Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Morristown UFO Hoax

Okay, I don’t get it. What were these clowns trying to prove anyway? They seem outraged that in this day of science, people would believe that "an elderly obese man deliver[s] presents to every child on Earth in one evening?" They don’t seem to understand that those who believe this are children under the age of seven whose "critical thinking" skills have not developed and who still engage in what is know as magical thinking. This seems to be the level of thought of Chris Russo and Joe Rudy, the two geniuses who came up with the idea to test the world of UFOs.

And I’m not sure what their point was in bringing in Santa Claus. Are there any adults... any children over the age of eight... who believe in Santa as reality.

They wrote, "...60 years later, despite the fact that there still is no evidence, the UFO myth is as strong today as ever, fed by cable channel shows that prop up UFO ‘experts’ who claim to be authorities on the subject that’s on a par with astrology and palm reading. These charlatans make a career by perpetuating the E.T. fairy tale and exploiting credulous people who want nothing more than a good conspiracy theory to believe in."

Their mission? According to them, "It is in this context that we set out on a mission to help people think rationally and question the credibility of so-called UFO ‘professionals. We brainstormed the idea of producing a spaceship hoax to fool people, bring the charlatans out of the woodwork to drum up the controversy, and then expose it was nothing more than a prank to show everyone how unreliable eyewitness accounts are, along with the investigators of UFOs."

So, how well did they do? The first persons to be interviewed after the first "light" show were the Hurley family who had taken video tape. The father, Paul, worked at the airport and had a pilot’s license and said he had about five hundred hours of flight time. He was not a commercial pilot, meaning an airline pilot, nor was he a military pilot. He said the lights were not aircraft and he was right about that.

He said that there were "five red lights," in what he said was a "strange pattern." I’m not sure why he said it was a strange pattern, but that really doesn’t mean much. He would later say, under questioning by others, that he had seen no smoke and that one light seemed to drop out (burn out?) and two others seemed to take off to south at a fast pace.

The second witness was presented by the news media by way of his 911 call to the police, said, "I walked out of my house, it’s like these parachutes with these, uh, or balloons with these five lights flying over right now."

Seems to me that he hit the nail right on the head. No media types there to attempt to create the mystery for their broadcast. Just a witness seeing the five lights in the sky and suggesting balloons.

The local police, who offered a statement to KDTV said that the best guess was a prank with road side flares attached to helium balloons. Seems to me that the police nailed that as well.

On the compilation of video clips made by the perpetrators to prove their point, the second was of a breathless reporter who was all set to believe in aliens and flying saucers and who seemed to know very little about it. Unfortunately, she worked for a FOX affiliate so the interviews she conducted were used by FOX News on several of their reports. It was the reporter, in talking to witnesses, who often introduced the idea of UFOs, meaning alien craft rather than lights in the night sky.

But what she didn’t seem to get, nor did either Russo or Rudy, was that the descriptions offered by the witnesses were often accurate. It was the interpretation put on those observations by the media and others that took it from what we’d call nocturnal lights into the realm of alien spacecraft.

She talked to a witness who said the lights didn’t seem to be moving at all and another who suggested they had a purpose but added they could have been anything... and then said, "A UFO? Why not?" suggesting here that it was the reporter who asked if it was a UFO and not a spontaneous utterance by the witness.

That reporter then interviewed a little girl with a sucker (and yes, I wanted to use that term here) who said, "Aliens?" in obvious response to a question. But it was never established if she had seen anything or if she just happened to be standing around with her lollipop.

There was another witness who said that he thought the lights had streaked down toward New York but it’s not clear if this was the result of the balloons and flares drifting in that direction and giving the impression they were getting lower, or if he actually thought he saw something like that. He did say that one winked out. He said, "It just sort of went blip and disappeared," which, of course, is the description of a flare burning out.

Now we get two witnesses who tell us the best stuff. The first said the lights "zipped over the car." He said, "They literally flew over the car." When it was suggested these were flares he said, "No way. They zipped over our car."

He also said he wanted "...someone tell me what it was because I cannot tell you what it was."

His friend, in the car with him, as they had gone out to find something to eat, said, "They seemed to ascend and descend almost in a sequence – they’d rise up and dip down."

Here is the first time that we’re treated to a description of something other than lights drifting in the sky. We have them zipping over a car which would suggest that the lights were close. The witnesses were identified as Chris Russo and Joe Rudy... you figure it out.

In one of the news reports, they quote from a police report that identifies the objects, the lights, as flares and helium balloons. Once again, that explanation is right on target.

FOX News goes back to the Hurley’s and interviews them again. They repeat that they saw five lights slowly drifting across the sky. They said they were not aircraft, which we know is true. Paul Hurley did said that the lights drifted out of sight but also said, "a couple of them appeared to take off," and that one of them "appeared to drop out of the sky." He did qualify his statements by suggesting from his perspective, and at night, it was hard to tell but that "One of the two... seemed to take off to the south at a very fast pace." That, of course, was incorrect.

One of those interviewed said that if it was a hoax, it was a real good one. He also said that it seemed as if the lights were communicating, whatever that means.

Another of the 911 calls was also reported with the caller demanding to know what the red dots in the sky were. The 911 operator said that he was inside so he didn’t know.

Now were treated to Russo and Rudy, finding an ad in the local newspaper in which a Ford dealer is exploiting the UFOs for some kind of sale. These two head to the dealership and apparently are unable to convince any of the people there to go on camera, but they leave it running, pointing at the ground (or floor) and record the thoughts of the sales force. BTW, is this sort of recording legal in New Jersey? Remember, they just left the camera running, recording the "witnesses" after they were not allowed to film.

So, we have a show room filled with aliens, an ad campaign designed to take advantage of the publicity generated by the news media who believes that UFO means alien spacecraft, and the two guys who launched the balloons and flares. Those unidentified witnesses in the show room seemed to believe that the lights couldn’t be flares because they were in a tight pattern, whatever that means and that flares would fall into someone’s backyard. They believed the lights were moving against the wind, but we don’t really know this but we do know that the winds aloft are often radically different than the winds at ground level so such a comment, without benefit of the proper weather data means very little. And, the tired old, we know they weren’t flares because we didn’t see any smoke, nonsense. Well, they were flares and you didn’t see any smoke.

The perpetrators of this hoax seem to believe they proved their point because the news media talked of UFOs and some of them made the leap from UFOs to alien spacecraft, but the witnesses were reluctant to do that. Instead, they were fairly accurate with their descriptions of what they had seen. Cindy Hurley talked of lights in the sky and even explained the twinkling on the video tape as the filming of the lights through the trees so it looked as if the lights were twinkling. Her descriptions were accurate and correct.

Of the UFO "experts" consulted, Peter Davenport from his reporting center in Washington, after watching the tape said that the lights were definitely not aircraft, and, of course, he was correct. On the tape he offered no speculation of what the lights might be.

Another was Marc D’Antonio who was alerted in January by MUFON’s Richard Lang, who works with one of MUFON’s STAR teams. These teams are set up to respond quickly to a UFO sighting that might provide some form of physical evidence. D’Antonio reported that he noticed, immediately, that the lights seemed to operate independently and that there was a "flame-based light source... By flame-based I mean a flying light created by a Chinese Lantern or a flare."

D’Antonio also said, "Whether this event was due to Chinese Lanterns, as I thought they could be, or flares, didn’t matter actually... It was clear to me after viewing the video that this is not a UFO, but was a man-made hoax."

And, of course, he was dead bang on. It was flares and it was a man-made hoax.

I will note that the MUFON STAR team did exactly what it was designed to do. Got into the area, did their science by looking at all the data and in the end, came to the correct conclusion. The media didn’t have much to say about this.

Bill Birnes, of UFO Hunters and UFO magazine talked to the witnesses and got some of the same responses. He didn’t believe that these lights were flares, as identified almost immediately by the police, and, offered that his experts and their experimentation had proven the flare explanation as implausible. He was, of course, wrong on that.

So, what have we learned? Well, the news media loves a mystery and even with the police telling them exactly what was seen, suggested something else. But, they did mention the flare explanation in each of their stories.

The majority of the witnesses were accurate in reporting what they saw and one of them who called 911 even said that it was balloons. The only ones to really take this and run with it were Russo and Rudy who said that their car had been buzzed... and let’s not forget the people in the show room who had some interesting observations but in the end, basically reported the lights accurately and misinterpreted what they saw.

It also seems to me that when those conducting the "experiment" interject themselves into the experiment, they have tainted it, especially when they add information that is inaccurate and untrue. When they go into the car dealer to interview the employees, their bias is apparent and they believe they accomplished their mission with their surreptitiously recorded conversations, but we are not treated to everything said so we don’t know what those conducting the experiment might have said to get the quotes they used. We’ve all seen comments taken out of context and reporters badgering witnesses to get them to say what they want to hear. While we don’t know that the bias of the two men contaminated these interviews, we don’t know otherwise either and given their attitudes, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they lead the conversations right where they wanted them to go.

In the end, I don’t think this experiment proved anything about the gullibility of the witnesses... or even the news media. The witnesses explained what they had seen, which was an accurate representation and the news media, for the most part, didn’t go too far overboard. It was reported early on and often that one solution was flares on a balloon and flares on a balloon is the final answer.

As for the critical thinking skills of the two men, I think they need to revisit that. The experiment was flawed, their interjection of themselves into the middle of it contaminated the results, and they proved nothing other than people will speculate about what they saw. But I didn’t see anyone claiming it was an alien spacecraft, visitors from another world, that the things landed or abducted anyone, or that anything approached the ground... except for the two guys who created the hoax and several members of the news media who ridiculed the idea of aliens or induced people to say something about aliens.

In the end, the solution was suggested early and if Bill Birnes got it wrong, that is no reason to smear the rest of us. We all make mistakes, and if Birnes interviewed these two guys, or more likely, reviewed what they had told the media in what can only be called a bald-faced lie, then anything they said about him is irrelevant. After all, if the objects buzzed a car, then they probably weren’t flares and balloons.

I just don’t see how they made any sort of statement about the gullibility of people. There were lights in the sky, they did move along and they did, eventually, disappear. No one talked of a spacecraft, except in the context that these lights were UFOs. So what did they prove? Sometimes the media just doesn’t get it as they attempt to make a story interesting and mysterious and often the witnesses are accurate in their observations. Maybe they are wrong in their interpretation, but they get the basic facts right. And two "twenty-somethings" who launched the balloons? They need to learn how to perform a proper experiment and how not to jump to the wrong conclusions.

Nice going, guys.


Michael Malone said...

They did so many things "wrong" in this "experiment" that it wasn't funny. But the one thing they did right is pull out UFO Hunters and have them throw around their "science" which is often just as flawed. I often end up screaming at the TV when that show is on, because they either don't do basic science correctly or miss obvious test that could and should be performed. Or worse, edit those tests out because they don't make their case.

I heard the dumnastic duo got charged with a minor crime for their stunt. Good.

LesleyinNM said...

Actually from what I know, the clip they keep showing of Birnes and saying it is about the Morristown UFO, is actually a clip about the Phoenix Lights or some other case. Bill will be explaining that as soon as he gets a break from filming.

Frank Warren said...

Good Day Kevin,

Here! Here!

In response to the Newsweek piece I wrote the following:

Couldn't let this one go without making some observations:

First you wrote, "They cooked up a spaceship hoax 'to show everyone how unreliable eyewitness accounts are, along with investigators of UFOs.'"

I would argue just the opposite; although I don't condone the experiment, i.e., illegally launching incendiaries into the atmosphere, contrary to the perp's conclusions, in my view "it reinforces how accurate eyewitness declarations can be" in regards to seeing aerial phenomenon.

I think that the perps' can rightfully criticize the ignorance of a few, whom assigned an "extraterrestrial presence" to "lights in the sky"; however, this is a matter of an evaluation of what they witnessed, not the "description" of what they witnessed, which if one goes over the eyewitness accounts is fairly accurate of what occurred.

Finally, using an "entertainment show" and their respective opinions as a benchmark on an alleged UFO event isn't prudent in my view, and adds no weight to their argument. Most sober investigators would make no conclusions without further evidence, and in my view, that same group would have presumed that they were flares to begin with, as this type of hoaxing is not uncommon.

What stands out in my mind is why these guys haven't been arrested, since obviously launching uncontrolled incendiaries is against the law, and they have incriminated themselves, as well as provided evidence of their crimes publicly. One can only wonder if something had gone wrong and someone's house caught on fire, or even worse . . ..

In a colloquy with a Paracast forum member, I continued:

. . . however, "most" of the descriptions will be reflective of what they actually saw. Moreover, no sober Ufologist worth their salt would have assigned a label to this without further investigation, and most would have called a "spade a spade" early on.

There are many examples of this; the flare hoax has been done on a number of occasions, one of the most notable was in Arizona last year; if you go back and listen to the 911 calls, although some people's "interpretation" was eerie, strange etc., what they described were red lights moving slowly across the sky (an accurate description of flares at a distance attached to balloons); some may have and in fact did comment on the "geometric pattern" which of course occurs randomly, but might seem odd to the observer at first, not knowing what they are witnessing.

Another example is the Chinese lanterns over in the UK (which are still occurring); the bulk of the witnesses accurately describe "orange lights floating across the sky," regardless of what they think the origin of the objects were e.g., an inter-dimensional ship from planet Zatar, or Scotty coming home.

Yet another example, to which I have dozens of, (if not more) are old newspaper reports of various phenomenon, e.g., meteors, bollides, comets, the northern lights and or the aftermath of major volcanic eruptions; a good majority of witnesses attributed some of the events as "religious experiences," or "acts of god," or some sort of "black magic"; however, if one ignores the exegesis, the "actual descriptions" are, for the most part accurate as to what they saw--this is the historical pattern.


orion said...

all you ufo buffs have to just suck it up and admit you were fooled this time. There has never been any evidence of aliens visiting us. If you're not aware, science is based on evidence, which means you losers believe in what we call pseudoscience.These guys pulled a fast one on you and you're pissed. I would too......if I believed in fairy tales and someone ruined my parade. I don't these two dudes, but I love what they did, and I can assure you they're smarter than anyone on this site.....including myself.

Lance said...

They clearly show Birnes looking at the video and saying how he can see a structure--he makes a fool out of himself. Kevin gives him more or less a pass here which is to be expected but is undeserved.

LesleyinNM said...

Lance -- I refer you to http://www.ufomag.com/front/faq.html
which the Morristown section will be updated as soon as the network gives the go ahead, but Jeremy has pretty much figured out what went on or at least to my knowledge.

KRandle said...

Lance -

I would have been more harsh on Birnes except...

The two witnesses who talked about the lights zipping over the car were the two who launched the balloons. Chris Russo said that he wished someone would tell him what they were because he didn't know... well he did.

On their video rehash, they cut together footage of the Phoenix lisghts with those from NJ but don't really mention that. I believe that one of the police officers talking about the flares was in Airzona based on the background.

With their drawing on other sightings, some of what they wanted to prove makes it difficult to determine who said what about the Morristown lights.

Had these two clowns not injected themselves into the sighting as witnesses, giving statements that, if true, ruled out flares, then Birnes would be clearly out of line.

That said, I will note that at one point, looking at the Morristown video, Birnes said that the two balloons and flares seemed to have a rigid structure and it could be construed that he was leading the witness there.

Until I see the whole UFO Hunters episode, which I haven't, I will withhold a complete judgement, bt I will note that Birnes is wrong when he made some of the statements in the video clip.

I will also note that the voice over said that UFO Hunters had proven the flare explanation to be implausible... but I don't know if this refers to the Morristown lights or Phoenix... though the impression that he was referring to Morris town.

I will also point out that the witness descriptions are fairly accurate... with the exception of what Russo and Rudy say. If those statements are taken at face value, then an incoreection conclusion would be drawn. They screwed the pooch on that one.

Sarge said...

Is there anywhere left to make reports or share sightings and the like? Anywhere that doesn't pillory the reporter?
This appeared on another site not related to UFO's, and I hesitate to refer them to any site that I know of.


Lance said...

Hi Kevin,

I agree with most everything you say. Even as a hard core skeptic, I think these guys did a lot wrong. Acting as witnesses themselves is skeptical malpractice.

I do think that the real witnesses said some things that were outside the realm of what was actually in the sky:

1. “Very strange pattern” (it was 3 lights and 2 lights)
2. “It took off—it was very strange”
3. “had a purpose:”
4. “Streaked down towards New York”
5. “the final one just went blip—disappeared”
6. “one appeared to take off”
7. “took off at a very fast pace”
8. “didn’t seem to be moving at all”
9. “had to be 4 5 6 times the size of a jet plane”
10. “almost as if they were communicating with each other”

But now I see that the lousy editors of UFO Hunters may have confabulated statements from other cases.

As a long time film editor, I can tell you that the show is horribly put together, very amateurish . Combine that with the poor research and unwarranted leaps of logic of the "hunters" and you get a show that is a guaranteed laugh riot.


Ed Gorman said...
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KRandle said...

Lance -

Seems like you and me are on the same page but looking at different paragraphs. I think we agree that the witnesses were fairly accurate in what they described in the sky, though some of the interpretation seems off. Keeping with your numbering system, I would say:

1. “Very strange pattern” (it was 3 lights and 2 lights) is subjective opinion and doesn’t alter the fact that he was describing accurately what he saw... and no, I don’t know what he meant by a strange pattern.

2. “It took off – it was very strange” might be a perception problem as a flare burned out giving the impression that it took off, but on the whole, “it took off” is not very accurate and “it was very strange” is an interpretation.

3. “had a purpose” is sort of a new age interpretation and might have been a comment induced by the reporter who was over the top in her comments and commentary.

4. “Streaked down toward New York” might have been a perception based on the angle from which the witness saw the lights but is not an accurate description of the movement. We need additional information from the witness to decide what he meant here.

5. “the final one just went blip – disappeared” is an accurate description of the flare burning out. It would have just disappeared.

6. “one appeared to take off” clearly is not an accurate description.

7. “took off very fast” is not an accurate description.

8. “didn’t seem to be moving at all” might have more to do with the viewing angle of the witness and could be accurate given the witness perception at the time he saw the flares.

9. “had to be 4 5 6 times the size of a jet plane” of course is not an accurate interpretation of the lights based on the faulty assumption that all the lights were on a single object. It is a perception problem and an interpretation problem.

10. “almost as if they were communicating with each other” is a statement I thought had a new age feel to it but again is an interpretation of the event rather than a description.

If we take the interpretations out and look at the basic descriptions, then what the witnesses said was accurate... and I’m not sure what might have been induced by the reporters attempting to get a good sound bite for TV. I know that I have had to be very careful answering reporters’ questions because sometimes I know what they want me to say but it doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation. Those dealing with TV reporters for the first time can be lead to a good sound bite by a reporter.

All in all, I think we agree that the “experiment” failed to produce what the two clowns wanted because they injected themselves into it and provided inaccurate information about what they had “seen.”

Had they just launched the balloons and stood back to watch, that might have told us something... except the police identified what it was immediately and the MUFON investigation results, circulated very early on, suggested either Chinese lanterns or flares, which of course, was the correct answer and proved that not everyone in the UFO field saw an alien spaceship in the lights.

Anonymous said...
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mjr256 said...

I don't see how injecting themselves into the story as witnesses compromises the experiment at all. Vice cops pass themselves off as prostitutes. The whole point seems to be to get people to think more critically before simply trusting eyewitness accounts and just trusting people's word in general. There were real "eyewitnesses" too, but whose to say in other reported UFO sightings, there aren't fake witnesses exaggerating the claims and telling investigators to rule out the very tools they used to pull off the hoax?

If anything, I think it brings home the point even further: Don't just take people's word for things. Demand real empirical evidence for extraordinary claims. People can be wrong and people can be lying. And to enter an investigation assuming that everyone you talk to must be honest and telling you the truth is foolish.

lady said...
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qwadro_fx said...
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amhash said...
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