Intersecting as it does sex, religion, blood, medicine and masculinity, circumcision is a subject that is hard to discuss rationally.

The male human foreskin or prepuce is a remarkable structure. Far from being “just a flap of skin,” it amounts to about 100 cm2 (15 sq in) or about half the outer surface of the adult penis. It is rich in specialised sensory nerves, and has a unique way of unrolling out over itself to uncover the glans and cover the shaft during intercourse. Men who have involuntarily lost their foreskins in adulthood compare the effect with going colour-blind.

The more remarkable, then, that human history is rife with crazes for cutting the foreskin off. Three cultures originated male genital cutting: in Africa, Australia and the Pacific. The African custom seems to have been taken through Egypt to the Middle East and then to Europe, and in the 19th century in England and the US it was medicalised with the aim of preventing masturbation, becoming widespread throughout the English-speaking world. It continues to be claimed as a panacea for whatever ailment people most fear at the moment.

Christchurch skeptic Jay Mann wrote (NZ Skeptic 84), “One thing that activates my BS-meter is a miracle treatment with too many claims.” Mine too. I started collecting bad reasons to circumcise (“circumstitions”) in 1998. There seemed too many to be reasonable, and I thought a complete list of as many as 30 would make Jay’s point. I now have 340 reasons, in 30 classes, and they show no sign of stopping-see Table 1. The classes are so bafflingly varied that something else has to be going on.

Aesthetic Instructive Revenge
Anti-sexual Irrational Reward
Cleanliness Medical Sexual
Concealment Mistake Status
Conformity Non-conformity Submission
Control Pity Symbolic
Convenience Pre-emptive Sympathetic magic
Financial Prudery
Iatrogenic Punitive To benefit someone else
Ignorance Religious
Initiation Reproductive Vague
Table 1. Reasons given for circumcision (And yes, some of those do contradict each other).

Skeptics will, I hope, dismiss out of hand the many obviously irrational reasons for circumcising such as ‘tradition’ and ‘to look like his father’ (conformity), but medicine has the seductive respectability of science.

Medical reasons for circumcision include the prevention or cure of the conditions listed in Table 2.

Alcoholism Headaches Penile cancer
Arthritic hips Hernia Plague
Asthma HIV Philmosis
Balanitis HPV Posthitis
Bedwetting Hydrocephaly Prostate cancer
Blindness Hydrocoele Rectal prolapse
Boils Hypertension Rheumatism
Cervical cancer Insanity Schistosoma
Chicken pox Kidney disease Spinal curvature
Epididymitis Kleptomania Stomach infection
Epilepsy Leprosy Tuberculosis
Gallstones Moral depravity Urinary tract infections
Gout Paraphimosis Yeast infections
Table 2. Medical conditions for which circumcision has been claimed as a cure.

Some of those are obviously bogus-the others, less obviously so. In each case the science is non-existent, flawed or misinterpreted, but these few look plausible:

STDs: A 2006 study in Christchurch by Fergusson et al, gained headlines around the world before Fergusson admitted his result was anomalous and it would take at least 20 circumcisions to prevent one minor STD. (He found no major STDs.) His retraction was not widely reported.

Urinary Tract Infection: It would take more than 170 circumcisions to prevent one boy contracting a UTI, according to To et al (1998). The rate among girls is several times that of boys. The major study (by US army paediatrician Thomas Wiswell) showing a protective effect:

  • was entirely based on boys born in military hospitals
  • used different means of collecting urine samples in the two groups
  • assumed that any bacteria cultured from a sample represented a UTI
  • neglected the effect of premature birth postponing or cancelling circumcision, and leading to intensive care and catheterisation-which causes UTIs.

Penile cancer: one of the rarest of cancers (with a lifetime incidence of less than one in 600, less common than male breast cancer), generally occurs only in old men. The rate is higher in the circumcised US than non-circumcising Denmark.

Cervical cancer (in partners): The main study on which this claim relies (Castellsagué et al, 2002), pooled data from five different countries. Almost all the circumcised men were in the Philippines, most of the intact men in the other four countries (Brazil, Colombia, Spain and Thailand). Naturally, there are many other demographic differences between those countries. The evidence boiled down to

  • 1 circumcised man in Brazil,
  • 1 in Colombia and
  • 3 in Spain who didn’t have HPV,
  • nobody in Thailand, and
  • 1 intact man in the Philippines who did have HPV –
  • a total of 6 men.

After all that, it referred only to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) (of which there are a number of varieties, only some of which are linked to cervical cancer), not to cervical cancer itself.


It was inevitable that HIV/AIDs would fall under circumcision’s spell. It would take hundreds or even thousands of circumcisions to prevent one transmission of HIV in a country with a low incidence like New Zealand, if the three African random controlled trials (Auvert et al, 2005; Bailey et al, 2007; Gray et al, 2007) were correct. In fact, they have multiple flaws; for example:

  • they were not double-blinded or placebo-controlled, and they were conducted by circumcision enthusiasts, at least one of whom had campaigned for mass circumcision before the trials were ever held;
  • the men were not a random sample of the population, but volunteers given a substantial reward;
  • the circumcised experimental groups were given safe-sex advice that the intact control groups were not;
  • the trials were cut short, so we will never know what the long-term effect will be, and they can probably never be replicated;
  • at least 380 (10 percent) of the circumcised men dropped out of the trials-those who found they had HIV would feel let down and be more likely to do so. Only a few such men would reduce the results to non-significance;
  • the studies’ significance would be diluted by sex with men and non-sexual transmission, believed to amount to about 40 percent of transmission in Africa because of “needle men”-amateurs who offer injections for any and every complaint, using the same needle;
  • the non-circumcised control group in Uganda got less HIV than the circumcised experimental group in Kenya, probably because Uganda had campaigns against promiscuity (“zero grazing”), while the Kenyans were mainly fishermen on Lake Victoria with ‘girlfriends’ in every port.

Earlier, cross-sectional studies were confounded by such factors as religion-the circumcised men were largely Muslim, with different sexual customs and prohibitions.

In spite of this, an invitation-only meeting in Montreux, Switzerland (whose participants have not been publicly listed but seem to have included those same circumcision enthusiasts) has mobilised WHO and UNAIDS to “roll out” mass-circumcision campaigns in Africa-using a manual that was in preparation before the trials began.

Risks and costs

A baby can afford to lose only about two tablespoons of blood before he needs a transfusion. Modern absorbent nappies such as Treasures can easily conceal this much blood loss. Circumcision presents a real risk of MRSA or VRE infection. A recent death in Ontario was due to the device Prof Sitaleki Finau of Massey University calls “non-surgical” blocking the baby’s urethra. Ablation of part or all of the penis can occur-in the most famous case, Bruce/Brenda/David Reimer of Winnipeg, Canada, was unsuccessfully reassigned as female, and eventually committed suicide. There are many lesser complications and adverse outcomes that may not be noticed until the victim reaches adulthood. The pain reaction is measurable for months afterwards; for decades, babies were circumcised without anaesthetic.


It should be self-evident that cutting part of the penis off has a detrimental effect on sexuality-this was known for centuries before circumcision became widespread. Incredibly, the most widely reported studies of penile sensation (Masters & Johnson, 1966; Payne et al, 2007), both claiming circumcision had no effect, didn’t measure the foreskin. One that did (Sorrells et al, 2007) found a striking difference. Circumcised men insist that “if I was any more sensitive, I’d have a heart attack” (a claim that itself suggests something is amiss) yet intact men do not fill our cardiac wards. Such a claim mistakes quantity for quality. The answer demands closer study of the neurology.


How, you may wonder, can a practice so bizarre, abhorrent even, have become so popular? A good question, not yet fully answered, but we can look at power and control, sympathetic magic, a multi-faceted memeplex that has a momentum of its own, money, and men’s refusal to admit that they have lost anything, but rather a determination to ensure that nobody may have more penis than they do. Some circumcision enthusiasts (who call themselves ‘circumsexuals’) have an unwholesome interest in the procedure itself. Intersecting as it does sex, religion, blood, medicine and masculinity, circumcision is a subject it is hard to discuss rationally. Much scientific writing on the subject is tainted by these biases.

Human rights

Many men are so outraged that part of their penis was cut off, that they go to considerable trouble to replace it. (A good aesthetic effect can be achieved by slowly encouraging the skin to grow by applying tension-not ‘stretching’-but the sensory effect can never fully return. Surgical means are not advised.)

It should be obvious that cutting an integral part of a healthy baby’s body off is a human rights violation. It is obvious when the baby is a girl, and an amendment to the Crimes Act outlaws female genital cutting specifically and totally, regardless of degree, under all circumstances (except medical need), with no exception for religion or culture, or even the adult woman’s own consent.

Male vs female genital cutting

The objection is often vehemently raised that there is no comparison between male and female genital cutting (MGC, FGC). But both cover a range of practices, and the mildest of FGC is milder than the most severe of MGC. MGC may be carried out under conditions similar to FGC (with nearly 40 deaths a year in Eastern Cape Province alone). As ethical issues, as human rights violations and as invasions of a person’s most personal space, they are equivalent.

Recent history

Infant circumcision became near-universal in New Zealand by the 1950s. (It is not true that many men had to be circumcised in the North African desert campaign of World War II, though that reason was commonly given. I am grateful to Manfred Rommel for taking the trouble to enquire of his father’s surviving troops.) It declined to near-zero through the rest of the century, the main exceptions being Pacific Islanders, Muslims and Jews. This apparently happened top-down, National Women’s Hospital refusing to offer circumcision at public expense from the day it opened in 1962. In the mid 1970s, it became policy not to offer it to new parents (the ‘sleeping dogs’ policy), and some time during that decade it was taken off Social Security. The result is that most New Zealand men over 35 are circumcised, most under that age are not. (In England, the probability goes up with class, in the US, as you go north and east.)

In August 2007, Victorian public hospitals banned the operation, South Australia announced a review of its policy and the Children’s Commissioner for Tasmania called for the female genital cutting ban to be made gender-neutral.

Yet in October 2007, Prof Finau called for infant male genital cutting to be offered in New Zealand public hospitals again.

The movement to oppose non-consensual (male) genital cutting (Intactivism) is small and unpopular, and generally regarded as eccentric, yet we know we are the rational ones.

List of references available from the editor.

Tied up in cables

Can stereo cables really make a difference to the way your music sounds?

Bob Metcalfe (Skeptic No 75) might have been reading New Zealand Tone magazine: Bringing Technology to Life, Sept-Oct 2004. The front cover promises “Hi-fi cables: science or hocus pocus”, and on page 46 there is an interview with Bob Noble, “sales manager for respected cable manufacturer Chord”. On page 47 there is a review of three Chord cables. The only science in the interview is the importance of screening to cables since cheap electronics in homes today are “leaking interference back into the same mains power ring that supplies the hi-fi. This degrades the final sound considerably. If you don’t believe me, turn all those other appliances off and see what it does to your hi-fi sound.” Nobody puts the case that there is any hocus pocus to cables.

Reviewer Paul Burgess found the sound of the first set ($275) “big, warm and easy to listen to” but “slightly hazy when compared to the other more upmarket cables” so they “would compliment [sic] a system with a bright sounding amplifier or speakers … (This is a good example of synergy where the cable works with the system to greatly improve overall sound)”. (Me, I would rather entrust equalisation to electronics designed to handle it.)

With the second set ($500), the reviewer Paul Burgess nearly made a big mistake:

“They are beautifully finished in red and black for left and right channel identification and have easy to read arrows showing the correct way to insert them into your system. This might sound a bit over-the-top, but attention to detail can make a big difference to the sound. At one stage I thought my system sounded a bit unfocussed and upon checking my interconnects found I had put one in with the arrows facing the wrong way.”

This claim that cables are made with a directionality is not new, but since audio is carried by a very small alternating current that spends exactly as much time going one way as the other, how this can be so remains unexplained, and I dare say, inexplicable.

The third set of cables ($1200) is oddest of all:

“…for some strange reason, the music appeared to slow down just a tad every time I put these into my system. I put that down to the system synergy principal [sic] and got on with enjoying them. Another possible reason could be that they may have needed more burn-in time. (Believe it or not, most cable improves in sound after the first 100 hours of use.)” He could easily have tested this effect more thoroughly by plugging in a different cable to one channel and seeing if there was an echo. One wonders if he imagines the music backs up in the cable before being let out more slowly…

Note that this is about interconnects, between music players and amplifiers. The increasingly monstrous cables connecting amplifiers to speakers are another story. I nominate Paul Burgess of Tone magazine for a Bent Spoon.

Oddly, the reviews don’t tell you one thing (perhaps the only thing) you might want to know about the cables — how long they are.

By the way, I have a confession. A very long time ago, when stereo was new, I wrote to the Christchurch Press denouncing it as being unnecessary for the reproduction of music: to hear the flutes on the left and bassoons on the right seemed like a gimmick. As soon as I heard good stereo I realised I was wrong — though not completely: stereo is good because more audio information is good, and hearing where the instruments are is a side-effect. I could be wrong again.

Numerology or What Pythagoras Wrought

Numerology, or What Pythagoras Wrought, by Underwood Dudley, Mathematical Association of America, Washington DC, 1997

Here’s a book that might go on the New Age shelves by mistake.

Who’d have thought that a book about numerology could be such fun? Woody Dudley makes it so. He looks at Pythagoras’ original speculations about the mystical powers of numbers, gematria (giving letters numerical values), the number of the Beast, triangular and pyramidal numbers and Pyramid Power, biorhythms, and how modern numerology (properly numeromancy) was virtually invented by Mrs L. Dow Balliett (Josephine, later Sarah Joanna, probably changed to improve its number power) of Atlantic City, New Jersey, about a hundred years ago.

Among the diversions are Shakespeare’s numbers, biblical numbers and rithmomachy, a once-popular board-game, like chess but with numbered pieces whose moves and power depend on not only their own numbers but those of the pieces they are attacking and the distance between them. (He gives enough information that you could make a set and play the game, which looks much more difficult than chess, but would be ideal for senior maths students.)

Another is “number forms” the patterns that perhaps one in 30 males and one in 15 females carry in their heads, on which numbers are consistently arranged, throughout their lives. Such people may think nothing of them and assume that everyone has one.

Two of the book’s useful contributions are the Law of Small Numbers and the Law of Round Numbers: there aren’t enough small numbers or round numbers to meet the many demands made of them. So if you go data-mining for small numbers or rounded-off large numbers and then look for correspondences between them, you’ll find some.

I’m sorry to learn that everybody’s favourite number,

1 + 1
1 + 1
1 + …
= 1.618… or phi,

wasn’t used to design the Parthenon or the Great Pyramid, isn’t generally chosen as the most pleasing proportion for rectangles (1.83 is), doesn’t divide our bodies at the navel (men’s are higher), and apparently wasn’t even called the Golden Section until 1835. It’s still a lovely number to play with, but Dudley shows that many of its mysterious properties also derive from the Law of Small Numbers.

He doesn’t mention our own premier number-cruncher (and muncher, and mixer-upperer), Captain Bruce Cathie, and his invention of “Harmonics” (multiply by 10n, where n is any whole number he pleases) and the grid of great circles he devised/discovered by which UFOs are powered and navigated. Perhaps the puddle is bigger and/or the frog smaller than we imagine.

Dudley never mocks the numerologists, but debunks them with charm and grace and sympathy for their (our) human plight of looking for meaning where there may be none.

Eileen Bone

It’s a great privilege to have known Eileen, her warmth, her wit and her sharp mind undimmed by her failing health. In the last few years, when she might forget the word for something, she knew what she wanted to say about it.

Continue reading

A Big Mistake

We have made a big mistake. Hitting Home is careful, thorough, mainstream scientific research. It may be alarming, but it is not, as we said, “alarmist”. It is a serious attempt to measure men’s attitudes towards, and the extent of, their violence. It is social science, not “hard” science, but it has done its best to attach figures to subjective psychological statements. If it can be criticised, it is for accepting the men’s reports of their own violence at face value, when the biggest problem associated with men’s violence is men’s denial. (“I just gave her a bit of a tap” — and she spent three weeks in hospital.)

One of our spokesmen (sic) publicly admitted to a level of domestic violence that is against the law. On Morning Report, he misquoted a question about male control, “tried to keep her from doing something she wanted to do (such as going out with friends or going to a meeting)” (p 225) as “tried to stop her from doing whatever she wanted…such as driving while drunk or abusing a child.”

We said in our press release that the report paints a disturbing picture of men’s violence “until you examine the fine print”. There is no fine print, nor any of the attempts to hide key caveats or qualifications that the expression implies. We said “the report defines ‘abuse’ to include criticising your partner’s family”. The 2,000 men were actually asked about “putting down her family and friends” (“criticising” is rational, “putting down” is not) in the context of a row or fight. The report did not define “abuse” from scratch, it took its questionnaire items from other such studies, giving references (p 173). Putting down one’s partner’s family in the context of row is psychological abuse because her family is something she has no control over, and is almost invariably irrelevant to the content of the row. A woman will feel compelled to defend her family, and an attack on her family is an indirect attack on her.

We said “you can’t classify the experience of being strangled or threatened with a knife alongside hearing a rude comment about your brother…” This is a misquote, and trivialises what is actually being discussed. The report does not “classify…alongside”, it ranks violence and abuse in seriousness (by inverse frequency of mention), divides them into four levels of seriousness, and reports that the most serious forms of violence and abuse are rare, and “just over half [of the men reporting any abuse] were in fact in the least serious group.” (pp 88-9)

In saying the report “trivialises” domestic violence, we trivialise psychological abuse: a man does not have to be violent to abuse his partner. In one classic case, a man terrorised his wife by getting out his rifle and cleaning it, without saying a word or touching her.

We criticised the report for investigating only men’s violence and abuse of women, yet it pretends to do nothing else. Its subtitle, on the front cover, is “Men speak about abuse of women partners.” It recommends that studies be made of women’s violence to men, and of violence in same-sex relationships.

Two indications of the limited extent of women’s violence:

  1. There is no felt need for men’s refuges (if there were it would be instantly met by Rotary, Lions and the Round Table).
  2. Wellington Men for Non-violence ran a flat for men for about two years. It was never used as a refuge for a man fleeing a woman’s violence, only for violent men giving their families “time out”. Studies that claim to show high levels of female violence are methodologically flawed, but be that as it may, this report is not about that.

We accused the report of saying there was no link between ethnicity and violence. It made no such claim, and could not, because it did not ask about ethnicity. (Perhaps it should have, but it says why it did not. The question is not an easy one to formulate, when two people of identical descent may describe their ethnic identity quite differently.) Do we have any evidence that there is such a link?

We said it “flies in the face of other research” in claiming there was no link between socio-economic status and violence. (Since when did one piece of research have to match another? Isn’t this just another way of saying that overseas research couldn’t be replicated here?) It says “We compared our results with a recent review of 52 studies… In no case was there total consistency across all studies reviewed…There are several possible explanations. The spread of social factors in New Zealand may not reflect the same degree of diversity as in America where most of the reviewed studies were conducted…” (p 97).

In fact it does find a weak link between socio-economic status and violence, but only in younger men. It is a truism among anti-violence workers (but apparently unknown to the critics) that domestic violence cuts across class boundaries, and a high court judge or cabinet minister is just as likely to beat his wife as a freezing worker or opossum trapper. Since the report came to this counter-intuitive conclusion by careful scientific study, what do we (who produce no contrary study) think it should do — cook the books?

We said “the contradiction is not surprising when you realise how broadly the report has defined the concept of abuse”. Psychological abuse is a relatively new concept, but it is no wishy-washy, New Age claim: ask any victim. Any torturer will tell you that the “best” torture is purely mental. It is not that the report has defined abuse more broadly, but that our sceptical critics seem unaware how prevalent or serious psychological abuse is.

We said “the deliberate avoidance of any identification of at-risk groups…”. This is simply not true. The report looks at age, education, income, marital status, employment status, and socio-economics status (pp 92, 160-1). We disputed most strongly the report’s statement that “‘in at least one circumstance’ six out of ten New Zealand men say the woman has only herself to blame for being hit”.

We implied that the specific circumstances justified the man’s violence. 36% said a woman is solely to blame if her man hits her for abusing a child. A further 3% said neither is at fault. Do we say they are right to condone his violence, bearing in mind that having their mothers struck for abusing them will do the children no good at all? Role-modelling in non-violence it ain’t.

Thirteen percent said no blame at all attached to a man (7% her fault, 6% neither) who hit his wife for repeatedly refusing sex, 22% (19+3) for yelling at him at the top of her voice, 28% (21+7) for not having a meal ready when she had been at home all day, 30% (26+4) for making fun of him sexually, 50% (48+2) for finding her in bed with another man (p 65). (The reaction of hitting the other man is not canvassed.) These findings indicate high levels of condoning of male violence. Are we not just shooting the messenger?

We criticised the report for its finding that 20% of men think a woman is entirely to blame if a man hits her in “self-defence against a woman who is actually attacking a man”. The actual wording is, “in an argument, she hits him first.” We Skeptics are now on record as thinking it beyond question that once a woman has struck a man, he need take no responsibility whatever for all his subsequent violence.

We said it presented “no perceptible evidence” that New Zealand men have quite a high level of anger and hostility. On pp 44-45 it describes how it asked the men six questions (the Brief Anger-Aggression Questionnaire) devised overseas (and apparently a standard test) and found that New Zealand men scored higher than men in other countries.

We Skeptics have taken information out of context, rewritten it in a biased way, and generally put the kind of spin on it that we so often accuse our opponents of doing, behaving like a tabloid newspaper. One of us called the report “victimology” (what is wrong with studying victims?) when it is a study of perpetrators, and “advocacy science” when it is simply applied social science. The only assumptions it makes that could be called “advocacy” are that domestic violence is an evil, and that men must take responsibility for their violence if it is to be eliminated. In challenging those assumptions, we are effectively taking the side of violent men.

Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. The claims this report makes will come as no surprise to anyone who works in the field of domestic violence. It presents extraordinary proof for them. In attacking it, we have gone way out of our depth. We should stick to the urine-sniffing lamas and medical-advice-dispensing radio psychics that are our forte. This time, we have used the Bent Spoon to flick egg over our own faces.

We should graciously acknowledge our mistake, withdraw the “award” and publicly and unconditionally apologise to the authors of “Hitting Home”. This would be a good example of the kind of rational and adaptable behaviour we try to encourage in others.

Auras by Polaroid

At the Festival of Possibilities in Nelson, all the usual New Age paraphernalia were on display. A current vogue is “pulsing” which is already available in at least two varieties, holistic and Tibetan. (I later experienced a pulsing; it’s a variety of massage involving having different parts rocked or shaken, quite pleasant.) People at one stand tried to sell me Matol, a mixture of herbal extracts “that works at the molecular level” to increase the uptake of oxygen by my blood. I told them I trusted my body to take up just the right amount of oxygen.

New was “Aura Vision Photography”. On a tripod was a locked black box the size of an upright shoebox, containing a Polaroid camera with the filmpack sticking out the back and the lens visible through a hole in the front. From it came a flat grey cable about 40 wires wide, leading to another locked black box about the size of two stacked shoeboxes beside the subject’s chair, with a mains power connection and about 12 electrodes on top in the shape of a hand. Subjects laid their right hand on these while their picture was taken. (What if the subject was left-handed?)

The pictures showed the subjects dimly, with blobs of coloured light beside and above their heads — white, fading to saturated colour at the edges. Several pictures showed the same subject with different coloured lights. An attendant told me the apparatus had been designed by a scientist, with some assistance channelled through a clergyman when the scientist got stuck.

Unsurprisingly, the information supplied is unhelpful:

Surrounding the physical body is an electromagnetic energy field which vibrates and fluctuates at different levels. The frequency at which your energy field is vibrating is a direct reflection of your inner state of being and often affects the well-being of others around you….

This prototype camera is the world’s first and only patented electromagnetic field photographic system. Our electronic equipment measure [sic] then maps your personal energy vibration which is then analysed and translated into the colour vibration that corresponds to your unique energy levels.

Note that it does not say that the lights shown actually originate in the space around the person. It was not explained why or how electrodes on the hand could cause lights to appear in the picture (or whether they are the same shape and colour as those that appear to people who can see such things), but LEDs fitted inside the camera suggest themselves.

Another handout shows the colour interpretations:

Blood red: life force fed into the body to keep them [sic] physically strong.

Crimson red: around head and hands of Male, balanced emotionally and physically.

What if it is elsewhere, or around Female?

Green: healing vitality to be fed into the body to keep it going. Natural Healer gifts could be massage, reflexology, some form of natural healing.

Dark leaf green: indication of a healer. Healing could come through Counselling, Reflexology, etc.

Blue: indicates a person who could use colour healing.

Sky blue: indicates Healers. Special gift of laying on of hands. Massage, Aura Healing, Reflexology.

The other handout says “The colours in your electro-magnetic energy field can change from moment to moment” — so do the gifts come and go?

But the big whammy is:

White: indicates degree of spiritual level within the soul.

White glowing light — shows the divinity of a highly evolved soul that shines and radiates brightly.

White auric energy is a magnetic life force lead into the body through the crown chakra.

Christ light or Life force.

I suppose it’s a silly question to ask how these interpretations were reached — who was their test subject for white light…?

All the indications were positive: no colours were assigned to criminals or psychopaths or just rather dull people. The price to have your picture taken was $20 with interpretation or $25 for two subjects. People were queuing up to hand over their money and have their pictures taken.

Songs from the Skeptical Choir

Yes, Rhesus Monkey

(Tune: “Yes, Jesus Loves Me”)

Rhesus monkey, this I know,
that the Bible Belt must go.
Trusting to authority
must give way to “test and see”.

Yes, rhesus monkey,
Yes, rhesus monkey,
Yes, rhesus monkey,
The Bible Belt must go.

Rhesus monkeys in the jung-
-gle think Darwin’s work was bung-
-gled, for evolution’ry
progress seems delusion’ry.

Yes, rhesus monkey, (x3)
The Bible Belt must go.

Rhesus monkey, don’t get madder;
evolution is no ladder.
It’s a bush and we are twigs —
you of dates, and we of figs.

Yes, rhesus monkey, (x3)
The Bible Belt must go.

Rhesus monkeys in the lab
wonder who picks up the tab;
ask, Who put man at the top,
Who says we must get the chop?

Yes, rhesus monkey, (x3)
The Bible Belt must go.

Rhesus monkey, give us time,
Homo sap. has far to climb,
Evolutionists are giants
compared with creation “science”.

Yes, rhesus monkey, (x3)
The Bible Belt must go.


by Hugh Young

More Songs from the Skeptical Choir

Amazing James

(Tune: “Amazing Grace”)

Amazing James, at last he came
to inspire a wretch like me;
I once was cool, but now I flame
thanks to (Amazing) James Randi!

‘Twas James who bent a tablespoon,
mel-ting the heart o-f Kim Hill.
He could change a watch from nine to noon
and teach us all his skill.

He tuned us in, to a healer droll
who knew more than he should know,
and the healer’s wife, “the voice of Knowl-
-edge” on his little radio.

He showed us how the psychics work
quackery in the Phillippines;
sticking in his fingers, out he’d jerk
chickens’ guts and blood in streams.

Amazing James is in no way slack
to advance the sceptical art,
yet admires the Morning Glory’s knack
of opening at sparrow fart.

Amazing James, at last he came
to inspire a wretch like me
I once was cool, but now I flame
thanks to (Amazing) James Randi!

by Hugh Young (idea by Eileen Bone)

Songs Skeptical

A selection of the song competition entries presented at the Skeptics Conference.

Amazing James

Tune: “Amazing Grace”

Hugh Young (idea by Eileen Bone)

Amazing James, at last he came
to inspire a wretch like me;
I once was cool, but now I flame
thanks to (Amazing) James Randi!

T’was James who bent a tablespoon,
melting the heart of Kim Hill.
He could change a watch from nine to noon
and teach us all his skill.

He tuned us in, to a healer odd
who knew more than he should know,
and the healer’s wide, “the Voice of God”
talking to him by radio.

He showed us how the psychics work
quackery in the Philippines;
sticking in his fingers, out he’d jerk
chicken’s guts and blood in streams.

Amazing James is in no way slack
to advance the skeptical art,
yet admires the Morning Glory’s knack
of opening at sparrow fart.

Amazing James, at last he came
to inspire a wretch like me
I once was cool, but now I flame
thanks to (Amazing) James Randi!

As anyone who attended one of James Randi’s lectures will attest, this is a true and accurate record.

An Alternative Hymnal

Tune: “Abide with Me”

Martin & Janette Wallace

Hymn for Homeopaths

Dilute with me
fast comes the magic field —
the molecules dis-
sperse and we are heal’d.
Doubt and disdain
in Skeptics round I see
O, you who still believe
Dilute with me.

Abiding with Acupuncturists

Press deep my flesh
with needlepoint so fine
Rotate the ends
and ease this pain of mine!
Oh pierce my toe
To ease distress and woe.
This hymn for you we sang
with yin and yang!

Chiropractors Chorus

And twist my tortured spine
The nerves are pinch’d
and twisted like the vine!
But please take care
my spinal chord to guard
and don’t forget to use
my credit card.

Aye, Aye, Iridologist Mine

Look deep into
my eyes and iris see!
Give me your thoughts
on what is ailing me!
There you might see
a fault or two or three
Oh, you that thinkest not
Eye ball with me!

Verses of this were lovingly sung at the conference by the Skeptical Trio of Tony Vignaux, Warwick Don and Bill Morris, abetted by Margaret Mahy, Phil Spencer, Vicki Hyde, Cynthia Shakespeare and sundry others.

Show Me

(with apologies to My Fair Lady)

Hugh Young

He: Minds have a power beyond comparing
When they are sharing knowledge from beyond!
Space and time easily unravel
When astral travel takes you to a –

She: – Gone, gone, where is your brain gone?
All your words are a pain, must I hear them again?
They’re all cloned from Shirley Maclaine!

Don’t talk of minds roving through time,
Tune in to mine, show me!
Don’t talk of worlds made in six days,
To coin a phrase, show me!

Anyone who’s ever bought a bargain at a stall
Knows talk is cheap, action is all.
When you get the gadget home, it doesn’t chop the cheese;
That’s when you know you’ve been fleeced!

Don’t talk of a-lien abduc-
-tions run amuck, show me! Show me!

Don’t talk of gods landing from space,
Talking in languages queer!
Show me here!

Don’t talk of see-ing through brick walls,
Don’t pull my curls, show me!
Don’t talk of hea-ling at a touch,
Let out your clutch, show me!

Sure, the world is full of wonders more than we can dream;
All things must be more than they seem!
But if we believe whatever anyone may say,
Our grasp on truth slips away!

Don’t talk of brea-king nature’s laws
Dig in your clause, show me! Show me!

Don’t tell me I have to have faith
In things that won’t take a bow!
Show me now!

How to Make the Miraculous Blood of St Januarius

Brew up a miracle for fun and profit, in the comfort of your own kitchen.

The blood, in a phial in a church in Naples, is reverently turned over several times during services every few months. It has seldom failed to liquefy since 1389. (It has also accidentally liquefied when the monstrance holding the phial was being cleaned!) Three Italian scientists are quoted in the Skeptical Inquirer (Vol 16, No 3, Spring 1992, p236) as having duplicated the “blood.” The relevant data (Nature vol 353, p507) are:

“To a solution of 25g FeCl3.6H2O in 100 ml of water we slowly added 10g CaCO3, and dialysed this solution for 4 days against distilled water from a Spectra/por tubing (parchment or animal gut works just as well; a simple procedure1 even allows us to avoid this dialysis step). The resulting solution was allowed to evaporate from a crystallisation disc to a volume of 100ml (containing about 7.5% of FeO(OH). Addition of 1.7g NaCl yielded dark brownish thixotropic sol which set in about 1 hour to a gel. The gel could be easily liquefied by gentle shaking, and the liquefaction-solidification cycle was highly repeatable.”

Thixotropy is the property that interests us, that of setting to a gel or shaking to a sol(ution). I had always imagined the warmth of the priest’s hands was the main secular reason for the liquefaction, but apparently not.

I rang my old chemistry master, Alex Wooff, in Christchurch, to find out what the dialysis would involve. Dialysis is a differential diffusion through a membrane. You put the mix in a tube (rather like a sausage skin with the ends tied, I gather) and the tube in a tank of distilled water. Certain acidic by-products pass out through the tube walls, and what you want stays inside. (Someone who speaks French could look up what Herr Doktor Guthknecht had to say in 1946 about avoiding that.)

Alan Wooff also explained that the calcium carbonate would have to be precipitated — common chalk wouldn’t do; “You wouldn’t want lumps in it.”

Perhaps (I like to give people the benefit of every possible doubt) the 14th century originators of this pious fraud did not use sausage skin — let alone Spectra/por tubing — but stripped a blood-filled vein from the saint’s leg, say, and piously washed it in a mountain stream, like kaanga pirau.

If some reaction turned the iron in the haemoglobin into FeO(OH)– a reaction with the chalky deposits of the saintly artherosclerosis, perhaps? — and all unknowing they dialysed it out, perhaps they would get the result that the faithful see in Naples to this day.


Denise of Salmond Smith Biolab (Freephone 0800-807-809) told me they could get precipitated calcium carbonate (CaCO3) from England for $22.86 a kilo, in six or eight weeks by air freight at $39. They have hydrous ferric chloride (FeCl3.6H2O) in stock at $47.22 for 250 grams. The minimum order of dialysis tubing (10mm diam, 32mm flat) is 30 metres at $60. Geoff Meadows of Clark Products Ltd quoted $36.59 for 20 l of deionised water.

The limiting dimension is the volume of the tubing, 2.35 litres. That divides into 78 samples of 30 ml each.

That’s $205.67 (plus the cost of the phials) to produce 78 phials of miraculous blood. Perhaps 20 skeptics might pay $10 each for them, so I’d be lucky to break even. That is, if all the kitchen chemistry worked out.

Of course, if I sold them outside a church at $1000 a phial…?

Anyone got access to a chemistry lab?

1. Guthknecht, R. Bull Soc. Chim. Fr. 13, 55-60 (1946)
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