Thursday, April 19, 2007

More Roswell Debris?

Ten years ago, on the anniversary of the Roswell UFO crash, the talk of the festival (when not consumed with the nonsense spouted by Lieutenant Colonel Philip Corso) was a piece of metallic debris that had been subjected to chemical analysis and testing by a credentialed scientist. This debris, if it could be linked to the Roswell UFO crash, and we were assured that the chain of custody existed to do that, and if the analysis was accurate, would provide proof that the UFO was an extraterrestrial craft. There was no longer any reason for speculation.

Dr. Russell VernonClark (yes, the last name is spelled that way, run together) was hustled into Roswell for his morning presentation to a packed auditorium that was also well attended by members of the media. If what had been analyzed was an actual artifact from another world, as VernonClark said, then this was big news. Certainly the biggest in the last thousand years.

VernonClark, in his presentation said, "The atomic mass so differs from that found in known earthly elements, that it is impossible for it to be from Earth."

That would mean, of course, that it was of extraterrestrial manufacture. It would mean that an alien race had visited Earth and the evidence they left behind was now in the hands of investigators and scientists. VernonClark did not equivocate. He was definite about the meaning of his findings.

VernonClark was talking of the isotopic ratios that were not found naturally in Earth-based elements. It meant that the isotopes had to come from an outside source and that meant someone had brought them here from another world or so he concluded.

VernonClark, escorted into Roswell by UFO researcher Derrell Simms, having made his announcement, then fled from the auditorium. Some say they ran out the back door to a waiting car to get them out of town. At that point VernonClark was no longer available for questions.

Paul Davids, the executive producer of the ShowTime original movie, Roswell, took the stage to provide additional information about the artifact, but did not fulfill the promise to produce the chain of custody. Although the artifact supposedly was offered by a relative of the man who picked it up on the crash site, no name was given, no affidavit presented, and no way of checking the accuracy of the information about the discovery of the artifact was provided. In other words, we were required to take the information on faith and wait for further announcements.

There was no back up for the testing presented, although it was alleged that such additional and independent testing had taken place. Davids said it had been done but wouldn’t say by whom. He said, "This is so controversial that men’s reputations have been ruined over their seriously making conclusions."

A nice way to dodge the question and not provide the confirming evidence. Unfortunately, there is also a ring of truth in it. Credentialed people who have come out supporting an aspect of the UFO phenomena have found themselves on the short side of the debate. Dr. James MacDonald and his trouble springs to mind here.

Paul said that he wouldn’t explain who had the artifact, nor would he say how he could be sure that the artifact came from Roswell, though such a promise had been made. All he would say was that someone had given the artifact to Simms.

So it boils down to the testing of the artifact and what could be learned from it. Even if the debris hadn’t come from the Roswell UFO crash, the artifact itself seemed to scream extraterrestrial manufacture and that would still be big news even if it couldn’t be linked to the Roswell case. VernonClark had made it clear that his research had shown the artifact to be alien.

Other scientists, when contacted by reporters, said that the isotopic ratios described by VernonClark, while not natural, could easily be produced in an university laboratory. In other words, the artifact didn’t necessarily have to be alien.

In an article published by the Albuquerque Journal, reporter John Fleck quoted a number of scientists who disagreed with VernonClark’s conclusions. One of them, a University of Kentucky chemist Rob Toreki said, "You can do it here."

He meant that you could manipulate the isotopic ratios. And VernonClark eventually said the same thing. In a telephone conversation with me, he said it could be done so that the isotopic ratios, while not naturally occurring, could be produced in a lab. He added that it was an expensive proposition.

Other scientists suggested there were huge mistakes made in the original testing. They pointed out that one of the elements, Germanium-75, a radioactive isotope has a very short half-life and would decay into other elements in less than a day.

So where are we on this? First, there is no chain of custody that leads us to the Roswell crash site and therefore there is no provenance. We can’t say with any degree of certainty that the material came from the Roswell crash and without that we are left with an interesting anomaly that might not be connected to the Roswell case at all.

Second, the analysis seems to be flawed. The suggestion that the isotopic ratios are not naturally occurring leads to the conclusion that this artifact was manufactured but not to the extraterrestrial. Chemists and scientists say that all this can be created in a lab, and while a few suggest it would be expensive and difficult, others say that it is not. More importantly we then have VernonClark who tells us that he might have overstated the case and the it was possible to construct the material on Earth, effectively wiping away the extraterrestrial and extraordinary in this case.

And finally, and possibly most importantly, there is no follow up on this. I was in the auditorium when VernonClark made his announcement and I saw the reporters reactions. They were very interested, especially when they were promised the information to confirm the chain of custody and the results of additional, independent testing.

But that didn’t happen and I saw their reaction to that as well. If you are going to make an extraordinary claim, then you had better be prepared to provide the confirming evidence. And when you withhold that and other scientists do not agree with the conclusions you put forward, then you have lost your audience. Yes, they were very interested until they could not corroborate anything about the artifact.

The real proof here is that there has been no follow up. If this artifact was as extraordinary as claimed, then some of those dozens of reporters would have been following up on it. Even if the chain of custody couldn’t establish it as a piece of material from the Roswell UFO crash, it would still be an alien artifact and that would be a worldwide sensation.

When that last conclusion faded, the reporters lost interest. In the ten years to follow, there has been nothing more about this. No reports from other labs. No reports from the person who picked up the debris or the family or friends to establish the chain of custody and no new reports about the alien properties of the metal. It has become nothing more than an interesting footnote to the Roswell case and that’s it.

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