Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Science and Charlatans

Science and Charlatans
By Kevin Randle
A Different Perspective
© 11-17-08

Kevin Randle     There has been a disturbing story circulating on UFO UpDates and told by Billy Cox on his blog and who is a real friend of the UFO community. According to these stories, Stan Friedman was to lecture at a science museum and that invitation was challenged by a "real" scientist, Paul Cottle, (see who suggested that the study of UFOs is a "pseudoscience" and thought of Friedman, according to these reports, as a "charlatan."

Now, as many of you know, Stan and I have had our differences over the years. Simply look at the arguments about MJ-12 and you’ll understand some of it. But this really is too much, no matter what you think of Friedman, his theories, and his research.

These "scientists", and all too often the members of CSI (which used to be CSICOP before they changed their name) have long thought they needed to protect us unwashed heathens from those attempting to sell us snake oil. They have decided that we are incapable of discerning the truth for ourselves and always there to force the truth down our throats even if that truth smacks of their own dogma.

I won’t bother with a long list of things that scientists knew before the evidence finally overwhelmed them forcing them to reevaluate their positions. The history of science if loaded with things that we all just knew to be real until the radical new ideas were forced on us. I’m thinking here of germ theory, genetic mutation and the demise of the dinosaurs, just to name a few.

In this case the "scientists" who know relatively nothing about UFOs decided that they weren’t worthy of study. After all, didn’t Dr. Edward U. Condon study the flying saucers in the late 1960s and conclude that they weren’t anything to be taken seriously by science. Aren’t they "often-debunked pseudoscience?" No further study required.

Isn’t it true that there is no evidence of these alien visitations, so we can ignore the testimony of airline pilots entrusted with the lives of hundreds, of police officers who clearly don’t understand what is in the sky around them, and all sorts of professionals who have reported UFOs in the past including such scientists as Clyde Tombaugh?

Can’t we ignore the solid movies and photographs taken in the past? Haven’t reputable scientists found the pictures to be faked? Aren’t the reports corroborated by radar merely the mistakes of the air traffic controllers and others who are supposed to know the difference? Can’t we ignore the evidence collected at more than 4000 landings around the world?

Didn’t the Air Force prove that the 1947 Roswell UFO crash was nothing more than a Project Mogul balloon array... even though there were no unaccounted for launches, the balloon array would have been recognized for what it was, a balloon array, by those who found it and there is no record of a Flight No. 4 which was identified as the culprit by the skeptics. Can’t we just ignore the testimonies of those hundreds who were involved in the clean up because it doesn’t fit into our "accepted" reality?

I have nothing against any scientist who expresses an opinion, but I do have something against those who express uninformed opinions. Just because someone can append letters after his or her name, doesn’t mean that his or her opinion about everything is valid, especially when they have made no attempt to check the current literature. (For those interested, when I was working on my Ph. D., and when I became bored with psychology after long hours, I would look up UFOs in the scientific literature and found more than 100 articles in the psychology library, not all of them dismissing the topic as debunked.)

Years ago I had the opportunity to interview James A. van Allen, a scientist I believe everyone can respect. The topic was the idea that the Tunguska explosion of 1908 was the result of a failure in the power plant of an alien spacecraft. Van Allen knew the topic and granted me a couple of hours of his time.

Several things struck me at that interview. One, he was gracious enough to talk to me about a subject that might have been considered pseudoscience. Two, he had studied the Tunguska case because it interested him. And three, rather than rejecting what I said about it, he would ask, "What’s your source on that?"

He was of the opinion that a comet had disintegrated about five miles high and the resulting explosion, which would have been massive, was the reason that impact site resembled ground zero where atomic bombs had been tested.

We also talked briefly about UFOs on another occasion and he seemed to be willing to listen to the evidence. He wasn’t about to make a pronouncement based on what he thought to be the evidence, but rather on what the evidence showed.

He did say that if you were in the middle of Wyoming and heard the thunder of hooves, you don’t expect zebra. Which means, of course, you must eliminate the mundane before you graduate to the unusual.

With today’s keepers of the flame, those who profess to have the light while the rest of us wander in the dark unable to find our way, can we expect anything other than immediate dismissal? Without looking at a shred of evidence, they are able to tell us what is and what isn’t.

This debate, such as it was, next turned to Dr. Gregory Boebinger, the director of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee. He asked "Is the Brogan [the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee which hosted Friedman’s presentation] planning to host future exhibits on palm reading and astrology? Surely, when a science museum hosts often-debunked pseudoscience, it is not only using ‘a variety of entertaining experiences to attract audiences to science,’ as Ms. Barber [the Executive Director of the museum] contends, but it also insidiously endorsing pseudoscience and attracting our children and the public away from science."

Nothing like reducing UFO study to that of palm reading and astrology. Nothing like calling UFO research pseudoscience without knowing a thing about it.

Let’s talk about pseudoscience. Let’s talk about th epitome of pseudoscience which is known as the Condon Report, or officially as the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects which was conducted at the University of Colorado and funded with more than half a million taxpayer dollars thanks to the Air Force. (For a little more detail, look at The Hippler Letter published on this blog in March 2007.)

In fact, in 1967, Condon delivered a lecture to scientists in Corning, New York telling them, "It is my inclination right now to recommend that the government get out of this business. My attitude right now is that there is nothing in it. But I am not supposed to reach a conclusion for another year." So much for science.

Condon did reach the conclusion that there was no threat to national security, which was one of his missions, but he also concluded that no further study was required, even after more than thirty percent of the reports in his study were not identified. Even after one sighting was identified as a phenomenon so rare it had never been seen before or since and certainly doesn’t tell us what it was. So much for science.

These other scientists, Cottle and Boebinger for example, are certainly familiar with the Air Force study of UFOs known as Project Blue Book (yes, that is sarcasm) and although the Air Force claimed they had identified all but three or four percent of the sightings, the true number is considerably higher. The Air Force often labeled a sighting as "Insufficient for Scientific Analysis," which, of course, doesn’t explain it, but kept it out of the "Unidentified" category.

The evidence, all the evidence that science could want, is out there. Instead of looking at it, we had scientists such as Donald Menzel who called the pictures taken by Carl Hart, Jr. over Lubbock, Texas a hoax without proof or evidence of a hoax. The problem for Menzel was that if those pictures hadn’t been faked by Hart, then there was no earthly explanation for them. So much for science.

And in keeping with that tradition, Cottle and Boebinger have not bothered to respond to these questions and points. Cottle just said that his letter to the editor was his message to the local community. Boebinger has yet to respond.

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