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Rational Inquiry -Volume 8 Number 1

SDARI's Public Lectures Have Been Varied and Interesting

By Keith Taylor

This is a Mea Culpa from your SDARI Board of Directors. For those of you who keep up with our doings through our newsletter, let us assure you we're doing fine and we haven't been deliberately keeping secrets from you. We just ran out of newsletter editors, the sort of hazard any volunteer outfit faces from time to time.

But things are looking up. Thanks again to the person who always bails us out, Edvard Hemmingsen, we are for now publishing a shorter version of Rational Inquiry. Let me also assure we'd be a lot more effective if we had someone to put out a more regular newsletter (hint hint). Otherwise we might have to resort to the ancient form of communications known as letter writing.

To start with, those who come to our meetings are catching some important speakers. We've had our usual assortment of top scientists, politicians, spoofers of things paranormal, health care professionals, and various others. In fact an advertisement for a national conference of CSICOP to be held in Albuquerque lists four who have spoken locally and three who have addressed SDARI. In addition several other subjects are the same ones we've tackled. If you're not doing so, make it to one of our next meetings. You'll have a good time and walk away better informed.

October 27, 2002: At least our folks usually walk away better informed, but perhaps not for the October meeting. Oh it was exciting, very exciting, but it was the least informative of all time. In fact, we darn near had a riot. Program chair, Keith Taylor, and Orange County historian, Mike Weeks, tried to illustrate how an unproven, and highly unlikely, claim was kept alive because of the persistence of a group of its adherents.

In 1967, the USS Liberty, an American spy ship, was deliberately attacked by the Israelis. Then, in accordance with the best traditions of urban legendry the Israelis "intended to not only sink our ship but kill everyone on board." All this was reputed to be covered up by a vast conspiracy.

Well, maybe it was intentional, maybe it wasn't. We'll never know for sure. Surely that meeting didn't prove much except it was a volatile subject. We were invaded by three people intent on shouting and not listening. Taylor and Weeks shouted back-a tactic not in good taste, nor productive. Once the shouting started the meeting became a shambles. One of our members (name withheld) threatened to take one of the disrupter's head off for calling us SDARI folks unpatriotic. We promise to try not to repeat such a thing again, no matter how exciting. Little was settled that night except that the Angels cinched the World Series.

November 24: This was also an exciting meeting, but one founded in solid science and one holding promise for exciting things in the future. John Smart, a recognized singularity studies expert, gave a well illustrated, and very animated lecture exploring the future in this day of accelerating change. Smart's very interesting website is Check it out then refer to it as time passes. He's talking about the future. Watch it unfold and see how prescient John Smart is.

January 26, 2003: The first lecture of the year is looking more and more important in today's world. Our own Elie Shneour gave a lecture on what are and what are not weapons of mass destruction. The talk was one of the most timely in our history. Such weapons, real or imaginary, will figure into the forthcoming election and the public's understanding of them will affect history.

Elie contends, "Chemical and biological weapons are not WMD. Nuclear, high explosives and incendiaries are the only weapons thus far devised that can cause mass destruction. Weight for weight, high explosives and incendiaries are cheaper, more effective, much more reliable, far easier to manufacture, to conceal and to deliver than any of the other classes of weapons. That is why both governments and terrorists universally use them."

Now, if he had told us where the things were hidden in Iraq, he could have helped the current administration avoid a lot of embarrassment.

February 23, 2003: Another member, Wesley Ellsberry, then on the verge of becoming Dr. Ellsberry, gave the February lecture. Lately the creationists have stopped their direct assault on evolution to make an end run around science. They claim that order cannot come from chaos. It has to have a guiding hand, and guess by whom that hand is guided. It plays well with the public but with few scientists. Ellsberry held the claims made on behalf of "intelligent design" up to the light and compared them to the deductions made by scientists using proven scientific methods. It was timely and pertinent to the challenges of rational thought. A SDARI congratulations to our newest PhD.

March 23, 2003:We really try to give a variety of talks. Otherwise too much gloom and doom will have all us weeping in our beer. March's speaker, Alex Boese (sounds about like Bearsa) certainly didn't have us weeping. He is the curator of the online, an online site that tells of many, many hoaxes that have been and are still continuing to be perpetrated on a gullible public. Most are hilarious but all are a reminder that as long as folks believe in silly things they're liable to do silly things. When things look too dark we will have to ask Alex Boese back to lighten things up. Meanwhile check out his web site. We guarantee that it'll make you smile, then worry because people out there really believe some of that stuff. Alex will be one of the featured speakers in Albuquerque. We hope to have him further involved in SDARI.

April 27, 2003: Autism is a terrible affliction that cries for help and that help must come from science. Sadly it often doesn't. Another member of SDARI, Dr. Gina Green, the Director of Professional Training and Research for The Institute for Effective Education gave us many poignant examples of therapies and practices that have the earmarks of "voodoo science." They derive from junk science, pseudoscience, pathological science, and even outright fraud-just the sort of thing SDARI ought to be looking at. Dr. Green described some of those therapies and practices, and she explored reasons for the continued-and perhaps increasing-popularity of voodoo science in autism treatment. We were proud to present such an important subject and we're proud that Dr. Green is a member.

May 25, 2003: James Underdown has been a whirlwind since he took over as executive director for the Center for Inquiry, West. Still he found time to visit us and tell us about his visit to sessions held by James Edward and James VanPraagh, those fellows who talk to the dead and make millions of dollars doing it. Personally I'm always amazed at those guys who cross that line into the great unknown and bring back answers to great problems, like "was Aunt Minnie really sorry she said something nasty?" James takes the mystery out of it. Folks like him remind us that believing in silly stuff causes us to do silly things.

June 22, 2003: The Pacific Ocean is one of San Diego's most valuable assets. Folks travel thousands of miles just to stick their toes in it. Still we always hear how dirty the water is. Is that true? Should we avoid it and let the tourists risk their toes rather than immerse ourselves in it? SDARI's own Barbara Hemmingsen, microbiology professor at SDSU, gave us a scientist's opinion on this recurring problem. Furthermore she told of the different sorts of pollution, which is deadly, which is more benign. We were cautioned that the ocean has all sorts of living and dead matter in it that may not be appealing to think about but which is natural and will be there whether we like it or not.

The mayor of San Diego, the entire city council, the county board of supervisors, and the county science advisory board were invited. None came and that's a shame. Still, I think we ought to keep inviting such when lectures have such a community-wide appeal.

July 27, 2003. On 9/11 virtually every American watched in horror as two of the proudest monuments to our strength and wealth came crashing to the ground taking the lives of 3000 of our fellow citizens. America was at war again. This time it was a war against a completely different type of enemy. We were angry and we were scared. The enemy was hidden and had no regard for any of the so-called "rules" of combat. The president asked for and congress granted extraordinary powers to fight this insidious new threat.

Now some are having second thoughts. Is all that power necessary? Is it too much? Have we given away so much to be safe that we now have to fear those who are supposed to protect us? Those thoughts were articulated well by the July speaker, Judge Victor Ramirez. Did he settle the issue? Judging from the reaction I'd say he did for some and didn't for others. Surely everybody who attended came away much better informed about the constitution and how it fits in with the current situation.

Keep coming and keep plugging the one organization devoted to taking a hard look at what's being told. And let us know what you think of our programs folks. We'll continue to make it interesting.

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