Confessions of a New Age Skeptic

How should a skeptic relate to those who have other belief systems?

What does a skeptic and atheist do when they are part of a broader group that is quite loose on empirical evidence and critical thinking? A lot of us experience this to some degree, but I’ve wrestled with my engagement with a particular group I’m fond of for the last 20 years.

Convergence: Beyond 2000 (previously, “Towards 2000”) is an annual camping event that takes place in North Canterbury over the New Year break. Its tag line is: “Gathering every year for a co-creative festival celebrating nature, spirituality, love, and healing”. The event is alcohol and drug-free, has good facilities, and includes about 350 people.

Convergence is a place where the cultural norm is one of suspension of disbelief. All of the typical energy healing models are practised and taught there in workshop context by volunteer facilitators. Reiki, guru aspirants, channelers, tarot card readers, Mayan calendar adherents, fairy lovers, tantric energy, The Secret, massage healers … well, where do you stop?

I found myself coming along to the events first in 1992. I’d migrated from Canada and my flatmate and all his friends, who were a playful, friendly bunch, went every year and I was drawn into it. I was still coming out of 12 years of study and work as a mechanical engineer installing computer systems into paper mills and was quite happy to regress into a less linear approach to my perception of life and how to live it.

My first year I was quite guarded, being aware that there are people out there that attempt to get people away to events “just-like-this” with the aim of drawing them into some sect or other. All the warmth, playfulness and affection that seemed to be happening was pretty overwhelming and I felt I stuck out like a sore thumb. Fortunately, it wasn’t a sect, and I wasn’t pressured to be “one of us”, and I was generally engaged with at a warm, receptive level.

At Convergence in the first few years I remember often feeling discomfort while the friend I might be walking or talking with would leap joyfully into the arms of someone they knew from previous events. It took a lot of self-reassurance to stick with it, and in time I found myself being outrageously affectionate as well, and carrying that forward into my life. I’ve made a lot of friends at Convergence, and found my last two partners there as well (having a child with both of them). So, there have been a lot of good times inside my relationship with the group.

My other exposures to “hooey” weren’t disturbing. I’d lived already for a few years on a hippy commune near Motueka where I’d seen any number of loose approaches to life. In a way, it made me feel more sane being around people that I was genuinely very fond of but that obviously had one or two screws loose and rattling around.

This Xmas, having recently turned 50 and after having gobbled up the the Skeptics Guide to the Universe (and other skeptic podcasts) I joined the ranks of the NZ Skeptics. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m an atheist, a humanist, and I’m going to share that when it is relevant.

It’s still a learning experience for me. When do I say something? If a friend talks about the great course in acupuncture that they are in their final year of do I say what I believe? No, I haven’t, not often. But I do wonder the cost in not saying something. Did we lose an opportunity for intimacy? Did I miss giving them a test to their chosen life path, possibly sparing them some wasted years of hand-waving healing modalities? I’m still not clear on that one, being new to this.

“What’s the harm” is a classic response. I’ve reflected on my hippy years and now realise there was harm. The anti-vax/DIY home-birthing (without adequate support) crowd had three kids that are still paying the price. I’ve supported the deaf community as a social worker and found that there are years during which a lot of them go through milestone birthdays (anti-vax again). I’ve had my kids treated with bogus, outwardly professional therapies (waste of cash and time).

This year, when I went to Convergence I found the issue of my personal beliefs much more emotionally charged. I told quite a few people that I met that I had ‘come out’ as a skeptic. In saying this, I found others that shared my feelings.

Encouraged by my gathering support, in front of the whole crowd I ‘testified’ as an atheist/critical thinker and offered a workshop on the issue. The crowd barked with laughter and good will as I did it humorously. It turned out the others I’d spoken to prior to the meeting had initiated a workshop already!

In the workshop people spoke about the fear of diverging from the group norm, and holding their tongue while others spoke about their wild unfounded beliefs. They mentioned the discomfort of “having to” participate in opening rituals (blessing to the four directions…yadda yadda). And not knowing others that felt the same. We agreed that our general perspective was a healthy one for the fesitival, and one to be openly celebrated.

Next year we’ll open with a workshop for sceptics. It’s a beautiful event, and the acceptance is big enough to include critical thinking. And who knows, we may make us a few converts!
www.convergence.net.nz/wordpress/

Deadly Ignorance

Pseudoscientific beliefs can be dangerous when they form the basis of government policy

In my last column, I mentioned that conspiracy thinker Phillip Day travels the world (he again toured New Zealand late last year) with his message that there is no Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), that Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids) is not sexually transmitted and that the “highly poisonous Aids medications” are part of a “calculated and inhumane population control agenda which has been sanctioned at the highest political levels.”

So absurd are these claims that readers may doubt whether people such as Day attract much of a following. Why should Skeptics bother to speak up? Sadly, misinformation can be deadly to entire populations when policy makers adopt it. A shocking example is the case of Aids in the Republic of South Africa.

In 1982 the first cases of HIV were diagnosed in South Africa. The government was very slow to respond to the growing crisis. By 1998, when 50% of adult medical admissions to hospital in Gauteng province were Aids related, there was still no national treatment plan, public education about Aids was almost nonexistent, and superstitions were widespread. When health worker Gugu Dlamini made her HIV status public on World Aids day, she was stoned to death by a mob that included her neighbours.

The reason for the government’s slow response became clear: ignorance among the leadership of the ruling African National Congress. The South African president, Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela as president in 1999, shocked the world health community when he said Aids is caused by poverty, not by HIV. By 2000, 10% of South Africans were HIV positive, but in May of that year he appointed a panel and charged them with solving the country’s Aids problems. One of the panel members chosen by Mbeki was American scientific outcast Peter Duesberg, who says Aids is caused by anti-Aids drugs, such as AZT, but not by HIV! Mbeki ruled out providing AZT to HIV positive pregnant women, claiming the drug did more harm than good. In fact, the drug has been proven effective in drastically cutting the transmission of the deadly virus to the baby in childbirth. Thousands of HIV positive babies continued to be born every month. Duesberg said he doubted South Africa was experiencing an Aids epidemic, and the panel debated whether Aids is spread by sex or not. Mbeki thus wasted precious time and resources. In July 2000, about 5000 doctors and scientists took the extraordinary step of releasing The Durban Declaration as a rebuke to Mbeki. The document said the link between HIV and Aids is “clear-cut, exhaustive and unambiguous.” South Africa’s doctors appealed for an end to the debate which they said was confusing people who should be fighting Aids, which was spreading faster in South Africa than anywhere else on Earth.

Mbeki continued to downplay the threat of Aids. His government continued to ban doctors from providing antiretroviral drugs to HIV infected women, thus ensuring that the disease was passed on to thousands more babies. The cheap or free drugs that pharmaceutical companies had been offering for five years were not accepted.

Indeed, the Ministry of Health at great expense distributed a pamphlet justifying this deadly nonsense. In 2001, Mbeki again refused to link HIV with Aids, even though he agreed “that’s what the scientists say.”

Progress slowly came. President Mbeki found himself increasingly isolated as members of his cabinet and government supporters stated that they accepted the link between HIV and Aids. He also came under fierce international criticism from scientists and medical experts for his ignorance and lack of action.

In November 2003, the government reversed its position on the antiretroviral drugs and planned to quadruple its spending on HIV/Aids. President Mbeki, however, continues to lash out at efforts to provide scientific treatment. Phillip Day praises Mbeki’s bizarre beliefs.

The World Health Organisation says Aids is the biggest cause of death in South Africa, where it affects nearly six million people, more than in any other country. About one million people died in South Africa last year from Aids.

No society in history has had to deal with an epidemic like this. There is no containing an epidemic that has already infected 30% of adults in Durban. By 2010, life spans will probably be reduced in South Africa from about 70 years (in the absence of Aids) to about 36. Millions of deaths from Aids that have occurred in South Africa and millions that will happen were avoidable. When leaders fall for crank ideas, the results can be massively tragic.
Dr Raymond Richards is a Senior Lecturer in History and American Studies at Waikato University. He can be reached at [email protected]

Credence is Beyond Belief

The Break Free tour will be coming soon to a city near you. The week-long tour of lectures and book selling will start in Christchurch at the end of November and proceed to Wellington, Taupo, Hamilton and Auckland. The person who will head the tour is Phillip Day, who supposedly is “an award-winning author, health researcher and world-class speaker.”

Day may be a good speaker. He certainly has had enough practice, since his tours regularly take him from his base in Britain to several countries. He has been in New Zealand before. Day also runs websites that sell books by himself and a few associates. But what awards he has won or research he has conducted is unclear. What he says is not worth hearing and often is dangerous.

Phillip Day says and writes a lot about many things. He leads Credence, which claims to be “an independent research organisation dedicated to reporting contentious issues that may harm the public. [Their] goal is to report properly annotated and verified information of tremendous benefit to humanity.”

Day also runs the Campaign for Truth in Medicine (CTM) and the Campaign for Truth in Europe (CTE). He manages a website called Eclub to publicize these efforts.

Day’s CTE hates the European Union and denounces Britain’s “own conniving politicians” for permitting “the destruction of Britain by giving their consent to be ruled by an unelected, unaccountable European autocracy dominated by Germany and France.” The EU wants to hijack the success of British athletes, Day complains, by making them compete under the European flag at future Olympics. While such political views may be merely quirky, they offer a glimpse of a mindset gripped by conspiracies.

Day accuses the British government of conducting “a programme of coercion and terrorism against the British farming industry” because it slaughtered animals during the recent foot-and-mouth crisis. According to Day, the disease is no worse than a bad cold for an animal, is not caused by a virus, and can be cured by good housing, bedding and food. The reality of the so-called outbreak, he says, is the British government’s criminal and treasonous decision to rid an independent Britain of its livestock industry in order to promote a European federalist agenda.

Doctors top Phillip Day’s list of people who harm the public. He sees a “slaughter of the citizenry.” He quotes approvingly an alternative therapist who charges, “The most dangerous place on planet Earth is the hospital – next is the doctor’s office – followed closely by the dentist’s office.” Although he lacks a suitable qualification, Day knows better than doctors. His tour promises to show audiences how to “BREAK FREE from cancer, addiction, and depression.” Sadly, Day also quotes Dr Bill Reeder, an alternative therapist who offers questionable chelation therapy near Hamilton, who says he will be “directing all my cancer patients to your site.”

Perhaps the most dangerous misinformation Phillip Day spreads concerns cancer. He condemns prescription drugs, radiation and chemotherapy. He says mammographies do not detect cancer – they cause it. Police officers supposedly get testicular cancer by sitting in their squad cars with a speed gun in their lap. Day insists cancer is a deficiency disease. He recommends apricot seeds/laetrile/Amygdalin/vitamin B-17 as a cure for cancer, praising the work of Ernst Krebs. In fact, Krebs and laetrile long have been discredited. Ernst T Krebs, Jr never earned a graduate degree. Starting in the 1950s, he and his father sold quack “cures” for major diseases, especially cancer. Krebs spent time in jail. Laetrile, sometimes called amygdalin or vitamin B-17 (it is not a vitamin), has been rigorously tested in the US by the National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration. The tests showed it to be medically useless. It even contains cyanide and has killed people. It is now illegal to sell laetrile in the US. In the mind of Phillip Day, laetrile is outlawed only to protect “the multi-billion dollar, world-wide cancer industry.”

Day says there is no HIV virus – the “highly poisonous Aids medications” are part of a “calculated and inhumane population control agenda which has been sanctioned at the highest political levels.” He praises South African President Thabo Mbeki’s bizarre views on Aids, which have led the South African government to refuse medication to people with HIV. Tragically, the World Health Organisation says Aids is the biggest cause of death in South Africa.

Also dangerous is Phillip Day’s insistence that children do not need any vaccinations. Good food, water and love supposedly are sufficient.

Yes, the Break Free tour is coming to New Zealand. People who value evidence, critical thinking and reason may want to attend – to witness a bad example.
Dr Raymond Richards is a Senior Lecturer in History and American Studies at Waikato University . He can be reached at [email protected]

Newsfront

Death was “the Biggest Gift”

A Feng Shui practitioner who died while on a life mastery course in Fiji was ready to leave his body, his widow believes. Stephanie Challis, pictured in the Nelson Mail (11 December 2002) smiling happily with her three children, told how her 41 year old husband Will had undergone a course of body cleansing which involved colonic hydrotherapy and drinking quantities of good quality water.

“He always played full out,” she said. “My guess is that he had seven or eight litres of water, thinking, ‘the more I drink, the cleaner I am’.” Mr Challis mentioned that he had been throwing up, but Mrs Challis, having previously done that when detoxifying, didn’t think too much of it. She said his sodium levels had become unbalanced, leading to loss of consciousness. Because they were on an island facilities were not available to rectify his sodium balance, and he was not given any oxygen.

“It appears his brain suffered massive oxygen starvation in that first 24 hours. The doctors tell me they will never know.”

Mrs Challis said she met her husband through training in Qi Gong, an ancient form of energy cultivation, and the basis of their relationship had always been spiritual. In the months leading up to his death, they had been “full out” on various courses. She believes he was on an unconscious level preparing to leave his body. “There are so many amazing coincidences. It all points to the fact that this was his time.”

Mrs Challis said she had remained positive throughout the ordeal, and did not blame anyone for what happened and, in fact, feels privileged that her husband shared the experience with her. “I was keeping the bigger picture in mind the whole time. When he died I felt incredibly peaceful and even joyful. I realise since that what he’s done has been the biggest gift he’s ever given me. I feel closer to him now than I’ve ever felt and deeply grateful for what he has taught me about life through his dying.”

Out-of-Body Experiences at the Flick of a Switch

Doctors say that out-of-body experiences (OBEs) may be triggered by stimulation in one part of the brain (Dominion, 23 September 2002). Writing in Nature, the Swiss researchers say they were able to trigger OBEs in a female patient. They say their work may explain the phenomenon of people reporting having “left” their body and watched it from above. The doctors were studying epilepsy by using electrodes to stimulate the woman’s brain. They found that stimulating the angular gyrus in the right cortex repeatedly caused OBEs. At first, the stimulations caused the woman to feel she was sinking into the bed, or falling from a height. When the strength of the current was increased, she reported feeling she had left her body. The doctors believe the angular gyrus matches up visual information and the representation of the body formed by the brain’s touch and balance faculties. When the two become dissociated, an OBE may result.

Mormon Researcher gets the Wrong Answer

Anthropologist Thomas Murphy faces expulsion from the Mormon Church after showing by DNA analysis that native Americans are not descended from ancient Israelites, as the church claims (Dominion Post, 9 December).

The Book of Mormon, made public by Joseph Smith in 1830, is a cornerstone of church doctrine and taken literally by the faithful. It teaches, among other things, that America was populated by Israelites who went to North America 600 years before Christ – a time within the reach of archaeology and genetics. Mr Murphy, of the anthropology department at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Washington, set out to test this, and his negative findings saw him charged with apostasy. It appears this is the first time a member of the Mormon Church has faced expulsion for genetic research.

Church leaders declined to comment on specifics of the case, but critics said they feared his excommunication would have a chilling effect on Mormon scholars who wanted to stay in the church.

Clone Petition Dismissed

The Raelians, of course, know full well that native Americans are not descended from Israelites. According to the cult they, and everyone else, owe their origin to extraterrestrials, who cloned themselves to produce the human race some 25 000 years ago. They’ve gained themselves a lot of publicity in the last few months with their claims to have produced human clones of their own (eg Dominion Post, 30 December). More recently (Reuters, 29 January) a Florida judge has dismissed a petition to appoint a state guardian for “Eve”, the first of three allegedly cloned babies, reportedly born on December 26. Clonaid, the company which claims to have produced the clones, says the baby is in Israel.

Expressing skepticism that a cloned child even existed, but expressing concern for its welfare if it did, Juvenile Court Judge John Frusciante said his court had no jurisdiction in the case. Clonaid president Brigitte Boisselier testified that the baby had never been anywhere near the United States.

Clonaid has produced no evidence for any of the clones. Scientists widely believe the assertions are a hoax to make money or garner publicity for the Raelians.

Boisselier, a French-born chemist who is a member of the Raelians, would not say where in Israel the child was, adding she did not know as she was no longer in contact with the parents. She also told the court that she had not seen the baby, although she had seen videotapes.

Bernard Siegel, a private citizen and attorney, filed the petition earlier this month asking for the state to appoint a guardian to supervise her care. He said that if “Eve” were indeed a cloned child she could face serious medical problems.

In dismissing the case, Frusciante made plain his concerns about cloning, citing at one point President Bush’s remarks during his State of the Union address on Tuesday in which Bush said no human should be started or ended as the object of an experiment and asked Congress to ban cloning.

Clonaid, which made the initial announcement of “Eve’s” birth at a hotel in Hollywood, Florida, backed away from its earlier promise to provide DNA proof of the cloning after Siegel filed his petition. The company, which does not reveal where it is located or anything about its finances, now says that it has deliberately cut links with “Eve’s” parents to ensure their privacy.

The lawyers representing Clonaid had urged Frusciante to dismiss the petition. “The case was a preposterous case, there was no basis for it,” attorney Jonathan Schwartz said after Wednesday’s hearing.

But Siegel said he was glad he presented the petition even though it failed, not least because it had prompted Boisselier’s testimony under oath that a cloned child existed and was in Israel. He added he hoped the Florida Department of Children and Families, which had representatives in court on Wednesday, would alert the relevant authorities in Israel to the possibility of a child in need of protection.

And now it’s Homeopathic Vets

The first output from a new diploma course in homeopathy graduated at the end of last year (Rural News, December 2). The four women are mostly veterinarians who have taken the course at the Bay of Plenty College Auckland Campus. New Zealand Homeopathic Council president Joan Goddard says the qualification is unique, and is the first time that basic medical knowledge has been taught beside homeopathic treatment and diagnosis in an animal health course.

Students take a part-time one-year foundation course before electing to complete the two or three-year diploma.

Goddard says most of the students graduating this year are veterinarians looking to extend their treatment capabilities.

“Vets treat the diploma as an additional skill to use on herds and do not rely solely on homeopathics.”

She hopes the course will set up a list of standard homeopathic treatments for various animal conditions, as many current practitioners depend on personal experiences to treat animals. Twelve students should graduate in 2004, with similar numbers going through the course.

Goddard hopes course numbers will gradually grow but says there are only a limited number of people to teach students. Well that’s something, I suppose.

A Skeptical View of Linguistic Gaffes

Mind the Gaffe, by RL Trask. Penguin, 2002. $24.95.

Mind the Gap! The book title is intended to remind all who have waited on curved London Underground railway platforms of the risk a careless step poses. The risks Dr Trask warns of are those which can label the writer as illiterate, ignorant of the nuances of English usage, or at least possessed of cloth ears. In offering this review to New Zealand Skeptic I do not imply that readers are particularly in need of the author’s advice; rather, his comments have a distinctly skeptical slant, which should be music to skeptical ears (see entry: cliches). Consider the following entries in his alphabetical list.

  • Alternative

“…has acquired a new sense of ‘non-standard’ …A good example is alternative medicine…a collection of practices which are neither underpinned by scientific understanding nor validated by careful testing.”

  • Militant

“When Richard Dawkins says he has no use for religion he is labelled a ‘militant atheist’, but the earnest people who call at awkward hours to talk about the Bible are never called ‘militant Christians’.”

  • Morphic

“A meaningless word with no existence outside pseudo-scientific drivel.” (Take that, Sheldrake!)

  • Natural

“Anyone who tells you that natural things are good by definition should be invited to spend a year in a remote third-world village with no running water, no sewers, no electricity and no medical treatment, but plenty of vermin and diseases.”

  • New Age

“Bookshops today are obliged to devote a depressingly large amount of shelf-space to books churned out by crackpots and charlatans… This coy label is overly respectful, in that it suggests the books have some detectable content.”

  • Quantum

“…every third charlatan finds that he can sell books by wrapping his content-free dross in a warm, fuzzy, pseudo-mystical cloud of blather featuring the word quantum very prominently. …seems to sell piles of books which would have served us better by remaining as trees”.

  • Uncertainty principle

“…brandished constantly by New Age charlatans… These frauds want their readers to believe that Heisenberg’s great achievement somehow licenses and justifies whatever brand of content-free mumbo-jumbo they happen to be peddling.”

There are more examples; those interested in modern philosophy should see the entries for feminism, hermeneutic, situated knowledge and theory.

The author was born and educated in the US, but now teaches linguistics at Sussex University in the UK. He is thus an expert guide in that area where, unfortunately, “two peoples are divided by a common language”.

Hokum Locum

Yet Another Alternative to Evidence Based Medicine

Eloquence based medicine

The year round suntan, carnation in the button hole, silk tie, Armani suit and tongue should all be equally smooth. Sartorial elegance and verbal eloquence are powerful substitutes for evidence.
New Zealand Medical Journal Vol 113 No 1122 p479

Acupuncture Flunks

A comprehensive literature search has concluded that there is no strong evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating and rehabilitating musculoskeletal injuries when compared to other forms of treatment. This is similar to the conclusion of Ernst & White, who reviewed 600 references and concluded, “the only compelling evidence is that acupuncture is efficacious for the treatment of backache, nausea and dental pain.” (Acupuncture: a scientific appraisal, Ed. Ernst & White, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999)

The National Council Against health Fraud (NCAHF) concluded in 1997 that “acupuncture is mostly a powerful placebo and/or a psychological aid for use in managing behavioural disorders.”

I intend writing to David Rankin at ACC Healthwise, to ask him how they will justify continuing to pay for unproven treatments such as acupuncture.
ACC News August 2002 Issue 48
NCAHF Newsletter Vol 20, No. 6

Water births have no proven benefit

Considering man’s status as a terrestrial mammal, the pre-occupation with water births has appeared on the scene like some kind of antediluvian regression. It seems like the more advances are made by medical science, the more people want to revert to medieval superstition or New Age silliness.

There have been few trials of water births but plenty of reports of near-drownings of newborn infants. Many years ago I was invited to attend one such birth, but my attendance was cut short when I asked if I could bring my dive gear and speargun. Those slippery newborns can be elusive! Seriously though, what’s next? Water births attended by orcas and dolphins at Napier’s Marineland? Hmmm, could be a great new tourist attraction. A clever dolphin could soon be trained to flick the newborn infant up out of the water and into the arms of the waiting midwife. There has to be an idea there for some tasteless new TV program.
Marlborough Express 12/8/02

Oxygen Therapy

As we all know, oxygen is essential for life. If something’s good for us it stands to reason that a lot more must be even better. This is the rationale for extra vitamins, food supplements and so on. Oxygen clinics are an excellent scam because if properly run there is an unlimited crowd of gullible customers. All you need is some convenient threat, for example air pollution, and you have a perfectly reasonable excuse to remedy that problem by offering people oxygen in pleasant and soothing surroundings. A clinic based in Calcutta offers twenty minutes of oxygen via nasal prongs “where customers can sink back into soft leather chairs, inhale oxygen flavoured with various scents and be lulled by soothing music.” There’s only one small problem. Our haemoglobin, the oxygen carrying pigment in the blood, is about 98% saturated with oxygen at the earth’s surface. Inhaling extra oxygen does not improve this saturation at all. In fact, I would bet anything you like that if the oxygen was substituted for clean air the subjects would feel just as refreshed and still cheerfully pay their 175 rupees. This is a classic placebo scam. Someone should start a similar clinic in Auckland aimed at the same sort of people who buy energy drinks. As WC Fields was fond of saying – never give a sucker an even break!

Fibromyalgia

Imagine a doctor’s surgery. A patient complains of tender areas everywhere. This is what I call “und here” after the German syndrome of the same name. The patient has pain here, und here und here. The doctor examines the patient and finds that they are indeed tender in the areas where they say they are tender! This ridiculous folie-a-deux has been sturdily defended by a few remaining rheumatologists. It has taken a judge to rule “evidence of physical symptoms is not evidence of physical injury” and “is not compensable by ACC”.

Fibromyalgia (aka “fibro-sitis”) is a typical psychosomatic complaint where vague malaise and non-specific aches and pains get endorsed by a group of specialists. Skeptics noted that four fifths of patients were women and it is now recognized that the syndrome is indistinguishable from chronic fatigue syndrome. (Shorter Pg313)
ACC News September 2002 Issue 49
From Paralysis to Fatigue, Edward Shorter, 1992 The Free Press

Get an Educayshun??

Until I looked at the site www.massagecollege.co.nz I had no idea that ridiculous pseudo-science such as holistic pulsing and polarity therapy could be studied and rewarded by NZQA recognition. It gets worse. Student subsidies are available from Winz. I have written to both Winz and the NZQA asking how taxpayer funds can be wasted in this manner. Watch this space.

The Wisest Fool in New Zealand?

A GP colleague forwarded me a portion of letterhead from a doctor who practises chelation therapy as well as using Electro acupuncture of Voll. I have discussed this latter quackery before. It is an evolution of the “black box” and its use by registered medical practitioners should occasion a referral to the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. When I read the list of qualifications held by this doctor I was reminded of the famous description of James 1 of England as “the wisest fool in Christendom.”

Here is the list – the meaning of most is obvious: B.Med Sc. MBChB. Dip Bus Admin. MRNZCGP, ANZIM, BSc, Dip Obst., MRACGP, MSc, FAMS, BA, Dip AvMed, MRSNZ.

The Diary of Inspector Melas

I cannot reveal how this diary excerpt came into my possession but it gives an insight into police methods in relation to the Christchurch Civic Crèche case. I reproduce it verbatim. The original has been placed with my lawyer.

Monday That damned book has won a Montana award! Called a meeting to discuss how to counter these attacks on our integrity. Det. Dixon suggested contacting the Counsellor who has been seeing B. and making good progress with regression therapy. ACC have agreed to pay for a further 1500 counselling sessions. (1703 for the mother – she’s making good progress).

Tuesday Wonderful news. B. has recovered more memories. The tunnels. I knew they existed! Material very detailed – dates, times etc. Regular underground trips involving other Cr&egraveche children in the company of known Christchurch Satanists and pornographers. Contacted Karen who confirmed that these are absolutely classical descriptions of systematic child abuse. Ordered Det. Green to obtain ground-penetrating radar.

Wednesday Phoned by some loony in Fendalton who claimed his dog was psychic and could help our investigations. Told him we don’t use that sort of unscientific rubbish. 1430: Green phoned. Promising radar returns from under the Civic crèche. The tunnel complex!!! Decide to hold press conference after we have the evidence. Told them we were on the verge of a breakthrough. Great excitement.

Thursday Meet on site with excavation team. B. present with whanau. (All our supporters.) B. has apparently remembered “dancing, poos, clowns and somebody called Lara Croft”. (NB. not one of the original accused) Probably need Karen to interpret that when we interview the suspects again and lay charges. Det. Green offered to let me break into the tunnel. Most unfortunate – hit the main sewer. Bugger. Green apologetic. Told him to sort out the mess. B. very upset and will probably need more therapy. Went home and changed uniform. Cancelled press conference.

Friday Depressing day. On the phone mostly sorting out the repair of the sewer. Called up to see the Boss – he was not happy at all. No more tunnel searches. Found two copies of the book in a second-hand shop on my way home and burnt them. Cheered up a bit. Rem – must follow up the Lara Croft lead on Monday (and clowns).

Newsfront

Biokinetic Horror Show

A Hamilton doctor is facing two charges of professional misconduct and one of disgraceful conduct after one of his patients was left looking “like something out of a horror movie”. The Marlborough Express (August 21) reports Yvonne Short had gone to Dr Richard Gorringe in 1998 looking for a cure for her skin problems.

She told a disciplinary tribunal in Hamilton Dr Gorringe promised to cure her within 12 weeks, but she ended up worse off.
“My hands were also swollen and painful… I would wake up in the morning and there would be skin on the bed and on the floor,” she said.
In her opening address, director of proceedings Morag McDowell told the tribunal Dr Gorringe’s alternative practice was not an issue. Instead, the prosecution was concerned with his diagnostic technique.

The next day (NZ Herald, September 22) Dr Gorringe demontrated this technique, known as Peak Muscle Resistance Testing. Using a fake patient, he showed how the patient placed his or her hand or arm on a square aluminium plate, which was part of a wired circuit.

In the other hand, the patient holds an aluminium rod, and touches dozens of small vials filled with various body tissues, chemicals, toxins and pathogens. If the patient’s arm flexes when they touch a certain toxin or body tissue vial, that shows what is wrong and where the problem lies.

Using this technique, Dr Gorringe diagnosed Yvonne Short as suffering from paraquat poisoning.

Expert witness Dr Richard Doehring told the tribunal the technique was not reliable, adding that muscle testing was without objective validation and confirms what the practitioner expects it to confirm.

He criticised as unethical Dr Gorringe’s practice of selling remedies from his own clinic and described his alternative practice as “cruelly exploitative, if not outright fraudulent.”

Hotline to Heaven

Bolivian visionary, evangelist and stigmatist Katya Rivas flew into Wellington briefly, and relayed a message from Jesus especially for the people of New Zealand. Since being visited by the Blessed Mother in 1993, Katya has reported numerous miracles. She has even converted sceptics to Catholicism – Aussie investigative journalist Mike Willessee interviewed her in 1999 for a Fox TV documentary and the former sceptic converted. It was he who invited her to Sydney, to help launch a new video he made on the miracle of the Eucharist. Contact magazine (September 5) had this as its lead article, spurring an unprecedented five copies submitted to Newsfront from members. Christ’s message, by the way: “We are already in a new country, a country which is ready to receive my mercy through love. Trust, it is important that you speak to the people and save souls that are precious to me. Happy are those who are docile to my voice and invitations.”

Letters to the editor resulted, essentially saying “Stigmata, potata!” – one pointed out that CSICOP’S Joe Nickell looked into the alleged stigmatisation and found they could not be authenticated. The show was so bad it even won Farce of the Week (see http://www.randi.org/jr/7-30-199.htm). Another said “A lot of Mike Willessee’s very sane friends and colleagues are deeply concerned about his health…”

Something to cry over

While on such things, the NZ Herald (September 23) reports the weeping virgin of Rockingham appears to have joined the long list of fakes that have plagued Christendom since splinters of the “true cross” carved out a market in the Middle Ages. (I wish I’d written that introduction -ed.) After examination, a secret cavity was found in the fibreglass statue which has enthralled thousands of the faithful at the industrial suburb south of Perth since rose-scented “tears” appeared in March. Following a pattern on the internet describing how to “amaze your friends and bring peasants to your door” the unknown creator reportedly put an oil-filled cavity in its head. It was then sold as a souvenir in Thailand eight years ago. Such are miracles.

Bad Vibes, Man

A Whakatane woman fears plans to build a periodic detention centre next to her shop will wreak havoc on her business, the Dominion Post (26 July) reports. “I sell crystals, can you imagine the negative energy that will come from over there,” said Gerry Tobin, who plies her trade next to the proposed Commerce St site. On the other hand, we wonder whether the positive vibrations from her wares will have a beneficial effect on the prisoners?

It’s your hair they’re after

Consumer Affairs Ministry senior adviser Pamela Rogers is one person keeping tabs on scams (Dominion Post, September 11 – yes, there were other news items that day). She says the “ickiest” one she’s seen was from clairvoyant Liv Hansen who would map out your financial future in return for $30 and a clipping of your hair.

Similar scams included Master Charli Chan’s amazing golden dragon egg and Maria Duval’s cardboard talisman, priced between $50 and $80.

Variations on the Nigerian scam include pleas from Zimbabwean “Edward Mulete” to help disperse his murdered farmer father’s $46 million estate, and a man claiming to be the late King of Nepal’s lawyer looking to offload $67 million squirreled away by the king’s son and killer, Prince Dipendra.

The ministry has also seen a recent upsurge in “El Gordo” lottery scams, in which people are sent a letter or e-mail saying they had won money in a lottery, but needed to send a cheque or provide credit card details to pay $50 to claim their prize. Ms Rogers said people still sent money despite knowing they had not entered such lotteries.

Sceptic sees stars

Independent film-maker Bart Sibril surprised Buzz Aldrin, one of the first astronauts to walk on the moon – and saw stars for his efforts. The man-described as a “sceptic”-maintains the moon landings were faked in the Nevada desert. He was with a Japanese film team and ambushed the astronaut outside a Beverly Hills hotel, reports The Press (September 21). “I walked up to him on the sidewalk and put a Bible up to him and asked him to swear on the Bible that he actually walked on the moon,” said Sibril, who has confronted Aldrin twice before. “He refused to do it, so I told him he was a thief to take money for giving an interview on something he didn’t do. That’s when he hit me …”

Looking For Love

Keiko, the whale from Free Willy, has told an “animal interpreter” that he is lonely and looking for love. He also has an itchy back. Astrid Moe, who claims to have had a “lengthy telepathic dialogue” with Keiko, says the whale is looking for his other half and that he feels stuck between two worlds, reports the Star-Times (September 15). “He told me that his back was very itchy and that was when I saw an emitting device near his dorsal fin. That’s probably what he was talking about.” Rocket science.

Fire-Walking: Fiji Revisited

Visitors to Fiji are still being told that village people have the hereditary ability to walk on white-hot stones. This is quite untrue (see Hot Footing it in Fiji,Skeptic 26). A tourist promotion video for airline passengers features the ceremony. It is pretty obvious to the discerning viewer that the stones are not white-hot, but how many tourists give more than a cursory glance?

I had heard that another kind of fire-walking was practised in Fiji, but it was difficult to discover any hard facts about it. In 1994 it received some publicity, a very unusual event.

Nearly half the population of Fiji are described as ethnic Indians. However, this is a far from homogenous population. Although originally from that subcontinent, they do not all share a common religion, nor a common language.

Some of these people come from regions where fire plays an important part in religious life. These are sometimes described as “fire-worshippers”. This is misleading, but to them fire-walking is an important religious ritual.

Just before our last visit, some members of this religion had visited from the homeland. This caused a big celebration including a fire-walking ceremony, which a reporter described, and a photograph was included.

“Indian” fire-walking in Fiji is a private religious matter; it has not been commercialised into a tourist attraction.

As far as I can tell it is nearly identical with “Western style” firewalking as practised in New Zealand. Our tradition has reached us in a very roundabout way, but possibly India is the original source. I was not able to attend the ceremony, but, judging by the photograph and the reporter’s description, the ceremony was very similar to that practised by New Zealand skeptics, with extra prayers.

The Fiji indigenous style obviously has an independent origin. It probably was invented on the island of Beqa as the legend says. Originally it was also a religious act. Now the villagers are Christians (nominally at least). Their ceremony has lost its connotations and they wish to distance themselves from the Indian method. Walking on hot stones is less spectacular than walking on glowing embers, hence the insistence that the stones are “white hot”.

The Old Testament, still regarded as setting a code for human conduct by some Christians, anathematises fire-walking.

There are examples in Kings and Chronicles of children being “passed through the fire” (2 Kings 16.3 “he [King Ahaz] even passed his son through the fire”). This is described as a wicked practice of the surrounding nations. It is forbidden by Deut.18.10. “Let no one be found among you who makes his son or daughter pass through fire.”

Walking on hot stones avoids the biblical prohibition on fire-walking and thus is acceptable to these fundamentalist Christians. Walking on glowing embers is something done only by heathens.

The wave of interest in fire-walking that swept out from the US a few years ago started as New Age religion and evolved into commercial exploitation. But many religions are not averse to commercialism.

Indigenous Fijian fire-walking followed a similar path, but at least one religious version has resisted change.

Cargo Cult Science

This is a Feynman Commencement Address given by Richard Feynman at Caltech in 1974. This message is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago, especially for those who add their committed “science” to the cause of apocalyptic environmentalism.

During the Middle Ages there were all kinds of crazy ideas, such as that a piece of rhinoceros horn would increase potency. Then a method was discovered for separating the ideas — which was to try one to see if it worked, and if it didn’t work, to eliminate it. This method became organised, of course, into science. And it developed very well, so that we are now in the scientific age. It is such a scientific age, in fact, that we have difficulty in understanding how witch doctors could ever have existed, when nothing that they proposed ever really worked — or very little of it did.

But even today I meet lots of people who sooner or later get me into a conversation about UFOs, or astrology, or some form of mysticism, expanded consciousness, new types of awareness, ESP, and so forth. And I’ve concluded that it’s not a scientific world.

Most people believe so many wonderful things that I decided to investigate why they did. And what has been referred to as my curiosity for investigation has landed me in a difficulty where I found so much junk that I’m overwhelmed. First I started out by investigating various ideas of mysticism, and mystic experiences. I went into isolation tanks and got many hours of hallucinations, so I know something about that. Then I went to Esalen, which is a hotbed of this kind of thought (it’s a wonderful place; you should go visit there). Then I became overwhelmed. I didn’t realise how much there was.

At Esalen there are some large baths fed by hot springs situated on a ledge about thirty feet above the ocean. One of my most pleasurable experiences has been to sit in one of those baths and watch the waves crashing onto the rocky shore below, to gaze into the clear blue sky above, and to study a beautiful nude as she quietly appears and settles into the bath with me.

One time I sat down in a bath where there was a beautiful girl sitting with a guy who didn’t seem to know her. Right away I began thinking, “Gee! How am I gonna get started talking to” this beautiful nude babe?”

I’m trying to figure out what to say, when the guy says to her, “I’m, uh, studying massage. Could I practice on you?”

“Sure”, she says. They get out of the bath and she lies down on a massage table nearby.

I think to myself, “What a nifty line! I can never think of anything like that!” He starts to rub her big toe. “I think I feel it”, he says. “I feel a kind of dent — is that the pituitary?”

I blurt out, “You’re a helluva long way from the pituitary, man!”

They looked at me, horrified — I had blown my cover — and said, “It’s reflexology!”

I quickly closed my eyes and appeared to be meditating.

That’s just an example of the kind of things that overwhelm me. I also looked into extrasensory perception and PSI phenomena, and the latest craze there was Uri Geller, a man who is supposed to be able to bend keys by rubbing them with his finger. So I went to his hotel room, on his invitation, to see a demonstration of both mind-reading and bending keys.

He didn’t do any mind-reading that succeeded; nobody can read my mind, I guess. And my boy held a key and Geller rubbed it, and nothing happened. Then he told us it works better under water, and so you can picture all of us standing in the bathroom with the water turned on and the key under it, and him rubbing the key with his finger. Nothing happened. So I was unable to investigate that phenomenon.

But then I began to think, what else is there that we believe? (And I thought then about the witch doctors, and how easy it would have been to check on them by noticing that nothing really worked.) So I found things that even our own people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate.

There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you’ll see the reading scores keep going down — or hardly going up in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There’s a witch doctor remedy that doesn’t work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We obviously have made no progress — lots of theory, but no progress — in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle criminals.

Yet these things are said to be scientific. We study them. And I think ordinary people with common sense ideas are intimidated by this pseudoscience. A teacher who has some good idea of how to teach her children to read is forced by the school system to do it some other way — or is even fooled by the school system into thinking that her method is not necessarily a good one. Or a parent of bad boys, after disciplining them in one way or another, feels guilty for the rest of her life because she didn’t do “the right thing”, according to the experts.

So we really ought to look into theories that don’t work, and science that isn’t science.

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call “cargo cult science”.

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas — he’s the controller — and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea Islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school — we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation.

It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results, and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can — if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong — to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.

There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.

The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn’t soak through food. Well, that’s true. It’s not dishonest; but the thing I’m talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest, it’s a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will, including Wesson oil. So it’s the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with.

We’ve learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science.

A great deal of their difficulty is, of course, the difficulty of the subject and the inapplicability of the scientific method to the subject. Nevertheless it should be remarked that this is not the only difficulty. That’s why the planes didn’t land — but they don’t land.

We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves.

One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and got an answer which we now know not to be just right. It’s a little bit off, because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air. It’s interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of the electron, after Millikan. If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bigger than Millikan’s, and the next one’s a little bit bigger than that, and the next one’s a little bit bigger than that, until finally they settle down to a number which is higher.

Why didn’t they discover that the new number was higher right away? It’s a thing that scientists are ashamed of — this history — because it’s apparent that people did things like this: when they got a number that was too high above Millikan’s, they thought something must be wrong — and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong. When they got a number closer to Millikan’s value, they didn’t look so hard. And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that. We’ve learned those tricks nowadays, and now we don’t have that kind of a disease.

But this long history of learning how not to fool ourselves — of having utter scientific integrity — is, I’m sorry to say, something that we haven’t specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you’ve caught on by osmosis.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you’re talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you’re not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being — we’ll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi.

I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

For example, I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of this work were.

“Well”, I said, “there aren’t any.” He said, “Yes, but then we won’t get support for more research of this kind.”

I think that’s kind of dishonest. If you’re representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you’re doing — and if they don’t want to support you under those circumstances, then that’s their decision.

One example of the principle is this: if you’ve made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good. We must publish both kinds of results.

I say that’s also important in giving certain types of government advice. Supposing a senator asked you for advice, about whether drilling a hole should be done in his state; and you decide it would be better in some other state. If you don’t publish such a result, it seems to me you’re not giving scientific advice. You’re being used. If your answer happens to come out in the direction the government or the politicians like, they can use it as an argument in their favour; if it comes out the other way, they don’t publish it at all. That’s not giving scientific advice.

Other kinds of errors are more characteristic of poor science. When I was at Cornell, I often talked to the people in the psychology department. One of the students told me she wanted to do an experiment that went something like this — it had been found by others that under certain circumstances, X, rats did something, A. She was curious as to whether, if she changed the circumstances to Y, they would still do A. So her proposal was to do the experiment under circumstances Y and see if they still did A.

I explained to her that it was necessary first to repeat in her laboratory the experiment of the other person — to do it under condition X to see if she could also get result A, and then change to Y and see if A changed. Then she would know that the real difference was the thing she thought she had under control.

She was very delighted with this new idea, and went to her professor. And his reply was, no, you cannot do that, because the experiment has already been done and you would be wasting time. This was still about 1947 or so, and it seems to have been the general policy then to not try to repeat psychological experiments, but only to change the conditions and see what happens.

Nowadays there’s a certain danger of the same thing happening, even in the famous field of physics. I was shocked to hear of an experiment done at the big accelerator at the National Accelerator Laboratory, where a person used deuterium. In order to compare his heavy hydrogen results to what might happen with light hydrogen he had to use data from someone else’s experiment on light hydrogen, which was done on different apparatus. When asked why, he said it was because he couldn’t get time on the program (because there’s so little time and it’s such expensive apparatus) to do the experiment with light hydrogen on this apparatus because there wouldn’t be any new result.

And so the men in charge of programs at NAL are so anxious for new results, in order to get more money to keep the thing going for public relations purposes, they are destroying — possibly — the value of the experiments themselves, which is the whole purpose of the thing. It is often hard for the experimenters there to complete their work as their scientific integrity demands.

Not all experiments in psychology are of this type, however. For example, there have been many experiments running rats through all kinds of mazes, and so on — with little clear result. But in 1937 a man named Young did a very interesting one. He had a long corridor with doors all along one side where the rats came in, and doors along the other side where the food was. He wanted to see if he could train the rats to go in at the third door down from wherever he started them off. No. The rats went immediately to the door where the food had been the time before.

The question was, how did the rats know, because the corridor was so beautifully built and so uniform, that this was the same door as before? Obviously there was something about the door that was different from the other doors.

So he painted the doors very carefully, arranging the textures on the faces of the doors exactly the same. Still the rats could tell. Then he thought maybe the rats were smelling the food, so he used chemicals to change the smell after each run. Still the rats could tell. Then he realised the rats might be able to tell by seeing the lights and the arrangement in the laboratory like any common sense person. So he covered the corridor, and still the rats could tell.

He finally found that they could tell by the way the floor sounded when they ran over it. And he could only fix that by putting his corridor in sand. So he covered one after another of all possible clues and finally was able to fool the rats so that they had to learn to go in the third door. If he relaxed any of his conditions, the rats could tell.

Now, from a scientific stand-point, that is an A-number-one experiment. That is the experiment that makes rat-running experiments sensible, because it uncovers the clues that the rat is really using — not what you think it’s using. And that is the experiment that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with rat-running.

I looked into the subsequent history of this research. The next experiment, and the one after that, never referred to Mr Young. They never used any of his criteria of putting the corridor on sand, or being very careful. They just went right on running rats in the same old way, and paid no attention to the great discoveries of Mr Young, and his papers are not referred to, because he didn’t discover anything about the rats. In fact, he discovered all the things you have to do to discover something about rats. But not paying attention to experiments like that is a characteristic of cargo cult science.

Another example is the ESP experiments of Mr Rhine, and other people. As various people have made criticisms — and they themselves have made criticisms of their own experiments — they improve the techniques so that the effects are smaller and smaller and smaller until they gradually disappear. All the parapsychologists are looking for some experiment that can be repeated — that you can do again and get the same effect — statistically, even. They run a million rats — no, it’s people this time — they do a lot of things and get a certain statistical effect. Next time they try it they don’t get it any more. And now you find a man saying that it is an irrelevant demand to expect a repeatable experiment. This is science?

This man also speaks about a new institution, in a talk in which he was resigning as Director of the Institute of Parapsychology. And, in telling people what to do next, he says that one of the things they have to do is be sure they only train students who have shown their ability to get PSI results to an acceptable extent — not to waste their time on those ambitious and interested students who get only chance results. It is very dangerous to have such a policy in teaching — to teach students only how to get certain results, rather than how to do an experiment with scientific integrity.

So I have just one wish for you — the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organisation, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity.

May you have that freedom.

Video Library Update – New Titles, July 1992

A CSICOP video library is run by Alastair Bricknell, RD2 Kuaotunu, Whitianga. Tapes may be hired for the cost of postage and packing, around $5 (extra donations gratefully accepted).

Homeopathy — Medicine or Magic?, QED (BBC TV), 1990, 30 minutes

A very interesting look at the state of homeopathy in the UK in the ’90s including its use by some “conventional” doctors and vets. Details are given of a few trials (some double and triple blind) that have been conducted claiming to give support to homeopathic techniques. Unfortunately, relatively little time is permitted for dissenting views and I am sure many of our rural members will have other explanations for some of the “miraculous” animal cures presented. A thought provoking programme nevertheless; it should be essential viewing for any skeptic confronting homeopathic enthusiasts.

Secrets of Sedona, 48 Hours (CBS), 1991, 60 minutes

A visit to Sedona, Arizona, a centre for “New Age” thinking(?) in the US. Topics covered include fire walking, astrology, UFOs, vortexes (vortices?), pendulums, channelling, reincarnation, and New Age music — surely there is something for every skeptic in this one. The programme shows how some successful businessmen and women use New Age techniques to influence their business decisions and the industry that has built up around this philosophy in a beautiful part of the American west. A good balanced look at a phenomenon that is starting to become increasingly popular in New Zealand,

Spiritual Healing, Foreign Correspondent (TVNZ), 1992, 15 minutes

A brief but interesting and relatively balanced look at the healing scene in the UK. Topics covered include New Age healing methods, “Touch for Health” healing (some skeptics might say “Clutch for Wealth” would be more appropriate), the charismatic Christian movement, and several other alternative medical practices. A revealing discussion with a conventional medical practitioner illustrates the tragic consequences that can arise for those relying on these fringe methods while cancers continue to grow.

Chelation Therapy, Frontline (TVNZ), 1992, 15 minutes

A good introduction to chelation therapy as practised in New Zealand at present. Discusses the double blind trial currently underway in Dunedin that is due to end in a few months. Sensible comments from conventional medical practitioners about the merits of this controversial therapy provide some balance to this interesting program.