Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The "History" Channel Mangles Project Blue Book - Episode 1

So on January 8 we finally saw the much-awaited first episode of Project Blue Book on the Channel that once showed History. It was expected to be sensationalized, and poorly-acted. Those things it was.  Where it exceeded expectations, however, was in the degree that it distorted the facts of what was, in fact, a historical incident, freely mixing sensational but fictional elements with a classic UFO incident. Public discussions of this case will now be hopelessly polluted by the made-up elements that people will now firmly believe to be part of the actual story.

The first episode is titled "The Fuller Dogfight," an obvious reference to the "classic" UFO case of the Gorman "dogfight" of 1948. (In fact, statements made at the end of the program confirm this.) This refers to a famous case in the Blue Book files occurring near Fargo, ND in which an experienced WWII pilot reported what seemed like a "dogfight" with a lighted object. Serious UFOlogists generally accept that the pilot George Gorman, while an experienced combat pilot, became disoriented while attempting to approach a lighted object at night, and reported it as performing impossible feats. The object was apparently a lighted weather balloon that had been recently launched in that area. Some will argue that it is not plausible for an experienced pilot to become so disoriented, and imagine a slowly-moving object making incredible maneuvres. They forget that J. Allen Hynek himself wrote,  "Surprisingly, commercial and military pilots appear to make relatively poor witnesses" ( The Hynek UFO Report, 1977, p. 271).

This ought to bring into mind another "classic" UFO case, this one tragic - the death of the young pilot Frederick Valentich in Australia in 1978. His attention fixed on some unidentified object - very likely Venus, that he believed to be orbiting his position - Valentich apparently became disoriented, fell into a 'graveyard spiral,' and crashed into the ocean. This chilling video from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, 178 Seconds to Live, warns about the dangers of pilots becoming disoriented when flying at night or in times of poor visibility. It is relevant to investigations of both the Gorman and the Valentich cases (and probably to the crash killing JFK Jr. as well).

Here is an off-the-top-of-my-head list of falsehoods shown or implied in "The Fuller Dogfight":
  • Gorman shot at the object. False.
  • Gorman was sent to the infirmary for an extended period of time with psychological problems. False.
  • Gorman collided with the object, which damaged his plane. False.
  • The UFO took control of Gorman's plane. False.
  • Gorman somehow anomalously hears a radio station during the incident, and became obsessed with the song. False.
  • Hynek traveled to Fargo to investigate this case on-site. False. Indeed, Mark O'Connel, author of the first biography of J. Allen Hynek, noted on Facebook that in the episode "Hynek drove from Fargo, ND to Columbus, OH seemingly in a matter of minutes. It's a 15 hour drive today, but back then there were no interstates."
  • Hynek and his Air Force "handler," a pilot, went up in a plane to try to duplicate the encounter. The plane crashed, but both survived. This is beyond ridiculous.
  • A "Man in Black" was watching the investigation, uselessly, from a distance. The stories about the Men In Black originated with  Albert K. Bender in 1953.
And even as we read this, more absurdities and anachronisms in the program are being spotted, and posted on the Internet. In a few days the list will no doubt be much longer. Even "Disclosure" champion Stephen Bassett is concerned about this, gently but firmly noting that
it is important to publicly point out the simple fact there is quite a gap between the theatrical presentation of Hynek's life and the real life. It would be helpful if a fact vs. fiction page of quality was developed and updated as the series moves forward. Researchers and others might prepare for how they will respond to questions from the more confused viewers who watch and then Google.
And if a UFO program is bad enough to worry Stephen Bassett, it has got to be really bad! If the story were entirely fiction, there would be no problem. The problem occurs, however, because "Project Blue Book" references real people, real organizations, real incidents, but in a grossly distorted and misleading way. 

The UFO panel at the 1984 CSICOP Conference, Stanford, CA. From left: J. Allen Hynek, yours truly,
astronomer Andrew Fraknoi, Philip J. Klass, physicist Roger Culver. Photo by Gary Posner.
Let me also say, as someone who has spent a lot of time listening to Hynek speak in person, that Aidan Gillen is not convincing as J. Allen Hynek. He does not look like Hynek, he does not sound like Hynek, he does not act like Hynek. And he doesn't even have Hynek's trademark goatee. I think Gillen ought to listen to some of the many YouTube videos showing Hynek's TV appearances, to practice and make his act more convincing.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Look, Ma! I'm on Ancient Aliens!

Look, I am part of Ancient Aliens history! My sharp-eyed, semi-anonymous friend Mrherr Zaar spotted this on-screen. It's a piece I wrote for NICAP's UFO Investigator (October, 1974) that is on-screen long enough to catch the word "charlatanism" to prove that contemporary researchers weren't taking Von Daniken seriously. It is part of the series celebrating the anniversary of Chariots of the Gods that has been airing in the past few days (S13 E14).

This was briefly seen on Ancient Aliens, Series 13 Episode 14.

"In the late sixties and early seventies, it was a time when everyone just listened to the experts", laments David Childress early on in the episode (hat tip to another semi-anonymous friend, Claude Falkstrom). I'm flattered to be called an "expert" on Ancient Aliens, but I just wish that NICAP had spelled my name correctly!! I didn't watch this episode, or any other in recent years - ye gods, thirteen seasons!!! Looking at the current program offerings on the "History" Channel, their prime-time lineup is pretty much all UFOs and Ancient Aliens, all the time. It's really the Pseudo-History Channel now.

During the 1950s and 60s, NICAP was the most important UFO group in the U.S. By the early 70s, after the Condon Report and after the closure of Project Blue Book, NICAP had faded into insignificance, all of its key personnel having gone elsewhere. It disbanded soon afterward. That made APRO the major UFO group in the 1970s. With the death of APRO's founders in the 1980s, Coral and Jim Lorenzen, APRO disbanded, making MUFON the major UFO group, as it is today.

 I have scanned the article, and put it on-line.  This was my very first published article. 

Speaking of Project Blue Book, a new series of that name premieres on the "History" channel tonight! And J. Allen Hynek is the main character. The show is obviously a mixture of factual material with fiction, probably serving to conflate the two forever in the mind of the public.

David Childress of Ancient Aliens at his literature table at the 2016 UFO Congress, 
taking the name of Science in vain. Animated and energetic, he wows the assembled crowd.