Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Self-destruction of the UFOlogical Elite?

[Click title to read post]

This has been a truly remarkable couple of weeks. Science-y fellows who dismiss others because they hold differing views; pundits grasping real issues and tarnishing them with their "taint"; and now this...

Richard "Dick" Hall, former member of NICAP and once a hero to aspiring and established UFOlogists everywhere, has issued a statement on the recent Heflin case dustup, and his comments very simply mark the end of an era.

If the following comments are an honest accounting of the NICAP investigation...and Hall's opinions...of the Heflin case, please leave a comment as to whether or not you agree.

I present the Hall comments in red...followed by my reaction.


I find this whole model train wheel obsession quite amusing, but
we must let the techies do their thing. David Rudiak, Viktor
Golubik, and Martin Shough all strike me as quite sincere and
fair-minded, but I note that they have a hard time getting
together on basic technical data, much less overall research

Just like all techies I have known in the past, they tend to
think that their photoanalytical skills provide a magic short-
cut to truth without regard to witness information or thorough
case investigation. Their motto might be, The Truth is In There
(in the pictures themselves) and I will find it, with which I
emphatically disagree. (I'm going to post this message, then
scurry for the bomb shelter.)

As I told Viktor in private (he didn't buy the argument), the
last thing a hoaxer using a model train wheel is likely to do is
to allow a skeptical TV producer to interview him in his home
and show him his model trains. That just makes no sense at all.
Further, as I have tried to point out a couple of the NICAP
investigators spent a lot of time in Heflin's home, got to know
him very well, and knew about all of his hobbies and interests.
Again, a hoaxer using a model train wheel would not likely be so
open about his interest in model trains.

Finally, I am not aware that anyone has made an effort to
retrieve Dr. Robert Nathan's research papers on the case from
1965 and later. Maybe they are not available, I don't know, but
his work seems to be rather airily dismissed as unimportant. He
was not just some stumblebum amateur. I quote from two NASA
press releases:

MOON PICTURES. Re: the "sparkling success of Surveyor I in
taking television pictures of the Moon's surface....These
sharper prints are produced by a computerized system which
corrects distortion and improves resolution in original
photographs taken by television cameras. The system was
developed by Dr. Robert Nathan, who led the JPL video fdigital
(computer) data research for NASA. Robert Selzer was in charge
of Surveyor picture enhancement." (Is he--Selzer--not the guy
now re-examining the Heflin photos for the JSE paper?)

JPL, NASA, Oct. 25, 1985. "[NASA] has presented an award of
$20,000 to Dr. Robert Nathan of Jet Propulsion Laboratory for
significant scientific and technical contributions in the field
of imaging." The award was for his "Combined Technical
Contributions to Planetary and Biomedical Image Processing and
Scientific Data Analysis Techniques....In 1976, seeing the need
for more advanced technology, he developed techniques to reduce
computer time by [a] factor of 100 and established Very Large
Integrated Systems use at JPL and emerged as leader in VLIS

Nathan, who originally was very skeptical, found no evidence of
a string or hoax -- twice. In fact, all the techies can do to
resolve photo authenticity is find clearcut and unequivocal
evidence of a hoax. They cannot prove that a photo is genuine.
That sort of proof lies in the character and background
investigation and the preponderance of evidence. So the Truth is
not in the photois themselves, unless and only if the photo is a
demonstrable fake.

Cheers, Dick

Would someone please tell me after reading this why ANY credible scientist would associate themselves with UFOlogy?

I leave it to you all to comment on the post above. I am simply at a loss.

[Thanks Anne, for convincing me to keep it short. :) ]

[h/t to UFO Updates]

"Would someone please tell me after reading this why ANY credible scientist would associate themselves with UFOlogy?"

Well -- there you have it actually. You continue to presuppose that the self-appointed default arbiter science, in the guise of the steadfast scientist (and mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper) patiently awaits for UFOs to prove themselves worthy of study, when science as it is sold to us presently has made it abundantly clear on numerous occasions that it is not remotely interested in studying what _cannot_ be there.

Science won't go down the rabbit hole in pursuit of the data that has always been there, Kyle. It just lacks the courage to think outside its own box, and only progresses at all when it does so.

Why not listen to Mr. Hall tonight on SDI, remember that Hall's calibration card is abundantly current, and that your card, respectfully, has only just lately been quasi-certified by a person who has himself no certification.

Again, I don't think you've read all the way to the period on this in the first place, and could show a little more respect in the second. I suspect it's safe to say that Mr. Hall has forgotten more about the philosophy of science than most people know, hoss. You could be a little less quick with the sneering condemnation...

That said, don't wait for mainstream science to be convinced by even the _best_ evidence. It is not so predisposed. To pretend that it is, is just naive, I suspect.
AVG Blog --
Alfred -

That I often lament the fact that mainstream science ignores UFOlogy and UFOlogists is of zero significance in the scheme of things.

My status as a ufological enthusiast is also of zero significance in the scheme of things.

But UFOlogical adherents of all strata quite often publicly lament the lack of scientific recognition and involvement, and Mr. Hall claims to be a great fan of the scientific method and logic, blah blah blah.

I can step fully away from my interest in the subject of UFOs and read these words by Mr. Hall, and I can see a decidedly unscientific, illogical and frankly juvenile, knee-jerk, dismissive and insulting attitude being clearly expressed.

Keep in mind two things...the Heflin case was always a "slam dunk" for me since the early 70s. This was based in LARGE part on the investigation by NICAP, whose investigative protocol was apparently designed by Mr. Hall. The same Mr. Hall who was INVOLVED in the investigation. The same Mr. Hall who claims to have gotten to know Heflin quite well.

And now, after decades, I discover that the investigators...including Mr. Hall...were aware of Heflin's interest in (and ready access to) objects that are HIGHLY similar to the very object of his sighting.

How this little fact was never even mentioned in the NICAP report reflects a "scientific" sloppiness I cannot believe.

Mr. Hall mentions on one hand that Heflin had a very dry sense of humor which could explain his "wink and a nod" to a reporter who talked about modeling hobbies, while completely ignoring that this very same dry sense of humor could easily explain how he could tell a UFO sighting story with a straight face while train wheels were in evidence in his very home.

Mr. Hall says that it would be very unlikely that a hoaxer would have such things around his house, while completely ignoring that possibility that a person with a very dry sense of humor might do EXACTLY that if simply "humoring" the "gullibility" of "UFO investigators". With a suitably dry sense of humor, he might have a great laugh at the prospect.

I know I would if I were trying to play a practical joke on someone...something poeople with a dry sense of humor often do to great effect.

But most disturbing, Mr. Hall seems to think that since the Heflin photos were analyzed by an expert back in 1965, that there is no need to re-amalyze them. Mr. Hall is apparently quite ignorant of the rather impressive improvements in image analysis since 1965, including the creation of entire SCIENCES on this subject in that time.

And his reaction to the renewed interest in determining the TRUTH of the Heflin case pro or con?

He's amused.

His feelings about the people interested in such renewed interest?

They're "techies" who think they have a magic ability yada yada.

Stan Friedman would say..."never mind the facts, my mind is already made up".

And in this post Alfred, Mr. Hall gives young people, interested parties, and the people who do the heavy lifting of UFOlogy TODAY absolutely NO reason to engage in the subject.

Science simply follows suit.

I initially wrote 12 paragraphs on this post, until my better half convinced me to just leave it with one sentence.

Your criticism is 180 degrees off-target, Alfred.

I have always considered Dick Hall a hero, UFOlogically speaking. And I always considered the Heflin case one of the premiere cases. But even if I'd never heard of toy train wheels, reading this post of his would have (and did) go a long way to reversing my thoughts on both.

If the luminaries of UFOlogy aren't interested in being embraced by science, or interested in moving UFOlogy toward a scientific status, then it is quite simply finished as a rational field of study. If it ever was one.

What you find to be derision or disdain or dismissal in my words here is nothing of the kind.

It is only the "breaking" of a UFOlogical "heart".

Take Mr. Hall's name off the post referenced, and ANY rational person would deduce that the writer hs a clear agenda against the "truth", and for a pre-determined "faith" in the validity of a story which is becoming weaker by the day, and the only reason we aren't completely sure is that Ms. Druffel...a FRIEND of Mr. Hall...refuses to allow the photos to be analyzed NOW.

What would a student of LOGIC make of that, Alfred?

But as I said at the top, the value of my opinion amounts to exactly ZERO in the scheme of things.

And while my admiration for Mr. Hall is swiftly being reduced to very little, the pain of this process is anything but a pleasant experience...again of zero significance.

I didn't ask Mr. Hall to make these statements, he chose to make them public and I am dumbfounded, saddened and insignificant as that may be.

I still maintain that there might be unidentified objects seen by humans that are not from this earth.

I no longer feel however, that Mr. Hall is a suitable arbiter of what constitutes same, by his own words.

But again, as you infer, what difference does THAT make?

Neither I nor my opinions matter.
Alfred -

Well, it looks like Mr. Shough's feelings are about...oh...IDENTICAL to my own on this recent outburst from Dick.

I expect similar responses from each of the "techies" mentioned.

Of course, we could ALL be wrong...
Hi Kyle,
One can respect Mr. Hall for doing investigations and his monkish compilation of UFOlogical reports. However, just as with all folk (including me), they have their quirks and limitations and drawbacks.

He places a great deal of emphasis on the witness testimony, psychology and behaviorial mannerisms. I consider this the equivalent of Bush's looking leaders in the eye to judge them. Basically, it will tell the looker whatever they wanted to believe in the first place (although hopefully Mr. Hall was better at this than Bush). If the witness was subjected to polygraph (despite its limitations), I would be more willing to accept witness testimony.

Mr. Hall's psychological inferences about human behavior (especially Mr. Heflin's) may or may not be correct. How calibrated is/was he? In order to do such calibration requires a scientific method and double blinds to test his skills, not just a copious case history of investigated cases.

It is disappointing that he does not encourage the use of new techniques in the field. Consider what new techniques have done to recover data from ancient documents and art and monuments. Personally, I would have thought that using a huge standard photographic enlargement (using quality lenses) of the Heflin image (or the region around the UFO) in the old days with suitable contrast would have duplicated the abilities of the best scanners of today, but I am no expert (which is why I leave it in the hands of those "techies" whose expertise would be brought to bear on the question).

Dr. Nathan may have done a great job, but as you state, techniques have developed so perhaps something else can be done with the images today. If he is re-doing the job, then this would seem to discourage further work on the topic. However, this is precisely _not_ the way of science. Others must be allowed to duplicate the experiment with the original dataset and apply different analysis methods to determine if the same conclusions are reached.

Even if Heflin is proven genuine (as it seems to have been assumed to all these years) does it get us anywhere? Both sides of the image (pro-UFO and anti-UFO) will still hold their views. At this juncture it is almost at best a training exercise or maybe PR for the great state of UFOlogy (it is failing at that I am afraid).

Finally, I do not think any of this will affect genuine scientists getting into the field (at least the kind we want). You will always have the political-finger in the air types who will be scared away, but those that think out of the box will still come. The problem is that there are so few of these types out there and they are greatly needed for other work.

Anyway, the scientific method isn't just for scientists, we can all apply it and will have to do it (via proactive data collection) to entice credible people to the field. If you collect the data they will come. But this only applies to proactive data collection, not witness testimony because, as we have seen, no matter how much we get, it makes no difference. But with proactive data collection, you get a data stream which is something scientists love to analyze because it is "hard" data.
James -

I have great respect for Dick Hall as a historian and as someone who has gone to great lengths to preserve (and vigorously defend) the legacy of UFOlogy.

I think it best to leave it at that.

Thanks as always for stopping by!
I think the critism of Hall's comment is a tad over-stated. I disagree with certain points he but the main thrust of his comment is correct and in line with scientific philophy:

1) that one line of evidence is not all important (unless it definitively falsifies something),

2) other lines of evidence should be taken into account

3) that you can never fully prove something, only disprove it or lend credibility to it.

4) scientific investigation into the matter should be continued (in the first paragraph he clearly states that techie should "do their thing" he just states that there are limitation to what they can achieve un aided by
other evidence)

The things I disagree with are:

1) That a hoaxer wouldn't give others a chance to see how they performed the hoax. That indeed may be part of joy: having the reseacher come so close but never actually finding out!

The latter isn't scientific though it is linked with an intuitive view of human behaviour that may or may not be valid either way, depending on the person involved.

We must remember that scientific method is what we should all aspire to but is in reality almost impossible to achieve especially in naturalistic circumstances (or even in the lab depending on the situation).
What ever objective methods we use are ALWAYS filtered through the subjective interpretations of the researchers involved. To cope with this scientists develop an intuition about what
evidence can be trusted. In the end we have to decide which researchers can be trusted based on methodology, replication of results by others and experience. The practical upshot of all this is that we should remain somewhat agnostic about everything.

I always take "Cogito ergo sum" ( I think therefore I am) as being the guiding priniciple that scientists should be wary of. The only thing that we can be totally sure exists is our own existence. The idea of an objective
reality is an assumption. We must act as if this assumption is true or we would be paralysed BUT we should be wary that it is just that AN ASSUMPTION. Most of our dealings are concern with
supposed objective reality being filtered through the falliable subjective perceptions of humans.

Why do we believe the things we believe? In the end it has just as much to do with how much we trust the person who makes a claim as it does the evidence they present. We cannot possible test everything we believe first hand.
How many people do you know that have PERSONALLY tested relativity for example. In the end we believe in it because a number of supposedly reliable people have claimed it is true and has been verified with scientific data.
So in the end although scientific method is the ideal the end judgement often relies on a judgement made of the "scientist" presenting the "evidence".

The problem in UFOlogy has never been the slavish adherence to scientific method (some would say that's a no-brainer!) but rather of straying from it. This applies to both "True Believers" and "Debunkers".

My current feeling on this case is that it does seem extremely suspicious that the UFO appears to match the model train wheel. What prevents me from throwing it directly into what I call "The Billy Meier Bin"
is the fact he didn't seem intent on getting publicity for himself, it just sort of happened organically. If he did hoax it he obviously put a lot of fore-thought into how people would react rather than rushing straight to
the papers (which would have been quicker and easier than waiting for his photos to be noticed).The other thing that hasn't been adeqately explained is how the how forth photo showing a distorted smoke ring was produced. As such I remain very sceptical with
the possibility of being swayed with further evidence.
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