Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sagan on the Hill Abduction case

And now, the real Carl Sagan, as he discusses the alleged abduction of Betty and Barney Hill by aliens.

Regardless of what one thinks of Sagan's analysis of the Hill case (and that should be the subject of some interesting comments here over the next few days), there are things he says here that ring true in a more general sense, and with which I wholeheartedly agree.

For example, when talking about lights seen in the night sky, Sagan states:

"If we can't identify a light, that doesn't make it a spaceship."

Exactly so. Brad Sparks made the same sensible comment to me a while back.

Sagan was cautious, and skeptical, and that's a good thing. To believers, he was too cautious; to disbelievers, he was too willing to consider "weird" possibilities, even if he rejected them in the end. I look at Sagan as one of the good guys - yes, maybe he ducked some of the harder questions about the UFO phenomenon (to my knowledge, he never looked into the RB47 case, and certainly never explained it), but he also kept an open mind, and I always got the impression when I was younger that he left the door open to the possibility that there was "magic" in the world, or beyond it. He just hadn't seen the proof that he needed, but he went further in looking for it than most scientists have.

If that isn't enough for the ETH believers, and too much for the disbelievers, it rings true to me, even when I disagree with his conclusions.

Paul Kimball


Aaron said...

Is it true that most researchers find the Hill case compelling because of the star map? I always thought that the case was compelling because of the credibility of the Hills, which Sagan doesn't address at all ('we have only their word' - did I detect a hint of acrimony in his voice?).

I'm not a ufologist, but does eyewitness testimony count for nothing? UFO-related or not, if what witnesses describe seems impossible or doesn't fit the prevailing theory, then they didn't see what they thought they saw (TWA 800 comes to mind).

Obviously we need more, but I get tired of the contemptuous attitude toward eyewitness testimony.

Paul Kimball said...


Yes, it's true that Sagan in this clip glossed over the eyewitness testimony, but in the Hill case it's problematic because it was elicited originally under hypnosis, which is far from 100% reliable, no matter who is performing it. The star map, however, gives that account something that could theoretically be proved or disproved. Hence the focus on it.

As for eyewitness testimony, yes, many scientists usually treat it far too dismissively, but on the other hand ufologists (especially the ET believers) usually seem to accept it far too readily. Eyewitness testimony is useful when it can be corroborated by other independent eyewitnesses (not the case with the Hills), or when it can be corroborated by some non-witness evidence, as is the case with the 1957 RB47 incident (radar, ECM gear, etc.). On it's own, eyewitness testimony can never be conclusive where the UFO phenomenon is concerned, at least not in my opinion.

Thanks for popping by!


BoyintheMachine said...

You know I liked Sagan, though 'Cosmos' was incredibly boring IMO. (Now, if he had blown things up, like on Mr. Wizard's World or had the meth-like, manic energy of Bill Nye, then maybe I would have watched every episode.)

The problem I have with Sagan is that he already made up his mind on just how an actual alien visitation would happen, and stresses the need for the phenomen to submit to human scientific standards.

Amazingly, in 'Contact', he seems to suggest that the phenomena may manifest in a form that purposefuly cannot be proven!

I kinda wanted him to make up his mind before he passed.


Anonymous said...

The only thing that annoys me about the discounting of eyewitness testimony is the fact that some of us have seen things that are not easily explainable and might be rejected the same way.Do we all just see Venus or atmospheric inversions or misinterpreted natural phenomena?Or have we seen REAL UFO's? Who's really to say.It's too easy to reject real eyewitnesses for a myriad of reasons.

Paul Kimball said...


I'm not talking about rejecting it - I'm simply saying that eyewitness testimony, especially from a single witness, is not, in and of itself, enough to prove the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs (or their origin from any other source, for that matter), anyway that stories of fairies or leprechauns, which could be construed as eyewitness accounts from days gone by, could prove, in and of themselves, the existence of those creatures.


Mac said...

Sagan's dismissal doesn't do much for me. I'm a Sagan fan; I've read his books -- and I think he was smarter than this. For the uninitiated, his generalizations seem compelling enough . . . but they're brittle and selective.

And for whatever it's worth, the "recreation" of the Hill encounter is awful. For instance, Barney recalled being dragged to the craft, not zombie-walking.

Anonymous said...

Carl Sagan's credibility, in light of Robert Temple's allegations, as well as his penchant for certain smoking materials makes one realize he was, like the rest of us, fallible. Nothing more and nothing less.We seem to invest undue veritas to media figures. He was on the same fence that alot of us occupy so there's nothing remarkable about his lack of insight, curiousity or depth when viewing evidentiary facts and finding them un-"extraordinary." He knew alot more than his public persona revealed, also much like the rest of us. However, he was in a priviledged position and played his cards close to his chest.

name: SG said...

Awful is an understatement.

That Sagan had the nerve to narrarate this story without looking into the case or taking it seriously and then point out the obvious star map shenanigan - it's completely absurd.

Just because the Hills' situation may not have involve aliens from outer space - the contention is that their case is worthless and holds no intelectual value.

Gee, the starmap is nonsense? I can't believe it! And he PROVED it with a coloring book! How brilliant! What an incredible mind Sagan must have had!

What a joke.

Anonymous said...

"To my knowledge, he never looked into the RB47 case, and certainly never explained it"

So Paul, I suspect your "explanation" of the RB47 case would reflect lots and lots of "research" into the incident. So tell us what is your "explanation" for the RB47 case...I could use the laugh.

Paul Kimball said...

So Paul, I suspect your "explanation" of the RB47 case would reflect lots and lots of "research" into the incident. So tell us what is your "explanation" for the RB47 case...I could use the laugh.

The thing that amazes me is that almost anyone who signs in here as "Anonymous" is singularly incapable of staying on topic. Oh well.

I don't have an explanation. That's the essense of the "U" in "UFO" (you must have missed that part).

As for the amount of research I've conducted into the case, safe to say it's more than Sagan, and certainly more, from the sounds of it, than you.


Anonymous said...

Let me explain this so even someone like you can understand it...

This thread is on topic since you mentioned Carl's lack of explanation for the RB47 case, which is very amusing since it appears to be a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. The fact that you cowardly dodged and evaded giving us even a hint of any examples of your "research" into the RB47 case, indicates to me that, just like Carl Sagan, "you never looked into the RB47 case, and certainly never explained it". Haha! You sound like one of those guys who tried to be a "lawyer", but couldn't get anyone to listen, so you decided to dabble in Ufoology because there is no fear of peer review and you can attack unbelievers with bitter invective.

At least you were able to figure out that something was unidentified in the RB47 case, the problem is, as usual, you didn't go far enough in your reasoning process to figure out just exactly what it was that was unidentified. The participants in the RB47 case either saw an alleged radar reflection/transmission or a light in the sky. Last time I looked, reflections, transmissions, and lights are not actually physical objects. Since no one claimed to have seen an actual physical object, it can't be an example of a UFO or ET or any other nonsense you guys wish to interpret it as being, because there was no object. You missed that part. It was just a UF, not a UFO.

The moral of the RB47 storytale is: don't keep your mind so wide open that your brains fall out!

PS -- I was looking forward to seeing whether you would be able to change the reputation of the UFO community from being the laughingstock of the world, and either put UFOs on the science map, or banish them forever to the realm of poorly thought out fantasies, and it turns out you are on your way to banishing them forever...but at least I can thank you for being so entertaining about it in the meantime.

Paul Kimball said...


You'll excuse me if I don't feel obliged to defend or explain myself to someone who won't offer up his real identity. My patience for trolls has grown pretty thin over the last two years. And if I didn't fall for your "you must have been a failure at law" bait the first time, why do you think I would fall for it this time? Yeesh.

I suggest you wander over to the UFO Iconopests' blog, where they offer a "quantum" explanation for RB47 (and seemingly every other case that can't be explained) - it should be right up your alley... if, in fact, you're not one of them.

Kindest regards, etc., etc.,
Paul Kimball