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eSkeptic for February 14, 2018

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 12:00am

In this week’s eSkeptic:

In this week’s eSkeptic, Kevin McCaffree reviews the forthcoming book The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars (March 21, 2018) in which sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have produced the first systematic theoretical analysis of the moral culture of “victimhood” emerging on university campuses.

Honor, Dignity, Victim
A Tale of Three Moral Cultures

Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have produced the first systematic theoretical analysis of the moral culture of “victimhood” emerging on university campuses. Central to their interesting and thought-provoking investigation is the claim that moral cultures tend to take one of three forms: honor cultures, dignity cultures and victim cultures.

Honor cultures emerge when a centralized state authority is not present or not legitimate and when people are extremely materially vulnerable. Under these conditions, people will take offense very easily, grow quickly fearful, and engage in higher rates of defensive, pre-emptive aggression as well as vigilante justice in order to settle their disputes. In the worst-case scenario, this pre-emptive aggression can develop into bloody feuds enveloping whole families, gangs or lineages. Physical bravery, deferential respect to the powerful and an unwillingness to appear weak and vulnerable consequently become paramount values.

Citing Steven Pinker, Donald Black, and others,1 Campbell and Manning then suggest that slowly over the last 500 years, state authority (police, courts and jails) has come to supplant vigilante justice as a powerful and reasonably fair system of adjudicating disputes regardless of their severity. Societies over the last 500 years have not only become more reliant on state authority to resolve disputes, but also materially wealthier due to machine technology and market economies, relatively more equitable in terms of the distribution of resources, power and prestige, as well as more diverse due to the formal legal rights and benefits extended to women and minorities.

In a dignity culture, people in this more modern form of society may resort to legal authority when disputes and wrongdoings are sufficiently severe, but otherwise they will make efforts to privately resolve disputes in a non-violent manner. In such a society, all citizens are assumed to have a sense of dignity and self-restraint, and everyone is expected to, at least at first, give the benefit of the doubt to a disputant to see if a conflict can be resolved peacefully. However, Campbell and Manning contend that when state authority begins to exert monopolizing control over a population of increasingly diverse, legally “equal” people, a victim culture may emerge.

Victim cultures share in common with honor cultures the sensitivity to slights or insults, but whereas those in an honor culture might try to retaliate (physically or otherwise), people in a victim culture will instead appeal to a powerful, omnipresent state/legal authority. Classic examples are Mao’s China and Stalin’s Russia. In contrast to honor cultures that expect victims to be strong and stern enough to defend themselves, and dignity cultures that expect victims to be calm and charitable when in a dispute or disagreement, victim cultures emphasize how complainants are emotionally or physically fragile, vulnerable, and weak. In order to have high status in a victim culture, one must perfect and dramatize a personal “narrative of suffering.”2 Confidently espousing one’s own weakness, frailty, and suffering might seem, perhaps, dishonorable or shameful from an honor culture perspective, or gratuitous and self-absorbed from a dignity culture perspective. […]

Read the complete review

EXCERPT FROM HEAVENS ON EARTH Near-death experiences: inside the scientific search for the afterlife

In 1984, a migrant worker named Maria was being treated in hospital in Seattle for a heart attack when she suffered another cardiac arrest. After being resuscitated she reported that she had floated out of her body up to the ceiling, from where she could observe medical personnel working on her. Most remarkably, she says, she then journeyed outside the hospital room, where she saw a tennis shoe on the ledge of a third-floor window.

Her social worker, Kimberly Clark, says she went up to the third floor and found a shoe on a window ledge: “The only way she could have had such a perspective was if she had been floating right outside and at very close range to the tennis shoe. I retrieved the shoe and brought it back to Maria.”

Clark said that, to her, this was “very concrete evidence” of near-death experiences. These phenomena are typically characterised by:

  • An out-of-body experience with the feeling of floating above one’s body and looking down
  • Separation from the body
  • Entering darkness through a tunnel or hallway
  • Seeing a bright light at the end of the tunnel that serves as a passageway to the “other side”
Proof of the afterlife?

A Gallup poll in 1982 reported that 5 per cent of adult Americans have experienced a near-death experience (NDE). And a slew of best­selling books in recent years lays out what those who have NDEs believe they are proof of, and where they went during their trip–notably Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander.

Do NDEs represent proof of an afterlife? We have only the word of Maria and her social worker that her incident happened at all. The journalist Gideon Lichfield noted when he tried to chase down the story for an article in The Atlantic that it was “thin on the evidential side”.

Near-death experiences on the operating table can be hugely powerful. But are they really a foretaste of the hereafter – or just a neurological blip?

Any explanation for the NDE must begin with the fact that the people who experience them are not actually dead. They are approaching their potential end, however–a state in which the brain may undergo stress, be deprived of oxygen, release neurochemicals that can mimic the hallucinatory trips of drug users, or experience any one of the dozens of neurological anomalies, abnormalities or disorders that have been documented by neurologists and neuroscientists.

In their accounts, experiences will often emphasise that they were “clinically dead” in order to convince people their experience was miraculous or supernatural. However, Mark Crislip, an emergency doctor in the US, reviewed the original brain scan readings of a number of patients claimed by scientists as being flatlined or dead and discovered that they weren’t dead at all. “What they showed was slowing, attenuation, and other changes, but only a minority of patients had a flat line and it took longer than 10 seconds.”

Altered states

Many of NDE accounts are indistinguishable from those of people who have had drug-induced hallucinatory trips. Take Eben Alexander’s story of his “trip” to the afterlife during a meningitis-induced coma. There he met a beautiful young woman and together they travelled on the wing of a butterfly: “In fact, millions of butterflies were all around us… It was a river of life and colour.” Alexander was overwhelmed with a feeling of love, not friendship or romantic but “somehow beyond all these, beyond all the different compartments of love we have down here on Earth.

“It was something higher, holding all those other kinds of love within itself while at the same time being much bigger than all of them.”

Compare Eben Alexander’s trip with the “trip” taken by the neuroscientist Sam Harris after he and a friend ingested a dose of the drug MDMA, which he details in his book, Waking Up. Harris reports that he was overwhelmed with love for his friend. More than this, Harris says, “came the insight that irrevocably transformed my sense of how good human life could be… I suddenly realised that if a stranger had walked through the door, he or she would have been fully included in this love”.

Psychedelic drugs can have similar emotional effects. A single dose of LSD given to cancer patients by the psychiatrist Stephen Ross, for example, not only reduced their depression and anxiety, but the effects were so dramatic that, Ross said, “they were saying things like ‘I understand love is the most powerful force on the planet’. The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding”. […]

Read the full excerpt

This is an edited extract from Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality and Utopia, by Michael Shermer. It appeared on inews.co.uk on February 13, 2018.

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MONSTERTALK EPISODE 149 Winchester’s Cathedral

The Winchester Mystery House is a sprawling Victorian mansion in San Jose, California. It is a famous piece of American architectural history, yet nearly every story commonly told about its mysterious history is likely untrue. In this episode of MonsterTalk, we are joined by Colin Dickey, author of the fantastic book Ghostland to discuss the case of the Winchester house and some of the other fascinating places he covers in his fascinating work.

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Honor, Dignity, Victim A Tale of Three Moral Cultures

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 12:00am

Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have produced the first systematic theoretical analysis of the moral culture of “victimhood” emerging on university campuses. Central to their interesting and thought-provoking investigation is the claim that moral cultures tend to take one of three forms: honor cultures, dignity cultures and victim cultures.

Honor cultures emerge when a centralized state authority is not present or not legitimate and when people are extremely materially vulnerable. Under these conditions, people will take offense very easily, grow quickly fearful, and engage in higher rates of defensive, pre-emptive aggression as well as vigilante justice in order to settle their disputes. In the worst-case scenario, this pre-emptive aggression can develop into bloody feuds enveloping whole families, gangs or lineages. Physical bravery, deferential respect to the powerful and an unwillingness to appear weak and vulnerable consequently become paramount values.

Citing Steven Pinker, Donald Black, and others,1 Campbell and Manning then suggest that slowly over the last 500 years, state authority (police, courts and jails) has come to supplant vigilante justice as a powerful and reasonably fair system of adjudicating disputes regardless of their severity. Societies over the last 500 years have not only become more reliant on state authority to resolve disputes, but also materially wealthier due to machine technology and market economies, relatively more equitable in terms of the distribution of resources, power and prestige, as well as more diverse due to the formal legal rights and benefits extended to women and minorities.

In a dignity culture, people in this more modern form of society may resort to legal authority when disputes and wrongdoings are sufficiently severe, but otherwise they will make efforts to privately resolve disputes in a non-violent manner. In such a society, all citizens are assumed to have a sense of dignity and self-restraint, and everyone is expected to, at least at first, give the benefit of the doubt to a disputant to see if a conflict can be resolved peacefully. However, Campbell and Manning contend that when state authority begins to exert monopolizing control over a population of increasingly diverse, legally “equal” people, a victim culture may emerge.

Victim cultures share in common with honor cultures the sensitivity to slights or insults, but whereas those in an honor culture might try to retaliate (physically or otherwise), people in a victim culture will instead appeal to a powerful, omnipresent state/legal authority. Classic examples are Mao’s China and Stalin’s Russia. In contrast to honor cultures that expect victims to be strong and stern enough to defend themselves, and dignity cultures that expect victims to be calm and charitable when in a dispute or disagreement, victim cultures emphasize how complainants are emotionally or physically fragile, vulnerable, and weak. In order to have high status in a victim culture, one must perfect and dramatize a personal “narrative of suffering.”2 Confidently espousing one’s own weakness, frailty, and suffering might seem, perhaps, dishonorable or shameful from an honor culture perspective, or gratuitous and self-absorbed from a dignity culture perspective.

Campbell and Manning find this victim culture emerging anew in Western society, particularly on university campuses and especially on elite ivy-league schools. These places contain all of the components necessary for a victim culture to arise: (1) campuses tend to be racially/ethnically diverse (relative to other institutions in society), (2) an ethic of equal treatment under a shared identity (“student”) is emphasized, (3) students tend to come from relatively comfortable middle-class backgrounds, and (4) universities are largely run by powerful administrative bureaucracies prone to stretching their authority (in the form of Title IX offices, student conduct offices, or multicultural/diversity offices, for example). These administrative bureaucracies serve as “state”-like authorities on university campuses, justifying their existence through the allegedly necessary enforcement of speech codes, dress codes, sex codes, etc. And, indeed, this administrative bureaucracy grows larger by the year—over the last half decade or so, faculty and student enrollment has increased by about 50 percent, while administrative staff has increased a staggering 240 percent.3

Victim Culture’s Discontents

As sociologists, Campbell and Manning are interested not only in the correlates and structure of “victim culture,” but also in the consequences of the spread of this culture’s influence. They point out early in the first chapter that seeking out offense in order to complain to third parties and garner support was actually, up until recently, considered a distinctly unusual and non-normative way to handle minor frustrations. For adults, the authors argue, mainstream modern American society has expected a degree of thick skin, restraint, and a willingness to charitably interpret the intentions of others (dignity culture).

By contrast, contemporary victim culture narratives assert that institutions in the West are cesspools of white supremacist, patriarchal, transphobic, exploitive oppression, and therefore anyone who is perceived to be “in power” (the usual culprit is heterosexual white males) must therefore be benefitting from or perpetuating systems of heterosexist white supremacist misogynist fascism. But here is the twist: anyone who takes offense or considers themselves “harmed” in some way by those in power, and who is bold enough to complain to authorities about it, is therefore a messenger of emancipatory justice. As Campbell and Manning explain the process: “People identified as victims thus receive recognition, support, and protection. In these settings victimhood becomes increasingly attractive” (106). To take offense ever more easily is to demonstrate a righteous eagerness to vanquish evil.

As a result, according to Campbell and Manning, people in victim cultures engage in competitive victimhood displays. They will relay true, semi-true, and sometimes completely fabricated “atrocity stories,” about how people and institutions (whites, men, media, government, family, education and so on) in Western society are so brutally bigoted that they must be destroyed or re-made. These extraordinary, comprehensively hopeless claims easily invite extremism, and as the fervor boils over, it becomes difficult to “distinguish between rumors and realities.” And given the urgent implications of living in a sexist, racist, fascist society, “no one is interested in this distinction” (10).

Campbell and Manning argue that victim cultures produce “crybullies” who find ever-more subtle ways to become offended and morally outraged. The more seemingly innocuous the behavior, the more important it is for crybullies to be offended by it—being offended by extremely minor behaviors or words demonstrates how “educated,” “insightful,” or “woke” one is to hetero-sexist patriarchal white supremacy. The more easily offended a person can get, the more knowledgeable they must be about oppression and bigotry. And if a member of a victim culture is not the one who found offense at something but instead simply wants to foment outrage, they can engage in what Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt call “vindictive protectiveness.”4

Vindictive protectiveness involves supporting the complainant (no “evidence” needed because it is axiomatic that the West is brutally oppressive) with encouragement and resources, while attempting to take the job or tarnish the reputation of the accused person. If the accused is disgraced, their reputation destroyed, and their job lost, the offended person has won a great victory against Western oppression. Of course, this vindictive protectiveness and competitive victimhood quickly turns into a “purity spiral” where members of victim cultures accuse one another of being racist, sexist, transphobic bigots in order to appear even more victimized or vulnerable and therefore more deserving of support and resources than their peers.

Following Jonathan Haidt’s work on the topic, Campbell and Manning point out that victim cultures may produce higher rates of mental illness by encouraging members to magnify negative interpretations of social encounters, assume sinister intent in others, and by labeling entire groups of people such as whites or males as white supremacist or toxically masculine. Victim cultures confer status based on how hostile, paranoid, and cynical members are capable of being. In this way, victim cultures might initiate mental illness symptomology, or exacerbate underlying depressive and anxiety disorders.5

Victim Culture’s Future

Campbell and Manning find that victim culture is relatively less common among poor women and minorities; indeed, the most prominent bastions of victim culture are elite university campuses such as Oberlin, Brown, Yale, Claremont McKenna, or Occidental College. They note that, for example, the median family income at Middlebury College, where student protestors recently shut down a speaker they deemed a racist, sexist, anti-gay fascist, is $240,000, almost five times as much as the average US family. On this account, middle and upper-middle class women and minorities, with their own aspirations to elite positions, might be using claims of victimization to garner legal/bureaucratic support and resources in an attempt to secure a valuable advantage over the wealthy white males they see as dominating positions of power.

Much victim culture, as a result, is not so much a critique of oppression and bigotry as it is a critique of white men and a valorization of those who are not white men. In support of such a contention, Campbell and Manning cite instances of victim culture members insisting that only whites can be racist (minorities can never be racist because they are not in power), only men can be sexist (women can’t be sexist, as their existence is a constant struggle for survival against male violence and exploitation), and that the oppressed cannot act unlawfully (because the oppressed are merely seeking protection and safety). Campbell and Manning provide a mountain of interesting examples, such as the UC Berkeley assistant professor of education who argued that whiteness is intrinsically violent, or the Oklahoma high school teacher who said that “To be white is to be racist, period” (90).

These kinds of direct attacks on whites, males, and anyone else deemed privileged or powerful spark a process that Campbell and Manning refer to as “opposition leading to imitation.” Attacking whites or males for the sin of being white or male produces a backlash of identity politics whereby white nationalists and truly misogynistic groups join forces in combating perceived threats to their identity. As a consequence, people on the political Right begin mimicking the victim culture of their adversaries, claiming that being white or male is now a victimized identity in need of rallied support.

Once whites, males, and anyone else perceived to have power comes to see themselves as being victimized by social justice warriors they become motivated to investigate the veracity of victim culture ideology. The fact that, for example, people categorized as “Asian” in the US Census actually have higher per capita incomes than Whites, undermines the notion that whites uniformly benefit from a “white privilege” rooted in the oppression of minorities. When victim culture’s narrative of suffering becomes so ideological that it begins to reveal itself as inaccurate, more reasonable and legitimate claims of discrimination and inequality might be doubted or ignored. In this way, victim culture can become so enamored with its own suffering that its clearly gratuitous demonization of groups perceived as powerful leads normal people to be unduly skeptical of actual, legitimate claims of inequality and abuses of power.

Consequently, Campbell and Manning do not have a terribly optimistic view of the future. They remark that, “the vilification of whites and males might lead to greater support for those who champion the superiority of these groups,” and that “it is likely that the influence of white identity politics is beginning to grow and will continue to gain in popularity as victimhood expands” (159). And, expand it will. Due to victim culture being more common at prestigious private and Ivy League universities, students indoctrinated into victim cultures are likely to join and shape the occupations they eventually enter, including influential jobs in media, medicine, law, and politics. Also, in a very incisive point, Campbell and Manning note that upwardly mobile young parents who want their children to go to good universities might feel pressured to adopt the values of victim culture. Such widespread adoption of victim culture by parents hoping to assimilate their children into the middle class would further the culture’s general spread among the population.

An Important Work at an Important Time

Campbell and Manning understand that their efforts to analyze victim culture will be critiqued by members of victim cultures as racist, sexist, transphobic, and so on. They say that, while this would otherwise deter them from wading into this area of research, such accusations are actually a standard, expected reaction from members of victim cultures. Understanding this, Campbell and Manning trudge forward and continue exploring the phenomenon, fully aware that regardless of their conclusions, many will treat the very attempt at inquiry as racist, sexist, and all the rest.

Campbell and Manning are only interested in providing an honest and careful sociological account of a newly emerging moral culture. Though the book may at times seem polemical, the reality is that the subject matter is itself polemical, and Campbell and Manning do a good job of stating their scientific intent. In the first chapter, for example, they insist that their analysis, “does not imply that any particular victim sought out or enjoys whatever status victimhood conveys. It does not imply that this status outweighs other disadvantages they might have. And it does not imply that anyone’s grievances are illegitimate or that those who point out their marginality are being dishonest” (24).

This book is an important addition to the sociology of morality in its documentation of the contours of a newly emerging moral culture. It is worth considering, though, whether this “victim culture” is really something new, or if it is simply the result of a new generation adopting the vexatious litigation common of Americans for at least the last 40 years. People seem to sue, or threaten to sue, everyone for everything and this behavior is very similar to the tendencies Campbell and Manning find in victim culture. Victim culture might really be just a variant of honor culture that emerges in a relatively materially comfortable, strong-state social system.

Lastly, while victim culture’s insistence on the presence of constant horrific abuses of power is over-drawn and clearly strategically exaggerated, it may still be a unique historical case of a culture ostensibly motivated to reduce abuse and inequality. By Campbell’s and Manning’s own admission, neither honor cultures nor dignity cultures are so concerned with equality and fairness. On a Nietzschean account, this empathic orientation is a result of the far Left’s increasingly secular interpretation of Christianity’s obsession with a tortured messiah. Christianity was, for Nietzsche, a “slave morality,” which regarded suffering and weakness as virtuous—such a view is typified in the Christian aphorism that the meek shall inherit the earth. Through this lens, victim culture is a secularizing strain of Christianity. This line of analysis is noticeably absent from Campbell’s and Manning’s work, though this omission is small given the otherwise careful nuance of the book.

About the Author

Kevin McCaffree is assistant professor of sociology at Indiana-Purdue University (Ft. Wayne), where he teaches criminology and sociology of religion. His theoretical and empirical work has appeared in a diverse array of academic outlets including Journal of Drug and Alcohol Review, Handbook of Contemporary Sociological Theory, and Religion, Brain and Behavior. He is currently co-editor with Jonathan H. Turner of Evolutionary Analysis in the Social Sciences.

References
  1. Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Viking; Black, Donald. 2011. Moral Time. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Schwyzer, Hugo. 2006. “‘Narratives of Suffering Overcome’: Admissions Essays and a Lamentable Trend.” History News Network, November 27.
  3. Ginsberg, Benjamin. 2011. The Fall of the Faculty. New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Lukianoff, George, and Jonathan Haidt. 2015. “The Coddling of the American Mind.” The Atlantic, 316 (2), 42–52.
  5. Lilienfeld, Scott O. 2017. “Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence.” Perspectives on psychological science, 12(1), 138–169.
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Skeptoid #610: The Keepers of Flannan Light

Skeptoid Feed - Mon, 02/12/2018 - 4:00pm
Mystery clouds the story of what happened to these three vanished lighthouse keepers.
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

eSkeptic for February 7, 2018

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 12:00am

In this week’s eSkeptic:

SCIENCE SALON # 18 Dr. Carol Tavris talks with Dr. Michael Shermer about his new book Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia

In his most ambitious work yet—a scientific exploration into humanity’s obsession with the afterlife and quest for immortality—bestselling author and skeptic, Michael Shermer, sets out to discover what drives humans’ belief in life after death, focusing on recent scientific attempts to achieve immortality along with utopian attempts to create heaven on earth.

For millennia, religions have concocted numerous manifestations of heaven and the afterlife, and though no one has ever returned from such a place to report what it is really like—or that it even exists—today science and technology are being used to try to make it happen in our lifetime. From radical life extension to cryonic suspension to mind uploading, Shermer considers how realistic these attempts are from a proper skeptical perspective.

Heavens on Earth concludes with an uplifting paean to purpose and progress and how we can live well in the here-and-now, whether or not there is a hereafter.

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SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN “SKEPTIC” COLUMN FOR FEBRUARY 2018 Alvy’s Error and the Meaning of Life: Science Reveals Our Deepest Purpose

In a flashback scene in the 1977 film Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s character Alvy Singer is a depressed young boy who won’t do his homework because, as he explains to his doctor: “The universe is expanding…. Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart, and that will be the end of everything.” His exasperated mother upbraids the youth: “What has the universe got to do with it?! You’re here in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is not expanding!”

Call it “Alvy’s Error”: assessing the purpose of something at the wrong level of analysis. The level at which we should assess our actions is the human timescale of days, weeks, months and years—our life span of fourscore plus or minus 10—not the billions of years of the cosmic calendar. It is a mistake made by theologians when arguing that without a source external to our world to vouchsafe morality and meaning, nothing really matters.

One of the most prominent theologians of our time, William Lane Craig, committed Alvy’s Error in a 2009 debate at Columbia University with Yale University philosopher Shelly Kagan when he pronounced: “On a naturalistic worldview, everything is ultimately destined to destruction in the heat death of the universe. As the universe expands, it grows colder and colder as its energy is used up. Eventually all the stars will burn out, all matter will collapse into dead stars and black holes, there will be no life, no heat, no light—only the corpses of dead stars and galaxies expanding into endless darkness. In light of that end, it’s hard for me to understand how our moral choices have any sort of significance. There’s no moral accountability. The universe is neither better nor worse for what we do. Our moral lives become vacuous because they don’t have that kind of cosmic significance.” […]

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A NEW STORY How Aron Ra Became a Card-Carrying Skeptic

Aron Ra is an atheist activist, science communicator, former president of the Atheist Alliance of America, and the host of the Ra-Men Podcast. Become a Card-Carrying Skeptic by telling us your story.

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Do “violent” video games pose “as big a health risk as alcohol and drug abuse” and are they “ruining the youth of America”? In this week’s eSkeptic, Terence Hines reviews Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong, by Patrick M. Markey and Christopher J. Ferguson.

Virtual Violence

a review by Terence Hines

Video games, especially so-called “violent” games, are the latest in a long string of new entertainment media to be accused of “ruining the youth of America.” Video games as the cause of all sorts of societal ills have been preceded by dime novels, comic books, violent TV shows, and movies and songs with sexy or racy lyrics. In 2002, Gerard Jones published Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence (Basic Books), the first book, as far as I know, to critically examine the hysteria over alleged effects of make-believe violence in the media on children. It focused on all media, not just video games, and concluded that such media posed no threat.

Since Jones’ 2002 book, video games, especially violent video games (hereinafter VVGs), have been the focus of worry that VVGs lead to adolescent violence, even school shootings (think Columbine), and are as addictive and dangerous as drugs. Markey and Ferguson show in their new book Moral Combat that not only are video games, even the violent first-person shooter games, innocent of the charges made against them, video games can and do have positive influences on their players. The authors begin with a brief history of video games and other supposedly harmful media. For example, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, a crusader against comic books, believed that comics caused juvenile delinquency and that Batman and Robin encouraged homosexuality. His 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent (Rinehart) was an important part of the crusade against comics. It turns out that Wertham “overstated and potentially even fabricated much of his data” (p. 32) that he used to castigate comics.

The crusade against video games is a moral panic akin to that seen in the panic over ritual satanic child abuse.

Markey and Ferguson argue, correctly in my view, that the crusade against video games is a moral panic akin to that seen in the panic over ritual satanic child abuse. Throughout the book they make the interesting point that the crusade is led by those who have little familiarity with the video games they attack, the gamers involved, or the gaming culture that has grown up around the games. They note that the researchers who do research aimed at showing the games’ deleterious effects are largely older individuals who have little knowledge of the gamers or contact with the gamers. […]

Read the complete review

Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Virtual Violence

Skeptic.com feed - Tue, 02/06/2018 - 11:00am

Video games, especially so-called “violent” games, are the latest in a long string of new entertainment media to be accused of “ruining the youth of America.” Video games as the cause of all sorts of societal ills have been preceded by dime novels, comic books, violent TV shows, and movies and songs with sexy or racy lyrics. In 2002, Gerard Jones published Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence (Basic Books), the first book, as far as I know, to critically examine the hysteria over alleged effects of make-believe violence in the media on children. It focused on all media, not just video games, and concluded that such media posed no threat.

Since Jones’ 2002 book, video games, especially violent video games (hereinafter VVGs), have been the focus of worry that VVGs lead to adolescent violence, even school shootings (think Columbine), and are as addictive and dangerous as drugs. Markey and Ferguson show in their new book Moral Combat that not only are video games, even the violent first-person shooter games, innocent of the charges made against them, video games can and do have positive influences on their players. The authors begin with a brief history of video games and other supposedly harmful media. For example, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, a crusader against comic books, believed that comics caused juvenile delinquency and that Batman and Robin encouraged homosexuality. His 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent (Rinehart) was an important part of the crusade against comics. It turns out that Wertham “overstated and potentially even fabricated much of his data” (p. 32) that he used to castigate comics.

The crusade against video games is a moral panic akin to that seen in the panic over ritual satanic child abuse.

Markey and Ferguson argue, correctly in my view, that the crusade against video games is a moral panic akin to that seen in the panic over ritual satanic child abuse. Throughout the book they make the interesting point that the crusade is led by those who have little familiarity with the video games they attack, the gamers involved, or the gaming culture that has grown up around the games. They note that the researchers who do research aimed at showing the games’ deleterious effects are largely older individuals who have little knowledge of the gamers or contact with the gamers.

The anti-game moral panic has been heavily fueled by laboratory studies that purport to show that playing VVGs leads to increased aggressive behaviors. It was these studies that led to condemnation of the games by such organizations as the American Psychological Association. The APA group that wrote the condemnation of games was packed with anti-game researchers who evaluated their own research. Certainly nothing could be fairer!

The research on which the condemnation was based was shoddy. The laboratory conditions under which games’ effects were tested were very different from playing in the real world. Typically, gamers played a game new to them for a short period of time. They were then given some test of aggressiveness. As gamers know, playing a new game can be frustrating at first. When other studies controlled for the frustration effects, the so-called aggression effects went away. I say “so-called” because the measures of aggression were, to say the least, unrealistic. Subjects who played games were “more likely to expose others to loud, irritating noises, report feeling more hostile on a questionnaire, give longer prison sentences to hypothetical criminals” or, my personal favorite, “give hot sauce to people who do not like spicy food” (p. 54). Happily, the great popularity of VVGs seems not to have resulted in a rash of miscreants sneaking around surreptitiously putting hot sauce in innocent peoples’ meals. I’m so relieved!

By far the most serious charge against VVGs is that they are involved in school shootings, the worst being the 2012 slaughter of 20 children by Adam Lanza. At least one uninformed initial comment from law enforcement held that Lanza thought that carrying out the shooting would be like accumulating points in a VVG. In fact, Lanza did play a video game with what might be called obsessive interest. But it wasn’t a violent one; it was a dance game, Dance, Dance Revolution, in which the player gets points for being a better dancer. The reality of the relationship between VVGs and school shooters is the exact opposite of the school shooter stereotype. School shooters are much less likely to have been involved in VVGs than normal, non-shooters. Nonetheless, this stereotype has been ensconced in lists of “warning signs” of possible school violence.

The finding that shooters are less likely than others to play VVGs leads naturally to the question of why this is so. After all, if shooters are alienated loners and game players are also loners, shouldn’t shooters be game players? The answer to this seeming contradiction is that game players are far from the social isolates that older observers and non-gamers perceive them to be. Certainly, there are those individuals that live in their mother’s basement playing games all day. But they are the exception. Especially as gaming has become more popular, it has evolved into a much more social activity in which multiple gamers can play together. The authors describe research that shows “that most games are played in very functional social networks and are in fact social outlets for the people who play them” (p. 174) and that “particularly young people use video games to develop and maintain friendships” (p. 175). A quick Google search showed that there are numerous video game clubs (called meetups) and on-line newsletters for and about games and gamers. This sounds to me very much more social than that very socially approved hobby that I spend a good deal of time (and money) on—stamp collecting.

As if school shooters weren’t bad enough, video games are also said to be addictive, like a drug, even releasing quantities of dopamine when gamers play. In an outburst of hysteria typical of moral panics, on July 8, 2014 the British newspaper The Sun stated that video games were “as big a health risk as alcohol and drug abuse.” Does playing video games release dopamine? Of course it does. So does any other fun and pleasurable pastime. But the amount of dopamine released in gaming is dwarfed by that released by drugs. Drug addiction is qualitatively and quantitively different from game playing.

Having said that, do some gamers spend too much time and money on their games? Of course they do. And that can be a problem. But compare gaming to stamp collecting, as I did above. I’ve collected stamps since I was in grade school, as many did then. I spent a great deal of time playing and working with my stamps, and I was a bit of a loner for it. I know adults who fit the loner profile. I knew of children and adults who stole to support the philatelic habit. And I’m sure I get a nice squirt of dopamine in my nucleus accumbens when I finally obtain a desired stamp for my collection. And yet, during the heyday of stamp collecting, no one condemned it as a dire threat to the youth of America.

This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 22.4
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If games have no real negative consequences for the great majority of players, do they have any benefits? The answer here is yes. I noted above that modern gaming is a very social activity. It may help bring individuals who would otherwise be loners out of their shell and help them learn to interact with others as they engage in an enjoyable social activity. As to claims that game playing has beneficial cognitive effects for the young and the elderly, the evidence is less clear. My read is that there is some data showing that game playing may improve motor coordination, which is nice. As to claims that brain-training games can improve cognitive function in the aged or even slow down Alzheimer’s Disease, not only do these claims lack any evidential support, there is much evidence that they are false. It is true that playing a specific game makes you much better on that specific game, but there is little or no transfer of learning to other situations. The entire brain training industry is selling electronic snake oil.

Moral Combat presents a thorough and well-referenced look at the actual effects of video games. The writing is never pedantic and is often humorous. It is an enjoyable and informative read. In the end, it is clear that video games, violent or otherwise, don’t need to have large beneficial effects to justify their existence and use. They just need to be harmless fun, which they are.

About the Author

Dr. Terence Hines is a cognitive neuroscientist and professor at the Psychology Department, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY and adjunct professor of neurology at New York Medical College in Valhalla, NY. His research focuses on paranormal belief, the cognitive representation of numbers and, when he has time, the nature of bilingual memory. He is the author of Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. He received his undergraduate education at Duke University and his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. When not cogitating about brain stuff, he transforms into a student of how data from local postal activity of the 19th century in the US can illuminate the economic history of that time period.

Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Skeptoid #609: Were There Irish Slaves in America?

Skeptoid Feed - Mon, 02/05/2018 - 4:00pm
Online articles claiming the first slaves in the Americas were white are fictional and racially motivated.
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

eSkeptic for January 31, 2018

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 01/31/2018 - 12:00am

In this week’s eSkeptic:

A NEW STORY! How Michael Shermer Became a
Card-Carrying Skeptic

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101. He is the author of Why People Believe Weird Things, Why Darwin Matters, The Science of Good and Evil, and The Moral Arc. His latest book is Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality & Utopia.

Hear Michael’s story

TELL US YOUR STORY!

Tell us your story and become a card-carrying skeptic! Thank you for being a part of our first 25 years. We look forward to seeing you over the next 25. —SKEPTIC

Become a Card-Carrying Skeptic

Magic: Spiritualism and Theosophy
MONSTERTALK EPISODE 148

The 19th century saw the rise of a variety of secret and secretive movements. Free Masons, Spiritualists, Theosophy and Esoteric Orders give rise to a variety of mystic-themed groups whose influence lurks under the mainstream themes of the 19th century. In this episode of MonsterTalk, we talk with religious studies scholar John Crow about the birth of these movements and how they influenced 19th (and 20th) century thought.

Listen to episode 148

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John Crow

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pH diets, alkaline water, urine pH tests, pseudoscience and bogus cancer cures abound. In this week’s eSkeptic, Harriet Hall, M.D. combats the plague of pH misinformation by distinguishing pHacts from pHiction. (This column appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 22.2 in 2017.)

pH Mythology:
Separating pHacts from pHiction

by Harriet Hall, M.D.

The internet is a cornucopia of facts, some true and some “alternative” (in other words, lies). One topic that is particularly plagued by misinformation is pH. People are restricting their diet, buying alkaline water, testing their urine with pH test strips, and buying into bogus cancer cures, all on the basis of false pseudoscientific claims. Going back to basics will help us distinguish pHacts from pHiction.

A Quick Primer: pH 101

Click image to enlarge

pH stands for potential of hydrogen. It is a logarithmic scale from 0 to 14 that measures the concentration of hydrogen ions. Water is neutral at pH 7; solutions with a pH less than 7 are acidic; solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic, or alkaline. Logarithmic means the units represent 10-fold differences: pH 4 indicates 10 times as many hydrogen ions as pH 5. The pH of blood is maintained within a narrow range of 7.34–7.45 by a process known as acid-base homeostasis. Deviations are quickly corrected by compensatory mechanisms in the lungs and kidneys. The pH of stomach acid is 1.5–3.5, human skin 4.7, cerebrospinal fluid 7.5, and pancreas secretions 8.1. None of these are affected by the composition of the diet. The pH of urine can range from 4.6 to 8.0; it changes as the kidneys re-establish homeostasis after an acid or alkaline load. The pH of urine does not reflect the pH in blood or anywhere else in the body.

The Acid/Alkaline: Theory of Disease

This theory claims that too much acidity in the body causes disease, and that eating alkaline foods and drinking alkaline water will improve health. People are encouraged to test the pH of their urine to monitor their acid/alkaline balance. On Quackwatch, Dr. Gabe Mirkin explained that the acid/alkaline theory of disease is nonsense because dietary modification cannot change the acidity of any part of the body except the urine. He says, “If you hear someone say that your body is too acidic and you should use their product to make it more alkaline, you would be wise not to believe anything else the person tells you.”1

An herbalist offered a rebuttal, explaining that while the urine pH is not the same as blood pH, health is affected by small changes in blood pH within the normal range, and the urine pH is a good indicator of how hard your body is having to work to maintain homeostasis and how much stress that is putting on the body’s reserves.2 He claims that being on the low side of the normal blood pH range is unhealthy. There isn’t a shred of evidence to support those claims.

The Alkaline Diet

The alkaline diet leaps wildly to false conclusions from a simple fact: certain foods produce acid ash. In order to buffer the additional acid load, they say the body pulls out alkaline-rich minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium from the bones, teeth and organs. They say this leads to osteoporosis and fatigue, and compromises our immune system, making us vulnerable to viruses and disease. Avoiding acid foods will make the urine more alkaline, and people with alkaline urine are said to have a reduced risk of osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease. The alkaline diet is said to facilitate weight loss and increase energy. It is even used to treat cancer. Proponents offer testimonials and cite cherry-picked studies that seem to support their beliefs. However, systematic analyses of all the published scientific studies have determined that the evidence does not support the acid/alkaline theory of disease, so it should be dismissed as pseudoscience. […]

Read the full article

Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

pH Mythology: Separating pHacts from pHiction

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 01/31/2018 - 12:00am

The internet is a cornucopia of facts, some true and some “alternative” (in other words, lies). One topic that is particularly plagued by misinformation is pH. People are restricting their diet, buying alkaline water, testing their urine with pH test strips, and buying into bogus cancer cures, all on the basis of false pseudoscientific claims. Going back to basics will help us distinguish pHacts from pHiction.

A Quick Primer: pH 101

Click image to enlarge

pH stands for potential of hydrogen. It is a logarithmic scale from 0 to 14 that measures the concentration of hydrogen ions. Water is neutral at pH 7; solutions with a pH less than 7 are acidic; solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic, or alkaline. Logarithmic means the units represent 10-fold differences: pH 4 indicates 10 times as many hydrogen ions as pH 5. The pH of blood is maintained within a narrow range of 7.34–7.45 by a process known as acid-base homeostasis. Deviations are quickly corrected by compensatory mechanisms in the lungs and kidneys. The pH of stomach acid is 1.5–3.5, human skin 4.7, cerebrospinal fluid 7.5, and pancreas secretions 8.1. None of these are affected by the composition of the diet. The pH of urine can range from 4.6 to 8.0; it changes as the kidneys re-establish homeostasis after an acid or alkaline load. The pH of urine does not reflect the pH in blood or anywhere else in the body.

The Acid/Alkaline: Theory of Disease

This theory claims that too much acidity in the body causes disease, and that eating alkaline foods and drinking alkaline water will improve health. People are encouraged to test the pH of their urine to monitor their acid/alkaline balance. On Quackwatch, Dr. Gabe Mirkin explained that the acid/alkaline theory of disease is nonsense because dietary modification cannot change the acidity of any part of the body except the urine. He says, “If you hear someone say that your body is too acidic and you should use their product to make it more alkaline, you would be wise not to believe anything else the person tells you.”1

An herbalist offered a rebuttal, explaining that while the urine pH is not the same as blood pH, health is affected by small changes in blood pH within the normal range, and the urine pH is a good indicator of how hard your body is having to work to maintain homeostasis and how much stress that is putting on the body’s reserves.2 He claims that being on the low side of the normal blood pH range is unhealthy. There isn’t a shred of evidence to support those claims.

The Alkaline Diet

The alkaline diet leaps wildly to false conclusions from a simple fact: certain foods produce acid ash. In order to buffer the additional acid load, they say the body pulls out alkaline-rich minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium from the bones, teeth and organs. They say this leads to osteoporosis and fatigue, and compromises our immune system, making us vulnerable to viruses and disease. Avoiding acid foods will make the urine more alkaline, and people with alkaline urine are said to have a reduced risk of osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease. The alkaline diet is said to facilitate weight loss and increase energy. It is even used to treat cancer. Proponents offer testimonials and cite cherry-picked studies that seem to support their beliefs. However, systematic analyses of all the published scientific studies have determined that the evidence does not support the acid/alkaline theory of disease, so it should be dismissed as pseudoscience.

Alkaline promoting foods include most fruits and vegetables, soybeans, tofu, some nuts, seeds and legumes. Acid promoting foods to be avoided include dairy, meat, fish, most grains, fast foods, and processed foods. The top ten villains are: lard, peanut butter, cranberries, white pasta and bread, beef, corn oil, pork, potatoes, beer and hard liquor, and butter. There is reason to worry that advice to avoid all dairy, meat, fish, and grains might result in poor nutrition for some.

Alkaline Water

You can buy alkaline water or make your own. It is said to detoxify (a meaningless alternative medicine buzzword), hydrate (all water hydrates), oxygenate and act as an antioxidant (these are opposite effects: how could it do both?), change your body’s pH (no, it doesn’t), and enhance the immune system (based on the ridiculous claim that acidic foods cause the body’s cells to suffocate, break down and die, and this suffocation weakens the systems that support the immune system). Alkaline water is also said to help you lose weight, prevent diabetes, and cure psoriasis. None of these claims are supported by any scientific evidence. You can pay anywhere from 3.1 cents to $1.36 per ounce for alkaline water; even the least expensive products are a waste of money.

The Bob Wright Protocol

This protocol uses 11.5 pH water made with a Kangen machine. In this view, cancer is caused by microbes; there are many of these microbes in every cancer cell. They excrete highly acidic waste products called mycotoxins. When the microbes are killed, the cancer cells revert to normal cells. Killing them too quickly or too slowly are both counterproductive, and the Bob Wright protocol is designed to kill them at the optimum rate.3 I don’t think I need to point out how monumentally silly all that is.

Robert O. Young

All this nonsense about pH is more than just a harmless fad. Here’s where it gets really scary. Robert O. Young is a naturopath and author of the “pH Miracle” series of books. He says acid is the cause of all disease, alkalinization is the cure for everything, and there is no such thing as a cancer cell. Cancer surgeon and researcher Dr. David Gorski has debunked those ideas handily on the Science-Based Medicine blog.4 And on Quackwatch, Stephen Barrett has taken a critical look at “Dr.” Robert Young’s theories and credentials.5

Young appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show claiming to have cured a woman named Kim Tinkham of breast cancer. She died of breast cancer not long after she appeared on Oprah and told the world that she was cured. A number of other cancer patients have died under Young’s care.

It gets worse. A recent BBC News report was titled “The dying officer treated for cancer with baking soda.”6 A British army officer, Naima Houder-Mohammed, was treated conventionally for breast cancer, but it recurred and her condition was so serious she was offered end-of-life care. Grasping at any straw of hope, she found Dr. Young on the internet. They began an e-mail correspondence, and he offered her an 8–12 week treatment program at his “pH Miracle Ranch” in California, at a cost of $3000 a day. Naima’s family used their savings, ran fund-raising events, and got funding from a charity to cover her expenses. The treatment involved IV infusions of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). After three months at the Ranch, she got worse and was hospitalized. She flew back to the UK where she died at the age of 27. She was going to die anyway, but Young gave her false hope and billed her and her family $77,000 for treatments that were based on pseudoscience and couldn’t possibly work. He even insisted that she wire the funds to his office before she came to his Ranch.

Young told the BBC reporters, “All sickness and disease can be prevented by managing the delicate pH balance of the fluids of the body.” And “when your blood becomes acidic, something weird happens, and your blood cells transform into bacteria—a phenomenon he calls pleomorphism— thereby resulting in a diseased state.” And “Germs are nothing more than the biological transformation of animal, human or plant matter. They’re born out of that.” The BBC reporters called this “post-truth.” “Dangerous nonsense” would be a better descriptor.

When the BBC asked if he felt remorse, Young answered, “I don’t have remorse because of the thousands if not millions of people that have been helped through the [alkaline diet] programme.”

This column appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 22.2 in 2017. Order this issue.

Young has been prosecuted three times. The first time, he pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of attempted practice of medicine without a license; the charges were dismissed under a plea deal. In 2001 he was charged with a felony for telling a cancer patient to stop her chemotherapy and use his “Super Greens” product instead. The charges were dropped because the prosecutor didn’t think there were enough angry victims to get a conviction. In 2014, Young was arrested and charged with multiple counts of grand theft and practicing medicine without a license. Six cancer patients named in the complaint had died, but their survivors could testify that Young had claimed he could cure their cancer. The court found that he was not a medical doctor and had purchased his Ph.D. from a diploma mill.7 He is currently facing a three-year prison sentence for two counts of practicing medicine without a license, and he will be retried on six charges of fraud after the original jury deadlocked. He is also being sued for fraud by a woman who claims her treatable stage I cancer progressed to stage IV because she followed his advice instead of accepting conventional treatment.8

A basic understanding of physiology and acid-base balance and what constitutes scientific evidence is enough to dismiss the misinformation about pH—basic understanding that obviously a lot of people lack. That’s a sad commentary on our educational system, and it’s an even sadder commentary on our justice system, which allowed Young to harm so many people before it acted, and then acted so inadequately.

About the Authors

Dr. Harriet Hall, MD, the SkepDoc, is a retired family physician and Air Force Colonel living in Puyallup, WA. She writes about alternative medicine, pseudoscience, quackery, and critical thinking. She is a contributing editor to both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, an advisor to the Quackwatch website, and an editor of sciencebasedmedicine.org, where she writes an article every Tuesday. She is author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon. Her website is SkepDoc.info.

References
  1. http://bit.ly/2j2DQja
  2. http://bit.ly/2le3RgB
  3. http://bit.ly/2mv5l6j
  4. http://bit.ly/2maoo4y
  5. http://bit.ly/2lAthRs
  6. http://bbc.in/2iFxINn
  7. http://bit.ly/2mGNyWu
  8. http://bit.ly/2lYdHjK
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Skeptoid #608: Palm Oil Facts and Fiction

Skeptoid Feed - Mon, 01/29/2018 - 4:00pm
Is it a medical miracle, an environmental disaster, both, or neither?
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Psychology’s Unhealed Wound

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 01/24/2018 - 12:00am

Imagine 20 years ago that you bandaged up a deep wound, and now you peel back the bandages to find that only part of the wound had healed and that, in fact, a raging infection persists. That is analogous to the situation that Mark Pendergrast describes in Memory Warp.

In the early 1990s one of psychology’s most important debates arose between some psychologists who argued that the recovery of repressed memories was valid, and skeptical researchers who thought they were confabulations. The theory of repressed memory, first proposed by Sigmund Freud in 1895, states that traumatic events are often so threatening to the psyche that the mind encapsulates them, rendering them inaccessible for years, only to be recalled later in a safer environment (for example, a therapist’s office).

Many experimental memory researchers, such as David Holmes and Elizabeth Loftus, argued that there is no credible scientific evidence for repressed memory. A growing band of psychology researchers became suspicious that some practitioners were actually creating false abuse memories in clients.

It was a bitter and personal argument at times, but thankfully all seemed to calm down to a degree around the turn of the century—the ameliorative bandages seemed to be working. An American Psychology Association committee came to an uneasy compromise on the issue. Related high profile court cases seemed to decrease in number—those where psychotherapy clients would sue parents, clients would retract their memories and sue therapists, or parents of clients would sue therapists. Multimillion-dollar verdicts against psychotherapists made most counselors far more cautious about seeking to unearth purportedly repressed abuse memories.

Many in the beleaguered profession heaved a sigh of relief when the story faded away—and coverage in newspapers and television documentaries dwindled. However, a 2014 Psychological Science article found that many practicing psychologists, even mainstream ones, tended to believe in repressed memories more so than do researchers, and that the vast majority of the public still believes in the theory. Perhaps psychology’s largest wound has not in fact healed.

In Memory Warp, his unflinchingly bold new book, Mark Pendergrast warns that repressed memory recovery, and accompanying memory distortions, are still a major problem in contemporary society. The book is essential reading for all because it offers valuable protection from the most damaging of psychology’s modern practices. In Memory Warp, Pendergrast articulately and thoroughly explains the history and the dangers of therapies that uncover purportedly repressed memories of trauma. He meticulously describes past and current research and explains how beliefs in repressed memories still predominate in today’s society. For example, he provides evidence refuting the claims of The Keepers, a documentary released on Netflix in 2017 involving the case of a murdered Catholic nun and a priest accused of sexual abuse, which he argues has fallaciously re-enforced a belief in repressed memories in households across the nation.

The book consists of nine chapters. In Chapters 1–3, the reader is given an overview of how an increasing realization of the horror of real incest led to the practice of repressed memory therapy and how individuals became victims of false memories of childhood sexual abuse. His second chapter is a virtual master class in how human memory actually works, while the third explores hypnosis, panic attacks, dream interpretation, and other methods for creating a belief in recovered abuse memories. Chapter 4 goes into detail about how the multiple personality diagnosis and belief in satanic cults were politicized by therapists, and how the power of suggestion makes an individual more prone to developing false memories. The fifth chapter recaps the related day care sex abuse hysteria cases. In Chapter 6, Pendergrast explores the history of mistaken psychological beliefs, from the Great Witch Craze to Charcot, Freud, and the origins of the beliefs of multiple personality diagnosis and repressed memories. In Chapters 7–8, he provides the reader with cultural contexts and “religious” cult-like views that have allowed for the rise and continued belief in repressed memories. In Chapter 9, Pendergrast gives his final summary, providing good evidence that the belief in repressed memories is still prevalent in society, and that the practice of repressed memory therapy continues. He provides recommended legal and organizational changes that could possibly fix the issue. He ends by giving advice to torn families and therapists.

Pendergrast, an independent scholar and science writer, explains how the pseudoscientific fad of repressed memory recovery has impacted millions of families throughout the world. By his account, the rise in recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse stemmed largely from the publication of pseudoscientific books, most notably The Courage to Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis (first published in 1988, with the most recent edition in 2008). These authors, he argues, created a whole new generation of followers who believed that children who were sexually abused often repressed their memories. Pendergrast presents a convincing argument that these authors, and others writing similar material, inspired widespread echoing of such ideas in television shows, research articles, books, and national and international organizations. He makes an elegant argument that repressed memories of abuse are impossible and implausible.

Pendergrast presents remarkable insights that we have not read elsewhere. As just one of many examples, he discusses how late-19th century Austrian culture molded Freud’s work. Pendergrast relates how, in part, the problematic sexual attitudes and behaviors towards children of that culture led to Freud’s theories. Pendergrast argues this era gave rise to the theory of repressed memory of underage sexual activity or conflict, and to subsequent malpractice that has shaped some modern therapeutic theories and practices.

Child sexual abuse is a real and disturbing problem in society that is well worth more research, discussion, and corrective measures. Nevertheless, it is also an important matter to discuss false memories and accusations that can arise from flawed therapeutic and interviewing methods. Pendergrast provides an unbelievable transcript of such a case where a social worker used persistent suggestion towards a child that they were sexually abused (p. 221).

Pendergrast argues that some clinicians have brought about heartbreaking devastation by using suggestive therapy techniques, politicizing their agendas, and popularizing a new terminology, such as the push for multiple personality disorder (now known as dissociative identity disorder) to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980. He posits that this is one way that clinicians and researchers who support the theory of repressed memory continue to push their flawed beliefs. Their argument is that childhood sexual abuse can give rise to different personalities within one individual as some sort of coping mechanism. Pendergrast maintains that these therapists actually lead their patient into such a belief through suggestive techniques such as hypnosis.

Order the book from Amazon

Religion has also had some influence on the misguided belief of repressed memories. During the 1970s some Christian psychologists brought their religious beliefs about the threat of satanic influence into their psychological practices. In one example, Pendergrast describes how a woman began to see a Christian psychologist for therapy and consequently developed what appears to be false memory of abuse by her father, then disowned her parents and became dependent on her therapist. She then began to recall being a victim of a purported satanic cult. This example is not an isolated case: many books claimed that these satanic cults existed in the shadows of society for the sole purpose of degrading and sexually abusing children for ritualistic purposes. There is no evidence that such satanic cults exist or ever existed.

Overall, Pendergrast demonstrates how belief in the existence of repressed memories, and the corresponding practice, has come at a great cost. Many families have been destroyed by recovered therapy practices with millions of people coming to believe that they had repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. The worst transgression, Pendergrast argues, is the destruction of families in pursuit of a biased agenda—rather than allowing sound empirical research to guide them.

This book is a must read for lay-persons, but especially for all those entering the field of psychology, law, or social work. Of particular benefit would be the next generation of therapists who have not been exposed to the story of repressed memory malpractice that arose in previous decades but continues today. The book provides a history lesson on the pseudoscience that has plagued the field of psychology, specifically in the belief that inaccessible unconscious and traumatic memories can be recalled as exact representations of the past. Pendergrast eloquently criticizes that position and uses years of extensive research on the topic to offer a comprehensive picture. When there is accumulating evidence refuting your position, one must be willing to accept the supported evidence, in the name of good science and the public good.

Order the book from Amazon

Finally, in 2017 Mark Pendergrast published two related books to Memory Warp. The Repressed Memory Epidemic: How It Happened and What We Need to Learn from It (Springer, 628 pages, $139) is an academic textbook version with chapter abstracts and discussion questions, and an appendix with Pendergrast’s verbatim interviews with therapists, “survivors,” the accused, and retractors conducted in the early 1990s. These interviews, along with full endnotes and bibliography, are also available for download.

About the Authors

Mario E. Herrera is a doctoral student in cognitive psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi, were he focuses on false memory and memory for emotions. He earned his Bachelors of Arts degree in Psychology from California State University, Northridge.

Lawrence Patihis is a socio-cognitive tenure-track Assistant Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. He received a doctorate from the University of California, Irvine, where he was advised by the memory researchers Elizabeth Loftus and Linda Levine.

Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

eSkeptic for January 24, 2018

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 01/24/2018 - 12:00am

In this week’s eSkeptic:

SCIENCE SALON # 17 Caltech Theoretical Physicist and Nobel Laureate, Dr. Kip Thorne, in conversation with Dr. Michael Shermer

Kip S. Thorne (photo by Bengt Nyman from Vaxholm, Sweden (Kip S. Thorne EM1B8790) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Join us for what promises to be one of the deepest and most profound conversations we’ve had in our Science Salon series as Dr. Thorne reflects on his life and career in theoretical physics, his pursuit of the detection of the long-elusive gravitational waves through the LIGO detector, his relationship and bet with Stephen Hawking, how he came to consult on Carl Sagan’s Contact and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, his curious work on black holes, wormholes, and time travel, and what it’s like to go to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize.

Discussion in the main lecture hall at the École de Physique des Houches (Les Houches Physics School), 1972. From left, Yuval Ne’eman, Bryce DeWitt, Kip Thorne. (Photo by A. T. Service (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Reserve your seat(s) online or by calling 1-626-794-3119. Online reservation closes Sunday February 18, 2017 at 11am PDT.

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NEW REVIEWS & MEDIA INTERVIEWS Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia

In his most ambitious work yet—a scientific exploration into humanity’s obsession with the afterlife and quest for immortality—bestselling author and skeptic, Michael Shermer, sets out to discover what drives humans’ belief in life after death, focusing on recent scientific attempts to achieve immortality along with utopian attempts to create heaven on earth. Check out what people are saying about the book…

SCIENCE
Faulty religious reasoning and sloppy secular arguments about the afterlife earn a skeptic’s side-eye
by Paula Quinon
Read the review

THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Quest for Immortality, Rebooted
by Maria Konnikova
Read the review

THE NEW YORK POST
Scientists could one day make humans immortal
by Larry Getlen
Read the review

KIRKUS
Read the review

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The pull of ‘heaven’: Even some atheists believe in afterlife
by Repps Hudson Special to the Post-Dispatch
Read the review

INTERVIEW
Jordan B Peterson Interviews Michael
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HOW DO WE FIX IT? PODCAST
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Order Heavens on Earth from Shop Skeptic, and we will send you an autographed copy, signed by Michael Shermer himself! The autographed version is only available from Shop Skeptic.

In this week’s eSkeptic, Mario E. Herrera and Lawrence Patihis review Mark Pendergrast’s new book: Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die.

Psychology’s Unhealed Wound

by Mario E. Herrera & Lawrence Patihis

Imagine 20 years ago that you bandaged up a deep wound, and now you peel back the bandages to find that only part of the wound had healed and that, in fact, a raging infection persists. That is analogous to the situation that Mark Pendergrast describes in Memory Warp.

In the early 1990s one of psychology’s most important debates arose between some psychologists who argued that the recovery of repressed memories was valid, and skeptical researchers who thought they were confabulations. The theory of repressed memory, first proposed by Sigmund Freud in 1895, states that traumatic events are often so threatening to the psyche that the mind encapsulates them, rendering them inaccessible for years, only to be recalled later in a safer environment (for example, a therapist’s office).

Many experimental memory researchers, such as David Holmes and Elizabeth Loftus, argued that there is no credible scientific evidence for repressed memory. A growing band of psychology researchers became suspicious that some practitioners were actually creating false abuse memories in clients.

It was a bitter and personal argument at times, but thankfully all seemed to calm down to a degree around the turn of the century—the ameliorative bandages seemed to be working. An American Psychology Association committee came to an uneasy compromise on the issue. Related high profile court cases seemed to decrease in number—those where psychotherapy clients would sue parents, clients would retract their memories and sue therapists, or parents of clients would sue therapists. Multimillion-dollar verdicts against psychotherapists made most counselors far more cautious about seeking to unearth purportedly repressed abuse memories. […]

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Skeptoid #607: Do Lobsters Feel Pain?

Skeptoid Feed - Mon, 01/22/2018 - 4:00pm
What the science says on whether we need to change the way we eat crustaceans.
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

eSkeptic for January 17, 2018

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 12:00am

In this week’s eSkeptic:

In this week’s eSkeptic, Tim Callahan reviews Unacknowledged: An Exposé of the World’s Greatest Secret, a new Netflix documentary, purporting to provide proof of alien visitation, that fails to deliver.

Producers: Steven M. Greer, Christopher Crescitelli, Jim Martin, Stephen Peek, Grant Ibrahim • Director: Michael Mazzola • Screenplay: Michael Mazzola, Stephen Peek • Narrator: Giancarlo Esposito • A Sirius Disclosure Film in collaboration with The Orchard Auroris Media Productions.

Unsubstantiated:
A new Netflix documentary purporting to provide proof of alien visitation fails to deliver

by Tim Callahan

With its high production values and its parade of seemingly expert witnesses, Steven Greer’s film, Unacknowledged, may at first seem to provide substantial evidence of visitations by space aliens to the Earth—in particular that the Roswell incident involved an actual crashed spaceship and the bodies of its alien crew, of a massive cover-up of these contacts by the government of the United States, and the reason for the cover-up. This last is that the cover-up is part of the suppression of the science and technology of zero-point or quantum vacuum energy, which would give us unlimited, pollution-free energy and eliminate poverty and starvation throughout the world. The perpetrators of this evil conspiracy are, according to the film, those in charge of “Black Programs,” which gobble up either $40 to $80 billion a year (as it is claimed early in the film) or $100 to $200 billion (as the narrator claims later in the movie).

To anyone of a skeptical mind-set a red flag pops up early in the film when a flood of witnesses claim to have seen the crashed spaceship and the bodies of its alien crew at Area 51. I didn’t initially recognize many of the names of those witnesses. One, however stood out: Lt. Col. Philip Corso, who authored a book titled The Day After Roswell. Here is what the noted UFO investigator Stanton Friedman had to say in his review of that book:

The first part of the book, with the exception of the strange Ft. Riley, Kansas warehouse scene with an alien body being observed by Corso on July 6, seems to have nothing to do with him. He admits he wasn’t involved at all in the recovery, investigation, or evaluation of what happened near Roswell. It is almost certainly based on the many Roswell books already published by Randle and Schmitt, Moore and Berlitz, and Don Berliner and myself, but with no attempt to validate or critically evaluate anything and no credits being given.

In the second half of the book Corso seems to be taking credit for the single handed introduction of a whole host of new technologies into American industry. All this is supposedly derived from the filing cabinet of Roswell wreckage over which he was given control by General Trudeau. He is very vague about details, and there is no substantiation for any of the claims on fiber optics, Kevlar, laser weapons, microcircuits, etc.1

That the person who is taking Corso to task and implying that he is a fraud is none other than Stanton Friedman is quite telling, since Friedman is perhaps the foremost apologist for the contention that an alien spaceship crashed at Roswell and that the government is covering it up. […]

Read the complete review

Alien Intrusion and the Ultraterrestrial Hypothesis
MONSTERTALK EPISODE 147

In this episode of MonsterTalk, we return to discussion of the Ultraterrestrial Hypothesis (UTH) and what seems to be its growing influence in paranormal circles. It’s been used to explain UFOs, mothman, bigfoot, fairies, dogman, ghosts and many other phenomena which defy scientific demonstrability. Now it crops up again in a new film event titled Alien Intrusion which turned out to be a stealth evangelical creationist film which suggests that aliens and UFOs are actually demonic. We are joined by MonsterTalk alum Joe Laycock, Natasha Mikles, and Jeb Card to discuss the UTH and Jeb’s Paranormal Unified Field Theory (PUFT) as it relates to this film and the work of John Keel and others.

Listen to episode 147

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SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN “SKEPTIC” COLUMN FOR JANUARY 2018 For the Love of Science: Combating science denial with science pleasure

That conservatives doubt scientific findings and theories that conflict with their political and religious beliefs is evident from even a cursory scan of right-leaning media. The denial of evolution and of global warming and the pushback against stem cell research are the most egregious examples in recent decades. It is not surprising, because we expect those on the right to let their politics trump science—tantamount to a dog-bites-man story.

That liberals are just as guilty of antiscience bias comports more with accounts of humans chomping canines, and yet those on the left are just as skeptical of well-established science when findings clash with their political ideologies, such as with GMOs, nuclear power, genetic engineering and evolutionary psychology— skepticism of the last I call “cognitive creationism” for its endorsement of a blank-slate model of the mind in which natural selection operated on humans only from the neck down.

In reality, antiscience attitudes are formed in very narrow cognitive windows—those in which science appears to oppose certain political or religious views. Most people embrace most of science most of the time. […]

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CONFERENCE: FEB. 9–11, 2018 Changing The World Through Scientific Skepticism and Critical Thinking

LogiCal-LA 2018 brings 15 exciting speakers and panelists to the Los Angeles area for an inspiring weekend of critical thinking and skepticism, science education and nightly entertainment. Skeptic and entertainer George Hrab returns as emcee.

The keynote speaker this year will be internationally known theoretical physicist and cosmologist Professor Lawrence M. Krauss.

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Unsubstantiated: A new Netflix documentary purporting to provide proof of alien visitation fails to deliver

Skeptic.com feed - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:00am

With its high production values and its parade of seemingly expert witnesses, Steven Greer’s film, Unacknowledged, may at first seem to provide substantial evidence of visitations by space aliens to the Earth—in particular that the Roswell incident involved an actual crashed spaceship and the bodies of its alien crew, of a massive cover-up of these contacts by the government of the United States, and the reason for the cover-up. This last is that the cover-up is part of the suppression of the science and technology of zero-point or quantum vacuum energy, which would give us unlimited, pollution-free energy and eliminate poverty and starvation throughout the world. The perpetrators of this evil conspiracy are, according to the film, those in charge of “Black Programs,” which gobble up either $40 to $80 billion a year (as it is claimed early in the film) or $100 to $200 billion (as the narrator claims later in the movie).

To anyone of a skeptical mind-set a red flag pops up early in the film when a flood of witnesses claim to have seen the crashed spaceship and the bodies of its alien crew at Area 51. I didn’t initially recognize many of the names of those witnesses. One, however stood out: Lt. Col. Philip Corso, who authored a book titled The Day After Roswell. Here is what the noted UFO investigator Stanton Friedman had to say in his review of that book:

The first part of the book, with the exception of the strange Ft. Riley, Kansas warehouse scene with an alien body being observed by Corso on July 6, seems to have nothing to do with him. He admits he wasn’t involved at all in the recovery, investigation, or evaluation of what happened near Roswell. It is almost certainly based on the many Roswell books already published by Randle and Schmitt, Moore and Berlitz, and Don Berliner and myself, but with no attempt to validate or critically evaluate anything and no credits being given.

In the second half of the book Corso seems to be taking credit for the single handed introduction of a whole host of new technologies into American industry. All this is supposedly derived from the filing cabinet of Roswell wreckage over which he was given control by General Trudeau. He is very vague about details, and there is no substantiation for any of the claims on fiber optics, Kevlar, laser weapons, microcircuits, etc.1

That the person who is taking Corso to task and implying that he is a fraud is none other than Stanton Friedman is quite telling, since Friedman is perhaps the foremost apologist for the contention that an alien spaceship crashed at Roswell and that the government is covering it up.

Another of the seemingly expert witnesses, one who also claims to have seen the bodies of the dead aliens from the Roswell crash site, is Richard C. Doty. This would seem to represent a turn-about, since Doty originally appears to have spread disinformation to lead UFO enthusiasts on wild goose chases. According to one article:

The UFO community has been familiar with Richard C. Doty, self-proclaimed “disinformation agent” who used to work as an AFOSI officer in Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. … Most folks seem to agree that he indeed had a deep impact on the life of businessman Paul Bennewitz, owner of defense contractor Thunder Scientific Laboratories in Albuquerque located right next to Kirtland Air Force Base.2

The article quotes Doty as saying:

I do not have anything to do with UFO research or investigations. I attempted to perform certain duties which would enable our team to trap possible foreign agents working against the interest of the United States. My supervisors, however, saw my actions as being unauthorized. Therefore, I was asked to leave AFOSI, which I did voluntarily.3

Is a man who has spread deceptive information and who at one time says he had nothing to do with UFO research to be trusted when he now says he saw the crashed Roswell spaceship?

Another of the witnesses giving important testimony in the film is Maj. George A. Filir III, who claims to have chased a UFO over Stonehenge. If we were to judge the credibility of a witness based on kooky beliefs he or she might hold, Filir would not come out well. When UFO skeptic Robert Schaeffer visited a MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) symposium in 2011, he reports that Filir gave a presentation in which he made some rather startling claims about the planet Mars:

Mars, according to Filer, used to be teeming with life until it was mostly wiped out in a nuclear holocaust some 180 million years ago. He showed NASA photos of Mars that purport to contain tubes (possibly water pipes, or trains) that extend for miles, as well as underground cities. There are numerous faces on Mars, and some of them look similar to Egyptian Pharaohs. But some life still exists among the ruins. The green colors on Mars represent growths of moss and algae.4

Considering that, according to NASA, the atmosphere of Mars is about 100 times thinner than that of Earth, and that it is over 95% carbon dioxide and only 0.13% oxygen,5 one wonders what the surviving Martians are breathing.

Similar to the assertion above by George Filir is the claim by Sgt. Karl Wolfe, another of the film’s witnesses, that he saw photos taken by the Lunar Orbiter of a base on the far side of the moon. In an online article titled “3 Dumbest Dark Side of the Moon Conspiracy Theories” Harrison Preston says of this claim:

Another prime candidate for our plain dumb category is one Karl Wolfe, a former sergeant in the United States Air Force. According to his own testimony for the Disclosure Project before the National Press Club in Washington DC in 2010, Wolfe claims to have been assigned to HQ Tactical Air Command in Langley, Virginia.

One day in “1965, mid-1965”, whilst assigned to the Lunar Orbiter Program, Wolfe says he saw “clear structures, buildings, mushroom shaped buildings, spherical buildings, towers” in a series of photographs of the far side of the moon shown to him by an airman in a lab he was working in.

He also stated the other airman told him “we’ve found a base on the far side of the moon.” Wolfe is very clear on the year this supposedly happened, and also the project he was a part of. It is this clarity which also serves to show why he couldn’t possibly be telling the truth.

The Lunar Orbiter Program ran from 1966 through to 1967, but the first images of the far side of the moon weren’t captured until the Lunar Orbiter 4 mission in May 1967—a full two years after Wolfe claims to have seen the structures and buildings! Lunar 4 photographed 9% of the far side, with Lunar Orbiter 5 imaging the rest in August that same year.6

A NASA report on the Lunar Orbiter missions notes that a total of 419 high resolution and 127 medium resolution photos were taken by the Lunar Orbiter missions, covering over 99% of the lunar surface.7 For all that, no alien bases show up in these photos.

Not all of the witnesses in the film can be dismissed as fraudulent or part of the lunatic fringe. Edgar Mitchell, the sixth astronaut to walk on the moon, believed that aliens had contacted us and that the government had covered it up.8 However, he also believed in remote healing, specifically that a young psychic in Canada named Adam Dreamhealer had cured him of kidney cancer, as reported by Julie Neimark:

Edgar Mitchell, one of Adam’s strongest proponents, told me quite openly on the phone that he never had biopsy-proven cancer. “I had a sonogram and MRI that was consistent with renal carcinoma,” Mitchell recalled when I interviewed him, “which is about the best they can do without a biopsy. I didn’t have the biopsy.” Adam worked on Mitchell from December of 2003 until June, when the “irregularity was gone and we haven’t seen it since.” But he didn’t have the biopsy. Is Mitchell convinced it was cancer? Sure. Is there any definitive proof? No.9

Thus, even respected and intelligent persons can hold beliefs that are irrational.

Another astronaut who would seem to support the film’s assertion of widespread knowledge of alien visitors, at least to our solar system is Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. The movie shows a clip in which Aldrin says of the Martian moon, Phobos:

There’s a monolith, a very unusual structure on this little potato-shaped object that goes around Mars once in every seven hours. They’re going to say, “Who put that there? Who put that there?”

It would seem, from this clip, that Aldrin is saying that this is an artificial structure placed on Phobos by extraterrestrial beings. However, when one views Aldrin’s actual video, the inherent dishonesty of Unacknowledged is dramatically highlighted. Here is Aldrin’s actual statement, with the material edited out in Unacknowledged shown in italics:

There’s a monolith, a very unusual structure on this little potato-shaped object that goes around Mars once in every seven hours. They’re going to say, “Who put that there? Who put that there?” Well, the universe put it there. If you choose, God put it there.10

Skeptics are familiar with this tactic of deliberately quoting someone out of context to make it seem like they are advocating the opposite of what they are actually saying. It is a common ploy used by creationists to attempt to discredit evolutionary biologists. Here it has been used to falsely make people believe that Buzz Aldrin is saying there’s an alien artifact on Phobos. The “monolith” Aldrin refers to, by the way, bears no resemblance to the monolith in the move 2001: A Space Odyssey. While it is strange looking—a thin, vertical piece of rock—it is irregular enough to plainly be a natural object.

It might, at this point, seem as though this review is nothing more than an attack on the character of the witnesses. However, there is really nothing of substance to the film except the testimony of these people, many of who show evidence of questionable veracity. Despite claiming there are “Black Programs” secretly controlling information about extraterrestrial contacts and suborning the scientific establishment and the press, Greer and his associates give no evidence to support this assertion beyond the witnesses. In this regard, the film asserts that, since mainstream media has been suborned, the truth about UFOs has been forced onto the pages of the tabloids. This is almost comical, since this was one of the gags of the movie Men in Black.

From time to time Greer does read from what appear to be redacted secret documents released through the Freedom of Information Act. However, their headings are never shown. One reason we might doubt their authenticity is that they are coupled with yet another statement dishonestly taken out of context. Victor Marchetti, former Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the CIA is quoted as saying:

We have, indeed, been contacted—perhaps even visited—by extraterrestrial beings, and the U.S. Government, in collusion with other national powers of the Earth, is determined to keep this information from the general public.

The quote is from a 1979 article by Marchetti in a no longer published magazine called Second Look, titled “How the CIA Views the UFO Phenomenon.” While that magazine is defunct, the article is available on a number of websites. In it Marchetti first admits that he has no firsthand experience with UFOs, has never seen one, and has no empirical or physical evidence of their existence. He then says the following, and here the material edited out in the quote above is added in italics:

My theory is that we have, indeed, been contacted—perhaps even visited—by extraterrestrial beings, and that the U.S. Government, in collusion with other national powers of the Earth, is determined to keep this information from the general public.11

So the filmmakers grossly misquoted Marchetti by removing the statement that it was his theory that we have been contacted by extraterrestrial beings, dishonestly quoting him as saying that extraterrestrial beings have definitely contacted us and that he knows definitively that our government is covering it up.

Earlier in the film, Greer says that Carl Sagan originally supported the idea that UFOs were real and had said that it was clear Earth was not the only inhabited planet. Greer then says:

After he was threatened by the intelligence community, and blackmailed, he then began to debunk the issue.

So, was Sagan originally a UFO believer, silenced and cowed by those running the Black Programs? Here’s what Carl Sagan actually said about extraterrestrial intelligence:

It now seems quite clear that Earth is not the only inhabited planet. There is evidence that the bulk of the stars in the sky have planetary systems. Recent research concerning the origin of life on Earth suggests that the physical and chemical processes leading to the origin of life occur rapidly in the early history of the majority of planets. The selective value of intelligence and technical civilization is obvious, and it seems likely that a large number of planets within our Milky Way galaxy—perhaps as many as a million—are inhabited by technical civilizations in advance of our own. Interstellar space flight is far beyond our present technical capabilities, but there seems to be no fundamental physical objections to preclude, from our own vantage point, the possibility of its development by other civilizations.12

Here Sagan is merely running a thought experiment extrapolating the possible number of extra-terrestrial civilizations based on the number of potential planets in our galaxy, a very common theme in SETI literature. In any case, there is no evidence that Carl Sagan was threatened by the government or that he was ever anything other than a skeptic concerning reported contacts by UFOs.

Unacknowledged is divided into three acts. The first act, titled “Embarrassment of Riches,” asserts that the evidence of extraterrestrial contact is overwhelming. It isn’t. The second act, “Down the Rabbit Hole,” claims, but does not substantiate, a grand cover-up conspiracy. Act three, titled “The Lost Century,” begins with the assertion that Nicola Tesla had found an inexhaustible source of energy and that, upon his death, his files were confiscated by the powers that be. The energy source in question is called zero point energy or quantum vacuum energy. In the film, Mark McCandlish, military aeronautic illustrator says of this force:

The amount of energy in a cubic meter of space-time is 1026 power. That’s ten with 26 zeros behind it. That’s enough energy in a coffee cup to boil all the oceans of Earth completely away into steam.

This would certainly be an impressive energy source—if we could use it. The problem is that we may never be able to use it. The film never really explains what zero point energy is. A physics website points out that, while it is abundant it is also diffuse:

Zero-point energy is the energy that remains when all other energy is removed from a system. This behaviour is demonstrated by, for example, liquid helium. As the temperature is lowered to absolute zero, helium remains a liquid, rather than freezing to a solid, owing to the irremovable zero-point energy of its atomic motions. (Increasing the pressure to 25 atmospheres will cause helium to freeze.)13

Can this energy actually be accessed? The website goes on to say:

As to whether zero-point energy may become a source of usable energy, this is considered extremely unlikely by most physicists, and none of the claimed devices are taken seriously by the mainstream science community. Nevertheless, SED interpretation of the Bohr orbit (above) does suggest a way whereby energy might be extracted. Based upon this a patent has been issued and experiments have been underway at the University of Colorado (U.S. Patent 7,379,286).14

That research into extracting zero point energy is being performed at the University of Colorado belies the movie’s claim that the government is keeping this free energy source from us.

The film also claims in passing that a car that can run on water, invented by Stanley Meyer, was also suppressed. Cars that can run on water are a recurring theme in pseudoscience. Writing in Nature, Philip Ball says of this car:

And then there is poor Stanley Meyer, inventor of the “water-powered car.” Meyer just wanted to give people cheap, clean energy. But the oil companies clearly couldn’t have that and so harassed and intimidated him (the internet says so it must be true). In 1996 he was found guilty of “gross and egregious fraud” by an Ohio court. He died in 1998 after eating at a restaurant; the coroner diagnosed an aneurysm, but the conspiracy web still suspects he was poisoned.

It’s not easy to establish how Meyer’s car was meant to work, except that it involved a fuel cell that was able to split water using less energy than was released by recombination of the elements.15

And so, with zero point energy and cars that run on water the film descends into the realm of perpetual motion machines.

One question that is never even posed in the film, let alone answered, is why the space aliens, who Greer says are probably concerned by our warlike tendencies, haven’t used their immense energy resources and advanced technology to overwhelm the evil perpetrators of the Black Projects by, for example, simply commandeering the air waves and the internet to expose the cover-up and give the information to everyone on Earth. It would seem that despite their vaunted technology, they can’t do what Edward Snowdon did.

About the Author

Tim Callahan is religion editor of Skeptic magazine. His books include Secret Origins of the Bible, and Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? both published by Millennium Press. He has also researched the environmental movement, and his article “Environmentalists Cause Malaria! (and other myths of the ‘Wise Use’ movement)” appeared in The Humanist. He has co-authored UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says.

Notes
  1. http://bit.ly/1mz5IBi
  2. Hayakawa, Norio. “Did Richard C. Doty ruin the life of Albuquerque businessman, Paul Bennewitz?” http://bit.ly/2CCWirH
  3. Ibid
  4. Schaeffer, Robert. 2011. “A Skeptic does the MUFON Symposium—Part 5 of 5.” Bad UFOs: Skepticism, UFOs, and The Universe. August 13. http://bit.ly/2ClCYvA
  5. http://bit.ly/1Er4uoU
  6. Preston, Harrison “3 Dumbest Dark Side of the Moon Conspiracy Theories” http://bit.ly/2EPoUvV
  7. https://go.nasa.gov/2qkbZyW
  8. ”UFO UpDates: Edgar Mitchell On The UFO Cover-up” October 11, 1998. Archived from the original on January 28, 2007. http://bit.ly/2CBmYZF
  9. Neimark J. 2005. “The Big Bird, the Big Lie, God and Science” Skeptical Inquirer November 29.
  10. http://bit.ly/2CPHcwx
  11. Marchetti, Victor. 1979. “How the CIA Views the UFO Phenomenon” Second Look vol. 1. No. 7, May. https://goo.gl/tjGZH7
  12. Sagan, Carl. 1963. “Unidentified Flying Objects.” The Encyclopedia Americana.
  13. “Zero Point Energy” Calphysics Institute http://bit.ly/1Pm6N18
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ball, Philip. 2007. “Burning water and other myths” Nature (published online) 14 September. http://go.nature.com/2lOAfEM
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Skeptoid #606: The Murder in the Red Barn

Skeptoid Feed - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:00pm
A murder was said to have been solved by the intervention of the victim's ghost.
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Heavens on Earth—the New Book by Michael Shermer, Available Now!

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:00am

In this week’s eSkeptic:

AVAILABLE NOW Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia

In his most ambitious work yet New York Times bestselling author Michael Shermer sets out to discover what drives humans’ belief in life after death, focusing on recent scientific attempts to achieve immortality along with utopian attempts to create heaven on earth.

A scientific exploration into humanity’s obsession with the afterlife and quest for immortality from the bestselling author and skeptic Michael Shermer

For millennia, religions have concocted numerous manifestations of heaven and the afterlife, and though no one has ever returned from such a place to report what it is really like—or that it even exists—today science and technology are being used to try to make it happen in our lifetime. From radical life extension to cryonic suspension to mind uploading, Shermer considers how realistic these attempts are from a proper skeptical perspective.

Heavens on Earth concludes with an uplifting paean to purpose and progress and how we can live well in the here-and-now, whether or not there is a hereafter.

Get an Autographed 1st Edition from Shop Skeptic

Order Heavens on Earth from Shop Skeptic, and we will send you an autographed copy, signed by Michael Shermer himself! The autographed version is only available from Shop Skeptic.

Advance Praise for the Book

“This book’s theme is the one of greatest practical importance to all of us: does some heaven or afterlife await us after we die? Most Americans, and even many atheists, believe that the answer is ‘yes.’ If there is no heaven, how can we find purpose in life? Michael Shermer explores these big questions with the delightful, powerful style that made his previous books so successful—but this is his best book.”

JARED DIAMOND, professor of geography at UCLA and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and other books

“Thank goodness for Michael Shermer’s sound and inspired mindfulness and for this importantly useful volume. Truly a delicious read. Ten Goldblums out of a possible ten Goldblums!”

JEFF GOLDBLUM, actor

Heavens on Earth is absolutely brilliant, filled with profundity, startling facts, and mind-expanding ideas. Michael Shermer somehow manages to be entertaining and scientifically erudite at the same time. He also brings some of history’s greatest thinkers to life and makes their ideas accessible. This is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time.”

AMY CHUA, Yale Law professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and coauthor of The Triple Package

“I appreciate every evolutionary step skepticism takes toward openness. Heavens on Earth is an affirmation that other worldviews deserve respect and understanding. In this book science may actually be catching up with the world’s wisdom traditions.”

DEEPAK CHOPRA, M.D., coauthor of War of the Worldviews and You Are the Universe

“Michael Shermer is a beacon of reason in an ocean of irrationality.”

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, director of the Hayden Planetarium, host of Cosmos and StarTalk, and author of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

The following is an excerpt from chapter 6 of Heavens on Earth. Reviews of the book will be posted on Michael Shermer’s website. Be sure to read Maria Konnikova’s New York Times book review: “The Quest for Immortality, Rebooted.” We hope you enjoy the book!

What is the Soul, Anyway?
The Problem of Identity and the
Impossibility of Immortality

by Michael Shermer

In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled “Second Chances,” Commander William Riker of the starship Enterprise beams down to a planet to retrieve data from a research station he visited eight years before when he was a lieutenant on board the starship Potemkin. There he discovers an exact duplicate of himself, the product of the Potemkin’s transporter beam accidentally being split into two and materializing a second Riker after the original beamed back to the ship. Lieutenant Riker remained stranded on the planet while the other continued his life trajectory in Starfleet where he moved up the ranks to Commander Riker, now on the Enterprise. DNA and brain scans of the two Rikers reveal that they are genetically identical and neurologically indistinguishable. They are true duplicates. Lieutenant Riker’s lover before the transporter mishap, Counselor Deanna Troi, is no longer romantically involved with Commander Riker on the Enterprise, and much of the episode plays out the awkwardness of experiencing and re-experiencing the break-up for the two Rikers and Troi. In the end Lieutenant Riker is assigned a post on a different ship and adopts his middle name as his first in order to distinguish himself from his new-found twin.1

Were the two Rikers two different people or duplicates of one person? If they were true duplicates, did they subsequently become two different persons the moment they started leading separate lives and forming new memories and identities? This is the essence of the identity problem and it is vital to solve for all resurrection scenarios, both religious and scientific.

The identity problem was first articulated by the ancient Greek scholar Plutarch in his thought experiment known as the “ship of Theseus.” According to the myth, Poseidon’s son Theseus sailed to Crete where he slayed the half-man/half-bull Minotaur monster. After his triumphant return to Athens, Theseus’ ship was preserved in memoriam. As the vessel aged, however, the decaying wood was gradually replaced with new timber until eventually the entire ship was made of different material. Was it still Theseus’s ship?

The answer depends on how you define the true identity of a thing—as the pattern or the material.2 If Theseus’s ship is represented by the pattern, then replacing all its lumber does not alter its identity. If the ship’s distinctiveness is held in the material of which it is made, however, or in some combination of pattern and material, then altering the physical structure changes the identity in some manner. But how much would need to exchanged before it was no longer the same “thing,” no longer Theseus’s ship?

Take our bodies. In addition to the replacement of atoms, molecules, cells, tissues, and organs every few years, there are a huge number of “foreign” cells inside us that contain no human DNA or RNA—bacteria that produce chemicals that enable our bodies to process the energy and nutrients in the food we eat, others that boost immunity, and still others whose function remains mysterious.3 More identity-shattering still, it appears that the complex eukaryotic cells of which we are made evolved billions of years ago from much simpler prokaryotic cells in a process the evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis calls symbiogenesis—the cooperative union of primitive simple prokaryotic cells into modern complex eukaryotic cells.4 The membrane-bound mitochondria organelles inside our cells that are so vital to the processing of energy, for example, have their own DNA different from that found in the nucleus of the cell (the famous mitochondrial DNA from which our genetic heritage can be traced over millions of years). It is now commonly believed that around 1.5 billion years ago some of these free-living bacteria (prokaryotes) symbiotically cooperated to form the more complex eukaryotic cells that make up modern organisms like us. So if you go back far enough in evolutionary time even our cells are foreign. And yet we don’t feel like a collection of other organisms. We feel like a whole self. The pattern of biological information coded in our genome, and the neural synaptic arrays recorded in our brain’s connectome, assures this continuity of essence. You are still you across space and time, even though the material making you up changes. Our sense of identity remains intact despite the exchange of body stuff, so our uniqueness appears to be ingrained in the pattern more than the material.

By this analysis, would a duplicate of you also be you, even if it meant that there is more than one of you? In principle, yes, as long as each of the duplicates feels like an autonomous person. This is why, in addition to the pattern and the material of identity, there is an additional component: personal perspective. Every self-contained sentient being—by which I mean the capacity to be emotive, perceptive, sensitive, responsive, and conscious—has a personal perspective, and that is what makes each person an autonomous identity. By this definition, in the Star Trek scenario each Riker has his own personal perspective so each is his own person, in the same way that identical twins are two persons, both psychologically and legally. The moment you and your duplicate (or identical twin) begin to lead separate lives you are separate persons, not just because of the different perspectives but also because of the different experiences you have, forming distinct memories, personalities, and all the rest that goes into the make-up of your pattern of information.

The Soul. William Blake’s portrayal of the soul departing the body upon death captures what most people believe to take place. An illustration from a series designed by Blake for an edition of the poem “The Grave” by Robert Blair, engraved by Louis Schiavonetti in 1813, titled The Soul Hovering over the Body, Reluctantly Parting with Life. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The neurobiologist and philosopher Owen Flanagan summarizes the three primary characteristics of the soul:5 the Unity of Experience (a sense of self or “I”), Personal Identity (the feeling of being the same person over the course of a lifetime), and Personal Immortality (the survival of death). Polls consistently show that between 70 and 96 percent of Americans believe in a soul as so characterized.6 The vast majority of people base such belief on religious faith, but science tells us that all three of these characteristics are illusions.

Unity of Experience. There is no unified “self” that generates internally consistent and seamlessly coherent beliefs devoid of conflict. Instead, we are a collection of distinct but interacting modules—or neural networks—that are often at odds with one another. According to the evolutionary psychologist Robert Kurzban the brain evolved as a modular multitasking problem-solving organ—a Swiss Army Knife of practical tools in the old metaphor, or an app-loaded iPhone in Kurzban’s upgrade.7 The module that leads us to crave sweet and fatty foods in the short-term, for example, is in conflict with the module that monitors our body image and health in the long-term. The module for cooperation is in conflict with the module for competition, as is the module for truth-telling and the module for lying. Of course, the brain does not sense itself operating so we are blissfully unaware of all these networks running largely independently of one another, so it feels like there is a unity of self.8

Personal Identity. Scientists estimate that in the course of your lifetime most of the atoms in your body will be replaced by comparable atoms—hydrogen atoms most rapidly (given that our bodies consist of 72 percent water, which is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen), then heavier elements such as carbon, sodium, and potassium.9 As atoms are replaced so too are molecules, cells, tissues, and organs, by some estimates on average every 7 to 10 years. There is a wide variation of the replacement process time, from a few days for the epithelial cells that line the gut, to a few weeks for the epidermis skin layer, to two months for red blood cells, to a year or two for liver cells, and 10 to 15 years for bone and muscle (exceptions appear to be neurons in the cerebral cortex, the inner lens cells of the eye, and heart muscle cells).10 So the belief that you are the same material person you were years ago—or will be years from now—is an illusion. At most what stays the same is the pattern of information, and even this changes over time.

Personal Immortality. We have already seen that there is no evidence for an afterlife as proposed by religionists, but what about a scientific immortality? The thought experiments above demonstrate that duplication is not an option for immortality unless there is a continuity of self from one duplicate to the next. When you fall asleep or go under general anesthesia for surgery, despite the disruption in consciousness of several hours you still feel like yourself when you wake up. How, exactly, would that happen if you were duplicated, replicated, resurrected, or uploaded? If a brain could be cryopreserved and reawakened after, say, a thousand years, would it be the same as waking up from a long sleep? Maybe. What about a brain whose connectome of information is precisely recorded and uploaded into a computer? When it is turned on would the personal perspective of the person be in there? Maybe not.

The Empyrean of God. Dante Alighieri’s 1320 poem “The Divine Comedy” is an imaginative vision of the afterlife inspired by medieval Christian theologians. The artist Gustave Doré illustrated God’s empyrean for an 1892 edition of the work.

The identity problem confronts both religious and nonreligious seekers of immortality. If you are religious and believe in the resurrection of the body or the soul in heaven, for example, how does God go about the duplication or transformation process to insure conscious continuity and personal perspective? Is it your atoms and patterns that are resurrected, or just the patterns? If both, and you are physically resurrected, does God reconstitute your body so it is no longer subject to disease and aging? If it is just the patterns of you that are resurrected, what is the platform that holds the information? Is there something in heaven that is the equivalent to a computer hard drive or the cloud? Is there some sort of heavenly quantum field that retains your thoughts and memories? If you are not religious (or even if you are) and hold out hope that one day scientists will be able to clone your body and duplicate your brain, or upload your mind into a computer, or create a virtual reality in which you come alive again, we face the same technological problems as God would of how this is to be done.

So our self is defined by our pattern of information as much as it is by the stuff of which we are made, and it is our personal perspective and our unique experiences that makes us autonomous selves regardless of how similar or dissimilar we are from others. This is the real you. This is your soul.

The sums involved in achieving immortality through the duplication or resurrection scenarios are not to be underestimated. There are around 85 billion neurons in a human brain, each with about a thousand synaptic links, for a total of 100 trillion connections to be accurately preserved and replicated. This is a staggering level of complexity made all the more so by the additional glial cells in the brain, which provide support and insulation for neurons and can change the actions of firing neurons, so these cells better be preserved as well in any duplication or resurrection scenario, just in case.11 Estimates of the ratio of glial cells to neurons in a brain vary from 1:1 to 10:1. If you’re not a lightning calculator, that computes to a total brain cell count of somewhere between 170 billion and 850 billion. Then factor in the hundreds or thousands of synaptic connections between each of the 85 billion neurons, adding approximately 100 trillion synaptic connections total for each brain. That’s not all. There are around ten billion proteins per neuron, which effect how memories are stored, plus the countless extracellular molecules in between those tens of billions of brain cells.

These estimates are just for the brain and do not even include the rest of the nervous system outside of the skull—what neuroscientists call the “embodied brain” or the “extended mind” and which many philosophers of mind believe is necessary for normal cognition. So you might want to have this extended mind resurrected or uploaded along with your mind. After all, you are not just your internal thoughts and emotions disconnected from your body. Many of your thoughts and emotions are intimately entwined with how your body interacts with its environment, so any preserved connectome, to be fully operational as recreating the experience of what it is like to be a sentient being, would also need to be housed in a body. So we would need a warehouse of brainless clones or very sophisticated robots prepared to have these uploaded mind neural units installed. How many? Well, to avoid the charge of elitism, it’s only fair that everyone who ever lived be resurrected, so that means multiplying the staggering data package for one person by 108 billion.

Then there’s the relationship between memory and life history. Our memory is not like a videotape that can be played back on the viewing screen of our minds. When an event happens to us, a selective impression of it is made on the brain through the senses. As that sense impression wends its way through different neural networks, where it ends up depends on what type of memory it is. As a memory is processed and prepared for long-term storage we rehearse it and in the process it is changed. This editing process depends on previous memories, subsequent events and memories, and emotions. This process recurs trillions of times in the course of a lifetime, to the point where we have to wonder if we have memories of actual events, or memories of the memories of those events, or even memories of memories of memories…. What’s the “true” memory? There is no such thing. Our memories are the product of trillions of synaptic neuronal connections that are constantly being edited, redacted, reinforced, and extinguished, such that a resurrection of a human with memories intact will depend on when in the individual’s life history the replication or resurrection is implemented.

Most of our memories are lost over time, so when God, Omega, the Singularity, or far future Humans (GOSH) reconstructs the pattern of your memories, which ones actually represent you? The answer is none, some, and all. There is no coherently fixed individual in some absolute sense. Our self—our soul—consists of a constantly changing matrix of traits and memory patterns that are coherent enough for us to feel like we have a self/soul, and for others to treat us like we do, so a replicating entity must determine which set of patterns best represents our self/soul such that it would be recognizable to yourself and others. If GOSH resurrects you, for example, which of your memories will be included and from which point in your life? If it is a select set of memories at some point, say age 29, that’s not all of you. If it is all of the memories you formed throughout your entire life, that might be interesting (and revealing!) but this would not be what it is like to be you at any point in your life.

Finally, there is the problem of history and the lost past. I have defined history as “a conjuncture of events compelling a certain course of action by constraining prior events.”12 Most of those constraining prior events—contingencies and necessities, or chance and law—are not only lost to historians, they aren’t even apparent to those alive at the time. The problem of the irrecoverable past of both people and society is a serious one that any theory of immortality must solve. Even if GOSH could create a perfect replica of my genome and connectome, a human life is so much more than that. It is a product of all our relations with other people and their life histories, plus our interactions with all the elements in our environment, which is itself a product of countless systems and histories all wrapped up in a complex matrix with so many variables that it is inconceivable how any supercomputer or omnipotent deity could duplicate it all even if the information were available, which it isn’t.

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In his book The Physics of Immortality the physicist Frank Tipler calculates that an Omega Point computer in the far future will contain 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 123 bits (a 1 followed by 10123 zeros), powerful enough, he says, to resurrect everyone who ever lived.13 That may be—it is a staggeringly large number—but is even an Omega Point computer powerful enough to reconstruct all of the historical contingencies and necessities in which a person lived, such as the weather, climate, geography, economic cycles, recessions and depressions, social trends, religious movements, wars, political revolutions, paradigm shifts, ideological revolutions, and the like, on top of duplicating our genome and connectome? It seems unlikely, but if so GOSH would also need to duplicate all of the individual conjunctures and interactions between that person and all other persons as they intersect with and influence each other in each of those lifetimes. Then multiply all that by the 108 billion people who ever lived or are currently living. Whatever the number, it would have to be even larger than the famed Googolplex (10 to the power of a googol, with a googol being 10100, or 10^10100) from which Google and its Googleplex headquarters derived its name.14 Even a googol of googolplexes would not suffice. In essence, it would require the resurrection of the entire universe and its many billions of years of history. Inconceivable.

Get an Autographed 1st Edition from Shop Skeptic References
  1. “Second Chances.” 1993. Star Trek, The Next Generation. Episode 150. Aired May 24. Summary: http://bit.ly/1SdFwvv. Script: http://bit.ly/1RvhleL
  2. Chisholm, Roderick M. 2004. Person and Object: A Metaphysical Study. Routledge, 89.
  3. Wenner, Melinda. 2007. “Humans Carry More Bacterial Cells than Human Ones.” Scientific American, November 30. http://bit.ly/1uhlM0s
  4. Margulis, Lynn. 1998. Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution. New York: Basic Books; Margulis, Lynn. 2011. ‘Symbiogenesis. A new principle of evolution rediscovery of Boris Mikhaylovich Kozo-Polyansky (1890–1957).” Paleontological Journal 44 (12): 1525–1539.
  5. Flanagan, Owen. 2002. The Problem of the Soul: Two Visions of Mind and How to Reconcile Them by Owen Flanagan. New York: Basic Books.
  6. Ibid., 164.
  7. Kurzban, Robert. 2012. Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite. Princeton University Press.
  8. Research in cognitive psychology also supports this proposition, elegantly summarized by the cognitive psychologist Bruce Hood in The Self Illusion, employing an analogy with a science fiction film: “We process the outside world through our nervous system in order to create a model of reality in our brains. And, just like the matrix in the science fiction movie, not everything is what it seems. We all know the power of visual illusions to trick the mind into perceiving things incorrectly, but the most powerful illusion is the sense that we exist inside our heads as an integrated, coherent individual or self.” Hood, Bruce. 2012. The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3.
  9. Kestenbaum, David. 2007. “Atomic Tune-Up: How the Body Rejuvenates Itself. NPR, July 14, http://n.pr/1qbBP3a
  10. Wade, Nicholas. 2005. “Your Body is Younger Than you Think.” New York Times, August 2, http://nyti.ms/1pLXzC4
  11. Jabr, Ferris. 2012. “Know Your Neurons: What is the Ratio of Glia to Neurons in the Brain?” Scientific American, June 13, http://bit.ly/1W3nJeF
  12. Shermer, Michael. 1995. Exorcising Laplace’s Demon: Chaos and Antichaos, History and Metahistory. History and Theory 34, no. 1:59–83.
  13. Tipler, Frank J. 1994. The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God, and the Resurrection of the Dead. New York: Doubleday.
  14. The difference in the spelling—googolplex and googleplex—is because, says Google co-founder Larry Page, they didn’t yet have spell check when they named the company.

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Skeptoid #605: The Civil War Pterosaur

Skeptoid Feed - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:00pm
This famous Internet photo of Civil War soldiers posing with a pterosaur has a surprising source.
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Trial by Therapy: The Jerry Sandusky Case Revisited

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 01/03/2018 - 12:00am

“It was incredibly difficult for some of them to unearth long-buried memories of the shocking abuse they suffered at the hands of this defendant.” —Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Linda Kelly after the Sandusky guilty verdict

In June 2012, the 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky, for three decades a successful and admired assistant to Pennsylvania State University’s legendary football coach, Joe Paterno, was found guilty on 45 counts of child molestation and was remanded to prison for, effectively, the rest of his life. Sandusky was exposed as a serial pedophile on a scarcely imaginable scale, and 10 of his victims—presumably a small sample—were featured in his trial. Penn State would eventually pay $109 million (and counting) in compensation to at least 35 men who had been schoolboys at the time of their reported abuse. And presumably there were hundreds more victims. Since 1977 Sandusky had led a substantial program of his own devising for disadvantaged youth, The Second Mile, that was thought to have served him as a “candy store,” affording opportunities to “groom” neglected boys and then to have his way with them.

Jerry Sandusky around 1999 with Second Mile kids, most of whom later claimed that he abused them and received millions of dollars in settlements. (Photo from The Most Hated Man in America)

The Sandusky case was so mortifying that it triggered the firing of Penn State’s president, Graham Spanier, a vice president, Gary Schultz, its athletic director, Tim Curley, and the idolized Joe Paterno himself, at age 84 and after 61 years of service, for having abetted Sandusky’s crimes. Specifically, they had failed to take action after one horrific incident had been called to their notice. Paterno died of lung cancer two months after his shaming. Schultz and Curley, later indicted on felony charges, pleaded guilty to a compromise charge of child endangerment, for which they each received a two-year jail sentence (not entirely served). President Spanier protested his innocence but was convicted of the same offense and sentenced to four to 12 months of combined jail time and house arrest. (His appeal is still in process.) And in the wake of Sandusky’s own conviction, Penn State was fined $860 million and otherwise condemned and sanctioned for having placed sports mania ahead of helpless children’s welfare.

All that furor was commensurate with the depravity of Sandusky’s alleged crimes, divulged in sensational news reports after a grand jury “presentment” (summary) was released and dramatically recapitulated at the trial seven months later. A university janitor, Ronald Petrosky, testified that a fellow janitor, Jim Calhoun, had happened upon Sandusky, around the year 2000, giving oral sex to a boy in a university shower. And more directly, emotional Second Mile veterans told of having been subjected to multiple assaults. Under prosecution questioning, for example, Aaron Fisher agreed that between 2006 and 2008 he had been forced into oral copulation more than 25 times. Ryan Rittmeyer said that after initially fending off Sandusky’s advances, he gave in and repeatedly exchanged oral sex with his abuser. According to Brett Swisher Houtz, Sandusky had molested him in showers, in a sauna, and in hotel rooms, forcing him to assume “69” positions. There had been over 40 such events, Houtz reported, occurring two or three times a week. And Sabastian Paden told the grand jury of even more savage treatment.

None of those stories is as well remembered, though, as that of Mike McQueary, a former Penn State quarterback and coach who, as a graduate student at the turn of the century, had been serving as an apprentice to the coaching staff. Two factors set McQueary apart. First, by 2012 he was the only mentally competent person who claimed to have seen Sandusky in the act of molesting a boy. And second, he was the informant who had alerted Coach Paterno and thence Athletic Director Curley, Vice President Schultz, and President Spanier. “Remember that little boy in the shower,” Governor Tom Corbett admonished the governing board that was about to sack all four men. And that boy in the shower is what the American public remembers, too.

To judge from the grand jury presentment of November 2011, there was no doubt about what McQueary had observed a decade earlier. At about 9:30 on the evening of March 1, 2002, it was stated, McQueary, upon entering the locker room of Penn State’s Lasch Football Building, had heard “rhythmic slapping sounds” indicative of sexual intercourse. Sure enough, when he had peered into the communal shower area he had seen a boy, roughly 10 years old, with his hands against the wall, being sodomized by Jerry Sandusky. McQueary had been too flustered to intervene, but on the next morning he notified Paterno, assuming, mistakenly, that Paterno and higher officials would turn Sandusky in to the police.

Once the McQueary story became public knowledge, Sandusky’s conviction in the following spring was a foregone conclusion. In the aftermath, the university’s new administration rushed to make amends. In addition to paying handsome settlements to claimants, it welcomed punishments and sanctions, tightened its rules on sexual abuse, and humbly acceded to a stinging report by the former FBI director Louis Freeh, deploring the disgraced leaders’ “total and consistent disregard…for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.” From the issuance of the $8.3 million Freeh report in July 2012 until now, that has been the received wisdom. Its truth will be memorialized in the format that modern Americans find most convincing: an HBO docudrama, in this instance featuring Al Pacino as the devious Joe Paterno.

Not quite everyone, however, has been on board. A separate four-month investigation by John Snedden, a federal agent tasked with judging whether the fired president Graham Spanier ought to be stripped of his national security clearance, found no evidence whatsoever of administrative wrongdoing. There hadn’t been a cover-up, wrote Snedden, because there had been nothing to cover up. (Snedden offered his evidence to the Freeh investigators, but they disregarded it.) And John Ziegler, a conservative talk show host and documentary filmmaker, independently reached the same conclusion as Snedden—though no one paid attention to his argument. Ziegler had been troubled by an incongruity: how could the famously ethical Paterno have brushed aside the news of pedophilic rape by his own former defensive coordinator? Ziegler began his inquiry with only Paterno’s vindication in mind, but he ended, to his surprise, by believing that Sandusky himself was blameless.

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Can a sustained, comprehensive case be made for that inference? It already exists, in a book that was rejected by every major publisher and finally issued in November 2017 by the modest Sunbury Press of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Until now the work has been almost entirely ignored by reviewers. Yet it comes with the strong endorsement of a world-renowned psychologist and memory expert, Elizabeth Loftus, and a leading expert on coercive interrogation methods and false confessions, Richard A. Leo. If they are right, Mark Pendergrast’s 391-page The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment can erase the shame of both Penn State and Sandusky, who languishes in solitary confinement, for 22 hours a day, in a maximum-security state prison.

Pendergrast is an independent scholar and science writer who has long been concerned with the psychology and disastrous consequences of falsely “recovered memory.” Like nearly all consumers of mainstream news, Pendergrast at first took the reports of Sandusky’s misdeeds at face value. But when, in 2013, he received a tip that there appeared to be a recovered memory aspect to the case, he was intrigued. After studying all pertinent documents, corresponding with Sandusky and twice visiting him, and interviewing family members, alumni of Sandusky’s Second Mile program, and other figures involved in the case, Pendergrast assembled an imposing argument against the consensus. What follows is based on detailed evidence and reasoning in The Most Hated Man in America.

From the public’s standpoint, Sandusky’s criminality was epitomized in Mike McQueary’s revolting image of the shower room copulation. But McQueary’s testimony—which, he admitted, had been reframed in his mind “many, many, many times”—had evolved in stages between his first statement to the police in November 2010 and his appearance at Sandusky’s trial in the spring of 2012. In the final version, for example, he had peered into the shower three times, not twice, and he had halted Sandusky’s assault by loudly slamming his locker door—a strangely timid means for a 26-year-old, 6’5”, 220-pound athlete to have “done something about” the ongoing rape of a child. More important, McQueary’s belief that he had witnessed anal penetration wasn’t settled until quite late. At one point, in fact, he complained to Deputy District Attorney Jonelle Eshbach that she had twisted his words to make them sound more definite—but he was instructed, remarkably, to keep his mouth shut about it.

McQueary’s wavering could cause one to doubt the accuracy of his final testimony. And, as it happens, all of his late accounts departed radically from his first narration to listeners at the time. Which story, then, ought to be believed? The answer is obvious. In 2010 through 2012 McQueary was revisiting a decade-old incident that he now regarded in the light of other alarming charges against Sandusky that police and prosecutors had disclosed to him; but in the first instance he was telling people about a fresh experience. Significantly, Sandusky’s jury, which got everything else wrong, acquitted him of rape in that instance.

Here, then, is the most trustworthy variant of the story. From outside the locker room before he entered it, McQueary had heard slapping noises that sounded sexual to him. “Visualizations come to your head,” as he would later say. In the few seconds it took him to get to his locker, the noise had stopped. Curious, he looked into the shower room through a mirror and caught a glimpse of a boy. Then an arm reached out and pulled the boy back. Horrified, McQueary assumed he had narrowly missed watching a rape. But had he?

After closing his locker, McQueary had seen Jerry Sandusky walking out of the shower area, but he had made no attempt to confront him. Instead, he phoned his father, an office manager, and told him what he had heard and noticed. John McQueary asked him to come right over, and he also summoned his friend and employer, the nephrologist Jonathan Dranov. Dranov then grilled Mike, repeatedly asking him whether he had witnessed a sex act. No, he hadn’t. Considering the unlikelihood that the respected Jerry Sandusky had been living a Jekyll-Hyde existence, John McQueary and Dr. Dranov decided that no abuse had probably occurred.

So, evidently, did Mike McQueary. Several months after the shower incident, he signed up to participate in a celebrity golf tournament that bore Sandusky’s name, and he continued to associate cordially with Sandusky in later years. Could he have done so knowing that the pedophile’s depredations were going unpunished and unreported to the police?

Coach Paterno, too, when Mike consulted him, hadn’t been greatly concerned. Although the gregarious, practical joking Sandusky grated on Paterno, a lone taskmaster who never befriended his players, Paterno was sure that “Saint Sandusky,” as Sports Illustrated had called him in 1998 when honoring his charitable work, was no pervert. The venerable coach was already familiar with Sandusky’s “horsing around,” in plain sight, with boys who lacked a father’s companionship. Paterno didn’t care for it, but he didn’t regard it in a sexual light.

Given the ambiguous circumstances, Paterno did the right thing. He presented the matter to his immediate superior, Athletic Director Curley, who then conferred with Vice President Schultz and President Spanier. The three parties agreed that while Sandusky must be forbidden to bring any more Second Mile boys to campus, the shower episode had consisted of innocuous play.

The accuracy of that interpretation was confirmed by the grown-up shower boy himself, Allan Myers, who was almost 14 at the time of the incident. In May 2011, before the McQueary story went public, Myers wrote a letter defending Sandusky’s character in general terms. Then, after the grand jury presentment was made available on November 4, Myers, having recognized himself as the allegedly sodomized boy, gave a statement to an investigator for Sandusky’s defense in which he denied that anything sexual had occurred. And he added, indignantly, that the police had already been trying to bully him into alleging molestation by Sandusky. Myers’s recollection of the shower incident matched Sandusky’s own: the goings-on had consisted of friendly slap boxing and/or towel snapping, period.

McQueary’s later memory of the shower incident was so poor that he misdated it by more than a year, placing it on March 1, 2002. Later inquiry put it at February 9, 2001—but that date, too, was almost certainly wrong. It was chosen because the time of McQueary’s conversation with Joe Paterno was well established as February 10, and McQueary had testified that he met with Paterno on the day after the incident. But John Ziegler has shown, and Sandusky himself concurs, that the incident almost certainly took place on December 29, 2000.

If so, McQueary had waited more than five weeks to bring the matter up with Paterno. That would be further evidence that after conferring with his father and Dr. Dranov, McQueary was uncertain that any offense had been committed in the Lasch building. The absence of a police investigation at the time attests not to criminal negligence by Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier but to their reasonable judgment, shared by a calmed-down McQueary, that the matter was already resolved.

For a while the McQueary/Myers episode had looked like a smoking gun, until it turned out to be merely a water pistol. But the police and other authorities, though well aware of the considerations that had led Paterno and the others to deem Sandusky innocent, were undeterred. For them, McQueary’s latest memory was the most authentic. They derived their confidence from the fact that they had already been working with another accuser, Aaron Fisher, whose charges, though replete with dubious oddities, they were determined to believe.

The whole initiative against Sandusky had begun in November 2008 when Fisher, a former Second Miler whose delinquent tendencies had included a frequently rebuked penchant for lying, began at age 14 to feel that Sandusky’s attentions to him might have betrayed an aspect of perversion. Fisher had confided his worry to his mother, Dawn Daniels, who had taken advantage of Sandusky’s mentorship of her son to party hard in local bars. Until then, she had regarded Sandusky as “a real dumb jock with a heart of gold.” Now, however, she wanted to know whether he had ever molested her son.

Dawn Fisher Daniels Hennessy, the mother of Aaron Fisher (“Victim 1”), posted this picture on MySpace in 2008, boasting of her inebriation in a bar. (Photo from The Most Hated Man in America)

The answer she received from her son was an unequivocal no. Aaron did hold a grudge against Sandusky, but on further questioning it transpired that the source of resentment was Sandusky’s insistence on staying in supportive contact with him after the boy had become exasperated with Second Mile moralism and positive thinking. It was his mother, now, who pursued the seduction theme. According to her next-door neighbor, Joshua Fravel, she once boasted, “I’m going to get a lawyer and make a million dollars off Jerry Sandusky.” She is also said to have told him, “I’m gonna own the motherfucker’s house.” Likewise, in Pendergrast’s words, “Aaron Fisher later allegedly told Fravel that he planned to buy a big house in the country for his mother and family….”

A 2015 photo of Aaron Fisher, “Victim 1,” posted on Facebook. Covered with money (presumably from his Sandusky settlement), he is giving the finger to his critics. (Photo from The Most Hated Man in America)

The problem, however, was that Aaron couldn’t initially bring himself to declare that Sandusky had ever molested him. Yes, Sandusky had hugged him to “crack his back” after wrestling around, but they had both been fully clothed. That was all. Social workers in Clinton County’s Children and Youth Services urged Aaron to say more, but when he still showed reluctance, they deduced that his memory needed enhancing. And so they sent him upstairs to the psychotherapist Mike Gillum, who was, in all respects except the name, a recovered memory psychologist.

Gillum believed, as did the tutors of the mass “recovered memory” delusion in the 1980s and 1990s, that the usual response to a trauma is to “dissociate,” blocking awareness of the event in progress while nevertheless storing a repressed recollection of it in the unconscious. The therapist’s imagined task was to bring that repressed memory into consciousness and thus, in theory, to restore psychological health. Typically, a sexual abuse specialist would build trust in him- or herself while subtracting it from the alleged abuser, most often a father, stepfather, or other caretaker. As this disorienting process rendered patients more agitated and depressed, their unraveling would be offered as proof that the repressed memories were approaching the surface at last. The unraveling, anyway, was genuine. Aaron Fisher, for example, suffered panic attacks, became suicidal, and nearly killed himself in a car wreck.

As many researchers have shown, and as Mark Pendergrast himself expounds in another recent book on the subject, Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die (Upper Access, 2017), people actually tend to remember traumatic experiences quite vividly. (Has any survivor of the Holocaust, excepting those with brain damage or dementia, ever lost awareness of it?) Yet memory is also reconstructive, or framed anew with each effort of recall, and therefore it is subject to distortion in the light of subsequently acquired beliefs. To fall under the sway of a recovered memory practitioner is to acquire just such a belief, ensuring that artifactual details or a wholly invented incident will acquire the force of a real memory.

This was to be Aaron Fisher’s development under the watchful eye of Mike Gillum. The latter, noting Aaron’s nervousness in his company, classified him at once as a survivor of molestation. Gillum began spending many hours each day with the boy and making himself available by phone around the clock. He told Aaron that he would help and protect him until the memory of abuse could be safely expressed. As Fisher would later avow, “It wasn’t until I was 15 and started seeing Mike that I realized the horror.” Nor was it necessary for Aaron to tell Gillum what he thought had happened. The psychologist prided himself on guessing the truth and stating it to the boy, who would simply nod his head or say “Yes” or “No”—and “No” was clearly not an acceptable answer.

In Gillum’s view, as in that of other memory therapists, a severe trauma can be recalled only piecemeal, in anguished stages, with the result that the very latest iteration is sure to be the most accurate one. Gillum likened the process to peeling an onion. Such a model discounts the therapist’s all-important influence over the process of recall under treatment. Indeed, in the opinion of psychologists who study memory, when a “memory” keeps accreting ever more grotesque and improbable details, that is a sign that the originating event probably hadn’t occurred at all.

Having seen Aaron Fisher every day for weeks, Gillum felt frustrated when he was excluded from Aaron’s first police interrogation, which yielded meager results. After that setback, though, Gillum became in effect a tool of the prosecution, sitting in on every interview and, by his very presence, reminding Aaron of what he was expected to say.

Even so, Aaron’s compliance was always hesitant and partial. Gillum would later tell Pendergrast that it had taken him six months (actually seven) to get his patient to state in so many words that Sandusky had forced oral sex upon him—a charge that Aaron retracted when quizzed about it in the first of three grand jury appearances. The jurors, possessing no solid evidence against Sandusky, refused to hand down an indictment. In Aaron’s second appearance, he was so distraught and confused that, once again, no action was taken. And he tried to back out altogether from making the third appearance. A newly constituted grand jury had to settle for his reading a text that may have been crafted by others. Even at the trial in 2012, he could do no better than sob through rehearsed assent to statements by a prosecuting attorney.

Those statements included an assertion that Fisher had been an overnight guest in Sandusky’s house about a hundred times during the period of abuse, 2003–8. Mutual but by no means consensual fellatio had supposedly been practiced in the basement. But why had the boy returned, again and again, for more of what was traumatizing him? Had he sleepwalked through all five years? Like most false memories, Fisher’s couldn’t be reconciled with norms of plausibility. Nonetheless, his sobs on the witness stand, possibly expressing entrapment and remorse for his part in railroading Sandusky into prison, made a stronger impression on the jury than his illogic did.

Long before Sandusky’s trial, state officials had been shown that Fisher by himself, a mentally fragile teenager who kept changing his story, wasn’t going to bring Sandusky down. Before they had heard of the McQueary/Myers incident, only one other possible victim besides Fisher was known to them. In 1998 Debra McCord, the mother of a Second Mile child, 14-year-old Zachary Konstas, had been alarmed to learn that Sandusky had play-wrestled with him during another post-workout shower. She had notified the police, who investigated her claim of abuse and even performed two sting operations designed to entrap the perpetrator. But Zach Konstas himself insisted that Sandusky had merely been engaging in his usual mock-aggressive foolery.

Finding no incriminating evidence, the police had declared Debra McCord’s suspicions to be unfounded. And McCord herself must have agreed with their judgment. For the next dozen years she allowed Zach to continue attending football games with Sandusky and visiting his home. Indeed, Zach and Allan Myers, the more important if still anonymous shower boy who was now a young man, shared a dinner with Jerry and Dottie Sandusky as late as July 2011.

Dottie Sandusky at Christmas 2010. After she defended her husband in a 2014 appearance on the Today show, viewers wrote that she was a “hag,” a “sicko,” a “rapist,” and that she deserved the death penalty. (Photo from The Most Hated Man in America)

To an objective observer, the terminated Konstas episode would have held no forensic interest. But Deputy District Attorney Eshbach and memory therapist Gillum were not objective observers. Because Eshbach never doubted that Sandusky was a serial molester, she hoped to lure Konstas into joining Aaron Fisher as a self-announced victim. And she decided to cast a wide dragnet for further victims, ordering troopers to interrogate every Second Mile veteran they could find who had had personal dealings with the founder.

Ironically, the sleuths were aided in that task by Sandusky’s upbeat autobiography of 2000, unselfconsciously titled Touched (!). It contained photographs of the beaming suspect with his arms draped around easily identifiable prepubescent boys. In that book, by the way, Sandusky had written about “reaching out” to boys and “having fun” in “wrestling” with them. As Pendergrast asks, would a child molester be likely to have allowed such a work to see print?

Eshbach’s agents told each respondent, falsely, that quite a few other young men had already volunteered narratives of molestation by Sandusky—so shouldn’t they, too, reveal what had been done to them? The overwhelming majority of some 600 ex-Second Milers, however, gave versions of the same disappointing answer. Yes, Sandusky had tickled them, squeezed their knees, cracked their backs, or even kissed them on the forehead at age 10 or 11; but this hadn’t been grooming for later assaults. It had simply expressed affectionate comradeship from a father figure. For many of these 20-somethings Sandusky had remained a hero, a man of spotless character who had once spared them from wretchedness and then, in their troubled adolescence, steered them toward responsible adulthood by providing advice and incentives for good schoolwork and clean living.

The interviewees’ recurrent mention of Sandusky’s moral counsel ought to have signaled caution to the district attorney. Some recalcitrant Second Milers had spurned their former mentor and plunged into early experimentation with alcohol, drugs, and sex. For them, Sandusky’s redoubled exhortations to virtue had rendered him an annoyance. If he had ever molested them, they would surely have fired back against such gross inconsistency. (“Who are you, a rapist of children, to be lecturing me?”) Yet no one, not even Sandusky’s most florid accusers, ever seems to have called him a hypocrite.

Among so many young men drawn in by the dragnet, however, there were bound to be a few who, in bad financial straits that were sometimes worsened by criminal records, caught the scent of money. Aaron Fisher’s mother, we recall, may have glimpsed that benefit from the start. Without explicitly saying so, Eshbach and police investigators implied that testimony against the abuser could lead to riches. Nor would the young men necessarily have to perjure themselves on the witness stand. If they would merely entertain the hypothesis that they had been violated by Sandusky many years before, when their sexual ignorance had prevented them from registering the offense, then Mike Gillum or other therapists, such as State College’s Cynthia MacNab, could assist them in bringing their “compartmentalized” memories to the surface.

By the time of the trial, Aaron Fisher and Zach Konstas were ready to denounce Sandusky—for Konstas, too, must have “flipped” under therapeutic pressure, now maintaining that the pedophile had been grooming him for future abuse. As a result of their recruiting, the authorities also had four new “victims” in tow, plus two more who belatedly responded to a hotline number that was established after the media had pounced on the Sandusky scandal. Thanks to the hotline, previously unknown parties could simply phone in to stake a claim. Then, too, there was Mike McQueary, who had finally convinced himself, on the basis of others’ charges, that he had actually witnessed a homosexual rape. And with the janitor Ronald Petrosky ready to report about another one, the prosecutors’ case was finally looking strong.

The appearance of strength, however, isn’t the same thing as proof, and dozens of false memories are no better than one. Let us review the claims of each accuser, as Pendergrast does more fully in The Most Hated Man in America.

1. Mike McQueary/Allan Myers. As we have seen, McQueary witnessed no sexual activity in the shower, and Myers confirmed that nothing untoward had been going on. Myers’s later intention to testify in Sandusky’s behalf should have put the question to rest.

2. Zachary Konstas told both his mother and the police that he and Sandusky had indulged in harmless horseplay in 1998. There is no reason to believe otherwise. In 2009, as a 23-year-old, Konstas messaged, “Hey Jerry just want 2 wish u a Happy Fathers Day! Greater things are yet 2 come!” And later that year he wrote, “Happy Thanksgiving bro! I’m glad God has placed U in my life. Ur an awesome friend!” Konstas’s “flipping,” just before the trial, may have resulted from some combination of opportunism, psychotherapy (which he did undergo), and surrender to a general moral panic.

3. Aaron Fisher. The “victim” who set the Penn State tragedy in motion was egged on by his mother and then by the memory diver Mike Gillum. We have seen that in a number of ways, straight through the trial, Fisher manifested a reluctance to accuse Sandusky of misdeeds that he could never clearly bring to mind. And his friendly association with Sandusky throughout the five years of alleged abuse argues strongly against the likelihood that any abuse occurred.

4. Dustin Struble (b. 1984) recalled the Second Mile program with unmixed gratitude in 2004. That was when he wrote on a scholarship application, “Jerry Sandusky, he has helped me understand so much about myself. He is such a kind and caring gentleman, and I will never forget him.” More recently, when Pendergrast asked Struble what he would have said about Sandusky in 2010, he replied, “I would have said I went to games with him and that we were friends.” Indeed, tailgate parties with the Sanduskys had been a regular feature of his life for 14 years, until he was 25.

Nevertheless, when the McQueary scandal broke in 2011, Struble wondered whether Sandusky’s typically hands-on encounters with him could have included a sexual component. In February 2011 he told investigators that he was entering psychotherapy, presumably in order to dredge up repressed memories. Still, on April 11 of the same year, he assured the grand jury that, so far as he could recall, Sandusky had never once touched him inappropriately.

But around that time, Struble began comparing notes with his fellow memory patient Zach Konstas. Before long he signed a contingency fee agreement with a local attorney, Andrew Shubin. Obviously, then, the lawyer and his client were looking forward to splitting a possible settlement for psychological harm. Struble met with Shubin 10 to 15 times before the trial, and he entered therapy with Cindy MacNab to find hidden memories of abuse.

Soon thereafter, Struble’s story drastically changed. Sandusky, he claimed, had touched his penis in a car and had nestled against him erotically in a shower. Asked in cross examination why he hadn’t disclosed those events in earlier testimony, he replied in recovered memory psychobabble: “That doorway that I had closed has since been reopening more.” And in a 2014 email to Pendergrast, Struble wrote: “Actually both of my therapists have suggested that I have repressed memories, and that’s why we have been working on looking back on my life for triggers. My therapist has suggested that I still may have more repressed memories that have yet to be revealed, and this could be a big cause of the depression that I still carry today.”

5. Michal Kajak (b. 1988), a friend of both Struble’s and Zach Konstas’s, said nothing to investigators until well after the Sandusky uproar had become headline news. Then, on June 7, 2011, he alleged that Sandusky had once seized his hand and placed it on his (Sandusky’s) erect penis. When had this happened? At first Kajak located the offense in the fall of 1998, before he and Sandusky had even met. Later he changed the date to August 2001. No, he corrected himself again, it had been sometime in 2002, in Penn State’s Lasch Football building. But by then Sandusky was complying with former Athletic Director Curley’s ban on bringing any Second Mile boys onto the campus; so this date, like the first one, is unbelievable.

By moving the incident’s occurrence to 2001 or 2002, Kajak and his attorney were placing it “post-McQueary”—that is, at a time when the Penn State administration would be vulnerable to the highest damages for having neglected to turn Sandusky in to the police. And indeed, Kajak’s final version would be worth millions to him and his lawyer. But had any misbehavior ever taken place? Like all of the other supposed victims, Kajak had never mentioned it to anyone and had gone right on cordially fraternizing with his presumptive abuser.

6. In July 2011 Jason Simcisko (b. 1987) was questioned by two policemen whom he told, in the words they quoted,

I lost touch with [Sandusky] around the time I went into tenth grade. I was in trouble a lot then: in and out of foster homes and stuff. He made me feel special, giving me stuff and spending time with me. I just always took it that he was trying to make sure I kept out of trouble. I don’t believe any of this stuff is true and hope that he’s found not guilty.

But a month later Simcisko had taken on Dustin Struble’s contingency fee lawyer, Andrew Shubin, and had changed his tune. Now, it seems, he had spent some 20 overnights in the Sandusky home and had been subjected to numerous genital rubbings. By the time of the trial, 20 visits had grown to 50, and Sandusky’s touching of his penis had occurred nearly every time. Once again, recovered memory was invoked. When challenged about inconsistency with earlier statements, Simcisko responded, “I tried to block this out of my brain for years.”

7. Brett Houtz (b. 1983) was a rebellious adolescent—by all accounts a habitual liar and manipulator who neglected school, dropped out of sports, used drugs, stole a car, and got sexually involved with a young girl. Sandusky had taken him on as an especially challenging project, but by 16 Houtz was fed up with Sandusky’s preachy messages, some of which would be introduced in the trial as grooming “love letters.”

Abuse became an issue for Brett Houtz only after the press sensation that began on March 31, 2011. Reading of the charges against Sandusky, Houtz’s biological father got in touch with him and proposed that he retain a lawyer and get in on the action. Houtz’s immediate retort was that he wanted nothing to do with the case. On reconsideration, though, he retained Benjamin Andreozzi, the lawyer his father had contacted, who would end by serving lucratively as the attorney for 10 claimants against Penn State.

Even then, Houtz refused at first to enter charges against Sandusky. Afterwards, two police officers drew him out, with attorney Andreozzi present, in the only interview with a Second Miler that was ever tape recorded. The tape could serve as a classic lesson in biased interrogation. From the beginning, the idea was to get Houtz’s recollections into alignment with those of other accusers; and the questioners, with the attorney’s collusion, didn’t relent until they had done so.

Houtz’s eventual testimony, which was so graphic that it served as the opener in the prosecution’s horror show, may not have been entirely disingenuous. He had entered psychological counseling soon after retaining Andreozzi, and at some point he, too, had come under the care of recovered memory guru Mike Gillum. As he told the jury, “I have spent, you know, so many years burying this in the back of my mind forever.” Pendergrast thinks Houtz may also have been the Second Miler who underwent 30 trauma sessions with a recovered memory advocacy group called Let Go Let Peace Come In.

Like other putative Sandusky victims, Houtz ramped up his charges between the grand jury and the trial. At first his questioners had had to coax him before he would say that he had ever experienced oral sex with Sandusky. In the trial, though, he was ready to declare that he had been molested at least 50 times, with Sandusky often forcibly jamming his penis into his mouth.

The events that Houtz narrated bore the usual marks of recovered memory craziness. In his recollection, he had been playing basketball or racquetball with Sandusky nearly every evening during the 1997 football season and preseason, when the coach’s all-consuming duties barely allowed him enough time to come home for dinner. No less bizarre was his assertion that the puritanical Sandusky, who had never been known to smoke, consume alcohol, or utter a swear word, used to buy cigarettes for the teenager and once drove him to a drug dealer and gave him $50 to buy marijuana, which he smoked in Sandusky’s car.

Above all, Houtz was stumped by the same paradoxes that no accuser would be able to resolve. Why, once having been assaulted by a monstrous villain, had he kept returning to be raped again? Why had he informed no one at all about his ongoing torture? And why hadn’t his opinion of Sandusky, already mixed because of the latter’s moralizing, drastically worsened? At age 26, in the year before turning on his benefactor, Houtz had brought his girlfriend and three-year-old son for a happy visit with the Sanduskys, as if there had never been a cause for complaint. That fact speaks louder than anything he would say in court.

8. Sabastian Paden (b. 1993) was a senior in high school when, on November 5, 2011, his mother saw the televised news of Sandusky’s arrest and learned that Pennsylvania’s new attorney general, Linda Kelly, had established a hotline soliciting more victims to declare themselves. At once the mother asked someone at her son’s school to call the hotline. But she hadn’t consulted Sabastian himself, and so, when the police soon knocked on his door, his answers to their queries were unrehearsed. He informed them without hesitation that Sandusky had done nothing to him in a sexual way.

Very soon thereafter, though, with or without therapeutic prodding, Paden began telling the grand jury dreamlike tales about Sandusky’s outrages. During the period of his abuse, he testified, he had crossed the Sandusky threshold about 150 times, seemingly powerless to stay away. Although we know that Second Mile kids often came around to play games in the basement, they were all conveniently absent on the many days of Paden’s abuse, leaving the rapist free to work his mischief unobserved.

In one instance Sandusky had allegedly lured Sabastian home after school, locked him in the basement (whose lock was on the inside), and kept him there for three days while depriving him of food and repeatedly assaulting him orally and anally. At the time, Paden testified, Dottie Sandusky was on the first floor of the small, unsoundproofed house, but Sabastian’s loud screams of pain and terror were ignored. Dottie, then, must have been a fiendish accomplice to rape. But for anyone who knew her—a loving mother, a churchgoing Methodist, and a stern enforcer of household rules who was nicknamed “Sarge”—this was the most preposterous fantasy of all.

9. Ryan Rittmeyer (b. 1988) had attended a Second Mile camp, but neither Jerry nor Dottie Sandusky could recall ever having met him. He hadn’t turned out well, having been incarcerated for burglary in 2004 and again in 2007 for having robbed, beaten, and permanently injured an elderly man. He was probably hard up for money when the Sandusky hotline posed an opportunity for sudden improvement in his fortunes.

Unlike the accusers who had felt Sandusky’s kindness and may have suffered pangs of conscience about betraying him, Rittmeyer wholeheartedly embraced the role of prosecution witness. He had seen Sandusky once or twice a month, he stated, through 1997, 1998, and part of 1999, and on nearly every occasion the man had made sexual contact with him. At last, supposedly, they had begun to take turns committing fellatio.

Rittmeyer’s story, fitting the general pattern, was a tissue of physical, temporal, and motivational absurdities. But the jury, without having been shown that Sandusky and Rittmeyer were even acquainted, found it compelling. Indeed, the jurors believed all eight of the Second Mile veterans who testified—forming, collectively, a portrait of a man with little time to do anything but scurry from one unreported molestation to the next. Even Aaron Fisher and Sabastian Paden would have had to take turns getting ravaged in Sandusky’s basement, as their supposed ordeals there overlapped between 2005 and 2008.

10. Ronald Petrosky was the Penn State janitor who told the Sandusky jury what he thought Jim Calhoun, another janitor, had revealed to him one night in 2000, 12 years before. Calhoun himself couldn’t testify; in June 2012 he was suffering from dementia. But Petrosky testified on his behalf, even reproducing what he imagined to be Calhoun’s thought process from long before. His recollection, though it wavered and contained some odd features, impressed the jury as the crowning proof of Sandusky’s guilt. That it was hearsay at a 12-year remove didn’t matter to the judge, who admitted it into testimony on the novel ground that it was consistent with the other unproven charges in the case.

Apparently, something awful had indeed occurred one night in 2000. Calhoun had seen a man licking an older boy’s genitals in the Lasch building’s shower area. Unnerved, he had communicated his alarm to Ronald Petrosky. More than a decade later, when the mounting charges against Sandusky were dominating the news, Petrosky evoked that incident, which neither he nor Calhoun had reported at the time. Nor, curiously, had Petrosky ever mentioned it to anyone else. Now he seemed to remember that Calhoun had identified the perpetrator as Sandusky and that he, Petrosky, had caught sight of Sandusky and the boy exiting the locker room together. Further, he thought he recalled having noticed Sandusky driving slowly around the building’s parking lot later that night and again around 2 a.m.

Months before the trial, Petrosky’s story had figured, albeit erroneously, in an influential televised exchange between Sandusky and the sportscaster Bob Costas:

Costas: A janitor said that he saw you performing oral sex on a boy in the showers in the Penn State locker facility. Did that happen?

Sandusky: No.

Costas: How could somebody think they saw you do something as extreme and shocking as that, when it hadn’t occurred, and what would possibly be their motivation to fabricate it?

Sandusky: You would have to ask them.

Sandusky’s terse, bland responses damned him in the eyes of future jurors and the public. No one pointed out that the janitor in question, Petrosky, had not in fact observed any activity in the Lasch building’s shower room.

The man who did witness a crime, Jim Calhoun, had been interviewed by state trooper Robrt Yakikic on May 15, 2011, when his Alzheimer’s was still at an early stage. Asked what he thought of Sandusky, Calhoun had brightened and said he was “a pretty good guy.” Did Calhoun recall the shower incident? Absolutely, and he felt that even now he would recognize the dastardly abuser if he encountered him. Was it Sandusky? Calhoun answered at once, “No, I don’t believe it was.” An incredulous Yakikic asked, “You don’t?” Calhoun became more emphatic: “I don’t believe it was. I don’t think Sandusky was the person. It wasn’t him. There’s no way. Sandusky never did anything at all that I can see.” The exculpating tape was in the possession of Sandusky’s lead attorney, Joe Amendola—who, however, lacking time for adequate preparation, made no use of it.

The Sandusky trial, described in detail by Pendergrast, proved to be a perfect storm of juror prejudice, prosecutorial malfeasance, incompetent and perfunctory defense, judicial bias, and unlucky circumstances. Among the latter was the fact that Mike McQueary’s “little boy in the shower,” Allan Myers, who had been planning to attest to Sandusky’s innocence, saw dollar signs and, joining forces with the claims lawyer Andrew Shubin, apparently maintained (out of court) that Sandusky had molested him after all. That decision may have cost him his conscience but it gained him financial security, thanks to the munificence of the new, ask-no-questions administration of Penn State.

Again, Sandusky had been counting on the last of his six adopted children, Matt (né Heichel), to vouch for him at the trial, as he had already done in the face of nagging interrogation. The Christian activists Jerry and Dottie Sandusky had welcomed Matt into their home because he was continually getting into trouble, which eventually included theft, arson, and exposing himself on multiple occasions to the family’s only daughter. Jerry had kept bailing Matt out and lecturing him about the good life. He even got him to sign a contract whereby improved behavior would be repaid with funds—Jerry’s own money—for a college education.

Matt Sandusky with children and Jerry Sandusky from the Sandusky family 2010 Christmas booklet. The following year, Matt testified that his father has never abused him before the grand jury, but he “flipped” in 2012 to accuse his father on the basis of recovered memories. (Photo from The Most Hated Man in America)

Jerry’s refusal to be discouraged by Matt’s lapses seemed to be vindicated by a turnaround in the young man’s deportment, and Matt was grateful for such steadfastness. In 1998 he told Sports Illustrated,

My life changed when I came here to live [in the Sandusky household]. There were rules, there was discipline, there was caring. Dad put me on a workout program. He gave me someone to talk to, a father figure I never had. I have no idea where I’d be without him and Mom. I don’t even want to think about it. And they’ve helped so many kids besides me.

But the negative pattern resumed. Matt dropped out of Penn State, got in further trouble, married and divorced after fathering three children, and then moved back in for a year with his adoptive parents—an unthinkable decision if he had ever been molested by Jerry. It isn’t surprising, but it is telling, that he swore under oath to the grand jury that no such molestation had happened.

Right up until the middle of the trial, Matt was looking forward to delivering a strong tribute to Jerry. But psychologically he was in a bad way, obsessed with a nonexistent odor in the family basement and hearing voices calling his name. When he attended to Brett Houtz’s colorful testimony, something snapped. Now he wondered whether abuse by Jerry, though unremembered, had been the source of his many problems in life.

Evidently, Matt had already been in the care of a psychotherapist. Now, under the guidance of lawyer Shubin, he went to the police and reported that a recollection of Jerry’s assaults was beginning to take shape in his mind. The weird sex acts that he subsequently “recovered” sounded like characteristic products of therapeutic prodding. As he later explained, “My child self was holding onto what had happened to me,” so that at first “I didn’t have these memories of the sexual abuse.”

The “flipping” of both Allan Myers and Matt Sandusky was a disaster for the already hapless defense team. Not only could the two young men not be called upon to testify; Jerry himself was dissuaded from taking the stand, lest Matt then be summoned by the prosecution to add an exclamation point to its ghoulish case. And so the jurors never got to compare the real Jerry Sandusky with the bogeyman conjured by his adversaries.

Long before Sandusky faced the justice system, he had been thoroughly demonized in the press. The journalist Sara Ganim, profiting from grand jury leaks by the district attorney’s office, would win a Pulitzer prize for articles bearing such unequivocal titles as “Former Coach Jerry Sandusky Used Charity to Molest Kids.” And once Sandusky’s wickedness had been engraved on the public mind, everything about him was twisted to fit a predator profile.

In reality, the extraverted but high-principled Sandusky didn’t fit any model of deviance. No doubts about his sexual orientation or conduct were raised before he was 54 years old. No pornography was found on his computer. Disapproving of sex out of wedlock, he had been happily married to his only spouse since 1966. His domestic lovemaking, he and Dottie separately attested, was conventional in frequency and nature. He was disgusted by the idea of anal or oral copulation. His testosterone level was abnormally low. And if Jerry had been an unscrupulous homosexual pedophile, his adopted boys would have been prime targets; but until Matt became afflicted with pseudomemories, all five of them considered the charge to be outlandish.

Had Sandusky testified, he could have explained the aspects of his behavior that some parents and even some children found “creepy.” He had spent much of his youth living on the second floor of a recreation center managed by his father, himself a charitable man who cared about helping underprivileged children. Jerry had wanted to emulate him in every way. In Art Sandusky’s facility, communal showers and prankish romping after exercise had been routine. The roughhousing had been play, but it had also offered a heartening, asexual token of solidarity between athletically inclined men and boys. Even Jerry’s most unsettling practice, squeezing the knees of a boy passenger in a car, was inherited from his father. It meant something like “Don’t forget that you can rely on my support.” As Jerry’s son Jon, now Director of Player Personnel for the Cleveland Browns, has commented,

[My father’s] whole picture of the world was stuck in the 1950s and 1960s, with no concept of what was politically correct or what is taboo nowadays…. To him, horsing around in the shower, snapping towels or throwing soap wasn’t out of the realm of normality…. But people’s view of the world is different now…. I don’t think he really understood that.

And Jon added, “My parents gave me morals. They taught me how to live my life, with a work ethic but mixing in pleasure too…. They were well-rounded parents. They modeled things I’m striving to be as a parent myself.”

Many factors contributed to the Sandusky debacle: a prurient misconstruction of well-meant deeds; excessive zeal by officials, police, social workers, and therapists; scandal mongering by the media that preempted the judicial process; the greed of abuse claimants and their lawyers; and a political vendetta against Penn State’s President Spanier by then Governor Tom Corbett. But the main ingredient in the witches’ brew, the one that rendered it most toxic, was something else: bogus psychological theory.

The indefinite and unsupported concepts of dissociation and repression, wielded without allowance for the distorting effects of suggestion and autosuggestion, lent forensic weight to nightmarish scenes that were “retrieved” in a climate of fright. Without that bad science, imparted first by therapy (Fisher) and then by social contagion (McQueary), there would have been no case at all against Sandusky. Attorney General Linda Kelly acknowledged as much in her triumphant press conference following the conviction. She praised the accusers for their courage and persistence in struggling toward a negation of their original statements to authorities. “It was incredibly difficult,” she proclaimed, “for some of them to unearth long-buried memories of the shocking abuse they suffered at the hands of this defendant.”

Bo, the loyal St. Bernard, from the Sandusky family 2010 Christmas booklet. Bo died while Jerry Sandusky was in prison. (Photo from The Most Hated Man in America)

With The Most Hated Man in America and its companion volume, Memory Warp, Mark Pendergrast has demonstrated that the obituaries of our lamentable recovered memory movement were premature. Its virulent misconceptions, originally propagated by ideologues and ignorant psychotherapists, will surely continue to wreak havoc. Forewarned is forearmed. But who, meanwhile, will restore Jerry Sandusky’s liberty and good name? And when will the stain of criminality be erased from Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, Graham Spanier, and the late Joe Paterno? As Charles Mackay wrote in his 1852 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, men “go mad in herds, while they only recover their sense slowly, and one by one.”

About the Author

Frederick Crews is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of California, Berkeley. His latest book is Freud: The Making of an Illusion. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Other Resources we have on Topic of Recovered Memories
  1. False Memory Syndrome and the Recovered Memory Movement
    (lecture on DVD), by Dr. John Hochman
  2. “Recovered Memory Therapy & False Memory Syndrome”
    (in Skeptic magazine 2.3)
  3. The Memory Wars: Recovered v. False Memories
    (lecture on DVD), by Dr. Pamela Freyd & Eleanor Goldstein
  4. “First of All, Do No Harm: A Recovered Memory Therapist Recants —
    An Interview with Robin Newsome,” by Mark Pendergrast
    (in Skeptic magazine 3.4)
  5. Junior Skeptic # 25: “Alien Abductions (Part 2),” by Daniel Loxton
    (bound within Skeptic magazine 12.4)
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

eSkeptic for January 3, 2018

Skeptic.com feed - Wed, 01/03/2018 - 12:00am

In this week’s eSkeptic:

In this week’s eSkeptic, Frederick Crews reviews Mark Pendergrast’s book The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment: a sustained, comprehensive case—based on detailed evidence and reasoning—that Jerry Sandusky (found guilty on 45 counts of child molestation) was, in fact, blameless.

Editor’s Note

We are aware of the sensitive nature of the subject of this review and the book itself, given the fact that the sexual molestation of children is a real and troubling problem. And we cannot comment on whether or not Jerry Sandusky is innocent, inasmuch as the legal system is designed not to prove innocence but to find someone either guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or not guilty. However, it now appears that much of the testimony upon which Sandusky’s conviction was based relied on the “recovery” of “repressed memories,” a concept considered by the vast majority of psychological scientists to be unfounded. Given what we know about how memory works—it is not like a video recording that can be played back on the theater of the mind—the memories of those who testified are now so modified by their recovered memory therapists, police investigators, lawyers, and the media that the original memory of whatever happened may now be lost to history. The relevance of the subject to Skeptic magazine is that we published many articles on the Recovered Memory Movement in the 1990s and early 2000s (see links at end of review), and for a time it appeared that this scientifically discredited view of memory had faded from the scene. Alas, it is still with us. Efforts to identify and help the real victims of sexual abuse can only be set back by this baseless theory. If Sandusky’s conviction rests almost entirely on the tainted, “recovered” memories of those who claimed to be his victims, and the evidence persuasively suggests that it is, it would appear that the guilty verdict rendered against him may be unwarranted.
Michael Shermer, Editor-in-Chief, Skeptic and eSkeptic

Trial by Therapy:
The Jerry Sandusky Case Revisited

by Frederick Crews

“It was incredibly difficult for some of them to unearth long-buried memories of the shocking abuse they suffered at the hands of this defendant.” —Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Linda Kelly after the Sandusky guilty verdict

In June 2012, the 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky, for three decades a successful and admired assistant to Pennsylvania State University’s legendary football coach, Joe Paterno, was found guilty on 45 counts of child molestation and was remanded to prison for, effectively, the rest of his life. Sandusky was exposed as a serial pedophile on a scarcely imaginable scale, and 10 of his victims—presumably a small sample—were featured in his trial. Penn State would eventually pay $109 million (and counting) in compensation to at least 35 men who had been schoolboys at the time of their reported abuse. And presumably there were hundreds more victims. Since 1977 Sandusky had led a substantial program of his own devising for disadvantaged youth, The Second Mile, that was thought to have served him as a “candy store,” affording opportunities to “groom” neglected boys and then to have his way with them.

Jerry Sandusky around 1999 with Second Mile kids, most of whom later claimed that he abused them and received millions of dollars in settlements. (Photo from The Most Hated Man in America)

The Sandusky case was so mortifying that it triggered the firing of Penn State’s president, Graham Spanier, a vice president, Gary Schultz, its athletic director, Tim Curley, and the idolized Joe Paterno himself, at age 84 and after 61 years of service, for having abetted Sandusky’s crimes. Specifically, they had failed to take action after one horrific incident had been called to their notice. Paterno died of lung cancer two months after his shaming. Schultz and Curley, later indicted on felony charges, pleaded guilty to a compromise charge of child endangerment, for which they each received a two-year jail sentence (not entirely served). President Spanier protested his innocence but was convicted of the same offense and sentenced to four to 12 months of combined jail time and house arrest. (His appeal is still in process.) And in the wake of Sandusky’s own conviction, Penn State was fined $860 million and otherwise condemned and sanctioned for having placed sports mania ahead of helpless children’s welfare.

All that furor was commensurate with the depravity of Sandusky’s alleged crimes, divulged in sensational news reports after a grand jury “presentment” (summary) was released and dramatically recapitulated at the trial seven months later. A university janitor, Ronald Petrosky, testified that a fellow janitor, Jim Calhoun, had happened upon Sandusky, around the year 2000, giving oral sex to a boy in a university shower. And more directly, emotional Second Mile veterans told of having been subjected to multiple assaults. Under prosecution questioning, for example, Aaron Fisher agreed that between 2006 and 2008 he had been forced into oral copulation more than 25 times. Ryan Rittmeyer said that after initially fending off Sandusky’s advances, he gave in and repeatedly exchanged oral sex with his abuser. According to Brett Swisher Houtz, Sandusky had molested him in showers, in a sauna, and in hotel rooms, forcing him to assume “69” positions. There had been over 40 such events, Houtz reported, occurring two or three times a week. And Sabastian Paden told the grand jury of even more savage treatment.

None of those stories is as well remembered, though, as that of Mike McQueary, a former Penn State quarterback and coach who, as a graduate student at the turn of the century, had been serving as an apprentice to the coaching staff. Two factors set McQueary apart. First, by 2012 he was the only mentally competent person who claimed to have seen Sandusky in the act of molesting a boy. And second, he was the informant who had alerted Coach Paterno and thence Athletic Director Curley, Vice President Schultz, and President Spanier. “Remember that little boy in the shower,” Governor Tom Corbett admonished the governing board that was about to sack all four men. And that boy in the shower is what the American public remembers, too.

To judge from the grand jury presentment of November 2011, there was no doubt about what McQueary had observed a decade earlier. At about 9:30 on the evening of March 1, 2002, it was stated, McQueary, upon entering the locker room of Penn State’s Lasch Football Building, had heard “rhythmic slapping sounds” indicative of sexual intercourse. Sure enough, when he had peered into the communal shower area he had seen a boy, roughly 10 years old, with his hands against the wall, being sodomized by Jerry Sandusky. McQueary had been too flustered to intervene, but on the next morning he notified Paterno, assuming, mistakenly, that Paterno and higher officials would turn Sandusky in to the police. […]

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The Tail of the Lizard Man
MONSTERTALK EPISODE 146

In this episode of MonsterTalk, we creep narratively into the swamps of South Carolina as we talk of the strange lizard man who is alleged to live in the swamps outside Bishopville. Lyle Blackburn leads our expedition as he recounts the story as told in his book Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster. Lyle previously joined us for episode 106: What The Fouke? The Beast of Boggy Creek.

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

Skeptoid #604: Net Neutrality Reexamined

Skeptoid Feed - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 4:00pm
A skeptic's guide for organizing the issues raised by Net Neutrality.
Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

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