Friday, October 07, 2022

Shadow of a Doubt - October 2022


October 2022

NCAS Public Lecture Series

Not Exactly Lying:
Fake News and Fake Journalism in American History

Andie Tucher, Ph.D.
H. Gordon Garbedian Professor of Journalism
Director, Communications Ph.D. Program
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Saturday, October 8, 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

Andie Tucher will be talking about her new book, Not Exactly Lying: Fake News and Fake Journalism in American History.

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?

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.  In addition to Not Exactly Lying, she is the author of Froth and Scum: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America’s First Mass Medium (The University of North Carolina Press, 1994) and Happily Sometimes After: Discovering Stories from Twelve Generations of an American Family (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).  She previously worked in documentary production at ABC News and Public Affairs Television, Inc, and holds a Ph.D. in American Civilization from New York University.

Unfortunately, due to technical limitations, this NCAS lecture will not be livestreamed.

Annual Membership Meeting (Part 2)
Following the talk and the question-and-answer/discussion segment, Part 2 of the annual meeting of NCAS members will begin, resuming our September discussion of the future of skepticism and NCAS.

Prez Sez
By Scott Snell

Here's a recap of what was discussed at the September 10 NCAS membership meeting ("Part 1").  The topic was "Skeptics: The Next Generation."  How can we best educate the public, especially young (high school and college) people?

Some of our members are science professors (or emeritus) and other educators.  What opportunities exist, or can be created, to allow these professionals to continue their craft, but re-purposed: specifically teaching critical thinking skills to the public?  Are there opportunities at local colleges/universities, and/or community colleges, to offer a course of study?  (Not discussed at the meeting: Perhaps the Smithsonian Resident Associates could sponsor such a program.  Also not discussed: This could be presented in terms of "Consumer Education" or similar.)

A formal course of study could go a long way towards producing top-notch skeptics of the future.

However, have college campuses become unfriendly towards free and open inquiry?  If true, this hopefully will not always be so.

On campus or off, an "echo chamber" outsider is often perceived as a threat, rather than someone who may be bringing useful information or perspectives.

At the high school level, NCAS members have participated in judging science fair projects.  As prizes, we distribute skeptically-themed books such as Carl Sagan's "Demon-Haunted World."

There was discussion about whether young people would want to attend in-person events, or instead just watch from home.  Also, this age group may be very focused on digital entertainment.

There was a brief kudos for how far we skeptics have come.  During the 1970s and 80s, books, magazines, and TV shows often ignored evidence and viewpoints provided by skeptical investigators.  The public didn't have an opportunity to hear what we had to say.  Now, skeptics can usually get their findings to the public.  An important example is the "Guerrilla Skeptics of Wikipedia," founded by Susan Gerbic, who received the NCAS Philip J. Klass Award this year.

Regarding skeptical volunteerism, the "Pareto principle" was mentioned in the context of suggesting that 20% of skeptics are "getting 80% of the work done."

The online presentation style of NCAS productions was compared/contrasted favorably against those of other skeptical organizations.  Questions and comments during NCAS livestreams are visible to all online particpants, not hidden away at the discretion of the host (except for obvious "trolling," which is promptly dealt with).  This offers an excellent opportunity for participants to develop questions together, pooling their knowledge.  Visually, NCAS remote presentations show only the presenter and/or his/her slides.  There's no need to see the host on the other half of the screen ...all of us want to get a good look at our guest on the full screen!  The voiceover of the host is adequate (and probably preferable) during the Q/A segment.

With what organizations does NCAS interact?  National Science Foundation was one.  During a very productive several years, NCAS lectures were held at NSF's large meeting room in Arlington.  NSF scientists, many of whom temporarily relocate to the DC area, found NCAS, attended (and gave) presentations, and shared social time.  Unfortunately, NSF relocated, and its meeting facilities are no longer available for NCAS.  NCAS hopes to hold about half of its in-person events at Arlington Central Library, and to get the word out to current NSF scientists.

Balticon is another such organization, offering skeptical talk opportunities that NCAS has sponsored and/or recorded for our YouTube site.

There was affirmation of Barry Markovsky's method of storytelling of a personal experience that might be regarded as supernatural or mysteriously meaningful, followed by prosaic explanation, as a public outreach method.

NCAS is a long-lived (35+ years) community.  This is unusual for non-profits, and an advantage in many ways for getting attention and access to the public.

Later, Susan Gerbic watched the YouTube video of the discussion and commented:

There were many great statements said that I heard, but they were all over the place. You need to ask manageable questions. Something specific. For example, "How do we expand our membership?", "How do we attract POC, women and students?", "What are should our goals for 2023 be?", "How do we know we are being effective?"

My thoughts are to look at what NCAS's assets are. Who are your members now, how can you mine them for resources? Do you have people who work with students? Then liaison your way into their classrooms and give talks, invite the teachers to suggest student speakers, offer scholarships to students (to conferences), recruit students to help cover an event.

Do you have people who work in local (or bigger) media? Then liaison your way into that, NCAS can write a column for that media, become the expert on that station or however you can exploit the liaison.

Do you have people who are grant writers, or work in advertisement? Well use that to your advantage 

Do you have members that own/run a pub or restaurant or venue? Then start throwing "Skepticism on Tap" events, or one-time events in those venues, spread out the social events so that it keeps people engaged in areas closer to where they live. Get a volunteer within the group to handle that one thing. Don't assume that the same ole people will do all the work. You have to expand your team, grow your leadership.  [Prez note: pre-pandemic, NCAS had "Drinking Skeptically" events, occasional skeptics talks at the pub, and dinners/meetups before movies or talks.]

Do an event at a health fair, get a booth, come up with something interesting to talk about in the booth (a theme) and pull in membership to help. See William London's last two Skeptical Inquirer articles (on line) for ideas.

FIND people who are social butterflies! They are like diamonds and gold, precious personalities that make people want to continue showing up for talks and events. Several times in the discussion it sounded like you all were focusing on the PhD's. NO you want to find personalities that are people-persons. Let them use their skills, throw more social events. Hang-outs and small one time events. Everyone goes for pizza, How about getting a group to go on a ghost tour! Go see a psychic event. OMG pick fun things that involve DOING SOMETHING. Anyone can sit at home and watch YouTube videos. That isn't the solution, if it were to keep coming out with good talks, we wouldn't be having all the problems in the world.  [Prez note: NCAS has created, and will continue to create, SkepTours, which is similar to this set of ideas.] [PS: the discussion about PhDs was the idea of them educating the public and especially the next generation of skeptics in a college or Smithsonian setting.]

IN person events, people can hang out, share a beer or plate of fries with.

AND I seriously think your group should start building up for a skeptiCamp. Maybe at the sci-fi conference? Are you watching what DragonCon does with their Skeptic Track. That kind of thing, look at their old videos.  [Prez note: NCAS board members have organized SkeptiCamps, but it's been a while.  Balticon has been and is a good opportunity for us.]

The last thing, is to pick something that you want to be good at, known for. Again what is it that is unique to NCAS? Being in Washington DC is kinda unique. Maybe something related to the government? Maybe something else in the area that is unique you can liaison with? I love the idea of getting back to the science group you were doing talks with, they have the venue and people who are like-minded but need some reason to start attending your meetings. [Prez note: I think convenience/access to the NSF community, our offering an antidote to their general social isolation, and shared values is what helped us connect with them.  I doubt we can regain that type of access, but we can try.  This effort was in progress before the pandemic hit.]

But really what people like is achieving something together, being known for doing something. Like someone said "it's getting to be cool to be a skeptic, we are pushing the agenda, getting in faces, making change" (okay they didn't say all that, but you know what I mean) Pick one thing to make a difference on, what is it? Push that one thing, get in the media with that one thing, something unique to your area/group, push push push it and own it. Is there a specific person/activity that is really harmful that you can focus on? Make a difference with that one thing.

And thinking more about it, yes possibly that sci-fi conference could be one of the things you own, get a skeptic's track running. You were starting to do it before, bring in a few speakers that will draw people over to your track, if you have to fund them to come in, do so. You have Kenny Biddle a few hours away. Use him! Get him to organize a ghost adventure for your group. That will be a blast and encourage youth to want to go as well. A weekend event with ghost photography and stuff. How fun!

And find someone in your group (or maybe more) who will write up an article for Skeptical Inquirer online every couple months. Talk about what your group is doing and that will attract others.

So I know I'm writing from the other side of the USA, but if you can stand me giving my 5-cents (inflation) send me notice you are doing this again, a couple days in advance.

Hope to see you all again!
[Prez note: Thank you, Susan!  Alas, Part 2 will not be livestreamed.]

September PhACT Lecture
Our skeptical neighbors to the north, the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT), posted a video of their September lecture.  Behavioral scientist Stuart Vyse discussed 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 focused on yet another chapter of the book, rather than covering the same topics again.  See

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