Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Shadow of a Doubt - February 2019

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics

February 2019

NCAS Public Lecture Series

Mind Control
and other things DARPA has never done

Jared B. Adams
Chief of Communications and Public Affairs
U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Saturday, February 9, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center
2nd Floor (West Room)
4805 Edgemoor Lane
Bethesda, MD [map] [directions]
(Bethesda Metro station)
FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

Since its founding during the Eisenhower presidency, DARPA has been the rightful recipient of scorn and praise for investing in and developing military technologies as varied as Agent Orange and the ARPAnet, precursor to today's internet. And while much of the agency's key contributions to science and national security have been well documented in books such as The Pentagon's Brain, The Imagineers of War, and The Department of Mad Scientists, myths about DARPA's work still abound on social media and in the mainstream press.

In this talk, you will hear from Jared Adams, DARPA's chief of communications, about some of the popular and humorous myths regarding the agency's research, including how it controls the world's weather, is building AI-equipped super soldiers, and is actively managing Facebook to read people's thoughts. Also, Adams will discuss the importance of transparency in government public affairs and how, when dealing with contentious areas of scientific research, the best tack is often to be open, honest, and direct.

Jared Adams joined the DARPA Public Affairs Office in 2014, first serving as the agency's press secretary for three years before becoming the chief of communications in July 2017. Prior to DARPA, Adams served in senior public affairs positions in the Washington, D.C. area with Harris, SAIC, and Raytheon. In addition to his in-house communications experience, Adams has provided public relations counsel to several high-profile organizations, including Dell, Microsoft, Verizon, U. S. Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and U.S. Northern Command.


March NCAS Lecture

Journalist Erik Vance will discuss his book, Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain's Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.  Saturday, March 16 at 1:30 PM at Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center. (See above for complete address and directions.)

NCAS Board Elections: Call for Candidates

Are you an NCAS member who wants to take a leadership role in the skeptics movement?  The NCAS annual board of directors election is fast approaching.  As a board member, you can channel (non-psychically) your talent and energy (the non-woo kind) into educating the public, and pick up some fun skills along the way.  Send an email to ncas@ncas.org by March 31 for more information.

HISTORY's Project Blue Book Draws Viewers, and Brings UFO Believers and Skeptics Together (Against It)
by Scott Snell

Last month, HISTORY (formerly the History Channel) heavily promoted a new scripted drama series about 1950s UFO cases, Project Blue Book, scheduled it immediately after the #1 cable TV show (The Curse of Oak Island), and reaped the benefits in viewership, at least in the first weeks of its 10-week run.

For a few days in early January, it was hard to avoid ads for the show.  I heard one on WJFK-FM on the evening of its January 8 premiere.  There was an ad displayed on the Capital One Arena scoreboard screens during intermission of a Capitals hockey game.  A billboard at the intersection of New York Avenue and North Capitol Street NE in Washington is still in place as of February 3:

(Photo credit: Scott Snell)

For all the money that HISTORY has spent in producing and promoting the series, what have they gotten in return?  In retrospect, it appears to be a better fit for the science-fiction channel Syfy.  True, there's a bearded (but missing his ubiquitous smoking pipe) astronomer character named J. Allen Hynek, who has a wife named Mimi and a son Joel (the only one of their five children depicted) and other occasional historically accurate details, but otherwise there's nothing pertinently fact-based about the show.

Many of the fictionalization choices seem arbitrary and hard to justify for dramatic purposes.  Some are unintentionally hilarious, such as Air Force Captain Quinn taking Hynek in a plane to replicate the flight path of a UFO witness, and ending up crashing (with both men suffering only minor injuries, of course).  Another episode depicts a modified V2 rocket being launched from Huntsville, Alabama, which has never been a launch site for any type of high-altitude rocket.  (The actual launch site was in White Sands, New Mexico.)

The inaccuracies extend deep into the details of each episode's UFO case.  As skeptic Robert Sheaffer noted in his review of the series premiere, "Public discussions of this case will now be hopelessly polluted by the made-up elements that people will now firmly believe to be part of the actual story."

Even "UFO believers" like Leslie Kean and Hynek biographer Mark O'Connell have panned the series.  Kean writes, "It's already hard enough for those trying to understand the truth about government involvement with U.F.O.s without mixing fact and fiction." 

Fortunately, viewers may be tiring of the show and its "X Files" cliches already...despite having the most popular cable TV series as its lead-in, its viewership numbers have been declining the past few weeks.  Hopefully the series won't be picked up for another season and will fade into obscurity.

Robert Sheaffer's review of the premiere:

Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean discuss the series:

Hynek biographer Mark O'Connell weighs in:

TV viewership data for January 8:

AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!

When shopping at smile.amazon.com, you'll find the same low prices, vast selection, and convenient shopping experience as Amazon.com, 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!

For more information:

Shadow Light

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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.

March 16 - Suggestible You: You can't believe everything you think

Presented by Erik Vance, author of the book Suggestible You

The human brain is a miracle of nature - one of the fastest computing machines on Earth, adept at finding patterns, recognizing faces, and making predictions of the future. It's also a dirty liar, a deceitful trickster and occasionally an unlicensed pharmacist. It all comes down to one of the most important concepts in psychology today - expectation.

Join Erik Vance, author of the book Suggestible You as he explores the world of placebos, hypnosis, false memories, and neurology to reveal the groundbreaking science of our suggestible minds.

Once you understand the role expectation plays in the brain, you can see why thousands of generations of humans have used superstition to heal their bodies. Faith healing, homeopathy, snake oil, shamans, late night commercials for overpriced miracle cures - all of them make sense when viewed through the lens of expectation and the brain.

Drawing on centuries of research and interviews with leading experts in the field, Vance will take you on a fascinating adventure from Harvard's research labs to a witch doctor's office in Catemaco, Mexico, to an alternative medicine school near Beijing to your own local pharmacy. Along with his talk he will show slides from his 2016 National Geographic cover story and discuss why your Aunt Ethel swears by ginseng tea for her arthritis.

Erik Vance is an award-winning science journalist based in Baltimore. Before becoming a writer he was, at turns, a biologist, a rock climbing guide, an environmental consultant, and an environmental educator. He graduated in 2006 from the UC Santa Cruz science writing program and became a magazine freelancer soon after.

His work focuses on the human element of science – the people who do it, those who benefit from it, and those who do not. He has written for The New York Times, Nature, Scientific American, Harper’s, National Geographic, and a number of other local and national outlets. He lived in Mexico City for seven years and has worked extensively in Latin America and Asia, covering the environment and its effect on humans.

Saturday, March 16, 2019
1:30 pm
B-CC Regional Services Center (Note change)
4805 Edgemoor Lane
2nd Floor (West Room)
Bethesda, MD

Directions: http://tinyurl.com/bcccenter

Poster for talk

Shadow of a Doubt - February 2019

February 2019
  • February 9 - Mind Control and other things DARPA has never done - Presented by Jared B. Adams, Chief of Communications and Public Affairs, U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
  • March 9 lecture - Journalist Erik Vance will discuss his book, Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain's Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.
  • NCAS Call for Elections
  • HISTORY (channel)'s Project Blue Book
  • AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
  • Shadow Light
  • Member renewals
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