Selected articles from
VOL. 24  NO. 1  SUMMER 2011




"Psychic Detective" Noreen Renier
Lambasted in Judge's Ruling

By Gary P. Posner

"[Noreen] Renier is a psychic who asserts that she has paranormal powers. [John] Merrell is a skeptic who believes that it is his moral charge to disprove the validity of those powers. The conflict between these parties makes Charles Dickens' Bleak House read like a novella." So begins page two of Judge William E. Anderson's March 21, 2011, order in the case of Renier v. Merrell, United States Bankruptcy Court, Western District of Virginia, Lynchburg.

The world-renowned "psychic detective" had already gotten a sweetheart deal from Anderson in June 2010 when he ruled that Renier, who declared bankruptcy in 2007, would have to pay Merrell only $5,470 of the more than $40,000 he had been awarded in damages and legal fees when she violated a 1992 agreement that neither party would again publicly disparage the other. She had included two derogatory chapters about Merrell in her 2005 memoir, A Mind for Murder (see my Summer 2005 review), which was subsequently withdrawn from the market and later reissued, absent those chapters, by another publisher (see Fall 2008).

Not content to get away so lightly, with the ink barely dry on that ruling -- which also contained a stipulation imposing a $30,000 penalty to be paid to the aggrieved party should either of them violate its prohibitions -- Renier filed another complaint, alleging that postings remaining on Merrell's website were in violation and that she was thus entitled to the $30,000. A two-day hearing eventually ensued in Virginia on December 20-21, 2010 (see last issue for my related article), and the judge's order was finally issued three months later.

When we get to page 5 of the order, we find this:

The overwhelming problem with Renier's case [for the $30,000] is that this court did not find her . . . to be a credible witness. There are reasons for this conclusion, beyond her demeanor. First, she misled the court when she indicated that she intended to abide by [another directive in the 2010] order. . . . Renier stood not five feet away [from this bench] and agreed to abide. . . . Her [later] testimony . . . evidences that she did not intend at any time to abide by the memorialization of the court's words.

Judge Anderson further concludes that Renier "filed pleadings in an effort to begin [still more] litigation that would, she hoped, result in a $30,000 judgment in her favor against Merrell. This court is convinced that this is the only reason she agreed to the terms of [the 2010] order."

As we have reported in these pages over the years, Renier and Merrell have been at each other's throats off and on for more than a quarter century, appearing before nine judges across five states. They've argued over matters ranging from missing persons and a mysterious airplane crash to FBI endorsements, with various twists and turns worthy of Hollywood. It all began when Renier was awarded $25,000 in a 1986 libel judgment against Merrell, after tricking him (by writing to him under an assumed name) into investigating some of her own "psychic" claims, which he then publicly characterized as "fraudulent." Merrell's own 1989 request to have that debt discharged by a bankruptcy judge (after guaranteeing full payment to his other creditors) was denied.

In Renier's initial 2007 bankruptcy pleading, she had declared barely $40,000 as her entire gross income for the preceding thirty-two months. Knowing that to be an impossibly lowball figure, Merrell uncovered evidence of additional income, resulting in Renier incrementally amending that figure upward, ultimately by more than $100,000. But information later obtained by Merrell via subpoena, and never taken into account by the court, documented an additional $30,000 in income, plus unknown assets being held in several unreported bank accounts and a safe deposit box. In addition, Story House Productions, producers of Court TV's Psychic Detectives, refused to honor its subpoena, which could have disclosed how much money Renier had received over those thirty-two months for her recurring appearances in that series.

During Judge Anderson's three months of reflection, he came to realize that "the jurisdiction of this [bankruptcy] court does not extend to every corner of the parties' ongoing dispute," and he therefore, in his new order, vacated his June 2010 order insofar as it relates to anything beyond the amount of money Renier's estate had to pay her creditors (with Merrell being her largest). Among his overreaching, now-defunct declarations in that 2010 order was this: "Merrell's co-author [yours truly] may continue [though Merrell may not] with the writing and publication of said book [about Renier, but] any mention of Merrell's name [in the book] shall constitute a breach." I had no intention of abiding by any such directive and wrote, in our the Fall 2010 issue, that the judge could "stick [that stipulation] where the moon don't shine."

By vacating his 2010 order, in which the $30,000 penalty had been memorialized, Judge Anderson has rendered moot Renier's chances of snaring the jackpot, though they were nil anyway for the above-discussed reasons relating to her credibility. Anderson takes a parenthetical swipe at Merrell's credibility as well, and goes on to opine that regarding their litigious history, "neither is capable of introspection [or] approaches matters concerning the other with even a modicum of reason," leaving him "not so na´ve [as] to believe that the parties will now go their separate ways." To my mind, however, one of the parties occupies the higher (by far) moral ground and has more than a modicum of reason to be skeptical of the other's paranormal claims.

True to Anderson's predictions, Renier has filed a 40-page appeal of Judge Anderson's ruling, arguing (in part) thatáthe courtáerred "factually and legally in its assertions regarding [Renier's] credibility" and in vacating its 2010 order (witháits $30,000 penalty to whicháRenier claims entitlement).

[A version of this article appears in the July/August issue of Skeptical Inquirer.]



Why aren't cell-phone-safety skeptics
being vilified like AGW skeptics?

By Gary P. Posner

I'm steamed -- and I don't mean from global warming, or from my cell phone cooking my brain. And not about my own situation, mind you, since I am already considered by many to be akin to not merely a flat-earther, but a Holocaust denier, because of my confessed (beginning in our Spring 2009 issue) doubts about there being an anthropogenic-global-warming (AGW) crisis. No, my heart aches for those scientists who have worked so hard for the same privilege but have yet to be so stigmatized, despite their skepticism of the safety of cell phones.

Skeptical Inquirer magazine, which in 1988 nurtured the creation of TBS Report, has limited its terms of endearment towards AGW skeptics to nothing stronger than "science-challenged" or "extreme gullibility" (well, OK, maybe a "witless mean-spiritedness" thrown in as well), but its primary standard-bearer, NASA's Dr. David Morrison, has declared the matter settled: "There is no dispute among climate scientists about . . . the fact that [global warming] is primarily caused by accelerated burning of fossil fuels." And articles such as S. T. Lakshmikumar's (September/October 2009) have made comparable pronouncements about the safety of cell phones: "Unless one is willing to discard . . . the entire body of quantum physics, it is simply not possible for . . . a cell phone to cause cancer." So why are the cell-phone-safety skeptics, whose heads are apparently as deeply buried in sand as the AGW skeptics' are, not being similarly vilified?

For example, a February 22, 2011, article on the ABC News website begins, "Fears concerning the possible dangers of prolonged cell phone use won't go away, despite numerous studies showing no conclusive link between cell phones and brain tumors or cancer. Now new data from the National Institutes of Health suggesting that cell phone radiation boosts brain activity is poised to stir the debate even further." The study, published in that week's issue of JAMA, finds that "brain metabolism . . . in the region closest to the [cell phone] antenna . . . was significantly higher" with the phone on rather than off. The lead author, according to the ABC News story, "says their findings reopen the debate about cell phone concerns and make it impossible to ignore that prolonged use over many years might have some kind of unknown effect on the brain."

So not everyone concerned about possible adverse effects of cell phone use upon the brain is confined to a psych ward, though some do work in hospital wards treating patients who they believe have possibly suffered such ill effects, including cancer. On CNN's May 20 edition of AC360, host Anderson Cooper, not heretofore relegated to the Holocaust-denier camp, announced that he would begin wearing an earpiece with his cell phone, rather than holding it to his head. In a segment titled "Cell Phone Cancer Questions," he asked, "What if the [negative] research is incomplete, because many cancers take a long time to develop, and cell phones haven't been around that long?" He pointed out that the manufacturers recommend holding their phones at least a half inch away from one's head. And in his introduction to a report by neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent, he noted that "as Gupta found out, there are serious people asking life-and-death questions," and he wasn't referring to what happened at Treblinka.

As was made clear, cell phones do not emit ionizing radiation, which is known to cause cancer. But, asked Gupta, "What is that [microwave] heating and that increased metabolism going to do in the long run? Could it lead to cancer? That's what a lot of people are trying to figure out." Dr. Keith Black, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told Gupta that he is starting to see an uptick in brain tumors among people who use cell phones the most. "There's no way to say that cell phone use is safe," Dr. Black dared opine on camera. How could Gupta, in good conscience, allow such observations to see the light of day without, at the very least, having the courtesy to call his guest extremely gullible, or perhaps witless, to his face (and much worse behind his back)?

Gupta then showed a memo, sent by the head of the University of Pittsburg Cancer Institute to all its employees, urging them to limit their cell phone use because of the possible risk of cancer. He also noted that although the FCC is satisfied that no precautions need to be taken when using a cell phone, "the European Environmental Agency has pushed for more studies, saying cell phones could be as big a public health risk as smoking, asbestos and leaded gasoline." But I guess Gupta considers that rogues' gallery of risks trivial compared to using incandescent light bulbs, since no invectives were hurled at any of those ignoramuses in spite of their practically begging for it.

Gupta did emphasize that such opinions are "at odds with headlines from the largest international study on cell phones and cancer. Their conclusion: little or no evidence cell phones are associated with brain tumors." But he then blitzkrieged to the bowels of that research paper, published in the May 17, 2010, International Journal of Epidemiology, where the Appendix contains data documenting, in his words, that "participants in the study who used a cell phone for 10 years or more had double the rate of brain glioma." In the positive scientific spirit of ClimateGate, how could that journal not have insisted upon an Appendectomy?

On his own half-hour program the following morning (the AC360 segment had been but a preview), Gupta showed his interview with former White House senior health advisor Devra Davis, a physician, researcher, and founder of the Environmental Health Trust, who noted that "the governments of France and Finland and Israel have issued warnings [about cell phones], and those are not countries known to take these issues lightly." Gupta, who said he had been investigating these issues for the past several months, proclaimed his surprise that "the voices urging caution are not only getting louder, but they're getting more prominent." How can he, especially after admitting to always using an earpiece with his cell phone due to his own concerns, be permitted to utter such incendiary words? When one uses comparable language in pointing out the same with regard to AGW skepticism, the fires of hell erupt!

Not only did Gupta get away unscathed, but parts of his report were even repeated on Memorial Day's edition of AC360. And the gates of hell were thrown wide open the following day (May 31) when the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer issued a Press Release declaring "radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use" -- grouped with more than 250 agents including carbon black, firefighter occupational exposure, and gasoline engine exhaust. Apparently its IPCC-like team of 31 scientists from 14 countries, upon reviewing the available peer-reviewed studies, decided to play ostrich with the laws of quantum physics. These so-called "scientists," who would now have us fear carrying our cell phones in our pockets, certainly can't stand accused of being in the pocket of the cell-phone industry, but can't they at least be likened to those who deny the shape of the earth, or the fate of Sobibor's guests?

Asked another way, why does one deserve vilification for expressing skepticism of "Settled Science A" but not for expressing skepticism of "Settled Science B"? Numerically, matters relating to cell phones affect only their users (though increasingly children), whereas climate affects the population of the entire world, but that distinction doesn't seem to answer my question. Philosophically, perhaps the answer is this: expressing skepticism of the highly politicized settled science of man's role in global warming is deserving of a reaction akin to what a political conservative should expect when attempting to address a typical college audience.

But haven't cell-phone-safety skeptics proven themselves every bit as witless, gullible and science-challenged as AGW skeptics? To them, the quantum-physics-proven reassurance "There's no reason to worry" must sound an awful lot like the soothing words issued to those departing the trains for the Auschwitz showers. Aaahhhhhhh. Maybe that's why, no matter how hard they try, they just can't seem to earn Holocaust-denier status! I suppose, at best, cell-phone-safety skeptics may just have to aspire to comparison with the second-worst-imaginable faction of humankind: AGW skeptics.



Snippets

Cartoon

Conspiracy theories about the assassination of President Kennedy still abound. Many people wonder if Karl Rove, I mean Lee Harvey Oswald, did it alone, or at all. Was the CIA, or the FBI, or the Mafia, or even Fidel Castro, behind the heinous deed? But until now, few have asked if the president might have been killed because of his inquiries to the CIA about UFOs. But it seems that just 10 days before his death, Kennedy sent a memo to the CIA requesting a "review of all UFO intelligence files affecting national security." His stated reason seems innocent enough: As the article quotes author William Lester, whose FOI request resulted in the release of the document, "One of his concerns was that a lot of these UFOs were being seen over the Soviet Union and he was very concerned that the Soviets might misinterpret these UFOs as U.S. aggression, believing that it was some of our technology." But another dubious and undated document, known as the "burned memo" because of its scorch marks (having allegedly been salvaged from a CIA purge of sensitive material) and supposedly leaked to ufologist Timothy Cooper by the CIA in 1999, indicates that Kennedy's interest in UFOs led to his death. In it, the CIA director writes, "Lancer [Kennedy's Secret Service code name] has made some inquiries regarding our [UFO-related] activities, which we cannot allow."

(London Daily Mail, April 19)



As we reported at the time, in 2005 Tampa General Hospital began utilizing the new-age therapy known as "Therapeutic Touch" (TT), which actually involves waving one's hands over the body, without actually touching it, to promote healing by manipulating the patient's energy fields. But TT was concocted back in the 1970s, so its "new"ness is wearing off. At around the turn of the millennium, "Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing" (EMDR) came into being, to treat emotional disorders such as PTSD. But even that is becoming old hat. Enter, in 2007, "Accelerated Resolution Therapy" (ART), perhaps the newest of a dozen or so eye-movement therapies, about which reporter Howard Altman asks, "Can post traumatic stress disorder . . . be treated with the wave of a few fingers?" He goes on to say that the University of South Florida's College of Nursing is "using part of a $2.1 million U.S. Army grant [for the study of emotional and mild traumatic brain injury] to prove it." USF hopes to begin the study this summer and have it completed by next March.

(Tampa Tribune, May 23)



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