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Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science

The 2004 Pigasus Awards

On April 1st, magician and debunker James Randi announced the winners of the 2004 Pigasus Awards. The awards are announced via ESP to the winners, who are of course allowed to predict their winning of this honor by precognition. The Flying Pig trophies are sent to the winners via psychokinesis. "We send. If they don’t receive, it’s perhaps due to their lack of PK ability," Randi’s Web site claims. This year, the prizes for 2004 performances go to these lucky folks:

Category #1, to the scientist who said or did the silliest thing related to the supernatural, paranormal or occult: The award goes to Dr. Rogerio Lobo, professor/chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, who co-signed a paper titled, "Does Prayer Influence the Success of in Vitro Fertilization-Embryo Transfer" published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine (JRM). It was written by Dr. Kwang Cha, once head of Columbia’s fertility center, and a lawyer, Daniel Wirth, who had no medical credentials. The paper, concluded that women in South Korea who had received in vitro fertilization were twice as likely to conceive if they had been prayed for by Christians who were thousands of miles away. Dr. Lobo then revealed that he’d only "reviewed and edited" the material, having been asked to sign it well after the research had already been done and evaluated. Wirth, who has a 20-year legal record of fraud, has now been sentenced to five years in Federal prison for financial improprieties unrelated to the Columbia study. Columbia has quietly withdrawn the name of Dr. Lobo as the lead scientist of the project. The JRM still supports the study, and still carries the paper in their records.

Category #2, to the funding organization that supported the most useless study of a supernatural, paranormal or occult claim: The award goes to the United States Air Force Research Laboratory, who paid $25,000 to Dr. Eric W. Davis at a Las Vegas company called Warp Drive Metrics to study the "conveyance of persons by psychic means" and "transport through extra space dimensions or parallel universes." For their money, the USAF received a 78-page report, "Teleportation Physics Study," a mass of mathematical calculations and diagrams with much dissertation on "wormholes" and "parallel universes." An annual expenditure of some $7 million on this project was recommended by the report, since Warp Drive Metrics concluded that, "We are still very far away from being able to entangle and teleport human beings and bulk inanimate objects."

Category #3, to the media outlet that reported as factual the most outrageous supernatural, paranormal or occult claims: The prize goes to the film "What the [Bleep] Do We Know?", a fantasy docudrama cult hit supposedly about the "nature of reality." More than a dozen scientists, theologians and mystics appear. However, the product placement reveals that among the physicists, neurologists and academics who expound the film’s thesis is "new age" icon J.Z. Knight, who claims to be channeling a 35,000-year-old god/warrior from Atlantis named Ramtha. The films’ producers, writers, directors, and some of the stars are members of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment in Washington State. Several of the scientists are affiliated with Knight’s school, and the film was largely financed by one of Knight’s students. It is still filling theatres all over the world.

Category #4, to the "psychic" performer who fooled the greatest number of people with the least talent: This award goes to "that persistently wrong psychic, prophet, seer, and visionary," Sylvia Browne. In July of 2004, Sylvia said that Osama Bin Laden was dead, but a video released three months after that mentioning Bush and Kerry, proved when it was made. Wrong. She also predicted that Saddam Hussein would be found dead before the end of 2003. And in October of 2003 she said that Yellowstone Park would erupt between January and March of 2004. "We could go on and on, but suffice it to say that Ms. Browne easily wins this category," Randi writes.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff