Monday, March 24, 2008

The 2007 Zorgy Awards

Ladies and gentlemen, here are the results of the 2007 Zorgy Awards, and the 2008 inductees to The Other Side of Truth Halls of Shame and Fame, the voting for which took place in November and December of last year. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to vote - this was the second year for the awards, and "turnout" was higher than in the first year, which is always a good sign!

Best Website (Forums)
Book of Thoth - 153
Above Top Secret - 100
Department 47 - 64
The Paracast Forums - 53

Best Website (News Summary)
The Daily Grail - 1,058
The Anomalist - 193
The Debris Field - 63
UFO Review - 36

Top UFO Story of 2007
O'Hare UFO Sighting - 312
Walter Haut affidavit - 56
Kucinich sees a UFO - 52
Roswell's 60th anniversary - 38

Best publication (Print)
Fortean Times - 221
UFO Magazine - 92
Fate - 77
Saucer Smeared - 26

Best Cryptozoologist
Loren Coleman - 524
Nick Redfern - 76
Dr. Karl Shuker - 55
Jonathan Downes - 30

Top Podcast
Binnall of America - 306
Book of Thoth - 130
Strange Days... Indeed - 75
Culture of Contact - 31

Best Paranormal Blog
UFO Mystic - 161
The Debris Field - 151
Posthuman Blues - 76
Odd Things - 32

Best UFO / Paranormal Troublemaker
Alfred Lehmberg - 178
Jeremy Vaeni - 85
James W. Moseley - 72
David Biedny - 67

Best Ufologist
Stanton T. Friedman - 244
Nick Redfern - 131
Nick Pope - 62
Jerome Clark - 48

Hall of Fame Inductees
Art Bell - 110 votes (22%)
John Keel - 79 votes (16%)

Hall of Shame inductees
Kal K. Korff - 102 votes (23%)
Linda Moulton Howe - 72 votes (16%)

Note: Previous inductees can be seen here.

Congrats from both Rear Admiral Zorgrot and yours truly to the winners!

Paul Kimball

Friday, March 21, 2008

UFOs: Too Weird to be Extraterrestrials?

Mac Tonnies has a well-written and interesting new post at his SETI blog titled Reconciling UFOs and the Singularity: Part I.

One of the points he raises, however, which is a reflection of what Dr. Jacques Vallee has been saying for decades now, is problematic. Mac comments:

As noted by acclaimed researcher Jacques Vallee, the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) typically embraced by ufologists fails to account for the phenomenon's enduring weirdness.
I have to admit, while I remain a healthy agnostic on the question of extraterrestrial visitation to Earth, I have never understood this particular reason for rejecting the ETH as the most logical of the non-prosaic explanations.

Yes, many UFO sightings are weird in terms of our understanding of what is happening. One of my favourite of the "high strangeness" types of cases happened here in Halifax (see: High Strangeness in Halifax). But that weirdness is not a reason for rejecting the ETH, unless one is viewing possible alien life and through the prism of human understanding. By doing so, both Tonnies and Vallee evince a very 1950s / 1960s sci-fi outlook of what alien life would be like. In short when they state that the weird behaviour of some UFO cases seems to rule out ET as the cause, they are assuming that aliens will more or less act like us, or at least in ways that we can understand. Since the UFOs are not acting in a way that makes sense to us, as aliens presumably would, then they must be something else - extradimensionals, or cryptoterrestrials.

The problem is that this assumption flies in the face of our own human experience when different cultures meet each other. For example, when the first European explorers reached the south Pacific islands, neither they nor the natives even remotely understood each other. History is replete with similar examples.

This happened on a frequent basis when it was different cultures coming in contact with each other, where one was more technologically advanced than the other, but not by a significant degree - decades, or perhaps centuries, but in either case, a drop in the bucket where development is concerned. Even after prolonged exposure to other cultures, profound differences of understanding and perception would remain, which in part would explain the not infrequent colonial disasters that would befall European military expeditions when led by men who had no understanding of the local terrain, or how the natives waged their own style of warfare.

And that's just a difference in understanding and perception between cultures within the same species, all of whom are singing from the same proverbial hymn book, if not the same page. What about differences between different species of vastly different levels of intelligence? How do cats perceive humans, for example, or how do ants perceive humans? Can they understand our behaviour; can we understand theirs?

The point is that just because UFOs might behave in ways that we cannot understand is no reason for concluding that they are too weird to be extraterestrials on the grounds that an extraterrestrial would never behave in such a weird manner. The truth is that we have no idea how an extraterrestrial would behave, or what their motives would be for coming here. This works both ways - they might not be able to understand us, in the same way as we don't fully understand what's going in with various animals when they do certain things. In fact, I would argue that any alien life is likely to be so different from us that we should expect that it will behave in a manner that is completely... well, alien to us.

Does this mean that UFOs might not be extradimensional beings, or cryptoterrestrials? Of course not. But when one tries to determine which of these explanations seems more likely, one should always be careful of basing their conclusions, whether in whole or in part, on the anthropomorphic assumption that because UFOs sometimes behave in ways that seem "weird" to us, it is less likely that they are extraterrestrial beings that cryptos or extradimensional beings.

Paul Kimball

Thursday, March 20, 2008

God vs. ET

In the campaign for President that is underway south of the border right now, it seems that none of the remaining candidates can go a single day without religion being injected into the conversation in some way, shape or form, even if subliminally. The latest brouhaha, which involves Senator Barack Obama's pastor, is a good case in point, as was Mitt Romney's pandering to the Christian right, who were suspicious of his Mormonism. The candidacy of Mike Huckabee was all about religion, whether he wanted to admit it or not.

Contrast this with the question of UFOs and ET. To the best of my knoweldge, it was only brought up once - when Tim Russert asked Dennis Kucinich his UFO sighting in a debate, and Kucinich replied that he had indeed seen a UFO, and then proceeded to apply any number of apologetic caveats.

Ask someone about UFOs, or ET, and people start to get embarassed. Ask them about God, and they stand up tall and take the question seriously. Indeed, they will often bring it up themselves.
It's not that there is anything wrong with religion - I'm a healthy but hopeful agnostic on the question of whether or not there is a God. It's also not that there is anything inherently right about asserting that ET has visited planet Earth - I'm a healthy but hopeful agnostic about that as well. The problem comes from the fact that one of these propositions is treated far more seriously than the other, and it's not the one for which there is actual evidence from the modern era.

When Hillary Clinton, or John McCain, or Barack Obama talk about God and how important He is to them, they are talking about a concept that cannot be proved in any rational way. Religion is a belief based on ancient stories that have been changed over the centuries in ways that would probably make them unrecognizable to the people who were actually there at the time. If I were to try and prove the existence of God to a jury of twelve reasonable people beyond a reasonable doubt, I couldn't do it. I seriously doubt anyone else could. It would still be a tricky proposition to do on the less onerous civil standard of the balance of probabilities.

UFOs as ET? I still couldn't do it beyond a reasonable doubt, nor could anyone else (hence the healthy agnosticism), but I would have a much better case, in terms of evidence, on the civil standard, than I would with God. For one thing, the evidence is fresher (Book of Luke vs. RB-47, for example). I could definitely prove that UFOs are an unexplained objective phenomenon; I think I could even swing the majority of a jury in favour of the proposition that at least some of them were likely extraterrestrial spacecraft.

This is why I have some sympathy for the exopolitics types, even though, as with people who believe in God, I think they have it wrong. They look around and see a world where in most countries religion goes hand in hand with political power, none more so in the democratic world than in the supposedly secular American republic (somewhere Thomas Jefferson is spinning in his grave). And yet they sit at the fringes of polite society, despite the fact that they can make a stronger case for their belief system than the religious people can.

Honestly - St. Paul on one hand, and, say, Philip Corso on the other hand. Is there really a difference between the two, other than two thousand years, and the fact that Corso was properly vetted?

Paul Kimball

UFO Looney Tunes - Classification System

There are some serious, intelligent people studying the UFO phenomenon.

And then there is Ed Komarek, one of the leading lights of the so-called Exopolitics movement / cult.

In the most recent installment of Mr. Komarek's assault on common sense, he writes:
I now believe that the U.S. Air Force is dog fighting with ETs in several areas of the U.S. and the same seems to be going on with other Air Forces around the globe.
As loony as that sounds, it gets even loonier, as he explains why this is supposedly happening:
I believe that these dogfights are ET initiated and are designed to put exopolitical pressure on national and world leaders through their respective militaries to openly disclose UFO/ET reality.

Here's a question for Mr. Komarek - if ET wants disclosure, why don't they... well, just land on the White House lawn, or some other place where the media might be gathered, and let us know themselves?

Stuff like this has inspired me to develop a new system for rating UFO looney tunes and / or things they say and do, in much the same way as Vallee and Hynek developed systems for classifying UFO sightings and encounters.

The system is as follows:

Porky Pig - a UFO looney tune who is more or less connected to reality; they are functional, can operate in the real world, and occasionally might even contribute something useful to the overall discourse on the UFO phenomenon. In terms of ideas or conclusions, Porky Pig status indicates something that just might have at least a veneer or plausibility, if not quite probability. However, they are naive and far too trusting.

Bugs Bunny - A UFO looney tune who is connected to reality, but says ridiculous things. However, they do so knowing that what they say is ridiculous, just to have some fun with people. This applies to the ideas they put forward as well. This form of looney tune is generally harmless, and even serves a useful purpose.

Yosemite Sam - A UFO looney tune who may or may not be connected to reality, but who says and does ridiculous things regardless in order to make money. Fully capable of making stuff up if it furthers their end goal of profit. If this class of looney tune is doing it solely to make money, then they are a Yosemite Sam looney tune (sub-class I); if they are doing it to make money but they also seem to genuinely believe what they are saying (but money remains the primary motive), then they are a Yosemite Sam looney tune (sub-class II).

Daffy Duck - A UFO looney tune that is completely off the deep end. They have little or no connection to reality, and will do or say anything to buttress their single-minded belief system. They are extremely unpredictable, argumentative, and occasionally capable of stalker-like behaviour, but are not dangerous.

Tasmanian Devil - A UFO looney tune that is completely off the deep end, and dangerous. They have the capacity to harm themselves, and possibly others.
There you have it. From this point on, I intend to use this system when I run across folks like Mr. Komarek and ideas like the one noted above (classification: Daffy Duck). It should make sorting the wheat from the chaff in UFO looney-ville that much easier.

Paul Kimball

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Physics 101 - Roswell Explained

Note the hands that go up in response to the professor's question at the beginning - whatever else you can say about Roswell, you can't deny the cultural penetration the tale has made over the past twenty-five years or so.

Fascinating stuff, even for that ever-dwindling group of people who don't buy Mogul as the explanation for Roswell. If only physics in high school had been like this, I might have paid more attention!

Paul Kimball

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Hypocrisy of Edward Condon

There is so much that is wrong with the University of Colorado Project for the Scientific Study of UFOs, aka The Condon Report, and in particular Dr. Edward Condon's conclusions, that it is hard to pick the single most egregious example. However, if I had to choose, it might be this passage from Condon's conclusion:
The subject of UFOs has been widely misrepresented to the public by a small number of individuals who have given sensationalized presentations in writings and public lectures. So far as we can judge, not many people have been misled by such irresponsible behavior, but whatever effect there has been has been bad.
It takes a lot of chutzpah to write this paragraph, lambasting civilian UFO researchers, when you consider the ones that came just before and after it:
It has been contended that the subject has been shrouded in official secrecy. We conclude otherwise. We have no evidence of secrecy concerning UFO reports. What has been miscalled secrecy has been no more than an intelligent policy of delay in releasing data so that the public does not become confused by premature publication of incomplete studies of reports.
No evidence of official secrecy about UFOs (which is different than saying there had been a massive coverup of something like a crashed flying saucer)? I'm no conspiracy theorist, but even I recognize that this statement is absurd on its face, given that there was plenty of evidence that the subject had been subjected to official secrecy. I'm not talking about bogus materials like MJ-12 (which, if it had been real, would have been in place at the time Condon was writing), but rather real secrecy, like the Robertson Panel (which was specifically referenced in the Condon Report), or even the cover-up of the Roswell Incident, which is undoubted, whether you buy the alien spacecraft explanation, Project Mogul, or something else - whatever it was, it was not a "weather balloon".

So, no official secrecy, and the government is perfectly clean - rather, it's the civilian UFO researchers, authors, lecturers, and so forth, who are the problem according to Condon. What to do about that?
A related problem to which we wish to direct public attention is the miseducation in our schools which arises from the fact that many children are being allowed, if not actively encouraged, to devote their science study time to the reading of UFO books and magazine articles of the type referred to in the preceding paragraph. We feel that children are educationally harmed by absorbing unsound and erroneous material as if it were scientifically well founded. Such study is harmful not merely because of the erroneous nature of the material itself, but also because such study retards the development of a critical faculty with regard to scientific evidence, which to some degree ought to be part of the education of every American.

Therefore we strongly recommend that teachers refrain from giving students credit for school work based on their reading of the presently available UFO books and magazine articles. Teachers who find their students strongly motivated in this direction should attempt to channel their interests in the direction of serious study of astronomy and meteorology, and in the direction of critical analysis of arguments for fantastic propositions that are being supported by appeals to fallacious reasoning or false data.
Whatever you might think of the UFO phenomenon, this section should anger any thinking, rational individual (particularly given the erroneous conclusions offered by Condon just before). If these children for whose welfare Condon was seemingly so concerned had read the data in his own study, the hypocrisy of this conclusion / recommendation would have been clear. There was evidence, there was data - in other words, there was something that was worthy of serious scientific study, as opposed to the virtual censorship advocated by Condon. Children would not be educationally harmed by reading about UFO reports; they were educationally harmed by the people who took Condon's conclusion as gospel, and acted on his erroneous and unscientific recommendations.

Whether intentional or not - and reasonable people can debate the motives that underlay the Condon Report - the effect was to achieve exactly what the Robertson Panel recommended in 1953: the debunking of the UFO phenomenon. The ultimate irony is that the Condon Report, when it discussed the Robertson Panel, concluded:

So far as we can determine, no official steps were ever taken to put into effect the training and "debunking" recommendations of the Roberston panel. A private effort was not to be expected, since such a program would not be commercially attractive and would conflict with books that were beginning to make money by exploiting popular confusion about the ETH and alleged government conspiracies.
Of course, who needed a "private" debunking effort, when you could get one funded by the United States Air Force, and directed by one of America's most respected and accomplished scientists, who, in chastising teachers for allowing their students to look into the UFO subject, ignored the data contained in his own report, which showed the subject of the UFO phenomenon to be one of the great unsolved scientific mysteries of the 20th century. Or, as the conclusion to the study of the Trent photos case (1950) found:
This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated, geometric, psychological and physical appear to be consistent with the assertion that an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disk-shaped, tens of meters in diameter, and evidently artificial, flew within sight of two witnesses. It cannot be said that the evidence positively rules out a fabrication, although there are some physical factors such as the accuracy of certain photometric measures of the original negatives which argue against a fabrication. (p. 407)
This should leave any reasonable observer with only one conclusion: that the real danger to the sound education of not just children, but all Americans, came from Edward Condon, and those in the mainstream who bought into his debunking, hook, line and sinker. Unfortunately, the effect of his unscientific debunking is stronger than ever today - and citizens are that much poorer because of it, whatever the UFO phenomenon may represent.

Paul Kimball

Monday, March 03, 2008

Best Evidence - 2008 EBE Award Winner

So, here I am in sunny Los Angeles, hanging out with my good pal Greg Bishop - not a cloud in the sky! Hurrah!!

The end of the International UFO Convention and Film Festival was great - super banquet, lots of nice folks, some very good films (and therefore some great competition), and a WIN for Best Evidence, in the category that probably meant the most to me, as a guy with a history degree - Best Historical Documentary. Lovely statue!

I can't remember what I said in my stumbling "aw shucks" acceptance speech, other than thanking my Mom & Dad in particular, and ending with "God Save the Queen", which was a running joke all week between we Canucks and Brits on one side, and our southern cousins the Yankee Doodles on the other. I thanked everyone in general who worked on the film, or who helped get it made, but the list of names was too long to be specific. However, here are some I absolutely should have mentioned, and who I wish had been there to see their hard work pay off:

Findlay Muir - DOP
John Rosborough - Post Audio & Music
Zan Rosborough - Post Audio
Jim Kimball - Co-Producer / Production Manager
Kris Lee McBride - Narrator
Thor Henrickson - On-Line Editor

Also, of course, Linda Wood and Ann MacKenzie at Film NS, which invested in the film, Andrew Mark Sewell at B7 Media in the UK (our distributor), and Charlotte Engel at Space: The Imagination Station, which commissioned it. Can't forget Nan MacDonald and Linda Kearney at the RBC. Finally, everyone who appeared in the film, including our chief consultant Brad Sparks, as well as Stan Friedman, Nick Pope, Don Ledger, Dick Hall, Bruce Maccabee, Mac Tonnies, Lt. Col. Bruce Bailey, Capt. Robert Salas, Col. Charles Halt... it's a very long list!

The EBE belongs to them as much as me... but I get to keep it! ;-)

Thanks everyone, for making me look good!

Paul Kimball