SYLVIA’S LATEST CLAPTRAP

A new book by the Unsinkable Sylvia – Secrets & Mysteries of the World – which according to the publisher's blurb,

…offers her psychic interpretation of unexplained curiosities such as crop circles and alien abductions; long-standing fables and legends about vampires, werewolves, and the Loch Ness monster; and the many remarkable wonders of our world including the Sphinx, Nazca Lines, and Ica Stones.

Well, lemme see, now… Crop circles are done by pranksters after school lets out, alien abductions only happen between tourists and bandits, the vampires, werewolves, and the Loch Ness Monster are – as she says – only fables, and the Sphinx, Nazca lines, and Ica stones have been explained long ago. So what might Sylvia be intending to “reveal” to us? We’re told that she uses

…a combination of information from her spirit guide Francine as well as her own incredible psychic powers

to do this. Google, or any good reference books, would do that well, too. I happen to have a few books of my own out there that are used for that purpose…

Browne can write – and sell! – more books about nothing, than anyone I know. Remarkable. But it sure interferes with her taking the test she promised to take 267 weeks ago! Damn! That’s more than five years! Surely she can slow down long enough to snap up our million bucks?

I guess not…

While we’re on this subject, reader Richard Murray did a Browne conversion on a colleague…

I would first like to express my joy that you are getting better after your recent illness. Glad to see that medical science has helped where quackery and magic would be unable to. I also thought I would take this opportunity to thank you for allowing me to enlighten (and slightly disillusion) a young colleague of mine.

It happened when I was chatting to a young apprentice at my place of work. She was happily telling me of all the chat shows she enjoyed watching, the likes of Trisha, Jeremy Kyle and Montel. When she mentioned Montel her eyes lit up and she asked me if I had seen a recent show with an incredible lady called... you guessed it, Sylvia Browne. She proceeded to recount how this wonderful lady was a true Psychic and had helped some of the members in the audience, expressing wonder at how more people didn’t know of her psychic gifts.

At this point I did begin a ten minute rant about how such people conned the gullible and took money from the many vulnerable people who were desperate to believe. After my speech, I began to explain how so-called psychics managed to convince others that they can speak to the dead, and pointed her in the direction of your excellent website.

I am delighted to say that she did listen and though she was disappointed that Ms. Browne turned out to be a fake, she was thoroughly disgusted at how people were being conned, and couldn’t understand how people could do such a thing or even that media companies would allow such people on the air. So a small victory for the rational, my young friend will now be able to avoid the charlatans and maybe take the things she sees on television, with a pinch of salt.

Thanks for the work you do, it really does help when someone can be directed to your website and through reading what they find there begin to look at the world in a slightly more rational way.




BOOTS ASKS FOR TRUST

Reader Carl Smith points out to us that Boots Pharmacy in the UK (see www.randi.org/jr/2006-04/042806boots.html#i1 and other references) has a new advertising slogan: "Trust Boots." As Carl succinctly comments, with typical British restraint, “Oh dear....”

Their latest plea for understanding includes:

We’re listening to our customers like never before, and working to give them what they want: a wide choice of own-brand products like No. 7 [make-up products such as “Luscious Lipcolour, Bronzing Powder, and Ultimate Defining Mascara”] and Soltan [UV-blocking cream]; imaginative product development; friendly service and good advice.

I was struck by “working to give [the customers] what they want,” and “imaginative product development.” Like a finger-ring that stops snoring, and homeopathy? Trust? I’d say, only within strict limits….




FEDERAL PANDERING TO SUPERSTITION

A reader notifies us:

I thought you'd be interested in this.  The Bureau of Printing offers "lucky" dollar bills with serial numbers which have "significance" to collectors in Chinese symbolism.  Sad to see the government being involved with nonsense like this. See www.bep.treas.gov/store/section.cfm/364.




TO STAY IN TOUCH

“Are We Alone?” is the name of the SETI Institute’s radio show, which you can access via podcast as “SETI: Science & Skepticism.” Go to www.seti.org/site/pp.asp?c=ktJ2J9MMIsE&b=687729 for details. They’re archived at www.seti.org/radio. On this show, you’ll find sensible, scientific views of this interesting question, handled by people like Phil Plait, Dava Sobel, Richard Dawkins, Frank Drake, and Robert Park – to name only a very few. Give it a listen!




MORE BLINDFOLD ACTS

I was informed by friend Richard Busch that a “Dr.” Bronnikov is now offering a discipline that will enable his students to see while blindfolded. Wait a minute! Have we heard of this before? Yes, scores of times, every time some academic comes upon children who have learned – by one means or the other – to perform the old peek-around-the-blindfold trick, and falls for it. The most recent one we’ve personally handled was the Lulova case, in which I spent several wasted hours in New York watching Natalia strain to get a glimpse of some printed matter after I’d properly attached a blindfold to her face. She was applying for the JREF million-dollar prize, and fell on her cute little nose trying to do so.

You can see this fatuous claim at www.bronnikovmethod.com/.

I wrote to Ms. Anna Shchennikova , secretary of the Bronnikov Method group:

This is to inform you that you can win the million-dollar prize of the James Randi Educational Foundation if you can produce the reading-while-blindfolded demonstration that you describe on your site.

Please refer to www.randi.org/research for information.

A reply came quickly:

Thank you for your message and proposed opportunity to win big money. We do not think that somebody from our specialists will agree to participate in such demonstration especially as the blindfolded-reading is not the aim of the Method, but only one of the consequences.

Regards, Anna Shchennikova

I fired back, my impatience with these people showing rather well:

I see. A million-dollar prize, you are telling me, is not something any of your students would like to have. Is that correct? It could be won inside of a half-hour, but no one cares, right? Then I suggest that you are intellectually challenged.

Anna replied:

This is up to you. You have a right to suggest whatever you like.

Dr. Bronnikov will be here (in Moscow) in the middle of May and actually I was going to show him your suggestion. He will decide does he wants to send somebody for demonstration or not. Then I think he would be interested in few questions:

1. Where demonstration must take place? Is it possible in Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg), or in Ukraine (Feodossija)?

2. What is the preliminary test? Is it the test for any abilities or the test for different devices, etc . ? Sorry, I did not understand this well from the rules.

3. Also I did not get well (because of my English) the term about $10,000. I read briefly your rules for claimants. If I understood right the tested person should pay $ 10.000 to apply (?) then it doesn't work in our case, I am doubting that anybody from our specialists will be able to pay.

I quickly answered:

1.  When we can find an appropriate representative in Russia who is qualified to conduct a test, it can be done there.  We are presently inquiring.

2. Any preliminary test involves the basic claim. In this case, the claim is that the student can see while blindfolded.

3. No fee or deposit is ever required by the JREF.  The US$10,000 refers to the initial payment that we will give immediately as soon as the positive test is performed.  The remaining US$990,000 will be paid as soon as the money transfer can be arranged.  You pay nothing, ever.

We are concerned here with only one claim made by Dr. Bronnikov: that a person can see while blindfolded.  We have tested over 100 people all over the world – mostly children from China, Mexico, Russia, and Japan – who said they could see while blindfolded. I refer you to www.randi.org/jr/021502.html (do a “search” for “Lulova”) and www.randi.org/jr/022202.html. Also see www.randi.org/encyclopedia/dermo-optical%20perception.html.

I assure you that we are very experienced with these demonstrations.  I believe that Dr. Bronnikov will show no interest in our proffered test, since these “powers” can easily be exposed as tricks.

I am forwarding this e-mail to a contact at Moscow State University, who will indicate whether or not he would be available to test a Bronnikov student.  I will inform you of the answer.

Folks, this is same old “peeking stunt” that we’ve tested so many times before. Bronnikov is using the same style of “blindfold” that we’re accustomed to. In the girl’s photo, a scrap of cloth has even been added to the nose-piece – which enables the peek to be done more easily, without tilting the head! – and in this adjacent photo, the kid even has his head tilted to accomplish the peek – see the red line for the line-of-sight! These “scientific” people appear to know no more about conjuring tricks than any of the others we tested, or they wouldn’t be running such give-away photos on their site!

We have received nothing from Anna in the two weeks since the last contact – nor from Dr. Valerii Kuvakin, of Moscow State University. We’ll keep you informed….




COURSE IN CODSWOLLOP 1?

The UK’s Coventry University is now offering a Master of Science degree course in parapsychology “looking at people's experience of the paranormal.” The director of this far-seeing (pun) course is Dr. Tony Lawrence, who says that it will be "controversial yet thought-provoking,” the focus being the "middle ground between religion and science.” I fail to see any middle ground there except a soggy bog…

Tony will give the fifteen post-graduate students starting the first course this autumn, "the chance to look into haunted houses, extra-sensory perception" and "the survival of bodily death." How that will be done, short of suicide for an "in-touch" experience, he didn’t say.

One offered example of how the investigations will be done: students will

…look at the paranormal using several scientific methods. For instance, some will investigate haunted houses, looking at statistics on which parts of buildings provide the most sightings.

Duh! This is a “scientific method"? For parapsychologists, perhaps, but not for real scientists. First, don’t assume that there is anything “paranormal” to be found. And that should be, I think, “some will investigate purportedly haunted houses.” And just what constitutes a “sighting”? Who – if anyone – validates it? Are reports – by just anyone – considered to be “sightings?” Does a cool breeze – often reported in old houses, for some reason still not understood (?) – make for a sighting, or just a feeling – or a simple draft? This sounds as if it could be one of those hugely over-instrumented, over-tuned, voyages into unreason that counts any seeming anomaly as an artifact, duly recorded and subjected to awe, without any “non-haunted” houses being offered and examined as “controls.”

Please, forgive my cynical “take” on this matter, but I’m all too aware of the way that these field-trips are usually conducted, though Dr. Lawrence might well surprise me by ignoring the slipshod ways that such investigations have been done in the past, and doing them properly. If so, I fear, students will come away having found nothing paranormal, but being much wiser…

The news release on this great step forward in education quotes Dr. Lawrence:

We've got to look at what people are experiencing. No one has bothered to look, so people's view of the world has been divided into two components: the secular and humanist, and the religious… We've got to look at the middle ground, otherwise all you have is Richard Dawkins (professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University) or the Pope.

Hold on. No one has bothered to look? You mean you haven't noticed the endless stream of TV programs specifically dedicated to what people report re the paranormal? And, I suggest that first sentence should read, “We've got to look at what people say or believe they are experiencing.” As a magician, I know full well how badly people can – and will – report experiences. Any number of times, I’ve sat in awe listening to a person of fair intelligence and perception, describing what he honestly thinks he saw a magician do – in person or on TV – and I all the time knowing that the description is quite wrong. In some cases, the description has been of something that I myself performed, making it all the more interesting.

And, in my opinion, though an effort should certainly be made to examine that “middle ground,” it should not be assumed that “what people are experiencing” actually took place, no matter how well their story has developed. Dr. Lawrence has an excellent opportunity here to teach the real world to students, though I feel they’ll consider themselves cheated if there isn’t a woo-woo aspect to it all…




SOME CLAIMS

Reader Florian Kren observes:

I had a look at the website of the "Health Ranger" you mentioned in your last commentary, at www.healthranger.org. Among other things he claims:

After undergoing my own health transformation, I found myself:

1. Photo-reading books at the speed of one page per second.

2. Instantly grasping the "big picture" of any concept, including quantum computing, nanotechnology, homeopathy, the politics of medicine, etc.

3. Automatically remembering long numbers like my credit card numbers for multiple cards.

4. Seeing the world with unprecedented clarity understanding, for the first time, what's really going on out there.

5. Gaining new control over my own mind and emotions.

6. Learning advanced physical skills. I took up gymnastics training at the age of 34.

7. Mastering new mental skills like the study of foreign languages.

8. Greatly accelerating my speed of thinking, writing, and creating new things.

Most of the above cannot be tested, except for his reading one page per second. Wouldn't that be enough, reading a unknown 1000-page book in 20 minutes and afterwards being able to answer what happens on ten different pages, with randomly generated page numbers?

Florian, a few observations here, if I may. Yes, #1 can certainly – easily – be tested, except that he doesn’t say anything about whether he’ll remember or even understand anything that he’s “read.” That would have to be part of the statement. And, I don’t see any claim he makes about being able to answer inquiries about any specific pages – you need to find out, first, what he’s actually claiming.

As for claim #2, I myself “instantly grasped” the truth about homeopathy, though I suspect his and my opinions would differ. This is not, in its present form, testable – and that goes for #5, #6, and #8. No person of sound mind would claim #4, but #3 and #7 are obviously readily testable.

Even nicer test would be in combination with claim 2 (assuming "big picture" includes "understanding"): The knowledge, that is in principle necessary for passing master exams in Physics in Germany is about 15 Books with 500 pages each. The test would be simple, he gets the books in the morning and in the afternoon has to pass the normal exams, which should be easy with a photographic memory of all relevant physic books and a complete understanding of the topic.

Again, Florian, he’s made no claim that he can do this, so it’s not something you could force on him. Asking a pianist to play the violin, is not fair.

Do you think, someone should inform the "Health Ranger" about this quick one day towards one million?

In regard to claim #1, as soon as he’s cleared up what – if anything – he understands and/or retains after “photo reading” a book, he can be tested, as he can for #3 and #7. But don’t hold your breath waiting for him to apply. He won’t.




MAGICAL CHANGE OF ADDRESS

We’re told that business at San Francisco's venerable Channel 4 TV – KRON – hasn't been very good lately. Their advertising income is down, their shows are lagging in the ratings, and parent company Young Broadcasting – which spent $825 million to buy KRON in 2000 – is in a financial crisis. Ah, but recourse to modern thinking and logic will save the day for KRON!

You see, the street address for KRON was 1001 Van Ness Avenue. The astrologer for one of the station executives advised that 1001 is a bad number for business, so the station's executives – admittedly a brain trust! – consulted an East Bay astro-numerologist named Jesse Kalsi to provide a "patch," which is numerology double-speak for “repairing a bad number.” The result of this high-powered assistance? Well, what you now see over the KRON door is the number 1001552, though they’re right next door to 1003 Van Ness, leaving some 1,000,549 real estate spaces in limbo somewhere. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Programming Director Pat Patton, who says he brought in the psychic with the approval of the station management, says:

Obviously, there are skeptics who think it's a bunch of hooey, but I can tell you things seem to have improved since the change…

The change of number happened in January, and Patton insists that not only has the independent station announced a network affiliation deal with Rupert Murdoch's MyNetworkTV to begin in September, but also "morale is better; people seem happier." He even thinks business is improving, a notion that is denied from an examination of Young Broadcasting’s latest quarterly financial reports, which showed that the company lost a whopping $91 million last year.

Recently departed former KRON news producer Kevin McCormick speaks sooth among all the mystical mutterings. Says he about this number-change:

It encapsulates the absurdity of the place that a numerologist could influence a decision to alter the street address of a television station.

The numerologist, Jesse Kalsi, is said to specialize in helping businesses in trouble. He also says he’s clairvoyant, surely a rare and powerful combination of talents. Programming Director Pat Patton says that Kalsi made a believer of him several months ago; he "patched" his apartment after Patton's girlfriend complained about the "negative energy" there. Gotta fear that negative energy!

And the dedication of KRON to astrologer/clairvoyant Kalsi is paying dividends. The programming boss says he's entertaining the idea of finding a permanent on-air gig for him. Hey, the public will accept anything that Larry King or Montel Williams offers, so why not a guy who’ll remove curses by changing your address number? Without realizing the built-in joke, Director Patton says of this promotion, "We'll see what the future holds." Sure.




NORWEGIAN “HEALER” CONVICTED

Norwegian reader Ragnar L. Børsheim reports on a conviction in his country:

A 39-year-old “healer” named Jan Tore Andersen from Lillestrøm, eastern Norway, was recently sentenced by the Norwegian High Court to sixty days in prison and a penalty of NOK50,000 (US$8,300) in damages to a victim. He was also forbidden to ever work as a healer again after poisoning the woman with a potassium compound. He’d had earlier convictions for illegal possession of narcotics, for illegal import of drugs, and for acts of violence.

In mid-April of 2003, the victim had an inflammation of her arm and consulted the "healer." He lightly touched parts of her body and gave her potassium tablets, telling her she had a potassium deficiency. She took ten of these, resulting in life-threatening poisoning. She almost died, but was revived after the efforts of her family, then the ambulance and hospital's medical staff. However, she’d suffered brain damage.

The Norwegian High Court lowered the original sentencing of five months in prison on a technicality; the case had taken too long a time in the legal system.

Randi comments: though depending on the severity of the brain damage, this seems to me a very light sentence. When will people learn not to put their trust in quacks? Does it take this degree of damage to convince them?




THE USPTO AGAIN

Reader Rebecca Watson, of Skepchicks www.skepchick.org/blog, follows up on our critique of the US patent system with this novel possibility offered by a “peer review” idea that might take some of the pressure experienced by the system….

Last November, the United States Patent Office issued patent number 6,960,975 to Boris Volfson of Huntington, Indiana for a spaceship that bends space and time in order to defy gravity. Read through it with the knowledge that someone working for the United States government gave it the old thumbs up.

This year, there are approximately 500,000 patent applications waiting to be approved. The Patent Office predicts this number will increase to 600,000 by next year. The average examiner spends about 25 hours reviewing each application, though most companies must wait an average of three years to get an approval. With a dwindling staff and an ever-growing backlog of applications, it’s no wonder that pseudoscience like Volfson’s anti-gravity vehicle manage to sneak through, securing a disturbing level of credibility with their official recognition.

The Patent Office recognizes a growing problem and is taking steps to improve the process. Granted, they are more concerned with the issue of vaguely worded and derivative (read: lawsuit-worthy) patents getting through than they are with the approval of inventions that just don’t work. The only two stated requirements to get a patent as of right now are novelty and non-obviousness — scientific validity takes a back seat but presumably could be used as a reason for rejection.

That’s the way it has to be with the present system. A patent, in reality, is a legal tool to protect an original idea, and not an official government endorsement of a product. Sadly, the latter is exactly how the general public sees it, which is why I believe that it would behoove us all to take a dual approach by first educating the public on the limits of what a patent does and then reforming the approval process so that we reject the most absurd and unproven pseudoscience.

One way this might be feasible is through the Peer to Patent Project, a system that would allow a peer review process on applications in order to take a huge load off overworked and possibly undereducated (on the specific issues of each patent) Patent Office. IBM has stepped up to be first in line with its own patents, which bodes well for a larger scale institution. Not only would this process help stop redundant and obvious patent applications at their infancy, but it could be a way to weed out the pseudoscience before it clogs up the system and gains legitimacy.

I’m interested to see where this goes, and if eventually we’d be able to fight to rescind the patents of thousands of frauds who are using the designation to shill their products, from Q-Rays to cold fusion to free energy.

For further reading, check out this article from InformationWeek in February 2006, The U.S. Patent System in Crisis by Eric Chabrow.




PLEASE NO PHOTOS!

Reader Aaron Drabbit reports the latest inanity from Canada. You should know that the Hutterites are a pacifist, communal, religious movement with 472 communities all over the world. In the USA, they were persecuted for their pacifist attitude during World War I. As a result, 17 of the 18 then-existing American colonies moved to the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

A southern Alberta Hutterite community that believes the Bible forbids being photographed has won a court challenge against mandatory pictures on driver's licenses, though a provincial law passed in 2003 requires that all new licenses include a photograph. Some Hutterites believe that the Second Commandment prohibits them from willingly having their picture taken. Note the word, “willingly.” This leads me to suggest that someone sneak up on an applicant, snap a photo of him, willy-nilly, and secretly give it to the license agency, so the Hutterite will not be guilty, but could still be identified!

As a result of this brouhaha, the number of licensed drivers in the community dwindled from 37 to 15. How about letting natural selection take over here? An official stressed that pictures are key tools to prevent identity theft, in a province that has – except for the Hutterite citizens – one of the most secure driver's licenses in North America.

I ask again: when will we grow up?




BONE vs. ROCK

Reader Stuart Whitmore has observed something that got right by me. Quoting from Dr. Vass’ assertion at www.randi.org/jr/2006-05/050506imminent.html#i2, he points out an obvious error:

"... it [his dowsing rod] does in fact work with pigs (even found some dinosaur bones)..."

Those must be unique properties indeed! It is my understanding that no dinosaur bones have ever been found, because dinosaur fossils are not bone, they are rock (i.e., the minerals that have replaced the bone). So not only can his dowsing find bones, it can distinguish one rock from another.

Fascinating... With that ability, he wouldn't need the Million Dollar Challenge, he could make much more in the mining industry.

Now why didn’t I spot that…?




FILIPINO JUSTICE

I spent some time in the Philippine Islands years ago, working night clubs. That was before Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda of the 1,060 pairs of shoes, were in power, but I became aware of how “informal” the judicial system was even then, when several friends came up against it and were only allowed to leave the islands after large cash bribes were openly paid to appropriate officials, all the way to the boarding gate at the airport. Strange standards in that part of the world were part of the atmosphere in which everyone lived. Now a new level of strangeness has been reached, though this time it appears that the government has effectively handled the matter.

A Filipino trial judge in the northern section of Manila, Florentino Floro, was fired last month and fined 40,000 pesos (US$775) after a three-year investigation found that he’d claimed he could see into the future and admitted that he consulted privately with mystical magic dwarfs. He now argues that his personal beliefs were being questioned. Yes, I’d say that’s true. He told investigators that the invisible dwarfs – Armand, Luis and Angel – helped him carry out “healing sessions” during breaks in his chambers.

The firing was not only based on his delusions; the court also found that Judge Floro was incompetent, and had shown bias in a case he was trying. The dwarfs were only an added flavor to the case. The court made no effort to decide whether Floro was insane, but agreed with a clinic's finding that he was suffering from psychosis. Really?

Dear reader, I hope that you don’t chuckle too loudly at what must appear to be an example of naivety or outright superstition among the population of the Islands. I have several good friends there, competent and educated, though I regret that the skeptical community there is no longer actively organized. But right here in the USA, and in the UK, professional “psychics” work the populace, the administrations in both countries are headed by people who talk to deities, educational standards are being eroded by the admission of irrational “faith-based” notions, blatantly quack medicine is freely available to all, and television is packed with “psychics,” spook shows and “documentaries” that pander to public credulity. The major difference between here and the Philippines is the number of persons who labor under the delusions, not the magnitude of the errors themselves.

As if to emphasize the lack of a skeptical community in the Philippines, a reader has asked if I’ll appeal to anyone there who would provide skeptical company to him… He says it’s lonely there for him, without much rational behavior being obvious…. If you are resident in the Islands, have a generally skeptical attitude, and would like to be in touch with this man, contact me, please.




ENJOY!

Please, go to http://tinyurl.com/kxj8n and see an ego strained to the bursting point. It’s hard to believe, but Uri Geller – he’s the spoon-bender that you may recall – has put up an event on E-Bay, “Tea with Uri Geller at [his] UK Estate & Spoon Bending Session.” The bidding – at this moment of writing – is at £1,200. The major reason for my sending you to this URL is so that you can enjoy reading about the truly strange and wonderful delusion under which Mr. Geller still appears to labor – that his fatuous claims of supernatural powers have been “validated” by scientific authorities. In tune with his usual hyperbolic approach, expressions like "irrefutable proof" and “positive thought waves” flavor the “Biography” that accompanies this generous offering to the UK public, the “total proceeds” of which, we’re assured, will go to the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

There’s one caveat to the auction prize, however. It’s "Subject to Uri's travel schedule, which may mean up to 1 year wait for the experience to take place.” Think of the burden of eager anticipation this places on the winner! Geller’s busy schedule must be simply jammed with matters of great import, we’re sure…

And, in the imaginative “biography,” we learn that both “scientists who worked with Albert Einstein” and “the world's most prestigious scientific magazine, Nature,” provide “a unique endorsement” of Geller’s supernatural claims, a statement that will surprise both Nature and those scientists concerned. Certainly, Nature Magazine never suffered from any such fantasy, criticizing the article in their own editorial accompanying the piece. Stanford Research Institute, questioned concerning that stirring “endorsement,” are profoundly silent. Why?

We also read, in this liberal preening of his image, that up until now the fabulous "[FBI and CIA] aspect of [Geller’s] career was too confidential and controversial to discuss.” Say not so! I – and many others – have had no problems discussing those matters, in depth…

So, enjoy this Comedy of Errors, and be instructed thereby. I note that as time – that inescapable element we are all subject to – passes, the truth manages to emerge from popular delusions, and those who seek to perpetuate myths, find their claims drained of content. To quote from old Bill Shakespeare:

Time is a very bankrupt, and owes more than he's worth to season.
Nay, he's a thief, too: have you not heard men say,
That time comes stealing on by night and day?

The Comedy of Errors, Act IV, Scene II, by William Shakespeare.




IN CONCLUSION…

The “puzzle” last week wasn’t much of a problem for our readers. Of the 466 responses received, 424 voted for #3 – L. Ron Hubbard. Only twelve readers thought it was #2 – The Onion, and the other thirty opted for #1 – Alan Sokal. Yes, that was an excerpt from a Scientology tirade by Hubbard, and made as much sense as most of his religious meanderings. I suggest you go to www.xenu.net to see more…

Reader Mike Marsh summed up the reasoning that most correct respondents used:

It's not written in academic style, so it clearly can't be Sokal's paper. It's also not written in newspaper style, to which the Onion adheres pretty well, so it can't be from there. We're then left with Hubbard's typically unstructured and unintentionally comical style.

Okay, a confession: I substituted another word for "theta" because that would have surely given away the author, who was VERY fond of that Greek letter...

Folks, what really got to me was the fact that less than half of you responded as I specifically requested — to use the heading “Answer to Puzzle.” That was surely a simple request which would have made the job of processing the responses much easier for me. That was a surprising lapse, since I tend to think of my readers as capable of following instructions…

Reader Ketil Tveiten comments on our German translation of “divining rod,” telling us that

In Norwegian, the term for a divining rod is 'Ønskekvist,' translating directly as “wishing twig,” or “wishing stick” if you will. You may go on making your joke, you just have to change the language!

And, to close, Doug Krueger, Philosophy Instructor at Northwest Arkansas Community College, writes to remind me that there are much funnier “spirit guide” names than “Hilarion.” He says:

Randi, it’s hard to beat one of the oldies, Joseph Smith’s personal angel, Moroni.  Honestly, how long does someone have to sit in a Mormon pew before he or she can think of "Moroni” with a straight face?

I dunno, Doug. This is a project to be pursued….!