Thursday, July 22, 2021

Travis Walton and Ryan Gordon Chat Like Old Friends

Travis Walton, whose claim of a famous UFO abduction in 1975 is increasingly under scrutiny as a hoax,  has been publicly saying bad things about producer Ryan Gordon ("one guy out there who wants to make a movie is making all of it up"). Podcast host Jimmy Church, who will be hosting Travis on his next show (July 26), says "anybody out there commenting, in any fashion, whether they are a wanna be movie maker, show host, "researcher", or just someone in the community that wants to talk some smack, has NOT spoken to Travis... I have... at length, TODAY."


Travis wrote on Mike Rogers' Facebook page (July 19), "I have never personally met Mike's partner Ryan Gordon." The following conversation with Travis Walton, recorded by Ryan Gordon on July 21, 2021, shows what a lie that is. It clearly shows that they have wroked together previously.


Ryan, in the call: "I want to sincerely thank you for the time that we were able to spend together.".

Here is a selection from the transcript of that call:

Ryan: Right! Thank you, thank you for defending me because that's - I mean, again you and I have always got along just fine. So, the intent of this call is to say you were right. You were right, I was wrong.

Travis: It’s not just me making these observations [about Mike Rogers]. Just about everybody who knows him -
Ryan: Yeah, you're right on that as well. I know that the way that I met him [Mike] out there at the site there in Turkey Springs, was bizarre. I mean, I was out there with a film crew, he's out there with some MUFON thing, which I think I've already told you before, he shouldn't be doing that anyway. I mean, he's under contract. He can't be out filming with a competitive source, but whatever. That's what he was doing. I have consistently said to Mike, “Leave Travis alone. Leave him alone.” Like, what is - ? He's constantly after you. He was after me for quite - I dunno, about a week, ten days or whatever.

Travis: Yeah.

Ryan: But I feel your pain. I emailed you twice, I think, yesterday and the day before, because - you remember the email that you sent me, where you said, “Were you at my house at six in the morning?” Remember that?

Travis: Yeah, yeah.

Ryan: I thought, what the hell, Travis? Why are you asking me if I’m at your house?

Travis: That was a paranoid delusion that Mike said, you know.

Ryan: Yeah.

Travis: “So, what was Ryan Gordon doing what your house at six a.m.?”

Ryan: Right. So I told you, Travis, what the hell am I gonna go to your house for? That's stupid. I'm down in the valley. I’m gonna sit in front of your house?

On Mike Rogers' Facebook page, July 20.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Travis Walton 'UFO Abduction' Story - Meltdown!

Forest Service CL-100 lookout tower (same model as Gentry Tower in Apache-Sitgreaves Natl. Forest)

My, how quickly things have been happening! On July 3,  I wrote about how "Crew Chief Mike Rogers Confesses the Travis Walton Hoax!," which contains a recorded confession of the hoax by Rogers. Normally, you'd think that would settle the matter, but that's not how things work in UFOOLogy. Soon, Rogers was claiming on his Facebook page and elsewhere that documentary producer Ryan Gordon, who made the recording, had digitally altered it, to fake his statements. Of course Gordon objected to this, noting that it accused him of a felony, which was quite injurious to his reputation. Mike agreed to retract the accusation, provided that Ryan acknowledged that Mike retracted his 'confession'. Both agreed, and peace was restored, temporarily.

Then the 45-year-old Walton yarn received another body blow recently when Charlie Wiser, a woman in Australia who nobody in UFOlogy seems to have heard of until about two weeks ago, put together a website demonstrating a prodigious amount of research and attention to detail, as well as a saucy sense of humor. It's called ThreeDollarKit, and it's only a few months old. Only two cases are covered in detail: Betty and Barney Hill, and Travis Walton

Drawing upon maps and photographs provided by Ryan Gordon, she convincingly argues that Travis and Mike, assisted by at least one or two confederates (probably including Travis' brother Duane), used the existing Gentry fire tower along Rim Road in the forest to first, simulate a UFO, with a powerful searchlight to "zap" Travis, and second, hide Travis away for five days while he was supposed to be on board a "saucer". (There is an apartment inside the tower, for the watcher to stay during his shift, which apparently was five days!) The other five woodcutters had no idea what was going on - but Travis needed them to be there as witnesses. Charlie writes,

She goes through a whole lot of details, to explain pretty much all of the Travis Walton yarn. If you're interested in this case, I recommend going through it carefully. It's very credible.

Show of July 16, 2021.

But then on July 16, the Travis Walton story suffered probably its greatest meltdown yet. Mike Rogers agreed to be interviewed by Erica Lukes on her weekly show, UFO Classified. He was supposed to appear via video, but for some reason he didn't (Rogers has done video interviews in the past). Poor Erica had to hold her cell phone, using its own speaker, up to the microphone. She also invited Travis Walton to comment or join in, but received no reply (Walton has previously appeared on her show).

Erica holds her cell phone to the mic for Mike.
It started out pretty slow. She asked Mike to talk about himself, his family and his background, etc. Gradually guiding the conversation back to the incident, Mike repeated the familiar story as it has always been told. He affirmed "one hundred percent" that there was no hoax. However, he later added "I didn't actually see Travis abducted," which leaves him quite a bit of wiggle room. Then he said, I used to believe Travis, but now I'm starting to have my doubts. That started about ten years ago.

The revealing part of the podcast was when Mike began to badmouth Travis Walton, his friend for lo these many years. Earlier, when asked on his Facebook page whether Travis was telling the truth about the 'abduction,' Mike gave him this ringing endorsement: "I have no connection to what Travis Walton says or doesn't say. He is on his own with whatever he says" (July 6).
Mike complained that Travis has been trying to keep him 'out of these things' (i.e., the profit from the abduction story) 'for the last thirty years.' The "rift" happened in the year 2000, he said (which was, of course, only 21 years ago). Travis, he says, has an agreement with him to give him 35% of the proceeds in book sales. But "he hasn't paid me a cent!" Mike's sister Dana married Travis decades ago, although they are no longer together. She left him nine years ago. My sister Dana owns the house Travis lives in, said Mike, and if I took Travis to court, I would win, and I'd take his house.

On the subject of that house, Mike began to talk about how the house and its yard are now filled with trash, because Travis is a terrible hoarder. (This is indeed true. I have jokingly suggested that Travis should have an episode about him not on a UFO series, but on Hoarders.)  Mike decried the terrible state of that property, adding that it never looked like that when Dana lived there. (The following day, Mike posted photos of Travis' junkyard-house on his Facebook page, shaming the resident without naming him. This confused many people.)

Mike, who is 74 years old and walks with a cane, nonetheless boasted about his pugilistic abilities. He told how some Mexican guy came up to him speaking Spanish, and was allegedly on drugs. I belted him, Mike boasted. "I've never lost a fight."

The program then went on for another two hours. "This is the longest interview I've ever done," said Erica. Ryan explained the story behind Mike's once-disputed (and now retracted) "confession," showing texts preceding it that leave no doubt as to its authenticity. Asked by Erica if he thought any of the persons involved would ever confess making a hoax, Ryan replied, "If my checkbook was big enough." The purpose of the hoax, he explained, was to try to win the National Enquirer's $100,000 prize for proof of alien life. They did not win that, but they did win the Enquirer's Best Case of the year award
Walton was hoping to win the National Enquirer's $100,000 reward, later increased to $1 million. (July 13, 1976.)

Ryan then showed maps, and photos he had taken of the area involved the incident,  including dramatic drone footage. He showed how Rogers misled the searchers, bringing them to a site near the Turkey Springs work site, about five miles from Travis' actual location in the tower. I won't try to summarize everything Ryan said here, I strongly encourage interested persons to listen to all two hours of the interview with Ryan.

Less than 24 hours after that podcast, it is still making waves and generating a lot of comment. I predict we will be hearing a lot more on this matter in the near future.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Crew Chief Mike Rogers Confesses the Travis Walton Hoax!


For almost forty-five years, many UFOlogists have held up the Travis Walton “five day UFO abduction” story, the subject of the 1993 movie “Fire in the Sky,” as solid proof of a ‘UFO abduction.’ For many reasons, skeptics like me have never found the story convincing, but there was no actual proof that it was a hoax. The Walton story has been told so many times that, even in the midst of the current UFO media frenzy, production companies are uninterested in doing anything more about it, unless some new angle could be revealed. Now Ryan Gordon, who is planning to produce a documentary to reveal a new angle on this famous case, presents a side of the case that has never been seen before – to not only show that the Walton “abduction” is a hoax, but using information obtained from Travis and Mike themselves, to show exactly how the hoax was accomplished. (Hint: Philip J. Klass’ speculations on how it was done were not correct.)


Mike Rogers, Travis Walton, and Dana Walton (Mike's sister), with the actual truck from the incident.

 Gordon has a recorded confession from MikeRogers, and he has given permission to post the transcript of the relevant portion here.  (This was not a formal interview. Ryan Gordon had been in talks with Mike Rogers and Travis Walton beginning in June 2020. Ryan was driving when Mike called him out of the blue. This was not uncommon for Mike to do. When Mike started to tell Ryan that the event was hoaxed, Ryan pulled his truck over and put his phone on speaker and recorded the call with his Apple Watch pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-3001. The date of the call is April 30, 2021. )


Mike H. Rogers to Ryan Gordon

Recorded April 30, 2021

Copyright Ryan Gordon 2021

MR = Mike H. Rogers

RG = Ryan Gordon


RG: Yeah


RG: Yeah


RG: Well, basically so...


RG: What you’re saying and Travis..together...hoaxed this?


RG: I believe that


RG: Yeah


RG: I know...that was really….that was really bizarre.


(More developments to follow!)




Friday, June 25, 2021

The Pentagon's Long-Awaited 'Preliminary Assessment' - What Does It Say?


So, just before 5 PM Eastern Time on a Friday, the Pentagon's Director of National Intelligence released its Preliminary Assessment report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. (Which is not surprising. It's sort of expected that, when politicians need to release something bound to cause controversy, they do so at the end of the day on a Friday, to minimize media coverage.) What does the Assessment say?

First, there are no disclosures about "aliens" in it, although many expected that there would be something along that line. Neuroscientist and humanist Sam Harris recently said,
This is probably premature to even talk about this, but I’ve had someone reach out to me and has assured me that I’m going to be on a Zoom call with, you know, former heads of the CIA and Office of Naval Research and people whose bona fide are very easy to track, and they’re concerned about the messaging around all of this to the public, and dampening down panic and conspiracy theories. But the … what is being promised here is a disclosure that is frankly, either the most alarming or the most interesting thing in the world, depending on how you take it, but it’s not a representation of the facts that will give scientific skeptics any comfort, and that’s just … we’re faced with the prospect of having to apologize to the people we’ve been laughing at for the last fifty years who have been alleging that they’ve been abducted or that cattle have been anally probed, pick your punch line.
Poor Sam, it looks like you've been "punked."

The entire report is only nine pages, including title pages and appendixes, which is merciful for those of us trying to understand it. In my assessment, it's a better report than I expected to see. In a nutshell, what it says is,
  1. The available reporting is largely inconclusive,
  2. and explaining UAPs will require analytic, collection and resource investment (i.e., We Need Funds. When did a government agency ever not require more funds?).

The Caveats

 I am very encouraged to see the recognition in the Assessment of the problem of  limited, and likely incorrect, data.
The limited amount of high-quality reporting on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions about the nature or intent of UAP... In a limited number of incidents, UAP reportedly appeared to exhibit unusual flight characteristics. These observations could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception and require additional rigorous analysis. 
In other words, the Assessment recognizes that observers' reports are not 'hard data,' as many seem to think (for example, Luis Elizondo's "five observables," more accurately "five assumables.") Anyone familiar with the history of the UFO controversy understands that problem. We have had 'reliable witnesses' testifying to truly amazing things for more than seventy years, and yet no such report has ever led to the discovery of any extraordinary flying object. Some people try to convince us that certain observers, like 'trained military pilots', are so extraordinarily credible that their accounts and estimations simply must be believed. Perhaps these people are unaware that the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the scientific consultant to the US Air Force's Project Blue Book, wrote “Surprisingly, commercial and military pilots appear to make relatively poor witnesses”  (The Hynek UFO Report, 1977, p. 271). 
 The Assessment also recognized the problem of "collection bias."
UAP sightings also tended to cluster around U.S. training and testing grounds, but we assess that this may result from a collection bias as a result of focused attention, greater numbers of latest-generation sensors operating in those areas, unit expectations, and guidance to report anomalies.
In other words, the reports of objects seem to cluster around "Military Operations Areas" (MOAs), but it is recognized that this may simply be because that is where defense personnel are spending much of their time.

What is Being Seen?
Another fairly hopeful sign is the recognition in the Assessment that not everfything reported as a "UAP" is necessarily anything mysterious:
There are probably multiple types of UAP requiring different explanations based on the range of appearances and behaviors described in the available reporting. Our analysis of the data supports the construct that if and when individual UAP incidents are resolved they will fall into one of five potential explanatory categories: airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, USG or U.S. industry developmental programs, foreign adversary systems, and a catchall “other” bin
So many, perhaps most, reports will resolve into things we already know about. Just like in Project Blue Book.
And here is the key conclusion:
The UAPTF has indicated that additional funding for research and development could further the future study of the topics laid out in this report. Such investments should be guided by a UAP Collection Strategy, UAP R&D Technical Roadmap, and a UAP Program Plan.
And thus another government agency is born. Probably those working on the task force are too young to recall the Air Force's persistent publicity problems in the 1950s and 60s with Project Blue Book, for which the Condon Report was supposed to end the controversy (but didn't). It looks like the Defense Department has now ensnared itself in Project Blue Book II, and it's safe to predict that the likes of a Condon Report II will eventually be needed to try to extricate themselves from this tar baby.
My advice to the members of the new UAPTF is this: choose a very few good cases, preferably some of the videos and photos we have already seen. Consult the best experts on the relevant subjects (infrared imaging, optical scattering and glare, etc. - not just the UFO buffs in the Pentagon), then present your findings to the public, with full documentation and analysis. If this confirms the analysis of skeptical civilian analysts - for example, on Metabunk - then I for one will have confidence in the Task Force's analyses, and so will most other serious investigators, as will (presumably) the scientific community. (And if it does not confirm that, then show us solid evidence to the contrary.) Before I will believe any Task Force analysis saying that some report is 'unexplainable' in terms of current knowledge, I want to be assured that the Task Force understands the factors involved in analyzing such cases at least as well as the best civilian investigators do.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Why 'Oumuamua is NOT an "Alien Probe," and Why SETI Will "Fail"

The first object in our solar system confirmed to have come from interstellar space was discovered in 2017. It was named 'Oumuamua. And of late there has been a lot of talk that the object is really an alien probe, sent here by some distant intelligent species. Harvard astrophysicist Dr. Avi Loeb has outstanding scientific credentials, and of late he has been promoting that idea. In fact, he has written a book Extraterrestrial, calling 'Oumuamua "The first sign of intelligent life beyond earth."
As you might imagine, this has generated considerable interest among the public, turning Dr. Loeb into something of a celebrity (although many astronomers are still scratching their heads, as if to say, "What has gotten into this guy?")

Not a lot has been written critiquing the claim that  'Oumuamua is an extraterrestrial probe, but Dr. Ben Zuckerman, of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UCLA (retired), was kind enough to send me some papers.

Dr. J. I. Katz of the Department of Physics and McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., has written a paper,  ‘Oumuamua is not Artificial. He writes [references removed here, see original],

Recently, the popular press has discussed the hypothesis, promoted in a popular book  that ‘Oumuamua, the interstellar object that transited the Solar System in 2017, is the product of an “alien” civilization, presumably reconnoitering the Solar System, rather than a natural fragment (a “Jurad”, an asteroid or comet nucleus) that escaped from an extra-Solar planetary system. There are several reasons why the alien civilization hypothesis is not credible
Katz notes that 

‘Oumuamua had a velocity, far from the Solar System but with respect to it, of about 26 km/s. The smallest credible distance of a sending civilization is about 10 light years (this volume contains 10–20 stars, enough that if all the possible optimistic assumptions are made it might contain an advanced civilization; the closest extra-Solar star is about 4 light years away). The transit time from that distance would be about 100,000 years. A decision to launch toward our Solar System must have been made about 100,000 years ago.
In other words, when ‘Oumuamua was traveling through interstellar space toward our solar system, its speed relative to the sun was only 26 km/sec, a bit slower than the earth's orbital velocity around the sun. We don't know where it originated, but it must have been traveling for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. Clearly, if aliens constructed and launched 'Oumuamua, they were in no hurry whatsoever to see what it might discover.

Katz also notes that 

A flyby is an inefficient way to collect data and an unreliable way to attract notice. As our space programs know, if you want to collect information about a body, send an orbiter or a lander. There is no compelling argument against the presence of artificial orbiters in the Solar System, or against landers on any body other than the Earth. ‘Oumuamua was neither.

After traveling for many thousands, if not millions, of years, instead of going into orbit aroung the sun (or, better yet, the earth!), ‘Oumuamua just slid out of our solar system exactly as it slid in, behaving like a dumb rock.

Following up on this line of reasoning, Dr. Ben Zuckerman wrote a paper, ‘Oumuamua Is Not a Probe Sent to our Solar System by an Alien Civilization. Referring to a paper written by S. Bialy and Loeb on 'Oumuamua, Zuckerman notes,

other than implicitly assuming that extraterrestrials would want to send such a probe, their paper contains no discussion of the alien’s motivations. More than 50 years ago, the distinguished physicist Freeman Dyson understood that ignoring the question of motivation would be a huge mistake: “The problem of interstellar travel is a problem of motivation and not of physics”

Zuckerman suggests that, rather than sending probes like ‘Oumuamua is supposed to be, intelligent civilizations can obtain better information on nearby planetary systems, and much more quickly, by building large space telescopes:

Large space telescopes should permit detailed study of nearby planetary systems. It will be possible to obtain orbital and spectroscopic data of a quality comparable to that now obtainable from ground-based telescopic study of planets in our Solar System...

First generation planet-hunting space telescopes such as NASA’s [proposed] Terrestrial Planet Finder (“TPF”) or ESA’s DARWIN, would be able to discover “living worlds” such as Earth. This would be accomplished through identification of “biomolecules” in the planet’s atmosphere. Once such a world is found, then surely larger, more powerful, space telescopes would be constructed to resolve the planet’s surface well enough to reveal continents and oceans, the spectrum of “vegetation”, and variations in these as a function of time, both in the short-term (annual seasons) and the long-term (ice ages, or whatever). 
Zuckerman concludes,

we demonstrate that there exists no plausible reason why a technological civilization would build and launch ‘Oumuamua type probes of the sort described by Bialy & Loeb. The fleeting capabilities of any such flyby probe are vastly inferior to the power of space telescopes operational for eons of time in the interplanetary space of the alien civilization....

The Breakthrough Starship Project

Avi Loeb's proposed Breakthrough Starship project

As an appendix to his paper on 'Oumuamua, Dr. Katz includes a critical analysis of what is called The Breakthrough Project, a proposal suggesting that "it may be possible, using the radiation pressure of a laser, to accelerate a low mass spacecraft to semi-relativistic speeds for the purpose of interstellar reconnaissance." When I first saw this, I didn't understand why it belonged in this paper. Upon looking more closely, I soon saw the reason: this proposal is the brainchild of Avi Loeb. I find it ironic that Dr. Loeb, who is so cognizant of the need to achieve relativistic speeds if we wish to send out interstellar probes, is nonetheless willing to accept the interstellar tortoise 'Oumuamua as likely being of alien construction.

Katz notes several "insuperable problems" with the proposal, not the least of which is that "the sail will vaporize." His critique of the proposal is highly technical, and involves a whole slew of equations. But if Katz is correct, the proposal to accelerate an interstellar sail using lasers simply won't work. 

Extraterrestrials - Where Are They?

I first met Ben Zuckerman back in 1975 when I interviewed him to write an article about his SETI project, called Project Ozma II. My article appeared in Spaceflight magazine, a publication of the British Interplanetary Society, in the December, 1975 issue. The original Project Ozma was carried out by Dr. Frank Drake in 1960 using the 85-foot radio telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. It examined two nearby solar-type stars, Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani . The second Project Ozma was carried out by Zuckerman and his colleague, Dr. Patrick Palmer of the University of Chicago. They used the much larger 300 foot radio telescope at that same observatory, and intermittetently monitored 670 nearby stars from 1972-76. Despite gathering much more data using much more sensitive equipment than the first Project Ozma, no signs of intelligent signals were detected.

Michael Papagiannis, Benjamin Zuckerman, and
Michael Hart at the Where Are They? Conference, 1979.
But in certain circles, disillusion with SETI was setting in. On November 2nd and 3rd  of 1979,  Zuckerman and SETI critic Dr. Michael Hart of Trinity Univeristy, sponsored a conference at the University of Maryland (where Zuckerman was then teaching) titled Where are They?, to examine the famous "Fermi paradox": If alien life is so abundant, then where is everybody? What explains the absence of extraterrestrials on earth?

Many distinguished scientists participated in the conference, including physicist Freeman Dyson, radio astronomers Ronald N. Bracewell, Michael D. Papagiannis, and Sebastial von Hoerner, chemists Robert Shapiro and Cyril Ponnamperuna, and many others. I was invited to address claims that exterterrestrials are actually being seen in earth (i.e., UFO sightings). James Oberg spoke about the possibility of "terraforming" planets to be earrthlike, and thus supporting life. The proceedings of this conference were published as Extraterrestrials Where Are They? (Pergamon Press, 1982). 

Yours Truly with Freeman Dyson at
the Where Are They? conference.

An interesting anecdote from that conference: When we broke for lunch that first day, I was headed out with James Oberg and another participant. Oberg noticed Dyson wandering about somewhat aimlessly, and invited him to join us. So we all drove off to a nearby restaurant I knew. As we chatted during lunch, Dyson made a reference to 'my friend, a very brilliant man, Immanuel Velikovsky' (who at that time was still living, but died soon afterward). Both Dyson and Velikovsky lived in Princeton, New Jersey, and apparently they were good friends. I said to Dyson, 'Surely you don't believe Velikovsky's claims that Venus was a comet ejected from Jupiter, that passed by earth and dropped Manna from Heaven on the Israelites, and so on?' He replied, 'Of course not, that is just nonsense. But my friend Velikovsky is a brilliant man!' I didn't know what to say to that.

Why SETI Will "Fail"

In 2002, Zuckerman wrote a paper published in Mercury, the publication of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, titled Why SETI Will Fail. The original paper is not on-line, but the text is available here. As in Zuckerman's paper above, large space telescopes, using principles of interferometry, play an important role in this argument.  Here is the Abstract in full:  "The union of space telescopes and interstellar spaceships guarantees that if extraterrestrial civilizations were common, someone would have come here long ago."

Dr. Zuckerman explains,

According to the timetable envisioned for NASA’s Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) mission, in the next 20 years we should witness the deployment of space telescopes capable of spotting Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars. As currently conceived, these telescopes will be able to measure mid-infrared spectra of planetary atmospheres and detect molecules such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and free oxygen in the form of ozone. In other words, TPF will be capable of identifying life-bearing planets within about 30 light-years of Earth. When technology improves during the coming centuries, the range of such telescopes will no doubt be extended out to 100 or more light-years.

Unfortunately, NASA cancelled its Terrestrial Planet Finder mission in 2011. Although one realizes that the leaders on alien planets need not be as shortsighted as our own. Zuckerman optimistically explains, 

SETI endeavors should assume that any technological civilization within a few hundred light-years has had space telescopes capable of detecting and studying Earth for quite some time. If the typical technological civilization is 1 million years old, then such a civilization, if it lies within a few hundred light-years, has been studying us with its space telescopes for the past million years. This article will consider some implications of this basic idea....
But even if living worlds are not rare, SETI searches of stars within a tew hnndred light-years are doomed to fail because an advanced civilization on any nearby planet would have long ago employed space telescopes to identify Earth as a living planet and would have come to our solar system to investigate Earth. And once here, why leave?

So, to state Zuckerman's argument in its simplest form, if there were any advanced civilizations relatively nearby, they would have found us long ago, and probably have come here to explore. He explains,

Oxygen built up in Earth’s atmosphere about 2 billion years ago. Following that period, Earth could have been identified as a living world from afar. Any technological civilization that came within a few hundred light-years of Earth during the past 2 billion years would have had to choose between passively floating by (for a million years) and never learning about terrestrial life, or actively sending a spaceship to our solar system. Even if such an expedition took 1,000 years, this still would have been a very quick trip in comparison to a billion year wait for humans to show up with radio transmitters. During the past 2 billion years, millions of Sun-like stars have passed within a few hundred light-years of Earth, yet there is no evidence that technological extraterrestrials have ever visited our solar system.  This suggests that very few, if any, technological civilizations existed around these millions of stars.

This, he points out, is exactly the opposite conclusion reached by Carl Sagan and the other SETI optimists. (If so many advanced civilizations exist, then Where Are They?) Zuckerman argues that "Interstellar Travel Is Inexpensive":

sending a spaceship containing humans to another star will cost a lot more than sending a few astronauts to Mars. University of Illinois engineer Cliff Singer, in his excellent chapter ”Settlements in Space, and Interstellar Travel” in Extraterrestrials: Where Are They? (a book I co-edited with Michael Hart) estimates the cost of an interstellar spacecraft propelled by a stream of very high-velocity pellets. The estimated price is 1 million person-centuries (l million people each working for a century), or roughly 10 trillion dollars. Expensive? Not really, when one considers that this is about the cost of one decade of the worldwide arms race. Is human ”civilization” insane or what?
Various other forms of advanced propulsion systems are discussed in chapters by Freeman Dyson and Ian Crawford in Extraterrestrials: Where Are They?

But Zuckerman concludes,

While SETl skeptics may envision humans as possessing the most advanced brains in the Milky Way, nonetheless, it is we pessimists who are the true technological optimists...
Presumably meaning that it is our long-term destiny to spread out into the stars.


Monday, May 24, 2021

UFOs Explode in the Credulous Media

May 14, 2021.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past month, you have no doubt noticed that the major media have been filled with gushing, uncritical articles proclaiming the glorious new reality of UFOs. On the right, we have Tucker Carlson on Fox News, and the New York Post. On the left, we have the Washington Post and the New York Times.  Plus many others of all stripes. I have written in detail about the New Yorker's absurdly credulous UFO story by Gideon Lewis-Kraus on April 30, with its Hagiography of UFO and ghost promoter Leslie Kean.

What they all have in common is a congenital lack of journalistic skepticism or curiosity, and a lust for sensationalism and ratings. Golly Gee Whiz, Mr. Elizondo, UFOs really are real! Tell me more! (Do you have any proof of what you are saying, Mr. Elizondo? Oh, never mind.)

May 23, 2021

Finally, after a little time, a few publications have dared to depart from the default path of journalistic laziness. Jason Colavito, whose Blog contains a wealth of useful information and analysis, writes in The Atlantic (May 21):

But the real story isn’t disclosure, and it’s stranger than any UFO sighting. Behind the creamy pages of high-end magazines and the marble columns of the Capitol, the media elite and Congress are being played by a small, loosely connected group of people with bizarre ideas about science. It’s easy to dismiss UFOs as a fantasy or a fad, but the money, the connections, and the power wielded by a group of UFO believers—embedded in the defense industry and bent on supplanting material science with a pseudoscientific mysticism straight from the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens—poses a danger to America more real than a flying saucer [emphasis added].
Published by Dutton, 1975.

Colavito reviews in some detail the decades-long history of the UFO controversy, and the role of certain people he calls the "invisible college" (using Hynek and Vallee's term), who promote and investigate weird things. He tells us about the mystical beliefs shared by Hynek and Vallee (both found value in Rosicrucianism). There is Hal Puthoff and Russ Targ, believers in the magic powers of Uri Geller. Robert Bigelow, Bob Lazar, NIDS. And many others. Using rather colorful language (which I think is appropriate here, though others disagree), he writes:
NIDS primarily researched—and failed to prove—the supposed paranormal mysteries of a patch of desert in Utah called Skinwalker Ranch. Puthoff and the NIDS team believed it to be a supernatural gateway to the space ghost dimension. (The ranch is now the set of a paranormal reality TV program.) Remarkably, they managed to convince a visiting Defense Intelligence Agency scientist, and the DIA partnered with Bigelow to investigate space ghosts... The only public accounting of the program’s research was a list of its theoretical papers on stargates, wormholes, and other sci-fi topics that “invisible college” members like Puthoff obsessed over, as well as a proprietary 494-page 2009 “ten-month report” from Bigelow’s team in which Puthoff, VallĂ©e, and others wrote about UFOs, “interdimensional phenomena” at Skinwalker Ranch, and alleged technology aliens implanted in a UFO abductee. Pentagon officials quickly concluded that releasing such an absurd report “would be a disaster,” as one unnamed official told The New Yorker. Eventually, Team Space Ghost developed a bizarre mythology, imagining that an organized cabal in the Pentagon actively suppressed UFO work because it feared UFOs were demons and that researching them might provoke Satan.
In conclusion, Colavito argues

More writing about Space Ghosts, 1975.
we shouldn’t let enthusiasts of space ghosts have the run of Washington to steer money and policy in the direction they want. If they insist UFOs are a national security threat, then the national media must take them at their word. No more chuckles. No more rhapsodies about mystery. We must hold Team Space Poltergeist to the levels of skepticism, seriousness, and scrutiny it pretends to demand. Quite literally, the future depends on it.

This is similar to the concluding summary I wrote at the end of my three-part article on the recent credulous New Yorker story (minus the term "Space Ghosts"). This story is all being driven by a few well-connected UFO enthusiasts:

the Pentagon's AATIP program came into existence not because "the Pentagon" or "the Navy" was concerned about UFOs (or "UAPs", as they prefer). It happened because of Robert Bigelow and Senator Harry Reid (D-NV, who was then the Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate). Reid arranged a "sweetheart" $22 million government contract for his major campaign contributor Robert Bigelow. Leslie Kean found out about it, and co-authored several articles about Pentagon UFOs in the New York Times. The rest, as they say, is History. Drunk History, actually.

Over in the National Review, Andrew Follett writes on May 21, "Calm Down, Everyone: The ‘UFOs’ Aren’t Aliens... The videos disclosed so far all have obvious potential terrestrial explanations."

What much of the recent news coverage fails to mention is that “Unidentified Flying Object” does not mean either “alien spacecraft” or even “extremely advanced drone.” And the videos disclosed so far all have obvious potential terrestrial explanations.... Carlson’s coverage of the “GoFast” video expressly claims it shows “technologies that are far beyond our current understanding of aerodynamics” and reveals “things that are maneuvering in ways that no aircraft that we are currently aware of have the capability to.” He adds that the UFOs “have no flight surfaces, no wing or anything approaching a wing . . . and no propulsion, so infrared doesn’t pick up any jet trail or rocket exhaust.” The video shows a small object apparently moving low across the water. However, the UFO was almost certainly a seabird or balloon distorted by parallax. Parallax is an effect that makes an object close to an observer, but filmed against a more distant background, seem to speed up as the camera moves. Data from the Navy camera clearly indicates the unidentified object had a wingspan of about four to seven feet in diameter, roughly the wingspan of a Canadian Goose, and flew at an altitude of 8,000 feet, well below the 29,000 feet maximum altitude of the bird. Alternatively, the Department of Defense description of the object expressly mentions a balloon (perhaps a weather balloon) as a possible explanation in the paperwork that accompanied the release of the video.

If it flies like a duck, is the size of a duck, and quacks like a duck . . . it probably isn’t an alien spaceship or ultra-advanced drone from a foreign power. But headlines such as “U.S. Navy Pilot Spots UFO” generate more clicks than “Pilot Sees Goose on Infrared Camera.”

On CNN, Chris Cuomo, after taking an irrelevant swipe at former president Trump, got down to interviewing Mick West about these "Pentagon UFO" videos. West explained the arguments against the Go Fast, the Gimble, and the Triangle UFO videos. Afterward, when an internet UFO fan boy insisted "He debunked nothing. All these cases are still unexplained. Explaining bits of the videos is not equal to identifying what was filmed," West replied

What I debunked was specific claims people were making about the videos - like GoFast going fast, Triangle being a triangle, and Gimbal being a flying saucer (and not a glare + gimbal lock artifact).

Which is exactly correct. If the object in the "Go Fast" video does not actually "go fast," and if the objects in the "Triangle UFO" video are not in fact triangular, then why should we care about these videos at all? (Except as a demonstration of the spectacular incompetence of the Pentagon's 'UAP task force.')

May 21, 2021.

Keith Kloor summed up the best explanation for what is happening: "Why UFOs Will Never, Ever Go Away.
Hint: It's not because of Hollywood, the History Channel or sci-fi shows." He writes,

As I have written elsewhere, it’s “the news media that keeps the specter of extraterrestrials alight in our skies and minds.” Yes, Hollywood movies like Independence Day and Men in Black tap into an ingrained pop culture motif, but it’s because of bad journalism that UFOs truly never, ever go away. [emphasis added].

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The New Yorker's Credulous Article on Pentagon UFOs - Part 3


(Continued from Part 2)

One of Leslie Kean's last "really good" cases is the UFO reported over gate C-17 at Chicago's O'Hare field on November 7, 2006. Several employees of United Airlines reported seeing a “strange object hovering just under a cloud bank… the metallic-looking disc was about the size of a quarter or half dollar held at arm’s length.”  Unfortunately, no photographs exist of this supposed “metallic-looking disc” hovering over one of the world’s busiest airports in daytime, and nothing showed up on radar. Reportedly “the suspended disc suddenly shot up at an incredible speed and was gone in less than a second, leaving a crisp, cookie-cutter-like hole in the dense clouds. The opening was approximately the same size as the object, and those directly underneath it could see blue sky visible on the other side.”  From the article:

The object hovered for several minutes before accelerating at a severe incline and leaving “an almost perfect circle in the cloud layer where the craft had been,” as one anonymous witness subsequently put it.... The F.A.A. claimed that it must have been a “hole-punch cloud”—a cirrocumulus or altocumulus cloud crisply perforated with a circular gap, which occasionally appears in below-freezing temperatures. According to meteorologists whom Kean interviewed, it was much too warm that day for hole-punch clouds to occur. 

Kean's source for this information is a report by NARCAP, a pro-UFO investigative team, showing that temperatures were too high for a hole-punch cloud to form at the reported 1,900 foot elevation of the ceiling, which is probably correct. (Kean has no difficulty referencing investigations by other researchers, so long as their conclusion agrees with hers.) But the low ceiling could easily have been partially obscuring a much higher cloud layer, where a hole-punch cloud could exist because of much lower temperatures. Hole-punch clouds occur in cirrocumulous or altocumulous clouds, approximately 8,000 to 39,000 ft. elevation, not in low clouds at 1,900 ft! So there is no reason to reject the FAA's explanation.

A hole-punch cloud, partially obscured by lower clouds.  (from Wikimedia commons).

The strangest part of the entire article is what it says about UFO skeptics. 

“An informed skeptic is a very different thing from a debunker on a mission,” she wrote to me. “There are many out there who are on a mission to debunk UFOs at all costs. They’re not rational and they’re not informed.” Kean thought that they were blinded by zealotry.
How dare rational people argue against her extraordinary claims? Here Kean's mean streak is on full display, which unfortunately is quite common among UFO zealots. They simply cannot believe that there could possibly be any rational objection to their claims. We read,
Many U.F.O. debunkers are overtly hostile, but Mick West has a mild, disarming manner, one that only occasionally recalls the performative deference with which an orderly might cajole a patient back into his straitjacket.

Since I have been an active UFO skeptic for over fifty years, a longtime associate of the late King of the Debunkers Philip J. Klass, and indeed the owner of the Website, I suppose that the "overtly hostile" people author Gideon Lewis-Kraus is talking about includes me. I don't think of myself as "overtly hostile," and I'm wondering what, exactly, he means by that. For years I've been attending major UFO conferences and have met most of the well-known UFOlogists who attend such things. In fact, I get along quite well with many of them. I haven't gotten into any fist fights, and hardly any big arguments. And I wouldn't describe any of the UFO skeptics I know as "overtly hostile," but I suppose that's just my opinion. I am happy to report that most attendees of UFO conferences are able to handle skeptical commentary without melting down - very few of them are as rigid in their UFO Evangelism as Leslie Kean. I would say that Kean is clearly one of those UFOologists who is "overtly hostile" to anyone disagreeing with her beliefs, a trait she apparently picked up from her mentor, the late UFO abductionist Budd Hopkins. Hopkins' ex-wife, Carol Rainey, wrote that "In our house, the words “debunkers” and “skeptics” were used very much in the way that devout Christians use the words “unbelievers” and “the unsaved.” "

I have met Mick West, and I agree that he is a soft-spoken individual. But notice the subtle put-down, comparing his mannerisms to a hospital orderly trying to calm down a crazy person. Lewis-Kraus continues,

Everything [West] told me was perfectly persuasive, but even an hour on the phone with him left me feeling vaguely demoralized. Morgellons sufferers and chemtrail hysterics, he supposed, would be grateful to be relieved of their baseless fears, just as he had been disburdened of the psychic hazard posed by farmhouse aliens—and he didn’t see why U.F.O. advocates should be any different. He seemed unable to envisage that someone might find solace in the decentering prospect that we are not alone in a universe we ultimately know very little about.

So Lewis-Kraus feels "demoralized" talking to West, because people find "solace" in entertaining unsupported beliefs? Here we have an outright admission by the author that he is seeking not facts about UFO claims, but comforting beliefs. And he commits the logical fallacy of concluding that, if there is no valid evidence of ET visitation to earth, therefore we are alone in the universe. What an absurd fallacy! Lewis-Kraus continues,

During one of my phone calls with Kean—greatly pleasurable distractions that tended to absorb entire afternoons—I mentioned to her that I had been in touch with Mick West. It was the only time I had known her to grow peevish. “If Mick were really interested in this stuff, he wouldn’t debunk every single video,” she said, almost pityingly. “He would admit that at least some of them are genuinely weird.”

Yes indeed. How pleasant and engrossing it is to talk to the exalted Ms Kean! Lewis-Kraus shows no inclination to challenge anything she says, or to consult other sources that contradict her. If he had, he would have encounterd Kean's "peevishness" many more times. Here we have a clear admisssion that the author has tossed "journalistic objectivity" out the window. And also note that Kean seems to be advocating a sort of "social promotion" for at least a few UFO claims. Mick should give at least a few UFO videos a passing grade, even if they don't deserve it. Just because!! 


In any case, the important thing to keep in mind when the subject of "Pentagon UFOs" comes up (as it now does so frequently): the Pentagon's AATIP program came into existence not because "the Pentagon" or "the Navy" was concerned about UFOs (or "UAPs", as they prefer). It happened because of Robert Bigelow and Senator Harry Reid (D-NV, who was then the Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate). Reid arranged a "sweetheart" $22 million government contract for his major campaign contributor Robert Bigelow. Leslie Kean found out about it, and co-authored several articles about Pentagon UFOs in the New York Times. The rest, as they say, is History. 

Drunk History, actually.