From the Chairman

For those of you who missed Michael Shermer’s talk this month, well, what can I say except that you missed a great one. Shermer discussed his new book, Why People Believe Weird Things, and talked about his experiences both as the director of the Skeptics Society and before. One of the most interesting things he discussed was the transition he made from believer to skeptic. It’s probable that most of those reading this newsletter have made similar transitions (for example, at the very first REALL meeting, a number of us admitted having believed in Chariots of the Gods when we were younger).

Sometimes people ask me how I became a skeptic, as one person did at Shermer’s talk. I generally have to answer that I don’t know exactly when it happened. Yes, I believed the Von Daniken claims about aliens (because I was young and hadn’t seen any contrary information, and was na´ve enough to believe it because it was published in a book), I was interested in UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, and many related topics. But somewhere along the line, I stopped just believing the claims that were made without evidence. I wish I could point to a given incident and say, "That is what made me a skeptic," but I cannot. All I know is that I started questioning the claims, learning about science, and taking critical looks at extraordinary suggestions.

So I’d like to thank Shermer for coming to Springfield to talk about his book, and for reminding us that we aren’t born as skeptics; it’s something we have to grow into.

We’ve been very lucky as far as getting speakers this year. So far, we’ve had four speakers in five months! That’s the best batting average we’ve had since our inception. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not easy getting knowledgeable lecturers in this area, but we’re always trying. In June, however, we’re going to take a breather. The Lincoln Library will be having their annual book sale (which, incidentally, is a great place to get non-skeptical books cheap if you want to see what "the other side" claims), and they need the room we usually use. But we’ll be meeting again in July (July 1, to be exact), though the speaker and topic are still up in the air. One suggestion I’ve heard is to have several REALL members each speak for maybe 20 minutes to a half hour on a topic they are familiar with. I already have two people lined up to do one meeting, but I need one more (probably for either July or August). If you’re interested, please let me know!

Speaking of REALL members presenting things, this issue features an article written one of our newest members, Richard Petraitis. In taking a historical look at claims of shamanism, he has made some very good points and written a very interesting article. I don’t know how many of you have encountered people making these sorts of claims about the power of shamanism, but I have and I plan to use his article as ammunition in further discussions with those people.

Next month we’ll also be visiting history in a way, as Martin Kottmeyer takes a stab at solving one of the classic UFO sightings. I won’t say anything more right now, so you’ll just have to watch for the June issue.

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Last modified 14 Jan 1999.

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