REALLity Check

by David Bloomberg

Skeptics in the News

Even before REALL's first meeting, we made the news. I would like to thank Doug Pokorski of the State Journal-Register for his story about REALL which appeared on the front page of the February 21 City/State section. As most of us know, skeptical issues usually aren't covered well in the media, so this article was doubly nice. While I'm thanking people, I'd also like to thank Don & Liz of the WYMG morning show for the plug they gave to us on the morning of the 22nd.

Also in the news was Detective Bruce Walstad's appearance on CBS's 48 Hours program dealing with con games. The REALL News featured an article about a "paranormal fraud" by Detective Walstad last month, and plans to feature more of his work. On the program, he discussed a case of supposed psychics who ask those who consult them for more and more money (or in at least one case, dishes!) to alleviate curses, tell the future, etc. One woman spent $30,000 on getting curses removed! Hopefully, this program will stop some people from losing their money to cons, but it seems there is always somebody out there who will fall for even the oldest con game in the book.


On January 24, the Chicago Tribune Magazine had a cover feature dedicated to "Alternative Medicine." As reported in last month's "REALLity Check," NBC had done a good investigative report on homeopathy (no, there weren't any incendiary devices involved). It really is too bad that this magazine didn't pick up on that. Instead, they went through a whole laundry list of alternative practitioners and discussed how great each system is, without apparently having done a whit of scientific or investigative research into these methods.

The patients who were interviewed seemed to ignore obvious links to their "better health." One said, "I lost 50 pounds... I quit smoking," and he felt better. Imagine that! So, rather than crediting these changes for his better health, he credits his naprapath. For those of us who don't know what naprapathy is, it is described as an offshoot of chiropractic, using muscle and ligament manipulation to "promote natural healing." A naprapath quoted in the story said, "we move energy in the body." What energy? Why doesn't science know anything about these strange energies? This story doesn't bother with such minor matters. Oh, by the way, the State of Illinois will start granting licenses to naprapaths in 1994. I wonder how they will determine who should be authorized to move these strange energies through people's bodies.

Besides naprapathy, some of the alternatives covered in the story include acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy, and reflexology. Several different practitioners were interviewed, along with some patients. Unfortunately, not a single skeptic or scientist was interviewed. Some of the practitioners seemed almost totally ignorant of the history of medicine. One woman (a former astrologer) who offers colonic irrigation, homeopathy, and reflexology said, "This is not alternative medicine as far as I'm concerned. This is original medicine, the stuff we used before drugs and surgery." Perhaps we should all listen to her, throw away all of the life-saving gifts that modern medicine has given to us, and go back to leeching and induced vomiting.

All in all, this story made me ill.

Also on the subject of alternative medicine, there was a brief article in the Chicago Tribune (Feb. 19, p. 4) which showed just how great herbal medicine can be. At least 53 Belgian women have suffered serious kidney disorders (including 19 total failures) after using some diet powder containing Chinese herbs. Isn't alternative medicine great?

Noah's Farce

Does CBS stand for "Creationist Broadcast Service"? I was forced to wonder this when I turned on The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark, a two-hour program alleging to be a "non-religious scientific investigation" of evidence for Noah's Ark (2/20, 8:00). Just the use of the word "scientific" in association with this production made me cringe. In support of their "theory" (and I really hate to call it that), they cited the Bible and used "experts" associated with Creationist causes, including Henry Morris, the founder of the Institute for Creation Research, and Charles Berlitz, author of books on UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle. Part of the show even contained a recreation of the flood story as told in the Bible. That's supposed to be scientific?

The total lack of scientific procedure was demonstrated by one of the first topics, "Why did God destroy the world in a catastrophic flood?" It is obvious that the producers were not, in fact, undertaking a scientific investigation, but rather had already made up their minds that the Bible is the source of all truth, and the facts should be made to fit their "theories."

Other portions of the program told us about "geologists" who claimed that they had evidence for the flood, because they had unearthed fossilized fish who were "buried in terror". Maybe I'm missing something, but how can you tell that a fossil fish was in terror? The rest of the "scientific" evidence was of the same quality.

Of course, they also trotted out the same tired photographs showing a rock formation that some people claim looks like a piece of a boat. And they had "eyewitness" testimony about people who have seen the ark. They know it's all true because one person passed a lie detector test. Well, that certainly convinces me. Of course, they glossed over the fact that the eyewitnesses and pictures often contradict each other as to the location of the ark, but why let silly little details get in the way of a good story?

Far from being scientific and non-religious, this show was religious and unscientific, brought to us by the same people who want to force public schools to teach their religion in place of science. The fact that CBS showed this at all, let alone during prime time, certainly gives me cause to worry about just how we can trust that network to cover controversial issues like this in a neutral, scientific manner.

I would like to thank Ranse Traxler, the southern Illinois liaison for the National Center for Science Education, and Director of the St. Louis Association for the Teaching of Evolution, who sent out a summary, including quotes from the show. He has asked me to encourage everybody to write to both your local CBS affiliate and the national organization to complain about this horrible show. Also, he would like everybody to encourage any scientific organizations to which you belong to also register their complaints. The address for the national offices of CBS is: CBS, 51 W. 52nd St., New York, NY 10019. Locally, for the Springfield and Champaign area, the address is: WCIA-WCFN, 109 S. Neil, Champaign, IL 61824-0020. If you would like to get in touch with Mr. Traxler, you can find his address below.

Psychic Business Booming

The Chicago Tribune (Chicagoland Section, 2/28) continues to spotlight psychics and pseudo-science rather than actually educating the public. This time it was a long article about how great business is for people who claim psychic powers.

In and of itself, such an article on business practices isn't so bad. It's the little things, like the woman who claims her psychic is "99% correct," that get to be annoying when they are reported without any statements to the contrary, which would show that such a success rate has never been attained under controlled, scientific, conditions. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who will see this article and see it as a reason shell out their money to hear a bunch of generalized guesses.

I suppose it's their money to waste. But should a quality newspaper really be encouraging them? Send in your clippings!

If you see something in the news that you want to share with our readers, by all means, send it in! Any comments that you might have are also welcome.

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