Selected articles from
VOL. 12  NO. 4  SPRING 2000

Instant replay: Dowser fails TBS "$1,000 Challenge" retest

by Gary P. Posner

James D. Moore, Jr., returned to Tampa on December 18, his Y-shaped plastic "Crazy Rod" in tow, to have his claimed dowsing ability retested by Tampa Bay Skeptics. The test was conducted in the auditorium of the Tampa/Hillsborough Library on Ashley Drive, in front of about 20 TBS members and two Moore associates.

This time, unlike in September (see last TBS Report ), Moore preferred not to have us set up the boxes in advance, but to bring his apparatus with him and have the boxes prepared immediately prior to the retest.

After the 23 lead boxes were spread across the auditorium floor, Moore himself placed a layer of sand in each one, and then (with his two associates) left the room while TBS completed the preparation of the boxes. TBS brought 10 one-ounce gold coins and 13 aluminum wafers as the objects to be buried. As was the case last time as well, Moore was not made aware of the exact numbers, only that there was "a good mix." A random drawing of slips of paper (containing a "G" or an "A") determined which boxes received gold vs. aluminum.

At Moore's request, a TBS member then placed an aluminum wafer in each box that was to receive one, and then another TBS member poured a layer of sand on top of all the wafers. After this was done, a third TBS member placed a gold coin in the remaining boxes, and the "sand" person then covered those as well. A videotape record was made so as to insure Mr. Moore that his specified protocol for filling the boxes was carried out precisely as instructed. Moore and his associates were then permitted to return to the room.

Moore took much more time "divining" each box than he had in September, and re-divined all of them one or two more times than he had before. During his final pass he changed three selections from "aluminum" to "gold." But when he was finally done, he expressed confidence that, except for one of the boxes, he was nearly "100 percent" certain that he had gotten them all correct. At that point, TBS agreed to award Moore $500 if he got all but that one box correct.

The time had come to divulge the results. Just as last time, Moore was asked to "fish out" the object buried in each box. And just as in September, the first box, in which Moore's "Y" rod had detected the presence of gold, turned out to contain an aluminum wafer -- Moore had, once again, lost the "Challenge." Of the 11 boxes that Moore thought contained gold, only five did; the other six contained aluminum. In all, just as in September, Moore turned out to be correct with 12 of the 23 boxes, and wrong with 11, once again strongly suggesting chance guesswork rather than any genuine ability to divine for gold.

Disappointingly, though not surprisingly, even though his protocol demands were followed to the letter, Moore once again attempted to rationalize his failure, refusing to even consider the possibility that he has no genuine divining ability. His excuses from last time could not be resurrected, since the new protocol eliminated those "problems." This time, his excuse was that the objects had not been sitting in the boxes long enough to generate the required "magnetic fields" -- several days are required. But it was Moore's desire this time, unlike in September, to have the objects buried on the day of the test. And his rod did detect the "magnetic fields" -- he swore that he was not merely "guessing" -- and it responded differently to gold than it did to aluminum.

Despite his protestations, and his continued desire to prove his abilities to TBS, we see no reason to consider a third test of James D. Moore, Jr., and his "Crazy Rod."


by Terry A. Smiljanich

The Imagination-Challenged World of the Paranormal

A few months ago, the St. Petersburg Enquirer  (formerly known as the Times ) ran a credulous story about a haunted theater in Clearwater, in which people had reported seeing a ghost dressed in work clothes and wearing a cap. This reminded me of the fact that most ghostly apparitions are wearing clothes, and performing such tasks as making upstairs toilets mysteriously flush in the middle of the night, or inexplicably causing objects to fall off of a bureau.

The Times/Enquirer  trumped itself, however, when on February 13 it ran a gushing 20-page tabloid (the term is very apropos) about a female Pasco County spiritualist who communicates with "sixth-density beings" from the "Cassiopeia constellation," who tell people to love one another and inform them of their future street addresses (I'm not kidding -- also see the item immediately following).

Amazing, isn't it, how feeble our imaginations can be? Profound mysteries about life in the universe, and death, are reduced to guys wearing hats, toilets flushing, and constellation dwellers who dish out pious platitudes about peace and love.

But, then, the whole field of the supernatural is rife with such examples from people who are "imagination challenged." If mind waves can move objects, what better way to demonstrate it to an eager world than by bending a spoon or making a stopped watch start to tick (feats any magician can duplicate)? If extraterrestrials are visiting Earth, why shouldn't they look like Hollywood's version from Close Encounters,  and their spaceships look like flying saucers? After all, at the turn of the century UFOs looked like dirigibles. And if aliens from outer space want to communicate with us, why shouldn't they build a huge smiley face on Mars for our benefit?

And if the stars and planets truly predict our futures, what better way to prove it than by advising people that they are going to get "good news" today or that they should be wary of dark strangers tomorrow? If people can actually read minds and auras, we are presented with proofs consisting of vague comments about sick relatives or recent travels. You want imagination here? How about a psychic who could actually have told Princess Di a few years ago that she should avoid driving through Parisian tunnels with rich Arabs? Now that would have been imaginative!

Of course, real  mysteries wouldn't look or sound like that. Can any of the purveyors of such tripe even begin to imagine the weird world of quantum physics, in which particles can seemingly exist in two separate places? Or the fascinating account of how life has evolved such complex structures as the eye or the human brain from such simple beginnings?

This point is reminiscent of the time when Stanley Kubrik and Arthur C. Clarke were writing the screenplay to 2001  back in the '60s. They were stumped when they tried to come up with believable aliens for the last portion of the movie. Eventually, they followed the sage advice of Carl Sagan, who told them never to show the aliens on the screen, since any conceptualization of an alien would be constrained by our preconceived notions and limited imaginations and never approach what the "real" thing would look like.

In short, behind almost every claimed paranormal phenomenon is a very limited imagination. Did it occur to the Times/Enquirer,  in its quest to inform the public, to point out that Cassiopeia is a random collection of stars which have no association with each other? For example, the brightest star in that constellation is about 200 light years away from earth, while the next brightest star is only 45 light years away. In other words, the imaginations of the Times/Enquirer  and its favorite spiritualist have apparently not progressed much beyond cavemen who looked up and thought that the patterns in the sky meant something.

Come on, guys! If other life exists in the universe, it won't look like a Spielberg special effect on a quest to perform sexual experiments on earthlings. If life after death is a reality, we won't be wearing hats, hanging around old theaters, flushing toilets, and clumsily knocking things off of bureaus. Is that the best you can do?

More on the St. Pete. Times  tabloid story . . .

As referred to in Terry Smiljanich's "Chairman's Corner" essay above, the Feb. 13 (Sunday) St. Petersburg Times  contained an unusual, 20-page tabloid insert, consisting entirely of an article by the paper's Pulitzer prize-winning writer Thomas French, entitled "The Exorcist In Love: A Tale of Possibilities."

The following is the text of TBS Report  editor Gary Posner's unpublished Letter to the Editor:

Harvard psychiatrist John Mack won the Pulitzer prize in 1977 for his biography of Lawrence of Arabia. In recent years, Mack has reclaimed the spotlight by abandoning rationality and becoming a promulgator of UFO-abduction tales. I fear that Times  writer, and fellow Prize-winner, Thomas French may be following a bit too closely in Mack's muddy footsteps.

French acknowledges early on that he really has "no idea" if all of Laura's claims are genuine, yet he "trust[s] her sincerity" and is "convinced" that she believes them. That's fine. Last summer I attended a Mutual UFO Network convention where numerous speakers matter-of-factly told tales of encounters with aliens, and I suspect that most of them were sincere in their beliefs. As Dr. Mack no doubt appreciated prior to his conversion, the psychological literature holds many keys to such perplexing puzzles. French may actually have stumbled upon one in his comment about one telling of Laura's life story: "She was giving a performance, and I was not the only one in the audience who enjoyed it."

Perhaps French could have spent one less hour with Laura, to briefly converse with someone credentialed in the art of critical thinking. While I admire French's brave acknowledgement that Laura's unproven claims are not much "wilder," if at all, than the mythology of Christianity (or, for that matter, of other religions), we part company when he maintains that her stories thus deserve more, not less, credence.

TBS vice chairman Miles Hardy, a clinical psychologist and retired psychology professor, submitted the following letter to the Times,  which was published on Feb. 27:

I am not particularly concerned about the mysterious beliefs and powers claimed by the heroine of the story. Her behavior is painfully familiar. The more serious issue is with the award-winning writer who clearly gives testimony of support for this person's abnormal powers -- or at least buys into her claims. Where is the skepticism of an investigating reporter?

There are too few of us who wage the war against superstition and ignorance, and we see this kind of reporting as unforgiveable. Channeling, Ouija boards, talking to the dead -- give us a break! Also, when one of the best newspapers in the country publishes such a story, it gives support to the gullible and delusional elements in our society.

And another TBS member, John S. Doherty, sent the Times  the following letter (unpublished):

I am extremely disappointed that the Times  would print Thomas French's lengthy description of the foibles of a fantasy-prone person.

Ouija boards, exorcism, channeling, UFOs and astrology: all thoroughly discredited.

There is so much to learn about the real world; read E.O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Paul Kurtz, and Martin Gardner to gain some understanding of what really goes on.

And, if you really want to know why you should be ashamed of catering to this purveyor of fantasy, read Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World.

I believe you do a disservice to your readers when you publish such foolishness.

"Psychic" Virginia Levy claims she threw
the TBS "$1,000 Challenge"

When "psychic/prophet" Virginia Levy failed the TBS "$1,000 Challenge," she claimed afterwards that she had expected all along to fail, due to the stress of recent oral surgery and the effects of medication. She had also bombed that day in her predictions about the Amanda Brown / Willie Crain murder case. (For the full story, see here.)

But in a recent e-mail exchange that she initiated on December 31 with TBS Report  editor Gary Posner, Levy now claims to have intentionally failed the Challenge. The following are edited excerpts:

From Levy:

Remember when you asked why don't I use my gifts to help any of the missing persons cases? Well, I did, when I was feeling better, in the weekend following the Thanksgiving of '98 when six-year-old Kayla McKean was murdered by her father. I went out and did a scan reading on her disappearance... missed it the first go round, because the cops were lying, but then went to the place of the murder and was 95% accurate with her location, what she was wrapped up in, and so on. When Channel 6 news [Orlando] caught wind of it in April '99, they did an interview on me and ran a big segment on my prediction. I was proclaimed the "Psychic Detective" by the station as well as by the police department. Thought you should know... sometimes not everything is as it seems. [James] Randi and I will meet [some day, for his $1,000,000 Challenge], and I promise you, the stress and dental problems have been resolved.

More from Levy:

I threw the TBS Challenge, Gary. As soon as your hands touched the boxes I knew immediately which box they were in, but chose not to say. Mostly because the whole situation was not right. I went into it to try and salvage my personal situation that was falling apart at the time, and so came from Ego. When I'd realized what I had done, it was too late, we were all in the lesson together.

The great thing is that I didn't let it stop me from doing what I came here to do. I just finally made it to Arizona, a dream I'd been trying to manifest for 12 years now. We finally went to Sedona this afternoon, and I'm more ready than ever to do what I came here to do. In a very short time, you may just find out the real truth about why I even crossed paths with you. There is more going on here than you're aware, even our little challenge was important. Even my purposely failing the situation had a role in what is going on now. Just because someone sets themselves up to fail in something, doesn't make them wrong or a liar. When I'd done the reading for Kayla McKean, I'd hoped that Spirit would have shown you the media attention I'd finally received for my work. That in itself should say something about the real truth.

And more from Levy:

When I took the challenge, I was foolish in thinking that I had to prove something. What I learned when I got there, was I had nothing to prove and so, elected not to do so. There was no purpose in demonstrating that which I can do. If you want to truly find out what I'm all about, you really want to see the magic and miracles, come visit me and stay for a few days in Arizona. I'll show you all the magic and miracles you want. But when I do, you're to tell no one. Because it is only for you that I do this. What I did for Kayla, I did because it served a purpose. Showing off is not a high enough purpose, and only reflected my own insecurities at the time I took the challenge.

Here is a portion of Gary Posner's reply to Levy:

If you are not a liar, you must be an Academy Award-caliber actress. It appears crystal clear from our videotape that you did not fail our Challenge on purpose. And if you are indeed interested in positive publicity (such as you apparently received on Ch. 6), as opposed to negative publicity (such as you received in our newsletter and website and in the Tampa Tribune), we would love to retest you, as we recently did someone else who had failed the first time.


From Marilyn vos Savant's column:

Q: Is it possible for a human being to spontaneously combust?

A: Probably not, although I've read quite a few accounts of people supposedly bursting into flames, leaving behind only things like glass eyes, wedding rings and melted buttons. I've also read quite a few accounts of people being abducted by aliens, and I didn't believe those, either. . . .

(Parade  magazine, Jan. 23)

Our last issue's "Snippet" about Cassadaga, Florida's "spiritualist" center near Orlando, discussed the new-millennial apprehensions of that town's practitioners. Perhaps, in anticipation of the calamity to come, they decided to do their spring housecleaning a bit early, including dusting off their crystal balls. According to the title of the somewhat-lighthearted-yet-lead article (nearly two pages long) in the Money & Business section of a Sunday newspaper, the city's seers are apparently now having "Visions of Prosperity," with predictions of continued low unemployment and more corporate mega-mergers.

(St. Pete. Times,  Jan. 23)

Posner interviews Klass for Skeptic  magazine

The new issue of Skeptic magazine  (Vol. 7, No. 4) contains a seven-page interview -- perhaps the definitive one -- of Philip J. Klass, the world's leading UFO skeptic. TBS's Gary Posner was approached by Skeptic  publisher Michael Shermer to conduct the interview, presumably because of Posner's long-standing relationship with Klass as friend, defender against critics, and proofreader of Klass' Skeptics UFO Newsletter.

To insure that the effort would have credibility, Posner advised Klass to expect his questions to be as tough as any that their critics might ask. Klass enthusiastically agreed, and has called the final product a "masterpiece." If you can't find Skeptic  at your local bookstore, the interview can also be found here on Posner's website.

TBS in the Media

On January 21, Gary Posner was Anita Johnson's skeptical guest (by telephone) for an hour-long discussion about "aliens" (opposite Matt Debow of Psychic Reader  and on KPFA-FM (Berkeley, CA).

And Posner is expected to be prominently featured in a one-hour Paxton television network special devoted to discussion of the recent spate of prayer-related articles in the medical literature. With a working title of Is There Power in Prayer?  the program is tentatively scheduled to air sometime in May.

Letters to the Editor

Editor: We have need of assistance from Noreen Renier. A friend's husband has disappeared mysteriously and we suspect foul play. He has been missing for approximately a week and a half, and to date the police here in Lubbock, Texas, appear to be stymied. Please understand that this is a serious request for help.

--Mrs. S. Shannon
  Lubbock, TX
  (E-mail address withheld)

From my reply: If you have not already done so, I suggest that you take a look at this page of my website. If you are nevertheless determined to employ a so-called "psychic detective," I suppose Noreen is as "good" a choice as any. The above-referenced page contains a link to her website, which has her telephone number at the top of her home page. --G.P.

Editor: One of the worst things in the world I ever witnessed was a Benny Hinn healing service. An elderly lady I knew who was very crippled with arthritis believed he could heal her. So my secretary and I took her to Orlando for one of his services. People sitting next to me had alcohol on their breath and then all of a sudden went down and were "healed." Meanwhile, no one had any time to pray for my friend, or for the children who were in wheelchairs. We were there all day and were seated in the handicapped section, which was the farthest section possible from the stage. I was so angry that I wanted to slap him. When we had arrived there were picketers out front with signs like "Benny Hinn is a Christian Pimp," and after what I saw I wanted my own sign.

--Cathy Slaght
  St. Petersburg

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