Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Life in a Vacuum

There are no such thing
By Billy COx
De Void

Billy Cox     The public spat between the Mary Brogan Museum of Art & Science and the director of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee apparently has a happy ending. Following a letters-to-the-editor smackdown (De Void 11/14/08) about what does and doesn’t constitute legitimate science, Mag Lab director Dr. Greg Boebinger has accepted an invitation by Museum executive director, Chucha Barber, to join the Museum’s exhibits committee.

“We had an honest disagreement,” says Boebinger, who had blasted the Museum’s decision to host a Roswell UFO exhibit as an exercise in pseudoscience. “But we are allies on so many broader issues.”

With shrill religious zealots constantly challenging science textbooks, no doubt that’s true. But Boebinger is sticking by his guns on the original point of contention: “I’m happy to be on record stating that there’s no physical evidence with which we can work to make UFOs a real science.”

In Boebinger’s universe, more than half a century’s worth of radar returns on UFOs can all be discarded as weather balloons, hoaxes, Venus, or whatever. Which gives him a convenient pass to ignore current events.

Not only was Boebinger unfamiliar with the Mutual UFO Network’s lengthy analysis of the January 8 Stephenville Incident, in which voluminous civilian radar records corroborated eyewitness accounts on the ground, he didn’t even want to hear about it. Boebinger cut short De Void’s attempts to summarize the findings, which included hot pursuit by jet fighters.

“I’m really not interested in getting into debates over specifics like these. I’m a busy man,” he says, “and I don’t have time to figure out whether one palm reader is better than another. I don’t see it as my job to debunk every single claim.”

Smearing an entire category of data as pseudoscience without addressing the details evokes the insecurities of the 17th-century authorities who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope. In fact, this sort of breezy arrogance can produce the unintended consequences of driving rational people into the rocky shoals of fringe sirens who at least have a conversational command of the evidence.

Before his life was cut short at age 53 in 2000, Terence McKenna was anathema to many UFO researchers because of his assertions that the most reliable way to communicate with extraterrestrials was via hallucinogenic drugs. Spookysmart and lyrically gifted, McKenna has since attained immortality on the Internet and his words are frequently sampled at rave marathons. As the 21st century unfolds, scientists like Boebinger continue to edify McKenna’s arguments.

UFOs, McKenna said, “empower us to see science for the shell game that it is, to see the past 400 years of western culture for the pathetic narrowing of the spectrum of allowable phenomena that it is, to the point where people think that if you can’t bang on something with a hammer, it isn’t real.” He wondered “how much we would understand about electricity if our method of studying it was to stand on top of high hills and wait to be struck by lightning. It seems to me that’s the position we’re in vis-à-vis UFOs.”

As modern science continues to shirk its obligations of true skepticism, that vacuum is being filled with aggressive insults to its conventions. And as Terence McKenna proves – with apologies to Geico’s Neanderthals – it’s so easy even a dead man can do it.

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