Saturday, September 21, 2019

Shadow of a Doubt - September 2019

September 2019

NCAS Workshop:
Asking Good Questions

An Interactive Workshop Led by Chip & Grace Denman


Saturday, September 21, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
Connie Morella Library
7400 Arlington Road
Bethesda, MD [map] [directions]
(Bethesda Metro station)
FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

We like answers. We like to know them and to give them. Sometimes we want others to think we are smart or knowledgeable, so we jump to give answers rather than ask questions. And the questions we do ask are sometimes based more on our personal assumptions and biases than they are about getting to the real answer.

Skeptical thinking is more about asking good questions than knowing good answers. In this interactive workshop, we will practice methods for posing questions that lead to better understanding and new ideas, while avoiding bias and hasty assumptions.

Chip Denman has been a director of the James Randi Educational Foundation since 2008 and has served as the statistician behind the Million Dollar Challenge since its start. He is a co-founder of the National Capital Area Skeptics. He recently retired from the University of Maryland where he created and taught the course Science & Pseudoscience for the University Honors Program.

Grace Denman has been a leader in the arena of skeptical activism since co-founding the National Capital Area Skeptics in 1987. She has had the privilege of serving on the NCAS Board of Directors since its inception and has served as Treasurer and President. She is a Program Manager at AccelerEd, an affiliate of the University of Maryland Global Campus, previously the University of Maryland University College (it's complicated) where she questions assumptions daily.

Refreshments will be available.

Board of Directors Election
Results of June's NCAS member vote on candidates for the board of directors have been tabulated. Re-elected and incumbent members are: Tom Bridgman, 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, and Marv Zelkowitz.

At its July 22 meeting, the NCAS board of directors selected its officers, who are: Scott Snell, president; J. D. Mack, vice president; Walter F. Rowe, secretary; and Marv Zelkowitz, treasurer.

Prez Sez
By Scott Snell
I hope all of you enjoyed your summer, and Friday the 13th in a suitably skeptical way, like spilling salt or encouraging black cats to walk in front of you.  (Smashing mirrors or walking under ladders might be a bit much.)

NCAS doesn't have a crystal ball or psychic friends, but let's gaze into the future anyway...

On Wednesday, September 18 at 7 PM, please join me and fellow NCAS board members for a meet and greet at Astro Lab Brewing (8216 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring).  Look for the table with the NCAS pyramid!
Free parking is available after 7 PM at nearby Bonifant-Dixon Garage and Fenton Street Village Garage.  (Don't park in the 7-11 lot next to Astro Lab, or your car will be towed.)

Our monthly public programs resume on September 21 with our first workshop since "How to be a Psychic!" in May 2013.  Please join us as Chip and Grace Denman lead "Asking Good Questions" at Morella Library.

On October 19, author Neil Langdon Inglis will present "Burned with His Books: The Life and Times of Michael Servetus" at Morella Library.

Next, save the date for November 2.  NCAS members and their guests can get discounted tickets for the 5 PM or 8 PM performances of Brian Curry's "The Good Liar" at the Capital Hilton.  Brian will read your mind, predict your future and blow your mind.  Simple. Then he will break down some of the techniques used to create these experiences.  He's "DC’s Most Honest Con Man."  Check your inbox soon for details about the discount.

Psychologist Brian Sharpless will present "Bizarre Psychological Disorders" on November 9 at Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.

On December 14, John M. Butler, National Institute of Standards and Technology Fellow & Special Assistant to the Director for Forensic Science, will present "Will DNA Testing Help My Family History Research?"  Location TBD.

Torn From Today's Headlines
By Scott Snell
An Unsullied and Well-Deserved Celebration
July 20 marked the 50th anniversary of "one giant leap for mankind" from Earth to the Moon.  Celebrations and commemorations took place at museums and through news media outlets, most of which were surprisingly professional in their coverage, paying little attention to the claims of "Moon-landing hoax" promoters.

Unfortunately, the New York Times and Florida Today couldn't resist sharing the perspectives of some of the conspiracy theorists.

Buried in the July 1 Times Arts section was an article entitled "Recycling Paranoia For Fun and Clicks" by Amanda Hess, who writes about "internet culture."  Though intended as an analysis of conspiracy theorists, it also served as a roundup of their theories, presented in what appeared to be an unfairly dismissive manner.  Some readers might come away thinking that the conspiracists have gotten a bum rap.

On July 19, Florida Today printed parts of an interview with one of the more famous Moon-hoax theorists, Bart Sibrel.  The reporter didn't think to ask him to explain recent images of Apollo equipment and astronaut footpaths on the Moon's surface, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) over the past decade.

A Google search of "Sibrel" and various LRO keywords shows no substantive hits.  If only someone would ask him about the LRO Apollo images to see how he responds!  Will he claim that NASA is perpetuating the hoax with another generation of scientists and engineers?  (Which would necessarily include myself, a flight software engineer for LRO.)

Americans' beliefs about the Apollo Moon landings haven't changed much, as compared to 20 years ago.  A 1999 Gallup poll and a 2019 C-SPAN/Ipsos poll both found that 6% of Americans think the Apollo landings were staged.  This despite a widely-seen 2001 special on Fox, "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?" that uncritically promoted the hoax perspective.  And despite many LRO images taken since 2009, showing that astronauts did walk on the Moon.  (So far as I can find, there are no polls between 2001 and 2009 on this question, which might gauge the effect each factor had on public belief.)
1999 Gallup Poll:

2019 C-SPAN/Ipsos Poll:

Note that 11% of "millennials" (born between 1981 and 1996) think the Apollo Moon missions were staged.

NASA fact sheet (June 1977, reissued in February 2001 after the Fox special):

Author's Comment:
The National Air and Space Museum commissioned an ingenious production, "Apollo 50: Go for the Moon," that was projected on the east side of the Washington Monument on the evenings of July 19 and 20.  I highly recommend this video recording of the show:

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 second quarter of 2019 came to $19.28, meaning that over $3800 of purchases were designated in support of NCAS.  (As an example of how NCAS can put that money to good use, it's nearly 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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