Tuesday, September 8, 2020

A Story May Be Accurate, but Is It True?

Spooky hallway in the Crescent Hotel and Spa
of Eureka Springs, AR. The Crescent is dubbed
America's most haunted hotel.
Sometimes we hear a story about paranormal subject matter that sounds really compelling. Some reports of unusual experiences might indeed represent odd occurrences, but it should be a given that many do not. How the storyteller frames the circumstances - what they leave in, what they leave out, etc. - can make a huge difference. 

The use of language is very important. We can either inadvertently or intentionally mislead others, as well as ourselves, depending on how we describe things, repeat and embellish them over time, and so on.

People often do not accurately interpret descriptions of things we try to transfer through words. We can't even transmit a thoroughly accurate signal, and they can't receive it if we could. To complicate matters, they often think they understand fully. They are then subject to taking on their own inaccurate mental vision of a story as if it is a correct representation of actuality, and then later describing that evolving and shifting mental vision as what someone else told them took place. The process then repeats as the story is passed along. 

Paranormal stories rarely have resolution. We often just don't know what happened, but understanding points an author may omit or fail to pursue has the potential to significantly help us with listing and ranking possible explanations. Let's consider an example.

The Ghost Story

Several years ago I resided in a house about 100 years old. I taught music lessons and sold instruments, often in the house.

One night I had just arrived home from the grocery store. I carried some bags up the front steps. As I reached an elevated wooden front porch, out of the corner of my eye I thought I caught a glimpse of an old woman standing in the yard to my right. 

She seemed to be standing in a line of trees. I initially interpreted her to be wearing outdated clothes, or, we might say, garments from another era. I thought she perhaps had on an apron or long skirt, and maybe a bonnet or something on her head.

I had the impression she was lost or distressed, which is to say it would be pretty strange to be standing around in someone's yard at night. I set the bags of groceries down before turning to address the woman because I suspected this interaction might require more care than a typical exchange with a neighbor. I was prepared to ask her if she was okay, and take some responsibility for the situation if she was not. I turned to face her and she was gone.

A few weeks later I was working at a musical instrument display I set up in a local store. I was playing an electronic keyboard. This one man, about 65 years old, took my business card. Momentarily he returned with excitement.

"Hey," he told me, alternately looking at me and my card, "I grew up at this address."

"Is that right?" I asked.

"Yeah, I sure did," he continued, telling me how the now paved road used to be dirt, and a few other things of note.

"You know," he eventually said, "that house is haunted..."

"Yeah?"

"Yes, it's my mom. She loved that place, and people saw her for years after she died. She played piano, and people who lived in the house would say they heard her playing a few notes now and then."

I encouraged him to stop by the house if the mood ever struck. One Sunday he took me up on it.

He came up the steps, onto the porch, and I welcomed him into the house. Far and away the most prominent thing one would first notice would be the musical instruments all over the place. This was no regular living area I kept. Electronic keyboards, music books, an old upright piano. He enthusiastically explained how his mom (the piano player) would have loved this. 

I gave him some space and allowed him to browse the home, just him and his memories. We chatted a bit afterward, about his mother and old stories about the house, and I bid him farewell.   

It seemed I had quite a ghost story on my hands, complete with my own sighting!

More of the Story

I would not try to validate or devalue the man's beliefs, as of course I wasn't there and have no idea what all may or may not have taken place. I really can't speak to his experiences and interpretations, but I can speak to mine.

There are some things that should be considered before we assume my experience necessarily has any relevance at all to his story, much less validates spirits walk the earth as apparitions after physical death. The following offers an example of how an author might omit potentially important info, leading readers to make a lot of assumptions about the above ghost story.

At the time in question, my music students were primarily senior citizens. Overwhelmingly so, as a matter of fact. I spent a great deal of time around aged people. I taught recreational music making on keyboards. I had been doing this in one capacity or other, from Florida to Maryland, for years.

We often conducted social events in the house to increase morale and create traffic. These might include keyboard concerts consisting of Big Band music, and costumes were encouraged. We'd do Western Day, 1950's Day, salutes to veterans, and so on, depending on things like holidays and time of year. Suffice it to say I spent significant amounts of time not only with seniors, but with us all dressed in outfits from yesteryear, and on that very property. I think it's reasonable to suppose that if my 'ghost' was a momentary optical illusion, it would seem pretty likely that what I might think I saw would be an older person in outdated clothing. I had, in fact, frequently seen and greeted just such actual people from the porch on which I stood. 

As first mentioned, the ghost woman seemed to be standing in a dark tree line. I was standing on an elevated porch, illuminated by a porch light. It doesn't seem like much of a stretch to suspect I may have momentarily mistaken a tree or shadows in the outlying dark for a person. A storyteller could, hypothetically, leave out the part about it being night, omit the fact they were standing in an illuminated area while glancing into the darkness, fail to mention the perception was simply a fleeting glimpse, etc. 

Also, and I came to think this might be pretty relevant, I had just arrived home from the grocery store. As the story suggests, it was nearing the end of the day. It was a work day, I was tired, and I went grocery shopping on top of that. So not only do those points seem potentially relevant to me, but particularly the part about being in a store just before it happened.

I had just left a place where lots of people were milling around. It wouldn't seem all that odd to mistakenly think I saw a person when I looked into the dark, or, in a manner of speaking, looked at an ink blot. This might be considered similar to spending a day at an amusement park riding a roller coaster, then continue to have the dizzying sensations when closing our eyes at night to go to sleep. When veterinarians get home after a long day, do they 'see' dogs in the shadows? And particularly if they saw a few more on their way home from the office? 

The musical aspect of the story might be considered an intriguing coincidence. While that is indeed the case, it's also true that it was extremely common for women of the relevant age group to play piano. It was once considered a pretty standard part of a well rounded education and cultural upbringing. We might also consider it's extremely unlikely the other residents of the home who apparently reported ghost sightings, as mentioned by the man, were using the property as a music store. It's a pretty shaky connection, albeit a potentially fun and entertaining story to tell.   

We'll never know for sure about the vast majority of these kinds of situations. However, the discriminating reader realizes all possibilities are not equal. A great deal more hypothetical circumstances must be taken into evidence to assume a ghost sighting than, for instance, a trick on tired eyes. Whether a writer chooses to research optical illusions or spend their time learning about seances may make all the difference as to how they frame a story. Similar may of course be said about a UFO writer allocating some attention to exotic aircraft as compared to spending inordinate amounts of time absorbing and relaying sensational stories.

------------------------------------------------

Recommended related reading:

UFO Critical Thinking 101

Eye of the Beholder

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

CIA Serves Assist to Researchers Seeking Previously Processed UFO Docs

The CIA FOIA response referenced in this post and containing a CIA list of UFO documents may be viewed in its entirety and downloaded at either Keep&Share or Google Drive

The Central Intelligence Agency recently provided The UFO Trail a list of UFO-related documents generated from an internal "Requester Report" database. The list contains identifying information of 713 previously processed documents totaling 2,780 pages. The Agency explained the documents may be requested individually or the entire package may be purchased on CDROM for $10.

"Please be advised," the CIA wrote, "the Agency has released to previous requesters numerous pages of UFO-related documents under the FOIA. Most of this material was located as a result of previous searches for records conducted on behalf of earlier requesters for information regarding UFOs. Any releasable material as a result of these earlier, thorough searches is included in this package."   

The 33-page list was supplied in conjunction with a July 28 CIA response to an FOIA request pertaining to Stuart Nixon, a former executive director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena. The request sought records referencing Nixon in addition to two documents already located on the CIA website. 

The CIA provided one additional item in response, a 1973 newspaper clipping featuring Nixon. He commented in the article on a rise in the number of UFO reports in the wake of the now legendary Pascagoula alleged alien abduction case. Reports apparently increased tenfold, and Nixon stated NICAP was "literally swamped with calls" after the event in Mississippi.

The July 28 CIA response emphasized in bold font there is no current organized CIA effort to conduct research in connection with UFO phenomena, nor has there been an organized effort to collect intelligence on UFOs since the 1960's. The CIA indicated many of the documents on the list relate to the Scientific Advisory Panel, or Robertson Panel, and to sightings as reported in the foreign news media.

For those interested in requesting some or all of the records, the response stated:

View the full CIA response

If you want to obtain some of the listed records, it might be a good idea to first search for the document by title at the CIA online reading room. It may already be posted online. 

If you don't find the doc on the website, submit an FOIA request to CIA. Reference the document title along with its "CadreRefID" number and publication date. You'll find them on the list. Ask to be notified prior to filling the request if charges are applicable, or if costs are estimated to exceed a specific amount you state you are willing to pay. They'll often just mail you a free hard copy of the doc if it's only a few pages. The Agency will otherwise inform you how to proceed. Here is what the list format looks like:













To obtain the full set of records on disc, submit an FOIA request for the entire package of UFO documents on CDROM as referenced in FOIA response F-2020-01742. Be sure to clarify you want the CDROM (not hard copies with printing and postage fees for 2,780 pages). Specify to notify you of charges and the Agency will instruct you how to complete the transaction from there. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

UFO Critical Thinking 101

We're often just not all on the same page when it comes to discussing UFOs. It might help if some of us interested in the subject read a little more material (or any material) on topics such as standards of evidence. It can get really tough to keep rational perspective if front loaded with tales of Core Stories and secret sources. This writer highly encourages integration of healthy skepticism into attempts to form opinions and beliefs, such as perhaps reading an article on critical thinking at least once out of every dozen or so clicks on a sensational UFO story link. So I wrote one! Please read on.

There are some widely recognized critical thinking questions to ask when we consider a person's point as presented in an article or during a social media discussion. A few of them:

What are the issue and conclusion?

What reasons are offered?

What are the assumptions?

Are there logical fallacies in the reasoning?

The answers to such questions should help us form reliable assessments of how much weight we should give the story. For instance, if a writer does not seem to state a pretty clear issue and conclusion, we're off to a really bad start! I jest, but there are actually a concerning number of articles on UFOs and paranormal topics that seem to meander and wind much more than they state particular purposes.  

If they seem to be fairly clear and systematic about their point, it is reasonable to question how they arrived at it. The more direct the route, the better. It's generally agreed that conclusions based on the least number of hypothetical scenarios have the strongest foundations. Another way to look at that is to say if their argument is based on hypotheticals, then it's an opinion, and you're entitled to hold an opposing one. Burden of proof is always on the claimant.

Sometimes we make assumptions when we don't even realize it. Assumptions are often mistaken as facts, but a few easy fact-checking techniques can quickly clarify. Sources should be provided for assertions, and they should be verifiable. Chains of custody of documents and similar such evidence should be readily available. If statements of assertions are attributed to other sources, then those sources should have verification of their claims and chains of custody for their evidence. While someone may thoroughly believe fragmented memories are indicative of alien abduction, it is, of course, an assumption based on many hypotheticals (as mentioned above).

Logical fallacies are patterns of reasoning rendered invalid due to flaws in their logical structure. These are bad. You don't want to find your latest book purchase full of 'em! A common logical fallacy is Ad Hominem, which is attacking the personal character of an individual rather than directly countering specific points of their work or argument. 

Another is Appeal to Authority, which is the other side of the coin from Ad Hominem. That's when a point is submitted based solely on the reputation of the source, with no regard given to verifying its authenticity. Just because the FDA said it, that does not exempt the statement from reasonable fact-checking. Same with PhDs about a vortex on a ranch in Utah (see above about lines of reasoning and number of hypotheticals required).

All of this leads us to the significance of standards of evidence. It's no wonder we can't agree on conclusions if we can't agree on the relevance of the information used to form them! 

Whether or not we agree to respect standards of evidence universally recognized by the professional research community, it is important to understand them. While we may be willing to entertain some of the more maverick and creative ways of exploring subjects of interest, we should know how far we might be veering from the established template. This allows us deeper understanding of why our ideas and research may be dismissed. It is also important to realize that if UFO researchers want to be embraced by mainstream science, which has been a battle cry for 70 years, they have responsibilities to at the least understand, if not conform to, scientific protocols and standards. Otherwise, don't complain your Pentagon boss isn't interested in your project.     

Like many people, I was interested in UFOs and related topics in part because I considered myself open minded. I thought there were things I might be willing to entertain that more rigid and dogmatic people would not. In hindsight, I think many of my beliefs about UFOs were formed in error, largely based upon incorrect information presented by those who package and traffic it. 

When exploring and discussing such material, nobody likes to be minimized and called stupid. We are all at different points in our UFO awakenings, and those of us who are sincere should be allowed the necessary room to grow. Mistakes happen. Misinformed opinions happen. Personal experiences are open to interpretation.

However, we should remain aware we can learn from both sides of the desk. If we want people to be tolerant of our beliefs and better understand why we embrace them, then we too can better inform ourselves why such people reject certain sources of evidence or hold it in low regard. It works both ways. 

It is through the process of effectively dissecting the collective UFO body of material in which we come to more stable terms with our beliefs, our hopes, and our fears. We learn about the world we inhabit and, ultimately, ourselves. I sincerely hope you find this blog a useful tool.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

UFO Debris, Disclosure, and Congressional Investigations

Hey, did you hear the news? UFO debris is a hot topic, the veil of government secrecy will soon be lifted, and Congressional UFO investigations are ongoing. No, not that debris or those investigations. I'm talking about the UFO Disclosure of the 1950's!

Maj. Donald Keyhoe,
largely considered
the face of NICAP
My continuing interest in NICAP led me to the inbox of Barry Greenwood, a longtime researcher and archivist of a wide variety of original source documents. He helpfully shared some NICAP files with me which I have been reading ever since.

Among the clear takeaways is that perceptions of imminent UFO Disclosure are perpetual. Interestingly, many of the dynamics remain in tact to a rather fascinating extent.

Take, for instance, this sample from a NICAP bulletin. "Falls" from UFOs were a thing, as some readers may recall about the dubious 1947 Maury Island case and a 1950's incident in Brazil investigated by Dr. Olavo Fontes. 


More material distributed by NICAP in the late 1950's indicates its assessment of a forthcoming "break in official secrecy in 1959." Note the analysis (at the bottom of the image) indicating suspicions UFO bases were located on Mars and Venus. The speculation was due to interpretations of increases in UFO sightings while the planets were closer to Earth.


Further research indicated an ambitious NICAP member wrote Congressman William Ayres, asking if Congress investigates UFOs. Why, yes, Ayres suggested, we're on it, as reported in a 1958 edition of the Akron Beacon Journal:


The item made news when NICAP front man Maj. Donald Keyhoe cited the statement during a 1958 talk in DC. 

"A constituent made an inquiry and I had it checked into," Congressman Ayres explained further. "As I recall, a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee had held hearings," he added, a possible reference to the 1953 Robertson Panel or something similar.

It's more understandable that UFO investigators in the 1950's perceived such events to be greatly significant than it is when they express shock and awe today. The 1950's researchers and reporters didn't have the saturation level of unresolved hype and mountains of material that we, their successors, have available while currently forming our assessments. 

Whether or not we use it, and whether or not it is omitted by supposed experts and journalists due to ulterior motives or incompetence, are questions the UFO genre appears destined to struggle with. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Whoa Cart, Let's Wait for the Horse

Research suggests people who subscribe to unproven conspiratorial theories often believe many such theories, even when they contradict one another. Live Science reported how one research project found those who suspected Princess Diana was murdered also tended to believe she faked her death. Similarly, those surveyed who believed Osama bin Laden was already dead when his compound was raided by U.S. Special Forces were also most willing to believe he is still alive. The common denominator seems to be a mistrust of authority, something in pretty strong supply.

It's easy to find the dynamic in UFO circles. It seems a lot of people believe the U.S. government was in possession of an extraterrestrial spacecraft examined by Bob Lazar at Area 51. It seems the same demographic likes to believe that same government is shelling out millions by way of AAWSAP and AATIP to learn about just such craft - of which they apparently don't provide access to the contractors awarded the grant funds. 

Robert Bigelow
Similarly, one of those apparent contracted scientists, Dr. Eric Davis, is believed by some to have been told about such secret information by an in-the-know insider, see the Wilson Leak, circa 2002 or so. We are apparently to also believe Davis, and in effect Team Bigelow and the eventual AATIP crew, failed to mention or substantially act on that knowledge while searching the globe far and wide for evidence of such craft and ET beings... that Uncle Sam is believed to already have in his possession. 

We could argue the logic - and lack thereof - indefinitely. We're always going to come back around to the importance of evidence available for public review. People either understand the significance or they don't.

An ongoing challenge with the TTSA saga is that some of it may indeed prove interesting from a number of perspectives, yet, at the same time, a lot of it is sensationalized by writers who supply a demand for Disclosure fury, if not create it. With a shout out to UAP written into a recent legislative bill, there are indeed points to ponder and social dynamics to keep an eye on. However, history shows us such dynamics are not new, yet to point this out may be viewed as wet blanketing the UFO blogosphere. Regardless, it might be wise to see how things play out and prioritize evidence available for public review before taking Disclosure victory laps.

As we see in an FBI file compiled on the 20th century National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, statements very similar to those we read now were issued. Such statements, as is currently the case, were released by esteemed members of the intelligence community. 


We might also consider a 1958 letter, contained in the same FBI file, written by NICAP Director Donald Keyhoe to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. It indicates the respected members of the NICAP crew and the prior experience with government UFO research of one in particular, Major Fournet.


The similarities to current day events are striking. Time will tell if the outcomes are much different.   

Monday, June 15, 2020

UFO Research Integrity

Logic suggests explanations requiring the least number of hypothetical scenarios are often most feasible. Smart money goes with the most likely, least complex models when ranking possibilities.

In UFO circles we frequently lose sight of most likely explanations. Part of the reason may be because so much time is devoted to imagining the extraordinary. We tend to gravitate towards believing what we hear the most, no matter how often it may be properly framed as supposition. It's difficult to keep things in perspective when a 15-second disclaimer is followed by an hour of podcast speculation. Squeaky wheels get oil, even when delivered through sources such as fictional movies and television shows.

We often suspect the existence of hidden agendas - conspiracies, if you will - within the UFO genre because it can be so difficult to accept select researchers and organizations are as incompetent and credulous as they appear. Did the Roswell Slides promoters truly think that mummified Native American was a crash-landed visitor from the stars? Did Dr. Steven Greer really think that Atacama skeleton was an alien and did he and Dr. Garry Nolan honestly not understand the ethical concerns that would arise over their handling of itDid Robert Bigelow and a team of consultants think there was scientific merit in hiring "security guards" to reportedly play with alleged voice phenomena and conduct similar occult practices? (That last scenario was apparently funded by your tax dollars.) 

Could they have all sincerely had such poor judgement? Such reasonable questions abound.


The infamous Roswell Slides telltale placard

We might consider that, from a perspective of assessing research integrity, answers to the above questions don't really make that much difference. The integrity of research is weakened when investigators fail to respect and adhere to universally recognized protocols and codes of ethics. No matter what their agendas, their research is not reliable if they must incorporate numerous hypothetical scenarios into forming their arguments. We really don't need to know what personally motivated David Jacobs and if he is as obliviously incompetent as he seems in order to accurately identify his ethics failings and resulting poor quality of research. This means we don't learn anything of value, at least not about alleged paranormal experiences, from such material, and we are at high risk of absorbing and exposing others to incorrect information. Meanwhile, people are harmed and justifiably offended in the process of such examples as named thus far.

Paul Carr is a spacecraft systems engineer who facilitates several science-friendly podcasts. In response to request for comment on research integrity, Carr replied that he considers virtues of UFO research to include patience, humility, integrity and skepticism. Carr directs Aerial Phenomena Investigations (API), a UFO research group with a track record of commitments to evidence-based investigation and ethical treatment of UFO witnesses. He says the two go hand in hand.

"UFO research primarily deals with human memories," Carr stated, "and it has become clear to us at API that while the ethical treatment of witnesses and an open, honest, and careful approach to collecting and analyzing data are not the same thing, they are both members of a healthy body of research practice. Whatever threatens to corrupt one also threatens the other. Willful abuse of facts and fallacious reasoning readily metastasizes into abuses of innocent persons. This isn't something that just happens to organizations. It is a choice they make.

"It's not that we won't make mistakes - we will. It's what you do and how you change after a mistake is made that is the best marker of integrity."



Perhaps Robert Bigelow and his various teams assembled over the years have been unjustly saddled with conspiracy theories. It is possible they are simply as credulous as they seem to want us to believe. 

Substantial resources were poured into a Utah ranch. Claims of extraordinary creatures, portals to other dimensions, and various sensational happenings, the vast majority of which purportedly defied any kind of significant documentation, became the stuff of legends. Maybe the involved credentialed researchers sincerely do not understand the inherent problems in expecting others to embrace their unverified claims. Maybe they are truly that blinded by belief.

The Typhoid Mary-like innocence of claimed ignorance meets large problems when issues of fully informed consent arise. This was not only the case at the Skinwalker Ranch, as former security guards expressed concerns over their apparent unwitting involvement in state-funded research, but was a key component of the infamous Carpenter Affair as well.

Maybe John Carpenter, Robert Bigelow, John Alexander, John Schuessler and others were truly oblivious to the ethical minefield of covertly supplying Bigelow's National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS) with information discussed between therapist and clients. Data and recordings of hypnosis sessions from some 140 case files were obtained for about 100 bucks apiece. Maybe some of the people involved in facilitating and concealing the transaction just didn't see publicly addressing the circumstances and voicing objections as feasible options. Obviously not, given their stances of mostly silence and aversion to questions. 

Perhaps some of them honestly believed the potential research gains outweighed the liabilities and betrayals. Maybe they honestly misunderstood and vastly overestimated the minimal scientific value of a collection of hypnosis-induced accounts of alien abduction. Such missteps are magnified when the parties claim to be conducting scientific study, as was the case.

Such scenarios, regardless of motive and intent, border dangerously on mad scientist territory. Codes of ethics are designed, in part, to deter researchers afflicted with delusions of self-importance from sacrificing human welfare during an incorrectly perceived pursuit of historic breakthroughs. This widely eludes much of the UFO genre and particularly its pro-hypnosis segment. Virtually anything appears deemed worth the cost of chasing an alien abduction carrot which has consistently remained out of reach.

"The importance of ethics in research integrity is that it creates the ground level from which all of your work is built," explained Dr. Christopher Cogswell, who holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering and co-hosts a popular podcast which explores fringe topics from reasoned perspectives. "If the ground isn't stable, then everything else you generate or say becomes built on a shaky foundation, which can easily be toppled by the first critical look at your methods and history. It is OK to be wrong or make a mistake, we are all human. But to continue despite evidence of mismanagement, error, or unethical practice makes your entire body of work suspect and tinged with that lens."  



We could carry our line of considerations to its chronological next steps, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) and the resulting To The Stars Academy (TTSA). Maybe intelligence professionals such as Luis Elizondo and Christopher Mellon are simply overly enthusiastic about the UFO topic and don't understand the problematic nature of trying to turn film clips into proof of the extraordinary. Perhaps Elizondo was simply too inexperienced at UFO investigation to adequately assess an extremely questionable case he and the seemingly ultra credulous Tom DeLonge highlighted on cable television. Maybe there's just an overwhelming amount of UFO history for Elizondo to learn, and maybe it simply never occurred to him to secure receipts that could answer questions about his background before he went to TTSA and started making claims he was apparently unprepared to adequately address if questioned. 

Maybe shelling out 35 grand for Art's Parts will prove brilliant. Perhaps the group's collection of alleged metal alloys, UAP fragments, or whatever the current going designation is will lead to paradigm-shifting discoveries. And, if not, maybe it all happened for no other reasons than none of the TTSA personnel knew any better. 

An obvious problem with AATIP is it consisted of Robert Bigelow and some of his perpetual cast members. This is not necessarily a negative thing in itself, but from a perspective of integrity of research, it is only prudent to question the effectiveness of the work of investigators who spent decades apparently more dedicated to belief than time-tested protocols. That's the case, anyway, if we are to believe their past indiscretions, as already described, resulted entirely from simple error. Again, it doesn't matter from an integrity of research standpoint whether they are incompetent or have ulterior motives when the outcome chronically produces nothing of significant scientific value.

As may have been the case with issues surrounding the security personnel at Skinwalker and the exploited hypnosis subjects of John Carpenter, perhaps it was poor understandings and lack of foresight that contributed to the Bigelow-facilitated covert funneling of DIA funds into MUFON. Maybe Bigelow, Schuessler, and none of the involved parties realized the problematic nature of an intelligence agency funding a 501(c)(3) UFO organization while concealing the fact from the rest of its governing board members and the public at large.  


Some of the boys in the Remote Viewing band. And NIDS.
And Skinwalker. And BAASS. And AATIP. And TTSA.

This isn't about people who may possibly be influenced by false memories or misidentify an exotic aircraft. We're not discussing individuals who experience some kind of event(s) they don't understand and go in search of answers. We're talking about credentialed scientists and professional intelligence personnel who in some cases subscribe to irresponsibly unsupported beliefs and flawed research methodologies, sometimes while under the commission of United States government grant funds.

It seems more than clear to this writer that, if we give all these people the benefit of the doubt and take them at their implied word, we should fully expect to scrutinize their opinions at length and have their research claims painstakingly verified before fully accepting them. Such investigators apparently, at best, suffer from recurring episodes of rather astoundingly poor judgement. 

The good news is we don't have to rely on personalities and popularity as tools for assessing research. Its merit or lack thereof should be self-evident.  

The fact will always remain that should some yet to be proven assertions turn out to be correct, they're indeed not established yet. Just because the future may show something to be accurate, that does not in any way mean you should currently exempt it from reasonable fact-checking. That's how we find out if it's true.

It is important we know the difference between facts and claims asserted by investigators, hold them accountable, and commit ourselves to respecting ethical standards and best practices as recognized by the professional research community. Integrity of UFO research, and ultimately what people believe is flying around up there, depend on it. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

Book Review: 'Captured by Aliens?' by Nigel Watson

The latest publication from Nigel Watson is well-sourced and far-reaching as we have come to expect from his work. Captured by Aliens? A History and Analysis of American Abduction Claims explores well over a century of reports of strange flying objects and their most peculiar crews in the United States.

The famous Betty and Barney Hill abduction case serves as the backdrop for analysis. Readers with casual interest as well as those well-read on the case will find this a worthy work. Watson covers much in detail, including Air Force reports and physical evidence analyses.

The author sets the stage by considering UFO events leading up to the fateful New Hampshire night of 1961. The dive into events surrounding Maury Island and Kenneth Arnold are quite intriguing, particularly the threads followed on Fred Crisman and Clay Shaw.

Watson spends significant portions of the book exploring aspects of reported alien abductions. Select cases are described, as well as a general outline of common occurrences of alleged abductions.

Watson periodically reminds readers of the dubious nature of the abduction beast. Challenging Budd Hopkins's persistent claims of a wealth of photographic, medical and physical supporting evidence, Watson writes, "As we have seen, there is no video or physical evidence for alien abductions, and other forms of evidence are based on anecdotes or generalizations rather than hard facts or data."

This is not to suggest, however, that the author does not give the abduction devil its due. Whatever we are to ultimately make of the reported encounters, it is clear there are potentially relevant implications. As one psychology expert considered, the fairly common theme of abductions occurring while on long drives could be of interest to neuroscientists.

If there is something this reader would like to have seen the author cover more thoroughly, I would appreciate more critical review of the activities of investigators who were largely responsible for forming the public perception of alien abduction. A substantial amount of documentation has been published by many sources on the unethical actions of abduction gurus. The author chose not to address these circumstances for the most part, although concerns about hypnosis as a memory enhancer were repeatedly expressed, as were objections to non-professional hypnotists leading the fray. The lack of further addressing ethical concerns may be due in part to the book being a revised version of Watson's 2009 self-published work, The Alien Deception: An Exploration of the Alien Abduction Phenomenon, according to the opening pages. 

Watson does indeed reference critical review undertaken by writer and researcher George Hansen. Watson also notes, "Ironically, Budd Hopkins, the very person who helped establish the concept of abduction has published ever-more fantastic accounts that even his followers find hard to accept at face value, and he has thereby eroded the validity of his original concepts."

However, aspects of the claims of Hopkins and other investigators are referenced without offering counterpoints. For instance, Hopkins's claims are noted pertaining to similarities of symbols which abductees purported to see during encounters and subsequently sketch later. The claim by Hopkins of their consistent similarities was effectively challenged by Carol Rainey with video footage to demonstrate its extremely questionable authenticity, including Hopkins qualifying the handling of the symbols was his attempt to "stack the deck".

In Watson's defense, he does not suggest Hopkins and other investigators were necessarily correct, but simply cites their claims as a means to establish what abductees seem to often report. Interestingly, investigators themselves may be among the most challenging hurdles to competently analyzing the abduction phenomenon: we are often at the mercy of their interpretations and agendas, absent access to the witnesses and what scarce data may exist. We don't know what happened, we know what they said someone else said happened, accounts often obtained through hypnosis and, at absolute best, a biased lens. It could be added that in some relevant instances this assessment of investigators is extremely generous and forgiving.

Watson takes a deep and thorough dive into the role media played in public perception of flying objects and their purported occupants. Confirmed hoaxes carried out by newspapers, recurring over generations, are covered, as are relevant aspects of film, television, and radio. The implications are evident.

The author's interest in UFOs and related reports inspired him to obtain a degree in psychology. Watson therefore dedicates a chapter to its significance, and acknowledges how discussion of psychological issues is often met with heavy resistance from investigators and experiencers alike. He clearly endorses treating people respectfully, while clarifying the situation is much more complex than simply labeling someone sane or insane.

The risk of offending researchers or abductees is not a legitimate reason to neglect delving deeper into their accounts, Watson ultimately argues. He adds, "In the long term, a less emotionally charged view of their experiences is likely to be of more help to them than soothing platitudes."

Watson dedicates the final chapters to analyzing the Hill case and alleged alien abduction, considering the contradictions in logic, and discussing social implications. The Hill case continues to be fascinating to both believers and skeptics.

Captured by Aliens? represents hundreds of hours of research and decades of knowledge acquired by Nigel Watson. The citations are clear and abundant. It is a useful research tool as well as a significant work on mapping social aspects of the alien abduction phenomenon, particularly the Hill case.

Captured by Aliens? A History and Analysis of American Abduction Claims is 215 pages. It is published by McFarland & Company, Inc.