Skepticism

Let’s Be Frank (Sumption)

When the radio “talks” to you it’s possibly schizophrenia.

When you’re off your anti-psychotic medication, this is the amazing Frank’s Box.

Frank’s Box (also known as the Ghost Box) is a radio frequency device that is claimed to receive messages from deceased people, aliens, spirits, or the mythological entity (or non-entity) of your choice.

Inspired by Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), this device was invented by a fellow named Frank Sumption. The box has also been reinterpreted as the Telephone to the Dead by one Chris Loon Moon (who claims it was invented by Thomas Edison, and that Moon himself must “translate” any messages, for a fee…)

I have written extensively about EVPs, and this prompted an email from Sumption himself. On 7/9/08 he wrote:

I make those boxes. What you say about it/me is highly exagerated. I don’t even use it for the usual paranoraml BS, as in Ghost Hunting. I don’t buy the usual Hollywood/TAPS paranormal crap that’s mostly urban legend. ‘skeptic’ usually just means your mind is made up, and no other evidence is required, sought, or wanted. I don’t sell this shit, I don’t do ghost investigations, and don’t believe in hauntings. Something talks that is not radio broadcasts, often addresses people present by name, and sometimes cusses and swears.

The lengthy email rambled on:

Now the topper-I use the name “purple alien girl” cuz “they” claim I’m their long lost Purple Princess from some other planet. The only actual voice I heard in my head was “Kiera(key-ra), it’s time to come home”, the name of the Princess. I think it’s no more unbelievable than the so called thought experiments of quatum physics.

If I had a Ph.d, maybe what I say would be accepted without question as well.

…and ended with an invitation to view his invention, should I ever be in the area.

I spent the holidays in Denver, Colorado, with Matthew Baxter of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society. This was the perfect opportunity to  meet with Sumption, and write about Frank’s Box for my columns. We arranged for a meeting at a local diner, and I lured along boyfriend bodyguard Baxter with the promise of pie…

Accompanied by his wife, the “Purple Princess” arrived in a purple-striped shirt, with a purple earring, and this was just the beginning of a shitload of crazy…

Sumption is shy and unassumingly insane, until he opens his mouth. He sat opposite us, wide-eyed and anxious, shifting his nervous gaze from me to Baxter; talking incessantly and barely touching the lunch that I so kindly bought for him.

He made a series of outrageous claims about his device: that he has acquired numerous “messages” from beyond the grave; that these random noises are personal messages for each listener, to be interpreted by the individual; that the gibberish is “evidence” that “life goes on” beyond death, and that he can hear his wife’s thoughts through the box…but that none of this is “paranormal” at all…

When Frank reeled off a list of “spirits with female German names” that contact him regularly, I threw down my bloody pen. The Purple Princess exists on a planet in his own head.

I realized the interview was a consultation, and the claims were symptoms…

He’d brought along a Frank’s Box, a portable version topped with a crystal, because the “spirits” told him to use one. For what, he didn’t quite know…

Baxter asked, “Can I take a picture of the box?”

Sumption replied, “You can borrow it”.

But the real fun began when we took our leave of Sumption. An email arrived within two days.

So, any luck with the box? One of the biggest problems with this stuff is it seems not everyone can hear it, especially just starting out. It takes time to tune in the ear, and maybe develop some intuition. The box is extremely complicated, and talking about it for a mere two hours just is not enough time, two years would be better.

So…it will take me two years to have the ‘experience’ to discredit the device? You know something’s dodgy when the inventor insists that only he understands how the device works, and no one else truly knows how to use it…

At any rate, I was busy and didn’t reply immediately. The panic set in for Sumption; he googled me and labeled me an egotistical “debunker”.

If you think the box doesn’t work, you will hear nothing but gibberish, then pat yourself on the back for being so much more intelligent than us ignorant boobs that think they hear something meaningful.

Sumption is opposed to testing the box using a scientific approach:

There is no objective hard physical truth or universe. We all create what we want to see, and everyone thinks their truth supersedes everyone else’s truth.

He fired a barrage of abusive, accusatory emails, and unleashed on me a torrent of ad hominem attacks via his EVP-ITC list – a Yahoo group filled with his sycophantic supporters.

This is why I’m writing this ad hominem attack on Sumption. Sometimes you have to call a spade a (paranoid schizophrenic transvestite) spade.

After my fill of antagonistic, contradictory and delusional emails from Sumption I replied simply:

“Frank, you’re a fucking nutjob.”

He responded with:

“Perhaps, but at least I’m honest.”

I overlooked his accusation and enjoyed the fact that he’d admitted he’s a “nutjob”.

Then I ceased contact with Sumption, and am now working on researching, testing and inspecting the device with a group of skeptics who have expertise in electrical engineering and related areas. I think we’re the first skeptics to have acquired a Frank’s Box.

But then I received a forwarded email today from a member of the cult of Frank’s Box:

I was wondering if the “I love yous” were something characteristic of just the entities I’m talking to (maybe even the same entity over and over again), or characteristic of most entities in general — like they have different priorities on what constitutes an important message once a person has died.  For instance, my father I’m certain would’ve told me to move the trees I’d planted over the septic tank, but would’ve never said “I love you.”  Maybe once he’s dead, everything looks different to him?  (That’s providing I’m really talking to dead people, which I’m starting to wonder about.)

And then the gravity of this topic slapped me on the face like a good, hard bout of rough sex.

There are victims in this stupid story. There are people who are being told that their deceased loved ones can contact them through this broken radio. There are vulnerable, grieving people who are being abused and lied to about the way the world works. And yet Sumption and his minions have the gall to be self-righteous about their ludicrous, unfounded beliefs, and closed-minded to the critical evaluation of their outrageous claims.

Fuck you, Sumption, you fucking nutjob.

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19 Comments

  1. “shy and unassumingly insane” – very descriptive. But transvestite? This I challenge. To be clear, because it’s an insult to transvestites. I’m sure they don’t want this guy in the club.

  2. From what he describes on his website, it sounds like Frank sweeps the LO frequency of an AM radio using various control waveforms applied to the varactor diode in the LO circuit. This produces various gibberish that he “interprets” as people talking from beyond the grave.

    To me this if funny because I know enough about radios and physics to understand that this is complete bunk. For those who don’t know any better and are attracted to this stuff with religious zeal, it is unfortunate.

    Frank should be on a continuous Lithium IV drip.

    BCT

  3. Regarding your last two paragraphs: More than the alt-med quacks, more than any other type of pseudoscience, I loathe and despise anyone or anything that preys on the bereaved. Sylvia Browne, John Edward — I don’t wish harm on many people, but I truly wish depression and despair upon these types, the exact kind experienced by the people who they exploit for money. It absolutely sickens me.

  4. Unfortunately, some people want to believe so badly that they’ll interpret the patterns in their cats’ litterbox as communication from Beyond.

    I worked on a séance recreation while I was living in New Orleans. Emphasis on recreation. Full disclosure, up front: this ain’t real. It’s what you might have seen in a 19th century séance. A recreation. Not real. Won’t be talking to Aunt Mildred tonight, kids. Recreation. Srsly.

    And then the show began, and apparently it was a good one…we averaged about a crier a night. Insisting that they’d been contacted by someone, wanting to come back again, asking if we’d heard anything else from their friends and relations, desperately wanting info on DIY séances, and so on. We did the best we could with ’em, but some folks just had to believe. They’re gonna be out there even when you’re not being a psychotic jerk.

  5. I learned that my name meant Princess of the Wind and I then knew that I was destined to be a goddess. A ruler of the winds. A commander of the nature of weather and bringer of storms and seasons.

    And then I turned 6 and it was summer so I didn’t need to distract myself while waiting in the subzero weather for the bus in the morning.

    But those were good days.

  6. Karen and Baxter – a pair of normals.
    Frank – a pairless abnormal.

    It would be funny if so many people did not take things like this as seriously as they do.

    As is too often the case from the Skepchicks, so much brilliant insight (e.g., from Ms. Stollznow) is wasted on addressing absurdities like this. Part of the harm from these investigations,is the shift of creative/talented focus from real world problems.

    YSG

  7. I understand the negative reaction. But if Sumption is actually mentally ill (which it certainly sounds like from your description) then condemning him, even if he is drawing in other people into his beliefs, seems unwarranted. He likely has little to no control over the situation.

    Frankly, I feel pretty sorry for the guy. I don’t have much sympathy for his followers though since this is so obviously crazy that I’d guess they are going out of their way to deceive themselves.

  8. I dunno – Obviously Sumption is living in a psychotic episode. I think it’s a little cruel to scrutinize and criticize so harshly the rantings of someone with such apparent ‘reality issues’. He might even be selling these boxes to others, but it’s hardly ennobling to dissect such apparent illogic in the interest of some public good – what would be good, it seems to me, is to find Sumption some appropriate care and a way to live out his life without wasting too much of others’ time. Mostly, this just makes me feel sorry for the obvious pain of his condition.

  9. You ever notice that the people from the beyond (or ‘channeling’ someone) are always either your relatives, deities or famous people? /snark

    What are the chances of that given all the people that have died in history?

    In this case, I agree with the Beatles:
    “Frank-ie lives in a Yellow Submarine!”

  10. Thanks for the feedback everyone.

    @YourSkepticalGuy I agree. A great deal of creativity is wasted by tackling these claims. Of course, I also see the importance of this. Which brings me to address @xilantro and @Joshua Zelinsky’s concerns briefly.

    It appears that Sumption does display some tendencies to mental illness. Unfortunately, with a sick father myself, I am no stranger to such conditions.

    I did admit that my post was an ad hominem attack, and I certainly won’t be this personal in my column accounts that will treat the device, not the man. I think this post is fair, in this informal forum.

    Sumption is a very difficult person to deal with, shy on the surface, and then abusive and slanderous online.

    I am sympathetic to Sumption’s situation, but he is also very much in the public eye, making outrageous and dangerous claims. I take no prisoners for this.

    I hope he receives the help he needs, and stops causing trouble. Until this time, he’s open to scrutiny.

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