UFO Conjecture(s)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Skeptics or Debunkers

Philip Klass and Donald Menzel did more to cause the science/media/public dismissal of flying saucers and UFOs than any other persons or groups extant during the voluminous era of the phenomena.

And they did it with a patina of rectitude that is not only unjustified but hellishly erroneous.

They were debunkers, not skeptics, and they had an agenda that was based in purposeful or aberrant denial.

Menzel in his books -- UFOs: Flying Saucers-Myth-Truth-History (1953), The World of Flying Saucers (1963, co-authored with Lyle G Boyd), and The UFO Enigma (1977, co-authored with Ernest H. Taves -- went to excruciating lengths to fit UFO sightings into a framework of astronomical and meteorological explanations that stretched credulity and Ockham’s Razor to the breaking point.

 Fixing a temperature inversion and the planet Venus as a confluent for sightings was a typical ploy. Wikipedia provides this about Menzel:

“All of Menzel's UFO books argued that UFOs are nothing more than misidentification of prosaic phenomena such as stars, clouds and airplanes; or the result of people seeing unusual atmospheric phenomena they were unfamiliar with. He often suggested that atmospheric hazes or temperature inversions could distort stars or planets, and make them appear to be larger than in reality, unusual in their shape, and in motion. In 1968, Menzel testified before the U.S. House Committee on Science and Astronautics - Symposium on UFOs, stating that he considered all UFO sightings to have natural explanations.
He was perhaps the first prominent scientist to offer his opinion on the matter, and his stature doubtless influenced the mainstream and academic response to the subject. Perhaps Menzel's earliest public involvement in UFO matters was his appearance on a radio documentary directed and narrated by Edward R. Murrow in mid-1950.
Menzel had his own UFO experience when he observed a 'flying saucer' while returning on 3 March 1955 from the North Pole on the daily Air Force Weather "Ptarmigan" flight. His account is in both Menzel & Boyd and Menzel & Taves. He later identified it as a mirage of Sirius.”
Klass was a brilliant, hard-working debunker. His knotty analyses of UFO events and sightings are almost legendary, but invariably wrong, because they are tainted by his inherent bias against UFOs as a viable phenomenon.
In the book, pictured above, Science and the Paranormal [Edited by George O. Abell and Barry Singer, Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1983, Chapter 18, Page 310 ff.], Klass deconstructs the noteworthy Coyne helicopter confrontation with a UFO in October 1973 near Mansfield, Ohio.
Klass presents a detailed account of the Coyne encounter and its aftermath. The minutiae included in his “analysis” of the encounter provides a seeming overlay of forensic debate but when Klass’s approach is scrutinized, one realizes that his devaluation of the Coyne crew’s report rests on a usual Klass barb that Coyne and his crew misremembered what they did when they saw a UFO coming toward their helicopter.
Klass writes that they misperceived an Orionids fireball (or meteor) and miscalculated the timings of various aspects of the event: the fireball’s fly-by, the seconds during which the collective control was pressed to keep the helicopter from, firstly, hitting the ground and, secondly, from accelerating back into the sky.
The magnetic compass’s erratic behavior was an afterthought of Captain Coyne, inserted several years after the initial event and report(s) Klass suggests.
The inability to communicate with local air terminal towers was ascribed to the distances that intervened between them and the Bell helicopter Klass tried to document.
And the green glow the crew witnessed as the UFO allegedly flew over their helicopter came from the tinted glass at the fringe of the cockpit. The red glow of the UFO was that of the surmised fireball.
(J. Allen Hynek, an eminent astronomer himself said that the Orionid display didn’t produce fireballs.)
With a recent case of a pilot, waking from an in-seat nap, mistaking the planet Venus for an approaching airplane, putting his 747 into a dive that injured several passengers and attendants, one can accept the possibility that Captain Coyne and his crew were flummoxed by a stray Orionid meteor, except that Hynek said fireballs do not occur during the Orionid display.
Moreover, the crew’s actions indicated that the helicopter was influenced in some way by the approaching UFO, and the mistakes attributed to them by Klass as errant behavior is possible certainly but hard to accept as the mistakes that Klass piles up are too many and too egregious for a trained helicopter crew.
It’s far easier to accept that Coyne and his men actually had a near collision with a UFO – an Unidentified Flying Object (or thing).
Klass, like Menzel, presents a set of possibilities, all acceptable at a superficial level, but when weighed in the balance, require too many machinations to be reasonably feasible.
No, Klass and Menzel were not skeptics; they were debunkers….and not very skilled debunkers either, as their “explanations” always teetered on the edge of charlatanry; they were UFO atheists or something worse.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Schizophrenia and UFOs [redux]

Copyright 2012, InterAmerica, Inc.

Prominent UFO commentator Ray Dickenson has been denigrating psychiatry over at UFO UpDates lately.

He’s provided a salvo that says schizophrenia isn’t real and he’s been chastised by a few more realistic UpDate habitués.

Schizophrenia, as those who are truly familiar with psychiatry and psychology generally know, is a real, authentic mental condition, defined and studied by eminent scholars of the mind for many years.

One can find material online that clarifies the severe aberration, and I suggest The Psychiatric Dictionary [Fourth Edition] edited by Leland E. Hinsie, M.D. and Robert J. Campbell, M.D. (Oxford University Press, NY/London, Pages 678 ff.) for a concise presentation of schizophrenia and its many manifestations.

Some UFO encounters presented here take place, as I see it, in the realm of the mind, as a temporary schizophrenic “reality” sometimes designated as a folie à deux or folie à trois et cetera.

Such events are stimulated by various factors – environment, psychological or physical stress, drug or alcohol use, chemical imbalances in the body, or even by Jose Caravaca’s “external agent” (which has a psychical component, if I understand his view correctly).

Schizophrenia is complex yet real as the literature about it proves to the reasoned thinker.

But does schizophrenia account for all or even many UFO accounts and sightings? Not by a long shot. Such an accusation would be more lunatic than schizophrenia itself.

However, some UFO accounts may be attributed to schizophrenic episodes, which are real to the participants when they occur but intangible and bizarre to outsiders when presented afterwards:

The Hills abduction, the Travis Walton incident, The Pascagoula moment, the Italian Lotti encounter, and even the Rendlesham episode (which is a case of Induced Schizophrenia perhaps), among others that readers here are familiar with.

Of course, events as Roswell or the RB-47 event are not schizophrenic in nature, although some aspects of the aftermath may be.

The Washington D.C. sightings of 1952 were not schizophrenic in nature either, but the 1942 L.A. shooting of a UFO contained elements of schizophrenia (or mass hysteria) within it.

The problem with Mr. Dickenson’s “outburst” at UpDates and his detractors is that their views are intellectually simplistic or cursory.

UFOs are phenomenally diverse (phenomena, despite Jerry Clark’s aversion to the plural).

Some UFO accounts – and we don’t mean the UFO reports that follow – are neurological, some psychological in nature, and some are actual observations of a sensory reality – not a psychological reality but a real visual or mental reality, of a thing or things with tangibility, by which I don’t necessarily mean a nuts and bolts reality, although to exclude that possibility would be remiss also.

The UFOs – the things designated as such in the common parlance, the lingua franca, as it were, of media and society at large – are a facet of reality that has more than just a psychiatric component to their observation; they have, in some case (maybe many cases) a reality that transcends everyday reality but a reality nevertheless, despite what some would wish to be otherwise.