Thursday, September 23, 2021

Shadow of a Doubt - June 2021


June 2021

NCAS Social Event

Online Movie Night

Hosted by Scott Snell, NCAS President
Thursday, June 3, 7:30pm US/Eastern (UTC-04:00)

Do you remember the halcyon days of your youth?  Drive-in movies, comic books, and blue jeans...Howdy Doody, baseball cards, and birthdays.  And of course fraudulent documentaries about ESP, UFOs, Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, etc.

Did you believe what you saw and get spooked by it?  Maybe you got upset that the government was letting planes and ships enter the Triangle.  Those were confusing times.

Well, let's relive those times in a new and improved way.  We'll watch one of the "documentaries" together online and laugh at it.  (Sort of a skeptical "Mystery Science Theater 3000.")

How to Watch and Participate in this Online Event:

1) Check your email inbox (the same one that's receiving this Shadow of a Doubt) at 7 PM ET on Thursday, June 3.
2) Click on the "Watch2Gether" link in the email.  Your browser will display our "room" to watch a YouTube movie together.
3) Start typing in the chat window at the right of the screen.  The "documentary" will start at 7:30 PM sharp, but anyone who wants to hang out there before showtime is welcome.
4) Make popcorn, close the shades, and turn up the volume so you can hear the movie above the din of Brood X cicada phasers.
5) Enjoy, if possible.  Who knows for sure if this will be funny, nostalgic, interesting, or none of the above?

I sense that you have questions.

I seem to have some psychic abilities, probably limited by my not believing in them.  But I'll try my best.

OK, I've made contact with a mind, apparently a skeptical mind!  This mind will speak for all skeptical minds, because I don't have conference-telepathy capability.

Q. Wait, what is this?  It's not educational?  We're not watching an informative program, instead it's old junk that was new junk about 50 years ago?
A. Correct.  If there is anything insightful or educational about it, that would be a happy accident.  (Actually I think it's possible it will lead to some rational thought and checking reputable references later, but that's not the point.)

Q. Well, what's the program, and why did I have to ask?
A. You can know without being told...use your latent powers of insight!  Everyone has them, they just need to be unlocked!
No wait, don't spoil the's meant to be a surprise.  You'll know at 7 PM on Thursday, regardless of whether your insights are unlocked or not.
It's more fun if no one peeks at the show ahead of time.  Let's riff on this spontaneously.

Q. Whoa, are you saying you (Scott) have not carefully reviewed this?
A. I have carefully reviewed it to make certain that its original G rating (we're going to watch a theatrically released film) still applies, and that the YouTube posted video appears to have no added material, unsuitable or otherwise.  But the technique I used did not sully my blissfully ignorant self, and enough time has passed that even some of the imagery will only be vaguely available to my conscious mind!  I've never truly experienced this movie, now or ever.

Q.  Why am I finding out about this today, and why June 3rd?
A. I checked the weather forecast for the DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia (yep, we're inviting PhACT to join in) that evening.  It's going to be rainy.  Plus there will probably still be some yucky cicada nymphs crawling around as night falls (that probably hasn't happened for the PhACT pholks...just think what they've missed!).  Who would want to go out in that?  So it's a perfect night for the movie.

Q. You said it's roughly 50 years old.  How's the video and audio quality?
A. It's OK.  If you watch an average YouTube video from the 1970s, it looks like that.

Q.  No HD and no stereo separation?!?!
A. This is not an experience of the senses, it is an experience of the MIND.  You will find TRUE CLARITY, transcending sight and sound, by the end of this event.

Q.  ...which will be?
A. 9 PM.  It's a 90-minute film.

Q. Any clues or other things to mention?
A. has a local (DC) angle (just briefly).  There are aspects that skeptics will appreciate, despite the BS.  And I really have never seen or heard of this before, so it's possible the whole thing will fall flat.  (I like danger.)  But I read a few online reviews that suggest this will be fun to watch and laugh at.

Q. Will webcams be part of this?
A. No, just the chat window.  Get ready to type!

Q. You only gave 48 hours (or less, if I didn't happen to check my email for a while) notice for this event, what if I can't make it?
A. Sorry, the short notice came from choosing a reliably rainy evening in the forecast.  (Maybe 72 hours would've worked too.)  There won't be a recording of the actual event, but of course the YouTube video will still be available.  You can laugh at it on your own, or bring others to your own Watch2Gether party!

Q. OK...OK.  Maybe I'll join in to see how it goes.
A. Great!  We'll have this, rain or shine.  (Though I think it will be rain, just as forecast.)

Q. What if the thunderstorms in the forecast knock out the power?
A.  You mean "the electricity."  YOU have THE POWER.  We'll continue the program without electricity, focusing THE POWER OF THE MIND.

Q.  Sure, ha-ha.  This will be moderated, I hope.
A. Correct, please keep all of your chats G-rated.  We're inviting NCAS members, so I'm sure that won't be a problem.  I think PhACT pholks will be good too.  In any case, I'll be moderating.

Q. OK, thanks!  And I think the "skeptical mind" you made contact with may have been your own.
A. That makes sense, I do talk to myself sometimes.

So...if your skeptical mind has any questions not covered here, send an email to  "See" you Thursday!

Board of Directors Election
Results of April'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 May 17 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.

Message to Current and Prospective NCAS Members
In response to the economic hardship and other uncertainties that our members may be facing, NCAS has automatically extended by one year all memberships that expire in 2020 or later.  Payment will be accepted for new memberships as well as renewals for 2019 and before: new and renewed will have a bonus year added.  Each life member may sponsor a new one-year membership at no charge.  (Double life memberships may sponsor two.)  Send your sponsored member's name and contact information to This offer will continue until further notice.

Prez Sez
By Scott Snell
I hope many of you, hopefully all of you, are sharing a renewed sense of optimism about the future.  So far, the vaccines against COVID-19 are apparently effective against all of the known viral varients.  CDC guidelines are leading federal, state, and local governments to lift restrictions that have been in place for a year or more.

We're skeptics!  So we're unusually vigilant and cautious.  But so far, this looks like another stunning victory for the scientific method and human ingenuity, against a backdrop of human weaknesses.

The US is on the road to recovery, and will surely be helping the rest of the world do the same.

Will there ever again be a moment for science to shine so brightly in such a sudden and dramatic way, other than defeating another pandemic?  The answer is definitely yes, though it may not happen in our lifetimes.

If you Google "planetary defense," you can read more about it.  It's not a question of "if," but of "when."

There might be the equivalent of anti-vaxxers when a comet or asteroid is found to be on a collision course with Earth.  (We already have "Flat Earthers," although some or much of that might be intended as a joke to get news media attention, to get skeptics upset, etc.)  Some might doubt that the impact will be significant, or even whether the object is really going to hit Earth.  Some may be concerned (perhaps with justification) about the competence or motives of the group(s) planning the deflection.  For example, an object that is not on collision course with Earth can be deflected into a collision course, effectively weaponizing asteroids and comets.

So I think science will not shine for everyone, whether defeating a pandemic or deflecting an asteroid from Earth.  But the vast majority of people will celebrate the end results, whether they fully understand how science works (or at least how it should work) or not.

(By the way, as we lift our glasses in celebration of anyone and everyone who contributed to the vaccination effort and saved the world, why do we not know the name or names of whoever brilliantly conceived of mass-producing vaccines that were still undergoing testing?)

I mentioned the "backdrop of human weaknesses," but count me as generally optimistic for the future.  For example, I think modern virtual artificial-intelligence assistants (Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, etc) will continue to improve, and essentially become pocket skeptics.  All online news, whether fake or not, will be accessible to you the consumer, and you will assess/analyze it in conversation with your pocket skeptic.  Think of the positive influence pocket skeptics will have, because people are imitative and take on the habits of those around them, maybe even non-human associates.  (Let's face it, we've seen humans take on the characteristics of their pets, so my claim is plausible!)

If/when AI assistants become capable of asking excellent questions, skepticism will have made a huge breakthrough.

Imagine the domestic disputes that might be avoided or resolved by having an AI "friend" in the household.  Marriages might be saved by its knowledgable and wise advice.  (Or by uniting the partners in mutual hatred towards it!)  AIs might also become valuable members of diplomatic corps and negotiating teams.

In the meantime, we'll just have to settle for human skeptics.

Speaking of which, NCAS is planning to resume in-person lecture events on the 2nd Saturday of September, October, and November at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.

We're planning to livestream these in-person events, if the speaker consents, and if technical challenges are overcome.

For December, January, and February, we're planning to hold online-only livestream events...we'll avoid inclement weather and resume our access to skeptical presenters from all around the world.

PS: As we celebrate this victory of science, what crisis might occur in our lifetimes that science can't solve?  Supervolcanoes come to mind.  For example, , though "the probability of any such event occurring at Yellowstone within the next few thousand years is exceedingly low."

AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
When holiday 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 first quarter of 2021 came to $19.14, meaning that $3800 of purchases were designated in support of NCAS.  (As an example of how NCAS can put that money to good use, it's enough to cover about an hour of a Montgomery County lecture room rental.)

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

For more information:

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