The WHY-Files

The Journal of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York


Volume 3, Issue 2 February, 1997

 
 
 

February Meeting.

False Memory Syndrome:

Repressed Memories, False Memories and Therapy Cults.

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.

Local Meetings.

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.

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.

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 March, 1997 issue is February 22th, 1997.

Skepticism on TV.

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.

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 ``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.

Ask The Skeptic.

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

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.

Women in Skepticism.

Recently a query was posted to the skeptic mailing list (skeptic-request@listproc.hcf.jhu.edu) 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.

-The Editor

Why are so few Women in Skeptics Groups?

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):