January 1989 +quot;BASIS+quot;, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics I Can See Clearly Now
January 1989 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics
I Can See Clearly Now by Don Henvick
[Our resident psychic mole, Don Henvick, can't keep his
hands out of the cookie jar for very long. He's at it again,
this time at SRI. While many skeptics try to carefully work
themselves into a situation to witness what goes on inside, Don
brazenly barges in unannounced, unregistered and unwanted! Don
doesn't like the armchair theorizing of which most of us less
ambitious sorts are guilty -- he will be in the thick of things
or he has nothing to say.
Don is becoming something of a minor celebrity around the
circuit for his imaginative exploits. It's always a pleasure to
learn about his latest feather rufflings.]
D'ya remember SRI? You know, the research outfit that got
involved with Uri Geller and parapsychology "experiments" back in
the seventies? Remember Targ and Puthoff and how they tried to
put the stamp of scientific legitimacy on metal bending, remote
viewing and "you-name-it-we'll-believe-it"? Remember how silly
they all looked once critics got a good look at how they actually
did their work? Well, settle back in your chair with a big bowl
of popcorn. It's time to watch "SRI-II: The Nightmare
In June I hear about screening going on at SRI for
participants in remote viewing experiments. It's only open to
SRI employees but through the good offices of some skeptical
employees there, I get inside to see what is going on. What is
going on is that a hundred or so SRI people have gathered in an
auditorium to listen to Edwin May describe SRI's involvement in
"psychoenergetics," or ESP to us common folk. He tells us the
program started in '72, reached its public height with Targ and
Puthoff in '76 and then continued in a more quiet vein since
Translation: since the Targ-Puthoff work was shown to be so
shoddy once it appeared in print, the new team has taken the
precaution of not publishing. Mr. May explains that the folks
at SRI have done some THREE THOUSAND trials of remote viewing
since then and have found significant results in about ten
percent of them. We are assured that previous, unnamed
shortcomings in the testing procedures have been overcome and
that the tests are now scored in an objective, statistical
Well, it doesn't sound too flaky so far, and it looks as if
the uncredited criticisms of men like Ray Hyman and James Randi
may have had an effect of making this kind of research more
reliable. May gives an example of a still picture used as a
target in one test and the response the subject drew, and
explains the basis for scoring it a partial hit. Seems a bit
subjective to me, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of
doubt as long as they don't claim their results prove remote
Enough of the explanations, now is the time to get down to
the reason everybody's here: SRI is looking for a few good men
and women who might have The Power, and we're to be tested to see
if any of us is a promising candidate for future study. Since I
don't work at SRI, I won't be able to get further than this test,
but I'm looking forward to see how my guesses stack up against
those of the rest of the participants. We're given triplicate
answer forms (we are told we can keep one copy to ourselves for
posterity) for four different tests.
The procedure looks fairly legit. A member of the staff
will leave the auditorium to go to a second-floor lab in the
building, and, at a given time, will turn on a laser disc player
which will randomly select a scene and run it on a monitor in
that roomfor thirty seconds. Then we're to try to "remote view"
the remote monitorand write whatever words or draw whatever
pictures come to us. Finally, all the responses will be
collected and sealed in an envelope, and only then will the staff
on the 2nd floor play the video disc target for us on TV monitors
in the auditorium so we can see how we did. Feedback, we are
told, is a good learning tool.
At the appointed time we start concentrating -- or rather
not concentrating, since we've been told that weshouldn't think
about what the target might be, but we should be receptive to
whatever pops into our heads. I make my mind a blank (gee, that
was easy!) but nothing pops in. I don't try even harder than I
was not trying before and now I think my blank mind is becoming a
blankey-blank mind, 'cause whatever they're looking for, I ain't
got. In desperation I draw some lines and blocks and write
things like "wispy" and "angularity" down so maybe I'll hit
SOMETHING in the picture and not be a complete doofus.
The answers are collected and the target finally showsup on
the monitors and I am shocked, folks. All this time May has been
talking about THE target and THE image to be transmitted and I
think we were all thinking of a single picture to concentrate on.
I mean, how else could you score a test unless you kept the
target relatively simple so one could get some idea of what
response was close and what was not. Well, kiddies, it turns out
this particular target is not one picture, but at least SIX: a
thirty-second video montage centered around the theme of the
Allied code-breaking efforts in WW II! You got a picture of the
words "Project Ultra," you got a picture of a Nazi, you got a
picture of a code machine, you got a picture of women working at
an early computer, you even got a picture of the wreckage of
Coventry Cathedral, which was not defended from Nazi bombing so
as to protect the secret of our having broken the Nazi codes.
This, then, is THE target for the first test. Mr. May
tries to calm the general disconcertedness of the crowd by
explaining that the subjects in the previous tests generally did
better with multiple or free-form targets than with simple
pictures! Well I guess so! To paraphrase Chairman Mao, "Let a
thousand targets bloom." How they could begin to score responses
to so many images is quite beyond me. In fact, I'm amazed that
my own pitiful response has so FEW hits. I can only conclude
that my effort is a wonderful example of "psi-missing." At least
now I know what they mean by the usefulness of feedback.
Armed with a better knowledge of what a target is likely to
be, I'm ready to play the next round. Before we start, however,
a picture of a room briefly flashes on the screen. Apparently
the experimental controls aren't foolproof. Second test is
coming up. I skip trying to receive impressions, and, betting
that the random images may not be as random as advertised, I try
to think of a PLAUSIBLE response. I draw a pair of converging
lines, some scattered shapes and a face. I write "fast air" and
"strange language." I cross my fingers. The papers are
collected and up on the monitors comes film of the Tacoma Narrows
Bridge collapsing due to high winds in 1940, accompanied by a
sound track of a Calypso song! Don't ask why. I check my notes.
The lines could be a perspective view of the bridge cables; the
fast air and strange language fit. The face isn't there, but I'm
getting better. This is fun.
Ready for number three? Number two was outdoors so this
time I think I'll go urban. I draw a kind of grid and below it
sort of a street-like thing with branches. I write "massive,
imposing" and "looking from above?" and "many people far away;
different faces," because this is stuff we haven't had yet and I
say we're due. And the target is . . . I'll be damned, it's the
same picture which flashed momentarily after test number one! So
this is their idea of random targets? Mr. May acknowledges the
goof and says maybe we'll have to discard this one because the
protocols were broken, but what the heck, we can look at it
Turns out this thirty seconds is a clip from the movie "War
Games" and the scene we just got a glimpse of is the big war room
with the giant map on the wall with lines of missile tracks, kind
of "massive, imposing" I calls it, and the Air Force personnel
"many people far away" walking in front of it. This IS fun. May
says if anybody got something grid-like, that would be a pretty
good hit. He's a nice man. I like him.
I'm really getting into this stuff, but we have only one
target to go. Let's see, if these were really random, it
wouldn't matter what the previous target was, BUT, since the last
one was indoors and technological, I'm gonna go with outdoors and
bucolic and see if it pans out. I sketch a scene with a river
going through trees and past a rocky hill and to cover my bets I
put in a fence and write "barren and hot." At the top of the
whole mess I write "outdoors, fresh air, light." The final
target on the monitor is a clip from another movie featuring a
closeup of an eagle in flight. No prize for that one, but the
camera pans over what the eagle is overflying: a jungle with
plenty of trees and a stream culminating in a waterfall and
closeup of rocks. Yippee, I'm psychic!
I've come closer than the other people I've talked to, but
as a non-employee this is the end of the line for me. I would
love to know how I scored, how other people scored and how in the
world they scored any of it anyway. However, every time I call
to inquire about the status of the remote viewing experiments, I
get the big run aroundski. I suppose I could assume that it all
went well, that there are no more glitches in the equipment, that
targets are more precise, and that they really do have a
statistically valid method of scoring responses. I could accept
on faith that the reason they haven't published their findings
after twelve years and three thousand trials is because they
don't like to brag. And I can certainly accept that if they
continue to get funding, it might be another twelve years before
they publish. I can take it all on faith.
SAM invites BAS
The Society of American Magicians local affiliate in
Concord, CA. invited BAS to their monthly meeting. Several of us
went to see how magicians are with magicians.
The Concord group is doubly interesting because BAS
co-founder Bob Steiner, now international President, attends this
local, and the President-elect of the Concord affiliate is none
other than parapschologist Loyd Auerbach. Two more
widely-divergent opinions could hardly be held by two different
people -- proof that personalities can transcend ideology. In a
warm display of mutual respect, President Auerbach presented
President Steiner with a 1.5' x 3' photographic portrait of the
latter in a hilarous pose, to the delight of all.
The proceedings were fascinating: several people
unconsciously manipulating a deck of cards; one fellow doing what
appeared to be knitting stitches in the air with no thread; and
others producing various objects from what seemed empty hands.
We wondered how magicians would perform for magicians.
Steiner's and Auerbach's were amongthe scheduled acts. Several
of the lessexperienced had a few moments to present some effect
they had worked up. The "oohs!" and "aahs!" seemed to be a
little forced, and the applause was politely enthusiastic. How
does one wow a fellow prestidigitator?
Please send materials for consideration in "BASIS" directly
to the Editor, address in the "CALENDAR"; the high mail volumn at
our S.F. address can delay your requests. Electronic transfer is
available at the BAS bulletin board or direct to the Editor at
With all the hue and cry raised in the revelations that the
President of the United States consults his horoscope before
arranging his calendar, some have wondered what his counterpart
in the Soviet Union does.
In a special report in the "New York Times", Bill Keller did
a little research into the extent of mystical behavior in the
country that prides itself as the land of scientific materialism.
The results are worse than we could ever have imagined. Keller
reports, "In the United States, land of all faiths, people laugh
at Nancy Reagan for consulting an astrologer, "while in Russia
such things are almost a given.
A case in point is Madame Dzhuna Davitashvili, a psychic
healer and reigning queen of the Soviet occult, who operates a
one-room clinic "just a step from Moscow's most popular
pedestrian mall." People flock from all over for her healing
touch -- which she calls the "Effect - D" for Dzhuna, naturally.
She is accepted so widely that when Brezhnev was failing beyond
conventional medicine, Dzhuna was called in. When questioned
about the case, she says the Hippocratic oath precludes her
discussing the details of her work.
The main difference between Mme D.D. and her American peers
is that she has a state business license, "an honored spot on the
Soviet Peace Committee, and a coterie of friends that includes
scientists, artists, journalists and intellectuals." The sad
reality is that horoscopes, psychic medicine and every brand of
mysticism pervades every level of soviet society apparently with
the open blessing of the state, according to Keller.
"It is our secret silliness," said the wife of a government
official. "Leave Nancy Reagan alone," she chided. She admitted
that as soon as Mikhail Gorbachev became Soviet leader he
immediately looked up his horoscope. He is a Pisces.
Horoscope swapping in Red Square is a most popular pastime.
When a world-renowned Soviet physicist received permission to
emigrate, the first thing he requested on American soil was where
he could get his horoscope cast. This despite the fact that
Soviet Encyclopedia lists astrology as a "false science."
Parapsychology is accorded serious discussion in the Soviet
Academy of Sciences.
Maybe we'd better see how the charts look for a
Acute puncture by Kent Harker
BAS advisor Dr. Wallace Sampson, M.D. addressed our
November meeting on the topic of acupuncture. This article is a
summary of Dr. Sampson's presentation.
Dr. Sampson began by noting that there is very little data
on AP effectiveness available in refereed journals -- no
extensive studies have been done in the scientific community.
This is either a surprise, given the length of time AP has been
around, or it is testament to the indifference MDs feel toward
it. The amount of hard data even in AP journals is very sparse.
(As a point of interest, Dr. Sampson told us that the formal
Clinical Trial method was only developed in the early 1940s.)
Stringent testing is very costly in money and time -- millions of
dollars and several years for a rigorous study. Why should
practitioners bother? AP "works." Recipients attest to the
worth of it. In effect, the craft has nothing to gain from any
sort of testing, and potentially much to lose, so the motive for
research is next to nil.
The difficulty of testing is compounded by the inability to
blind the therapist (a double-blind procedure). But the patient
can be, and so can the evaluator (this is called a triple-blind
study). In all, Sampson found only thirty-five studies that had
been done on AP, and in them he found the procedures laced with
protocol errors, the most glaring of which was patient selection.
Understandably, those seeking AP help are predisposed to
believe in its curative effects -- they are often refugees of
primary medicine. Thus, there could not be a valid randomizing
of the data base, and randomization is essential to ensure
accurate statistical analysis. The other major flaw was that
control groups were sparse to non-existent. When control groups
WERE used, they were so disparate it is scientifically impossible
to comparethe results of one trial with those of another. The
tests were done to measure the response to pain. What is pain?
Is pain a medical condition? The difficulty and subjectivity of
what we term pain throws another cloud over whatever results one
might hope to glean from the data.
Dr. Sampson graded the papers on the strictness of
controls, and found that the more careful they were the less
significant the results. To the best of his knowledge, no
general study has been done to compare the studies as he did.
Acupuncturists tell us "it works." Sampson advised us that
when offered a claim that some procedure works, we need only
respond, "Where are the data?" If one cannot produce hard data
to support the validity of the claim, we need go no further.
In the U.S., AP burst on the scene around 1973, coinciding
with Nixon's journey to the People's Republic. The reportage
brought home some incredible pictures and the story of one of his
aides, stricken with an acute appendicitis attack during the
trip. They could not get him to an outside facility soon enough,
so he underwent surgery there. Pictures showed him fully awake,
ostensibly suffering no pain, thanks to AP, while the gore in
full color lay before us on the photo plates. AP had arrived.
The truth was that, besides the AP technique, surgeons had
administered heavy doses of topical morphine. Dr. Sampson
pointed out that abdominal surgery is effectively impossible
without heavy anesthesia: the quantity of nerves in and around
the abdomen is so great that severe pain is almost impossible to
overcome, and, just as important, the involuntary nervous
reactions of the patient tighten the muscles to such an extent
that the surgeon cannot work effectively. Thus, if for no other
reason, anesthesia is necessary for the surgeon to have a relaxed
Surgeons have used AP in some thyroid operations with
success, but that is because the area of the thyroid has few
sensory nerves, and the thyroid itself has none. Pain receptors
are only in the skin, so once that is breached there is not much
interference. As far as its anesthetizing capabilities are
concerned, AP acts as an interference -- a kind of distraction,
and distraction is effective only for mild pain. Local agents
such as cocaine and morphine are administered in addition to AP
in cases of acute pain, but rarely mentioned in write-ups. The
road to legal recognition of AP is interesting and important.
Dr. Sampson noted that after the rapid spread of public
awareness, it took only a short time for licensing, diplomas,
etc. A "degree" of OMD (Doctor of Oriental Medicine) may be
earned in a few weeks, and the certified acupuncturist may treat
any condition except cancer. Acupuncturists may advertise any
way except to offer a cure. Since the practice has been around
for so long, and there are so many people using it, the
California legislature felt it had to do something to control the
practice and proliferation of AP. The AMA officially denounced AP
adding that there is no scientific basis for its practice, but
did not vigorously oppose the institution of regulatory laws and
concomitant recognition acupuncturists would thereby enjoy.
The reasons for the AMA's uncharacteristic tameness are
significant. AP is mostly a cultural practice, and to oppose it
could easily be construed as racially motivated. The AMA
recognized that the practice is so widespread that it would
continue in spite of sanctions -- it would be better to legalize
it and thereby be able to control it. The negative trade off
would be that regulation would accord a certain legitimacy that
could lead some to seek help from AP, foregoing primary health
After weighing all this, the AMA ultimately decided to keep
a low profile for one reason: AP is largely benign. With the
exception of the real threat when a patient skips legitimate
medicine, the acupuncturist is likely to do little harm to his
patients outside of the obvious problems of unsterile needles and
puncturing vital organs, dangers that would be greater without
controls. Legislation ensued and with it, recognition; there
began a veritable explosion of AP clinics.
Dr. Sampson wanted to understand the foundations of the
ancient practice of AP. He found that it harks back to the
Chinese yin-yang -- a kind of "give-and-take" dichotomy closely
paralleling Greek thought. At the core is the thoroughly
discredited notion of the elan vital, the life force. Anciently,
feelings were assigned to organs: excitement, the heart; anxiety,
the stomach; depression, the respiratory system; fear, kidneys;
anger, bile. It is easy to understand how prescientists made
these associations. These associations were taken for granted
well into the 19th century, even in the West. In China, the life
force was (is) the "chu-e" and its various transliterations.
Other forms of fringe medicine still center on the notions of a
life force, e.g., chiropractic.
Dr. Sampson pointed to what is perhaps the most important
reason that AP was so popular before the advent of modern
medicine: the LESS that was done to a patient, the better off he
was! The draconian measures of primitive procedures proved as
often as not to be fatal to the unfortunate victim of the
doctor's knife: Purging, leaching, blood-letting, and poisoning,
coupled with unsanitary conditions were at least as dangerous as
any condition the poor patient could ever have suffered. Since
the body is a marvelous instrument of curative and restorative
powers, most conditions, left to themselves, will ameliorate if
the victim survives.
Hence whatever procedure had been performed last would get
the credit for the cure in a "post hoc, ego propter hoc"
reasoning. Since AP is benign, it was often the procedure of
choice and therefore got the credit, so anecdotes flowed freely.
Modern Chinese medicine is still imbued with vital force
traditions. AP is part of a holistic, philosophic approach to
healing. Homeopathy, herbal medicine, iridology and chiropractic
are all very similar in their approach to medical problems, and
they all are philosophically centered on the ethereal "energy"
that vivifies the human body. In each of these systems, the
procedures are not directed at a specific condition, and this is
probably the greatest single distinction between them and modern
medicine. The function of these types of fringe treatment is to
"realign the body with the forces of nature." AP designates the
points of alignment as the "meridians," which are arbitrarily
assigned to organs, which are in turn associated with EMOTIONS,
not disease. This is why there need be no real diagnostic
process or correlation between the locus of the condition and the
placement of needles. If one has a malfunction in the kidney,
one might get a needle in the earlobe because that is the site
where the "force" is most "out of alignment," and it is that
"misalignment" which caused the kidney problem.
Dr. Sampson contrasted the approach of modern medicine with
these holistic genres: modern medicine is disease specific.
There are, for example, over 100 different kinds of cancer (Dr.
Sampson is an oncologist) each with its specific treatment. The
only degree of similarity in their various treatments is excision
of the tumors. The revolution in modern medicine is that it
sought to understand the function of each organ. The western
mind has taken hold of AP without understanding the real function
of AP, and has tried to take it in the direction of empirical
science. This has caused confusion both in the practice and
public understanding of AP.
One of the most common medical conditions is back pain.
Doctors do not like to treat back pain because it is so complex
and often non- specific. It can arise from simple lack of proper
conditioning to the most intractable diagnoses. Treatment can be
long, expensive, and often unsatisfactory. Enter chiropractic
and AP. In cases other than disease or chronic conditions, back
problems respond favorably to the passage of time.
The best evaluation of AP is that it works by distraction (a
counter-irritation), suggestion, consensus and the placebo
effect. AP is upbeat, requiring high rapport between patientand
therapist. Wally compared this with the veritable confrontation
between a medical doctor and his patient when the latter is
required by law to read and sign the "informed consent" papers
before surgery in which he is told of all the pitfalls and side
effects he may experience!
Acupuncture is definitely here to stay, and the
establishment will probably have little effect on its practice.
For those on the fence, the facts may help, and all of us can
help spread the facts.
CSICOP in China
There is no evidence to support the claim of amazing
paranormal abilities of Qigong masters and extraordinary psychic
Chinese children, according to a report issued by CSICOP. The
report is the result of a two-week, three-city tour of China by a
The CSICOP team traveled in China in late March and early
April at the behest of the Institute for Technical and Scientific
Information of China. Members of the Institute wereconcerned by
the rapid rise of belief in the paranormal in China and the lack
of scientific criticism of these claims. The investigators
provided lectures, conducted seminars, and offered demonstrations
on a number of topics of the paranormal. They also carried out
tests on individuals claiming paranormal abilities.
"We had heard fantastic stories of the miraculous abilities
of these people," said CSICOP chairman Dr. Paul Kurtz. "We were
quite curious to see if they could actually do the things they
claimed." One such series of tests included an examination of
alleged psychic children. It was claimed that they could read
characters written on bits of paper stuffed in their ears, held
in their hands, or placed on top of their heads. They also
supposedly had the ability to break or restore matchsticks sealed
inside boxes by the power of their minds. The CSICOP team found
that in all of the trials they ran on the miracle children, under
controlled conditions and strict observation, in no instances
were the children able to perform as alleged.
The CSICOP paper reports on one test conducted by a Chinese
researcher, in which CSICOP members acted only as observers when
"strange" results were obtained. Four children were each given a
matchbox containing either a broken or unbroken green matchstick.
The children were to reverse the condition of their matchstick.
The Chinese experimenter wrapped the matchboxes with paper and
tape and gave the sample to the children. The children
immediately ran from the testing room and were seen to leave the
After a period of time, the children returned and said they
wereas yet unsuccessful and requested more time. The
experimenter agreed and allowed the children to take their boxes
home with them. Eight hours later, the experiment resumed. One
child did not return his box claiming it had been destroyed while
he was playing. Two boxes were returned in fairly good
condition. They were opened and no change in the matches'
condition was observed.
The fourth box proved to be a different story. Upon casual
observation, the box showed obvious signs of having been tampered
with. Vegetative matter and hair were under the tape. Upon
opening the box, it was found that the broken green match was now
an intact red match. Despite the evidence of cheating, and the
total lack of control over the test sample, the Chinese
experimenter maintained that this experiment could be "proof of
paranormal abilities." The CSICOP team examined television tapes
of similar testing done by Chinese scientists who found that
Chinese children were prone to cheat and that this explained
so-called paranormal effects.
CSICOP was also able to test the claims of Chinese Qigong
masters. Qigong (pronounced "chi-gung") is a form of traditional
Chinese medicine dating back more than 2500 years. In its most
basic form, it is a system of mental concentration and deep-
breathing exercises to reduce stress. Some Qigong masters claim
that they are able to direct their "chi" energy into others and
affect cures of tumors, cancer, and ulcers.
The CSICOP team was permitted to observe a Qigong master as
he treated a patient for a spinal tumor. The master began a
series of rhythmic movements and the patient began writhing on
the treatment table. After the demonstration, CSICOP placed the
master and patient in separate rooms. In a number of trials, the
master was asked to direct his "chi" towards the patient.
Although the master said his power could go through walls and
travel some distance, there was no correlation between the
movements of the master and those of the patient.
Next, the CSICOP researchers tested a Qigong master and his
psychic sister who claimed to be able to diagnose team members'
relatives back in the United States and Canada by merely seeing
their names and relationships written on a piece of paper. The
results of these tests were also negative. In one trial, the
psychic "saw" that a relative had liver and leg ailments -- the
person had been dead for two years. Kurtz commented, "Belief in
the paranormal is a world- wide phenomenon. We have found,
however, that when you submit the claims to rigorous testing, the
evidence just isn't there."
CSICOP's full report on the experiments conducted in China
are published in the Summer 1988 edition of "The Skeptical
Raining fish by John Lattanzio
No self-respecting skeptic would believe stories of fish
falling from the sky. Whiting and flounder, to be precise. I
imagine we would not openly embrace claims of frogs or crabs
plummeting to earth from the heavens, either. But suppose the
claims persisted? It would be nice to have some explanation. I
know, I can hear some screaming "Show us the evidence first. If
it is convincing, THEN we look for an explanation, not before."
But in lieu of further evidence or information, I might
hypothesize that one day a couple of frogs fell from a tree.
Someone noticed, and commented on it "raining frogs." The story
gets retold, distorted, overheard . . . and presto. It's
raining, if not cats and dogs, then crabs and frogs. Maybe even
fish. It's not a particularly convincing explanation, but at
least it seems more likely than the claim that it did rain frogs.
Well, there is more information and evidence. On May 20,
1984, Ron Langton found six fish (whiting and flounder) on the
roof and in the backyard of his home in East Ham, London. Two
residents of nearby Canning Town independently reported 30 to 40
fish in their gardens. So much for my explanation.
More impressive, perhaps, are the many eyewitness accounts
of frogs falling from the sky. Once, in 1844, people held out
their hats to catch them. On June 5, 1983, Julian Gowan saw a
huge spider crab fall on the grounds of his Brighton home.
Enter TORRO, the Tornado and Storm Research Organization, a
privately supported research group which studies severe storms.
These diligent detectives have an explanation for these
"remarkable showers," as they have dubbed them. They use the
showers as a tool to probe meteorological phenomena.
TORRO believes that whirlwinds are to blame, because a
vortex can explain how objects can be lifted and transported long
distances. The fallout usually covers an elliptical area on the
ground, again suggesting a concentrated updraft, consistent with
a waterspout or tornado hypothesis, and waterspouts were observed
at sea around the time of the storm which deposited the crab in
Although TORRO may have provided an explanation of these
"remarkable showers," this is not their main area of research.
They are concerned about the more serious threats waterspouts can
pose.There is a lesson here, of course. We are reminded of the
dangers of dismissing "ridiculous" stories (like rocks falling
from the sky, later called meteorites). We must judge ONLY
according to the evidence. No conclusion is far more desirable
than jumping to the wrong one.
(For further information on "remarkable showers" and TORRO
see "New Scientist," 2 June, 1988.)
[Perhaps another lesson of this event is that, given hard
evidence and a workable theory, even the most fantastic claims
can be easily established or refuted. -- Ed.]
BAS in the news
BAS's year-end roundup of psychic fizzles has made the
rounds. The efforts of erstwhile BAS chairman Robert Sheaffer
have been appreciated as far away as Philadelphia. We have
subscribers there who sent a clipping from the "Philadelphia
Inquirer" which quoted Robert's article we ran in "BASIS" last
year almost in its entirety.
Media contacts are opening up more and more, affording us
increasing column space and air time to present an alternative to
the barrage of nonsense that clogs the minds of millions. Time
was when the fringe had a corner on the media. The newsfolk
didn't know where to go for a counter. Now that there are
specific centers of information with the formation of CSICOP and
like-minded local groups, we are pleased to report that we are
We can only hope that information is the main problem, not
just soft brains.
Bennetta at Apple
BAS advisor William Bennetta spoke to the employees of Apple
Computer and their guests in November. The monthly presentations
are part of Apple's Distinguished Lecture Series in which
speakers are invited from all walks to address the employees.
Organizer Joe Wujek is the heart and mind of the program, and he
has provided a long list of interesting and varied topics, very
few of which have anything to do with computing or corporate
structure. BAS founder Bob Steiner and BAS director Andy Fraknoi
are among the names on the speaker's list and their success has
led to other requests from the fount.
Bill Bennetta is probably one of the best authorities on the
legislative and legal forays creationists have sprung on our
educational system. He has written extensively, and has had his
articles and essays published in professional journals,
newspapers and special interest papers, so he is eminently
qualified to teach on the subject.
Very few Americans are aware of the extent to which
creationists are willing to go to wage their campaignagainst
science education in the public schools. Apple Computer, in
their Distinguished Lecture Series, asked Bill to speak about
this very important and sensitive subject.
Bennetta began by defining scientific creationism as the
political arm of ultra-orthodox fundamentalist Christianity and
its insistence on absolute Biblical literalism. He alerted his
audience that the creationist agenda is not, as fundamentalists
would have the public believe, to have equal time for alternate
theoriesof origins. The fundamentalists want to have the entire
science curriculum turned out: physics, chemistry, biology,
In short, they want total control of the schools, and they
have shown their willingness to use the courts to have their way
-- arm twisting is too slow, and they cannot bring scientific
evidence to bear to make their case in the custom of the
Some of the creationist legal maneuvers are astonishing for
their brashness; Bill covered the Louisiana and Arkansas cases
and traced their histories through the system all the way to the
Supreme Court in the Louisiana instance. They lost, but only
because of preparation near the end to present the case in the
true light of the creationists' goals. The Justices found that
the case really turned on the transparent attempt to have the
narrow religious dogma of a specific sectarian religion
introduced into the classroom. The Constitution, of course,
precludes such favoritism. The question whether the notions of
creationism have any scientific validity was not at issue in the
court cases. This is fortunate, because it would put the
judiciary in the position of trying to understand and rule on the
scientific validity of a claim; of course, such a role for the
courts is entirely misplaced.
Bill's talk was well attended and well received. Almost all
those in attendance came to the front to get literature Bill had
prepared (copies of some of the articles he has had published)
and to ask questions at the conclusion.
BAS would like to recognize Apple Computer and Joe Wujek for
the courage they have shown in addressing sensitive and
controversial subjects. Few major corporations would dare invite
speakers to express their views on themes as potentially volatile
as religious beliefs. Congratulations, Apple. Congratulations,
Joe Wujek. And thanks to Bill Bennetta for his worthy
representation of BAS.
The above are selected articles from the January, 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).
Copyright (C) 1988 BAY AREA SKEPTICS. Reprints must credit
"BASIS, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank