Saturday, October 21, 2023

Shadow of a Doubt - October 2023


October 2023

NCAS Public Lecture Series

The Werewolves Among Us

Brian A. Sharpless, PhD
Visiting Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London

Saturday, October 21, 1:30pm - 4:00pm US/Eastern (UTC-04:00)
Connie Morella Library
7400 Arlington Road
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:

Join us as Brian A. Sharpless discusses unusual psychological conditions described in his new book, Monsters on the Couch: The Real Psychological Disorders Behind Your Favorite Horror MoviesWe'll delve into Clinical Lycanthropy, a psychiatric syndrome within which the patient has the delusional belief of turning into a wolf, and Clinical Zoanthropy, a broader category of delusional belief in turning into an animal.  (Hollywood has dramatized werewolf stories many times, but were-gerbils remain "stories untold.")  What are these real-life disorders, how do they compare with myth and popular culture, and what treatments are available?

Brian A. Sharpless is a licensed psychologist, author, and a visiting research fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London. He received his PhD in clinical psychology and MA in philosophy from Pennsylvania State University and completed post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania. He has authored more than fifty professional publications including three books for Oxford University Press. His research interests include common and unusual psychological disorders, psychotherapy, professional issues, and the history of mental illness.  This research has been featured on TV, radio, and in other media outlets, and he is a frequent speaker at conferences and public events in the United States and abroad.

Twitter:       @briansharpless

Refreshments will be available.

At the speakers' request, this live-streamed event will not be recorded for the NCAS YouTube channel.

November NCAS Lecture
NCAS President Scott Snell will present "The Times They Are(n't) a-Changin'." Should we stop changing our clocks forth and back between Daylight Saving Time and Standard Time?  We’ll sort through conflicting advice from experts.  Saturday, November 18 at 1:30 PM (that's Standard Time!) at Connie Morella Library.

September Bay Area Skeptics Lecture
The [San Francisco] Bay Area Skeptics will host their next online event on Thursday, November 9 at 10:30 PM ET.  Jennifer Pan, Sir Robert Ho Tung Professor of Chinese Studies, Professor of Communication and (by courtesy) Political Science, and a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University, will present "The Science behind Social Media and Political Behavior."  Details of the livestream will be posted at

CSICon 2023
CSICon 2023, sponsored by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry / Center for Inquiry / Skeptical Inquirer magazine will be held October 26-29 at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.  Speakers include Bill Nye, Penn & Teller, Richard Dawkins, Mick West, and many others.  Register at

NCAS Membership
At its September 20 meeting, the NCAS Board of Directors approved a change in membership classifications, effective October 1.  Formerly in two classifications, Single and Double, membership now comprises one or two individuals at the same home address.  In addition to simplifying transactions for the NCAS treasurer, this represents a per-person reduction in membership costs.  The former Single membership cost now covers up to two people.  Consider adding a 2nd person in your household to your NCAS membership at no extra cost!  Both will be able to vote separately in the annual NCAS board of directors election.  Send an email to to add a 2nd person to your membership.  We hope to add members, and of course a student or other young person is always welcome for the future of skepticism.  Also see

Happy Belated Friday the 13th!
NCAS had no events planned for Friday, October 13, but we hope our members celebrated the silliness of superstition responsibly.  Always wear eye protection if you smash a mirror, be careful when walking under a ladder, etc!

Torn From Today's Headlines
By Scott Snell
NASA to Investigate UFOs
On September 14, 2023, NASA's "Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study Team" released its final report, about 11 months after the study began.  The report is a relatively quick read:

From the Framework of Recommendations: "Although [the Defense Department's All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO)] leads the whole-of-government response to [Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena], the panel recommends that NASA play an essential role within that framework. NASA should leverage its core capabilities and expertise to determine whether it should take a leading or supporting role in implementing [the panel's] recommendation[s]."  NASA's reputation for openness was also cited as justifying a role for the agency in UFO investigations.

Also from the report, "The panel finds that public engagement in the effort to better understand UAP will be vital. NASA, by lending its name to UAP studies, is already helping to reduce stigma associated with reporting."

NASA announced its first "Director of UAP Research," Mark A. McInerney, a meteorologist and climate data scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center.  Here's a NASA public outreach interview with McInerney from 2020:

Author's comments:
The rationale for selecting McInerney isn't obvious.  As described in the NASA news release...
...he was the "liaison to the Department of Defense covering limited UAP activities for the agency."  I assume he was chosen as the liaison and then the director of research because of his experience in the technical management of NASA's Earth science data.  My assumption follows from the first recommendation in the report: "We specifically recommend that NASA utilize its existing and planned Earth-observing assets to probe the local environmental conditions associated with UAP that are initially detected by other means."

To me, the most remarkable aspect of the report is the opening sentence of its foreword, written by Nicola Fox, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate: "Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) are one of our planet’s greatest mysteries."  Given that her expertise is in heliophysics and plasma physics (see, she may have requested briefings on the UAP topic--briefings that apparently underemphasized prosaic explanations.

Soon after its commissioning by NASA Administrator BIll Nelson, the independent study team was discussed by Dr. Fox's predecessor, Thomas Zurbuchen, at the June 2022 Space Studies Board meeting at the National Academies of Sciences: (starting at the 34:30 mark).  This is an interesting presentation because it represents a scientist-to-scientists defense of the NASA UAP study.

Now that NASA has established a program to search for UAP, there will be associated programmatic funding.  I wonder how much funding, and what other programs will have their funding reduced within the overall NASA budget?

At this point, NASA seems mainly interested in studying Earth science data for UAPs.  But it could also be worthwhile to examine lunar science data.  (Disclosure: I'm part of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's engineering team at Goddard.)  LRO's sensors, including high-resolution cameras, have studied the Moon since 2009.  Unlike Earth or Mars, the Moon's dusty surface preserves displacements of all kinds, from impact craters to footprints.  Perhaps the aftereffects of alien landings and departures, sample scoopings, etc are still visible on the surface, hidden away in the many terabytes of LRO camera data that are analyzed solely for geological features (except for occasional localized searches for a crashed spacecraft from Russia or other countries, for example).  For that matter, alien artifacts may be on or near the surface.  I suppose aliens may have taken care to leave no trace whatsoever of their scientific study of the Moon.  If we find nothing in our mining of LRO data, that might be an explanation.  Or perhaps they have no interest whatsoever in the Moon, although that seems inconsistent with a species curious enough to travel here.  (Maybe their remote sensing is so good, they don't need to land on the Moon to study it thoroughly.  But then why are they landing on Earth?)  In any case, the Moon is an excellent place to look for ancient* or recent evidence of alien visitation.  We just may need to look at our data in a new way.  (I'm not proposing a rehash of Richard Hoagland's pseudoscientific interpretation of lunar images:

*Mark Robinson, an Arizona State University scientist and the principal investigator for LRO's camera, stated "probably there will be no traces of the Apollo exploration in, let's say, 10 to 100 million years [due to erosion from micrometeorites]."  That may also be an upper limit on how long alien traces would last on the Moon.

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