Date: Thu Jun 16 1994 00:00:30 Subj: Seattle Conventions UFO - PSEUDOSCIENCE, SKEPTICISM T
Date: Thu Jun 16 1994 00:00:30
From: Sheppard Gordon
Subj: Seattle Conventions
PSEUDOSCIENCE, SKEPTICISM TO MAKE A CLOSE ENCOUNTER
THE SEATTLE TIMES
Pseudo-science and skepticism are coming to Seattle.
First comes a presentation next weekend by three men claiming that the
story adapted in a 1984 Hollywood science-fiction movie called "The
Philadelphia Experiment" is true and that two of them, Duncan Cameron and Al
Bielek, are actually half-brothers who traveled through time.
A week later, June 23-26, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation
of Claims Of the Paranormal, (CSICOP) an organization that publishes the
debunking magazine "Skeptical Inquirer," holds its national convention in
Tukwila featuring a keynote address at 8 p.m. Friday by astronomer Carl Sagan.
Both groups have booked facilities holding up to 750 people, with more
than 600 already signed up for the CSICOP convention.
The two presentations represent the polar extremes of attitudes toward a
burgeoning American subculture of belief.
Seattle is certainly appropriate, with a 1947 spotting of flying saucers
near Mount Rainier having initiated the modern UFO craze and channelers such
as Tacoma's J.Z. Knight having drawn celebrities such as Linda Evans and
Shirley MacLaine to the region in the 1980s.
The "Montauk Lectures" at the Seattle Center are expected to draw
"people interested in conspiracies, UFOs, extra-terrestial contact, goddess
worlds, people experiencing angels and all things that are a matter of
sensitivity and looking beyond the obvious," explained Paul Ballard, a
promoter of such events who heads a company called Avenues of Inspiration.
CSICOP, in contrast, features a lineup of speakers challenging claims of
Besides Sagan they include University of Washington psychologist
Elizabeth Loftus, who has challenged courtroom claims of "repressed memory"
of past abuse, Phillip Klass, a longtime debunker of UFO stories, and Joe
Nickell, a handwriting analyst who disputes claims that handwriting gives
clues to personality disorders such as sexual deviancy.
A local invitation-only 40-member branch of CSICOP, called the Society
for Sensible Explanations, meets periodically and includes psychologists,
engineers, business people and a magician, said co-chairman Mike Dennett.
While mainstream science and technology dominates our civilization, the
pseudo-science subculture of belief is flourishing.
It can range from nightmarish UFO abduction stories and government
conspiracy stories to optimistic accounts of benevolent aliens, angels and
channeled spirits far more comforting than modern scientific theories of a
vast, cold and seemingly uncaring universe.
This public fascination is tapped and fueled by the publishing and
It has spun off books on the Bermuda Triangle and alien kidnappings,
television series such as the "X-Files" and "Unsolved Mysteries" and movies
such as "Close Encounters," "Ghost," "Field of Dreams," "Fire in the Sky," or
"Angels in the Outfield."
Ballard said he is simply being open-minded in listening to stories such
as the Philadelphia Experiment, in which a Navy destroyer escort named the
USS Eldridge supposedly disappeared briefly from the Philadelphia Navy yard
in 1943 during a disastrous experiment with technology designed to shield
vessels from radar.
"I'm interested in bringing these guys to town and having them show me
their evidence," he said. "I think all these sightings of UFOs are just a
transition to a more moral planet. Most of the universe is waiting for us to
make a decision between killing ourselves off or waiting for the Light."
Such belief periodically draws some credibility from mainstream sources
such as Harvard psychologist John Mack, who recently wrote a book claiming
his patients are victims of alien abductions. CSICOP is hosting Mack at its
convention here in order to have a spokesman from the other side.
Many people no doubt regard such stories as simply fun diversions, not a
substitute for science.
But others take them seriously enough to spend large sums of money on
books and lectures. Critics such as Sagan and Klass see public enthusiasm a
sign of the failure of science education to get across the principles of
logic, testable hypotheses, and judgment.
Rather than demand extraordinary proof for extraordinary claims,
scientists complain, too many people demand irrefutable government proof that
claimed supernatural or paranormal events did NOT occur.
The Philadelphia Experiment, for example, has over the years taken on
such baggage as time travel, UFO visits, alleged secret-government
experiments at an abandoned Air Force base at Montauk, Long Island, and
reinterpretations of modern physics. Navy protests of ignorance of the whole
affair are taken as evidence of a cover-up.
The movie version featured two sailors who jumped overboard when the
experiment went haywire, killing some and driving others insane. The escaping
sailors were transported forward in time.
Cameron and Bielek claim to be those sailors, explaining how they happen
to look too young to be credible World War II-era vets.
The third scheduled speaker, Preston Nichols, claims to have worked at
Montauk from 1969 through 1983 on bizarre government extensions of the
Robert Sheaffer is a columnist at "The Skeptical Inquirer" who is
investigating this story for an entry in the upcoming Encyclopedia of the
He said it apparently started in the mid-1950s when a drifter named Carl
Allen, who changed his name to the more romantic Carlos Miguel Allende, wrote
a UFO author named Morris Jessup with claims that he had witnessed a Navy
Apparently the Office of Naval Research and a Pentagon think-tank called
the Varo Corporation were contacted by Jessup and looked into the claims,
this brief official interest giving the tale a subsequent stamp of legitimacy
even though the military debunked the story.
Over the years the story has been embellished.
"It took on a life of its own," Sheaffer said. "Time travel, as near as
I can tell, started with the movie. But it all comes back to this guy Allende
writing these letters."
As always, people will judge for themselves.
The Montauk-Philadelphia Experiment Lectures are 8 p.m. Friday at the
Rainier Room at the Seattle Center and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the San
Juan Room. Cost is $15 for the first, $40 for the second or $45 for both,
with tickets available through Ticketmaster or at the door.
The full four-day CSICOP convention at Tukwila's Doubletree Suites hotel
is $135 but the public can hear Sagan's keynote address for $15, room
permitting, or attend other portions for smaller sums.
Space may be limited. Those registering should contact Mary Rose Hays at
CSICOP, PO Box 703, Buffalo, NY, 14226.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank