Sunday, October 02, 2022

October 8 - Not Exactly Lying: Fake News and Fake Journalism in American History

Presented by Andie Tucher, the H. Gordon Garbedian Professor and the director of the Communications PhD Program at the Columbia Journalism School  

Saturday, October 8, 1:30pm - 4:00pm US/Eastern 

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

Fake news has marked American journalism since Publick Occurrences hit the streets of Boston in 1690, but an even greater danger is posed by the more recent phenomenon of fake journalism: the exploitation of the outward forms of professionalized journalism in order to lend credibility to falsehood, propaganda, disinformation, and advocacy. As the media have grown ever more massive and ever more deeply entwined in the political system, so has fake journalism, to the point where it has become an essential driver of the political polarization of public life. What happens to democracy when fake journalism looks more and more like truth, and fake truth like journalism?

Professor Andie Tucher, the H. Gordon Garbedian Professor and the director of the Communications PhD Program at the Columbia Journalism School, writes widely on the evolution of conventions of truth-telling in journalism, photography, personal narrative, and other nonfiction forms. Her most recent book is Not Exactly Lying: Fake News and Fake Journalism in American History  (2022). She previously worked in documentary production at ABC News and Public Affairs Television, and holds a Ph.D. in American Civilization from New York University. 

Professor Tucher will be joining us remotely via Zoom.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Shadow of a Doubt - September 2022

 

  • September 10 -  NCAS lecture - Ev: Inspiring critical thinking using paranormal claims, presented by Barry Markovskyeryday Extraordinary
  • NCAS Board of Directors election results
  • Annual Membership Meeting
  • Prez Sez
  • 2022 NCAS Philip J. Klass Award to Susan Gerbic
  • September PhACT Lecture - September 17
  • AmazonSmile
  • Shadow Lite
  • Time to Renew? 
Read Shadow here

Shadow of a Doubt - September 2022

 

June 2022

NCAS Public Lecture Series

Everyday Extraordinary:
Inspiring Critical Thinking Using Paranormal Claims

Barry Markovsky, PhD
Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of South Carolina

Saturday, September 10, 1:30pm - 4:00pm US/Eastern (UTC-04:00)
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

 Also a YouTube Live Event with Q and A 

NCASVideo YouTube Channel:



The presentation will include readings from a book in progress, followed by an open discussion.

With this book, Barry hopes to reach a wider audience that normally wouldn't pick up a skeptical approach. Each chapter opens with a first-person "Front Stage" account of a true extraordinary experience. Then it goes "Back Stage" to show how perfectly normal events can deceive us into inferring something supernatural. Chapter topics are familiar to most NCAS members—ghosts, astrology, dowsing, ESP, UFOs, etc. What Barry hopes will differentiate this book from other skeptical works is its approach: Telling the stories with heart and humor, and explaining what really happened instead of leaping to paranormal conclusions.

"For the discussion, in addition to any feedback you'd like to offer, I'd like to brainstorm with you about strategies for maximizing the impact of this kind of endeavor. Given it's aimed at non-scientists, what's the optimal vocabulary level and pedagogical style? How 'sciency' should it get without the risk of losing too many readers? Is there even a market for it? These are questions I struggle with every day as I write, so your input will be much appreciated."
Barry Markovsky's research areas include group processes, social psychology, social networks, methods of theory construction, experimental research, and computer simulations. His most recent work has addressed social status, identity, fairness perceptions, cooperation, and influence in small group contexts, and he has developed online tools for building, evaluating, and disseminating sociological theories. He has taught courses in group processes, pseudoscience and paranormal beliefs, and theory construction. Prior to his position at the University of South Carolina, he was Sociology Program Director at the National Science Foundation, and Assistant, Associate and Full Professor at the University of Iowa.


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, Brian Gregory, Curtis Haymore, Beth Kingsley, J. D. Mack, Mary Pastel, Melissa Pollak, Walter F. Rowe, Scott Snell, and Marv Zelkowitz.

At its June 29 meeting, the NCAS board of directors selected its officers, who are: Scott Snell, president; Melissa Pollak, vice president; Walter F. Rowe, secretary; and Marv Zelkowitz, treasurer.


Annual Membership Meeting
Following the talk and the question-and-answer/discussion segment, the annual meeting of NCAS members will begin.  This will be limited to in-person participants.


Prez Sez
By Scott Snell

Our 2022-2023 lecture series begins with an in-person/online event.  However, in this case I urge you, if at all possible, to attend in person.  This won't simply be a talk followed by Q&A.  It will be much more of a discussion with the audience.  As the emcee, I'll do all I can to convey the questions and comments from our online participants, but I may not be able to actually "converse" on their behalf.  Our in-person audience will have access to the microphone and can speak at length.

There's another reason I hope you can be there.  We're holding our annual membership meeting because we're hoping to attract a participative, thoughtful audience for discussing Barry Markovsky's book-in-progress.  I think that frame of mind could come in handy for discussing the future of the skeptical movement and NCAS.  Our #1 priority is to support Barry as he develops his book to reach an audience of potential future skeptics.  But let's keep the ball rolling afterwards to sketch out our next steps in the months and years to come.

It's true that COVID-19 is still among us.  Wearing a well-fitted N95 mask will probably protect you.  I'm also relieved to see that community levels in Montgomery County, DC, and surrounding counties are currently low.  So your risk for attending in person is, at least for now, relatively small.

(Photo by Susan Gerbic)
As you may already know, prospects are good for having safe public gatherings in the months to come:  The FDA has authorized bivalent COVID-19 vaccines for use.  "The mRNA in these vaccines is a specific piece of genetic material that instructs cells in the body to make the distinctive 'spike' protein of the original virus strain and the omicron variant lineages BA.4 and BA.5. The spike proteins of BA.4 and BA.5 are identical."


This development presents at least a respite from the pandemic, likely to provide actual immunization instead of just minimizing the severity of infection.

Finally, I'll quote our 2022 Klass Award recipient, Susan Gerbic, who completed a cross-country tour of local skeptics groups a few months ago.  "Whatever the goals are for the group, the answer is always to find ways to get people to attend events, have some common experience, and allow people to form relationships."  (Read more about this in the next item.)

2022 NCAS Philip J. Klass Award Presentation Event and Lecture
On April 27, NCAS members and guests gathered at the Takoma Busboys and Poets in Northwest DC for the 2022 Philip J. Klass Award presentation dinner and show.  NCAS president Scott Snell presented the 2022 NCAS Philip J. Klass Award for outstanding contributions in promoting critical thinking and scientific understanding to Susan Gerbic, the foremost citizen skeptic, founder and leader of "Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia."

In his remarks, Mr. Snell noted the parallels between Ms. Gerbic and Paul Kurtz, to whom he had presented a Klass Award in 2009.  Kurtz, generally regarded as the father of the modern skeptical movement, was a leader, organizer, and publisher.  Kurtz's Prometheus Books and Skeptical Inquirer still exist, but what is the future of publishing?  Decades from now, Wikipedia may still exist, and the work that Ms. Gerbic and her colleagues began and continue may still be valuable for educating the public and protecting consumers.  Ms. Gerbic was recognized for "successful and ongoing efforts to ensure the accuracy of Wikipedia and for protecting the public from psychics who exploit the vulnerable."

The evening's entertainment was provided by Peter Wood, "Collector of the Impossible."  Susan and her guest (Adrienne Hill, a fellow member of the Monterey County Skeptics) and NCAS members witnessed a show that Penn Jillette had described as "beautiful, subtle"... a presentation of incredible, unique, and magical objects with unparalleled showmanship.

Susan and NCAS reconvened on April 30 at Arlington Central Library for her presentation, "Grief Vampires, Wikipedia and More."  Her talk is available on the NCAS YouTube Channel at:
 
In August, Susan told the tale of her cross-country skeptical journey, including her NCAS visit: https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/susan-gerbic-back-on-tour/
 
 

NCAS president Scott Snell and Susan Gerbic.
(Photo by Adrienne Hill)

NCAS created the Philip J. Klass Award in 2006. Previous recipients were Michael Shermer, James Randi, Robert L. Park, Paul Kurtz, Ray Hyman, Joel Achenbach, Penn & Teller, Phil Plait, Steven Salzberg, and John Mather. The 2022 NCAS Philip J. Klass Award
 
 

(Photo by J. D. Mack)


September PhACT Lecture
Our skeptical neighbors to the north, the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT), will present their next event on Saturday, September 17 at 2 PM ET.  After two years of online-only presentations, they are resuming in-person events, but are working to continue their live YouTube stream.  Their speaker will be behavioral scientist Stuart Vyse, discussing his book, The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to be Rational, looking at the aspects of human nature that are not altogether rational but, nonetheless, help us achieve our social and personal goals.  As he did for his CFI and NCAS lectures, Dr. Vyse will focus on yet another chapter of the book, rather than covering the same topics again.  Event details at http://www.phact.org/meetings.php. Also see PhACT's YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/c/ThePhiladelphiaAssociationforCriticalThinking/videos


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 first quarter of 2022 came to $24.35, meaning that nearly $5000 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:
https://smile.amazon.com/about
https://press.aboutamazon.com/news-releases/news-release-details/amazon-launches-amazonsmile-simple-automatic-way-customers


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 at ncas.org/p/shadow.html.  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 ncas@ncas.org.


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.
https://www.ncas.org/p/shadow.html

Sunday, August 28, 2022

September 10 - Everyday Extraordinary: Inspiring Critical Thinking Using Paranormal Claims

Barry Markovsky
Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of South Carolina

Saturday, September 10, 1:30pm - 4:00pm US/Eastern 

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

 Join us for the first in-person NCAS talk this season!   And if you can't join us in person, watch the live stream at https://youtu.be/__aYH03sNkE

 The presentation will include readings from a book in progress, followed by an open discussion.

With this book, Barry hopes to reach a wider audience that normally wouldn’t pick up a skeptical approach. Each chapter opens with a first-person 'Front Stage” account of a true extraordinary experience. Then it goes “Back Stage” to show how perfectly normal events can deceive us into inferring something supernatural. Chapter topics are familiar to most NCAS members—ghosts, astrology, dowsing, ESP, UFOs, etc. What I hope differentiates this book from other skeptical work is its approach: Telling the stories with heart and humor, and explaining what really happened instead of leaping to paranormal conclusions.

For the discussion, in addition to any feedback you’d like to offer, I’d like to brainstorm with you about strategies for maximizing the impact of this kind of endeavor. Given it’s aimed at non-scientists, what’s the optimal vocabulary level and pedagogical style? How “sciency” should it get without the risk of losing too many readers? Is there even a market for it? These are questions I struggle with every day as I write, so your input will be much appreciated."


Barry Markovsky's research areas include group processes, social psychology, social networks, methods of theory construction, experimental research, and computer simulations. His most recent work has addressed social status, identity, fairness perceptions, cooperation, and influence in small group contexts, and has developed online tools for building, evaluating, and disseminating sociological theories. He has taught courses in group processes, pseudoscience and paranormal beliefs, and theory construction. Prior to his position at the University of South Carolina, he was Sociology Program Director at the National Science Foundation and Assistant, Associate and Full Professor at the University of Iowa.

 

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Time to recharge

 At NCAS we take the summer to recharge our skeptical batteries. We hope that you enjoyed our programs this past year - both live and on YouTube. As the world starts to recover from the chaos that enveloped us these past two years, more and more events are starting to become live. However, we learned a lot about communicating during this period. Tools like zoom and other streaming services are becoming part of our technological lives, yet we cannot get away from having live meetings for effective communication. Both formats will be around for years to come.

Our next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, September 10 at 1:30pm in the B-CC Services Center in Bethesda. Come back to our website by mid-August when we should start to announce our fall 2022 schedule.

Enjoy your summer, stay safe, and if you can, join us as a member. We are a low budget operation, but low budget does not mean no budget.

See you in September!


Shadow of a Doubt - June 2022

 

  • June 4 NCAS lecture - Stuart Vyse: The uses of delusion

  • NCAS Board elections - Upcoming NCAS election via electronic voting
  • Torn from Today's Headlines - Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon
  • Turn from Today's Headline - The joke that got away (from last month)
  • Amazon Smile - Donate to NCAS for free
  • Shadow Lite
  • Time to Renew? 
Read Shadow here

Shadow of a Doubt - June 2022

 

June 2022

NCAS Public Lecture Series

The Uses of Delusion:
Why It’s Not Always Rational to Be Rational

Stuart Vyse, PhD
Contributing Editor, Skeptical Inquirer

Saturday, June 4, 1:30pm - 4:00pm US/Eastern (UTC-04:00)
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

 Also a YouTube Live Event with Q and A 

NCASVideo YouTube Channel:



Although reason and rationality are our friends in almost all contexts, in some cases people are better off putting reason aside. In a number of very important situations, we benefit by not seeing the world as it is, and by not behaving like logic-driven machines. Sometimes we know we aren’t making sense, and yet we are compelled to act against reason; in other cases, our delusions are so much a part of normal human experience that we are unaware of them. As intelligent as we are, much of what has helped humans succeed as a species is not our prodigious brain power but something much more basic.

In behavioral scientist Stuart Vyse’s new book, The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to be Rational, he looks at the aspects of human nature that are not altogether rational but, nonetheless, help us achieve our social and personal goals.

Stuart Vyse is a behavioral scientist, teacher, and writer. He taught at Providence College, the University of Rhode Island, and Connecticut College. Vyse’s book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition won the 1999 William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association. He is a contributing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, where he writes the “Behavior & Belief” column, and a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

Refreshments and socializing after the talk.

https://www.ncas.org/2022/05/june-4-uses-of-delusion-why-its-not.html



NCAS Board Elections: Electronic Voting
The 2022 NCAS election is underway.  In mid-May, your e-mail inbox should've received a single-cast secret ballot from "elections@ncas.org via SurveyMonkey <member@surveymonkeyuser.com>".  (NCAS will receive information indicating who voted, but nothing to indicate who cast each ballot.)  Please vote by June 15, 2022.

Note that voters will not be at risk for spamming as a result of participating...SurveyMonkey has a zero-tolerance spam policy:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/legal/acceptable-uses-policy/


Torn From Today's Headlines
By Scott Snell
Congressional Hearing on "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena"
On May 17, 2022, the "C3" Subcommittee of the US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence held an open hearing on UFOs (also called UAPs, "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.")  Following the open portion of the hearing, the C3 (Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation) Subcommittee held a closed, classified briefing.  Testifying were Ronald S. Moultrie, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, and Scott W. Bray, Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence.

Video of the open portion of the hearing is available here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSDweUbGBow&t=455s

Moultrie was tasked in 2021 by US Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks to "establish the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG [pronounced "aim sog"]) to synchronize efforts across the [Defense] Department and the broader U.S. government to detect, identify and attribute objects of interests [sic] in Special Use Airspace (SUA), and to assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security."
https://media.defense.gov/2021/Nov/23/2002898596/-1/-1/0/ESTABLISHMENT-OF-THE-AIRBORNE-OBJECT-IDENTIFICATION-AND-MANAGEMENT-SYNCHRONIZATION-GROUP.PDF
https://www.defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/2853121/dod-announces-the-establishment-of-the-airborne-object-identification-and-manag/

In addition to Moultrie and Bray providing status on the establishment of AOIMSG and answering questions from House members, Bray showed a UAP video:
https://www.dvidshub.net/video/843620/navy-2021-flyby-video

(Right-click the video and select "Speed" of 0.5x for best results.  Pause the video to find the three frames showing a UAP.)

Later, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Fellow Mick West commented on the video:
https://twitter.com/MickWest/status/1526702856408944641

West also participated in a discussion about the hearing:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCcfMWVycS4

Perhaps the closed, classified hearing was more interesting, but of course we can only speculate.  It's also worth noting that AOIMSG (which Moultrie said will likely be renamed) is just getting started.  But as of now, nothing very interesting has emerged publicly.

Notably, this was the first Congressional hearing about UFOs since July 29, 1968, when the US House Committee on Science and Astronautics held its "Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects."

The ncas.org site hosts an online edition of the 1968 symposium record, created and proofread by a team of NCAS volunteers:
https://files.ncas.org/ufosymposium/index.html


Torn From Last Month's Headlines
By Scott Snell
The Joke that Got Away
The previous Shadow of a Doubt displayed the 1950 Census listing for L. Ron Hubbard...


...but I neglected to make a joke about the entry for Hubbard on "What was this person doing most of last week - working, keeping house, or something else?"  ("Wk" = working, "H" = keeping house, "U" = unable to work, "Ot" = other)

"I wonder if Scientologists would interpret 'OT' as 'Operating Thetan?'"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operating_Thetan

(Hubbard's "Operating Thetan" concept didn't exist, at least not publicly, until he debuted Scientology in 1952.)

Speaking of Hubbard, here's an interesting 1968 episode of a UK investigative journalism TV series, World in Action, entitled "The Shrinking World of L. Ron Hubbard," which includes interviews with him:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_w-YWwC1lI


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 fourth quarter of 2021 came to $44.68, meaning that nearly $9000 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 two hours of a Montgomery County lecture room rental.)

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

For more information:
https://smile.amazon.com/about
https://press.aboutamazon.com/news-releases/news-release-details/amazon-launches-amazonsmile-simple-automatic-way-customers


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 at ncas.org/p/shadow.html.  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 ncas@ncas.org.


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.