Selected articles from
VOL. 11 NO. 3 WINTER 1998-99
WARNING: ET probe to allegedly land on Dec. 7!
In a Nov. 6 e-mail to the members of Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS),
Gersten warned that an alien craft is scheduled to land on earth just days after publication of this
newsletter. It seems that Richard Hoagland, the chief
promoter of such claims as the "Face on Mars," has stated on the Art Bell radio program that a
so-called "EQ Pegasi signal" is emanating from an interstellar probe which will land near Phoenix,
AZ, on Dec. 7.
Says Gersten, "CAUS believes we must assume Hoagland's information, based upon his experience,
expertise and intuition and corroborated by his calculations and Pentagon sources, is reliable and
accurate. CAUS believes we must prepare for some unusual event to take place north of Phoenix on
"Psychic/Prophet" fails the TBS "$1,000 Challenge"
by Gary P. Posner
[This article may be found here.]
UFOs, Scientists and Stanford University (Part 2)
by Terry A. Smiljanich
In our last issue, we examined the recent Stanford/Sturrock report on the need for further serious
study of the "UFO problem." The study, heavily reported in the media as objective scientific
confirmation of the reality of UFOs, was sponsored by the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE)
and published in its "peer-reviewed" journal, the Journal of Scientific Exploration (JSE). We learned
that JSE has published many articles on such fringe-science topics as cold fusion, astrology, dowsing,
faith healing, and the Loch Ness monster.
Far from being an objective scientific report published in a serious scientific journal, it thus
turns out that the sponsoring organization and its publications are committed to the study of
pseudoscientific topics, including UFOs. Unfortunately, in none of the media reports on this study
was this important fact mentioned.
If there was any doubt about where the Society for Scientific Exploration stands on anti-rational
thinking, one need only read some articles by Bernhard Haisch, the editor-in-chief of JSE. In "Be
Skeptical of the 'Skeptics,'" Dr. Haisch (Astronomy, University of Wisconsin) tut-tuts over the
ridicule and innuendo coming from the "skeptical community." He argues that it would only take a
small part of the federal civilian research budget to "make progress" in the UFO question. He
further suggests that there is plenty of "substantial evidence" to support UFO claims. (Substantial?
The results set forth in this study?) He concludes: "After all, how can one rationally object to a
call for scientific examination of evidence?"
Good question, but somewhat beside the point. To my knowledge, no one is prohibiting good research
scientists from examining any aspect of what SSE continually refers to as the "UFO problem." There
are, of course, some interesting aspects of some UFO reports that point to unusual atmospheric/solar
phenomena such as sundogs, sun pillars, superrefractive effects, and electrical "sprites" above
thunderclouds. Ball lightning is still little understood. But do Dr. Haisch and the SSE believe that
scientists should spend spare dollars and time running down reports of green lights chasing police
cruisers, crashed aliens at Roswell, floating lights over Gulf Breeze, and the myriad other silly
claims that together constitute the "UFO problem"? Give the scientific community some good
non-prosaic "evidence" of UFOs, and there will be little problem in generating interest in a
After reading through the Sturrock UFO report and the material available on
the website for the SSE and its journal, one is left with the
impression that what really irks this group is its lack of credibility. It yearns for bigger research
dollars and respect. Well, only one thing will achieve this -- results. If SSE can ever report
conclusively on a repeatable dowsing demonstration, fortune-telling result, reincarnation proof,
alien visitation, or cold-fusion power, it can be assured that the scientific community and research
dollars will clamor for position. But as long as SSE stays out on the edges of pseudoscience, the
burden of proof and persuasion will always be upon it.
Ultimately, though, what's the harm in presenting this report to the public? It's a free country, and
no one can question the right of this panel to present whatever results and conclusions it sees fit.
It is, nonetheless, sad. The wide public has now heard reports that a group of "objective" scientists
has concluded that "there's something to these UFO reports" and has urged fellow scientists to get
serious about UFO investigations. The report itself is not nearly so credulous as the media would
have it, but surely SSE and the Sturrock panel knew that this is how the report would be treated.
In a recent Skeptical Inquirer article, Glenn Sparks reported on studies of the
influence media depictions of the paranormal have on the public ("Paranormal Depictions in the Media,"
Vol. 22, No. 4). In studying media reports of UFOs, he found that the greatest level of belief in
UFOs was found in groups that were exposed to stories in which the reports were affirmed by a
scientific authority. Amazingly, the next largest block of UFO believers was found in groups that
read stories discredited by scientific authority. He concludes: "While the reason for this finding
is not entirely clear, it may be that simply mentioning a scientific authority in a story about space
aliens tends to lend some credibility to the topic -- regardless of what the scientist actually says"
There is little doubt that the Stanford/Sturrock UFO study will have such an effect on the public. In
an age of scientific illiteracy, SSE and the Sturrock panel have done their part to assure us that
more green lights will chase more cars, and more alien abductions will be reported. As James McGaha
asked at CSICOP's "World Skeptics Congress" in Heidelberg, Germany, this past July, "Why fund
mystery-mongering over UFOs, when NEOs (Near Earth Objects) are real threats in our skies that go
almost totally unheeded?"
The late Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner and teacher at Cal Tech, once noted the lack of
consistency regarding UFO reports as indicative of their unimportance: "It's not worth paying much
attention to, unless it begins to sharpen up" (The Meaning of It All, 1998, p. 76).
About true believers, he said, "They do not appreciate that the problem is not to demonstrate
whether it's possible or not but whether it's going on or not."
Feynman struck at the heart of the self-created "UFO problem." If true believers and UFO aficionados,
whether they be credentialed scientists or not, want the scientific community to pay attention to
UFOs, they will need to "sharpen up" their own act and provide clear demonstration that flying saucers
are not only possible, but that it's "going on." Until then, the "UFO problem" will remain mired in,
as the panel noted, "ignorance and confusion." The Stanford/Sturrock panel should have done us all a
favor by addressing itself to the UFO community, not the Associated Press.
Skepticial scientist defends against lawsuit
by Robert H. Buesing
brought by controversial clinic
On October 9, a message was left on the Tampa Bay Skeptics' answering machine by Dr. Philip Filner, a
biochemist with the Macular Degeneration Foundation. Filner stated that he was the subject of a libel
action relating to his comments about RheoTherapy Centers of Tampa Bay, a Largo clinic offering a
controversial therapy for a condition known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). He added that
he was calling TBS because his efforts to find an attorney qualified to take the case had thus far
been in vain.
By the following afternoon, Gary Posner (whose answering machine doubles as TBS's) had issued an
e-mail appeal to a couple of TBS members who also happen to be trial attorneys. I immediately gave
Dr. Filner a call.
It turns out that Dr. Filner donates his time and expertise to the non-profit Macular Degeneration
Foundation (MDF), which operates a popular website and provides, at no
charge, information and support to sufferers of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and their
families. AMD is a progressive eye disease and the leading cause of blindness among people over the
age of 65. The disease damages the macula, the central portion of the retina responsible for central
vision and color detection. While the cause of AMD is not completely understood, patients initially
experience distorted central vision with blank patches, and eventually lose their central vision such
that they cannot see directly in front of them.
According to MDF, while various treatment approaches have been attempted, upon rigorous review, about
90% of AMD cases fail to respond to any of them. As a result, there are a large number of AMD
sufferers looking for a miracle, breakthrough cure. And RheoTherapy Centers offers just such a hope,
with its newspaper advertisements containing such testimonials as, "It's like someone cleaned my
eyeball" and "I know only God can make a miracle, but this is as close to a miracle as man can get."
The lawsuit alleges that Filner libeled RheoTherapy Centers in some of his e-mail replies to persons
requesting information about the use of apheresis (dubbed "RheoTherapy" by the center). The center
alleges that by inserting IV lines into the patient and circulating blood through a filter,
high-molecular-weight proteins are removed, which in turn is supposed to relieve AMD symptoms. Using
apheresis is a legitimate technique for certain conditions, but MDF believes that there is no
peer-reviewed scientific support for the role of high-molecular-weight proteins in AMD or the
effectiveness of apheresis in its treatment.
Dr. Richard C. Davis, Jr., founder of RheoTherapy Centers, discovered that some small studies testing
the effectiveness of apheresis for AMD had been conducted at the University of Cologne (Germany).
Davis subsequently opened his private, profit-making clinic and charges about $2,000 per treatment.
He recommends 7 to 10 treatments the first year, and 1 or 2 "booster" treatments each year thereafter.
MDF's independent review of the Cologne studies found that they provided no proof of significant
short-term improvement, or of any long-term improvement, in AMD patients treated with apheresis. As
inquiries about RheoTherapy Centers began to reach the MDF's Dr. Filner, he began replying with
factual descriptions of MDF's conclusions about this technique.
In January 1998, the State of Florida shut down the clinic for providing an unproven technique, but
the clinic was subsequently allowed to reopen under stricter supervision, with a requirement that
sales materials inform potential customers that the procedure is "experimental"
(see this "Snippet" in
the Spring 1998 TBS Report ). Further state hearings are pending. In the meantime, the
clinic sued MDF and Filner, alleging that his e-mail replies were defamatory and entitled the clinic
to an injunction and punitive damages. The clinic has demanded that MDF "approve" the procedure,
which MDF has had the courage to say is not supported by the scientific evidence. The battle is now
between the right of a non-profit foundation and its scientists to review and comment publicly on
medical procedures of this type, and the clinic's transparent attempt to silence those who raise
Victims of AMD are entitled to full and honest information about unproven therapies. Court hearings
are pending which will test these issues. Hopefully the winners will be not only MDF and Dr. Filner,
but also all of those who raise questions. Such skeptical inquiry is, after all, the very essence of
what science is all about.
Tales of southwest Florida's "Skunk Ape"
(see this Winter 1997-98 "Snippet"),
also known as the Bigfoot
of the Everglades, have caught the attention of CBS-TV's Unsolved Mysteries. The program
sent a crew of 10 to the Ochopee area for a four-day filming session centered around David Shealy, a
self-styled expert on the purported 7-foot-tall, hairy beast with the noxious odor. Lest you smirk,
Shealy has previously appeared on such authoritative TV shows as the E! Channel's Talk Soup
and Comedy Central's The Daily Show. The Unsolved Mysteries story's
supervising producer, Carol Dunn-Trussell, says that "If it's a hoax, that's what we'll expose it as."
Here's your humble editor's "psychic" premonition: It is a hoax, and the Unsolved
Mysteries program will not expose it as such.
(St. Pete. Times, Sept. 18;
Fort Myers News-Press, Oct. 10)
There may be more to the vampire legend than meets the tooth. According to a paper published in the
prestigious medical journal Neurology, such tales may have their origins in a major
European rabies epidemic of the 1700s. Dr. Juan Gomez-Alonso, a Spanish neurologist, says that he had
always assumed vampires to be fictitious creatures. But one day as he watched a classic Dracula film
"more as a doctor than as a spectator, I became so impressed by some obvious similarities between
vampires and what happens in rabies, such as aggressiveness and hypersexuality." Indeed, the aversion
of vampires to garlic and to mirrors may fit right in with this thesis. "Men with rabies . . . react
to stimuli such as . . . odors or mirrors with spasms of the facial and vocal muscles that can cause
hoarse sounds, bared teeth and frothing. . . . [In the past] a man was not considered rabid if he was
able to stand the sight of his own image in a mirror."
(St. Pete. Times, Sept. 22)
And to complete our legendary-creature trifecta: A South Carolinian plans to spend $1-million building
a four-man submarine and scouring Scotland's Loch Ness, for the second time, in search of its elusive
Monster. Using a home-made, one-man sub, Scott Taylor failed to locate the beast during a 1969
expedition sponsored by World Book Encyclopedia. He hopes to have better luck at the
Loch next year in his newer and larger sub, named Nessa, which will be equipped with a harpoon-like
projection with which to obtain a DNA sample from Nessie.
(AP via St. Pete. Times, Sept. 27)
TBS in the Media
Posner and "psychic" on Kathy Fountain's show:
Gary Posner and "psychic" Donna Jean Guerra (center) were Kathy Fountain's guests on the Nov. 9 edition of
Your Turn, which airs from 12:25 to 1:00 during Ch. 13's noon newscasts. The topic of
discussion was how not to get ripped off by phony psychics.
While Donna Jean offered pointers to help viewers distinguish between the "good" and the "bad" in the
business, Posner noted that no one has yet been able to conclusively demonstrate psychic ability
under proper observing conditions.
Posner brought with him a box, and announced that if anyone in the studio (i.e., Donna Jean), or in
the viewing audience, was able to "psychically" determine its contents, he would award a prize of
$1,000. No callers made the attempt, nor did Donna Jean.
Both during and after the program, Fountain expressed her desire to assist in setting up a TBS
"1,000 Challenge" with Donna Jean, to be conducted behind the scenes one morning at the studio, with
the results to be divulged live that afternoon on her show. Posner immediately accepted, but Donna
Jean remains somewhat non-committal. We'll see . . .
[Addendum: Don't hold your breath. Read more about Donna Jean
beginning in paragraph 6 of this article from 1994.]
TBS gets credit on Stossel show:
As noted in our last issue, TBS responded to a call from an assistant to ABC-TV News' John Stossel
regarding Florida "psychic
detective" John Monti.
As a result, Stossel's powerfully skeptical Oct. 6
special, The Power of
Belief, covered Monti's involvement in an ongoing missing-person
case in Denton, Texas. As the closing credits rolled, TBS (along with several other skeptical
sources) received a "Special Thanks."
Return to TBS Report Online
©1998 by Tampa Bay Skeptics.