Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Perfect Witnesses?

Here's a question for you:

Assume that you have a multiple witness UFO sighting. Which of the following two accounts of that sighting would seem more credible to you?

Account #1 - All of the witnesses agree on exactly what they saw / experienced.

Account #2 - While the witnesses all agree that they saw / experienced something, they offer different descriptions of the event.

If you chose Account #1, you're wrong.

People experience things differently, and they focus on different things, with the end result being that each person's account of a shared event is going to be like a snowflake: it will be unique.

A good case in point is the 1953 Santa Barbara Channel UFO sighting, where Kelly Johnson and his wife saw a UFO from the ground in Agoura, California, at the same time as a Lockheed crew saw the UFO while flying over the ocean. The case is recounted in my film Best Evidence: Top 10 UFO Sightings, which you can view here (you can read the original statements here).

Johnson described the UFO as elliptical in his report. Chief Flight Test Engineer H. L. Thoren, however, who was aboard the plane, described it as a "flying wing".

Which one was more accurate? That's a question open to reasonable debate, although to me the clear answer is Thoren, who was closer, and in a better position to observe the UFO in more detail. But the key point here is that the fact that Thoren and Johnson offered different descriptions of the shape of the object doesn't undermine the credibility of the case; it enhances it, because that is what can be expected when different people see the same thing (especially, as in this case, when they see it from different vantage points). What's important is that they agreed on the main point - that there was a UFO, and that it acted in a certain way.

Indeed, it would be suspicious if Thoren and Johnson had agreed on every detail - that would be an almost certain sign that at best they had "gotten their stories straight" beforehand, and at worst that they had made the whole thing up from the beginning.

In short, the perfect witnesses are the ones who get the big picture right, even as they differ on particular details; they are not the ones who agree on every element of a sighting, and you should be wary of anyone who demands that kind of consistency from witnesses, because they simply don't know what they're talking about.
Paul Kimball


Lesley said...

I wrote about this in one of my Grey Matters, if there was a crime and all the witnesses totally agree on who and what they saw, the police view this as suspicious. The should remember things at least slightly differently, normally if they all remember exactly the same thing it is because their stories were rehearsed and made up.

Paul Kimball said...

Hi Lesley,

My own experience working with the police, and with the law, tells me the same thing - as did my dad, who was a criminal court judge for over 25 years.


Lesley said...

I managed a fast food place back in the 1990s. We were robbed. There was myself and one other girl working and we totally didn't remember things the same. For example, I thought he was wearing a green shirt and she thought it was blue and so on. I remember thinking at the time -- how could she think his shirt was blue when it was so totally green? Over the years, I have noticed that type of thing more and more, not just in a stressful situations, but especially then. Many people may find UFO sightings to be stressful.

Lance said...

Hi Paul,

Not that I disagree with the thrust of your post but Thoren actually said:

"It looked to me like I was flying right directly towards it, and at
about the same elevation as, a very large flying wing airplane."

To me this implies that he could see very little other than what he though might be the leading edge of the thing. This is remarkably consistent with the description Johnson gave. I know your film took the liberty of turning the thing and making it out to be, whole hog, a flying wing but that is not what was described (giving the masses what they want, I suppose).

Indeed we know that the thing ended up NOT to be flying towards him or anything else. Indeed in the next paragraph he admits that he couldn't close the gap between him and it, admitting that it must have been much further away and larger that he initially thought.

The men ALL saw essentially a dark line:

Wimmer (probably watched it the most continuously):

"Others on board described it as a huge flying wing. I could
not detect any details other than the shape of it. I estimated the distance
from us to be at least fifty or sixty miles and possibly much further. In
the clear air like that it is very hard to judge distance."


"The object appeared as a thin black line, giving a first reac-
tion of a B-36 type airplane, heading straight toward us and silhouetted against
a bright background."


"My first thought was that it
was a large airplane, possibly a C-124, but after looking more closely,
it seemed to look more like a large object without wings with a maximum
thickness in the middle tapering toward either side, I could not distinguish
front or rear on the object."

Improbably (and rather stupidly) Sparks uses the Airplane descriptions above (which are ONLY related to the shape) to somehow estimate size and imply he got a triangulation (something you are smart enough to know is impossible from the evidence). It goes without saying that having the size of the object has nothing to do with getting a triangulation anyway.

Sparks' silly math comes into sharp focus when when you take into account Thoren's admission of the much greater distance and inability to fix the location. Not to mention the fatal problem of NO IDEA WHERE PRECISELY THE PLANE WAS!

And yes, I well know that I have not published or finished my prosaic alternate theory of this fascinating case. Maybe someday.