Journal of

The Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York



Volume 0, Issue 1

Welcome to the second issue of our newsletter. With this issue we begin regular monthly publication. This is by decision of the steering committee, who felt it important to communicate with the members on a monthly basis. More news from the steering committee can found in the article by Daniel Forest. Most important is the establishment of a temporary Treasurer, dues for membership in ISUNY, and the acceptance of bylaws which establish the election of club officers in April of 1995. This is the last mailing to be sent to non-members, so pay your dues if you wish to be informed of ISUNY activities. ISUNY is non-profit, and dues are used to support the newsletter, speaker travel fees, and other club expenses.

We still have not decided on a name for the newsletter. Send your suggestions the editor at: 8 Providence St., Albany, NY 12203, or sofkam@rpi.edu. The member who suggests the selected name will be immortalized in these pages. We also need columnists, for regular features or special articles. If you have read a recent book, or seen a TV show or news item send a review to the editor.

Our next issue will be Volume 1, number 1 to coincide with the new year. It will include reviews of past speakers, and some book reviews that were dropped to make room for the bylaws.

-Michael Sofka

Ask The Skeptic.

Last time, Michael Sofka, our fearless leader decided to stump me by asking about a particularly weird crop circle out in Germany, home of good beer and Volkswagens, that he had seen on -[encounters]- . First of all, I'm afraid that I am not familiar with that particular incident and circle. One thing that I will say, though, is that pretty much everyone out there, believers and non-believers alike, feels that -[encounters]- is prone to sensationalize and exaggerate. To conduct a more thorough investigation or analysis the first step is to acquire reliable information, then we can sit down and look it over and see what's left and if we can find any patterns.

As for crop ``circles'' in general, the basic consensus is that something comes along and knocks down a big bunch of crops in weird but clearly defined shapes. Most of the sources that I respect (i.e. The Skeptical Inquirer and the more credulous Fortean Times) are pretty clear about the evidence leaning toward pranksters as the probable force behind the crop knocking, but some claim other worldly forces and point to such things as alleged malformations in the stems of some crops from the circles. If anyone out there is looking for a science project to do in their spare time, they might wish to get ahold of some of these documents claiming that the crops are malformed after being knocked down and do an investigation. I'll help out anyway I can, but please remember I'm strapped for time.

Is cow tipping the result of cattle mutilations meeting crop circles? If you have questions for ``The Skeptic'' I can be reached by calling (518) 393-3478.

Now I have a question for my readers, has anybody out there, heard of something called the ``Shadow Cabinet?'' From context, it is an Illuminati-type all controlling secret society type conspiracy group, but we are seeking more details. So far we have two references. The first, from a believer on a computer network who insisted that the group was true and threatening, and the second, and obviously, fictional one from an obscure 1980s comic book called COYOTE. We're seeking to distinguish fact, fiction, and urban folklore of the concept.

-Peter Huston

The UFOs of October.

On Friday night, October 7, 1994, some Stillwater residents thought they saw something unusual in the sky. This sighting, as is often the case with such things, caught the attention of the media and was fairly widely reported. According to the Times Union, a woman and her daughter were ``drawn outside\dots by red and green blinking lights in the sky'' around 8:00 pm. Some of their neighbors also saw the lights, which were visible for about two hours. They were seen by Stillwater Police Sergeant Wayne DeSorb, too. He saw ``four or five things blinking red and green.'' Other witnesses said the objects were in a cluster, with up to twelve visible at one time. They were brighter and larger than the stars, and were described as being larger than a dime held at arm's length. One reportedly moved to another part of the sky in a matter of seconds. The article said that a State Police check with Albany Airport found no planes in the area.

For several nights following this incident, other people reported strange lights in the night sky. WRGB, Channel 6, carried a story about the sightings, which included a video of one object. Their weatherman remarked, on air, that it looked like a star. I did not catch this report, but another member of the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers saw it and is quite sure that it was indeed a bright star.

Ray Cecot, who is the State Section Director of the Capital Region of New York Section of MUFON (Mutual UFO Network, Inc.), is investigating the Stillwater sighting. As part of this, he looked into some of the later reports, and found that people were indeed mistaking bright stars for something unusual!

Why do people mistake stars for something extraordinary? Many people are totally unfamiliar with the night sky. They only become conscious of it when they hear about something like this. People generally know that stars twinkle, but are often unfamiliar with the particulars. The twinkling is caused when starlight passes through moving layers of air with different densities. These layers distort the light causing variations in apparent brightness, location, and color. The effects are especially pronounced when the star is bright and low in the sky, and they may be greatly heightened in binoculars.

I do not know what the people in Stillwater saw, but it is no surprise that others later reported strange lights in the skies. We had several clear nights. There was quite a bit of radiational cooling which causes pronounced stellar scintillation. Early in the evening Arcturus was low in the west northwest, and Capella was low in the northeast. From where we live, Arcturus is the second brightest star in the night sky, and Capella is the third. Is it any wonder that some people saw something?

My wife, Susan, works as a lecturer at the Schenectady Museum Planetarium, and calls from people wondering what they have seen in the night sky often are directed to her. Just after the Stillwater sighting she got a call from a gentleman who had been watching the sky because he heard about the lights over Stillwater. He noticed a bright object low in the west northwest early in the evening, and said that it was not visible later on. Through binoculars it flickered with red and green, and looked like it was rotating. He also mentioned that the arc of the Big Dipper's handle curved toward the object, making it easy for Susan to identify it as the star Arcturus. He was pleased to learn what he had seen.

Sue and I have been active amateur astronomers for a long time, so we get quite a few calls of this type. Most of the time the identity of their ``sighting'' is fairly obvious. Venus and Sirius are often the culprits. A majority of callers seem to accept our explanations, but some people seem to have a need to hear that they saw something different---something unusual, and can not be convinced otherwise.

Reports of strange lights in the sky spawning other reports is nothing new. Many years ago (probably in the late 60s or early 70s) the Knickerbocker News carried a story about something unusual seen on the Helderberg escarpment. The story described a glowing ball of light. Based on the sparse information in the story, I had no idea what it might have been.

The next day the paper carried another story. This one described an object visible toward the west that was brighter than any star. It was visible for more than half an hour after sunset, and then vanished below the horizon. It was quite obviously Venus. A little work by the reporter would have revealed this, just as some care would have saved Channel 6 from embarrassing itself by showing a video of a star and considering it news.

Next time, I hope to have more on the Stillwater sighting itself. Anyone with information or thoughts on this is invited to e-mail me at alan_d._french@newslink13.com or phone (518) 374-8460.

-Alan French

Steering Committee Meeting.

The fourth meeting of the ISUNY steering committee was held on Wednesday, November 16, at the home of Michael Sofka in Guilderland. In attendance were Bob and Dee Mulford, Christopher Masto, Peter Huston, Daniel Forrest and Mike Sofka. The committee discussed, amended and then voted to adopt the proposed bylaws. The vote was carried with six voting yea and none voting nea. It was also agreed that the bylaws would be published in the December 1994 issue of the ISUNY newsletter (see next article). Other subjects covered by the committee were:

Official Elections: The committee agreed that the first official elections of ISUNY will be held in April 1995.

Office of Treasurer: Daniel Forrest was appointed to the position of Acting Treasurer. A NOW checking account has been established for ISUNY at ONbank in Guilderland.

Dues Established: The steering committee agreed to establish annual dues at the rate of $10.00 for basic membership, $15.00 for a supporting membership and $25.00+ for a patron membership. The names of all supporting and patron members will listed in the newsletter.

-Daniel Forest

Bylaws.

Our bylaws

December Meetings.

Our next meeting will be held at the Guilderland Public Library on Wednesday December 7th at 7:00 pm. David Quine will present a talk entitled: How not to investigate a Psychic.

Thank You.

Thank you to Alan French, Peter Huston, Daniel Forest and Bob Mulford for helping to prepare this newsletter. Thank you also to Bob and Dee Mulford for doing the publicity for our meetings, and Carla Sofka for providing A/V equipment for past meetings.

About ISUNY.

The Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York (ISUNY) is an informal gathering of people who are interested in, and skeptical about claims of the paranormal and fringe-science. We encourage the critical investigation of the paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible scientific viewpoint. To this end we intend to: