Monthly Archives: February 2010

Burying Your Head in the Sand to Save Face?

Bomb Crater In Southern Thailand On Monday

Here is a picture a crater from Monday caused by a bomb that was not “detected” by a woo bomb-detector. Yesterday the Thai government instructed its army to stop using the GT200 though it appears that soldiers are resorting to using chopsticks as an alternative. However, some officers in the Thai Army are determined to save face and will continue to use them according to the Bangkok Post.

We know from Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory that people justify their mistakes by ignoring evidence that contradicts their position (read “Mistakes were Made: But not By Me” by Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson). But maybe there is another reason- these devices are a pretty good excuse for arresting suspects for questioning who are “contaminated” with explosive residue.

Meanwhile I spoke to BBC correspondent Caroline Hawley last week who helped expose the ADE651 and was shocked to learn that the device was still in use at check-points in Iraq. With the general elections in Iraq coming up next month, the likelihood is that there will more bombs that are not detected by these dowsing rods. Simply saying that they work is not acceptable and I don’t think you should try to save face by burying your head in the sand.

Saving Face By Burying Your Head in the Sand

In march, I will be in New York to talk to the Nour Foundation about the origins and power of supernatural beliefs and how people exploit this weakness. I will also make the point that there is no barrier to being taken in. The Nour Foundation is supported by the United Nations. They may be interested to know that the UN Environment Program bought 15 GT200 devices in 2005!

6 Comments

Filed under General Thoughts, In the News

Hopeopathy No Longer Available on the NHS

Finally, the report on the funding of homeopathy in the UK is to recommend the withdrawal of support from the National Health Services. Patients seeking this form of “treatment” will need to pay for it themselves. Hurrah I hear you all calling but before we start cracking open the celebratory bottles, I think that hopeopathy (which after all is how it works) is not likely to disappear. At the risk of attracting the anger and ridicule of the anti-homeopath lobby, let’s remember a couple of things. First, it works… not because of any supernatural mechanism of sympathies and infinite dilutions. People who believe in it get better. Second, some of the established medicines, most notably SSRI anti-depressants also work not much better than the placebo effect according to recent meta-analyses which throws a spanner in the works somewhat. Third, paying for something makes it more effective than free treatments. (I am reminded about the fact that a £16,000 bomb-detector is considered more effective than one that is made from a coat-hanger). Finally, the way the NHS is going, soon we will all be directly paying for our treatments, one way or another through various health plans etc. So while this may be a victory for evidence-based medicine, I do not think it will disappear. What do you think?

I am adding this video from Ben Goldacre for clarity and to address some of the questions raised in the comments.

37 Comments

Filed under In the News, supernatural

Richard Saunders Bomb Detector Training Program

As you are probably aware by now, the success of the ADE651, GT200 and other similar bomb detecting devices is critically dependent on training which accounts for a large proportion of the cost. Richard Saunders of the Australian Skeptics Zone sent me his cost-effective method for dowsing training that I think could substantially reduce the price of these devices and make them a household product as common as.. as .. as the coat-hanger for example.

3 Comments

Filed under In the News

Why… Oh Why …Oh Why???? – money methinks

Here is the Newsnight piece for non-UK visitors. Some really serious questions have to be asked. After all, lives have been lost over this scandal.

The BBC Newsnight team have just posted this article. It was very kind of them to describe me as “campaigning against these devices” as there have been many others involved. Still, it was nice anyway. I am going to be talking about these devices next month in New York.

Here is the CNN report from Dan Rivers in Thailand. – (thanks Techowiz)

13 Comments

Filed under In the News, Television

Thai Died Dowsing Devices – Idiotmotor Effect

Our work is not over. While Jim McCormick may have been taken out of action by his arrest and the UK Government ban on the export of ADE651 devices last month, a similar dowsing device, the GT200 is still being sold. This is made and distributed by another British company, Global Technical whose director, Gary Bolton appears to be an old mate of Jim’s. Hmmm spooky coincidence?

Anyway, once again we have a device that claims to detect substances based on magnetic fields and again powered by the user’s own static electricity. The scientific explanation of how the device works on the company website is laughable and yet there are still many who are prepared to pay millions for these bogus scams. Following the Newsnight exposé last month, the Thai Government which has already bought the GT200 at around $36,000 apiece is evaluating it’s effectiveness this Sunday. Thailand currently has 500 dowsing devices in operation – that’s around $18m worth.

The test will take place at Thailand Science Park’s Sirindhorn Science Home and will involve 30 operators of the bomb detector, 30 members of the investigating committee and 10 independent observers, NECTEC (National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre) director Pansak Siriruchatapong said yesterday. The committee will place 20 grams of C4 explosive packed in a plastic box and hide it – as well as three empty boxes – in a building. Operators will then use the GT200 in an attempt to detect the box containing the explosive. However, these trials are being conducted in secret. The area is off-limits to the media and mobile broadcast vehicles will be kept at least 200 metres away to ensure the testing environment is not disturbed. Maybe they might distort the magnetic fields! I strongly doubt it. As  you will remember, when the explosives expert Sidney Alford opened up the GT200 in the Newsnight exposé, it was nothing more than an empty box. You would think that NECTEC might just consider opening up a GT200 unit to see what’s inside. There again at 1,200,000 Bhat each which is more than 15 times the average yearly salary, one can understand their reluctance. Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has tried to reassure MPs that the GT200 is not like the ADE651: “We use a different brand,” he said. However, as we already know, it’s still a dowsing rod attached to an empty box that works on the well-established ideomotor effect – that really needs rebranding as the “idiotmotor effect.”

The Exotic Dr. Porntip

So who is advising these governments to buy these devices? Well in the case of Thailand, it turns out that one of the main supporters of the GT200 is the fantastic and unbelievable Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand or (“Dr. Porntip”). You could not make this lady up. She looks like an aging rock chick with skin-tight jeans and dyed-red spiked hair. She is also Thailand’s leading pathologist and played a major role in the 2004 Tsunami and more bizarrely the autopsy of David Carradine following his alledged autoerotic asphyxia. She deserves an entire TV show to herself (actually they already made one called (“Crime Scene Bangkok”) let alone a blog but I will save that until later.

Although Dr. Pornthip is Director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science, Ministry of Justice, in Bangkok and a highly trained scientist, she endorses the GT200.  For example, in 2008 she apparently used the GT200 to prove that a crowd attacked and injured by police were not carrying explosives devices, but rather had been hurt by police tear gas grenades. Not sure how she managed this.

However, following the Newsnight exposé, Dr Porntip said “I do not feel embarrassed if the bomb detector is proven ineffective.  Personally, I have never handled the device myself.  But my people have used it and it is accurate every time.  Long long time ago, people believed that the Earth is flat and anyone who said otherwise faced execution.  Things which are not visible does not necessarily mean they do not exist.”

I await with great interest the outcome of Sunday’s trials though the findings are going to be kept secret until the Thai cabinet has had time to interpret them. Needless to say, I already know the result.

UPDATE

A scientific test on the controversial GT200 bomb detector was completed today. Results should be ready for analysis and conclusions today, or by tomorrow morning, in time for the Cabinet’s weekly meeting.

Tuesday 16th Feb 2010: Thai Government announce the results of the GT200 trials: no better than chance! There are scrapping plans to buy more and are looking into “irregularities” in the purchasing.

13 Comments

Filed under In the News

Superman is Not Responsible for Violence

I am doing some research on mea culpa and the role of mitigating circumstances when it comes to being held responsible for crimes. In 1978, Harvey Milk, a Californian activist was shot dead by Dan White. This case was famous not only for the murder of America’s first openly gay politician, but also for the “Twinkie Defense” where  his defendant lawyers successfully claimed that White acted out of character and persuaded the jury that he had experienced a mood swing exacerbated by his consumption of sugary foods. The jurors found White incapable of the premeditation required for a murder conviction, and instead convicted him of voluntary manslaughter.

Similarly, in the Jamie Bulger case, where two 10-year-olds, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson abducted and murdered the two-year-old toddler, questions about who and what to blame were raised by the public whipped up by the tabloids. Every week, there seems to be some unbelievable crime that is attributed to television, pornography, horror videos or poor parenting. It is our human nature to look for a culprit.

Now we have the return of the supermale syndrome myth where males born with an extra ‘Y’ chromosome (‘XYY’) are thought to be more aggressive and violent then the rest of us ‘XY’ lesser males. In a report from New Zealand, Michael Knight (17) left a party around 1am, broke into a house, stole jewellery, cameras, money and guns, and made his getaway in a $280,000NZ Audi (are they really that expensive) that he later crashed. When questionned by the police he had no explanation for his behaviour because he did not hold a driver’s license or a gun license. How bizarre and strange that a young man would act in such a way after a party. Roger Philip his lawyer however entered a plea of not guilty because he claimed that his client had reactive attachment disorder, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, and an extra Y chromosome.

The supermale syndrome was discredited years ago, and so it is right the judge promptly gave Knight a year in prison. Nevertheless, we are entering a new era where genetic predisposition is increasingly going to be used by lawyers to argue that their clients are not guilty. “Honest, m’lord, it wasn’t me but my genes what done it!” Interesting times.

18 Comments

Filed under General Thoughts, In the News

Out of My Mind

Who Was I?

I gave a public lecture on Tuesday night to the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution and talked about  the separation of body and mind as a basis for belief in the supernatural. Most people are dualist in that they believe that the mind is not tethered to the body. We feel that we occupy and control our bodies – some inner self seated inside our heads controlling the body like the operator of some complicated meat-machine. If the mind is not tethered to the body, then maybe it can survive the body after death or even leave the body to meet up with other minds! Dualism is fertile ground for spiritualism.

To illustrate my point, I asked how many members of the audience (who were mostly past retirement) looked into the mirror every morning only to be confronted with an aging body and yet they themselves, did not feel any older. I told the audience that I knew that I was past my prime but still felt like an 18-year-old. That’s because we do not feel that our mind ages. Yes, we are aware that we no longer have the same thoughts and that we may be slower or more forgetful but we do not experience our minds as different because we ARE our minds. We cannot step outside of our mind to consider how it looks to others.

So imagine my horror when this clipping was sent to me by an old friend the following day? If I was inclined to my SuperSense, I would say that it was not a coincidence but a reminder that there are more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of in my philosophy. Nevertheless, it was very spooky. I know it is me but I don’t recognize him. Why was I in the papers giving opinions about conscription and women serving in the army? I have no recollection of the interview. And I certainly don’t recognise his pretentious comments and sexist opinion. That’s because I have never been out of my mind.

18 Comments

Filed under General Thoughts, Newspaper