Back on Sept. 6, 2012 I wrote a Blog entry, Smithsonian-Affiliated "National Atomic Testing Museum" Promises UFO "Secrets" Revealed. It is still getting a lot of web hits - currently it's my third most-viewed entry, in spite of being a year and a half old. One would hope that in that intervening time things would have gotten better, owing to the bad publicity they received over this. Unfortunately, things seem to be getting worse.
I was at the recent International UFO Congress near Phoenix, Arizona, and so was the National Atomic Testing and UFO Museum of Las Vegas, and its director, Allan Palmer. In the dealers' room, nestled in with the Adamski Foundation and other New Age and UFO organizations, the Museum set up a table to promote itself to the UFO aficionados. Among their offerings was a discount coupon, exclusively to attendees of the UFO Congress, for entry into their exhibit on Area 51, which presumably still includes an "authentic alien artifact" from Russia, given to it by George Knapp, a frequent guest host of the all-night paranormal and conspiracy radio program Coast to Coast AM. As I wrote in my Psychic Vibrations column in the Skeptical Inquirer, January/February, 2013, about a pro-UFO panel discussion at the museum:
During the question and answer session, Las Vegas skeptic John Whiteside asked about the supposed “authentic alien artifact” in the Area 51 exhibit. The moderator referred the question to reporter George Knapp, in the audience, who (scandalously) was the source of that “artifact.” Knapp has made a career out of reporting on weird stuff like alleged saucers at Area 51, Robert Bigelow’s Haunted Ranch in Utah, etc. Who had verified that supposed artifact? The Russians, and others. Who exactly? No answer.
|The table of the National Atomic Testing and UFO Museum, at the 2014 International UFO Congress.|
|Allan Palmer (right), with Lee Speigel of the Huffington Post.|
At the conference, I had the opportunity to meet the Executive Director and CEO of the museum, Allan Palmer. He is a personable sort of fellow, and, I thought, much more of a showman than an educator. (Earlier, when he was the head of the San Diego Air and Space Museum, he brought in the exhibit The Science of Aliens.) I thought that he perhaps might be upset concerning what I had written earlier about his museum, but that did not seem to be the case at all. It's "write anything you want, as long as you spell my name correctly," I suppose.
As we discussed that controversial panel of pro-UFOlogists who presented dubious UFO claims at his museum (see my earlier Blog posting), Palmer explained the difficulties he had with the Smithsonian over his museum's use of the tag "Smithsonian-affiliated." They didn't like his use of that label when the subject matter is UFOs.
But, he replied to them, you have presented a program on UFOs yourself! And he reminded them that on Sept. 6, 1980 the Smithsonian Institution sponsored a half-day UFO Symposium in Washington, DC.
It was held in the large lecture hall of the Museum of Natural History. Six leading UFOlogists, pro and con, were invited to participate. On the "pro" side were the late J. Allen Hynek, Allan Hendry (who at that time was CUFOS' chief investigator), and Bruce Maccabee. On the skeptical side were the late Philip J. Klass, James E. Oberg, and myself. If you're going to have a panel to discuss UFOs, that is the way to do it! (The UFO Panel at Palmer's museum consisted solely of UFO proponents.) We each gave our presentations, and took questions in writing from the audience. My presentation is on-line here. (One member of the audience who was furious at not having been selected as a panelist was Stanton T. Friedman, a professional UFO lecturer who bills himself as the "Flying Saucer Physicist." Throughout the presentations Friedman could be heard, muttering and loudly declaiming comments, whenever any speaker said something with which he disagreed.)
In November of last year, I received email from Lee Speigel, who writes Weird News for the Huffington Post. He said he was going to be giving a talk at the National Atomic Testing and UFO Museum the following month, and wanted to know if I had any photos or other information about the Smithsonian UFO Panel. (Speigel attended that panel, which is where I first met him.) I replied by sending him the picture you see below, the only one from the event I currently have, plus the link to my presentation.
|Sept. 6, 1980: Yours Truly (left), with the late Philip J. Klass, and the late Michael Dennett |
(UFO and Bigfoot skeptic). Photo by John Timmerman.
Armed with that information, Palmer apparently went back to the folks at the Smithsonian, and filled them in on their own forgotten chapter about UFOs. After which, he said, they told him 'do anything you want, just don't put our name on it.' So you will notice that, on the flier for the talk to be given at the Museum by Stanton T. Friedman, the "Flying Saucer Physicist," the words "Smithsonian-affiliated" do not appear. A small victory, I suppose. Very small.
(On April 19, 1978, the Smithsonian had presented a debate on the existence of ESP, between the celebrated Joseph Banks Rhine, and skeptic and humanist Paul Kurtz, which I attended. Again, a perfectly-balanced discussion by experts. Apparently the transcript of this debate was published by the Smithsonian Institution Resident Associate Program as "Key Issues in Science Today - The Paranormal: Science or Pseudoscience?" Where might we get a copy of this?)
|The Museum is now sponsoring a talk by The Flying Saucer Physicist himself.|
I was interested to see in the March/April, 2014 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer, a short News and Comment piece, "Pseudoscience Creep: Science Museums, Universities Host Pseudoscience" by Jessie Haynes. In it, she notes how in 2005, the Smithsonian Institution hosted the screening of an anti-evolution film by the Discovery Institute, in return for a $16,000 contribution from that organization. She also notes other dubious presentations by museums and schools, concluding "Pseudoscience is rampant in museums and schools across the United States, and unfortunately the media and likewise the public don't seem to care."
|The entrance to the National Atomic Testing and UFO Museum|
|A coupon for discount admission to the Area 51 Exhibit, for UFO Congress attendees only.|