Man refused bail after Dick Smith food poison threat

A man charged with threatening to poison food produced by Dick Smith has been refused bail in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court in central Queensland. Graham Andrew Cooper, 30, is charged with trying extort $100,000 from the Australian Skeptics Association.

Cooper appeared in court charged with stalking, extortion and sending threatening emails. The court was told Cooper sent emails to Barry Williams from the Australian Skeptics Association, which has offered $100,000 to anyone who can prove psychic powers. The police prosecutor said Cooper claimed the association refused to test him. It is alleged the emails said that Dick Smith owed him $100,000 and that he would put “rat sack” into as much Dick Smith food as he could lay his hands on. The court was told Cooper is a paranoid schizophrenic and police said the threats were not carried out.

Cooper will be held in custody until his next court appearance in May. He was not required to enter a plea.

From ABC On-Line News, March 8


Blairs ‘rebirthed’

Tony Blair and Cherie took part in a ‘rebirthing ritual’ during a holiday in Mexico, says the Dominion (17 December). They were guided through the ritual while dipping in a Mayan steam bath. At least they were clean.

Psychic fails (as do we all)

It must be said that mystic powers called in to help find missing Christchurch teenager Ellon Oved have been a flop. Psychic Kathy Bartlett joined the search effort near a lake, carrying a board and examining the ‘aura’ of the area, the Dominion reports on December 5. However, the Eagle helicopter with heat-detecting equipment also failed to locate the 14 year old…

Reptiles have all the fun

Forget Tiger Woods, several hundred people paid $40 a head to attend a day-long session with visiting conspiracy theorist David Icke. He also gave an evening lecture at Victoria University, says the Sunday Star Times (November 4). A former British Green Party spokesman, Icke has raised eyebrows a few times – in 1991 during a BBC interview he proclaimed himself the son of God. But wait, there’s more. His theory has it that these reptilian shape shifters invaded Earth thousands of years ago, interbreeding with humans and forming a power elite. Explains a lot when you think about it.

Yet more Yeti furballs

A group of British explorers claim to have found irrefutable proof of a ‘yeti-like’ creature on an Indonesian island. The Evening Post (31 October) says the team discovered a footprint and hair samples of a primate which has long lived in the mythology of tribes-people in Western Sumatra. A cast of the footprint and strands of coarse hair are being sent to Oxford University and Australia’s University of Canberra for verification. Haven’t heard anything yet… The same team are off this year to the Gobi Desert in search of the Mongolian Death Worm – a metre-long snake which is reputed to kill a person with one look.

Hairy stars

Reporter Mary Jane Boland and her 4-month-old puppy Max consulted pet astrologer Helen Hope in Australia, for the Evening Post (6 October). Hope has written two books about pet astrology – Starcats and Stardogs which were released here on September 27. No-one, the former New Zealander says, has declared her books rubbish and they are selling well in Australia and rights have just been sold to the US and Britain. She also works on people and countries and predicted that, because of the position of Uranus, things will improve for Air New Zealand. I’m sure the Government will be relieved to hear this. Over the last few months we were to have ‘redefined’ ourselves to the world as well. (That must have slipped past me.) So what came of the canine reading? Well, Max is a classic Gemini, is very intelligent but always in need of constructive discipline. And he’s very special. I wonder what she’d say about my psychotic border collie.

Team gets divine help

A struggling English soccer team turned to religion by asking the local bishop to carry out an exorcism at the club’s grounds, says the Evening Post (9 November). The bishop performed the exorcism to remove all evil spirits from Oxford United’s Kassam stadium. It seems that a band of gypsies were moved on from the site and may have cursed it. Since the exorcism, it is said the team’s fortunes have improved, and they drew their most recent game.

Nessie to star?

Fans of Nessie who hope to catch a glimpse of the legendary creature might now be in luck, says the Evening Post (3 November.) A moving webcam is now filming the murky depths of the Scottish Lake, 230m deep. Head of the project, Adrian Shine, said the lake had more fresh water than the whole of England and Wales – “There is room for a few mysteries, although we’re not expecting to bump into Nessie.” The webcam joins two other cameras observing the exploration of Britain’s biggest lake. Check it out:

But is it art?

Michael Jackson’s good friend Uri Geller is upset at being censored – Sony Music removed religious words and symbols from a picture he drew for Jackson’s new album. The words God, Jerusalem, USA and Angel 2000 were all removed. Geller drew the black and white illustration on a napkin in Jackson’s hotel room. The picture features the heads of a man and woman, the pyramids, a UFO and symbols representing love, peace and hope. Maybe he should have stuck to spoons.

Psychic Stuff-Ups

The world’s best psychics seem to have cracks in their crystal balls, says the Skeptical Inquirer.

Top psychics who published their prognostications in US supermarket tabloids such as the National Enquirer, the National Examiner and the Weekly World News, indicated 1995 was supposed to be the year Rush Limbaugh was forced to go on welfare, Whitney Houston married Mike Tyson, Peter Jennings became the first journalist in space, and Disney World was wiped out by a hurricane.

“Once again, even the most talented psychics seem to have had trouble predicting the major unexpected events of the year,” said Gene Emery, who compiled the 1995 predictions for the magazine

The National Enquirer‘s stable of psychics predicted in the tabloid’s January 10 and June 20 issues that:

  • The president’s cat would be kidnapped and held for $1,000 ransom by a homeless driver who would be captured after he also tried to snatch the Vice President’s poodle.
  • Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson would remarry.
  • Peter Jennings would do the evening news from orbit aboard the Space Shuttle.
  • “A child genius will stun judges at a 7th-grade science fair when he presents a working time machine” made from parts of a microwave oven.
  • Jay Leno would become David Letterman’s sidekick on Letterman’s Late Show.
  • “Scientists will discover a beneficial virus that can turn ordinary rocks into a protein-rich food. And some experts will predict the find will lead to the end of world hunger.”
  • Tonya Harding would be “denied permission to open the nation’s first all-nude ice skating rink.”

The National Examiner‘s top psychics said 1995 would be the year that:

  • President Clinton was shot in the jaw by a disgruntled postal worker.
  • “A meteor the size of a Buick will strike a used car dealership in Las Vegas. No one will be injured in the crash, but the crater will open up a vast underground reservoir of drinking water, solving the desert town’s water shortage.”
  • Basketball player Shaquille O’Neal quit basketball to become Rookie of the Year in baseball.
  • Michael Jackson’s “already weakened schnozz” would “permanently collapse” after an outraged mom punched him in the nose during a public appearance.
  • Rush Limbaugh would “lose his fortune and become destitute. Forced on welfare, Rush will become a Democrat.”

The psychics at the Weekly World News predicted that in 1995 a volcanic eruption would create a new land mass that tied the United States to Cuba, frog legs would become the rage in fast-food restaurants, and 80% of Americans would totally shave their heads.

Jeane Dixon, one of the country’s best known psychics, in the July 25 issue of the Star forecast “a stunning outcome to the O.J. Simpson trial will bring a result no one predicted. I can see that O.J. will walk.”

She was right. But Dixon could just as easily claim success if Simpson had been found guilty or the jury had failed to reach a decision.

“A guilty verdict or hung jury will keep O.J. Simpson in jail through most of this year,” she predicted in the January 17 issue. “I don’t see him walking away a free man until an appeal,” she announced in the April 25 issue. And in the October 10 issue, published after the verdict, Dixon predicted that “O. J. will be released from jail, but there will be a second trial and he will be incarcerated at least one more year.”

As always, there were the typical forecasts: celebrities taking new occupations (psychic Shawn Robbins said Hugh Hefner would give up his Playboy empire and become a sunflower cultivator); promises of cures for AIDS, arthritis, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease; and predictions that space aliens would be discovered.

Also, there was the usual crop of vague predictions that left plenty of wiggle room in case they didn’t come true.

In the December 13, 1994, issue of the Globe, for example, Mystic Meg forecast that Liz Taylor “will stumble across a formula that could spell an AIDS breakthrough.” Jeane Dixon said, “A scandal in a religious cult could lead to murder, suicides, and a doomsday vigil in the spring.”

Sometimes the predictions are laughable because they reflect so little knowledge of the real world, such as when psychics predict that someone will be elected president during the years when a presidential election isn’t scheduled.

Dixon falls into that category with her prediction in the January 17 Star, saying, “A new, antibiotic-resistant strain of influenza causes coast-to-coast misery in early winter and again in early spring. Scientists will trace the virus to polluted water.” Antibiotic resistance is hardly surprising — antibiotics don’t work on viruses, which is why you don’t prescribe them for the common cold, flu, AIDS, etc.

Unfortunately, the psychics gave no warning of the Oklahoma City bombing, they haven’t been able to find the Unabomber, and they apparently had no inkling of Christopher “Superman” Reeve’s tragic accident.

As for 1996, the psychics have already said it will be the year Hawaii sinks into the ocean, banana peels are found to cure cancer, Rush Limbaugh becomes the Republican nominee for President, Lance Ito becomes Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, the federal government decides to turn the Grand Canyon into a nuclear waste dump, and all the athletes in the ’96 Olympics are forced to undergo species tests — after officials learn that a woman who won the gold medal in the shot-put is really a girl gorilla!

Justice Lives

The Geller case has ended — the “psychic” is to begin a court-ordered payment of up to $120,000 to CSICOP USA.

Skeptics will be pleased to know that Uri Geller has paid the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal the first $40,000 of up to $120,000 as part of a settlement agreement for what the court described as a “frivolous complaint” made by Geller against CSICOP. The case began when Geller filed a $115 million suit against CSICOP and magician James Randi alleging defamation, invasion of privacy and tortious interference with prospective advantage. He filed suit because Randi has stated in an interview with the International Herald Tribune that Geller had “tricked even reputable scientists” with tricks that “are the kind that used to be on the back of cereal boxes when I was a kid. Apparently scientists don’t eat cornflakes anymore.”

CSICOP maintained that the suit was essentially a “gagging writ” designed to harass the organisation into inactivity. The court first ruled in favour of CSICOP in July 27 1993 but since then Geller has tried to overturn the decision by a series of court actions and appeals. He has now done his dash — evidently he was unable to foresee the outcome even though the decisions were not in sealed envelopes inside other sealed envelopes and concealed in remote places.

Paul Kurtz, CSICOP chairman said: “When the principles upon which CSICOP was founded are at stake, we are prepared to do battle all the way if it should prove necessary. We believe deeply in a free press, freedom of speech, and scientific enquiry, and the importance of dissent.” He characterised the Geller suit as the “kind of suit being used as a means of silencing debate on significant scientific issues.”

All in all it looks like a fair cop for CSICOP.

From a report in the Skeptical Enquirer, May/June 1995.

Skeptical Books

Guidelines For Testing Psychic Claimants by Richard Wiseman and Robert L. Morris, 1995, 72pp., University of Hertfordshire Press, Hatfield, UK, (pound)7.00.

Reviewed by Bernard Howard

When author Arthur Koestler and his wife died, they left money to found a university Chair in Parapsychology. Edinburgh University accepted this gift after some hesitation, and Robert L. Morris has occupied the Chair since 1985. In a university hundreds of kilometres to the south, and some hundreds of years younger, Dr Richard Wiseman has also turned a scholarly eye on the subject. This book is a result of their collaboration.

It starts, ominously, with “The Problem of Fraud”, and continues with chapters on initial meetings with claimants, research policies, pilot studies and formal research, and reporting, with an extra chapter on “Working with tricksters”. The book concludes with two reading lists (one of specific references, the other of books, articles and journals of general interest), names and addresses of relevant organisations (including the Magic Circle and the like), and even advice, with addresses, on how to make your experiments and results “secure”.

After reading all this detailed advice and the warnings about fraud, my feeling is that, if I saw a psychic claimant approaching me in the street, I should hastily cross to the other side.

Magic Minds Miraculous Moments by Harry Edwards. 231 pp., 1994. Harry Edwards Publications, 3 Nullaburra Road, Newport, NSW 2106, Australia. NZ$17.00.

Reviewed by Bernard Howard

The author is secretary of the Australian Skeptics; his book contains brief biographies in alphabetical order of just over 100 “psychics”, an average of two pages each. As well as background information on the lives of the subjects, he details the paranormal phenomena for which they were, or are, famous. Most entries finish with a “Comment” and a few references for further reading.

Many of the subjects are well known (Geller, The Fox sisters, Nostradamus, W.A. Mozart(!) for example), but most were unknown to me (who can name 100 psychics offhand?). This collection is a tribute to the author’s erudition and his thoroughness in searching the more obscure corners of the paranormal world.

Delightful browsing, and a very useful reference book.

Greenhouse — The Biggest Rort in Christendom by Peter Toynbee, published by Peter Toynbee Associates.

Reviewed by Owen McShane

Peter Toynbee is one of the few New Zealanders who has consistently stood up against the pseudo-science currently driving so much (not all) of New Zealand’s public policy on climate change and CO2 emissions.

Needless to say he has suffered from attacks on his personal integrity while his scientific arguments, like those of visiting Professor Lindzen of MIT, have been rebutted only by reference to the supposed consensus among those civil service scientists around the world who have found that a policy of promoting “scares and frights” is the best way to unlock the strings to Government funds.

Toynbee’s argument is simple. Man remains a trivial player in the planetary game. Nature rules on all but the local scale. He deserves support, if only because of his healthy scepticism, and his book contains a host of facts and reports with which to arm yourself against the next doomcaster you meet. And unlike so many recent publications, the book has an index. I cannot understand why so many books today have no index when word processing systems have made the task easier than ever before.

Even if you do not agree with Toynbee’s arguments or conclusions, the book is disturbing because, no matter which side of the argument prevails, governments have surely rushed to make a judgement on only one of the alternatives posed by the evidence of increased atmospheric CO2.

The costs of restraining fossil fuel consumption will be massive, especially for the third world, and there appears to have been no attempt to compare these costs against presumed benefits. Current studies indicate that the costs of adaptation to warming would be much lower, and of course would only need to be incurred if the warming actually eventuates. And the jury is definitely still out.

Psychics Fail Once Again

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

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

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

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

Who says? The world’s top psychics.

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

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

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

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

What They Foresaw

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

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

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

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

For 1995, the psychics have already predicted that

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

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

Principles of Psychic Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clock Watching

The following message from James Randi was posted to the Usenet newsgroup sci.skeptic on February 4th by Jim Kutz.

A few years back, Philadelphia “psychic” Judith Richardson Haimes was awarded US$1.6 million by a less-than-bright jury when she claimed she’d lost her powers from poor medical treatment. The attorney for the defendant hospital was instructed by the amazed judge to appeal that verdict, and Haimes summoned up all her psychic powers to predict to the press that the appeal would lose. The appeal was successful. Exit Haimes.

I recall that “psychic” Uri Geller said, on a live CBS-TV show a couple of years ago, that his psychic powers enabled him to predict that he’d win the case against me. So far, that prediction looks as if it might not be fulfilled, with $200,000+ in sanctions presently against Mr Geller… But these powers work in strange ways, we’re told. Take the example of Big Ben.

Yes, that’s the actual name of the famous London clock, though originally it was the name of the bell that was to have struck the hour. That bell broke and was re-cast. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that the clock itself is now properly named Big Ben, so I’ll go along with that. The clock is stopped regularly twice a year for maintenance, and it has stopped periodically over the years from simple mechanical defects.

Enter Uri Geller. On November 2nd of 1986, he announced that he would stop the mighty clock by his psychic powers. It ticked (boomed?) on and the public yawned; seems Mr Geller had failed to announce just when the miracle would take place. A couple of years later, it stopped, and Mr Geller claimed credit for the event. More yawns. Then on December 18th, 1989, he declared that he would be “laying off Big Ben” because he might have to pay the enormous repair bill if his powerful psychic energies twisted the innards.

Alas. Last week the clock stopped again, and Mr Geller said he did it. Will he get a bill from Westminster? Will anyone believe that he really did it. Answers: No and yes. You see, Mr Geller missed his big opportunity back in August of 1976, when the clock stopped and remained stopped for almost nine months. He doesn’t seem to now have much luck with timepieces; he lost the very large suit he had against the Timex watch company, and now he can’t seem to time his Big Ben stoppings. Do you suppose that all those psychically-changed watches all over the world are putting out a general psi signal to get revenge?

Nahhhhhhh. The psychic superstar appeared by phone on the Ron-and-Ron radio show here in Florida a few days ago, and they bawled out their producer, on-air, for having put him on at all. They declared that he’d been —— as a —— “15 years ago” and they did not treat him at all nicely. (Vetting done to avoid legal problems, though that’s what they actually did say.)

I’m indebted to my crack UK researchers, Lewis Jones and Michael Hutchinson, for their work on this item. Dependable chaps. And a smaller piece may follow this after I get further data. Stay tuned.

James Randi