The WHY-Files

The Official Journal of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York


Volume 1, Issue 10
 
 
 

November's Meeting.

Our next meeting is November 1st, when our speaker will be Dr. David Hess, professor of cultural anthropology in the Science and Technology Studies department of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Dr. Hess is the author of several books including: Spirits and Scientists: Ideology, Spiritism, and Brazilian Culture (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991), Samba in the Night: Spiritism in Brazil (Columbia University Press, 1994), and Science in the New Age: The Paranormal, Its Defenders and Debunkers, and American Culture (University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), which was reviewed in the February 1995 issue of our newsletter, Skeptic magazine and in Skeptical Inquirer.

Dr. Hess is interested in the ``shared culture'' of skeptics and para-psychologists, and the types of arguments they use. His talk is entitled: Skeptics and their Paranormal Others: Some Cultural Dimensions of Debunking, and is based on his book Science in the New Age, and the critical responses to it. Specifically, why did the two reviews published in skeptical magazines come to widely different conclusions, and what does this tell us about the culture of skeptics.

As those who attended our February meeting know, Dr. Hess is critical of debunking that does not take into account the role that paranormal beliefs play in a culture. An example he gave is that in India cases of poltergeist and possession often affect young married woman who have almost no status in the household. Debunking such claims removes the support and protection the paranormal claim provides to those women. He is also critical of the treatment of para-psychologists by other scientists in the United States and Europe.

Dr. Hess's most recent book Science & Technology in a Multicultural World investigates how race, class, gender, sexuality and national differences affect scientific thinking. He recommends specific curricular reforms based on his observations, which he believes will benefit historically neglected groups as well as groups traditionally well represented in the sciences and engineering.

-The Editor

Local MUFON Meetings.

The local chapter of MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network) is holding a series of open forums on UFOs. These are being held the third Thursday of each month (except December) at the Albany Public Library, Washington Avenue, Albany, NY from 7:00 pm until 8:30 pm.

I attended the October 19th meeting which discussed New York UFO sightings, including last years' Stillwater sightings. The meeting was attended by about 50--60 people, and the presentation by Ray Cecot and Jim Bouck was very informal. Questions ranged over the nature of UFO's, the motives of extra-terrestrials, government cover-up, military aircraft, cattle mutilations, crop circles, and one example of a human mutilation case in Brazil. It was my impression that the overwhelming majority of the attendees believed the extra-terrestrial hypothesis, and many were interested in sharing their experiences.

The meeting ended with a brief presentation by local UFO abductee Richard Price. Mr. Price showed slides of his ``implant,'' a piece of collagen---the stuff finger nails are made of---removed from his body.[Richard Price admits his implant is made of collagen, but contends the aliens used that material to make the implant.] It is his contention (one he admits his doctor disagrees with) that the slides show ``wires'' attached to the outside of the collagen. A book written by Mr. Price is forthcoming, and he is planing to lecture at local libraries in the near future.

The November 16th meeting will be about Crop Circles. Also scheduled are Animal Mutilations (January 18th), UFOs & Government (February 22nd), and Myths, Fables & Folklore (March 21st). I will be attending at least some of these meetings.

-Mike Sofka

The UFO Skeptic.

On Monday, August 28, the show Alien Autopsy: (Fact or Fiction?) was shown on the Fox broadcasting network. The program featured film purporting to show the autopsy of an alien being---supposedly one of the bodies from the infamous crash of a flying saucer near Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947.

The show began with this statement: ``The following program deals with controversial subjects. The theories, opinions and beliefs expressed are not the only possible interpretation. Viewers are invited to make a judgment base on all available information.'' Several times during the program, it was stated that the film was either the first real proof of an alien being or an elaborate hoax. In spite of this, the show was rather heavily slanted toward the idea that the film is authentic.

The biggest questions about such a film deal with its authenticity. What is the film's history and where did it come from? Is the film consistent with the claim that it was made in 1947? These questions were addressed in the program, but not in a very thorough or satisfying manner. And some important points were left out entirely.

The film is owned and being promoted by Ray Santilli. He claims that when buying some 1950's rock and roll footage, the cameraman he was dealing said he had ``something else.'' These were reels of an alien autopsy. The cameraman claimed to have been brought to Fort Worth Army Air Base in 1947, where he filmed the recovery of alien beings, both alive and dead, and the autopsy of one alien body. Most of the reels of film were processed and sent to Washington, but the cameraman had set aside some reels he felt there were problems with that needed special treatment in processing. After processing these reels, he tried hard to get the people in Washington to pick them up, but they never did. He had simply kept them until he offered them to Ray Santilli.

Santilli claims to have seen papers and diaries of the cameraman that support this story. However, the cameraman has never been identified, nor has anyone else seen the supporting documentation. Supposedly, the cameraman, who is in his 80s, wants to protect his privacy and lead a peaceful life. Santilli also said the man was paid cash, and was also concerned with his tax situation with the IRS. (Of course, a cash payment leaves no evidence---there is no way to prove that such a payment was ever made, or that it was not made.) I was amused to hear Santilli claim that the cameraman might step forward in the future---something like the government's big revelations about UFOs that is always somewhere in the future, I would guess.

The program devoted some time to a hunt for this mystery man. Private Investigator William Dear was hired to find him. He was not found, but Dear did find a cameraman who claimed another had said he ``was at Roswell where they say aliens crashed.'' After this statement, he had suddenly shut up. This was implied to be a significant point, but it seemed meaningless to me.

It is difficult to prove that someone did not exist. It is much easier to prove that someone is or is not who they claim to be, and it would do a great deal to lend credence to the story if the camera man were to come forward. Without him, there is a very big hole in the story---one that does not add to its credibility.

There is no independent evidence that the film was obtained as Mr. Santilli claims, or that the camera man really exists. Likewise, there is no independent record of the film and the autopsy. Without some historical context, it is difficult to prove the film is what is claimed.

The program also addressed the question about whether the film could actually be from 1947. Lawrence Cate of Kodak said the edge code indicates the film is from 1947. Paolo Cherchi, Senior Curator at Eastman House, said the film could be from the late 40s or early 50s. It was never mentioned that the film itself has not been submitted for inspection---only several frames said to be from the film. Cherchi commented further that it was very difficult to fake film, yet he did not examine the film itself, only a fragment said to be from it.

If the film were proven authentic, its value would be enhanced greatly. If Santilli is confident the film is real, it seems strange that he would not get expert opinion on the entire original, and produce documentation backing up the story of its history.

One aspect of the film really bothered me. Any time the camera moved in for a close up, the picture was out of focus. During the program, Allen Daviau, a Hollywood Director of Photography, said he felt the film was a hoax because of the poor focus in the closer shots---``as if to hide what may not be real.'' Dr. Roderick Ryan, a former Navy Combat Cameraman, was much less concerned about the ``lost focus,'' claiming it was consistent with the equipment used at the time, which did not have through-the-lens focusing.

Cameras of the time may have not had through-the-lens focusing, but they could be focused using markings around the outside of the lens. My father was an avid photographer, and was taking home movies while stationed in New Guinea and Australia during this same period. I do not recall these films having such focus problems, nor do I recall his later home movies, taken with similar equipment, losing focus often. There must be many examples of films taken in 1947 by photographers in the Armed Services. It would be instructive to check some of these efforts for focus problems and compare them with the ``alien autopsy'' film.

Daviau also criticized the camera work---saying that the cameraman seemed to have a great deal of trouble getting the best shot. This also struck me when I watched it, as many views were partially blocked by one of the people doing the autopsy, or from a vantage point that showed little of what was going on. In defense, Dr. Ryan claimed the cameraman was only trying to stay out of the way, and Santilli said the cameraman was hampered by the same radiation suit that the doctors wore. Again, a comparison with films from that era might be instructive. Since this was the dawn of nuclear weapons and we know experiments were being done about the effects of radiation, it might even be possible to find a film taken by someone in a radiation suit.

The film showed two men in radiation suits performing an autopsy on an odd looking body. The body had a larger than normal head, and large eyes---much like the typical idea of an alien. It had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. There was what looked like a nasty wound on the right leg. The genital area was fuzzed out, but reports from overseas, away from the land of the puritans, say there were traces of a vaginal fold in the alien's pubic area. There was no navel, and only slight evidence of nipples.

I was not overly impressed with the alien. It would have been more convincing had the alien been less like the common perception---and I have always felt that there would be something totally unexpected about the first real alien we encounter. The alien was just too human looking. The audience was warned that some of the footage was very gruesome, but it was of such poor quality that it did not seem so to me.

The autopsy showed the body cavity open and containing some organs. One organ was removed. It also showed the top of the skull being cut off and what would have been the brain being removed. The poor focus made it hard to make out details. Two pathologists, Dr. Cyril Wecht and Dr. C.M. Milroy, were favorably impressed with the autopsy technique and the body itself. It would be instructive to get comments from many more members of the medical community. There has been some commentary on the program by such people who were less impressed.

Overall, the film seems a very poor effort in view of the enormity of the event it is supposed to document. It neither provided clear views of the alien nor of the autopsy. It is far from the type of production I would expect for the first autopsy of an alien being. Indeed, the autopsy itself seemed rather hasty.

Special effects wizard Stan Winston's initial impression was that the body was not real. He and his crew were more impressed after viewing the film more carefully. They thought the scenes where skin was cut and where the skin was peeled were very realistic. They also thought the wetness of the organs was right. They thought these things would all be very difficult to fake. Stanton Friedman, however, claims that of nine special effects people he showed the film to, only one thought it was real.

People who do special effects are interested in producing effects that are impressive to an audience, not necessarily effects that are realistic. Almost any movie heavy with special effects has numerous examples of impressive effects that do not reflect reality. Special effects people are not in the medical field, and their perception of what happens when a body is damaged may be inaccurate.

Two other minor points interested me. At one point the film was said to be 17 minutes long, yet another said 23 minutes. Also, some preview audiences saw additional film claiming to show wreckage of the alien spacecraft, yet this was not on the Fox program. Indeed, reports are that this footage was much less impressive, and that it suddenly looked older and more scratched at a later showing.

There are a few things I would like to know about the various experts who appeared on the program. Were they compensated for their expertise? Were the comments that were aired selected from longer interviews? If so, were they representative of the overall tone? Are there other people who were interviewed and did not appear in the program?

Toward the end of the program Kert Jeffrey, Coordinator of the International Roswell Initiative, commented, ``My guess is that this was done by someone strictly for money.'' Based on what I know now, I would have to agree.

What would convince me to change my mind? First, all film originals, including those not shown, would have to be submitted to and authenticated by someone highly qualified to do the job. Second, the cameraman must come forward and there must be documentation showing that his story is true. There should also be independent documentation of the film and the autopsy. Finally, all portions of the film should be examined by a group of pathologists and special effects experts.

At the program conclusion, narrator Jonathan Frakes said, ``We've given you an opportunity to hear from all sides.'' I would have to say it was hardly a balanced presentation---but that certainly was no surprise. The idea that it is a hoax is far less interesting---and less lucrative---than the alternative.

Your comments, thoughts, or questions are most welcome. Please address e-mail to 72724.2270@compuserve.com or phone me at 374-8460.

-Alan French

Ask The Skeptic.

Question: Why don't you write a piece on the false memory syndrome?

Answer: All right, someday I will.

Q: How about now?

A: Well, okay.

Once upon a time, about two years ago when I first got back from Taiwan, I spent some time with an old college drinking buddy. As he was going through a break up, the conversation soon turned to various relationships that we had had during our lives. He recalled a woman he'd known in college. A wonderful woman, he said. The love of his life, he said. There's had been a truly great relationship, an incredible and passionate romance, he said. He'd never know another quite like it.

This surprised me. I'd know the women in question. As I recall it the relationship was less than ideal. She'd dumped him three times. Twice rudely in mid-date so that she could leave wherever they happened to be with another guy. He'd been humiliated and I'd done what I could to nurse him through it both times.

Now, clearly, the two of us remember this woman and this relationship of theirs differently. At least one of us has, over the past few years, distorted things.

This is to be expected. Human memory is a very unreliable means of recording events. Its important to remember that in many ways, memory was not intended to remember things at all. Let me explain. Evolutionarily speaking, the ability to remember an event in perfect, exacting detail has little real value. Few animals, if any, besides man, even attempt to do this. Instead, what an organism needs to do to survive is learn from an event so that it will benefit and change its behavior from a given experience or series of events and not repeat its mistakes. For example, although a dog might learn not to touch hot things with its nose, it is unlikely if it will remember in perfect vivid details the experiences that led to its learning this lesson. Besides, there's little benefit that a dog could remember from being able to retain such details.

Furthermore, for whatever reason, when the human memory is called upon to produce the exact details of a given event from long ago, it often cannot do so with perfect ability. Instead, it will fill in gaps in its knowledge, often in curious ways. Psychologists have noted this and term the process of creating false details of a past event ``confabulation.''

In many cases, when social pressure dictates, a human being will create an entire incident out of nothing and eventually come to the conclusion that the entire thing happened as remembered. Although this process can happen naturally, it is also quite common in cases that use hypnosis or drugs to aid the recovery of memories. Exactly why, I'm not sure. Perhaps it had something to do with the way in which our primitive, monkey-man, hunter-gatherer ancestors forced each other to repeat and remember important techniques of food gathering and tool making. Who can say exactly why, yet the process is documented. Recently, for example, I read of an experiment in which a psychologist encouraged his students to ``remind'' their siblings about the non-existent time in which they'd been lost in a shopping mall at the age of five. After a few suggestions, such memories began to be ``recalled'' by the persons in question. This peculiar process leads to tragic results, when people are induced to recall things that never happened and this results in . One case where false memories occur is when people are hypnotized into ``recalling'' UFO abductions. Even more commonly, in some schools of ``therapy'' patients are prodded or induced into ``recalling'' child sex abuse incidents. In many cases, if not most, these incidents never occurred and the ``memory'' is false although the person who experiences the process may not realize it. In perfect sincerity will believe a falsehood and act accordingly.

This is what is termed ``false memory syndrome.'' It is a tragic phenomenon that has led to the break up of many families and caused much suffering. For those who wish more information there are many resources available. Contact myself or other members of ISUNY for phone numbers.

-Peter Huston

Ask The Psychic.

Question: Now that the trial is over, can you use your psychic powers to tell us if O.J. Simpson is guilty or innocent?

Answer: I told you before Peter,[Not his real name.] I don't do O.J.

Q: Please?

A: OK, since you asked nicely.

First, the issue of O.J.'s guilt and innocence is not a matter I wish to prognosticate on. The effluence of negative Psycho-Magnetic Fields (negative-PMF) created by the ``dream team'' defense is too much for even a great psychic such as myself to penetrate. Since the verdict is in, however, I have little to loose by relating a story told to me by a CIA acquaintance.

According to this friend, call him Dan, the O.J. verdict was decided not by the jury, but by a secret group within our own government. Their motives were many, but concern about riots, and lost revenue from a planned third Naked Gun sequel were the two most important. This cabal was formed soon after the Rodney King trial, and is said to include former President Jimmy Carter, presidential candidate Colin Powell, and Star Search new talent runner-up Sinbad. It is modeled on the Warren commission, which was successful in absolving Jonathan Henry Black of the Kennedy assassination.

Of course this is not the first time the government has manipulated the press, or engaged in a cover-up. The Roswell UFO crash, the Pentagon ESP studies, and diet Coke are just a few recent examples. If word is leaking on these cases, how many others have been kept secret? Well, I'm not telling.

Q: You wrote in your October column that you sit in the back during ISUNY meetings, and that the reason we cannot see you is that you are using TM to remain invisible. Well, last meeting I was sitting in the back, and I didn't see you either. Does that mean you were there?

A: Your question indicates some confusion about TM and invisibility. TM, or Transcendental Mediation, is a set of mental skills which allow ordinary people to apply their mind to accomplish what seem to be miracles. My own abilities were acquired through years of study at Maharishi University where I majored in Quantum Meta-physics with a minor in Political Science.

By using TM invisibility can be accomplished in one of three ways. The first is to alter your body's quantum structure so that it is transparent to visible light. This method takes considerable mental energy, however, and is difficult to achieve in the highly negative-PMF environment of an ISUNY meeting. The second method is to block perception of your body in mind of observers. This method works very well with Skeptics, and is the one I use at our meetings. Finally, invisibility can be achieved by extracting yourself from the observable universe by slipping into one of the 6 or more folded dimensions of quantum space. This method has the unfortunate side effect of being a one-way trip to quantum space, so I don't use if often.

So, to answer your question, no I missed that meeting. Wrote the wrong date in my calendar, sorry.

Q: Are you the Daniel Quinn that wrote Ishmael?

A: No.

-David Quinne

Questions to the Psychic can be sent to this newsletter care of the editor.

1995 Ig Nobel Prizes Awarded.

The following summary of the 1995 Ig Nobel laureates appears curtesy of Marc Abrahams and the Archives of Improbable Research. -The Editor

The Fifth First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony was held at Harvard University on the evening of Friday, Oct. 6, 1995. Ten prizes were awarded to individuals whose achievements ``cannot or should not be reproduced.'' Two of the winners (nutrition and chemistry) were present, and received their Prizes from (genuine) Nobel Laureates Sheldon Glashow (Physics '79), Dudley Herschbach (Chemistry '86), William Lipscomb (Chemistry '76), Joseph Murray (Physiology or Medicine '90) and Richard Roberts (Physiology or Medicine '93). Three other winners (physics, literature and dentistry) graciously sent taped acceptance speeches.

The Ceremony was mounted by The Annals of Improbable Research and co-sponsored by the Harvard Computer Society and by Tangents (the Harvard-Radcliffe mathematical bulletin).

Here is a complete list of the 1995 Ig Nobel Prizewinners.

Nutrition: John Martinez of J. Martinez & Company in Atlanta, for Luak Coffee, the world's most expensive coffee, which is made from coffee beans ingested and excreted by the luak (aka, the palm civet), a bobcat-like animal native to Indonesia.

Physics: D.M.R. Georget, R. Parker, and A.C. Smith, of the Institute of Food Research, Norwich, England, for their rigorous analysis of soggy breakfast cereal, published in the report entitled ``A Study of the Effects of Water Content on the Compaction Behavior of Breakfast Cereal Flakes.'' [Published in the research journal Powder Technology, November, 1994, vol. 81, no. 2, pp. 189--96.]

Economics: Awarded jointly to Nick Leeson and his superiors at Barings Bank and to Robert Citron of Orange County, California, for using the calculus of derivatives to demonstrate that every financial institution has its limits.

Medicine: Marcia E. Buebel, David S. Shannahoff-Khalsa, and Michael R. Boyle, for their invigorating study entitled ``The Effects of Unilateral Forced Nostril Breathing on Cognition.'' [Published in International Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 57, 1991, pp. 239--249.]

Literature: David B. Busch and James R. Starling, of Madison Wisconsin, for their deeply penetrating research report, ``Rectal foreign bodies: Case Reports and a Comprehensive Review of the World's Literature.'' The citations include reports of, among other items: seven light bulbs; a knife sharpener; two flashlights; a wire spring; a snuff box; an oil can with potato stopper; eleven different forms of fruits, vegetables and other foodstuffs; a jeweler's saw; a frozen pig's tail; a tin cup; a beer glass; and one patient's remarkable ensemble collection consisting of spectacles, a suitcase key, a tobacco pouch and a magazine. [Published in the medical journal Surgery, September 1986, pp. 512--519.]

Peace: The Taiwan National Parliament, for demonstrating that politicians gain more by punching, kicking and gouging each other than by waging war against other nations.

Psychology: Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto, and Masumi Wakita, of Keio University, for their success in training pigeons to discriminate between the paintings of Picasso and those of Monet. [Their report, entitled ``Pigeons' Discrimination of Paintings by Monet and Picasso,'' was published in Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, vol. 63, 1995, pp. 165--74.]

Public Health: Martha Kold Bakkevig of Sintef Unimed in Trondheim, Norway, and Ruth Nielson of the Technical University of Denmark, for their exhaustive study, ``Impact of Wet Underwear on Thermoregulatory Responses and Thermal Comfort in the Cold.'' [Published in Ergonomics, vol 37, no. 8, Aug. 1994, pp. 1375--89.]

Dentistry: Robert H. Beaumont, of Shore View, Minnesota, for his incisive study ``Patient Preference for Waxed or Unwaxed Dental Floss.'' [Published in the research journal Journal of Periodontology, vol. 61, no. 2, Feb. 1990, pp. 123--5.]

Chemistry: Bijan Pakzad of Beverly Hills, for creating DNA Cologne and DNA Perfume, neither of which contain deoxyribonucleic acid, and both of which come in a triple helix bottle.

A very skimpy, yet somewhat coherent, description of the Ceremony can be obtained by sending e-mail to INFO@IMPROB.COM

A full account, with photographs, will appear n the Jan/Feb issue of AIR.

-Marc Abrahams

ISUNY Meetings.

Our November 1st speaker is Dr. David Hess on the topic Skeptics and their Paranormal Others: Some Cultural Dimensions of Debunking. See the first page of this issue for a description of the talk and Dr. Hess's background.

Our December 6th will feature Mark Pendergrast, author of Victims of Memory: Incest accusations and shattered lives. A flyer with a description of this book has been included curtesy of a local chapter of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

Thank You.

Thank you to Alan French, Peter Huston and David ``not the Mighty'' Quinne for their help in preparing this newsletter. Thank you also to Bob and Dee Mulford for publicizing the meetings, and to Carla Sofka for donating the mailing labels.

Thank you also to all of our members for their kind support of ISUNY. We would especially like to thank our Supporting members: Sylvia Chessin Arthur R. Petrick Duncan Tuininga, and our Patron members: Jordon Coleman, Charles Davies, Daniel Forest, Alan & Susan French, Christopher Masto, Bob & Dee Mulford, Matthew Schnee, Mike & Carla Sofka, Douglas Wells.

About the Newsletter.

The WHY-Files are the newsletter of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York. Articles, reviews and letters can be sent to the editor at sofkam@rpi.edu, or to 8 providence street, Albany, NY 12203. Hard copy and disks will only be returned if accompanied by a self addressed and stamped envelope, or at regular club meetings.

The newsletter was typeset using the document preparation system written, and placed in the public domain, by Donald Knuth of Stanford University. Copies of and the macros used for this newsletter are available from the editor. The Journal of Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York is available on the World Wide Web at: http://www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/ISUNY/.

Articles, reports, reviews, and letters published in The WHY-Files represent the views and work of individual authors. Their publication does not necessarily constitute an endorsement by Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York or its members unless so stated.