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Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 | ISSN 1556-5696

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This week on Skepticality, Derek sits down for a packed episode starting with an interview with Neil DeGrasse Tyson on his latest book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, which tackles a history of NASA and discusses the research and issues humanity now faces with regard to travel beyond the confines of our planet. Also, there is the debut of “Unnatural Virtue,” a new segment by Bob Carroll of The Skeptics Dictionary, wherein he will be discussing some of the basic foundations of critical thinking and skepticism. To round out the show we have ‘Bug Girl’ who talks a bit about why someone whose main focus is insect study is also highly involved in the world of skeptical thinking.

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About this week’s eSkeptic

In this week’s eSkeptic, George Michael reviews Leslie Kean’s book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record (Crown, 2010, ISBN13: 978-0307716842).

George Michael received his Ph.D. from George Mason University’s School of Public Policy. Currently, he is an associate professor of nuclear counterproliferation and deterrence theory at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. Previously, he was an associate professor at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. He is the author of five books, including Willis Carto and the American Far Right, Theology of Hate: A History of the World Church of the Creator, and Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance. In addition, his articles have been published in numerous journals.

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UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record (detail of book cover)

Best Evidence for UFOs

by George Michael

The study of UFOs has long been consigned on the fringes of the research community. Although the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project is regarded as a serious scientific effort, Ufology suffers from a sizable credibility gap despite the fact that nearly 80 percent of those Americans surveyed—according to a CNN poll conducted in 1997—believed that the government was hiding knowledge of the existence of alien life forms.1 The failure of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) to be taken seriously in academia can be ascribed in large part to a dearth of physical evidence and the questionable reliability of UFO claimants. In UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record, Leslie Kean, an investigative journalist, attempts to break with this pattern by relying on accounts from numerous credible eyewitnesses to UFO encounters and authoritative sources.

As Kean recounts, the contemporary UFO era commenced in the late 1940s after a sudden influx of sightings were observed in the United States and around the world. Concomitant with the start of the cold war, military officials began investigating UFOs, as they suspected that they might be Soviet in origin. In 1947, Lieutenant General Nathan Twining, commander of the Air Force Material Command, sent a secret memo concerning “Flying Discs” to the Pentagon and recommended that a detailed study into the topic was warranted. The next year, the “Sign” project was established within the Air Material Command with operations located at Wright Field (now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base). Sign was later renamed “Grudge” and in 1951 “Project Bluebook” became a repository for UFO cases and a place for people to call and file reports of sightings.

UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record (book cover)

Other agencies took an interest in UFOs as well. In 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) convened a scientific advisory panel chaired by H.P. Robertson, a physicist and weapon systems specialist from the California Institute of Technology. The panel proposed the creation of a broad educational program that would integrate the efforts of all concerned agencies. The CIA encouraged all agencies within the intelligence community to work with the media and infiltrate civilian research groups for the purpose of debunking UFOs. By doing so, public interest in the topic would diminish.

Some researchers, however, took issue with the government’s agenda to discredit UFO claims. For example, J. Allen Hynek, an astronomer who worked for a number of years as a consultant to Project Blue Book, released a book in 1972 titled The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry, in which he acknowledged that the Air Force followed the CIA’s lead in debunking UFO claims. But UFO sightings continued, and in 1966 the University of Colorado agreed to host a government-funded study of UFOs led by Edward U. Condon, a prominent physicist and head of the National Bureau of Standards. The Condon Report concluded that “Nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past twenty years that has added to scientific knowledge.” Project Bluebook was officially terminated in early 1970, thus ending all official government investigations into the topic of UFOs. Thereafter the UFO question shifted to the margins.

Although Project Bluebook was officially terminated, Kean believes that the U.S. military continues to investigate UFOs. She claims to have acquired a British government document from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that comes close to verifying the existence of a secret group in the U.S. intelligence community that still investigates UFOs. Despite the U.S. government’s dismissal of the validity of UFO sightings, according to Kean, documents released under FOIA show that officials in multiple branches of government asserted that the UFOs might be extraterrestrial in origin.

Compellingly, a significant proportion of UFO sightings have been reported by military pilots and their crews. Kean cites the notable example of Parviz Jafari, a major in the Iranian Air Force, who in 1976 approached a luminous UFO that was observed over Tehran. Jafari claimed that he attempted to fire a Sidewinder missile at the UFO, but his equipment shut down and returned to normal only after his jet moved away from the object. Apparently, the U.S. government took an interest in the case, as a once-classified memo from the Defense Intelligence Agency on the incident was sent to the National Security Agency (NSA), the White House, and the CIA. Another purported military encounter with a UFO occurred on April 11, 1980, when Lieutenant Oscar Santa Maria Huertas of the Peruvian Air Force was ordered to intercept what was initially believed to be an aerial spying balloon. He fired a 64-round burst of 30 mm shells that would normally obliterate a target, but the barrage had no effect. The bullets seemed to be absorbed by the object, which ascended very rapidly away from the air base. When Huertas got close to his target, he realized that it was not a balloon after all, but appeared to be an object with a shiny dome on top. As he explained, the object lacked the typical features of an aircraft, as it had no wings, propulsion jets, exhausts, or windows.

Perhaps the most notable reported military case involving a UFO occurred on December 26, 1980, at the Rendlesham Forest, near Ipswich in England. A three-man patrol from the U.S. Air Force’s 81st Security Police Squadron reported seeing a triangular-shaped metallic craft moving through the trees, which eventually landed in a small clearing. According to his account of the incident, upon approaching the craft, Sergeant James Penniston observed strange markings that he likened to Egyptian hieroglyphs. He even touched the craft and took photographs of it. After about 45 minutes he said the craft lifted off and maneuvered through the trees at a remarkable speed. Alas, the Air Force later told Penniston that his photos were overexposed and did not come out. However, depression marks where the object had landed were observed and a Geiger counter indicated significantly high radiation readings. Two nights later, the deputy base commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles I. Halt observed the craft as well and became one of the highest-ranking military officers ever to go on the record about a UFO sighting.

After many years of study, the U.S. military concluded that UFOs posed no threat to national security. Only a small fraction of UFOs have demonstrated even a remote semblance of hostility. And those rare occasions occurred only after severe provocation, such as an attack by military aircraft. According to several accounts, UFOs were able to evade attacks at the very last moment just when pilots locked onto their targets. Inasmuch as these last-minute evasions were so perfectly-timed, the pilots concluded that they could not be coincidental.

Numerous civilian accounts of UFO sightings that have surfaced are documented by Kean as well. For instance, the Hudson Valley wave, which began in upstate New York and parts of Connecticut in 1982, involved repeated sightings of large silent objects hovering at low altitudes with extremely bright spotlights. Even more significant was the case of the “Phoenix Lights,” which included a number of spectacular sightings that were reported in Arizona on March 13, 1997. Scores of witnesses claimed to have seen a massive aircraft measuring the size of “multiple football fields.” As is often the case, the government did not appear interested in the episode and no official investigation was launched despite the public outcry from the scores of eyewitnesses. A few months after the sightings, Governor Fife Symington announced at a press conference that he would reveal the source of the Phoenix Lights, whereupon his chief of staff, Jay Helier, was escorted to the podium in handcuffs and wearing an alien mask over his head. In a remarkable essay provided to Kean, Symington revealed that he too had seen the UFO, but explained that his levity at the press conference was as an effort to allay the consternation of his constituents.

Kean characterizes the U.S. government as a “pariah” on the international scene concerning official UFO investigations for its lack of transparency. In contrast, several European and South American governments have taken the issue seriously and established agencies to investigate to study of UFOs. In particular, Kean commends the French government for its open-mindedness on UFOs as evidenced by its creation of GEIPAN, a unit in the French space agency (CNES) that investigates unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP). In 1999, a private French group—COMETA (the committee for In-Depth Studies)—released a 90-page document that concluded that the best explanation for the small number of seemingly inexplicable UFO cases was the extraterrestrial hypothesis. Inasmuch as the report was undertaken by numerous retired generals, scientists, and space experts who spent three years analyzing military and pilot encounters with UFOs, it had considerable credibility. One of the report’s authors, Jean-Jacques Velasco, who from 1983 to 2004 led GEIPAN, concluded that the existence of UFOs was without question.

After a wave of UFO sightings were recording in Belgium in 1989-1990, the Belgian government took an interest in the topic as well. Approximately, 2,000 cases were reported of which 650 were investigated and 500 remain unexplained. Some observers described the aircraft as triangular, while other described them as massive inverted aircraft carriers. Several witnesses observed the craft making tilting maneuvers, which revealed a dome at the top. Belgian Major General Wilfried De Brouwer maintained that the maneuvers of the UFOs were beyond the capacity of even experimental aircraft and no “black program” could have been responsible for the sightings. Moreover, American authorities assured the Belgian Air Force that there were no U.S. aerial test flights that could have occasioned the sightings.

Despite numerous recorded incidents, Kean points out that many people dismiss the subject of UFO as something that is unserious and not worthy of study. Ostensibly, the U.S. government appears to be aloof on UFOs despite the documentary evidence. Still, some officials have taken the topic seriously. For example, shortly after assuming office, President Jimmy Carter (who had his own UFO sighting in 1969), instructed his science advisor, Frank Press, to write a memo to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), recommending that the agency set up a panel of inquiry on UFOs. However, after a number of letters, memos, and inquiries made their way through the various levels of the hierarchy of the NASA bureaucracy, the agency turned down the president’s request in December 1977. For his part, Senator Barry Goldwater (Rep-AZ), a former pilot and retired major general in the Air Force Reserve, was convinced that a secret UFO program did exist. He once called the commander of the Strategic Air Command, Curtis LeMay, and asked permission to access the room at Wright-Patterson where information on UFOs resided, at which point LeMay alleged got angry and cussed him out, exclaiming “Don’t ever ask me that question again.” More recently, John Podesta, who served as President Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff, wrote a foreword to Kean’s book and supported her efforts to bring more information on the topic of UFOs.

Why, Kean asks, is there such a strong taboo against taking the UFO subject seriously when there is so much evidence for it? Rather than an intentional conspiracy, Kean speculates that the U.S. government might be as baffled as everyone else on the UFO question. In an interesting essay included in the book titled “Militant Agnosticism and the UFO Taboo,” two political scientists, Alexander Wendt and Raymond Duvall, advance a theory as to why the U.S. government has supposedly been less than forthcoming on the UFO question. As they point out, skeptics cite a number of seemingly intractable obstacles to interstellar travel to argue against the extraterrestrial hypothesis. Nevertheless, Wendt and Duvall argue that the origins of the UFO taboo are political, not scientific. As they see it, the prospect of UFOs presents three major challenges to the sovereignty and credibility of the state. First, if UFOs are accepted as truly unidentified, then that proposition would acknowledge a potential threat, which could undercut the legitimacy of the state insofar as protection against potential threats is the most elemental function of the government. Second, a confirmation of the presence of UFOs would create tremendous pressure for a world government that today’s territorial states would be reluctant to form. Third, and most important, the extraterrestrial possibility would call into question the anthropocentric model of modern sovereignty, which as they explain, forms the basis of the authority of states to command the loyalty of their subjects. The arrival of extraterrestrial aliens, they assert, would be something analogous to the Christian “Second Coming.” In such a scenario they ask, to whom would people give their loyalty? Could states survive if such a question became salient?

In sum, Wendt and Duvall argue that the presence of UFOs creates a deep, unconscious insecurity in which certain possibilities are unthinkable because of their political implications. As a consequence, the taboo emerges not so much from a vast conscious conspiracy seeking to suppress “the truth” about UFOs. Rather countless undirected practices that help us “know” that UFOs are not extraterrestrial in origin and can therefore be disregarded are carried out by the government, but not in the style of a covert conspiracy.

The consensus among the researchers cited in the book is that 95 percent of UFO sighting can be explained by earthly sources. However, the other 5 percent cannot be attributed to secret military exercises or natural phenomena. The witnesses maintain that the UFOs appear to make exceptional performance maneuvers that are beyond the capabilities of know aircrafts. Moreover, they insist that they are guided by some intelligence.

Kean endorses Wendt’s and Duvall’s call for a “militant agnosticism” in pursuit of UFO investigations. By agnostic, they mean not rushing to ascribe UFOs to extraterrestrial sources. If, however, the eyewitness accounts presented in Kean’s book are to be believed, then one would be hard pressed to conclude otherwise. Other explanations proffered in the past would be at least, or even more mind-boggling, such as time travelers, Nazi flying saucers from underground bases in Antarctica, or visitors from other dimensions. What is most compelling about Kean’s study is the number of seemingly credible and authoritative first person sources who go on the record for her with their positions on UFOs. None of them claimed to have experienced any repercussions from the government or men-in-black visitations.

Alas, despite the impressive case she makes, smoking gun evidence remains elusive. Moreover, there appears to be little to no corroborative evidence outside of UFO studies that would support the extraterrestrial hypothesis. As Kean concedes, there have been no deathbed confessions or willed documents from any government scientists or officials that have revealed the truth about special access programs on UFOs. Moreover, she points out that we have not seen any fantastic reverse-engineered military technology that might have been retrieved from captured UFOs, despite rumors to the contrary. Numerous memoirs of past presidents and other prominent leaders often reveal embarrassing details of their lives, but so far, none have provided any insight about their secret relationships with extraterrestrial representatives.

Furthermore, although Wendt and Duvall dismiss the notion of a “vast conscious conspiracy” on the part of the U.S. government that prevents information on UFOs from reaching the public, it is hard to see how otherwise an issue of such earth-shaking significance could be withheld. Instead, the world’s leaders seem to go about their day-to-day business and decision-making without considering the influence of extraterrestrial visitors, who if they were so magnanimous, might at least give us some advice on how to find alternatives to fossil fuels, considering their ability to master interstellar travel. As others have noted, contact with extraterrestrials would be a transformative event, yet if it has already occurred, the world’s leaders seem startling aloof and amazingly tight-lipped—a remarkable adherence to security protocol in an age of exposé journalism. At least from surface appearances, public officials do not seem to take into account the presence of aliens, with few exceptions. For instance, far from shunning the prospect of extraterrestrial life, in August 1996, President Bill Clinton enthusiastically announced that NASA scientists had found evidence for life on Mars in the form of microscopic features inside a meteorite recovered from Antarctica in 1984, though subsequent analysis chipped away at that conclusion.2

As well, even the detailed accounts provided by reliable sources lack credibility. In his April, 2011 column in Scientific American, for example, Michael Shermer deconstructs the above-mentioned UFO wave over Belgium in 1989–1990. Here is Belgian Major General Wilfried De Brouwer’s recounting of the first night of sightings: “Hundreds of people saw a majestic triangular craft with a span of approximately a hundred and twenty feet and powerful beaming spotlights, moving very slowly without making any significant noise but, in several cases, accelerating to very high speeds.” As Shermer notes: “But even seemingly unexplainable sightings such as De Brouwer’s can have simple explanations. It could simply have been an early experimental model of a stealth bomber (U.S., Soviet, or otherwise) that secret-keeping military agencies were understandably loath to reveal.” Shermer then compares De Brouwer’s narrative to Kean’s summary of the same incident: “Common sense tells us that if a government had developed huge craft that can hover motionless only a few hundred feet up, and then speed off in the blink of an eye—all without making a sound—such technology would have revolutionized both air travel and modern warfare, and probably physics as well.” Shermer notes how a “120-foot craft” becomes “huge,” how “moving very slowly” changes to “can hover motionless,” how “without making any significant noise” shifts to “without making a sound,” and how “accelerating to very high speeds” transforms into “speed off in the blink of an eye.” He notes that “This language transmutation—probably unintentional—is common in UFO narratives, making it harder for scientists to provide natural explanations.” Despite this significant shortcomings, Kean’s book is a welcome addition to the topic of UFOs, which heretofore, suffered from a lack of reliability and academic rigor. Kean advises that UFO cases should be investigated utilizing scientific techniques that evaluate physical evidence rather than relying exclusively on subjective eyewitness accounts. To that end, she calls for the creation of a small agency within the U.S. government to handle appropriate UFO investigations and coordinate with other countries and the scientific community. With the ubiquity of digital cameras and cell phones, there are now more opportunities for witnesses to capture UFOs in pictures which could be exciting, for as it still stands, the burden of proof is still on the UFO claimants.

References
  1. “Poll U.S. hiding knowledge of aliens,” CNN, June 15, 1997, http://articles.cnn.com/1997-06-15/us/9706_15_ufo.poll_1_ufo-aliens-crash-site?_s=PM:US.
  2. Paul Davies, The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence. (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010), pp. 61–62.
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Our Next Lecture at Caltech

Born Believers: The Science of Children's Religious Belief (book cover)
Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief

with Dr. Justin Barrett
Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 2 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall

FROM A NOTED DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGIST and anthropologist at Oxford University, this fascinating theory about the value of religious faith posits that we are all predisposed to believe in God from birth. We are all Born Believers, explains Professor Justin L. Barrett. It begins in the brain. Infants, under the sway of powerful internal and external forces, make sense of their environments by imagining a creative and intelligent agent, a grand controller who makes the sun shine and the night fall. In the chaos of childhood, where so much is out of the child’s control, this belief in a morally good creator can bring tremendous comfort and calm. A child’s world is then filled with beings who intentionally act upon the environment, maintaining order. Summarizing scientific experiments conducted with children across the globe, Professor Barrett illustrates the ways human beings have come to develop complex belief systems about God’s omniscience, the afterlife, and the immortality of deities. He shows how the science of childhood religiosity reveals, across humanity, a “Natural Religion.”

TICKETS are first come, first served at the door. Seating is limited. $8 for Skeptics Society members and the JPL/Caltech community, $10 for nonmembers. Your admission fee is a donation that pays for our lecture expenses.

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Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior
with Dr. Leonard Mlodinow
Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 2 pm

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24 Comments »

24 Comments

  1. Dave Almond says:

    “The consensus among the researchers cited in the book is that 95 percent of UFO sighting can be explained by earthly sources. However, the other 5 percent cannot be attributed to secret military exercises or natural phenomena.”

    Although I have not read the book, my baloney-detector maxed out at this point in the review. Those researchers are quite impressive in their knowledge of what things cannot be.

  2. Kevin Dwyer says:

    It seems to have been forgotten that UFO is an acronym. I have often told my children that the mystery will never resolved: as soon as one is identified it ceases to be a UFO and becomes a hot air balloon or whatever. It is logically impossibe to have an identified UFO.
    I guess that a name change is called for. Implicit in all the discussion is the desire to find an Estraterrestial Flying Object so lets call a spade a spade and dub them EFOs.
    The current terminology causes confusion.

    • Dr. sidethink says:

      Wiki sez

      “While technically a UFO refers to any unidentified flying object, in modern popular culture the term UFO has generally become synonymous with alien spacecraft.”

      It would be nice to get folks to be language purists , as I hate many of the present neologisms, but ter real issue is still hot among believers.

  3. Gary says:

    Interestingly enough, I know an Iranian whose father is a retired Iranian Air Force major. And he just told me that his father’s name is Parviz. However, I don’t think he was a pilot (he was in maintenance), although the text doesn’t specifically say Parviz Jafari was a pilot, he certainly would have to be one to fire a missile

  4. Bob Pease says:

    Mike Shermer has convinced me that when a normal human
    EXPERIENCES something, that person will not accept the possibility that it was a hallucination or a false memory.

    As a case in point , I asked a Jesuit Priest of long membership and status this:

    If JESUS would appear to you and work a small miraicle or something ,
    then tell you that you MUST become a Baha’i to get his final approval of your work ,what would you do??

    His answer ,( which I used to consider as reasonable) was
    “I would check in at St. Louis Universtiy for mental health evaluation and treatment.”
    I have my own being invested in such a thing being a hallucination.”

    To my surprise , practically everyone I talk to about this says that you should trust your expericence and believe that it actually happened.

    Mike confirmed to me that this is the overwhelmingly normal response to such questions.
    When something HAPPENS to you it becomes a matter of BELIEF and that’s it folks!

    Many folks remain hard skeptics in all areas except those of their anomolous personal experience.

    As a case in point I particularly like the following:

    ***
    I attended a Denver UFO Club meeting in the ’50’s at Phipps Auditorium (formerly part of the DMNS and a pretty high status place.) but not sponsored by them ..

    When the speaker who had written a popular book (admittedly ghost-written) was confronted with the facts that the temperatures on Mercury , Venus, Mars and Jupiter were to cold for him to survive outside without a spacesuit his answer was the best answer he could give ( instead of making up a story about the aliens protecting him somehow) was ( to the best of MY memory verbatim)

    ” Them ain’t no such temperatures!!!..”

    Ah,the days of RAY Palmer and the Shaver Mysteries !!

    I hope the DERO don’t read thi

  5. Robert Sheaffer says:

    This review was obviously written by someone who knows nothing about the history of the UFO controversy. Otherwise, he would realize that many of Kean’s “unexplained” cases have been explained by Philip J. Klass and others. She simply ignores all explanations and commentaries that she doesn’t like. See my review of the book, “‘Unexplained’ Cases—Only If You Ignore All Explanations,” Skeptical Inquirer, March/April, 2011.

    Apparently the reviewer is also unaware of the big controversy in UFOlogy right now where Kean is promoting a video of a fly buzzing around as the best evidence for UFOs. Even many of the believers are choking on that one. See my Blog, http://www.BadUFOs.com, for the SKEPTICAL side of such controversies.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      @Robert, Thanx for posting this. I vaguely recalled some of these ‘unexplainable’ cases had some plausible explanations but I’m far from an expert on UFOlogy (although being an Astronomy instructor I have to know enough to field the occasional question about Rednecks getting abducted by intergalactic proctologists ;)

      There is also a very, very important point that ought to be made whenever seriously discussing weird events like UFO sightings: It is rare that enough reliable data is collected to have a high confidence in the most plausible explanation but that doesn’t have *any* impact on what the real explanation is. Any time spent discussing cases with such sparse data is ‘recreation’ not ‘research’ (not that there is anything wrong with it – but we ought not kid ourselves).

  6. Ian Ridpath says:

    In his review of Leslie Kean’s book, George Michael too readily takes the author’s word for various UFO cases that have turned out, on investigation, not to be quite as the author describes them. A case in point is the Rendlesham Forest incident of 1980, which he calls “Perhaps the most notable reported military case involving a UFO”. A little research (even a glance at Wikipedia, for example) would have shown that explanations for all major aspects of that case have been in print for over 25 years. To address the points he raises: No unusual radiation was detected at the site, the supposed landing marks were made by forest animals, and the story of examining a landed craft for 45 minutes is something that was made up many years after the event by one of the witnesses, apparently bent on becoming a UFO celebrity. I would not expect to learn that from a book by an uncritical UFO proponent such as Leslie Kean, but I would have expected to hear it in a review on these pages.
    I recommend that Dr Michael read the skeptical side of the Rendlesham story before taking Leslie Kean’s opinions too seriously, starting here
    http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/rendlesham.htm
    There are quite a few other cases he needs to learn about, too.

    • C_A_ says:

      Ian, I once accepted your explanations for that event, but then one day decided to look further into them. And it’s clear that there is much about the events of that time that you simply ignore. (As you must, in order to come to the conclusions you promote on your site, which you linked.) What if they’re actually not all lying, and are not all the blithering fools they’d have to be for your explanations to make any sense whatsoever. There is much on the Halt audio recording alone that you don’t and can’t account for, among other problems, so it’s very disingenuous to suggest that the case has been explained.

      It’s okay to be a skeptic and simultaneously think that, say, half of a percent of UFO sightings (those with correlated radar data, for example) are compelling enough to warrant serious scientific study… isn’t it?

      • Ian Ridpath says:

        “There is much on the Halt audio recording alone that you don’t and can’t account for, among other problems” you say.

        Well, I have analysed the Halt tape step by step over two pages of my web site, here
        http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/halttape%20analysis1.htm
        This is a far more detailed account than anything I have seen from the believers. There is nothing of significance on the tape that I could not, or would not, account for, despite your claim.

        Just think — if Halt on his tape had said: “Look, there’s the UFO, just off to the left [or right] of the lighthouse” then my explanation would be sunk, wouldn’t it? But he didn’t even mention the lighthouse on the tape, despite the fact that it is the most obvious flashing light for miles around from where he was standing. Go figure.

        Of course, many of the Rendlesham faithful seem to base their beliefs not on the original documentary evidence but on later changes of story for which there is no independent support.

        • C_A_ says:

          Actually, one need look only at Halt’s memo and listen to that tape — the original evidence, as you say — in order to sense how completely implausible the lighthouse theory is.

          I have no need to argue it all with you; everything’s been said before.

          So I would actually encourage skeptics who’ve not delved into the UFO waters to review the original evidence, and it only, and then analyze the hypothesis you propose. The weaknesses inherent in any lighthouse explanation are obvious to anyone approaching the topic with a reasonably open mind.

      • Ian Ridpath says:

        Oh, and you say: “It’s okay to be a skeptic and simultaneously think that, say, half of a percent of UFO sightings (those with correlated radar data, for example) are compelling enough to warrant serious scientific study… isn’t it?”

        Sure, but this isn’t one of them.
        http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/rendlesham8.htm

        • C_A_ says:

          Ian, I’d been to your site long ago, as I said. (I used to even recommend it to people!) Anyone trying to find out about Rendleshem who’s approaching it with a skeptical mind very quickly ends up there. Much on your site is well done. For a while I thought it was a compelling case that you made. Honestly. Then I went directly to Halt’s memo and the audio tape recorded that night. And there are just too many aspects of those that you either ignore, or force-fit — statements of his, for example, that in a court would be labeled excited utterances, and would be given special weight. So the lighthouse thing… it’s been gone over again and again. You have nothing new, correct? And I find it AMAZING that any reasonable person could advocate that a lighthouse several miles to multiple witness’s east could explain “two objects to the north and one to the south, all of which were about 10 degrees off the horizon… [and] moved rapidly in sharp angular movements and displayed red, green and blue lights.” (From Halts memo, written shortly after the event, and basically a repeat of what he describes “live” on the tape.)

          Truthfully, I suppose I could accept that, for a short period of time, the lighthouse might have been a confounding factor. But that theory falls SO FAR short of adequately explaining several aspects. It’s borderline dishonest to even keep promoting it. I’ve often thought it a shame that, because of the environment of fear and ridicule that people misusing and hiding behind the skeptic label create, Halt, et al., could never have admitted that the lighthouse might have complicated things for a few seconds even if it had. Why? Because everyone knows that the slightest weakness or ambiguity in any one case will be exploited and used to discredit those involved, regardless of their rank, reliability, credibility, corroboration, etc…. Because of the psychological trauma apparently caused to some personality types upon actually entertaining the extra-terrestrial hypothesis — that “they” or their probes could be here, and not on our terms — UFO research remains one of those areas where, to those personality types, even a single inconsistency instantly discredits mounds of other case evidence. Is it skepticism or something else that would allow one to believe the entire Belgian wave is nullified by one hoaxed photo?

          • Ian Ridpath says:

            You say, apparently in all seriousness: “I find it AMAZING that any reasonable person could advocate that a lighthouse several miles to multiple witness’s east could explain “two objects to the north and one to the south, all of which were about 10 degrees off the horizon… [and] moved rapidly in sharp angular movements and displayed red, green and blue lights.”

            But I don’t and never have! I have always identified the starlike objects as bright twinkling stars, the one to the south (actually southwest) being right where Sirius was setting. To suggest otherwise is, to use your phrase, either “borderline dishonest” or reveals that your criticisms are based on a surprising ignorance of what I have clearly stated for the past 25 years. Please go back and read the bullet points in my summary on this page, and then tell me where I advocate what you have claimed above:
            http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/rendlesham.htm

            And again: ”Is it skepticism or something else that would allow one to believe the entire Belgian wave is nullified by one hoaxed photo?”

            The criticisms of the Belgium case were not based on the hoaxed photo, although I dare say many people’s belief was. But this is not a case I have written on.

  7. C_A_ says:

    This is otherwise a pretty fair and honest review, but Professor Michael does make the same embarrassing mistake here that Michael Shermer made several months ago in Scientific American: he uses passages which are not even summarizing the same event to attempt to show ‘narrative creep’. Surely the first night of the Belgian wave is a different entity than the months-long wave as a whole, so it’s therefore probably not unreasonable that language describing them does itself differ…. This is not a trivial oversight by the reviewer. though I do think the real blame lies with Michael Shermer.

    To be specific, the De Brouwer passage used in this article is from page 17 of Keane’s book. There, after offering the general’s quote, Keane appends these rather important words: “… De Brouwer stated publicly a few years ago, describing only the FIRST NIGHT of the wave.” (Emphasis mine.)

    The Keane passage used for comparison by Shermer and by Dr. Michael, here, is from page 21, and there Keane is clearly referring to the entire Belgian Wave, comprising many more sightings and a much longer time period. And some of those later sightings, after the first night, were in fact of “huge” craft, just as Keane said. De Brouwer acknowledges this. His summary of the entire wave, on p.34, includes mention of reports of a flying craft resembling “an aircraft carrier turned upside down.”

    Can we agree that a flying aircraft carrier might accurately be called “huge”?

    Can we agree that, if one wants to show narrative creep and UFO myth in the making, he should be comparing apples to apples?

    Here, it is not apples-to-apples. Read the pages I’ve cited for yourself. Shermer and Dr. Michael are simply in error. So, to call this kind of negligently manufactured ‘narrative creep’ a “significant shortcoming” of the book is fundamentally unfair. Isn’t the shortcoming here actually in Mr. Shermer’s willingness to read carefully, and in this reviewers perhaps understandable belief that a skeptic of Shermer’s stature WOULD have read more carefully?

    This is more than a minor point or mere technicality, and any true ‘skeptic’ would acknowledge that fact.

    I hope Dr.’s Michael and Shermer have read the Condon Report more carefully than they appear to have read this book. They might be impressed by several multiple-sensor cases, where objects are sighted by eyeballs and radar, correlated in time and position. Shermer even classifies all unsolved UFO reports as mere “residue”, sightings that could ultimately be attributed to something natural or man-made if only there were more time…. So isn’t it interesting that the following appear in the very study which supposedly obviates science’s duty to take this UFO topic seriously? (The Condon Report.)

    –“There is a small, but significant, residue of cases from the radar-visual files that have no plausible explanation such as propagation phenomena and/or misinterpreted man-made objects.” [A "radar-visual" case is one where people saw a strange object, and radar saw an object, There are surprisingly many of these types of cases, some of which are truly mystifying. It is this class of cases which pulled me away from the skeptic party-line on the UFO issue....]

    — “This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated, geometric, psychological and physical, appear to be consistent with the assertion that an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disk-shaped, tens of meters in diameter and evidently artificial, flew within sight of two witnesses.”

    –“This must remain one of the most puzzling radar cases on record, and no conclusion is possible at this time. It seems inconceivable that anomalous propagation echo would behave in the manner described, particularly with respect to the reported altitude changes, even if AP had been likely at the time. In view of the meteorological situation, it would seem that AP was rather unlikely. Besides, what is the probability that an AP return would appear only once, and at that time appear to execute a perfect practice ILS approach? … The preponderance of evidence indicates the possibility of a genuine UFO in this case.” [And if you read that in context, this scientist did not mean 'genuine UFO' in the sense of genuinely *unidentified*; he meant 'UFO' in the sense we tend to think of it: a possibly extra-terrestrial vehicle.]

    So…

    Scientists and skeptics: have the courage to admit that there is a very compelling core of UFO cases, perhaps 1 percent, that justifies serious study. As stated in the review, most people apparently already believe ET may be here reconnoitering, so I don’t see how findings or a working hypothesis which acknowledges some truth in these widespread beliefs would be as disastrous as some predict.

    • Robert Sheaffer says:

      If this were a “pretty fair and honest review,” then it would have mentioned Kean’s deliberate omission of all contrary views while claiming these are “unexplained” cases. Since this was not mentioned, the reviewer is either completely clueless, or else complicit in Kean’s attempts to mislead. I earlier mentioned my review of the book, which details much of this. I have placed it on-line now at http://www.debunker.com/texts/kean.htm . I think most readers will agree that there is much more critical thinking and analysis in that one, instead of the “I believe everything Kean says” review here.

      As for those quotes from the Condon Report, you don’t even mention the names of the cases, so people probably won’t recognize that you’re talking about old-solved cases. Just ignore everything written simnce 1969, that’s how Leslie Kean would handle it. Let’s see, “This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated, geometric, psychological and physical…”, I recognize that one, it’s McMinnville. My page http://www.debunker.com/trent.html addresses that one. Does one of the other quotes pertain to the RB-47 case? See what Tim Printy has recently written: http://badufos.blogspot.com/2012/01/rb-47-encounter-of-1957-ufologys-best.html .

      You and Leslie Kean are on exactly the same page: you talk about “unexplained” cases, but completely ignore all published explanations.

      • C_A_ says:

        Robert, tell us which of those Condon Report cases are ‘solved’, and what the explanations are, please. You’re simply lying, or are blind. If the threshold is moved low enough, then sure, ANY of those cases could be ‘solved’ via your methods. (Phil Klass ‘solved’ the JAL case with Venus after all!) Some of your explanations are equally… uhm… divergent from the facts, shall we say? Your explanations often work only if one ignores substantial parts of the evidence. Which you do. A little bit of intellectual honesty here would be appreciated. Isn’t that the very first thing any skeptic should be? Do you have the courage to even admit that there exist some very strange, very compelling unknowns, some backed by radar data? Are you honest enough to admit even that?

  8. Robert Sheaffer says:

    Bold and Brave “C_A_” hurling accusations of lying and intellectual dishonesty from behind his mask of anonymity. Some sites label posters who won’t reveal their real names “Anonymous Coward,” as in “Anonymous Coward says…..” If I criticize somebody, at least I am willing to sign my name to it. So I’ll ignore whatever insults Mr. C_oward, A_nonymous chooses to hurl.

    I already gave you two now-explained Condon “Unexplaineds” in the last comment. If you read my blog, you’ll find more. For example, Rex Heflin’s photos. In fact, in Donald Menzel’s last UFO book, “The UFO Enigma,” co-authored with Ernest Taves (1977), Chapter 8 goes into each and every one of the Condon “Unexplaineds.” But like Kean, you preserve your “unexplained” cases by ignoring explanations. You tried to fool the readers here into thinking that skeptics have been sitting around dumbfounded by these “unexplained” cases since the Condon Report was published in 1969. A lot has happened since then, but neither Leslie Kean nor Anonymous Coward will admit it.

    P.S.: Klass never invoked “Venus” on the JAL flight. Get your facts straight.

  9. Todd F says:

    It’s amazing that what is not understood magically becomes proof of extra terrrestrial visitation. Why not guess about the less fantastic possibilities first? e.g. Atmospheric and optical phenomena that are not documented or known? The super high speed, silent departure of UFO’s fits a reflection/refraction kind of model where yes, hypersonic speeds, “far beyond current human technology” are possible. A beam, spot or area of brightness could easily speed away, just like that. It’s only light, after all. Those among the “50% of Americans polled” who believe in the extra terrestrial alien model are bowled when they see something like this, their beliefs confirmed.

    No counter arguments can penetrate those who know that “the government” has been keeping it all secret for many decades. The presence of conspiracy theorization is inversely proportional to the capacity for strictly logical, rational analysis, in my experience. The only plausible conspiracies are in the massive degree of fraud, in the many hoaxes that have triggered converts to alien visitation belief. Fake flying saucers using real saucers, or Frisbees thrown across the sky, are common. All too human crop circle makers have repeatedly demonstrated how they make them. The hard core believers continue to believe and always will. At least the jokesters are getting a good laugh at those who fall for it, over and over again.

  10. Stephanie says:

    I can’t figure out if you guys are so humorless that you can’t recognize and April fool’s joke, or if most you have a much better sense of humor than I do and half of the above commenters are trolling along with the joke. Then again, it’s always possible that comments revealing the joke were removed before April 1st. It’s April 2nd now, so I guess this comment is ok. I think maybe I’ve been April fooled by the moderator ;)

  11. Ian Ridpath says:

    AN OPEN NOTE ABOUT THE POSTINGS BY CA

    Last week, the semi-anonymous poster CA accused me of “borderline dishonesty” over a fundamental part of my explanation for the Rendlesham Forest UFO case (see above).

    In my reply, I challenged him to substantiate this very serious allegation. He has been unable to do so since, as anyone familiar with my work will know, I never made the claim he is accusing me of. He had misunderstood the point.

    So, once again, we have a UFO proponent caught out making false allegations based on bogus claims which serve only to emphasize his own lack of knowledge.

    I suppose I should not be surprised, but I am dismayed that UFO proponents have still failed to evolve from the primordial soup of misinformation and misrepresentation they have swum in for the past two generations.

    • Dave Almond says:

      Wow, that exchange made me somewhat embarrassed to be a skeptic. Ian, congratulations on being factually correct. I don’t recall C_A_ actually having to make any other actual claim than that you were ignorant of certain facts and occasionally lying, but you certainly proved him wrong on those counts.

      Rather than making a joke about getting sucked into an obvious troll, you then post this self-aggrandizing declaration of victory.

      Again, congratulations.

  12. Dwaine Sharpe says:

    Over a century of “UFO” reports–innumerable, insubstantial and utterly inconsequential “UFO” reports–but not one real “UFO” of any kind. There are no “UFO” facts in the world, only anecdotes. Given that, and the very well documented origin, history and pathology of the “UFO” myth and collective delusion, CA, what exactly is the point of your belief in this fossilized science-fiction fantasy?

    That’s the question you should be asking. There are no demons haunting the stratosphere, so why do you have this false belief? Why are you possessed by a delusion?

  13. Jiro says:

    So: was this an April fool’s joke…?
    I surely hope so :-)

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