Thursday, March 19, 2015

Chasing Footnotes Again

When not bogged down in the Roswell Slides controversy, I sometimes engage in what I think of as chasing footnotes. One of the purposes of a footnote is to tell where the information originated so that the reader or others interested can review that source for reliability, competence, and any additional information that might be relevant. Too often I find that the footnotes do none of that leaving us with questions about how good that information might be.

Although I don’t mean to pick on Dick Hall and his The UFO Evidence, I find that sometimes the footnotes just don’t add much to our knowledge. On page 121 of that book, Hall wrote:

Venezuela also has a history of sightings by airline pilots and other experienced observers. An orange light closed in on a Venezuelan airliner at 6:45 p.m., January 2, 1955, in the vicinity of Punta San Juan. When the UFO was at close range, the bright light from it shone into the cockpit of the plane intermittently.

According to the footnote, the information came from The APRO Bulletin of April 1955. That entry said:

An orange-tinted light closed in an [sic] a commercial airliner in the vicinity of Punta San Juan, Venezuela at 6:45 p.m. January 2, 1955. The pilot, co-pilot and two other crew members watched the thing until, at close range, it focused some kind of bright light into the cockpit of the plane, at intervals of a few seconds.

And that is all the information that is available. There are no crew member names associated with this, no airline name, it assumes there is a “thing” close by and there is nothing to help us find out what might have happened. There is no way to verify the information, which makes the footnote provided by Dick Hall worthless. It doesn’t provide additional information other than a source that contains the same information and nothing more.

In today’s world, if I was writing the book which was supposed to provide solid evidence for UFOs, I would leave this case out. The only reason it is interesting is the alleged flight crew involvement. If it wasn’t for that, this would case would be ignored. In fact, had it been reported to Project Blue Book (which it wasn’t according to the Blue Book Master Index), it would have been stamped “Insufficient Data for a Scientific Analysis,” and rightly so.

There is another issue with footnotes as well. Richard Dolan, in his UFOs and the National Security State, reported on what Bill Brazel had said about finding some small pieces of debris on the infamous ranch in the Roswell region (page 21). The footnote credits Don Berliner and Stan Friedman for the data (page 84 – 85) of their book, Crash at Corona. They provide some long quotes attributed to Bill Brazel, but there is nothing to tell when or where the interview was conducted. The implication is that they had conducted the interview themselves at some point probably in Brazel’s home, but that isn’t the case.

The interview in question was conducted on February 19, 1989 in Carrizozo, New Mexico by Don Schmitt and me. I created the transcript of the taped interview, and that was shared with Berliner and Friedman. Dolan’s footnote takes you to one source but not the other, original source. You might disagree with the information provided by Brazel, but the tape of that interview does exist so it can be proven that the information as outlined in UFO Crash at Roswell by Schmitt and me contains an accurate transcription of the interview. This gets you to the original source for the quotes which are the point of this exercise.

The problem with the Berliner and Friedman version is that they have altered the interview so that it tends to corroborate the tales told by Gerald Anderson. They added, in brackets, the word “black” in front of the word “sergeant” who had come to interview Brazel much later. There is nothing in the transcript or in the later interviews with Brazel to suggest that any of the soldiers who visited him were of African-American ancestry. In fact, he flat out denied it and that he never said it.

In fact that point came up several years later when another researcher asked me about the discrepancy. Although it had been suggested that Brazel used another derogatory word for the sergeant, that wasn’t true. The racial makeup of that team never came up because they were all Caucasian.

These two footnotes illustrate the importance of proper collection of data and providing that data to the reader… oh hell, I know, I could point a finger at myself for that. I have used footnotes that referenced other work that failed to take it to its ultimate conclusion. Sometimes that just isn’t possible, but in other cases, especially in the world of the Internet, it is extremely simple.


Bob Koford said...

Good advice Kevin.

I figure there are two different reasons to footnote ones work:
1 To fool the reader into thinking you actually did some research
2 To assist the reader in going deeper into the subject

Hopefully the footnotes I provide in my upcoming report will fall into number 2.

Robtzu said...

I love it when I peek at the footnotes and it's just Ibid over and over again.

cda said...

I think many people simply confuse footnotes with references. A reference is simply that - a referral to another source. A footnote should, if it is a genuine footnote, say a bit more about the said topic but not too much. A footnote can also be placed in parentheses in the main text, but some readers may dislike too many parentheses.

D.J. Mahar said...

Great article KR. One time I sent myself on a wild goose chase pursuing a reference which turned out to have cited the wrong journal title altogether.
Thank goodness for a helpful librarian who pointed me to another journal that had a similar title, which actually contained the article I was seeking. Accuracy in citing sources is very important, to say the least.