From a 


depicting the 

autopsy of aliens

to the antics of

creationists and

the predictions of

psychics, skeptics

followed an 

assortment of 


stories in 1995.



A Credulous Year in Review
 By Jeanine DeNoma 
As I’m writing, 1995 is ending and television and news are recapping their biggest stories of the year, including the Oklahoma City bombing, the O. J. Simpson trial and the war in Bosnia. Science magazines are announcing the top science stories of 1995: a new planet found, numerous new genes identified, the Galileo spacecraft reached Jupiter, the Bose-Einstein condensate was formed. Skeptics track a large array of assorted topics and unbelievable stories, often believed by a large portion of the population. What stories were skeptics watching with humor or dismay in 1995?

     The most absurd story of 1995 may have been the “documentary” Alien Autopsy, released by the Fox network August 28, which purported to be a previously secret government film showing the autopsy of an alien killed at the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico crashed-saucer site. Poor photography, unlikely and unprofessional autopsy techniques, and an alien whose appearance contradicts other eyewitness testimony from the crash, left even many UFO-believers in disbelief. Philip Klass, in the November 1995 issue of Skeptics UFO Newsletter (SUN) reports the “smoking gun” in that hoax has been found. Former AT&T worker, Tom Holzel, recognized a modern wall phone in the background. Checking telephone history, Holzel found the coiled phone cord was not made until 1949. The wall telephone did not come out until 1956 - nine years after the autopsy was allegedly filmed! Is the “documentary” fact or fiction? Throughout the film, the narrator, Jonathan Frakes, Star Trek’s Captain Riker, asks viewers to decide. Not hard, huh?

     Scripts-Howard News Service and Ohio University released a summer poll showing half of all adult Americans believe UFOs are real and the United States government is involved in a cover-up. In July, the General Accounting Office (GAO) released its 20-page report titled Results of a Search for Records Concerning the 1947 Crash Near Roswell, New Mexico. The 18-month investigation, requested by Representative Steven Schiff, Republican from New Mexico, found nothing to contradict a 1994 U.S. Air Force report which had concluded the crash debris was from a cluster of balloons used as radar tracking targets. Representative Schiff, however, released a press statement July 28 which emphasized missing documents and the trouble he had finding answers. The implication was that important documents had been hidden or destroyed; left out of his statement was that all (not just those relating to the Roswell crash) of the 47-year-old teletype reports from the Roswell Army Air Field are missing. And Schiff failed to mention the National Security Council had no records of the Roswell crash. Schiff remained contradictory about what he believes happened at Roswell. When the August 14 Albuquerque Journal reported Schiff had said the UFO was a balloon, Schiff took the reporter to task saying, “... I have never stated any conclusion about the Roswell crash ...” According to SUN, the Albuquerque Journal reported Schiff commented upon viewing Alien Autopsy, “If this is a hoax, it was certainly elaborately done. It looked real to me.”

     In alien abduction news, the Harvard Medical School voted in July, after a one-year investigation, not to censure Dr. John Mack. The faculty panel’s report was not made public, but according to SUN, “Mack is expected to cut back his appearances at UFO conferences, following the advice given by the Dean of the Harvard Medical School that Mack’s work in UFO-abduction research should reflect the university’s professional standards.”

     My favorite in the UFO category, however, was the report that aliens had created seven-inch “carpet circles” in the home of MUFON’s chief investigator for the Pensacola, Florida area, leading him to conclude, “... contact was established with me by some entity ...”

     In the “unlikely science” category, anthropologists Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer concluded women get breast cancer from wearing bras. The basis for their conclusion was their observations that men don’t wear bras and seldom get breast cancer; women who do wear bras, according to their surveys, get more breast cancer than women who don’t; and women who wear bras 24 hours a day get more breast cancer than women who wear them less. Their theory is presented in the New Age Journal and their new book, Dressed to Kill. The National Cancer Institute indicated they would be interested in the study if it were published in a peer-reviewed research journal.

     Creationists also had a busy year. In Alabama the State Board of Education voted to place an anti-evolution disclaimer in the front of all biology textbooks because the selected texts were deemed not to be tentative enough about the factual basis of evolution. The books will carry a disclaimer saying evolution is:

    “... a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things ... No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered as theory, not fact.”

     The disclaimer will also include a list of questions about evolution, such as, “Why do major groups of plants and animals have no transitional forms in the fossil record?” Since the 1987 Supreme Court ruling stating that “creation science” is religion, not science, the creationists’ approach has been to discredit evolution. “What you see in Alabama is the first statewide success of the evidence-against-evolution approach,” said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) which tracks creationists’ activity.

     In Oregon, creationists, including two school board members and one city council member, opposed the Springfield School Board’s approval of science textbooks which did not include “intelligent design theory” as a scientific alternative to evolution. The challenge to teaching evolution was staved off, primarily because of threats of a law suit from the American Civil Liberties Union.

     From the “odd phenomena from the sky,” or perhaps more aptly the “mind’s sky” category, were reports that the face of Jesus appeared in the newly released Hubble Space Telescope picture of the Eagle Nebula, a gas cloud in which new stars can be seen forming. When CNN aired the picture, their switchboards were flooded with calls from people who saw Jesus’ face. One radio commentator viewing the picture said he was sure it was a terrier sitting on the head of St. Bernard standing up on its hind-legs. Personally, I think its Ernie of Sesame Street standing, arms behind his back, contemplating the stars with Grover and Barney.

     And in San Francisco on May 31, when ice crystals in the stratosphere created a colorful halo around the sun, the planetarium received many calls from people fearing it was a heavenly message signalling the end of the world.

     Overseas, a number of miracles were reported in 1995. In Italy statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary reportedly wept tears of blood, and in India statues of the elephant-headed Hindu god, Ganesha, drank milk. Upon testing, the blood on one statue was found to be from a human male and the city magistrate impounded the statue just as plans were being made to move it to a chapel. And, Indian skeptics explained that the milk which the thirsty Hindu god appeared to “drink” was being taken up by capillary action or was running down the statue in thin, invisible films. In some pictures milk could be seen streaming off the sides of the statue.

     As usual, psychic’s predictions for the year did not match the actual turn of events. CSICOP’s list of predictions by top psychics shows few “hits.” One exception, is Jeane Dixon who in July predicted O. J. would walk. She also, however, predicted in January, “A guilty verdict or hung jury will keep O. J. Simpson in jail through most of this year.” And in April, “I don’t see him walking away a free man until an appeal.” And in October (published after the verdict), “O. J. will be released from jail, but there will be a second trial and he will be incarcerated at least one more year.” Possibly these shed some light on her most famous “hit,” Kennedy’s assassination.

     According to the CSICOP report, Dixon also qualifies for the “laughable” category (you know, the one for predictions of presidential winners for years when there are no presidential elections, etc.) with her January 17 prediction that, “A new antibiotic resistant strain of influenza causes coast-to-coast misery in early winter and again in early spring. Scientists will trace the virus to polluted water.” This prediction was doomed to fail given that antibiotics don’t work on viruses, which is why they are not prescribed for AIDS, flu or the common cold.

     Other failed predictions included: the kidnapping of Socks, the White House cat; the discovery of a virus that turns rocks into protein-rich food; and a meteor crash onto a Las Vegas used car dealership, opening up a previously unknown reservoir of drinking water and solving the city’s water shortage.

     Psychic predictions for Oregon likewise failed miserably. The National Enquirer predicted Tonya Harding would be “denied permission to open the first all-nude ice skating rink.” And at the Corvallis psychic fair, “intuitive consultant,” Jack Potticary, predicted a woman would replace Bob Packwood in the Senate. Potticary also predicted a cool dry fall and a cold December for the Willamette Valley. He did get the OSU Beavers loosing football season right - but didn’t we all?

     Nineteen ninety-five was the year the urban legend took to the internet. First there was the “Good Times” computer virus, for which I received no less than four warnings. Email systems became swamped with messages from well-meaning friends advising others not to open any message labeled “Good Times.” The mail message, supposedly, would corrupt hard drives and put processors into “an nth-complexity infinite binary loop,” finally destroying the processor. Then came internet warnings that “tonight” gang members would be riding around town with their headlights off, waiting to shoot the first unsuspecting motorist who blinked their lights to signal.

     A few areas reported a decline in pseudoscientific activity. Apparently crop circles are out of vogue, at least in the PNW, as Oregon State University cereal researchers did not receive any reports of crop circles appearing in Oregon this summer. But in general, credulity was alive and well in 1995

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