Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What’s Good for SETI’s Goose Apparently Isn’t Good for Ufology’s Gander!

Alien on Arecibo

By Frank Warren

     Once again Seth Shostak has opened mouth and inserted foot. In the wake of the “Larry King Show” pertaining to the reality of UFOs, which aired on the 6th of this month, Shostak who was one of the guests on the show (as a debunker) recently penned an article, which was published by Space.com and can be read here; in it Shostak reconfirms his ignorance on the subject of Ufology, and some of his statements raise the question of his aptitude in regards to what he brings to the table for SETI.

     He begins his article by applauding the news of recent polls affirming that two thirds of the American public believe that extraterrestrial life exists, yet in the same breath explains that it’s “weird” that the same number believe that our planet is being visited by some of those extraterrestrials.

     He appears to make an attempt to praise recent television shows for their intrepidness in broaching the UFO subject; however, tries to instill in his reader’s minds that the motives of those who produce the shows is dubious as they never succeed in “defining” the UFO enigma.

     He admits that interstellar travel is achievable, but then intimates the implausibility of it by referencing the “Pioneer and Voyager” space probes, nearly 30-year-old technology, which are “coasting” in space; he seems to want his readers to believe that the inefficiency of “rocket propulsion” is the standard, that astronautics is stationary in regards to development and innovation.

     Rather then apprizing the reader of the latest technologies pertaining to space travel, e.g., “ion propulsion, solar sails, beam particle and or laser drives, as well as magnetoplasma technologies, Shostak chooses to leap into wormholes (no pun intended).

     Of course up to this point albeit redundant, not only is Shostak painting a picture of implausibility relative to interstellar space travel, he’s also talking about “man’s” abilities to do so; the old standard, “if ‘we can’t’ get there from here” then obviously “they can’t get here from there” ideology.

     After priming “his debunking pump” he then begins his narrative of his participation on the King show; he furthers the party line by referencing photographs of “putative saucers hovering at low altitudes” which appeared to be “out-of-focus lights, while others resembled hubcap-shaped Frisbees caught in mid-trajectory” as the primary evidence offered by leading Ufologists.

     Point in fact, Shostak has repeatedly, and publicly admitted his “lack of participation” of research into the UFO phenomenon, so it’s understandable that one might get a chuckle when reading his criticism of Dr. Bruce Maccabee who aside from earning a Ph. D. in physics, also began working at the Naval Surface Warfare Center doing “optical data processing” amongst other things. Dr. Maccabee has been studying the UFO phenomena for over 40 years.

     That said, Shostak again skirted the “preponderance of evidence” as is his routine, and focused on one piece of the puzzle while ignoring the supportive data.

     Shostak wants his readers to believe that Ufologists see an anomalous object and immediately label it an ET craft! The discussion about the “Heflin photo” is a good case in point. While Dr. Maccabee acknowledged his study of previous researchers’ analysis, as well as doing his own work on the photo, stated that in his opinion, “the photos themselves indicate that this is a real object and there is a possibility of estimating, let's say, distance and size based on the atmospheric effects on the photo -- on the object itself, indicating how bright it is as a function of distance. It's a bit technical, but it does suggest that the object was probably within a few thousand feet of the camera.”

     He did not say that the object was an “extraterrestrial craft,” only that based on his experience the photo was genuine and not hoaxed. It’s important to point out that the character of the individual who took the picture was also taken in to consideration.

     Shostak’s next target was “eye-witness testimony.” He correctly pointed out the impressive credentials of the various witnesses to UFO events, e.g., pilot’s, astronauts etc., and as usual states, “just because you don’t recognize an aerial phenomenon doesn’t mean that it’s an extraterrestrial visitor.” He goes on to say, that it “requires additional evidence that, so far, seems to be as unconvincing as the trickery-free saucer snaps.”

     Here’s a curious thing; Seth Shostak has been involved in numerous UFO shows, TV and radio alike as well as debates etc.; the “additional evidence” he deems necessary has been pointed out to him on several occasions, yet he makes no mention of it in his article.

     For whatever the reason, he failed to mention “physical trace cases, radar reports in support of eye-witness testimony, magnetic anomalies in association with UFO sightings, thermal effects, light effects, forensic evidence, and finally thousands of pages, if not hundreds of thousands pages of government documental evidence to name a few.

     Shostak briefly takes time to make light of “Abductees” plight referring to “scoop marks” often found on their bodies, asking why “beings from distant suns would come to Earth to ‘melon-ball’ the locals.” He injects the idea of “spousal abuse” (as well as others) as the cause of the skin anomalies.

     Shostak claims that, “the evidence for extraterrestrial visitors has not convinced many scientists,” yet failed to the name any who have studied the data; he says, “very few academics are writing papers for refereed journals about alien craft or their occupants,” but omits the fact that Ufologists argue that this is part of the problem.

     He incorrectly adds, that UFO experts state that “convincing proof” has been coveted by the power-that-be, and that “scientists have simply refused to look carefully at this phenomenon.”

     The evidence as I have mentioned above is in abundance; Seth Shostak has been exposed to it; yet he fails to mention it in his article. Does the government have information/evidence they are withholding? —This is a fact based on their own admission. Have scientists investigated the UFO phenomenon?” Most certainly, and they are called Ufologists. Has “mainstream science” investigated the UFO phenomenon? No!

     Shostak erroneously likens the lack of scientific investigation to the “UFO phenomenon” to describing “movie critics” who “can compose excellent and accurate evaluations of a movie without being participants in the business of making films.”

     I have to admit that I was awestruck by this declaration, bear in mind that Seth Shostak is an educated, intelligent man. He has a BA in physics from Princeton and a PhD in astronomy from Caltech. What was he thinking?! Excusing the omission of scientific investigation of a world-wide phenomenon, and using an analogy of “film critics and film makers” in essence proclaiming it’s not essential because as scientists they don’t have to involve themselves in the research, or do their own research in order to postulate a theorem! With this mind-set, it makes one wonder how SETI can get any funding!

     The irony of course is that statement comes from a man who is the “Senior Astronomer” for SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) which is, by their own definition a “private, nonprofit organization dedicated to ‘scientific research,’ [emphasis added] education and public outreach.”

     Furthermore SETI has been searching the stars for years, of evidence of other technological civilizations, i.e., by listening for radio signals.

     The evidence they offer in support of their methodology is “speculation” that given a suitable environment and sufficient time, life will develop on other planets much like it did here on Earth.

     The hypocrisy here is actually laughable, and indeed as far as Seth Shostak is concerned, “what’s good for the SETI goose ‘apparently’ isn’t good for Ufology’s gander!”


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