We Are The Skeptics My Friend

An article by Malcolm Robinson on the Skeptics in the Pub meeting of 20th February 2002.

Someone once said, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but you’ll never get me in a haunted house!!” I quote these words quite often to show people what those skeptical of UFOs and the paranormal usually say to me when we are in discussion about such matters. They seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place and although they don’t believe in such things, it is difficult for me to tempt them to come on a haunting case with me!! This does not apply however to those more hardened skeptics who would gladly come with me on any Investigations. UFO and Paranormal research ‘needs’ skeptics. Skeptics keep us on our toes and make sure our feet remain firmly on the ground. So I decided to jump over the fence and enter into what some would say was ‘enemy territory’ I took in my very first skeptic meeting which was held at the Florence Nightingale pub near Waterloo Station, London on a very cold and wind-swept February night.

The bar was full and the atmosphere was pleasant and after purchasing a drink at the bar, I made my way upstairs to where the main meeting was being held. A number of people had already taken their seats and more were coming in. Scott Campbell who apparently had been the chairman in previous meetings broke into the chit chat and stated that he was now handing over the chairing of further Skeptic in the Pub meetings to a colleague of his, Nick Pullar. Scott went on to thank everyone for making his time so enjoyable in hosting these lectures and wished his successor all the best in his new position. With that the new chairman Nick Pullar took over. Nick was a bubbly and very confident chairman and I liked his humour and style immensely. He started by talking about what had been featured in all the British press that day, ie, that at 8:02pm the world would witness a time that is truly, triply palindromic, for the time will read 20:02 20/02/2002. One can read the time, day and month backwards or forwards in numeric form and the result will still be the same, this Nick told us, won’t come round for another 111 years. Now not only this, he went on to say, but the great Israeli psychic Uri Geller claims that at this precise time anyone who stares into his eyes on a photograph of him which is featured in the Sunday People newspaper, could make their dreams come true! With that, and immense laughter coming from all quarters of the by now busy room, Nick pointed to the dart board where someone had placed the said copy of the Sunday People newspaper which featured the photograph of Mr Geller. Nick went on to say that he had been in Uri’s web site and began to read statements from it that he found amusing, this raised many laughs from the 45 or so individuals in the smoke filled room. With his jovial statements over and moving away from the dart board with Uri’s face, he then introduced the speaker for the evening, Mr John Wall. John is a professional engineer who has been called a ‘snivelling, insinuating little worm’ by Graham Hancock, author of ‘Fingerprints of the Gods’. John was here to skeptically evaluate Hancock’s work and give an overview of the so called ‘Alternative History Movement’. He wasted no time whatsoever in firstly poking fun at Uri Geller and certain things that he stood for which again raised many laughs in the audience. Sitting there, I began to realise the stark difference between the society I run, Strange Phenomena Investigations (SPI UK) and this one. We never poke fun publicly at individuals who are working in the field; at best we will state publicly that we disagree with them, but never go so far as to publicly raise some laughs at their expense!!

The title of John’s talk was, ‘Alternative History and the Ma’atians From Cyberspace’, subtitled, ‘Weighing the Evidence for Alternative History’. John was only about 5 or 10 minutes into his talk when chairman Nick Pullar stood up and told us all to be quiet as it was now 8:02 and that palindromic moment that he referred to earlier was now upon us. He asked each and every one of us to look at the dartboard with Uri Geller’s picture on it, and stare at Uri’s eyes. He asked out loud, “Can anybody see anything thing? Is anyone getting anything?” It was hard to hear Nick for the loud belly laughs that came from all quarters of the room. As some people were wiping the tears away from their eyes, Nick quickly apologised to the speaker and asked that he resume his talk.

John then continued with references of ancient civilisations throughout the world by that early pioneer Erich Von Daniken. John showed how in his belief, Von Daniken’s work and conclusions were very flawed, he went on to say, “I personally would never trust anyone with the initials V.D. in a name”. Needless to say, this got the desired result and the audience fell about once more. To his credit, John Wall opened my eyes to a lot about the work of Graham Hancock and others. He spoke about the face on Mars and showed how very different that face was now owing to recent photographs taken of it by NASA. In 1976 the Mars face was clear as a bell, whilst fairly recently (and he showed the slide to prove it) you wouldn’t think it was a face at all (if it ever was in the first place!) He presented some fascinating stuff about the pyramids of Egypt and told us that when he was there, the pyramids smelt of smelly western tourists! John might have raced through his slides, but there was no denying he knew his stuff, and a subject like this requires more than the time allocated to him. His humour was admittedly at the expense of Graham Hancock and whilst as I mentioned earlier these two chaps may not get on and disagree about each other’s work, it’s nonetheless not professional to raise laughs at the expense of others. I also found John’s discussion on the famous Piri Reis map fascinating. He clearly showed that the original promoter of that map, one Charles Hapgood, only saw what he wanted to see, for as John Wall pointed out, the map that Hapgood looked at clearly had the words ‘conjecture’ on it! At this point chairman Nick Pullar said that there would be a short 10-minute break for everyone to refresh their glasses. Needless to say I partook of this clever advice, but before doing so got talking with a gentleman sat next to me. Like me, this was his first meeting and he said that he was on a search for the truth, “I think we all are”, I replied. This chap never came back for the second half!!

Resuming the talk John went into many many aspects of ancient civilisations, and brought up the name of Zechariah Sitchin. Sitchin too has claimed many wondrous things regarding ancient civilisations and men from the stars. Mr Wall stated quite categorically that in his opinion, Zechariah Sitchin was an out and out fraud and that he was more than happy to say slanderous things about him. The audience was then shown underwater walkways and steps, although as John pointed out these were all ‘natural formations’. Slide after slide after slide was shown by John all of ‘natural formations’ which Hancock and others believe were either terraces or walls of some ancient and forgotten culture. “Nonsense” said John. Looking at the slides of these underwater formations and hearing John point out the alternative explanation, well, it seemed he had a point! He then showed how flawed Hancock’s work was in regards to the three Egyptian pyramids and their alleged precision and alignment to the stars on Orion’s belt. Hancock, Wall said, misled his readers with shoddy assumptions, whereupon John with his descriptions and drawings showed that there were no correlations from the pyramids to the stars. John called the book ‘The Fingerprints of the Gods’ which was written by Hancock, ‘FOG’, as presumably it clouded the reader’s judgement on matters discusses by Hancock. John then had a go at Astrology and gave it as much credence as he did the works of Hancock.

‘Signs of the Sky’ is a book by one Adrian Gilbert, it too, said John, is heavily flawed, as is ‘The Book Keeper Of Genesis’ by Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval and also ‘The Message Of The Sphinx’. And in regards to Graham Hancock’s latest book, ‘Underworld’, well John thinks it would have been better called ‘Blunderworld’ and would make a great door stopper. He also said that Graham Hancock is an ancient world Jilly Cooper!! He didn’t stop with these ancient civilisation authors; a number of interesting articles on ancient civilisations have been featured in the Daily Mail of late and John asked the audience had anyone read the ‘Daily Fail’. So dear reader, you can see the feelings that the guest speaker had towards his fellow ‘seekers of the truth’!

All the above may sound very ‘picky’ by me and I really don’t mean it to be so. John Wall presented a thoroughly fascinating lecture which, believe you me, made me sit up and think. We as researchers need to see what the skeptics are presenting; we need to attend their meetings and shouldn’t alienate ourselves from them. Far from it, we need to work side by side with them where we can both hopefully share in discoveries and put our hand on our heart when either ‘we’ or ‘they’ are wrong. My attendance at the Skeptics in the Pub (as they call it) meeting was an exercise for me to practice what I preach. I am always banging on about how there are two sides to every coin and for us never to take any story at face value. Good and honest research may well uncover hidden treasures, which will be a benefit to us all.

At the close of the meeting I spoke to chairman Nick Pullar (calling him John, oops how embarrassing!) where Nick proceeded to tell me that he had checked out the SPI web site and found it interesting but didn’t share my views on our research into the ‘Devon Case’. I expressed the view that this was not a conclusive and researched case, that article basically just told it as it was but I was impressed by his comments nonetheless.

All in all, my decision to attend the Skeptics in the Pub meeting was a good one, there were around 45 people there and the guest speaker was very knowledgeable. And although they kept poking fun at other researchers, which I felt was over the top, the evening was a thoroughly good exercise in ‘peering over the garden wall’ into the next door neighbours garden!!

© Malcolm Robinson, Strange Phenomena Investigations (SPI UK). Reproduced with Permission