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NEWS UPDATE: September 2011

STEERING ELECTIONS

The Steering Committee is open to anyone who has been a member for at least one full year, and is usually voted on by all current members in September. Elections were forgone this year, as there were exactly as many members running as there were spaces available. How convenient! Our new Steering Committee members are: Brian Hart, Wendy Hughes, Mark Edward, Paula Lauterbach, Spencer Marks, Dave Richards, and Jarrett Kaufman.

IIG AWARDS PARTY

IIG members and guests alike had a fantastic time at this year's awards party on Friday, September 30th. With special appearances by Stevie Ray Fromstein, Ron Lynch, Emery Emery, LA3Way (led by Karen Hart, the hard-rocking wife of IIG Steering member Brian Hart), magician Dan Bowen and mentalist/Steering Member Mark Edward – not to mention a tiny UFO which may or may not have tried to abduct Jim Underdown – it was a highly entertaining night.

Honorees for the year included Dr. Dean Edell and Phil Plait's Bad Universe, with lifetime awards going to Ray Hyman and Isaac Asimov. Bad Universe's award was accepted by two of the show's producers, Scott Pearlman and Melanie English, and Phil Plait sent us a personal thank you video (he even wore pants to celebrate the gravitas of the event). The Truly Terrible Television award was presented to pseudoscientific powerhouses Oprah and Dr. Oz, for extraordinary contributions to America's scientific illiteracy and pervasive fear mongering. Congratulations to all.

PHILLIP LEE: CLAIRAUDIENT REPORT

Clairaudient Test Co-Lead Investigator Wendy Hughes has submitted her fantastic report to Skeptical Inquirer for publication. In it, she details the ups and downs, ins and outs, and all the other fantastic dimensions of Phillip Lee's sadly unsuccessful test. While we did not find any evidence of paranormal activity during this experiment, Co-Lead Investigator Jim Underdown did construct a fantabulous fort! Thank you Wendy, for a wonderful run-down of the Clairaudient Test, and Jim, for helping us all relive our childhoods. For photos of the test, see member Susan Gerbic's album here.

MEDIA COMMITTEE REPORT

Media Committee members reported several improvements which have been made to the website, and will be continued after the Joomla transition: videos from numerous investigations and events are being polished and uploaded to the "Media" section of the IIG site, an online application form will be made available to potential claimants in addition to the mail-in copy, and options on our new Joomla site will allow affiliate groups to use IIG West's templates to create uniform and professional pages under the IIG umbrella. These improvements will continue to enhance our online presence.

THE ODDS MUST BE CRAZY

The Odds Must Be Crazy Lead Investigators, Steering Members Wendy Hughes and Jarrett Kaufman, are looking to add categories to the stories submitted to the page, à la Snopes. If anyone has suggestions for general categories, please reach out to them at wendy@iigwest.org or jarrett@iigwest.org. Your submissions of coincidence stories are welcome; click on the Submit A Story! link on the home page of The Odds Must Be Crazy!

DRAGON*CON

Mark Edward at Dragon*ConSteering Committee Members Mark Edward and Brian Hart made quite a splash at Dragon*Con this year. Brian (who was unfortunately bedridden during our general meeting, and could only correspond with the group via Jarrett's Skype connection…which is always available for members to connect remotely during our monthly meetings) regaled the Media Committee with a description of the camaraderie in the skeptrack hall, as well as the fascinating history of the word "bunk" (in a nutshell, it is named for Buncombe county in NC, which Brian unknowingly already had plans to visit in the same trip – TOMBC!). Brian's panel discussion on Education vs. Debunking featured Brian, JREF President DJ Grothe, Matt Lowry, Kylie Sturgess, Barbara Drescher and Michael Blanford. It is available in this Skepticality podcast for anyone who missed it.

Mark revealed his secret collaboration with IIG Atlanta, which featured Mark as a "psychic" in character one day, followed by a skeptical explanation of his methods the next. One audience member was wowed when Mark correctly guessed her grandmother's name, though Mark confessed it was just a wild guess and that she probably identified the name as her grandmother's on her own. Karen Kensek pointed out that regardless of the audience member feeding Mark information, most viewers would remember the scenario as if Mark had ID'ed the grandma without assistance. Mark swears his event was the best-attended of all the skeptrack events…and he would know – he's psychic!

SHAMELESS IIG PLUGS

While most of our members content themselves with attending monthly meetings and testing paranormal claimants, there are those who commit to tirelessly plugging the IIG in podcasts, interviews, and articles. Thanks to those members and friends who shamelessly insert our group into discussions of skeptic topics…we couldn't spread the word without you! To get a taste of the press these members and friends throw our way, take a peak at some of their awesome links:

WIKIPEDIATRICIAN'S UPDATE

Our resident "WikiPediatrician," IIG member Susan Gerbic, has been hard at work diagnosing and treating the issues in our wiki pages. She has revamped the wiki listing for the Independent Investigations Group, updated James Randi's page with our glorious TAM9 beard photo, and created pages for both Jim Underdown and the Steve Allen Theater from scratch. (This is in addition to bountiful acts of Guerilla Skepticism on the pages of alleged psychics and paranormal topics…) Wow! Thank you, Susan!

Susan will be leading a hands-on workshop on Wikipedia for IIG members and friends (probably in January), but in the meantime, she urges interested parties to visit her blog, Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia. There she details everything a beginner needs to know to join the Guerilla Skepticism movement, including the nitty gritty details of account creation and editing, and the subtler aspects of style and content. She is also happy to offer hands-on help to anyone who needs it. Feel free to email her at susan@iigwest.org.

WEIRD OR WHAT?

Weird or WhatIIG lovebirds Steering member Mark Edward and member Susan Gerbic performed a real (…ish) séance with Skeptoid's own, Brian Dunning, for the Discovery Channel's "Weird or What?" episode on life after death. Mark held hands with innocent participants as Susan exploited a pitch-black room to spray scents, ring bells, flash fiber-optics lights and otherwise scare the bejeezus out of attendees. Hilarious behind-the-scenes details and night-vision pictures are available on Susan's Monterey County Skeptics blog. The DVD is also available, and will hopefully be screened soon for anyone else who thinks this is as funny as it sounds.

NIGHT STALKERS

Wayne Poe with Mark Edward Wayne Poe with Jim Underdown

On Wednesday the 28th, guests at the Steve Allen Theater were treated to a screening of "Night Stalkers" with creator Wayne Poe (pictured above with Mark Edward and Jim Underdown). This documentary of Southern California's paranormal investigators includes pieces of the IIG's presence at ParaCon 2010. Susan recorded the Q&A with Poe, and will share the video link soon.

View the video – courtesy Susan Gerbic

COMING UP SOON…

CSI-Con will take place in New Orleans October 27th-30th. More info to follow.

To stay apprised of our glorious public appearances and other IIG happenings, feel free to join our Facebook group.

FIRST RESPONDER REPORT

We had a special guest at our September meeting, when a potential applicant for the $50k Paranormal Challenge showed up to CFI. A glimpse at his correspondence and tidbits from other letters we have received are included below.

A concerned star-watcher wrote to us claiming: "I am 100% convinced that I have uncovered 'The Secret of GCRT J1745-3009'." According to the gentleman, a signal will be sent from this radio source in December of 2011 or January of 2012, and the extremely complex calculations and decryption he performed to arrive at this conclusion are evidence of a paranormal or extraordinary ability. He kindly included a bit over 700 pages of material supporting his claim, which we were unfortunately unable to finish before his surprise appearance at our general meeting. First Responder and Steering member Spencer Marks will have the honor of addressing this astronomical task, and determining next steps for a test, if applicable.

A photographer claiming the ability to photograph "entities" responded to our request for additional information with some incredibly pertinent definitions of terms like "entity" and "anomaly," as well as some interesting philosophical expansions on these terms. For example, he explained that "an entity could be viewed as a set containing subsets. In philosophy, such sets are said to be abstract objects …[as is an idea] with no corporeal form, such as a language. It is also often used to refer to ghosts and other spirits." We imagine the final example would be most relevant to our $50k Challenge, and look forward to seeing photographs of the potential spirits.

A mind-boggled observer sent us a video clip he took, which "contains a sample of the paranormal. It is unedited and contains all objects, targets and controls." He claims, "My naked I [sic] did not see a bicycle by itself traveling down the street with no one on it but my iphone did. I have 100 hours of similiar footage child entites playing." Unfortunately, despite now having a comprehensive definition of "entities" at our disposal, we were unable to find anything unusual or paranormal in the video he sent. We look forward to hearing more from this gentleman, and hope the child entities were not playing in the street, as this can be hazardous.

-IIG

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