The Independent Investigations Group (IIG) will be having a lunch gathering at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 on Sunday, July 11, 2010 from 12:30PM to 2:00PM at the South Point Casino Del Mar Lounge/Del Mar Deli.
The IIG and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) have created an IIG Affiliate Program and members of the IIG and CSI will be on hand to discuss how to start up an IIG Affiliate in your area. There are currently IIGs in Los Angeles and Washington, DC with ones in Atlanta, San Francisco, and Sacramento coming soon.
The Independent Investigations Group investigates fringe science, paranormal and extraordinary claims from a rational, scientific viewpoint, and disseminates factual information about such inquiries to the public. www.iigwest.org
Note: Depending on the turnout we may need to relocate to a different venue, so please keep an eye out for any announcements. If you are on Twitter you can follow @derekcbart for updates.
The Facebook Event is located here.
Michael Horn has always had a bit of a problem with the truth. He is the publicist for Billy Meier after all. However, in his latest email newsletter he asks his readers to join him in the Multi-Level Marketing scam involving Multi-Pure water filtration systems. Here is his email:
Dear List Members,
A number of important things to tell you about. I’ll try to keep it brief.
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Posted in Uncategorized on June 19th, 2010 by Alleracsum
ANITA IKONEN 50K CHALLENGE DEMONSTRATION
Anita Ikonen is a Swedish national who, as of 2010, is a science undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. On July 16th, 2007 Ikonen contacted the Independent Investigations Group (IIG) to inquire about our $50,000 Challenge. The Challenge offers a cash prize to anyone who can prove that they have psychic or paranormal powers.
Anita claimed that she could look into the human body and diagnose many different types of physical or medical anomalies. She claimed many other paranormal powers including:
* The ability to identify chemical elements based on a vibration she could see.
* The ability to see ghosts – the ghosts of America’s founding fathers, the ghosts of animals, the ghosts of dinosaurs and many others – as well as the ability to communicate with or at least receive information from these ghosts.
* The ability to enter into an altered state similar to a chemical “high” simply by looking at an image of marijuana.
There were dozens of other similar claims. Some would have been very easy to test, but Ikonen insisted that her most reliable ability was medical diagnosis. Over the course of about a year, the IIG worked with Anita on a protocol to test this ability, but could not agree on what medical conditions would be acceptable for a demonstration. The negotiations stalled without establishing a clear protocol.
In December of 2008, Anita made contact with the Forsythe Area Critical Thinkers (FACT), a group of skeptics that meets monthly in Winston Salem, North Carolina and which is led by Jim Moury and Dr. Eric Carlson. Carlson is a physics professor at Wake Forest University and has worked with the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) to test people for the Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge – a long-standing test similar to, and the inspiration for, the IIG’s $50K Challenge.
At Anita’s first meeting with FACT, the skeptics were able to convince her that if she wanted to be tested by the IIG she needed to narrow her claim to something simple and straight-forward that she was also confident about demonstrating.
At a subsequent FACT meeting in March 2009, Dr. Carlson agreed to let Anita “read him”, telling her in advance that there was “something interesting” to be found. Anita had a form on which she was to write down any medical or physical anomalies she saw. Dr. Carlson is a kidney donor and is missing his left kidney. Anita did not write that he was missing a kidney on her form. However, after Dr. Carlson revealed this fact to her, she insisted that she had very clearly detected the kidney was missing, but she did not write it down because she second-guessed her own sensations – Carlson seemed “too healthy” to be missing a kidney, and she was unaware that healthy people could donate kidneys.
So, although she didn’t write it down and had no way to prove it, Anita decided that her vision of Dr. Carlson’s missing kidney was among her strongest medical sensations to date. This came as a bit of surprise to the IIG since in the earlier protocol negotiations, dowsing for kidneys was specifically not something Anita felt she could do. Apparently, her experience with Dr. Carlson convinced Anita otherwise and by August 2009 she had proposed a new protocol idea to the IIG.
“One person who has had a kidney removed is sitting among nine other persons who have both kidneys. Their order of sequence is determined randomly. The back rest of their chairs is facing to the left so that their backs can be seen. A fabric curtain is attached from the ceiling and comes down to cover head and necks of the persons. A number is placed on the floor by each of the chairs with numbers from 1 to 10 from left to right. The persons are wearing their everyday clothes and their backs do not need to be bare. Once the ten persons are settled I will take a seat behind their row a few feet behind them. I have four hours to look at them.”
Compared to the previous medical dowsing claim, this was a decided improvement. Nevertheless, multiple human subjects would still be required and that presented a layer of complexity that would impact on every aspect of the protocol negotiation. It was not enough to design a protocol – we also had to make sure that it was practical to run and administer. Foremost in our minds was making sure the controls and conditions would not be so daunting in time commitment and physical discomfort for the Subjects that it would dissuade people from volunteering. Add to that the need to find Targets – i.e., people missing one kidney – and just setting up this Challenge was going to be a challenge.
Anita had been posting on the JREF forums for almost two years and had proven to be a prolific and often polarizing presence. By the time the IIG stepped back into the fray, the discourse between Anita and her critics had turned downright nasty. We wanted to stay as far away as possible from this internet imbroglio.
The first order of business was to arrange for a news blackout. Having every step of the negotiation process analyzed and vetted on the JREF boards was not in anyone’s best interests. The IIG would negotiate a protocol with Anita on the condition that both parties not talk publicly or post anything about the negotiations until the protocol was approved or one of the parties withdrew. It was also understood that any protocol Anita and the IIG negotiating team (Muscarella and Newman) came up with would need to be approved by the entire IIG Steering Committee.
The heated discussions on the JREF forums had one benefit. By the time our negotiations began, Anita’s claim and basic test proposal had been scrutinized by a battery of fellow skeptics. Certain ideas, like the use of screens, the pros and cons of “recycling” Targets, and some of the basic odds had been computed. And Anita herself had commented at length on almost all of it.
From the perspective of the IIG negotiating team, with proper procedures and controls and a reasonable field of Subjects, the claim could be tested using a procedure that resembled her suggestion. The devil would be in the details.
Three conditions were agreed to up front. Further negotiation would be futile if these critical points weren’t locked down. First, the threshold for success had to be 100% accuracy and no “passes” allowed. The inescapable fact was that we could never gather enough human subjects to offer her a field of, say, 30 choices and only 75% accuracy. She would have to get 3 out of 3 and if she chose to pass it would have to be the same as a “miss”. Second, the verification of kidney status had to rely on a “live” ultrasound exam by a certified technician. This would not be cheap (and Anita would be responsible for the expenses) but there was simply no other way to do it. A letter from an M.D., a visible scar, even a set of MRI’s, could be challenged by either party. Even if both parties accepted these types of proof on their face it would require asking potential Targets to go to a lot of trouble that might discourage them from participating. The most direct, least troublesome method of absolute verification was an immediate on-site ultrasound examination of the Subject that Anita chose and the actual Target (if different). For logistical and financial reasons the verification was scheduled to be done at the end, after all three trials were completed. Both parties would stipulate that the technician’s diagnosis alone would be the final “arbiter” of the status of kidneys.
The third condition spoke to the crux of her claim. The protocol Anita proposed called for her to simply identify the Subject who was missing a kidney. Right kidney or the left kidney was not mentioned. This seemed like a non sequitur. Anita was not claiming to measure “internal imbalance” in a person’s life force or to be receiving information from a spirit guide. She was not claiming to read a person’s mind and thereby “hear” them thinking about missing a kidney. Her claim was that she could “see” inside the human body.
“When I look at people I perceive in my mind realistic looking images of their internal organs, tissues and cells….. The images are three-dimensional, and only involve relevant structures.….I describe the perceptions in great detail. They are very specific and not vague nor open for interpretation afterwards. I reach my conclusions within a few minutes at most… I am very confident in what I perceive… because I have ‘seen it’.”
So it seemed only reasonable to ask that Anita do more than play an elaborate version of “I’ve Got a Secret”. She should be able to look at all the people and account for every potential kidney.
Having each Subject represent two potential kidneys made practical sense in terms of maximizing the odds while minimizing the amount of volunteers needed. But there was a downside. If Anita guessed correctly about a Target but had the side wrong, she might say she’d gotten the L/R orientation confused. Or that it was somehow “half a hit”. The design of the official Selection Form and the instructions for filling it out made it impossible to get L/R orientation mixed up and reinforced, pictorially, what Anita was being asked to do.
With the three main points discussed and agreed to, we began to refine the protocol and conditions. Anita had suggested that a screen be placed in such a way as to hide the heads and necks of the Subjects. She refused, however, to use any sort of screen that blocked her entire view of the Subject.
“The problem with a screen is that my sense of orientation in the body is thrown off, and I would require far more time and be more likely to experience fatigue than if we were to arrange for a test that does not use a screen that covers the kidney area of a person.”
The need to create a proper blind between Anita and the Subjects remained an important consideration and our eventual choices in this regard hinged to a large extent on the research we did into kidneys and kidney patients.
The IIG considered what might be non-paranormal explanations for anyone being able to detect the status of someone else’s kidneys. Extensive online research on the gamut of kidney-related topics, donations, surgery, life-style and conversations with a number of M.D.s confirmed to us that, if fully-clothed, there was simply no way to distinguish between a healthy person with one kidney or a healthy person with two. People living with one kidney don’t tend to be slim or obese, their skin color is normal, they don’t “smell” different (at least not to a fellow human with normal olfactory function), they don’t skew male or female. This meant that any clothing and other methods of disguising body features needn’t be elaborate. It also meant that, while we would have liked to standardize the demographic field (same sex, same approximate age, body type, etc.) it was not absolutely necessary provided the odds were high enough and reasonable blinding and sensory leakage controls were in place.
We decided early on to stick to Anita’s basic testing format – three trials and several Subjects per trial. As much as we wanted to limit the amount of time Subjects had to sit there being “read”, having individual Subjects viewed one at a time would call for complex tracking procedures to insure that Subjects and ID numbers and photos were not switched or confused before the ultrasound verification.
The procedure we settled on meant that Subjects were seen only once, all at the same time in each trial, with no one leaving the viewing area until Anita’s decision was confirmed and memorialized in photographic form. Once the viewing period was over, Anita would be able to see the Subjects’ faces but only long enough for a photo to be printed and for her to attest by her initial on the actual photo that it represented the Subjects (Decoys and Target) standing in front of her.
TICK, TICK, TICK
Although the negotiations were always friendly, the most contentious issue was the length of time Anita wanted for each trial. Her initial request of 4 hours to look at 10 Subjects was out of the question and flew in the face of numerous statements in which she described needing no more than a few seconds to look at someone and form a crystal, clear “vision” of their insides. Anita insisted that was true, but considering what she was spending to come to Los Angeles, she wanted to leave herself more than enough time.
By the time Muscarella and Newman were ready to submit the protocol for approval by the IIG Steering Committee, Anita had agreed to 45 minutes per trial, assuming 10 Subjects per trial, but refused to go any lower. The Steering Committee naturally balked. There was no way we could agree to a demonstration that could take two and half hours to simply view the Subjects. Anita seemed adamant about not going less than 4.5 minutes per Subject.
After much discussion and number crunching, the IIG decided we could do the demonstration with 6 Subjects (instead of 10) per trial and – with 12 potential kidneys per trial – still retain well over 1000 to 1 odds of success by random chance. The odds of hitting correctly in all three trials would be 1736 to 1. There was a 1 in 4 chance she would get one hit. But she would have to do that 3 out of 3 times. And this, after all, was only a preliminary demonstration. It was understood that, if she passed the preliminary, the protocol for a final test would be about 10 times harder, statistically.
Since Anita had already agreed to 45 minutes for 10 Subjects, we took those numbers and arrived at 4.5 minutes per Subject which worked out to 27 minutes per trial. The viewing period had gone from almost an hour per trial to less than 30 minutes per trial and the odds were still adequately against her scoring 100% by luck alone.
One way to shorten things would have been to stop the demonstration the moment she “missed”, since that would designate failure. There are numerous problems with that. First, having such a rule in place could give Anita an advantage if she was cheating. By not stopping we would be effectively confirming that she just scored a “hit” and that would give her instant feedback about the efficacy of her method. Also, having stopped mid-way would leave us vulnerable should that trial be questioned or actually disqualified later. If, however, Anita had gone on to miss a later trial, the early disputed trial would be immaterial to the overall result. It bears emphasizing that had anything gone wrong the IIG would have felt obligated to repeat the entire demonstration on another date – on our dime.
ALL KIDNEYS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
Our kidney research had turned up some interesting tidbits, most notably that surgeons removing a kidney for donation tend to prefer the left. For one thing, the right kidney is hidden slightly behind the liver, so the left kidney is easier to get at and also has a slightly longer blood vessel which gives the surgeon more tissue to work with when grafting the kidney in a recipient. We had to presume Anita found this information, too, and might consider it when choosing Target subjects. Whether or not it was demographically accurate, if Anita thought more Targets were missing their left kidney she’d probably choose to err on that side (pun intended) of things.
IIG member Spencer Marks was in charge of recruiting Subjects and Targets for the demonstration. A minimum of 15 dual kidney Decoys and 3 uni-kidney Targets for the trials and at least one more uni-kidney person for an “open test”. The task was complicated by the “left kidney” research. Since Anita might tend to go “left” Spencer was determined to make sure at least 2 of the targets were missing right kidneys. (As it turned out, all of the Targets had lost their kidney due to illness or accident.) As things unfolded, Jim Newman also found a few uni-kidney people who eventually ended up as Targets. On the day of the demonstration both he and Spencer would be sequestered with the Subjects. To avoid the possibility of inadvertent cueing, none of the other proctors, including testmaster Jim Underdown, would know the identity of the Targets until the official verification process.
DECOYS AND TARGETS
Once the recruitment process was underway, our attentions turned to the care and feeding and “cloaking” of the Subjects. We’d ruled out the use of screens or any physical obstacles between Anita and the Subjects. We amused ourselves with ideas of jumpsuits with hood, burqas, beekeepers outfits, etc., but they all seemed like overkill. If we had healthy non-descript Targets mixed in with healthy non-descript Decoys, and they were all dressed exactly the same from the waist up, that seemed sufficient for our demonstration. Anita preferred that Subjects wear a light cotton shirt with no patterns so we purchased 20 identical light-weight T-shirts in various sizes.
As for what to put on the Subjects from the shoulders up, our concerns revolved around two things: (1) making sure the Subjects would be comfortable sitting immobile for what might be 27 minutes, and (2) preventing the possibility of any Subject making eye contact with Anita. A Subject who knew he/she was also the Target might unconsciously reveal that through body language, facial expression or eye contact.
The solution was a rectangular piece of soft, sheer cloth draped over the sides and back of the head of each Subject and secured with a straw pith-style hat. The hat weighed a few ounces. The cloth, being sheer, was less claustrophobia-inducing than a solid cloth might be but provided the same amount of veiling from Anita’s POV. So without much compromise of comfort, the Subjects’ view was limited to only what they could see straight in front of them, and from Anita’s position – behind and slightly to the right or left – she would not be able see the Subject’s faces unless they literally stood up and turned their entire body around.
Providing for the creature comforts of the Subjects before and after being viewed was even more important. There was no pay involved, not even gas money. If a Target got bored or unhappy or sick, or pull a no-show, the entire demonstration might need to be aborted. Thus, we wanted it to sound and actually be a fun and interesting way to spend a few hours on a Saturday. Subjects (Decoys and Targets) would be sequestered upstairs throughout the three trials and only allowed downstairs for viewing but once the trials were complete they could go into the Steve Allen Theater to watch the ultrasound verification process. Drinks and food, including a full lunch, would be provided.
On the eve of the demonstration Anita posted the following on her website.
“I feel really good about the test I am about to have, but most importantly of all, I know that it is the best type of test design for my claim of medical perceptions and I can never expect to be able to design a test that would be any easier for me to pass. Therefore the results of the paranormal test will conclude on the claim, and if I fail the test I will be proud to announce that the claim of medical perceptions through extrasensory perception is falsified. I can’t wait to have the test. I am ready.”
PRELIMINARY DEMONSTRATION – NOVEMBER 21st, 2009
Anita flew into Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 20th. She stayed at a hotel just a couple miles from the site of the demonstration taking place the next morning – the Steve Allen Theater at the Center for Inquiry (CFI) building in Hollywood. Anita was invited to visit the CFI building on Friday, but she declined.
On Nov. 21st, IIG members started preparing for the controlled demonstration at 9:30 a.m. The Philips iU22 ultrasound machine, provided by Media Medical Consultants, had been delivered the day before and was wheeled into position on the stage. The technician, Michele Ray, was scheduled to arrive at noon. In addition to various video cameras to document the process, arrangements had been made to stream the demonstration live to the internet. A Canon XH A1 video camera, manned by IIG member Dave Richards, was set up near the rear of the audience section of the Steve Allen Theater, from which the feed was set up and monitored by IIG members Derek Bartholomaus and Brian Hart.
Additional IIG members and other invited guests began arriving about 10:30 a.m. Since the IIG members running the demonstration were still working in the theater, the attendees waited in the lobby.
A LITTLE DECEPTION
At 10:45 a.m., Subjects began to arrive. They were immediately conducted to a holding area on the second floor of the CFI building. Once they were checked in, Spencer divided the Subjects into three groups of six. Each of the Subjects then drew a number from a hat to determine their order, 1 thru 6, left to right, within each trial group.
Spencer and Jim Newman had gone to some lengths to make sure the Subjects were in the dark about the details of the demonstration or the role they were going to play. The volunteers knew the time and place and knew that it was a test of paranormal powers to diagnose medical conditions – but little more. People missing a kidney (i.e., Targets) were told they were going to be part of a larger group of Subjects also missing an organ, not necessarily a kidney.
The Subjects would be mingling on the second floor for some time, so it was vital that they understood the “rules”. They were not allowed talk about anything medical-related and they were not allowed to talk about the demonstration – before or after they’d been viewed. Proctors Joe Pingree and Don Chesebro would be escorting the groups to and from the viewing area but were unaware of the Decoy/Target status of any of the Subjects.
The volunteers understood the need for secrecy but there was still some concern about unconscious cueing. A Target who suspected he/she was the Target might convey nervousness or exhibit some other “tell”. To mitigate against this Jim Newman and Spencer Marks injected some misinformation into the scenario. The Subjects were told en masse that some of them were missing an organ, perhaps a spleen, a kidney, appendix, lung, etc. and that some of them were missing nothing and had all their organs. It was explained to them that before each trial someone downstairs would roll a standard six-sided die. The number that came up on that die would determine which organ Anita would be looking for or if she should be looking for someone with all their organs. This was a lie. There was no roll of the die, and all but three of the Subjects were in fact Decoys only. The purpose of this subterfuge was to instill in every Subject the belief that they were just as likely to be the Target as any other Subject in any given trial.
ANITA IN SKEPTICLAND
The plan was to monitor Anita’s movements from the moment she entered the CFI building until, at very least, the final trial was complete. With the Subjects safely sequestered, Anita was alerted by phone and a car was sent to pick her up at the hotel.
Jim Underdown was behind the wheel. Steve Muscarella (wielding a video camera) rode in the passenger seat and Karen Kensek was in the backseat with Anita. Early in the planning we had decided that Anita should have a female escort at all times – someone to look out for Anita’s comfort, accompany her to the washroom as needed, and to generally keep a set of eyes on her at all times.
En route, introductions and pleasantries were exchanged. Anita admitted to being a little nervous and added that she had been “practicing”. Using a walkie-talkie, Underdown radioed ahead when the car was returning to the Center for Inquiry so Spencer could double-check that all Subjects were safely sequestered. The “all clear” was given and the car was pulled up to the rear entrance of the CFI building. Anita was escorted directly from the car to the backstage area of the Steve Allen Theater via a rear entrance.
Backstage, various pieces of paperwork were signed, including a printed version of the protocol and various personal releases. Jim Underdown also used a metal detection “wand” to make sure Anita was not wearing any electronic devices (she wasn’t). Anita’s cell phone and purse were set aside until the end of the demonstration. Jim and Karen showed Anita around the stage and explained how the demonstration would be conducted, where Subjects would sit, the line she would stand behind and the areas she would be limited to.
During the tour, Anita asked to go on record with something. She wanted us to know that she “would not guess”. If she didn’t get a clear impression she would pass. Jim Underdown reminded her that a single pass would constitute a total fail so it made no sense to leave the form empty. But it was up to her. Anita confirmed that she understood the ramifications of passing but she “would not guess”.
Anita was shown the projection screen which would be lowered into place between each trial to hide the Subjects from view until they were set in their chairs with hats and veils in place. Since the Subjects were instructed not to speak or make any noise at ANY time in the process, it was decided that the best place to keep Anita during these transitions was on the stage, her back to the screen. When the Subjects were in place, the screen would be raised and Anita could turn and immediately begin her process.
Anita was introduced to IIG member Jerry Buchanan, who would be acting as the time-keeper. During the trials, Jerry would supply a verbal running count-down of time remaining at various intervals – 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, etc. He would also time the breaks, note the time of day at each juncture and keep track of the selections in each trial. Should there be any question or dispute about any of the key aspects and outcomes, between video monitoring and Jerry’s contemporaneous notes, we were well-covered.
To insure things ran smoothly later, Jim Underdown walked Anita through the specific steps for completing a trial.
1. Anita would be given a generic scratch sheet on which she could jot notes and impressions during the viewing period. This form was blank except for 6 human forms with kidneys. Anytime within the allotted 27 minutes she would indicate to Jim that she was “ready” by walking to the podium where the official Selection Form was waiting.
2. Jim Underdown would watch as she filled out the Selection Form in ink. Once he had verified the form was complete he would ask the Subject that Anita chose as the Target to stand, remove his/her hat and veil and face downstage.
3. Mark Johnson would be in charge of photographic documentation. Once a photo of Anita’s selected Target had been taken, the entire group would be asked to turn around and remove hats and veils. A second photo of the entire trial group would be taken.
4. Prints of both photographs would be brought back to the podium, initialed with a Sharpie pen by Anita (to indicate that they accurately represented the status of subjects as they now appeared in front of her) and then stapled to the Selection Form.
5. The Subjects would be released, the screen would come down and the completed Selection Forms would be placed on a music stand near the apron of the stage where they would remain in full view until the ultrasound verification phase.
THE OPEN TEST
When Anita was familiar and satisfied with the conditions (she asked that the temperature in the theater be raised) the Steve Allen Theater was opened to the remaining IIG member and invited guests. The Group Proctors were alerted via walkie-talkie that the team onstage was ready for the “open test”.
The point of the open test was to give Anita an opportunity to apply her claimed ability with the basic trial conditions in place. If anything about the conditions were not acceptable, or if she was having any trouble using her ability, she was to speak up now.
Two men wearing the same T-shirt, hat and veil as the official Subjects were seated backwards in two of the six small padded chairs lined up near the back of the stage. Anita was told the status of each of the men – the one on the left (Anita’s left) had both kidneys, the one on the right was missing the left kidney. Anita sat in a chair behind the tape for about 5 minutes, confirmed that her ability was working just fine and conditions were favorable to begin. The “open test” Subjects were not sent back to the upstairs holding area, but were allowed to sit in the theater to watch the remainder of the demonstration. The projection screen was lowered, the Proctors went back upstairs and returned a few minutes later with the first trial group. The Subjects and proctors entered through a backstage door and were guided to their chairs.
The individual trials ran without incident. Throughout the testing, IIG member Mark Edward brought his background in mentalism and psychic trickery to bear as “watchdog”. He saw nothing suspicious. No signaling. Nothing in Anita’s manner to indicate she was doing any more than she’d promised.
The job of the Proctors was to shuttle the Subjects, group by group, from the upstairs holding area to the viewing area and back again. They remained onstage throughout the trial and were instructed to keep verbiage of any kind to an absolute minimum. During each trial Anita moved back and forth along the taped line, sometimes standing, most of the time sitting in a chair. She occasionally made notes on the Scratch Form on a clipboard. Before each trial Anita was asked if she was comfortable and she affirmed so at every point.
The Subjects were well-rehearsed and conducted themselves superbly. Except for a few body shifts and slight head or foot movements (to keep the blood circulating, no doubt) they remained quite still. Their vigilance was greatly appreciated considering that Anita used all 27 minutes of viewing time in each trial. She’d only needed 5 minutes to confirm the status of kidneys amongst two people (2.5 minutes per person) during the open test so we were hopeful she might not use the entire allotted 4.5 minutes during the trials, but she did.
Jim Underdown and Mark Edwards were deliberately blind in regards to the status of any of the Subjects. However, after each trial it was important for them to know if Anita had scored a “hit” so adjustments could be made to guard against any leakage or cheating. This was handled in the following fashion. After each trial Jim Underdown would write down on a piece of paper the number and L/R status of Anita’s choice. IIG member Owen Hammer would run the paper upstairs and hand it to Spencer Marks. Spencer would write H for “hit” or M for “miss” on the paper, fold it and hand it back to Owen who would run it back downstairs for Jim Underdown to read.
THE TRIAL RESULTS
The Target in Trial #1 was Subject 11, missing RIGHT kidney. Anita selected Subject 14, missing LEFT kidney.
The Target in Trial #2 was Subject 24, missing LEFT kidney. Anita selected Subject 24, missing LEFT kidney.
The Target in Trial #3 was Subject 36, missing RIGHT kidney. Anita selected Subject 36, missing LEFT kidney.
Anita chose “left kidney” at every trial. During the Q & A that followed the demonstration she was asked about the left kidney issue and admitted knowing about it and that it “might have” been in the back of her mind.
Providing Anita with scratch paper with human figures and kidneys was a last minute accommodation. We were hesitant to give her something she might use to try to re-interpret the results. On the other hand, post-diction is unavoidable with paranormal claimants and amorphous doodles on a piece of blank paper could be just as easily exploited. They have no bearing on the outcome or results of the test and we include them here for the record, without comment.
EXPLANATION OF RESULTS
Anita failed the preliminary demonstration, in which she had agreed 100% accuracy was required. Anita indicated the correct (i.e., missing) kidney in only one of the three trials, Trial #2. This was well below the threshold for success overall and, statistically speaking, insignificant. One out of four people off the street, or any random generation of guesses, could do about as well. (Incidentally, a straw poll conducted by 11 observers watching the streaming video or sitting in the Steve Allen Theater bears this out. In two out of three trials one of the 11 observers picked the actual target kidney. In two out of three trials one of the observers picked the person missing the kidney but guessed wrong about the side.)
It’s important to emphasize, again, what Anita was not doing. She was not sensing reduced kidney function; she was not reading auras or minds or communicating with spirit guides. She was looking for missing kidneys – three trials, 12 potential kidneys per trial. She “found” one.
It so happens that in Trial #3 the person she thought was missing a kidney was, in fact, missing a kidney – just not the correct one. Isn’t that still remarkable? Not really. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, the demonstration WAS about picking entire persons and not individual kidneys and Anita had correctly chosen 2 out of 3. What are the odds of that? 1 in 13.5. Well within the realm of chance and certainly not significant in the context of the protocol as administered.
In the course of the demonstration Anita not only failed to detect the majority of missing kidneys just five feet away from her, but she also saw two kidneys where there were, in fact, none!
No matter how you slice it, Anita’s performance was simply not very impressive.
LET THE POSTDICTION BEGIN!
“If I fail the test I will be proud to announce that the claim of medical perceptions through extrasensory perception is falsified.” (November 2009)
In the aftermath of the demonstration, Anita has backtracked from the above pledge. She admits to having failed the preliminary demonstration but believes that something extraordinary was going on anyway. www.visionfromfeeling.com/study.html
In one of the more creative attempts to spin a failed paranormal test into a success – Anita insists that she was “right about being wrong” on 2 out of 3 trials and that this is remarkable unto itself. In her own words:
“When I know I’m right, I’m right, and when I know I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I knew that my answers for trial 1 and 3 were incorrect and that my answer in trial 2 was correct, at all times, and well before the results were in. I shared this with IIG members and stated it very clearly and unambiguously. I do not recall a single experience where I would have been certain of a health perception and it would have been incorrect. The way the IIG Preliminary went, further confirms that when I am confident in a perception, it has high if not perfect accuracy, and when I am about to be incorrect, I already knew that beforehand. This means that I still have something to investigate. If I had a single experience of a highly compelling health perception, that I “know” to be accurate, only to find out that it is inaccurate, that would put the claim to rest once and for all.”
Anita attributed her miss on Trial #3 to the fact that she was fatigued and had to “guess” on that one. Why, after saying she’d rather pass then guess, did she guess? Was a pass not “incorrect” enough? As for fatigue, if she hadn’t taken all 27 minutes to make a selection in Trial #2 – the trial she now says she was confident about “well before the results were in” – she might have had a little more energy for Trial #3.
For the record, Jim Underdown asked Anita before every trial if she was “feeling good” and she answered in the affirmative each time. Also, she was urged the night before and again the morning of the demonstration to bring any food she might require during the course of the trials. (The IIG could not be responsible for her physical health. If she ate a “bad sandwich” it wasn’t going to come from us!) Despite our suggestions, Anita arrived with no food of any kind, asked for none and ingested only water during the entire demonstration, the verification process and the post-demonstration Q&A session.
In light of revelations that came out after the demonstration, this failure to eat anything has an ironic twist to it. In 2002 Anita Ikonen, going by the name Alenera, toured Poland espousing Breatharianism http://www.ufoinfo.com/filer/2005/ff0537.shtml – a bizarre belief that maintains it is possible to survive without eating for weeks, months, even years. As silly as it sounds, people have actually died attempting to follow the lunatic Breatharian lifestyle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inedia. Since being “outed” Anita refuses to distance herself from Breatharianism and maintains the following website: www.angelfire.com/stars3/breathe_light/breatharianism.html
As for Trial #1, fatigue can’t very well explain her miss. But according to Anita something else can. A hitherto unnoticed idiosyncrasy that, despite years of experience and weeks to prepare and practice, she only discovered during the IIG demonstration. The “denser” a person is, the harder it is to see inside their bodies. Subject 12 was a heavy man and Anita blamed her failure on his body fat. She even jotted this down on her scratch sheet. But wait – what does Subject 12 have to do with anything? There were 5 other less “dense” people on the stage. If there was a kidney missing in any one of those people (as there was in Subject 11) it was simple enough to deduce that Subject 12 was NOT the Target. Her complaint about Subject 12 is a red herring.
In recent months (May 2010), the post-diction has increased in intensity. Encouraged by pundits (on both sides of the aisle) who did not carefully read the protocol and were otherwise misinformed about the rules, statistics and procedures – Anita has taken to simply lying about the claim she presented to the IIG in 2009. She is now saying:
“Also the process by which I find missing kidneys starts by finding the sense of imbalance in a person, and to then narrow down to which side the imbalance is felt. It is a two-part process, whether you like it or not.” (May 2010)
Never in her dozens of extremely detailed descriptions of her ability to see into the human body has Anita referred to experiencing anything but a direct, immediate “vision”. This “two-step” process to sense “imbalance” she refers to now is a post-facto fabrication that, while changing nothing in terms of her performance, provides a telling glimpse into Anita’s mind, motives and modus operandi.
“The claim will be falsified when I state that I have made a compelling medical perception of something either being there or not being there and I state confidence in that this perception represents the very best of what my claim tries to do, only to find that this perception is inaccurate. And that is when the claim can be falsified. And that has not happened yet.”
“And, we might add, will never happen because Anita will find a way to make sure it doesn’t.
In the course of conducting a demonstration of this scope and complexity, mistakes were made and some valuable lessons were learned. For every refinement or shortcut in one area there is a price to pay in another. Practical trumped elegant almost every time. Nothing occurred that would invalidate the results of the demonstration but there were some things we failed to anticipate, some procedural missteps, and some dice-y judgment calls worth noting.
1) Since the demonstration some criticism has been aimed at the wording of the protocol:
“The Applicant claims to be able to detect which subject in a group of six Subjects is missing a kidney, to further identify which kidney (left or right) is missing in her selected Subject, and to be able to do this with 100% accuracy in three consecutive trials.”
To some the language is imprecise and, thus, vulnerable to challenge or mischievous misinterpretation. Was Anita being asked to identify who was missing a kidney, and then being asked to identify which kidney? This question is only of interest to someone trying to parse things so as to turn Anita’s selection in Trial #3 into a “partial hit”. Never-the-less, we might have done more to prevent something like this, since the deliberate injection of post-test “confusion” comes with the territory when testing psychics.
In our defense, getting the grammar correct was a linguistic challenge. It would have been easier if we could have lined up 12 individual kidneys, like some weird scene from a sci-fi movie, but the reality is kidneys come in living humans. It was impossible not to include a reference to the “host” (Subject) carrying the potential kidneys. Imagine, if you will, that we’d numbered the kidneys, 1 through 12, left to right, and ignored the human carrying the kidney. Would that, in the long run, have clarified things or confused them?
In the end we trusted that a full reading of the protocol would make it clear that there was no “point system” in place. Anita was not circling or Xing human figures on the sheet. She was circling and Xing kidneys. And there was only one correct permutation per trial.
2) Should we have set the demonstration up differently in terms of randomization and distribution of Targets? For example, offer the same amount of Targets and Decoys but randomly distribute them so Anita could not know how many were present in any given trial, only that she would see 3 in the course of 3 trials. This would have greatly complicated the backstage organization and require a precise and fool-proof system for tracking Targets as they moved through the three trials. Considering Anita’s performance, there’s little reason to think a more randomized testing process would have made any difference but it is certainly open to debate
3) Care was taken to keep the Subjects as ignorant as possible about the true nature of the demonstration, particularly the fact that kidneys were the specific organ being sought in all three trials. To guard against the Subjects getting a glimpse of Anita’s Selection Form (with the 6 figures and 12 kidneys) during the photography phase at the end of each trial, the completed sheet was supposed to remain on the podium until the Subjects were removed from the viewing area. That is how we rehearsed it. But during Trial #1 Jim Underdown walked across the stage with the stapler and attached the photographs to the completed Selection Form. We know that at least one Subject glimpsed the form because when she got back upstairs she told Jim Newman. The Subject was reminded of the pledge of silence and the information flow stopped there.
4) As we were setting up for the ultrasound, Anita noticed that she had NOT initialed the photographs stapled to the Selection Form for one of the trials. She went ahead and did so but this was clearly an error in the procedure. Initialing the photos was supposed to be done AS she was still looking at the Subjects so there could be no question that the photo was a true representation.
5) Anita’s sole “hit” was in trial 2, so naturally and properly this trial came under some scrutiny. The Target, Subject 24, was a man named Anthony who was a trusted friend of IIG member Kitty Scott. Kitty was a fairly regular contributor to various threads about Anita on the JREF forums. In September 2009, responding to comments Anita had made about her encounter with Dr. Carlson at FACT, Kitty mentioned she had a friend who was missing a kidney. She also described how the man had recently been in a terrible motorcycle accident and now had various titanium implants in his body. In a later posting Kitty mentioned that this man had nasty scars on his arms and walked with a limp due to a brace he wore on his right leg. We know Anita was aware of the friend and his physical characteristics because she wrote a personal message to Kitty about it. Kitty’s JREF avatar listed no city, but on another thread (about the psychic John Edward) she had mentioned that she lives in Los Angeles. We know that Anita monitored and posted on numerous JREF threads, so Kitty’s hometown and, thus, the possible location of her kidney-less friend was out there to be cobbled together. There were several exchanges on JREF about it and by September Anita expected she would be coming to Los Angeles soon – so it’s possible she consciously or unconsciously knew these facts.
A week or so before the demonstration, Kitty volunteered herself as a Subject and her friend Anthony as a possible Target. Kitty warned Spencer Marks and Jim Newman about the JREF threads and the possibility of leakage. Spencer felt there was little chance Anita would recognize Anthony as being the man Kitty described on JREF. He was also thinking that, since Anthony was a “leftie” (i.e. missing a left kidney), he would use him for the open test, which rendered the issue moot. However, on the morning of the demonstration a dilemma arose.
Our volunteers did not know the specifics but they did know Anita was a psychic who claimed to be able to diagnose medical conditions. During a casual chat the man who Spencer planned to use as the Target in trial 2 asked Spencer if – once the demonstration was over – Anita might be willing to give him a free reading! Spencer was properly concerned that a Target with “woo” leanings might, consciously or otherwise, cue Anita in some way. There were only 4 Targets on hand and it was vital that the two people missing right kidneys be part of the demonstration. Spencer was forced to make a judgment call. He swapped the two men and Anthony became the Target in Trial #2.
We have no reason to think that Anita connected the person written about on the JREF forum and Subject 24. Anita says she did not “sense” anything about Subject #24 but, of course, we’re not talking about a conscious thought process on her part so her recollections are of limited value. In our opinion, Anita’s single “hit” was simply a lucky guess. She had a one out of six chance of guessing the correct Subject and, as we have seen, chose “left” in every trial. But we can’t rule out that something about the guy reminded Anita of the JREF postings. Tattoos on a motorcyclist are a cliché, but not an unreasonable association. The scars on his arms may have been visible to Anita. Also the brace on his leg. It’s possible these things may have implied “damaged” to Anita and the JREF postings never figured into it.
Regardless, Anthony should have never been a Subject/Target. There was inherent leakage potential that should have eliminated him on general principle. That said, on the day of the demonstration we only had 4 uni-kidney volunteers to work with. Using up a “rightie” for the open test was not acceptable and, in retrospect, that strategy turned out to be a good one.
Hindsight is 20/20. But research scientists – and lowly skeptical investigators – must be vigilant when it comes to anticipating problems. It goes without saying that having extra Targets would have eliminated the problem. The Trial 2 snafu also highlights the importance of carefully screening Subjects and Targets. Anthony’s shortcomings have been acknowledged, and if the man with “woo” leanings had been identified sooner, the search for suitable Targets would not have stopped short and the dilemma on the morning of the demonstration might have been avoided altogether.
The testing of Anita Ikonen was the most elaborate demonstration the IIG has undertaken to date and, as is hopefully abundantly clear now, conducting a demonstration with multiple human subjects is inherently fraught with pitfalls. We were proud of our effort and hope that any applicant who is considering the 50K Challenge will have seen that the IIG is not only scrupulously fair, but friendly and respectful of the claimant and their investment of time and effort.
The other day I received an email from a reader of my work examining the Billy Meier Case with the above subject line. Here is the email:
I thought the investigators at IIG might find this amusing.
On his “Will Humanity Wake Up… In Time?” page http://theyfly.com/articles/WILL_HUMANITY_WAKE_%20UP%20.htm Horn quotes contact report 204 stating that “anxiety, sexual addiction, addiction to adrenalin rushes, addiction to extreme sports of every kind, addiction to the enthusiasm and fanaticism relating to the sporty or other achievements of other people, etc” are caused by genetic factors.
He proceeds to like to several corroborations including this “press release” http://www.prlog.org/10022584-sports-gene-found-in-men.html. However, the release is credited to the website http://veryfunnynews.blogspot.com/, and on the page with the original article is the following disclaimer “The above headline and story is not true. It was made up, by the author, solely as comedy, with no intent to harm or offend. Any of it which turns out to be true, in whole or in part, is purely coincidental … and would be even funnier.” http://veryfunnynews.blogspot.com/2007/06/sports-gene-found-in-men-princeton.html
I think that this is another great example of Michael Horn’s research abilities, or lack thereof. In case Horn decides to edit this page of his to remove his embarrassment I have posted the 41 page (!) PDF of the webpage here.
Posted in Uncategorized on April 13th, 2009 by daverich
Just a reminder about Brian Dunning’s big 150th Skeptoid podcast party coming up this Saturday. There are still tickets left, and in fact it looks like our friend Brian will be left holding the bag for some serious expenses unless more people buy tickets. If you are a fan of Skeptoid, how about buying a ticket? The price is still $75, but will be going up another $10 soon, perhaps tomorrow. So if you’ve been waiting to get your tickets, wait no longer!
I bought an extra ticket that I’ll be giving to a student, and I’d like to issue a challenge to anyone who is currently gainfully employed to buy an extra ticket for a student, or someone else who may not be able to afford to go.
Nurses Revoke The Independent Investigations Group’s Continuing Education License Before Feng Shui Class Happening This Sunday.
Hollywood, CA April 4, 2009 — On March 27, 2009 the California Board of Registered Nursing (CBRN) revoked the Continuing Education License that the Board had previously granted to a subcommittee of the Independent Investigations Group (IIG). This revocation is because of the presentation that the IIG is performing this Sunday, April 5, 2009 which will demonstrate all of the forms of pseudo-science that the CBRN originally certified for the continuing education of nurses.
Last August, the Independent Investigations Group (IIG) at the Center for Inquiry received certification from the California Board of Registered Nursing (CBRN) to teach a Continuing Education class that includes “Chinese shéyou” (literally, “snake-oil”), anthropomancy (telling the future by reading human entrails), and “canupiary” (a made-up word) flexibility.
When the CBRN recently heard about the skeptics’ plan to teach this certified class on Sunday and publicize it, they rescinded the group’s certification citing “an error.”
The California Board of Registered Nursing is the state agency that licenses nurses and certifies nurse Continuing Education Providers (CEPs). Nurses in California must complete 30 hours of continuing education credit every two years to maintain their licenses.
Four years ago, the IIG lobbied the Nursing Board several times to stop giving credit for the teaching of “Therapeutic Touch” – a technique long discredited by skeptic organizations such as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, publisher of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and the James Randi Educational Foundation. This procedure involves a practitioner manipulating a mysterious energy field around the patient. No actual physical contact is made with the patient.
When the Board ignored the IIG proposal to only teach science-based medicine, the IIG decided to submit its own supernatural-based nursing course for certification. The Feng Shui course containing other techniques outside the purview of modern medicine (see paragraph #1) won the Board’s approval last August. But the Board rescinded its own certification on March 27, 2009 — only after the IIG issued publicity criticizing the Board for letting such an unscientific course be approved in the first place.
IIG Chair and CFI-Los Angeles Executive Director Jim Underdown put this into perspective:
“The Board ignored our pleas for years to reexamine their poor standards for continuing education. Now that this Sunday’s preposterous class threatens to embarrass them, they suddenly leap into action by claiming we shouldn’t have been certified in the first place.”
“California residents deserve the best health care science can offer. The CBRN is simply not meeting that standard.”
The IIG’s nurse education subcommittee – the California Foundation for Institutional Care (CFI-Care) – was (until a few days ago) Continuing Education Provider #15166, and still plans to teach the outrageous course Sunday with an explanation at the end about the critical thinking lacking in the CBRN’s process. The course promises to be both educational and hilarious. Nurses will still get in for free, and the press is also invited. “It’ll be a hell of a show,” claims Underdown.
Information about the Feng Shui for Home Providers Class follows…
Feng Shui for Home Care Providers – A Course for California Nurses
Sunday, April 5th, 11AM – 1PM
Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles
4773 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90027
Free Parking in the CFI lot on Berendo (2 blocks east of Vermont Ave.)
(Enter the Berendo St. lot from Franklin Ave.)
All press, nurses and nursing students get in free and will receive free coffee.
For more information contact:
Executive Director, Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles
Chair, Independent Investigations Group
Office 323-666-9797 x 101
The Independent Investigations Group at the Center for Inquiry is the West Coast’s premiere skeptical organization. The IIG has a standing offer of $50,000 to anyone who can prove paranormal abilities under scientific testing conditions. The IIG works with the James Randi Educational Foundation by screening applicants for its $1 Million Paranormal Challenge. Visit our website at http://www.iigwest.org, or e-mail us at email@example.com.
The Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles is the west coast home to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), publisher of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Visit our website at http://www.cfiwest.org, or call (323) 666-9797 x101.
Interesting article about NIH and possible new directives re: pseudoscience
The Sun Newspaper [snark]always a bastion of journalistic integrity[/snark] published a “news” report on February 12, 2009 about a video that 12 year old Reece Pitman took on his cell phone. Here is the video:
As you can see, it does appear that a shadowy spirit crosses the path of the video. Well, here’s the catch. It is actually the magic trick “Ghost Vision” created by Andrew Mayne. Here is Andrew Mayne’s promotional video on the trick:
Not to be outdone. Now Sweden is getting in on the act:
This time the guy who made this video admitted that it was the trick. Here is what he had to say:
“Just to make everything clear! This is a video I made with Ghost Vision at my home in Sweden and sent off to Swedens largest magazine Aftonbladet after they pubished the video from The Sun. I sent it to them to verify that it is a trick video and that they might stop spreading this ghost thing to their readers. They never replied.”
When people mistake a $15 magic trick for a “real” ghost it goes to show how much work skeptics have to do to try and bring rationality to the world at large. As Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.“
That ridiculous question is posed by Jeff Peckman in the February 2, 2009 edition of the Denver UFO Examiner.
You can go read what Mr. Peckman has to say if you want to, but it is basically an advertisement for Michael Horn’s DVD entitled The Silent Revolution Of Truth. The reason that I am linking to it here is because of the reader comments listed after the article. Many of the commenters take Mr. Peckman to task for promoting the Meier Case, and specifically Mr. Horn’s video, because so much has been done to expose the ridiculous nature of the Meier claims. One commenter by the name of “Siani” has even linked to the IIG’s Billy Meier Case Report which can be found here.
If you are interested in a good laugh please check out the above link.
UPDATE: Science Fiction entertainment blog io9 has picked up on the above story and the comments on that site are even funnier. Go check it out here.