NTS LogoSkeptical News for 11 August 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Kabbalah centre wants your heart—and your money


The String That Binds
by Abby Ellin, with special reporting by Adam J. Sacks
August 11 - 17, 2004

The building at 155 East 48th Street gleams like a freshly polished piece of marble. It is spotless, pristine; it could be Ian Schrager's latest hotel or a swanky, if austere, new restaurant. Everything about it sparkles: the heavy glass doors leading into the white-tiled lobby; the bottled water lined up on a table; the beatific faces on the workers milling about.

Upstairs, in a generic conference room— rows of plastic chairs, an oversize IP chart set up on an easel, recessed fluorescent lighting—people listen to a beaming teacher at the Manhattan branch of the Kabbalah Centre.

"Don't believe anything you hear in this course. Test it in your life. It has to work for you. Believing means there is already an element of doubt," he says with the cadence of a cantor. "The secret to success is to know the laws of life—not to believe in them. When you test these laws and principles, you will come to know the power of Kabbalah."

The group of about 60—men, women, blacks, whites, Israelis wearing yarmulkes—nods earnestly. How could something so ancient, so esoteric, sound so basic, so . . . Barnes & Noble self-help section?

"Why be reactive when you could be proactive? Why not embrace the Light?" He pauses and his eyes shine. "This," he says, "is Kabbalah."

Yes, this is Kabbalah, the mystical, ancient study that has turned into the spiritual therapy du jour, its classes meeting at a center near you. But some claim Kabbalah—"receipt" in Hebrew—is picking up where the Scientologists, Hare Krishnas, and Moonies left off.

Naturally, celebrities, arbiters of the zeitgeist, are all over it: Sandra Bernhard, Barbra Streisand, Rose-anne, and notable Jewish scholars like Demi Moore and Britney Spears have all taken classes with the Kabbalah Centre. Some can be seen sporting the red string, which supposedly wards off evil. (In February, the center tried to trademark the words Kabbalah red string; their application was rejected on the grounds that the string was only "indefinitely identified" as a religious object.) Just the other day Target, which had been selling the red strings in some of its stores and on its website—for a mere $25.99!—yanked them off shelves after receiving complaints from angry customers.

Madonna, of course, has recently reinvented herself as the poster child for Kabbalah. On her appropriately named ReInvention Tour, she allowed only Kabbalah water in her dressing room, invited a rabbi to bless the venue, and donated proceeds from sales of her children's book The English Roses to the Kabbalah Centre's Spirituality for Kids Foundation. She has changed her name to Esther and reportedly shelled out $6 million for a Kabbalah facility in London's West End. She has also spent some $22 million for a Kabbalah school in New York, which is slated to open next fall.

"We don't answer people's questions, we let people get their own answers," says Yehuda Berg, 32, the scruffy, bespectacled, yarmulke- and jeans-wearing co-director (along with his brother, Michael, 30) of the centers. Their father, Philip Berg—known as the Rav—is the organization's founder and spiritual leader.

"One of the biggest problems in religion is that the rabbi, the minister—whoever it is—keeps the information," Yehuda Berg continues. "You need them so they can give you the answer. Religion wasn't meant to be like that. Religion was meant to be the power for the people."

Kabbalah originated in Spain and France around the 13th century, when a Spanish mystic named Moses de Leon is credited with having written the Zohar (Book of Splendor), the text upon which Kabbalah is based. The book was penned in Aramaic and is, by all accounts, virtually impossible to comprehend.

Traditionally, only Jews were allowed to study Kabbalah, and then only those who were at least 40 years old, male, and well versed in the Talmud. But everyone is welcome at the Kabbalah Centre, young and old, Hispanic and Asian, white and black (about 50 percent of its students are not Jewish).

Nearly 4 million people have walked through various Kabbalah Centre doors since its first course was given in 1969 on the campus of Tel Aviv University. The first U.S. center opened in 1972; there are about 40 branches worldwide, the latest in Warsaw (the largest are in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, with about 1,000 students each; Manhattan is quickly catching up). About 20,000 people visit the website kabbalah.com each month.

The Jewish community—specifically the Hasidic faction—is less effusive. Itzhak Kadouri, a Sephardic rabbi considered the foremost authority on Kabbalah, has written: "Whomever is supporting Mr. Berg financially or otherwise, is endangering his soul."

Last April, Lawrence Green (not his real name), who lives in the West Village, began attending classes at the center in New York. He bought a red string, which he wore faithfully, and a $415 Zohar.

"Everything in Kabbalah is about correction. We all need to be corrected," says Green, who is 36 and not Jewish. "The message they give is much like the Bush administration—'If you stick with us, you'll be safe. The world is very scary.' "

He grew more disheartened as the weeks progressed. "I found the classes were kind of mediocre, very pop psychology, New Age-y: 'You're in control of your life, it's your own fault, if you have a cold it means something's wrong spiritually.' "

But his annoyance reached its peak after his teacher pestered him to purchase an entire set of Zohars, and a counselor wouldn't let up.

"I said, 'What are you asking me for?' He said, 'I'm asking you for your money,' " Green recalls. " 'If you make a huge donation you could get a certain number of Zohars printed up and dedicated to you or a family member or whoever you want.' I said, 'What about donating to another worthwhile place?' They said, 'If you donate to somewhere else it's just perpetuating all the chaos in the world. Volunteering is good but money really makes the difference.' " Disgusted, Green left the center and hocked his Zohar on eBay for $350.

Michelle Waterman (not her real name), who lives outside New York City, blames the Kabbalah Centre for the demise of her marriage. In the late 1990s, after receiving a knock on the front door from a Zohar-wielding volunteer, her then husband began taking classes and was soon "entrenched" in it. Although he had never been especially religious, soon he was keeping a Zohar in his car, praying throughout the day and boring friends with talk of Kabbalah.

Once, he brought their grade-school daughter to meet the Rav. "When she came home she said, 'Mommy, you should see his soul,' " Waterman, in her early 40s, recalls. "I asked her what she was talking about. She told me Rabbi Berg had a beautiful soul. It was very eerie. I said to her father, 'Children don't see souls. I don't want her near there again.' "

The final straw came when her husband chose to spend Rosh Hashanah with the Rav and not with his own family. "I'd say, I'm going to be with my family on a holiday, and they would say, 'For what? You can celebrate with them any night; there's only a few chances to be with the Rav,' " Ms. Waterman recalls. "When you spend Rosh Hashanah with the Rav it's life insurance for the next year."

"They're really scary," says Waterman, whose husband remarried a woman he met at the center. "Anything that takes a person to such an extreme is a cult."

Whether Philip Berg is technically running a cult is up for debate. According to the Interfaith Coalition of Concern About Cults, a destructive cult has a "self-appointed messianic leader" who exercises total control over members' lives; who uses "deception and misrepresentation for recruitment, retention, and fundraising"; and who aims to control "individual thought and personal privacy." To qualify, a group must possess all of the above qualities to some degree.

Yehuda Berg was happy to talk about the spiritual aspects of Kabbalah, but he and other officials chose not to respond to questions about allegations against the center.

"Over the years we have received calls from people who felt pressured to contribute money and follow the teachings of Rabbi Berg," says Arnold Markowitz, a clinical social worker and director of the Cult Hotline and Clinic operated by the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services in Manhattan. "Rabbi Berg and his wife can be very assertive about their beliefs. But it's really very hard to say if it's a cult. Different people have different experiences."

Where some say they've found enlightenment, others tell of Kabbalah-inspired divorces and pressure to donate hefty sums of money. An October 2003 article in London's Mail on Sunday quoted Jerry Hall as saying she left the center because she was tired of having to ask friends to donate a tenth of their annual incomes.

"It should be called the Berg family business," says Rick Ross, founder of the Ross Institute of New Jersey, a cult watchdog (rickross.org). "You have Daddy Berg, Mommy Berg, and baby Bergs and their cadre of high-ranking friends. It's a business. Who else but a business would be interested in trademarking the words red string? Or bottling Kabbalah water? Someone gave it to me as a souvenir; it's Canadian spring water."

"Kabbalah is a complex system of thought," sighs Professor Shaul Magid, a former professor of Jewish thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan. "The question is, really, is the Kabbalah Centre transmitting kabbalistic teachings responsibly? The fact that they interpret it psychologically is not problematic by definition, but are they transmitting the tradition and then making a distinction between what the text says and their own reading? Or are they unconsciously, or perhaps consciously, transmitting their interpretation as the tradition?

"I believe they are trying to do the real thing," the professor continues. "The problem is that they are doing it in a way that's easily accessible. Kabbalah is written precisely so there is no easy access. It's encoded in a way that people can't access it without prior knowledge. So, perhaps they are teaching Kabbalah in a non-kabbalistic way."

While the experts measure their words, the Hasidic community—often branded a cult in its own right—is more forthright, objecting to the center's non-halachic brand of Judaism (halacha is Jewish law). They protest Philip Berg's blend of Judaism and mysticism—call it McSpirituality—claiming he's bastardizing sacred texts to make a dime.

"Naturally, all of us involved in Kabbalah want the beauty and the richness of a tradition which is integrally part of Judaism and by no means a new movement to reach the public," says Nama Frenkel, owner of Frenkel & Thayer, a Baltimore-based marketer of spiritual and healing books, videos, and tapes, who converted to Judaism in 1973. "But it's a disappointment when someone like Berg does it for self-aggrandizement and wealth, because the people who study with him don't receive the healing and wisdom that others get from other teachers. In all of the 2,000 years since the Temple was destroyed, no one ever got rich teaching Torah. How can Berg be the first one?"

That's a question a lot of people ask. Indeed, Rabbi Berg is a deeply controversial character, considered a guru by some and a charlatan by others.

Born Feivel Gruberger in Brooklyn, Berg initially worked as an insurance salesman. He met the Kabbalist rabbi Yehuda Brandwein on a trip to Israel in 1962, and soon married his niece. They had eight children and stayed together until the early '70s. Then young Feivel shortened his last name to Berg, left his wife and kids in Israel, and married his current wife, Karen, who lectures on subjects like women in Judaism; Kabbalah and parenting; and kabbalistic insights into relationships. Their two sons, Yehuda and Michael, have essentially taken over the enterprise.

Reports about the Rav are conflicting. According to a 1994 article in Tel Aviv magazine, Rabbi Berg says he was ordained in the U.S.A. in the early '50s and got an additional ordination in Israel from his former father-in-law. The Los Angeles Task Force on Cults and Missionaries claims he is not affiliated with the 80-year-old Yeshivah Kol Yehuda in Jerusalem, once headed by Berg's ex-father-in-law, the late Rabbi Brandwein, though he claims he is. A question about the Yeshiva went unanswered by the Kabbalah Centre. Critics worry that he transforms young naïfs who volunteer at the center into Stepford Jews, where they're housed in dorm-like accommodations and do menial labor like scrubbing toilets or schlepping Zohars door-to-door.

They object to his more bizarre tactics, like "shadow reading." Seven years ago Gedalia Kohler joined his wife when she started taking classes at the center in Queens. Kohler, an Orthodox Jew living in Brooklyn, went because "I wanted to see what kind of people were there," he says. "He [Berg] comes out in a white turban and he looks like he's God. Before Rosh Hashanah he puts white sheets in the backyard. When you walk by the moon, it shines on your body and reflects on the sheet. He was able to tell people if they were going to have a good year or bad year based on the reflection off the moon. People are eating this up. It's like watching cartoons."

There are other claims. Don't feel well? Simply meditate on a Hebrew letter. (In his book The 72 Names of God, Yehuda Berg promises that by meditating on the appropriate letter, you'll "bring more money into your life, ignite sexual energy and passion, meet your true soul mate and radiate beauty to all who see you.") Should illness befall you, well, you either needed to learn that lesson or you're simply paying a karmic debt.

"I went to one of the free meetings and they said if you do this and this you won't get cancer or sick," recalls Rachel Bernstein, the community education coordinator at the Cult Hotline and Clinic here in New York. "If you go to all the classes and make a donation and you get cancer, that's because when you were scanning the Zohar, you were not truly feeling it in your heart. I thought, 'This is a perfectly well-defended organization. If it doesn't work, it's your fault. You did something wrong.' "

Then there's the matter of scanning, a method of reading the Zohar that does not require actual comprehension of Aramaic or, for that matter, Hebrew. Simply run your finger along the text, like a scanner at a supermarket counter. (Scanning with your eyes is equally acceptable.)

The rabbinical community scoffs at the practice. "In [the Book of ] Noah there's something about how the light shows through the window of the ark. The way the Kabbalists interpret this is that God's light shines through the letters of the Hebrew language," says Rabbi Howard Avruhm Addison, author of The Enneagram and Kabbalah: Reading Your Soul. "There is such a concept, but the idea of trying to bilk people out of hundreds of dollars at inflated prices and telling them it's okay not to understand, just run your fingers over it? I find it disingenuous."

Right or wrong, rabbis, Orthodox Jews, and former students are all curious about the Kabbalah Centre's financial situation, especially since it's forbidden to take money for teaching Torah (a loophole: you can collect for your time). Yet it seems to be doing extremely well.

Classes are relatively inexpensive—the introductory course costs $270 for 10 weeks, and you're supplied with free class notes and cassettes (plus concerned phone calls if you're absent). But the cost of books and various accoutrements adds up. A 23-volume set of the Zohar in English is available for $415 (you can get a five-volume set for $100 on amazon.com). Friday-night services are free, but the meal afterward is $30, and extra seminars—soul mate, palm reading, astrology, or healing workshops—cost about $40 a pop. A simple strand of red yarn "energized" at Rachel's Tomb near Bethlehem goes for $26 (blessing and tying included); a liter of Kabbalah water—put the bottle against your forehead, meditate on a particular problem, and zap! you'll feel better—is $2. "You are not only drinking water, you are also drinking all the prayers and meditations of the center," says Yehuda Berg.

The Kabbalah Centre and its related organizations are registered as churches with the IRS, so they're not required to file annual financial returns. At the close of 2000, the Kabbalah Centre International Incorporated, headquartered in L.A., showed assets of $14,581,729, with revenue of $5,568,964, against a total of $5,022,315 in expenses and liabilities.

That year, the Los Angeles center took in $4,135,064, after expenses, with assets approaching $12 million and liabilities well under a half million.

The Kabbalah Centre leadership maintains that its approach is affordable and welcoming. "We don't charge for membership; I don't know how many synagogues don't charge," says Yehuda Berg. "We don't charge for holiday services. We don't hand out envelopes. . . . Obviously, every place needs money to survive."

To be sure, thousands of people have found a source of comfort at the Kabbalah Centre, a way to connect with or even find Judaism while further exploring their New Age-y sides. Everyone's looking for some kind of relief in this world, and whether it's called energy, power, or light, if it helps, well, who are we to judge?

Some people, like Rubin Margules, an Orthodox Jew and former owner of Brown's resort in Loch Sheldrake, New York, even praise the Kabbalah Centre. In the early '90s, he says, about 500 members spent two Rosh Hashanahs at his resort. "They were highly spiritual; it was admirable," he says. "Sure, it was a little weird that they liked to daven [pray] an extra two hours a day, but they had tremendous kavot [dedication]. It was nice."

So what if instead of blowing a ram's horn (shofar) they brought out an entire ram's head on a platter? "They didn't hurt anybody," he says. "To tell you the truth, it's nice to have a Jewish thing out there."

And that, perhaps, is the real message. "We want Kabbalah for the whole world," says Yehuda Berg, his eyes shining. "We are not going to stop until 6 billion people are enlightened."

Stem Cell Research Gains Political Life


August 10, 2004

Kerry criticizes Bush's limits on the science. And as polls show voters favor less restrictive policies, the president aims to recast his stance.

By Peter Wallsten and James Rainey, Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The sleeper issue of stem cell research leapt into the center of the presidential race Monday as Sen. John F. Kerry's campaign attacked President Bush with renewed vigor for limiting the scope of the work and the White House launched a multifront drive to show that the president supported using the science to find cures for debilitating diseases.

The Bush administration, stung by evidence that many voters favored less restrictive policies, said the president's fundamental position had not changed. But it sought to recast Bush's image on the highly charged issue by portraying him as a champion of stem cell research, as well as of moral limits on scientific inquiry.

First Lady Laura Bush, a top administration science advisor and the chief White House spokesman all emphasized Bush's support in 2001 for the first federal funding of the research.

The president provoked controversy at the time by insisting that federally funded scientists work only with existing cell lines and not with tissue derived from new human embryos or eggs.

Democrats have long favored a less restrictive policy on the use of embryonic tissues, but Republicans are working to mobilize antiabortion activists and conservatives who oppose the use of human stem cells.

At the same time, Bush is trying to attract undecided voters who, polls show, are increasingly supportive of research that advocates say could offer cures for spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other diseases.

Poll data suggest public support for stem cell research cuts across party lines.

On Monday, vice presidential nominee John Edwards led the charge for the Democrats, saying in an afternoon conference call that a Kerry administration would remove the Bush ban on creating new lines of stem cells.

Edwards said it was "against our national character to look the other way while people are suffering," and promised that a Kerry administration would at least quadruple federal spending on stem cell research — to $100 million a year — and remove restrictions so that scientists could work with new lines of stem cells.

He said that he and Kerry would make sure that a series of ethical guidelines were followed.

The Democrats planned to keep highlighting the issue this week.

"There is no question this is a very significant sleeper issue which we are trying to awaken," said Mark Mellman, Kerry's pollster.

The White House said Bush's position had been misrepresented and misunderstood.

"This president is delivering when it comes to advancing medical research and combating disease," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters. "He is the first president to authorize federal funding to explore the promise and potential of embryonic stem cell research."

McClellan's sentiments were echoed in separate remarks by the first lady in Pennsylvania and by former White House advisor Jay Lefkowitz in a conference call with reporters arranged by the Bush campaign.

"Although you might not know about it from listening to the news lately, the president also looks forward to medical breakthroughs that may arise from stem cell research," Mrs. Bush said. "Few people know that George W. Bush is the only president to ever authorize federal funding for embryonic stem cell research."

The research involves the use of fertilized embryos or unfertilized eggs to create stem cells — master cells that can turn into any tissue in the body, potentially patching spinal chord injuries and forestalling disease.

Scientists say they are concerned that Bush's restrictions limit the use not only of fertilized embryos but of unfertilized human eggs that can be activated into stem cells.

Ann Kiessling of Harvard Medical School, a leading researcher in the field, said Bush deserved credit for providing the first federal funds to promote stem cell research in 2001.

But the president's insistence that the work be limited to cells derived before August 2001 meant that there were only about eight cell lines available to publicly funded researchers in the United States, she said.

"If you are going to spend just on those cell lines and not on the other stem cell lines, that is very limiting. That's still a big problem," Kiessling said in an interview.

She noted that the cells available for research funded by the National Institutes of Health were not appropriate for therapeutic treatment of humans because they were derived in part through the use of animal cells.

The stem cell issue has been debated by scientists and bioethicists for more than three years.

But what has catapulted it to the forefront of the campaign are developments that began with the death of former President Reagan, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Recent polls show many voters are closer to Kerry's position than Bush's.

Findings released Monday by the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey showed that about two out of three American adults — including more than half of Republicans — favored research using stem cells taken from human embryos.

Andrew Kohut, director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, said the preliminary findings of a poll he was conducting showed intense interest in the issue among undecided voters.

"On most issues, swing voters are less engaged than committed voters," Kohut said. In this case, "they're moderates. And a lot of middle-age people are more interested in this than they were a few years ago."

While pollsters and Republican strategists say it remains unclear whether the stem cell issue will prove decisive for swing voters, they agree that the White House was stung by the issue's sudden rise in prominence after the death of Reagan, a conservative icon.

In a speech at the Democratic National Convention, Reagan's son Ron charged that Bush was standing in the way of medical progress.

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who has spoken out against the administration's policy on stem cells, has thus far declined an invitation to attend the Republican National Convention.

"The catalyst was Ron Reagan's speech," said a Bush campaign strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He elevated the issue, elevated it in a way that was not honest and not fair to the president."

The White House is worried about voters like Doris Blankinship, a 47-year-old Republican from Orlando, Fla. She voted for Bush four years ago but said in a recent interview that she wondered why the president had "put so much political stuff" on the stem cell question.

"I have friends that have juvenile diabetes and have friends that have Parkinson's," Blankinship said. "If something can be done to help them, I don't see why it can't be done…. I don't understand why President Bush is so against it."

The White House effort to refurbish Bush's image on the issue coincided with the third anniversary of the president's decision to allow federal funding of some embryonic stem cell research — a compromise intended to allow for scientific progress while allaying concerns of antiabortion activists and religious conservatives who morally oppose the use of human embryos.

Bush and his campaign have attacked Kerry for shifting his stances on issues, which Republicans say contrast with the president's resolve. The stem cell question is a point on which the Massachusetts senator holds the less nuanced stance.

Presidential spokesman McClellan, speaking from the White House press room, said, "I've seen a lot of misreporting about this issue recently that seems to imply that we put a ban on stem cell research."

The first lady contended that the president's critics had not only misstated his position but exaggerated how quickly the research might pay off.

"I hope that stem cell research will yield cures," she said. "But I know that embryonic stem cell research is very preliminary right now, and the implication that cures for Alzheimer's are around the corner is just not right, and it's really not fair to people watching a loved one suffer with this disease."

Wallsten reported from Washington, Rainey from Los Angeles.

Don't hold us back, say docs



Several experts shot down the First Lady's assertion yesterday that embryonic stem-cell research advocates are giving false hope of one day curing deadly ailments like Alzheimer's disease.

"We cannot predict when breakthroughs will come, but they will come faster if the federal government is more engaged in a vigorous way," said Dr. George Daley of the Children's Hospital/Harvard Medical School.

"It's always a challenge to balance the promise against the reality," he said. "But the current policy does not allow for the optimal pursuit of science. We, as scientists, feel like we're being held back."

Dr. Tauseef Ahmed, chief of oncology and hematology at the Westchester Medical Center, said researchers who found cures for dreaded diseases like tuberculosis also were accused of hyping hope. "I could care less about her politics, but as far as ...stem-cell research is concerned, we in the United States will be way behind if we don't do it," Ahmed said.

"The problem with not doing the research is we will not know what we missed," Ahmed added. "They said there would never be a cure for tuberculosis. All those treatments came out because of research."

But Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a nonscientist, agreed with Laura Bush.

"She's absolutely right that the promise of embryonic stem cells has been hyped to a bizarre degree," he said. "There's enormous research going on to address these diseases and embryonic stem-cell research is a small part of it."

Two months ago, 48 Nobel Prize winners blasted the Bush administration for unnecessarily restricting embryonic stem-cell research. They accused Bush of buckling under pressure from religious leaders who oppose the research because isolating stem cells involves the destruction of discarded human embryos.

Originally published on August 10, 2004

For Psychotherapy's Claims, Skeptics Demand Proof


August 10, 2004


Good therapists usually work to resolve conflicts, not inflame them. But there is a civil war going on in psychology, and not everyone is in the mood for healing.

On one side are experts who argue that what therapists do in their consulting rooms should be backed by scientific studies proving its worth.

On the other are those who say that the push for this evidence threatens the very things that make psychotherapy work in the first place.

Which side prevails may shape not only how young therapists are trained and what techniques practitioners use in the future, but also how tightly health insurers restrict the therapies they are willing to pay for, and thus how much the estimated 20 million Americans who enter psychotherapy each year have to pay out of their own pockets. Ultimately, some experts say, the survival of one-on-one counseling, or talk therapy, as an accepted mode of treatment for mental disorders may hang in the balance.

The issue of which therapies are based on science and which are not has recently become so divisive that the incoming president of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Ronald Levant of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said in a telephone interview that he had already assembled a task force to address the controversy, and to find some common ground on which to anchor future practice.

The topic was debated before a raucous, packed hall at the annual meetings of the American Psychological Association in Honolulu, held July 28 to Aug. 1. The association, with more than 150,000 members, is the largest professional association of psychologists. "The split in the field is bigger than it ever has ever been," said Dr. Drew Westen, a professor of psychology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University. "The intensity of the acrimony, the distaste, has never been so high."

At bottom, the dispute is over the nature of psychotherapy: Is it an intuitive process, more art than science? Or is it more a matter of a therapist following specific procedures that reliably help people get better?

Over the last decade, a group of academic researchers has argued for the instruction-manual approach, compiling a list of short-term therapies that studies show work for a variety of mental disorders.

The techniques are standardized, easily described in manuals for therapists, and can quickly help people with phobias, panic attacks and other problems. They include cognitive therapy, in which people learn to refute pessimistic or degrading thoughts, and exposure therapy, in which they overcome anxieties by gradually learning to face the situations they fear.

This evidence-based approach already has had a significant impact in the marketplace. Some managed care companies, including Magellan Health Services, the country's largest managed mental health insurer, base their coverage for psychotherapy on what the research says and expect their therapists to practice techniques that are backed by studies. Some companies also limit the number of sessions they will authorize for a given diagnosis based on the findings of research.

And many insurers now require therapists, patients or both to document therapeutic progress, providing evidence that what is taking place in the consulting room is working.

Dr. Jerome V. Vaccaro, a psychiatrist and the president of PacifiCare Behavioral Health, a large mental health insurer based in California, said his firm closely monitored how well each patient being seen by therapists in PacifiCare's system is doing. Patients fill out questionnaires at their first therapy session, and then after their fourth or fifth, he said.

"If things are going well, there's improvement, fine, that's what we want to see," Dr. Vaccaro said. "If things aren't going well, or the person's getting worse after a few sessions, then we'll be calling the therapist to ask what they're doing."

The idea, he said, "is to make you, the therapist, accountable for outcomes."

Some of the country's top clinical psychology programs, like those at Indiana University and the University of Maryland, have a strong emphasis on evidence-based therapies. But in a field where practitioners are used to following their own instincts, this "show me" approach has stirred outrage.

Some therapists say that the healing they offer in their offices every day is too complex to be captured in standard studies, and that having to justify it to a third party is a breach of patient privacy. They argue that to insist on proof that a therapy works denies many people adequate treatment, or the forms of treatment that they most need.

One middle-aged woman, who entered therapy after her father died, was distraught when her insurer recently stopped coverage after 10 sessions, citing lack of evidence for more, said Dr. Patricia Dowds, the woman's therapist.

No one tracks how many people have been dropped from therapy based on such arguments. But "every colleague I know has stories," Dr. Dowds said.

Some therapists even worry they might be sued for not practicing techniques on the hard-evidence list, though experts say they know of no such cases so far. An article in the March 2002 newsletter of the California State Board of Psychology warned that therapists working with families "who use any procedures not validated by empirical research would do well to fear examination by an attorney knowledgeable of the research."

Dr. Glen O. Gabbard, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who teaches therapeutic technique at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said, "The move to worship at the altar of these scientific treatments has been destructive to patients in practice, because the methods tell you very little about how to treat the real and complex people who actually come in for therapy."

For more than a century, the practice of psychotherapy rode on the shoulders of charismatic figures, from Freud and Jung to Fritz Perls, Carl Rogers and other luminaries of the so-called human potential movement. Primal scream and rebirthing therapies vied with more traditional approaches. The effectiveness of these methods was established not by studies but by the force of the therapist's personality, and testimonials of recovered patients.

But in the late 1980's, the increasing use of drugs like Prozac and the arrival of managed care forced therapists to start justifying their methods with better evidence. In 1995, a group of leading psychologists published a report identifying what it called empirically validated therapies. They argued that these therapies had good track records and that clinicians should be aware of them and receive training in using them. An empirical grounding, many hoped, would also help re-establish the field's respectability and repair its image among insurers as a money sink.

"When I started in practice as an intern, these therapies were just emerging," said Dr. Dianne Chambless, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, who led the panel. "I used them on my clients, and they worked; it was a powerful thing to see."

The champions of an empirical approach say that, despite skeptics' complaints, accountability has brought more credibility, and insurers and policy makers are gradually becoming more convinced that psychotherapy is a rigorous treatment, not indulgent and open-ended. The move to science, the empiricists assert, also has given the field a base from which to evaluate and discredit fringe therapies or those that promise instant healing.

"It deeply frosts me, these people who are against measurement and evidence," said Dr. David Burns, a psychiatrist who trains residents at Stanford University School of Medicine. "It's a kind of narcissism in our field to say, 'I'm so great, I know what I'm doing,' and it puts us back 2,000 years to a time of cults, when every snake oil salesman's got something and the parade just goes on."

Those who oppose the use of treatment manuals and lists of approved therapies respond in kind. "This entire approach to develop manuals and require practicing psychologists to use them is fundamentally insane," Dr. Levant said.

So the arguments continue, and passions on either side, experts say, are not likely to cool any time soon. Recently, however, some researchers have been trying to find some accommodation between the two camps by focusing on what it is about any therapy that makes it effective, rather than holding one method above another.

Studies suggest, for example, that factors like how motivated patients are, their readiness for change, the gifts of the therapist, and the strength of the bond between patient and therapist all make a difference in whether psychotherapy is successful.

Ken Heideman, a 45-year-old meteorologist in Boston, said that his own experience in therapy illustrated this.

Mr. Heideman has struggled with severe recurrent depression since college, he said, and over the years he has tried a variety of drugs and visited many therapists. But eventually, he found someone who helped free him from his disabling moods for the first time in his adult life.

"I've been through a whole lot and I feel I can say that what ultimately is going to move someone toward healing and resolution, the most important factor, is the chemistry between client and therapist," he said. "It can be a psychiatrist, or someone with a degree in social work, and anywhere in between. What counts is whether there's that connection between the two people."

Dr. Bruce E. Wampold, a professor in the counseling psychology department at the University of Wisconsin, has found that a therapist's competence may be the most critical variable, whatever the brand of therapy.

Analyzing data from more than 12,000 people treated with a variety of evidence-based therapies, from cognitive to interpersonal techniques, mostly for depression, he found that the treatments worked equally well, regardless of the specific techniques. More important, Dr. Wampold said, was the individual therapist: some could help their patients improve significantly in eight sessions or so, others could not.

"It's not what treatment you give that matters but how competently you give it, " he said.

But even a gifted therapist can leave a patient cold. Like the tango, psychotherapy takes two, and chemistry is hard to predict or measure.

Dr. Burns has tried to do it by conducting systematic surveys of the residents he trains at Stanford and the people these students treat. Most of the time, he said, the residents assume they are well liked.

"At first it's very upsetting when they read these evaluations because about 100 percent of the time the clients don't actually like them," Dr. Burns said. "So perceptions of what is a good relationship can be really off base."

Perhaps the only emerging consensus among experts is that research into psychotherapy should not rely solely on clinical trials, in which one group of people is given a treatment and then compared with other people who receive a placebo.

Though well suited to testing drugs, this kind of study, said Dr. Westen of Emory, tends to impose artificial limits on psychotherapy: treatments are by necessity short; techniques are often standardized in manuals; and many participants are excluded because their problems are too complicated for a single diagnosis. The chaos of real life is blocked out.

Dr. Chambless, Dr. Levant, Dr. Westen and others who have been strongly divided now argue that researchers should also follow patients treated in psychotherapy clinics out in the world, to see how well they do, and why.

"The fact is that we're still in a state where we have very little knowledge, and the question is not what theory works, but what works for whom," said Dr. Larry E. Beutler, a professor of psychology at Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto, Calif.

It would be nice, for example, if researchers could find a way to deconstruct why Mr. Heideman, the meteorologist, feels his therapy has been so successful. After four years in treatment, he is now able to express his anger once in a while, he says, adding that his therapist "has angered me, and challenged me and I just woke up; it was like the Big Bang for me."

Mr. Heideman's therapy includes cognitive methods, like challenging his assumption that if he showed anger, some catastrophe would come about. The therapy, in short, is a blend of a good therapist match and evidence-based technique, of intuition and science. Mr. Heideman sees his success so far as the fulfillment of an article of faith that many who have suffered mental illness share: when you're ready to change, the right therapist will turn up.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Phil Klass vs. The "UFO Promoters"


By Jerome Clark

(This article appeared in Fate magazine, February 1981, and is reprinted here with the author's permission.)

He is a man with a mission - to debunk UFOs and discredit those who investigate them.

"If the UFO promoters really were as anxious to find prosaic explanations they would not reject our data out of hand, they would not be guilty of withholding data - as has happened with Allan Hendry, for example..."

It was September 6, 1980, and Philip Julian Klass, a man who has made it his mission in life to demolish the UFO phenomenon, was speaking before a crowd of about 300 persons at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The occasion was a debate on the 33-year-old issue of UFOs - those troublesome "flying saucers" which resolutely refuse to go away despite the most determined efforts of Klass and all the debunkers, civilian and military, who had come before him. It was especially galling that one of the biggest debunkers of all, J. Allen Hynek, the astronomer who immortalized swamp gas and who gave scientific legitimacy to Project Blue Book's anti-UFO campaign, had long since gone over to the other side, to become what Klass, who has a gift for provocative if meaningless phrases, calls "the spiritual leader of the UFO movement."

For years Klass, senior avionics editor of the Washington-based Aviation Week & Space Technology, the powerful organ of the military-industrial complex, and author of two UFO-debunking books, had wanted to confront Hynek face to face, but the Northwestern University astronomer always kept his distance, ignoring Klass as much as possible, noting his existence occasionally only to express disdain for his methods and conclusions. Over the years Klass had made quite an issue of this. The Skeptical Inquirer, published by the debunking Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), picked up the refrain: "We often hear it said," the Inquirer remarked in its Winter 1978 issue, "that the 'serious' study of UFOs is a young science, struggling valiantly for the official recognition that it so truly deserves. If this is so, why does the leader of the UFO movement, astronomer J. Allen Hynek, always back down from speaking engagements and television appearances upon learning that Philip J. Klass, the leading UFO skeptic, will be present to challenge him?"

The answer is simple. Hynek freely admits he is not a good debater. "To be perfectly honest about it, I don't think very fast on my feet," he says. "I was trained as a scientist, not as a lawyer, and in any case I don't see how a difficult scientific question can be properly addressed within the limitations of the debate format, which reduces everything to a simplistic either-or position and makes no allowances for the real complexities of an issue." Hynek prefers to deal with scientific problems in a more intellectually productive atmosphere.

Historically debates have been a poor way of settling scientific questions. As Martin Gardner observes in his classic book on pseudoscience, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, it is not uncommon for a proponent of the round earth to "find himself powerless in a debate with a flat-earther." A Skeptical Inquirer article on the religious extremists who oppose the theory of evolution notes, "It is even difficult for evolutionary biologists, who are most cognizant of the data that evolutionary biology attempts to explain, to debate [these people] effectively."

It is, however, in keeping with Klass' distinctive approach to the UFO controversy that he and his allies made Hynek's refusal to debate something of an ethical issue, as if Hynek's avoidance of Klass were evidence that he lacked conviction. Klass is no scientist (as he showed in his 1968 book UFOs - Identified, which sought to explain many UFO reports in terms of plasma physics but which was received coldly, if at all, by plasma physicists), he acts more like a prosecuting attorney. [*] Consequently he sees the UFO issue less in scientific terms than in moral and political terms and to a considerable degree has tried to shift the emphasis of the controversy from UFOs to the personalities and motives of those interested in them.

[*] Actually, as we shall see, that's just the beginning of it. He also acts like the statute-writer, the judge, the jury and the executioner.

Unsurprisingly, Klass was quick to associate himself with CSICOP, an organization which contends that belief in UFOs and other anomalies imperils civilization and is conducive to the rise of fascism. Not only does Klass enthusiastically support the group, he also serves as a member of the CSICOP Executive Council, the head of its UFO subcommittee and an editor of Skeptical Inquirer. Klass feels comfortable with the CSICOP position because it coincides with his own ostensible view that in a sense UFO claimants and UFO proponents are, wittingly or unwittingly, enemies of society, not just supporters of a foolish belief, and they should be dealt with accordingly.

But a full decade before CSICOP came into being in 1976, Klass apparently recognized that the standard methods of UFO-debunking had not worked. Earlier would-be debunkers had attempted merely to explain sightings in conventional terms and had done little more than argue the merits of cases with ufologist proponents. However, Klass, possessed of an unusually acute political sense, saw all kinds of possibilities for point-making which his predecessors either had not thought of or had chosen not to use. To destroy the UFO "problem" Klass concluded that ufologists should be the target as much as the UFOsthemselves. If the ufologists could be publicly shamed or embarrassed on anygrounds (not just professional but personal as well), who would take their pronouncements about UFOs seriously?

So anybody who associated himself sympathetically with UFOs was fair game for The Treatment. The Treatment's operating assumption was that someone too vocally pro-UFO and/or critical of Klass was probably morally wanting in someway and Klass, in the name of "Boy Scout" ethics, took it upon himself to show the world just how and where.

The first recipient of The Treatment was the late James E. McDonald, a respected University of Arizona atmospheric physicist and UFO advocate who among other transgressions devastatingly criticized UFOs - Identified which he characterized (in common, incidentally, with at least one prominent UFO skeptic) as an exercise in pseudoscience. In response Klass issued a blizzard of "white papers" attacking McDonald's credibility, claiming he had caught the scientist shifting his position without acknowledging it. Without saying so directly, Klass was implying that these alleged position shifts suggested McDonald was dishonest - a tactic Klass would use against many other targets in the future.

Klass conducted a vigorous although ultimately unsuccessful campaign in government circles to prove that McDonald was misusing navy funds to investigate UFOs. He apparently reported as much to columnist Jack Anderson who repeated the allegation in a subsequent newspaper article. It was not enough for Klass to attempt to show that McDonald was wrong about UFOs - he accused him of abusing public funds and strongly implied that he was a liar as well.

In the years to come - the McDonald imbroglio occurred in the late 1960's - Klass would compile dossiers on leading UFO proponents, collecting their written and spoken statements and examining them carefully for contradictions or changes of position. Occasionally he conducted extensive background checks on ufologists, interviewing employers, associates, relatives and others in an effort to elicit embarrassing information which he subsequently distributed to anyone who might conceivably be interested. These documents were characterized by a relentless compulsion to presume the worst about the subjects and by the extensive italicization and capitalization of words, which had away of transforming the most innocuous statements into what seemed to be confessions of sins. If nothing else, it could be said of Klass that he was the man who introduced italics to the UFO debate.

Fairly early on Klass evidently became convinced that his opinions about UFOs were so manifestly correct that no truly sincere, intelligent or mentally balanced person could disagree with him. People who claimed that UFOs might be spaceships or similarly extraordinary phenomena were "nobodies" who used the subject to become "famous celebrities" (as opposed, apparently, to unfamous celebrities). And if they weren't publicity-seeking nobodies, they had other kinds of unworthy motives, usually having to do with a desire for financial gain, and they didn't really believe in UFOs. If they did, they would take up Klass' $10,000 bet challenging believers to provide conclusive proof (in the form of a National Academy of Sciences-certified extraterrestrial artifact or the appearance of an alien being before the United NationsGeneral Assembly) of visitation from outer space.

Meanwhile Klass never missed an opportunity to portray himself as the martyr, the outcast whose sole interest was in finding and perpetuating Truth, spending most of his off-the-job hours (30 to 50 a week, he claimed) in UFO (and ufologist) investigation and risking personal bankruptcy, while "UFOpromoters" [*] - he could no longer bring himself to call them UFO proponents - cynically exploited public credulity and ignored his reasonable explanations of cases. Matters that most people would consider irrelevant to the real issues dominated his writings, letters, lectures and conversations.He spoke and wrote obsessively of the refusal of various "UFO promoters" and UFO witnesses to respond to his letters, to invite him to speak at their gatherings and to take up his repeated challenges to them to undergo polygraph examination.

[*] Or "UFOP" for short. Klass seems to find this enormously funny, although he was not amused when I once suggested the opposite of a "UFOP" is a "UFObiac."

If Klass brought italics to the UFO controversy, he also brought the polygraph. "Polygraph" became his most frequently spoken and written word after "UFO promoters" and "UFO movement." There were, he believed, all kinds oflies out there to be detected, even if he himself was so honest that he -unlike those unwilling to take up his challenge to "settle" a dispute, however inconsequential, through polygraph examination - had nothing to fear from a "lie-detector test."

Whereas even the air torce considered hoaxes to comprise only a tiny minority (0.9 percent, to be specific) of reports, Klass saw hoaxes everywhere, in fact in any report he could not otherwise explain. Even those reports he considered to be the results of misinterpretations of conventional phenomena became what might be termed semihoaxes. A semihoax was an incident which began with a witness' sincere puzzlement over a sighting of something he could not identify. His sincerity came into question only after he refused to accept Klass' explanation of the sighting. If the witness protested that Klass'"explanation" did not account for significant aspects of the event, Klass would hint darkly that the man was shading the truth or lying outright to protect his status as a "UFO celebrity."

Some ufologists, for example Allan Hendry, the Center for UFO Studies' chief investigator, have found Klass' view of a witness' veracity a fairly dependable measure of a report's significance as an item of UFO evidence. "Insulting ad hominem attacks on the witness' basic reliability" are, Hendry says, "one way to gauge the strength of a case." If a would-be debunker cannot break the case except by attacking the witness' integrity, chances are the sighting is a good one.

To Klass the whole UFO issue came down to a question of "truth" and "lies," and polygraph was an effective method of separating the two - but only if theUFO claimants _flunked_ the tests. If they passed the tests (which in fact was what usually happened), then there was something wrong with the way the test was conducted. Either the questions were phrased incorrectly, the examiner wasn't qualified or hadn't worked at his trade for as many years as Klass decreed were necessary, or - a last resort - the polygraph wasn't reliable anyway.

In one celebrated UFO case, the reported abduction of Travis Walton, the nine principals (six witnesses and three members of the Walton family) were given a total of 10 polygraph examinations (with Travis himself undergoing two separate examinations). Eight of the results were positive; one was inconclusive and one (Walton's first) was negative. Klass declared all but the last of these worthless or misleading; he characterized the examiner, John J.McCarthy, who had decided Walton was "guilty of gross deception," as highlyqualified. Yet according to University of Utah psychologist David Raskin, a polygraph expert of national reputation, the techniques used in the examination were seriously deficient, "unacceptable" and "more than 30 years out of date."

On occasion Klass has come close to acknowledging openly a preference for negative polygraph results. On June 26, 1978, he challenged Hynek, Hendry and me to arrange an examination for the Rev. William Gill, who in 1959 experienced a close encounter of the third kind in Iloianai, Papua New Guinea, in the company of 37 other witnesses." [*] (Curiously, in recent years Klass' public and private statements on the case have consistently failed to acknowledge the presence of the three dozen other observers. He acts as if the story's credibility rested on Gill's testimony alone.) At the conclusion of the open letter, Klass wrote, "While 'the results of a polygraph test, even by a skilled, professional examiner[,] can not [sic] provide 'positive proof,' the proposed test could provide additional evidence that would be useful in appraising this classic case."

What is this supposed to mean? If a polygraph test does not give us "positive proof," how can it "provide additional evidence ... useful in appraising this classic case"? How, in fact, can it do anything but further confuse the issue? It is hard to resist Hendry's conclusion that Klass meant "if Gill passes the test, then it's invalid because after all polygraph tests don't prove anything - but if he flunks, then we'll know it's a hoax!" CertainlyKlass' past record of pronouncements on polygraph results supports Hendry's interpretation.

[*] See my "Close Encounters: History's Best Case" (February 1978 FATE) and Allan Hendry's "Papua; Father Gill Revisited" (November and December 1977 International UFO Reporter) for a review of the errors and omissions in Klass' attempt to debunk the case in UFOs Explained (1974).

In reality polygraph testing is a highly questionable method of separating truth from falsehood, whether the results are positive or negative. The polygraph's critics, a swelling legion whose ranks include scientists, criminologists, civil libertarians and members of a subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations (which in 1974 released a report harshly attacking claims for polygraph reliability), point to numerous instances in which truthful persons have flunked "lie-detector" tests and untruthful persons have passed them. As an American Civil Liberties Union spokesman remarks, "A number of recent expert studies have concluded that the polygraph has little, if any, scientific validity."

The interpretation of polygraph results is so subjective and so dependent on the examiner's personal judgments that a second respected authority (Harry Reed, a Chicago-based polygraph examiner of 10 years' experience) who reviewed McCarthy's examination of Walton concluded, Dr. Raskin's negative assessment to the contrary, the results were valid!

Emotional partisans will side with whichever expert supports their point of view on the Walton incident. The rest of us will conclude that the polygraphhas not settled the controversy either way and it is unlikely it ever will.As a way of resolving UFO-related questions, the polygraph leaves everything to be desired." [*]

[*] Belief in the effectiveness of polygraph extends not just to UFO debunkers but to UFO witnesses as well. In my own investigation of close encounters of the third kind, for example, I have found that in most cases the claimants have _volunteered_ to take "lie-detector" tests although I have not brought up the subject.

Klass' obsession with "lie-detection" devices and with truth and falsehood is symptomatic of a fundamental misperception of what is happening in the UFO world. Just as he is certain that many prominent ufologists ("UFO promoters") have questionable motives, so he has managed to persuade himself that even those much-vaunted "reliable witnesses" - scientists, policemen, pilots, clergymen and other seemingly responsible citizens - are complete or partial liars who either contrive exotic UFO stories or else exaggerate their accounts so that they can make money, draw attention to themselves or impress others.

No would-be debunker before Klass ever has been willing to go this far. The late Harvard University astronomer Donald Menzel, an acid-tongued critic of the UFO phenomenon, assumed that the typical UFO claimant, even one who reported a "high-strangeness" sighting, at least was honestly mistaken. The anti-UFO zealots of the air force's Project Blue Book encountered relatively few deliberate hoaxes and most of these involved fraudulent photographs of purported flying saucers.

Hoaxes do occur, of course, and the conscientious investigator is always alert to the possibility when he deals with a reported encounter. But why does Klass find far more 'hoaxes" than anybody else - whether pro, anti or neutral in the UFO controversy - has ever found?

To begin with, Klass conducts the bulk of his inquiries over the telephone or through the mail. His experience in dealing with UFO witnesses in the flesh and in the field is consequently limited. To Klass the typical witness exists as a few minutes of disembodied voice on the phone or as a signature on a few letters. Some witnesses, with whom he has had no communication at all (Father Gill is one notable example), exist solely as names in hooks, magazine articles and newspaper clippings.

He has, in short, no real sense of them as human beings - nothing beyond the most superficial impression of how they think, how they act, what they are and are not capable of, what makes them who they are. This does not stop him, however, from drawing conclusions (almost always negative) about these persons and rushing into print with them. It apparently does not occur to Klass that the person he has imagined somebody to be may not be the one who exists in real life. [*]

[*] UFO inventigators like Allan Hendry make estensive use of the phone in their work but to Hendry the telephone is simply a device for the collection of UFO data: to Klass it is frequently a device with which to gather information he can use to assign hypothetical personalties to claimants. Hendry'swritings, unlike Klass', are devoid of unverifiable speculations about people he has not met. He once exposed a spectacular hoax solely through phone interviews (see "IUR Takes on Its First 'Men in Black' Case, and Wins", International UFO Reporter, July 1978) without ever having to resort to Klass-style thought-reading.

When Klass really gets going, the witness gets the Full Treatment. The focus of attention is no longer the sighting but the witness' personal history. Klass justifies this interest in the claimant's personal life by saying he is only trying to determine whether or not his testimony can be trusted. Of course any competent investigator is interested in a claimant's reliability. Traditionally the investigator goes to those who know him best - friends, business associates, area residents - and asks if they consider him trustworthy and, more specifically, if they believe his UFO story.

But Klass goes far beyond such standard investigative techniques. In the end the judgments of those who know the claimant are unimportant to Klass, especially if they speak well of him and say they accept his report. If he cannot obtain satisfaction from the target's acquaintances, then The Treatment calls for a careful search for episodes in the individual's past whichKlass can use to put him in a bad light.

If Klass can establish that somewhere, at some time, the target has discussed UFOs, read an article or book on them or expressed a desire to see one, he is - at least in Klass' eyes - immediately under suspicion." [*] Not only that, but any expression of awareness of UFOs automatically makes the target a "UFO buff" and of course a "UFO buff" cannot be trusted.

Neither can a person who admits to having a sense of humor. A case in point is Father Gill, already mentioned.

[*] Establishing such an interest in or awareness of UFOs in any randomly-chosen group of Americans is not difficult to do. Gallup polls reveal that 95 percent of the American people have heard of UFOs: 57 percent believe they are "real" and nine percent - 13 million people - think they have seen them.

In his original attempt to debunk Gill's sighting (see Chapter 22 of UFOs Explained) Klass theorized that Father Gill, an Anglican missionary, had concocted a story about seeing a UFO and its occupants to impress his "superior," the Rev. Norman Cruttwell, a UFO enthusiast. In fact Cruttwell was not Gill's "superior," just a colleague whom Gill had not seen in almost twoyears. After Hendry' and I cited this and other major mistakes in his interpretation of the event, Klass - without ever acknowledging any errors in his account (Klass practically never admits he is wrong, as anyone who has ever argued with him knows; he simply changes the subject) - responded with a whole new conclusion: that the incident was a "practical joke." And how did Klass discover this? From Gill's remarks that he has a sense of humor and this sense of humor is reflected in the letters he writes! (Never mind, of course, the additional witnesses, six of whom Allen Hynek interviewed 14 years after the event and after Gill's departure from the area.)

Much less amusing is Klass' habit of digging up dirt in the form of unfortunate episodes in a target's past and using these to "prove" that nothing he says can be believed. Almost everybody has at one time or another done something he regrets or is ashamed of. If the mistakes - serious mistakes - most of us have made in the past were forever held against us, used to prove that we are inherently dishonest, virtually none of us could be considered reliable and nobody could believe anybody.

UFO abductee Travis Walton, the target of one of Klass' most sustained debunking efforts, had a youthful scrape with the law - a not uncommon occurrence among teenagers who have grown up in broken homes, as Walton did - five years before his alleged encounter. The incident, which took place during a particularly troubled period in the young man's life, was hardly representative of a continuing pattern of criminal activity because soon afterwards, like most young offenders who are not hardcore criminal types, he straightened himself out and went on to lead a normal law-abiding adult life. Nonetheless, in any public discussion of Walton's claims, Klass never misses an opportunity to point to Walton's "criminal record" as if it were compelling evidence against the validity of the UFO episode. He reacts with indignation to any suggestion that this smacks of McCarthyism and character assassination.

He is also quick to accuse "UFO promoters" of "covering up" data that in Klass' opinion cast doubts on their favorite cases. In one instance he was dead right. Jim Lorenzen and James Harder of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization participated in the indefensible suppression of the negative results of McCarthy's polygraph examination of Travis Walton. After Klass learned of the failed test and exposed the cover-up, Lorenzen justified his conduct by saying the results were meaningless anyway, which may well have been true but which was hardly the point.

But Klass has participated in some "cover-ups" of his own. Just as extreme UFO believers ignore negative evidence, so Klass the extreme debunker ignores positive evidence. In UFOs Explained he devotes 19 pages to the famous Pascagoula, Miss., abduction claim (which unsurprisingly he decides is a hoax) but never mentions a key item of evidence which has always impressed more open-minded observers: the fact that when the two claimants were left alone in a room at the local sheriff's office (where they had gone two or three hours after the alleged encounter) with a tape-recorder running without their knowledge, they exhibited the same terror and bewilderment they had shown the officers who had just interrogated them. [*]

Those who have argued with Klass about the merits of specific UFO cases invariably discover that the exchanges are fruitless. It is impossible, says Hendry, who has been through the experience, "to confine him within a meaningful framework of debate." Correspondents find themselves subjected to an astounding and confusing variety of arguments and allegations for which nothing in their previous experience has prepared them.

[*] A transcript of the exchange appears on page 35-36 of Ralph Blum's book Beyond Earth: Man's Contact with UFOs (1974), a book with which we know Klass is familiar because he has mentioned it in print on several occasions.

Frequently the arguments rest on assumptions which, because they are neither provable nor unprovable, cannot be responded to in any rational manner. A favorite Klass argument, almost invariably made about UFO witnesses whom he has never met (and frequently with whom he has never spoken or corresponded), holds that the UFO claimant couldn't possibly be telling the truth because if he were he would not have behaved as he did during or after the reported sighting. And how should the witness have behaved? As Klass would have under the circumstances, of course, or as Klass has decided the witness should have. [*]

This is all part of the Klass method of, as Hendry puts it, "using a truncated version of the information available to him and shaping it to his own ends." There is no way of winning an argument with him because, even when presented with documented evidence of the incorrectness of his position, Klass seldom concedes he is wrong. Instead he holds fiercely to a position even when it is demonstrably at variance with the facts.

In 1977, for example, he confidently predicted that a UFO wave would erupt after the release, in December of that year, of Columbia Pictures' Close Encounters of the Third Kind - thus substantiating his belief that UFO waves are generated by media publicity. No such wave resulted, at least to anybody else's knowledge, but Klass nonetheless declared one had and be produced misleading, out-of-context statistics to "prove" it. Even Klass' fellow UFOdebunkers seemed reluctant to endorse this extraordinary claim.

[*] A "Klassic" example of this type of debunking tactic is to be found in Klass' treatment of the Gill case. As "evidence" that the report is a hoax, Klass observes that Gill resumed his normal duties while the UFO with its occupants was still hovering overhead. "I simply could not believe my eyes when I read this." Klass writes. In fact, as Klass does _not_ observe, Gill and the other witnesses had watched the object hover motionlessly overhead for a combined total (over a two-night period) of nearly five hours. The novelty had worn off. especially after it became obvious the UFO was not going to land or come any closer, and Gill (whom, if Klass had ever met him, he would know to be a matter-of-fact unexcitable fellow) figured, not unreasonably, that it was time to get on with his business. (On the other hand, if Gill had stood outside for hours frantically trying to get the UFO to land even when it clearly had no intention of doing so, Klass probably would have concluded that the man was a fanatical flying saucer nut whose testimony must be viewed with suspicion.)

Not long ago I talked with an educated, intelligent man who had witnessed a UFO display - far more spectacular than the one Gill reported - over theAndes Mountains. "I know this sounds strange," he said, "but after an hour and a half of watching this, we got bored and left."

Allan hendry's The UFO Handbook, Klass wrote in a review published in the Winter 1979-80 issue of The Skeptical Inquirer, "is one of the most significant and useful books on the subject ever published."

It was one of the few statements of Klass' with which the ufological community heartily concurred. Hendry's book (published by Doubleday in August 1979) was reviewed widely and favorably in the UFO journals which hailed itas a major contribution to the literature. Yet eight months after Handbook appeared, Klass was asserting that the UFO media had mostly ignored it - and in his Skeptical Inquirer review he expressed the view that "UFO-movement leaders" would react unfavorably to the book.

Why? Because once again Klass confused an issue as he defined it with the issue as it existed in real life.

He was convinced that because Handbook harshly criticized ufology's shortcomings and because it documented the surprising degree to which misperception of conventional stimuli (such as advertising planes) contributes to UFO reporting, the "UFO movement" - composed, as Klass professed to see it, of cynical exploiters and headline-hunting nobodies - would hate it. And if the"UFO movement" were so obsessed as Klass is with the making of points as opposed to the addressing of issues, it _would_ have despised Handbook. Insteadufologists received it warmly.

They did so because for once someone had criticized the discipline for its real shortcomings, not the phony ones portrayed in the statements of the extremist debunkers. And ufology did, and does, have plenty of shortcomings which the more serious persons in its ranks seek to correct. Although somefirst-rate work has been done, UFO research in general has suffered over the years because the subject, still in scientific disrepute (although this is gradually changing), is dependent mostly on the efforts of amateurs of varying degrees of competence and also because no one yet has been able to figure out the methodology appropriate to the investigation of such a unique phenomenon.

Thoughtful ufologists welcomed Handbook as the kind of incisive guide to the pitfalls of UFO inquiry the field needed and could profit from. Ufology is slowly maturing, attracting growing numbers of critical-minded people who ,although they may suspect that UFOs are spacecraft or something just as extraordinary, do not consider this a conclusion to be defended at all costs. They are well aware that at least nine out of every 10 reports have conventional explanations, The best UFO debunking has been done by ufologists, not by their critics, and The UFO Handbook was precisely the sort of self-critical book a field moving from hobby to protoscience could be expected to produce.

But even as he endorsed it for its criticisms of ufology, Klass expressed puzzlement. Why, he asked, did Handbook's bibliography not list his two debunking books or Menzel's three? And why would Hendry not answer his letters or exchange documents with him?

In the months ahead Klass would be effusive in his praise of Hendry, ignoring as much as possible Hendry's public criticisms of him and his repeated refusal to have anything to do with him. He was certain that this would pass, that if Hendry was not already a closet debunker he would be (as Klass remarked to me in conversation) "when he gets out from under Hynek," his employer, and when he was able to complete his "ufological education," presumably underKlass' tutelage.

In fact Hendry found Klass' methods appalling, reckless and irrelevant to the real issues of UFO research. They were symptomatic, he believed, of one of the worst features of the UFO controversy: the tendency of extreme believers and extreme disbelievers to stake out opposing positions and to hold to them regardless. Such polarization turned UFOs into a political rather than a scientific question and the exercise quickly degenerated into point-making rather than fact-finding. To Hendry, who defines himself as neither a scoffer nor a proponent, UFOs are not the cause uncritical believers hold them to be or the threat debunkers make them out to be; they are simply a question to which rational, unprejudiced investigation may eventually yield an answer.Hendry's position is so eminently sane that emotional partisans like Klassand some UFO proponents seem incapable of understanding what he is up to.

Although Hendry considers it distinctly possible that UFOs may turn out to be extraordinary phenomena, he is less interested in the eventual outcome of the controversy than he is in seeing to it that the investigations are thorough and that the conclusions derived from them are sound. It serves ufology's purpose not at all to extrapolate from "facts" that might not really be facts. And the polarization between opposing camps over the three decades of the UFO debate has produced plenty of nonfactual "'facts" - from "solid" cases that are not truly solid to "debunked" ones that are not truly debunked. UFO researchers had better try a different approach. "Unless we develop drastically new ideas and methodologies for the study of baffling UFO cases and the human context in which they occur," Hendry writes, "we will watch the next 30 years of UFO report gathering simply mirror the futility and frustration of the last 30 years."

Although some members of CSICOP long had wanted the organization to sponsor a Klass-Hynek debate, it was the Smithsonian Institution that finally arranged for the two men to appear on the same stage. They were not alone, however.With Klass were his fellow-debunkers Robert Sheaffer and James Oberg. One the other side with Hynek were Bruce Maccabee and Allan Hendry.

But even though the affair was billed as a "debate," Hynek would not debate. Ignoring Klass, he delivered two scholarly, reasoned presentations on the UFO question in general. It was quickly apparent that If Klass were to score points he would have to score them against somebody else.

According to prearranged format, the debaters were supposed to deal with specific questions about the UFO phenomenon: what is known about it, how strong the extraterrestrial hypothesis is, what the government should be doing about it, and so on. Such questions are central to the UFO issue and five of the six speakers provided thoughtful responses reflecting their varying perspectives. The sixth speaker, Klass, took a different tack.

He opened by citing the so-called criminal records of Travis Walton and Pascagoula abductee Charles Hickson. "Instead of saying, 'Thanks, Phil, forturning up these facts; we want to consider them,'" Klass said in a tone of righteous indignation, "I was accused [by the UFO movement] of character assassination." Paying only the most token heed to the questions he was supposed to address, he ripped into his opponents Maccabee and Hendry and accused them of "withholding data."

"I very much admire Allan Hendry's UFO Handbook," he said. "I very much admire, in general, his investigative techniques." But Hendry had not told the full story about a celebrated UFO incident he had investigated a year earlier: an alleged encounter in which Deputy Sheriff Val Johnson of MarshallCounty, Minnesota, saw a UFO shooting toward his patrol car; after passing out at the wheel, Johnson awoke to discover his vehicle had been damaged and his eyes injured. [*]

[*] See Hendry's "UFO Bangs up Police Car." May 1980 FATE.

"I would agree there are only two possible explanations to this case," Klass went on. "It could not have been Venus. It could not have been a weather balloon. It could not have been an hallucination." Either it was a spaceship "or Deputy Val Johnson did it himself because he likes to play practical jokes, especially in the late evening" when he gets a little bitbored, as I learned - Hendry did not - by talking to some of the people who have worked with him and know him very well.

"I also discovered that he once talked about setting up a UFO patrol to go out looking for UFOs. Yet, according to Hendry, this was a deputy sheriff who... prior to his sighting 'was rather indifferent to the UFO subject....'

"I would wish that Allan Hendry ... had taken the final step and said, 'Val Johnson, will you take a polygraph - a lie-detector test - given by a veryexperienced examiner? Let's see what the results are.'"

It was a Klassical performance. He had changed the focus from the ufological to the personal. By "withholding data" Hendry had made a close encounter of the second kind out of a hoax engineered by a practical joker-UFO buff who presumably would be unmasked by a "lie-detector test." Those members of the audience unfamiliar with Klass' methods were no doubt impressed.

Hendry, who knew better, was not. His response came at the end of a sober review of the UFO evidence: "We've already heard from Philip Klass today a perfectly excellent illustration of why it would be difficult to ever convince the skeptics based on the facts.

"There may be a way to show that the Pascagoula abductees' story should be deemed false but anyone who [finds unconvincing] Phil Klass' explanation that the [incident] should be deemed false because of an irrelevant episode in the man's past and who perceives this as character assassination will begin to understand why I do withhold information from Mr Klass [*] and why he will never let open-mindedness get in the way of his studies."

Citing the conflicting conclusions of Raskin and Reed about McCarthy's polygraph examination of Walton Hendry remarked "Thus you begin to understand why I do not feel that the final step in an examination of Deputy Val Johnson rests on a polygraph examination.

"Actually, I'm inclinded to agree with Klass," Hendry continued, this time sarcastically. "I think that the sheriff and the six associates of Val Johnson were lying when they assured me of the integrity of their coworker. I think that Val Johnson is such a practical joker that he deliberately injured his eyes - as judged by two doctors - and he deliberately entered a phony state of shock for the benefit of the ambulance driver who removed him from the scene of the accident."

Hendry was angry and his words were heated. Klass' personal attack had surprised him but the suggestion that he had deliberately "withheld" negative information infuriated him. He was not used to hearing his integrity questioned.

[*] Hendry is referring specifically to a tape recording of interviews he conducted with a navy radar operator Timothy Collins who figured in a 1978 UFO sighting near Ocala, Fla. Klass, taking issue with Hendry's conclusion that the event represented a genuine UFO encounter, proposed an alternative mundane explanation which Hendry subsequently savaged in a Second Look article. Klass responded by suggesting, among other things, that Hendry send him a tape of the four interviews with Collins in return for a tape of Klass' single interview with the radar man.

Commenting on the offer (Second Look, October 1979), Hendry wrote "First the importance of the case does not 'hinge' on wether Klass' transcript of his single phone call to Collins was accurate or not. All that matters here is how one chooses to deal with the raw elements of the story. 'Klass watchers' will recognize his call for the exchange of 'factual information' and the employment of 'open, scientific methodology' for the rethoric it really is; for the uninitiated, there is a long history of individuals whose information 'exchanges' with Klass have resulted only in the frustration of his correspondents to confine him within a meaningful framework of debate.

"As I have shown earlier, Klass has ... used a truncated version of the information available to him and shaped it to his own ends. It should be obvious that Klass isn't this anxious to enchange tapes with me because his tape is going to prove that Collins had made wildly different claims to him, since Klass would have been quick _to quote them verbatim in his reply_. He didn't. I suspect that his real desire was to get hold of _my_ tape to increase his 'data pool' in search of contradictions. I sent a copy of the tape to Second Look editor Randy Fitzgerald to show that there weren't any.

Nonetheless, to Hendry's considerable annoyance, Klass continued to harp on the issue and even devoted four paragraphs of his review of Handbook tothe subject.

But afterwards, when the speakers, their wives and invited guests gathered at Washington's exclusive Cosmos Club for a postdebate drink, Hendry was startled to find Klass the picture of cordiality. He acted, Hendry thought, as if the nasty remarks were simply for public consumption and Hendry should not take them seriously. In fact Klass had been hoping for months that their meeting at the Smithsonian would initiate a friendship and resolve their differences.

Hendry asked Klass about the "UFO patrol." The story as Klass told it in private was significantly different in its implications from the one he had just told in public. Klass said the "UFO patrol" idea had come up during a spate of cattle mutilations in Minnesota. Johnson's suggestion had simply reflected a widely-held, much-discussed popular belief that mutilations and flying saucers are related. It did not make him a UFO buff, as would have been clear if Klass had discussed the "UFO patrol" idea in _context_.

Klass went on to reveal something else he had not bothered to share with the public: that everyone he interviewed (by phone) in the course of his inquiry into the case spoke highly of Val Johnson. [*]

Hendry reflected that all this was coming from the man who just a short time earlier had accused him of "withholding data."

The next day I met with Klass in his Washington apartment. He was pleased about his meeting with Hendry and confident that the ground work for friendship had been laid. In five years, he said, if Hendry was still involved in UFO study, he would be an openly-declared debunker and a close associate of Philip Julian Klass.

[*] On October 10, 1980, I spoke with Marshall County Sheriff Dennis Brekke who was Johnson's superior at the time of the episode. (Johnson is now chief of police at Oslo, Minn.) Brekke dismissed Klass' "practical joke" theory as absurd, saying Johnson was "too sincere" a man to create a hoax of this magnitude. He had spent time alone with Johnson not long after the incident and seen a man so distraught, confused and frightened that any suspicion of "acting" was out of the question. Nothing he uncovered during his department's investigation gave him the slightest reason to doubt Johnson's word. Klass, of course, had never met Johnson.

Allan Hendry and his wife Elaine, a working astronomer with a Ph.D. in her field, were watching a particularly gripping scene from the sciencefiction thriller The Empire Strikes Back.

In it Luke Skywalker, the hero, is engaged in a fierce struggle with the villain Darth Vader who all the while is attempting to entice Luke to comeover to his side. Luke does not realize his real importance, he says; he mustunderstand that only Vader can complete his training and the two of them together can end all conflict and restore order to the universe.

Luke declares heatedly that he will never join forces with Vader. But Vader continues to speak. Luke does not understand, he says, that he, Darth Vader, is Luke's father, "Impossible!" the boy protests. If only he will search hisfeelings, Vader responds, he will know it is true. "Join me and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son," he says.

Allan turned to Elaine and said, "Me and Phil Klass."

They laughed.

Author's note: Since this is an article, not a book, I have dealt only in passing with Klass' interpretations of specific UFO reports. Readers who want to know more should consult UFOs - Identified (Random House, 1968) and UFOsExplained (Random House, 1974), making sure that a salt shaker is always at hand. The second book more accurately reflects Klass' current views and methods. He is now at work on a third.

Much of the material relating to Klass' claims exists only in privately-circulated white papers and in letters. As a result few persons outside the UFO community are aware that well-documented refutations of Klass' theories exist; some have yet to see print and some (for example the lengthy exchange between Klass and former Condon Committee investigator Gordon David Thayeron the Lakenheath, England, radar/visual case) probably never will. Other articles specifically intended for publication are now in preparation.

The bibliography that follows is representative, not complete. Some of the items listed are not "refutations" as such but do shed light on relevantissues.

Barry, Bill, Ultimate Encounter, Pocket Books, New York, N.Y., 1978. See Chapter 14 for a review of Klass' theories about the Walton case and other matters.

Clark, Jerome, "Close Encounters: History's Best Case," FATE, February1978. Friedman, Stanton T., Review of UFOs Explained, Astronomy, January 1976.

Hendry, Allan, "Correspondence: The Ocala Sighting," Second Look,October 1979.

_____________, "Papua: Father Gill Revisited," International UFO Reporter, November and December 1977.

_____________, "A Second Look at the Ocala Sighting," Second Look, May1979.

_____________, The UFO Handbook. Doubleday & Company, Garden City, N.Y., 1979. See Chapter 14 ("Tools: Radar"). Compare Hendry's account of radar's capabilities and limitations as a UFO detection device with Klass' assertions on the same subject. Lorenzen, Coral and Jim, Abducted!, Berkley Publishing Corporation, NewYork, N.Y., 1977. See Chapter Seven and Appendix One for material relating to Travis Walton's claimed abduction and the Lorenzens' response to Klass' criticisms.

Maccabee, Bruce, "McMinnville (Oregon) Photos," The Encyclopedia of UFOs (Ronald D. Story, ed.), Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y., 1980.

_______________, "Scientific Investigation of Unidentified Flying Objects:Part I," The Journal of UFO Studies. Vol. I, No. 1, 1979. Although not concerned with debunkers as such, this article, a careful examination of Project Blue Book Special Report 14, takes apart a favorite argument of Klass and others: that since most UFO reports can be explained, all could be explained if investigation into the residue of "unknowns" were thorough enough. In fact, air force statistics reveal that the better documented a report and the more highly trained the observers, the more likely thesighting is to be of an "unknown" - the late Dr. Edward Condon's claim that "all nonexplained sightings are from poor observers" to the contrary.

McCarthy, Paul, politicking and Paradigm Shifting: James E McDonald and the UFO Case Study. Ph.D. thesis, University of Hawaii, Honolulu. McDonald, James E., "UFOs - Atmospheric or Extraterrestrial?" Address delivered to the Chicago chapter of the American Meteorological Society, May 31 1968.

__________________, "UFOs - An International Scientific Problem." Address delivered to the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute Astronautics Symposium, Montreal, March 12, 1968.

Sparks, Brad, "Refuting the Skeptics: A Close Look at Donald H. Menzel,"privately-distributed, Berkeley, Calif., 1977. Although as the title indicates this white paper, deals primarily with Menzel, it also contains some scathing criticisms of several of Klass' claims.

Sturrock, Peter A., "Front Our Readers," The Zetetic, Fall/Winter 1977,and The Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1978. An exchange with Klass concerning Dr. Sturrock's survey of the opinions of American Astronomical Society members about UFOs.

Thayer, Gordon David, "Lakenheath Bentwaters (England) Radar/VisualSightings," The Encyclopedia of UFOs (Ronald D. Story, ed.), Doubleday & Company, Inc,, Garden City, N.Y., 1980.

____________________, "RB-47 Radar/Visual Sighting," Ibid.

Zeidman, Jennie, A Helicopter-UFO Encounter Over Ohio, Center for UFO Studies, Evanston, Ill., 1979.

_______________, "Major Coyne and the UFO - The True Story," FATE,August 1978.

_______________, "Zeidman on Klass on Coyne," FATE, December 1978.

French doctor first to vet Lourdes "miracles"


9 August 2004

LOURDES, France - French doctor Patrick Theillier is not your run-of-the-mill physician—instead of diagnosing common colds and stomach ailments, he spends his days separating miracles from myth.

Theillier is in charge of the Catholic church's medical bureau in Lourdes, the "miracle" town in southwest France visited each year by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who pray for a cure from its blessed spring water.

This weekend, Pope John Paul II will make his second visit to Lourdes, where 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous saw apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1858 and then discovered the holy spring.

"My primary task is to differentiate between illusion and reality, to listen to the description of a physical, psychological or spiritual experience," the 60-year-old Theillier says.

"It's always a moving process worthy of respect, even if people sometimes make mistakes," he adds.

"My second duty is authentication. There are about 50 people a year who come to declare "miracles'—but there are only four or five cases that are actually investigated," the doctor explains. The office run by Theillier makes an initial assessment of apparently inexplicable cures. If a case is strong enough to merit further investigation, it is referred to an international medical committee.

After a lengthy inquiry, the committee subsequently advises the subject's local bishop whether a cure is potentially "miraculous".

A total of 66 cures in Lourdes have been officially declared "miracles"—the last dating back to 1987.

Theillier, a practising Catholic from the northern town of Lille, says he rediscovered his own faith "among the Muslims" in Morocco, where he worked for two years as a volunteer.

In 1998, Theillier applied to work in the Lourdes medical bureau and was hired.

"I just had to ensure that my work would be totally independent from that of the clergy," he notes.

Theillier says his meetings enrich his life with pilgrims and hundreds of doctors who come to Lourdes, which he describes as a "laboratory of healing".

"Yes, faith can heal, but a miraculous cure is neither in one's head nor is it pure magic," he says.

"It's always surprising, but it's never as simple as meeting a cancer patient who has spontaneously gone into remission. There is a real-life experience, a healing from within.

"Medicine cannot explain everything. Science and faith should not be forced to compete."

In October 1987, Jean-Pierre Bely, a Frenchman who suffered from multiple sclerosis, said he was completely cured during a trip to Lourdes. The church made his "miracle" official in 1999 after a lengthy medical investigation.

The Catholic church is extremely cautious about proclaiming miracles, as evidenced by the small number of recent official declarations—only four since 1960.

According to Theillier, of some 7,000 cures reported to the Lourdes medical bureau, 2,300 of them defy medical explanation.

"There are certainly more people who have been miraculously cured than the official register indicates," the doctor says.

Ungodly fun


Posted on Mon, Aug. 09, 2004

At this summer camp for kids, there are meals without grace, campfires without blessings, lights-out without prayers.


Pioneer Press

There's horse camp and piano camp and chess camp and church camp.

Now, there's godless camp.

Minnesota atheists, humanists and free thinkers just finished holding the state's first summer camp for kids who don't believe in God.

At Camp Quest Minnesota, "The Secular Summer Camp," the program was modeled after an Ohio camp for atheist children also called Camp Quest that has been in operation for nine years.

In most ways, the Minnesota program was like a typical summer camp. The kids lived in cabins at the Voyageur Environmental Center near Mound. There was canoeing and campfires, archery and arts and crafts, skits and s'mores. Just no God, please.

Local atheists and humanists created the camp because they wanted to give their kids a sense of belonging in a free-thought community. They thought bringing unbelieving kids together for a week of fresh air and impiousness would counteract feelings of loneliness and isolation in a world many atheists feel is awash in religious and superstitious beliefs.

"I think this camp, unlike all the other camps, will focus on critical thinking and skepticism to fantastic claims and supernatural claims," said August Berkshire, one of the co-founders of the Minnesota camp.

"A vacation from Judeo-Christian culture," said camp director Rick Rohrer.

Edwin Kagin, who founded the original Camp Quest, said the Ohio program has attracted kids from as far away as Canada, Japan, England and the Netherlands because they couldn't find a God-free camp experience anywhere else.

"Kids come there and they cry," Kagin said. "They say it's the first time in their life that they're able to express that they don't believe in God."


The Minnesota Camp Quest had 11 campers ranging in age from 8 to 16, watched over by six volunteer counselors. Most of the participants were from the Twin Cities area, but one camper came from Georgia, and one counselor came from California.

They looked like typical kids. No horns or cloven feet, despite being infidels. They didn't seem particularly bothered that there isn't any higher power to answer prayers, bestow eternal life and make sure the wheels don't fall off the universe.

Unlike lots of atheists who left the fold when they were young adults, many of these kids have been raised by atheist parents. They don't miss God because they've never believed in God.

Brothers Joseph, 12, and Michael, 10, of Shorewood described themselves as nonbelievers as they spent some of their free time at camp playing with a unicycle.

"Half for me," Joseph said.

"How can you be half?" Michael said.

"I can be half. Like a Unitarian," Joseph said.

"We celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah. My mom's Jewish," Michael said. "We don't, like, say prayers. We just give out presents."

"Most of the time, I'm an atheist, but sometimes, I'm an agnostic," said Chad, an 11-year-old camper from the Atlanta area. "Instead of Christmas, we celebrate winter solstice. We get gifts."

Many of the kids asked that only their first names or just their middle names be used in this article. They're not eager to be identified as the only atheist kid in class, they said.

"It's sort of hard. You can't tell anyone," Michael said. "They'd treat me different."

"They would be friends. But they wouldn't play with us as much," said his brother.

"We like being in this camp. There are other people who don't believe in God, so you don't feel so alone," Michael said.

"It's better than Boy Scout camp," said Andrew, 16, Robbinsdale. "Whenever we ate, we had to do a prayer. It got rather annoying."

"It was really hard in elementary school, pretty much," said Collin of being a child atheist.

As he surfed the Internet in the camp's computer room, the 15-year-old Apple Valley resident described how his mother has been an atheist activist, vigilant about keeping religion from creeping into public schools.

"After 9/11, there were some signs like 'God bless the U.S.A.,' and she got those taken down immediately," he said. "She got the religious holidays taken off the school calendar."

He said he sometimes wished she would give it a rest. "But there are times when I see that she sees it's important, and I realize that."

"I look at it now and I'm glad I'm atheist," he said. "I just don't think (religion) makes a whole lot of sense."

"There's no hell you're going to," said another camper, Paul, of being religion-free.

"And I'm not scared of dying," Collin said. "Hey, why would I want to give up pop for Lent?"


Being atheist means dodging Bible study and prayer meetings, but that doesn't mean the born-just-once campers didn't get their own dose of spinach. At Camp Quest, they had to attend lectures on topics like critical thinking, game theory, overpopulation and ethics.

At one point, a group of atheist adolescents gathered around Jerry Rauser, a board member of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union. He came to talk about the separation of church and state.

On a wooden deck surrounded by rustling birch trees, Rauser set up a flip chart. On one page, he had drawn stick figures representing people living in a society where conflict between the state-sponsored church and competing religions led to "wars, bloodshed, persecution and prison." The stick figures had frowns on their faces.

The next page showed the situation when there is a wall of separation between government and religion.

"Here's the free thinker," Rauser said, pointing to one of the stick figures. "He has a nice smile on his face, because he can ignore the church if he wants to. So there is freedom of religion and freedom from religion."

More pages got flipped over as Rauser went on to ask the campers whether posting the Ten Commandments in a public school or having prayers at graduation violates the separation of church and state.

"Here's a sticky one: the pledge of allegiance," he said. "This is a big problem, because this is wrapped up in an expression of patriotism."

Some fidgety campers weren't exactly riveted.

"It's like school," Michael said afterward.

"I lost it after a few pages," his brother Joseph said. "There was, like, a hundred there."

But he does believe in the separation of church and state.

"I don't like it when kids come to school with a cross necklace," he said. "I think you have enough time in church to celebrate Jesus. I don't think you need to bring it into the classroom."

During the lecture on evolution, Berkshire argued against the theory of intelligent design by noting that humans have a blind spot in their eyes. "If we were going to design our eye, we wouldn't have that."

"The squid eye is developed better than ours," said Rich Sinda, another counselor. "Either the real God is a squid god or they like them better than us."

During a lecture designed to debunk astrology, the campers still were interested in how many stars the newspaper horoscope gave them that day.

"We've just discovered that these things are no more accurate than throwing a dart, and you still want to know how many stars you have?" said Berkshire, whose Minnesota license plates say "ATHEIST."

The campers also were told that an invisible dragon lived at the camp. If any camper could prove the dragon didn't exist, he or she would win a godless $20 bill. That's a piece of currency printed before Congress ordered that money say "In God We Trust" — "religious graffiti" in the words of one atheist.

Berkshire said the kids quickly made a connection between belief in God and belief in invisible dragons.

"You can't disprove a dragon, and you can't disprove God's existence," he said. "But that doesn't mean that the dragon or God exists."

Camp organizers decorated the dining room with posters of famous free thinkers — Lincoln, Washington, Einstein, Edison, Goethe, Freud — along with their thoughts on religion.

"Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world," read the quote under Voltaire's picture.

"It's just like normal camp," said Laura, a 12-year-old from Apple Valley. They sang the same corny camp songs around the campfire, she said. Although, "there was one atheist song."

Atheists have songs?

"The one that goes, 'Imagine there's no heaven or hell,' " she said.

"By John Lennon," said Rita, a 12-year-old from Tonka Bay.


Near the end of the week, Edwin Kagin, creator of the Camp Quest concept, paid a visit to the Minnesota program after driving up from his home in Kentucky.

"I wanted to come see and have an appreciation of it," he said. He declared the site "absolutely one of the prettiest camp facilities I've seen."

"I wish there were more campers, but Christianity started with less people than we have here," he added.

A lawyer, Eagle Scout and atheist, Kagin said he started thinking about setting up a camp for atheist kids after incidents in which the Boy Scouts barred nonbelievers.

"I was outraged when the Boy Scouts announced they would not take those dirty little atheist boys and they were kicking people out," said Kagin, who is also Kentucky state director of the American Atheists organization.

The Minnesota project was started with a $5,000 grant from the Institute for Humanist Studies, a secular humanist think tank based in Albany, N.Y. The camp cost $550 per child.

Shoreview resident Shirley Moll sent her grandson to the camp. She grew up in the only atheist family in a small coal-mining town in Pennsylvania.

"My childhood years were very, very difficult because I was an atheist," she said.

"There's a general negativity associated with the word atheism," said Sinda, who sent two sons to the camp. "People automatically think you're immoral, communist, you're a Nazi."

"I think that's one of the misconceptions, that we're devil worshipers," said Paul, a 13-year-old from Hopkins.

"It's good for kids to understand that there are other families that are free thinkers," Sinda said. "We want our beliefs to have a basis."

Bernie Schatz sent his grandson to the camp. He also showed up to give a lecture on beekeeping wearing a T-shirt that said "Discover Humanism," which also included a quote from himself: "When individuals fully understand religion, they will no longer support a belief system."

Schatz said he considered becoming a preacher before deciding there isn't a God. "Religion is not needed," he said. "I prayed like hell, and it just didn't help."

Counselor Norm Barrett said he had a road-away-from-Damascus experience when he was 16, the same age as some of the older campers. But it took several years before he worked up the nerve to tell his parents he no longer believed in God.

"I probably could have benefited from a place like this," he said.

"I admire some of these kids. In a way, some of them are a bit more courageous than I was," he said. "It kind of gives me hope for the future. We are kind of succeeding in passing our values on to the next generation."

Next year's Minnesota Camp Quest is scheduled for July 24-31 at the Voyageur Environmental Center. For information about the Minnesota Camp Quest, go to www.campquest.org.

Richard Chin can be reached at rchin@pioneerpress.com or 651- 228-5560.

Religion and Politics: Oil and Water


August 9 2004 Counterbias.com Dennis Jones

``Our founders expected that Christianity - and no other religion - would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference.'' - Family Research Council

"The Republican Party of Texas affirms the United States of America is a Christian Nation ..." - State of Texas GOP Platform, 2004

"Ladies and gentlemen, Christianity offers the only viable, reasonable, definitive answer to the questions of 'Where did I come from?' 'Why am I here?' 'Where am I going?' 'Does life have any meaningful purpose?' Only Christianity offers a way to understand that physical and moral border. Only Christianity offers a comprehensive worldview that covers all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation. Only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world -- only Christianity." - Tom DeLay, Majority Leader of the House of Representatives

Statements like these help to explain the depth of feelings in the body politic. They are the raw meat that fuels the extreme animosity that characterizes American politics today. I thought that America was supposed to be a place of great diversity. I thought that all were equal; not that some were more equal than others. I do not suggest that people who believe thusly have no right to express their beliefs. Far from it, but because of the exclusivity of their nature I believe that they pose a great danger to American democracy. But I could be wrong.

Religion has served as a valuable anchor in the lives of millions of people since the founding of our republic. Because of the first amendment the variations of religion in the United States is truly staggering. It is said that America is the most religious of the major industrialized states and I believe it. We have religions that believe in the use of hallucinogens (I like those); religions that believe that your money should be theirs (read: Falwell, Robertson et al); many religions that believe that they are the chosen people and the rest of us are toast; religions that are proud of the objectification of women; religions that worship animals and others that worship plants. We have Catholics, Methodists, Mormons, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Christian Scientists and many more. If you want to divine the future by reading the entrails of a liberal, knock yourself out. We have so many different religions in this country that if you can't find one that you like then you ain't trying! And if you don't find one, make up your own. In itself that idea neither paralyzes me with fear nor rejoices me. If religion is what it takes to help you get through your life, then more power to you, brother.

I should point out here that I have nothing in particular against any religion or against religion in general. I am a believer, but I am not attracted to any organized strain. I hold no prejudice against anyone's beliefs. I am convinced that non-believers are just as moral as the rest of us. This makes me an alien in many circles. Likewise I hold no animus for those of the right who band around their faith and use it to organize for political purposes. They have every right to do so. It would be ludicrous for anyone to argue that in the political sphere a person should be completely divorced from his faith. However, I don't think that Jesus was a monetary conservative. And I am almost positive that he never expressed a belief in the untrammeled right to bear arms in any quantity and of any quality. But I could be wrong, so it doesn't bother me that others seem to hold those views.

The intrusion of religious morals into policy is another matter. In this country when I say religion, I mean Christianity. Adherents of the other major religions seem willing to coexist without forcing their views on the rest of us. The reality of their numbers says that they have no choice. That doesn't mean that Christians are mean, arrogant, stupid, uncaring, and biased or anything else. It means that because of their overwhelming numerical superiority they have been emboldened to try to advance their beliefs as law. In my opinion that is the wrong way to go, but I could be wrong.

I'm not talking about 'under God' in the pledge of allegiance. I'm not referring to prayer in public schools, public squares, political venues or anywhere else. I'm not considering whether or not 'In God We Trust' should be on our money. Where to post the Ten Commandments doesn't bother me too much. Those and similar hot buttons in the public discourse are of very little consequence to me. I think that in the perfect secular world for which our government is supposed to strive the answer to those arguments would be obvious. Like oil and water, religion and politics do not combine well. Contrariwise, the warriors of the religious right seem to think that freedom will rise or fall on the outcome of those clashes. I remain unpersuaded, but I could be wrong.

The issues to which I refer strode onto the public stage beginning on January 22, 1973. For those of you to whom history remains a complete mystery, that was the date that the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Roe v. Wade. The issue of abortion is undoubtedly one of the most contentious in this country since the end of slavery. I understand why those in the pro-life movement oppose it and I do not mock them for their belief. I am pro-choice but I personally do not like abortion. To me it all too frequently substitutes for birth control and I think that's wrong. But I don't feel that the government should be in the business of telling women that they have no control over their reproductive rights. Why don't the right-to-life people put their efforts into making abortion much less common? If abortion is to be made illegal, what will the penalty be for a woman who has one, or a doctor who performs one? Are pro-lifers prepared to build more prisons to hold these people? Are they ready to address the many, many problems which will inevitably follow from all of those unwanted births? Are pro-lifers ready to address the problem of decent sex education in schools and easy and quality contraception to help prevent the situations that now all too commonly result in unwanted pregnancy? I doubt it, but I could be wrong.

Many on the right push for the introduction of 'creationism' into the school curriculum and the expulsion of the theory of evolution. Without any evidence of any kind they believe that we should start teaching religion in our schools. They believe that we should ignore the record of history which seems to point to the validity of evolution. I have no problem with the theory of creation, but lacking evidence I would like to see it remain in the realm of religion. I have faith in the youth of our country that when the two are presented to them they will be able to sort things out for themselves. Would the introduction of religion into the school curriculum be anything but contentious? But I could be wrong.

For substantially the same reason that they oppose abortion, many conservatives believe that we should outlaw the idea of embryonic stem cell research. I could not look people in the eye who suffer from diabetes, spinal cord injury, Parkinson's disease and many other afflictions if I believed that we weren't doing everything possible to help relieve their suffering. I understand the views of the right, and I don't believe that they should be forced to participate. But for couples who want to donate their unused embryos instead of seeing them destroyed why can't we go forward with what may be the greatest breakthrough in medicine since the discovery of antibiotics? Those who oppose this research argue that their taxes shouldn't go to support something which violates their moral principles. I agree. We'll use the taxes that I pay which would otherwise be used to create a missile defense program which does not work now and probably never will work. Of course, I could be wrong.

Finally, the warriors of the right ask us to cut out a portion of our countrymen from the group and deny them the basic rights and privileges which the rest of us enjoy. For months now I have repeatedly heard opponents of gay marriage decry the very idea that the 'sanctity' of marriage will be destroyed and that marriage for heterosexuals will crumble if we grant gays this privilege with its numerous attendant rights. If just one of them would advance one way that might happen I might agree. They have not. Many of us dance around the subject by using the term 'civil union' to avoid committing to what we believe is right. If that is what it takes to get opponents to go along its okay by me, but it would have to include all of the benefits that go to straights. If you ask me it is a stupid exercise in semantics. But I could be wrong.

The long history of our country has been a constant effort to correct the errors that our founders made when they adopted the Constitution. We ended slavery, introduced women's suffrage, assured the right to vote and established a Bill of Rights - all to correct those deficiencies. Others remain, so the work goes on. Only once have we been seduced into inserting a moral ban into that great document. In 1918 we banned the sale and consumption of alcohol. I know that those who backed the idea were well meaning, but it was a miserable failure. It was so bad that we quickly repealed the idea - the only time in our history when we have done so.

Now we are asked to discriminate against gays because some of us think that homosexuality is 'wrong' by inserting an amendment into the Constitution prohibiting gay marriage. I'm not buying it. They argue that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. I find that idea ludicrous. Who really believes that millions of our fellow citizens choose to be outcasts in society? It flies in the face of reason and it ignores the evidence in nature. I had an anthropology professor in college who pointed out that anything which exists in nature is by definition 'natural'. It may not be normal, meaning that it differs from the norm, but natural it is. To my knowledge homosexuality exists in every other species on the earth. Who knows why, but it clearly isn't a personal choice.

And what is it that underlies these issues? Clearly it is religion. Liberals believe that morality is subjective and conservatives believe that it is unchanging. Liberals argue that morals are defined by all as we live our lives. Conservatives are positive that the Bible is the unerring guidepost to living to which we all owe obedience. The world is a big enough place for both sides to have their views. Who am I to say which is correct? Who are you? I know that this may come as a complete shock to my conservative friends, but the Bible has no standing in law in America. Not even a little bit. It may be the absolute word of God. Or it may be just a religious book. Who am I to say? Who are you? The foundation of law in the United States is the Constitution in which there are no references to that work. There is also no reference to God. That emphatically does not mean that the founders were not religious men. And it doesn't mean that religious men should be banned from politics. On the contrary, the first amendment specifically guarantees their participation. What it means is that the founders believed that there was a place for religion in life and a place for law and that the two were not one and the same.

I am not asking anyone to change their views. I am asking that I not be forced to change mine. If a clear damage to another does not exist I do not believe that personal morals belong in law. If we are to be truly free in this country then we must be able to live side-by-side with those with whom we do not agree. You are free to live your life according to your personal beliefs. I am having a difficult enough time getting through my own life without telling you how to live yours. If you persist in trying to impose your morals on me, then we shall have much angst in the public discourse. If we are to get past all of this hatred and vicious name-calling then we are going to have to accept that we may be wrong in our religious beliefs and that others may be right. Instead of the incessant judging of others, we may have to leave the judgment to the Creator. About that I am sure that I am right.

On the road to extinction


A 5-5 deadlock on the State Board of Education has been broken with the election of two conservatives Tuesday who do not have opposition in the November election.

The board previously was controlled by conservative members who decided that creationism should be taught with evolution in the science classes of the state's schools. That was reversed when moderates were elected. The board member from Kansas City, Kan., was not up for re-election this year. One conservative who was elected Tuesday to the board was an incumbent.

A new conservative board member from Clay Center, Kan., has been quoted by newspapers as saying she supports creationism being taught in science classes, along with the theory of evolution. The state board sets the science standards for schools, setting out what should be taught at different levels.

The past debates focused on whether religious ideas should be included in science classes, or should be reserved for religion or social science classes.

While we can't predict the future, we can say, from past experience, that the evolution controversy will intensify on the state board after the new members are sworn in. Kansas, by teaching religion in public school science classes, will almost certainly receive negative international attention again.

For mixing religion, politics and education, the State Board of Education is now on the endangered list, and it will probably go the way of the dinosaur. Very likely, some in the Kansas Legislature will not deem it fit for survival.

Monday, August 09, 2004

What are the major types of complementary and alternative medicine?


09 Aug 2004

NCCAM classifies Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapies into five categories, or domains:

1. Alternative Medical Systems

Alternative medical systems are built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Often, these systems have evolved apart from and earlier than the conventional medical approach used in the United States. Examples of alternative medical systems that have developed in Western cultures include homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine. Examples of systems that have developed in non-Western cultures include traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.

2. Mind-Body Interventions

Mind-body medicine uses a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Some techniques that were considered CAM in the past have become mainstream (for example, patient support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy). Other mind-body techniques are still considered CAM, including meditation, prayer, mental healing, and therapies that use creative outlets such as art, music, or dance.

3. Biologically Based Therapies

Biologically based therapies in CAM use substances found in nature, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins. Some examples include dietary supplements,3 herbal products, and the use of other so-called natural but as yet scientifically unproven therapies (for example, using shark cartilage to treat cancer).

4. Manipulative and Body-Based Methods

Manipulative and body-based methods in CAM are based on manipulation and/or movement of one or more parts of the body. Some examples include chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, and massage.

5. Energy Therapies

Energy therapies involve the use of energy fields. They are of two types:

-- Biofield therapies are intended to affect energy fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body. The existence of such fields has not yet been scientifically proven. Some forms of energy therapy manipulate biofields by applying pressure and/or manipulating the body by placing the hands in, or through, these fields. Examples include qi gong, Reiki, and Therapeutic Touch.

-- Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies involve the unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields, or alternating-current or direct-current fields.

NCCAM, National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland 20892 USA
E-mail: info@nccam.nih.gov

From patient to healer


Last Updated: 11:27 pm, Friday, August 6th, 2004


By Hilary E. MacGregor

Evan Ross lost one eye to cancer at age 2, and then nearly lost the other.

Then, 22 years later, doctors told him he had cancer again. This time it was a tumor in his brain. And this time they told him he would die.

Ross had moved to Los Angeles from New Jersey to follow his dream — to work in the music industry. He was working as a record producer when he started getting severe headaches, experiencing shortness of breath, and twitching. His therapist told him he was having panic attacks.

The strange symptoms persisted. He grew weak on his left side. He had trouble keeping food down. One day he passed out on the bathroom floor.

He went to the doctor. They scanned his head, and by the time he got home there was a message on his telephone answering machine.

"You appear to have a rather large mass in your head," he recalls the doctor telling him when he called back. "It appears to be a glioma." "I didn't even know what a glioma was," he says.

The mass in Ross' head turned out to be a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme — a common and highly malignant type of brain tumor. Like many people who battle cancer, the experience would change his life. But it also would change his career. Ten years later, Ross has left his job in the music industry and is a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of oriental medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, helping patients not unlike himself.

Today, cancer-free for eight years, he works closely with teams of doctors in the hospital, visiting patients in the ICU, rehab unit and cancer wards. He sees about 80 patients a week, many of them cancer patients, and about three in four of them are referred by medical doctors.

A decade ago, integrative medicine was little more than talk at most medical centers. But according to a 2003 survey by the American Hospital Association, 17 percent of hospitals offer complementary and alternative medicine, CAM, services.

Ross' ties with top medical doctors at a prestigious hospital give him a badge of legitimacy in a world often unequipped to assess either the effectiveness of alternative medicine therapies or the qualifications of its practitioners.

"It definitely makes a difference having him here at Cedars," says Dr. Edward Wolin, an oncologist at the hospital's Comprehensive Cancer Center who refers patients to Ross. "He has staff privileges. He is able to come to the hospital room, if the person is an inpatient, and he is able to give acupuncture at the hospital. He is treated as part of the medical team. It is a unique relationship with someone in the acupuncture field."

But it is Ross' first-hand experience with cancer, it seems, that makes him even rarer.

Ross' tumor was the size of a lemon, in a part of the brain — the right frontal lobe — that controls movement on the left side of his body.

"I didn't believe I was going to die," Ross says. "From the beginning — I have an entry in my journal — I believed it was about learning a set of lessons. I believed it was destined to happen. And I welcomed it as a challenge."

In May 1995, he underwent a 10-hour surgery at the University of California, San Francisco during which doctors were able to remove only 50 percent of his tumor. Doctors told his family he would be paralyzed on one side and that after the surgery he would be treated with chemotherapy. But the doctors told him it was unlikely the treatment would save his life.

Ross is 35, with the boyish face of a graduate student. He is matter-of-fact, almost clinical, when he talks about his battle with cancer. So his detours into topics of spirituality feel all the more unexpected. He frequently draws on his personal story to inspire patients, so that at times it begins to feel like a spiel. But as he tells his tale once again to a reporter, his professional veneer cracks. "It's hard to talk about this," he says.

Ross spent three weeks researching conventional cancer treatments on the Internet, and many nonconventional ones too. Even while undergoing chemo and other standard treatments, he went on a macrobiotic diet and meditated twice daily. He tried acupuncture, took nutritional supplements, practiced Qigong and was treated with ayurvedic herbs. He kept a journal, to allow his subconscious to speak to him and teach him lessons. He saw a shaman and consulted with a Jewish mystic.

That experience informs his work today. "I don't practice alternative medicine," he corrects during one interview. "I always call it complementary. There is a danger in thinking of it as alternative medicine, because it implies one kind of medicine or the other. Both types of medicine have to be used together."

Dr. Michael Lill, the medical director of the Cedars-Sinai Outpatient Cancer Center and director of the blood and marrow transplant program, says that perspective is part of what makes Ross an asset.

"He is careful to still send people for conventional therapies, rather than trying to do everything himself," Lill says.

Ross believes his diet and alternative therapies enabled him to withstand high doses of chemo, and endure two stem cell transplants with few side effects. He considered his illness a spiritual journey and reflected deeply on his disease. He understood that genetics play a role in his disease. But why was he cancer-free for more than two decades? What had set it off?

He came to L.A. to compose music for films. Soon, he was caught up in having a nice car, a nice place to live and trying to schmooze with famous record producers. He was hanging out at bars until the wee hours, always wheeling and dealing and "trying to make it happen." He felt lost.

"The way I was living my life — mentally and spiritually — I was in a state of chaos," he says. "What is cancer but a state of chaos? Cells lose the ability to grow normally, and begin growing haphazardly and chaotically."

It is a hot, summer afternoon and Ross calls in his next patient, Amy Syrett. A nonsmoker with two young children, Syrett, 44, was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer last fall and received aggressive chemo and radiation. She was referred to Ross by her doctor to help overcome her treatments' side effects. It meant a lot to her that he had survived cancer against long odds.

"He could relate to me," she says. "He inspired me."

Ross talks to Syrett about how she's feeling and does a brief exam.. Then, he takes her into another room and places the delicate needles into her back, her ankles, her feet. With the sounds of ocean waves playing on a radio, he leaves her for 20 minutes. Ross has also put her on a special organic diet — free of refined sugars and processed foods — and given her herbs and supplements. Syrett says the sessions have helped her to assess her life.

"I am healing," says Syrett, who is not currently undergoing treatment, but doesn't know yet if her cancer is in remission. "A lot of it is traditional medicine. A lot of it is changing my lifestyle."

After his battle with cancer Ross knew he wanted a change in his life. "After the cancer I was afraid," he says. "I was scared that once (the disease) was gone I would forget all the lessons it had taught me, and I would go back to being the person I was before I was sick."

In 2000 he received his degree in oriental medicine from Emperor's College, an accredited college of traditional Chinese medicine in Santa Monica, Calif. He began working at Cedars in 2001.

Ross loves the challenges and opportunities at Cedars, even if he knows there may be doctors who doubt the effectiveness of acupuncture. "One thing that is frustrating is if a person sees a neurologist, and the neurologist misdiagnoses them, the medical profession will not say, 'Neurology is a bunch of nonsense,' " he says. "But if someone goes to an acupuncturist, and it fails to help them, they throw the baby out with the bath water. They will say the whole profession is worthless."

The Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the USA


08 Aug 2004

Americans are using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). But, it is often asked, how many Americans? What therapies are they using? For what health problems and concerns?

The most comprehensive and reliable findings to date on Americans' use of CAM were released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). They came from the 2002 edition of the NCHS's National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an annual study in which tens of thousands of Americans are interviewed about their health- and illness-related experiences. The 2002 edition included detailed questions on CAM. It was completed by 31,044 adults aged 18 years or older from the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population.

What Is CAM?

CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine--that is, medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degrees and their allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses.a

In CAM, complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. While some scientific evidence exists regarding some CAM therapies, for most there are key questions that are yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies--questions such as whether these therapies are safe and whether they work for the diseases or medical conditions for which they are used.

The list of what is considered to be CAM changes continually, as those therapies that are proven to be safe and effective become adopted into conventional health care and as new approaches to health care emerge.

The Five Domains of CAM

-- Alternative medical systems are built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Often, these systems have evolved apart from and earlier than the conventional medical approach used in the United States.

-- Biologically based therapies use substances found in nature, such as herbs, special diets, or vitamins (in doses outside those used in conventional medicine).

-- Energy therapies involve the use of energy fields, such as magnetic fields or biofields (energy fields that some believe surround and penetrate the human body).

-- Manipulative and body-based methods are based on manipulation or movement of one or more body parts.

-- Mind-body medicine uses a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind's ability to affect bodily function and symptoms.

MORE......National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine, NIH, USA

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Posted on Sun, Aug. 08, 2004


Just when you thought issues of public education in Kansas couldn't get more contentious, they did last week -- and just weeks before the Kansas Supreme Court takes up the question of whether current funding is constitutional.

With a handful of incumbents tossed out of the Legislature last week, including two House Republicans who had led a push to raise taxes for education, it could fall to a more conservative Legislature to carry out the court's mandate.

And if they are committed to doing that without raising taxes, legislators could be forced to make deep cuts in other places in the state budget or get serious about school district consolidation in order to free up more funds for K-12 schools. The process could be painful, both for lawmakers and the school districts back home.

Meanwhile, it appears that the conservative bloc of the State Board of Education has at least the 6-4 majority it needs should it choose to de-emphasize the teaching of evolution in public schools for a second time, thanks to the re-election of Steve Abrams of Arkansas City and the defeat of Bruce Wyatt of Salina by Kathy Martin of Clay Center. It could make other ideology-guided changes, too -- though there are legal barriers to acting on Ms. Martin's support for teaching creationism alongside evolution in science classes, or board member Connie Morris' support for denying education to children of undocumented immigrants.

The entire picture in the state won't be clear until November's general election and the subsequent battle for leadership of the Kansas Senate. Those contests will determine just how much control the conservative wing of the Republican Party will have over the decision-making on education funding and philosophy.

But if last week's GOP primaries meant anything -- and chances are, they meant nearly everything in this heavily Republican state -- Kansas could be in for more noisy, time-consuming conflict on crucial issues that should be inspiring the best kind of compromise and consensus.

For the board, Rhonda Holman



Posted on Sun, Aug. 08, 2004

It seems many conservative thinkers in this state rush to judgment on the issue of one aborted fetus. But I hear very little about the 900-plus young men and women lost in Iraq.

Kudos to all Republican primary voters. You are just about to accomplish your goal of making Kansas the brunt of more jokes concerning creationism and evolution.

Wichita City Council members should hang their heads in shame over their lack of consideration of a smoking ban.

If you don't want to inhale secondhand smoke, stay out of places that allow smoking. If you don't want your children to watch sex and violence on TV, do not allow them to watch sex and violence on TV. It's called choice.

Regarding "Pass: County offices unchallenged" (Aug. 2 Opinion): Here's a news flash for The Eagle editorial board: The voters made Nola Foulston district attorney for life.

George W. Bush and John Kerry both campaign as if we have no immigration laws. Both are supporting the illegal aliens who are taking over our country and our freedoms that my military family fought and died for.

If racial profiling is forbidden in this country, then shouldn't affirmative action be eliminated?

Bush says his constituents are the "haves and have-mores." Why would anyone not in this category vote for him?

I'm tired of the "us versus them" attitude the two parties have created. I don't agree with how Bush is handling Iraq. I don't think Kerry would make a good leader. I'm already tired of politics, and I'm only 21.

Barack Obama for president.

Why is the distance to the Kansas Coliseum considered too far to drive, when it isn't too far to drive to restaurants and businesses located on Webb Road?

Education before arenas.

Hats off to the Children First: CEO Kansas scholarship program for all its hard work and dedication to the educational community. Just imagine how great it would be if the whole state of Kansas picked up on this idea, saving taxpayers' money and giving parents a choice.

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