Category Archives: Television

Updates & Next Year

It has been a while since I last blogged but it’s not because I did not have anything to say but rather there has been too much happening. I was abroad touring most of April and have yet to write up my account of China and S. Korea as well as Sweden. I hope to get to them soon as I have some interesting insights.

Then there was the outcome of the trial of Jim McCormick, the businessman who sold dowsing rods as bomb detectors on the day of my return to the UK. There is still more to come from that story over the coming months as Gary Bolton and others face the wrath of the law.

In the meantime, it has been exam period so that has been busy. I  have also been fitting in a bit of  TV here and there but increasingly I am finding that I have to turn down invitations – which is a good thing I guess. One thing I did do this week was Dara O’Briain’s Science Club – a popular BBC2 science show which was a great laugh. I will post nearer the broadcast date but here is a picture of me with this giant of a man – he really is – I look like his glove puppet in this pictureImage

I have just finished marking the final year exam papers for my undergraduate and aside from some project students and admin, I am nearly the completion of the 2012/13 academic year.

So what of next year? Well I am finally taking that sabbatical fellowship I was awarded last year by my wonderful University who have been incredibly supportive in my activities. I doubt another institution would have been so good – how many workers get to say that about their employers? I really cannot say how much I enjoy being at Bristol.

Even though I could just sit about on my backside, the reality is that I will be working harder than ever. I have a new book published by Penguin which is currently going through the edit stage but due out in the summer of 2014. I also have a controversial new grant starting in September which I will tell you more about then. There are various other seeds that have been planted but the one thing that I am most excited about is that I am making an independent documentary based on the content of “SuperSense” that will be filmed over the course of the next year. These are definitely unchartered waters but after years, I am finally been given the opportunity to do something that I want.

So hopefully I will be able to keep you posted with updates of the various events along the way – if I get the time.

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Lecture One “What’s Inside Your Head”

If you live outside the UK and want to see the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, they will be posted on the Ri site over the next few days. Here is the link to the first one.

What’s In Your Head

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Blind Every Time You Move Your Eyes

For those of you outside the UK, here is an excerpt from the first of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures explaining what happens each time you move your eyes. I’ll get back to regular blogging once I clear the backlog of chores.

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Trailer Teaser for the Lectures

I am not fully recovered yet – also getting over a darn cold but here is a teaser of the lectures which will be broadcast next week. They were sent to the BBC today for technical review so there’s no turning back now! YIKES!!!!

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Wellcome to My Charming World

This week the Wellcome Trust opened an exhibition in London called Miracles & Charms. It is actually two exhibits in one. The Miracle component, ‘Infinitas Gracias’ (Infinite Thank You)  is the first major display of Mexican votive paintings outside of Mexico. Votives are small paintings, usually executed on tin roof tiles or small plaques, depicting the moment of personal humility when an individual asks a saint for help and is delivered from disaster and sometimes death. Over a hundred votives dating from the 18th century are in the exhibition. They are usually displayed in Mexican churches as gestures of thanksgiving, replacing powerful doctrine-driven images of the saints with personal and direct pleas for help. The religious imagery depicted in these vernacular paintings is at the heart of famous works of art by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera were avid votive collectors

Votives are an intimate records of the tumultuous dramas of everyday life – lightning strikes, gunfights, motor accidents, ill-health and false imprisonment – in which saintly intervention was believed to have led to survival and reprieve.

Charming. If only they could do something to stop the carnage of the Mexican Drug Wars that is currently destroying the country. When I troll the web looking for unusual stories and items for this blog, I am often shocked by the amount of grisly footage of killings that is being posted by the gangs and vigilantes. For such a devout country, where is religion in all this horror?

'I thank our Lord Saint Francis of Assisi for saving us from drowning on 27 Oct 1962'

The other component of the exhibition is “Charmed Life” made up 1400 amulets assembled by the Edwardian amateur folklorist Edward Lovett. The artist Felicity Powell who put the exhibit together describes how these objects seem to retain an insistent sense that they might yet hold some hidden magic. Does that sound familiar?

The front feet of a mole are permanently curved for digging, and this curved appearance is so suggestive of cramp that these feet are carried as a cure for cramp.

A BBC researcher called me this week to appear on national Morning television to discuss the exhibition as an expert of lucky charms. I was very tempted as this would have been great publicity for SuperSense but I declined the offer. I am now preparing for the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (which is why I have less time for posting blogs) and have moved on from my interest in supernatural thinking. I also have a new book coming out in the Spring so I want to shed the spooky scientist label that my interest in supernatural objects conjures up. However, I will be dropping into the exhibit when I am next in London on my way to the RI,  as it looks too good to miss.

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Say It Again Sam

"Give me more awe, Bruce"

I will be away for a couple of weeks in the States so here is my post about my brief film star experience earlier this week.

Four of us turned up to begin filming a pilot on a freezing early March morning earlier this week in Leigh Woods near Bristol. Apparently, this is the norm in the film business so as to capture “the light.” The only thing I thought we would capture was frostbite. Still, I was motivated and excited to be on my first proper shoot. I even had some of the lingo of “piece to camera,” “cut-away” and other terms that I had picked up in my limited media experience though I expect that the director, cameraman and soundman were smirking each time I tried to sound familiar with the proceedings.

It’s funny but you know you are on a proper shoot when the camera is very big and there is a man holding a microphone boom. I have done a couple of tv interviews before but have always been a bit disappointed that the equipment looked a bit inadequate. Even “The One Show” episode that I recently recorded which is being broadcast in August later this year seemed a bit flimsy. However, the camera on the shoot in the woods was big and heavy. I was also suitably impressed when Mark the cameraman told that me it cost the same as a Porsche, was the latest in digital technology – better than 35mm, but most importantly, the same type of camera had been used to make my favourite sci-fi film in the last year, “District 9.” Now, I felt like a real actor.

I had spent the weekend rehearsing my lines. There were only six of them but they had to be absolutely tight. The first line was supposed to capture the viewer’s attention, “YOU – believe in the supernatural!”  It was to be delivered direct to camera (oh dear, there I go again) with a finger pointing accusingly at the imagined audience in very much the same way in the famous US army recruitment poster showing Uncle Sam pointing directly at you.

We went for a first take that seemed fine. I had set aside the whole morning as requested but figured that at this rate, we should be finished in half and hour. Three hours later, I was still jabbing my finger at the camera and telling it that it believes in the supernatural. This had now been shot from umpteen different angles, with umpteen different tones of voice, and another umpteen different facial expressions. And each time, I got further and further away from the sense of me speaking English. Have you ever noticed that if you say words over and over again, they seem to lose their meaning? In fact, they often don’t seem like real words at all. With each repetition, you begin to question whether you can still speak English, as the utterances become increasingly gobbledygook.

When words seem to become nonsense with repetition, it is a phenomenon called “semantic satiation.” It’s like gorging on the meaning triggered by the sound of the word until you can’t take anymore. The same happens with the written word. That’s why sentences can sometimes become harder to understand each time you read them. Words that you know must be real, cease to make sense and spookily become nonsense. In fact, repeating myself over and over again that morning had an increasingly corrosive effect on my sense of reality. I was ceasing to be Bruce, but rather a puppet caught in a tangle, having to repeat moments of time over and over again. I was becoming depersonalized.

Some actors play themselves over and over again. Humphrey Bogart was pretty much playing Humphrey Bogart in every film he made. I doubt he bothered trying to portray a different character and maybe that’s exactly what the studio wanted. But other great character actors, recognizable by first names alone, such Laurence, Bobbie, Johnny and Meryl can become someone entirely different. I am no expert in acting but after my brief experience this week, I have a newly found admiration for those people who can suddenly become someone else so convincingly. Maybe it’s easier with big budgets and big cameras to capture the best angle. You don’t have to repeat lines over and over again. But when you do – you can get a real sense of the self that becomes unreal. This is why so many novices freeze when a camera is stuck in their face and they are expected to “be normal.”

Anyway, I saw the final product yesterday and was absolutely thrilled. Mostly because the guy in the film seemed so unlike me. That’s the wonder of film.

And yes, I know….Humphrey Bogart never uttered those famous words, “Play it again, Sam.”

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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)

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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

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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,

JIM”

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)

AND HERE IS THE BEST NEWS!!!! GOVERNMENT BANS SALE OF THESE DEVICES

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.

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Viva España

spain-flagBienvenidos a todos mis visitantes españoles. Espero que esté aquí debido a la reciente transmisión televisiva en España, cuando hablé con el inteligente Eduard Punset. Espero que usted compra el libro porque está lleno de historias mucho más interesantes.
Adiós
Bruce

Eduard Punset & me outside a Barcelona Romanesque Church

Eduard Punset & me outside a Barcelona Romanesque Church

I really enjoyed my Barcelona visit and interview with Eduard which is broadcast on Spanish television tonight. I hope I don’t upset any Catalan visitors by showing the Spanish flag but I want as wide an audience as possible! BTW Spain is one country that has not yet bought the publishing rights for SuperSense – Come on Amigos… “Por favor compra el libro porque es muy bueno!”

Here is the broadcast link if you missed it!

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