December 1990 +quot;BASIS+quot;, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics Bay Area Skeptics Inf
December 1990 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics
Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet
Vol. 9, No. 12
Editor: Yves Barbero
by Yves Barbero
"We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood.
A holy nation, a peculiar people"
-- from the distributed song sheet
Halloween evening, at the Civic Center in San Francisco, took on a
surreal atmosphere. Outside were the more extreme of the radical
gays, costumed as much for the witching hour as for a political
statement. If there were people there solely concerned with freedom
of thought or religion, they stayed in the background.
Inside, several thousand people had come to hear Larry Lea,
self-proclaimed leader of a nation of prayer warriors, exorcise the
evil spirits which plague the Bay Area. His claim to have the
ability to fight the "Spirit of Perversion" is what triggered the
The press, meanwhile, had a clearly defined confrontation to report
on. Sound-bites aplenty from both sides would fill the Eleven
O'Clock news. "They're at it again folks!", implying that us
"normal" folk could stay above the fray and have a good chuckle as
the brave reporters, with only mikes to shield them, got the usual
idiot statements from both sides.
Austin Miles, author of "Don't Call Me Brother", said that Lea is
relatively new on the national scene. He had not heard of him until
recently although he follows the televangelists closely. "But,"
Miles, an ordained preacher himself, added, "before he comes here
to cast out the territorial demons [referring to the Spirit of
Perversion (San Francisco), the Spirit of Murder (Oakland), the
Spirit of the New Age (Marin), etc. -- ed.], he should cast out the
Demon of Blasphemy from his home state of Texas where charlatan
preachers who merchandise God originate and multiply!"
Miles also pointed out that it is one of the underlying tenets of
Fundamentalism that to attribute something to God which isn't true
is blasphemy and under such a criterion, a lot of televangelists
commit blasphemy regularly by promising cures for money and, Miles
suggested, Lea belongs in that not-so select group.
New on the block or not, Lea, headquartered in Rockwell, Texas,
certainly has the organizational touch. He managed to get a lot of
free publicity with his outrageous statements, "...will quake
Satan's camp at the San Francisco Bay Area Breakthrough." There was
a plastic bucket at each end of the aisles in the Civic Center to
be filled generously by the faithful. The book stalls were well
stocked with attractively designed and expensive hardbacks and
cassettes of all varieties. He managed to get the San Francisco
tactical police squad to separate the sheep from the wolves and the
few who got through the lines were quickly ejected by efficient
"Rent-A-Cops" who looked as if they spent their off-time weight
lifting (they were quite arbitrary, by the way, and a number of
people were ejected for their "looks" or because they laughed or
shouted at the wrong moment).
Marketing seems to be the main doctrinal innovation of the Larry
Lea Ministries. A brief thumb-through of his magazine, "The Cutting
Edge", displays merchandise as prominently as the inspirational
articles. In fact, the text in the articles referred to books and
other merchandise in the slick catalog insert to the magazine. And
they ain't cheap, folks!
A number of volunteer pastors were on hand to keep the more
excitable believers from serious confrontation with the
merry-makers outside. [To] "...keep everybody calmed down," said
one itinerant preacher from Alabama. In fact, despite some
shouting, there was nothing to suggest that the Larry Lea
Ministries wanted a physical confrontation.
A number of believers said that being a "prayer warrior" meant they
prayed for sinners. Not one suggested any sinister political agenda
and there was no indication that they were briefed in any way by
Lea's organizers. It was certainly the case that many, if not the
majority, of believers came with local evangelical church groups (I
went with a group from the Gateway Ministries who were most
gracious in tolerating me) and had no intention of confronting
The program started with music, very loud, well thought out, and
with a variety of styles, including one "rap" number and lots of
rock and roll. First, there was recorded music, soon followed by
live music. I had to walk to the back because the amplification was
hurting my ears. But for most, the music was appreciated and
brought everyone together. The swaying and singing was
After forty-five minutes of this, Larry Lea walked on stage for the
first of three nights of preaching (the protesters were only there
the first night). I found him a disappointment and a bit of a
second-rate Jimmy Swaggart in that he is a crier (for a sample,
watch KFCB, Channel 42, 7:30 a.m. any day of the week). One woman,
an unbeliever who had walked in because "I look straight", said she
counted the word "blood" used 36 times in a five minute period.
In this country, at least, established religion has made its peace
(except for certain highly charged issues) with the fact that we
have a largely secular government. People like Larry Lea are mostly
an embarrassment to them. When I participated in the writing of BAY
AREA SKEPTICS' by-laws, I had that more traditional relationship in
mind rather than a modern public relation or marketing approach to
preaching. We decided that we would make no comment about religious
dogma. After all, dogma is not a scientific or public policy issue.
Since then, we've found a number of situations were we felt it
necessary to speak up to protect the public or in cases when
science was attacked (See Mark Hodes's excellent summary of this
policy on page five).
Religion has made alliances with government and commerce in the
past and it usually worked against the public interest. Now,
upstart religious groups are taking advantage of the uncertainties
of our heterogeneous society to create in-groups without regard to
the civil rights of minority segments of our population. They have
cynically used the deep faith of many people to raise funds and
create power bases. Their dogmas (when expressed) are chosen more
for the strong emotions generated than a religious purpose. The
preachers which come to the forefront are picked for their
charismatic qualities rather than their intellectual
If we have the right to expose psychics and fortune tellers,
whether sincere or not, have we not the right to expose the
methodology and tactics of those who claim religion? It is, of
course, merely my opinion but as the Larry Leas of the world rape
and pillage the emotions of decent people for a buck, we skeptics,
whatever our own religious feelings, should take notice.
THE ROLE OF SKEPTICISM IN MODERN SCIENCE AND IN
UNDERSTANDING THE FLUORIDE PROBLEM
by John R. Lee, MD
[It is the policy of "BASIS" to allow individuals with
controversial (and often debatable) scientific claims to express
them as fully as possible. It is in this spirit that this piece is
published. Readers are invited to comment.]
Skepticism is inherent in modern science. Medieval science was
dominated and controlled by obeisance to past authority, learning
the wisdom (such as it was) of the ancients; in medicine, this
meant following the teachings of second century Galen, one of whose
dicta was that nervousness in a female stemmed from a wandering of
her uterus (the "hyster"). Even today, we still have the word
"hysteria." Independent research was forbidden and skepticism was
strictly weeded out. Even simple anatomy and dissection of the dead
was a criminal offense. Science, as we view it today, was
With the advent of the Renaissance (14th - 16th centuries), science
was reborn with the underlying principle that skepticism is the
avenue of progress. Rabelais, whose work we read today, in the
early 1500's shattered with wit and ridicule the old tradition that
truth emanates from rote learning of old teachings and gleefully
championed the cause of open questioning and independent research.
Galileo, while professor (1589-92) at the University of Pisa,
initiated experiments concerning the laws of bodies in motion which
brought results so contradictory to the accepted teachings of
Aristotle that strong antagonism was aroused. In 1610, using a
simple magnifying lens from Holland, he discovered four satellites
of Jupiter and the phases of Venus leading to his acceptance of the
Copernican theory of the solar system. For this he was denounced as
a religious heretic and warned not to teach it.
In 1633 he was brought to trial by papal authorities and forced to
recant his beliefs and findings. Nevertheless, in 1638, he
published his last book in which he restated his scientific
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) led the movement in England that restored
inductive reasoning and full and open investigation of evidence,
which we now call the scientific method. It was not until 1843 when
Mendel, an obscure Austrian monk working with garden peas,
established the fact that genetic inheritance proceeded from both
the female and male genders of breeding plants and animals.
Today, we are comfortable with the concept that science means
accurate observation of events, the forming of these explanatory
hypothesis, and experimental testing of these hypothesis. It is
understood that truth, in science, is not absolute but is merely
more closely approximated. That which we regard as true means only
that the hypotheses is not yet disproved. The findings in science
are temporary way-points to future better hypotheses.
Remnants of medieval scholasticism still abound, however, in our
educational institutions. More than not, the good grades go not to
the student who is skeptical of his teacher's pronouncements but to
the student who faithfully reiterates them. Medical schools are
classic examples of this art. Getting an "A" usually means the
student repeated what the teacher wanted to hear.
I well remember my first anatomy test when the only correct
response to the fill-in question, "The inguinal canal is
____________," was an "an oblique passageway." When so much depends
on getting good grades, the student quickly learns to still his
skepticism and his independent questioning and acquiesce to the
system of skillfully regurgitation of his superior's words. This
system extends and becomes even more rigid in bureaucracies where
job survival, not to mention advancement, depends on such skills.
Our medical bureaucracies are no exception to this anti-scientific
The 50-year old fluoridation problem begs for the fresh air of
skepticism to free it from the prison of bureaucratic intransigence
which is its present abode. Lewis Thomas writes that the greatest
medical discovery in the past two generation is the discovery that
we know so little. He might well have added that so much of what we
"know" is wrong, some way or another. The fluoride we use in
fluoridation is a toxic waste product of industry. The older
studies, on which fluoridation is based, were so poorly designed
and performed that no competent scientist accepts them as credible.
When Rand Corporation scientists conducted a fluoride literature
review in 1981, they found systematic errors; yet not a whisper of
it appeared in our news media. As consultant for a large test of
school-based fluoride treatment programs, the Rand consultant
concluded that the $60 million spent annually is money being "spit
down the drain;" yet programs continue. All studies of the past two
decades find that fluoridation provides no discernible dental
Our National Institute of Dental Health recently investigated the
fluoridation status and dental health of over 39,000 school
children and announced that fluoridation reduced cavities by sixty
percent. Yet, when the data are eventually obtained, no dental
differences are found among the fluoridated, partially
unfluoridated, and unfluoridated communities.
The NIDH also claims no increase in dental fluorosis (an early sign
of fluoride toxicity) in fluoridated communities and yet refuses to
release their data to support that claim. When studies document the
fact that our daily intake of fluoride (from our contaminated
processed food supply and our fluoridated dentifrices) now greatly
exceeds the so-called "optimal" level, our public health officials
turn a deaf ear and refer the question to "experts in Washington.
When even some public health dental health experts question the
wisdom of fluoridation, they are quickly demoted, shunned by their
colleagues, and silenced by their agencies. And, when expert
medical witnesses testify to the toxicity of fluoride, it is
promptly denied but not disproved. When rat studies illustrate this
toxicity (rats are notoriously resistant animals), the fluoride
bureaucracy floats the claim that rats are not proper test
subjects. Does not all this harken back to the Dark Ages? When
skepticism is silenced, science (and our health, in this case)
At the BAY AREA SKEPTICS January meeting, I plan to review the
scientific evidence concerning fluoridation. The pro-fluoride
mind-set will be exposed as a throwback to medieval
authoritarianism. The window to open this closed corner is
skepticism. Let us throw open that window.
[John R. Lee had a family practice in Mill Valley for thirty years
and chaired the Marin Medical Society Committee on Environmental
Health in 1972 which was charged with reviewing the pros and cons
of fluoridation. He has a continuing interest in Environmental
Affairs and Preventive health.]
| The Ten Most Accurate Psychics |
| in the Bay Area and their |
| Telephone Numbers.* |
| *These psychics have been tested |
| and certified by BAY AREA SKEPTICS, |
| and may be safely consulted. |
REPORTING TURNED HYPERBOLE
by John A. Taube
From a scientific point of view, the article "Healthy-Heart Guru"
by Sylvia Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle, October 2nd, was a
disappointment. It was not journalism or investigative reporting.
It was a hype. It reeks with hyperbole and uses large graphics for
illustrations. Its sole purpose was to ballyhoo yoga. The article
was on a certain guru's method of yoga. Yoga has many paranormal
phenomenon implications and to associate it with health can be
confusing and, in some incidents, can be dangerous.
As to good health, it is well established that lowering fat intake,
adding fiber to one's diet, exercise, reducing stress and not
smoking will lower one's chance of suffering a heart attack, along
with other health benefits. The article describes in detail the
various yoga exercises used that supposedly prevent heart attacks.
But there is no scientific evidence that any of these yoga
exercises, by themselves, has any preventative worth.
Instead of hyping such practices, the article would have rendered
better service to readers if it had suggested a scientific
double-blind test to determine if yoga exercises have any
significant health value whatsoever. This is not to suggest that
people should not do yoga exercises. Question: If one forgoes these
yoga exercises and concentrates on established practices of good
health, will not the use of yoga be a waste of time? That very well
might be. Furthermore, if one gets emotionally involved with yoga,
might there not be a tendency to disregard good health practices?
It is very probably so.
From a scientific point of view, the article should have alerted
people and put them on guard about the pitfalls of getting
emotionally involved with yoga.
[This is an article from the May 1986 "BASIS", an issue devoted to
our expose, with magician James Randi, of "faith-healer" Peter
BAY AREA SKEPTICS AND RELIGION
by Mark Hodes
BAY AREA SKEPTICS is a diverse organization. Our Board of
Directors, consultants, and subscribers include men and women of
differing religious and non-religious persuasions, persons
affiliated with religious institutions and persons not so
affiliated. The position of BAY AREA SKEPTICS on religion is,
simply, that we have no position. The claims and attitudes of
religious organizations and individuals, with few exceptions, are
neither offered nor taken to lie in the domains in which scientific
inquiry is effective or applicable. Therefore such claims generally
do not engage our attention.
Exceptions, however, do occur, and they fall into two overlapping
I. Religious claims whose proponents assert scientific
justification for their truth.
II. Religious claims that, if unchallenged, exact grievous societal
This is a touchy subject involving, at the least, highly subjective
judgment, if not downright prejudice. Allow me to illustrate these
categories with three specific examples:
1. The Shroud of Turin is a paradigm for Category I. The Shroud is
a linen wrap that surfaced in France in the 1350s, and carries an
image supposed to have been scorched into the fabric by radiative
emission from the crucified body of Jesus. In 1978 a team of dozens
of American and European scientists subjected the Shroud to an
impressive battery of sophisticated tests, and were widely reported
to have proclaimed the Shroud authentic!
Once the question of the Shroud's authenticity had entered the
scientific literature, that question and earlier work on it became
fair game for the critical evaluation that attends all surprising
and significant results in science. The more surprising the
outcome, the more meticulous and compulsive the scrutiny it
receives. This is the conservative side of science, but note that
this same scrutiny leads sometimes to the astonishingly rapid
acceptance of those rare revolutionary ideas that stand up to it.
As the purpose of this essay is not to review the Shroud
literature, I refer you to the notes for further information.
2. A topic that spans categories I and II is creationism, so-called
Creation Science. Creationists offer what they profess to regard as
empirical justification for their beliefs. This places them in
Category I. However, they misrepresent the nature of their beliefs,
seek to promulgate their dogma in public school classes, and pursue
political means to effect this goal.
The costs to society of weakening the science curriculum are
manifold and manifest. In a broader context, the Constitutionally
mandated separation of church and state is as crucial a safeguard
as freedom of speech, and is a foundation of academic freedom. The
case against creationism has been made elsewhere, and so I refer
you again to the notes.
3. The sensitive subject of faith healers falls squarely in
Category II. Faith healers' numbers are legion, and their annual
"take" is exceeded only by the extravagance of their claims. Peter
Popoff, the subject of other articles in this issue [May, 1986], is
not exceptional either in his apparently cynical exploitation of
those who place their faith in him, nor in his apparent lack of
regard for the unnecessary health risks to which his followers may
Here the connection with religion is wholly incidental. The
substance of our criticism is not against anyone's religious
beliefs, but what may be the use of stage magic of the mentalist
genre, clothed as a religious service, to perpetrate possible
medical fraud. Again, religion PER SE is not the issue.
Certainly situations will arise in which our intuitions will differ
as to whether to become involved. Ambiguity is among the usual
costs of dealing with complex issues. My point is that BAY AREA
SKEPTICS is neither antagonistic toward nor supportive of religion
in general, or the religious beliefs of individuals in general. We
do take interest in controversial subjects that enter the
scientific literature, and in areas where the penalties for
uncritically holding beliefs are unconscionably severe.
1. A good place to start reading about the Shroud of Turin is "The
Skeptical Inquirer," vol. VI, #3, Spring, 1982. This issue contains
carefully researched articles by Maavin M. Mueller and Steven D.
Schafersman, each including a large bibliography.
2. For the case against creationism I suggest Godfrey, Laurie R.
(ed.), "Scientists Confront Creationism," W.W. Norton & Co., New
York, 1983. This volume, introduced by Richard C. Lewontin,
contains essays by 15 distinguished scientists, including Stephen
Jay Gould. The essays carry individual bibliographies, and the
collection includes a detailed cumulative index.
AUERBACH IN BUSINESS
Loyd Auerbach, who holds a master's degree in parapsychology from
John F. Kennedy University* in Orinda, has opened a New Age
business with his partner Christopher Chacon in Orinda, according
to the "San Francisco Chronicle" (10-29-90).
For twenty-five smackers an hour, they will remove any loose
poltergeists from the premises. The "Office of Paranormal
Investigations", located in Orinda, is only the second such
business in the U.S. according to the Chronicle.
Readers will remember Auerbach for the entertaining lectures he
presented to BAY AREA SKEPTICS in the past. It is hoped his clients
are just as entertained when they whip out their checkbooks. Don't
forget to ask about the warranty should you make use of their
*The CATHOLIC CHURCH has long opposed traffic in the paranormal. It
must be a wonderful irony that a school named after one of their
most prominent members issues such degrees.
PAINTED BLACK, by Carl A. Raschke. Harper & Row, 1990. Hardcover,
276 pages, $16.95.
by Shawn Carlson, PhD
For the last ten years, communities throughout America have
suffered at the hands of profiteers of the irrational who see the
Devil under every quilt and cornerstone. Churches have been burned,
minority religions harassed, and millions of tax dollars wasted in
efforts to expunge a non-existent "satanic conspiracy" from our
lives. And just when it seemed that the fires of anti-satanic
hysteria couldn't burn any hotter, along comes another tanker of
kerosene in the guise of Carl Raschke's new book, "Painted Black".
In it, Raschke lands a firm clout on the jaw of reason by hailing
Satanism as the force behind child abuse, teen suicide, and drug
Despite Raschke's position as a professor of religious studies at
the University of Denver, the text is bursting with sloppy research
and fuzzy thinking. Howling errors and half truths leap off every
page. Raschke messes up even the simplest facts. He refers to the
"Ordo Templi Orientis", an extremely well known occult group, as
the "Ordo Templi Orentalis" (p. 92 and index). Practitioners of the
"Palo Mayombe" religion call themselves "Paleros," but Raschke
invents the awkward "Palomayombists" (p. 11) and misrepresents
During an interview on KGO Radio in San Francisco, he even
mispronounced the name of the most infamous figure in twentieth
century occultism -- Aleister Crowley -- and then dismissed a
caller's correction, saying, "you must be a follower of [Crowley]
if you know how to pronounce [his name]." Not true, Carl -- people
with only a passing knowledge of the occult get it right.
Raschke's retort to the caller illustrates his tactics; he prefers
intellectual bullying to persuasive reason. "Painted Black" bullies
with a clever trick -- it barrages the reader with many unbroken
sequences of one paragraph summaries of newspaper stories with
recount reported satanic horrors. The word "item leading each such
paragraph produces a dramatic impact -- looking over these pages
the reader sees "Item ... Item ... Item ... Item ... Item ..." for
page after page giving the impression that satanism is running
But Raschke doesn't help his readers think critically. In the
chapter, "Bad Moon Rising," for example, Raschke presents 41
separate "Items" without a single citation and neglects to mention
that some of the stories are over ten years old. An appendix does
contain a list of "sources" used in each chapter, but Raschke
covers his tracks by listing these alphabetically (sometimes by
title, sometimes by author) with no way of telling which, if any,
relate to a given "item." Worse, Raschke apparently didn't follow
up any of these reports, as though he just believed them to be
complete and accurate. In fact, newspaper accounts are rarely such.
I've found that most newspaper stories of "satanic crime" are more
often due to the reporter's ignorance of minority religions and
cultures than to Devil-worshiping cultists.
Raschke puts nothing in context. He talks of the rising satanic
tide but doesn't mention that of the 100,000 murders committed in
the U.S. over the last five years, fewer than 100 involved occult
or satanic overtones and most of these were committed by mentally
disturbed adolescents who were doing violence years before they
took up the occult.
Raschke makes much of the tragedy in Matamoros, Mexico in which the
leader of a drug running cult ritually sacrificed fifteen people in
order to obtain Magickal [sic] control over the police. But Raschke
doesn't report that to find another example of ritual human
sacrifice one has to go to Cuba over eighty years ago. In fact,
according to the FBI, there hasn't been a single documented case of
a stranger being abducted and ritually murdered in the United
States in U.S. history.
So where does Raschke get his information? In his preface he thanks
one Dale Griffis "for his mentoring and Avuncular oversight" (p.
X). He borrows heavily from "Dr." Griffis' materials throughout the
book, lauds him as a "leading expert in the investigation of occult
crime" (p. 76) and even uses his endorsement on the book's back
cover. But Raschke omits the fact that "Dr." Griffis is a one man
anti-satanic crusade whose degree is from an unaccredited diploma
mill and whose work has never been considered reliable by serious
Raschke's material on Jayne Mansfield comes from May Mann, who
wrote "Jayne Mansfield: A Biography" after Jayne's ghost supposedly
returned from the grave demanding that Mann complete the biography.
How much of this work was dictated by the ghost is unclear. Raschke
acknowledges the ethereal connection (p. 199), then uses the book
as the definitive source on Mansfield's involvement with the Church
of Satan. Many of Raschke's other sources are equally dubious.
It's not that good information isn't available. Many skilled
researchers have investigated satanic crime. Yet Raschke dismisses
or ignores the Justice Department, the FBI, The National Child
Safety Council, and numerous scholars and police officers as "cult
apologists." When he singles out a detractor by name, Raschke can
be extremely vicious, even petty, in his attacks. For instance,
referring to FBI special agent Ken Lanning, Raschke writes "...
satanist criminals have had one of their best friends ... at the
highest level of national law enforcement" and opines that
Lanning's paper, "Satanic, Occult, Ritualistic Crime: A Law
Enforcement Perspective", is "written with the literacy, the
research sophistication, and the rhetorical finesse of a high
school sophomore" (p. 75).
According to Raschke, Lanning's paper consists of "volley after
volley of emotional diatribe, innuendo, non sequitur, glittering
and unsupported generality, and bogus appeal to his own authority
[as an FBI agent]" (p. 75). In fact, Lanning's report, with its
solid reasoning and clear command of the facts, earned him the
respect of his colleagues and cemented his position as a premier
authority on Satanic crime. After Raschke finishes his sophomoric
tirades, he goes on to systematically misrepresent Lanning's ideas.
In short, "Painted Black" is a masterpiece of the new "satanic"
McCarthyism. Horribly researched and hysterically reasoned, it sets
new standards in panic mongering. Although its unclear how many
people will be hurt by the social scares it is sure to generate,
one thing is certain -- "Painted Black "is the EXXON VALDEZ of
rational journalism. Some American communities will be years in
recovering from Harper & Row's decision to publish it.
[Physicist Shawn Carlson works at Lawrence Berkeley Labs, is the
science columnist for the national "Humanist" magazine and is on
the Board of Directors of Bay Area Skeptics]
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Letter to the Editor
REPLY TO HEARN
from Thomas H. Jukes, Ph.D.
Walter Hearn ("BASIS", Nov. '90) has commented on my letter in the
October "BASIS". He sees very little similarity between ASA's
[American Scientific Affiliation] statement of faith in God as the
creator of the physical universe, and the same statement by
"scientific creationists" that God created everything between 6,000
and 20,000 years ago. I said that ASA and ICR [Institute for
Creation Research] had similar requirements for a Statement of
Faith, and this is indeed the case. The number of years has nothing
to do with the identical religiosity of the affirmations.
I said that his attack on William Provine was unprovoked, and he
says that because Provine has a personal credo that the universe
cares nothing for us, therefore this is a religious statement, and
therefore Provine's name should be brought in. But Provine's
statement is the antithesis of religion.
Hearn tips his hat to pro-creationist [Robert] Root-Bernstein and
then, in an obscure passage, quotes Judge [William R.] Overton as
saying "evolution does not presuppose the absence of a creator or
God," and Hearn says that "when it DOES, it has become scientism."
But Overton said that evolution did NOT make this presupposition!
Whom is Hearn rebutting? Certainly not me.
Hearn then shows his incomprehension of molecular evolution: he
says that "in tracing `disappeared' children in Argentina,
molecular evidence of descent is not `overwhelming' beyond a couple
of generations." But this has nothing to do with the identical
hemoglobin sequences of humans and chimpanzees. The sequences of
humans and rhesus monkeys are five percent, of humans and cows
sixteen percent different, and so on.
So we infer from this and other evidence that humans and
chimpanzees had a recent common ancestor, and there was a less
recent common ancestor for human, apes and monkeys. Please, please,
W. Hearn, read "Hemoglobin" by Dickerson and Geis (1983). Do more
reading and less soliloquizing! And less misquoting; I did NOT say
that "in the days of Darwin, T. H. Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce
many people thought evolutionary biology had settled the basic
questions." I said, "the common ancestry question [of humans and
apes] was settled in the days of Darwin, T. H. Huxley and Bishop
It is appalling that "Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy"
has been distributed to tens of thousands of schools when one of
its co-authors, Hearn, has such confused ways of thinking and
writing that are reflected in its text. The picture on the front
cover of the publication mirrors Hearn's own bewilderment.
[THOMAS H. JUKES is professor of Bio-physics at UC Berkeley and has
done extensive research in molecular evolution. He is a long time
advisor to BAY AREA SKEPTICS.
"Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy" will be reviewed in
an upcoming issue by a high school biology teacher. "BASIS"
welcomes other reviews of this book, both pro and con.]
"The court would never criticize or discredit any person's
testimony based on his or her religious beliefs. While anybody is
free to approach scientific inquiry in any fashion they choose,
they cannot properly describe the methodology used as scientific,
if they start with a conclusion and refuse to change it regardless
of the evidence developed during the course of the investigation."
-- JUDGE WILLIAM R. OVERTON
Quoted from "Voices for Evolution" (1989)
Betty McCollister, editor
"KHRUSHCHEV: THE YEARS IN POWER" by Roy A. Medvedev and Zhores A.
Medvedev (Norton, 1978), 198 pages $6.95.
by Yves Barbero
Why a book review on a Soviet leader in these pages? Because the
book spends about a third of its pages on the disastrous
agricultural policy of the Nikita S. Khrushchev years and much of
this policy was because of the power of one Trofim D. Lysenko.
To be sure, the book is a political analysis of the Soviet
government of the time by Roy A. Medvedev, a dissident historian of
some talent and repute. It's a damn good one too. His brother,
Zhores, was a biochemist living in London at the time of
publication with a clear interest in the agricultural and science
policy of his native land. He was in a unique position to access
Western sources as well as Soviet sources through his brother, Roy,
then living in Moscow.
Khrushchev, largely remembered in the US for a shoe pounding
incident in the UN, started, in fact, as a reformer. He'd had some
success with agriculture so he became head of the Soviet Union. He
brought Joseph Stalin down from his pedestal as a godling and began
the long rehabilitation process of officials and individuals who
had been disgraced. This was necessary, the Medvedev brothers point
out, for the nation to come out of its political and social freeze.
For this, Khrushchev became well loved. Unfortunately, he used this
reservoir of trust to exercise dictatorial power.
This may have been useful in reducing a reluctant and powerful
military establishment but when it came to agriculture, "Without
any education in agronomy and never having seriously examined
Lysenko's bizarre theoretical ideas about heredity, Khrushchev
quickly fell under Lysenko's influence and, in various addresses
and reports, supported Lysenko in the latter's disputes with
scientific opponents. In 1961, Lysenko was reinstated as President
of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences and M. A. Olshansky, his
close friend and associate, became Minister of Agriculture of the
Soviet Union" (p. 132).
The disaster of Soviet Agriculture, from which, a generation later,
it has not yet recovered, cannot be laid completely on Lysenko's
door. Khrushchev's sudden changes in policy had much to do with it.
But Lysenko was responsible for a great deal of it. The book gives
a blow by blow description of what can happen when individual
scientists take on political power and manage to suppress their
opposition (Remember Ronald Reagan's support of Creationism once
he'd been approached by Creationists with a key to the back door of
the White House? How about Edward Teller's support of Star Wars, a
scientifically dubious (and costly) project at best? Yes, Virginia,
it can happen here!).
That political pressures affect science cannot be denied. We see it
every day. Powerful groups can determine policy. Research on
embryos is restricted because of religious and ethical objections.
AIDS research is helped by the support of the Hollywood
establishment and hindered by fundamentalists. Cancer research
(morally neutral) has important support since it is frightening to
the middle class, which is likely to live long enough to contract
it. So it is reasonably well financed.
Basic science, suffers because it is not in the public mind.
(Curiously, popularizers of basic science such as Sagan, Gould and
Asimov seem to get only grudging acknowledgment from the PhDs of
the line.) All in all, for all our problems, we are better off than
nations with dictators since scientific policy is not suddenly
reversed every time there's a change in leadership.
POT LUCK PARTY
Kate Talbot's House, 479 Ebken, Pacifica, 359-5555
Sunday, December 9, 1990, 5 pm
Bring a "pot" of salad, main course, or dessert, and optionally
Directions: From CA Rte. 1, west on Fassler and first left on
Watch for coming events in the BAS CALENDAR, or call 415-LA-TRUTH
for up to the minute details on events. If you have ideas about
topics or speakers, leave a message on the hotline.
WARNING: We STRONGLY URGE that you call the hotline shortly before
attending any Calendar activity to see if there have been any
BAS BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Chair: Larry Loebig
Vice Chair: Yves Barbero
Secretary: Rick Moen
Treasurer: Kent Harker
Yves Barbero, editor; Sharon Crawford, assoc. editor;
Wilma Russell, distribution; Rick Moen, circulation;
Kate Talbot, meeting coordinator; John Taube, media watch.
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
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 1990 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) 1990 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