May 1990 +quot;BASIS+quot;, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics Bay Area Skeptics Informat
May 1990 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics
Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet
Vol. 9, No. 5
Editor: Kent Harker
NEW AGE: THE NEED FOR MYTH
by Ted Schultz
[This article first appeared in "Western New York Skeptics
Newsletter", July 1989.]
I am a sympathetic skeptic of the New Age and other unorthodox
belief systems. I am sympathetic because, whether or not they're
actually true, some of these unconventional ideas are fascinating
cases of human creativity and imagination. I am also sympathetic
because of sentimentality, having thrilled to many unorthodox
beliefs in my youth.
When I was in the seventh grade I wrote away for a book that was
modestly entitled "The Hollow Earth: The Greatest Geographical
Discovery in History." It described a vast "inner earth"
illuminated by a central sun and inhabited by an advanced race who
were the pilots of the flying saucers. I also wrote away for a book
called "Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist?" advertised
in the classifieds in "Boy's Life" at a cost of 98›.
My interest in the paranormal obviously didn't end with childhood.
In 1973, at the age of twenty, I dropped out of college, left my
home state of Illinois, and headed for San Francisco. There I moved
into the heart of the Haight-Ashbury and immersed myself in the
budding New-Age movement. I explored Eastern religions, psychic
development systems, meditation, and various occult and psychic
Today, more than fifteen years later, I'm a biologist doing
graduate study in insect evolutionary biology at Cornell
University. I've become a scientist. One old New-Age friend wrote
to tell me that I had "sold out" to the "big Satan of materialistic
science." Naturally, I don't see it quite like that. Despite the
superficially radical transformation from mystic to scientist, I
haven't really changed very much. My consistent goal in life has
been to seek out the most wondrous, the most awe-inspiring
experiences the universe has to offer. What has changed in the last
fifteen years is that my standards for establishing what is true
have become a lot more stringent.
What I quickly came to realize as I explored the New Age -- and
what I had come to realize about paranormal theories in my teen
years as well -- is that many New-Age theories are mutually
contradictory. For instance, a lot of channeled teachings tell
completely different stories about rather important matters, like
how the universe was formed and where the stars and planets came
from. They disagree about where the origin and evolution of life on
earth, and about human evolution. They give differing versions of
history, with different ancient civilizations and different lost
continents; each has its unique complement of extraterrestrials,
levels of existence, celestial beings, life-after-death scenarios
As I encountered these contradictions during my exploration of the
New Age, it became obvious that some kind of objective standard was
necessary to figure out who was right. The most reliable objective
standard I found was the scientific method. Despite derogatory
New-Age epithets like the "big Satan of materialistic science,"
"Western science," "orthodox science," and "mainstream science," I
found that the scientific method is simply the application of
critical thinking and the rules of evidence to determine the
validity of propositions about the natural world. When I began to
apply the scientific method to the ideas that interested me, I
found, to my dismay, that in the New Age objective evidence is in
I don't want to give the impression that I think that I wasted my
time in the New Age, however. I had many beneficial and rewarding
experiences. In retrospect I realize that these benefits have very
little to do with cosmologies describing how the universe really
functions -- instead, these beneficial experiences were largely
psychological in nature. New-Age practices have their most profound
effects in such areas as altered states of consciousness,
meditation, physical therapy (yoga, etc.), psychological
counseling, and the simple pleasures of sharing experiences with
How do most New Agers deal with the contradictory nature of New-Age
teaching? Obviously they haven't felt the need to resort to the
scientific method, as I did. Most New Agers attempt to evaluate the
truth or falsity of a belief system by appealing to feelings. In
the New Age it is frequently said that if a belief "feels right" to
you, then it is "true" for you. Thus, there are two ways we use to
try to understand: the scientific method (objective) and "feelings"
Is one method right and the other method wrong? The answer isn't an
easy yes or no. I think, instead, that each method is appropriate
within certain realms of human experience. Relying on intuition,
faith, and feelings is appropriate for the inner, "subjective"
realm of emotions, dreams, myth, metaphor, and symbolism. I think
even arch-objectivists would agree that, for example, feelings and
intuition -- and not objective standards -- are a good way to
determine whether or not a work of art, a novel, or a piece of
music is "good" or not. Likewise, a large degree of subjectivity
must prevail in one's choice of a system of psychotherapy or a
system of psychological or spiritual growth, since by definition
how the system makes you feel determines whether it works or not.
The scientific method and the rules of evidence, on the other hand,
are appropriate for the other, "objective" realms of physical
reality or the natural world. The scientific method is the only way
to evaluate explanations of how the natural world functions.
Making this admittedly oversimplified distinction between inner,
subjective experience and outer, objective experience has clarified
for me how the cathartic psychological benefits of certain New-Age
beliefs can be high even though they simultaneously impart a large
degree of misinformation about the natural world.
For example, there are many New Agers who feel that they've
benefited from past-life therapy, a controversial form of
psychotherapy in which the patient relives alleged past
incarnations while under hypnosis. Because this therapy has
improved their lives, they are convinced that reincarnation is a
fact. But the therapeutic effect of past-life therapy does not
constitute evidence one way or another for the existence of
reincarnation. This requires evidence of an objective kind, and
I've never seen any that has convinced me. (Why, for instance,
hasn't one of these thousands of past-life memories led us to an
old file in some obscure records office that verified the existence
of the previous incarnation?)
Likewise channeling, psychic reading, or astrological counseling
may be beneficial on a psychological, subjective level. This says
nothing about whether disembodied entities, psychic powers, or
celestial influences on human affairs are objectively real
phenomena. Why, for example, hasn't one of the many thousands of
channeled entities ever told us the latitude and longitude of some
buried, ancient temple, which we could then objectively verify?
To clarify how New-Age therapies may be effective despite their
objective unreality, a useful comparison can be made with
"psychodrama," a form a psychotherapy that does not rely on any
paranormal theories. In psychodrama, patients participate in
imaginary interactions with their mothers or fathers (roles
sometimes played by the therapist or fellow patients). As in
New-Age-style therapies, the catharsis produced by such sessions
may be very real and beneficial. Unlike New-Age-style therapy,
however, the participants in psychodrama feel no necessity to
afterward insist that their mothers or fathers were actually
present, or that interactions were "real" in every respect.
New-Age teachings abound with claims that clearly lie in the realm
of empirical testing, including stories of lost continents,
communications from 30,000-year-old entities from other dimensions,
and strange histories that include unknown civilizations and
extraterrestrial beings. Though I have become skeptical about many
of these notions, I am highly sympathetic toward them. Whether or
not they are actually true, they can be appreciated from the point
of view of mythology and folklore, and as the products of
imaginative, eccentric minds motivated by the admirable human urge
to defy orthodoxy and think independently.
My position seems to provoke the ire of both ends of the
psychic-skeptic spectrum, so maybe I'm doing something right.
WEBSTER CREATIONISM DECISION APPEALED
by Eugenie Scott
"If a teacher in a public school uses religion and
teaches religious beliefs or espouses theories clearly
based on religious underpinnings, the principles of the
separation of church and state are violated as clearly as
if a statute ordered the teacher to teach religious
theories such as the statutes in Edwards did."
Thus did Federal District Court Judge Harold Dinger rule earlier
this year on a suit by Ray Webster. In March, 1988, junior-high
teacher Ray Webster sued the New Lenox, Illinois school district
and its superintendent for "deprivation of rights by censorship
contrary to the 1st and 14th amendments. . . ." The superintendent
had told him that he was "not to teach creationist science as the
federal courts have held that this is religious advocacy. You may
discuss the historical relationship in a purely objective manner
without advocacy of a Christian viewpoint and only if such
discussion is an appropriate part of the standard curriculum."
ICR attorney Wendell Bird has taken the case as a key strategy to
follow upon the Edwards v. Aguillard decision banning the required
teaching of scientific creationism. Creationists have interpreted
the decision to mean that even if states can't REQUIRE teachers to
teach creationism, an INDIVIDUAL teacher could do so on his/her
own. Mr. Webster is their first test case.
Judge Dinger dismissed the case, noting that precedent required a
teacher to "teach within the framework of curriculum. . . ." and
thus, "Webster's rights as a teacher to present certain material
within his social studies curriculum is not absolute." The District
has no right to enact a curriculum that would "inject religion into
the public school setting," and in fact, has the RESPONSIBILITY to
monitor what is taught to "ensure that the establishment clause is
Part of Webster's amended complaint was a petition by a student,
Matthew Dunne, for his "right" to be taught creationism. Dinger
noted that Dunne was not being denied his right to hear these
ideas, just "limited to receiving information as to creation
science to those locations and settings where dissemination does
not violate the first amendment." In other words, learn all you
want about scientific creationism, but do it outside of school.
The conclusion of the decision was particularly strong. Dinger
said, "The relevant issue here is what Webster was prohibited from
teaching. He was prohibited from teaching creation science. The
U.S. Supreme Court has found that creation science is a religiously
based theory and that teaching this theory in a public school
violates the first amendment. Prohibiting this teaching is thus
constitutionally valid." This is the strongest statement on the
teaching of creationism since the Arkansas McLean decision, which
defined scientific creationism to be without merit scientifically
The Webster case is being appealed on procedural grounds. If the
decision is upheld, expect Bird to look for a client who is
teaching something without the word "creation" in it. Because the
Supreme Court has declared that the "theory of creation science"
embodies a creator and thus "embodies a religious belief," any form
of antievolutionism with creation or a similar word in it will be
frowned upon by the courts. Bird has already published a book
espousing the "theory of abrupt appearance," and others are
promoting the "theory of intelligent design." Webster identified
himself as teaching "creationism," a legal no-no. Bird's next case
probably will involve a teacher teaching one of the euphemisms.
After all, there is no constitutional provision against teaching
bad science, only religion. However, until the Appeals Court rules,
Ray Webster et al. v. New Lenox School District cannot be
considered a closed case.
[BAS board member Dr. Eugenie Scott is the Exec. Director of NCSE]
by Hal Draper
About your "Editor's Corner" (Dec. issue) and your discovery that
a creationist opponent of yours was using a definition of science
different from yours: a good point, certainly. But it may also be
useful to point out that all of us (scientific types included)
habitually use the word "science" with something less than
scientific exactness, and thereby contribute to public confusion.
To take a common case, consider any sentence beginning, "Science
says that . . ." as in "Science says that Homo sapiens developed on
this planet about X million years ago."
What is it that "says" this? Science. I submit that, quite apart
from different definitions of words, all of us who might make this
statement may actually be thinking of any one of three different
concepts, all of which are correct.
In (1), "science" is viewed as a body of knowledge. You or I might
add implicitly: Knowledge gained through scientific investigation.
Obviously the "scientific" in "scientific investigation" refers to
a different concept of science than merely "a body of knowledge."
In (2), "science" is viewed as a METHODOLOGY, a guide to
investigation of the universe. It is used to mean scientific
In (3), "science" denotes the totality of social institutions and
activities established to carry on the other two conceptions of
science. In a sense, this is the only sense of science that says
anything directly. It is perhaps needless to add that the Stanford
physics department and the AAAS (et al.) are social institutions
(instituted by society for scientific purposes).
Well, then, I submit that it would be difficult to carry on any
argument about science (with anyone) without all three conceptions
popping in and out of the conversation like little green men.
Besides, under EACH of these conceptions of science comes the
further matter of differing definitions.
I suggest that in further discussions with creationists,
astrologers, and other pseudoscientists, it would be advisable to
determine in advance which conception of "science" you're talking
about, before working on definitions. In this connection, may I
mention a sentence of yours that puzzled me very much? You write
that your creationist friend's "definition [of science] allows
voodooism and cow-chip tossing as valid scientific areas of study."
YOU do not allow these as "valid scientific areas of study?"
You must have some other conception in mind. Did you mean something
different from "valid areas of scientific study"? I cannot believe
that (for example) you disallow astrology as an area of study -- to
be studied scientifically, naturally. (As a matter of fact, your
lead article in this same issue of "BASIS" does exactly that.) So
there must be a misunderstanding behind your words. My guess is
that you are using not concept (1) -- which accepts a body of
knowledge ABOUT voodooism just as happily as any other -- but
concept (2) which is concerned with methodology; and you are really
saying that voodooism and cow-chip tossing are not valid METHODS of
Well, two people could argue about these things for hours and
merely argue past each other, without ever making contact. An exact
definition of science is certainly necessary, but it is advisable
to concede that there are many correct definitions
(lexicographically speaking). If you want to confuse your opponent,
tell her that her definition of science is correct -- but
unscientific. Then you can argue about it far into the night.
[(Reply: One may study voodooism scientifically, but it is not
science. I said my friend allowed "knowledge" as the definition of
science. Thus everything is science and there is nothing to debate.
Not everything is science. -- Ed.)]
CREATIONISM'S OTHER FACE
by Yves Barbero
"Follow the money!" -- Journalist maxim.
Scientists all over the United States have stepped into the breach
and have spoken for evolution as fact and theory. The need for them
to step away from their instruments and address this question has
While this is time consuming and takes them away from the
interesting activities they were trained for and prefer doing, a
failure to address the question would pose a threat to the
educational system and create misunderstandings of their role and
views by the public. The opposition generates, both intentionally
and unintentionally, a lot of misinformation.
Quite aside from the heady victories science has experienced in the
courts and in public opinion in recent years, the debate has served
to heighten awareness of scientific issues in general and the
educational system in particular. It has also made scientists
better understand their role in the public forum. Volunteer groups
which have supported the effort to keep scientific education
"scientific" have grown stronger and the members of these groups
have benefited in their individual educations. On the whole, they
should be grateful to the scientific creationists. Now if they
would only go away.
Unfortunately, they won't and the fight is far from over.
Creationist groups will keep coming back again and again, beating
after beating, denunciation after denunciation until (they hope) a
more amenable government gives them the victory they desire. They
can only hope for a political victory. As of this writing, there
isn't even a hint from the evidence that science has a need to
reverse itself on evolution.
And they can afford to wait. Their support and funds do not come
from the usual scientific sources but from supporters predisposed
as to the "scientific" conclusions they will reach. (Would a proper
research institution accept money on the grounds that only certain
conclusions be reached?)
At this point, I depart from the usual presentation of scientific
evidence (there are people better equipped for this role) and from
the politeness of assuming honest motives on the part of the
professionals who support scientific creationism. To be sure, there
are some who genuinely BELIEVE. But for the majority, a cynicism
has crept into the lecture circuit.
After all, giving lectures for fee or selling books beats working
for a living or the anonymity of a colorless job. The temptation of
public notoriety can be overwhelming to some. It's difficult for an
individual who has invested years of his life to suddenly thrust it
aside and admit defeat. If scientists can hold on to notions long
past their useful life (history is full of such examples), and even
if we were to assume sincerity on the part of professional
creationists, can we expect better from the untrained?
Sincerity is usually assumed of the rank and file believers in
scientific creationism because they donate time and money without
reward (except perhaps some sort of fellowship). That's fair
enough. Their leaders, however, are better rewarded (and often
better educated). If sincerity has been assumed of them, it's been
more because scientifically oriented groups acknowledge that they
can't read minds and are wary (however tempted) to ascribe motives
to others. Trained in the scientific method, they are cognizant of
the hazards of assuming anything. On top of that, most have
middle-class backgrounds and have the habit, part and parcel with
that background, of fair play. Finally, let's not forget the legal
hazards of assuming anything but sincerity unless (like here) we
speak in general terms.
Let us resolve to be made of sterner stuff and examine the powerful
underlying motivations which could prevent a change in lifestyles
by the creationist should he become convinced of the error of his
Unlike the atheist who suddenly sees the light, he cannot come
sobbing to the nearest scientific conference and give testimony.
His potential colleagues will still expect him to come up with
original research and produce some legitimate credentials. A former
hydraulic engineer will not be accepted into a crowd of zoologists
without going back to school. Scientists, however foolish the
notion, usually prefer merit to ideological solidarity.
The former creationist (often in middle age) will have to stop
selling books (although one bearing his testimony of how he changed
his mind might find a modest place) and avoid the lucrative lecture
circuit (although he might be invited to lecture on what changed
his mind for the fee paid speakers at scientifically-oriented
volunteer groups -- a beer after the talk).
Such a creationist would certainly lose prestige as well as
followers. He would be denounced by his former flock and possibly
see violence from the more fanatical of that flock.
Mailing lists, the backbone of any American enterprise, would be
lost. Without the mailing lists, the politicians who once came
courting would now send form letters.
Political agendas come in clusters. The guy who's willing to mess
around with the First Amendment by disguising a religious idea as
a scientific theory usually has (to put it politely) a very
eclectic political agenda. Giving up one part is likely to bring
down the house of cards.
Historically (meaning without rational cause), creationists have
seen themselves as conservatives (to the embarrassment of Barry
Goldwater and other real conservatives) and they may feel that
giving up one facet of a political ideology will require that they
become bleeding-heart whatevers. Because facets of the creationists
potpourri of right-wing reactionary political belief are not dealt
with on a day-to-day analytical basis, he may actually retain them
after giving up beliefs that he can analyze . . . creationism. This
becomes a powerful motive to continue preaching an absurdity.
It is human nature to turn on sincerity when arguing a point. Our
creationist, from the evidence that he must have come across, may
have become convinced that creationism is nonsense while retaining
other facets of his cluster of ideology. But in order to do his
"job," he must perform a mini-brainwash on himself to be
convincing. (The used-car dealer, knowing he's selling lemons, will
first convince himself that the cars are wonderful before
approaching a mark. He understands that he's really selling
himself.) An emotional motive, that of retaining an ideology,
combined with financial incentives can make a person spin his
wheels for a long time.
In addition, there is the "in-group" phenomenon. When a minority
group is suddenly thrust into the limelight, as creationists have
been, everything is reduced to two-minute bites to fit into the
public media. They must get our attention instantly to be heard. If
the group is small, as are the creationist professionals -- they
exist outside mainstream religious thought -- they don't have the
panorama of peers or the professional publications to keep them in
check or force them to think out their ideas as scientists and
mainline theologians. They begin to mistake slogans and ad hoc
conclusions for reality during those moments when they have to turn
Let's not forget the personal problems this can also cause.
Creationists share, as with most people, a social life oriented
around their interests. Even confidence people who know and
acknowledge that they operate outside the law have their own
internal rules of behavior when dealing with each other.
Creationists would have to give up friends and lovers.
All the court decisions and scientific ridicule, all the
legislative acts and removal of certifications will do nothing to
stop them and will barely slow them up. What will stop them, in the
long run, is the better scientific education of our children. When
the checks stop coming from below, they will find other, hopefully
C.S. EQUALS LONG LIFE?
Even though Christian Scientists abstain from tobacco and alcohol,
they apparently die younger than the rest of the population,
perhaps because they also shun most therapies offered by modern
medicine. A new study, reported by William Simpson, at Emporia
University in Kansas, found evidence of the higher-than-average
death rate in statistics compiled over a twelve-year period.
The founder of the Christian Science faith, Mary Baker Eddy, taught
that illness is just a product of the mind, and that all drugs do
is tap into human faith and belief. Eddy urged members of the
church to avoid most medical therapies and to treat affliction with
faith and prayer instead.
CSICOP has conducted investigations into C.S. healing, and "BASIS"
has reported on some of the more notable court cases against C.S.
parents who have withheld medical attention from their children.
ENLIGHTENMENT SEARCH IS A WASTE
by Don Lattin
You know there is something different about U.G. Krishnamurti when
you read the disclaimer on page 1 of his book "Mind is a Myth."
"My teaching, if that is the word you want to use, has no
copyright. You are free to reproduce, distribute, interpret,
misinterpret, distort, garble, do what you like, even claim
authorship, without my consent or the permission of anybody."
For 20 years, thousands of disillusioned spiritual seekers have
come to see this 72-year-old native of southern India at the homes
and apartments of his friends in Switzerland, India and the United
States, among which he divides his time. After they discover that
their own guru is a fraud, they come to Krishnamurti. He offers no
consolation, provides no hope. He has No Answers. Krishnamurti has
no church, no ashram, no organization, no publishing house, no
spiritual message. He has no desire to have any followers,
disciples or devotees.
"They always call me a guru. I don't know why. There is no
religious content to what I am saying," he said at a friend's home.
"People come to see me. Except for a few friends, they don't stick
around because they don't get anything from me."
Perhaps the easiest thing to say about Krishnamurti is that he is
not related to the more famous reluctant sage of India, the late J.
Krishnamurti. Both, however, were raised in the inner circles of
the theosophy movement in India, and went on to reject occult
philosophy. They have similar messages, but U.G.'s is more radical,
more controversial, more hopeless.
Categorizing U.G. is not easy. He has been called a guru, as well
as the "un-guru." Some see him as a philosopher, while
"anti-philosopher" may be more to the point. Words such as cynic,
nihilist and iconoclast could also be used to describe this
disarming, charming and alarming little man.
Krishnamurti says there is no such thing as mind, soul, psyche,
self, spirituality, individuality, enlightenment or afterlife.
Spiritual seekers, he says, are wasting their time meditating,
praying and worshiping. All of the world's gurus, priests,
preachers, rabbis, philosophers, psychologists and theologians are
operating under one gigantic, illusion, he says. They have, in his
view, been fooling themselves and the rest of us for centuries.
U. G. Krishnamurti is the Don Rickles of religion. He makes
Madeline Murray O'Hair look pious.
"All of this talk of personal change, of spiritual transformation,
has no meaning to me because there's nothing to transform. There is
no mind. Our thoughts are not self-generated. They are simply
responses to stimuli. What we call `mind' is simply the totality of
thoughts, feelings and experiences."
Searching for "peace of mind" or the "meaning of life" is useless
because there is neither mind nor meaning.
According to Krishnamurti, all mystical experiences, transcendental
states and spiritual experiences are simply neurological glitches
in the brain -- biological functions with no more supernatural
meaning than other natural functions of the body.
Dr. Paul Lynn, a 47-year-old San Francisco physician and Marin
County resident, spent years in a search for spiritual
enlightenment before coming to Krishnamurti. Lynn, who first met
"U.G." on a trip to India in 1973, went on to become a devotee of
Da Free John, an American guru who was born in New York as Franklin
Jones. Jones founded a Marin County-based spiritual empire and now
lives on his own Fijian island.
After realizing Da Free John "either didn't know what he was doing
or was a total fake," Lynn left the fold in '82 and reconnected
with Krishnamurti. He hasn't simply switched gurus.
"It's very different," he said. "Da Free John said he was a guru
and there is something you can do to get enlightened. I don't
expect U.G. to make my life better. I have no expectations of U.G."
Julie Thayer, a New York photographer who hosted Krishnamurti
during a recent visit to that city, stumbled across U.G.'s first
book, "The Mystique of Enlightenment." Like this other book, it
consists of transcripts of dialogues with his visitors.
(Krishnamurti says he receives no payment or royalties from either
book. One New York rabbi has even taken his disclaimer seriously
and published his own version of "Mind Is a Myth.")
"I asked U.G. about surrendering, which was the path of this guru
I was following," said Thayer. "He asked, `What are you
surrendering and who are you surrendering to?' It just clicked that
I was on the wrong track. Since then, there's been no more
Krishnamurti acknowledges that many of those who come to see him
mistakenly believe he has The Answer, and want to make him their
new guru. "Everybody is selling enlightenment in the marketplace.
It has become a shoddy piece of spiritual goodies," he said. "There
is a market for it. Once you feel all your needs are taken care of,
naturally the question arises, `is that all there is?'"
THE BEGINNING OF RELIGION
What we call "religion," Krishnamurti said, began somewhere along
the evolutionary process when humans -- unlike the rest of the
animals -- began feeling self-conscious and separate from nature.
"That is what is responsible for this feeling of fear -- of feeling
lost and all alone," he said.
"There is no room for the religious man in the natural scheme of
things," he said. "The saints and saviors have only succeeded in
setting you adrift in life with pain and misery and the restless
feeling that there must be something more meaningful to do. . . ."
In the gospel according to Krishnamurti, all political ideologies,
wars, economic systems, value systems, senseless violence and ideas
about morality flow from this ultimately false assumption that
there is mind, spirit or meaning.
So what are we to do with our lives? "Don't ask me," Krishnamurti
replies. Humanity, he says, long ago started down the path of total
annihilation and absolutely nothing can be done to save it.
(Don Lattin is the "San Francisco Chronicle" Religion Writer. His
article appeared in the December 18, 1989 "Chronicle".)
[Comment: If one gives up New-Age weirdness, an endowment from our
primitive ancestors, one loses nothing of value. That is, if one
has an appreciation for the laws of nature -- physics, chemistry,
biology, etc. -- one actually lives a happier life. -- John Taube]
THE PSYCHICS AND SKEPTICS CON
by Moleen Matsumura
The recent "Psychics and Skeptics" segment of CBS' "48 Hours" was
a bad joke on any viewer who hoped to see any skeptical viewpoint
presented. The program trotted out the standard psychic menagerie,
including a woman who did tarot readings over the air, psychic
detectives, faith-healers, and a channeler for an extraterrestrial
entity whose accent wouldn't get her a bit part in "Bride of
By contrast, the program showed only one clip of CSICOP skeptic Dr.
Ray Hyman, which lasted less than two minutes. Dr. Hyman was not
interviewed about his field of expertise, but confronted with the
channeler and asked whether he thought she was genuine. All the
psychics, and often their clients, were given a chance to explain
their beliefs in detail, but the reporter did not ask Hyman to
explain his doubts -- he was only asked to rate on a scale of 1 to
ten how credible she was (he said "minus three") -- about the
channeler, much less his skeptical philosophy.
This kind of gee-whiz programing doesn't deserve to be called
journalism, and CBS needs to be told that viewers want to see
genuinely critical reporting. If ONE determined housewife could
influence Coca Cola to drop an extremely popular series, we should
be able to squeeze a bit of decent journalism out of Dan Rather.
What were some of the worst moments on the show? Was it the woman
who wanted licensing of psychics? the family that visualizes the
ideal vacation spot? the "detective" exploiting the desperate
family of a missing child?
The low point in the program was the reporter's statement that a
cancer patient's hair had grown in after she was given the "healing
touch." Of course it had! ANY cancer patient's hair grows back once
chemotherapy is stopped. "48 Hours" should have just run an ad for
Please write to "48 Hours" to express your opinions of the
programming. Mail to "48 Hours," 524 W. 57th St., New York, NY
[Editor's note: There is a behind-the-scenes story here. "48-Hours"
had contacted BAS founder Bob Steiner to be a major part of the
program. Most of our readers know that Bob is a professional
magician and that he does a cold reading better than any psychic
you'll meet. The 48-Hours team wanted Bob to do a cold reading for
them, but the reporter on whom he was to do the reading knew that
it would not be done by a psychic. Bob tried to explain that that
would not work -- the most important part of the reading is the
belief of the subject. They would not understand. Bob spent the
better part of two days with the crew taping and explaining what
was happening with the psychics they contacted around the Bay Area.
The producers chose not to use a single inch of the tape,
presumably because the parts with Steiner did not put psi in the
light they wanted to cast it. We believe those producers should
know what we think about the program and what they chose to omit.
WHO IS A BAY AREA SKEPTIC?
by Bob Steiner
Someone recently posed an interesting question to me about
membership in BAS.
First some background. Loyd Auerbach is a parapsychological
consultant. He is author of "ESP, HAUNTINGS AND POLTERGEISTS: A
Parapsychologist's Handbook". He teaches Parapsychology at JFK
University. He is President of the California Society of Psychical
Study. He has given presentations to BAS, attends BAS meetings and
subscribes to "BASIS". He is, in short, an activist in our
Monroe Pastermack, Price Burlingame, and I are activists in Bay
Area Skeptics. We attend and participate in meetings. If you were
to speak to each of us you would most assuredly conclude that all
three of us are skeptics. We all subscribe to "BASIS".
For ease of addressing this question, assume that the above-named
persons were the only ones in the room who have activated to any
extent in Bay Area Skeptics. BAS is not a membership organization.
Activation in our wonderful group is easy: you simply activate.
On December 13, 1989, I attended the Annual Banquet of The Society
of American Magicians Assembly No. 112, in Concord. A visitor from
out of state was talking with Monroe and me. The visitor, wondering
about the extent of overlap of magicians and skeptics, inquired,
"How many Bay Area Skeptics are in this room?"
How would you answer that question?
PELL TO WIN
Claiborne Pell will win reelection to the senate. How do we know?
RAY WESTERGARD sent us a clipping from the "Oakland Tribune"
(2-20-90) revealing that Uri Geller "will beam [his] energy for
[Pell] to win the election."
Senator Pell's well-publicized personal interest in the paranormal
has prompted him to introduce Capitol Hill measures to promote
government sponsorship of psi research. Pell (dem., Rhode Island)
has a truly rare opportunity to lend credibility to parapsychology.
He could stop all active campaigning and let Uri quietly do the job
for him. The millions saved could then be philanthropically spent
on psi research instead of spending taxpayer funds -- provided Uri
would live up to the oft-cited maxim that psychics cannot receive
money for their prognostications without tainting their powers.
(Never mind that he is a multi-millionaire from his psychic
activities.) As in all psychic demonstrations it would be a win-win
circumstance: If Pell loses, Uri was preoccupied, or some other
excuse. If he wins, psi is confirmed.
Think of the future of political contests if it came down to the
Battle of the Beams as two opposing psychics would concentrate
their energies at us. (There would be an added benefit for those of
us who would rather be subjected to psychic energy than to
listening to the huckstering hooey of the candidates.) The psychic
energies could become so powerful as to actually cause our hands to
jump back and forth in the polling booth. It might be difficult to
even hold the voting stylus.
BAS BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Chair: Larry Loebig
Vice Chair: Yves Barbero
Secretary: Rick Moen
Treasurer: Kent Harker
Kent Harker, editor; Sharon Crawford, assoc. editor;
Kate Talbot, distribution; Rick Moen, circulation
William J. Bennetta, Scientific Consultant
Dean Edell, M.D., ABC Medical Reporter
Donald Goldsmith, Ph.D., Astronomer and Attorney
Earl Hautala, Research Chemist
Alexander Jason, Investigative Consultant
Thomas H. Jukes, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
John E. McCosker, Ph.D., Director, Steinhart Aquarium
Diane Moser, Science writer
Richard J. Ofshe, Ph.D.,U. C. Berkeley
Bernard Oliver, Ph.D., NASA Ames Research Center
Kevin Padian, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
James Randi, Magician, Author, Lecturer
Francis Rigney, M.D., Pacific Presbyterian Med. Center
Wallace I. Sampson, M.D., Stanford University
Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., Anthropologist
Robert Sheaffer, Technical Writer, UFO expert
Robert A. Steiner, CPA, Magician, Lecturer, Writer
Ray Spangenburg, Science writer
Jill C. Tarter, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
SCIENCE EDUCATION OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
With fifteen years of classroom teaching experience in Colorado,
Kansas, and California, and 12 years in museums, much of that at
the helm as Chair of Education at the California Academy of
Sciences, there is little Sue Douglas doesn't know about getting
young people interested in Science.
Have you ever wondered how you got a child interested in science so
he or she could become a professional scientist? Or at least an
educated voter? The structured environment of schools is much to
be admired, but much of the motivation must come from parents,
relatives, and interested neighbors making use of public facilities
such as museums and libraries.
Douglas has worked with parents, trained teachers, and guided
hundreds of children through the fascinating world of natural
science at the Academy. A graduate of Wichita State University,
she has demonstrated a dedication rarely matched by other
Bring your questions.
Science Outside the Class
by: Sue Douglas
WHEN: Monday, May 21, 7:30 pm
WHERE: South San Francisco Library
The South San Francisco Public Library is at 840 West Orange Avenue
in South San Francisco. From 101, take Grand Ave. exit west, left
onto Chestnut Ave., right on El Camino Real, left on Westborough
Blvd., and left on Orange. From 280, take Westborough east to
Orange and turn right. The SSF Public Library is a half block in
and parking is plentiful.
Watch for coming events in the BAS CALENDAR, or call 415-LA-TRUTH
for up-to-the-minute details on events. If you have ideas about
topics or speakers, leave a message on the hotline.
WARNING: We STRONGLY URGE that you call the hotline shortly before
attending any Calendar activity to see if there have been any
Opinions expressed in "BASIS" are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect those of BAS, its board or its advisors.
The above are selected articles from the May, 1990 issue of
"BASIS", the monthly publication of Bay Area Skeptics. You can
obtain a free sample copy by sending your name and address to BAY
AREA SKEPTICS, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco, CA 94122-3928 or by
leaving a message on "The Skeptic's Board" BBS (415-648-8944) or
on the 415-LA-TRUTH (voice) hotline.
Copyright (C) 1990 BAY AREA SKEPTICS. Reprints must credit "BASIS,
newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco,
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank