Better Know a Skeptics: 10 Questions for Barry Green

“Better Know a Skeptic” is a series of articles introducing the members of the Ottawa skeptics by asking ten questions.
Name: Barry Green

Screen name: barry
Member Since: Day 1 (4 November 2007)
Chosen quote: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” – Albert Einstein


1) Briefly describe yourself.  What do you do for a living, etc.
I’ve been an Army Signal Officer in the Canadian Forces for over 30 years.  I have a couple of Electrical Engineering degrees from Royal Military College and am married to someone who is skeptical of skeptics.  Besides typical field and engineering postings, I have commanded a Signal Squadron, developed curriculum at Canadian Forces College and served in a multinational program office at the Pentagon.  I am currently in an engineering directorate that is responsible for communications, computers, networking, sensor systems, electronic warfare and command-and-control systems for the field Army.

2) Why are you a “skeptic”?  Was there a “wow” moment?
With my impressionable high school years being in the 1970s, I was hopeful and eager that many of the paranormal and pseudoscientific fads of the time (UFOs, bigfoot, Chariots of the Gods, Bermuda triangle, ESP) were on the verge of confirmation.  Then for a couple of years in university, I was even a full-blown evangelical, YEC-believing Christian.  Over time, self-questioning, open-minded research and critical thinking made me see the sense of methodological rationalism.  Finally, when I was posted to Washington, which was during the intelligent design trial in Dover and the Bush administration’s war on science, I witnessed how fundamentalist-based activism and ideological policy-making could seriously undermine science, reasoning, education and social programs.  Seeking a way to get involved, I ended up going to JREF’s TAM 5, which opened my eyes to the importance, substance, depth and appeal of skepticism.

3) What are your hobbies/interests?
Reading, researching, writing about and advocating skepticism is my hobby.  I also read books on history and science.

4) What are you passionate about at the moment?
I am fascinated with trying to figure out why and how people can harbour closely-held pseudoscientific, paranormal or conspiracy-based beliefs, especially when the people are otherwise normal and rational.  I also wonder at how vigorously they defend those beliefs in the face of conspicuous countrary evidence.
5) Do you have a hero?  Why him/her?
I am wary of the concept of a hero.  Anyone that I have put on that pedestal and subsequently met has disappointed my unfair idealization of the person.  Instead, I appreciate admirable attributes in certain people, especially when they are otherwise unpretentious and normal, or even flawed.
Historically, I admire Ulysses S. Grant.  A failed businessman and sometime alcoholic before the war, he won a consistent string of hard-fought victories through tenacity and sheer competence, but unlike his often faint-hearted, incompetent and posing peers and superiors, he was a quiet professional who focused on results instead of fame or career.  Modest and dedicated to the end, he earned his place as General-in-Chief and then two-term President.
Skeptically, I admire Robert Lancaster (, who has relentlessly held Sylvia Browne accountable for her psychic fraud.  He has diligently tracked her unsupported claims and failed predictions in great detail, letting the facts speak for themselves instead of resorting to caustic commentary.  He has also been effective at engaging critics with patient, respectful dialogue, turning some of them into converts.  Unfortunately, Robert suffered a stroke last fall, and so his website is on hiatus while he recovers.
6) If you could have dinner with 5 people, dead or alive,  who would they be and why?
I would get an iconoclastic kick out of meeting historical figures (e.g., Buddha/Jesus, Socrates/Aristotle/Plato, Alexander/Caesar, daVinci/Galileo, Shakespeare) about whom much has been written but little is actually known.  It would be interesting to observe the discrepancy between their normal, flawed humanity and their idealized reputations.
7) Do you have a favourite: album, musician, sports team, movie, TV show, book? (Feel free to list one, some, or all.)
Music – Blues and standard Jazz.
TV (current) – Daily Show, Colbert Report, PBS Nova, PBS Frontline, and House.
TV (old) – X-Files, Twin Peaks, all the Star Treks (but not Enterprise), BBC Sherlock Holmes, BBC Poirot, Columbo.
Movies – Casablanca, Dr. Strangelove, Harvey, Jaws, the original Pink Panther (but none of the others), late 70s/early 80s teen slasher movies (but not the remakes), the Monty Pythons.
Books – too hard to choose, whatever I’ve read last.
8) What grinds your gears?
I support the libertarian principle that people should be allowed to do whatever they wish unless it causes harm or negatively impacts on other people without their consent.  I rankle at people who seek to contravene this principle by imposing restrictions or taking away freedom of choice based on ideology or morality.
9) Tell me something I don’t know about you.
In the 1978 movie Power Play (, a young Officer Cadet Green can be seen jumping from an Army truck with a group of combat-clad soldiers and storming a barrack block with bayonets fixed at Camp Borden to force a coup d’état.  He was subsequently robbed of the best supporting actor Oscar that year
by Christopher Walken for his marginally better performance in The Deer Hunter.
10) Why are we here?
Life is a journey whose ultimate destination is the journey itself.

20. March 2009 by Pat
Categories: Organization, Profiles | Comments Off on Better Know a Skeptics: 10 Questions for Barry Green