Clairvoyants agree on missing man

Clairvoyants agree on missing man

By CORINNE AMBLER Police Reporter

Police will join friends of missing Wellington man Michael Kelly today in a search of an area where clairvoyants think he might be found.

Three clairvoyants independently said Mr Kelly was in the same area of greater Wellington, and friends had been searching there, close friend George Allan said.

Ms Allan said she had been dealing with a Wellington clairvoyant, one from Tauranga, and two women from the Spiritualist Church. A clairvoyant from Christchurch had also come to Wellington of her own accord, saying she had strong feelings about where Mr Kelly, 23, could be found.

At a meeting last night suggestions from the clairvoyants were considered and it was decided to check the nominated area today.

Ms Allan said the clairvoyants thought Mr Kelly had been robbed somewhere near Ecstasy Plus nightclub by two men. He had been dumped in bushes near Oriental Parade, where he lay for a few days before the men panicked and took him away.

Ms Allan was told a third man was possibly involved and one clairvoyant could give detailed descriptions of the three, who were rough-looking Maoris, aged about 26. She could describe their tattoos and would recognise them if she saw them.

The clairvoyants thought Mr Kelly was near farmland and saw trees, buildings and cattle grates. Ms Allan said the women felt the third man had not wanted to hurt Mr Kelly, but one of the men wanted him dead.

All three clairvoyants had independently given the same description of the men’s car and police were following that up. …
From the Dominion, 12 November 1992.

Natural ebullience may have led to Kelly’s death


Michael Kelly, whose body was found at the bottom of a light shaft in a Wellington inner-city building yesterday, may have contributed to his death by his ebullient nature. His friends had told police that he had sometimes climbed buildings – and on one occasion a crane – after drinking.

Mr Kelly, 23, who started a police hunt when he went missing four weeks ago, was found at the foot of a three-storey shaft in the Moore Wilson building in Tory St by a worker who opened an internal window on to the shaft. He had last been seen on October 18 outside Ecstasy Plus nightclub on the corner of Tory St and Courtenay Place.

Detective Inspector Lloyd Jones said police were searching for clues to reconstruct the events that led to Mr Kelly’s fall. Mr Jones said Mr Kelly’s death was seeming “less like foul play, misadventure is more apparent.”…
From the Dominion, 17 November 1992.

Both articles reprinted in NZ Skeptic 26.

Just why is ‘pioneering’ cancer treatment so expensive?

A heartstring-tugging appeal in the NZ Herald doesn’t tell the full story.

Jesse Bessant is a little boy from Auckland with a very rare brain tumour. He has a ganglioglioma, a tumour that arises from ganglion cells in the central nervous system. As these tumours are very slow-growing, and with the location of his tumour (close to his brain stem) making surgery very risky, Jesse’s doctors have advised a ‘wait and see’ approach. However, the Bessant family have opted instead to try the Burzynski clinic in Houston, Texas, where Dr Stanislaw Burzynski offers his ‘pioneering’ antineoplastin treatment.

The catch? It’s going to cost the Bessants $375,000 to join one of Dr Burzynski’s clinical trials. The family’s fundraising appeal was covered by the NZ Herald in early March under the headline: “Hope for toddler with rare tumour”.

So what are antineoplastins and why is a clinical trial at the Burzynski clinic so expensive? Let’s start with those ‘pioneering’ antineoplastins. Might they be the next big thing in the treatment of cancer? I’m afraid to say that this is unlikely, as it turns out that Dr Burzynski has been trialling antineoplastins for over 35 years and has never produced strong evidence that his approach actually cures patients or increases their chances of long-term survival.

In fact the results of his trials don’t seem to have been published in the peer-reviewed medical literature and the American Cancer Society has gone so far as to recommend that people don’t spend their money on antineoplastin therapy. Dr Burzynski coined the phrase to describe a group of peptides that he identified first in human blood and then in urine and which he claimed to be “natural, non-toxic compounds that cure cancer”.

It turns out that the peptides can also be made by the body metabolising the drug sodium phenylbutyrate, which is how Dr Burzynski has been administering them for several decades now. Rather alarmingly, each 500 mg tablet of sodium phenylbutyrate contains approximately 62 mg sodium, meaning there is considerable risk of side effects including lethargy, weakness, irritability, seizures, coma and even death.

So if antineoplastins are just the by-product of sodium phenylbutyrate, why are Dr Burzynski’s clinical trials so expensive? After all, patients don’t usually have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to join a clinical trial. Sometimes they might even be reimbursed for taking part! It turns out that Dr Burzynski doesn’t just treat patients with his ‘antineoplastins’ anymore. Instead, he seems to be exploiting a very legitimate trend in real cancer therapy, often referred to as personalised medicine. Here patients are tested for particular disease markers which have been shown to respond to specific therapies. Orac, of the Respectful Insolence blog, has described Dr Burzynski’s “Personalized Gene Targeted Cancer Therapy” approach as “throwing everything but the kitchen sink” at the tumours. In fact, Dr Burzynski’s personalised therapy is part of a complaint against him by the Texas Medical Board, which is currently awaiting a hearing date. The complaint describes Dr Burzynski’s treatment of a patient with metastasised breast cancer, which included prescribing sodium phenylbutyrate with another four very expensive immunotherapy agents, none of which are approved for the treatment of breast cancer, and in combination with a chemotherapy agent.

In fact, it also transpires that Dr Burzynski owns the pharmacy that supplies the drugs he prescribes. His pharmacy is also accused of overcharging for drugs. A former patient, Lola Quinlan, has filed a lawsuit, claiming Dr Burzynski swindled her out of nearly $100,000 by using false and misleading tactics, including charging $500 per pill for drugs that could be bought elsewhere for a fraction of that price. And as well as the cost of drugs, there are his consultation fees, listed on one potential patient’s blog as:

  • Review of medical records prior to commencing treatment – $500
  • Initial consultation appointment – $1,000
  • “Genetic Tumor Markers” test – $4,000
  • Monthly treatment fee (with treatment suggested to last 4 to 12 months) – $4,500 – $6,000

All of which might explain why Dr Burzynski lives in a mansion with his initials in gold on the gates! But none of this was covered in the NZ Herald article. Don’t those being asked to donate deserve to know where their money is going? Instead, my emails to the journalist remain unanswered and Letter to the Editor unpublished. And the Bessant family continue to raise funds to send their child to be treated by a man who is accused by the Texas Medical Board of “unprofessional or dishonorable conduct that is likely to deceive or defraud the public or injure the public”. Pioneering? More like profiteering, if you ask me.

Battling the Bands

Gold takes local action against PowerBalance, with encouraging results.

PowerBalance Bands are hideously expensive silicon rubber wristbands with a mylar hologram in them. PowerBalance, an American company, made a killing with these after convincing some popular sports personalities that they had the ability to improve their strength and performance. They achieved this by working “with the body’s natural energy field”. They were shut down in Australia due to the work of a number of people, including Richard Saunders of the Skeptic Zone podcast who did a great informal double blind test with the Today Tonight show and the local distributor1.

After this happened I found that these were all over the place on TradeMe. From memory there were on average 30+ listings for these at any given time. This was when I discovered something quite handy on TradeMe. The site has a Community Watch feature that allows you to report listings for all sorts of reasons. These are checked and the item is taken down if the complaint stands up. With the recent takedown of PowerBalance in Australia it wasn’t hard to convince TradeMe to remove the listings. Within a week the average number of listings was around 3-4 and I would hammer these every few days to keep the number low. As I write there are 10 listings if you search for “power balance bands” on TradeMe. I’ll submit complaints about these after I get this article off.

Recently a local skeptic, who we’ll refer to as Bob, started posting a listing which was a copy of the Corrective Notice from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission2 with a description that explained exactly what PowerBalance bands are, how they fool you into thinking there is an effect (they use a 70-year-old stage magician’s trick that relies on applied kinesiology), and that any proceeds from the sale of the Notice would go to the NZ Skeptics Society as a donation. Despite being very clear about the fact that the product for sale is a printout of the Corrective Notice3 which PowerBalance were ordered to post on their site, the member has been instructed to no longer post these listings.

The Solution? Placebo Bands. The Skeptic Bros4 are a couple of guys from Australia who tracked down a manufacturer for these silicon bands, scraped the money together, had a Placebo Band design made up, ordered the first 1000 (minimum order) and crossed their fingers. The bands sold well. Bob currently has a supply of these that are being listed on TradeMe, so you’ll be able to get your own should you want one. Proceeds (after covering costs) will be donated to the NZ Skeptics Society.

The American company is still active, although they have also recently filed for Chapter 115.

  1. YouTube:
  2. TGA ruling:
  3. Retraction notice:
  4. The Skeptic Bros:
  5. Google News:

NearZero Inc: A sadly prophetic company name

Many people lost a lot of money investing in non-existent data compression software because well:established principles of information theory were ignored. This article is based on a presentation to the 2010 NZ Skeptics conference.

In the late 1990s, Nelson man Philip Whitley claimed to have invented a new data compression technology worth billions of dollars. Over the next decade money was raised on a number of occasions to develop this technology, culminating in a company called NearZero Inc raising $5.3 million from shareholders. According to a well:established body of theory, Whitley’s claims were obviously false. Unsurprisingly, within a few months of NearZero’s formation, it was in liquidation, with its funds gone.

I thought the saga of NearZero could be of interest to skeptics as it involves claims that were clearly false according to well&#8211established theory, and those claims cost investors a lot of money.

But first, a quick introduction to how data is stored by computers, and how that data can be compressed. Computers store data digitally, using the digits 0 and 1 in a binary code. A piece of storage capable of storing a 0 or a 1 is known as a bit (short for binary digit). With 1 bit we can store two values: 0 and 1. While this might be enough to store a simple data value (such as whether someone is male or female), for most pieces of data we need to store a larger range of values. With each bit we add, the number of possible values doubles; by the time we get to 8 bits we have 256 different values. The byte (a group of 8 bits) has proved to be a very useful unit of storage; storage sizes are usually quoted in bytes.

Character data is usually stored 1 byte per character (in European languages). Lower case ‘a’ is represented as 01100001, for example. A picture is a grid of dots. Each dot is called a pixel, and usually 4 bytes are used to encode the colour of a pixel. Standards are needed so that everyone interprets bit patterns in the same way.

Data representation methods are often chosen based on how easy it is to process the data. Often, the same data can be stored more compactly at the cost of making it harder to process. The process of translating a piece of data into a more compact form (and back again) is known as data compression. Compressing data allows us to put more data onto a data storage device, and to send it more quickly across a communications link. The size ratio between the compressed version and the uncompressed version is known as the compression ratio.

In ‘lossless’ compression, the uncompressed data is always identical (bit for bit) to the original data we started with. A compression method designed to work with any type of data must be lossless.

In ‘lossy’ compression, we are willing to accept small differences between the original data and the uncompressed data. In some situations we do not want to risk data being changed by compression, and lossless methods must be used. With images and sound, small changes that are difficult for humans to detect are tolerable if they lead to big space savings. The JPG image format and mp3 video/audio format have lossy compression methods built in to them. Users can choose the tradeoff between quality and space.

A question of pattern

For it to be possible to compress data, there must be some pattern to the data for the compression method to exploit. Letter frequencies in English text are well known, and could be the basis for a text compression method. We can do better if we take context into account. The most frequent letter is ‘e’ (12.7 percent), but if we know the next letter is the first in a word then ‘t’ is the most likely (16.7 percent). If we know the previous letter was (q) then the next will almost certainly be (u). A compression method that takes context into account will do better than one that doesn’t, as the context-based one will be a better predictor of the next symbol.

Likewise images are not random collections of coloured dots (pixels). Rather, pictures typically include large areas that have much the same colour. Sequences of frames in a movie often differ little from each other, and this can be exploited by compression methods.

The effectiveness of a compression method depends on how predictable / random the data is, and how good the compression method is at exploiting whatever predictability exists. If data are random, then no compression is possible. In these cases compression methods can actually create a compressed file larger than the original, because the compression methods have some costs. A compressed file is much more random than the uncompressed version, because the compression method has removed patterns that were present in the original.

In many branches of computer science it is important to establish the best possible way in which something could be done, to serve as a benchmark for current methods. In information theory, Shannon’s entropy is a measure of the underlying information content of a piece of data. A 1000-character extract from a book has more information content than 1000 letter ‘x’ characters, even though both might be represented using 1000 characters. To quote Wikipedia: ” Shannon’ s entropy represents an absolute limit on the best possible lossless compression of any communication” . Modern compression algorithms are so good that ” The performance of existing data compression algorithms is often used as a rough estimate of the entropy of a block of data” . In other words, it is not possible to achieve large improvements over current compression techniques.

The claims

It is time to have a look at Philip Whitley’ s claims. He claimed that he could compress (losslessly) any file to under seven percent of its original size, but this is not credible. Compression potential varies widely depending on patterns in the original file. Many files are already compressed, so have little potential for further compression. Even for uncompressed files, seven percent is achievable only in exceptional cases (English text entropy means the best achievable for English text is around 15 percent).

If it was possible to compress any file to less than seven percent of its original size then it would be possible to compress any file down to 1 bit. The first compression takes you down to under seven percent of the original file. Given that Whitley claimed his technique worked on any file, we could then compress the compressed file, reducing it to less than 0.5 percent of the original size, and so on.

Initial tests of Whitley’s technology were done on one computer. This made it easy to cheat. The ‘compression’ program can easily save a copy of the original file somewhere on disk as well as producing the ‘compressed’ version. Then, when the compressed version is ‘expanded’, the hidden copy can be restored. Whitley remained in control of the equipment, ostensibly to prevent anybody from stealing his software.

Critical assessment

Philip Whitley’s company Astute Software paid Tim Bell (an associate professor of computer science at the University of Canterbury) for an opinion on the technology. Tim Bell has an international reputation in the field of data compression; Microsoft has used him as an expert witness, and he has co-authored two well-known compression textbooks. An irony of the NearZero case is that New Zealand has more expertise in this field than you might expect for a small country (the co-authors of the two text books are New Zealand-born or live in New Zealand).

Tim Bell’s views were blunt: “The claims they were making at the time defied what is mathematically possible, and were very similar to claims made by other companies around the world that had defrauded investors.” One of his criticisms was that the tests were not two-computer tests. In such a test the compression is performed on one computer and the compressed file is transferred to a second computer, where it is decompressed. A two-computer test prevents the hidden-file form of cheating. It is reasonably easy to monitor the network cable between two computers, to check that the original file is not sent in addition to the compressed file (though the tester must be alert for other possible communication paths, such as wireless networks).

A two-computer test was subsequently conducted, and described in a 14-page report by Titus Kahu of Logical Networks. At first glance the report looks impressive, but on closer reading flaws quickly emerge. The two computers used were Whitley’s. The major flaw was that Kahu was limited to testing a set of 24 files selected by Whitley. The obvious form of cheating this allows is that the set of files can be placed on the second computer before the tests. Then all that the first computer needs to do is to include in the ‘compressed’ data details of which file is required (a number between 1 and 24 would suffice). The receiving computer can then locate the required file in its hiding place.

Titus Kahu did check the receiving computer to see if files with the names of those used in the test were present, but you would expect that someone setting out to deceive would at the very least rename the files.

The report makes for interesting reading. The files were of a number of types, including text files, pictures in JPG and GIF formats, MP3 audio files, and tar files. A tar file is a way of collecting a number of files together into a single file (zip files in Windows serve the same purpose).

One would expect text files to compress well, but JPG, GIF and MP3 files to compress poorly (they are all compressed formats). How well a tar file will compress depends on the files that it contains.

A simple comparison

To get some data to compare with the results in the report, I ran some tests using gzip (a widely used lossless compression method) on some text, tar and JPG files. I managed to locate two of the tar files used in the Titus Kahu tests: Calgary.tar and Canterbury.tar. Gzip achieved savings of 67.24 percent and 73.80 percent (so Calgary.tar was compressed to about one third of its original size, and Canterbury.tar to about one quarter). I also located three text files that were later versions of text files used by Kahu: on these Gzip achieved savings of 63.08 percent, 62.05 percent, and 70.77 percent. I also compressed a JPG file using gzip, and achieved a saving of 2.34 percent.

There are no great surprises in my results. There was quite a variation in the compression achieved, even amongst files of the same data type (the three text files for example). Compressing a JPG file gave little extra compression (not enough to make it worth further compression with gzip).

By comparison, savings in the report were 93.52 percent for four files and 93.53 percent for the other 20. I suspect that the difference in the fourth significant figure is due to rounding the file size to the nearest byte. These results are not remotely believable. The compression achieved is too good to be true even for data that compresses well (such as text), let alone for data formats that are already compressed. The incredible consistency of the compression achieved is also not credible.


Having looked at some background, it is time to look at the chain of events that culminated in NearZero Inc’s rise and fall. Philip Whitley’s early forays into business were not promising. In 1995 he was adjudged bankrupt (discharged in 1998). In 1997 he became a shareholder in Nelic Computing Ltd, which went into liquidation in 1999, owing unsecured creditors $70,000.

In 1999 Philip Whitley formed a software company (Astute Software) with a number of Nelson investors (who put in $292,000). Astute worked on a number of projects, and developed the data compression technology. In early 2001 the ‘one-computer’ tests were done, and Tim Bell’s opinion was sought. In mid 2001 the logical Networks ‘two-computer’ tests were done by Titus Kahu. In 2002, a Mr Cohen (an investor) asked for a (long-awaited) copy of the compression technology; he was told by Philip Whitley the only copies had been accidentally burnt when cleaning out his safe. Later in 2002 work stopped due to Whitley becoming ill.

In 2005 Whitley resumed work on the technology. Some of the original investors put in a further $125,000. On 10 July 2006, NearZero was incorporated in Nevada, with Philip Whitley as president, treasurer and sole director. Later in 2006 Titus Kahu became engineering director for Syntiro (a Philip Whitley company doing development work for NearZero) on the generous salary of $250,000 a year.

In February to April 2007 NearZero share purchase meetings were held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. A total of 490 investors invested $5.3 million. The investment opportunity brochure forecast that the near-term NearZero market capitalisation would be US$482 billion to $780 billion, and was expected to exceed one trillion US dollars. Note that the largest company in the world, Petrochina, is a US$405 billion company, and the largest US companies, including Exxon Mobil, Apple and Microsoft, are in the 200 to 300 billion bracket.

Things quickly went wrong. In May 2007, the Securities Commission started investigating the legality of the NearZero share offer (there is no registered prospectus, for example). Also in May, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) were appointed as interim liquidators for NearZero, and moved to sell houses and cars. In June, PWC said $218,000 went to Richmond City Football Club, $523,000 on vehicles, $852,000 on property, $683,000 to US-based company secretary Sherif Safwat, and $270,000 on household expenses. They found little evidence of money spent developing compression technology.

In June Whitley invited investors to contribute money to fund legal action to prevent liquidation. Also in June PWC found no evidence of any compression technology. Whitley claimed to have wiped it; PWC found no evidence of use of wiping software.

Then in July Whitley made some rather curious statements in an affidavit sworn in relation to the liquidation: “I will however say that it isn’t binary and therefore not subject to Shannon’s Law of algorithmic limitation.” If there was a real technology that was not based on binary it is hard to see it being of widespread use in computer and communication systems that store, transmit and process all data in binary. The affidavit continues: “Shannon’s Law is attached to this affidavit as Annexure “Y” and it can be seen that this is a 1948 paper”. Claude Shannon founded information theory, which is the basis of how digital computers represent data (according to one tribute, the digital revolution started with information theory). Shannon coined the term bit, and introduced the concept of information entropy referred to earlier. It is interesting that Shannon’s fundamental research results are dismissed as being in “a 1948 paper”.

He also stated: “In regard to the item 3/ I have never asserted that the technology is based on an algorithm”. In computer science, an algorithm is simply a description of how to do something in a series of steps. A common analogy is to say that a cooking recipe is an algorithm for preparing food. If Philip Whitley’s compression technology is not based on an algorithm then that implies it cannot be described as a sequence of steps, and therefore cannot actually be implemented!

In November, Associate Judge Christiansen ordered NearZero’s liquidation, and ruled that the compression technology had no value. Then in August 2008 Whitley faced the much more serious charge of making fraudulent claims about his technology.

In September 2008 all shareholders were given the option of keeping their shares or getting their money back. They proved to be remarkably loyal: $3.1m voted to stay in; $2.2m voted for reimbursement. I’m not sure whether there was any money to reimburse those who voted that way (probably not). In August 2009 Philip Whitley was convicted and fined for making allotments without having a registered prospectus.

The trial

In February 2010 the fraud trial began in Nelson. Whitley was charged with making a false statement as a promoter between July 2006 and May 2007. There were many sad stories in the Nelson Mail about wasted money and time (and resulting stress). Some of the information to emerge in the trial:

  • Philip Whitley hired a team of seven body guards headed by “Oz” (Oswald Van Leeuwen), who was on a salary of $300,000. This level of security was needed because of the (supposed) enormous value of the compression technology
  • According to Sherif Safwat, Philip Whitley believed a Chechnyan hit team had arrived in New Zealand on a Russian fishing boat.
  • Philip Whitley: “The [security guards] said that the Russians were trying to penetrate and we ended up with security guards living in my house, camped on the floor … I couldn’t go out of the house without having security … it just built up inside me to the point where I just lost it from a point of paranoia.”

In his summing up on May 27, the defence lawyer said:

  • “Whitley had a distorted view of reality which led him to believe his data compression technology was real.”
  • “… [we are] not challenging the evidence of … Prof Bell that Whitley’s claimed invention was mathematically impossible.”

In July Philip Whitley was found guilty on two counts of fraud (but maintains he still has his inventions).

On August 10, 2010, he was sentenced to five years and three months in prison.

The NearZero mess should not have happened. New Zealand has more researchers in this field than you would expect for a country of this size. One of the most prominent, Tim Bell, clearly stated in 2001 that the claims were false. However, investors still committed (and lost) millions of dollars over a number of years. Compression claims are easily tested (much more easily than medical claims, for example). Whitley refused to allow his technology to be independently tested using the excuse of protecting his intellectual property. Many people have been harmed, especially the investors. Moreover, this type of case is not good for the reputation of the IT industry, which struggles to attract investment.

I was asked at the conference how non-technical NearZero investors could have protected themselves. I had no answers at the time, but have given it some thought since. Some things they could have done:

  • Google the names of the company principals.
  • Check to see how the predicted market capitalisation compared to that of existing companies. Finding that the lowest estimate would make NearZero the biggest company in the world should have lead to some scepticism.
  • Google the terms ‘data compression’ and ‘scam’.

Much of the information in this article is based on the Nelson Mail’s extensive reporting of the issue, for which they are to be congratulated. Another good source of information was, a website set up by and for NearZero’s shareholders in 2007 in response to the liquidation of NearZero. An article by Matt Philp on Philip Whitley and NearZero appeared in the October 2010 issue of North & South.

An evening of healing

Noel Townsley continues our series on the psychic roadshows touring New Zealand.

From a website to which I subscribe came an email notice of two upcoming events with “well-known psychic” Jeanette Wilson. She was doing psychic readings one evening, and the following evening Spirit Healing, described as “an extra-ordinary evening, one that may change your perception of this reality forever.”

Having been to an unimpressive evening with the “well-known psychic” Sue Nicholson recently (see NZ Skeptic 93), I decided my usual Tuesday night pub quiz would likely provide me with more satisfaction, but I would attend Jeanette’s Spirit Healing evening and see what this was all about.

The venue was Rotary House in Silverdale. I arrived right on 7.30pm to a medium-sized hall. In the first and smaller of two rooms was a table with various items for sale, and someone to collect my $40 pre-purchased ticket. From behind the dividing door I could hear Jeanette starting her talk and was quickly ushered through to a seat at the back. There were about 100, mostly older people, and definitely more women than men. I could see that quite a few, like me, had taken up a suggestion in the advert and brought their cameras, hoping to get a photo of one of those seemingly elusive spirits.

Jeanette began by explaining that when she used the term “entity” she was referring to a spirit – often referred to as the “soul” in living people, and as “spirit” once they had died, but that all were interchangeable terms for the same thing. She also said that there were over 2000 spirit doctors and surgeons that she could call upon – these were the same ones that the famous John of God in Brazil uses, and like him, she was also dressed in white, as to better see the spirit/entities. She was also barefoot as this “grounded” her to the energies.

She said some doctors came more frequently than others and mentioned various names. None sounded like Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, or Christiaan Barnard. A number of saints were mentioned as well. She said she had recently done a very successful healing session in Palmerston North where she said that many orbs, entities, and even a floating face had been photographed.

Things looked promising for tonight. She then told us about her upbringing in England, her late childhood in which she realised she could see spirit, and her dramatic call to heal. This came when, as a bank loans officer, a man who had come to see her about a loan asked her to heal his bad back. Not sure what to do, she muttered the prayer she had learnt only a few months earlier while attending a healing workshop.

The result, she says, was for three entities to appear. One took over her body; the other two took the man (now lying down presumably), one by his feet and the other by his head, and proceeded to stretch him out straight, with much loud moaning from the man. If her next loan appointment was waiting outside, I wonder what they thought. Eventually the moaning subsided and the man claimed his back was much improved. The next day he went to his chiropractor, who reportedly said his back was now perfectly aligned.

News of this healing incident spread quickly, and she was soon unpopular with the healing school, who considered her to be a novice. However, while waiting at the tube station, an old man walked up to her and told her she was a healer, repeating this several times. When she realised he was “not of this world”, the man promptly vanished, but she now knew what she was destined to do.

Jeanette related another story of how she was asked to see an (unnamed) peer in the House of Lords, who was due to swim the Thames in a week’s time for a charity event, but was unable to free a frozen shoulder. She was able to fix this in a few minutes, and her fame spread quickly, to the extent that she was being hounded by the unwell – rather like Princess Diana had been by the paparazzi, she said.


Jeanette then told us about some of her recent healings and what we could expect to experience. These healings she said usually happen within a few minutes, or even within a few seconds of her working with someone. Also, as she was healing, we would likely see auras, orbs of light, or even a healing entity. The entities, she explained, do the actual healing; she is just a conduit for them. She warned us that at times she would be making quite loud noises, but not to be concerned by this, and also to have our cameras ready, as this was the best time to take photos and perhaps capture an image of an entity, orb or aura, as this was when they were most active. We may also notice that the room, or parts of it, may become hot or cold – this would be a result of the energies, she said.

She explained she believed in a higher power, although she did not adhere to any particular denomination. We were then asked to close our eyes and recite the Lord’s Prayer, followed by a rosary if we knew it, to assist us in the night’s healing session.

Jeanette asked if there was anyone that had a visible physical condition, rather than a sore back for example, that was just qualitative. This, she said, was to visibly “prove” to us that healing was going on. Several hands went up, including an elderly lady in the front row, with a pair of crutches to her side. Jeanette asked her name and what was wrong with her. Her name was Iris she replied, and she had a problem with both feet, ankles, legs, and knees, which resulted in her being unable to walk any distance without crutches or use of a wheelchair. “I’ll come back to you Iris,” Jeanette said, and asked again if there was someone with a smaller observable condition.

A woman said she was unable to lift her left arm above her head and demonstrated the lack of mobility. Jeanette got to work, rotating both hands in small circles very quickly about half a metre from the “patient” (as she often referred to them) and at the same time making a continuous “Eeee” noise. As she worked she again reminded us this was the time when spirits/entities would likely appear. She advised that the rapid movement of her hands was not controlled by her, but by the entities, although it seemed to make her puff a bit.

During a break in the “Eeeeee’s” she asked if anyone had taken any photos of orbs etc. Although I had seen and photographed nothing, one person near the front said they had, and a woman in a purple sweater near the back of the room ecstatically claimed that she could currently see a purple aura around the patient, and also a single entity just behind her. During the break I overheard someone say that the woman who saw the entity was also a psychic.

Jeanette continued to work on our first patient’s problematic left shoulder but then moved to the right side, directed by the entities. After a few minutes, with breaks for attempts to lift both arms, it appeared that the patient could now lift her right arm up further than she could before; however the problematic left arm remained defiantly down.

All-knowing entities

Jeanette explained that the entities, who she said had scanned us all as we entered the hall this evening, and see and know everything, often fix things that they consider to be of more benefit to us than we do, in some cases even fixing things we didn’t know we had. She assured our patient though, that she would gain more movement in her left arm later on, and presumably considering that getting the right arm to lift higher made for a successful healing, asked for a round of applause for our patient, and a new person to come forward.

Our next patient was a man who had a visible condition, trigger finger in both hands, which he said he had had for about four years. Jeanette said that in her experience, the longer the condition had persisted, the harder it was to heal. She began again with her rapid hand movements and the “Eeeee’s”. During breaks in the healing process the patient revealed that he also had a lot of damage to his back due to an accident that also caused him pain. Jeanette then said she had a pain in her back, which was a sign the entities had directed her to work on this area too. After a few minutes our patient claimed his back pain was improved, and there was some improvement in the trigger finger. However, at least from the back of the room, there appeared to be no difference in the fingers. Another round of applause for our patient, and then Jeanette directed herself to the previous patient, Iris.

Energy flows

Iris revealed further details of her condition; she had apparently damaged one knee in an accident, for which she was currently awaiting reconstructive surgery. Jeanette explained that all energies flow in and out of our feet – good energy flows up, bad energy flows down and out, so in Iris’s case her feet and ankle problems were due to blockages, which in turn created her knee problems.

Someone from the audience asked Jeanette to check with Iris if she had ever been bitten by something, as this might have caused her problems, as apparently it had done in themselves. Iris was sure she had not been bitten however. Jeanette worked on Iris for some time, getting her to stand up from time to time and try to walk a step or two without her crutches. She worked on Iris’s shoulders which the entities had indicated were a problem – left shoulder is past responsibilities, right shoulder is future responsibilities, Jeanette explained.

Iris looked like she might have been from a rest home, so hopefully she would not have too many future responsibilities to deal with, but if she did, at least she now had a strong right shoulder to cope with them. After a quite lengthy session, and despite Jeanette’s efforts, and Iris’s willingness, Iris seemed unable to make any progress in walking, and still resorted to her crutches, but as she returned to her seat, Jeanette said that she would experience an improvement in the next three days. A further round of applause followed.

During this part of the evening Jeanette had often asked the audience if they could feel the hot or cold energy around them. No one indicated they did, but maybe, as it was a hot and sticky summer evening in a room with no air-conditioning, this was too much for the energies to overcome.

A pause for breath

A break of about 20 minutes gave us an opportunity to take refreshments and look over the table of books, CDs, Jeanette’s upcoming courses, and various items including crystals, the Nu-Me pendant, and a radionic pendulum. The pendulum appeared to be nothing more than a small pear-shaped piece of wood attached to a string; however it was far more, as my later research on the internet revealed.

This pendulum, sculpted by the Aetherius Society’s craftsmen, is claimed to be an excellent tool to help develop your intuition and psychic abilities. “It reacts with the subconscious and higher conscious minds to give physical movements with the swing of the pendulum. With the correct use, you can tap the forces of intuition within yourself and then, by careful experimentation, many things can be determined.”

The Nu-Me pendant appeared to be a small coil of copper, about the size of a 50 cent piece. The manufacturers claim it “balances the personal energy system (chakra balancing and aura clearing) as well as protecting from all disturbed energy including EMF (Electro Magnetic Frequency) POLLUTION.”

The courses currently on offer by Jeanette include Reiki-$3000 to become a Reiki Master, and a Spirit Healing weekend, for an “investment” of only $300.

The second half

Upon our return to our seats, I noted a few more empty chairs than before the break.

Jeanette went back into her healing routine on a few more patients. I cannot report that any of the patients in the second half showed any marked physical improvement either. One gentleman, who had a sore shoulder which he said he had injured, but ACC had said was due to arthritis, was unable to lift his arm up fully above his head. Jeanette said that ACC was wrong in their assessment; it had been injured, and she was going to have to make very loud noises to ensure a healing – a high impact (accident) meant a high impact (sound) was needed to correct it. Following each healing action Jeanette would ask the man to lift his arm up, each time declaring a small improvement, although she acknowledged that he was not fully healed, but assured him the improvement would continue. As the crowd applauded, he returned to his seat. A review of photos from my camera showed that he could lift his arm no further on his first attempt, than on his last.

The finale

The last part of our evening was to be a mass healing by Jeanette. We were asked again to close our eyes and recite the Lord’s Prayer, and a rosary if we knew it, to assist this process. She advised that, as well as healing our own ailments, we could think of others and heal them remotely as well. We were to put a hand on the area that we felt needed healing, but if that area was embarrassing, or hard to reach, we could put our hand on our heart instead, as the entities would know what needed to be healed anyway.

The other important thing to remember was not to open our eyes during this time, as the negative energies being released could enter our bodies this way and undo any healing-a warning worth heeding. As I lost about 95 percent of my hearing in my right ear in a diving accident, I put my hand over my right ear and hoped for an improvement.

The only thing that happened at the time was that the constant tinnitus I also experience seemed to get a little louder. However, she did say we could expect more improvement over the coming days, so I was still hopeful.

Several weeks on, I cannot report any improvement in my hearing at all, but I will certainly let you know if there is.

Her last word of warning was to those who had been through her healing – because they had been through spiritual surgery, which was just like conventional surgery, the same advice applied – they must not exert themselves, lift heavy weights etc for some time. This seemed at odds with her claims that healing happens within a few minutes, and could replace conventional surgery. The recovery time at least, would appear to be the same from either “surgery”.

Gems of information

Amongst the gems of information that Jeanette gave out during the night was that a doctor (unnamed) had shown that cats purring can cause broken bones to heal quicker – one compensation of working at the SPCA I guess. She also said that another (also unnamed) doctor has discovered that people with cancer all have acidic bodies, and that changing your diet to make it alkaline will ensure you do not get cancer.

She also revealed some predictions – that New Zealand will be the first country to have full (presumably independently verified?) healing using her method, and will also be the first to open a crystal hospital – I took this to mean one that uses healing crystals, rather than one made of crystal, as the cost would be phenomenal.

In conclusion, I saw nothing that evening in any of the “patients” to indicate a marked or even a mild improvement in any visible condition, although some were reportedly healed of ailments they did not know they had. Those that claimed to be in less pain invariably still walked with a limp, or had difficulty mustering the affected limb to do anything it could not do before. I think most of the non-critical thinking people in that audience would say they saw proof of healing that night, judging from the queue of people wanting her to autograph their newly purchased books at the end of the evening.

I found it intriguing that Jeanette’s claim that aches in one part of the body indicated a non-physical problem, eg sore hands, means difficulty dealing with issues, seemed to be accepted by the audience – obviously the body is not as complex as we have been led to believe.

I was also puzzled by her statements that energy leaves and enters our bodies via our feet, but when asked to pray for our own healing we had to keep our eyes closed as bad energy can enter through our open eyes and affect the outcome. Also puzzling was her claim to not be of any religious denomination, but we were asked to recite a Christian prayer and the Roman Catholic rosary.

In regard to the auras, entities and orbs, I saw none, although one photo I took does have a circular, semi-transparent, white spot in it. As, in the same picture, I can clearly see the bright down-lights located in the ceiling, I think it is safe to assume that this was in fact lens flare. As for the claimed peach/orange coloured auras that were supposedly captured by some, I think this can easily be explained by the profusion of digital cameras in use, most of which produce a red/orange light in low light level situations to assist them to focus. The light emitted is roughly circular, and of course is aimed at the point of interest – in this instance Jeanette and the patient. With so many cameras in use, inevitably someone taking a photo will be recording these focusing lights in their pictures.

My concern with Jeanette Wilson is that people might see her claims of healing as a viable alternative to conventional medicine, and so forgo treatment. To her credit, Jeanette never suggested to anyone that they do that, but conversely, she never suggested to anyone that they seek conventional treatment for any of their ailments.

Despite Jeanette’s claim in her advertisement, my perception of this reality remains firmly intact.

The Spiritual Science of Alpha Beta

This excerpt from an NZ Skeptic article of 20 years ago reviewed an evening with self-styled New Zealand ‘magnetic healer’ Colin Lambert. Presumably the pseudonym ‘Alpha Beta’ was used to minimise the chances of legal action should Lambert have considered anything in it defamatory. Lambert died in 2006, but his disciples maintain a website,, where some of his books and CD’s can be purchased, and workshops are promoted.

The spiritual Science of Alpha Beta, healer to the stars

The skeptics having been invited to Mr Beta’s lecture, I went along to clutch, if not wave, the flag. I duly arrived at the local spiritualist church, a commanding fading edifice at 14, Gullible St. A chap with a withered leg hobbled up the front steps; things were auguring well. An audience of approximately 100 slowly assembled, 90% women, mostly middle aged.

Mr Beta began the first part of his three part lecture with a long series of slides, providing ‘positive proof’ of various paranormal goings on. He kicked off with a spirited defence of Philippino psychic surgeons. Various gory slides quickly had the audience glued. Anyone who suspects these Philippinos of trickery is an ‘idiot’. An anonymous New Zealand G.P. has carefully examined these photographs and concluded that the surgery ‘must be genuine’. An anonymous German eye specialist who doubted that the human eye ball can be removed from its socket and placed on the cheek, still attached, was ‘ignorant’. When one puts the question to these ‘scoffers’; “How long have you studied this surgery in the Philippines?”, that always gets them (approving nods and smiles from the audience). The audience marvelled at a shot of an open Bible being held over a patient. The surgeon wafts the ‘healing energy’ in the book down into the patient helping the release of particularly stubborn growths. Then a piece of goo, the size of an orange, is flashed onto the screen. “How could anyone hide a thing like that up his sleeve, especially as they always work with their sleeves rolled up?” (positive hums of appreciation). After spending a long time studying these ‘wonderfully skilled’ healers, Mr Beta has refined their technique to the point where he now completely ‘dematerialises’, tumours, clots etc and then throws them away, in their still dematerialised state.

Many Hollywood stars have benefited from Mr Beta’s ministrations. A slide of the late Lee Marvin surrounded by his many fishing trophies and Mr Beta impressed the audience. So too did a slide of ‘old timer’ James Coburn. Mr Beta also ‘absent healed’ actor Martin Sheen over the telephone ‘the night before Sheen was shot doing the Kennedy film’ (laughter and warmth abounding). Rita Coolidge (Rita who?) and her sister pleaded with Mr Beta to absent heal their father, Dick. Dick was in San Francisco and Mr Beta in Malibu… David Shanks, NZ Skeptic 14, August 1989.

Magic for Mosquitoes

While we were in Fiji recently there was a dengue fever alert. This unpleasant virus is carried by mosquitoes and naturally we were careful to use insect repellent.

We stayed in a Suva hotel; in the swimming pool area there was a large sign stating that guests should not worry about infections carried by insects because the pool area was protected by a MAGNETIC MOSQUITO DEFFENDER.

I searched diligently but could find no evidence of magnets, either electrical or solid state. However we decided that an invisible MAGNETIC MOSQUITO DEFFENDER would probably work as well as one that could be seen.

Some years ago I wrote in this journal that it was safe to drink tap water in Fiji. This is no longer the case, particularly in Suva.

Defrauding the dying

Mexican cancer clinics continue to do a roaring trade, despite their poor track record.

When civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, the world lost a voice for decency and truth. The death of his widow earlier this year, however, was attended by greed and lies. The family of Coretta Scott King rushed her to Hospital Santa Monica at Rosarito Beach, Mexico, on 26 January. She died five days later. The underlying cause of her death was ovarian cancer. King’s death in one of alternative medicine’s dodgiest facilities highlights a relationship between quacks and Mexicans that is evil.

Hospital Santa Monica is located near crashing surf, 25 kilometres south of San Diego. The climate there may be the best in the world, consistently pleasant. Cruise ships call at beach resorts along the coast, unloading passengers who like the sunshine and the cheap peso. The region also has about 20 alternative medical clinics for desperate patients, almost all from the United States. Coretta Scott King was barely alive when she arrived in Mexico, but like the tourists, she had money. She was one of perhaps 10,000 paying US citizens who check into some Mexican clinic every year. Mexican locals and authorities welcome money from both the tourists and the sick.

Sadly, Hospital Santa Monica and the dozens of similar facilities sell patients only false hope. Kurt W Donsbach founded the Rosarito Beach facility. “The major patient clientele is comprised of cancer patients who have been told that there is no more hope, all traditional therapies having failed,” he boasts on his website. Donsbach claims to use “wholistic” techniques to treat the “whole” person; body, mind and spirit. He repeats the usual twaddle favoured by quacks: about how orthodox doctors treat only symptoms, not the disease; about detoxing the body and boosting the immune system; about avoiding standard treatments because they make cancer worse. Hospital Santa Monica offers “a very eclectic approach,” he says, including ultraviolet blood purification, mag-ray lamps, hydrogen peroxide solutions dripped into veins, ozone gas blown into the colon, a microwave hyperthermia machine (with a rectal probe), induced hypoglycemia by administering insulin, shark cartilage, a Rife frequency generator machine (remember Liam Williams-Holloway?), magnet therapy and other nonsense. Deluded groups such as the so-called Cancer Control Society, based in Pasadena, California, run trips to such Mexican clinics, taking thousands of cancer patients there for useless treatment.

Donsbach fails to reveal on his website that he has a criminal record but no medical degree. Born in 1933, he graduated in 1957 from a chiropractic college in Oregon. By the late 1960s he was running a health-food store in California, selling supplements that he said treated cancer. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he was repeatedly in legal trouble for practising medicine without a licence, selling unapproved drugs and related wrongs. In 1979 he founded a correspondence school – the nonaccredited Donsbach University – that awarded bogus degrees in nutrition, and he sold his own supplements. Officials in New York said the products were useless and sued him. Under pressure in the US, Donsbach started the Mexican clinic in 1983. In 1996 he pleaded guilty to charges of smuggling $250,000 worth of unapproved, adulterated or misbranded medicines from Mexico into the US. Sentenced to prison, he avoided serving time by plea bargaining. In other words, Kurt W Donsbach’s life has been devoted to a range of health-related scams.

The Mexican medical clinics are a blot on the page of human history, but they continue to exist because they attract money. Mexico is a very corrupt country, and bribes and fraud allow unconscionable activity to thrive there. Mexican officials claim they can investigate the facilities only if there are complaints, which are rare because the clinics usually treat non-Mexicans and do not advertise in Mexico. Sometimes clinics get shut down, but they re-open. A week after Coretta Scott King died, the Mexican government closed Hospital Santa Monica, saying it lacked authority to carry out some of its treatments and that several of its unconventional practices put patients at high risk. Patients from the US, Canada, Australia and Italy were at the facility when it was closed. Interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Donsbach was shameless. He blamed the closure on the US medical establishment and predicted that his clinic would reopen soon: “The moment they close down a clinic, they open it up very quickly, the same place, same people.” Immoral quacks and their allies continue to fleece the dying.

Trans-Tasman fight against scams

THE Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce has launched a trans-Tasman campaign to inform consumers about the most common types of scams and how to recognise whether an offer is genuine or false. Consumer Affairs Minister Judith Tizard announced in March the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and the Commerce Commission were joining the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce, along with 16 agencies from across Australia.

Continue reading

Snake Oil: a brief history of alternative medicine

Early in 2005 Professor Kaye Ibbertson, the relentless grand vizier of the Marion Davis Library and Museum, asked David Cole to offer the Medical Historical Society some comments about the history of unorthodox medicine. He was in the process of assembling several convincing excuses, when Ibbertson turned off his hearing aid and any excuses were set aside. This article is based on the talk which resulted.

Continue reading