December 1989 +quot;BASIS+quot;, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics Bay Area Skeptics Inf
December 1989 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics
Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet
Vol. 8, No. 12
Editor: Kent Harker
IS ASTROLOGY RATIONAL?
by David Widdowson
[This article first appeared in "The Skeptic", newsletter of the
Given what we now know about the universe, it is of course
unreasonable to believe that the positions of the heavenly bodies
can affect the behavior and personality of people on Earth; that
is, to believe in astrology. But has such a belief always been
unreasonable? After all, there were the observed effects of the sun
on the weather and the moon on the tides, and other supposed
correlations such as between the lunar month and the menstrual
cycle. Did such effects make a belief in astrology rational? To
examine this question, it is necessary to look at the historical
basis of astrology. One of the central features of astrology is the
system of "star signs" and the characteristics that are associated
with each sign. For instance,
"most of the constellations aren't named after their
patterns, but rather from other aspects such as the
seasons, myths and legends."
People born with the sun in Leo are thought to be strong, proud,
forceful and natural leaders. Why is this the case? Was it because
ancient people observed Leonians to be like that? This turns out
not to be so; rather, it was that these were characteristics of
LIONS, therefore they came to be associated with people of this
sign. This type of connection can be seen in many of the signs; for
example, people born under:
- Aries -- like a ram, are quick tempered and impulsive.
- Taurus -- are stubborn, persistent and determined, like a bull.
- Cancer -- as a crab, are outwardly hard but inwardly soft
- Libra -- the scales, have a balanced personality, harmonious.
- Capricorn -- are tough and tenacious, like a goat . . . and so
This type of magical correlation between the names given to the
signs and the characteristics they produce in people has a certain
crude logic to it, but you could hardly say it was a rational
system. Just because a constellation looks like a bull [and what
it "looks" like is certainly cultural . . .], it doesn't follow
that a person born when the sun is in that sign will have a bullish
character; such a belief is magical rather than rational.
In any event, most of the constellations aren't named after their
patterns, but rather from other aspects such as the seasons, myths
and legends. Characteristics of the signs also derive in part from
the planets that were thought to rule them. The properties of the
planets were in turn based on simple symbolic correlations; for
instance, the sun was strong and dominated the Earth, hence it gave
strength, and leadership. The moon was more subtle in its effects,
so it was associated with emotions. Mercury, the fastest planet,
was quick, shrewd, clever, "mercurial." Venus, bright and
beautiful, represented love, beauty and goodness. Mars, red, meant
war, hatred, cruelty and evil. Jupiter, bright, white, "majestic,"
was happy, optimistic, and "jovial." Saturn, dull yellow and slow,
was gloomy, "saturnine."
When it came to assigning rulerships by the planets over the signs,
one would expect there to be an attempted match between the
properties ascribed to each. But the ascription of planetary
rulerships (by Ptolemy around 150 AD) was arbitrarily based on the
supposed order of planets from the Earth.
As can be seen, Mars is given the rulership of the first sign,
Aries, then the rulerships move in the Earth and then out again;
the only exception is Leo which "naturally" rules the sun. (Even
this may not be the case if the sun was thought to be closer than
Mercury and Venus, although this is unlikely.) So, apart from Aries
and Leo, the ascription is purely arbitrary and not based on any
reasonable belief. The arbitrariness leads to some incongruous
associations; for instance, surely Virgo is more suited to Venus
than Taurus is.
By the way, the discovery of three new planets caused quite a
problem for the system of planetary rulerships (as it did for
astrology in general) because there were no signs for the new
planets to rule. One solution was to have two planets rule some
signs, but, to use the astrologers' crude symbolism, it may be
possible for a king to rule two kingdoms, but surely two kings
can't rule the same kingdom. A further arbitrary element in the
characteristics of the signs comes from their classification (also
by Ptolemy) according to the four elements and the three qualities.
The elements and their properties were: FIRE -- volatile; EARTH -
- practical; AIR -- lively; and WATER -- emotional. The three
qualities were CARDINAL (active), FIXED (stable) and MUTABLE
(altered by external features).
There are twelve combinations of element and quality (e.g.,
cardinal fire, fixed earth, etc.) and each sign in order was given
one combination. It can be seen that every fourth sign is ruled by
a particular element and every third by a certain quality. The only
aspect of this that is not arbitrary is the order of the elements,
which contrasts with the order in Aristotle's system -- fire, air,
earth, and water. This was probably done to give Capricorn and
Taurus to earth, and Cancer and Pisces to water. There are still
some incongruities; perhaps Aquarius should be water, Scorpio fire,
Leo cardinal, etc.
To summarize, this study shows that the basis of astrology is
neither reason nor experience, but rather:
1. A magical belief in the correspondence between the properties
of a star sign or planet and human characteristics; and
2. The generally arbitrary ascription of planetary rulerships and
the classifications of the signs.
Both aspects are completely foreign to science and other rational
fields of thought. To illustrate this, imagine physicists using the
"astrological method" to explore the subatomic world. Their
reasoning might run like this: How many subatomic particles are
there? Let's ascribe each a letter of the alphabet. OK, so there
are 26 of them. What are they like? Well, "A" is the first letter,
so the "A" particle is the first and most basic. The "B" particle?
Well, that swarms around like a bee. The "X" particle is difficult
to know, etc. Of course, this is absurd, but no more absurd than
Astrology's irrational basis explains to an extent how it survived
the scientific revolution and why it flourishes today in spite of
all the rational arguments used against it. It also seems that it
will go on flourishing where irrationality continues to thrive.
In a world in which hunger is a major problem, the average health-
food faddist will spend about $50,000 on mostly useless food
supplements during his or her lifetime. This is according to
information in a trade publication as reported in the NCAHF
What a sorry state of affairs to contemplate when the problems are
so great in other, pressing areas of human need. What a commentary
on our modern, "enlightened" society.
EX-FIREWALKER PROMOTING NEW AGE COURSE
by Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D.
Tony Robbins. The name rang a bell. I looked back in some files,
and sure enough, there he was: in 1984, one of the most financially
successful operators of a "firewalking" scam. In those days he was
touring with "Fear Into Power -- the Firewalk Experience," which
was his potentially dangerous and certainly unethical means of
promoting his "Neurolinguistic Programing-based power of positive
Robbins was the most successful commercial purveyor of the nonsense
that through your own will you could "overcome the laws of nature"
and "actually walk on fire!!" The cells of your body would somehow
become reorganized to protect you from the thousand-degree fire,
all because you willed it. If you can walk on fire, you can
overcome any obstacle in your life. Robbins, in a newspaper article
written by a devotee, allegedly told seminar participants that they
would get through the walk through a series of "imbedded commands
-- an unconscious program developed through hypnotic techniques to
get yourself in tune on an unconscious as well as a conscious
This is horse manure, of course. First, the marks (paying up to
$500 or more per "seminar") walked on glowing wood chips, not
"fire." Wood chip embers don't have a high enough heat capacity to
burn one unless one stands on them for rather longer than it takes
to walk across them. No one claimed you could walk on hot pennies,
which really WOULD be impressive! The fad started to fizzle when
Bernard Leikind, a physicist from Cal Tech, walked on fire on the
Johnny Carson show, using just the laws of physics instead of New
Age mumbo-jumbo. Skeptics groups around the country started going
to Robbins' sessions and exposing him. The fires, literally,
started dying down. I for one haven't seen an advertisement for
firewalking in over two years.
Why am I reminded about this? In the September newsletter of the
Humanist Community of San Jose, is an advertisement for "PERSONAL
POWER!," a course to help you attain "dynamic, exciting, effective
personal power." This course consists of 24 half-hour tapes,
purchasable for $150 (about the price of the old firewalking
seminar, but described as "significantly below" the national
supplier's price), produced by none other than our old guru,
The tape titles suggest the old "power of positive thinking"
routine, with the infusion of appropriate New Age linguistics (key
words like "focus," "programing," "power," "energy"), plus some
unrecognizable ones ("holophonic subliminal," "neuro-associative
conditioning.") Results "beyond your wildest dreams" are promised.
Maybe Robbins has gone "straight" human potential, giving up
gimmicks like firewalking. Potential course-takers should consider
his history, however. Is this someone from whom you want to take
advice for how to run your life? Or anything else?
A WONDER IN OUR MIDST: THE CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
by Yves Barbero
We can't just give a child present knowledge . . . the rate of
technical insight grows geometrically. Expect a different world in
ten years!" Roy Eisenhardt, Director of the California Academy of
"The emphasis is on youth," he pointed out. "It is important that
children be taught how to learn." Concerned with public policy
decisions made about science, the director recognized that these
kids, whether or not they enter the sciences as a profession, will
be the decision makers of the future. A thorough grounding in
science is not an option which can be lightly ignored. He sees the
Academy as an important tool in that process.
The Academy, located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, is the
West's oldest science institution. Founded in 1853, it boasts,
aside from the well-known Steinhart Aquarium and Morrison
Planetarium, a research division which manages almost 15 million
specimens in its collection. It is staffed by dozens of
naturalists. Despite the 1906 Earthquake which destroyed the first
building, (and the recent 1989 event which caused only minor
structural damage), it has managed to grow into the immense
institution it is today.
Not often in the limelight, the research division has been doing
serious work in anthropology, botany, ecology, geology, and zoology
and has thousands of scientific papers to its credit, hundreds of
which have been published by the Academy itself. It has one of the
best research libraries in the area and it is accessible to the
public. The research division is often called upon by government,
the media and even the police (investigating crimes) for
As with any museum, it has exhibits designed to delight the heart
and educate the mind. Eisenhardt said that since the public is not
of one mind, the Academy tries to make a little something for
everyone. The ambition is to inform us about the natural world; but
each of us has to approach the museum in his or her own way. He
gave an example of what he likes to do at the Academy: sit in front
of a diorama (a sort of 3-D snapshot using painted backgrounds and
preserved specimens) in the African Hall and study it in detail.
"Just walking through is not enough," he said.
Among the lesser known but important exhibits at the museum are the
Wattis Hall of Human Cultures and the Gem and Mineral Hall. Their
impact on an individual may not be as immediate as that of the
Aquarium or Planetarium in our non-stop age, but they offer
insights into our natural and social history not easily available
For adults, there are a number of lectures, field trips and classes
which help make the transition from the ranks of the merely curious
to that of well-informed citizen (after all, adults are making the
policy decisions now). For the first time in history, man is making
a serious impact on the natural world. It is better to be informed
than to listen to shrill voices from some extreme.
Susan Douglas is the educational chairperson for the Academy, and
she agrees with the director that educating children is of primary
importance. "Youngsters take classes at the Junior Academy. They
work with real materials. It is an after-school science school."
There is a minimal fee, she said, but scholarships are available
for those unable to pay.
Douglas, an eleven-year veteran of the Academy, smiled as she said,
"Most people approach it as educational but enjoyable. They drag
their children here with that in mind."
She is particularly proud of the Biological Forum held annually for
high school science teachers. In its fifth year, she feels that it
has helped keep teachers current in an ever changing area of study.
The Academy has close ties to the Science Unit of the State
Department of Education, and on most school days, long lines of
school buses are parked in the back of the Academy. It is the
science teachers who determine what their classes get from the
field trips to the Academy. The staff and docents assist with their
specialized knowledge. (Docent volunteers are so well trained they
earn four units of college level biology).
A major new permanent exhibit hall is now under construction which
will display the evidence of evolution, "Life Through Time." It
will open in early 1990. "When the Rainbow Touches Down," an
exhibit of Native-American Art is now on display (until January
14th). "Wild California" and Gary Larson's outrageous "The Far
Side" original cartoons exhibits are well worth the time.
The Academy is open every day of the year from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
There is an admission charge of $4 for adults, $2 for 12-17 and
seniors and $1 for 6-11. Kids 5 or less are free. Call (415)
750-7145. Membership, which includes a subscription to "Pacific
Discovery", admissions and a variety of programs, is a bargain at
$40 a year. Call (415) 750-7111.
"BASIS" would like to run a series of articles about museums and
other institutions dedicated to the promotion and public
understanding of science. After all, the underlying purpose of Bay
Area Skeptics is to promote scientific understanding and the
critical thinking skills that go along with it. If you've special
information, please submit representative articles and offer your
suggestions. For more information, call Yves Barbero at (415)
TASS GOES RAG
With "glasnost" comes more revelations of Soviet silliness. "BASIS"
has reported some of the feats of funny psychics in what is
becoming a phenomenon. The formerly austere Tass news agency now
reports "National Enquirer" stuff in a matter-of-fact way. (Someone
speculated that Rupert Murdoch has persuaded the Ministry of
Information to accept his bid for a capitalistic venture in rag
This reportage has filtered out to America, and now there have been
evening-news pieces on the tube about UFOnauts putting down right
there on soviet soil. (The stories went from the national to the
local network affiliates, and, on channel 5 news in the Bay Area,
board member Andy Fraknoi and former BAS chair Robert Sheaffer were
asked to express -- in a few seconds -- the skeptical side.)
The aliens who grace this side of the Atlantic are little and
green, with large heads -- presumably to house the enormous brains
they need to hold all that high-tech stuff. The Russian issue is
from some other part of the galaxy, because they are tall and have
tiny heads. Look at how our micro-chip technology has shrunk
things, so maybe head size is not related to smarts.
The "Oakland Tribune" told of another poor devil, one E. Frenkel,
a member of the growing cadre of soviet psychic healers and
mentalists. Mr. Frenkel found that he could stop bicycles with his
psychic powers when he stepped in front of them. He went to
automobiles and lo, they couldn't run over him either -- they
stopped, he believed, because of his powers. Ever the brave
entrepreneur, streetcars were then tested with the same success.
Confident that he really had mastered the Power, he finally stepped
in front of a freight train.
In a properly laconic comment, the "Trib" wrote, "It didn't work."
At least the late Frenkel "was on the right track," they remarked.
The issue of falsifiability is central to the scientific method.
If a proposition is non-falsifiable, at least in theory, it is a
proposition that has little scientific value. The focus here is
SCIENTIFIC value, which is not, of course, to say that the
proposition has no value in any context. Scientific creationism,
for example, is not falsifiable because there is no evidence, even
in theory, which could show it to be false. Whatever difficulty,
real or imagined, may be swept away with an appropriate miracle,
Therefore the very term "scientific creationism" is oxymoronic. Bob
Steiner's recent book, "Don't Get Taken!", includes an example of
what he says is a non-falsifiable statement. The chapter with that
example was published in the September "BASIS". Dr. Terence Hines
challenged the example, and we printed Terry's letter and Bob's
response in the November issue. I spoke with Bob about Terry's
critique in early October and we agreed that one of the more
wonderful things about science and the scientific method is that
criticism is the lifeblood of intellectual honesty and advancement.
Criticism is the essence of skeptical inquiry -- the stuff of
keeping our minds open and continually learning.
My own development before aligning myself more on the skeptical
side was a very narrow mindset. Where I came from, criticism of the
party line was unthinkable. The exhilaration of being able to
openly consider criticism is wonderful. In the case of dogma, which
cannot be wrong (non-falsifiable), choking stultification is the
usual product. Like most things in life, there is a trade off when
one renounces dogma: security for freedom.
Dogma produces security. There is no need to search for
understanding because the truth is on a platter, conveniently in
front of us, from which we must take our daily nutriment. The
regimen may be only thinly nourishing, but, like manna, it is
always there; dependable if austere, inexhaustible if bland. With
skepticism comes that freedom which says one may roam into any area
of human thought and pick ones way through, but the process is not
without its poisonous hazards. Picking through the smorgasbord of
ideas requires some method if one has any hope of doing it with the
fewest errors. A system of formal reasoning is necessary to sort
the wheat from the chaff.
A FORMAL SYSTEM
In any system of formal reasoning, a scheme must be established
whereby we may evaluate the relative strength of propositions. Such
a system must include, in reverse order of primacy, theorems,
axioms, and definitions. Since mathematics is the system of logic
most are familiar with, I will use geometry for examples.
Where do we begin when we devise a system? Above a certain level,
we must be able to clearly and unambiguously define everything we
will encounter in the system. We loathe circularity of definition
as much circularity of reason, and since we cannot any more easily
tolerate infinite regress in our definitions, we are forced to
accept some primitive definitions as themselves undefined. In
geometry, "point" is such an undefined entity. (No less a notable
than Euclid thought he could build a perfect system, so he defined
a point as "that which has no part.") Most people revolt at the
notion of undefined entities, so an instructor prostitutes
him/herself by making a little dot on the blackboard when the
student would ultimately be better taught to understand the folly
of trying to define everything.*
Next comes a set of assumptions. If we are to avoid tautology ("a"
implies "a"), circular reasoning ("a" implies "b" implies "a"), and
infinite regress ("a sub n" is derivable from "a sub n-1", . . .
), we must cut the circle and truncate the reasoning extending back
to infinity and say "this is the bottom." Such primitive statements
are "axioms"; they are unprovable. Euclid called them "self-evident
truths" in his continued attempt at a perfect system. The
combination of these axioms and definitions in a logical system is
so airtight that whenever we are able to apply its principles to
some other system we may be assured that the latter, too, is
airtight. This is why mathematics is such a powerful analytical
What does all this have to do with falsifiability? Remember that
we stipulated that all our definitions must necessarily be
unambiguous and flow linearly from the primitives. Many arguments
should never get off the starting blocks: they are really over
before ever having begun because there was no clear definition or
there was no common agreement on the definition. Without clear
definitions, all the logical prowess and agility one may possess
are for naught.
"Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is
shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer."
I carried on for a year in a running debate with a creationist
before realizing that his definition of science was "knowing." That
is indeed one of the accepted definitions of science. He had
selected that particular definition not because it is germane, but
because it defined his position into existence. All the effort I
had expended on R-S-T was wasted because we had not agreed upon A-
B-C first. His definition allows voodooism and cow-chip tossing as
valid scientific areas of study. There are many informal
definitions of science, so if one is to have a meaningful
discussion about science qua science, there must first be strict
agreement on a formal definition. Any subject one may wish to
discuss has multiple definitions.
All of this now applies to Steiner's statement. Is there a specific
definition that we could all agree upon, at least in theory, as
regards what is a "big Mafioso"? We MUST agree or there is no point
in even discussing the matter, and the matter is not as intractable
as it can be made to appear.
The easiest way out is to allow only the most formal definition for
the purpose of discussion. It is not theoretically difficult to
arrive at, in a formal sense, what is meant by "big" in this case,
and it is even easier to define, in a formal sense, what is meant
by "Mafioso." Then and only then are we prepared to address the
question of falsifiability.
The limits of scientific falsifiability should not have to hinge
upon a definition, or we are in a pack of trouble. We wouldn't be
able to falsify ourselves out of a wet paper bag. We must be able
to determined falsifiability at the INFERENCE level of the logico-
rational system, not be stymied at the definition level.
I contend therefore, that whether or not one is a "big Mafioso" or
not is falsifiable.
* Try a little exercise in circular definitions. Take a word in the
dictionary and look up one of its definitions or synonyms. In
usually at most six iterations of this process you will be back to
the original word. Miss Rotman, my English literature teacher,
marked our papers whenever we used the word we were to define in
the definition, but this problem is ultimately unavoidable in
CSER REPORTS ON SATANISM
by Shawn Carlson, Ph.D.
For the last three years, I and several colleagues investigated
monstrous allegations of Satanic crime. What we found are pillars
of nonsense built on sand. Murderous cults of Devil worshipers are
modern folk legends and a few opportunists, bereaved parents and
religious fanatics have preyed on the public's imagination to
create a lucrative cottage industry of fear. What follows is a
press release describing our research. Copies of the 200-page
report are available for $10 plus $1.50 P&H from me at Box 466, El
Cerrito, CA, 94530.
Those who worry about a rising tide of Satanic crime in America are
giving the Devil much more than his due according to a report
issued today by the Committee for Scientific Examination of
Religion (CSER), a group of scientists and scholars dedicated to
the critical evaluation of religious claims.
"SATANISM IN AMERICA", compiled after three years of investigation,
finds some evidence of Satanic or "occult- related" criminal
activity in the United States, but cautions that its prevalence has
been grossly exaggerated by self-styled experts who have wasted
millions of tax dollars and countless thousands of police hours in
search of a conspiracy that isn't there.
In fact, according to CSER's study, a phalanx of Christian
fundamentalists, political extremists, bereaved parents,
opportunists, and several mentally unstable persons have combined
to form a lucrative "information industry" on occult-related crime.
The report asserts that public monies have been used to fund police
and law enforcement training seminars (often costing hundreds, and
sometimes thousands, of dollars), and the publication of dozens of
books and manuals, offering little more than "evangelism posing as
criminology." And all of this has happened despite the fact that
a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to be the
victim of a Satanic crime.
THE DEVIL WITH GERALDO
CSER decided to begin its investigation in 1986, shortly after its
widely publicized expose of fraudulent TV faith healers. Alarmed
by the nationwide Satanism scare, which had been fueled by
outrageous claims and sensational media coverage, the Committee
later focused much of its attention on an analysis of Geraldo
Rivera's special television presentation, "Devil Worship: Exposing
Satan's Underground," aired on the night of Oct. 25, 1988.
The report is sharply critical of the Rivera special, charging that
- poorly researched.
- highly irresponsible.
"SATANISM IN AMERICA" tells that "The Rivera report was misleading,
much of the information presented was inaccurate, and key facts
were omitted." And these facts, CSER contends, would have left the
viewing audience considerably less alarmed about the "threat" of
Says Dr. Shawn Carlson, the report's principal author, "Had Rivera
been a bit more even-handed in his treatment of the subject matter,
perhaps some of the hysteria could have been averted or avoided
Carlson, a physicist and software engineer, points out that there
was at least one confirmed case of homicide associated with the
program. "Timothy Hughes of Altus, Oklahoma murdered his wife
immediately after watching Rivera's special," Carlson says,
"because he believed her to be part of the conspiracy."
"20/20" IN THE ACT
Carlson contends that since the airing of a special report on
Devil-worship on ABC's newsmagazine "20/20" in 1985, and the
continuing fascination of TV talk-shows and the press with
allegations of a Satanic conspiracy, numerous acts of violence have
been committed by vigilantes and arsonists across the country
against those suspected of Devil-worship. "A number of small
churches, including several Black churches, have been vandalized
and burned because of rumor-panics," says Carlson. "After the
Matamoros incident -- which had nothing to do with Satanism --
people in Pharr, Texas began to hear rumors that blond-haired,
blue-eyed children were to be ritually murdered in a little church
called the Church of Fire.
The church was destroyed in a mysterious blaze, and several of the
members were threatened with similar fates.
The same thing happened to a Black church in Illinois last winter."
Carlson points to a similar incident involving the producer of the
"20/20" segment on Devil-worship, Kenneth Wooden. "Wooden addressed
an audience of 200 people in Olean, New York last April on the
topic of Satanic crime, and told them that 25% of all unsolved
homicides were ritualistic in nature. That's one in four -- an
unbelievable number! There had been a rumor about Satanism
spreading in Jamestown, a nearby town. Asked about it, Wooden said,
`It doesn't surprise me . . . it can happen here.'"
"Two weeks later, the police had to stop a mob armed with knives
and clubs in Jamestown from converging on a wooded area. And a
local warehouse, used for punk rock concerts, sustained $4000 worth
of damage because several townspeople believed that a ritual
sacrifice was to occur there.
"Wooden's report for `20/20', as well as his comments in that
public meeting, were simply irresponsible," according to Carlson.
The report claims that many of those making public allegations
about Satanic crime have exaggerated the extent of the problem
beyond reason. According to Carlson, "These people claim to know
who the cultist are, where they meet, and how they dispose of the
bodies of their victims. But unlike undercover police officers and
informants on organized crime, they are unable -- or unwilling --
to provide names, dates, places, or any other tangible evidence."
Carlson's charges are supported by many law enforcement officers
and criminologists, among them Kenneth Lanning of the FBI's
Behavioral Research Unit in Quantico, Virginia. Lanning, a
specialist on crimes involving children, has recently published an
article critical of the current Satanism scare in the October issue
of "Police Chief" magazine, and reprinted as an appendix in CSER's
"SATANISM IN AMERICA" addresses the entire spectrum of claims
surrounding Satanism and occult crime -- child-abductions, ritual
abuse, human and animal sacrifices, women who purportedly offered
their own infants up for sacrifice, animal mutilations, the link
between Devil-worship and Heavy Metal music, and the phenomenon of
"backward masking." It concludes that most of the allegations made
over the last several years are baseless.
The report states that in the few instances where crimes with
undeniable Satanic overtones have occurred, "there is no evidence
to show that Satanism, per se, was responsible for the act. Nearly
every Satanic criminal had a history of anti-social behavior long
before he/she took up the trappings of Satanism. Satanism, in these
cases, appears as an expression of one's mental illness, and not
as the sole motivation for anti-social behavior. Satanism is a
symptom, not the cause."
According to Carlson, "Some of the people who are most public about
this issue make the silliest claims -- insisting that between
50,000 and two million children are ritually murdered each year by
Satanists. We know that this just isn't true. The FBI states that
they have fewer than 80 open files on children abducted by
strangers in any given year. And there were a total of 23,000
homicides in the U.S. last year, making the lowest sacrifice number
often offered by the conspiracy theorists TWICE the national murder
average for children and adults combined. The numbers offered by
the so-called experts simply don't add up."
"Far more children drown in our backyard pools than are killed by
cultists," Carlson argues. "In fact, last year 2,100 children were
murdered in the U.S. by their own parents! This means that children
are far more likely to be killed by their own father than by a
Devil-worshiper. If we want to help children, we should cover our
swimming pools and do something about child abuse, not waste
limited resources chasing after non-existent Devil-worshiping
conspiracies." According to the report, there have been over a
million violent crimes committed in the U.S. in the past five
years, fewer than one hundred of them involving Satanism or the
"I'm proud of the work we've done, especially in the area of child
abuse," says Gerald Larue, Emeritus professor of Religion at the
University of Southern California and co-author of "SATANISM IN
AMERICA". "The hysteria-mongers would have us exhaust our resources
going after a non-existent, nation-wide cult of Satanic child-
abusers. We must concentrate our efforts on finding the real
abusers and taking them off the streets, as well as providing help
for abused kids. We owe it to our children not to indulge ourselves
in hysteria in their names."
"Our investigation has shown that, in child-abuse cases,
allegations of Devil-worshiping conspiracies are phantoms of the
prosecutors' imagination and that juries tend not to convict when
such allegations are raised. I can't help but think that real
child-abusers may have been released from jails because some
prosecutors failed to concentrate on the abuse by getting carried
away with meager evidence of Satanic murders allegedly committed
during black masses and the like," adds Larue. "This panic is
hurting kids a lot more than its helping them."
Permanence in an all-volunteer organization is like finding Nessie
in Lake Tahoe. Fresh ideas usually come with fresh names, so
newcomers are always welcome. Things have been moving apace lately
to the extent that the "BASIS" staff has barely had time to catch
its breath enough to salute our latest "acquisitions." Kate Talbot
has accepted the responsibility of distributing "BASIS", for which
Yves Barbero is mightily grateful. Helping to get the newsletter
out on time is a somewhat thankless but vitally important task, so
we want Kate to feel our appreciation.
BAS extends a hearty "WELCOME!" to Eugenie Scott, Ph.D., who has
agreed to serve on our board. Genie, a long-time advisor to BAS,
is an anthropologist, properly degreed and papered in physical
anthropology by the University of Missouri. After a post-graduate
stint she did some teaching rounds at U. of Kentucky and U. of
Colorado, and several schools in California. She is now serving as
Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education.
Her impressive credentials and specialty in the creation/evolution
controversy have led to her nomination as a CSICOP Fellow.
Still parceling out more of herself and her time, Genie is an
elected member of the Board of Directors of the American
Association of Anthropologists, something that tells us what her
peers think of her. In her spare time she debates -- very
effectively -- various principals from the Institute for Creation
Research. If one is somewhat daunted by this list of
accomplishments, Genie's disarming, down-to-earth personality will
just charm your socks off. No hoity-toity here.
"Degrees of Folly" will probably conclude in January when the DOE
makes its decision. If you question the value of the "BASIS" series
on the ICR case, here is part of a letter from Stuart Hurlbert to
Joseph Barankin, both principals in the story:
"Clearly [Bennetta's] a prickly burr under the saddle.
. . . But . . . his articles [in "BASIS"] are the ONLY
accurate account available to the public of this past
year's events. He has done more this past year to protect
the integrity of science degrees in California . . . than
the entire DOE/PPED staff."
BAS BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Chair: Larry Loebig
Vice Chair: Yves Barbero
Secretary: Rick Moen
Treasurer: Kent Harker
Kent Harker, editor; Sharon Crawford, assoc. editor;
Kate Talbot, distribution; Rick Moen, circulation
William J. Bennetta, Scientific Consultant
Dean Edell, M.D., ABC Medical Reporter
Donald Goldsmith, Ph.D., Astronomer and Attorney
Earl Hautala, Research Chemist
Alexander Jason, Investigative Consultant
Thomas H. Jukes, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
John E. McCosker, Ph.D., Director, Steinhart Aquarium
Diane Moser, Science writer
Richard J. Ofshe, Ph.D.,U. C. Berkeley
Bernard Oliver, Ph.D., NASA Ames Research Center
Kevin Padian, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
James Randi, Magician, Author, Lecturer
Francis Rigney, M.D., Pacific Presbyterian Med. Center
Wallace I. Sampson, M.D., Stanford University
Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., Anthropologist
Robert Sheaffer, Technical Writer, UFO expert
Robert A. Steiner, CPA, Magician, Lecturer, Writer
Ray Spangenburg, Science writer
Jill C. Tarter, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
THE GANG OF THREE
"SKEPTICISM IN THE 1990'S"
Two past chairs of BAS, a current director, three authors of note,
a magician, a political theoretician, a scholar and an advisor to
senior citizens seems like a battalion but all these traits are
embodied in three men who have stood the Bay Area on its ears.
Bob Steiner, Robert Sheaffer and Larry Jerome will predict, analyze
and sort out skepticism for the coming decade. Will the Age of
Aquarius melt and be overshadowed by End-of-the-Millennium Prophets
of Doom? Is Creationism finally dead? What odd notions will join
the short-lived anorexic Breatherians in the future?
Robert Sheaffer, past chair of BAS, is author of "The UFO Verdict".
His most recent book is the political "Resentment Against
Achievement". Lawrence Jerome teaches at the University of San
Francisco and the Electronic University. Among his literary
achievements are "Astrology Disproved" and "Crystal Power: The
Ultimate Placebo Effect". Bob Steiner, past president of the
Society of American Magicians, can often be heard on talk radio
attacking the irrational notions of our age of reason. The title
of his most recent book, "Don't Get Taken!" says it all.
Bring your questions.
Opinions expressed in "BASIS" are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect those of BAS, its board or its advisors.
The above are selected articles from the December, 1989 issue of
"BASIS", the monthly publication of Bay Area Skeptics. You can
obtain a free sample copy by sending your name and address to BAY
AREA SKEPTICS, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco, CA 94122-3928 or by
leaving a message on "The Skeptic's Board" BBS (415-648-8944) or
on the 415-LA-TRUTH (voice) hotline.
Copyright (C) 1989 BAY AREA SKEPTICS. Reprints must credit "BASIS,
newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco,
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank