Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thanks to Dr. Forrest Long Overdue

Earlier in June, NOSHA hosted a members-only reception to show our appreciation for the years of contributions made by former board member, Barbara Forrest, who has done an incredible job both locally in providing guidance for our organization and, especially, on a national level. We knew we couldn't miss out on thanking her publicly! Harry Greenberger, president emeritus, prepared this statement to give everyone a brief understanding of her history with NOSHA that is touching and comprehensive. We wanted to share it with everyone who wasn't able to attend that day.

As I think you all know, Barbara Forrest is a professor of philosophy in the Department of History and Political Science at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.

In the early years of NOSHA, we were introduced to Barbara by one of our first Board members, Denis Dwyer, and she accepted our invitation to come to New Orleans to address our group. I recall having lunch with Denis, Barbara, her husband, Clark, and, I think, one or both of her teenage sons, at a waterfront restaurant prior to going to our meeting at the Harrison Avenue public library. At that time, I asked whether she would consider becoming a NOSHA Director and she agreed. She has also served on the board of directors of the National Center for Science Education and the Board of Trustees of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Since that early time until her recent obligations required her to not seek re-­election to our Board, Barbara has been a faithful (you know how I use that word) member and contributor to NOSHA activities, despite the fact that her Board membership was used to discredit her as biased and unqualified to criticize religious organizations.

In 2004, Barbara, along with a co-author published through Oxford University Press her sensational book: Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, which exposed the Discovery Institute's intelligent design movement (which had replaced the unconstitutional "Creationism") and its attempts to undermine the teaching of evolutionary biology. Her celebrity status as an authority on this farce is reflected in her many guest speaker roles at Secular and other national organization meetings.

Barbara's outstanding testimony at the Kitzmiller v. Dover School District trial, where the opposing attorney described her as "little more than a conspiracy theorist and web-surfing, 'cyber-stalker' of the Discovery Institute" none-the-less resulted in the judge's decision in favor of the plaintiffs.

And then there is the Louisiana Science Education Act, supported by Louisiana Family Forum, which allows science teachers in public schools to sneak in alternative "theories" to the theory of natural evolution, a law which Barbara along with young Zack Kopplin, continues to publicly oppose, so far without legislative success.

Barbara has been recognized through a number of awards. 1998 President's Award for Excellence in Teaching, SLU; 1999 Louisiana Library Association/SIRS Alex Allain Intellectual Freedom Award; 2001-2004 Women's Hospital Distinguished Teaching Professor; Friend ofDarwin Award, National Center for Science Education; 2006 President's Award for Excellence in Research, SLU; 2006 Public Service Award, American Society for Cell Biology; and 2006 NOSHA Humanist Award.

Forrest receiving a lifetime membership to NOSHA as a small
thank you for her service to our organization.
For her unremitting integrity and courage to fight for science and truth, with the support of her husband, Clark, despite possible ostracizing in the small Northshore towns while her sons were still in high school, we at NOSHA are proud to have known Barbara and have her with us through these years!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

REVIEW: Ghost Hunting for Beginners

I've been interested for some time in the “ghost” industry in America, from books of ghost stories to New Orleans ghost tours to endless ghost hunting programs on television. One of details that make this social phenomenon so fascinating is its nearly total lack of explanatory theory. Exactly what do aficionados think a ghost really is? What evidence do they have? How do they test their hypotheses?  I've been looking for a good book that attempts to explain some of the models in a more technical sort of way, but so far, without success.

I recently checked out a copy of Rich Newman’s Ghost Hunting for Beginners.  I picked this particular book because it claimed to take a more systematic approach, recommending that “the best way to investigate the paranormal is with proven, scientific methods.” I read the whole thing, and learned sadly little.
The problem with this book, as with most materials on ghosts and ghost hunting, is “energy.” “Energy” is a perfectly legitimate word with a certain scientific cachet. But when used with frustrating vagueness, with no respect to differences between types or how they’re stored or converted or transmitted, “energy” is one of those red-flag words signaling flimflam.


Because of its vague usage of the term “energy,” the book doesn't even raise, let alone answer, the questions any technically minded person would naturally ask.Ghosts, the author tells us, are made up of electromagnetic energy. But if so, why are ghosts so hard for us to detect, given that we have reliable instruments capable of measuring all kinds of electromagnetic fields? We are told that ghosts sometimes set off EMF (electromagnetic field) detectors. But how does an observer distinguish between a ghostly EMF and a natural EMF or one generated by electronic equipment? Ghosts need electromagnetic energy to manifest physically. If so, why are the areas around power plants and substations not infested with ghostly phenomena? Ghosts sometimes drain batteries. But how does a ghost convert the chemical energy inside of a battery into electrical or electromagnetic energy? Ghosts sometimes leave EVP (electronic voice phenomena) on audio recorders. Well then, do they do that by creating a complex set of pressure waves in the air to be picked up by the microphone, or by generating analog electromagnetic signals that are picked up inside of the electronics of the recorder, or by generating digital electromagnetic pulses directly into the recorder’s memory?

Let me be clear: I think Ghost Hunting for Beginners is one of the better books in its genre. Many are far worse, bristling with the technical-sounding weasel-words that so often mark pseudo-scientific sloppy-headedness. They use terms like vibration, quantum, higher dimensions, anomaly, vortex, and others, with such looseness as to render them all meaningless.

Numerous other problems of a technical nature beset the book and the ghost business in general. These would be less relevant if ghost hunters and other adherents claimed that ghosts were beings of “spirit,” entirely bereft of any physicality. But this claim is rare, since ghosts that can’t interact with us are boring. If we can be aware of ghosts, than either the being of a ghost or the manifestation of a ghost must contain elements that exist in our material universe. The fact that the methods and models for understanding those material elements remain vague and under-theorized after decades of “paranormal investigation” convincingly tells us that the whole business belongs in the same category as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.

~ Review by Jim Dugan, NOSHA Board Vice-President

Ghost Hunting for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started, by Rich Newman. Llewellyn Publications (2011).