Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Some Comments on the History Channel show "UFOs On The Record"

On Thursday, August 25 the History Channel premiered a UFO documentary titled "Special Access - UFOs On The Record." It was based upon the best-selling book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record by Leslie Kean. This is not intended to be a comprehensive commentary on the contents of that show. I have already written a long review of Kean's book  in the March / April 2011 Skeptical Inquirer, from which the show's content is taken. The review's title is " ‘Unexplained’ Cases—Only If You Ignore All Explanations." Most of the cases that Kean proclaims "unidentified" have already had explanations published. Kean deals with this problem exactly as her UFOlogical mentor, the late Budd Hopkins did: she simply ignores it. SI Editor Ken Frazier told me that I was way past the length of a book review, and he'd have to cut back. That's the way things are with magazines. Most of the omitted material is included here, where I can post as much as I want. This posting, and my review of Kean's book, together address most of Kean's major "evidence."

The 'strongest evidence' presented was the Belgian UFO wave. In my book review I mention the strange lack of photographs given thousands of reported Close Encounters in a densely-populated country, a lack for which Kean offers a weak apology. There was, however, exactly one photograph purporting to show a structured craft, a 35mm slide, said to have been taken at Petit-rechain in Belgium in April of 1990. Much is made of this photo, both in the book and the show. In the latter, Kean calls the Petit-rechain photo "one of the most convincing" pieces of evidence for the existence of UFOs.

Let us be charitable and assume that this show was filmed prior to July 26, 2011, which it probably was. Unfortunately for Kean and Co., the Petit-rechain photo is now a confessed hoax! I noted this in my Blog post of July 26. On July 26 the hoaxer appeared on Belgian TV, confessing that "The UFO of Petit-rechain is not a spaceship from a distant galaxy but a panel of painted styrofoam with three spots affixed." And what about those scientists with impressive university positions, who supposedly 'validated' the photo? Piffle!

Worse yet for Kean, the Belgian UFOlogist Patrick Ferryn, who is featured prominently on the program proclaiming the validity of the Petit-rechain photo, now acknowledges that it is a hoax. Ferryn also appeared on Belgian TV on July 26 to argue that the bogus UFO photo from Petit-rechain does not in any way invalidate the Belgian UFO wave that began in November of 1989. (True enough, but it does remove the sole supposed photographic evidence for thousands of reported sightings.)

No word from Kean yet on her reaction to having one of the main pillars supporting her edifice suddenly kicked out from under her (and it's been more than a month). If she's honest, she'll admit she was wrong, and disavow the photo. However, that kind of honesty is extremely rare in UFOlogy. When I talked to Stanton Friedman at the MUFON symposium last month, he still would not give up on the "Zeta Reticuli" Star Map, even though he agreed with me that the star positions in the new Hipparchos catalog are far more accurate than in the forty-year-old catalog used to create the famous Map (and whose supposed 'one-in-ten-thousand' matching is now blown to smithereens). What Kean will do about the Petit-rechain hoax, time will tell. One thing is clear: Patrick Ferryn is an honest investigator, who is willing to acknowledge an error.

At  the beginning of the segment about the Phoenix lights, it seemed to me that the program was deliberately confusing the two separate incidents, using photos of the flares dropping (Phoenix Incident 2) to support  claims of the sightings earlier in the evening (Phoenix Incident 1). For information about Phoenix I, see The Great UFO Cover-up by Tony Ortega. Later in that program segment, Kean acknowledges that Phoenix 2 was a flare drop, in which case the photos of them are completely irrelevant to supporting any UFO claim, unless the aim is to confuse the viewer with good photos of a bad UFO, in lieu of bad or no photos of a presumably better one.

Former Arizona governor Fife Symington is one of Kean's favorite witnesses (although exactly how he became a "former governor" is never spelled out). He now claims to have 'held back' UFO information, and now claims a UFO sighting of his own. How credible is Fife Symington? This news story tells you all you need to know: Arizona Governor Convicted Of Fraud and Will Step Down. Seven felony counts! Sure, I believe everything this guy says. He'd never make up a story for fun and profit.

Little has been written about the “Incursion at O’Hare Airport” on Nov. 7, 2006, which is a major case for Kean. 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.  Even more surprising, we learn in the program that the UFO hovered over gate C-17 at O'Hare. Apparently it was not seen by anyone at Gate C-15, C-16, or anywhere else.

After approximately five to fifteen minutes, “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 [I would suggest that the opening was in fact the object], and those directly underneath it could see blue sky visible on the other side.”  She ridicules an explanation offered by an FAA spokesman that the observers saw a “hole-punch cloud,” an unusual weather phenomenon where a large, dramatic circular hole is formed in a cloud layer. She cites a report by NARCAP, a pro-UFO investigative team, showing that temperatures were too high for a hole-punch cloud to form at the 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 then she bizarrely suggests that “this just happens to fit the witnesses’ explanation of what they saw: a high-energy, round object very likely to be emitting some form of intense radiation or heat while cutting through the cloud bank.” Now, one cannot simultaneously argue that a hole-punch cloud could not have formed because the temperatures were above freezing, but a UFO formed one anyway. In any case, the low ceiling might easily have briefly opened up to reveal a much higher cloud layer, where a hole-punch cloud already existed. It is interesting that the photo used on a NOAA website to illustrate the phenomenon of the hole-punch cloud was taken exactly eight days after the O’Hare Field “incursion,” from nearby Wisconsin. Hole-punch clouds typically occur in cirrocumulous clouds, approximately 16,000 to 39,000 ft. elevation, not at 1,900 ft!

On the positive side, the program featured a short segment on the UFOTOG project of Douglas Trumball, the special effects wizard who worked on 2001 - A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and many other films. Putting serious money into state-of-the-art cameras to detect and record anomalous moving objects is exactly the right way for someone who believes that UFOs might be real to prove he is right. Should a clear image of an unknown structured craft appear in a consistent manner across several different instruments, there would be no 'splaining it away. Of course, that has never happened, and I suspect it never will. But I will applaud Mr. Trumbull if he is able to prove me wrong. And I would admit it, unlike Lesile Kean, Stanton Friedman, or Budd Hopkins.

Physicist Michio Kaku, who is well known for attempting to rationalize the physics of UFOs and of Time Travel, is quoted on the cover of Kean's book declaring it filled with “eye-opening information” that would “set the gold standard for UFO research.” Skeptics should note how easily Kaku has been dazzled by Fool’s Gold.


  1. I refer to the phrase "One of the most convincing pieces of evidence for the existence of UFOs", used by Leslie Kean.

    Think back and count the number of times you have seen or heard this phrase. There have been so many during my long UFO 'career' that I lost count ages ago. It is usually in the form of a photo or film, or what at first sounds like a truly remarkable sighting but then is re-analysed, hotly disputed and assumes a far lesser significance.

  2. That Belgian UFO photo both fascinated and disturbed me for years. Although it took a good long time and took in many in the interim, ultimately it followed the sad trajectory described by CDA. It will be interesting to see how Ms. Kean reacts to the questions that are sure to come.

    I felt the program was the best I have seen on the subject of UFOs in quite a while. In fact, the Douglas Trumball work instilled a sense of optimism in me that I had all but lost. Mr. Trumball seeks real evidence and the producers of the show felt his efforts warranted inclusion in their story. Will he have success? He is one person surveying a tiny fraction of the planet for a transient phenomenon. The odds against him are immense. It's his thought and example that evidence is both vital and still lacking that warmed my heart.

  3. Hello,

    "Ferryn also appeared on Belgian TV on July 26 to argue that the bogus UFO photo from Petit-rechain does not in any way invalidate the Belgian UFO wave that began in November of 1989."

    Just for the sake of being really exact, Patrick Ferryn didn't appear on television that day. He was on holliday at the time (bad luck), and thus could'nt answer interviews easily. He did say what you wrote in your bologpost, but it appeared only in that article that you linked (text only), on the website of the belgian television RTL. So not on TV per se, but in an article published on the website of a belgian TV.

    Auguste Meessen was on the radio and TV that day (he went to ask questions to the hoaxer, and a TV crew was there at the time), and on the skeptical side of things you had Pierre Magain "debating" him (it was not a real debate, but Magain justs said the opposite of what Meessen just stated before during 10 min.) one or two days later on the same TV channel.

    With skepticality,

  4. The way that UFO enthusiasts respond to the revelation of outright fraud in relation to their "most convincing evidence ever" is sadly predictable: cognitive dissonance and increased prosthelytizing.

    After George Adamski was exposed as a transparent fraud, his believers became even more convinced. And casual saucer buffs can still be heard saying how George must have had a real experience at first but then had to fake some evidence so that he could keep spreading the good word.

    I interviewed several folks who were ripped off by Otis Carr. Every one of them still thought that Carr was sincere.

    After my revelations about Phillip Imbrogno there were many pleadings that this exposure should not cause believers to throw the baby out with the bathwater. They wanted to hold on to his "research".

    And Leslie Kean doesn't bat any eye when her "holy grail" (I believe she use those exact words in a Facebook posting that showed her reveretially holding the Belgian UFO slide) is shown to be another tin cup.

    Kean also places great respect in the work of Richard Haines. Robert, have you ever read one of Haines' faux-scientific papers "analyzing" a dubious UFO photo? They aren't scientific at all--they simply have a veneer of science terminology and instead simply lead toward a forgone conclusion.

    A recent one I read doesn't even consider a photographic anomaly for a photo that looks to be a glare or reflection. He doesn't even mention this as a possibility! Instead he goes right into talking about a craft etc. etc.

    This silly stuff must really wow the rubes because Haines is often held up as one of the most respected of the UFO "researchers".

    Being a "respected" researcher and being "the most convincing evidence" seems to have a similar unintendedly hilarious meaning among saucer buffs.



  5. Please start showing history and no more reality crap! It is getting very old watching your cheap alligator and pawn junk. I am sure it cheaper for you to make, but it is uninteresting and stupid.

    The American public is much smarter than what you are showing. It is time you took pride in your work. Right now, it is now showing most of the time.

  6. "Kean has no difficulty referencing investigations by other researchers, so long as their conclusion agrees with hers."

    Then why aren't you referencing this report:


    This is probably the most detailed investigation of the case. And why is it that there generally can't be anything found on this blog about NARCAP?

  7. Thoughts on orbs? Email to lindajam3s@gmail.com and shropshire, England 3/30/1993 sightings and jets pursueing the craft

  8. Dear Robert, you wrote that "the low ceiling might easily have briefly opened up to reveal a much higher cloud layer".

    Which mechanism would allow such a brief and easy opening of the lower cloud deck? If it was not a hole punch cloud, then what was it?

    It seems to me that what you have presented here is nothing but an untested hypothesis.

    I personally find it hard to believe that the independent witnesses would all mistake the opening of the lower layer for an object flying underneath before realizing what it truly was after the formation of the real hole punch cloud.

    Would we not, at best, only expect a change of color?

    What must be the dimensions of both holes for making the delusion real?

    I'd be far less Skeptical if you could demonstrate me through a realistic computer simulation that the combination of these two phenomena would well account for what the witnesses perceived to be the case.

    Many thanks in advance for your answer!

    Kind regards.

    1. One more thing. You also tend to quote selectively.

      "I then inquired whether a cloud hole could be formed by
      any other natural method. “There are two ways you can get
      cloud holes,” Daniel Breed told me, a scientist with the
      National Center for Atmospheric Research specializing in
      cloud physics. “In addition to falling ice crystals at below
      freezing temperatures, the other way is by evaporation,
      through the introduction of dryer air or heat into the cloud
      The natural induction of dry air into a cloud, Breed
      explained, was unlikely to have caused the O’Hare hole
      because the dry air is usually folded into a cloud from above,
      making many pockets; the 1,800-foot depth of the O’Hare
      bank would be too thick for such a hole to go clean through"


      You obviously disagree. On what scientific grounds?


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