February 1989 +quot;BASIS+quot;, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics Degrees of Folly: Par
February 1989 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics
Degrees of Folly: Part I by William Bennetta
[On 8 December 1988, the "New York Times" told that the
Institute for Creation Research -- the most prominent center of
creationist pseudoscience in the United States -- had suffered a
setback: The California State Department of Education had barred
the ICR from issuing masters' degrees in science.
That news, by itself, might not have seemed remarkable, for
the ICR's charlatanry had been widely publicized for several
years, and the idea of the ICR's awarding degrees in science was
absurd. But the "Times" also told some things that surely WERE
remarkable. The ICR already had been approved once by the
Department, some seven years earlier, and actually had been
passing out degrees. Moreover, the ICR's new application for
approval, submitted in 1987, had led to some strange proceedings:
The Department had sent a committee of five men to examine the
ICR's programs, and three had voted favorably. The application
had been denied only after one of the three changed his vote.
How had all this happened?
Here is the first part of an article in which Bill Bennetta,
one of BAS's advisors, will answer that question. Bennetta has
collected the relevant documents and has interviewed the members
of the committee. In this installment, he tells how the
committee's visit to the ICR resulted in a misleading report that
omitted or distorted anything that might have conveyed the real
nature of the ICR, its aims and its programs. Next month, he
will recount how two members of the committee later told the real
story, and he will describe what occurred after that.]
When California's legislature adopted the Private
Postsecondary Education Act of 1977, its statement of legislative
intent spoke of "protecting the integrity of degrees and
diplomas" issued by private institutions.
The Act sought, among other things, to impose discipline on
the operation of unaccredited schools and to inhibit the
distribution of bogus degrees by diploma mills. It said that no
school in California could award degrees unless the school had
been certified by a recognized accreditation agency or had been
approved by the superintendent of public instruction -- the chief
of the State Department of Education. To gain the
superintendent's approval, the school would have to demonstrate,
to a committee of examiners, that its academic resources and
programs were comparable to those at accredited schools that
offered their same degrees.
In 1981, when the superintendent was Wilson Riles, the
Department overtly scorned the legislature's vision: After what
was evidently a mock examination that would seem superficially to
comply with the Act, it approved the granting of advanced degrees
in science and in science education by the Institute for Creation
The ICR (which then was in El Cajon, but now is in Santee)
is the creation of Henry Morris, a fundamentalist preacher and
former engineer who poses as an expert in geology, biology,
paleontology and various other fields in which he has no
detectable credentials. Like Morris himself, the ICR is avidly
committed to "creation- science," the fundamentalist enterprise
that seeks technical validation for the doctrine that the Holy
Bible is an absolutely accurate account of history and an
infallible textbook of science.
The functionaries of the ICR spend a lot of their time in
devising quasi-scientific "evidences" that will seem to verify
the Bible's creation narratives, other biblical episodes, and the
fundamentalists' belief that the age of the universe is only
6,000 years -- a figure based on the sum of the lifespans of the
patriarchs listed in the Book of Genesis. They spend even
moretime in purporting to refute evolutionary views of the
universe, of Earth, and of living things. (Henry Morris has
suggested that the concept of evolution was devised by Satan
himself and other "evil spirits," while they were perched atop
the Tower of Babel. (1)
At first glance, doing "creation-science" may seem to be a
tough job: Isn't it hard to peddle, as scientific, a book that
says that beetles have only four feet and that a newborn animal's
color pattern is determined by what the parent animals happened
to see when they were mating? In fact, the job is easy, because
"creation- science" has nothing to do with science; nor is it
intended to win the allegiance of scientists or of anybody else
who might be tempted to count a beetle's feet or to think about
genetics. Instead, it has been concocted for two
extra-scientific audiences and two extra-scientific purposes.
The first purpose is to bolster the religious faith and
anti- intellectualism of fundamentalists at large, most of whom
know nothing of science and very little of what the Bible really
says; rather than reading the Bible itself, they rely on
preachers' accounts e biblical beliefs seem scientific to
public officials -- who typically know as little as the
fundamentalists know about science or about the Bible -- so that
such beliefs can be injected into public-school science
Given their naive audiences, the creation-scientists are
free to reject most of 20th-century science and to offer in its
place a stew of weird tales and fatuous assertions, spiced with
distorted quotations from legitimate scientific literature. They
offer an astronomy in which the asteroids seem to have originated
during a battle between good and evil angels, (2) and in which
the sun is, and always has been, continuously shrinking. (By
extrapolating the shrinkage backward through time, they find that
the solar system cannot be billions of years old, as scientists
say it to be.) They offer an astrophysics in which the speed of
light is adjustable, so that photons from remote galaxies,
millions of light-years away, have been able to reach Earth in
the mere 6,000 years since the universe began.
They offer a geophysics in which rates of radioactive decay
are capricious, so that radiometric dating can indicate that a
rock is millions of years old although it really was formed only
a few thousand years ago. They offer a geology in which many of
Earth's features, including the fossil record of life, were
formed during Noah's Flood. And they offer a biology in which
organisms occur as immutable, separately created "kinds" -- a
term that they have borrowed from the King James version of
Genesis and that they cannot define or explain.
To promote the dignification and dissemination of "creation-
science," Henry Morris in 1981 set up something that he called
the ICR Graduate School. And he promptly sought approval from
the Department of Education to award masters' degrees -- not in
Bible- study or religion but in geology, biology,
"astro/geophysics" and science education.
The Department's record of what ensued is far from complete,
but it does retain the names of the people whom the Department
picked to evaluate the four degree programs that the ICRGS had
proposed. I have checked on those people, and I have found
nothing to suggest that they were qualified to assess programs in
science or in science education. There is, however, evidence
that at least one of them was connected with the ICR or with some
of the ICR's leaders.
The result of their efforts was a signal event in the annals
of quackery: In June 1981, Wilson Riles gave his Department's
endorsement to the ICR and, in effect, lent the prestige of the
state of California to the whole nonsensical business of
"creation- science" -- talking serpent, shrinking sun, fantastic
photons, and all.
Like all approvals granted under the Act of 1977, the
ICRGS's approval had a term of three years. If things had
proceeded normally, the school would have had to apply again, and
would have been examined again, in 1984. But in that year the
legislature was amending the Act, so all existing approvals were
extended for three years. The ICRGS did not have to re-apply,
then, until the end of 1987. Its application, signed by Henry
Morris, was submitted on 24 December.
Consider the context in which that new application was
received. During the preceding few years, "creation-science" and
the men who purveyed it had been repeatedly exposed and publicly
denounced by scientists and jurists alike. One of the most
potent analyses had been issued in January 1982 by Judge William
Overton, of the U. S. District Court in Little Rock, when he
ruled unconstitutional an Arkansas statute that would have
authorized the teaching of "creation-science" in that state's
Overton wrote a highly readable, analytical opinion that
considered the nature of science and showed repeatedly that
"creation-science" was not science at all: It was biblical
religion in disguise. His text described tactics by which
specific creation-scientists had distorted science and had
misrepresented their own enterprise; and among the people whom he
named were Henry Morris and two other preachers who worked at the
ICR -- Duane Gish and Richard Bliss. (Bliss, who was and is the
ICR's "professor of science education," thus became (as far as I
know) the only such professor whose weird writings about science
have been excoriated by a federal court.
Creation-science soon suffered further debunking in a number
of trenchant books, most of which analyzed specific antics of
Morris, Gish and the ICR. These books included Niles Eldredge's
"The Monkey Business" (1982), Norman Newell's "Creation and
Evolution" (1982), Philip Kitcher's "Abusing Science: The Case
Against Creationism" (1983) and Ashley Montagu's "Science and
In 1987 an especially conspicuous blow was dealt to
"creation- science" by the Supreme Court, which upheld two lower
courts in finding that a Louisiana creationism law -- very
similar to the Arkansas statute that Overton had nullified -- was
unconstitutional. Again, "creation-science" was found not to be
science but to be an anti-scientific religious doctrine. (3)
The Court's ruling preceded, by some six months, the ICRGS's
application for renewed approval by California's Department of
The application was governed by section 94310.2 in Article
1.5 of the state's education code. Article 1.5 incorporates the
Act of 1977 and amendments to it. Section 94310.2 provides that
the superintendent of public instruction shall not approve the
granting of degrees by an unaccredited institution unless an
assessment of each degree program has shown that "The curriculum
is consistent in quality with curricula offered by appropriate
established accredited institutions" and that "The course for
which the degree is granted achieves its professed or claimed
academic objective for higher education, with verifiable evidence
of academic achievement comparable to that required of graduates
of other recognized schools accredited by an appropriate
accrediting commission. . . In the processing of the
application, decisive roles were played by three officers of the
Department. Bill Honig, who succeeded Wilson Riles in 1982, is
the current superintendent of Public instruction. Joseph
Barankin works directly for Honig, in Sacramento, as an assistant
superintendent and as the director of the Department's Private
Postsecondary Education Division (PPED), the branch that handles
all applications from postsecondary schools seeking state
approval. Roy Steeves works for Barankin, at the Department's
Los Angeles office, as an assistant director of the PPED.
In March 1988, Barankin gave the ICRGS case to Steeves.
Henry Morris and his associates by then had begun to amend their
application to meet the PPED's standard requirements for
documentation. They resubmitted it, in final form, on 9 June.
During the next few weeks, Steeves recruited the committee that
would visit the ICR, examine its programs, and recommend whether
approval should be granted. By law, the actual decision about
approval would rest wholly with Bill Honig, notwithstanding any
finding or recommendation that the committee might report.
The members of the committee were: Robert L. Kovach,
professor of geophysics at Stanford; Stuart H. Hurlbert,
professor of biology at San Diego State; G. Edwin Miller,
vice-president for administration at United States International
University (in San Diego); James A. Woodhead, professor of
geology at Occidental College; and George F. Howe, professor of
biology at The Master's College, a religious school in Newhall.
The committee had no professor of education, even though one
of the ICRGS's programs was in "science education" and was aimed
chiefly at preparing teachers.
The five men of the committee, along with Steeves (who was
their coordinator), visited the ICR on 3, 4 and 5 August. Their
report was typed in final form, and was signed by all five and by
Steeves, on the 5th. It was spread over ten pages, but it had
much blank space and several unfilled sheets; if competently
designed, it would have fit onto six.
The text of the report was, in a word, baloney. It
continually omitted or obfuscated any information that might have
told the real nature or aims of the ICR, the ICR's graduate
school or the men on the schools's faculty, and it repeatedly
promoted the pretense that the ICR was doing scientific work.
Since the spring of 1985, the ICR has published a quarterly
booklet of devotional readings called "Days of Praise". Each
issue has had, on its back cover, a some boiler-plate that calls
the ICR "A UNIQUE complex of evangelistic, missionary and
educational ministries" and lists the "ICR Graduate School of
Creationist Science" as one of the "Typical ICR Ministries." Yet
the report never told that the ICR itself calls the ICRGS a
On page 2, the report said: "The stated purposes of ICR are
twofold: to conduct research (and educational programs) with the
goal of validating the theory of creation science and to conduct
education programs primarily designed to train science teachers
in elementary and secondary schools. . . . (4) The three master's
degrees in science relate to the first stated objective and the
degree in science education relates to the other objective."
THAT THROW-AWAY LINE ABOUT "VALIDATING THE THEORY" WAS THE
ONLY REFERENCE TO "CREATION-SCIENCE" IN THE ENTIRE REPORT. THERE
WAS NOT A WORD ABOUT ITS CONTENT OR ITS SORDID, RICHLY DOCUMENTED
The report absolutely avoided a question that any alert
reader must ask: If the "three master's degrees in science" were
related to the objective of validating "creation-science," why
were the degrees to be awarded in biology and geology and
astro/geophysics and not in "creation-science"?
Page 4 said: "We commend the institution for having
recruited faculty members who have demonstrated academic and
research capabilities." Yet the report did not cite any academic
or research achievement by any member of the ICRGS faculty, nor
had any such thing been claimed in the ICRGS's application.
Indeed, one of the striking features of the application was that
its resumes of faculty members FAILED TO SHOW ANY SCIENTIFIC
PUBLICATION OR PROJECT.
Page 5 said that the ICR's courses tried "to present a
two-model evaluation addressed to the origin of life." There was
nothing to tell what that meant. There was no explanation that
the "two-model" system is the doctrine saying that every person
must embrace either godless, pernicious, evolutionary science or
fundamentalist Christianity. (No other religions merit
consideration; this is why, conveniently, the number of models is
only two.) There was no explanation that "two-model" nonsense had
been soundly discredited and that Judge Overton had called it "a
contrived dualism which has no scientific factual basis or
legitimate educational purpose."
The report was baloney through and through. Was it intended
for a reader who knew nothing about the ICR and would rely on the
report for all his information? If so, it would thoroughly
mislead him. Was it intended for a reader who already knew much
about the ICR? If so, it could only lead him to conclude that it
had been composed by six rubes who had not done their homework
and had been fully fooled by the ICR -- or that it had been
composed by the ICR's own public-relations specialist.
The report did include some comments that were critical of
the ICR, but they were uniformly cryptic and incomprehensible.
They mentioned for example, course titles that "did not
accurately define course content"; courses that were
"unstructured, with variable instructor contact time and
inadequate or lacking classical textbooks"; "a great need to
strengthen laboratory instruction and improve lab facilities";
and a failure to make an even presentation of "conventional
interpretations of scientific evidence." But they never cited
examples or told what they really were talking about, and so they
never told what really was going on at the ICR.
The report ended with a one-sentence paragraph: "The
committee recommends to the superintendent by a vote of 3 to 2
that full institutional approval be granted."
The superintendent, Bill Honig, was not misled. And
professors Hurlbert and Woodhead, the two committee members who
had voted against approval, soon submitted documents that
furnished Honig with real information -- not only about the ICR
but also about the fatuous proceedings of the committee itself.
End of Part I
1. See chapter 3 of his book "The Troubled Waters of
Evolution (second edition; 1982).
2. See Henry Morris's book "The Remarkable Birth of Planet
3. For a detailed account of the Louisiana case, see my
two-part piece in the July/August and September/October 1988
issues of "Terra", the bimonthly of the Natural History Museum of
Los Angeles County.
4. Notice how the report adopted creationist lingo in
falsely suggesting that the creationists have a "theory."
Face talks back by Roger Keeling
[The following article is in rebuttal to John Hewitt's
October "BASIS" piece on the Face on Mars. Roger Keeling is the
coordinator on the Board of Directors of the Mars Project.]
John Hewitt's article (Oct. 1988) is a facade of calm and
measured reason, but of science, there is precious little . . .
and that mostly in the form of notes caged from Michael Carr's
book, "The Surface of Mars".
Hewitt begins his attack with appeals to nameless authority,
a scientific sin he commits repeatedly. He says, "Most
scientists state flatly that there is `absolutely no evidence'
for Hoagland's et al. claims."
Most scientists? How does Hewitt know that "most
scientists" have dismissed this? Has he done a survey to show
that 51% of scientists have informed themselves about the matter,
much less dismissed the anomalies as entirely natural?
If such all-embracing opinion does exist in the scientific
community, why have scientists like Dr. David Webb (a member of
the President's Commission on Space), Dr. John Brandenburg, Dr.
Brian O'Leary, Dr. Randolfo Pozos, author Eric Burgess (co-
founder of the British Interplanetary Society), and others
supported further investigation? Why have NASA people like Chris
McKay and Thomas Paine -- while carefully indicating their own
skepticism - - publicly defended the Cydonia anomalies as of
increasing interest to NASA?
Hewitt doesn't qualify his use of "authority"; he simply
waves it like a sword. And that is absurd.
Nor is this an isolated slip. A bit later he says: "To
professional planetologists, who specialize in interpreting the
geomorphology of alien landscapes, there is nothing artificial
whatsoever about the face. . . ."
Make that, "To SOME professional planetologists," and the
statement would be entirely true. Nor is he yet done with this
mode of argument. Later, attempting to smear the reputation of
Dr. Mark Carlotto, he says, "Most scientists remain unimpressed
by Carlotto's effort."
In reality Hewitt hasn't the slightest idea what "most
scientists" think. He supports his "most scientists" nonsense by
quoting one scientist, ignoring how Carlotto's article passed
peer review prior to publication -- a peer review that was
ESPECIALLY RIGOROUS precisely because of the subject matter's
controversial nature. And he fails to note -- perhaps does not
know -- that Dr. Carlotto is nationally recognized as one of the
leading experts in the field of image enhancement and
interpretation. Not only does Dr. Carlotto have impeccable
academic credentials, but he currently heads a team of scientists
who provide critically-vital interpretations of satellite imaging
to the government.
In any case, this absurd leitmotif of commanding readers to
believe in a unanimity of opinion among professionals is at best
Argument #2: Hewitt says, "The face does not live up to even
the most basic claims of its promoters. It does not follow the
profile of a face, human or prehuman." He expends much verbiage
trying to convince readers of this. He says the Face has but one
principal face-like feature -- "a single shadow which gives the
illusion of an eye socket in the late afternoon light."
Hewitt's argument is very innovative; before now, what
common ground critics and proponents occupied was agreement that
the Face does bear an uncanny resemblance to a face. Personally,
I think critics and proponents STILL have this common ground;
pardon my pun, but the images themselves create a prima facie
case against Hewitt's argument.
Indeed, judge for yourself. Here is frame 35A72.
In it, MOST people see more than the suggestion of an eye
socket; they see a nearly perfect eye-socket shape. Most see the
precisely- aligned teeth. Most see the Face framed by a helmet
or representation of hair. Most see the symmetrical criss-cross
pattern of lines above the forehead. Most see a reasonable bi-
symmetry to the overall structure. And most see how the shadow
precisely follows the same line you see on a human head when
starkly illuminated from about the 10 o'clock position. Most see
how the shadow starts in the left temple, moves to the bridge of
the nose, angles sharply around the nose, bisects the mouth, then
angles sharply again into the throat area.
Now we arrive at Hewitt's heavy artillery: his definitive
disproof of our thesis. Indeed, based on this argument, Hewitt
asserts "In classic pseudoscientific fashion, the Face-on-Mars
promoters are making selective use of the data available to them,
and have drawn conclusions unsupported by the data they HAVE
used. They failed to obtain all relevant data initially, and
they have ignored overwhelming evidence contrary to their
In fact, it is Hewitt's argument that crumbles upon
All Cydonia researchers to our knowledge rely primarily upon
two images when considering the Face: frames 35A72 and 70A13
(35A72 was the 72nd shot by the A orbiter on its 35th day in
orbit around Mars; 70A13 was the 13th shot taken on the 70th
day). These images were taken at approximately 1,500 kilometers
(about 900 miles) above the planet, both in late afternoon light.
Four other known images contain the Face: 673B54, 673B56, 753A33
and 753A34. Hewitt notes that these were acquired by Mr. Norman
Sperling simply by writing to the National Space Science Data
Center, but that "Hoagland and company" were "presumably . . .
unaware of" two of these (673B54 and 753A34).
Hewitt describes Carlotto's image enhancement efforts and
work to simulate morning light on the Face. Then Hewitt says, "A
lower resolution image containing the face shows the area
illuminated by REAL morning light, but Carlotto dismisses the
frame as having insufficient resolution for his purpose. A
second, lower resolution frame (673B56) has mid-afternoon light,"
also rejected for analysis.
After quoting one scientist who dismisses Carlotto's work,
and adding his own amateurish disparagement, Hewitt returns to
these two frames: "Frames 673B56 and 753A33 (mentioned by
Carlotto) both contain information at odds with the assertions.
In the morning light of 753A33, our favorite mesa lacks any
impression of facial features. The `eye socket' becomes a broad,
shallow hollow; and the base appears as an asymmetrical erosional
polygon like its neighbors. It's easy to see why these images
get little attention.
"Hoagland and company fail to mention two ADDITIONAL frames
of Cydonia containing the face, 673B54 and 753A34. Presumably
they are unaware of their existence. . . . The images of the
face are small, perhaps 50 or 60 pixels (compared to over 400
pixels in the higher resolution views) -- but they are good
enough to show all sorts of features on the other side. A broad,
bright slope, hidden in the shadows of 35A72 and 70A13, rises
toward two peaks along an ascending, ragged ridge. THE FRAMES
DON'T SHOW ANYTHING THAT BEARS THE SLIGHTEST RESEMBLANCE TO A
FACE!" [Original emphasis].
Well. This seems devastating, does it not. Ah, these
Cydonia quacks have fudged the data -- and they are incompetent,
to boot, having missed some of that data in the first place.
Hewitt's argument is false.
First, note that he says that the two images found by Mr.
Sperling (and not previously mentioned by Carlotto) provide
important new data.
Not true. The two frames procured by Sperling are PAIRS of
the two mentioned by Carlotto. 673B54 (Sperling) was taken all of
1.6 seconds before 673B56 (Carlotto), while 753A33 (Carlotto) was
taken 0.8 seconds before 753A34 (Sperling).
THEY ARE ESSENTIALLY THE SAME IMAGES. If, as Hewitt claims,
Frame 753A34 disproves the existence of the Face, then 753A33
does so just as effectively. Likewise for 653B54 and B56.
Secondly, Hewitt makes much of the fact that Mr. Sperling
procured all four images simply by writing to the NSSDC, implying
that we've been sloppy in our research. In fact, IT WAS MEMBERS
OF THE ORIGINAL MARS INVESTIGATION TEAM WHO FIRST UNCOVERED THESE
IMAGES in the early 1980s. The team presented them at the 1982
Case For Mars Conference in Boulder, Colorado. And all four are
mentioned in "The Face on Mars" by Dr. Randolfo Pozos. Hewitt
apparently neglected to look this up prior to impugning the
professional competence of the investigators.
But finally we come the the most important point: do these
four images, especially the morning light 753A series, disprove
the existence of the Face? Decide for yourself:
1) The Face occupies an area approximately 1.28 x 1.6
kilometers (0.75 x 1.0 miles) in size. Hewitt says 1.0 x 1.5
2) The two images normally used -- frames 35A72 and 70A13 --
were taken from about 1,500 kilometers (about 900 miles). The
four low- resolution images were taken from about 33,000
KILOMETERS (19,500 miles), or 22 TIMES HIGHER. Hewitt omits this
3) Frames 673B54 and B56, like 35A72, were taken near
sunset, a fact obvious upon first glace. Hewitt says they are in
"mid- afternoon light."
4) Frames 673B54 and 753A34 were not used by Carlotto
because both are extremely noisy, with extensive
"salt-and-pepper" errors. Both are far INFERIOR to the virtually
identical frames 673B56 and 753A33; Hewitt implies that the
photos are SUPERIOR.
5) In 35A72 and 70A13, the image of the Face is represented
by about 650 pixels (not 400, as Hewitt says). In frames 673B54,
B56, 753A33 and A34, the Face is comprised of about 35 to 40
pixels (not 50 to 60, as Hewitt claims).
6) In 35A72 and 70A13, each pixel covers an area of
approximately 50 x 50 meters (2,500 square meters). In the four
low resolution images, each pixel covers approximately 207 x 207
meters (42,800 square meters). Hewitt never mentions this.
These are all vital facts, clearly indicating the
circumstances of the photos and just how little detail is likely
to survive in them. So, what IS shown by the four images Hewitt
so triumphantly waves?
Almost nothing. Hewitt's assertion that the morning shots
"show all sorts of features on the other side" is patently false.
As the Mars Project's photographic consultant Daniel Drasin
explains, the images simply contain too little information to
yield details like "broad, bright slopes" or "ragged ridges."
For confirmation, a comparison of high-altitude afternoon shots
(673B54 and B56) with the similarly-lighted 35A72 and 70A13 shows
little is visible except the overall shape of the mesa and the
familiar shadow line. Only the very slightest indication of the
right eye socket appears; there are no other details.
These images tell us only that the Face IS basically
symmetrical -- what The Mars Project has stated elsewhere.
When Hewitt says, "It is easy to see why these images get
little attention," he is impugning the integrity and professional
competence of all who are involved in the Mars investigation,
most notably Dr. Carlotto. But in "classic pseudoscientific
fashion," Hewitt himself DEMONSTRABLY makes selective use of
data, draws conclusions not supported by the data, and -- again
and again -- fails to obtain all relevant data.
There's much more of this in Hewitt's article, but space
limitations keep us from pursuing it. Hewitt's principal
arguments are by turns intellectually bankrupt and factually
flawed. Through them all we do not hear a love for science so
much as a drumbeat of emotionalism.
No one in The Mars Project claims that the evidence so far
available can settle the question of the origin of the Martian
anomalies. More data is required. But we do contend that many
arguments raised against our evidence seem to serve deep-seated
emotional motives rather than a search for truth.
We've not been able here to present our fabric of positive
arguments for the artificial origin hypothesis. The Face itself
is persuasive. Yet, as we've pointed out elsewhere, other
Cydonia features are also intriguing. From a scientific
perspective, what is most important is not the Face per se, but
the relationships of these landforms to each other and their
surroundings. The Mars Project is working with several
researchers examining these relational aspects of the anomalies
in terms of geomorphology and fractal analysis. Two professional
papers are now being readied for peer review.
The Project will continue this research, and continue its
role of publicizing the anomalies to the public and scientific
community. Most importantly, we will continue laying vital
groundwork for public backing of return trips to Mars. In the
long run -- even if the anomalies should prove natural in origin
-- we will deem significantly increased public interest in space
exploration and Mars to be success enough.
1988 Psychic fizzles by Robert Sheaffer
The San Francisco area was not devastated by an earthquake
last January. Mikhail Gorbachev did not divorce his wife Raisa.
Dinosaur eggs were not hatched, and Fidel Castro was not toppled
from power. These were just a few of the many things that had
been predicted to occur during 1988 by famous psychics, but
failed to happen, as chronicled by the Bay Area Skeptics.
At the end of each year, many well-known psychics issue
predictions for the coming year. Twelve months later, they issue
another set of predictions, conveniently forgetting those made
the year before, which are always nearly 100% wrong. Each year,
however, BAS digs up the predictions made the year before, nearly
always to the embarrassment of those who made them.
Many of the psychic predictions made are so vague that it is
impossible to say if they came true or not: for example, Jeane
Dixon's predictions that "October and November will be stress-
filled" for Frank Sinatra, or that "Prince Philip should be
especially on guard" during the autumn, are difficult to prove
true or false. Many other predictions involve things that happen
every year, or else are not difficult to guess, such as tornadoes
in the Midwest, hurricanes in Florida, or continued terrorist
incidents. Many predictions simply state that currently ongoing
problems will continue, such as unrest in South Africa, or
fighting in Central America.
Other supposed predictions are not really predictions at
all, but are actually disclosures of little-known events that are
already under way, such as movie productions, business ventures,
or celebrity activities. While some predictions did of course
come true, especially those that were unspecific, or not at all
difficult to guess, not ONE prediction which was both specific
AND surprising came true.
The famous Washington, D.C. psychic Jeane Dixon, who
supposedly has a "gift of prophecy," predicted that Jesse Jackson
would face a sudden health problem this fall, that Fidel Castro
would be overthrown, that Princess Diana would become pregnant,
and that Communists would gain a "foothold" on the island of
Clarisa Bernhardt, who claims (without justification) great
accuracy in her psychic predictions of earthquakes, predicted
that prehistoric dinosaur eggs would be discovered, frozen in the
Antarctic ice, and that scientists would successfully incubate
and hatch them. She also predicted that Clint Eastwood would
this year declare himself a candidate for the Republican
Presidential nomination in 1992.
New York psychic Shawn Robbins predicted that Fawn Hall,
Donna Rice, and Jessica Hahn would star together in a new TV
series based on "Charlie's Angels."
Los Angeles psychic Marie Graciette predicted that Soviet
party boss Mikhail Gorbachev would divorce his wife Raisa.
Florida psychic and astrologer Jack Gillen predicted that "A
massive earthquake will hit California on or about January 19 --
causing extensive damage and loss of life in the San Francisco
area." He also predicted the outbreak of an epidemic of a
mysterious skin condition causing black blotches on the arms and
Denver psychic Lou Wright predicted that Dolly Parton would
lose so much weight that she would enter the hospital to be
treated for anorexia. She also predicted that Princesses Diana
and Fergie would BOTH become pregnant, and BOTH give birth to
babies on the same day.
Florida psychic Noreen Renier warned the FBI in early June
of a forthcoming major political assassination attempt that was
supposed to occur in the next two months. In her vision she "saw
a person getting shot in the stomach" in "a palace or a castle
with high ceilings and arches."
In San Jose, California, psychic Sylvia Brown predicted that
the San Francisco '49ers would go "all the way" to the 1988
superbowl, that Senator Robert Dole would beat out George Bush
for the Republican presidential nomination, that a terrorist
attack at San Francisco International Airport during July would
be thwarted, that a vaccine for AIDS and ARC would "absolutely"
be found, and that interest rates would go down while oil prices
went substantially up (the opposite happened). She predicted
that evangelist Jerry Falwell would become involved in a major
scandal -- he was not --
but failed to predict the scandal that brought down Jimmy
Swaggart. Interestingly, she also failed to predict that she
would be accused, in court papers filed by several banks, of
fraudulently obtaining more than $200,000 in real estate loans.
Based on the continuing failure of the psychics to make
accurate predictions over the years, Bay Area Skeptics urges
everyone -- including the media -- to exercise some healthy
skepticism when psychics and other purveyors of the paranormal
make extra- ordinary claims or predictions. Anyone who swallows
the psychics claims year after year without checking the record
is setting a bad example for youngsters and the public.
It is important to note that no psychic succeeded in
predicting the genuinely SURPRISING news stories of 1988: the
controversial nomination and election of Indiana Senator Dan
Quail as Vice- President; the sudden death of Christina Onassis;
the surprising rise of the candidacy of Michael Dukakis, and its
equally surprising collapse; the loss of over 50,000 lives in an
earthquake in Soviet Armenia; and the prolonged drought in the
American farm belt. These major news stories were so
unanticipated that someone would have had to be truly psychic to
have predicted them! Given the number of self-proclaimed
psychics out there, you would expect that at least one so-called
psychic would have -- unless, of course, that all such claims of
psychic powers are without foundation.
The Bay Area Skeptics is a group of people from all walks of
life who support the critical examination of paranormal claims,
such as psychic powers, UFOs, astrology, Bigfoot, biorhythms,
etc. Similar skeptics' organizations are active in many other
areas of the country, including southern California, New York,
Colorado, Illinois, Arizona, Texas, and Ohio. The Committee for
the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP)
is an international Skeptics' organization, made up of many
famous writers, scientists, and investigators, such as Martin
Gardner, James "The Amazing" Randi, Isaac Asimov, and many
others. Similar skeptics' groups have also formed in many
foreign countries, including Australia, Canada, France, the
United Kingdom, Mexico, and India. All of these groups cooperate
in making their findings available to other researchers, and to
[This is the article that Robert released to the press.
Newspapers and TV stations have come to rely on this year-end
story from BAS. Robert appeared on several Bay Area radio and TV
programs during the last week of December with this press
release. BAS vice-chair, Yves Barbero, and BAS director Shawn
Carlson also put in appearances at year's end talking about the
failure of psychics to make good their grandious claims. -- Ed.]
The above are selected articles from the February, 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
Copyright (C) 1988 BAY AREA SKEPTICS. Reprints must credit
"BASIS, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank