Selected articles from
VOL. 12 NO. 1 SUMMER 1999
The "Miami Circle"
by James Randi
(Edited from Randi's e-mail "Hotline")
Wishful thinking is not at all unknown to science. Though we like to think that proper scientists are
careful and deliberate in their work, history shows us that in every field of science, great
presumptions, wild suppositions, unwarranted conclusions, and other less-than-justified elements
have brought many academics to ruin and disgrace. In many cases, we see that the scientific community
has carefully chosen to handle grievous errors by its members as mere peccadilloes -- minor
embarrassments that hang around for a while and are eventually forgotten.
Most major errors are made in all innocence. However, when the facts begin to deny the theory, we
find that some adherents do not hesitate to bend a few bits of data or fabricate findings entirely --
in an effort to rescue the notion they've adopted.
Recently very much in the news is what has become known as the "Miami Circle." On March 7, the NBC-TV
Today show did a major spot on it (and ran an update the next morning). This circle,
which is 38 feet in diameter and shows very clearly in helicopter views, is an artifact located on
very valuable waterfront property where a prominent real estate developer wants to build a
$200-million apartment complex. The archaeologist on site tells us that by placing sight poles into
certain of the seeming post holes, he has determined that the ancient inhabitants who constructed
this wonder achieved accuracy of within one-tenth of a degree in aligning to established astronomical
points, thus providing us with the first example of a "calendar circle" in Florida, comparable to
Stonehenge in England.
Obviously, such a discovery would rank with Tut's tomb, Troy, and Machu Picchu. Nobel prizes,
academic laurels, a movie or two, professorships, and no end of fame would result from such a major
"find." Even more exciting: Basalt tools very similar to those found in Mayan ruins have been --
personally -- found at the site by the archaeologist in charge. To connect South Florida with a major
civilization in Mexico would obviously be a major discovery.
For various reasons, I think that there might well be a huge letdown in the making here. The mayor of
Miami, Alex Penelas, has invoked the principle of Eminent Domain, whereby the state of Florida could
reserve this site as an archaeological treasure and buy the property for purposes of preservation.
Thus, the city government is apparently convinced of the validity of this discovery. Indian groups
in the state are camping out, beating drums, chanting, and calling upon ancestral spirits to set
aside this "international treasure" for posterity. Terms like "our sacred ground" and "holy area"
are being passed about. Perhaps, just perhaps, the enthusiasm is premature.
First, the archaeologist seems to have chosen those post holes from among hundreds that are clearly
seen there in photographs. The "tenth of a degree" accuracy claimed could not possibly have been
determined by placing posts in the holes chosen, since the holes are simply made in the earth, and
the size and inclination of any original post cannot be known. More damning, in my opinion, is the
fact that the choice of other holes would not have provided any correlation, and science does not
allow for such blatant data selection to satisfy a need. The circle itself is only clearly visible
because the investigators have delineated it with a back hoe. The indigenous Indian groups, and those
known to have occupied the area in the past, are not known to have ever exhibited any early
mathematical or astronomical expertise. Besides, they were nomads, and left no such traces behind
anywhere else. And no Mayan artifacts have ever shown up before in Florida -- ever.
When the early West in this country was gripped by gold fever, unscrupulous folks were known to
improve the attraction of abandoned mines by "salting" the tunnels. This was done by loading gold
particles into a shotgun and firing them into the walls, to be "discovered" by the promoters and
their willing dupes as evidence of wealth that just never did emerge from those sites. And, in
archaeology, "salting" of sites is not unheard of, especially when a great deal is invested in
validating a "discovery."
Finally, it is known that, a few decades back, an apartment house, since completely razed, stood on
that site. Then, as now, a septic field would have had to have been constructed beneath the structure.
These fields were circular, 20 to 60 feet in diameter -- depending upon the size of the structure --
and had radiating pipes of soft-fired clay to conduct the effluent out from a central point. At the
southern margin of the Miami Circle -- clearly seen in photographs -- is a rectangular concrete tank
occupying the position that a septic tank might occupy. A search of city records should provide us
with a plan of the septic field that served the earlier apartment building. In any case, if this is
not the original septic field, where is it?
Mayor Penelas, please look into the possibility that, rather than a sacred site, you may have a
simple modern artifact here. A red face at an honest error is much to be preferred over a major
political reversal. The Indian drums are well meant, and the cause is supportable if there is indeed
a calendar circle in Miami. But if we are looking at something to which we were blinded by enthusiasm
and a call to obvious duty, we should recognize that fact before irreversible expenditures and
declarations are already accomplished.
[Editor's note: More information on the "Miami Circle" may be found in the
Miami Herald web archives and the
Brian David Andersen:
by Gary P. Posner
A Nobel Prize in his future?
Unless I am so close-minded that I simply refuse to see the light (or is it a hologram?), there
would certainly seem to be a Nobel Prize in Physics (or Psychics?) just around the corner for Brian
If you don't know the name, please visit his website. Now
you tell me : Do I know how to pick 'em, or what?
Actually, he picked me. Well, he went fishing, and I took the bait. On
April 29 of last year, a mass e-mailing was sent in his name, claiming that "Andersen changed the
taste and quality of liquids located next to the radio hosts while he was in San Diego, California. . . .
Ms. Theisse was in Yelm, Washington. Needless to say, the radio talk show hosts were amazed and
dumbfounded when they compared the taste and quality of their 'treated' and untreated liquids. . . .
[Andersen] changed her liquid (soft drink named Sprite). Edited and unedited audio tapes of the
unprecedented and history-making radio show are available upon request."
I replied that very day: "On behalf of the Tampa Bay Skeptics, we would be happy to help Brian
discover . . . that he can't really do what is claimed in your post. We could afford to pay a mere
$1,000 for a successful demonstration of 'psychic' ability, but could get
James Randi to test him for his $1,000,000+ prize."
In our follow-up correspondence, Andersen rejected my proposed protocol for a double-blind test of
his claim. Instead, he insisted upon a "quadruple blind" protocol in which "Claimant and Skeptic
Group will not participate in any phase of assembly of test." Further, Sprite was now deemed "not an
acceptable liquid [despite having been used on the radio show] because cane sugar content and
carbonation could skew the test. . . . Red wine or grape juice only have natural sugars and are far
superior liquids. Using red wine would allow professionals to participate in the taste test. There
are no professional grape juice or Sprite taste testers." And would you care to take a guess as to
Andersen's first choice for "Project Coordinator"? Time's up: George Hamilton (the actor)!
I advised Andersen that I found his insistence upon a protocol that excluded TBS from participation,
in favor of George Hamilton and his "professional wine tasters," to be unacceptable. In his reply,
Andersen proclaimed, "For the first time a skeptic group has withdrawn from a project because the
claimant has testing standards that are too high and professional for the skeptic group. Thank you
for being part of history." I countered that "TBS has never been a part of your 'project,' so I am at
a loss as to how you can accuse us of 'withdrawing' from it." I took the further step of advising
Andersen that "I am forwarding our correspondence to TBS's chairman, Terry Smiljanich, to see if he
would be interested in having TBS test you under your specified conditions."
The very next day (May 1, 1998), before Terry even had a chance to review the correspondence,
Andersen took it upon himself to disseminate over the internet the contents of our exchanges
(available from TBS upon request by e-mail, or send a stamped return envelope). Apparently I had been
the only skeptic courteous (and foolish) enough to have given him the time of day.
On April 29 of this year, almost exactly one year later to the day, I received a personalized version
of another mass e-mailing from Andersen, this one promoting his new book, Rhythms of Nature.
As the message explains, "A combination of science, metaphysics and spirituality that was interwoven
and then scattered in our past . . . has been reunited by the research and discoveries of Brian David
Andersen." Tacked to the end of my version was this addendum: "Dr. Posner's exchange with Andersen is
featured in book." Andersen's website contains much
information about the book's contents, including his discovery of the "holographic" nature of the
chemical elements, but no mention of our correspondence (I can only assume that he reprises his
reckless charge that TBS reneged on an imagined agreement to test him -- even though George Hamilton
would have done the testing).*
I requested from Andersen a courtesy copy (by U.S. or e-mail) of the book's content regarding TBS and
myself, but he refused, insisting that I must buy the book in order to see what he wrote about us. He
did inform me that Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine,
received a free "review" copy of the book. But when I inquired about borrowing his copy, Shermer told
me that that the quality of the writing and self-publication were so poor that he had quickly tossed
the book into the recycling bin. I then tried CSICOP, but no one
there recalls receiving a copy.
So . . . If anyone, upon inspecting Andersen's website, decides to purchase Rhythms of
Nature, TBS would greatly appreciate photocopies of all passages pertaining to my
correspondence with the author, whose pioneering research seems a sure bet to net him a Nobel Prize.
* August 2004 Update: I no longer see any reference to this book on Andersen's website. But on the
Amazon.com site I found
used copy available, and for the bargain price of $184.28 !
by Terry A. Smiljanich
"A Wondrous World"
In his book Skeptics and True Believers, Chet Raymo tells the story of the red knot
sandpiper, a migratory bird that spends its winters in Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South
America. As cold summer approaches the southern hemisphere, the sandpipers begin their 8,000-mile
journey to Northern Canada, stopping en route for a respite on a small corner of Cape Cod. Once in
Canada, the birds mate and give birth during the Canadian summer. Then, as fall approaches, the red
knot sandpiper adults leave their young behind and begin their long 8,000-mile flight back to Tierra
Now, here comes the incredible part of the story. The juvenile sandpipers, having been left behind,
continue to forage and grow in strength. Then, several weeks after their parents have left them, they
too begin their migration south, flying for the first time the length of North and South America,
stopping at the same place in Cape Cod along the way, and ending up back with their parents on a
small spit of land 8,000 miles from their birthplace.
Think about that for a moment. The juvenile sandpipers, having never been "taught" the way home, are
left behind with only their genetic codes residing in their cells. These codes are simply alternating
chains of four nucleotides arranged in the famous double helix of DNA. Combinations of those
nucleotides, called genes, call for the creation of specific proteins. Yet that simple chemical code
somehow contains within it "maps" of a journey almost half way around the globe, detailed to the
nearest quarter mile, enabling the birds to know where to stop along the way and how to locate a home
they have never seen. All of this was achieved through millions of years of evolution by natural
The next time someone touts a "psychic" who can guess that someone's grandmother recently died or
suffers from cancer, or the next time someone claims that holding a hand over a person can vaguely
influence the course of a disease, or the next time someone breathlessly describes a window stain
that looks like the Virgin Mary, bring up the sandpiper story and see how that compares in the realm
For too long now, inadequate high school science teachers, popular fiction, and the media have
convinced many people that science is boring, scientists are evil, and reality is no fun. How can
this be, with so many real-life "miracles" waiting to be uncovered all around us? Astronomy, geology,
and quantum physics all contain more incredible facts than an army of "psychics" could come up with.
Religion has held a powerful grip on the human psyche ever since Neanderthals buried their dead with
gifts for the hereafter. In addition to providing easily digestible answers to the great questions of
life, one of the principal attractions of religion has been its ability to engender a sense of awe
and wonder -- a humble acknowledgement of the subtle, intangible and all-powerful presence of
immensities beyond human comprehension. Listen to a Gregorian chant and you, too, will share this
Yet science and reason can themselves lead to many of the same feelings of wonder at the immense and
beautiful mysteries of the universe. As Raymo says (p. 255) in his short but profound book, "Science
cannot nor should not be a religion, but it can be the basis for the religious experience:
astonishment, experiential union, adoration, praise."
We must find ways to convey the beauty and mystery of science to more people. It is for this reason
that Stephen Jay Gould, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Edward O. Wilson and Jacob Bronowski are among my
personal heroes. Turning their back on comfortable scientific studies addressed to their colleagues,
they turned instead to the public and shared with us their celebration of the human spirit embodied
in science and reason. To quote Raymo again (p. 252), their motto was: "If there be a skeptical star
I was born under it, yet I have lived all my days in complete astonishment." That should be our
motto as well.
TBS vs. UFO Believers on TV
by Jack Robinson
The scene was a public access TV studio in Tampa. On March 25th,
Gary Posner and I were on
the Magnificent (since renamed UFOs & Metaphysics ), to debate UFOs with
host Malcolm Hathorne and his other guest,
Phil Bayly. If the
criterion was who got to talk the most, they won -- 41 minutes to 17 (and during part of our time,
Malcolm was talking simultaneously).
Malcolm's introduction of Bayly went on for three minutes. Bayly was said to be a retired Air Force
Colonel who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in engineering, who then joined the
Air Force and clocked over 5,000 flying hours. He attended the Command and General Staff College of
the Air War College, and was -- both before and afterwards -- involved in clandestine programs. He is
also an active UFO researcher affiliated with the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON).
In contrast, Gary's intro took 20 seconds. I was introduced simply by name, in one second flat. The
fact that I am an astronomer was relevant but ignored.
It was hard to accept Bayly's claims at face value. For example, an Air War College classmate, who
had previously been assigned to the top-secret RC135 program, told Bayly that in the early 1960s,
RC135s were targeted against UFOs. In Bayly's words, "They knew what tracks [the UFOs] flew [and] how
to intercept them, they had visual contact from the cockpit . . . electronic equipment sweeping them
for the frequencies they were going to emit, and they recorded them -- all simultaneous with ground
Such anecdotal, hearsay "evidence" wouldn't be admissible in court, because it can so easily be
contaminated by biases, faulty perceptions and faulty memories. Colonel Bayly has been interested in
UFOs ever since high school, and believed in a government UFO cover-up at the time he was talking
with his RC135 classmate.
Later in the program, Bayly stated, "Dr. Millikan in the 1920s was given the Nobel Prize when he
stated that the atom couldn't be smashed." Gary responded, "You don't get the Nobel Prize for saying
that the atom can't be smashed." I added, "I think he got the Nobel Prize for something else."
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica (1955), Robert A. Millikan was awarded the
Nobel Prize, in 1923, for his "work on the elementary electric charge and the photoelectric effect."
Bayly also referred to the work of Zecharia Sitchin: "He, a historian-investigator, looked into the
physical evidence that existed in the Sumerian society . . . some 4000 years ago. And the writings . . .
and the pictorial representations . . . show all of the planets as we know them, plus one other
planet -- a 12th planet. And Pluto . . . was supposedly discovered in this [20th] century. However,
4000 years ago, it was documented -- and pictorially." (According to Sitchin, the Sumerians could
only have known about Pluto, and the other planets beyond Saturn, if they had been informed by
aliens, who came in spaceships to Sumeria from the 12th planet -- 12th because the sun and our moon
were also counted. This planet is now out of sight, way beyond Pluto.)
I checked on the credibility of Zecharia Sitchin and his evidence. His theory about the origin of the
solar system is grossly discordant with modern astronomy. In his book, The Twelfth Planet,
the pictures appear ambiguous to me. And to quote from J. R. Cole's review
(in Archaeology, 34:72, 1981) of another one of Sitchin's books:
Sitchin should be viewed as a minor prophet of a seeming baseless anti-empirical cult. Like the
so-called scientific creationists, he confuses religion, myth, and science. . . . [Sitchin] writes
better than von Daniken, and his ideas may be seen by some as more logical, but appearances can
deceive. Cultists will call this book brilliant, but archaeologists and historians will label it
Malcolm and Phil Bayly both believe there has been a UFO cover-up. I asked Bayly, "Why do you think
our government wants to keep these things secret?" His response was revealing: "I don't think it's
our U.S. government exclusively. . . . It's international. . . . You follow the money; if there's
that much technology involved, it's worth a lot of money . . . a lot of power. So you have every
reason for the invisible government -- we call it the secret government, the power brokers of the
world -- . . . to keep it secret."
I asked, "Who are these power brokers?" Bayly clarified: "You can call them the New World Order, the
Trilateralists, the Council of Foreign Relations . . . the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the people
like that. . . . Maybe that's where their power base came from financially. It certainly is worth
their retaining it." Let the reader judge: Could such an invisible government really be kept secret
for long, when so many powerful news agencies would love to break the story, and so many snitches
would love to sell the story?
Malcolm's contributions to the discussion were often vague generalities, e.g., "There are so many
extremely powerful, documented UFO reports, and encounters and cases all over the world, that you
can't push them aside just because there are [some hoaxes and mistakes]. . . . The bottom line is
there are so many that are irrefutable."
Lesson: Skeptics may be at a disadvantage in a debate with believers, because we may not be familiar
with a specific case brought up, and it is impossible to prove a negative. But we can ask questions
to get them to commit to specifics. And we can then check out their "evidence."
This country's two largest psychic hotlines went bankrupt last year, and the remaining ones are
having tough times. As a result, one of them not only helps its clients get in touch with their lost
loved ones, but also has resorted to billing the dead. Access Resource Services, based in Fort
Lauderdale, tried to collect $329 from a Connecticut man who died in 1978. If the decedent managed to
mail in a check, he is entitled to TBS's "$1,000 Challenge" award for proof of the paranormal, as
well as the James Randi Educational Foundation's million dollars.
Maybe he'll read this . . .
(Miami Herald via St. Pete. Times, Feb. 17)
During an on-air radio conversation with Ch. 13 news anchor Kelly Ring, WFLZ-FM's resident "singing
psychic" was attempting to predict when the very pregnant Ring would give birth to her new daughter.
As the seer struggled to come up with a date, Ring went into labor during their conversation! Two
hours later, she was a mother for the second time.
(St. Pete. Times, Feb 27)
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