The WHY-Files

The Official Journal of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York


Volume 1, Issue 11
 
 
 

December's Meeting.

Our next meeting is December 6th, when the speaker will be Mark Pendergrast author of Victims of Memory: Incest accusations and shattered lives (Upper Access, 1995, $24.95). He will talk about Recovered Memory Therapy and False Memory.

Recovered Memory Therapy is the claim that victims of incest and other abuses may suppress memories of the abuse for decades, only to have it recovered with the help of hypnosis, drugs and other therapies. This claim is at the least controversial and has little empirical data to support it. False Memory is the counter claim that the patients and their families are themselves the victims of an abusive therapy that has planted the memories through suggestion, leading questions and other coercive techniques. Frontline did a two-part episode on Recovered Memory last spring, and an episode on Ritual Satanic Abuse, which makes similar claims and shares many of the characteristics of Recovered Memory, this fall.

Mark Pendergrast became interested in Recovered Memory Therapy and False Memories after his daughters stopped seeing him on their therapist's advice. In Victims of Memory he discusses the history and antecedents of the recovered memory movement including hypnotherapy, hysteria and witchcraft lore, and discusses the biological and psychological data on memory and physiological states. He includes transcripts of interviews with survivors (patients who claim to have recovered decades old memories of abuse), retractors (patients who have retracted their memories and in some cases successfully sued their therapist for malpractice), accused perpetrators of abuse, and the therapist who practice Recovered Memory Therapy. His book has been favorably reviewed in Scientific American, Skeptical Inquirer, Skeptic magazine and The New York Review of Books.

Mark will also be speaking at the State University of New York, University at Albany on December 7th. This will be an informal lunch-time discussion starting at 12:15 pm (location to be anounced). He will also be autographing his book at Borders Books & Music Thursday from 5:00--6:00 pm, and at Media Play from 7:30--9:00 pm. At 9:00 am Thursday morning Mark will be the guest on ``The Myrna Lamb Show'' (WGY 8.10 on the AM dial).

In the event of a bad winter storm, we will be showing the video tape ``Victims of Memory.'' an interview with Mark Pendergrast. This meeting has received a lot of publicity (thanks Bob, Dee, Dorothy and Peter), and we're expecting a big turnout. The topic of false memory is contemporary and of interest to skeptics, law enforcement and therapist alike. See you there.

-The Editor

The 2000 Club.

Many of you may have heard about James Randi and his offer of $10,000 for a demonstration of a psychic event under controlled conditions. This prize remains unclaimed despite many attempts, and many claims by psychics who think that scientific controls are an unfair condition.[One can debate this point (and believe me, its been debated). But, Randi is offering his prize only for those paranormal feats which can be demonstrated under controlled conditions arranged and agreed to in advance by both himself and the claimant.]

Recently James Randi announced his 2000 Club, which is a collection of private pledges to add to his personal pledge of $10,000. That is, the members of the 2000 Club have pledged to send one, two, or more thousands of dollars to anybody who meets Randi's challenge. Pledges have come in from several people well know in skeptic and computer science circles (the initial announcement was made over the Internet), and quite a few ordinary citizens who feel that a thousand dollars is a small amount to pay for a demonstration of a psychic event. This includes a $10,000 pledge from Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, and a matching $10,000 pledge from Penn Jillette of the magic team Penn and Teller.

On Sunday November 26th James Randi announced that the pledges have reached a total of $500,000 dollars. That's right, half a million dollars U.S. for a demonstration of a psychic event under controlled conditions. Randi is attempting to use this amount to leverage some press coverage, and maybe a television special. He has also mailed a ``firm offer'' to test the QRS 250G Detector, a dowsing rod sold by Quadro Corporation.

More information about the Randi Hotline, and the 2000 Club can be found at: http://www.mindspring.com/~anson/randi-hotline/ or by e-mailing randi-hotline-request@ssr.com .

-Mike Sofka

The UFO Skeptic.

This month I will continue my discussion of the Fox show Alien Autopsy: (Fact or Fiction?). It has been shown at least once more, and is scheduled again for 8:00 pm on Saturday, November 24. The previews show that this latest airing will include some of the footage supposedly showing wreckage of the alien spacecraft. (Once again, the showing is after I write this, but before you will read it. Coincidence?)

Since November's The UFO Skeptic, quite a bit of new information has appeared about Alien Autopsy. The latest Skeptical Inquirer (Nov./Dec. 1995) has two excellent articles. If you are not a subscriber, you can find Skeptical Inquirer at many local bookstores and news stands. Time has a skeptical piece in the November 27th issue. There is also a lot of information available on the World Wide Web. One of the more interesting sites (http://www.trudang.com/) is maintained by The Truly Dangerous Company, a special effects company. The site includes a great deal of very specific information on why the alien is a hoax, as well as links to other sites discussing the film. If you want to learn more about skeptical views of the film, that would be a good place to start.

In last month's The UFO Skeptic, I wondered if there were any interviews that had been done for the special that had not been included in the program. It turns out there was at least one. Special effects expert Steve Johnson, of Steve Johnson's XFX, Inc. (The Stand, SPECIES, The Roswell Incident, The Abyss), was interviewed and pronounced that the alien looked pretty phony. Although the special claimed ``Viewers are invited to make a judgment based on all available information," the producers clearly were selective in what they included.

In addition to this information, The Truly Dangerous Company site has a running poll of creature special effects experts. So far, all 14 in the poll say the alien is a hoax. At the top of the poll they say ``We have yet to find one creature FX artist, or hear of one, who believes the autopsy is real.''

In the Fox special, special effects wizard Stan Winston and his crew seemed fairly impressed with the alien. Such is not the case. In the Time article he is quoted as saying, ``Do I think it is a hoax? Absolutely.'' I wonder if there were other interviews where the aired portions do not accurately reflect the overall tone.

UFOlogist Stanton Friedman continues to be skeptical of the film. He claims there is evidence on the longer Fox video that more than one camera was used to produce the film. This contradicts Ray Santilli's claims about the film. Several people, including Friedman, have pointed out that only two walls of the autopsy room are ever shown in the film. This suggests the film was done on a set. Also, the people doing the autopsy do not look at the camera, suggesting they are actors. Generally, people are quite conscious of the camera, and tend to glance the way of the camera---unless they are actors.

According to the Time article Ray Santilli claims the film has been shown in 32 countries. Time says it is among the top 25 sellers in video stores, and will be offered in 35 catalogs by the end of the year. If the film was made strictly for money, as I strongly suspect, it is certainly doing well! It is somewhat disturbing to think that all the skeptical debate about the film is probably adding to these profits.

Well, I watched "Alien Autopsy (Fact or Fiction?)" again tonight. This was promoted as the last chance to see "Alien Autopsy," but I wonder.

They did have a little additional footage. Some showed a bit more of the autopsy. It showed the removal of some of the internal organs. The pathologist commented on the lack of connective tissue, but it was as an interesting difference between this alien and humans, not as an indication that this was a phony body. There was also some material that was simply scooped out of the body cavity. Again the comment was about the difference between this and a human body, rather than that this was most unusual and suspicious. As with the other footage, the focus was poor on all the close up views.

One interesting difference between this footage and the previously shown footage was that a few of the frames were over exposed. I don't recall seeing any over exposed frames before. One criticism I have heard after previous showings is that the film has no ``hot'' frames. The are frames that are over exposed as the camera is getting up to speed.

The other new footage showed a display of pieces of the alien spacecraft. Some were just pieces of metal with unusual shapes, none of which were shown in detail. There was also a small beam that had strange symbols on the side, and two ``panels'' that had pairs of hand prints with six fingers. There were what looked like buttons within the prints. They panels seemed to handled very carefully and were kept quite flat, providing a good view of only the top. None of it was very convincing.

Although they have added new footage to the presentation, they have not see fit to add anything of a skeptical nature. We still hear Stan Winston and his crew commenting on how good the alien is. There is nothing of the prevalent view among creature effects people that this is a phony body.

Of course I was invited to buy the video, which contains footage never before shown. I could order it for $19.95 plus $4.95 postage, or I could get myself a good science fiction movie.

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.

The strange case of Richard Barrons, AKA Robbin Boston Barrons.

Although I initially shied away from this topic, at least two people have specifically requested that I write on the strange case of Robin Boston Barrons, local paranormal enthusiast and convicted felon. One wished to know if he was a Satanist. The other wished me to write about the time I met him for lunch.

Richard Barrons, or as he preferred to be known, Robin Boston Barrons, was a local man who for some time was quite active on the paranormal scene as a lecturer and an investigator. Barrons was the head of a small group of less than half a dozen people who enjoyed visiting various alleged sites of paranormal activity within the area. He and his friends would take pictures of the sites and put them in large scrapbooks and show them off to interested parties. On many occasions, Barrons would give talks on alleged paranormal subjects that he had studied. He had been interviewed for this and written up in most of the local papers. In this context and others, a surprising number of the members of ISUNY had met and discussed such subjects with Mr. Barrons. On one occasion, my wife and I had lunch with Barrons and the members of his investigation group to discuss what I felt was our common interest in getting to the truth of various local paranormal claims.

Like all members of ISUNY who had met Barrons, we both found him a colorful and charming person. Although I, naturally, disagreed with the bulk of his opinions, nevertheless, as Barrons enjoyed talking and I enjoyed listening, I kept most of my opinions to myself and simply listened as he told one story after another of strange things he claimed to have seen or experienced.

I must say, however, that as enjoyable as I found his stories, it soon became apparent that Barrons and I had little common ground when it came to investigating paranormal claims. I was left with the impression that Barrons' group, although nice enough people, seemed more interested in thrill seeking than anything else. Their visits to alleged haunted houses and other sites seemed more aimed at self-titillation than research. There was little effort that I could detect at collecting any facts of value or scientific worth. I strongly doubt that the group's self-proclaimed ``science expert'' could read and understand an issue of Scientific American without great difficulty. One of their favorite methods of detecting ghosts was to bring a ``psychic'' which is, of course, a classic case of the blind leading the blind as both psychics and ghosts are unproven.

For many people, one of the appeals of the ``paranormal and New Age scenes'' is that it offers a milieu in which individuals can convince themselves and others that they are producing great scientific breakthroughs while knowing little about science. The group and its science advisor offered a case in point, as did Barron himself. In what other field can one collect a large group of eager listeners who will cheerfully listen to faulty logic and poorly collected data, as if it were great research?

Although it is difficult to state with any certainty just how sincere Barron was, most who met him were of the impression that he believed in the ideas that he advocated. Nevertheless, few would deny that his many scrapbooks contained large numbers of photos that appeared to be fakes, special effects, or other camera and darkroom distortions. This conclusion is shared by the Schenectady police according to newspaper reports. I will state that on the day we had lunch, although he professed to posses shamanistic powers, he was unable to discuss shamanism in an anthropological sense in any sort of knowledgeable manner. Despite all this, Barrons had a great deal of energy and enthusiasm when he spoke of such things and it is difficult to imagine that he did not have on some level a sincere interest in the subjects to which he devoted so much time.

Ultimately, as most readers of this newsletter know, Richard Barrons and his wife, were arrested on a series of bizarre charges. According to a series of articles in the Times Union, the Daily Gazette, the Metroland, as well as a brief discussion of the matter with the Schenectady police investigator, the series of events was something as follows, although the details are vague. Barrons and his wife are said to have met up with a 15 year old girl and her 16 year old friend. The younger girl is alleged to have had a variety of problems including a history of slashing herself with a razor blade and thus making herself bleed. Apparently Robbins befriended the girl and is said to have offered to help her with her problems by use of his alleged shamanistic powers. Reports indicate that her father, apparently at a loss as to how to effectively curb this self destructive behavior, agreed to let Barrons attempt such a healing process.

The issue of what exactly happened next is the crux of the matter and will always be in dispute. At some point, Barron is alleged to have begun drinking cups of the 15 year old's blood and urine, apparently to satisfy a sexual fetish. This led to charges of endangering a minor. He is also alleged to have had sex with the 15 year old. As she was below the age of consent, this would be statutory rape. Another allegation was that Barron and his wife participated in a shamanistic ritual of their own devising which led to the girl being ``married'' to Barrons as a second wife. This allegation led to charges against the wife of illegally officiating a marriage, as under New York state law she was not licensed to do so.

In court, Barrons entered a plea bargain agreement, pleading to lesser charges, and was sentenced to a short stay in prison. His wife entered an Alford plea to a lesser charge. This little known plea appears to be a method of accepting a plea bargain while protesting that one is innocent of the charges against one. She was sentenced to community service and a psychiatric evaluation.

As stated, the exact happenings will never be known. One version of events that I have heard is that Barron did not have sex with the girl, but instead pleaded guilty as he felt that he would be prosecuted anyway as the girl had agreed to testify against him at her father's urging. We shall never know the exact truth.

One peculiar aspect of the case is the media coverage. Within twenty four hours or less of the arrest of Barrons on the bizarre charges, the Schenectady Police received calls from the Jenny Jones show, the Geraldo Rivera show, and the Sally Jesse Raphael show all expressing an interest in doing a show on the alleged ``blood sucking, urine drinking, pedophile.'' Good ol' Channel 6, immediately ran a story describing the four people as a ``cult.'' I have been told that Barron's wife for months afterwards received numerous calls from one of these shows offering large sums of money if she would come on and discuss what happened. She, naturally, refused. The case received national media attention, and even reached the 700 Club where I have been told the reports included details of uncertain origin that presumably were never released or heard locally. Although it is quite difficult to know how to respond to such charges against someone who one once met and had an enjoyable lunch with and who was friends with members of this organization, it seems appropriate to state that if the charges are true then we hope that Barron reforms as we most certainly do not condone such things. If they are false then we are sorry that he found himself in so much trouble and hope he does not have similar troubles in the future. In both cases, we wish him the best during his trying times in prison, and hope he finds a more favorable outlet for his considerable talents and charisma.

-Peter Huston

Ask The Psychic.

This month features a special guest ``Ask The Psychic'' by my good friend and colleague Tamerlane A. Edvardssonn. Tamerlane is vice-president for public outreach of the Institute of Higher Noetics.

-David Quinne

The Dark Secret of Physics.

No one can help but notice the conflict between the fundamental physical pictures of the world brought to us by orthodox materialist science, on one hand, and the post-modern sciences on the other. According to the Establishment, we are assemblages of so-called fundamental particles, behaving blindly in a reductionistic universe. In contrast, alternative science brings us a holistic world, with many tiers of reality culminating in an all-pervading Consciousness.

The orthodox view is sustained by raw power, and obfuscating mathematical jargon. But a simple engineering perspective is adequate to expose the pretensions of the high priests of particle physics. We are too easily blinded by the dazzling theory they present us with, while we should be asking for the experimental evidence. Sure, we're shown what are alleged to be brilliant confirmations of their Unifications and their Standard Models. But do we think to look beyond the pretty graphs and question how this data was obtained?

Few outside the priesthood know what goes on underground in the vast accelerators which supposedly give us the data. So we ignore the mind-boggling complexity of the enterprise. But once you descend into the tunnels and examine the experiments, the scale is shocking. Not only are there complex photomultiplier tubes, but arrays of thousands upon thousands. Layer upon layer of sophisticated detection equipment. Incredibly fast reaction times. Millions of lines of sophisticated computer code which drive the whole system. Uncounted miles of wire. But we should not be impressed! For how can such a complicated, intricately interdependent system work at all? Any halfwit engineer would tell you there are bound to be problems.

By Shaffmacher's Law,[Shaffmacher, Robert A. Journal of Higher Noetics, 34:6, 5667--5698, 1993.] there is a limit on the reliable operations of complex mechanical systems. The error rate grows exponentially with system complexity, so that the output of mechanisms asymptotically approaches sheer randomness with increasing complexity. Careful construction reduces error, but only by modifying the coefficient of the exponential, and that with great difficulty. (Note that the same law can be used to show that Artificial Intelligence is impossible,[Erdashov, J. A. Annals of Postmodern Computing, 4:1, 1212--1229, 1995.] hence a non-mechanical spiritual principle must underlay human intelligence.)

Both theoretical considerations, and simulation studies under way in the Institute of Higher Noetics[Escher, Heinz A., & Robert A. Shaffmacher, in preparation.] indicate that the complexity barrier was probably passed with the earlier cyclotrons, far before experiments of present complexity could be contemplated. Accordingly, only random results should have been produced by these investigations. Why has this not been reported?

There are excellent reasons to suspect a cover-up. Billions of dollars have been poured by the Establishment into orthodox particle physics; a total failure would be a cataclysm way beyond professional embarrassment. Furthermore, such is the confidence of mainstream science in their reductionistic methods that they cannot conceive of gross failure of their models. So they report fake data, fully expecting it to be basically correct, and remediable when the minor glitches in equipment which they think have them stalled are overcome.

Reports confirming this conspiracy have existed for a while, though of course never accessible by normal channels of information. Most recently, a defector from CERN (who has officially been declared insane in order to discredit him) has exposed some of the cover-up, revealing information which corresponds very well to data gathered from previous remote-viewing studies.[Schadenwold, Karl A. ParaNatural Philosophy Today, 13:4, 56--60, 1995.]

Normally such a conspiracy would seem to stretch credulity, but recall some peculiar features of particle physics research which makes such manipulation almost trivial. The common paper these days has hundreds of co-authors, each contributing to a narrow aspect of the total experiment. Those who are able to have a global view of the project are only those few leaders who operate more like corporate CEOs than scientists in managing such huge enterprises. They are the ones best able to falsify the results, and also those who would benefit most from such actions. They are also of the class of society who benefits directly from a mechanistic world-view denying human spirit and dignity.

The most important action you can take is to expose this cover-up. Spread the word first to fellow investigators in the post-modern sciences. But the world at large must be reached, however difficult their closed mind-sets make the task. Slavery is never pleasurable, and too often getting numb is the only escape.

For more information on the conspiracy, write:

Institute of Higher Noetics 4847 Valley Ridge Rd. Ames IA 50010

and request Report #101-A. To keep up with further developments, join the Institute mailing list, by sending ``subscribe'' to pm-physics-request@noetics.edu .

-Tamerlane A. Edvardssonn

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

Rating A New Physical Theory.

This rating system occasionally appears on alt.folk-lore.urban , sci.astro , alt.alien.visitors and the Skeptic list skeptic-request@listproc.hcf.jhu.edu . It is dedicated to those who persist despite the critics.

-The Editor

The Theory Credibility Reliability And Nascent Knowledge Index.

A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics. Add up the total points to provide the raw score.

    .
  1. A $-5$ point starting credit.

  2. 1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.

  3. 2 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.

  4. 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.

  5. 5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.

  6. 5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).

  7. 10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

  8. 10 points for each favorable comparison of oneself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

  9. 10 points for pointing out that one has gone to school, as if this was evidence of sanity.

  10. 20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize.

  11. 20 points for each favorable comparison of oneself to Newton or claim that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without evidence).

  12. 20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.

  13. 20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to ones past theories.

  14. 30 points for each favorable comparison of oneself to Galileo, claims that the Inquisition is hard at work on ones case, etc..

  15. 30 points for claiming that the ``scientific establishment'' is engaged in a ``conspiracy'' to prevent ones work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.

  16. 40 points for claiming one has a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.

Miscellaneous.

A book to teach pre-schoolers about extra-terrestrials.

Leah Haley's now book Ceto's New Friends (Greenleaf Publications, 1995, $18.95) is based on her own personal experiences as alien abductee. Ignoring ``threats at gunpoint'' she wrote the book to counteract the government's blackout of information about aliens and alien abductions. Ceto's New Friends is designed to help children overcome the trauma of being abducted. Says Haley in a /PRNewswire/ (Columbus, MS, January 23, 1995) story ``Had I been taught about aliens as a child, I would have suffered less trauma from my encounters.'' More information can be found at: http://www.cais.com/roswell/spotlight/cetofriends.shtml.

Haley is also the author of Lost Was the Key a non-fiction account of her abduction for adults. ``Because some bookstores carry no books about UFOs and aliens,'' she offers a free catalog. Write: P.O. Box 70563, Tuscaloosa, AL 35407-0563.

Contacting the Dead On-Line.

Instrumental Transcommunication (ITC) is a phenomena that allows you to contact the dear departed via a computer. According to Mark Macy, president of Bolder Colorado based Continuing Life Research, and author of Conversations Beyond the Light. Using an IBM PC and (and maybe a Macintosh) the grieving can receive messages from the dead. The messages, however, may be too deep for mortals to understand, warns Macy. A German researcher asked ``What fields or energies are you using to influence our physical fields?'' and received ``Unbalanced electrostatic-Electron-Physiology-Mystical-Radar-Telepathy'' in reply.

Behind the communications, according to Macy, is an organization called Timestream comprising thousands of spirits eager to talk with the living. The spirits include Hal Roach, creator of Our Gang, who soon after his death contacted a researcher in Luxembourg.

International Fortean Organization.

The international fortean organization (INFO) just held its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on November 11 and 12th. Speakers included Lucy Pringle (Crop Circles), Rory Nugent (Cryptozoology), John Michell (Atlantis), Rita Dwyer (Dreams), William Corliss (Biological Anomalies), Rosemary Ellen Guiley (Synchronicity), and Larry Arnold (Spontaneous Human Combustion). INFO can be contacted at (301) 294-4315 or e-mail davesvideo@aol.com .

ISUNY Meetings.

The speaker at our December 6th meeting will be Mark Pendergrast, author of Victims of Memory: Incest accusations and shattered lives. He will talk about the Recovered Memory Movement. More information about Mark an the talk can be found on page one of this newsletter.

In January and February we will be showing video tapes of speakers from the Skeptic Society, publishers of Skeptic magazine. The tapes will be ``Penn & Teller and Randi---Skeptical Magic and Awards Night'' and ``Evolution and Creationism: How to Debate a Creationist'' by Michael Shermer. These tapes were selected by membership votes.

In April we will host Joe Nickell, Senior Research Scholar at CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal). Joe is the author or co-author of about 14 books about the paranormal, and has appeared on Unsolved Mysteries and Arthur C. Clark's Mysterious World.

Thank You.

Thank you to Alan French, Peter Huston and David ``not the Mighty'' Quinne and Tamerlane Edvardssonn for their contributions to this newsletter. Thank you also to Bob and Dee Mulford, Dorothy Hoyt and Peter Huston 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.