Saturday, September 12, 2015

Shadow of a Doubt - September 2015

September 2015

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics
  • Sep 19 NCAS Lecture: The Secrets of Surveys: When Can You Trust Them?Fran Featherston and Kristin Stettler
  • Board of Directors Election Results
  • NCAS SkepTour Recap
  • Torn From Today's Headlines By Scott Snell
    • Local Girl Makes...Well...Bad
    • Local Library Employs the Services of "Ghost Hunters"
  • AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
  • Shadow Light 
  • Drinking Skeptically in MD and  VA (New Start Time)!
  • Time to Renew?

NCAS Public Lecture Series

The Secrets of Surveys: When Can You Trust Them?

Fran Featherston and Kristin Stettler

Saturday, September 19, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
Bethesda Regional Library
7400 Arlington RoadBethesda, MD [map] [directions]
(Bethesda Metro station)
FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

Our lives are full of results from surveys -- health information, demographic changes, popularity of products, who is likely to be nominated to run for President. How do you know when you can trust the results of survey data?  What do you need to look for?

This talk will cover many ways that survey results can be tainted. The sampling of survey respondents might be biased.  The question wording might produce incorrect data.  The survey may be conducted using inappropriate methods that produce unreliable data.  Examples will be drawn from current news articles and web sites that use surveys including election forecasts and government survey results.  We will also talk about fund raising under the guise of surveys (frugging) and why elections predictions can fail.

This talk will give you the tools you need to judge the findings of surveys.  You will be able to understand why the lack of a discussion of survey methods is often a way to hide unreliable results.  You will also understand more clearly why surveys are not always the right method for conducting research.

Fran Featherston (at left in photo) is retired from the U.S. federal government where she worked 27 years as a researcher at the National Science Foundation (10 years) and the Governmental Accountability Office (17 years).  Her areas of expertise are survey research, research design, and designing methods that are user friendly.

Kristin Stettler has worked as a federal researcher for 22 years.  She currently works at the U.S. Census Bureau, where she works with Census staff to design surveys to collect the most accurate data.

Kristin and Fran have taught seminars on survey design at two international conferences. They will bring their expertise to discuss what you need to know to assess the validity of survey data.

Refreshments and socializing after the talk.

Board of Directors Election: NCAS now has 13(!) Board Members
Results of May's NCAS member vote on candidates for the board of directors have been tabulated. Re-elected and incumbent members are: Nelson Davis Jr, Chip Denman, Grace Denman, Bing Garthright, Brian Gregory, Curtis Haymore, Beth Kingsley, J. D. Mack, Melissa Pollak, Walter F. Rowe, Scott Snell, Jamy Ian Swiss, and Marv Zelkowitz.

At the April 4 board meeting, the board was reduced to thirteen voting members, commencing after the 2015 election results became official.  The board was unanimously unconcerned about triskaidekaphobia.

At its May 26 meeting, the NCAS board of directors selected its officers, who are: J. D. Mack, president; Walter F. Rowe, vice president; Marv Zelkowitz, secretary; and Beth Kingsley, treasurer.

NCAS SkepTour Recap
The third annual NCAS SkepTour was held on the morning of Saturday, June 13, 2015 at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.  A tour group of 15 toured the final resting places of spiritualists, scientists, and political figures with legacies tied to conspiracy theories and popular myths, as compiled in "A Skeptic's Guide to the National Capital Area," a work in progress published online by NCAS.

Tour guides Grace and Chip Denman, lead researcher Beth Kingsley, and Scott Snell spent a few minutes at each location describing its significance.

One of the stops was the grave of Alice Lee Moqué, the first woman to address members of the American Medical Association at one of its annual conventions (1899).  Chip Denman presented her story.  (Photo courtesy of Scott Snell.)

After the SkepTour concluded, many of the participants proceeded to Trusty's, a tavern located at 1420 Pennsylvania Ave SE for food, drink, and conversation.

"A Skeptic's Guide to the National Capital Area" is an ongoing project for the National Capital Area Skeptics, and will include locations across the VA-MD-DC area. If you'd like to contribute suggestions, please write to

The latest edition is available at

The next NCAS SkepTour is planned for May or June 2016.

Torn From Today's Headlines By Scott Snell
Local Girl Makes...Well...Bad

A new weekly "reality" TV series premiered on August 25 on ABC Family: "Monica the Medium," starring Monica Ten-Kate, a 2012 graduate of Oakton High School in Fairfax County, VA.  Now a 21-year-old junior, majoring in communications (not surprising for a "spirit medium?") at Penn State University, Monica's adventures in "navigating friends, family, relationships – and the fact that she's a medium and can talk to dead people," are chronicled.

The premiere episode is available on YouTube:

An early, perhaps first, online article about Ten-Kate states that she "returned to her hometown in northern Virginia to speak with another medium about her developing gifts. The medium soon became Ten-Kate’s mentor."  This occurred in early 2013, during her freshman year at Penn State.  So she's had at least a couple of years to develop her technique.

The Arlington, VA news site posted an article about the premiere episode:

One of its 40 posted comments is from someone identified as "James Randi," who wrote:
"There's $1 Million up for grabs if she can prove it:"

...And a Local Library Employs the Services of "Ghost Hunters"
Staff at Glen Burnie Library of Anne Arundel County, MD recently "called in the experts to investigate [a special, unearthly visitor stopping in from time to time] - the Maryland Ghost Trackers."

There's no mention in the article about any payment for services.  A visit to the Maryland Ghost Trackers site indicates that they don't charge a fee for their services:

Nevertheless, an assurance that no tax dollars were spent on "ghost hunting" would seem to be in order.

The ghost hunters (and probably the library staff who brought them on the hunt) will be on hand at the Glen Burnie Library on Tuesday, October 27 from 6:30 to 8:30 PM, so patrons can "learn about the fascinating world of ghost hunters."

AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
When you shop 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 first half of 2015 came to $15.40, meaning that over $3000 of purchases were designated in support of NCAS.  (As an example of how NCAS can put that money to good use, it's almost enough to cover one hour of the Bethesda Library lecture room rental: $20).

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

For more information:

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  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

Drinking Skeptically in MD and  VA (New Start Time)!

On Wednesday, September 9 at 6:30 p.m., please join fellow NCASers at either of our simultaneous DC-area Drinking Skepticallyevents:
Drinking Skeptically Bottle
                          Cap Logo  Jackie's Sidebar
  8081 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD
  entrance on Sligo Avenue

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

The most recent Washingtonian magazine list of the best DC-area bars (2013) includes Jackie's Sidebar: "Insider tip: Sop up the spirits with some of the best bar snacks around. We love the Chicago-style dog and grilled-seaweed-sprinkled popcorn."

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.

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.

View NCAS Shadow of a Doubt online at