From the Chairman

-- David Bloomberg

Well, the article I wrote last issue about my appearance on the Downey show received more feedback than any other piece we've ever done. Ok, so, considering the lack of letters to the editor we get, that's not saying much, but I did receive several notes about the piece. One renewing member said, "Your story about the encounter with the talk show psychics was great!" Another told me, "Awright!! I quite enjoyed the 'Don't Push Me, Lady!' piece. I think Allison must be watching too much Jerry Springer -- that, or I haven't read the latest talk show etiquette manual. They seem to do a lot of stand-up confrontation these days."

If you ever want to comment on an article, meeting, or anything you feel is relevant to REALL, please feel free to send a letter to the editor, but also please address it in a way that we'll know you want it published.

Now, speaking of talk shows, I was invited a couple weeks ago to appear on the Oprah show. On Good Friday, they covered the topic of "miracles" and wanted a skeptic (they apparently got my name from the Capital Area Skeptics in Washington, D.C.). Unfortunately, miracles are not my specialty (so to speak), so I referred them to Joe Nickell, author of Looking for a Miracle, which I have bought but not yet read. I told them that I would be happy to appear with Nickell, but they only had room for one of us, and I told them to choose him (they likely would have anyway, once I referred them to him).

Some people I know were astounded that I would turn down an offer to appear on the number-one rated talk show in the country. But would it have been any good for me to appear on the show? Sure, I'd like to be on a show seen coast-to-coast -- it would be a kick. But it wouldn't have helped advance our ideas.

REALL Board Member Wally Hartshorn wrote in the first issue of The REALL News (when he was the Editor), "Avoid the temptation to act as an 'instant expert' on everything. If you flit scamper about explaining every new claim that comes along without taking the time to actually investigate them, you will be marked (rightly so) as a dogmatic disbeliever, which is precisely the image that skeptics are trying to fight against."

I consider myself to be well-read on many topics, such as psychics, UFOs, and recovered memories. When it comes to miracles, however, I don't think I could stand up to many questions. Sure, I know the basics. I know that no crying statue has ever been proven to be anything other than a hoax. I know that people who have silver prayer chains apparently turn to gold forget that they are merely silver plated, with brass underneath. I know that there has never been a documented case of faith healing.

But does that mean I am qualified to discuss these matters on a talk show? I don't think so -- at least not without an expert like Nickell to counter those claims. I would have gone on the show to discuss skepticism in general, if Nickell had been there to discuss the specific cases he investigated. However, that isn't what the show was looking for. If I had gone alone and just one person had asked, "What about this case?" I would have been stymied. The only answer I could have given was, "I haven't investigated it." The natural follow-up question returned to me would have been, "How many claims of miracles have you investigated?" My answer of "None" would have been somewhat less than a decisive blow for skepticism.

The folks at the Oprah show did take my name and phone number, and other information, and said they'd put it in their "Skeptic" file. Perhaps I'll get another call and another chance to appear. Hopefully, this time it will be on a subject I can talk intelligently about. If I'm really lucky, they'll put me on with Dorothy Allison.

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