Benveniste, and some news items of note..

James Randi --- Wizard (
12 Sep 1997 05:18:41 -0000

Some time back, Jacques Benveniste, the MD who has continued to
publish ever new and startling discoveries about homeopathic magic,
after getting his academic knuckles rapped by real scientists all over
the world, posted to me a series of questions which he is now trying
to get me to answer. Well, since Dr, Benveniste has announced that he
is suing everyone in sight who says things about him that annoy him,
I've been advised -- wisely, I'm sure -- to save any response for
whatever legal action he may care to bring. I will respond here only
to his "preliminary question":

> can anybody who says he has
>no science background at all teach
>any scientist what's right or wrong
>in science?

Beats me, Jacques! If you know such a person, point him/her out. I
have no academic degree (in science) but I sure as hell have lots of
background in science. I worked in an excellent biological lab in
Toronto, Canada, as a teen, where I learned a great deal of how to do
REAL science, design experiments, and properly "blind" procedures.
That was excellent preparation for later discovering how the quacks do
their work, disguised as science. You see, Jacques, you've fallen
into the straitjacket that so many academics don, unwittingly; you
assume that a person with no proper letters following the name, must
be incapable of logical thought or any sort of knowledge. Not so!
Some folks are a little smart without even being academically taught.
Isaac Asimov once wrote: "[James Randi] knows more about science that
any handfull of scientists I know," and I think that Murray Gell-Mann
(a Nobel Laureate) and Marvin Minsky (winner of the Japan prize, among
other prestigious honors, so they even outrank you, Jacques) might
ascribe to me at least enough expertise to know that what went on in
the name of science -- in regard to homeopathy -- was balderdash. It
didn't take a rocket scientist to discover that. The only thing that
gets in your craw is that I dared to say it publicly, and that's an
academic no-no, which I don't have to take note of. When I see
nonsense parading as science, I have every right to say so, and I
don't need your imprimatur to do it.

A friend has forwarded me this news item:

Bombay, India: A Hindu cult near Bombay is worshipping a pet dog as
the "reincarnation" of a holy man who died many years ago, a newspaper
said Wednesday. The "Asian Age" said a two-year-old white Pomeranian,
named "Sai" after the holy man, was the object of worship at Panvel
town. On Thursdays, devotees gather for "blessings" from Sai, who is
fitted out with saffron cloth. The Age said the dog worship had its
roots in a legend, according to which Sai Baba, the Hindu holy man,
appeared before his devotees in the form of a dog in order to test
them. Sai, the dog, sleeps in an air-conditioned room. His teeth are
brushed once in five days with a special, soft bristle-brush and
toothpaste imported from London. Twice a week he is bathed with soap
and an assortment of 22 shampoos also brought from London. There are
special towels for his use. The dog is fed imported vegetable
"bones," butter and chocolates from a silver bowl, the Age said.


An observation: The present Sai Baba (born Sathyanarayana Ratnakaru
Raju, 1926) adopted that name when he decided he was the
re-incarnation of the original Sai Baba of Shirdi, 1856-1916. There
will surely be an outcry from the ashram at this usupation of the
god-man title by a dog.

I predict that all this bathing, tooth-brushing, and vegetable diet
will cause the transition (transmutation, transubstantiation?) of this
canine into yet another form, very soon. Chocolate, in particular,
can do in a dog, and butter will widen his girth rapidly. I wonder
whether Sai has ever been taught to "play dead." This may be the best
improvisation on record.

During my upcoming visit to India -- if it actually occurs -- I may
get to meet this tubby pooch. I may be able to obtain top-degree
blessings by sneaking in a T-bone steak....

Michael Shermer of SKEPTIC Magazine (are you a subscriber?) quotes
author Christopher Hitchens, who wrote a review in Vanity Fair
Magazine of a new film being released next month entitled "Fairy Tale:
A True Story," starring Harvey Keitel as Houdini (good choice!) and
Peter O'Toole as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It's about their spectacular
debate over the famous "fairy" photos, circa 1917:

"It sometimes seems as if the world's most advanced modern society has
collapsed utterly into the worship of pseudoscience, with people
possessing just enough education to get everything spectacularly
fouled up in their minds. What could be more enthralling and
awe-inspiring than to follow the adventures of Stephen Hawking, a
genuine devotee of science and history and literature? Yet people will
spurn this chance in order to gape at a palpably confected video of
alien autopsies. It's like throwing away the truffle in order to gulp
down the wrapper."

Shermer opines: "Brilliant, absolutely brilliant." I agree,
absolutely agree.

For those interested in a well rounded picture of the recently
departed Mother Teresa, you might wish to refer to a book by the same
Christopher Hutchins, "The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in
Theory and Practice." It is rather an eye-opener.

If you're interested in attending the Solved Mysteries workshop here,
October 31-Nov. 2, please get in touch. It's shaping up nicely. The
web page has all the details.

Second issue of SWIFT is now in, and being mailed out to subscribers today.
Featured are the second part of the 2-part feature story on the
Kassel Dowsing tests run by the GWUP in Germany, another interesting
article by Massimo Polidoro, and a comprehensive coverage of the
Therapeutic Touch brouhaha that took place on the Internet between
Robert Glickman of the PHACT group in Philadelphia and possible
claimants of the JREF prize of $1.1 million. The Glickman piece is an
excellent example of how the claimants wriggle and squirm when faced
with providing evidence to support their claims. This issue is four
pages longer than the premier issue. Thanks to editors Krol and

To those of you who have asked: you can listen in on my radio show via
WIOD-AM by clicking on the button found on our web page, but you must
have the RealAudio software, which is easily downloaded -- unless
you're in South Florida. That's from 8 to 10 p.m. every Sunday.

Finally (will this never end?) we have further evidence of how silly
religion can get, with this item from Agence France-Presse, dated
Sunday, 7 Sep 1997:

MOSCOW, Sept 7 (AFP) -A Russian Orthodox priest has warned one can go
mad or become suicidal from attending the shows of US magician David
Copperfield, currently on tour in Russia.
"Your participation and even your presence as spectators
during such occult performances have spiritual and physical
consequences that can lead to madness and suicide," Father Tikhon, the
head of the Sretenskiyi monastery in Moscow warned in an interveiw
with Itar-Tass news agency. He said Muscovites do not realize they
risk becoming spiritually dependent on dark, evil forces simply by
attending a Copperfield show.
The magician is to give his first of several performances in
Moscow Sunday evening as part of closing celebrations for the 850th
anniversary of the city. Tickets for his shows -- some up to 600
dollars apiece -- sold so quickly that organizers decided to add two
shows to the three already scheduled.
Copperfield, who has astonished spectators by making the
Statue of Liberty or one of the wagons of the Orient-Express
disappear, said Saturday he always ensured that he could make reappear
anything that vanishes.

How comforting.

All for now....


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