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LAVINTHAL: April Eclipse May Spawn Fake News

On April Fool’s Day, we all expect practical jokes. But next Monday’s partial solar eclipse, far from being funny, has the potential to spawn fake, frightening, and phony medical, political, and law enforcement news with an ophthalmic focus. Will print, broadcast, and electronic news platforms around the country be tricked into reporting it?

The sun has been blamed in false news narratives before. Nationally reported sun-scare stories originated in Pennsylvania in 1968 and California a year earlier. Each was designed to put fear into the minds of young people considering or already using LSD, which newly emerged in the 1960s.

May 1967, Santa Barbara, Calif.: Approximately nine days after a partial eclipse, four college students were reported to have become partially blind after lying on their backs outdoors and staring at the sun. It’s bunkum.

In January 1968, six Edinboro College students in Pennsylvania were lying on their backs outdoors, not even intentionally staring at the sun but were totally blinded, according to news reported by the Associated Press, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, and others. This is bunkum, too.

No student was identified in the California or Pennsylvania reports, and the ophthalmologist “quoted” in the Los Angeles Times was not identified. The only individual identified and quoted in either report was Pennsylvania’s commissioner of the Welfare Department’s Office of the Blind. He himself was blind from childhood but had an agenda, making up the blinded Pennsylvania students’ story to help stop LSD abuse.

Pennsylvania was the biggest hands-down national laughing stock winner of the two “tripping blind” news reports. Both predated the Nixon War on Drugs. “Reefer Madness” had become “LSD Blindness Madness.”

The Pennsylvania official claimed the four victims had used LSD before. They all went to the woods, lay on their backs in a grassy area, and were “… not consciously looking at the sun,” according to the AP report. Classmates reportedly found the six blind and helpless. After their six-hour LSD trip, they emerged from a trance to realize they had been staring straight at the yellow orb, the AP report said. The commissioner said all six students received rehabilitation services from the state afterward.

Gov. Raymond P. Shafer and his spokesperson both vouched 100 percent for the Edinboro student story because of the blind commissioner’s absolute integrity, it was reported. They also said they would keep the blind students’ identities secret. UPI reported Edinboro’s president said the incident never happened at his college. But Shafer’s press secretary, in the same report, was quoted as confirming that six students did go blind and are “…adjusting satisfactorily and are doing well. ”

Eventually, it was shown to be fake when the commissioner, Dr. Norman M. Yoder, admitted he had made it up two years before in wanting to stop LSD abuse. According to The New York Times, the unraveling followed after Yoder casually mentioned blinding the six to a federal official after a lecture on LSD’s dangers. The surprised official asked for details, and the Associated Press got wind of it. When investigators were unable to verify Yoder’s trance-blinding claim, he went on medical leave. The fake news didn’t stop LSD abuse. It did, however, end Dr. Yoder’s job with the Commonwealth.

A state senator from Philadelphia claimed to know the names of two of the affected Edinboro students. That caused a problem for the governor’s office, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. State Sen. Benjamin R. Donolow should give those names to state law enforcement, the governor said, to advance their investigation to determine if Yoder’s admission of making up the story was legitimate. And the state attorney general was poring over case histories of all 252 blind college students in Pennsylvania receiving state aid from Yoder’s department.

We only had morning and evening newspapers and local radio and television news in 1968. That was it. But the scare shows stories that should have been “nailed down” along with the five Ws– who, what, when, where and why–before they sneaked onto the news pages or airwaves.

TikTok, X, Facebook and hundreds of other internet news platforms and destinations need to be closely vigilant for eclipse-related BS but equally on guard if some “influencer” creates an ophthalmologically dangerous sun-watching “challenge” that could damage the eyes of the impressionable.

Our April 8 partial solar eclipse will see the moon bite at the sun on one end and leave at the opposite side. For approximately 20 minutes over the just under two-and-a-half-hour eclipse, our area will plunge into 89 percent darkness, the temperature will drop, and birds may be confused.

On April 8, do not look directly at the sun without approved eye protection. If it’s cloudy, you still need special glasses. (I purchased ISO Certified [ISO 12312-2 (2015)] glasses. If it’s extremely cloudy, my family will have to wait until the next Philly-area total eclipse on May 1, 2079.)


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GIORDANO: Central Bucks School Board Election a Setback for Parents’ Rights

Democrats won big across the Delaware Valley in last Tuesday’s election. It was clear that abortion rights and, to some degree, possible challenges to the 2024 presidential election carried the day. After the election, Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman, reportedly said Dobbs and democracy won the 2023 election, and those issues will carry Democrats to victory in 2024.

Dobbs is a reference to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overruled Roe v. Wade and sent abortion rights battles back to the states. Democracy is a reference to President Donald Trump and the challenges he raised about the 2020 election results.

But I don’t think that Dobbs or democracy gave us the Democrats’ victory in the Central Bucks School Board elections. I think the unrelenting and false attacks by The Philadelphia Inquirer and WHYY demonized people like school board President Dana Hunter and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Abraham M. Lucabaugh.

The theme of both news outlets was that Lucabaugh, Hunter, and other Republican board members were on wholesale book-banning campaigns and were callous or biased toward students who were gay or transgender.

In my view, this coverage was so intense because the district is one of the biggest, wealthiest, and most educated in the entire state. It also had a fairly conservative board elected after bitter battles about masking and school closures during the COVID crisis.

I think the election of that conservative school board was a message that citizens in Central Bucks thought the previous COVID policies were too restrictive. And the demotion of Dr. David Damsker, Bucks public health chief, at the behest of the Wolf administration and carried out by the Bucks County commissioners also created a backlash.

Damsker had gained a large following across the state as he advocated loosening masking restrictions and early return of students to school even if they had previously had a fever.

The next firestorm for that board involved whether parents should be notified if their child wanted to be identified by pronouns that didn’t match their sex at birth. The superintendent said there would be discussions around each individual case, but the indication was that parents would be told.

How is this hateful to kids? It is the essence of parental rights that you be told about your child when, for whatever reason, they ask that their pronoun be changed. Do the newly elected school board members think parents should not be notified because they might get angry and abuse their child? Do they really believe collaborating with the child and lying to parents is a good policy? Somehow, with their allies in the media, the new board members were able to make a civil rights matter for kids as young as 7 or 8.

The media already mentioned, along with the Bucks County Courier Times, also conjured up the notion that Hunter and the others were on massive book-banning crusades. I interviewed Hunter and others extensively, and it was clear they crafted policies that restricted only very sexually graphic materials.

These were the books that you’ve seen parents stopped from reading passages from at school board meetings because they were so graphic. Any legitimate school district should not be making books like “Lawn Boy” or “Gender Queer” available to students.

So, what happens next? I like the thoughts of defeated school candidate Dr. Stephen Mass, who was interviewed by the DVJournal.

He said, “The only winners in Tuesday’s elections are the private schools, who will see their enrollment skyrocket in the next few years when parents see what policies are coming into our district.” I think Mass has a good crystal ball.