Monthly Archives: January 2010

Liberia – FUBAR

VBS TV's Shane Smith - Balls of steel or completely off his rocker?

Those crazy guys over at VBS TV have really gone too far this time. Shane Smith must be completely off his rocker to have taken a western camera crew into the worst slums of Liberia to interview warlords in the red light district, surrounded by hordes of cannibalistic, drugged-out murderers who would slit your throat for your camera…. and that’s the police.

We learn that the UN peace-keeping force is due to leave later this year and from what you can see, Liberia is a powder keg about to explode again. We even catch up with the notorious Colonel Butt-Naked that I blogged about earlier who is now a charismatic preacher who readily talks about his atrocities of killing tens of thousands of people and eating children alive.

It’s harrowing but utterly compelling. Watch this unbelievable documentary about the heaven and hell on earth that is Liberia. Haiti was a natural disaster – Liberia is one of our own making.

BTW FUBAR =  F**ked Up Beyond All Recognition


Filed under In the News, Television

Robyn Williams Gets Me

I have given more interviews than I can remember and always come away with the feeling that I have said something stupid. Very rarely do I feel that I have said what I really meant and I am loathe to listen back to recordings because like most people, I am uncomfortable listening to myself prattling on. But there is one individual who has interviewed me twice and always seem to get the best out of me. Robyn Williams is the science correspondent for Australia’s ABC Science Show and is one of the best interviewers around coz he takes the time to research his guests and their ideas. Here is the interview that I did with him at the British Science Association meeting last Sept which has just been broadcast. I think this is probably the most clear and succinct account of the theory I have been peddling. I am about 6 mins in. I’d be interested to know what you think of it.


Filed under General Thoughts

Woo Bomb Detector Exposed (Update 2)

So finally, I can update you on dowsing rod bomb-detector story just in time for the BBC Newsnight broadcast tonight where the truth about the “ADE651” is revealed. I have been silent on this since I last blogged on these devices because I have been assisting the BBC Newsnight team in their report.

Here is a shorter version but without yours truly.

The first time I heard about the ADE651 was when someone twittered a link to a New York Time piece about a bomb detector that appeared to be nothing more than a dowsing rod.  Two journalists had gone over to Iraq to investigate a story about a British company that had been selling a device to the security forces to screen for bombs and weapons for between £16,000 -£30,000 apiece. According to the product information, the ADE651 could detect concealed explosives, narcotics, weapons, human bodies, illegal ivory and even truffles whether they were underground, underwater and even at a distance of 3 miles from a plane. The key to the system was “programmed substance detection cards” which each carried the “frequency” of the substance they’re supposed to detect. This was achieved by a technology based on “nuclear quadruple resonance.”

Clearly this was pseudo-scientific babble. To my eyes, the ADE651 was a sophisticated looking dowsing rod, and yet the company ATSC Ltd that made them had already sold £50million worth of these devices to the Iraqis and had just secured another major contract.

When I looked into the story more, I discovered that a number of parties including the James Randi Educational Foundation had already investigated the claims of ATSC about their device and dismissed it as a scam. Randi even extended his famous $1million test for a device that defies scientific explanation. There was also a possé of bloggers most notably Techowiz, Dubious Dick of the UK Skeptic’s Forum and Bad Astronomer on the case.

To the naive, dowsing seems plausible when one considers how easily objects appear to move at a distance by invisible force fields as commonly observed with magnets. However the truth is that dowsing rods move not because of invisible energies or force fields but because the diviner is controlling the rod by either deliberate or unconscious, yet imperceptible movements of the body and hands. This is called the “ideomotor effect” and was demonstrated over 150 years ago by Michael Faraday when he developed instruments to detect minute body movements. This is why dowsing rods and pendulums have to be held to work. The ideomotor effect also explains the apparent spiritual control of Ouija boards and tilting tables that were popular during the fashionable era of the 19th century spiritualism fad.

However, unlike Ouija boards, dowsing has managed to survive into the 21st century but it is no longer a harmless parlour game. In Baghdad last year, over 250 people including children were killed in two massive attacks from suicide car bombs that had passed through security check-points equipped with the ADE651.This was no longer a trivial matter of woo and flaky beliefs. The Iraqi’s had been sold a false sense of security and by relying on these devices lives have been lost and would continue to be lost.

What made the issue all the more appalling to me was the company selling these devices, ATSC Ltd, was based in Somerset close to where I live. I felt a responsibility to do something about it. I went ahead and wrote a blog about the ADE651.I urged readers to contact David Laws MP, Liberal Democrat for Yeovil where the company operates. I posted harrowing pictures from Baghdad and challenged the inventor of the ADE651 and director of ATSC, Mr. Jim McCormick to justify his activities.

To my utter surprise, Jim McCormick responded to my blog and invited me to a demonstration at his offices.  How could I refuse? After the initial public correspondence on my blog, we entered into discussion by email as Jim was fed up of the harassment that he had experienced. I decided to play along and act as a genuinely interested party as I really wanted to get to the bottom of this.  I even suggested that there was a possible scientific explanation. So I called his secretary. She called my secretary. My secretary called her and we played this game over the month of December.

At the beginning of December the Newsnight team contacted me after discovering that I was planning to visit ATSC. Would I be willing to bring them along for the demonstration? Would I be prepared for filming or recording? Of course, I agreed but I was increasingly coming to the conclusion that Jim McCormick would neither allow any filming nor was he likely to meet with me.

By the end of December, the weather was getting bad so I emailed Jim saying that I expected that the snow had been the problem for arranging a visit but that I was still very eager.

Jim wrote back,

“Hi Bruce,

Yes, like most people, our office has suffered due to the adverse weather. Unfortunately, I have to take another trip overseas and will not be back in the UK until the then of January. I know you want to get some information but due to some legal and logistical issues, would you be prepared to enter into an NDA (non-disclosure) agreement?, as this information (and any results from it) would be for your eyes only and not for general public broadcast.

Very Best Regards,


I figured he was never going to agree to my visit and even then I would be forced to sign a gagging order.

But it wasn’t only me asking questions.

In December, just days after the latest bombing, the head of Iraqi security who had been responsible for equipping his personnel with the ADE651, Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri and Jim McCormick were called to account in a room packed with journalists.  They claimed that the ADE651 worked and that all it needed was properly trained personnel. To prove their point, a security officer holding an ADE651 walked past two grenades visibly placed on a table and the rod duly swung in the direction of the deadly devices. The Newsnight team managed to get their hands on that footage and I was asked to evaluate the demonstration. To my eyes it was a clear example of either downright fakery or the involuntary ideomotor effect. Either way, I was not convinced.

So what will you discover when you tune in tonight? Well, Newsnight managed to get their hands on a forerunner of the ADE651, the GT200 and will show what they found inside the box. They also managed to get their hands on the “programmed substance detection cards” chip inside the black box (I helped with this) and get it analysed by experts. Even I was surprised by what they found.

Hopefully tonight’s broadcast will raise the profile of the issue to warrant an intervention. I never received a response from David Laws MP. But many questions still remain. How did ATSC Ltd manage to get away with selling dowsing rods to detect bombs? How did they get an export license? Why were the Iraqi security forces so gullible? Why is the head of Iraqi security so convinced that the ADE651 works?

If Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri and Jim McCormick are really that naïve, then this demonstrates that some supernatural beliefs are potentially harmful and that scientists need to take an active role in challenging claims and activities that put lives at risk.

I recently wrote a response for “The Edge” on the question, “How has the internet changed the way you think?” In it I talked about the power of the internet to bring about change. To my fellow bloggers out there, I hope we have made a difference.

Meanwhile Mr. Jim McCormick has been arrested for fraud. Guess, I won’t get my demonstration.

(PS I’ll be demonstrating my own version of the ADE651 in tonight’s programme)


I am going to take a little break now.

UN-BLOODY-BELIEVABLE: How audacious is Jim????

The New York Times contacted Jim on Saturday after his arrest but he is unrepentant and claims that ATSC is still “fully operational.”

They should throw the book at this rogue.


Filed under In the News, supernatural, Television

Suicide Baiting

In the course of researching my next book, I came across the phenomena of “suicide baiting.”  This sometimes  happens when a crowd forms to witness individuals who are threatening to kill themselves by jumping from buildings and bridges. Rather than trying to talk the individual down, crowds have been known to encourage them to jump.

In his analysis of 21 cases of attempted and successful suicides by jumping where a crowd was present, Leon Mann found that baiting occurred in half the cases. He analyzed the various factors and concluded that crowd size, temperature and frustation of the crowd played a role.

Suicide bating is still a relatively rare occurrence (maybe because you don’t often get a crowd to witness serious attempts) but it does happen. Only yesterday Radio DJ Steve Penk was condemned for playing van Halen’s “Jump” on the radio as a request for a listener who was caught up in the traffic jam on the motorway that had been brought to a halt by a young woman threatening to jump from a bridge. Moments later she jumped.

It is highly unlikely she heard the song, but this incident does reveal the inherent nastiness of crowds and particularly commuters. If you read the comments left by readers, it is quite clear that a sizable number of people think that it was funny. I was recently on the underground Tube in London, when the driver of our train announced that there would be a delay as someone had jumped onto the track. To my surprise, my fellow travelers did not react with shock but rather, they were annoyed at the inconvenience this suicide had caused. I guess living in cities the size of London does that to you.

This callousness of the crowd is something that the sociologist LeBon (no not Simon) recognized back in 1896 when he described how people felt  “savage” and “destructive” in groups. It was later termed “deindividuation” in Zimbardo’s infamous Stanford prison studies where individuals no longer feel personally or morally responsible for their actions when they are part of a group.

However, as we learned last November, suicide bating doesn’t always need crowds. Nineteen-year-old Rosimeiri Boxall, the adopted vicar’s daughter, fell  to her death after being taunted to jump by two other teenage girls. I guess it is unbelievable the way humans sometimes treat each other.


Filed under General Thoughts, In the News, Radio

Storm Preview

Crashed the remaining car last night in a snow storm on the way back to my ridiculously isolated home in the countryside. No one hurt but what’s this weather all about in a place like Somerset for Beelzebub’s sake? So now I await at home for the phonecall  from the recovery vehicle to tell me to put on my snow shoes and parka and meet them at the scene. In the meantime, browsing Twitter and noticed that Crispian Jago has written a witty piece and posted the preview for the forthcoming animation short of Tim Minchin’s masterpiece “Storm” – how appropriate – enjoy.


Filed under General Thoughts

It’s a Dog’s Life

Assailant sniffing the bottom of supermarket worker

Plymouth police in Devon, England are currently searching for a man caught on CCTV sniffing the bottom of a supermarket employee while he stacks shelves. The footage over on the Daily Telegraph website shows him casually pretending to chose items from shelves before suddenly crouching down behind the employee. Police are treating the incident seriously but I am not sure that it really constitutes a “sexual assualt.” With the likelihood of increased use of bomb sniffing of intimate areas at airport security, maybe he is getting in some practice.


Filed under In the News, Weird Story of the Week

Bringing Up Baby

At the end of each year, The Independent newspaper launches an appeal to support various charities.  This year it has drawn attention to Action Aid and the case of Jennipher Alupot, a Ugandan mother forced to breastfeed the puppies of her husband’s hunting dogs. Her husband had paid a “bride price” of two cows to his father-in-law and reasoned that as the cows were no longer around to provide milk then his new purchase would have to provide for the pups.

This is a story of abuse that seems to be endemic in cultures where wives are traded as commodities but what really made this report “almost too horrific to be believed?” Was it the abuse of wives? Clearly not, as domestic abuse is a universal problem that rarely makes a headline. Was it the concept of bride price? Maybe, but as one commentator pointed out, the practice is also widespread. I think the real horror (and this was evident in the comments) was the idea that a human might be forced to suckle an animal and that is something that most of us find disgusting.

breastfeeding calves animals

What's so wrong with this?

Last year I posted a blog about GMTV presenter Kate Garraway’s campaign to raise public awareness about surrogate breastfeeding by posing for a picture of her apparently breastfeeding a calf. Her point was,  why is giving human milk to a calf more shocking than giving cow’s milk to a baby? Of course, it caused outrage and I think this was because of the same inherent essentialism that seems to be violated by these acts. Most of us simply don’t want to cross the animal-human boundary when it comes to acts of intimacy.

We are happy to drink milk but the notion of drinking it directly from the source is something that would turn a few stomachs as this next picture shows. It just seems too intimate.

What is so wrong with this image?

breastfeeding monkey

Amazonian woman breastfeeding monkey

But not all think like this. I bought a hammock some years back that came with assembly instructions and was surprised to see an image on an Amazonian woman reclining in a similar hammock breastfeeding a goat.  I have no idea what the importers of the hammock where trying to promote but when I looked into the practice it turns out that some tribes are not adverse to breastfeeding animals. So clearly culture shapes what we find acceptable here but still it does seem very odd. I do have another image of a New Zealand woman breastfeeding her puppy but I think my point has been made.

This image of the woman with the monkey was taken by Jacek Palkiewicz from the 2007 Huaorani Expedition and can be found here

UPDATE: As this is my most popular post, I thought I would update it with more photographs that seem to titillate.

What a lovely puppy


Filed under Essentialism, In the News, Weird Story of the Week