|Volume 3, Issue 2||February, 1997|
Join us February 5th, 7:00 pm at the Guilderland Public Library when we will be showing a video tape of Dr. John Hochman's presentation to the Skeptic Society of Pasadena, California. This is an excellent talk giving a psychiatrist view of therapy, and false memory.
John Hochman is a practicing psychiatrist in Encino, California, specializing in the evaluation and treatment of victims of cultic entities and/or undue influence. He is a consultant and expert witness in courtroom cases involving abuse allegations, coercive persuasion and psychotherapy cult involvement. Dr. Hochman is also Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and serves on the editorial and advisory boards of the Cultic Studies Journal, the American Family Foundation, and the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.
Dr. Hochman is the author of ``Recovered Memory Therapy and False Memory Syndrome'' which appeared in vol 2(3) of Skeptic magazine, and is available online at http://www.skeptic.com/02.3.hochman-fms.html.
Meetings are held at the Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland, NY Meetings are free and open to the public. In the event of bad weather, we will hold the meeting if the Guilderland Public Library is open.
The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers meet the third Tuesday of each month at the Schenectady Museum. The February 18th meeting topic is ``Variable Stars'' presented by Bill Carrigan. Meetings begin at 7:30 pm. For more information contact Alan French at (518) 374-8460.
The Capital District Humanist Society meets the second Sunday of each month at the Sage Colleges Albany Campus on New Scotland Avenue. The meetings begin at 1:15 pm. For more information contact Paul DeFrancisco at (518) 272-4772.
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.
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 email@example.com, 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 March, 1997 issue is February 22th, 1997.
There have been a number of skeptical programs on television lately. On Thursdays the Arts and Entertainment network is showing the series The Unexplained. So far topics have covered include UFOs and Psychic Detectives. Although the show leans a bit towards the paranormal, skeptics have been included and they have been given enough time to present their case.
ABC recently aired a show on Junk Science, hosted by Mark Stossle, which examined a number of health and consumer product claims. The message was that science is a work in progress, and not all scientist are created equal. When in doubt, look at their credentials and any bias they may have (such as testifying for the defense).
Finally, The Learning Channel has been showing ``UFO: Down to Earth'' which examines a number of UFO claims in detail rarely seen on TV. Several cases which at first seemed mysterious are explained during the course of the program. What's interesting about this program is that many of the ``skeptics'' are themselves UFOlogists.
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 ``Lewis's friend'', and many newsletters from skeptic groups around the world sent by Barry Karr of CSICOP.
In addition, ISUNY thanks the many members have dug deep into the dusty shelves of used bookstores and contributed to our growing collection. If you would like to borrow a book, newsletter or tape see our librarian Lewis Treadway before or after any 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.
Hello everybody! Its another month and its time for another batch of ``Ask the Skeptic!'' columns. Unfortunately, nobody has given me any questions, so I'll just have to make them up.
Question: If we have a question, then how do we give it to you?
Answer: If you see me at a meeting then you can give it to me there. If you don't then you can call me at 518-393-3478. Thats also a fax machine, if someone else has one.
Q: Is it true that you wrote a book or something? How did you do that?
A: Yes, in fact, I've written two. The first, Tongs, Gangs, and Triads. has been out since last July. The second is due out next January. There are, essentially, two ways to have a book published. The first is to pay someone to publish it. This is risky. Most self-published books are not particularly good (hence the name ``vanity press.'') but there are important exceptions. To be successful at self-publishing you need a sound ability to judge your own work (this is difficult, I don't claim to have it at all times.) and, generally, a ready made audience for the book. It works best for highly specific non-fiction. The second is to find a publisher who will pay a writer to publish and advertise a specific book. Of course most books are not of interest to most publishers, so the rejection rate is very high for books. Having an agent can help with getting a book published, in fact it is essential if you hope to deal with a large press, nevertheless, getting a competent agent is quite difficult in itself. Anyway, the way it works is I get to keep 10% of the cover price with the other 90% going somewhere else where I never get to see it or spend it. For what its worth, having a book published is a great feeling and very empowering, its like having won a really big fight against the world, but on the other hand, I still haven't made minimum wage with Tongs, Gangs, and Triads.
Although the second book was originally entitled Scams from the Great Beyond: Hoaxing New Age, Psychic, and UFO Phenomena, the publisher renamed it near conclusion. (Publishers do things like that. Of course, they put up the money for the book. The author puts up the time.) The new, rather unwieldy title is Scams from the Great Beyond: How to Make Easy Money Off of ESP, Astrology, UFOs, Crop Circles, Cattle Mutilations, Alien Abductions, Atlantis, Channeling, and Other New Age Nonsense. For those who wonder, I did object a bit to the new somewhat predatory title, but eventually I decided to just go with it rather than make a stink. Besides anybody who takes the time to actually read the book should realize that I do not encourage theft and mayhem. Essentially, the book is a step by step guide to hoaxing a wide variety of paranormal effects. I believe most skeptical books on the paranormal tend to suffer from several flaws. First, they are very intellectual. Some have even gone so far as to argue that if you can read the writings of most skeptics then you should be smart enough not to believe in what they're writing about anyway. Secondly, the authors tend to be rather self conscious about what they are saying. Its almost as if they don't expect their topic to be taken seriously, and react by over compensating. My book realizes that the subjects are silly, but they can be used to cause very real problems. Thirdly, for some reason, a surprisingly large number of skeptics insist that the subjects they write about are not interesting. Of course these things are interesting! We wouldn't be here if they weren't. I try and treat the subjects as interesting, while simultaneously explaining why they are not true in a manner that I hope will not turn off the open-minded lay person.
Is it worthwhile? I don't know. We'll just have to wait until next winter to find out.
Peter Huston's work appears regularly in the Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic. He is the author of two books most recently Scams from the Great Beyond: How to Make Easy Money Off of ESP, Astrology, UFOs, Crop Circles, Cattle Mutilations, Alien Abductions, Atlantis, Channeling, and Other New Age Nonsense by Paladin Press, Boulder, CO.
Recently a query was posted to the skeptic mailing list (firstname.lastname@example.org) by the list moderator Taner Edis. He noted that by identifiable first names about 13% of the skeptic readership were women. Most users of the Internet are men and Taner noted this may account for the difference, but his experience with local skeptics groups led him to ask if there were some other reasons.
The topic of ``why so few women in skepticism'' had been discussed before on skeptic , as well as on sci.skeptic . Some of the early responses (by both men and women) to Taner's query suggested that by wiring or upbringing women may be less confrontational then men, or they may be less inclined to accept science and more inclined to visit psychics and New Age fairs. The following two articles, by Amy Bix and Beth Wolszon, are from the second round of responses, and inject some skepticism into these initial speculations.
Interesting to see this question raised one more time. I'm glad, since I think it's an important one, and since I've never been happy with the various answers/explanations proposed. Regarding the computer list, I think your focus on the Internet as male territory is a key component. However, that doesn't explain the observations of the rarity of women in local skeptics groups.
I'm willing to go along with the relative scarcity of women in scientific fields in general as another key point in explanation. However, I've never been happy with that as a full explanation---it just seems too pat. There are three more factors I'm wondering about (and wondering is the key word; these are phrased sort of vaguely):
Please note, this is not meant to be an attack on the skeptic community; I have no doubt that the vast majority of members are ``female-friendly,'' great people who genuinely would welcome more women involved with skepticism. I know there is some wonderful support here for women's involvement with skepticism and with science. Such positive feelings deserve praise; in truth, the very fact of people being concerned about the gender imbalance in skepticism is a good sign. Nevertheless, intangible ``comfort'' factors may be worth considering, and gender imbalance may itself be a factor tending toward continued imbalance.
I'm not thoroughly happy with the way I've phrased the above and certainly don't think they're full explanations, but they may be issues worth thinking about.
Amy Bix is an Assistant Professor History of Technology and Science Iowa State University.
Are women really less skeptical/more gullible than men? What exactly was defined as a `paranormal belief?' I assume the studies1 looked at the following beliefs as those typically defined as `paranormal'---ESP, ghosts, astrology, psychic phenomena, etc. But there are a lot of irrational beliefs cherished by many which don't fall under the definition of `paranormal' yet should be subject to the same level of criticism. If the studies had instead been designed with a broader definition of `irrational' beliefs, I think the results would show some interesting distributions.
I'm going to take the position that the level of irrational belief/gullibility is not strongly related to gender, but the type of irrational belief might be. In other words, men may not overall be less gullible than women, but simply more likely to subscribe to certain other forms of unreason that the studies didn't look at.
To illustrate my argument, a few examples:
Another point, people are notorious for being quite sensible on some subjects, completely irrational on others. (I'm thinking of Robert Sheaffer here3) Should studies be done to develop a `scale of harm' based on how likely holding a particular belief could adversely affect your life? Perhaps that'd be more useful than arguing about whether men or women are more gullible.
Of course, the Internet is mostly male territory, so some of the above discrepancy can be chalked up to that. [from Taner Edis's original query.]
I'll throw a little gasoline on that fire with the following quote:
``For what I had discovered---reinforced by the comments of respondents to the questionnaires---was that lengthy and often tendentious messages posted by a minority of male subscribers effectively set the terms of the discourse for the group as a whole, and intimidated others---especially women---into silence.'' (Susan Herring, Computer-Mediated Communication: Some Ethical and Scholarly Considerations)
Know-it-alls are not popular, but men are much less likely to regularly receive negative feedback from speaking in authoritative tones. Women often notice a strong aura of disapproval, sometimes even hostility, if they do so. It's not only men who react this way, and I think people often don't realize they're doing it. But I've learned from experience that if I want my message to get across, I need to soften my presentation, speak and act in a more friendly, softer, `typically female' fashion. If I break this stereotype, it will disturb some people who thus won't be thinking about what I'm saying, but will be distracted by the way I'm saying it.
Since on the Internet body language cues can't be seen, the `tone' of what we write has a great effect on how we are perceived. I don't happen to believe most of the men viewed as posting lengthy, tendentious messages were actually bossy or boorish---I bet they simply never had to consider the impact of just their words. Whereas I rigorously edit my text, knowing that my message can be lost in the reaction to how I'm presenting it.
Skeptics have the same challenge---how to gently dissuade people of cherished or interesting beliefs, without appearing to be obnoxious know-it-all types. Perhaps promoting it in the form of consumer advocacy would work....
But my experience of organized local skeptic groups is much the same. Men predominate. [continuing from Taner's query]
Bad marketing! If more women knew about the groups, which don't get much exposure in the popular media, there would be more women attending. Cynical thought---if a skeptic's meeting was promoted as a great way to socialize with intelligent, friendly, professional guys, the meetings would be packed with women. Schedule meetings or post fliers at the local colleges or public libraries, but post those fliers up in supermarkets and hair salons, too. Have a woman listed as a contact person to call for more information. If you want to draw women, go to where women congregate. Working at a public university, I'm exposed to such a large variety of people holding so many irrational beliefs I can't seriously believe that it's a failing of predominantly one gender.
Beth Wolszon is Librarian at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus.
Question: Dear Mr. Quinne, I've noted that the occupants of UFOs do really strange things. Why do they travel light years from Zeta-Reticuli, only to leave crop circles, or kidnap cattle. Why do they continue to abduct Whitley Streiber, when everybody knows his last good book was The Hunger? You would think an interstellar race would have more sense and land on the White House lawn, or abduct Poppy Z. Brite.
-Confused in Cohoes
Answer: Yes, on first thought you might think that interstellar travelers would have more sense then to make contact with Whitley Streiber. Or, that they could find a more effective method of communications than crop circles and art-deco design. But, your initial assumption, that interstellar travel requires intelligence and common sense, is wrong.
Interstellar travel requires years, decades, generations. Most people assume flying saucers fly all the way from Zeta Reticuli by themselves, but the truth is they are just scout ships---small vessels launched from a larger mother ship. That occupants of that mother ship took generations reaching our solar system and begin their exploration. Would an intelligent, philosophical and common sense endowed alien volunteer for such a trip? Would a bright and rising star of science abandon everything only to die, bored, in a generation ship, just so their great-great-great-grandchild can collect some semen samples on a tiny little planet 50 light years away?
No, of course not. The best and brightest---the aliens with common sense---stayed home and lived full and productive lives. They died happy, knowing that their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren will also live full and happy lives. They went to their graves in the full understanding that their great-great-great-grandchild would not only live a full and happy life, but will get to see the results of those semen samples on the 6 o'clock news.
Q: In the January 1997 Why Files you claimed all of your 1996 predictions can true. But, you predicted that the CIA will admit it paid psychics 20 million dollars to.... Oh, they did that. Never mind.
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.
So you want to show everybody you picture of the UFO that buzzed your house, but the gray's have not been cooperating. Well, why wait when you can make your own photos. On March 5th, ISUNY's own Peter Huston will show you how you too can be a New Age Guru.
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 email@example.com.
Thank you to Peter Huston, Mike Sofka and David ``The Mighty'' Quinne 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. This newsletter was typeset on the first day of the first year of the new millennium (give or take 4 years).
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: Jordan Coleman, Charles Davies, Alan & Susan French, Chris Masto, Bob & Dee Mulford, Harish Sethu Mike & Carla Sofka, Douglas Wells.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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. Macros 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.
1 Beth Wolszon was responding to a post that read, in part: ``And of course, women tend to be more religious, hold stronger paranormal beliefs in the surveys SI [Skeptical Inquirer] reports (nuts-and-bolts UFO's used to be an exception, but I don't know how things stand with abduction beliefs). Nicholas Humphrey notes that women, `as every contemporary survey shows, tend to be surest that the scientific picture of the world is incomplete.' ''