Thursday, April 03, 2014

Shadow of a Doubt - April 2014

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics
  • April 5 NCAS Lecture: 
    The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, Jesse Walker
  • May 10 NCAS SkepTour 2014: A Skeptic's Field Guide to the National Capital Area
  • Bad Astronomy Features NCAS Philip J. Klass Award 2013
  • March NCAS Lecturer Interviewed on MSNBC
  • AmazonSmile - Your purchases support NCAS at no extra cost
  • Torn From Today's Headlines, By Scott Snell, Ken Ham and "Ardent Creationist" Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
  • NCAS Board Elections 2014: Electronic Voting
  • Shadow Light
  • Drinking Skeptically in MD and VA! 
    Wed Apr 9 at 7:00 p.m.
  • New Skeptic Line Number
  • Time to Renew?
NCAS Public Lecture Series

The United States of Paranoia:
A Conspiracy Theory
Jesse Walker

Saturday, April 5, 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

Conspiracy theories aren't just a feature of the fringe. They've been a potent force across the political spectrum, at the center as well as the extremes, from the colonial era to the present. In The United States of Paranoia (HarperCollins, 2013), Jesse Walker explores this rich history, arguing that conspiracy stories should be read not just as claims to be believed or debunked but as folklore. When a tale takes hold, it reveals something true about the anxieties and experiences of those who embrace it, even if the story says nothing true about the objects of the theory itself. In his talk, Walker will lay out five conspiracy narratives that keep recurring in American politics and popular culture.

Jesse Walker is an editor at Reason magazine and the author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America (New York University Press, 2001). His articles have appeared in The New York Times,The Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal, and many other venues. He lives in Towson, MD with his wife and two daughters.

Refreshments and socializing after the talk.

NCAS SkepTour 2014 -- A Skeptic's Field Guide to the National Capital Area: Saturday, May 10
Following the success of the inaugural NCAS SkepTour* in May 2013, the National Capital Area Skeptics continues to compile information to publish in a skeptic's field guide to the area. This isn't just the DC edition of Tobin's Spirit Guide -- we also want to include items with scientific, pseudo-scientific, and cultural significance to skeptics.  We are crowd-sourcing this info, and you are invited to help.


• Statue of Samuel Hahnemman, founder of homeopathy, at Scott Circle
• Curse of the Hope Diamond in the National Museum of Natural History
• The Exorcist Steps in Georgetown

And on Saturday, May 10 at 1:30 PM (start location and rain date TBD), we will take this to the streets.  We will select a few key locations for a walking tour in the downtown DC area.  The goal is to have a 2-3 hour leisurely walk, with brief talks along the way.

How you can help:

• Send suggested locations, along with any supporting background information, to,
• Volunteer to be a docent for location(s) along the tour.

The field guide will be an on-going project, and can include locations across the VA-MD-DC area. For a location to be considered for the May walking tour, we need your input by April 20.

After locations are selected, volunteers will be asked to research, prepare BRIEF (< 5 min) presentations and answer questions on the May 10 walk.

If you have questions or want to help in any way, please contact us at

* (Note: NCAS SkepTour is not affiliated with College of Curiosity Field Trips, formerly known as "SkepTours," a project of College of Curiosity.)

Bad Astronomy Features NCAS Philip J. Klass Award
On March 24, Phil Plait, "The Bad Astronomer," devoted an article on his Bad Astronomy blog at to the 2013 NCAS Philip J. Klass Award, which he received for his outstanding contributions in promoting critical thinking and scientific understanding.

Plait thanked NCAS, and added, "Being a skeptic is hard, it really is. It’s so much easier to simply accept a warm, fuzzy lie than it is to embrace a cold, sharp-edged truth, and it takes a long, long time to learn how to do it. I’m still on that road, and it’s a rocky one, but I’d rather see the Universe for what it is than what we wish it to be. It’s vast and beautiful and complex and mysterious, and that’s good enough for me."

He also included a link to the NCAS YouTube Channel's video of the award presentation, recorded by Stuart Robbins in Boulder, Colorado on February 5, 2014.  On behalf of NCAS, astronomer David E. Kaufmann presented the award.

March NCAS Lecturer Interviewed on MSNBC
Dr. Paul Jaffe, who presented the March 8 NCAS lecture "Evaluating Alternative Sources of Energy: Solar Energy from Space," was interviewed on "MSNBC Live" by anchor Craig Melvin on March 30.  During the five-minute segment, Jaffe was able to cover only the basic elements of the topic.  MSNBC has posted the interview online.  To see Dr. Jaffe's NCAS lecture, visit the NCAS YouTube Channel.

In October 2013, Amazon launched the AmazonSmile Foundation, which allows customers to support their favorite charitable organizations when shopping at, at no added cost.  The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from eligible AmazonSmile purchases to the customer's designated 501(c)(3) public charitable organization. NCAS has registered as a participating organization. Please consider designating NCAS as your supported charity when shopping at

For more information:

Torn From Today's Headlines By Scott Snell.
Ken Ham and "Ardent Creationist" Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
During the Ken Ham-Bill Nye creationism-vs-evolution debate at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY on February 4, Ham mentioned (as he often does in his talks) his visit to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center:

"When I was at the Goddard Space Center a number of years ago, I met creationists and evolutionists who were both working on the Hubble telescope.  They agreed on how to build the Hubble telescope.  You know what they disagreed on? Well, they disagreed on how to interpret the data the telescope obtained."

Ham's blog entry for June 17, 2011 at the "Answers in Genesis" web site provides more details about his Goddard visit, including a reprint of a contemporary article he wrote about his March 22, 1994 talk there:

"I had the opportunity recently to speak at a lunch meeting at NASA’s Goddard Space Center near Baltimore, arranged by the Bible Club there. Over one hundred people attended the meeting, including many scientists. Even though there was some opposition, the overall response was very positive.[...]  Perhaps the most thrilling part of this visit was to be taken on a tour by scientists who were both Christians and ardent creationists."

(I worked at Goddard at the time, but was unable to attend Ham's talk or see him during his visit.  However, Ham provided enough information in the article to permit me to identify one of his tour guides, a former colleague of mine who I recently spoke with.  He confirmed that he was one of Ham's tour guides.)

Ham concludes his 1994 article:
"I had to shake my head as I thought of the number of times that evolutionists have claimed that no creationist can be a real scientist. There are probably many more scientists out there who are creationists than we realize!"

How can it be that there are (or were) "scientists who [are] ardent creationists" at Goddard?  The answer, at least in this case, is that his two tour guides were not scientists...they were engineers.  I can vouch for the one I know as a fine and effective engineer.  I don't know the extent of his knowledge about the Big Bang in particular or cosmology in general, but that has no bearing on his engineering abilities or his success on the job.

If Ham were to use the correct term ("engineers" instead of "scientists"), his story might lose some of its potency, even for a lay audience.

Note that Ham didn't use either term in his comment during the Nye debate, describing the Hubble team members only as "creationists and evolutionists who were both working on the Hubble telescope.  They agreed on how to build [it]."  A careful and knowledgeable listener would conclude that these were engineers, not scientists.  But Ham followed with "...they disagreed on how to interpret the data the telescope obtained," which could mislead a listener into thinking the disagreements were among scientists.

As to what Ham said during his 1994 Goddard talk, James Acker (a scientist in the "Oceans and Ice Branch" at Goddard) attended the Bible Club meeting and has given me permission to reproduce his notes here:

Presentation by Ken Ham, 3/22/94:

Two-sentence summary:  It is hard to believe so much wrong information could be packed into one hour.  But I was there;  it can be done.

Here's a sampling:
The Grand Canyon is similar to a canyon near Mt. St. Helens, and in 50 years geologists probably can't tell the difference.  Real science is making rockets and sending them up into space, but once you try to say something about the past, it's a belief system.  There are no transitional fossils, according to Dr. Colin Patterson.  Creationists believe in Natural Selection -- that's just not evolution. There may still be dinosaurs existing today, and the only way we'd know for sure is to have observers looking at every square foot of ground on the Earth simultaneously and reporting that they don't see any dinosaurs.  Archaeopteryx was a true bird.   "Living fossils" indicate that our ideas about the geological column are wrong.  The best examples of anthropological evidence for pre-humans are Piltdown Man (a hoax on which 500 Ph.D. theses were written), the Nebraska Man tooth, and skulls of Australopithecus (undiscussed) and Neanderthal man.

There's more:
NASA Viking probes show evidence of a global flood on Mars where there's no liquid water.   Yet scientists don't believe in a global flood on Earth where there's plenty of water.

COBE [Cosmic Background Explorer] was wrong.  The fluctuations COBE saw indicate a degeneration in the fundamental fabric of the Universe, a preliminary indication of the coming "test by fire" promised in the Bible.

Fossils only exist in the present, so what can they tell us about the past?  We weren't there.

Behemoth in Job is a dinosaur because his tail was like a cedar tree, and therefore couldn't have been a hippopotamus or an elephant.

Creationists are a minority and the minority is always considered to be wrong.

The order of a sequence, like letters taken randomly from a hat, is meaningless unless we have a pre-existing language to interpret the words.

The Flood produced most of the fossils found around the world.

Dinosaurs existing on the Earth just a few hundred years ago were referred to as dragons.

Evolution is at the root of all the social problems found in America today.

Even Creationists would expect _some_ change in "living fossils" over 50 million years!

It was all quite astonishing and unbelievable.  And several parents brought their kids from a nearby Christian school, too.

Nye-Ham debate video:
(the Goddard comment begins at 33:48)

Ham's 2011 blog entry ("NASA Creationists!") about his 1994 Goddard visit:

NCAS Board Elections: Electronic Voting
The 2014 NCAS election will use electronic voting.  When voting begins in the next few days, each member will receive an email from NCAS (via containing a unique web address usable as a single-cast secret ballot.  (NCAS will receive information indicating who voted, but nothing to indicate who cast each ballot.)

Note that voters will not be at risk for spamming as a result of participating...SurveyMonkey has a zero-tolerance spam policy:

Shadow Light
Some members and contacts of NCAS receive a postal notification of this and every new monthly Shadowof a Doubt.  The Shadow Light postcard announces the monthly lecture and highlights of the electronicShadow of a Doubt, which is available online at  NCAS thereby reduces Shadowproduction 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

Drinking Skeptically in MD and VA!

On Wednesday, April 9 at 7:00 p.m., please join fellow NCASers at either of our simultaneous DC-area Drinking Skeptically events:
Skeptically Bottle Cap Logo

New Location: McGinty's Public House
Upstairs bar
911 Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring, MD

The Front Page Arlington
                                      Rear patio / National Science Foundation atrium
                                      4201 Wilson Blvd (across Ballston Common Mall) 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 Skeptic Line Number
As of March 2013, NCAS has switched telephone numbers, from 301-587-3827 to 240-670-NCAS (6227).

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