The REALL News


The official newsletter of the Rational Examination Association
		      of Lincoln Land

Volume 1, Number 5                                     June 1993
Electronic Version

If you like what you see, please help us continue by sending
in a subscription.  See the end of newsletter for details.

In This Issue:

From the Editor -- Bob Ladendorf
From the Chairman -- David Bloomberg
Vampires - Myth and Reality -- Robert E. McGrath
Conversation with a Creationist -- Ranse Traxler
REALLity Check -- David Bloomberg
Logic Abuse and CBS -- David Bloomberg


The Rational Examination Association of Lincoln Land (REALL)
is a non-profit educational and scientific organization.  It is
dedicated to the development of rational thinking and the application
of the scientific method toward claims of the paranormal and fringe-
science phenomena.

REALL shall conduct research, convene meetings, publish a newsletter,
and disseminate information to its members and the general public.
Its primary geographic region of coverage is central Illinois.

REALL subscribes to the premise that the scientific method is the
most reliable and self-correcting system for obtaining knowledge
about the world and universe.  REALL not not reject paranormal claims
on a priori grounds, but rather is committed to objective, though
critical, inquiry.

_The REALL News_ is its official newsletter.

Membership information is provided elsewhere in this newsletter.

Board of Directors:  Chairman, David Bloomberg; Assistant Chairman,
Prof. Ron Larkin; Secretary-Treasurer, Wally Hartshorn; Newsletter
Editor, Bob Ladendorf; At-Large Members, Prof. Steve Egger, Frank
Mazo, (one vacancy).

Editorial Board:  Bob Ladendorf (Newsletter Editor), David Bloomberg
(electronic version editor), (one vacancy).

P.O. Box 20302
Springfield, IL 62708

Unless stated otherwise, permission is granted to other skeptic
organizations to reprint articles from _The REALL News_ as long
as proper credit is given.

The views expressed in these articles are the views of the individual
authors and do not necessarily represent the views of REALL.


			  From The Editor
			 -- Bob Ladendorf

    My film production instructor at Sangamon State University in
the '70s once made a commercial for a blood bank that showed a
vampire chasing a victim.  As the black-clothed figure caught the
screaming woman, a narrator's voice was heard, "Voodunt you rather
be a voluntary blood donor?"
    The funny commercial showed the traditional vampire seen--and
still seen--in scores of movies, from the early German film
_Nosferatu_, featuring a lanky brute in with even larger shadows,
to Frank Langella's sensual Dracula in the movie and stage play.
None, however, has been funnier than the parody starring George
Hamilton as Dracula in _Love at First Bite_.
    That mythical figure is explored in Robert E. McGrath's book
review feature, "Vampires--Myth and Reality."  While book reviews
are rarely featured in newsletter lead stories, this lone one by
McGrath, a University of Illinois research programmer who lives
in Urbana, presents a lot of interesting information that pertains
to skeptical inquiry.
    Having been elected as your newsletter editor, I wanted to thank
Wally Hartshorn for doing a fine job in getting REALL's newsletter
off the ground.  I only hope to continue in that vein and bring
together information and opinions of note.
    In the coming months, I plan to build on our REALL start, adding
the works of new, as well as experienced writers, inserting more
graphics, and working towards a design that would make an easier-
to-read newsletter.
    As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome.  I want to
make this newsletter a forum for all of us skeptical inquirers.

					/s/ Bob Ladendorf


			 From the Chairman
			-- David Bloomberg

     I now write this column for the first time as the
"real" REALL Chairman.  The Organizing Committee is no more,
and the Board of Directors is now in charge.
     At our May meeting, we found out just how to make
certain we get as few people as possible to attend:
announce that elections will be held.  I would like to thank
those who did come and participate, and especially those who
volunteered to join the Board and/or help in various tasks.
We still have one "at-large" Board member position open,
which we will fill at our upcoming meeting (please don't let
this scare you away, though).
     After the elections, we discussed some of the short-
and long-term goals for REALL.  In the short term, we need
to gain more exposure and attract more interested people, so
that we may follow our long-term goals of education and
investigation.  Several ideas were tossed around, but we are
always looking for new ones.  So, if you have an idea, let
us know.  Either call one of us, write a letter, or, better
yet, come to a meeting.
     We are also always looking for good speakers for our
meetings.  If you have any suggestions, or would like to
volunteer yourself, just get in touch.
     Incidentally, we also discussed Detective Walstad's
presentation, and we STILL don't know how he did one of
those card tricks.

     This month, I will be speaking on cold reading.  While
I don't claim to be anything close to an expert, I have
recently been looking into it, and I'll discuss what I've
     We have been granted a special discount from Prometheus
Books for REALL members.  Catalogs will be available at our
upcoming meeting.  If you've been waiting to get a certain
book, bring your checkbook and we'll get the order in ASAP.
We need at least 10 books from the group per order to get
the discount.  I know I'll be getting two, so that's only
eight more we need to get our first order in.

					/s/ David Bloomberg


		    Vampires -- Myth and Reality

A review of _Vampires Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality_.
By Paul Barber. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1988, 236 pp.
Paper $9.95 (Cloth $30.00)

   "Vampires" and similar "undead" creatures are known to
us all from popular fiction and cinema. The fictional
vampire emerged from the folklore of many cultures and
throughout historical records. What are the origins and
bases of these tales? Are they anything more than scary
stories? In this book Paul Barber investigates the folklore
skeptically and shows that there are some interesting facts
to be found. In doing so, he also provides an instructive
example of critical thinking and writing.
   Barber examines the folklore of vampires from European
and non-European cultures.

   Vampires differ from other monsters of folklore:
   although they have an active life in legends and tales,
   there is an endless array of evidence_folkloric,
   archaeological and even legal_of what they were believed
   to do and how it was explained. Vampires were often dug
   up and "killed," and both the appearance of the bodies
   and the reasons given for the actions of both corpses
   and the living are recorded. We can, therefore, ask
   questions about these beliefs and how they arose with
   considerable hope of finding reasonable answers. (p. 120)

   Barber approaches these reports "assuming that few of
our informants are deliberately fabricating evidence" but
making "a sharp distinction between observed phenomena and
explanation, for one may be accurate while the other is
not." (p. 88) This is a vital distinction to learn for the
investigation of reports of any extraordinary phenomena.
   The reader will hardly be surprised that the "real"
vampire of traditional folklore has little resemblance to
the Hollywood creation of the same name.

   If a typical vampire of folklore, not fiction, were to
   come to your house this Halloween, you might open the
   door to encounter a plump Slavic fellow with long
   fingernails and a stubby beard, his mouth and left eye
   open, his face ruddy and swollen. He wears informal
   attire_in fact, a linen shroud_and he looks for all the
   world like a disheveled peasant." (p. 2)

   No black cloak, no fangs, and not even a gentleman!

   Barber emphasizes that it is necessary to "study the
actual phenomena to determine whether it is our informants
or we ourselves who lack adequate information." (p. 88)
Accordingly, Barber inquires into the science of
decomposition and unearths a considerable body of
information about what happens to dead bodies. These details
are not well known to most of us, because most people have
as little to do with dead bodies as possible. The details
also will not appeal to all readers, and I shall not recount
them here. Suffice it to say that, detective stories to the
contrary, the decomposition of a body is a complex and
active process. Despite what many of us might think, "bodies
continue to act long after death." (p. 9) Today we interpret
this activity as due to other entities, such as
microorganisms. In the past this activity was seen as a
continuation of the life of the person.
   The heart of Barber's thesis is, then, that the normal
"activities" of corpses have often been interpreted as signs
of continuing or renewed life of the person. He identifies
many sources of change that act on a corpse including
decomposition, attacks by scavenging animals, and the
ejection of the body from its resting place by weather. In
the absence of direct observation of the agent that caused
the body to move or change, it is easy to see that one might
conclude that the change was caused by the body itself, and
that the body was still alive or alive again. For instance,
" {a} body dug up by dogs is not unusual. But seen as a
tableau, with the scavengers no longer present, there is
nothing to account for the hand emerging from the earth
except its own volition." (p. 135)
   Barber makes several points of interest to skeptics. In
analyzing the recorded literature of vampires, he finds that
in many cases the description of the appearance of the
corpse is very accurate and matches what is known today
about how corpses decompose. For instance, although the
vampire stories almost always report that the corpse had not
decomposed, "they almost always present evidence that it
really was decaying." (p. 191) Here we see that it is
essential to take the folk accounts seriously, but to
attempt to separate the observation from its interpretation.
   If vampires of folklore have no fangs or cloaks, they do
have some frequently attributed characteristics, including,
especially, drinking blood. Barber shows that a decomposing
body may well be found that has blood in its mouth, is
bloated, and bleeds when cut; these are normal conditions
for some decomposing bodies. The evidence could easily lead,
however, to the conclusion that the body is swollen from a
recent feast of blood. Barber similarly "disposes" of other
supposed characteristics of vampires, attributing them to
normal features of decomposing bodies.
   Barber proceeds to consider folk beliefs about
contagion, death, and the dead. The newly dead may, not
unreasonably, be suspected of causing death. The mysterious
and alarming activities of dead bodies become very
threatening in times of epidemic or other disaster. Even in
normal times, the dead are considered by many cultures to be
dangerous to the living, especially while the body is
active, that is, until it has fully decomposed to bones.
   In this light, Barber interprets some otherwise opaque
funeral and mortuary customs as measures intended to protect
the living by appeasing, warding off, or even fooling the
newly dead. Barber suggests that many folk beliefs and
practices can be seen as efforts to keep the soul of the
newly deceased from reentering the body and thus becoming a
threat to the living. This idea links folk theories of the
soul with vampire lore. For instance, a reflection in the
mirror or in still water is often held to be able to hold
one's soul. In some cultures, mirrors are turned to the wall
and standing water is covered or poured out when someone
dies. This, Barber, suggests, might be done in an effort to
prevent the soul from being captured by a reflection and
thus lingering nearby where it might reenter the body.
Similarly, vampires are often reported to attack victims in
dreams, which are clearly a realm of the soul in folklore.
   Barber sees the goal of many customs as not only
protecting the living from dangerously active dead, but to
hasten the dead to a safely inert, fully decomposed state.
Various methods of body disposal are discussed in this
light. Some cultures routinely mutilate or restrain corpses,
possibly to interfere with their further activity during the
danger period. Such practices are also observed in
prehistoric burials. For instance, the "bog people," well-
preserved bodies discovered in European peat bogs, were
staked down. Barber sees this as efforts to make sure the
bodies did not rise to the surface and thereby "threaten"
the living.
   Here we can see that Barber is venturing rather far
afield, and presenting his own imaginative reconstruction of
events he has not observed. Barber rejects the "bizarre"
attempts by scholars to explain vampires as due to various
rare diseases, yet his own speculations about the meaning of
death and mortuary customs, while not bizarre, are certainly
open to criticism. For instance, Barber notes that
archaeologists have found many bodies buried in a contracted
position. This, Barber says, "may be explained by the corpse
having been tied up so that it could not return from the
dead." (p. 55) While the evidence for binding corpses may be
fairly tight, there are many possible explanations for this
custom, and too little evidence to tie us to any single
   Barber may also be criticized for interpreting folk
tales and practices solely in light of his theory, sometimes
with too little regard to the cultural context in which the
practices occurred. It is important to note that in folklore
the dead are not always seen as a threat to the living. The
departed are often benign or even helpful, as when a loved-
one is said to return to protect, instruct or warn the
living. It must also be remembered that folklore is an
imaginative creation, not an effort at scientific
explanation. Folk stories about the dead serve many purposes
besides accounting for the mysterious behavior of dead
bodies:  they illustrate and defend cultural beliefs and
values, and they might even be intended to entertain. For an
appreciation of the complexity of beliefs about death,
readers might consult Appearances of the Dead (Prometheus
Books, 1984) by R.C. Finucane (Reviewed in Skeptical
Inquirer, Winter 1989).
   Altogether, this book is an interesting and well-written
interpretation of folk beliefs and instructive example of
skeptical inquiry. Barber shows that one must always take
reports of first-hand observations seriously, while
remaining skeptical of interpretations and inferences
attached to them. Separating observation from interpretation
is not always easy, but it is completely impossible unless
one takes care to study the actual phenomena in question.
And, as always, one has to be aware when one is speculating
and be properly skeptical of one's own imaginings.


		   Conversation with a Creationist
			  by Ranse Traxler

     There are just some things that are too memorable for a
person to forget.  A few years ago I had such an experience
at one of the monthly meetings of the Missouri Association
for Creation is St. Louis.  Even though I consider myself
something of a "wordsmith" (you should hear the words I can
come up with when I hit my thumb while hammering), the
following is something too "unusual" for me to have created.
I swear it took place.
     The event would be memorable already because of
something David Menton, President of MAC, Washington
University professor, and Technical Advisor to the ICR
[Institute for Creation Research], said in response to a
question from the audience.  When the topic of embryonic
features was brought up, he replied, "Look!  I'm a professor
of anatomy at Washington University Medical School, and I
assure you that at no time during development does a human
embryo have anything remotely resembling a tail or gill
     During that meeting I noticed a young female who looked
very out of place there; she had a Levis jacket loaded with
pins, spiked hair, and all sorts of chaings and medals
around her neck.  After the meeting I happened to meet her
in the parking lot and we started to talk.

She:  "I came to the meeting tonight to learn more about
I:  "Would you want to learn more about God by asking the
Devil?  You should instead talk with a biologist at one of
the local universities.  You need to ask someone with a good
science background to learn more about evolution."
She:  "Oh, I have a good science background.  I'm a nursing
major at [a local junior college]."
I:  "What do you know about evolution?"
She:  "Well, if evolution is true, then I ought to be able
to walk down the street and see a dog turn into a cat."
I:  "That's not what evolution says.  Evolution says that
dogs and cats have a common ancestor.  Let me give you an
example:  you and your cousin have a common ancestor, a
grandmother, right?"
She:  "Yes, but she's not a monkey."
I:  "No one is saying your grandmother is a monkey.  All I'm
saying is that dogs and cats share a common ancestor just
like you and your cousin share your grandmother as a common
She:  "But she's not a monkey!"
I:  I'm not saying your grandmother is a monkey!  What I'm
saying is that to say, 'A dog will suddenly turn into a
cat,' is like saying 'You will turn into your cousin
overnight.'  We both know that you will not turn into your
cousing overnight even though both of you share a
grandmother for a common ancestor, right?"
She:  "Yes, but she's not a monkey!"

     At that point I gave up, encouraged her to take a
university biology course, said "Good night," got into my
car, and drove home in a state of disbelief.


			  REALLity Check
			by David Bloomberg

     The biggest story of the media this past month was the
CBS show, "Ancient Secrets of the Bible, Part II" (see
related article).  Besides that, we have word of some
strange lawsuits and poor investigation.

            	         Hg + Potato = Au

     According to the April 5 Chemical & Engineering News,
an alchemist decided that he could make gold by baking
mercury in a potato.  So, in the best scientific tradition,
he, while left alone on a towboat as a caretaker, tried to
use the galley to realize this goal.  Needless to say, it
didn't work exactly as planned.
     As the judge wrote, "Not surprisingly, [he] sustained
injuries while breathing mercury vapors escaping from the
very hot oven containing the mercury-laden Idaho potato.
[He], again, unsurprisingly, reasons that because injuries
occurred on a towboat in drydock, he asserts he is a seaman
and seeks refuge under that rock of protection the Jones
Act, and under general maritime law.  This court must deny
him safe harbor."  The judge added, "The court cannot find,
nor does the plaintiff supply, any case law to support the
proposition that the practice of alchemy is within the
duties of a seaman who is acting as a caretaker."
     In order to report more fully on this incident, I have
studied the procedure.  I am firmly convinced that it didn't
work because he forgot to add the necessary ingredients of
sour cream and chives.

			 Starry Suit

     A second strange lawsuit was reported this month in the
Chicago Tribune, with a short blurb (5/26/93) discussing a
Madison, Wisconsin newspaper being sued for libel.  The
paper published an opinion column in which astrologers were
called "purveyors of hogwash."  Neil Marbell, who runs a
business that gives astrological forecasts over the phone,
is suing because he says the column was, "false, malicious,
defamatory and libelous."
     Now I'm no lawyer, but those who I have consulted don't
believe this case has a chance of ever getting past an
opening hearing, since neither Mr. Marbell nor his company
appear to have been mentioned by name, but rather a whole
"profession" was discussed.  However, I almost want it to go
the distance, just so we can see if Mr. Marbell has any
evidence that horoscopes are anything but hogwash.  I'm not
holding my breath.

		Investigation?  What's That?

     George de Lama wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune
about support groups in California for supposed alien
abductees (5/14/93).  The only problem is that Mr. de Lama
apparently didn't bother to investigate anything for the
     I've come to this conclusion from the way he discusses
the phenomenon.  Comments such as "local residents who have
been abducted by aliens," and "Smith's clients have been
poked, prodded and studied, shot up with needles and fitted
with implants" make it sound like this has all been verified
(note the lack of such words as "alleged" and "supposed").
In fact, however, all of these things are nothing more than
personal allegations, with little or no evidence.  The
testimony of these people is often garnered through
hypnosis, which is a suspect method of obtaining information
when conducted by a biased hypnotist, as in the cases
described in this article.  The few supposed implants
presented for study have been shown to be mundane, not
extraterrestrial.  Does Mr. de Lama know this?  If so, he
certainly didn't bother to tell the readers.
     Another obvious point is that de Lama says we should
not be surprised if support groups like this pop up all over
the country.  I hate to break it to him, but these groups
have been around for years.  Even the smallest amount of
research would have shown him that.
     Once again, we see the Tribune acting as though
anything that appears in the Tempo section is "soft news"
and doesn't need to be researched or verified.

		      Goodbye Sightings

     The grapevine tells me that Fox's Sightings has been
canceled.  Rest assured that REALLity Check mourns the
passing of such an unbiased, investigative show.  Also rest
assured that I could not keep a straight face while typing
that sentence.
     Unfortunately, the time slot will now be taken by The X-
Files, a show about an FBI team that investigates
"unexplained" phenomena.  Oh well, you win some, you lose


			Logic Abuse and CBS
		       A REALLity Check Extra
			by David Bloomberg

     The Creationist Broadcast System (sometimes known as
CBS) and Sun-PKO Productions were at it again.  This time
they broadcast Ancient Secrets of the Bible, Part II at 8:00
on Saturday, May 15, hosted by Dennis Weaver.
     You may remember that these were the same people who
put together the Noah's Ark special a couple months ago.
Well, the only good thing I can say about this one is that
it wasn't quite as bad as the Noah one.
     As you know, REALL does not take any position on
religion.  However, when people play fast and loose with the
scientific evidence, whether it deals with psychics or
alleged miracles, REALL will do it's best to point it out.
Also, these "researchers" often associate themselves with
the very same people who want Creationism taught as science
in the public schools.
     Four Biblical stories were featured in the two-hour
show.  In each case, they showed skeptics making a
statement, and the proceeded to apparently demolish those
arguments.  However, paying close attention to what was
actually said shows that, in fact, their "logic" is not
exactly up to par.
     For example, to "prove" that the story of David and
Goliath is true, they cited "archaeological evidence" that
there were giants in the region (no citations or references,
of course, so we have no way of knowing anything about this
"evidence").  They also did a demonstration showing that the
sling can be a deadly weapon.  Finally, they said since
there is no evidence to disprove it, the story must be true.
If conclusion-jumping were an Olympic sport, these guys
would have gotten the gold medal.
     While this story doesn't deal with supposed miracles,
it does illustrate the misuse of logic often present in
their arguments.
     Another story featured Moses and the Ten Commandments.
They claimed that they had found the Biblical mountain on
which Moses received the stone tablets, but, just as they
were about to delve deeper into it, the Saudi government
closed it off.  And they found the actual Ark of the
Covenant beneath Temple Mount (I guess Indiana Jones didn't
really find it), but, just then, that area was walled off
with concrete!  Darnit, this is as bad as all those mishaps
trying to photograph Noah's Ark.  Actually, it rather
reminds me of many UFO conspiracies.  Hey, maybe they're all
linked together in some mystical way.  Where's Oliver Stone
when you need him?
     The third story dealt with the Book of Daniel, and
three of his friends who were supposedly tossed into a
furnace and survived.  In this one, they couldn't even get
their own "experts" to agree with each other on what
happened, and the dramatic "recreation" was different from
all of the explanations.  But did they mention these
contradictions?  Heck, no!  They just claimed the "evidence
is on our side" and went along their merry way.
     The fourth and final segment was about Samson and
Delilah.  One of the skeptics interviewed was Canton,
Illinois' own Farrell Till, editor of The Skeptical Review.
I called Mr. Till the day after the show aired and talked to
him about it.  Suffice it to say he was not happy.
According to him, the producers and/or directors reneged on
several promises about the way his segments were to be done.
They originally came to him with a script (when I was
watching, I had a feeling most of those people didn't look
very natural when speaking, now I know why).  He said he
would only do it if he could rewrite his portions of the
script.  They agreed and allowed him to do so, but then cut
most or all of his changes out in editing.  He was supposed
to be in three scenes.  He was removed entirely from the
third, and replaced by somebody else who would simply say
what was on the script.  To sum up, Till told me, "They
gutted everything I said."
     All in all, this program basically did the same thing
its predecessors had done.  Often, when they showed somebody
who agreed with the beliefs being espoused by the program,
they referred to them only as "Bible Professor" or something
similar.  In the Noah's Ark show, many of those were
affiliated directly with the Institute for Creation
Research.  While I didn't catch any names that I recognized
as being from ICR in this show, Till mentioned to me that
several of the professors they were highlighting were from
obscure religious junior colleges, and were not nearly as
"expert" as they would like us to think.
     Once again, I'm emphasizing that this has not been an
attempt on my part to attack a religion or their beliefs.
But when people try to bring science into it and say it
supports those beliefs , I will not stand by silently while
they misrepresent the evidence.  Especially since, in many
cases, this leads directly to the idea of teaching those
religious beliefs in a science class using the "logic" of
"since the Bible was proven scientifically correct here, it
must be in all cases."
     As before, I encourage our readers to write to/call CBS
and let them know what you think of these shows.  They can
be reached at (212) 975-3166; 51 West 52nd Street, New York,
NY 10019.  A CBS spokesman told one person that only 25
people called to complain about the Noah show, while 400
people called in support.  REALL always appreciates copies
of letters that are sent, and also copies of any replies you
might receive.



		 Predictions for Future Issues

Psychic Detectives
Survey Results
Current Research Updates on Top Ten Paranormal/Fringe Science Activities
The End of the World
Glossary of Terms
Paranormal Beliefs in Medieval Times
How to Write a Letter to an Editor


			Skeptics Online

If you have a computer and a modem, you owe it to yourself to
participate in the skeptic message areas on the computer BBS
networks.  Here in Springfield, call The Temples of Syrinx at
(217) 787-9101.  David Bloomberg operates this BBS, which carries
the FidoNet SKEPTIC, EVOLUTION and UFO conferences, internationally
distributed message areas for discussing topics of interest to
skeptics.  He is also carrying ParaNet conferences, all dedicated
to UFO and paranormal topics.  You can also find a wide variety of
skeptic text files.

	     The Temples of Syrinx -- (217) 787-9101


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Last modified Sun Jul 07 02:05:25 1996. Email comments to whartsho@mail.fgi.net