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James Randi Educational Foundation

June 27, 2003

The Brights Are Coming, Carter's UFO, More Money Curse, An Insipid Response from South Africa, More Witchcraft and More Karen, The Curse of Uri Geller, Opinions on Astrology, and the UK's Channel Five Fiasco...

I want to begin this week's page with an important announcement that belongs up front here, not tagged onto the tail end of the update. It involves the advent of a new noun, "bright." Richard Dawkins, attending the annual conference of the American Atheist Alliance at Tampa in mid-April where we both spoke and celebrated this new word, recently wrote this definition: "A bright is a person whose world view is free of supernatural and mystical elements. The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic world view."

I hope that's enough to take you to http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,981412,00.html


The Sci Fi TV channel here is launching a court effort to declassify documents related to a 1965 incident in Pennsylvania. This is the so-called "Kecksburg Incident" which is filled with varying stories from many different sources, many disagreeing with one another. The most persistent version involves an "acorn-shaped" object of a bronze color, large enough to hold a human being.

The network showed a documentary, "Out of the Blue," that laid out an argument that there's "something out there." I think there's hardly any doubt of that, given the size and age of the rest of the universe, but whether "they" have been here, or would even have the ability or the desire to get here, is a different matter altogether.

After hearing that former President Carter once saw a UFO, "Out of the Blue" filmmaker James Fox repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, asked Carter's representatives for an interview. Undaunted, Fox essentially ambushed Carter with a camera one day at a book-signing. Carter confirmed the incident but his brevity and forced smile indicated he wasn't happy to be answering that particular question. That's understandable. First of all, the date reported by Mr. Carter for that sighting was nine months off, which led researcher Robert Scheaffer on a chase (wild UFO chase?) for weeks until he finally got it pinned down. You can see the full account in his book, "The UFO Verdict," Prometheus Books, 1981. Needless to add, Robert's debunking of this report was not mentioned in "Out of the Blue."

Scheaffer has shown that on the evening in question, at the hour and the location in the sky indicated by Mr. Carter, the planet Venus was very prominently to be seen. Now, since the then-president-to-be was an observer for the US Navy (albeit on submarine duty) he could hardly have failed to notice a fully-bright Venus right where he saw what he thought was a UFO. And, of course, if that was Venus, it was "unidentified" by him. So, either Venus was not in the sky at that position and at that time, or Mr. Carter didn't recognize it, or the UFO stood exactly in front of the planet. Mr. Carter, in common with many, many, other persons, mis-identified Venus as a UFO.

The Sci Fi channel has good reasons for being fond of the UFO theme. Last November's documentary on the celebrated, suspected 1947 UFO crash in Roswell, N.M., was the highest-rated special in their 11-year history. It was seen by nearly 2.4 million people, or about 2½ times their usual prime-time audience. They know good business when they see it. The network sponsored an archaeological excavation at Roswell, New Mexico, and has two new UFO specials in the works. I'm personally happy to know that they're backing an effort to get U.S. Air Force records released on that incident in Kecksburg, where some witnesses believe a UFO crashed. I don’t anticipate, as do the believers, that startling new developments will become evident, but I’m willing to be shown.

What worries me most is the Sci Fi dependence on what they call "the most reputable of witnesses — former astronauts, military and government officials, topped off by an ex-president." That's not my idea of necessarily proper witnesses... And Bob Scheaffer was free that evening...


Reader Carl Fink asks me, in regard to the JREF cursed million dollars:

If your money is so dangerously afflicted with negative energy, why aren't you experiencing bad luck, bad health, or bad anything much? You seem to be happy, quite successful, and enviably healthy for a man of your years. Seemingly the curse only applies to Danish psychics.

Well, Carl, it's not my money. It belongs entirely to the Foundation. And, I can tell you, we're doing just fine...! Kevin Schaffer suggests, on the same weighty problem:

I am not a physicist, but I am sure that quantum mechanics allows for no additional properties to the electron along the lines of a "cursing." Only charge, position, wave functions, probability fields, and the like are allowed. Thus, perhaps an electronic transfer of the money to Ms. Kofoed would suitably cleanse the prize of its curse?

Somehow, I don't think we'll be hearing any more from Ms. Kofoed...


Reader Jonathan Fox, in South Africa, carried on a long correspondence with SABC3, a television outlet there, concerning their use of the "Crossing Over" show with John Edward. Jonathan offered to establish that Edward is doing the "cold reading" trick. He had many exchanges with a PR person named Van Tonder, offering them to "bring any recorded episode of 'Crossing Over with John Edward' and have access to a monitor, a VCR, and a remote control" so that he could prove his point. Ms. Van Tonder squirmed and alibied, then finally stated that she could "not commit the channel to that kind of use of their staff time and resources" and advised him to contact the station general manager. He did, and finally received this:

Dear Mr. Fox,

Thank you for your e-mail.

I have just received a copy of your correspondence with the SABC and would like to advise as follows:

SABC3 does not, nor has it, proclaimed that John Edwards [sic] is a "genuine spirit medium."

Mr. Edwards [sic] provides an entertainment option which is currently well received.

We offer many forms of entertainment which are all open to subjective scrutiny.

Whilst we thank you for your interest in the show, we unfortunately will not be able to entertain an individual scrutiny of it.

Yours sincerely

Trevor Smit
General Manager SABC3

Folks, I looked up the dictionary definition of "namby-pamby" before using it here. It means, "lacking decisiveness, irresolute, insipid." Not good enough, but okay to describe SABC3's waffling about the matter. But it's typical. They don't give a damn about the damage the program's doing to listeners; it's entertainment, right? Russian roulette, anyone? Just for fun, of course. Here's another idea: do an "entertainment" show on manufacturing methamphetamines at home! Mr. Smit would like that, because it would be "well received." That's enough, it seems.


We recently told you of a case in Denmark that got into the courtroom and became a news item in that country. This matter has now taken on much more serious aspects, according to a report from Claus Larsen. The "witchdoctor" we referred to is now identified as a "Doctor Mamadu," and the publicity given his court appearance has brought forward other witnesses who were also duped by him. The mother of a 44-year old Danish woman is accusing the witch doctor of the death of her daughter who visited his Copenhagen clinic several times, convinced that she was cursed. After 10 "treatments" and over $2,000, the doctor gave her a potion of African herbs. In June 2002, she died mysteriously, shortly after her last visit to him. The cause of death was never fully solved by the police.

Now he's also charged with embezzling from other victims, among them a Pakistani woman, a Muslim, for $115,000 plus some jewelry. The police suspect that he has cheated many more people. At least the clinic is now empty, while Mamadu is in custody, awaiting trial.


It is far too time-consuming for me to wade through all the lies and hyperbole that Karen Boesen has created and published to discredit me. Notice that she has chosen to try discrediting me, rather than what I say, and she avoids addressing the main question here: is she selling the Danish public something that works, or is it all a fraud? From three "case stories" that she has offered to bomb me, and which were sent to me for consideration by a reader, I've quickly selected out just a few points that don't need long discussion...

. . . an astrologer from Houston, who was a printer and had dealt with Randi in that capacity commercially, accepted the [JREF] challenge. He was put in contact with a professor from Rice University who administered a chart-to-profession matching test — which the printer passed.

This is entirely a lie. It never happened. Please note that the "astrologer" is not named, nor is the "professor." Karen is very fond of these general accusations, which cannot be checked on by others, because no details are given.

[she refers to] Randi's web site . . . which is based in Canada.

I have never had any site of any sort based in Canada, and have never engaged in web activities from that country. This small lie is typical of the sort of thing that is thrown in by Karen for "flavor" but has no basis in reality.

. . . CSICOP, a militant athiest [sic] organization that was evicted from the Ethical Humanist society . . .

CSICOP is not, and never has been, an atheist organization. Many, if not a majority, of the members have religious affiliations. There is an "Ethical Humanist Society" in both Long Island, New York, and in Chicago. Both are affiliated with the American Ethical Union, and all three organizations absolutely deny that CSICOP has ever been associated with them, nor have they ever had any sort of dealings with CSICOP. This is another pack of blatant lies by Karen Boesen.

Randi used this little trick to demonstrate that Astrology was "bunk" — and that people would always read their "horoscope" and see things they wanted to see as true for them.

The above refers to an experiment I've done several times, in several places, and describes it exactly. But Karen goes on to say

His little demonstration really "proved" nothing about Astrology, since Astrology was never used in this trick.

Also correct! And that's exactly what I told the audience! I wanted to demonstrate how they would accept anything that they wanted or needed to believe to be true, and my case was proved. It didn't involve astrology at all, just the gullible mind-set used by the believers. What's the problem here, Karen?

Ah, but she continues:

The point which he completely missed was that . . . if he had used REAL horoscope readings based on the individual birth dates, and had them created by an honest and competent astrologer, each person's reading would have been DIFFERENT.

Exactly! I didn't miss this point, at all. Now, I'm sure that Karen considers herself to be "an honest and competent astrologer." Or, one of her colleagues in her office might agree to that description. I have offered to pay Karen Boesen the million-dollar prize if she — or any astrologer — would perform such a test using "real" horoscopes — and she has refused!

There it is, Karen. You're exposed once more as a bare-faced liar. PROVE ME WRONG.


A few weeks ago, the city of Turin, Italy, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of a man who styled himself, "the most famous psychic in the world," Gustav Adolfo Rol, the son of a grand banker of Turin, who died in 1994 at age 91. He had a bald head and dark, sunken, penetrating eyes, looking as if he'd stepped from an Edgar Allan Poe story, and lived in an ancient home among crystal chandeliers, neo-classical nudes, and heavy imperial-style furniture after retiring from banking at 34 to become a "psychic." He had a law degree from Turin University, one in economics from London and a third in biology from Paris, but he was no lawyer, economist or biologist. He was a seer, a wizard, a world-class paranormalist, or a world-class fraud; take your pick.

As with so many others of his kind, Cagliostro, Uri Geller, Simon Magus, and others, his feats were attested to by hundreds of devotees, who swore that among other wonders, he passed through closed doors and walls, could read any book in a library without removing it from the shelf, and read people's minds. "He is in Turin," read a newspaper headline in the 1970s, "but people take pictures of him in New York." What's interesting to me is that he never allowed a professional magician to witness his feats, and he never let them be filmed. Italian conjuror Mariano Tomatis opined, "All of his 'phenomena' can be reproduced using the techniques of the illusionists." I agree; it's all old stuff.

Rol created a whole charismatic atmosphere around himself — what a surprise! — that convinced followers he'd been hobnobbing with persons he probably never even met. He said that Benito Mussolini met him secretly during visits to Turin, that famed film director Federico Fellini called him "the most disconcerting man I ever met," and that French President Charles De Gaulle would have nothing to do with him because, he said, "That man reads minds. We cannot risk French state secrets becoming known to foreigners." Somehow I feel that at least one spirit hovers here: the spirit of hyperbole.

Doesn't Turin have more important persons to recognize...?


A reader in the UK has suggested that we discuss a discovery of his which he calls "The Curse of Uri Geller!" He points out that:

On the James Whale Radio Show in the UK, Geller predicted that David Coulthard would win the Formula 1 motor race in the UK. He exhorted the listeners to shout "Win, David, win!" or words to that effect. Coulthard had a crash in the first lap at the first corner, and as a result of the damage had to retire on lap 3.

In the UK's "Big Brother" TV show In July 2001, Geller tried to get people to stop one contestant, Paul, being evicted from the Big Brother house by placing their hands on the TV screen. Paul was evicted soon after.

During the Wimbledon Games in 2001, Geller announced he was using his "powers" to back tennis star Tim Henman. Henman lost to Ivanisevic.

In 1997 Geller predicted that a horse named "Go Ballistic" would win the Grand National. The race was abandoned.

On 14 December, 1996, Geller tried to get the viewers on the "Noel Edmond's House Party" BBC television program to psychically support the English cricket team then touring Zimbabwe. The first match started the following day. He asked viewers to place their hands on an "orange circle'" (there's one in his "Mind Power" kit) and "wish the England cricket team to win." There were five matches between England and Zimbabwe between 15th December, 1996, and 3rd January, 1997. England lost three and drew two.

In 1996, Geller asked everyone to touch an orange spot on the TV screen in order to make England win the 1996 European Football Championship. Immediately after that process started, they got knocked out of the competition by Germany.

Geller worked for the Reading Football Club, assisting them psychically, but it all boomeranged when the team was relegated.

The Orange Dot: In a letter published in the Daily Star, on 16 September 1992, a Mrs. P. Standing (is that a joke?) was quoted as saying that after touching Geller's magical orange spot things began to happen immediately. First, the cat knocked her favorite vase off the window sill; a pepper pot fell out of a cupboard and broke her ceramic hob. Then her iron broke.

England -vs- Scotland: Appearing on GMTV on Friday, 12 November, 1999, Geller said he was going to use his "powers" to help Scotland beat England, after he'd helped England win the last time they met. The result: England beat Scotland 2-0.

England -v- Argentina: Appearing on GMTV (a TV outlet in the UK, though no one knows what GMTV stands for) on Monday, 29 June, 1998, Geller predicted that England would beat Argentina 1-0 in their game to be played on Tuesday, 30 June. The result: England lost in a penalty shoot-out, the full-time score standing at 2-2 and no goals being scored in extra time. David Beckham was sent off, reducing the England side to 10 men. Of course, GMTV features all sorts of psychics and astrologers, so failure is ignored.

Exeter City Football Club: We've already mentioned this latest "curse." Geller became a co-chairman of this 3rd Division club in 2002, but at the end of the season they were relegated, and the owners were being investigated for some "irregularities."


From a 1995 issue of Ethnologia Scandinavica, dealing with testing procedures and methods resorted to by business persons in Scandinavia, we find these comments about the use of astrology:

In a women's magazine, "Alt for Damerne", a writer declares: People are becoming ever more open to astrology. Just ten years ago, for example, [the financial newspaper] Børsen would never have thought of arranging lectures on astrology for company executives. But it is still something which not everyone accepts as serious, and I can understand that people do not want to risk their good reputation by publicizing their interest. It will probably take 40-50 years before astrology is regarded as a natural and useful tool.

In Politiken: It was a great sensation when it became known that President Reagan and his wife Nancy consulted an astrologer when they were about to make a decision or embark on a trip. Their astrologer Joan Quigley said that her aim was "to raise astrology to the place where it belongs". She would like to see it incorporated in a scientific context in universities.

The Berlingske Tidende wrote: Both graphology and astrology are trying to win legitimacy. Both groups are challengers/pretenders in the scientific field. They also appear to have gained a position where they have acquired a certain degree of authority. We should not only look at their own statements here. The reactions of others — particularly the scientific world — are symptomatic. The director of the Tycho Brahe Planetarium in Copenhagen, Bjørn Franck Jørgensen, says: "Our scientific world-view, on which European culture rests, is disappearing for the majority of a generation. The best conditions exist for astrology to find a seedbed once again. From having been a harmless joke, it has become a scourge in our everyday life. We run into it everywhere. We are being suffocated by superstition. People are appointed to their positions on the basis of their time of birth. They are bulls, goats, or toads — not human beings."


This photo has been embraced and celebrated by the woo-woos as the horns of some netherworld inhabitant showing up in the sky. Sorry, kids. It's the June 18, 2003, partial solar eclipse peeking through some clouds....

Drat!


UK reader John Walker gives us details about a live TV program on Channel 5 in the UK, broadcast on June 19th, titled, "Are You Telepathic?" It was advertised to be "Britain's largest telepathy test of all time." The program contained a combination of live "tests" and pre-recorded documentary-style reports of various bits of telepathic "research."

At the very beginning they took an audience phone vote to see what percentage of viewers believed in telepathy. 93% said they believed, but thankfully the program mentioned that the national average was only around 54%.

The live tests were predominantly Zener Card [5-symbol] tests, involving a D-list celebrity picking one of five Zener cards, and the viewing audience phoning in to vote which card they believed it was. The first test — just done straight — resulted in a near-statistically perfect 19% of the audience voting for it, while 34% voted for a wrong card.

The second test was to see if there was a difference between men and women. The card chosen received 30% of the men's vote, and 34% of the women's, but they announced none of the percentages for the other four cards, so for both sexes, there could have been a card with a much higher vote.

The third test was supposed to see if there was a difference between the results of non-believers and believers. Two phone numbers were given out, one for each group, and the results of correct votes were: 19% non-believers, 22% believers, leaving the poor pro-telepathy people to admit that these were bang on statistical chance.

The final test was for the studio audience only, but divided into two categories — regular audience members, and people who claimed to be psychic. This was the best bit of this portion. The regular audience got about 18% correct, but the "psychics" got 8%, which was extremely funny.

Strangely enough, all the pre-recorded tests (including measuring the ability to know who was calling on the phone, and a very dubious 1-in-4 chance test with a pair of twins) had "hits," but even these tapes couldn't counter the constant failure of the live program.

And it finished with the best one of all. This was an attempt to recreate the Ganzfeld Test. Parapsychologist Robert Van de Castle went into a "dream state" in an isolation booth, while someone, whom I think might have been a celebrity, but I have never seen before, in another isolation booth "projected" an image to him.

The image was a painting, one chosen at random from four envelopes. The "celebrity" had all manner of means of sending this image to him, including thoughts about straws, water, toy animals, sticks, play-dough, pens, paper, and much else, with about twenty minutes of this charade going on in the background for the final portion of the show. The painting she had chosen was of a crowd of people being blown around in the wind, while it was literally raining cats and dogs.

There was early excitement as they'd recorded Robert saying, "It's a very busy image, she's having trouble capturing it all." Then nothing more was said until the experiment was over, and both persons were brought back to the studio, Robert having already been shown all four paintings and having made his choice. When asked to go through each of the targets, despite a terrible botch by the presenter leaving the selected painting separate from the other three, he immediately announced that it was the calm image of a windmill and a boat leaving for sea. Rating each painting for a ranking out of 100 for their likelihood at the presenter's desperate request, Robert said that the first was 2/100, a painting of some cheese and wine was 10/100, the chosen painting was 15 or 20/100, but the windmill and boat was 98/100. His conviction was remarkable. And even then, the presenter (Carol Vorderman, who for reasons unfathomable has managed to get something of a reputation for being a "scientist") was offering hints such as "You said it was a busy image," while actually tapping the chosen painting with her finger. I exaggerate not! But there was no changing his mind.

When told that it was the wrong one, he immediately began some desperate blustering about how cats and dogs had been a part of it, but was cut off due to time constraints. Fortunately, they had just enough time for the pro-telepathy scientist to comment on why it might not have worked, but sadly none for the skeptic in the studio (who remained level-headed and reasonable throughout).

The whole debacle finished with the two presenters attempting to round up the successes and failures of the evening, hopelessly latching on to the 30/34% results in the male/female test as their only live "significant" result.

It was a victory for statistics and common sense.

I've discovered that the "level-headed and reasonable" "skeptic" in the studio was Dr. Chris French of Goldsmith College, London, from whom I've requested a report on his participation and his opinions of the conduct of the program. Stay tuned.


Next week, some good Q-Ray news, those Ghost Photos — at last!, I get some chiropractic lumps, and astronaut Ed Lu spots a UFO...!


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