The REALL News


The official newsletter of the Rational Examination Association
		      of Lincoln Land

Volume 1, Number 10                                November 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
REALL at the ISTA Convention -- David Bloomberg
Electronic Skepticism -- David Bloomberg
REALLity Check -- 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, and Kevin Brown.

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.  REALL also requests that you send
copies of your newsletters that reprint our articles to the
above address.

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

   In this month's issue, we feature articles by Chairman
David Bloomberg, including one on the science educators'
convention he attended on behalf of REALL.  Besides getting
the word out on REALL, he was able see how educators attempt
to deal with the problems concerning the teaching of
creationism in the schools.
   For those of you involved, or wanting to get involved,
with computer bulletin boards, check out his article on
"electronic skepticism."  With all the attention given the
"information highway" of the future, more and more of us
will certainly be using computer bulletin boards to find and
discuss information.
   As we approach our first year of existence, we wanted to
take a break and ask you how you feel about REALL, its
activities, and its newsletter.  We would appreciate any
comments -- positive or negative -- that you have about REALL.
Help us to do our job even better by sending in those
surveys today!
   Please come to our special presentation this month -- an
interesting talk by Dr. Richard Walker about the problem
with some philosophies.  All skeptics should be interested in
the flaws of philosophies that he will detail at our Nov. 15
meeting.  See you there!
					/s/ Bob Ladendorf


			 From the Chairman
			-- David Bloomberg

   Apparently there have been a rash of alien abductions
lately.  Or maybe there's another reason to explain the
rather low attendance at our past two meetings.  If there is,
please fill out the survey form on page 7 of this issue and
send  it  in  to  us. We want REALL and _The REALL News_ to
reflect what our members want, so we need your feedback.  And
don't feel you have to limit yourself to the survey.  Call,
write letters or articles, make use of the computer bulletin
board, come to meetings, and make yourself heard!
   Right now we're gearing up for some exciting meetings in
both the near and further future. This month, we have Dr.
Richard Walker, a consultant for the Illinois State Board
of Education, presenting "Fools, Fallacies, and Philosophers--
17 Flawed Epistemologies from Plato to Quantum Mechanics."
   Next month, we expect to be showing CSICOP'S video
_Beyond Belief_.   For next year, we plan to have Ranse
Traxler, Prof. Steve Egger, a return visit by Det. Bruce
Walstad, and a host of other interesting speakers.  Remember,
if you have any suggestions, you know our address.  Let's
hear from you!

                   PROMETHEUS  BOOK SALES

   The   deadline  for  this  book  order  is  the  November
meeting!   If  you don't get your order in, you'll  have  to
wait until February. Remember, you get 20% off, and only  $1
for shipping (if you  pick it up at a meeting). I know there
are people out there who want to order books, so remember to
bring your order to the next meeting, or just send it in  to
us by November 15th.

					/s/ David Bloomberg


		    REALL At the ISTA Convention
                        by David Bloomberg

   On October 1st and 2nd, REALL, Gateway Skeptics, the
National Center for Science Education (NCSE), and the St.
Louis Association for Teaching and Education (SLATE) shared
a booth at the annual meeting of the Illinois Science
Teachers Association (ISTA).
   The booth was manned by Gateway Skeptics Chairman Steve
Best, SLATE Director Ranse Traxler, and myself.  NCSE sent a
great deal of literature to hand out or sell. Our hope in
getting the booth was to inform science teachers of the
problems with creationism and other unscientific beliefs
(astrology, ESP, etc.) in schools and to interest them in
our groups. Ranse Traxler also gave a presentation on anti-
evolution activities in public schools.
   We handed out all of the NCSE brochures, and about 100
of the REALL information sheets (we made 400 of them, so we
have a few extra). While there were a number of people who
seemed interested in the issues and our group, so far we
have not received any memberships from them. Even if we
receive no memberships, I still think it was money well
spent. Informing science teachers is definitely one of the
reasons for the creation of REALL.
   Happily, most of the people who came by and talked to us
agreed that evolution needs to be taught, and that
creationism should not. Some were going through
controversies in their districts, and one told us she had
actually quit her previous job because they required her to
teach creationism. Of course, there were several who thought
we were all wet.
   The most notable opponent was actually a representative
from a scientific equipment (microscopes, etc.) company in
the booth across from ours. It turns out that he is a Bible-
literalist who is a friend of the leader of the Missouri
creationists group. When he realized that we were promoting
evolution and attacking creationism, he came over and gave
us a rather loud piece of his mind.  He attacked us for 
trying to influence science teachers (influencing them by
giving them scientific information?), confused the theory
of evolution by suggesting it dealt with the rise of life 
from non-life, and called it "scientific gobbledygook" 
(this coming from a man who sells scientific equipment for
a living), informed Steve Best and I that we are going to 
Hell, and generally argued loudly with us.
   After a little while, he stormed back to his own booth
and seethed. A couple hours later, he came over and offered,
"No hard feelings." We shook hands, and then he again
proceeded to pound me, somewhat more quietly, with religious
and philosophical topics which had nothing to do with
evolution and science in general ("Do you accept Jesus
Christ as your Lord and Savior?", "What are you going to do
when you face God and he sends you to Hell for promoting
evolution?" etc.)  Several times, I tried to explain that we
are not a religious organization, and that many religious
people accept the scientific evidence and evolution. In his
opinion, however, these people are hypocrites for not
accepting the literal word of the Bible, which says plainly
that everything was created in six days. Period. So either
you accept creationism and reject science, or you go to Hell.
   Needless to say, this was not the most fruitful
discussion in which I've ever engaged, but it reminded me
that, even at a convention of science teachers, there are
people who believe pseudo-science.
   There were a few other creationists who struck up
conversations, but they were neither as vehement nor as loud
as the first one. I think I impressed at least one of them
by listening to what she had to say and trying to point her
in the proper direction to get information, rather than
simply attacking her viewpoint. Apparently, her father is a
scientist who despises her creationist outlook, and he
merely ignores her whenever she tried to talk to him. She
therefore assumed that anybody who was against creationism
was against dialogue. As I showed her, that simply isn't
true. What is true, however, is that there is no scientific
evidence for creationism, but there are mounds of it for
evolution. I'm not sure I convinced her to take a better
look at the information, but at least she didn't lecture me
on going to Hell and I may have given her a better picture
of skeptics.
   Now, you may be asking yourself, "Does pseudo-science
really run that rampant in our science educators?" Well, in
some cases, yes. As a matter of fact, only a few years ago,
the ISTA allowed creationist teachers to give presentations
at their annual meetings!  They have since put together a
resolution on creationism (they are supposed to send me a
copy of it) and do not allow presentations on creationism
any longer (they almost did not allow Ranse Traxler's,
because it dealt with creationism).
   But I think that, while there are some science educators
who are rather unscientific, the majority of them are quite
good, and many are concerned about the unscientific ones in
their profession. Along these lines, Ranse Traxler had a
pretty good attendance at his presentation. Most of those
there were concerned and upset as he related his information
on creationist activities in Illinois public schools (I
won't go into details, since he plans to give that
presentation to us in the near future). However, remember
that creationist who presented a talk at the previous ISTA
meeting? Well, he was there, right in the front row,
checking to see if Ranse mentioned his name or school
district (he said that to me after the talk, but before I
knew who he was -- at the time, I thought he was joking).
Also attending were an officer of the ISTA and Dr. Richard
Walker from the Illinois State Board of Education, who
commended Traxler for his work and courage in speaking out
against the unscientific behavior of some schools (Dr.
Walker is our guest speaker this month).
   Overall, I think the conference represented time and
money well spent, and I hope REALL can continue to engage in
these kinds of activities to encourage critical thinking in
the classroom and anywhere else that irrationality rears its


                       Electronic Skepticism
                        by David Bloomberg

   You've seen the little box in every issue of The REALL
News, right below the Editor's column. If you've come to
meetings, you've heard me talk about it.  But what is a BBS?
   "BBS" is short for computer "bulletin board service."
There are literally tens of thousands of them across the
country. Many of these are networked together in one form or
another. Some of you may have heard of InterNet and UseNet,
which link many universities and government sites, along
with private companies and BBSes. Privately, there are also
hundreds of non-professional networks, ranging from the
general to the very specific.
   But what does this have to do with skepticism?
   For one thing, the exchange of information is always a
good thing for scientists and skeptics. Many fringe-science
claims have been debunked hundreds of times, but if the
information doesn't get out, it doesn't do any good. BBSes
allow such exchanges in a relatively short time period.
   As an example, I will discuss the BBS you see advertised
in this newsletter, The Temples of Syrinx BBS.  (Before
anybody asks, the name of the BBS is from a song, and has
nothing to do with skepticism.)  I am the System Operator
(Sysop) of this BBS, which will be called "Syrinx" for short
for the remainder of this article.
   Syrinx is a free system, meaning that users are not
required to pay anything to access any part of it. There are
some systems that charge for access to all or part of their
services, but that does not apply here. The services you can
find on Syrinx include access to both discussion and file
   Discussion areas are simply places where somebody can
write a message, and have others respond to it, thus
engaging in a discussion or debate. They are also known as
"conferences" or "echos" (because when you enter a message
on one system in a network, it "echoes" throughout other
systems). There is a wide variety of such areas, ranging
from the very general, where any subject is OK, to the very
specific, where only a limited number of topics are
   File areas are essentially places where many types of
computer files can be disseminated. These files can range
from text files, which can contain articles, electronic
newsletters, etc. to actual computer programs.
   Syrinx offers access to a variety of both message and
file areas, some of which are very specialized to
skepticism. Syrinx is connected to three computer networks,
and gets message areas from all of them. FidoNet is the main
network found on Syrinx. It is the largest amateur (hobby)
computer network in the world, linking over 25,000 BBSes.
From FidoNet, Syrinx gets conferences dealing with
skepticism, UFOs, evolution, science and technology, and a
number of others, unrelated to skepticism (such as politics
and music).
   ParaNet  is the second network available to Syrinx
users. ParaNet is very specialized in the areas of the
paranormal and fringe science, especially as it is related
to UFOs. Until recently, ParaNet was only available to a
relatively few BBSes, but they have since expanded through
InterNet, and now reach significantly more people. On
Syrinx, ParaNet has a skeptics area (different from the
FidoNet one), an area for general UFO discussion, an area
for general paranormal discussion, an area where users can
talk directly to the editors of UFO magazine, and an area
for discussion of alleged UFO abductions, where users can
usually find UFOlogist David Jacobs.
   TechNet is the most recent addition to Syrinx. This
network, operating on a grant from the National Science
Foundation, deals with science and technology education and
is a place where teachers and students can go to discuss
chemistry, astronomy, biology, etc.
   The file areas on Syrinx have similar breakdowns. Unlike
many other BBSes, the Syrinx files are mostly text files,
rather than computer programs. There is an area for general
science and skeptical information, an area containing over
50 electronic versions of other local skeptics groups'
newsletters, an area specifically dedicated to information
on UFOs, and another especially for evolution/creation
   What does all this mean to skeptics?
   As I mentioned earlier, the exchange of information is
the most important aspect of BBSes. A member of the Georgia
Skeptics might need information on UFO "investigator" Bill
Knell, and write a message in the FidoNet skeptics
conference to see if anybody has heard of him. I would see
this message a day or two after they had written it and can
respond by sending over the article written by Bob Ladendorf
and myself for the April issue of The REALL News ("Saucers
for Sale: An Evening With a UFO Cheerleader").  The skeptic
in Georgia can then use this information to help with
whatever he needs. I have used the BBS many times in
gathering information, including last month's article on Sun
Pictures ("Incredible Mysteries of Sun Pictures").
   Besides the simple exchange of information, debating is
a key feature of BBSes. I have honed my debate and writing
skills for over six years on various message conferences
(some might say that I've honed my sarcasm as well, but I'll
leave that for the reader of "REALLity Check" to decide). In
the evolution echo, for example, a user will find several
vociferous creationists debating geneticists, biologists,
and other knowledgeable scientists.  I have learned more
about creationist arguments, and the ways to combat them
with facts, in just a few months of reading that conference
than I had in many years using other means.
   The file areas serve as another means of information
transfer. They are more permanent than a message area, which
is transient and "goes with the flow" of conversation. File
areas serve as a repository of information. If a biologist
writes about the definition of macroevolution in a message
area, it may only be available for a few days.  But if I, or
somebody else, save that message and place it in a file
area, it remains available for as long as we want. This is
especially useful for beginners, who may have all sorts of
questions that more experienced people have answered
hundreds of times. The beginners can be referred to certain
files to "catch up". Good examples of this are found in the
UFO conference, where newcomers will often try to start
conversations about the MJ-12 documents, which they think
are just great examples of the government cover-up.
Referring them to the several articles I have online,
discussing them as hoaxes, saves a great deal of time as
well as informing the new users. Some conferences also
maintain "Frequently Asked Questions" (FAQ) lists, to aid
newcomers and to avoid going over the same conversations
time and time again. Syrinx has a number of these FAQs
online and ready for download.
   While I have used Syrinx as an example throughout this
article, there are a large number of BBSes in the Central
Illinois area. The Quest (546-7608), operated by REALL's
Secre-tary/Treasurer, Wally Hartshorn, carries the Internet
skeptics conference (different from the other two skeptics
conferences I have already mentioned) along with a number of
other non-skeptic conferences. In fact, there are over 15
BBSes just in Springfield which are connected to FidoNet,
and probably twice as many in the Champaign-Urbana area.
Nationally, I know that at least the Bay Area Skeptics,
Tampa Bay Skeptics, and Georgia Skeptics have BBSes
partially or fully associated with their groups.
   Many of you may still have questions about BBSes. It's
difficult to explain everything in a short introductory
article. I will be happy to answer those questions sent to
us here at The REALL News, either in a later article,
letters to the editor, or personally.  The other option is,
of course, to plug in your computer and modem and call up
The Temples of Syrinx at (217) 787-9101.


                         REALLity Check
                       by David Bloomberg

                           Abuse Abuse

   Recently, there have been a whole bunch of stories
particularly dealing with False Memory Syndrome (FMS), which
will be specifically discussed in an upcoming article by
Wally Hartshorn.
   Two of the articles appeared in _Science News_ (Sept. 18,
Sept. 25) which gave both sides of the debate (are they
false or are they real or can they be both in different
situations?). _20/20_ (Oct. 23) had a segment on created
memories in children, in which an experimenter found that
children can and do make up these stories sometimes, as well
verifying that repeated questioning of children can make the
children change their answers to fit the question.
   In addition, there were two separate discussions of
facilitated communications in the media within the past
month. NBC's _Now_ featured it, as well as PBS's
_Frontline_ (Oct. 19).  For those unfamiliar with facilitated
communication, the _Skeptical Inquirer_ had a feature article
on it in the Spring 1993 issue and it appears the general
news media is just now catching on that something fishy is
going on here. There have been numerous cases of abuse
accusation, and people are quite possibly going to jail for
crimes that never happened.
   Facilitated communication is used for autistic children,
to try to get them to communicate with the outside world. A
facilitator "helps" the child select letters on a keyboard
to spell out words and sentences. This is where the charges
of abuse have come in.
   _Frontline_ reported that several experiments were done in
which the facilitator unknowingly saw a different picture
than the child, and it always turned out that the word typed
in was the picture seen by the facilitator, not the child.
Now also showed similar results.  Both of these shows were
excellent and examined just how false charges can destroy
the lives of innocent people. _Frontline_ also showed that,
despite the evidence, some people will continue to believe.


   In the hour before the _Frontline_ discussed above, _Nova_
featured James "The Amazing" Randi. Randi took _Nova_ to a
freshman college class in which he showed how willing many
people are to be fooled, he discussed the career and
exposures of Uri Geller and Peter Popoff, and he took a tour
of Russia to look into their supposedly promising paranormal
   It seems that Russian paranormal research is
approximately on a par with America's.  They didn't use
double-blind tests (if they tested at all) and allowed
investigator bias to pop up throughout. When Randi showed
them the proper way to test certain phenomena, the results
were, as expected, rather poor (to put it kindly). And, as
is often found in paranormal research, excuses took over
when results didn't appear.
   Probably the funniest portion of the trip to Russia was
Randi's encounter with two women who claimed that they could
tell all about a person just by looking at a picture of
them. Randi gave them Ted Bundy's picture. The women tossed
out all sorts of vague comments and waited for feedback _
even asking for it several times. In other words, they
seemed to be simply cold reading. Finally, when they were
done, Randi told them that they had missed the single most
important fact (among others) about Bundy _ that he was a
serial murderer who had been executed four years earlier
(one of the "psychics" had said he had a major event change
his life three years earlier, which would have been
interesting, considering he'd already been dead a year by
then). Both psychics then played the excuse game, trying to
claim, "Oh, yes, I pretty much said that" when they had said
nothing of the sort.
   Another feather in Randi's cap.

                   Facing Reality on Mars

   The journal _Science_ reported (Sept. 10) on the
conspiracy theories being associated with the breakdown of
the Mars Observer satellite. Those of us who have been
watching the conspiracy theorists cackle with delight in
"proving" a huge government cover-up by citing the deafening
silence of the satellite already knew about this nonsense,
but _Science_ has thoughtfully shared it with others who may
not have known there was even a controversy (outside of the
dollars that disappeared into a black hole, that is).
   Conspiracy theorists were picketing the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory two days after contact with the satellite was
lost. They claim that NASA knew that the "face" on Mars was
evidence for Martian life, and they didn't want to admit it
to us. NASA has, of course, explained many times that it
isn't really a "face," but simply a rock formation.
Psychologists have also explained that the human mind has a
tendency to see faces, even when only given minimal detail.
But that doesn't stop the determined conspiracy theorists,
who want to force the government to end its supposed cover-
up on all matters related to aliens and UFOs.

[Graphic of the "face" on Mars included in regular version of
newsletter.  It was taken from a printout of the gif file,
MARSFACE.GIF, available from The Temples of Syrinx BBS, FidoNet
node 1:2430/2112, phone (217) 787-9101.  To see future graphics,
please help support REALL and send in your subscription!]


A special membership survey was included in the regular version of
this issue.  Since members are the ones being surveyed, and it is
highly unlikely that they will be reading this version instead of
the paper version, the survey has not been reproduced here.



		 Predictions for Future Issues

* Top 10 Paranormal/Fringe Science Activities
* Looking into the _Sun_ -- and other tabloids
* Paranormal Beliefs in Medieval Times
* False Memory Syndrome


			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 02:05:31 1996. Email comments to whartsho@mail.fgi.net