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What’s Going On At Temple University?

Notes of a Fringe-Watcher

Martin Gardner

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 22.5, September / October 1998

In recent years Temple University, a distinguished coeducational institution in Philadelphia, has become a center for the promulgation of some of the wildest aspects of pseudoscience. It all began in 1986 when Richard J. Fox, chairman of Temple’s board of trustees, met with some fringe scientists in London. He became impressed by their difficulties in getting work published that went beyond “mainstream paradigms.” “Paradigm” is still a favorite buzzword of maverick scientists and those who write about them.

There was a crying need, Fox decided, for an organization that would permit fringe scientists to interact with mainstream scientists and provide a forum for discussing their results. If Temple University would sponsor such a center it could make certain that high academic standards were maintained. Here is how Fox described the purpose of such an organization:

The Center’s overall objective is to create a legitimate place and environment where scientists, researchers, and thinkers from all areas of scientific and intellectual endeavor can come together and discuss their thoughts, projects, and ideas no matter how revolutionary, with complete confidence and comfort.

Temple’s president, Peter Liacouras, agreed. The center’s mission, he declared, was “to examine critically frontier research projects that hold promise of future breakthroughs.”

Temple’s Center for Frontier Science, as it is now called, was founded in 1987. Since then it has sponsored a raft of conferences, and more that fifty lectures on Temple’s main campus. Its periodical Frontier Perspectives, issued twice a year, has grown to more than eighty pages. I had not seen a copy until physicist C. Alan Bruns, at Franklin and Mitchell College, in Lancaster, sent a copy of Vol. 7, No. 1, 1998, to CSICOP’s office, which in turn forwarded it to me.

Reading through its pages I could hardly believe my eyes. I had expected the magazine to be concerned with such outstanding frontiers as superstring theory, the nature of dark matter, the genetic origins of altruism, how organic molecules fold so rapidly, speculations about a “multiverse” in which endless universes, each with a unique set of laws, explode into reality, or supercomputers operating with quantum mechanics.

The “frontiers” covered in this peculiar journal are nothing of the sort. They are reports on research so far removed from reputable science that it is no wonder academic journals refuse such papers. Let me quickly review a few topics that dominate the Fall/Winter 1998 issue of this magazine.

Homeopathy is one of the center’s favorite “frontiers.” I don't need to remind SI readers that this is the nineteenth-century crank contention that certain substances, diluted to a degree that no molecules of the substance remain, have great potency in curing an enormous variety of ailments. Because homeopathic remedies consist of nothing but distilled water, it becomes necessary for its defenders to assume that, in some mysterious manner totally unknown to chemists, the water retains a “memory” of its vanished substances.

Cyril Smith, a British electrical engineer, writing on “Is a Living System a Macroscopic Quantum System?", relates “homeopathic potencies” to the Earth’s electromagnetic fields that cause dowsing rods to turn. The Center obviously regards the ancient art of water witching as another of today’s science “frontiers.” In 1989 it sponsored a conference on dowsing, chaired by Terry Ross, identified as a “well-known dowser.”

Nancy Kolenda, executive editor of Frontier Perspectives, writes “The participants found the meeting to be a learning experience that gave them the opportunity to develop their skill as dowsers . . .” A second conference on dowsing, titled “Bioinformation Sensing and Sensitivity to Geophysical Fields,” was held later in 1989 in Germany.

Writing on “Three Frontier Areas of Science that Challenge the Paradigm” (Frontier Perspectives, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1992), Beverly Rubik, for seven years director of the Center, conjectures that dowsing is related to ELF (Extremely Low Frequency electromagnetic waves). ELF waves are another major concern of the Center, especially the alleged terrible effects on human health of ELF waves bombarding us from overhead electrical wires. The other two major concerns of the Center, Rubik asserts, are alternative medicines and the nature of consciousness.

Glen Rein, in a paper on how quantum fields heal, finds that such fields, rather than electromagnetic fields, are what alter the properties of water and give it healing powers. Like other authors in this journal, Smith and Rein write in a mind-numbing technical jargon almost impossible to understand.

F. Fuller Royal and Gregory Olson discuss “Illness as a Delusion.” They actually believe that illness has no reality! Illness, according to these authors, is caused by “mental delusions” in a mind that is not confined to the brain but is active in every atom of our body. Homeopathic remedies, they maintain, “are patterns of nonlinear waves that resonate with similar thought programs located in the memory field of the subconscious mind and with perturbations in the conscious mind field. These medicines are capable of eliminating delusional programs located in the memory field that serve as the foundation for illness.”

Before birth, according to Royal and Olson, we existed outside of time in a region of “pure light.” Time entered our lives only after we descended “into a lower earthly vibration.” A developing fetus is strongly influenced by its mother’s emotional state. Homeopathic drugs are “harmonic nonlinear soliton waves in resonance with subconscious negative programs . . . . The energy of homeopathic medicine will collapse a negative thought program . . . making it no longer available to enter the conscious field.” Delusions can also be banished by a second “treatment modality” the authors call TFT or “Thought Field Therapy.”

In 1990 the Center for Frontier Science sponsored a conference on homeopathy in Baden-Baden, Germany. Among its speakers was Jacques Benveniste, a French homeopath whose work on “water with a memory” was so thoroughly discredited a year or two earlier.1 Nancy Kolenda writes that the conference “ended on a high note with a unanimous decision to move forward in a global cooperation in promoting homeopathic research.”

Beverly Rubik is also gung ho for homeopathy. Her paper on “Frontiers of Homeopathic Research” ran in the Vol. 2, No. 1, 1991, issue of Frontier Perspectives. Bruns, who tipped me off to this bizarre periodical, said in a letter that he heard Rubik lecture at a regional meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers. Her stirring defense of psychic powers included an account of her experience with Russia’s “magnetic women” who suspend metal objects on their foreheads and chests. Rubik showed slides of herself with a spoon stuck to her forehead! Bruns was amazed that no one in the audience laughed or snickered.

Enough about homeopathy. To regard its revival today as a frontier science is comparable to calling a revival of phrenology or palmistry a frontier science. It has been said that anyone today who believes in phrenology ought to have his or her head examined. The same can be said of today’s homeopathy enthusiasts who are unable to distinguish cures from placebo effects.

Here are a few other fields of parascience presented favorably in the Fall/Winter 1998 issue of Frontier Perspectives:

In “Is Dead Matter Aware of Its Environment?” Peter Graneau argues that all particles of matter are aware of all other particles regardless of how far away they are. He thinks Newton’s physics is superior to Einstein’s, and likens the blindness of establishment scientists today to the blindness of those Italian professors who refused to accept Galileo’s experiment of dropping two different weights from the Tower of Pisa. Graneau is unaware that this experiment was never performed.

Dan Kenner, an acupuncturist, defends the thousands of herbal remedies sold in Oriental shops. He doesn't mention the shops in India where the herbs are quite different from those in China and Japan. Kenner introduces a word that was new to me — “nosology.” It is not a study of noses, but the science of classifying diseases. Homeopathy, Kenner tells us, is an example of “empirical nosology” — that is, a way of classifying illnesses based on careful research.

Roger Taylor favorably reviews a self-published book — he calls it a “gem of science” — titled Waves in Dark Matter. The author, O. Ed Wagner, has done experiments which show that these waves, previously undetected, are responsible for what he calls the hitherto “unexplained ability” of trees to raise water up their trunks. A Chinese biophysicist, Taylor adds, has done work which suggests that these elusive W-waves play a role in the spacing of acupuncture points on human bodies. “Without doubt a new and important chapter has been opened in the science of life,” Taylor concludes. Another book under review extols the great benefits of green tea in inhibiting cancer, dental caries, and other ailments.

The magazine’s funniest paper is “On the Nature of Tarot,” by Inna Semetsky, identified as someone at Columbia University’s Teachers College. (Let’s hope she’s a student and not on the staff.) Semetsky defends the validity of Tarot card readings. The practitioner uses the random arrangement of the shuffled cards to tune into fields that Semetsky relates to David Bohm’s “implicate order,” Jung’s archetypes and concept of synchronicity, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and karma. In addition to space’s three dimensions, and the dimension of time, there is fifth dimension consisting of consciousness. Because time is a “parameter” of this fifth field, it allows Tarot readers to tap into Jung’s “collective unconscious,” part of the fifth field, and learn about future events. Semetsky urges the introduction of Tarot into mental health professions.

Prominent believers in ESP, PK, and precognition (some no longer living) who have been active in the center’s conferences and/or contributors to its journal include Brian Josephson, Rupert Sheldrake, Andrija Puharich (author of a book about Uri Geller), Robert Jahn and his psychic assistant Brenda Dunne, Glenn Olds, Willis Harmon, Helmut Schmidt, Ramakrishna Rao, Harold Puthoff, Stephen Braude, David Griffin, Fred Wolfe, and many others.

Another piece of evidence that Temple University is sliding into absurdity involves UFOs. On their faculty as an associate professor of history is David Jacobs, one of our nation’s most energetic promoters of the reality of human abductions by extraterrestrial aliens. His first book, The UFO Controversy in America (Indiana University Press, 1975), is an expanded version of his doctoral thesis at the University of Wisconsin. Secret Life (Simon and Schuster, 1992), his second UFO book, is devoted to first-hand accounts of abductions. The Threat, his latest book (also by Simon and Schuster) was published early this year. “Ph.D” appears after Jacobs’ name on the jacket, and also after his name at the top of every left-hand page, a sure giveaway to the man’s ego. His editors at Simon and Schuster obviously don't believe anything he says, but books about alien abductions sell so well to UFO enthusiasts that once-respected publishers are unable to resist the anticipated profits.

Although Jacobs has had no training in psychology, psychiatry, or hypnotherapy, he uses hypnotism to induce his patients (now more than 700) to develop strong memories of horrendous abductions even though many patients had no such memories until hypnotized. Jacobs is convinced that five million Americans have been kidnapped at least once by aliens. One female patient, who worked in retail sales, had, according to Jacobs, a hundred abductions in one year, an average of one every three days! How did she manage to keep her job, New York Times reviewer Joe Queenan wanted to know.

Jacobs’ patients routinely report incredible sexual molestations. The aliens extract sperm from men, eggs from women, then use them to produce a race of hybrids intended soon to take over the Earth. Jacobs writes that he “desperately wishes” this not to be true, but now he “fears for the future” of his children. Jacobs isn't sure where the aliens come from, but he thinks it might be from a distant planet. They communicate with each other and with humans by telepathy. You might suppose Jacobs would look favorably on other UFO researchers using hypnosis to revive memories of abductions. Not so. For example, he regards John Mack, Harvard’s embarrassing psychiatrist who also written a book about UFO abductions, as incompetent and gullible. As for Philip Klass, the nation’s top debunker of the UFO mania, Jacobs refuses even to speak to him.

The hybrids who walk among us are fiendishly clever in concealing themselves. They look and dress exactly like us. To further confuse us, the aliens plant false memories in abductee heads so that when they are returned to Earth, police think they are nuts because they talk about seeing Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Abraham Lincoln, and other notables. These fake memories are created by a technique called “mindscan,” a term Jacobs coined. It never occurs to him that he himself is using a form of mindscan on his patients.

"If The Threat has any shortcoming,” wrote Joe Queenan in his New York Times review (January 10, 1998), “it is its failure to explain why aliens always seem to abduct people no one ever heard of . . . . Nor does he [Jacobs] inform the reader why these seemingly omnipotent creatures have never nabbed him. Perhaps Mr. Jacobs has in fact been abducted, brainwashed, and tricked into writing this book — with the specific purpose of making a reputable publisher appear inane and UFO hunters seem even more laughable.”

Aside from Klass’s books and newsletters, the most powerful, most hilarious recent debunking of the UFO scene is an article by Frederick Crews in The New York Review of Books (June 25, 1998). Titled “The Mindsnatchers,” Crews reviews three UFO books, one of which is Jacobs’s The Threat. As Crews recognizes, Jacobs, like John Mack and others, is blissfully unaware of how easily false memories can be fabricated. Fortunately, the damage these memories can do to patients is less harmful than false memories of sexual abuse by human adults. Innocent fathers, mothers, and teachers have already wasted years in prison, some even under life sentences, solely on the basis of fabricated memories of sexual abuse dramatically recounted in court by children and grownups who were brainwashed by fanatical therapists.

Crews quotes the following passage from Jacobs’s account of the memories of a patient he calls “Beverly":

Then the hybrids told Beverly that they could take her body whenever they wanted and that she was always vulnerable and never safe. One hybrid raped her, and she was forced to perform fellatio upon another. They pinched her, twisted her skin, and hurt her without leaving marks. The pushed an unlit candle into her vagina. They then told her she had caused her children to be abducted . . . . On another occasion hybrids made her envision her six-year-old daughter walking into a room ringed with naked hybrids who had erections; she was led to believe that her daughter would be raped by all of them.

That a seemingly sane history professor could believe such obvious confabulations and keep his job at a major university is surely no small academic scandal. Temple even allows Jacobs to regularly teach a course on UFOlogy. There is one thing that can be said in praise of Frontier Perspectives. It has not yet published a paper by Jacobs, or, as far as I know, reviewed any of his preposterous books.


  1. After INSERM, France’s medical research agency, closed down Benveniste’s laboratory, he opened his own Digital Biological Laboratory south of Paris. He recently claimed to have transmitted “water memory” over the Internet, using e-mail. And he is suing two Nobel prize winners, physicist Georges Charpak and biologist François Jacob, and physicist Claude Hennion, for writing unkind things about him. On Benveniste’s monumentally flawed homeopathic research, see Chapter 4 of my On the Wild Side (Prometheus, 1992).

Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner is author of more than seventy books, most recently The Jinn from Hyperspace and When You Were a Tadpole and I was a Fish, and Other Speculations About This and That.