The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Purveyor of Fake “Bomb Detectors” Found Guilty of Fraud

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 25, 2013

Wow, sometimes the good guys win one. In case you didn’t know, there has been a long-running skeptical campaign against a pseudoscientific fraudster, James McCormick, who sold bomb dowsing kits to the Iraqi military. Yes, you read that correctly, dowsing kits – as in “water witching”! And no, dowsing doesn’t work. And yes, it resulted in a lot of people getting killed, because these things didn’t do squat to detect bombs. And yes, it pleases me greatly to see this criminal finally receive justice…

James McCormick guilty of selling fake bomb detectors

James McCormick arrives at the Old Bailey
McCormick’s fake bomb detectors were used at Iraqi checkpoints staffed by the British military

A millionaire businessman who sold fake bomb detectors to countries including Iraq and Georgia, knowing they did not work, has been convicted of fraud.

James McCormick, 56, of Langport, Somerset, is said to have made £50m from sales and sold more than 6,000 in Iraq, the Old Bailey heard.

Police said the devices, modelled on a novelty golf ball finder, are still in use at some checkpoints.

One Iraqi bomb victim described him to the BBC as a “morally bankrupt” man.

During Tuesday’s hearing at the Old Bailey in London, the court was told McCormick’s detectors, which cost up to $40,000 (£27,000) each, were completely ineffectual and lacked any grounding in science.

Richard Whittam QC, for the prosecution, said: “The devices did not work and he knew they did not work.”

McCormick’s claims

McCormick had claimed the devices could bypass “all forms of concealment”, detecting drugs and people along with explosives, the court heard.

He claimed they would work under water and from the air, and would track an object up to 1km (3280ft) below the ground.

The bomb detectors came with cards which were “programmed” to detect a wide array of substances, from ivory to $100 banknotes.

Other substances could be detected, it was claimed, if put in a jar with a sticker which would absorb its “vapours” and was then stuck on a card that would be read by the machine.

In reality, McCormick’s device was based on $20 (£13) golf ball finders which he had purchased from the US and which had no working electronics.

Police said McCormick showed a complete disregard for the safety of those who used and relied upon the device for their own security and protection. …

Serves this scumbag right.  I hope they throw the book at him, not only for his crimes but also to send a clear message to the other fraudsters and charlatans out there: we’re watching you.  Skepticism matters.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

CNN Taken to Task Over Its NON-Critical Thinking on the Boston Bombing

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 19, 2013

As I mentioned in my last post regarding this past Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing, there has been a huge amount of rumor, misinformation, and innuendo floating all over the place, and we should do what we can to combat it.

Of course, one would hope that our media outlets, such as “The Most Trusted Name in News” CNN, would take such a task to heart, making certain to get their facts straight before they report the news.  But, sadly, in the era of the 24-hour “news” cycle, it appears that getting it right takes a back seat to getting it first.

I can think of no other way to illustrate this point more clearly than to reference The Daily Show’s incredible smackdown of just how badly CNN botched some major news regarding the bombing:

CNN-The Human Centipede of News

Yup, that’s CNN… the most busted name in news.

Posted in humor, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rumors and Misinformation in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 17, 2013

As you well know by now, there was a horrific bombing of the Boston Marathon yesterday on Boston’s Patriot Day.  Like many people, I spent much time last night discussing the situation online.  And, of course, in the aftermath of such an emotionally charged and upsetting situation, rumors, speculation, and – sadly – conspiracy mongering will run rampant.   However, I am of the feeling that knowledge is power, and it is better to say “I don’t know” than to speculate wildly; after all, as I told someone online last night: “rumors =/= knowledge”

So, in the spirit of spreading accurate information and squashing rumors, misinformation, and conspiracy mongering regarding the Boston Marathon Bombing, I would like to refer the reader to this collection of rumors and junk debunked from our friends at Snopes.com:

snopeslogo

Please take a few minutes to check that link, and by all means spread it far and wide over the Internet and via social media, because we do ourselves no favors by giving into our fears and allowing them to make us act irrationally.

Posted in conspiracy theories, internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

9/11 and “How the World Changed”: My Thoughts Ten Years Later

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 11, 2011

Here I sit on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and I find myself reflecting on the last ten years since that day.  I wanted to write down some of my thoughts in this blog post, because when it comes to the issue of 9/11 specifically and the broader issue of terrorism in general, I think there is much need for skepticism and critical thinking.  This is most especially true because of the high level of emotion and passion the whole issue of 9/11 invokes, and when our emotions are stirred so strongly we must make sure to temper our passion with reason.  So, here goes…

After ten years, what has become glaringly apparent to me is that the events of 9/11 changed things, but in my opinion it was not really in the way that many people think.  First, I have to say that every time I hear someone say or read that “On Sept. 11th the world changed” or something similar, I just have to shake my head because I think this kind of statement shows an interesting bias.  I say this because, fundamentally, nothing about the world around us really changed on that day – both before and after 9/11, the Earth turns on its axis, the sun rises and sets, and the universe trundles merrily along.  What did change on that day is the perspective which many people, mostly those of us within the United States, view the world around us.  It is unfortunate, I think, that many of us conflate these two things in our minds: we equate how they view the world with how the world actually works.  And this is, I think, the cause of much irrationality and muddled thinking.

Many of us were shaken to our core at the horrors we witnessed as not one, but two, planes slammed into the World Trade Center buildings, and as we heard the news of the attack on the Pentagon.  The sight of the Twin Towers collapsing further sent a shudder down our collective spines, and we lamented the seemingly senseless loss of life in such magnitude.  In some ways, we were brutally and startlingly shaken out of our complacency, which for some consisted of a belief that we in the United States were somehow – magically – immune to such devastation.  And when evidence to the contrary was presented to us, in a most horrific fashion, the reaction of many was precisely what one would expect: fear and anger.

There have been a lot of things written about 9/11 and its aftermath, but one thing I want to note is the manner in which many different people have reacted to the fear and anger brought to the surface due to 9/11: by seeking out some kind of evil “Other” to use as a boogeyman.  Now, don’t misinterpret me here – it is obvious that the attacks of 9/11 were planned and carried out by Al Qaeda, and the concern about groups such as Al Qaeda and the terrorism they perpetuate is a legitimate subject of concern that should be addressed.  What I am talking about goes beyond pointing out the very real threat posed by groups such as Al Qaeda; I am instead speaking of a broader pattern which has become apparent to me over the years.

For example, there are some people who have chosen the “Other” to be all Muslims, equating them with terrorists.  They point to the religion of Islam and its followers and make erroneous statements that we are now in some kind of cultural (or, more disturbingly, “holy”) war between the Western world and the Islamic world.

There are also those who choose the nefarious “Other” to be atheists and godless liberals.  These people tend towards the view espoused by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that the Sept. 11th attacks were somehow a punishment from God against the United States for our nation tolerating atheism and homosexuality in our population.  Many people who cater to this view of the “Other” also seem to view all Muslims as the enemy, as stated above.

Then some people take a look at 9/11 and see the “Other” as the United States government or some portion of it.  These tend to be the people who buy into various 9/11 conspiracy theories, and they are in complete denial about the mountain of facts and evidence that show the September 11th attacks were the result of terrorism at the hands of Al Qaeda.  Many of these people also have a talent for blatantly denying physics in an attempt to justify their worldview, and some even try to work in versions of anti-Semitism by implying that 9/11 was some kind of Jewish plot (thus making Jews the “Other” as well).

Last, but not least, there are those – many of whom are in the skeptical movement – who blame all religion as the evil “Other”.  This includes many of the so-called New Atheist writers (many of whose writings I have read and, in many ways, admire) who seem to think there is something inherently dangerous about any kind of religious belief.  I think it is worth noting that many who call themselves skeptics should be a bit skeptical of making such a sweeping generalization without a more rigorous analysis of the available data.  For reference on this particular point, I suggest the reader listen to a recent, excellent interview of Scott Atran on the Point of Inquiry podcast.

There are numerous variations on this theme of paranoia, fear, and the desire to find an “Other” to blame for the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent repercussions throughout society since that day, but one thing that unites them all is an irrational desire to categorize the situation into a simplistic, black and white, us versus them kind of worldview.  This is perfectly understandable once you know that humans are basically tribalistic in the manner in which they form societies and groups within those societies.  We are, in many ways, hard wired to engage in this kind of simplistic tribal thinking, and we carry it out in our everyday lives all the time.

Our tribal tendencies manifest themselves in myriad ways: in what religion/God/gods we worship, in what political beliefs/parties we adhere to, in our choice of sports team that we support, and even among those of us who call ourselves skeptics.  Sometimes these tribal tendencies are relatively harmless, but in other situations they can be downright dangerous.

Of course, the problem is that in reality the world isn’t always so simplistic.  And this goes back to my original point about our perspective of the world is not the same thing as how the world actually works, which forms the core of this particular blog post.  Most especially when we are frightened and our passions are inflamed by events such as Sept. 11th, it is critical that we not make the fundamental mistake of buying into this mode of thinking because it is the very root of how so much thinking can go terribly wrong.

In closing, allow me to finish with this thought: September 11th, 2001 was an awful enough day as it was… we shouldn’t add insult to injury by allowing our darker natures to overwhelm our ability to reason.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Take Action in Fake Bomb Detector Scandal!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 30, 2011

A bit over a year ago, I blogged – in a post titled Skepticism Matters – Bomb Dowsing Pseudoscience in Iraq – about a scandal concerning the sale of fake bomb detectors to various governments (including in Iraq).  As outlined at that post, these bogus detectors (based off of thoroughly debunked dowsing techniques) have resulted in the deaths of many people because – surprise! – they don’t work. Fortunately, some of the charlatans selling these fake bomb detectors are in big trouble, but unfortunately there is much more that can be done.

Well, now there is a movement afoot to take the investigation & prosecution of these pseudoscientific charlatans to the next level.  I strongly encourage you to read the following petition, read the related links documenting this criminal activity, and sign & pass it on…

OVERVIEW

From the early 1990s to now, commencing with James Randi and the Quadro Tracker, and now comprising a huge Worldwide network, the fight has been on to try to eliminate the trade in fake detectors which claim to be able to find everything from explosives, to drugs, to people, to gold deposits, to almost anything.

The picture illustrates the end of the line of this disgusting trade in fraudulent hope. Further the terrible waste of money on what are effectively dowsing rods dressed up as fancy gadgets, with absolutely 0 possible working principle.

We know of a latest very reasonable estimate from various sources including credible news reports and public documents of $200 -250 million dollars of sales around the World.

Plus the many hundreds if not thousands of deaths caused by their inevitable failure, because every single one of these devices is totally useless, they are still on sale, including in the U.S. Germany, India, China, and many other locations around the World.

The campaign has made great progress in the last year, and we are hopeful of much more UK action soon. However, we want to see concerted Political action to at least shut down the International aspect of this scam.

If you want to research further please see blogs at:

http://sniffexquestions.blogspot.com/

http://explosivedetectorfrauds.blogspot.com/

http://ade651gt200scamfraud.blogspot.com/

Or the forum threads at randi.org:

http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=128253

We now need a final push to major Westen Governments to get an effective ban in place. What we want is more cross-border co-operation, especially to recover as much of the money as possible and put it to better use e.g. Schools and Hospitals!

We will petition;

U.S.A. for pursuit of Charles Chistensen and his H3Tec

Germany for pursuit of Unival, David Vollmar, Frank Trier and the HEDD1 (formerly Sniffex Europe/ SNiffex Plus)

Gary Bolton, Global Technical, UK GT200

John Wyatt, SDS Group UK, HEDD1

General Pierre Hadji Georgiou, ProSec. Lebanon, ADE651

Stelian Ilie, Mira Telecom Romania, ADE651,

Simon Sherrard, ComsTrac UK, Alpha6

Yuri Markov, Sniffex ‘inventor’ Bulgaria,

Horizon Group India, GT200

Malcolm Roe, Sniffex into Europe

Sam Tree, Sniffex/Mole/GT200 into Europe

Agents in Thailand, Mexico, and elsewhere who have facilitated this trade through bribery and corruption. Other sales have been to Kenya, Niger, Hong Kong etc.

We have documented evidence of sales in 30 countries and possibly 10+ more

This is a winnable one. We already have ADE651 principal under Police Bail in UK, General Al Jabiri arrested in Iraq for ADE651 corruption, Thailand have carried out proper testing on Alpha 6, GT200, and HEDD 1, with all failing (much pressure was required on Government to get past the bribe takers!), action by private companies to sever ties with participants, major media investigations by NYT, BBC Newsnight and many others across the World; Internet full of anti information on almost any relevant search possible; widespread network of blogs, sites and campaigners from small beginnings.

Embarassing and calling to account the perpetrators and the officials who were fooled and or bribed in this process.

We ask that you add your name to this worthy cause and we will deliver the petition to multiple sources including media at the end of June  if we have a respectable number. How about one for every dollar spent! Or is that a bit much to ask? May be one for every life damaged. Perhaps 10,000+

Hope you agree a good cause and as many as possible please!!! Thanks so much!

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Where are the Psychic Security Agents?

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 3, 2010

With all of the attention that airline security has gotten of late, specifically regarding new security procedures put in place by the United States’ TSA, I think it is worthwhile to ask a seemingly tongue-in-cheek question which has a serious side: where are the psychic security agents?

Think about it, seriously… if psychics really could read minds, or talk to the dead, or somehow get “forbidden” information through whatever method of divination they employ the way many of them claim, then why the hell aren’t these people working for the TSA by probing the minds of suspected terrorists?  The question kind of harkens back to one asked by many people a little over 9 years ago: Why didn’t any of these psychic gurus see 9/11 coming before the fact?

In any case, I want to give the last word on this to skeptical investigator Ben Radford, who wrote a really good article on the matter.  Check it out…

Psychics and Airline Security

Analysis by Benjamin Radford
Thu Dec 2, 2010

Security-zoom

Amid all the discussion, anxiety and outrage over heightened airline security this holiday season, there’s one group of people whose important information is conspicuously absent: psychics.

There are thousands of people who claim to have psychic powers. Some, like convicted felon Sylvia Browne, are New York Times best-selling authors; others are seen on talk shows; still others, like Alison DuBois (of NBC’s Medium), serve as consultants for their own television shows.

While many dismiss psychics as frauds or mere entertainers, tens of millions of Americans believe in psychic abilities. For example, a 2005 Baylor Religion Survey found that nearly one-fifth of American women (and one-tenth of men) believe that psychic powers exist.

What do psychics have to do with national security? Everything — if they are real. [emphasis added]…

Posted in humor, psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Skepticism Matters – Bomb Dowsing Pseudoscience in Iraq

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 15, 2010

Sometimes we skeptics have to deal with the criticism that “this skepticism stuff isn’t important”, “who cares if someone believes in ghosts?”, or “why do you want to trample on what people believe?”.  My answer is simple: skepticism matters because when sloppy & irrational thinking is allowed to go unchecked the results can be disastrous.  Case in point: believe it or not, there are “bomb detection devices” in use now in Iraq, with the at least tacit approval of both the United States and British military, that are based upon the pseudoscience of dowsing! And, like any device based upon dowsing, they don’t work, which means people (both military & civilian) are getting killed.

Really folks, you can’t make this stuff up.  Check out some of the recent media coverage on this…

UK bans export of fraudulent bomb detector; arrests director of manufacturer

The government of the United Kingdom has banned the export of the ADE 651, which is advertised by the manufacturer, ATSC Ltd., as a hand-held “remote portable substance detector.” However, critics say it is just a “glorified dowsing rod.”

In a statement, the Department for Business said, “Tests have shown that the technology used in the ADE651 and similar devices is not suitable for bomb detection. As non-military technology it does not need an export license, and we would not normally need to monitor its sale and use abroad.”

The statement went on to say, “However, it is clearly of concern that it is being used as bomb detection equipment. As soon as it was brought to the attention of the Export Control Organisation and Lord Mandelson we acted urgently to put in place export restrictions which will come into force next week. We will be making an order, under the Export Control Act 2002, banning the export of this type of device to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Adding, “The reason the ban is limited to these two countries is that our legal power to control these goods is based on the risk that they could cause harm to UK and other friendly forces.” The statement closed by saying, “The British Embassy Baghdad has raised our concerns about the ADE651 with the Iraqi authorities.”

Meanwhile, the Avon and Somerset Police have arrested the managing director of the manufacturer, ATSC, 53-year old Jim McCormick on suspicion of fraud. McCormick is a former police officer from Merseyside. He has been released on bail.

These two events come after an investigation by the BBC’s Newsnight program where they tested and revealed the device as a fraud.

The device, manufactured by ATSC Ltd. which operates from a former dairy in Sparkford, Somerset, contains an antenna attached to plastic hand grip which is attached to black box. It requires no battery or other power source, and is supposedly powered solely by the user’s static electricity, the manufacturer claims. It can supposedly detect minute traces of explosives, drugs, human bodies, money and even elephants provided it has the right card.

The black box of the device is intended to read “programmed substance detection cards” that are supplied with the device. The device supposedly works on the principle of “electrostatic magnetic ion attraction”.

Newsnight brought the device to Sidney Alford, a renowned explosives expert who advises all branches of the UK military. Alford opened up the card reader of the device which was empty. Alford said, “Speaking as a professional, I would say that’s an empty plastic case.” Alford believes that the selling of the device is “absolutely immoral”. He added, “It could result in people being killed in the dozens, if not hundreds.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Conspiracy Theorists Gear Up After Release of Oklahoma City Bombing Video

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2009

Recently, the FBI released some video footage from cameras in the area around the site of the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19th, 1995.  The video came from a variety of cameras from sites surrounding the Murrah Federal Building, the target of the bombing.  And, true to form, conspiracy theorists have already jumped all over the release of the videos…

Attorney: OKC bombing tapes appear edited

Long-secret security tapes showing the chaos immediately after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building are blank in the minutes before the blast and appear to have been edited, an attorney who obtained the recordings said Sunday.

“The real story is what’s missing,” said Jesse Trentadue, a Salt Lake City attorney who obtained the recordings through the federal Freedom of Information Act as part of an unofficial inquiry he is conducting into the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more. …

… The tapes turned over by the FBI came from security cameras various companies had mounted outside office buildings near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. They are blank at points before 9:02 a.m., when a truck bomb carrying a 4,000 pound fertilizer-and-fuel-oil bomb detonated in front of the building, Trentadue said.

“Four cameras in four different locations going blank at basically the same time on the morning of April 19, 1995. There ain’t no such thing as a coincidence,” Trentadue said. …

… “The interesting thing is they spring back on after 9:02,” he said. “The absence of footage from these crucial time intervals is evidence that there is something there that the FBI doesn’t want anybody to see.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in conspiracy theories | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Swine Flu Conspiracy Hogwash

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 28, 2009

Well, it’s all over the news, folks.  I’m speaking about the outbreak of swine flu around the world which has so many people concerned.  Now, for reasons outlined clearly with various medical authorities, there is legitimate cause for concern, but at the same time people need to think as rationally as possible to deal with the situation.  Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control to help you do just that.

Unfortunately, in situations such as these there are a considerable number of kooks & crazies that come crawling out of the woodwork to muddy the issue and spout (sometimes dangerous) nonsense.  I’m specifically referring to conspiracy theorists who are convinced that the swine flu is part of grand, nefarious plot by someone or something… out there  **cue spooky music**

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in conspiracy theories, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
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