Friday, 24 December 2010

Counterfeit Claims

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This week I was reading most popular Odd Stories of 2010 1, when I came across this completely ridiculous 'news story'. Yahoo News are not known for accurate and unbiased news reporting, so I was happy to allow them some creative license with the chosen stories, however the story at number 3 is just plain illogical and even a child could see that this is in no way factual. The article claims that Prahlad Jani, a 83 year old man from India, has not eaten or drank anything for 70 years, stating that he exists on meditation alone. If this was not farcical enough, they then state that the Indian military are trying to study him in order to improve the national army and for astronauts training. I'm sorry but this is not a news story, this is just plain illogical and even a child could tell you this is not possible. I was curious if any other websites had a more accurate version of the story, or if in fact it was something only Yahoo were willing to claim was 'news'. Unfortunately, Googling his name only leads to the story in dozens of websites, including the Telegraph 2 and the BBC 3. The Telegraph reported on the most recent 'scientific study' on Prahlad Jani, carried out this year, where he was studied for a week. This involved him being watched by CCTV and receiving medical checks from the doctors. If this was carried out in a scientifically rigorous way then maybe he would have something to support his claims, or he would then be exposed as the faker he clearly is. Unfortunately, he was allowed visitors and was not constantly monitored, leading to the study being carried out under uncontrolled conditions. Luckily any findings from this study are unlikely to make it into any reputable medical journal or scientific paper. What is distressing about this story is the fact that most of the news reports are not balanced, and so allowing people to think that this man has actually fasted for 70 years, which is clearly not true. The use of the scientific study to try and back up his claims was a pointless exercise, unless its carried out under stringent conditions in order to actually sort the fact from the fiction. 

Why his claims cannot be true:
  1. It would break the laws of physics and thermodynamics, because he was obtaining 'energy for work' ie movement, without an input of 'stored energy' ie food. 
  2. The longest period most people can go without food for is roughly 4-6 weeks, after this the major organs begin to fail and the person is likely to go in to a coma because the brain requires high levels of glucose to remain functional.
  3. Humans can only survive a few days without drinking water, because its required in order to replace water lost through sweat and urination, as well as other metabolic processes.
  4. If people can survive without food, then why do 4 million people starve to death every year? 
  5. In order for an organism to be considered alive, it must take in nutrients and excrete waste. 
Fortunately, there are a few people logical enough to see through this story. One of which is James Randi, and world renowned magician and skeptic. He has been fighting pseudoscience and ludicrous claims like this for years, and offers anyone 1 million dollars for proof of any supernatural claim, when carried out under scientific conditions. In his response to this news story 4, he outlines the the fallacies of the claims and the fact that this was an illogical waste of time and money for the Indian government. It is stories like this that make you wonder how stupid the media believes there readers to be, and why the news cannot actually consist of factual reports.

E Markham (2010). Counterfeit Claims blogspot

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