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An NHNE News Flash:
SI Electronic Digest
Wednesday, November 5, 1997

 

Hello Everyone,

THE COMMITTEE FOR THE SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION OF CLAIMS OF THE PARANORMAL (CSICOP), publishers of THE SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, have begun publishing an online news digest. While NHNE doesn't officially endorse their work, or believe that their articles and investigations are always fair and impartial, CSICOP often reports on topics that are of interest to many of us. I wanted to be sure that all of you knew about their new digest, SI ELECTRONIC DIGEST, and that those of you who were interested had the opportunity to subscribe.

Their website is located at:
www.csicop.org

To subscribe to CSICOP'S online mailing list:
http://www.csicop.org/list/

With Love & Best Wishes,
David Sunfellow

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SKEPTICAL INQUIRER ELECTRONIC DIGEST
November 5, 1997

SI Electronic Digest is the weekly e-mail news update of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) (www.csicop.org) The Digest is written and compiled by Matthew Nisbet and Barry Karr. Send comments and news to SINISBET@aol.com.

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In this week's edition:

1. Dave Thomas Cracks _The Bible Code_ In People Magazine.
2. Launch of New Journal Receives Widespread Media Attention.
3. BBC's Equinox exposes "Secrets of the Psychics."
4. Center for Inquiry- International Probes Dr. Frankenstein.
5. Center for Inquiry- Midwest Conference Successful.
6. Commentary: Joe Nickell on "Haunted Minds."

------------

1. DAVE THOMAS CRACKS _ THE BIBLE CODE _ IN PEOPLE MAGAZINE

Nov. 3, 1997-- SKEPTICAL INQUIRER consulting editor Dave Thomas and his critique of Michael Drosnin's best-selling _The Bible Code_ (SI November/December 1997) were featured in a Nov. 3 People magazine article. Thomas is quoted as saying that when heard Drosnin's prophetic assertions, "My baloney detector went off three-alarm." The article relates how Thomas programmed his home computer to find the same kind of "hidden messages" in other texts. "Applying scientific methods to the Bible [is] demeaning to religion and dangerous to science" says Thomas.

2. LAUNCH OF NEW JOURNAL RECEIVES WIDESPREAD MEDIA ATTENTION

October 14, 1997-- At the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Prometheus Books and the Council for Scientific Medicine held a press conference to launch the official debut of the Journal for the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. The only peer-reviewed medical journal devoted exclusively to objectively evaluating the claims of "Alternative Medicine", the Review has been endorsed by over 50 prominent physicians and scientists, including 5 Nobel laureates.

The Review's debut received international coverage that included CNN, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, MSNBC, Fox News, and the journals Science and Nature. "The new journal will consider each claim on its merits," says Review Editor Wallace Sampson, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, Stanford University. "It will reject no claim because it fits, or fails to fit, some paradigm. It will simply seek justified answers to two questions: 'Is it true?' and 'Does this treatment work?'"

Topics covered in the first issue include homeopathy, therapeutic touch, the alleged anticancer cure hydrazine sulfate, chelation therapy, Deepak Chopra's claims regarding quantum healing, alternative medicine proponent Andrew Weil, and more.

To subscribe to the journal call Prometheus Books at 1 (800) 421-0351. Media inquiries may be directed to Executive Editor Lewis Vaughn at (716) 636-7571.

3. BBC'S EQUINOX EXPOSES "SECRETS OF THE PSYCHICS"

BBC's "Equinox" recently aired a four-part series titled "Secrets of the Psychics." A breath of fresh air to skeptics worldwide, the "Equinox" series was an exceptional mix of entertaining, educational and skeptical treatment of the history of psychics. Featuring CSICOP fellows Ray Hyman and Susan Blackmore along with many other prominent skeptics, the series covered the history of spiritualism and psychics from the Fox sisters to Uri Geller. "Equinox" blended colorful skeptical commentary with illuminating dramatizations and explanations of famous mediums and their art of illusion. "Equinox" also takes the viewer inside the laboratory and shows how easily test subjects may be fooled. The series even reveals a few magician tricks! BBC's production is likely to become an important future video reference work on the history of spiritualism and psychics.

4. CENTER FOR INQUIRY- INTERNATIONAL PROBES DR. FRANKENSTEIN

October 31, 1997--Halloween eve, the Center for Inquiry-International in Amherst, New York, hosted "Frankenstein and its Implications." Free Inquiry Editor Timothy J. Madigan and Canisius College Anthropology Professor James Birx lectured on Mary Shelly's classic tale and its connection to contemporary issues like cloning. Afterwards, the costumed crowd of more than 130 were treated to a viewing of the original 1931 "Frankenstein" film classic.

5. CENTER FOR INQUIRY- MIDWEST CONFERENCE SUCCESSFUL

October 24-26, 1997--Over 60 skeptics and humanists from six states traveled to Kansas City to attend the Center for Inquiry-Midwest's "Science and the Culture Wars," a conference dedicated to the promotion of "science and reason in an irrational world." One highlight of the weekend was a debate with three invited creationists. CFI-Midwest director Verle Muhrer begged fellow skeptics to be kind. While humans share more than 90 percent of their genetic makeup with chimpanzees, he pointed out, "we're 100 percent genetically identical to the creationists." The conference raised more than $10,000 towards the construction of a proposed new CFI-Midwest building and was featured in an Associated Press article that ran nationwide.

6. HAUNTED PLACES OR HAUNTED MINDS?
Joe Nickell

The imprecise category of alleged phenomena known as ghosts has fired the popular imagination since earliest times. Indeed, with Halloween, images of apparitions may be as common as falling leaves. Poltergeists disturb television, ghouls decorate stor fronts, and disembodied spirits chill listeners to fireside stories.

As part of human nature, there exists a primal craving to believe in the transcendental. Much as America is intrigued by aliens, belief in ghosts is pervasive. A 1990 Gallup poll revealed that 29% of Americans believe that houses can be haunted, and 25% believe that ghosts or spirits of dead people come back in certain places and situations.

Given such surprisingly high percentages of gullibility, America has become a lucrative market for ghost claims. Maybe the most famous, and certainly the most mass-marketed tale of haunting is that of the alleged "Amityville Horror." In December, 1974, George and Kathy Lutz moved into a new home in Amityville, New York, a community on Long Island. Twenty-eight days later, the Lutzes fled the house, claiming they had been driven from their home by sinister forces that had ripped open a two-hundred and fifty pound door, caused green slime to ooze from the ceiling, peered into the house at night with red eyes, left cloven-hooved tracks in the snow outside, and produced other ostensibly paranormal phenomena, including commanding in a masculine voice, "Get out!" The claimed impetus for the demonic haunting? Little more than a year earlier in November 1973, the house had been the site of tragic murders. Ronald Defeo had shot to death his parents, two sisters, and two brothers. At trial, Defeo had claimed he had heard voices in the house instructing him to kill.

Soon a book was in the offing. The Amityville Horror, boldly subtitled A True Story, came out in 1977 and promptly went through thirteen printings by 1978. In July of 1979, the book was released as a box-office movie hit, leading to multiple sequels still in video release today. But upon release of the film, the Lutz's attorney, William Weber, revealed that the elaborate tale was a hoax. "We created this horror story over many bottles of wine that George Lutz was drinking," Weber told the Associate Press. "We were really playing with each other. We were creating something the public wanted to hear about."

Since the public certainly does crave ghost stories and tales that supposedly elude worldly explanation, it is wise to hold to methods of inquiry that evaluate such claims rationally and scientifically. In over twenty years of ghostbusting, an international organization, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) has identified several types of alleged hauntings. In some instances, the phenomenon is merely an illusion or misperception. For example, at Toronto's historic Mackenzie House, late at night, ghostly footfalls on the stairs were heard by different caretaker families even though there were no intruders in the house at the time. Investigation revealed the sounds were coming from a parallel iron staircase in the building next door, and that the unknown entities were members of the cleanup crew.

Another common haunting phenomenon is a simple type of hallucination. It is typified by another example from the Mackenzie House, when a caretaker's wife woke to see a man in a frock coat standing by her bedside. In such cases, although the witness' eyes are open, he or she may nevertheless be dreaming, resulting in a vivid experience known as a "waking dream."

In addition to the bedside phantom, some percipients report seeing apparitions-- "as real as real"-- while clearly awake. Such persons sometimes even have a personal, household ghost or "familiar", and may be classified as fantasy-prone personalities. These individuals may also assume identities as self-styled mediums or psychics, religious visionaries, or UFO abductees.

Then there are the deliberate hoaxes. Poltergeist ("noisy spirit") cases tend to be of this type. Often the disruptive phenomena, such as objects flung across a room or lights turned off and on, can be traced to a child in the household. While credulous parapsychologists generally attribute the disturbances to energy forces associated with puberty, the evidence of numerous cases reveals the effects are actually deliberate acts of hostility or means of attracting attention. For example, in 1848 in Hydesville, New York, it was reported that the ghost of a murdered peddler mischievously haunted the Fox family home. Publicity surrounding the disturbances sparked the 19th century spiritualist movement, and only decades later was it learned that the ghost was an elaborate hoax perpetrated by two young girls in the home, Maggie and Katie Fox.

The power of suggestion is a major influence in spreading ghostly reports. One witness may persuade another of an event, a phenomenon known by the French expression folie a deux or "folly of two", or there may be a bandwagon effect involving many persons, a type of influence called psychological contagion. In the case of a haunted lodge near Santa Cruz, California, for instance, where ghostly antics were reportedly proliferating, the owner recognized how the "ghost" was really influencing his staff: that's all they talk about," he told SKEPTICAL INQUIRER magazine. As a centerpiece of conversation, tales of ghosts and spirits fed off each other, prompting and supporting further speculation among the staff about strange happenings and perceived occurences.

Again, years ago at Liberty Hall in Frankfort, Kentucky, the curator thought spooky tales were good for business and the staff promoted belief in ghosts at every opportunity, the result being constant reports of alleged spirit phenomena-- imagined taps on the shoulder, cold spots, and so on. But when a subsequent curator placed a moratorium on such hustling of the public, the haunting reports dwindled. Liberty Hall is not unique. Hundreds of haunted businesses dot the American landscape. From New Castle, Delaware, to Eureka, California, other curators, innkeepers and restaurateurs market the supernatural to snare wayward travelers.

Over the centuries, people's perceptions of ghosts have evolved. Each historic period perceives an apparition in terms of its own cultural attitude. During the Inquisition, sightings featured souls trapped in purgatory. The Victorian age brought visions of silent gray ladies, while modern day reports include everything from sightings of tragically killed children to turn-of-the-millennium demons. Skepticism of extraordinary claims like those of hauntings, however, should remain constant. So next time you hear a tale of a haunted house, or if at some astounding moment you think you have witnessed a ghost, resist the temptation to instantly believe, and always insist that verifiable, sound evidence be provided. The imprecise category of alleged phenomena known as ghosts has fired the popular imagination since earliest times. Indeed, with Halloween, images of apparitions may be as common as falling leaves. Poltergeists disturb television, ghouls decorate stor fronts, and disembodied spirits chill listeners to fireside stories.

As part of human nature, there exists a primal craving to believe in the transcendental. Much as America is intrigued by aliens, belief in ghosts is pervasive. A 1990 Gallup poll revealed that 29% of Americans believe that houses can be haunted, and 25% believe that ghosts or spirits of dead people come back in certain places and situations.

Given such surprisingly high percentages of gullibility, America has become a lucrative market for ghost claims. Maybe the most famous, and certainly the most mass-marketed tale of haunting is that of the alleged "Amityville Horror." In December, 1974, George and Kathy Lutz moved into a new home in Amityville, New York, a community on Long Island. Twenty-eight days later, the Lutzes fled the house, claiming they had been driven from their home by sinister forces that had ripped open a two-hundred and fifty pound door, caused green slime to ooze from the ceiling, peered into the house at night with red eyes, left cloven-hooved tracks in the snow outside, and produced other ostensibly paranormal phenomena, including commanding in a masculine voice, "Get out!" The claimed impetus for the demonic haunting? Little more than a year earlier in November 1973, the house had been the site of tragic murders. Ronald Defeo had shot to death his parents, two sisters, and two brothers. At trial, Defeo had claimed he had heard voices in the house instructing him to kill.

Soon a book was in the offing. The Amityville Horror, boldly subtitled A True Story, came out in 1977 and promptly went through thirteen printings by 1978. In July of 1979, the book was released as a box-office movie hit, leading to multiple sequels still in video release today. But upon release of the film, the Lutz's attorney, William Weber, revealed that the elaborate tale was a hoax. "We created this horror story over many bottles of wine that George Lutz was drinking," Weber told the Associate Press. "We were really playing with each other. We were creating something the public wanted to hear about."

Since the public certainly does crave ghost stories and tales that supposedly elude worldly explanation, it is wise to hold to methods of inquiry that evaluate such claims rationally and scientifically. In over twenty years of ghostbusting, an international organization, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) has identified several types of alleged hauntings. In some instances, the phenomenon is merely an illusion or misperception. For example, at Toronto's historic Mackenzie House, late at night, ghostly footfalls on the stairs were heard by different caretaker families even though there were no intruders in the house at the time. Investigation revealed the sounds were coming from a parallel iron staircase in the building next door, and that the unknown entities were members of the cleanup crew.

Another common haunting phenomenon is a simple type of hallucination. It is typified by another example from the Mackenzie House, when a caretaker's wife woke to see a man in a frock coat standing by her bedside. In such cases, although the witness' eyes are open, he or she may nevertheless be dreaming, resulting in a vivid experience known as a "waking dream."

In addition to the bedside phantom, some percipients report seeing apparitions-- "as real as real"-- while clearly awake. Such persons sometimes even have a personal, household ghost or "familiar", and may be classified as fantasy-prone personalities. These individuals may also assume identities as self-styled mediums or psychics, religious visionaries, or UFO abductees.

Then there are the deliberate hoaxes. Poltergeist ("noisy spirit") cases tend to be of this type. Often the disruptive phenomena, such as objects flung across a room or lights turned off and on, can be traced to a child in the household. While credulous parapsychologists generally attribute the disturbances to energy forces associated with puberty, the evidence of numerous cases reveals the effects are actually deliberate acts of hostility or means of attracting attention. For example, in 1848 in Hydesville, New York, it was reported that the ghost of a murdered peddler mischievously haunted the Fox family home. Publicity surrounding the disturbances sparked the 19th century spiritualist movement, and only decades later was it learned that the ghost was an elaborate hoax perpetrated by two young girls in the home, Maggie and Katie Fox.

The power of suggestion is a major influence in spreading ghostly reports. One witness may persuade another of an event, a phenomenon known by the French expression folie a deux or "folly of two", or there may be a bandwagon effect involving many persons, a type of influence called psychological contagion. In the case of a haunted lodge near Santa Cruz, California, for instance, where ghostly antics were reportedly proliferating, the owner recognized how the "ghost" was really influencing his staff: that's all they talk about," he told SKEPTICAL INQUIRER magazine. As a centerpiece of conversation, tales of ghosts and spirits fed off each other, prompting and supporting further speculation among the staff about strange happenings and perceived occurences.

Again, years ago at Liberty Hall in Frankfort, Kentucky, the curator thought spooky tales were good for business and the staff promoted belief in ghosts at every opportunity, the result being constant reports of alleged spirit phenomena-- imagined taps on the shoulder, cold spots, and so on. But when a subsequent curator placed a moratorium on such hustling of the public, the haunting reports dwindled. Liberty Hall is not unique. Hundreds of haunted businesses dot the American landscape. From New Castle, Delaware, to Eureka, California, other curators, innkeepers and restaurateurs market the supernatural to snare wayward travelers.

Over the centuries, people's perceptions of ghosts have evolved. Each historic period perceives an apparition in terms of its own cultural attitude. During the Inquisition, sightings featured souls trapped in purgatory. The Victorian age brought visions of silent gray ladies, while modern day reports include everything from sightings of tragically killed children to turn-of-the-millennium demons. Skepticism of extraordinary claims like those of hauntings, however, should remain constant. So next time you hear a tale of a haunted house, or if at some astounding moment you think you have witnessed a ghost, resist the temptation to instantly believe, and always insist that verifiable, sound evidence be provided.

......................

Joe Nickell is Senior Research Fellow-- and ghostbuster-- for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). He is author of the books Entities, Secrets of the Supernatural, and fifteen other investigative books. e has over 20 years experience in investigating hauntings and haunted places.

****************

CSICOP is an international, non-profit organization dedicated to the critical examination and investigation of claims of the paranormal and fringe science. Founded in 1976, CSICOP is always receptive to departures in thought, yet insists that they be tested before they are accepted. The bi-monthly journal the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, The Magazine for Science And Reason , is the main forum for publication of these inquiries. Both CSICOP and the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER are based at the Center For Inquiry, Amherst N.Y.

www.csicop.org

To subscribe to SKEPTICAL INQUIRER call 1 (800) 634-1510.

Media inquiries can be directed to Matthew Nisbet at (716) 636-1425.

 

 


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