Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Dr. Simon Reveals his Real Thoughts on the Hill "UFO Abduction" Case

Digging through some boxes in my garage, I came across a collection of papers I had earlier set aside concerning the famous "UFO abduction" case of Betty and Barney Hill, the subject of John Fuller's 1965 book The Interrupted Journey, as well as the 1975 NBC-TV movie The UFO Incident.

I have just finished scanning 48 pages of these documents, and placed them on my Historical UFO documents page on my website They will be of great interest to anyone interested in the Betty and Barney Hill case. These documents contain:
  • Correspondence between Dr. Benjamin Simon and arch-skeptic Philip J. Klass.
  • Correspondence between Betty Hill and Philip J. Klass, in which she  attempts to persuade Klass that her abduction story is factual.
  • Correspondence between Dr. Benjamin Simon and yours truly (!!).
  • Copies of the supposed "radar evidence" of the Hills' UFO.
  • Betty Hill's drawing illustrating the relative positions of her "UFO" and what she is calling "Jupiter", and the moon, establishing that it was actually Jupiter she saw at the beginning of her sighting.
  • My skeptical article about the Hill case, published in the August, 1976 issue of Official UFO magazine, and Betty Hill's letter to the editor about it.
  • The complete record of weather observations for Sept. 19-20, 1961 from the Mt Washington  Observatory, the highest point in New Hampshire's White Mountains.
Betty Hill in 2000 posing with "Junior," a bust of her supposed alien  abductor (photo by author)

Some are now claiming that Dr. Simon accepted the Hills' abduction account. For example, "UFO Hunter" Bill Birnes (one of the most pompous asses I have ever encountered in UFOlogy - sometime I'll write about what happened when I was on Dr. J's internet radio show, and Birnes called in) writes on page 112 of UFO Hunters, Book One:
[Kathleen] Marden [Betty Hill's niece, and currently the biggest promoter of the Hill abduction story] suggested in a provate email to me, "Had Dr. Simon stated publicly that he believed that the Hills had experienced an abduction by non-human beings in a flying saucer, it would most assuredly have been professional suicide." However, Marden said that in his personal letters to Betty Hill, Dr. Simon was positive and fully supportive of Betty.

Dr. Simon's letters to Klass show that this is absolutely false. Dr. Simon said that he believed the Hills had a "sighting" (and says that he has had two sightings of his own, but gives no details!). However, he wrote:

 The abduction did not take place but was a reproduction of Betty's dream which occurred right after the sighting (p. 3).

Dr. Benjamin Simon
Dr. Simon's skepticism concerning the abduction story could not have been more directly stated. He told Klass that "my interest in UFOs was almost entirely on the phenomena of Barney's developing racial paranoia which seemed to me to have been the best representation on the matter I had seen" (p. 8).

Dr. Simon stated his skepticism quite directly for the first time on the NBC-TV Today show on the morning of the premiere of the NBC-TV movie, The UFO Incident (October 20, 1975). Klass apparently had chided Dr. Simon for not speaking out on this sooner. Dr. Simon defends his reluctance to speak out on the grounds of not being given sufficient opportunity to explain it fully. Dr. Simon says that it was James Oberg's review of Klass' book published in Technology Review, chiding him for not speaking out about his skepticism on the Hill story, that finally convinced Dr. Simon to do so! Oberg wrote,

why was it left to Mr. Klass to reveal that the psychiatrist who treated Betty and Barney Hill (The Interrupted Journey) never for a moment believed that they had been inside a flying saucer, while Look magazine used his misquoted words as an endorsement?  (p. 10).
Dr. Simon wrote to Klass, "THE ZEITGEIST HAD COME!, and I determined that this could be a magnificent opening for the book I am going to write on this whole matter." Unfortunately, no such book was ever written. Is it possible that Dr. Simon left behing a partially-completed manuscript at the time of his death?

The Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn (bottom) as seen at midnight in the White Mountains (size of planets exaggerated)
Betty Hill's sketch of the positions of the objects she said she saw. What she is calling "Jupiter" is obviously Saturn, and what she calls a "craft" is obviously Jupiter. (Size of moon is exaggerated.) If some other object were present, she would have seen three objects near the moon, not two.

Everyone interested in the Hill case will want to see these newly-published documents.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November - the Greatest UFO Mass Sighting in French History, 1990

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November - it's now been 25 years since the greatest mass UFO sighting in French history, in 1990.

Drawing of the French mass UFO sighting, Nov. 5, 1990. This one was observed by seven people

From James Oberg:

  • Thousands of witness reports, artwork 
  • Mass media saturated 
  • Fireball reports common, but accompanied by more artificial structured objects 
  •  Some reports of EM effects on computers, car radios

Some witnesses described it as 'giant triangles' crossing the sky. Except that it was the re-entry of a Russian Proton rocket (designation 1990-094C), used to launch a Gorizont satellite. Satellite orbit guru Ted Molczan has prepared this map, showing the trajectory of the object as it traveled (west to east) across France. This matches up extremely well with the time and trajectory of the reported "UFO."

 From the UFO Working Group Netherlands: Analysis of the 1990 UFO reports by British jet fighter pilots.

Case Studies In Pilot Misperceptions Of "UFOs" by James Oberg.

"Credible people reporting incredible things." But quite inaccurately.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Dr. ThepPhanom's Aliens

On October 29, I did about a 40-minute interview on Skype with a team of producers from Malaysian TV in Kuala Lumpur. They produce a show called Strange Encounters, and they wanted to talk to me about aliens.

They had recently traveled to Thailand, where they met with Dr. ThepPhanom Muangman, a U.S.-trained medical doctor who says he regularly communicates with aliens. (He says that his first UFO sighting occurred in New Hampshire when he was a medical student back in the 1950s - beating out even Betty Hill!) He has a considerable following, called the Kao Kala Group, named for the hill that they claim is a UFO hotspot or interdimensional portal or something. There was an article about him in the Wall Street Journal back in 2011. You might say that Dr. ThepPhanom is the Steven Greer of Thailand.

They sent me links to two videos. The first one just seems to show a satellite going over, very likely the ISS. I told them that there was nothing unusual about that one. The second video, below, purports to show an "extraterrestrial" walking around farmers' fields in Thailand. Notice how dramatic music has been added.

I pointed out to the producers that just because this guy is walking around in a white suit, that doesn't make him an alien. This looks like the kind of suit someone might wear when working with hazardous materials, perhaps putting pesticides on the fields. The second part of the video shows a bright light in the sky. It looks like it's possibly an airborne flare, on a parachute, but not knowing how it was recorded, it could be just about anything. In their imagination, they claim to see ETs jumping down from it. 

The Strange Encounters producers interviewed Dr. ThepPhanom at his home in Thailand. He talked about meditation and trance states for communicating with aliens. He fiddled with an electro-magnetic field meter, telling them that this device can detect when aliens are present. It quickly got a high reading, causing Dr. ThepPhanom to exclaim "they are here." Unfortunately, the aliens were invisible.
Dr. ThepPhanom detecting aliens using his EMF meter.
As the interview went on, some of the Doctor's followers were out in the yard, and captured on video this object that allegedly made a single, high-speed pass over his house. It looks like an object that somebody simply tossed into the air, for someone else to film. How did they know the precise time to turn on the camera? At first I thought it was a fly buzzing over - that's how fast it went - but when slowed down it clearly was not a bug.

A "UFO" captured on video as it zipped by Dr. ThepPhanom's house
The  Kao Kala Group has a Blog about how they channel aliens and such:
Coordination for Disasters Warning (the Kao Kala Group), is a group of people who receive information in order to coordinate with other groups, in case of disasters, to provide warning when we receive the information from extraterrestrials, in order to warn the people, preparation of equipment and technology in order to help, enhancement the state of mind of the people who work and acknowledge this project.
 Currently their Blog contains "messages from the chief of Pluto that were sent by sound wave channeling at Kaokala hill, Nakhon Sawan province, Thailand on March 6, 1999." All the postings use the Thai calendar, so I cannot say when they were made, although Blogspot shows postings in 2011, then nothing until 2015. 

As near as I can tell, there is no such thing as "skepticism" in Thailand when it comes to claims of UFOs and aliens.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A "Saucerized" Satellite Re-Entry in Georgia

On June 29, 2015 at 1:28 AM, a man (identified only as C.J.) and his wife were driving near Wadley, Georgia, when a "Large metallic object with fluid oil slick body spurting sparks from the rear flies dirctly over Our truck" (sic).  The man, who is a US Army NCO on active duty, reported to the National UFO Reporting Center that
At precisely 01:28am 29 June 2015 on HWY 1 south heading north approximately 7-8 miles south of a gas station at 10525 HWY 1 south, Wadley, GA, 30477. Our radio began to get real static so I turned it down when my wife noticed a very large object flying left to right coming toward us. I looked up to the left and hit my brakes stopping our truck to the side of the road. The object appeared to be approximately 250 meters in length 60 meters height and was approximately flying 200 feet in altitude and was spurting sparks from the rear of the object. The sparks were jetting out about 50-80 meters in a pattern of controlling thrust.

My wife and I had a very good look at the object closer than anyone else on that highway considering there was no vehicles in sight. The object had a dim glow of a orange around it, vague but noticeable. The objects exterior was metallic but appeared to look like oil on water effect to it and appeared to be fluid like movement over the metallic body of the object.

My wife and I watched in disbelief in what we were witnessing as it moved left to right the object decreased in altitude as it was over the highway then began to increase in altitude after it crossed the highway right overhead of us. We watched as it increased in altitude and penetrated some clouds and accelerated out of sight through the cloud cover quickly.
A rendering of the reported object, from the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC)
They do not say who did the drawing (presumably the witness), or wrote the symbols.

But satellite orbit guru Ted Molczan thought that this sounded like it might be a possible satellite re-entry, and he went to work. He found that the time of the event matched almost perfectly with the known re-entry of  1973-084D / 6939, the final rocket stage of the launch of Cosmos 606. This event was widely witnessed, giving rise to 169 reports in the database of the American Meteor Society
 A second rendering of the object, from the NUFORC, with symbols written across the bottom.

Molczan writes,
The witness stated that the sighting was at "precisely 01:28 am." Based on the trajectory analysis, I doubt they would have spotted the re-entry much before 01:29:30 EDT, when it was near culmination, 34 deg above the NW horizon. I estimate that they would have lost sight of it about 01:30:30 EDT. The time discrepancy is not large. If the witness were to insist that 01:28 is correct, and claim that this proved the re-entry was not their UFO, then he would need to explain how he failed to see the re-entry when it passed a minute or two after the UFO, directly in front of him as he resumed his drive north. The satellite imagery, taken within minutes of the sighting, reveals that the sky was fairly clear.

The reported sighting duration of 4-5 min is quite a bit longer than the 1 min. that I estimate the re-entry was in view, but the discrepancy is not unusual for events of this type.
Molczan's reconstruction of the re-entry event, as the observers would have seen it in their truck.

The NUFORC added Molczan's explanation to its listing of this incident. The witness, however, "states unambiguously that he believes that what he witnessed with his family was not a re-entering satellite."

In fact, according to the Crop Circles Research Foundation, this witness (known as C.J.),
was unconsciously compelled to write down symbols consisting of lines and squares from left to right, on the back of the Motel 6 full page receipt....It has been independently confirmed both by myself and another researcher (Dr. Horace Drew) that C.J.’s symbols are in fact a message written in binary code that can be translated via a standard ASCII table."
C.J.'s ASCII Binary Code channeled after his UFO sighting.

Where have we seen this before? Oh yes, hundreds of 'insider' comments about Penniston's amazing Rendle-sham notebook, a few postings back.

For those interested in researching other reported UFO incidents that might be caused by satellite reentries, Molczan has created a dedicated web page listing all known visually-observed natural re-entries of earth satellites, which will be updated as necessary:

Reports of UFOs can be compared to this list to see if the incident was caused by a satellite falling out of orbit. Of course, if the incident was caused by a brilliant meteor fireball, it will not be on this list.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Some Photos from the 2015 MUFON Symposium

MUFON, the largest UFO group in the US, held its 2015 International Symposium in Irvine (Orange County), California, September 24-27.  I won't write up a detailed account of the proceedings here - that I will save for my next column in The Skeptical Inquirer (which assuming I make the next column deadline, will be the January issue. That semi-monthly publication schedule seems glacial by the standards of the internet!).

Discussing UFOs with Alejandro Rojas of Open Minds, and Marc D'Antonio, MUFON's chief photo and video analyst. Marc is quite skeptical about that Puerto Rico Infrared UFO video, that I haven't written about yet but is being cited by some analysts as the best evidence ever. (More will come on that subject.)

Paul Hellyer, former Canadian defense minister, who believes every crazy UFO book he reads, and spits it back as if it were solid fact (Day After Roswell, Serpo, 9-11 Conspiracies). With Paola Harris, big-time UFO promoter.

"UFO Witness Theater," a dramatization of reported UFO sightings. With John Ventre (second from left), Lee Speigel (#5), Erica Lukes (#6), Dwight Equitz, (#7), Stanton Friedman (standing).

Me and my good friend, Dwight Equitz of Hangar 1. I told him I had to write some critical stuff about him on my BADUFOS blog, like about the Nazi saucer base in Antarctica. He was cool with that. It's like, I just read the lines they give me.

Equitz on Hangar 1 (credit: Yvan DeFoy).

MUFON announces the recent death of its founder, Walt Andrus, at age 94.

Celebrated "UFO Abductee" Travis Walton, with Debra Harris.
Jaime Maussan, Mexican UFO promoter, stood firm in his defense of the "Roswell Slides." It's not a mummy - it's still a mystery! But Maussan admits that the de-blurring of the placard is correct: it does read "Mummified Body of Two Year Old Boy". Why the "alien" was put on public display, and why does the placard say it's a mummy? No explanation.

A panel on "Making UFOlogy Respectable" - Maussan was actually on this panel (he had to leave early), and nobody even suggested that the best way to accomplish that would be to give the boot to Maussan, Hangar 1, Steven Greer, Billy Meier, Lina Moulton Howe, etc. - the list might get rather long. From left, John Greenewald, Dr. Robert Wood, Stanton Friedman, Lee Speigel, Cheryl Jones, Marc D'Antonio.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Rendle-Sham Case: Phony and Phonier

The supposed Rendlesham Forest UFO landing case (sometimes referred to as "the British Roswell") involved the supposed landing (or at least Close Encounter - the story is inconsistent) of a UFO in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, UK in December, 1980. Just like the story of the fish that got away gets bigger with each telling, the more time that passes, the more exciting the Rendle-sham case becomes. Practically each year, one of the supposed witnesses invents a new and dramatic claim to 'prove' that the case is real.
The so-called "Science Channel" imagines the Rendle-sham UFO

British skeptic Ian Ridpath has long stayed on top of this case. Here is his summary of it:

 Although the overall case is complex, the main aspects can be summarized as follows:
1.  Security guards saw bright lights apparently descending into Rendlesham Forest around 3 a.m on 1980 December 26. A bright fireball burned up over southern England at the same time.
2.  The guards went out into the forest and saw a flashing light between the trees, which they followed until they realized it was coming from a lighthouse (Orford Ness).
3.  After daybreak, indentations in the ground and marks on the trees were found in a clearing. Local police and a forester identified these as rabbit scrapings and cuts made by foresters.
4.  Two nights later the deputy base commander, Lt Col Charles Halt, investigated the area. He took radiation readings, which were background levels. He also saw a flashing light in the direction of Orford Ness but was unable to identify it.
5.  Col Halt reported seeing starlike objects that twinkled and hovered for hours, like stars. The brightest of these, which at times appeared to send down beams of light, was in the direction of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
At its most basic, the case comes down to the misinterpretation of a series of nocturnal lights – a fireball, a lighthouse, and some stars. Such misidentifications are standard fare for UFOlogy. It is only the concatenation of three different stimuli that makes it exceptional.
The BBC reported on July 13 that Col Halt is now claiming,
"I have confirmation that (Bentwaters radar operators)... saw the object go across their 60 mile (96km) scope in two or three seconds, thousands of miles an hour, he came back across their scope again, stopped near the water tower, they watched it and observed it go into the forest where we were," said Col Halt.
"At Wattisham, they picked up what they called a 'bogie' and lost it near Rendlesham Forest.
"Whatever was there was clearly under intelligent control."
Halt does not name the supposed radar operators, and does not say how he obtained this information. He claimed that the operators said nothing about this until after their retirement, for fear of being "decertified" for reporting a UFO. Even if this unlikely claim were true, it does not correspond to what the supposed witnesses are reporting. A UFO allegedly whizzing by at thousands of miles an hour does not match the UFO(s) allegedly seen hovering for hours above the forest, and even landing there.

Col. Halt claiming more "proof" for his alleged UFO encounter in 1980
Lee Speigel wrote in the Huffington Post on July 21 that Halt says this new information will 'blow the lid off' the Rendlesham Forest sightings.
We previously reported how Halt accused the U.S. government of covering up UFO information, and he believes there's a top secret agency that's in charge of anything to do with possible extraterrestrial visits to Earth.

"There is a contract civilian agency, that is fed information, that is controlling everything. It's made up of either former military, high-level government agencies or high-ranking, very knowledgeable scientists. I can almost guarantee you. That's the way we do it. And disinformation is the biggest thing," Halt told HuffPost on Friday.
The Daily Express of London reported on July 14 that Halt said:
• Rendlesham Forest was mobbed with US military personnel "hunting UFOs" at the time

• A "UFO exploded " before his eyes and another "shot down a laser beam" from 3,000 feet above

• The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) later hid documents relating to Rendlesham

• US personnel who "lost 40 minutes" during the sighting have been denied access to medical files

Speaking at a UFO conference in Woodbridge, Suffolk, he said: "There is no doubt in my mind we are not alone and there are some people (in power) who know this, but even Mr (Barack) Obama won't get through to them."
 This is not the first time that Halt has 'jazzed up' his account of the Rendle-sham incidents. Ridpath describes Halt's "iffy affidavit," written in 2010,  as a "disastrous attempt to rewrite the facts of the case," suggesting that "this product of his 30-year-old memory differs so substantively from what he said and wrote at the time that it would be destroyed in a court of law."

What are other "top witnesses" from Rendle-sham reporting?

Airman Larry Warren claimed to have seen a light in the forest that "blew up," then re-assembled itself, and alien beings came scampering out of it. He says they resembled "children in snowsuits." By his account, many other Air Force personnel saw these creatures, but nobody else has reported them.

Larry Warren's description of alien beings scampering out of the Rendle-sham saucer (from 1985 CNN special on Rendlesham).

Another supposed witness, John Burroughs, has implied while supposedly under hypnosis that he and Sgt. Penniston were abducted by beings onto the UFO for about 45 minutes, and brought back to a different place. Supposedly base personnel saw them being lifted up to the object, and worried that they would never be returned.
John Burroughs ham-acting his supposed UFO encounter under "hypnosis." Hilarious!
Sgt. Jim Penniston (ret.), however, relates a completely different UFO yarn, in spite of supposedly sharing in Burrough's UFO abduction. He claims that he touched the landed UFO, and received a message from it in the form of a "binary code," which he subsequently wrote down. However, he did not tell anyone about it for thirty years.

Part of Penniston's telepathically-received  'UFO Binary Code,' miraculously turning up in his notebook thirty years after the fact. It reveals the UFO to have been sent by Time Travelers from the year 8100.
 Penniston now says that the binary data from the Rendle-sham UFO was sent by Time Travelers, which makes sense since aliens would hardly be expected to encode their messages using ASCII, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange. But time travelers from a future earth might possibly still be using ASCII 6,000 years from now (and probably Microsoft Windows as well). When Penniston was interviewed on a 2011 podcast by Angela Joiner, his story got all tangled up under her questioning.  (Hat tip to Danny Miller.) Penniston got confused whether he knew what the code meant as it was being transmitted. He  finally decided that he knew what six pages of it meant, but he thought that the rest of it "didn't mean nothin ." [If you have the patience to wade through over 200 comments on this posting, you'll see a spirited debate between two individuals who worked with Penniston on his "codes," raising substantial doubt about how many pages of  "codes" there are, and whether they were all written down in the same  year.]

If you can describe any of these "witnesses" as "credible," then you are much better at "believing things" than me.


The Rendlesham Forest now has its own "UFO Trail." A UFO encounter is a terrible thing to waste. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Amazing Meeting 2015 (and a bunch of other meetings)

It has been almost two months since my last Blog posting, which is a bit unusual. But I have been going a lot of places, especially conferences and meetings. Let's take a look at some of them.

In the first week of June I went up to Oakland to attend the one-day conference Skepti-Cal on June 6, sponsored by the Bay Area Skeptics. 

Since the late Bob Steiner and I were the founders of that group back in 1982, I figured I should check out how they're doing. Actually, they are doing quite well, even without us!

Bay Area Skeptic Sheldon Helms appropriately brought his brain to Skeptical-Cal, for intelligent discussions.
It was held in the Asian Cultural Center in Oakland, CA.

Waiting for the sessions to begin
Hailey Sheaffer, born June 7.

Actually, that's not the only reason I was in Oakland the first week in June. My son Ken's second child was due the last week in May. They live in nearby Alameda. A perfect plan, I thought. The baby will be a week or two old, I'll visit with them, and attend Skepti-cal. Small problem. The baby was stubborn, and was almost two weeks late. I was afraid that I'd have to go back home before the baby was born! But the baby came the morning after Skepti-Cal, so I got to see my newest granddaughter a few times before my flight home. And that delayed schedule also gave us the chance beforehand to be surprised by the giant purple Sea Slugs washing up on the beaches in Alameda and vicinity. I thought it was some kind of gross jellyfish, but my son quickly figured it out. These are gruesome-looking things. One person actually called emergency services, saying that a human organ had washed up on the beach!

Giant purple sea slug.

On June 28, I attended the annual Awards Ceremony of the Independent Investigations Group in the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood. This parody of the Oscars gives awards for good (and bad) treatment of paranormal claims in the media. Dr. Oz was awarded the Truly Terrible Television Award.

Speaking at Westercon about the Roswell Slides

The next weekend, July 4, was the Westercon science fiction convention, this year in San Diego. I was invited to give a talk, so I spoke about the Roswell Slides fiasco. 

The weekend after that was - of course - Comic-Con. Nothing in San Diego is normal during that week. There are tons of Comic-Con photos on-line, so I'll only post a few.

Damien and Godzilla offer Salvation, competing with the Jesus people

After a brief rest, I drove up to Las Vegas for The Amazing Meeting with the Amazing Randi. I presented a workshop, along with James McGaha, on "Evaluating UFO Claims in the Media." This was the only UFO-related item on the schedule. One of our main points was: the UFO "documentaries" you see on cable TV are intended as entertainment, not as factual programming. Exaggeration and/or fabrication are the general rule. For example: Hangar 1.

The audience at our UFO workshop

James McGaha and I chatting with The Amazing One

There were so many old friends, and new friends, it would take forever to tell it all. In brief, I did meet and chat with a large number of skeptics, including (in no particular order) James Alcock, Matt Crowley, Jay Diamond, Taner Edis, Tim Farley, Susan Gerbic, Andrew Hanford, Heather Henderson, Sheldon Helms, Sharon Hill, Ray Hyman, Barry Karr, Linda Lawrence, James McGaha, David Glueck, Kitty Mervine, Massimo Polidoro, Spoony Quine, Ben Radford, James Randi, Dave Richards, Richard Saunders, Jamy Ian Swiss, James Underdown, Mick West, and many others whose names have blurred together in my mind - so if I left you out, please excuse me.

Much was said about the new documentary movie about Randi's life, An Honest Liar. Frank Warren wrote a nice review of it on The UFO Chronicles. I purchased the Blu-Ray DVD of that movie, on sale at The Amazing Meeting. It has considerable bonus materials. I was very happy to see that, in the Blu-Ray bonus segment titled "Popoff Exposure: Undercover Plant," Bay Area Skeptics Don Henvick and the late Bob Steiner are featured, and credited, for their roles in Randi's sting of the Fake Healer Peter Popoff.

Most interestingly, Col. John Alexander contacted me just before TAM, asking if I'd be attending. He lives in Las Vegas, and we had met before. I said I was, so we arranged for him to come by to talk with me, James McGaha, and briefly a few others. We had a nice chat. We agreed about the fiasco of the Roswell Slides and such. Ultimately, John (who is still active in the Society for Scientific Exploration) was advocating for the supposed healing powers of John of God in Brazil. He felt that, since the "healer" was not attempting to collect money in any way, this suggests his powers are  genuine. Alexander also was promoting the supposed paranormal ability of a tribe in a remote part of West Africa to handle and even hold in their mouth an extremely hot, glowing metal rod. I pointed out to Alexander that right here at TAM, there was a million dollars to be had by demonstrating such a claim. "That challenge can't be won," he insisted. I have heard this before from parapsychologists: they insist that Randi's challenge is rigged, and is unwinnable. (They have to maintain this, otherwise they have no excuse for not taking the challenge.) It's obvious that these critics know nothing about how Randi's challenge operates, or else they deliberately misrepresent it. Randi does not tell the "psychic" what to do: instead, the "psychic" tells him what they claim to be able to do. The discussion then moves to, "How can this be demonstrated, while ruling out error or fraud?" At this point  magician Jamy Ian Swiss (seen in An Honest Liar) walked by. I brought him over to meet Col. Alexander. I explained that Alexander claimed to know of a tribe in Africa capable of performing paranormal feats of fire-proofing. Swiss invited him to submit a claim. Alexander said, "That challenge cannot be won." Swiss replied, "OK, this conversation is over," and walked off.

Randi and Deyvi - they're married now - are presented with a special memorial wine bottle
The Long and the Short of it: Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Massimo Polidoro

This guy has a bunch of skeptical tattoos. The text reads, "An Honest Liar."

Randi is retiring. What happens next year? We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Betty Hill’s Last Hurrah – A Secret UFO Symposium in New Hampshire

This article is reprinted from my Psychic Vibrations column in the Skeptical Inquirer, September/October, 2007. I am reprinting it because it describes an important piece of UFO history that is not otherwise available on-line. It contains some updates and revisions. It also gives me an opportunity to share some great photos of UFO history.

Betty Hill’s Last Hurrah –
A Secret UFO Symposium in New Hampshire

One of the most curious events to come out of the Great Internet Stock Bubble was the so-called “Encounters at Indian Head” project, whose very existence has been kept unknown to the public until just now [2007]. The symposium was prepared under a shroud of secrecy that was amazingly effective, given the decades-long inability of most top UFOlogists to behave responsibly about anything. Organized by the late Karl Pflock, author of Roswell – Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe (Prometheus, 2000) and the British Fortean author Peter Brookesmith, the event was funded by Joe Firmage, the Silicon Valley then-multimillionaire who seems determined do whatever it takes to bring the public into an even higher state of extraterrestrial awareness.
Betty Hill chats with Eddie Bullard (left) and Hilary Evans. On the right is "junior," sculpted by Marjorie Fish.

In September of 2000, I traveled from California to New Hampshire to participate in the secret “stealth” UFO symposium. The subject was the alleged 1961 UFO abduction of Betty and Barney Hill, the first such incident reported in the U.S., made famous by John Fuller’s 1966 book The Interrupted Journey, then even more so by the 1975 NBC-TV movie, The UFO Incident.   Firmage was covering all our expenses, and even paid us for the rights to the papers we were writing, which would be published as a book. The purpose of the symposium was, simply, to find out what really happened to Betty and Barney Hill. The plan was that nobody would find out about even the existence of the symposium until the book containing its published proceedings appeared ‘out of the blue,’ presumably creating a sensation. The symposium came off exactly as planned, a tribute to the skills of the late Karl Pflock.
Marcello Truzzi (left), Karl Pflock, Greg Sandow. Seated: Kathleen Marden.

The event was held at the Indian Head Resort, just a stone’s throw from the spot where Betty and Barney allegedly saw the UFO cross the road and hover right in front of their car. The setting and accommodations were unarguably splendid, the company surprisingly congenial. UFOlogists have a reputation for feuding like Hatfields and McCoys, even those who are in general agreement. Probably the high level of the discussion was due to the organizers’ careful decision to exclude those UFOlogists who have a reputation for insufferable behavior, whatever their knowledge of the subject. Bravo, Karl. The pre-symposium secrecy ensured that we would not be troubled by the press, the curious, or by certain UFOlogists well known for being pushy and obnoxious.

However, the insistence in the nondisclosure agreement for post-event secrecy was more difficult to understand. In January 2001 Pflock announced the “suspension” of the Indian Head project to its participants. The ongoing internet stock collapse undoubtedly cut into Firmage’s discretionary spending, with the once high-flying company he founded, U.S. Web (later merged with CKS and March First) now bankrupt and liquidated. Still, Firmage paid every cent promised to the participants. With Karl’s death on June 5 2006, I presumed that the project was defunct, and that the non-disclosure requirement might last indefinitely. But Karl’s widow, Mary Martinek, completed the editing, and the result is the volume “Encounters at Indian Head”, published by Anomalist Books .
Karl Pflock gave Betty Hill this T-shirt.

The Grande Dame of UFOlogy, the late Betty Hill herself, was present to guide us through a re-enactment of the entire “abduction” scenario, assisted by her niece Kathy Marden, who knew the story almost as well as Betty did. I’d met Betty several times before. She regaled us with stories about her literally hundreds of UFO sightings occurring after her initial UFO “abduction.” She claims that she organized an entire “Invisible College” of scientists from top laboratories who went out with her to observe and study these UFOs, who gathered reams of documentation and data on the UFOs, then apparently flushed it all down the toilet, as it was their intention to merely study the UFOs, and not publish anything about them. Several of the more na├»ve participants spoke of how listening to Mrs. Hill had made it more difficult for them to accept the reality of her accounts, as if Mrs. Hill’s wild stories had not been well-known in UFOlogy for at least twenty-five years. It was the way she told of greeting the extraterrestrials with a jovial “Hi, Guys!” that stuck in the throat of several of the participants. Not a single participant in the symposium was willing to describe the Betty Hill we heard first-hand as a credible witness; nonetheless, a number of them still were inclined to accept her story of alien abduction, including Karl Pflock. The organizers had wisely chosen to send Betty Hill away before we began the actual discussions, as they realized it would be impossible for us to objectively discuss the mental state of a kindly but delusional old lady who was sitting in our midst.

Most of the symposium participants were well known in the UFO and Fortean worlds. Peter Brookesmith of Fortean Times magazine, clearly the junior partner as co-organizer, showed himself to be a no-nonsense fellow who also took the partying aspect of the conference very seriously. The good times quaffing with Peter, Karl, and Karl’s wife Mary were memorable. Another Brit in attendance was Hilary Evans, whose writings sometimes seemed to me a bit woozy but who in person seemed sensible enough. Two participants were present only virtually. Walter N. Webb, who began a first-hand investigation of the Hill case a month after it occurred in 1961, and Martin Kottmeyer, who writes amazingly perceptive papers without ever leaving his farm in central Illinois, participated from a distance.
Our Field Trip to the "Close Encounter" site, just south of Indian Head
Looking south from the "Close Encounter" site. The freeway had not yet been built in 1961.
 In addition to the conference sessions, we took a Field Trip. First we took the short drive to where the UFO Close Encounter allegedly occurred, just south of the hotel. According to Betty, the Close Encounter site is on the east side of Rt. 3, just north of the present Rt. 93 freeway interchange (exit 33). She showed us where Barney left the car in the middle of the road with the engine running, while he grabbed binoculars from the trunk to get a good look at the aliens. Betty also guided us to the alleged “capture site”, a small, sandy clearing in the woods just off Mill Brook Rd., which goes off NH State Route 175 to the east near Thornton. However, Barney and Betty Hill much earlier had indicated a “capture site” in a different location. [GPS trekkers will want to know that the "capture site" Betty took us to was at 43 deg 54.529’ N, 71 deg 39.852’ W., elevation 662 ft.] One driver, seeing the small crowd in the woods, stopped to ask if there was a moose on the loose (tourists often travel these back roads seeking Moose Encounters); I replied “no,” but didn’t have the inclination to explain that we were chasing UFOs. Someone else did, and the driver sped away.

We're following the leader, the leader, the leader: Betty Hill guides us to the alleged Capture Site.
You can learn a lot about a UFO case by visiting the site that you can’t learn by reading. Driving from the “Close Encounter” site to the “capture” site, I was surprised to see how many quaint little New England towns lie between them. While driving frantically, allegedly being pursued by the UFO at close range, the Hills must have driven through the towns of North Woodstock, then Woodstock, West Thornton, and then Thornton. The speed limit in (and around) these towns is 30 MPH. Even granting that these sleepy little towns, which look like they’ve come out of Norman Rockwell portraits of New England life, would be quiet around midnight, it seems impossible that nobody at all would have noticed a car madly speeding down Rt. 3, screeching around corners, running stop signs and traffic signals, with a low-level UFO in close pursuit. This is related to another great puzzle, to wit: why is it that we never receive reports of UFOs coming in menacingly close, but following someone else’s car? 

Examining Betty's "Capture Site": no sign of any UFOs.
We even had an evening screening of relevant science fiction films, including the very episode of Outer Limits that is suggested by Kottmeyer to have inspired Barney Hill’s description of the aliens’ “wrap-around eyes.” There was much discussion of the possible influence of the films on the Hills’ account. Firmage sat by himself watching the films, saying nothing. He spent much of his time during the symposium sessions glued to the phone in the hotel lobby, no doubt negotiating major business deals back in Silicon Valley. His participation was slight. I did have a chance to speak with him for a few minutes during the first evening session. He confidently expounded about how one dissident physicist or another had come up with a theory showing that it is possible to do the things that UFOs allegedly do: travel faster than light, defy gravity, etc. For him, this settled the matter: such things were possible, and we should drop our present-day prejudices. He seemed not to appreciate the objection that the great majority of physicists were unconvinced by unsupported speculative theories, or else he seemed not to care. Firmage is an impressive, dynamic speaker, but not such a good listener.
Getting down to business: from left, Pflock, Evans, Bullard, Truzzi, Firmage, Stacy.

Ultimately, no agreement was reached concerning whether the Hills’ story was real or imagined. Each participant (except for Greg Sandow) expounds his viewpoint at length in a chapter in the book.  Eddie Bullard, Greg Sandow, Walter Webb, and Karl Pflock argued that the Hills’ abduction account should probably be taken literally. I argued strongly for the opposite, as did Peter Brookesmith. Martin Kottmeyer and Hilary Evans agreed that the explanation was more likely to be psychological than physical. Dennis Stacy, a former editor of the MUFON Journal and the publisher of the symposium volume, limited himself to carefully chronicling and recounting the incident. However, in private conversation he confessed to difficulties with accepting the Hills’ account. Sociologist Marcello Truzzi pronounced it impossible to come to any conclusion whatsoever. [Truzzi was a co-founder of CSICOP in 1976, with Paul Kurtz. In hindsight it's obvious that their planned cooperation was doomed to fail.]
Joe Firmage expostulates his theories about UFOs. From left: Stacy, Hill,Sandow, Bullard, Evans, Brookesmith, Firmage, Pflock.

It was clear that the participants who had not previously met Betty Hill were dismayed and/or disappointed after hearing her ramble on glibly about things that could not possibly be true. However, there were rationalizations aplenty as to why we should believe her claims made in 1961, but not afterwards. I also felt that co-organizer Karl Pflock, and sponsor Joe Firmage, had expected some sort of pro-Hills consensus to emerge from the discussions when all of the “facts” supporting it were martialled – and were rather disappointed when it did not. I found it puzzling that the book's progress accelerated after Karl's death, especially since the book was virtually completed by 2001, before he fell ill. When Betty's own statements raised doubts even among those inclined to believe her story, Pflock probably came to view the symposium as a tactical mistake. I suspected that Karl in essence sat on the project because he was disappointed how it turned out, although Peter Brookesmith assures me that this was not the case, and cites difficulties in getting the book published. I spoke with Pflock on the phone several times after the conference, and each time he was downplaying the book, and the idea of getting it published. He did not seem  enthusiastic or eager in any way to see it published. At least, that was my impression.

One of the “evidences” in favor of the alleged abduction has long been Betty’s statement that her husband Barney, after having his genitals examined by aliens, developed a ring of warts around his groin. The pro-abductionists seemed genuinely startled to be told (after Betty had safely departed) that this symptom is evidence, not of alien activity, but of a common venereal disease.
The "Encounters at Indian Head" symposium patricipants: from left, Marcello Truzzi, Peter Brookesmith, Greg Sandow, Dennis Stacy, Karl Pflock, Eddie Bullard, Robert Sheaffer, Hilary Evans. Not present: Walter Webb, Martin Kottmeyer.
Almost seven years separated the symposium and its public revelation. It has now been fifteen years, and four of the participants have passed away: Marcello Truzzi, Karl Pflock, Hilary Evans,  and Betty Hill. You can’t do this symposium again. As for Joe Firmage, he seems to have disappeared from the UFO scene completely. Whether he was able to hang on to any of the huge fortune he once had is unclear. He no longer operates his old website, which used to contain earth-shaking ideas concerning UFOs, the future,  and New Physics, his new website is somewhat toned-down by comparison.  Firmage seems to have resurfaced, perhaps briefly, with the "9-11 Truther" crowd. Recent reports concerning Firmage's current activities do not sound good.