The Navigator: You'd Better Believe It
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 1998
This article contains links which take you outside washingtonpost.com.
In this season of specters and spooks, there are some sticks-in-the-mud. These are the skeptics. And they are aswarm on the Internet. You don't believe me? Take a look at the home page of the Skeptics Society, a California-based group of doubting scientists, historians, magicians and scholars. We're talking some serious ghostbusting here. Singing the rational anthem, these folks hope to take the super out of the supernatural. The Web site, we are told on the home page is the "pathway to critical thinking, where everything must pass under the magnifying glass of scrutiny."
Illustration by Evelyn Wang/washingtonpost.com staff
Nothing is taken for granted. Even President Clinton's escapades are held up to the light of pure reason. The director of the society, Michael Shermer, who also edits Skeptic Magazine, writes this month about the causes and effects of gossip. "Why would anyone care who President Clinton slept with? Because our Paleolithic brains are being tricked into thinking that President Clinton is someone we personally know and someone we should care about. . .
"Our gossiping about Bill Clinton is how we are deciding the future of his status as our alpha male ... "
Because, Shermer concludes, today it takes a global village to raise a leader.
Or you can check out an article on how the rise of scientific endeavor in 17th-century England led to an increase in the belief in the supernatural. Or you can read what you missed at the group's spring gathering: A British magician showed how you can shove a 5-inch nail up your nose and uberskeptic James "The Amazing" Randi continued to swat down one unsolved mystery after another.
If you're not too sure about Randi, you can learn more about him through the James Randi Educational Foundation Web site. The institution, based in Florida, is "getting into gear for the battle against misinformation, pseudoscience and fraud." On the site, Randi goes after faith healers, conjurers and other impractical practitioners. The foundation offers a $1 million reward to "any person or persons who can demonstrate any psychic, supernatural or paranormal ability of any kind under satisfactory observing conditions."
But vut about vampires? The Sagan Society, at the University of Georgia, debunks and defangs the legend. Members cite the recent work of Juan Gomez-Alonso, a Spanish neurologist who believes that tales of blood-sucking counts may have sprung up during a widespread rabies epidemic in 18th-century Europe.
Ghosts? Werewolves? Voodoo? The jaundiced eyes of the New York Area Skeptics are all too willing to set you straight on what you think you saw.
Alien starships? Penn State students have formed the Skeptics Club. Last spring the group learned how to manufacture fake UFO photos. They have posted a couple of the pix on their Web site that look real enough to sell to the tabs.
College credit for incredible pictures? Now that's a scary thought.
True believers and skeptical scoffers are invited to join me online today for The Navigator, live, 2 p.m. EDT, at www.washingtonpost.com. My guest is Chip Denman of the National Capital Area Skeptics. Send in your missives and misgivings now.
Dirty Sole Society
There's a place for everyone online even for this friendly group of shoe-shunners. The Dirty Sole Society outwardly thumbs its nose at the "no shoes, no service" establishment. At its very official Web site, you can search for barefoot-friendly businesses by ZIP code, learn about the legality of walking and driving barefoot, and see pictures of foot nudists on vacation in unlikely places. You'll also learn how "fun" it is to turn the sole of your feet pitch black.
Horror of it All ...
The Literary Gothic page is the best Halloween treat on the Web a huge compilation of links to horror writers. Site creator Jack Voller, a professor at Southern Illinois University, includes links to "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." The most famous ghost stories are also available, such as W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw" and F. Marion Crawford's "The Upper Berth." Voller also has links to such neglected masters of the good scare as Robert W. Chambers and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman.
Holiday, My Ear!
You thought you hated Halloween. Koinonia House in Idaho warns that celebrating Oct. 31 leads to entanglement with New Agers and other occultists responsible for grisly crimes and stolen children. (Did you know the federal government is attempting to enforce nature worship?) From North Dakota, the History of Halloween claims that animal and human sacrifices mark Halloween celebrations. Chick Publications from Chico, Calif., cautions that when the younger generation rebels, the problem can be traced back to Halloween. (The solution is to hand out its Christian tracts to trick or treaters.) The Jewish Family site manages a humorous tone, but suggests a Bible reading as the sacks of candy are dumped. At Parentsroom Polls, worries about sugar outnumber those about Satan 2-to-1. Propaganda for the Paranoid satirizes the other anti-Halloween screeds in a gloomy Web site that panders to the humorless alarmists while entertaining heathen sophisticates.
L. Peat O'Neil
The Negative Picture
I just found a really random Web site about ghost picture-taking workshops. This outfit organizes trips with night vision scopes through old ghost-towns that, they promise, will "change your life."
Found something intriguing, improbable, insane or especially useful on the Net? Write it up and send it to Joel Garreau or Robert Thomason.