November 1990 +quot;BASIS+quot;, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics Bay Area Skeptics Inf
November 1990 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics
Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet
Vol. 9, No. 11
Editor: Yves Barbero
THOUGHT REFORM PROGRAMS AND THE PRODUCTION
OF PSYCHIATRIC CASUALTIES
by Margaret Thaler Singer, PhD and Richard Ofshe, PhD
The term "thought reform" was introduced into the psychiatric
literature by Lifton and the term "coercive persuasion" by Schein.
Both described the organized "ideological remolding" programs
introduced by the Chinese Communists after their 1949 takeover.
Thought reform programs were used in the "revolutionary
universities," other educational settings, and prison environments.
Lifton, Schein, and other authors wrote about psychological effects
in military and civilian prisoners, as well as in individuals
exposed to thought reform programs in nonprison settings. These
authors called attention to the manipulation processes that had
been organized into effective physiological and social influence
programs aimed at changing the political beliefs of individuals.
As early as 1929, Mao Tse-tung was waging a "thought struggle" to
achieve unity and discipline in the Chinese communist Party.
Following the proclamation of the People's Republic of China in
1949, hundreds of thousands were exposed to thought reform programs
to achieve "ideological remolding." "Group struggle sessions"
convinced individuals to denounce their past political views and to
adopt the new state-approved political outlook.
Neither mysterious methods nor arcane new techniques were involved;
the effectiveness of thought reform programs did not depend on
prison settings, physical abuse, or death threats. Programs used
the organization and application of intense guilt/shame/anxiety
manipulation, combined with the production of strong emotional
arousal in settings where people did not leave because of social
and psychological pressures or because of enforced confinement. The
pressures could be reduced only by participants' accepting the
belief system of adopting behaviors promulgated by purveyors of the
thought reform programs.
There have been two generations of interest in extreme influence
and control programs. The first generation of interest was in
Soviet and Chinese thought reform behavior control practices that
were studied 20 to 30 years ago. The second generation of interest
is in thought reform programs either currently operating or that
have been in existence during the last decade in the United States
and the Western world.
Far more of these program exist than most nonspecialists realize,
and these newer programs are more efficient and effective. They
also may be more psychologically risky for individuals exposed to
them than research suggest first-generation programs to have been.
Second-generation programs use influence techniques long recognized
as essential elements of thought reform programs, as well as a
variety of new influence techniques. Such programs can and
regularly do produce psychiatric casualties.
Psychiatric casualties appear to result from errors in the
application of these attitude-change programs. The subject person's
motivation to adopt the manipulator's position and to become
obedient is manufactured by inducing extreme anxiety and emotional
distress. Lifton reported that the managers of first-generation
programs attempted to closely monitor subjects so that when they
reached the brink of decompensation, pressures could be reduced.
The goal was to hold the subject at the point of maximum stress
without inducing psychosis. Second-generation programs have
increased room for error because subjects tend to be less well
monitored, the techniques used to induce anxiety and stress are
more powerful and less predictable in the magnitude of their
effects on an individual, and often these programs attempt to
induce conformity more rapidly than did first-generation programs.
Second-generation thought reform programs also pose psychological
risks to subjects because of the sophistication of the influence
tactics employed. Attacking a person's evaluation of the self is a
technique present in both older and newer programs. However, in
first-generation programs, primary attack was made on the political
aspects of an individual's self-concept -- a peripheral aspect of
more people's sense of self.
In the newer thought reform programs, attacks appear to be designed
to destabilize the subject's more central aspects of the experience
of the self. The newer programs undermine a person's basic
consciousness, reality awareness, beliefs and world view, emotional
control, and defense mechanisms. We suggest that attacking the
stability and quality of evaluations of self-concepts is the
principal effective technique used in the conduct of a coercive
thought reform and behavior control program.
Second-generation programs induce changes in expressed behavior and
attitudes such as the earlier versions did by manipulating
psychological and social influence variables within a format that
generally follows a symbolic death and rebirth theme.
Second-generation programs often included techniques similar to
those found in first generation programs, eg, group pressure,
modeling, accusations, and confessions.
Additional sophisticated techniques to destabilize a person's sense of
self and to induce anxiety and emotional distress are also employed.
Second-generation programs often incorporate technical advances in
influence production, such as hypnosis to intensify recalled or
imagined experiences, emotional flooding, sleep deprivation, stripping
away of various psychological defense mechanisms, and the induction of
cognitive confusion. Second-generation programs are illustrated by
certain cults, in therapeutic communities gone astray, and in some
large-group awareness programs.
WHAT IS A THOUGHT REFORM PROGRAM?
In essence, a thought reform program is behavioral change
technology applied to cause the learning and adoption of an
ideology or set of behaviors under certain conditions. It is
distinguished from other forms of social learning by the conditions
under which it is conducted and by the techniques of environmental
and interpersonal manipulation employed to suppress particular
behavior and to train others. Six conditions are simultaneously
present in a thought reform program
=> Obtaining substantial control over an individual's time and
thought content, typically by gaining control over major elements
of the person's social and physical environment,
=> Systematically creating a sense of powerlessness in the person,
=> Manipulating a system of rewards, punishment, and experiences in
such a way as to promote new learning of an ideology or belief
system advocated by management,
=> Manipulating system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in
such a way as to inhibit observable behavior that reflects the
values and routines of life organization the individual displayed
prior to contact with the group,
=> Maintaining a closed system of logic and an authoritarian
structure in the organization, and
=> Maintaining a noninformed state existing in the subject.
The last two conditions work because there is no effective way for
the subject to influence the system and because the program moves
along in such a way that the subject is unaware of being changed
for a hidden organizational purpose. In a closed system of logic,
criticism or complaints are handled by showing the subject that he
or she is defective, not the organization. Observations may be
turned around and argued to mean the opposite of what the critic
When a subject questions or doubts a tenet or rule, attention is
called to factual information that suggests some internal
contradiction with what the subject has been told; the criticism or
observation is "turned around" and the subject made to feel he or
she is wrong. In effect the subject is told, "You are always wrong;
the system is always right." The system refuses to be modified
except by executive order. In addition, by keeping a subject in a
noninformed state, he or she functions in an environment to which
he or she is forced to adapt in a series of steps, each
sufficiently minor so that the subject does not notice change in
him- or herself and does not become aware of the goals of the
program until late in the process (if ever).
The tactics of a thought reform program are organized to
destabilize individuals' sense of self by getting them to
drastically reinterpret their life's history, radically alter their
world view, accept a new version of reality and causality, and
develop dependency on the organization, thereby being turned into
a deployable agent of the organization operating the thought reform
TYPES OF PSYCHOLOGICAL RESPONSES
Not everyone who is exposed to a thought reform system is
successfully manipulated nor does everyone respond with major
reactive symptoms. Some authors described the psychological
responses and casualties seen in the first-generation. No
definitive figures about casualty rates for second-generation
programs can be offered. However, scattered anecdotal reports in
the psychiatric literature, the number of people seeking treatment,
counseling, and other forms of help after leaving thought reform
programs, and the growing number of persons seeking compensation
for damages through litigation suggests that many experience
different degrees and durations of distress, disability, and a
dysfunction following such programs.
Actual rates of damage may be far higher than estimations made from
the sources cited above. The sole experimental study of the
destructive potential of encounter groups reports psychological
casualty rates higher than 10% for those groups that use intrusive
and high confrontation techniques with aggressive leaders. These
damaging techniques have much in common with the destabilizing
techniques of second-generation programs. The full range of
personality and situational factors that predispose individuals to
be become psychological casualties are not known at this time.
Second-generation thought reform programs expose participants to
exercises and experiences that disrupt psychological defense
systems, causing some individuals to be flooded with emotions and
others to dissociate and split off parts of their awareness.
Psychological decompensations and the onset of other symptoms
appear related to the combined effects of features described
earlier, especially to rapid, intense arousal of adversive
emotional states and to dissociation- producing techniques.
Both of the following cases illustrate the production of
psychiatric casualties in individuals exposed to thought reform
programs. Neither individual described below had a history of
personal or family mental disorder.
Kirk illustrates the splitting or doubling of the self that occurs
when one drops an ordinary world view and accepts the alternative
world view trained through exposure to a thought reform program.
Professionals who treated Kirk diagnosed his condition as
relaxation-induced anxiety that evolved into panic attacks and
atypical dissociative states.
He affiliated with a mantra meditation group initially attempting
to "empty the mind" of all reflective thoughts for a few minutes
each morning and evening. The mantra, supposedly a meaningless
word, is the Sanskrit name of a Hindu deity.
Kirk has an advanced degree in a physical science from a
prestigious university. A friend took him to a free lecture on how
to reduce stress in one's life. Kirk was not stressed, but
responded favorably to the lecturer's charts and graphs alleging
scientific proof that meditation was accomplishing feats unknown to
mankind -- except through the group leader's methods. Because of
its seemingly scientific basis, Kirk paid his fees and began
meditation lessons. These lessons began with short periods of
meditation, which soon lengthened and were combined with prolonged
periods of chanting and hyperventilation.
After a few months he began to have bouts of chest pains, fainting
spells, palpitations, and lassitude. When he complained at the
meditation center of his symptoms, he was assured these were normal
signs of "unstressing" and evidence that he was reaching a higher
state of consciousness. Hence, Kirk discounted his distress,
accepting it as the price he had to pay to reach the leader's
promised goal. Had Kirk not been following the meditation practice
with simultaneous involvement with the group, he probably would
have abandoned the practice as soon as he started having adverse
During one panic attack, he was taken to an emergency room where a
physician attributed his condition to "stress and pressure." He
stopped meditating for a few days, and the symptoms disappeared.
However, the group instructed him to increase the time he chanted,
hyperventilated and mediated. Over the years, his condition
worsened. Panic attacks continued, he reported he felt "space out"
and forgetful, and he began to let his career, social life, and
intellectual development decline. Upon advice from the group
leader, to help his deteriorating condition, he frequently spent 8
hours a day for an entire week, chanting hyperventilating, and
mediating. He spent several individual months on such a regime.
His distress increased. He was markedly dizzy and objects seemed to
swirl, float and waver in the air. He felt nauseous, disoriented,
distraught, and confused. At work he began to lose confidence in
his abilities and worried that he had slipped into insanity.
He soon found himself unable to focus on his surroundings; when he
did, things appeared distorted, obscure, and foreign. He felt
overwhelmed by anxiety, depression nausea, and debilitation. He
took a week off from work and sat crying in his apartment in an
apparent state of depersonalization and derealization, accompanied
by a multitude of odd sensations and mental contents. He visited
several general practitioners who could not diagnose his symptoms.
One day while driving he lost his memory. He was unable to recall
who he was or where he was going. He parked and went into a
restaurant. When he left, it took him 2 hours to find his car
because he had forgotten where he had parked. Soon after this
transient but alarming amnesic episode, he resigned from his job
because he could no longer instruct workers as part of his
technical job. When he had to speak he felt faint, lost track of
what he was saying, and was unable to function.
Beverly, now 27, was in a cult from ages 15 to 24. For 2 years
after leaving the cult she was too frightened to seek help or to
tell anyone what had happened during the 9 years she was in the
group. Finally, she saw a psychologist over a prolonged period.
Initial symptoms were severe depression, anxiety, multiple phobias,
and identity diffusion. After story unfolded during therapy, a
diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder was made. The following
is abstracted from a report written by her therapists.
The group Beverly joined was started by an immigrant who conferred
upon himself the titles of guru, yogi, and teacher after reaching
the United States. He began to collect a small following by
advertising himself as an exercise and diet specialist.
A relative of Beverly's had lived for some time in the commune he
developed. The relative asked 15-year-old Beverly to spend the
summer in the commune; she remained in the commune for 9 years.
Beverly was an easy mark for the leader and his assistants to
completely dominate. His indoctrination and influence program led
her to believe all his claims -- that he was the most learned man
alive, that he knew hidden health and living secrets which he would
reveal to her. The group practiced bizarre and ever-changing diets.
Beverly came to think the leader was omniscient, omnipresent, and
omnipotent. He treated her as his protege, subjecting her to
endless sessions of indoctrination and withdrawing alternative
sources of social support until she became totally dependent on
She believed that he knew all the secrets of the universe. She
believed that he held the power of life and death over her and her
family because he claimed that he was above the law and that he
could order the execution of anyone who displeased him. He
repeatedly stated that he would have her and her family put to
death if she ever left him. Eventually when she did attempt to
leave after almost 9 years, he put her under armed guard and
prevented her from leaving. The most traumatic episodes which the
leader began after Beverly had been in the group several years. He
told her that he was going to cure her of what he termed her sexual
neurosis. He proceeded to rape her while she became stunned,
depressed, withdrawn, and suicidal.
For nearly 3 years, she was anally and genitally raped repeatedly
and given gratuitous brutal beatings by the leader. She became
pregnant twice; each time the leader ordered her to have an
abortion. Hours after undergoing one of the abortions, he raped
her. Beverly eventually ceased to regard him as divine after she
developed herpes and chronic kidney and bladder infections; she saw
him only as a violent, brutal rapist. At this point, the leader
assigned armed guards to restrain her from escaping. She remained
a virtual prisoner for over a year. She finally escaped several
years ago still believing the leader or his helpers would find and
kill her and her parents. This fear continues.
Beverly has a driving phobia. This appears related to the leader
telling her that if she ever left him she would die in an
automobile crash. After a year of treatment, she is able to drive
short distances, but only at the expense of considerable anxiety.
Beverly becomes excruciatingly anxious over what she calls
"flashbacks." She vividly reexperiences how she felt when she had
to sit for endless hours listening to the rambling, nonsensical
lectures given by the leader. During those lectures, she resented
having to sit for so long, yet she was unable to move or leave. She
feared that the leader had magical powers and that if she incurred
his disfavor, she would come to harm or even die as he claimed
happened to those who defied him. Because of these negative
associations with prolonged sitting, she has been unable to attend
classes, church services, or similar events. Thus, her educational
level remains as it was at age 15 when she entered the cult.
She has panic attacks with agoraphobia in which she has to abandon
whatever she is doing and return to her apartment to feel safe.
These attacks have prevented her from maintaining employment and
reliably enjoying recreational activities. She has an ever-present,
free-floating sense of foreboding and dread.
Beverly has trouble going to sleep, as fearful images of the leader
intrude, arousing fear. When she does sleep, she has nightmares
involving his attacks on her. She sleeps fully dressed because she
fears she may have to flee the leader's guards. This is not without
foundation as such happened before she escaped from the commune.
Her numbed, stunned state seen at the start of therapy has
declined, but the rest of the posttraumatic stress syndrome
remains. She feels her life is ruined and suffers generalized
The techniques used to induce belief, change, and dependency by
various thought reform programs appear to be related to the type of
psychiatric casualty the program tends to produce. Large-group
awareness training programs appear more likely to induce mood and
affect disorders. Groups that use prolonged mantra and empty-mind
meditation, hyperventilation, and chanting appear more likely to
have participants who develop relaxation-induced anxiety, panic
disorder, marked dissociative problems, and cognitive
inefficiencies. Therapeutic community thought reform programs
appear more likely to induce enduring fears, self-mutilation, self-
abasement, and inappropriate display of artificial assertiveness
Many people subjected to thought reform programs of sufficient
duration report transient to longer lasting cognitive
inefficiencies with impaired concentration, attention, and memory.
Most are self-reported observations; others come from family and
friends who note the inefficiencies either were not present prior
to the thought reform program or are exacerbations of preexisting
There is an interactional-transactional interplay between a
program's philosophical contents, exercises, and practices, and
each person exposed to it. The thought reform program impinges on
cognition, defenses, affects, values, and conduct. Additionally
each person's genetic-biological makeup, life experiences,
personality, and mental make-up interact with the stressors induced
by the interface of the person's old value, belief, and behavior
codes with the new beliefs and behavior promulgated by the program.
Prediction of any one person's responses to anyone thought reform
regime is difficult, if not impossible. However, as with all
stressful, conflict-inducing, and intense negative emotionally
arousing situations, certain forms of behavioral pathology are more
likely than other types to occur among individuals exposed to
certain combinations of stressors.
[DR. SINGER is Adjunct Professor, Dept. of Psychology at UC
Berkeley and our November speaker. DR. OFSHE is Professor, Dept. of
Sociology, UC Berkeley and an advisor to BAY AREA SKEPTICS. Used
Please Note: The purpose of reprinting the above article is to give
our readers an overview of "Thought Reform Programs." The article
has been substantially edited and cut. The footnotes are missing.
Those interested in the material for clinical or legal reasons
should refer to the original. Reprints may be obtained by writing
to Lester J. Robeson, SLACK Incorporated, 6900 Grove Street,
Thorofare, NJ 08086. Published in Psychiatric Annals
LIFE THROUGH TIME
by Tom Woosnam
In the unlikely event that you've ever needed an additional reason
to visit the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park,
the latest exhibit, "Life Through Time," more than serves.
The purpose of the exhibit is to present the evidence for evolution
based on fossils and comparative anatomy and to give a brief
history of life itself. A short videotape presentation in the
antechamber gives the visitor an overview of the ideas of evolution
but the fun really begins as the visitor almost literally walks
into a wall of rock strata, a geological column of fossils
stretching to the ceiling.
As if to emphasize the entire revolutionary jump, the facing wall
features "Lifemap," a bank of eight computers linked to interactive
laser video disks, each showing a different major group of closely
related organisms. The paths to the computers are marked by lights
embedded in the floor whose colors demonstrate the shared features
of the groups. Red lights, for instance, stand for DNA so all the
computer stations are connected by red. (One small quibble here --
there was no indication that I could find out what the other
colored lights really stood for. Since this part of the exhibit is
still under construction, I imagine that this information will be
From Lifemap, one follows the evolutionary trail from room to room
-- "Early Life in the Sea," "Transition to Land," "The Age of
Dinosaurs," "The Age of Mammals," and "Lines of Evidence."
Highlights for me included the full size flying dinosaur,
quetzalcoatlus, with its enormous beak, the full scale allosaurus
attacking a camptosaurus (both are skeletons) and the largest and
most stunning hologram I have ever seen -- the full size skull of
the tyrannosaurus rex.
A favorite attraction for the kids in the crowd was the "Fish out
of Water" interactive video, which involves the viewer in deciding
which evolutionary paths a fish should take to survive as a land
creature complete with consequences for the wrong decisions (keep
eating bugs dude and you're not going to have the energy to escape
that big guy on your tail who wants you for lunch). One subtle
feature that I appreciated throughout was the placement of rotating
globes showing the relative position of the Earth's land masses due
to the continental drift at each evolutionary transition.
Some questions came up during the tour concerning what could be
added to make this a solid educational experience for those kids
who tend to spend little time at each area before they rush to the
next attraction. It would be good to see a worksheet of some kind
that school groups could use to ensure that some pattern could be
extracted out of the mass of information that is presented.
As to the ongoing struggle with anti-evolutionists, it also might
have been useful if typical creationist arguments could have been
posted along the way with evolutionist rebuttals. This would have
fitted in the overall reason for the exhibit and could have
provided concise, valuable and much needed information for parents
and teachers who are often stymied by the convolutions of
creationist logic (an oxymoron?)
But these are nitpicks. The whole presentation is visually
stunning, superbly organized and a treasure that is unique to the
[Tom Woosnam teaches physics at the Crystal Springs Uplands
Our thanks to Eugenie Scott, Raliegh McLemore, and John Taube for
their efforts in making this tour work!
"LIFE THROUGH TIME" TOUR A SUCCESS
by John Taube
How fortunate we are that Bay Areas Skeptics has EUGENIE (GENIE)
SCOTT, PhD as one of its directors. Genie was our tour guide
September 22nd for the California Academy of Sciences'
breath-taking exhibit of evolution, LIFE THROUGH TIME. The exhibit
is organized so artistically and professionally, that you can see
life passing through time with all its fascinating evolutionary
changes. The exhibit makes it obvious that life is evolving.
Acting as guide, Genie was put to a great disadvantage. There was
plenty of distraction from the noise of the over-flowing crowd. But
Genie's pauses in talking and her use of an ingenuous home-made
megaphone, made the very best of a difficult situation.
Combining her thorough understanding of physical anthropology with
an exciting manner of teaching, Genie came well prepared for this
tour. She had made a special pre-tour trip to the Academy to
familiarize herself with all of the exhibit's details. First Genie
took the group to a video demonstration of evolution and, after the
group viewed the video, she outlined the main points of evolution.
Her comments on the inconsistency of creationism showed the
problems that the pseudo-science holds. She guided the group
through the various rooms, spelling out the highlights that the
visitor should look for in a particular exhibit. The group was then
on its own, to explore details. As questions arose, Genie was there
to answer them.
The tour was unfortunately limited to 40 and some subscribers had
to be turned down. No arrangements have been made, as yet, to do
another tour, but those who are interested in one, should make
their requests known.
Letter to the Editor
by Walter R. Hearn
In a letter to "BASIS" (Oct. '90), Thomas H. Jukes responded to an
exchange between William Bennetta (Apr. '90) and myself (July '90
concerning the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) and ASA's
booklet, "Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy". Jukes
could see no difference between ASA's statement of faith in God as
"the Creator of the physical universe," and the "scientific
creationist" position that God created everything some 6,000 to
20,000 years ago. To me the degree of difference is roughly
analogous to the difference between concluding that Walt Hearn and
Tom Jukes must be genetically related and asserting that Walt Hearn
and Tom Jukes had the same grandfather.
True, the ASA and "creationist" positions are both statements of
religious conviction, which may be what Jukes meant by lumping them
together: "I do not agree that real scientists will sign such
statements." Yet he couldn't see why Cornell biologist William
Provine was bought into the discussion. Surely the personal credo
that Provine signed HIS name to ("No inherent moral or ethical laws
exist, nor are there absolute guiding principles for human society.
The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate
purpose.") is as much a "frankly religious construct" as ASA's
theistic credo. Professor Provine is one "real scientist" who has
used his name to back a religious position.
Opponents of theism sometimes resent having their positions
designated as religious, so I referred to Provine's atheistic credo
as IDEOLOGICAL, a broader term that includes the "secular
religiosity Langdon Gilkey warned about in "Creationism on Trial"
(Winston Press, 1985) after testifying for the ACLU in Arkansas
"Balanced Treatment" trial. Gilkey urged members of the scientific
community to become clearer on the "limits" of science ("the kinds
of questions it asks and those that it does and can NOT ask"), lest
"in witnessing to their own secular religiosity," they "breed
creationists as fast as they encourage humanists" (pp. 135-6).
That's the kind of non-scientific point Robert Root-Bernstein said
must be learned by both sides to end the educational battle.
Jukes called ASA's distinction between evolutionary science and
evolutionary naturalism, "double-talk." But ("in the words of Judge
Overton"), "Evolution does not presuppose the absence of a creator
or God." When it DOES, it has become scientism. The real double-
talk consists of using the same word, EVOLUTION, for scientism as
well as science, a confusion that lies at the root of much of the
current public controversy. To me, "taking evolution seriously" as
science includes defining the term carefully and guarding it
That CERTAINTY Jukes wants to claim for a common ape-human ancestry
is neither mathematical nor forensic. As I understand it, in
tracing "disappeared" children in Argentina, molecular evidence of
descent is not "overwhelming" beyond a couple of generations. At
present what scientists have, thousands of generations back, is an
INFERENCE or HYPOTHESIS of ancestry. To avoid offending the
ideological certainty of people like Jukes, however, in 1989 the
ASA authors changed the question in "Teaching Science..." to "What
is known of the Earliest Hominid?" and restated our conclusion:
"Too many problems remain unresolved and too many pieces of
evidence are missing to say that the search for human origins is
over." As Jukes says, "in the days of Darwin, T. H. Huxley and
Bishop Wilberforce," many people thought evolutionary biology had
settled the basic questions. But they also thought that of
[Walter Hearn is a former biochemistry professor who now edits the
"ASA NEWSLETTER". He is a coauthor of "Teaching Science in a
Climate of Controversy".]
A HUMBLE SUGGESTION
by Yves Barbero
As "BASIS" was headed for press, the TV news announced that a
museum and its director had been absolved of obscenity for
displaying photographs, some of which depicted homosexual acts and
I wondered what the fuss had been about in the first place. Such an
exhibit has no attraction for me so its unlikely that I'd ever go
(except from morbid curiosity due to the notorious publicity). But
if someone else wants to see it, what business is it of mine? I
probably wouldn't listen to "rap" lyrics, whether sexually explicit
or not. That's not my idea of poetry. But then again, I love folk
music and have been known to listen to some pretty lewd lyrics from
Merrie 'Ol England. Why shouldn't others listen to that metronome
nonsense if they want to.
Borrowing paper and pencil from Einstein, I decided to conduct a
short thought experiment and asked myself three questions.
=> What is a community standard (or more accurately, how is it
measured)? A community standard is whatever a prosecutor or police
agency says it is until modified by a judge or jury if it comes to
that. Ultimately, one to twelve people decide after having to
listen to "experts" and the accused. It's possible that some people
think there is a group mind but as skeptics, we would require some
extraordinary proof to accept that.
=> At what point would I allow the government to act as censor?
Giving this grave thought, I decided that I would allow the
government to prohibit the publication of ship schedules in time of
=> What is obscenity? Obscenity is whatever the dominant group says
it is. Japan does not permit the publication of pubic hair.
Imported "Playboy" magazines are individually airbrushed by
teenaged boys on the theory that they're too young to be affected
by such a sight. A minority (Fundamentalists) with a heavy
influence on local police agencies had members of a another
minority group (African Americans) arrested for "dirty" lyrics in
Florida. In San Francisco, where African Americans hold more
influence, it could not have happen.
The conclusion is that community standards are not really
measurable (a legal guess at best) but that community interests are
(a ship schedule in war time) and that the concept of obscenity is
meaningless since it differs from society to society and groups
Add to this the problem of having influential groups (minority or
otherwise) using their political strength to put down other groups
or more probably, to build up their own groups for control and/or
fund raising purposes by an appeal to internal prejudices.
The solution is really simple. Drop the concept of a community
standard and settle for a multiple of individual standards. I, as
an individual, can decide what I will tolerate for myself. In the
name of community interest, I would have no problem with an
arbitrary legal requirement that a museum exhibit specify that some
of the material portrayed might offend some people. We already give
the government power to tell us cigarettes are bad for us. Common
sense will make such a system work. I don't foresee a runaway
situation whereby the government would warn us that certain color
schemes don't work for obese persons.
So long as Big Brother does not put us in jail for expressed ideas.
To censor is to imply that one person's judgement is somehow better
than another's. It is a fear that information will somehow corrupt
the character of the person absorbing it. The censor, however, is
In this country, censorship has usually taken the form of
controlling emotion rather than politics. Erotica is usually the
subject of censorship. A legal fiction has made a distinction
between erotica and pornography. This allows art, which is erotic
by its very nature, to exist while allowing the prosecution of
"non-art" pornography, usually defined as the "commercial" use of
This is all complicated by the notion by some ethical and/or
religious groups that their vision of "natural law" is somehow
Since Americans do not trust each other to behave "morally" without
a law and cannot accept that sexuality in all its diverse forms is
somehow part of the human condition, censorship will plague us in
one form or another for a long time. -- Y.B.
The AUSTIN MILES June 26th talk, sponsored the BAY AREA SKEPTICS,
has been shown on San Francisco Cable, channel 25. If you subscribe
to cable outside San Francisco and would like to have it shown
locally, call your cable company. Paul Bernadino, (415) 673-4609,
will arrange the loan of a copy of the tape.
Pictures were taken at the BAY AREA SKEPTICS' Gala Barbecue/Picnic.
These photos will be at the upcoming November meeting. If you are
in a picture, you may take a copy (on a first claim basis).
THE SKEPTIC'S ELECTRONIC BULLETIN BOARD
=> 2400 Baud, 415-648-8944
=> 24 hours, 7 days a week
=> Rick Moen, Sysop
ANSWERS TO HALLOWE'EN PUZZLES
[In last month's issue, we printed puzzles published in 1594 by
Shillaber Montabue. Since we could not locate the following issue
of the chronicle in which they were published, we do not have Dr.
Montabue's answers. We have asked Bob Steiner to psychically
project over the centuries and come up with the answers. Despite an
overheated crystal ball and psychic exhaustion, Steiner came
through again. -Ed.]
ANSWER TO PUZZLE NUMBER ONE
The probability is one in THREE that his children are both girls.
Following are the four possibilities when one has two children:
Possibility Number First Child Second Child
1 Girl Girl
2 Girl Boy
3 Boy Girl
4 Boy Boy
The speaker at the party is not possibility number four; that is,
he does not have two boys. Anyone whose children were born under
possibility numbers 1, 2, or 3 could make the statement spoken in
Dr. Montabue's puzzle. Therefore, there is a one in three
probability that the speaker has two girls.
ANSWER TO PUZZLE NUMBER TWO
You ask either witch: "If I were to ask the other witch which is
the door to the party, what would she answer?" Enter the door NOT
indicated in the answer.
OR you may ask either witch: "If I had asked you an hour ago which
is the door to the party, what would you have told me?" Enter the
door that IS indicated in the answer.
I hope you all enjoyed the party and the puzzles.
-- Bob Steiner
MODERN BRAINWASHING TECHNIQUES
If you isolate an individual long enough, have complete control
over what that individual hears and sees, and the individual has
weak self-esteem, you have all the ingredients necessary to mold
him or her to your will.
But do you?
Maybe it's not the individual with weak self-esteem. Perhaps it's
the individual who is sure, so sure that a mere doubt has to be
planted. Maybe there's more than one way to change a person.
How do modern cults do it?
What is the history of political brainwashing? How do they relate?
Are certain people marked for brainwashing by their personality?
How are they spotted?
Can YOU be brainwashed? Is intelligence and/or skepticism a shield?
Is sense-deprivation necessary? Starvation? Sexual abuse? Beatings?
Dr. Margaret Singer will discuss both the myths and realities of
thought reform. Be prepared to have illusions shattered.
BAS advisor and co-founder Wallace Sampson, MD, will introduce Dr.
GULLIBILITY, GUILT, AND CULTS
by Margaret Thaler Singer, PhD
Tuesday, Nov. 20, 1990, 7:30 pm
The Planetarium, College of San Mateo
1700 W. Hillsdale Avenue
Directions: From US 101 or 280, turn onto Hwy 92. Go to West
Hillsdale Blvd. to CSM Dr. and go to Parking lot #15 or #2. Have 75
cents in exact change for the machine.
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
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
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 November 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