The Global Competitiveness Forum is a meeting of the world's top Movers and Shakers, held each year in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Industry leaders and sheiks rub shoulders with political leaders and intellectual leaders (or at least that's how it's supposed to work - http://www.gcf.org.sa/ ). This year Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were there, as well as Andy Bird, the Chairman of Walt Disney International. And this year, these movers and shakers were treated to a panel (mostly) on UFOlogy, featuring Stanton Friedman, Jacques Vallee, Michio Kaku, and Nick Pope (http://www.gcf.org.sa/en/Program/Program/Welcoming--Networking--0800---900112112/ ) .
When I first saw this in an email sent around by the far-out Bohemian physicist Jack Sarfatti, I scratched my head and muttered "WTF?!!!". Here these (presumably) very hard-headed, results-oriented global leaders have paid a reported $4,000 each, not counting expenses, to attend this seminar in the Middle East, and what they get for their money are tired old claims of extraterrestrial contact that have been kicking around for decades. Even more astonishing, these talks are only about ten minutes each. I forwarded this to several of my skeptical buddies, and they also scratched their heads and muttered "WTF?!!!"
The panel was held on Sunday, January 23 (a workday in Saudi Arabia). The videos are now up on YouTube, saving both you and I $4,000 each, plus airfares and hotel, to learn about how Contact from Outer Space will boost our Global Competitiveness.
Zaghloul El Naggar is a Professor of Earth Sciences of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (the guy apparently has a real PhD in Earth Sciences from the University of Wales). His talk was the most interesting from my perspective, as it was not something we ever hear in the West. He explained that one needs "divine guidance" if one wants to maximize competitiveness, and that the best source for Divine Guidance is of course the Glorious Koran, whose "divine purity" has never been sullied or compromised.
He discussed two Koranic verses that appear to describe the Big Bang: "And the Firmament we have built with might, and verily we are (currently) expanding it." No one asked him if the use of the term "firmament" implied that the stars were attached to a solid sphere, as was believed in Medieval Cosmology. (Indeed, the audience was astonishingly quiet throughout the panel, even when funnyman Stanton Friedman cracked jokes. Maybe nobody actually attended this session, since we can only see the speakers). He then described the Koranic process of "creation, destruction, and re-creation" of the universe, and tied it in to a "Big Crunch" that would occur when the expansion phase of the universe peters out, to be followed by another Bang. Too bad that Dr. El Naggar is a decade or two behind in his knowledge of Cosmology. According to all of the latest evidence, the expansion of the universe is accelerating, not slowing down, an acceleration hypothesized to be caused by "dark energy" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_energy ). So if he's going to claim that science supports the Koran, he at least ought to know what science currently says. But that is not his claim: rather, he says, "We are supporting science with the Koran, not vice-versa." The Koran, he explains, contains over 12,000 verses that have been proven to be absolutely scientifically precise. For example, the Koran tells how Allah formed the heavens and the earth out of "smoke." And "this smoke has just been photographed by satellites that have passed the zone of pollution and the zone of clouds surrounding the earth." It's worth paying $4,000 to get information like that.
Good old Stanton Friedman calls himself "The Flying Saucer Physicist", because he worked in physics about fifty years ago, and hasn't stopped talking about it since. Friedman's lecture covered largely the same subjects he has been covering since the 1970s, but held to under ten minutes, long-winded Stanton was clearly vexed. He proposed the use of nuclear fusion for rocket propulsion, without explaining the absurd fuel requirements to get anywhere even near the speed of light (see for example http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17737431 ). He suggests that the most likely place our visitors are coming from is the star system Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli (not mentioned by name, but clearly described, and a regular part of Friedman's UFO lectures). This is interesting, because recent satellite data has completely invalidated the so-called "UFO Star Map" drawn up by Marjorie Fish from the map the late Betty Hill drew after her supposed UFO abduction (see my Psychic Vibrations column in Skeptical Inquirer, Sept/Oct 2009, for the full story). Since Friedman endlessly claims to be a scientist, he is obligated to abandon an earlier hypothesis when newer data contradicts it. This has absolutely happened, but not a peep from Friedman about abandoning the tired old Fish Map.
Nick Pope is a British author and journalist who used to handle UFO reports for the Ministry of Defense. He talked about the various ways that researchers are currently searching for extraterrestrial life: through SETI, through the search for exoplanets, and through UFO reports. He was the only one whose talk was actually on-subject, that is, how ET Contact can make you "competitive." He suggested that the discoverer of ET life would presumably own the naming rights, which could be extremely valuable if sold. He also suggested that the information contained in an ET signal might have great commercial value.
Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist at the City University of New York and science TV personality, who wrote the appropriately-titled Physics of the Impossible, "A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel." Kaku urged his listeners to "open their mind" to the prospect that some day we will make contact with ETI. In fact, he predicted that by mid-century we "might" make such contact, a bold prediction that is in no danger of being falsified.
Kaku described three types of advanced civilizations: a Type I civilization controls the resources of an entire planet, which includes controlling earthquakes, and the weather. A Type II controls the resources of a solar system, which includes moving planets around at will. Type III controls the resources of an entire galaxy. (These classifications were actually created by the Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev, who was not credited). Kaku did not explain how that could be possible, given that it takes light approximately 100,000 years to cross an average-sized galaxy, meaning that orders from Galactic HQ will be already tens of thousands of years old before they even arrive at the frontiers. But Kaku has never taken speed-of-light limitations very seriously. He even speculated that there might be a Type IV civilization, harnessing the energy of the entire universe! He predicted that our own civilization would become a Type I civilization in about 100 years, meaning that we would become like gods in controlling our planet. I pity whoever has to fill out the Environmental Impact Report for that transition.
Longtime UFO investigator and theorist Jacques Vallee repeated his usual claim that UFO reports are a 'challenge to science,' and are "potentially leading to technology breakthroughs." The problem is, we have no actual data about UFOs, just anecdotes, and the reason that the Royal Society in London adopted the motto "nullius in verba" ("on the word of no man," i.e. words alone count for nothing), is that there were plenty of guys like Vallee back in the 17th century presenting similar "evidence" without tangible proof. Of course, in those days claims were usually about alchemy, religious miracles, or witchcraft. In fact, a serious effort was set forth in the 1660s to prove the reality of witchcraft on purely empirical, not religious, grounds, by appealing to credible eyewitness testimony, exactly as UFOlogists do today. See Chapter 7 of my book UFO Sightings. The Royal Society's 17th Century decision to ignore anecdotes is at the very cornerstone of the modern scientific method. It is what separates "science" from "pseudo".
Vallee served up not the usual long-debunked UFO cases, but some golden oldies that nobody is talking about any more, from the files of France's UFO investigations, supposedly so well-witnessed as to leave little or no room for doubt. One was an aircraft sighting near Dijon, France on March 7, 1977 around 20.30. (Thanks to Jim Oberg for helping with this one). Actually, there were several UFO sightings in France and the U.K. around that time, suggesting that it was likely a meteor high overhead. Unfortunately, so little information has been published about this case that it is impossible to say anything about it with much confidence.
Another sighting was from Orleans in 1956. Perhaps Vallee was relying on the very obscurity of these cases to protect them from refutation.