Date: Thu Aug 19 1993 11:26:00
From: Sheppard Gordon
Subj: Skeptic Conf Starts today
ONE THING'S FOR SURE, DOUBTERS WILL GATHER
Summary: Eugene will play host to a convention of people with a
definitely skeptical outlook on a lot of claims.
People who make doubting their business will gather in Eugene
this week for a conference that will examine everything from palm
reading to quackery.
The conference, whose theme is "The Skeptic's Toolbox," bills
itself as the only one of its kind in the country. It begins its
five-day run Thursday on the University of Oregon campus.
The collection of seminars, speeches and workshops are the
brainchild of UO Professor Ray Hyman, who has written extensively
on the critical evaluation of so-called paranormal claims. Hyman
specializes in the psychology of human error and deception.
Hyman maintains that poor thinking skills and lack of
scientific understanding have helped to create a burgeoning belief
in paranormal events, such as mind reading, extra-sensory
perception and psychic predictions.
A group he founded several years ago, the Committee for the
Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, trains
scientists to be true skeptics. The group also is a co-sponsor of
the UO conference.
"In the past, we found that the public was being fed only one
side of paranormal things such as haunted houses and psychic
tendencies," said Barry Karr, executive director of Skeptical
Inquirer, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based magazine with a circulation of
40,000 that reaches 72 nations. "Our primary aim is to ensure that
both sides of the issue are presented."
Karr said his group has used healthy doses of skepticism to
debunk at least two paranormal myths.
The first involved high-priced seminars that offered to imbue
pupils with the positive mental imagery needed to walk across hot
coals without getting burned. As it turned out, Karr said, the only
things getting burned were the suckers who shelled out up to $300
"We proved that people who didn't take the seminars didn't get
injured, either," he said. "That's because simple laws of physics
dictate that hot coals are poor conductors of heat. Anyone who
steps over them quickly enough won't be harmed."
The other myth involved a wide-spread rumor that United States
military officials in New Mexico had not only recovered the body
and spacecraft of a crashed UFO in 1947, but that they also had
persuaded President Truman to sign an executive order covering up
the incident. However, a thorough search of documents in the Truman
Library revealed that the signature on the order had been snipped
and pasted from another, wholly unrelated document.
It might take a psychic to predict whether anything so
impressive will be debunked at the UO conference. But based on the
list of speakers, the best debunkers in the country will be there.
Among those slated to speak are:
*Loren Pankratz, a Portland psychologist who is regarded as the
world's leading expert on the Munchausen syndrome, which refers to
patients who successfully fake serious illness.
*Bob Fellows, a mentalist and illusionist with a degree from
Harvard, who works for the International Cult Education Program and
contends that mind-reading is actually nothing more tha mind
*Jerry Andrus, a lecturer for Harvard and other universities
who has studied how people reach the wrong conclusions for the
Registration cost for the entire conference, which begins with
a 7:30 p.m. dinner Thursday, is $135 per person. Room and board
reservations can be made by calling 1-800-634-1610.
--- WM v3.01/92-0356
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