The REALL News


The official newsletter of the Rational Examination Association of Lincoln Land

Volume 2, Number 12 -- December 1994

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
A Look into the Sun - and Other Tabloids, Part 2 -- Bob Ladendorf
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, Kevin Brown; Newsletter Editor, Bob Ladendorf; At-Large Members, Prof. Steve Egger, Wally Hartshorn, and Frank Mazo.

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

`Tis the season to be . . . skeptical! Then again, any season is a time to be skeptical. This issue gives you plenty of reasons to be wary and critical of things you read and things you see.

REALL Chairman David Bloomberg points out two recent excellent examples of investigative work dealing with deceptive practices: an NBC Dateline expose of fortune tellers and Carl Sagan's outstanding essay in a recent Parade magazine on scams by alleged faith healers and others. Works like these in the mainstream media are awfully encouraging.

In this issue, we feature Part 2 of my analysis of the articles in grocery tabloids. This part concentrates on the two tabloids that primarily feature paranormal and pseudoscientific stories. Hope you enjoy it.

As we approach the new year, and near the end of REALL's second year, I just wanted to thank all who have helped our group by being an officer, member, videotape or monetary donor, or an attendee at our monthly meetings. We hope that our march to reason does not get reversed.

As a reminder, if you have any further comments or suggestions, please send them to me at REALL's address listed elsewhere on this page, or send us e-mail at the following addresses:

REALL E-mail Contacts:
Bob Ladendorf: robertcl49@aol.com (Note: 1st 8 are letters)
David Bloomberg: david.bloomberg@f2112.n2430.z1.fidonet.org

We always like to hear from you! Happy Holidays :) !

/s/ Bob Ladendorf

From the Chairman

-- David Bloomberg

Before going into anything else, I want to begin this month's column with a request for a homepage. Those of you who are connected to one of the many online services which have Internet access may know what I'm talking about. The rest of you probably haven't the foggiest idea. In brief, a homepage can be a location on the Internet where others from around the world can come to find information, be it important or trivial. In order to set up a homepage, one must have an Internet account on a machine which allows them to do so.

I know that we have officers and other members at various universities in Central Illinois. I know that these universities have Internet hookups. What I don't know is whether or not these sites allow somebody to set up their own homepage. So, if anybody out there is interested in setting up a REALL homepage, please let me know either by phone, letter, or, of course, E-mail to: david.bloomberg@f2112.n2430.z1.fidonet.org

A REALL homepage would make electronic versions of REALL and other newsletters and information available around the world (some of these are already available via other Internet sites), as well as including links to other places of interest, such as the homepages for CSICOP, the Skeptics Society, False Memory Syndrome Foundation, etc.

So, like I said, if you're interested and able, please let me know.

Now, on to other subjects. This time last year, I reminded our members that many of you will have subscriptions which expire in February (which is the month in which REALL started in 1993). We have been using a different program to print labels, and so we may not get the expiration date on them just yet (we're trying, though, I promise), but will definitely use different colored labels and other methods to let you know when you're close to having your REALL membership/subscription lapse.

Also this time last year, I asked people to consider becoming Patron members. As I said then you won't see me (or anybody else from REALL) sending you letters or filling newsletter space begging for money. In fact, I absolutely guarantee that I won't mention it at all for the rest of the year! But seriously, if you like what you see in REALL, and can afford it, I only ask that you consider becoming a Patron member. Even if you don't, we still value each and every member, so please feel free to write to us and let us know what you think -- what we're doing well or (perish the thought) what you think we can improve.

And speaking of our meeting, let me tell you more about it. It is on December 20th, at 7:00 at the Lincoln Library, Carnegie Room South. We'll be seeing a videotaped lecture on Mysterious and Amazing Atmospheric Phenomena (which was democratically selected at our previous meeting) by plasma physicist Dr. Bernard Leikind. Here's the description from the tape:

"Rare atmospheric phenomena have been a source of inspiration and wonder to humankind throughout history. Because many people are unaware of the richness and variety of such phenomena, they have tended to perceive them as supernatural occurrences, or assign them paranormal causes.

In a fascinating slide presentation, Dr. Leikind will illustrate many rare atmospheric phenomena and discuss the psychology of perception. He will offer natural explanations for several Biblical descriptions such as the crossing of the Red Sea or walking on water, often assumed to be supernatural events. Dr. Leikind will demonstrate his hypothesis with slides that he has taken of contemporary examples. Plus Dr. Leikind will advise us on how to see and photograph these amazing wonders of nature."

/s/ David Bloomberg

A Look into the Sun -- and Other Tabloids

by Bob Ladendorf

Part 2 -- The Elements of Proof

In Part 1 of this three-part series, I pointed out that two of the five major supermarket tabloids featured many more paranormal/pseudoscientific articles than did the others. While the National Enquirer, Star and Globe concentrated on celebrity gossip, the Weekly World News (WWN) and the Sun featured the range of the supernatural.

How credible then are the latter two? Are they convincing in proving or raising questions about the paranormal? How seriously do they need to be treated? In a nutshell, I conclude from this study that the answers to these questions are basically negative -- the tabloids are not credible or convincing, and they are more like Mad magazine than a journal of scientific inquiry. This will probably come as no surprise to anybody reading this,

To look into those questions in order to make those conclusions, I evaluated the content of the relevant articles in relation to the sources cited. A lack of credible sources undermines one's proof.

As critical thinking, legal testimony, or even common sense would indicate, human beings have an enormous capacity to lie, or to at least stretch the truth. Even the reliability of multiple witnesses can be called into question; crime investigators, for instance, often get contradictory eyewitness accounts of a crime. In testing hypotheses through the scientific method, the reproducibility of experiments is an extremely important part of any proof. When non-common events occur, the importance of the sources' evidence and its repeatability for others is necessary.

If tabloids do include articles that are untrue, how do they get away with it? "It's no big deal," Steve Coz, senior news editor for the National Enquirer told the Chicago Tribune (Kidnews, Aug. 2, 1994. sec. 5, pg.1). "Tabloids avoid trouble and lawsuits (Coz says the Enquirer is sued less than any other major publication) by neither confirming nor denying the truth of a story. "If you look closely," he says, "we never say a story actually happened," though a witness might swear a story's true.) Coz will only confess to using "exciting headlines."

Horoscopes . . . and beyond

The National Enquirer, Star and Globe primarily confine their paranormal/ pseudoscientific information to their horoscopes. For the purposes of this study, then, a look at the Sun and the Weekly World News will show the pattern of techniques used to "prove" their stories. While there are subtle differences between the two, both tabloids primarily employ the following:

  1. Single eyewitness of an event, or multiple eyewitnesses with no addresses.
  2. Experts as unnamed generic sources or ones with only titles confirming "facts."
  3. Event and witness are in a foreign country.
  4. Repeatability of event is unlikely.

Of Eyewitnesses and Experts

In many articles in these tabloids, an extraordinary event is observed by a single eyewitness, whose observation is claimed to be confirmed, directly or indirectly, by "experts" (my emphasis). Other articles mention multiple eyewitnesses but give little or no information about them. In an article about a World War II dogfight that occurs on the same day every year since the war (World Without End, Sun, Nov. 9, 1993), Victor Nankuti relates how his father had observed the original American/Japanese duel in the skies over an obscure Pacific atoll called Brooks. The article then states that "Chicago psychic" Dr. Frank DeLucca witnessed the duel. No further source information, such as DeLucca's business affiliation or address, was made available in the article. [In this reference and subsequent article references, I have and will include all of the source information and will place that information in quotes.]

In that same issue of the Sun, "archaeologist" Henry Masters (no further source information available) found transistorized parts of Helen of Troy's body in "Helen was an Android."

Here is a partial list of other articles with questionable witness(es) and generic or title only confirmation sources in the issues studied:

In a Foreign Country

Another trait of these articles is the foreign location of the event or witness(es), making it more difficult and costly to independently corroborate the story.

In the Dec. 28, 1993, issue of the Sun, "Debbie Martin" eats a wooden door a week in Bizarre Disease Turns Woman into a Termite. Not literally, of course. Debbie just has big jaws, and she lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. "Dr. Charles Benton" says she's "healthy." Meanwhile, a "team of top American doctors" [no other source information] plans to go there and check on her. There is a photo of "Debbie Martin," who is standing over a door.

In the same issue, Jim Page, his wife, Pam, and sons Andrew and David are all vampires. They live in Leicester, England, and are members of a club called "Fangs for the Memories." [A bit of Mad humor, no doubt]

There are other examples:

While many of the locales are foreign in these stories, there are others that allegedly take place in America, but often in small or obscure areas, such as Albany, Illinois (population 835) [5-yr.-old girl drowns -- & visits dead grandparents in heaven, WWN, 8/23/94], or Greenland [UFO found in Iceberg, WWN, 11/16/93]. If specific larger cities or well-known areas are mentioned, no other specific information is given that would allow an independent investigator to follow-up and study the phenomenon claimed.

Would you repeat that, please?

Many of the phenomena that the tabloids claim have happened are difficult to duplicate because they are one-time, singular events, obscure inventions that some isolated genius allegedly produced, are at some obscure location, of feature non-physical aspects that would make it difficult to scientifically test and evaluate.

There are many examples above in each category above to illustrate the point that it would be difficult to confirm the phenomena alleged without additional source information that could be checked or tested independently. Sometimes, the evidence conveniently also goes up in smoke. For instance, a psycho reenacted Edgar Allan Poe murder themes using real people on "an island in the Scottish Hebrides [Secret Horror Chamber of the Copycat Killer, Sun, Nov. 9, 1993]. The home where all this happened was gutted by fire started by lightning shortly after police arrived.

Singular events, of course, such as JFK diverting the aliens, could only be shown through documents. But how much credence can a researcher give to a purported transcript of a talk between Kennedy and the aliens "just months before the Cuban missile crisis" that includes this "quote" from Kennedy: "Mr. Ambassador, if you have been monitoring us as closely as you say, you know that the men we admire most are men of peace, not warriors. Men like Hitler and Pol Pot, are considered criminals by most humans." [How JFK Saved the World, Sun, Nov. 9, 1993, p.16]

Few could disagree with the statement about Hitler, but at the time of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, Pol Pot's name was Saloth Sar, who in 1962 was in Cambodia's underground Communist party and fled to the hills in 1963 fearing repression when the country's leader invited a number of "subversives" into the government [William Shawcross, Sideshow, (paperback), New York: 1979, p. 239.] Not until he emerged to take over Cambodia in the middle 1970s and then exposed in 1979 for his responsibility in the killings of more than one million Cambodians did the name Pol Pot become compared to Hitler.


The tabloids, particularly the Sun and the Weekly World News (see Part I, The REALL News, Nov. 1994), have many short articles about odd people or events that seem true. They are the true-sounding articles that probably leave many readers with the feeling that if these non-paranormal, non-pseudoscientific articles are innocent and true, then perhaps the supernatural types of articles have a kernel of truth in them.

But common sense should prevail in most of these articles. For instance, the Weekly World News featured a cover story headlined Abraham Lincoln's Corpse Revived. In response to the article, Nan Winn, tomb site manager for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, told the State Journal-Register (Sept. 24, 1994, p. 1) that Lincoln is "buried in a steel and concrete vault beneath a floor made of Arkansas red marble. You would need a jackhammer to get him out. And considering that we have 1,500 visitors a day during our peak seasons, surely someone would have noticed."

Perhaps columnist Russell Baker expressed it best last year in his sly way when he said, "Science is an ornament of our age. One of these days it will solve the riddle of the age, which of course is, 'People can't really believe a thing they read in a grocery tabloid, can they? So why do they?'"

That, I will address in Part 3 next month.

[Bob Ladendorf is the editor of The REALL News]

{Graphics in the hardcopy version of this article included a Sun cover (Rub This Magic Dot To Become Rich, Women Brag About Sex More Than Men Do, A night in Madonna's bed for $65, Boxer Wins Match With Broken Arm, Dead man plays wife at chess, Girl Wakes from 77-Yr Coma) and a Weekly World News cover (Greatest Bible Prophesy Comes True...Christ Returns, 500-Ft. Jesus Appears At U.N., Tourist takes snapshot of the image that will rock the world!). If you don't want to miss any future graphics, be sure to subscribe, using the form at the end of this file!}

REALLity Check

by David Bloomberg

Kernel of Truth?

The Chicago Tribune, Tempo section (of course), graced us with another one of their non-investigations into a heated topic (11/30). This time, it was recovered memories.

The author devoted most of the article to psychiatrist Dr. Bennett Braun, Director of the Dissociative Disorders Program at Rush-North Shore Medical Center in Skokie, Illinois. Dr. Braun is quite adamant that his patients have undergone violent abuse and then forgotten it. Not only that, but they tell stories of huge satanic conspiracies, in which babies and adults are murdered, but no evidence is ever left.

The article did present the opposing viewpoint, with quotes from False Memory Syndrome Foundation director, Dr. Pamela Freyd, and well-known (in his field) psychologist Dr. Richard Ofshe, who just wrote a book which devotes a good amount of space to Dr. Braun. However, the author should have done a better job of drawing conclusions, rather than just writing things down and leaving them hang.

For example, the author writes, "If Braun's patients are to be believed, a vast conspiracy by baby-killing devil worshippers has gone undetected in this country. ..." But what he doesn't do is point out how ridiculous this is, only saying that "such claims draw sharp skepticism." Perhaps I expect too much, or perhaps the author expects people to make that conclusion themselves, but I think the article would have been much better if he had drawn together all of the facts and actually come up with a conclusion.

As for Braun's claims, the article ends with quotes from him, one of which is, "It would be hard to make up this much of [the events]. Somewhere there's a kernel of truth. If 10 percent of the stuff I hear is true, we're in trouble." The problem with this statement, which most of you have probably already caught, is that there is absolutely no evidence that even 10 percent of the stories are true!

So where is that "kernel of truth"? The article opened with a story, told as if true, about one of his patient's "recovered memories" of seeing her father (who had abused her) murder her uncle (who had also abused her) and then helping him dismember and bury the body. If Dr. Braun bothered to check and see if: the woman had an uncle who disappeared in the proper time period or if a body was buried in the place she claims, the article doesn't say. However, considering that he is quoted as saying "most therapists don't trust the police," I somehow doub>

Transfer interrupted!