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
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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