THE ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTER OF THE GEORGIA SKEPTICS Volume 3, Number 6 November/December 199
THE ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTER OF THE GEORGIA SKEPTICS
Volume 3, Number 6 November/December 1990
Georgia Skeptics is a non-profit local group which shares a common
philosophy with the national organization CSICOP (Committee for the
Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), and seeks to promote
critical thinking and scientific inquiry as the most reliable means to
gather knowledge of the world and universe. Like CSICOP, Georgia Skeptics
encourages the investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a
responsible, scientific point of view, and helps disseminate the results of
Material from the Georgia Skeptic newsletter may be used by anyone, provided
attribution is given to the author and the organization.
For further information, contact the Georgia Skeptics through the
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RAIDERS OF THE LOST SPACESHIPS
There are lots of unusual and creative theories and beliefs, many of which
have seen print. The chief trouble with most of them lies with the "proof"
adduced, rather than with the opinion.
That seems to be the case with Zecharia Sitchin's book, _The_12th_Planet_
(New York: Avon Books, 1978 paperback, 436 pages). Approaches previously
seen in Velikovsky (planetery clashes and upheavals), and in von Daniken
(alien cosmonaut "gods"), are here combined in a story of mankind's first
civilization in Mesopotamia. In this volume, the Sumerians have alien
spacemen to thank for their progress.
The idea of alien spacemen (or "creatures") is not impossible, even though
the Earth is more hidden in the universe than the proverbial "needle in a
haystack". As we have said, the problem is in finding the proof.
Sitchin's book is beautifully illustrated in the effort to support his
contentions, and the author has gone to great effort to put his claims
forward in a convincing manner. In this writer's opinion, the proof
adduced fails to convince a reader with some knowledge of the ancient
world, but the book itself remains interesting despite that drawback. The
wealth of illustration brought forward is interesting in itself, regardless
of the accuracy of the author's explanation concerning what is pictured.
Some examples of explanations that do not convince the reader are the
- Figure 15, on page 36 of the book, shows a man receiving what
Stitchin claims on page 35 to be some sort of "radiation"
treatment. The simpler view is that a corpse being burned is
shown. There could be other meanings, name your own!
- Figure 69, on page 144, is claimed on page 142 to depict a rocket
in the sky. This figure may show instead a comet. One thinks of
the way Halley's comet is shown on the tapestry celebrating
William the Conqueror's invasion of England in 1066 A.D. Which
view is more likely?
- Figure 77, on page 160, is claimed on page 159 to depict a
"rocket" in a "silo". To anyone with a familiarity with ancient
Egyptian burial practice, the picture shows a cross-section of a
tomb. The chief evidence for the "tomb" view would be that many
pots of food (for the future life) are shown. It is known that
far to Egypt's south, in Napata, small cone-like "pyramid"
imitation tomb markers were erected in a place called Meroe.
This is likely to be the true nature of the author's "nose-cone"
of a rocket. Of course, before the advent of the huge pyramids
with temples in front where food could be brought for the spirit
of the dead, an earlier practice was to bury rulers with their
own supply of food in many pots, in the early "mastaba" tombs.
Meroe was south of the second Nile cataract, some considerable
distance from the more settled parts of Egypt, yet close enough
to be affected by the more dominent culture and civilization to
the north. The Roman emperor Nero was said to have sent a party
of explorers to Meroe (cf. Michael Grant, _Nero_, New York: Dorset
Press, 1989, pp. 111-112). Stitchin says only that the drawing
was found in the tomb of an "Egyptian governor of a far land".
- Figure 22, on page 59, shows what scholars have called a
depiction of the "Mistress of the Animals" (from ancient Crete).
The author presents this as showing "Aphrodite". This may or may
not be true, but when an author makes flat claims that are not
generally accepted by scholars about a small matter, it may put
in doubt his views and opinions on other matters more germaine to
his contentions. Indeed, some scholars may believe the Mistress
of the Animals would have been cognate with Aphrodite, and not
with, say, Hera or Artemis, but the author's contention would
even then remain a selective choice and not a designation that is
generally accepted and thought to be true by scholars. Arbitrary
interpretations abound throughout the book.
Despite one's rejection of the thrust of the author's beliefs in this book,
it remains true that the text is worth looking into because of the numerous
illustrations from ancient cylinder seals. The author does not take
quotations out of context as Velikovsky was said to have done, and does not
make use of "faked" proof as is alleged of some authors. Rather, the
problem here is that the proof, presented carefully and embodying great
effort, is still not sufficiently convincing.
by Hugh. H. Trotti, Research Director
of the Georgia Skeptics
November 9, 1990
THE NUMBER SEVEN
Although the number seven has figured prominently in culture, myth,
religion, and magic throughout the ages, the significance of the number has
no clear origin in ancient star worship. There is no seven-day periodicity
associated with the motions of the stars, sun, moon, or planets. Unlike the
day, month, and year of the modern calendar, the seven-day week was not
astronomically derived. Its use prior to the Christian era has been found
only among the ancient Jews, who did not practice astrology.
In his book _Winston_Churchill's_Afternoon_ Nap_, (Simon and Schuster,
1988), Jeremy Campbell presents an interesting perspective on the
significance of the number seven based on the work of chronobiologist Franz
Halberg of the University of Minnesota.
Seven-day biological rhythms, or circaseptans, have been found in organisms
as primitive as algae and bacteria, and as complex as mankind. The ancient
giant algae known as Mermaid's Wineglass has an innate growth cycle of seven
days. Within the human body, circaseptans have been observed in such
functions as blood pressure and heartbeat, body temperature, the
concentration of calcium in the urine, the number of red blood cells, and
the production of neurotransmitters and hormones. Weekly rhythms have also
been observed in the body's response to various external challenges such as
infection, chemotherapy, and organ transplants, and these rhythms manifest
themselves only when intruders appear.
Many biological time tables seem to internalize the periodicities of
the physical world, particularly those which have been the most stable
and predominant over the millions years of evolution, such as days,
seasons, phases of moon, and the flow of tides. Once internalized,
biological cycles seem to run independently of the outside
periodicities, although biological clocks can apparently be reset or
entrained by external triggers such as fluctuations in light. The
Mermaid's wineglass somehow uses daily light cycles to calculate its
seven day growth cycle, and artificial changes in the daily cycle of
light produce corresponding changes in the length of the algae's
Halberg has observed that the frequencies of many biological rhythms
are multiples of each other (harmonics) and are either multiples or
submultiples of the number seven. When circumstances are altered, the
result is often a harmonic of the original rhythm. For example, when
the nucleus is removed from the Mermaid's Wineglass, the growth cycle
decreases by a factor of 2, from 7 days to 3 1/2 days. The skin
temperature of the female breast normally varies in cycles of one day,
one week, one month, and one year. Breast cancer seems to change the
spectrum of these variations, and a 3 1/2 day temperature cycle
Franz Halberg proposes that seven-day biological rhythms are innate
and autonomous. Although circaseptans do not directly correspond to
any of the major cycles of the environment, Halberg notes that the
length of the week is a both a multiple of the day and a submultiple
of the month. Circaseptans are therefore mathematically related and
compatible with biological timetables adapted to natural
periodicities. Because a seven-day period is often more suitable than
a day or a month for biological functions critical to survival,
Halberg believes that seven-day cycles evolved internally by means of
harmonic laws from various frequencies supplied by nature. He
suggests that the length of the social week is a convenient work
period based on an innate internal cycle, rather than vice versa,
although the social week may act as an external trigger to entrain the
biological week to seven calendar days.
by A. Rebecca Long, Executive Director
of the Georgia Skeptics
Some readers may have seen advertisements for a book by an author who has
"solved the problem" of the pyramids by a contention that stones made of
sand were made hard by a secret process.
According to the July 1990 issue of Basis, "The Bay Area Skeptics
Information Sheet", the author of that book holds guess what: A patent on a
process for casting sand into hard blocks! (Isn't it amazing how the
ancients could look forward to modern devices?)
H. H. T.
Scientific knowledge and reasoning certainly form the most reliable basis
for predictions of future events. However, scientific information is
misapplied when used to "predict" future occurrences when there is no
demonstrated causal relationship between the scientific fact and the
"predicted" effect. This is the case with the major earthquake predicted to
occur on December 3, 1990. Although the close perigee of the moon on this
date will increase tidal forces on the Earth, there was no earthquake during
the similarly close perigee about 75 years ago!
As James Randi and others have pointed out, if one wishes to make
predictions of future events using non-scientific methods, predictions of
earthquakes have a lot of advantages. The public loves successful
predictions of catastrophes, and will remember them better and read more
significance into them than predictions of good fortune. A successful and
well-publicized prediction of a major earthquake can lead to great fame and
fortune and perhaps an eventual syndicated newspaper feature like the one
earned by Jeane Dixon. On the other hand, after a brief period of
embarassment, an unsuccessful earthquake prediction is quickly forgotten by
the public, who remain anxious to believe. There are surprisingly many
major earthquakes each year, so the odds of success aren't really all that
bad. One can always claim partial credit for any earthquake, of any
magnitude, anywhere in the world, anytime near the specified date.
Even if the before-the-fact prediction is a complete failure, one can still
gain a measure of fame by claiming to have successfully predicted some
previous catastrophe. Who can prove the contrary? In such cases it is
recommended to be sure your after-the-fact prediction is close, but just
wrong enough to be convincing.
It appears that earthquake predicting is not unlike entering a lottery: The
benefits of a lucky coincidence far outweigh the negative consequences of a
bad prophesy (at least for the predictor)!
Of course, if one predicts a "fifty/fifty" chance of an earthquake, or even
a "95%" chance, the chance of history proving them wrong is zero!
A. R. L.
"It ain't what you don't know, that counts, it's what you know that ain't
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank