Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Summary of 1994 CSICOP conference

I just stumbled across an old Usenet post of mine which summarizes a small part of the CSICOP conference held in Seattle June 23-26, 1994 (PDF of conference program; PDF of conference announcement mailing) with Robert Sheaffer's reply. I don't recall if I wrote the further followups, and didn't find any in a brief search. My 1992 Dallas CSICOP conference summary and a number of others may be found at the Index of Conference Summaries on this blog.

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From: lip...@skyblu.ccit.arizona.edu (James J. Lippard)
Newsgroups: sci.skeptic
Subject: Re: News of the CSICOP conference?
Date: 11 Jul 1994 15:59 MST
Organization: University of Arizona
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Distribution: world
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References: <forb0004.229.0036889A@gold.tc.umn.edu>
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News-Software: VAX/VMS VNEWS 1.41    

In article <forb0004.2...@gold.tc.umn.edu>, forb...@gold.tc.umn.edu (Eric J. Forbis) writes...
>I'm surprised that so little has been written about the recent conference on 
>this group. Please, any who attended, tell all!

I had intended to write up a summary of the Seattle conference similar
to the one I did for the 1992 Dallas conference (which may be found
in /pub/anson/Arizona_Skeptic on netcom.com, in vol. 6 somewhere, over
two issues).  Events conspired against me, however.  My flight did
not arrive until the conference had already begun on Thursday night,
and I was quite disappointed to miss Robert Baker's presentation in the
session on alien abductions.  I also brought only an old school notebook,
which I found contained only two blank sheets of paper in it.  Then I
planned to view Becky Long's videotapes of the sessions afterward, but
her camera's battery recharger broke.  So the following is all from memory.

I arrived at the conference on Thursday evening and was surprised to
find that the main conference room was completely full and an overflow
crowd was watching via closed-circuit television.  This was the largest
CSICOP conference to date.  I believe that for the alien abduction and
False Memory Syndrome-related sessions there were over 700 attendees.
(I seem to remember somebody telling me that, but we know how unreliable
human memory is.)
   I showed up in the middle of a presentation by Thomas Bullard, who was
very impressed by what he claimed were amazing consistencies between
the accounts of abductees.  He argued against the claim (made by Baker?)
that the motifs in abduction stories can be traced to "Close Encounters
of the Third Kind" by pointing out the same motifs in earlier abduction
claims.  (Yeah, but what about earlier appearances of "Grey"-like aliens in
other science fiction?)
   Next, John Mack spoke about why he was speaking at a CSICOP conference
and discussed the "intense polarization in ufology" between skeptics and
believers.  He said that he was a skeptic about UFO abductions and that
he considers it to be an unsolved mystery.  At times he sounded like
John Keel or Jacques Vallee--suggesting that aliens are interdimensional
creatures that can't be reduced to any known categories of human thought.
Like Bullard, he appealed to the consistency between testimonies.
I wrote down a series of questions he had for CSICOP and skeptics:

   1. Why so much vehemence in these attacks? [on him, on abduction claims]
   2. Why so much certainty?
   3. Why do we attack the experiencers themselves?
   4. Why do you attack writers of your own commissioned reports who
      don't come up with the conclusions you want?

I have no idea what the last question is supposed to be referring to,
since CSICOP does not commission research.  It sounds like a question
more appropriately addressed to MUFON regarding its treatment of
investigators of the Gulf Breeze UFO sightings.

   Since Nicholas Spanos died tragically in an airplane crash just a
week or so before the conference, at the last minute clinical psychologist
William Cone from Newport Beach, Calif. was brought in.  (He was already
a conference attendee.)  He began by saying that he didn't bring any
slides, but if the whole audience would just look at the screen, research
shows that about 2% of us would see things on it anyway.  Cone said that
he has worked with a few dozen abductees, including some in locked wards
of mental institutions.  He argued that abduction research that he has seen
is very badly done, with the researchers imposing their views on their
subjects.  He offered a number of possible answers to the question "Why
would anyone make up stories like this?":  (1) for the money (he gave
a specific example from his own experience), (2) for notoriety and
attention (he said that he's had abductees tell him they had never told anyone
about their experience before, and then show up on a tabloid TV show a
week later), (3) for identity with a group of people.
   He seemed to rebut most of the claims made by Bullard and Mack about

   Also added to the program was abductee and hypnotherapist Sharon
Phillip (?), who was brought in by Mack.  She described her own
UFO sighting/abduction and promoted the usefulness of hypnotherapy.

   Also present was Donna Bassett, who passed herself off as an abductee
in Mack's group and then went public in the _Time_ magazine article
about Mack.  She stated that, just as women have been doing for
centuries, she faked it.  She had very strong words of criticism for
Mack's methodology and claimed that his clients are telling Mack what
he wants to hear, but say other things behind his back.  She accused him
of not getting informed consent from his clients about what they are
getting into.

   Mack replied by saying that he could not discuss her case because
of confidentiality, but that he was not convinced that she *wasn't*
really an abductee.  (He implied that he had reasons for thinking
this that he was not at liberty to discuss.)  He flat out denied
parts of her story, such as the part about his breaking her bed
while sitting on it from his enthusiastic reaction to her story about
being on a UFO with JFK and Kruschev.  He also suggested that Phil
Klass had put her up to her hoax, since her husband had worked with
Klass at _Aviation Week_.  This prompted the biggest outburst of
anger that I witnessed at the conference, from Klass, who stated that
he had not seen the Bassetts for many years and heard about the hoax
in the media like everybody else.  He subsequently contacted them,
and was responsible for Donna Bassett's being invited to the CSICOP

   There followed a series of audience questions and answers, including
several which expressed concern about Bassett being brought into the
conference without Mack's knowledge.  Some of these concerned audience
members changed their minds when told that Mack was already well aware
of the specifics of Donna Bassett's charges as a result of the _Time_

Well, that was Thursday, June 23.  I'll comment further later about
the two Friday sessions and Carl Sagan's keynote address,
the three Saturday sessions and the luncheon talk about CSICOP and
the Law, and the Sunday session--or perhaps others can jump in.

Jim Lippard               _Skeptic_ magazine:
lip...@ccit.arizona.edu  ftp://ftp.rtd.com/pub/zines/skeptic/
Tucson, Arizona           http://www.rtd.com/~lippard/skeptics-society.html

Newsgroups: sci.skeptic
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From: shea...@netcom.com (Robert Sheaffer)
Subject: Re: News of the CSICOP conference?
Message-ID: <sheafferCsy5EI.n1t@netcom.com>
Organization: NETCOM On-line Communication Services (408 261-4700 guest)
References: <forb0004.229.0036889A@gold.tc.umn.edu> <11JUL199415590395@skyblu.ccit.arizona.edu> <Jul13.044226.32392@acs.ucalgary.ca>
Date: Thu, 14 Jul 1994 20:11:05 GMT
Lines: 31

>In article <11JUL199...@skyblu.ccit.arizona.edu>,
>James J. Lippard <lip...@skyblu.ccit.arizona.edu> wrote:
>>   I showed up in the middle of a presentation by Thomas Bullard, who was
>>very impressed by what he claimed were amazing consistencies between
>>the accounts of abductees.  He argued against the claim (made by Baker?)
>>that the motifs in abduction stories can be traced to "Close Encounters
>>of the Third Kind" by pointing out the same motifs in earlier abduction
>>claims.  (Yeah, but what about earlier appearances of "Grey"-like aliens in
>>other science fiction?)

I was going to comment about this at the conference, were it not such a
mob scene that getting to a microphone became nearly impossible:

Bullard was right to object to Baker's statement that 'all these grey
aliens come from the 1977 movie CEIIIK'. (Bullard went on to cite some
pre-1977 examples).

However, Marty Kottmeyer makes a pretty good case tracing the origin of the
_genre_ to Barney Hill who in March 1964 (date from memory: beware FMS)
sketched an alien that had supposedly abducted him. This drawing was
subsequently widely published. Marty found out, however, that an episode
of _The Twilight Zone_ had aired with a nearly-identical alien, just
A FEW DAYS before Barney made his sketch. (The individual sessions with
Dr. Benjamin Simon were all carefully dated and transcribed, and fan
books tell when each _Twilight Zone_ episode first aired.)

        Robert Sheaffer - Scepticus Maximus - shea...@netcom.com
 Past Chairman, The Bay Area Skeptics - for whom I speak only when authorized!

        "As women and as lawyers, we must never again shy from raising our
         voices against sexual harrassment. All women who care about
         equality of opportunity - about integrity and morality in the
         workplace - are in Professor Anita Hill's debt."

                     -- Hillary Rodham Clinton, 8/9/92, at an American Bar 
                        Association luncheon honoring Anita Hill

        "I want to make it very clear that this middle class tax cut, in 
         my view, is central to any attempt we are going to make to have 
         a short term economic strategy and a long term fairness         
         strategy, which is part of getting this country going again."   

                     -- candidate Bill Clinton, ABC News Primary Debate,
                        Manchester, New Hampshire, 1/19/92                        

Friday, April 25, 2014

Spam email from Christine Jones for governor campaign

I received the following spam email today (a link on the email claims, falsely, that I opted in for it in October 2013) from the Christine Jones for governor campaign.  Jones is a former GoDaddy executive who looks like a terrible candidate for governor of Arizona.

Dear James,

        As a Republican candidate for Governor, I am frequently
asked where I stand on the issues important to our state-issues
ranging from immigration and education to economic development
and healthcare.

        At a recent forum I was asked one of the single-most
important questions that a candidate for political office can
face. The question was, "Where does your moral compass come
        At three years old, I climbed onto the Sunday School bus
that drove the neighborhood kids to the local evangelical church.

It was there that I learned about God and His Son, Jesus. Since
then, I have let my personal relationship with Him be my moral
        One of my life phrases is, "Do the right thing because
it's the right thing to do." I am not interested in making
excuses or politicizing important issues. I am interested in
doing things based on conviction and personal belief. As
Governor, I can promise you that I will adhere to my moral
        If you would like to hear more about my story and why I
am running for Governor, I invite you to join me Tuesday, April
29th, from 6:30-8:00pm at New Life Community Church of the
Nazarene in Show Low. I hope you can make it!


        Jones for Governor, Inc · Primary
        PO Box 13087
        Phoenix, AZ 85002-3087, United States
        Paid for by Jones for Governor, Inc.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Books read in 2013

Not much blogging going on here lately, but here's my annual list of books read for 2013:
  • Ross Anderson, Security Engineering: A Guide to Building Dependable Distributed Systems (2nd ed)
  • Deborah Blum, Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death
  • Peter Burke, A Social History of Knowledge: From Gutenberg to Diderot
  • J.C. Carleson, Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer
  • Ronald J. Deibert, Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace
  • Daniel Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking
  • Cory Doctorow, Homeland
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes (re-read, thanks to free Kindle edition)
  • Roger Ebert, Life Itself: A Memoir
  • John Forester, Novelist & Storyteller: The Life of C.S. Forester, vol. 1 & vol. 2
  • Martin Gardner, Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner
  • Adam Gorightly, The Prankster and the Conspiracy: The Story of Kerry Thornley and How He Met Oswald and Inspired the Counterculture
  • Jason Healey, editor, A Fierce Domain: Conflict in Cyberspace, 1986 to 2012
  • Jenna Miscavige Hill: Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape
  • Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford, The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win
  • Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin, The Unincorporated Man
  • Jon Krakauer, Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way
  • Phil Lapsley, Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell
  • Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero, Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids
  • David W. Maurer, The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Men
  • Philip Metcalfe, Whispering Wires: The Tragic Tale of an American Bootlegger
  • Torin Monahan, editor, Surveillance and Security: Technological Politics and Power in Everyday Life
  • Dale K. Myers, With Malice: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Murder of Officer J.D. Tippit
  • Adam Penenberg, Virtually True
  • Lewis Pinault, Consulting Demons: Inside the Unscrupulous World of Corporate Consulting
  • Stephen Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
  • Ann Rowe Seaman, America's Most Hated Woman: The Life and Gruesome Death of Madalyn Murray O'Hair
  • Karl Sabbagh, Shooting Star: The Brief and Brilliant Life of Frank Ramsey
  • Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations
  • Jim Schnabel, Remote Viewers: The Secret History of America's Psychic Spies
  • Tom Standage, Writing on the Wall: Social Media, The First 2,000 Years
  • Will Storr, Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science
  • John Sweeney, The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology
  • Jesse Walker, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory
  • Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief
I made progress on a few other books (first three still not finished from last year):
  • Mark Dowd, John McDonald, and Justin Schuh, The Art of Software Security Assessment: Identifying and Avoiding Software Vulnerabilities
  • James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed
  • Michal Zalewski, The Tangled Web: A Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications
  • Richard Bejtlich, The Practice of Network Security Monitoring
  • Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky, Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers
  • James Grimmelmann, Internet Law: Cases & Problems (v2; v3 is out now)
  • Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander, Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking
Top ten for 2013:  Ebert, Kahneman, Wright, Anderson, Pinker, Seaman, Walker, Sacks, Deibert, Dennett.  Runners Up: Blum, Kim, Miscavige Hill.

(Previously: 2012, 2011201020092008200720062005.)