Skeptic » eSkeptic » April 4, 2012

The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine



Missed March 25th’s Caltech Events?
Watch them for free on skeptic.com!

On March 25, the Skeptics Society hosted two sold out events, back to back: The Great Debate: “Has Science Refuted Religion?” in which Sean Carroll & Michael Shermer debated Dinesh D’Souza & Ian Hutchinson, followed by Sam Harris lecturing on “Free Will.” If you missed these events, you can now watch them for free right here!

Watch The Great Debate

Watch Harris’ lecture on Free Will


NEW ON SKEPTICBLOG.ORG
Climbing Mount Immortality

In Michael Shermer’s April “Skeptic” column for Scientific American, he discusses what philosopher Stephen Cave calls the “Mortality Paradox” and “Terror Management Theory” and how awareness of our own mortality may be a major driver of civilization.

READ THE POST

FOLLOW MICHAEL SHERMER ON TWITTERFACEBOOKSKEPTICBLOG

The Hunter (movie poster)

Watch the trailer on iTunes
or YouTube.

ThylaCinema and
Nocturnal Submissions

Join the hosts of MonsterTalk for an interview with Daniel Nettheim, director of a new film about a man hunting for thylacines. The Hunter stars Willem Dafoe as the eponymous character tasked with seeking out the last living thylacine in the wild. Also, Scott Sigler calls in to discuss his newest monster book, Nocturnal.

LISTEN to this episode

READ episode notes

MonsterTalk Podcast App (presented by Skeptic Magazine) is available for Android Devices

About this week’s eSkeptic

In this week’s eSkeptic, we present Robert Sheaffer’s rebuttal to George Michael’s review of UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record that we published in last week’s eSkeptic. This rebuttal, republished here with permission, originally appeared on April 2, 2012 in Sheaffer’s blog Bad UFOs: Skepticism, UFOs, and The Universe.

Robert Sheaffer is a writer with a lifelong interest in astronomy and the question of life on other worlds. He is one of the leading skeptical investigators of UFOs, a founding member of the UFO Subcommittee of the well-known Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI, formerly CSICOP). He is also a founding director and past Chairman of the Bay Area Skeptics, a local skeptics’ group in the San Francisco Bay area. Sheaffer is the author of UFO Sightings: The Evidence (Prometheus Books, 1998), and has appeared on many radio and TV programs. He is a regular columnist for The Skeptical Inquirer and his writing has appeared in OMNI, Scientific American, Spaceflight, Astronomy, The Humanist, Free Inquiry, and Reason.

Share this eSkeptic with friends online. Click the + for more options.
Subscribe to Skeptic magazine for more great articles like this one.

The Day the Skeptics Society
Wasn’t Skeptical

by Robert Sheaffer

Normally the Skeptics Society is a pretty reliable source of information concerning paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims. So imagine my surprise (and dismay) to read in the weekly eSkeptic of March 28, 2012 a totally uncritical review of Leslie Kean’s book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. Titled “Best Evidence for UFOs” by George Michael, it praises Kean’s “numerous credible eyewitnesses to UFO encounters and authoritative sources.” He thinks she makes an “ impressive case,” and praises her “academic rigor.” Plainly, either Michael did not read the same book I did, or he was entirely hornswoggled by the way that the crafty Kean disguises her hard-core UFO belief as respectable agnosticism.

Michael is totally uncritical of the claims and statements in Kean’s book. Given that the title of the magazine is “Skeptic,” why did it never occur to him to question any of the assertions made by Kean, instead of just accepting each and every one as Gospel truth? Did it not occur to him that, in a book written by a hard-core UFO believer (Kean’s mentor in UFOlogy was the late Budd Hopkins), one needs to verify the accuracy of the picture the author is trying to paint? Are all these UFO cases really unexplained? What have we skeptics been doing, sitting on our hands, or scratching our heads, during the decades since these Oldie-But-Moldy UFO claims were made?

The author is obviously totally clueless about the history of the UFO controversy. Otherwise, he would realize that many of Kean’s “unexplained” cases have been explained in detail by Philip J. Klass and others, years ago. Kean simply ignores all explanations and commentaries that she doesn’t like. To me that does not constitute “academic rigor,” as Mr. Michael seems to think. But he apparently has never read any of Klass’ UFO books, and I suspect doesn’t even know who Klass was (or else he would have asked himself, “What did Klass write about this case during the 70s or 80s?”). I have already written a review of Kean’s book, “‘Unexplained’ Cases—Only If You Ignore All Explanations,” that was published in the Skeptical Inquirer, March/April, 2011. I have now placed a copy of that review on my website, for those who would like to see what a critical analysis of Kean’s dubious pro-UFO claims might look like.

The British UFO skeptic Ian Ridpath wrote:

In his review of Leslie Kean’s book, George Michael too readily takes the author’s word for various UFO cases that have turned out, on investigation, not to be quite as the author describes them. A case in point is the Rendlesham Forest incident of 1980, which he calls “Perhaps the most notable reported military case involving a UFO”. A little research (even a glance at Wikipedia, for example) would have shown that explanations for all major aspects of that case have been in print for over 25 years. To address the points he raises: No unusual radiation was detected at the site, the supposed landing marks were made by forest animals, and the story of examining a landed craft for 45 minutes is something that was made up many years after the event by one of the witnesses, apparently bent on becoming a UFO celebrity. I would not expect to learn that from a book by an uncritical UFO proponent such as Leslie Kean, but I would have expected to hear it in a review on these pages… There are quite a few other cases he needs to learn about, too.

Peter Brookesmith, longtime paranormal researcher and regular contributor to Fortean Times, says

This review contains what must surely be the most distorted version of the Rendlesham Incident to see the light…where was the wary & informed editorial control? It’s not even as if this worthless tract has never been kicked in the fundament (and not only in hard-line skeptical journals) by other reviewers: it’s been out & about for a while. So the real question is, how come the review was published by eSkeptic at all?

As far back as August, 2010 skeptic James Oberg wrote for MSNBC that Kean’s book was based on a “questionable foundation.” He quickly glanced at a list of supposed “unexplained” cases given by Kean, and immediately pulled out ten that he knew to be caused by Russian space launches.

eSkeptic is probably unaware that Kean’s book was also made into an equally bad one-sided pro-UFO documentary on the History Channel. I have also written a critique of the misrepresentations made on this show.

Apparently Mr. Michael is also unaware that the big controversy underway in UFOlogy at the moment involves Kean promoting a video of a fly buzzing around as being possibly “the case UFO skeptics have been dreading.” Even many of the UFO proponents are choking on that one, as her position is so obviously illogical. Had Michael known that Kean was vigorously defending such an obvious absurdity, I cannot imagine how he possibly could have written such a fawning review.

Unfortunately, now Leslie Kean will be able to boast to reporters that her book has been given the ‘seal of approval’ of Skeptic magazine for its “academic rigor.” As Ian Ridpath noted, if Michael had even bothered to check Wikipedia, he would have seen the problems in Kean’s version of the Rendlesham case. Let us hope that in future articles concerning UFOs, the Skeptics Society will utilize the services of authors and reviewers whose understanding of the UFO controversy is better than paper-thin, and who will check out the validity of pro-UFO claims before credulously swallowing them.

Order Skeptic back issues on the topic of UFOs ($6 each)
Skeptic Volume 10 Number 1 (cover)

ROSWELL (10.1)
Buy it now

Skeptic Volume 10 Number 1 (cover)

MEDIEVAL UFOs?
Buy it now

Skeptic Volume 10 Number 1 (cover)

THE MAN WHO INVENTED FLYING SAUCERS
Buy it now

Skeptic Volume 10 Number 1 (cover)

A.I. AND THEOLOGY
OF UFOs

Buy it now


Our Next Lecture at Caltech

Born Believers: The Science of Children's Religious Belief (book cover)
Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief

with Dr. Justin Barrett
Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 2 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall

FROM A NOTED DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGIST and anthropologist at Oxford University, this fascinating theory about the value of religious faith posits that we are all predisposed to believe in God from birth. We are all Born Believers, explains Professor Justin L. Barrett. It begins in the brain. Infants, under the sway of powerful internal and external forces, make sense of their environments by imagining a creative and intelligent agent, a grand controller who makes the sun shine and the night fall. In the chaos of childhood, where so much is out of the child’s control, this belief in a morally good creator can bring tremendous comfort and calm. A child’s world is then filled with beings who intentionally act upon the environment, maintaining order. Summarizing scientific experiments conducted with children across the globe, Professor Barrett illustrates the ways human beings have come to develop complex belief systems about God’s omniscience, the afterlife, and the immortality of deities. He shows how the science of childhood religiosity reveals, across humanity, a “Natural Religion.”

TICKETS are first come, first served at the door. Seating is limited. $8 for Skeptics Society members and the JPL/Caltech community, $10 for nonmembers. Your admission fee is a donation that pays for our lecture expenses.

Followed by…

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior
with Dr. Leonard Mlodinow
Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 2 pm

SEE ALL UPCOMING LECTURES

BUY PAST LECTURES ON DVD


Announcing The Amaz!ng Meeting 2012
Southpoint Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV
July 12–15, 2012

The Amaz!ng Meeting 2012: July 14-17, Las Vegas, Southpoint Hotel and Casino

THE AMAZ!NG MEETING (TAM) is an annual celebration of science, skepticism and critical thinking. People from all over the world come to TAM each year to share learning, laughs and the skeptical perspective with their fellow skeptics and a host of distinguished guest speakers and panelists.

The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has hosted its annual Amaz!ng Meeting since 2003 as a way to promote science, skepticism and critical thinking about paranormal and supernatural claims to the broader public. TAM has been held in Las Vegas, NV since 2004 and has become the world’s largest gathering of like-minded science-advocates and skeptics.

With yet another incredible lineup of speakers, hands-on workshops, and entertainment, this is sure to be an Amaz!ng Meeting you won’t want to miss! Check out the entire program, and follow @jref on Twitter for the latest #TAM2012 news and announcements.

LEARN MORE, and REGISTER

12 Comments »

12 Comments

  1. Charlotte McCaffrey says:

    I was surprised, last week, by the lack of skepticism in the review of Leslie Kean’s book about UFOs and was very happy to see Robert Sheaffer’s response today. Well said!

  2. Markus says:

    Strike one: Debunking Zootherapy
    Strike two: UFOs

    Whats next eSkeptic?

  3. Dr. Sidethink, Hp. D. says:

    How about Dipstick Chopstick and magic energy flowing
    around in the Chalk Rays ???

  4. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    Thank you Mr Sheaffer. Not only did you clear up a bunch of hooey, you
    also touched upon the importance of applying skepticism carefully: if you
    muff it, as the previous reviewer did, you help build their case.

    Frankly, in the field of UFOlogy, all that’s at stake are some book sales but
    when it comes to areas like alternative medicine, climate change, or
    vaccine-phobia helping the quacks can harm innocent people.

  5. Lance Moody says:

    The question remains as to why the idiotic piece ran in the first place.
    When a mistake like this is made, the believers will continuously use this against skeptics for years to come.

    George Michael did a great disservice to skeptics by writing about something he knows nothing about. Skeptic did a greater disservice by running the piece.

    The damage is done now. Hopefully someone will learn from it?

    Lance Moody

  6. Richard de Forest says:

    I attended the “Great Debate” and, unfortunately was ( while holding great respect and awe for Dr.s Carroll and Shermer ) disappointed in the fact that they both failed to blunt the ‘skill’ of D’Souza in DEBATING! He skillfully avoided being found both incorrect and unfounded in his hypothesis and proofs regarding the assertions of religion and the “divinity” of Christ! What compounded the problem was that there were few ,if any, attempts at confrontations of the fact that he constantly spun out tautological arguments, “begged-the-question” constantly, left “dangling” assumptions and references with no data to support them, literally attacked the Cal Tech audience as rigidly “buying into” “scientism” (who said we do that? Scientist’s are the WORST at getting along-PEER REVIEW?!?…Hello??) and audaciously asserted that “history PROVES the truth and FACT of the divinity of Christ”. WOW!! And, it seemed neither Carroll or Shermer, in debate fashion attacked none or little of the above. I was surprised at the limp presence of these two distinguished scientist vis-a-vis the incorrect(yet well crafted production of Dinesh and PRE-PREPARED responses of Hutchinson which he READ while debating??, and which was not challenged by the debate prompter!) If one is “to take the gloves off” make sure you hit the target!!

  7. Jiro says:

    Frankly: I thought the article was an April’ Fools!

  8. Stephanie says:

    I probably should of read more than the first 2 paragraphs before coming to the conclusion that the review was an april fools joke. I didn’t think I needed to because it just seemed so utterly obvious. I assumed that the book wasn’t even real. I would have considered the possibility that the review was an April fool’s joke even if it were published on a regular book review site. That’s the level of stupidity and credulity were dealing with here. I hope Skeptic has learned its lesson and will start putting some effort into editing eskeptic.

  9. chick lane says:

    When I grow up I want to be a skeptic,no experience or qualifications needed,no research or investigation needed….Just a quick,,”No it didn’t”,No it ain’t”..swamp gas,Jupiter, Run way lights.That was a light house light that you seen flying around in the woods,that perfectly spaced imprint on the ground that you saw were made by deer dancing with the wood creatures that leark about. By Jobe I think I got it!!…..

  10. Lance Moody says:

    “By Jobe I think I got it!”

    It’s actually “By Jove” (referring to Jupiter).

    See how easy it is to get confused about celestial bodies?

    Lance

  11. Dr. Strangelove says:

    Dr. Shermer,

    So are you going to pull out that UFO article like you did to Zootherapy? Next time I suggest you ask Seth Shostak of SETI to review any UFO article before publishing it. He said if there is even one good evidence that UFOs are extraterrestrial, he would leave SETI and become a UFO hunter.

  12. Lance Moody says:

    Unfortunately, it appears now that George Michael will have a response published here. Unless the response addresses the non-skeptical lapses in the first article, I would have to humbly ask eSkeptic and Mr. Shermer to please consider more carefully what he publishes since mistakes like this are used by paranormal peddlers for years and directly work against the claimed goals of skepticism in general.

    Really, it seem to me the eSkeptic should apologize for the original article and disavow it. Those of us like Mr. Sheaffer, who have worked against the poor reasoning of UFO believers like Leslie Kean should at least expect skeptical publications to not make the same sad mistakes that the Saucer people use to support their religion.

    Best,

    Lance

Patreon: a new way to support the things skeptic creates

Get eSkeptic

Science in your inbox every Wednesday!

eSkeptic delivers great articles, videos, podcasts, reviews, event announcements, and more to your inbox once a week.

Sign me up!

Donate to Skeptic

Please support the work of the Skeptics Society. Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

Copyright © 1992–2017. All rights reserved. The Skeptics Society | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. Privacy Policy.