Commentary Archive 1 - A Skeptic's opinion

Commentary archive #1

Entries from: December 2004 to February 2005

Index for this page

27th February 2005
Coming soon The Dark Ages

19th February 2005
Psychic Surgeons - an offer

16th February 200
Clairvoyant predicts "big win"

5th February 2005
On a positive note...
Penta Water and Bad Science
Alternative medicine cancer treatment

28th January 2005
Alternative medicine
More on EVP

A point about psychics & mediums

22nd January 2005
Hazel Courteney's "The Evidence for the Sixth Sense"

3rd January 2005
Electronic Voice Phenomenon

2nd January 2005
No wiggle room for God

30th December 2004
Tsunami Earthquake appeal

27th December 2004
Religion in Britain
Most Haunted Live

27th February 2005

Coming soon The Dark Ages
Recently weve seen a play cancelled because of violent intimidation by Sikhs. This was shortly followed by the organisation Christian Voice in their attempt to have Jerry Springer the Opera banned from our TV screens. As well as legitimately making their views heard they also published the addresses of BBC executives, no doubt in the hope that the thought of their hordes protesting outside their homes would be sufficiently intimidating to make them pull out. They also bullied a cancer charity into rejecting a donation of 3,000 because it was from "Jerry Springer the Opera". Maggie's Centres press statement says,

The day before the performance, we were contacted by Christian Voice, the organisation that lobbied against the BBC. They told us that if we accepted the donation we would cause offence and that they would take action against us, effectively blocking our ability to work. They said that they would picket our centres, send out a press release deploring our action and email their 50,000 members. We felt that these actions would have prevented us from being able to function effectively. We also came under similar pressure from a second organization, UK Life League.

Well isnt that nice What a morally bankrupt organisation.

Jerry Speinger the Opera imageBut now they seem to have got the bit between their teeth. "Jerry Springer the Opera" is set to go on tour and once again 'Christian Voice' want it stopped. Quoting The Times again,

A NATIONWIDE tour by the musical Jerry Springer the Opera is in jeopardy with a big investor considering pulling out because of threats by a militant Christian group. The backer, who was to have provided 40% of the funding for the tour, was targeted by Christian Voice, an evangelical group that has condemned the musical based on the American television show as filthy and blasphemous.

Threats! What kind of threats What happened to blessed are the peacemakers

Whilst the government bring out laws to prevent Incitement to religious hatred organisations such as 'Christian Voice' can continue to persecute homosexuals. Their website has a section for gay members of the police force. It boasts that in a letter to all the Chief Constables of England and Wales the National Director complained about policemen and women marching in full uniform in the London Gay Pride March 26/07/2003 and urged Chief Constables to stop actively recruiting homosexuals.

This is all happening is what is predominantly a secular country and now it seems 'Christian Voice' have decided to target abortion clinics. The Times on 26th February 2005 says,
Mr Green, 53, told The Times last night that his next target is abortion clinics. The taking of innocent blood brings judgment on our land and cries to Heaven for vengeance, he said. The presence of abortion centres in our towns is iniquitous. They should be shut down. It would not take much: just a few prayer vigils outside clinics.

What exactly is meant by prayer vigils we have yet to discover

If anyone is offended by "Jerry Springer the Opera" or "Behzti" then I would defend their right to complain and express their disapproval but bully boy tactics by religious groups of whatever denomination should be firmly resisted. They have the potential to wreak more harm on our way of life and our cherished freedom of speech than a 100 trumpet toting mediums.

Id like to end this piece by stating that I realise not all Christians hold such bigoted and outdated views. Many want to see reform and accept that practising homosexuals have a right to be treated with the dignity and respect afforded to all human beings, and they dont target vulnerable women going to abortion clinics or threaten people because they fund a play they happen to think is blasphemous.

Meanwhile if you would like to donate to Maggie's Centres and make up the shortfall created by 'Christian Voice' then go here.

You can also read about 'Christian Voice' at The View from Number Eighty. Amusingly it suggests you type in 'Ignorant bigots' in Google and see what you get. Thus there was no need for me to provide any links.

19th February 2005

Stephen Turoff imagePsychic Surgeons - an Offer
The cover of Spirit & Destiny magazine caught my eye caught my eye this month (March 2005) with the headline, Psychic Surgery con or cure. I suspected the article might lean towards the cure end of the spectrum but not so. There was a candid description of Stephen Turoffs appalling healing of a journalists fibromyalgia. (Some might argue that this would be an ideal condition for any alternative therapy treatment as its cause is unknown and there are no laboratory tests to confirm diagnosis). It seems Turoffs treatment is a one size fits all affair as his first instruction is, Pop your top off and lie on the couch followed by pointless pummelling of the poor womans abdomen.

Another part of the article deals with the surgeons in the Philippines (Shirley MacLaine tells us she had some negative energy clots removed). Alarmingly trips from the UK to visit these con men are frequently arranged. As if that isnt bad a bare hand surgeon' is coming over here to lecture later this year See here.

This is my hypothesis. The whole thing is a complete con and is never going to heal anyone of anything. This is a systematic ripping off of people whose lives have been blighted with serious life threatening conditions such as cancer. Therefore Ill offer the following challenge. If anyone can conclusively demonstrate that they can put their hands into someones body and remove malignant (human) tissue and leave no physical mark on the person body Ill pay them 3,000. This is not a vast some of money but its a lot to me. Any takers Stephen Turoff

Please dont allow anyone to get ripped off by these human leeches.

Now while Im on the subject James Randi is discussing one such person John of God at length in his commentary this week. This is an absolute must read. Not only does the article explain the pointless forceps-in-the-nose trick favoured by many psychic surgeons but also illustrates how television programmes with their own curious agenda help promote this drivel and as a result no doubt swell the bank accounts of the surgeons whilst at the same time managing to perpetuate the misery of their patients. This is the media at its absolute worst, which is all the more reason to appreciate the unbiased article in Spirit & Destiny.

Also pay a visit to View from Number Eighty and 'Sleazy as ABC'.

James Randi image
James Randi

16th February 2005

Clairvoyant predicts Big Win
The media are excitedly reporting the news that single mother Sharon Creighton has had a 9 million lottery win a month after being told by a clairvoyant that she would have a big win. I can hear the psychics jumping up and down with glee already.

So what possible response can hapless sceptics come up with Alas I dont have the full facts but lets work with what weve got. The good news came in the form of an unsolicited letter which Ms Creighton sensibly consigned to the bin. The letter also told her she would benefit from two smaller wins.

The letter itself sounds very much like an advertising circular. Psychic scams are not uncommon and the Consumer Direct website quotes the following as being a typical example; (See here)

I accidentally discovered this amazing secret. I wish to send it to you free. In fact, I am convinced that over the next 30 days a Miracle will certainly occur, one which could shelter you from need for the rest of your days

So sending out random letters to people telling them something good is about to happen is not, in itself, exactly miraculous is it If you received the above and won 9m a month later you too could be forgiven for thinking it was accurate after all.

Another factor is that we dont know the full text of what was actually written in the letter. We have only Ms Creightons memory of one month ago, which may be somewhat imprecise. This is no criticism of her, in similar circumstances my own memory would be far from perfect by now.

Lastly lets look at the terminology used - as reported. A big win! Big is a relative term and 9 million is certainly a considerable sum, in fact the word big doesnt really do it for me. Id prefer massive or at least huge. These are relative terms. If you go to bingo once a week and occasionally win 25 then 1,000 would be regarded as big. Even 100 on a fruit machine could be classed as a tidy sum.

Big Win image

Meanwhile we have yet to hear of the two smaller wins, but even if they happen they cant be assumed to validate the original prediction. Spurred on by her recent success Ms Creighton can certainly afford to buy quite a few scratch cards and the odds are that she will win a couple of smaller amounts.

If you do think this proves precognition then you might like to consider how it affects the concept of free will. If you accept that the future can be known before it happens, with no recourse to cause and effect, then surely it is unchangeable (otherwise its only one possible future and we can all predict one of those). Your life is already written and the choices you make simply an illusion. This means I cant be held responsible for the begging letter Im sending off!

The final words of wisdom can go to the Consumer Direct website which says,

"Mail of this kind should be treated with exactly the same scepticism as all other forms of unsolicited scam mailing."

Many thanks to ASKE member Jim for bringing this story to my attention.

5th February 2005

On a positive note.
Last week the press managed to get their hands on what they thought was a sample of Tony Blairs handwriting and with a weary inevitability they had it analysed by the palm readers of the pen otherwise known as graphologists. One such cold reader, Emma Bache, was quoted in The Times, " the Prime Ministers surprisingly chaotic script indicates an aggressive, unstable man who is feeling under enormous pressure." Of course much to everyone elses amusement it turns out that the handwriting was in fact doodling by Bill Gates.

Rumour has it that some large companies (Barings was mentioned in the Times article) use this dark art to aid their in staff selection process and it is a forlorn hope that this might make people actually question the validity of this unproven, pseudoscientific drivel. Still it was nice to see graphology roundly condemned by Mark Henderson in todays edition of The Times (Body & Soul).

Emma Bache in The Times, Monday 29th January 2005

The Times online is at: If you do a search for Junk Medicine you should get Mark Hendersons piece on graphology.

Penta Water and Bad Science
Another writer that you should never miss is Ben Goldacre whos column Bad Science appears in the Guardian. Last week he questioned the validity of Penta Waters claim that it was, restructured micro-water or clustered water and this week it seems someone from Penta has been in touch. To quote from Goldacres column, Sleep well tonight and think about how and why you tried to fuck us over and practice keeping one eye open." If this is their idea of PR one can only assume the writer was selected after having their hand writing analysed

If youve never read Bad Science you are in for a real treat. Ben Goldacre is a national treasure.

Bad Science

Penta first mentioned in James Randi's Commentary

Penta's restructured water

Alternative medicine cancer treatment.
Lastly a report claims that a third of European cancer patients are using complementary and alternative therapies. See report. Popular treatments quoted were herbal therapies (plants), vitamins and minerals (found in food I believe), homeopathy (water) and medicinal teas (flavoured water).

The effectiveness of any of these for cancer is likely to be somewhere really close to zero but you cant blame people for trying anything that they think might help. I do think there is a lesson to be learnt here for mainstream medicine. The NHS has the massive task of treating us all for our various health problems and they are under constant pressure to do so with ever increasing efficiency. Im sure patients begin to feel they are part of an assembly line, no longer a person but an illness. We sit in queues and join waiting lists and eventually undergo unpleasant and possibly painful treatments. We read about MRSA. One thing we dont seem to hear is how many people are cured and by what treatment. How can people decide between the effectiveness of chemotherapy and herbal therapy Is it any wonder that people look elsewhere

For information about cancer treatment visit Cancer Research.

28th January 2005

Alternative Medicine
According to a report out this week (24th January 2005) carried out for The Diagnostic Clinic nearly 70% of British adults think that alternative/complementary medicine can be as valid as conventional medicine. I cant help but wonder how many of these British adults have based their belief on clinical evidence.

What's wrong with this claim Of all the people in our office I have had the least number of days off sick. This is despite being the oldest. I am also the only one who likes to have a small whisky in the evening. Therefore whisky is beneficial to health and should be available on the NHS.

Another consideration is whether our British adults actually understand what some of these treatments are. One mentioned is 'naturopathy' which at least on the surface appears okay in a sound bite sort of way. Natural treatments that allow the body to heal itself. According to The College of Naturopathic Medicine this includes approved natural healing practices such as Homeopathy, Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine as well as the use of modern methods like Bio-Resonance, Ozone-Therapy and Colon Hydrotherapy. Really.
homeopathic source
How many people know what homeopathy actually is My own anecdotal experience would indicate not very many.
a steady supply of homeopathic treatment

Those Ive asked, and I have asked quite a few, seem to imagine that its tiny dilutions of some herb or mineral that when taken triggers the immune system (a well-balanced one, see below) into fighting the disease. Dont take my word for it, ask people. You would be amazed at the answers you get. Then tell them about the solution not having any of the original ingredient left in it and about water having 'memory'. They think youre making it up.

The Diagnostic Clinic website says, amongst other things, that, In the majority of cases, a well-balanced immune system is the best healing mechanism available. I wonder what a poorly-balanced immune system is actually like I thought children were supposed to be better off building up their immunity by ferreting around in the dirt. How about vaccination Do naturopaths believe in vaccinations MMR triple jab If they do they seem to be keeping quiet about it. As far as I know measles, mumps and rubella can all be said to be 100% natural.

More on EVP
In a previous commentary I responded to a Daily Mail article on Electronic Voice Phenomenon. This was not meant to be a critique of a serious scientific paper however it was enough to spark off a rant by Victor Zammit. His tirade begins by describing me as a close minded debunker and then goes on to criticise my level of analysis. As it happens I am trying to look at the evidence for EVP but so far its looking shaky. Still Zammit has given some helpful pointers. Evidently, and you need to pay attention here, Afterlife energies in EVP reduce their vibrations to the physical level of the speed of light thats why we can hear them. Try: Einsteins E=mc2 and Materialization. Well its a start I suppose. Zammit also chides me in that lovable way of his by pointing out, Tony shows he has not done his homework on EVP or if he did he just does not understand it. Clearly, he does not understand the energies operating at different vortic speeds. A fair point really because I understand surprisingly little of almost anything he says on the subject.

Back to reality for a moment, there appear to be two main aspects to understanding EVP. There is the physics of radio transmission and the cognitive psychology behind how we interpret the sound of white noise into meaningful words. Ill be looking at both of these in the future as I feel research in this direction will bear more fruit than trying to grapple with vortic speeds and E=mc2.

Einstein thinking about EVP

A point about mediums and psychics.
This is something I think needs to be said and I cant think where else to say it. Skeptics and psychics (among others) disagree with each other at a pretty fundamental level. We argue between ourselves constantly. Whilst I do not consider it at all likely that such powers are genuine I dont necessarily think all psychics and mediums are a bunch of evil bastards out to destroy the world. I have met a number of such people and were it not for this one area of disagreement we might well get on a lot better. So just for future reference, whilst I shall continue to challenge psychic claims as vigorously as ever, it doesnt mean I think all mediums, psychics and believers of such things are by default bad people. Although it has to be said a few undoubtedly are.

22nd January 2005

Hazel Courteney's "The Evidence for the Sixth Sense"
This is a new book that I believe is due to be published next week.In fact it's a sequel to Hazel Courteney's earlier 'Divine Inspiration'. I was supposed to be appearing on ITV's "This Morning" on Thursday (20th Jan 2005) to discuss this very subject.

Hazel Courteney

Alas with hours to go the item was dropped in favour of something interesting but by then of course I'd read most of the book. I could fill the website with commentary about the strange claims mentioned in the book, not least the pathetically designed 'tests' done by Gary Swartz. If his efforts have been accurately reported then he should pack up and find a proper job.

In fact it's the accuracy that bothers me. Courteney refers to one incident that I know very well indeed, namely the case of Christine Holohan and the claims of her solving a murder. Adrian Shaw and I investigated this as thoroughly as we could and you can read all about it here. Anyway aspects of the case are highlighted in this book and so far I can find little that is actually correct.

She says the murderer's nickname was 'Porkie' when it was in fact 'Pokie'
She describes Tony Batters as "the detective handling the case" when he was in fact the local Bobby who was kept on to help with the administration. DCI Tony Lundy was in charge of the case.
She said that Holohan told police to hang on to "Pokie's" personal belongings". There is no evidence of this from anyone in the police - including her most prolific supporter P.C. Tony Batters.

Other things worry me. She says Holohan started getting messages from the victim on Saturday February 12th 1983. The body was not discovered until Sunday 13th and Holohan was not interviewed by a Detective (accompanied by Tony Batters) until Thursday 17th Feb 1983. Tony Batters' notes record her a stating "Since Sun" and that (incorrectly) the murder had taken place on Saturday 12th. She says Holohan was aged 29 at the time whereas Tony Batters says she was 22. At least this fact should be verifiable.

There are many others things claimed by Holohan for which there is no evidence but the one thing that is most alarming is the claim that Holohan is currently writing a book about the case called 'Justice From Beyond the Grave'. I can assure you that neither the victim's family or the murderer's will want this unwelcome attention.

3rd January 2005

Electronic Voice Phenomenon
I didn't really plan to write this often but 2005 looks like being a good year for all kinds of nuttery. Today's Daily Mail has a two page article on EVP. The impetus for the article being the new film 'White Noise' and no doubt its release will inspire more pointless debate. The idea behind EVP is that you tune in your radio (or whatever) to somewhere where nothing is (apparently) being transmitted so that you should just be listening to the normal hiss i.e. white noise. If you listen really carefully you should soon hear the voices of the dead calling you across the airwaves. If the Mail article is to be believed you can even hear the voices of your own dear departed. Presumably they were watching you tune in and seized their chance.

White Noise film

Frustratingly of course no one seems to have worked out a way of answering back. Radio is still a physical medium (pun intended) so something is causing your speaker to vibrate. If you can convert spirit 'energy' into physical form then presumably you can convert it back. Research into this subject has been going on for some time: The Mail tells us it began shortly after the invention of radio in fact. Since then things on this side of the astral plane have moved on a bit. We have progressed from crystal sets to digital radio and yet in all that time the voices have manged to retain their characteristicly indistinct barely discernable quality. Whilst I can call almost anyone on the planet via my mobile phone I still can't strike up a two-way conversation with my dead relatives. An attempt to enable this possibility was made at the end of the 1970's resulting in the optimistically named 'Spiricom' but sadly only it's inventors seemed able to use it. Today's mediums must be worried that technology is about to make them redundant, which perhaps explains why they don't pass on to us how we can build such devices. Luddites. I imagine Colin Fry contacting Thomas Edison, "He just wants to tell you he still loves and that he's okay. Alright my love". Ah well.

The article also mentions a Dr Anabela Cardoso, described as one of Portugal's most senior diplomats. Why her status as a diplomat helps, the article doesn't make clear. Nevertheless she does give us some insight into the afterlife. She is quoted as stating, "I am told that everbody and everything survives death. All living things be they plants or animals live on after they die." Immortality must be a real comfort to amoebas. What about yeast It must be piling up by now. The mind boggles.

The Daily Mail pays token homage to the skeptical viewpoint by quoting Professor Chris French. However Chris's explanation doesn't seem to persuade the Mail reporter (Danny Penman) who finishes with, "The 'voices in the machine', it seems, cannot be explained away just yet."

Perhaps not surprisingly I disagree entirely. Everything we know about science indicates that we are simply a highly evolved mammal. Whilst we are fortunate enough to be self aware there is no indication that the mind can exist separately from the brain. If you believe in evolution can you think of a time, as we progressed from Homo Erectus towards Homo Sapien, when we might have developed a spirit 'body' Doesn't make any kind of sense to me.

The skeptic response to EVP is that it's probably a mixture of things. Using our famed pattern seeking ability we construct words where in fact there are none. Interference and cross modulation are other possibilites. Add to this mix a dollop of wishful thinking and you're almost done. Finally there are the increasingly likely possibilities of deliberate hoax and fraud.

If you want to read more about EVP then I suggest the following two links as excellent places to start.

The Skeptic's Dictionary and

Electronic Voice Phenomena, Voices of the Dead by James E. Alcock, PhD

Many thanks to John Atkinson for bring this to my attention in the first place.

2nd January 2005

No wiggle room for God
I have now read two articles in UK newspapers (The Times on 1st Jan & The Mail on Sunday 2nd Jan) explaining to us why the Tsunami and its awful destruction does not mean we should doubt God's existence. In essence it seems this will first test and then strengthen the faith of the believers. Those of a religious persuasion we're told should not ask about why it happened but how they can use God's (and/or Jesus's) love to help alleviate the suffering. Poppycock!

It still comes down to the fact that if God is all powerful and can thus do anything and all good then by any standard He (if God can really have gender) had the power to intervene and prevent this wholesale destruction and yet chose not to. If any human could have prevented this but chose not to they would be rightfully condemned but somehow the apologists for God seem to think he can work to a different set of rules. It's no longer politically correct to suggest this is some punishment God has metered out to the wicked so the refrain is that we mere humans are not in any position to judge God's purpose. But if we are not capable of deciding what is or isn't 'good' or 'bad' then how can we lay claim to saying God is 'all good' In our ignorance for all we know He is a nasty piece of work. At best if He exists at all then He is supremely indifferent to the suffering of humanity.

The simple truth is that this is just how things would be were there no God at all. Atheists have been no less forthcoming than believers. We are thankfully motivated out of shear benevolence to our fellow human beings and do not require the positing of a supernatural being to show our humanity.

30th December 2004

Tsunami Earthquake appeal
Not the sort of subject I would normally cover but this one of those occasions when humanity must come together. This is a disaster on an almost unimaginable scale. It's easy for such a high number of deaths to become just a statistic.
These are people need our help urgently. If you want to make a donation go to the Disasters Emergency Committee website or phone . The phone line is fully automated and it pretty straightforward.

27th December 2004

Religion in Britain.
It seems there are over 170 faiths (belief systems) in the UK today. This is the figure taken from the 2001 census figures. The number one position is being held by Christians who weigh in with a figure of 37,046,500. I wonder how many people filling in the census form just ticked the "Christian" box If you contrast this with actual church attendance, which is estimated to be 7% of Christians, we are left with around 2,593,255 and if you regard these as "true" Christians then they would slip into 3rd place - just behind the category "None" who number 7,274,290. Curiously those who wrote "none" outnumber atheists who have a meagre 10,357. Of course it might be a little unfair to manipulate the figures like this, perhaps other belief systems just "ticked the box" or slapped down whatever took their fancy. Curiously it seems we have 390,127 Jedi Knights which is more than we have Sikhs (329,358). Which brings me to my next point...

David Blunkett, the now ex-cabinet love machine, was keen to bring in a law against incitement to religious hatred which seems to be asking for trouble considering how easily religions take offence. The recent victory for mob rule being a case in point. A number of Sikhs have managed to have the play "Behzti", which apparently means dishonour, cancelled by a Birmingham Theatre. An appalling attack of freedom of speech. Following this despicable display of intimidation I now profess to hate all Sikhs. Which means of course they have incited me to religious hatred and as such should no doubt be prosecuted.

At the risk of plagiarism, but in the interests of free speech, I offer you the following short play.

Scene 1 (at a Sikh Gurdwara):
Priest violently rapes a young woman.
Priest( with brummy accent): "If yow know what's good for yow, yow had bitter keep quouet about his."
Young woman: "Yow are a roight git but oil keep me gob shut."
The End

I happen to believe that most people, whatever their religion, don't actually get that worked up about this stuff. They are, like their secular counterparts, happy to live and let live. They are the reasonable silent majority who just want to get on with their lives and I, like them, are satisfied to express my displeasure without resorting to violent intimidation. It's just a pity that these more moderate people are not in charge. Okay I don't really hate all Sikhs, that would be irrational, but the more radical members of their community will end up just creating fuel for extremists like the BNP who will use this sort of incident to gain support. As for myself I'm considering starting a new religion based on the teachings of Bill & Ted. To quote, "Be excellent to one another". Simple but we just can't seem to manage it.

We believe but not in church. BBC report
Birmingham becomes stage for tragedy BBC report
The View from Number Eighty (who is expresses this much more eloquently than me).

Most Haunted Live.
This show seems to have proven a bit of a winner for Living TV. Along with its other psychic drivel "6ixth Sense" it seems to have helped them corner the UK market for peddling psychic nonsense.

A piece of video tape has fallen into my hands recently showing the "Most Haunted Live" team just prior to a seance at Blackpool Tower . Now I confess I don't actually watch this show (except occassionally on the Ftn digital channel), partly because I don't have Sky television and partly because I think it's complete bollocks, but in this rather revealing clip we see presenter Yvette Fielding, medium David Wells, medium number 2 Derek Acorah, and finally just off camera, Karl Beattie who is not only the only living Samurai Warrior (according to him) but co-owner of Antix Productions.

The sequence takes place immediately prior to a seance and you can hear Y.F. saying "...we just want to get activity. That's the only thing we want here.... noises.... activity..."

As I say I don't watch the show but I am assured that Fielding's request was heeded by the spirits. Can the dead really take direction so well

Hopefully this clip may well come to 'haunt' the team. If you would like a copy send me an email and it's yours. .

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