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President's Comments on This and That

By Keith R. Taylor

My celebration was about the same as it has been for the past 25 years or so. Beckie called at three minutes past midnight, late as usual. My daughter, the technophobe, takes after her dad. She doesn't know how to adjust her watch and it loses a minute or so each year. Eventually she'll buy a new watch, or the old one will work itself around to the right time again.

"Happy New Year, Dad. I love you," She said. This year she added, "Happy next 1000 years."

So much for the millennium. It started January 1st, or will start next January 1st, or started a few years ago. Whatever. I'm happy to go along with the common perception that it's over. Enough already with the nitwit predictions of the "end times" or second coming or worldwide computer failures. When the ball dropped on Times Square and the earth didn't gobble up the evil revelers in Gotham, I was satisfied that it was just an arbitrary date, nothing more. Now we have work to do and things to get done.

Things are looking up for SDARI but it hasn't been easy. Our last meeting in 1998 was attended by about ten people. It looked like we were going absolutely nowhere and some suggested we consider closing down the organization. How much good could we doing if nobody came to listen to our speakers?

Our November meeting one year later was attended by at least 93 people. I know because I counted them. Who knows how many came to the door and couldn't squeeze in? We broke all our attendance records plus a table. What happened in the intervening 12 months to make such a difference? It's simple. We worked hard. Some of us took it upon ourselves to call members before each meeting and urge them to attend. We booked great speakers. We sent out a mass mailing to folks who were subscribers to Skeptic Magazine. You responded and our average attendance doubled over the previous year. Thank you.

We've even got a measure of fame. As president I was invited to appear on the Roseanne show to give "balance" to a fellow who’d been abducted some 150 times and was the father of at least 30 space babies. Roseanne mostly shouted at me, but I did get in a couple licks for critical thinking. She later told me "you did good."

I also was invited to speak at a meeting of the local chapter of the Mutual Unidentified Object Network. We didn't agree on a darn thing, but I think both the believers and the skeptic kept their cool and ended up with an understanding of each other’s viewpoints.

I recently caught four consecutive episodes of Exploring the Unknown with Mike Shermer. Three of them featured folks who had addressed our group earlier. On 6/28/98 Dr. Russell Worrall told us that the idea that a person can look into a patient's eye and diagnose disease was nonsense and unsupported by science. He repeated his comments to a national audience on Exploring. Randy Gibson might have been the surprise guest of the year with a humorous and informative account of the various uses of handwriting in police work. None included the wowser claims of graphology. He appeared on TV and made the same statement. And, of course, Mike Shermer who packed them in for us is the consulting editor of the show and appears every week.

Come to the meetings folks. You don’t know what famous folks you'll see. But that's old news. What's in store for us next year? We have taken the first step towards becoming involved with youth. To foster critical thinking, Barbara Hemmingsen suggested that we give small cash prize for two students at the forthcoming Science and Engineering Fair and we requested donations to support this effort (Rational Inquiry, vol. 4, issue 4). The response was fast and impressive. The donations exceeded our expectations. The Science Fair Committee (headed by Doug Reeves) has recommended a First Place Award in the Senior Division of $200, $100 in the Junior Division. Each winner will receive a membership in SDARI and a one year subscription to either Skeptics magazine or The Skeptical Inquirer. Honorable Mention awards consisting of the membership and subscription will also be given out. Winners will be invited to the SDARI meeting in April to present their projects and to receive our personal congratulations. The members of the Committee are L. Hall, J. Chalmers, N. Hall, R. Zeps, D. Zeps, L. Reeves, B. Hemmingsen and R. Rosenblatt. Thanks to Lucia Hall and Doug Reeves, flyers and letters advertising our prizes have gone out to Senior and Junior High Schools in San Diego. Most of the members of the committee have agreed to serve as judges at the Science Fair.

Our January speaker will be the Director of the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair. I am impressed with his enthusiasm for and dedication to science education in San Diego. I hope you will turn out to learn more about this effort to encourage critical thinking among our young people.

I had hoped to increase our membership significantly over last year. The Shermer lecture brought in ten new members immediately, and more have been coming in. Let's see what we can come up with. How much more effective would we be if we had another 40 members? Try this. At the next meeting ask a friend to come along.

What else would you like to see us do in 2000? Let us know. Like I said things are happenin'. And have a happy 1000 years.