Date: Tue Jun 28 1994 00:00:04 Subj: Skeptic Convention SKEPTIC - CONVENTION OF SKEPTICS 0

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Date: Tue Jun 28 1994 00:00:04 From: Sheppard Gordon Subj: Skeptic Convention SKEPTIC ------------------------------- CONVENTION OF SKEPTICS 06/25/94 THE SEATTLE TIMES Ever been kidnapped by a UFO? Been embraced by the light in a near-death experience? Had a therapist convince you of childhood sexual abuse you previously didn't remember? Revisited past lives through hypnosis? Splash. That was the sound of cold water thrown here yesterday by speakers ranging from famed astronomer Carl Sagan to a magician, all warning that the human mind is so suggestible that people can't always believe their own eyes, memories or even near death. "You can create entirely false memories of things that never happened," said University of Washington psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who is scheduled to receive an In Praise of Reason award today from the national convention of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, a skeptics group that is meeting in Tukwila. Loftus has written a book called "The Myth of Repressed Memory," to be published in September. It alleges therapists are planting beliefs of past sexual abuse that never happened. The skeptics group said one in five Americans believe in reincarnation, one in four believe in ghosts, almost half accept UFOs and extrasensory perception, and 75 percent sometimes consult horoscopes. Sagan said polls have shown 25 to 50 percent of Americans don't know the Earth revolves around the sun, and, by one measure, 94 percent of the population is "scientifically illiterate." Why? "Science is hard, especially if explained incompetently," the former host of the "Cosmos" TV series said. "Science does not always conform to our wishes. Science does not always reassure us. Science puts enormous powers in the hands of people we mistrust." As a result, Sagan said, there are no scientist-heroes in American culture, science teaching is mediocre, and while most newspapers run a daily astrology column, only a handful have a weekly science page. Into this vacuum, members of the skeptics group warned, has surged beliefs from the sincere to the sappy. Loftus is lobbying Gov. Mike Lowry to release an Olympia man, Paul Ingram, imprisoned on allegations of satanic abuse she is convinced are not true. Sagan said there is a big difference in his belief in the statistical likelihood of life elsewhere in the universe - he cited recent discoveries that suggest other stars have planets - and his skepticism about visiting spaceships. "It would be great," he said. "I'd love it, even if the aliens were indeed short, sullen, grumpy and sexually preoccupied," as abductees contend. "But to believe one of these cases you need really good physical evidence." Abductees claim to have been implanted with medical monitors or impregnated with alien sperm. "How come there's not a single medical report of something bizarre?" Sagan asked. Paranormal claimants are not necessarily lying, speakers said. But even the smartest person can be fooled by the mind into seeing things that aren't there. Magician Jerry Andrus, 76, of Albany, Ore., pulled back the curtain on a number of optical illusions to illustrate how the brain is conditioned to interpret sight in certain ways that mislead. "Most of the time when you are fooled by a magician," he advised, "your mind did not make a mistake. It came to the conclusion it should have under the circumstances." Susan Blackmore of the University of the West in England said near-death experiences are real but not encounters with the supernatural. The out-of-body experience, tunnel, light and mystical feelings, she argued, are all natural manifestations of what happens to the brain when it becomes starved of oxygen and some parts shut down before others. Loftus related how University of Washington test subjects were easily conditioned to "remember" a videotape of a crime they in fact never saw: 64 percent recalled a nonexistent drug bust, and a majority said the criminals were black or Hispanic, even though all actors in the video were white.

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