Wide-ranging Review a Valuable Update

PSEUDOSCIENCE AND THE PARANORMAL, by Terrence Hines. 2nd edition, Prometheus. ISBN 1-57392-979-4.

This book thoroughly demolishes the pretence that laboratory experiments in ESP have produced statistical evidence for the phenomenon’s reality. But like almost all writers on the subject, Hines treats telepathic communication and precognition as merely alternative forms of the same thing. ESP does not exist. But telepathy conceivably could exist, if there was a “fifth force” explain it, whereas precognition would require that information travel backward in time — an absurdity that can be refuted by the reductio ad absurdum it would produce.

In discussing the Alice-in-Wonderland rationalization of parapsychologists for the impossibility of obtaining positive results of ESP tests under conditions that rule out non-ESP explanations, namely, that “psi is shy,” Hines classifies the rationalisation as just one more non-falsifiable (and therefore unscientific) hypothesis, as indeed it is. But he might have made his point better by asking: If one force of nature, ESP, can feel insulted and refuse to manifest itself in the presence of a skeptic, how come magnetism does not refuse to do so? How come the nuclear forces are not shy? How come gravity is not shy? How come only psi is shy?

Hines’ several pages on how cold readings are accomplished are sufficiently detailed to satisfy all but the incurably gullible that the psychic scam relies on the Barnum dictum that there is a sucker born every minute. And in debunking perhaps the most widely believed claims of psychic prophecy, he shows that a passage by Nostradamus widely interpreted as a foretelling of the rise and fall of Napoleon could equally well be applied to Ferdinand II, Adolf Hitler, or any European ruler whose governance was less than beneficial.

Hines is himself not free of belief in pseudoscience. He authenticates the reality of hypnotism. According to Robert Baker, in They Call it Hypnosis, “Hypnotism does not exist, has not existed in the past, and will not exist in the future.” Hines has, however, withdrawn his endorsement of multiple personality disorder and acupuncture, mentioned favorably in his 1992 edition.

He also continues to authenticate the claim that victims of Tourette’s syndrome who engage in “uncontrolled swearing and use of racial and ethnic epithets” (p. 84) are not consciously playacting. The only reason Tourette swearing is viewed as involuntary is that the patients say so. I am not going to accuse Hines of gullibility. Ninety percent of his book proves that he is not. It is the psychotherapists who diagnosed (actually invented) imaginary illnesses who are gullible.

Hines’ chapter on psychoanalysis should be mandatory reading for all persons who still believe that Freud’s imbecilic fantasy differs in any way from spilling one’s guts to a bartender or a taxi driver. He ends the chapter with a debunking of hundreds of incompatible procedures lumped together as “humanistic psychology”, describing them as “all couched in layers of vacuous psychobabble and containing considerable amounts of pseudoscience”. Right on!

Hines catalogues an abundance of evidence that polygraphs are no more effective as lie detectors than tossing a coin, heads for Truth and tails for Lie. In an experiment conducted by the TV program 60 Minutes in 1986 (p. 430): “Several polygraph firms were called by CBS and told that there had been a theft…. In fact there had been no theft and all the ‘suspects’ knew that they were taking part in an experiment. Each polygraph operator was given a hint that one particular suspect was the leading suspect, but the hint concerned a different employee for each operator. The operators in each case identified the ‘leading suspect’ as the guilty party. Not one operator failed to make this incorrect judgment.”



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

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

Text quote was taken from:

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

Andrew Hart, Tauranga

Magic Mushrooms Materialise

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

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

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

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

P. Williams, Auckland

EDTA Chelation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan McWilliam, Rotorua