Saturday, December 29, 2012

Is Interstellar Travel "Preposterous"?


It occurs to me that a solid statement of the case against the feasibility of interstellar travel is not easily available, and hence is not well-known to the public. Following on my recent posting Is There a Warp Drive in your Future?, which considers the question of what technologies are or are not likely to exist in the future, let us now examine the general question of the feasibility of interstellar travel. In this inquiry, we are not concerned with technological difficulties or breakthroughs, but with fundamental laws of physics. Even if the only limits we faced were those of physics, not technology, what are the prospects of making interstellar travel a reality?

Stanton Friedman, the “Flying Saucer Physicist,” is confident that interstellar travel is not only possible, but likely. In his essay UFO Propulsion Systems, Friedman writes,
a one-way trip of thirty-seven years (the distance to Zeta 1 or 2 Reticuli) at 99.9 percent c would take only twenty months’ crew time; at 99.99 percent c it would take only six months’ crew time. Thus even a trip to a distant galaxy such as Andromeda, two million light-years away, would take under sixty years’ crew time if the intergalactic ship somehow could manage to keep accelerating at one G, using some yet unknown technique.      
various proposals for fusion-powered rockets
Ah, that pesky little “yet unknown technique.” Now this is all perfectly true, but it blithely ignores some very fundamental problems that are not related to any level of technology. A trio of “classic” papers written in the 1960s by physicists examine the fundamental physics involved in proposed interstellar travel, and explain the formidable obstacles: obstacles imposed by fundamental laws of physics, not by limits of technology. Note that nothing here rules out the possibility of travel within our solar system, even to its edges, or rules out non-relativistic interstellar travel, taking thousands of years to reach one's destination. But the notion that we will someday travel between stars the way we now sail between seaports is pure fantasy.

These articles sufficed to convince the scientific community that the concept of interstellar travel is utterly implausible, and explanations for UFO sightings must be sought elsewhere, in psychology and sociology, not in physics. However, in recent years these articles have largely been overlooked, so I think it’s very important to examine each one in some detail and explain its consequences. 

            1. Radioastronomy and Communication Through Space by Edward M. Purcell. (U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Report BNL-658, reprinted in Cameron, A.G.W. (editor), Interstellar Communication. New York: W.A. Benjamin, Inc., 1963.) Purcell (1912-1997) was in the physics department at Harvard University, and shared in the 1952 Nobel Prize for physics. He was a pioneer in radio astronomy, the first to detect the famous 21-cm radio emission line from neutral hydrogen in the galaxy. He also is credited with the discovery of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance.
Edward M. Purcell
            Most of the paper is uncontroversial and explains then-recent discoveries in radio astronomy. But in the section titled Space Travel, Purcell examines claims that someday we will travel to the stars at almost the speed of light. “The performance of a rocket depends almost entirely on the velocity with which the propellant is exhausted,” he notes. Thus, “the elementary laws of mechanics – in this case relativistic mechanics, but still the elementary laws of mechanics – inexorably impose a certain relation between the initial mass and the final mass of the rocket in the ideal case… It follows very simply from conservation of momentum and energy, the mass-energy relation, and nothing else.” (Emphasis in original.)
            “For our vehicle we shall clearly want a propellant with a very high exhaust velocity. Putting all practical questions aside, I propose, in my first design, to use the ideal nuclear fusion propellant… I am going to burn hydrogen to helium with 100 percent efficiency; by means unspecified I shall throw the helium out the back with kinetic energy, as seen from the rocket, equivalent to the entire mass change. You can’t beat that, with fusion. One can easily work out the exhaust velocity; it is about 1/8 the velocity of light. The equation of Figure 13 tells us that to attain a speed 0.99c we need an initial mass which is a little over a billion times the final mass.”
            A billion times the final mass?????!!!!!!! In fact, the exact figure is 1.6 X 10^^9. So in the ideal case, where you had somehow mastered nuclear fusion with 100% efficiency and could control and direct the energy in whatever way you choose, you still will need 1.6 billion tons of fuel for each ton of payload! Surely, such a rocket has never been built, and never will be built, in our solar system, or any other. Thus Purcell has demonstrated, beyond any possibility of doubt, that all proposals to reach near-light speed using nuclear fusion propulsion are complete absurdity.
            But supposing some other, more energetic reaction could be found? Nuclear fission produces an even lower exhaust velocity than fusion, so it’s less plausible still. Is there any reaction more energetic than nuclear fusion? “This is no place for timidity, so let us take the ultimate step and switch to the perfect matter-antimatter propellant…. The resulting energy leaves our rocket with an exhaust velocity of c or thereabouts. This makes the situation very much better. To get up to 99 percent the velocity of light only a ratio of 14 is needed between the initial mass and the final mass.” That sounds very much better. If I can “somehow” procure sufficient antimatter, “somehow” store it, and “somehow” control its reaction with matter, and “somehow” direct the resulting energy where I want it to go, I need only 7 tons of matter, and 7 tons of antimatter for each ton of payload. That sounds almost possible. But Purcell points out that all that buys you is a one-way ticket out of the galaxy: you have no way to slow down and stop when you get where you want to go. So to stop when you reach your destination requires a fuel-to-payload ratio of 196. And if you want to someday return, unless you know of a convenient matter-antimatter fueling station at your destination, you will need to square that again, for a fuel-to-mass ration of almost 40,000.
            And even if you could “somehow” construct such a vehicle, your problems are not over. “If you are moving with 99 per cent the velocity of light through our galaxy, which contains one hydrogen atom per cubic centimeter even in the ‘empty spaces,” each of these hydrogen atoms looks to you like a 6-billion-volt proton, and they are coming at you with a current which is roughly equivalent to 300 cosmotrons per square meter. So you have a minor shielding problem to get over before you start working on the shielding problem connected with the rocket engine.” Also, “In order to achieve the required acceleration our rocket, near the beginning of its journey will have to radiate about 10^^18 watts. This is a little more than the total power the earth receives from the sun. But this isn’t sunshine, it’s gamma rays. So the problem is not to shield the payload, the problem is to shield the earth.”
            “Well, this is preposterous, you are saying. That is exactly my point. It is preposterous. And remember, our conclusions are forced on us by the elementary laws of mechanics.” Nothing else needs to be written about the possibility of relativistic travel – Dr. Purcell has shown it to be completely preposterous. Purcell concludes his paper, however, by demonstrating that interstellar communication using radio waves is perfectly possible. His final words are, “All this stuff about traveling around the universe in space suits – except for local exploration, which I have not discussed – belongs back where it came from, on the cereal box.”

Sebastian von Hoerner
            2. The General Limits of Space Travel by Sebastian von Hoerner (Science 137, 18, 1962; reprinted in Cameron 1963). Immediately following Purcell’s paper in the Cameron volume is this related paper by von Hoerner (1919-2003), a German radio astronomer who was influential in early discussions and proposals for SETI. He examines the physical difficulties of propulsion for space travel, including possibilities not covered by Purcell. Von Hoerner considers ion thrust propulsion, but concludes that “nuclear reactors and all the equipment needed to give a strong ion thrust are so complicated and massive, as compared with the relatively simple combustion equipment, that there is no hope at present of reaching, with reactors, the value of P [engine power to mass ratio] already attained with combustion rockets.” He also considers proposals for a huge “scoop” or funnel for a rocket to fuel itself as it goes along, scooping up galactic hydrogen. But he notes that interstellar matter has very low density, and “in order to collect 1000 tons of matter (10 times the fuel of one Atlas rocket) on a trip to a goal 5.6 parsecs away, one would need a funnel 100 km in diameter; we will rule out this possibility.”
            After several pages of equations covering much the same ground as Purcell, Von Hoerner concludes, “there is no way of avoiding these demands [for power], and definitely no hope of fulfilling them…space travel, even in the most distant future, will be confined completely to our own planetary system, and a similar conclusion will hold for any other civilization, no matter how advanced it may be. The only means of communication between different civilizations thus seems to be electro-magnetic signals.”

William Markowitz
3. Physics and Metaphysics of Unidentified Flying Objects by William Markowitz (Science 157, 1274, 1967). Markowitz (1907-1998) was an Austrian-born astronomer who worked at the U.S. Naval Observatory, and also taught astronomy and physics at Pennsylvania State University and Marquette University. He was a pioneer in the use of atomic clocks for astronomy, and specialized in precision time measurement issues. Markowitz wrote, “Aristotle wrote on natural phenomena under the heading ‘physics’ and continued with another section called ‘metaphysics’ or ‘beyond physics.’ I use a similar approach here. First I consider the physics of UFO’s when the laws of physics are obeyed. After that I consider the case where the laws of physics are not obeyed. The specific question to be studied is whether UFO’s are under extraterrestrial control.” By the laws of physics, he is concerned with only the simplest and best-known ones, like those of motion, gravitation, conservation of energy, and the restrictions of special relativity. He points out an obvious but seldom-noted problem: “Apart from propeller and balloon action, a spacecraft can generate thrust only by expelling mass.” And something that uses propellers or balloons is an aircraft, not a spacecraft.
            UFOs are sometimes reported to land, and take off again. “If an extraterrestrial spacecraft is to land nondestructively and then lift off, it must be able to develop a thrust slightly less than its weight on landing… if nuclear energy is used to generate thrust, then searing of the ground at 85,000 deg C should result, and nuclear decay production equivalent in quantity to those produced by an atomic bomb should be detected. This has not happened. Hence, the published reports of landing and lift-offs of UFO’s are not reports of spacecraft controlled by extraterrestrial beings, if the laws of physics are valid.”
            “We can reconcile UFO reports with extraterrestrial control by assigning various magic properties to extraterrestrial beings. These include ‘teleportation’ (the instantaneous movement of material bodies between planets and stars), the creation of ‘force-fields’ to drive space ships, and propulsion without reaction. The last of these would permit a man to lift himself by his bootstraps. Anyone who wishes is free to accept such magic properties, but I cannot.”
            To those who were following the controversy at that time over the proposal championed by J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallee for a “scientific study of UFOs,” an ‘ulterior motive’ for the Markowitz article was immediately apparent. The previous year Hynek had a letter published in Science, arguing that UFOs were worthy of scientific study (Science 154, 329, 1966). Markowitz carefully notes several instances where Hynek and his colleagues were contradicting themselves in their statements about UFOs. For example, in his letter in Science, Hynek wrote, “Some of the very best, most coherent reports have come from scientifically trained people.” But Markowitz noted that Hynek had written quite the opposite in his article in the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1964: “It appears unreasonable that spacecraft should announce themselves to casual observers while craftily avoiding detection by trained observers.” Markowitz further noted that Vallee’s 1966 book Challenge to Science presents the “classic” 1948 sighting of pilots Chiles and Whitted, who reported a dramatic close encounter with a huge metallic object while flying a DC-3; “the book fails to mention that Hynek had identified the object as an undoubted meteor in his report of 30 April 1949 to the Air Force… This omission is curious because Hynek wrote a foreword to Challenge to Science.” These and other self-contradictions, carefully noted by Markowitz, showed that the Hynek/Vallee case for the UFO was utterly lacking in intellectual rigor. Markowitz unmasked the real Hynek: disorganized, indecisive, and confused. This revelation, published in the peer-reviewed pages of Science, was fatal to the credibility of Hynek’s proposed “scientific study of UFOs.” There were, and still are, a few scientists who took Hynek’s UFO theorizing seriously, but they have always been a tiny minority.
                                
What About “Wormholes”?

             Some theorists of interstellar travel are quite aware of the extreme difficulties involved in actually traveling to interstellar destinations, in the sense of going from Point A to Point B. So they hypothesize easier ways to reach interstellar destinations, without the pesky problem of traversing every point between them. Maybe we can warp space so that the distance between earth and the Andromeda galaxy is not two million light years, as in ordinary space travel, but far, far less? Suppose there is a wormhole with one end where we now are, and the other where we want to go?
            The “Bohemian physicist” Jack Sarfatti of San Francisco is a colorful figure. He has written papers claiming that wormholes can be used not only to travel through space, but through time as well. (He has also studied Uri Geller.) He suggests that UFOs are real, and travel through wormholes to reach us from some other place or time.

Unfortunately for Sarfatti, according to Wikipedia,
 Wormholes which could actually be crossed, known as traversable wormholes, would only be possible if exotic matter with negative energy density could be used to stabilize them. (Many physicists such as Stephen Hawking, Kip Thorne, and others believe that the Casimir effect is evidence that negative energy densities are possible in nature.) Physicists have not found any natural process which would be predicted to form a wormhole naturally in the context of general relativity, although the quantum foam hypothesis is sometimes used to suggest that tiny wormholes might appear and disappear spontaneously at the Planck scale, and stable versions of such wormholes have been suggested as dark matter candidates. It has also been proposed that if a tiny wormhole held open by a negative-mass cosmic string had appeared around the time of the Big Bang, it could have been inflated to macroscopic size by cosmic inflation.

supposed travel through a wormhole
            So yes, a wormhole is something that might theoretically exist, although their actual existence is frankly extremely dubious. There is no reason to think that they could occur naturally, and no observational evidence that they actually do exist (unlike Black Holes). Even if they do exist, they may exist only on the Planck scale (subatomic quantum size). It seems extremely dubious that traversable wormholes exist in nature, and even if they do, we still have seemingly insurmountable problems. How do we find wormholes? How do we determine whether they are stable? How do we know where their destination is? If we go into one, is it possible to return? There is also the problem of simply getting to the wormhole’s mouth. If a wormhole were near our solar system, we would already detect its disturbing effects of warped space. And if it is far from our solar system, we need to develop interstellar travel simply to travel to the wormhole’s mouth!
            Can we create a wormhole to go from where we are to where we want to be? Perhaps in theory we might, but the reality of a recipe for creating a wormhole will undoubtedly be something like this:
Take 100 solar masses. Bake at one million degrees for ten thousand years. Stir in 100 solar masses of exotic matter with negative energy density. Stretch out the mix from desired source to destination. Let cool for one million years.
             So the idea of using wormholes as a convenient transportation network to wherever in the universe we want to go is, well, fanciful and implausible in the extreme. We can’t proclaim it completely “impossible,” but the person who proclaims it as a reality had better have extraordinarily good evidence that such a thing exists.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Friedman's Frenzy

I just learned, to my great honor, that I am the main subject of a full two-page enraged diatribe by Stanton T. Friedman in the December issue of The MUFON Journal.  Throughout this piece, he refers to me as "Bobby." It's not entirely about me. Friedman, who calls himself "the Flying Saucer Physicist," directs some of his invective against Joe Nickell, with little arrows fired at Carl Sagan, Donald Menzel, and Seth Shostak. That puts me in pretty fine company, I'd say.

Stanton Friedman speaks to MUFON
Titled "Debunkers Running Out of Material?", it mainly talks about my Blog posting of October 29, The Pseudo-Science of Anti-Anti UFOlogy.  (He doesn't give the full URL). The Blog posting is a reprint of my Psychic Vibrations column of that title, published in The Skeptical Inquirer, September/October, 2009. Hence Friedman's suggestion that we "debunkers" must be running out of material. Sorry, Stan, that's not it. There's plenty of new junk to debunk. The reason I posted the 2009 column is that it describes the total invalidation of the famous Betty Hill UFO Star Map, and that information had previously not been available on-line, only in print. Friedman has made the Fish version of the supposed Star Map a major focus of his public lectures for over forty years. Now that large numbers of UFO followers have found out that Stan's precious has been mortally wounded and he is taking heat for not admitting it, he is thrashing about in a blind rage. We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little debunkers. Wicked, tricksy, false! 

Must have The Precious!
Friedman begins his screed by vigorously objecting to my statement
Stanton T. Friedman, who calls himself the “Flying Saucer physicist,” because he actually did work in physics about fifty years ago (although not since).
He says, "I received my MS degree in Physics from the University of Chicago in 1956. Fifty years earlier than the 2009 date would have been 1959." He explains that he worked full-time as a physicist until 1969. OK Stan, I was wrong about that: It hadn't been 50 years since your primary career as a physicist ended, only 40 years. And you even did some physics consulting work on the side during the time you were the world's most prominent full-time UFOlogist. My apologies.

Friedman continues,
Bobby is unhappy about my criticism of Joe Nickell, noting that "he is a former magician and of course the stock in trade of magicians is intentional deception with another sterling example being The Amazing Randi."
About which statement I wrote, "So by Friedman logic anyone who has practiced prestidigitation can never be trusted in anything," to which Friedman replies, "Of course I said no such thing." True enough, Stanton, but you certainly are implying it by suggesting we should expect "intentional deception" from current or former magicians.

Friedman says, "my primary criticism of Nickell was that his three degrees were in English, so there seemed little background in science." Stanton, if that is your primary criticism of anybody, you are a fool. English majors can learn science like anyone else, and Nickell consults with specialists and experts when appropriate. Friedman continues, "Bobby likes Joe's [Roswell] explanation of a Mogul balloon train. That account (July 9) was published after Brazel had been taken into custody and given a second story to recite." Got that? Mac Brazel, who first found the Roswell debris that looked like "tinfoil and sticks," was taken into custody by the military and forced to learn and recite a false 'cover story' to cover up the truth. This was just two weeks after the first "flying saucer" sighting of Kenneth Arnold - that Saucer Coverup program must have been put together in record time! This 'taken into custody by the military' story was a late addition to the Roswell yarn, long after Brazel was dead, and is of course entirely without proof.

Stanton also proclaims "Bobby doesn't like my mentioning the Aztec case of 1948 and Frank Scully's book... obviously he would like to ignore the incredibly detailed investigation of that case as reported by Scott and Suzanne Ramsey in The Aztec Incident: Recovery at Hart Canyon." Stan doesn't explain how my 2009 article could have discussed a book not published until 2011. But don't worry, Stan: if you look in the November/December 2012 issue of The Skeptical Inquirer, you'll seen my very detailed debunking of the Ramseys' new book. In fact, I'm not alone in that. UFO proponents Kevin Randle and Jerome Clark have each written their own reviews of that book, and while the three of us might agree on little else, all three reviews agree that The Aztec Incident: Recovery at Hart Canyon is not credible or convincing. What's amazing is that there is virtually no overlap in the approaches taken in the three reviews. Three entirely separate lines of investigation lead three very different UFO theorists to the same conclusion. Practically the only  well-known UFOlogist who believes The Aztec Incident is Stanton Friedman.

Friedman also objects to my dismissal of the significance of the 1955 report Blue Book Special Report 14, which to him seems ironclad proof that "unidentified" UFO reports are different from "identified" ones. I will only repeat here the quote I used from Alan Hendry, an investigator formerly with the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies:  “If the Battelle group [Special Report 14] had had a real appreciation for how loose the data were, they never would have bothered with a statistical comparison to begin with” (UFO Handbook, Doubleday, 1979, p. 266). [For more on Blue Book Special Report 14, see my discussion of Jacques Vallee, J. Allen Hynek, and the "Pentacle Memorandum."]

The Precious!


But the real root of Friedman's rage is my explanation of how his precious Fish Map - the supposed identification of an alleged star map drawn by Betty Hill after her "abduction" on board a UFO - is now entirely invalidated by newer data. Friedman writes, "Bobby wants me to renounce all of Marjorie's work because there is better data now." No, Stan, that's a gross misrepresentation. I expect you, and anyone else who claims to be "scientific," to renounce the Fish Map because the pattern it claims to find is now known to be incorrect. 

The supposed match of the Fish pattern with Betty Hill's sketch was never very good to begin with. Compare the "Hill Map" at top right with the "computer generated map" below it. Do they look like a "match" to you?  (The "computer generated map" shows the Fish pattern plotted correctly, using the old Gliese catalog data.). As noted in 1976 by Steven Soter and Carl Sagan, the only reason that the patterns seem to match is because of the way that the lines are drawn.
The inclusion of these lines (said to represent trade or navigation routes) to establish a resemblance between the maps is what a lawyer would call "leading the witness".
Eliminate the lines, and the patterns of dots look as different as could be. And that is the Good News for Stanton Friedman. Now the situation gets even worse.
Betty Hill's "UFO Star Map" contains twenty-six stars, while the Fish "identification" of it contains only fifteen stars. What happened to the remaining eleven stars? They were insignificant 'background' stars, not connected by lines, and hence ignored. Except for three "important" background stars in a triangle. As noted in my book UFO Sightings (p. 70-73) there are several ad hoc practices used in constructing the Fish Map. And that's the Good News for Friedman. It gets worse.


Special Zeta Reticuli Incident issue of Astronomy magazine, 1976: Without the lines drawn, there is no resemblance between the two at all. (And this is using the old star data!)

Nearby stars in the volume of space represented by the Fish pattern are included, or excluded, by certain criteria. A star must be a single star, not multiple (except for Zeta1 and Zeta2 Reticuli, which are widely-separated). They must be main sequence stars similar to the Sun, and they must not be variable. "Every one of the stars on the map are the right kind of stars, and all of the right kind of stars in the neighborhood are part of the map," according to Friedman (ignoring a few ad hoc problems).

As explained in my earlier Blog posting, the newer and much more accurate astronomical data shows that at least six of the fifteen stars must now be tossed out, under the same rules that once included them. Two are close binaries, two more appear to be variable, and two more are not even in the volume of space in question, their distances having been erroneously measured in the older data. So from fifteen stars supposedly matching the twenty-six Betty drew, subtract six more. Goodbye, Zeta Reticuli. "Bobby doesn't bother to stress the fascinating results especially the identification of the base stars Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli.... the closest to each other pair of sun-like stars in the neighborhood." Sorry Stanton, forget it - game over. The only reason to think that Betty's sketch has anything to do with the two Zetas is that dubious match, using the forty-year old astronomical data, where the patterns sort of maybe look similar if you squint and close one eye, but really don't. Now re-draw the map according to the same criteria, using the most accurate present-day star catalog data, and six of the fifteen stars disappear, leaving you with nine stars to try to match Betty's twenty-six. Goodbye, Zeta Reticuli.

But Friedman has invested so much time and effort into convincing the world that his precious Fish Map is proof of extraterrestrial visitations that he is simply incapable of admitting the obvious: that it has no validity whatsoever. There is no way he can go to MUFON or any other UFO group and say, "I'm sorry folks, I've been wrong for these past forty years. The Fish Map does not prove anything." 
               
While we are talking about Zeta Reticuli, one interesting question is: What did Betty Hill intend to represent at the bottom of her "Star Map" where we see two large globes, connected by several parallel lines? The best suggestion I have heard comes from star map researcher Charles Atterberg (more about him is in my book UFO Sightings). He suggested that the two globes represent an old planetarium projector, similar to the one you see here. It makes perfect sense. When Dr. Simon asked Betty to draw, as best she could, the "star map" she claims to have seen, her mind wandered back to a planetarium show she presumably saw years earlier. She drew the stars she saw, and also the projector below them!
An old Zeiss planetarium: Is this what Betty Hill
 drew at the bottom of  her "Star Map"?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Is there a Warp Drive in your Future?

We regularly hear UFOlogists claiming that, while reported UFO encounters cannot be accepted as consistent with present-day science, future science will be able to accomodate them, and so therefore we should not reject the claims. As astronomer and Project Blue Book consultant Dr. J. Allen Hynek famously said to the House Committee on Science and Astronautics in 1968,
I cannot dismiss the UFO phenomenon with a shrug. The "hard data" cases contain frequent allusions to recurrent kinematic, geometric, and luminescent characteristics. I have begun to feel that there is a tendency in 20th-century science to forget that there will be a 21st-century science, and indeed, a 30th-century science, from which vantage points our knowledge of the universe may appear quite different. We suffer perhaps, from temporal provincialism, a form of arrogance that has always irritated posterity.
Dr. J. Allen Hynek makes a cameo appearance in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind
And echoes of this statement are commonplace among UFO proponents. The situation is further confused by Arthur C. Clarke's famous statement that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," which people interpret to mean "reports of something that seems to be magic must be an example of an advanced technology." (Sometime I need to write an entry about some of Clarke's really loopy predictions for future breakthroughs, like how wheels and roads will soon be obsolete because we'll all be riding in hover cars.)

A landed UFO is alleged to simply take off from the ground and zoom away, without expelling anything in the opposite direction. Momentum has been created - how? The UFO has acquired kinetic energy as it speeds away. Where did that energy come from?  Magic, perhaps? So it would appear that "future science" will no longer be limited by simplistic concepts such as conservation of energy or momentum. Even many skeptics fall into this trap. Once I was being interviewed by a well-known skeptic for a podcast, who suggested that 'before long, our technology will be able to do the things that these UFOs are reportedly doing.' And I replied that's not true, unless you are willing to cavalierly toss out fundamental physical laws.

I was very interested to read in the San Diego Union Tribune a December 2 story by science reporter Gary Robbins titled "Flying cars and teleporters aren't in your future,"  based upon an interview with UCSD physics professor Tom Murphy. Murphy relates how one day when he was talking with a group of physics students, one of them said, "If it can be imagined, it can be done." Other students nodded their heads in agreement. Said Murphy, "It took me all of two seconds to violate this dictum as I imagined myself jumping straight up to the Moon... I wondered how pervasive this attitude was among physics students and faculty. So I put together a survey. The overriding theme: experts say don't count on a Star Trek future."

Prof. Tom Murphy
Murphy designed a survey on Futuristic Physics to determine physicists' expectations of the likelihood of hypothetical future breakthroughs. The details are in his Blog Do The Math. One, "autopilot cars," already exists today: Google has built one, and it seems to work well. But the survey asks about a lot of other things: practical personal jetpacks; a flying car; teleportation; warp drive; wormhole travel; visiting a black hole; artificial gravity; time travel, etc. Estimates were solicited from physics undergrads, physics grad students, and physics professors. For each "breakthrough," survey participants were asked to choose one of six answers, from "likely within 50 years" to "<1% likely to ever happen, or impossible."

As might be expected, undergrads are the most optimistic about future "breakthroughs," grad students less so, and physics professors the most pessimistic of all. It seems that the more you know about physics, the less likely you are to accept the far-out stuff. However there was one dissenting faculty member:
Note the optimistic outlier in the faculty ranks. We saw this individual stand out on the wormhole question. Examining this person’s responses, it’s all 1, 2, and 3 responses, save one 4 for time travel. Nothing is off limits to this professor, and most things deserve a timescale. This individual is clearly out of step with the cohort, and tying the most optimistic undergrad: forever young.
Participation in the survey was anonymous for invited persons, but if I had to take a wild guess, I'd say that Prof. Michio Kaku probably participated. (He praised Leslie Kean's problem-ridden UFO book as the "gold standard" of UFO research.) Murphy notes,
The biggest differences between faculty and grad students crop up on questions pertaining to flying cars, cloaking, and studying astrophysical objects up close. The largest graduate-undergraduate discrepancy appears for the question about artificial gravity. The largest end-to-end discrepancies (faculty to undergraduate) relate to flying cars, artificial gravity, and warp drive.
The physics faculty members' expectations of the likelihood of certain developments, from most to least probable, is as follows:
Autopilot Cars likely within 50 years
Real Robots likely within 500 years
Fusion Power likely within 500 years
Lunar Colony likely within 5000 years
Cloaking Devices likely within 5000 years
200 Year Lifetime maybe within 5000 years
Martian Colony probably eventually (>5000 yr)
Terraforming        probably eventually (> 5000 yr)
Alien Dialog probably eventually (> 5000 yr)
Alien Visit                 on the fence
Jetpack         unlikely ever
Synthesized Food unlikely ever
Roving Astrophysics unlikely ever
Flying “Cars”        unlikely ever
Visit Black Hole       forget about it
Artificial Gravity       forget about it
Teleportation        forget about it
Warp Drive             forget about it
Wormhole Travel     forget about it
Time Travel forget about it
So to those who are proclaiming that UFOs are real, and that 'future physics' will explain how they operate via wormholes, warp drives, teleportation, or time travel, the message from physics professors is: forget about it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

James W. Moseley (1931-2012)

James W. Moseley in 1980

As most of you have probably heard, the well-known UFO satirist, hoaxer, and occasionally serious investigator James W. Moseley died of cancer in Key West, Florida on November 16, at the age of 81. A noted “trickster” figure, his career in UFOlogy spanned sixty years (!!). He attended Princeton University, but did not graduate. Having inherited sufficient money to be able to pursue his own interests, Moseley never worked a conventional career. He spent much of his time traveling to UFO conferences, interviewing UFO witnesses and personalities, and traveling to Peru to engage in what he called “grave robbing” of pre-Columbian artifacts. Later he opened a shop in Key West to sell the antiquities he had imported before he had to beat a hasty retreat out of Peru. The shop did not do well, and so Moseley donated the artifacts to the Graves Museum of Archaeology and Natural History in Dania, Florida, where they are on permanent display.
            In late 1953, Moseley began a great odyssey “tracking the elusive flying saucer.” He drove from his home in New Jersey to Washington, DC, to ask at the Pentagon to see the saucer cases that the Air Force had investigated. To his astonishment, he was allowed to do so, with no clearance required. He interviewed the famous saucer author Major Donald E. Keyhoe, and “I wasn’t impressed. I felt – correctly, I still believe – that Keyhoe routinely made too much out of too little, at least in part just to sell books.” From there it was on to interviews in South Carolina, Georgia, then west to Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, and finally Mt. Palomar, California, where “Professor Adamski was holding court” in his hamburger stand. George Adamski was famous as the man who first made contact with the Venusians, and he had a sizeable, uncritical following. (Amazingly, he still does. Adamski’s current followers held an anniversary gathering on that same spot, ironically on the very day after Moseley’s death.) Moseley was not impressed by Adamski, and riled some saucer believers by debunking Adamski’s claims.
            He drove on to Hollywood where he interviewed best-selling author Frank Scully, who vigorously defended the Aztec, NM “crashed saucer” story given him by Silas Newton and Leo Gebauer. On the way back Moseley interviewed Newton in Denver. Moseley wasn’t impressed by Scully or Newton, either. He contacted the office of former president Truman in Independence, Missouri, asking for an interview about flying saucers. Amazingly, even though this was just over a year after the famous and controversial 1952  “flying saucer invasion” of Washington, DC, while Truman was still president, Moseley’s request was granted. Truman took Moseley into his private office, where the former president joked around with him a bit, then told him that he’d never seen a saucer, and didn’t know anything about them.
            In the decades that followed, Moseley traveled many other places tracking the elusive saucers. He was the longtime chairman of the National UFO Conference and attended most of them. He gave many lectures about flying saucers, and even made several trips to Giant Rock in the California desert, a sort of Woodstock for UFO contactees and their followers.
            Moseley became close friends with another UFOlogical “trickster” figure, the late Gray Barker, who was instrumental in launching the now-classic legends of the Men in Black, and Mothman. As might be imagined, when they got together they were frequently up to mischief. Moseley admitted to at least one hoax (there were obviously more) - the famous Straith Letter to Adamski. Barker and Moseley forged an authentic-looking letter from the U.S. Department of State, purporting to be from a nonexistent person named R. E. Straith. In it, Straith tells Adamski that the U.S. government  knew that his claims of meeting Venusians were true, and planned to release that information soon. The crafty Adamski loved to show off the letter to visitors.
One of the most interesting UFO books ever written
             Having begun publishing Saucer News in 1954, Moseley sold it to Gray Barker in 1968. Moseley then began publishing Saucer Cruise, Saucer Booze, and Saucer Jews (dedicated to his longtime friend Gene Steinberg). Finally, he settled on Saucer Smear, “Dedicated to the highest principles of UFOlogical journalism.” Many of these issues are now being sold at http://www.martiansgohome.com/smear/  (they used to be free!). It became the longest continuously published UFO journal in the world. When UFOlogists were feuding (as they almost always were), Moseley loved to run the vitriolic letters one would send in denouncing  the other. In 2002, Moseley co-authored, with the late Karl Pflock, Shockingly Close to the Truth – Confessions of a Grave-Robbing UFOlogist (PrometheusBooks). If you are interested in the subject of UFOs, you simply must read this fascinating book.
            Many “serious” UFOlogists were irritated by Moseley, who never hesitated to state his opinion about a major UFO case. The irascible John Keel once castigated him, “You are a boil on the ass of UFOlogy.” Moseley proudly placed this tribute at the top of numerous issues of Saucer SmearDon Berliner was even more graphic: Saucer Smear is "like a turd on the living room floor.” Moseley wrote that, at one UFO conference, upon seeing Moseley the UFO abduction guru Budd Hopkins flipped him “the bird.” I suggested to Moseley that this might possibly make him a member of UFOlogy's famous Aviary
           The pompous "serious UFOlogist" Jerome Clark, whose ego is larger than many galaxies, wrote "Moseley, whom I knew well and with whom I corresponded up till the end, was not a skeptic by any definition. He thought UFOs to be some kind of extradimensional phenomenon, and he did not like skeptics, whom he regarded as bores and worse, all that much.... I am still trying to process the news, however sadly expected, of Jim's death. I will have more to say on his life and career at some point. For now, I mourn the loss of a friend." Excuse me while I barf!  The notion of Clark sitting at his desk too emotional to write, sadly mourning his dear friend Moseley, positively oozes bullshit out of every orifice. Just a few years earlier, Clark had belittled Moseley in his UFO Encyclopedia as having "entertained just about every view it is possible to hold about UFOs, without ever managing to say anything especially interesting or memorable about any of them."  Every regular reader of Saucer Smear knew that Moseley intensely disliked Jerome Clark. The reasons are not difficult to see. However, as Curt Collins, Saucer Smear "contributing editor" notes in a comment, Moseley and Clark did reconcile in the last few years.
Moseley about to be "levitated" at a UFO Conference
           It's quite true that Moseley was not a "skeptic." However he was a "skeptical believer," and was not afraid to "call Bullshit" wherever he thought necessary, no matter how sacred the cow (including the Roswell crash and the famous British case he always wrote as “Rendle-SHAM.”). As for Clark's claim that Moseley "did not like skeptics," that's news to me. I first met Moseley at a Fortean convention in Washington, DC in the1970s. He visited me several times during his travels to California, and we met numerous times at various conferences. I have dozens of postcards from him (his favorite means of communication, many of them marked "top secret" on the front side). We remained in frequent contact until his death. Moseley was also on friendly terms with Philip J. Klass, James Oberg, Gary Posner, Lance Moody, Tim Printy, and Michael Dennett, to name a few skeptics. It is true that in later years Moseley had come to dislike James "the Amusing" Randi (as Moseley typically called him), with whom he was originally friendly. Moseley appeared as a frequent guest on Randi's late night radio show in New York City during the 1960s. (Randi a forerunner of Art Bell's late-night paranormal weirdness radio talk show? Unbelievable, but true!) "At the time, Randi was relatively open-minded about saucers and other weirdness. We became friends" (Shockingly, p. 189). But Moseley became irritated by what he considered Randi's inflexible skepticism about paranormal claims, in part because Moseley had experienced several incidents himself that he felt might be paranormal.
            Moseley was among the last survivors of the very beginning of the saucer era, to whom Arnold’s sighting and the Mantell crash were not historical events, but personal memories. He also belonged to the age of the typewriter, never using a computer. Until his death each issue of Saucer Smear consisted of eight pages of typed text, interspersed with some humorous cartoons, news headlines, or offbeat photos. Moseley's "contributing editors," as well as others,  sent him late-breaking material printed out from what Moseley always called the "cursed internet."
The front page of a typical issue of Saucer Smear

The last postcard I received from Moseley. I had written him that while perusing UFO books on Amazon.com, "I somehow came across Jim Moseley’s Book of Saucer News, where an autographed paperback copy was selling for $675.00!!!! (Plus $3.99 shipping).... A copy of that same book without the (precious) autograph sells for a mere $381.15. Therefore, your autograph is worth exactly $293.85." It may be worth more soon.





Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Apocalypse Made Easy

Now that the 2012 Apocalypse is fast approaching, here is a simple, easy-to-use guide to the impending End of the World.

Why is the world ending?

Because the Mayan Calendar is running out. Or so some people say. Other people, however, contended back in 1987 that the Mayan Calendar was ending then. As I wrote in my Psychic Vibrations column (Skeptical Inquirer, Winter, 1987-88, on p. 213 of the paperback book), "According to some astrologers, the ancient Mayan calendar, after allegedly counting more than 6,000 years (meaning the Mayans must have started it a few years before Creation Week, if Bishop Ussher's chronology is correct), came to an end on August 16, 1987."

But even if it is "running out," so what? The calendar on my wall showing scantily-clad women runs out on December 31. That doesn't mean anything is ending, it just means there will be different scantily-clad women on the wall come January.



What about the Planet Nibiru? I hear it's visible in the Southern Hemisphere? I've seen a picture of it!

Nibiru (sometimes called "Planet X") is a made-up object. People can talk about it all they want, but it's no more real than the Land of Oz. I've seen pictures of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and Space Aliens, too; the supposed photos of Nibiru are as authentic as those. Hundreds of millions of people live in the southern hemisphere. There are world-class astronomical observatories there, and major cities with professional news organizations. That's an awful lot of cameras and videos and telescopes. If Nibiru were real, we'd know all about it by now.
Oh no! The Apocalypse is almost here!!

What About the Galactic Alignment?

There is no galactic alignment: see my earlier Blog entry about this claim. But even if there were, it would not matter. Modern astronomy takes little note of "alignments," because they are meaningless. For example, last night I saw Jupiter "aligned" with Aldebaran and the Hyades cluster. What is the significance of that? It was pretty.

But What About the Sun's Alignment with the Maya Birth Canal?

What about it? At any given time, the sun is always aligning with something. In this case, at the time of the solstice it's the dark rift in the Milky Way that is supposedly the "Maya Birth Canal." But remember that "alignments" don't matter. See my earlier posting on The "Cosmic Alignment" and the Maya Birth Canal.

The demise of Twinkie is the first step to fullfilling Mayan prophecy. (C) (from The Beer Party on Facebook)
What about this guy who is going to leap off a rock at the time of the Solstice? 

That would be Peter Gersten, of Sedona, Arizona, a retired lawyer and longtime UFOlogist. I posted earlier about Peter Gersten's Leap of Faith. He writes, "On December 21, 2012 an 11:11 portal will open at Bell Rock in Sedona Arizona. The portal will lead to the galactic center." At that precise moment, he plans to leap off Bell Rock.

Peter Gersten
Is he still planning to leap? Gersten hasn't posted much in the time since that Blog entry was written. On January 26, 2012 he posted, "An Uncontrolled Growth of Abnormal Cells -   Today I was diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer. An ironic start to 2012 for me don’t you think? I assume my programming is ensuring that I complete my leap of faith. Bring it on! Stay tuned! My story is getting very interesting." His only related posting after that was on April 6: "My 70th Birthday Present: The Mark of the Dolphin." He explains how he went swimming with the dolphins at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, and one of them bit him on the right hand. "It was bleeding and there were three 1/2-inch deep scratches with a smaller one next to them." He later realized that the dolphin was trying to write "1111" (the time of the solstice) on his hand. He suggests, "Could it be that I will need the “dolphin stamp of approval” to get through the portal?"

On November 17 I contacted Gersten by email, asking him if he had perhaps changed his plans. He said that he would go up Bell Rock at the appointed time, but would not leap unless he saw an "extraordinary event" occur - something "supernatural." I was relieved to hear that. I think he will live to see the following day!

Earth, left; Nibiru, right. Good night all!
Gersten told me that he would be atop Bell Rock by 11:00 (AM, I presume), and stay at least until midnight. I reminded him that the solstice will be at 11:11 UT, which is 4:11 AM in Arizona. He replied that the important part was not the solstice, but the "symbolism." He wondered why people would rather say "I told you so" than see a "supernatural event" manifest, and he invited me to come out to Sedona and make the trek up to the top of Bell Rock with him. I replied that there is nothing I would rather see than a "supernatural event" manifest itself, and perhaps I would! Sedona is about a six hour drive from San Diego, but I'll see what I can arrange.


[I did not drive to Sedona. Gersten did not jump, and is still alive in 2013.]

Sunday, November 11, 2012

UFOs Infest Denver, According to Fox News Affiliate

Some people have long been accusing Fox News and its affiliates of practicing Tabloid Journalism. The Fox affiliate in Denver, KDVR, seems determined to prove them correct. On November 8, they broadcast a video of an ill-defined, very fast moving object, that they described as a "mile high mystery," and proclaimed "nobody can explain what it is." Only one problem - this "UFO" is obviously an insect - probably a fly. This is very similar to the Chilean Fly video that Leslie Kean has been promoting as being perhaps "the case UFO skeptics have been dreading."

KDVR received some supposed "UFO" videos from a man who does not want to be identified, which to any seasoned reporter should immediately raise a red flag. The videos were taken on a hilltop in Federal Heights, at 84th and Federal, looking south toward downtown Denver. The "UFOs" appear at least several times a week, we are told, usually around noon to 1 PM. Most flying insects become more active during the warmest part of the day. The anonymous photographer, who has been filming these objects for months, believes that the UFOs are being "launched" from someplace around 56th and Clay in Denver, which is a residential area.

The "UFO" is said to be flying too fast to be seen by the naked eye; it's necessary to slow down the video. The object is seen to dive down toward the ground, between the ground and the camera (for example, at 1:29 into the video; also at 1:40 and 2:40). As in the case of the Chilean Fly videos, we are not shown the entire, unedited video. If we were, it would very likely be obvious how small the object is when it is seen clearly against the nearby ground.

The supposed "investigative" reporter Heidi Hemmat contacted an aviation "expert." Steve Cowell is described as "a former commercial pilot, instructor and FAA accident prevention counselor." As far as I can tell, this has nothing to do with optics, video photography, still photography, insects, or, for that matter, UFOs. Cowell proclaimed that the object was no kind of aircraft,  helicopter, or bird, which any fool could tell. He also proclaimed that it isn't an insect, although how he could rule that out was not stated. The FAA and NORAD were consulted, and both reported that there was no air traffic in that area.  "And it's not a bug," said Hemmat, "people keep saying it's a bug." Perhaps you should investigate that possibility? But no,  an "expert" has spoken, and Hemmat would never question that. If I had a nickel for every time some "expert" said something idiotic about UFOs, I'd be rich.

KDVR sent its own cameraman to the spot, and he, too, photographed at least one fly. This was taken as confirmation that mysterious UFOs are buzzing around Denver on a regular basis. This story is a serious contender for the stupidest news report of 2012, although there is a lot of stiff competition for that honor.

Speaking of Leslie Kean, even she is admitting on her Facebook page that "The object in these (KDVR) videos looks like the one from Chile at the El Bosque AF Base." She has traveled to Chile twice in recent months to meet with the Chilean UFOlogists of the CEFAA, the promoters of the infamous Fly video. She has promised to bring back important new information, but she hasn't shared any of it yet. She still has not stated whether or not the "experts" in Chile have determined whether or not this video shows just an insect. However, she did admit as of October 17 concerning the now-confessed Belgian hoax photo from Petit-Rechain , touted as solid UFO evidence in her book, "Yes, this photo seems to be a fake, unfortunately. Belgian researchers have looked into it. I have to update this in my book." Well, I guess that's a step in the right direction. There are still a few dozen other UFO cases in her book that need to be acknowledged as mistakes or as hoaxes, but then she wouldn't have much of a book left.

Mysterious flying object filmed in Denver! This is Lucilia Sericata, the common Green Bottle fly.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Are UFO Enthusiasts 'Giving Up' on UFOlogy? Get Real!


Very likely you have seen the article in The Telegraph of London November 4 titled "UFO enthusiasts admit the truth may not be out there after all." The main point of the article is a statement by one Dave Wood, chairman of something called "the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (Assap)," who said that a "meeting had been called to address the crisis in the subject and see if UFOs were a thing of the past."

The Telegraph's illustration accompanying this article
I read the article's sub-headline "Declining numbers of “flying saucer” sightings and failure to establish proof of alien existence has led UFO enthusiasts to admit they might not exist after all," and I asked myself: where did this reporter get a crazy idea like that? Anyone who knows the field of UFOlogy knows that dedicated UFO believers are impervious to reason and fact. Indeed, they would not have reached the conclusions they have, and stubbornly maintained them, unless that were so. Who is this guy who is telling us that  UFO sightings are fading away (when I know that they are not), and that widespread outbreaks of reason are causing longtime UFOlogists to question the Faith?

To be truthful, while I stay pretty current on the UFO literature, I had never heard of this guy before, or his organization ASSAP. And yet here he is being cited in a major publication as a spokesman telling us the future of UFOlogy. What's with that? I tried to find something on the web about Dave Wood and UFOs predating the Telegraph article, and couldn't find anything. I did find something about ASSAP investigating a haunted house. So why are we supposed to care about what he says concerning UFOs?

Well, it turns out that this "meeting" he is talking about is not some emergency get-together to address a UFOlogical Crisis of Faith. Instead it is called "Seriously Unidentified? ASSAP's First UFO Conference," and it looks like most other UFO conferences. Nothing in it suggests a 'crisis of faith' for UFOlogists, and the fact it's described as ASSAP's "first UFO conference" suggests that they expect to be holding more. Indeed, this looks like "business as usual," with speakers ranging from skeptic Ian Ridpath to Cal Cooper, author of a book titled Telephone Calls from the Dead. (The late parapsychologist D. Scott Rogo and  Raymond Bayless co-authored a similarly-titled book Phone Calls from the Dead; see my book Psychic Vibrations, p. 136.) The only thing on the conference schedule even hinting at the supposed 'crisis of faith' is a fifty-minute "Round table discussion on the likely future of British Ufology and possible future trends." Panels like this are common at UFO conferences, and that wording could mean anything.


As you might imagine, some people on the pro-UFO side are quite miffed by this claim. "Reached at his Cincinnati headquarters office today, MUFON Executive Director David MacDonald said ufology was alive and well. 'The fact is that MUFON is receiving on average more than 700 cases a month,' "  In 2006, MUFON was receiving an average of less than 150 cases a month. This doesn't sound to me like UFOs are a 'dying  belief.' Skeptic Dr. David Clark, quoted in the Telegraph article,  asks in his Blog whether the UFO subject is dead again. He concludes that it's at a dead end, which is obvious. But that has always been the case, and that never seemed to matter before. 

Interest in UFOs will be with us for a very long time. It is true that the emphasis of UFOlogy is shifting from groups and publications to electronic media. Most UFO believers today get their UFO thrills from cable TV programs like UFO Chasers and Ancient Aliens, from podcasts, websites, and Facebook pages. Indeed, there have been times in recent months when the National Geographic Channel was serving up back-to-back UFO programming as if there were nothing else to present. They would not be serving it if the audience wasn't eating it up.

The way this article was picked up and taken at face value by a number of skeptics is, to me, rather troubling. To be a skeptic means to evaluate claims skeptically, not just to adhere to a certain "party line." When confronted by an article that seems "too good to be true," the skeptic should not just take it as confirmation of what he or she has long believed. Instead, the skeptic should ask a question like, "Who in the hell is this guy Dave Wood, and why should we accept his claim about UFOlogists having second thoughts?"


Monday, October 29, 2012

The Pseudo-Science of Anti-Anti-Ufology

      [This is reprinted from my Psychic Vibrations column in The Skeptical Inquirer, September/October, 2009. It answers Friedman's critiques of "debunkers," and it explains how Betty Hill's "UFO Star Map" has crashed and burned. Friedman knows this (I discussed it with him), but he has gotten too much mileage from that "star map" to ever give it up, no matter how bogus it turns out to be.]

Stanton Friedman
           Many readers are surely familiar with the author and pro-UFO lecturer Stanton T. Friedman, who calls himself the “Flying Saucer physicist,” because he actually did work in physics about fifty years ago (although not since). Well, Stanton is upset by the skeptical writings contained in SI’s special issue on UFOs (January/February, 2009), and elsewhere. He has written two papers thus far denouncing us, and it is the subject of his Keynote Address at the MUFON Conference in August (2009).
            In February (2009), Friedman wrote an article, “Debunkers at it Again,” reviewing our UFO special issue (http://www.theufochronicles.com/2009/02/debunkers-at-it-again.html).  “In actuality, the active writers and “investigators” aren’t skeptics. They are Debunkers doing their best to pull the wool over the eyes of a curious public. They know the answers, so don’t really need to investigate. Proclamation is more their style. Deception is the name of the game.”
Friedman goes on to name names:  He critiques Joe Nickell’s article “Return to Roswell ” by noting that Nickell is a former magician, and “of course the stock in trade of magicians is intentional deception with another sterling example being the Amazing Randi.”  So by Friedman-logic, anyone who has ever practiced prestidigitation can never again be trusted in anything. He criticizes Nickell for raising “the baseless Project Mogul explanation” for Roswell, which cannot be correct, says Friedman, because it does not match the claims made in later years by alleged Roswell witnesses (although it does match quite well the account of Mac Brazel, the original witness, given in 1947).
He moves on to my critique of the Betty and Barney Hill case, where I note the resemblance of their “hypnosis UFO testimony” to Betty Hill’s post-incident dreams. I said, “Barney had heard her repeat [them] many times,” which he claims is “nonsense.” According to Friedman, “Barney read Betty’s dreams once, and the notes were put in a drawer,” and that settles that. He conveniently forgets the passages in John G. Fuller’s The Interrupted Journey, the first book about the incident, describing the long sessions Betty and Barney spent with several UFOlogists, “beginning at noon and running almost until midnight” (Chapter 3), in which all aspects of the incident were discussed again and again. He also forgets that Barney told Dr. Simon, the psychiatrist who interviewed and treated them both, that his wife had told him “a great many details of the dreams,” and that Dr. Simon had concluded that the dreams of Mrs. Hill “had assumed the quality of a fantasized experience” (Chapter 12).
Friedman next attacks Dr. David Morrison, NASA senior scientist, for the “absurd” suggestion that if intelligently-controlled UFOs were here, we might pick up radio transmissions from them, or from their home planets. “Maybe secret NSA listening devices pick up alien signals, but then the NSA doesn’t release info about what signals it receives,” said Friedman. He also attacks Dave Thomas, “a scientist in New Mexico and president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason”, saying “Dave has certainly demonstrated his lack of knowledge of both the Roswell and Aztec UFO crash retrieval cases.” Thomas has conducted in-depth interviews with Dr. Charles Moore, the chief scientist of Project Mogul, whose balloon caused the Roswell crash scare in 1947. The “Aztec crash” case that Friedman seems so keen on is taken from a 1950 book by Hollywood writer Frank Scully, Behind the Flying Saucers, exposed as a hoax more than fifty years ago by newspaperman J.P. Cahn. Friedman concludes with, “the Skeptical Inquirer provides many examples of the intellectual bankruptcy of the pseudoscience of anti-ufology.”
            Friedman was still hot under the collar in May, when he followed this up with a second article titled the “Pseudo-Science of Anti-Ufology” (http://www.theufochronicles.com/2009/05/pseudo-science-of-anti-ufology.html ). He says that skeptics’ arguments “aren’t scientific, but rather represent research by proclamation rather than investigation.” Given that SI’s special issue on UFOs contained detailed investigative reports on the 1984 Minsk, USSR UFO sightings, the Big Sur UFO of 1964, an update on Roswell developments, and the Stephenville, Texas sightings of 2008, if this is mere “proclamation,” then I can’t imagine what “investigation” would look like. “Proclamations and attacks, often given the appearance of being scientific, have been launched at every aspect of the phenomena. Despite an enormous array of real evidence and data, we have been treated to false claims, false reasoning, bias and ignorance.” Of course, if Friedman or anyone else could produce even one piece of “real evidence and data,” the UFO debate would have been over long ago.
Friedman has long been obsessed with the little-known and even less-read Project Blue Book Special Report Number 14, a statistical analysis of UFO reports released by the Battelle Memorial Institute way back in 1955. However, he carefully picks and chooses the quotes that he uses from that report, implying it to be some hidden pro-UFO gem, deliberately ignored by skeptics. However, Friedman never reveals this quote from the Summary of BBSR14: "It is considered to be highly improbable that reports of unidentified aerial objects examined in this study represent observations of technological developments outside of the range of present-day scientific knowledge" (page viii), which means that the Report says exactly the opposite of what Friedman wants us to think it does. “Why isn’t BBSR 14 cited in the debunking books?” he pointedly asks. Probably because it is over fifty years old, and contains little that is interesting or relevant today, although Alan Hendry (not a “debunker” but a very skeptical UFOlogist) did spend several pages of his UFO Handbook (Doubleday, 1979) critiquing its approach. Hendry concluded, “If the Battelle group had had a real appreciation for how loose the data were, they never would have bothered with a statistical comparison to begin with” (p. 266). [For more on Blue Book Special Report 14, see my discussion of Jacques Vallee, J. Allen Hynek, and the "Pentacle Memorandum."]
Freidman concludes, “If one makes an appropriately objective and careful examination of the pro and anti-UFO arguments, one finds that the evidence is overwhelming that Earth is being visited by intelligently controlled vehicles of extraterrestrial origin and that only pseudo-scientific arguments of a vocal but small group of debunkers stand in the way of reaching that conclusion.”  It’s truly remarkable what we, a small group of skeptics writing for SI and similar publications, have supposedly been able to accomplish. Even though the number of people we reach in our publications is far fewer than Friedman reaches on any one of his many appearances on TV and radio programs such as Larry King Live, Coast to Coast AM, etc., he claims that the only reason that Extraterrestrial Visitations have not been accepted by the mainstream of science and the media is because we noisy negativists keep chattering against them. The reality is, of course, that if his supposed “UFO evidence” were nearly as good as he claims it to be, then nothing would be able to stand in its way.
Betty Hill's sketch of a "UFO star map"
            Since Friedman loudly claims to represent “scientific UFOlogy,” then like all scientists he must revise or even discard his hypotheses when new data comes in and invalidates them. One such instance has clearly occurred of late: the complete invalidation of the Fish Map, supposedly an extraterrestrial navigation map that Betty Hill saw during her celebrated “UFO abduction” in 1961. For at least 35 years, Friedman has been claiming that researcher Marjorie Fish’s supposed identification of the dots Betty Hill drew as being potentially habitable nearby stars proves the extraterrestrial nature of the Betty and Barney Hill “UFO abduction.” He has made the Fish Map one of the central points of his lectures and writings. The similarity between the Hill drawing and the Fish Map was actually never very good, but folks who were so inclined could point to a number of points of correspondence between the two. (For a detailed discussion, see my paper “There Were No Extraterrestrials” in Encounters at Indian Head (Pflock and Brookesmith, eds. San Antonio: Anomalist Books, 2007) ).
The Fish interpretation is supposedly correct because it consists of single, non-variable stars that all lie inside this box. But using the newer and more accurate data, two stars are actually much farther away, and nowhere near this box. Two are actually variable, and two more are close binaries. Poof!
But today the Fish Map is no longer viable whatsoever. In her research beginning in 1966, Fish made the wise choice to use the Gliese Catalogue of Nearby Stars, which was then the most accurate available. But that was over forty years ago, and science never stands still. Astronomical researcher Brett Holman recently checked out what the Fish Map would look like if it were built using the most accurate astronomical data available today. His answer is in his article in the British publication Fortean Times (#242, November 2008): "Goodbye, Zeta Reticuli" (the supposed home solar system of the UFOnauts). Holman writes, “In the early 1990s the Hipparcos satellite measured the positions of nearly 120,000 stars 10 times more accurately than ever before – including all of those that appear in the Fish interpretation. The results of this work, and much else besides, is available online now, and can be easily queried using websites such as SIMBAD at the Strasbourg Astronomical Observatory.”
           Fish excluded all variable stars and close binaries to include only supposedly habitable solar systems – but the new data reveals two of her stars as suspected variables, and two more as close binaries. So there go four of her 15 stars. And two more are much further away than earlier believed, removing them completely from the volume of space in question. Six stars of that supposedly exact-matching pattern, definitely gone, excluded by the very criteria that once included them using the forty-year-old data. Goodbye, Zeta Reticuli.
Kathleen Marden, Stanton Friedman, and Robert Sheaffer at the MUFON Symposium 2011
            Since scientists are obligated to repudiate their hypotheses should subsequent data contradict them, if Friedman is practicing “scientific UFOlogy” as he claims, he will have to admit that he was wrong about the Fish map. But that will never happen. Arguing with Friedman is like arguing with a Creationist, who keeps using discredited arguments to impress new audiences, and seizing upon minor misstatements of his critics and attributing to them the very worst of motives, while completely ignoring their strongest arguments. His arguments rely heavily on the ad hominem attack – his critics are such terrible persons – a sure sign of somebody trying to defend emotionally a position that can’t be defended logically. (Whenever you see the strong reliance on the ad hominem – my critics are such terrible persons – it’s almost like a red banner proclaiming, “my arguments don’t hold up.”) Another major UFO case with a strong endorsement from Friedman is the 1996 Yukon UFO, conclusively shown to be the re-entry of the Cosmos 2335 second stage rocket booster. But Friedman refuses to acknowledge that he was wrong about that case, either.

           From this moment on, every time that Friedman speaks of the Fish Map, except to say “I was wrong about it,” his own words brand him a hypocrite.


[There is a follow-up posting to this one, dated December 17, 2012: Friedman's Frenzy.]