Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Happy, Crazy UFO New Year!

Well, it's finally 2021, and so that means the crazy old year has run its course, and a new crazy year is beginning. So what is happening in the Land of UFOOlogy as we begin this new year?

"To The Stars Academy" (TTSA) is unraveling. For whatever reason, its best-known people have bailed out. Luis Elizondo, Chris Mellon, and Steve Justice have all announced their departure from TTSA. Biologist Garry Nolan had bailed out previously. Elizondo told George Knapp on Coast-to-Coast AM that “TTSA, it’s no secret, also focuses on its entertainment division and, you know, let’s face it, guys like Chris Mellon and Steve Justice and myself, we’re not entertainers.”

So who is left? So far no word from Hal Puthof on whether he is in or out. And there still is, of course, TTSA founder and rockstar, Tom DeLonge. This cannot be good news for the "investors" (or "suckers") who bought shares in the company. Of course, TTSA still has their "entertainment" division, which perhaps can whip up sufficient interest in its movies and other performances to keep the company viable. But that seems unlikely to me; competition from Star Wars sequels and prequels will be tough for them to beat. In recent months, DeLonge has been kept out of public view for TTSA, obviously a deliberate policy. I don't have any inside information on what is happening at TTSA, but it would seem to be obvious that Elizondo et. al have concluded that DeLonge is a fool, and is an impediment to having their UFO claims taken seriously. The video below shows exactly what the problem is.


 Dude, where's my Saucer?

Government "UAP Report" promised in 180 days!  As explained by CNN,

The director of National Intelligence and the secretary of defense have a little less than six months now to provide the congressional intelligence and armed services committees with an unclassified report about "unidentified aerial phenomena." It's a stipulation that was tucked into the "committee comment" section of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which was contained in the massive spending bill.

That report must contain detailed analyses of UFO data and intelligence collected by the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force and the FBI, according to the Senate intelligence committee's directive. It should also describe in detail "an interagency process for ensuring timely data collection and centralized analysis of all unidentified aerial phenomena reporting for the Federal Government" and designate an official responsible for that process. Finally, the report should identify any potential national security threats posed by UFOs and assess whether any of the nation's adversaries could be behind such activity, the committee said.

Some people are, of course, interpreting this to mean "Disclosure" of aliens, or something. What it probably means is that the Pentagon will take statements they have issued before, weave them into a nice, impressive report, and release it with great fanfare. But signifying nothing.


The Black Vault Hosts Complete Collection of CIA UFO FIles. John Greenewald Jr. of The Black Vault has filed thousands of FOIA requests over the years, many of them needing to be pried from government agencies in a process akin to pulling teeth, and published the results. Now John has made a major document dump, UFOs: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Collection. He explains,

Originally, the CIA would only release about 1,000 pages that had been previously disclosed after a FOIA court case in the 1980s. They never addressed the records that were dated in the years after the case.

The Black Vault spent years fighting for them, and many were released in the late 1990s. However, over time, the CIA made a CD-ROM collection of UFO documents, which encompassed the original records, along with the ones that took years to fight for.

In an effort to make sure The Black Vault stayed up to date, in mid 2020, this CD-ROM was purchased to have one particular data dump available for all users of The Black Vault. You will find this below for download in its original state, along with a converted/searchable .pdf format. (Although the CIA claims this is their “entire” collection, there may be no way to entirely verify that. Research by The Black Vault will continue to see if there are additional documents still uncovered within the CIA’s holdings.)

I opened a file at random from the Black Vault's CIA document collection (C05515646.pdf), and this is the first page I saw. Happy reading!

[Update January 13:] Martin Kottmeyer notes that the case blacked out above is almost certainly the one described in this posting by James Oberg, who explains,

King Hassan of Morocco asks Henry Kissinger to identify glowing cylindrical UFO seen moving northward off the North African coast. Kissinger replies might be a meteor or an undocumented satellite on reentry into atmosphere.

Almost forty years later, two amateur satellite trackers use new software and new access to old data bases to validate Kissinger’s hunch and tag the object as the motor assembly of a Russian rocket
stage (1976-074C / 09051) for the Molniya 1-35 launch.

I cannot imagine any reason to censor such a document, except perhaps that the "personal request" came from the King of Morocco.



Thursday, December 3, 2020

Disclosure Strikes Again!

As regular readers of this Blog surely know, as well as anyone else who has been following the UFO scene for more then a short time, episodes of Disclosure Mania are regular occurrences. Many in UFOOLogy get very excited, and proclaim their expectation that sometime very soon, the government will "disclose" what they know about UFOs and aliens. Of course, that never happens. We recently experienced one such episode in July, and  now are in the midst of yet another. Unsurprisingly, it was "UFO Jesus" on November 24 leading the way:

 It was also hinted at on November 13 by UFO filmmaker James Fox,

Well, "UFO Jesus"  hit it right on the head. Something happened on December 2, but it wasn't "disclosure." There was an article by Tim McMillan published on-line in The Debrief, called "Fast Movers and Transmedium Vehicles -  The Pentagon's Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force." Like most articles supposedly "disclosing" something, it was a huge disappointment. What did we learn from the article?

  • Classified breifings were held recently for Senators by the Pentagon's "UAP" Task Force. But we already knew that.
  • Unnamed supposedly high officials "told The Debrief that there was much more going on behind closed doors." Inspecific claims from unnamed persons.
  • "Multiple sources confirmed for The Debrief that the UAPTF had issued two classified intelligence position reports, which one individual described as “shocking.” ". Unnamed sources making unnamed "shocking" claims.
  • Then we are treated to an embedded YouTube video of a supposed UFO video taken at the Nellis AFB Range by government contractors in 1994, which had already appeared on national TV shows in 1995. The relevance of this video to whatever is supposedly happening in Washington now is: none whatsoever. In fact, if you watch this video from about 7:00 on, it is clearly seen to be a fly, bee, or other insect hovering in front of the camera. You can even see its wings flapping. It looks very much like another famous Fly UFO video, of which Leslie Kean has been a big promoter
Irrelevant embedded "UAP video" in the article, from Nellis in 1994. Appears to be another Fly UFO.
  • "One of the intelligence reports, released in 2018, is said to have provided a general overview of the UAP topic and included details of previous military encounters. According to sources who had read it, the report also contained an unreleased photograph of an “aerial phenomena” categorized as “unidentified.” The Debrief was told the accompanying photo was captured from within the cockpit of an F/A-18 fighter jet with a pilot’s personal cell phone. According to three U.S. officials who had seen it, the photo showed an unidentified silver “cube-shaped” object. The report is said to have indicated the object was “hovering” or completely motionless when military pilots encountered it." So, unnamed sources say that there is an unreleased photo of a UFO from a fighter jet. Wow!!
  • But it gets better: "Overwhelmingly, everyone The Debrief spoke with said the most striking feature of the recently released UAPTF intelligence position report was the inclusion of new and “extremely clear” photograph of an unidentifiable triangular aircraft. The photograph, which is said to have also been taken from inside the cockpit of a military fighter jet, depicted an apparent aerospace vehicle described as a large equilateral triangle with rounded or “blunted” edges and large, perfectly spherical white “lights” in each corner. Officials who had seen it said the image was captured in 2019 by an F/A-18 fighter pilot. Two officials that received the report said the photo was taken after the triangular craft emerged from the ocean and began to ascend straight upwards at a 90-degree angle. It was indicated that this event occurred off the eastern coast of the United States. Several other sources confirmed the photo’s existence; however, they declined to provide any further specifics of the incident." So, more unnamed officials commenting on an unseen photograph. Double wow!

McMillan's article gives us an artist's recreation of what the reported "triangular aircraft" looks like:

 Fans of Disclosure and  "To The Stars," like Chris Mellon, praised McMillan's article as "A must-read article for anyone interested in US national security. Excellent work." On the other hand, blogger Jason Colavito wrote "New Article Claims Military Has "Clear" Photo of Flying Triangle Rising from Ocean," calling McMillan's article "a bit shaggy and at times somewhat unclear."

But lo, the very next day McMillan publishes a second article in that same publication, titled "Leaked Photo Surfaces of Purported Unidentified Aerial Phenomena." In it, we see the photo itself, here greatly enlarged:

 The leaked photo of an "unidentifiable triangular aircraft," included in the "UAPTF intelligence position report". 

Frankly, it looks like a balloon to me. The longtime British UFO researcher Isaac Koi noted the amazing similarity of this leaked "triangular UFO" (center) to a Batman Balloon made of Mylar:

Of course, the balloon might have had Superman on it, or Spider Man. We can't resolve it clearly enough to tell.

So this is all it takes to baffle the Pentagon's "UAP experts:" a mylar balloon, and a fly. Thus endeth the latest episode of Disclosure Follies. No doubt many more episodes will follow.

Once again, believers in "Disclosure" end up disappointed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Here Comes - PROOF!

PROOF is a paranormal-themed TV show. In May of 2019 I went up to Hollywood to be filmed for this show, and frankly had all but forgotten about it. A few weeks ago, I asked myself "Whatever has happened to that show? I guess it did not succeed?"

Well, its first season (and perhaps only season) has just been released on Amazon Prime. At present, it is not available anywhere else. It has thirteen episodes. So far I have only watched Episode 5 (ShadowPeople), which is the first episode I appear in. I also appear in Episodes 6 (Cryptids), and 11 (Weather Control). 

Imagine that, not believing in Shadow People!

The format of the show is along these lines: some rather flaky claims are made by people that serious researchers would haardly find credible. Several of them have paranormal YouTube channels, the kind that millennials watch in the course of doing "research." The proponents have most of the time to present their claims. Then skeptics are given a somewhat briefer opportunity to try to refute them. I was introduced as a "Mathematician and Astronomer." I told them I majored in math at the university, so I guess that makes me a "mathematician." One does use math in writing software, which I've done a lot of. As for "astronomer," I suppose that sort of describes me, although I've always been just an amateur.

It is good to be "Starring" in anything, even if my name is spelled wrong.

In this episode, I talked about sleep paralysis and how it applies to people who think that supernatural entities are barging into their bedrooms and holding them immobile. But who am I to argue with Shauna Grace, who is a "Celebrity Psychic" and "Empath Specialist"???

Other skeptics appearing are Michael Shermer of the Skeptics Society in Episodes 2 (Miracles), 4 (Denver Airport Conspiracy), and 9 (EVP), and James Underdown of the CFIIG  in Episodes 7 (Secret Societies), 10 (Demonic Possession), and 12 (Alien Abduction). I arranged to meet up with Shermer at the close of the day's filming, and we had a nice chat.

If you are curious to watch this, Amazon Prime will give you a 30 day free preview, after which you can cancel if you don't like the service. Each episode is 25 minutes long, which I assume was intended to fit into a 30 minute slot with 5 minutes of commercials. Presumably they were hoping to run the series, with commercials, on the "History" Channel or other major cable channel. When viewing it on Amazon Prime, there are no commercials, suggesting that Amazon paid less for the show than the producers were hoping to get, as it won't be bringing in advertising revenue. It's a dog-eat-dog media world!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Ghost and Ms. Kean

Probably many readers are already aware that the well-known UFO writer Leslie Kean has of late been dabbling in the supernatural, specifically claims of Life After Death. Kean has been co-author of all of those recent New York Times articles about Navy UFO investigations and the like.  Her latest book, published in 2017, is  Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence of an Afterlife.

Well, Kean seems to be following the old example of going farther and farther out on a limb. Her latest metaphysical infatuation seems to be a Scottish doctor who lived two hundred years ago, brought back to solid flesh and blood (at least temporarily) by the skills of one Stewart Alexander, a physical medium operating in the UK. Not a lot of public information is available about Mr. Alexander; he seems to be keeping a low profile, choosing his clientele carefully. In one account of one of Alexander's seances published in 2011, we read

Ray said a prayer and a lovely piece of music was played while Stewart went into trance. It was only a few minutes before we heard the first voice come through Stewart. It was White Feather, Stewart’s North American Indian guide. He is the first and last to speak in every séance. He greeted everyone and said, “…for a while we shall endeavor to remove the barrier between our two worlds so that once again, within this place of infinite love, we may converse together. We may once again be together as one united whole.” He told us that he spoke few words because there was so much to be done, and then he was gone.

Christopher was the next to come through. He is very likable and fun. He is responsible for relaxing the atmosphere and soon had everyone laughing. He told us he was there to entertain us as everything was being made ready.

Walter Stinson was the next to come through. Walter is a Canadian by birth and was the brother of the famous Boston physical medium from the 1920s and 30s known to the world as Margery. Stewart told us before the séance that Walter is largely responsible for creating the physical phenomena and is in control of experimentation and further development within the home circle. He is also quite a ladies’ man with a good sense of humor. He uses laughter to raise the energy in the room....

We heard a new sound and Ray explained that a voice box was forming between Stewart and Carol. We were told that Dr. Barnett usually uses a voice box, which is formed from ectoplasm and used to produce his audible voice. (Dr. Franklin Barnett is a 19th-century Scottish physician who worked with American trumpet medium George Valentine) Barnett’s voice finally became audible and he told us that he was speaking through a device that they have created. He told us that it takes a great deal of energy to accomplish this and that often, when he is finally able to vibrate our atmosphere with his thoughts, there is little energy left for the communication. 

That's a pretty impressive assembly. Where would any medium worth his salt be without a North American Indian guide to lead us to the Spirit World?

Recently Ms. Kean was interviewed by Michael Tymn, who writes about spiritualism. She told him that she has "absolutely no doubt, not one iota," that Alexanders' manifestations are genuine.

Stewart demonstrated his unusual abilities over many years with a variety of elaborate physical restraints, visible knee markers, and with his hands held on both sides. His mediumship was scrutinized by many astute investigators in multiple locations in different countries, always in spaces under the complete control of others. Hundreds of people have attended sittings with him over the decades. No major controversies or claims of fraud have been made concerning Stewart’s mediumship in the past forty years. That’s because there isn’t any.....
In May, 2019, I experienced a full form materialization in a seance with Stewart. His communicator Dr. Barnett, who normally speaks in independent voice, walked out of the cabinet, stood in front of me and touched my hair. He then placed both his large hands on top of my head, bouncing them up and down for about a minute and a half. (That’s a long time). These were solid “living” hands. He spoke in his recognizable voice. “I just wanted to let you know that I am a solid human being,” he said. He then returned to the cabinet and disappeared.

She noted how she had written in her Epilogue to Alexander's book An Extraordinary Journey:

The mind can barely grasp the fantastical nature of a human form emerging from ectoplasm, walking, talking, touching, and then receding back to from where he came.  And where is that? Dr. Barnett says he once lived on this earth. Is this materialization proof that we survive physical death? Or does it mean something else? I don’t think we can answer that question with any degree of certainty. But this experience will live with me forever.

The only problem with this is that other, perhaps less careful mediums have been detected in fraud using these very same methods, in some of the same locations. Our sort-of-sister site Bad Psychics reports, Gary Mannion Secretly recorded cheating in the seance room at The Banyan Retreat Spiritualist Centre.  He writes,

Nicolas Whitham from Banyan Retreat (Address: Lake House, Maidstone Road, Ashford, Kent, United Kingdom) has secretly recorded Gary Mannion faking spirit activity in the seance room!

Now Whitman created a website anonymously (which I will not link too) and posted a load of videos, I dig some digging and found out he was behind it, I am guessing he and Mannion had some kind of dispute so Nicolas decided to stitch Mannion up, and break the age old spiritualist code of exposing one of your own.

Basically you get long boring videos of Gary Mannion exiting his spirit cabinet, wondering around the room, touching people on the head, waving a spirit trumpet about ala Colin Fry, But he also gets naked which is rather disturbing!

Kean's spiritualist guru Stewart Alexander has also produced manifestations in that same seance room. In the illustration below, a sitter illustrates what is supposed to have happened in the dark (but not seen) in one of Stewart Alexander's seances.

"With help and advice from Dr. Barnett (in Spirit), the illustration [above] has been created to show what we would probably see if light was introduced during trumpet phenomena." 

Here is a really entertaining video of medium Warren Caylor performing in front of an audience, secretly recorded in Toronto, Canada, 2014. I love how he struggles and grunts his way through this!

So it does seem that Mr. Alexander has been producing his 'spirit effects' in the same manner as other mediums whose trickery has already been exposed. Unless Alexander can produce his miraculous manifestations in a way that genuinely precludes trickery, there is absolutely no reason to conclude that any of his "manifestations" are real. But every reason to conclude that Leslie Kean is very gullible. Keep that in mind the next time you read her claims about UFOs (or UAPs) in the New York Times.

And while the Amazing Randi has passed on, and his Million Dollar Psychic Challenge with him, we should not forget that our friends at the Center For Inquiry Investigations Group (CFIIG) in Los Angeles still offer a $250,000.00 award for proof of psychic powers under properly controlled conditions, which is not too shabby.  Any medium or other supposed psychic who genuinely had such powers could pass such a challenge (the specifics of the test are always negotiated very carefully beforehand by both sides), bringing not only fortune but fame, and more importantly, vindication. That person would be in a position to say to the world, "See? I really do have these powers!" And probably have the biggest new story of the century. But the "psychics" we keep hearing so much about scrupulously avoid such testing, because they know they are phonies, and don't want to get caught.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Remembering the Amazing One (1928-2020)

Probably most readers have already heard about the death of magician and skeptic James "The Amazing" Randi on October 20, at the age of 92. He was probably the best-known, and the most influential of all skeptics. Probably also the most universally loved and admired by skeptics, like a cuddly little gnome. (He wasn't always that short - he got shorter as he aged.) Of course, many believers in psychics and such hold Randi in total contempt - quite unfairly, in my view.

Randi with Michael Shermer of the Skeptics Society, and yours truly, at one of the Amazing Meetings.
(Photo by Susan Gerbic.)

I won't try to give you a biography of Randi - there are many places to find that. You can also find out a lot about Randi from the 2014 documentary film about him, An Honest Liar.

Having been involved in organized skepticism since almost the very beginning, I will talk a little about the man I knew, who I first met in 1977. He was already quite famous at this time, owing to his confrontations with Uri Geller. Yet he was sincerely glad to meet me and spend time talking about UFOs, psychic claims, and other stuff.  He was endlessly entertaining. One thing that I don't think has been emphasised enough was just how entertaining Randi was. In private, Randi was nearly always telling jokes, usually at the expense of some  paranormal claim or promoter. Hanging out with Randi meant nonstop entertainment.

It may surprise many people to learn that Randi was a longtime friend of UFOlogist James Moseley, who was  pretty entertaining in his own right, and didn't take things too seriously. In fact, Randi accompanied Moseley on one of his grave-robbing trips to South America. Moseley wrote about such trips in his very interesting book, Shockingly Close to the Truth - Confessions of a Grave-Robbing UFOlogist. Years on, they both remembered this trip fondly, although they apparently were no longer on speaking terms. Randi was also an old friend of John Keel, promoter of Mothman and other weird tales, howevermuch that might blow some peoples' minds. When I was in Manhattan to speak at the 1980 National UFO Conference, Randi (who was still living in New Jersey at that time) dropped by to say hello. (He didn't register for the conference.) I had been talking with John Keel in the bar, where he seemed most at home. Randi and Keel had a nice moment, a reunion of old friends.

Later in 1980, I moved from the D.C. area to San Jose, California, and soon met Bob Steiner, also a CSICOP Fellow, and a professional magician. Together we founded the Bay Area Skeptics in 1982, and held some very fine organizational parties in Steiner's apartment near Berkeley. Steiner was a CPA as well, and always did Randi's taxes (preparing tax returns for performers like Randi is quite different from doing ordinary folks' taxes). Steiner and Randi got together a lot, even though they lived on opposite coasts. Sometimes I joined them, and it was always great fun.

Bob Steiner with J. Allen Hynek and Philip J. Klass 
(CSICOP Conference, Stanford, 1984. Photo by Gary Posner).

In 1982, Randi wrote Flim-Flam, a book about "Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and other Delusions." It has since become something of a skeptics' cult classic. In it, Randi writes about some of his investigations of psychics, of UFO claims, and many other things. My name appears in the index eight times, discussing: the Cottingley Fairies, the Betty-Barney Hill "UFO abduction," claims by Vallee and Hynek, and the testing of "psychic" Rosemary DeWitt.

One rather sad chapter in skepticism that people now seem to have forgotten was how Randi was, in essence, booted from CSICOP about 1990, because he had sort of become radioactive. Randi had been doggedly pursuing Uri Geller and his extraordinary claims since the early 1970s. At first Geller seemed to shrug it all off, as it sometimes frankly gave Geller free publicity. But sometime in the 1980s, Geller's strategy changed, and he began to sue Randi for defamation in practically every court where such a filing could be made. Since truth is a defense against libel, and since statements of opinion are not actionable, and since Geller was clearly a public figure who thus had a very high bar to prove actual malice, Geller never won any payments from Randi. But the court costs of defending against such legal harassment were very high, and it was a very messy affair. Because Randi was a CSICOP Fellow, many of the suits named CSICOP as co-defendant (as many law professors teach their students, "sue everybody" when you file). So Randi was pushed out of CSICOP as a form of self-defense. 

My name appears eight times in the pages of Flim-Flam.  

Now on his own, Randi founded the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), which soon became popular in skeptics' circles. Randi wanted me to write a column for JREF about UFO investigations, but I told him I could not do it at the time. I was working full-time as a software engineer in the Silicon Valley, and with family obligations I just couldn't take on anything more. I felt bad about this. Randi did help me get a book review published in Scientific American, my only publication in that journal. They contacted Randi, asking him to write a review of a book about the "Abduction Study Conference at MIT," held in 1992. He replied that he didn't know much about this meeting since he wasn't there, but he told them that I was, and recommended that I be invited to submit a review. I did, and the result was my book review "Truth Abducted," Scientific American, November 1995, Vol. 273, No. 5., p. 84.

JREF soon began holding "The Amazing Meetings" (TAMs), mostly in Las Vegas. I attended several of these, and they were great fun. This was before the Social Justice types began attacking skeptics' organizations for being too male and too white (and apparently for being too successful). As I said, I have been in skeptics' organizations almost from the very beginning, and never even once did I hear anybody say anything to disparage or exclude anyone based on race, gender, etc.

From a "Skepchick" party at TAM8 in Las Vegas in 2010, back when meetings were still fun.
Rebecca Watson, who founded Skepchicks but later denounced TAM as sexist or something, is at center.

These are the things I remember most about Randi. Perhaps I will have more to write later.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Book Review: "The Close Encounters Man" by Mark O'Connell

Book Review:

by Mark O'Connell

New York: Dey St. Publishers (an imprint of William Morrow), 2017. 404 pages, $17.99.

Dr. J. Allen Hynek (1910-1986) was an astronomer and a professor of astronomy, but today is best remembered as a UFO expert because of his role as scientific consultant to the U. S. Air Force Project Blue Book. He lived in the center of the UFO controversy for much of his professional life, and seemed to relish it. He wrote several books on UFOs, and coined the now-ubiquitous phrase "Close Encounters." But as for the claim that Hynek "made the world believe in UFOs," I would not go that far.

My photo of Hynek at one of the telescopes at Northwestern, taken about 1970 
O'Connell, a screenwriter who also teaches screenwriting at DePaul University in Chicago, has written a solidly-researched biography of Hynek. Based on Hynek's own writings, his papers in the Northwestern University archives, and interviews with Hynek's surviving colleagues and relatives, O'Connell has assembled an impressive and highly-readable account of the life and career of an unusual and fascinating man, Hynek's only biography so far as I am aware.

I read this book with greater than ordinary interest, because I had been a student of Hynek's when I was at Northwestern from 1967 to 1972, and I got to know him somewhat well. We had numerous discussions about UFOs. I tried to convince him, based on historical examples of "extraordinary popular delusions," that reliance on the kind of eyewitness testimony he found so impressive has in the past led investigators astray. Perhaps the most telling example was the attempt by Joseph Glanvill (1636 - 1680), an empiricist and member of London's prestigious Royal Society, to document the reality of witchcraft on purely empirical grounds:
We have the attestation of thousands of Eye and Ear-witnesses, and those not of the easily-deceivable and vulgar only, but of wise and grave discerners; and that, when no interest could oblige them to agree together in a common Lye. (see Chapter 7 of my 1998 book, UFO Sightings).
As Hynek often said, credible persons reporting incredible things.
I was on the Geraldo Rivera Special in 1976 with Hynek and Travis Walton.

We read of Hynek's early career at Yerkes Observatory and Ohio State University, whose location near Wright-Patterson AFB made it a natural place for the U.S. Air Force's Project Blue Book  to seek astronomy expertise. Because many Blue Book sightings received considerable publicity, Hynek became a familiar figure on TV explaining and commenting on such sightings. By all accounts, Hynek enjoyed this.
Hynek's association with Project Blue Book continued while he was at Northwestern, where he basically put together an astronomy department from nothing, hiring professors and establishing courses. Karl Henize (1926-1993), astronomer and astronaut, preceded Hynek, but was called away in 1967 for astronaut training. Henize did not go into space until the Spacelab 2 mission STS-51 on the Challenger in 1985. Henize didn't have much use for Hynek's UFO theorizing. I met Henize once or twice when he was taking a break from astronaut training and came back to Evanston. The book does not mention Henize, who died of altitude-related respiratory failure while trying to ascend Mount Everest at age 66

Hynek eventually founded what was supposed to be a scientific organization, the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). Unlike membership UFO organizations like NICAP or MUFON, CUFOS was supposed to consist of  expert researchers, who would finally place the study of UFOs on a solid footing. CUFOS published a number of papers for a number of years, but somehow nothing much was changed in UFOlogy.

O'Connell tells us an important part of the Hynek story that I don't think has ever been published before, concerning Hynek's move to Arizona and what happened there. Hynek took his retirement from Northwestern in 1978, and spent much of his time working with CUFOS. In the summer of 1984 he was persuaded to move down to the Phoenix area by two gold mining entrepreneurs, Tina Choate and Brian Myers, who promised Hynek financial backing from a rich British businessman, Geoffrey Kaye. As might be expected, the deal never worked out as promised. Kaye only committed to pay startup funds for a few months, not nearly enough money to run a UFO organization, although he allowed Hynek to operate out of his "spectacular hacienda in the sun." Worse yet, Myers and Kaye had their own UFO agenda to promote, and  it included sensationalist, unscientific material like the Billy Meier UFO contact hoax. Hynek and his backers soon had a falling out. By this time Hynek's health was beginning to decline, and he died in April, 1986.

The UFO panel I moderated at the 1984 CSICOP Conference at Stanford University:
Hynek, Sheaffer, Andrew Fraknoi, Philip J. Klass, Roger Culver. (Photo by Gary Posner).

Every factual statement O'Connell makes about Hynek and his activities is correct, so far as I am aware. But here is where I disagree with O'Connell's interpretations:

O'Connell has entirely too much enthusiasm for "classic" UFO cases that are largely discredited today. He opens with a vary favorable-sounding account of the "crashed spaceship" story from Aurora, Texas in 1897. While he does allow it to slip out that the case is believed by many to be a hoax, why distract the reader by it? We also hear favorable-sounding accounts of Captain Mantell's plane crash while pursuing a flying saucer, the Newhouse film, the Washington, DC radar sightings, Betty and Barney Hill (he calls the Fish map "unexplained"!), the Coyne helicopter case, Pascagoula, etc, Golden Oldies every one.  All this makes me think that O'Connell is very much uninformed about what has been happening in UFOlogy since Hynek's day. He seems unaware of any skeptical critiques of any of these cases, and does not even mention arch-skeptic Philip J. Klass, who sparred with Hynek on numerous occasions (and who Hynek resolutely refused offers to debate). O'Connell makes much of a supposed running feud between Hynek and Carl Sagan, which frankly is overblown.

Hynek did not have a "brilliant yet largely ignored career as an astrophysicist." In reality, Hynek was sometimes the butt of jokes among astronomers, some of which reached me.  (For a more realistic picture of Hynek's relations with his colleagues, see John Franch's interesting article in the January/February, 2013 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, "The Secret Life of J. Allen Hynek.") Hynek taught only first and second-year astronomy courses at Northwestern, for which he was qualified and quite effective. In fact, when I sat down to code certain calculations for the initial version of my real-time astronomy program RTGUI,  I worked directly from class notes I had taken in Hynek's Introductory Astronomy class. I just coded up the algorithms Hynek gave us. However, Hynek did not teach any graduate-level astronomy courses, or courses for upperclassmen.

A more sober assessment of his career was given by Hynek himself in an interview published in The New Scientist, May 17, 1973:
When I look back on my career, I've done damn little that was original. I seem to have had the ability of seeing the value of an idea and bringing other people together to do something about it. I've never launched any new theories; I've never made any outstanding discoveries. I guess I am not very innovative.
Hynek was gullible. O'Connell informs us of Hynek's fascination with Rosicrucianism, an ancient and absurd metaphysical doctrine, as well as Rudolf Steiner's mystical "spiritual science."  Both seem oddly out-of-place for a late twentieth-century scientific thinker. Hynek also met several times with Michel and Francoise Gauquelin, who were attempting to put astrology on a scientific basis. Jacques Vallee writes in his Forbidden Science (Vol. 1 p. 341), "Yesterday Hynek went back to see the Gauquelins to discuss astrology and destiny." However, Hynek was consistent in denouncing run-of-the-mill claims about astrology.

Another indicator of gullibility was the way Hynek leaped with both feet into the flaky UFO promotional deal in Arizona. A prudent man would have checked everything out and ensured solid financial arrangements before accepting the deal and essentially becoming a celebrity to be marketed. But perhaps the most embarrassing example of Hynek's gullibility is his endorsement of several obviously fake UFO photos produced in 1974 by an eleven year old boy in a Chicago suburb, with help from his ten year old friend. This was broadcast on an NBC-TV documentary, UFOs - Do You Believe? on December 15, 1974. The six photos show an obviously flat, two dimensional object, probably painted on the negative. Unfortunately, the negatives were "accidentally lost" by the boy.  Hynek investigated in person, and found "no reason to believe that they were hoaxing or lying." He concluded that the boy had "a real UFO experience." (The full story is in Chapter 9 of my 1981 UFO book, The UFO Verdict.)

Hynek did not "make the world believe in UFOs." Before there was CUFOS, there was NICAP, headed up during its heyday by the flamboyant Major Donald E. Keyhoe, author of Flying Saucers from Outer Space and other exciting books. Before NICAP came contactee George Adamski (and several others), who received great publicity over their claims of being good friends with visitors from other planets. Before Adamski there was Frank Scully, whose 1950 book Behind the Flying Saucers fooled many people about a crashed flying saucer hoax. Hynek obviously played a role in getting large elements of the public to take UFOs seriously, but he was surely not the sole, or even the major, player. 
But in the end, Hynek's attempt to convince his scientific colleagues that UFOs represent a great mystery ended in failure. Much attention was given to Hynek's letter published in Science ( 21 October 1966) "UFOs Merit Scientific Study", in which he famously wrote,
"I have begun to feel that there is a tendency in 20th Century science to forget that there will be a 21st Century science, and indeed a 30th Century science, from which vantage points our knowledge of the universe may appear quite different than it does to us. We suffer, perhaps, from temporal provincialism, a form of arrogance that has always irritated posterity."
The reply to Hynek's letter in Science by William Markowitz, Physics and Metaphysics of Unidentified Flying Objects (15 September 1967), explicitly pointed out some instances of Hynek's inconsistency in his UFO claims, and concluded
We can reconcile UFO reports with extraterrestrial control by assigning various magic properties to extraterrestrial beings. These include ‘teleportation’ (the instantaneous movement of material bodies between planets and stars), the creation of ‘force-fields’ to drive space ships, and propulsion without reaction. The last of these would permit a man to lift himself by his bootstraps. Anyone who wishes is free to accept such magic properties, but I cannot.

Markowitz is not mentioned in the book.

The real problem was that Hynek firmly believed he could determine if a person is lying and if a person is credible, simply by talking with them and looking them in the eye. I heard him say this on more than one occasion. I am sure that any professor of psychology can explain how completely wrong this is. This led Hynek to place far too much confidence in the value of eyewitness testimony, and ignore critical concerns such as Occam's Razor.

Nonetheless, if you overlook O'Connell's enthusiasm for tired old UFO cases, as well as a couple of small errors (APRO was headquartered in Tucson, not Phoenix; Nova Herculis 1934 was nowhere near bright enough to be seen in the daytime), I can strongly recommend his biography of Hynek, and its accompanying fascinating tour through UFO history. 
This deflated balloon tells us something about Hynek's penchant for showmanship.


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Widespread Sightings Clinch that Jimmy Carter's UFO Sighting was a 'Space Cloud'

In a 2017 posting, I noted how it was suggested that Jimmy Carter's famous UFO sighting from back in 1969 might have actually been a rocket-launched Barium cloud, and not Venus as I (and many others) had earlier supposed. It now appears that this is correct. 

Let us recall a bit of history: Carter's sighting occurred in Leary, Georgia, about forty miles from his home town of Plains, on the evening of January 6, 1969. (Carter mis-remembered the date as sometime on October, 1969, but I contacted the Lions Club headquarters in Illinois, which established the date as January 6). The future President was then the local district governor of the Lion's Club, and had come to Leary to boost the local chapter. While standing outdoors at approximately 7:15 pm, waiting for the Lion's Club meeting to begin, Mr. Carter reported seeing a single "self-luminous" object, "as bright as the moon," which reportedly approached and then receded several times. Mr. Carter reports that his "UFO" was in the western sky, at about 30 degrees elevation. This almost perfectly matches the known position of Venus, which was in the west-southwest at an altitude of 25 degrees, azimuth 237 degrees. It was shining brilliantly at Magnitude -4.3, brighter than anything else in the sky. Weather records show that the sky was clear at the time of the sighting.

The southwest sky as seen from Leary, Ga, at about 7:15 PM January 6, 1969. The Bull's Eye shows the calculated position where a barium cloud would have been visible, quite close to Venus. (Sky chart generated using the free open-source program Cartes du Ciel.)

For more information about the sighting itself, see my 2017 posting. My article, "President Carter's "UFO" Is Identified as the Planet Venus" was published in The Humanist magazine, July-August, 1977. This information was repeated and shared widely, and was generally accepted by serious UFO researchers.
There the matter stood for, yes, forty years. But in 2016, Carl G. 'Jere' Justus, a former professor at Georgia Tech and a longtime contributor to the Carter library, wrote a comment on a website for the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, a popular skeptic podcast (Episode 561, April 6, 2016). In his commenet, Justus wrote,
I am virtually certain that I have identified the source of what it was that President Carter saw. In the 1960s and early 70s I worked on an Air Force sponsored project that studied the upper atmosphere using releases of glowing chemical clouds, produced by rockets launched from Eglin AFB rocket range in Florida. Some of these chemical clouds, notably sodium and barium, were visible by the process of resonance scattering of sunlight. Clouds of this type had to be launched not long after sunset or not long before sunrise. This was due to the fact that the cloud had to be in sunlight at high altitude, while it was still dark enough at ground level for the cloud to be visible against the dark sky. In Carter's official 1973 UFO report, as given in the Rhodes book, he stated that he had seen the phenomenon in October, 1969, at 7:15 pm EST.

However, it has been determined from Lions Club records that Carter must have seen the 'UFO' when he spoke to their Leary, GA Chapter on January 6, 1969. The report 'U.S. Space Science Program Report to COSPAR, 1970' (QB504.U54, Appendix I, page 154), documents that there was a barium cloud launched from Eglin AFB (Rocket Number AG7.626) and released on January 6, 1969 at 7:35 pm EST (January 7, 1969, 0035 UTC) [COSPAR stands for Committee on Space Research]. The reported altitude for this cloud was 152 km. With a distance between Leary, GA and Eglin AFB, FL of about 234 km, this cloud would have appeared in the sky at an elevation of 33 degrees (consistent with Carter's estimate of a 30 degree elevation). Carter's report notes that stars were visible, so the night must have been clear.

I can verify from personal experience that under clear skies, a barium cloud such as this would easily have been visible from the distance of Leary, GA. Carter reported the UFO 'appeared from West'. The direction of Eglin AFB from Leary, GA is approximately WSW. Thus this barium cloud at Eglin is consistent with Carter's reported 'UFO' as to time, elevation, AND direction. Furthermore, the appearance reported by Carter is totally consistent with a high altitude barium cloud. His report stated that it was 'bluish at first, then reddish, luminous not solid'. A neutral barium cloud would initially glow bluish or greenish, with parts of it taking on a reddish glow as some the barium becomes ionized in the high altitude sunlight. The size and brightness, reported as being about that of the moon, would also be consistent with a barium cloud at Eglin, as viewed from Leary, GA Carter has been reported as saying that he never believed that he had seen an alien spacecraft, but that he had no idea exactly what it was.
Justus expressed his frustration with trying to get this information to the Carter Library, but receiving no response. 

A second researcher, who doesn't want to be credited, submitted the following information about other sightings reported from that region on the evening of January 6, 1969. That pretty well settles the matter, in my view. When Venus is bright in the evening sky, people report it all the time as a UFO. However, they do not all do so at the same time. Rather, Venus reports are random errors, occurring randomly. When a number of people who are not connected in any way all make pretty similar reports of a UFO at the same time, it signals that something unusual was visible at that time. Not necessarily something extraterrestrial, but something you don't see every day.

Greenville News, Greenville, South Carolina, Wednesday,
January 8, 1969. Carter's sighting was Monday, January 6

The A.P.R.O. Bulletin carried accounts of widespread UFO sightings on the night of Carter's sighting



NASA photo of a Barium Cloud launched into the upper atmosphere.

Thanks to all of the researchers who worked on this. 

Here is the Carter UFO page on my Debunker.com website.