Thursday, January 10, 2019

Shadow of a Doubt - January 2019

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics

  • January 12 lecture - Science Education and Storytelling:Combatting Denialism With Better (and True!) Stories by Sean B. Carroll, PhD
  • Weather cancellations
  • NCAS Meetup - Led Zeppelin
  • February 9 lecture - Jared Adams, Director of Public Affairs at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will debunk DARPA myths.
  • 50th Anniversary of the Condon Report
  • HISTORY's "Project Blue Book" Premieres
  • Science Channel's New Houdini Docuseries
  • Drinking Skeptically - January 20
  • AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
  • Shadow Light
  • Member renewals

January 2019

NCAS Public Lecture Series

Science Education and Storytelling:
Combatting Denialism With Better (and True!) Stories

Sean B. Carroll, PhD
Department of Science Education
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Saturday, January 12, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library
7584 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA [map] [directions]
(Near West Falls Church Metro stop)
FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

From Dr. Seuss to Disney, Harry Potter to Game of Thrones, we grow up and live in a world teeming with stories. In all forms of media - books, films, television, radio, and the internet, stories are the currency of everyday life. Yet they are strangely absent from the science classroom.

Despite a universal appreciation and thirst for stories, and considerable evidence for their pedagogical power, stories are underutilized in formal education, and in learning science in particular. One of my main goals as a scientist, educator, and storyteller is to encourage the use of stories in science education.  I will discuss why stories have an important place in the science classroom, and how they can help further the inroads being made in the teaching and acceptance of contentious subjects such as evolution.

Sean B. Carroll is an award-winning evolutionary biologist, author, educator, and film producer. He leads the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the largest private supporter of science education activities in the US, is the Executive Director of HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, and is the Andrew and Mary Balo and Nicholas and Susan Simon Endowed Chair of Biology at the University of Maryland. He is also Professor Emeritus of Genetics and Molecular Biology at the University of Wisconsin.

A prominent science communicator in print and on film, Carroll is the author of eight books, and has served as an executive producer of nearly thirty feature or short documentary films including The Farthest: Voyager in Space which recently won the Emmy for Outstanding Science Documentary. Carroll is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

The Falls Church weather forecast for Saturday indicates a chance of snow after 1 PM.  Chance of precipitation is 60%.  The Capital Weather Gang forecast, as of January 9, is, "Models generally agree that Sunday morning into the afternoon is the period during which the steadiest accumulating snow may fall — which could make roads and sidewalks slick."

Check, the NCAS Facebook and Meetup sites (and your inbox, if you received the Shadow by email) to see if the event is still on.  The status will be announced no later than 10 AM on Saturday.  You can also phone the 24-hour Skeptic Line at 240-670-NCAS (6227).

NCAS Meetup:
Real or Imaginary? Led Zeppelin in Wheaton January 1969:
Rock band Led Zeppelin released their first album and were on their first North American tour...Denver, Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Spokane, L.A., San Francisco, Iowa City, Detroit, Wheaton, Boston, New York.  Wait a minute--Wheaton?!?!  As in, Wheaton, Maryland?

Yes.  At least, some people say so, that they were at the show.

Filmmaker Jeff Krulik will present his take on this enduring local legend, on the 50th anniversary of the very night the concert was alleged to have taken place, January 20, 1969.

"Led Zeppelin Played Here"
AFI Silver Theatre
8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD
Sunday, January 20, 2019
8 PM

The showing of this movie is not an official NCAS event, but we thought it might be of interest to our members, so we're promoting this as a Meetup.  Advance tickets for this movie may be purchased at
Film trailer:

Before the show, join fellow skeptics for Drinking Skeptically at 5:30 PM at McGinty's Public House (911 Ellsworth Dr, Silver Spring), a very short walk from the AFI Silver Theatre.

After the show, enjoy a total eclipse of the Moon starting at 10:34 PM!  (No ticket required, only clear skies.  Totality will occur from 11:41 PM to 12:43 AM.)

February NCAS Lecture Jared Adams, Director of Public Affairs at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will debunk DARPA myths.  Saturday, February 9 at 1:30 PM at Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.

The 50th Anniversary of the Release of the Condon UFO Report
On January 9, 1969, the US Air Force released its Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects (also known as "The Condon Report"). The report concluded, "...nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge. Careful consideration of the record as it is available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby."

USAF Captain David J. Shea was the Pentagon press spokesman for Project Blue Book.  See his recollections of that day from his September 2018 NCAS lecture, available on the NCAS YouTube channel at .

In 1999, the report was transcribed for the Internet by NCAS and hosted at by permission of The Regents of the University of Colorado:

HISTORY's "Project Blue Book" Premieres
by Scott Snell

HISTORY (formerly the History Channel) premiered its new scripted drama series, "Project Blue Book," on Tuesday, January 8 at 10 PM ET (pardon the pun) and is rerunning it frequently.

The following was shown at the beginning of the episode: "This series is inspired by Dr. J. Allen Hynek's investigations for the U.S. Air Force into the existence of UFOs.  The cases depicted are based on real events."

As the show's promotional trailer showed, this is a 1950s period-piece version of "The X Files."  A scientist and an Air Force captain are partners in UFO investigations.  The scientist character is astrophysicist J. Allen Hynek, the real-life scientific consultant to Blue Book.  (His partner is Captain Quinn, an entirely fictional character.)

I'm glad the program is airing at 10 PM.  That way, young people are less likely to see it and be misled by its distortions and outright fictions, such as:  1) A major element of the story is government surveillance of Hynek and his family;  2) There's an absurd sequence when Quinn takes Hynek in an Air Force plane to replicate the flight path of a UFO witness, and ends up crashing (with both men suffering only minor injuries, of course);  3) The UFO witness's plane is mysteriously radioactive, though Hynek says that planes flying above the troposphere "can acquire a temporary radioactive charge."  (The writer should've changed it to "can become very slightly radioactive for a time," due to                 interactions with cosmic rays at high altitudes.)  Hynek goes on to say that the plane's radioactivity is too high to be explained this way, contrary to the actual incident on which the story is based.

Those problems aside, the episode does look good.  Perhaps there are trivial errors in the classic cars or clothing of the time, but I wouldn't know.  Though I did spot one flub that somehow slipped through the production team...the UFO witness flies over a football game (which is actually an historically correct detail from the October 1, 1948 incident).  But later in the program, the date of the incident is given as March 3rd...not a good fit for football season.

After the episode concludes, there's a brief summary of the "real events" on which it was based, presented uncritically, leaving viewers with the impression that the incident is genuinely mysterious.

The incident is typically referred to as the "Gorman Dogfight," here discussed by USAF Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, former head of Project Blue Book, in his 1955 book, The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects:

The Condon Report also mentions it:

"Project Blue Book" episodes are available online at

Science Channel's New Houdini Docuseries
Science Channel premiered Houdini's Last Secrets, a four-part series, on Sunday, January 6 at 10 PM ET.  "Each episode will be centered around one of Houdini's most daring stunts. The premiere look[ed] at Houdini's famous water torture cell escape to unmask the potential methods he may have used, and what the dangers involved could have been. He performed this feat many times in Washington D.C..."
The episodes will also be available online at

Note: an upcoming NCAS lecture (April 6 in Bethesda) will feature Ken Trombly discussing Houdini's crusade against fraudulent spiritualists.

Drinking Skeptically!

On Sunday, January 20 at 5:30 p.m., please join fellow NCASers at our Drinking Skeptically event:

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

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.

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 2018 came to $21.25, meaning that over $4200 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 an hour of a Montgomery County lecture room rental.)

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

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