New Mexicans for Science and Reason presents


NMSR's Media Watch


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Previous Fumbles: February March April May June August October November


April 2006 Fumble

10 Yards: Abq Journal Claims Excess Accuracy

NMSR member Jerry Shelton writes

"Regarding the large headline (9/16" high letters) on page B1 of today's Abq Journal (April 14th, 2006): "Blaze Chars 12,499 Acres" It's hard to tell whether this headline is based on mathematical ignorance or simply an attempt to claim unjustified "accuracy." Either way, it's unforgivable. Do you really expect anyone to believe that it was 12,499 acres, and not 12,500? This headline implies an accuracy of 0.008%. Such accuracy is possible, or course. Our astronauts couldn't land on the moon if it were not, but they also use mid-course corrections to get where they are going.

It does seem a bit unfair to criticize the Journal, because this sort of thing goes on all the time - "31 to 49% of people who took drug X reported feeling better." No doubt the purpose of such "accuracy" is to make the report seem believable. A little "believability" is probably a good thing, but your headline today simply goes too far. Our school children, as well as their parents, deserve better examples of sound thinking and reporting. - Gerald Shelton


December 2005 Fumbles

10 Yards: ABC News Revises 20th Century

In an article posted on the ABC News website on Nov. 10th, Nancy Chandross writes about actor Ed Asner's appearance in a play based on the 1925 Scopes evolution trial in Dayton, Tennessee. The article was titled "Ed Asner Sounds Off On Intelligent Design - Actor Performs Historic Scopes Monkey Trial as Real Towns Challenge the Teaching of Evolution." The article was reasonable enough, except for two places where history was mangled harshly. Chandross says "'It's our job to make it not dull,' said Asner. 'At the same time, we're dealing with some of the greatest speakers of the period.' His character, Bryan, was a three-time presidential candidate and national orator. The defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow, was among the top criminal attorneys in his day. Both realized their attempts to plead their case would bring their voices far beyond the crowded Kansas courtroom. ..."

Now, while Kansas had creationism flaps in 1999 and 2005, it's still not Dayton, Tennessee! Come on, ABC!

Here's one more: Chandross writes "He spoke emotionally about Bryan, who was a great supporter of peace and resigned as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson in protest over World War II but had his legacy reduced to what happened during the Scopes Monkey trial. ..."

Oops, WWII before 1925??? - ABC, 10 yard penalty, and you have to repeat History 101 this term.

10 Yards: "Believe It Or Not" Goofs on Gravity

The Sunday, November 6th edition of Ripley's "Believe It or Not!" had this to say about tiny things: "As things get smaller, they are less affected by gravity - which is how fleas can jump 100 times their body length and volcanic ash can hover in the sky for years!"

Ouch! When I learned physics, there was only one Universal Law of Gravitation - not two, one for large particles and another for small ones. They couldn't be confusing air currents with Gravity, could they? Ripley's gets a 10 yard penalty, and the writer has to read a physics book.


November 2005 Fumbles

10 Yards: Santa Fe New Mexican Fumbles AP Feed

The Santa Fe New Mexican ran an Associated Press (AP) piece describing a Czechoslovakian "Intelligent Design" (ID) conference on its website on Oct. 24th. The piece was used by numerous news agencies, and they all correctly included author Ondrej Hejma's statement that Stephen Meyer represents Seattle's Discovery Institute and its Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. Only the Santa Fe New Mexican mangled thje piece, writing that "Among the panelists was Stephen C. Meyer, director of Cambridge University's Center for Science and Culture, who said intelligent design was 'based upon scientific evidence and discoveries in fields such as biochemistry, molecular biology, paleontology and astrophysics.' ..."

This could be the birth of an Urban Legend. Folks, next time you hear that Cambridge has an ID center, don't be fooled! Ten yards, loss of down.


10 Yards: "The Insider" helps Alleged Medium Van Praagh channel... Johnny Carson?

James Randi's commentary for October 21, 2005 has this article of note: "James Van Praagh claims he communicates with the dead. Such pretensions are always laughable, and often revolting. Now this tubby travesty of a man has gone over the line, big time. He has chosen to insult the memory of a friend who would kick his butt if he were here to defend himself. On the 'Insider' TV program, plugging his latest foray into deception via TV, Van Praagh claimed that he’d contacted the ghost of Johnny Carson. To no one’s surprise, hosts Pat O'Brien and Victoria Recano, were 'stunned' by his ability to look up information on them via the Internet, and to provide them with the usual array of picayune 'revelations.' ... Just look at the inane crap conjured up by the faker as he invaded the private beach walk where Johnny used to stroll near his Malibu beachside estate:

I think he felt very safe here. I think he would choose the same time every day to come down this path. I think this is where he got a sense of contemplation. He would think about things here. He would think about his family. He was a family man. I think he was a lot deeper than people gave him credit for but I think that he didn't want to let people to know about that part of him. I feel he wished that things were different. I think he felt guilty when he died that certain things in his family were not resolved at the time of his death.

In those 111 vapid words, Van Praagh manages to hedge even these simple, obvious, trite, guesses by working in modifiers – six 'I think' and one 'I feel' – the usual generalized escape-hatches. The actual content itself is so non-significant that it could be generated by a child. Somehow, it has escaped Van Praagh’s attention that Johnny Carson despised frauds, particularly those who choose to feed on the vulnerability of the grieving and needy. That wasn’t part of the 'message' that he shared with us from The Great Beyond. ..." Ten yards, loss of down.


15 Yards: The "Oh, Really" Factor says Tsunami, Earthquakes are "Weather" Phenomena, like Hurricanes...?!?!?

Bill O'Reilly's "The Factor" show for Monday, October 24, 2005 included this jaw-dropping snippet from the introduction to climatology consultant Jeff Schultz (O'Reilly's point being that the number of hurricanes is cyclic over decades, and not indicative of global warming):

O'REILLY: "Continuing now with our lead story, this has been the worst hurricane year on record, 23 storms. Of course we all remember the tsunami last Christmas, and some climatologists are very worried the planet is vulnerable to more very violent seems to me that if you look at the globe, the Caribbean is gettin' hit real hard, and then it hits the US mainland, and then you've got the Indian Ocean, being turbulent, like that's where the tsunami came from, and whacked those people over there. The Pacific seems fairly pacified right now. Is that going to hold? ..."

Penalty: 15 Yards, loss of credibility...

Hat Tip to Scott Warmuth, and also (links to the video!!)


October 2005 Fumbles

5 Yards: Breyer's has "No Respect" for Momma Nature

Breyer's Ice Cream has a new promotion for its "Double-Churned" product, on both television on the Internet. In the new ads, a Double Rainbow is featured prominently. Unfortunately, they got the order of colors of the second rainbow flat wrong - the second rainbow has colors reversed from the primary's, and red is on the inside, not the outside. Breyers's shocking lack of respect for Nature leaves me cold. Five yards, loss of down.

10 Yards: Entertainment Tonight Goes Ga-Ga over Medium Van Praagh

On Sept. 27th, "Entertainment Tonight" ran a fluff piece about the new CBS drama "Ghost Whisperer." The segment details how supposed medium James Van Praagh "sees dead people," and is consulting for the show to make it more "real." ET gushes "Praagh, who has been bridging the gap between the living and the dead for 22 years, is both the co-executive producer as well as the inspiration for the show..."

ET, you need to learn some basic journalism skills. The statement in your report "Praagh, who has been bridging the gap between the living and the dead for 22 years" is not a "fact." You could report facts in the following manner: "Praagh, who claims he has been bridging the gap between the living and the dead for 22 years ..."

"ET," please, don't present wild fantasies as "news." And CBS, 10 yards for you too. Sheesh!

August/September 2005 Fumbles

15 Yards: New York Times falls for Discovery Institute's Misrepresentation of New Mexico Science Standards

"New Mexico Science Standards Do Not Support ID’s Concept of Teach the 'Controversy'" offsite at Panda's Thumb


June 2005 Fumbles

15 Yards: Guest Ref M. J. Wilde flags NBC for Edifying Exorcism

 M. J. Wilde is a Trib columnist and the TV Queen, among other roles. Her complete May 6th, 2005 column is online at,2564,ALBQ_19842_3757266,00.html

"Devil made them do it?"

I am so possessed right now. Or it might be something I ate. It really doesn't matter, 'cause according to a recent hourlong 'Dateline,' all I need is an afternoon of exorcism and I'll be just fine. 'Dateline' host Stone Phillips - who has about as much personality as Pinocchio before he became a 'real boy' - stood in a darkened driveway wearing a black turtleneck and a black leather jacket. Behind him loomed a mansion of gothic proportions belonging, no doubt, to a slobbering family of gargoyles. Phillips introduced the night's topic with such a serious tone, viewers might have expected a story about a mass murder or another tsunami. Don't be silly. 'Dateline' leaves that kind of mumbo-jumbo to experts like '60 Minutes' and CNN and has gone completely over to the Dark Side: fear-mongering tabloid journalism.

The topic would be: Exorcisms. The show's salacious title? 'Dancing with the Devil.' Phillips looked straight into the camera and asked, 'Can we deal with the devil?' Yeah, I think we can. Usually by turning the channel. Gosh, do ya think NBC just pulled this 'report' out of their collective butts just to tie in to their highly rated end-of-the-world miniseries 'Revelations'? Nah, they wouldn't do that. Not in a hundred seconds.

So being the open-minded, and yes, spiritual individual that I am, I watched 'Dateline' to see how they would handle the topic. They'd probably include a discussion with theologians and psychologists. Or perhaps John Larson, the reporter on the story, would have some hard questions for the pastor who claimed he received a direct order from the Lord, who told him, 'I want you to go toe-to-toe with Satan.' I know. I am such a silly, idealistic dreamer.

Instead, every aspect of the exorcism - in which a South Carolina man claimed to be besieged by demons and, dare I say, Lucifer himself - was presented as complete fact. And even though most of us have seen scarier performances on 'Yes, Dear,' Larson made comments throughout like, 'The raw intensity is unsettling.' Buh-bye, objectivity. So long, real news. Hellllloooooo, Satan ... Copyright 2005, The Albuquerque Tribune.

10 Yards: Dave Thomas calls ABC's 20/20 on Resurrection Pandering

The May. 20, 2005 edition of ABC News' 20/20 was called "The Resurrection: Searching for Answers," and pitched as "Elizabeth Vargas Explores the Mystery at the Heart of Christianity." What we got was mostly pandering and unskeptical acceptance. The ABC News web page on the show declares "Three days after Jesus was crucified, according to the Gospels, the women went to the tomb where they had buried him to take care of the body -- to wash it and put spices in the burial shroud. But the women arrived to see that the huge stone had been rolled away from the entrance, and the tomb was empty. ... The story of Easter Sunday has been retold for two millenniums. 'It is the pivotal event of all history. History is broken into two parts -- a faith has gone around the planet. Billions of people are followers of Jesus, down through history, as a result of this story from the first century,' [PAX TV's Lee] Strobel said. ..."

At this point, we get one of the few glimpses of lucidity in the entire hour: "But nearly every single detail of the Easter story remains a question of debate. Among them : Was the tomb really empty? And even more basic: Was Jesus was ever buried in the first place? 'Most people who were crucified were probably put into large burial pits,' said Kathleen Corley of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. This has led a number of scholars to question the whole account of Jesus' burial -- as perhaps made up by the Gospel writers later on. ..."

That brief skeptical interlude was as good as it got. Thereafter, we were treated with these gems of slack-jawed gullibility: "Scholars say there's little dispute about whether the tomb was empty. Even those who doubted the Resurrection, [Albert] Baumgarten [of Jerusalem's Bar Ilan University] says, never doubted that the tomb was empty. The only point of dispute is: Why was it empty? ... Did anything like this really happen? Historians can't agree on what -- but most agree that something happened. Something powerful enough to convince the people who knew Jesus in life, that he was back from the dead. ... And for Christians today who believe in the physical Resurrection of Jesus, the hope of a physical triumph over death remains the central point of Christianity. 'If the world view is this is only a material world, and there can be no outside intervention, then, you got a problem explaining the Resurrection,' said Strobel. 'But ... if God exists and created the universe, this is child's play for him.' ... But some historians think there was no physical resurrection. They believe the resurrection stories were made up and written decades after Jesus' death. ... While these scholars don't believe there was a physical resurrection, they agree that something extraordinary occurred."

The 20/20 show was a strange mix of a bit of so-called mainstream "news" and a lot of the Old Time Believer's Religion Hour. Perhaps ABC News should just leave proselytizing to the Christian channels. Let's hope they decide to get back to News.

5 Yards: John Geohegan cites Book for Ludicrous Use of Millimeters

In Act of Mercy, a Celtic Mystery by Peter Tremayne, a pseudonym for Peter Beresford Ellis, we are told on page 33 that the most bulky part of Sister Fidelma's luggage was two small satchel books, each "measuring fourteen by eleven millimetres." The author then says "She carefully hung these book satchels on the pegs with her clothes."


May 2005 Fumbles

15 Yards: Dave Thomas rules Media Out of Bounds on Papal Transition

Of course, Pope John Paul II was an important political figure, and not just a religious personage. But I knew the network coverage was going over the top when the daily e-mail from ABC's Nightline began with the solemn intonation "Habemus papem" ("We have a Pope"). I'm sorry, but ABC and the Catholic Church should be ... different. It wasn't just ABC, either. John Stewart's "Daily Show" nailed FOX TV for their excessive exclamation marks: "We Have A Pope!" But what got me down most of all was the lack of substance of the coverage. Most of the networks showed the ongoing pomp and ceremony like it was a simple rock concert or sports event. Where was the serious discussion of JPII's legacy? His controversial sides? (ABC Radio's "Perspectives" did, at least, mention things like the nuns who protested at a papal appearance for female priests, but this was buried in the wee hours of Saturday morning.) And, hardly any networks mentioned that the Pope wasn't embalmed; there's a reason the pope's body is displayed for a few days only - they have to put him in the crypt before he gets green. Eew.

Maybe it's because this was the first papal transition in the era of Reality Television, and it's just a one-time fluke. But that's too optimistic, I fear. Will there be a repeat with Benedict? Stay tuned!

10 Yards: Guest Ref Jason Colavito throws flag on Reuters for Faith-based reporting

Originally published in Humanist Network News, April 13, 2005; reprinted with permission. See for more columns!

With Thanks to Molleen Matsumura for the referral!

Believers of all stripes have always sought to mine the Bible for hidden truths. But now it seems at least one man believes that the Bible helps him to actually mine, or more accurately, drill.

John Brown of Zion Oil & Gas told Reuters that his Dallas-based company uses the ancient scriptures to locate hidden reserves of oil in the Holy Land. Fellow evangelical Christians help fund the operation. [See: Texas oilman seeks gusher from God in Israel, (story by Reuters, April 6, 2005).]

"From the investment standpoint, they certainly hope to have a return of the money," Brown told Reuters. "But the basis of it is Genesis, chapter 12."

In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham (then known as Abram) that he will father a great nation, and Abraham travels to Egypt. Important for Brown, in the chapter God promises to bestow blessings on those who praise the "great nation," which Brown believes is Israel. In Brown's opinion, oil is God's blessing.

Brown and his company looked to Moses for a map to the source of Biblical oil. He quoted Deuteronomy 33:24 this way: "Most blessed of sons be Asher. Let him be favored by his brothers and let him dip his foot in oil."

From this passage, he deduced that oil could be found under the ancient territory of Asher, now Israel's Kibbutz Maanit. Drilling begins this month.

Reuters failed to provide any expert disagreeing with Brown's assertions or any suggestion that other opinions exist. It will be informative to look at where Brown went wrong and how easy it would have been for Reuters to produce a balanced look at a bizarre claim.

The New American Bible renders Deuteronomy 33:24 a bit differently, and the difference is telling: "Of Asher he said: 'More blessed than the other sons be Asher! May he be the favorite among his brothers, as the oil of his olive trees runs over his feet!'" From this, it is painfully obvious that Reuters didn't crack a book for this story.

Unless Asher's olive trees happened to grow atop a petroleum reserve, it is clear that the oil in question is not the black gold of the internal combustion engine but the useful essence of the olive. Perhaps John Brown will be disappointed, but he can make a tasty salad.

Of course it is immediately clear that Brown relied on the English translation without consulting the original text, confusing the American usage of "oil" with a type of transcendent truth.

A quick look in the dictionary shows that both "petroleum" and "oil" derive from the same Latin word for olive oil, "oleum," which in turn derives from the Greek word for olive, "elaia." The "petr" part comes from the Latin and Greek words for "rock," making petroleum the "oil of the rock."

Uncritical readers were left thinking that the Bible really points to petroleum in Israel, placed there by God for the elect to find. This type of uncritical acceptance of bizarre claims is nothing new. Perhaps we should call it "faith-based reporting."

Jason Colavito is a freelance writer based in Albany, N.Y. His first book, The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture will be published this fall. Visit his Web site, Lost Civilizations Uncovered at:

5 Yards: John Geohegan cites Marilyn Vos Savant for Unnecessary Roughness on Shadow Calculations

In the April 24 issue of Parade magazine, Marilyn vos Savant answered a query about the shadow on the ground of an airplane flying at 40,000 feet. She claimed the shadow is roughly the size of the plane regardless of the altitude. If she were right, the moon would cast a moon-sized shadow 2,160 miles in diameter on the earth during a total eclipse of the sun, instead of the roughly 100 mile shadow that makes seeing a total eclipse such a rare treat.

5 Yards: Guest Ref Dennis McQuillan slaps USGS for Illegal Use of Genesis

The United States Geological Survey's information page on "Ground Water" notes that "Ground water has been known to humans for thousands of years/ Scripture (Genesis 7:11) on the Biblical Flood states that 'the fountains of the great deep (were) broken up,' and Exodus, among its many references to water and to wells, refers (20:4) to 'water under the earth.' Many other ancient chronicles show that humans have long known that much water is contained underground..."

Inappropriate Use of Genesis! Five yards, plus bowing USGS's head in shame for a week


April 2005 Fumbles

15 Yards: Guest Ref Jason Colavito calls Maureen Dowd for dropping the ball on Science, Sexism and Stereotypes


Originally published in Humanist Network News, March 23, 2005; reprinted with permission. See for more columns!

A recent New York Times column about gender differences might not tell us much about men and women, but it does tell us a lot about the way science can be misused to justify stereotypes. Citing a study in Nature, in her March 20 column Maureen Dowd claims "women are genetically more complex than scientists ever imagined, while men remain the simple creatures they appear."

The Nature study had found that the X chromosome contains more genetic material than previously thought. Many of these genes code for brain proteins and may be responsible for the brainpower needed for art, science and writing. The study, and a news feature describing it, are available online.

But here is where Dowd goes beyond the facts and begins to misuse science.

Human beings have 46 chromosomes, divided into 23 pairs. The last of these pairs, the familiar X and Y chromosomes, control the sex of an individual. Women have two X chromosomes, and men have an X and a Y. Because the Y chromosome is smaller than the X, women have more DNA in each cell than men.

According to Dowd, this extra DNA makes women more complex. "Women are inscrutable, changeable, crafty, idiosyncratic, a different species," she said. "The discovery about women's superior gene expression may answer the age-old question about why men have trouble expressing themselves: because their genes do."

But there are two misconceptions at work here, fallacies that New York Times readers are asked to swallow. First, both men and women have an X chromosome, though women have two. The X chromosome's genes for brain function exist in both males and females. The only difference is that females have two copies of the genes to choose from, while males must use the single copy on their X chromosome. One bad copy can lead to genetic problems in men, but it takes two bad copies to lead to similar problems in women.

The second problem is one of quality: having more DNA does not make an individual, a sex or a species "superior" to another. By that standard, the marbled lungfish should be earth's superior life-form, since according to zoologist T. Ryan Gregory, it has the largest genome with many times more DNA than humans. Many other animals (and plants) have more DNA than people -- male or female.

Recently, Harvard president Lawrence Summers wondered whether biology was responsible for the lack of women in the math and science fields. Columnist Susan Estrich wondered whether American culture prevented women from becoming opinion columnists. But Maureen Dowd went further and misused science to claim that women were biologically superior to men.

Though there are undoubtedly genetic differences, the biological support for either gender's superiority just isn't there. New York Times readers deserve better reporting from the paper of record.

 Jason Colavito, of Albany, N.Y. has published writing in Skeptic magazine. His book The Cult of Alien Gods is slated for publication by Prometheus Books this fall.

10 Yards: Media Goes Over the Top during Schiavo Drama.

The Terri Schiavo controversy has produced new extremes of out-and-out falsehoods presented as "news" by the media. Here is just one example, collected by the folks at News Hounds (They watch Fox so You don't have to… Newshound Ellen writes on March 21st "Hannity & Colmes Misrepresents Doctor in Schiavo Case: Last night, on Hannity & Colmes, Sean Hannity three times identified Dr. Bill Hammesfahr, a physician who claims that Terri Schiavo can be rehabilitated, as having been nominated for a Nobel prize. In fact, Dr. Hammesfahr was never formally nominated. According to the Nobel Prize website, 'The Nobel Committee receives many informal letters with invalid nominations. These are not included among the documents examined by the Nobel Committee.' According to Dr. Hammesfahr's website, the only 'nomination' he seems to have received is one such 'informal letter' from a Congressman. …"

5 Yards: AAAS, Forensic Scientists tell TV Crime Shows to Get Real!

Monica Amarelo of AAAS News writes on Feb. 21st "To watch the popular television show 'CSI,' you'd think forensic science was nearly infallible. A forensic pathologist extracts blood from a shirt, tests the DNA and matches the evidence to a suspect tracked with information provided by a hi-speed computer identity search-all in a 'CSI' minute. But for working pathologists, that's a significant problem. At the AAAS Annual Meeting Sunday in Washington D.C., some said they're seeing crime victims and jurors who have TV-fueled misconceptions of what evidence needs to be tested and how real-life investigations ought to be conducted. 'Common misperceptions include the idea that scientific testing is infallible and fast, and that the results alone can solve crimes,' said Max M. Houck, director of the Forensic Science Initiative of the West Virginia University. 'Prosecutors tend to fear the 'CSI Effect' on juries because the public has unrealistic expectations of what evidence needs to be tested.' …"


Included in the article is this perceptive comment from Houck: "In this country, more money is spent on holistic medicine than on forensic science research."

When the New Mexico Academy of Science had its annual meeting last fall, Albuquerque Police Department forensic scientist Catherine Dickey presented her "Top 10 Reasons Why CSI Makes Me Scream!"

10. Not enough lawyers.

9. Outside of the Army, no Government entity I know is issuing Hummers!

8. Unlike the CSI that makes enough money to quit her strip job, it is rumored that some criminalists still have to strip to make ends meet.

7. DNA and drug results do not come off the same instrument!

6. It can take 40 people 6 months to do the work one CSI does in an hour.

5. CSI solves 100% of the cases, but the crime rate in Las Vegas does not drop.

4. We have bright, buzzing fluorescent lights, not sexy blue ones.

3. We wear tyvek gowns and latex gloves, not leather pants and high heels.

2. Too sanitary!

And the #1 Reason Why CSI Makes Me Scream: You can't get DNA results in an hour!


March 2005 Fumbles

Visit Randi at the JREF Site!

Guest referee James Randi issues a 15-Yard Penalty to ABC's "Primetime Live" on "John of God" (2-10-2005).

James Randi, writes in his Feb. 18th, 2005 weekly column ( about "the February 10th, 2005, showing of the American Broadcasting Company's 'Primetime Live' program. It dealt with a man called 'John of God' who works out of Brazil. This was a major show that could have been a useful, productive, and informative program, but failed to reach that standard. ... "

Randi is steamed, and for good reason. The show was about Brazilian faith healer João Teixeira, better known as "John of God." The supposed healer uses several demonstrations to impress the faithful, including putting a forceps up the nose, "scraping" of an eyeball, trances, and so forth. ABC flew Randi up to New York to tape a segment for the show, but over an hour of taping was reduced to one quick soundbite. The show spent much more time on an expert who was impressed by "John of God," one Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Here's Randi: "Well, I believe that this ABC-TV program will ... encourage the incautious public to book trips to Brazil to go under the butchery that John of God inflicts on his victims. The huge difference here is that while the Filipino 'surgeons' seldom if ever actually break the skins of their customers, the Brazilian faker regularly does so, and that means not only financial loss, but very possibly loss of life, as well. Is ABC-TV willing to accept the grief and damage that those misinformed people will suffer? ... In any case, unless an anaesthetic has been introduced, it is impossible for this man to be touching the cornea of a human eye as he appears to do, without causing immediate involuntary flinching from the patient. The JREF will stake its million-dollar prize on that statement. ... In the present case with ABC-TV, I was called in well after all the 'research' and footage had been obtained -- not in advance, when I could have told them what to watch for and what to keep track of. I was included in the program only as a high-profile representative of the skeptical community, and even then I was allowed only a token appearance because what I'd provided them with was not in tune with the song they were singing. That 19-second flash was their way of showing the audience that they had tried to present a contrary point of view, in accordance with the 'balanced treatment' requirement which they should observe. I was interviewed and videotaped for over an hour, I contributed pertinent observations for the use of the ABC-TV producers and editors, and everything I told them was ignored because it did not suit the needs of the network; they wanted a 'gee-whiz-we-just-don't-know-folks' show, and that's what they turned out and broadcast to their public on February 10th, 2005. ... . Yes, they did call upon me, but fumbled from then on. ..."

Dave Thomas is NMSR President.

Dave Thomas Cries Foul when KOAT-TV 7 Denies Pro-UFO Bias:

10-Yard Penalty.

Here's my letter to KOAT-TV7 about their Feb. 24th, 2005 puff piece on Roswell, KOAT's news director, Sue Stephens' response, and my reply.

Dave's Letter:

I'm pleased that Peter Jennings' ABC report on UFO's was very reasonable and balanced. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jeffrey DeMars' piece on the Thursday 10 PM KOAT Action 7 News. The skeptical view of Roswell was hardly mentioned.

I'm hoping that your corporate memory was simply having a bad day, and that you'll remember to get a little more balance in next time you do "Roswell."

Thanks, Dave Thomas

President, New Mexicans for Science and Reason (NMSR), Fellow of CSICOP

KOAT's Reply:

Dear Mr. Thomas;

Our story on Roswell did not focus on whether the incident occured or not, rather on what it has done to the town of Roswell over the years including the establishment of the UFO museum and the people who go to that town to see it. Thank you for writing.

Sue Stephens

KOAT News Director

Dave's Reply:

Dear Sue Stephens,

Thanks for responding to my complaint about your Roswell segment on the 10:00 PM KOAT News (Thursday, Feb. 24th). I'd said it hardly mentioned the skeptical view of Roswell, but you wrote back that "Our story on Roswell did not focus on whether the incident occured [sic]or not , rather on what it has done to the town of Roswell over the years including the establishment of the UFO museum and the people who go to that town to see it. ...."

Since I still had that segment on tape, I reviewed the tape over the weekend, and have found that I must still disagree with your assessment of your own program. ... while portions of the show were just as you described (for example, the 38-second segment on the Australian visitor certainly qualifies as focusing on "the people who go to that town to see it"), fully a fifth of the entire segment was indeed devoted to a discussion of whether or not the incident occurred, with a strong emphasis toward the ominous view that something DID occur.

Here is my transcription of most of the 40-second Balthaser interview in question:

-------------- Begin Transcript -----------------------

Balthaser: "Three days after it happened, it was over."

DeMars: "Dennis Balthaser is a UFO researcher. He says the military picked up all of the debris from the crash within days. Then the explanation of what happened - changed. [meanwhile, images of the Ramey memo with the "Victims of the Wreck" interpretation put forward by UFO promoter David Rudiak are displayed on-screen.] ... Brigadier General Roger Ramey said the disk was just a weather balloon."

Balthaser: "If someone in authority would finally just tell me what it was, and it wasn't what we think it was, I'm ready to go fishing. I don't need the frustration that I go through on a daily basis, doing this research."

DeMars: "Balthaser said the explanations of what happened do not add up, leading to more suspicion."

-------------- End Transcript -------------------------

Clearly, Balthaser's agenda is that the government has not told what it "really knows" about Roswell, and that suspicion is warranted.

When you have people on-air commenting that the explanation has mysteriously "changed," that no authorities have ever said "just what it was," and that government explanations "do not add up, leading to more suspicion," you are indeed focusing on whether or not the incident occurred.

Although your two news commentators - Fernandez and DeMars - did say that the goverment maintains that "the disk was just a weather balloon," that vastly oversimplifies and minimizes what the government (and many UFO researchers, too!) have actually said about Roswell.

If it was a "weather balloon," it was like no other "weather balloon" in the world. The Mogul balloon trains were gigantic devices, some 600 feet tall, with about 24 meteorological balloons for lift, but also having a plethora of other devices. In particular, the one flight skeptics think is now touted as "The Roswell Incident" had three radar reflectors, replete with curious, hard-to-fold metallic paper, stiff wooden struts, and most importantly, beams bearing rows of funny-looking "hieroglyphic symbols" that were actually slapped on as reinforcing tape by the reflectors' manufacturer, Merrick Mfg. (of Manhattan). And the actual purpose of the project (spying on Soviet nuclear tests) was so classified that its name, "MOGUL," was never even made public until the 1990's.

A "weather balloon"? Sure, the craft that became the "Roswell Incident" was just a "weather balloon," and atomic bombs are just "high-energy explosives," and the Hubble Telescope is just a "high-altitude camera."...

You've told me your segment was not focused on the reality of the "incident." I've explained why I disagree. Please, just keep all this in mind next time you do "Roswell."



Dave Thomas

John Geohegan is an NMSR Founder, and current Vice President.

John Geohegan finds a Book Blooper: "Make a Compass""

5-Yard Penalty.

John writes "On the last page of The GPS Handbook: A Guide to the Outdoors, authors Robert I. Egbert and Joseph E. King tell us that you can make a primitive compass by magnetizing a needle or fine wire made of ferrous metal 'by slowly and repeatedly passing it through a piece of silk fabric, always in the same direction. Lacking silk, use your hair . . .'"


February 2005 Fumbles

Visit Molleen at the "Sweet Reason" Site!

Slate's Prudie & Prayer:

15-Yard Penalty.

This is from sharp-eyed colleague Molleen Matsumura, regarding Slate's Dec. 30, 2004, "Dear Prudence" column. This day's letters included one which began this way: "Dear Prudie, I know people mean well when they say, 'I'll pray for you' when they hear of a serious difficulty in your life. But it makes me really uncomfortable, and it's all I can do not to shout out, 'No thank you!'... Piqued by Prayer"

Prudence answered "Dear Pique, The people who say, 'I'll pray for you' are saying, in the way that's meaningful to them, that they ARE thinking of you, and a prayer is their way of being supportive. It seems petty, no matter your feelings about religion, not to value any expression of concern. There have actually been studies, by the way, that prayer even on behalf of strangers can have a salutary effect, though that is not what we are talking about here. Make an effort to accept this kindness in the spirit in which it is meant, appreciate the thought behind the words, and stop being annoyed. Prudie, appreciatively..."

Molleen wrote Slate, saying "On December 30, your advice columnist 'Dear Prudence' stated in a reply to a letter writer, "There have actually been studies, by the way, that prayer even on behalf of strangers can have a salutary effect, though that is not what we are talking about here." ( In fact, the validity of such studies is controversial at best, as article excerpts below document. While the rest of the reply was insensitive, this particular statement was plain wrong and a correction should be published. Molleen Matsumura, Berkeley, CA."

Molleen included many references, like this one:


"Mayo Clinic researchers found that their study of intercessory prayer had no significant effect on patients medical outcomes after hospitalization in a coronary care unit. ..."

Slate has not printed Molleen's response, and Prudie is still praying, as far as we know.

John Geohegan is an NMSR Founder, and current Vice President.

John Geohegan finds a Parade blooper: "Why is the Sky Blue?"

10-Yard Penalty.

John writes "In the January 30 issue of Parade, Science Editor David Levy explains that the sky is blue because 'Earth's air lets the blue light shine through the best.' The answer is intended for children, but it seems Levy could just as well have accurately answered that the Earth's air bounced the blue light down to our eyes. He also explains that a rainbow is caused by sunlight acting on 'wet air,' when he could just as well have said 'raindrops.' ..."

Dave Thomas is NMSR President.

Dave Thomas Sees Red when Humans and Dinosaurs Dine on Each Other:

5-Yard Penalty.

A new Wendy's ad shows novel choices besides fries for sides for your burger. In making the point that fries are as old as dinosaurs, Wendy's shows cavemen eating dino-burgers (and fries, of course). The dinosaurs were correctly identified as being from 65 million years ago; the cave-men, alas, were incorrectly identified as being from 65 million years ago. At least it wasn't 6,000 years!

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