From Abracadabra to Zombies
is a commentary on
mass media treatment of issues concerning science, the
paranormal, and the supernatural.
Skeptimedia replaces Mass Media Funk and Mass Media Bunk. Those blogs are now archived.
Honoring Carl Sagan
October 20, 2008 (update). In response to criticism and legal threats, Brazilian UFOlogists have abandoned their plan to name an institute after Carl Sagan. In a fitting non sequitur, they now plan to call it the Instituto Galileo Galilei.
September 3, 2008. Carl Sagan (1932-1996) received many honors, both in his lifetime and posthumously. The tributes keep pouring in even more than a decade after his untimely death. What could be more flattering than to have an institute named after you, especially one in a country you had little to do with when you were alive? Brazilian magazine publisher Ademar Gevaerd is creating The Instituto Carl Sagan dedicated to "the challenge to seek, find and establish relations with extraterrestrial intelligence." Sounds swell, doesn't it?
The only problem is that Gevaerd publishes a magazine devoted to making bizarre claims about UFOs and is using Sagan's name and image to promote his own wacky notions. Two years ago Gevaerd announced that Jesus was returning to earth with a fleet of flying saucers.* He calls The Carl Sagan Institute "a new way of conducting ufology in Brazil."
Gevaerd claims that Sagan believed that aliens have visited earth in flying saucers. He claims that Joseph Allen Hynek is his source for the claim that "Sagan had a profound knowledge about the alien presence on Earth." Hynek died in 1986 and was an important investigator on several important UFO studies. The claim that Sagan believed that alien craft had landed on earth is not a new one, but only those with little concern for providing sufficient evidence to support a claim beyond a reasonable doubt would take the idea seriously.
Anyone who wonders what Sagan's views were regarding reports of flying saucers, alien landings, alien abductions, etc., should read chapters four, five, and six of The Demon-Haunted World. The most serious allegation he makes is that he thinks it likely the government has suppressed some evidence.
Kentaro Mori, an active Brazilian skeptic who runs the website forgetomori.com, notes that in "The Varieties of Scientific Experience," a series of lectures Sagan gave in 1985, he said:
It is remarkable that in all these million cases there is not one example of physical evidence that sustains even the most casual scrutiny. No pieces of spacecraft chipped off with a penknife and put into an envelope and carried back for laboratory examination of exotic alloys. No photograph of the interior of the spacecraft or the extraterrestrials, or a page from the captain’s logbook. Somehow, in all of these cases, there is not a single example of concrete physical evidence. And that again is suggestive, I maintain, that we are dealing with some combination of psychopathology and conscious fraud and the misapprehension of natural phenomena, but not what is alleged by those who see UFOs.
Even so, Gevaerd is not to be deterred in his mission. According to him, Sagan obviously lied in his public lectures. So, why does he want to honor this "liar" with an Institute? I think the reason is obvious. Who would give money to support a project by a UFO nutter? Nobody's ever hear of Gevaerd, but Sagan's name is known and revered everywhere on the planet. His name could be a portal to untold riches.
Mori asked Gevaerd to give up his project. Gevaerd responded with a lengthy email in which he threatens to sue Mori. An English translation of the letter has been made available to me. Here is part of Gevaerd's response to Mori:
I have no intention of ending it. It's consummated, it gathers scientists and spiritualists of the higher order. You have no idea, but the ICS [Instituto Carl Sagan] took a lot of work, many meetings and many travels to get in order. We had sound expert advice to establish it, and it took much time and money. By the way, I sent four e-mails to Ann [Druyan, Sagan's widow]-- to let her know, but also to ask for her blessing, as a way to show respect and politeness. I never got an answer. And I don't think one should ask for permission to pay tribute to Sagan, specially because he's deceased, even more this being a sincere, legitimate, honest tribute by -- till now -- more than 100 celebrities from the Brazilian scientific and spiritualistic community, who will be presented to the public at the proper moment. They are important people, so you think hard before doing or writing anything silly.
Your message contains expressions like "illegality", etc., which were not well received by those from the ICS who did read it. Consider that you are not attacking Gevaerd or UFO Magazine, which you hate, but a really big number of people, some who didn't like what they saw, some who won't like it when they see it. And now we get to know that you also have this material in English, something that will compound the trouble you are attracting to yourself. One of the directors of the body, Rafael Cury, already took the material to Jorge, a lawyer who specializes in the creation of NGOs and Social Organizations -- he established more than 1.000 -- and a founder of ICS. He is studying which measures can be taken against you and your website.
There's still time, I strongly suggest that you make a retreat in this case, take care of your own business and pursue more legitimate interests. Launching an attack against ICS looks unsympathetic, seems childish and irrational. Everybody has already seen it as a foolish thing. Besides, you make yourself liable to prosecution for reasons I see no need to enumerate. If you really want to go forward with this, do as you wish, but get ready.
The ICS is an old dream of a lot of people, and it is well defined, well organized with the best of intentions. Your criticism, or those from other people who were your enemies but now are your friends just because they are my enemies, will not (? sic). Think hard if this is the kind of people you want by your side when you go to fight this battle. If you are going to make noise, get ready to hear ours.
PS Your material in English is already with a legal translator. Then it goes to Jorge. You really have done something this time.
Mori says he will do whatever he can to stop the ICS and requests help. He can be contacted at email@example.com
By the way, if you go to the ICS website you will find that none of the links work except the contact link. In case you want to email Gevaerd, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
And to think that all this trouble could have been avoided if Gevaerd had named his institute the IEM, Instituto Edgar Mitchell.
* AmeriCares *