Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Adam Gorightly Discusses 'Saucers, Spooks and Kooks'

    Adam Gorightly just released a brand new book, Saucers, Spooks and Kooks: UFO Disinformation in the Age of Aquarius. He is a longtime writer and researcher of UFO-related shenanigans, and I recommend giving a read to his latest offering from Daily Grail Publishing. 

The book dives into the often dubious tales that make up the UFO genre, taking particular aim at the circumstances surrounding the alleged underground alien base of Dulce, New Mexico. Adam tracks the stories to their origins, and shares insights about his personal interactions with characters who inhabit and cultivate those tales.

I asked Adam if he would field a few questions for a blog post. My questions are followed by his responses below. He also provided the accompanying images. 

    What made you decide to write Saucers, Spooks and Kooks, and what was most important to you about it?

    It was a project that evolved over time, starting with an article I was writing over ten years ago titled “My Breakfast with Tal”, which detailed my account of breaking bread with the one and only Tal Levesque. An enigmatic and somewhat shadowy character, he was a key player in promoting the Dulce Base story/mythos starting back in the late 1980s.

As things progressed, I started delving deeper into the many claims associated with Dulce Base, many of which Tal, and a handful of others, had seemingly seeded, and in some cases, it appeared, created out of whole cloth. Over time, the project evolved into a longer article with the working title “Deconstructing Dulce”. I set out to pick apart the entire Dulce Base story, in essence deconstructing all the elements, in an attempt to separate fact from fiction, and untangle the many seemingly spurious stories associated with Dulce. Many in ufology unfortunately have taken those stories as gospel over the ensuing years. So the article kept growing to the point where it ultimately became book length in order to cover all the aspects of the story, and the many players, in ufology and the intelligence community, who had helped form the Dulce Base narrative.

One of the key allegations in the Dulce Base story concerned a secret treaty between reptilian aliens and the US. Government in which ET technology had been exchanged in return for test subjects to be used in an alien-human hybrid breeding program. Rumors have long circulated that cattle mutilations were also somehow involved in these experiments, the ultimate goal of which was to allegedly create human-alien hybrids to preserve and revive a dying ET race.

As the story goes, a heroic security officer named Thomas Castello led a revolt against the Dulce Base alien bad guys and the end result was a shoot ‘em up that ultimately left sixty-six Dulce Base workers dead. Castello had at his disposal a “flash gun” that allowed him to take out a few of these dastardly aliens and hightail it out of Dulce, thereafter becoming a whistleblower on the run. This legendary battle, straight out of a sci fi B movie script, became known as “The Dulce War”.

    In Saucers, Spooks and Kooks, you trace the origins of several urban myth-like beliefs to Paul Bennewitz and Myrna Hansen, and their fateful interactions of the 1980's. How much of what came to be popularly accepted about alleged aliens would you say is directly related to Hansen and her influence on Bennewitz?

    Myrna Hansen was one of the first so-called alien abductees, way before the term became fashionable. Her encounter, or whatever you want to call it, occurred in early May of 1980, when she and her son Shawn, while driving in Eagle Nest, New Mexico, allegedly witnessed a cow get sucked up on a beam into a spaceship. Shortly after, they were also sucked up into the craft where all sorts of insanity ensued, first with the ETs dissecting the helpless heifer in front of their horrified eyes, and then Hansen was placed into a trance and underwent some sort of medical procedure.

Following her encounter, a terrified Hansen contacted the state police office in the town of Cimarron to inform them of her crazy encounter with knife wielding cow cutting aliens, and in turn the Cimarron office referred her to New Mexico state trooper Gabe Valdez. He worked out of Dulce, and had by this time acquired the reputation as the go-to guy for cut-up cows and unexplained lights in the sky. It was Valdez who put Hansen in touch with Paul Bennewitz, a private government contractor specializing in avionics who among other things was an APRO member. Through Bennewitz’s APRO connections he was able to enlist the services of Leo Sprinkle, a University of Wyoming professor who had been investigating UFO cases using hypnotic regression for over ten years. Sprinkle would conduct a number of hypnotic regressions with Hansen at Bennewitz’s home, and more specifically inside of Bennewitz’s Lincoln Town Car, which he had covered the windows with aluminum foil as a means to disrupt an alien beam he believed was attempting to interfere with Sprinkle’s hypnotic regression of Hansen.

Curiously enough, Sprinkle conducted hypnotic regressions back in 1973 with another lady named Judy Doraty, who recounted a similar tale as Hansen’s regarding ETs and cattle mutes getting sucked up into a space craft, so how much of this was crosspollination or contamination (i.e. investigators/regression therapists leading alleged witnesses to a certain conclusion) is still an open question. It should be noted that Bennewitz, in addition to his fascination with UFOs, also had an abiding interesting in the cattle mutilation phenomenon, and so the two—UFOs and cattle mutes, it could be presumed—became intertwined in his mind and this worldview leaked out on to those with whom he interacted.

Hansen’s regressions included a smorgasbord of standard alien abduction tropes, such as a victim being sucked up into a ship on a Star Trek styled tractor beam, then placed in a trance and undergoing medical procedures related to reproduction and the test tube creation of alien-human hybrids. Hansen, it was alleged, had been implanted with a monitoring device, a so-called “alien implant” as they became known in the lore, and she experienced “missing time.”

As the Sprinkle/Hansen regressions probed ever deeper into the recesses of her beleaguered brain, it was revealed, or she remembered or confabulated (take your pick), being transported to a secret underground facility. During a medical examination, a metallic object was allegedly implanted in the base of her skull, apparently as a means for the aliens to later track her and beam her with malevolent messages, which is the reason why Bennewitz went to all the trouble of constructing a tin foil beanie which he placed over the windows of his car during the hypnotic regression sessions.

At one point during her underground base misadventure, Hansen recalled escaping the clutches of her captors and encountering multiple vats of liquid containing the remains of human and animal body parts. Bennewitz somehow deduced that this underground facility where Hansen saw all this stuff was located near Dulce. All of these elements of the story ultimately became incorporated into UFO lore as we now know it. The term alien “greys,” as far as I have been able to glean, was another trope that came straight out of the Bennewitz Affair.

    As you explained in the book, the Bennewitz Affair came to involve Richard Doty and William Moore. I particularly appreciated your documentation of the origins of the unreliable Majestic 12 documents and their relation to Moore and his associate, Jaime Shandera. What do you think is most important for people to understand about that chain of events?

    One critical factor that’s important to consider when attempting to unravel the origins of the MJ-12 Papers was that in 1981, three years before the MJ-12 papers surfaced, Bill Moore was working on a book project with Bob Pratt, a National Enquirer reporter who covered the flying saucer beat for the magazine. This book project, originally titled MAJIK-12, was a fictionalized account based on supposedly true UFO related information relayed to them by none other than AFOSI special agent Richard Doty, who was identified by Moore in a draft version of this book as “Ronald L. Davis”. MAJIK-12, or alternately MJ-12, was short for Majestic 12, who as most of your readers probably know, was supposedly a super-secret government group involved in investigating UFO sightings and the retrieval of crashed flying saucers and aliens, dead and alive.

Although the Moore/Pratt book project ultimately fell by the wayside, the proposed title MAJIK-12  suggested that Bill Moore was aware of something called MAJIK-12 or Majestic-12 at least three years before a mysterious envelope landed on his research partner Jaime Shandera’s doorstep, sent anonymously with no return address, postmarked Albuquerque, New Mexico. This postmark seemed a huge hint to some that Richard Doty was behind this caper, as during that period Doty was stationed at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque. The envelope contained a roll of 35mm film that when developed revealed photos of what became known as the MJ-12 papers.

Prior to the emergence of the MJ-12 papers, Moore and another research partner, Stan Friedman, speculated about the existence of just such a group as MJ-12, and had even compiled a list of its most probable candidates. Moore later shared these names with Doty in the hopes that he might be privy to information that would confirm their list of MJ-12 candidates. When the MJ-12 papers surfaced, they did indeed include on their roster some of these very same MJ-12 candidates that Moore and Friedman had previously speculated were members of the group, such as Roscoe Hillenkoetter, first director of the CIA (1947-1950), and James Forrestal, who was Secretary of Defense during that same period, thus seemingly providing confirmation to Moore and Friedman that they’d been on the right track. Others would suggest that Doty cooked up the whole caper, and through a feedback loop provided Moore, Shandera and Friedman with what exactly they were looking for regarding information that seemed to confirm the Roswell UFO crash, that just happened to be the subject of the book Bill Moore and Charles Berlitz published in 1979, The Roswell Incident. It has been conjectured that Moore had a hand in counterfeiting the documents, with or without the help of Doty. However, it’s never been conclusively proven who hoaxed the documents, although the FBI determined that they were not authentic, or in their words, “bogus.”

FBI conclusion of the MJ-12 docs: "bogus"

In the same manner that the MJ-12 docs mysteriously showed up on Shandera’s doorstep, a similar event occurred in 1994 when UFO researcher Don Berliner received an anonymously sent envelope that contained a roll of undeveloped 35mm film. Once developed, the photographs revealed a 29-page document called SOM 1-01, Majestic-12 Group Special Operations Manual, a purported military manual related to flying saucer crash retrievals.

SOM-01-1 also included a reference to “Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico” which some suspected was a wink and a nod that it may have been another Richard Doty snow-job. Nonetheless, SOM-01-1 has continued to be embraced by some of the more prominent voices in ufology, such as Linda Howe, who at the Citizens Hearing on Disclosure (a pretend Congressional hearing held at the National Press Club in 2013), claimed that SOM-01-1 had “stood the test of time” —which of course it had done nothing of the sort, and only added to the stack of other seemingly spurious MJ-12 related documents that have littered ufology over the years.

    You wrote about several instances in which members of the military supply UFO researchers with doubtful information, accompanied by promises of future revelations. Ultimately, the big reveal does not materialize and the rug is pulled out from under the researcher. Please tell us a little about one such event.

    In the early 1970s, film producer Robert Emenegger was on the business end of one such promised “big reveal” (that ultimately turned out to be a dud) when he and his co-producer/partner, Allan Sandler, were approached by U.S. Air Force officials with an offer to cooperate and share information for a proposed documentary on UFOs. According to their Air Force contacts, this would be an all hands on deck affair, with the support of each branch of the military who would provide  Emenegger and Sandler access to UFO files in addition to the promised crown jewel: 16mm footage of a UFO landing with ETs, allegedly filmed at Holloman Air Force Base in 1971.

After spending considerable time and resources developing the project, with repeated promises of the saucer landing footage for their documentary, Emenegger and Sandler ultimately had the rug pulled out from under their feet, and were left empty handed as the Air Force failed to deliver the promised goods, and this early version of so-called “UFO Disclosure” went kaput. Emenegger and Sandler’s UFO documentary was eventually released years later, under the title of UFOs: It Has Begun but its impact was obviously diminished greatly from a credibility standpoint after the Air Force pulled out of the project. That's assuming, of course, that the Air Force actually possessed the material they promised for the film.

A similar “UFO Disclosure” head fake happened with Linda Moulton Howe a decade later, when in 1983 she was tapped to produce an HBO special with the proposed title UFOs: The E.T. Factor. During this period, Howe had been investigating the claims of Paul Bennewitz for possible inclusion in her documentary, and along the way she came to the attention of Richard Doty, then assigned to Kirtland Air Force Base. Doty took Howe under his dubious wing, and  gave her a glimpse of some supposedly classified documents related to flying saucer crash retrievals and the astounding revelation that there was actually a little ET in captivity at a military base somewhere. Doty informed Howe if she played her cards right she might even have an opportunity to interview the little fella. In addition, Doty told Howe that government intelligence officers had in their possession film footage of a UFO landing at a military base, as well as other photos and classified materials she could use. After several months of stringing Howe along, Doty informed her that he’d been removed from the case, and passed her on to other intelligence contacts that likewise strung Howe along for a period of several months, but never produced the promised UFO footage. This delay eventually caused HBO to opt out of the project, leaving Howe dangling in the wind.

As for the main motivation behind these capers, one can speculate in a lot of different directions, one of which was that Doty was attempting to discredit and misguide Howe’s UFO research, and ultimately undermine her HBO documentary, as well as to find out what information she had on Bennewitz and the counterintelligence program aimed at him, of which Doty was an operative.

    You explained a lot about the Dulce mythos and the people who spread it. In your research and experience, what did you think was most interesting about all that?

    The evolution of the mythos, and how it came about in the first place, is what I find most intriguing. There are different elements to the story, including what has become known in UFO lore as “The Dulce War”, which I mentioned earlier, where supposedly this security guard at the base named Tom Castello helped form a resistance movement. Some of his fellow human co-workers then got themselves into a dust up with the aliens and came out on the losing end of the skirmish. When the dust had cleared, as the legend goes, sixty-six Dulce base workers perished, although Castello was able to escape on account of his trusty “flash gun.”

So where did this story come from? As far as I can tell, it originated in a December 2, 1981 letter that Paul Bennewitz sent to U.S. Senator for New Mexico Pete Domenici stating that “sometime late 79 or first of 80 an argument insued [sic] over weapons and the military abandoned [Dulce base]; the final circumstance of the men unknown…” In a September 11, 1984 interview, Bennewitz told UFO researcher Jim McCampbell that: “In 1979 something happened and the base was closed. There was an argument over weapons and our people were chased out, more than 100 people involved…” Although Bennewitz didn’t implicitly state that there was an actual battle between humans and aliens at Dulce, his comments about some type of conflict, or of the humans abandoning the base,  appeared to have been enough to plant the seed that later blossomed into “The Dulce War.”

1981 letter from Bennewitz to Sen. Domenici

Nearly a decade later, “The Dulce War” story was fleshed out with the more detailed account concerning Tom Castello and his fellow resistors that appeared in “The Dulce Papers”. Variations of this story have also cropped up concerning a similar battle/confrontation occurring at Area 51.

In the mid-1990s, the Dulce War story resurfaced or was repurposed by a mentally unstable fellow named Phil Schneider who for a time became a star on the patriot and UFO lecture circuit, basically repeating the Tom Castello story with himself inserted into the heroic role of Castello, including the whole shoot ‘em up with dastardly aliens routine.

    There seem to be a lot of common themes that run between each of these stories, such as Dulce, Area 51, SERPO, and events surrounding Paul Bennewitz. Please share some of your thoughts on that.

    I would also add Roswell and the MJ-12 Papers to that mix, and the same recurring cast of characters who promoted these stories that are featured in my book, among them John Lear, Tal Levesque, Richard Doty, Bill Moore and a handful of others that formed this nexus of “influencers.” Bill Moore would later disavow many of these claims, and ostensibly remove himself from this nexus of characters, who he said were pushing false stories that had ultimately driven Paul Bennewitz bonkers.

John Lear, who admittedly had ties to the intelligence community, was an avid MJ-12 Papers promoter, while at the same time, during the mid-1980s, he was leaking information to the media about a secret stealth aircraft testing program at Area 51. The specter of stealth technology was forever lurking on the edges of these tall tales related to Dulce Base, Kirtland and Area 51, part of what appeared to be an effort to shape the overall narrative and muddy the waters about what was actually going on at these military testing sites.

As for SERPO, Richard Doty had a large role disseminating that story, dating back to when he appeared as “Falcon” in the nationally televised special that aired in 1988 called UFO Cover-up Live!. According to Doty (a la “Falcon”), the U.S. government had participated in an exchange program, with the aliens basically giving our astronauts the keys to one of their saucers, and having them travel to their planet, while in exchange the aliens stayed on Earth for a number of years sharing their vast intergalactic wisdom with the Earthlings, which was fundamentally the same story as SERPO.

    What would you tell UFO researchers new to the fray who attempt to navigate these stormy seas?

    Well, I think the people who need to hear it the most would probably care the least about what I have to say, but if they did, I’d suggest looking back in the annals of ufology and examining its past. Do that before jumping aboard any particular UFO shark, because there seems to be nothing new under the sun when it comes to a lot of these recurring themes that continually crop up in UFO lore. 


Ufology has the tendency to retread and repurpose many of the same stories, or elements of the same stories, time and again. A perfect example of this is the so-called Silverman photo, which first surfaced in the German newspaper Neue Illustrierte on April 1, 1950, with the title "Der Mars-Mensch" which showed a strange looking three-foot tall fellow apparently from Mars. A few days later, Neue Illustrierte admitted that the Martian story was an April Fool’s hoax, but that didn’t stop the photo from spreading through the UFO subculture in the years to come.

The infamous Silverman photo
Saucer historian Isaac Koi has compiled a timeline of the Silverman photo and the publications in which it appeared. The first book to feature this photo was Major Donald Keyhoe’s Flying Saucers from Outer Space (1953), which made no mention of the Neue Illustrierte hoax, but claimed that the photo depicted U.S. government agents escorting an ET known as “Aluminum Man”, who was covered with an aluminum spacesuit that protected him from cosmic rays. In Space-Craft from Beyond Three Dimensions (1959), W. Gordon Allen referenced that the creature in the Silverman photo had crawled out of a crashed saucer near Mexico City.

Most recently, Harold Povenmire in UFO's and Alien Abduction Phenomena: A Scientific Analysis (2016) published a colorized version of the Silverman photo promoting it as the real deal, although what “scientific analysis” he conducted is unclear. Thanks to Povenmire, this new iteration of the Silverman photo soon began worming its way through social media, as a new generation of true believers clicked and shared to their heart’s content.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Discerning Truth

    Misinformation needs no introduction. You've seen it around, and a lot of it piggybacks on fringe subject matter. Sensationalism is a staple of the UFO genre. It can be argued that has to be accepted as the case before meaningful discussion becomes possible.

I asked a few writers and podcasters familiar with UFOs and similar subject matter if they would share some thoughts on how we explore such topics without getting overwhelmed in false information. How do we know what's true and what's not? How do we keep an open mind without making ourselves vulnerable to lies, opportunists, and cult-like thinking?

Sarah Scoles is a science journalist and writer of many articles published at outlets such as WIRED Science and Popular Science. She is the author of the books Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers. Sarah replied in response to my request for a contribution for this blog post:

    A story is just a story. No matter how compelling someone’s sighting or experience, it is just that: theirs. Human minds and memories are fallible things, especially when they're encountering something outside their everyday experience, and regardless of their owners’ expertise or power. No one interprets or recalls sensory input objectively. So as meaningful as a story may be to a person, that significance does not itself constitute evidence that their interpretation is correct. 

Second, consider the source. What organization or individual made this information public? How do they stand to benefit from its dissemination? What might their motivations be? Who pays ’em? How might all of that affect their coverage? 

Third, dig into the attribution. Are sources anonymous, and do the authors give a justification for why, or describe the vetting that ensures these mystery people are legit? Many mainstream publications have public policies on the use of such sources (many independent sites do not—but you can always ask). Even if the source is legit, ask what their motivation is for talking. 

Next, look at how much the piece relies on the word of its sources (turns out, people can say pretty much anything they want!), versus harder, more verifiable evidence. For example “Aliens landed on the White House roof, according to a guy who says he saw it happen” versus “four people who described the same thing independently” versus “security footage and genetic analysis” versus “a declassified document.” 

Speaking of documents, do the authors/producers link to documents they cite? If not, why not? Are these primary sources? Whenever you can, get your own hands on primary sources. 

After all that, ask honestly if you’re falling prey to confirmation bias: the tendency to seek out and interpret evidence in favor of existing beliefs. Confirmation bias is a normal human flaw—we all exhibit it! But by being aware of the tendency, you can step back and get a more objective view. 

Finally, be willing to change your mind in the face of new evidence. If you’re interested in the out-there stuff, separating the wheat from the chaff—not just dressing the chaff up fancy to look like wheat—lets you focus on investigations more likely to lead to something real and interesting...even if it’s not what you set out searching for.

*                           *                         *

Carol Rainey is an award-winning filmmaker and writer of diverse topics and formats. Her works include the article The Priests of High Strangeness: Co-Creation of the "Alien Abduction Phenomenon". Carol wrote:    

    If you’re new to the field of ufology, welcome. You’re in for a tour of great mystery, intellectual challenge, and ultimate puzzlement. Sometimes answers to the UFO phenomenon’s biggest questions seem to be right around the corner, if you just push on and run hard with whatever evidence you’ve turned up. But the mystery won’t easily unveil itself to you or anyone else. The study of UFOs, which shares turf with all things paranormal, often presents in deceptive, elusive, and ambiguous terms.

That’s why people at all levels of experience can truly get lost in the material they encounter – whether at conferences, in phone calls with experts or celebrities, in talk with others intrigued by the field, and in the plentiful websites, blogs and books on the subject. During the 10 years I worked closely with one abduction researcher, shooting a film about his work, there were times when even my most rational self lost the ability to distinguish factual events from those that were fanciful or fabricated. What reality was I living in? That’s an extremely uncomfortable place to be in.

There are steps you can take, early on, in the interest of keeping yourself balanced and level-headed:

  • Bring along your own internal bullshit detector – and use it frequently. The UFO subject often tosses out speculation and hoaxes right from center field. Will you be able to spot them without falling into them?

  • Try the buddy system. Plan to go on your journey with someone whose perspective you respect, whose judgement you have reason to trust.

  • Begin learning about UFOs and sightings first, only later tackling abduction cases.

  • Arm yourself with some deep reading in the literature of the field. There’s a surprising amount of it, including books by pilots, NASA engineers, psychiatrists, and military top brass. Recommended:  Uninvited Guests: A Documented History of UFO Sightings by Richard Hall (1988), The Invisible College by Jacques Vallee (1975), The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry by J. Allen Hynek (1972), an astronomer and consultant to the Air Force. Early researcher John Keel offers fascinating takes on the phenomenon, as do books by Jerome Clark and The Trickster and the Paranormalby George Hansen. Eventually, you’ll want to explore work in anthropology, sociology, folklore, and religion. Start with The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans-Wentz.

Aaron John Gulyas is a historian and the author of several books on paranormal and conspiracy culture. He also produces the podcast The Saucer Life. Aaron wrote:  

    After creating The Saucer Life for the last three years—and writing about flying saucer culture and other fringe topics for far longer—I've got several ideas about the best way to get started in studying these topics.

The most significant thing that has helped with the perennial problem of information (misinformation? disinformation?) overload is to go back to the beginning. No matter what the story or claim is (and no matter how authoritatively an author writes about it), you will be best served by finding as much of the original documentation supporting that story as possible. Only when you strip away the years, or even decades, of accumulated expert opinion and analysis can you get to the bones of an encounter or incident.

What does this look like in practice? The best example I have is John Keel and the Mothman complex of weirdness. While reading The Mothman Prophecies is an excellent thing to do, it doesn't necessarily provide the most thorough understanding. Go back and check newspaper articles (there were a bunch). 

Then, pair that with the documents available at johnkeel.com, which has an amazing array of Keel's correspondence and notes from the time, years before he crafted The Mothman Prophecies. Will this tell you what the Mothman was? No. But it gives you a fuller perspective. Start there—get a grasp of the sources. Then, when you do engage with the small mountain of Mothman books and documentaries, you'll have a sharper focus and a solid grounding in the facts.

So go back to the beginning. Obvious advice from a historian, but it's the best way.

Jeb J. Card is a writer, researcher, and podcaster. His projects include In Research of... Podcast and his book, Spooky Archaeology: Myth and the Science of the Past. Jeb explained:

    Some key aspects of understanding alternative worldviews or conspirituality:

First, understand the roots of these ideas. It is rare that an alternative concept has no ancestral roots. Many can be found largely recognizable in the later Victorian period (when many fields of science were beginning to professionalize). These notions in turn often have even older roots. To really understand claims about lost ancient knowledge and secret beings that provided it, one should look much deeper, through Theosophy, through the Renaissance fascination with hieroglyphs, through alchemy, back to the Classical fascination with Egypt as a source of knowledge. Seeing the same ideas emerge again and again puts a different perspective on them in the present, where the trappings of scientific inquiry are at times bolted onto much older concepts.

 

Second, listen to claims rather than trying to place them in your existing classificatory frames. You may think you know what a phenomenon is (UFOs are ET or UAVs, Bigfoot is a mystery hominin or mistaken identity, ghosts are souls or EM signatures or infrasound effects). Focusing on “is it this” or “is it real/not real” can overshadow organic aspects of claims and ideas. You may not like your Bigfoot to be with a UFO orb, or vice versa, but if that’s what a claimant says, then that’s what they say. A broader unobstructed view can put these notions into perspective, be it because you think they are part of some larger paranormal entity, or because they have similar social dynamics (strange knockings, non-human entities, objects flying through the air: Séance or Bigfoot hunt?). 

Finally, don’t argue, describe. Descriptions and discussions of ideas, whether or not you find them credible, will do more to further your understanding and those of others, than yelling simple slogans on Twitter or getting into shouting matches.

Sharon A. Hill is the author of the book Scientifical Americans: The Culture of Amateur Paranormal Researchers (McFarland, 2017). Sharon contributed:

    Paranormal and mysterious subjects are a tricky business. Forming thoughtful opinions about mysterious subjects takes considerably more commitment than searching the web and watching YouTube videos where about 75% of the content is shallow, promotional, and possibly made up. 

The purpose of making strange claims and telling spooky stories is primarily to evoke an emotional response. It’s a secondary reaction to wonder if they are true and accurate. Listeners usually absorb what they see and hear and don’t apply too much critical thinking. Rationality ruins the magic and can create social pitfalls as a consequence of uncovering (deliberate or inadvertent) lies and deception. Curtailing logical rigor is essential to the process of promoting the strange idea. The researcher who is after the best answers must push against this flow of dramatic, exaggerated, repeated, or manufactured details and be committed to recognizing the lure of the fantastical to avoid being sucked in. This takes a considerable amount of experience and background knowledge - about perception, psychology, and persuasion - that most people will not gain until pondering and examining for years the human aspects that affect valid observations.

There are two crucial keys to developing thorough understanding of a controversial subject, both of which are inherent in the methods of scientific research:

1. What is the foundation that exists already? Find out about the earliest ideas in books or media and from where those concepts were pulled. Gain familiarity with the roots of the subject that existed pre-Internet, when there was a worthier effort put into scholarship and publishing. If you have no insight into the core writings and history of the subject, time and effort will be wasted, you will be confused and misinformed, and ultimately, will not succeed in gaining meaningful findings.

2. Know the arguments from all sides. That means diligently examining the ideas against the popular notions of the subject. For example, the best documented cases will have skeptical commentary. These perspectives keep you tethered to reality, even if you don’t accept a specific argument as valid. These two practices will help you build a filter for discerning useful information from garbage and experts from pretenders.

James Carrion is a writer, researcher, and former International Director of the Mutual UFO Network. He has authored multiple articles, papers, and books, including his latest, The Roswell Deception. James contributed: 

UFOs and Magical Thinking

    If you are interested in the subject of UFOs but feel overwhelmed with the conflicting information you hear from the mainstream media, entertainment TV channels, UFO organizations, and the Internet, you are in good company. How is it possible to constructively learn more about this subject without going down a conspiracy rabbit hole from which you may never emerge? The answer in two words is "Critical Thinking" - the analysis of facts to form a judgment. But whose "facts" should you analyze as many of the public sources I just mentioned all tend to portray their UFO assertions as facts?

Well let's start with this fact. No human has ever presented public unequivocal evidence of a UFO artifact of extraterrestrial origin. Sure, many have claimed to have handled, tested, and warehoused such artifacts, but unlike human space debris that you can observe firsthand yourself at the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum, you cannot yet see or touch incontrovertible UFO physical evidence. 

But wait, how about the alleged "real" UFO artifacts in the possession of the US government? Until these "artifacts" are on public display, you may just as well believe that the US government also has the Ark of the Covenant warehoused away somewhere. In other words, it is all magical and wishful thinking until you can observe the physical authenticated evidence for yourself. In that respect, the "reality" of UFOs is similar to the reality of Bigfoot, suffering from the same lack of incontrovertible physical evidence. Until a Bigfoot body can be shown to the world, it is just another conspiracy, kept alive by magical thinking.

Magical thinking is based on belief - an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. It does not equate to truth but just the possibility that something may be true - like the existence of fairies, leprechauns and the Loch Ness monster.  And therein lies the issue - most of the UFO information you are bombarded with from the aforementioned sources are based on beliefs and suppositions and not on hard evidence. If you allow yourself to forego unequivocal proof and settle for belief and magical thinking, then you have already gone down a conspiracy rabbit hole and no amount of logical persuasion may extract you from that orifice, even when presented with hard evidence to the contrary.

Falling into UFO "Belief" may be fulfilling to some as it meets some innate psychological need, the same way that for Q-Anons, belief in a persona named Q exposing the diabolical cabal behind the "Deep State", provides "meaning" and a sense of "order" in a complex and chaotic world. But allowing yourself to indulge in these fantasies may have a detrimental effect both on your mental wellbeing as well as the relationships with your families and friends. Magical thinking is a thirst that can never be quenched. I am not dissuading anyone from being curious about the subject of UFOs, but instead to approach the subject with a skeptical open mind that doesn't accept someone else's "facts" at face value, but questions their assumptions and suppositions and demands hard unimpeachable evidence.

 


Amy Martin is a co-founder of Midnight.FM. She is experienced in paranormal-themed podcasting and late night radio. Amy wrote:

    Critical thinking is an important mindset to cultivate as one enters into research of any kind. Despite what we as humans want to know, however, our desire to learn more about the unknown is driven by how far we are willing to open our imagination, rather than our restraining faculties of reason or critical thinking. As our imagination grows parallel to access to new information, so too grows the threat that if something exists, even as an idea, it can be exploited, to a very large scale. And as more and more we become an interconnected society, keep in mind that what we experience as researchers today once existed only in the imagination of someone else’s science fiction. With a background in IT and a passion for high strangeness that has transcended the Dewey decimal system, I say to anyone seeking to learn more about the weird: become a student of science fiction and learn to think like a hacker.

Simple confidence and behavioral exploits once recognized by stage magicians and skeptics of the late 19th and 20th centuries taught in handbooks and methodologies for learning deceptions toward a “critical thinking” toolbox are horribly outdated, as they seem to lack this one notion:

If it exists, it can be exploited.

I’ll say it one more time:

If an idea exists, no matter how innocent, it can and most likely will at some point in time be exploited.

Welcome to Social Engineering 101.

Some tips:

Always question the behaviors and motivations of anyone claiming to be an authority, cultivating an audience, or cult following, but do the legwork before making broad based assumptions.

Avoid presenters and information sources with narcissistic tendencies, especially if they seem to marginalize others or have no problem supporting those who exploit their audiences. 

Become a student of human behavior and learn how to think like someone distributing misinformation or disinformation. (See: motivations.)

Consider no “reliable source” an authority, no matter who they say they are or how romantic the story. 

Watch and read as much golden age science fiction as you can, especially B-movies. It can be both fun and educational. 

Draw the line with fascists or anyone that knowingly and willfully supports them. 

As you might interview people on sensitive topics, treat them with great care especially pertaining to their own stories, alleged encounters, and beliefs, however verifiable. Nobody starts life believing in anything until they’re the product of an environment, a culture, or a society. Make every effort to understand the origins and cultural issues which plague topics of high strangeness, particularly Eurocentric anthropologic or folkloric perspectives. 

Realize at the core of every movement is the opportunity for an exploit, even if it involves people who seem to be genuine. 

Someone who is very good at deception will blur the lines between fiction and reality, often presenting nuggets of truth to a larger unverifiable claim. 

Become familiar with principles of psychological operations, games (i.e. - ARGs) and learn how people and groups of people are targeted and exploited, whether motivations seem clear or muddy.

And finally, take an oath of ethics to intentionally do no harm and seek to minimize harm, always. 

 


Chris R. Voidberg (pseudonym) produces the paranormal and occult-themed The Eternal Void but With Jazz Podcast (Be sure and check out his show disclaimer). He shares a personal perspective with us: 

    I’ve always been interested in the weird. Some of my earliest memories include weird happenings that would fit in any modern experiencer's account. When I was 10 I had what I’ll call my first sighting.

My mom came rushing into the house, absolutely ecstatic, claiming there was a UFO down the road and we had to go see it. Being curious, my brother and I loaded in the car with our mom and we took off to investigate this mystery. It wasn’t long before we found it. There in the sky, lit strangely, and traveling slowly and silently, was a large white oval. It was traveling right above us on the busy road. In that moment my entire world outlook shifted, and while I’d had other strange experiences that pre-dated this, I knew this was an important moment. 

Then, silently it started to turn, it’s shape changed. It made a slow wide arc above us on the crowded Central Florida thoroughfare and we saw it change shape. The words Coca-Cola were emblazoned upon its side. We had been chasing the Coca-Cola blimp. Up until this point I had seen plenty of blimps, the Goodyear blimp was a mainstay in Central Florida. But, I had never seen one directly from behind, at dusk, and that was key. 

This experience taught me a valuable lesson that I continue to carry with me. There is indeed wonder and mystery in the world. However, we must be cautious before assuming concrete conclusions about the reality of such events. Since then I’ve seen many other truly fantastical things that I may never be able to explain. In light of this experience though, I’ll be extremely careful before attempting to define them prematurely. In closing, stay curious, driven, and open, but above all: if you think you know what something is, be willing to be wrong. 

Thank you very much to all who generously contributed to this blog post. I appreciate each of your time and attention.

And thank you for reading. The time and attention of readers is appreciated as well. 

Let's do our parts to try to keep the path to truth as unobstructed and accessible as possible. It's up to each of us in our own ways. 

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Recommended further reading:

UFO Critical Thinking 101

UFO Community Members Weigh in on Dubious MUFON Speakers

Ethics of Exploring the Fringe, Part One: Sharon Weinberger and Nigel Watson on Responsible Reporting

Ethics of Exploring the Fringe, Part Two: Mark Pilkington on Deception Operations, Witness Claims and More