The WHY-Files

The Journal of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York


Volume 4, Issue 6 June, 1998

 
 
 

June Meeting

June 3rd, How Children Become Interested in Science,
and Why They Lose Interest Later in Life

In The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan said that children are natural scientists. That they are curious and questioning about the world, and want to learn how it works. Sagan went on to note that somehow we manage to squelch that natural curiosity. Our June Panel, the last regular meeting of the 1997-1998 skeptical season, will discuss how children become interested in science (or are they natural scientists), and what in society or education leads to most losing that natural interest. Our panel consists experts in the field of science education and includes Dale Westcott, science chair at Guilderland Central School, Allen Fiero, seventh-grade science teacher at Farnsworth Middle School, and a participant from the State Education Department's science education office. They should be able to provide up-to-date information on this important topic.

All ISUNY meetings are free and open to the public. This month's meeting is being held 7:00 pm at the Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland, NY. We always attempt to schedule our meetings at the Guilderland Public Library on the first Wednesday of each month (except for July and August), but the Library cannot guarantee that a room will be available. Please check our web site, or The Why-Files in case of a scheduling conflict, or other changes to the meeting schedule.

May ISUNY Meeting

Our May seventh meeting was graced by the co-authors of a new book, Smiling Through Tears, through which they ``hope to enlighten the general public about the abuses taking place in our society because science and justice are being abandoned in the face of hysteria and illogic.'' By including over 120 cartoons that deal with the subject of false memory syndrome, they hope to provide an awareness of the degree to which ``this social phenomenon has reached public consciousness,'' with the expectation that ``(w)ith awareness, solutions will be forthcoming.''

Pamela Freyd, Executive Director of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation and researcher in cognitive science at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke first. She addressed the concept of FMS. It primarily affects adult children in mid-20s and up who have previously had tolerable relationships with parents and having seen a therapist who may insist that their problems meet the 'profile' for childhood sexual abuse. This leads to a sudden cut-off of all contact with parents and other family members until the point the parents, etc. ``confess'' to the abuse. By the early '90s, this phenomenon took over talk shows, whose hosts were not one bit skeptical, accepting any story from a guest, no matter how bizarre, never looking for corroborative evidence. By 1995, a Dateline (NBC) poll asking the question: ``If someone has been charged with childhood sexual abuse [by recovered memories], would you be suspicious of that person?'' got the following results: Yes 77%, No 11%, Not Sure 12% [N=205].

Eleanor Goldstein, author of several books dealing with FMS, spoke next. She traced the path of the false memory syndrome through its beginning connection with the Women's Movement in the early 1980s, leading through the Recovery Movement, and now its mixture with New Age and the non-scientific acceptance of all sorts of claptrap. This was an interesting and challenging program. We appreciate the appearance of these busy women before our group.

-Dorothy Sager

Dot Sager is ISUNY's Secretary and co-editor of The Why-Files She can be reached by email at carlsager@worldnet.att.net.

The Second Annual ISUNY Picnic

Save this date: Sunday July 19, 1998. The picnic will be held at the Sager's at 384 Old Stage Road, two miles up the hill from Altamont.

Detailed directions to the Sagers follow: [Assume a starting point at the Guilderland Library, which you all should know how to get to. Otherwise, check a map!] Take Route 20 (Western Ave.) west to Route 146 south to Altamont. Stay on Main St. through Altamont and continue up the hill on Rt. 156 (past Fredendall Funeral Home) turn left on Old Stage Road 2 miles out of Altamont. No. 384 is the first house of the left (2-story colonial with brick front). Look for balloons and Giant banner.

In the spirit of encouraging fellowship and camaraderie, we will be inviting past speakers to join us. Members who plan to attend should expect to bring something to pass/share. If you plan to attend, you should contact Carl or Dot Sager at 861-6383 before July 10th to let them know what you will be bringing. Let's polish our crystals hoping for good weather. Activities will include horseshoes, badminton, eating and drinking... and talking.

Hoping for a super day and a great turnout.

Albacon '98

The Albany area science fiction convention, know conventionally as ``Albacon'' will be holding their 1998 meeting the weekend of October 9--11 at the Ramada Inn, Schenectady. ISUNY has volunteered to help person some tables, in return for promotional consideration. If you are interested in helping, please see Peter Huston for details. We have it on good authority that this year's meeting will include a panel on the role Science Fiction has had in promoting pseudoscience. More about Albacon can be found on their web page, http://www.sff.net/people/rothman/albacon.htp.

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 September, 1998 issue is August 15th, 1998.

Membership Renewals

The expiration date for your ISUNY membership is printed on 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 you 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.

Ask the Skeptic

Question: In one of your columns you state that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a fake, but present no evidence. I don't know if it is a fake or not, but I think you should back up your claims.

-JMS

Answer: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion , as you may know, advocates the notion that the world is controlled by a secret council of aged Jews who manipulate all events for their personal benefit using the rest of us as pawns, and have been doing so for centuries. Few readers of The Why-Files find such an idea plausible and it seemed the best use of the limited space was just to explain the work as it does have important historical significance. I feel that it is perfectly acceptable for skeptics to discuss the implications and histories of strange ideas without necessarily having to spend time explaining the falseness of the idea in question, so long as the audience is unlikely to consider it a point of controversy. I think that often we must move beyond the basic notions of truth or falseness, as important as these are, and get into the histories and the hows and the whys of these false ideas. We try to keep The Why-Files a place for interesting ideas, not just a fact sheet.

Nevertheless, this lack of acceptance of the idea, hardly disproves the notion itself.

I feel that significant evidence for the falseness lies in two sources. First, the history of the document. The Protocols has a definite history which is quite interesting in itself. For more details see Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by Norman Cohn 1 or The Occult Establishment by James Webb.2

Both are quite readable and very well done, although it must be said that Webb bases his chapter on the Protocols heavily on Cohn's work. Webb's work is part of a wonderful two-volume set on the history of ``occult'' ideas in modern Western civilization. Cohn's book is more specific in content but very well done. I recommend them both highly.

Second, the document states that all world events are controlled by a small group of people in secret. The economics and logistics of this idea make it quite an unlikely and inefficient form of government or political structure to say the least. I stumbled across this sort of thinking while writing my book, Tongs, Gangs and Triads: Chinese Crime Groups in North America. There is a controversy over just how tightly organized groups like the Mafia or the Triads are. One angle of analysis is economics. I wrote a paper applying this to massive conspiracy theories such as this, and showing how inefficient they would be. The paper was heavily based on the thoughts in Disorganized Crime: Illegal Markets and the Mafia3.

-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 by Paladin Press, Boulder, CO. Peter's current writing projects includes a sequel to Scams.

Ask the Psychic

Question: Mr. Psychic, you strike me as a sarcastic fake. Why is that?

Answer: You're an idiot.

Q: Recently, I saw where a local college student is missing. There are signs up everywhere, including the Thruway. I understand that the family is offering a substantial reward for her return. Why don't you use your psychic abilities to locate this girl?

A: I avoid high profile cases where the police are still active and the disposition of the child or missing person is in question. Several years ago another alleged psychic publicly stated that he thought the victim (in that case a 12 year old girl) was dead. She was not. However, what she was doing was watching television from a tiny underground chamber, built by her kidnaper, where she saw that report. Thank God the police didn't believe the alleged psychic and they eventually rescued the little girl. Need I say more?

Q: When are your pamphlets going to come out?

A: You're referring to a new line of pamphlets entitled ``So you want to hire a Psychic?'' They will be out soon, very soon.

Q: I had a dream the other day. I was pushing a shopping cart up a hill to deliver some things to my brother in Arizona. This tan dog kept jumping into my shopping cart because it was raining. What does this mean?

A: The dog is someone near you who is in psychic distress. You need to pay more attention to practical goals and avoid doing unrealistic things like pushing a shopping cart to Arizona. Good luck.

Q: I lost my car keys; can you help?

A: Yes.

Q: At times you seem like a different person. I've noticed that your writing style changes quite dramatically as does the quality of your writing.

A: Very observant, it depends on if I've been channeling or doing any out-of-body work. I confess to suffering from intermittent bouts of Post Transcendental Psychic Stress disorder or PTPSD for short.

Q: I thought it was because of El Niño induced Psychic Electro Magnetic Fields disturbing your thought processes?

A: In truth, the larger than normal Psychic Electro Magnetic Fields caused by El Niño actually either concentrate or diffuse a psychic's ability to channel energy. I think that you are confusing the effects of El Niño with the effects of a very similar, yet lesser known, phenomenon called Un Dia Muy Bueno. During Un Dia Muy Bueno the skies over Cancun remain absolutely clear; the temperature hovers around 87 degrees during the day and drops to 78 degrees at night; the humidity remains at a constant 3.47%. Oddly, rum and tequila defy their molecular predisposition and mix perfectly. Oceans calm; fish swim quietly to the surface and surrender themselves at dinner time. I've experienced Un Dia Muy Bueno's effect only fourteen or fifteen times in my life, and indeed it did cause a minor disassociative disorder.

Some private responses.

To BC in DC: It's ultimately up to you to choose your own path. You will continue to experience negative psychic energy until you decide what side you are on.

TO: Jim in TN. Duck.

TO: Lori in CA. In the left upper drawer toward the back, under an old American Express bill. Also, try 34,12,40,26. Good luck.

-David Quinne, CPP

David Quinne, ISUNY's psychic in residence, is an internationally published author whose work has been translated into at least two languages, one of which is most likely Hungarian. 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 dquinne@forrestresearch.com.

Book Review: A Friend of the Devil is a Friend of Mine

As most readers know, there was, and is, a great deal of Satanic cult and ritual abuse hysteria in this country. In other words, the bulk of claims of Satanic groups perpetuating evil in this country and around the world are sensationalized, lurid urban legends which have often, somehow, crept into the fringes of our culture, including the practice of psychotherapy.4 For those who wish to know the extent and history of how these claims came about, there are many fine works including the works of Jeffrey Victor, Debbie Nathan, and others. Personally, I have reviewed such works in the Skeptical Inquirer, and can remember writing on the subject in these pages at least four times.

Despite the sensationalism, however, organized devil-worshipping groups exist and are often ignored in this discussion, or, at best, dealt with in a peripheral manner. There are several reasons for this, among them being a shortage of interesting, accurate source materials easily available. Lords of the Left Hand Path: A History of Spiritual Dissent by Stephen E. Flowers,5 corrects this. In my experience, the bulk of works advocating or explaining ``devil worship'' tend to be puerile and their target audience seems to be ``naughty adolescents'' and ``persons with issues.'' This is the first book, I have seen on the subject which explains such ideas in a mature and interesting fashion.

In Lords of the Left Hand Path, Flowers explains and expounds upon the history of groups and individuals who have taken an unusual approach to their spiritual growth. This involves several points, which I will deal with one by one.

First, as I interpret it, Flowers states that spirituality can be divided into two paths which he terms the left and the right hand. The right hand path, says Flowers, is the mainstream path advocated by most religions. It teaches that people should harmonize their lives and desires with society and the objective universe. Flowers feels that since this is the goal of most religious activity, to go against this trend is, therefore, to be evil in the eyes of most societies and authority figures.

Conversely, Flowers advocates the ``left hand path.'' In this path, the goal is to make the objective universe conform to the will of the individual, or at least to keep the individual consciousness separate and distinct from that of the society around it. To some extent, this is done through the use of magic and ritual, although, since this is a history book, and there's a great deal of variety in such practices, he's rather vague on the specifics.

The second part, and here I may be imposing my own interpretations on the book, is that this psychic differentiation from the environment may be done through ``antinomianism.'' There are a lot of artificial, externally imposed cultural boundaries and arbitrary behavioral norms imposed on us all. Now the really scary thing is that most of us live in a completely oblivious state, our thoughts locked in by a consensus reality which few people can even see. Most people are sheep, who crave structure. They like structure because it restricts their options and limits their potential, makes them feel safe, keeps them content within a social structure where acquiescence and mediocrity are the norm. Having identified the problem, one must next search for a cure, a means to teach the individual just how much of what he's been taught is nothing more than a social convention, perhaps even a social convention designed to restrict him, keep him prisoner with chains formed by inherited convention.

There are, undoubtedly, several possibilities here. In order to view the world properly, and see all the potential available to a free thinking empowered individual, one must learn to acknowledge and then step outside these bounds.

There are several means to do this. Flowers states that one path to break free is by consciously striving to identify with that which their society teaches is evil. In other words, by identifying with the despised, you can come to see the whole more clearly by examining it from a fresh and new perspective.

But this is only a portion of this work. It's a mammoth and fascinating history full of strange ideas concerning theology, philosophy and magical teachings and practices in different places and times. He strives to trace the history and interconnections of the ideas.

I have few criticisms of the book. In this ten chapter work, he devotes a chapter to LaVey's Church of Satan and another to the Temple of Set. As the two are rivals, and Flowers is affiliated with the Temple of Set, he praises his own group in a tone which is at sharp contrast to the rest of the work. The work is not complete and all encompassing. For instance there's no mention of the Process Church, a strange religious group that incorporated Satan worship, as well as worship of God and Jesus, in its complex theology. I'm sure others could find much else that is not complete about the work. Nevertheless, there is so much interesting and stimulating stuff within these pages that I found it fascinating.

-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 by Paladin Press, Boulder, CO. Peter's current writing projects includes a sequel to Scams.

Future ISUNY Meetings

Impact at 65 million BC: A bad afternoon!

The summer of 1998 will include the release of not one but two movies about comets and asteroids colliding with the earth. Those movies represent the Hollywood version. But, 65 million years ago, give or take, a small asteroid did collide with the earth off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula. It is now widely believed that if this didn't kill off the dinosaurs, it made a significant contribution. What evidence do we have for the impact and the effect it had on the earth? On September 2nd, Dr. John Delano, Chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences will review the data that lead to this most fascinating closing chapter to the story of dinosaurs.

Claims of pre-Columbian contact with the Americas.

Did the Romans, Vikings, Saint Brandon, African or Chinese sailors reached the Americas before Columbus? If they did, then what kind of evidence would we expect to find? On October 7th, Kenny Feder, the author of Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology6 will take us through the claims and counter claims. In the process he will discuss how archaeology is done, and what constitutes evidence of discovery and exploration.

The program committee is working on topics for meetings this fall. If you have a topic idea, please bring it to the attention of an officer at any ISUNY meeting.

All ISUNY meetings are free and open to the public. We usually meet 7:00 pm at the Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland, NY. We always attempt to schedule our meetings the first Wednesday of each month (except for July and August), but the Library cannot guarantee that a room will always be available. Please check our web site, or The Why-Files in case of a scheduling conflict, or other changes to the meeting schedule.

Local Meetings

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers meet the third Tuesday of each month at the Schenectady Museum. 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 and Publicity

Peter Huston is chairing the membership and publicity committee 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.

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. 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.

Thank You

Thank you to Peter Huston, David ``the Mighty'' Quinne, and Dorothy Sager for their contributions to this newsletter. Thanks also go to Peter Huston, Robert Mulford, Anne Royter, and Dorothy and Ralph Hoyt and especially Dot Sager for their help planning and publicizing ISUNY meetings, and to Herb Jones for publicity and room arrangements with the Guilderland Library. A additional special thank you to Dorothy Sager for copy-editing. Dot does an excellent job removing typos and errors from our newsletter. Any remaining errors are due to the insidious actions of a small, but organized fringe group of devil worshipers.

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, William White, 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/.

Unless otherwise stated, permission is granted to other skeptical organizations to reprint articles from The Why-Files as long as proper credit is given. The Why-Files also requests that you send copies of your newsletters that reprint our articles. All articles printed in The Why-Files remain the copyrighted property of their author.

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 Serif, London, 1967, 1996.

2 Open Court, LaSalle IL, 1976.

3 Reuter, Peter, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1983.

4 Yes, the implication that psychotherapy is a fringe endeavor is intentional.

5 Runa-Raven Press, Smithville TX, 260 pp, large paperback, $30.00.

6 Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View CA, 1996