Update on the irrational.

James Randi --- Wizard ((no email))
Mon, 20 Jun 1994 13:56:09 -0400


The latest TV flummery that I've seen is an offer made in an "infomercial"
by one Marshall Sylver, "greatest hypnotist of all time." By ordering his
book "Passion, Profit & Power," (talk about a loaded title!) the viewer is
assured that for "next to nothing" ($89.95 + $9.95 postage, a "70%
discount") he/she can:

(1) Find a better job
(2) Quit smoking
(3) Lose weight
(4) Get more dates
(5) Multiply one's business by 500%
(6) Get more money
(7) Find romantic love
(8) Obtain endless other wonders....

We are asked, in a tiny, fleeting sub-title, to note that "results may vary
among clients." Like, some or all may fail 100%, for example? We're not
told any success rates.

Mr. Sylver does not, however, promise a cure for baldness; his wretched
hairpiece testifies to this apparent failing of his system.

Being "one of ten kids from a farming family with no running water" (observe
the teary eyes of the viewer) Mr. Sylver wishes to share this momentous
discovery of his, and to establish the validity of the "powers" one can
attain to through his system, he demonstrates how he taught quite ordinary
folks to (a) break boards with the fist, (b) crack cement blocks, and (c)
walk on broken glass unharmed. These are all, of course, useful abilities
that we can all employ to improve our daily lives; the fact that these are
also tried-and-true carny stunts long used by "martial arts" schools to
attract the uninformed, is not stressed in the TV presentation.

(In passing I should mention the "Stimulator" device being offered on a
similar TV infomercial by a chiropractor. Surely the FDA could, IF IT
WISHED, look into this bit of untested quackery. Mr. Sylver's offer is not
of a direct, medicinal nature, and might therefore not come under the FDA
rulings, but the Stimulator most certainly does. However, the FDA continues
to ignore such systems, devices and claims, though that's why it was set up
in the first place, and the reason that we pay taxes to fund it.)

If you're interested, there's a 30-day money-back guarantee (the shipping
and handling -- $9.95 -- excepted) so you might wish to explore the
"Wonderful World of Hollow Promises and Carnival Stunts" (my designation) by
calling 1-800-508-5577 to order the entire package, which includes
tantalizing bonuses (why does this not surprise me?). Or, you may wish to
inquire about any evidence that Mr. Sylver's system really works, that is,
evidence other than breathless testimonials from anonymous clients.

Will we ever see an end to this exploitation of the public's gullibility?
No, I think not. Our federal and state agencies are too busy attending to
more politically important matters to give us any satisfaction, and our
media are far more captivated by UFO abductions, aboriginal cancer cures,
past-life adventures and the wonders of invented Nostradamian prophecies.
There's profit, job security and safety in that approach.

This week, a friend in my area here in Florida sent me a brochure from the
"Nova Community School" of the Broward County Public Schools. In that
publication, I discovered that under the "Mind/Body/Soul" category of
courses that I'm invited to pursue, I'm offered one session of "Astrology --
The Sun, The Moon, The Stars and You!" ($8.50) and eight weeks of astrolgy
lessons for $26 plus an additional book fee, and if that's not silly enough,
I can opt for "Reincarnation & Popular Human Understanding" for another
eight weeks at $31. In the entire brochure, no lecturers are named for
these courses, no qualifications for them are offered, no indication exists
that that the School board has looked into the validity of the claims being
made or the teachers assigned. Some brain trust of twits has thrown this
offering together and then leaned back in satisfaction at having improved
the intellectual quality of Broward County. The Dark Ages won, after all.

The School Board of Broward County, which claims for this school "Adult
Education Excellence," used to have me on their mailing list to receive
these brochures. Somehow, since I made a strong objection to one that I did
receive years ago, I've been dropped from their list ever since....

The Broward County Library system, in their wisdom, offered an "Astrology
for Teens" course at their West Regional branch recently. When I registered
a strong complaint, I was shuffled about and told that it's "just for fun,
anyway." When I asked if I might attend as a news reporter, I was told that
they had "no provision" for that sort of involvement, and I was directly dis-
invited. No one there seems to have any interest in whether pseudoscience
and quackery is taught to kids, and, worse still, no one seems to care. The
eccentric, bearded chap who bitched about the course is just a minor bump in
the fabric, easily ignored. And besides, astrology's in all the newspapers,
so we know it must be OK.... And if it isn't, we don't have to care. So
we don't.

When I first moved to Florida, I offered my services as a lecturer to any
and all state agencies, free, for one year. No one except the Attorney
General's Office in Tallahassee took me up on it, and that has been a useful
relationship that continues to this day. I saw the Broward County Library
System featuring all sorts of claptrap lectures, but even when I sent
letters specifically offering my own services -- and thus my point of view --
to that office, I never even received a "no thank you." Now, that's their
business, if they wish to ignore my offer. But it's also my business to
complain about the misinformation that they do offer. And I think that I
should receive an adequate response.

I thank you for the use of the hall. James Randi.