Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Listening to The Great Debate

In my last Blog entry, I wrote about the Great Debate coming up between myself and "flying saucer physicist" Stanton T. Friedman. An audience of 100,000 people were reported to have listened to it live on August 8 (although some suggest, based on past audience claims, that that number is inflated). A thread was created about it on AboveTopSecret, a conspiracy-oriented website (which often has useful content, nonetheless.) The debate is now available on the YouTube channel of Third Phase of the Moon, embedded below.
Somehow the debate was titled "Are We Alone in the Universe?", a position that I have never maintained. I explained that, given the vastness of the known universe, I consider it a virtual certainty that there are other intelligent beings 'out there' somewhere. But there is not, I maintained, any credible evidence that extraterrestrials have ever visited earth.

What was the result, from my perspective? First, that they allowed Friedman to talk far too much. My time to speak was much shorter.  Also, Friedman kept interrupting me while I was talking, and seldom let me finish making a point. Here are a few of my observations:
  • I brought up the Yukon "close encounter" UFO sighting in 1996. Friedman has spoken about this case as one of the all-time best. Ted Molczan and other satellite experts have unambiguously identified this as the fiery re-entry of a Russian rocket booster launched less than 24 hours earlier. Friedman refused to accept this: "No way, Jose!" I asked him if he believed that the fiery rocket booster, and an alien spacecraft, were both in the same place at the same time. Perhaps the spacecraft was obscuring the rocket reentry? I used this to illustrate the argument that "reliable witnesses aren't."
Was this the result of the debate?

  • I said that when people see something in the sky that they can't identify, they should not jump to the least-likely hypothesis - that it is an alien space craft. Friedman insisted that this was the most likely hypothesis!!
  •  He argued that the Bluebook Special Report 14 shows that the "unknown" cases are of a higher quality than those that could be explained. I read some of Alan Hendry's critique of BBSR14 from his book The UFO Handbook, accusing them of invalid statistical procedures.
  • Concerning the so-called "Truman Forrestal memo" of MJ-12, I noted that it is fake because the supposed presidential signature is a photocopy of one on a genuine document. Stanton claimed President Truman signed so many documents that it's inevitable that two signatures could be found that are identical!
  • When I brought up the lack of an Archive Registration Number on the supposed "Cutler-Twining memo" of MJ-12, allegedly discovered in the U.S. National Archives, Stanton tried to bait-and-switch, insisting that it had a proper document number on it. But the two are not the same: the copy number of a controlled document is not the same as the number that would be assigned to it when it was registered into the archives. I could not get him back on the subject. And no archive registration number implies that it was planeted in the archives for somebody to supposedly "find." Freidman claimed that all of the
    Or was it this? (cartoons by "torsion" on AboveTopSecret)
    arguments against the original MJ-12 "documents" are answered in his book MAJIC.
  • I brought up the famous "Fish Map," the supposed 'extraterrestrial star map' of Betty Hill that has been a major part of Friedman's UFO lectures for about forty years. Recent astronomical data shows that the star catalog on which the map was originally based contained some major errors concerning the stars involved, and that the special sun-like properties that all its stars supposedly had is not correct. Friedman was of course not willing to say "Sorry folks, I've been steering you wrong for the past forty years. I'm afraid that the Fish map is not valid." So he again danced around the obvious, claiming that the map's Zeta1 and Zeta2 Reticuli are "very special," without explaining what that is supposed to mean. I countered that it doesn't mean a thing. Of course, now that the map's foundation has been knocked out from under it, the two Zetas are irrelevant to any ETI argument. I asked Stanton if he was still promoting  the Fish map; he replied that he is still "promoting her work," for which he expressed great admiration. "She built more than twenty models," which, of course, has nothing to do with whether the map is correct. Should we give her an award, I asked? Freidman kept bringing up irrelevant points and dancing around the fundamental fact that the Fish Map is now, as I said, "dead."
  • He praised the "skill" and experience of the Hills hypnotist, Dr. Benjamin Simon. But Dr. Simon did not believe the "abduction" story, and considered it a fantasy.
  • Because Friedman has frequently promoted nuclear fusion as a technique for interstellar travel, I pointed out physics Nobel Laureate Edward Purcell's calculation that, to accelerate one unit of matter to 99% of the speed of light ( Friedman proposes to travel even faster than this in his essay on UFO Propulsion Systems) would require 1.6 * 10**9 units of fusionable hydrogen (1.6 billion), even if it could be done with perfect efficiency, which of course is never possible. Friedman insisted that this was in error, that Purcell made certain assumptions about technological limitations that were not correct. I replied that he is wrong: Purcell calculated nothing more than the amount of hydrogen fusion required to release enough energy for the acceleration, without worrying about how it could possibly be performed or controlled. Friedman insisted that we could use gravitational assist to fling ourselves to the stars. But this works only in our solar system, I replied; the orbital velocity of the fastest planet, Mercury, is only about 30 miles/second, utterly negligible when you're trying to speed up to almost 186,282 miles/second.
  • The last 8 minutes were supposed to be "closing statements" from both of us. However, Friedman talked on and on for six minutes, leaving me very little. I was not timing him, I assumed that the host would. I wanted to close with Philip J. Klass' UFO Curse, but I was cut off before I could. Here is Klass' UFO Curse:
    "No matter how long you live, you will never know any more about UFOs than you know today. You will never know any more about what UFOs really are, or where they come from. You will never know any more about what the U.S. Government knows about UFOs than you know today. As you lie on your death-bed, you will be as mystified about UFOs as you are today. And you will remember this curse."
When the time was up, the host asked Friedman and I if we might want to do this again sometime. I said that I'd be willing, after some time had passed. But not Stanton - he proclaimed himself too occupied to ever debate again. I think he realized that his evasions did not  go over well, and the stuff he has been defending is too flimsy to be defended in a debate. And I was told that Third Phase had considerable difficulty finding any pro-UFOlogist who was willing to debate me; several turned them down before Friedman agreed. If I ever do debate Friedman again, I will insist on strictly-monitored time segments: he talks for five minutes and I stay silent, then it's my turn. Otherwise Friedman just jumps in and tries to steer the discussion his way, using irrelevant arguments and "red herrings."

On Above Top Secret, "carddown" said "Friedman brought very little new to the debate, mostly just a performance in part of his Cosmic Watergate lecture. Sheaffer brought up many good points, and I thought he really scored with the Canadian UFO/booster reentry and the Fish map flop. (Did you notice how Friedman had to retreat on the map by saying eyewitnesses are unreliable?) "

If you have any comments on the debate, please share them with us below. Please keep them polite and civil, however tempting it might be to do otherwise. Thanks.


  1. I heard the debate and it was quite sad. The same arguments. The Fish map still? Dr.Simon, still? Nothing new or better in over 50 years with all the new technology out there? I loved it when he "proved" people can keep a secret, and you did point out that keeping the secrets of UFOs would involve every nation on Earth. What if a UFO lands in Tanzania, or Togo? Nope they all keep THIS secret. It was, silly. I hear better and more updated UFO arguments all the time. Still, sadly the Klass curse still holds for even the newer generation of UFO "researchers" Good job Robert!

    1. According to Kevin Randle, there have been 200 to 300 ufo crashes worldwide.
      "As I say, there seems to be too many failures of alien craft. Some lists now top 200, and a couple are closing in on 300. But still, there are some very intriguing UFO crash cases, many of which have no solid explanation...yet." (p269. From; CRASH: When UFOs Fall From The Sky, Kevin D. Randle, PhD, 2010.)

      So it would seem amazing that all the governments of the world could prevent real evidence from getting out.

  2. This wasn't much of a debate but more of a sermon from UFO Evangelist Stanton Friedman.

    Here's Stanton's UFO Faithful Prayer to counter the UFO Curse...

    Our UFO, up in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    your aliens will come,
    your abductions will be done,
    on Earth, and in our dreams.
    Give us our annual UFO Conventions,
    and lead us not into critical-thinking
    but deliver us from debunkers.
    For UFOlogy is a business, and entertainment, forever and ever.

    Now please pass the collection basket...

  3. I found Friedman's arguments predictable. When you presented evidence he was not familiar with or he did not want to discuss, he quickly retreated to his safe ground talking points. Friedman's debate tactics are sloppy and he violates his rules for debunkers all the time. He does NOT tell the public everything. He does research by proclamation. He has made up his mind. If this were a debate that was scored, Friedman was the clear loser. However, these kinds of debates are usually popularity contests and some on-line poll by UFOlogists will declare that Friedman won! The next time Friedman appears in a debate, he will state he won and will cite that source.

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  5. I listened live and played my recording while working the next day without hearing anything new. And yes, just as we knew he would, STF exposed himself for what he is, a professed true--if, at 79, seemingly jaded--believer with a rather modest talent for circumlocution, diversion and dissemblance.

    Robert scored several points (enumerated above) by presenting easily understood undercuttings of some of STF's beliefs and disingenuous devices, while STF talked mostly about himself and the "cosmic conspiracy," finishing each bout of flatulence with a smarmy juvenile unfunny aside.

    So it's no surprise that STF says he will not debate Robert again; he made a fool of himself. Stan "They've Landed!" Friedman is a phony ufoologist, a human being who has made a living by being fundamentally dishonest and irrational.

    And there's nothing the least bit admirable or even likeable about that.

  6. I listened to the debate. I respect your participation and efforts, Robert.

    As for outcomes, I largely agree with the blog post and subsequent comments. There is nowhere to go with a debate, UFO dogma vs. healthy skepticism, in which the former refuses to adhere to standards of evidence, avoids accountability and fails to respect universal debate protocol. As long as a demographic of people, the true believers, collectively continue to be less interested in accuracy than they are interested in trying to win an argument, they will remain entirely unconcerned with implementing any standards and protocol that actually move a study forward, develop a functional data base and so on.

    That makes it all the more important that people like Robert Sheaffer and others, some of which have commented, continue to publish some credible data on the topic of UFOs. Thanks, folks, and I appreciate your work.

  7. I liked the debate until it got personal, i.e. until it the focus moved from a general discussion of the UFO phenomenon to the analysis of some of Friedmans obscure and boring "arguments", where the point of the debate was more to prove Friedman wrong rather than to find the truth about the phenomenon itself.

    It would be really interesting to hear a debate with for example Richard Haines, who doesn't proclaim the ET-hypothesis, but still argues that the phenomenon is real.

    1. Yes, one can be a psychologist who worked for NASA and be a victim of the irrational "UFO" delusion.

  8. Here's my prediction for the future minus ESP:
    UFOs will never be proven real.
    Extraterrestrial life will never be found.
    Nevertheless, Hollywood will keep churning out movies about same and thus keep Ufology(or ufology) alive.
    Stanton will scream "Cosmic Watergate, Cosmic Watergate" for years to come, to generations who don't even know what Watergate is.

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  10. Below are comments in reaction to various debate topics.

    As Sheaffer states, if the Cosmos rocket booster was coincident with the ufo in time and location more or less, why didn't the witnesses also observe the booster?

    How can one calculate size by triangulation if one is not sure of the object size or there are no other visual references?

    Sheaffer is right; one should start with the most likely explanation. Of course Friedman has to say 'ufo' as he has to stick with his position after all the lectures and ufo books he's written.

    0:32:00 Friedman is an upholder of the Roswell incident? That case is full of it. Everything points to a Mogul (with multiple radar targets) balloon crash.

    Eyewitness testimony is notorious for misrepresenting the length of time the event was observed among other factors. Even expert, reliable eyewitnesses is not really solid. Lawyers are surprisingly non-experts when it comes to eyewitness testimony. They wouldn't rely on it if they knew how fragile and inaccurate it actually is. (See; Eyewitness Testimony, Loftus, 1996.)

    I think the caricature of skeptics as noisy negativistic debunkers doesn't seem to be the case in this debate. Seems Sheaffer has looked at the facts, hasn't already made his mind up, etc.

    Regarding the MJ-12 documents, Klass has pointed out tons of problems with all of the best ufo cases and the documents and Friedman brings up some bet he won. There are others who dispute the documents. Signatures can sometimes be identical?? Where's the evidence?

    No one else talks about the Blue Book report no.14. All I hear regarding it is the word 'unknown'. Does the report conclude that there are ET craft flying around? No.

    Well thank goodness 'the government' (or should I say most of the world's governments) got involved or we wouldn't have all this overwhelming evidence showing that aliens are visiting earth... but it's sequestered away underground or hiding in Area 51.

    How can there be a coverup when we are constantly talking about saucer crashes, dead aliens, Roswell, Area 51 ufo tests, etc.? What we really want is to see solid, definitive evidence; not old memos, old eyewitness reports, fake autopsies, Venus, trace evidence, endless abductions, disclosures, blurry, questionable photos and tons of hoaxes.

    I recall that Betty first redrew the map under hypnosis about 2 years after seeing it. It would be a challenge to draw up the map right now from memory. I couldn't and I've looked at the original and others based on it several times.

    Zeta reticuli stars are now thought to be about 2 billion yrs old.

    As one continues to accelerate, the mass of the spaceship itself increases which then requires even more energy and so on (in accord with m = m0/1 - v2/c2 where c is the speed of light in a vacuum). Or maybe this is old physics and aliens have a completely new understanding of nature.

    In Science Was Wrong, Friedman talks about cold fusion and Velikovsky for example. Both are still discredited (although there seems to be some new twists regarding cold fusion... supposedly). How science was wrong in these cases I can't fathom. It is also somewhat disturbing that a nuclear physicist makes a case for cold fusion when the entire physics community says the phenomenon doesn't exist. By now, we should be running cold fusion devices everywhere.

    Gravitational assist will only work if space probes are moving in a way that would give them a beneficial boost. One would get little increase from the sun in an interstellar voyage.

  11. Crocaduck: The Zeta Reticuli stars are class G3 and G2 and so are similar to the Sun. Therefore they are probably both approx. the same age as the Sun, despite what some astronomers believe. As for cold fusion, some experiments show that it may be possible--but it certainly isn't proven yet. It's true that the majority of physicists believe that mass increases with velocity, but this is just another myth of modern physics; what really happens is that the effective force decreases with velocity. Where would the increase in mass come from? The "modern" physicists have no answer. Fusion and gravitational assist are inadequate for interstellar voyages; one would have to transmute the entire mass of a heavy atom to energy to supply enough energy--but there is still the barrier of the speed of light in one spatial dimension (it's 3c for all three spatial dimensions). So, although achieving the speed of light is feasible, it's not practical because of the long time periods involved to get to the nearest inhabited planets--so even though "time slows down" with speed (relative to the observer), those onboard are still going to age at the normal rate.

    1. Transpower:
      It's true that the majority of physicists believe that mass increases with velocity, but this is just another myth of modern physics; what really happens is that the effective force decreases with velocity. Where would the increase in mass come from? The "modern" physicists have no answer.

      You are wrong:

      A mass in motion has a higher kinetic energy than expected classically (that is, using Newtonian physics). So, in order to achieve the same acceleration, the force applied must be higher. Which we can write in Newton's second law (which links force and acceleration through mass) as the object having a larger mass.

      The higher kinetic energy are the consequence of how velocities work in (special) relativity, which -- in turn -- is the result of the basic premises of the theory.

  12. Wiki: For zeta1, the age is stated to be from 1.5 to 3 billion years. There is also mention that both stars are about 2 billion years.

    From LHC Machine Outreach
    "Basically the relativistic mass of a particle increases with velocity and tends to infinity as the velocity approaches the speed of light."

    In accord with Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2, an increase in energy (say kinetic energy) has to be balanced by an increase in the object's mass. Every mention or explanation of special and general relativity indicates that the relativistic mass increases with an increase in velocity. I would guess that mass increase is just one of those weird consequences of relativity. Maybe the term relativistic mass is to blame. I've read nothing that indicates that the effective force decreases with velocity [over time] when an object accelerates near light speed.

    Yea, I would agree that even though one could completely convert 100% mass into energy, the travel times still would be long--not to mention the problems of interstellar voyages at near light speed.

  13. Crocaduck: You are stating the conventional view correctly that mass supposedly increases with velocity; mathematically, the same result can be obtained by the force going to zero. I prefer the latter, of course, because I am a long-standing skeptic of "modern physics." But, of course, E = mc^2 is correct, and works in practice.

  14. @Sheaffer -- How about a debate with Richard Dolan?

    1. Dolan's just another cosmic-conspiracy phony. He pretends to be some kind of "UFO" scholar, but he never heard a flying-saucer fairy tale that he didn't swallow whole. And of course the reason that the "extraterrestial presence" is not common knowledge is because of its massive coverup by the organs of the national security state. It's all a conspiracy of Galactic Dimensions! Dolan's probably read many more comic books than science books.

      So much for being a scholar. And instead of being the cream of ufoolery, Dolan sits at the cranky table with Steven Greer and Stephen Bassett, pretending there are flying saucers haunting the stratosphere and nearspace, and a "hidden world" civilization controlling the fate of mankind! Dolan's been listening to the DERO's voices emanating from his welder. And yet, all these reality-challenged adults appear to be making a living on this nonsense. Is it all an act?

    2. Jonas,

      I think it would be a lot of fun to debate Richard Dolan. For example, see what I wrote about his talk to the 2011 MUFON Symposium:

      "Dolan gave the audience what it wanted to hear: lots and lots of wild, unsubstantiated claims, mostly about UFOs in outer space. Like UFOs supposedly following the space shuttle missions STS-96, STS-106, and STS-111 - little blurry blips of light that might have been anything. There is lots of alien activity going on on the Moon, says Dolan, but NASA airbrushes its photos to keep them hidden. Those objects that astronomers call "shepherd moons" that keep Saturn's rings sharply-defined are actually UFOs, too. Frankly, I felt that Dolan was scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of the credibility of his claims, but later on Linda Moulton Howe and George Filer gave him some very serious competition in that regard."

      I think it would be very enlightening to discuss this, but I'm quite sure that Dolan would be unwilling to debate.

      As for 299's suggestion to debate Richard Haines: Haines and I met many moons ago and had some interesting chats. Our paths have not crossed since. I would fear that Haines would likely bring up a slew of little-known cases from his reports, that practically nobody has heard of, including me. I don't think that it would make for a lively debate.

  15. Here is a document I recently scanned by Philip J. Klass, in which he explains the $1,000 wager he lost to Friedman:

  16. I wonder if Stanton is privately discouraged by what must seem a tremendous lack of progress in his specialized field. Reports of this or that sighting, stories of recovered bodies, vast conspiracies can only get a person so far. It's lucrative, to be sure, but I have to believe he's more than a little cynical by now.

  17. I've long thought Friedman takes the Klass curse to heart. He's not got much time left on earth. If there was disclosure tomorrow, he'd be hailed as one of the greatest thinkers of our time. He knew all along. But he's no closer to that than he was half a century ago. Has to bother the heck out of him.

    Anyway, good debate. Friedman clearly just danced around the map issue.

    Regarding cover ups and leaks. It's one thing to say you can keep, say, the Manhattan project under wraps for a few years. But could you keep such a project secret for half a century? You can't really compare the Manhattan project to the decades of seemingly air tight secrecy needed over generations to keep the UFO thing so closely guarded.

  18. > [STF] praised the "skill" and experience of the Hills hypnotist, Dr. Benjamin Simon.

    Simon was indeed skilled and careful. But Friedman seems unaware that his co-author, Kathleen Marden, wrote a vicious hatchet job on Simon in the Feb-Mar 2011 issue of Open Minds Magazine. Can't have it both ways, Stan!


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