Archive for the Pseudoscience Category

Danie Krugel expands his imaginary product line

Posted in Alternative Medicine, Pseudoscience, South Africa on February 28, 2008 by moonflake

Bloemfontein’s favourite son is at it again, folks. His new product is a mysterious device capable of detecting a substance at a distance provided it is given a sample of that substance…. hang on a second, isn’t this his last product, you ask? Oh no, this time the substance being detected is cancer, so it’s a totally different thing. Never let it be said that Danie Krugel is a one-trick pony.

The original article appeared in the Afrikaans-language Rapport, and the SA Skeptics forum have provided a translation here. In it, Danie supposedly is able to differentiate vials of blood containing cancer from those that do not. Since the ‘tests’ were performed in the office of a local internist, and then by the journos at the Rapport, I hardly think we can consider the results reliable. Perhaps now that Danie has voyaged into the realm of medicine, he will consider submitting his device to a double-blind, controlled trial? Yeah, you’re right, probably not.

To start with, I find it telling that after his spectacular failure in finding Madeleine McCann, and the subsequent pummeling he took in the internation press, Danie has moved away from body-finding and into cancer-sniffing. Allow me to remind you that Danie claimed to know where Madeleine McCann was buried, and yet there has been no digging whatsoever in the area he has marked out. Does this not strike anyone as odd, considering how ingenious Danie was at obtaining digging equipment, able bodies and cameras to upturn an area the size of two football fields, on a similar hunch about the Van Rooyen victims? Frankly, if I knew where that little girl was buried, and no one would listen to me, I would have set to digging that beach up with my bare hands to prove it to them. But not Danie. He slinks back to South Africa, stays quiet for a few months, then suddenly appears with a new shiny silver case containing yet another ‘invention’.

So let’s examine some of the details of this new article. Apparently Danie has ‘loaded’ his device with various forms of cancer already. Immediately this makes me wonder where he got it from. I don’t know about you guys, but samples of cancer are not something I come across in everyday life. Either Danie has been dumpster-diving in medical waste, or someone is supplying him – the man obviously has an accomplice in the medical community. All eyes should at this point be swivelling towards the internist who assisted him in testing the device. I would suspect that Danie did not just walk into this person’s office and claim he was looking for an objective witness with a medical degree, but rather that this is the culmination of a carefully planned scheme. Either that, or Danie is lying about the device being loaded with cancer samples.

There are also some distinct differences between this device and the last. Danie’s previous Matter Orientation Device, which worked on the same apparent principle of like communicating with like, was so sensitive that given any sample it would only detect the source of that sample, and not any other similar source. Given a sample of hair, it would react only to the person from whom that hair was taken, and not just to any hair (or poorly made wig) that happened to be in the vacinity. So I would wonder how it is that Danie’s current device is so much less precise? It apparently goes off in the presence of any cancer. However, cancer as we all know is genetically specific material, so I would expect that Danie’s technology would only register in the presence of the rest of the tumour from which the sample was taken (we look pointedly at the internist again), or perhaps in the presence of the person from which the sample was taken. Unless Danie’s lying again.

And now, this device is only able to detect cancer within 4m, whereas his previous device could find its match anywhere on the entire planet. Again, the device seems somehow weaker than the last… the claims, somewhat toned down. But then again, the case also seems smaller, so perhaps he’s using fewer fairies this time.

All I can say is that I’m looking forward to seeing how this new ruse of Danie’s pans out.

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Wired’s 10 Great Snake-Oil Gadgets

Posted in Pseudoscience on November 26, 2007 by moonflake

Wired lists 10 gadgets that are guaranteed to detect nothing but gullibility, prevent nothing if not common sense, and teleport nothing but money out of your pockets. Dubious honour is given to our own Danie Krugel, where he is placed amongst his deserved brethren, such as Steorn Ltd and their ‘free-energy’ machine Orbo, $485 wooden volume knobs, and the dowsing rod.

What I find interesting is that the oldie-but-goodie, the dowsing rod, got the most interest in the comments. People are still, after all this time, convinced that ‘water witches’ fill a necessary place in our economy. How sad.

(Tip o’ the tinfoil helmet to Geek.Neo and 6000)

KFM breakfast team: not skeptics

Posted in Pseudoscience on November 14, 2007 by moonflake

I wake up every morning to the KFM breakfast brigade doing their thing. It’s not bad as breakfast shows go – Nic is usually not a complete idiot, Mel is fairly silly in an endearing way, and the GK Elite challenge is about the only thing that can wake me up in the morning. Zenstar likes Wackhead Simpson’s prank calls, so it also has that going for it. On the down side would be the fact that you can’t understand a word Andre says because he talks at warp 5, and the fact that occasionally Nic proves he’s not as skeptical as he thinks he is.

The first inkling I had that all was not right in Breakfastland was when the celebrity guest one Wednesday morning was none other than media nutritionist Patrick Holford. Yes, that would be the Patrick Holford who:

  • Gives himself degrees in subjects he’s made up and then calls himself ‘doctor’
  • Lies about being published in the Lancet
  • Messes up the details on his CV (I’m being generous; some may say he lies)
  • Encourages others to make favourable edits to his Wikipedia entry
  • Never publishes any of his results for independent verification
  • Thinks Vitamin C has been proven more successful than AZT at fighting HIV
  • Makes a ton of money giving nutrition advice he makes up for himself at home

But really, to know Patrick Holford for the quack he is, you have to have done a little research, so I could forgive them for that. I got over it.

Then this week, calamity. I woke up to the sounds of our host bending over backwards to help a Human PIN Code practitioner sound like he wasn’t a complete nutjob! This included starting off the interview by claiming he, Nic Marais, was usually skeptical, but that this backwater numerologist had convinced him he wasn’t frootloops by… wait for it… the old “all the mug handles in your kitchen face the same way” party trick! Yip, Nic Marais decided to toss his intelligence out the window on the basis of a statement that applies to about 80% of the human population, along the lines of “you have a box of unsorted photographs stashed away that you always meant to put in an album but never got around to” and “I’m getting a name starting with the letter N… or it could be M…”

Now, I could almost understand it if the guest was a skilled cold reader, but it seems like all he’s doing is following Douglas Forbes’ books and courses and stumbling along when it doesn’t work, which just makes Nic’s eagerness to lap up it up that little bit more sad. This guy was like a second rate John Edward with a calculator. What ensued was a truly pathetic display by the guest, who got just about every reading that morning dead wrong and didn’t seem to know what to do about it. But no worries! Nic came to the rescue – when a call went bad he gave the PIN coder the easy out of ‘is it possible that people think they’re x but are really y?’, which he naturally jumped at like a life preserver.

When Noelene had a PIN coder on 3 Talk and a similar performance ensued, I didn’t say anything because I expect it of Noelene, dime-store Oprah that she is. But Nic is usually a lot smarter than this, so I guess I’m a little disappointed. On the basis of this week’s performance, I can only assume that he also finds fortune cookies incredibly personal and revealing, and is regularly shocked at the accuracy of his horoscope. So here’s a little more info for him, and anyone else who might be interested:

I eagerly look forward to next week, when I’m sure the KFM Breakfast team will be interviewing Danie Krugel, Mariette Theunissen, the ghost of Piet Koornhof, and someone who walks in off the street with a divining rod.

Stereophile journo may actually accept Randi Challenge

Posted in Pseudoscience on October 17, 2007 by moonflake

Mike Fremer from Stereophile Magazine has kind of, sort of, mostly accepted James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge.

The claim Fremer makes is apparently that he can hear an audible difference between the sound quality of Pear’s Anjou speaker cables (at a cool $7,250) and other, similar speaker cables. For Pear to have a viable business model, I also assume it’s not just Mike Fremer who can distinguish the superior cost ahem I mean quality of these cables by ear alone. Pear CEO and co-founder Adam Blake is already calling it a “hoax“, trying to imply that Randi is uneducated (while himself spelling it ‘eductated’), and saying that Randi’s challenge is backed by nothing. However, Fremer is the one who has said he will take up the challenge, although his acceptance communications leave something to be desired. Some extracts for your interest:

OR COULD IT BE I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT HIS STUPID F…KING CHALLENGE?

I am easily found on the internet but no one has come to me with whatever the hell this “challenge” is. Instead, the bitter, little Randi chooses to issue some kind of lame “challenge,” into the ether and because I don’t know about it, he feels empowered to attack me for not responding?

WHAT A LAME LITTLE NAVEL GAZING EGOMANIACAL WEASEL!

and also

I will take the annoying Randi’s cable challenge once we agree to the protocol and I find it intended to be truly scientific and not designed to produce confusion. I am more than well qualified to participate and am willing to do so despite the fact that the annoying Randi attacked me personally on his site by using a clownish photo of me that I generously allowed to be taken for the cover of a magazine because A) unlike the annoying Randi I have a sense of humor and B) unlike the annoying Randi I have a sense of humor.

and here comes the whiney ‘it’s all going to be a trick’ set-up:

I do this despite having participated in an AES (Audio Engineering Society) sponsored double blind test designed to see if AES members and members of the press could hear differences among audio amplifiers. This was in response to a different David Clark, one who contends there are no audible differences among well designed amplifiers.

I took the test and got 5 out of 5 identifications correct. John Atkinson, my editor, who the annoying Randi also derides, got 4 of 5 correct. However, as the overall population of engineers produced a statistically insignificant result, I was told that I was a “lucky coin,” and my result was thrown out! Just as you would expect from a good bunch of collectivist commies! Had I been challenged to do 100 push ups and done them but the average number of pushups produced by the group was 20, my 100 would have been thrown out!

I say he has only mostly accepted, because he appears to still be haggling over whether his claims are ‘paranormal’ in nature. It appears that Fremer fancies himself a scientist, and doesn’t want to be lumped together with the woo crowd. However, ‘paranormal’, as relevant to the James Randi prize, is “an event or a phenomenon that can actually be shown to occur, but has no explanation within scientific reasoning”. Since science tells us that the measurable difference between Pear cables and other, similar cables is below the range of human hearing, the claim that someone can hear the difference is, by definition, paranormal. If he could, science would not be able to explain it. However, at the time this week’s SWIFT went to press, Fremer was still haggling:

The word “paranormal” is loaded. I don’t like it. If I pass this test I will be declared to have “paranormal” abilities, which I deny. It will be like the “lucky coin” business with the amplifiers. I also don’t claim to have “golden ears.” Most who listen beyond the casual level can hear differences. I want this to be an experiment not a side show, with the results, should I be successful, indicating something other than ESP, paranormality, etc

It looks to me like what’s going on is that Fremer, an avid stereophile, has swallowed Pear’s sales pitch hook, line and sinker, and has subjectively convinced himself that the cables are superior and he can definitely hear a difference. I would too if I’d just forked over $7,250 for some copper wire. He is so convinced that he’s ready to take up the challenge to prove it, although a tiny voice in his head is wondering if he isn’t just imagining it and maybe he’d better lay out some excuses now… just in case.

On the other hand, we have Blake, who knows his claims are a bunch of spin-doctored claptrap used to justify a ridiculously overpriced product, knows there’s no way in hell that Fremer can pass a fair test to prove you can hear any difference at all, and is already starting with the pre-emptive strikes to soften the fact that he’s probably going to have a quiet word with Fremer and tell him to drop it… while at the same time maintaining a public semblance of co-operation so no-one can accuse him of getting in the way.

At least, that’s my opinion. I guess we will all just have to wait and see.

(tip o’ the headphones to Salman)

Observer retracts Danie Krugel story… sort of

Posted in Pseudoscience, South Africa on October 17, 2007 by moonflake

Well, at any rate Stephen Pritchard from the Reader’s Editor column has bothered to correct certain factual errors in the original article, such as that Krugel is not a scientist, and that he didn’t find the Van Rooyen girls. In summary,

[The reporters] now both agree that, at the very least, the piece should not have turned Krugel’s supposed findings into concrete fact and should also have included a considerable amount of critical comment about his methods and ability – points that could also have been picked up in the editing process.

Amen.

In other DK news, Ben Goldacre from Bad Science phoned him up, and received similar evasive responses:

I rang Krugel to ask him. Are his powers paranormal? He says no. He made a discovery while experimenting with some off-the-shelf electronic devices. I asked if I could see the device: sadly, he says, no. I asked him what he measured, how he knew he was measuring anything, but he wouldn’t say. I asked about the theory, but that’s secret of course. I asked him about his background in electronics or quantum theory, and he demurred. Desperately trying to give the guy a chance, I scanned the memory banks and asked “what is a capacitor?”, and “what are the SI units for Planck’s constant?” He was offended. I apologised.

No surprises there.

(tip o’ the bad hairpiece to Back Off I’m a Scientist for the link and the linkage)

Danie Krugel: International Man of Mystery

Posted in Pseudoscience, South Africa on October 9, 2007 by moonflake

Danie has finally done what he promised me back in January: broken onto the international scene with big news in major newspapers. I believe at the time he told me, he was expecting the Van Rooyen spectacle with Carte Blanche to pan out and the girls to be found, and we all know how that ended. In the end, his ticket to fame turned out to be the shameless exploitation of Madeline McCann. He claims to have discovered a forensic trail of the missing girl, leading down to the sea where it disappears. However, Danie was apparently in Portugal making his great discovery in July of this year, which leaves me wondering why, if the discovery was so critical to such a massively publicized case, we only hear about this ‘shock new twist’ in October?

So how successful is Danie’s international debut, really? The ‘exclusive’ story has been carried by Britain’s News of the World, the Sun, The People, and the Daily Mail, but it was approach with more appropriate skepticism by Sky News. Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre’s blog Bad Science pointed out the lunacy of the situation when the Observer picked up on the story, as did numerous others such as the aptly named Skeptico, Badchemist Blog and How to Spot a Psychopath. So while I’m sure Danie is getting his share of credulous publicity, I can only hope he’s also getting his share of international ire.

An apparent fansite has been created for Danie, called Danie Krugel Facts. I urge you to go over there and entertain yourself with the cherry picked ‘facts’ and remarkable displays of selective reporting, and the depressing gullibility of local law enforcement. Nothing is said of other, less favourable articles about Danie in local news, such as this, and this, and this. No surprises there.

For those who have just arrived here thanks to all the international coverage, here are some real Danie Krugel Facts:

  • Danie did not discover the bodies of the Van Rooyen girls, regardless of what some international papers are saying. The girls are still missing.
  • The official South African Police Service stance on Danie is that they cannot use his device in investigations until he submits it to formal scientific scrutiny, a requirement for all devices used by police. However, some police in Danie’s home town, presumably the area where he used to be a policeman himself, allow Danie to participate in their investigations.
  • Danie is not a scientist, he is a retired police officer. He does not have a scientific degree or qualification of any sort. He works at a university, but he is not a faculty member, he is head of what amounts to campus security. He has never, to anyone’s knowledge, invented anything before this machine. He refuses to submit his device to scientific scrutiny, and refuses to obtain a patent for it or explain how it works to anyone.
  • Danie has been known to operate with a partner who is a private investigator who specialises in finding people by means of their cellphone signals.
  • Danie is himself a former police officer with sufficient knowledge and expertise to make educated guesses as to the whereabouts of victims and criminals without the need for a device, and in fact has been known to make use of techniques such as questioning friends and relatives and handing out photographs to the public with requests for any information, prior to operating his device.
  • No one is allowed to view Danie or the device when it is operating, and must leave the room while he does his ‘locating’.
  • Danie claims a 90% success rating but has published no studies or results to substantiate this, nor does he directly discuss or admit to the failures that must constitute the other 10%. And since we know Danie has a history of reporting failures as successes, I would say that 90% is very much in doubt.

Hope that clears a few things up for those who haven’t been following Danie’s local exploits for the last three years.

Update: Varenda Gouws has come forward to the papers and the McCanns to tell her story! We first read about the Gouws’ experience with Danie in the Herald, and now they have come forward to tell the McCanns what happened. According to sources close to the McCanns though, they are no longer convinced that Danie is on the level, and are keeping him at ‘arm’s length’. I wonder why this isn’t reported on daniekrugelfacts.com? All that site has on the Gouws case is this suitably vague statement by a private investigator (and ex cop) who calls Danie in all the time. I wonder why they didn’t ask the Gouws for a testimonial too?

3rd Degree win journalism award by falling for local con

Posted in Pseudoscience, South Africa on September 19, 2007 by moonflake

In more news of our friend Danie Krugel: it seems that Vodacom, in their infinite wisdom, have awarded etv’s show 3rd Degree the Journalist of the Year Award 2007 (region: Bloemfontein, category: TV Feature), for their piece on Danie Krugel. And no, this would not be an investigative journalism piece where they show him as the fraud he is; rather, it’s the piece where, ala Carte Blanche, they fall for his nonsense hook, line and sinker.

From the press release:

The judges wrote: “For the almost eerie investigative feature on a home-made invention which has helped trace criminals and victims in a crime-ravaged land, and which may soon become part of the official police armoury.”

From etv’s site (it’s all flash junk so i had to copy it out by hand – all typos are entirely theirs):

Its time to celebrate: 3rd Degree producers, Charlene and Eddie Stanley, and Megan Small and Laurell Boyers, have taken the hotly contested television awards in both Gauteng and Bloemfontein at the prestige Vodacom Journalist of the year awards hosted last week.

This week 3rd Degree takes a re-look at one of the award winning pieces. It’s an invention that uses DNA samples and satellite technology to trace people. If they get a piece of skin, nail clippings, blood or just a few strands of hair, they can find you — wherever you are. That’s the claim.

Their invention has been slammed by scientists and critical policemen — calling it ludicrous, untested and wishful thinking. Yet the inventors have many accumulated success stories over the past two years that seem difficult to explain.

If true, this invention has the potential to revolutionize crime fighting. But in the wrong hands, it can wreak havoc. We put it to the test. We also follow a real life crime situation, and see how effective it is as a crime fighting tool. When four girls go missing, we find one of their hairbrushes and try to track them down. With some amazing results.

This is the standard of journalism today? To win an award, all you have to do is fall for a con artist, even while admitting that all the experts you should be listening to as a journalist are telling you he’s full of crap? Here I thought that the standard of journalism displayed by 3rd Degree and Carte Blanche regarding this story was a journalistic anomoly specific to science reporting, but it seems it’s actually considered to be the goal, a shining example of journalistic excellence!

By the way, I notice that back in the 3rd Degree story, and also in the first Carte Blanche story, Danie had a partner/co-inventor, Leon Rossouw, has not been mentioned at all in the Carte Blanche follow-up, nor in any subsequent interview or article. I wonder what happened? It sounds like there’s a man that someone may want to interview… but that would probably be considered poor journalism.

(tip o’ the cheap hairpiece to Con-Tester for this one)