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Skeptic Summary #392

By The Staff
Posted on: 10/13/2013

French racism, military religion, Trudeau's contempt, government shutdown, deconverting evangelicals, worlds war and more!

Week ending October 13, 2013 (Vol 10, #14)

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

Forum Highlights:
France is totally racist! - A quest to find economic correlation to racism takes a wrong turn.

The military and the First Amendment (religion) - About constitutional violations in the forces.

Uh oh. Kevin Trudeau’s in trouble… - Making headlines again by showing contempt of court.

Who really shut down the government and why - A Rachel Maddow report sparks discussion.

Editor’s Choice: How an evangelical preacher became an atheist - Deconversion is always cool.

Kil’s Evil Pick:
Orson Welles - War Of The Worlds - Radio Broadcast 1938 - Complete Broadcast — [Repick, ’cause it’s that time of year] 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. Oh. And have a happy and safe Halloween!

Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.
— Bertrand Russell

Please come join us for chat every Wednesday at 10 PM Eastern time (7PM Pacific). More information can be found in this forum post.

New Members This Week:

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
2010 Calif. whooping cough outbreak linked to vaccine-averse parents

Animal Planet Live — Bigfoot Cam

Atwill’s Cranked-up Jesus

Barry Arrington, Junk DNA, and Why We Call Them Idiots

Cristopher Columbus was awful (but this other guy was not)

The Dangers of Pseudoscience

Doubtful News

FDA Warns Homeopathy Manufacturer Hyland to Stop Mislabeling its Products

Ghost Meters: I Can Name that Ghost in 5 Milligauss

Grasshopper 744m Test | Single Camera

Insect Sex, NASA Furlough, Fossil Pollen and more! IFLScience

Likelihood And The Paranormal

Meet the “Health Ranger” Who’s Using Pseudoscience to Sell His Lies

Not the Ducks — A Dissection of Quackery

An Open Letter to Scientific American and Why Youve Lost a Reader: #BoycottSciAm

Psychic Found Guilty of Stealing $138,000 From Clients

Skepticality #216 — Just Apply Rationality

A Very Simple Explanation Of The Higgs Boson

What the Heck Is Comet ISON Doing?

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

Book of the Week:
Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald.

“I know my own mind.
I am able to assess others in a fair and accurate way.

These self-perceptions are challenged by leading psychologists Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald as they explore the hidden biases we all carry from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes about age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status, and nationality.

Blindspot is the authors’ metaphor for the portion of the mind that houses hidden biases. Writing with simplicity and verve, Banaji and Greenwald question the extent to which our perceptions of social groups — without our awareness or conscious control — shape our likes and dislikes and our judgments about peoples’ character, abilities, and potential.

In Blindspot, the authors reveal hidden biases based on their experience with the Implicit Association Test, a method that has revolutionized the way scientists learn about the human mind and that gives us a glimpse into what lies within the metaphoric blindspot.

The title’s “good people” are those of us who strive to align our behavior with our intentions. The aim of Blindspot is to explain the science in plain enough language to help well-intentioned people achieve that alignment. By gaining awareness, we can adapt beliefs and behavior and “outsmart the machine” in our heads so we can be fairer to those around us. Venturing into this book is an invitation to understand our own minds.

Brilliant, authoritative, and utterly accessible, Blindspot is a book that will challenge and change readers for years to come.”

— Amazon Description

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Religion versus vaccines — sound familiar?
  2. Q’s on atheism
  3. Evolution myths
  4. Anti-gay gays
  5. Where this is?
  6. Questions for a Christian
  7. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  8. Big Bang (Part 2)
  9. Caesar’s Messiah by Joseph Atwill
  10. Blasphemy challenge discussed on Nightline
  1. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  3. Evolving a Venom or Two
  4. Cold Reading
  5. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  6. Sports Fandom and Soccer
  7. Skeptic Summary #389
  8. Skeptic Summary #391
  9. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  10. The Bad Astronomer Corner
There were 9,740 daily visitors this week.
Last Month’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Total Recall source material to be re-murdered
  2. Stan Lee’s superhumans
  3. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  4. The Illuminati are actually a force for good
  5. Unbelievable
  6. ‘Debate’ between me and Stan
  7. Beelzebufo ampinga
  8. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  9. Evidence for evolution "spotty"?
  10. The Skeptic Summary
  11. Hahahahahaha!
  12. Random fun
  13. Scattershots: gargoyles & grotesques
  14. Skeptic News
  15. The water cooler, part 3
  16. Questions for a Christian
  17. James Randi: a shit idol?
  18. Movies for freethinkers
  19. Cold Reading
  20. Shut up and listen
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two
  2. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  3. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  4. Cold Reading
  5. The Fred Flintstone Hoax
  6. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  7. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  8. Skeptic Summary #389
  9. The Legend of the Shrinking Sun
  10. Skeptic Summary #390
  11. Skeptic Summary #365
  12. TAM5
  13. Scientific Truth
  14. What is a Skeptic and Why Bother Being One?
  15. How Do Vaccines Work?
  16. Evolution is a Lie, and you Skeptics KNOW it! Part 4
  17. Skeptic Summary #371
  18. Evolution is a Lie, and you Skeptics KNOW it! Part 2
  19. Free the Glutens, or When a Cookie isn’t Just a Cookie
  20. The Biblical support for a Flat Earth and Geocentricism
There were 53,345 daily visitors in September, 2013.

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 2013, all rights reserved.

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