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SKEPTICAL INQUIRER ELECTRONIC DIGEST X-FILES SPECIAL EDITION

SKEPTICAL INQUIRER ELECTRONIC DIGEST
*Special X-Files: Fight the Future Edition*
For free Digest subscriptions, go to:
http://www.csicop.org/list/index.html#subscribe

June 19, 1998

SI Electronic Digest is the bi-weekly e-mail news update of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP.)

Visit http://www.csicop.org.

The Digest is written and edited by Matthew Nisbet and Barry Karr. SI Digest has over 2000 readers worldwide, and is distributed via e-mail from the Center for Inquiry-International, Amherst N.Y., USA.

PERMISSION IS GRANTED TO REPRINT OR RE-POST ON THE WEB. WE ENCOURAGE TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES.

PLEASE FORWARD TO YOUR SKEPTICAL FRIENDS.
Send comments, media inquiries and news to:
SINISBET@aol.com (716-636-1425)

CSICOP publishes the bi-monthly SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, The Magazine for Science and Reason. The July/August issue features cover story "Magnetic Therapy: Plausible Attraction?" and "Media Depictions of the Paranormal: How do They Affect What People Believe?"

To subscribe at the $17.95 introductory price, go to:
http://www.csicop.org/si/subscribe/

Or call 1800-634-1610 (1-716-646-1425 outside the U.S.)

This week's special X-Files: Fight the Future SI DIGEST includes:

--RELEASE: Skeptics Vs. The X-Files: Concern Over the Portrayal of Science
--OPINION: Chris Carter--The Paranormal Attila the Hun
--FOXNEWS.COM Mines the Gap Between Skeptics and Believers
--CLASSIC SI ARTICLES: The X-Files Encounters the Skeptics Jan./Feb. 1997

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT MATT NISBET AT 716-636-1425 X219

SKEPTICS VERSUS THE X-FILES

SCIENTISTS CONCERNED BY PORTRAYAL OF SCIENCE

Movie Release Could Usher in Turn-of-the-Millennium Era of the Paranormal

AMHERST, N.Y.-- In the late 1970's, Close Encounters of the Third Kind ignited imaginations across the world, and helped spur popular fascination with alien visitation and abduction. Now The X-Files: Fight the Future film is scheduled to be released June 19, and if the movie is well-received by critics and viewers on opening weekend, it will likely draw hordes of moviegoers beyond its 25 million television following.

Tapping into themes of government conspiracy and the paranormal, The X-Files: Fight the Future has the potential to catapult interest and belief in a range of paranormal phenomena above already historic levels.

Many prominent scientists,skeptics and academics are concerned with the portrayal of science in the series. In every episode of The X-Files, science fails. FBI agent Dana Scully, the series' symbol of rational skepticism, is incapable of positing satisfactory scientific explanations for extraordinary plot developments. It is always Fox Mulder's mystical speculation that is onto something.

"In the entertainment media, just short of sex and violence, conspiracy- mongering and paranormal fantasy sells" says Paul Kurtz, member of the coordinating committee for the Council for Media Integrity and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. "The X-Files taps into the fascination market, feeding on viewer gullibility. Science is portrayed as weak and critical thinking is pushed aside."

Magical thinking became a national pastime last summer during the mythological 50th anniversary of the crash of an alien spacecraft at Roswell, New Mexico. According to a Gallup poll, 31% of Americans believed an *actual* alien craft had crashed in 1947. In a previous poll, 71% of Americans indicated a belief in some kind of U.S. government cover-up of UFOs.

Many defend the series as mere fiction. In response to that assertion, Oxford University's Richard Dawkins in the March/April issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER magazine asks us to imagine for a minute that The X-Files' weekly choice between rational theory and paranormal theory were turned into a crime series. In each case one suspect is white and the other black, and at the conclusion of every episode, like science in The X-Files, the black suspect is found to be guilty. Could Hollywood defend that kind of myth-making as "only fiction?"

In 1996, X-Files creator Chris Carter appeared before a "World Congress" of skeptics at the State University of New York at Buffalo, fielding hard-hitting questions from noted standard- bearers of no-nonsense reality that included author/entertainer Steve Allen, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and philosopher Paul Kurtz. A transcript of that question and answer session is available by calling 1800-634-1610 or 716-636=1425 outside the U.S.

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The Council for Media Integrity is a network of distinguished international scientists and academics concerned with the balanced portrayal of science in the media. Members of the Council include E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, Martin Gardner, and Sir John Maddox. Co-chairs of the Council are Nobel laureate Glenn T. Seaborg and entertainer Steve Allen.

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OPINION: CHRIS CARTER--THE PARANORMAL ATTILA THE HUN
Matthew Nisbet

Sometimes it is tough carrying the badge of professional skeptic, especially when it means criticizing a paranormal-filled two hours of popcorn, crunching suspense about to be sprung on American movie theaters. With Godzilla killed off by lower than expected box office turn out, The X-Files: Fight the Future film opens June 19, much to the delight of 20 million rabidly devoted fans of the Fox television series.

The X-Files features a Holmes and Watson duo of FBI agents. Fox Mulder is a credulous Oxford-trained parapsychologist and Dana Scully a skeptical medical doctor with a background in physics. Mulder and Scully's cases, a filing cabinet collection of leads designated "X" for "unexplained," takes them to the borderlands of reality. From psychic ability to genetic mutation to alien abduction, examples of the paranormal reveal themselves each episode, never to be wholly believed, captured, quantified, or proven because of ubiquitous government cover-up.

With the series' immense popularity, some skeptics fear that the Visigoths have finally breached the walls of good science, reality, and reason. The X-Files creator, Chris Carter, age 41 with authentic surfer looks and long blond hair, might be considered the paranormal Attila the Hun.

In 1996, Carter appeared before a "World Congress" of skeptics at the State University of New York at Buffalo, fielding hard-hitting questions from noted standard-bearers of no-nonsense reality that included author/entertainer Steve Allen, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and philosopher Paul Kurtz. Defending his series, Carter pleaded "All I want to do in a very smart way is scare the pants off of people every Friday night."

But Carter has gone far beyond fright, and has jump-started a millenial trend away from science and reality-based thinking. By thrusting his horror claws deep into the spine of American culture, The X-Files has helped inspire historic levels of interest in conspiracies and the paranormal.

Magical thinking became a national pastime last summer during the mythological 50th anniversary of the crash of an alien spacecraft at Roswell, New Mexico. According to a Gallup poll, 31% of Americans believed an *actual* alien craft had crashed in 1947. In a previous poll, 71% of Americans indicated a belief in somekind of U.S. government cover-up of UFOs.

Credulous fascination spreads the globe with The X-Files' popularity infiltrating world culture. In a letter sent to SKEPTICAL INQUIRER offices, an education director at a natural science museum in South Africa reports alarm at the "extensive knowledge children have of Roswell, abductions, and X-Files episodes...while knowing very little about why there are craters on the moon or what 'shooting stars' are."

Has television replaced our schools as the main forum for learning? Americans watch an average of four hours of television a day, stretching to ten years over the course of a lifetime. Studies show that a program as captivating as The X-Files has the power to mold public opinion. When Mulder urges Scully to open herself to "extraordinary possibilities," the audience is likely to indulge his suggestion, and fantasize curiously about aliens, psychics, and conspiracies.

The X-Files, however, is a missed *extraordinary opportunity* to teach millions about scientific inquiry, evaluation of evidence, and the testing of claims. Just as fascination with dinosaurs lures children into learning about science, the intrigue of conspiracies and the paranormal can teach audiences critical thinking. Imagine if within the witty technobanter of Mulder and Scully there were thrown subtle lessons in evaluating evidence and reaching science-based conclusions.

But instead, in every episode of The X-Files, science fails. Scully, the series' symbol of rational skepticism, is incapable of positing satisfactory scientific explanations for extraordinary plot developments. It is always Mulder's mystical speculation that is onto something.

At the Skeptic's World Congress, Carter defended The X-Files as harmless fiction, and claimed that any ill-effect on viewer opinion about science or the paranormal was "a bogus argument." In response to Carter's assertion, Oxford University's Richard Dawkins in the March/April issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER magazine asks us to imagine for a minute that The X-Files' weekly choice between rational theory and paranormal theory were turned into a crime series. In each case one suspect is white and the other black, and at the conclusion of every episode, like science in The X-Files, the black suspect is found to be guilty. Could Hollywood defend that kind of myth-making as "only fiction?"

Promotion of magical thinking, conspiracy mongering and anti-science is not harmless. Experts estimate that only 5% of the U.S. population is scientifically aware, defined as having an appreciation for the scientific method and the evaluation of evidence. This number is just slightly higher than the percentage of working U.S. scientists. In a democracy, as policy choices become increasingly more complex, Americans infatuated with conspiracies and paranormal beliefs will be unable to sort the misinformation from the valuable information. Borrowing from The X-Files, we can say that the "the truth *is* out there." We risk heading into the next millennium as a country of foolish and gullible believers.

30

Matthew Nisbet is Public Relations Director for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), publisher of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, The Magazine for Science and Reason.
http://www.csicop.org.

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FOX NEWS ON-LINE MINES THE GAP BETWEEN SKEPTICS AND BELIEVERS

Cyberspace writer Patrick Riley reports on the on-going battle between skeptics and believers. Check out his article titled " The X-Factor: Skeptics and Believers Square Off on the Fiction in Science" at http://www.foxnews.com .

CLASSIC SI ARTICLES: X-FILES CREATOR ENCOUNTERS THE SKEPTICS

To Order Call 1800-634-1610 or 716-636-1425 outside the U.S.
Or E-mail SINISBET@aol.com. Include Credit Card # and expiration date.

Curious to read how X-Files creator Chris Carter responds to the objections and questions of some of the world's leading scientists and skeptics? When Carter spoke at the CSICOP Twentieth Anniversary Conference, the result wasn't quite what anyone expected. Standing before a packed banquet hall of impassioned and distinquished listeners, Carter fielded questions from leading scientists including astrophysicist Neal deGrasse Tyson.

The transcript of the session was published in the January/February 1997 issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER. Due to the high demand and the incredible popularity of the X-Files, the back issue is no longer in stock for back orders. But in anticipation of the June 15 release of the X-Files, CSICOP now offers copies of the full 6-page article for the special price of $5.00 (U.S.)

With the upcoming X-Files blockbuster sure to be the movie event of the summer, order now this transcript of Chris Carter's Q&A with skeptics. Included in the article is introductory remarks by science writer and SKEPTICAL INQUIRER Media Watch columnist Eugene Emery.

To Order Call 1800-634-1610 or 716-636-1425 outside the U.S..
Or E-mail SINISBET@aol.com. Include Credit Card # and expiration date.

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