Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Project Core, the UFO Community and Professional Research

Reports from Project Core were recently published at projectcore.net. The project was a professionally conducted research endeavor in which written testimonies of paranormal experiences from over 200 individuals were obtained via surveys and considered at length. Questions were posed to respondents in which trends in responses could be analyzed. Several avenues for potentially productive future research were subsequently identified.

Project Core team members included self-described experiencers of paranormal phenomena Jeff Ritzmann and Jeremy Vaeni. Working on the project were also Dr. Tyler A. Kokjohn, Dr. D. Ellen K. Tarr and Dr. Kimbal E. Cooper.

I have read all material posted on the Project Core website. After having revisited the reports and commentaries a few times, and feeling that I have reasonably processed the data and observations contained therein, I feel there are some important points.

Science pioneer Aristotle
Among the more relevant observations, in my opinion, is that such a project is most certainly possible within the UFO and paranormal communities. Not only does Project Core contradict popularly held assumptions that science is unable to systematically and competently address reported paranormal phenomena, but it also demonstrates that self-described experiencers and professional researchers can collaborate on such ventures.

That leads us to another important point I considered as a byproduct of reviewing Project Core: Extreme opposite camps within ufology, which I will for the time being label "unquestioning believers" and "stubborn debunkers", share responsibilities for collective tire-spinning. Futility rests on the shoulders of both demographics, not just one or the other.

Unquestioning Believers

Obviously, unquestioning belief is unattractive to critical thinkers. It is easy to see how claims of vacuum cleaner nozzles on the surface of Mars might lower public interest in the UFO genre, at least among those some of us might prefer be drawn to it.

Retired historian David Jacobs
In addition to those who consistently try to direct our attention to interpretations of photos at craptastic dot com, the unquestioning believer side of the scale also includes individuals and organizations which manipulate and shape those poorly conceived beliefs. That would include alien-hunting hypnotists that sell their clients' data without consent, historians that recommend chastity belts to their research subjects, and the organizations that provide them venues to promote their unsupported claims while prospecting for more people to exploit.

There is even much more to it than that, though. Among the additional harmful social dynamics is a cultism that quickly embraces newcomers seeking credible information. In return for courageous open-mindedness, newcomers are often bombarded with assurances that everyone abducted by aliens had difficulty accepting it at first. The pseudo recovery might include suggestions to attend meetings purported to provide emotional support which, in actuality, serve to spread such beliefs inherent to the genre as big news about an alien presence will be released any day by the White House. One might also get indoctrinated with a lot of material that will assure future hypnosis sessions would go as hoped.

If one is fortunate enough to get out of a recon mission into the UFO community without landing in front of a rogue hypnotist and author masquerading as a therapist, they can cut their losses and return to a life where they keep relatively quiet about those 'something weird happened one time' stories. If not that fortunate, well, then they have a whole lot more emotional baggage to carry and healing to do than they started with – and that's if they're wise and brave enough to consider that many of those "helpful" UFO people have no idea whatsoever what the hell they're talking about.

So the unquestioning believer demographic has many detrimental aspects. One of the most damaging is that its members are prone to interpreting the experiences of others and thinking themselves qualified to explain them in outrageously assumptive detail. The bottom line is that people of higher intelligence and emotional availability don't want other people trying to tell them what happened to them who have no idea and don't even know they don't.

Stubborn Debunkers

The stubborn debunkers conduct a different, but nonetheless detrimental, brand of bait and switch. They often try to lead newcomers to believe they promote skepticism and rationality when, in actuality, they can be among the most opinionated, dogmatic demographics one might ever encounter. Healthy skepticism is a very good thing - I would confidently say entirely necessary - but it is nowhere to be found among stubborn debunkers and despite their claims to the contrary.

They make fun of people who hold ideas and beliefs different than their own, employ sarcasm as a preferred mode of expressing themselves, and, by and large, do not even conduct research – they just criticize and make light of others who do, unless it happens to support their preferred perspective. They virtually never address a topic of which they are unwilling to offer speculative conclusions, and they fail miserably at asking the right, productive questions.

Self-described skeptic James Randi
In his 1992 paper, 'CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview', writer/researcher George P. Hansen observed that facets of the organized skeptical movement opted to employ an extended public relations campaign rather than conduct research. "These activities display more parallels with political campaigns than with scientific endeavors," Hansen wrote. His paper frequently came to mind while reading Project Core and considering how the project embodied what professional research conducted by competent and qualified individuals actually looks like and is capable of producing.

Stubborn debunkers typically attempt to minimize reported experiences of high strangeness or conspiratorial implications by employing any number of explanations that might indeed be applicable in some circumstances, but do not necessarily apply to a case at hand. While the burden of proof indeed falls upon one asserting a claim, the fact of the matter is that a more discerning group of experiencers and researchers do not assert claims, but simply question. The bottom line - again - is that people of higher intelligence and emotional availability don't want other people trying to tell them what happened to them who have no idea and don't even know they don't. Same as with the unquestioning believers. Whether one's field of interest includes psychic phenomena, entities, the intelligence community or most anything else, they should prefer to allow facts lead them to conclusions, not lobbying techniques.

Professional Research

So to tie this together, the UFO community consists of demographics with virtually polar opposite beliefs but each detrimentally effecting the paranormal genre in similar manners: They try to lead others to believe they are able to explain things to them of which they actually have little idea, are frequently unfamiliar with relevant material and are often not even qualified to venture an intelligent guess. People therefore become very reluctant to share their ideas and experiences for various different reasons, not just the well known fear of ridicule invoked by stubborn debunkers, but also because they don't want unquestioning believers saddling their reputations with wild and disturbing rumors based upon little more than questionable interpretations of reality.

And that is what's different about Project Core. I could tell you a lot of things it's not, but here's what it is: An objective and professional assessment of experiences reported by over 200 individuals, as well as assessments of answers provided to a series of specific questions. The only stipulations for reporting experiences were to provide sincere accounts, no matter how bizarre the perceived events, and to not submit any information obtained via hypnosis.

Researchers demonstrated a full awareness that surveys obtained did not necessarily contain accurate information, but might at times be more representative of what respondents interpreted, such as in the cases of reported physiological circumstances and perceived experiences. Data was professionally organized and presented, with much careful consideration given to patterns and correlations that seemed to emerge.

About a third of those surveyed indicated multiple witnesses were present during the events. Taking into consideration that many respondents reported multiple experiences, researchers suggested that future events might be accurately anticipated. A number of additional avenues for future research were also identified, including the implementation of cost effective technological advances. 

It was also apparent that researchers of alleged alien abduction have largely failed to explore the cases of witnesses who have unaided conscious recall of events. Pursuing such witnesses, while ceasing to rely upon regressive hypnosis as an investigative tool, was strongly suggested.

Research or brain scrambling?
Yet another emerging point was that respondents largely felt their experiences have not been portrayed accurately in media. Researchers considered that assertion might be due to the more bizarre aspects of the reports being frequently omitted by those portraying the experiences to the public. Readers were additionally free to surmise that ill advised use of regressive hypnosis, and leading of witnesses by biased hypnotists and investigators, likely play major roles in such inaccurate media portrayal. While reading Project Core reports, it seemed entirely possible to me that the common abduction narrative is, in reality, a rather small percentage of reported experiences, if not largely inaccurate and unreported. At the least, it appeared reasonable to question if the stereotypical alien abduction narrative is a very poor representation of what people perceive themselves to be experiencing.

I recommend reading the material posted at Project Core. There are several intriguing points and interesting insights.

But mostly I recommend it because it serves as a model of what professional research of reported paranormal experiences looks like. Pro research is pro research. Everything else is not.


  1. Mornin' Jack,

    Kudos to you for this superbly written piece, reviewing Project Core as well as the "by-product" you reckoned in the aftermath.

    The great irony which has existed since Kenneth Arnold has his infamous sighting (and long before really), is that "unquestioning believers" and "stubborn debunkers" are cut out of the same cloth; that is both parties are ideologues entrenched in their respective dogmas.

    Keep up the good work and Happy Holidays with lots . . .


    1. Thanks, Frank! Your interest and support are much appreciated.

      Happy Holidays to you, as well!

  2. One of the more common bait and switch tactics of fevered "debunkers" is to draw the other party into suggesting what might be a possible explanation for any unexplained event beyond their ability to prove the fact and then jump on them with an "Aha! You couldn't possibly know that so you're lying!" response. 9/11 springs to mind. There are many anomalies in the events of that day. It's not the responsibility of researchers to prove what happened but merely to prove that something outside of the official explanation DID happen. If we accept there was a hidden conspiracy then by definition it's not possible to explain the actual details. Skeptics use this detail to ludicrously insist that therefore there was NO anomaly.

  3. This old canard that skeptics reject the good evidence of believers due to ideology alone is tiresome and demonstrably wrong.

    As someone who has looked carefully into paranormal evidence, I can't think of of a single compelling and unambiguous bit of evidence that furthers the case for paranormal belief.

    What good evidence is being rejected?

    Usually the reply to this question is to point to vague patterns seen in the "data". I've yet to hear anyone suggest what can then be done with these patterns that takes the inquiry further.

    Note that I am not saying that every case is "solved"--far from it.There is a small subset of reported cases that are mysterious. But mystery does NOT mean paranormal, a fact that believers are woefully unable to grasp. Indeed, in most of the "unsolved" cases are simply lacking enough detail to further investigate. Many of them suggest possible prosaic solutions but these solutions cannot be confirmed. Often the sad truth is that believers can ONLY imagine paranormal explanations for ANY unexplained event, while prosaic solutions have often been proven for similar cases with better data.

    The examination of this collection of self-reported (!) tales is, in my opinion, of very limited use. Indeed one of the areas of discussion should be a red flag for anyone attempting to assess the reliability of the rest of the reported data. Isn't it interesting that the respondents almost all thought that they were above average in intelligence? Pity that the actual IQ test scores weren't submitted. I suggest that, like most purported UFO evidence, the IQ test scores, if requested, would scatter away into the wind and disappear over the horizon.

    I see that Frank Warren replies above. Warren is a prime example of the unquestioning believer, supporting the MOST dubious cases. My experience with Frank is that he is actively unscientific--unable to grasp the simple idea of provenance, for instance. See my piece on his "work" with the now discredited Battle of Los Angeles photo to see how Warren does things. And then ask yourself if skeptics are really responsible for the poor reputation of paranormal "research"?


    1. Lance my experience has been the opposite. Neither believers or hard-core skeptics engage the data. I have seen it constantly. A short click over to sites like doubtfulnews.com or CSICOP will show you their version of evidence analysis.

      The faults with believers are already well-known and it seems well-accepted in this circle so I'll focus on skeptics.

      Skeptics offer criticism based on rhetoric and not testing and analysis. I frequently see skeptics bashing photographs and audio files of "the paranormal" yet I never see them apply any methods to analyze the information and prove their claim. Techniques like Error Level Analysis can expose digitally manipulated images. A couple months back I used ELA to examine a paranormal photo promoted by a ghost hunting group. I found that the "ghostly" section of the photo had been digitally created. I have examined others where ghostly images are clearly exposed as cut and paste jobs through ELA.

      And ELA is but one techniques in a huge arsenal used by forensic media analysts. I am still learning myself, but I never see these employed by skeptics or believers for that matter.

      In the end you may be right: Compelling hard-evidence of the paranormal is lacking, but the cause of lack of analysis. No evidence can and should be considered hard-evidence at face value. It is only after careful analysis that you can have compelling evidence of the paranormal. It stands to reason that if you have no careful analysis you have no hard evidence. There are other issues to that can influence this but I'll leave it there.

      To your last sentence both groups hold responsibility for the poor reputation of paranormal research. Credible researchers should call out bad work when they find it and endeavor to bring better methods to mass acceptance.

    2. Hi Matt,

      You must not have been looking in the right places or the right articles. Hundreds of articles by skeptics do address various claims and evidence. Take a look, for instance, at Tim Printy's SUNlite. In that publication, just as one example, Tim carefully and thoroughly considered the evidence in the famous RB-47 case and found many new details that call into question the tenets of that case as trumpeted by believers. He more recently showed that many of the claims related to dubious Bob Jacobs UFO missile attack story are simply impossible.

      The response from UFO believers has been complete silence.

      You will find many more articles just like that, if you look for them.

      The dubious Jerusalem UFO tapes were conclusively examined and shown to be fakes, as another recent example.

      If you are saying that the casual skeptic just discards claims without examining them, then, sure, that does happen. And I sometimes hear skeptics belittle cases from a point of ignorance as to the facts of the case. But I think you should be careful to not confuse this casual skepticism as evidence that all skeptics don't address the evidence. Because that is simply not true (and, I should say, that some believer researchers likewise address the evidence and sometimes do debunk cases--perhaps more often than skeptics!).

      Often photo analysis, just like the silly science practiced by Ghost Hunters, can be used to falsely promote images as paranormal. For instance, the famous Belgian triangular UFO photo was "analyzed" in many different ways by by UFO believers, all of whom ruled out a small model. UFO Huckster, Leslie Kean promoted the photo extensively in her credulous UFO books. Well, now we have a confession and proof positive that it WAS a model.

      Indeed many UFO believers use the TRAPPINGS of science to pretend to do objective work. That is the whole purpose of NARCAP, for instance. Recently NARCAP promoted videos of bugs as UFOs and, along with the reprehensible, Kean, acted to help promote the ridiculous claims even in the face of transparent artifice. Additionally NARCAP's Haines did photo "analysis" of at least one photo that was laughably credulous and inept. But he presented the thing as though it was a scientific paper. Amongst UFO believers, this is all that is needed.

      My research on Otis Carr shows clearly to me that jargon will convince dumbasses of anything.



  4. Lance -

    You captured the essence of Project Core.

    None of the survey findings should be accepted as established fact at this point. Instead, some may be useful in the construction of testable hypotheses which can then be confronted with data.

    You found a superb example; the reports of above average IQ. Is this true or a true red flag? Will that survey finding scatter away into the wind? Your suggestion may be absolutely correct. Further investigation may allow the IQ question to be answered with precision. To me, the implications would be fascinating and important no matter how the specific issue of above average IQ is ultimately resolved.