The Quadro Affair - A really "new" sort of "science."
Date: Mon, 19 Feb 96 23:50:32 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: The Quadro Affair - A really "new" sort of "science."
From: James Randi --- Wizard <email@example.com>
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
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!"
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© 1996 Peter Langston