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Skeptic Summary #374

By The Staff
Posted on: 10/14/2012

Blankety train, godlessness rising, a big tax bill, ignosticism, the War of the Worlds and more!

Week ending October 14, 2012 (Vol 9, #23)

Welcome to the Skeptic Summary, a quick, bi-weekly review of the Skeptic Friends Network and the rest of the skeptical world.

Forum Highlights:
Carl Sagan’s Crazy Train - More vocab to expunge.

God’s Lemmings Disapearing - Very, very slowly.

The Hovinds owe three million smackers - Wish I had that kind of problem.

Editor’s Choice: Ignosticism - What was the question again?

Kil’s Evil Pick:
Orson Welles - War Of The Worlds - Radio Broadcast 1938 - Complete Broadcast — On October 30th, 1938, The Mercury Theatre on the Air, headed by a young Orson Welles, presented a conceptually innovative radio broadcast dramatization of H. G. Wells’ classic science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds. And all hell broke loose. Not that there is anything particularly controversial about the story. (And in a cultural and scientific context, as well as it being a darn good yarn, I consider the H. G. Wells novel a must read.) But the way it was presented by The Mercury Theater posed some problems for some of the more credulous listeners of the broadcast. They believed that Martians were really invading our planet!

As we near Halloween, I think this is a good time to look back on what went down on the night of the radio production of The War of the Worlds, because I think it serves as a good lesson in how some of us distinguish reality from fiction and truth from spin, when we believe it’s coming from a source that we trust. Sure, it was just a play. But for those who tuned in late, missing the introduction, and with it being presented in the form of news flashes interrupting regularly scheduled programming, to many people it was taken as the real thing. But not everyone who tuned in late took it that way.

From “War of the Worlds”: Behind the 1938 Radio Show Panic:
It was the day before Halloween, October 30, 1938. Henry Brylawski was on his way to pick up his girlfriend at her Adams Morgan apartment in Washington, D.C.

As he turned on his car radio, the 25-year-old law student heard some startling news. A huge meteorite had smashed into a New Jersey farm.

“I knew it was a hoax,” said Brylawski, now 92.

Others were not so sure. When he reached the apartment, Brylawski found his girlfriend’s sister, who was living there, “quaking in her boots,” as he puts it. “She thought the news was real,” he said…

…However, the radio play, narrated by Orson Welles, had been written and performed to sound like a real news broadcast about an invasion from Mars.

Thousands of people, believing they were under attack by Martians, flooded newspaper offices and radio and police stations with calls, asking how to flee their city or how they should protect themselves from “gas raids.” Scores of adults reportedly required medical treatment for shock and hysteria.

The hoax worked, historians say, because the broadcast authentically simulated how radio worked in an emergency.

I think hoax is too strong of a term to describe what Welles had done, but maybe it was a hoax. I tend to agree with Joe Nickell’s assessment of the broadcast. It wasn’t a hoax. It was a satire. Welles himself called it “an experiment” and at a later time he took some responsibility for what he called: “an assault on the credibility of that machine [radio] … and that [people] shouldn’t swallow everything that came through the tap, whether it was radio or not.” Welles was, along with all of his better known talents, a magician and a skeptic.

Shortly after the broadcast, Orson Wells apologized for creating a public panic. And I suppose it was necessary, given that there really was a panic even if it has grown in size and severity in the minds of many over the years, to mythical proportions. Still, there is a lesson to be had here, and it’s as relevant today as it was when Welles was playing around with the new media: Don’t believe everything you read or hear! But of course, you already know that… Right?

So just for the fun of it, fire up the fabulous Mercury Theater version of H. G. Wells’The War Of The Worlds - Radio Broadcast 1938 - Complete Broadcast!

For more of the back story, see War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast Causes Panic.

Fake is as old as the Eden tree.
— Orson Welles

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday, September 10th: The chat started with a no-show of our new chat host. We started out with The Stock Market Game, and the old wisdom that in games, the House is rigged to win. Then there was banking, and interest on credit cards, a few movies with a specific mention to debunking aliens (the debunking of History Channel’s Ancient Aliens). What can I say? History Channel is not in high standing! Sad news from sailingsoul about his beached boat. The last half hour was spent debating animals’ self-awareness and communication between other members of their species and us.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:
There were no new members this week.

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
Ancient Aliens Debunked by Biblical literalist

Carl Sagan’ Crazy Train

The Congressional Prayer Caucus and the House Science Committee — A Disturbing Combination

Doubtful News

Five Sure-Shot Predictions for 2013

Fossil of ancient spider attack only one of its type ever discovered

Insects show how DNA mistakes become evolutionary innovation

NASA’s Swift Satellite Discovers a New Black Hole in Milky Way Galaxy

New Kenyan fossils shed light on early human evolution

No, you’re not entitled to your opinion

An Open Letter to Simon Cowell: We Can Help

The Organic False Dichotomy

Ship of Foolishness

The Skeptic’s Dictionary Newsletter, October, 2012

Top 10 Worst Anti-Science Websites

Got some skeptic news items? Send them to us, and we’ll think about adding them.

Book of the Week:
Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium, by Mark Edward with forward by James Randi.

“‘Mark Edward is an equivocator, fibber, and mountebank. Which begs the question: if a liar admits to lying, can he be telling the truth? He is a literate, informative, intellectual, a student of the psychology of humans, a foe of those who would defraud the public for personal gain, and as an author and practicing psychic, he is first and foremost an entertainer.’ — Joel Moskowitz, International Brotherhood of Magicians

Mark Edward confesses that for years he exploited believers who wished to connect with supernatural ideas and sad family members who missed dead loved ones.

Edward is a professional mentalist who has worked the Magic Castle in Hollywood for over thirty years and is also on the Editorial Board of Skeptic magazine, where he has worked with other critical thinkers to reveal the methods of psychic scamsters. This entertaining book is at once confessional and instructional regarding human belief and those who exploit it.

Edward believes that most practitioners of the psychic business are out-and-out scam artists, and that the common need to believe in things supernatural is merely a part of human nature.”

— Book Description

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Little-a versus big-A atheism
  2. Stand by Me
  3. HOWTO: make hyperlinked text, insert a URL-link
  4. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  5. Chupacabra sold to creationist museum
  6. Funny FAILS
  7. Scattershots: gargoyles & grotesques
  8. How the divine pen of N crushed the atheists
  9. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  10. The Supper
  1. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  3. Evolving a Venom or Two
  4. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  5. What is a Skeptic and Why Bother Being One?
  6. How Do Vaccines Work?
  7. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  8. Cold Reading
  9. Skeptic Summary #358
  10. Skeptic Summary #373
There were 8,909 daily visitors this week.
Last Month’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Little-a versus big-A atheism
  2. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  3. Bedini motor
  4. What would you say to this argument about atheists?
  5. Chupacabra sold to creationist museum
  6. Funny FAILS
  7. Rebecca Watson not appearing at TAM
  8. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  9. How the divine pen of N crushed the atheists
  10. The Battle of Tehran
  11. Scattershots: gargoyles & grotesques
  12. Random fun
  13. The Supper
  14. DMV Senior Motorcyclist Handbook
  15. Latest on the "Antikythera Mechanism"
  16. Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye
  17. Jesus tempts Satan
  18. Scientist: No knuckle-walkers in human ancestry
  19. Regarding sex changes and gender
  20. Crabby Appleton
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  3. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  4. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  5. What is a Skeptic and Why Bother Being One?
  6. Scientific Truth
  7. Cold Reading
  8. Free the Glutens, or When a Cookie isn’t Just a Cookie
  9. Skeptic Summary #371
  10. Evil Skeptic II: A visit to the Conscious Living Expo
  11. The Legend of the Shrinking Sun
  12. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  13. How Do Vaccines Work?
  14. TAM5
  15. Kent Hovind is a Big Phony!
  16. Skeptic Summary #372
  17. The Biblical support for a Flat Earth and Geocentricism
  18. Skeptic Summary #358
  19. Miracle Thaw Tray
  20. Preaching that Anti-Evolution Propaganda
There were 33,931 daily visitors in September, 2012.

More issues of the Skeptic Summary can be found in our archive.

The Skeptic Summary is produced by the staff of the Skeptic Friends Network, copyright 2012, all rights reserved.

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