Wednesday, June 08, 2011

I Understand the Skeptics

I have always, in the past, rejected the idea of producing a top ten list of UFO sightings. I thought of it as a trap by the skeptics and the debunkers. They would take the list, find implausible solutions and then report that they had identified the UFOs as something mundane. They wouldn’t care if the solutions made sense or not. They would report that they had solved the cases and UFOs were nothing more than misidentifications and hoaxes.

There is good reason to believe that. Philip Klass was infamous for finding solutions that didn’t fit the facts. In Socorro he suggested it was a conspiracy between the then Socorro mayor and police officer Lonnie Zamora. Klass believed that the mayor had wanted to find an excuse to develop some land he owned and believed a UFO landing there would create a tourist attraction. We have since learned that the mayor didn’t own the land in 1964 and no real tourist attraction was ever developed.

Donald Menzel offered multiple explanations for the photographs taken over Lubbock, Texas in September 1951 but finally settled on "Hoax!" There is no evidence that it was a hoax and when I talked to the photographer, Carl Hart, some forty or so years later, he told me that he still doesn’t know what he photographed.

But there is no evidence of a hoax, unless, of course, you have the Menzel mindset. That is, there is no alien visitation and anything that suggests otherwise is either a misidentification or a hoax.

I now find myself in the same dilemma as the skeptics when it comes to the UFO subset of cattle mutilations. I entered the investigation in the early 1970s when Jim Lorenzen, then the International Director of APRO, asked me (and several others in several other locations) to look into some mutilations in Minnesota. After a week or so there, I had the answers to the questions about those specific mutilations and the extraterrestrial had nothing to do with it.

And in the years since, I have investigated other mutilations and I have kept up with the current literature on mutilations. I have read from both sides of the controversy including the two works that I think of as most important: the Rommel investigation done for the state of New Mexico, and Mute Evidence. I believe that anyone interested in cattle mutilations should have read both works but that isn’t the case. When I asked a proponent of mutilations about it quite recently, she said that she was unfamiliar with them.

Here’s the deal. Every case of mutilation that I have investigated has a rational, terrestrial explanation. Every one.

The answers ranged from scavengers to humans who thought it funny to carve up an already dead animal, but nothing with an extraterrestrial influence. There were suggestions, but those were based on speculation and the observations of those who didn’t understand the process of decay.

Periodically, I would look again at cattle mutilations, believing that as time passed, new information would surface. Instead it was the same sorts of arguments that hadn’t seemed all that persuasive in the 1970s. Ranchers who said they had never seen anything like it in the past. A surgical precision that couldn’t be duplicated by vets or doctors. Laser instruments that suggested a technology that was far beyond ours.

But, in the end, no one could explain why the aliens were doing it. What was the motivation? Why not just take the whole animal and not leave the remains?

As I have mentioned in the past, some one over at UFO UpDates asked for a list of reading material about mutilations and, of course, all those saying that UFOs were responsible were noted. I merely suggested that they also look at Mute Evidence and Rommel’s investigation for the state of New Mexico. I wasn’t advocating a position, merely providing, what I thought to be some useful references.

The response was typical. I was asked how I would explain various anomalies that some investigators had reported. I was asked how I would explain a lack of copper in the blood of the mutilated animal. I was asked how I would explain the lack of scavenger tracks on the ground near the dead and mutilated animal.

Well, the answers were there. Today, I would point to Fact or Fiction: The Paranormal Files on the SyFy Channel. They showed a picture of a dead and mutilated cow and said that there had been no animal tracks around it. But they didn’t mention the bird droppings that were quite obvious on the animal, even in the picture. There are many bird scavengers and no one seems to think of them.

They also tried to duplicate, using various instruments, the precision of the cuts on a mutilated animal and failed to do it. But they did run an experiment that suggested that some of these precise cuts were the result of the natural decomposition of the animal including some seemingly straight line incisions.

Their conclusion, which I’m sure annoyed not only some of the local ranchers but those who studied cattle mutilations, was that there was no evidence to suggest anything alien was involved.

Here’s the real point. Every time I believe that we had ended the conversation, someone says, "Yes, those are solved but what about this new and different case. How do you explain...?"

Usually it is just more of the same. What is anomalous to one is explained in the mundane to another. The solution, I suppose, would be a list of the ten most mysterious cattle mutilations and see if we could find solutions.

There are some truly mysterious cases and I learned of one in England not all that long ago. While mysterious, the solution, I believe, will be terrestrial rather than alien. I won’t say that I would be delighted if is was alien, but if that is the direction it took, then we who argue for the extraterrestrial nature of some UFO sightings would have some good evidence.

In a similar vein, Chris O’Brien, out there in Colorado, in the San Luis Valley is attempting to put up web cameras that could be used to spot the mystery mutilators and any space craft they might be flying. While I sort of trivialize it here, I do think it is a good idea. Anything that is done in an attempt to further our knowledge and to resolve an issue is a good thing. But the question is how long does it go on before he decides that there are no alien mutilators...

Obviously, if he caught something on tape, that would prove his point and we would have a very interesting bit of evidence. But I wonder if the same thing I heard about the lack of "classic" mutilations while Kenneth Rommel was investigating in New Mexico would be said in the San Luis Valley. While the cameras were operating, there just were no classic mutilations in front of them... Or if there was evidence of scavengers in what might look to be a classic mutilation, it would be dismissed because the damage didn’t mirror, exactly, some other mutilations.

The skeptics, I imagine, think the same thing about UFO sightings. They wonder just how many of the once classic cases that are now solved, at least for many of us, have to be defined as mundane before we give up the argument. In the last decade or so, many of them have fallen. I now believe that the Chiles-Whitted case of the cigar-shaped craft that rocketed past their aircraft was a bolide... an extremely bright meteor that seemed to come directly at them and fooled them.

I believe that the Mantell case, in which Thomas Mantell was killed chasing a huge object, is explained by a Skyhook balloon. I base that on the descriptions of the object that were provided by those who saw it as it drifted at 80,000 or a 100,000 feet above the ground.

I do not believe that a Project Mogul balloon is responsible for the debris found near Roswell. That doesn’t mean it was extraterrestrial, only that it wasn’t a balloon. I get to the extraterrestrial by other means and I reject Mogul because it doesn’t work, for all the reasons I have outlined here in the past.

So I understand the skeptics desire to have a list of the ten best cases so they could tackle them. I can easily think of ten cases with multiple chains of evidence but I fear that we have lost the opportunities that those cases would have supplied. We were so busy arguing about whether or not some UFOs represented alien spacecraft that none of us looked at the really good evidence when we had the opportunity.

I also know that some of the skeptics, but by no means all of them, would fail to make a dispassionate argument. They truly believe there is no alien visitation and therefore no evidence can prove alien visitation. Others would take that dispassionate look, but they would insist an very compelling evidence and rightly so.

I have no hope that anything will ever be resolved. Even if the spacecraft landed there would be those who believed it was some kind of fake. These are the same kind of people who believe the moon landings were a hoax, that the president’s birth certificate was faked, and that there is a colony on Mars (where I suspect the really rich will hide when the asteroid collides with Earth on December 21, 2012 and remember you heard it here first).

My real point is that I understand the skeptics frustration with UFOs, but then, I understand the other side of the coin as well. And I understand that nothing will be resolved until we can remove the emotion and belief structure from the equation. Humans haven’t been able to do that in all of recorded history and I doubt we’ll do it here. We can try, but I have little hope.


dbdonlon said...

You make a lot of good sense, but I think this statement is wrongheaded:

"But, in the end, no one could explain why the aliens were doing it. What was the motivation? Why not just take the whole animal and not leave the remains?"

Not being able to understand a motivation is no reason to posit that there isn't one. Especially if we're talking about (possible) aliens here..

starman said...

Agreed, what matters is: can humans or natural processes explain it or not? If investigators with various instruments can't duplicate precise cuts, that says something...Decomposition MIGHT but was there time for it in all cases where precise cuts were noted?

cda said...

What about crop circles? Just like the precision of the cattle mutilations, these cannot be made on earth because no person(s) have the ability to perform such intricate and complex designs in a short period of 4 to 5 hours in a summer night. At least that is the view of the ET brigade.

If we take the ET thesis seriously, the ETs have the ability to do literally anything: make crop circles, abduct humans and interbreed with them, transmit their thoughts to the select few, mutilate our livestock, read our minds, build our ancient temples & monuments and of course, occasionally, crash their craft in remote desert places.

ETs are an obvious answer to anything and everything thus far unexplained. Menzel suggested this decades ago.

You say you understand the skeptics. There are degrees of skepticism, just as there are degrees of ETH believerism. No, you do not need ET to explain any mutilation, any crop circle or any abduction. Nor do you need it to explain Roswell.

You MAY need it one day to explain some remarkable future, at present unimaginable, event. But I predict that day is a long way off yet.

starman said...

" our ancient temples & monuments..."

Who around here buys that? We don't need ETs to explain the pyramids. Mutilations and crop circles etc don't require know-how all that far in advance of ours.

"You MAY need it one day to explain some remarkable future, at present, unimaginable event."

Considering the vastness of interstellar distances, any report of an unidentified, apparently alien craft is virtually "unimaginable," as is travel without jets or propellers, or reported nonverbal communication.

"But I predict that day is a long way off yet."

Why should it be? There are plenty of older stars and exoplanets in the galaxy. If by a "long way off" you mean a thousand years, or a million, that's nothing on a Universal time scale. Alien races have already had EONS to progress. Assuming a "long way off" is for those too intimidated by the thought they are HERE NOW.

John said...

Calling you stupid would be bring your IQ up a notch.

Steve Sawyer said...

I think this post is quite good, and illuminating, in that it seems to express a call for a "middle path" or balanced approach to unusual or unexplained phenomena that is not dependent on prior belief or assumption, whether from the "pseudo-skeptical" perspective or "believer" viewpoint.

It suggests that what is most important is to be as truly objective as possible, and to look at the available evidence empirically, without allowing predisposition or wishful thinking to intrude upon or affect the exploration and investigation of such esoteric and challenging phenomena.

This seems to be what the scientific method really should be about, to gather data and evidence and subject them to honest, open, and fact-based analysis before one then derives a theory or hypothesis upon which to better understand or interpret the data.

I too have come to conclude that cattle mutilations, alleged alien abductions, and crop circles are virtually all prosaic in nature and origins, i.e. due to natural processes or man-made, not caused by any form of advanced non-human intelligence.

This sort of agnostic perspective and approach seems to me necessary in order not to fall into either extreme of either belief or disbelief, both of which are sorts of faith-based, non-objective ways of dealing with the unexplained.

It's better to acknowledge that one simply may not know or be able to understand some esoteric phenomena than to claim some explanation or interpretation that is not fully supported by vetted fact, peer-review, and ongoing scientific methodology and analytical techniques, or to in turn take on an absolutist or denialist approach.

At the same time, although I would have to say it falls into the speculative realm, some UFO cases (and the related observational report data and parallel external sensor recordings in rare cases) do suggest some form of advanced, and very different, non-human intelligence or consciousness of one or more forms has been and may still be operating within our sphere of existence, which is also an interpretation, not factually proven, but based on the evidential patterns in the historical record of the best cases (involving multiple witnesses, simultaneous instrumentation recordings, and the kind of phenomena involved which has, in some cases, displayed various forms of behavior, reactivity, and even elements of interactivity) that do not seem either random, natural, or coincidental.

loveKRISTY said...

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Kristy Totten
News Editor

calliebuddy said...

Col. Randle -

An excellent examination of an emotion-laden topic. Thank you.

In the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, how long might Mr. O’Brien (and others) champion the idea that some cattle mutilations are the work of aliens? We may have an answer soon.

I work on a team investigating Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) biochemistry. AD research is undergoing some turmoil; recent clinical trials have had remarkable success in apparently disrupting what was long thought to be the primary cause of dementia, aggregations of small proteins into insoluble lumps termed senile plaques. Ordinarily, that would seem to be a good thing.

For quite a few years, the central organizing hypothesis of AD research was that the senile plaques were the culprit. Get rid of them and you cure AD, or so we thought. While the senile plaques have been apparently disrupted by certain therapies, the patients continued a spiral into complete dementia and loss of mental function. Things are more complicated than we assumed.

We are now doing some scientific soul-searching. Looking over data, examining assumptions, trying to discern what is correct and what ideas need to be changed. In short, seeking new insights, explanations and models. There is much at stake – prestige and enormous money – but nothing will be sacred. If and when a better alternative to the prevailing hypothesis emerges, the scientists will immediately begin to test it against the data.

Mr. O’Brien’s tests are a welcome contribution toward addressing a mystery. But how will researchers in that realm react if the data continue to run contrary to a favored explanation? There will be enough ‘wiggle room’ and doubt to continue to maintain the alien intervention hypothesis is valid, if that is what they want. And there’s the problem, that is what they want.

AD researchers are accountable to granting agencies and their scientific peers. New hypotheses must be challenged with data and revised accordingly because we are expected to produce results (therapies). In stark contrast, those investigating mutilations seemed hard-pressed to show the hard, convincing data. No need, they can reproduce the same non-results, recycle tired fallacious arguments and sell the products just as they have done for decades.

Tyler Kokjohn

Lance said...

Christopher O'Brien has proven himself over and over again, from my perceptive, to be completely unscientific and irrational about every aspect of the paranormal. He is a true believer in the very worst sense of the word.

edithkeeler said...

Kevin, Before you completely dismiss all cattle mutilation cases, I recommend you read articles from the March and May 2011 issues of the MUFON journal. regarding a Feb 2009 case in Missouri. I have also heard one of the investigators speak about it at a Mufon event earlier in the year. Both of the investigators who investigated the case are retired law enforcement investigators. What makes the case compelling is that the investigators arrived on the scene within hours of the event. The animal was in the early stages of rigor when they examined it so predation was ruled out. The animal's body was completely drained of blood, yet there was no blood, no tracks and hay was still in the animal's mouth. The local veterinarian concurred with the investigator's observations at the scene that it appeared that the animal had virtually died while eating and fell over. Too many details to go into here, but there was also a UFO video provided by an independent witness who had no previous knowledge of this interesting case.

KRandle said...

eddithkeeler -

Let me say this. I know of many circumstances in which scientists have offered to assist in investigations and their help has been ignored. I know that when someone asked me about the lack of copper in a multilated animal's blood and I found a half dozen terrestrial reasons for that, I heard nothing more from that investigator.

I have been watching this since Jil Lorenzen asked me to investigate some mutilations in Minnesota in the 1970s, and I have yet to find a case that screams extraterrestrial.

So, I'll keep looking... but I haven't found a case that takes us into outer space.