Thursday, October 12, 2023

Netflix's "Encounters", Episode 2, Promotes Sensational Claims but Ignores Answers

In the previous posting, we examined how the first episode of Encounters presented the 2008 sightings in Stephenville, Texas in loving detail, but ignored the already-known explanation for all of it. Second verse, same as the first!

Episode 2 of Netflix's Encounters (one of whose Executive Producers was.Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television) covers the alleged 1994 UFO and alien sightings by as many as 62 school children (but no adults) at the Ariel School in Zimbabwe. A great deal has been written about this case, I won't try to repeat that in any detail.

One of the children drew this Spaceman, with his Spaceship.

As described in UFO Evidence,

On 14th September, 1994, a UFO streaked across the sky over Southern Africa. Two days later, something landed in a schoolyard in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, with three or four things beside it, according to journalist Cynthia Hind. This was witnessed by 62 schoolchildren, who had little or no exposure to TV or popular press accounts of UFOs. Cynthia Hind interviewed them the day after the encounter and made them draw pictures of what they had seen.

The case has since gone on to become a classic. The Harvard psychiatrist and UFO abductionist Dr. John Mack (1929-2004) came to Zimbabwe two months after the incident, and spent two days at the school interviewing the children, and the school staff. Interestingly, while there were about 250 children playing outside at the time, only 62 claim to have seen it. Not all 62 children were interviewed by Hind or Mack. (It should be noted that Cynthia Hind was a dedicated UFO author and  investigator.)

What might have been causing such extraterrestrial excitement? A "UFO streaked across the sky over Southern Africa" on Sept. 14? Newspaper reports described it as a "meteor shower," but there was no meteor shower. Not until several weeks later was it determined that the object widely seen across southern Africa was, in fact, the fiery re-entry of a Zenit-2 rocket that had launched Cosmos 2290. This then-unexplained sighting had caused a great stir and great UFO interest across the area.

Satellite guru Ted Molczan recorded this visual observation of the rocket's fiery re-entry.

Charlie Wiser has written a very detailed account of the Ariel School incident, from a skeptical perspective. I wrote about this case in 2016, some of which is reprinted here. The French psychologist Dr. Gilles Fernandez reviewed all of the written and recorded material concerning the children's interviews. He wrote that

Interviewing children has been the subject of numerous scientific papers and experiments, adaptations and creations of interview standard protocols, in psychology or criminology, to well avoid or minimize biases that occur when such interviews (or questionnaires) "pollute" the evidence. Cynthia Hind's interview methodology with children is very far from these standards.... Cynthia Hind and an adult (Headmaster?) debrief and discuss "other planets", "space travel", etc. while children are in the room and hear everything ...

Cynthia Hind interviewed the children all together, not separately

Fernandez notes that the children were not being interviewed individually, but instead all together:

The child must be interviewed individually (again following proper procedure). Now, in the video-recorded excerpts above, it is striking to see that children are interviewed in a "line" from four to six. Sometimes other children are in the background and listen to another child being questioned. The adults talk to each other or "debrief" while the children are still very close and present ... Also, children hear what others say (including adults), and therefore are likely to influence each other. Even worse, a child who has seen very little or nothing, sees his classmates details and that this is something that greatly interests adults (verbal and non-verbal rewards). This could encourage them to participate in the "game".

These collective sessions have therefore enabled children to hear each other and even to copy each other, caught in a game where they see adults and a nice lady interested in the narratives. We must therefore deliver in our turn, not be excluded or unwelcome in this "game" that took place. This potential participation or having participated give a certain homogeneity to the stories and therefore reported details ...
Also, Cynthia Hind conducting the interview is constantly interrupting the children and not allowing the free narrative. We must also wonder if the fact that the interviews as drawings sessions were held in the school, this did not lead them precisely, encouraged or "biased" them to make what would be compilations of stories ... kinds of school events, where, for example, the child thinks he must absolutely answer questions, produce a drawing, the adult (or authority here) will be waiting for answers and therefore it happens.

Then, as if the problems in the interrogation technique were not bad enough, Fernandez notes

Finally, and this is rarely mentioned or noticed, there was also a session where the children were invited [by Hind] to draw on the board this time around-and not just on paper. Again, this does not back it literally "to send the child to the table"  ? And it is still in my opinion a methodological error: the child is placed as in a school exercise status, "forcing him to produce" adult authority and waiting for something (and "authority" that the reward verbally or non-verbally) ... John Mack also, two months later, again invited children to draw ..

Dr. Fernandez' article detailing all of the problems with Ms. Hind's and Dr. Mack's interviews is well worth reading (in French, which Google can translate).

But then, unexpectedly, Encounters shows us a fellow named  Dallyn (all of the students were identified by first name only. Later he was identified as Dallyn Vico) who claims to have made up the entire ufo/alien story to get out of class. He claims it was a “shiny rock” and somehow supposedly persuaded the other students they were seeing spacemen. To say that this guy was disbelieved on social media would be an understatement, and I don't believe him, either. Journalist Nicky Carter interviewed Dallyn Vico and other students two weeks after the event in 1994. At that time he made no mention of making anything up. He said that he had seen the "meteorite" the night before, and the object he supposedly saw at the school looked like that, so he thought it was a meteorite, too. Asked if he believed that people could live on other planets as well as earth, Dallyn replied "yes."

Dallyn Vico in 1994

In a second interview in 2008, Dallyn said,

I believe that the Ariel sighting, although we do not fully understand what happened, there was something definitely that did occur there that was out of the ordinary... I looked up into the sky and I saw these lights in the sky, but they weren't fixated in one area..."The lights were flashing like different colors, blue, red, yellow, purple. But they would like flash and then disappear and then they would flash again, but maybe a kilometer or a large distance in the air. They would reappear and flash again, in a different area.

He made no mention of his alleged role in any of this. When the story told by an alleged witness changes in such a major way, that person is a liar. Either he was lying before he changed his story, or else he is lying afterward. Which it is doesn't matter.

So what actually triggered the Ariel School incident? It is difficult to say for sure. But let us recall that this is far from the only incident of apparent mass contagion or mass hysteria, especially among children:

  • "The Voronezh UFO incident was an alleged UFO and extra-terrestrial alien sighting reported by a group of children in Voronezh, Soviet Union, on September 27, 1989. The area has been popular with UFO-hunting tourists.

    "According to TASS, boys playing football in a city park "saw a pink glow in the sky, then saw a deep red ball about three metres in diameter. The ball circled, vanished, then reappeared minutes later and hovered". The children claimed to have seen "a three-eyed alien" wearing bronze coloured boots with a disk on the chest, and a robot, exiting the object.According to the children, the alien used a ray gun to make a 16-year-old boy disappear until the object departed."
  • "In 1959 Papua New Guinea was still a territory of Australia. June of that year saw the spectacular sightings by Father William Gill, an Australian Anglican missionary, and 37 members of his Boianai mission. Gill made notes about the experience, which the media obtained. Stories appeared in August, causing a sensation...One above the hills west, another over- head. On the large one two of the figures seemed to be doing something near the center of the deck, were occasionally bending over and raising their arms as though adjusting or “setting up” something (not visible). One figure seemed to be standing looking down at us (a group of about a dozen). I stretched my arm above my head and waved. To our surprise the figure did the same.... Hynek and Allan Hendry, the the [CUFOS] center’s chief investigator, concluded the ‘lesser UFOs’ seen by Gill were attributable to bright stars and planets, but not the primary object. Its size and absence of movement over three hours ruled out an astronomical explanation." While this account does not involve children, the fact that Father Gill was the spiritual leader of this religious community makes it very likely that his followers would simply agree with what he claimed they saw. Chapter 22 of UFOs Explained by Philip J. Klass discusses this case, and gives compelling reasons why these claims should not be taken seriously.

  • More recently, "On Monday October 2, 2023, news reports from western Kenya told of a bizarre condition that had swept through St. Theresa’s Eregi Girls’ High School. At least 62 students were hospitalized after exhibiting uncontrollable twitching of their arms and legs, including rhythmic muscle contractions and spasms. At times the girls were reported to appear as if possessed by spirits and complained of headaches, dizziness, and knee pain. Many were unable to walk and had to be taken in wheelchairs to waiting ambulances. The strange outbreak occurred in the town of Musoli, about 230 miles northwest of Nairobi...Samples of blood, urine, phlegm, and stool were taken, along with throat swabs. All proved to be unremarkable. By Thursday, Kenyan health officials also ruled out the role of infectious disease and instead concluded that they were suffering from “hysteria” in response to stress from upcoming exams." Psychologist and skeptic Robert E. Bartholomew suggests that it was "mass psychogenic illness... Motor-based outbreaks are most common in less developed countries. They evolve more slowly, often taking weeks or months to incubate. They typically occur in the strictest schools where there is tension between students and administrators or some other conflict. Under such prolonged stress, the nerves and neurons that send messages to the brain become disrupted, resulting in an array of neurological symptoms such as twitching, shaking, convulsions, and trance-like states. This is the same type of outbreak that affected the young Puritan girls in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and led to the infamous witch craze."  Which brings us to:
  • Saducismus Triumphatus by Joseph Glanvill might be thought of as "The Scientific Study of Witchcraft," as it attempted to prove the reality of witchcraft on purely empirical grounds. In the 1689 edition, we read that in 1669, reports reached the Swedish king concerning a large-scale outbreak of witchcraft in the village of Mohra. The king dispatched some commissioners, both lay and clergy, "to examine the whole business." They found that the Devil had apparently drawn hundreds of children into his grasp and had even been seen "in a visible shape." After a careful investigation, they found no fewer than seventy adult witches in the village, who had managed to seduce about three hundred children into the practice of black magic. The commissioners interviewed each of the children separately (they were wiser than John Mack), and found that "all of them, except some very little ones" told stories that were highly consistent, of being supernaturally carried away to the witches' fest, riding through the air on the backs of animals (see chapter 7 of my book UFO Sightings, which can be purchased on Amazon, or "borrowed" from the Internet Archive library.).

So, whatever you choose to call it, "mass hysteria" and "social contagion" are not at all unlikely as explanations for bizarre incidents such as this.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Netflix's "Encounters", Episode 1, Leaves Out Something Important - The Explanation!

So much has been happening in UFOOLogy of late, stuff that is so silly and so widely-reported elsewhere, that I can't see any reason to write about it. Many have finally woken up to the fact that David Grush and other "whistleblowers" tell dramatic tales, but have no proof at all - a situation that has persisted for decades. (In the 1970s and 80s, Len Stringfield of MUFON was telling almost identical tales - also without proof). The Peruvian "alien mummies," presented to the Mexican Congress by Jaime Maussan, are being soundly and deservedly mocked as the frauds they are. These mummies have been known to be non-alien for at least five years now; so anyone involved in their promotion either didn't do any research, or else didn't care and wanted to promote fakery.


Which brings us to the new series Encounters, which premiered on Netflix on September 27. There were high hopes among UFO proponents for this series, one of whose Executive Producers was.Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television. I suspect many were disappointed. I have only seen the first episode so far, and found it tedious and boring. Its primary case is the well-known and widely-witnessed incident from Stephenville, Texas on the night of January 8, 2008. Far more time was spent telling us how people felt about what they saw, than trying to analyze what they saw.

It's strange that Encounters would put so much emphasis on the Stephenville case. There is no longer any mystery about what happened in Stephenville on January 8, 2008. UFO skeptic and retired Air Force pilot James McGaha investigated, and submitted his findings to Skeptical Inquirer editor Kendrick Frazier, who published them in the January/February, 2009 issue. The article is on-line here.  It turns out that the sightings occurred inside a "MOA", a Military Operations Area, where military training routinely goes on.

The FAA informed McGaha on January 18 that a group of four F-16s from the 457th Fighter Squadron entered the operating area at 6:17 pm local time. A second group of four F-16s entered the same area at 6:26 pm. They departed at 6:54 and 6:58, respectively. The time the aircraft were flying in the MOA accords with the time of the sightings....

What were the aircraft doing? McGaha says they were flying training maneuvers that involved dropping extraordinarily bright flares. The LUU/2B/B flare is nothing like the standard flares you might think of. These flares have an illumination of about two million candlepower. They are intended to light up a vast area of the ground for nighttime aerial attack. Once released, they are suspended by parachutes (which often hover and even rise due to the heat of the flares) and light up a circle on the ground greater than one kilometer for four minutes. The flare casing and parachute are eventually consumed by the heat. At a distance of 150 miles, a single flare can still be as bright as the planet Venus. McGaha also describes the testimony of a medical helicopter pilot, a retired U.S. Army pilot, flying that night, who saw the lights. He said: “I saw multiple military aircraft, with some dropping flares, in the area of the Brownwood 1 MOA.”

That episode also showed us radar returns, supposedly demonstrating the presence of unknown objects inside the MOA at that time. What does this mean?

These raw data contain 2.5 million points of noise and scatter. MUFON’s report selected just 187 of these points to contend that radar had tracked a huge “object” at least 524 feet in size, traveling near the Western White House (the Bush ranch, which is fifty miles southeast of Stephenville). “MUFON’s radar analysis is nothing more than cherry picking the 187 targets out of 2.5 million points of noise and scatter to make a track moving forty-nine mph for over one hour,” says McGaha. “This analysis is absurd!”

Case closed. The Stephenville case was a flare drop, essentially a repeat of the flare drop responsible for the second part of the famous Phoenix Lights in 1997. That flare drop also occurred in a military training area. The writers of Encounters either chose to leave out the obvious explanation, or else did not bother to even look for one. After all, why risk losing a really good "unexplained" case by looking for explanations?

A blurry UFO photographed by a Stephenville witness, weeks after the main sighting.

 I'll try to watch Episode 2 of Encounters soon, if I feel I can stomach it.

Another Famous Flare Drop - The UFO From 29 Palms

May 23: NBC News reports on the UFO From 29 Palms

Back in May, the major news media were filled with breathless accounts of a "mass UFO sighting" in the California desert, at Twentynine Palms two years earlier. Now, that fact alone should have raised one's eyebrow, because it is well-known that this is the location of a major training base for US Marines. So it'd be reasonable to suspect from the beginning that the Marines had something to do with this.

But the Usual Suspects were hyping the incident as if it were something utterly amazing:

Multiple videos appear to show a UFO flying over Camp Wilson in Twentynine Palms, California. The videos were recorded in April 2021 but only recently released by Jeremy Corbell and George Knapp during an episode of their podcast, Weaponized.

Corbell and Knapp said that at least 50 people, including dozens of Marines, reported seeing the triangular object with lights on its edges. The object was in the air for about ten minutes and prompted a response from military officials, who dispatched helicopters and dozens of trucks to the area.

Jeremy Corbell's Podcast

It sounded too good to be true, and indeed it was. Research by Mick West of Metabunk and John Greenewald Jr. of The Black Vault showed that there indeed was a big training operation involving flare drops going on during the night in question, and that photos taken of the flare drop match perfectly with photos by those who believed they were seeing UFOs. Like the Stephenville incident, and the Phoenix Lights incident, a military flare drop has again been shown to be the cause of a highly-publicized UFO case.

While this UFO case was all over the news, I was listening to an oldies radio station, and they played a 1947 hit by the Andrews Sisters, The Lady From Twentynine Palms. It tells about one young lady:

She left twenty-nine broken hearts
Broken in twenty-nine parts
Now there are twenty-nine fellas complainin' to their moms
About the lady from 29 Palms

She got twenty-nine Cadillacs
Twenty-nine sables from Sach's
They came from twenty-nine fellas who never had their arms
Around the lady from 29 Palms

The point being that, with so many unmarried young men in the Marines in Twentynine Palms, an attractive available woman might be showered with gifts by all the men pursuing her.

So it occurred to me that this UFO ought to have its own version of the song. With a little help from my Muse (that's like a Moose, only smaller), I settled on this, as a beginning.

It had twenty-nine flashing lights
Gave twenty-nine people a fright
And now it's on the news for twenty-nine nights,
It's the UFO from 29 Palms!

Perhaps you can think up some more verses?