Editorial: The New Year Ahead

Michael McCarthy
Originally published in BASIS
December 1982

We finish 1982 on a distinctly upbeat note for an organization less than six months old. Bay Area Skeptics has already had a good impact in our area and is expanding with all due speed.

We have over 150 subscribers at the moment, and pass out another few hundred copies of the newsletter each month, both to the interested and the hostile. The Skeptic's Challenge is making the rounds, and may yield interesting results in the future. The Bay Area journalist community is now aware of our existence and has already found several occasions to turn to BAS for skeptical counterbalance to credulous claims. This is a remarkable record for such a young group.

Best of all, people like me have somewhere to turn for confirmation that, yes indeed, there IS good reason to be skeptical when faced with dazzlingly fatuous tales of modern wonders.

Last year, I attended a psychic demonstration, and found to my surprise that fully a third of the audience were not true believers. Apparently, they were dragged along by believing friends. As the show progressed, they grew more and more uncomfortable, both at the ludicrous tricks of the psychic and at the credulous enthusiasm of their friends. When the psychic revealed himself as simply a stage magician, the sense of relief from these skeptics was palpable. Unaware that others like themselves in the audience felt the same way, they had begun to fear that the world was turning upside down; that it was they who were unreasonable for being rational, while their friends were quite reasonable in insisting that nonsensical card tricks
constituted evidence of otherworldly powers.

When the wildly improbable is marketed on every supermarket counter as the conventional wisdom, reasonable men and women can start feeling pretty lonely. BAS has been formed, in part, to counter that feeling.

There is certainly a combative element to our charter, for we do have our subscribers who enjoy a good tussle with the forces of unreason. But there is also for many of us the social element.

It is a relief to spend a little time among people who will agree when you say that rationality is not a cruel weapon devised by conspirators to put shackles on the minds of men; that the "National Enquirer" is not, in fact, a reliable source of information about spacemen, talking plants, or magical medical breakthroughs; that it is not unreasonable to believe that Las Vegas survives not merely because true psychics are unwilling to use their powers for monetary gain; and that a few clever card tricks do not necessarily constitute evidence of mystical powers beyond the ken of science simply because the trickster says so.

Our plans for 1983 consist of continuing and multiplying our present activities: challenging gullible media reports of paranormal occurrences; persuading journalists that BAS is a valuable resource for information about and experts on paranormal claims; further persuading journalists that it is irresponsible to treat claims of paranormal events as harmless "fun" stories not subject to the normal rules of journalistic ethics.

We are trying to collect information on the careers, predictions, and flaws of local "psychics", in hopes that at least some people will be impressed by a record of failure. And we continue to seek opportunities to speak and debate on the side of reason and common sense in the media, and before schools and community groups.

To accomplish our goals, we are fortunate to have many subscribers who are experts in various fields of the paranormal, who are familiar with the personalities and literature of everything from UFOs to psychic surgery, and who can handle themselves ably in a public forum.

But let us not neglect our many subscribers who may not be experts on UFOs or the Bermuda Triangle, but who would like to learn more, and who would like to make a contribution to our efforts against the tidal wave of irrationality.

Many of us are eager to support the purposes of this group, and there is much we can do, even though we are not experts or technical specialists. We can perform and assist in research; we can give moral support as members of the audience at speeches and debates to counterweigh heavy representation from true believers; we can watch for opportunities for action. We can, in other words, serve as a valuable resource for BAY AREA SKEPTICS.

That is one reason why the December 1st BAS meeting was scheduled to include expert information on a common object of our attentions: the use of psychics in police work. Future meetings will likewise include expert discussions.

This kind of theme meeting will help bring the subscribers up to date on an area of study; let us know what BAS has done and decide what to do in the future in this area; and to suggest ways in which the general subscribership can offer support.

I want to urge you to try to make it out to at least one BAS event in the near future. You will find your fellow subscribers, board members, consultants to be bright, convivial, rational, mildly anarchic, and definitely stimulating.

-- The Editor