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.