Thursday, July 24, 2008

What The Public Doesn't Know... Vol. I

This blog is over three years old now. In the early days, when a lot of my research into Wilbert Smith was published, there weren't more than a few dozen readers per day; the numbers have increased significantly since then. I've decided, largely as a result of Stan Friedman's accusation in his latest book Flying Saucers and Science that my views on Smith are nothing more than character assassination, to re-publish those old columns as an ongoing series under the title "What the Public Doesn't Know...", based on one of Friedman's four rules for debunkers (what the public doesn't know, don't tell them), which he himself employs on a regular basis. Friedman misrepresents my views and research (as well as the research of Brad Sparks), and then labels it as character assassination, instead of confronting the facts that he doesn't want you to know about. I figure you should hear the other side of the truth, as it were.

If after weighing all of the evidence, people still want to accept that Smith was the recipient of legitimate super-secret information about flying saucers from Dr. Robert Sarbacher, and that he really did run a super-secret flying saucer program in Canada, as Friedman would have you believe, that's fine - everyone is entitled to their opinion. But unlike Friedman, I'm a big believer that it should be an informed opinion, where all of the evidence is looked at in context.

So here is part 1 of the facts that Stan Friedman doesn't want you to know about when it comes to Wilbert Smith.

Wilbert Smith & the Department of Transport in 1950
(originally published 17 June, 2005)

I think it's important for people to understand just where Wilbert B. Smith fit in the governmental pecking order in 1950 when he met with Dr. Robert Sarbacher and was supposedly given information that was classified even higher than the H-Bomb.

On the theory that a picture is worth a thousand words, and because some ufologists have to be both led to the water, and then made to drink (and, in some cases, told what the water is), here is an organizational chart I put together of the Canadian Department of Transport in 1950, showing exactly where Smith fit in.

Note that this chart does not include all of the various civil servants from the other sections, like Meteorology or Canal Services, that would have been further up the proverbial food chain than Smith.

Now, I admit that we do things a bit different up here in Canada than our cousins in the United States, but not so differently that we would put someone like Wilbert Smith, a mid level (to be generous) civil servant in the Department of Transport, in charge of our flying saucer study. The fellas in the Department of Defence, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (in charge of foreign and domestic intelligence) would have been, to say the least, a little "miffed."

So, one more time, here is what the pro-Smith ufologists are saying - Wilbert Smith, senior radio regulations engineer, was "in the know" about the biggest secret out there, while hundreds of senior American generals, admirals, scientists and officials were not.

If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn you may be interested in purchasing...

Wilbert Smith & The Department of Transport - Expenditures, 1950
(originally published 17 June, 2005)

As the old journalistic axiom goes, if you want to find the truth, follow the money.

If the question relates to just how important Wilbert Smith's work for the Department of Transport was in 1950, therefore, one should take a look at the Departmental expenditures, and see how much was devoted to Smith's section.

Here are the relevant figures from the Department of Transport (Canada) Annual Report, 1950 - 1951 (for the fiscal year ending 31 March 1951):

Total Department Expenditures - $ 78,901,296.55
Total Air Services Expenditures - $ 33,557,017.95
Total Telecommunications Division Expenditures - $ 10,458,484.61
Total Administration of Radio Act and Regulations Expenditures - $ 867,095.11

So, from the above we can see that the section in which Smith worked (Radio Act and Regulations) received the following:

- 1.10 % of total department expenditures
- 2.58 % of total section expenditures (Telecommunications Division being part of the Air Services Section)
- 8.29 % of total division expenditures (Radio Act and Regulations being a subsection of Telecommunications Division)

Contrast these expenditures with others that were far greater:

- $ 4,248,357.51 for Canal Services, Operation and Maintenance
- $ 4,064,678.03 for Aviation Radio Aids, Operation and Maintenance
- $ 1,216,860.25 for Telegraph and Telephone Service, Administration, Operation & Maintenance
- $ 6,413,037.11 for Airways and Airports, Construction and Improvement
- $ 1,087,573.81 for Departmental Administration

This is not to suggest that the work Smith's section did was unimportant; however, it does show that it was just a very small part of a very big operation. And remember - Smith wasn't even the head of the Radio Act and Regulations subsection.

Just the Canadian to whom I'd reveal the U.S. government's UFO secrets...

Paul Kimball

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Vallee interview

Greg Taylor of the The Daily Grail, which has just re-published Jacques Vallee's classic book Messengers of Deception, has a new interview with Vallee available that makes for very interesting reading. My favourite quote, which could be applied to the remaining defenders of MJ-12 is Vallee's observation that
"Many erstwhile ufologists don’t want the deceptive reports exposed, just as the Catholic Church long denied instances of abuse in its ranks... the best way to gain the respect of the intellectual community is to expose hoaxes, sloppy research and manipulation whenever we encounter them."
A few more choice bits:

"The evidence for an “undercurrent” of deceit behind some alleged UFO cases only becomes visible when you spend time in the field interviewing witnesses and tracking down the evidence. It became annoying to me because it represented a waste of time and a distraction from studying genuine observations. Researchers who collect reports only through books or media accounts would not necessarily encounter this level of the phenomenon and would understandably resist the suggestion that the belief in extraterrestrial intervention is being manipulated to serve political or cultist goals."

"If we do not establish a high standard for the data we publish, the entire field suffers. Then it becomes easy for skeptics to claim that the phenomenon only appears before “cranks and weirdoes,” as astrophysicist Stephen Hawking recently stated in England. This is exacerbated by the increased credulity of the public and its blatant exploitation by the media. It seems that people – including some highly educated folks – are ready to believe almost anything they see on the Internet or on Larry King."

"I don’t believe a UFO observation makes anyone “psychic,” to use the popular terminology, but the phenomenon comes in an environment of manifestations that include heightened awareness of synchronicities, paranormal sounds and lights and occasionally absurd coincidences similar to those described in the poltergeist literature."
You don't have to adhere to Vallee's particular conclusions about the nature of the UFO phenomenon to admire his way of thinking, and to appreciate his observations not just of the phenomenon (or "phenomena"), but of the people who study it as well.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Paul Kimball

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

David Cherniack's UFOs: The Secret History

I caught the world premiere of Canadian documentary filmmaker David Cherniack's new film UFOs: The Secret History, on The History Channel here in Canada tonight. The film is must-see viewing for anyone interested in UFOs, but at the same time its accessible to the general public whose only real exposure to the UFO phenomenon has been The X-Files. A compelling, and at times lyrical, examination of the history of the UFO phenomenon and our relationship to it as a species, UFOs: The Secret History is an example of a documentary that manages to convey information in a compelling and entertaining manner, and which raises more questions than it answers. In short, it is superior filmmaking.

The film is not without flaws. Dr. Jacques Vallee and others like him are dismissed in a minute or so - Jerry Clark refers to Vallee's approach to the UFO phenomenon as "debunking with a more pretentious name", and Cherniack in his narration largely dismisses it as a result of the fascination with Eastern mysticism that arose in the counter-culture of the late 1960s. Cherniack makes a few factual errors as well - he refers to Dr. Edward Condon, for example, for example, as an astronomer, when in fact Condon was a physicist and a pioneer in quantum mechanics. I also dispute Cherniack's contention that Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the first great UFO film, and a turning point where UFOs left the scientific realm and became firmly ensconced in pop culture, a conclusion that ignores a long and rich history of UFOs as part of pop culture, from Orson Welles' War of the Worlds to The Day the Earth Stood Still to Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

These are relatively small things, however, when compared with what the film gets right. It details the history of the UFO phenomenon from the late 1940s to the present day in just an hour, and manages to hit most of the high and low points along the way, from the founding of NICAP and the work of Dr. Jim McDonald on the one hand to the "swamp gas" and alien autopsy fiascos on the other. Cherniack shows how the United States Air Force and other government agencies, notably the CIA, have not been completely forthcoming about the UFO phenomenon, but he does so without the kind of rampant conspiracy theorizing that seriously marred Richard Dolan's otherwise useful book UFOs and the National Security State. Indeed, in the second half of the film, Cherniack shows how the descent of ufology into the fringe world of crashed flying saucer stories, conspiracy theorism, and the abduction phenomenon, has obscured the reality of the UFO phenomenon in the past thirty years, with the result that there is no real hope for a serious scientific inquiry into UFOs, and the UFO story gets ignored by the mainstream media now as being inherently silly.

Cherniack spends very little time on Roswell, for example (Stan Friedman gets less screen time here than he did in the ABC News documentary Seeing is Believing a couple of years ago), because at best it is inconclusive, and at worst it has proven to be a huge distraction from the search for the truth. Cherniack devotes more time to showing how Roswell led inevitably to the fraudulent MJ-12 documents than he does to the case itself, and we get to see rare clips from the legendary UFO Cover-Up Live program that featured Jaime Shandera and Bill Moore, as well as "Falcon", and stories that the aliens like Tibetan music and strawberry ice cream. That is where crashed saucer tales and things like MJ-12 have led ufology, and Cherniack wonders whether the UFO phenomenon has been deliberately manipulated to cover up what was really going on, whether extraterrestrial visitation or top secret US government testing programs.

But Cherniack is no debunker - he shows the absurdity of the US Air Force's Project Mogul explanation, for example. In one of the better segments, he also demonstrates what a pivotal moment the Colorado Project was for the serious study of the UFO phenomenon, and how it was a complete and utter scientific fraud foisted on the general public by the US Air Force and Edward Condon - much to the chagrin of many of the people who actually investigated the cases for Condon, including Dr. William Hartmann, who found the 1950 Trent photos case compelling (Hartmann appears briefly in the film).

At its core, however, UFOs: The Secret History is as much about us as it is about the UFO phenomenon. Whether UFOs are real or not isn't really the issue, he seems to be saying. It's our need to mythologize the phenomenon that's truly fascinating, and he delves into that aspect of the story with an expert hand, as he notes, for example, that whether abductions are real or not, "they were touching upon something deeply mythic". But Cherniack is not just about this angle either - like me, he is clearly convinced that there is an objective reality to the UFO phenomenon. Although he isn't quite sure what UFOs are, the hundreds of excellent cases that remain unexplained, and which feature multiple witness accounts and hard data like radar hits and other physical evidence, are impossible to ignore.

Like a great figure skater or gymnast, Cherniack completes his "routine" with a perfect ending. The version of contact that we have imagined, he says, is a myth that we have created to shield us from a reality that we have little hope of understanding, given that we may well be dealing with civilizations or intelligences millions or even billions of years more advanced than we are. As long as we are focused on crashed flying saucers, and conspiracies, and other fringe elements with no real evidence, we are truly missing what could be a very important story.

Cherniack's film demonstrates how we have held ourselves back in terms of our understanding of the UFO phenomenon through our own self-imposed perceptual limitations, and the "noise" we have ourselves created. At the same time, however, Cherniack shows us that there is still a "signal" out there worth looking for, if only we have the courage and the intellectual open-mindeness to try.

UFOs: The Secret History, is a profoundly rich and thought-provoking film, well worth repeated viewings. Here's hoping that it gets the attention that it deserves, and that people embrace a nuanced film that refuses to fall into either fundamentalist debunkery or died-in-the-wool believerism.

Paul Kimball

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kevin Randle on Skeptics vs. Debunkers

I posted this some time ago, but it's worth looking at again so that everyone can remind themselves why Kevin Randle is a good UFO researcher, who understands the need to be skeptical but open-minded, as opposed to someone like Kal Korff, who if he still has any mind left has closed it off a long time ago.

Of course Randle has made mistakes over the years - Frank Kaufmann being perhaps the biggest one. But unlike Korff, Kevin is never afraid to admit when he's been wrong - indeed, when I pointed out to him that Stan Friedman had found legitimate documents which refuted one of Kevin's long-time criticisms of MJ-12, namely that ranks such as Brigadier General would not be short-handed in an official document prepared by a military officer to "General", he graciously acknowledged that Stan had proved his case with respect to that particular point (but not, it should be noted, a host of other MJ-12 flaws which Stan tends to skip over - but I digress).

UFO research needs more Kevin Randles, and fewer Kal Korff loons (be they fundamentalist debunker type or died-in-the-wool believer types), if it is ever to be taken seriously by the mainstream.

Paul Kimball

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Studying the Betty & Barney Hill UFO case

By far the best look at the alleged Betty and Barney Hill UFO abduction case is Encounters at Indian Head, which was edited by Peter Brookesmith and the late Karl Pflock. It contains essays from several different authors that canvass a wide range of views on the case, from Pflock, who was convinced that the Hills really were abducted by aliens, to Robert Sheaffer, whose essay's title - "There Were No Extraterrestrials" - speaks for itself.

Unlike other books on this classic case, Encounters at Indian Head offers a balanced perspective from all sides, which allows the reader to make his or her own judgment about what really may have happened to the Hills in September, 1961. As the late Marcello Truzzi wrote in "Judging the Hill Case" (pp. 70 - 90):

Whether the future confirms or denies the Hills' claims, research into such cases seems likely to contribute to our overall knowledge. And that alone should make further examination worth our while.
The result of a symposium held in September, 2000, Encounters at Indian Head is a largely overlooked classic of UFO literature, and provides an invaluable template for how serious discussion about the UFO phenomenon should be conducted.

Paul Kimball

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dr. James McDonald on the Farmington Armada

Here are the comments Dr. James McDonald made at the hearings before the Committee on Science and Astronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives, 19th Congress, 2nd Session, July 29, 1968, with respect to the Farmington "Armada" case from 1950.

1. Case 9. Farmington, N.M., March 17, 1950

In the course of checking this famous case that made short-lived press headlines in 1950, I interviewed seven Farmington witnesses out of a total that was contemporarily estimated at "hundreds" to "over a thousand." It became clear from my interviewing that the streets were full of residents looking up at the strange aerial display that day. It was not only a multiple-witness case, but also a multiple-object case. My checking was done seventeen years after the fact, so the somewhat confused recollective impressions I gained are not surprising. But that unidentified aerial objects moved in numbers over Farmington on 8/17/50 seems clear. One witness with whom I spoke, Clayton J. Boddy, estimated that he had observed a total of 20 to 30 disc-shaped objects, including one red one substantially larger than the others, moving at high velocity across the Farmington sky on the late morning of 8/17/50. John Baton, a Farmington realtor, described being called out of a barber shop when the excitement began and seeing a high, fast object suddenly joined by many objects that darted after it. Baton sent me a copy of an account he had jotted down shortly after the incident A former Navy pilot. Baton put their height at perhaps 15,000 ft. "The object that has me puzzled was the one we saw that was definitely red. It was seen by several and stated by all to be red and traveling northeast at a terrific speed." Baton also spoke of the way the smaller objects would "turn and appear to be flat, then turn and appear to be round," a description matching an oscillating disc-shaped object. No one described seeing any wings or tails, and the emphasis upon the darting, "bee-like" motion was in several of the accounts I obtained from witnesses. I obtained more details, but the above must suffice here for a brief summary.

Discussion. -- This once-headlined, but now almost forgotten multiple-witness case has been explained as resulting from the breakup of a Skyhook balloon. Skyhooks do shatter at the very low temperatures of the upper troposphere, and occasionally break into a number of smaller pieces. But to suggest that such fragments of transparent plastic at altitudes of the order of 40-50,000 ft. could be detected by the naked eye, and to intimate that these distant objects of low angular velocity could confuse dozens of persons into describing fast-moving disc-shaped objects (including a large red object) is simply not reasonable. However, to check further on this, I contacted first Holloman AFB and then the Office of Naval Research, who jointly hold records on all Alamogordo Skyhook releases. No Skyhooks or other experimental balloons had been released from the Holloman area or any other part of the country on or near the date of this incident. A suggestion that the witnesses were seeing only cotton-wisps was not only unreasonable, given the witness accounts, but was in fact tracked down by a local journalist to comments casually made by a law enforcement officer and overheard by another reporter. From my examination of this case, I see no ready explanation for the numerous disc-shaped objects moving in unconventional manner and seen by large numbers of Farmington residents on 3/17/50.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Proving your UFO case by debating

Victory in debates between people who study the UFO phenomenon about certain cases or theories are touted by some ufologists, most notably Stan Friedman, as part of their case that they are right, and their opponents wrong. This is ridiculous.

Debates in and of themselves prove nothing, particularly when the "outcome" is determined by a popular vote of everyone who listened to the debate. There are any number of factors that can skew the results.

For example, if you are debating Seth Shostak or James McGaha on Coast to Coast, and you take the pro "some UFOs are alien spacecraft" position, not only should you "win" the debate in terms of the popular vote, but you should do so by a wide margin, given the fact that the audience for Coast to Coast is already predisposed to accept your point of view.

Then there is the factor of the quality of the debater. So far in his career, Stan Friedman has been well-served by having some pretty poor opposition - no-one is ever going to confuse McGaha or Shostak with Martin Luther King when it comes to his oratorical skills, for example. A good salesman can get away with peddling faulty merchandise sometimes, and when it comes to selling, Stan is both good and experienced - but that doesn't necessarily make him right. However, against a good debater and public speaker, in a moderated setting (especially in cross-examination format, where Stan would be open to frequent questions), with a more or less neutral audience, I have a feeling that Stan would have a much tougher go of it that he usually does.

All of this is moot, however, because when it comes to matters of provable fact and unprovable conjecture, public opinion is worthless. George Bush and his posse convinced an overwhelming majority of Americans that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, including Senator Hillary Clinton. As everyone now knows, Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. Using Stan's logic, however, where winning a debate at a particular time is deemed important, perhaps even definitive, Bush would still be right, because he could cite opinion poll after opinion poll from back then that showed a majority of people thought he was right.

Anyone who trumpets wins in a debate, whether on Coast to Coast or at Oxford, is trying to gull you into thinking that it matters. Don't be fooled - it doesn't.

What really matters are the facts, the data and the evidence, and the reasonable conclusions that can be drawn from them - not a single individual's well-honed ability to move a crowd at a particular moment in time. Science isn't a popularity contest, and neither is serious UFO research.

Paul Kimball

Karl Pflock on the Aztec UFO hoax

Here is the late Karl Pflock summarizing the 1948 Aztec UFO hoax. This is a re-edited clip from parts of my 2004 documentary on the Aztec saga, Aztec 1948.

The hoax lives on through the efforts of a few modern researchers who mean well, but who have let the will to believe overwhelm their critical faculties.

My own take on the Aztec hoax can be found in this blog's archives, mostly in March and April, 2005... or by typing "Aztec hoax" into the search engine.

As for Karl, he was one of the best UFO researchers of the past thirty years, and his insight is sorely missed by anyone genuinely interested in the truth about the UFO phenomenon, and by those of us who were fortunate enough to count him as a friend.

Paul Kimball

Ufological "Front Page Challenge"

One of my favourite shows when I was growing up was Front Page Challenge on the CBC here in Canada. The show featured four panelists, usually well-known journalists, who would ask yes-or-no questions in an attempt to correctly identify a mystery challenger connected to a front-page news item, as well as the news item itself. After the panelists had guessed correctly - or been stumped - they would proceed to interview the challenger.

Along those lines, today at Above and Beyond we have a special guest, and a series of questions asked by our ace panel, comprised of Rear Admiral Zorgrot, Zoltan the Hound of Hell, and Fox Mulder, with the answers from our mystery guest. You the reader will then be able to guess the identity of the mystery guest, with a free copy of Best Evidence: Top 10 UFO Sightings to the first person whocorrectly identifies our mystery guest.

Here we go:

Zorgrot: Are you a world-renowned UFO expert?

Mystery guest: Yes.

Zoltan: Woof, woof, grr... GRRR!!!

Mystery guest: Umm... sure, yes.

Mulder: Do you believe that the Roswell Incident was a crashed flying saucer from outer space?

Mystery guest: Yes.

Mulder (follow-up): Do you also believe that the Roswell Incident involved a second crashed saucer, on the Plains of San Agustin?

Mystery Guest: Yes.

Zorgrot: Do you believe that the 1948 Aztec incident involved the crash of an alien spacecraft?

Mystery guest: Yes.

Zoltan: Woof, woof, grr... GRRR!!!

Mystery guest: Umm...

Host: Moving on... Mr. Mulder.

Mulder: Do you believe that the United States Air Force was involved in a shooting war with alien spacecraft in the early 1950s?

Mystery guest: Yes.

Zorgrot: Do you believe that the supposed super-secret organization known as MJ-12 was real?

Mystery guest: Yes.

Zoltan: Woof, woof, grrr... GRRR!!!

Host: Okay, that's all the questions we have time for. It's time to guess who our mystery guest is...
As I said, I'll leave that up to you the reader... but in the meantime we take a brief break for the news, where we will show video of Dr. James McDonald and Dr. J. Allen Hynek spinning in their graves, which definitely qualifies as high strangeness.

Paul Kimball

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Crashed Flying Saucers and Radar

Proponents of alien crashed flying saucers at Roswell and Aztec, such as Stan Friedman, have speculated that perhaps advanced radar systems brought the spacecraft down. Indeed, in this clip from the doc I made about the so-called Aztec incident, Aztec 1948, both Stan and Scott Ramsey talk about that possibility, while Karl Pflock offers a much more reasonable and sensible analysis.

You can view my deconstruction of the silly "radar brought the flying saucers down" claims here.

Fact vs. fiction in New Mexico. Unfortunately, the ufologists supplied the fiction, the same kind you will find with Frank Feschino's wild claims of an air war in the 1950s between the USAF and aliens, which have been "shot down" by more sensible UFO researchers like Jerry Clark and Dick Hall.

Paul Kimball

Dolan and Redfern on UFO secrecy

In these clips from my 2004 documentary "Aztec: 1948", UFO researchers Rich Dolan and Nick Redfern discuss UFOs and government secrecy.

Paul Kimball

UFOs, New Mexico, and the Farmington Armada

In this slightly re-edited clip from the 2004 documentary "Aztec: 1948", Stan Friedman, the late Karl Pflock, and reporter Deborah Mayeux of the Farmington Daily Times discuss UFOs seen over New Mexico in the late 1940s, and the Farmington Armada case from 1950.

Paul Kimball