A really "new" sort of "science."

James Randi --- Wizard (randi-hotline@ssr.com)
Mon, 19 Feb 1996 02:31:41 -0500

NEW, EXCITING, BREAKTHROUGHS IN PSEUDOSCIENCE!

During their hearing in federal court in Beaumont, Texas, the officers
of the Quadro Corporation -- who designed, manufactured and sold the
wondrous "detector/locator" device that turned out to be (why are we
not surprised?) a total fake -- were told that their toy had been
carefully examined and that no "inductors, conductors, or oscillators"
were to be found, though Quadro had advertised those as the working
parts of the "secret technology" invented by these innovative chaps.
The Quadro folks then explained to the astounded courtroom that these
were not "ordinary" inductors, conductors, or oscillators that they
used in the device. No, they said, these were of an advanced sort not
yet known to "regular science." It just shows you what we've yet to
learn.

Break. Though the spectators laughed at the Quadro officers who
espoused this sillyness, there is a very strong message in this
declaration. I honestly believe that Quattlebaum, Roe, and Fisk (the
three major officers of Quadro Corporation) said this because they not
only have no basic knowledge of what science is, but also because they
believe that real scientists make statements, and use specialized
language, without having to think through the process by which they
arrived at their conclusions. The Quadro people think that any
opinion or statement of theirs is as good as any made by anyone else.
And that, friends, is exactly what the Politically Correct movement
would have us follow as a working principle. And it's very, very,
wrong.

Quattlebaum, Roe, and Fisk (QR&F) are immensely proud of their lack of
scientific training. In their ignorance (I do not use the term in a
derogatory sense) they can believe they are right, and I'm sure will
never change that opinion -- no matter what amount of evidence is
produced before them to show that they are wrong.

There are two groups of victims here. First, and most important, is
the large number of customers who purchased the Quadro (whether in the
form of a Golf Ball Finder, a Dog Locater, or the QRS 250G model)
along with those who spent large sums to purchase local franchises.
These folks were excited by a new discovery seemingly made by a
down-home good-old-boy bunch of entrepreneurs who had defied orthodoxy
like the Wright Brothers. And, they wanted in on the ground floor.
Though there might have been a bit of shark in their characters, they
were basically honest guys who bit the wrong bait. The second group
of victims in this drama is the Quadro triumvirate. They probably
believed in it all at one point, then saw that it was not working,
made a few adjustments in their approach to cover the obvious
problems, and finally decided to stonewall everyone and everything to
defend their product and themselves.

The diehards are still out there, chiefs of police who just cannot
believe they have fooled themselves, school officials who are going to
fold their arms and glower at anyone who dares to criticize their
purchase of the Quadro, and officials from the US Customs Service and
other agencies who are even now assuring me that they never REALLY
believed in it, while making subtle threatening-to-sue noises on the
side.

The saddest thing about it all is that the reason the
scientifically-naive authorities are abandoning the Quadro is because
the FBI officially declared it to be a fraud! It's not because there
is no rationale for it working, or that their experience with it could
be due to an (understandable) error of judgement, but that the Word
from On High has officially declared it to be a fake. I have spoken
to a dozen persons in that awkward position who say that they don't
know why it doesn't work, and it sure seems to work, but they now know
that it doesn't work because the FBI says it doesn't.

The courts are pursuing the Quadro phenomenon from the wrong angle.
Judges who accept the authority of such scientific groups as Sandia
Labs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, are (rightly) declaring their
conviction that the Quadro is a fake based upon the discovery that
there is simply nothing inside the thing, and certainly no "inductor,
conductor, or oscillator" as claimed by QR&F. At least, not any that
are apparent to we uninitiated persons. And, the FBI has adopted --
for the same reason -- this same stance. But the major factor has
been missed: the very large number of satisfied customers who declare
confidently that the thing works, because they've experienced the
movement of the rod in their own hands. They will ALWAYS fail a
double-blind test, but since they have no intention of ever trying
such a test, they will never know that fact. They cannot believe that
they themselves are moving the rod in response to their suspicions,
their expertise, or their wishes. But they are. And I have a
half-million dollars that I'll bet on that statement.

What the federal court should do, to best serve the public and to
decisively defeat the proponents of quackery who will preach endless
sermons on the plight of the unfortunate geniuses of Quadro who are
undergoing Galilean agonies at the hands of the Dweeb Scientists
consortium -- those who gave us atomic bombs, DDT poisoning and
probably AIDS! -- would be to conduct a simple, brief, decisive
double-blind test of the Quadro toy right in the courtroom. I doubt
that the lawyers for Quadro will produce (a la Miracle on 34th Street)
the bags of letters to Quadro from satisfied customers in every corner
of the nation -- though they'll try that approach -- and science could
demonstrate that occasionally it sends warriors out of the Ivory Tower
to stick a lance in the Dragon. That Dragon is making lots of smoke
and stench, and I, for one, want it put out to pasture.

Also, we have the small percentage of the Believers who say that,
regardless of whether the Quadro device works as advertised, it serves
as a deterrent because it scares the school kids into not bringing
drugs and weapons onto school property. If you think kids are that
stupid, guys, you should be back in school yourselves. They won't
believe this pseudoscientific bullroar for a moment, as you seem to
have done.

I asked the FBI agents in Texas if they could tell me who appeared in
court to testify to the validity of the Quadro stick. The agent I was
speaking with called to his colleague, "Do you remember the names of
those three witnesses?" The answer came back: "Yeah. Curly, Larry
and Moe!"

Finally, one Quadro witness ended his testimony with the resounding
declaration to the court, "Look, either this thing works, or I'm an
idiot!"

No comment.
James Randi

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