New Age Commentary
From the Rational Enquirer, Vol 3, No. 4, Apr
The following letter was sent to the editor of Vancouver
Magazine by me, December 12, 1989:
What a pity that in your otherwise not too unreasonable article
about the New Age (The New Age by Caroline Sutherland,
November, 1989) you described a Lee Pulos workshop where "you
can see on film a South American healer materializing coins,
dollar bills and chickens at will. Spoons are bent using focused
These "South American healers" are charlatans of
the worst sort. The tricks described are simply conjuring, easily
duplicated by any reasonably skilled magician. Spoons are bent,
not by mind power, but by simple trickery.
The noted magician and skeptic James Randi has often caught
these charlatans cheating, which is why the magician turned
psychic Uri Geller will not perform when Randi is in the room.
Randi has often performed, on television and close up, duplications
of all of Geller's fraudulent tricks, as well as convincing
"psychic surgery" of the sort done by Brazilian and
Philippine quacks. The blood is from chickens and the "tumors"
removed are animal parts and dye-soaked cotton; many such "surgeons"
have been exposed as cheats.
Pulos, unfortunately, is a good example of what Randi means
when he says highly educated scientists are the easiest people
of all to fool. They just cannot believe that one good explanation
for unexplained phenomena is cheating. Your author, Ms. Sutherland,
has also been taken in by the worthless "therapy"
of biokinesiology, or muscle-testing, which has repeatedly been
shown to have no value whatever in diagnosing or treating anything;
its results are about the same as chance, and are not replicable
from day to day.
It's certainly true that a new age person is usually a frequent
medicator who acts intuitively on the guidance received in meditation.
Such an approach is clearly suitable for esthetic decisions
about art, love and so forth. In matters of health, however,
reason is to be preferred. When charlatans and quacks are left
unexposed, gullible people waste time and money and may risk
their health or lives before obtaining real treatment.
Why not follow up this article with a blurb for, say, Examining
Holistic Medicine (edited by Douglas Stalker and Clark
Glymour), Prometheus Books, 7000 E. Amherst St., Buffalo, New
York NY 14215--9918 ($25.95 hardback, $15.95 paperback U.S.)?
You would do your readers a service by showing them how to sort
out the sensible from the worthless.
An edited version of this letter appeared in the next issue
of Vancouver Magazine. The letter sparked a response from
a reader in Burnaby; a copy sent to me says (wrongly) that every
major scientific advance has met with opposition (ain't she
heard tell of television?); that Harvey's theory of blood circulation
was announced in the 1500's (wrong) and met with opposition
for centuries (wrong); that local anesthesia was suggested in
1909 (wrong) and met with fierce opposition (wrong, it was in
wide use by 1898); and so on. There was the usual talk of paradigm
shifts and an exhortation that I should read the history of
Vancouver Magazine has not printed this response,
and neither, I suspect, will they print my riposte, in which
I corrected the Burnaby person's errors, finishing up with the
remark that she doesn't seem to know much about medicine, and
she doesn't know much about quackery, either.
Interested folks, however, may want to read over the following
two reprints. Read my lips, New Agers: biokinesiology don't
make it, and anyone with a mere moiety of his marbles ought
to be able to see through psychic surgery.
Clinical Ecologist Guilty In Child's Near Death
(from the newsletter of the National Council Against Health
Fraud, May/June 1989)
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario Discipline
Committee accepted the guilty plea of Dr. Irvine Allen Korman
following a near-fatal allergic reaction of a child who he failed
to properly assess and wrongly advised.
A mother, herself a dentist, brought her two children to Dr.
Korman for treatment of allergy problems both have had since
birth. The boy had become worse since starting school. The children
were tested, the boy more so than the girl, in two ways. First
was the sublingual application of a solution followed by 10
minutes observation for unusual behavior (note: the sublingual
provocative test is condemned by the American Academy of Allergy).
The second test was "applied kinesiology" in which
the patient holds a closed glass container of a solution of
the substance to be tested in one hand while the examiner tests
the strength of the opposite abducted arm ("muscle testing").
The mother did not understand the second test and questioned
Dr. Korman about the reliability and predictability of this
test for peanut sensitivity. Korman told her than he had absolute
confidence in these tests and assured her that it was all right
to give the children peanuts. The mother purchased some "organically
grown" peanut butter and gave each child a tiny amount
on a piece of bread.
"A dramatic scene followed. Both children collapsed. The
girl was terribly white-faced, regained consciousness, was given
medication, vomited, developed huge hives, but continued to
breathe. The boy kept struggling, could not open his eyes, was
gasping for breath, was blue and choking. An ambulance took
the family to the hospital where the children were given adrenaline
and within a few hours were fine again, but naturally somewhat
Korman was given a reprimand, had his license suspended for
60 days, and was ordered to take remedial training in allergy,
immunology and nutrition.
by William Bennetta, in the Bay Area Skeptics newsletter, BASIS,
In conventional psychic surgery, the practitioner pretends
to withdraw unhealthy or abnormal tissue from his customer's
body. The items of choice for this maneuver are chicken guts
or similar offal, perhaps augmented by some chicken blood, the
practitioner conceals before starting his act. (In some cases,
the offal and blood are kept in a false finger that the practitioner
Now, however, the need to play with guts and blood seems to
have been abolished, in a brilliant stroke, by a psychic surgeon
in San Francisco.... Look at his advertisement in the May issue
of the Psychic Reader:
The Reverend Joseph Martinez practices a unique variation
of Philippine Psychic Surgery in which the removal process
occurs beyond the usual range of the senses and can only be
seen clairvoyantly. This is a more spiritual version of the
process in which the healer removes from the body negative
energies in a materialized form. This spiritual method removes
psychic blockages and energies invisibly and in a finer manner,
although the removal is clearly felt. Pulling and tuggings
are commonly reported sensations. Healing is performed by
Spirit Psychic Surgeons.
See Barnum, above. Avoid those messy bloodstains and tiresome
arrests! Be a fake fake surgeon! A number of Vancouver entrepreneurs
are advertising similar services in Common Ground.