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"?

12 comments:

  1. One would think somebody who claims that he has proof of alien visitation would not worry about "debunkers". The evidence would be able to withstand scrutiny and criticism. What Friedman does by this commentary (as with all his others directed at "debunkers") is prove that his evidence is worthless. Personal attacks, wild speculation, and anecdotal testimony is no substitute for solid arguments and good evidence.

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  2. Well Roberto... We already knew you were a very wicked person, so we can all lie back and enjoy Stan mulling over two of his favourite subjects -- himself & his CV -- and honing his non-sequiturs re: the Fish star map and BBSR-14. All that is very entertaining, but you walk into a kind-of trap by batting him down in detail. The point about Friedman's various proclamations (his word), surely, is that they're political -- in much the same way as a tent preacher is political in needing to retain power over his 'flock' and forestall backsliding. Which, I maintain, is why when he descends into detail, Stan gets both selective and fuzzy with the facts; it would also help to explain his weird, wholly evidence-and-logic-free endorsement of the Ramseys' batty book on Aztec, Scully, Newton, et al., and his yet stranger persistent insistence on the reality of MJ-12. Picking apart the nature of the secondary reality constructed by Stan and his fellow-travellers might be more fruitful than simply pointing out where its hinges have come off the wall.

    Peter B

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    1. My dear Mendoza,

      What you say is very true, at least so far as I can understand it. Friedman's position is indeed a political one. He is the shepherd of the flock, he feedeth them whatever it is they want to consume. On the day he feedeth them something they don't like, they'll turn to Greer or somebody else, and Friedman will be finished.

      But how to pick apart the Alternate Reality Friedman offers without being reduced to removing its supports, one-by-one? Maybe we need Gestalt Therapy for that?

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    2. I guess it depends on the audience you want to address. Skeptical Inquirer readers (or do I mean editors?) seem content to be told how & why various kinds of nonsense really are nonsensical, but don't seem inclined to probe much further than that. This tendency exemplifies what I wrote [complained about] in an early issue of SUNLite, namely that much skepticism limits itself to debunkery. What I may not have said there is that this is, shall we say, not uncharacteristic of US skepticism. It entrenches an adversarial, and also sterile IMO, approach to anomalistic phenomena. Which on one hand sees the phenomena as real evidence of real weirdness (e.g. UFOs' disregard of the law of conservation of energy) and as such unjustly/scandalously/nefariously ignored or mocked by various forms of Establishment; and on the other the phenomena are viewed as misconstructions of the mundane and belief in them a manifestation of irrationality. European skeptics, and in the UK forteans and Magonians, have tended toward a somewhat less abrasive approach, observing first that there is an experience of something anomalous. Naturally this leads to asking whether the experience -- not the phenomenon -- was anomalous and to proposing possible prosaic explanations; and then to asking what the experience, and/or the phenomenon in question, means to the experient; and why. This approach certainly involves "removing supports" from weird (sometimes pernicious) beliefs but it doesn't deny the [subjective] reality of the experience or impugn the rationality of the percipient. David Hufford's "Terror that comes in the night", although deeply misunderstood and misrepresented in certain quarters, is a good instance of the genre, which you could broadly label as 'psycho-social'. So that is another potential audience. Certainly SI as it has traditionally operated isn't going to convert anyone (if it was ever assumed it would) in the Saucerian Temple.

      None of which outrageous generalization is meant to be an exhortation to retune your instrument. Besides, someone has to shovel this shit and, personally, I rather enjoy seeing it chucked back in the faces of charlatans and bunco artists, tent preachers and snake-oil salesmen. I think you may be doing human nature a disservice, though, by (however implicitly) dismissing the experients they exploit. People usually have good reasons to credit unreasonable things. That's what makes the unreasonable so interesting.

      Peter B

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    3. Peter,

      "and then to asking what the experience, and/or the phenomenon in question, means to the experient; and why." This, I think, is the nub of the difference. Skeptics in the U.S. typically do not ask this kind of question of those who report anomalous things. Perhaps we should?

      But I think that many, most especially someone like Friedman, would view this question as irrelevant and patronizing. One does not ask a scientist what his purported discovery means to him, but instead how it is derived, and its implications. To ask such a question implies that one has already decided that the phenomenon is bogus, and the observer needs psychoanalysis. Or perhaps one does not ask such a question directly, but infers the answer from something else. Do you ask such questions directly, and if so, what kind of response do you usually get?

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    4. Perhaps indeed, I say to your first paragraph. Articles in skeptical outlets like SI, Shermer's parish mag, etc. would certainly begin to look less formula-driven. REALL News and SUNLite show that some skeptical editors are open to the approach. And it sits easily with such pure detective work as, e.g., Tim Printy's brilliant, sedulous deconstruction of the RB-47 case.


      Your second para needs picking apart a bit. First: Friedman presents as a guru or, as he would have it, a scientist offering profound (and, what is surely critical, profoundly ignored) truths, not as an experient. Asking how "his" truths are derived and what are their implications is appropriate, and dismantling them is none too hard, if sometimes laborious.

      That still leaves the questions of why he does what he does and what it means to him and to those who sit at his feet, not all of whom have direct experience of UFOs and/or aliens. I wonder if he would even understand the questions if put that way -- they might seem simply meaningless -- but they needn't presume a bogus phenomenon or a need for the shrink's couch. However, a certain awareness of the world allows one to draw parallels and make reasonable inferences about the nature of the belief and STF's part in promoting and maintaining it. (And to be fair there are worse sinners than he, in this -- think Greer, Pope, Bassett, Hastings...insert names of choice...)

      Second: I think one approaches experients differently. It didn't occur to me when actively interviewing any to ask "such a question" directly, and I would now only after asking many other direct and indirect ones. I'd be disinclined to take the answer(s) at face value, but you never know. I'd be inclined, rather, to evaluate them in the context of all answers, direct or indirect. But they should be treated as discrete from the tribe of gurus, since (in my experience) their conclusions, and indeed their accounts of their experiences, are often radically different from what their representatives may claim.

      Best of holidays & happy New Year to one & all.

      Peter B

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  3. May the Philip Klass "UFO Curse" be upon Stanton T. Friedman.

    TS4072

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    1. What is the Philip Klass "UFO Curse"?

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    2. "To UFOlogists who publicly criticize me...or who even think unkind thoughts about me in private, I do hereby leave and bequeath THE UFO CURSE: No matter how long you live, you will never know any more about UFOs than you know today. You will never know any more about what UFOs really are, or where they come from. You will never know any more about what the U.S. Government really knows about UFOs than you know today. As you lie on your own death-bed you will be as mystified about UFOs as you are today. And you will remember this curse."

      From the Skeptic UFO Newsletter #72 (although I believe it was published long before this in Saucer Smear). So far, PJK's curse is a very accurate representation of UFOlogists and Ufology. I wonder how many UFOlogists actually think about it in their waning years?

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    3. Wow, the dude had a wicked sense of humor.

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    4. UFOs are a great metaphor for the mystery of life.

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  4. The Zeiss planetarium does seem to be a good match for the very none star looking object in Betty's Star map. Did she do some sort of unconscious free association with a previous trip to a planetarium when she tasked herself with drawing a "star map?" Could be. So much time and effort has been wasted on that drawing that it really boggles the mind. Unless she "traced" the thing from the alien's map, it is practically a given that the relationships between the points on the map are inaccurate making it irrelevant and useless in determining their positions in the sky, but I guess that is just too obvious.

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