The Southland's Top Ten Contributions to Pseudo-Science
by Matt Cherry
Southern California may lead the world in science and technology. But let's not kid ourselves. Southern California also has a reputation for less rational beliefs. Some of the most popular brands of pseudo-science and paranormal claims have either originated in the Southland or found their most profitable market here. The following sampling shows, in no particular order, the depth and breadth of California's love affair with bizarre beliefs.
1. Feng Shui - The ancient Chinese art of aligning buildings with the surrounding chi (or energy forces) seems like a charming notion, until you find that no one will buy your house because a feng shui consultant says your staircase makes "luck pour out the front door."
2. The Face on Mars - A landmark on Mars, photographed in 1976 by Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), looked like a shadowy face. Many people took the image as a message from aliens. In 1998 a better JPL photo of the spot revealed there was no "face." Proof that JPL is part of a conspiracy to hide alien civilization, say the true believers.
3. Institute of Creation Research - The Institute, based in the San Diego suburb of Santee, exports "Scientific Creationism" throughout America and the rest of the world. The institute supports the traditional Creationist belief that Earth is less than 10,000 years old, and its founder, Henry Morris, has speculated that the craters on the moon were caused by demons and angels throwing rocks at each other in celestial combat! The Institute claims it is scientific in seeking proof that the Book of Genesis is true. But true scientists are supposed to fit their conclusions to the evidence, not the other way around.
4. Hollywood - The entertainment industry is the engine of popular belief in the paranormal. Films portraying the paranormal usually admit to being fiction, but the distinction is often blurred in people's minds. TV is a worse culprit with programs such as "Unsolved Mysteries," "The Psi Factor," "Sightings," and the infamous "Alien Autopsy" actually claiming to portray true events.
5. Cryonics - When the bodies of the Pharaohs were preserved for a life after death, they called it religion. Now, the people who freeze bodies for future resurrection call it "the science of cryonics." Cryonics started in Bakersfield--where some doubt there is life before death.
6. Shirley MacLaine -- Need I say more?
7. Pet Psychics - Professional "psychics" are not restricted to LA, but it is surely their most lucrative market. So we should not be surprised that "LaLaLand" has given birth to a growing industry of "pet psychics" who claim to be able to heal the troubled soul of the family pooch. What next...shrub psychics?
8. Recovered Memory Syndrome - Manhattan Beach's McMartin Pre-School trial was one of the first and most scandalous examples of the bad science of Recovered Memory Syndrome. A private "Child Abuse Diagnostic Center" claimed that every child in the school had been sexually abused by teachers. Satanic rituals were also alleged. After more than six years of trials on over 200 charges of child sexual abuse, not one of the teachers was found guilty on any charges.
9. Noah's Ark - In 1993, the CBS show "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark" claimed to have a fragment of the Ark. Southern Californian skeptics George Jammal and Gerry Larue later revealed that the fragment was a hoax.
10. Astrology - The ancient belief that star constellations shape our lives remains popular throughout America. But it was in LA that Nancy Reagan developed her interest in the paranormal and met Joan Quigley, the astrologer who eventually applied her pseudo-science to the White House schedule.
Thank you to everyone who gave me suggestions for the Top Ten List. Please send other suggestions or comments on the list to JimU@cfiwest.org.