Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Assessing UFOs: An Inkblot Test?

Unidentified flying objects: the term has become synonymous with alien spacecraft to a large extent. So much so that some researchers are opting to use terms such as “unexplained aerial phenomena” in efforts to curb the tide of unsubstantiated speculation. Whatever one chooses to call it, accurately identifying reported phenomena, when possible, is a key factor in establishing any potentially truly interesting cases. A look at a couple of recent and relatively well known events shows us that not only has the public largely been conditioned to prematurely assume alien origins for an “unidentified,” but that reasonable explanations are often not even sought by those who promote the extraterrestrial hypothesis.

Hovering Light

If you are not reading Doubtful News, then start – at least if you want to know some of the actual circumstances behind otherwise sensationalized stories of alleged paranormal events. The DN team, which includes editor Sharon Hill, put its readers on the trail of a case last week that South Florida NBC affiliate WBBH News billed as a “UFO caught on surveillance.”

The reported hovering light

The story making the rounds involved supposedly strange lights hovering over a pool and recorded on a video camera. Readers who had some experience with such circumstances, such as Will Radik of the Bad Skeptic blog, made short work of reviewing the video footage.

"Too bad they didn’t ask me, or anyone else who’s worn glasses their entire life,” Mr. Radik wrote en route to explaining the reported phenomena was probably light shining through a water droplet. In all likelihood, moisture formed on the protruding camera structure and reflected surrounding light. Viewers unfamiliar with the effect inaccurately assumed the light covered a much larger area, subjectively interpreting it to hover over the pool as compared to being much smaller and within inches of the camera lens.

Actual camera that took the video, according to Radik,
obviously conducive to creating the effect as described

Kentucky UFO

Doubtful News offered its readers a heads up on a story Wired published this morning. The article provided an explanation for a UFO sighting in Kentucky that gained media attention during October, 2012.

The Appalachian News-Express, CNN and others reported at the time that the Kentucky State Police received multiple calls about a high-flying unidentified object. A UFO website by the name of Ashtar Command Crew apparently linked to the news asostensible proof of continuing visits from the Galactic Federation fleet.”

Many will recognize the image
of the reported Kentucky UFO
Actually, it was proof of Google. Rich DeVaul and his Google team knew the object was one of their solar powered balloons, Wired reported today. The Kentucky UFO was a test of Project Loon, a program that equips balloons floating at some 60,000 feet with the means to provide wireless Internet to areas not currently receiving service.

There is more man-made stuff than ever in the sky. Accurately identifying it and exercising some restraint in jumping to premature conclusions are responsible ways to contribute positively to the UFO community. It is then - by conducting reasonable assessments - that we provide ourselves the best opportunities to isolate what truly interesting circumstances might exist.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Gary Hart on the Carpenter Affair

Long time UFO investigator Gary Hart commented tonight at The UFO Trail on the infamous Carpenter Affair. The series of events involved the betrayal of some 140 individuals who sought the support and services of John Carpenter and the Mutual UFO Network during the 1990's. The 140, including Leah Haley, underwent regressive hypnosis facilitated by Carpenter, a former MUFON director of abduction research. It was later learned Carpenter received some $14,000 in funding from Robert Bigelow in exchange for ongoing activities and providing him and his associates, which included Colonel John Alexander, with the case files of the 140. This was done entirely without the knowledge or consent of the 140 individuals. Much more about the Carpenter Affair can be read in the previous posts on the Leah Haley case, including The Leah Haley Case: John Carpenter, where Mr. Hart left the following comments:

Jack, as one of the principle reporters of the Carpenter Affair I found your posts quite interesting, especially in regards to what Mr. Carpenter had to say about everything. Perhaps I can clear up some few points that Mr. Carpenter chooses to repeatedly ignore or twist to a brighter point of view:
1) Mr. Carpenter originally wrote the section on handling abductee cases in the then current edition of the MUFON Field Investigator's Manual where he includes a sample form for the abductee to be presented with and sign if they wish to give a researcher permission to use their case material publicly. Mr. Carpenter, in a private communication, admitted that he had never had any of the abductees he worked with sign this or any other form of consent to sell or otherwise distribute their hypnosis files and that no researcher he knew followed his own suggested procedure.
Some files such as Leah Haley's would have been instantly identifiable even if Carpenter sold them without providing Mr. Bigelow with the identity of the person associated with each file. As I found out and was provided evidence of, Mr. Carpenter provided Mr. Bigelow with a name/case key list and even though every abductee I spoke with said that Carpenter promised he WOULD revisit them for their explicit permission to release any of their file materials if necessary yet he never did.
2) I brought the Carpenter case to public attention only after many of the abductees asked me to do so understanding that at that time he planned to write a book about them and was ALREADY selling a video for his personal profit that showed clips from some of their private hypnosis sessions with his professional credentials prominently listed on the videotape's cover.
3) Carpenter claimed, in a legal statement through his lawyer, that he did his hypnosis sessions as an amateur and thus could not be held to professional ethical standards - a point also made to me directly by then head of MUFON Walt Andrus. In fact, several of Carpenter's cases were referrals from other medical doctors. LCSW, by the way, is a professional designation - MO state Licensed Clinical Social Worker. MSW says that he has a masters in social work. All abductees I spoke with were shown only Carpenter's professional business card with these important licensing initials, not MUFON's more ordinary Investigator's ID card so he was promoting himself as a true health care professional. 
4) Carpenter got to a point in the mid 90's where he double billed abductees: he asked them for personal payment for their hypnosis sessions and billed their insurance and there is proof of this.
5) Finally, as a result of my filing a complaint against Carpenter's professional license because of his unethical handling of abductee cases, he was put on 5 years probation by the State of Missouri and there is online proof of this also so the state did agree with the case we collectively presented to their investigative board.
MUFON still throws out the "we want to stop the backbiting and infighting in Ufology" line as if there never has been a legitimate legal issue with how MUFON board members and representatives (as John was as their then Director of Abduction Research). This was the case MUFON still would like to forget. This is the case that caused MUFON's Board in 2001 to vote and throw out the "member" designation so that from then on persons affiliated with MUFON would be "subscribers" only and have no voting rights as to how the organization does business. 
Just to set things straight,
Gary Hart

Thursday, August 1, 2013

MUFON, Science and Deception, Part Two

Deception Is Deception Is Deception

The single most important challenge facing Jan Harzan and his board of directors may very well involve effectively marketing MUFON while refraining from blatantly misrepresenting the nature and value of its activities. Mr. Harzan would not be the first MUFON leader to struggle with the seemingly contradictory task of maintaining the support of UFO enthusiasts while simultaneously trying to keep investigations and public presentations up to scientific standards.

Let's face it, some self-described researchers enjoy popularity within an increasingly desensitized UFO community because of grandstanding, absurd proclamations and abilities to keep themselves up to their necks in bitter controversies. Organizations such as MUFON must then decide whether they will provide venues for such sensationalizing or opt to take the high road, declining to offer a podium – and forfeiting potential ticket sales and revenue in the process.

Retired scientist Frank Purcell, whose comments were featured in Part One of this post, was involved with MUFON for a short time. He explained, “I left that organization partly because known charlatans are given credence by what should be a scientific organization. These cranks and shysters are welcomed to the MUFON symposiums. The theme MUFON has, as do most UFO organizations, is that earth is being visited by ET. That bias is considered a given without a shred of scientific evidence to support it. The bias makes what should be a scientific approach to something mysterious into something more resembling a religion.”

Barbara Lamb
Perhaps nowhere is the UFO community more divided and passionate about such issues than in the case of alleged alien abduction and those who research the subject. It could indeed be considered concerning that an organization claiming to conduct scientific research provides venues for individuals who persist in offering witness testimony as primary evidence, including the use of regressive hypnosis as a memory retrieval tool. Moreover, “researchers” often keep such alleged witnesses anonymous and unseen, employ hypnosis as a preferred method of investigation and fail to provide reasonable or even indirect evidence (such as medical examinations and medical records) for review by qualified and unbiased third parties. Scientific research papers are virtually never authored by researchers of abduction or submitted for peer review, and, in many cases, peer review and public accountability are blatantly and intentionally avoided. This is simply not science, and suggesting otherwise is, by any other name, deception.

Real and Here?

We need look no further than MUFON Southern California for any number of circumstances involving the enabling of sham inquiry and the perpetual lack of accountability for its consequences. After MacDonald's turn in the MUFON hot seat was announced, he agreed in January of 2012 to address some questions from The UFO Trail. In response to inquiries about hypnosis and its promotion by the supposedly scientifically oriented MUFON, MacDonald could have easily been interpreted as endorsing its use, or, at best, skirting the topic. Particularly at issue were appearances by David Jacobs at events sponsored by MUFON, including one in Southern California, of which MacDonald stated he had "no problem."

Self-described researcher Barbara Lamb increased her visibility in recent years when she parlayed administering regressive hypnosis into alleged relationships with ET-human hybrids. She claims to personally know at least three hybrids she "helped" discover their alleged extraordinary histories.

In August of 2011 Dr. Tyler Kokjohn created and posted the above video, Alien Abductions – Is the Holy Grail in Hand?, encouraging us to consider what point in time Ms. Lamb might choose to present the proof of alien abduction and intervention of which she claimed to have access. Some two years later, she continued to entertain audiences with her narrations of relationships with hybrids, sans any scientific documentation for her claims. When a group email was received from MUFON Orange County announcing Lamb as a speaker and proclaiming hybrids “are real and they are here,” comment was requested from Lamb and Harzan. Posted April 17 at Orlando Paranormal Examiner
The email stated Lamb previously conducted regressive hypnosis sessions with some 900 individuals, “helping them to access details of encounters they've had with a variety of Extraterrestrial Beings [sic].” It was claimed that Lamb “discovered that many of her clients have unwittingly contributed to the ET's programs of creating ET-Human [sic] hybrids.” According to the MUFON email, such hybrids “live here among us on earth,” and some of them, it was stated in the email, “Barbara knows personally.”
'Orlando Paranormal Examiner' emailed Lamb and requested comment, specifically inquiring if she has provided evidence of her assertions to any qualified third parties for review. She was also asked if blood work and related physical examinations have been conducted on any of the alleged ET-human hybrids, as well as what justification she could present for such extraordinary statements as contained in the MUFON email.
I am in a huge rush this week,” Lamb replied March 18, “but basically you would have to talk to the three people who are convinced (and I am convinced) that they are hybrids, and find out from them about blood tests, bone tests, etc. I don't know whether or not they would be willing to talk to you (whom they don't know), but if you are interested, I could ask them and they could decide.”
Lamb was encouraged in a subsequent series of emails to coordinate correspondence with the alleged hybrids and thanked for her efforts. When urged to provide direct answers to the questions concerning physical examinations and evidence available for public review, no further emails were received from Lamb. Neither has any correspondence been received from alleged ET-human hybrid beings.
Jan Harzan was emailed and asked to provide comment. According to the MUFON website, Mr. Harzan is a member of the MUFON board of directors and is the Southern California assistant state director.
Multiple emails were sent to Harzan at two different addresses provided on the website as points of contact. He was asked to comment on why MUFON, an organization purporting to be dedicated to scientific study, would circulate an email promoting as fact such unsubstantiated and fantastic claims. No replies were received.
Flu Lights

Microbiologist Dr. Tyler Kokjohn submits content to numerous blogs, maintains a YouTube channel and is a popular podcast guest. When asked to provide comment for this post, he explained that while he is not professionally concerned about being associated with UFO research, he added that he would indeed be concerned about being linked to an organization, MUFON, promoting medical quackery and such other bizarre ideas. Dr. Kokjohn wrote:
Hopefully this leadership change will at last generate a productive structural revamping of MUFON as well. The organization harbors capable individuals, but their attempts to perform scientific investigations are often discredited by the appalling actions and statements of persons holding high level leadership positions. Anyone bemoaning the lack of respect and interest evidenced by the general public toward MUFON and UFOs should take a hard look at the damage done by intemperate leadership.
As one example, I suggest people think back to the influenza epidemic scare of 2009. As the flu began to take hold, a well-known MUFON regional director claimed he had a cure - flu lights. Backed by testimonials of alien abductees cured of many (unspecified) ailments after exposure to blue or green light, he had the sure cure that was unknown to human medicine. Worked on dogs and cats, too! For a mere $50, he would supply you with these miracle lights to save yourself (bargain price included free shipping).

At the height of public apprehension over an emerging flu epidemic, a regional MUFON director tries to cash in. Forget the Nobel Prize, he can take a totally unknown technology and example of alleged alien tech transfer and turn a buck. Worse, he was inciting people to use a method that had never been demonstrated to work against the then novel H1N1 influenza virus circulating or any virus/pathogen for that matter. This behavior was both utterly irresponsible and reprehensible. Hopefully no one followed his ill founded and ignorant medical advice and was injured as a consequence.
Pointing out the shortcomings of his actions and requesting via e-mail he desist elicited no response from him or the then international director of MUFON. You can still find the offer on his web site; Google 'national UFO center flu lights'. I bet he would still sell you one, too. Awesome PR for MUFON.
Are these the actions of an organization espousing dedication to the principles of science and claiming the mantle of scientific respectability? The most charitable assessment of such behavior is that it is tragically funny. But you can see that it might veer rapidly into something not very humorous at all. It certainly does not build a positive public image.
This is a single example of MUFON doing damage to itself. It might be a good time for the new director to take a hard look at the upper echelon and how well they represent the organization. In addition, it might be an opportune moment to consider which UFO researchers MUFON wishes to promote and feature at their meetings. How long can the leading UFO research organization continue to offer symposia packed with charlatans and propagators of pure hot air while wondering why the scientific community stays aloof? One of the speakers this year, a physicist by the way, noted the lack of open interest was due to the fact that scientists feared the reactions. I do not agree with his assessment, but while I feel free to pursue UFO research, I would be quite concerned about being linked to an organization that allows its leaders to promote medical quackery among other bizarre ideas.
Time for a long overdue change.”
In May of 2011 Dr. Kokjohn created the following video, Alien Abductions - Seeing the Light, in which he explored issues surrounding the ill advised flu lights:

Readers might also choose to directly review the unsupported flu light claims:

Filer's Files #48, November 25, 2009

The Final Product

Perhaps in the end it all comes down to the primary objectives of the MUFON board of directors. Regardless of the specific person at the helm, the names of those who fill the seats on the board or the mission statement of the organization, maybe it all comes down to what is prioritized by the most ambitious members of the board.

Some may wonder if the board prioritizes much of anything at all, but just lets things happen until fires need putting out. Others might suspect the financial stability of the organization is the primary objective, resulting in little to no concern about adhering to the science-based mission statement as long as the public is purchasing products and services. Consideration should also be given to the challenges a board of directors has in overseeing and controlling activities conducted by volunteers spread out all over the United States and world. Yet others might turn their attention to strongly distrusting MUFON leadership, confidently suspecting numerous hidden agendas have been carried out over the years. Perhaps the actuality of the situation contains a bit of all of that.

Maybe, in the end, what is most relevant to the consumer is if they are pleased with the quality of the final product: the presentations and research offered. I invite consideration that we are the consumers, the customers, the potential funders of the organization.

Demand more quality. Do not settle for less. If your expectations are unfulfilled, find alternative sources. Stop seeking something, the scientific study of UFOs, from people who chronically promise it, yet repeatedly demonstrate no intention whatsoever of consistently providing it - whatever the reasons may ultimately be for the disconnect and unanswered questions.