Cover image for Encyclopedia of pseudoscience
Encyclopedia of pseudoscience
Williams, William F.
Publication Information:
New York : Facts On File, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxvi, 416 pages : illustrations ; 29 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Q157 .E57 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Reference material
Q157 .E57 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize
Q157 .E57 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Reference material
Q157 .E57 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Reference material
Q157 .E57 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Entries discuss terms, events, ideas, people, and institutions relating to systems of thought that are not considered true by most mainstream scientists such as astrology, reflexology, and homeopathy.

Author Notes

William F. Williams has taught at the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at Pennsylvania State University, where he was the William Weiss Fellow in Engineering from 1992 to 1993. He is also a Life Fellow at the University of Leeds, England

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Covering subjects general encyclopedias often give short shrift, Williams includes things, persons, and phenomena one might expect (Bigfoot, Uri Geller, spontaneous human combustion), along with frauds (Piltdown Man), skeptics (James Randi), and sloppy science (cold fusion), as well as the religious (Shroud of Turin), the reprehensible (Nazi racism), and some topics more widely accepted that are subject to skepticism (intelligence tests, Alfred C. Kinsey, germ theory). Emphasis rests on scientific matters. The result is an intriguing mixture of fact, fiction, and the unknown. Williams says contributors were permitted to take their own line and other viewpoints are often appended. Enhancing the content, introductory essays by Williams and others address the definition of pseudoscience, scientific anomalies, and ethical issues. Some entries list titles for further reading, and there is an extensive selective bibliography. Information about contributors is lacking, and photo credits should appear with each photo instead of being collected at the back of the book. Some needed cross-references are omitted. Readers will have difficulty putting this book down. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. T. R. Faust; Fairfield University



Chapter One A ABDUCTIONS, ALLEN Abductions of humans by extra-terrestrials, usually to a spaceship and often for the apparent purpose of physical examination of the humans, after which they are returned to Earth, usually, though not always, to the place they were taken from. One of the earliest and best-known claims of alien abduction was that of Betty and Barney Hill, a New Hampshire couple who in 1961 experienced strange events and a time "anomaly" while traveling home on a lonely rural road. At first, the Hills were only aware of losing two hours on the journey home. Later, with the help of HYPNOSIS, they recalled seeing a hovering UFO and being taken aboard a spaceship. John G. Fuller's 1967 book The Interrupted Journey publicized their adventure.     Many other claims of abduction have been made in many countries around the world. Many of these reports include claims of gynecological examinations of female victims, along with (sometimes) implantation of alien embryos and/or removal of human or alien embryos and encouragement of the human female to hold an apparent alien-human hybrid infant. Others report sexual examination of male victims, often including sexual intercourse with an alien, and implantation of tiny devices of unknown purpose in the victims's nasal passages or elsewhere. Many people who claim to have been abducted have scars of unknown origin, have experienced multiple abductions, or are related to others who have had similar experiences. Most reports suggest that the abductions are frightening experiences, although a few victims consider them benign. Almost invariably the abductions are recalled only when the victim's memory is jogged by something--a televised account of an abduction or a mysterious scar noted for the first time, for example--and almost invariably, the details are brought out with the help of hypnosis.     A few cases have been highly publicized. These include those of novelist Whitley Streiber, who has discussed his abduction in several books; Betty Andreasson Lucas, a multiple abductee whose mother and daughter also claim to have been abducted and whose story has been recounted by artist and abduction specialist Budd Hopkins; and Travis Walton, a young man who disappeared from a group of friends one night in 1975 and reappeared, dazed and weakened, five days later several miles from where he disappeared. The accounts abductees give bear many similarities, suggesting several possibilities, these among them: All have been exposed to similar material through the media, or most of these people have indeed had the experiences they claim.     In 1995 MUTUAL UFO NETWORK (MUFON), a prominent organization devoted to the study of UFOs, began the Alien Abduction Transcription Project, attempting to collect, catalog, and, with the aid of computers, index various aspects of the phenomenon. Among other things, project directors hope that, through careful and detailed analysis of the data, they will be able to ascertain the purpose of the abductions.     Reports of abductions appear to be on the increase. A few mainstream scientists accept the likelihood of alien abductions happening as the victims recount them. Notable among these is Harvard psychiatry professor John Mack, who in 1995 found himself under fire and risk of censure from his university because he publicly gave credence to abduction accounts. Few scientists speak out as frankly in favor of the phenomenon. Most, if they consider it at all, assert that there are more mundane explanations for what the alleged victims believe they have undergone. Among the most popular explanations are these: (a) People are being influenced by what they read and see in the media; (b) The hypnotists who work with many alleged victims are influencing them; (c) The abduction experiences are a form of hallucination or hypnagogic (waking) dream; (d) The accounts are outright hoaxes or are the product of mental illness. Interestingly, several recent psychological studies have shown that people who claim abduction and other anomalous experiences are no more fantasy-prone than those who do not.     See also FLYING SAUCERS, CRASHED; UFOLOGY.     For further reading: C. D. B. Bryan, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: Alien Abductions, UFOs and the Conference at MIT (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); Philip J. Klass, UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game (Prometheus Books, 1989); Andrea Pritchard, et al., eds., Alien Discussions: Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference Held at MIT (North Cambridge Press, 1994); and The Roper Organization, Unusual Personal Experiences: An Analysis of the Data from Three National Surveys (Roper, 1992). ABIOGENESIS The creation of life from inorganic forms of matter. One current theory as to how life originated on Earth is that it derived from inorganic matter that was already in place. Some chemists suggest that "self-replicating" matter--in other words, living matter--could have been created out of existing nonliving molecules. They suggest that life first originated as a series of chemical compounds floating in a "primordial soup." There is some evidence to support this theory: Scientists have been able to create amino acids and other basic proteins in the laboratory from inorganic compounds; however, they have not been able to produce anything as complex as a self-replicating living organism.     Two current problems with the theory of abiogenesis are, first, that there is no evidence of how inorganic molecules--which cannot reproduce themselves--became self-replicating organic cells; second, there are also no detectable historical clues as to what form the simplest type of self-replicating compound took. The earliest fossils found are of living organisms that are themselves already very complex. ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN Popular name for the YETI, a large, hairy hominid believed by many to live in the Himalaya Mountains. The term comes from a mistranslation of the Tibetan name for the creature ( Metoh-kangi , "manlike creature that is not a man," misinterpreted as "wild man of the snow") and from the creature's alleged "abominable" odor.     See also ALMAS; BIGFOOT. ABRAMS, ALBERT (1863-1924) Californian physician who devised the alternative healing system later called RADIONICS. Abrams studied medicine at Heidelberg University, in Germany and following graduation became a professor of pathology at Cooper Medical College in San Francisco, where he studied cancerous tissue. He reportedly discovered that the tissue gave off a distinct radiation and that the radiation changed in the transformation from a healthy to a diseased condition. He went on to develop an overall theory that all living things radiated an electromagnetic field. Abrams claimed to be able to measure these variances with an instrument he called an oscillocast, more popularly referred to as a BLACK BOX; blood samples of the patient were placed in the black box, which measured their radiation against those from the blood of a healthy person.     During the last decade of his life, Abrams shared his findings with his medical colleagues in several books, including Human Energy (1914) and New Concepts in Diagnosis and Treatment (1922). He also developed his diagnostic work into a treatment system called "electronics" and assembled instrumentation that he claimed could not only detect radiation but also emit "healthful" radiation to assist diseased tissue to return to a healthy state.     After World War I, Abrams's theories and procedures were examined by the British Royal Society of Medicine, which in 1922 issued a negative report. The following year the American Medical Association also tested Abrams's work and denounced it. As a result, his practice was closed. He died the next year, but his ideas were picked up in the 1930s by Ruth DROWN in the United States and George De La Warr in Great Britain. His work has continued as a fringe medical practice ever since. Researchers who have put Drown and other radionics advocates to the test have been unable to verify their diagnostic claims. ACUPRESSURE A form of bodywork similar to ACUPUNCTURE. Based upon the same philosophical principles and view of the human body but differing in that no needles are used. Acupressure also draws upon the same Taoist principles of yin and yang. The universe is seen as divided between the yin (feminine/negative) and yang (masculine/positive), everything in the universe being a relative mixture of the two. Given the nature of these polarities, the acquisition of balance is a prized goal. Chinese physicians have mapped the human body in relation to these principles. In addition, the universe is animated by a life force, chi (also spelled ki or qi ), which flows through the body along pathways (termed "meridians"). Located along the meridians are certain points that connect them to the organs. It is assumed that the free flow of chi is essential to a healthy life and that illness is a sign that the flow has been blocked or become otherwise unbalanced.     As with many traditional Chinese medical practices, the passage of acupressure to the West came through Japan. Acupressure had been practiced in Japan as one of a variety of massage techniques, all of which fell from official favor in the 19th century. Laws were passed restricting its practice after government officials concluded that massage was being used more for simple pleasure than any health benefits. That law was not repealed until 1955. The spread of acupressure was soon revived in Japan and then quickly spread to the West, where it drew upon the wave of interest in Chinese medicine following U.S. President Richard Nixon's visit to China in the early 1970s.     Claims for the benefits of acupressure have drawn on those made for acupuncture, but have tended to be metaphysical in nature and merge with those ascribed to massage in general. It is a popular form of bodywork among those who follow holistic health practices and, although not accepted by mainline physicians as having any medical value, it has also been seen as, at worst, harmless since its practitioners neither prescribe medicines nor invade the body. A number of variations on acupressure such as ACU-YOGA have also emerged in the West. ACUPUNCTURE One of the oldest systems of therapy in the ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE complex. Patients are treated by having needles stuck into their skin at designated acupuncture points and then twirled manually or agitated with the aid of a low frequency electrical current. The acupuncture points, called "meridians," are claimed to lie along invisible energy channels that are said to be connected to internal organs, some of which are, in effect, nonexistent. The treatment is believed to manipulate and balance the body's flow of "life energy" (called chi or qi ) flowing through the channels. Many of these ancient systems share the conviction that all treatments have to adjust the imbalance of the body's "vital force."     Acupuncture is said to have been recognized in China more than 3,500 years ago when it was considered possible that soldiers who survived arrow wounds in battle were recovering from other long-standing ailments. The word "acupuncture" is a European term meaning to prick with a needle. It was coined by a Dutch physician who introduced the practice into Europe after a stay in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1683. In the early 19th century British doctors used the treatment for pain relief and fever. The first edition of the British medical journal The Lancet (1823) reported that it was successful in the treatment of rheumatism.     Traditional Chinese medicine sees the human body as a balance between two opposing but complementary natural forces, the female force called yin and the male force called yang. The yin force is described as passive and tranquil and is said to represent coldness, darkness, wetness and swelling. The yang force is described as aggressive and stimulating and is said to represent, heat, light, dryness, and contraction. An imbalance of yin and yang is thought to be the cause of all body ailments and diseases; for example, too much yin may cause dull aches and pains, chilliness, fluid retention and tiredness; too much yang may cause sudden sharp pain, inflammation, spasms, headaches and high blood pressure.     Some practitioners of acupuncture reject the pseudoscientific trappings of yin and yang and the notion of an energy flow or life force, but they believe that the needles do relieve pain. Orthodox researchers posit that the practice generates endorphins, chemicals similar to narcotics, but they add that, although pain is reduced, there is no evidence that the application of the needles can influence the course of any organic disease. They also add that cutting off pain may cut off the body's warnings that all is not well. The point is not always to stop pain itself but to explore the cause of that pain and deal with it.     See also ACUPRESSURE; VITALISM. ACU-YOGA An alternative form of bodywork that combines the practice of ACUPRESSURE with the breathing and postures (asanas) of hatha YOGA. Acu-yoga is generally self-administered after a person has learned the basic yoga postures and the location of the acupressure points. The floor is used to apply pressure to those parts of the body that cannot be reached by the hand. Acu-yoga was developed by Michael Reed Gach, a leading acupressure practitioner who also trains physicians and other medical professionals in various bodywork techniques. He heads the Acupressure Institute in Berkeley, California. As with many holistic health practices, the metaphysical and scientific claims mix in a complex fashion, but the practice of acu-yoga relies upon the claims for general overall body invigoration by the practice of both hatha yoga and acupressure. ADAMS, SAMUEL HOPKINS (1871-1958) Muckraking journalist remembered for his attacks upon NOSTRUMS. Adams attended Hamilton College and, following his graduation in 1891, began his journalistic career with the New York Sun . His writing caught the attention of S. S. McClure, who hired him away from the Sun to his own magazine. At McClure's he was introduced to the crusading journalism for which it was known. After only a short time, however, Adams moved on to Collier's . During the summer of 1905, Adams became deeply involved in the investigation of the patent medicine industry. Legislation in the form of the first Pure Food and Drug Act was sitting in Congress, but languished due to the lobbying effort of the patent medicine manufacturers and the meat industry.     Adams called the patent medicine business the "Great American Fraud." Americans were spending more than $75 million annually on what were in his understanding little more than alcohol and opiates. Many of what today are illegal narcotics--opium and morphine, for example--were perfectly legal and widely used in the 19th century. Adams suggested that more alcohol was distributed annually in medicines than in liquor. He placed the blame on the con men running the business, but he reserved a substantial part of his criticism for advertising people, who had no ethics in writing copy for their advertisements, and the newspapers, which accepted the ads and the revenue they brought. His simple solution was for his colleagues to stop accepting the patent medicine ads. He centered his attack upon the more popular products such as PARUNA. CELERY compounds, and Lydia PINKHAM's popular remedy for female problems (which in the end turned out actually to contain some helpful ingredients). As he noted the alcohol content of the average patent medicine, Adams also aimed his journalistic pen at "hypocrite" church and temperance leaders who vocally endorsed these products.     Adams called upon the government to intervene. First, he suggested that these products should be fairly labeled and sold only as alcoholic beverages (a suggestion later written into law). He also pushed for passage of the Pure Food and Drug bill. Adams's series of ten articles combined with the efforts of the American Medical Association and the scandal of the meat industry that was so vividly portrayed in Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle , persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to back the new legislation, which, when it finally got to the floor of the House of Representatives, passed 240-17. Adams went on to a lengthy career in journalism and never lost interest in the nostrum question. He lived to see the broad federal legislation that took the more harmful products off the market. AGASSIZ, LOUIS RODOLPHE (1807-1873) Swiss-born naturalist, teacher and scientist. Louis Agassiz is perhaps best remembered today as the founder of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1859. He also promoted the study of science in the United States and helped found the National Academy of Sciences in 1863. Famous for his teaching skills, he trained a whole generation of U.S. scientists. Agassiz was a supporter of both CREATIONISM and CATASTROPHISM. He was one of the major American scientists who opposed Charles DARWIN'S theory of EVOLUTION, and his own theory of ice ages pointed out flaws in Sir Charles LYELL's theory of gradualism.     Agassiz received his medical degree from the University of Munich in 1830. He then moved to Paris and studied with Baron Georges CUVIER, the founder of the science of comparative anatomy. Using Cuvier's principles, Agassiz published a five-volume work, Recherches sur les poissons fossiles (1833-43), that provided descriptions of most of the fossil fish then known to science. In 1846, Agassiz accepted a position at Harvard University, where he taught until his death in 1873 at age 66.     Throughout his lifetime, Agassiz supported the creationist and catastrophic theories he learned from Cuvier. In 1830s Europe, prevailing views held that the Earth had arrived at its present geologic state only through uniform and gradual changes. Through his observations, Agassiz showed that Europe and America had been covered by large sheets of ice (in the form of glaciers). These ice ages, Agassiz showed, were catastrophic events that disproved the prevailing theory of uniformity and gradualism. He also argued less successfully against the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, maintaining that the history of life had been established by God at the beginning of time and that it progresses according to a divine plan. Agassiz died unhappy, isolated, and frustrated, having lived to see most of his students and colleagues accept Darwin's theories. AGE OF THE EARTH The number of years Earth has existed, resulting in a subject of controversy. Creationists and many fundamental religious sects believe that Earth's age is only several thousand years, while orthodox science puts the age at about 5 billion years. Establishing the age of Earth has always been marked by tension between the scientific and religious communities. Whether or not a divine force lies behind the historical event of Earth's creation fuels the debate and helps determine whether study of Earth's age falls within the realm of science or pseudoscience.     The central figure who believed in a youthful Earth was Archbishop Ussher. In the 17th century, he carefully worked out from the Old Testament (with computations where the text was uncertain) that the Earth was formed in 4004 B.C.E., establishing a precise date and time for the event. Sir Charles LYELL, the geologist, changed this date. He could not see how the fossil record of life could possibly fit into such a timespan, in the 1890s, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), the eminent physicist, applied the best science of his day to the problem. He reasoned that the Earth, initially a body of molten material, would cool according to the laws of thermodynamics, and calculated that it would take between 20 and 400 million years to reach its present temperature--not a precise estimate, but more acceptable to uniformitarians like Lyell and much longer than several thousand years. In reasoning thus, Kelvin assumed that no internal heat was being added to the cooling mass. Soon afterwards, it was discovered that radioactive material had been decaying throughout the Earth's existence, generating heat and thereby invalidating Kelvin's calculations, making his estimate too low.     The radioactive process opened up another possible dating method. Radioactive materials decay exponentially. In a time characteristic of each substance (known as its half-life), half the substance decays, forming another substance, its decay product. In that same time half of what remains decays, and that same time later, half of the remainder, and so on. So the time of formation of a rock containing a radioactive substance and its decay product can be dated by measuring amounts of the radioactive substance and decay product--assuming that no dispersion of either has taken place. The Uranium238-Lead206 combination with a half-life of 4.5 billion years has proven ideal for this purpose. Measurements made of decay of ancient rocks, supported by similar measurements on Uranium238-Lead207 and Thorium232-Lead208, give the date of their formation as about 4.6 billion years. On this basis, the Earth must be at least that old.     Establishing the age of the Earth has been marked by tensions between the scientific and religious communities. Whether or not a divine force is behind the historical events of the Earth's creation fuels the debate as to whether the study of the Earth's age is within the realm of science or pseudoscience.     See also CREATION SCIENCE; CATASTROPHISM. ALCHEMY Derived from the Arabic al-kimia , the Egyptian art that strove to change substances from the known and commonplace to something other in the attempt to uncover universal secrets. It began in ancient China and was practiced in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe for millennia until it gave way to modern science about 400 years ago. It was based originally on the idea that everything was made up of four elements--earth, air, fire, and water--mixed in different proportions in different substances; changing their proportions would change the substance, also known as transmutation. Medieval alchemists searched to uncover the following universal secrets: (1) the elixir of life, which would confer immortality; (2) the panacea , which would cure all ills; (3) the philosopher's stone , which would turn base metals into gold; and (4) the alkahest , which would melt anything and be very useful in experiments and also in war.     Although regarded with some disdain today, the work of the experimental alchemists should not be dismissed lightly. In their searches they heated, pounded, mixed and tested everything they could find and in doing so discovered much about many different materials; they established many of the chemical processes--distillation, fusion, calcination, solution, sublimation, putrefaction, fermentation--that we take for granted today. They accumulated expertise and knowledge that formed the basis for much of today's chemistry. They paved the way for much of today's science, including the transmutation of elements.     Because many lacked a sound knowledge of the constituents of matter, they became frustrated by their lack of success by experimental methods--or at best very limited success. As a result, many alchemists turned to MAGIC, SPELLS, and INCANTATIONS. Because they were concerned that such potentially powerful knowledge could, be dangerous in the wrong hands, they published information about their discoveries in ambiguous, allegorical form that only the initiated can understand. Consequently, later alchemists were never quite sure what their precursors had actually achieved. This secrecy also aroused suspicions and accusations of Satanic practices. This grew and led to condemnation by the Catholic Church on the one hand--in 1317 Pope John XXII issued a proclamation against alchemy--and fraudulent practices by unscrupulous tricksters on the other.     Thus in the Middle Ages, magic and alchemy had become associated with demonic arts, necromancy and the like. It was only with the Renaissance and a new evaluation of human significance in the world that more respectable forms of magic could be reinstated as worthy of humankind and to be practiced without shame. Magic in the Renaissance became an intellectual achievement, praised by many important intellectuals, and it retained this status until the time of Johannes Kepler, Francis BACON, Pierre Gassendi, and René Descartes.     Sir Robert Boyle in The Skeptical Chymist (1661) exposed the unreality of the alchemists' dreams, distinguishing clearly what were elements, what were compounds, and what were mixtures, and laying to rest the old four elements, at least by genuine researchers, for good.     At about the same time the tricksters and their claims for access to untold riches were denounced by the Jesuit Anathasius Kircher, an alchemist for many years, as "a congregation of knaves and impostors." The claims of the knaves and impostors were not limited to transmutation of metals but covered the whole range of alchemical practices: eternal youth, immortality, cures for diseases and disabilities--in short, anything magical that could be sold to the gullible.     Nevertheless, despite denouncements, trickery continued for many years--it could be highly profitable, but it could also be highly dangerous. There are recorded cases of alchemists being imprisoned, tortured and even committing suicide when they were unable to substantiate their claims. Nevertheless the claims of alchemists, both genuine and fraudulent, were taken sufficiently seriously as late as the 18th century for both the French Royal Academy of Science and the Royal Society in Britain to investigate them, finding none supportable.     During the Renaissance, scholars made a distinction between supernatural forms of magic and natural magic, practitioners of which were seeking the hidden but natural properties of substances to produce spectacular and unexpected effects. In the same way true and false alchemy were distinguished. False alchemy made all sorts of impossible claims, such as curing disease instantaneously and bestowing eternal youth. True alchemy only sought what were then seen to be natural properties.     In the 16th and 17th centuries the mechanical philosophers, who were to become the core of the new natural philosophy of the scientific revolution, were not usually mystically inclined, but they were concerned with the ultimate nature of matter, with the kind of transformations that could be achieved by the experimental manipulation of matter. They took the practical side of alchemy seriously and tried to represent alchemical ideas in their own atomistic terminology in which all was reduced to matter and motion. Many accepted, for example, the possibility of transmutation and showed how it might occur within their purview. This phase of the relation between alchemy and natural philosophy lasted until late in the seventeenth century. Such leading natural philosophers as Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac NEWTON took alchemy seriously in this way. Those investigators of the 17th and 18th centuries who were most interested in reproducing the practical claims of the alchemical tradition were also pioneers of the new science of chemistry. They concluded that the more grandiose claims of the alchemists were in error; for example, they eliminated approach after approach to the problem of transmutation.     However, there was one striking difference between the new mechanical philosophers and the older alchemists: The mechanical philosophers were opposed in principle to secrecy and increasingly adopted a conception of knowledge as something for the public benefit. They believed that everything should be published and open to public scrutiny. In this way obscurities and mistakes could be exposed and eliminated in critical public discussion. One figure in this story is especially interesting--Isaac Newton, perhaps the most famous natural philosopher of the 17th century or any century. His achievements are taken as paradigms of scientific research. His published work was disciplined in method--nothing was claimed that had not been argued for by a combination of induction and deduction, the latter modeled on the deductive method of geometry. In his private life, however, Newton was deeply interested in alchemy He took copious notes on alchemical books and manuscripts and he carried out prolonged and detailed experimental studies, believing that his own experiments would be most productive if they proceeded in conjunction with the study of records of the ancient past.     As part of his natural philosophy, Newton was interested in the interactions of very small particles, knowledge of which he believed to be hidden in allegorical form in alchemical writings. It was the most mythical alchemical writings that he thought were the most important to study--as these were thought to represent the oldest part of alchemy.     Newton's studies and experiments provided important insights into what was and was not possible by alchemical manipulations. Nevertheless he never published anything directly concerned with alchemy.     Today we tend to regard alchemists as "knaves and impostors," happily now a thing of the past. However, like Newton and the contemporary mechanical philosophers, we should draw a distinction. There were two distinct groups: the genuine seekers after knowledge to whom today's scientists are indebted for their contributions to scientific understanding, and the rogues and villains who exploited claims to secret knowledge for their own ends, the pseudoscientists of their day.     See also TRANSMUTATION OF ELEMENTS.     For further reading: J. Read, Prelude to Chemistry: An Outline of Alchemy (MIT Press, 1966); R. G. A. Dolby, Uncertain Knowledge (Cambridge University Press, 1996); and Stuart Gordon, The Book of Hoaxes (Headline, 1996). ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE Medical/psychological theory that body posture affects the health of the whole body. Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was a popular Shakespearean actor from the Australian province of Tasmania. During a long series of performances, Alexander lost his voice. His doctors could find no physical cause for his problem, so Alexander decided that his illness must be caused by something he was doing to himself while he was acting and reciting. He started on a program of self-examination, using mirrors, and discovered that his posture--especially the way he held his head and neck--drastically affected the way he spoke. By changing the position of his head in relation to his neck and the rest of his body, Alexander recovered his voice. He also discovered that patterns of tension throughout his body affected his voice.     Alexander developed his technique based on the theory that a person's regular body posture in movement or stillness can become part of an unconscious pattern. If the tension becomes habitual, the person's body begins to understand it as "correct" and allows it to continue without the person becoming aware of it. Alexander labeled this "faulty sensory perception." His technique aims to correct it by removing tension from the neck and lower back; by breaking the tension pattern, the Alexander technique allows a person to develop new habits that are healthier and put less stress on the body.     Some physicians believe that the Alexander Technique can improve a person's health and well-being. Others reject it, believing that any good effects are psychological and do not arise directly from using the technique. However, actors, dancers, and singers have found the Alexander Technique useful in correcting posture problems that can affect their performances. Adherents claim that it can increase their energy and change their mental state. Because it reduces stress, they claim that it can cut down on the frequency and severity of illnesses as well. ALMAS A term for a hairy hominid allegedly found in the mountains of Mongolia and Russia and similar in appearance to the Himalayan creature called the YETI or ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN. The word "Almas" comes from the Mongolian language and means "wildman." The first recorded sighting was described in the journal of a 15th-century Bavarian nobleman, Johann (Hans) Schiltberger, while he was a Mongolian captive. Schiltberger wrote that a wild people, entirely covered with hair, except for face and hands, lived in the mountains. Many other sightings have been reported in the centuries since, and the Almas was formally studied by Russian scientists in the early part of the 20th century. Reported sightings dramatically decreased in the latter part of the century, although as late as 1974 a Mongolian shepherd reported seeing in the Asgat Mountains a half-human, half-beastly creature covered with reddish black hair. Unfortunately, no strong physical evidence--photographs, a living or dead specimen, or casts of tracks--exists to prove the Almas's existence.     Some cryptozoologists and anthropologists consider the Almas an element of Mongolian folklore; others suggest that the creature might be a leftover from the Neanderthals; still others believe it is a relative of the many similar creatures reported in Asia and North America. However, most scientists do not believe sufficient evidence exists to prove the existence of these creatures.     See also BIGFOOT; CRYPTOZOOLOGY. ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS An umbrella term used to describe an extraordinary physical or mental state, not usually experienced in daily life. Such states comprise hypnagogic hallucinations (as in DAYDREAMING), fantasizing, hallucinations, HYPNOSIS, trances, DEATHBED VISIONS, spirit POSSESSION, and OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCE. Such states occur among all peoples, and are usually brought about by changes in body chemistry, which can occur naturally--through disease, by taking hallucinatory drugs, through practices like fasting, drumming, twirling the body, shaking the head, or through psychological suggestion.     There are two ways of thinking about such altered states. The traditional ancient explanation proposes that the states are temporary change of location for the individual who believes he or she is actually entering into and participating in a spirit world. Modern psychological explanations recognize these states as being localized within and generated by the brain's cognitive system.     Some anthropologists who have studied shamanism believe the purpose of using altered states of consciousness within the indigenous metaphysics of societies is to control and influence the weak and powerless, thus dominating the social policy of a tribe or people. ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE All therapies that are an equivalent substitute to modern scientific medical practice. Equivalent when applied to medical practice means having equal value for a particular curative purpose.     In 1983 the British Medical Association set up a scientific committee to "consider the feasibility and possible methods of assessing the value of alternative therapies, whether used alone or to complement other treatments." The major difficulty with this task was that the term covers such a wide range of practices some used purely as complementary medicine and others used totally as an alternative treatment. The committee made four main points: 1. Alternative practitioners generally offered patients more time and were more prepared to listen than regular doctors. 2. Patients who entered the alternative system had the feeling that therapists were more compassionate and more concerned and provided care for the whole person rather than just addressing an illness. 3. Patients liked touching as a way of healing, as in massage, acupressure, and osteopathy, rather than letting modern technology come between themselves and their doctors. 4. Many patients felt comforted and reassured by the "laying on of hands" and other magical practices. They liked the strange words and the unfamiliar qualities inherent in a paranormal approach and felt that they were being linked into a powerful unknown healing force.     The committee concluded that conventional medicine was failing patients. Busy doctors did not spend enough time with their patients to look at their problems in detail and perhaps consider them as whole persons. However, on the other side, the committee thought that not everything the patients wanted was always in their best interest, and it was concerned that many alternative systems had poor training programs. Furthermore, none have strict ethical guidelines, similar to those which regulate conventional doctors.     The committee was also concerned about many alternative diagnostic techniques, such as IRIDOLOGY which diagnoses by identifying the location of certain flecks in the eyes, linking them to specific diseases. Especially worrying to scientific doctors was "intuitive diagnosis," which does not even need the patient to be present but claims to call on powers unknown to science. Diagnosis is a very important part of primary medical care and should be in the hands of men and women who have a wide knowledge of many sides of medicine and access to a network of colleagues with whom they can confer. Although many patients reported good effects from using certain alternative systems, the effectiveness of the therapies themselves are impossible to assess scientifically, and successes could be put down to the placebo effect. A placebo is a substance, known to have no pharmacological effect, given to the patient as an illusory treatment, to which he or she often responds positively for a short time.     Many alternative approaches are based on VITALISM, an ancient notion that the functions of the body operate well when the "life force" flows freely. The life force is a substance distinct from the laws of physics and chemistry. A good example of this force is found in ACUPUNCTURE, in which needles are said to balance the chi .     Yet another pseudoscientific theory of health is put forward by people of the NEW AGE MOVEMENT. They claim that all illness is caused by a separation from the Divine. Healers know how to channel psychic energy from a past healer or spirit, and give out the magical powers to the "AURA," an energy field alleged to surround each human body, of any patient who needs it. Sick people are then, by using meditation and visualization techniques, able to activate the special power enabling them to heal themselves.     Many alternative treatments have proved to be very helpful; for example, BIOFEEDBACK in the hands of a responsible patient under good physician care. But others are highly suspect; one--"Colonic Irrigation"--has caused death. Quackery also finds its way into the alternative health system, that is, the promotion and sale of unproven health products or services, such as "Cellular Therapy."     Herbalist remedies range from the totally useless to the "perhaps may do you some good." Many herbs contain chemicals that have not been completely cataloged. Some may turn out to be useful therapeutic agents, but others could prove to be toxic. For simple ailments like sleeplessness and constipation, the herbalists may well be worth a visit, but many who practice lack adequate training in the diagnosis of disease and consequently do not know what they are treating.     For further reading: K. A. Butler, A Consumer's Guide to "Alternative" Medicine (Prometheus, 1992); J. Raso, "Alternative" Healthcare: A Comprehensive Guide (Prometheus, 1994); V. E. Tyler, The Honest Herbal (Haworth, 1993); and S. Barrett and W. T. Jarvis, The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America (Prometheus, 1993). AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH (ASPR) Oldest of the U.S. organizations engaged in psychical research and PARAPSYCHOLOGY. The ASPR exists to advance the understanding of phenomena alleged to be paranormal: TELEPATHY, CLAIRVOYANCE, PRECOGNITION, PSYCHOKINESIS, and related occurrences that are not at present thought to be explicable in terms of physical, psychological, and biological theories. The ASPR was founded in 1885, but support was difficult to maintain in this controversial field; for financial considerations, in 1889, the society affiliated with the SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH in London. During its first generation, the research work was led by Richard Hodgson. Following his death in 1905, the society, never strong, was dissolved and continued as a branch of James Hervey Hyslop's American Institute for Scientific Research at Columbia University.     When Hyslop died in 1920, the ASPR regained its independent status, and Dr. Walter Franklin Prince became the Society's director of research and editor of its publications. He carried on a variety of investigations prior to his observations of Mina S. Crandon, better known as Margery, who claimed to be a medium. The ASPR board was strongly behind Margery, but Prince believed she was a fraud. The issue came to a head in 1925 when J. Malcolm Bird, who had written several items favorable to Margery, was appointed as co-research officer with Prince. Infuriated, Prince resigned in 1925 and with other disaffected members founded the rival BOSTON SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH (BSPR).     Bird continued as a research officer for the ASPR but suddenly in 1930 resigned from his position. Many years later it was revealed that he had had second thoughts on Margery. He had submitted a confidential report to the board suggesting that Margery had approached him to become a confidant in producing some of her phenomena. Subsequently, Bird and his last manuscript on Margery disappeared.     Following the merger of the BSPR with the ASPR in 1941, George Hyslop, the son of J. H. Hyslop, became president. He demanded the full exposure of Margery's fraudulent activity and worked to reestablish the standards demanded during his father's years of leadership. Hyslop would be succeeded by Gardner Murphy, who spent 20 years as president of the ASPR and became its dominating figure, bringing new prestige to the organization and recruiting talented researchers. During this period laboratory parapsychology emerged as the cutting edge of psychical investigations and the Parapsychology Association was established (1957) as the major professional association for scholars engaged in psychical research.     The ASPR is one of the stable organizations in U.S. psychical research and the home of leading lights such as Gertrude Schmeidler and Karlis Osis. Publication of the society's Journal and Proceedings commenced in 1907 and has continued uninterruptedly to the present. The society's headquarters building in New York City houses a specialized research library for the society's members. The ASPR is a nonprofit, open-membership institution. Members are not required to accept the reality of any particular paranormal phenomena.     See also MARGERY CONTROVERSY.     For further reading: R. Laurence Moore, In Search of White Crows (Oxford University Press, 1977); and D. Scott Rago, Parapsychology: A Century of Inquiry (Dell, 1975). AMITYVILLE HORROR Title of book and movie about an alleged haunting in the 1970s. On November 13, 1974, a young man named Ronald DeFeo ran from his house in Amityville, New York, screaming that someone had murdered his family. DeFeo himself was later convicted of shooting his parents, two brothers, and two sisters. The next owners of the DeFeo home, a large, pleasant, Colonial-style house, were George Lutz, his wife Kathy, and their three young children. They moved in on December 18, 1975. Twenty-eight days later, they fled the home, saying it was haunted.     Very quickly, the Lutz's attorney, William Weber, and a nationally known author, Jay Anson, got involved, helping the Lutzes tell--and sell--their story. Filled with sensational details, the successful book became a popular movie. Some of the incidents the Lutzes claimed occurred included cloven-hoofed tracks in the snow outside the house; malevolent entities that levitated Kathy and tried to possess her; an encounter between one of the children and a demonic pig; green slime that appeared in various places in the home; a hideous stench; the sounds of an invisible marching band tramping through the house; and personality changes in the Lutz family. In addition, Anson's book said, a local priest who had blessed the house in an effort to drive the demons out was himself driven out by a shouting demon, and subsequently came down with a mysterious, enervating illness.     The Amityville events are one case where both skeptics and most parapsychologists agree: The case was a fraud from beginning to end. One of the Lutzes' apparent motives was money; another was said to be George Lutz's psychological problems. Several independent investigators went to Amityville and interviewed people quoted in the book. The police claimed they had never investigated the case as the book stated; the priest claimed he had never had a demonic encounter at the house; damages the house had supposedly sustained were not in evidence; the Lutzes' account changed significantly from its first telling to the written version; and numerous other details were shown to be false.     The book sold millions of copies and had a sequel, the movie sold millions of tickets and had five sequels, and the Lutzes moved to another home, which they claimed was also haunted. This time their story was not as well received. Other owners of the former DeFeo house say that nothing unusual occurred there. ANGEL HAIR One of several types of mysterious "falls," anomalous items that fall from the sky, often associated with UFOs. Angel hair has been described variously as glass-like filaments that dissolve when touched; spiderweblike fluffy masses that fall on bushes, streets, and trees; cottony, radioactive fibers; silken threads as long as 50 feet; metallic, tinsel-like strands; and short, weak cottonwool-like fibers. Some falls have been fleeting, but others have allegedly occurred over a period of two or more hours. Because of its fragility and transience, the substance often disappears before scientists have had a chance to analyze it.     Many reports of angel-hair falls were made in the 1950s. Typical was the account of Mrs. W. J. Daily of Puente, California, as reported in a 1957 issue of FATE MAGAZINE . Mrs. Daily said that she observed a "huge disk or ball-shape object through binoculars. She saw it turn reddish and then expel a fine downy substance that drifted toward earth. When she tried to touch it with her hands, it disappeared, leaving no trace." She was, however, able to pick up a sample of the stuff with a stick. She placed the substance in glass jars and handed it over to a U.S. Air Force investigator, but no analysis results were revealed.     Chemists analyzed angel hair that fell in northeastern Japan in 1957. They found it to be an organic substance of indeterminate makeup, but it definitely was not spiderwebs, which it resembled. Dr. Francis A. Richmond, professor emeritus of chemistry at Elmira College in New York, analyzed fibers that blanketed several square blocks in Horseheads, New York, in February 1957. Richmond found that the fibers were radioactive. Other investigators suggested that the fibers may have been cotton fibers transmuted by an explosion or that they may have come from a nearby milk processing plant, whose airborne effluvia had precipitated in this unusual weblike manner because of odd atmospheric conditions.     Various other explanations have been proffered for angel hair. Some of it resembles the metallic chaff military planes used to use to frustrate radar detection devices. Some authorities have suggested that it is merely some form of pollution or perhaps debris that has fallen from aircraft. This latter explanation would also account for the "UFOs" that are sometimes seen at the same time as the fall or immediately preceding it. Various atmospheric conditions could cause an ordinary plane to look unusual.     Other kinds of anomalous falls have included ice, frogs, rocks, fish, jelly-like blobs, and many other kinds of unusual objects. Although many of these have never been satisfactorily explained, most authorities think there is a natural explanation--or several--for them and that the falls are not paranormal.     See also UFOLOGY. ANIMAL MAGNETISM According to physician Franz Anton MESMER, the force permeating all animal life, including human. It is the mechanism by which HYPNOTISM acts. The idea that there is some substance or field of force that runs through all nature has been (and still is) very widespread. Although in this form it is a 19th-century Western idea, its essence is found in many other cultures across time and place; for example, the Chinese yin and yang, the constituents of qi , are very similar. The idea was taken up by Mary Baker Eddy and, in an adapted form called MALICIOUS ANIMAL MAGNETISM, was incorporated into Christian Science.     See also MACROBIOTICS. ANIMAL PSI An old belief that animals have some form of psychic understanding with human beings and that they use some method, other than normal animal to human communication, that involves perhaps a sixth sense. Stories have been told to suggest that this rapport exists not only between domesticated pets and their owners but also between humans and wild animals, some of which are otherwise naturally very fierce and powerful. Animals often feature in tales of the supernatural, and psychic researchers believe that dogs in particular have the ability to recognize the presence of departed spirits. Animals have also been credited with extraordinary powers of precognition, giving warnings to each other of such disasters as earthquakes or forest fires.     A group of psychical researchers is seriously considering the possibility that animals do have unusual and psychic powers. Recently, parapsychologist William Roll has claimed to have used animals as detectors in experiments with astral travel.     Zoologists, too, have come to the conclusion that animals have extraordinary powers. Yet there is still a vast amount that science does not know about how animals feel and how they think. Even quite lowly species have a built-in "intelligence" sufficient to make them adapt to environments, defend themselves against predators, obtain food, find a mate, and raise their young. But it is only quite recently that we have had the scientific knowledge to investigate specific abilities like the sonar system of the bat, which enables them to locate themselves in the dark by transmitting high frequency sound waves that bounce off objects and back to the bat. DOLPHINS and whales use a similar sonar system that enables them to find their way in water. For example, the female gray whale has a natural ability to make an 11,000-mile journey from the Chukchi Sea, north of Alaska, to a warm lagoon off the coast of Mexico to give birth, and six weeks later, with a young calf, to make the return journey to her arctic feeding grounds. Fragile monarch butterflies make a relay journey, staged over three generations, from Central Mexico to Canada and back. We all know about the amazing feats of migration that have been a natural feature of birds' lives since they developed from archaeopteryx in the Jurassic period, many millions of years before human existence.     Today, the study of the behavior of humanized animals is a very specialized area. A whole new science of veterinary psychology is opening up that studies how pets reconcile their ancestral behavioral history with the pressures of living in an artificially restricted environment. In addition, dogs in particular are being controlled and having their behavior modified, not by their pack leader, another dog, but by their often irrational owners. Many humans observe their pets in a very anthropomorphic way and some even put animal behavior down to phenomena like ESP or animal psi. If the pet owners themselves believe in such pseudoscientific ideas, it is easy for them to project onto animals their own beliefs and preconceptions. Pet clinics have recently opened where a pet-psychic can be engaged to read the minds of disturbed and unhappy animals by letting a pendulum swing over them. The therapists also claim to be able to diagnose and cure any animal by post; all that is needed is a photograph and a few strands of the animal's hair, and they will be able to dowse the problem and suggest a cure.     In the past there has been an occasional claim by pet owners of a very clever animal showing a specific psychic power, but as in the case of Clever Hans, all have been shown to be either the animal responding to unconscious cuing on the part of the owner, frauds, or hoaxes.     See also COUNTING HORSES, RADIESTHESIA.     For further reading: Georgina Ferry, ed., The Understanding of Animals (Basic Blackwell Limited, 1984); and William G. Roll, Theory and Experiment in Psychical Research (Ayer, 1975). ANTIGRAVITY MACHINES Devices that their inventors claim will overcome gravity in some unspecified way outside our normal understanding of machine design. Rockets, gliders, balloons, and heavier-than-air planes are ways by which we overcome gravity to fly or, in the case of space rockets, escape from the Earth's gravitational field (or, in general relativity theory terms, escape from the local timewarp). But this way of overcoming or escaping gravity is not what is meant in this context by an antigravity machine. It is a machine that will cancel out gravity in its locality and thus, for example, be able to escape the earth's attraction without the huge expenditure of fuel required by a space rocket. Roger BABSON and his Gravity Foundation sought such a machine without success.     Babson and his collaborators in the foundation were not the only ones to seek such a machine. There have been many hopeful inventors, none successful so far. "Hopeful inventors" brush aside those who claim that their task is hopeless and point to other dreams that were once seen to be unrealizable: the TRANSMUTATION OF ELEMENTS, voyages to the Moon and Mars, or nuclear energy. But this fails to distinguish between the impracticable and the impossible--projects that pose great practical difficulties and projects that are unrealizable on fundamental grounds. PERPETUAL MOTION MACHINES and antigravity machines fall into this second category as ideas that will tempt many but will remain dreams. (Continues...)

Table of Contents

Carl MitchamWilliam F. WilliamsJerome ClarkMarcello Truzzi
Prefacep. vii
Introductionp. ix
Ethical Issues in Pseudoscience: Ideology, Fraud, and Misconductp. xii
Science or Pseudoscience?p. xviii
Living with Anomaliesp. xxi
The Perspective of Anomalisticsp. xxiii
Entries A-Zp. 1
Selected Bibliographyp. 385
Indexp. 401
Photo Creditsp. 413