- In other news, James Randi could use a little help for his programs.
Contact me to get more information.
There is now a South African Skeptics group, they send out the following
> Text of Skeptus Press Release 01:--
> NEW SOCIETY INVESTIGATES THE PARANORMAL
> Are you interested in the paranormal? Ghosts, UFOs and psychic powers? How
> about aliens, ESP and alternative medicine? Then you may want to join
> Skeptus, a newly formed society at the University of Stellenbosch.
> Membership is open to students and members of the public who are open-minded
> and interested in critically investigating claims of the paranormal from a
> responsible and scientific point of view.
> As sceptics, we try to promote the use of science and critical thinking as
> tools for investigating the world, explore anomalous (paranormal and
> supernatural) claims from a responsible and scientific point of view, and
> remain open-minded while insisting that extraordinary claims require
> extraordinary proof. We are not cynical, know-it-all, negative,
> hypercritical, nor atheistic in outlook.
> On Thursday, 23rd March, at 19:00, the society will hold its first public
> meeting. Dr Jurie van den Heever, of the Zoology Department of the
> University of Stellenbosch, will present a talk, What is scepticism?, in
> Room 2020, Natural Sciences building, US Campus (between the Gericke Library
> and Merriman Street). After the discussion session, the broader goals of the
> society will be considered and there will be an opportunity to become a member.
> # # #
> _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
> | Auke Slotegraaf, 8 Forelle Crescent, Die Boord, Stellenbosch, 7600
> | auke@... | DOC webhome at http://home.global.co.za/~auke
> | Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time
> | he will pick himself up and continue on. - Winston Churchill
Eric Krieg eric@...
PS: I close with a good response to spontaneous human combustion claims:
To the Editor:
Rev. Curtis (Intell, 23 March) argues that creationism should be taught in
Here's a fact: humans and chimpanzees share over 98% of the same genetic
code. This suggests that the DNA of both species is inherited from a common
ancestor. In addition, more than 95% of the genome is "junk DNA" that has
no biological purpose; and yet this junk has also been inherited.
Creationists say that a god created human beings separately from all other
creatures, but why would a designer make mankind with a genetic code that is
over 95% junk in the first place? And why copy so much junk DNA from a
supposedly unrelated ape species? If these were books, this would be
Here's another fact: under northwestern Lancaster County , there's a mass
of basalt over 1500 feet thick, about 20 cubic miles, which was once molten
lava over 1,800 degrees F and which baked the surrounding sandstones. There
is no sign that water ever ran through this lava to transfer heat away.
Using standard physics, one can calculate that it takes millions of years
for that much lava to cool. Can young-earth creationists explain how it
cooled down in only 6,000 years? Scientifically, they can't.
Centuries ago, the Church that persecuted Galileo knew he was telling the
truth, but they suppressed his discoveries in order to maintain control and
to 'protect' the people from a godless world. Similarly, today's
creationists misuse scientific findings to protect their religious faith.
This is not science, and should not be taught in the schools as such.
Czigler Martin wrote:
> The April issue of Central PA magazine (the schedule guide for public
> TV/radio station WITF) has an article on Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC)
> and Larry Arnold, a resident in this area, author of "Ablaze! The Mysterious
> Fires of Spontaneous Human Combustion". Below is a letter I've submitted to
> the editor of Central PA magazine. Below that is a note I wrote about a
> lecture by Arnold that I attended in October of 1998.
> Although I mostly enjoy Central PA, I was disappointed in the poorly
> researched tabloid-style article on Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC).
> A little digging (e.g. a review of Mr. Arnold's book at
> www.csicop.org/si/9611/shc.html) would have revealed a strong correlation
> between SHC and obesity, smoking, alcohol or drug use, and carelessness with
> fire. Mr. Arnold's own research has shown that the vast majority of cases
> occur in winter, when coincidentally people tend to be indoors, bundled up,
> by a roaring fire. The outrageous theories dramatized by SHC proponents
> fail to explain these facts, and these extraordinary claims defy physics and
> chemistry as understood today.
> In the Mary Reeser case, she was last seen wearing a flammable nightdress
> and housecoat, and she was smoking while seated in an overstuffed armchair.
> She was a "plump" woman, had taken two Seconal that day and planned to
> two more in the evening. John Bentley, who died in 1966, not the earlyher
> 1970s, was well known for dropping hot ashes from his pipe onto his clothes,
> which were dotted with burn spots.
> SHC believers often mention the high temperatures used to cremate bodies.
> Experiments have demonstrated that bodies can be burnt to a cinder at low,
> smoldering temperatures, where cloth or upholstery acts as a candlewick for
> melting fat. Crematoria use much higher temperatures in order to quickly
> reduce bodies to ash.
> If Central PA continues to cover the paranormal, I hope a better-balanced
> presentation that would include a skeptical viewpoint. We readers deserve
> better journalism.
> I attended a lecture on Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) on Tuesday, Oct.
> 28, 1998 at Lebanon Valley College here in Lancaster County. The speaker
> was Larry Arnold, founder? of ParaScience International in Harrisburg. His
> Web site is http://www.voicenet.com/~psinet, but there doesn't seem to be
> any content there. He is author of Ablaze! The Mysterious Fires of
> Spontaneous Human Combustion, which appears to be self-published, as well as
> a two volumes of videos with the same name. The lecture was sponsored by
> the Student Committee at LVC, and was attended primarily by students.
> He showed many slides of photographs of the gory results of many historical
> cases of (alleged) SHC, as well as videos with interviews with fire
> officials, etc. Many of the cases discussed are historical, and are
> discussed by Joe Nickell in his chapter on SHC in _Secrets of the
> Supernatural_ (e.g., Bentley, Mary Reeser, several others). Others are
> more recent, such as a George Mott in 1986. I was able to read a paragraph
> of Nickell's book on the Bentley case to the audience, pointing out details
> left unmentioned by Arnold. Arnold had some response but I hope my
> "contribution" helped a little.
> There were also some stories of people who have "survived" SHC, such as Jack
> Angel whose right arm burned off without him being aware of it. A Mr. Jones
> began to "smoke" in bed, and his wife helped to put out the smoke. Later
> that same day, Mr. Jones claimed to have also begun to "smoke" in his car,
> but it stopped shortly afterward on its own. An Elizabeth Norris claims
> arms began to smoke. A Kay Fletcher, who appeared on Unsolved Mysteries inauthorities
> 1996, claims she felt a warmth on her back and there was smoke and the smell
> of burning flesh for one and half minutes. There's another case from India
> in 1970, with someone who is claimed to be 114 years old, accompanied by a
> "perfume-like smell". A Mel Thomson rushed to the bathroom to find her
> underwear smoldering and a 3-inch burn mark on her bottom. I'm not familiar
> with any of these cases, but they don't appear to be consistent (some feel
> heat, others don't).
> Arnold used many of the the same arguments that Nickell has discussed, such
> as the claimed high heat required to burn flesh and bone in crematoria.
> There were claims of a lack of heat damage to the surrounding apartment.
> Amazingly, for one case he stated there was no heat damage to the ceiling
> while the photograph on the screen clearly showed large dark smoke damage
> stains on the wall. He also mentioned the alleged "shrunken skulls". And
> he claimed that often there was a sweet smell at the site, not a greasy
> burnt smell. (This slightly contradicts Elizabeth Norris case above, who
> did smell something burning.)
> There were summaries statistics of SHC cases, seeming to indicate a
> correlation with the phases of the moon, and also with solar/magnetic
> anomalies. His statistics also indicated to me that there are clearly more
> cases in the winter and on weekends, although he uses these statistics to
> say that not all cases are in the winter or on weekends as claimed by
> "experts". He also states that not all cases happen to obese people (citing
> the case of a baby, but with no details), or to people who are alone. He
> did not mention the correlation that Joe Nickel had found between the amount
> of damage to the body and the amount of external fuel available.
> There were claims of "fire-leynes" in Britain, i.e. that SHC cases fall on
> various straight lines drawn on a map. Arnold mentions that if four cases
> fall on a straight line, it's statistically significant. But he didn't
> mention that if you have many dozen random points on a map, there's a high
> probability that several sets of 4 points will line up, which is what his
> map looked like.
> Arnold left the causes of SHC as a mystery, but mentioned the possibility of
> UFOs (which he claimed are for real) and unknown energies.
> Arnold left an impression of a glib entertainer, assuring the students at
> the beginning that they would enjoy his presentation and the gory photos.
> He used the argument that we don't know everything, and that the
> are often wrong (examples included Plato and Einstein), and heaped scorn onthe > Fortean society somehow, and at the end of his show he stated that there are
> the experts who deny SHC (including Nickell). He is also involved with
> all kinds of mysterious things, if we only open our minds to them. He'll be
> appearing on the Howard Stern show next Wednesday (I think).
- a neat publication from the Texas Skeptics:
Randi made a good point: "how come the psychics didn't warn Kennedy not to fly?"
I usually do not take on purely religious claims. But if they come knocking on my door, then they are fair game. Feel free, anyone to respond to the following offer:
From: "Araq Jormungand" <araq@...>
Would you happen to know anyone that can refute any of the evidence there?
The following are some good skeptical jokes found at:
A Psychic Fair is like a sanitation department strike - until one occurs you don't realize how much garbage is out there!
A Reflexologist told me that pressure on different parts of the foot controls blood flow to various organs in the body. I
said, in that case shift your weight, I don't think enough blood's reaching your brain.
I was regressed to a former life where I lived in a huge palace where I was surrounded by hundreds of naked concubines
- unfortunately I was a eunuch!
When TV offers us "food for thought" why is it so often junk food?
Some Books that Prometheus missed:
The Origins of the Specious - The roots of Creationism
Gullibles Travels - Journeys through the world of parapsychology.
Across The World in 80-Days - A flat earthers adventure.
A Fortune In Men's Eyes - Get rich with Iridology.
Taking the Mask Off Pseudoscience
December 21, 2000
By BONNIE ROTHMAN MORRIS
ERIK MAX FRANCIS is so passionate about the theory and practice of
modern science that in the last year alone he has posted 9,460
messages in scores of online user groups devoted topics like
relativity, astronomy and neuroscience.
Mr. Francis, 29, is not a scientist, and has taken only a handful
of classes at a community college, but he is a self-educated
computer programmer from San Jose, Calif., who just happens to be
comfortable, he says, discussing the theories and applications of
mathematical physics, vector algebra and calculus.
Ten years ago, Mr. Francis started talking online with other
people who shared his interests. Along with lively discussions with
the other science enthusiasts, Mr. Francis often found himself
debating people who espoused bizarre theories that were more
science fiction than science. The more Mr. Francis argued with
them, the more they dug in their heels.
Mr. Francis began thinking of these people as cranks, reasoning
that science is an ever-evolving process, and scientists change
their views as they make new discoveries that tear down old
assumptions. On the other hand, "a crank has already made up his
mind, evidence one way or another will not make him change it," Mr.
In 1996, Mr. Francis created a separate file in his computer to
keep track of the cranks and their Web sites. In 1997, he spun off
his quickly sprawling file into a separate domain, and dubbed it
Crank Dot Net (www.crank.net).
Today, Crank Dot Net is an index of about 1,000 of these sites.
Through it, Mr. Francis performs the role of vigilante, by ranking
and categorizing Web sites propounding pseudoscience that Mr.
Francis says is misleading and simply ridiculous. On Crank Dot Net,
Mr. Francis pulls a quote from each site that he feels best defines
it, then ranks the sites as "Cranky (Downright strange), Crankiest,
(above and beyond the normal call of the crank), and Illucid,
(Something so beyond understanding that it defies classification)."
Among the sites listed by Mr. Francis are ones espousing time
travel, teleportation, alchemy, crop circles and the idea that the
Earth is hollow. There are several sites dedicated to an old
favorite, cold fusion, which created a sensation when it was
announced in 1989 but now is largely dismissed by the scientific
Initially, Mr. Francis said, he kept track of these kinds of sites
for his own amusement, in an effort to study their abnormal
psychology. What struck him was how television has influenced
pseudo-science. "It's surprising to me how many scientific cranks
think pseudoscience and technobabble are really how science gets
done," wrote Mr. Francis in an e-mail message, blaming the thinking
on the influence of "Star Trek."
Mr. Francis said he had also come to believe that many people
create their own scientific theories because they simply don't
understand the real ones. Since math is fundamental to science and
many people are math illiterate, he said, they simply think words
will do. To Mr. Francis, words are simply not enough.
Crank Dot Net's sorting and filtering function for strange stuff
on the Web has taken on a wider import: helping site visitors see
fallacy for what it is. To that end, Mr. Francis also lists extreme
religions, white supremacists and hatemongers on the site, along
with crystal healers and victims of alien abductions.
Mr. Francis isn't the only Web vigilante out there devoted to
pin-pointing fallacy to encourage critical thinking. Phil Plaitt,
the Web master of Bad Astronomy started his site
(www.badastronomy.com) devoted to exposing myths about astronomy
because he was, he says "full of righteous fury," after watching a
TV news reader on a national network morning show give a report on
the space shuttle then laugh on air that he had no idea what he was
"I have a passion for the rightness of science," said Mr. Plaitt,
an astronomer and a friend of Mr. Francis. "Science works. It's a
pretty good way to describe the universe." Mr. Plaitt suggests that
sites like Bad Astronomy and Crank Dot Net provide a "process to
separate the rational from the irrational."
As the Internet expands to give every person a platform to say
whatever he wants about the way the universe works, (a good thing,
in both Mr. Francis's and Mr. Plaitt's view), it behooves people
like Mr. Francis, Mr. Plaitt and the Webmaster of similar sites,
like Quintessence of the Loon (www.ratbags.com/loon) to put them in
In addition to the pseudoscience sites, Crank Dot Net features an
anticrank category that lists sites "fighting crankism, debunking
bad science and promoting logic."
Crank Dot Net also flags sites that are parodies. Sometimes, Mr.
Francis admits, it is tough separating the parodies from the real
thing. Sometimes, he has ranked a site as cranky, only to be
corrected by site visitors.
"It's really hard to tell the difference," Mr. Francis said. "The
crankiest people, literally, they are talking and you are giggling
and what they're saying is ridiculous, but they are serious."
Mr. Francis said he received several submissions daily suggesting
sites to mention. Many of the submissions come from cranky
Webmasters. In fact, Mr. Francis said he rarely gets complaints
from the Webmasters he's clearly criticizing on the site. "Most are
quite pleased," he said. "By no means is Crank Dot Net considered a
hostile resource by people who are listed there."
Mr. Francis recently listed Greatdreams.com and rated it
"crankiest." Almost immediately, he received an e-mail message from
Dee Finney, the site's Webmaster, thanking him for the listing.
"Our main thrust is to educate people to watch their dreams," Mrs.
Finney said. `In their dreams you see the future. "We're tickled to
be listed. He has got the best links on his site to any educational
subject that we actually favor."
The New York Times on the Web
Eric Krieg eric@...