NTS LogoSkeptical News for 3 January 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, January 03, 2003

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

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Today's Headlines – January 2, 2003

from The Los Angeles Times

Gradual warming over the past century has forced a global movement of animals and plants northward, and it has sped up such perennial spring activities as flowering and egg hatching across the globe -- two signals that the Earth and its denizens are dramatically responding to a minute shift in temperature, studies from Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin conclude.

One study shows that animals have shifted northward an average of almost 4 miles per decade. Another shows that animals are migrating, hatching eggs and bearing young an average of five days sooner than they did decades ago, when the average global temperature was 1 degree cooler.

That 1 degree, according to the studies, has left "climatic fingerprints" -- pushing dozens of butterfly and songbird species into new territories, prompting birds and frogs to lay eggs earlier, and causing tree lines to march up mountain slopes.


from The Associated Press

French and American scientists have mapped chromosome 14, the longest sequenced to date and the site of more than 60 disease genes, including one linked to early onset Alzheimer's.

The feat enlisting nearly 100 researchers marks the fourth of the 24 human chromosomes mapped so far as part of an international effort.

Scientists at Genoscope, the French national sequencing center, said the chromosome is comprised of more than 87 million pairs of DNA, all of which have been sequenced so that the chromosome's map includes no gaps.

"At the present time, this is the longest piece of contiguous DNA that has been sequenced. We made an effort to close all the gaps," said Genoscope's director, Jean Weissenbach.


from The New York Times

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is looking into accusations that its premier laboratory lied to cover up serious problems with the technology at the heart of the administration's proposed antimissile defense system.

The university was prodded to act by Theodore A. Postol, a tenured M.I.T. physicist in security studies and a prominent critic of the antimissile plan. In letters to Congress and elsewhere, Dr. Postol has said M.I.T. appeared to be hiding evidence of serious flaws in the nation's main antimissile weapon, a ground-based rocket meant to destroy incoming enemy warheads by impact. His accusations center on a 1998 study by Lincoln Laboratory, a federally financed M.I.T. research center, and have grown over the years to include the institute's provost, president and corporate chairman.

Dr. Postol became known as an antimissile critic after the Persian Gulf war in 1991, when he argued that contrary to Pentagon assertions Patriot missiles had shot down few if any Iraqi Scud missiles. His contention, at first ridiculed, in time became accepted as truth.

Officials at the institute strongly deny any wrongdoing.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

The first in a new class of drugs targeting an aspect of the immune system works remarkably well against multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease, scientists report today. In one of two studies being published in the New England Journal of Medicine, MS patients given the experimental drug natalizumab showed a decrease in relapses of 45 to 75 percent, and a 90 percent reduction in new lesions in the central nervous system. The second study found that one regimen of the drug produced a remission rate in Crohn's patients twice as high as that seen in a group given a placebo.

MS, which affects about 400,000 people in the United States, is a neurological disease in which the body's own immune cells eat away at the protective sheaths surrounding nerves in the brain and spinal cord. In Crohn's, estimated to affect half a million Americans, immune cells infiltrate the intestinal system, damaging tissues and producing chronic inflammation. Both illnesses often strike young and middle-aged adults in the prime of life.

For MS patients in particular, natalizumab appears promising, although it is not a cure. Most other therapies work by dampening nerve inflammation. They produce unwanted side effects and have shown a more modest reduction in relapse rates.


from The Washington Post

For all the speed with which science was progressing, virtually no one had thought it would happen so soon. Yet there it was in huge block letters on the front page of the New York Post: The world's first human clone had been born.

The next day, The Washington Post and other newspapers across the country ran with the story about the rogue scientists who had cloned a human on an undisclosed island. A spokesman connected to the effort refused to identify the infant, citing a desire to "protect the child from harmful publicity." Legislators quickly called for a ban on human cloning. And just as immediately came warnings that such a ban might choke off medically promising research.

December 2002?

Try March 1978.

Indeed, when representatives of the Raelians, an extraterrestrial- worshipping religious group, announced last week that they had created the world's first human clone, their claim was itself a clone of sorts -- a clone of a very similar claim made a quarter century ago, and one that ultimately proved to be a hoax.


from The (Raleigh, NC) News & Observer

What do you get when you kidnap lobsters from their home waters, blindfold them and test whether they find their way back?

Big news. Animals with brains the size of peas can navigate in places they've never been. Science long assumed that only a handful of creatures, mostly migrating birds, had smarts enough to pull that off.

"There's a sort of bias in science that some animals are better than others," said Larry Boles, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student whose startling lobster studies are being published today in the scientific journal Nature.

The findings on Caribbean spiny lobsters are among the best evidence yet that animals use multiple signals from the Earth's magnetic fields to navigate in strange places. Scientists believe the fields are produced by rotation of our planet's fluid, metallic core.


from The Christian Science Monitor

On Sept. 11, 1992, hurricane Iniki slammed into the Hawaiian island of Kauai, packing winds gusting up to 175 m.p.h.

The storm inflicted an estimated $2 billion in damage and 105 casualties, damaged or destroyed 10,000 homes and businesses, and left once-lush tropical mountainsides looking as though they'd been mowed by a giant weed- whacker.

Ross Hoffman, an atmospheric scientist, looks back on the tragedy and asks a daring question: What might it have taken to nudge the hurricane's track 70 miles farther west - just enough to avoid the damage and casualties the storm left in its wake?

Over the past two decades, the idea of modifying large-scale storms such as hurricanes has lain dormant, following 20 years of inconclusive research. Now, however, a small group of atmospheric scientists is giving the concept a fresh look.


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Doctor says magnets help eyesight


Associated Press
Dec. 30, 2002 07:48 AM

LINCOLN, Neb. - It may sound like snake oil science to some, but an optometrist in Lincoln thinks magnets may help reverse diminishing eyesight in his patients.

Dr. James Nedrow has put 250 patients with macular degeneration on the treatment. He says some have shown significant improvement after tiny magnets were installed in the temples of their eyeglasses.

But Nedrow stresses that his experiment is not scientific, and he does not call it a cure. He says getting federal approval of his treatment costs hundreds of thousands of dollars - money he doesn't have.

Officials look for source of lake's black hole


Associated Press

Published Dec. 30, 2002 LAKE30

BRAINERD, MINN. -- A mysterious black hole in the ice of North Long Lake has officials stumped -- and it's getting expensive.

The Thirty Lakes Watershed District has spent $4,000 to figure out how the hole formed on the lake just north of Brainerd.

The hole, measured at 2,128 feet long and 400 feet wide, was found in the lake's ice last February. Since then it's been a constant source of speculation, conversation and concern. What caused the hole to appear? Distant earthquakes? New thermal springs on the lake bottom? Sabotage by unknown enemies?

These theories and many others have been offered, said Dick Beeson, the district's chairman.

"It's the only one of the 70 lakes we monitor where we've seen anything like it," Beeson said. "It's an unusual situation and dangerous to the public."

As many as a dozen people have gone into the hole via snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle, and one person has died.

Warning signs have been posted at lake accesses and other places on shore by the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office.

Lakeshore residents say they've never seen anything like it, Beeson said. Typically, holes in ice form where currents or thermal springs are concentrated. But the hole had never appeared before last winter. Ice thickness at the perimeter of the hole ranges from 4 to 10 inches.

Al Cibuzar, who runs A.W. Research Laboratories in Brainerd, said he viewed the hole from an airplane in March and noticed nothing unusual.

Cibuzar flew over the hole again on Tuesday and photographed it with an infrared, water-penetrating camera that uses hyper-spectral imaging to locate sources of warmth.

"It's changing daily, getting a little bigger every day," Cibuzar said. "We've searched the Internet for similar situations, but have found nothing like we're seeing here. It appears there may be some springs developing near the north shore, but we have to verify that on the ground."

Rael: No DNA test for baby Eve


Sect leader vows to guard identity of alleged human clone

Friday, January 3, 2003 Posted: 11:05 AM EST (1605 GMT)

SHERBROOKE, Quebec (CNN) -- A company founded by members of a sect that believes mankind was created by extraterrestrials says what it calls the first human clone will not undergo testing to verify her genetic makeup.

The head of the Raelian movement, who calls himself "Rael," said Thursday that he has told Clonaid's leader not to perform DNA tests on the infant girl, nicknamed "Eve."

Appearing on CNN's "Crossfire," Rael said he had spoken with Clonaid CEO Brigitte Boisselier and told her, "If there is any risk that this baby is taken away from the family, it is better to lose your credibility; don't do the testing."

He added: "I think she agrees with me."

Welcome to CLONAID™ – the first human cloning company !


CLONAID™ was founded in February 1997 by Raël who is the leader of the Raelian Movement, an international religious organization which claims that life on Earth was created scientifically through DNA and genetic engineering by a human extraterrestrial race whose name, Elohim, is found in the Hebrew Bible and was mistranslated by the word "God". The Raelian Movement also claims that Jesus was resurrected through an advanced cloning technique performed by the Elohim.

Raël has handed over the CLONAID™ project one year ago to Dr Brigitte Boisselier, Raelian Bishop, who is now CLONAID's™ Managing Director. Dr. Brigitte Boisselier has founded a new company that is now carrying out the CLONAID™ projects as well as other projects presented herein. The name and the location of this company are currently kept secret for obvious security reasons.

Hogue Prophecy Bulletin


(1 November 2002)


John Hague's review of the Discovery Channel's documentary "Nostradamus: a Skeptical Inquiry"


Back in February of 2002, I was invited to do an interview for Termite Production's documentary commissioned for the Discovery Channel, entitled "Nostradamus: A Skeptical Inquiry." The documentary appeared on Discovery Channel in late September 2002 and is now in frequent reruns.

I am ever optimistic that each TV documentary production asking for my participation will actually live up to their declaration of being "Skeptical Inquirers" into the study and controversy of Nostradamus and his prophecies. My insatiable optimism (and gullibility) aside, reality dictates that with each new invitation to a skeptical inquiry, I should remember the sage advice of Indian mystic, Osho, who said, "Hope for the best and expect the worst" when people make claims. I have yet to talk with a TV producer or director who, calling themselves skeptics, actually knows what the word means. The words "skeptic, and "skeptical" are derived from the ancient Greek word that simply means "to investigate." That means there is no "opinion" for or against what is investigated. How can there be an opinion when the investigation has yet to begin? So far, I have asked that question to dozens of pre-opinionated "Hollywood" investigative documentarians without receiving an intelligent reply.

It takes no Nostradamus to predict that each new self-proclaimed "skeptic," from Hollywood won't know the word's meaning and will produce the usual missed opportunity, full of sound, fxs and fury, signifying little insight into Nostradamus and his predictions.

In my experience, the Discovery Channel's recent opus, "Nostradamus, A Skeptical Inquiry," as directed and edited by John Tindall of Termite Productions, is just another missed opportunity to educate the public.

What follows is the open letter/review of the show, that I'm sending to you all and to John Tindall.


Dear John Tindall,

I saw the documentary "Nostradamus: A Skeptical Inquiry."

I don't think your documentary served either side's argument too well.

It was a work of cynicism, not skepticism.

The Greek root for the word "skeptic" means "to investigate." Giving both sides equal time to declare their views and respond in rebuttal is skeptical inquiry. When your segment producer, Peter Hankoff, initially contacted me for the interview I suggested that your planned documentary would be a true skeptical inquiry if it follows the four-square process of a fair investigation. That means the pro-Nostradamian makes his statement first; then the anti-Nostradamian responds; then the pro-Nostradamian replies, and the anti-Nostradamian can answer that reply if he deems it necessary. Conversely any declarations made by the anti-Nostradamian passes through the same four-square process. Thus, he declares, I reply, he rebuts to reply, and I respond to his rebuttal if I deem it necessary.

I believe this is a fair and equitable format. Both sides have to back up what they say and have a chance to scrutinize the other's comments. This, is skeptical inquiry. Since 1994, when I began doing a steady stream of TV interviews about Nostradamus, I have yet to see a production where this basic interview structure made it beyond the cutting room floor to the television viewer.

The same is the case with your documentary. An opportunity to educate the public about Nostradamus was lost.

I welcome anyone's attempt to put my theories into question. Even if the criticism comes from someone I've suggested as a good scholar worthy to be a participant in your skeptical inquiry, like Peter Lemesurier. But in the final cut of your documentary, you cheated the audience by not giving me the chance to reply to Lemesurier's statements.

For instance, you have Lemesurier putting my statements about the right translation of Quatrain 25 of Century 1 into question. However, you did not provide me the space to reply to his criticism. Something I could have easily done. The way you edited the show makes it look as if I could not address Lemesurier's statement.

Slanting the debate is not good journalism. It serves the lie, not truth.

Beyond that, your documentary tried to cover too much ground. It has become a fragmentary and confusing 52 minute romp-around Nostradamus. The few good arguments made by the skeptics and the believers alike where marginalized by the need to "fast-food" the facts and "special, special, special!" the effects.

Any final cut of a documentary is a statement on film, for better or worse, of what the documentarians absorbed from their interviews. One hopes that the final cut will at least contain the essence of the many hours of film it is necessary to discard on the editor's cutting room floor. When I think of the essence of what we shot, and then I see what remains, I can only conclude that you didn't have a grasp of the subject. Because of this, you could do no better than turn your documentary into a TV dumb-down and a celebration of simpleton-ism when representing both sides of the debate.

I've seen and read James Randi make far better arguments against Nostradamus than the two skeptics and the pontificating psychiatrist spotlighted in your show. It is a real pity Randi was not heard and only seen for a second. A greater pity that his litany of statements — unchanged and unchallenged for 15 years — weren't rebutted point for point by me as we had originally planned.

If we had followed the original premise, I believe we would have caught on film a groundbreaking and authentically educational debate on the Nostradamus controversy from Randi and myself. Instead, I believe the documentary project derailed the moment you, Peter Hankoff, and the Termite Production staff, became fixated on this idea of a debate at Yale. I understand the seduction. Taking the debate into the hallowed halls of an Ivy League college is intoxicating. However, I felt it was poorly timed and, I believe, too sensational a prospect. So I said no. Obviously James Randi also rejected the idea, sending one of his less expert sycophants in his place to appear in your filmed debate.

In the end, the footage of the Yale debate just isn't that interesting. The way it was shot and edited distracts the viewer away from content towards emotional attacks. A live debate reduced into brief excerpts never adequately represents the arguments of both sides. At best it reduces a debate into bits of mind candy without any nutrient intellectual value.

And the college kids looked painfully bored with it all.

After seeing the final cut of the documentary, I will say openly that I'm glad I didn't attend. I can see that your editorial approach for the debate would have marginalized Randi and myself if we had attended the debate.

The final segment took on a markedly hysterical and strident tone of righteousness. Your ranks of debunkers make their case with a general rush to make slogan-like, simplistic and sweeping statements. Their summations rely on the skimpiest of examples in your final cut of the documentary — measured, as it was, with little or no time given to an opposing view.

The documentary closed with a predictable TV formula finale: namely, a bunch of debunkers ganging up to pooh-pooh the whole matter.

I've seen it all before: cynics dressing themselves in the cloth of skeptical inquiry, grasping for the last word. They must have the final say. Don't dare give the sympathetic side its say; otherwise, your gallery of so-called skeptics would be exposed for their laziness of inquiry and their light and cavalier grasp of the subject they condemn.

Finally, your documentary staggers to its climax after this chorus for the skeptical inquisition passes judgment. We see a mob of bored Yale college kids voting with their backsides in judgment of this centuries-old debate.

A vision of Mobocracy at its irrelevant best!

I had hoped for better work, but I didn't expect it.

Therefore I have not been disappointed by this redundant example of skeptical inquiry — Hollywood style.

Better luck and a real skeptical inquiry next time.




The other day I received this message from friends who live outside of Kuta, Bali. This is the location of the terrorist bombing of Islamist extremists that recently leveled the downtown region of that city and killed hundreds.

I am told by my friends that it comes from Parum Samigita which is the 'Think Tank' for the Banjars (Village Councils) of the Kuta, Legian and Seminyak areas of Bali. My friend goes on to add that the message "comes from the heart of the Balinese people at ground zero in Kuta. It is a message of love and brotherhood and expresses the message which they wish to send to the world."

My friends there ask that you "please forward [this message] to anyone you think would appreciate reading it."

I'm told the speech was delivered in English by Asana Viebeke L on Friday, October 25th (2002) at a press conference for the Indonesian media. It is being sent out with an audio copy and photographs to the world's press.

To me the essence of this message resembles in the present day, the kind of humanity various positive prophecies point to in our future. When you read this, consider the possibility that you are hearing the heart of the coming new humanity, and how it will face the challenges of darkness in the future. I lovingly suggest that if you understand and can live by this message, you have brought the inner light of that future golden age one individual step into the darkness of the present day.

Here then, is Asana Viebeke L's message to the world. Please note that the brackets are inserted by me for clarity:


We Balinese have an essential concept of balance. It's the Tri Hita Karana; a concept of harmonious balance. The balance between god and humanity; humanity with itself and humanity with the environment. This places us all in a universe of common understanding.

It is not only nuclear bombs which have fallout. It is our job to minimize this fallout for our people and our guests from around the world. Who did this? It's not such an important question for us to discuss. Why this happened — maybe this is more worthy of thought. What can we do to create beauty from this tragedy and come to an understanding where nobody feels the need to make such a statement again? This is important. This is the basis from which we can embrace everyone as a brother; everyone as a sister.

It is a period of uncertainty. It is a period of change. It is also an opportunity for us to move together into a better future. A future where we embrace all of humanity in the knowledge that we all look and smell the same when we are burnt. Victims of this tragedy are from all over the world.

The past is not significant. It is the future which is important. This is the time to bring our values, our empathy, to society and the world at large. To care. To love.

The modern world brings to many of us the ability to rise above the core need for survival. Most people in the developed world no longer need to struggle to simply stay alive. It is our duty to strive to improve our quality of life.

We want to return to our lives. Please help us realize this wish.

Why seek retribution from people who are acting as they see fit? These people are misguided from our point of view. Obviously, from theirs, they feel justified and angry enough to make such a brutal statement.

We would like to send a message to the world - Embrace this misunderstanding between our brothers and lets seek a peaceful answer to the problems which bring us to such tragedy.

We embrace all the beliefs, hopes and dreams of all the people in the world with Love.

Do not bring malice to our world. What has happened has happened. Stop talking about the theories of who did this and why. It does not serve the spirit of our people. Words of hate will not rebuild our shops and houses. They will not heal damaged skin. They will not bring back our dead.

Help us to create beauty out of this tragedy.

Our community is bruised and hurting. Our spirit can never be broken.

Everybody in the world is of one principle brotherhood.

Tat Wam Asi - You are me and I am you.

We have a concept in Bali, Ruwa Bhineda, a balance between good and bad. Without bad there can be no good. The bad is the 'sibling' of the Good. Embrace this concept and we can move forward into a better world.

There is Sekala / Nisikala - the underworld forever in darkness merging with our world in the light.

You love your husband and wife but sometimes you fight. Fear arises and shows its opposition to love. This is normal. This is a natural, essential part of life.

These are the concepts by which we, as Balinese, live our lives. Please, we beg you, talk only of the good which can come of this. Talk of how we can reconcile our 'apparent' differences. Talk of how we can bring empathy and love into everybody's lives.

The overwhelming scenes of love and compassion at Sanglah Hospital show us the way forward into the future. If we hate our brothers and sisters we are lost in Kali Yuga [the current Age of Iron and Darkness).

If we can love all of our brothers and sisters, we have already begun to move into Kertha Yuga [the Age of Truth]. We have already won 'The War Against Terrorism'.

Thank you for all your compassion and love.

Asana Viebeke L
Kuta Desa Adat
Parum Samigita


John Hogue
Rogue Scholar/Author:
—Essential Nostradamus: Prophecies for the 21st Century and Beyond
—Nostradamus: The New Millennium
—Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies
—Messiahs, The Visions and Prophecies for the Second Coming
—The Last Pope: The Decline and Fall of the Church of Rome
—The Millennium Book of Prophecy
—1000 for 2000 Startling Predictions for the New Millennium

Visit my web site at: http://www.hogueprophecy.com

You can purchase any of my books and audio books by going to:


While Jim Wrestles with the Thunderbird...

From the Raelian site at http://www.reall.org/newsletter/v07/n10/thunderbird.html

by Martin Kottmeyer

It was twenty minutes before airtime and Marlin Perkins was in the Lincoln Park Zoo running through a quick rehearsal for the upcoming edition of Zooparade, his 1950s show about animals that was the forerunner to Wild Kingdom. He was planning to show how the venom of a timber rattlesnake was extracted and he was giving the cameramen an idea of where they should be to get their shot. He later realized that he didn't really need to be doing this with the actual snake, but hindsight is twenty-twenty. He began to handle the rattler but in the rush of things he failed to get a proper grip on it. The snake turned and sank a fang into his left middle finger.

One of the keepers quickly put it back in the cage and Perkins grabbed a knife from his pocket to open up the puncture and suck out the venom. More cuts and suction cups were applied, this being the standard emergency procedure of the time. He was quickly taken to the hospital and another person had to take over. The substitute did the venom extraction and mentioned the very same snake bit Perkins earlier. Perkins said it was the very worst accident that ever happened during the run of Zooparade. It took him three weeks before he was released from the hospital.

The story doesn't end there. As Perkins tells it, "An interesting after-reaction to this episode is the fact that even today I meet people who in all seriousness tell me that they sat there in front of their television receivers and watched that rattlesnake sink his fangs into my finger. At first, I used to correct them and explain I wasn't on the show that day, that the bite occurred before we were on the air. But these people are so sure in their own minds that they have seen this thing happen that I now just let it pass and don't try to correct them. Perhaps this shows the power of suggestion." (Marlin Perkins, My Wild Kingdom, E.P. Dutton, 1982, pp. 118-9)



by Hayyim ben Yehoshua


Much concern has been expressed in the Jewish media regarding the activity of "Jews for Jesus" and other missionary organizations who go out of their way to convert Jews to Christianity. Unfortunately, many Jews are ill equipped to deal with Christian missionaries and their arguments. Hopefully this article will contribute to remedying this situation.

When countering Christian missionaries it is important to base one's arguments on correct facts. Arguments based on incorrect facts can easily backfire and end up strengthening the arguments of the missionaries.

It is rather unfortunate that many well-meaning Jewish Studies teachers have unwittingly aided missionaries by teaching Jewish pupils incorrect information about the origins of Christianity. I can recall being taught the following story about Jesus at the Jewish day school I attended:

"Jesus was a famous first century rabbi whose Hebrew name was Rabbi Yehoshua. His father was a carpenter named Joseph and his mother's name was Mary. Mary became pregnant before she married Joseph. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem during a Roman census. Jesus grew up in Nazareth and became a learned rabbi. He traveled all over Israel preaching that people should love one another. Some people thought that he was the Messiah and he did not deny this, which made the other rabbis very angry. He caused so much controversy that the Roman governor Pontius Pilate had him crucified. He was buried in a tomb and later his body was found to be missing since it had probably been stolen by his disciples."
A few years after being taught this seemingly innocent story, I became interested in the origins of Christianity and decided to do some further reading on the "famous Rabbi Yehoshua." Much to my dismay, I discovered that there was no historical evidence of this Rabbi Yehoshua. The claim that Jesus was a rabbi named Yehoshua and the claim that his body was probably stolen both turned out to be pure conjecture. The rest of the story was nothing more than a watered down version of the story which Christians believe as part of the Christian religion but which is not supported by any legitimate historical source.

There was absolutely no historical evidence that Jesus, Joseph or Mary ever existed, let alone that Joseph was a carpenter or that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth.

Electrophonic Fireball Survey: a review of witness reports


November 2002: The first review of almost 100 witness reportes collected by GEFS:

Vinkovic, D., Garaj, S., Lim, P. L., Kovacic, D., Zgrablic, G., Andreic, Z. " Global Electrophonic Fireball Survey: a review of witness reports - I. ", submitted to WGN

ABSTRACT: " Despite more than 300 years since its first scientific description, the phenomenon of electrophonic sounds from meteors is still eluding complete physical explanation. According to the accepted knowledge, the sound itself is created by strong electric fields on the ground induced by the meteor. Nonetheless, there is no convincing theory that can fully explain how a meteor can generate such a strong electric field. Extreme rareness of the phenomenon has prevented a substantial experimental work so far; thus, consequently, it remains on the margins of scientific interest. This is quite unfortunate since these electric fields suggest existence of a highly complex electromagnetic coupling and charge dynamics between the meteors and the ionosphere. Therefore, the existing theoretical work relies mostly on the witness reports. The Global Electrophonic Fireball Survey (GEFS) is the first systematic survey of witness reports of these sounds with a standardized questionnaire designed exclusively for this phenomenon. Here we present the overall picture of the phenomenon that emerged after almost 100 reports collected by GEFS. It becomes clear now that the lover meteor brightness limit is about -2^m, suggesting a bias in the existing electrophonic sounds catalogues toward brighter meteors. In contrast to the current belief that such low brightness electrophonic meteors produce transient sounds, we find that they can also produce sustained sounds. The current theories can not accommodate these results. We revive the old idea that the electrophonic sounds can be created by the corona discharge mechanism, in addition to the existing prevalent suggestion of resonant vibration of objects on the ground. "

download (PDF File):






Group Protests Influence of Conservatives on Textbooks in Texas


November 13, 2002

AUSTIN, Tex., Nov. 12 — Dozens of people gathered today at the State Capitol here to protest what they called the unfair influence of conservative groups over the state's textbook adoption process.

The protesters, part of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that calls itself a watchdog of the religious right, said an example of the influence was the removal of positive portrayals of Islam in the proposed textbooks after some people complained that it was "more propaganda."

"Good textbooks help me; censored and distorted ones hurt," Andrew Riggsby, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, said. Some people want to "wipe out facts they don't happen to care for," Professor Riggsby said. "That's not review; that's vandalism."

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Area 51: Bush Exempts Secret Base From Environmental Laws


By Leonard David,Senior Space Writer

posted: 09:35 am ET, 30 December 2002

That super-secret Air Force base near Groom Lake, Nevada -- purported site of everything from captured aliens to the highest of high-tech aircraft -- has been exempted by President Bush from environmental laws that would disclose classified information regarding base operations.

President Bush's decision about Groom Lake was made last September and published December 24 in the Federal Register.

Groom Lake has been the target of litigation brought about by former workers at the base. That legal action focused on health effects resulting in the handling and disposal of hazardous wastes at the secret locale.

Bush judged that "it is in the paramount interest of the United States" to prevent disclosure of information about Groom Lake.

The Presidential decision exempts the Air Force activity at Groom Lake, Nevada, "from any Federal, State, interstate or local provision respecting control and abatement of solid waste or hazardous waste disposal that would require the disclosure of classified information concerning the operating location to any unauthorized person."

The exemption shall be effective for a full one-year statutory period.

Parsimony Post

A net community(message board) devoted to discussion of outr'e and fantastical beliefs and all associated with them. To that end I am sending the link to various persons of skeptical bent on the web. For the moment it's pretty informal and loose. If you are interested in visiting and posting here is the link.


Paul Novak

Cloning a Previous Hoax? Raelian Claims Highlight a '78 Fraud -- and Challenge of Proving Success


By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 31, 2002; Page A03

For all the speed with which science was progressing, virtually no one had thought it would happen so soon. Yet there it was in huge block letters on the front page of the New York Post: The world's first human clone had been born.

The next day, The Washington Post and other newspapers across the country ran with the story about the rogue scientists who had cloned a human on an undisclosed island. A spokesman connected to the effort refused to identify the infant, citing a desire to "protect the child from harmful publicity." Legislators quickly called for a ban on human cloning. And just as immediately came warnings that such a ban might choke off medically promising research.

December 2002?

Try March 1978.

Indeed, when representatives of the Raelians, an extraterrestrial-worshipping religious group, announced last week that they had created the world's first human clone, their claim was itself a clone of sorts -- a clone of a very similar claim made a quarter century ago, and one that ultimately proved to be a hoax.

Man Blames Reckless Driving on Martians


MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - A Frenchman who raced through a motorway road block, triggering a high-speed police car chase that ended in a minor crash, has blamed aliens from Mars for his reckless driving.

Under police custody in a hospital in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, the 42-year-old told police he was being "chased by Martians" when he charged through a road block on the A55 motorway Monday evening, police sources said.

A breathalyzer test for alcohol proved negative, but police are still awaiting the results of drugs tests and a psychiatric examination.

France, which has one of the worst accident rates in Europe with more than 8,000 road deaths each year, is in the process of stiffening its speeding and drink-driving laws to try and reduce the carnage on its roads.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Another "Amazing"?, Sports Medals, Game/Test, Magic Asteroid, Gold Tout, Qi Gonger Bows out, Those Fairies Are Back, and Off to Korea!

From: James Randi

Richard Saunders, President of the Australian Skeptics Inc., sent us this report on a "psychic" who has borrowed part of my name without permission:

Richard Lead and I from the Australian Skeptics went to see the stage show of "The Amazing Valda." We sat in the audience of about 500 and wondered what she might have up her sleeve. We're always on the lookout for a new trick or angle, and who knows? We may even discover a real psychic.

Valda began her act by telling us that we should all buy her books. Then we were informed that a "young lady" would be dancing on stage throughout her act. We looked - no one else came on stage. Ah! It was a spirit dancing on stage! Valda told us that only clairvoyants could see her. Sure enough, a few hands went up. Over the next hour, this invisible dancer would bump and prod Valda without warning. How rude!

Here are a few, I hesitate to say, "highlights" from her act, and yes, "messages from loved ones" means talking to the dead. Valda tried to get a hit by using the initial "D" with a man in his late fifties. She kept at it until it was apparent that the man knew of no one that fit. OK, how to get out of this? Ah! "D" stands for "Dad." The initial "H," to a lady also in her late fifties, met with a blank. Who is "H"?" Finally Valda said that "H" stands for "Helper"! "They're telling me that you're a Helper!"

What is it about ghosts and letters of the alphabet?

Another lady was asked, "Who liked to cook....scones? She's on the other side?" Again, not a hit. "Cooking scones" quickly turned into "eating scones," which turned into "reading books," which turned into "reading books about scones," which turned into "eating scones while reading books," and so on.

"Who was it who liked gardening? Is it you? Was it someone else? Was it anybody?"

Although Valda's promotions say she "will answer questions from the audience," it was in fact Valda who asked all the questions. And asked, and asked, and asked. "Who is....? Who does.....? Who is the initial.....? Is she on the other side? Can you relate to this? What was.....? Is it you, or the person next to you?"

It seems Valda picked up her "cold reading" technique in dribs and drabs rather than making any attempt to study the art, and it really showed in the low standard of her routine. It was a clumsy mixture of meaningless New Age doubletalk, channeling, and appeals to "universal love." I wish I could say the rest of her act was better, but she continued to flounder from person to person, spirit to spirit, rarely getting a "hit," and at times I almost felt sorry for her.

But then came a new low. The 20th of October, the day we saw her show, was designated as a "National Day of Mourning" for the victims of the Bali bombing here in Australia. Earlier in the day, we had all stood for a minute's silence. At that time I told Richard that if Valda tried to contact the dead from this recent tragedy, I would need to be restrained in my seat. When the moment came, I was too sickened to move.

We got to do this because the sprits just said, "Join hands," as the people who have "gone over" from Bali have been trotting around here. They just said "It's a sea of love," and your love is getting them to be accepted on the other side, with those from the American tragedy.

Valda ended her act by telling us that we should all buy her books.

I'm afraid The Amazing Valda is simply the worst cold reader I have ever seen. I could only recommend she buys and studies "Full Facts Book of Cold Reading" by Ian Rowland. She is also to be strongly condemned for twisting a day of mourning for a national tragedy into her act. The insult to the dead and grieving of Bali (and the US) was nothing short of appalling, and in the worst possible taste. Do I think Valda really believed in what she was saying? I doubt it, but I cannot be sure. If she did, she's in need of professional help.

What did I learn? The only new trick I picked up from Valda was the way she trained the audience to applaud after each "reading," no matter how pathetic it was. We were "clapping to encourage the spirits," she said. The result was to have the hall full of applause every four minutes or so. Very clever, Valda, though some professional magicians of my acquaintance manage this trick with much more aplomb and good humor. I also learned that someone who is rotten at cold reading can easily get away with it.

Cold reading is an art anyone can learn, and the people who perform cold reading are rightfully thought of as artists. As with any performance art, there are good performers, great performers and then there are those who should just give up and find another outlet for their creativity. Valda, it's time to move on. You are an embarrassment to the art.

Okay, but this just proves again that skill is not required when the audience needs these things to be true. Valda, despite her lack of talent, has her own radio call-in show in Australia, plus a newspaper column. She doesn't have to be good, just free of ethics and of respect for her victims.


You'll recall that we mentioned here the BioMagnetics' website, which proudly announces an endorsement of their flummery by Australian Kevin Dalton, who they say was "awarded the Australian Sports Medal by Queen Elizabeth II for his use of the Davis and Rawls magnetics with sports participants, including Australian Olympic winners." We wondered about the prestige of that award, given in the category "Miscellaneous" (?) to Mr. Dalton, then reader Tara Ogawa informed us that the "Australian Sports Medal" may not be quite as impressive as it sounds. Says Tara:

Over 18,000 "Australian Sports Medals" were progressively distributed and presented during the year 2000. If you consider that Australia only has a population of about 19 million, that means that during the year 2000, about one in a thousand people received one...

My incredible psychic powers tell me that Queen Elizabeth had very little to do with the presentation of Mr. Dalton's medal. The Governor-General presents high Australian honors; lower honors are presented by minor officials. The Australian Sports Medal might have been presented by Mr. Dalton's boss or local member.

Thank you for that analysis, Tara. I'll add my observation that according to those figures, that medal was awarded to some 50 persons a day, too! Just think of the postage!


Reader Germán Buela writes that the British musician Mike Oldfield has set up a web site with what he calls, a "telepathy game." It's at [4]http://www.mikeoldfield.com/poll.htm . Players are asked to look at four shapes and guess which shape Mike chose. The page says, "... usually the first answer that comes into your mind is correct, so trust yourself." Germán opines:

It's little things like these that help propagate magical thinking: people might think that this game, lacking proper controls, serves as a scientific test for telepathy. At first sight I see a problem. The first shape that "comes into my mind" is effectively the one that most people have voted (once you make your choice, you can see how many people have chosen each shape), and I had suspected that right away. This is not due to telepathy but to the shape itself and its location: you are led to pick that one. There is an important factor in the cost of an advertisement in magazines, apart from size: its location, and I don't mean the obvious places like back cover, centerfold, etc., but because we tend to end up looking at a certain spot on an opened page. I think the same thing worked here, and I wouldn't be at all surprised that it worked on Mike as well, which might seem like a confirmation of telepathy when his choice is revealed in January.

I am not being explicit on which that location is, and why the shape catches your eye. But I'm sure critical thinkers will arrive at the same conclusion. I have also commented on this on my website (in Spanish): [5]http://www.asalup.org/lacolumna

Putting in my own expertise here, I'll tell you that by far the most-chosen of the five standard ESP-cards symbols (circle, plus-sign, wavy lines, square, and five-pointed star) is the star. Since this "game" involves only four symbols, and one is star-like, I'll bet on that one to be the winner. Yes, Germán, this is a really poor "game," and a worse "test."


[6]Jim McGaha, personal friend, prominent amateur astronomer and deep-sky photographer, sent me this quotation from a paper that is well-known to "New Age" astrologers, "The Significance of Asteroids," by Jacob Schwartz:

So few astronomers understand astrology or the archetypal power of names. Is their seeming arbitrary naming the factor in creating the vibration? Or is the vibration already there, waiting to be acknowledged, and so strong that the asteroid itself dictates its name to the astronomer via the circuitry of the unconscious mind that links one to the holographic mysteries of the universe?
I consider all that doubtful. How could asteroid #3163 (1981QM) have been named "Randi"? What possible set of vibrations would bring that about....?


Reader Steve Vaughn writes:

Reading your latest column on your site I was reminded of a man in my Navy Reserves unit in San Jose, California in the mid 80's. This gentleman, a Sea Bee, claimed that he could dowse for gold! Not only that, but if someone brought in a river map he could dowse the map and mark down where gold could be located and all he asked for was 10% of what was found.

Since virtually every inch of creek and river in California is claimed by a gold hunter group, one has to join this group and then you can have access to the rivers and creeks. This costs about $1500 plus yearly fees. So this guy would have members of the gold hunters show up and he would have his lil' dowsing rod (about 6 inches long) and he would go over the map, it would twitch around, he'd mark spots, and then wait for his percentage. I called him on this because even with my basic knowledge of how water moves, one can pretty much see on the map where gold would likely be deposited. My challenge of having me find the likely spots on the same map and he doing his dowsing and comparing notes, was turned down.

I've not seen those guys in years but I wonder how many people contractually agreed to pay this fraud out of the little gold that they would find with our without his help.

Steve, this is the old racing-tout game played with gold.... In effect, the guy can't lose, because those who are unsuccessful don't get back to him, and those who are winners - sometimes - will pay off. Yet another swindle I didn't think of....


A man who had seen me on Chinese TV, sent in a list of various ailments he thought I had, a list which was very wrong. As usual, he ascribed to me the problems that a 74-year-old man often has, but that I don't. In response to his application for the JREF million-dollar prize, which was sent in by his daughter, and which said that her father could diagnose a person just by seeing their photo, I replied as I usually do to such a claim. This claim is very, very, common here at the JREF.

I sent him ten photos of persons I know, simply asking him to tell me whether each person shown was dead or alive, rather than having to go through evaluating the long, convoluted, vague, descriptions such as, "Feels tired and weak at night, liver unbalance and bile excess, tingling in ears" that are part of the usual diagnosis. The simplified test has never been accepted by any of these "diagnosticians," who usually just stop corresponding at that point. But this man offered reasons for not doing such a basic test. Headed, "Qigong is not a divination or necromancy," the reply came, written by his daughter:

Dear Mr. Randi,

Thank you for your prompt reply.

Firstly, Qigong is not the panacea, it can solve some problems, but not all of the human diseases, it is a very ancient physical theory in China, it is based on the Chinese Medicine, according to the flow of blood, venation structure. In the science age, Qigong could not heal all the disease.

Qigong, means someone have more energy than the ordinary person, but not really a superman, in a short word, he owns talent or performance in a special condition.

As to the photos, my father could not tell you who is alive or dead, sorry for that. One reason is his or her soul is still existent, but my father could give the diagnosis for him or her. I must to say, it will allow a little discrepancy.

Qigong is not a divination or necromancy, it is inductive for magnetic field between the acceptor and dispenser, if you read some Chinese Wushu [Chinese martial arts] novels before, you could understand more easily.

I responded:
I believe that if your father can diagnose illnesses, as he claims he can, he should be able to diagnose death rather positively. This is the easiest, most direct, test for claims of diagnosis. You have refused it, and that is your decision.
Please recognize this procedure for what it is. We use it in order to avoid getting involved with very complicated exchanges and arguments. It's like summarily eliminating race-cars that have no tires, rather than having to examine them for safety attachments and conformity with track rules. Even I, with no medical training, can detect the symptom known as "death." If this man, who says he can diagnose complicated defects such as blocked arteries and tumors, cannot diagnose death, his technique needs work. We've offered other similar applicants the opportunity of determining which of a selection of persons might have an artificial leg, and they've always told us that "spiritually" the original leg is still there, and still gives out "vibrations" to them. They are experienced at handling problems like this, and they know that their followers are happy to accept their reasoning.

It is likely that we will not hear back from this applicant. This is the choice that most of these folks take when faced with a simple, direct, uncomplicated test. When we're asked why we don't issue a list of applicants for the prize, we cite this as one of the reasons. Did this applicant actually apply? Well, almost. Do you begin to see the problem?


Back in 1922, a remarkable book, "The Coming of the Fairies," by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was published in the U.K. I say "remarkable," because it seemed not possible that Sir Arthur actually meant it to be taken seriously - but he did. It dealt with the photos taken by cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, five years earlier, which they claimed were of fairies and other supernatural creatures they had encountered in Cottingley Glen, near their home in Bradford, Yorkshire.

[Aside: at the JREF, we have the original first edition of the Conan Doyle book that was presented, with inscription, to Elsie Wright, by the author.]

The photos were blatantly amateurish fakes, even for the state of photography as it was at that time. The matter is discussed in detail elsewhere on these pages. Just do a "search" for "Cottingley."

A distinguished writer of the day, Maurice Hewlett (1861-1923), raised some objections to the fairy photos, which were then known as the Carpenter photos because Conan Doyle had concealed the girls' real identities. Hewlett's objections were in some ways well-founded, in others, not. Certainly they were far better than the responses to them offered by theosophist Edward L. Gardner, Conan Doyle's "researcher" and spokesman. I'm interested in the fact that neither side in this argument seemed adequately competent. Taken from the 1922 Conan Doyle book, Mr. Hewlett's contentions were as follows:

The stage which Sir A. Conan Doyle has reached at present is one of belief in the genuineness of what one may call the Carpenter photographs, which showed the other day to the readers of the Strand Magazine two ordinary girls in familiar intercourse with winged beings, as near as I can judge, about eighteen inches high.
Randi comments: First bad guess. Unless the girls had very big heads, those fairies were no more than 10 to 11 inches in height. A poor start to a critique.

If he [Conan Doyle] believes in the photographs, two inferences can be made, so to speak, to stand up: one, that he must believe also in the existence of the beings; two, that a mechanical operation, where human agency has done nothing but prepare a plate, focus an object, press a button, and print a picture, has rendered visible something which is not otherwise visible to the common naked eye.
Hewlett could not have known about infra-red photography, which only developed in the 1920s, but his second point is certainly not valid. And, fairies were said to be visible to innocent little girls, and both girls had claimed they actually saw them. His first point is obviously true, yet rather pointless; Sir Arthur believed in almost everything, so fairies were not a leap of faith for him.
That is really all Sir Arthur has to tell us. He believes the photographs to be genuine. The rest follows. But why does he believe it? Because the young ladies tell him that they are genuine. Alas!
Here, Hewlett is very probably right. Conan Doyle simply could not bring himself to accept that little girls would lie, particularly to him. He was a perfect foil for their game.
Sir Arthur cannot, he tells us, go into Yorkshire himself to cross-examine the young ladies, even if he wishes to cross-examine them, which does not appear. However, he sends in his place a friend, Mr. E. L. Gardner, also of hospitable mind, with settled opinions upon theosophy and kindred subjects, but deficient, it would seem, in logical faculty. Mr. Gardner has had himself photographed in the place where the young ladies photographed each other, or thereabouts. No winged beings circled about him, and one wonders why Mr. Gardner (a) was photographed, (b) reproduced the photograph in the Strand Magazine.
Gardner certainly was not very bright, and hopelessly crippled by his devout belief in Theosophy - a religion which preached, and still preaches, the literal reality of fairies. In addition, he was the agent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a paramount figure of that time, and pleasing the boss has always been a high priority with some people. However, I have no difficulty understanding why Gardner would want his photograph to appear in one of England's leading popular magazines....! Hewlett refers in what follows, to a current news item of the day:
The only answer I can find is suggested to me by the appearance of the Virgin and Child to certain shepherds in a peach-orchard at Verona. The shepherds told their parish priest that the Virgin Mary had indeed appeared to them on a moonlit night, had accepted a bowl of milk from them, had then picked a peach from one of the trees and eaten it. The priest visited the spot in their company, and in due course picked up a peach-stone. That settled it. Obviously the Madonna had been really there, for here was the peach-stone to prove it.

I am driven to the conclusion that Mr. Gardner had himself photographed on a particular spot in order to prove the genuineness of former photographs taken there. The argument would run: The photographs were taken on a certain spot; but I have been myself photographed on that spot; therefore the photographs were genuine. There is a fallacy lurking, but it is a hospitable fallacy; and luckily it doesn't very much matter.

I don't find that a fair objection, at all. Gardner was quite properly showing readers the location where the girls' photographs had been taken, and providing an idea of scale by simply being in the photograph. Hewlett is not on firm ground here. He continues:
The line to take about a question of the sort is undoubtedly that of least resistance. Which is the harder of belief, the faking of a photograph or the objective existence of winged beings eighteen inches high? Undoubtedly, to a plain man, the latter; but assume the former. If such beings exist, if they are occasionally visible, and if a camera is capable of revealing to all the world what is hidden from most people in it, we are not yet able to say that the Carpenter photographs are photographs of such beings. For we, observe, have not seen such beings. True: but we have all seen photographs of beings in rapid motion - horses racing, greyhounds coursing a hare, men running over a field, and so on. We have seen pictures of these things, and we have seen photographs of them; and the odd thing is that never, never by any chance does the photograph of a running object in the least resemble a picture of it.
I find this difficult to understand, let alone accept. Hewlett was out of his depth here. Or perhaps he'd not seen many photographs. In any case, he missed far more obvious aspects that clearly damn the photos as fakes. See my references elsewhere in these pages.
The horse, dog, or man, in fact, in the photograph does not look to be in motion at all. And rightly so, because in the instant of being photographed it was not in motion. So infinitely rapid is the action of light on the plate that it is possible to isolate a fraction of time in a rapid flight and to record it. Directly you combine a series of photographs in sequence, and set them moving, you have a semblance of motion exactly like that which you have in a picture.
Nonsense. Everything depends on the speed of the camera's shutter, and whether or not the aperture and the sensitivity of the film is enough to register the figure adequately.
Now, the beings circling round a girl's head and shoulders in the Carpenter photograph are in picture flight, and not in photographic flight. That is certain. They are in the approved pictorial, or plastic, convention of dancing. They are not well rendered by any means. They are stiff compared with, let us say, the whirling gnomes on the outside wrapper of Punch [a popular humor magazine of the day, still published]. They have very little of the wild, irresponsible vagary of a butterfly. But they are an attempt to render an aerial dance - pretty enough in a small way. The photographs are too small to enable me to decide whether they are painted on cardboard or modelled in the round; but the figures are not moving.

One other point, which may be called a small one - but in a matter of the sort no point is a small one. I regard it as a certainty, as the other plainly is. If the dancing figures had been dancing beings, really there, the child in the photograph would have been looking at them, not at the camera. I know children.

And knowing children, and knowing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has legs, I decide that the Miss Carpenters have pulled one of them. Meantime I suggest to him that epochs are born, not made.

I'll allow my readers to refer to the comments I've already published, both in my book, "Flim-Flam!" and on previous pages of this site, to see just how lame this criticism is. But what follows in an attempt at rebuttal by E.L. Gardner, is even worse.
I could have wished that Mr. Hewlett's somewhat playful criticism of the genuineness of the photographs of fairies appearing in the Strand Magazine Christmas number had been more clearly defined. The only serious point raised is the difference between photographic and pictorial representation of motion - Mr. Hewlett maintaining that the latter is in evidence in the photographs.

With regard to the separate photographs of the sites, surely the reason for their inclusion is obvious. Photographic experts had stated that though the two negatives revealed no trace of any faking process (such as double exposure, painted figures on enlargements rephotographed, set-up models in card or other material), still it could not be held to be impossible to obtain the same class of result by very clever studio work.

No, Mr. Gardner, "very clever studio work" - as we now know - was not at all needed. There was no double exposure (except for an accidental one, as I pointed out previously) but there certainly could not have ever been any authoritative statement by any "expert" that "set-up models" were not used. How could that have possibly been established?
Also, certain points that needed elucidation were the haze above and at the side of the child's head, and the blurred appearance of the waterfall as compared with the clarity of the figures, etc. An inspection of the spots and photographs of their surroundings was surely the only way to clear up some of these. As a matter of fact, the waterfall proved to be about twenty feet behind the child, and hence out of focus, and some large rocks at the same distance in the rear, at the side of the fall, were found to be the cause of the haziness. The separate photographs, of which only one is published of each place, confirm entirely the genuineness of the sites - not the genuineness of the fairies.
This incredible statement by Gardner surely demonstrates his ignorance. That "haziness" is due to the fact that when this negative was printed, the darkroom technician used the only method available at the time, to bring out the face of the girl Frances. It's called, "dodging." Since Frances was rather in the dark, behind the figures, a regular "flat" printing of the negative which would have shown the figures and the waterfall appropriately, would have rendered the girl's face very darkly. In order to bring it out lighter, while the printing paper was being exposed to the light, the technician would have used a finger or a tool to shield that portion of the paper. That's an inexact procedure, and often makes an indistinct "halo" effect - which is exactly what is shown here. I have seen many different prints of this photos, and it's evident that they were all "dodged" in the printing process.

The "rocks" had nothing to do with the haziness, as Gardner claimed. He continued:

In commenting on the photography of a moving object, Mr. Hewlett makes the astonishing statement that at the instant of being photographed it is not in motion (Mr. H.'s italics). I wonder when it is, and what would happen if a camera was exposed then! Of course the moving object is in motion during exposure, no matter whether the time be a fiftieth or a millionth part of a second, though Mr. Hewlett is by no means the only one to fall into this error. And each of the fairy figures in the negative discloses signs of movement. This was one of the first points determined.
Gardner is quite correct here, until he gets to the part where he says that there is movement to be seen in the figures. There is not. The fairies are sharp and clear. Those flapping wings, supposedly keeping the fairies suspended, would have been moving so fast, that even at 1/50th of a second shutter time, there would have been blurring. And very little research was needed to determine that the camera (a "Midg" box-camera) had a fastest speed of just 1/10th of a second. That's why the waterfall, moving quickly, is blurred more than distance alone would call for, and the folks at Kodak, in the UK, estimated for me that the exposure was more like two seconds, given the subdued light. Gardner continued:
I admit at once, of course, that this does not meet the criticism that the fairies display much more grace in action than is to be found in the ordinary snapshot of a moving horse or man. But if we are here dealing with fairies whose bodies must be presumed to be of a purely ethereal and plastic nature, and not with skeleton-framed mammals at all, is it such a very illogical mind that accepts the exquisite grace therein found as a natural quality that is never absent? In view of the overwhelming evidence of genuineness now in hand this seems to be the truth.
Words fail me to comment on that vapidity.......

With regard to the last query raised - the child looking at the camera instead of at the fairies - Alice [Frances] was entirely unsophisticated respecting the proper photographic attitude. For her, cameras were much more novel than fairies, and never before had she seen one used so close to her. Strange to us as it may seem, at the moment it interested her the most. Apropos, would a faker, clever enough to produce such a photograph, commit the elementary blunder of not posing his subject?

Gardner was well aware that the two girls regularly used the camera as a plaything, Elsie's father being an amateur photographer who developed and printed at his home. There was very little novelty in the situation to Frances. We now know that there were many, many, failures of the girls' efforts at trick photography, and Gardner himself had a mass of negative plates from which he prepared lantern-slides for his Theosophy talk on the Cottingley fairies. We have, at the JREF, the original box of slides that he used, and though several obvious and damning errors show up in those photos, Gardner was blind to them, due to his need to believe.

Here ends Gardner's contribution. Conan Doyle takes up the discussion:

Among other interesting and weighty opinions, which were in general agreement with our contentions, was one by Mr. H. A. Staddon of Goodmayes, a gentleman who had made a particular hobby of fakes in photography. His report is too long and too technical for inclusion, but, under the various headings of composition, dress, development, density, lighting, poise, texture, plate, atmosphere, focus, halation, he goes very completely into the evidence, coming to the final conclusion that when tried by all these tests the chances are not less than 80 per cent in favour of authenticity.
Conan Doyle's readers were not told that the Kodak lab in London had also been consulted on this matter, and declined to give an opinion. Bearing in mind the traditional politeness embraced by the British at this period of history, one must ask why this most prestigious set of experts would have chosen not to comment. Other "experts" perhaps did, though we cannot know how many were consulted before a positive opinion was obtained by Gardner.
It may be added that in the course of exhibiting these photographs (in the interests of the Theosophical bodies with which Mr. Gardner is connected), it has sometimes occurred that the plates have been enormously magnified upon the screen. In one instance, at Wakefield, the powerful lantern used threw an exceptionally large picture on a huge sheet. The operator, a very intelligent man who had taken a skeptical attitude, was entirely converted to the truth of the photographs, for, as he pointed out, such an enlargement would show the least trace of a scissors irregularity or of any artificial detail, and would make it absurd to suppose that a dummy figure could remain undetected. The lines were always beautifully fine and unbroken.
Well, we now know, from the fakers themselves, that scissors were used, that these were cut-outs, and that the experts accepted by Conan Doyle were either wrong, or knew better but were trying to gain the favor of Sir Arthur. I prefer to believe the former of these two possibilities.


We've just passed 180 registrants for The Amaz!ng Meeting, and to our delight, Professor John C. Brown, Regius Professor of Astronomy at Glasgow, who presents "Magic of the Cosmos," a lecture series using conjuring stunts, will be attending. John is also the Astronomer Royal of Scotland, and we're very honored to have him joining us to present a paper - "Astronomy, the Ultimate Magic Show" - at the Sunday session. We seem to be rather heavy on astronomers, which pleases me no end!


Had to mention this: I just bought an extended service agreement on a computer program. "Extended" hardly expresses it. Looking at the parameters of the warranty, I see that it's good for another "99,993 days." That means that in 273 years, nine months, and five days (give or take a day or so), I'll have to renew....


I'm preparing to go to Korea to tape eight TV shows that will investigate the claims of Asian "psychics" and "healers." There may be a gap in the posting of updates here, though I'm trying to get enough material submitted to last until I get back January 20th.

Happy 2003, everyone!

Some Scientists Suggest Relativity May Be, Well, Relative

December 30, 2002

Roll over, Einstein.

In science, no truth is forever, not even perhaps Einstein's theory of relativity, the pillar of modernity that gave us E=mc2.

As propounded by Einstein as an audaciously confident young patent clerk in 1905, relativity declares that the laws of physics, and in particular the speed of light - 186,000 miles per second - are the same no matter where you are or how fast you are moving.

Generations of students and philosophers have struggled with the paradoxical consequences of Einstein's deceptively simple notion, which underlies all of modern physics and technology, wrestling with clocks that speed up and slow down, yardsticks that contract and expand and bad jokes using the word "relative."

Guided by ambiguous signals from the heavens, and by the beauty of their equations, a few brave - or perhaps foolhardy - physicists now say that relativity may have limits and will someday have to be revised.


Modern healers embracing ancient medicine


By Nick Perry
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Students have long studied for doctoral degrees in philosophy and medicine — but never before for a doctorate in acupuncture.

No recognized learning institution in the United States has ever offered such a course. But next year, Bastyr University in Kenmore plans to offer a DAOM — a Doctorate in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. An alternative college in Portland has similar plans.

The new degree will give more credibility to a treatment that is increasingly accepted and embraced as a companion to conventional medicine, said Terry Courtney, the program chairman. It also will open research opportunities and the chance for students to specialize within their field.

The program is expected to get accreditation from a national board that oversees Oriental-medicine education. It would not be considered a medical degree or give graduates the same privileges as medical doctors, such as the ability to prescribe drugs. It would be up to each state to decide whether to allow graduates to put "Dr." before their names.

The curriculum manual ISLAM: A Simulation is a Muslim religious tract

letter of 12 December 2002 from the president of The Textbook League to the administrator of the Curriculum Framework and Instructional Resources Office of the California State Department of Education

12 December 2002

Ms. Suzanne C. Rios
Curriculum Framework and Instructional Resources Office
California State Department of Education
1430 N Street
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Ms. Rios:

Thank you for the help and courtesy that you extended to me and to The Textbook League's manager of research, Earl Hautala, when we met with you in Sacramento on 19 November 2002. During our visit, you furnished Mr. Hautala and me with copies of your records pertaining to the legal-compliance approval that the Curriculum Framework and Instructional Resources Office has granted to the curriculum manual ISLAM: A Simulation of Islamic History and Culture, 610-1100.

ISLAM: A Simulation -- produced and distributed by Interaction Publishers (of Carlsbad, California) -- consists of lesson plans and handouts for a three-week program of instruction in which students "will simulate becoming Muslims" and allegedly "will learn about the history and culture of Islam." The lesson plans and handouts occupy 114 printed pages, contained in a loose-leaf binder. Interaction Publishers promotes ISLAM: A Simulation as an instructional resource for use by history teachers in grades 6 through 12.

In truth, however, ISLAM: A Simulation is a Muslim religious tract, fashioned by writers who seek to exploit classroom teachers for propagating Islam and for winning converts to the religion of Allah.

During the three-week program dictated in ISLAM: A Simulation, students are subjected to relentless religious indoctrination, are continually required to embrace Muslim religious beliefs, are continually required to absorb and to parrot Muslim propaganda that has been disguised as historical information, and are continually required to accept and to parrot Muslim myths and superstitions that have been falsely presented as matters of fact. Furthermore, the program prescribed in ISLAM: A Simulation has been viciously contrived to deprive students of the capacity to distinguish facts from fantasies and from empty claims.

Can we substantiate those charges? Indeed we can, for our charges are based upon a careful analysis that has included attention to every page in the ISLAM: A Simulation binder. The results of that analysis are described in a 5,700-word article -- titled "Page for Page, This Is the Most Malignant Product That I've Seen During All My Years as a Reviewer" -- which has now been published at http://www.textbookleague.org/filth.htm on The Textbook League's Web site. A hard copy of the article is enclosed herewith. When you read it, you will acquire a detailed understanding of the reasons why we have characterized ISLAM: A Simulation as a Muslim religious tract, and you will see that ISLAM: A Simulation is a pernicious hoax.

Petition for Revocation of the Legal-Compliance Approval

The Textbook League now requests that the California State Department of Education's legal-compliance approval of ISLAM: A Simulation -- granted in 2000 by the Curriculum Framework and Instructional Resources Office -- be revoked immediately. ISLAM: A Simulation continually violates and mocks the Department's rule which states that instructional materials, if they are to qualify for legal-compliance approval, must not indoctrinate students "in any particular religious belief." (Later in this letter we'll quote the rule in full.)

Legal-compliance approvals issued by the Curriculum Framework and Instructional Resources Office are highly valuable to companies that promote and sell instructional materials to public schools in the State of California, and the reason for this is clear: If a product carries a legal-compliance approval, public schools can use State funds to buy the product in quantity. A legal-compliance approval thus provides a palpable economic incentive for school officials to select the approved product for use in classrooms.

No State agency should be involved in helping Interaction Publishers to sell ISLAM: A Simulation to public schools, and no State funds should be used, under any circumstances, to supply public schools with copies of Interact's grotesque product. The legal-compliance approval that has been granted to ISLAM: A Simulation must be revoked without delay.

Recommendation: Repair the Approval Process

The standards that govern the granting of legal-compliance approvals have been promulgated in the California State Department of Education's booklet Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content. This booklet was slightly revised in 2000, but the section titled "Religion" wasn't changed at all. In the current version of the booklet, as in the previous (1986) version, the "Religion" section sets forth a rule that manifestly prohibits the approval of any instructional product that subjects the student to religious indoctrination:

Indoctrination. Any explanation or description of a religious belief or practice should be presented in a manner that does not encourage or discourage belief or indoctrinate the student in any particular religious belief.
Given this rule, we must wonder how ISLAM: A Simulation could have acquired the legal-compliance approval that it now enjoys. During the instructional program prescribed in ISLAM: A Simulation, claims such as these are peddled as indisputable historical facts: Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was a prophet who got divine revelations from an angel; the Koran (the holy book of Islam) is a collection of the supernatural revelations that Muhammad received; and Muhammad once paid a visit to heaven by traveling on a flying horse named Buraq. During the instructional program prescribed in ISLAM: A Simulation, students are required to accept, believe and recite that the Kaaba (a Muslim shrine in Mecca) contains a stone that was brought down from heaven, and that jinns (supernatural creatures from the realm of Muslim demonology) were created from fire. During the instructional program prescribed in ISLAM: A Simulation, students must make banners displaying a Muslim religious slogan and (later) must sit on paper "prayer rugs" while their teacher preaches to them and informs them that "Allah has power over all things." And so on, and so on.

Didn't anyone notice these matters when Interaction Publishers submitted ISLAM: A Simulation for legal-compliance approval? We must wonder how anyone could have failed to notice them. Indeed, we must wonder how anyone could have failed to notice that the implementation of ISLAM: A Simulation in a public school would entail gross violations of the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California.

The records pertaining to the approval in question show that Interaction Publishers submitted Islam: A Simulation to the Curriculum Framework and Instructional Resources Office, and asked for legal-compliance approval, in April 2000. Then, evidently, the Curriculum Framework and Instructional Resources Office arranged for ISLAM: A Simulation to undergo a compliance review that involved three persons -- Helen Williamson, David Kurrent, and Rovina Salinas. The signatures of those three appear on a "Legal Compliance Review Program Sign Off," dated 16 May 2000, which covers ISLAM: A Simulation and various other items that Interaction Publishers had submitted.

When you met with Earl Hautala and me on 19 November, you informed us that Rovina Salinas is an employee of the Contra Costa County Office of Education, that she also works for your Curriculum Framework and Instructional Resources Office (under an annual contract) as a supervisor of legal-compliance reviews, and that your Office pays her for this supervisory work. You also informed us that Helen Williamson and David Kurrent are unpaid volunteers recruited by Rovina Salinas.

The available records do not enable us to infer who, if anyone, actually examined ISLAM: A Simulation for legal compliance. Was it Helen Williamson? Was it David Kurrent? Was it Rovina Salinas herself? We don't know -- but we certainly do know this: The approval of ISLAM: A Simulation was a grave blunder. We urge you to investigate this affair, and we urge you to examine and repair the process by which your Office conducts legal-compliance reviews.

Offer to Provide More Information

If you desire additional information about the matters that are described in this letter or in the enclosed article from our Web site, please ask for it. We will do our best to provide any further information that you may require.

With best wishes,

William J. Bennetta


Contact: The SubGenius Foundation, Inc., http://www.subgenius.com/
Fax: (216) 320-9528
jesus@subgenius.com, stang@subgenius.com

AUSTIN, Texas, December 31, 2002: The Church of the SubGenius has announced that the end of the world will take place on Saturday, July 5, 2003. In preparation for the fulfillment of this doomsday prophecy, the Church is requesting that all of its members participate in a bizarre religious ceremony taking place in upstate New York, during the final weekend before the arrival of the apocalypse.

Since its inception in 1953, Church founder J.R. "Bob" Dobbs has predicted that a fleet of flying saucers will arrive at the beginning of July to destroy the worldwide Conspiracy against the Church of the SubGenius, while all ordained SubGenius ministers will be rescued by escape vessels piloted by the Alien Sex Goddesses, also known as the Xists.

The Church is inviting all of its members worldwide to gather together for the final hours in Sherman, New York from July 2 to July 6, at a clothing-optional outdoor campground called Brushwood Folklore Center. The first gathering at this compound took place in 1996, and the event has increased in size and participants each following year. 1998 was designated the first true "X-Day," and each successive year has added one to the total. This year's celebration in 2003 is X-Day 6, or X-Day VI.

The Church has been engaged in a massive recruitment campaign to increase the numbers of its membership before the arrival of the Xists. According to Church records, the organization currently has approximately 100,000 members worldwide. SubGenius recruitment has been especially dedicated among the ranks of people who refuse to conform to the norms of society, including disbelievers, blasphemers, pranksters, rebels, hackers, pornographers, geeks, and outcasts.

The Church is seeking performers and producers from the adult entertainment industry in particular, because sexual freedom has been an important part of Church doctrine from the start. X-Day will be a celebration of pornography and adult entertainment, and certain parts of the event will be restricted to adults only. Only ordained ministers of the Church of the SubGenius are allowed at the event, but the Church is accepting memberships at its standard rate of $30 up until the final hours of July 4.

The Church stresses that no one is REQUIRED to perform at X-Day, including the professional entertainers invited to the event. All participants will be encouraged to take part on a voluntary basis, and no one is required to do anything. The event can be seen as a weekend of rest and relaxation for anyone who wants to travel to X-Day and observe the events; though audience participation is encouraged.

The Church of the SubGenius has been no stranger to controversy since its foundation, and the upcoming X-Day celebration promises to be no different. In the late 1980s, members of the Church were accused of spreading a virus in Macintosh computers known as the "Peace Virus." Numerous articles have been written on the Church in such noteworthy publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Wired Online, the Boston Globe, U.S. News and World Report; broadcast reports have been produced by CNN and NPR. In April 1999, officials of the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts shut down an official SubGenius Devival gathering in the belief that the Church was affiliated with the Trenchcoat Mafia (the organization blamed for the Columbine high school shootings), though authorities later realized the association was mistaken. In its January 1, 2000 issue, a "Time" magazine poll declared J.R. "Bob" Dobbs the biggest fraud of the 20th century.

Detailed information about X-Day can be found on the World Wide Web at the X-Day Web site:


The official home page of the Church of the SubGenius can be found at:


Photographers, entertainers, production companies, radio broadcasters, and all media producers are encouraged to contact the Church at its Austin, Texas headquarters, via the SubGenius World Wide Web site.




The thought screen helmet blocks telepathic communication between aliens and humans. Aliens cannot immobilize people wearing thought screens nor can they control their minds or communicate with them.

Results of the thought screen helmet exceeded expectations. Since January 2000 aliens have not taken any abductees while they were wearing thought screen helmets using Velostat shielding. See Case Histories and Testimonials.

The thought screen helmet was invented by Michael Menkin in 1998 and named after the thought screens that were described by science fiction writer Edward Elmer Smith Ph.D. in the Gray Lensman novels.

Other shielding material was tried in previous models with less success. Do not substitute the Velostat shielding with other materials. The Velostat made by 3M works!

You can make a thought screen helmet for $35.

Tabloid Psychics Fail Again In 2002.

Three Things in Life are Certain: Death, Taxes, and Failed Psychic
Predictions, by Gene Emery

Amherst, N.Y.-The Super Bowl will be cancelled after the first half of play.
People will be able to go back in time, although there won't be any way to bring them back home.

Psychic forecasts for 2003? Nope.

Those are events that were supposed to come true in 2002 according to the supermarket tabloids whose editors say they gathered the forecasts from some of the world's best psychics.

Actually, psychics and astrologers seems to have fallen on tough times recently, said science writer Gene Emery, who has been following tabloid forecasts since 1979 in the still-fruitless quest to find just one psychic with predictive ability. Emery's annual evaluations frequently appear in Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

"The September 11 terrorist attacks graphically illustrated the idea that people who claim to have psychic powers are frauds or are deluding themselves. Witness the fact that nobody predicted the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, otherwise thousands of deaths would have been averted," said Emery. "Here was an event whose impact resonated around the globe, yet it never resonated with the folks who tell you with great certainty where you misplaced your TV remove control."

To Read More of this Article Visit: www.csicop.org and

Hijacking India's History

[from _The New York Times_, 30 December 2002]

While some of us lament the repetition of history, the men who run India are busy rewriting it. Their efforts, regrettably, will only be bolstered by the landslide victory earlier this month of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Western India state of Gujarat.

The B.J.P. has led this country's coalition government since 1999. But India's Hindu nationalists have long had a quarrel with history. They are unhappy with the notion that the most ancient texts of Hinduism are associated with the arrival of the Vedic "Aryan" peoples from the Northwest. They don't like the dates of 1500 to 1000 B.C. ascribed by historians to the advent of the Vedic peoples, the forebears of Hinduism, or the idea that the Indus Valley civilization predates Vedic civilization. And they certainly can't stand the implication that Hinduism, like the other religious traditions of India, evolved through a mingling of cultures and peoples from different lands.

Last month the National Council of Educational Research and Training, the central government body that sets the national curriculum and oversees education for students up to the 12th grade, released the first of its new school textbooks for social sciences and history. Teachers and academics protested loudly. The schoolbooks are notable for their elision of many awkward facts, like the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu nationalist in 1948.

The authors of the textbook have promised to make revisions to the chapter about Gandhi. But what is more remarkable is how they have added several novel chapters to Indian history.

Thus we have a new civilization, the "Indus-Saraswati civilization" in place of the well-known Indus Valley civilization, which is generally agreed to have appeared around 4600 B.C. and to have lasted for about 2,000 years. (The all-important addition of "Saraswati," an ancient river central to Hindu myth, is meant to show that Indus Valley civilization was actually part of Vedic civilization.) We have a chapter on "Vedic civilization" — the earliest recognizable "Hindu culture" in India and generally acknowledged not to have appeared before about 1700 B.C. — that appears without a single date.
. . . .

To see the entire story, go to

Bill Bennetta

Montana Rationalists & Skeptics Network


The mission of the Montana Rationalists & Skeptics Network is to unveil the truth about paranormal, metaphysical and pseudo-scientific beliefs and claims, and to enlighten the citizens of Montana about science and the scientific method.

NOTE: MTRSN, both the web site and the organization, is in development. Comments, inquiries and, most importantly, members are welcome. Please read How You Can Help or send e-mail to mtrsn@burtcom.com.

Please read About MTRSN (includes a vision statement and charter).


Here are answers to common questions about skeptics and the things we refuse to believe in!
Note: answers are provided by the SCI.SKEPTIC faq
The Skeptical Montanan

George McMullen, Psychic Archeologist, appeared at the Montana Historical Society. Here's the story...

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