VOL. 21 NO. 3 WINTER 2008-09
Seinfeld fans may recall the episode ("The Package") in which Elaine's doctor labels her -- more than a tad unfairly -- as a crank, and how that notation in her medical record haunts her as it finds its way to each new doctor she seeks out. That's very much what I was reminded of a couple years ago when the FBI file of my "skeptics" mentor, Philip J. Klass, became public. And now it seems that Tampa Bay Skeptics is perhaps being stigmatized as suffering from EFSD -- not by the FBI (as far as we know), but by our biggest local newspaper.
But more about TBS later. Let's begin with Phil Klass, a founding member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP) and long-time senior avionics editor at Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine (known as the "Bible of the aerospace industry"), who from the 1960s until his death in 2005 was universally recognized as the world's leading UFO skeptic.
In early 2006, the Computer UFO Network obtained what is purported to be (and appears so to my inexpert eyes) Klass's genuine FBI file. CUFON's cover letter stated that the documents comprised the "releasable" portions of the file, with others being withheld by the FBI on national security grounds.
According to the file, in 1958 an Air Force District Commander notified the FBI of Klass' "unauthorized disclosure of information classified 'Secret' in an Aviation Week Magazine article." Klass' detractors generally portrayed him as being in bed with the U.S. government. To the contrary, this episode tends to suggest that, as Phil often stated, he would have blown the lid off the government's so-called "UFO cover-up" had he found evidence of any such conspiracy. Though the FBI now had him in its sights, they hadn't yet "diagnosed" him with EFSD.
A heavily redacted (as many of these are) 1965 document involves an allegation of some sort of activity related to
"radio transmitting equipment" in Klass' apartment. Some of his detractors may have fantasized that if he was not in
bed with our government, perhaps he was sending our secrets to his Soviet handlers. After all, as a result of his
knowledge of Defense Department secrets, Klass had indeed been approached by Boris and Natasha from time to time.
Another 1965 report notes that Phil "telephonically contacted the [FBI's] Washington Field Office [advising] he was
having lunch that date with
Now for the morsels that will tickle the fancies of die-hard Seinfeld fans. A decade later, Klass "telephoned the
Bureau and spoke with the Editor of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (LEB). In strong terms laced with sarcasm, he
derided our publication of the article by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, 'The UFO
Later in 1975 an internal note about a follow-up letter from Phil, in which he described Dr. Hynek as "the spiritual
leader of the vocal group of 'believers' and 'kooks' who claim that we are being visited by extraterrestrial
spaceships," contained this: "Klass is deficient on all points of his argument, particularly concerning the credentials
of Dr. Hynek, which could scarcely be better.
Klass eventually became a good friend of mine and an admirer of TBS Report (I also edited his own
UFO-related newsletter). He would often send me photocopies of his
correspondence with UFO proponents, who seemed to appreciate
his probing questions and biting sarcasm about as much as the FBI did. But it was to my utter surprise that a good
portion of Klass' FBI file relates to the Bureau's policies regarding "psychic detectives," specifically
Noreen Renier, whom I first met in 1986 and about whom I
have subsequently written volumes in TBS Report and elsewhere. In a 1987
letter, Klass inquired about the "official views of the FBI on the use of 'psychics' to assist in FBI investigations."
Five pertinent questions then followed. The FBI responded by explaining that "although the Bureau has never contracted
psychics as consultants, it is possible that individual Special Agents may have encountered people who have
volunteered information based on their psychic impressions [which] would be handled in the same manner as leads
obtained from other sources. The FBI does not endorse or recommend the use of psychics in law enforcement [Q: Is this
because no credible evidence exists that "psychic" power is genuine? A: Hardly. The sentence continues.] partially
because the information obtained is frequently inconclusive. However, we do acknowledge that many police
Klass replied months later, "What I do find surprising is that the FBI would give the appearance of endorsement of
'psychic criminal investigators' by inviting such a claimant to speak before large groups of local law enforcement
officials." In response, the FBI indicated that its "National Academy, as an educational facility, has an obligation
to offer a full range of courses.
Oblivious to the FBI's dismissive attitude toward him, Klass persisted. "What is open to challenge is the question of
whether Ms. Noreen Renier [this is the only sentence in the file in which, by apparent oversight, her name was not
On a smaller scale (at least we are not aware of an FBI file on us), TBS may be "earning" an EFSD reputation of our own within the St. Petersburg Times as a result of the fiasco surrounding Emily Nipps' August 8 article about us (see this item in our last issue). The online version of that article was posted on the morning of August 7, at which time I noticed that a series of false and defamatory accusations against me by "psychic" Virginia Levy, who had failed a TBS "$1,000 Challenge" a decade ago, were included, absent even a word of rebuttal from me. I called Nipps to complain and in the hopes that, before the print version appeared the next day, she could add a sentence the effect that I disputed Levy's characterization of having been mistreated and "scammed." However, that section of the paper had already been printed. But I was astonished when Nipps said that even if that were not the case, and even if I were to rush her the video (which we subsequently have made available on YouTube) exposing Levy's charges as bogus, she would still refuse to include my denial in the article or even ask her editor to print a future "Clarification." Instead, she dismissed my complaint as meritless and opined that I was simply averse to criticism. (In reality, I relish it and feature a "Critics" page on my website.) She was agreeable to a "Correction" notice of her error in placing me on a TV show when it had actually been TBS chairman Terry Smiljanich, but I preferred no "Correction" at all to one that ignored the far more serious matter.
About a month later, Terry received an e-mail from Arleen Spenceley, a Times editorial assistant, who was working on a freelance magazine story about the A&E TV show Paranormal State and desired TBS's perspective. Because she had read the Nipps article but perhaps not the "Letter to the Editor" from Terry and me that had run a week later (which, in an e-mail to me, Nipps characterized as "fair"), I advised Spenceley that Levy's after-the-fact excuses and bitter charges against TBS (and me personally) were untrue, and maliciously so. That prompted Nipps to caution Spenceley that "before you think about dealing with these people, I'd urge you to call me first so I can share my experience with you." No doubt, that would involve tarring TBS with the EFSD label.
In response, I suggested to Spenceley that she also contact Kathy Fountain at Ch. 13, on whose show Terry and I have appeared about a dozen times, for another opinion about us.
Nipps had earlier asserted to me on the phone that she had not breached any journalistic standards by publishing Levy's charges against me while denying me a rejoinder. If that is ethical practice, it certainly explains a lot about what now passes for journalism in this country, which I would label as NFFP -- not fit for print.
The October 1 episode of the Sci Fi Channel's Ghost Hunters series, titled "Ghosts of the Sunshine State," featured St. Petersburg’s Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club. Though this newspaper article appeared hours before the program's airing, the show may have included (as did the book Haunted Baseball) first-hand accounts from players who have stayed at the Vinoy when in town to play the Tampa Bay Rays. Some of them have reported seeing a ghostly man attired in 1920s-era clothing, as well as the typical poltergeisty tales of faucets and lights turning on and off, doors opening and closing, etc., for no apparent reason. As well as haunted, the hotel had been hounded, for years, by producers of such TV fare. But the management wanted no part of it until they heard about a bed and breakfast whose business began booming following such publicity.
The British Ministry of Defence, following in France's 2007 footsteps, has now released many of its heretofore secret UFO-related files. According to one of them, during the deep freeze of the Cold War, an American pilot based in England may have nearly initiated a torrid interplanetary war. Airman Milton Torres was ordered that day in 1957 to open fire on a UFO. Said Torres, who now resides in Miami, "It was so fast, it was so incredible. It was absolutely death-defying." But he never actually made visual contact with the UFO -- it was just a radar blip (though of "incredible intensity") -- and for that reason he never fired a shot. And as the late Phil Klass would point out, after radar converted to digital processors a couple decades later, radar-related UFO cases virtually evaporated, confirming that most had been the result of spurious echoes.
Among the "Ig Nobel" prizes bestowed at Harvard this year by the Annals of Improbable Research was this gem in the Physics category: To Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith, for proving that heaps of string or hair will inevitably tangle. Though hair stylists have known of this phenomenon for centuries, string theorists were thrown into a black hole of despair and are now desperately scrambling to comprehend the ramifications.
Editor: I enjoyed Terry Smiljanich's poking fun at Edgar Mitchell in "Astronauts, UFOs, and Logic" in the last issue. But one can also add that there is a scientific reason "Why Visiting Alien Spaceships Are Impossible." That is the title of my June 2008 article in Skeptical Briefs [the quarterly newsletter of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, publishers of the bimonthly Skeptical Inquirer magazine].
The argument is that the interplanetary distances are so vast that a spaceship has to go at one-tenth the speed of light to get to us in a reasonable time (like 100 years). The energy (kinetic) to reach this velocity is so huge that it is beyond the capability of any civilization. Remember that the vehicle has to carry its own fuel, and the laws of physics and chemistry are the same everywhere in the Universe.
Editor's note: The following is excerpted/edited from a Letter to the Editor sent to Skeptical Inquirer and then forwarded to us by S.I. editor Kendrick Frazier:
Editor: I just wanted to say how much I liked the most recent issue of S.I. (Nov./Dec. 2008). Although the entire issue was a knock-out, I thought the piece on "psychic" Noreen Renier titled "A Mind for Murdergate" [a nearly identical version of the lead article in our last issue] was especially powerful.
A key weakness in mainstream media is the lack of this type of follow-up of claims by people (not restricted to paranormal topics). Because of Gary Posner's careful review of Renier's claims, we can see a casual disregard for the facts in favor of shameless self-promotion. Bravo to S.I. for keeping track of people like Renier who make extraordinary claims!
--Michael R. Dennett
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