The WHY-Files

The Official Journal of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York


Volume 2, Issue 8
 
 
 

October Meeting.

Climate Change: What Evidence is there?

Our October 2nd speaker is John Delano, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University at Albany. Dr. Delano will discuss the evidence for global warming including the records of past climate found in geochemical data. He notes that the records indicate a highly variable climate even before the onset of global industrial pollution in the mid-1800's.

Global warming is an area in science of great concern to the general public. It is also an area filled with often conflicting claims as reporters attempt to make sense of the often complex data, and as politicians attempt to turn the findings into public policy. John Delano is an excellent speaker who has given talks to the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers, and at the Northeast Regional Astronomical League's 1994 meeting in Schenectady, NY. He will attempt to explain the complex web of climate data, and answer our global warming questions. So please join us, and bring a friend. As always, the meeting is free and open to the public.

Is There Life On Mars?

Our September meeting about the recent NASA findings of life on Mars was very well received with 20 people attending. Many of there were new faces who we hope will join us at future meetings.

Our panelist did an excellent job explaining a complex set of findings. Robert Mulford, a metallurgist at Knolls Atomic Power Lab, discussed meteor ALH84001 and the evidence that it came from Mars. ALH84001 is one of twelve meteors known as SNC (shergottite, nakhlite, and chassigny) whose composition is unique among known meteors. Gas trapped within some of the SNC meteors (but not ALH84001) contains isotopes of xenon and argon which differ from the ratios found on earth, but match those reported by the Viking landers.

James Ferris, a chemist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), discussed the conditions believed to be necessary for the early formation of life, and the evidence that those conditions once prevailed on Mars. He then discussed the chemical data for life on ALH84001, particularly the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), the ratio of isotopes of carbon, and the presence of magnetite and pyrrhotite (iron based minerals). Each of these is consistent with the existence of life, but they can be formed by other processes. Dr. Ferris was not convinced by the fossil data pointing out that a number of processes could create the shapes seen, and that fossil life found on earth is 100 times larger, and shows more detail.

Joyce Diwan, a biologist at RPI, gave an overview of some of the concerns about the ALH84001 data expressed by her colleagues. Dr. Diwan's area of expertise is cell membranes, and she pointed out that the claimed fossils in ALH84001 are only 20 nanometers thick. If you assume a 5 nanometer thick cell wall, there is not much room for the internal organization of the Cell. She notes however that life on earth exists in a variety of harsh conditions, including high temperature, and deep in the earths crust. Shoe pointed out that it is possible that life on Mars evolved along different lines then that found on earth.

Alan French, ISUNY's UFO correspondent, discussed the history of observations of Mars, and why it continues to be fascinating. This included an overview of the ``canals'' of Mars and speculations of Martian life right up the the ``face'' on Mars claims of Richard Hoagland. He then gave an overview of some of the public reaction to the findings, pointing out that reports of ``indications of possible past life'' get turned into claims of present life on Mars. Alan also critiqued some of the claims that the ALH84001 findings somehow prove the UFO skeptics wrong.

The presentations were followed by a question and answer session. Most of the questions centered on the evidence that ALH84001 came from Mars, and on the claims of a NASA cover-up concealing more information about Martian life. When asked if they believe the ALH84001 findings will hold up all of the panelist declined to comment. They all agreed, however, that McKay, et.al. did a good job, and were very careful in presenting their findings.

Panel for our September Meeting: Is There Life on Mar? From left to right: Robert Mulford, Joyce Diwan, James Ferris and Alan French.

-Photo by Jordan Coleman.

Membership Renewals.

The expiration date for your ISUNY membership is printed on the upper right-hand corner of your mailing label. Dues can be mailed to the treasurer at the address on the back page of this newsletter, or paid at our monthly meeting. (Make checks out to ISUNY.) Your dues cover newsletter and speaker expenses. If the date on the mailing label is circled it means you are late and may be dropped from the mailing list. If you have renewed, and the date is incorrect please bring the error to our attention.

ISUNY Lending Library.

The Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York maintains a library of books, newsletters, magazines, video and audio tapes addressing various paranormal topics. ISUNY members may borrow material from this library on a month-by-month basis. Our collection has grown over the years from the kind donations by our members, and includes many back issues of the Skeptical Inquirer (including volume 1, issue 1) donated by Richard Lange M.D, audio tapes made and donated by Dorothy and Ralph Hoyt, UFO magazines by Peter Huston, and many newsletters from skeptic groups around the world sent by Barry Karr of CSICOP.

In addition, many members have dug deep into the dusty shelves of used bookstores and contributed to our growing collection, and ISUNY thanks them. If you would like to borrow a book, newsletter or tape see our librarian Lewis Treadway before or after and ISUNY meeting. All material is lent free to members except for tapes for which we ask a $1.00 donation that will be used to purchase further library material.

Local Meetings.

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers meet the third Tuesday of each month at the Schenectady Museum. The October 15th meeting is Was There Life on Mars?, and will feature a return of at least 3 of the four panelist who spoke to ISUNY (see Is There Life on Mars? below) Meetings begin at 7:30 pm. For more information contact Alan French at 374-8460.

The Capital District Humanist Society is hosting a series of lectures the weekend of October 5th and 6th. The October 5th talks are Tim Madigan, Editor of Free Inquiry Magazine on Morality Without God, and Matt Cherry, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism on Secular Humanism Around the World. Tim Madigan's talk begins at 1:00 pm and Matt Cherry's at 3:00 pm. The suggested donation for these talks is $5.00 (CDHS members free).

The October 6th talk is Tom Flynn, Executive Director of the Center for Inquiry, Amherst, NY (the Center houses both CODESH and CSICOP) on Challenging the Religious Right. This talk is free to the general public. For more information contact Paul DeFrancisco at (518) 272-4772.

Newsletter Articles

If you attend local meetings, view programs of interest to ISUNY members, or have a skeptical topic you wish to discuss, consider writing an article for The Why-Files. Articles and letters can be emailed to the editor at sofkam@rpi.edu, or by U.S. mail to Michael Sofka, 8 providence Street, Albany, NY 12203. Disks and hardcopy will be returned at the next ISUNY meeting. The deadline for articles in the October, 1996 issue is September 21st, 1996.

Ask The Skeptic.

Long ago, when I first started this column, my intention was to share hard to find information in response to people's questions. Somehow over the years, I've amassed ahead full of really strange stuff and bookshelves everywhere. Like all skeptics, it seems, inevitably I got off track, stopped answering questions, and went off on tangents where instead I spent time trying to justify how and why I accumulated all this peculiar information and tried to make it seem important that I had done so. Now, I am going to return to my original intention and simply answer questions.

Question: (a real question, months ago, from Bob Mulford!) Did the idea of a hollow earth, a world within a world, originate with Edgar Rice Burroughs?

Answer: No, but of course he did do a lot with the idea. Edgar Rice Burroughs, as everyone should know, was the famous author who wrote the Tarzan books. What is not so well known is that he also wrote many series of heroic science fiction. Although Burrough's work tends to be a bit repetitious as far as plots go, this was more than made up by the imagination and vividness of his descriptions. His heroes, be they on Mars, Venus, the Moon, futuristic earths or wherever else they might find themselves, inevitably have no choice but to fight hordes of savage creatures at sword point while rescuing a particularly beautiful princess from a particularly nasty evil mastermind.

Burroughs wrote of Pellucidair, a world within our own. In this series, the hero and his friends discover various means to pierce the crust of the earth and then run around on the inside of the crust, where, of course, they fight monsters and rescue princesses. These stories have a lasting value. In fact, much to my gleeful amazement, I recently wandered into the K-Mart toy department and discovered that someone now manufactures an entire new range of Tarzan toys which also includes monsters and action figures from the Pellucidair and Mars series! (Which explains why Peter is still wearing sneakers with holes in them -he has spent all his money!)

Nevertheless, the idea of a hollow earth did not originate with Burroughs. It has had a long and strange history in both fiction and non-fiction, and has been involved in some really strange things. For an excellent history of the idea, get a hold of Subterranean Worlds: 10,000 years of dragons, dwarfs, the dead, lost races, & UFOs from inside the earth. by Walter Kafton-Minkel (1989, Loompanics Unlimited). This is a great book! Full of piles of hard to find information on everything which was ever believed to have existed deep down under the ground. In fact, not only does the author carefully catalog all the weird ideas, he even remembers to include enough geology to explain how we know the earth is not, in fact, hollow.

In fact, one of the quirks of human nature is the tendency to describe places its never seen as being particularly interesting and the space under the ground is no exception.

So lets see.... There is the Navajo creation story where humanity moves up from different levels of the earth until they arrive at our current level. Or there's the ancient Norse legends of the twisted dwarves who lived under the Earth's crust doing things like building Thor's hammer.

Zipping right along we've got the proposal by John Symmes in the early 19th century that the US dispatch an expedition to the North pole to find an entrance to the hollow earth and claim it before those nasty Europeans.

And then there's Blavatsky's idea that inside the hollow earth was a good place to put lost mysteries.

Or the Shaver mystery of the 1950s. In these it was claimed that ancient prehistory consisted of a large series of cataclysmic interplanetary battles which took place far beneath the Earth and elsewhere and involved UFOs and mind-control. Whatever it meant it managed to boost the sales of several pulps of the period.

Or, in the field of holocaust denial, we have Ernst Zundel of Toronto. Today, Zundel is known as one of the leading advocates of the idea that the holocaust did not occur. In the past he also advocated the idea that Hitler had survived the war and built large UFO bases underground which were flown back and forth through the entrances at the poles by tall blond Aryan Nazi space pilots. These days, unfortunately, Zundel is beginning to be taken more seriously and therefore has dropped the Nazi UFO ideas.

Anyway, the history of the hollow Earth is a long and strange one which still continues today. I'm reminded that it wasn't too long ago that the World Weekly News ran a series of reports claiming that the Russians had accidentally drilled a hole into hell with a large machine.

Cool Stuff!

-Peter Huston

Peter Huston Vice-President of ISNY. His work appears regularly in the Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic. He is the author of two books Tongs, Gangs, and Triads: Chinese Crime Groups in North America and the upcoming Scams from the Great Beyond: How to Make Easy Money Hoaxing New Age, Psychic, and UFO Phenomena. Both are from Paladin Press in Boulder, CO.

The Opinionated Skeptic.

Did the Apollo astronauts go to the Moon? Recently I read a book review that purported to show the Moon landings were a giant hoax by NASA. This review was written in a technical magazine aimed at radio amateurs, who as a group are well educated and are familiar with technical subjects. Can it be true? Is the author serious? Is our government lying to us? (again?)

I read this review with interest because of the intended audience of the magazine. The reviewer seemed very impressed with several of the arguments presented in the book, but the clincher seem to be the footprints seen by us all in the photos the astronauts ``returned'' with. Ah-Ha, I've got you, say the author (and reviewer). Dry sand doesn't leave footprints, and we all know there is no water on the moon. These photographs must have been faked on a movie set on the Earth (where there is lots of water).

Convinced? Well, be careful. Extraordinary claims like this need extraordinary support. Although what constitutes a reasonable line of argument is undoubtedly at least partly in the eye of the listener, I think it would be at least as difficult, probably more so, for a government agency to pull off a hoax like this than to achieve the actual Moon walk. Furthermore, there are a lot of unstated assumptions which on close examination are dubious at best. For example, why should we think the Moons surface is covered with beach sand. On the earth, sand comes from rocks ground to small pieces by the ocean, or from rocks that were weathered by freezing water. In fact, a little thought shows we should not expect the Moon to be like an desert on the Earth . The astronauts reported that the Moon was covered by an extremely fine soil which compacted easily. They likened it to talcum powder. This soil was produced by a rain of micro meteorites that the Earth's surface is protected from by our atmosphere. It is easy to do an experiment that shows that this type of surface would leave nice footprints. I didn't have any talcum powder, but I did recently produce a large pile of fine dust from sanding spackling compound used to patch a plaster wall. It leaves nice footprints. (Incidentally, if the Moon walks actually were a hoax carried out in an earthly landscape that looked like the Moon, it would have been done in a dry desert and we wouldn't see footprints in the photos).

This brings me to my point. I was somewhat critical of a recent speaker we hosted, feeling that he was condescending about the people involved in the situations he was discussing. Of course I have my own opinions, and you can probably guess that I didn't begin reading the Moon story with the attitude ``Maybe this is true.'' I was pretty well convinced before I started reading that a little thought would uncover serious flaws. But what about the radio amateurs reading the review? I hope most of them thought about it enough that they realized it was, putting it politely, not a very believable story. Unfortunately (the bias expressed here is mine), some undoubtedly read it in a more positive light, maybe thinking that they never did trust NASA. Could they be convinced otherwise? Perhaps. But not by starting out telling them they are stupid.

-Bob Mulford

Bob Mulford is ISUNY's treasurer, and an active amateur astronomer. He has spoken to ISUNY twice, most recently on our ``Life on Mars'' pannel.

Ask the Psychic.

Question: Dear Mr. Psychic, if that is your real name. What do you think of the recent discovery of life on Mars? Are these findings real, and, if you are a real psychic, why didn't you predict them? -Schenectady Skeptic

Answer: Mr. Skeptic, it was not necessary to predict the findings of life on Mars. Anybody with an education who reads knows that NASA has been hiding evidence of life on Mars for over 30 years. The fine research of Richard Hoagland on the Face on Mars is clear enough for anybody with an open mind. Official denial, however, has kept this and other remarkable findings from the public.

But, if you recall, in the January Why-FIles I predicted that NASA would reveal evidence of extraterrestrial life. The announcement of finding life in a ``Martian'' meteor is only the beginning of this process. Think about it for a minute. A ``Martian'' meteor? How does NASA know it came from Mars? They know, because that's where they got it. Utilizing the Anti-Gravity drive first perfected by Nazi scientists in World War II NASA has been collecting Martian (and Venusian, and Moon) rocks for decades.

Of course this work has all been kept very Top-Secret to prevent panic among the general population. See, what the government hasn't told you is that the crashed UFO at Roswell was only a scout ship. The earth has been under observation for decades, and it was only a matter of time before a full force alien invasion. And, where are these invasions coming from? From Zeta Reticuli of course, just like Betty Hill said.

Work on the anti-gravity ship has been proceeding as a black project almost from the end of WWII. This has not been easy in the face of international politics. In addition to perfecting defensive technology for the planet earth, the Pentagon wanted to keep these findings from the Soviet Union. With the ease in international tension, and the signing of the secret Mutual Earth Defense treaty with Russia (why do you think the space shuttle is docking with Mir?), we are at a stage where some of this technology can be released.

All of this new technology, however, must be introduced to the world economy slowly. Imagine what would happen if we were suddenly faced with a technological leap of centuries in a matter of weeks. We've all seen spinoffs of some of the anti-alien technology over the years: light weight polymers, stealth fighters and bread makers, but the government is now preparing the world for the big stuff. Do you think it is a coincidence that in one year there are major announcements of life on Mars, planets around Zeta Reticuli and anti-gravity? And, that this happens just after the release of major movies about fusion power and alien invasions? No, mark my words, there are many more marvelous revelations to come.

-David Quinne

David Quinne is ISUNY's official psychic. He is a graduate of Maharishi International University where he studied quantum metaphysics with a minor in political science. Questions to the Psychic can be sent to this newsletter care of the editor.

Independence Day, A Retraction.

Last month I wrote a review of the blockbuster movie Independence Day in which I implied a little bit of bending physics and referencing crashed UFO stories was good fun and of no harm to anybody. I also pointed out a number of parallels between ID4 and the George Pal's 1953 version of The War of the Worlds.

Well, according to USA Today, the advertising agency PubliEspana used a spoof of Orson Welles' radio broadcast The War of the Worlds to promote the movie. The commercial featured a news broadcast showing an alien craft hovering over New York, and the White House being destroyed. According to the September 9th on-line edition of USA Today, ``[h]undreds of panicked Spaniards flooded TV and radio switchboards with calls...'' after the promotion.

It seems the parallels to The War of the Worlds continue, and I stand corrected as a skeptic, if not a film critic.

-Mike Sofka

Auras, Energy Fields and Marketing.

A few weeks ago the ``Bibelot'' book store (Baltimore area) had a book-signing session by Mark J. Smith, author of In a New Light: A Personal Exploration of the Human Aura. The publicity for the event stated that we would learn how to see auras ourselves. Herewith, an account of the proceedings.

Mr. Smith started out doing a couple of numbers with his guitar. He's a former musician, but not very successful apparently, and after hearing him sing and play, I can understand his need to change jobs. His actual presentation started out by talking about ``energy fields'' around the body and how they can be manipulated. He claims that there is ``a whole wing'' of Columbia University Medical School devoted to study of therapies based on energy fields, and that thousands of nurses are trained in how to manipulate these fields, and do so every day (sounds like Therapeutic Touch, although he never used the term).

He then launched into a description of chakra. According to this notion, the red low-energy end of the spectrum corresponds to the lower parts of the body (Gluteus Maximus and associated anatomy), while the Blue high-energy end corresponds to our higher parts (head and brain). Each color in between represents a chakra associated with some anatomical region of the body. Supposedly, the color of a person's aura changes from one part of the body to another, and the colors fit in with the color scheme of our chakras.

Then it was time to show us how to see an aura. Standing about 18 inches in front of a large classroom-type movie screen, he instructed us to focus on the screen behind a visible edge of his body (neck, head, or shoulder was best). He then swayed slowly from side to side, emphasizing that we should not track the motion with our eyes. The aura, he stated, would be visible as a lightly colored region matching his outline, extending about an inch out from his body.

He was right. It was visible. But anybody with a modest knowledge of the way the eye and brain work together can understand what is happening in non-mystical terms. The visual system is being forced to do things it does not naturally do: focus on a featureless background and refrain from tracking something that moves in the foreground. The result is a lighter after-image that trails along behind the moving edge; the more color/brightness contrast between the edge and the featureless background, the more visible the ``aura.''

Various members of the audience were invited to come up and sway in front of the screen to show off their auras. One young lady, with long dark hair draped over her shoulders and wearing dark clothing, showed the aura effect quite nicely because of the high contrast between herself and the background, all around her perimeter. With several people, the writer attempted to carry out ``energy work'' to enhance their auras. This consisted of placing one hand in front to the person (without touching) and another behind, and slowly moving the hands from hips to top of head. This is supposed to raise a person's energy level, thereby making the aura more visible. Results, as reported by audience members, were equivocal.

At various times, he reported on the colors of the auras being displayed; again the feedback from the audience indicated less-than-universal perception of these alleged colors. He stated in this connection that in his own training in this area (he had a personal instructor), it took him three days to see colors in an aura for the first time. This is somewhat surprising; most people who try hard to see something get results much more rapidly, even when it's not there.

Of potential interest to the scientific community is the writer's claim That we are ``chemical and electric beings'' and that we have an electric field about 200---2000 nanometers in thickness around our bodies. This field, by interacting with ambient light, is alleged to be the physical mechanism for aura production. Laboratory data to support this contention were not produced.

Once everybody who wanted to stand in front of the screen and sway had done so, that was the end of the show. There was no Q&A session, only a book signing for anybody who felt like buying the book. Since I had already invested in magic beans, I passed up the chance to buy the book.

-Jim Giglio

Jim Giglio (jgiglio@nova.umuc.edu) is a frequent contributor to the skeptic list (skeptic-request@listproc.hcf.jhu.edu) and organizer for the Sculler/Mulder'96 ticket. This article first appeared on the skeptic list and is reprinted with his permission.

ISUNY Meetings.

Climate Change: What Evidence is there?

Many types of natural materials have preserved a detailed memory of past climate changes. Geochemical data show that climate has been highly unstable, even before the onset of global industrial pollution in the mid-1800's. It is this natural instability that makes claims for human-induced, global warming unconvincing to many scientists at present. October 2nd, John Delano, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at The University at Albany will discuss the evidence for global warming.

All meetings are held at the Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland, NY, at 7:00 pm. Meetings are free and open to the public. For more information call Mike Sofka at 437-1750 or email sofkam@rpi.edu.

Thank You.

Thank you to Bob Mulford, Peter Huston, and Jim Giglio for their contributions to this newsletter. Thank you also to Alan French for publicizing the meetings, and to Carla Sofka for loaning the mailing labels, and David ``the mighty'' Quinne for the casting the horoscope. This newsletter was produced under the sign of Virgo.

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, Hugh D A. McGlinchey, Duncan Tuininga, Andre Weltman, Guier Scott Wright and our Patron members: Charles Davies, Daniel Forrest, Alan & Susan French, Bob & Dee Mulford, Harish Sethu Mike & Carla Sofka, Douglas Wells.

About the Newsletter.

The WHY-Files is 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. The macros used for this newsletter are available at http://www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/tex.html. The Why-Files are available 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.