Date: Fri Jun 24 1994 00:00:00
From: Sheppard Gordon
Subj: Debunkers Gather
DEBUNKERS GATHER ON ANNIVERSARY OF FIRST UFO SIGHTING
06/21/94 PORTLAND OREGONIAN
It must be in the stars.
On the 47th anniversary of the "flying saucer" sighting that first put
UFOs in the news, scientific debunkers of the paranormal are gathering here
this week to swap down-to-earth explanations for everything from astrology to
As many as 750 people are expected for the annual conference of the
Buffalo, N.Y.-based Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of
the Paranormal (CSICOP), says the group's chairman, Paul Kurtz.
The meeting brings together people who encourage the investigation of
paranormal and fringe-science claims from a scientific point of view, Kurtz
"The paranormal is all the rage in America today. My view is that the key
to much or most of this phenomenon is in the eye of the beholder, and what
we're dealing with is the psychological distortion of so many people to
accept these claims without adequate evidence," Kurtz said.
"We're interested in presenting the public with the scientific analysis,
and when you do you usually get rid of the mystery."
Scheduled attendees include keynote speaker Carl Sagan, a Cornell
University astronomer, author and sometime-TV show host; Elizabeth Loftus, a
University of Washington psychology professor and a renowned authority on
repressed and false memory; Philip Klass, one of the world's best-known UFO
debunkers; and John Maddox, editor of the science journal Nature.
The four-day conference kicks off Thursday with a panel on "alien
abductions." That is the eve of the 47th anniversary of pilot-businessman
Kenneth Arnold's report of mysterious disc-shaped objects flying over the
Cascade mountains of Washington state. Arnold's June 24, 1947, sighting made
headlines around the globe and gave birth to the modern-day UFO movement.
The theme of this year's CSICOP conference is "The Psychology of Belief."
Participants say most people who believe in UFO encounters and other
supernatural experiences find comfort in doing so.
"The unknown is sometimes vaguely threatening, and simply having an
explanation for it in some ways relieves that anxiety," said Barry Beyerstein,
professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British
Columbia. "It's comforting to think that even though we've screwed up our
planet, some entity somewhere else has got it straight."
Believers in the paranormal are also welcome.