Saturday, January 14, 2017

February 15 - A Rational Approach to Oral Tradition and Stonehenge

 Special Wednesday Evening Event

Presented by Lynne Kelly, Ph.D.
Writer, researcher, science educator and
Foundation member of the Australian Skeptics

Indigenous cultures are usually represented as living in a fog of superstition. A rational glimpse says that they simply wouldn’t have survived if that were the case. We need to be skeptical of simplistic explanations of indigenous cultures that talk only about child-like stories and exotic religious rituals. They needed field guides to all the plants, all the animals, geology and astronomy. They needed navigational charts to travel great distances for trade, and genealogies to ensure they didn’t interbreed. They needed a legal system and ethical rules … but they had no writing. How did they memorize so much stuff?

This talk will explain the tricks of their memory trade and how we can use these methods in contemporary society. Mobile hunter-gatherers, such as Australian Indigenous cultures, embedded a highly pragmatic knowledge system in the landscape. What happens in the transition to farming? That question explains the detailed archaeological record of a vast range of prehistoric monuments including Stonehenge, the Nazca Lines and the statues of Easter Island.

Dr. Lynne Kelly is an Australian writer, researcher and science educator, as well as being a foundation member of the Australian Skeptics. Her academic work focuses on the way indigenous cultures memorize vast amounts of rational information through the mnemonic devices used by ancient and modern oral cultures from around the world. In applying that research to archaeology, she has proposed a new theory for the purpose of Stonehenge and ancient monuments the world over. Her most recent book The Memory Code (Allen & Unwin) has already gone into reprint in Australia and will be published in the USA and UK in February 2017.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

7:30 pm
Note new location
2nd Floor Meeting Room
Rockville Memorial Library
21 Maryland Avenue
Rockville, MD

FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

February 11 - The Original Nightmare Sleep Paralysis and the Paranormal

Presented by Brian A. Sharpless, Ph.D
Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology 
American School of Professional Psychology (ASPP) 
Argosy University, Washington DC.

Humans throughout history have described a peculiar state between sleep and wakefulness characterized by paralysis, conscious awareness of one’s surroundings, and terrifying hallucinations. We currently term this phenomenon sleep paralysis, but it has gone by many other names depending upon time, place, and culture (e.g., kanashibari, the "old hag", nocturnal alien abductions, the Mara).  Although it is a very scary experience not well-known to the lay public, it is actually a fairly well-understood sleep disorder.  After first discussing the history of sleep paralysis in myth/folklore and its many connections to paranormal beliefs, the current medical and psychological literatures will be summarized. Finally, the many interesting attempts to "treat" these episodes across the ages will be described.

Brian A. Sharpless, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the American School of Professional Psychology (ASPP) at Argosy University, Washington DC. After completing his graduate work at Pennsylvania State University, he completed his post-doctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania.  Dr. Sharpless has broad research interests in psychopathology, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and the history/philosophy of clinical psychology. He (along with Karl Doghrmaji, MD) is author of Sleep Paralysis: Historical, Psychological, and Medical Perspectives and editor of Unusual and Rare Psychological Disorders: A Handbook for Clinical Practice and Research.  Both volumes are currently available through Oxford University Press.

Saturday, February 11, 2017
1:30 pm

National Science Foundation, Room 110
4201 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA
(Ballston-MU Metro stop)
Enter NSF from the corner of 9th St. N & N Stuart Streets.
FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

Saturday, December 24, 2016

January 14 - Hollow Earth, Sunken Continents & A World Made of Plankton? A Look At Paranormal Geology

Presented by 
Thomas R. Holtz, Jr., Ph.D.
Principal Lecture, Department of Geology, University of Maryland
Research Associate, Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History

The public is familiar with pseudoscientific interpretations of biology (Creationism, cryptozoology, etc.) and astronomy (astrology, UFO abductions, etc.), but all sciences have their pseudo-versions. There have been various pseudo-geologies proposed over the centuries: interpretations of the structure and composition of the Earth radically at odds with our current understanding. Among these are ideas that the Earth is hollow (various configurations, including a notable one where we are on the inside of curve!), sunken continents (Atlantis, Lemuria, and beyond), and a truly bizarre idea that all physical matter on Earth was once alive. Some of these ideas were proposed in a scientific context, but have survived in various circles long after their refutation. Dr. Holtz will examine the origins, beliefs, and fates of these alternate Earth interpretations.

Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. is Principal Lecturer in Vertebrate Paleontology at the University of Maryland and a Research Associate in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. He is the Faculty Director of the College Park Scholars-Science & Global Change program (a two-year living-learning program). In addition to his research work, he has published several books for the general audience (including the award-winning Dinosaurs; The Most Complete Up-To-Date Guide for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages) and has been an expert for numerous documentaries and consultant for various museum exhibits.

Saturday, January 14, 2017
1:30 pm

National Science Foundation, Room 110
4201 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA
(Ballston-MU Metro stop)
Enter NSF from the corner of 9th St. N & N Stuart Streets.

FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

Thursday, December 01, 2016

December 10 - Nuclear Accidents Lessons Learned from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima

Presented by Brian W. Sheron, Ph.D.

In this talk, Dr. Sheron will provide a brief description of the three reactors (Three Mile Island,  Chernobyl, and Fukushima), and what caused each accident, along with a brief description of the consequences. He will conclude with a discussion of a recent analytical study done by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that estimates the consequences  of a core melt accident at a U.S. nuclear plant, if one were to occur today.

Brian W. Sheron recently retired, after over 42 years of Federal service, as the Director of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research. He was appointed to that position on May 1st, 2006. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Sheron held numerous technical management positions at the NRC in both the research and regulatory areas. He is the author of over 22 papers on various subjects pertaining to commercial nuclear power safety. He recently served as Chairman of the Committee for the Safety of Nuclear Installations (CSNI).

Dr. Sheron received a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Duke University in 1969 and Masters and Doctorate degrees in 1971 and 1975 respectively from The Catholic University of America under a full scholarship from the Atomic Energy Commission.

Dr. Sheron was actively involved with the U.S. Government’s response to the accident at the Three Mile Island Unit Two nuclear plant in March of 1979, the accident at Chernobyl in 1986, and most recently the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants in Japan in 2011.

Saturday, December 10, 2016
1:30 pm

National Science Foundation, Room 110
4201 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA
(Ballston-MU Metro stop)
Enter NSF from the corner of 9th St. N & N Stuart Streets.

FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Shadow of a Doubt - November 2016

 The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics
  • November 12 - "Debunking the Nonobot"by Quinn Spadola
  • December 10 - Nuclear Accidents: Lessons Learned from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima
  • The Fiction of Memory
  • Recap of the "I Ain't Afraid of No Ghost!" Tour 
  • Torn from today's headlines
  • AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
  • Shadow Light
  • Drinking Skeptically on hiatus
  • Member renewals
NCAS Public Lecture Series

Debunking the Nanobot
Quinn Spadola, PhD, MFA
Program Manager for Education and Outreach
IITRI Inc, Contract Staff
National Nanotechnology Coordination Office

Saturday, November 12, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
National Science Foundation, Room 110
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA [map] [directions]
(Ballston-Marymount University Metro stop)
Enter NSF from the corner of 9th N & N Stuart Streets.

FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

Self-replicating, sentient, consuming, or creating, nanobots are a popular tool in science fiction to explain fantastical abilities or threats worse than death. But what is the reality?

What is a nanobot? What might they be able to do? Scientists and engineers can't even agree on a definition for a nanobot–does the entire robot need to fit at the nanoscale or does it just have nanoscale components? Does that make your smart phone a nanobot? Artistic renditions of nanobots feed into ideas of spidery machines patrolling (or, perhaps, controlling) our bodies. Some scientists envision nanobots safeguarding our environment, removing pollutants, and monitoring exposure. Others are trying to harness nature's nanobots and use viruses to do our bidding. The hype around nanobots and the natural inclination to assign them agency can lead to outlandish ideas about what nanotechnology will be capable of delivering, but does it hurt to dream of manufactured nanobots?

Quinn Spadola is a biophysicist who discovered her love of science education and outreach while completing her PhD. After receiving her doctorate, Dr. Spadola entered the Science and Natural History Filmmaking program at Montana State University. She was an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow in the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office from 2014 to 2016 and joined the contract staff in September 2016. There she works to build community around the National Nanotechnology Initiative, create engaging nanotechnology-themed content, and share the awesomeness of nanotechnology.

Refreshments and socializing after the talk.

December NCAS Lecture

Dr. Brian Sheron will talk on "Nuclear Accidents: Lessons Learned from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima".

The Fiction of Memory

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor of social ecology and professor of law and cognitive science at University of California Irvine (and Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) will speak on "The Fiction of Memory."  Monday, December 5 at 6:30 PM at the Carnegie Institution for Science, 1530 P Street NW.  Free, but requires registration:

Recap of the "I Ain't Afraid of No Ghost!" Tour

Was President Garfield (fatally shot at a train station that stood where the National Gallery of Art is today) a victim of a curse that claimed the lives of Harrison, Lincoln, McKinley, Harding, FDR, and JFK? Speaking of curses, what about the Hope Diamond (at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History)?  Does an actor's ghost haunt the National Theatre?  Are there ghosts in the White House and other historic sites nearby?  The answers to these and other spooky questions were revealed to a group of 13 (perfect!) by guides Grace and Chip Denman, Sharon Hill, and Scott Snell during the fourth annual NCAS SkepTour, held on the strangely balmy evening of Thursday, October 20, 2016.

SkepTours are an ongoing NCAS project, to include locations across the VA-MD-DC area. If you would like to contribute suggestions, please write to

Torn From Today's Headlines

By Scott Snell

Professional Polls, and Redskins Box Score, Couldn't Predict Outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election

It's just a coincidence, and no one is claiming otherwise, but the "Redskins Rule" held true for 17 (or 18) of the first 18 US presidential elections since the NFL's Redskins moved to DC from Boston in 1937.

The "rule," as originally developed, states that "if the Washington Redskins win their last home game before the election, the political party that won the previous presidential election wins the next election and that if the Redskins lose, the challenging party's candidate wins."

Steve Hirdt, the executive vice-president of Elias Sports Bureau, noticed this pattern in 2000 while preparing for the October 30 broadcast of a Redskins home game on ABC-TV's Monday Night Football.  Searching for an election-related fact that commentator Dennis Miller could use, Hirdt made "a list of the last home game before the election because that was the game we were covering. I tried to align it with the Democrats or the Republicans and then looked at the incumbents.  I was shocked to see it lined up exactly right, that whenever the Redskins won their last home game prior to the presidential election, the incumbent party retained the White House, and whenever the Redskins lost their last home game prior to the election, the out-of-power party won the White House."

Producer Don Ohlmeyer decided to use the information on-air that night as a two-page, full-screen graphic, and the rule has been roaming the memetic wilderness ever since.

Four years later, popular interest in the Redskins Rule was revived prior to the final home game before the election.  The Redskins lost, but the incumbent party won the election, breaking the pattern of 16 consecutive correlations.  Hirdt then devised "Redskins Rule 2.0," noting the unusual outcome of the 2000 election, for which Al Gore won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College: "If the Washington Redskins win their last home game before the election, the political party that won the popular vote in the previous presidential election wins the next election and that if the Redskins lose, the challenging party's candidate wins."

The rule, in both forms, held true in 2008, but failed in 2012 and 2016.

For skeptics, the rule can serve as a somewhat well-known and uncontroversial example of coincidences to share with the lay public.  To date, apparently none of the mystical "everything happens for a reason, there are no coincidences" crowd is embracing this as a portent of the nation's destiny.


Also in the News...

Be sure to check out Sharon Hill's skeptically-themed news site, Doubtful News (, as well as the blog ( for her book reviews and other writings.

AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!

When shopping at, you'll find the same low prices, vast selection, and convenient shopping experience as, with the added bonus that a portion of the purchase price (0.5%) goes to NCAS! It's simple and automatic, and it doesn't cost you anything!

AmazonSmile's disbursements to NCAS in the third quarter of 2016 came to $10.94, meaning that over $2000 of purchases were designated in support of NCAS.  (As an example of how NCAS can put that money to good use, it's more than enough to cover a half hour of a Montgomery County library lecture room rental.)

Thanks again to our members who have chosen to support NCAS!

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