The WHY-Files

The Journal of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York


Volume 3, Issue 4 April, 1997

 
 
 

April Meeting.

Everything You Know is Wrong.

Join us April 2nd, 7:00 pm at the Guilderland Public Library when our speaker will be David Quinne. David will present a program on Karma, the New Age and how to encourage your inner psychic. The talk will also feature a tutorial on exploring the Universe using Transcendental Meditation, including a brief explanation of psychic cosmology---the atomic foundation of psychic power. This April program is not to be missed.

David Quinne is ISUNY's official Psychic in Residence and a special correspondent for The Why-Files---positions he has held since 1994. He is a graduate of Maharishi International University where he studied quantum metaphysics with a minor in political science. Since 1985 David has been a special consultant to the CIA's project ``Deep Pockets,'' which has been exploring the applications of TM and remote viewing in international affairs.

Meetings are held at the Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland, NY. Meetings are free and open to the public. For information about future meetings, see the last page of this newsletter. In the event of bad weather, we will hold the meeting if the Guilderland Public Library is open.

Board Meeting and Annual Elections.

April 2nd is ISUNY's annual business meeting when next year's officers are elected. As required in the by-laws, ISUNY's board met on March 13th to propose a slate of officers: President, Michael Sofka; Vice President, Peter Huston; Treasurer, Robert Mulford; Secretary, Dorothy Sager; Newsletter Editors Michael Sofka and Dorothy Sager; Librarian, Lewis Treadway; Meeting room coordinator, Herb Jones. In addition, nominations will be accepted from the floor.

Membership and Publicity Committee.

Peter Huston has agreed to chair a membership and publicity committee. The committee will consist of Peter, and member volunteers, and is charged with publicizing meetings and proposals for finding new members. If you would like to help with this and related tasks, see Peter at any ISUNY meeting.

Membership Dues Raised.

At the March 13th meeting the board voted to raise membership dues from $10.00 to $15.00. The Sustaining membership (previously $15.00) has been dropped, while Patron membership remains $25.00.

The increase brings the basic membership in line with newsletter and other expenses. It costs ISUNY $6.00/year to copy and mail The Why-Files to each member. In addition, a number of Why-Files are sent to past speakers and the press, given away at meetings, and sent to CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal) for the newsletter exchange program. This cost each member approximately $2.50, leaving little for meeting room fees, travel costs for out of town speakers, and other expenses.

Skeptics on The Air.

On Thursday March 27th WRPI Radio (91.5 FM) will host skeptics Peter Huston, Dorothy Sager and Lewis Treadway. The two hour call-in program will discuss Peter's new book Scams From the Great Beyond, Dorothy's trip to the World Skeptics Conference, and the controversy surrounding the popular Vampire role-playing games. On April 24th, Peter and Dorothy will return to WRPI with other guests and topics. Be sure to listen and call in with your questions.

Life on Mars Talk.

The University at Albany's spring Natural History Lecture Series schedule---one of the best-kept secrets in the Capital District---has been released. One lecture that might be of interest to area skeptics is on April 29:

Keith Ratcliff, Is There Life On Mars?.

Professor Keith Ratcliff of the Department of Physics at the University at Albany will discuss, with illustrations, the claim that life existed on Mars three and a half billion years ago which has evolved into one of the most exciting recent debates involving astronomers, biologists, chemists, geologists and physicists. Can we agree on the Mars evidence and its interpretation? What is the evidence for life on Earth at the same time? Are we really sure what to look for as the signature for ancient life?

The free series runs from April 1 to 29, Tuesdays at 8:00 pm in Lecture Center 7 at the University at Albany. Other topics are John James Audubon (April 1), Geology of the Catskills (April 8), Trees of the Adirondack High Country (April 15); Summer on the Aleutian Islands (April 22).

-Joan Kappel

Local Meetings.

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers meet the third Tuesday of each month at the Schenectady Museum. April 15th is the AAAA's annual business meeting (postponed from March). This is a good time to meet club members, and find out about astronomy in the Capital Area. 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 our records show your membership has expired, and may be dropped from the mailing list. If your renewal date is incorrect, please bring the error to our attention. Despite our efforts to keep the mailing list up-to-date, we do make mistakes.

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. Membership articles contribute greatly to the quality of 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 May, 1997 issue is April 26th, 1997.

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.

This is part 1 of a three part series on satanic ritual abuse, false memory and sex abuse claims. Parts 2 and 3 will appear in the May and June {Why-Files.

-The Editor

Question: It's my understanding that ISUNY is devoted to discussing strange and paranormal claims. I've noticed, however, that from time to time you've been writing about controversies involving sex abuse claims. What's the connection?

Answer: Actually, ISUNY is devoted to a variety of things, including claims involving pseudoscience. Pseudoscience refers to something that looks or sounds scientific but actually falls apart under intense scrutiny. Much of what is commonly taught and believed within the field of sex abuse studies is patently pseudoscientific.

For example, our organization has done a lot to publicize the problem of false memory syndrome. This is the condition where a therapist or other person causes someone to believe false things about their past. Often these claims involve misuse of hypnosis to ``search'' for ``repressed'' memories of sex abuse or even UFO abductions. (See! There is a connection!) Unfortunately, the use of hypnosis (and other techniques) often induces the very reports that the therapist is looking to find. This subject, however, has been widely covered in our meetings, our library and elsewhere, so I won't dwell upon it here. Instead, I'll concentrate on other examples.

From time to time, I've discussed satanic ritual abuse (SRA) claims. These, too, lack concrete evidence. Nevertheless, a few years ago, I discovered that the Capital District based, church-sponsored Samaritan Counseling Center had included information on how to diagnose and counsel SRA ``survivors'' in an in-service trying program. I telephoned their office and explained that I was training to sort out the evidence for SRA, and wished to know if they could recommend some materials giving their point of view. They generously returned my call and recommended that I read Breaking the Circle of Satanic Ritual Abuse: Recognizing and Recovering from the Hidden Trauma, by Daniel Ryder (CompCare Publishers, Minneapolis, 1992). I looked the book over, but decided not to purchase it until recently when I was able to find a discounted copy. (I try not to be too fanatical!)

Simply put, the work is awful! This begins with the facing page to the index which includes a ``Warning,'' which states that reading this book could set off some of the cult brainwashing ``triggers'' and the SRA-survivor/reader might be induced to commit acts of self-mutilation or suicide simply by reading it. Such ``triggers'' are considered to be impossible to create. (See The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control, The Secret History of the Behavioral Sciences, by John Marks Dell, 1979, 1988). ``Readers who may be survivors'' are advised to consult their therapist before reading the book. It does not say how a competent therapist is expected to judge the hazards from this threat.

The book remains awful until the very end where it gives a list of organizations to consult for further information on SRA. Among them is Warnke Ministries, an organization founded by Mike Warnke, a self-professed former high priest of Satan turned Born Again Christian Evangelist/Stand Up Comedian. Warnke has since been conclusively exposed as a fraud. (See Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke, by Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott, Cornerstone Press, Chicago, 1993. For further details see my review of this fine work, ``Washed Up, Sold Out and Spreading Hysteria,'' in Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 19(1), 52--53.) Significantly, although Warnke played a significant role in producing today's SRA furor, his exposure as a fraud did not dampen the furor significantly once it had started. It did, however, cause significant harm to Warnke's ``ministry,'' not to mention his career as a comedian.

By the way, somewhere around here, I have a tape of one of Warnke's comedy albums. It's the sort of mediocre comedy which plays well to a fringe group (fundamentalist Christians) while leaving others wondering what exactly the joke is.

-Peter Huston

The Cardiff Giant: America's Most Famous Hoax.

Reposing silently in a glass-walled coffin, the Cardiff Giant smiles enigmatically for tourists, just as it has for nearly the last half century since coming to rest at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, NY.

A massive humanoid of stone, weighing some 2,990 pounds and extending 10 feet, 4 inches in length, the Cardiff Giant was once believed to be an ancient fossilized giant from the early days when the earth was inhabited by titans. According to ancient mythology, ``gigantes'' (from which the English word ``giant'' is derived) were children of Uranus (the god of sky) and Gaea (the goddess of earth). The birth of gigantes was literally the union of earth and sky.

The Cardiff Giant, although initially accepted as a prehistoric giant, was soon revealed to be neither an enormous human nor a living being inexplicably transformed into stone, but rather a brilliantly conceived and executed hoax. It is a story worthy of re-examination, for it illustrates not only the human potential for gullibility, but for humanity's use of proper skepticism and scientific inquiry as well.

The story begins in the tiny village of Cardiff, NY, slightly south of Syracuse (near the current intersection of Route 20 and I-81). A local farmer names William C. Newell decided, seemingly on the spur of the moment, to dig a well on his property, precisely 20 feet from the back of his barn.

Newell proceeded by hiring two area men to do the job, and work was commenced on October 16, 1869. After excavating to a depth of three feet, the well-digging was abruptly halted when the workers hit a stone object shaped like a human foot. Further excavation around the object revealed that this foot was actually part of a much larger object---a giant man of stone some 10 feet in length. Three very important facts became evident at this point: One, the stone giant looked remarkably like an Indian---only twice normal size; secondly, the giant's legs were contorted, as if the stone creature was writhing in discomfort; and thirdly, a strange expression---perhaps a weak smile or one of anguish---was etched on its stone face.

Obviously, the discovery of a 10 foot prehistoric giant held tremendous promise for paleontological research. Just as assuredly, however, the giant afforded opportunities for even greater gains---in the area of making money! Right from the start, every effort possible was made to capitalize on the Cardiff Giant's commercial potential; a tent was erected on Newell's property, and tourists were charged 50 cents to view the giant and listen to Newell give a brief discourse on the giant's origin. We can be fairly certain that considerable hoopla occurred even in these early days, for records indicate that between 300 to 500 spectators visited Newell's farm daily to observe first-hand this ``eighth wonder of the world.''

To further exploit the Cardiff Giant's commercial potential, controlling interest was sold to several area businessmen, who carted off the stone giant to Syracuse. In its new location the giant's popularity soared as never before; previously, tourists had to travel by stagecoach from Syracuse to the Newell farm to see the Cardiff Giant. Now the stone man could be readily seen without having to leave Syracuse at all. Giant-mania became so rampant that the New York Central Railroad created a special train stop so that the curious could debark for a quick look.

Despite all the fanfare, however, considerable debate was raging over whether the Cardiff Giant was genuine or an outright fraud. To be sure, there were many who believed right from the start that the giant was nothing more than a well conceived hoax---but their voices were too few in the beginning, and not of sufficient scientific weight to overthrow the vocal majority.

But matters were soon to change.

Dr. John F. Boynton---an expert on fossils---examined the Cardiff Giant and, after some deliberation, concluded that the giant could not possibly be a fossilized man. Boynton accurately pointed out that no known scientific process existed which would allow buried human or animal flesh to be transformed into stone. This conclusion is supported by natural observation. Right up to the present, there has yet to be a single report of a human body---regardless of its age---turning into stone after burial. Uniformly, when bodies are interred they decompose, leaving only bone, hair, and other trace features behind.

Unfortunately, after determining that the stone giant was non-human, Boynton failed to take his skepticism far enough. He ended up concluding that the Cardiff Giant was an old statue, sculpted by Jesuit priests to impress the local Indians.

This really didn't make a lot of sense, however. As skeptics quickly pointed out, if the giant was meant to be a statue, then why wasn't it erected on a large pedestal? Secondly, why would priests carve out a statue of a naked man writhing in pain? Certainly, any number of more worshipful or awe-inspiring poses could have been sculpted. Finally, what would be the point of burying the statue after having just expended a great deal of effort to make it?

Next, a geologist names James Hall examined the Cardiff Giant. He also drew the same conclusion---namely, that the giant was a large statue!

So far, if scientists weren't calling the Cardiff Giant an outright fraud, at the same time they weren't declaring him to be a genuine fossilized man either.

Undoubtedly, there were some people who questioned whether it was structurally possible for a human being to attain a height of 10 feet 4 inches. By definition, a giant is any human male taller than 6 feet 6.7 inches in height. The tallest known human in modern times was Robert Wadlow, who measured 8 feet 11.1 inches at the time of his death in 1940. He was virtually crippled because of his extreme height, and ambulated using a cane. Could a human grow still another foot taller and look as well proportioned as the Cardiff Giant? The historical evidence suggested no.

Finally Othniel C. Marsh---a paleontologist from Yale University---examined the Cardiff Giant and concluded that the giant couldn't be old because there were fresh tool marks on its surface, indications of recent chiseling activity; also, Marsh found the stone to be far too smooth to have been buried in the ground for the prescribed length of time; it should have been considerably more pock-marked.

It followed, then, that the Cardiff Giant was of relatively recent origin---hardly an ancient statue. To Marsh, only one logical conclusion remained. The Cardiff Giant was a hoax---and indeed, a most profitable one.

After hearing Marsh's pronouncement, Hall re-examined the stone giant and revised his opinion: Yes it was true. The Cardiff Giant was definitely a hoax after all!

Sure enough; like any well-kept secret or veiled mystery, as the first threads started to come apart, the rest of the strands began unraveling quickly.

It was soon learned that Newell had a brother-in-law named George Hull---a cigar-maker from Binghamton---and that Newell had recently paid Hull a large sum of money. Nothing suspicious so far, but just what did Newell buy from Hull? It was also learned that quarrymen from Iowa had sold Hull a large block of Iowa gypsum about two years before the Cardiff Giant first made its appearance.

Furthermore, area people began to remember that huge wooden crate had been transported by wagon to the Newell farm on the previous year. What was in that crate?

Finally, two men in Chicago confessed to having carved out the giant figure. There was very little else left to say after this disclosure.

And so it was that the hoax became fully exposed---like a master illusion revealed by the presence of cracked mirrors and broken threads. But a hoax created by who and for what purpose?

The ``who'' proved to be George Hull, who readily confessed all when confronted by the overwhelming body of evidence that fraud had been perpetrated. Hull had enlisted the help of his brother-in-law, William Newell who, as co-conspirator, provided the necessary land to bury the stone giant on and a reason, one year later, for accidentally uncovering it. But why? Was it for money? For fame?

The real reason, in actual fact, turned out to be anything but prosaic. Hull claimed that the hoax resulted from an argument he and a clergyman once had. Hull took exception to the preacher's insistence that every word in the Bible was literally true, and crafted his hoax upon the following section of scripture, which Hull hoped to debunk:

there were giants in the earth in those days.

----Genesis, Chapter 5, Verse 32

History does not record whether Hull ultimately prevailed over the clergyman by exposing the preacher's gullibility, but there was no question about one fact---once the hoax was launched, it took on a life of its own, and nothing was about to stop it. By the time that the Cardiff Giant was moved to Syracuse, Hull and Newell had already made $12,000---no small fortune in those days!

Surprisingly, even after the Cardiff Giant was resoundingly exposed as an outright fraud, it still remained an exceedingly popular exhibit (a fact which probably reveals more about human nature than it does the Cardiff Giant).

To maximize the giant's popularity, the Cardiff Giant was taken to New York City, where it turned a tidy profit for its investors. Realizing a good business venture when he saw one, the famous showman P.T. Barnum tried to buy the giant; failing in his efforts, Barnum ended up having an imitation fake made (which, ironically, ultimately attracted more paying customers than did the real fake!). From New York, the giant moved to Boston and, from there, traveled extensively through New England. Unfortunately, public interest was beginning to wane.

Alas, around 1880, the Cardiff Giant came to rest in a barn in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where it stayed collecting dust for about 30 years. It was finally resurrected by a carnival owner who put the giant back on tour, barnstorming the country until the 1930's when the carnival went bankrupt. At that time, the giant was bought by Gardner Cowles---a publisher in Des Moines, Iowa---who retained possession of the stone giant until 1948, when the New York State Historical Association purchased it from Cowles and had the Cardiff Giant brought to the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown---where it has remained ever since.

Today, the Cardiff Giant has the honor of being known as America's most famous hoax. This distinction may well be the result of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) who, in Sketches New and Old, generated renewed interest in giant-mania when he wrote a humorous short story about a fossilized stone man, entitled ``The Petrified Man.''

Sound familiar?

It's hardly surprising, since Clemens, more likely than not, modeled his Petrified Man on the Cardiff Giant. After all, both were promoted as living beings miraculously transformed into fossils of stone through interment. Both were unearthed in the 1860's---The Cardiff Giant in 1869 and Clemen's Petrified Man in 1862. Both had allegedly been buried for many centuries---the Cardiff Giant since pre-biblical days; the petrified man ``for over ten generations.'' And both were finally revealed to be elaborate hoaxes, and in each instance perpetrated so that an established institution could be discredited---in Hull's case, it was to debunk fundamentalism and a literal interpretation of the Bible; in the case of Clemens' narrator, it was to bring down the glittery show-business establishment.

Although the Cardiff Giant may be America's most renowned hoax, it was hardly one of a kind. In 1879, a seven foot tall, 800 pound stone giant---later named ``The Taughannock Giant''---was unearthed on the shores of Lake Cayuga in Ithaca, NY. Although discovered only a comparatively short distance from Cardiff, NY---a fact which should have put even the most credulous on guard---the Taughannock Giant was initially accepted as an authentic fossilized man. Fortunately it was quickly exposed as a hoax and in a more rapid fashion than the Cardiff Giant. Perhaps people were becoming more skeptical after all.

It's easy enough now to look back from our comfortable armchairs in the 20th Century and sneer at people's lack of skepticism in the 1800's. But before we become too self-congratulatory, perhaps we should take a second a brutally honest look at ourselves. Despite modern science, we are still adrift in a sea of hoaxes and frauds---the only difference being that today's deceptions have become more abstract (and therefore hard to refute). There are far too many of us, for instance, who still believe in such fantasies as Bigfoot, UFO's, lake monsters, channeling, pyramid power, crystals, alien abductors, harmonic convergences, and so on.

May the Cardiff Giant always serve to remind us of the need to exercise a healthy degree of skepticism.

-Russell Dunn

ISUNY Meetings.

Everything You Know is Wrong.

ISUNY Psychic in Residence David Quinne will present a program on Karma, the New Age and how to bring out the psychic within. Learn how to explore the Universe using Transcendental Meditation, including a brief explanation of psychic cosmology---the atomic foundation of psychic power. This April 2nd program is not to be missed.

Contemporary Hysteria.

On May 7th, Gladden Schrock of Bennington College will present a program about what may be this country's greatest period of ``witch-hunting.'' He will examine some of the tens of thousands of cases of false allegation and imprisonment, and seek out historical perspective of what has been dubbed ``the memory wars.''

Cold Fusion.

June 4th, Bill Walker of General Electric laboratories will review the current state of cold fusion research.

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 Russell Dunn, Peter Huston, Joan Kappel and David ``The Mighty'' Quinne for their contributions to this newsletter, and to Carla Sofka for manuscript input. Thank you also to Alan French, Peter Huston, Robert Mulford, and Dorothy and Ralph Hoyt for their help planning and publicizing ISUNY meetings, and to Herb Jones for making room arrangements with the Guilderland Library. A special thank you to Dorothy Sager for copy-editing. Dot does an excellent job removing spelling and grammar errors, and offering clarifications. Remaining errors are entirely due to genetic determinism.

ISUNY thanks all of its members for their support. We would especially like to thank our Patron members: Jordan Coleman, Charles Davies, Larry Jones & Barbara Eisenstadt, Alan & Susan French, Dr. Richard H. Lange, Christopher Masto, Hugh A. McGlinchey, Bob & Dee Mulford, Dorothy and Carl Sager, Mike & Carla Sofka, Douglas Wells, Guier Scott Wright.

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 be returned only 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.