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, Vallée, 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.


Monday, May 10, 2021

The New Yorker's Credulous Article on Pentagon UFOs - Part 2

(Continued from Part 1.)

Having given us a crash course in UFO history,  author Lewis-Kraus returns to his Hagiography of Leslie Kean:

Once it was clear that U.F.O.s were going to be her life’s work, Kean resolved to ally herself with the research tradition that Hynek had pioneered. Ufologists liked to dwell on certain historic encounters, like Roswell, where any solid evidence that might once have existed had become hopelessly entangled with mythology. Kean chose to focus on “the really good cases” that had been reported since the close of Blue Book, including those that involved professional observers, such as pilots, and ideally multiple witnesses; those that had been substantiated with photos or radar tracks; and especially those in which experts had eliminated other interpretations.
The first such "really good" case mentioned is the famous Rendlesham case in Suffolk, UK, December 1980  (which the late James Moseley always referred to as "Rendle-sham"). 
The details of the incident as it is described in Kean’s book are sensational, to say the least. Another witness, Sergeant James Penniston, said that he got close enough to a silent triangular craft to feel its electric charge and to note the hieroglyphic-like designs etched into its surface.
The claims associated with Rendle-sham may well be "sensational," but the facts dedidedly less so. I have already described some of the many absurdities claimed about this case. As for Penniston, 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. (Highly-publicized UFO cases, like fine wines, often improve with age.)  Penniston now says that the binary data from the Rendle-sham UFO was sent by Time Travelers. Remember, this is a "really good case," unlike all those flakey ones.
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. 

Later on, Lewis-Kraus tells us,
One dogged British researcher has convincingly shown that the Rendlesham case, or Britain’s Roswell, probably consisted of a concatenation of a meteor, a lighthouse perceived through woods and fog, and the uncanny sounds made by a muntjac deer. Eyewitness reports are subject to considerable embroidery over time, and strings of improbable coincidences can easily be rendered into an occult pattern by a human mind prone to misapprehension and eager for meaning. The researcher had exhaustively demystified the case, and I was perturbed to learn that Kean seemed unfazed by his verdict. When I asked her about it, she did little more than shrug, as though to suggest that such fluky accounts violated Occam’s razor. 

He doesn't want to tell us the British researcher's name - it is Ian Ridpath. Nor does he give us the URL that "exhaustively demystified the case" - it is here. Mustn't give skepticism too much of a boost. Or upset Leslie! So much for "journalistic objectivity!" Obviously wavering in The Faith, at least a little, he asked Leslie about it.

Even if Rendlesham was “complex,” she said, it was still “one of the top ten U.F.O. encounters of all time.” And, besides, there were always other cases. Hynek, in “The UFO Experience,” had contended that U.F.O. sightings represented a phenomenon that had to be taken in aggregate—hundreds upon hundreds of incredible stories told by credible people.
So even if the Rendle-sham case has a logical explanation, it is nonetheless a "top ten" UFO case, a Golden Oldie, so that counts for something, I guess. And here she repeats Hynek's "bundle of sticks" analogy, which I heard him make many times: any one stick might be broken, but taken together they are too strong to break. To which the obvious reply is: If each case is a zero, the sum of any number of zeroes is zero.
For another "really good" case,
Kean selected an incident that occurred in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, a rural hamlet southeast of Pittsburgh, on December 9, 1965, in which an object the size of a Volkswagen Beetle allegedly hurtled from the sky. According to multiple witnesses, the acorn-shaped bulk had been removed from the woods on a flatbed truck as service members guarded the area with guns. 
Allegedly. The problem is, we know exactly what people saw in the sky near Kecksburg, and indeed across the entire region. It was the Great Lakes Fireball of December 9, 1965, well documented in Sky and Telescope magazine (February, 1966) and other astronomical publications. This has been pointed out repeatedly by skeptics for decades, but somehow the word doesn't seem to have reached Kean. She lives in a bubble of overwhelmingly pro-UFO information, and apparently thinks that there is nothing of value outside it. As for the claims about soldiers in the woods recovering a crashed UFO, as I said about Rendle-sham, highly-publicized UFO cases, like fine wines, often improve with age. 

from Chamberlain, Von Del, 1968: Meteorites of Michigan, Geological Survey Bulletin 5, East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan Department of Conservation, Geological Survey Division, pp. 1-5.


Lewis-Kraus Continues,

Kean’s book, which was praised by the theoretical physicist Michio Kaku as “the gold standard for U.F.O. research,” and to which John Podesta had contributed a foreword, enhanced and expanded her influence. In June of 2011, Podesta invited Kean to make a confidential presentation at a think tank he founded, the Center for American Progress... In August, 2014, Kean visited the West Wing to meet again with Podesta, who was by then an adviser to President Obama. She had scaled down her request, proposing that a single individual in the Office of Science and Technology Policy be assigned to handle the issue. Nothing came of it.
What we are not told is that Michio Kaku is a UFO believer, who has warned about possible alien invasions and such. His book, Physics of the Impossible, deals with the supposed physics of "phasers, force fields, teleportation, and time travel." The great majority of Kaku's colleagues in physics would dismiss this as nonsense.

Now we come to - The Fly! Lewis-Kraus somewhat apologetically writes that Kean
had a cordial relationship with the Chilean government’s Comité de Estudios de Fenómenos Aéreos Anómalos (cefaa). She had begun breaking stories from its case files with an atypical recklessness. Kean’s work from this period, mostly published on the Huffington Post, shows signs of agitation and evangelism. In March of 2012, she wrote an article called “UFO Caught on Tape Over Santiago Air Base,” which referred to a video provided by cefaa. Kean described the video as showing “a dome-shaped, flat-bottomed object with no visible means of propulsion . . . flying at velocities too high to be man-made.” She asked, “Is this the case UFO skeptics have been dreading?”
However, the CEFAA video was widely panned - and not just by skeptics - as simply showing a fly buzzing around. (Note that the Huffington Post article, co-authored by Ralph Blumenthal, Kean's co-author of her New York Times articles about AATIP and Pentagon UFOs, was updated in 2017, undoubtedly to make it less embarrassing. I was not able to find the original article in the Internet Archive, or anywhere else.)  Lewis-Kraus does mention my debunking of the Chilean Fly UFO video, again without giving anyone the URL to enable them to check it themselves.
When Kean wrote about the cefaa video, debunkers leaped at the chance to point out that the object in the case they had been dreading was in all probability a housefly or a beetle buzzing around the camera lens. Robert Sheaffer, the proprietor of a blog called Bad UFOs, wrote in his column in the Skeptical Inquirer, “Indeed, the very fact that a video of a fly doing loops is being cited by some of the world’s top UFOlogists as among the best UFO images of all time reveals how utterly lightweight even the best UFO photos and videos are.” Kean consulted with four entomologists, who mostly declined to issue a categorical judgment on the matter, and urged patience with cefaa’s ongoing investigation.
Kean still has not admitted that she was fooled by a fly buzzing around. She posted some completely irrelevant pictures of beetles, then tried to pass the buck to certain "entomologists," as if even they could identify the species of an insect buzzing around and flying rapid loops in front of the camera.


Saturday, May 8, 2021

The New Yorker's Credulous Article on Pentagon UFOs - Part 1

On April 30 the normally serious New Yorker has dropped a very misleading article titled How the Pentagon Started Taking U.F.O.s Seriously. (UFO author Leslie Kean says that work on this story "has been underway for months," which is quite surprising!)

The article is illustrated by a "classic" UFO photo, described as "Four mysterious objects spotted in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1952." It is almost certainly just a reflection of lights in a window.

This article by Gideon Lewis-Kraus boldly begins, "On May 9, 2001, Steven M. Greer took the lectern at the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C., in pursuit of the truth about unidentified flying objects." In pursuit of the truth, no less! Because Lewis-Kraus had only a few months to research this article, he apparently had no opportunity to learn that serious UFOlogists, both skeptic and not, consider Greer to be a yarn-spinning money grubber whose credibility is zilch. Greer once even claimed to have an 'alien familiar' named Bijoux

Steven Greer offers the opportunity to spend six days with him mentally communicating with UFOs, for a mere $3,472. However, anyone displaying "negative attitudes toward these interstellar visitors will be asked to leave."

 After recounting the exploits of the mighty Dr. Greer, still in pursuit of the truth, we learn,
Among the other speakers was Clifford Stone, a retired Army sergeant, who purported to have visited crash sites and seen aliens, both dead and alive. Stone said that he had catalogued fifty-seven species, many of them humanoid. 

Again, in his rush to prepare the article Lewis-Kraus didn't have time to discover the fact that the wild tales of Clifford Stone are soundly rejected by most serious UFO researchers

The principal Hagiography in this piece is that of Leslie Kean. Lewis-Kraus portrays Kean as "stand[ing] apart from the ufological mainstream," which is pure bollocks. Kean is down in the UFOlogical mud, wrestling with the rest of us. She has a best-selling book from 2010, “UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record,” whose credibility, like that of most UFO books, is pretty bad. He tells us that Kean's apartment is "a tranquil space decorated with a Burmese Buddha and bowls of pearlescent seashells." 

Lewis-Kraus mentions only in passing that Kean's "latest project examines the controversial scholarship on the possibility of consciousness after death." Actually, it's much worse than that. Leslie Kean has gone full woo-woo on the subject of ghosts and spirit manifestations. She insists that she has "absolutely no doubt, not one iota," that a spirit manifested and touched her while she was attending a seance:

In May, 2019, I experienced a full form materialization in a seance with Stewart [Alexander]. His communicator Dr. Barnett, who normally speaks in independent voice, walked out of the cabinet, stood in front of me and touched my hair. He then placed both his large hands on top of my head, bouncing them up and down for about a minute and a half. (That’s a long time). These were solid “living” hands. He spoke in his recognizable voice. “I just wanted to let you know that I am a solid human being,” he said. He then returned to the cabinet and disappeared.

We read how Kean's intense interest in UFOs began in 1999 when she was sent a copy of a ninety-page French report referred to as "COMETA." (This account is also in her book.) Prepared by "a dozen retired French generals, scientists, and space experts," she "was certain, though, that anyone given access to the French report’s data and conclusions would understand why she had dropped everything else." (They didn't.) However, others, more experienced in the crazy world of UFOlogy, reached other conclusions. John Alexander, who was involved in Pentagon ESP experiments and is surely no skeptic, described the COMETA report as “an embarrassment… unsubstantiated data from questionable sources” in his book UFOs Myths, Conspiracies, and Realities (p. 218-20). No such doubts occurred to Ms. Kean. who seems quite certain  that the government is hiding something really big from us concerning UFOs, although she professes (a bit disingenuously) to be agnostic on the question of whether they are extraterrestrial.

 In this very long article, Lewis-Kraus tries to give us a summary of UFOlogy's Greatest Hits, its Golden Oldies such as the Airship sightings of 1896-97, Kenneth Arnold, the Washington, DC incidents of 1952, the Robertson Panel, J. Allen Hynek, the Condon Report, etc. etc. I guess the purpose of all this is to show that UFO sightings and UFO controversies have been around for a long time. 

 Continued in Part 2.