Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Dr. Bruce Maccabee (1942-2024)

Word has just come in of the passing of the optical physicist and UFO researcher Bruce Maccabee at the age of 82. Bruce was very well-known in UFOlogy for his detailed analysis of  many UFO cases, including the McMinnville UFO photos, Kenneth Arnold's sighting, the Phoenix Lights, the Gulf Breeze photos of Ed Walters, the New Zealand films, etc. He worked with all of the major UFO organizations: NICAP, MUFON, FUFOR. He also found time to hang out with, and argue with, the likes of Phil Klass and myself. You can read all about Bruce's investigations on his Website.

Dr. Bruce Maccabee

I knew Maccabee from the time when we both lived in Silver Spring, Maryland (about 1975-1980). He was a sincere fellow who was convinced, for reasons that are hard to understand, of the authenticity of certain very dubious UFO cases, and he would boldly set forth his arguments. We were both interested in astronomy, and sometimes we would drive outside the suburban sprawl to set up our telescopes under darker skies. 

Somehow Maccabee got his hands on the original negatives of the McMinnville UFO photos (apparently the news organization had them in its files from when they were first published, until Maccabee inquired about them - about 25 years later! The negatives have since been returned to a Trent family member.)  Bruce invited me to spend an afternoon with him in a rented photographic darkroom, where we ran print after print from the original negatives, at different magnifications, exposures, etc. I have made high-resolution scans from those prints, and made them available to researchers. Maccabee argued strongly that the object was large, and far from the camera, while skeptics like myself argue that it was a small object, suspended by strings from the telephone wires above it. The late Joel Carpenter made a convincing argument that Trent's UFO was in fact an old truck mirror, hanging from strings thrown over the overhead wires.

The Trent photos as a stereo pair, by "Blue Shift" on ATS. The "UFO" is seen to be small, and relatively close.

Maccabee's UFO photo analyses seemed fairly reasonable, up to a point. That point was passed when he got involved with Ed Walters, the perpetrator of a series of UFO photos from Gulf Breeze, Florida. These photos were so obviously bogus, and Ed's stories so preposterous, that no serious person could possibly believe them. But Bruce disagreed. The Tampa Bay Times wrote a review of the book by Ed Walters and his wife, The Gulf Breeze Sightings (Feb. 25, 1990):

One's first reaction to the pictures is that they must have been faked. (A colleague of mine commented, "I'd search the guy's house for Chinese lanterns.") [RS: you can't make this up. Exactly this has happened, and a 'Chinese Lantern' was indeed found!]. Yet they have been endorsed as authentic by Bruce S. Maccabee, a government research physicist, whose report is contained in the book. Maccabee, after investigating the sites and the cameras as well as the photos, concluded that there was no evidence of a hoax.

"Having studied these sightings "every which way' for more than a year," Maccabee writes, "I have concluded that they are proof of the existence of UFOs. But what is proof for one person is not necessarily proof for another. What would convince you? You have to make up your own mind.

"The investigation is not yet complete. Ed was abducted on Dec. 17, 1987, and again on May 1, 1988. The investigation into what happened during these and previous abductions is ongoing."

One of Ed Walters' UFO photos from Gulf Breeze, Florida.  


I can't get into all of the details about the Gulf Breeze photos and sightings here. Tim Printy gives us an excellent overview of what is wrong with the Ed Walters story.  There has also been controversy over payments to Maccabee from Walters' publishers for his favorable photo analysis, suggesting to some that Maccabee's endorsement was 'bought.' I don't think this is the case, because first of all the amount was not exactly life-changing, and secondly, Maccabee gave every indication of being sincerely convinced of Mr. Ed's veracity.

Bruce's wife Jan Maccabee apparently had a "weird experience" of something like a 'predator' while hunting in the forest.

she became aware that a weird visual “effect” was moving rightward across her field of view at an apparent distance of maybe fifteen to twenty feet.  She described it as if looking through "saran wrap."  Perhaps a more apt comparison would be like looking at a mirage above a hot road.  She compared this distortion of the scene as being somewhat like the effect of the invisible creature in the PREDATOR movie! 

I never met Jan, because she and Bruce didn't get together until after I was already in California. This posting has since been removed from Bruce's website. It is discussed on Reddit here. 

Even more bizarre, in 2022 a video was posted (also since removed) of Bruce Maccabee (apparently assisted by his wife) offering to sell an original copy of the Patterson Bigfoot film

Daniel Perez reported in the March 2023 edition of Bigfoot Times that 80 year old Dr. Bruce Maccabee in Ohio is selling a first generation copy that he acquired from Eric Beckjord. In this article, Daniel says that according to Patricia Patterson, she lent Eric the film to make copies but he returned one of those copies to her instead of the original. Sounds like the ownership of it is going to be the subject of a legal dispute. Asking price, $16 million.

The film reportedly showed never-before-seen details at the end, apparently involving a "littlefoot". The voice of the man I heard on the video promoting it was nothing like the feisty Bruce Maccabee I used to know. He sounded hesitant and mentally confused, which is not uncommon for an 80-year-old man. Perhaps somebody saved a copy of the video so we can see it?  I knew Beckjord, who died in 2008. I am not aware of him  claiming to possess the original Patterson Bigfoot film (a film he studied to death and practically worshiped), but frankly this shenanigan does indeed sound like something that Beckjord would do. And I do remember Beckjord turning up in Silver Spring, talking with Bruce and Phil and I. So I don't know what the end of that story is, and who removed the video promoting it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Disclosure Warriors Uncover a Vast UFO Coverup Conspiracy: Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia!

We have just recently witnessed one of the funniest episodes of UFOlogical stupidity in recent memory: Some of UFO's top Disclosure Warriors dramatically announce they have uncovered a "secret cabal" manipulating Wikipedia articles about UFOs. Matt Ford of the Good Trouble Show posted this dramatic announcement on TwitX on January 21:

TODAY 530pm Pacific. @RobHeatherly1
joins us as he exposes the Secret Cabal of debunker Wikipedia Editors run by a non-profit 501(c)3 targeting Wikipedia pages on UFOs with a written statement by @LueElizondo



So there we have it - these Disclosure Warriors, including the esteemed Lue Elizondo himself, dramatically announce to official Washington, and  to the world, that they have uncovered a major "Cabal"  covering up UFO truth! So dramatic!!! Elizondo claims to have headed up the Pentagon's AATIP UFO investigation program, which unfortunately never had any budget. He later worked with Tom DeLonge, who promised to build spacecraft that would go "To The Stars." Here is what Lue had to say about GSoW:

Guerrilla Wikipedians must be good saucer pilots, since they are "wreckless."

The only problem is: this is a "Cabal" that was never "secret" in the first place! Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia (GSoW), headed up by skeptic Susan Gerbic, has been around since 2010. I wrote about it in this Blog in 2012, and again in 2013. It was the subject of a major article in Wired magazine in 2018, among other places. So anyone who thinks they have uncovered a "Wikipedia secret cabal" has the investigative skills not of a Sherlock Holmes, but of a Mr. Magoo. Here is a video from 2020 of Susan explaining what GSoW is all about
Disclosure: Technically I am a member of GSoW, although I have not participated in it very much. I did add some info to a few pages, and I have uploaded a number of my photos to Wikimedia Commons that might have relevance to UFO history.


Susan Gerbic, with her camera as always, making friends with the Dinosaur in the Creation Museum in Santee, California in 2012.
These UFO warriors seem to think that the skeptical Wikipedians are just arbitrarily changing article texts, and creating misleading articles. What they don't seem to understand is that Wikipedia has rules. You need to have citations, you also need to avoid copyright infringements, self-promotion, etc:
To maintain the highest standards possible, Wikipedia has a strict inclusion policy that demands verifiability. This is best established by attributing each statement in Wikipedia to a reliable, published source (but see Rules 7 and 8 on excessive self-citing).... All articles in Wikipedia should be impartial in tone and content. When writing, do state facts and facts about notable opinions, but do not offer your opinion as fact. Many newcomers to Wikipedia gravitate to articles on controversial issues about which people hold strong opposing viewpoints.

There is a "talk" page for many articles, to discuss or debate the application of these rules to the contents of that page. These sometimes turn into big debates for controversial articles, so if you have a problem with something you read in a Wikipedia article and want to change it, you'd better be able to solidly back up your claim. Given many UFOlogists' propensity for making exciting but unfounded claims, it is frankly no surprise that the articles they write would run afoul of Wikipedia rules, and end up removed or re-written.
Meanwhile, for any UFOlogist who believes that GSoW has been inaccurate or unfair in what it wrote in a Wikipedia article - then challenge them on the article's Talk page. If you can make a good case that they are not correct, it will get changed, and the change will remain. Plus, you can brag to all your friends about how you defeated the nasty Debunkers on Wikipedia.  But I don't see this happening, and I think we can figure out why. 😉


Monday, January 8, 2024

The Strange Life and Death (?) of Al Seckel (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Seckel was enjoying a lot of success posturing as an “expert,” or at least as a “collector,” of illusions, primarily visual. He spoke before many audiences, wrote (or plagiarized) articles and books, and traveled across the globe to share his presentations. Many of the illusions Seckel presented were invented by the magician Jerry Andrus (1918 – 2007). Andrus was a well-known and well-loved figure in the skeptic community, as well as with magicians, and often spoke at skeptic conferences. I learned that, following Andrus' death, Seckel's Eye Wonder wanted to buy the rights to all of Andrus' illusions and other works. I recommended against it.

In 2004 Seckel was invited to give a TED talk on visual illusions. His Bio calls him an “expert on illusions.” It notes,

"A previous version of this biography described Seckel as a "cognitive neuroscientist," which was not accurate".

However, Seckel’s 2010 TEDxSCS talk “[Y]Our Mind's Eye” describes him as “Cognitive neuroscientist Al Seckel, formerly of the California Institute of Technology.”

Denice Lewis, 1988



After two divorces, in June, 2004 Seckel married Denice D. Lewis, who was reportedly "Europe's highest paid catwalk model" for over a decade. They move into a custom home in Malibu that rented for $13,500 a month. She files for divorce just four months later. (Probably he told her “I’m a scientist” and “I’m rich,” both of which were false.)     

Seckel successfully postures not only as an “expert” on illusions, but also as a futurist and visionary, giving many talks. His financial status was always rather dodgy, but he somehow managed to keep borrowing enough from Peter to pay Paul.  


Al Seckel and Isabel Maxwell speak at the
World Economic Forum (WEF), 2011

In 2007 Seckel married Isabel Maxwell, daughter of the late billionaire fraudster Robert Maxwell, and sister to Ghislaine Maxwell. She had many connections in the world of high tech.

In January, 2011 Seckel organized a “Mindshift Conference” on Jeffrey Epstein’s infamous private island. The participants were Murray Gell-Mann, Christof Koch, Catherine Mohr, Gerald Sussman, Frances Arnold, Leonard Mlodinow, Paul Kirkaas, Brock Pierce, Ron Reisman, Pablos Holman, Dan Dubno, and Reichart Von Wolfsheild. Isabel was there with him.

"Jeffrey Epstein and Al Seckel have assembled a diverse and eclectic intimate group of exceptional thinkers and achievers to discuss various topics...."

Sometime around 2010, Seckel and Isabel moved permanently to France, living for a while in a Chateau that was owned by a friend, and moving around to other places. Seckel and Isabel  repeatedly use the excuse that they are "destitute" to avoid traveling to the US for court depositions and hearings involving their bankruptcy filings and other ongoing court cases.

Al Seckel & family join Stephen Hawking
for a Zero-G flight.

Seckel had been suing skeptic Tom McIver for "libel," i.e., revealing some of Seckel's frauds and impostures. In 2013 McIver contacted journalist Mark Oppenheimer, who had interviewed Seckel a few times previously concerning atheism, humanism, etc., and had attended some of Seckel's parties. In 2000 the interview was for an article on atheist history. Seckel was one of the early officers of Atheists United in Los Angeles, which is still active today. Seckel was with that group when it broke off from the atheist group founded by Madelyn Murray O’Hair, who was very much a control freak.

McIver suggested that Oppenheimer interview Seckel again, to look into the many accusations of financial impropriety. Seckel apparently did not like the questions that Oppenhiemer was asking, and the article's October, 2014 publication was cancelled because of legal threats from Seckel. Seckel realized that Oppenheimer would not be writing a puff piece (like most journalists nowadays do), and cut off all contact with him.

The Article that Ended Seckel's Career as a Con-Man, and Perhaps his Life. (July 20, 2015)

Finally, On July 20, 2015: Tablet online magazine publishes Mark Oppenheimer's article on Seckel, "The Illusionist."  Tom McIver describes the significance of this article:

Article focuses on Seckel’s obsession with befriending, socializing with, and gaining the confidence of celebrities and powerful and influential people in science, academia, entertainment, media, and the entrepreneurial world, often hosting them at his eclectic parties.  Among his guests not mentioned elsewhere on this timeline: biologist David Baltimore (Nobelist, Caltech president), billionaire Elon Musk (PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX), actress Sharon Stone, and musician Slash.  Mentions that Gell-Mann, Koch, and Shimojo no longer endorse Seckel, and that Pearce Williams' wife was pleased he has been exposed as owing money to them.  Also mentions that it is "remarkably easy to find people who believe Seckel took their money," naming several. Quotes Gerald Sussman as saying "I don't feel good about it" when asked if he'd given money to Seckel, implying he had.  Mentions that Seckel now trying to sell Robert Maxwell's papers, without success.  Includes quote from Denice Lewis that their divorce was never finalized (and Seckel denying they had been officially married). Notes that Seckel's attorney in Seckel v. McIver (Nicholas Hornberger) admitted that Seckel never paid his legal fees.

After publication of the Oppenheimer article, Seckel’s career as a wheeler and dealer among the rich and famous would be over. After reading this account of one person after another complaining that Seckel had cheated them of significant sums of money, no serious person would ever again enter into a business deal with Al Seckel.

The Oppenheimer article dropped an even bigger bombshell – Denice Lewis told him that she and Seckel were still legally married! Their divorce was never finalized. Therefore, Seckel’s marriage to Isabel Maxwell was never valid, a fact she apparently did not know until then. You can imagine how she reacted to this!

The world didn’t hear much about Seckel for a while after this. Then suddenly on Sept. 19, 2015, a memorial website appears for Seckel, saying

Al Paul Seckel, who died at the age of 57 near his home in France, is best known for helping to make optical illusions a household name throughout the world.

No time or place of death, or cause of death, is given in this anonymous announcement. Who wrote it? Isabel? Possibly even Seckel himself? Seckel’s alleged death was noted in various internet postings, but not in any actual news reports. As time passed, the paucity of details on the fate of Al Seckel became widely noted and remarked upon. No death certificate was ever presented, even to this day (and many people tried to find it). It was widely speculated that Seckel did not die but went into hiding, perhaps with the assistance of Epstein’s circle. But apart from rumors, there was no evidence whether Seckel was alive, or dead.

Then, finally on April 14, 2022 the Daily Mail headline blared,

EXCLUSIVE: 'A hand and a foot were missing, probably eaten by wild boars.' Mysterious death of Ghislaine Maxwell's con-man brother-in-law is finally declared a suicide SEVEN YEARS after he jumped to his death from a 100-ft. cliff in France
Al Seckel's disappearance in 2015 has finally been solved – he flung himself off a high cliff outside a picturesque French village
Seckel claimed to be the husband of Ghislaine Maxwell's older sister Isabel, but in fact he had not divorced his third wife
It was originally believed that he might have faked his own death when a major expose about how he conned buyers of rare books was about to be published
His body lay unnoticed for weeks before it was finally found on July 1, 2015
'It was the smell of putrefaction that eventually led to the corpse,' former deputy mayor Roland Garreau told
 'A hand and a foot were missing, probably eaten by wild boars or foxes,' Garreau told

PUBLISHED: 10:52 EDT, 14 April 2022 | UPDATED: 10:52 EDT, 14 April 2022

Seckel eaten by pigs? Maybe I do believe in Karma.
But this is the only news source to offer any information about Seckel’s fate. The article contains what it calls Seckel’s “death certificate,” but it actually appears to be a statement from the Mayor’s office, partially handwritten, based on a police report. It is not a formal certificate as is found in vital records.

At present I would say that the “preponderance of evidence” suggests that Seckel probably did die in France in 2015, but I wouldn’t say that it is established “beyond a reasonable doubt.” On the one hand, it is entirely reasonable to think that a person who has just suffered a devastating , irreparable setback might become suicidal.On the other hand, remember that Seckel's reported death was inexplicably kept secret for two months, then reported anonymously. There is also the lack of a formal death certificate. When dealing with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein, Al Seckel, and the Maxwells, it is reasonable to believe that somebody might have gone to a lot of trouble to deceive you.

During the 2021 trial in New York City which found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of sex trafficking and other charges, Ghislaine's sister Isabel was seen, faithfully attending every session and supporting her sister in every way.

I’m wondering when we will see a Netflix documentary series about Seckel, maybe “The Great Illusionist?”
Isabel Maxwell arrives at her sister's trial, 2021.


[Much of the material used in this report is drawn from Tom McIver’s exhaustive "Seckel" compendium]

Friday, January 5, 2024

The Strange Life and Death (?) of Al Seckel (Part 1)

This article veers just a bit from our usual dose of UFOlogy to talk about a man who was both a skeptical activist and a con-man, whose exploits sound like the script of an implausible movie – except it all really happened. Al Seckel was (or perhaps still is?) a very strange and interesting character. He founded the Southern California Skeptics in 1985, as a local affiliate of CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, now just “CSI”). He claimed to be a “physicist,” sometimes a “cognitive neuroscientist,” but never completed even a year of college. He claimed to be a graduate student working on a PhD in physics (and History of Science) at Cal Tech in Pasadena, but had actually just been ‘hanging around’ there (during which time he became friends with the famous physicist Richard Feynman, and arranged lectures for the Southern California Skeptics at Cal Tech). Soon accusations of financial improprieties were swirling around Seckel, although CSICOP didn’t pay much attention, and reflexively defended ‘their guy’ from attacks. The attacks mostly came from critics of CSICOP - Erik Beckjord, James Moseley, George Hansen - but in this case the critics were correct. When Seckel’s deceptions finally led to the collapse of the Southern California Skeptics, he disappeared from sight (supposedly because he was dying of leukemia, or else cancer). Seckel did actually have leukemia, although his illness didn’t occur until after SCS had already collapsed. He later made a complete recovery.

Seckel surfaced again a few years later as a TED talker and a famous scholar of optical illusions, writing (and sometimes plagiarizing) books and articles, again claiming bogus degrees and affiliations. He rubbed shoulders with many famous people, and after two divorces Seckel (somehow!) married supermodel Denice D. Lewis, who previously had dated George Hamilton, Dodi Fayed, and Pierce Brosnan, among others. (The marriage only lasted a few months.) Later Seckel married Isabel Maxwell, the daughter of the billionaire media mogul (and disgraced fraudster) Robert Maxwell, who has a more famous sister named Ghislaine. Seckel became an associate of the notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, in 2011 organizing a science-related conference on Epstein’s (in)famous private island (although no sexual improprieties have been alleged concerning this conference). About 2011 Seckel and Isabel moved from California to France, apparently to better escape creditors and avoid testifying for their pending bankruptcy. Then in September, 2015, Isabel publicly announces that her husband Al Seckel was dead, having fallen off a cliff in France two months earlier. (Why she would wait two months to announce his death has never been explained.) However, no documentary evidence of Seckel’s reported death was then produced – although we may have something like that now.

From Jeffrey Epstein's Website

And that, in a nutshell, is the crazy story of Al Seckel. Skeptic Tom McIver, who had been sued and harassed by Seckel’s lawyers for exposing Seckel’s frauds, maintains a complete chronology of Seckel-related events at, from which much of this information is taken.

I first met Al Seckel at the 1984 CSICOP Conference, held at Stanford University. He was then an enthusiastic young man of twenty-six, claiming to be a graduate student in “physics” and “history of science” at Cal Tech. He sought me out because I had been a co-founder of the Bay Area Skeptics (along with magician Bob Steiner) just two years earlier. Seckel explained that he was in the process of founding a similar group in Southern California, and wanted to discuss our experiences, and get my advice. Soon afterward, he invited me to come down to Pasadena (I was then living in San Jose) to deliver the very first lecture for Southern California Skeptics, held at Baxter Auditorium on the Cal Tech campus in Pasadena. To motivate me, Seckel told me that his friend Richard Feynman was very interested in hearing what I had to say about UFOs! I certainly could not turn down such an opportunity. My talk was well-received, but there was no sign of Feynman. Oh, something came up, Feynman couldn’t make it, Seckel said.

The flyer Seckel made to promote my inaugural talk for the Southern California Skeptics

On a later trip that I made to Los Angeles, I visited Seckel in his home, in Pasadena or thereabouts. It looked ordinary from the outside. However, the inside was filled with a dazzling assortment of valuable antiques. Not 1920s furniture, or anything like that. Instead, furniture pieces that were apparently hundreds of years old, looking like they were imported from castles and estates in Europe. I had not seen anything like that before (or since!). Seckel explained that he was an antiques broker, buying and selling such pieces for clients. Of course I was impressed.  Later it turned out that Seckel was embroiled in many lawsuits concerning ownership of these valuable antiques.

I was among the many people plagiarized by Seckel. I wrote an account of a "clever dog" tested by the Bay Area Skeptics, published in their July, 1987 newsletter.  "Clever animals" - a horse, or a dog - can supposedly do arithmetic and answer questions far beyond the mental ability of any animal. But invariably, they can only perform when in sight of their trainer, as we found was the case with the Clever Dog Sunny. Seckel called me, saying he wanted to use that story in the newspaper column he was than writing for the Los Angeles Times. I agreed, but I had no idea that he was going to write me out of the story completely, presenting it as his own (which was impossible, since he was not there). Seckel also appears to have appropriated a story from James "The Amazing" Randi, published without attribution. I also understand that Seckel swindled Randi out of a sum of money, although I never inquired about the details.

One of Seckel's articles in CSICOP's Skeptical Inquirer. He claimed credit for organizing this statement of Nobel Laureates. 

For several years Southern California Skeptics (SCS) seemed to be a big success story, and CSICOP gladly trumpeted Seckel’s apparent successes. Seckel publicly debated creationist Duane Gish, and claimed to have soundly boxed his ears. He claimed to be the inventor (later, claimed co-inventor) of the Darwin Fish (like the Christian fish symbol, but sprouting legs). But soon problems became evident. In December, 1987 the State of California revoked SCS’s nonprofit status because Seckel had failed to file the required financial forms. Nonetheless, Seckel continued to represent SCS as a “nonprofit” organization for years. SCS’s checks bounced, and money disappeared. Pat Linse (1947-2021) was a volunteer with SCS, later working as an artist and editor for Skeptic magazine. She warned CSICOP about Seckel’s shenanigans, but was largely ignored. After SCS had collapsed in 1990, two years later Michael Shermer founded the Skeptics Society, based at that time in Pasadena, and bringing in many of the same people who had been part of SCS, even continuing the monthly lectures in Baxter Hall originally organized by Seckel. However, by this time Seckel had moved on from skeptics’ organizations, finding bigger fish to fry. Seckel had nothing to do with Skeptic magazine or with Shermer, who has always run the Skeptics Society as a proper organization.

Soon, Seckel had re-branded himself as the “world’s leading authority on visual and other types of sensory illusions”, claiming, at various times, academic affiliations with Cal Tech, or Harvard. He founded IllusionWorks, and later EyeWonder publishing. During his career as an expert on visual illusions, Seckel wrote (or plagiarized) many articles and books, gave many lectures, and rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, including Murray Gell-Mann, Marvin Minsky, Nathan Myhrvold, Larry Page, Arno Penzias, Steve Wozniak, Stephen Hawking, Matt Groening, Mike Farrell, Arianna Huffington, Paul MacCready, Burt Rutan, Craig Venter, Richard Branson, Robin Williams, Sergey Brin, Peter Diamandis, James Cameron, among others.

Famous guests at a party in Seckel's home

About this gathering in his home, Seckel wrote,
This was one of the great intellectual gatherings that I held in my home in Pasadena in the 80s. In the back row (starting from the left) was the distinguished microbiologist Dr. Elie Shneour, then Manny Delbruck (wife of Max Delbruck, the "father of molecular biology") and noted comedian and former late night television host Steve Allen. Bottom: Legendary engineer Paul Macready, myself, Nobel Laureate Francis Crick (co-discoverer of the structure of DNA) and my friend John Edwards.

I knew Elie Shneour (1925-2015) from skeptic meetings in San Diego and elsewhere. He was obviously a very brilliant man. Yet he defended Seckel’s reputation until his death. And he was not the only one – several other skeptics have somehow continued to defended Seckel’s reputation. The Dean of UFO skeptics, Philip J. Klass, defended Seckel almost reflexively, until finally admitting in 1994 that Seckel had lied about his academic background. Michael Shermer had written to Klass, "If I never hear from him or about him again it will be too soon. I have never met anyone who can evoke such venom from so many people. A week does not go by that someone doesn't tell me another horrible Seckel story."

Seckel leased a Ferrari (but ended up owing $70,000, which was never paid). He rented expensive houses in Pasadena, Malibu and elsewhere, and ending up owing $100,000 for the one in Malibu. The list of people suing Seckel for non-payment was quite long. One of Seckel’s biggest legal battles was with Ensign Consulting Ltd., in which an investment fund claims it was conned by a self-described "master illusionist" who persuaded it to invest in rare books and art—including a portrait of Sir Isaac Newton—and then absconded with more than $543,000 and a bunch of the loot.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Netflix's "Encounters", Episode 2, Promotes Sensational Claims but Ignores Answers

In the previous posting, we examined how the first episode of Encounters presented the 2008 sightings in Stephenville, Texas in loving detail, but ignored the already-known explanation for all of it. Second verse, same as the first!

Episode 2 of Netflix's Encounters (one of whose Executive Producers was.Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television) covers the alleged 1994 UFO and alien sightings by as many as 62 school children (but no adults) at the Ariel School in Zimbabwe. A great deal has been written about this case, I won't try to repeat that in any detail.

One of the children drew this Spaceman, with his Spaceship.

As described in UFO Evidence,

On 14th September, 1994, a UFO streaked across the sky over Southern Africa. Two days later, something landed in a schoolyard in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, with three or four things beside it, according to journalist Cynthia Hind. This was witnessed by 62 schoolchildren, who had little or no exposure to TV or popular press accounts of UFOs. Cynthia Hind interviewed them the day after the encounter and made them draw pictures of what they had seen.

The case has since gone on to become a classic. The Harvard psychiatrist and UFO abductionist Dr. John Mack (1929-2004) came to Zimbabwe two months after the incident, and spent two days at the school interviewing the children, and the school staff. Interestingly, while there were about 250 children playing outside at the time, only 62 claim to have seen it. Not all 62 children were interviewed by Hind or Mack. (It should be noted that Cynthia Hind was a dedicated UFO author and  investigator.)

What might have been causing such extraterrestrial excitement? A "UFO streaked across the sky over Southern Africa" on Sept. 14? Newspaper reports described it as a "meteor shower," but there was no meteor shower. Not until several weeks later was it determined that the object widely seen across southern Africa was, in fact, the fiery re-entry of a Zenit-2 rocket that had launched Cosmos 2290. This then-unexplained sighting had caused a great stir and great UFO interest across the area.

Satellite guru Ted Molczan recorded this visual observation of the rocket's fiery re-entry.

Charlie Wiser has written a very detailed account of the Ariel School incident, from a skeptical perspective. I wrote about this case in 2016, some of which is reprinted here. The French psychologist Dr. Gilles Fernandez reviewed all of the written and recorded material concerning the children's interviews. He wrote that

Interviewing children has been the subject of numerous scientific papers and experiments, adaptations and creations of interview standard protocols, in psychology or criminology, to well avoid or minimize biases that occur when such interviews (or questionnaires) "pollute" the evidence. Cynthia Hind's interview methodology with children is very far from these standards.... Cynthia Hind and an adult (Headmaster?) debrief and discuss "other planets", "space travel", etc. while children are in the room and hear everything ...

Cynthia Hind interviewed the children all together, not separately

Fernandez notes that the children were not being interviewed individually, but instead all together:

The child must be interviewed individually (again following proper procedure). Now, in the video-recorded excerpts above, it is striking to see that children are interviewed in a "line" from four to six. Sometimes other children are in the background and listen to another child being questioned. The adults talk to each other or "debrief" while the children are still very close and present ... Also, children hear what others say (including adults), and therefore are likely to influence each other. Even worse, a child who has seen very little or nothing, sees his classmates details and that this is something that greatly interests adults (verbal and non-verbal rewards). This could encourage them to participate in the "game".

These collective sessions have therefore enabled children to hear each other and even to copy each other, caught in a game where they see adults and a nice lady interested in the narratives. We must therefore deliver in our turn, not be excluded or unwelcome in this "game" that took place. This potential participation or having participated give a certain homogeneity to the stories and therefore reported details ...
Also, Cynthia Hind conducting the interview is constantly interrupting the children and not allowing the free narrative. We must also wonder if the fact that the interviews as drawings sessions were held in the school, this did not lead them precisely, encouraged or "biased" them to make what would be compilations of stories ... kinds of school events, where, for example, the child thinks he must absolutely answer questions, produce a drawing, the adult (or authority here) will be waiting for answers and therefore it happens.

Then, as if the problems in the interrogation technique were not bad enough, Fernandez notes

Finally, and this is rarely mentioned or noticed, there was also a session where the children were invited [by Hind] to draw on the board this time around-and not just on paper. Again, this does not back it literally "to send the child to the table"  ? And it is still in my opinion a methodological error: the child is placed as in a school exercise status, "forcing him to produce" adult authority and waiting for something (and "authority" that the reward verbally or non-verbally) ... John Mack also, two months later, again invited children to draw ..

Dr. Fernandez' article detailing all of the problems with Ms. Hind's and Dr. Mack's interviews is well worth reading (in French, which Google can translate).

But then, unexpectedly, Encounters shows us a fellow named  Dallyn (all of the students were identified by first name only. Later he was identified as Dallyn Vico) who claims to have made up the entire ufo/alien story to get out of class. He claims it was a “shiny rock” and somehow supposedly persuaded the other students they were seeing spacemen. To say that this guy was disbelieved on social media would be an understatement, and I don't believe him, either. Journalist Nicky Carter interviewed Dallyn Vico and other students two weeks after the event in 1994. At that time he made no mention of making anything up. He said that he had seen the "meteorite" the night before, and the object he supposedly saw at the school looked like that, so he thought it was a meteorite, too. Asked if he believed that people could live on other planets as well as earth, Dallyn replied "yes."

Dallyn Vico in 1994

In a second interview in 2008, Dallyn said,

I believe that the Ariel sighting, although we do not fully understand what happened, there was something definitely that did occur there that was out of the ordinary... I looked up into the sky and I saw these lights in the sky, but they weren't fixated in one area..."The lights were flashing like different colors, blue, red, yellow, purple. But they would like flash and then disappear and then they would flash again, but maybe a kilometer or a large distance in the air. They would reappear and flash again, in a different area.

He made no mention of his alleged role in any of this. When the story told by an alleged witness changes in such a major way, that person is a liar. Either he was lying before he changed his story, or else he is lying afterward. Which it is doesn't matter.

So what actually triggered the Ariel School incident? It is difficult to say for sure. But let us recall that this is far from the only incident of apparent mass contagion or mass hysteria, especially among children:

  • "The Voronezh UFO incident was an alleged UFO and extra-terrestrial alien sighting reported by a group of children in Voronezh, Soviet Union, on September 27, 1989. The area has been popular with UFO-hunting tourists.

    "According to TASS, boys playing football in a city park "saw a pink glow in the sky, then saw a deep red ball about three metres in diameter. The ball circled, vanished, then reappeared minutes later and hovered". The children claimed to have seen "a three-eyed alien" wearing bronze coloured boots with a disk on the chest, and a robot, exiting the object.According to the children, the alien used a ray gun to make a 16-year-old boy disappear until the object departed."
  • "In 1959 Papua New Guinea was still a territory of Australia. June of that year saw the spectacular sightings by Father William Gill, an Australian Anglican missionary, and 37 members of his Boianai mission. Gill made notes about the experience, which the media obtained. Stories appeared in August, causing a sensation...One above the hills west, another over- head. On the large one two of the figures seemed to be doing something near the center of the deck, were occasionally bending over and raising their arms as though adjusting or “setting up” something (not visible). One figure seemed to be standing looking down at us (a group of about a dozen). I stretched my arm above my head and waved. To our surprise the figure did the same.... Hynek and Allan Hendry, the the [CUFOS] center’s chief investigator, concluded the ‘lesser UFOs’ seen by Gill were attributable to bright stars and planets, but not the primary object. Its size and absence of movement over three hours ruled out an astronomical explanation." While this account does not involve children, the fact that Father Gill was the spiritual leader of this religious community makes it very likely that his followers would simply agree with what he claimed they saw. Chapter 22 of UFOs Explained by Philip J. Klass discusses this case, and gives compelling reasons why these claims should not be taken seriously.

  • More recently, "On Monday October 2, 2023, news reports from western Kenya told of a bizarre condition that had swept through St. Theresa’s Eregi Girls’ High School. At least 62 students were hospitalized after exhibiting uncontrollable twitching of their arms and legs, including rhythmic muscle contractions and spasms. At times the girls were reported to appear as if possessed by spirits and complained of headaches, dizziness, and knee pain. Many were unable to walk and had to be taken in wheelchairs to waiting ambulances. The strange outbreak occurred in the town of Musoli, about 230 miles northwest of Nairobi...Samples of blood, urine, phlegm, and stool were taken, along with throat swabs. All proved to be unremarkable. By Thursday, Kenyan health officials also ruled out the role of infectious disease and instead concluded that they were suffering from “hysteria” in response to stress from upcoming exams." Psychologist and skeptic Robert E. Bartholomew suggests that it was "mass psychogenic illness... Motor-based outbreaks are most common in less developed countries. They evolve more slowly, often taking weeks or months to incubate. They typically occur in the strictest schools where there is tension between students and administrators or some other conflict. Under such prolonged stress, the nerves and neurons that send messages to the brain become disrupted, resulting in an array of neurological symptoms such as twitching, shaking, convulsions, and trance-like states. This is the same type of outbreak that affected the young Puritan girls in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and led to the infamous witch craze."  Which brings us to:
  • Saducismus Triumphatus by Joseph Glanvill might be thought of as "The Scientific Study of Witchcraft," as it attempted to prove the reality of witchcraft on purely empirical grounds. In the 1689 edition, we read that in 1669, reports reached the Swedish king concerning a large-scale outbreak of witchcraft in the village of Mohra. The king dispatched some commissioners, both lay and clergy, "to examine the whole business." They found that the Devil had apparently drawn hundreds of children into his grasp and had even been seen "in a visible shape." After a careful investigation, they found no fewer than seventy adult witches in the village, who had managed to seduce about three hundred children into the practice of black magic. The commissioners interviewed each of the children separately (they were wiser than John Mack), and found that "all of them, except some very little ones" told stories that were highly consistent, of being supernaturally carried away to the witches' fest, riding through the air on the backs of animals (see chapter 7 of my book UFO Sightings, which can be purchased on Amazon, or "borrowed" from the Internet Archive library.).

So, whatever you choose to call it, "mass hysteria" and "social contagion" are not at all unlikely as explanations for bizarre incidents such as this.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Netflix's "Encounters", Episode 1, Leaves Out Something Important - The Explanation!

So much has been happening in UFOOLogy of late, stuff that is so silly and so widely-reported elsewhere, that I can't see any reason to write about it. Many have finally woken up to the fact that David Grush and other "whistleblowers" tell dramatic tales, but have no proof at all - a situation that has persisted for decades. (In the 1970s and 80s, Len Stringfield of MUFON was telling almost identical tales - also without proof). The Peruvian "alien mummies," presented to the Mexican Congress by Jaime Maussan, are being soundly and deservedly mocked as the frauds they are. These mummies have been known to be non-alien for at least five years now; so anyone involved in their promotion either didn't do any research, or else didn't care and wanted to promote fakery.


Which brings us to the new series Encounters, which premiered on Netflix on September 27. There were high hopes among UFO proponents for this series, one of whose Executive Producers was.Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television. I suspect many were disappointed. I have only seen the first episode so far, and found it tedious and boring. Its primary case is the well-known and widely-witnessed incident from Stephenville, Texas on the night of January 8, 2008. Far more time was spent telling us how people felt about what they saw, than trying to analyze what they saw.

It's strange that Encounters would put so much emphasis on the Stephenville case. There is no longer any mystery about what happened in Stephenville on January 8, 2008. UFO skeptic and retired Air Force pilot James McGaha investigated, and submitted his findings to Skeptical Inquirer editor Kendrick Frazier, who published them in the January/February, 2009 issue. The article is on-line here.  It turns out that the sightings occurred inside a "MOA", a Military Operations Area, where military training routinely goes on.

The FAA informed McGaha on January 18 that a group of four F-16s from the 457th Fighter Squadron entered the operating area at 6:17 pm local time. A second group of four F-16s entered the same area at 6:26 pm. They departed at 6:54 and 6:58, respectively. The time the aircraft were flying in the MOA accords with the time of the sightings....

What were the aircraft doing? McGaha says they were flying training maneuvers that involved dropping extraordinarily bright flares. The LUU/2B/B flare is nothing like the standard flares you might think of. These flares have an illumination of about two million candlepower. They are intended to light up a vast area of the ground for nighttime aerial attack. Once released, they are suspended by parachutes (which often hover and even rise due to the heat of the flares) and light up a circle on the ground greater than one kilometer for four minutes. The flare casing and parachute are eventually consumed by the heat. At a distance of 150 miles, a single flare can still be as bright as the planet Venus. McGaha also describes the testimony of a medical helicopter pilot, a retired U.S. Army pilot, flying that night, who saw the lights. He said: “I saw multiple military aircraft, with some dropping flares, in the area of the Brownwood 1 MOA.”

That episode also showed us radar returns, supposedly demonstrating the presence of unknown objects inside the MOA at that time. What does this mean?

These raw data contain 2.5 million points of noise and scatter. MUFON’s report selected just 187 of these points to contend that radar had tracked a huge “object” at least 524 feet in size, traveling near the Western White House (the Bush ranch, which is fifty miles southeast of Stephenville). “MUFON’s radar analysis is nothing more than cherry picking the 187 targets out of 2.5 million points of noise and scatter to make a track moving forty-nine mph for over one hour,” says McGaha. “This analysis is absurd!”

Case closed. The Stephenville case was a flare drop, essentially a repeat of the flare drop responsible for the second part of the famous Phoenix Lights in 1997. That flare drop also occurred in a military training area. The writers of Encounters either chose to leave out the obvious explanation, or else did not bother to even look for one. After all, why risk losing a really good "unexplained" case by looking for explanations?

A blurry UFO photographed by a Stephenville witness, weeks after the main sighting.

 I'll try to watch Episode 2 of Encounters soon, if I feel I can stomach it.

Another Famous Flare Drop - The UFO From 29 Palms

May 23: NBC News reports on the UFO From 29 Palms

Back in May, the major news media were filled with breathless accounts of a "mass UFO sighting" in the California desert, at Twentynine Palms two years earlier. Now, that fact alone should have raised one's eyebrow, because it is well-known that this is the location of a major training base for US Marines. So it'd be reasonable to suspect from the beginning that the Marines had something to do with this.

But the Usual Suspects were hyping the incident as if it were something utterly amazing:

Multiple videos appear to show a UFO flying over Camp Wilson in Twentynine Palms, California. The videos were recorded in April 2021 but only recently released by Jeremy Corbell and George Knapp during an episode of their podcast, Weaponized.

Corbell and Knapp said that at least 50 people, including dozens of Marines, reported seeing the triangular object with lights on its edges. The object was in the air for about ten minutes and prompted a response from military officials, who dispatched helicopters and dozens of trucks to the area.

Jeremy Corbell's Podcast

It sounded too good to be true, and indeed it was. Research by Mick West of Metabunk and John Greenewald Jr. of The Black Vault showed that there indeed was a big training operation involving flare drops going on during the night in question, and that photos taken of the flare drop match perfectly with photos by those who believed they were seeing UFOs. Like the Stephenville incident, and the Phoenix Lights incident, a military flare drop has again been shown to be the cause of a highly-publicized UFO case.

While this UFO case was all over the news, I was listening to an oldies radio station, and they played a 1947 hit by the Andrews Sisters, The Lady From Twentynine Palms. It tells about one young lady:

She left twenty-nine broken hearts
Broken in twenty-nine parts
Now there are twenty-nine fellas complainin' to their moms
About the lady from 29 Palms

She got twenty-nine Cadillacs
Twenty-nine sables from Sach's
They came from twenty-nine fellas who never had their arms
Around the lady from 29 Palms

The point being that, with so many unmarried young men in the Marines in Twentynine Palms, an attractive available woman might be showered with gifts by all the men pursuing her.

So it occurred to me that this UFO ought to have its own version of the song. With a little help from my Muse (that's like a Moose, only smaller), I settled on this, as a beginning.

It had twenty-nine flashing lights
Gave twenty-nine people a fright
And now it's on the news for twenty-nine nights,
It's the UFO from 29 Palms!

Perhaps you can think up some more verses?


Thursday, July 6, 2023

More Credible Eyewitness Testimony about Crashed Saucers & Dead Aliens!!!

Since UFO "confidential sources" and "whistleblowers" are now all over the news, let's examine some cases you might not have heard about. "Psychic" spoon-bender Uri Geller recounts how he was supposedly taken by his good friend Dr. Wernher Von Braun to see the alien bodies from a saucer crash. 

Friends I saw them with my very own eyes I was there in a refrigerated vault with Dr Wernher Von Braun, I had an encounter with them when I was 5, there are none human built vehicles, there are bodies and there are living aliens among us. The Israeli government knows about everything I have seen so does #NSA. I had  photos which I took with my #MINOX camera that were stolen from my 57th apartment in NY. Wait until I find the negatives.

Wow! That always happens when somebody gets a good, clear photo of UFOs or aliens - something "happens" to the photos! Is this credible? Robert Salas, of "UFOs and Nukes" fame, says he believes Uri . So there you have it! I'm wondering if Hal Puthoff has anything to say about his old colleague's claims?

Uri Geller says this Tik Tok video of a living alien  is authentic!

[Update July 9: Scott Brando of ufoofinterest reminds us that back in 2020, he showed us that this "alien video" is an acknowledged 'artistic creation' by Shaban Havuzsalim. ]


Those of us who are not UFO newbies are well aware of the times when we have been through all this before. Most significant were the many claims of the well-known UFO researcher Leonard Stringfield (1920-1994), who worked with NICAP, MUFON, and CUFOS. In the 1970s, Stringfield began chasing down claims of "crashed saucers," and it seems that the more people heard about his investigations, the more people he heard from to make such claims. Here is an excerpt from a 1978 interview of Stringfield:

on several occasions in the past 30 years UFOs have crashed and the bodies of dead entities have been taken from them. The bodies have been examined and preserved. My sources describe the beings as from three to four feet in height and of humanoid appearance ..... What I have been getting lately are growing numbers of reports from reliable military people who claim to have seen all this firsthand.... There's a 1948 crash, another from 1951 or 52, something in 1953, one in 1958, and two incidents in the 70s.

This was published forty-five years ago, almost a decade before the current celebrity "whistleblower," David Grusch, was born.

Here Stringfield says that he has a total of 24 different sources, although only four are first-hand witnesses. When Jacques Vallee spoke with Stringfield in 1989, that number of "first-hand" sources had reportedly  increased to 37.

And what has happened to all these "informants," and the secret ET projects they supposedly worked on? Did it all just 'evaporate' into the haze of history?

Of course, Stringfield was not the only one to gain attention by claiming knowledge of Crashed Saucers and dead aliens. In 1974, Robert S. Carr made headlines by telling stories about alien bodies in the deep freeze at Hangar 18 of Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. And of course, the famous hoax in Frank Scully's 1950 book Behind the Flying Saucers, claiming that a saucer crashed near Aztec, NM in 1948.

So, you can see why those of us who are familiar with UFO history are pretty much all saying, "Same old, same old!" in this matter.

And now, just for fun, here is the Flying Saucer Physicist, Stanton T. Friedman, predicting impending 'Disclosure' in 1968, fifty-five years ago!

from the Dallas Times Herald