REALLity Check

by David Bloomberg

Some good news and some weird news in the media recently. In December, Dateline NBC featured a story about homeopathic medicine and doctors. They sent in a healthy producer undercover, and the homeopath "diagnosed" him, using Kirlian photography among other things, as having several diseases. The "medicines" given to him were standard homeopathic derivatives. One was supposed to cure his "constitution", and the doctor said it was derived from a moss. NBC had it analyzed by a chemical laboratory and found it to be 85% water, 15% ethanol. Let's have a round of applause for NBC, who did their homework and gave viewers the facts rather than the usual poor investigation we often see from the networks when dealing with the paranormal and fringe science claims.

While we're applauding NBC's news department, let's also hear a little for whoever is in charge of I-Witness Video. Sunday, January 3rd's show had a segment about crop circles. The beginning looked pretty standard, complete with spooky music, some views of British corn fields, a couple of New-Agers twirling dowsing rods and crystals, and some "man on the street" statements from people who thought the circles were caused by UFO's, strange underground forces, or the weather, but it couldn't be a hoax. But there, the similarities ended. For this segment was about a group of hoaxers who videotaped themselves doing the deed in the middle of the night (using a light-intensifier lens and wireless mike to get decent video and sound). The hoaxers used nothing more than a piece of rope and their feet, and they managed to make a very nice, sharp, circle which certainly looked exactly like any other circle we've seen all over the media. The next morning, the hoaxers visited the spot to see their handiwork, and a neighboring farmer wandered by. He said, "I don't think any human could have done that," and remarked upon the lack of footprints! But, of course, many crop circle "experts" would have us believe that any hoaxers must leave footprints. The guy who taped the whole thing called it "a good old-fashioned prank." Of course, I somehow doubt that this will settle the matter. Since we're giving out hurrahs to TV stations, let's give one to CNN Headline News, too, for a short clip with Robert Sheaffer of the Bay Area Skeptics, featuring his year-end review of psychic predictions for 1992. A psychic tried to argue with Sheaffer that she had predicted the LA riots, but CNN took the liberty of actually re-playing the tape of her real prediction, and it didn't quite make the grade (she had referred to the homeless getting organized -- not even close by any rational standard). I guess she just wasn't used to people actually remembering her failed predictions.

In the print media, the State Journal-Register, here in Springfield, printed a very short article on the failure of two "psychic detectives" to find a missing girl. Unfortunately, the article was buried in police reports and the names of the "psychics" were not given. But any coverage is more than the media usually gives when "psychic detectives" utterly fail to find anything, as usually occurs. The SJR also printed an article from the news wires about office "witches" using black construction paper and ceremonies to make copy machines work better.

The Chicago Tribune published a rare skeptical look at psychics in a Reuters news article about the failure of tabloid "psychics" to correctly predict even the most basic things (like Clinton's win). But only a few days earlier, they published an article about bleeding cross "miracles." Also in the Tribune was an advertisement by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who promises to eliminate crime in Chicago if the city will only pay him and his organization $111 million per year for five years. How will he do this? By placing coherence-creating experts throughout the city to influence positivity in the atmosphere, of course. Now, the Maharishi seems to know that this might be a bit hard to swallow, so he proposes, in the advertisement, a two-month trial period, where the city would pay him $18.5 million to see if it works. My question to the Maharishi is this: If you are so confident that it works, why do you need the up-front money? I suggest the city should take him up on his offer, to a point. Give him no money unless he can prove results. Heck, I'd even go so far as to urge the city to offer his positivity experts free lodging in the crackhouse of their choice, where any effect they might have could certainly be helpful.

If you see any strange or interesting news articles or TV shows, please, send them in along with any comments you wish to share!

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