Psychic Frauds

This is being reposted from the Skeptical Analysis blog.

The term surely must be redundant. On Friday ABC Nightline presented a segment titled Psychic Detective, featuring “psychic detective” Troy Griffin:

Griffin is a self-proclaimed psychic detective. Shunning the crystal ball, tarot cards and tea leaves of his fellow intuitives, he says he uses his psychic powers to solve crimes.

“I’ve worked on … about a 100 cases overall,” Griffin said.

He says he’s built a business out of bringing the paranormal into police work, charging up to $250 an hour for his investigative work.

He recently worked a missing person’s case that gripped the nation. Kelsie Schelling, 21, was eight weeks pregnant and disappeared in February 2013 after making a late night drive from her home in Denver to see her boyfriend in Pueblo, Colorado. Her family never saw or heard from her again.

[Emphasis added]

And Kelsie Schelling is still missing, despite all the efforts of psychic detective Troy Griffin.

His claim to have worked “100 cases” does not pan out. Local police have no knowledge of his working  with them.

The show also featured phony psychic Silvia Browne. Browne died over three years ago, but before that her damage became lasting. She famously declared dead a missing woman named Amanda Berry.

But psychic readings, especially those in the public eye, have not been exempt from scrutiny. One example was a 2004 reading famed psychic Sylvia Browne performed on “The Montel Williams Show” for the mother of then-missing girl Amanda Berry. Browne told Berry’s mother that her daughter was dead, but nine years later, in May 2013, she was found alive.

Berry’s phone call to police and the rescue of two other missing women held captive by a deranged man failed to dim Browne’s candle:

Prior to her death in November 2013, Browne released a statement saying in part, “I have been more right than wrong. If ever there was a time to be grateful and relieved for being mistaken, this is that time.”

Wrapping up for those who live on this planet is well-known paranormal investigator Joe Nickell.

Skeptical fans will be interested to know that Joe Nickell is still going strong. Originally from Kentucky, he apparently now lives in Buffalo, New York. His Wikipedia entry has additional information of interest about:

In late 2003, Nickell reconnected with his college girlfriend, Diana G. Harris, and learned he had a daughter, Cherette, and two grandsons, Tyner and Chase. Harris and Nickell married in Springfield, Illinois on April 1, 2006. Harris has assisted Nickell in his investigative work. Cherette had always been told that her biological father was her mother’s first husband, although she questioned the lack of family resemblance. On her wedding day, one of the guests mentioned that her parents weren’t married when she was conceived. Later Cherette asked her mother about her father and sensed an equivocation in the answer. More conversations with her mother and a DNA test proved that Nickell was her father. Nickell used his daughter’s claim that her search was the result of an intuition as the basis for an article on the unconscious collection and processing of data. Nickell concluded,

Wow! Even skeptics have interesting lives. I have touched on the endeavors of Joe Nickell previously. Follow the link.


Lunch For Skeptics In February

Get together with Skeptics this month for fellowship and discussion.

Where: Snuffer’s bar and restaurant at Beltline and Tollway in Addison
When: Saturday 18 February at 11:30 a.m.

Let us know if you are coming. We will get a table for all attending.

John Blanton:
Prasad Golla:



The National Center For Science Education

The NCSE is the premier organization in this country promoting legitimate science in public schools and in the public forum. They are a 501 (c) (3) organization, deserving of your contributions. I give money to the NCSE. You should, too.

Following is a recent notice from the NCSE:

1904 Franklin Street, Suite 600 Oakland, CA 94612-2922

510.601.7203 •

With the unprecedented 2016 election finally behind us, we can all turn our attention back to issues that haven’t been in the spotlight lately. Like science education. As you’ll read below, there’s plenty to be concerned about. But NCSE has not taken its eye off the ball, and our new programs are really starting to pay off. I hope that you’ll consider joining our effort to help teachers cover evolution and climate change confidently and completely.

When you consider the state of science education today, it’s easy to be disappointed, disturbed, and dismayed. Consider the following recent incidents.

  • In Alabama, the state board of education voted to continue to mandate a disclaimer about evolution in the state’s textbooks. Such disclaimers date back to 1996. But even after Alabama adopted a new set of state science standards in 2005, that described evolution as “substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence,” the board disappointingly voted to retain the scientifically unwarranted and pedagogically irresponsible message.
  • A national survey conducted by NCSE with researchers at Pennsylvania State University, which asked 1500 science teachers in public middle and high schools about their attitudes toward and practice in teaching climate change, found disturbing gaps in their knowledge. For example, less than half of the teachers realized that more than 80% of climate scientists agree that recent global warming is caused primarily by human activities.
  • In Kentucky, a young-earth creationist ministry opened a Noah’s-ark-themed amusement park. The truly  dismaying aspect of Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter was its invitation to local public schools to flout the principle of church/state separation by bringing students there on field trips, at a special discounted rate. Judging from reports received by NCSE over the years, public school excursions to creationist attractions are dismayingly common.

Dealing, and helping people to deal, with such assaults on science education is all in a day’s work for us at NCSE.

But as you know, that’s not all that we’re doing. A suite of innovative new programs is aimed at reinforcing the confidence of teachers, recruiting scientists to help, and rallying communities to support science education locally:

  • NCSEteach (, NCSE’s network to support climate change and evolution educators, now includes nearly 6,000 teachers, each of whom receive regular advice and resources from NCSE aimed at improving their scientific knowledge and pedagogical confidence. And they now know that NCSE will have their backs when they encounter challenges to the teaching of evolution or climate change!
  • NCSEteach’s “Scientists in the Classroom” program is bringing eager and energetic early career research scientists into middle and high school classrooms across the country to enrich students’ climate change and evolution learning experiences. Over one hundred teacher—scientist partnerships have already been formed, to the great and continuing benefit of all involved. More are in the works.
  • NCSE’s Science Booster Club project, piloting in Iowa, has provided fun, hands-on, and accurate educational activities on evolution and climate change to over 50,000 participants at local events in the last year, and raised funds to purchase science equipment for the benefit of over 3,000 local students. In 2016, the project not only exhibited at county and state fairs but also hosted a free summer science camp to provide rural low-income students with evolution education.

Are these programs working? Judging from the heartfelt expressions of thanks from teachers who have participated in NCSEteach, from teacher/scientist partners who have participated in Scientists in the Classroom, and from thousands of Iowans involved with a Science Booster Club, yes!

But to science fans like you and me, what’s even more convincing than testimonials is data. The Science Booster Club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, administered a twenty-four-question science literacy survey at its public events throughout the year. And voilà:

That’s significant—literally (p = 0.03) and figuratively. Working with a low budget but a high degree of enthusiasm, the science boosters in Cedar Rapids—and elsewhere in Iowa—are making a measurable difference.

I’m excited about these efforts, and I hope that you are, too. We want to extend these programs to communities across the country. To do so, we need your support. Your gift to NCSE will help us help teachers to present science properly.

You can donate on-line at A gift of only $500 will allow us to provide a new booster club with all the materials needed to provide hands-on evolution or climate change activities to 10,000 participants! Or consider a recurring gift of $10 or $20 per month; such donations help make our budget more predictable so we can start new projects with confidence. A gift of any size will go directly to improving science education.

By reinforcing the confidence of teachers, recruiting scientists to help, and rallying communities to support science education locally, NCSE is helping to ensure that science will be taught honestly, accurately, and confidently. Please help us to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Ann Reid

Executive Director, NCSE

The Age Of Embarrassment

The following is being cross-posted from Skeptical Analysis, with slight modifications:

Seventh of a series

The above political cartoon illustrates what a certain faction considers to  be legitimate rebuttal to the science behind anthropogenic global warming (AGW). I title this series The Age Of Embarrassment to reflect on our divergence from a different era, which historians now call The Age Of Enlightenment. I mainly concentrate on foolish arguments against anthropogenic global warming (AGW), but I am not required to.

Recently I did an  overview of a book (pamphlet) by conservative columnist Ben Shapiro. The short title is How to Debate Leftists, and it deals with what the title indicates. In my review I bore down on some of Shapiro’s comments on AGW. He’s opposed. Which brings him into focus for this discussion.

From Wikipedia, “On September 21, 2015, Shapiro founded The Daily Wire and started serving as its editor-in-chief.” The result was that The Daily Wire appears to be a likely source to mine for Shapiro’s thinking on AGW. A rich vein it turns out to be:

The Most Comprehensive Assault On ‘Global Warming’ Ever

It made sense.  Knowing that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that our industrialized world is adding a large amount of it to the atmosphere on a yearly basis, I accepted the premise that this would cause global temperatures to rise.  But one day about 7 years ago, I looked at the ubiquitous graph showing the “global” temperature of the last 150 years and noticed something odd.  It was subtle, and as I found out later, disguised so that it would be overlooked.  There appeared to be a period of about 40 years between 1940 and 1980 where the global temperatures actually declined a bit.  As a data analysis expert, I could not ignore that subtle hint and began to look into it a little more.  Forty years is a long time, and while carbon dioxide concentrations were increasing exponentially over the same period, I could not overlook that this showed an unexpected shift in the correlation between global temperatures and CO2concentrations. Thus I began to look into it a little further and here are some of the results 7 years later.

The author is an adjunct professor of physics and more. From the article:

Mike van Biezen is adjunct professor at Compton College, Santa Monica College, El Camino College, and Loyola Marymount University teaching Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy, and Earth Science.

That should be impressive enough. Let’s see what Mr. Biezen has to say about AGW. There are ten points:

  1. Temperature records from around the world do not support the assumption that today’s temperatures are unusual.
  2. Satellite temperature data does not support the assumption that temperatures are rising rapidly:
  3. Current temperatures are always compared to the temperatures of the 1980’s, but for many parts of the world the 1980’s was the coldest decade of the last 100+ years:
  4. The world experienced a significant cooling trend between 1940 and 1980:
  5. Urban heat island effect skews the temperature data of a significant number of weather stations:
  6. There is a natural inverse relationship between global temperatures and atmospheric CO2levels:
  7. The CO2 cannot, from a scientific perspective, be the cause of significant global temperature changes:
  8. There have been many periods during our recent history that a warmer climate was prevalent long before the industrial revolution:
  9. Glaciers have been melting for more than 150 years
  10. “Data adjustment” is used to continue the perception of global warming:

I will go though these in turn, but the reader will need to go to the original article to get the complete wording. Start by noting that Mike van Biezen does not have a Ph.D. in any of the topics mentioned in his connection with his teaching at Loyola Marymount University. In fact, he does not appear to have a Ph.D. in any academic field. His current position is program manager for Raytheon Corporation, a company he has worked for since 1984. He is not a full time professor at Loyola. Not having a Ph.D. is not exclusionary. It is not required that Biezen have a Ph.D. for us to take his arguments seriously. All that is necessary is that he be right. He is not. Start with number 1.

Number 1. Contradictory to what Biezen says, temperature records from around the world support the conclusion that today’s temperatures are unusual, higher than in recent history.

The plot and the following are from NASA’s climate site:

This graph illustrates the change in global surface temperature relative to 1951-1980 average temperatures. The 10 warmest years in the 136-year record all have occurred since 2000, with the exception of 1998. The year 2015 ranks as the warmest on record. (Source: NASA/GISS). This research is broadly consistent with similar constructions prepared by the Climatic Research Unit and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mr. Biezen provides his readers with misleading information:

The all-time high temperature record for the world was set in 1913, while the all-time cold temperature record was set in 1983.  By continent, all but one set their all-time high temperature record more recently than their all-time cold temperature records.

Start with the all-time high record:

On 13 September 2012 the World Meteorological Organisation disqualified the record for the highest recorded temperature, exactly 90 years after it had been established at El Azizia, Libya, with a measurement of 58°C. The official highest recorded temperature is now 56.7°C (134°F), which was measured on 10 July 1913 at Greenland Ranch, Death Valley, California, USA.

So, Biezen’s record high was recently eclipsed by a new record, which he failed to notice, but which does not matter in this discussion. Biezen’s all-time low record is still valid:

The lowest natural temperature ever directly recorded at ground level on Earth is −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F; 184.0 K), which was at the Soviet Vostok Station in Antarctica, on July 21, 1983. Analysis of satellite data indicated a probable temperature of around −93.2 °C (−135.8 °F; 180.0 K), in East Antarctica, on August 10, 2010; however, this reading was not confirmed by ground measurements.

After all that has been said, this turns out to be irrelevant. What matters to the global climate is the average taken over the entire planet. Individual highs and lows can occur in contrast to record high and low global averages.

Mr. Biezen has deliberately misled his readers, and Ben Shapiro, as editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, has facilitated this subterfuge by promoting Biezen’s scam.

Number 2. I’m not too sure I want to follow up on Biezen’s number 2. He uses the weasel word “rapidly,” as in “temperatures are rising rapidly” However, assuming “rapidly” means “rising,” here is a plot showing the rise, seemingly in contradiction to Biezen’s assertions:

Number 3. Here’s what Biezen has to say:

If the current temperatures are compared to those of the 1930’s one would find nothing remarkable.  For many places around the world, the 1930’s were the warmest decade of the last 100 years, including those found in Greenland.  Comparing today’s temperatures to the 1980’s is like comparing our summer temperatures to those in April, rather than those of last summer.  It is obvious why the global warming community does this, and very misleading (or deceiving).

Again Biezen is being intentionally misleading. If his deception is not intentional, then it is a result of gross incompetence. Had he been reading this blog he would have been better informed and not fallen victim to such false and misleading information. I wrote:

This is interesting. Government agencies, NASA (National Aviation and Space Administration) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), have been tweaking scientific measurements to give the false impression that global temperatures are rising. That would be scientific misconduct at best and criminal misuse of governmental authority at worst. If only it were true.

Besides already knowing the background, I picked up on an obvious clue in the last paragraph above. “[T]he hottest decade in the US was in the 1930s.” Taking first that the statement is true, how does this bear on average global  temperatures over the past hundred years or more? The world wonders.

From that point forward this item from Breitbart needs additional scrutiny. The facts may not be as interesting as Breitbart, but they have the advantage of being facts. The NOAA has posted an explanation of the process so recently assailed by that reputable scientific source, Breitbart. Here is an excerpt:

Monitoring Global and U.S. Temperatures at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information

There are several factors that are important in monitoring global or U.S. temperature: quality of raw observations, length of record of observations, and the analysis methods used to transform raw data into reliable climate data records by removing existing biases from the data. An additional process takes the multiple climate data records and creates U.S. or global average temperatures.

Yes, this is the same Breitbart news outlet previously involved with Ben Shapiro. Here is a graphic from the previous posting:

Number 4. Biezen writes:

Many places around the world experienced a quite significant and persistent cooling trend to the point where scientists began to wonder if the world was beginning to slide into a new ice age period.

And more. Again, Biezen wants to point to regional trends, ignoring that the G in AGW stands for “global.”

Number 5.

It has been shown that nighttime temperatures recorded by many weather stations have been artificially raised by the expulsion of radiant heat collected and stored during the daytime by concrete and brick structures such as houses, buildings, roads, and also cars. Temperature records from around the world do not support the assumption that today’s temperatures are unusual.

For the fifth time, what Biezen says flies in the face of known fact:

Many global warming skeptics have long claimed that the urban heat island effect is so strong that it has skewed temperature measurements indicating that global warming is happening. The skeptics argue that efforts to curb global warming pollution are therefore unnecessary, citing their pet theory that surface temperature stations were swallowed by, or moved closer to, cities, thus skewing surface temperature records on the whole.

The BEST papers – which still must go through rigorous peer review – confirm what climate scientists have correctly stated previously, demonstrating without doubt that “very rural” temperature stations miles from any new “UHI” towns or cities have also recorded warming at 0.9 degrees Celsius over the last century.

Number 6.

Contrary to what would be assumed when listening to global warming banter or while watching An Inconvenient Truth, higher temperatures increase atmospheric CO2 levels and lower temperatures decrease atmospheric CO2 levels, not the other way around.  Any college freshman chemistry student knows that the solubility of CO2 decreases with increasing temperatures and thus Earth’s oceans will release large amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere when the water is warmer and will absorb more CO2 when the water is colder.

And more. Really? Consider the Keeling Curve:

In 1958 Charles David Keeling started keeping a record of CO2 measurements taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is about 11,000 feet above sea level, out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. That annual cycle in CO2 levels in the atmosphere is due to the greening of deciduous plants in the Northern Hemisphere on a yearly cycle. The Northern Hemisphere land mass is larger than the Southern Hemisphere mass, and has more plant growth. When trees in the north put out leaves in the spring and begin to take CO2 from the atmosphere, the level goes down. When the leaves fall a few months later the CO2 extraction slows down, and the natural introduction (decaying leaves and dead plants) of CO2 into the atmosphere continues. At no point does the Keeling Curve support Mr. Biezen’s number 6.

Number 7. He says:

The CO2 molecule is a linear molecule and thus only has limited natural vibrational frequencies, which in turn give this molecule only limited capability of absorbing radiation that is radiated from the Earth’s surface.  The three main wavelengths that can be absorbed by CO2 are 4.26 micrometers, 7.2 micrometers, and 15.0 micrometers.  Of those 3, only the 15-micrometer is significant because it falls right in range of the infrared frequencies emitted by Earth.  However, the H2O molecule which is much more prevalent in the Earth’s atmosphere, and which is a bend molecule, thus having many more vibrational modes, absorbs many more frequencies emitted by the Earth, including to some extent the radiation absorbed by CO2.

Which is true, but again misleading. Water in the atmosphere accounts for much more of the greenhouse effect than CO2. This planet’s surface (oceans and atmosphere) would be many degrees cooler without the greenhouse effect of water vapor. As a student in college I was once required to compute the difference,, and I recall it was in the order of 40 C—other sources have 60 C. See the Wikipedia article on the greenhouse effect.

The problem with Biezen’s explanation is that it ignores that water vapor in the atmosphere has been a more or less constant factor for millions of years, and certainly throughout human history on this planet. The natural mechanism of rain removes water vapor from the atmosphere as fast as it is introduced, and the atmosphere is in steady-state with respect to water. This is not so for CO2, which does not have such a mechanism for removing it. Human activity is upsetting the natural level of CO2 by removing carbon from the surface (petroleum, natural gas, and coal) and introducing it into  the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane. The greenhouse effect of these gases is added on top of the existing effect of water, and that’s what the concern is all about.

Number 8. Biezen says:

Even in the 1990 IPCC report a chart appeared that showed the medieval warm period as having had warmer temperatures than those currently being experienced.  But it is hard to convince people about global warming with that information, so five years later a new graph was presented, now known as the famous hockey stick graph, which did away with the medieval warm period.

For the record, here are two plots of Earth temperature records:

The first of the above shows temperatures going back millions of years. The second is an enlargement of the right-hand part of the first, and it shows temperatures going back a million years (and beyond). Note the spikes, representing the temperature fluctuations concurrent with the history of the ice ages. Note the more recent period, following the previous ice age. There are fluctuations over a 10,000-year period, terminating in a recent up-tic. The spike at the right margin is a projection due to the effects of AGW. The second plot fairly well covers the Medieval Period.

This one, the so-called hockey stick plot, also covers the Medieval Period.

Regardless of any report from 1990, the best information available shows the up-tic in global temperatures due to human activity. Mr. Biezen continues to be dishonest in his presentation of the argument. He is lying.

Number 9. Biezen says:

The notion of melting glaciers as prove positive that global warming is real has no real scientific basis.  Glaciers have been melting for over 150 years.  It is no secret that glaciers advanced to unprecedented levels in recent human history during the period known as the Little Ice Age.

Let’s assume without verification that the above statement regarding glacier activity is true. Whenever has Biezen lied to us before? Glaciers are melting, but their melting is not necessary to demonstrate AGW. Biezen’s post is advertised as “The Most Comprehensive Assault On ‘Global Warming’ Ever.” His 9th argument hardly fills the bill, and I will stop here without additional comment.

Number 10. Biezen complains:

After years of painstaking gathering of data, and relentless graphing of that data, I discovered that I was not looking at the originally gathered data, but data that had been “adjusted” for what was deemed “scientific reasons.”

And more. Again, this is another issues that has already been addressed in a prior post, and Biezen completely ignores the facts of the matter. Here is what I had to say before:

Oceans make up more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, and NOAA is increasing its attention to sea surface temperatures. In years past temperatures were measured by pulling a bucket of water from the sea and measuring its temperature. Sea surface temperatures are now routinely obtained by measuring water at ships’ engine coolant intake. What was found when the two measurements were compared was that the bucket method produces lower temperatures than the intake method. In years past temperatures had been measured with a bias toward cooler rather than warmer. The plots show what happened when the measurement bias was removed. The heavy-line plot, showing a greater temperature rise, was replaced by the lighter-line plot, showing less warming with time. The plots are linked to a paper published by Smith and Reynolds, for those interested in reading the complete background.

If Breitbart is to believed, the NOAA has been caught fixing the data to make a warming trend apparent. In this case, the opposite has occurred. None of this is mentioned in the Breitbart news item. We can imagine Breitbart felt it unwieldy to burden its unsophisticated readers with a load of fact.

If these were the only data corrections, the evidence for global warming would be undercut. There is more. The NOAA also adjusted for bias caused by a shift from measuring temperatures in the afternoon to measuring temperatures in the morning. Obviously, temperature measurements are going to be higher in the afternoon than in the morning. The plots show a shift in the percentage of stations from afternoon to morning. See the following plots.

An associated plot, repeated from above, was included:

In his book, How to Debate Leftists, Ben Shapiro complains about how liberals (scientists?) put down people like Biezen (and Shapiro), who dispute AGW:

This is a more useful question, and it also avoids the left’s preferred line of argument on global warming, which is a variation on their preferred line on gun control: “Global warming is man-made. Don’t agree? That’s because you’re stupid and hateful.” As a general matter, the left’s favorite three lines of attack are (1) you’re stupid; (2) you’re mean; (3) you’re corrupt.

[Page 24]

Forget about his numbers 1 and 2. Biezen is corrupt. He is lying. By implication, so is Shapiro. With his stewardships of Breitbart and The Daily Wire, Shapiro has abetted the promulgation of lies against legitimate science and the people who support it.

People ask me (maybe they do not) why I am a liberal. My response has to be that one reason, and one only, is that being liberal gets me as far away as possible with what has become a political philosophy underpinned by corrupt thinking. In my younger years I became disgusted with conservative politics, because every time I saw a politician standing in the school house door blocking the entry of a black child, that politician was avowedly conservative. Ever time I learned the identity of racists who killed four black children in an Alabama church or murdered civil rights advocates, those people were avowed conservatives. More recently whenever I have seen a politician promoting the use of tax money and government authority to proselytize for religion, that politician has been an avowed conservative. My personal study of opposition to the modern science of biological evolution has revealed that conservative politicians and those who profess themselves to be politically conservative are the most inclusive of this movement. More recently the conservative contingent in this country has elected a politician who has demonstrated himself to be a habitual liar, and conservatives find no problem with this, even denying he has lied.

What was in the past a political ideal of limited government, individual freedom, and fiscal responsibility, has taken on the baggage of of the lowest levels of American society. Opposition to the science behind anthropological global warming is just the tip of the iceberg.

Dying to Believe

This is being cross-posted from  the Skeptical Analysis blog.

This is old stuff. Nearly 25 years ago medical charlatan Charlotte Gerson came to town, peddling what was then called “the Gerson cancer cure.” The North Texas Skeptics newsletter reported on it at the time:

Max Gerson seems to have been a very self-reliant man. At an early age he found he could cure his own migraine headaches by controlling his diet, and as a medical doctor he found diet to be a cure for a multitude of other complaints. The list is impressive. According to the flier distributed by the Gerson Institute, the Gerson Therapy can cure or prevent: cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, arthritis and “other diseases of civilization that kill and cripple us.” Just wait until the AMA hears about this.

Max’s daughter, Charlotte Gerson, is living proof of the effectiveness of the Therapy. At age seventy, she looks the picture of perfect health. Slim and vigorous and very neat looking with white hair and wearing white sandals and slacks with a blue blouse and a string of pearls. She looks the way you would like your grandmother to look (or the way you would hope your wife looks at that age). You would never believe that 58 years ago her father cured her of “incurable” bone tuberculosis. Indeed, the only sign of malady she exhibited (that could not be attributed to seventy years) was a “Band-Aid” patch on the middle finger of her right hand.

Charlotte’s free lecture was presented at the Unity Church of Dallas on Forest Lane.

And there was more.

Anyhow, run the tape forward 12 years, and the Gerson therapy was still alive and well, this time with the moral support of high royalty:

Now Charles backs coffee cure for cancer

Angry doctors warn of dangers as Prince of Wales lends support to controversial alternative treatment. Health Editor Jo Revill reports

Prince Charles has never made a secret of his love affair with alternative medicine. Now he has infuriated the medical profession by backing a controversial cancer treatment which involves taking daily coffee enemas and drinking litres of fruit juice instead of using drugs. Charles gave an enthusiastic endorsement last week to the Gerson Therapy, which eschews chemotherapy in favour of 13 fruit juices a day, coffee enemas and weekly injections of vitamins.

Cancer specialists have told The Observer that there is no scientific basis for the theory and that it can be dangerous because patients who are seriously ill often come off their normal treatment to try something unproven which may leave them badly dehydrated.

The problem with scams like the Gerson cure is threefold: They don’t work. They entice patients to avoid therapies that do work. They are expensive beyond all reason and worth. For any and all of these reasons, avoidable death can be a consequence.

The Guardian article by Jo Revill notes, “An estimated 1,000 people are following it worldwide, but the cost of the injections – more than £20,000 a year – means many cannot afford the treatment.” Tragedy reaches to the highest levels of society:

Another of Charles’s associates, the hereditary peer and crossbencher Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, went to the Tijuana clinic in 1996 when his wife Sally was seriously ill with breast cancer. She spent eight weeks at the clinic, followed by another two years of using the regime at home. Her disease recurred and she died three years ago.

Dying to Believe

This is being reposted from Skeptical Analysis.


Every con job it requires two to complete the deal. A con artist may be devious of mind and sharp of tongue, but if the mark does not perform his part, the thing falls through. Fortunately for this page that does not happen often enough to starve me of weekly material. It’s Tuesday again:

Six years ago, [James Arthur] Ray wouldn’t run out of a kitchen unless it was to speak to thousands of people—or the audience had paid four figures each for the privilege. After being featured in the book and movie of self-help sensation The Secret in 2006, Ray was propelled onto the national stage. At the time, he was touted as the latest in a long line of prominent self-help gurus who claimed to hold the keys to living a happy and successful life. Two appearances on Oprah followed, as well as his 2008 New York Times best seller Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want. The price of joining Ray’s World Wealth Society—a program of one-to-one mentoring—peaked at $90,000, and he bought a luxurious home in Beverly Hills. A glowing profile in Fortune magazine dubbed him heir to Tony Robbins’s motivational-speaker throne.

Then, in October of 2009, three of Ray’s followers died.

The good news, depending on how you define “good,” is that in 2013 the resilient Mr. Ray was released from prison, having served his two-year sentence for negligent homicide. On that fatal day in 2009 two people died immediately from heat stroke and another died nine days later of “organ failure.” The victims were among approximately 75 people who offered themselves to Ray’s cure, submitting to temperatures of 200 F inside a tent heated by rocks.

Back in business (as of March last year), Ray continues peddling “harmonic wealth.” It’s “the idea of energy fields attracting similar energy fields.” He will be successful so long as his dupes perform as scripted. He should not require much help.

Dying to Believe

This is being cross-posted from Skeptical Analysis:

Some more of the same


It’s Tuesday again, the day we commemorate those who have died or suffered through the consequences of belief. This topic typically, but not always, touches on faith healing, the reliance on prayer over science-based medicine. Searching for something of significance, I came across this:

Mary Vonderscher of Burbank, California, thought faith healing worked. She felt cured of cancer of the spine, she said, even though doctors had thought her case was hopeless. Appearing on an Oral Roberts TV spectacular in mid- 1955, Mrs. Vonderscher gave a glowing testimonial. In January, 1956, relatives of hers in Indiana saw a re-run of this program-just three days before traveling to California for her funeral. Wanda Beach, another believer, was a thirty-seven-year-old diabetic from Detroit. In 1959, after telephoning her mother that Roberts had “completely pletely cured” her, she threw away her insulin. And died.

Stephen Barrett. The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America (Consumer Health Library) (Kindle Locations 4488-4491). Kindle Edition.

Those are the opening paragraphs of Chapter 24 of a book by Stephen Barrett and William T. Jarvis. It’s titled The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America, and I obtained a copy of the Kindle edition.

I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Barrett 21 years ago when he was in Dallas to  participate in the taping of a TV special on supernatural stuff. It’s one of the topics of interest to The North Texas Skeptics. One of the NTS technical  advisors is Tim Gorski, M.D., at the time head of the DFW Council Against Health Fraud. Stephen Barrett is founder of the national organization, and Jarvis is the current president.

I will be reviewing the book later this year, but in the meantime this column will carry some interesting case studies from Chapter 24.

Your Intelligence Insulted, for a Price

This is being cross posted from the Skeptical Analysis blog.


I was headed back home from vacation on Thursday, and it was a new month and a new issue of the airline magazine. It featured a short item, see above:

Shut Eye, the drama that debuts on Hulu this month, is not a flattering portrayal of the L.A. psychic trade. The show, in  fact,  depicts a world whose foundation is trickery and greed, which is a very long  way from the view held by real-life Hollywood medium Fleur.

[American Way, December 2016. p39]

Before responding to writer Derrik J. Lang’s glowing depiction of the Los Angeles psychic trade, I pulled up the first episode of Shut Eye and gave it a look. True enough, the show depicts the psychic business as a deep and hardened criminal enterprise, with David Zayas as brutal Gypsy gangster Eduardo Bernal in charge.


Gypsy gang leader Bernal in Shut Eye

With that in mind, it is interesting to see how Derrik Lang interprets the psychic trade. Apparently Fleur is not one of those phony psychics (redundancy alert). Fleur, we are told is “a six-year veteran,” working out of a West Hollywood office and “not under a neon sign.” Guess what, that appears to describe the psychics in the Shut Eye criminal enterprise. None of them work under a neon sign.

Fleur’s clients include Lana Del Rey and Emma Roberts, two people I would not have known existed were it not for Derrik Lang and American Way magazine.

We learn more about Fleur:

Fleur is also unfazed by the perception of storefront scam artists like those in Shut Eye. “I’ve definitely had people come in who are extremely skeptical—even cynical—and after a session have sad, ‘Well, you must have hired a private detective.’” Even if she wanted to pull such a stunt, she says with a sigh, she couldn’t afford to.

Fleur doesn’t bother debunking the doubters, but she does point to one ability that suggests she is for real: a knack for multilingual communication that she doesn’t posses in daily life. “”The spirit world doesn’t speak in language, it speaks in energy,” she explains. “So I can read anywhere; China, India, Germany. It makes no difference.” Fleur recalls a hospital stay, still fuzzy from anesthesia, when she effortlessly chatted with a nurse’s deceased Filipina mother. “I don’t even remember saying any of this stuff.”

[American Way, December 2016. p39]

My own experience with phony psychics (redundancy) differs from that of Lang’s. In 1992 Mike Sullivan of The North Texas Skeptics checked with local (Dallas) psychic Bette Epstein:

Mike Sullivan
The Skeptic Newsletter Editor
P.O. Box 111794
Carrollton, TX 75011-1794
(214) 746-3288 Day
(214) 492-8998 Evening

January 28, 1992

Betty Epstein
North Central Tejas Chapter
American Society of Dowsers
5409 Farquhar Dr.
Dallas TX 75209

Dear Ms. Epstein:

I found The Dallas Morning News article on January 24, 1992 about you and your Society’s recent convention in Dallas quite informative. The abilities claimed by dowsers in the article are truly incredible, Ms. Epstein, and The North Texas Skeptics are interested in seeing if you or any other dowsers can back up those claims with proof. We are willing to provide you with a public forum in which you can submit those claims to open inquiry.

The North Texas Skeptics is an all-volunteer, non-profit, tax-exempt scientific and educational organization dedicated to scientific inquiry and the examination of extraordinary claims. As part of our educational efforts, we present a series of free public programs on a variety of topics involving science and scientific inquiry. We would be delighted to have you or another of you members speak at one of our meetings. I’m sure our members and guests would welcome the chance to hear first-hand about your claimed dowsing skills or those of others. We have openings in our program calendar throughout 1992 for your presentations.

If you are not able to speak at one of our meetings, perhaps you would care to submit an article about your claimed skills and the evidence you have to support your claims. We would be happy to provide space for your article in our monthly newsletter, The Skeptic. I have enclosed a copy of a recent issue for your review.

You or one of your dowsing colleagues may also be interested in our $2,000 cash award. We have a standing offer to pay $2,000 cash to anyone who can prove a paranormal effect under scientifically controlled conditions, and we promise to publish the results of all such tests regardless of the outcome. If you or another dowser can prove the locating powers claimed in the newspaper article, the money will be yours, or you may wish to donate it to a charity of your choice. Please contact me if you are interested so I can forward complete details of our $2,000 challenge.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Mike Sullivan

Interestingly, we received a response:

January 28

Ladies and Gentlemen … 

Well … that was a real nice invitation … for me to do show and tell for your group.

But … I must decline.

You see … I have been blessed with lots of money and a wonderful practice of hypnotherapy … and I tithe to my favorite charities on a regular basis … so I don’t need your money to give to them. And … I’m not at all competitive about the dowsing thing. It is not the least bit important to me that anyone else believe it. I believe it .. I know it … It is a vital part of my life on a daily basis and is as real to me as breathing. I would never degrade my other senses by proving to your group that I can see, smell, hear, taste or feel … and I wouldn’t need to prove to you that I have a well-developed sense of energies that surround me.

So … thanks for the invite. I will pass this letter on the national headquarters and they can re-print it in the quarterly if so deemed. There will probably be someone who will take you up on your offer … someone with a different value system about dowsing than I have.

However … if your club would one day like to have a lesson in dowsing so that they, too, can develop their gifts of the spirit … I am an excellent teacher and am offering my time to you.

May the most joyous days of your past be the darkest days of your future.

Bette Epstein 
5409 Farquhar Lane
Dallas, Texas 75209

Sadly, nobody ever took us up on our offer. Bette Epstein did offer to have her young daughter submit to evaluation by us, but we demurred. It was Ms. Epstein who interested us, and we were a mite off-put at the vision of a crowd of grown men grilling a young child.

Since about the time of that NTS newsletter item we have had a $10,000 (now $12,000) award payable to anybody who can demonstrate the kind of thing Fleur brags about doing. That’s over a quarter of a century, and in that time we have been approached numerous times by claimants seeking the prize. Nobody has ever brought us anything to test, and we still have our money. You can read about these cases in a section devoted to the NTS Paranormal Challenge.

Thinking back, I am considering the money Barbara Jean and I paid for our American Airline tickets on our recent vacation. I am thinking I shouldn’t have to pay that much to have my intelligence insulted.




Dr. Secretary

The North Texas Skeptics is not about politics. It’s not even about religion. However, a brush with either does not inoculate a topic from discussion. The following is from a post on another site, overtly political, but cleaned up for reposting here:

I need to be careful to not make this a rehash of The Carson Hour:

Up front: I’ve never been a fan of creationist Ben Carson. My mind can’t get past someone who puts aside known facts in favor of popular myth.

What’s prompting this foray into last year’s brain scrub is the following meme, which scrolled by on my Facebook feed this morning:


My immediate reaction was, “Say it isn’t so!” Some Skeptical Analysis was in order. Immediate relief. No, Retired medical doctor Ben Carson has not been tapped to become Secretary of Education. What a relief! Take consolation where you can get it. He’s only being considered for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. I guess that means our faith in political wisdom, oxymoron or not, is restored. Think that if you want.

But wait! I’m not finished with the Skeptical Analysis. Did (possibly future) Secretary Ben Carson actually say those stupid things credited to him? Some investigation was in order, and said investigation was promptly rewarded in the negative. I was unable, through the use of the modern miracle of the Internet search, to find any direct quote attaching this foolishness to Dr. Ben Carson. There was only this foolishness:

With the wide release of video from a speech that Carson made to his fellow Seventh-Day Adventists in 2012, however, it’s becoming clear that there are significant gaps. In the speech, he made statements on subjects ranging from evolution to the Big Bang that suggest he never learned or chooses to ignore basic, well-tested scientific concepts. In attempting to refute the Big Bang, for example—which he characterized as a “ridiculous” idea—Carson said:

You have all these highfalutin scientists, and they’re saying that there was this gigantic explosion and everything came into perfect order. Now, these are the same scientists who go around touting the second law of thermodynamics, which is entropy, which says that things move toward a state of disorganization. So, now you’re going to have this big explosion, and everything becomes perfectly organized. When you ask them about it, they say, “Well we can explain this based on probability theory, because if there’s enough big explosions, over a long enough period of time, billions and billions of years, one of them will be the perfect explosion”…. What you’re telling me is, if I blow a hurricane through a junkyard enough times, over billions and billions of years, eventually, after one of those hurricanes, there will be a 747 fully loaded and ready to fly.

He continued, “It’s even more ridiculous than that, because our solar system, not to mention the universe outside of that, is extraordinarily well organized, to the point where we can predict seventy years away when a comet is coming. Now, [for] that type of organization to just come out of an explosion? I mean, you want to talk about fairy tales, that is amazing.” Finally, he argued that the observed motion of the planets in our solar system would be impossible if there had been a Big Bang.

That was Lawrence Krauss writing for The New Yorker last year. Lest you wonder whether Dr. Krauss is qualified to speak on modern cosmology, you need to ask those who employ him in his position as “Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, and director of its Origins Project.” Full disclosure: I previously reviewed his book A Universe from Nothing.

Dr. Krauss goes on to quote from the Carson  interview: “It’s even more ridiculous than that, because our solar system, not to mention the universe outside of that, is extraordinarily well organized, to the point where we can predict seventy years away when a comet is coming. Now, [for] that type of organization to just come out of an explosion? I mean, you want to talk about fairy tales, that is amazing.” I don’t have a degree in cosmology, but my college degree plans have included courses in Celestial Mechanics and Interplanetary Navigation. My final term  project for my physics degree was a computer simulation of a multi-body planetary system. None of that is required to refute Dr. Carson’s silly ideas about comets and planetary motion.

What is really remarkable about Carson’s remarkable utterances is that he is pronouncing (pontificating?) on something of which he knows nothing. The last time I checked, courses in Relativity, Celestial Mechanics, and Interplanetary Navigation were not required for the prestigious medical degree Dr. Carson obtained. One would have hoped, however, along the way he would have picked up enough in the way of situational awareness to know when he is making a fool of himself in public.

The problem is Dr. Carson failed to stop with modern cosmology. He has, apparently with some effort, extended his embarrassment (and ours) beyond all reasonable expectations. Dr. Krauss continues:

Carson’s wild delusions aren’t confined to physics, either. In the same event, in a more surprising and perhaps more worrisome statement, Carson claimed that evolution, as explained by Darwin, was actually the work of the devil. (“I personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with was something that was encouraged by the adversary, and it has become what is scientifically, politically correct.”) As if invoking Satan weren’t bad enough, Carson resorted to bad puns to sidestep his scientific ignorance: he went on to say that he was planning a book called “The Organ of Species,” which he said would “talk about the organs of the body and how they completely refute evolution”—an amazing claim that would require a rewriting of most biology texts. At another point in the speech, he uses a long stream of medical terminology to argue against the biochemical origins of life—something he doesn’t seem to realize has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution itself. Elsewhere, he claims that plants couldn’t have evolved before bees and that sexual reproduction shouldn’t have evolved at all, and suggests that geological formations provide evidence of a great flood, not an old Earth.

Krauss links to an MSNBC story that illuminates further:

Addressing his bizarre views yesterday, the GOP presidential hopeful said, “I’m not gonna denigrate you because of your faith and you shouldn’t denigrate me for mine. And that’s the kind of attitude, you know – that’s the kind of attitude that I think is very important in the society in which we live today.”
It’s an unsatisfying response because it misses the point of what makes revelations like these significant. A leading national candidate, who’s asking Americans to trust his judgment, has ridiculous ideas about a demon shaping our understanding of modern biology. It’s the sort of the thing that, for some in the reality-based community, is a disqualifying characteristic for someone seeking the world’s most important job.
Carson seemed to suggest yesterday that his bizarre beliefs are somehow off-limits. To notice a presidential candidate’s weird ideas, he says, is to “denigrate” the man who talked about those ideas publicly.
It’s treating faith as some kind of trump card – as if prominent public figures who denigrate science (and scientists) should be left alone because of their religious motivations, regardless of the disservice they’re doing to the discourse.

This was before Dr. Carson announced his candidacy, and it’s critical to observe that following the time these views became public he was momentarily the front runner for a major political party. It speaks to an American public, at least to a large block of an American public, totally opaque to some basic facts of the world we live in.

Did I mention that Dr. Carson is not presently in line for Secretary of Education? Did I mention he is only being considered for Secretary of HUD? Do you feel safer now? Me neither.

Conspiracy of Lies

Review of a conspiracy theory video

This is a must see for skeptics keen  on conspiracy theory juice. It’s A Conspiracy of Lies: Flight 370 to 911, which came out two years ago. IMDb has a write-up on it, and there are other reviews out there. I’m going to just post some screen shots and a few comments. Here’s the opening title, just so you will know you are watching the right one.


This is from Reality Films, produced by J. Michael Long, who also narrates.

You can get where  this is going from the title. Yes, they are going to talk about Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, and they are going to  talk about the 9/11 attacks. Yes, they are going to assert the Twin Towers were brought down by planted demolition charges, and then they are going on to  tell us WTC-7 was demolished by explosives after suffering no structural damage from the attacks.


Lest viewers get the idea all of the stuff in this video is made up, there are some serious issues inserted. For example, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment was real, and it lasted from 1932 to 1972. It involved identifying a group of indigent black men in the rural South who had contracted syphilis. These men were not told they had syphilis, and they were given free medical treatment, but not for syphilis. The aim was to determine the course of the untreated disease in black men.


Yes, there are flying saucers, and aliens from  outer space, and people abducted by aliens, and sexual experiments performed on humans by aliens. Just look at the graphic below.


We have, in case you did not already know, alien technology, gleaned from crashed and recovered alien craft made for today’s modern wonders. Without this assist, we would not now have such technological marvels as integrated circuits.


Black helicopters! Yes, there must be black helicopters. No conspiracy story is complete without black helicopters. Of course, they don’t actually show a black helicopter, because nobody ever gets to see one and live. But they do show shadows of black helicopters. Here is one.


Chemtrails! There needs to be chemtrails. Chemtrails are real. Here are some photos.


Yes, chemtrails are real, and they are mentioned in official documents. Congressman  Dennis Kucinich has sought to have them banned.


But wait. Everybody knows these conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks have been well and thoroughly debunked. We have done some of  that ourselves:

Forget about the hapless “tourist guy” of 9/11, the rigged photo of a parka-clad sightseer atop the World Trade Center, with his back toward the oncoming airliner. Forget about the four thousand Jews who didn’t show up for work that day. French author Thierry Meyssan spins a yarn that shades both these tall tales. According to Meyssan’s book L’Effroyable Imposture (The Frightening Fraud), American Airlines flight 77 did not crash into the Pentagon building. Instead, a crafty plot by the U.S. government employed a truck bomb or a missile strike to further the pretense of the Twin Towers attack.

Producer J. Michael Long’s contention  that no piece of MH370 has ever been found turned out to be refuted since his video came out. At least three pieces of wreckage or debris have been recovered, definitely from the doomed craft.

A problem with conspiracy theories is that as additional evidence comes out, the theories tend to become increasingly refuted. On the other hand, the longer a conspiracy theory can exist, the more witnesses die off, and the further from the truth the theories drift.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime Video, but it appears also on YouTube at by subscribing.