The Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York usually meets at 7:00 pm at the Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland, NY. Meetings are free and open to the public. We always attempt to schedule our meetings at the Guilderland Public Library on the first Wednesday of each month, but the Library cannot guarantee that a room will be available. Please check this web site in case of a scheduling conflict.
Proposed or planed topics include: Product Liability How to Tell the Truth With Statistics, Spiritualism and Seances, and The neurology of ADHD.
The history and current developments in the theory of chaotic dynamics will be presented. The talk will trace the origins of the theory that go back to Poincare in the 1890's, through the famous Lorenz attractor in the 1960's, till the present day. Conjectures, unsolved problems, and new directions will also be discussed.
One of the 19th Centuries greatest Hoaxes, the Cardiff Giant is a upstate NY icon, now housed at the Farmer's Museum, Cooperstown, NY.
Professor Joe DeRivera or Clark University, editor with Theodore Sarbin of Believing in Imaginings: The Narrative Construction of Reality (APA, 1998) will discuss the close association of tales of UFO abductions and recovered memory.
The social sciences have unique data problems not found in the physical sciences. This has not stopped those trained in the physical sciences from trying their hand at social science. The results, predictably, are mixed. Dr.~ Koechlin will discuss why science in economics is not like science if physics.
David Hess, Ph.D., will discuss his research on the controversies surrounding complementary and alternative cancer therapies. He is the author of three books on the topic: Can Bacteria Cause Cancer?, Women Confront Cancer, and Evaluating Alternative Cancer Therapies. He will outline some of the basic concepts in the complementary and alternative medicine world, then focus on some of the issues surrounding dietary treatments for cancer.
Among the more persistent pseudo-sciences is creationism. Ever since the publication of Charles Darwin's Origins of Species, creationism has been challenging the science of evolution for the public's support in one form or another. Prior to Origins, creationism was a theory accepted by some scientists, but the accumulated evidence of over 150 years has left it with little empirical or logical footing. This has not deterred creationists.
On June 2, 1999, Dr. Donald Whisenhunt, Jr., a biochemist with General Electric, will discuss the claims of creationists, and evaluate them in the light of modern science.
When it comes to the literature and entertainment known as Science Fiction, organized skepticism has had a love-hate relationship. Many members of skeptic groups have read and continue to read science fiction, to watch scifi movies and attend conventions. At the same time, however, many articles and press releases from skeptic groups criticize some science fiction, particularly movies and television programs, for promoting nonsense. They do even while active members of those very organizations patronize the programs!
When it comes to the actual science in science fiction, the genre has a mixed history. On the one hand, science fiction stories are often cited as an inspiration by many working scientists. On the other hand it was in Science fiction that such pseudo-sciences as dianetics and flying saucers were first widely publicized.
In May, ISUNY will host a panel of skeptics, academics and science fiction fans as they discuss the science is science fiction. The panel includes (to date):
Do you know who Champ is? Do you know the difference between telekinesis and clairvoyance? Have you been to Charles Forts' grave? Is your secret passion 19th century spiritualism? Come to our April 7th Skeptic's Jeopardy meeting. Audience teams will compete with each other to show who is the most knowledgeable about science, skepticism, spirits, cults, pseudoscience, and other fringe claims.
April is also our annual business meeting, where we select officers for the following year. The board recommended slate of officers appears below. If you have any business or questions about ISUNY, or just want to meet the other members, this is a good meeting to attend. We have the room beyond our usual closing time of 9:00, and after a challenging game of Jeopardy you might just know who shares that secret passion.
The evolution of disease has been influenced by how we live and how we treat illness. On March 3, 1999 Dr. Lois Hooverman of Schenectady County Community College will give a talk about the evolution of pathogens. Some members who have already seen Dr. Hooverman talk said this meeting should not be missed.
When one person sees lights in the sky, it can sometimes be explained as an optical illusion or other mistake of perception. But what if two, or three or four people observe the light's movement? What if they agree on what they saw: the speed direction and distance of movement, is that proof of a UFO? Surprisingly, multiple witness can agree on what they saw, even while they are all mistaken. Experiments demonstrating this go back to the early 1930's---long before the rise of UFO reports---and continues to this day as social scientist learn more about group dynamics. Surprisingly, multiple witnesses can be less reliable than a single witness.
The Power of Belief.
As seen on Nova! Lighting is a commonly observed, but still incompletely understood phenomena. Phil Barker does work for utility companies testing how well equipment survives lighting strikes. He'll be talking about lighting, and related meteorlogical phenomena, and how you too can use a Fluke 78 multimeter and model rockets to create spectacular lightning effects.
Halloween is now the second largest holiday (as measured by money spent) in the United States. In addition, surveys show that about 20% of adult Americans report seeing, or being contacted by a ``ghost.'' This is all taking place in a society in which people are living longer, and in which death is a less familiar event than it was a short 80--100 years ago.
Join our (post) Halloween panel of ghouls as they discuss and answer your questions about: communication with the dead, Chinese ghosts, changing death customs and the history of Halloween.
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? Kenny Feder, the author of Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology 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 summer of 1998 saw 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? 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.
June 3, 1998
Panel: How Children Become Interested in Science, and Why Most 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:
May 6, 1998
False Memory Syndrome: Is The End in Sight?
Pamela Freyd and Eleanor Goldstein, authors of Smiling Through Tears, will talk about the controversial recovered memory movement and its effects on families. Dr. Freyd is a research associate at the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and founder and executive director of the False Memory Syndrome (FMS) Foundation. Eleanor Goldstein is publisher of Upton books and co-founder of the Social Issues Resources Series, Inc.
April 1, 1998
The Year 2000, Should We Be Skeptical?
Implications of the year 2000 for
calendars, people and computers.
The millennium is nigh! Or, is it? It is nearly the year 2000 on the Gregorian Calendar, but the 21st century doesn't begin until January 1st, 2001, and the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ has come and gone without incidence. Meanwhile, on January 1st 2000 it will be Tevet 23, 5760 on the Hebrew Calendar, RamaDHann 24, 1420 on the Islamic calendar and on the Traditional Chinese calendar it will be the 17th year of the 78th cycle. So what makes the year 2000 on the Gregorian calendar so special? Is there any truth that the apocalyptic begins January 1st, 2000?
Unfortunately, the answer may be yes. In the year 2000 many computer systems may stop working correctly with largely unknown results. By some estimates, the United States will have to spend between 70 and 600 billion fixing existing computer systems, and by most people's reckoning there isn't enough time to complete the work. Are concerns about the year 2000 computer problem being hyped as part of some millennial fever? Or, is their a real concern, and if so, what can the average person do?
Join us this April 1st when Michael Sofka and R. Lindsay Todd, Sr. Systems Programmers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will present a two part program on the year 2000 from an historical, technical and humorous viewpoint. Part one will discuss our calendar, how it came to be and how it relates to other calendars. Part two will discuss the effects of computers that cannot distinguish the year 1900 from the year 2000, and what this means for the average person who, at the very least, will be paying programmers to fix long-standing computer errors.
March 4, 1998
How Many People Can The Earth Support?
The current world population is 5.6 billion, give or take. Recent estimates calculate that by the middle of the 21st century the population will ``stabilize'' at between 9 and 12 billion. How reliable is this estimate, how accurate have past estimates been, what do we value most when calculating how many people the Earth can support? Our March 4th meeting will present a knowledgeable and diverse panel discussion on population and resources. At press time, the following people had agreed to participate:
February 4, 1998
Consider Commander Data:
and the Philosophy of Star Trek
Starting from some future possibilities suggested in Star Trek, this talk will consider present and future outlooks on the possibility of artificial minds and how those possibilities might bear on both current work in artificial intelligence and cognitive science as well as on the traditional philosophical mind-body problem.
Ron McClamrock is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Program in Linguistics and Cognitive Science at the University at Albany, SUNY. He teaches and writes on the philosophy of psychology, including the foundations of artificial intelligence and cognitive science, as well as more broadly in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of mind. His recent publications include Existential Cognition: Computational Minds in the World (University of Chicago Press, 1995).
January 7, 1998
Two Videos: ``Chi Gong'' and ``Three Card Monte''
It is our habit to show videos in January (and sometimes February), in case there is an Upper New York snow storm. This year we are showing two half-hour documentaries. The first is a CUNY film project on Chi Gong, and it features ISUNY members Peter Huston and Dr. Frank Lange. The second is about the popular streat game three card monte, how it is played, and why the dealer always wins.
Dr. Dean Falk of SUNY Albany department of Anthropology talked about the evolution of the human brain and cognition. Dr. Falk earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1976. She has done research on cranial blood flow in australopithecine, from which she developed the `radiator theory' of brain evolution [Brain Evolution in Homo: The ``Radiator'' Theory, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 13:333-344, 1990]. She is the author of Braindance, published by Henry Holt and Company (1992).
November 5, 1997
Science in the Courts.
From DNA tests in the O.J. trial, to expert testimony on the health effects of chemicals, scientific evidence has an increasing role in our nations courts. But, is our 200 year old court system ready for this evidence? Is it being used and interpreted correctly? Do experts honestly representing their professions, or are they simply hired guns? Are juries able to fairly and correctly evaluate and weigh statistical and scientific claims? Join our panel of legal experts as they debate the changing role of Science in the Courts.
October 1, 1997
Why the Book of Revelation is Often Misunderstood and Misused.
Dr. Rev. James Farrell.
In his talk, James Farrell will describe how many people have misused and misunderstood the new testament book of Revelation, because they have failed to do two things:
Dr Farrel is a retired methodist minister who uses a scholarly, historical and analytical approach to understanding the Bible.
September 3, 1997
Skeptics, Paranormalist, Science Fiction and The X-Files.
When Chris Carter spoke at the First World Skeptic's Conference in Buffalo, NY, the audience was split between X-Files fans and X-Files detractors. Is the X-Files a sign, or even a contributor, to conspiratorial thinking and the uncritical acceptance of the paranormal. Or, is it fiction reflecting the fears of modern society?
If your a fan or detractor, join us September 3rd as our panel of science fiction fans, critics and skeptics (sometimes all in the same person) debate skepticism, science and science fiction.
June 4, 1997
Cults, UFOs and Culture.
The Heavens Gate suicides have sparked a range of emotions and responses. It is difficult to understand how 39 people could commit suicide in order to meet a UFO behind Comet Hale-Bopp. Cults and religious sects, however, have been a part of the American landscape since its earliest days. Our Panel will dicuss the Heavens Gate suicide and the role of cults in America past and present.
May 7, 1997
Gladden Schrock of Bennington College will present a program about what may be this countries 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.''
April 2, 1997
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. He will include a 15 minute demonstration on how you can use these powers to explore the universe. This April program is not to be missed. David Quinne is a graduate of Maharishi International University where he studied quantum metaphysics with a minor in political science.
March 5, 1997
Scams From The Great Beyond.
Peter Huston is ISUNY's vice-president and author of the outrageous and acclaimed skeptic manual 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.
February 5, 1997
False Memory Syndrome:
Repressed Memories, False Memories and Therapy Cults.
Video tape of Dr. John Hochman's presentation to the Skeptic Society of Pasadena, California. 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.
January 8, 1997
Vampires in New England.
Mercy Brown died in 19th century Massachusetts of consumption. Soon after, other members of her family also died until one night her father exhumed the body to remove the heart. This is just one case of New England ``vampirism'' investigated in the film Vampires in New England. Learn about the vampire of folklore, and the evidence that some New Englanders believed, and practiced these folk remedies as late as the 1880s.
December 4th, 1996
Ask our distinguished panel of investigators about the paranormal and fringe science.
November 6, 1996
Dr. Ken Schick:
Review of The Daemon Haunted World
Carl Sagan's latest book The Daemon Haunted World is his first book to deal with belief in the paranormal. Dr. Schick, Dept. of Physics, Union College and University, will review the book and discuss Sagan's views.
October 2, 1996
Climate Change: What Evidence is There?
Dr. John Delano:
Many types of natural materials (e.g., ice cores from Greenland; corals in the Pacific) 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.
John Delano is an Associate Professor and Chair Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences The University at Albany.
September 4, 1996
Bob Mulford, James Feris, Joyce Diwan and Alan French:
Is There Life on Mars?
The August 6th NASA press release and the August 16th Science article by McKay, et.al. has raised public and scientific interest in the possibility of past life on Mars. How do we know the meteor came from Mars? How good is the evidence for life it contained? And (since we are a Skeptics group) what, if anything, does this have to do with claims for advanced life on Mars?
Our panel of experts will discussed the NASA press release, the origin of the meteor, evidence for life and the popular public reaction. For a review see the October Why-Files.
June 5, 1996
Myths of Skepticism: Cautionary Tales for the Postmodern Age.
Do extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? Are scientists or skeptics more intelligent then believers? Is Science a self correction system, and does the evidence ever speak for itself? These are claims often made in the skeptical literature, but the truth, as always, is more complex then allowed for by simple slogans.
This talk will address specific misperceptions about science and belief which are frequently held by skeptics. The goal is to to provide a deeper understanding of how science does and doesn't work, and in the process better prepare the skeptic for debates with informed believers.
May 1, 1996
Higher Superstition and the Science Debate in Academia.
Gross & Levitt's book Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science is only the latest chapter in a long and growing debate in academia over the nature of science and objective knowledge. Meera Nanda has been following this debate, and will discuss Higher Superstition in the larger context of academia. She has a Ph.D. in biology, and is working on a second Ph.D. in Science and Technology in Society (STS).
April 3, 1996
Joe Nickell is a Senior Research Fellow for CSICOP, and the author or co-author of 14 books about the Paranormal.
This meeting sparked our first controversy. For details see the September Issue of The Why-Files.
March 6, 1996
Hoaxing Marshal Art Effects.
Peter Huston is an author and long-time practitioner of marshal arts. Over the years, he has collected examples of impressive looking effects that anybody with a little practice and no apparent fear of death can do. He will discuss these effects, and provide whatever demonstrations the insurance agents will let us get away with.
February 7, 1996
Penn & Teller and James Randi.
AN EVENING OF MAGIC & AWARDS.
This is a recording of the March 18, 1994 Skeptic Awards presentation, featuring Magic by the team of Penn & Teller, and by James Randi. If you want to learn how to eat fire, this is the tape to view.
January 3, 1996
Cancelled due to snow.
January 4, 1995
Secrets of the Psychics.
This was a showing of a NOVA episode in which James Randi demonstrates the techniques used by psychic Uri Geller and faith healer Peter Popoff. In this video James Randi tells of his experiences investigating the claims of Russian psychics.
February 1, 1995
Clashing Cultures: The Skeptic Paranormal Debate in the US and Brazil.
Dr. Hess is a professor of cultural anthropology in the department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is the author of the book Science in the New Age: The Paranormal, Its Defenders and Debunkers, and American Culture.
March 1, 1995
History, Propaganda and Fringe Politics.
Mr. Nardini has a Master's in History from Western Illinois University and is the author of Last Tourist out of China, a book about his experiences in Tiananmem Square. He is a charter member of the Taiwanese Skeptics. This talk dealt with the claims of holocaust deniers.
April 5, 1995
April 5th is our annual business meeting so there is no speaker scheduled. Instead, we will be electing officers, and holding a small party.
May 3, 1995
The Media the Occult
Patrick Kurp, a reporter with The Daily Gazette. He has 16 years experience as a reporter, and has covered dozens of occult claims, which he will discuss during the talk.
June 7, 1995
The Trouble With Astrology
Alan French is a longtime amateur astronomer. This is an encore presentation of a talk he presented on April 2nd, 1995 at the Northeast Astronomy Forum.
July 5, 1995
Dr. Sofka will discuss the phenomena of ``Cultural Reincarnation.'' That is, the tendency of our culture to keep celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy alive.
September 6, 1995
Did the Big Bang Really Happen.
Dr. Mulford will present the scientific evidence for the big bang theory, and the theories of its major detractors.
October 4, 1995
Richard Lange, M.D.
Pseudoscience and Medicine Today.
Dr. Lange is a CSICOP technical advisor.
November 1, 1995
Skeptics and their Paranormal Others: Some Cultural Dimensions of Debunking.
This will be David Hess's second presentation this year. We had one of our largest turn outs for his last talk, and several requests for an encore.
December 6, 1995
Victims of Memory: Incest accusations and shattered lives.
Mark is an award winning author whose latest book has been reviewed in Skeptical Inquierer, Skeptic Magazine, and Scientific American.
This was a very successful meeting. For more information see the January, 1996 issue of The WHY-Files.
June 1, 1994
What We Are Willing to Take For Granted.
John Dobson is an author, founder of the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers, and inventor of the Dobsonian telescope mount.
July 1, 1994
The Trouble With UFOs, Crashed Saucers and Alien Abductions.
Alan is an amateur astronomer with a lifelong interest in UFOs. This talk was his personal view of current trends in UFOlogy. Alan is the star party coordinator for the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers.
September 7, 1994
How We Know What Isn't So.
Dr. Gilovich is a professor of Psychology at Cornell University, and author of the book How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reasoning in Everyday Life.
October 5, 1994
Western Science, Non-Western Traditions, and Critical Thinking
Peter Huston is a frequent contributor to the Skeptical Inquirer, and is authoring a book on traditional Chinese medical practices and the paranormal.
November 3, 1994
A Demonstration Of Paranormal Abilities.
Mike Cioppa is a professional magician. His talk demonstrated mentalist magic and was followed by a lively discussion.
December 7, 1994
How Not to Investigate a Psychic.
David Quinne is the pseudonym of David Forest, a private researcher and resident psychic of The Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York. His talk covered the range of do's, and, especially, don'ts to consider when investigating paranormal (or any) phenomena.