Sunday, March 02, 2014

"Is Commercial Television Even Capable of Covering the Science of UFOs?"

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Are We Alone?

'To dream ... the impossible dreeeeam'

By Billy Cox
De Void

     Two years ago, as part of a daytime show whose ratings were so dreadful it was canned in 2013, Anderson Cooper’s “Do You Believe in Space Aliens?” discussion featured a MUFON investigator who had researched a 2008 UFO incident outside Philadelphia. A witness had observed the object showering nearby trees with glittering material. Two labs reported the recovered samples contained boron and magnesium at levels that far exceeded those in the local environment. Additionally, the targeted leaves had generated a heat-resistent “sunscreen” called anthocyanin, which protects cells from high-light exposure by absorbing UV rays. Prosaic explanations? Probably. But instead of hashing it out with botanists, AC lurched away and careened into guests claiming to be star children.

Years earlier, the Discovery Channel recruited M.I.T. students to duplicate crop circles and some of their signature characteristics — geometric patterns, heat-induced expulsion cavities in grain-stem nodes, and linear-arrayed, 20-micron wide iron spheres in soil samples. The experiments were laughably cumbersome — pyrotechnics lighting up the night sky, microwave guns and a “meteorite cannon,” not exactly the most stealthy scenario in a phenomenon noted for stealth. The exercise wound up producing a mild echo of the real McCoy, but it failed to address yet another emerging feature unique to some crop circles — magnesium carbonate, a fire retardant with an astonishing purity of 99.9999 percent. That’s laboratory-grade stuff. And that's interesting.

Likewise, Science Channel’s “Are We Alone?” Week beginning Sunday devotes one segment to a 1971 UFO encounter that left behind quantifiably freaky soil samples. But it devotes maybe two sentences to the analysis before reverting to more predictable fare.

“As an investigator, I do appreciate eyewitness testimony,” says veteran UFO researcher Mark Rodeghier, “but that only takes you so far. Anecdotal reports are not good enough to figure out the mechanisms behind UFOs. Anything we can study is always valuable, and we don’t have great sightings that are evidential like trace cases. That’s why it would’ve been a lot better to focus on analysis more than eyewitnesses.”

De Void hates to keep pounding this dead hoss, but “we” ask the same question again and again: Is commercial television even capable of covering the science of UFOs? Rodeghier, the scientific director of the Center for UFO Studies, was a consultant to Science Channel’s “Are We Alone?” series, as was Robert Powell, MUFON’s research director. Like Rodeghier, Powell delivers on-camera perspectives on selected cases. Like Rodeghier, Powell was glad Science Channel took consultant recomendations on which cases to profile. And, like Rodeghier, Powell hates to see the science diluted through time-wasting re-enactments. “I actually think you can make this into a detective show that would have broad public appeal without making it so cheesy,” he says.

Unfortunately, maybe the only way to hold the cheese is via public television.

“Frankly, I don’t care about witnesses watching UFOs, with their mouths hanging open,” Rodeghier says. “I think about how NOVA handles scientific projects; I’d use fabulous CGI technology to recreate an event from triangulation, from an engineering perspective, where you can put science on the screen graphically.

“The key to moving forward is getting new data. Historical studies are very worthy but none of that is going to dent the position of the anti-UFO crowd. We have the instrumentation now where we can measure magnetic fields, study the light spectrum of UFOs and detect any radiation, for gamma rays or whatever. But we have to go out and get it.”

That sounds expensive. Who wants to pony up without a guaranteed return on investment? Let’s see. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has dumped $30 million into SETI radiotelescopes and has nothing but goose eggs to show for it so far. Like truth, the money is Out There. Maybe if television did a better job of presenting UFO data that’s already in the bank, some of those rainmakers could be persuaded to drop a couple of hundred thousand here and there.

“Maybe the bubbas of the world are satisfied with the programming as it is,” says Rodeghier. “But there are millions of other people here and around the world who are interested in serious coverage.”

And they deserve better than they're getting.

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