Aug 302015
 

Benjamin Radford

Skeptics often encounter—or are cornered by—people making all sorts of claims. Most of them, such as those tested by me, Jim Underdown of CFI-West, the JREF, and others, are sincere people. They are very rarely hoaxers or liars but instead well-intentioned people who genuinely believe they have special abilities, or have discovered some important secret of the universe.

When I encounter these people I try to be as respectful and polite as possible. Ignoring them, or even worse, mocking them, is both cruel and unnecessary. Sometimes there’s much to be learned from engaging such people, in terms of psychology and understanding where mistakes happen.

Earlier this month I got an e-mail out of the blue from a foreign person whose message simply read, “I send a letter and an attachment.” Normally such an abrupt email would be deleted—pro-tip: that’s not the best way to submit an article for publication—but I opened it and read it. It was about 20 pages on dowsing, in which the writer claimed that a dowsing pendulum moved through some as-yet unknown “radiation” that he was studying. I saw what seemed to be a mistaken assumption on the first page, one upon which the remaining 19 pages of theory and writings relied upon to be valid. Willing to look at his work but wanting to help him nip the error in the bud, I wrote to him

“Thank you for your submission on dowsing. I began to review your article but found it confusing after the first page, and here is why: It’s not clear why you are attributing the pendulum movement to a form of radiation instead of the ordinary anatomical muscle twitches and tension associated with fingers, wrists, elbows, arms, and so on. If you could clarify that perhaps I could better evaluate your paper.

all best,

Benjamin Radford”

 

He got back to me about a week later:

“I am sorry for the delay, but I do not know English and had to use a text translator, and these things take time. If the dowser detects by means of a wand or a pendulum a water reservoir underground, some kind of radiation from this water must affect him.

As an electronic engineer, dealing with radiocommunication, propagation of electro-magnetic waves for over 40 years, I was mostly interested in searching for this radiation. My article concerns the methodology of searching this radiation, however I do not deal in it with phenomena in which this mysterious radiation, by an influence on a human, forces the pendulum to move in his hands. Perhaps I will write an article on that topic.

In physics, there are four basic forces of interaction on matter. Vocationally, during the entire period of my work experience, I have dealt with technical measurement of electro-magnetic radiation. I could not believe in what was being said in radiesthesia, that there is some kind of additional unknown radiation. And I was right.

Radiation of neutral hydrogen at the frequency of 1420 MHz is responsible for radiesthetic phenomena, known for many years, particularly in radioastronomy. It is observed and measured by means of two large parabolic antennas of the diameter of dishes above 15 meters. Science has accused me of identifying the type of this radiation with a pendulum. They say that if I had measured it, it would have been a different story. Namely, measurement over an underground water reservoir would have to be done locally with a small antenna, e.g. a half-wave dipole of a several-million smaller power gain from the parabolic antennas. So far, I have not had a measurement receiver of such sensitivity.

Even if somebody was able to locally measure the radiation, nobody would believe that it was responsible for the phenomenon of radiesthesia. Its identification can only be done by a human acting as a sensor, through his extraordinary sensitivity for this kind of radiation, and that is what I have done.”

 

I reviewed his response and replied,

 

“Thank you for getting back to me. My question is very simple: you wrote that “If the dowser detects by means of a wand or a pendulum a water reservoir underground, some kind of radiation from this water must affect him.”

It’s not clear why you are attributing the pendulum movement to a form of radiation instead of the ordinary anatomical muscle twitches and tension associated with fingers, wrists, elbows, arms, and so on. In other words, it is virtually impossible to hold a pendulum completely still for very long, and this is because of the ordinary movements of the body (breathing, arm muscles, etc.). So I don’t understand upon what scientific basis you are assuming that any radiation is involved in causing the pendulum to move. If you could clarify that perhaps I could better evaluate your paper.

all best,

Ben Radford”

About a week later I got the following reply:

“From the physics lessons, we know that the pendulum is a mechanical resonance oscillator with simple harmonic motion, and if it moves continuously when held between fingers then it must also be subject to a certain enforcing force of periodic variability through the human body. And if it is so then there must occur a frequency synchronicity of some kind between the both frequencies or else the pendulum cannot move. A child on a swing must be pushed in pace with the rhythm of the movements of the swing or else, if the pushing movements are random, the child won’t swing.

However, the vibration of the finger muscles, the hand or other parts of the body are completely coincidental and even if they oscillate the pendulum its vibrations will fast disappear; it is not going to be a continuous movement, unless someone intentionally moves his hand so as to enforce the oscillation of the pendulum for prolonged time, but then this would be a cheating.

By changing the frequency of the pendulum (we have no control over a change in the frequency of the gravitational field) we can observe how the pendulum adjusts itself (in a better or worse way) to the frequency of the field, the manifestation of which is a change of the shapes plotted by the pendulum in the space. Obviously, the latter would not happen if we use an ordinary pendulum: a weight on a thread where the thread is held at a different point each time. Such a pendulum is unsuitable for serious research.

In my pendulum, the weight is screwed on a steel wire (like a nut on a bolt) and the entire pendulum is suspended in a special grip on the blade of a steel pin.

Obviously, the muscle tensions of individual parts of the human body cause pendulum movements, however such a movement is coincidental and only interferes with the measurements, it is regarded as an interference impeding the measurement itself.

On the other hand, it is the micro vibrations of the skin (epidermis) of the fingers: the thumb and the index finger, in which the pendulum is held, that give the appropriate periodic movement to the pendulum and the direction of the movement, caused by the influence of the variable gravitational field of the surrounding.

The measurement of the distribution of the field is very burdensome; it consists in the transferring the pendulum from a point to a point and stopping at each point so that the vibrations of the pendulum become stabilized, which takes approximately three (3) minutes. In order to be able to find a point where the field strength equals zero and the pendulum does not move at all, the pendulum must be set in the space with an accuracy of a few milimetres.

My pendulum is quite heavy (approx. 50 gram), it would be difficult to hold it at specific point with such an exactness, and this is why it is suspended on a thin thread on a special stand (the photograph is attached).

A pendulum synchronised with the sought field moves in a single vertical plane with constant direction. Obviously, the direction of the plane is different at different points.

The direction of the plane of the movement of the pendulum in the gravitational field of the surroundings is the only and the base measurement done using my pendulum. The plane is always perpendicular to the vector of the magnetic field of the sought radiation which is polarised horizontally in the space above the surface of the Earth. Therefore, we know its situation at the points of measurement, and, consequently, its special distribution.”

With all due respect to this person—who I think really does believe he’s onto something—I still didn’t get what he was saying. It wasn’t an English translation issue, we just weren’t talking about the same things. I replied,

“Thank you for your response. You noted that “The vibration of the finger muscles, the hand or other parts of the body are completely coincidental… Obviously, the muscle tensions of individual parts of the human body cause pendulum movements, however such a movement is coincidental and only interferes with the measurements, it is regarded as an interference impeding the measurement itself.”

I understand that you believe that the muscle movements cannot account for the pendulum movements, but I do not understand why you believe this to be so: What is the basis or reason you say it is “coincidental”? Can you provide any citations or references to studies showing this? Or have you done any experiments that rule out muscle movement as the sole source for pendulum oscillations?

I am not trying to be negative or difficult, but I sincerely don’t understand why you believe muscles cannot account entirely for the pendulum movement. You must show that the pendulum moves with no muscle movement at all…

Thank you,

Benjamin Radford”

I await his response and hope that if it comes, it doesn’t simply send us around in circles…

Jun 112015
 

Earlier this month an infographic circulated on social media comparing the number of people killed by different animals. By far the highest of the group was mosquitoes, and that’s not only misleading, it’s simply wrong. I’ve traveled extensively in South America and Africa and am very aware of the dangers of malaria and the need to fight it. But mosquitoes (specifically female mosquitoes) do not kill humans through malaria; a different organism, a protozoan called Plasmodium, does. Some infected mosquitoes can transmit Plasmodium to humans, but they don’t “kill people” in the same way as the other animals listed. I’m all for education, but get your facts right. 

If the11425848_10205625736136981_277207288052384716_n argument is that any animal that can spread a disease is responsible for the deaths caused by the virus or disease they spread: Since humans spread countless deadly contagious diseases including flu, tuberculosis, HIV, plague, Ebola, etc. they should also be in that category. We don’t consider humans (as a species) to be the threat that kills others, we recognize that it’s the protozoan/bacteria/virus that kills. So why the different category for mosquitoes?

Apr 012015
 

Last month I wrote an article for Discovery News about how the Toronto Star had published a prominent article scaremongering about the HPV vaccine Gardasil, promoting scary anecdotes over sound science. Well, last week the newspaper finally and formally removed the article from their website, as close to a retraction as is likely to happen. I can’t take credit for it, of course–there were many people writing about the irresponsible journalism–but I’m pleased to have helped in some small way.

Mar 032015
 

The respected PBS television series “Nova” has won multiple Peabody and Emmy awards. So how did it manage to so badly bungle an episode on anorexia, spreading myths and misinformation about the dangerous disease? Here’s a piece of investigative journalism I did, adapted from my Masters thesis on the subject of eating disorder misinformation in the media. You can read it HERE. 

Feb 222015
 

In the next issue of Skeptical Inquirer I name one of the most under-appreciated or unrecognized skeptics of the past few decades… There were many I could go with, but I thought I’d choose a woman who popularized one of the best-known skeptical quotes in history: Clara Peller!

Pick up the new issue of Skeptical Inquirer for more!

Jan 292015
 

Following consumer complaints and a June 2014 congressional hearing, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken action against the manufacturer of a green coffee bean extract heavily promoted by Dr. Oz on his popular television show. You can read more HERE. 

Dec 182014
 

My recent CFI blog:

In early November 2014 a map of Africa went viral, spread widely through social media at time when Ebola fears dominated the news. The map showed an outline of Africa, the bulk of it in light brown and labeled “NO EBOLA,” with the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia highlighted and colored. I saw it several times in my Twitter feed, forwarded to me by various skeptical colleagues. Sadly, it was also wrong…

You can read the rest HERE.

Oct 272014
 

The Oujia board, also known as a witch board or spirit board, is simple and elegant. The board itself is printed with letters and numbers, while a roughly heart-shaped device called a planchette slides over the board. The game was created in the 1890s and sold to Hasbro in 1966. It began as a parlor game with no association with ghosts until much later, and today many people believe it can contact spirits… You can read my article HERE.

Sep 092014
 

I will be appearing Weds the 10th speaking for the New Mexicans for Science and Reason (NMSR) at 7 PM about my investigation into the miracle of Santa Fe’s Loretto Staircase.  I will also be signing copies of my new book Mysterious New Mexico! 

You can find more about it HERE and HERE. 

Aug 112014
 

L.A. based comic Ian Harris has a show premiering August 12, full of critical thought and hilarity.

Here’s what Ian wrote: “Please folks note, that you have at least 2 whole months to watch this at your own leisure, from the comfort of you own house, iPad, laptop, xbox, phone, whatever. You don’t need to subscribe to a newsletter, or join a cult, or come to my house, or have your asshole uncle Bob over to watch, or buy drinks, or change your sexual orientation or anything. All you need to do is go to your TV or iTunes or AmazonInstant or GooglePlay and find this show (It is easy as it has my name in it) then hit “order” and 71 hilarious and hopefully thought-provoking minutes later you will have made both of us incredibly happy!” 

You can get the link HERE. 

Jul 262014
 

In the new action thriller “Lucy” from writer and director Luc Besson, Scarlett Johansson plays a drug mule whose body is implanted with a substance that begins to seep into her bloodstream and affect her body — most importantly her brain. And therein lies the rub–and the pseudoscience; you can read it HERE. 

Jun 302014
 

In theory, it seems it should be nearly impossible to lose track of a commercial airplane in flight: with sophisticated radar and satellite tracking, it would take a catastrophic series of system failures for a flight to simply disappear without a trace. Yet Flight 370 remains missing…

Read the rest of my article HERE.

May 272014
 

What monsters may lurk deep in our oceans? We feel fairly safe on dry, familiar land, where dangerous animals can usually be seen and avoided. But since men first took to sea thousands of years ago, legends and stories have been told of fearsome marine monsters that awaited those who ventured too far from shore.

My article on the marine mystery of globsters is now up at LiveScience.com!

Apr 282014
 

There is a long history of folklore and legends about magical mirrors, ranging from the Bloody Mary urban legends to the sycophantic mirror in Snow White to the centuries-old practice of covering mirrors in the room of a dying person lest either Death or the Devil be seen in them. The new horror film Oculus plays with these ideas, and paranormal investigation. You can read my piece HERE.

Mar 222014
 

The latest health fad making the rounds is something called “oil pulling,” an ancient Indian practice in which people cleanse their mouths (and bodies) of toxins by swishing a vegetable oil (such as olive, coconut, or sunflower) in the mouth for 20 minutes and then spitting it out.

You can read my piece for Discovery News HERE.

Feb 282014
 

A huge solar flare belched a cloud of charged particles into Earth’s path. But other than frying telegraph lines, the electromagnetic collision caused little stir in the world. But how real is the danger of another massive sunburst?

I add my two cents in this story, which you can read HERE.

Feb 082014
 

People who have stigmata exhibit wounds that duplicate or represent those that Jesus is said to have endured during his crucifixion. The wounds typically appear on the stigmatic’s hands and feet (as from crucifixion spikes) and also sometimes on the side (as from a spear) and hairline (as from a crown of thorns).

I researched the topic and wrote about it for LiveScience.com; you can read it HERE.

Jan 052014
 

Long discussed in eyewitness reports and folklore, proving the presence of mysterious lights associated with earthquakes was difficult. But it seems they’re rare-but-real. According to Sharon Hill of Doubtful News, “As a geologist who has studied anomalous phenomena connected to earthquakes, this is an excellent step forward to understanding earthquake lights. This will be of interest to Forteans, anomalists, geophysicists and even UFO chasers!”

Read the Doubtful News piece HERE!

 

Dec 282013
 

Got a response from Congressman Ben Lujan’s office to my letter requesting that the FDA investigate quack cancer doctor Stanislaw Burzynski. My information was passed along to a FDA Legislation Commissioner for a response. Please join us in contacting your elected officials to stop this man from preying on the sick.

You can help by going to http://thehoustoncancerquack.com/.