Monday, April 30, 2012

"Top Ten" UFO Case - Yukon, Canada, 1996 - BUSTED!

On the evening of December 11, 1996, more than 30 people in several different locations in Canada's sparsely-populated Yukon Territories reported seeing a huge "UFO mothership" with rows of lights, flying by as a Close Encounter of the First Kind.

The documentary film Best Evidence: Top 10 UFO Sightings lists this "multiple witness sighting in the Yukon" as number eight of the top ten UFO cases of all time. In that film the celebrated "Flying Saucer Physicist" Stanton Friedman says of this case:
"The Yukon case IS emblematic of what a good case should be. I mean, sure, we'd like to have a piece of the craft, we'd like to have the crewmember introduced for dinner. BUT multiple independent witnesses lasting a long time, describing something that's WAY outside the norm, -- there's no way you can make it into a 747, for example [chuckle]. And big, but this was much much bigger than a 747. "
UFO "Mothership" sighted from the Klondike Highway, Yukon Territory, Dec. 11, 1996. 

Longtime UFOlogist Michael Swords of CUFOS says:
Not knowing [investigator] Martin Jasek I can't "stand up in court" on this one, but everything that I've heard says that this is not only a "good" but possibly one of the best cases ever… I look forward to any of the gang clearing my misconceptions up on this case, because right now it might be one I'd "take into war" with me.

On April 4, the British skeptic Ian Ridpath sent around email to a number of active UFO skeptics, asking if anyone had information on this case. James Oberg replied that he was unable to help because he was in Beijing, China, headed for North Korea! James traveled with the NBC news team to witness North Korea's new missile, before its (unsuccessful) launch. His reporting on this unprecedented trip is on his website, .
Witness PEL2 drew the UFO passing below the Big Dipper

When he returned, Oberg contacted the Canadian satellite expert Ted Molczan with the details of this case. Molczan is probably the world's top civilian expert on observing earth satellites and calculating satellite orbits. Molczan looked into the matter carefully, and came up with an exact match: "the observed phenomena were due to the re-entry of the 2nd stage of the rocket that placed Cosmos 2335 into orbit earlier the same day." Should anyone doubt this, Molczan provides details of the mathematical calculations that support this conclusion.

James Oberg placed a comment on the "Above Top Secret" forum discussing this case.

Molczan's software-generated plot of the decay of the rocket booster for Cosmos 2335

Stimulus / Response

A case of this type affords us an excellent opportunity to judge the credibility of eyewitness testimony. Given a known stimulus "in," what is the observer's response "out"? In other words, how accurately did the observers' descriptions match the known stimulus? Not well at all!

Report: "many rows of lights"
Reality: The booster disintegrated into an irregular train of debris, that was perceived as an orderly pattern of "lights" on a huge solid object.

Report: "As he was walking his flashlight happened to point in the direction of the UFO. As if reacting to his flashlight, the UFO started speeding rapidly toward him."
Reality:  the "UFO reacting" to him was entirely in his imagination. The rocket booster did not react to his flashlight.

Report: the UFO was hovering approximately 300 yards in front of the observer. "Hynek Classification: CE1" (Close Encounter of the First Kind).
Reality: the distance to the re-entering booster was approximately 233 km (145 miles), so this was not a "close encounter." At no time did it stop, or hover.

Report: The UFO was approximately 500-750 meters (up to 1/2 mile) in length.
Reality:  It is impossible to estimate the size of an unknown object unless its distance is known. Since the disintegrating booster was about 145 miles distant, its debris train must have been spread over many miles.

Report: "The interior lights in her car started to go dim and the music from her tape deck slowed down."
Reality: This effect was entirely in the observer's imagination. The rocket booster did not affect her car's electronics.

Report: "stars blocked out" by huge UFO.
Reality:  the observers were viewing a long train of debris from the disintegrating rocket booster. It was not a solid object, and thus could not have "blocked out" stars. However, the light from the reentry may have made nearby stars difficult to see.
ESA illustration of a satellite disintegrating and burning up upon re-entry to earth's atmosphere

Molczan closed his analysis by saying,
Experienced sky watchers on SeeSat-L may find it difficult to believe that anyone could misidentify a re-entry as a spaceship, but human perception is notoriously fallible, and no one is immune. Much depends on the circumstances and personal experience. Driving through the wilderness under a pitch black sky, and suddenly faced with a slowly moving formation of brilliant lights can be awe-inspiring and even terrifying. The human mind races to make sense of the unfamiliar, drawing on experience that may be inadequate. Depth perception can play tricks, such that something 200 km away, 100 km long, and moving at 7 km/s, seems to be just 200 m away, 100 m long, and moving 7 km/h - the angular velocity is roughly the same. Taking these considerations into account, the eyewitnesses did a pretty good job, and need not be embarrassed for having perceived more than was there.
He left out the part about reports of the object hovering, the electrical interference, etc. Not "a pretty good job" in my book.

Here we have yet another clear-cut example of extraordinary reports ("giant UFO Mothership!") arising from a perfectly ordinary (if rare) phenomenon. Therefore, the existence of extraordinary reports does not suggest the existence of extraordinary objects. It is perfectly possible to get extraordinary reports from ordinary objects. 

Which gives us more evidence of the wisdom of the Royal Society of London, the world's first scientific body founded in 1660, taking as its motto "nullius in verba' : take nobody's word for it!

[January 14, 2014: More discussion of this case in later Blog entry.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Archive Documents Show Klass Did NOT Try to Bribe Travis Walton Witness

Just this year, supposed UFO Abductee Travis Walton ("Fire in the Sky") revived an old claim that Klass offered Steve Pierce $10,000 to lie and say that the Walton abduction story is a hoax. Many people accepted the accusation as true. The arch-skeptic Klass was not exactly a popular figure in UFOlogy!

I investigated these claims in my Blog posting of February 13, "Travis Walton vs. Philip J. Klass," and found them unfounded. Klass mentions these charges in his 1983 book UFOs The Public Deceived (p. 221). Those accusations at the time did not come from Steve Pierce, but instead from Mike Rogers, Travis Walton's best friend. And Klass had never spoken to Pierce at all or communicated in any way until he read about the bribery accusations in Bill Barry's 1978 book about Travis Walton, Ultimate Encounter.
Steve Pierce (left), Travis Walton, and John Goulette at the 2012 International UFO Congress

But this time there were new accusations. This time Steve Pierce himself was on-board. When he appeared with Travis Walton and John Goulette at the International UFO Congress in February, 2012, Pierce completely supported Walton's accusation against Klass. Absolutely yes, Klass tried to bribe me, said Pierce. He flew out to Texas to wine and dine me and try to persuade me. He kept following me, I had to move to like three different states, to get away from him.

Of course, there is no proof that this 'new version' of Pierce's story is correct. No photos of Klass and Pierce together, no letters or documents of any kind to back up this implausible tale. During the Q&A, I asked Pierce why he had changed his story from 1978. He claimed he didn't. Pierce explained that what happened was, he got into a feud with Mike Rogers, and so in anger he grumbled it about that the case was a hoax, but that was not true.

When I returned home from the conference, I began to search for any documents that might support one version or another of this story. Klass willed his papers to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, PA, where the collection now resides. I contacted them, requesting any files in Klass' Travis Walton case files concerning Klass and Steve Pierce.

The result was this PDF file, that completely supports in every way what Klass wrote about his interactions with Pierce in his 1983 book UFOs The Public Deceived. (To read the document easily, Click on "ROTATE CLOCKWISE.) It is a transcript of the 1978 phone conversations between Klass and Pierce. At no time does Pierce suggest that the "bribe" story is true. 

Interestingly, Pierce says some rather unflattering things about Travis Walton! At one point, Pierce says,
"Travis is the most ignorant, stupid person I've ever met in my life. He ain't got enough sense, you know the book he wrote, he couldn't have wrote that book by himself. He ain't got enough common sense to write that book." (It was widely rumored that John G. Fuller, author of "The Interrupted Journey" and other books, was Walton's ghost writer.)
Pierce also says that he never liked Travis in the first place, and explains why.

This file was obtained from the archives of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, PA. It is from:
Philip J. Klass Collection, 1948-2000.
36.0 Linear feet, Mss.Ms.Coll.59

Series II. UFO Case Files

Arizona: Sitgreaves National Forest-Travis Walton Case, 1975 (Misc. Interviews)
    1975-1979         Box Series II-1
I did not alter the file in any way except to add a few brief "post-it notes." If anyone doubts the authenticity of this file, you can order your own copy. Contact: .

The last few pages pertain to the Sheriff department's initial polygraph test, given while Travis was still "missing." This information was already well-known, and has been published in many articles and books.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Leslie Kean Update: the Fly is Still Flying High!

And still they fly!
On the afternoon of April 13, Leslie Kean finally posted to the Huffington Post her promised update on the highly-controversal video from El Bosque Arifield in Chile, exactly one month after her initial story about it. The video supposedly shows an unknown craft maneuvering, but is widely believed to be just a fly buzzing around. (My March 21 Blog posting explains the fly-analysis in detail.)

Strangely, unlike Kean's initial story ("Is this the case UFO skeptics have been dreading?"), there does not seem to be any link to the update on the Huffington Post home page. However, the update appears prominently on Kean's Facebook page. It almost seems that she does not want to bring any new readers into this controversy, and is writing only to maintain credibility with those already involved. (I suspect at this point Kean wishes she had never heard of the Chilean Air Force UFO group CEFAA, but having embraced this Tar Baby, she is unwilling to admit that her new dress is covered with tar.)

Her new piece is titled "Update on Chilean UFO Videos: Getting the Bugs Out." Surprisingly, this update changes almost nothing: we don't really learn anything that we didn't know before. She quotes Alberto Vergara, "an expert in digital imaging," who stated that "When we examine the whole scene frame by frame, we have been able to realize that [the object] has, apparently, moved at a speed far superior to any flying object of known manufacture." Neither Kean nor Vergara explain how he could possibly know the speed of the object without knowing how far it is from the camera. But Vergara is an "expert," so Kean doesn't question this obvious absurdity.

A strange metallic flying object - Lucilia Sericata, the common  Green Bottle fly
Kean complains that "Skeptics caused quite a stir by taking it upon themselves to do their own "analysis" of the video clips and then to declare, with bravado, that the object of concern was simply a bug. Often this involved misquoting or misrepresenting me and the CEFAA in accompanying text." [Kean does not specify what supposed "misquotes" or "misrepresentations" she is referring to]. "The question of qualifications aside [we skeptics, you see,  are not "qualified" to analyze these videos, but somebody like Vergara is], these individuals were handicapped by one even more overwhelming problem: They were working without the necessary data required to make a proper analysis, and, most importantly, they were looking at video clips pulled from only one of the multiple cameras."

This is a very strange complaint: if people are "working without the necessary data," it is because the CEFAA refuses to release any more data (although in reality, the clips from the single video already released contain plenty of information to conclude the "UFO" is an insect). So she blames investigators for looking into this case prematurely (a case she suggested was "the case UFO skeptics have been dreading"), rather than blaming the CEFAA for being secretive. And people "were looking at video clips pulled from only one of the multiple cameras" for a very good reason: the CEFAA has only released video clips from one camera, and people cannot analyze what they're not allowed to see.

"In accordance with the wishes of the scientific team in Chile and these new analysts, General Bermúdez will not be releasing any more videos now, so that the public can be fully informed and maximum understanding achieved when the full package is released. Those involved agree that the new studies should be completed first." In other words, the message to those who want to investigate this high-profile case is: sit still, shut up, and we'll let you know when our "experts" have all of the answers for you.

Then Leslie Kean gets into a discussion of beetles, largely, I suspect, to deflect attention from flies. She presents some pretty good arguments to suggest that the object in the video probably isn't a beetle. Beetles fly more clumsily than the object we see. That's why I think that the insect in the video is probably a fly.

General Bermudez has been stating  that UFO photo analyst Dr. Bruce Maccabee has examined the video, and has concluded that it represents an unknown object. However, there is nothing about this on Maccabee's website, or anywhere else I could find. I asked Maccabee about it. He replied, "As for the CEFAA video, I have been studying it or them, but things are not straightened out yet as to how many independent videos there are, what they show and when they show it.  No conclusion yet." In other words, he hasn't had any more success getting the full data from the CEFAA than anyone else has!

Interestingly, the UFOlogist A. Gevaert in Brazil reports "the two major and oldest official UFO research organizations in South American, one from Uruguay (founded in 1979) and other from Chile ([CEFAA] founded in 1997), have decided to establish a cooperation agreement to work together to both investigate new cases, to evaluate new and old cases and to promote Ufology in general among the scientific community of all South America, but, of course, concentrated in both countries." So it appears that, in Chile and Uruguay at least, the government-sponsored UFO investigative organizations are trying to strongly promote UFO belief. That gives us a little bit of perspective into what is going on with the Fly Saucer story.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Day the Skeptics Society Wasn't Skeptical - "Best Evidence for UFOs"

Normally the Skeptics Society is a pretty reliable source of information concerning paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims. So imagine my surprise (and dismay) to read in the weekly E-Skeptic of March 28, 2012 a totally uncritical review of Leslie Kean's book UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record. Titled "Best Evidence for UFOs" by George Michael, it praises Kean's "numerous credible eyewitnesses to UFO encounters and authoritative sources." He thinks she makes an " impressive case," and praises her "academic rigor." Plainly, either Michael did not read the same book I did, or he was entirely hornswoggled by the way that the crafty Kean disguises her hard-core UFO belief as respectable agnosticism.

Michael is totally uncritical of  the claims and statements in Kean's book. Given that the title of the magazine is "Skeptic," why did it never occur to him to question any of the assertions made by Kean, instead of just accepting each and every one as Gospel truth? Did it not occur to him that, in a book written by a hard-core UFO believer (Kean's mentor in UFOlogy was the late Budd Hopkins), one needs to verify the accuracy of the picture the author is trying to paint? Are all these UFO cases really unexplained? What have we skeptics been doing, sitting on our hands, or scratching our heads, during the decades since these Oldie-But-Moldy UFO claims were made?

The author is obviously totally clueless about the history of the UFO controversy. Otherwise, he would realize that many of Kean’s “unexplained” cases have been explained in detail by Philip J. Klass and others, years ago. Kean simply ignores all explanations and commentaries that she doesn’t like. To me that does not constitute "academic rigor," as Mr. Michael seems to think. But he apparently has never read any of Klass' UFO books, and I suspect doesn't even know who Klass was (or else he would have asked himself, "What did Klass write about this case during the 70s or 80s?"). I have already written a review of Kean's book, “‘Unexplained’ Cases—Only If You Ignore All Explanations,” that was published in the Skeptical Inquirer, March/April, 2011. I have now placed a copy of that review on my website, for those who would like to see what a critical analysis of Kean's dubious pro-UFO claims might look like.

The British UFO skeptic Ian Ridpath wrote:
In his review of Leslie Kean’s book, George Michael too readily takes the author’s word for various UFO cases that have turned out, on investigation, not to be quite as the author describes them. A case in point is the Rendlesham Forest incident of 1980, which he calls “Perhaps the most notable reported military case involving a UFO”. A little research (even a glance at Wikipedia, for example) would have shown that explanations for all major aspects of that case have been in print for over 25 years. To address the points he raises: No unusual radiation was detected at the site, the supposed landing marks were made by forest animals, and the story of examining a landed craft for 45 minutes is something that was made up many years after the event by one of the witnesses, apparently bent on becoming a UFO celebrity. I would not expect to learn that from a book by an uncritical UFO proponent such as Leslie Kean, but I would have expected to hear it in a review on these pages... There are quite a few other cases he needs to learn about, too.
Peter Brookesmith, longtime paranormal researcher and regular contributor to Fortean Times, says
This review contains what must surely be the most distorted version of the Rendlesham Incident to see the light....where was the wary & informed editorial control? It's not even as if this worthless tract has never been kicked in the fundament (and not only in hard-line skeptical journals) by other reviewers: it's been out & about for a while. So the real question is, how come the review was published by E-Skeptic at all?
(The correct spelling is "Oberg")
As far back as August, 2010 skeptic James Oberg wrote for MSNBC that Kean's book was based on a "questionable foundation." He quickly glanced at a list of supposed "unexplained" cases given by Kean, and immediately pulled out ten that he knew to be caused by Russian space launches.
E-Skeptic is probably unaware that Kean's book was also made into an equally bad one-sided pro-UFO documentary on the History Channel. I have also written a critique of the misrepresentations made on this show.

Apparently Mr. Michael is also unaware that the big controversy underway in UFOlogy at the moment involves Kean promoting a video of a fly buzzing around as being possibly "the case UFO skeptics have been dreading."   Even many of the UFO proponents are choking on that one, as her position is so obviously illogical. Had Michael known that Kean was vigorously defending such an obvious absurdity, I cannot imagine how he possibly could have written such a fawning review.

Unfortunately, now Leslie Kean will be able to boast to reporters that her book has been given the 'seal of approval' of Skeptic magazine for its "academic rigor." As Ian Ridpath noted, if Michael had even bothered to check Wikipedia, he would have seen the problems in Kean's version of the Rendlesham case. Let us hope that in future articles concerning UFOs, the Skeptics Society will utilize the services of authors and reviewers whose understanding of the UFO controversy is better than paper-thin, and who will check out the validity of pro-UFO claims before credulously swallowing them.