On Thursday, August 25 the History Channel premiered a UFO documentary titled "Special Access - UFOs On The Record." It was based upon the best-selling book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record by Leslie Kean. This is not intended to be a comprehensive commentary on the contents of that show. I have already written a long review of Kean's book in the March / April 2011 Skeptical Inquirer, from which the show's content is taken. The review's title is " ‘Unexplained’ Cases—Only If You Ignore All Explanations." Most of the cases that Kean proclaims "unidentified" have already had explanations published. Kean deals with this problem exactly as her UFOlogical mentor, the late Budd Hopkins did: she simply ignores it. SI Editor Ken Frazier told me that I was way past the length of a book review, and he'd have to cut back. That's the way things are with magazines. Most of the omitted material is included here, where I can post as much as I want. This posting, and my review of Kean's book, together address most of Kean's major "evidence."
The 'strongest evidence' presented was the Belgian UFO wave. In my book review I mention the strange lack of photographs given thousands of reported Close Encounters in a densely-populated country, a lack for which Kean offers a weak apology. There was, however, exactly one photograph purporting to show a structured craft, a 35mm slide, said to have been taken at Petit-rechain in Belgium in April of 1990. Much is made of this photo, both in the book and the show. In the latter, Kean calls the Petit-rechain photo "one of the most convincing" pieces of evidence for the existence of UFOs.
Let us be charitable and assume that this show was filmed prior to July 26, 2011, which it probably was. Unfortunately for Kean and Co., the Petit-rechain photo is now a confessed hoax! I noted this in my Blog post of July 26. On July 26 the hoaxer appeared on Belgian TV, confessing that "The UFO of Petit-rechain is not a spaceship from a distant galaxy but a panel of painted styrofoam with three spots affixed." And what about those scientists with impressive university positions, who supposedly 'validated' the photo? Piffle!
Worse yet for Kean, the Belgian UFOlogist Patrick Ferryn, who is featured prominently on the program proclaiming the validity of the Petit-rechain photo, now acknowledges that it is a hoax. Ferryn also appeared on Belgian TV on July 26 to argue that the bogus UFO photo from Petit-rechain does not in any way invalidate the Belgian UFO wave that began in November of 1989. (True enough, but it does remove the sole supposed photographic evidence for thousands of reported sightings.)
No word from Kean yet on her reaction to having one of the main pillars supporting her edifice suddenly kicked out from under her (and it's been more than a month). If she's honest, she'll admit she was wrong, and disavow the photo. However, that kind of honesty is extremely rare in UFOlogy. When I talked to Stanton Friedman at the MUFON symposium last month, he still would not give up on the "Zeta Reticuli" Star Map, even though he agreed with me that the star positions in the new Hipparchos catalog are far more accurate than in the forty-year-old catalog used to create the famous Map (and whose supposed 'one-in-ten-thousand' matching is now blown to smithereens). What Kean will do about the Petit-rechain hoax, time will tell. One thing is clear: Patrick Ferryn is an honest investigator, who is willing to acknowledge an error.
At the beginning of the segment about the Phoenix lights, it seemed to me that the program was deliberately confusing the two separate incidents, using photos of the flares dropping (Phoenix Incident 2) to support claims of the sightings earlier in the evening (Phoenix Incident 1). For information about Phoenix I, see The Great UFO Cover-up by Tony Ortega. Later in that program segment, Kean acknowledges that Phoenix 2 was a flare drop, in which case the photos of them are completely irrelevant to supporting any UFO claim, unless the aim is to confuse the viewer with good photos of a bad UFO, in lieu of bad or no photos of a presumably better one.
Former Arizona governor Fife Symington is one of Kean's favorite witnesses (although exactly how he became a "former governor" is never spelled out). He now claims to have 'held back' UFO information, and now claims a UFO sighting of his own. How credible is Fife Symington? This news story tells you all you need to know: Arizona Governor Convicted Of Fraud and Will Step Down. Seven felony counts! Sure, I believe everything this guy says. He'd never make up a story for fun and profit.
Little has been written about the “Incursion at O’Hare Airport” on Nov. 7, 2006, which is a major case for Kean. Several employees of United Airlines reported seeing a “strange object hovering just under a cloud bank… the metallic-looking disc was about the size of a quarter or half dollar held at arm’s length.” Unfortunately, no photographs exist of this supposed “metallic-looking disc” hovering over one of the world’s busiest airports in daytime, and nothing showed up on radar. Even more surprising, we learn in the program that the UFO hovered over gate C-17 at O'Hare. Apparently it was not seen by anyone at Gate C-15, C-16, or anywhere else.
After approximately five to fifteen minutes, “the suspended disc suddenly shot up at an incredible speed and was gone in less than a second, leaving a crisp, cookie-cutter-like hole in the dense clouds. The opening was approximately the same size as the object [I would suggest that the opening was in fact the object], and those directly underneath it could see blue sky visible on the other side.” She ridicules an explanation offered by an FAA spokesman that the observers saw a “hole-punch cloud,” an unusual weather phenomenon where a large, dramatic circular hole is formed in a cloud layer. She cites a report by NARCAP, a pro-UFO investigative team, showing that temperatures were too high for a hole-punch cloud to form at the 1,900 foot elevation of the ceiling, which is probably correct. (Kean has no difficulty referencing investigations by other researchers, so long as their conclusion agrees with hers.) But then she bizarrely suggests that “this just happens to fit the witnesses’ explanation of what they saw: a high-energy, round object very likely to be emitting some form of intense radiation or heat while cutting through the cloud bank.” Now, one cannot simultaneously argue that a hole-punch cloud could not have formed because the temperatures were above freezing, but a UFO formed one anyway. In any case, the low ceiling might easily have briefly opened up to reveal a much higher cloud layer, where a hole-punch cloud already existed. It is interesting that the photo used on a NOAA website to illustrate the phenomenon of the hole-punch cloud was taken exactly eight days after the O’Hare Field “incursion,” from nearby Wisconsin.
On the positive side, the program featured a short segment on the UFOTOG project of Douglas Trumball, the special effects wizard who worked on 2001 - A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and many other films. Putting serious money into state-of-the-art cameras to detect and record anomalous moving objects is exactly the right way for someone who believes that UFOs might be real to prove he is right. Should a clear image of an unknown structured craft appear in a consistent manner across several different instruments, there would be no 'splaining it away. Of course, that has never happened, and I suspect it never will. But I will applaud Mr. Trumbull if he is able to prove me wrong. And I would admit it, unlike Lesile Kean, Stanton Friedman, or Budd Hopkins.
Physicist Michio Kaku, who is well known for attempting to rationalize the physics of UFOs and of Time Travel, is quoted on the cover of Kean's book declaring it filled with “eye-opening information” that would “set the gold standard for UFO research.” Skeptics should note how easily Kaku has been dazzled by Fool’s Gold.