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.]

5 comments:

  1. Of course, there are also his recent comments regarding me. According to STF, I am "uninformed" and "ignorant". You know you hit a nerve when STF makes an effort to paint you in a negative light. I addressed his failed arguments and mistakes in SUNlite 4-3 (Flying saucer fizics II).

    I doubt that STF will ever admit he was wrong on anything. If he admits that the Fish map is inaccurate and his analysis was flawed, he suddenly opens himself to the possibility that he has made other errors. His ego will not allow it.

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    1. Tim, you wrote a very nice, detailed critique of Friedman-logic: how it operates, and what is wrong with it. "Project Blue Book SR-14 is the final answer for everything involving UFO statistics....No matter what anyone else says, certain MJ-12 documents are authentic...nobody has conclusively proven that the (NSA)documents do not involve a cover-up involving alien spaceships, therefore, there is a cover-up."

      The URL for this is http://home.comcast.net/~tprinty/UFO/SUNlite4_3.pdf . See p. 38.

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  2. Friedman's ad hominem attacks are part of a broader tactic of framing UFO dissent as strictly ideological. We have the angels of the UFO community versus the diabolical deniers (Friedman misuses the terms "skeptic" and "debunker" as if both meant "denier"). That is how Mr. Friedman presents the situation to the public and UFO fandom, even though he knows respected ufologists and believers frequently criticise his work. What amuses me is how often Friedman is singled out by believer-skeptics as someone whose beliefs trump facts, as someone unable to entertain doubt about his conclusions.

    "I think it would be fair to say that most of even the staunch advocates for the Hills (a noteworthy exception is Stanton Friedman) have contended the evidence for their story is merely compelling rather than convincing."
    Marcello Truzzi, Encounters at Indian Head, p. 84.

    "Other ufologists besides myself, more cautious than Friedman, acknowledge we are unable to make a case for the reality of the Hills' experience that rises to the beyond-reasonable-doubt standard of criminal law."
    Karl Pflock, Encounters at Indian Head, p. 211.

    In a book chapter titled “The Failure of Ufologists,” Jenny Randles outlines how these failings, many of them already listed in the present blog post, lead investigators astray, especially the presumption that UFOs must be aliens. She does so in a civil manner without naming names – except one: “Stanton Friedman, a nuclear scientist with an interest in UFOs, is an undeniably sincere and hard-working investigator, yet his beliefs demonstrate the dangers.”
    Jenny Randles, Peter Warrington, Science and the UFOs, p. 71.

    “Gerald Anderson spun all sorts of tales, forged documents, and lied about nearly everything he said, but Friedman still believes that Anderson, as a five-year-old boy, was on the crash scene and remembers, in detail, much of it.”
    Kevin Randle, Reflections of a UFO Investigator, p. 206.

    Are all these people diabolical debunkers who don't want their paradigms scrambled?

    > attributing to them the very worst of motives, while completely ignoring their strongest arguments

    Yes, Friedman frequently breaks his own "rules for debunkers" by smearing critics and hiding information from his audience.

    For instance, in Captured!, Friedman doesn't inform his readers of Donald Menzel's praise of Marjorie Fish and his serious and respectful statistical analysis of her work in his book UFO Enigma. Rather, Friedman ties to smear Menzel by saying he had done work “for the CIA, NSA...and was probably a member of the Majestic 12 Group controlling classified UFO research,” never suggesting what most ufologists believe, that MJ-12 is a hoax. As James Moseley wrote about MJ-12: “Including Menzel was a clever ploy and a subtle joke. And the joke's on Stan Friedman”(Shockingly Close to the Truth! p. 265).

    Friedman could have engaged Menzel's statistical analysis, but scientists performing science doesn't fit into Friedman's demonology. Friedman doesn't mention Menzel's analysis, just as he hasn't publicly mentioned Holman's analysis -- even though he has been asked multiple times -- which I think establishes a pattern of Friedman telling stories and avoiding real facts.

    > I doubt that STF will ever admit he was wrong on anything.

    Paul Kimball's bio-pic should have been titled Stanton Friedman is Right!

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  3. I've never met SF nor cared to, knowing of his "cosmic conspiracy" buffoonery, so instead of calling the former itinerant unclear physicist turned "flying saucer scientist" an antiscientist--since the irrational false beliefs he promotes are not simply wrong and wrong-headed but insidious, intended to undermine the very enterprise he pretends to support and practice--let me just address his claims.

    Appealing to what would certainly seem to be miraculous power of hypothetical advanced starfaring civilizations visiting our Earth in their magic "flying saucer" spacecraft to explain why people manufacture flying-saucer fairy tales--when all the evidence for that "least likely" scenario is really crummy--is the weakest sort of inductive argument possible. Simply because they might exist doesn't mean they're visiting Earth; and this extremely tenuous hypothesis is hardly necessary to explain innumerable, insubstantial and wholly inconsequential "UFO" reports.

    True believers in this half-baked mumbo jumbo pretend they're knowledgeable in the astronomical probabilities, but that pretense is only a typical pseudoscientific window dressing, a meta-rationale for preexisting belief without facts and reason. SF's simple, silly "space brothers in flying-saucers" mentality pretending to be a scientifically informed deep-thinking even paradigm-bursting "Star Trek" view of the Galaxy is a laughable projection much like the face-on-Mars delusion: typical human wishfulness, conceits, modes and objectives projected onto "random cosmic violence." SF doesn't know any more about such thoroughly radically contingent astronomical and biological uncertainties than any other person educated in the subject. As early as the 1970s, astronomer WK Hartmann calculated that there might be one other civilization something like ourselves in our Local Group. Work by astrophysicist Tom Gold expanded by paleontologist SJ Gould on the extreme galactic rarity of self-conscious creatures supports WKH. So SF's amazing story isn't nearly as likely or as smart as he pretends.

    Even if not so rare, starfaring civilizations must be relatively rare or we would certainly have detected them by now. So Where Are They? Astronomers know the distances between stars is so immense that the world consensus is that the probability of any of them visiting Earth is virtually zero. That fact and a dozen other reasons--exceptions to the Fermi paradox--explain why we most probably will never meet ETI.

    Not to be deterred by these obvious realities, SF and others have recreated the Hollow Earth of Shaver's amazing cosmic conspiramyth, complete with crashed saucers and little alien bodies stored in underground bases by military coverups and MIB. That such a cosmic conspiracy would be impossible isn't a problem for SF apparently, he knows secrets can be kept he insists, and SF's faith in his own authority is unquestioned, which is the core problem with all of his false beliefs: As the world's leading "flying saucer scientist," SF is immune from the facts and reason of the real world, which places his delusion above the scientific method.

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  4. Friedman is an old, old man. He knows his days are getting shorter. He probably has a sense he'll go to his grave before the Super Big UFO Thing is ever finally disclosed and he can enjoy his retirement years as the guy who was right all along. Told ya so. Nyah. Nyah.

    Best he can hope for is someone will write "Well, turns out he was right" on his tombstone. That's gotta burn a guy like him up big time.

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