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SPECIAL MILLENNIUM ISSUE / SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY | C
NOTES: So Cal at the Turn of the Century

Weird Science

July 25, 1999

Southern California is arguably the most powerful incubator of both rational and irrational thought on the planet. What do those on the scientific side see as the sappiest stuff to touch down of late?

MATT CHERRY, executive director of Los Angeles' Center for Inquiry-West (a branch of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), polled readers of that organization's Skeptical Inquirer magazine. He then excluded medical pseudo-science and paranormal religious claims to come up with this Top 10 list:

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 Martian landmark, photographed in 1976 by Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, looked like a shadowy face. Many people took the image as a message from aliens. When, in 1998, a better JPL shot revealed no "face," they accused JPL of conspiring to hide alien civilization.

3. Institute for Creation Research--The institute, based in the San Diego suburb of Santee, claims the world is less than 10,000 years old.

4. Hollywood -- The entertainment industry is the engine of popular belief in the paranormal.

5. Cryonics -- When the Pharaohs preserved corpses for life after death, they called it religion. Now the people who freeze bodies for future resurrection call the process, started in Bakersfield, "the science of cryonics."

6. Shirley MacLaine.

7. Pet Psychics.

8. Recovered Memory Syndrome--Manhattan Beach's McMartin Pre-School trial epitomized the power of this bad science.

9. Noah's Ark Discovery--Southern California skeptics disproved televised claims that fragments of the biblical ark had been found.

10. Astrology -- Sure, it's everywhere. But L.A. is where Nancy Reagan developed her interest and eventually applied her pseudo-science to the White House schedule.

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