REALLity Checklist -- 1995 in Review

by David Bloomberg

"News is a consumer product, like sausage. Be careful what you swallow." -- Unknown

Like any other year, 1995 had its ups and downs. Sometimes the media did a great job, and sometimes they needed to go back to the basics. When the media wasn’t messing around, different portions of our government were. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights.

*Best Exposť Award

PBS’s Frontline beat out Dateline NBC this year (Dateline had won this award for the previous two years). Frontline's four-hour special on false memory syndrome, "Divided Memories." At the time, I predicted that this show would win this award. What do you know? I was right. Much of the documentary simply allowed the therapists to talk or show their methods, hoisting them by their own petards and eliminating much of the possible "bias" charge I have so often heard when people look at repressed memory claims in an objective light.

TV Guide said it best in their review: "Although the presentation is evenhanded, with equal time going to accusers and accused as well as to mental health professionals on both sides of the issue, the result is a devastating indictment of the repressed-memory crusade."

Dateline definitely ran second this year, though, with investigative stories on alternative medicine, the George Franklin repressed memory case, the Wenatchee child abuse conspiracy witchhunt, and a continuation of con artists pretending to be psychics. However, I give this award for quality, not quantity, and Frontline just beat them out this time. Look for them to be in the running again next year, since they’ve already done good stories on the Quadro device and James Randi (see "REALLity Check" this issue).

*Worst Research Award

Normally, I give this award to the media outlet which does the worst research. This year, however, I have to give the (ahem) honor of this award to the C.I.A. for their 20-year, $20 million study of psychic powers. These "psychics" were supposed to help track down all sorts of wrongdoers, find hostages, etc. When the studies were finally examined, it turned out that the test results were less than stellar. Even the reviewer who favored the studies, said that the "psychics" were only accurate about 15% of the time. Even if this is completely true, just what does a 15% accuracy get us in terms of the security of our country?

The participants in this study said that they had good results as long as the people running it believed in the phenomenon. As I noted when I originally wrote about this story, scientific results should not depend upon belief.

*Worst Political Move Award

Again we have a politician who (thankfully) lost as the winner of this award (something tells me they’d rather win the election). Laura Catherwood, former candidate for the Springfield School Board, told the Illinois Times that she is against teaching critical thinking and for teaching creationism. Indeed, as I noted at the time, the only possible way to bring in creationism is to get rid of critical thinking, because the two are mutually exclusive.

Catherwood lost the election, and while we’ll never know for sure, I’d like to think it was at least partly due to her stances on these issues.

*Biggest Hoax Award

This award really only has one candidate: The supposed alien autopsy movie. There are so many mistakes in this thing that it’s amazing that anybody actually believed it. Other magazines have covered most of these, such as the way the "doctors" handled everything from the scissors (they held them like a tailor would, not like a doctor) to the organs (which were unceremoniously scooped up and dumped without any examination). I could go into the full list of problems, but it would fill up this and several other pages. Suffice it to say that any TV network which aired this nonsense either didn’t bother to look into it, or didn’t care.

*Most Confused State Award

Alabama wins this one hands down. What are they confused about? Science.

First, Alabama's state board of education showed their ignorance by adopting science teaching guidelines which specify that teachers and textbooks must emphasize that science is only a "theory." If they understood science, and knew what it took to make a scientific theory, they certainly wouldn't have created such a silly guideline.

As if to prove that they could be even more ignorant of science, the state board of education later voted to put anti-evolution "disclaimers" in all biology textbooks. In support of this vote, Governor Fob James shambled across the floor imitating an ape. Again they showed that they don't know what a theory is, and also added to their show of confusion by getting the origin of life mixed up with evolution — which is what occurred after life began. Would it be too much to ask that a member of the board of education be educated? In Alabama, apparently it is.

*Biggest Local Story Award

The biggest story locally was "psychic" Greta Alexander's claim of helping find the body of a kidnapped and murdered boy. I went over these claims in greater detail in a presentation at our meeting soon after it occurred. If you weren't there, suffice it to say that Alexander definitely knows how to work the media. As for her psychic success, well, the reality isn't quite up to her claims, as documented quite well in the book, Psychic Sleuths. Unfortunately, the TV news all bowed down at her feet and reported whatever she told them. The State Journal-Register, though, called me and REALL Board Member Steve Egger to get the rational viewpoint. One radio station also called me later upon the insistence of a REALL member who let them know what he thought of their original reporting of the story.

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