Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Shadow of a Doubt - September 2012

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics
  • NCAS Public Lecture Series: Einstein's Jewish Science?: Looking at Physics, Politics, and Religion - Steve Gimbel
  • SkeptiCamp DC 2012
  • October NCAS Lecture
  • "World Won't End in 2012" Lifetime Membership!
  • November NCAS Lecture
  • CSICon 2012
  • Torn From Today's Headlines by Scott Snell - Psychic Hunts UFOs and Dinosaur Tracks
  • Shadow Light
  • Drinking Skeptically
  • New Postal Address

NCAS Public Lecture Series
Einstein's Jewish Science?:  Looking at Physics, Politics, and Religion
Steve Gimbel

Saturday, September 15, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
Bethesda Regional Library
7400 Arlington Road
Bethesda, MD [map] [directions]
(Bethesda Metro station)
FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

Between the world wars, Nazi sympathizers tried to denigrate the theory of relativity by calling it "Jewish science."  The Nazis, of course, were wrong.  The notion of "religious science" usually brings to mind creationism, but our two best theories of gravitation before Einstein, those of Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton, bore indelible marks of their founders' theology.  How did science change in the time leading up to Einstein to remove theological influence from physics?

Dr. Steve Gimbel is author of the recently published book, Einstein's Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Edwin T. and Cynthia Shearer Johnson Chair for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities at Gettysburg College.

Refreshments and socializing after the talk.


SkeptiCamp DC 2012
Skeptics are invited to Greater Washington, D.C., area’s 3rd annual SkeptiCamp. SkeptiCamp DC 2012 -- an informal conference focusing on skepticism, science, and critical thinking -- will be held Saturday, September 22, 2012, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Prince George's Room of the Stamp Student Union at the University of Maryland, College Park. This grassroots event consists of a series of short talks on various topics (chosen by the presenters), with opportunities for questions after each talk to encourage the circulation of ideas among participants. Those interested in attending or presenting a talk at SkeptiCamp DC must visit SkeptiCampDC.org to register.

The first SkeptiCamp took place in Denver, Colorado, in 2007. The SkeptiCamp concept developed as a method for local communities of skeptics to gather and discuss issues of importance, without the investments of time and money required of involvement in many formal skeptical conferences. Organizers of local SkeptiCamps encourage openness, participation, and collaboration, in an attempt to foster the skeptical movement and to take its ideas to a wider audience. Since 2007, locally organized SkeptiCamps have been held across North America, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Spain. SkeptiCamp DC is being sponsored locally by UMD Society of Inquiry, National Capital Area Skeptics, and the Center for Inquiry DC.

October NCAS Lecture
What started the torrent of books, magazine articles, and web sites claiming that the world will end on December 21, 2012?  (Peter Gersten of Arizona goes so far as to say that he's going to jump off of a cliff in Sedona that day, enter a portal to the Galactic center, and "[neutralize] the silicon-based memetic virus that has corrupted this simulation.")  How did this "mash-up" of the Mayan calendar and astronomical events (or non-events) come about?

Archaeoastronomer John B. Carlson, PhD will discuss the "2012 Phenomenon," separate fact from fiction about the Mayan calendar, and critically examine the apocalypse claims on Saturday, October 13 at 1:30 pm at the Bethesda Regional Library.

"World Won't End in 2012" Lifetime Membership!
Proudly demonstrate your skepticism of the 2012 doomsayers' claims...buy a lifetime membership in NCAS before December 21, 2012, when the cost will increase by $100.

When December 22 comes around without even a tiny apocalypse, the long list of failed prophecies over the course of human history will get a little longer.  But, verily, our prophecy of membership fee increase will indeed come to pass after many years of keeping costs down.

Use the online membership form to upgrade your membership.

November NCAS Lecture
Washington Post science writer Marc Kaufman will talk about his book First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth on Saturday, November 10 at 1:30 pm at National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia.

CSICon 2012
CSICon Nashville, sponsored by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry / Center for Inquiry / Skeptical Inquirer magazine will be held October 25-28 at the Sheraton Music City Hotel.  Speakers include Richard Wiseman, Lawrence Krauss, Eugenie Scott, and many others.  Register at csiconference.org.

Torn From Today's Headlines
By Scott Snell
Psychic Hunts UFOs and Dinosaur Tracks
The Washington Post print edition of August 18 reported that a dinosaur track, fossilized over 100 million years ago, was discovered on the grounds of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The discoverer is Ray Dene Stanford of nearby College Park.  On June 25 he was having lunch with his wife (a Goddard employee) when he "got one of his 'hunches.' If he returned to a spot where six years before he had found a small triangular chunk of stone stamped with a scrawny three-toed footprint — likely from a two-legged meat-eating theropod, Stanford said — there might be more to find."

If this seems like a peculiar method for finding ichnofossils (the class of fossils that includes footprints, burrows, and other geological records of biological activity), read on to learn more about Stanford.

The Post ran a profile of him in its Sunday magazine of April 22.  According to the article, "before Stanford, only a handful of dinosaur tracks had ever been found in Maryland, in much older rocks 100 miles away in a quarry near Emmitsburg."  He first spotted dinosaur tracks in August 1993 in Riverdale.  "Within a year, he and [his wife] had collected 90 pieces with nearly 20 types of tracks."

Eventually he amassed a few tons of track fossils in his home.

"Early in his dinosaur-collecting days, a prominent local dinosaur hunter hounded Stanford, spread rumors that he had hauled in the footprints from out of state. The first time Stanford presented a track at a dinosaur enthusiast meeting, in 1998, a prominent German dinosaur tracker, Adolf Seilacher, stood and publicly disputed Stanford's interpretation of the find and challenged that it came from Maryland.  But by now, some 40 top academic paleontologists and ichnologists (track specialists) have toured [Stanford's home] and proclaimed [his collection's] authenticity."

Later in the article, reporter Brian Vastag explored Stanford's colorful past as a psychic reader and his ongoing UFO investigations.  "Starting in [1971], he made his living leading a group of paranormal explorers called the Association for the Understanding of Man. He charged $35 for psychic readings, and the group sold recordings and transcripts of Stanford's readings, in which he made contact with veiled entities who offered their opinion on the Fatima miracle, the nature of Christ, or whether the readee had a dread disease. [Twin brother] Rex, meanwhile, became a professor of psychology at St. John’s University in New York, where he studied ESP, among other things."

Entries in the 2001 edition of The Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology shed additional light on Ray Stanford's past.  The "Association for the Understanding of Man" entry reads: "A nonprofit corporation founded in 1971 in Austin, Texas, as a vehicle for the psychic activity of Ray Stanford. Stanford is a trance medium who channels messages from the 'Source,' believed to be his superconsciousness. Besides its more religious activities, the association carried on a research program in several areas. Project Starlight concerned itself with UFOs; through it the short-lived Journal of Instrumented UFO Research was issued. A research division concerned with parapsychology was headed by Ray Stanford's brother, Rex G. Stanford. AUM was disbanded in the early 1980s."

Ray Stanford has published a number of articles in respected paleontological journals, in collaboration with professional paleontologists such as David B. Weishampel of Johns Hopkins University.  At the same time, he openly continues his work in the field of UFO studies.

Author's Comment:
The location of the dinosaur track was not a well-guarded secret at Goddard.  On August 22, I visited the site with a fellow Goddard employee, one who was trained as a geochemist.  The fossil itself (or at least the location at which it was photographed) was covered by what appeared to be small sandbags, which we left undisturbed.  The rest of the site was accessible and presented a plausible context for the fossil's presence (with other exposed and partially embedded hematite/limonite rocks, similar in appearance to the photographed fossil) and discovery (recent construction of a sidewalk, and extensive erosion in the vicinity).  Professional geologists and paleontologists have apparently vouched for the authenticity of the find.  We (with considerably less expertise) saw nothing to contradict their conclusions.

References and additional reading:
"Likely Footprint of Spiky Dinosaur has NASA's Md. Campus on Cloud Nine"

"Cretaceous Footprints Found at Goddard"
"The agency considers the footprint and its location sensitive, but unclassified," Goddard facilities manager Alan Binstock said in the NASA article.

"Tireless Tracker Rewrote the Book on Dinosaurs in Maryland"
(Apr 2012 feature article in Washington Post Magazine)

"College Park Resident Finds a Fossil First: A Hatchling Armored Dinosaur"
(Sept 2011)
"The donation delighted Matthew [Carrano], the [Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History] dinosaur curator. 'I've never quite seen a fossil preserved like that,' he said."

"Newborn Dinosaur Discovered in Maryland"

"The First Hatchling Dinosaur Reported from the Eastern United States"
Journal of Paleontology 85(5):916-924. 2011

Smithsonian Interview with Amateur Paleontologist Ray Stanford

"Dinosaurs of the East Coast"
(David B. Weishampel and Luther Young article in Johns Hopkins Magazine, June 1996.  Provides excellent background on the subject before Stanford made inroads to the field.)

Stanford phones into WAMU-FM's The Diane Rehm Show featuring paleontologist Martin Lockley.  This call prompted Lockley to visit Stanford's home and inspect the fossil collection.
(Sept 16, 1999; at 25 minutes, 26 seconds into the program, lasting for about 4 minutes)

Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology (5th edition, 2001; edited by J. Gordon Melton)
Entries for:
"Association for the Understanding of Man"
"Secrets of Fatima" ("In 1971, Ray Stanford, a psychic channel and head of the Association for the Understanding of Man in Austin, Texas, did a set of readings in which the source that spoke through him discussed Fatima. It suggested that the children had been in contact with beings from the angelic realm. It also suggested that the third secret spoke of the assassination of a pope and the end of the papacy.")
"Stanford, Rex G"

[The following three sources should be considered, at best, plausibly genuine:]
Message from Stanford, defending himself against critics:
(DINOSAUR Mailing List, housed at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

Stanford e-mail (plausibly genuine) defending the quality of his UFO studies by comparison with his paleontology work:

Stanford e-mail (plausibly genuine) with a description of his 1950s UFO experiences:

Shadow Light
Some members and contacts of NCAS receive a postal notification of this and every new monthly Shadow of a Doubt.  The Shadow Light postcard announces the monthly lecture and highlights of the electronic Shadow of a Doubt, which is available online at ncas.org/shadow.  NCAS thereby reduces Shadow production and postage costs.  To further reduce costs, members and contacts can opt out of postal notification altogether, while continuing to receive Shadow of a Doubt via e-mail.  To opt out, send us an e-mail at ncas@ncas.org.

Drinking Skeptically, now in MD and  VA!
On Wednesday, September 12 at 7:00 p.m., please join fellow NCASers at either of our simultaneous DC-area Drinking Skeptically events:

Jackie's Sidebar
8081 Georgia Avenue (entrance on Sligo Avenue) in Silver Spring, MD
The February 2011 issue of Washingtonian magazine features the Sidebar on its cover, for a story on the best bars in the DC area.

The Front Page Arlington
Rear patio / National Science Foundation atrium
4201 Wilson Blvd (across from Ballston Common Mall) in Arlington, VA
(703) 248-9990

Drinking Skeptically is an informal social event designed to promote fellowship and networking among skeptics, critical-thinkers, and like-minded individuals. There's no cover charge and all are welcome. Don't drink? Don't let that stop you from joining us! Some of the world's most famous skeptics are teetotalers, and we are happy to have you! Remember that drinking skeptically means drinking responsibly. If there's one thing science has taught us, it's the effects of alcohol on the human body.

New Postal Address
As of June 2012, NCAS has switched post office boxes, from 8428 to 8461:
National Capital Area Skeptics
P.O. Box 8461
Silver Spring, MD 20907-8461

Time to Renew?
Be sure to check your renewal date above your postal address on the Shadow Light postcard. Send any queries to ncas@ncas.org.  Use the online membership form to renew.