TV3 on 20/20 at 8.30pm on Monday 19/06/95 screened an American story titled “A State of Mind”. Extravagant claims were made about the medical significance of hypnosis and its therapeutic uses. One doctor claimed that up to 50% of her patients could be cured by hypnosis. I have just completed a course in rehabilitation studies at Massey University. The course text book had an interesting summary on hypnosis.

“Despite evidence that the use of hypnosis can produce analgesia for acute pain such as that experienced during surgery and childbirth (Hilgard & Hilgard, 1986), studies of the effects of hypnosis on experimentally induced pain and on chronic pain show no reliable evidence that it is more effective than that oldest of remedies for pain, the placebo procedure. For example, Melzack and Perry (1975) analysed the effects of hypnosis on patients suffering from a variety of chronic pain problems, such as low back, arthritis and cancer. An average pain reduction of 22% was achieved, which was not significantly greater than the 14% reduction obtained in placebo baseline sessions. In summary, hypnosis itself does not have a sufficiently powerful effect on clinical chronic pain to be considered a reliable and useful therapy. Merskey (1983) concluded that hypnosis is not worth using in anyone with a pain of physical origin and very rarely in patients with pain which is psychological in origin (p39).”

Text quote was taken from:

Young, M. (1991) Chronic pain and the rehabilitation process. In B. Hesketh and A. Adam’s (Eds), Psychological Perspectives on Occupational Health and Rehabilitation. (pp376) Marrickville, NSW; Harcourt Brace Jovanich

Andrew Hart, Tauranga

Magic Mushrooms Materialise

The extract quoted from the Marlborough Express by Dr John Welch regarding magic mushrooms in Fiji [Hokum Locum, Skeptic 36] is most interesting. They are well and truly established in New Zealand! I first heard about them a year ago from an elderly woman in Rotorua. At the time they were called Manchurian mushrooms and she assured me they were associated with Shangri-La as featured in Lost Horizons (book and film) and were connected with eternal youth. She swore by the efficacy of the brew and was quite upset when I asked where they were purchased. It is all done by giving and receiving, not by commercial transaction.

A sheet of instructions goes with each gift. The mushroom must be treated kindly. It must be talked to gently. If bad behaviour occurs near by (swearing, fighting) it will die. When the mother mushroom has budded off a daughter ready for the next brew the old one must be buried under a fruit tree.

I returned to Auckland convinced that life beyond the Bombay Hills was primitive indeed. A few weeks later I was with a group of young mothers several of whom were exchanging ideas about their Manchurian mushrooms and I have since learned that in the offices of several Auckland firms dealing with modern technologies that the mushrooms are all the rage.

I guess the concoction is no worse or more effective than the yeast brew willingly swallowed by me in the 1940s for a few months to combat adolescent pimples. After a few years the pimples went. Proof positive indeed!

P. Williams, Auckland

EDTA Chelation

I am at least as skeptical about the methodology and results of the EDTA chelation trial in Dunedin as I am about the efficacy of the treatment. The trial involved only 32 people, 15 in the treatment group and 17 in the control group, which I would have thought was rather too few to produce definitive results.

A doctor friend of mine, who runs a chelation clinic, tells me that he had to engage the services of the Ombudsman to obtain a copy of the raw data. Why was it not readily available? He says the results were published in the Circulation Journal of the US. Heart Association and the conclusion reached that, as 60% (9/15) of the treatment group and 58% (10/17) of the control group achieved an increase in walking distance, chelation was no more effective than placebo. His analysis of the raw data produced a different conclusion:

  1. 26% (4/15) of the treatment group compared with only 12% (2/17) of the control group achieved 100% increase in walking distance;
  2. Of the non-smokers and those who had stopped smoking (six in each group continued to smoke tobacco) 66% (6/9) in the treatment group improved with an average of 86% increase in distance walked compared with 45% (5/11) in the control group with an average increase of 56% in distance walked; and
  3. Only 6% (1/15) of the treatment group showed a decrease in blood flow to the feet by Doppler measurement compared with 35% (6/17) of the control group.

My friend claims that independent statistical analysis of these results confirmed a 95% confidence factor.

In deference to my medical friend, my wife and I submitted ourselves to the minimum 21 EDTA chelation treatments two and a half years ago. I was in good health but my wife suffered high blood pressure and had been told she should take appropriate medication for the rest of her life. Following chelation her blood pressure fell to a marginal level and has remained so without medication. I can vouch for the fact that pre-chelation her lower legs and feet were freezing when she came to bed whereas since chelation they are warm.

Science, being a human pursuit, is sometimes the victim of human failings. I recall my time amid about 70 agricultural research scientists who tended to debunk what, in their own fields, they could not explain. So a lady farmer who claimed that zinc supplementation was effective in the prevention of facial eczema was derided until her persistence led to official trials. Eventually she was proved correct and awarded the OBE for her work.

The controversy over chelation admits at least the possibility of less innocent human failings. It should be no secret that the “heart industry” includes a very powerful and very wealthy international lobby of vested interests. Those who supply the expensive drugs, equipment and surgery would lose much if research into other, simpler, less expensive and less glamorous procedures proved fruitful. Likewise the researchers have their substantial funding to lose.

Chelation is accepted practice for the removal of heavy metals from the bloodstream, but not for removal of the plaque which clogs arteries. Could in vitro laboratory experiments not establish the effect of EDTA on plaque?

Alan McWilliam, Rotorua

Stir Signs

National Radio has scored a first by becoming the first public, non-commercial radio service in the English-speaking world to feature regular astrological advice. Every Monday evening around 8:40 pm Wayne Mowat and Linda Rose make fools of themselves by asking an astrologer earnest questions about listeners’ fate for the coming week.

It’s perhaps the most singularly embarrassing offering we’ve heard on National Radio. Besides, the character description for the various star signs are altogether too smarmy and flattering (you know: you’re ambitious, brave, intelligent, trustworthy, loving, tender, brilliant, sexy, generous, spiritual, etc.).

In case you’re interested, here is the real story of the various star signs, courtesy of an unknown Internet poster:

The Real Horoscope

AQUARIUS (Jan 20-Feb 18)
You have an inventive mind and are inclined to be progressive. You lie a great deal. You are inclined to be careless and impractical, causing you to make the same mistakes over and over. People think you are stupid.

PISCES (Feb 19-Mar 20)
You have a vivid imagination and often think you are being followed by the CIA. You have minor influence over your associates and people resent you for your flaunting of power. You lack confidence and are generally a coward. Pisces people giggle while burning ants with magnifying glasses.

ARIES (Mar 21-Apr 19)
You are the pioneer type and hold most people in contempt. You are quick tempered, impatient and scornful of advice. You are not very nice. You belong at the head of a combat unit on the way to a massacre.

TAURUS (Apr 20-May 20)
You are practical and persistent. You have dogged determination and work like hell. Most people think you are stubborn and bullheaded. You are. Upon being sacked from a job you are likely to return with an assault rifle.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20)
You are quick and intelligent. You are inclined to expect too much or too little. This means you are cheap. You put pebbles in a blind man’s cup.

CANCER (June 21-July 22)
You are sympathetic and understanding of other people’s problems. They think you are a sucker. You are always putting things off. That’s why you’ll never make anything of yourself. You bought Equiticorp shares at $9.97.

LEO (July 23-Aug 22)
You consider yourself a born leader. Others think you are pushy. Most Leo people become bullies. You are vain and dislike criticism. Most Leo people are thieves. You sold Brierley shares at 75 cents. To your mother.

VIRGO (Aug 23-Sept 22)
You are the logical type and hate disorder. This nit-picking is sickening to your friends. You are cold and unemotional and would rather fall asleep than make love. Virgos are good bus drivers. The books in your bookcase are arranged alphabetically.

LIBRA (Sept 23-Oct 22)
You are the artistic type and have a difficult time with reality. Chances for employment and monetary gains are slim. You talk a lot to yourself. You have to. Everyone else has stopped listening.

SCORPIO (Oct 23-Nov 21)
You are shrewd in business and cannot be trusted. You will achieve the pinnacle of success because of your total lack of ethics. Many Scorpio people are murdered by someone they know.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov 22-Dec 21)
You are optimistic and enthusiastic. You have a reckless tendency to rely on luck since you lack talent. The majority of Sagittarians are drunks or substance abusers. People laugh at you a great deal.

CAPRICORN (Dec 22-Jan 19)
You are conservative and afraid of taking risks. You don’t do much of anything and are lazy. There has never been a Capricorn of any importance. Capricorns should avoid standing too long in one place, as someone might paint them by mistake.



As a subscriber to your magazine, I am concerned by the general trends evident in the statements made by a number of your contributors. For example, in the last issue Mr Wyant complained about “whinging leftists”, while Dr Welch claimed that “our own welfare state is a classic illustration of this problem” (i.e., assumed dependency).

While I understand that these and other similar views are the writers’ personal opinions, the general impression is that your organisation is biased towards the ideology of the “New Right”. Is this true and can you assure me that you have no links to political groups such as ACT?

M. Muir, Auckland

Diversity Reigns

From my experience at conferences and meetings of the Skeptics, I am reasonably assured that our organisation represents a diverse range of views, most of which tend to be volubly expressed.

Like all organisations, the main impression one may get of the Skeptics stems from the public face the organisation presents through the newsletter and through media commentary by our officers. Our diversity is celebrated even here, with Owen McShane (Skeptic editor) being an ACT supporter and Denis Dutton (the previous editor and our media spokesperson) being a founding supporter of Future New Zealand. As for the Chair-entity (yours truly), I remain skeptical of party politics and loath to vote along party lines, so will probably exercise my rights and responsibilities in becoming a McGillicuddy Serious list voter, in the belief that they, at least, will bring a little humour into the House.

Politically, NZCSICOP members as a whole range from traditional socialists to those I consider slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun, the major exception being a lack of ultra-orthodox politically correct adherents. It’s much the same as the religious/spiritual expressions in the society, which seem to lack only the true fundamentalists. I believe that both exceptions are a result of the tendency for the ideologies involved to discourage their followers from thinking critically. That (and a sense of humour) seem to be the only common factors amongst members of the Skeptics.

Vicki Hyde Chair-entity, NZCSICOP

NaCl PC?

“I believe that this data sheet [urging stringent precautions in the use of NaCl] does not represent a simple error of judgement but unfortunately reflects an ideology which holds that all ‘chemicals’ are bad…” — PC Chemistry in the Classroom, Skeptic 35.

Well, I’m still a skeptic. What is the evidence for this belief? How about a mistake? Ian Milner of Carina Laboratories (source of the original story) told me the precautions for a variety of chemicals are identical, and he thinks what looks like hyper-caution is just the result of “sloth”. After all, even the most airheaded New Ager has handled table salt in the home (before they saw the light and switched to kelp) without absurd precautions. For the life of me I can’t see how both the ideology that all “chemicals” are bad and the mainstream science that warns of global warming can both be “PC”. I find my thinking a lot clearer if I don’t use the wretched expression at all.

In his reply to my letter in the same issue, Owen McShane quotes me as saying there has been “a long and significant silence on the subject of plunder etc.” A glance at my letter will show I was referring to rape and plunder. Will Mr McShane deny that there has been a long and significant silence on the subject of rape? Or that there was a long silence about the plunder of Aotearoa/New Zealand from the Maori? Mr McShane gives a long list of notables who have “thundered against tyranny, slavery and despotism in all its forms.” Can we have chapter and verse from Aristotle, Epictetus (Who?), Aquinas or Plutarch against slavery? From any of them for equality of the sexes or against homophobia? I know that’s unreasonable, but he did say “all its forms.”

Mr McShane offers new unsupported allegations: that he might lose his job if he made a particular statement, that “US…universities now accept and even encourage so-called scholarship which seeks to rewrite history so as to deny that there are any good tales to be told.” History is always being rewritten as new facts come to light and earlier historians’ prejudices become clear, and in my limited understanding of history, its study is more than just the telling of “good” or bad “tales”. The University of Michigan’s Speech Code seems to have been intended to prevent abusive speech in the classroom. Is there something wrong with that? If it went beyond that brief, well, the court seems to have put it right. Mr McShane wants to rely on “tolerance, good manners and the normal standards of civilised behaviour”. So do I, but nowadays, whenever these are extended towards minorities more than they were in “the good old days”, the effect is derided as “Political Correctness” as a sneaky way of doing those minorities down without seeming to.

Hugh Young, Pukerua Bay

The Editor Replies

(About NaCl)

You are quite right; I was expressing no more than a personal belief, which is why I asked for some evidence from our readers, such as my suggested example that Sea Salt is regarded as more benign than NaCl.

The point regarding PC is also nicely made. It may be more accurate to propose that promoting chemophobia is Politically Correct, while criticising the science which warns of global warming is Politically Incorrect. (As our Minister of Science made clear when he attacked the “Centre for Independent Studies” for sponsoring the visit of Professor Lindzen, because it would confuse the public.)

(About rape and plunder)

I confess to reading Mr Young’s reference to “rape and plunder” in the sense of “pillage and plunder”. However sexual rape has been a crime through most of history even if some verses of the Old Testament seem to take a lenient view of it. In recent years the courts and legal system have taken a much more enlightened view of the reality of rape but this contemporary movement towards justice and equity began long before the current PC movement — I remember lively arguments in the late fifties. And I am sure earlier generations have made their own contributions.

Similarly I have been reading about the plunder of Aotearoa/ Maori for as long as I remember. Dick Scott wrote his Ask that Mountain — the Story of Parihaka twenty years ago in 1975, while Eric Schimmer’s symposium The Maori People in the Sixties (published in 1968) records King Tawhuai saying “Truly I am this day seeking wherein the Maori has been at fault. The Pakeha on the other hand has done one misdeed after another against the Maori. He, the Pakeha, has indeed made me suffer. Tomorrow will come his day of reckoning and great will surely be his distress.” There was never a silence. It’s just for many years there were no Maori lawyers to transform such thoughts into action.

I suspect that even Mr Young knows that I was not claiming that each and every one of these dead white (or tinted) males thundered against each and every form of tyranny. But in total they have. For example, Euripides thundered against rape, pillage and plunder in The Suppliant Women, The Trojan Women, Hecuba, and Andromache back in the sixth century BC. More recently, John Stewart Mill (with his wife Harriet) wrote On the Equality of Woman. Homophobia will surely be recorded as a curious and temporary aberration when considered against the total course of human history; hence many philosophers of the past never felt the need to thunder against something which they never experienced.

My point about the Michigan State University was that it should not take a district court to remind a University of its need to protect free speech.

Some red-necks might deride the extension of good manners towards minorities as Political Correctness. Such behaviour is as despicable as using such good intentions to cloak suppression of legitimate questioning and debate. We should put up with neither.

De Tocqueville made the point that the best intentioned reforms are often seized upon by others with less noble intent. I genuinely believe that if Mr Young and I were exposed to both expressions of political correctness we would find ourselves in agreement as to which were which.

Owen McShane, Editor

Professor Mack and his Amazing Abducting Aliens

An abridged version of the Skeptical Enquirer’s report of the session dealing with “alien abductions” at the Seattle CSICOP Conference on “The Psychology of Belief”

Many of us have been reading articles or commentaries regarding alien abductions and have just wished that someone of real authority would take up the issue and give it a thorough scientific once over. Most of us were encouraged when we learned that John Mack, award winning Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, had taken on the task.

So it was with some surprise that we found that his work Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens proclaims Professor Mack’s beliefs that many of his patients have been abducted by aliens — and that he is now the most famous spokesman for this cause.

He vigorously defended his claims at the conference and worried some of the audience by suggesting that other cultures have always known there are other realities, other beings, other dimensions. There is a world of other dimensions, of other realities that can cross over into our own world.

Which realities, beings and dimensions he did not say. One would have expected Professor Mack’s work to at least have been well founded in scientific methodology. But this assumption took a bit of a knock when Donna Bassett, a researcher who had participated in the Professor’s research programme, was called up to the platform to speak.

At first Bassett seemed to indicate that she was one of Mack’s genuine abductees. But she quickly announced that since September 1992 she had been only posing as one in order to infiltrate Mack’s project and learn about his research methods.

“I faked it! Women have been doing it for centuries!” she said.

Ms Bassett reported that Professor Mack’s procedures were flawed and he used little or no scientific methodology. During therapy sessions patients would often get together to embellish their stories. They told Professor Mack what he wanted to hear. Of course her most telling point was that the Professor’s research methods had failed to identify that this “patient” was “faking it”.

Needless to say Professor Mack responded in the expected manner.

I am (deeply?) saddened by this…

I am a little bit clearer about this when I am told that [Bassett] was found to play this role by Philip Klass [of the CSICOP Executive Council] — since that’s his purpose, to destroy and undercut the credibility of this work.

That’s right. Sadly indeed for Professor Mack’s on-going future as a TV chat show guest, that’s what science is about.

There were a few more heated exchanges until Robert Baker ended the session on a humorous note by recommending a new direction for this line of research. He explained :

Sixty-nine percent of Americans believe in angels, and 32% claim they have had contact with them. Now that’s a lot better than for alien abductions. I think we ought to investigate angels…

Out of the Mouths of Babes and Sucklings…

An article in the Tucson Citizen, May 18, 1994, about a teacher in Chicago tells a frightening cautionary tale. An extract follows:

Fourth-grader Pays Peers to Testify Against Teacher

(Classmates get $1 each for falsely accusing the man of molesting them.)

CHICAGO– When 11 fourth-graders accused their substitute teacher of molesting them, authorities were ready to believe them. Even the teacher agreed that children so young rarely lie about such things. This time, they did lie — prodded, police say, by a classmate who had offered them $1 apiece to accuse the teacher falsely.

“What’s so scary — and so sad — is that you’ve got 9-year old kids sophisticated enough to know they can get a teacher by saying he fondled them,” Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman Jackie Gallagher said. “You just don’t want to think that our little kids who you’re still reading nursery rhymes to are figuring they’re going to stick it to their teacher.”

Albert Thompson told police his class at Fuller Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side became unruly during his May 9 assignment. He said some children ran out of the classroom, and he had to stand by the door to keep others inside. When Thompson threatened to report their misbehaviour, a 9-year-old girl offered to pay 10 classmates — nine girls and a boy — $1 each if they joined her in claiming that Thompson fondled them, police said.

Thompson, 43, never was charged. Police cleared him after some of the children made inconsistent statements and one admitted they had made up the story to get him in trouble. The 9-year-old also recanted, police said.

But he hasn’t gotten another teaching assignment. “We’re in a society where you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Thompson said yesterday. Political correctness and children’s rights “override my rights,” he said.

CSICOP Conference Proceedings

Thanks to a member who was present, we now have a set of audiotapes which record the complete proceedings of the 1994 CSICOP Conference in Seattle, on The Psychology of Belief

Topics discussed include: Alien Abductions, Anomalies of Perception, Memory, CSICOP and the Law, Beliefs in the Courtroom, Conspiracy Theories.

Speakers include Paul Kurtz, Philip Klass, Susan Blackmore, John Maddox, Carl Sagan, Elizabeth Loftus and other illustrious Skeptics.

Members are invited to obtain a detailed list from the Secretary (Bernard Howard, 150 Dyers Pass Road, Christchurch), who is prepared to negotiate loans of individual tapes.

A Reflection on Changing Times

The following extract from William Doyle’s Oxford History of the French Revolution (pp 64-65) reminds us that things change but things remain the same.

The final sentence reminds us that widespread restlessness, pseudo-science and general foolishness may have tragic consequences:

America appealed, in fact, to what Jean-Joseph Mounier, one of the leading [French] revolutionaries of 1789 would later remember as “as general restlessness and desire for change”. It manifested itself in the vogue for wonders of all sorts, whether Franklin”s lightning rod, or the first manned flights in the hot-air balloons seen rising over so many cities in 1783 and 1784, or a craze for mesmerism and miraculous cures effected by tapping the supposedly hidden natural forces of “animal magnetism”. Established religion might be losing its mystic appeal, but science was bringing other miracles to light.

Belief in plots and conspiracies was yet another sign of the credulity of the times. The same cast of mind also tended to seek simple, universal formulae to resolve any problem, no matter how complex. Its limitations would be tragically exposed in the storm that was about to break.


PC for Me, See?

“US Universities, cringing under a wave of Political Correctness and an extreme form of “multi-culturalism” are abandoning programmes which present the history of Western Civilisation as anything other than the history of the rape and plunder of minorities and other victims by a conspiracy of middle-class white males.” (“The Challenge to Reason”, Skeptic 34.)

Well I’m a skeptic. What is the evidence for that claim? And how does “multi-culturalism” differ from multi-culturalism? Bear in mind that for a very long time, the history of Western Civilisation (or Western “civilisation”) was presented as the activities of few but middle-class white males. The relatively sudden inclusion of non-whites and and non-males, and of the rape and plunder of minorities and other victims by middle-class white males (after such a long and significant silence on the subject) might make it look like that — especially to other middle-class white males.

I don’t see a wave of Political Correctness. I see only a war against something described as PC by its enemies, but which looks to me suspiciously like social justice and cultural sensitivity.

Here in Wellington, we see article after article, syndicated world-wide, all saying in effect, “Help! I’m being silenced! I can’t say that horis/niggers are lazy (and stupid — as in The Bell Curve), homos are unnatural, Jews are avaricious, women are bitches any more. Waaaaaah!” And in saying so, they contradict themselves. And just try to get a rebuttal published. So who is being silenced?

It’s not that something called Political Correctness has arrived for the first time, it’s that the struggle between two paradigms is hotting up. When the prevailing PC was white, male, heterosexual, etc. it wasn’t called that. Hell, it’s only 1993 when the Gisborne Herald refused to publish an advertisement containing the word “lesbian”.

If, as they say, PC is taking over the world, where do I join?

Hugh Young, Pukerua Bay

The Editor Replies

Hugh Young is obviously an excellent Skeptic; he quite properly asks for evidence for my claims regarding Political Correctness in America and for a definition of “multi-culturalism”. Until a few months ago when I was forced to familiarise myself with what is actually happening in US universities I would probably have asked the same questions.

The evidence for the PC Cringe and the new version of “multiculturalism” can be found in a number of publications including P.J. O’Rourke’s All the trouble in the World, Robert Hughes The Culture of Complaint, “End Game” by Pete Hamill in the November ’94 issue of Esquire magazine, “What to do About Education, 1: The Universities” by Gertrude Himmelfarb in the October issue of Commentary, and many issues of the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement.

The most appropriate piece of evidence on the PC cringe, given Mr Young’s particular interest in the issue, is from the case of Doe vs University of Michigan. In the Doe case a student had been subjected to a formal hearing under the university’s “Speech Code” (Yes, they actually have them) because he had expressed the belief, during a class on social work, that homosexuality was a disease susceptible to psychological treatment.

It should come as no surprise that an American student held this belief; until a few years ago it was the official position of most of the medical professional bodies in that country. Many fundamentalist groups refuse to consider any alternative. I am sure that had Mr Young been in the class he would have willingly mounted a well reasoned and well researched rebuttal of the claim. But if a University’s Speech Code prohibits a student from even expressing such a belief in class how will Mr Young or anyone else know that these beliefs continue to be held — and when will they be granted the opportunity to challenge them?

Fortunately the Court held “What the University could not do …was to establish an anti-discrimination policy which had the effect of prohibiting certain speech because it disagreed with the ideas or messages sought to be conveyed.”

Surely the terrifying aspect of the case is that a District Court Judge (of evidently limited literacy) has to point out this obvious truth to such a highly regarded academic institution as the once great University of Michigan. Does Mr Young look forward to such PC Speech Codes being introduced into New Zealand? Is this the PC rule he really wants to join?

As for “multi-culturalism” I experienced the difference between what we mean by the word and what the word means in the US in the course of preparing a paper for presentation to a group of American business executives in Florida later this year.

Here in New Zealand I am happy to call myself a multi-culturalist because it means no more than that one is tolerant of other cultures and is prepared to assess those cultures and their belief systems on their merits. But in the US, a declared “multi-culturist” holds that one can only respect other cultures if one is prepared to despise everything associated with Western culture or civilisation. My essay objected to those who present the history of Western civilisation as anything other than the history of the rape and plunder etc — a point which Mr Young appears to have overlooked.

Of course the history of Western civilisation has its share of horror stories including the Inquisition, slavery, the Salem witch hunts, Nazi Germany, Marxist Leninism and many cases where it never realised its own ideals. But name the culture that doesn’t. At least the Enlightenment led to constitutions which promoted ideals of liberty, equality, freedom of speech and belief and the other ideals which underpin any form of democracy and freedom.

Mr Young claims that there has been “a long and significant silence on the subject of plunder etc”. Well, the following white males have thundered against tyranny, slavery and despotism in all its forms: Aristotle, Epictetus, Aquinas, Plutarch, Calvin, Shakespeare, Milton, Hobbes, Locke, Swift, Voltaire, Mostesquieu, Rousseau, Smith, Kant, the Authors of the Federalist Papers, Mill, Boswell, Hegel, Tocqueville, Dickens, Doestoevsky, Twain, Darwin, and even Marx. So where is this long silence?

Multi-culturalism in the US means that universities now accept, and even encourage, so-called scholarship which seeks to re-write history so as to deny that there are any good tales to be told. Because Jews have played such a prominent role in the development of Western thought this new “multi-culturalism” has given new legitimacy to a remarkable rise in anti-Semitic “scholarship” such as texts widely circulated within black communities which claim that Jewry was responsible for the slave trade and that the slave trade was a uniquely western crime. (See for example The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews, Volume One, The Nation of Islam, 1991)

In fact France was the first nation in history to make slavery illegal. Long after England, and then the US, abandoned the practice, the African slave trade continued to be run by joint ventures between African and Arabic states, as it had been for thousands of years. I have now learned that to write this last paragraph within many once-great US universities would probably cost me my job.

I can understand that given New Zealand’s limited and restrained practise of PC and multiculturalism Mr Young has found the concepts to be positive and encouraging for himself and his friends and colleagues battling against decades of homophobia. But these ideas, which have been taken to extremes in the US, have no place here. We know that child abuse exists; we also know that the US was first to turn this real problem into a victim-based industry which threw many hundreds of innocent people in jail and has damaged the lives of scores of thousands of others.

I don’t need ideologically driven speech-codes to tell me not to refer to kikes, niggers, and bitches in my classes, in my writings or in my private life. Tolerance, good manners and the normal standards of civilised behaviour are quite sufficient.

Owen McShane, Editor, author of “The Challenge to Reason”

Speaker’s Other Interests

Skeptics who attended the conference in Palmerston North will doubtless recall with amusement a talk on magnetic resonance devices given by Bruce Rapley, BSc, Dip. Psych., of Massey University. Mr Rapley, whose calling card describes him as “Bio-Electro-Magnetic Consultant (E.L.F.)”, is an energetic and entertaining speaker who cast a skeptical eye on Australian firms that are marketing magnetic paraphenalia that appear to me to be quack medical devices.

I was therefore surprised to be made aware of some of Mr Rapley’s other interests as described in literature that has come into my hands. Mr Rapley is a leader of something called Resonance Research, a non-profit organisation involved in “furthering the understanding of phenomena occurring at the margins of traditional knowledge”. RR offers “a variety of inspirational seminars and workshops”, and networks in the areas of Bio-Energy, Counselling, Geopathic Stress, Homeopathy, Radionics/Radiesthesia, and Vibrational Memory.

In particular, Mr Rapley has recently been energetically arranging a visit to New Zealand by Viera Scheibner, PhD, who warns against vaccinations. In particular Dr. Scheibner finds “obvious” the connection between “vaccine injections and cot death”.

Denis Dutton, University of Canterbury

Psychics Fail Once Again

From a Skeptics’ mailing list comes a record of psychic slip-ups for the previous year.

If you thought 1994 has already featured some amazing events, wait until you see what’s in store for the final days of the year.

Hillary Clinton will plead guilty to shoplifting lipstick, an earthquake will turn Florida into an island, and Madonna will marry Boy George.

In addition, the U.S. Surgeon General will announce that TV watching makes men impotent, and Princess Diana will reveal that an appliance repairman and a postal worker fathered her two sons.

Who says? The world’s top psychics.

Those are just a few of the events that were supposed to come true before the end of 1994, according to the forecasts of the self-appointed psychics, whose predictions are published in supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer, The Star, The Sun, and the Weekly World News.

Because none of the extraordinary predictions have come true yet, RweUre either going to see a lot of amazing news over the next few days or it will become clear, once again, that the nation’s psychics aren’t as skilled at predicting the future as some people think, according to Gene Emery, a science writer and frequent contributor to the Skeptical Inquirer.

If the forecasts don’t come true, it won’t surprise Emery, who has been collecting predictions in the tabloids since the 1970s.

“When it comes to forecasting unexpected events, psychics historically have had an abysmal track record,” he says.

What They Foresaw

According to these top prognosticators, 1994 was destined to be the year:

  • Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere became “the proud parents of triplets” (as predicted by Judy Hevenly in the National Enquirer).
  • Charles Manson got a sex change operation and was set free from prison (Peter Meers, Weekly World News).
  • Scientists “perfected a small four-cylinder car that can run on tap water” (Leah Lusher, Enquirer).
  • Jay Leno quit ‘The Tonight Show’ (Barbara Donchess, Enquirer).
  • Madonna married a Middle Eastern sheik and became “a totally traditional wife, complete with long robes and veil” (Mystic Meg, Globe).
  • Frank Sinatra was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Italy (Micki Dahne, Enquirer).
  • Whoopi Goldberg gave up acting to join a convent (John Monti, Enquirer).
  • Pope John Paul II decreed that married couples can only have sex on the first Friday of each month (Maria Graciette, Enquirer).
  • Office workers fled from the Sears Tower in Chicago after it began to lean like the Tower of Pisa (Maria Graciette, Enquirer).

“As always,” says Emery, “the tabloid psychics missed all the truly unexpected news of 1994, such as the O.J. Simpson case, the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding affair, the baseball and hockey strikes, and the takeover of Congress by the Republican Party.”

“Instead, we had psychics predicting that the Dow-Jones would rise to 5,000, that a national lottery would cut taxes in half, and that a teenager would build (and accidentally detonate) a nuclear bomb in Pageland, South Carolina.”

For 1995, the psychics have already predicted that

  • O.J. Simpson will be acquitted
  • singer Whitney Houston and boxer Mike Tyson will marry
  • a plant that grows in northern Florida will cure AIDS
  • volcanic eruptions in August will create a new land mass joining Cuba with America.

Will it happen? Emery advises: “Don’t hold your breath.”

Principles of Psychic Predictions

One group of scientists and scholars in Buffalo, New York, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), has been publishing the year-end tally of psychic predictions for the past several years in its quarterly journal (now bimonthly), the Skeptical Inquirer. According to CSICOP, psychics don’t appear to be improving upon their “hit rate” with the passage of time, and currently CSICOP has yet to find any convincing evidence that psychics possess extraordinary talent for seeing the future, finding missing people, or helping solve crimes.

When psychics are tested under conditions that eliminate luck or fraud, their powers evaporate.

Emery says some people argue that the forecasts in the supermarket tabloids are too outrageous to be taken seriously. “But extraordinary things do happen,” he says. “If I predicted a year ago that Michael Jackson would marry Lisa Marie Presley, that would seem pretty outlandish. Yet I would have been right.”

What did the tabloid psychics actually say about Jackson? They predicted that he would marry Oprah Winfrey, become a traveling evangelist, or have a sex-change operation, according to Emery.

The science writer says that scientists who have researched psychics and probed the psychology behind their predictions have discovered that prognosticators use a variety of techniques to make the public think they’re giving accurate forecasts.

Jeane Dixon, for example, likes to be vague. One of her predictions for 1994 was that “Mike Tyson may soon marry behind prison bars and could become the father of a child in the near future” (emphasis added).

“Other times they predict things we’ll probably never hear about,” said Emery. One of Monti’s predictions was that Sally Jessy Raphael and Rush Limbaugh “will become secret sweethearts.”

“If it’s a secret, the prediction becomes impossible to prove wrong,” he says.

In hopes of finding one psychic who can actually predict the future, Emery accepts written forecasts from psychics “as long as they involve unexpected events guaranteed to make headlines. Don’t expect me to be impressed if you tell me there will be a scandal in Washington or an earthquake in California.”


Desperately Seeking Psychic Photographer

I am writing in the hope that your readers may be able to help me in a little research I am doing, in my position of Publicity Officer for the Wairarapa Archive.

We have in our collection a pair of albums of local cartoons and photographs made by a local photographer, Edward Arthur Sanders Wyllie, in the 1880s. In following up the life of Wyllie, I stumbled onto his later career as a “psychic photographer”.

It seems that when he left Masterton in 1886 he went to America and continued in his photography career, which ultimately proved to be a failure, so he moved into providing his “psychic” photographs.

He became one of the world’s foremost exponents of this art, and is mentioned in all the modern works on the phenomenon. I have been unable, however, to locate any copies of his work, either in New Zealand or in the places one might expect them to be overseas — British and American Societies for Psychical Research, Mary Evans Library (UK), Californian State Library, etc.

I know there were copies of Wyllie’s “work” in New Zealand as a man calling himself the “Rev S. Barnett” gave a lecture on Wyllie at the time of his death in 1911. This lecture, given in Masterton, was illustrated with glass slides of Wyllie’s exposures. I assume this to be the same S. Barnett who was a prominent Spiritualist in New Zealand, and who authored a Celestial Survey of New Zealand which must surely rate as one of the most incredible books ever printed in New Zealand.

I am writing to you in the hope that either you, or one of your readers, may have an interest in skepticism in this area, and may know of the whereabouts of some of these “psychic” photos. I have some poor quality reproductions of some, from a photocopy of an old book.

Any help that you can afford me will be most appreciated.

Gareth Winter, Lansdowne Nursery, 65 Te Ore Ore Road, Masterton

Paranormal Postal Service

Skeptics who’ve ordered direct from Prometheus Books will be well aware of the realities of the extra exchange and bank costs that can make a price quoted in US dollars burgeon into a massive account in New Zealand money.

Yet an alternative therapy exists, awaiting rational testing by NZCSICOP members. It’s the Humanist Bookshop, now operating from New Plymouth. And how are its impressive results achieved? We’ll give away part of the secret — the excellent discount from Prometheus, and the voluntary labour of the HSNZ Bookshop organiser. We sell to all who wish to buy from us, at basic prices, as our contribution to more critical thinking in New Zealand.

Our NZ prices usually work out at just several NZ dollars above the US dollar quoted price, plus postage.

In stock at the moment — Randi’s Faith Healers; Baker and Nickell’s Missing Pieces; Kendrick Frazier’s Science Confronts the Paranormal; Philip Klass’s UFO Abductions; several of the Paul Kurtz titles; and many, many more.

Why not conduct your own experiment? Send for an HSNZ Bookshop catalogue (price $1.00), giving prices and details of books usually in stock. Orders for anything from the Prometheus catalogue take about 2 1/2 months to arrive.

The address: Humanist Bookshop, 26a Pembroke St, New Plymouth. Organiser, Humanist and Skeptic, Jeanne van Gorkom.


Reasoning About Reason

Congratulations on featuring the superb contribution from Peter Münz in Skeptic 31. It seems to concur with a passage from Antony Flew I have just been reading. He says that to know something is “to believe what is in fact true, and to be rationally justified in that belief”. Like most people shivering in the postmodernist shadow, my first reaction was to draw back, thinking that all seemed a bit too definite. Surely it’s not still allowed to be definite about something?

To question the veracity of crystals, palm-reading, apocalyptic prophecy and all the rest of it has been to incur the disapproving epithet “dogmatic”, or even “fundamentalist”. Now that’s really scraping the barrel of abuse.

The warning about the morass of justifications and provisos that await the advocate of “reason” is also timely. Is it not too harsh, however, to write the process of reason off as “woolly”, given the thoughts of Karl Popper, who Münz very rightly quotes approvingly elsewhere? Does not the distinction between critical and uncritical rationalism discussed in The Open Society and its Enemies ensure that the reasoning process, while at times being tortuous, need not be woolly? This is not a rhetorical question, I’d be very interested in an opinion on this point.

Bill Cooke, Auckland

Of Postal Permits and Other Weighty Matters

Readers who take time to study the face of their Skeptic when it arrives, rather than impatiently tearing open the seal to devour the contents, will have noticed a change with this issue. Gone is the Postage Paid Permit, “Merrilands No. 2”, replaced by a Christchurch number. With this change we let go a bit of our history and the connection with our first Editor.

Keith Lockett saw the first fourteen issues through the press, and, at his local Post Office in New Plymouth, into the mail. Keith died in 1990 (see the obituary in Skeptic 16). Now, Merrilands Post Office is also dead, killed by restructuring, and a new, valid permit has had to be negotiated.

The change is one of label only, not procedure. The Secretary and his long-suffering partner will continue to hand the boxes of newsletters over the counter of their local Postshop. Groaning under a load which is heavier with each issue, we console ourselves with the thought that this reflects a growing membership.

Bernard Howard, Secretary, NZCSICOP