The Skeptical Believer by John Shirley
Two Believers, Two Skeptics, Ed Dames and ONE MILLION BUCKS
by John Shirley

No, I don't agree with everything the late Carl Sagan said. I think he was a smart, visionary writer, he advanced the cause of science -- and he was right to be skeptical. But I don't automatically dismiss the possibility of alien visitation in our lifetimes. However. Ahem. I do think Sagan was right in raising the "burden of proof" issue. He basically said that the burden of proof is on those who claim that UFOs, flying saucers, flying triangles, etc, are alien spacecraft. That is, those who make a claim like that -- which Occam's Razor makes unlikely to be true -- had better have really, really strong evidence, physical evidence, if they want their claim to be taken seriously by the scientific community. And it should be unbreakable evidence, evidence that cannot be reasonably disputed.

Recently a very good, crisp videotape of an apparent flying saucer over Mexico City surfaced -- to some people, since it's such a good image of an alien spacecraft, it can't be disputed. But, in fact, in an era when it's relatively easy to create an image like this digitally through computer animation (and when there are persistent rumors that that is just how it was done), the image can be reasonably disputed. Even if it's a real object, it could be a remote piloted vehicle of some kind -- Is that reaching? But Sagan would ask: What is more likely, that it is a spacecraft come from another star system, or that it is either an animation or a Remote Piloted Vehicle, many of which are known to exist? The burden of proof is on the Believer to prove that what's in the videotape is a real alien spacecraft. That's the burden of proof issue.

I don't think we need burden of proof to dismiss many claimants. Some, as I've pointed out before, are simply luridly discreditable (like Billy Meier and Derrel Sims and those members of CSETI who claim to be able to summon alien spacecraft telepathically), or have discredited themselves somehow, like Ed Dames. Remote viewer Ed Dames is known (and his friend John Alexander admits this happened) to have predicted a mass landing of alien spacecraft at a specific time and place. Time came, place was observed, landing didn't happen. In fact there's no evidence that Ed Dames has ever "viewed" or predicted anything accurately -- not that I've ever seen.

Dames pops up here because after the appearance of a column in which I made light of Remote Viewers, a reader wrote to me and said, "What about Ed Dames?" He indicated that Dames was the Real Deal.

As some of the evidence for Dames' authenticity as a guy who could telepathically "view" things from afar, my correspondent cited Dames' background with the CIA, and the "fact" that James Randi, the famous skeptic, had "refused to test Dames" because "he knew that Dames would win the one million dollars" of the challenge Randi has made to psychics, in place for years now. Randi offered one million dollars "to any person or persons who can demonstrate any psychic, supernatural or paranormal ability of any kind under satisfactory observing conditions."

I tried to get hold of Dames, sending him email and messages through intermediaries, to ask if he made this claim about Randi and exactly why. Couldn't get him.

James Randi did respond to my email, and gave me his phone number. I called him at the James Randi Educational Foundation, and spoke to him several times. He is a very articulate man, sardonic in tone, and sometimes quite vehement though he never really lost his temper (nor was he impolite to me). He comes off as a man who's had it up to here with rumors and mythology about him and the Foundation. People aren't doing their homework; all these questions have been answered at his website (www.randi.org) or in his books, his encyclopedia, in Time magazine, and other places. But he answered me anyway.

Dames, he said, was welcome to take the test any time; and he was never prevented from taking the test. All he has to do is sign the application form. (Said form is available at the Randi website for your perusal.) Dames refused to sign the form -- which, so far as I can tell, simply lays out the inevitable rules of a scientific test. As to Dames' allegations: "A direct blatant lie," Randi said. "No two ways about it. He refuses to sign the claim form. He wants to make the rules for a test conform to his convenience. The first rule of the Challenge is you must agree to the rules of the test."

I located and spoke to a friend of Dames', a real believer who's worked with him, and who now works for an organization investigating UFOs -- John Alexander, in Beverly Hills, California. Alexander sounded suspicious of me, and there was an undertone of hostility. He was quite familiar with the Randi/Dames question, and when asked why Dames refused to do the psychic-challenge paperwork, Alexander said it was because "there's no way anybody could win -- it's unwinnable -- it's a magician's trick..." (James Randi is, or was, a stage magician: prestidigitation, illusion, admitted trickery.) He said that Randi is the kind of magician who asks you to pick a card and if you pick the one he doesn't want you to pick he'll say, "Uh, are you sure you mean that card?" Alexander claimed that Randi pre-screens the subjects in some way and if he finds that the person's ability is real he makes it impossible for the subject to take the test. Alexander offered no proof of this. He said that Randi "gets a lot of mileage" out of his challenge, but the challenge isn't real, as the money (he claimed) isn't really available. Alexander claimed that Randi has been "caught running away after it worked" and he gave as example Randi's alleged reaction to observing Fijian firewalking: The well known phenomenon of the Fiji islanders walking across hot coals barefoot. Alexander claimed that Randi had seen this happen and admitted that he didn't know how it happened.

Randi, Alexander said, was not a skeptic (Alexander claimed to be one of those); Randi, he said, was a debunker who sets out with the assumption of fraud and will always find some way to demolish evidence, however unfairly. "His belief system will not allow for the possibility of such events". When I asked what proof he had of this, whether he'd observed this in the Challenge testing, Alexander didn't reply.

Alexander admitted that there is "much fraud and frontloading...in Remote viewing today. The field is so contaminated -- some professor in Georgia attends a one week course then rewrites the whole field...It's a buyer beware situation." And sometimes, he said, Ed Dames "speaks without thinking", making outrageous predictions based on inadequate work. But he insists that Dames is really a psychic and is well-meaning. Alexander mentioned that he would like to challenge Randi to meet Uri Geller in Washington again.

I was thinking that Randi probably wouldn't bother since (if I'm remembering this correctly), on the Johnny Carson show, in front of millions of people, Randi already demonstrated that Geller was a fraud. Geller has been discredited more than once. Why do it again?

Alexander also said that there is no real scientific judging process in Randi's challenge, nothing that would take into account minute changes after psychokinesis results, for example; nothing that would allow for an extended period of testing and looking in detail at patterns. Psychic phenomena was not always blatantly quantifiable, at least not without looking at patterns and results over a number of days or weeks. Results may not be black and white clear but will be indicative of something real there. Randi didn't allow for that.

And anyway, Alexander said, the money for the Challenge is bogus -- is not available, he claimed. It's all just pledges by different people and, he said, Randi had assured them they will never have to pay it.

Alexander referred me to paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the psychic challenge as being specifically unfair, something that Dames couldn't agree to.

From paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the Challenge: "Tests will be designed in such a way that no 'judging' procedure is required. Results will be self-evident to any observer, in accordance with the rules which will be agreed upon by all parties in advance of any formal testing procedure taking place. No part of the testing procedure may be changed in any way without the express agreement of all parties concerned. Mr Randi, though present at formal tests, will not directly interact with the materials used. . . . The applicant may be asked and/or required to perform informally before an appointed representative, if distance and time dictate that need, for purposes of determining if the applicant is likely to perform as promised. This is to eliminate the need for formal testing in such cases. There is no limit on the number of times an applicant may re-apply. All expenses...are the sole responsibility of the claimant."

The first two lines quoted above are bound to be controversial, in this context. "Results will be self-evident to any observer". Two people may disagree about what's self evident or what generally constitutes acceptable evidence. But then Randi's challenge does go on to say that this is to be "in accordance with the rules which will be agreed upon by all parties". So the applicant could come up with something that would be agreeable to all parties as adequately definitive. He has input too, here. It seems to me that the applicant, too, is protected by the "no part of the testing proceedure may be changed in any way" business. The pre-screening business Alexander apparently was referring to seems to be the bit about the applicant possibly being asked to perform informally before an appointed representative -- I can see why this is in the application. Clearly this sort of thing will attract numerous nutcases. Some could be dangerous. But the main objection to testing everyone that comes along right away is that you'll get as many paranoids and schizophrenics and paranoid-schizophrenics that way as known Remote viewers or psychics and this could mean wasting heaps of time and money. If a guy is obviously delusional, or hasn't got a shred of an "act" together, or is some kind of con artist, it's reasonable to dismiss him before formal testing. They test people formally all the time, for the challenge, Randi says, so we know that lots of people get through the preliminary screening. And he indicated to me that he would test Dames anytime Dames wanted -- no need, then, for a screening for Dames. And as to expenses being the sole responsibility of the claimant -- So? What's wrong with that? Does the Foundation pay for a free trip to Washington for everyone who claims to be psychic?

I see nothing objectionable in the application, at all -- unless one disputes the need for a self-evident proof. What is meant by self-evident? This perhaps needs to be spelled out.

Still -- Since the challenge offers ONE MILLION DOLLARS for proof of psychic phenomenon, it naturally requires clear-cut proof. And naturally requires that the tested individual agree to the rules, otherwise any one could claim he/she passed the test but is being refused the money, and then mount an opportunistic lawsuit.

But wait -- is there a million dollars to be given to a prizewinner? Does it exist?

Yes. Because so many people objected to the pledge system, the money has been set aside in an account. A "special announcement" about this is easily obtainable at www.randi.org. "The Club 2000 prize, one million dollars awardable to any person who provides good evidence to prove any psychic, supernatural or occult power or event, is still unclaimed and it's now even more accessible. The money is in the James Randi Educational Foundation Prize Account held by Golman Sachs, New York..."

So the money is there now; it's in a specific, confirmable place, all of it.

I called Randi and asked him what he thought of Alexander's other allegations.

As to Fijian firewalking, he says he never said he couldn't explain it, and in fact he has done the firewalking himself! There's a skeptic in California who demonstrates how it's done every two weeks! He shows volunteers how to do it. Basically the islanders use a volcanic rock which does not hold heat -- these rocks have low "specific heat", like the space shuttle tiles.

As for the challenge tests... First, he said, "I don't design the tests." So there's no need to make it all Randi's doing. There are various scientists involved. As to the self evident proof issue, Randi says that claiming the money because you came up with the right answer on the ESP cards fractionally more often than would be likely by probability is not acceptable -- because that can be accounted for by chance. There is lots of variance in what is probable; that's why it's called "probable" instead of "for sure". That sort of test is just too vague, too arguable, to trickable, too open to interpretation. It has to be definitive proof. One example: They have a locked cabinet at the foundation offices; they change the secret object in it every so often. He challenges psychics to tell him what it is, what it is definitely. If it's a ketchup bottle, say "It's a ketchup bottle". Don't say, "it's more long than it is squat and it's not yellow or blue and glass is involved, perhaps". Say it's a ketchup bottle.

These people are not giving away a million dollars for arguable "indicators". They are giving out a million buckeroos in exchange for definite proof. I don't see what's unreasonable in that. The bottom line is, the burden of proof is on the claimant.

Randi says that what Dames does "is not Remote Viewing". If it is a real thing, then real Remote Viewing doesn't mean saying "I see a plane somewhere in the southern hemisphere...there's a lake somewhere nearby. It may or may not be a spyplane."

It means saying what it is and where it is clearly, or RV is useless.

(I didn't ask him about Jimmy Carter's having mentioned Remote Viewing being used to find a downed aircraft in Central America, but since originally having heard about it, I've also heard that the object was only "very roughly" located by RV and they knew it was somewhere in Central America anyway so it was all very indefinite).

Randi points out that many psychics charge money, meaning, we suppose, that they want money. And if they had the psychic powers that would get them the million dollars, they would demonstrate them. But the famous ones don't show up to be tested because they know they wouldn't pass, because the tests are rigorous and then they'd be discredited and lose customers. This is why, presumably, Uri Geller doesn't come around to be tested though he "spelunks" oil, psychically, for money, for some overseas oil-location concerns. He can count on once in a while hitting oil by chance and having them ignore the majority of times when he was wrong; but if he's tested rigorously he'll fail, and lose that intermittent geyser of oil-spelunking cash-flow.

"If you can do it and get a million bucks for doing it, why not do it?" Randi asked. And he went on, "If I go out on the street and see a man with a violin and bow in his hands and if I say to him, If you play the violin for me I'll give you a million dollars, you bet he'll play the violin for me, and fast." But the famous psychics refuse to "play the violin" to get the money.

Lesser known people convinced they have psychic powers come around and take the tests and then, Randi says, when they leave they always say "but it worked so well until today." But they don't really argue. They're saying that to save face.

He'll happily test Dames but he knows, he says, what would happen if Dames took the test. Dames, being a fraud, will fail and then say that the room was too cold, or there were negative vibrations, or something, interfering with his powers.

And while Dames evidently did once work for the CIA as part of its tests of Remote Viewing, Randi (somewhat gleefully) points out that the "head of the CIA himself publicly declared that Dames found absolutely nothing for the CIA." The Remote Viewing program, the director said, had been "a waste of 20 million dollars. There were no results."

But of course Believers will claim the CIA director was spreading disinformation, covering up. They don't trust military or intelligence sources -- and yet when a guy comes along claiming to have worked for the military, or for an intelligence service, like Corso and Dames, Believers will cite that background as proof of his credibility. Is there a contradiction here?

Why, Randi wondered, would people believe Ed Dames over James Randi? What makes Dames more trustworthy with respect to his account of the Psychic Challenge? Randi is not the one claiming to Remote View alien spacecraft. Who is the one making bizarre claims?

"The one thing that people like Ed Dames dread is to be tested," he went on. "Ed Dames has too much to lose."

The Reader who got me to do all this expensive phone calling was clearly a Believer (I won't give his name; he seems like a nice guy, even intelligent, if a bit naïve). In several emails he defended Remote Viewing, and Dames, but at last admitted that he'd taken a seminar from Dames, and was working on his own Remote Viewing in a studentish sort of way. Hence he was perhaps not unbiased where the RV and Dames issue is concerned: he'd invested money in it, and time, and that means his ego is invested too. If he admits RV is bogus, then he admits he was taken in, and feels a fool. And that has a lot to do with Believership across throughout the UFO and paranormal field.

Does all this mean I think that there is no such thing as psychic phenomena? No, I know for a fact that some psychic phenomena exists -- but I cannot prove that it is a fact and hence will not relate how I know what I know: it would be mere hearsay. I cannot carry the burden of proof. And it would be telling tales out of "school".

But I think Randi is entirely right to take the approach he does and, indeed, to be as skeptical as he is. He would be right to disbelieve me. We are better off being strict rationalists, scientists, with respect to these issues, than being fuzzy minded about it. Because experience has demonstrated that pretty much all who claim these abilities are mistaken, or lying. And it is unwise to make yourself vulnerable to liars. They are lying for a reason. Sometimes, making oneself vulnerable to liars of this sort can be lethal. I refuse to forget Heaven's Gate, or the Solar Temple deaths.

* * *

It's funny how emotional people get -- yes including me -- about all this. I was having lunch with a Believer friend of mine, very intelligent fellow who was getting visibly upset (though trying to conceal it), when I kept poking holes in each of his "unassailable cases" of flying saucer encounters. He seemed to have an emotional need to believe.

At a UFO convention, I think it was last year, Phil Klass, the skeptic, was forced to leave an event because he was "a disinformation agent" or something similar. They forced this frail old gentleman, who has trouble walking nowadays, to leave the room, though he had every right to be there. It was an emotionally childish thing to do to him.

I've spoke to Mr Klass on the phone and he was patient, kind-hearted (he was very concerned about his friend Bruce Maccabee being taken in by Ed Walters -- he was genuinely worried for Maccabee), and even open minded. He was mature about disagreeing.

It's true that many skeptics froth at the mouth, too. Like me: I get flamboyantly frustrated at times. I've especially noted this phenomenon with respect to atheists -- atheists are strangely emotional about atheism. They get angry. But it's strange -- isn't atheism supposed to be supremely rational? Not emotional? I understand agnostics, who say they don't know -- but I don't understand atheists. Can they rationally prove, absolutely, that there is no God?

I don't see how. Not in any absolute way. So how can they be so...dogmatic?

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HURRAY! SHIRLEY'S GUARANTEED LAST WORDS ABOUT UFOS EVER!...ALMOST...

I got into the whole Ed Dames issue as part of a discussion about Remote Viewers, who have "diversified" into the UFO field, doubtless to get additional lecture fees and seminar customers.

Recently I went to look at another facet of the burgeoning UFO industry, a Web site which supposedly had the goods on alien-implants. As far as I've ever been able to discover, any anomalous object clearly found to have been discovered hidden away in human tissue turned out to be bits of, say, Coca-Cola glass (these things often turn up in the foot, figure it out), odd bits of conventional synthetics, metal splinters and so forth. Even truly anomalous objects found in human tissue could easily have been put there by the "implantee" -- self mutilation is a common neurotic problem, and some people will go to great lengths to get attention. Alien Implants is a case where "burden of proof" really applies. There are so many, many ways odd little objects can have turned up subdermally in a few of the hundreds of millions of Americans. Ask a dermatologist or an internist: it happens all the time. And indeed, if real implants turn up they are more likely to have some sinister human origin (surveillance testing) than some sinister alien origin. Collateral evidence in the form of hypnotically reclaimed memories is, of course, useless, since hypnotically reclaiming "hidden" memories has been shown to have no scientific basis. "Implantees" who remember encounters with aliens or mysterious lights are probably priming the pump of belief in others. That is, they're lying. And X-ray photos, by the way, are easily faked.

But who knows, maybe these people have real evidence, I thought, so I went to look...

The closest thing to "evidence" I found was a letter of opinion regarding samples from "implants" analyzed by New Mexico tech. The sample had a "coating" of some hard shiny material that "could not be cut with a scalpel" -- implying alien high tech, I take it. The letter of opinion states that the sample provided an elemental analysis similar to some meteorites...at first. It seems that the Implant enthusiasts connect meteors with outer space and outer space with aliens therefore this chunk of non-artifact metal has some connection with aliens. Somehow.

The report concludes "An altogether different hypothesis can be formulated based on the fact that these specimens were extracted from an human body. An iron sliver, embedded in human tissue, could possibly cause a calcification reaction. This would explain the presence of calcium and phosphorous on the surface of the samples. Chlorapatite and other calcium phosphate minerals are the major component of hard tissue...In fact calcium phosphate based ceramics have been used in medicine and dentistry for nearly twenty years due to their bioactive nature. In light of this, even if the cladding was not formed inside the body but rather entered the tissue in its entirety as a sliver from a stone it is not surprising that the body had no adverse reaction to the foreign object..." So the mysterious coating is calcium generated by the body and the sliver is just iron with some elemental structure sort of like, but not definitively like, a meteor. Stunning.

I saw nothing else like real evidence at the Web site.

I remarked on this lack to an email list, and got a reply from a Dr Lier (or Leir, I don't care enough about the guy to look it up just now), telling me to shut up, as I wasn't "knowledgeable" in that area. This fellow, I believe, is a podiatrist who found the above implant (or other implants) in someone's foot and then joined Derrel Sims' Circus of Implants. I replied that I was thinking of writing about it and if he would like to give me evidence that would contradict my current views, why, I'd publish that evidence. I also asked him if he'd heard of Derrel Sims' checkered past. The Foot Doctor replied IN FONT LIKE THIS THROUGH THE WHOLE EMAIL that I was obviously not a scientist, not party to the information that he had, that I was reacting to rumors and surface information found on the unreliable Internet (I agree about the Internet's unreliability) and that the real evidence was not being made available to the public so I should, in effect, shut up and go away. So he claims to have evidence confirming alien implants but won't give it to us ...And he was going to forward my libelous email, in which I repeated mere gossip, to Sims. And he didn't want to get any more email from me. I sent him email immediately saying that it wasn't gossip, there is documentation of Sims claiming to have wrestled with an alien and there is documentation for his having tried to sell "learn to be a black belt in karate in one hour" snake oil. I of course haven't heard from the Foot Doctor again.

Con artists and Foot Doctors are honored guests at UFO conventions. Doddering old spies, in exchange for lucrative book contracts and tv movie deals, are feted for their completely unsubstantiated claims to have seen Roswell debris artifacts that were supposed basis of our modern technology, becoming our transistors. Transistors?! The aliens who travel between the star systems used transistors in their spacecraft! But they probably have atomic powered AM radios. Corso also admitted to treason against the United States: he says he met an alien in a cave who asked him to turn off the radar at a nearby Air Force base -- and he did! He's turning off our radar for aliens from another world? That's treason, isn't it? No, it's a SILLY STORY....Jazz singers who claim to have had sex with reptilian aliens are interviewed in the once-respectable CNI newsletter...Earnest members of MUFON pay for lectures by channelers and pseudo-academic snake oil salesmen ("the ancient Sumerians were aliens") and for guys like Stephen Greer who ludicrously claim to be able to summon UFOs through a form of telepathy called "vectoring in" ...Ufologists stare at blow ups of tin foil trash in photos released to the newspapers of the "weather balloon" (read, Mogul balloon) debris...And my 11 year old son, when he saw that article, said, "But if it was really flying saucer debris they wouldn't have allowed a photograph of it in the newspaper." Very true, my boy.

But that's the state UFOlogy is in. Foot Doctors and snake oil salesmen rule. Openmindedness is one thing but collaborating in making ufology look moronic is another. But then again it looks as if it doesn't need any help: UFOlogy, in general, has an IQ of 83. So I'm blowing off the UFO field and will concentrate on other areas in this column --after next column, when I have my FINAL WORD....in which I give you my New Hypothesis on What UFOs Really Are...

Did you hear the roll of the tympani?

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