Friday, November 04, 2005

An Open Letter to The Iron Skeptic

Aaron Sakulich, aka Drexel University's "Iron Skeptic," is back at it (click on the title above for direct link to his latest column).

The problem with Iron is that it's inflexible - hardly the stuff of which true skeptics are made. True skeptics are more like quicksilver - always moving, always searching, always willing to look at new evidence, and always open-minded.

As Sakulich's latest reveals, "Iron" is exactly the right description for his type of "skepticism."

I've excerpted a few choice bits below, in a little game I like to call "Fact vs. Ficton," just to show how wrong Sakulich is. This doesn't mean that the ETH is real (i.e. the aliens are here). Far from it. What it does show, however, is that Sakulich isn't really serious about studying the UFO phenomenon.

Sakulich: The history of UFO cases is pretty straightforward, as much as the UFO enthusiast would like you to believe otherwise. In the 1890s, people began reporting seeing airships that looked like blimps or zeppelins floating above their cities.

Kimball: Er... no, not quite. Actually, there have been sightings recorded throughout human history (although you might often find them couched in religious or mystical terminolgy, which is how the people of the time would have described them, given their own cultural points of reference). Here's just one of which Sakulich is apparently unaware - from over 100 years before the 1890s - that shows he is off the mark:

In the latter part of the 18th century, Simeon Perkins, a prosperous merchant and leading citizen in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, kept a meticulous diary. In 1796, he wrote:"A strange story comes from the Bay of Fundy, that ships have been seen in the air. Mr. Darrow is lately come from there by land. I inquired of him. He stated that they were said to be seen at New Minas, near Mr. Ratchford's, by a girl about sunrise. The girl cried out and two men, who were in the house, came out and saw them. There were 15 ships and a man forward with his hands stretched out. They made to the eastward. They were so near people saw their sides and ports. The story did not obtain universal credit, but some people believed it."

Whether the story is true or not is irrelevant - it predates Sakulich's Aurora story by 100 years. And there are many others.

Sakulich: Not much happened for the next few decades, until people started to report seeing flying objects shortly after the second world war.

Kimball: Two words for Mr. Sakulich - "ghost rockets." Or, for those Dave Grohl fans, try "foo fighters." Were these alien spacecraft? I don't think that they were, but the jury is still out. However, were they UFOs (i.e. strange things in the sky)? Absolutely. And they predate Arnold's 1947 sighting. And, again, there are a number of other examples of sightings after the 1890s, but prior to 1947.

Sakulich: This is when the term 'flying saucer' was coined, and no one really knew what was going on.

Kimball: This is true, but it doesn't quite tell the whole story. The term "flying saucer" was a journalist's creation, and a misrepresentation of what pilot Kenneth Arnold actually said, which was that the objects (more than one) that he observed behaved as follows:

"These objects more or less fluttered like they were, oh, I'd say, boats on very rough water or very rough air of some type, and when I described how they flew, I said that they flew like they take a saucer and throw it across the water. Most of the newspapers misunderstood and misquoted that too. They said that I said that they were saucer-like; I said that they flew in a saucer-like fashion."

From then on, some reports did indeed refer to saucer-like objects. Many, many others, however, did not. Sakulich should take a quick peek at Dick Hall's The UFO Evidence, Vol. II, pp. 445 - 447, where he explains that a representative sample of UFO sightings shows all sorts of shapes, as follows:

Discs - 100 (44%) *
Ellipses / Ovals - 29 (13%)
Balls - 28 (12%)
Hemispheres - 14 (6%)
Cigars - 11 (5%)
Cones / spindles - 11 (5%)
Light sources - 9 (4%)
Deltas - 8 (4%)
Others - 16 (7%)

* Of the 100 "discs," 51 were discs with domes, 39 were saucer or lens shaped, and 10 were Saturn-shaped.

So you see, folks, the term "flying saucer" is about as inaccurate as you can get - it was inaccurate when it was first coined, and has remained less than accurate ever since.

Advice to Mr. Sakulich - try using the term UFO if you want to be taken seriously.

Or, better yet, UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon).

Sakulich: There were a few "flaps", during which thousands of people saw the objects, that concerned the government to the extent that the Air Force was ordered into investigating.
They were afraid that the Soviets could use UFO reports to cause confusion in the critical, early stages of some sort of Russian/American war, so the Air Force bent over backwards to discredit everything even peripherally related to UFOs. Even when they couldn't find an explanation, they really went to town to try and quell the publics' fears. Considering that the Soviets were well-armed and deficient in the morals department, I can hardly blame them. Anything that the Soviets could use to even a tiny advantage over us had to be neutralized. Of course, the UFO enthusiast sees things differently. They would have you believe that it was not crippling fear of the Red Menace that led our government to try and discredit UFO reports; rather, the government is in league with space aliens for some nefarious reason and needs to cover things up. I can also understand and respect this; the American people have a long history of not trusting the government farther than they can throw it. It's healthy to be a little paranoid about a group of people that controls our whole lives and has a giant pile of atomic weapons. On the other hand, thinking that the government is in league with space aliens is based on only the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence.

Kimball: And all of this proves... what, exactly?

If you answered "nothing," you would be correct. It is a red herring.

In fact, what one can take out of this mess is that the Air Force didn't know what UFOs were(and it wasn't just the US Air Force, as I have demonstrated with reference to the RCAF here in Canada). I agree with Sakulich in one sense - they were not in league with aliens to cover up the presence of ET on Earth. But that's not evidence that can be used to rebut even the ETH, much less the proposition that UFOs are an objective, if unknown, reality. In fact, the government was as flummoxed by it all as were the people who were making the reports.

Sakulich: Anyway, during the 1950s a group of people calling themselves Contactees sprung up. They claimed that they'd been contacted by space aliens and given some important information about how to live life without exploding our planet. Usually, they started cults and bilked people out of money.

Kimball: That's right - bring up the contactees! What Sakulich fails to mention is that the contactee movement was eschewed - very publicly - at the time by leading ufologists like Donald Keyhoe of NICAP, and has since been completely discredited by serious ufologists - as have a number of people over the years, like Philip Corso, Bob Lazar, and Billy Meier, who have played the same game in one way or another. That a fringe group still supports the stories told by these people shouldn't be used to tar all ufological researchers. After all, you don't show up at a geographical conference and start spouting off about the "flat earth" theory.

Sakulich: Over time, the contactees disappeared and were replaced by abductees, who spoke of substantially less pleasant contact with life from outer space.

The only real similarity between the contactee movement and the abduction enigma is that they claim to have "met" aliens. Otherwise, there are significant differences. Even the people who don't buy into alien abductions, like Dr. Susan Clancy (most recently), don't conclude that the abductees are hoaxers or frauds, which is what Sakulich implies they are when he links them to the contactees. The two are as different as apples and oranges (which does not mean that aliens are really abducting these people, but simply that Sakulich has misrepresented the facts yet again).

Sakulich: Here, for your reading pleasure, are samples of UFO cases that were proven to be hoaxes. I'm not naive enough to think that one can prove all cases to be untrue by proving some of them to be hoaxes, but perhaps after reading them you'll be less likely to believe everything you hear on the internet or in the supermarket checkout line.

Kimball: Er... perhaps Mr. Sakulich gets his information from the Weekly World News, or the Internet (which says all you need to know about him as a credible source), but there are some people - I'm one of them - that also go to the primary sources, whether they be witnesses, or witness reports, or government documents, etc. You should try it sometime, Mr. Sakulich - you may be surprised by what you find.

Having said that, I'll skip his first hoax (the Aurora, Texas incident, which was undoubtedly a hoax - you can refer to it in the original article), and instead provide a list and synopsis of a couple of cases that you will probably never hear Mr. Sakulich mention, either because he is unaware of them (tsk, tsk...), or he doesn't want to talk about them (I think we can all figure out the reason why).

RB47 Case - On July 17, 1957, an Air Force RB-47, equipped with electronic countermeasures (ECM) gear and manned by six Air Force officers, was followed by an identified object for a distance of over seven hundred miles and for a time period of one and a half hours, as it flew from Mississippi, through Louisiana and Texas and into Oklahoma. The object was, at various times, seen visually by the cockpit crew as an intensely luminous light, followed by ground radar and detected by ECM monitoring gear aboard the RB-47. Of special interest in this case are several instances of simultaneous appearances and disappearances on all three of those physically distinct “channels,” and the rapidity of maneuvers beyond the prior experience of the aircrew. The conclusions drawn by the Condon Committee in its 1969 report (Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects) described the RB-47 case as an “unusual, intriguing and puzzling phenomenon, which, in the absence of additional information, must be listed as unidentified [and] unknown.

Lincoln LaPaz sighting - On July 10, 1947, Dr. Lincoln La Paz, the world's foremost expert on meteorics, his wife and two teen-aged daughters, were driving, on their way from Clovis to Clines Corners, near Fort Sumner, New Mexico. It was a typical bright sunny day; however as they proceeded west, the sky told a different story appearing as a “confused cloud sea.” The time was 4:47pm, when all at once the family spotted a mysterious object hovering low on the western horizon within the clouds. La Paz described it as, “a curious bright object almost motionless.” Instinctively, Dr. La Paz approached the situation scientifically, trying to make calculations as to the size of the object. He estimated that the object was somewhere between 100-200 feet in length. Further physical observations made, suggest that the object was smooth and elliptical in shape. Its outline separated it from the clouds as it appeared sharp and firm, while the object illuminated a bright whitish color. Its motion gave the impression that it was a solid mass, and appeared to be “wobbling.” The family had a good look of the object for 30 seconds while it remained stationary, hovering in the sky. However, it slowly moved upwards where it was hidden behind a cloud. Though the family thought they had seen all they would of the object, it once again emerged, but now further north. The time that elapsed from when they lost sight of the object, to when it became visible again in its new position, suggested to La Paz that whatever they were witness to, could not be matched to any known aircraft, as the speed it traveled to get to its new position would have exceeded their capabilities. As La Paz watched the object slowly move south to north, he described it as self-luminous in comparison to the clouds it passed in front of. The object finally disappeared in the clouds. The whole sighting lasted an estimated two and a half minutes and occurred approximately 20 miles in the distance.

Vins-sur-Caramy - On April 14, 1957, Mrs. Garcin and Rami were out on a Sunday afternoon walk, approximately 1 kilometre east of Vins-sur-Caramy, France. It was 3pm local time, when the ladies walk was suddenly interrupted by an unexpected event. Startled by a deafening noise, the ladies turned to see the source of such a commotion. They were shocked to see a cone shaped object flying slowly above the ground across a nearby intersection. They described it as being metallic-like and approximately 1.5 meters high and 1 meter in diameter. Attached to the object were metal rods, which protruded out and pointed downward. According to the ladies, these antenna-like rods were vibrating immensely and were responsible for the loud noise they were hearing, as a near by road sign was vibrating violently, creating a horrible sound. Startled by what they were witnessing the ladies cried out. Louis Boglio, a farmer who was busy working about 300 meters away, heard the loud cries and odd sound. As he rushed towards the road to help, he was also shocked to see the huge top-like object and also witnessed the sign vibrating uncontrollably. Just after he arrived on the scene, the object leaped into the air, flying approximately 200 meters, where it touched down once more next to another road sign where it produced the same rattling effect it did on the last. From this point the object moved away from them pitching from side to side then across a field and soon out of sight. The object itself did not make a sound as it traveled. Two more witnesses apparently spotted the object in flight near the Village of La Moutonne.

Minot AFB (1968) - On October 24, 1968, various missile-crew personnel at Minot AFB reported observing the erratic flight of one or more UFOs. At about 0300 hours (3:00 A.M.) local, a B-52, about 30 miles northwest of Minot AFB and making practice penetrations, was asked to be on the look out for an unidentified object. In addition, the B-52 aircraft that tracked the flight of the UFO took scope photos of the target. The B-52 radar operator reported an unidentified blip on the radarscope at about 1-1.5 miles to the right rear of the aircraft. The object paced the B-52 for about 20 miles in this position. Scope photos were taken. Both radio transmitters in the B-52 would not operate properly. When the B-52 was forced to make a right-turn to the runway (into the object path), the object moved to the left rear of the aircraft and assumed a position approximately one-mile off the left-rear. Scope photo analysis would later reveal that the object traveled approximately 2 1/2 miles in 3 seconds, or at about 3,000 mi/hr., while maintaining to pace the B-52. As the aircraft descended for landing, the object continued its descent to near ground level and appeared to hover in one spot. At about this time a missile maintenance man called in and reported sighting a bright orangish-red object. The object was hovering at about 1000 ft, or so, and had a sound similar to a jet engine. The observer had stopped his car, but he then started it up again. As he started to move, the object followed him, then accelerated and appeared to stop at about 6-8 miles away. In response to the maintenance man’s call, the B-52, which had continued its penetration run was ordered to over fly the object and vectored toward the visual, which was about 10 miles northwest of the base. The B-52 over flew the object and confirmed having sighted a large egg-shaped object near the ground with the color and appearance of molten lava. One end of the object was a crescent-shaped protrusion. In this case we have a group of sightings made by personnel on the ground and at missile sites scattered around the base. There were radar sightings from Approach Control and the weather station, as well as, on the B-52 radar. There were visual sightings from the crew of the B-52, and an airborne radar sighting in which the target traveled at 3,000 miles per hour, recorded on scope photographs. There were sightings made by SSgt. Bond the FSC at Nov. Flight, SSgt. Smith at Oscar-1, Juliet, Mike Flight Team, and a number of men in widely scattered locations. The object landed at location AA-43. The entire observation lasted for 4 hours and 48 minutes. Fourteen other people in separate locations also reported the UFO. Security alarms were activated for both the outer and inner ring at the missile sites. When the guards arrived at the outer door it was open and the combination lock on the inner door had been moved.

And those four are just the tip of a very large iceberg of data and evidence that demonstrates that UFOs / UAPs are a real, objective phenomenon.

I'm sure Mr. Sakulich will be discussing them in his next column.

After this, Mr. Sakulich doesn't really have much to say, other than his cavalier treatment of the Hill abduction case (about which the jury is still out, despite what Mr. Sakulich would have you believe), so I'll head straight to his conclusion, and the challenge he makes.

Sakulich: To those of you who read this, I challenge you to a public debate at a time and location of your choosing, to which I will arrive armed to the teeth with cold, hard logic and common sense. To the rest of you, stop reading this tripe and apply yourself to something useful, like studying actual science. Be seeing you.

Kimball: Done.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, late spring / early summer, 2006, after your classes are over.

My company will fly you up here, and put you up for a couple of days.

We'll also film the debate.

The terms are as follows:

The proposition?

Whether or not the UFO / UAP phenomenon is an objective reality, worthy of serious scientific, historical and journalistic study.

The format?

Cross-examination rules (oh, dear, I do hope Mr. Sakulich is familiar with the various formats for debating).

The moderator?

I'll come up with a neutral party.

The location?

A library or lecture hall of some sort - either public, or university.

The participants?

In the "Negative" Corner (pictured at left), The Iron Skeptic - Aaron Sakulich, Drexel engineering student (cue Darth Vader's main theme from Star Wars).

In the "Affirmative" Corner (pictured below, right), yours truly, Captain Redstar - Paul Kimball, historian, lawyer, and documentary filmmaker (cue The Fixx, "One Thing Leads to Another").

The winner?

I'm a big fan of democracy, so we'll let the audience vote. Vox populi.

Drop me an e-mail, Mr. Sakulich, and we'll work out the details.

But before you do, you had better familiarize yourself with the facts.

I've got plenty of questions for you - and I won't be talking about "flying saucers," hoaxes, the Aurora case, the contactees, or even the Hill case.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Paul Kimball

13 comments:

RRRGroup said...

Oh that Aaron Sakulich guy...

You know, Paul, that his views are very much the views of the mainstream.

The lower classes believe UFOs are real, many thinking they are alien craft.

Sakulich moves away from them to the middle class, or the near upper strata of society where cynicism rears its head and skepticism, except about one's self-importance, abounds.

Aaron speaks to those folks...not to the proletariat, the rabble, nor to the upper crust, which couldn't care less.

And he certainly doesn't cater to the intense investigator, of UFOs or anything arcane.

He writes for his audience, his cult followers -- those who smirk at things strange and fringe.

I like the guy. I know where he stands. I know he's cavalier with the facts, the data, and I can handle that.

Since he's dealing with a topic that is harmless, for all practical purposes, I can enjoy his take on the phenomenon.

He hurts no one. He makes ufologists dig into their baskets of UFO lore, as you have done, and he opens the door to debate -- to which you have succumbed.

Ya gotta love that about a writer: provocative and not mean, just a bit out of his depth about UFOs, letting cognoscenti show him how wrong he is.

RR

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

I have no use for people who don't want to deal with the facts - whether they sit on Sakulich's debunker side of the street, or... well, you know what the other side of the street is, and who lives there.

Sakulich does what he does, like most of his type, because they like to get a brief moment of attention (in that sense, he's no better than the hoaxers he lambastes). He does a disservice, not only to the serious study of the UFO phenomenon (a relatively obscure matter, I grant you, and one about which I'm sure he couldn't give two hoots), but the much broader concept of the truth.

So, let him come. Why would I debate him? Because:

(a) it would be fun (it's been a while since I went to the High School National Debating championships, or participated in moot courts - or a real court for that matter);

(b) if you want people to take UFOs seriously, you have to hammer both the died-in-the-wool believers and the died-in-the-wool debunkers, because they're equally bad;

(c) I've got to spend the corporate overhead on something; and

(d) because I know I'll win. :-)

Besides, I've always had a thing for people who throw out challenges like this, never expecting that someone will actually take them up on it.

So it's put up or shut up time for Mr. Sakulich.

Paul

RRRGroup said...

Paul:

I can't get too worked up about the "truth" regarding UFOs, since they fall into the category (thus far) that also holds the concepts of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, among others.

One can fudge the "truth" about those things and commit no moral or ethical sin.

So Sakulich having his way with the UFO phenomenon doesn't make him culpable as far as we Jesuits are concerned.

RR

The Odd Emperor said...

Ha!

Let the battle lines be drawn. Let loose the dogs of war!

I think Sakulich’s stuff is pretty funny but, informative? Hell no! He gleans from relatively common sources. Insightful? Not really. He approaches the UFO issue with an engineer’s attitude. Nothing is real until you can break it, and even then you better understand enough to put it back together again.

So why do I find him funny? Because of the reaction that he invokes in the… shall we say, more artistic UFO enthusiasts.

UFOs don’t appeal to the engineer simply because they don’t exist. By which I mean the cannot be touched, torn apart, learned from. UFOs if they have any existence outside our own skulls seem to be teaching us all kinds of things but not on a technological level.

I wish you luck! I shall certainly be watching!

The Odd Emperor
http://www.oddempire.org

Paul Kimball said...

Rich:

One can never fudge the truth. That's why they call it the "truth."

Besides, Sakulich doesn't just fudge the truth - he fudges the facts, an even more egregious sin in my eyes (the "truth" not always being dependent on the facts - what is, after all, the "truth" about God?). :-)

Paul

Paul Kimball said...

OE:

I find Sakulich amusing too.

He'll be even funnier on camera, and in front of a live audience, as I expose him for the intellectual charlatan that he is.

I'll be laughing for days! :-)

Paul

P.S. I tend to get the same reaction from the more "artistic" ETH enthusiasts, but for different reasons.

The Odd Emperor said...

At any rate; it might be a good example of a more intellectual debate. Certainly a breath of fresh air in this biz.

DrX said...

I would like to believe your claim that you go to primary sources. In relation to Simeon Perkins's diary, however, it seems to me that you've trotted out the same extract, with the same modernised punctuation and all, that appears on several other pages on the Internet.

I hope you will visit the Champlain Collection online, search for Simeon Perkins, and use page 430 of his diary 1790-1796 to correct your version, punctuation and all, from the primary source - including Simeon's own opinion of what was seen.

Then I'll be able to believe you.

Don Maor said...

ufos exist, ETs exist, Aaron does nor even know where his ass is, etc, etc, etc.

fatrobot said...

i wouldn't let things like "facts" and "truth" get in the way of an opinion

kidding

i don't care for most of ufologists, cryptozoologists, etc even though i am very interested in these subjects because of people like this

this is why i enjoy reading your posts, truth and facts. They are more fascinating than conjecture.

Paul Kimball said...

DrX:

Quite right. Lazy on my part. No need for me to go to the website (although for those who want to, it is found at http://link.library.utoronto.ca/champlain/DigObj.cfm?Idno=9_96866&lang=eng&Page=0480&Size=3&query=9_96866&searchtype=Bibrecord&startrow=1&Limit=All) - I have a copy of the original passage, and have had for years. Rather than re-type it, however, I cut and pasted it from another source. The original language is as follows:

"A Strange Story is going that Fleet of Ships have been Seen in the Air in Som part of the Bay of Fundy. Mr. Darrow is lately there by land. I enquired of him. He Says they were Said to be Seen at New Minas, at one Mr. Ratchford's, by a Girl, about Sunrise, & that the Girl being Frighted, Called out, & two men that were in the House went out & Saw the Same Sight, being 15 Ships and a Man forward of them with his hand Stretched out. The Ships made to the Eastward. They were So Near that the people Saw their Sides & ports. The Story did not obtain universal Credit, but Some people believed it. My own Opinion is that it was only in Imagination, as the Cloud at Sunrise might Make Some Such appearance, which being Improved by Imagination, might be all they Saw."

Compare this to the version I posted:

"A strange story comes from the Bay of Fundy, that ships have been seen in the air. Mr. Darrow is lately come from there by land. I inquired of him. He stated that they were said to be seen at New Minas, near Mr. Ratchford's, by a girl about sunrise. The girl cried out and two men, who were in the house, came out and saw them. There were 15 ships and a man forward with his hands stretched out. They made to the eastward. They were so near people saw their sides and ports. The story did not obtain universal credit, but some people believed it."

I should have gone to the original in the first instance; if I was writing a paper back in the days of my MA studies, I would certainly have used the original source. For once, I let the quickness of blogging get the better of me.

However, having said that, it is important to note that there is no appreciable difference between the two versions, other than some changes to the grammar and language, which was presumably updated for the modern reader. Again, I should have used the original version. But there is no factual difference between the two accounts.

As for Perkins' impression of the incident, it is of little relevance. As he himself stated, it was HIS opinion; he also stated that others had a different opinion (sounds a lot like modern sightings, where different people have different opinions of just about every alleged sighting). The point that I was making was that these types of sightings - and any reading of the incident, whether original or altered, shows a UFO sighting - did not just begin in the 1890s, as Mr. Sakulich suggested.

However, thanks for the reminder to "walk the walk" as well as "talk the talk." For my part, I have always preferred the original language to the updated version - besides being the actual words, they are usually much more poetic. Like the difference between the King James Bible and the Good News Bible.

Now, time to pull out Henry Alline's journal and refresh myself on some of that poetic language!

Paul Kimball

William said...

I've always preferred the RSV (Revised Standard Version) to both the KJV and the NRSV (New RSV). IMHO, the RSV maintains the poetic aspect of the KJV while correcting many of the errors in its (very dated) translation. The NRSV does apply some new scholarship to the translation but nothing terribly significant. It does, however, signficantly dumb-down the translation for an easier read.

Try the cotton-patch version if you want a real down-to-earth translation!

http://rockhay.tripod.com/cottonpatch/

Ouch!

Will

Paul Kimball said...

Fatrobot:

Thank you. You are obviously a very intelligent robot! :-)

Paul