Skeptic » eSkeptic » August 22, 2012

The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine



NEW ON HULU and ORA TV
Debunking UFO Rumors on Larry King’s New Show

Watch Michael Shermer debunking UFO rumors and taking on believers on Larry King’s new show. Watch it now on Ora TV. Also, check out this behind the scenes album on Facebook. For those of you outside the US, there are two short clips on YouTube here and here. Feel free to reTweet any of these Twitter updates:

FOLLOW MICHAEL SHERMER ON TWITTERFACEBOOKSKEPTICBLOG

Paolo Viscardi
The Blair Fish Project

For thousands of years, people who made their living by working the sea have reported creatures that appeared to be half-human and half-fish. Some of these stories are legends and fairy tales, but more recent sightings are reported as real animals. Confounding things even more are mummified mermaids brought to Europe from sailors coming back from Asia. A recent Animal Planet “documentary” claimed that mermaids are real and the US government is hiding the truth. This week on MonsterTalk, we interview museum curator (and mermaid-model expert) Paolo Viscardi.

LISTEN to this episode

READ the episode notes

Get the MonsterTalk Podcast App for Apple and Android Devices!
MonsterTalk Podcast App (presented by Skeptic Magazine) is available on the App Store
MonsterTalk Podcast App (presented by Skeptic Magazine) is available at Amazon for Android

Get the MonsterTalk Podcast App (presented by Skeptic Magazine) and enjoy the science show about monsters on your handheld devices! Available for Android, iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. To get the app for iOS devices, download the free Podcast Box App on iTunes and then search for MonsterTalk within the Podcast Box app to listen to Monstertalk on your iPhone, iPad or iPod. For Android devices, simply install the stand-alone app.

What Really Happened on Fox’s TV show Moment of Truth: Travis Walton responds to Michael Shermer

In this week’s eSkeptic, Travis Walton responds to Michael Shermer, explaining his side of what happened on the Fox TV show The Moment of Truth on July 31, 2008.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article by Travis Walton explains his side of what happened on this dreadful Fox television show on which I also appeared and described in last week’s eSkeptic. To understand Walton’s explanation you should read that article first, but if you don’t have time the upshot of the story is that Travis Walton claims that on November 5, 1975 he was abducted into a UFO in an Arizona national forest during a logging job and that his co-workers witnessed the event. According to the late UFO investigator Philip Klass, Walton passed one polygraph test (published) but failed another (unpublished), and in his opinion Walton and his associates made up the story as an excuse for failing to complete the logging job on time. Walton’s side of the story is recounted in detail in his 1978 book The Walton Experience, later reissued as Fire in the Sky, the title of the 1993 film based on the book. —Michael Shermer

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

The Muddle of Truth

by Travis Walton

With the recent airing overseas of the canceled Fox television show, Moment of Truth some people may have been mislead into believing that some shocking new revelation about the famous logging crew UFO case has come to light. Quite the contrary. Now that the airing of the show ends the “gag clause” in my contract (with its $1 million penalty) I am free to reveal that Moment of Truth has used testing methods that the producers were informed from the beginning were long ago completely discredited by every polygraph expert, lie detector school, and polygraph professional association in existence. I’ll quote here specific condemnations of the show’s methods by four of the world’s most highly respected polygraph experts who agree: “the polygraph aspect of the show has no validity whatsoever.” I will reveal other blatant deceptions the show has committed. And I will provide details of how, after the show, I underwent two of the most rigorous new polygraph tests available anywhere in the world.

I should have seen it coming. I should have known better. But there were unique circumstances. The company where I had worked for almost a decade announced a corporate headquarters decision to downsize by permanently terminating the 50 most recently hired workers, regardless of their performance. My hire date put me on that list. I came home that day to receive a phone call inviting me to be a “contestant” on a show I’d never seen that offered the possibility of winning up to $100,000. An opportunity to solve my layoff problem? I was wary. I began taping our negotiations. I watched an episode. I knew the examiner was their man, with every incentive to keep his employers from having to pay out big prize money. I wrote emails to a few of my friends about my apprehensions. I wrestled with doubt. I learned the show specialized in setting “contestants” up for dramatically devastating revelations (a la Jerry Springer). Still, it appeared I was on the brink of financial problems and all I had to do was answer 25 questions truthfully. What could be easier than that?

Impossible, I later learned. In all the show’s years almost no contestants had ever won the top prize. But I didn’t know that yet, so I asked, does the examiner use modern accepted methodology? I was assured he did. This was a lie—as far from true as you can get. The producer telling me this untruth may have believed it simply because the higher ups said so. Or they all—producers and network—may have been deceived by the examiner, who, with his training absolutely had to know his methods were bogus. We went back and forth. I sent them my refusal. They came back and were very persuasive and said they were planning on responding to criticisms by making sure more prizes would be awarded. I so very foolishly yielded to the temptation. Even after arriving for taping I learned such disappointing details and got such bad vibes that I announced I was going home. But my objections were negotiated away. I found out a major portion of episodes already taped never aired because the “contestants” withdrew and walked out. By then I felt trapped into something I suspected was rigged from the ground up. My confidence in the examiner (essential for proper testing) was destroyed when he lied to me. He said he knew Arizona Department of Public Safety polygraph examiner Cy Gilson, who previously tested the woods crew, and was using the same method and equipment he did. His ancient polygraph machine was obviously not the state of the art computer-assisted equipment Cy Gilson uses. The final nail was learning that he only goes through the questions once! What?! Item #5 of the American Polygraph Association’s Standards and Principles of Practice that I quoted in my 1996 book Fire in the Sky (which I had loaned the producer) specifically prohibits rendering an examiner’s conclusion on the basis of a single run of the list. Modern method requires three separate runs through the same identical list of questions, sometimes four. Without these comparison charts there is no way to discern deception from random fluctuations in the subject’s responses. For example, even though crewman Allen Dalis “basically told the truth” according to the sheriff’s files in his first test with Cy Gilson, he was given an “inconclusive” just because he only did the list twice, storming out before the third run. (Allen passed a second test with Gilson in 1993 with flying colors). And modern methods limit relevant questions to three or four per test. The show’s rogue examiner was doing over 50 questions! Even more damning, the examiner had the option to pick the 25 questions to be used in the show, further removing objective comparison. Earlier, a fake segment pretending to be my test was filmed with an actor in place of the examiner while my arm with the sensors attached rested comfortably on a table as per proper procedure. Later their actual “test” required me to hold my arm perfectly still while balancing it on a narrow one inch wide steel chair arm for the entire 50+ questions, a very long time, and excruciating. This was guaranteed to cause random stress reactions in their “contestants,” totally unrelated to deception. And, of course, with no comparison charts, there could be no way to see if this “reaction” was repeated all three times at the same question. Also, the test was done, as per examiner’s instructions, with my shoes removed, with my eyes closed, with a panel of at least six strangers staring at me. This sort of distraction was never part of any test I had ever heard of. Every test I know of consisted of the examiner and the subject alone in a room without interruptions. When the “false” verdict (to the question “Were you abducted into a UFO on November 5, 1975?”) was announced the audience started booing. The host, Mark L. Walberg, turned to them and asked, “How many still believe he is telling the truth?” The audience erupted in cheering, long and loud. He asked how many now disbelieved and got only a few scattered calls from the back. They cut this out. Not long after the show I wrote one of the show staff and said, “They could edit that out or cut the volume…but that would be deceptive, wouldn’t it?” My prediction was right. They also rearranged the reaction shots of my family, even re-using some, moving them from after the verdict to before, creating another false perception. By the way, not only was I judged truthful on other questions consistent with the reality of my incident, but fellow crewman Ken Petersen was also on the show and was paid a prize for passing his test question about witnessing the incident. So of course that too was deceptively edited out. The United States GAO (Government Accounting Office) discovered that the method upon which Moment of Truth based their method (and further degraded) yielded up to 80% false positives (truth tellers judged to be liars). This method is illegal in some states to the point of revoking the license of anyone using it. The Moment of Truth examiner, in fact, regularly committed most of the 13 Activities of Unethical Examiners listed on the American Association of Police Polygraph Examiners website. Cleve Backster is one of the pioneers in polygraph research and development, and is recognized as one of the top experts in the field. Techniques currently widely used in polygraph bear his name. He has administered hundreds of polygraph training courses and advanced seminars to law enforcement personnel at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Backster has been an interrogation instructor for the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps, an interrogation specialist with the CIA and has been a guest instructor at Fort Gordon, the U.S. Department of Defense Polygraph School, the Canadian Police College Polygraph Examiner School, and the FBI Academy. He has held numerous high ranking posts in polygraph professional associations, and has testified as an expert witness before the U.S. Congress in 1964 and 1974. Backster Associates said, “Moment of Truth uses a technique in polygraph that was discarded years ago.” Arizona State Police polygraph examiner Cy Gilson, who tested the entire woods crew, said, “there can be no validity to the test results in such a procedure. The pseudo examiner is a whore and the show’s producer is the pimp.” Dr. David Raskin has authored hundreds of scientific papers on polygraph. As a court recognized expert he has testified in cases such as the Howard Hughes will, Jeffrey (Fatal Vision) McDonald, serial killer Ted Bundy, the DeLorean affair, and the McMartin preschool case. Raskin has testified before British Parliament, the Israeli Kineset, and four times before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate with regard to Watergate and Iran/Contra. Dr. David Raskin said, “I have always thought those programs are a disgrace. They trick people into participating and then use unprofessional and inaccurate methods merely for the purpose of entertaining their audiences. Any polygraph examiner who participates in such charades should not be allowed to practice. I have been asked to be the principal in such shows and have always refused. It is unfortunate that they lured you into being abused by them. I agree with the criticisms by Mr. Martin.” R. Michael Martin, President of Global Polygraph Network and court certified polygraph expert, created a website, The Truth About the Moment of Truth when the show first aired (and of course long before my show) in the U.S. He writes: “FOX TV has intentionally blocked us from publishing this information on their public internet forum….” His site gives reasons: “the polygraph aspect of the show has no validity whatsoever.” “This test format will not determine truth or deception.” And in conclusion, “Due to the vague, subjective, futuristic nature, and sheer volume, of relevant questions asked on The Moment of Truth, there can be little more than chance accuracy in determining truth or deception to these questions. In other words, they could simply flip a coin and achieve the same accuracy levels.” I came home after Moment of Truth and sought out the most rigorous new testing I could find. Polygraph evidence is admissible in court in New Mexico and so is tightly regulated by state law. I chose the firm with the highest recommendations, one that does work for the New Mexico State Prison, the Albuquerque Police Dept., even the United States Marshal’s Service. They applied the most refined and validated modern methods using state-of-the-art computer assisted, five trace equipment with digital readout. I passed two separate tests flawlessly with “a finding of: TRUTHFUL TO THE ABOVE RELEVANT QUESTIONS.” (Additional details in my updated edition of Fire in the Sky.) To a rational person there could be no doubt that my passing five tests from three separate examiners, each of whom have strong service in law enforcement, completely eclipses the phony pretend “test” by the rogue examiner scamming the public on Moment of Truth. I challenge skeptics to find a single legitimate polygraph examiner who will publicly stand by the methods used there. Nevertheless, bafflingly, there will be people who do some dumb thing like try to pretend that contending verdicts make it all too confusing, so we should just throw it all out and consider the case unsupported by anything. A sneaky kind of intellectual dishonesty that really means they are going against the recognized experts and essentially accepting the claim by the discredited polygraph operator. To a skeptic a failed verdict, even from the worst operators, is eagerly embraced, while passed verdicts, regardless of superior credentials, just has to be doubted. Sigh, it never ends. END


Skeptical perspectives on self-deception & alien abduction…
cover Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind by Dr. David Livingstone Smith

Deceit, lying, and falsehoods lie at the very heart of our cultural heritage. The ever-present possibility of deceit is a crucial dimension of all human relationships. Philosopher and evolutionary psychologist Smith elucidates the essential role that deception and self-deception have played in human—and animal—evolution and shows that the very structure of our minds has been shaped by the need to deceive…

Order the lecture on DVD

cover Abducted! How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens by Dr. Susan Clancy

How could anyone believe they were abducted by aliens? Susan Clancy interviewed and evaluated “abductees,” listening closely to their stories — how they struggled to explain something strange in their remembered experience, how abduction seemed plausible, and how, having suspected abduction, they began to recollect it, aided by suggestion and hypnosis. Clancy argues that abductees are sane and intelligent people who have unwittingly created vivid false memories from a toxic mix of nightmares, culturally available texts, and a powerful drive for meaning that science is unable to satisfy…

Order the lecture on DVD

cover A.I. and the Theology of UFOs Skeptic Vol. 9 No. 3

ETs and God; Artificial Intelligence v. Human Nature; How Smart People Sabotage Their Thinking; Neo-Confederates at the Gate; A.I. and the Krell Machine, more…

Order the back issue

cover Medieval UFOs? Skeptic Vol. 11 No. 1

The Art of Imagining UFOs: The Search for Images of Spaceships in European Paintings Provides an Important Lesson for All Paranormal Enthusiasts — Do Your Homework!; Replicating the Real Thing: UFOs, Photographs & the Burden of Proof; Early Origins of Traditional Chinese Medicine; The Mass Suicide of the Xhosa; Salt, Toothpaste & the CIA: Conspiracy Theory in Contemporary Indian Society, more…

Order the back issue

7 Comments »

7 Comments

  1. Dr. Sidethink Hp.D says:

    OK..Here’s what i get ..

    Walton believes he was abducted.
    He goes on a game show tthat is supposed to prove that he isn’t lying
    when he says it really happened.
    Walton is subjected to testing methods using tests which have been shown to be inconclusive and easily faked
    Game show rigs results of tests
    Walton claims that skeptic are phoneys
    … ” To a skeptic a failed verdict, even from the worst operators, is eagerly embraced, while passed verdicts, regardless of superior credentials, just has to be doubted.”

    as deduced from sparse response ,Issues that have some interest to skeptics go unexamined in this newsletter .

    Seriously , folks…..
    I go to Unitarian Meetings about once or twice a month mainly for social reasons.
    Being a “disenfranchised” Catholic, I would still classify all “new age ” Hanky-Panky as against the First Commandment,( Douay list)l

    The idea seems to be that those of us who believe that Science and Skepticism are
    somehow intrinsically better than woo-woo New Age stuff are not being
    “Tolerant”

    ( There seems to be an understood list of worldviews which must not be even tolerated.}

    Meanwhile BEM dorks are getting a lot of attention just like in the “fifties”

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

    I guess it’s OK to engage in NewAge “anything goes if’n you do no harm” Syncretism , but in my humble opinion, it’s bringing down quality that I think the world should be headed towards.

    Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
    ( Gloria got sick on the Transit last Monday)

    Dr. Latero Sidethink Hp.D
    Bob Dobbs Subgenius University and Trooth (TM) factory

  2. Carlos Caliente says:

    Michael Shermer has a history of pursuing issues to a conclusion that validate his preconceived agenda, Shermer is not a reliable source for anything.

    • David Wood Bsc says:

      I do not think I can agree with your statements until you provide evidence to support them. Michael is not a source but an analyst of claims, his methods are quite effective
      in weeding out the false claims from most ‘Myths’. However, I think you are correct to be skeptical about any statements made by anyone.

      • Bob Pease says:

        Michael is very good at using his BS detector in the context of
        avoiding or exposing built-in dogma that most folks seem to flaunt.

        Skepticism has a negative context lately, maybe because reservation of judgemnent is confused with Politically incorrect ideology.
        Most folks still don’t know the difference between skepticism and cynicism.
        It is the end of democracy when the right to reserve judgement is destroyed and replaced with the belief that doubt is treason.

        rjp

  3. Julio A. says:

    So, Travis Walton BELIEVES that he was abducted. It does not surprise me that he can pass a polygraph test, seeing as he has already spent 35 years telling everyone that he was abducted, so he has convinced himself that this is true. That doesnt necesarily make it a fact.

    Medications such as prozac and valium and xanax can lead to a false negative (a lie being reported as a “truth”.) A mental countermeasure to polygraph testing is to simply count backwards from 7 during the time that control questions are presented. Sociopaths have no problems beating polygraphs – not because they are experienced liars, but because they do not feel guilt about deceiving others, so they register little biological stress indicators. The same can be said of pathological liars – they are convinced of the truth of their deception, so they register little biological stress indicators.

    Mr. Walton wants us to believe his story because he passed a few polygraph tests. My skepticism of his story is not due to the Moment of Truth debacle – my skepticism is based on the FACT that they would have lost 10% of their contract if they didnt finish the logging job on time, and they needed an “act of God” as a reason to avoid the 10% loss.

    • Latero Sidethink says:

      here is a case where skepticism partners with cynicism.
      My inner skeptic says that i rave a right to doubt that it happened and his polygraph flapdoodle is not good enough evidence

      My inner CYNIC says that the above mentioned stuff is possibly intentional fabrication
      for financial reasons .
      ( perhaps later actually believed by the perpetrator)
      I disclaim that this is not necessarily the case here , but have the right to be suspicious of motive if stuff looks fishy

      Dr. S
      Bob Dobbs University

  4. Julio A. says:

    Forgot to mention that, 2 weeks prior to the alleged abduction, NBC aired a made for TV movie about…ALIEN ABDUCTION! Also, none of the family members seemed concered with his whereabouts during the five days he was supposedly abducted, and Walton also dictated what questions could be asked of the first polygraph examiner that he was tested by, and he failed a second test by another expert in Arizona (McCarthy) who said he was being grossly deceitful and had employed countermeasures such as holding his breath. Notice how Walton does not address this expert and his test results…

    Walton is a man who has had 35 years of self-deception to assist in passing a polygraph.

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 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. The lectures each range from 32 to 45 minutes.

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 why do they tend to proliferate? Why does belief in one conspiracy correlate to belief in others? What are the triggers of belief, and how does group identity factor into it? How can one 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

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They 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.

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