July 1989 +quot;BASIS+quot;, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics Bay Area Skeptics Informa
July 1989 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics
Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet
Vol. 8, No. 7
Editor: Kent Harker
ONWARD CHRISTIAN HEALERS
by Kent Harker
[The claims of supernatural healing have long been a subject of
skeptical interest. Nearly all religious societies have healing
rituals and concomitant stories of miraculous recovery. There is
usually an effort to protect the entire practice from careful
scientific analysis lest what is considered sacred be drawn into
profaning scrutiny. Thus it is indeed rare for someone with
scientific credentials to offer up something more than the
anecdotal evidence to which we have become inured.]
I have an acquaintance who is ever on the lookout for ways to
enlighten me. When people learn one is a skeptic, he or she often
becomes something of a target for other's boy-have-I-got-something-
to-show-you tidbit. An article, report, or a "someone said" is
gleefully stuffed in our face with a taunt, "Just explain THAT!"
Well, this person is a believer in Christian healing. I explained
that a genuine healing would likely be a testable claim, and that
in spite of innumerable anecdotes I remain unconvinced.
In July of last year he came into possession of a 1982 newspaper
clipping, which he mailed to me, reporting that a San Francisco
medical doctor had clinical proof that prayer aided the healing
process. He was nonplused when I said I put almost no credence in
"But this is a report from a medical doctor at a recognized
hospital!" he insisted. "That's proof!"
My reply that I had to see the actual study before I could make any
kind of judgment left him slack jawed. He vowed he would get the
report. I didn't hear from him much during the ensuing five months,
but I knew he was digging away, trying to trace the story down. In
early December he called me. There was a touch of smugness in his
voice as he told me he had finally found the doctor in question and
that he had a copy of the study in his hands. I shortly had it in
The report, "Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer
[IP] in a Coronary Care Unit Population," was published in updated
version in the "Southern Medical Journal", vol. 81, No. 7, July
1988. The author and researcher, Dr. Randolph Byrd, MD (himself a
fundamentalist Christian), conducted his study at San Francisco
General Medical Center in the coronary care unit over a period of
10 months (from August 1982 to May 1983).
The study drew 393 patients, 192 in the study group and 201 in the
control group. The conclusions of this work apparently stirred
national attention and were mentioned on Paul Harvey's broadcast.
During the ten-month period, Dr. Byrd requested all patients in the
CCU to participate in the study, a total of 450. Fifty-seven
(14.5%) declined for various reasons. Those who agreed to take part
were told the nature and purpose of the study, and they signed
mandatory informed consent agreements. A random generator then
assigned each patient to either the study group (those for whom IP
was to be offered in addition to regular procedures) or to the
control group (those receiving only "traditional" therapies), and
both the medical staff and patients were blinded as to the
membership of each group.
Finally, Byrd chose "intercessors" on the following basis: They
were "born-again Christians (according to the Gospel of John 3:3)
with an active Christian life. . . ." These intercessors were then
randomly assigned a patient in the study group for whom they were
to pray daily, outside the hospital, until the patient was
I haven't taken the time to do in-depth analyses of Dr. Byrd's
statistical rigor -- I will assume it is adequate. At least it
seems to be upon cursory examination. (Note: At the time of this
writing, other researchers with whom I have had contact are looking
into Byrd's statistical presentation. Indications are that those
analyses will be published in the summer issue of "Free Inquiry",
journal of the Humanist Association.)
Normally "BASIS" does not enter the arena of theological questions,
but conditions of Dr. Byrd's experiment merit setting that policy
aside because he presents it as a scientific study with theological
If one conducts a double-blind study on the efficacy of a drug, a
direct cause-effect relationship is obtainable, and the researcher
looks for consistency in that relationship. The method of
application and strength of the dosage can then be modified and
studied as the active agents are pinpointed.
We will see that Dr. Byrd's study purports to show that prayer
results in more rapid improvement, significant in six of twenty-
six coronary conditions (see Table p. 3). But there is no way to
recognize the affect of prayer on a SPECIFIC condition. The first
question I asked myself is why those specific six for which this
study showed significance? I have little doubt that if Byrd
repeated the study, some other group of conditions would be
In other words, there would be little or no correlation between IP
and which specific symptom or condition should improve. For this
and other reasons I must consider the theological ramifications.
There are six references in the New Testament which indicate it is
the faith OF THE PERSON BEING HEALED that is the operant (e.g.,
Mark 5:34). On a specific occasion, even the most powerful miracle
worker, Jesus, was unable to effect a miracle because of the lack
of faith of His hearers: "And He could do no miracle there. . . .
And He marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6)"
What are the general HUMAN developments of intercessory prayer?
What does it mean that God may choose to heal some members of the
study group -- in an apparently random fashion if Byrd's sample is
statistically valid -- for whom IP is invoked? Since the study and
the control groups were randomly chosen it is just as likely that
non-born-again Christians in the study group were the beneficiaries
Does the fact that born-again Christians were the intercessors have
any implications about the efficacy of mainline Christian and non-
Christian pleadings for God's mercy? (Jews, Moslems and Catholics
assert that God heals and saves them.) Can the alleged healing
effects of IP be separated from these moral questions?
Now for some problems I see in the protocol. The intercessors
prayed outside the hospital and it was not established in the study
what other outside contact patients had with loved ones and other
support groups. What about the prayers we can imagine were offered
by family and friends on behalf of some in the control group?
Many studies show that close contact of a large support group is
beneficial for obvious (non-religious) reasons. Byrd's failure to
monitor or consider the results of this variable is a flaw.
Looking over the data, (Dr. Byrd did a scientifically commendable
job of presenting the data -- even that which does not entirely
support his conclusion) there are yet other questions that greatly
trouble me, again from the humane perspective. The six conditions
to improve to any statistically significant degree were, in order
of highest significance, (1) intubation/ventilation, (2)
antibiotics, (3) cardiopulmonary arrest, (4) congestive heart
failure, (5) pneumonia, and (6) diuretics.
In other words, IP was most likely to lessen patient's time on
intubation devices and to reduce the amounts of antibiotics they
needed. Two in the study group suffered cardiopulmonary arrest
while seven of the controls did. While those in the study group
were ten times more likely to enjoy the considerably less-desired
results (1) and (2), I want to ask myself a flood of questions
about those who benefited from condition (3).
What about the two poor buggers for whom prayer was offered but
they fell anyway? How were they chosen for their fate? If a
particular medication is being tested there are no moral questions
involved in partial or total failure. What did seven (randomly-
chosen) misbegotten souls do wrong to find themselves in the wrong
group (the controls) by the fall of the dice that resulted in their
suffering condition (3)? Is it inconceivable that there were some
of them for whom family and friends, NOT in the intercessors,
prayed? Does this suggest that only the prayers of the designated
intercessors are potent?
Why does God seem to have a preference of cures He chooses to
confer (getting His subjects off antibiotics 8.5 times more likely
than stopping their congestive heart failures)? The preference
seems to extend to ignoring third-degree heart block, mortality(!),
coronary angiograms, and fifteen of the other conditions. Why is
unstable angina and the incidence of permanent pacemakers less
frequent (although not statistically significant) in the control
Based upon the experiment, the general improvement of the study
group was better. This neglects the most important aspect of the
INDIVIDUAL. Again, this is a moral question, and only has validity
when a moral agent -- God -- is allegedly part of the cause.
Behind these nameless statistics are the lives of human beings
stricken with life-threatening maladies and the human tragedy
wreaked on their own and in the lives of their families. What does
this study say about them? That they are less worthy? If the
randomization process was accurate, the control group should have
contained the same proportion of born-again Christians as the study
group; what about them?
Other controlled, replicated studies have been done, studies that
eliminate some of the bias I see in Dr. Byrd's work. In one such,
patients were told that a prayer group was interceding in their
behalf in an adjoining room. In a statistically significant
proportion, they improved as compared with a control group which
was told nothing.
In fact, there had been no such intercessory effort. When the test
was reversed, i.e., an intercessory group prayed away in an
adjoining room AND THE PATIENTS KNEW NOTHING ABOUT IT, there was
no significant difference in the patients' conditions. This study
seems to show that intercessory prayer works, but not for the
reasons that Dr. Byrd might like to think, I'm sure.
I am unwilling to accept the oft-quoted reason -- no, excuse --
"God works in mysterious ways."
It is well established that the most nearly universal drug is the
placebo. Roughly 35% of all patients respond to a placebo, be it
psychic surgery, faith healing, sugar pills, hypnosis, or an
unimaginable host of other preparations, nostrums and incantations.
How did Dr. Byrd control for the placebo effect?
Study Variable St. Cn. P
Days in CCU after entry 2.0 2.4 -
Days in hospital after entry 7.6 7.6 -
Number of discharge medications 3.7 4.0 -
Problems After Entry No. No. P
Antianginal agents 21 19 -
Antiarrhythmics 17 27 -
Antibiotics 3 17 .005
Arterial pressure monitoring 7 15 -
Cardiopulmonary arrest 3 14 .02
Central pressure monitoring 6 15 -
Congestive heart failure 8 20 .03
Coronary angiography 17 21 -
Diuretics 5 15 .05
Extension of infarction 3 6 -
Gastrointestinal bleeding 1 3 -
Hypotension 3 7 -
Inotropic agents 8 16 -
Intubation/ventilation 0 12 .002
Major surgery before discharge 5 14 -
Mortality 13 17 -
Permanent pacemaker 3 1 -
Pneumonia 3 13 .03
Readmissions to CCU 14 14 -
Sepsis 4 7 -
Supraventricular tachyarrhythmia 8 15 -
Temporary pacemaker 4 1 -
Third-degree heart block 3 2 -
Unstable angina 20 18 -
Vasodilators 8 12 -
Ventricular fibrillation 14 17 -
(P= Significance, St. = Study group; Cn. = Control group; No. =
number of patients, "-" denotes not statistically significant. P
is the probability of chance occurrence: P <= .05 is significant.)
KNOWING WHEN NOT TO BELIEVE THE UNBELIEVABLE
by Wallace Sampson, MD
In early July, 1988, a "Newsweek" reporter me called to write an
analysis of the "Nature" article titled "When To Believe the
Unbelievable," in which Benveniste and associates claimed to have
demonstrated the validity of homeopathy.
The data in the Benveniste report were strange, and the conclusions
were indeed unbelievable. Dilutions of an antibody to
concentrations of 10 to the minus 60 and of 10 to the minus 120
had the same effect on basophil (a type of white blood cell)
degranulation as did the optimal concentration of about 10 to the
The conclusions seemed to be consistent with homeopathic theory and
practice, two principles of which are: 1) The principle of "Similia
similibus curantur", or "like cures like", in which one uses
substances that induce symptoms of the illness rather than to use
drugs that counter those symptoms, and 2) the principle of
dilution, according to which the paper states that "solutions of
a substance so dilute that no molecules of it likely remains, are
effective remedies for numerous disorders."
If no molecules remain, what is left to impart activity? The
authors admitted that at the dilution of their antibody solution
(a molar concentration of 2.2 x 10 to the minus 20 M) no molecule
of the substance is likely to be present in the small amount
tested. Chemical laws state that the more dilute the solution of
a substance, the less the solution's activity, with certain
exceptions (enzymes and their substrates often have optimal
concentrations that may be specific for each set, determined by
But they explained their results by the usual homeopathic argument
that dilution and a ritual of shaking imparted potency to the
water: Water "remembered" the quality and imparted activity to the
substrate -- in this case, basophil granules -- which released
histamine on contact with the water. The authors claimed that the
experiments were authentic, and that they were repeated in four
separate institutions in four countries.
As I analyzed the data I was bothered by periodic peaks and troughs
of activity that appeared with increasing dilutions of the test
material; I learned that these were typical of homeopathy
experiments. These peaks and troughs should have represented random
variation and experimental error, but they seemed to be too
I could not determine with certainty what was wrong with the
methods, so I speculated on how such results might have been
obtained. When I spoke with the "Newsweek" reporter again, I told
her that there were four possibilities, two natural, one unnatural,
and one supernatural.
One natural explanation is that the experiments were authentic, and
that the results occurred by chance. The likelihood of just one
experiment showing such activity by water alone is unrealistic. The
chances of four sets of experiments showing the same results are
too small to imagine.
The second natural explanation is one of a systematic or human
error in method, unknown to the investigator, that was repeated by
all four institutions. Perhaps the same person performed the
experiments or a crucial part of them in each. (I subsequently
found out that the same person did perform the experiments at least
in France and Israel.)
It is possible for the same pipettes to be used repeatedly, and,
depending on the way the dilutions were set up, for there to be
contamination of successive tubes in a periodic fashion. There
could be contamination of successive tubes in a periodic fashion.
There could be conscious or unconscious bias in setting up and
performing the experiments or in their analyses.
There might have been error in reading the samples for
degranulation. The method is not quantitative and depends on
personal interpretation. Sometimes basophils degranulate partially.
Staining varies from day to day because of changes in pH,
temperature, etc. (The authors should have selected a more
quantitative test with automatic recording devices such as the
uptake or discharge of a radioactive labeled substance. There are
hundreds of such systems. Instead, they selected the basophil
degranulation method, which, if not tightly controlled, could be
misinterpreted.) At any rate, I included these possibilities under
The unnatural explanation was that the experiments were faked.
Someone could have spiked active material into the wells in which
the cells were incubated, with or without the knowledge of the main
author. Perhaps someone toyed with the raw data and fudged and
plotted them according to a preconceived notion. Such things have
happened before. The supernatural explanation was that the whole
thing was true, so we have a new universe to deal with.
When the "Newsweek" article appeared my skeptical comments were
not included. The article ended with a statement that perhaps
Benveniste was really on to something and that the medical world
should pay attention to the possible validity of homeopathy.
However, a three-member team from "Nature" would go to Paris to
observe the researchers perform the experiments.
The team's report was published in "Nature" a month later. They
found a combination of loose or non-existent controls, possible
equipment contamination, data manipulation, and data selection
(keeping positive results and rejecting the negative). When the
experiment was run under their strictly monitored controls, the
results were negative. A series of letters to "Nature" was
published with critiques, and with negative results from other
This question remained: by a critical reading of the original
paper, could one show the claims to be invalid? Analysis of the
study shows that even if the experiments and results were
authentic, 1) they are unreproducible, thus of no use to
homeopathic practice and, 2) the results suggest that homeopathy
is more likely to worsen a patient's condition than to heal.
The first clue to unreproducibility is in the third paragraph of
the Benveniste report: ". . . similar results were obtained AT ONE
OR THE OTHER PART of the high dilution scale in the participating
laboratories." If the experiment were reproducible, the specific
dilutions would have been consistent at all parts of the scale from
one lab to another. This hints that the peak activities reported
might be random.
Later in the paragraph is the statement: "The repetitive waves of
anti-IgE-induced degranulation COULD SHIFT BY ONE OR TWO DILUTIONS
WITH EVERY FRESH SEQUENTIAL DILUTION OF ANTI-IgE AND DEPENDED ON
THE BLOOD SAMPLE." Each dilution in homeopathy is usually ten-fold.
The mean number of dilutions between each peak and the adjacent
trough in the paper's Fig. 1 was 3.94 dilutions.
If the peaks and troughs of activity could vary by one or two
dilutions either way, the peak value of activity in one run could
shift half way toward a trough value of the next. Since the authors
imply that the variation pertains to the same solution in
sequential runs, predictability from any single solution is
In other words, a homeopath might "prove" a specific dilution to
be effective in a patient once, but could not be certain of the
same effect at the time for the next treatment. One would have no
way to determine what dilution to use from one time to the next.
The problem was not recognized or was ignored by the authors.
The second problem is the conclusion that these results support
the theory and practice of homeopathy. The authors state: "These
results may be related to the recent double-blind clinical study
of Reilly et al. which showed a significant reduction of symptoms
in hay-fever patients treated with a high dilution (10 to the 60th)
of grass pollen vs. placebo. . ." .
However, the results show that very dilute "solutions" (actually,
water only) seem to produce the same effect as solutions of optimal
concentration of material. If the water still shows effects
quantitatively the same as those of concentrated solutions, it
should reproduce quantitatively the symptom of the illness.
In this case, the water causes just as much histamine release from
basophil granules as an optimal amount of an allergy-causing
substance. Hence the treatment solution would cause just as much
asthma or hay fever as that produced by maximum stimulation by the
allergen material. One must conclude that the results paradoxically
support the view that if homeopathic treatment "works," it must
worsen or prolong the illness.
On a practical level: Because homeopathy has never been proven,
analysis of the Benveniste paper supports the skeptical view that
homeopathic solutions are in reality ineffective, that the results
of these experiments probably have other explanations such as
equipment contamination or misinterpretation of data, and that any
improvement in symptoms from homeopathic solutions is probably from
placebo effect or suggestion.
CAUTION: PSYCHICS AT WORK
by William Bennetta
[Among psychics, pseudoscientists and other purveyors of magic,
few things are coveted more keenly than the respectability that
such people may get by linking themselves, however briefly or
tenuously, to respectable institutions. This article tells of a
recent coup by a fortune-teller named Robert Willhite, who
succeeded in exploiting the California Academy of Sciences for
dignifying and propagating his claims about "clairvoyant
abilities." Our author, William Bennetta, is an advisor to BAS, a
fellow of the Academy and a research associate of the Academy's
best-known division, the Steinhart Aquarium.]
Robert Willhite seems to be an ordinary fortune-teller. His routine
is built on the reading of rune-stones -- small stones decorated
with various abstruse symbols -- but his essential methods are
evidently the same ones used by palm-readers, astrologers, crystal-
gazers and the other practitioners of divination.
After looking at some stones and then sinking into a "trance",
Willhite can tell a client that "many times, as a child, you had
to ask permission as to what you could have," and that "you have
a tendency to want to get things just right." He can even sense
that a client's adolescent son "has a tendency to like to have
people give to him," and that client and son have "known each other
before, in past lives." In short, his routine is both pedestrian
In one way, however, Willhite is unusual, and he can point to an
extraordinary commercial achievement: About two months ago, he ran
a public fortune-telling session at the California Academy of
Sciences, used the Academy for disseminating his claims to
clairvoyant powers, and even used the Academy for advertising a
commercial organization that steers prospective clients to
astrologers, numerologists, channelers, psychic healers and the
Willhite's achievement was an embarrassment to the Academy, and I
take little pleasure in describing it here. I think, however, that
my report may be useful to other academic and scientific
institutions that offer public programs, and may help them to avoid
For about six years, the Academy's Department of Anthropology has
had a Traditional Arts operation that sponsors public
demonstrations of folk arts and crafts, such as vocal music,
instrumental music, dance, story-telling, wood-working and cooking.
Several of these programs are presented each month, with emphasis
on arts and crafts from sources outside of conventional Western
Whether the participants are professionals or amateurs, they
usually are evaluated by a representative of the Department of
Anthropology, who appraises not only the content but also the
cultural significance of the proposed performances.
In the case of Robert Willhite, the usual procedures evidently did
not work. I cannot now reconstruct all the steps by which Willhite
got onto the Traditional Arts schedule, but this much is certain:
He was recommended to the Academy by a functionary of Deja Vu
In retrospect, it seems obvious that the very name of that
organization was a warning to stay away -- or, at least, a warning
that the Academy would have to conduct an especially careful
evaluation of Willhite and of the "art" that he wanted to
demonstrate. Alas, the warning was not recognized.
Deja Vu Hotline is a "psychic referral service." Its advertising
handbill offers "psychic readings in person or by telephone" and
then shows a somewhat confusing list of the specialties with which
Hotline psychics deal: "clairvoyant, business tarot, past life,
astrology relationship, body weight, pet career, numerology, and
more!" There are also "channelers" and "healers."
The Hotline is one of several enterprises, all having "Deja Vu" in
their names, that are headquartered in San Rafael and are linked
to the Berkeley Psychic Institute (BPI), a unit of the Church of
Divine Man (CDM). Graduates of BPI typically call themselves
"Reverend" and depict their operations as religious activities.
The central figures in BPI, in CDM and in the Deja Vu businesses
seem to be Lewis S. Bostwick and Susan Hull Bostwick; in some of
their roles, these two use the titles "Very Right Reverend Doctor"
and "Right Reverend," respectively. Besides the Hotline, the Deja
Vu businesses include Deja Vu Publishing Company (which issues a
monthly tabloid called the "Psychic Reader"), Deja Vu Tours (a
travel agency selling "worldwide adventures for psychics") and Deja
Vu Wedding Services.
Willhite's appearance at the Academy was set for the afternoon of
29 April (a Saturday) and was announced in the April issue of the
"Academy Newsletter", a bulletin sent to all the Academy's members.
The announcement said: "Robert Willhite demonstrates his
clairvoyant abilities in interpreting runes -- ancient Scandinavian
symbols that predate Christianity and are used as a spiritual
communication tool. Willhite will also discuss the history of these
mystical signs and their secret powers."
The performance, which drew some 100 people, took an hour and had
three major parts. For the first 35 minutes or so, Willhite gave
an incoherent, quasi-historical talk about magical beliefs and
symbols. His "history" was fatuous, and his style seemed not merely
credulous but promotional: He seemed to be trying to validate
soothsaying and magic by conveying the idea that if something is
old, and has been revered by ancient peoples, it must be right and
The second part of his program, taking some 20 minutes, was his
"demonstration" of rune-reading and of his psychic powers, which
he exercised on behalf of two people from the audience. One of
these, a woman, was the poor creature who (as Willhite magically
detected) had suffered a childhood in which she had had to seek
permission before having things. The other was the father whose
young son (as Willhite uncannily sensed) liked to have people give
stuff to him. Marvels indeed! The audience applauded vigorously.
The last part of the show was advertising. After inviting the
audience to contact him for "professional readings", Willhite
introduced Pat King, the woman who runs Deja Vu Hotline. King
promoted the Hotline and its services, including magical healing
"for yourself or for a relative, and, believe it or not, even your
pets." Then she invited the audience to take the Deja Vu handbills
and business cards that were stacked nearby.
This ended the program. There was no time allowed for questions or
comments from the audience.
I have discussed the Willhite incident with officials of the
Academy, and I believe that their views can be summarized in four
statements. First: The Academy did not investigate Willhite
properly and did not know that his "art" consisted of fortune-
telling. Second: The Academy has seen no evidence that Willhite or
anyone else has "clairvoyant abilities," and no evidence that
symbols have "secret powers."
Third: The Academy does not endorse, and never has endorsed,
Willhite or his claims or his business. Fourth: The Academy intends
to ensure that its Traditional Arts program will not again give a
platform to a pseudoscientist, a soothsayer or a sorcerer. This
applies to the commercial soothsayers who now are rampant in our
own culture, and it applies to people who may try to sell occult
rituals from exotic sources.
DEGREES OF FOLLY: PART V
by William Bennetta
The first four parts of this article ran in "BASIS" in February,
March, April and May. They told how the Private Postsecondary
Education Division (PPED) of the California State Department of
Education, in August 1988, staged an "assessment" of the ICR
Graduate School (ICRGS). The school is an arm of the Institute for
Creation Research, a fundamentalist organization that disseminates
the pseudoscience called "creation-science."
The assessment was made by a five-man committee, chosen and managed
by a PPED officer named Roy Steeves, that included two ringers --
two men who had had close associations with the ICR or with the
ICR's president, Henry Morris. The committee wrote a false,
misleading report saying that the Department's chief, Bill Honig,
should approve the ICR as a source of masters' degrees in science
and in science education.
Later, however, two of the committee's legitimate members told the
truth about the lCR; and Honig -- at least in statements that he
gave to the newspapers last December -- refused the approval. But
in January the Department drew back from that decision and began
to negotiate with the ICR.
I shall describe here the results of those negotiations, after I
make some final comments about the antics of Roy Steeves. I assume
that my readers have seen all the earlier parts of this article.
-- W.B., 11 June
MORE ABOUT MILLER
In Part IV, I told a little about G. Edwin Miller, one of the
ringers whom Roy Steeves had named to the committee; and I wondered
whether Miller had been recommended by the ICR. Here is why this
seemed important: The Department already had admitted that the
other ringer, George Howe, was "ICR's nomination"; but the
Department also had said that its "standard policy" allowed only
"one" such nomination by a school undergoing assessment.
I now know that Miller, too, was an ICR "nomination." Like Howe,
he was one the people whom Morris had recommended in a letter sent
to the Department on 7 June 1988.
PROMO BY MEMO
I saw Morris's letter a few days ago, when I went to Sacramento and
examined the PPED's whole file on the ICR case. It had many
engaging documents, but none more engaging than the memoranda in
which Steeves -- writing to the PPED's director, Joseph Barankin -
- seemed to promote the ICR, the ICR's positions, and the ICR's
pseudoscience. For example:
- On 23 May 1988, before he began to recruit the committee, Steeves
sent a memo in which he summarily declared that "they [the ICR men]
ARE scientists" and then said: "this group believes that the
universe is decaying from an original creating event. That
cosmology is remarkably similar to what they are saying at Cal
Tech. In the Biology program the underlying religious belief is
that mutation is occurring away from an original creation. At the
same time evolutionary theory is generally accepted in the
biological sciences, so is devolutionary [sic] theory accepted and
particularly in the study of mutations, which seems to be one of
their [WHOSE?] specialties."
- On 8 August, three days after the committee had written its
report, Steeves sent a memo that urged approval. Two days later,
he sent another. The second memo warned Barankin that Stuart
Hurlbert would be submitting "a letter which in his opinion is a
minority and dissenting opinion to the visit report."
- On 29 August he wrote: "There is nothing in Dr. Hurlbert's report
that I can see that was not discussed at one time or another during
the course of the Committee meetings at the school site." (He did
not suggest why so great a mass of material, if it had been
"discussed" by the committee, was not acknowledged in the
committee's own report.) Then he accused Hurlbert of "creating a
series of straw men."
- On 1 September he wrote that he was "appalled" by a comment in
which (he inferred) Hurlbert had questioned the motives of G. Edwin
Miller. Then he said: "Dr. Miller was not there as an expert on
science curriculum. He was there as an expert on school finance."
(Steeves did not tell that Miller, whatever the reason for his
presence on the committee, had VOTED on the ICR's "science"
Later Steeves announced that "These [ICR men] are quite capable of
teaching science and they do so." (He did not disclose how he had
learned that.) Finally he declared: "This thing is a dispute
between theists and atheists. . . ."
So there it was: the ICR's "two- model" stuff, neat and pure.
People who saw the ICR's charlatanry for what it was, and who
objected to the state's certifying it as science, were
Did Steeves really believe what he wrote? Did he really think that
Caltech professors were teaching a cosmology in which modern
physics was summarily rejected and in which the universe was only
6,000 years old? Did he really think that modern biology had a
"devolutionary theory" that figured in "the study of mutations"?
I do not know.
STILL AT IT
Roy Steeves is still on the Department's payroll, and -- as I told
in Part IV -- the Department has undertaken a cover-up that
includes an effort to justify Steeves's conduct. Right now, the
chief element of the cover-up seems to be a plain refusal to answer
mail. During the past two months, several people who are following
the ICR case have sent inquiries to Bill Honig, including inquiries
about the matter of G. Edwin Miller, but to no avail. One such
letter was dispatched on 6 April and still has not been
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?
After the Department, in January, abandoned its announced decision
to deny approval, Joseph Barankin made a kind of agreement with the
ICR's lawyer, Wendell Bird. I say "kind of" because the agreement
is so burdened by undefined terms, unspecified conditions and
unanswered questions that it does not seem to be a respectable
effort. It is embodied in two letters -- one sent to the Department
by Bird on 10 January, the other sent by Barankin to Bird on 3
In April, after studying the letters, I sent to Barankin some
questions about their content. He has not replied. Here is my own,
unaided reading of the major points in his deal with the ICR:
- The ICR says that it will revise its "science courses" and
"science curriculum," conforming them to science courses and
curricula at accredited schools. During this effort, "ICRGS's
interpretations" will be removed from all courses that will carry
credit toward science degrees. "Interpretations" will be confined
to courses or activities that will not count toward degrees.
Barankin, then, has accepted two bizarre propositions. One is that
natural sciences, and science courses at accredited schools, exist
as mere piles of information, unsullied by interpretation or
thought. The other is that the ICRGS, which is explicitly a
creationist "ministry," really intends to excise creationist
"interpretations" from its degree programs and intends to relegate
creationism to some peripheral diversions.
- To learn whether the ICR has made the contemplated revisions, the
Department will dispatch a new committee. One member will be
selected (not merely suggested or recommended) by the ICR. The
total number of members is not specified.
- The new committee will examine the ICR's programs in biology,
geology and "astro/geophysics," but not the program in science
education. That program evidently will get another free ride, like
the one that was awarded to it, last August, by Roy Steeves.
In my April query to Barankin, I asked whether, in making the
agreement, he had had advice from anyone who knew about science.
I also asked: If the Department were to approve the ICRGS's
interpretation-less courses, how much would the Department have to
spend annually to monitor the courses and to ensure that no
"interpretations" were creeping in? I am sorry that Barankin
refused to answer.
The ICR has asked the Department to conduct the new examination by
early August. I do not know whether the Department has yet picked
a date or has chosen any members for the new committee.
SIDEBAR: CATHY AND JOEY AND S.B. 190
S.B. 190, State Senator Becky Morgan's bill that would reform the
regulation of unaccredited schools operating in California, has
been endorsed by both the Senate Education Committee and the Senate
Appropriations Committee. The bill would create a new agency for
controlling unaccredited colleges and vocational schools, would
remove that function from the Department of Education, and would
abolish the PPED.
The Education Committee approved S.B. 190 on 3 May, by a vote of
9 to 0, after a brief hearing. A report of the committee's
proceeding, written by Diane Curtis, ran in the "San Francisco
Chronicle" on 4 May, under the headline "`Diploma Mill' Bill
Advances." Here is an excerpt:
Catherine Sizemore, lobbyist for the California
Association of Private Postsecondary Schools, led the
opposition, which was joined by 17 leaders of
Sizemore said her organization shared Morgan's concerns,
but disagreed that the best way to achieve reform was to
take authority away from the present regulator, the
[PPED], and create a new state agency.
Sizemore, who has made no secret of her live-in
relationship with [the PPED's] director, Joseph Barankin,
said the regulators have been hamstrung by lack of staff
and money to oversee the schools. Rather than create a
new agency, she said, [the PPED] should be given a chance
to implement reforms approved by the Legislature in the
past five years.
I find irony in Sizemore's effort, for I think that she herself -
- through her relationship with Barankin, and its insistent
suggestion of a conflict of interest -- has done much to promote
the legislation in question. Bill Honig has known for months about
Barankin's affair with Sizemore, who represents many schools that
the PPED presumably oversees; and by tolerating the appearance of
ethical conflict, Honig seems to have said that the Department of
Education has no interest in straightening the PPED out. I
speculate, then, that some senators will see S.B. 190 as the only
practical way to achieve reforms.
A representative of the Department observed the Education
Committee's hearing but did not testify. Later in May, the
Department began active opposition to the bill.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved S.B. 190 on 12 June,
by consent -- that is, without a debate or a vote. (This was
possible because the bill, if enacted into law, would have no
significant effect on the state's general fund.) S.B. 190 now will
be considered by the full Senate. -- W.B.
BAS BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Chair: Larry Loebig
Vice Chair: Yves Barbero
Secretary: Rick Moen
Treasurer: Kent Harker
William J. Bennetta, Scientific Consultant
Dean Edell, M.D., ABC Medical Reporter
Donald Goldsmith, Ph.D., Astronomer and Attorney
Earl Hautala, Research Chemist
Alexander Jason, Investigative Consultant
Thomas H. Jukes, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
John E. McCosker, Ph.D., Director, Steinhart Aquarium
Richard J. Ofshe, Ph.D.,U. C. Berkeley
Bernard Oliver, Ph.D., NASA Ames Research Center
Kevin Padian, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
James Randi, Magician, Author, Lecturer
Francis Rigney, M.D., Pacific Presbyterian Med. Center
Wallace I. Sampson, M.D., Stanford University
Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., Anthropologist
Robert Sheaffer, Technical Writer, UFO expert
Robert A. Steiner, CPA, Magician, Lecturer, Writer
Lowell D. Streiker, Ph.D., Anthropology, Religion
Jill C. Tarter, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
Opinions expressed in "BASIS" are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect those of BAS, its board or its advisors.
The above are selected articles from the July, 1989 issue of
"BASIS", the monthly publication of Bay Area Skeptics. You can
obtain a free sample copy by sending your name and address to BAY
AREA SKEPTICS, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco, CA 94122-3928 or by
leaving a message on "The Skeptic's Board" BBS (415-648-8944) or
on the 415-LA-TRUTH (voice) hotline.
Copyright (C) 1989 BAY AREA SKEPTICS. Reprints must credit "BASIS,
newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco,
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank