Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
I blew $700 on a famous psychic whose best talent was predicting my gullibility.
By Janet McDonald
Jan. 8, 2003 | I don't know my future after this weekend and I don't want to. -- Bjork Gudmundsdottir
Despite what you're about to read, I am arguably not a complete idiot.
I have degrees from three Ivy League schools in French literature, journalism and law. I've authored books. Three of them, to be exact. OK, so they're not "Anna Karenina" or "The Bluest Eye" or "The Years" but still, they're published and are on display atop my mother's dresser drawer, between the Eiffel Tower snow globe and the photo of me grinning next to a life-size cardboard replica of Bill Clinton.
And I'm not some gullible white-bread girl from Kansas. I'm streetwise, born and bred in a Brooklyn housing project.
So I wonder, how did an aging and undoubtedly bleached blonde with a crystal ball and the smoky voice of a barroom broad make a loser of a lawyer and a punk of a project girl -- and walk off with 700 of my hard-earned dollars?
I know exactly what went wrong; I'm an idiot.
My first error was to mistake CNN's Larry King for a journalist. King's universe of newsworthy interviewees consists mostly of actresses and babes who look like actresses, real actors and hunky inspirational speakers who look like actors, and real models and disfigured beauties made to look, after expensive reconstructive surgery, like models. And there are the famous psychics.
My second error was to jot down the name of famous psychic and regular "Larry King Live" guest Sylvia Browne, as I watched her perform. I don't believe in psychics. Really. But I was impressed by this one. I got chills watching her, hearing the gasps, squeals and sobs of callers as she shocked and comforted them with precise descriptions of their dearly departed loved ones. I'd seen Sylvia Browne solve mysteries and identify callersā spirit guides and guardian angels, and confidently assure everyone that spouse, lover, dad, mom, son, daughter, sister, brother, grandparent, poodle was in heaven and doing great.
Something made me believe against reason that Sylvia Browne might give me the answers to questions that were troubling me. How could Sept. 11 have happened?
Should I stay in Paris or move to New York, which in its sudden noble vulnerability seemed to be calling me home? Should I continue practicing law or would my fledgling writing career save me from a life of contract-churning drudgery?
With a mixture of curiosity, hope and embarrassment I went to Browne's Web site, read up on the famous psychic and swallowed so hard at the cost of a reading that I nearly choked ($750 for an in-person reading with Sylvia; those on a tight budget could consult her by telephone for $700 or talk with her presumably half-gifted son for half-price, $350). I made an appointment to have a telephone consultation, for which I had to pay in advance by credit card.
Then I was dogged by doubts and miserly misgivings, exacerbated by the reactions of friends, a group of overeducated, unevolved cynics with faint, dingy auras.
They laughed at my enthusiasm for the famous psychic and even questioned the origin of the phone calls to the King show, smirking that the callers all seemed to be women from somewhere in Nova Scotia. But it's CNN, I protested, and they'd check for that kind of thing. Right?
"Omigod! Omigod! How'd you know that?" callers enthused.
"Honey, I'm a psychic," she'd answer time and again in that gravelly, cocky voice. I was taken. And how. I'd been told the night before by Browne's corporation scheduler that Sylvia would call, tell me spontaneously about myself and my life, and then respond to questions. So I was sitting by the phone with my list of questions, sweating with anticipation, when the phone rang. On the other end was The Voice.
"I discovered you on 'Larry King Live' two years ago," I said breathlessly.
"Oh yeah, I've been on there five, six times. Janet, how are you doing with headaches and stomach and lower back?"
I rarely get headaches, have a steel trap for a stomach and go to the gym several times a week. But I searched for something, eager to get my reading off to a good start.
"Umm, OK, I had been having lower back pain, um ... in the past."
"I'd start doing some stomach crunches on the bed. Then I would really start trying to take some lecithin."
"OK," I said, writing down my instructions. It occurred to me that in our high-stress, sedentary world most people had headaches, stomachaches and lower back pain. But she was probably warming up before zeroing in on me specifically.
"L-E-C-I-T-H-I-N," said the psychic.
Why was she spelling it? Didn't she know that I was a spelling champion all through school?
She went on generically about protein and blood sugar and fatigue. I stared at the clock and my list of questions. She suggested I eat chicken and fish. I already did, and often.
Then she hit me with her psychic beam: "You're an activator and a catalyst and people like you need to have two or three things on the burner."
"It can get problematical in relationships," I said. Relationships. We were on our way. My money was being well spent, after all.
"Oh yeah, but not if you meet someone who's strong enough to handle it. Did you ever notice in the world people don't take well to strong women? We're all for strong men but when a woman gets strong everybody gets nervous.
A strong man? There weren't any men in my life. But I resisted the urge to speak, not wanting to give her cues or prompts.
"You have had kind of an alone time, but that's all right."
Alone? I hadn't been single for years. My neck began to tense. Maybe if I just gave her a little nudge in the right direction ... So I said I was conflicted about moving back to New York.
"I think it's time to go back to New York. Let's say that's where your fortune lies. But it does look like you're gonna get ... I don't want to call it a sideline, but you're gonna get into buying real estate and investing in real estate."
"Really?" I was puzzled. A born renter, I have never in my life owned a co-op, a condo, a house or even an empty lot.
"You can't go wrong, especially in the States where there's never been a time where there's been a buyer's -- and seller's -- market like there is now. I mean, you could buy something in Podunk, Idaho, and it's good."
What was she talking about?! This was my $700 reading? My stomach hurt. She hadn't been like this on "Larry King Live." She'd made sense. She knew what dead people looked like.
I gave her one more chance. I asked about Sept. 11.
"Well, honey, I think everybody took a hit on that one. I don't care where ... they could be in outer Mongolia ... and I think it's not just the World Trade Center; I think it's just ... everything ... went ... goofy."
Goofy?! I cast desperately for a topic that might offer some success. I asked again about relationships. She asked who was "the darker-haired one"? Hellooo!
Surely she knew I'm black. Surely she knew that means almost everyone in my life has dark hair.
What about the spirit guides and angels she and Larry King had discussed?
You have, uh, four, uh, angels, and a very, very strong male guide by the name of Khalib."
"And the angels?"
"Male or female?"
"They're androgynous," she said with what I thought was a touch of impatience.
I always wanted a twin. What they hell, might as well ask her about that, too.
"You had one in a past life ... a hundred years ago ... in France. A twin sister. You two were inseparable and had a millinery shop in Versailles."
Black twins with a hat store in the King's court. Right.
I was screwed. I had thrown away in a half-hour more money than my poor project mother collects from Social Security in a month.
I wrapped it up with a question about my longevity.
"Oh, God, yes, a really long life," said the All Seeing One. "And thank God you won't be stupid or incapacitated. I don't mind living to be old as long as I'm not an idiot."
No danger there, Sylvia. I'm the idiot.
A few weeks later I requested a refund and was sent a standard Refund Policy letter: "The services provided by Sylvia Browne Corporation are highly speculative in nature and we do not guarantee that the results of our work will be satisfactory to a client."
Now that's psychic.
By Paul Kelbie Scotland Correspondent The Independent - UK 1-7-3
For centuries the intricately carved stones of Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh have tantalised historians, archaeologists and devoted Christians.
A labyrinth of vaults beneath the 15th-century home of the Knights Templar is reputed to contain dozens of holy relics, including early gospels, the Ark of the Covenant, the fabled Holy Grail Ů and even the mummified head of Christ
More than 550 years after the first foundation stones were laid, modern technology is about to put the legend to the test
A group of Knights Templar, successors to the warrior monks who sought asylum from the Pope by fleeing to Scotland in the early 14th century and fought for Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, are to make a "non-invasive" survey of the land around the chapel. They will use the latest ultrasound and thermal imaging technology in the hope of finding evidence of the existence of the vaults
"The plan is to investigate the land around the chapel to a depth of at least 20ft," said John Ritchie, Grand Herald and spokesman for the Knights Templar.
"The machine we are using is the most sophisticated anywhere and is capable of taking readings from the ground up to a mile deep without disturbing any of the land
"We know many of the Knights are buried in the grounds and there are many references to buried vaults, which we hope this project will finally uncover
Rosslyn Chapel, or the Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew as it was to have been, was founded in 1446 by Sir William St Clair, third and last Prince of Orkney. Built as a celebration of Christ, it is also a monument to craftsmanship
Bristling with flying buttresses and gargoyles in the highest Gothic style on the outside, the interior is carved with scenes from the Bible, the fall of man, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the birth of Christ, the crucifixion and the resurrection
"Rosslyn is an amazing building. It is a book in stone but, because the symbolism which is written into the chapel is in a medieval language, we haven't even cracked the introduction page yet," Mr Ritchie said
Pillars and arches are covered with hundreds of exquisitely carved leaves, fruit, animals and figures. Some curious carvings are said to depict cactus and sweetcorn, chiselled before Columbus set foot in America in 1492
"There is a whole series of stuff on each section of the chapel, which relates to a different period of time," Mr Ritchie added. "We have to go back to the 15th century and read it with a medieval eye to understand what it all means. All these symbols relate to events in history. It is a book created in stone, which brings in all the apostolic religion, laid over by an astrological form which tracks the seasons, and the plants in the seasons." Both the Freemasons and the Knights Templar claim the ornate stonemasonry of the church is a secret code which, if broken, will reveal the whereabouts of treasures
One theory suggests that one of the ornate columns, known as the Apprentice Pillar, may contain a lead casket in which is hidden the legendary cup used by Christ at the Last Supper and later used to collect his blood, the so-called Holy Grail. "Once we understand the introduction page we will begin to understand what this book in stone means," Mr Ritchie added. "We hope to start as soon as possible and get a load of readings from it. We hope to at least find this burial place and maybe the Holy Grail itself
First Published September, 2002
The fact that I have to write about this in 2002 makes me seriously worried. Next thing you know I'll have to debunk a rumor that the moon is made of green cheese, or a rabbit's foot doesn't really bring good luck. But believe it or not this rumor, which can be traced back to at least 1980, is still circulating and finding a new audience. This is one legend, I'm proud to say, that I never believed for a minute.
Especially when I heard from some people that the head of the company admitted it on the Donahue show in 1991 (later changed to 1994). The one thing I was certain of, come Satan or no Satan, was that any man who worked his way up the corporate ladder of a company as large as Procter & Gamble was a man who seriously cared about making money. Since the fact that their demographic was generally conservative I knew there was no way that anyone from the upper tier of this corporation was going to "come out of the closet" about worshipping Satan.
Procter and Gamble believes these false rumor started with Amway employees trying to chase P&G's customers away. The believed it so certainly that they have sued Amway eight times. In 2001, the lawsuit was reopened again. As far as I can tell a decision is still pending in the Texas Courts.
Of course, Procter and Gamble had to dump their Moon and Stars logo because there are just enough people with tiny little brains out there who won't give this up. Does it matter to them that Phil Donahue has denied ever having had anyone from Procter and Gamble on their show? Does it matter that Procter and Gamble has signed letters from Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham and others on their site that brand this a hoax? Does it matter that Focus On the Family, one of the most conservative Christian organizations in the country, have posted an article calling on Christians to stop spreading this lie?
The answer is an emphatic NO! Even if God came down out of heaven and proclaimed it was false I doubt you could dissuade some of these people. They would probably still think Procter and Gamble paid God off. The fact is that it is too good a story, and Americans in general love conspiracy theories. We all would love to have a target for all the evil we have seen in the world. It would give us someone to blame for any or all of our personal misfortunes.
The age of this letter shows, as looking down the list of P&G products we are supposed to boycott, I can find a number of them that have been discontinued, like Fluffo Shortening(1998), and Dash Detergent. Also, Duncan Hines was sold to Aurora Foods in 1998. Strangely, Fisher Nuts was never owned by Procter and Gamble. Which brings me to another reason you should never forward these types of boycott letters. They are often wrong about the products they ask you to boycott. Recently, there was a chain letter calling for people to boycott Pepsi, the owner of Dr. Pepper for an design on one of their cans. The only problem is Pepsi doesn't own Dr. Pepper. It must of caused some mixed feeling among Dr. Pepper management in how to respond to this letter since Pepsi is one of their biggest competitors.
Trash this false rumor!!
Here is a litany of resources to check, and below that a copy of the offending e-mail:
Procter and Gamble's Rumor Control Site - There are numerous sign letters here, and links to external articles on this rumor.
Citizen Link, Focus on the Family- "Urban Myths Within the Christian Community"
Cloud, Barbara, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "There's No Truth to the Rumor..." - This one also addresses the Liz Claiborne
Way Of Life, Fundamentalist Baptists, "Procter and Gamble Hoax"
Cincinnati Enquirer, "Decision for P&G in Rumor Case Stands", October 2, 2001.
Lastly, even the Satanists deny it! The Satanist Net: FAQ Gullies seen to form on Mars http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2634823.stm
Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 14:43 GMT
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor
The formation of gullies has been seen for the first time on Mars.
According to University of Melbourne geologist Dr Nick Hoffman, gullies near the Red Planet's south pole form as the seasonal ice cap retreats in the Martian spring.
"In itself the observation of active flows is a dramatic discovery since no movement has yet been seen on Mars, except for some dry dust avalanches," he told BBC News Online.
But contrary to the common idea that such features were carved by liquid water, Dr Hoffman says the flow is most likely gaseous carbon dioxide which, if true, would deal a blow to the prospects for life on Mars.
Writing in the latest edition of the journal Astrobiology, Dr Hoffman presents evidence for the first in-action flow events on Mars and argues that liquid water is not to blame, in fact no liquid is.
"In the Martian Spring," he says, "carbon dioxide frost and snow at temperatures of minus 130 degrees Celsius fill the valleys, yet the flow events are occurring.
"But at such low temperatures everything turns to concrete so whatever is moving cannot be a liquid," he told BBC News Online.
"Nothing based on water can flow at these temperatures, so the culprit must be avalanches of gaseous carbon dioxide and rocky debris."
This is because carbon dioxide does not melt on Mars: it boils directly from the solid - a process called sublimation.
"The boiling dry ice acts like a armada of miniature hovercraft carrying a shower of sand, dust, and tumbling rocks down the slope, carving out the gullies as it goes," Dr Hoffman says.
Life would find it more difficult to take hold on Mars without supplies of liquid water.
"Without liquid water there cannot be life and despite recent reports of more and more ice on the Red Planet, Nasa has yet to find liquid water," he says.
Although many US space agency scientists are doubtful about Dr Hoffman's observations, the geologist says that at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union held last month, they struggled to find arguments against the evidence he presented.
To Dr Hoffman the possibility that the gullies are formed by gas flows emphasises how different Mars is from the Earth.
Geologically it may have more things in common with some of the ice-crusted moons of the outer planets than our own world.
"Mars is not a cold Earth. It is a different world, it works in another way. It is more like a warmer version of Europa, a moon of Jupiter, than our Earth," he says.
By MARGARET WENTE
Thursday, January 9, 2003 Ė Print Edition, Page A15
Okay, so who knew? It could have happened. There might have been a baby. Just because these people have a UFO theme park and believe the human race is descended from aliens from outer space doesn't mean they're not legit. After all, didn't someone clone a sheep? Doesn't everyone clone embryos already? Anyone who has a petri dish could probably clone a baby. You can't rule it out, any more than you can rule out the possibility that I am the living reincarnation of Princess Aura, daughter of Ming the Merciless.
It's hard to pick the most cringe-making moment of this story, which proved decisively that journalists can't distinguish science from science fiction. Was it when Anna Maria Tremonti, a woman of impeccable authority, attempted to interview the chief Raelian on the CBC? Was it the fetching outfits of Brigitte Boisselier, the PhD who looks like a dominatrix in a whorehouse? Was it Connie Chung's session with Rael on CNN, when he insisted that she address him as "His Holiness"? And she did?
All I know is that, speaking as a journalist, I feel like reaching for the Kool-Aid.
CAN THE SPEED OF GRAVITY be measured directly through the observation of gravitational lensing effects? Two scientists who monitored the deflection of quasar light as it passed very near Jupiter argue that they have derived an experimental value for the speed of gravity equal to 1.06 times the speed of light (with an uncertainty of 20%). But two other scientists claim that the lensing experiment only served as a crude measurement of the speed of light itself.
Physicists have long taken for granted that the effect of gravitational force, like the effect of electromagnetic force, is not instantaneous but should travel at a finite velocity. A familiar example of this delay is the fact that when we see the sun, we see it as it was 8 minutes ago. Many believe that gravity also travels at the speed of light. The trouble is, while it is relatively easy to gauge the strength of gravity (one can measure gravity even near a black hole, where orbiting matter emits telltale x rays), it is difficult to study the propagation of gravity.
Although not as heavy as a star, Jupiter still has considerable gravity, and when on September 8, 2002, it swept very near the position of quasar J0842 + 1835, the theory of general relativity suggests that the apparent quasar position on the sky would execute a small loop over the course of several days owing to the lensing of quasar light by the passing planet.
Sergei Kopeiken (University of Missouri) and Ed Fomolont (National Radio Astronomy Observatory, or NRAO) have now seen just such a loop, as they reported this week at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Seattle. For this purpose they employed the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) of radio telescopes, a configuration of dish detectors providing an angular resolution of 10 micro-arcseconds. Actually the observed lensing loop was slightly displaced from what one would expect if gravity propagated instantaneously. Kopeiken and Fomolont interpret this slight displacement as providing an experimental handle on the speed of gravity itself, and thereby calculate the value of 1.06 times c.
Other scientists disagree with this interpretation, and say that the radio lensing data can do little more than provide a measurement of the speed of light, not gravity. Two such opinions, by scientists who did not report at the AAS meeting, are as follows: Clifford Will of Washington University in the US (preprint at (www.arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0301145 ) and Hideki Asada of Hirosaki University in Japan (www.arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0206266 )
BEC ENDS GLOBALLY BUT STARTS LOCALLY. Bose Einstein condensations (BEC), essentially dilute gas clouds in which millions of atoms enter into a single, corporate coherent object, have proven to be a versatile testbed for numerous quantum effects. But having attained the critical conditions necessary for making BEC in the first place, physicists have not paid much attention to the collapse process itself. Now an experiment conducted by scientists from the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics (Netherlands) and the Kurchatov Institute (Russia) look at the collapse more closely and find something surprising while analyzing cigar shaped samples. In their experiment atoms enter the BEC state through the use of "shock cooling," in which radio-frequency waves used to cool atoms are provided in a single one millisecond burst rather than in a sustained way as in conventional evaporative cooling. The work shows that BEC is a local effect with local coherence (atoms acting in concert) and that coherence over the whole of a condensate occurs only later. In other words, the condensation has happened so fast that not all atoms are in the ground state; that is, the atoms are not all in equilibrium. Instead, the cloud is much elongated, with warmer atoms near the center and cooler atoms toward the ends of a cigar shaped condensate. While coming to eventual equilibrium, the condensate undergoes oscillations in its shape. This is observed by absorption imaging after switching-off the trap (a figure will posted soon at www.aip.org/mgr/png ). Usually this release gives rise to a cloud expanding in all directions. But in this case oscillating condensates released at the proper moment contract axially while expanding radially. The axial size reaches a minimum value as the sample drops under the influence of gravity. This is equivalent to focusing of a cavity dumped atom laser. The size of the focus is determined by the distribution of axial momenta among the condensate atoms and therefore contains valuable information on the phase fluctuation in the condensate at the moment of release. (Shvarchuck et al., Physical Review Letters, 30 December 2002; contact Jook Walraven, firstname.lastname@example.org, 31-20-608-1234; text at www.aip.org/physnews/select ; website at http://www.amolf.nl/)
CORRECTION. In last week's Update (619), the stability or uncertainty in several frequency measurements was incorrectly reported because of a stray negative sign in the exponent. Thus, for example, the stability of the Mossbauer radiation emission line at a wavelength of 0.086 nm is at the level of one part in 10^11, not 10^-11.
PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 6:37 p.m. ET
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- A man who beat his 79-year-old mother to death, cut her open and ate some of her heart was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison.
Joey Cala, 41, had pleaded guilty Monday to murder in the 2001 death of Lydia Cala, a 76-pound retired teacher and church volunteer.
According to Cala's sister, he wanted their mother's money. But there was no indication the inheritance amounted to much. The woman lived in a modest, one-story house.
Cala's attorney, Robert Ford, had been planning an insanity defense before reaching a plea bargain that spared Cala a life sentence.
State Judge George Gallagher chose the upper end of the 20- to 30-year range specified in the plea bargain. Cala will be eligible for parole in 15 years.
A medical examiner testified that Cala bludgeoned his mother to death, probably with his fists or feet, then cut open her chest and abdomen and removed some organs.
Police found Cala standing over his mother's body, both of them covered in blood, in her bedroom in the home they shared in suburban Hurst. An officer saw Cala eat what appeared to be an organ, police said.
According to police, Cala said that he worshipped the devil and that they had interrupted his sacrifice.
The house had been ransacked, and police found his mother's will on a chair.
Publication date: January 2003 Publisher: CABI Publishing, CAB International Binding:Hardcover Subjects: Livestock; Germplasm resources; Patents Click here for more information Our Price: $100.00
Annual Review of Genetics: 2002 (Annual Review of Genetics, 36) by
Publication date: January 2003 Publisher: Annual Reviews Binding:Hardcover Subjects: Science/Mathematics; Genetics; Life Sciences - Genetics & Genomics Click here for more information Our Price: $150.00
Genetic Issues for Perinatal Nurses by Janet K. Williams, et al
Publication date: January 2003 Publisher: Natl Foundation of the March of Dimes Binding:Hardcover Subjects: Medical genetics; Genetic counseling; Maternity nursing Click here for more information
Fungal Population Genetics and Speciation by J. H. Burnett
Publication date: January 2003 Publisher: Oxford University Press Binding:Hardcover Subjects: Fungi; Genetics; Speciation Click here for more information Our Price: $60.00
Cell Biology and Genetics
Publication date: January 2003 Publisher: Brooks/Cole Pub Co Binding:Hardcover Subjects: Science/Mathematics; Life Sciences - Biology - General; Science Click here for more information Our Price: $46.95
Extracellular Matrix and The Liver: Approach to Gene Therapy by Isao Okazaki (Editor), et al
Publication date: January 2003 Publisher: Academic Press Binding:Hardcover Subjects: Science/Mathematics; Diseases Of The Liver And Biliary Tract; Cytology Click here for more information Our Price: $129.95
Ethical Issues in the New Genetics: Are Genes Us by Brenda Almond (Editor), et al
Publication date: January 2003 Publisher: Ashgate Publishing Company Binding:Hardcover Subjects: Genetic engineering; Moral and ethical aspects; Business / Economics / Finance Click here for more information Our Price: $79.95
Genetics in Endocrinology (Modern Endocrinology) by J. D. Baxter (Editor), et al
Publication date: January 2003 Publisher: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Publishers Binding:Hardcover Subjects: Endocrine genetics; Endocrine glands; Diseases Click here for more information Our Price: $169.00
Methods in Microbiology: Functional Microbial Genomic (Methods in Microbiology, 33) by Brendan Wren (Editor), Nick Dorrell
Publication date: January 2003 Publisher: Academic Press Binding:Hardcover Subjects: Science/Mathematics; Microbiological Research; Science Click here for more information Our Price: $119.95
The Human Question: What People Believe About Evolution Human Origins, and the Beginning of Life by Hervey Cunningham Peoples
Publication date: January 2003 Publisher: Red Lion Pr Binding:Paperback Subjects: Science/Mathematics; Science; Life Sciences - Evolution Click here for more information Our Price: $13.97 | You Save: $5.98 (30%)
Greenland's top civil servant has brought in an Inuit healer to chase away evil spirits in government offices. "When you move into new premises, it's normal to air the room and give the walls some fresh paint," said Jens Lyberth, who has been appointed manager by the recently elected government.
He hired a healer to "drive away the negative energy" from the government's offices in Nuuk, the capital. He also urged civil servants to use similar methods to promote harmony between Greenlanders and Danes.
December 16, 2002
By Michael Shermer
There was a young fellow from Trinity
Who took the square root of infinity.
But the number of digits
Gave him the fidgets;
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.
In the limerick above, physicist George Gamow dealt with the paradox of a finite being contemplating infinity by passing the buck to theologians.
In an attempt to prove that the universe was intelligently designed, religion has lately been fidgeting with the fine-tuning digits of the cosmos. The John Templeton Foundation even grants cash prizes for such "progress in religion." Last year mathematical physicist and Anglican priest John C. Polkinghorne, recognized because he "has invigorated the search for interface between science and religion," was given $1 million for his "treatment of theology as a natural science." In 2000 physicist Freeman Dyson took home a $945,000 prize for such works as his 1979 book, Disturbing the Universe, in which he writes: "As we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming."
Mathematical physicist Paul Davies also won a Templeton prize. In his 1999 book, The Fifth Miracle, he makes these observations about the fine-tuned nature of the cosmos: "If life follows from [primordial] soup with causal dependability, the laws of nature encode a hidden subtext, a cosmic imperative, which tells them: 'Make life!' And, through life, its by-products: mind, knowledge, understanding. It means that the laws of the universe have engineered their own comprehension. This is a breathtaking vision of nature, magnificent and uplifting in its majestic sweep. I hope it is correct. It would be wonderful if it were correct."
Indeed, it would be wonderful. But not any more wonderful than if it were not correct. Even atheist Stephen W. Hawking sounded like a supporter of intelligent design when he wrote: "And why is the universe so close to the dividing line between collapsing again and expanding indefinitely?... If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been less by one part in 1010, the universe would have collapsed after a few million years. If it had been greater by one part in 1010, the universe would have been essentially empty after a few million years. In neither case would it have lasted long enough for life to develop. Thus one either has to appeal to the anthropic principle or find some physical explanation of why the universe is the way it is."
We may live in a multiverse in which our universe is only one of many universes. In its current version, the anthropic principle posits that we live in a multiverse in which our universe is only one of many universes, all with different laws of nature. Those universes whose parameters are most likely to give rise to life occasionally generate complex life with brains big enough to achieve consciousness and to conceive of such concepts as God and cosmology and to ask such questions as Why? Another explanation can be found in the properties of self-organization and emergence. Water is an emergent property of a particular arrangement of hydrogen and oxygen molecules, just as consciousness is a self-organized emergent property of billions of neurons. The evolution of complex life is an emergent property of simple life: prokaryote cells self-organized into eukaryote cells, which self-organized into multicellular organisms, which self-organized into ... and here we are.
Self-organization and emergence arise out of complex adaptive systems that grow and learn as they change. As a complex adaptive system, the cosmos may be one giant autocatalytic (self-driving) feedback loop that generates such emergent properties as life. We can think of self-organization as an emergent property and emergence as a form of self-organization. Complexity is so simple it can be put on a bumper sticker: life happens.
If life on earth is unique or at least exceptionally rare (and in either case certainly not inevitable), how special is our fleeting, mayfly-like existence? And how important it is that we make the most of our lives and our loves; how critical it is that we work to preserve not only our own species but all species and the biosphere itself. Whether the universe is teeming with life or we are alone, whether our existence is strongly necessitated by the laws of nature or highly contingent and accidental, whether there is more to come or this is all there is, we are faced with a worldview that is breathtaking and majestic in its sweep across time and space.
Michael Shermer is publisher of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com) and the author of In Darwin's Shadow.
By Kevin Christopher, CSICOP Public Relations Director
January 10, 2002
Clonaid, RaŽl, and the media seem to have got things backwards, says Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). It should have been science first, publicity second. Without a shred of corroborative evidence, the French UFO cult visionary RaŽl (formerly known as Claude Vorilhon) and his strange brand of extraterrestrial futurism were catapulted into the world spotlight by the suspect announcement that Clonaid, the human cloning company founded by RaŽl, had achieved its first success.
Now that it has become clear that the first alleged human clone will not be verified through DNA testing after all, several media watchers are sifting through the smoking wreckage of this crashed media cycle. Kurtz is one of them. In 1997, he debated RaŽl on MSNBC. CSICOP's official journal, Skeptical Inquirer, has covered and criticized many the previous claims and exploits of the RaŽlians.
Kurtz is distressed by the recent coverage. "It exposes the decreasing standards of many in the media business," he says. "Here you have an unsubstantiated claim from dubious sources acting on a bizarre agenda, and it makes newspaper headlines and leads cable news for weeks. Coverage for RaŽl and Clonaid has dumbed down an import scientific issue. Meanwhile, the genuine understanding of scientific issues like therapeutic cloning among legislators and the general public is next to nil, and many in Congress and the Bush administration have been acting to undermine this very type of critical scientific research."
Indeed, a January 9, 2003, Fox News Channel online story by Liza Porteus announced the introduction of a new Human Cloning Prohibition Act bill in the House of Representatives the previous day. "The bill got a jump start this session," writes Porteus, "after Clonaid... claimed it had delivered a human clone baby and had three more on the way." The bill, sponsored by Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI), Rep. David Weldon (R-FL) and 80 other House co-sponsors, would ban both reproductive and therapeutic cloning. This has many scientific groups worried, since therapeutic cloning is a promising technique for replicating specific types of cells rather than an actual embryo. A ban, say researchers, would undermine efforts to find cures for Alzheimer's and diabetes.
"The media are not serving the public debate by rolling out the red carpet to a pack of ludicrous UFO cultists," says Kurtz. "Coverage of the RaŽlians' cloning efforts only reinforces an ill-informed public's Frankensteinian fears."
Several months ago, Michael Guillen, the former ABC Science Editor who had been organizing the independent testing of Clonaid's results, was pitching a lucrative reality-based TV program about the cloning efforts to Fox Entertainment and other TV networks, according to the New York Times. Guillen has now publicly distanced himself from the fiasco. Nevertheless, on ABC's "Good Morning America" (January 8, 2003), Guillen said he was still holding out hope. "I think there's a small chance [that the claims are true]. And the stakes are so high ... that's why I want to test." That small chance has gotten far smaller, says Kurtz, with every delay and excuse from Clonaid.
An anonymous Food & Drug Administration official told the New York Times that the company's cloning facilities were, in many ways, inadequate for the task. A January 1, 2003, story by Kenneth Chang and Gina Kolata quotes the official about conditions at Clonaid's Nitro, West Virginia, facility. Though the lab-a rented room at an abandoned high school-did have state-of-the-art equipment, "[t]here was no place where sterile conditions could be had." Insects flew in and out of open windows, possibly from a nearby barn. The research staff at the facility amounted to a woefully unprepared graduate student tracking work on cow ovaries with notebooks "inadequate" to document scientific research. Such testimony casts even more doubt on Clonaid's ability to pull off what would be one of the great scientific achievements of the 21st century.
At best the RaŽlian/Clonaid PR coup will do no damage and fade from public memory. At worst, however, as Kurtz and others fear, the UFO cult's media high jinks may be contributing to the death of legitimate cloning research in the United States.
All press queries should be directed to Kevin Christopher, CSICOP Public
Phone: 716 636 1425
Fax 716 636 1733
The National Association of Science Writers has awarded Richard Hutton, producer of the NOVA/Clear Blue Skies Evolution series, its Science in Society award in the Television category. Evolution, first broadcast September 24-27, 2001, but rebroadcast in 2002, was honored "for recognizing the impact the science of evolution has had on society for well over 100 years. This captivating series took viewers from jungles to islands to classrooms to highlight the continuing discoveries and political struggles over one of the most basic topics in all of science." Congratulations to Richard and the rest of the Evolution staff! (More on the Evolution series, including videos, materials for teachers and students, and videos, can be found at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/
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Taner Edis has won the Morris D. Forkosch Prize for his book :The Ghost in the Universe.
The Morris D. Forkosch Prize is offered biennially in odd years in recognition of the best book in English in the field of British, British Imperial, or British Commonwealth history. It replaces the Robert Livingston Schuyler Prize covering the same fields. Submission of books relating to the shared common law heritage of the English-speaking world are particularly encouraged in memory of the late Professor Forkosch's contributions to the field of legal studies and legal history.
Robert Brenner, U. of California, Los Angeles, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London's Overseas Traders, 1550Ė1653 (Princeton U. Press, 1992)
P. J. Cain, U. of Birmingham and A.G. Hopkins, U. of Geneva, British Imperialism, 2 vols. (Longman, 1993)
Margaret R. Hunt, Amherst College, The Middling Sort: Commerce, Gender, and the Family in England, 1680Ė1780 (U. of California Press, 1996)
Kathleen Paul, University of South Florida, Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Era (Cornell U. Press, 1997)
Alexandra Walsham (Univ. of Exeter) for Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford Univ. Press, 1999).
Richard Drayton, Corpus Christi College at the U. of Cambridge, Nature's Government: Science, Imperial Britain and the 'Improvement' of the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000)
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IN THE NEWS
Today's Headlines Ė January 10, 2003
DISTANT QUASARS OFFER A GLIMPSE OF DAWN IN THE UNIVERSE
from The Washington Post
Astronomers have gotten their first glimpses of the cosmic dawn, a time more than 13 billion years ago when the light of the earliest stars and galaxies came glimmering through the remnants of a primordial fog.
Two independent teams of astronomers, pushing modern technology to its limits, yesterday reported the discovery of multiple faint galaxies and three blazing quasars that may have helped end the cosmic "dark ages." This murky period began perhaps 300,000 years after the universe was born in the big bang, and persisted for hundreds of millions of years. During this epoch, the young universe was clouded with light-absorbing hydrogen gas.
At a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, a group led by Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona announced it had discovered the three new quasars, including the most distant one ever detected. The quasar images show what the scientists believe are the shadows of the last wisps of obscuring hydrogen fog. The key observation was made by the 2.5-meter telescope of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, and verified by telescopes in Hawaii, Texas and Spain.
SCIENTISTS DISCUSS BALANCE OF RESEARCH AND SECURITY
from The New York Times
WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 ó Leading scientists began talks here today on whether and how to withhold publication of scientific information that could compromise national security.
The discussions at the National Academy of Sciences follow a raft of post- Sept. 11 restrictions on research into some 64 substances that could be used in biological weapons. The discussions were also partly an effort to fend off potential government censorship or other steps to control unclassified research that the new domestic security law terms "sensitive."
The talks were prompted by the hesitance of microbiologists to publish their full research in scientific journals out of concern that terrorists could use the information. While restrictions on research have long been a fact of life for chemists and nuclear physicists, they are new and not entirely welcome among microbiologists, who say data must be published so other scientists can verify the quality of the research by reproducing the results.
"We in the life sciences are in the process of losing some of our innocence," said Stephen S. Morse of the Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. "Knowledge, often using very simple materials, is also the critical ingredient in making a biological weapons advance."
VAMPIRE BAT SALIVA MAY TREAT STROKE
A substance in the saliva of vampire bats may prove a safer blood-clot dissolver than the current treatment for stroke.
In laboratory comparisons, the bat saliva was a more potent clot-buster than the current drug, called tPA, or tissue plasminogen activator. The substance in bat saliva helps them suck blood from their prey.
Scientists at Monash University in Australia used mouse models to compare tPA and the saliva extract, desmoteplase. They studied the brains of the animals after pumping in brain chemicals that are seen in the aftermath of acute ischemic stroke, caused by blood clots or narrowing of blood vessels that prevents blood reaching the brain. The findings were reported in yesterday's issue of the journal Stroke, published by the American Heart Association.
Whether the laboratory findings can be duplicated in humans, remains to be seen.
IRREGULAR HEARTBEAT GENE IS FOUND
from The Associated Press
SEATTLE -- A gene mutation linked to atrial fibrillation, a type of heartbeat irregularity, has been identified by researchers who studied four generations of a Chinese family with a history of the disorder.
In a study appearing this week in the journal Science, Chinese and French researchers report that a mutation on a gene called KCNQ1 is the apparent cause of an inherited form of atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation affects more than 5 percent of everyone over the age of 65. The disorder lowers the pumping efficiency of the heart. It can cause blood clots, other types of heartbeat irregularities and heart failure.
CHINESE TIGER AS GOOD AS EXTINCT
from The San Francisco Chronicle
Yihuang South China Tiger Reserve -- By the time Ron Tilson reached the highland core of this mountainous tiger reserve, he was bathed in sweat and craving another Indonesian clove-flavored cigarette.
Looking down from a serpentine ridge over stone bridges in inaccessible areas where rivulets cascade down canyons and clouds hang on the peaks, Tilson's experienced gaze locked on an animal feeding on scrub. But it wasn't what he had come thousands of miles to see.
It was a cow.
"I can't imagine there would be enough space here for tigers," he said. "Besides, that damn cow would be dead."
A year of such disappointments has led Tilson, a renowned tiger researcher and conservation director of the Minnesota Zoo, to conclude that the South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) -- the rarest of the world's surviving subspecies of tigers -- is the latest to become extinct in the wild.
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A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effects of Remote, Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit
Abstract of article:
Context: Intercessory prayer (praying for others) has been a common response to sickness for millennia, but it has received little scientific attention. The positive findings of a previous controlled trial of intercessory prayer have yet to be replicated.
Objective: To determine whether remote, intercessory prayer for hospitalized, cardiac patients will reduce overall adverse events and length of stay.
Design: Randomized, controlled, double-blind, prospective, parallel-group trial.
Setting: Private, university-associated hospital.
Patients: Nine hundred ninety consecutive patients who were newly admitted to the coronary care unit (CCU).
Intervention: At the time of admission, patients were randomized to receive remote, intercessory prayer (prayer group) or not (usual care group). The first names of patients in the prayer group were given to a team of outside intercessors who prayed for them daily for 4 weeks. Patients were unaware that they were being prayed for, and the intercessors did not know and never met the patients.
Main Outcome Measures: The medical course from CCU admission to hospital discharge was summarized in a CCU course score derived from blinded, retrospective chart review.
Results: Compared with the usual care group (n=524), the prayer group (n=466) had lower meanSEM weighted (6.350.26 vs 7.130.27; P=.04) and unweighted (2.70.1 vs 3.00.1; P=.04) CCU course scores. Lengths of CCU and hospital stays were not different.
Conclusions: Remote, intercessory prayer was associated with lower CCU course scores. This result suggests that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care.
Arch Intern Med. 1999;159:2273-2278
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November 19, 2002
Remote prayer report misrepresented its data. Wired Magazine has uncovered evidence that data used to obtain two federal research grants totaling $1.5 million were represented as positive even though they were not. [Bronson P. A prayer before dying. Wired Magazine, Dec 2002] http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.12/prayer.html The research, done by the late Elisabeth Targ, M.D. and colleagues, involved 40 patients with advanced AIDS who were randomly selected for either "distant healing" or a control group. The "healers," many of whom were located thousands of miles away, performed various prayer-based ministrations after receiving photographs of the patients. After six months, the researchers concluded that the subjects who were not prayed for had spent 6 times as many days in the hospital and contracted 3 times as many AIDS-related illnesses. [Sicher F, Targ E, and others A randomized double-blind study of the effect of distant healing in a population with advanced AIDS. Report of a small scale study. Western Journal of Medicine 169:356-363, 1998] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/htbin-post/Entrez/query?db=m&form=6&dopt=r&uid=9 866433 The researchers subsequently were funded by the NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to conduct two 150-patient trials -- one on brain cancer, and the other to redo the AIDS study.
Wired Magazine has reported that the study was "unblinded and then reblinded to scour for data that confirmed the thesis" and that the journal editors did not know this fact when they decided to publish. The study was designed to measure death rates. When the data showed no difference between the prayer and control groups, the researchers conducted a chart review that was not properly blinded, looked for other differences, and reported that several were statistically significant. This analysis was improper because when many endpoints are examined, the odds of finding a few that appear significant are much higher than the odds of a single endpoint selected in advance proving significant. Wired referred to this as "the sharpshooter's fallacy -- spraying bullets randomly, then drawing a target circle around a cluster" and calling it significant.
Elisabeth Targ, a lifetime believer in parapsychology, was the daughter of Russell Targ, a prominent parapsychologist who believed that some people could view objects at great distances through psychic means, a practice referred to as "remote viewing." In April 2002, Elisabeth was diagnosed as having an incurable glioblastoma multiforme, the very same brain tumor that her remote healing research would study. She died four months later despite the efforts of "healers" and other believers worldwide who prayed for her.
By William A. Dembski
Since the neo-Darwinian synthesis of the 1930s, evolutionary biology has become a growth industry. This growth has resulted in the demand for more flexible methods of establishing evolutionary biology's grandiose claims than the laborious, difficult, pedantic, and "rigorous" methods favored throughout the rest of the sciences. This demand has been met by what is now a well-developed branch of evolutionary biology known as evolutionary logic.
I can't here develop the theory of evolutionary logic in detail, but I will introduce some necessary terminology. In ordinary logic, which is used throughout the rest of the sciences, one is justified asserting that a claim is true provided one can formulate a coherent and rigorous argument that supports it. In evolutionary logic we relax both these restrictions: an evolutionary claim is true provided there is an evolutionary argument that supports it. This definition is sufficiently clear as not to require elaboration. Further, we stipulate that any circularity in this definition is virtuous rather than vicious.
The benefits and practical applications of evolutionary logic will be obvious. Professional authors of evolutionary tracts depend on it for their livelihood. Instructors in evolutionary biology find that evolutionary logic enables them to make complex ideas readily accessible to students regardless of their preparation or background (indeed, proficiency in evolutionary logic has been shown to be positively correlated with high self-esteem). Research workers in a hurry to claim priority for a new result or who lack the time and inclination to be pedantic find evolutionary logic useful for expeditiously writing up their results. In this respect evolutionary logic has a further advantage, namely, the results are not required to be true, thus eliminating a tiresome (and now superfluous) restriction on the growth of evolutionary knowledge.
I want next to consider some of the actual techniques for establishing evolutionary claims that evolutionary logic makes available. I will be concerned mainly with ways in which these techniques can be applied in lecture courses -- they require only trivial modification to be used in textbooks, research papers, formal debates, and Internet discussions.
In evolutionary biology, organisms transform by an evolutionary process into other organisms. This means that evolutionary biologists are often called on to establish lineal relationships. There is a whole class of methods that can be applied when an instructor can't quite bridge an evolutionary gap. Suppose an instructor can get from organism A to organism B and from organism C to organism D by an evolutionary process but cannot bridge the gap between B and C. A number of techniques are available to the aggressive instructor in this emergency. The instructor can write down B and then, without any hesitation, put "therefore C." If the class is bored or the organisms in question are not terribly interesting, it is unlikely that anyone will question the "therefore." This is the method of argument by omission and it is remarkably easy to get away with (sorry, "remarkably easy to apply with success").
Alternatively, there is the argument by fiat, where one simply posits an intermediary between B and C -- call it Z -- that shares characteristics of both. The evolutionary transitions from B to Z and then from Z to C are now obvious. The argument by fiat is a special case of the argument by misdirection, where in place of a difficult problem that was supposed to be solved, one solves an easier problem that is superficially similar to the original problem.
Argument by definition can be extremely effective. Here the instructor defines a set S to be whatever biological systems satisfy some property. For instance, S might consist of all irreducibly complex molecular machines that are the result of Darwinian evolution. The lecturer then announces that in the future only members of S will be the focus of discussion. Even honors students will take this at face value, not questioning whether the set S might in fact be empty.
Argument by assertion is unanswerable. If, for instance, some vague waffle about an evolutionary transition does not satisfy a recalcitrant student, the instructor simply says, "This point should be intuitively obvious. I've explained it as clearly as I can. If you still cannot see it, you will just have to think very carefully about it yourself, and then you will see how trivial and obvious it is." The instructor at this point might also want to add, "What are you, a creationist?" or "Are you one of those Christian fundamentalists?" Arguments by demonization like this are particularly effective when one or a few students get unruly but the majority sides with the instructor.
Yet when the majority of the class becomes unruly, nothing beats an argument by obscure reference. This will silence all but the most determined troublemaker. Few students take the time or want to take the time to hunt down an obscure reference in the evolutionary literature. And even if students locate the reference (which is becoming easier with the Internet), if the reference is sufficiently technical and difficult to understand, it is an easy matter for the instructor to inform the student that he or she simply doesn't comprehend the relevant passage.
In this case, if the instructor is kind, he or she may simply offer an argument from removable ignorance -- "Just keep studying evolutionary theory, and eventually it will all make sense." If that doesn't work, the instructor may wish to try an argument from stupidity -- "How can you be so stupid?" But if the student is otherwise at the top of the class, this approach may backfire. In that case, either the argument from wickedness ("You are just being perverse") or the argument from insanity ("What are you, nuts?") should do the trick. And always keep the argument by demonization in your front pocket.
A variant of the argument by obscure reference is the argument by irrelevant reference. This works in a pinch when you can be reasonably sure that the student won't track down the reference (perhaps because of time constraints). But be careful -- if the irrelevance is palpable (say you are discussing the evolution of vertebrates and the article you cite is on the evolution of organisms in a completely different phylum or even kingdom), then you may be in trouble if the irrelevancy is pointed out. Make sure the irrelevance is hard to fathom. And then there's the argument by nonexistent reference -- this works best in public debates.
Because the public debate over evolution tends to pit academic high culture against the moronic masses, it is helpful to have a technique specifically for keeping the masses in check and for keeping the academic elite from being seduced by populist sentiments. The argument from aesthetics is the technique of choice here. "This theory is just too beautiful to be false." Evolutionary biologists regularly use this technique to establish the validity of their theories when the evidence for them otherwise is extremely slender.
By now it will be apparent what riches derive from the study of evolutionary logic. I therefore appeal to evolutionary biologists everywhere to institute formal courses in this discipline. This should preferably be done at the undergraduate level so that those who go teaching with only a bachelor's degree will be familiar with the subject. But high school students too should be exposed to the rudiments of evolutionary logic. It is certain that in the future no one will be able to claim a biological education without a firm grounding in the practical applications of evolutionary logic.
This article adapts and extends Paul Dunmore's "The Uses of Fallacy," New Zealand Mathematics Magazine, vol. 7, 1970.
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December 16, 2002
TEACHING RESOURCES FOR PARENTS, TEACHERS AND SCHOOL BOARDS
Would you like your school to change from Evolution Only to a more objective approach - an approach that promotes critical thinking, opens minds and permits teachers to explain the scientific controversies about our origins - Where we come from? IF SO THIS PAGE IS FOR YOU!
Copyright © 1997 by Victor J. Stenger
Preprint of a paper submitted to Creation/Evolution. Do not reprint without permission from the author.
The Mediocre Universe This Feb. 1996 Discover magazine article discusses the cosmological hypothesis that our universe is but one of many.
Design and the Anthropic Principle Creationist Hugh Ross argues that the fundamental constants of nature are so precisely tuned that they could not have occurred without an intelligent designer.
Evolution is Not the Whole Story
As the bankruptcy of creation "science" becomes increasingly recognized, a new catch phrase, intelligent design, has been adopted by those who persist in their attempts to inject creationism into the science curriculum (see, for example, Of Pandas and People, Davis 1993; Matsumura 1995 and Cole 1995 report on attempts to introduce Pandas into schools). Intelligent design is a more subtle term than creation science, one that has far broader implications than the genesis of life on a minor planet in the corner of a minor galaxy. The argument that the material universe resulted from conscious action outside itself can sound convincing, even to those who accept biological evolution as established fact. Many who agree that biblical creation is not an appropriate part of the science curriculum, because it is not science, may not object to including material that argues with greater sophistication that the universe as a whole shows evidence for design.
For nearly 20 years, a shy, middle-aged woman has had regular audiences with the Virgin Mary and changed her town's fortunes. ROSALBA O'BRIEN reports on Gladys Motta, Argentina's famous stigmatic while ENZO DAEDRO profiles stigmatics from Argentina, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
On 25 September 1983, Gladys Quiroga de Motta, a housewife in a small Argentinian city 143 miles (230 km) north of the capital, noted in her diary: "I saw the Virgin for the first time." Now, nearly 20 years and over 1000 appearances by the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) later, around 300,000 pilgrims descend on San NicolŠs de los Arroyos on the anniversary of Gladys's vision (25 September) every year and have changed the face of the city (population 140,000) for good.
Until the Virgin picked her out, Gladys Motta led the unremarkable life of a quiet, 46-year-old Christian, housewife and mother. But that Sunday, while praying at home, Gladys claims she saw the recognisable image of the Virgin Mary, dressed in blue and pink and holding the baby Jesus and a rosary. She told her neighbour Erlinda Leiva that the Virgin appeared bathed in light at her side, but at first did not dare tell anyone else for fear she would not be believed.
Perfect Christian or a psychopath possessed by the devil? Malcolm Day reviews the life of the recently canonised bleeding saint, padre Pio (1887-1968).
When the Italian monk Padre Pio was canonised on 16 June 2002, the ceremony was greeted with as much fanfare as if Italy had won the World Cup. The Catholic adoration of this new saint puts him on a par with the world's holiest and has won him more devotees than Francis of Assisi or Bernadette of Lourdes. Some eight million visitors each year throng the little village of San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy where the friar lived; only the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico attracts more pilgrims. Without a doubt the most popular saint-to-be made in modern times, the miracle-working Padre Pio was also the most controversial.
In perhaps the most extraordinary volte-face ever performed by the Vatican, its official line about Pio changed from regarding him as a psychopathic fraudster suspected of fornicating in the confessional to agreement that this simple friar from Apulia was a paragon of virtue so blessed with the power of God that just a touch of his cloak would suffice to cure disease.
SEATTLE, Jan. 9 - Peering deep in space and time, astronomers have seen what they think are some of the earliest known objects in the universe, including the most distant quasar ever detected.
The faint light of 26 young galaxies and three quasars, objects thought to be powered by supermassive black holes, were observed at a distance of some 13 billion light-years, at the time the universe was less than a billion years old and apparently just emerging from an epoch of utter darkness. Scientists said the observations could provide important clues to when and how the lights came on all over the cosmos.
The observations were made by two groups of astronomers, one using infrared images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the other analyzing new photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope. The researchers announced the results today at a meeting here of the American Astronomical Society.
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Today's Headlines Ė January 9, 2003
REDUCTIONS SOUGHT IN GREENHOUSE GASES
from The Washington Post
Key lawmakers concerned that President Bush is mishandling the threat of global warming yesterday launched a drive for mandatory limits on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that many scientists blame for a troubling rise in the Earth's temperature.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) unveiled their plan to require all U.S. power plants and industries to set mandatory targets for the reduction of industrial greenhouse gas emissions at a hearing by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), meanwhile, touted a new "Global Climate Security Act" to address the problems of climate change and air pollution and promote clean energy. And House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and other GOP House moderates are supporting tough measures to combat rising temperatures while voicing impatience with the pace of some of Bush's voluntary initiatives...
McCain, a maverick Republican who is about to assume the chairmanship of the commerce committee, charged that the administration was using scientific uncertainties about the causes of global warming as an excuse to do nothing. "As I read [the administration's] proposal, it simply doesn't do very much except study the issue another four or five years," he told reporters.
FDA OFFERS GUIDANCE ON WOMEN'S HORMONE USE
from The Washington Post
Women can take hormones after menopause to alleviate hot flashes and vaginal dryness and perhaps to stave off osteoporosis if they are at high risk for thinning bones, but should always use the lowest doses for the shortest possible time, the federal government advised yesterday.
In its first detailed guidance about post-menopausal hormone use since the discovery of new risks from the drugs caused widespread confusion and anxiety last summer, the Food and Drug Administration also said women should not take estrogen or combinations of estrogen and progesterone to reduce their risk for heart disease.
In fact, the agency ordered yesterday that all products containing estrogen must now include a prominent warning on their labels that extended use could increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke, breast cancer and potentially life-threatening blood clots.
DEBATE ERUPTS OVER TESTING PESTICIDES ON HUMANS
from The New York Times
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 ó Pesticide makers sparred with health and environmental advocates here today over a contentious subject, whether the Environmental Protection Agency should accept figures from studies in which researchers have had people drink pesticides or other chemicals to determine toxicity.
Such studies have been conducted in the United States and overseas with volunteers who are paid from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000. The studies are not common, a spokesman for the E.P.A. said, noting that in the last four years 15 had been submitted to the agency.
In 1998, citing ethical and scientific concerns, the agency declared a moratorium on using such information. In December 2001, it asked the National Academy of Sciences to convene an expert panel to provide advice. The panel, which met today at the academy headquarters to hear public comments, is to issue its report in December. An earlier advisory panel, not from the academy, struggled with the same subject but did not reach a consensus.
TWO SCIENTISTS CONTEND U.S. SUPPRESSED DOLPHIN STUDIES
from The New York Times
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 ó Two former government scientists who spent years investigating stress in dolphin populations charged this week that superiors at their federally financed laboratory shut down their research because it clashed with policy goals of the Clinton and Bush administrations.
The scientists, who worked at different times over the past decade at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in San Diego, said their research indicated that the practice of chasing and encircling dolphins to catch tuna exposed the dolphins to dangerous amounts of stress.
The accusations, by Dr. Albert Myrick, a wildlife biologist, and Dr. Sarka Southern, a research associate, came days after the Bush administration relaxed the criteria for declaring tuna netted by Mexican and other foreign fishing boats to be "dolphin safe." In making that declaration last week, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans said that chasing and corralling dolphins and the tuna that often accompany them into purse nets had "no significant adverse impact" on the dolphins.
The ruling cleared the way for Mexican and other Latin American tuna producers to place a dolphin-safe label on cans for American shelves. The foreign producers seek the designation ó which many consumers demand ó to be competitive with American companies, which do not chase dolphins to catch tuna.
FEDERAL JUDGE HALTS SONAR TESTING THAT ENVIRONMENTALISTS SAY DISORIENTS
from The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- In response to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, a federal judge blocked scientists from studying the impact of a newly developed form of sonar on migrating gray whales.
Environmentalists say the high-frequency sonar could disorient whales and separate calves from their mothers during their migration.
The testing by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution of Falmouth, Mass., and Scientific Solutions Inc. of Nashua, N.H., was set to begin Wednesday a mile off the central California coast near San Luis Obispo during the whales' southward migratory season.
The National Marine Fisheries Service approved the experiments last year.
STUDY: FREQUENT DRINKING HELPS THE HEART
from The Associated Press
As little as half an alcoholic drink a day can reduce the risk of heart attacks, whether the beverage of choice is beer, red wine, white wine or liquor, new research shows.
Scientists have known that drinking can prevent heart attacks, but the study suggests that how often you imbibe is a lot more important than what or how much.
Whether you drink with your meal or at some other time also appears irrelevant.
"It was a surprise that -- almost regardless of other factors associated with drinking -- frequency of use seemed to be what reduced the subsequent risk of a heart attack," said Dr. Kenneth Mukamal of Harvard University Medical School, who led the study.
EFFORT TO IDENTIFY TRADE CENTER DEAD LIKELY TO TAKE YEARS
from The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) -- The massive effort to identify World Trade Center victims' remains will not wrap up early this year, as city officials had predicted, and is likely to continue for years, according to the scientist leading the unprecedented DNA project.
Dr. Robert Shaler, the city's chief forensic biologist, said Wednesday that he still hopes to reach a goal of 2,000 identifications out of the nearly 2,800 believed lost in the disaster. But Shaler said he expects identifications to come in small batches as technicians struggle to work with damaged DNA.
"You continually play a numbers game, because you want to get your hopes up, but getting identifications is much harder now," Shaler said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The scientist's comments are the first signaling that the process will take much longer than the city had estimated.
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This is the main web site which examines the Bible Codes (also called Torah Codes) from the point of view of the mathematicians and other experts who have examined them critically.
Breakthrough Brings Laser Light To New Regions Of The Spectrum. Combining
concepts from electromagnetic radiation research and fiber optics,
researchers have created an extreme-ultraviolet, laser-like beam capable of
producing tightly-focused light in a region of the electromagnetic spectrum
not previously accessible to scientists. Between 10-100 times shorter than
visible light waves, the extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) wavelengths will allow
researchers to "see" tiny features and carve miniature patterns, with
applications in such fields as microscopy, lithography and nanotechnology.
K. Eric Drexler responds to the question: "What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them?" The Edge: The World Question Center 2003. Advanced nanotechnologies, based on molecular manufacturing, will enable the production of computer systems a billion times more powerful than today's, aerospace vehicles with 98% less structural mass, and medical tools enabling molecular repair of cells, tissues, and organs. These and related technologies will be economically and strategically decisive. (Response by:) K. Eric Drexler.
Dear Mr. President: I must respectfully decline your invitation, as I am
unsuited to such a role, but I wish to take this opportunity to offer a
potentially crucial piece of advice regarding strategic research directions.
The United States, like all the leading technological powers, has recently
turned its research efforts toward a broad field called "nanotechnology". I
introduced this term in the mid-1980s and described long-term prospects that
helped motivate the recent explosion of interest and investment. (The Edge
Molten metal in motion. Nanoscale inclusions of lead in aluminum don't melt
until they're over 100 degrees hotter than the melting temperature of lead
in bulk. Then watch out! The tiny blobs of liquid careen through solid
aluminum just the way Einstein described in his classic 1905 paper on
Brownian motion. (Berkeley Lab science beat 12/17/02)
Researchers in industry and academia tinker with self-repairing systems,
molecular circuits and more. The customarily languid pace at which
scientific research blossoms into practical applications appeared to speed
up this year with a number of discoveries being rushed toward
commercialization. Autonomic computing, in which systems can configure and
repair themselves, took a big leap forward when Pennsylvania State
University researchers said they had developed software that can repair--on
the fly--an attacked database while allowing it to continue processing
transactions. (ZDnet 12/30/02)
Chemical attraction solves geometric puzzles. Circuit builders could
capitalize on self-assembling floating patterns. Chop up a square into four
pieces, and reassemble them into a triangle. This kind of geometric
dissection puzzle delighted ancient Chinese scholars. Chemists have now
created self-solving dissections. Their trick could help in building
easy-to-modify circuits. George Whitesides of Harvard University in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, and colleagues design the edges of floating
polygonal shapes so that they stick together in a particular arrangement.
(Nature Science update 12/23/02)
Nanotechnology makes Smallbany the place to be...nanotechnology may well
make Albany a hot spot. Nanotechnology is the creation and use of materials,
devices and systems that are formed through the control of matter at the
nanometer-length level. A nanometer is 75,000 times smaller than the width
of a human hair. In the 21st century, nanotechnology is expected to change
everything. It may certainly give new meaning to the phrase Smallbany.
(The Business Review 12/27/02)
Also see a readers letter to the editor regarding the above editorial:
Nanoimprint lithography ready to make its mark. A potentially low-cost form
of lithography affectionately known as "squish and flash" by its backers is
coming to market. Three vendors have announced or released tools for the
technique, properly known as nanoimprint lithography. And the concept has
garnered enough interest among research entities in the United States,
Europe and Japan to have warranted its own conference this month. Imprint
lithography uses polymers that harden into patterns when exposed to
ultraviolet light through a 1:1 proximity mask. The patterns on the template
are written with an electron-beam system at the same line width as the
pattern on the wafer, rather than at the 4x reduction possible with
conventional optical lithography. Molecular Imprints Inc. (MII), based here,
next month will ship a development tool, the Imprio 100, with a $2 million
price tag, said CEO Norm Schumaker. Nanonex Corp. (Princeton, N.J.) is
shipping nanoimprint lithography tools that range in price from $300,000 to
$700,000. (EE Times 12/20/02)
(AI) Composer harnesses artificial intelligence to create music. Just as
IBM's Deep Blue showed the world a computer can play chess as well as a
human master, Eduardo Reck Miranda, a researcher for the Sony Computer
Science Laboratories Inc., aims to demonstrate a computer program able to
compose original music. So far, neural networks have succeeded in imitating
distinct musical styles, but truly original compositions have remained
elusive. Miranda is tackling that problem with an orchestra of virtual
musicians - called agents - that interact to compose original music.
The Incredible Shrinking Technology. Nanotechnology used to be a playground
for speculation and science fiction. It is now one of the most exciting
research fields in contemporary science. It is true that nanotechnology has
been heralded as the "next big thing" for years and the excitement
surrounding it certainly increased after the dot com bubble burst and people
started looking for another wonder technology. Nevertheless, despite the
hype, big strides have been taken and more are imminent. Nanotechnology is
an umbrella term for approaches from different scientific disciplines which
share the defining element of operating within the very small world of
molecules, where distances are measured in nanometres, or millionths of a
millimetre. The computer industry has already entered the nanoworld. Chip
production operates with features as small as 100 nanometres, and they are
getting smaller. But can this success be extended to other fields? will
there be houses, cars, space stations built by manipulation on the nanometre
scale? -6pg length review.
(Financial Review 1/2/02)
Tomorrow's technology begins today. The customarily languid pace at which
scientific research blossoms into practical applications appeared to speed
up this year with a number of discoveries being rushed toward
commercialization...Nanotechnology developed in research and development
centers run by companies like Intel and IBM made a big splash, underscoring
that technology built at the atomic level is no longer limited to academic
labs.-small paragraph concerning nanotech. (ZDnet 12/30/02)
Tuning Carbon Nanotube Resonance Frequencies. Tuning carbon nanotube
resonance frequencies can be achieved by varying a static voltage applied
between the nanotubes and a counter electrode. This was demonstrated for
several nanotubes (NT) grown on a nickel support tip. The natural resonant
NT frequencies are those where the NT oscillates with a large amplitude, a
motion that can be monitored directly by watching the pattern of electrons
spraying out the end of the tubes (like water spraying out of a wiggling
garden hose). (Physics News Update 12/23/02)
NSC upbeat on new industrial park initiatives. The National Science Council
outlined new developments and major policy programs Taiwan will implement in
order to maintain its high-tech edge over competitors at its year-end press
conference yesterday. In particular, a major direction would be attracting
investments and fresh talent for Taiwan's three major science-based
industrial parks, with the focus on "IC production in the north,
nanotechnology in the central region, and the optoelectronics industry in
the south," according to NSC Chairman Wei Che-ho. (eTaiwanNews 1/3/03)
The good of small things. Living cells are natural nanotechnology.
Artificial nanotech is about to give them a helping hand. Nanotechnology is
a word that seems to mean all things to all men. All it is, however, is
technology on a "nano" scale: ie, employing devices with dimensions measured
in nanometres (billionths of a metre). Since that is the scale of large
molecules, many cynics regard it as merely a fancy name for chemistry. The
inventor of the term, Eric Drexler, then an engineer at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, had greater ambitions. In "Engines of Creation", a
book published in 1986, he argued that it would be possible one day to
construct self-replicating "nanomachines" that could assemble atoms into
molecules, thus building new objects from the inside out. (Econimist.com
Small Worlds. Nanotechnology wins over mainstream venture capitalists.
Nanotechnology is coming in from the fringe. Once dismissed as just so much
science fiction and Silicon Valley hokum, nanotechnology now represents no
less than the next industrial revolution. "If you're looking for analogies
to put the impact of nanotech into context, I'd say the invention of the
internal combustion engine is a good one," says Tim Harper, a physicist
formerly with the European Space Agency who now runs an early-stage nanotech
fund and nanotech conference group in Madrid. Talk like that would be purely
hyperbolic if not for the fact that many of the world's most prominent
scientists see this tiny art as the next big thing. (Red Herring 12/18/02)
Hot stuff. Advanced materials are moving out of the lab and into the
commercial world. Once regarded as laboratory curiosities, smart materials
are beginning to make their mark on some high-profile commercial
applications. This class of materials encompasses a broad range of ceramics,
metal alloys, gels, and polymers. What sets them apart is their ability to
adapt when they're exposed to external stimuli, such as temperature,
magnetism, or electricity. Piezoelectric crystals and magneto-rheological
fluids have been around for years. Now, newer exotic alloys and polymers
with intriguing properties are joining them. Some of the more recent
arrivals in the lab, such as carbon nanotubes, are still the subject of
basic research. Yet others have made the transition into commercial
(Memmagazine Dec., 02)
Nanosphere Inc. Receives Additional $5 Million in Third Round of Financing.
Nanosphere Inc., a nanotechnology-based life sciences company, today
announced it has received an additional $5 million in third round financing,
bringing the total third round financing to $15 million. These proceeds
will provide further capital to fund the commercialization of the company's
first biomolecular detection system, which will be released in the second
half of 2003. Third round investors include Lurie Investments of Chicago,
NextGen Partners LLC of Santa Barbara, and Takara Bio Inc. of Kyoto , Japan.
Physicist proposes deeper layer of reality. New theory takes the chance out
of quantum mechanics. God does not play dice, but he might just as well do,
a Dutch physicist is suggesting. Returning to Einstein's nagging doubts
about quantum mechanics, Nobel laureate Gerard 't Hooft of Utrecht
University has begun to outline a way in which its apparent play of chance
might be underpinned by precise physical laws that describe the way the
world works. Other physicists seem impressed by 't Hooft's creativity. "The
work certainly deserves to be taken seriously," says quantum theory
specialist Richard Gill.
(Nature Science Update 1/8/03)
The Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy. From the Lab to the
Battlefield? Nanotechnology and Fourth-Generation Nuclear Weapons. By Andrť
Gsponer. In Disarmament Diplomacy No. 65, Sean Howard warned of the dangers
of enhanced or even new types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) emerging
from the development of 'nanotechnology', an umbrella term for a range of
potentially revolutionary engineering techniques at the atomic and molecular
level.1 Howard called for urgent preliminary consideration to be given to
the benefits and practicalities of negotiating an 'Inner Space Treaty' to
guard against such developments. While echoing this call, this paper draws
attention to the existing potential of nanotechnology to affect dangerous
and destabilizing 'refinements' to existing nuclear weapon designs.
Historically, nanotechnology is a child of the nuclear weapons labs, a
creation of the WMD-industrial complex. The most far-reaching and fateful
impacts of nanotechnology, therefore, may lie - and can already be seen - in
the same area.
(The Acronym Institute oct/Nov. 02 issue)
Pacific Nanotechnology Unveils Nano-IT Atomic Force Microscope. Pacific
Nanotechnology, Inc. (PNI), the global leader in high-performance,
easy-to-use, and affordable atomic force microscopes (AFMs), today announced
the new Nano-IT AFM for inspection and metrology of nanodevice wafers and
storage media disks. It has applications in R&D, process development,
failure analysis, and quality assurance for MEMS and semiconductor devices,
data storage media, magnetic read/write heads, and photonic devices. The
Nano-I AFM can routinely visualize and quantitatively measure surface
structures having nanometer-sized dimension. Priced at $100K, the Nano-I AFM
sets a new standard for affordability, yet it also offers high-performance
and ease-of-use. (Hoovers Online 1/7/02)
Human Cloning is the Least Interesting Application of Cloning Technology. By
Ray Kurzweil. Cloning is an extremely important technology--not for cloning
humans but for life extension: therapeutic cloning of one's own organs,
creating new tissues to replace defective tissues or organs, or replacing
one's organs and tissues with their "young" telomere-extended replacements
without surgery. Cloning even offers a possible solution for world hunger:
creating meat without animals. (Kurzweilai.net January 03)
Nanomechanic devices warn of heart attacks. A team of scientists from the
University of Basel and IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, Switzerland, has
developed a cantilever-based device that can detect two cardiac biomarker
proteins in the bloodstream. The proteins can act as an early warning system
for heart attacks. (nanotechweb.org 1/7/03)
"I hope you all had a happy new year!"
Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
Foresight Senior Associate http://www.foresight.org
Extropy member http://www.extropy.org
"Nanotechnology: Solutions for the future."
Wed Jan 8, 8:14 AM ET
By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) - Give us this day our daily SMS.
Believers in today's frenetic world can now find inspiration on the run thanks to that omnipresent companion -- no, not a Guardian Angel but a cellular phone.
Italy's largest mobile phone operator, TIM, has begun a service to offer clients SMS messages with "the prayer of the day," "saint of the day" or "gospel of the day."
The four beeps that signal an incoming inspiration are the latest opportunity given to Italian Catholics to help them on the technological stairway to Heaven.
Wednesday's prayer was: "Oh Lord, make me give of myself freely without expecting anything in return."
But even prayer is not free these days. The service costs about 15 cents for each message -- a new twist to the concept of pennies from heaven.
Italy, one of the world's most traditional Catholic countries, has opened the door to high-tech religion.
Web sites available to Italians include "Angels online," which will tell you everything you wanted to know about the 72 angels and archangels. It also includes a section explaining "The contract with your Guardian Angel."
Then there is "Bible online" and "God Exists and he is online-Happy Web." If you were named after a saint and want to find out everything about his or her life, click on "Saints, Blesseds and Witnesses."
Compared to other institutions, the Vatican was late to go online but made a big splash when it did in 1997.
Its Internet site is powered by three host computers named after angels -- Raphael, Michael and Gabriel.
Raphael stores graphics and navigation paths, Michael protects the site from hackers and Gabriel interfaces between the other two computers and the outside world.
But Pope John Paul is probably the only world leader without a personal e-mail address. He has no personal computer in his office and still writes speeches by hand in Polish or dictates them to aides.
And no, you cannot go to confession on the Internet. The information superhighway still stops at the thick velvet curtain of the confessional box.
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.