Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Listening to The Great Debate

In my last Blog entry, I wrote about the Great Debate coming up between myself and "flying saucer physicist" Stanton T. Friedman. An audience of 100,000 people were reported to have listened to it live on August 8 (although some suggest, based on past audience claims, that that number is inflated). A thread was created about it on AboveTopSecret, a conspiracy-oriented website (which often has useful content, nonetheless.) The debate is now available on the YouTube channel of Third Phase of the Moon, embedded below.
Somehow the debate was titled "Are We Alone in the Universe?", a position that I have never maintained. I explained that, given the vastness of the known universe, I consider it a virtual certainty that there are other intelligent beings 'out there' somewhere. But there is not, I maintained, any credible evidence that extraterrestrials have ever visited earth.

What was the result, from my perspective? First, that they allowed Friedman to talk far too much. My time to speak was much shorter.  Also, Friedman kept interrupting me while I was talking, and seldom let me finish making a point. Here are a few of my observations:
  • I brought up the Yukon "close encounter" UFO sighting in 1996. Friedman has spoken about this case as one of the all-time best. Ted Molczan and other satellite experts have unambiguously identified this as the fiery re-entry of a Russian rocket booster launched less than 24 hours earlier. Friedman refused to accept this: "No way, Jose!" I asked him if he believed that the fiery rocket booster, and an alien spacecraft, were both in the same place at the same time. Perhaps the spacecraft was obscuring the rocket reentry? I used this to illustrate the argument that "reliable witnesses aren't."
Was this the result of the debate?

  • I said that when people see something in the sky that they can't identify, they should not jump to the least-likely hypothesis - that it is an alien space craft. Friedman insisted that this was the most likely hypothesis!!
  •  He argued that the Bluebook Special Report 14 shows that the "unknown" cases are of a higher quality than those that could be explained. I read some of Alan Hendry's critique of BBSR14 from his book The UFO Handbook, accusing them of invalid statistical procedures.
  • Concerning the so-called "Truman Forrestal memo" of MJ-12, I noted that it is fake because the supposed presidential signature is a photocopy of one on a genuine document. Stanton claimed President Truman signed so many documents that it's inevitable that two signatures could be found that are identical!
    Or was it this? (cartoons by "torsion" on AboveTopSecret)
  • When I brought up the lack of an Archive Registration Number on the supposed "Cutler-Twining memo" of MJ-12, allegedly discovered in the U.S. National Archives, Stanton tried to bait-and-switch, insisting that it had a proper document number on it. But the two are not the same: the copy number of a controlled document is not the same as the number that would be assigned to it when it was registered into the archives. I could not get him back on the subject. And no archive registration number implies that it was planeted in the archives for somebody to supposedly "find." Freidman claimed that all of the arguments against the original MJ-12 "documents" are answered in his book MAJIC.
  • I brought up the famous "Fish Map," the supposed 'extraterrestrial star map' of Betty Hill that has been a major part of Friedman's UFO lectures for about forty years. Recent astronomical data shows that the star catalog on which the map was originally based contained some major errors concerning the stars involved, and that the special sun-like properties that all its stars supposedly had is not correct. Friedman was of course not willing to say "Sorry folks, I've been steering you wrong for the past forty years. I'm afraid that the Fish map is not valid." So he again danced around the obvious, claiming that the map's Zeta1 and Zeta2 Reticuli are "very special," without explaining what that is supposed to mean. I countered that it doesn't mean a thing. Of course, now that the map's foundation has been knocked out from under it, the two Zetas are irrelevant to any ETI argument. I asked Stanton if he was still promoting  the Fish map; he replied that he is still "promoting her work," for which he expressed great admiration. "She built more than twenty models," which, of course, has nothing to do with whether the map is correct. Should we give her an award, I asked? Freidman kept bringing up irrelevant points and dancing around the fundamental fact that the Fish Map is now, as I said, "dead."
  • He praised the "skill" and experience of the Hills hypnotist, Dr. Benjamin Simon. But Dr. Simon did not believe the "abduction" story, and considered it a fantasy.
  • Because Friedman has frequently promoted nuclear fusion as a technique for interstellar travel, I pointed out physics Nobel Laureate Edward Purcell's calculation that, to accelerate one unit of matter to 99% of the speed of light ( Friedman proposes to travel even faster than this in his essay on UFO Propulsion Systems) would require 1.6 * 10**9 units of fusionable hydrogen (1.6 billion), even if it could be done with perfect efficiency, which of course is never possible. Friedman insisted that this was in error, that Purcell made certain assumptions about technological limitations that were not correct. I replied that he is wrong: Purcell calculated nothing more than the amount of hydrogen fusion required to release enough energy for the acceleration, without worrying about how it could possibly be performed or controlled. Friedman insisted that we could use gravitational assist to fling ourselves to the stars. But this works only in our solar system, I replied; the orbital velocity of the fastest planet, Mercury, is only about 30 miles/second, utterly negligible when you're trying to speed up to almost 186,282 miles/second.
  • The last 8 minutes were supposed to be "closing statements" from both of us. However, Friedman talked on and on for six minutes, leaving me very little. I was not timing him, I assumed that the host would. I wanted to close with Philip J. Klass' UFO Curse, but I was cut off before I could. Here is Klass' 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 knows about UFOs than you know today. As you lie on your death-bed, you will be as mystified about UFOs as you are today. And you will remember this curse."
When the time was up, the host asked Friedman and I if we might want to do this again sometime. I said that I'd be willing, after some time had passed. But not Stanton - he proclaimed himself too occupied to ever debate again. I think he realized that his evasions did not  go over well, and the stuff he has been defending is too flimsy to be defended in a debate. And I was told that Third Phase had considerable difficulty finding any pro-UFOlogist who was willing to debate me; several turned them down before Friedman agreed. If I ever do debate Friedman again, I will insist on strictly-monitored time segments: he talks for five minutes and I stay silent, then it's my turn. Otherwise Friedman just jumps in and tries to steer the discussion his way, using irrelevant arguments and "red herrings."

On Above Top Secret, "carddown" said "Friedman brought very little new to the debate, mostly just a performance in part of his Cosmic Watergate lecture. Sheaffer brought up many good points, and I thought he really scored with the Canadian UFO/booster reentry and the Fish map flop. (Did you notice how Friedman had to retreat on the map by saying eyewitnesses are unreliable?) "

If you have any comments on the debate, please share them with us below. Please keep them polite and civil, however tempting it might be to do otherwise. Thanks.



Monday, August 5, 2013

Before the Great Debate: My Review of "The Aztec Incident"

The time of the Great Debate Approaches! On Thursday, August 8, 2013 I will debate the self-styled "Flying Saucer Physicist" Stanton T. Friedman, who has been a major UFO proponent for almost 50 years. The debate is sponsored by Third Phase of the Moon (a well-known UFO advocacy site, the leading UFO channel on YouTube), and carried by the Revolution Radio Network. The time is 5:00 PM Pacific Time (8:00 PM Eastern Time). To listen, go to http://www.freedomslips.com/ and click directly on the unlabeled "play" icon for Studio A on the left. At some point the host will open up phone lines for questions. When that happens, the call in number is 818-923-1713.
Stanton Friedman

One of the subjects sure to come up in the debate is the supposed "Aztec, New Mexico UFO Crash" of March 25, 1948, "eight months after Roswell." Long considered a hoax by the great majority of UFOlogists, a new book The Aztec Incident by Scott and Suzanne Ramsey now has Friedman being very impressed by the so-called "evidence." He wrote a Foreward to the book, in which he apologized for his earlier skepticism about the case. Friedman said:
This is a very important book setting new standards for investigation, persistence, and the casting of a very wide net to locate witnesses. There will certainly be shrieks of distress from both noisy negativists and pro-UFO types who have been unwilling to maintain the Aztec story in their "gray basket." It is not gray anymore. It proves there were more than a few crashes.
 In the November/December 2012 issue of The Skeptical Inquirer, I wrote a very detailed critique of the Ramseys' new book. I want listeners to the debate to be able to read that review, so they can see for themselves what a loopy tale it is that Friedman now endorses:

from The Skeptical Inquirer, November/December, 2012. Revised August 5, 2013
  Aztec Saucer Crash Story Rises from the Dead?
The Aztec Incident by Scott and Suzanne Ramsey
Dr. Frank Thayer and Frank Warren, researchers.
Foreword by Stanton Friedman
(Mooresville, NC: Aztec.48 Productions, 2012. 221 pp, $24.95)

    The famous Roswell Saucer Crash claim was born, and died, in the span of about a twenty-four hour newspaper cycle in July of 1947. The story was dead and forgotten for about thirty years, even among those few who believed in saucer crashes, until brought back to life by the book The Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz and William Moore. Since then, the Roswell story has reached Critical Mass, and thus will never again be forgotten or ignored, no matter what the facts about the case have been shown to be.
    A second saucer crash is supposed to have occurred in New Mexico, at Aztec, in 1948. The source of that story was the 1950 book Behind the Flying Saucers by Variety columnist Frank Scully. That claim had a somewhat longer run, until 1952. That was when San Francisco journalist J.P. Cahn convinced the editor of True magazine that the Scully saucer crash story was either the greatest event of modern times, or the greatest hoax. The editor agreed, and the result was a long investigation culminating in two lengthy and devastating articles in True. Cahn proved that Scully’s sources, Silas Newton and Leo Gebauer, were con men who made a living swindling people by claiming to have devices for finding oil and minerals in the ground.
    In fact, so successful was Cahn’s demolition of the Newton/Gebauer story, that claims of  “saucer crashes” were ignored until at least the mid 1970s. In 1987, UFO researcher William Steinman published UFO Crash at Aztec, trying to legitimize that claim. It got very little “respect” - even Stanton Friedman didn’t buy it (for which Friedman here apologizes, blaming his earlier rejection of it on absurd statements made by Steinman’s co-author, the late Wendelle Stevens). In 1998, the first annual UFO Conference was held to benefit the Aztec Public Library. The last one was held in 2011; there wasn’t enough interest to continue. The Aztec crash seemed to be a hoax, and that was the end of the story.
    Not so fast! say Scott and Suzanne Ramsey. Having spent over $500,000 of their own money over a period of 25 years, traveled to 27 states and collected over 55,000 documents, the Ramseys claim that there are first and (mostly) second-hand witnesses to the crash retrieval operation, and that the honest and successful oilman Silas Newton was pretty much framed by J.P. Cahn, to discredit the crash story, and especially to discredit Frank Scully.
    “Eight months after Roswell,” on March 25 1948, some oil workers went out to battle a supposed brush fire near a company site, and supposedly discovered instead that “a very large metallic lens-shaped craft sat silently atop the mesa.” They found that there were at least two dead bodies inside it, beings that were small but otherwise entirely human. Soon there was a military helicopter hovering overhead, and soldiers arriving. Eventually there were up to 200 persons involved in the recovery effort that lasted two weeks, a few miles outside this town of a few thousand people. However, no word leaked out to the local press or community leaders, probably because, as one man explained, “we were threatened with our lives if we ever spoke out about this.”  
    One of the government scientists who supposedly studied the crashed saucer was a mysterious “Doctor Gee” (obviously Gebauer despite his and others’ denial), who let his friend, oilman Silas Newton, in on the secret as they were driving around trying out a magnetic device for detecting “microwaves” supposedly emitted by oil in the ground. Dr. Gee claimed to be a “master of magnetic energy,” and to have worked on a device called a magnetron that “knocked out as many as 17 Japanese submarines in one day.” The saucers, according to Newton, probably originate on Venus, and use “magnetic” propulsion, traveling along “Magnetic Lines of Force which originate in the sun and revolve around their planets and their moons, keeping the universe in magnetic balance.” The Ramseys don’t seem to realize that these statements are pseudoscientific gibberish.
    For some reason, the magnetic prospectors drove directly to Frank Scully’s house in Hollywood (Newton also lived in Hollywood, and had been in contact with Scully), where they regaled him with tales about saucers, including the one that crashed in Aztec.
The book that started the Aztec Crash story
    Newton, according to the Ramseys, has gotten a bum rap from Cahn. His supposedly “questionable” business deals were “nothing new, as the oil business always has a high level of risk… Newton’s investors were, in the main, all quite happy, as court records show.” (Of course, con men like Newton typically use money from new “investors” to pay off earlier “investors” who threaten to complain to the law.) When Scully refused Cahn’s fervent offer to buy the whole story for the San Francisco Chronicle, say the authors, Cahn set out to destroy the Aztec crash story, and also Newton, Gebauer, and Scully. The authors claim that Cahn’s accusations made to the FBI “resulted in the malicious prosecution of Newton and his friend Leo Gebauer – a prosecution based in envy and a relentless vendetta.”
The FBI, however, takes a different view. Official government records at http://vault.fbi.gov/silas-newton contain “the FBI’s investigations into Newton’s fraudulent activities between 1951 and 1970.” According to the FBI, “Silas Newton (1887-1972) was a wealthy oil producer and con-man who claimed that he had a gadget that could detect minerals and oil.” Newton’s first arrest was as far back as 1931, with many more arrests following. In 1970 Newton pleaded guilty in Los Angeles to illegal securities sales (but was allowed to withdraw that plea after making restitution to the investor), and was also under investigation for an alleged mining fraud in New Mexico, two years before his death at age 85. And the Ramseys state, “the FBI is still withholding over 211 pages concerning Silas Newton.” Would you buy a used saucer from that man? (By comparison, so far as I am aware J.P. Cahn has never been in trouble with the law.)

In Frank Scully’s Private and Confidential Memo on J.P. Cahn, dated June 15, 1952, and forwarded to the attorney for Newton, some inflammatory accusations were made. Scully claimed that Cahn was “trying out blackmail on me, for size… he even confessed that he had gone in for some larceny to strengthen his case…. He proved himself a louse in the blouse of journalism, a dangerous man.”
However, this Memo was almost certainly dictated by Scully under the direction of his attorney. Thus it must be read not as “here is what happened,” but instead “here is what we’ll say in court, if the matter lands there.” It cannot be taken as unbiased fact. The next time you are in a courtroom, note that while witnesses are placed under oath, the attorneys never are, and thus are under no real obligation to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
I knew Cahn during the 1980s and 90s. I can agree that he had a brash and self-promoting personality, and I can well imagine the verbal battles between the caged combatants Cahn and Frank and Alice Scully as they made the slow drive from Los Angeles to Palomar Mountain to see George Adamski. (The Scullys were Adamski supporters). Cahn wanted Scully to admit that he had been duped, and write an article admitting it. “The fact is, Frank, the information you accepted and passed on to your readers in good faith is not what you were led to believe it was. Gebauer is not one of the nation’s ‘top scientists’”.  Cahn was urging Scully to protect his reputation and admit he had been hoaxed. But in Behind the Flying Saucers we find Scully surprisingly unconcerned about his reputation: “It is generally believed that to be any party to a hoax spells ruin, once the hoax is exposed. Nothing is further from the facts.” Scully remarks that he formerly wrote for the sensationalist New York Sun, which expired with great “notoriety,” about which he seems rather proud. Read all of Behind the Flying Saucers (available as a free E-book from scribd.com) and you will realize the obvious: Scully was a “true believer” in flying saucers, as well as a dedicated follower of Charles Fort, and probably no evidence to the contrary would ever change his mind.

Was Cahn motivated by “envy and a relentless vendetta?” I absolutely do not think so. I always felt the suspicion that old Jape was fond of Scully and went too easy on him.  Cahn always emphasized that Scully was not himself a hoaxer, but had been hoaxed. My web page http://debunker.com/Scully.html contains a lot of in-depth information on the Scully controversy, including what is probably the only recording of J. P. Cahn discussing his investigations. The Ramseys have misrepresented Cahn’s feelings about Scully. Cahn told the Bay Area Skeptics “Frank [Scully] turned out to be an absolutely super guy.” (part 1 about 8:15), “And he was outraged, absolutely outraged, that I would question this” crashed saucer story. An honest man telling a hard-to-believe tale expects to meet with incredulity, but a scoundrel is outraged at encountering reasonable doubt.

Whether or not you agree with the authors’ conclusions, you have to admire their zeal for investigation. This is one of the best-documented UFO books I have ever seen. There are documents from the FBI archives, Air Force archive documents, news clippings, and most important, the documents from the Frank Scully Collection at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming (that no researcher previously realized existed!). They even found a transcript of the interview of Denver radio ad salesman George Koehler, an associate of Newton, by two Air Force Office of Special Investigations men, a recording that Scully boasts of having erased to thwart those he calls the “Pentagonians.” In 1950, the Air Force was clearly still concerned that flying saucers might represent something real, and wanted to find out.

Regardless of what flaws might or might not have existed in the characters of Newton, Gebauer, Cahn, and Scully, many problems remain: there is no physical or documentary evidence of any extraordinary object landing near Aztec in 1948; the “scientific” theories expounded by Newton and Gebauer are pseudoscientific claptrap (no real scientists were the source of this information, thus Gebauer is lying about working as a top government scientist); and Newton’s claim to operate an electronic device he would carry around the desert to locate oil and minerals was likewise fraudulent, because such devices do not exist. Anyone who wants to rehabilitate the claims of a saucer crash at Aztec needs to explain why we should believe obvious liars like Newton and Gebauer before worrying about who squabbled with whom over publication rights.

It's interesting to note that I'm not the only one writing a critical review of this book  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. We should also note that Frank Warren, credited as a researcher on the book's cover, also expresses serious reservations about the authors' conclusions. Practically the only well-known UFOlogist who takes The Aztec Incident seriously is Stanton Friedman. (I'm sure that, in the debate, he will trot out one or two others.)

Monte Shriver grew up in Aztec, NM, moving there in 1947, and graduating from Aztec High School in 1952. His mother lived in Aztec until her death in 2006. He has written a long, three-part article on Kevin Randle's Blog demonstrating problems with the "saucer crash" claims in the Steinman and Ramsey books. Despite the claims of military retrievals, harassment, surveillance, roads closed, etc., not one of the local residents ever mentioned anything about a supposed "saucer crash" in Hart Canyon (where Shriver went camping as a Boy Scout). Had there been anything out of the ordinary going on in a town as small as that, it would have been the main topic of conversation for years! He cites local history references to demonstrate many errors concerning roads, rivers, mountains,  etc. in both saucer books.