Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Evidence and the Citizen Hearing on Disclosure

I am surprised by one of the criticisms offered about the Citizen Hearing on Disclosure and that is that no “real” evidence was presented. It was only testimony from those who had participated in the events and in the world today, or rather in the world of the UFO today, testimony from witnesses has been reduced to being of no value. Makes you wonder about all that testimony being taken on Capitol Hill in the IRS scandal (as a single example), or in various other arenas today. Why even talk to those who were there or participated in the events because it isn’t evidence?

Well, of course, that is a simplistic view.

The White House because I had the picture.
In law it can be said that testimony is evidence, and not just that provided by experts. Rule 701 seems to be the guiding force here, and I confess that not being trained as an attorney I might have slipped off the rails. However, in law, it seems that a witness may offer evidence, testimony, if the witness is not testifying as an expert and that the testimony in the form of an opinion is limited to one that is rationally based on the witness’s perception, helpful to clearly understanding the witness’s testimony or to determining a fact in issue and not based on scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702, which is guidance for expert testimony.

Or, in other words, testimony is a form of evidence, at least in the arena of law, which makes the testimony of those witnesses in front of the Citizen Hearing committee a form of evidence. I will grant you that it is not the best evidence, and it might not be convincing evidence, but it was, in fact evidence, in the eyes of the law.

We can slip into the arena of science here as well. Empirical observation is considered evidence. Empirical evidence is defined simply as information that is acquired by observation or experimentation. Of course those observations or experiments are later analyzed by scientists, but the observations can be made by anyone. So, the witnesses at the Citizen Hearing did provide evidence as empirical observations. “This is what I saw.”

Granted, those with training can analyze those statements and those observations later and provide information about what was seen. The interpretation of the observations is what becomes the question and not the observations themselves (well not entirely).

Again, to me, this says that the testimony was a form of evidence… and in both the law and science, that testimony is then interpreted by those who have some sort of specialized training, expertise, or technical knowledge.

But this is an argument over semantics and I think we all agree that testimony is often badly flawed, open to the interpretations of those giving it, especially after mere weeks have passed, and could be the result of ambiguous stimuli that is filtered through the witness’ own belief structure.

But that wasn’t the only evidence offered at the Hearing. There was documentation. We’ve already talked about the government documents from the Department of Defense that confirms that a Peruvian pilot fired at a UFO. This doesn’t prove that he shot at an alien spacecraft, only that the event took place.

The discussion one afternoon degenerated into questions about the end of Project Blue Book. Nearly everyone was unclear as to the reason for the demise of that study, though they did mention the role that the Condon Committee had in it. I provided some documentation that suggested that it was all a set up. The Air Force wanted out of the UFO investigation business and that was one of the things that the Condon Committee was to accomplish.

The Hippler Letter, discussed here before, gave the instructions to the Condon Committee, and Robert Low of that organization wrote back to say that he understood. That too is a form of evidence. It is documentation.

John Callahan
Finally, there was John Callahan, he of JAL 1628 fame. Not only did he talk about the investigation he had conducted into the incident, he brought the documentation with him including the radar records, transcripts of the aerial conversations, and a recreation of the event using the radar and audio records. The documentation, which included that recorded through instrumentality, was available at the Hearing. Multiple chains of evidence, one supporting the other, each gathered independently.

The point here is not to argue about alien visitation, which is one conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence, but to argue there was evidence beyond the testimony offered. There was documentation, radar traces, and photographs. There were several forms of evidence available to the committee.

For those with an open mind, then there was some very interesting evidence offered. But it was only evidence that something strange is going on and that many of the solutions offered do not fit all the facts, but as I say, it doesn’t take us directly to the extraterrestrial, only that something has happened.


Unknown said...

Hi Kevin,

I think a better example than the law can be found with how historians treat and view "witness" accounts. Oral research methodology is rigorous (alas, most ufologists don't employ the proper techniques, but that's a different story), and the accounts of people who actually participated in events are just as important - if not more so - than documentary evidence, which is often sanitized for any one of a number of reasons.


Anthony Mugan said...

I do agree with your overall argument, Kevin, in terms of the nature of evidence and the range of evidence presented at the Hearings. Perhaps just to clarify my comment from the previous post - my concern about the event is more based on the argument that there is 'overwhelming' evidence in favour of the ETH etc. From a strictly scientific point of view I don't think that can be justified as a claim at this stage, although I would personally argue that a pretty good primae facie case could be developed to justify further study.
This whole question of how evidence is handled and what level of evidence is required to reach a conclusion is quite significant and lies at the root of much the debate (argument!) on this subject. There is a very good chapter (by Donderi if memory serves) in Jacobs (2000) 'UFOs and Abducations' on this very question which considers how evidence is handled differently between scientific and legal frameworks, and then differently again by intelligence analysts. Way back in 1952, in discussing the Florida scout master case with a colleague, Ruppelt was asked 'how much evidence do you need?' His subsequent comment in his book that this was 'a good question' is (as usual with Ruppelt)a very sensible point.
UFO events are not laboratory experiments. Whilst there are well established methodologies in a number of fields (e.g. astronomy) for handling observations of natural phenomena that can not be directly controlled these all depend on the process of observation (equipment, the range of data collected, conditions of collection etc) all being very carefully controlled or at least noted. In UFO events we almost always are dealing with whatever information happened to be captured at the time - essentially by co-incidence, or occasionally by more formal studies after the fact (e.g. ground traces).
I a scientific framework the barrier to accepting a truly new result (e.g. the Higgs boson) is very high. Usually 5 sigma is the level of confidence required (roughly a 99.999% chance that it is a real effect). The data to be included in such a calculation must itself be collected in a very robust manner which excludes possible alternative explanations. Such a high barrier can (and has on many occasions) lead to true signal not being accepted for prolonged periods.
When we are dealing with ideas that lie outside the current mainstream paradigm the challenge faced by the new idea (e.g plate tectonics in the first half of the 20th Century, up to the 1960s) is even greater. Sociological and psychological factors play a very strong role (c.f. Thomas Kuhn, 'The Structure of Scientific Revolution')and it is almost impossible for a new paradigm to be accepted in its own right until the old paradigm clearly fails in its own terms.
From a purely scientific point of view therefore we have a largely unclean dataset in which even the best case studies are not perfectly controlled. Any interpretation must therefore be considered speculative at this time. The ETH interpretation of the data lies outside the current paradigm (although why it appears to be considered impossible by many is completely baffling to me)and has absolutely no chance of being accepted. Over the top claims of 'overwhelming evidence' combined with the wilder claims of the 'lunatic fringe' can only lead most scientists to conclude that there is nothing in the subject for them, unless by chance events they happen to have some reason to explore the topic a little deeper.


Anthony Mugan said...

To briefly continue

As has been noted by others elsewhere, if, however, you use a legal framework for considering evidence, or the approach used by analysts (intelligence or, in my own case, something closer to a policy analyst) who make real world decisions in real time with often imperfect information, then you get a very different conclusion. Whilst the UFO dataset is appallingly messy there is a core set of cases which, in my opinion, provide a primae facie case that 'something is going on' which deserves further investigation. The ETH strikes me as a possible scenario at this time

David Rudiak said...

I can't find a single thing to nitpick in anybody's comments here. Eyewitness testimony certainly IS a form of evidence, used in courts, history, intelligence, everyday life, and even the sciences. No sensible doctor, e.g., would ignore what a patient tells them, nor would an epidemiologist trying to track down the cause of epidemic. Nor would a meteor tracker trying to locate a meteor from eyewitness testimony. Dr. Lincoln La Paz used eyewitnesses with real meteor fireballs and trying to find the remnants of the mysterious green fireballs and other fireballs deemed UFOish. The fact that he might have to wait months to interview them didn't matter.

Evidence is simply anything bearing on the truth or falsity of something. A UFO eyewitness sighting is one form of evidence, but so is the corroborating physical evidence that may accompany it, whether simultaneous radar contact, electromagnetic interference and engine stallings, photos, physiological effects, various types of ground traces, etc. The more channels of eyewitness and physical evidence, the solider the case. A mass sighting with thousands of witnesses is much more convincing than a typical single witness case, which might otherwise be easily dismissed as a hoax, psychological aberration, misperception, result of drugs, etc.

Documents are also evidence, though can lie through accidental or deliberate errors of omission, or accidental/deliberate insertion of non-facts. They can also be very good fabrications which can be hard to disprove.

I recently put up the CIA Marilyn Monroe/Kennedy/Dorothy Kilgallen wiretap "document" sent to Timothy Cooper on my post-1947 Roswell references page. It's damn incriminating if real, but nobody knows for sure if it is real or fake. When Don Burleson filed an appeal after the CIA turned down his initial request for the wiretap transcripts, the CIA accepted the appeal, which they didn't have to do if the document was clearly fake. They could have simply rejected the appeal on those grounds, but they didn't. So was this a tacit admission that it was real or was it their clever way of maybe making us think it was maybe real, or was it a screw-up by the FOIA people? The intelligence world truly is a hall of mirrors.

jeff thompson said...

Eyewitness testimony in a court case IS evidence, but that does not mean that such testimony is true.

Also, such witnesses are subject to cross examination as a way of testing the veracity of their testimony.

KRandle said...

Paul K -

I picked the examples because of the arena in which we had operated in Washington for the Citizen Hearing. That seemed more appropriate, but of course, you're right in pointing to historians as the better example.

Paul T -

My point was simply that eyewitness testimony is evidence. Once that evidence has been offered, then it is up to us to determine its value.

roger s said...

I think I missed the mission statement for these hearings.

I feel like I'm missing something.

What was the purpose for these presentations?

KRandle said...

Roger -

Had you read the next posting after this one you would have learned:

There were six strategic goals for the CHD: 1) undermine the White House OSTP statement of November 4, 2011 regarding the complete absence of evidence for an extraterrestrial presence or the withholding of relevant information by the government; 2) prompt the U. S. Congress to hold its first hearings on the subject since1968; 3) motivate the mainstream political media to begin appropriate investigative coverage of the subject; 4) inform the executive branch it risks not being the first nation to Disclose an ET presence; 5) increase awareness of the Disclosure movement around the world; and 6) add a UN initiative to the advocacy matrix.

Nani said...

Dear Mr Randle...
To add more matter to this subject :
In France (I'm French) we have a public profession called "Huissiers". A Huissier has many functions but here are their specificity. Their word are proof of law. It means that these people are should I say in a constant state of affidavit. If you want to let us say set a new world record of any sort one pays the service of a Huissier. His testimony of what he saw will be considered evidence with the force of law in front of any court of law in France. So yes definitely testimony can be a proof.