consideration, but that's another column. As the first published report indicated, the controversy over The Monster would only "be concluded by the capture of one sometime." So far, all attempts to do so have failed. Even a gigantic fishhook tied to a sapling by a rope failed.

The idea of hunting down the Bear Lake beast seems to have originated in the 1860s when Marion Thomas and the sons of Phineas Cook saw it while fishing near Swan Creek. They said the animal swam so near "they might have shot it with a rifle." In 1871, Milando Pratt and Thomas Rich actually shot at The Monster several times, but it simply swam away.

Brave Bear Lakers refused to give up the hunt. One particularly intrepid farmer heard The Monster prowling in his garden. Alone in the dark, armed only with his trusty rifle, he shot the beast only to find it was his neighbor's heifer.
Historian Will Bagley wants to learn more about Utah monsters. Send hard data to him at History Matters, c/o The Salt Lake Tribune, 143 S. Main, Salt Lake City, UT 84111. And if there is a Utah Lake Monster, he wants to know about it, too.

[healthfraud] Barrett in On Magazine

"NCAHF" 03/07/01 10:44AM

The March 5, 2001 issue of Time's monthly magazine "On" includes a health section with an article by Stephen Barrett, MD on "How to Spot a Quack" (p. 41). Another section of the magazine is a guide to health Web sites. Dr. Barrett's www.quackwatch.com is listed as one of the editors' 10 favorite Web sites in the issue.

William M. London, EdD, MPH
The National Council Against Health Fraud, Inc.
PO Box 141
Fort Lee, NJ 07024
(201) 723-2955


This can also be seen on-line at:


Though for some reason Robert Boynton is listed as author instead of Stephen Barrett.

Tom Wheeler


Copyright 2001 Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, e-Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com and ). Permission to print, distribute, and post with proper citation and acknowledgment. We encourage you to broadcast e-Skeptic to new potential subscribers. For newcomers to e-Skeptic you can subscribe for free by sending an e-mail to:
I am delighted to report that the Fox Family Channel will begin re-airing my show EXPLORING THE UNKNOWN (hosted by myself and X-Files star Mitch Pileggi) starting Thursday, April 5 at 10pm, following Major League Baseball, which will hopefully provide a good lead-in audience for the show (unless the game runs into extra innings, in which case we will be preempted until the game is over, at which point the show will be joined "in progress"). More details as we get closer, but if the ratings are good they may order more shows to be produced.
I am absolutely thrilled to announce that starting with their next issue (April, on the stands at the end of this month), Scientific American will be adding me as a new columnist, and my column will be entitled "Skeptic." The first one is entitled "Colorful Pebbles and Darwin's Dictum," based on a line from a letter Darwin wrote in which he noted that "all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service." I have also written a column on Napoleon Chagnon and the Yanomamo people, in response to Patrick Tierney's book Darkness in El Dorado. And, of course, I could not resist penning one on psychic medium John Edward. So check out the new and improved Scientific American--they have redesigned the magazine and added other new columnists and features--starting with their next issue. And special acknowledgment to Editor-in-Chief John Rennie for his support of skepticism and critical thinking in science.
I posted an extensive analysis of John Edward and his techniques in last week's e-Skeptic, so I don't want to repeat myself here, but last night's Larry King Live featuring Edward, James Van Praagh, and Sylvia Browne deserves some commentary.

For starters, Edward claims that Time magazine journalist Leon Jaroff could have and should have come to visit the show, see some readings, and interview the psychic medium, and that he (Edward) is open to journalists and the media. If I had been on the show (Edward will not appear on a show with James Randi, and James Van Praagh will not appear on a show with me) I would have immediately jumped in to deny that claim. Just last week I did a debunking of Edward for WABC TV in New York (discussed in the last e-Skeptic). The reason ABC came to me, in fact, is that they were being given the run-around by Edward and his staff. They were allowed to come into the studio, but they were not allowed to film the readings! They were told that they would only be given "edited" footage, but that they would be allowed to film the staff inside the control booth. As I noted before, this is where they got the "raw" footage--they filmed the monitors in the studio booth! With that we were able to show the edits. Also, when this ABC producer asked for an interview with Edward, she was told that he was at that moment out of the state. In fact, at that very moment he was on CBS New York TV, live! In other words, this was a flat-out lie. And, mind you, ABC started off wanting to do a puff piece on Edward. It only became a debunking piece after Edward and his staff starting acting suspicious, and at about that time they saw the piece I did for 20/20 debunking Van Praagh.

Regarding James Van Praagh's comment about me: "Michael Shermer once said on Oprah that I actually had a computer system wired to every single home in the United States. So, I thought that's pretty good. CIA, move over."

On Oprah what I actually did was review the three techniques employed by these so-called psychic mediums: cold, warm, and hot readings. I noted the various ways that they can get information ahead of time, such as pumping the producers about the guests, chatting with the guests before the show and during breaks, and overhearing conversations (all of which I've seen Van Praagh do and I document in my book How We Believe, including a quote from an NBC producer who said that's exactly how Van Praagh succeeded on "The Other Side" series on which he got his first big media break). I also said that it is very easy to get information on people on-line through various services utilized by Private Investigators. My cousin is a PI and I've been most amazed about what she can discover about people in just a couple of minutes with nothing more than a name and one other identifying bit of data (unless it is a very unusual name). In reality, I don't think psychic mediums use this technique very often, if at all, and they obviously don't in these studio readings. I made that point but Van Praagh, of course, focuses on the hot reading as a tactic to misdirect people from the cold and warm reading techniques, because he knows that THIS is what he does and he doesn't want people to catch on. Given that reality, from now on I am dropping the hot reading explanation simply because it give them a misdirection out.

All in all, though, last night's show wasn't so bad. Van Praagh gave a reading that was a total bomb, Sylvia Browne threw out a couple of tidbits that didn't seem to resonate with anyone, and Edward wisely evaded giving any readings, instead choosing to explain why readings are not very accurate but are nonetheless real. Skeptic Paul Kurtz did an admirable job of reiterating that scientists have been studying mediums for over a century without any solid evidence being discovered. However, when asked what he thought of Van Praagh's reading it would have been nice if he came right out and said that Van Praagh missed on every statement, instead of the more general explanation for why this stuff is nonsense. Leon Jaroff, briefed ahead of time by Randi, got in some good points, but I felt his attempt at humor with a joke--"is the plural of medium media?" was a dud, and that he hesitated in his delivery too many times, with too many ums and pauses, allowing the exceptionally quick-tongued Edward and Van Praagh to talk over him. Nonetheless, bravo to Jaroff for having the courage to take these guys on in print in the prestigious Time magazine, which triggered this show.

The "physicist" they got was a joke--his name is Dale Graff and he worked on the CIA's "Stargate" program on remote viewing, so naturally he thought all this was possible, even while admitting that science has no possible explanation for how any of this could work. The FBI representative--Clint Van Zandt--was suppose to be a skeptic and, in fact, was, but it took him so long to get to the point of his answer, and he offered so many qualifications and apologia for his critical comments, that his answer to the question from Larry King--"do police psychics help?"--which was "no," was so lost in his convoluted answer that King thought he meant "sometimes" and acknowledged it as such. Specifically, Van Zandt said:

"But as far as seeing a case solved, a kidnapped victim recovered, either dead or alive, based solely on the information of a psychic, no. But again, a psychic--if they are real, and if they contributed, it should be like a profiler providing investigative assistance, and law enforcement solves it."

King responded to this: "It can be an asset." Wrong. Van Zandt said no, it cannot be an asset, but it took him so long to say it that it was lost. That was unfortunate and is a lesson on being media savvy. You've got to be fast, succinct, and forceful, and stay on message (as the politicians like to say), and never pause or ask permission to speak. Twice Jaroff asked if there was time to ask one of the other guests a question. Never, never, never ask permission. Just jump in and say it. And, as trial attorneys will tell you, never ask a question unless you already know the answer the person is going to give!

Funniest of all was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, co-author of the book The Psychic and the Rabbi, about he and Uri Geller. Boteach is totally skeptical about all psychics . . . except Uri Geller, who is the real thing. How does he know? Because he's got a house full of bent cutlery!: "I do believe he can do the things that he does because he'd done them in my house 10,000 times and all of my guests now sort of sip soup through a straw because I have no spoons left. But that doesn't affect any--he doesn't make predictions and he doesn't really exploit this power to make money off it of anything like that." Sure.

The best thing to come out of last night's show, however, was that even though Randi was not allowed to appear, Sylvia Browne agreed to be tested for the one million dollar challenge. Randi now has that public statement and can issue a formal challenge, which he has probably already done. I for one can't wait to see the results, if she'll sit still long enough to be tested.
This is a letter from Professor Jim Coan () in response to the last e-Skeptic on cold reading, that I found most enlightening:

"Every year I teach my research methods students how to do cold readings. About three years ago, I had a student insist that he was indeed psychic, and had come from a family of psychics. To prove it, he asked whether he could do a reading one day during class as a part of his class independent research project. I told him that he could use 15 minutes of class time for it. He gave his cold readings in class - after the class had learned about the techniques underlying cold reading earlier in the semester - and had the other students enthralled. When he was done, he asked the other students to rate his performance, and the extent to which they believed that his performance was actually the result of psychic power. To his delight, both his performance and powers were rated as being quite high. That was when he revealed that he was simply using the cold reading techniques that they'd all learned a week prior. Many class members were shocked (and some were angry and dismayed) that they'd been so easily duped - even after they'd been warned about these techniques. The student who pulled this off had formally known about cold reading techniques for only one week! What might be possible if one was practiced at performing cold readings day after day for years? One answer is that you get John Edwards, and people like him. I have not seen evidence for the contrary - including my own meeting with him and other mediums."
In the Fox Special on the conspiracy theory that we never went to the moon, the question came up about the crosshairs on the NASA photographs that appear to be behind objects in the field, even though they were allegedly in the camera itself. This is nicely tested and explained by Skeptic magazine Art Director Pat Linse ():

"An easy test of the theory that brilliant light is burning out the crosshairs on NASA photography is first to look and see if the disappearing lines occur only in front of brilliant white objects. One would also expect that if a brilliant object in back of a crosshair were narrow enough only part of the crosshair line would disappear--and the rest of the same line would reappear whenever the crosshair was over a darker area

A quick glance at the crosshair over the lunar lander on the cover of 'The Pictorial History of NASA,' edited by Bill Yenne, shows this is exactly what happens. A crosshair covers 4 panels of varying light. It fades dramatically over the brightest panel and disappears completely when the light is bright enough. The end tip of the same cross-hair reappears when the bright panel ends. Shots of crosshairs over the blue and white earth show the hairs fading in front of white clouds and reappearing over the blue oceans.

Any photorealistic artist is familiar with this lighting effect--you have to "skinny up" any object that appears in front of a brilliant light source and soften its edges because the light bleeds over onto the object."
Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Director of the Skeptics Society, the host of the Skeptics Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and a monthly columnist for Scientific American. Go to www.skeptic.com to join the Skeptics Society and subscribe to Skeptic magazine.

A little bit o' Mencken, what I need...

From The Impossible Mencken (The Scopes Trial: Aftermath Pt. II)

The meaning of religious freedom, I fear, is sometimes greatly misapprehended. It is taken to be a sort of immunity, not merely from governmental control but also from public opinion. A dunderhead gets himself a long-tailed coat, rises behind the sacred desk, and emits such bilge as would gag a Hottentot. Is it to pass unchallenged? If so, then what we have is not religious freedom at all, but the most intolerable and outrageous variety of religious despotism. Any fool, once he is admitted to holy orders, becomes infallible. Any half-wit, by the simple device of ascribing his delusions to revelation, takes on an authority that is denied to all the rest of us.

I do not know how many Americans entertain the ideas defended so ineptly by poor [William Jennings, assisting the prosecution] Bryan, but probably the number is very large. They are preached once a week in at least a hundred thousand churches, and they are heard too in the meaner quarters of the great cities. Nevetheless, though they are thus held to be sound by millions, these ideas remain mere rubbish. Not only are they not supported by the known facts; they are in direct contravention of the known facts. No man whose information is sound and whose mind functions normally can conceivably credit them. They are the products of ignorance and stupidity, either or both.

What should be a civilized man's attitude toward such superstitions? It seems to me that the only attitude possible to him is one of contempt. If he admits that they have any intellectual dignity whatever, he admits that he himself has none. If he pretends to a respect for those who believe in them, he pretends falsely, and sinks almost to their level. When he is challenged he must answer honestly, regardless of tender feelings. That is what [famed defense lawyer Clarence] Darrow did at Dayton, and the issue plainly justified the act. Bryan went there in a hero's shining armor, bent deliberately upon a gross crime against sense. He came out a wrecked and preposterous charlatan, his tail between his legs. Few Americans have ever done so much for their country in a whole lifetime as Darrow did in two hours.

The Mind Machine

at http://phoenix.herts.ac.uk/mm/about_us.html


The Perrott Warrick Research Unit is based within the Psychology Department at the University of Hertfordshire and funded through Trinity College, Cambridge.

We carry out scientific research into alleged paranormal phenomena, and reports of our work have been published in five books and over sixty papers in academic journals, including Nature - the world's leading science magazine.

The Unit is also committed to promoting the public understanding of science, and we have helped to carry out several huge participatory experiments in the mass media. These experiments have employed the combined resources of BBC1's Tomorrow's World and The Daily Telegraph, reaching over 18 million people.

Our work has been featured on over two hundred television and radio programmes including QED, Horizon, Equinox, Science Now and Start The Week. We have also been invited to speak at The International Science Festival, the Festival of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, The Royal Society and The Royal Television Society.

Our latest project, the Mind Machine, represents a unique combination of research and public education, and is our most ambitious project to date.

Wednesday, March 07, 2001

Hunt for Africa's modern-day dinosaur begins

From Ananova at


An expedition has set off into the heart of Cameroon to hunt for the country's version of the Loch Ness monster.

The modern-day dinosaur is said to have a long neck and powerful tail - just like a small brontosaurus.

The group believe it is as big as an elephant and they have taken a BBC camera crew with them.

The mysterious beast is known around the Boumba river as Li'kela-bembe. It's said to eat fruit and beat crocodiles with its tail.

A US businessman is part-funding the expedition to back up his claims that man was on the Earth at the same time as the dinosaurs.

He told his local paper the Concord Monitor: "The odds are 75 to 80% that these types of creatures exist."

Larry King Live
Are Psychics for Real?

Aired March 6, 2001 - 9:00 p.m. ET



JOHN EDWARD, HOST, "CROSSING OVER": Somebody back here either passed in a war camp or somebody was killed during wartime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I had an aunt that died in a concentration camp.

EDWARD: Do you know the story about her? Do you know that she sacrificed herself for other people?


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, on his hit show he claims that he can talk to the other side. But are psychics for real? From New York, one of the hottest psychics in America, John Edward.

In Miami, Florida, Leon Jaroff, whose critical article on Edward just appeared in "TIME" magazine.

In Los Angeles, she says it runs in the family. Renowned psychic Sylvia Browne.

Also in L.A., bestselling author and self-described spiritual medium, James Van Praagh.

In Washington, he said they used psychics during investigations; former FBI hostage negotiator, Clint Van Zandt.

Also in D.C., Dale Graff, a scientist who says evidence shows psychics work.

And in Buffalo, New York, he investigates psychic claims, author, philosophy professor Paul Kurtz.

And in London, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, coauthor of "The Psychic and the Rabbi. They're all ahead.

We begin with John Edward, subject of this article in "TIME" magazine, "Talking to the Dead," by Leon Jaroff. Mr. Jaroff will be with us in a little while. Here is a sample of John Edward at work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) EDWARD: Many, many times when a child passes, I have seen that it puts a rift in relationships in families and he is telling me to thank you, because I feel like you did everything you possibly could, to help you, deal with this and talk about it. And it is usually other way around. It is normally the woman, and the mother, who is the person who is having to drag the father into seeing a therapist or to come do something like this. And I feel I want to thank you for him, for being so open to the energy that he expelled from there to help you guys get through this.


KING: That's from John Edward, a very successful show on the Sci-fi Network, which by the way, is going into syndication. Here is just a portion of the article by Jaroff in "TIME" magazine in which he says, writing about our guest: "It is a sophisticated form of the game 20 Questions, during which the subject, anxious to hear from dead, seldom realizes that he, not the medium or the departed, is supplying the answers."

That is from "TIME" magazine. John, were you upset over that article.

EDWARD: Was I upset? I don't think I was as upset as the people who work on the show and the people that actually have come to the show. I think it is insulting to the intelligence of the people in the audience, and I think it's insulting to the credibility and the integrity of everybody that works on show trying to do, and that's to help people understand that this is real.

KING: Well, the claim says there are a lot of setups in the audience. Questionnaires are filled out, bugging is used. They listen to people --they learn things in advance. When you have the thing wrong, they edit out things when you are wrong. All of that is wrong?

EDWARD: All of that is complete wrong -- completely wrong, and if the person had actually come to the show and maybe interviewed the people who work on the show, spend time with us at the show, maybe, interviewed me, asked me about what my process is or how this works, bring people on his own, for us to work with, you know, I mean I think that the show and myself would have been more than happy to do that for this guy or for "TIME" or for anybody. We just want to show that this is something that's real and credible.

Is the show edited? Absolutely. It's edited for time, not for content. Some of the readings that we do go on for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. It's only a half hour show. So, if you do the math, it's only logical that there are certain things that are not going to make it.

KING: He quotes a Michael O'Neil (ph), who attended one of your shows, and writes that O'Neil claims that his encounter on the show was edited and gave a false impression. Clips of him nodding "yes" spliced into the videotape about statements which he remembers disagreeing. Is O'Neil wrong? EDWARD: You know, I have to say that I would believe so, because I don't believe that they'd edit the show in that capacity. And again, I think that this is subjective to somebody's experience. And if somebody came to a show, and they were hoping to understand -- if they were hoping to hear from one person, and maybe they didn't, maybe they're disappointed, or maybe they just don't believe in it. I can't speak for, you know, Michael, I can only speak for myself.

KING: And there is no microphones in the audience where you picked up private conversations to learn things that you could use later?

EDWARD: Absolutely not. I mean, the information that comes through during any type of session -- or, actually, I should say this in a bigger, general way: the information that any medium brings through should be something that validates the person, and that is not something -- I mean, these are things that are, like, private personal things that people look at you sometimes and like, why would they say that? You know, something that's completely remote and obscure, but it's a validation of the person who is actually coming through.

It is not always about, you know, love and light, peace and new age fluffy stuff. It is to validate that the energy outside the physical body is still connected to the family that's here.

KING: How do you react to those magicians -- I guess Amazing Randy is the most famous of them -- who says that he can do what you do, and what he does is a trick?

EDWARD: I can't -- I can't. I mean, we're talking about somebody who has an adjective in fronts of their name. You know, it's like -- I can't even go there.

To me, this something that I do. It is my work. I do the best job I can. I say it all the time, I said here on your show -- I say it every time I step in front of an audience, I say it in my book, I say it on the show: sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong, but I get it.

And there is an interpretation to the process of what's coming through. Are there similarities in situations? Do people say, oh, it is a lot of this, and you get a lot of that? Well, yeah. How many letters are there in the alphabet? Twenty-six. How many words there are in the English language? A lot more than 26.

So, it is how those things come together that make the message for that person.

KING: Do you think, John, we'll be able to prove it?

EDWARD: Do I think -- you know, I think that to prove it, is a personal thing. It is like saying, prove God. If you have a belief system and you have faith, then there is nothing really more than that.

That's not to say that I don't think that skeptics and a skeptical mind-set is not positive, I think that you need to approach anything of this nature with a skeptical mind-set. This way, somebody is not taken advantage of.

And as long as validation is provided, that provides evidential information that there is a survival of consciousness.

KING: All right. We will take a break, come back, we'll meet our critics, the gentleman who wrote the article as well, other renowned psychics -- all -- by the way, all of these people have generally books out, except the "TIME" writer, and you can spot them at any bookstore. If we went through all the books, we would go out of our mind here.

But we will meet everybody right after this.


EDWARD: Is there anybody in your family that has a nickname "pig"?




EDWARD: Or someone known as, like, "Aunt Pig" or "Miss Piggy" or...


EDWARD: I said to myself there is no way this woman is going to acknowledge that. I said, there's like no way possible.


EDWARD: Funny that you are acknowledging it, or funny that I actually got that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God! My -- I can't even say it...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My nephew -- he used to call my mom "Miss Piggy."



KING: Now let's meet our entire panel. In New York, again, with us is John Edward. He'll be with us throughout the program, the subject of the article in "TIME."

Here in Los Angeles, Sylvia Browne, the world-renowned psychic who has appeared on many shows, including this one. Also in L.A. is James Van Praagh, the known spiritual medium who has also appeared on many shows, including this one.

In Buffalo, New York, is Paul Kurtz, professor of philosophy at the State University of New York in Buffalo. He publishes "The Skeptical Inquirer." In, I said Miami, I believe it's Boca Raton, Florida is Leon Jaroff, contributor to "TIME" magazine who wrote the critical article that we're discussing here tonight and in London is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, co-author of "The Psychic and the Rabbi." The co-author, by the way, is the famed Uri Geller.

Let's start with Leon Jaroff, who wrote the article. First, one of the things, you never attended a show yourself nor did you call Mr. Edward.

LEON JAROFF, "TIME" MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I tried to get in touch with people on the show, but I was told that John Edward does not respond to criticism. So, I did talk to the director of public relations of the show. By the way, Larry, I have written a book, too, but it's on a real subject, the human genome project. I thought I would throw that in.

KING: OK, and are you in Miami?

JAROFF: Yes, I'm in Miami now.

KING: OK, now, Leon, you're main complaint -- are you saying, in effect, that John Edward and people like him are frauds?

JAROFF: Yes. I'm will say two things. One, I think they're very good at what they do but I think that what they do is baloney.

KING: And it's baloney because?

JAROFF: It's baloney because they use a technique that had been known to magicians for years. It is called cold reading and then there are variations of it which are called warm reading and hot reading.

KING: This is like a preamble to getting the right answers to various things they...

JAROFF: That's correct, and if there is time, I can give you a couple of quick examples.

KING: Oh, there's is time. I'm going to have you do it in a while, but I want to get the reaction of the other panelists to your article. Sylvia, what did you make of it?

SYLVIA BROWNE, PSYCHIC: Well, I don't think he's done his homework very well because if, for instance, and I mean I never brag on myself, I found -- saved babies lives, found people that were dead, solved crimes, worked with FBI. How do you do that with cold reading when you don't even know the people? Work with police department, how is that possible?

KING: James, what did you think of the article?

JAMES VAN PRAAGH, SPIRITUAL MEDIUM: I didn't think very much of the article. It just was exactly what most articles about this sort of thing have been, from a skeptical point of view.

KING: It's easier to be skeptical.

VAN PRAAGH: It's based on someone who never had a reading with John, who never experienced the mediumship of John, so how can you talk about something you know nothing about.

KING: So, you tend to discount the article as well. You don't believe in cold readings, warm reading...

BROWNE: Well, what does somebody do one day, just decide to be a skeptic. I mean, I don't understand that. What do they do one day?

VAN PRAAGH: Larry, you know, if I...

KING: You should encourage skeptics, shouldn't you?

VAN PRAAGH: But the thing is also if you understood the mechanics of mediumship, you'd understand that when a medium is working, they are very intent on listening to spirit. There is no way that they can recall what someone is saying or someone's face when they're not even listening or looking there. They're really listening intently to what they're getting from spirit.

KING: Rabbi, what did you make of the article?

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH, AUTHOR, "THE PSYCHIC AND THE RABBI": Well, Larry, I'm very skeptical of anyone who claims to speak to the dead for one main reason: It's like aliens and the belief extraterrestrial life. Why do they always land somewhere in the Mojave Desert with some hazy photograph? Why don't they land in Times Square where they can just -- we can verify their existence?

All of these readings seem to only revolve around the emotional. Don't feel bad, your relative loves you. Don't feel guilty. What about the intellectual? I want to hear just one of the psychics today tell me when is there going to be the next bus bombing in Tel Aviv so we can avoid going on that bus. Or how about the next earthquake in some Third World country so tens of thousands of people don't die? And if any of them, if John, if Sylvia, if James can just tell us even one of those things, they can refute all of the skeptics.

But I think that any kind of religion that focuses on the future and takes us away from the natural can be -- it's unhealthy.

KING: You wrote a book with Uri Geller. Do you believe Uri Geller is a magician or a psychic?

BOTEACH: Well, Uri is a very good friend. I think Uri has this power to sort of do things with material object like bending spoons, but I always say to him it's utterly immaterial to me, and our book really focuses around this conflict between traditional spirituality versus new age spirituality. I do believe he can do the things that he does because he's done them in my house 10,000 times and all of my guests now sort of sip soup through a straw because I have no spoons left. But that doesn't affect any -- he doesn't make prediction and he doesn't really exploit this power to make money off it or anything like that

KING: And you don't buy communication with the dead?

BOTEACH: I believe that religion is supposed to get us to be focused on this world, mastering relationships, being better parents, better husbands, more ethical in business, not telling us what happens in the afterlife. In fact, I even think that's quite dangerous.

I don't want to be pulled to the heavens. You know, we're supposed to be focused here on Earth. But I just issue this simple challenge to the psychics, just tell us anything that can help preserve life on this planet sometime in this program.

KING: John, do you ever foresee tomorrow?

EDWARD: Sometimes, some of the information comes through during a session that will actually help somebody avoid something, that could be health care related. It might actually help somebody -- it actually will bring a family together.

KING: That means it's preordained or you can change it?

EDWARD: No, I actually believe that God gave us free will. So, for me I think...


KING: Well, than what -- if you see something you can prevent, what did you see if you prevent it?

EDWARD: It's likes the weather. You know, if somebody gives you the option of whether or not you want to take the umbrella, it's your choice. Do you want to get wet or not? To me, I feel like we are individuals. We have our individual belief systems. We either choose to have a belief system or we choose not to. It's a personal choice.

KING: Leon, does any of this at all amaze you when you hear some of the things that these people can do?

JAROFF: Well, yes, I'm constantly amazed. As a matter of fact, I was the first one in this country to demonstrate that Uri Geller was a fraud. Excuse me, rabbi, for saying that, but this was, what 20, 25 years ago, when he first came to this country. We did a story...

KING: But are you ever -- you're saying a fraud in that he was a magician, as Randy said...

JAROFF: Oh, yes, I think Uri Geller is a very skilled magician. I don't think he has any paranormal powers.

KING: Let me take a break, come back and pick up right where we are. I'll try to get everybody in on the discussion. I realize we have a lot of guests. We'll also, hopefully, check in with Paul Kurtz as well. Don't go away.


KING: Let's check with Paul Kurtz, now, in snowy Buffalo, New York. He is chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and publisher of "The Skeptical Inquirer." What do you make of what you've heard so far, Paul?

PAUL KURTZ, "THE SKEPTICAL INQUIRER": Well, I think the claims are preposterous. The American public, I think, deserves to hear the other point of view. Now, I'm a skeptic. Namely, I have open mind. If someone makes a claim, an extraordinary claim, then we ask for evidence of the facts.

And there are no facts to support this. What we're faced with are psychic sharks, like card sharks, sleight of hand, sleight of mind. They're using methods of deception to confuse poor people who have suffered death and are bereaved and I think this is not only false, but also immoral.

KING: Paul, what if John Edward or James could tell you something about someone in your family that's passed on?

KURTZ: Well, I think they either would do it by means of a cold reading. Namely, in an open area they would go fishing for information and then hit on something or by a hot reading, as Leon Jaroff mentioned. Namely, they do try to find information about people who come to them and then give...

KING: I mean, what if they could do it right now?

KURTZ: Do it right now? Well, they may have looked me up in "Who's Who," but go right ahead. Let's try it.

KING: So, whatever they said wouldn't impress you. If they said your grandfather's name was Phil and he died of a hemorrhage, that wouldn't impress you because they could have read that somewhere?

KURTZ: Well, if it's very specific. Usually, it's general. If it's specific, it's because they did some study before.

VAN PRAAGH: Larry, I want to say that it's wonderful, these people, because number one, his mind is already made up, OK. And also, this goes along with the other absurdities from his group. Michael Shermer (ph) once said in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that I actually had a computer system wired to every single home in the United States. So, I thought that's pretty good. CIA, move over because...

KING: James, do you see something in Paul's...

VAN PRAAGH: I wouldn't even attempt...

KING: See, that looks like a copout. Why not attempt? VAN PRAAGH: Why not? First of all, I don't need to prove anything to that man, And why would I even attempt to go there when I've proven myself over years and years through thousands and thousands of readings?

You know, the American people are not that gullible. There are millions and millions of people out there. Now, listen, if we're not real, then why does the people buying these books? Watch the TV shows?

KING: Because they...


KING: Well, the answer, sometimes, is, Sylvia, is they want to believe.

BROWNE: That's exactly right. But I want to want to tell him...

KING: They want to believe that the dead are here.

BROWNE: But I want to tell him, and of course, it's kind of a -- a delicate subject, but I want to tell him that he has to watch out for his prostate area because he does have a problem, and he's going deaf in his right ear.


KING: You're laughing, Paul.

KURTZ: That's very funny. Any man -- I don't have a prostate problem, but any man of my age generally would have a prostate problem.

BROWNE: No, I know lots of men that don't have prostate problems.

KURTZ: OK. Well -- so that is -- that is a general guess.

BROWNE: Well, get a PSA count, anyway.

KURTZ: Larry, also, you have to understand what Paul will do. He'll rationalize every single thing, even if it makes sense --

BROWNE: And that's not an open-minded...


KING: Shouldn't a religious person believe that the dead are there?

BOTEACH: Yes, but the question is: What's the use of communicating with them, and how do we know that we're actually communicating with someone that's passed on?

KING: But if you do believe that the dead go on, Rabbi, why do you believe that John can't talk to them?

BOTEACH: Aren't you a bit surprised that the only message that the dead seem to be able to give to us is someone had a nickname Miss Piggy? And they can only tell us that, you know, I had a heart condition? For goodness sake, if that's the case, then, no pun intended, to hell with them. Why would I even want to communicate with them to know about things that existed here on Earth?

I mean, I would think that if someone is up there in the cosmos, unrestrained by the constraints of the body, they could tell us about the great secrets of existence, where is God, and how can we better human life.

Instead, they're telling us things like, "I choked on a chicken bone and I'm here to tell you that I don't hold you accountable for serving me that soup."

KING: That's a fair point.

PRAAGH: That's not true because, obviously, he has not been to many readings.

BROWNE: That's right.

PRAAGH: Because the majority of readings, people come through with messages of forgiveness, and: I'm sorry I did this, I wish I could do better. I love you more. I wish I could have demonstrated love more. We learn so much from people that have passed on about love and forgiveness how to live a better life on this earth.

KING: What about God, though?

PRAAGH: But how to live a better life on this earth.

KING: Do they know about God? Do they know God? Do they tell you what God...

BROWNE: Absolutely. That's what my books are about. That they do know God.

PRAAGH: God is pure love.

BROWNE: Apparently they haven't done their research.

KING: Let me get a break and we'll get Leon and John back into things. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: Leon Jaroff, years ago I had the honor of interviewing J.D. Rein, professor at Duke University, who invented the term "ESP" and told me it was just in its beginning stages; he worked a lot with cards. He did believe that some people had much more of an intuitive nature than others. Do you believe that?

JAROFF: I certainly do, I certainly do. But I don't go as far as to say that intuition allows you to foretell events, to be clairvoyant, to be clair-anything.

KING: Do you believe it's possible, Leon, that the dead are around, are in spirit form and can communicate; or do you believe that is impossible?

JAROFF: Well, I think it isn't true. I think that a death has a certain finality to it. And for that reason, we all ought to live it up while we can.

KING: Now, John, how do you react when you hear something like that, since a lot of people -- no one's ever met a dead person?

EDWARD: I met a lot of dead people. Actually, I like the dead people sometimes more than the living people. I don't know. I just -- I just -- I think that Mr. Jaroff is entitled to his belief, but I think in all fairness to not just me the show but anybody who watches the show -- anybody who does this type of work, I would like to know how he defines journalism to be quite honest.

JAROFF: Larry, I have a question for John, if I may.


JAROFF: Your nemesis, John, and the nemesis of Sylvia and Jane's is James Randy. James Randy has a standing $1 million challenge and that challenge is to anyone -- and I think he has given that challenge to all three of you, that anyone -- anyone who can -- can agree to a test with Randy, and show him in this test -- and the terms of this test would be agreeable to both parties. Show him -- prove to him that you have these abilities, you will get $1 million. And I know for a fact that the $1 million is available, and...

KING: All right, the question then, John, is, why wouldn't you automatically do this test?

EDWARD: Well, that is actually a logical thing: Would I allow myself and put the integrity of everybody that I've worked with and their experience in the hands of somebody who is a magician who gets paid to be a skeptic? Or would I do what I have done, along with a number of other mediums, go out to the University of Arizona, work with Dr. Gary Schwartz of the Human Energy Systems Laboratory, and allow myself to go through a series of three tests that are documented. And if Randy would like to make the check out, I'm sure Gary would love to cash it.

JAROFF: Dr. Gary Schartz believes in the Tooth Fairy, he believes in UFOs, he believes in levitation, he believes in, as I say, the Tooth Fairy. So he is not a credible scientist.

KING: Why wouldn't you take this challenge, James?

BROWNE: I have never been offered this challenge.

KING: You would take it?

BROWNE: I would take the challenge. I have tried to run around the table -- ran way from me.

KING: She will meet with Randy and take the challenge.

BROWNE: He ran way from me.

VAN ZANDT: Larry, Randy has a history of setting people up -- with, I know a few years ago, there was an aura reader. He had her on the show; everything was set; and five minutes before, he changed the lighting in the studio, he will manipulate things around.

KING: If you're communicating with the dead, how could he manipulate that?

VAN ZANDT: There are certain standards of what he'll accept as a reading. If you don't go by his -- what he accepts in that contract, then...

KING: So then argue with him.


BROWNE: I don't care about the million dollars; I just think -- you see, we are talking about him being a magician, and we are psychics.

KING: OK, let me get -- but that doesn't mean you can't answer questions.

BROWNE: No, absolutely.

KING: We will take a break. When we come back, we will talk to a physicist and a former FBI investigator, get their views on psychics, then come back with our panel, bring the rabbi back in from London, take some calls as well. Don't go away.


KING: We are now going to break away from the panel and spend time with two distinguished gentlemen. In Washington, Clint Van Zandt, FBI's former chief hostage negotiator. He negotiated with David Koresh in Waco standoff. Twenty-five years of the FBI, was the profiler with the FBI before retiring, now runs Van Zandt & Associates.

And Dale Graff, also in Washington, physicist -- worked with the Department of Defense as a physicist for 30 years. Worked on the Stargate program.

All right, Clint, you have heard the first half, now what are your thoughts on psychics and crime?

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI CHIEF HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR AND PROFILER: Well, OK, Larry, one of the first things a psychic asks a law enforcement officer to do is take your reason and logic and set it aside. That is awfully hard for someone in law enforcement to do, because that's what you spend your whole life doing. As a rookie FBI agent, I went to interview a fellow in jail. I asked -- I asked the guard, I said, "Would you search him?" He said: "I don't have to search him. He has been in jail two days." I said, "Search him anyway." He searched him and he found a knife. I said, "What were you going to do with that knife?" and he kind of smiled at me.

Well, that wasn't psychic, there was just something about this guy that bothered me. But as an FBI agent, you know, you have to keep your mind open, and I'm not going say I'm a skeptic. I would listen if somebody could help solve a crime, Larry.

When I was in Waco, dealing with David Koresh, and a psychic sent a letter in and said: If you say the word -- I think it was Beelzebub -- to David Koresh, he will come out. I read the letter, I got a three-by-five card and I wrote that word on 3-by-5 card, and I shoved it in front of the face of the negotiator talking to David Koresh on the phone.

The negotiator says: "What am I supposed to do with this?" I said, "Use the word in the sentence." He said, "I don't know how to." I said: "Make up a sentence." So we did, and we used it.

I would have loved David Koresh to come marching out with those little kids behind him, Larry, but it didn't happen. And there were situations where we have tried, and it didn't happen.

But if you exhaust law enforcement investigation, if you exhaust psychological profiling, if the victim's family or the police say, "I would like to try a psychic," I would say, anything that can help, and anything that would help a victim's family, I would not stand in the way.

KING: Dale Graff, where do you stand? You worked on Stargate, that was the -- looking at the Russian program, right?

DALE GRAFF, RETIRED MILITARY PHYSICIST: No, the Stargate program was a U.S. program. It also looked at Soviet work too, but Stargate was a research and applications program that looked at the phenomenon that we call remote viewing, which is an aspect of extrasensory perception, the ability that some people have to describe a remote scene, even thousands of miles away.

So, my take on the whole issue that we're talking about tonight is -- I can very easily accept that the phenomenon is real. I spent 30 years working on it, exploring it, researching it, applying it. It exists. But the problem is -- how do you interpret it? How do you actually put into it practice?

Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But it's there, and it is real, and it cannot be shoveled away by skeptics that say it is not real.

KING: So, what, Dale, is real to you? The psychic can do what? You are a physicist, what can the psychic do that there is no law of physics dealing with it, is there? GRAFF: This is one of the issues, and I can understand why this skeptical community is coming at the phenomenon very hard. Because there is no clear known physical law that -- electromagnetics or whatever -- that can clearly explain how this phenomenon works.

But as a scientist, you have to look at the data and not get too locked up as to whether or not it fits the known paradigm. The data actually speaks for itself. There is something to it, and the challenge to the physicist and to anybody else is, well, how can you explain it? What new models of reality are out there?

How can this work? Instead of shoveling it away and saying, there is nothing to it -- which is a cop-out -- we should say: "How does it work? What is the key to understanding this?"

KING: Clint, to your knowledge, have they been used in the solution of crimes?

VAN ZANDT: I have seen law enforcement try a lot of times, Larry. When I have seen them participate in the solution of a crime, my experience and experience of my colleagues is that it is usually been some type of vague information, like a kidnapped victim was kidnapped somewhere up along Great Lakes, and we have been told you'll find the victim buried near a body of water. Well, you know, we understand the Great Lakes are a body of water.

My experience has been more that information has been developed, and the profilers that I have talked to -- and my 25 years is that we have been open to it, we have listened to them, and I know there are people who will say, well, we have been a consultant to the FBI. But as far as seeing a case solved, a kidnapped victim recovered, either dead or alive, based solely on the information of a psychic, no.

But again, a psychic -- if they are real, and if they contributed, it should be like a profiler providing investigative assistance, and law enforcement solves it.

KING: It can be asset. And, Dale, do you believe we are going to learn more about it?

GRAFF: Oh, absolutely. The key is we have to go ahead with research programs involving neuroscience, physics, and actually do the stuff. If we ignore it, we will never learn anything about it. And there are too many people out there in the listening community, in the viewing community, that know exactly what I'm talking about.

KING: Thank you both very much. Clint Van Zandt of the FBI, Dale Graff of Department of Defense, both formerly with their respective agencies.

We will come back. We'll include your phone calls for our panel, we will re-introduce the panel quickly as well. Don't go away.


KING: Let's re-introduce the panel. In New York is the famed medium John Edward.

In Los Angeles, equally famed Sylvia Browne, and in Los Angeles, equally famed -- we spare no differences here -- James Van Praagh.

In Buffalo, New York, Paul Kurtz of the State University of New York at Buffalo. In Miami, Florida is Leon Jaroff of "TIME" magazine who wrote the article critical of all of this.

And in London, a critic as well: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of -- who wrote the book with Uri Geller.

We are going to include phone calls, and what we are going to do with the calls is -- we'll have a reading, and then after the reading, have our critics analyze what the reading was. And by the way, you did say, did you not, Sylvia, that you found a kidnapped child?

BROWNE: Oh, absolutely, a lot of them. On Montel's show. I mean, I've...

KING: You've named the child, the incident...

BROWNE: Named the child, the incident, and found that lost child, and cracked the ski mask murder, and the World Trade Center, with Gunderson (ph).

KING: Rabbi, are you as open to it as our physicist friend?

BOTEACH: To be sure, I believe in the spiritual realm, but I'm skeptical of any religion that pulls us away from this Earth and into the higher realms. I think that a real religion tries to find a miraculous in the natural, and the extraordinary in the ordinary, and the unique in the everyday.

It is like being married -- this is like an affair, it is too passionate. And it's so elitist -- it's like we have these psychics -- they are the ones we have to rely on.

KING: Well, he asked what -- what is a prayer?

VAN ZANDT: What are prayers about? What do we pray to God for? What are prayers about, then? I don't understand what that comes to.

BOTEACH: Prayer is about people communicating directly through God. It's not elitist, it's not specifically through a psychic, and prayer is trying to bring God to this Earth.

VAN ZANDT: Where is God located?

BOTEACH: God is everywhere. I don't need to communicate with the dead in order to find him.

VAN ZANDT: Perhaps God is within every single person.

KING: Let me get a call. Santa Fe, New Mexico. Hello.

CALLER: Hello. My question is for Sylvia Browne, both of my parents have been adopted. I was wondering if we can get some information for my mother's mother maybe. If she is still alive, if we can find her, or not.

KING: You were adopted?

CALLER: No, my mother.

BROWNE: Her mother.

KING: Was adopted.

CALLER: Both my mother and my father were both adopted; we don't have any family history from my mother and father.

BROWNE: The name Burgess, B-U-R-G-E-S-S. And I don't know if there's an "es" on it. But it looks like they could be in and around -- at least the father is there -- in and around Memphis.

CALLER: Memphis.


KING: Can you explain quickly before we have someone comment, what you saw or heard there?

BROWNE: I don't know; it comes from God; I have been this way all my life. It just comes...

KING: You heard a name -- someone say Burgess.

BROWNE: It came into -- it just -- I just opened my mouth.

KING: Did someone say Memphis?

BROWNE: No, God. I believe it comes from God.

KING: Paul, what did you make of what she just said?

KURTZ: I don't know if this funny or sad. I mean, she is engaged in guesswork. She is claiming that she has a direct pipeline to some spirit guide. I mean, this is really unusual, extraordinary, bizarre. Now...

BROWNE: Who do you have a pipeline to?

KURTZ: I should point out that the scientific community has been investigating these claims for a century and a half, it can find no hard evidence that people can communicate with the dead. No hard evidence that psychics can help detectives. And I must say I'm also skeptical about remote viewing. I think there is a physical universe. You can explain it in terms of the laws of science without bringing in the hocus-pocus...

KING: You discount the physicist?

KURTZ: Yeah, well, there are physicists and physicists. The CIA -- the CIA abandoned the remote viewing tests in 1995. And the report was issued that they are inconclusive, insufficient evidence.

KING: Let's try another question, then. We'll have Williston, Vermont. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. My question is for James Van Praagh.

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: I would like him to tell me about my brother-in-law who has passed.

VAN PRAAGH: I don't know. What's his first name please?

CALLER: Peter.

VAN PRAAGH: Peter, I feel -- what is his last name?

CALLER: Reinhart.

VAN PRAAGH: OK. For some reason, I feel like his throat condition -- something with his throat -- a breathing problem -- there was something there I am feeling with him. I feel, before he passed over -- right around the time he passed over, also, there was a separation from family, or he did not -- there wasn't a coming together. There was either an argument that happened or there was something that separated him from the other part of the family.

OK. I also feel there were people around him he couldn't trust. So whatever that means. I also want to ask -- tattoo with this guy, a tattoo but seeing that very clearly. I also see him around you, but there is also a baby born after he died, and there was talk -- there was something about a baby being born after he passed over.

KING: Ma'am, is any of that clear to you?

CALLER: No, I have to say it really isn't. I have no...

KING: Does that mean, James, you missed on this one?

VAN PRAAGH: I -- as I said what Sylvia said, I'm hearing what I'm hearing with the name. So at the time I'm given the information, she might not recall this or it might not make sense now, might not be interpreting it correctly. But this is what I'm hearing so I'm just conveying to you, what I'm hearing.

KING: And Leon, what do you make of that?

JANOFF: Well, I think Mr. Van Praagh could just as easily have said, as many mediums do say -- by the way, is the plural of mediums, media?

Anyway, he could just as easily have said, I sensed that he died of some problem in the chest. Now that would include heart attack, emphysema, lung cancer, or practically anything else, even an auto accident, because the heart would stop. And this is what these people do. And... VAN PRAAGH: I would only relay that if that is information I was given. Otherwise, I would not give that information out, so...

KING: It seems, I mean, it does seem weird. This person calls from Vermont, asks you in Los Angeles to pick up someone who is gone. We don't know where that person died.

VAN PRAAGH: Also you have to understand the interpretation of the information coming through, how we receive these things; it is not language like we hear to each other: hello, how are you today, it is very quick pieces of information. It's feeling, it is sensing things. It is not very verbal, hello.

KING: Is the spirit around her or around you?

VAN PRAAGH: No, the spirit would be around her. So, and sometimes, perhaps I speak to someone but that person isn't there, but someone else might be there.

BROWNE: That is right. You might not be able to get ahold of -- Aunt Harriet but you'll be able to get ahold of Uncle Henry.

KING: Rabbi, supposing it isn't right, is there any danger in this?

BOTEACH: Of course.

KING: What?

BOTEACH: First of all, it makes us focus on a realm which is really unimportant. We have husbands and wives who never speak over a dinner table at a restaurant; now we're speaking about relatives in the afterlife. For goodness stakes.

Let's say, for example, everything that James said was correct, there was a tattoo, there was a baby. Don't you see how banal this information is? Who really cares? It's like saying I had dinner last night. Of what practical value is any of this. This is nothing but escapism, it's fantasy, it's like watching a movie.

I have yet to see the practical value of any of this, of how it makes me into better person, more connected to God, more spiritual or indeed more ethical.

VAN PRAAGH: Let me answer that by saying this: As I said earlier, if information comes through, supports life after death, that we live on after we pass out of the physical body, and in that way, it teaches us how to act on the Earth, to be better people by living our lives, how we treat one another, if it helps support love with one another, isn't that a good thing? Isn't that what you propose to do with your religion?

BROWNE: I can't understand...

BOTEACH: The way we learn...

KING: Hold on! Let her say something.

BROWNE: It's just really amazing to me that the Bible -- Samuel and Saul is all based on biblical text, what you going to do, just wipe out the Bible now? Because that is prophecy.

KING: I'll have you respond in a second, Rabbi, then will take a call for John Edward as well. This is LARRY KING LIVE; don't go away.


KING: Rabbi, do you want you to respond on a biblical level and I will take another call?

BOTEACH: The Bible beautifully deals with cold hard truth like, don't commit adultery and don't steal. It tries to get to us to create heaven here on Earth so that we don't reject the Earth in favor of the heavens.

And the reason why all of this is dangerous is, in the same way that no one can read my mind because that is my zone of privacy, that is what makes me into an individual, the same thing is true. We are supposed to focus here on curing cancer, not finding out why someone died of cancer, what they now think of us.

I don't think we should be comforted through death. On the contrary, we're supposed to combat it, we're supposed to defeat it, because we are supposed to embrace life. I don't like people who are chasing the dead.

I also find this very elitist, that there is this group of psychics, that we need them in order to communicate with God. I mean, for goodness sake. I'm a rabbi, but anyone can be a rabbi. You need to take a couple of tests and you need to be Jewish -- OK, but aside from that, I have no special powers that anyone else has. This is going back to class systems...

BROWNE: Nor do we. Nor do we.

VAN PRAAGH: We don't have that.

BROWNE: And I'm a Jewish woman and I can take a few classes and maybe be a female rabbi, so what? That is still -- rabbi still exemplifies that the book of Job where they have Samuel and Saul because I'm a biblical scholar.

KING: One more call. Kennesaw, Georgia -- hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. My question is for John Edward.

KING: Yes.

CALLER: I would like to know what she can tell me about my grandma Marion. I believe, however, I'm a little bit skeptical -- I would also like to inquire about my mom's younger brother, Phil, and also...

KING: Hold on. We've got a lot -- let's just deal with the two.

BROWNE: Yes, just one.

EDWARD: Actually, you know, if, if I was to make a connection with you, like James and Sylvia were saying, whenever we open up to do this you're opening yourself up to the energy of everybody that's around you. And you never know who is actually going to come through during that process.

And there is a, there's a certain type of symbolic nature of things that come through. And I'm just, not answering your question just because I to want to comment on what happened with James earlier.

Just because she called, that other woman called up, to ask about Pete or Peter, her brother-in-law, James opened up and he got information, and automatically that woman was trying to say, "Well, no that doesn't make sense for my brother-in-law. But what we don't know is if that made sense for her father, or if it made sense for something that was more directly related. Just so, I just needed to say that because I didn't get a chance to before. Umm...

KING: On this person?

EDWARD: No, I'm not get anything on her.

KING: Not getting anything at all. Does that happen a lot, John?

EDWARD: Oh, sure. Absolutely. You know, it's like a medium's not an operator. We can't dial direct. You know, it's not like you go, "hold on, let me get somebody on the line."


BROWNE: You know, all, the only thing I got, because I thought it was directed towards John, I just kept feeling absinthe, there was something about an absinthe. But I wasn't included in it so I just didn't...

PRAAGH: I just want to comment also, along with John, it isn't a switch that you can turn on and off. And some of the information that comes through, many times, you have go home, later the person will say, "Oh, yes, that makes sense. Oh, yes." They call a relative, "Yes, that is true." So those things happen all the time.

BROWNE: Or after the show they'll come up and tell you.

KING: Let me get a break and we'll get some thoughts from everyone.

By the way, Bernie Shaw will be with us on Thursday night. Walter Cronkite on Friday. That's two pretty good news men back-to- back, both now retired.

We'll be right back.


KING: One more quick call. Port Saint Lucie, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Hi, how are you.


CALLER: I just wanted to say, I've read everyone's books except for John's and they're wonderful. They helped me out a lot.

I had a question to ask John Edward. I was wondering why in the gallery do you not flooded with spirits from everyone that's in there, or is it a higher spirit?

KING: Yes, where do they all come from, John?

EDWARD: That's a Great question. What happens when I'm standing in front of any, any group of people whether it's one person or 300, is that you are flooded by their energies and it's the loudest one that gets through.

And what will happen is as a medium I'll get a pull to a certain area, and then usually, and again if anybody watches the show, or if anybody watches any medium that's legitimate do this, there's no game of 20 questions. It's a game that's not nonexistent. It's a matter of providing information, and facts, and then asking that person if they understand it, period.

KING: Paul Kurtz, do you believe that most people don't agree with you? That most people believe in the psychics? This is a guess. We haven't polled the world.

KURTZ: Well, I think the American population is split on this. A number of people do, but there is a great deal of skepticism. Look, we have self proclaimed gurus who say they have these powers, who say that they can connect into spiritual evidence, but that has not been verified. And there's no evidence that there is spiritual evidence. This would violate laws of physics. And if we accept...

BROWNE: Paul, who put you...


KURTZ: ... universe, that we ought to listen to science, and science says no, inconclusive, not proven.


BROWNE: I want to know who appointed you, Paul?

KURTZ: No one appointed me. I'm talking about objectivity of science on which the modern world is based.


BROWNE: I mean, did you one day decide to get up and decide there's nothing else to do, so I think I'll be skeptical?

KURTZ: It's not a subjective test. We want hard evidence. And it seems to me that you've presented nothing but your own claims which are -- have not been supported.

BROWNE: Well, apparently you haven't read enough about us, have you.

KURTZ: I've read your books, and we have investigated these claims, and you give natural psychological deceptive techniques that you are using.

BROWNE; What, finding bodies, and World Trade Center with Ted Gunderson and all that? I couldn't figure that out?

KURTZ: Well, but again, you throw out these wild claims that you've done this, have done that, they don't hold up under scrutiny.

KING: Leon, do you think most people know, the question was, do you think most people agree with the psychics rather than with the skeptics.

JAROFF: Well, I don't know whether most people do. I think a very large percentage of our population does. By the way, I have a quick question for Sylvia if we have time, just very quickly.

KING: Go, quick.

JAROFF: All right. On the Bill Bixby show about 10 years ago, Sylvia was supposed to do readings on group. But the stipulation was that the group could only answer "yes" or "no" to her questions. And she flunked miserably.

BROWNE: And they were all German, and they couldn't understand one word I said. And that was a setup, as you well know.

JAROFF: No, it wasn't a setup.

BROWNE: Oh, it was. Ron Lion (ph) even said so later.

JAROFF: The people were only allowed to answer "yes" or "no"...


BROWNE: And I couldn't even talk to Randy because he kept running away from me.


JAROFF: Therefore you could elicit no information from them, for that reason.

BROWNE: Because they couldn't speak English. I found that afterwards They were all Germanic.

KING: James. BROWNE: That was the funniest part.


PRAAGH: I just want to sat that it's interesting that these people here are in the business to destroy and destruct, while we are here to heal people and to help people grow. And these people, you have to look very carefully at what these people, their jobs are. They are hear to destroy.

KING: Well the Rabbi isn't here to destroy. The writer isn't. Why are they here? They're to investigate or be skeptics. I mean, that's...

PRAAGH: OK, let's hear the skeptics then, Psy-cops, whatever. They're just here to destroy people. They're not here to encourage people, to enlighten people. They're here to destroy people.

KING: Thank you all very much. We promise to do more on this. It is a fascinating subject.

John Edward, Sylvia Browne, James Van Praagh, Paul Kurtz, Leon Jaroff, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and we thank him for staying up so late in London.

You can check into our own Website. You might have opinions on this program. You might have questions. We can send them off to our guests. Log on to my Website and e-mail us your show ideas, anything, cnn.com/larryking. We'd love to hear from you.

Bernie Shaw, Thursday night, Walter Cronkite, Friday. Stay tuned now for CNN tonight.

I'm Larry King for all of our guests. I know you. Good night.

AT www.fdch.com

Chiropractors treat infants and children, and most of what they do to them is quackery.

They use illegal and unlicensed devices to diagnose and treat a variety of childhood illnesses. Some of their diagnoses - including misaligned vertebrae, childhood osteo-arthritis and unequal leg lengths - are bogus. And the treatments they use to correct these so-called problems - spinal adjustment by hand or machine - are useless.


Can Intercessory Prayer Heal?
A debate at the University of Missouri - Columbia

Kevin Christopher, CSICOP Public Relations Director
Phone: (716) 636-1425 ext. 224

For Directions:
Patrick Kline, MU-Columbia CFA President
Phone: (573) 875-5424

Amherst, NY (March 6, 2001)--Dr. William Harris, professor of medicine at the University of Missouri at Kansas City will debate Irwin Tessman, Skeptical Inquirer contributor and professor of biological sciences at Purdue University, on the evidence for medical prayer. The first-of-its-kind debate, entitled "Is There Scientific Evidence That Intercessory Prayer Speeds Medical Recovery?" will be held on March 13th, 2001, at 7:00 p.m. in the Middlebush Auditorium on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus in Columbia, MO.

The debate, co-sponsored by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) is part of an annual series sponsored by the Campus Freethought Alliance. For directions to the event or other questions about the venue, contact Patrick Kline, President of the MU Freethought Alliance by e-mail at or by phone at 573-875-5424.

In 1999 Harris and his research colleagues published a paper titled "A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit" in the Archives of Internal Medicine (1999 Oct 25;159(19):2273-8). In it they concluded that "[r]emote, intercessory prayer was associated with lower CCU course scores. This result suggests that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care."

Irwin Tessman criticized procedures and conclusions of Harris et al. in an article co-authored by Jack Tessman for the March/April 2001 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, titled "Efficacy of Medical Prayer: A Critical Examination of Claims." They conclude that Harris' tests fail to show any significant benefit for intercessory prayer and claim, in fact, that the results of one of the tests contradicts the previous medical prayer research of Randolph C. Byrd-most recently, "Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population," published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine (3 (6): 87-91, November 1997).

Irwin Tessman holds a Ph.D. from Yale. His primary areas of scientific research are the molecular genetics of DNA repair, mutagenesis, recombination, and transposition in viruses and bacteria, and the evolution of altruism by natural selection.

William S. Harris holds the endowed Chair in Metabolism and Vascular Biology at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. He took a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota. In addition, he serves as the Director of the Lipoprotein Research Laboratory at Saint Luke's Hospital.

New UFO Filmed Over Popo Volcano

By Santiago Yturria
2001-Santiago Yturria All Rights Reserved

Hi Jeff,

The ufo activity over the mexican volcano Popocatepetl recently erupted continues attracting the attention of the people here in Mexico.


Demonic possession 'soaring' in Brazil

From Ananova at


A self-ordained priest has claimed demand for exorcisms is soaring in Brazil as demonic possession is on the rise.

Father Jader Pereira carries out services at his Renewed Apostolic Church in Sao Paulo to the theme tune of the horror film Omen.

He says after services members of his congregation collapse in spasms and some are taken to the alter as they are exorcised.

The church, which is not linked to the Roman Catholic Church that is well-known for performing exorcisms, was founded by his father, around 30 years ago.

Father Pereira said: "Man has lost his way, forgotten God. That's why there are so many demons among us. Every day I see more and more people seeking exorcism."

Worshippers are sold 'special' candles made by the church, which allegedly help solve problems, including cases of demonic possession.

Father Pereira added: "Possession can manifest itself in a number of ways, anything from a headache that won't go away to a bad day at work. The number of evil spirits among us can mean only one thing - Judgement Day is coming."

Tuesday, March 06, 2001

Man believed abducted by aliens is back home

From Ananova at


A Malaysian man, whose family claimed was abducted by aliens, has returned home after 11 days.

Yabi Gintukod walked out of the forest to his stilt house in Kampung Kepayan Baru.

Doctors found him physically well and have referred him for psychiatric treatment.

But he keeps his eyes closed most of the time and communicates only with his wife Mainis Gumpat in sign language.

Yabi is currently under observation in the district hospital ward, reports The Star newspaper.

"I thank God he is back. I thank everyone who helped in the search for my husband," said Mainis, who reported to police that her husband vanished in front of her eyes after dinner.

Keningau district police chief Deputy Supt Abdul Hadi Baharudin said: "We are happy that he was found. We don't know why he left or where he went but he seemed to have returned the same way he left."

Yabi, who's 45, was wearing the same trousers and shirt he was last seen in.

Yabi's disappearance caused a stir and some 700 villagers in the district mounted a search for him while bomohs and other mediums were brought in to communicate with "his soul."

Monday, March 05, 2001

Alternative Medicine

The Tucson Citizen, Feb. 24, 2001


As the popularity of homeopathy grows worldwide, this alternative approach to healing remains largely unproven by conventional medical standards and just beyond the fringe of acceptance in the United States.

A small but important federal grant recently awarded to a Tucson doctor and her Phoenix collaborator could be a first step toward changing that.

The $250,000 grant is one of the few ever made by the National Institutes of Health to study homeopathic medicine, said Dr. Iris Bell, director of research for the University of Arizona's Program in Integrative Medicine.

She is principal investigator for the study. Her main partner is Dr. Todd Rowe, director of the Desert Institute of Classical Homeopathy in Phoenix.


The study will evaluate homeopathy's effectiveness in treating fibromyalgia, a mysterious disease marked by chronic fatigue and pain. There is no definitive treatment for it in conventional medicine.

Another significant part of the study will be to set standards and methods for future studies of homeopathy, the difficulty of which can't be understated because every homeopathic remedy is specific to the individual being treated, Bell said.


A third element of the research will be to look for objective measures to use to predict who will do well with homeopathic therapy.


The lack of scientific proof for homeopathy's methods and success has been a major stumbling block to its acceptance in conventional Western medicine.

But that hasn't stopped it from becoming one of the world's most popular forms of alternative or complementary treatment.

"There are 250 forms of alternative medicine in the world today, and in terms of the most commonly practiced in the world today, homeopathy is No. 2, herbal medicine is No. 1, and acupuncture is No. 3," Rowe said.

Homeopathy is on par with conventional medicine in Belgium and also is widely used in Germany, France, England, India and many Latin American countries, Bell said.

"It just has a political problem here," Bell added.

Over the past decade, however, that problem - a perception that homeopathic medicine is little more than quackery - has run headfirst into the reality that American people are enormously interested in it and other forms of alternative medicine.

A 1998 Journal of the American Medical Association report found that the previous year 42 percent of Americans used alternative medicines and spent more out of pocket for complementary and alternative medicine than we paid out of pocket for all hospitalizations.

The result has been a new willingness by the U.S. government to fund research into alternative healing. A symbol of this was the creation in 1993 of the NIH's Office of Alternative Medicine and the elevation of it in 1998 into the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.


Even most practitioners of homeopathy will admit that science as we understand it cannot explain how a submolecular preparation can produce any result at all.

While there have been attempts to answer the question from a scientific viewpoint, most practitioners come at it from a metaphysical approach.

"In my view, there are two forms of healing," said Dr. Todd Rowe of the Desert Institute of Classical Homeopathy in Phoenix.

"There is healing that is based on matter, substance and biochemistry, and this is conventional medicine, and it's an effective way of approaching healing. "But throughout history there has been another form of medicine that has been equally valid and effective and that has been based on energy. Homeopathy is an energy-based form of medicine."

The human body is matter, substance and energy, he said. So both forms of healing are needed and can work together, he said.

The belief is that homeopathic remedies restore balance in the "vital force," the same life energy that acupuncturists refer to as qi and in Latin is known as the animus. This force controls the body's processes.

According to homeopathic philosophy, this vital force is a single entity, one that reacts as a whole to an irritant. Disease is then a disturbance, caused by a strong irritant, of the vital force.

A homeopathic remedy, by itself acting as a disturbance, is designed to trigger the vital force into repelling the original irritant.


So, one might ask, is there any proof at all that it works?

The British Medical Journal says maybe.

In 1991, the journal published an analysis of 105 homeopathy- oriented studies. Eighty-one showed a positive result in using homeopathy to treat disease. The article's authors cautioned that no definite conclusion could be drawn because of the low methodological quality of the studies but also said the results made a legitimate case for continued scientific study of homeopathy.
As noted in Religion News Report

Young Earth Creation Club


Dyan Cannon's Faith Healing Out Of Control

From http://www.imdb.com/PeopleNews/

Dyan Cannon has gone overboard with her real-life faith healing - whipping crowds into a frenzy and declaring herself a cancer curer. The 64-year-old actress recently spent 90 minutes prying with a group of 30 followers who asked her for help at Dyan Cannon's God Party, a meeting she holds every month on the CBS lot in Studio City, California. Ole Anthony, from the Trinity Foundation - a faith healer watchdog group - says, "She's like a kid with a new toy who's become instantly fanatical about her belief. She's a follower of Benny Hinn, one of the foremost faith healers in the country. He told her she has healing powers and she really believes she does."

Eyewitnesses saw the actress place her hands on the forehead of a woman claiming to have a huge stomach tumour and yell 20 times, "Devil, get out of her! Be dissolved now! You can't have her - come out, come out."

Cannon's publicist insists that her client has never been taught by Hinn and describes the weekly meetings as "simply a celebration of God."

Friday, March 2, 2001


From UF News at

By Aaron Hoover
Posted Friday, March 2, 2001, at 2:00 a.m. CT

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- A paper set to appear Friday in the journal Science offers new evidence that scientists are close to pinning down the evolutionary road map for the most diverse and largest subgroup of mammals, a feat that may resolve a longstanding scientific debate and shed light on the newly completed human genome.

The paper, prepared by a team of University of Florida faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students, follows publication in February of two related papers in the journal Nature. Although authors in each case used different methods, their conclusions are remarkably similar, pointing to growing consensus on a topic that has long divided scientists.

"Five years ago, nobody thought this would happen," said Michael Miyamoto, UF professor and associate chairman of zoology and an author of the Science paper. "We have come from great pessimism to great hope that we’ve nearly resolved placental mammal history."

Scientists have been trying to sort out how animals are related to one another since Carolus Linnaeus, an 18th-century botanist and explorer, first came up with the basic principles for dividing them into species and larger groups. Evolutionary biologists are interested not only in how to group animals, but also in which ones evolved first and how their traits are carried on or modified in animals that evolved later.

The traditional method is to compare the physical features of animals with other animals or fossilized specimens. Shared features -- anything from an animal’s appearance to the shape and placement of its teeth -- form the basis for placing the animal within a species or the successively more inclusive groups of genera, families and orders.

Soon after the description of DNA as the double helix in the 1950s, scientists started using a completely new method to sort out such relationships: molecular genetics. This "molecular method" is similar to the traditional "morphological method" in that it makes decisions based on similarities and differences. But the molecular method’s data are DNA and protein sequences.

The morphological and molecular methods have sometimes yielded different results, leading to a longstanding, often acrimonious debate among scientists about which one is more accurate. The debate has flared up repeatedly over the years as arguments have occurred around certain animals or groups of animals, such as how closely rodents and rabbits are related.

The UF study took a step back.

Instead of exploring the evolutionary history of this or that mammal or mammal group using one method or another, it sought to address the question for all placental mammals using both methods. Mammals as a group are defined as milk-producing animals, with placental mammals comprising the largest group and the commonly recognized mammals such as hoofed species, cats and primates. The other, much smaller groups are marsupials, which include kangaroos and wallabies, and monotremes, the egg-laying mammals, which include the platypus and the echidna.

Rather than working in the lab or field, the UF researchers used the library and the Internet. In collaboration with Michele Tennant, assistant university librarian in the UF Health Science Center Libraries, the researchers identified 16,102 papers dating back to 1966 on placental mammal evolution. In more than two years and thousands of hours, the team then narrowed the field to 1,477 papers that seemed to offer particularly promising data. Among this group, they found 315 publications that contained 430 published "trees," or graphic representations of evolutionary histories, compiled for different placental mammals with each method.

"We simply sought to collect as much data as possible," said Fu-Guo Robert Liu, the lead author of the paper and a UF doctoral student in zoology.

The researchers used a computer program to combine all the trees, paring out differences and combining the similarities. The result was two evolutionary "supertrees," one resulting from morphological research and the other from the molecular research.

The researchers noted first that the trees were very similar through the broadly encompassing classification of orders. In defining how the orders are related, however, the trees diverge considerably, suggesting that future researchers should focus their efforts at this very high level. "Our study narrows the scope of the problem," said Miyamoto, a member of UF's Genetics Institute.

The study further suggests that the molecular method may be better for resolving the relationships of orders, but not in every case.

To the contrary, the researchers found, where the trees disagree in the placement of the orders, the morphological method suggested the accepted solution about 20 percent of the time. Morphological evolutionists, for example, long argued that the orders for rodents and rabbits were closely related, a view only recently adopted by molecular evolutionists.

"There is a molecular bias against morphology, and I think this puts in better perspective what the values or merits of both can be," Miyamoto said.

The repercussions of the paper will go beyond evolutionists’ circles, researchers said.

By clarifying the evolutionary histories of other mammals, the placental mammal history will help scientists interpret the vast bulk of data generated in the human genome project. It would shed light, for example, on where people might have obtained certain genes and what role they played in their source animal ancestors.

"The tree is, in a sense, family history," Miyamoto said. "Doctors ask about family history to better understand your health. Biologists do the same to better understand genes and physical traits of humans, not to mention domestic animals and endangered species."

The paper also may prove useful in the emerging field of genomic "prospecting." In this field, scientists hunt for genetic clues to how living animals survived past catastrophes, such as disease epidemics, with the end goal of one day using the clues to help develop new and better strategies for human health and medicine.

"The bottom line is that knowledge about your brothers and sisters provides insights about you," Miyamoto said.

The other researchers who participated in the study are Nicole Freire, a master’s student in zoology; Phong Q. Ong, a former undergraduate in zoology; Timothy Young, a doctoral student in zoology; and Kikumi Gugel, a former undergraduate in zoology.


Friday, March 2, 2001

Rare meteorites rekindle controversy over birth of the solar system

From EurekAlert! at

By Mark Shwartz
Posted Friday, March 2, 2001, at 2:00 a.m. CT

A new meteorite study is rekindling a scientific debate over the creation of our solar system. The study, published in the Mar. 2 issue of the journal Science, is based on the microscopic analysis of two rare meteorites recently discovered in Antarctica and Africa.

Most meteorites found on Earth are believed to be fragments of asteroids-ancient rocks and that formed during the creation of the solar system about 4.56 billion years ago. Thousands of asteroids still orbit the Sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, about 140 million miles from Earth.

“Asteroids and meteorites are solids that never got incorporated into the planets. These objects have survived, unchanged, for 4.56 billion years,” says physicist Anders Meibom, a postdoctoral fellow in the Stanford Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences who co-authored the Science study.

Chondrites and chondrules

Using electron microscopy and other laboratory techniques, Meibom and his colleagues conducted a detailed chemical analysis of two chondrites -– primitive meteorites made up of thousands of tiny round particles called chondrules.

“Chondrules are among the oldest objects in the solar system, dating back to the birth of the Sun,” says Meibom, “so when we look at chondrules, we’re actually looking at the very first steps towards the creation of our solar system.”

Meibom points out that most chondrules are made of silicates and metals that can only be produced at very high temperatures. Exactly how chondrules formed in the early solar system is a hotly debated topic among scientists.

“The conventional view,” notes Meibom, “is that chondrules started out as dust balls in the asteroid belt region some 4.56 billion years ago. Today, the asteroid belt is ultra-cold, but at that time, the temperature was just below 700 degrees Fahrenheit. The dust balls melted after they were zapped by quick bursts of lightning or shock waves, which briefly raised temperatures to about 3000 degrees F.”

According to this theory, as the melted particles cooled, they turned into millimeter-size chondrules, which eventually clumped together to form larger chondrites.

New theory

But in 1996, astronomer Frank Shu of the University of California proposed a different theory based in part on dramatic images from the Hubble Space Telescope, which – for the first time – allowed astronomers to witness the actual birth of new stars elsewhere in the Milky Way. The Hubble revealed that most young stars are created from enormous disks of whirling gas and dust.

As the disk contracts, it rotates faster and faster, funneling tons of interstellar dust toward the center, where temperatures reach 3000 degrees F or more -– hot enough to melt metal and vaporize most solids.

The rotating disk also produces enormous jets of gas capable of launching debris far into space at speeds of hundreds of miles per second. Using the Hubble images as a guide, Shu proposed that chondrules in our solar system were created near the hot central disk of the newly emerging Sun – not in the relatively cool asteroid belt hundreds of millions of miles away.

According to Shu, dust particles were melted by the Sun, then launched into space by powerful jets of gas and solar wind. While in flight, the molten particles solidified into spherical chondrules, some of which landed in the asteroid belt a few days later. Others ended up as the raw materials that formed the Earth, Mars and the rest of the planets in our solar system.

According to Meibom, the Mar. 2 chondrite study in Science magazine gives Shu’s version of chondrule creation a tremendous boost.

“Our findings demonstrate that Frank Shu’s ideas are not just some fantasy,” he notes. “We now have actual rocks that provide hard numbers, which fit very nicely into the general framework of Shu’s theory.”

Rare meteorites

Meibom and his colleagues based their study on two rare meteorite specimens -– HH 237, a grapefruit-size chondrite recovered from the Hammadah al Hamra region of north Africa; and QUE 94411, a walnut-size sample collected from the Queen Alexander mountain range in Antarctica.

“Most chondrites are only seven to ten percent metal by volume, but these two specimens are about 70 percent iron and nickel,” says Meibom. Microscopic analysis revealed that these iron-nickel compounds formed by condensation from hot gas when the temperature was around 2500 degrees F.

“Because HH 237 and QUE 94411 contain pristine samples of condensed iron and nickel, we were able to determine that these metal grains formed on a time scale of a few days. Furthermore, the newly created metal grains must have been transported out of their hot formation region very quickly.

“Shu’s model provides those kind of temperatures and time scales, and the jets certainly provide a way to kick the grains out to much colder regions of the solar nebula,” adds Meibom.

“The scenario we are suggesting is that of big blobs of hot gas rising up through the disk – almost like bubbles in boiling spaghetti sauce. As the gas bubbles rose and cooled, silicate and metal grains began to condense out of the gas. When these grains got close enough to the surface of the disk, they became trapped in the powerful jet streams. Days later, the particles arrived in the asteroid belt, where the relatively cold temperatures preserved them from destruction.”

These chondrites allow us to look at the very frontier of the solar system, concludes Meibom. “For the first time, we’re really building a bridge between what we observe in the meteorites and what astrophysicists like Shu are telling us.”

Frank Shu agrees.“In these two very special meteorites we finally have direct evidence that certain portions of rock had to move from some place very hot to some place very cold in a very short period of time,” comments Shu. “This is a very important study.”

Meibom’s other collaborators in the Science study are Alexander N. Krot and Klaus Keil of the University of Hawaii; Sara S. Russsell and Timothy E. Jeffries of the Natural History Museum in London; and Conel M. O’D. Alexander of the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism.

COMMENT: Anders Meibom, Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences 650-725-6536 or 650-736-0752; http://www.meibom@pangea.stanford.edu

Relevant Web URLs:




Photos relating to this article can be downloaded at http://newsphotos.stanford.edu

Note: Look for the slug, “Meteorite”.



Friday, March 2, 2001

Expert proposes new ideas about technology and evolution

From EurekAlert! at

By Andrea Lynn
Posted Friday, March 2, 2001, at 2:00 a.m. CT

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — What distinguished Neanderthals and near-modern humans from their predecessors 300,000 years ago, it is believed, was their ability to make and use complex tools, but there is no consensus among experts about how this dazzling leap in technology influenced human evolution. In the March 2 issue of the journal Science, paleoanthropologist Stanley Ambrose challenges conventional wisdom about Paleolithic technology and hammers out a set of new hypotheses about our evolutionary odyssey.

In his article, “Paleolithic Technology and Human Evolution,” Ambrose offers a comprehensive review of the evidence for tool-making and the evolution of hands and brains as a foundation upon which to propose ideas about the co-evolution of our ancestors’ technology, hands, brains and language. Complex tool-making, which required fine motor skills, problem-solving and task planning, he argues, may have influenced the evolution of the frontal lobe, and co-evolved with the gift of grammatical language 300,000 years ago.

Bimanual tool use was the first major breakthrough. The ability to steady an object with one hand – usually the left – while working it with a tool held in the other, led to preferential handedness. Habitual tool-making and use “may have led to lateralization of brain function and set the stage for the evolution of language,” Ambrose said. The chimpanzee has poor bimanual coordination, no overall preference for right-handedness, weak precision grip and limited wrist mobility and thumb strength – anatomical features critical for making and using complex tools.

Ambrose, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, traces early man’s ability to accomplish “complex fine motor control (FMC) non-repetitive action sequences involved with making complex tools” to the precursor of Broca’s area in the modern brain, which controls the oro-facial FMC, and thus, language – also a series of FMC non-repetitive action sequences. Broca’s area is “adjacent to and probably has a common developmental origin with the hand’s FMC area,” Ambrose said.

“Grammatical language, planning complex tasks and composite tool use were closely related,” he said.

“The ordering of sequences and the hierarchical assembly of the same components into different configurations makes tools of different functions and makes phrases of different meanings.”

Gathering the components for composite tools (stone inserts, handles, binding materials) requires planning and coordinating different tasks before a tool is assembled. “The part of the frontal lobe that we now use for planning complex tasks may have coevolved with composite tool-making around 300,000 years ago.”

As makers of single-component tools, we progressed at a remarkably slow pace between 2.5 and 0.3 million years ago. But “with the appearance of composite tools, near-modern brain size, anatomy and perhaps of grammatical language 300,000 years ago, the pace quickened exponentially. We became long-range planners and grammatical speakers. Composite tools made us what we are today.”


Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Bush Unveils Faith-Based Missile Defense

From Slate at

By Gregg Easterbrook
Posted Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2001, at 10:00 a.m. PT

WASHINGTONPresident George W. Bush announced an initiative to develop a faith-based missile defense. "For too long, military planners have been denied the use of the supernatural in attempting to protect American citizens from attack," Bush declared today in a speech to the National Association of Amateur Submarine Captains. "There is no reason why we cannot maintain a healthy separation of church and state while still calling on divine intervention for the Pentagon budget. Faith-based missile defense will be constitutional and fully consistent with the way the Founding Fathers expected this great nation to handle ICBM threats," the president said.

The faith-based defense would be nondenominational and designed to protect Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Wiccans, as well as Christians, officials said. (For technical reasons, it is unclear whether nonbelievers can be protected.) Pentagon sources say the system is code-named Rapture.

Initial plans call for Rapture components to be hidden in the steeples of churches, which are about the size and shape of rockets, and possibly in Catholic cardinals' miters. "If we put a Rapture anti-missile missile in every church steeple in America, even small towns will be defended, and the spending will be distributed to all congressional districts," an informed official said. The schedule for development and construction is uncertain, depending on how quickly cost overruns can begin.

White House officials insisted the system would pose no threat to the religions of other nations and said that leadership at the Vatican, Constantinople, Mecca, Amritsar, and other key world-faith sites would be fully briefed on the project. "However there is some concern about what would happen if this technology fell into the hands of the Lubavitchers," one senior aide said.

While operational details of the system are apparently still being worked out, during an attack by an ICBM launched by a "rogue state" or possibly by Marc Rich, computers for the faith-based system would rapidly activate a "prayer circle" of persons who will register with a database as being willing to pray for national survival. Automated cell phone and instant-messenger messages would instruct the persons in the prayer circle on the altitude, azimuth, velocity, and orbital trajectory of the incoming threat; they would then employ prayer to guide the Rapture defensive missiles to the intercept point. "It's a pretty cool concept technologically, although there is a danger of fire when each missile blasts out of its housing in the steeple," one official said.

Critics said the system could be fooled if incoming warheads were surrounded by a cloud of Torahs, Korans, Upanishads, and Gospels as decoys. In secret tests conducted last month on a remote Pacific Ocean island, a prayer-circle guidance team proved unable to distinguish between a dummy nuclear warhead and a specially reinforced hymnal when both were re-entering the atmosphere at speeds in excess of 8,000 miles per hour.

President Bush also authorized the creation of an Office of Faith-Based Research and Development at the Pentagon and named evangelist James Dobson to head the project. (Lockheed Martin will provide management services.) Dobson told reporters that he envisioned moving the Defense Department beyond tanks, fighters, and aircraft carriers into an entire new generation of faith-based munitions. "Lightning and swords will be the weapons of Armageddon, so America must begin to stockpile the most lethal, technologically advanced blades and energy-bolt projectors that our science can design," Dobson said. "Saddam Hussein isn't working on plutonium, he is trying to develop seven-headed dragons and gigantic armored locusts. We're going to have a little surprise ready when he tries to use them."

Dobson displayed a prototype faith-based infantry weapona gilded staff that, he said, could hurl a powerful lightning bolt, scorching into powder whatever it was pointed at. He urged onlookers to try the weapon at a hastily arranged demonstration range. But when several reporters attempted to fire the staff, nothing happened. "That's because you're all journalists," Dobson said. "It only works for believers."

Separately, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that George W. Bush favored changing the slogan on U.S. coinage and tender from "In God We Trust" to "God Help Us." This phrasing "better reflects the president's feelings about the coming four years," Fleischer said.

Aliens blamed for making man disappear

From Ananova at

The family of a Malaysian man who vanished into thin air fear aliens abducted him. Mainis Gintukod says her husband Yabi disappeared in front of her last week. Yabi's brother-in-law, Mahat Kulimpang, says Yabi told him of an encounter with an alien with a square body. "Yabi told me that the alien wanted him to go a strange place," Mahat told The Star, Malaysia. "The night before Yabi disappeared, he was wearing white and his feet were not touching the ground. "When I touched his shirt, it slowly turned black and he soon passed out," claimed Mahat. Yabi disappeared two days earlier and was found sitting in a bush in a stupor. He was found to be in good health. Deputy Supt Abdul Hadi Baharudin said a missing person report had been lodged.

John Edward in Time

Posted by Scott Peterson

Time Magazine this week ran a piece on John Edward, the hero of the SCIFI channel and the talking with the dead crowd.

It can be found at

According to the article, this weeks Inside Edition will be running a piece critical of him and including an interview with James Randi. Does anyone have information on when this will be?

By Michael Shermer

History is not just one damn thing after another, it is also the same damn thing over and over--time's arrow and time's cycle. Fads come and go, in clothing, cars, and psychics. In the 1970s it was Uri Geller, in the 1980s it was Shirley MacLaine, in the 1990s it was James Van Praagh, and to kick off the new millennium it is John Edward. Edward's star is rising rapidly with a hit daily television series "Crossing Over" on the Sci Fi network and a New York Times bestselling book "One Last Time." He has appeared, unopposed, on Larry King Live and has been featured on Dateline, Entertainment Tonight, and an HBO special. He is so hot that his television show is about to make the jump to network television, as he is soon to go opposite Oprah in CBS's afternoon lineup.

Last month Skeptic magazine was the first national publication to run an expose of John Edward in James "The Amazing" Randi's column (in Vol. 8, #3, now on newsstands and bookstores or at www.skeptic.com), a story that was picked up this week by Time magazine, who featured a full-page article on what is rapidly becoming the Edward phenomenon. There is, in reality, nothing new here. Same story, different names. In watching Edward I'm amazed at how blatant he is in stealing lines from medium James Van Praagh. It reminds me of entertainers, commedians, and magicians who go to each others' shows to glean new ideas.

Time's reporter Leon Jaroff, quoting from the Skeptic article, wrote a skeptical piece in which he reported the experiences of an audience member from an Edward taping. His name is Michael O'Neill, a New York City marketing manager, who reported his experiences as follows (quoting from the Skeptic article):

"I was on the John Edward show. He even had a multiple guess "hit" on me that was featured on the show. However, it was edited so that my answer to another question was edited in after one of his questions. In other words, his question and my answer were deliberately mismatched. Only a fraction of what went on in the studio was actually seen in the final 30 minute show. He was wrong about a lot and was very aggressive when somebody failed to acknowledge something he said. Also, his "production assistants" were always around while we waited to get into the studio. They told us to keep very quiet, and they overheard a lot. I think that the whole place is bugged somehow. Also, once in the studio we had to wait around for almost two hours before the show began. Throughout that time everybody was talking about what dead relative of theirs might pop up.

Remember that all this occurred under microphones and with cameras already set up. My guess is that he was backstage listening and looking at us all and noting certain readings. When he finally appeared, he looked at the audience as if he were trying to spot people he recognized. He also had ringers in the audience. I can tell because about fifteen people arrived in a chartered van, and once inside they did not sit together."

Last week an ABC television producer flew out from New York to film me for an investigation of Edward they are conducting. The segment began as a "puff piece" (as she called it), but a chance encounter in the ABC cafeteria with 20/20 correspondent Bill Ritter, with whom I worked on an expose of medium James Van Praagh a few years ago, tipped her off that Edward was, in fact, a Van Praagh clone and that his talking to the dead was nothing more than the old magicians' cold reading trick. After waching the 20/20 piece the producer immediately realized what was really going on inside Edward's studio. She began to ask a few probing questions and was promptly cut off by Edward and his producers. ABC was told they would not be allowed to film inside the studio and that they, the Sci Fi network, would provide edited clips that ABC could use. The ABC producer became suspicious, and then skeptical. She has been trying to get an interview with Edward to confront him with my critiques, but they continue to put her off. In fact, she just phoned to tell me that Edward's publicist just left a message on her voice mail (with a date and time) stating that Edward was not available for an interview because he is out of state, yet the producer just caught him on television live in studio on CBS New York! Something fishy is going on here and I know what it is.

The video clips I was shown make it obvious why Edward does not want raw footage going out to the public--he's not all that good at doing cold readings. Where I estimated Van Praagh's hit rate at between 20-30 percent, Edward's hit rate at between 10-20 percent (the error-range in the estimates is created by the fuzziness of what constitutes a "hit"--more on this in a moment). The advantage Edward has over Van Praagh is his verbal alacrity. Van Praagh is Ferrari fast, but Edward is driving an Indy-500 racer. In the opening minute of the first reading captured on film by the ABC camera, I counted over one statement per second (ABC was allowed to film in the control room under the guise of filming the hardworking staff, and instead filmed Edward on the monitor in the raw). Think about that--in one minute Edward riffles through 60 names, dates, colors, diseases, conditions, situations, relatives, and the like. It goes so fast that you have to stop tape, rewind, and go back to catch them all. When he does come up for air the studio audience members to whom he is speaking look like deer in the headlights. In the edited tape provided by Edward we caught a number of editing mistakes, where he appears to be starting a reading on someone but makes reference to something they said "earlier." Oops!

Edward begins by selecting a section of the studio audience of about 20 people, saying things like "I'm getting a George over here. I don't know what this means. George could be someone who passed over, he could be someone here, he could be someone that you know," etc. Of course such generalizations lead to a "hit" where someone indeed knows a George, or is related to a George, or is a George. Now that he's targeted his mark, the real reading begins in which Edward employs cold reading, warm reading, and hot reading techniques.

1. Cold Reading. The first thing to know is that John Edward, like all other psychic mediums, does not do the reading--his subjects do. He asks them questions and they give him answers. "I'm getting a P name. Who is this please?" "He's showing me something red. What is this please?" And so on. This is what is known in the mentalism trade as cold reading, where you literally "read" someone "cold," knowing nothing about them. You ask lots of questions and make numerous statements, some general and some specific, and sees what sticks. Most of the time Edward is wrong. If the subjects have time they visibly nod their heads "no." But Edward is so fast that they usually only have the time or impetus to acknowledge the hits. And Edward only needs an occasional strike to convince his clientele he is genuine.

2. Warm Reading. This is utilizing known principles of psychology that apply to nearly everyone. For example, most grieving people will wear a piece of jewelry that has a connection to their loved one. Katie Couric on The Today Show, for example, after her husband died, wore his ring on a necklace when she returned to the show. Edward knows this about mourning people and will say something like "do you have a ring or a piece of jewelry on you, please?" His subject cannot believe her ears and nods enthusiastically in the affirmative. He says "thank you," and moves on as if he had just divined this from heaven. Most people also keep a photograph of their loved one either on them or near their bed, and Edward will take credit for this specific hit that actually applies to most people.

Edward is facile at determining the cause of death by focusing either on the chest or head areas, and then exploring whether it was a slow or sudden end. He works his way down through these possibilities as if he were following a computer flow chart and then fills in the blanks. "I'm feeling a pain in the chest." If he gets a positive nod, he continues. "Did he have cancer, please? Because I'm seeing a slow death here." If he gets the nod, he takes the hit. If the subject hesitates at all, he will quickly shift to heart attack. If it is the head, he goes for stroke or head injury from an automobile accident or fall. Statistically speaking there are only half a dozen ways most of us die, so with just a little probing, and the verbal and nonverbal cues of his subject, he can appear to get far more hits than he is really getting.

3. Hot Reading. Sometimes psychic mediums cheat by obtaining information on a subject ahead of time. I do not know if Edward does research or uses shills in the audience to get information on people, or even plants in the audience on which to do readings, but in my investigation of James Van Praagh I discovered from numerous television producers that he consciously and deliberately pumps them for information about his subjects ahead of time, then uses that information to deceive the viewing public that he got it from heaven.

The ABC producer also asked me to do a reading on her. "You know absolutely nothing about me so let's see how well this works." After reviewing the Edward tapes I did a ten minute reading on her. She sat there dropped jawed and wide eyed, counting my hits. She proclaimed that I was unbelievably accurate. How did I do it? Let's just say I utilized all three of the above techniques. After the show airs on ABC New York this week (Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday I'm told) I'll reveal the details in another posting.

Most of the time, however, mediums do not need to cheat. The reason has to do with the psychology of belief. This stuff works because the people who go to mediums want it to work (remember, they do the readings, not the mediums). The simplest explanation for how mediums can get away with such an outrageous claim as the ability to talk to the dead is that they are dealing with a subject the likes of which it would be hard to top for tragedy and finality--death. Sooner or later we all will face this inevitability, starting, in the normal course of events, with the loss of our parents, then siblings and friends, and eventually ourselves. It is a grim outcome under the best of circumstances, made all the worse when death comes early or accidentally to those whose "time was not up." As those who traffic in the business of loss, death, and grief know all too well, we are often at our most vulnerable at such times. Giving deep thought to this reality can cause the most controlled and rational among us to succumb to our emotions.

The reason John Edward, James Van Praagh, and the other so-called mediums are unethical and dangerous is that they are not helping anyone in what they are doing. They are simply preying on the emotions of grieving people. As all loss, death, and grief counselors know, the best way to deal with death is to face it head on. Death is a part of life, and pretending that the dead are gathering in a television studio in New York to talk twaddle with a former ballroom-dance instructor is an insult to the intelligence and humanity of the living.
Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Director of the Skeptics Society, the host of the Skeptics Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and a monthly columnist for Scientific American. Go to www.skeptic.com to join the Skeptics Society and subscribe to Skeptic magazine.